Experience, 5 months in, of a new chicken keeper, at an allotment

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OakR

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Hello

I got lots of useful advice on here, so thought I would try and return the favour (though I am still very much a novice).

My chickens are at my allotment, which is in London, around a 10 minute drive or cycle from my house.

I have 5 chickens I got in September, when they were approximately 14 weeks old. They are all bantams and different breeds Araucana, Barnevelder, Silkie, Buff Orpington, Speckeldy (so 4 pure breeds and one hybrid). I had wanted to get 1 or 2 large fowl but the breeder I went to wasn't keen on mixing the sizes (I've read mixed things about this, my gut feeling, is with enough room etc it would have been fine, but it wasn't a deal breaker).

I'd spent about a year looking it before getting my chickens, mainly due to over-research but also lockdown started in March last year just when I wanted to get started.

The Run

The run is approximately 3.6 metres x 6 metres, so around 21sq metres. Most people recommend a minimum of 1sq metre per hen, ideally 2sq metre, I opted for 4 sq metre to start with which is the free range equivalent if they were to stay in the run, which they must most of the time due to the foxes at the allotment.

I am an awful DIY person but decided to build it myself. Took ages - I would highly recommend having at least one person to hold the timber etc! ...but the good news is if I can build it, so can you. It takes time but is doable.

I got all my mesh from Hills of Devon who delivered quickly and seemed recommended reasonably widely, and I found good price wise.

I got small mesh for the side like this: 1/2 by 1 in, 1.6mm dia, 36 in wide by 15 mtr roll of aviary mesh and for the roof and skirt outside: 2 by 2 in, 1.6mm dia, 48 in wide by 30 mtr roll of aviary mesh. The first one is I think rat proof, both are fox proof.

I treated the wood with Curpinol Garden Shades - I found it hard to find a truly eco treatment but this seemed better than others.

Mistakes I made:

1. Not getting the ground completely level - I cursed myself many times when having to fix bits that didn't now quite align.
2. My timber was delivered during the first lockdown, and some of it was nto straight. I couldn't really, and didn't want to take it back. As above I cursed the DIY company this time when things didn't align - the saw came in very handy!
3. I stapled the mesh to the timber - I needed far more staples than I estimated, over 4,000!
4. In hindsight, laying the rat proof mesh as a skirt on the outside of the run migth have made more sense (but would have been more expensive).
5. After attaching the mesh to the roof, I did realise how difficult it would be to get any onduline type sheets on (well impossible) - I now have tarp which works fine.

I have a grandpa treedle feeder. They are expensive at around £100, but they seem to have some resale value, save on lost food, and most importantly for me vastly reduce the chances of rats coming in for food. I did find rats had tunneled in once, I filled it in and they have not been back, which makes me think they had a look, found nothing, and move on.

I have 2 water drinkers I hangup they drink from. I give them Apple Cider Vinegar once a month for a week.

I have a plastic coop from Solway Recycling. These again are not cheap but again have resale value, and whilst they don't mean no red mites, they seem to reduce the chance and ease of eradition, though in fairness not sure how I would take mine apart. I use Aubiose inside the coop and nest boxes as bedding. I raised mine and built a small shelter for them underneath which they use sometimes but they prefer the:...

...Kids Wendy house I bought second hand, and 2 of the hens laid their first eggs in it. They use it for their dust baths now.

The ground is just earth for now. It gets a bit muddy around the side after heavy rain,but the centre is dry and they can take shelter in the coop, under the coop or the wendy house if they want.

I poo pick the run and coop daily, it doesn't take too long, around 5 minutes I think if done daily.

The chickens

So we got bantams. I chose them as I thought they might be better for my children (aged 6 and 9 at the time). No idea if this is true or not, but for my kids I think smaller hens were the way forwards.

At first the hens would run away from us most of the time, I mistakenly tried to catch them a few times, which made things worse. I then did the opposite, we took chairs in there and just sat in with them. The speckeldy was always fairly friendly but the others more hesitant but soon enough they would potter about by us.

I wasn't giving any corn or treats at this time as I thought they were too small, I started this when they 28 weeks old roughly. I did this partly as a treat but mostly to train them to come back for when I let them out of the run at the allotment and need to get them back in. This now works brilliantly (they are not let out due to avian flu but a shake of the jar and they come running so am confidant this will work now).


The Speckledy wanted to roost outside from the start, with all the others trying to fir into one nest box in the coop. A few months on, the Buff Orp, Speckledy and Barnevelder all sleep outside on a high timber bit, with the Araucana and Silkie sleeping in the coop. As far as I can tell, none have ever used the perches in the coop (I don't think silkies use them).

I originally locked them in the coop each night (including the Speckledy I would put back in) but eventualy just left the door open so they could go in and out as they pleased, which worked well. However, I got paranoid about rats, so got an electronic timer from Hensafe that shuts and opens the coop door automatically.

At least 3 of the hens are now laying. The speckledy was first at around 28 weeks on the 13th December, and she has averaged around 4 eggs a week since then. Next was the Araucana, who started crouching on the 6th Jan and laid her first egg at around 34 weeks old 2 weeks later on the 21st Jan. The Buff Orpington started crouching around 2 weeks but I am not sure of the is laying yet - I think the Silkie is but she is not crouching, but then we sometimes get 2 eggs one of which is the Speckledy and the other I think either the Barnevelder or the Buff - not sure how I will  work it out but think it will become clearer in spring. I do weigh the eggs and can sort of work them out that way. The hens that have started laying can now easily be picked up, stroked (well much more than before) so if you have nervous hens, they do change a lot at this time.

Other things...

I had planned to use the chickens to fertilise and clear weeds etc at the allotment for me, and I woudl return the favour and give them the spinach etc growing there. I had not however considered bird flu and the fact they might need to be locked in for 4/5/6 months, and that I could not use what I was growing outside for them. I now give them supermarket greens which is not quite the plan!

I also have fairly dark tarp over the run, I will remove one half once it's warmer and flockdown is over, and next winter put a clear tarp on so they have more light.

I will also look to put something on the sides to stop the rain lashing in, and put some guttering around the run.

People talk about chicken maths but I am happy with ours. I think if the flock reduces in size, at that time I might increase numbers but they all seem reasonably happy now and adding just a couple of chickens in I think is difficult for the news ones - I guess we will see if I stick to this.

The bantam chicken yolks I would say are not far off medium egg yolk sizes but much less white, which my wife is not that keen on as she likes the white, so in hindsight we would have got a large fowl hen. If we get some new ones will probably be large fowl ones.

Winter has hit, and with that the water freezing overnight and during the day. This is pretty unusual in London. I typically visit once a day, sometimes two, but at the moment it has to be two for the water. Of course the car broke today and won't be repaired for a week, so needing to cycle in this weather is not ideal but has to be done.

This is probably long enough now, hopefully of use to someone at some point!

\\ I'll try and add some photos below
« Last Edit: February 10, 2021, 22:55 by OakR »

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OakR

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Re: Experience, 5 months in, of a new chicken keeper, at an allotment
« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2021, 23:01 »
Photos Below, see if you can spot the fox in one of them!
Sun.jpg
Run.jpg
TreadleFeeder and fox.jpg
HenHouse.jpg
HenRun.jpg

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OakR

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Re: Experience, 5 months in, of a new chicken keeper, at an allotment
« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2021, 13:31 »
1 last thing I was reminded of this morning when having them on bare earth as such at the allotment, is that the chickens dig and effectively find all sorts of stuff previous plot holders left and / or buried.

I find daily bits of carpet someone buried (marvelous), periodically bits of glass (thankfully not too sharp) and almost daily biys of plastic that I guess have been buried also and partly decomposed / split.

So this is an added thing to clear-up - hopefully it will go in time but it's one thing I had not considered.

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New shoot

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Re: Experience, 5 months in, of a new chicken keeper, at an allotment
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2021, 10:44 »
It does look like a fantastic run.  Well done  :)

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grinling

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Re: Experience, 5 months in, of a new chicken keeper, at an allotment
« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2021, 13:42 »
Looks really good. Can you screw onduline to the top, you can create holes by heating a drill bit and push through. A solid roof, which does not move in the wind, will keep rain out.
I am surprised you allow the outside the run, due to foxes and allotmenters having goods eaten.
How have you done the bottom of the run.Having wire in a L shape  going outside at least 1 spade deep and 2 spades width helps animals digging in.
The run floor will need digging over, take out as much rubbish as you can, but you will need to do this about 2-4 weeks.
I provide a pot of chick grit and oyster shell, with soil you can stake a pot with a camping spike.
I had a giant orpington, mixed normal size as well as 2 bantam and they were happy. Bantams go broody, but easy to debrood or great for hatching.

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OakR

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Re: Experience, 5 months in, of a new chicken keeper, at an allotment
« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2021, 21:04 »
Looks really good. Can you screw onduline to the top, you can create holes by heating a drill bit and push through. A solid roof, which does not move in the wind, will keep rain out.
I am surprised you allow the outside the run, due to foxes and allotmenters having goods eaten.
How have you done the bottom of the run.Having wire in a L shape  going outside at least 1 spade deep and 2 spades width helps animals digging in.
The run floor will need digging over, take out as much rubbish as you can, but you will need to do this about 2-4 weeks.
I provide a pot of chick grit and oyster shell, with soil you can stake a pot with a camping spike.
I had a giant orpington, mixed normal size as well as 2 bantam and they were happy. Bantams go broody, but easy to debrood or great for hatching.

Hi sorry I missed your response.

I've not let them out yet, but will do once Avian Flu is over. I'll only do it hwen I am there and will section off an area with debris netting so they can munch on plants and bugs etc but not get on other plots. They won't be out when I am not there.

Run floor is just the ground as it was. Pre bird lockdown, I was digging out grass and spinach plants on the plot etc and digging them into the run for them to eat, but not possible now. Will go back to that once things are better, and maybe cover a small section at a time for grass to regrow in the run.

I clean it out each day, have turned some bits over but not most - why do you think I need to? The middle is bone dry, but the outsides do get the rain driven in.

I can't get onduline on the roof as I just can't get to the middle of it to attach anything. I could potentially pre make some bits onto a roof structure and attach that, but not sure how it would work.

Thanks for your help.

Al

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grinling

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Re: Experience, 5 months in, of a new chicken keeper, at an allotment
« Reply #6 on: February 24, 2021, 11:45 »
chickens can fly over and walk under debris netting, but get them used to a pot with mixed corn in being rattled will bring them back to where you want them to be.
I used to have hens at the allotment and found that the soil would get compacted, so would compost the top layers and dig over the area missing their inquisitive heads.  ::)
Could you put horizontal battens to help keep a roof down. Snows sits on wire and gets heavy and then drips on the birds. Also you can put guttering up and collect that for the allotment.

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snowdrops

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Re: Experience, 5 months in, of a new chicken keeper, at an allotment
« Reply #7 on: February 25, 2021, 21:23 »
Are you aware you need to cover the run at the moment due to avian flu? It is a rule by Defra, lots on the chicken forum about it
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OakR

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Re: Experience, 5 months in, of a new chicken keeper, at an allotment
« Reply #8 on: February 26, 2021, 00:08 »
chickens can fly over and walk under debris netting, but get them used to a pot with mixed corn in being rattled will bring them back to where you want them to be.
I used to have hens at the allotment and found that the soil would get compacted, so would compost the top layers and dig over the area missing their inquisitive heads.  ::)
Could you put horizontal battens to help keep a roof down. Snows sits on wire and gets heavy and then drips on the birds. Also you can put guttering up and collect that for the allotment.

Thanks - I've been training them on recall with the pot of mixed corn and it works pretty well now- they all come running, in fact I can hardly walk for fear of walking on them when I am holding it!

Am going to get the guttering done but need to redo some of the tarp on there first - I have the horizontal battens up the tarp attaches too but they are just a bit too high right now, but I will just move them once the bird flu is over in case I mess it up now.

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OakR

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Re: Experience, 5 months in, of a new chicken keeper, at an allotment
« Reply #9 on: February 26, 2021, 00:10 »
Are you aware you need to cover the run at the moment due to avian flu? It is a rule by Defra, lots on the chicken forum about it

Yep fully aware, I think I mentioned it in my first post (which is admitedly very long!), so they've only been in the run and it's fully covered. Once it's over though I want to start to let them out a bit.



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