In 2014, I rehomed four ex-battery hens and as the saying goes they were for me, the ‘gateway drug’ into keeping my own livestock and eating my own produce. Unfortunately, Bubbles, Nelly, Queen B and Midge are no longer with us but they all had a good, long life. Bubbles, Queen B and Midge all died of natural causes, when they were aged over 4 years old and sadly Nelly was taken by a badger at my Mother-in-Laws house this Winter.
I grew my flock in numbers, with a few rare breed hens and a cluster of eggs under a broody hen. When I moved house however, I had to downsize my flock and sold a few of the rare breed girls, ate the boys and divided the rest up between myself and my Mother-in-Law. I now only have two left, which were two from the cluster of eggs that I hatched under a broody hen in October 2016 – Bluebell and Pearl. They are feisty little hens but Pearl lays amazing pure white eggs and Bluebell lays aqua-coloured eggs so I decided to keep hold of them during the move, despite it being incredibly awkward to find somewhere to keep them.
Thankfully I have now found a piece of land that I am renting permanently and am just in the process of building them a run, to allow them to be raised out on the pasture. I have been working out how exactly to house the girls and believe me I have gone through so many different ideas! Bloomin’ Pinterest!
The idea that I am currently set on is to have poultry netting electric fence running around the circumference of their area, powered by a battery (we do not have any electricity on the land). Internally, I will have a converted poly tunnel and the girls coop/shed and feeders/drinkers inside of that. So let me break down what preparations I am making, explain each element of their pen and give you a few product links.
Electric Poultry Netting. I had hardly any experience with electric fencing because on my last piece of land I wasn’t allowed to use it. Now however I have used it a bit with the pigs and cows at work, I also had a great video tutorial with a smallholding expert on Twitter so I feel I am at least knowledgable enough now to try it out. I am keen to let my girls free-range but I am not keen on letting them meet foxes or badgers in the process, hence the electric fencing! It is 1.2m tall and comes in 50m rolls. It isn’t cheap and it does require daily monitoring, however to ensure my girls stay safe I am prepared to do this. I bought a full kit from Mole Valley, I just had to buy the battery and the fencing is ready to go (links below).
I also handily had a battery charger already and an extension of electric fence netting to make the pen a little larger.
Poly-Tunnel. When I lived in Essex I had a fantastic outdoor run, which was effectively a poly tunnel frame with 1 inch square mesh cable tied onto it. The mesh was then dug into the ground and a door fitted on one end. This was brilliant and I would without a doubt buy another, it lasted 18 months without a single predator entering it or chicken getting out and I am sure it would have lasted for many years to come. However, it did cost me over £400 and that is a huge amount of money for me to be spending out right now, so this time I am going to have to think of spending a little more time and effort and a lot less cash. So my potentially whacky idea is to have the poly-tunnel frame, then cover it in the mesh myself and hope for the best. The poly-tunnel has cost me £129 and the mesh will be £60-85 so a considerable saving but I do also need to build a door, buy several thousand cable ties, add a supporting beam across the top and build it so we shall see if it was a worthwhile swap soon.
Now some of you may question the need for a polytunnel and electric fencing, which I totally get. And the truth is I could forget the tunnel if I wanted to, however, it is extremely handy to have around Avian Flu season because it is normally a requirement to place your hens undercover. The cover is also useful as a shelter or to provide shade for the girls, especially when they first arrive and they have a few feathers missing (not good for sunburn or getting wet!).
It is also very useful to have a more permanent pen when you wish to go away and you have to leave your hens under someone else’s care. Asking a friend to help out and to know a thing or to about electric fencing is a big ask. It is easier for the girls to just stay in their pen for a few days (it is plenty large enough!), then all your helpful friend needs to worry about is closing the door and keeping them fed!
This is the sort of thing you find on Pinterest – https://www.walkinginhighcotton.net/2017/03/pros-cons-hoop-house-chicken-coop/
Hen House. This is the section I am still undecided on. Last time I took a standard 6x8ft shed and added a few ikea storage shelves for nest boxes, which worked a treat. This however was not cheap. It cost me £220 for the shed alone (https://www.shedstore.co.uk/garden-sheds/8×6-sheds/8×6-shed-plus-dip-treated-apex-security-treated-shed) and the boxes were another £90 (https://www.ikea.com/gb/en/products/childrens-ikea-products/children-3-7/childrens-storage-furniture/trofast-storage-combination-with-boxes-white-white-spr-49123405/).
I do have a lot less hens this time, I have my 2 existing hens and 6 new arrivals, I had 21 chickens before so they needed a lot of space. My options are to convert another shed, perhaps just a smaller one, or to buy a purpose-built coop. The coop is cheaper and takes up less space but is harder to clean out and will not cope with any more hens. The shed is more cost to begin with and is a larger project to build but will handle expansion in the future and is super easy to clean out. You see my dilemma!
I think realistically I should stick with the purpose-built coop because I only have a month until the hens arrive and I have no one to help me build it. Also that means only one payday so I need to be a bit cost sensitive here! I suppose I will just have to suck up the bad back from cleaning it out! Also my need to customise could still be met as I would like to add removable wheels to the base and move it around the pen to avoid poaching in a certain area. This is something I definitely wouldn’t be able to do with a 6x4ft shed. There is always the option of a complete self-build but again… time/skill worries are starting to creep in!
The Girls. This time my girls have come from Fresh Start For Hens, a nationwide charity who have been helping re-home ex-commerical hens to save them from slaughter for over 10 years. I have booked to collect the girls on April the 7th from my nearest collection point, which is about 45 minutes from my farm. I have reserved six and the plan is to rehome a few more later in the year, depending on the success of Paddlesworth Produce because chicken feed is not free! Unfortunately with ex-commercial hens you cannot guarantee that they will all live for very long but what I can guarantee is that they will have a great time retiring with me in the beautiful Kent countryside. You also do not get regular eggs as you would if you bought in POL hens and sometimes they do not lay at all but my last four ex-batt girls produced stunning, super-sized eggs for their entire lives so you never can tell!
I will be busy over the next few weeks preparing the land for the new arrivals, so you may not hear much from me. I will however promise to share photos of my progress over on social media – facebook, instagram and twitter.
And of course let you know when they are here and all settled in!