Negleted chickens, or am i being to soft?

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Steve_789

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Negleted chickens, or am i being to soft?
« on: January 15, 2020, 14:22 »
Hi folks,

I'm part of a walled garden that's had chickens since day 1 almost 30yrs ago. However last year there was a change with just "who" owned the chickens, before it was one of the staff and they got the money from the eggs, now their officially the gardens chickens with any any egg money going to the garden, the same member of staff agreed to carry on looking after them. Before last year there was plenty of coops and shelter and no reason to question how they were looked after, however this year i've been slightly concerned, and since Christmas i've been seriously concerned that there not being looked after correctly. I'm not really a chicken person, although i've looked after animals my entire life, including the normal hamsters and rabbits etc, just never chickens.

So, we have 16 chickens of various breeds (which breeds i have no idea!), the first picture shows them. They all seem healthy enough, although to be honest i wouldn't know if they were ill and i've not picked any of em up and had a good look etc. We have also 8 Muscovy ducks we got last year as well, not concerned about them, the adults cant fly (youngsters can) but they have full access to the entire walled garden (5 acres), although they do come down to the chickens at feeding time and join in, which factors into my first worry ... are they being fed enough.

At the moment i dont know "exact" quantities, other than 2 25kg bags of "mixed poultry corn" lasted the entirety of december, with 2 new bags being brought last week, also a bag of what i've been told are laying pellets was brought as well. As i mentioned i dont know the exact quantities the chickens are given,but it wont be any more than one of those large yogurt pots a day, bout 350kg/450kg sized tub at a guess (when filled with yogut that is!) and it may well be less. There is a proper feeder, although its never used as "the rats eat it all", although i've never seen a rat, or evidence of rats down there, we do have mice elsewhere in the garden though so it may be a perfectly valid reason. They also have no separate grit supply, which i've seen they need access to, we do have gravel paths around them and they can get out of their area (no issues with that btw), so maybe they get out, eat some gravel, then go back in?
 
My 2nd worry is water, now they do have it, its always dirty, but its always full (and i've been making a point of going down and replacing it every few days when i'm in) and i've seen them drink from it, but is that only because its that or nothing?? We do have a proper metal watering station i've been thinking of hanging so it actually works properly but the staff member in charge certainly never uses it.

My 3rd worry is the coop, its just horrible and, i think, far to small, it also leaks. I actually took a look in it back in october and it very obviously hadn't been mucked out for months and months, so i cleaned it all out, fresh bedding down (from the available bedding, pine shavings at best guess) etc, then took another look in last week, it very obviously hadn't been done since. Now i think the staff member has noticed i've been taken more interest in the chickens welfare as he mucked it all out on monday, however he'd also moved all the bedding from the nice dry shed into a wheelie bin, and it was sodden, i could wring it out in my hands, and he put THAT into the coop!! I also don't think its anywhere near big enough for them all, i sat down there on tuesday when it was raining hard to see where they'd take shelter, the 6 big ones all went into the coop (and when i looked in it seemed very cosy!) and all the others took shelter UNDER the other shed (can be seen in the first pic), where they'd made a little cave for themselves!! The only other shelter in their area is a crab apple tree and long grasses, which they were all huddled between last week when it was windy.

As for run space, no issues there, there's plenty, its a pretty big plot!

One thing i also noticed last year is that we got little to no eggs last year, where as the year before we had loads. Now after looking around on the web i can only think of a few reasons for that, 1 - their not being fed correctly, 2 - the coop was to bad to go in so they hid under the hedge to lay, 3 - the staff member swiped all the eggs from themselves (i wouldn't put it past them to be honest..). All the chickens, with the possible exception of the 6 biggest, are all within 3-4 years old, with some being born last year, so from what i can tell we should still be getting a good amount of eggs.

So i guess my question is this, is it just a case of "stop being soft, if the chickens are happy and healthy then there's no issues", or are they being neglected and instant action is required??

Thanks in advance

Steve
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New shoot

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Re: Negleted chickens, or am i being to soft?
« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2020, 17:32 »
Hi Steve and welcome to the forum.

The chickens and ducks look in reasonable condition, but it is really hard to tell from a photo if they are underweight.  It looks like they have a good area to range it and they will find their own food from that, plus any grit that they need.  When chickens are not in lay (which is perfectly natural over the winter for a lot of breeds) they eat less.  Older hens that have finished their laying lives also eat less.

The coop looks run down and could do with improvement for sure, plus the bedding used should be dry as it can get mouldy otherwise and that will not be good for the birds.  It also needs to be kept clean.  No animal should live in filth.

Is there no-one in charge there that you could speak to?  If not, I would suggest you call the RSPCA and report your concerns.  An inspector can come and have a look and suggest improvements.  They do work with people, before marching in all guns blazing.   If the staff member who cares for the birds reacted to your interest, that may well be enough to get things back on track,

I hope this answers some of your questions at least  :)

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Steve_789

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Re: Negleted chickens, or am i being to soft?
« Reply #2 on: January 15, 2020, 19:03 »
They have a great run area to move about in, its about 20x30m or summing silly, no worrys about that. I did wonder if they'd be able to find enough food within it and it was a case of "topping up" with the mixed corn or not though.

And yes, the coop is very run down, that's one bit i will be improving on regardless, maybe not with a new big one, but certainly more places to shelter within the area so they don't have to hunker down under the shed.

There is someone in charge i can talk to, and i have done before (i'm also a trustee of the charity which helps!). I just wanted to be sure there was actually any issues with how their being looked after before i started to ruffle feathers (pun fully intended! :))

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New shoot

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Re: Negleted chickens, or am i being to soft?
« Reply #3 on: January 15, 2020, 19:50 »
They will eat a lot of grass, plus any worms, slugs or other bugs that they find.  Laying hens are quite thin compared to a chicken you might buy to eat in a supermarket, if that is your only point of reference. 

50kg of corn, plus layers pellets is quite a bit of feed.  They may be getting more that the 350/450g you think they get a day to empty that lot in a month, so it might be worth checking on that.  Rats will eat any food left out at night and may venture out in daylight if they know food is around, which might be why the birds are called to a scatter feed at certain times. It would be impossible to rat-proof such a big run.   If a coop is raised off the ground, some chickens do enjoy getting under there, so their cave is not so bad as you think.  They may love it.

The housing and cleanliness does seem to be the other major issue, but the birds should also be being wormed regularly and the coop checked for red mite.  If they have worms, this could also affect  egg laying and general health.  Sorry to keep adding to your list, but I think you do have a case for getting involved and while you are at it, it would be good to get the birds on a good routine for all this stuff.  You could try just asking the member of staff who cares for them to teach you and then gently start putting your own ideas in, rather than make him or her feel you are taking over or being critical of them.

There is a lot of useful information in the main part of the site here :

https://www.chickens.allotment-garden.org/poultry-articles/

and here on the forum

https://chat.allotment-garden.org/index.php?board=13.0

You can also use the search facility in each area to look for key words if there is something specific you want to check on, plus we'll do our best to answer questions you post  :)
« Last Edit: January 15, 2020, 19:55 by New shoot »

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Steve_789

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Re: Negleted chickens, or am i being to soft?
« Reply #4 on: January 17, 2020, 11:38 »
Thanks for all the advice, it really is useful!

I double checked the tub used to feed them, i was totally wrong, its a 1kg tub. So even at 1 a morning it should last about 25 days with 25kg bags, longer if the staff member doesn't use the entire tub. I did notice half the bag laying pellets bag had been used up, however its not been mixed into the main feed, nor seemingly disturbed since i re rolled it down on tuesday, so its gone .... somewhere (staff member still has their own chickens on their allotment..). One thing another member of staff noted is that they swarmed up on wednesday when she went to feed them about lunch time (the chicken staff member having taken the day off...without telling anybody...) and were jumping up at her etc, which they've never done with them, or me,  before. Would that just be because the routine had changed? Questions were also raised if their even fed at weekends when no one else in over in winter, would they be able to scavenge enough food from the run like you mentioned they might?

I also took a look under the shed as well, they've dug out little beds for themselves but the smell is terrible due to poo, that cant be healthy for them surely?

I've got no idea how often their wormed, if at all. However i haven't seen any worming stuff around recently, but its possible they could have been wormed earlier in the year and i just didn't notice. I know red mite have been an issue in the past and the staff member just tended to burn whatever shelter/coop had it. I don't recall it being mentioned last year.   

It almost seems to be from a few weeks of reading about chickens and seeing how other people look after theirs we might be better just starting from scratch !
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grinling

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Re: Negleted chickens, or am i being to soft?
« Reply #5 on: January 17, 2020, 15:29 »
Chickens might be dustbathing under the shed.
Water and food should be available all day with oyster shell available as well. grit is optional as they will find it naturally.
red mite check, run a piece of white tissue along cracks or end of perch, this will squish them and turn the tissue red.
Wildlife incl mice and birds will eat the food.
winter concern is water freezing,so someone should be going in daily. footwear should be in disinfectant.
house and bedding should be dry with enough perch space.
worming was probably done with pellets.

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Re: Negleted chickens, or am i being to soft?
« Reply #6 on: January 17, 2020, 22:05 »
Questions were also raised if their even fed at weekends when no one else in over in winter, would they be able to scavenge enough food from the run like you mentioned they might?

No they wouldn't Steve.  Free range chickens, or ones in a very large run, often eat less feed as they find a proportion of their own food.  I was trying to say that bags of feed might last longer in that situation, but it really is not acceptable they may not get fed at all at weekends.  That needs addressing immediately, as does having clean (unfrozen) water every day.  If they just get a single morning feed, I would consider that cruel, let alone going without for 2 days.  What happens on bank holidays?  I think you need to get to the bottom of that one fast. 

Mine are in a much smaller run than yours and have food and water available all day.  I take the food out at night to avoid rodent problems.   I do know someone with a big set-up like yours and she scatter feeds midday when they are out, but hers have a smaller run area around their coop where there is food and water when they are shut in.  She takes the food out when the door is open to their larger area, to stop wild birds eating it.  Is that an option at the gardens?

If it can't be guaranteed that they get adequate food and water daily, the rest of the improvements to living quarters and shelters are a bit redundant.  Sorry to be a little harsh, but I know you have the welfare of the birds on your agenda and I think you would appreciate to hear it how it is  :)

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Steve_789

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Re: Negleted chickens, or am i being to soft?
« Reply #7 on: January 18, 2020, 11:39 »
For sure i'd much rather hear how it is, no matter how harsh. It also helps make me far more confident in being forceful/insistent something is done, rather than being "i'm not sure, but..".

Yes, at the moment when i'm not in its purely one feed a day in the morning and whatever they can scavenge, when i'm in i make a point of going down and giving them a full tub mid afternoon and changing the water. Its all scatter fed as well, feeders aren't used at all. Bank holidays are just a normal weekday to us being a tourist attraction, so someone will be on site, but the chickens are pretty much entirely left under the care of the staff member.

Bringing in the food and leaving it out inst really viable in our situation, it might be done for a bit but it wont be a guaranteed thing. I saw a  "treadle feeder" on google which looks like a good option for us as we'll need to be able to have it so the chickens can be left alone for a day or so at a time, or looked after by someone with zero experience of animals. Although i've never seen or heard of them before so have no idea how well they actually work in practice! 



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snowdrops

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Re: Negleted chickens, or am i being to soft?
« Reply #8 on: January 18, 2020, 12:01 »
I did reply before but must have hit the wrong button & was going to suggest a treadle feeder. Iíve got 1 for my (now) 6 chickens & it works well, lasts them 4 or 5 days, you can get more expensive,robust ones that take a full bag of pellets I think. Mine was about £25 off eBay, they also have an automatic drinker, fed from a  10litre tank into little cups that work by when they drink it fills back up.
Mine donít free range at all but have a biggish pen (on my allotment) .
If you are on the board of trustees/committee. I would raise your concerns at a meeting & the solutions as you see them, sounds as if the staff member is not filling their role as prescribed or maybe they donít know how to keep chickens. I would go down the animal welfare route & how it is a, wrong to keep chickens that way & b, how it would appear/bring the charity? Into disrepute maybe.
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Re: Negleted chickens, or am i being to soft?
« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2020, 12:09 »
I haven't used a treadle feeder, but I was going to suggest you investigate this.  I'm not sure if the ducks will be able to work it, so you might need to ensure they are fed differently.  Perhaps a morning and afternoon/evening scatter feed with a treadle feeder as well would be a good compromise.

I think it does need more people involved in the care of the birds.  It is not hard so even an inexperienced person should be able to cope.  The jumping up you mention was due to anxiety over being fed late and they meant no harm, but anyone a bit wary of birds might find that off putting.

Chickens do poop constantly, so the 'beds' are dust baths and no it is not ideal that you cannot get to them to clean them.  More shelters would hopefully get them out from under there. 

The coop needs waterproofing so it does not leak and could use some more perches, so there is plenty of room for everyone.  It needs to be kept clean (some people do a daily poop pick it to give you an idea of how much they produce) and the bedding needs to be dry.

You have been given advice about worming and red mite by Grinling and there is a lot more info on the links I gave you.

I would suggest you also think about re-homing male birds.  Do you need them breeding and increasing in numbers every year?  You could buy in pullets when you need them, rather than hatch your own and that might be why you are not getting so many eggs to eat/sell.  Hens sit for 30 odd days on eggs, don't lay when they are raising chicks and produce males as well as females.

Your instincts were right so I think you should more confident about taking this situation in hand.  It might be that the staff member is doing an OK job when you investigate a bit more, but it may not be the case.  They might be using your garden chickens as a breeding pool, nabbing the young layers and ditching older hens and males on you.  They may have their nose out of joint at the changes that have been made as to the eggs and who owns them.  I don't know, but a bit of polite but determined fact finding would do no harm in my view  :)


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Steve_789

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Re: Negleted chickens, or am i being to soft?
« Reply #10 on: January 18, 2020, 23:11 »
nice to know the treadle feeders work in practice, i think i'll suggest we go down that route when i talk to the manager on monday (that's going to be a fun conversation!  :().

so to recap, i've got the following now

Coop + Shelter
1 - Deep clean of the current coop with chicken safe disinfectant, checking for signs of red mite, also possibly a dusting down with Diatomaceous Earth afterwards
2 - Repair the current coop until a new one (or 2) can be purchased
3 - More covered shelter around the area, can be done with materials in house for the short term whilst more permanent structures are brought/built
4 - Possibly creating a big ďdryĒ space around/in front of the current coop so the chickens can stretch their legs without getting wet?

Food+Water
1 - Deep clean current unused feeder, place raised up a little and keep filled with feed until treadle feeder (or 2) can be purchased, then switch to that.
2 - Deep clean current drinking bucket and purchase another.
3 - Put both under shelter, possible in mentioned dry area beside the coop.
4- Switch feed to layers pellets only? I've heard that mixed corn is a ďtreatĒ and shouldn't be used as daily feed?

Dust baths
Create a new one under shelter to also help keep them out from under the shed

Health
1 - Check when chickens were last wormed, worm if more than 3 months have passed?
2 - Check for obvious signs of illness, see about picking them up and checking for mites
3 - Get a proper routine for cleaning and checking food + water etc

and also look at re-homing males as being utterly unneeded! 

Think that covers everything, can you guys see anything i may have missed?

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snowdrops

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Re: Negleted chickens, or am i being to soft?
« Reply #11 on: January 19, 2020, 08:53 »
As you say corn is a supplementary feed at the end of the day, if they are mainly having that ,that may be why theyíre not laying so well, layers pellets- itís in the name 😊.
Diamatamous earth is a standard not preferential, I dust the nest box every time I change the bedding.

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Re: Negleted chickens, or am i being to soft?
« Reply #12 on: January 19, 2020, 09:32 »
It seems we have given you a big list Steve, but I hope also some confidence that you do know a thing or two now and can tackle that tricky conversation with the manager. 

Layers pellets are the standard feed used, but I think the mixed corn might be a winter feed while the chickens are not laying and/or because you also have ducks running with your flock and/or because that staff member who currently looks after them knows they only get fed once daily and that a scatter feed of pellets would be nowhere near enough.  Grain is much more calorific and that is why it is a treat if the birds have constant access to pellets.

I have no experience of ducks and am not sure your current feeder would work for them.  I found this old thread here that might help. 

https://chat.allotment-garden.org/index.php?topic=101834.0

Good luck for tomorrow.  You are doing the right thing in picking up the baton and making sure your garden poultry are well managed  :)
« Last Edit: January 19, 2020, 09:45 by New shoot »

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Steve_789

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Re: Negleted chickens, or am i being to soft?
« Reply #13 on: January 19, 2020, 13:24 »
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Diamatamous earth is a standard not preferential, I dust the nest box every time I change the bedding.

good to know! I'll add it to the list of things that will need doing regularly

Quote
It seems we have given you a big list Steve, but I hope also some confidence that you do know a thing or two now and can tackle that tricky conversation with the manager.

tis a big list, but all entirely doable :)

Quote
Layers pellets are the standard feed used, but I think the mixed corn might be a winter feed while the chickens are not laying and/or because you also have ducks running with your flock and/or because that staff member who currently looks after them knows they only get fed once daily and that a scatter feed of pellets would be nowhere near enough.  Grain is much more calorific and that is why it is a treat if the birds have constant access to pellets.

I'm not so sure, knowing the staff member i wouldn't put it past them to have planned to make that bag "disappear" down to his chickens, normally i'm not about when he gets the food so dont know, easily checked though by looking at old receipts to see whats been brought when and how much. The ducks might figure it out, although its been muted by other staff members to either reduce their number or get rid of them due to the sheer amount of poo they leave everywhere!

Thanks again everyone for the advice, it really has been helpful and very much appreciated!

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Steve_789

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Re: Negleted chickens, or am i being to soft?
« Reply #14 on: January 20, 2020, 18:21 »
well, for those following this, i've now been given full freedom to look after the chickens and do anything i might think is required to keep em happy and healthy, the staff member has also been banned from having anything to do with them from now on. Work starts on improving things first thing tomorrow.

guess i'm now a fully fledged chicken keeper! <gulp>



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