A Hen keeper for more than 20 years with a 300-strong flock on her Surrey / Hampshire smallholding, chicken expert Suzie Baldwin offers her advice for looking after your chickens during February.
There is something about February that gives me a real spring in my step. Maybe its the increase in daylight or seeing the amorous courtships around the small holding. There is much dancing and preening, not to mention the deafening vocal sparring between all the cockerels as they compete for mates. Egg production has picked up, so I’m able to set my incubators to hatch chicks. A few hens have gone broody in the nesting boxes and, if successful, may raise some young the natural way, too. The geese will start laying again soon – and you cant beat an omelet made with their offerings. Apart from observing my flocks’ daily antics, one of the most enjoyable jobs is collecting their freshly laid eggs on chilly mornings – it still feels utterly magical. Feeding your hens high-quality “layers’ pellets” (fancy feed do a great high quality range that we stock in our Hollywater Hens shop) for their main diet is essential to keep them healthy and ensure they produce excellent eggs. Reserve treats for the afternoons – by which time they will have eaten some feed – as, like us, chickens favor them over the healthy option. Refreshing their drinkers daily is key, too, not only for their wellbeing – if your girls dehydrate, they may go into moult and it could affect their laying ability – but also for the goodness of their eggs, as they’re composed of 70 percent water.
- GROW…wheat on a windowsill or in an airing cupboard – chickens love the sprouted seed
- TURN…over the ground in fixed runs, apply disinfectant and add fresh bark
- MAKE…an all round tonic using dried seaweed to promote health, increase egg yield and darken yolk colour
A hen keeper for more than 20 years with a 300 strong flock on her Hampshire / Surrey smallholding, chicken expert Suzie Baldwin from Hollywater Hens offers her advice and January tips for keeping chickens:
My ever-reliable hybrids have so far provided a continuous supply of eggs. All the animals on the farm are eagerly watching their feed buckets for afternoon meals - it takes a lot of willpower not to give it to them earlier. The turkeys are back to normal, strutting their stuff around the yard; Christmas is over and they know they’re safe. January is always a long month of dull cold weather, so I like to cheer up my chickens with activities. A simple perch, made from a branch with some rope at either end, hung in the run, will amuse them. Drill holes in logs and fill them with mealworms, peanut butter or boiled rice – they enjoy pecking the food out. Or pierce the base of a pot of live natural yogurt, which also helps their digestive systems, mirrors placed around the run will intrigue your flock, while baby toys (check they don’t have parts the birds can swallow) create interest and can be bought from charity shops. Hanging up a bunch of greens at jumping height will ensure your hens move around, boosting their circulation while providing vitamins and minerals.
A hen keeper for more than 20 years with a 300 strong flock on her Hampshire / Surrey smallholding, chicken expert Suzie Baldwin from Hollywater Hens offers her advice and December tips for keeping chickens:
This month, egg production is still really good in the hybrid barn, so I'm making lots of homemade puddings - great comfort food after a long day in the cold.
Spending a few minutes observing your chickens is essential in winter, as it is a trying time for them. Any behavioural changes could indicate illness, boredom or stress: all of which can easily be dealt with if caught early, but problems can quickly worsen if ignored. Hens really appreciate an afternoon feed of corn (combine with rolled oats and just enough cod liver oil - a good all-round tonic - to coat the mixture) for an energy boost, which will help them through the long chilly nights.
Sorting all my pure breeds for next year. This involves choosing those of either sex that best fits the features required by the breed standard - from leg colour to weight and size - and putting them in the pen where I can see them to ensure they're in tip-top condition. I've picked out some gorgeous Salmon Faverolles, Pekins and Buff Orpingtons, which will produce wonderful offspring next year.
Look out for the December issue of BBC Countryfile magazine where Hollywater Hens’ poultry expert Suzie Baldwin contributes to an article all about turkeys.
“Why are turkeys called turkeys?”
The firs time Europeans saw turkeys – in North America – they believed the birds must be related to guinea fowl. As guinea fowl were thought to originate in Turkey, their larger American ‘cousins’ were given that name.
The article “Turkey: A Natural History” tells you everything you never knew about the Christmas bird.
A hen keeper for more than 20 years with a 300 strong flock on her Hampshire / Surrey smallholding, chicken expert Suzie Baldwin from Hollywater Hens offers her advice and November tips for keeping chickens:
The trees are almost bare of leaves, there's a nip in the air and fireworks are pervading the night skies. It must be November! This can be a trying time for the girls. Rosie, a very independent, headstrong Pekin Bantam, who's generally last to bed, is firmly tucked up before dusk, while the usually contented and mellow Buff Orpingtons are being rather tetchy with each other - disturbed nights really don't suit them! In recent years, firework displays seem to be more frequent, causing problems for some chickens. They are sensitive creatures and susceptible to stress, which affects their behaviour, Iowers their immunity and reduces egg production.
Dried lavender, either sprinkled on their bedding or placed in bags and pinned inside the coop, helps them to relax. You can also use homeopathic treatments such as phosphorous, or Bach Rescue Remedy - these anxiety-relieving solutions seem to work almost instantly (both products are available from most good health-food shops). Covering the coop with blankets can muffle the outside noise (take care not to block ventilation holes) and extra bedding will help them feel secure. During the day, I place crushed garlic cloves in filled drinkers - it boosts the girls' natural defences without altering the taste of their eggs .
We had a lovely surprise this morning – TV presenter Phil Spencer (Location, Location, Location among many others) popped in to let me know how pleased he was with his 6 new hybrid chickens. They are laying everyday and have settled in a treat. Not only that, he has read my new book and loved it! Even had his picture taken with me and of course Doris who can’t resist a camera.
A hen keeper for more than 20 years with a 300 strong flock on her Hampshire / Surrey smallholding, chicken expert Suzie Baldwin from Hollywater Hens offers her advice and October tips for keeping chickens:
As the days are becoming shorter, I've cheered my self up by buying a lovely Trio of Brahmas They're beautiful. All my other birds fill the air with raucous clucks and cock-a-doodle-dos as they welcome the new arrivals. The turkey can't quite make them out. Meanwhile, Doris, a lovely speckled hybrid, is in trouble as she has tucked into a packet of custard creams left unattended on my desk in the stable-cum-office. They say chickens are stupid but she knows where the biscuit barrel is. Too much sugar on a regular basis can be harmful for poultry, but as an occasional treat it isn't a problem.
Halloween is on the way and if, like me, you carve a pumpkin for your porch, don't waste the seeds. They have been used for hundreds of years as a natural wormer for animals including chickens, which greatly to enjoy them. I whizz them in a blender and add a small amount of natural yogurt to make a smoothie. You could also feed them as they are, using a scooped-out pumpkin half as a bowl (they love the flesh, too). My children dot glowing lanterns around the field to scare foxes. It's worth a try and looks very pretty. At other times, I use natural wormer Verm-X, the fennel, peppermint and cinnamon helps keep chickens’ digestive system healthy.