After 8 months of reading BYC forums and advice on where to go for me hens and what to look for and how best to prepare for my chickens I have finally joined your ranks!
Can I start by saying a huge thank you to all the experienced chicken keepers on here for all you diligent responses and to the people posting their question and problems! This has been an priceless resource for me.
Now. On to me.
I am now the proud owner of 4 beautiful young ladies;
Valerie - Rhode Rock, Queen of the Flock.
Paean - Warren and photobombing extraordinaire.
Margaery - Bluebell with a heart of gold and gorgeous plumage.
Lady Olenna - Skyline Hybrid, youngest, smallest but also smartest of the flock.
I've already uploaded their photos to my profile for those keen enough to take a look.
We ventured up into the valleys last week to collect the little dears and it was quite the experience. A few of them loved to fill the car with that delightful eggy aroma but other than that they had no complaints and have been well behaved ever since!
They currently reside in the back garden in a coop designed for 8 with two 2m runs attached. they seem very content with this and love the room to flex their legs/wings. We've opted for a sharp sand base on top of a patio floor to keep their little claws smooth and clean and provide some 'natural' grit for them too. The drainage is fantastic, have had no issue with flies or smells and its very easy to clean. It also doubles up as a dust bath! And for cleaning we just use a kitty litter pooper scooper (like a kids bead spade but with various size holes drilled into it. (Pics also on the profile)
Issues so far:
So here's the important part, tips for people like me who think they are well prepared and still make silly mistakes! :p
Coop set up:
Be aware that chickens in a new home will be scared. Books I'd read suggesting leaving them quite some time. After a couple of hours the two bravest had ventured out to find the food and were bold enough to strut over to see what I was doing there. The others remained in the nest box for the first day. I noticed that once all the chickens were out and about the 'toys' and feeders etc I had arranged were blocking chicken escape routes once the pecking order needed to be established. Make sure there aren't any little corners blocked off for a chicken to get cornered in. This happened a few times with Olenna being stuck between a tree stump and a food feeder and she lost feathers and made an awful ruckus escaping the larger lady!
Choosing the Chickens:
I think I'd read every book out there on this one! I was prepped and ready to choose based on nostrils, comb, eyes, legs, size and nature. However forgot to compare the chickens I'd seen to those in the books. No huge disaster but it meant that I had healthy hens a fair bit younger than POL. I suppose its better young than 5 years old but all the knowledge in the books I'd read wasn't enough to tell me that the Rhode Rock was a fair few weeks older than the others or that The Skyline had barely started growing her comb. I'd advise taking a picture of the breed with you to make sure it is the correct breed as advertised, and that the comb looks about right for a POL hen.
I am a hater of conflict. This truly was a test. I knew they would have to sort themselves out on this one but it doesn't really prepare you for the heartache. Proudly watching little Olenna venture down for her pellets for the first time only for Paean to tear a few feathers out and force her squawking back into the coop was a nightmare for me. Keep an eye on the smaller birds but remember even if it looks horrific or like bullying you just have to let them get along with it. Mine have sorted themselves out now but I think having 2 feeders would have helped initially. Just don't try and make a special exception for the lower ladies, it turns out those at the top are mighty jealous things and I think I made the situation worse trying to feed Olenna some tasty treats... When the big girls saw what she had they were merciless!
After trawling this sight it looks to me there is little benefit in roosting rather than the nest box pile on that my girls seem to love, but thinking of the girls laying in 4 or 5 healthy sized poops was a disturbing thought. To combat this I simply opened the nest box one night after they'd been locked up and gave them each a little push towards the roosting bars. They slept there all night so I check each time now and they seem to be getting the hang of it!
I hope this helps someone out there buying chickens!