COMMUNITY SMALLHOLDING CHICKENS
As part of the smallholding our Members get a regular box of 6 eggs.
That means keeping chickens. We didn't bring our chickens with us as we knew there would be time to set up. Our old equipment had to stay with the people buying my house so we are starting from scratch. That is not a bad thing as it is lovely to hatch and raise chickens right from the start.
We would be wise to make sure that everything is in place for the chickens before they arrive. We have suppliers for chicken feed and there are plenty of designs for chicken coops out there.
We have a choice. When the membership fees come in we can either invest some of them in a purchased chicken coop or if there are the skills available we can build our own. Again this comes with choices.
Are we just going to keep enough chickens for the Members' Allowance or are we going to produce extra to sell at Farmers' Markets or to Friends, Colleagues and Family?
This is best decided at the start as there is no point putting in a tiny chicken coop and we find out we need a shed. So this is a discussion for the Founder Members.
To have chickens around here we will have to focus on security. It is a sad fact that chickens taste nice and foxes and other animals see them as an all you can eat buffet or a source of fun to kill them. It is up to us to keep them safe and if we want free range that will mean that someone is going to have to let them out and put them away again at the end of the day.
At the last place we put in a lovely aviary but the rats dug in underneath. It is better to have them free range of course but with the number of Urban Foxes that are set loose in the countryside that is often not possible. Also we believe our neighbour has a pet fox.
We have found in the past that a "bit of both" is a good idea. That means to have a shed big enough for the maximum number of birds that are going to ever be kept (even if you don't have that many to start with) and an aviary so that in the morning the birds can get out as soon as they want to. That means that if the person coming to let them out is late, the birds don't suffer.
It would be best to have a rota for this so that those who are able to do this can do this. It may be that it is a task that is traded but SOMEONE has to let them out and get them in again EVERY DAY.
If we are having people here all day working on the land then the chickens can go out. Whoever is there and lets them out would have to wait until dusk and make sure they safely go away though. We don't want to have to have the responsibility for this but by arrangement we will charge £5 to take over someone's shift and put the chickens away. We would need notice for this.
It is likely that Members are going to want to bring their dogs with them. Dogs and chickens do not mix and it would be very upsetting to lose them. So, if dogs are coming there is a choice. The dogs can be kept on a lead or the chickens can be permanently kept in a big aviary. Building an aviary isn't difficult. It is a wooden frame with weld mesh stapled onto it and the panels then bolted together with a net roof over the top. That would be a choice that would have to be made.
The bigger area the better as it gives the chickens a good life even if members aren't there early enough to let them out or there to let them back in again. We can buy the timber and the wire. We wouldn't propose using chicken wire, we would suggest using weld mesh. It is more expensive but if made as very strong panels it is possible to move the chicken area. Also, foxes jump so there needs to be a roof so that they can't get in. That can be made as longer panels.
Making the panels is easy. All you need to do is make a wooden frame and then staple gun the wire on. The panels can then be screwed together to make the walls. I am sure that someone will have a good idea of how to make these. There is a good article in an issue of Home Farmer December 2017 Issue 117.
We have many copies of Home Farmer, Country Smallholding, Smallholding and Grow Your Own. We have a subscription with Home Farmer and I have just signed us up for Country Smallholding so there should be plenty of information available. We have back issues going back about ten years now from when we were at the other place. These will all be available for Members for reference. Plenty to read over that cup of tea while you put your feet up between working.
We have books on chickens and we have a good supplier of animal feed. It will have to be a decision about how to feed them. We have always gone for Chicken Pellets mixed with Mixed Corn, it gives lovely yellow eggs.
We will also have to decide what breed to keep. There is an option to hatch and keep the chickens from chicks. There will be cockerels and these could be either eaten if it is the right breed (some are too scrawny) or sold if the breed is rare etc. I do have a book about eating male birds... I won't mention its title here (grin!).
We could also take on rescue chickens from factory farms. These need more care so members would have to be prepared to spend the extra time with them. But, this can be very rewarding and they will give you plenty of eggs even if not every day. The birds are disposed off because they are not commercially viable anymore. They will still lay their quota and they will also lay some really big eggs as chickens lay bigger eggs as they get older. There are plenty of places to get them and we can all discuss this when it comes to bringing home the birds after the housing is sorted out.
We could also consider keeping rare breed. There is plenty of information about this on the Rare Breed Survival Trust's web site.
This could be a contentious subject but one that will have to be discussed. If eggs are hatched then some are going to be male. If we have a purely egg laying breed then these males are "useless" unless every Member wants to end up with a pet cockerel and I'm guessing that your neighbours are not going to be best pleased about this.
If we choose a dual use bird then the boys could be raised for meat and every Member can have a home grown Sunday Lunch.
There is a good article in Country Smallholding June 2017 called "Pluck, Dress, Eat!" on page 8.
The keeping of meat birds would have to be discussed but there are some good dual use birds available.
Deciding on a breed is important as with the difficulty of transporting eggs in the post and the possibility of bringing in infection, having "in house" chickens which are a closed flock would be safer for everyone. If we keep a few chickens who are for breeding then we are guaranteed chickens for years to come (and eggs, whichever comes first).
From the start I would propose that we are careful what we feed our chickens and that she shun anything that includes GM crops. It may be tempting because the food is cheaper but ethically and for health purposes it will pay off in the long run.