Your chickens are great, and they can help you be good to the environment too, says Charlotte Popescu
Keeping hens can provide you with extra benefits besides their wonderful company, attractive looks and those ever-important and precious eggs. The eggshells have all sorts of uses, as do your girls’ feathers. So don’t throw away the eggshells, and gather up all the feathers when your hens are moulting or set your children a scavenging contest – ‘Who can collect the most feathers?’ Put poultry manure into your compost. Gather all the falling leaves together in the autumn and use them as an alternative bedding in the henhouse. Make a pile of leaves and let your hens have a good scratch through them before you gather them into sacks or containers. If you grow your own vegetables, you will always be able to feed surplus green leaves, such as chard and beetroot or bolted lettuces, to your hens rather than composting them. Chickens also love Jerusalem artichokes – if you grow these in your vegetable patch you will always have too many! Hens will nibble the seeds and flesh from halved overgrown courgettes and marrows.
It is best to rinse out eggshells and air-dry them before using. If unwashed and left for a few days, they can begin to smell rather bad.
You can bake them for five minutes or so in the oven set at a low temperature. Allow to cool and then crush them up and feed them back to your chickens; they will be much appreciated as the calcium in them is needed for producing more eggshells!
Crafty Ideas for Eggshells
Poke a tiny hold at either end of an egg with a needle and then blow out the yolk and white. The whole eggsshells can then be decorated using paint and/or stickers (see last month’s Hattie Hen pages for more details of how to do this).
Broken eggshells can be used to make a mosaic. Arrange the pieces into different shapes over an area of glue and then get your children to paint over them.
In the garden
Crushed eggshells make useful slug deterrent material when sprinkled round plants. You can add eggshells to your compost but they should be well crushed first as they don’t break down easily.
If you reduce your eggshells to powder, they can be used as a fertiliser; the calcium carbonate is a good nutritional feed for your plants.
Halved eggsshells make good little containers to start your seedlings in. Just fill with a little compost, pop a seed in, put the egg shells back in an egg box and leave on the window sill to germinate.
In the kitchen
Add crushed eggshell to water and use to clean stained cups, thermoses, and teapots, leaving overnight if possible. The stains should come out easily. You can also use eggshells as a natural abrasive to help get rid of grease, hair etc in drain pipes. If you keep some crushed eggshells in your sink strainer, they will gradually break up and get washed down, and the tiny fragments will act as an abrasive, cleaning the pipes as they go.
If you drink real coffee regularly, and find it a little bitter, adding a crushed eggshell to the coffee in whatever machine you use will make the coffee taste better; the eggshell absorbs some of the acidity, making it smoother. I’ve tried it and it definitely works! John Steinbeck used eggshells and egg white in his coffee, saying in ‘Travels with Charley’: ‘I know nothing that polishes coffee and makes it shine like that.’
This sounds a bit bizarre, but the membrane that surrounds the white and egg can also be used. If you can peel it away from the inside of the shell, or peel it away from a boiled egg, you can use it as an aid to healing; a little bit, wet side down, can be used over a splinter to draw it out. If you have a cut, place it over the top and it should speed up the healing process; it can also be applied over burns. The membrane has antimicrobial properties (these are obviously important as the membrane protects a developing chick in a fertile egg).
There are quite a few fun crafty things you can do if you collect up some feathers when your hens are moulting. Just for fun, you could try making quills using either the wing or tail feathers. You cut the quill at an angle to give yourself a good tip. Dip the tip in ink and have a go at writing. Feathers can be glued or sewn onto hat bands and used in fancy dress. You can use good clean feathers for feather printing, by dipping them in a saucer of paint and pressing down on white card or paper. Alternatively, if you are feeling very artistic, gather two similar feathers and try making some earrings, but you will need to buy ear hooks and beading wire from a craft shop. You could even make your own fascinator if you are very skilful. If you can gather enough of the soft downy feathers, you could use them to stuff a small cushion.
If you have a cockerel, and know any fishermen, they may well appreciate the tail and neck feathers which can be useful for tying flies. You will have to wait for your cockerel to moult, though, in the autumn. Really long, thin tail feathers are apparently much sought after for the latest trend of feathered hair extensions!
In the autumn, I gathered up as many dry leaves as I could and I’ve been using them for bedding with great success. I stored them in bags in the shed (they must be kept dry) and I’ve been using them in a sort of deep litter experiment, re-covering the floor with more leaves every couple of days and then after a week or so I clear out most of the bed. The leaves and poultry manure then go on the compost and I am hoping I will have excellent compost material this summer.
Another idea is to use shredded paper for bedding. I must admit I’ve tried shredded white paper without too much success. It does tend to get everywhere as the hens will scratch around in it and it will spill out of the hen house. Some people used recycled shredded paper which is not as glaringly white. At least it can be removed onto the compost heap when soiled without too much trouble.
Poultry manure is a really useful fertiliser for your garden. There does tend to be a bit of confusion about whether it can be used fresh on plants. I think it is best not to use it straightaway. I only use it fresh around my blackcurrant bushes and I tend to scatter it around the raspberry canes. Otherwise it all goes on the compost heap and acts as a very efficient activator as it is full of nitrogen. Droppings in a water butt produce excellent liquid feed. One hen produces about 5�kg of manure a year. Moisture content is about 60% and this is why it needs to be dried. It also contains too much nitrogen so in order to use it as a complete fertiliser, add 250g of bone meal and just 25g of sulphate of potash to every kilo of manure. An alternative would be to use the dried poultry manure as a nitrogenous fertiliser and apply along rows of brassicas that need extra nitrogen.