Chickenopolis: Phase 2!

The girls now have free range of the piece of land behind the house and they love it.

A while ago, I talked about how we went about getting our chickens and how we’d been given a hen house by a very kind farming neighbour.  Well, the chicken bug has well and truly bitten and we’re now thinking (well, I am!) of getting a few more.  Just three or four and then that would be it.  Honestly!  I was initially thinking of going for pure breeds, perhaps one of those which are particularly rare and/or local, such as the Derbyshire Redcap or the Marsh Daisy.  However, I then saw something on Facebook about ex-battery hens and felt compelled to rehome some of those instead.  After having a totally horrendous life confined to a cage the size of a sheet of A4 paper, they deserve to see daylight and feel grass under their feet.  Besides, most of them are ‘disposed of’ at around 17 months old and have plenty of life, and eggs, left in them.

This means that my current coop isn’t big enough to accommodate both my flock as it stands and any newcomers.  On top of that, you can’t just introduce new hens into an existing flock; the incoming birds need to be quarantined to avoid them possibly bringing in an infection or disease, and to prevent them being bullied by the current flock members.  This, of course, all means just one thing. A new hen house.

Chickenopolis! The wooden coop will be moved out of this enclosure and renovated.

Choosing a new hen house is a big deal.  It needs to be practical; big enough, easy to clean, red mite resistant, attractive and comfortable for the girls, and so on.  Because everyone I know has told me horror stories of major red mite infestations which caused them to give up on chicken keeping, I was perhaps a tad paranoid about this and made it my mission to find a suitable, affordable, plastic coop.  Plastic is, apparently, less attractive to red mite than wood but plastic coops tend to be less attractive to me.  Eglu is a practical brand but I don’t find them at all attractive and they’re expensive.  There are chicken arks made from recycled plastic but, again, they’re just not attractive in my opinion.  I did locate one plastic coop which combined all the practical benefits I wanted but with a traditional look.  However, this came at a price.  Almost £600 to be precise!  This was way beyond my budget.  Eventually, after a couple of weeks of researching I found something which seemed to fit the bill; a coop made of recycled plastic and wood fibre with a relatively traditional appearance, at a more affordable £180.00.  This is, of course, still a chunk of money but with a bit of luck it should last years without rotting.

The front of the coop with the nest box to the left.
The rear of the new coop.

There was a bit of a delay in delivery but eventually it arrived in one large, flat box with over 40 pieces which needed fitting together.  No tools were required to do this though an extra pair of hands would have been nice.  Unfortunately, Mr P chose this moment to go and have a nap, leaving me to it.  It actually went together without too much trouble, apart from the nest box which I thought should have been done at an earlier stage in construction (instructions aren’t always well thought through, are they?).

So, what do I and, more importantly, the girls, think of this new hen house?  Well, the girls seem to quite like it!  They refused to go in it the first night so the following night I put them in it but let them go in the old house the next morning to lay their eggs.  After that, we closed off the old house and they’ve been using the new one ever since, with no trouble at all.  After that first night, they went in it on their own and laid in the nest box straight away.  As for me, well I think this chicken house is in need of a redesign.  The roof doesn’t lift off for easy cleaning as you might expect of any hen house.  To access the inside you have to unscrew the bolts at the sides of the roof and slide out a couple of the roof panels.  I now don’t bother putting the bolts back in as it’s a pain.  The roof to the nest box does lift up though …   The roosting bars are too narrow, at about 1″ wide and are positioned so low that in winter, if you’re deep littering, they will soon be useless.  I’m putting in a homemade roost bar instead.

The roof is sectional and can be pulled out for cleaning.
The left-hand roosting bar and the nest box. This is too narrow for a roost.

This house is easily big enough for four to six hens (my four girls free range so only sleep and lay eggs in theirs) but there’s only one nest box which isn’t big enough to divide in two – -luckily, my girls don’t seem to mind sharing!  Having said all that, if you can live with the deficiencies or make some alterations, it’s probably worth the money.  It’s miles cheaper than other plastic houses, is easy to put together (I did it on my own in about an hour and a half but, as I said, it’d be quicker with a bit of help), and I’m hoping it will help avoid the dreaded red mite.  It’s made from recycled materials which appeals to me too.

The nest box – the girls will insist on sleeping in it!

The plan now is to renovate the old wooden coop for the incoming girls until I’m in a position to afford another new, plastic coop.  But that’s something I’ll cover in a future post!

 

Do you keep chickens, what sort of coop do you prefer?As always, please do contact me and share your thoughts on this.  You’ll need to sign up as a user in order for your comments to appear under the post.  I’d be delighted to hear from you.

 

 

Lambing Course at Broomfield: Review

On Saturday morning I was up by 7am.  By 7.30 I’d cleaned out the chickens, fed and watered them, and was in the kitchen getting breakfast and making up the largest flask of coffee I could.  This was lambing day!  I’d been looking forward to this since I’d booked it and paid my £50 way back in November.  A couple of weeks ago I’d received a reminder email from Mark at Broomfield (part of Derby College), giving full details of what we’d cover, instructions about appropriate clothing and footwear, and reminding us to take a packed lunch since the canteen would be shut.

I arrived on time for the 10am start and, after some initial awkwardness (something akin to being in a lift), introduced myself to my fellow would-be lambers.  We were quite an assorted bunch; a couple of A-level students who wanted to be vets, one man who had a smallholding, and half a dozen middle-aged women whose small hands were in demand by farmers at lambing time for reasons I hope I don’t need to explain!

We started with a fairly brief (30 to 40 minutes) classroom introduction to some basics, during which I grabbed a coffee from my flask, and were provided with useful handouts detailing management of ewes, preparing for lambing, what facilities are required, managing newborn lambs, feeding, etc.  I also brought home a ‘Sheep Gestation Table’.  Sheep have a 145 day gestation period so if you know what date your ewes were tupped (i.e. serviced by a ram, also known as a tup), the table tells you when the lambs are expected.  Hygiene is a really big deal in lambing so Mark stressed the importance of dipping our feet in the disinfectant everytime we moved in or out of the lambing sheds.  Then it was off for a quick ride round the site and to the sheds on a tractor trailer, which was fun if a little chilly.

At the lambing sheds we were hit by the first upset of the day; a dead lamb which had been aborted.  It looked as if it hadn’t formed quite properly and couldn’t possibly have survived.  It was sad but, as the shepherd pointed out, it happens, and at least the ewe had another two lambs.  It wasn’t long before we saw lambs actually being born.  The two young students had the opportunity to feel inside a ewe to see if they could feel the head of the lamb.  Its feet should have been pointing forwards, under its chin but they weren’t so it was a case of feeling around in the dark to try to right them.  Over the course of the day we had plenty of opportunity to get involved, though there was no further need to intervene in that way.  As Mr P so eloquently put it, there was no need for me to “put my mitt up a ewe’s no-no”!  However, I did get involved in saving a lamb’s life when we came across a lamb which had been born inside the sac full of amniotic fluid. Effectively, it was drowning.  The shepherd broke the sac and I had the task of rubbing the lamb’s chest hard with clean straw in an effort to get it breathing.  This didn’t work so I then had to pick the lamb up by its back legs and swing it backwards and forwards before letting it drop to the floor quite hard to try to clear its airways. If it sounds brutal, it is but it’s about saving the lamb so the end justifies the means.  At this point there were signs of it beginning to breathe so the shepherd used a bit of straw to ‘tickle’ the lamb’s nose – this helps to make them sneeze and clear out any remaining fluid.  He also inserted a feeding tube into the lamb’s lungs and blew – very gently, just tiny little puffs – to get extra air into it.  Eventually this seemed to get the lamb breathing – I just hope it survived the crucial first 48 hours.

Dead lambs are a fact of life, unfortunately

 

Hoping these two survive. Their triplet was born dead.

Over the course of the day we had the chance to try all sorts of useful skills; ear-tagging, tailing (docking), and castrating.  Ear-tagging is a legal requirement and also helps the shepherd keep track of which lambs were fathered by which ram – this is to avoid inbreeding in the future.  Tails are docked to help prevent disease, and castration is performed on male lambs which are destined for the chop!  Both these latter two processes are done using a special rubber band applied with a metal gadget that stretches it then releases it once it’s been fitted over the necessary area.  This cuts off the blood supply to the unwanted part, causing it to die and eventually fall off.  The lambs don’t seem to feel any ill-effect or pain from this.  The hardest part is getting them to stay still long enough to do it, as they wriggle about like babies!

Castration using a rubber band applied with a handy tool

 

There was also the opportunity to feed the lambs, trim the ewes’ feet, learn how to get ewes to move where you want them to by holding their lamb, walking backwards, and making little bleating noises (I did ask the shepherd if he was just having a laugh at our expense)!  We learned how to catch the ewes and lambs using a crook – I’d always thought it was just a big walking stick.  Importantly, we also got to hold the lambs and get a bit of a cuddle.

Aren’t they sweet?!
Lambs having fun getting into the hay feeder.

 

Around 4.30pm I was back in my car on my way home, exhausted but delighted with the day and what I’d learned and achieved. If you’re thinking of doing a lambing course – no matter what the reason – I would definitely recommend the one day course at Derby College, Broomfield Campus.  It was the best £50 I’ve ever spent. All I need now is to get some practice in with a couple of local farmers!

https://www.derby-college.ac.uk/careers-courses/course-search?controller=courses&task=details&cid=—%20All%20—&courseType=Learning%20for%20Leisure&courseid=45044&searchKeyword=&ItemId=1315&currarea=47