Starting from scratch…

Its been almost a month since the chickens (Now named Sybil, Martha, Agnes and Delores, thanks to Twitter poll) arrived on the farm. I thought it’d be a good idea to  share some of the reasons why we got them, and (as a complete ‘chicken keeping novice’)  share some of my tips if you are thinking of getting any. Sure, I’ve learned about chicken husbandry, and know how to care for more complicated bird injuries, but I’ve never kept them before.


Before getting your birds, its a good idea to ask yourself why you want to keep hens ? Do you want a regular supply of eggs? Or will they just be companions?

Personally, my reasons for wanting some hens were as follows;

  • 1. We live on a farm, we should have chickens, right? In fact, we should have a few of each farm species, a sort of Noah’s ark for farm animals. Except pigs. I’m not so keen on piggies! P.S Do Not Tell Mr Farm Upon The Hill that this was my reason. This is just between us, right?

2. With my somewhat rose tinted ‘ This- will -make – childhood great ‘ spectacles on I had a hazy vision of the mini farmers helping to take care of the chickens, learning all sorts of life lessons and skills in the process

3.We didn’t need ‘fancy chickens’. Plain hybrids would do fine. No need for a trip to a poultry breeder for us. I wanted to do some good.  Rehoming ex commercial chickens would definitely fulfil this. We were warned that they may not give a reliable egg supply, but so far they have been fairly consistent!

4. I needed assistance in my valiant organic, pesticide free war on the blasted slugs – they ate my Lupins, now it’s serious.

I felt I had time and resources to give these birds a chance to lead lives in a free range environment. If you are wondering if you have enough time too, you’ll be pleased to hear they don’t take up much, especially if you plan on letting them free range. You still need to be prepared to collect eggs, check your birds daily , clean out the nest boxes and feed and water them. In theory you also have to get up early  let them out first thing , and make sure the pop hole is shut at night. But technology is a wonderful thing and an automatic doorkeeper can do that bit for you.  All in all it takes about 20 minutes for me to do the routine tasks daily. Much more worthwhile than watching reruns of Teen Mom OG.

img_8114
The other great thing about chicken keeping is you don’t necessarily need acres of garden. Just remember that chickens will potentially turn a manicured lawn into a series of dustbaths and scratch bowls . They’ll also snack on bedding plants, so if your garden is very sacred, using a moveable run or large enclosure may be wise.


We have sited our coop on concrete, which ironically is the shell of the old chicken house. This is a great spot as it means the house is out of direct sunlight and sheltered against rain and wind. The concrete will make it easier to clean up after the birds too. Initially I kept them in the coop and small run for 2 days, before letting them into a bigger pen made of fencing pallets. Now they have the whole shed base to explore, including the log pile which acts as great enrichment for them.


Once you’ve done your research and have decided on breed and how many  you can house, its time to get shopping! I definitely recommend getting your chicken supplies before you get your birds . Being a lover of lists, I found it useful to make a checklist of things that we needed for the first few days. This included

  • Coop – When it comes to choosing a house, the amount of info online can be quite overwhelming. There are even instructions on how to build one from scratch , but unless you are very keen on DIY, I’d stick to ready made! Factors I considered when deciding on what to buy included – ease of access for cleaning, run space and security.
  • Food containers and drinkers – something that is easy to clean, durable and safe.
  • Container for grit – this can be shop bought or homemade.
  • Bedding for nest box
  • Feed bin- save your pennies and get a dustbin with a lockable lid!
  • Diatomaceous earth – handy stuff – for red mite control, also useful for lice.
  • Basic health kit – this includes wormer (I use Flubenvet) , nail clippers, corn starch for stemming bleeds, dressings and tape and lubricant (in case of vent prolapse).

img_8230

Feeding chickens is easy. Once upon a time, chickens got tit bits left from the family table. Nowadays, kitchen scraps are a definite no-no. DEFRA, aka ‘they who must be obeyed’, make the rules relating to keeping poultry. They have placed a “complete ban on using kitchen waste from non-vegan households and from catering waste containing products of animal origin”. This goes for all farm animal species, even those kept as ‘pets’ . To be honest, there is absolutely no need to feed anything other than a commercial chicken food. These diets contain the correct levels of protein, minerals and calcium to keep your birds  in good condition. At the minute, our girls are getting a choice of both layers pellets and mash .This is because Sybil and Agnes have wonky beaks, possibly due to being de-beaked. Sybil especially seemed to be struggling to eat pellets and was quite thin when she arrived. She much prefers mash! I let the birds choose when and how much they want to eat, allowing them free access to it. Clean, cool drinking water is also essential. An average sized chicken in lay will need to drink approximately 200ml per day, which will increase in hot weather.

img_7705

One of my biggest concerns before getting the girls was whether they were going to attract vermin. ”Where there’s chickens, there’s rats’ is a common saying. Hopefully, taking  simple precautions like keeping the food store rodent proof and cleaning up after the chickens regularly will  help to prevent major rodent issues, along with George who is a remarkably good hunter.

img_8018

So far the chickens  have been a lot of fun to look after, and have settled in really well. So well, in fact, that i’m planning a coop expansion…just don’t tell Mr Farm Upon The Hill, ok?!

If you keep chickens, what would your top tips be for newbies?

A long awaited arrival

It seems both a life time and no time at all since I wrote about the beginnings of ‘Project Goat milk’. The dream has finally become a reality this month with the arrival of the goat kids.

img_5247

For those of you who like numbers, the average gestation length of a goat is 150 days (might come in handy at a pub quiz, you never know). Counting forward from the date of mating gave us estimated due dates of the 17th and 18th of April for Amy and Bernadette respectively.

Thinking myself extra super organised and well prepared I booked some holiday off work covering these dates. Unfortunately, best laid plans never seem to work out. I should also know by now (2 human babies, assistance at many non human births) that due dates are merely a guide to be acknowledged and subsequently ignored.

img_5254

The first kids arrived on the evening of the 13th of April- I think it should have been a Friday. I had just spent several hours in A&E with Farmer F . For once it wasn’t him causing the problem, it was me. To cut a long story short I had had a couple of ‘funny turns’ and then taken her off to the land of A&E. After much poking, prodding and a series of tests that seemed to come straight from the ministry of silly walks handbook, I was discharged with a box of Aspirin and a diagnosis of ‘Query TIA’. Fortunately my ‘turns’ have since been demoted to the level of Migraine with Aura without headache (go figure) , or Temporal lobe epilepsy. I’m still a work in progress- the doctors haven’t quite worked out what to do with me yet.

img_5180

Anyway, back to the goats. After several hours in hospital on Thursday, we returned home tired and hungry. F went to check on the goats whilst I got something to eat. He quickly reappeared ‘Er, you might want to go and check the goats’. He might have well pointed at me, messiah-esque, and said ‘Lazurus, rise’ I was out of the kitchen like a rat up a drain pipe.

img_5178Amy had popped. Two gorgeous, gangly kids. One spotty, speckled coated nanny and one buckskin coated billy. These became Priya and Leonard . I was in love. Slightly disappointed at not being at the birth but relieved everything had gone well. Amy had two healthy kids who were up on their feet and feeding. Goat kids are a lot different to lambs- long, gangly legs remind me of foals, yet they are far more sure footed. Floppy oversized ears, the kind of ears you hope they grow into.

DSC_0008

Friday came and went, no more of my ‘episodes’ and no more kids. Saturday I went down to the goats first thing – Bernie didn’t get up to greet me. Here we go, I thought, she’s in labour. I left them be and came back an hour later. Still nothing. Bernadette was up but not acting like her usual self. Normally she is feisty, now she seemed subdued, although putting up a good show of being ‘normal’.  I got F to hold her whilst I checked her over. My suspicions were confirmed, she was almost fully dilated but her pelvic canal (the bit that the kid comes through) was empty. Time for me to retreat again. Another hour or so passed before i came to check on her. I peered through the window, hoping to see some little ones, but Bernie was lying quietly on her own. Time was ticking on- the risk of infection to both Bernie and her babies was increasing as the hours passed, and I was anxious in case the kids were in any difficulty. I gave her an injection of oxytocin to help her labour progress, and sat down in Amy’s pen to observe from a distance. Within minutes Bernie was up on her feet and contracting well. After 30 minutes of this, there was still no kid. Time to take a closer look. A gentle examination and i found the bag of fluid surrounding a kid, and ruptured the membranes. Inside were two big feet and a head and I relaxed a little. The kid was alive, moving and in the right position. Baby goats are born as if they are about to dive into a pool- front legs stretched out, nose and head next, slightly tucked in chin. Of course there are other ways to be born, but this is the easiest, textbook and straightforward.  A bit of gentle persuasion and soon Bernie had birthed her first kid, a very big buckskin boy (now known as Howard) .

img_5275The second kid was presenting awkwardly- his head was bent slightly back so he was almost looking over his shoulders. I helped to position him better and Bernie birthed him quickly. This was Rajesh, another beautifully marked boy. Bernadette started to clean and nuzzle him immediately. My work done, I stayed long enough to shake out a clean bed of straw before letting the little family get to know each other in peace.  img_5220

 

 

Project Milking Goat

This week we celebrated two momentous occasions on the farm – the first being Cs birthday and the second being the departure of the goats to stud! C was exceptionally gracious about sharing her ‘special day’- no, who am I kidding,sharing isn’t a strong point in our house at the minute, with a resident ‘threenager’ and a baby learning to say ‘no’. Whilst C spent her morning helping King Thistle and Holly escape from a marauding T Rex I managed to disappear for an hour or so to load the goats.

The night before I had carefully checked Amy and Bernadette over to make sure they were fit to travel.  A last minute ‘mani-pedi’ hoof trim to ensure their feet were perfect before the off and I left them munching on their hay nets, oblivious to what lay ahead of them.

Fortunately they loaded very easily. I had anticipated all sorts of shenanigans, but no, they were exceptionally polite. Almost too polite…

The journey to the stud farm passed uneventfully. Sam (short for Sambucca) was waiting to greet us, legs jauntily angled as he posed over his stable door.

The girls were impeccably behaved whilst we unloaded them and sorted out the obligatory trees worth of paperwork. They settled into their stable without so much as a backwards glance at me, stuffing their faces with hay as if they’d never been fed before.  Slightly miffed at their lack of clinginess to me (but yet pleased that they had become such confident creatures) I made my excuses and left, fingers and toes crossed for a successful ‘holiday’ stay. Good news came within 48 hours of their arrival; the stud owner assuring me we shall hopefully have our first goat kids in April 2017. We shall get them scanned to check that they are carrying babies, and so we can make sure we feed them appropriately.

People keep asking why on earth we are wanting to start milking the goats. The reasons behind this are quite simple.  C had been suffering from eczema and tummy aches. Many trips to paediatricians and GPs had led to repeat medication and the same old dietary advice (more water, more fruit) . The treatment we were getting was coming up short, and C’s behaviour was starting to nose dive. Noise phobias, introversion and tantrums started to fill our days. When it came to the point that I was starting to avoid certain everyday activities because of the behaviour they might trigger from C I knew it was time to seek help elsewhere.

A friend of ours who is a behaviour therapist listened to my fears and the symptoms C was experiencing. She suggested trying to switching her milk from Cows milk to goats milk. She felt there may be an underlying Cows milk protein intolerance which was triggering the health problems and now leading on to the behavioural changes. Slightly sceptical but at the same time at the end of my tether with the NHS and ‘traditional’ thinking I headed straight to the dairy aisle and bought a bottle, just to try.  Within 24 hours, her eczema had disappeared. Her behaviour improved and her tummy troubles have settled. Miraculous!

Since we have made the swap I have properly looked into goats milk as an alternative source of dairy, to discover exactly why it doesn’t cause the same problems as cows milk.

One of the main reasons seems to be the proteins within it. Cows milk proteins, especially Alpha S1 Casein, are the substances most likely to cause problems in people. Goats milk contains much less of this protein, meaning people have a greater tolerance of it.  However, if you are allergic to cows milk protein (rather than just intolerant) you’ll probably have the same reaction to goats milk

Goats milk also has smaller fat globules than those found in cows milk, although the actual fat content in both forms of milk is almost identical. Smaller particles are easier to digest, making goats milk easier for our gut to deal with.

It also contains less Lactose than cows milk, obviously a win for those that are Lactose intolerant.

Finally, goats milk  doesn’t cause us to produce mucous, unlike cows milk. Anecdotal evidence suggests that persistently runny noses can dry up almost instantly after swapping to goats milk.

Unfortunately goats milk doesn’t come cheap. A quick  calculation led me to think that raising our own goats to provide milk for the house would be much more economical (as well as fun and rewarding) than relying on shop bought produce. It would also give the girls another opportunity to experience ‘farm to fork’ with their food, and help with raising a different species. Of course, the initial outlay is quite a lot, with purchase, transport and stud fees, but hopefully it will start to even out soon!