Hello and welcome to The Compost Bin. I'm Compostwoman and I live with my family in rural Herefordshire. We have nearly four acres of garden and woodland, all managed organically and to Permaculture principles, which we share with Chickens, Cats and assorted wildlife. We also grow a lot of our own food, run courses in all sorts of things and make a lot of compost!

I am a Master Composter and have spent more than a decade as a volunteer Community Compost adviser with Garden Organic and my local Council.
I'm a self employed Environmental Educator so I run workshops and events where I talk about compost, veg growing, chicken keeping, cooking, preserving and sustainable living. I also run crafts workshops and Forest School/outdoor play sessions in our wood.

We try to live a more self sufficient lifestyle here, as best we can, while still having a comfortable life and lots of fun.

To learn more about us click on the About Compostwoman tab and remember to click on the photos to make them full size!

Thursday 20 November 2008

Chicken feed...with menaces!

Hello lovely people!

The latest trick the hens have adopted is to lurk around in the depths of the "lean to"

This is a substantial 3 and a half sided building on the back of another building, which acts as log store, general store and dumping place for all sorts of stuff...its also the place where the hen feed lives...
and now they all have taken to hanging around in there, terrorising the cats ( who like to snooze on the log piles or hunt for mice in there) and generally acting as if they own the place....

which, of course, they do!
Tom looks on nervously as the hens gather around his perch.

So many of you have asked me questions about my hens that I have decided to do a post about what I do with them!. I am NOT a hen expert by any means, but I did keep chickens as a teenager ( Old English Gamecocks) and I have read and researched a lot and asked a lot of experienced chook keepers what to do, so here are some questions I have had about the hens.

I've been wondering lately about woodchip. Is there a special kind I should get? And where from! My girls have only been with me for about 3 weeks and could really do with a layer of something down in their run as it gets a bit boggy. I let them out for a few hours a day but can't leave them out as I'm on a housing estate and there are a LOT of cats about.

I use Easybed inside the hen houses ( along with straw in the nest boxes)..its really good..Hemp based stuff seems so light that it gets kicked around whereas woodchip bedding does not.

Inside the run? I use our own wood chippings from our own wood..when we fell trees for firewood we chip the twiggy bits and I use that inside the runs.

Remember that my girls are only in their runs for an hour or so a day typically...then they are out free ranging in the garden.

I think for putting in a run for hens who are kept in the run mostly, wood chippings is a good thing as it gives them something to scratch and furtle in...so a bag of untreated bark or chippings would be good? But put a pile up the middle line of the run if you can and let THEM spread it all out.....as that will be part of the fun for them...

One thing I have noticed though, if they don't get let out much, they don't mind being in a run nearly all the time, as long as it is a reasonable size and they have stuff to entertain them....shiney cds hanging up, an apple to peck at, is something my lot like.

BUT once they DO go out for a longer time..they rapidly get very disenchanted with being kept in their run, however huge and palatial it is.

My lot even hate being loose in a 50 m circumference paddock...because they have normally have had access to 3/4 of an acre of garden and orchard.
spoiled , or what...( roll eyes)

I just thought I should warn people about this...it IS only my observations of mine and other friends hens

I have seen hens who have an hour out at the end of the day and they are happy in their run the rest of the time as they know they get some "out" time later on

Although the hens need a good big space to scratch and play, as long as it is big enough for them all in the run, if they never get more, they don't seem miss it but it seems to me that once they DO get more space, it upsets them not to have access to it all the time ...IYSWIM

Please note I am NOT making suggesting that it is OK to keep hens shut up in "battery" conditions here! A hen run needs to be big enough so no hen gets bored and starts pecking, or feather eating, and there needs to be somewhere for the lowest hen in the pecking order to get away from the others if needed.

Just wondering how often do you worm your hens?

I worm my girls every month with Verm-X liquid - I tried the granules but the girls turned up their beaks at it so now I use the liquid version. I squirt 4 squirts onto a slice of wholemeal bread, one in each quarter and then feed each hen a quarter of the slice. I do this for 3 consecutive days, on the first, second and third of every month.

I also look at the hens droppings to see if they look ok and if there are any visible worms...and we move their runs and paddock onto fresh grass regularly to minimise the build up of worms.

So far that is all I have had to do. Verm X is good stuff.

Also I use Barrier Organic Red Mite and Louse powder for pest control..although I now only use one or the other as they both contain (apparently!) the same ingredients

I use Poultry Shield for "deep" cleaning of the hen houses, just in case..although ( touch wood) so far I have not seen any red mite.

I have a first aid kit of Gentian Violet, veterinary wound powder and I also would use my Aromatherapist knowledge to treat any injuries.

I give my chickens water laced with Organic Apple Cider Vinegar every day and it DOES seem to have helped the couple of hens who previously laid soft shelled eggs.

The chickens have free access to grit and chick grit in bowls in the runs, as well as free ranging for 6 plus hours every day so they get enough grit(essential to grind up their food as chickens don't have teeth)

I feed my hens Organic Layers pellets /Chick Crumbs/ Growers Pellets depending on their needs, I also give them Organic Mixed Corn in the afternoon as a treat, and use it to entice them into the runs at dusk!

They DO get various extra treats...cheese and soft soaked bread are their favourites!

But stolen, illicit stuff like cat meat. or mice, or frogs... is the best stuff in their eyes! ( ooh when they get a frog it is horrible!)

Hope this helps, any more questions put them in the comments and I will do another post later!


  1. The bulk of our hens, 40 of the darlings, live in a big 50-bird house with a 20m by 20m run attached. From mid-spring through to late autumn, the gate into the run is left open and the hens get to range around outside it, foraging under the trees and generally making nuisances of themselves.

    But when the darker days draw in, and especially when there's snow, they're confined to the chicken fort as we have too many hungry predators prowling around—foxes, pine martens, weasels, stoats and wild cats. The run has netting over the top (which also keeps out the goshawks), a line of electric fence at the top and weldmesh buried under the perimeter. It's kept them safe to date.

    I do let the hens out of the pen when I'm working near it in the darker months, but there's too high a risk otherwise.

    Our cockerels and their ladies are confined in smaller quarters. They have boxes with 5x2m runs attached and these are bedded with wood chip.

  2. My lot even hate being loose in a 50 m circumference paddock...because they have normally have had access to 3/4 of an acre of garden and orchard.

    I've discovered that reverse psychology works a treat if you're going to reduce their grazing space by a considerable amount. If, for example, you're going to put them in a 50m run down from a large garden (as we did when we moved from mum's to south Wales) then keep them in their house (if it's big enough) for a few days, and let them out in their new run. They're so pleased to be out and about that they really don't care about the reduced size!

    Having said that, no amount of corn will encourage them to go into the 1m runs attached to the Eglu and Cube. No way, not today!

  3. just to say....Verm-X is effective at deterring worms but I've read a LOT that says you shouldn't rely on it as a full-on wormer. Really you need to worm your hens everything six months (I think!) with Flubenvet, which you'll need a prescription for. Other wormers were taken on pet shop shelves because they were found to be ineffective, so now the only proper 'wormer' you can get hold of is Flubenbet. It's easy to administer and not toxic, so nigh on impossible to overdose your hens on.

    Just wanted to get that in as although you've had success with Verm-X, I've also read a lot of people that have regularly used it and found that their hens have been infested with worms. Hope you don't mind this input :)

  4. ooh some comments!

    Hi Stonehead and welcome! I am not surprised you have to do what you do up there in the winter, I must admit to being a tad concerned about the security of our lot in the darker months, interestingly they do tend to stay close to the house and outbuildings in the winter, rather than wandering off in the wood ( and of course if we are outside they are all there, underfoot...)
    I don't actually let them out of the Orchard if we are not going to be around, but one or other of us is here virtually all the time so they are out 29 days out of 30 I would guess. We are currently drawing up plans for a super protective run, much like you describe, which will be sited outside the current garden perimeter. We plan to extend the garden fence outwards, and the hen pen will go in the new area of land there. They can then range safely even if we are not there! It is interesting to hear what you do, I always like to know what other people are getting up to and get some good ideas/pick their brains.

    Bringmesunshine...that is a BRILLIANT idea! I must try try that! I have no problem getting my lot to go in the Eglu run , using the bribe of corn, but ONLY at night...the rest of the time I can't get them to go in any of the runs without having to catch them first!

    Lucy I am interested about the Verm-X...I have done a faecal count and seen nothing much whilst using Verm-X...and I DO check their droppings regularly ( oh wonderous job...)and they aren't infested BUT I will bear in mind what you say and investigate Flubenvet with my Vet....

    and don't worry, I NEVER mind constructive comments on here, even if they are critical, as long as they are polite I am happy to keep an open mind and listen to other peoples experiences..


  5. Sadly where I live I am not allowed to keep hens... but nevertheless I love them and so enjoy your posts about hens... this one was very interesting and full of great information!!
    Love Jane xxx

  6. Mine are wilful and stubborn and won't consider going in before dark, even for corn. Even if they haven't had any all day.

    But I have just eaten scrummy scrambled eggs so can't complain about them too much :)


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