Making the Most of the Situation
After 6 years of keeping chickens in the garden and now that we have none, things are defintely not the same - I miss their innocent, cheerful characters and I miss going out in the mornings to feed and water them and let them out for their day's activity and I miss tucking them safely back into their house in the evenings.
Things have come a long way since I had my first chickens and as local vets, at that time, had very little knowledge of diagnosing and treating sick chickens (this is now starting to change as more and more people start to keep chickens in their gardens again), it was up to chicken keepers to seek advice from other chicken keepers and share knowledge and support on chicken forums (where would be be without the internet now?!). Over the past 6 years I have gone from hardly knowing anything, apart from the basics, to becoming a wise chicken keeper, able to diagnose various ailments and to know when (and how) to treat at home and when a visit to (a now more knowledgable) vet is required.
But I do have a plan. We'll be a chicken-free zone for about 12 months - this will allow the ground around their run a chance to recover and it will also take the pressure off us to find chicken sitters as we take off on our travels. It'll also give our compost bins a chance to "equalise" again as they are unbalanced and over heavy with chicken droppings and wood shavings.
With the new knowledge and confidence gained, I will re-home commercial hens destined for slaughter because they have reached the end of their usefulness commercially. They won't be particularly old hens, it will just be that they can't reliably lay an egg on a daily basis and so this makes them unprofitable from a business point of view. It will be good to offer them a "retirement" home so that they can free range in the garden, dig for insects and grubs, bathe in the sunshine and lay eggs in their own proper nest.
So, last week-end, I cleaned out the chicken house and run, including disinfecting and jet washing. I have plans over the summer to re-landscape some of the area around it. But in the meantime, I have re-purposed the chicken walk-in run area to a temporary greenhouse (well, a greenhouse without glass sides). But its reasonably sheltered, has a roof that lets in the light, has good ventilation and plenty of space for stacking temporary shelves. There's also a table in there which is useful for planting out seeds and potting on etc. So this week-end I went mad and planted sweetcorn, beans, fennel, squash for the autumn, mexican tomatoes, cucamelons, nasturtiums, thai basil, courgettes, peas, radishes, rocket and sunflowers. There'll be more to plant next week-end.
So, everything goes in cycles. This year the plants benefit and the garden has a chance to re-establish itself again and by the time the new girls arrive, they'll have a wonderful garden and spacious new home to welcome them.
If you're in the UK and are interested in learning more about helping ex-commercial hens, here's a link to the British Hen Welfare Trust