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No matter how you ‘appened upon us, be it via a link, directly or simply stumbled upon, then hello and welcome to ChickenStreet; a place for chickeneers and garden-holics.

Below you’ll find a blog filled with procrastinations about poultry and garble about gardening in an untidy tangle of the two, up above you can find pages for the poultry and plants we incubate and propagate for folks to buy and the events, talks & courses we attend and provide. If it’s books, articles, photography or media you are looking for then Freelance ChickenStreet is the page for you, and finally there’s all you need for Oswestry Poultry Auction – Enjoy your visit, do come back, bookmark us, in fact why not subscribe?

Chicken nugget – The Sussex

LightSussex (2)

The Sussex has a long history and could be placed in either the table or the laying sections as certain bloodlines would fit those categories. It does however serve both functions well making it predominantly a dual purpose breed today. Initially developed in the 19th century, it is a heavy bird with a block like shape and comes in a variety of colours. Like the Rhode Island it has played an important part in the development of todays commercial hybrids.

It is a very calm breed of chicken and can become very friendly over time being quick to trust its keeper. This composed nature extends towards each other and given sufficient space it is possible to keep more than one male within a flock. A robust bird, it copes well with all weather conditions and is happy free ranging or within a fixed run. The hens are excellent layers producing a good number of eggs often during the winter too. They can go broody, and if so they are known to be good sitters and even better mothers.

Particulars:

Cock weight: Large Fowl 9lb (4.10kg), Bantam 40oz (1130g)
Hen weight: Large Fowl 7lb (3.20kg), Bantam 28oz (790g)
Region of origin: United Kingdom

Colour:
Plumage: Light, White, Silver, Speckled, Buff, Red, Brown
Eyes: Dependent upon plumage; brown, red, or orange
Comb: Single, evenly serrated
Feet & legs: Featherless, white

Egg production – Medium to High
Egg Colour – Tinted
Show classification –Heavy; Soft feather

 

Egg Packing, post or collect? – Hatching Guidance

When it comes to hatching eggs collecting them directly from the breeder is always preferable if you can as it not only enables you to meet the breeder and their birds but it also means that you can keep an eye on the eggs from the point of collection to the point they are put in the incubator or under a broody.

It might seem common sense but when you do collect the eggs make sure they are packed securely and are safe from rattling around on the journey home. Excessive shaking can addle the eggs or cause the air sac to become displaced. Also don’t leave them in a place where they might be subject to direct sunlight such as the front seat, or excessive heat such as a glove box or car boot as this can result in the eggs warming up and the incubation process starting or worse still, cooking the contents. In fact to be on the safe side it’s probably best they are place in a cool box if the journey is going to be a long one.

Of course having the eggs posted to you is always an option but you are then left in the lap of the seller and of the postal service (and potentially your own penny pinching!)  Firstly it’s down to the seller to pack the eggs properly. This is simple enough to establish, just ask them before you commit to purchase. There has, and still is the debate going on as to whether traditional packing in a box with plenty of padding such as straw of polystyrene chips is better than the custom built polyboxes.SAMSUNG In my experience it’s not which is better, it’s how the seller packages the eggs in each that counts. Ideally the egg needs a cushion against shockwaves from travelling to the egg if the packet is dropped or bashed. Eggs carefully boxed in a bed of polychips or straw will provide the cushion, as will using a polybox larger than the egg you will be packing but wrapping each egg in kitchen paper so it fits snuggly in the recess.

Next is the postal journey. I send my hatching eggs Express Deliver next day by 1pm. At the time of posting this blog it costs £6.95 to send a polybox of 6 average sized chicken eggs by next day delivery plus around 90p for the polybox, sticky tape and some brown paper to parcel up. It’s not unreasonable then in my view to charge at least £7.50.

I’m often asked to send the eggs first class as its cheaper (around £5) but I won’t. Ok it’s the buyers choice but I doubt they will be blaming their decision to pinch a few pennies as being the reason why the hatch rate was poor now will they?With cheaper posting there is no guarantee on the delivery timescales, it could be up to three days and you have absolutely no idea what conditions the eggs are being kept in. Basically all the factors you would be looking to mitigate when transporting hatching eggs go straight out of the window. At least with express delivery those risks are kept to an absolute minimum.

Finally, don’t forget the price of the actual hatching eggs too. Don’t expect too much from half a dozen eggs that cost less than half a dozen eating eggs off the supermarket shelf as no breeder would devalue their stock and the work they put into keeping them by selling them so cheaply; they would sooner give them away, or save all the effort and sell eating eggs off the gate.

So unless you are actually visiting the breeder, seeing their stock and collecting your fertile eggs in person then don’t expect miracles from a bargain 99p half dozen eggs that you paid £2.50 P&P on which spend a week in the post and arrive loose in an egg box parcelled in bubble wrap. You might be lucky, you might get a show winner in there but in the end, you pays your money and you makes your choice.

 

Hatching Responsibilities – have you a plan for the unwanted?

Hatching chicks via a broody or an incubator is fascinating. I constantly find it an amazing process both as a biological scientist and a chicken keeper, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had a hatch (actually that’s not true, I’ve recorded the details of every hatch I’ve done but perhaps that’s more to do with my anorak collection than anything). In articles and talks I’ve done I’ve been an advocate of hatching birds and engaging in the whole process of rearing chicks to full grown adults; it’s a livestock experience which if well planned for, is accessible to anyone with even a small amount of garden. But by the same measure I do bang the drum on the key term – “plan”.

La Bresse cockerel, 8 weeks old to be grown on for the table.

La Bresse cockerel, 8 weeks old to be grown on for the table.

Before you even consider the concept of hatching little fluffy bundles to beautiful matronly egg layers you need to be aware of one key element; on average 50% of what you hatch will be male. It might sound patently obvious but it surprises me just how many people claim to be aware of that basic fact but hatch anyway, but with absolutely no idea or plan on how to deal with the inevitable surplus males.

Now you might well have spotted ‘gadgets’ that proclaim to be able to sex an egg (they do exist, I tested one and guess what, it was no more accurate than my random choices). You may even read articles about the Australian Brush Turkeys and the way these birds have the ability to manipulate the sex of the chicks that hatch through the temperature control of their incubation mound in what seems like a similar manner to reptiles. The later though are biologically different; they use temperature-dependant sex determination (TSD) whereas the turkey in question works on temperature-dependant embryo mortality meaning the heat of the mound can define to a degree which sex of chick hatches and which dies in the shell. There may well be similar technique that could be applied to the artificial incubation in chicken eggs but as yet I’ve not seen any evidence of it that could be applied successfully in a backyard situation.

And so back to the inevitable cockerels; what is your plan? Rehoming or selling on is possible but unless you have a particularly stunning blood line of a breed then those options are extremely limited. Selling them on accompanied by pullets is an option but unless you have significantly more pullets than cockerels you could end up selling stock you wanted to keep. The bottom line is that until the birds hatch you have no idea what the ratio of male to female will be, so face the reality – you are likely to need to either cull out the spare males or grow them on for the table (unless of course if you have an unlimited amount of land and housing to accommodate the extra chaps). Planning what to do is part of your responsibility when it comes to hatching and rearing chicks, as is caring for the chickens you bought on a whim when swept up in the ‘fashion’ for chicken keeping.

Ringing up your nearest breeder asking them to take on your unwanted birds is likely to be met with a polite ‘no thank you’ and many animal rescue centres are simply not geared up for poultry and could struggle to accommodate them. Worse still though is the increasing number of reports of birds simply being dumped. And if you think I’m making a storm in a teacup then speak to Raystede Centre For Animal Welfare who recently reported 12 hens and cockerel squashed into a box and dumped overnight at their premises. As their Chief Executive said, it’s not only irresponsible but also “a criminal act” as is chucking them over my fence in the hope I’ll not notice the extra three or four cockerels in the field.

So plan before you hatch and remember, with it comes responsibility for the welfare and future of every chick that appears.

Cracking the incubation code – Hatching Guidance

Did you know that in order for a chicken egg to develop into an embryo and eventually hatch out as a chick you need to subject a fertilised egg to envirOwlbeard chicksonmental conditions that enable the egg to lose 15% of its mass over a period of 21 days in chickens?

It is an act easily performed by a hen ( on average hatching 90% of the viable eggs) but not so easily replicated using equipment (75% average success rate).

If you are using artificial incubation techniques or collecting up eggs for a broody to sit on then one of the keys to success is keeping and storing the right eggs in the right way prior to setting them in the incubator. Eggs should of course come from an active breeding pen consisting a cockerel and hens but they should also be

-Clean (but not washed);

-Symmetrical;

-Have a good shell, smooth, with no cracks, roughness or pitting;

-Appropriately sized for the breed they come from;

-Preferably from a breeding group that has hatched successfully already;

-No more than 10 days old and stored correctly in the meantime; and

-Handled carefully.

 Prior to setting the eggs should be kept:

-In clean conditions away from other chickens or growing stock;

-Out of direct sunlight;

-At no higher than room temperature;

-Turned every twelve hours (A quick and easy method to turn a tray of hatching eggs is to keep the tray at an angle by placing a chock of wood at one end of the tray. When it is time to turn the tray simply move the chock to the other end of the tray so it tilts the eggs in the opposite direction.); and

- Still for 6 hours prior to setting to allow the egg to ‘settle’ (particularly if arriving via the post).

 

Being careful about how you keep your hatching eggs will markedly improve your chances of success.

Housing essentials 1#

I’ve been sent quite a few chicken coop designs and prototypes over the years to put through their paces and do some field trials on.

Some are quite innovative and you can see how the designer has applied themselves to a particular problem or niggle poultry keepers have commented on. Frequently you encounter solutions to these problems that genuinely do work however the coop design fails because the basic essentials have been omitted.

SAMSUNG

Ok, a roof and walls tend to be essential but what else? Well here’s one, perches should be higher than nest boxes. Why? Because chickens will invariably perch on the highest point in the house when they go into roost, and when they roost, they poo… a lot.

 

Needless to say this coop failed its field test

 

 

 

10 things you wanted to know about chickens but were afraid to ask – 11# Boiled eggs

 

You fancy a chucky butty (well that’s what they call them where I come from, it’s generally known as egg mayonnaise). It’s simple enough to make, egg, pan, water, boil, peel, mash, mayo, bread, eat. It’s amazing isn’t it how the shell just peels off… or at least it always used to on those shop bought chicken eggs you hard boiled so what’s wrong with these eggs my backyard flock are laying? The white sticks to the shell in lumps and what previously had been a bowl of glistening white elliptical shapes now resembles some moth eaten mess.

Eggs

The answer is simple – the eggs you are using are just too fresh, or to put it another way, they aren’t old. The contents have not started to evaporate and shrink and hence the contact between the white and the shell remains in place. In scientific terms, the mammillary layer (which is the inner most layer of the shell and connected to the calcareous layer) is in direct contact with the outer thin (the outer most layer of the albumen surrounding the yolk).

The solution is simple too – if you fancy hard boiled eggs that peel easy then put aside some eggs for a week or 10 days before you use them. You’ll find they peel like the good old shop bought ones once boiled.

Side note – the eggs you buy in the shops are old enough to have evaporated sufficiently to enable clean peeling when boiled… (it’s debatable if they could be called ‘fresh’!)

 

 

Chicken Nugget – Sabelpoot

a quartet of 'lemon millie' Sabelpoots

a quartet of ‘lemon millie’ Sabelpoots

The Booted Bantam, also known as the Sabelpoot, is an ancient European true bantam breed with origins in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain. It has no large fowl counterpart and is a proud bird with a jaunty character making it a very beautiful and friendly breed to keep. They have a short, stocky build but an upright stance making them look rather slender. The term ‘booted’ stems from the long stiff leg hocks or ‘sabels’ which can be seen on both males and females.

Despite its size it is quite hardy and makes a very good bird for beginners or a small garden. Their feathered feet mean limited damage to the garden if you free range them, but they are not suitable for muddy conditions. They are an inquisitive breed and seem to seek out the company of their keepers resulting in them becoming reasonably tame. The hens lay a good number of eggs of a fair size (38g) and occasionally become broody. The cock birds are fairly tolerant and not prone to aggressive behaviour. They also have a relatively quiet crow compared with other breeds.

Plumage/Colours: Soft feather; Black, White, Porcelain, Black Mottled, Millefleur.

Eyes: Red, dark red, dark brown. Comb: Single, upright, well serrated. Feet & legs: Well feathered; white

Weights:

Cock: 30oz (850g), Hen: 27oz (750g)

Egg production: Medium, Egg Colour: Tinted

Classification: True Bantam (Show classification: True Bantam; Rare)

A brief interlude….

example

I write, in fact looking back over the decade of magazine, newspaper and book contributions I seem to write quite a bit. I’m not sure quite how many words I’ve written but each piece always seems to be a relatively short or succinct journey. Even the book I was involved with last year was broken down into sections that at times it felt like I was penning a series for a magazine as opposed to writing a substantial chapter of a book.

Then there was the mini guide I did for Your Chickens, again it was a segmented delivery that could well have been run in a periodical publication. That’s the beauty I guess of feature writer or columnist versus that of being an author. In fact it’s not until you sit down with an idea, the idea you just pitched successfully to a publisher, that you realise the difference.

Why this little blogette? Well today I have sat in front of me the 40,000 word final draft manuscript of a book, this time though I’m the sole author and despite the invention of computers and word processing, I still feel a little like Samuel Johnson with the first ever Dictionary, wondering if I’ve covered all that I wanted to cover….

manuscript

Sprouting seeds – for people & poultry!

As the end of the main harvesting is over and the year draws to a close I’ve usually already started to think about next year and what to grow. The seed catalogues are already starting to look a bit well-thumbed and my list grows longer each year as I find new varieties of veg to try but I’m a Yorkshire man and suffer from that affliction of having short arms and deep pockets. This invariably means I’ll have a rummage through my seed box first and foremost to see what I might have in there that is not beyond its ‘sow before date’ and could be sown come the spring.

It’s at this point that I usually unearth various packets of seed that need to be used this year and of course it’s too late to be sowing outdoors even if I could get a spade in the frozen ground. So up pops my northern roots again, don’t waste the seed, sprout it instead!

A sprout is the transitional stage between seed and plant, it is in effect a plant but one with no roots yet that is surviving off the nutrients available in the seed itself. But what’s the value in eating a sprouted seed, why not just eat the seed? Well aside from the aesthetic elements of munching on a juicy sprout as opposed to crunching on a tasteless seed there’s the science to consider. By sprouting the seed you call into action the seeds enzyme content. These enzymes set to work on the nutrients locked within the seed converting them into a bit of superfuel that enables the plant to grow rapidly before putting down roots. By doing this it makes the starches, fats and proteins contained within the seed more accessible and easier to digest.

….. and as the title suggests, if you sprout enough then feed them as a supplement to your chickens, they will get much the same benefit as you and I.

What You Will Need

  • A couple of clean pots or jam jars with lids
  • A ferret around in your seed box to find some suitable seeds to sprout such as      radish, beetroot, alfalfa
  • Some squares of muslin or net curtain
  • Elastic bands

Step 1 – Add couple of tablespoons of seed to a jar.

Step 2 – Part fill the jar with cold water and seal with the lid.

Step 3 – Put the jars on a window ledge or in a light position (but not in direct sunlight) and leave the seeds to soak for 8 hours or overnight.

Step 4 – Remove the lid and carefully drain the soak water off. Give the seeds a good rinse through with fresh water and place them back in the jar

sprouting

Step 5 – Cover the top of the jar with a square of muslin or net curtain and hold it in place with an elastic band. Turn the jar upside down and tilt at a 45 degree angle for 5 minutes. This will help the remaining water to drain off and reduces the risk of the seeds going mouldy

 

 

Step 6 – Place the jar in a warm well lit position, again avoiding direct sunlight and repeat the rinse process each day until the sprouts are ready. After 2-3 days the sprouts should begin to appear and are ready to eat when they are about 1-2cm long.