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Country Life: Keeping Chickens

Ever fancied fresh eggs for breakfast? Maybe a home-reared bird for the weekend? If you have a Bulgarian home with a bit of land you can easily keep chickens. With concern over the way some animals are treated on farms, your property in Bulgaria can provide you with the opportunity to rear your own chickens in a free range or non-intensive environment. They are gentle creatures to have around with their soft clucking and you'll save a bit of money too. Quest Bulgaria provides some tips and hints on how to go about keeping chickens for the first time, whether you just want fresh eggs or to rear chickens for the table.

You may have a small outbuilding on your property which you can adapt to suit but if you don't have a ready building, you can buy one or make one yourself. You should allow about .4 m2 for each bird and you'll need to place a perch inside some 20 cm above the floor. The chickens needs a perch but they do like to snuggle up close to each other, so you need only to allow 20 cm for each chicken. The chicken run will also need nesting boxes for which you can use any cosy boxes you have to hand. Line the nesting boxes with plenty of straw - and line the floor of the whole coop too. Be generous with the straw. Give your chickens plenty of space as the more they have the healthier they will be, even if they are not free range. If you have, say, four chickens, then allow 2m x 1m as a minimum.

Create a "dust bath" if you can as they love to play dead for hours on end, just occasionally flapping their wings to kick more dust over themselves.

If you are not going free range, the downside is that chickens will reduce any area to bare earth very quickly, even if you only have a few chickens. When this happens you'll have to offer fresh veg to replace the grass they would normally be eating. Additionally, the ground can eventually become diseased. Consider this if you are making a coop from scratch and try to make it as portable as possible, so that you can move it from one area to another.

Along with grass, chickens love pecking at kitchen veg waste and are also fond of leftover rice and breadcrumbs. You can get complete chicken feed but corn or maize will suffice. You can feed them back their eggshells but if you do this, they should be roasted until dark and crisp then crushed. Some chickens will eat them, others won't. Don't overfeed your birds, even if you are rearing them for eating.

Any hybrid breed is ideal if you only want fresh eggs as they don't usually become broody and will produce an egg almost every day. Young chickens (from four months up to about two years of age) will be at their egg-laying prime. They will also produce more eggs in the summer than winter.

Keeping the coop clean will reduce any potential infection and remember to move the run from time to time.

Do you know?

- in winter most chickens don't lay,and generally the Bulgarians will kill them and eat them, but an old wive's tale says that if you put a teaspoon of vinegar in their water every day through the year they will lay in winter
- you can freeze eggs! Remove them from their shells and then freeze the whole egg which can be later thawed for use as fried eggs, or store yolks and whites separately for different recipes
- you don’t need a cockerel for your chickens to lay eggs

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