Chicken update – throwing money at a problem

The novelty of writing a blog has definitely worn off. Work has been busy and finding the time to write anything of interest has proven difficult. The novelty of extended working from home has also gone and the grim reality of a long, dark and cold winter has set in.

Despite this all we have made good progress on the chicken front. In a fit of lock down virtue I decided to demolish the old dog kennel and run that we had used for our chicken coop. When we first moved in, we thought this looked ideal. Pretty soon after, the challenge of keeping chickens in a building not designed for the purpose became apparent. Cleaning out was a laborious process that required full PPE. It wasn’t a job that could be done by my children so I ended up doing it – and resenting my chickens as a consequence.

Incredibly I was able to dismantle the steel cage and find someone who wanted it. The old wooden dog kennel was dispatched quickly with the only tool I have any confidence in using – the sledge hammer.

Old chicken coop and run
Successful demolition

In parallel I had found on eBay an Omlet Cube Mk 2 chicken coop. I found myself drawn to the slick videos of how easy it was to clean, with happy children cleaning it on their own. This was selling the dream – not the shit covered reality I was living. I was slightly appalled at the cost of a new one direct from Omlet but went ahead anyway – only to discover thanks to Covid, the world and his wife were buying chickens and there was a two month wait for new ones. Instead I found a pretty decent second hand one on eBay for about the same price as the new one, such was the strength of the secondary market.

Within about 5 minutes of setting up my new Omlet it became apparent how brilliant it is. It is really easy to clean, my children can do it. Collecting the eggs is effortless and shutting them up at night took seconds. My old dog run and kennel involved physically climbing into the coop to collect eggs or clean. The hens seem happier too, I suspect because even though the coop is physically smaller, it has far more roosting space.

New coop complete with automatic door thing

After a few months of ownership we decided to head down to Dorset for a long weekend. We didn’t want to trouble our neighbours so ordered the excellent automatic chicken door for the coop. This was a revelation. It opens and closes the coop door shortly after dawn or sunset. Hands free chicken keeping! While ideal for a weekend away, as the evenings have drawn in, it has made chicken keeping much easier and significantly reduces the risk of fox attack because we’ve forgotten to shut the coop door.

We’ve spent a collective fortune on our Omlet and automatic door but the overall improvement on keeping chickens is immeasurable. I no longer need to clamber into and awkward small shed and sweep up chicken poo or remember to put them to bed at night – throwing money at this particular problems has definitely been a good move.

Further reflections on chickens

You are expecting me to go on about how superior our home produced eggs are to the crap ones you get from supermarkets produced by battery hens. You are right to a degree, the eggs are very good, but the eggs I buy from a supermarket have a use by date on, produced by hens that have all their vaccinations and who don’t compete with crows or plague carrying migratory birds for food.

For all there deliciousness, before I pop my poached or scrambled egg into my mouth a pang of anxiety is triggered. Will this be my last? Will I contract some extraordinary illness from our semi-wild hens. Should I have cooked them a little longer.

I advise you not to google chicken diseases and illnesses – e coli, salmonella, bird flu, the list of things that are potentially resident in your flock doesn’t bear thinking about. My children come bounding back into the house having spent an hour communing with our hens covered in chicken shit. While I insist they wash their hands, I know both my children have their hands nearly permanently in their mouths and god knows what lives under their fingernails.

Wuhan had bats – we have chickens. In my mind it is only a matter of time until some pathogen makes the leap from our hens to us.

This was brought to my mind again recently as Basil has developed an unusual issue with her neck. I am struggling to describe it, it’s as if her head if falling off, or trying to twist itself off with the net effect that her head is at times nearly 180 degrees around the wrong way. Clearly resorting to the authority that is Google, I’ve identified this as “skygazing” and the list of causes range from injury to future Wuhan.

Neck so good…

A couple of weeks have passed and we have tried massaging her crop, giving her some vitamins, putting her in the cage in the house (equivalent of a chicken spa day), none of which seems to have any effect. Luckily the other birds seem fine, so I feel that rules out any contagion.

Apart from the independent movement of body and head, Basil seems fine and shows no other issues apart from not being able to climb up to her perch. I am now required to tuck her in at night, gently placing her on the perch while she gazes up at me with her weirdly angled head. I wash my hands even more thoroughly, just in case.