About Chickenstreet

Breeder of chickens, grower of peat free plants, gardener & writer. Author, blogger, blagger, chickeneer and some say gobby poultry pundit

Chickens As Pets?

Forgive me but I must have a little rant. Ok I know, I do rant quite frequently in the columns I write for but the clocks spring forward this weekend and the safety valve of sodding off outside and cutting logs when something gets up my nose will beat ‘blogging off’ on here

Are chickens pets? Yes they can be but if you eat the eggs they produce then you must NEVER forget they are livestock and a farmed animal. So why the rant? It’s spurred on by a blissful ignorance I keep seeing exhibited and in fact almost lauded by some chicken owners.  It is that which seems to ignore the very basic premise if a hen produces an egg which you then introduce into the food chain it means you have to be careful what you put into the hen as feed. It is that which declares because they are ‘my pets’ such rules surrounding their feed doesn’t matter and to hell with the stupidity of those who make up the rules. Granted blanket unconditional bans tend to be introduced in order to eliminate risk and somebody with a modicum of intelligence can usually apply a bit of logic and work out a way around it, however it would such intellect gets lost in the case of the great dried mealworm debate….

Whether your flock is free ranging, living in a fixed run or even restricted to some level of indoor penning, you wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall, or one buzzing by for that matter. Chickens by their very nature are excellent foragers and intelligent enough to work out there is frequently food value to be had from any small passer-by. Sit and watch your flock on summers evening when the midges are low and you see the hens actively pecking and plucking at the air around them. Insects are a natural part of the omnivorous chickens diet and in fact a part of many a wild birds diet too (hence the reason you can buy insect products to put on the bird table).

Products such as dried mealworms however are deemed unsuitable for feeding to chickens. Yes, you read that correctly, you would be breaching current legislation if you were to feed dried mealworms to your flock.

I looked into the reasoning and primarily it is down to the fact that dried crustaceans and dried terrestrial invertebrates (eg mealworms) when imported to the UK fall under with regulations of EU 142/2011. Within this document  it states the “the competent authority may authorise the importation of certain materials for purposes other than feeding to farmed land animals (except for feeding to fur animals) provided there is no unacceptable risk for the transmission of disease communicable to humans or animals”.

Given my previously published opinions on the feeding of kitchen scraps then it would be fair to assume that my view would be “obviously another example of EU madness” and that “I would be compelled to agree with the e-petition and campaign to have the ban be lifted” as one email to me stated. Well I don’t.

Why? Two reasons immediately spring to mind. Firstly the basis of the argument to have the ban lifted seemed to be that poultry kept in the back garden are not farm animals but domestic animals, in other words not livestock but pets. Wrong. If you keep chickens and those chickens lay eggs and you eat those eggs then they are farm animals. This doesn’t mean you can’t care for them as pets but it does mean you need to very aware that the eggs you eat will be influenced by what you feed your ‘pets’. Which leads me into my second reason, I keep chickens because I get a level of confidence in knowing where at least some of the food my family eats comes from. So why would I feed imported dried mealworms that are produced using an unregulated process where I have no confidence (or come-back) that they are dried using a treatment sufficient to destroy pathogenic organisms such as salmonella? I wouldn’t.

In fact when you consider the lack of control around the manufacture of such “feeds” it does beg the question as why it’s ok to feed them to wild birds when quite frequently ‘said wild birds’ will come into contact with domestic poultry (but there lies another tale!).

Just in case you are sitting there thinking “he’s off on one making much ado about nothing” then consider this; in the next 12 months it is distinctly probable the EU will authorise the use of insect protein for use as feed for pigs and chickens. Research and Development funds have already been diverted towards this as a possible viable alternative to importing soya.

Should the result of this research mean that a clean pathogen free protein source becomes available as a poultry feed then I’ll look into it further. Until then though you won’t find me buying and feeding unregulated and risk laden products to my chickens, but to those who do heed this.  If  your poor feeding techniques and arrogance towards the basic concepts of growing food results in the poultry equivalent of a ‘mad cow disease’ then you are no better than those who created that problem. This time though there would be far more flocks than herds at risk, and a significantly higher number of stock owners baying for blood, and my voice would be one of them.


Chicken & Egg – My new book has arrived

Yesterday’s post delivery saw the arrival (pre-release) of my new book. This time I teamed up with American poultry specialist and associate professor James Hermes to create a book that looked specifically at eggs and egg laying breeds.Cover

Just as with “The chicken; a natural history” Ivy Press have created another striking book which is enhanced significantly by the fantastic free flowing artwork of illustrator Kate Osborne. It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with both James and Kate, albeit it a completely ‘virtual’ collaboration, and I hope they are both as pleased with the result as I am.

If you have been involved in writing a reference book then, unless you are self-publishing, it can be not unlike writing for a magazine. You put the words together, you suggest images and captions, you edit and amend gallies and mock ups, but in the end you don’t really know what the final product looks like until you have it in your hand. Ivy Press described themselves as ‘makers of beautiful books’ which, inspite my being an author of two of their books, I can honestly say they do.

I wonder what my third title might be about…. Chickens perhaps? Oh go on then… :-)


Insects could replace soya in poultry feed – Farmers Weekly

There is a certain potential in this idea… but is it one of those things that leaves itself open to exploitation by those more interested in profit than problem-fixing? Time will tell

Insects could replace soya in poultry feed – Farmers Weekly.

73% of chickens test positive for campylobacter

Cumulative results published today (26 February 2015) from more than 3,000 fresh chickens tested between February and November 2014, found that 73% tested positive for the presence of campylobacter to some degree, up from 70% in the second tranche of survey results published last November.

via 73% of chickens test positive for campylobacter.

Why a chicken might be the perfect pet for you – Telegraph

“If you are looking specifically for pets, then focusing on the breeds with docile temperaments is perhaps the best route. If space is limited or young children are involved, then a bantam breed like the pekin can make a good starter. If you have more room and older children, then it’s hard to beat the Brahma for appeal, entertainment and temperament. However, the more docile breeds are often not usually high egg producers.’’ said I in this weekends Telegraph. I said a lot of other things too but hey at least this time I wasn’t misquoted :-)

Why a chicken might be the perfect pet for you – Telegraph.

What’s wrong with this picture?

World News! Another non-event of avian flu breaks out here in the UK… but look closely at the picture. Each of the hens has been debeaked, a practice that removes one-half to two-thirds of the beak of the bird to reduce cannibalistic pecking. A behaviour brought about by overstocking, overcrowding, boredom and stress. Surely in todays drive for better animal welfare it’s time we addressed the cause and not the symptom, remove the factors that cause cannabilistic pecking and #keepdabeak ?

Authorities act as avian flu confirmed in Hampshire chickens | World news | The Guardian.

Forces of Nature

I’ve kept chickens for quite some time and living in a rural area means that the threat of the fox is pretty much something I have to live with.

I have a railway not too far from the property which provides a perfect “motorway” for them and on the opposite side is a large estate where game birds are reared. In between are various copses and fields with hedgerows and rabbits. Foxes are simply a fact of life.

I’ve had day time attacks from foxes. Sometimes they have struck when I’ve been away from the property. I’ve had other instances where a fox has been waiting for me to open the coop door in the morning and no sooner had I turned my back it ran out and grabbed the first thing it could. I’ve had foxes run through a flock of 20 free range birds, clear a fence and grab a bantam Orpington from the lawn where it was preening no more than 6 foot from where I was sat reading the paper.

Given the freedom I give most of my chickens it means these sorts of attacks I can do little about in the first instance. A fox that bold is either very hungry, fearless or inexperienced. Such encounters that involve the risk of close contact with humans are infrequent in a rural environment and not as regular as the urban situation. Note that I stated “I can do little about in the first instance”. A fox that attacks during the day will invariably return in the day again. Its predictability is frequently its downfall.

Night time however is a different story, foxes can and do wander around my place every night. I see evidence of their footprints (sometimes on top of coops!) and they are simply doing what is natural, they are looking for food, they can smell it’s there and so they are looking for a way in, just as I would try the door of the local fish and chip shop if I could smell the fried food inside.

It’s my job to make sure they don’t get a meal and so without fail I lock my birds away every night. Any fox visiting overnight will find nothing out and they will just have to rattle the doors of the chippy so to speak.

There is however one factor that has resulted in a fox killing birds overnight and that’s the weather. Some years back I had a very promising flock of Araucana. I had a down selected a suitable breeding group from the birds I’d hatched that year and brought them together in a pen in the December. It snowed. It started around 3pm and it was heavy. We had quite a job locking up at dusk, the snow was deep by that time and snowballs needed to be thrown. Come the morning there was a beautiful white covering of crisp snow…. spattered in blood and feathers. The Araucanas had not encountered snow before and unbeknownst to me they took shelter under the coop at 3pm. I didn’t check they had gone in when I dropped the door. My failing and the opportunity handed to the fox.

Yesterday morning I took this photograph. These are retired and random chickens that happily wander around freely in the field having their feed. It made me smile.

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We had some rather stormy weather last night, the wind was gusting and it whipped the door open on the front of the coop during the night, this is a photo of the same birds 24hrs later once I’d found (most of) them

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Which force of nature is to blame? The fox or the weather, or do I just accept that these things happen? It’s a tough one to answer sometimes.