Much ado about noth­ing?

Does the res­i­dent next door com­plain about your chick­ens? Julie Moore of­fers ad­vice on how to pla­cate even the most vo­cif­er­ous grum­bler

Your Chickens - - Poultry People -

The ‘for sale’ sign next door has been re­placed with a ‘sold’ board. Your long-stand­ing friendly neigh­bours are fi­nally mov­ing. But who will re­place them?

While you have du­ti­fully checked your prop­erty deeds to en­sure that there are no covenants pre­vent­ing the keep­ing of ‘live­stock’ and you have com­plied with all the reg­u­la­tions im­posed by the lo­cal coun­cil re­lat­ing to the four hens you keep in your back gar­den, it is not long be­fore you dis­cover that your new neigh­bours are less than en­thralled with your flock. So how can you mit­i­gate any po­ten­tial con­flict?

Firstly, in­vite your neigh­bour to cof­fee one morn­ing — bak­ing some good­ies us­ing your girls’ eggs might just be the ic­ing on the prover­bial cake. In an in­for­mal en­vi­ron­ment over a drink, you can tell your neigh­bour how you started keep­ing chick­ens and how they ben­e­fit your life. Share any amus­ing in­ci­dents that have hap­pened in­volv­ing your hens. If you al­low non-fam­ily mem­bers to visit your coop, give your neigh­bour a tour and let them see your hens close up.

En­cour­age your neigh­bour to air their con­cerns about your birds and ask ques­tions. Lis­ten to them care­fully so that they can tell you ex­actly why they ob­ject to your birds.

TURN THE SOUND DOWN

While you might like the sound of your girls per­form­ing the egg song, you need to ap­pre­ci­ate that their mu­si­cal tal­ents aren’t to every­one’s taste. If noise is a prob­lem, is it pos­si­ble to move the coop

fur­ther away from next door? Sit­ing your coop right up against neigh­bour­ing prop­er­ties is likely to in­vite trou­ble. If you have a small gar­den, you could con­sider plant­ing shrubs that grow to 3-4ft (90-120cm) as a sound bar­rier and po­ten­tial wind­break around the coop and run. The shrubs will pro­vide shade and cover from the el­e­ments and preda­tors if you free range your flock.

If your neigh­bour com­plains about ro­dents, look at your set up. Scat­ter­ing food across the run of­ten leads to some be­ing missed by your hens and left for op­por­tunists such as mice and rats. Use proper ro­bust feed­ers that can’t be knocked over and don’t al­low for spillages. Only put down enough food for your girls. Re­move feed­ers at night and be sure to clear up any ac­ci­den­tal spillages. Keep your feed stored in ro­dent-proof bins in a se­cure area.

Many peo­ple fear that chick­ens will at­tract preda­tors. The truth is they are al­ready in your back gar­den. Foxes and squir­rels all en­joy ur­ban liv­ing with its many food sources, and they cer­tainly aren’t shy in search­ing out food. A neigh­bour told me that a fox comes in­side his house when the back door is open to eat the dog food left in a bowl in the kitchen. Re­mem­ber that chick­ens are also preda­tors and will con­trib­ute to­wards bal­anc­ing the lo­cal ecol­ogy, eat­ing snails, slugs, ro­dents and even snakes.

As a re­spon­si­ble chick­en­keeper, you should em­ploy good hus­bandry and se­cu­rity to pro­tect your flock so that preda­tors move on to eas­ier pick­ings.

SCOOP THE POOP

If smell is an is­sue, per­haps you need to clean the coop and run more of­ten. Em­ploy­ing drop­ping boards be­neath the roosts en­ables quick scrap­ing of the overnight poop into a bucket. The con­tents can then be put straight on to the com­post heap. Us­ing sand as lit­ter means that as the poop

dries out quickly there is no smell or flies, plus you can eas­ily re­move it each day by scoop­ing it out. When you add the poop to your com­post heap, add a layer of browns on top to keep any odour down and the flies away.

Even if your hens are con­fined to their coop and run, en­sure that there is a sturdy fence be­tween your prop­erty and that of your neigh­bour. It will re­as­sure those liv­ing next door that their newly planted flower bed won’t be your chick­ens next dust bath. I have found that there is a lot of truth in the old say­ing that good fences make good neigh­bours.

More of­ten than not, a friendly con­ver­sa­tion can al­le­vi­ate any ten­sions while ed­u­cat­ing a non-chicken keeper about the virtues of your hens. Hope­fully, your neigh­bour will soon re­alise that there is far more to chick­ens than their stereo­typ­i­cal im­age. And don’t for­get that it is im­pos­si­ble to beat the flavour of a freshly laid egg, so a gift of a dozen eggs should go a long way to soft­en­ing even the hard­est heart.

LAST RE­SORTS

Some­times, even though you have done ev­ery­thing you can, your neigh­bour will re­main un­happy and you will have a feel­ing that they will em­ploy other tac­tics.

If you think that your flock is in dan­ger, in­crease se­cu­rity around the coop by:

• in­stalling mo­tion-sen­sor light­ing — the sudden light should de­ter preda­tors too;

• set­ting up an alarm for the coop door at lock­ing up time and de­ac­ti­vat­ing it in the morn­ing;

• in­stalling a se­cu­rity cam­era on the coop would cap­ture any in­stances of tres­pass and al­low you to see who ac­tu­ally does visit your coop at night — hope­fully not your neigh­bour.

Keep a di­ary and log ev­ery in­ci­dent.

Even though you have com­plied with lo­cal coun­cil reg­u­la­tions, re-fa­mil­iarise your­self with them. Lo­cal coun­cils are legally obliged to in­ves­ti­gate any com­plaints made un­der the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Act 1990 re­lat­ing to pub­lic health and nui­sance is­sues. For chicken keep­ers, this nor­mally in­volves noise, odour and the at­trac­tion of in­sects and ver­min.

Where coun­cils find ev­i­dence show­ing that any of these is­sues are caus­ing a sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­fer­ence with an­other per­son’s use and en­joy­ment of their prop­erty, they can serve a le­gal no­tice on the poul­try keeper re­quir­ing ac­tion to be taken to stop the prob­lem or the keeper will face pros­e­cu­tion for non-com­pli­ance.

While com­plain­ing ap­pears to have be­come a na­tional pas­time in re­cent years, bear in mind that for all the grum­blers there are also count­less good-na­tured neigh­bours who have an affin­ity with hens.

ABOVE: Julie’s neigh­bour, Genevieve, quickly re­alised that there is far more to chick­ens than their stereo­typ­i­cal im­ageBE­LOW: In­stalling a se­cu­rity cam­era would cap­ture any in­stances of tres­pass

Chick­ens are also preda­tors and will con­trib­ute to­wards bal­anc­ing the lo­cal ecol­ogy by eat­ing snakes

Em­ploy good hus­bandry by re­mov­ing the overnight poop daily

Us­ing a ro­bust feeder will en­sure that there are no feed spillages to at­tract ro­dents

ABOVE: Good chicken-proof fences will help to keep the neigh­bours happy BE­LOW: A gift of some eggs should go a long way to soft­en­ing even the hard­est heart BOT­TOM RIGHT: Share any amus­ing in­ci­dents that have hap­pened in­volv­ing your hens over cof­fee and bis­cuits

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