Keeping chickens

How it started.

Ever since I can remember I've always been somewhat of a frustrated farmer and keeping chickens was one of my dreams. As a child I had my own vegetable plot on waste ground behind our house, then later moved on to have my own allotment, and then a second plot too with some empty space.

One morning another allotment holder offered me his redundant chicken coop and run for £20.  After two long minutes of consideration I was the proud owner of a very empty coop and run. My first step in keeping chickens. 

My first chickens.

An hour later I was trundling through the narrow lanes of Oxfordshire to meet a smallholder armed with an old cardboard box and absolutely no knowledge of keeping chickens.  After a 20 minute chat with the small holder I was on my way back with four point-of-lay hens clucking away in my cardboard box, confident that I knew all there was about keeping chickens.

As soon as my hens were safely pecking around their run I was hooked!  I spent the next couple of hours leaning on a spade just watching them, getting to know their own individual characters.  It then occurred to me that I didn't actually know anything about chickens, had no food or the equipment needed to keep my new friends happy.

 


Later that afternoon I was back to check on them, armed with layers pellets, crushed oyster shells, drinkers, hoppers, sawdust and above all a bit more knowledge.  Jude from the local chicken suppliers had given me an hour of her time and talked me through most things, the good and the bad.  Surely I was now an expert…. 



But where's the eggs?

“There’s something wrong with these chickens. I've not had a single egg and I've had them two weeks now.”  I was now checking the nest box at least 10 times a day much to the bemusement of my family and other allotment holders.    Then: “hang on…what’s this…an egg” - a Cadburys’ creme egg!   Funny now, but I didn't see the funny side of my Dad’s joke at the time! 

Then it came, our very first egg.  I've never carried something so carefully in all of my life.  When Jane, my wife, got home we had the very best (and most expensive!) egg of our lives, poached, with freshly cut purple sprouting from the allotment.

 Totally hooked.

I was now a little obsessed with my little friends, they had names: Margo, Barbara, Twinkle and Maggie.  I wasn't the only one, it seemed that everyone else on the allotment loved them too.   The finest vegetables were cut at their peak just to be fed to the hens, not a single worm escaped from being fed to the ladies.   In return we were now getting the very tastiest eggs possible with the surplus going to the other grateful allotment holders.

Two years on things had changed.  The ladies run had been tripled in size, they had a fenced off area so that they could free range in the evenings without eating all the young plants from the allotments and they now had neighbours too.  I was well and truly hooked and had just increased the flock to 12 hens….

Keeping chickens is without doubt a wonderfully wholesome thing to do, the eggs are stunning, the hens themselves are great characters.  The pleasure gained from a little work is well worth the effort.  Once you've eaten eggs laid by your own ladies you will never go back to shop bought! 

Matt, Bicester 

If you enjoyed keeping chickens you might like to link to keeping bees

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