Questions from a journalist at Mercury Press Agency

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Tim
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Questions from a journalist at Mercury Press Agency

Post by Tim » Tue Aug 03, 2010 12:41 pm

Hi All,

I've been contacted by a journalist asking a few questions. I will answer him today but will also point him to this post for extra information so would appreciate your ideas / thoughts...

Thanks. Tim.
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I've listed a few questions below, feel free to answer in as much length as you like. Your personal and professional opinion will both make for good quotes so don't hold back!

* Is the fact that chickens are now becoming 'fashionable' on council estates, in inner cities and built up areas good news for poultry breeders?
* Many new breeders seem to be buying laying chicken, because of the attraction of sourcing their own food, what are the precautions someone thinking of starting to produce eggs should take?
* How big a commitment is taking on a bird, what are the time and spatial requirements?
* Online shops such as Omlet.com sell a vast amount of breeds starting from just a couple of pound each, what research should someone do before buying from these types of sites?
* In your opinion is it possible to give a chicken a good, healthy life in a house back garden?

Any other opinions you have on the issue of chickens becoming the new 'it' pets would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for taking the time out,
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Davidd
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Re: Questions from a journalist at Mercury Press Agency

Post by Davidd » Tue Aug 03, 2010 1:50 pm

Hello,
1> I think anything that encourages people to keep poultry is a good thing- although i don't think it's necessarily good news for poultry breeders- not the genuine, dedicated ones at least- Nearly all the new poultry keepers don't know anything about the hobby- they are generally given advice by the person who has sold them the chickens- and that advice is not always good- the old saying applies- "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" Being a small scale breeder i will not sell my birds to any and all- i would need to know where they are going and what sort of conditions they are going to be kept in- i also try to judge the persons poultry keeping knowledge and always give advice on anything they need to know- so although there are perhaps a lot more opportunities to sell birds,I personally haven't increased my sales- i am sure lots of breeders have - especially if they keep the popular "starter breeds" Pekins and Hybrids etc.
2> producing eggs for your own use is a lot simpler than producing eggs to sell- you can sell your eggs at your gate- and to friends but you can't sell them to shops/restaurants- anywhere where they are sold on- you need to be licensed. If you are thinking of producing eggs you will need to work out how many chickens you need to produce the eggs you need- what breed, how long to keep them for and when to replace layers , breed replacements, etc. If buying at point of lay ask if they have had any vaccinations- most hybrids are vaccinated at day old. You will only get out of your hens what you put in- you must buy the best food you can and dont feed too many scraps/treats.
3>Chickens, like all pets need time and commitment every day- Having a few hens in the garden will not take up lots of time to manage them but they need to be fed/watered daily and cleaned out weekly- they will also need to be let out in the morning and locked up safe from Mr fox and other predators Every night.
you can easily do the daily chores in ten minutes- and an hour spent at the weekend.As for housing -the bigger the better-you don't need a massive house for 3 or 4 chickens a 4 foot square coop and attached 6 foot or more run is adequate most people will want to add more chickens in the future so a bigger house than needed is the best way to go.
You will need to think who is going to feed and water your birds when you go on holiday and they still need feed and water even when the weather is at it's worst in the winter.
4>Before buying from sites like this you should reserch the breeds you think you like or want to keep to find out if they are suitable for your requirements- i.e. temperament, egg laying ability, size when fully grown,if they are flighty or a docile breed- suitable for children, prone to broodiness. If you are after keeping pure breeds- than the best place to find suitable birds is probably from a list of breeders from the breed club of your chosen breed- that way you should at least get some decent birds that are mostly true to type- they will also be able to give you lots of knowledge of their particular breed.If buying form online sites try to find any feedback from previous customers -also ask about any replacements /refunds if anything goes wrong in the first week or too- most good firms will replace birds after a week or two.Also, join some poultry forums and ask- that's how you learn- others peoples experiences of these online sites are invaluble to help you decide if it's right for you.
5>Chickens can have a wonderful , happy healthy life in a back garden- As long as they have a clean, dry coop,a decent sized run, the correct feed and clean water and , if possible, are allowed to free range . They can and do lead very productive lives in gardens all over the country.

regards, David :)
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Tim
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Re: Questions from a journalist at Mercury Press Agency

Post by Tim » Tue Aug 03, 2010 3:59 pm

This is what I sent off earlier in answer to the questions - I have also pointed him to this post for further information.

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Please find below my answers to your questions. You will find further opinions here on our forum where I posted the questions: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2036

It will probably take a few evenings to generate a response as most people browse the forum at evenings and weekends.

1. Is the fact that chickens are now becoming 'fashionable' on council estates, in inner cities and built up areas good news for poultry breeders?

Yes, but not all are in it to make money. There are different kinds of breeders:

* Breeders who sell a few pure breeds but mostly hybrid chickens. These are a cross between two pure breeds, and are ideal beginners birds that are hardy, will produce a good supply of eggs and will be cheaper than pure breeds (since male birds can be sexed by the different colour of their down and dispatched as day olds giving reducing rearing costs). Generally, these birds are bought in by the 'breeder' from a farm as sexed day old chicks by the hundred and are grown on by the breeder before selling them. These can cost as little as £12 to £15 each at POL (point of lay).

These breeders will be benefiting the most from the first time poultry keeper as they can make a (small?) profit from growing on a large number of hybrids.

* Breeders who are interested in the hobby and hatch / sell a few spare pure breed birds on every year.

These 'breeders' are generally losing money since they are raising a few birds which is uneconomical (eg growers pellets from a pet shop are close to £10 per bag or £6 if bought bagged in bulk by the tonne). These are generally the sort of people that would advertise their surplus birds for sale in the back of a poultry magazine such as Fancy Fowl or on a poultry forum such as poultrykeeperforum.com or via a paid advert like those found on the Omlette website.

* Exhibiters or Specialist Breeders. These are the people that are really keeping a breed alive and responsible for the breeds we have today. They work to the British Poultry Standards and specialise in one or more pure breeds or with colours within a breed and they will try to hatch as many birds as they can from their line (a closed flock as long as new blood isn't required to re-invigorate the line). They will be selecting the best birds out of the hundreds they may hatch to show and will normally not adverise their stock very often. They will win shows and their name will become known for the breed in question and will generally be 'found' by other enthusiasts wanting their stock. They will sometimes sell at auction or at a show. Their best birds are usually very expensive (£40 to £300 maybe). Birds with serious defects are normally culled - they will not sell them because it gives them a bad name and is bad for the breed. Some are sold as 'pet' quality. It is not unusual for these breeders to import good birds from America or Europe, costing thousands of pounds.

2. Many new breeders seem to be buying laying chicken, because of the attraction of sourcing their own food, what are the precautions someone thinking of starting to produce eggs should take?

There is no reason why you should not produce your own eggs, providing you follow some common sense guidelines.

* Keep their nestboxes clean, providing fresh straw as bedding, do not allow them to sleep in the nest boxes as they will soil their eggs.
* Do not wash eggs since the shells are porous and can draw bacteria inside them, if you so have to clean an egg, wipe with a damp cloth using water that is warmer than the egg.
* Ensure your birds are wormed regularly with a licensed wormer such as Flubenvet.
* When a chicken is ill, the first thing that usually happens is they stop laying eggs anyway but if your chickens do require medication of some sort, always follow the advice of your vet or manufacturer on the withdrawal period for eggs. For example antibiotic residues can be transferred into eggs.


3. How big a commitment is taking on a bird, what are the time and spatial requirements?

Chickens are relatively straightforward to keep, however, like any animal, you need to take into consideration who will look after them whilst you are away. As well as the usual food and water requirements, chickens need to be locked up at night to stop foxes from taking them. Thankfully, they will put themselves to bed and there are automatic pop hole openers / closers such as the VSB automatic door keeper from AXT Electronic. Neighbours can usually be bribed with a few eggs to look after them for a few days!

Spatially, whilst there are a number of small houses and runs for sale of varying qualities, the more space the hens have the better. I mean in the extreme, you could have 4 hens in a battery cage and they still adapt and lay eggs but give them their freedom around the garden and you will be rewarded not only by healthy hens and good quality eggs but also house of fun watching them and their funny antics. It is perfectly acceptable to have a small run to keep birds safe but giving them free range in part or all of your garden for a few hours per day will give you much happier hens.

4. Online shops such as Omlet.com sell a vast amount of breeds starting from just a couple of pound each, what research should someone do before buying from these types of sites?

Firstly, buy a good book or browse the breeds section of a website (such as poultrykeeper.com !!) to research the different breeds and decide what you want. If you are a beginner, it is often best to start with a hybrid hen (a cross between two pure breeds) that will be easier to care for, are hardy and will lay a good supply of eggs for you, some exhibition strains of birds will only lay 50 eggs per year for example so it is a good idea to decide what you want from a bird before looking to buy. I would not recommend buying birds until you have seen them. Be cautious of sites where you have to pay up front. Visit the person selling the birds and look at their setup. Ask lots of questions and look at the birds - are they fit and healthy (a common sign of poor health are birds that are wheezing when picked up), handle the birds and look at the cleanliness of the hen houses and runs. If you are satisfied, only then purchase the birds. Moving the birds to their new home will stress them and if they are not fit and healthy, they will pick up disease so it is very important to buy healthy birds to start with.

5. In your opinion is it possible to give a chicken a good, healthy life in a house back garden?

Yes, providing they are not overcrowded and can get sufficient exercise / free range in the garden. Be cautious of cheap hen houses, you do get what you pay for with wooden hen houses and just because the manufacturer says it can hold 6 hens doesn't mean they will be comfortable in there or that they will be fox proof. Houses made by reputable suppliers such as Flyte So Fancy or GD Timber Designs are very well designed and built to last. They provide sufficient ventillation (but not draughts) and enough perch and nest box space for hens to be comfortable.

I hope this helps. If you are able to give poultrykeeper.com a mention somewhere, I would appreciate it. I would also be interested in reading what you have written if it is published.
elmwood
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Re: Questions from a journalist at Mercury Press Agency

Post by elmwood » Fri Aug 06, 2010 7:19 pm

Hi,

Both Tim and Davids thoughts and opinions are very comprehensive and eloquently conveyed, so I am not sure whether to add anything? But I am one of those enthusiastic people who liked the idea of a few feathered chickens running around the garden. The reality took 18mths before it came to fruition after lots of planning.

From what I have read, the public's conscious awareness of how our food is produced and where it comes from is more prevalent than ever. So, just as growing veggies has become "fashionable" resulting in lengthy allottment waiting lists, maybe the idea of keeping a few chucks compliments this thinking? Most of us are probably old enough to remember grandparnets reminiscing about how they had a few chickens in their gardens and grew veggies during the war years? I do.

I also believe it is becoming fashionable because of the "Media Hype". Several articles of late, give the impression you get a few chooks, set up a house, and you get eggs galore. (The daily Mail recently ran an article, and the programme charting a vicars simplistic, money free life was aired recently.)

As for back yard chickens- well mine are garden or back yard chickens. Despite living in a semi-rural location on the edge of a residential cul-de-sac with a mix of private & social housing. I dont have concerns about chickens popping up on council estates or inner cities and the whether this is good or bad for breeders. What does worry me is the reality of caring, feeding and housing a few chickens. I myself, live in social housing, albeit a housing association property. BUT I am mindful of my neighbours, and have factored in noise levels, amount of birds, space required etc. So there is no cockeral, I have bantams breeds, and I am realistic in my number and choice of birds. They are very healthy, exceptionally happy, and have enriched our lives too.

In my limited experience I havn't found keeping my five chickens to be straightforward or inexpensive- quite the opposite. Despite factoring in the cost of all necessary housing, feed and bedding we have spent a small fortune on first aid treatments, vets fees, preventative herbal remedies, worming etc. As for the time factor, I feel they require far more time than any other pet I have kept. The one blessing is they don't have to be exercised. Somedays I compare it to looking after a toddler, sorting out their squabbles, rotating the girls in the nest boxes, removing broodies etc, responding to their "laying" needs, cries & celebrations-

I consider "us" to be "informed", having done our homework and planned accordingly. If people have chickens thinking you throw them a few scraps and provide any old wooden structure for housing- then I am sorry to say you couldn't be further from the truth. So inevitably there would be problems for people who have financial restrictions/considerations. We joke about our eggs costing approx £5 each, in reality that is probably the truth of the matter. We have our chickens as pets, who have firmly established themselves as family! Yes, family, and I too would suffer financially if say my boyfriend no longer contributed to the chicken costs, as I wouldn't be able to support us and the girls-So the reality is they would have to go.

Also I think having all this wonderful knowledge and capacity for information at our fingers tips can have its downside. Once we used to rely heavily on info from books, (trips to the library), magazines, and gleaming info from like-minded people with experience and knowledge in the chosen field, i.e. grannies and grandpas, we now "Google". This is an amazing advancement but I wonder sometimes if we dream up far more sinister goings on and have information overload before we even get going. On the flip side we have access to a wider public, and therefore have greater choice in our chicken providers. I for one wouldn't be without this forum or its invaluable knoweldge. So i hope anyone who is thinking of keeping chickens, reads lots, googles lots, and has the time and finances to commit to what for us it turning out to be a rewarding and fulfilling hobby.

I may have strayed off the point, and conveyed my
feelings emotively, but as a result of us keeping chickens, a regular dog walker chap, who happened to hear our girls one day, payed us a visit, and expressed his desire to keep a few chickens. I sent him off with some advice, a couple of books and some eggs. So maybe it is not "fashionable" but just addictive!


Sharron
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