Toasting the Tootsies & Pondering Poultry!

I wrote in a previous post about having no heating for nearly 10 days in the recent freeze up. I had natural gas for heating and cooking ,electricity from the ESB (Electricity Supply Board) which is our state owned/run utility company.When I came into this house 14 years ago, there was only an open coal fire which heated the water in the tank only. We spent one winter freezing, going to bed putting more clothes on than we had taken off, hot water bottles and piles of bedclothes. I got in the gas heating and also took out the solid fuel fire and had a gas fire put in for convenience.It was rarely used ,maybe around Christmas more for atmosphere than anything else.
When I had no means of heating the radiators as the fan in the boiler had given up the ghost the same gas fire could not heat 3 ft in front of it without the back up of the radiator.
I decided then to get the gas fire taken out and revert back to a solid fuel fire as an independent means of heating without being completely reliant on an outside supplier.The heating is now back more efficient than ever but for the last 2 weeks I am enjoying the benefits of an open fire!
I am burning turf at the moment which is beautifully atmospheric as the flames dance with different hues and the smell adds to the enjoyment!
I have not being doing much of anything else really!

My random dyed socks were knitted last year from yarn bought in Aldi, I had not knit socks since being in school but decided to give it a try. There is no wool in this yarn which on hind sight is essential for socks for warmth and keeping their shape in wearing.

The pile of containers to the right of the pic are all empty and for the small Grandchildren to play with when they are here. They make noise and roll and fit into each other and I have always found they give hours of fun to smallies!

Gardening is marking time until the weather allows us outside, severe frost again tonight!

I have been thinking for some time about having some hens?!
I would have them at home in the back garden, 2 or 3 would be more than enough for me and I have been studying houses and runs which come in all shapes ,sizes and prices!
To my way of thinking there is no point in having hens at home if they cannot be free range which to my mind means spending as much time as possible roaming and foraging for themselves. All of the hen houses/runs seem to confine them within their boundaries.
I really know nothing about them, even though my late Mother did keep hens for some time a few years ago.I have been to various websites but they seem to work on the premise you should know what you are looking for and know a certain amount about poultry?!
I need an Infrequently Asked Questions column!

If/can you leave them out around the garden all day if you are at home?
How do you get them rounded up and back in the house at night?!
Are there plants/flowers that they like/ are good for them!
" " " " " " don't like/ harmful to them?
What is an ideal number..2? If I have 3 is one going to be an outsider and hen pecked ?!
Remember those pictures of the Little Red Hen with her pinny tied around her? Not true, hens are very unhouseproud and create a lot!

Great for the garden BUT can it be used straight away on the garden, added to the compost bin or left to stand for some time before using? If it needs to be left in a pile for any length of time then it is not suitable for a small garden in a built up area.
Do hens HAVE to have a rooster in attendance, I don't think my neighbours would take too kindly to a rooster crowing at 5.30 am!

They lay eggs in a nest box, should it have straw/hay for comfort/cleanliness/whatever!

Eggs may need to be washed before using for hygienic

What happens to hens as they get older:
How long do they lay eggs for..months/years?
When they stop laying eggs, are they retired gracefully?!
Do they die a natural death?
Are they killed and eaten?!

Am I analysing this whole thing too much?
I think it is the fumes of the turf fire!
All suggestions/helpful hints/advice appreciated.


Kathleen said…
God I am exhausted after just reading all those questions!
Lovely to see the old fire back again and now you have the turf too!
I think those hens would be a lot of bother worse than having a dog to look after,what about roaming foxes,and they are getting very plentiful too in built up areas,no stick to the old carton buying in your local stores!
Anonymous said…
Hi Peggy, my Mom had chickens out in the country and I've had them a couple of times in my life. To keep the coyotes from getting them in the southwest...I had a fairly decent sized fenced area...they could be let out to range free but you'd have to have a chicken shepherd to be sure dogs, cats and other animals weren't attacking/killing them. (Snakes eat eggs, whole, dogs will crack eggs open and eat out the inside, sometimes the hens themselves will do this.) I believe chicken manure has to be composted, it will kill plants if put directly on them. You don't need a rooster unless you want fertilized eggs to incubate for more chickens. If the chickens have to be caged for their own safety...they can/will eat vegetable parings, fruit parings, grass clippings, weeds, you might have some of this from your allotment. This will give them a lot of the nutrition they need to make tasty eggs. The also like corn and you crunch up old egg shells and feed them that to aid them in making tough shells, also my Mom used to give them ground oyster shells. My remembrance is that if you wash the eggs you wash off the film that they acquire coming down the canal as the eggs are layed. Apparently they won't keep as long, but lets face it eggs you buy in the store have been cleaned and they last awhile. My Mom used to cull her flock every so many years...the older birds who were still healthy were dispatched with the aid of an axe. I did this too once when I'd gotten chicks and half turned out to be roosters, I didn't need 6 roosters so I picked the strongest, healthiest and we had fried chicken, etc with the rest. In a small yard chickens are somewhat like goats they'll eat anything green...when I was a kid we had such a big yard the chickens could eat all the grass they wanted without bothering other things. In the southwest we didn't have grass, as in a lawn, so it wasn't a problem. My Mom and I both used hay in the nests...they rarely pooped in their nests but if they did you put it in the compost pile and put in some fresh. Back in the dark ages they used to use glass eggs, one in a nest, to encourage a hen to I suppose plastic Easter eggs would work. Also about the hens eating eggs...the sooner the eggs are gathered the less likely that is to happen...hens get bored so they eat their eggs. Hope this is somewhat helpful...if I think of anything else I'll send the info. on to you. Chickens are interesting birds...I always enjoyed the ones I had!
Anonymous said…
I forgot Peggy you have to give them coarse sand...when it gets in their craw it helps to grind the food they eat.
Ann said…
Good idea to have the coal fire, Peggy, this is the reason we decided on our wood/solid stove, that way we'd have another option if anything happened to the gas or electricity.

I'd love hens too, looking forward to hearing what you decide.
Anonymous said…
Hi Peggy when I got my chickens last year I had no idea about how to care for them but it didnt take long to learn their likes and dislikes and how they behave. I would recommend getting them a bit younger so they can be handled mine had been free ranged in a big group and came to me at about 18 months old and they dont like to be petted or picked up.
Hi Peggy!

I have 6 chooks which free range all day long. They know to out themselves to bed at dusk each night. I lock them in (foxes) and let them out again every morning.

I compost the chook pop but am trying chook poo tea as well. I think hens make a home :)

I know you're in Ireland, but is a great forum on chooks, you'll get all your questions answered there and it's a great read!

Get chooks, you won't regret it.
Peggy said…
Kathlee, they are only some that come to mind!

Theanne, I have printed off your comment ,it is more like a thesis on hens!Thanks a million.

Ann, you were right to do that, it took a really cold spell wothout heating to focus my mind properly!

Kellee, thanks for that, you see these are the kind of nuggets of information the hen vendors will not tell you!

Mrs Bok, thanks for taking the time to comment.I have been to your blog and have added it to my blog list. I love the photos of your hens free ranging around the garden!
Matron said…
My Sister has two hens and they lay more eggs than she can manage! The modern breeds lay every day. I looked after them for a while last year and my experience is that hens and gardens do not mix. They are incredibly destructive if you are trying to grow anything!
Maureen deTar said…
I had 20 hens on a 5 acre lot. We really only lived on an acre or so and the rest was heavily pine and fir wooded with lots of critters to poach chickens. I lost 5 to a cougar the first year. I then adopted a wonderful Dalmation from the pound and we had no more cougar problems. She was a big chicken herself and certainly would never fight a cougar, but her barking and alert ways helped me save the flock from further purloining.
We had a basic chicken coop with a heat lamp hanging from the ceiling. I also had a hanging feeder. The other half of the coop was for "roosting". A roost is a 2x2 board about two feet from the ground. The chickens donate 80% of their manure while sleeping. I used a composting method I learned from a neighbor. You spread cedar wood chips or shreds in the roosting coop at least three-four inches deep. You need to do this a week or two before the chicks are big enough to go in the coop. The new cedar has to get rid of the scent that can make the chicks ill. When the smell is dissipated, all of the bugs will be gone too as bugs hate the smell of cedar. The chicks would stay in the coop until all were truly feathered and would never venture farther than twenty feet from it when let out to "range". They grew bolder as they grew bigger and the best part is that our property, which was infested with ticks the first spring, had no ticks by summer. Ticks, it turns out, are chicken's favorite food! Alleluia! The diet of bugs and gravel is ideal and we had plentiful, hard, huge eggs by mid-summer. At the end of fall, before the first snow, I would rake out the manure/cedar chip mix and spread it over beds in my garden, cover these with grass clippings, and then a little compost or dirt. This layered method cooks the manure through the composting and the mix of greens and wood chips makes a perfect growing medium after rotting and freezing. The snow did most of the work for me. In spring, I just lightly turned the mix with some bone meal and a little greensand and began planting. It works fabulously! I had the best garden on our road! I kept the chickens out of the formal vegetable and fruit garden with basic field fence. We cut all of the posts on our own land from dead trees. They had full access to the rose garden and the small kitchen garden. They never bothered it since they had a small "meadow" that I left untouched where bugs and wildflowers thrived.
Good luck! I have never loved animals more than "my girls" and yes, they all had names and would sit on my lap and purr so contently when I came near. We did cull some of the roosters and ate them. I decided after being attacked one too many times by a former little friend that we did not need a rooster and we fared well after that.

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