Richard Auler: Chicken farming
Richard Auler farms in Tipperary with his partner, Stella, on one of the oldest organic farms in Ireland, now called Ladybird Organic Farm. Richard is passionate about producing healthy food in a sustainable way and gets wonderful feedback from his customers for eggs, beef and pork from the farm.
Think carefully about using kitchen scraps as it has implications for attracting vermin. If you do, ensure any scraps not eaten before nightfall are removed from the hen-run. Nettles (wilted or lightly cooked to get rid of the sting) mixed into a moist grain mash; dandelions, roots and all, plaintain the same; comfrey, clover, chickweek, duckweed and small amounts of grass cuttings (as much as they can eat in one day): all of these are perfect for hens. Place the hens' grain or pelleted feed INSIDE the house to keep away it away from wild birds and rain, and to ensure hens can eat early in the morning before you open up the house. Laying hens should be able to feed on demand. Ensure they have water at all times. Use a dedicated dish-brush to give the drinker a clean each time it is refilled. A dash of organic apple cider vinegar added to hens' drinking water is reputedly very good for hens.
Foxes come to sururban gardens and the friendliest dog can get carried away by a neighbour's hens. Again and again we hear of the Rhode Islands in the backyard being wiped out in a fox attack. For this reason alone we suggest that a simple hen-run (2” builders mesh or chicken wire framed with 2x2s) that's still light enough to move easily, is attached to the hen-house. Besides keeping the hens safe, this type of set up will allow the occasional weekend away provided you have stocked up their food and water.
Can be anything from a designer Eggloo, a coop bought online, to a neat DIY house with attached run made from, for example, re-cycled pallets. Remember to include a nest box.
Uninvited furry friends are one of the downside of hen keeping. Make them unwelcome by having no food available for them: store all hen feed in tight-lidded metal or heavy-duty plastic containers (bins are ideal), ensure no cooked food scraps are left in the hen-run overnight, remove all broken eggs.
The inside of the hen-house should be kept dry, so mop up any spills and fix any leaks. A good layer of dry litter on the floor keeps coccidiosis and other nasty hen bugs at bay. A handful of grain scattered on the floor every few days causes the hens themselves to freshen up the litter with their constant scratching and searching.
Heat & Cold
Hens are more bothered by heat that cold, so shade the house and run if we get a heat wave. If the snow falls, two hens give off a surprising amount of body heat, enough to heat their house, but you would need to break the ice on their drinking water!
Each day after egg collection write that day's date in pencil on each egg. Use the oldest eggs first.
Houses & Equipment Used in the Programme
- Omlet.ie for the little blue house used in Blackpool
- First Stop Poultry Shop, Brenda & Simon Power, Camolin, Co Wexford for the custom made wooden houses. Contact: 087-4109 229
- Thornwell Poultry Farm, Thornwell House Edenderry, Co Offaly. Joseph Payne 086-820 1777. Day Old Chicks, Growing Birds, Point-lay Pullets, Ducklings & Geese