On Saturday I, quite literally, returned to school to attend a chicken-keeping course – held at my old secondary school and taught by my old science teacher. Once I’d recovered from the nostalgia that came with the dusky smell of the old art classroom where I used to spend my lunchtimes, I sat listening intently to the golden nuggets of information shared with us by an experienced chicken-keeper and smallholder.
I’ve always fancied having chickens. The idea of having a few running round the garden is a very romantic one but, as I feared, it isn’t as easy as I initially thought.
Once you have your chicken coop (with indoor and outdoor parts, robust mesh, liftable roof and paving slab base), you have to fox proof your hen house with locks and catches, before thinking about the perches (are they wide enough for optimum egg-laying?), lining the coop with soft barley straw (normal straw is too coarse). Then you need to decide whether you want to buy chickens at point-of-lay (usually 5-6 weeks before they are mature enough to lay eggs) or whether you want to rear chicks from hatching eggs. Then there are the parasites, illnesses, and moulting season to consider…
I was a bit put off by the sheer amount to consider when thinking about keeping, what I believed to be, one of the simplest animals in the kingdom. But when I held the lovely lady that had been sitting pretty, waiting silently for us to finish the class and give her some attention, I fell in love! She was even more docile and friendly than I expected, not nearly as scrabbly as I imagined and had such soft feathers! We were assured that each chicken has their own distinctive personality and promises to provide endless entertainment.
I think it will be a while before I can commit to getting my own brood but I will be filing my notes away carefully as I hope to put them to good use one day.
I was given a gorgeous “Illustrated guide to Chickens” for my birthday, illustrated and written by Celia Smith. It is enough to turn anyone into a wannabe hen-keeper – her paintings are quirky and full of character. It is a great book to refer to if you’re just starting out and deciding which breed to go for – it tells you all the basics on how to keep chickens plus specific details on each breed – how many eggs they lay, what size and what colour. Here are three of my favourites:
The Chamois Poland Hen
The Sultan Hen
The Dark Silkie Hen
Exotic, aren’t they?
We were warned however, that generally, the more interesting the breed, the sassier their characters and they tend to fight and peck at each other a lot more while the standard, brown chickens are content, docile, easy to pick up and very good egg-layers.