What about plastic housing? – a head to head with the market leaders – Part 1

Some years ago I wrote an article about this new-fangled plastic poultry house I just been sent to try out. I recall at the time thinking there was potential in the idea, there were limitations too, however I could see the value in using them particular for the back garden keeper with a flock of 3 or 4 birds. It was quite an innovation though all the same and warranted a closer look

Time has passed by and this year I decided to pull together the top four most well-known manufacturers (and their entry level sized housing) and have put them through their paces in a 6 month long trial. (Since my original encounter with recycled plastic housing there are more and more players emerging so now seemed a good time)

At the time of blogging I’ve just heard that we could well be in for a really hard winter and as such I intend to keep the trial running until next spring so I can genuinely comment on their respective performances should the weather really turn hence I’ll be release this gradually as I don’t want to jump to any conclusions, so to speak.

You might be wondering why now and why little plastic houses? Well I have been and quite be very vocal about the mass produced b*ll*cks housing that’s flooded the market over the last decade; most of it genuinely is rubbish and so frequently results in a negative experience for the keeper and often in welfare issues for the birds. Sure, you pays your money and makes your choice but by the same measure I’m a Yorkshireman and, despite that idiot David Camerons comments about us, I will say we hail from the ‘short arms and deep pockets side of things’ and will avoid excessive spending where possible. As a result though I’ve been quite keen to find out if the advantages of plastic really do mean the price tag is worth it, particularly as I’m frequently asked “what about plastic houses?”

 

The Runners and Riders

Just so we are straight on one thing, I’m not claiming plastic is the way forward just yet. If you want housing for more than 8 to 10 birds you would be better off with wood; it’s cheaper, easier to customise and easily repairable. Plus if, like me, you have multiple coops of breeders and growers then affordability and practicality will drive you down the wood route no matter what any cash rich hobbyist will claim.

This is about the one or two coop backyarder who is keeping chickens for a few eggs and the enjoyment and therefore is willing to make the investment in their housing as a balance against reduced ongoing maintenance costs. It’s because of this that at the end of the day it’s precisely why plastic beats wood hands down on these little houses. Zero ongoing maintenance and cleaning that can involve 30minutes, a pressure hose and an old bath towel even in the depths of winter. Add on the fact that purchasing one second hand has a massively reduced risk of bring pests or disease into your little flock you can perhaps start to see it makes sense.

So who are the runners and riders? They are

the Eglu Go UP from Omlet,

2015December Eglu GO

the Green Frog Designs Chicken House,

2015December Green Frog

the PetzPodz Chicken Pod,

2015December PetPodz

and finally the Solway Recycling Eco Hen Loft.

2015December Solway

The price of each can depend to an extent upon the optional extras but in many respects they all land within £100 of each other when bought new other than the Solway house which tends towards the most cost effective end of the market (however doesn’t come with a run option.)

Check back soon when you’ll find out who fairs best in the field trials on the Welsh/Shropshire borders against a set of criteria that I think will sort out the wheat from the chaff.

Gardens & Chickens… Do they mix?

Mar2014 Sabelpoots

 

 

I’m an avid gardener; in fact I’ve been gardening both in terms of flowers, fruit and vegetables since I fell out of a pram, I’m not a precious gardener though who needs everything in rows unless it’s in my vegetable plot. Call me old fashioned but I like my Mar2014 Naturalistic borderonions to all be in one place, spuds somewhere else and carrots as a collective rather than scattered everywhere. On the other hand I don’t mind organised chaos taking place in the rest of the borders (or the naturalistic planting look as it could be called).

To me a garden is simply an outdoor room and like indoor rooms it should never be static.Instead it should evolve as you and your life evolves. I have a pond for example, I spend many hours sitting near it and watching the wildlife make use of it, be it the frogs in the spring, the dragonflies in summer or (without fail every year) the grey wagtails in the autumn. I gain an immense amount of pleasure from my garden and from the flora and fauna within in it so why then would I put a flock of chickens in there; especially given one of the frequently said things about chickens and gardens it is that they don’t mix?  Well this isn’t an untrue statement but then by the same measure it’s true to say children and gardens don’t mix, or dogs and gardens don’t mix.

A good garden is one where thought and design have been applied according to its use – take the pond I mentioned earlier, 15 years ago I would never have had an open pond in my garden. Why? I had 3 children under 4yrs old and the effort of keeping them out of the pond would have no doubt taken a lot of the joy out of having one in the first place.

Many of us have or have had children and or dogs romping around the garden and we’ve made compensations to allow for it, and so by the same measure it’s not impossible to have chickens in the garden, and for that mix to be enjoyable and beneficial for both the gardener and the flock; you just need to plan and design accordingly.

Why Free-Range?

For many people keeping a backyard flock is synonymous with providing higher welfare and thus being secure in the knowledge that the eggs you are collecting are not from a factory farmed source. The trouble is though that keeping the three of them ‘cooped up’ in a run 3 metres by 3 metres is in fact a stock density greater than that of a commercial free range flock. In other words they have less space per bird, so if better welfare is a motivation for you keeping chickens then you may need to reconsider the space you allow them, or look to giving them a bit more of the garden.

 

Free ranging invariably results in happier, healthier chickens in so much that their lifestyle will be much more akin to their natural habitat. In fact there’s many a ‘jungle of a garden’ out there which would make a perfect haunt for a flock of hens. In fact anyone who has observed a hen that’s escaped from a fixed run will have witnessed the vigour and energy in their behaviour (and the fact they will continue to try and escape to experience it all over again!).

For me I use chickens as helpers because for all their ‘misplaced enthusiasm’ in the garden, they are in fact quite useful. They help in the control of pests, eat weeds, mow the lawn, compost green waste and improve soil condition. As a collective they quite possibly do the work of one person in the garden throughout the year and lay fantastic healthy eggs too. I won’t wax lyrical though and claim they are no problem at all as I do need to control where they go and protect some plants and crops from the attentions, but compared to the benefits they deliver coupled with beauty and movement they bring to the look of the garden, it’s worth it.

Tip
Keep the flock size appropriate for the space you have. A 25m2 to 35m2 garden space would suit 5 average sized chickens which in turn should easily keep the average family in eggs with sufficient surplus to sell and cover upkeep costs

Your garden is an ecosystem which the balance of, to many extents, is under your control, and if that ecosystem is to remain healthy then you need to observe and understand the way it works. Adding an appropriately sized flock of chickens introduces another aspect to the ecosystem but one which is most definitely within your control and under your management. Making sure the flock compliments and contributes towards the balance of the garden is key and stocking too heavily or ranging too intensively will lead to problems, so take your time and you will find chickens and gardens can mix.

Mar2014 Brahma under a shrub

A spot of poultry podcasting with Alys Fowler and Jane Perrone for The Guardian

If you follow me on twitter or have read one of my recent blogs then you might have seen I was podcasting about poultry with two lovely folks who I’m chuffed to include amongst my friends, Alys Fowler and Jane Perrone from the The Guardians #sowgrowrepeat  . Have a listen (and hear me do a chicken impression!) and see why the only conclusion is chickens are the star pets of the garden …. although my old knuckle-head collie, Mick, does get a mention

Alys Fowler and Jane Perrone discuss the particulars of pets in gardens | Life and style | The Guardian.

Scottish Television on the hunt for urban pig and poultry keepers

Is that you? It could well be as I know quite a few folks who read or follow this blog fall into that urban farming category.

To cut a long story short I’ve been contacted by Will Steel of STV via Jane Perrone of The Guardian (ok, ok, name dropping… did I mention I was on Countryfile the other month? I did? Oh well my apologies) and he is developing a programme about people who have chickens and pigs in their city gardens.

As such he’s looking for anyone who has chickens in their city home who he could potentially contact about the programme? At the moment he’s just looking for some stories but you never know, this could be a fine opportunity to show your flat pack farm or backyard Bonanza !

If you are interested then contact Will directly will.steel@stv.tv

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.

9 out of 10 Birds Prefer a Close Shave

Aside

9/10 Birds Prefer a Close Shave

It’s true, I have the photo to prove it.

9 out 10

 

Chickens prefer grass to be short and mowing it so in the area the birds are ranging provides access to the fresh new growth, better access to insects and grubs and also means the birds are less likely to ingest long coarse grass lengths which could lead to digestive problems such as impacted crop.

Other plus sides which your chickens might not be aware of is that short grass leaves few hiding places for the smaller almost microscopic pests such as parasitic worm eggs which don’t survive well when exposed to UV light rays. It also means the area is a little more exposed and less welcoming to larger predators so keeping some of the grass and scrub in check will helps number of counts.