Despite being vegan, chickens have always been part of my ideal garden dream. When the pandemic hit and we went into lockdown in March 2020, we found ourselves more eager than ever to live off what we could harvest within our own garden. So after much research, we invested in an Omlet Eglu and went on the waiting list to rehome some ex-caged hens from Wood Green Animal Shelter. And last Friday, we finally picked our scruffy ladies up.

Introducing...

We have named our three lovely Rhode Island Red hens Noodle, Nugget and Korma. And before you start panicking about me eating my hens just remember... vegan.

This is Korma. She is the bossiest and healthiest-looking of the three.
This is Noodle. She loves following you around (in case of treats, obviously) and photobombing everything and everyone. 
This is Nugget. She's smaller, shyer, quieter and is missing quite a lot of feathers. It is almost impossible to get a photo of her because she is a bit skittish (and Noodle is an incessant photobomber).

Vegan + chickens = contradiction?

Well, I guess. But also, no. I'm not particularly into the sort of veganism that shames other people for not being the best vegan in the entire world. I obviously don't eat the eggs but, much like keeping bees, keeping chickens is not all about eating what they produce. Here's why I love my chickens.

  1. They are lovely pets. They are very cuddly (although this is currently at a minimum because of avian flu) and they make the most calming clucking noises. I spend hours and hours in our garden and it's nice to have company out there.
  2. Their poop is a great activator for your compost heap. Just remember to put the waste in the compost bin and not just straight on the garden as the high nitogren content can burn the roots of plants.
  3. Pest control. I haven't actually tested this out yet because they are still settling and due to avian flu need to be kept under a tarp and away from wild bird droppings. But they love slugs and snails and bugs so I'm hoping this might save some ornamental plants that are normally devoured.
  4. Scrap eaters. It's currently illegal in the UK to feed chickens kitchen scraps unless your household is 100% vegan (which ours isn't because of husband and dog) but garden waste is still OK. This morning I had some rather hard and weedy looking turnips and excess perennial kale which is currently exploding everywhere. The warmer weather has also meant more weeds. All of these went to the chickens. Just be careful to wash the food because of avian flu and keep an eye on their droppings. Loose droppings could mean too much cabbage and not enough protein or other nutrients.

Cannibalistic omnivores

Chickens eat basically anything including their own eggs and ours are eating all of what they currently lay. This is not unusual but if you keep hens for the eggs it's obviously not ideal. We hope there will be less egg-eating when they are settled and healthier. The shells of their eggs are currently thin and they are eating grit (crushed oyster shell) like they've never see it before. Two main factors that cause egg-eating is stress and low nutriets, especially calcium. So hopefully when they are happier and healthier they'll lay stronger egg and will also not feel the need to eat them.

The chickens have been very keen on their bowl of grit.

Settling in

We've only had the chickens for a few days. Ordinarily, you would keep the hens in their run for 10 days until they feel at home and then you could let them out to free range. They are already going to bed/roost by themselves when the sun sets so they are settling in nicely. However, because of avian flu, we will be keeping them under cover until at least 31st March when we are expecting another update.

We are also slowly introducing our dog, Honey, to the chickens. When the hens are in their run, we only let Honey outside on a lead and we will not let her get too close until they are settled (so after the 10 days). There was a bit of growling on the first day and she jumped up on the side of the coop to sniff on the first night (and was firmily told 'no'). The second day she could walk past without getting distracted and only sniffed around the cage at night. She coexists with the pheasants and pigeons and rabbits so we are hoping with time she will get used to them.

Day 1: The hens were mostly at the back of the run, under the coop, ignoring the many toys and treats I bought for them from Omlet. 
Day 2: The hens take possession of the total run and Noodle is eager to eat from J's hand.