Meekle’s Blog – An Insight into Downsizing

Boosting Egg Production
February 22, 2009, 8:12 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

A subject next to my heart – is how to get the best from my hens. Well, I am not going to bore you with teaching you how to medicate them, preen them etc, there are many many good books out there that all ready do that, what i will do is give you an insight into how i keep my girls (and boy) happy, as i feel a happy hen give back in spades!

Firstly, get the housing right. In my opinion they couldn’t care less whether it is blue or pink or green, what hey care about is that it is draught proof, keeps out the rain and provides a secure, quiet area for them to lay an egg. there is no need to spend hundreds on plastic chicken houses, or more still on wooden ones, i have done ok in the past using old pallets for the base, pieces of tongue and groove boarding and some recycled pond liner over the top to keep it dry. Ok, its not going to win a beauty contest, but they aren’t bothered by that!

the last chicken house i have built was a bit more serious to be fair. I am surrounded by hungry foxes, so i have used all new wood, and galvanised security mesh around the run to keep them safe. I would love to free range them, but i have been warned that the foxes will happily take a hen in broad daylight around here. So i have done what is possibly the next best thing, and the lowest standard i think fair to keep hens, and that is to pen them.

I have made them a good sized house, around a metre cubed for 6 hens. Anything larger and they wouldn’t keep warm in the cold as there would be too much air around, anything smaller and they would be cramped. This house then leads down to a run that was built in 3 feet sections so that i can enlarge it or shorten it as required. this run is then moved on a daily basis – or whenever the grass is looking tired whichever is earlier – and that way they get access to fresh grass each day.

This is important for your eggs. Hens fed on just corn or pellets will give you eggs, but the yolks will be a yellow colour. Hens with access to grass and greens will give you rich, almost orange yolks that not only look better, but taste superior too.

Don’t forget, hens need protein to make eggs. You will get a few eggs if you only feed corn, you will get more eggs if you feed layers pellets 0 but be careful here. some pellets are based entirely on fish meal and your eggs will taste fishy. Go for an all round protein or soya protein and the eggs will taste fine. Also, i give my hens extras such as diced bacon rind, Worms, sprouted beans, meal worms and generally anything i can lay my hands on that is safe fr them to eat. which reminds me NEVER GIVE YOUR HENS MUSHROOMS AND IT CAN PROVE FATAL TO THEM.

It goes without saying that they should have access to water at all times and that his water should be fresh daily.

Cockerel or not? well, you don’t need a cockerel to get a hen to lay an egg. Hens produce eggs when a germ cell (yolk) comes down from the ovaries into the oviduct where it is coated with the eggs white and membranes then coated with the shell and deposited. This happens as a response to the amount of daylight they receive. 16 hours is the key amount. or thereabouts. If you have a cockerel, he will fertilise them before the shell goes on, but apart from that, his role is purely ornamental! Their is no harm whatsoever in eating fertile eggs over infertile. All i will say is make sure that the eggs are collected daily, otherwise a hen may have been incubating it for a few days and no-one wants to eat a partly developed chick in an egg!

If you keep a cockerel, which i think if you can you should, then he will fuss around his girls and generally keep order. If your hen hides away with her eggs (now having the chance of being fertile) she will sit on them for a month and then away you go, she will come trotting back with chicks! you can keep the hens as part of your laying flock and the young cockerels can be fed up on good food and corn and then make the short journey into the freezer for Sunday lunch – but that’s another post!

If you dont want her to go broody, then boot her off the eggs and take them away. after a few days she will get she message.

So in short, a happy hen will lay eggs, and to keep her happy she will need access to good food, good accommodation and fresh water.

Pure Cruelty
February 20, 2009, 8:03 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I telephone a local poultry breeder yesterday to see if she had some spare Pekin hens, as the little cockerel is doing his best to trample the girls with his over amorous ways. She is only based  a few miles from here, so i gave her a call.

What a disaster for the poor girl. Last Sunday, someone stole all 120 of her pure   birds, and killed or maimed 30+ hybrid layers. She is lucky she has some bloodlines at home and with friends she can get back with, but who would do such a thing? She could cope with the theft, but why the slaughter?

She says she should be up and running again by April, this event will not stop here, so i do intend to go and get some birds from her to help, but i will certainly keep my eyes out at the local auctions to see what occurs, as if there is a sudden influx of Pekins or Welsomer (her favourite breeds) it might be worth her getting the police to investigate.

The New Cockerel
February 17, 2009, 7:28 am
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well it has been a couple of days now since we got the bantam trio – and they appear to have settled in well. My daughter has claimed them as her own birds and insists on doing the feeding regime for them – which is no bad thing, it would be nice for her to take charge, get into the hobby as it were.

The little cockerel can happily shout at the moment. I have had no complaints from the neighbour – but them i am not expecting one either. He is a farm worker and usually up at 5am anyway, so to here the cockerel he would be at work!! He starts to crow at around 7am at the moment, and carries on intermittently for about an hour just to let everyone know he is there. There is another cockerel about half a mile down the road and it is almost like they call to each other as not long after one crows the other does.

My daughter has been looking on eBay at the cost of hatching eggs. She fancies getting some unrelated stock in and breeding from the cockerel. At the price of upto £2 per egg for Pekin Bantams if she can get them laying fertile eggs she could make back the cost of her feed for the month if nothing else!

I have seen listings for some Pekins, where the parents are show quality and the website that they come from is asking £35 for a point of lay hen! The problem with show birds – and this is my piece of advice for you all today – is that they are generally rubbish as layers. They are line bred for their looks with no regard to their utility performance as egg layers. If you want a bird that will lay you consistently good eating eggs at regular intervals – then a utility bird is what you want, not a show bird. In fact, if you have the means, i would leave the pure bred birds alone and go for a retired battery hen.

The big farms get rid of the battery hybrids at around 9 months old, when they have had the best lay from them. After that they usually end up in the cat food tins….. but if you contact the Battery Hen Welfare Trust, you can pick up hens that they have rescued from the intensive farms for around £1 each! (plus any donation you wish to give to this worthwhile charity) from my own experience, my ex-battery hen lays around 200 eggs a year and she is now in her 6th year. Production is slow this year and the eggs are very large and funny shaped so i guess she is naturally coming to an end, but what an investment!

It is my intention – assuming i get the time now – to run a pen of mixed hybrids and utility birds for eggs (around 6 hens should do it) that will provide enough eggs for us to consume, plus a few extra to sell on at work. At £1.50 per half dozen for free range in the shops, i could sell a dozen a week for £1 per half dozen and make the cost of their feed back for the month! We then would like a pen of fancies for the “pet trade” / eBay egg trade – Pekin Bantams are perfect for this. they are cute and fluffy, dont do that much damage to your lawn with their fluffy feet, and become very tame. And then i wouldnt mind a pen of growers for the freezer – buy in some dual purpose or table bird eggs and hatch them out. Another good use for the Pekin as they are fantastic broody hens.

A good dual purpose strain such as Light Sussex will give around 150 eggs a year then be good as a boiler fowl, or go straight for a dorking / welsummer cross that will be a very tasty bird. I dont intend to rush them to the table in 16 weeks like the commercial growers do. all you get then is fatty meat and no flavour. I want a bird that has had the sun on its back and been allowed to grow naturally. About 20 – 25 weeks and then slaughtered.

I have done it once before when we bought a load of hatch eggs a few years back and then one of the laying hens started to crow! so we had to dispose of him. I did the deed and then plucked and dressed him and roasted him off. There wasn’t a lot of meat on him as he was free range so he ran all his weight off, but the taste was fantastic.

Well i suppose i had better get off to my paying job – will post again soon!

All Change
February 15, 2009, 3:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Well, since i last wrote, i have managed to get a new job which has me out of the house at early doors and then back in the house just as it is getting dark (around 5pm) at the moment. Still, this does mean that i have to get all my chores with the hens etc doen and dusted by about 7am, so even the hens are yawning when i get them up!

The cold snap has taken its toll on the hens, as even though the food inputs are the same, they are obviously burning more calories to try and keep warm as the egg prduction has dropped to around half a dozen a week, which is bad realy when you think a few weeks ago, even in this shortened daylight, i was getting around a dozen a week.

Still, Ellie (rescued battery hen) is still turning them out, you can always spot hers, they are very large and unusual shapes – wrinkled and the like, which is quite common in old hens. She must be puching 6 years old now and last year was still putting out around 200 eggs in a year, which for that old bird is very very good. I wouldnt be surprised if we lose her this year in a really cold snap, but lets not wish her away just yet!

We took delivery today of three new birds – a breeding trio of Pekin Bantams. The young cockerel is lavender, the two hens are Black and Silver respectivly. My daughter has great ideas of being the Pekin Bantam mogul of England, but i doubt we will get many from these birds!

We saw them advertosed on “Freecycle” – free to good home, so we thought why not? They are in a brrody coop at the moment, which has plenty of housing room, but the run isnt that long. It is only 2 foot long which is fine for a broody, as she will stay in the nest box all day and only come out to use the loo, but for a trio we really need to make it larger.

So, designs are afoot for chickenopolis 2. we figure that the bantams dont need the 4′ high run that the others have, so i will probably give them a large pen, low level – about 18″ high – with a hous on the top, with access to the run via a ramp. I have been to a couple of poultry suppliers and seen the general idea for the run, so i will get some bits of timber together and make one.

the cost of the ones in the shops are around £299, and yet i managed to build the one the hens are in currently for only £85 so i am sure i can manage to under cut them again!!!

I will ensure that all the timbers are pressure treated, and that the wire will have to be no greater than 1″ mesh otherwise they will get their heads stuck! So if you factor in the cost of the wire, you will probably find i can make the run and housing for about £100 all in.

Until i post again !

Picture of the two girls

Picture of the two girls

The Pekin Bantam Cockerel

The Pekin Bantam Cockerel