This is the first in a series of posts about keeping chickens. The coop, the run, food, water, natural health and happiness will all be covered.
We’ve been keeping chickens for years, first in our garden at home and now on our allotment. I just love their quirky characters, their feathery good looks and their delicious protein-packed eggs. What a gift! We currently have 5 chickens, all rare breeds, but in the past we’ve raised chicks, re-homed ex-farm girls and given a final home to old unwanted chickens that don’t lay anymore. We’re not allowed to keep a noisy cock-a-doodle-doo cockerel on the allotment, so it’s an all female environment! They give us fresh eggs and in return I think we give them a near perfect life
Right from the start I was very drawn to a more natural way of keeping chickens, as far away from ‘battery hell’ as possible and as close to their wild, natural environment as I could manage. I think happy chickens lay happy eggs, which makes me happier when I cook with them.
I’m not a great fan of ‘cooped up’ animals. Chickens like to get up with the sun and roost at sundown and whilst it’s possible to lock them up and let them out in the short, dark days of winter, it’s much more difficult to accommodate this in the long days of summer, especially if your chickens are away from the house on an allotment and not outside your backdoor.
With this in mind we set about building our own raised coop that the girls were free to come and go from, as and when they pleased. It had no floor and only 3 sides, with perches high up in the roof, a nest box on the side (with tartan curtains for a bit of privacy!) and a watertight felt roof. We recycled some old oak floorboards and other bits of flotsam and jetsam, ending up with a solid oak coop that will no doubt last us a lifetime. We move it every 6 months to give the ground underneath a rest, but it weighs an absolute tonne!
A great benefit of this type of coop is that you don’t have to clean it out. The poo simply collects underneath and is scooped up, composted and used as a fertiliser in the garden. Another great benefit is that mites can’t get a foothold – in all these years we’ve never had the dreaded red mite. Every so often I do puff some diatomaceous earth in any nooks and crannies to ward off potential nasties and I make sure there’s always clean straw in the nest boxes.
I know this is quite a challenging concept for some – not locking up your chickens is a risk, right? Well, yes and no. Of course there is an element of risk when you choose to give your chickens this amount of free living, but if you’re sensible about your fencing ‘strategy’ then the risk is surprisingly small. Our chickens have the run of a large patch of our allotment garden that is secured by an electric fence (you can see the layout here) and the allotment itself is fenced on all 4 sides, so in effect they have a double fence. I totally understand that this isn’t a feasible option for most people, but in our case the chickens are pretty safe.
So our girls are free to come and go as they please, they can perch up high as nature intended, they have a lovely cosy, private place to lay their eggs, their home is well-ventilated and it’s a really healthy place to hang out! I wouldn’t mind moving in myself….