My first Year Of keeping Chickens – by Emma Brown

I grew up on a small farm in Wales and used to tell my parents that all I wanted to do was live in the Big Smoke and far away from the boring fields, hills & animals of the countryside – how wrong I was! It turned out that I lasted 6 months in London, before retreating to the relative peace of Wiltshire where I found work, met my husband, got married and had two daughters.

I grew up on a small farm in Wales and used to tell my parents that all I wanted to do was live in the Big Smoke and far away from the boring fields, hills & animals of the countryside - how wrong I was! It turned out that I lasted 6 months in London, before retreating to the relative peace of Wiltshire where I found work, met my husband, got married and had two daughters. My yearning for chickens began a few years ago and has grown gradually stronger, until last year I could resist no more. I got 2 hybrid chickens, one Columbian Black-tail and one Crested Legbar, from another chicken-loving friend in my village and have since added another 3 ex-battery chickens who were awaiting slaughter. There was a fourth, Anna, but unfortunately, after 3 months in the sunshine, she succumbed to illness and was buried under an apple tree in our field. My daughters have given them their names - Edith, Margo, Elsa, Noria & Divia - and they are still as excited about checking for eggs as they were when we first got them. They help me clean them out, give them snacks and sometimes sing and dance in the field to entertain them! It has been amazing watching the ex-bats grow their feathers back, enjoy their first dust baths, sunbathe and relax into life outside of the factory. They are extremely affectionate and love a cuddle. Every day, when they hear my car pull up, they come running to say hello and I am torn between staying with them for hugs and rushing in to see my children! They have added such richness and happiness to our lives (although my husband isn't very pleased with the state of the garden but that is largely thanks to the rescue ducks that have recently joined the family!). I have always loved animals and have two 9 year old cats that have moved with us through the years, so I knew I would love my chickens. What I didn't expect was HOW much they would come to mean to me - I held Anna in my arms when she was dying and literally cried for a whole day after she died - and she had only been with us for 3 months. Each chicken has their own individual personality and they vary so much - one is shy, one is flighty, one is so tame that she sits in my arms and goes to sleep, one loves dust baths so much that you have to physically remove her from the flower bed when you want to put her to bed and one still can't work out the steps up into the run, after many weeks of showing her and makes me laugh with her attempts every night. They lay wonderful eggs with bright orange yolks and have made me realise that so called 'free range' eggs in supermarkets are actually not as they seem. I used to turn up to the houses of friends with wine and flowers - now I inevitably turn up with wine and eggs instead - people seem to love receiving fresh eggs from the hens they see pop up in their Facebook feeds so often! In fact my husband did suggest that I might like to take a few more photos of the children rather than using my whole memory card on the chickens! For anyone considering getting chickens, don’t hesitate, they are a wonderful addition to any family! I now know that I will be keeping chickens for many years to come - there is no end in sight - I am have officially got a chicken addiction and am without a doubt a crazy chicken lady!
Emma with a chicken

My yearning for chickens began a few years ago and has grown gradually stronger, until last year I could resist no more. I got 2 hybrid chickens, one Columbian Black-tail and one Crested Legbar, from another chicken-loving friend in my village and have since added another 3 ex-battery chickens who were awaiting slaughter. There was a fourth, Anna, but unfortunately, after 3 months in the sunshine, she succumbed to illness and was buried under an apple tree in our field. My daughters have given them their names – Edith, Margo, Elsa, Noria & Divia – and they are still as excited about checking for eggs as they were when we first got them. They help me clean them out, give them snacks and sometimes sing and dance in the field to entertain them! It has been amazing watching the ex-bats grow their feathers back, enjoy their first dust baths, sunbathe and relax into life outside of the factory. They are extremely affectionate and love a cuddle. Every day, when they hear my car pull up, they come running to say hello and I am torn between staying with them for hugs and rushing in to see my children! They have added such richness and happiness to our lives (although my husband isn’t very pleased with the state of the garden but that is largely thanks to the rescue ducks that have recently joined the family!). I have always loved animals and have two 9 year old cats that have moved with us through the years, so I knew I would love my chickens. What I didn’t expect was HOW much they would come to mean to me – I held Anna in my arms when she was dying and literally cried for a whole day after she died – and she had only been with us for 3 months. Each chicken has their own individual personality and they vary so much – one is shy, one is flighty, one is so tame that she sits in my arms and goes to sleep, one loves dust baths so much that you have to physically remove her from the flower bed when you want to put her to bed and one still can’t work out the steps up into the run, after many weeks of showing her and makes me laugh with her attempts every night.

 

emmalalebrown@yahoo.co.uk

They lay wonderful eggs with bright orange yolks and have made me realise that so called ‘free range’ eggs in supermarkets are actually not as they seem. I used to turn up to the houses of friends with wine and flowers – now I inevitably turn up with wine and eggs instead – people seem to love receiving fresh eggs from the hens they see pop up in their Facebook feeds so often! In fact my husband did suggest that I might like to take a few more photos of the children rather than using my whole memory card on the chickens! For anyone considering getting chickens, don’t hesitate, they are a wonderful addition to any family! I now know that I will be keeping chickens for many years to come – there is no end in sight – I am have officially got a chicken addiction and am without a doubt a crazy chicken lady!

My first year of chicken keeping by Dom Bailey

My first year of chicken keeping

Eggstracts from a country diary Retired at 72 – not bad but I don’t know whether I could have stood another week in that cage. It’s nice to be able to stretch my wings, feel the earth between my toes and the breeze on my skin. “A few less feathers and that one would look oven ready..” I don’t know what they mean! Still, a week after leaving the factory and I’m feeling a lot better. The house is great – only five of us in here, but you can turn around, there’s food and water all day and a few darker rooms for snuggling up at night. There are a couple of beams above our heads, but you’d have to be some sort of bionic bird to jump up there. Outside, down the ramp it is quite bright during the day but it’s great scratching around – there are all sorts of bugs and shoots. And it’s great to see the sky. It is, however, still a cage, which gives me flashbacks to the factory now and then, but the feeders say they’ll let us roam a bit further later. I thought my egg amnesia was back. Laid one in the morning, went out for a few hours, came back in at it was gone. In the factory, I knew they were taking them and I’ve got a suspicion these humans are taking them here too. I might start calling them the Stealers. All the girls say the same.

Dom Bailey's chickens
Dom Bailey’s chickens

Burnham Five You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your cell mates. Back in the factory there were hundreds of us all in our cages. Most kept themselves to themselves (it’s hard to do little else in a cage the size of an A4 piece of paper) but there was always one who’d give the others a peck when possible. I wonder what’s happened to that lot now? Now that the five of us have been here a few weeks, things are starting to settle down – a pecking order has been established. So here’s a little introduction. (T-shirts and stickers with Free the Burnham Five logos soon to be available…). Me – Maizey (“as in maize” I heard the Strawhead say. Genius…) Buzzy – bit of a bully more like. Think she had a too few many chemicals in the factory and because she’s a bit smaller likes to push her weight around. BB – a “larger” bird who prefers the dustbowl feed to the green stuff. Scruffy – also known as poo bum. Can get a bit frantic. Ziggy – who arrived with the vulture-in-reverse look – feathered head and bald neck. Although, she does make me look good!

Outside run Woken by puffing outside the house this morning. “Not there, over here.” “Mind my… OW!” But then it started to sound a bit more hopeful. “Shall we let them out for a bit?” (Go on, go on, go on, go on!) “OK – but you have to stay up here and watch them.” The door slid back and there it was… Or, there is wasn’t. No wire to the left, no wire to the right. Just openness. We all bundled out into the sunshine. They really are letting us out. Let’s go! We all had a good scratch around – who needs that dust in the feeder when there are greens and flowers and little, wriggly meaty things poking their heads out of the ground? Then the straw-headed one started flapping around like a, well, a mother hen. “Not my herbs, not my herbs!” Someone had gone too far – some areas are obviously off limits. Still, they have also hung half a lettuce on a piece of string in the run… I know! And, if I am not mistaken, feathers I didn’t know I had are starting to sprout on my wings. Give it a few months and I could have a full set. Now I wonder if chickens can fly?…

Flights of fancy It’s been a few months now, but updates a plenty. The first flights can be reported – or you could call it “falling gracefully” from the wall near the run. This is all of course due to our improved plumage. The Stealers say it is getting harder to tell us apart – that is just rude. But it is nicer to feel the wind beneath my wings, rather than whistling through them.

Christmas nerves This time of year always makes me feel nervous. I don’t know why – the cold night air, the crisp mornings, the sharpening of steel. Scraps and oats from the Stealers have been increasing as the days grow shorter and colder – all welcome, but I must have put on a few ounces. Does my bum look big in this? Does it? I suppose it depends if you are a breast or a thigh man… But you can’t help getting suspicious. I remember hearing girls at the factory boasting about reaching their “optimum weight” then not being seen again. It might be the time of year, and the need for a bit of extra comfort, but I’ve started to let our Stealers stroke my feathers – I’m not saying I’m all Stealer-friendly all of a sudden – like BB, letting them pick me up like some sort of doll. No sir, a hen needs some dignity, but the odd scratch down the middle of the back is quite nice. At night we huddle up in the nest box, beak by jowl. But midwinter passed, a few minutes of extra daylight a day are creeping back in the mornings and we’re still here. The Hippy stumbled up here, jumped on a fork to expose some wrigglies and wished us “Happy Christmas! You’ve survived another!” – although from the cooking smells from the neighbourhood I’m not sure how many of the wider sisterhood were as fortunate. Let’s hope they had lived happy lives first.

Fresh Start for Hens and Green Valley Poultry Supplies

Money off for Fresh Start For Hens Re-homers

We’ve joined up with Fresh Start for Hens to offer £6000 of  discounts voucher to people re-homing their first hens through their up coming re-homings.  Each of these 1000 £6 vouchers will be distributed by FSFH and primarily aimed at people taking on their first ex-commercial hens.  The vouchers will help towards your first few purchases for chicken equipment.

Who are Fresh Start for Hens?

Fresh start For Hens
Fresh Start For hens

They are a non profit group who liaise with farmers to collect their hens at the end of their commercial life – normally around 18 months old when they have their first moult and egg production pauses for a few months. The hens are then distributed through regional centers where they are assessed and then passed on to their new owners.

These hens can be from any of the 3 types of farming methods, caged (battery hens), barn (hens that are free to move within a barn but not outside) or Free Range.  All commercial hens normally become pet food at the end of their working life.

They also work work to enlighten people as to the plight of the commercial hen, and demonstrate that there are alternatives to early slaughter.

How do I re-home ex-commercial hens?

There are several groups that work with farmer and organise the distribution of ex commercial hens to new home. Fresh Start for Hens is one of them and they are are approaching  50000 re homed hens to date.

To find out when the next rehoming is there is a page on their website to reserve hens from FSFH .  All new keepers are vetted so prevent hens being sold on for profit and to ensure they have suitable accommodation.