The chickens here at Top Barn are, overall, quite lucky creatures, having free access to about two acres of pasture, a large pond, hedging and a little woodland. They share some of this area with a selection of wildlife also our rare breed pigs and occasionally a few lambs. Trees, hedging and grass provide the best sort of range for chickens, as having vegetation overhead and around them, helps them feel secure. This is the sort of habitat that their wild jungle fowl ancestors would have been strutting about in. It is in our view, genuinely ‘free range’.
We protect our chickens from foxes using electric poultry netting. It’s not an absolute protection, but in the twelve or so years we have been keeping chickens at Top Barn we have only lost a couple to the dreaded fox and some young chicks to some other creature, possibly a stoat or a weasel. We wish the same were true of their other main predators, our Springer Spaniels! All dogs are now restricted from field access unless we have the chickens separated by electric fencing and even then, there have been mishaps!
Our chickens are not what you might call ‘posh birds’. They have been bought or bred for their egg production rather than good looks. Currently, we have nine brown hens and one white bantam. Between them we expect eight or nine eggs daily between February and November. There is nothing more satisfying for us as owners of a bed and breakfast, than to offer our guests the most amazing, deep yellow yolk eggs for their breakfast, or indeed any of the other meals we offer here at Top Barn.
Keeping chickens is not particularly difficult, but remember, you have a responsibility for the welfare of these animals, so regular watering, feeding, cleaning and general hygiene is essential if you plan to maintain happy, healthy poultry and a consistent egg production. It is not difficult or expensive to set up either. And you don’t need the extensive area we offer our chickens as a few hens in the garden require little more than a small secure run and hen house. But make sure you try and keep their house raised up a few feet if possible. If there is a downside with keeping chickens then we would have to say this is the dreaded rat, which will be attracted to your poultry like bees to a honeypot. So, try to keep your hens away from your house if possible and introduce methods to keep rats and other vermin away from their food. If you are thinking about setting up, just check out a few things about keeping hens. Some good advice can be gleaned from the Beginners Guide to Keeping Poultry.
Chickens are fascinating creatures and a complete distraction; they provide hours of entertainment, scratching around, stopping and chattering, constantly looking about with their staccato head movements. We have wasted many hours just observing their behaviour. In short, chickens are good to have around.
We can’t really imagine life here at Top Barn without them. If you keep chickens and have some stories to share or want to know more about our experience of keeping chickens, please leave us a comment.
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