Many readers may have followed the life of Little Red since he was hatched out last year. From a tiny, fluffy rustic coloured chick he quickly developed into one of the most eager and inquisitive chickens I’ve ever had. However, from the word go his days were numbered. Having desperately hoped that he was a hen for many months, even when his sexual nature started to shine through, Little Red has finally convinced me that yes, he is a guy. Some hens will mount each other when trying to establish a pecking order, I’ve seen this done in my own coop. However, his enjoyment of this past-time seemed a little perplexing, as did the quantity of springtime love that he was relishing in. It soon became apparent that, unfortunately, he was destined for the kitchen. I gave him a reprieve of a few days, but now, having been awoken yesterday by the first morning sounds of a muffled crow, I’m afraid Little Red has to be despatched.
Whilst you may think that crowing is the only reason not to have a cockerel, this, in a way, is the least of the problems. Far beyond the noise, the angry neighbours hammering on the wall at 5am, the glares from behind twitched curtains when you leave your home, a number of more important reasons why keeping a rooster with urban hens is not a good idea exist.
We’ve all heard of the tales from friends who were harrassed as a child by the farmyard cockerel. They can be evil little blighters and the fact that cock fighting exists shows just how aggressive cockerels can be. Whilst Little Red is currently quite a darling, once his spurs develop, his beak sharpens, and his eyes become more like those of Mordor’s Evil Eye, harmony at the bottom of my garden will be rocked.
Adding a cockerel to the mix completely changes the entire dynamic of a flock. Whilst hens will establish their own pecking order when kept on their own, even at this early age, I have noticed that Little Red’s presence is already affecting the hens. They seem to squabble more, have become more vocal, and whilst their quiet pecking order was stable before, having Little Red around seems to be leading to more uprisings from those at the bottom of the ladder.
The last thing most chicken keepers want is broody hens as it means only one thing – no eggs. The natural instinct of a hen is to lay a clutch of eggs and then settle down to incubate, and you can’t really blame them. But if your entire flock are broody there’s not going to be much egg laying going on. And with Little Red around, hormones will be rife, and broodiness is more likely to occur.
I’ll admit it, I don’t collect the eggs everyday because there’s simply no need. Having a couple of eggs in the nesting box can actually help in stimulating hens to lay, and as long as you haven’t got a broody girl trying to hatch out those newly laid eggs, eggs can be left in the nestbox with little harm. However, with a rooster present and all eggs therefore likely to be fertile, leaving them for just a couple of days could see embryo’s starting to develop. That is not what you want to see when you crack open the shell for your breakfast.
So alas, Little Red has to go. The chicken despatcher arrived this morning so tomorrow afternoon I’ll probably be plucking away. Whilst I could attempt to rehome him it kind of defeats the object of keeping chickens. I happily eat meat, and this is a reminder of just where it comes from. And that, to me, is a thankful reminder that I never take meat for granted. But whilst I know Little Red has had a happy and clucky life, that dreaded deed that hangs on the horizon is something I’m not particularly looking forward to.
Is Chicken Keeping for You?
One of my Speckled Ligh Sussex trio eyes something up
As a keeper of seven wonderfully feathered hens, I am obviously totally biast when it comes to the pro’s of keeping chickens. It is difficult to see any kind of disadvantage when a daily supply of fresh eggs rolls onto the table, when your natural predators keep the garden snail free and when even poultry poo can be put to fantastic use in the garden. These prehistoric looking beasts (take a look at a chicken’s head as it looks around, peering through grass stems and foliage – you’ll see what I mean) are a wonderful addition to any household, whether it’s a large family unit or a single person, and I fail to see why in this day, when animal welfare is such an issue, more households don’t keep their own poultry rather than relying on supermarket farmed stock. Thankfully, free range eggs are becoming more the norm than a rarity, yet still, keeping your own birds is such an enjoyable experience I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to do it.
- Money Matters
Whilst keeping hens is certainly not going to save you a fortune, it will save the odd penny spent on eggs every week. Whether you’re a baker, love your fried morning egg, or are partial to some egg mayonaisse sandwiches, you’ll be buying a large quantity of eggs. My hens normally supply me with about 5 eggs a day (less than one each due to four of them being more specialised bantam varieties), and even keeping a pair will supply approximately 12 – 15 eggs a week. At £1.50 – £2 for half a dozen it doesn’t sound much, but if you use 12eggs a week costing you £4, that’s over £200 a year that you could save.
And hens are not very expensive to look after. Obviously there’s an initial set up cost but once that’s achieved I probably spend £20 every six weeks, if that, on grain feed for seven hens! My four bantams cost me £10 each, and the further three Speckled Light Sussex I bought from Ebay as eggs for £6 which I then hatched and reared. Four hatched, so that was £1.50 a chicken!
In terms of other set up you can go as extravagent, or not, as you wish. Hen’s don’t really care if they’re living in a £400 ultra tech and chic coop, or one patched together from reclaimed wood and old nails. It’s not going to make their eggs any different, and they’ll sure as hell mess any expensive home up just as quickly as they would a DIY run. If money is what you’re worrying about, my advice is – Don’t.
Charlotte, A Buff Nankin, lays me another egg
- Getting Your Hands Dirty
Obviously, along with any kind of animal or pet, there is a certain amount of cleaning up to do. Anyone who’s trained a puppy or kept a cat with a litter tray know’s what I’m talking about. Your eggs are not going to arrive shiny and new with a red stamp on the top either. Each week the little chore of changing the bedding and nesting material, in addition to cleaning out the chicken poo, is going to take a few minutes out of your day…and I mean a few. Regular cleaning and hygiene will make the job quick and easy to do. Get a compost bin and throw the straw in. Bag up the poo for your garden manure, or give to allotment friends or gardeners who will bend over backwards to recieve this little bag of gold. There is no reason for any of your chicken’s dirt to harbour diseases and pests as long as you stick to a cleaning regime, the same as you would do for any pet.
- Noise & Neighbours
With chickens comes a certain amount of noise. If you think that because your chickens are not cockerels and therefore won’t make a noise, think again. A gaggle of chickens breaking the dawn with happy “I’ve laid an egg” calls, is enough to annoy even the most laid back. For this reason take some precautions. At night, shut the coop up, preferable hiding the hens away from the daylight when they’ve retired to roost. If there’s no light, there’s no noise but remember to let them out again in the morning!
Warn your neighbours too. A sudden onslaught of clucking, whatever time of day, can cause worry in the unsuspecting neighbour. I had one in particular who seemed very nervy as my feathered friends start to cluck merrily away. She very quickly got used to them, especially when passed little gifts of eggs over the fence. Calm their fears, answer any questions, and invite them around to take a look for themselves, you never know, you may even inspire a new chicken keeper to emerge!
Some say that the species of chicken you get will affect noise. Whilst this may be true, I have generally found that when a hen wants the world to know her name, she will make it known, no matter how small, fluffy or feeble she appears. My Silkies and Buff Nankins have proved to be far louder than the Light Sussex and I’m often seen, at the their midday squawks, hurrying down the garden with a bag of greens, or a pot of snails to shut them up. Feeding = quiet hens!
I’ve racked my brains for more disadvantages but simply can’t think of any, the pro’s far out weigh them. Buckle up, get ready for a little bit of shit shovelling, and enjoy the chicken keeping ride!!
I’ve always found that by far the best pest control in any garden is chickens. I keep a small group of 7, 2 silkies, 2 buff nankins and 3 light sussex. They provide me with fresh eggs, an outlet for all my, and many of my neighbours kitchen waste, a constant supply of nutrient rich manure and on hand, organic pest control. If you aim to let chickens out in the garden it is VERY important that you do so correctly, otherwise all that will ensue is damage and destruction to lawns and plants.
I don’t have a lawn so I don’t have to worry about my hens scratching it into a dusty, barren landscape. By by far the most important thing to do is ensure that your hens, whilst cooped up, receive plenty of green stuff. This means that on racing for freedom when let out, they won’t go straight to your prize lupin and strip the leaves, or gobble up your wonderful salads, or trash you latest bedding plant installation. Obviously, common sense is needed. Any young seedlings will need to be protected, or placed in an area where the hens can’t get to them. If on their first outing you notice a particular lust for one plant, a plant that you don’t want destroyed, then once again make sure it is out of reach.
You can let your hens out for as long or as short as you wish. It is important over the first few times to take note of what happens. In the first instance I would always recommend near constant supervision and curtailing their freedom to an hour at most. This ensures minimum destruction and once your feathered friends are stashed away, you can survey any damage. Over time you’ll gain knowledge of your flock and how they work. I can now happily let mine out all day, with the knowledge that damage to my plants will be minimal. The cats have got used to the invasion, and all I have to do after is sweep the gravel path back into place and clear up any rogue droppings.
A light sussex inspects a snail like snack
Update: And when I say use common sense, I really mean it! I just went out only to discover that I’d forgotten to move my chive seedlings, well, what’s left of them! Touch wood they remerge from their nibbled stems!