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Winter 2010



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Keeping hens part 2

I've now had a couple of years of hen keeping and have learnt a few things since I started. The hut I made is still working well but I've improved the pen using the large frames that are found on building sites to keep people out. They are 11ft long and 7ft high filled in with a wire mesh. They are available quite cheaply but may require a little repair in places. I fasten them together using plastic tree ties. Only one is required to join two together so the pen is rapidly formed.

These frames are sufficiently high so that the birds cannot fly over the top unless they get on the roof of the hut first; to stop this one frame is placed over the roof [as picture]. I did have a problem with a predator penetrating this arrangement originally;[may have been a stoat]; to combat this I fitted some chicken wire to the base of each frame and then place an electric fence around the enclosure. Once a fox, or anything else for that matter, has had its nose bitten by the fencer it will not return.

  

I've now tried several breeds and for me the best layers are White Star. They have large red combs and wattles, looking more like a cockerel than a hen but seem to lay a large white egg consistently well. I also have; Cream leg bar which lay a blue egg, Marans which lay a dark brown egg, and some others which lay eggs coloured from sand to dark beige. It is said you can tell the colour of egg a bird will lay by the colour of its ears; this works with some but the Cream leg bar does not have blue ears.

The worst time for predator attack is normally between November and March when wild prey is less available. I have tried bringing the hens inside during this period but because laying is affected by amount of daylight, being confined in an unlit shed considerably affects their output. Apart from feeding them mixed corn and layers pellets they also get any waste bread vegetables etc and are always very interested to see what I have in the plastic bag before they start on the corn.



When the eggs of various colours are placed in a tray they look particularly attractive; of course they all taste the same no matter what colour, and my tenants cannot get enough of them. One thing I have noticed is that hens from the same hatching seem to stay together even when roosting on their perches and so if your small flock consists of just one hatching this may just improve their performance.

Dave Bird