Spring in the Garden

Spring in the Garden

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Chickens on day two

Apparently chickens aren't always sure where to find the bedroom in a new home, but our girls took themselves off to bed about twenty past five last night, except for the darker one. She lingered a while and I thought she wasn't going to bother, then she flew up onto the ladder and disappeared into the loft, where the roost is. I pulled up the ramp and secured the rope to keep any marauding foxes out.

When hubby opened it up this morning, this area was a lot grubbier than it looks in the photo, taken when it was in pristine condition.

He was keen to see to them this morning as he had come home after they went to bed last night. He decided to put some bark mulch down in the run to make it easier to clear away their droppings, which are dropped on a fairly regular basis. The bark will also make foraging more interesting for them, while still allowing them access to grass, plantain and other weeds growing in the cracks between the paving stones.

In the information we were given by Forsham Cottage Arks it says that chickens should not be given access to mown grass because they will probably gobble it up and over fill their crops, causing them a lot of problems, which could include death. So, it is better for chickens to have to peck at the grass and only take in small amounts.

Food seems to be high on the list of a chicken's interests, so Forsham suggests keeping them busy eating most of the time, by supplying layers mash rather than pellets. It has the same ingredients as pellets, but takes longer for them to eat as it is much more powdery and less compact, thus taking more beakfuls to consume the same quantity. Bored birds can develop all sorts of nasty habits, such as pecking each other and doing serious damage in some cases, so we don't want our girls to get bored, or too stressed, either.

Having read books, blogs and a discussion forum to gain tips on looking after our chickens, I find Forsham's advice contradicts what I've read elsewhere. They don't think there is a real need to give chickens mixed corn, although it can be helpful to get the chickens home, if you've allowed them to roam during the day. They certainly shouldn't have too much of it.

It seems layers mash or pellets should make up 95% of our chickens daily food intake. Kitchen scraps are not a good idea, even if the chickens love it, as they are unlikely to be of a high nutritional value. The lady in the Forsham office I spoke to said it was like giving them chocolate bars. I presume this doesn't apply to raw lettuce and cabbage leaves, although too many greens could give them the runs, I suppose. Too many treats can leave chickens less healthy and less likely to lay well.

I was also surprised to read in the info from Forsham that oyster shells aren't necessary either, as there should be sufficient calcium in the mash. As egg shells are made from calcium hens need plenty of calcium to ensure their eggs have good shells, although they can sometimes pass a shell-less egg, especially when they are immature, and that doesn't indicate a lack of calcium.

The other thing chickens need to consume is plenty of grit as they don't have any teeth. As you can see from the picture, the grit is quite chunky, too. This helps them to grind the food down to aid digestion.

So we shall stick to the feeding regime Forsham Cottage Arks suggest and see how we get on.

I think I could sit and watch the chickens for hours, at least, I could if we had warmer weather. They are fascinating to watch, and so much about their behaviour we still need to understand such as why does the darker bird appear to be on her own more, while the lighter pair seem to follow each other around? Are the latter more competitive or pushy, or more friendly towards each other? Why were the lighter two opening their mouths wide yet making no noise, earlier?

One funny aspect of their behaviour is the way they rush for a few steps and then slow down as if they suddenly think, why was I rushing? I'm sure there's no need really. I also find it soothing when they are clucking gently to themselves.


  1. We have ex battery hens and do give them finely crushed oyster shells mixed in with their mash to help with weak bones as well as strong egg shells. We still get the odd soft shelled egg and our girls are mature birds, but I guess its to be expected.

    We feed mash as well as pellets, to give a variety and a choice. The girls prefer one to the other.

    We also give mixed corn about an hour before bedtime. This helps to keep the hens warm. We feed daily treats of lettuce, sweetcorn, brown bread and apples. We find that apples help to prevent boredom.

  2. Thanks for the tip. We shall certainly add oyster shell if we think they need it. The woman I spoke to at Forsham didn't seem to think corn kept them warm or full, but said that it helped to give it in the afternoon so it had a chance to soften overnight. They seem to like cabbage and lettuce. I was wondering about pears, as we have some rather soft ones. We might try it as well as apple, and maybe some other bits later.


I look forward to reading your comments, it's always good to hear encouraging words or relevant hints and tips.