Matt Baker’s guide to choosing the family chickens

Matt Baker takes us through the choosing of his family chickens

Chickens roaming freely, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
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I’ve looked after a lot of animals in my time, from calves to donkeys and dogs to ponies, but I’ve not had a lot of experience with chickens. Like many households, we enjoy our eggs and the kids tend to use a lot when baking biscuits and cakes. So it seemed like a good idea to get a few chickens to collect our own eggs and get a bit of experience with something we all knew hardly anything about.

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After reading the chicken book we were given for Christmas, we finally got our head round what made a good chicken coop and the best way of keeping them for us. We decided to go for a good sized run, totally covered in chicken wire to keep out foxes, vermin and leaves, and one that we could still pick up and move so the chickens could strip graze a section of the field. We thought this would keep the mess to a minimum and stop the dog rounding up the chickens at every available opportunity.

pair of light sussex hens

Life lessons

When our coop arrived, we lovingly varnished it several times and the kids helped to choose the feeder and drinker. They were amazed that chickens needed to eat grit as well as their food. That’s the great thing about keeping animals – the children learn so quickly all about them and become instant experts! Once we had everything ready (and had eventually built our chicken run – that seemed to take forever) it was time to go and get the chickens. Molly wanted a white one and Luke wanted a brown one, while my wife Nicola and I just wanted some that laid lots of eggs, so we decided to go to a local place that had a few different breeds to choose from.

We loaded up the modified dog box and set off with the kids in the back, thinking up all the possible names we could call our new arrivals. We decided we’d have four chickens so we could choose one each. Molly got her white one, a White Sussex that she called Suzy; Luke got his brown one that he called Brownie, a Columbian black tail; my wife picked a Maran she named Dotty and mine is a Black Rock I called Roxy.

The chickens were as good as gold on the journey home, never making a sound in the boot, and they seemed to settle in really quickly when we got them home. We’ve only had them a couple of weeks but they’re already part of the family and are becoming more sociable. We all have a big soft spot for them.

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We’d chosen chickens that were ‘point of lay’, so they are supposed to be laying or just about to start laying eggs. Ours hadn’t started laying when we collected them, so every day the family checks the nest boxes for eggs. We’re still checking daily, but there’s nothing yet; I guess I’ll keep you posted!