Breed of the Month – Maran

This month we’re looking at the Maran, an attractive, popular breed of chicken that are prized for their beautiful dark brown eggs. They have orange eyes and white skin. In the UK you’ll usually find Marans with non-feathered legs, but they can also have feathers.

MaranOriginating from the town of Marans in the west of France the breed was created in the 1920s by mixing the local feral fowl with fighting birds imported from Indonesia and India. You don’t need to worry about them being aggressive though – the Maran breed is known for its docile nature.

Further breeding and the introduction of other breeds “improved” the Maran to make it a good dual purpose bird who produces roughly 150 dark brown eggs per year and is also suitable for the table.

The breed’s popularity spread and it was first introduced to the UK in 1929 by Lord Greenway. He was originally interested in the gourmet flavour Maran meat has but was soon fascinated by the colour of the eggs and showed them at Crystal Palace in 1934.

The Maran was accepted into the British Standard in 1935 and The Marans Club was formed in 1950 in the Grosvenor Hotel, London. The club is still going strong today and you can find out more information about the breed on The Marans Club website.

marans_eggsIn modern times the Maran is a popular breed both as pets and show birds, becoming a favourite at poultry shows. They are docile, hardy, tough and disease resistant.

They are an active breed and prefer a free range lifestyle over being kept in a chicken run or enclosure. All of the above qualities make them an ideal bird if you’re new to chicken keeping.

The club recognises the following varieties of the Maran: Brown-red, Silver Cuckoo, Golden Cuckoo, White, Wheaten, Columbian, Black, Black-tailed Buff, and Silver Black.

The following colours are also under assessment to be included in the Standard: Golden-blue, Silver-blue, Splash, Golden-salmon, and Silver-salmon.

Preparing your chicken house for winter

Chickens in the snowA safe, dry house is essential if you’re going to have healthy hens, especially during the winter months. Depending on where you live you might need to make more preparations for winter than chicken keepers living in warmer climates.

For example, if you’re in the north of England or Scotland you might need to think about hen house heaters or heated water bowls for this winter.

If you live in the south of England you probably won’t need to resort to extra heat for your hens, but having a heated water bowl could save you having to break the ice every day.

Here are some other things that all chicken keepers, regardless of their location, need to do before the cold sets in.

Give your chicken house a good clean

Whether you’re planning on using a deep litter method during the winter or not it’s best to start the winter with a clean chicken house.

Clear all of the bedding out and give the house a good scrub with a pet safe disinfectant. Make sure you get in all the nooks and crannies!

It’s also a good idea to treat your house with a mite and lice product, even if your birds haven’t shown any sign of having an infestation.

Don’t forget your accessories

Now is the time to give all of your chicken house extras, such as perches, next boxes, grit tubs, and feeders, a really good clean. If anything is broken, or doesn’t come clean with a good scrub, it might be time to replace it.

When you’re done, give everything a good rinse and leave to dry in the sun whilst you clean the rest of the chicken house.

Check for wear and tear

If you’ve bought a good quality chicken house it should have a long working life with minimum maintenance, but it’s still a good idea to check your chicken house is up to the winter weather conditions.

Check your chickens, or pests, haven’t damaged the house and that all of the fixtures are in good working order. Do the doors close properly? Are any of the metal fittings rusty? If you can answer yes, then now is the time to fix it.

Make sure your run is up to scratch

Many chicken keepers prefer to restrict their hens to a run during the winter months to limit the damage done to the garden or field. If you only use a run during the winter then it’s important to check it’s still safe and secure after being stored for the summer.

Just as with your chicken house, give it a good clean and check the wire, wood, and any metal fittings. You might also want to add extra layers of wire to make it harder for hungry predators to get to your flock.

Stock up on bedding and feed

Long nights and difficult weather conditions can make it harder to get your poultry essentials. If you’ve got a dry, vermin free space it’s a good idea to stock up on bedding and feed so you don’t find yourself in a fix if weather conditions stop you getting to the pet shop.

Breed of the Week: Brahma

Brahma cockerel (Source: Omlet)

Brahma cockerel (Source: Omlet)

Brahmas are often known as the “King of chickens” because of their large size and upright stature. The breed was first developed in America after very large birds were imported from Shanghai.

Because of this they were originally known as “Shanghai birds” and have similar origins to the Cochin breed. However, their distinctive head shape and pea comb differentiates them from the Cochin.

Their large size meant that the Brahma became the principal meat bird in the USA from the time of their development until the 1930s. After this the commercialisation of meat birds meant that larger breeds fell out of favour.

The Brahma was first imported to the UK in December 1852 when nine “Gray Shanghaes” were sent to Queen Victoria as a present from George Burnham. British breeders then developed the Dark variety of Brahma that were later re-imported back to the USA.

Here’s more about the big, beautiful Brahma:

Brahma Factsheet                                     

Name: Brahma (originally known as the Shanghai bird)

Type: Large fowl

Weight: Cock: 5.5kg Hen: 4.5kg

Popularity: Popular as pets and show birds

Purpose: Originally meat birds but now mostly pets or show birds

Eggs: Large brown eggs and hens lay all year around

Physical features: Large, upright bird with a large head. Legs are yellow with abundant feathering around their feet.

Colours: There are two recognised varieties – Light and Dark. There are also a number of recognised colours, although not all breed societies accept all colours. Available colours are: Buff, White, Gold, Buff Columbian, Black, Blue, Partridge, and Barred.

Other characteristics: Despite their large size Brahmas do not often pose as a threat to other, smaller breeds. This means that they are a great breed if you want to keep a mixed flock.

They are very trusting and easy to tame. They also don’t make much noise, even the cockerels don’t have a loud crow, so they’re ideal if you live in a more urban area.

The Brahmas’ beautiful foot feathering means that care needs to be taken during the wet winter months as mud balls can build up between their toes causing discomfort and damaging the foot feathers.

Due to their large size they do take up more room than other chickens and they will need stronger perches, so you’ll need to consider this when choosing a chicken house and any runs or enclosures.

You might find that a bespoke service is a better option to ensure that your chickens have as much room as they need to move around and perch.

How to predator proof your chickens

Unfortunately your chickens are never going to be 100% safe from predators but we’ve got some tips to make an attack less likely.

Mmm chicken nugget!

Mmm chicken nugget!

Predators can be one of the biggest worries for chicken keepers, especially if you live in an area with a large fox population or the neighbourhood cats have been a little too interested in your flock.

Unfortunately there isn’t a way to make sure that your chickens are 100% safe from other creatures, but there are some things you can do to make their environment safer.

We’ve got some top tips to keep predators as far away as possible:

Don’t use chicken wire

Avoid purchasing a run or chicken coop that uses chicken wire as predators can easily break through. Chicken wire was originally designed to keep chickens in rather than keep predators out so it isn’t a suitable material for runs, closures, or houses.

Welded, galvanised ¼ inch mesh is a far safer option and is as fox proof as you’ll get. Members of the weasel family will also find it extremely difficult to access your hens.

Get digging

If you’re building a permanent enclosure for your flock then dig a 12 inch trench around the enclosure to bury the mesh. A 12 inch apron of mesh around the enclosure is an alternative if you don’t want to dig a trench but chicken keepers report that this isn’t as effective.

Remember, a hungry predator will happily dig to get a meal, so start digging before he does!

Teach your hens to “go to bed”

Chickens roosting outside overnight are extremely vulnerable and you could lose your entire flock in one night if they’re not properly shut away. Dawn and dusk can be dangerous times for chickens so you might find that an automatic door is a good option to keep your hens safely shut inside.

Raise your coop

A raised chicken house will stop pests such as rats and mice being able to hide or burrow underneath your house. Not only can rats cause damage to your hen house but they will also steal eggs, kill young chicks, and will sometimes take on hens, especially bantam breeds.

Clean up leftover food daily

Rats will also be attracted by the leftover food that your hens scatter about the place. Remove food overnight and clean up anything left in the coop at the end of the day by hand or with a rake..

Even if pests are only trying to get the food waste they’ll upset and stress your hens in their efforts to get in the enclosure and may also turn on your hens.

Invest in “guard chickens”

This method might not be for everyone but many chicken keepers report that keeping bigger breeds of chicken such as Brahmas, Jersey Giants, and Orpingtons act as a deterrent to predators.

There’s no exact science to this and it might not work for you but if you are thinking about expanding your flock consider purchasing a larger breed to keep the smaller members of the group safe.

Next week we’ll be looking at how to give your chickens a bath whether it’s for a show or just to freshen them up!

Interesting egg baskets

We know we promised you a brand new product, but it isn’t quite ready to be revealed. So this week we’re looking at interesting egg baskets and cool things to collect your eggs in.

This week we’d thought we’d take a break from dishing out chicken keeping advice and just share some pictures of egg collecting baskets that we like.

Of course, you could just use a bucket, but where would be the fun in that!

farmhouse-basketswire basketsFirst up, here are some traditional wire egg baskets. We like them because they’re simple, classic, and easy to clean! Modern designs also come in a range of colours so you can make it more personal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eggs-in-Vintage-Offering-BasketIf you like the traditional look but you’re not sure about wire how about a wicker basket? We love how pretty this one looks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

felteggbasketFor those of you with occasional visiting grandchildren or other small people who enjoy collecting eggs why not treat them to this fancy felt basket?

 

 

 

 

 

 

wooden_garden_trugFinally, our friends at Loldean Timber have got making attractive egg baskets down to a T.

 

 

Keeping chickens cool in the summer

Although the weather has been a bit unpredictable lately keeping your flock cool when it’s hot will be a perennial issue – so here’s our guide to stop you getting in a flap!

chicken_sunbathing_tote_bagChickens usually adapt well to varying temperatures and if you live in the UK you won’t often find yourself having to deal with extreme weather conditions. One of the most common questions new chicken keepers ask is how to keep their flock warm in the winter – they don’t usually think about the summer months.

For experienced chicken keepers the sight of their hens sunbathing is a happy one, after all, who doesn’t like to top up their tan! However, as much as chickens love to sunbathe sometimes the heat can get a little much.

Dehydration is a big cause of death in chickens and unfortunately sometimes a chicken is too far gone to be saved. Keep your eyes peeled for any signs of dehydration and know what to do if one of your flock does become ill.

Signs of dehydration include:

  • Lethargy
  • Gasping/panting with their beaks open
  • No interest in food
  • No reaction to stimulai

If you do find a dehydrated hen the best course of action is to move the bird to a cool, dark, quiet place and provide water with electrolytes. You may need to help the bird drink every 10-15 minutes over the next few hours.

Once the bird is drinking by itself you can give it watered down food. You’ll need to keep in for the next 24 hours and provide water and wet food at all times.

To try and make sure your hens stay happy and healthy, here are our top tips to help keep your flock feeling fresh when the weather gets warm:

Chickens love cold drinks too

If you find yourself reaching for an icy cold drink in the summer then why not make one for your hens?

Use the cooling blocks you can get for picnic hampers or freeze water in a small plastic container, then place in a bowl of drinking water. The blocks will keep the water cool all day and provide a refreshing drink for your birds.

Make some shade

Chickens need to be able to get out of the sun to cool themselves down so make sure there are plenty of shady spaces available. You can create shady spots using tarpaulin, old patio umbrellas, or even plastic table cloths.

Don’t feed “heavy” foods

Just like we don’t like to eat big meals when it’s hot chickens don’t either. Foods such as corn take longer to digest, therefore creating a higher body temperature and making your hens hot.

Swap to pellets and try giving treats such as frozen or refrigerated strawberries and watermelon.

Give them a “bath”

In this case we don’t mean a water bath, we mean a dust bath. Dusting bathing is essential for chickens to stay healthy, especially in hot weather. If your chickens aren’t able to create a dust bath themselves by digging holes in the garden then provide them with a shallow tray or box containing sand.

Add electrolytes to water to combat dehydration

You can buy electrolytes for chickens from most country stores or online chicken supply shops. You would usually use them if you had chicks but in hot weather chickens of all ages can benefit from electrolytes.

Keep their coop cool

All chicken houses should have good ventilation but if possible you should increase this during the summer. Open all of the doors, vents, and windows during the day and if safe to do so, consider leaving vents and windows open at night.

You can also direct the sunlight away from the chicken house by placing a sheet of reflective foil on the house roof in the mornings. You could use the screens usually seen on car dashboards for the same effect.

Let them chill out

Interacting with your chickens will make them excited and run around more so keep interaction to a minimum. If you do need to move them or catch them try to do this first thing in the morning or before they go to bed when it’s cooler.

Next week we’ll be taking a break from our chicken keepers’ series to reveal a brand new Jim Vyse Arks product!