Sunday, 16 March 2014
I think what defines a "current obsession" is the amount of time I spend Googling a subject. Today's one has been a couple of hours straight as I lay on the sofa with my new BFF, flu.
It's chickens. The egg laying kind.
Shopping in a local fresh produce market the other day I enquired about free range eggs and was told that a local lady keeps hens. This has been on my radar for the last year or so, so my interest was piqued. If she can do it why can't I?
So I've been researching coops, runs, space needs, breeds, feed, what to do with the poo. At first I was worried about the small size of our available space. We have a decent-sized back garden (for a Dublin city suburb) but there is a kitchen extension and a block built garage taking up a lot of it. The remaining grass holds a 10ft trampoline (a mental health essential), a Little Tykes playhouse (never used) a concrete patio and vegetable patch. There is very little free space. We do have an area leading to the back gate, a passage about 6 foot wide and 16 foot long, half grass and half concrete. But we need access to the gate...
If we do this at all we will do it like we approach every house/garden project, spending as little money as possible. Upcycling and recycling what we already have, using online secondhand markets when we do need to buy materials.
At the moment it seems the biggest financial outlay is the coop, but I've seen someone convert their playhouse into one. It's doable, you add some divisions, close it off to the elements, add perches etc. Then the question of where do they spend their days - give them free run of the garden and suffer their destruction, not a great option, but here's a great one I discovered - pen off the underneath space of the trampoline! That's been done with great success (link below).
A perfect place to put their coop and run all in one area would be the vegetable patch beside the playhouse, it's an area which could easily be fenced in... but it's taken me ages to plant my veg and I'm dying to watch them grow, looking forward to the butterflies and the greenery, so I'd be reluctant to lose all my hard work.
At the moment it's a dream, none of the family are on board yet, so that will have to change for a start!
I love the idea of having fresh eggs, animals to care for, feeding kitchen scraps to the hens, and getting free fertiliser from their poo! We throw out a LOT of vegetable peelings, probably a supermarket bagful a week, and it seems such a waste. We did try composting before, but I never layered it properly and it didn't decompose. So I love the idea that these food cast-offs would become food for the hens, saving us money. They do need a grain feed too, but eat a lot of kitchen scraps. And their poo would be great in our flowerbeds, or we could give it to local friends who grow their own food.
If we got three chicks to start with we would hopefully get 3 eggs a day, which would do our family ok, we'd have to supplement maybe if I was baking (some paleo cakes call for 5 eggs).
I think it would be a brilliant learning experience for the kids too, raising the hens from fluffy chicks to laying hens, and cooking with our own free eggs, wow! The chickens get tame the more they're handled from day one, so they make good pets.
Have any of you tried it? Any pointers I should think about?
In case any of you are interested here are some links I've enjoyed:
Chickens in a small garden:
Caring for hens in colder weather:
The trampoline idea: