Keeping Chickens – Updated

Since they even turn up in the tagline of this blog, it’s probably about time to mention the chickens! We have four hybrid chickens in the back garden – all Rhode Island Red / Maran crosses. The light grey one is known as a ‘Bluebell’ hybrid, the others ‘Copper Maran’. They aren’t any particular poultry-fancier pedigree chickens, but we have at least an approximate idea of their breed!

The chickens made their first appearance at Bruntonia HQ about 3 months ago. Pa Brunton grew up on a chicken farm in Canada, and I think he thought that the children might like to have some chicks about the place. As it turns out, I was probably more excited than my three year old nephew was. He had been told we were picking up the chicks, and knew he was excited, but I don’t think he actually knew what the chicks were. The very nice breeders made a big show of opening up the hen house (met by sheer excitement from me of course…) to which Arti exclaimed ‘But Papa, they’re just BIRDS!’. In spite of this, once we got them into the car, we were both pretty excited about peeking into the box and listening to the little cheeping noises.

On getting home, Arti picked up the largest bird, and promptly declared that it was called Aristotle like him. We have pointed out that Aristotle the chicken is a girl, but I don’t think three year olds fuss about small details like that! In any case, the three marans have also been rather dubiously dubbed ‘the Franks’. Initially, when a chick was picked up, the others would cheep loudly – causing my husband to comment that it was like they were called ‘OMG WHERE’S FRANK??’ This appealed to the biggest kid of them all (me) and so the chicks became known as Frank. Initially at least, they either had black, white or ginger markings (and so were Black Frank, White Frank, and Ginger Frank). Only Ginger Frank has retained her original colour sadly – being the runt of the chickens and firmly at the bottom of the pecking order the poor gal has had a hard little life!

For the first few weeks while they feathered up, they lived in a box in our conservatory. They then moved out to the cabin as a sort of intermediate measure, and eventually the garden proper. They have a fairly substantial bit of space to run around in day to day – several square metres for four chickens (the RSPCA recommends at least 1.6 square metres for four birds). They have a little indoor run, perching space, and a nesting box for when they do start laying. We are pretty certain now that they are all ladies, so hopefully we should start getting some eggs over the next couple of months!

For now, they essentially eat little pellets, as well as anything they scratch around for, and get fresh water out of a little drinker from our rain water butt. They are still babies really even if fully feathered – the biggest one, Aristotle is as tall as she is going to get, but will still gain weight to get to adult size. The Franks have got some catching up to do size wise, and none of them can really cluck yet. They’re a bit like adolescent boys – they run around making high pitched little cheeping noises, and then occasionally let out a loud ‘honk’, before looking around like ‘who did that?!’

If you’re considering keeping chickens the best recommendation is to make sure they have plenty of space, somewhere safe to roost at night where you can close them in, away from predators. We got our chicks very young, because Pa knows what he’s doing with the birds – it may be easier to get them a little older. Speak to the breeder first, and choose a breed carefully – some are more docile than others! As I am new to this chicken malarkey, I am also pretty surprised at how high the things can jump! They have already worked out how to escape their run (will have to do some further chickenproofing…) so there needs to be somewhere safe for them to run around. The RSPCA is the best authority on good practices with keeping chickens in your own garden.

More posts will follow once the ladies start laying, or do something more interesting… like learn to cluck properly!


p.s. Yeah so the chickens have learned how to escape. Our very kind neighbours have put them back and shut them in for the night while we were at the cinema, but fortifications will have to be made tomorrow! More to follow…