Hen Housekeeping!


Now that Fresh Start have collected the old birds and distributed them to their new families (you can read all about them ‘Flying the Coop’ in our previous post), we only have a few weeks to get everything ready before a new flock of birds arrive. And there’s a fair amount to do…


All that chicken muck from under the floor and the earth from the scratch area is now incredibly rich in phosphates and nitrogen which makes for brilliant fertiliser. There are strict regulations when it comes to these waste materials however, so it all gets dug up and moved to another part of the farm. With far more than we can possibly use on our land, the rest is stockpiled ready to be collected by a variety of other organic businesses including local organic vegetable producers and a company who blends it in with their green compost.

The shed is then moved and inspected so that any necessary maintenance can be carried out. With the shed out of the way, we bring in the tractors to rotavate the land which kills off any parasites by exposing them to the sun’s ultraviolet light and prepares the ground for re-seeding.

Then, when all the necessary repairs have taken place, it’s time suit-up and give the shed a thorough wash. 1 x mobile water tank, 1 x industrial pressure washer, 10,000 litres of rain water and a few soggy days later, and the shed is ready for the final stage of preparation when it gets liberally sprayed with ‘dirt’ - but that’s something we’ll go into next next time…

So that's what's going on at the moment: cleaning up after a few thousand chickens so the new birds have somewhere nice and fresh to move into... 


Flying the Coop...


Ageing is something we all have to contend with at some point or another. Despite our best efforts, it's inescapable - doesn't matter whether your human, fish or fowl.  Much like us, the older a chicken gets the less productive it becomes.  After a year and half or so they start to lay fewer eggs and the shell quality starts to deteriorate meaning, ultimately they can no longer be graded, boxed and sold.

We're an organic egg farm for a reason: the welfare of both our birds and our land is incredibly important to us and something we take great pride in.  It's a holistic approach that has worked for us for more than twenty years - we take care of them, and they take care of us.  And that sentiment doesn't stop just because they're not able to produce the kind of eggs our customers expect from us.  So when it comes to their retirement, whenever possible, we work with Fresh Start For Hens who specialise in finding them new homes.


Fresh Start is a not-for-profit organisation with around 200 volunteers nationwide. Whether it's a town, city or country garden; an allotment, school or residential care home, F.S.F.H exist to provide new homes for hens and advice or information to potential new owners. Like us, they are committed to the welfare of the birds and, for that reason, they won't re-home to anyone wishing to sell them on or for further commercial purposes.

The work starts before they arrive - we let them know how many birds we have to be collected (2,100 on this occasion) and they go about allocating the hens to new homes and enlisting volunteers to help with collection.

On collection day, the team arrives at 5am for an early start when the chickens are slightly more docile.  You've heard the expression "it's like herding cats", well this is not dissimilar.  It's a well-practiced system at this point which sees one team moving the birds in groups to the scratch area where another team collects them and transfers them to specially designed poultry crates.  Another member of the team monitors each crate to ensure that their legs and wings are comfortable and that they're not overcrowded before being moved outside.

The poultry crates provide a safe environment for transportation.  They wouldn't want to live in one but, for the relatively short amount of time it takes to transport them to their destination it is by far the best solution and causes minimal stress to the bird.

Once they are settled and happy in their temporary accomodation, the team then move them outside so they can be 'counted out' and assigned to one of the waiting vehicle's that have been hired for the job.  When a vehicle has it's designated number of birds it heads off to one of 33 collection points around the country, where the birds are let out and await collection by their new families.

After about 4 hours of hot and dusty work, the Fresh Start team have rounded up all the birds and get ready for the next phase of their journey.  They have collection points from Cumbria to Wales and the West Country and rely on volunteers to carry out the work they do re-homing chickens from farms nationwide.  You can register your interest in re-homing by going to fsfh.org.uk or find out more about what they do and how you can help on facebook.

For us, we've now got just a few weeks to get everything ready to welcome a new flock of birds... 


So that's what's going on at the moment: working with Fresh Start for Hens to find new homes for some of our birds 


More Power to Them...

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Powercuts in our part of the world are pretty uncommon these days, thank goodness.  But, on the rare occasion they do happen, you become acutely aware of just how much we've come to rely on electricity.  Well, the same goes for our hen houses - it powers the lights, the nest boxes, the feeder motors, the timers, the sensors which regulate the feeders, the water lines, the master electronic control unit which regulates the whole thing - it's pretty essential to the smooth running of the farm.  This week, we're putting our electrician's hats on...

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For the twenty or so years we've been an organic egg farm, all of our hen houses have been run on 12V power.  Back then it was far more energy efficient than 240V and, therefore, more environmentally sustainable as everything from the light bulbs to the motors drew a lot less power.  Today the technology has advanced far enough that the power draw is now virtually the same, and there are some significant advantages to converting our sheds over to 240V. So that's what we're in the process of doing.

One advantage is that it's getting increasingly difficult to get the parts needed to maintain the old system.  Things like motors are simple enough, as they're not much different to the motor that your windscreen wipers use.  But others, like the feed sensors and electronic control units, are not 'off the shelf' parts and they're getting increasingly difficult to find.  On top of that, while we're pretty good at servicing and dealing with any small to medium problems ourselves, anything more serious needs a specialist and they too can be hard to come by (especially at the times of day we're likely to need them).

So far about 50% of our sheds have been converted and, before the next flock comes in, we're in the process of upgrading this one.  So today it's feeder motors and nest boxes...

On each side of the chicken shed is a line of feeders with a motor on the end.  A timer starts the motor 5-6 times a day and feed is drawn from the hopper outside by a 'flex auger' filling each feeder down the line. Then a touch sensor at the end of the line stops the motor when all the feeders are full.

With the nest boxes, a central motor opens them at sunrise and then slowly closes them at around 5pm to make sure the birds don't go to bed in the there.  Not only does it stop them from fouling the 'laying mats' which go on the floor of every box, but it also stops them from getting broody if they were to stay in there over night.

This kind of work can only be done when the hen houses are empty obviously.  So it's not something we can do all in one go or even simply between flocks.  Because we use mobile hen houses, as we believe it's better for the land and therefore the birds, there's a lot of other work that needs to be done to prepare each house before every new flock.

As with so much of what we do it is, by necessity, an on-going process.  But, when timing permits, each shed is getting converted and the parts from previously converted sheds we can use to service the other hen houses until they too can be converted.

So that's what's going on at the moment: converting another hen house from 12V to 240V...