So, the restrictions for poultry have increased to full containment from the 14th December. This is problematic for me as I rely on ranging as the birds’ outdoor area and many of my coops – although they have runs attached – are not big or secure enough to house the occupants full time. Hens do need a remarkable amount of exercise and fresh grazing and mine are used to being out for at least a few hours every day, with some of the younger pullets being out the whole day. I have 3 cockerels and a youngster too – who is just starting to crow:
As you can see, he and his sister are in a very small bantam coop but as they just use it to sleep and have their breakfast, it doesn’t matter. You can see I have put the coop up on legs, or rather, chopped up pallet surrounded with chicken wire. This is a really good way to make more space as it uses the same footprint but means there is a dry area under the house for bathing and feeding, and you can put a perch as I have done to allow them to sit off the ground. The weight of the the coop keeps it in place so this is something I will be doing to my other bantam coop. Don’t worry about the height: remember chickens like to roost in trees, and I have seen a coop where it was 8′ off the ground sitting atop a telegraph pole, with a tiny spindly ladder leading to the pophole and that was enough to keep them safe from foxes. One needed a stepladder to clean them and collect the eggs but it’s a thought.
This youngster, who is called Nelson, can go in with my 3 Light Sussex hens as Robert their original cockerel sadly died, although having spoken to the vet we decided it was a heart problem rather than avian flu. One of the hens is rather mean though, and I am concerned that the little ginger pullet might get picked on. My cockerels all get on pretty well but some of the hens really hate each other! It’s probably quite surprising to people who simply regard chicken as something to eat just how sophisticated their flock dynamics and personalities can become. They definitely have best friends as well as ones they dislike and avoid, or dislike enough to pick a fight.
I have 6 coops to house my 23 chickens, so that’s 20 hens of various ages, and 3 boys. My coops hold up to 6 large fowl, apart from the bantam coop I have which holds 3 bantams but is currently the roosting spot for 4 pullets…hmm, that will certainly need to be dealt with.
I bought really good coops when I first started keeping poultry from a company who construct them here in the UK as the build quality is essential – don’t be fooled by some of the cheaper coops. They are meant to either be moved around or kept on sleepers to prevent rot to the bases, but mine sit on the ground and stay put, so the bars have rotted. I am hoping that if I shore up the runs and add perches, and add some extra support to the coops, I will be able to move them around. The alternative is to sit them up either on a structure (as seen above with Nelson), or on pallets or sleepers so I can sit wood chip in the recess and keep the substrate clean and the wood protected from the mud.
Poultry are inquisitive and intelligent, and if they are being confined, they need plenty of entertainment to stop them becoming depressed or bickering amongst themselves. Thankfully this is a time of year when there are plenty of tasty treats such as brassicas and squashes to give them things to peck at, which not only replaces some of the greenery they would naturally have, but also provide them with stimulation. If you are digging over your compost heap, throw a few spadefuls in to their run for them to find insects and worms.
Keeping their bedding fresh is also important as they may end up roosting earlier, and soiled shavings are unpleasant and can cause respiratory problems – and makes the eggs mucky too (if you’re lucky enough to still be getting eggs at this time of year!).
I do need to find a way of containing the chickens as I have sacrificed my garden to them for the last 10 years, and having a solution which solves the problems of keeping chooks healthy and happy, but also allowing me to grow some plants to maturity would be wonderful! This is the second time in my chicken keeping journey that the birds have been required to be confined by law and given that our demand for cheap food doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, it will likely become a regular occurrence. Interestingly I was reading about avian flu, and apparently it was THIS which was assumed to spark the next flu pandemic according to this 2007 article in the AJHP.
Consequently, in spite of the inconvenience, I will be putting measures in place so that I can keep me, my poultry, and my wild bird community safe, but surely the time to address the industrial faming of poultry – for so many reasons – has come?