"I really fancy keeping chickens" is not something you hear very often but its a statement which my boyfriend came out with last year. I was surprised. A chicken is not your average pet and we had just got two kittens. But the seed was planted. I really like the idea of being more self-sustaining and grow fruit and herbs in the garden, but chickens would be taking it to another level. As a plus my eggs would come from happy healthy hens, they would be organic, and would not be 4 weeks old like most "fresh" supermarket eggs. But I needed to know the downside and get some practical knowledge.
A few weeks later on our monthly Costco shop we discovered a chicken hut on sale....looks like it was meant to be. Obviously we bought the hut and set it up in the garden (because who can resist a bargain that was hundreds of pounds cheaper than the same on the internet!!) A chicken run and lack of knowledge was the only thing holding us back from going hen shopping so I found a course in Manchester on Omlet.co.uk and applied for the WI Bursary.
My course was run by Lisanne McEvoy who works for the Blue Cross as a Pet Bereavement Support Trainer. She also keeps lots of animals including quail, chickens and ducks. The course was crammed full of information - Lisanne explained the anatomy of the chicken and their main health problem areas, which is a very good thing as I bet most of us have never held a hen let alone know how the tell if they are feeling a bit poorly! We discussed checking whether you could have chickens at home, behaviour, different breeds and their eggs. I already knew that different breeds lay different colour eggs but it was the first time I had seen a Bantam (mini hen) egg. They tend to have less white and were told that restaurants love them.
We disussed the pros ad cons of different types of housing including plastic, wooden, fixed postion, moveble and different size runs. I'm pretty sure that there wasn't a topic that we didn't cover- bedding, enrichment (you don't want bored chickens), predators, vermin, feeding, treats, food to avoid, "fallen" stock, bringing hens home for the first time, weather, broodiness, first aid, worming and infestations, bathing..... the list goes on!! We even had a Poo Gallery to show us what is normal so we didn't panic the first time we saw a "korma" poo.
Then we got to meet and handle the girls! This was obviously the highlight. Lisanne has had up to 11 chickens previously but currently has 3. One is an old girl and she doesn't want to introduce new birds into the pecking order to stress her out- which is understandable. I met Phyllis (a Welsummer), Vanessa (a Scots Dumpy Bantam) and Bunty (a Pekin Bantam), and walked away from the course with more confidence, a support network and raring to set up my run and buy my own flock of ladies!
The top tip of the day would have to be don't wear red or yellow nail varnish on your toes- chickens can see colour and might think they are tasty berries or corn...I will be sure to be wearing my wellies at all times!! lol