Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Nick and I have been harbouring a faint desire to keep some chickens in our back garden. Not wanting to jump in without considering all the pros and cons, we went to visit a friend of Nick's, Donald, who has quite a few hens and geese in a small field next to his house.

We had the full tour, an extensive lesson in poultry husbandry, and then delicious egg rolls for lunch.

It has really made us think about how 'normal' eggs are produced from battery hens. Even 'free range' eggs, which I always buy, are not actually that kind to chickens. The farmer has only to provide access to the outside but most of the chickens never find the pop-holes because there are not enough, they are too widely spaced, and there are too many hens in the barns.

Hens don't lay during the winter so farmers put strong lights in the batteries to trick the hens into laying all year round. This totally knackers the chicken. The farmers don't care though because battery hens are killed after 2 years when they start moulting. A hen can't lay eggs during her moult because her energy goes into growing new feathers. Its cheaper for the farmers to kill them and start with new hens than feed a moulting chicken.

A battery hen lives on a sloping wire mesh floor in a cage the size of an A4 piece of paper. They feed them very sloppy mash so it takes them ages to eat. This is deliberate - the longer they take to eat the less time they have to peck each other's eyes out. Donald has two battery hens in his flock and they are now living a happy life pottering about, resting under the shade of trees, scratching for insects and generally doing what chickens do.

Apparently keeping a couple of chickens is getting more and more prevalent as people take an interest in where their food comes from. We have a bit more research to do yet, and I hope it's feasible in our small suburban garden, but it's something that one day we will achieve.


Blogger Chris said...

I've been toying with this for a while now. I use a lot of eggs, which is actually quite pricey, as I will only by organic free range (which last time I checked is better than normal free range for the reason you outlined).
Check out omlet.co.uk. They have a fair bit of info, plus cool chicken runs.
Apparantly it's fine to keep them with cats as the cat will get pecked up if it tries anything on.
Also, hippy magazine Organic Life has a monthly section on keeping chickens which is quite interesting.

1:06 PM  
Blogger rach said...

yeah, we've been considering the omlet thing, or something like this:

We would also be able to let them into the back garden during the day as it is quite well fenced off.

I have been reading back issues of Practical Poultry leant to me by Donald.(www.practicalpoultry.co.uk) They have a good web forum with lots of advice for beginners.

Nicks friend gave us 6 eggs to take away which we had for breakfast on Sunday and I can safely say they were the sweetest, most delicious and brightest yellow eggs I've ever had. (Apparently eating lot of greenery makes the yolks more yellow.)

3:17 PM  
Blogger Christian Briddon said...

...and if you ever get bored of them....delicious. :-)

10:27 PM  

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