Chickens General

Backyard chickens – common problems and what to do about them…


Keeping hens

When we first had poultry I remember being nervous about all the different ailments that were potentially lurking out there.  Each time one of them was slightly off colour I began to panic a little, reaching for my backyard chicken bible and frightening myself half to death with names like Marek’s Disease and Avian Pox.

Of course you have to be aware of these things but they are pretty rare, particularly in a backyard situation where you generally have a non-transient community of just a few hens …and in our case, one cockerel to keep them all in check!

Anyway, to make your life simpler and less stressful I thought I would write about my encounters with chicken disorders – all parasitic, as it happens – over the years and hopefully put your mind at rest when caring for your own flock.


When we first had chickens we had to deal with roundworm. Our first flock were rescue hens towards the end of their egg laying life and saved from the slaughterhouse, arriving at the Villas already infested. The worms themselves can be clearly seen in the birds’ droppings,  so unpleasant as it might be, keep your eyes open and check every so often!

We used a product called Flubenvet, which was very effective. You can either buy it in powder form and mix it into the feed for seven consecutive days (as we did) or apparently buy the layers pellets with it already added, which I imagine is much less fuss.

Diatomaceous earth is another treatment that you can use against roundworm, mixed with the chickens’ feed at a rate of 5%. It’s made out of fossilised algae with a microscopically sharp crystalline structure which is highly abrasive causing the parasite to dehydrate. However, to be effective against roundworm, it has to be used all the time and not just as a reaction to an infestation.

Incidentally, I recently read that allowing your chickens to feed on rhubarb leaves is a good natural preventative measure. It just so happens that we grow rhubarb and I can confirm that our chooks enjoy nothing more than snacking on the leaves!

Chooks eating rhubarb leaf

Chickens Flowers General Plants

Putting Chicken Tea to the test at the Villas… with Sunflowers!


This afternoon I planted fourteen sunflower plants, seven down either side of a raised bed, 1.2 metres apart, both with a southerly aspect.


Chicken Tea

The plan is to irrigate the plants on the left hand side with rainwater and the plants on the right hand side with chicken tea. At the end of the summer I shall measure each sunflower and calculate the average height achieved in each row.

By doing so I shall be able to evaluate how effective chicken tea is and how much of a difference it makes… I shall also observe whether the size of the flowers appears to have been effected.


Watch this space!

Chickens DIY General Recycling

Chicken Tea, anyone? Make liquid fertiliser out of chicken waste!

Composting systems

We have two composting systems in operation at the Villas – poultry waste goes into one and autumn leaves go into another …but now we’re creating chicken tea to wash it all down!

Hen run

Chicken tea

Our latest project is all thanks to @IanScottRoofe (regular gardening expert and horticulturist on BBC Radio Norfolk’s The Garden Party) who introduced the concept to us recently when answering my chicken manure related question on the radio the other week.

Here’s how we did it:

We just happened to have a surplus plastic water butt (with a tap) that had been lying on its side behind the shed for some time but which suddenly caught my eye!

Michael made a base for it in the hen run to keep it perfectly level and provided me with a very strong piece of metal pipe to lay across the top of the butt and extend by about ten centimetres on either side. I cut a couple of notches into the plastic rim to house the pipe and stop it rolling off.


Meanwhile I fetched an old leaky builders bucket (you know the sort) that I converted to a kind of giant tea strainer by melting about 50 small (about 2mm) holes in the bottom using a metal barbecue skewer that I repeatedly heated up in the flame on our kitchen gas hob.

Next I filled the bucket with chicken waste from the hen house (a mixture of straw and manure), threaded the metal pipe through the two handles and secured it into the two notches on the rim of the water butt. Then I poured a quantity of grey water (a mixture of ground and rainwater) into the waste-filled bucket which proceeded to filter through quite quickly and down into the water butt.


Finally we made a lid to contain any odours – but to be honest when I checked just now whilst taking some photos, I was pleasantly surprised to find it doesn’t smell at all.

The spent chicken-waste from the collander bucket gets tipped into one of our two big 330 litre black compost bins nearby and lo and behold LIQUID GOLD (strained through the collander bucket) on tap!!


Apply this liquid fertiliser to your garden plants once a week or so, using a watering can – satisfied in the knowledge that it hasn’t cost you a penny. It should be the colour of weak tea so dilute if necessary. Too strong and it could do more harm than good. Avoid applying it directly onto foliage and bear in mind that chicken manure is high in nitrogen so if you feed it to your tomato plants you’ll end up with most beautiful leafy plants around… but not many tomatoes! I see chicken tea as an opportunity for our flock to pay their way – as well as providing us with top notch eggs, of course…!


Chickens Wordless Wednesday

Wordless Wednesday; Chickens taking a Dust Bath

Beatrice enjoying a dust bathDust bath trance Communal dust bath Pinky enjoying a dust bath

Chickens DIY General

Keeping chickens – what to consider and how to get started…


So you want to keep chickens? The first thing you need to ask yourself  is how many birds you want. Then you need to calculate how much space each chicken needs (according to DEFRA, for a bird to be considered free-range, it must “… have had during at least half  it’s lifetime continuous daytime access to open-air runs, comprising an area mainly covered by vegetation, of not less than one square metre per chicken…”) and then double, triple, quadruple or multiply this space ad infinitum, depending on how much land’s available! Always understock and never overstock because understocking ensures that the pasture remains fresh and that there’s plenty of grass to go round.

Chickens in the snow


The next thing you need to consider is fencing and it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s a lot easier to keep chickens in than it is to keep predators out! Here at the Villas we don’t have a problem with foxes because we are in the middle of a village. Although I sometimes hear a vixen ‘s scream in the distance, they seem to frequent the fields and woods around the village rather than venturing to the gardens within. I’m talking about country foxes that are generally much shyer creatures than their city fox cousins, who will hungrily raid dustbins and steal backyard chickens or rabbits and are more than capable of scaling a two metre wall or scrabbling under a fence to reach them.

Chickens General

Hen care: Getting Ready for Winter…


As winter approaches and the days get shorter, our thoughts must turn to the important business of looking out for our chickens at this time of year. Lower temperatures, reduced daylight hours and increased precipitation can cause your flock problems if you’re not prepared.

Poultry house

One of the main priorities as the weather starts to worsen has to be the poultry house in which your chickens live or roost. This is their main defence against the elements so now’s the time to check it’s clean, secure, dry and draught-free. Look out for leaky roofs and any signs of red mite infestation and make repairs or apply treatment such as Poultry Shield before the weather really takes a turn for the worse. If left to their own devices, red mites will take a hold whatever the time of year.

Poultry house

Another thing to bear in mind is that during the winter months general food shortages in the wild amongst predators such as foxes, rats and stoats mean poorly protected chickens can be an easy target. Therefore check fencing, doors, bolts and locks and leave nothing to chance.