Counting the cost

Unlike the first time around, when I had loads of new discoveries and sources of information to add to my blog (see The Hen House archives if that’s where you’re at – it’s all there), this time we have everything we need already. It’s just in the wrong place and covered with mud.

And still it rains.

But needs must. If we’re going to be ready for new hens in early March (we think we have a contact … but I left it to DH, remember?), we need to clear the ground, wash down the coops, reposition the netting … but I’m still counting the cost. Our netting/fencing is old and well used, so we could replace that. And the woodchip is soiled, apart from being buried in the mud, so we need more woodchip. We cleared out the layers pellets we had … they don’t keep for long so I’ll buy fresh when we’ve booked some hens.

And then there are the hens themselves. If it’s simply eggs you want, a brown hen (usually Warrens or related breeds) can cost as little as £5 at point-of-lay (ie at the beginning of their egg laying career). They are the hens used by large commercial enterprises – only they are culled at a young age once their egg production begins to fall. Organisations like BHWT rescue as many hens as they can from that process and find them homes where they often live out a productive, happy life. We started out with rescue hens … it was a joy to see them adapt to their new life, to watch as they gained confidence and feathers and weight. Bridget, one of our first batch of rescue hens, lived to over four years old. It was worth the extra effort and the soft shelled eggs (and the occasional disaster) just to watch the recovery process and to see them enjoying our garden.

But somehow, our hearts aren’t in it this time – when we lost our girls our recently adopted hens were just at that stage, just coming into lay for a new season, with all their feathers for the first time …

So this time, we’re looking at pure bred varieties. We’ve had both pure bred and hybrid birds … the advantage of a hybrid is that they lay more eggs year round, while pure bred birds take a break in the winter. Hybrids tend not to live as long as a pure bred, simply because they have to work harder at this egg laying business, so they wear out sooner.

We’ve always resisted getting birds just for their looks – no feathered legs or fancy combs for us! We’ve had both Light Sussex and Welsummers, and would be happy again with either or similar. Though we might take a careful look at egg production before deciding, since we’ll not have as many birds this time – we treat our girls as pets, but having eggs is a big part of the pleasure of keeping hens, so we’ll be careful to choose a breed that lays a goodly number through the year.

Pure breds cost rather more … perhaps £20-£25 at POL (point-of-lay) … we can’t decide whether to get four birds, and add in a couple more later on, or start with six – though we have decided that in the circumstances, six is our maximum.

The legal definition in the UK of free range states that birds kept for the purposes of egg laying must be housed at a density of  ‘no more than nine hens per square metre’ …but makes no mention of how much outside space they should be allowed.

To us, free range must include going where you want … but of course, that isn’t good news for the garden or the vegetable patches! So, six birds in a 4x4m space will have to do. We’ll make sure there’s plenty of shade and shelter, and things to keep them occupied … it’s been so good to see our girls exploring through the bushes and shrubs, finding all sorts of goodies under the trees etc. We can’t quite achieve that in a fruit cage, but we’ll do our best. These guidelines from the RSPCA are a good starting point.

So fencing, woodchip, feed, buying eggs in winter and the hens themselves. It’s all adding up. But still, everyone needs a hobby, right?

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  1. jenni

     /  February 7, 2013

    I have mongrel browns, but my best layer is a Barnevelder.

    • Barnvelder? That’s a possibility … I also quite fancy a Vorwerk, or a Rhode Island Red, or …

      The frustrations of only being able to have six hens!

  1. Clearing the ground « The Hen Garden

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