Chicken Keeping Cram School

Chicken Cram School Day Course

This course will include outdoor activity regardless of the weather but some activities may be taken inside the bell tent in poor weather conditions where possible.

Are you thinking about getting chickens but don’t know where to start?

Would you like to get some real chicken practice before you hurl yourself into the responsibility of keeping chickens?

Do you already own chickens but want some more information and tips on how to look after them?

This course is designed for anyone who wants to peak into the exciting world of chicken keeping and find out if it’s the right move for you.

This is an overview of chicken keeping crammed into a single day (with paperwork you can take home with you so you remember!). We will also offer up more specific detailed courses soon which will include:

  • Everything Eggs
  • Cleaning and feeding
  • Health & Care
  • Integrating new chickens to a flock
  • Brooding

This course will be held at our Sustainable Life Cabin next door to the Bissell Wood Equestrian Centre.

The course starts at 10am at the cabin and finishes at 4pm. Please bear in mind parking is situated on Deansford Lane and therefore a 20 minute walk is required from the carpark to the cabin that you will need to factor in.

This course will cover:

  • Introduction to the flock – Get the chance to handle the chickens and get to know them.
  • Introduction to hutches – Look at two different types of hutches and runs and discuss which ones are suitable for you. Talk about space requirements for each bird and flock sizes. Why it’s important to have a spare hutch and run.
  • Cleaning – Chickens require a lot of cleaning even if it’s just two birds. Learn about the difference between deep cleaning and bedding down and when it is appropriate to use them. Spend some time cleaning the hutches with your fellow chicken team members and learn about different cleaning tools and materials.
  • Feeding/Drinking – Feed our chickens and re-fill their drinkers, we have a wide selection of small scale and large scale feeders and drinkers to look at so you can decide which will be the right choice for you. We will also look at other aspects of feeding such as winter tips and supplementary foods.
  • Health & Care – Look at the different medications for treatment and prevention for chickens, how much they cost and what to do. Learn how to spot an ill chicken using a variety of indicators. Learn about cutting wings and trimming nails and spurs.
  • Planning for your own chickens – we will take each of you step by step through the process of deciding the number of chickens, the type of hutch and run, the breed of chickens, the space required, the materials you will need to get started and the costs of chicken keeping. You will each leave with a solid action plan for owning your own chickens and looking after them as well as a real idea of what it’s like to look after chickens, how much time you will spend with them and how much they cost (and how much therefore eggs are really worth!).


  • A satellite view map of where you are thinking of having chickens and a rough measurement of how big that area is (bring along on the day). YOU WILL NOT BE JUDGED – we will give you real practical advice and tips on how to keep chickens in that area successfully and offer help with improvement ideas and reccomendations on a one-on-one basis.
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How to Tell if your Hen is Broody

For those of us that don’t have the inclination to buy an incubator and brooder and spend months rearing chicks by hand ourselves every day while loosing a substantial amount of space to the brooder in our homes, there is an all new invention: The Broody Hen.

Okay so it’s not so new, but it is a rare and beautiful find to possess. I figuritively cry when I see forum posts about broody hens when the owner just doesn’t want thier hen to go broody. Of course, I understand in smallscale operations you just want a couple of egg layers and no fuss, but don’t break your broody hen – give her to someone who really needs a broody prone hen and swap her for an egg laying machine. Not only is it kinder to the hen, it’s also vital for many natural method chicken owners. Personally not only do I find it MUCH easier to get a broody hen to rear your chickens, but I can’t stand the fact that many breeds of chicken now simply do not go broody, it’s been specifically bred out of them to ensure relentless egg laying machines for your supermarket eggs. If we didn’t incubate them, they would be in serious trouble as it’s quite rare for them to get broody and raise chicks naturally. Surely that isn’t something we should be encouraging just for our own convenience?

I digress…

Clear Signs you have a broody hen


1. You hardley ever see her outside anymore
This is a big one. If your hen is outside all day – the eggs are not being incubated. Eggs can be left without a hen sitting on them for approximately half an hour maximum before you start to loose eggs. Therefore, during brooding the hen has a strong urge to make sure they do not get off those eggs except to feed, drink and poop. For the first few days this can mean they don’t get up at all – as if they are making absolutely sure the ball is rolling before they risk anything. If you don’t think your hen has budged an inch for a  couple of days, you may wish to consider picking her up off the nest and plopping her down by the food to encourage her to eat and drink before she sits down again.

2. Her poop is big and smelly
Because she isn’t eating and drinking throughout the day she also isn’t pooping regularly. This means when she does get up off the nest she has a nice big poop before she get’s back to work. All that extra stored up poop is going to be pretty ripe and much larger than her regular poops.

3. She has stopped laying eggs
Sometimes, she will brood even with no eggs underneath her! These are what I refer to as “Hardcore broodies”. But whether she has enough eggs or not, she will stop laying if she wants to sit and brood. If she still hasn’t “set” try adding some extra eggs into the nest box as it may be she doesn’t have the right number for what she wants to brood. Unless she is an old bird (4 years ish for most breeds to hit ‘menopause’ up to 7 years in some cases), not laying eggs is a good indicator that she has decided to try to brood.

4. She makes the “Broody noise”
I made a little video of an example of a broody noise from quite a tame broody hen which you can watch below. Basically, while she is sitting on the nest if you go anywear near her she will make a gutteral warning noise telling you to stay away from her and her eggs. The severity of this can vary depending on the hen, broodier breeds like maran and maran hybrid types can get quite upset puffing up to increase thier size, pecking at you and being very noisy! Your tamest most gentle hen can suddenly turn into a viscious rapter ready to eat you alive.


Video not working? Use the direct link instead and click here.

5. Missing breast feathers
In order to get her lovely hormone elevated hot skin on the eggs to transfer her body heat more effectively, the hen will often pluck a few chest feather out (little downy ones). She will then use these to line her nest for extra insulation. What a clever mommy! Seeing breast feathers in nest boxes is a great indication someone in the flock is getting ready to brood.



Q. My Hen refuses to eat/drink what should I do?

A. I have had this happen once, during the first week or so of brooding. Even picking her up off the nest did not deter her, she would storm right back to the eggs immediately. The brooding was strong in this one! My solution was to bring the food and water to her. I made sure they were both within reach from the nest if she stretched out her neck, she seemed happy with this solution as it meant she could have a drink and didnt have to leave her precious eggs uncovered. After a week she calmed down and fed/drank/pooped off the nest and I moved the food and water further away. If you have to do this, keep an eye out for pooping on the nest, a hazard caused by the hen’s unwillingness to get off the nest which can kill eggs.

Q. My hen is showing signs of broodiness but isn’t staying on the eggs enough. What is going on?

A. Your hen is thinking about brooding but something isn’t quite right yet. Sometimes I never figure out what it is! It could be not enough eggs, not dark enough, not private enough, not the right size nest area, the weather turned a bit too cold, she doesn’t feel safe there, it’s just not her favourite place to nest or her breed is ‘easily broken’ i.e. a commercial chicken breed that likely will never brood. Good luck!


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Saving egg shells

Egg shells: whether you have chickens or not chances are you get through quite a few eggs in your household. Don’t throw those egg shells away though! Egg shells have good stuff like calcium in them which you or a friend may find very useful!


I grind up my egg shells and portion them out into small resealable bags For my chickens, as giving them back the calcium helps them create new eggs again!


Bear in mind – don’t give chickens whole eggs to eat, or you will teach them to eat Thier own eggs.


But it’s not just chickens that benefit from egg shells, here are a few more ideas for reusing egg shells:

  • If you keep snails in a fish tank (to eat algae) or pond, try adding some crushed egg shells when they have baby snails. The calcium supplement of egg shells will help the baby snails to grow big and hard shells and protect them from fish as they grow up.
  • add egg shells to chicken feed as an extra supplement to Thier existing diet.
  • Instead of using salt which can harm plants, sprinkle egg shells instead (crushed) and this will also keep snails and slugs away due to the sharp edges.
  • Add the egg shells to your compost as they are rich in good nutrients to help your plants.





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Day Two: Chicken Experimentation

I say it’s day two, but actually it’s day 2.5 as I did manage to get to the plot yesterday and do a rough half hours work getting some extra clearing done but hopefully you won’t mind me bundling it into Day Two.

Day Two

Today  I concentrated mainly on more clearing armed with my trusty hedge trimmers and fork. I managed to get up to the next tree stump cleared which means I have about 1/3 to 1/4 of the plot left to do. Yay! The main thing not to think about however, is that after I have finally finished clearing I will need to do some serious digging!

day two allotment

While I was doing the clearing however I had a couple of extra helpers on my plot today. Killian (5 years old) helped me with some light digging work and keeping an eye on my other helper: Chickeny the chicken. We brought her along to the allotment today for a bit of enrichment and to see if she can get any of the soil loose. The soil right now as it stands is quite rock solid! Chickeny did more egg laying than anything else but I aim to bring her back and see if we can get something more done. I’m going to need to dig it up several times so every little helps.

day two allotmentIf you are thinking about getting chickens on to your plot there are just a few simple things to remember:

  • Keep the chicken/s supervised. Cats and other animals are usually lurking around and the chicken may even dig very deep and escape.
  • You can use a netted cloche like the one in the picture to keep the chicken in a controlled location. Our chicken doesn’t really “escape” but the netted cloche stops her wandering into someone else’s plot by mistake. You can learn about how to make these in our blog post: making divan’s into cloches.
  • Ensure they have water available – bring along a spare drinker.
  • Ensure they have shade available (I used my old hoodie draped over the cloche to provide a shaded corner).
  • Make sure they are placed away from any plants you want to keep. The tastiest plants for us are the tastiest plants for chickens!
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Warning: Acorns as Chicken Feed

Having just got two big healthy chickens my partner and I have been looking at low cost ways to supplement their pellet feed. This means compiling big lists of poisonous foods and foods that are okay. It’s actually quite complicated and lots of foods that are okay for us are actually poisonous for chickens including nettles and parsley! We now make it a habit of researching any spare scraps we have properly before giving them to the chickens to ensure we are not harming them in any way. I will post a growing list of foods that are poisonous to chickens shortly that I will update as I learn more.

Now I am pretty thorough when it comes to my research, I do not do anything by half. Not everyone is as keen on this side of things and tends to jump on ideas as soon as they see them however. My partner Alan saw a long and well established blog called Living the Frugal Life where the author had become quite excited about feeding his chickens Acorns in abundant amounts to cut down feeding costs. The problem was that he mentioned at no point how to remove their TOXINS and actually feeds his chickens raw crushed acorns. This sent alarm bells ringing in my head as I was sure I had seen somewhere previously that Acorns were poisonous to Poultry because of the Tanins in them – the same reason they are toxic to us. Now chickens have delicate and simple digestive systems, if pretty much nearly everything is toxic to them, surely Acorns would not be so good for them either? I found a few lesser blogs that claimed they were okay and a few that also claimed it was poisonous. Who was right?

It was then I came across this blog post: Acorns: Toxic Feed for Poultry which is not only an experienced homesteading blog it also contains the facts and maths behind Acorn Toxicity!

Now which blog post am I going to trust? The one that simply says ” I did it and they haven’t died” or the one that says “scientific studies show not to and here is my source of information”.

If I could, I would quote the entire blog post from Woodridge Homestead. It’s basically a pure block of useful knowledge. But let’s glean the facts we need to know out of this:

  • Acorns have KNOWN TOXIC and ANTI NUTRITIONAL effects on certain animals including POULTRY.
  • Studies with poultry and other animals have been conducted and all of these animals show negative side-effects with Acorns used as feed.
  • Chickens show weight loss, egg production changes, and other adverse effects, including DEATH.
  • Tannins in Acorns negatively affect FEED INTAKE, DIGESTION and PRODUCTION.
  • Tannins (<5%) cause DEPRESSED GROWTH RATES, LOW PROTEIN UTILIZATION, DAMAGE to the DIGESTIVE TRACT, alteration to the excretion of certain cations and increased EXCRETION of PROTEINS and essential AMINO ACIDS.
  • Chickens react to as little as 0.5% tannins causing SLOW GROWTH AND LESS EGG PRODUCTION. Level from as low as 3% can cause DEATH.

“Generally, tannins induce a negative response when consumed. These effects can be instantaneous like astringency or a bitter or unpleasant taste or can have a delayed response related to antinutritional/toxic effects … Tannins negatively affect an animal’s feed intake, feed digestibility, and efficiency of production. These effects vary depending on the content and type of tannin ingested and on the animal’s tolerance, which in turn is dependent on characteristics such as type of digestive tract, feeding behavior, body size, and detoxification mechanisms.


Cornell University’s Dept of Animal Science

It was after reading this I also noticed the guy on Living the Frugal Life had even HINTED that his hens were not LAYING as they should:

“I would bet they’re pretty well on their way to a complete laying hen diet.”

The more I looked at his post the more anger I felt. It was basically guesswork and irresponsibility. Not only is he feeding his chickens a toxic substance he is telling other people to do so: and they are listening. His chickens hadn’t died yet so he figures that’s okay, never mind their long term health and wellbeing, his responsibility to his readers or finding out the facts.

What we Recommend

If you want to give your chickens Acorns you can but you MUST remove the Tannins first just like you would for human consumption and do not use them as sole or main feed crop, they are a special treat for your chickens and do not hold nutritional value.

To remove the tannins you can cook the acorns through thoroughly or run them through running water such as in a stream for several weeks. We suggest cooking is easier, faster and more reliable.

It goes to show you how untrustworthy a lot of information online is, always triple check or quadruple check your facts before making any decisions! This goes for anything and everything but especially for food stuffs!