Keeping Chickens and Livestock on Allotments

There is no law forbidding the keeping of animals on allotments.  In the past pigs or goats or other animals were kept, as well as pigeons.  Permission from the Council or landlord is required, and conditions must be clean, safe and not cause a nuisance.
For bees as well as getting agreement and you need to join the British Beekeepers Association.  BBKA gives advice and support, even school packs, and arranges the essential insurance cover which offers up to £5 million surety against public and product liability.  Most beekeepers are amateurs. Many more are needed to help the conservation of bees. Hives are suffering losses and poor production these days so that and the number of these essential pollinators is falling and there few or none left in the wild. Hives should be sited well away from other gardeners, perhaps uphill, and protected against intruders (and children) by a wire mesh fence; a screen (plastic net, wicker or whatever) may be needed to raise the flight line above the heads of other plot holders and there should be a permanent water supply near at hand. Contact www.britishbee.org.uk .  They offer a wealth of information which includes a guide to first steps in bee keeping and a school pack. The HQ is The National Beekeeping Centre, National Agricultural Centre, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire CV8 2LG.

Chickens and rabbits are a special case.  Section 12 of the Allotment Act 1950 abolished contract-restraints on keeping hens and rabbits on allotment gardens. You must keep them safe and clean and well cared for, and not cause a nuisance, but you do not need permission to keep them and any restrictions made are not binding. Use this right gently, though.

They are part of the production cycle of your plot, converting waste or surplus produce into feathers, meat, (or with rabbits, skins if wanted), and eggs and fertilizer: or in the case of bees pollination and honey.  If you are going to use them as such it is important not to turn them into pets. Make sure they live and die contentedly, but do not turn them into a children's zoo. Chickens, because of their companionable ways and friendly clucking can become firm favourites,so if you are worried go mainly  egg production - be sure to select the appropriate breed at the outset and do not get many birds (six is enough to start with). Some breeds are developed for meat, some for laying; others are more all-round in their performance.  Or you may go for a traditional or rare breed.  On small plots bantams may be best.  F. Raymond's pamphlet "Hens in Your Garden" (Kitchen Garden Publications) is a cheerful introduction you might beg, borrow or buy.

A group of Friends who get together on one or more plots, perhaps using the surpluses of the field,  may achieve something like a mini urban farm, with educational and social benefits.

Feeling heroic? It might be possible to obtain ex- battery-hens cheaply after their first year of laying.  These may regain their scratching habits and lay well for a year or two, but on arrival often look pretty rough, and they will be want to a constant warm temperature until their feathers grow back.

KEEPING HENS ON ALLOTMENTS

1.  DO I HAVE A RIGHT TO KEEP HENS

Yes.  Section 12 of the 1950 Allotment Act states: -

Notwithstanding any provision to the contrary in any lease or tenancy or in any covenant, contract or undertaking relating to the use to be made of any land, it shall be lawful for the occupier of any land to keep, otherwise than by way of trade or business, hens or rabbits in any place on the land and to erect or place and maintain such buildings or structures on the land as reasonably necessary for that purpose.

However always approach the Council or landlord co-operatively, and start a charm offensive.  No-one gains if they think we are a cantankerous bunch of barrack-room lawyers with a strong sense of grievance, even if such attitudes have been found in the past.

2.   ARE THERE ANY RESTRICTIONS?
Yes. You have no automatic right to keep cockerels especially if anyone objects; and you must keep the birds properly: you must not cause poor health conditions, or cause a nuisance (mucky pens, hens escaping and scratching everywhere, or vermin infestations for example).  Cockerels are only necessary if you want to breed from the hens, which you may want to do if you are conserving a rare breed. You then need permission, or buy fertile eggs for incubation.

3.  CAN I BUILD MY OWN HENHOUSES AND RUNS?
Yes but the fence should be made of strong wire netting, as secure as possible, and at least six feet high. Use small mesh netting (1/2 inch or smaller) so that the chickens cannot poke their heads out and be bitten. The main enemies are dogs, foxes and badgers. Make the run spacious and sheltered from the wind. Bury the wire fencing six inches or more, and if you turn the bottom out and bury it at right angles for at least a foot foxes and rodents may be deterred from tunnelling in. Some people use a battery-powered electric mesh fence (don't forget to switch it on at night). The wooden hen coop needs to be strong and securely closed at night, with nesting boxes for egg-laying. Hens cannot see in the dark and so go in at sunset. You can camouflage one side or more of the run with climbing plants on the netting; and it is a good idea to roof part of the run with rigid plastic so they can be fed under shelter.

You can build the house about the size of a wendy-house and kit it out with nest boxes and solid perches (not too narrow). The small arks available can be moved about, but larger houses need a bigger run.
Alternatively there are good ready-built hen coops and runs from arks to eglu cubes to buy from local suppliers or the internet.
4.  ARE SOME BREEDS EASIER THAN OTHERS?
Low-maintenance breeds are said to be Warren hybrid bought at point of lay, Rhode Island Red, and Black Rock. Large breeds are more docile and less noisy - they lay for 2-5 years.

There is a large amount of advice and support for you.  For example: -

The Domestic Fowl Trust www.domesticfowltrust.co.uk
150 breeds on display, housing, equipment, medication, foodstuffs: Black Rock, Warren and Speckledy hybrids.  Station Road, Honeybourne, Evesham, Worcs WR11 7QZ or  e-mail: - clive@domesticfowltrust.co.uk

Try  www.blpbooks.co.uk/links/Poultry_Suppliers.php  for a long list of contacts.
For advice contact: - www.henkeepersassociation.co.uk See there 10 top tips
For free practical help try: - www.smallholdershop.co.uk  01386 833083 - see their electric fencing? also: - www.PoultryProducts.co.uk - take a look at their housing

5.  CLEANING AND HEALTH
The birds must be put in and let out  night and morning, though automatic feeders and flaps are available.  Clean the coop once a week (use Jeyes Fluid); dig over and lime the run in the Spring or if it is sour. Hens do not like getting wet - keep them in or make sure the roofed area is rainproof.  Wood shavings are a good floor cover; hay or straw in the boxes.  They enjoy a regular dust bath, so fill a dust-box (large and deep enough for them to clean themselves in) with white sand and add flea powder to it.  It must be kept dry. Small coops or arks can be moved to fresh ground regularly to clear weeds and insects. Lime the ground to kill off parasites and allow grass to utilise nutrients.

6.  FEEDING
Do not give them citrus fruit, salt, meat or fish and make sure they always have fresh water to drink.  A simple tip is to drive a short stake into the ground and fix a two-litre bottle upside down to it.  Two loops of wire - a small one at the bottom for the neck of the bottle, a larger one higher up, should do the trick.  The bottle is suspended upside down over the drinking bowl with the open end just at the level you want the water to be.  Fill the bowl and bottle, slip the bottle upside-down into place and unscrew the top. Then as the chickens drink, bubbles of air enter and the bowl is topped up. Clean the bowl regularly, and raise it so that they can easily drink, and do not scratch earth into it or knock it over easily. Rinse and refill the bottle regularly or have a second one to fetch up filled with fresh water from home. Or you can buy commercial drinking fountains.

Give them greens to peck and a basic diet of grain and protein pellets, which must be kept in a bin with a secure lid to deter rats.  Make sure they have a supply of grit in a bowl for their digestion.

Note: - when collecting the eggs do not wash the shells as they are porous.

Please let the Secretary know of improvements or further information that might be of use here.

The material in this section above is for advice and general guidance only, and must not be taken as legal or veterinary instruction.