Chickens at the Chalet Ingas! – Keeping Chickens #1

Chickens at the Chalet Ingas! – Keeping Chickens #1

In these days of high egg prices – when you can find eggs at all – some people may be wondering if they should keep chickens to lay eggs so they can have a steady supply. I thought it would be interesting to interview Anna Lemchens, who owns the bed-and-breakfast Chalet Ingas, as Anna keeps a few chickens. Note that Anna is in Troistorrents, Switzerland, near the border with France, at an altitude of 1100 meters. This means her environment may not be exactly like yours. Also, Anna is originally from Australia, so her spelling is not exactly like mine.

What made you decide to keep chickens? Were you around people who did it before? A friend has them, and then a neighbour got them and started encouraging me too, and I just got interested. I loved the idea of fresh eggs, and chickens have always made me laugh, and I love the country ‘feel’ of them as well as the idea of recycling kitchen leftovers! As I have a B&B in the mountains, I had the space and thought my clients would also appreciate home grown produce.

Terrace at Chalet Ingas with view of Dents du Midi (mountains)

What do you need to get started? It is quite a job getting organised actually. Chicken owners – once the first egg is laid (a very exciting moment) – joke about how it’s the most expensive egg ever. You can buy pre-fab coops or build your own. I’m not a carpenter so I had to hire someone to do it, but at least we could use recycled wood. If building your own, you need to decide how many you are going to have then check with local councils about their requirements for space per chicken. You also need to work out perching space, summer/winter facilities, whether to have an electric or manual coop door, feeding and water supply equipment, and maybe some ‘toys’ in the run.

What sort of time commitment does it take to keep chickens? What do you feed them? Once you have organised all the above, and have picked up your chooks (ed. note “chook” is Australian/New Zealand for chicken) from the supplier, it can be a little job teaching them to use their new perch at night. We wait until dark when they are asleep – they usually go for sleeping in the nesting boxes at first – and put them on the perch when they’re asleep and that seems to work. Especially if you are introducing new chickens to the flock, this seems an effective way to integrate the new ones more quickly too. But once they’re all integrated and are accustomed to their environment, they’re very low maintenance.

There are various illnesses and infections they can pick up, so you need to get educated about them and keep an eye out. There is also the yearly moult and sometimes they get broody so steps have to be taken when this happens, too.

Their main food is a nutritionally balanced pellet which I buy in huge sacks from the local farm shop. They also get corn and dried mealworms which are a treat & they absolutely love. They get any leftover salad, vegetable cut offs, leftover cooked egg dishes, and they love warm porridge in winter. Other bits of leftover kitchen scraps too but I always check on the internet first as some things can actually poison them.

View of Alps near Chalet Ingas

How many chickens do you have? Do they lay eggs regularly? I vacillate between 3 and 4. A minimum of 3 is recommended, as it establishes the all important ‘pecking order’, which is a very noticeable phenomenon. If you start with 3 and lose one (to foxes, birds of prey, which unfortunately can happen), then you can get 2 more at once, as just getting 1 at a time creates havoc with the pecking order and chickens can be quite mean to 1 newbie.

I’ve found that new chickens will start laying after 1-3 weeks, depending on the age you get them. They lay very regularly except if the weather is very hot or very cold, which can interrupt the regularity.

View of Chalet Ingas, with the cat called Bruce

Do they have personalities? Can you form relationships with them? They have very strong, individual personalities. Some want, or are OK with, being patted and picked up, others you can’t get near with a 20 foot pole. Some are easily trained – I call ‘chook chook chook’ and bang a tin lid so wherever they are, if they’re free ranging at the time, they know treats are available, and the good ones come running. Some take longer.

The cat Sheila, an excellent mouser, and a view of the Chablais Valley and cloud cover

I know you have had problems with hawks and foxes. What’s the best way to keep predators at bay? If they are free ranging, I have a big plastic owl tied to a post which I move around the garden, which is supposed to scare off hawks, and I have a moveable radio which I have on talkback stations which I also move around outside against the foxes. But it’s a bit of a nuisance and I’m not really sure if they’re terribly effective. Having a rooster is apparently a good deterrent, but I’m not prepared to get one of those, as they can be quite aggressive! The best solution is just to let them out of their run when you’re in the garden with them.

 

Red fox. This picture was taken at the British Wildlife Centre by Airwolfhound, but the same species is all over Europe, including the Swiss Alps. And although the foxes do eat the chickens, the foxes are so beautiful it’s hard to stay mad at them. Well, at least for me, as I am not a chicken. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Tell us about Chalet Ingas, and what visitors can expect. Also, are fresh-laid eggs on the menu? Chalet Ingas is a renovated alpage chalet originally built in 1911, situated in a forest but looking straight out onto the local landmark of the mountain range Dents du Midi. The B&B room is in the dormitory at the top of the chalet, and sleeps 1-4 people, with a private shower and toilet. Home grown eggs cooked to your preference are included!

Thanks, Anna, for answering these questions, and to those who have made it this far, thanks for reading!

Sol wondered from what kind of eggs humans hatched. They had no beaks; how did they break through their shells? With their little noses? How long did it take for their eyes to open? Hunters of the Feather, Book one of the Crow Nickels

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