Care and Advice

We’ve picked up lots of advice for caring for chickens and wild creatures over the years.

Take a look at some of the top tips we’ve shared below. Remember we’re always delighted to hear more!

We’ve even gathered some great ideas for how to attract more wild creatures and helpful insects into your garden

Please do get in touch if you think there’s a great website or a particularly useful piece of advice you think we should share with everyone in Spike’s World. Just contact us - we’d love to hear from you!

Record your wildlife sightings

Visit The Wild Outside to record your wildlife sightings and connect with other people who share your love of all things wild.

Badgers

Facts and Figures
Latin Name - Meles Meles, of the order Mustelidae
Nocturnal, live in groups
Weight - up to 12kgs (30lb)
Natural Habitat - Deciduous woodland
Natural Diet - Omnivorous, eats worms, insects, carrion, fruit and funghi 
Supplementary food: Wildthings Badger & Fox Food

 

A bit of background…

Male badgers are known as boars, the females as sows and the young as cubs. 

Badgers are Britain’s largest mammal, and are found throughout Britain though they are not common in Scotland.  They are easy to identify by the distinctive black and white stripes on their head and grey body. 

Badgers weigh from 8-9kg in the spring up to an average of 11-12kg in the autumn when they have, hopefully, put on weight for the winter.  With a body designed for digging, they have very strong forelimbs and long claws.  Their jaws are very powerful and, unusually, can lock, giving an almost unbreakable grip.  They are nocturnal and, in common with many other nocturnal animals, they have poor eyesight but good hearing and an excellent sense of smell, thought to be up to 700 times stronger than man's!

They are social animals and live in groups, called clans, in a network of tunnels and burrows known as a sett. 

The clans are of varying size and are a mix of old and young, usually related, badgers.  There will be a dominant sow and a dominant boar and, usually, only they will mate and breed.  Badgers are very territorial and recognize other members of their clan by scent; should a strange badger wander into their territory they can be very aggressive. 

Road traffic accidents are the most common cause of death; it is estimated that as many as 50,000 badgers die on the roads each year.  The biggest, natural cause of death is lack of food, particularly in hot, dry summers or in exceptionally long, cold winters; providing a suitable supplementary food, such as Wildthings Badger & Fox food, can help them to survive these difficult times.  It is thought that as many as 50% of badgers die in their first year; if they can survive this, they may live to five or six years or even longer.

Young

As well as having unusual locking jaws, badgers also have unusual pregnancies. 

The female mates in the spring and the eggs are fertilized and implanted in the womb, but then growth stops until December, when the embryo starts growing again.  Birth occurs approximately eight weeks later. 

There are usually two or three cubs, but there may be only one or, occasionally, as many as four or five.  As with many mammals, the young are born with their eyes closed; their eyes open at about five weeks old and the cubs are usually weaned by fifteen weeks.  They will usually start venturing out of the sett in April and are off foraging with their mother by May. 

Feeding Badgers

Badgers are omnivorous, like humans (although their diet is a bit different!), and can eat up to 200 earthworms in a night; they will also eat insects, carrion, small mammals, fruit and fungi, acorns, grains and eggs. 

They can cause problems for householders by digging holes in lawns in the hunt for earthworms and insects, particularly during hot, dry spells; providing a suitable, alternative food, such as Wildthings Badger and Fox food, can help to alleviate damage and provide entertainment watching these fascinating visitors.  Badgers do not hibernate but do spend longer underground during cold weather, so they need to build up their body weight in the late summer and autumn to survive the winter.

Injured Badgers

Handling an injured or sick badger safely requires specialist equipment as it will be in pain and frightened and will probably bite.  If you find an injured badger, it is best to not touch it; call the police or RSPCA, who will notify a local badger group.

How you can help badgers

Drive carefully, particularly at night when badgers are out and about.
Provide suitable, additional food supplies, such as Wildthings Badger & Fox food, when their natural food is in short supply.

If you find a badger sett, do not disturb it and don’t tell people where it is – badgers are still illegally used for badger baiting.  It is illegal to obstruct, damage or destroy a sett.

If you do find a sett that has been destroyed or disturbed, notify your local police wildlife liaison officer.

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Chickens

Facts and Figures
Latin Name – Gallus Domesticus

Feeding

When buying a feeder for your chickens, choose one suitable for the number of birds you have - one hen will eat around 100g-150g of layers pellets per day. Don't be tempted to buy a larger feeder and put more food out as it may go stale or damp after a few days but make sure there's room for birds at the bottom of the pecking order to get to the food. We make the perfect feeder with height adjustable legs, an anti-perch rain shield and it looks great too!

Drinking water

Select a drinker large enough to allow for your hens drinking more in hot weather - hens will drink about 250ml of water a day. Water should be changed daily to avoid contamination.

Feeding from hand

Why not encourage your hens to eat Feathers & Beaky Chicken Treat from your hand? It's a great way of hand-taming your hens and makes giving your hens their regular health check much easier.

Treats

Treats should only be fed in the afternoon otherwise your chickens may get full before they've eaten their Layers Pellets. A small handful of Feathers & Beaky Chicken Treat goes down well or, if you feed vegetables, our new Vegetable Holder is perfect for keeping them clean and dry.

Grit

Grit is an essential part of a chicken's diet. Totally free range chickens will probably get enough through scratching around but most garden chickens will need a supplementary supply. Put some in a small tub and leave it somewhere accessible, they'll take it as they need it.

Dealing with lice

A sprinkle of Louse Powder or Diatom into your hens' nest boxes will make sure they receive a regular covering to help prevent lice.

Red Mite

These are an ever-present problem, especially with wooden coops. Treat regularly and watch out for tell-tale signs.

Prevent unwanted visitors

Bringing your feeders in at night will go a long way towards deterring unwanted visitors such as rats. Our vegetable holder will keep veg off the ground and, if it isn't all finished by bedtime, it won't attract attention during the night.

Fun with your chickens

Don't forget to spend time with your chickens (but make sure you've done your jobs first!) and time flies when you're having fun! Take a look at our new Chicken Gyms, yes, you read it right, Chicken Agility is the next best thing!

Forums

There are some great forums on-line where you can ask questions and find answers to almost all things chicken related.

www.urban-chicken.com is a great place to start.

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Foxes

Facts and Figures
Latin Name - Vulpes Vulpes, of the order Canidae, which includes dogs and wolves
Weight - approx 6kg (13-14lb)
Natural Habitat - Very adaptable, found in nearly all habitats
Natural Diet - Omniverous, eat small mammals, carrion, worms, insects, fruit
Supplementary food: Wildthings Badger & Fox Food

 

A bit of background…

English foxes are Red foxes – there are many different species around the world.

Male foxes are known as dogs, females as vixens and the young as cubs or, sometimes, kits, reflecting their cat-like agility.

Foxes weigh between 5-7kg on average, with the females usually being lighter than the males. 

foxTheir coat, in varying shades of red, is very thick and luxurious, which led to them being hunted for their fur.  They have a thick, bushy tail which is used to help them balance when running and jumping and also for warmth when sleeping; foxes will often lie curled up with their tail over their nose. 

Their ears are large, to enable them to hear the slightest sound, and they have extremely good night vision and sense of smell.  With their very light bones and long, flexible back, they can spring high into the air to pounce on their prey from above and are able to jump heights of up to two metres.

Foxes will sleep out in the open for much of the year. Their dens, called earths, are primarily used by the vixen and cubs for the first two to three months after the cubs are born. The earth is sometimes dug out by the fox but they will often appropriate an old rabbit burrow or an unused part of a badger sett.  Urban foxes may use a suitable space under a shed or outbuildings.  They are generally nocturnal but it is not unusual to see them about during the day, particularly in winter when food supplies may be scarce. 

Foxes can live to 10 or 12 in captivity but are lucky to make it to one year old in the wild; it is estimated that up to 50% die during their first year. 

The main causes of mortality are habitat destruction and road traffic.  They are susceptible to mange, which is caused by a parasite, Sarcoptes Scabei (not the same as Scabies in humans), though fit, healthy animals seem to be less easily infected.  The activity of the mites causes intense itching and hair loss, causing the fox to scratch and bite itself constantly, this leads to open wounds which become infected and an untreated fox is likely to be dead in four or five months.  The parasite can be passed to dogs but treatment is easy.

Young

Cubs are born in March and April and, as with many mammals, they are born blind and without fur.  The size of the litter is determined by the local food supply, with more cubs being born if food is plentiful.  The vixen will usually prepare a choice of dens before the birth and may move the litter several times. 

Foxes live in family groups for much of the year and mating pairs tend to stay together.  They are very territorial and male cubs are usually forced out of the territory when they reach maturity in the autumn.  Female cubs will sometimes stay with the family group and may help with the rearing of the following year’s litter.

Feeding Foxes

Foxes are omnivores and scavengers and will eat whatever they can find, wherever they are. 

They will eat small mammals, making them useful in rodent control, carrion, earthworms, fruit and berries, insects and will scavenge through human rubbish.  Small domestic pets (rabbits and guinea pigs) are vulnerable to foxes if kept outside and should be well secured.  Foxes are unlikely to kill cats though they will carry off already dead cats; cats are more likely to chase off foxes and will certainly kill cubs if they can.  Foxes apparently trying to catch cats are often vixens chasing cats away from their cubs or, if there appears to be a pack of foxes chasing a cat, half-grown cubs being curious; foxes are solitary hunters and don’t hunt in packs.

Surplus food is often buried in shallow holes, a trait called cacheing, to save it for another day.  Similar behaviour can be seen in domestic dogs when they bury bones in the garden and is the reason behind a fox killing all the chickens in a henhouse.  It will take away what it can and try to return later to ‘cache’ the rest.  Foxes have a good memory for where they have buried food, unlike squirrels who bury surplus food but then forget where! 

If you are experiencing problems with foxes, there are measures you can take to discourage them from your garden, although these may also discourage other wildlife from visiting.

  • Make sure they can’t get at food put out for birds or other animals.
  • Store rubbish in secure bins and don’t leave it out overnight in plastic bags.
  • Don’t use bone or fishmeal fertilizers as the smell will attract them; use compost instead.
  • Prevent them from making dens under buildings and sheds by blocking access; weld mesh is good but should be buried at least 12” deep as foxes are good tunnellers (make sure that hedgehogs and other small mammals are not trapped asleep inside the mesh).
  • Keep outdoor pets indoors at night and make sure that their hutches and runs are fox-proof; weld-mesh is better than chicken-wire, which foxes can bite through, and locks and bolts should be secure.

To encourage foxes into your garden, supplement their food with Wildthings Badger and Fox food.

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Hedgehogs

Facts and Figures
Latin Name - Erinaceus Europaeus
Nocturnal and solitary
Weight -an adult will weigh around 1kg and a juvenile will need to weigh around 600g to survive winter
Length - approx 25cm (10in)
Natural Habitat - Hedgerows and undergrowth
Natural Diet - Slugs, snails, insects, small invertebrates
Supplementary foods: Spike's Dinner Foods and Wildthings Hedgehog food


You can find your nearest hedgehog hospital, through the British Hedgehog Preservation Society website or by calling them on 01584 890801. 


A bit of background…

Male hedgehogs are known as boars, the females as sows and the young as hoglets.

hedgehogLiving throughout the UK, this solitary, nocturnal creature of habit will tend to visit your garden at about the same time each night.  Hedgehogs quickly become used to humans and have been known to enter houses (sometimes using cat flaps!) if their dinner is not out on time. 

Hedgehog numbers are thought to be declining - there are various potential causes, including increased pesticide use and loss of habitat, and it is estimated that about 100,000 are killed on the roads each year - so they need all the help we can give them.  They are now most commonly found in urban areas, where gardens and parks provide them with a ready food supply.

Protected by their 5-6000 spikes (or, spines) hedgehogs have few natural predators. Their spines are very sharp, but also very flexible, and act as shock absorbers in the event of a fall. 

They are good swimmers and climbers, can dig shallow tunnels and, despite looking slow and tank-like, have quite long legs and can run much faster than their appearance would indicate. 

As with many nocturnal animals, hedgehogs have poor eyesight but excellent hearing and sense of smell.  The lack of natural predators means that hedgehogs do not have to worry about being noisy, and they can be very noisy indeed, crashing though the undergrowth and crunching their food loudly.  Sometimes, the easiest way to tell if a hedgehog is around is just to listen!

Hedgehogs are solitary animals and only come together for mating.  Although it is not unusual to have more than one in your garden at once, they will tend to avoid contact with each other.  Hedgehogs can cover a large distance in a night, up to two kilometres, as they search for food.  They will make and use several nests in their territory, sometimes using other hedgehogs' nests, so the hedgehog asleep in your garden may not be the same one each night!

Young

Hedgehogs can have two litters of young a year, with up to seven hoglets in each, with a gestation period of approximately 30 days. 

The hoglets are born blind with no spines; these begin to develop within a few days, turning from white to brown at about 15 days old.  This can be a useful way of estimating the age of an abandoned or orphaned hoglet.  Mother hedgehogs will leave the nest to find food and water, so it's best to watch an apparently abandoned nest for a while (hours not days) to check that she really has gone.

Hibernation

Hedgehogs hibernate during the colder months and, during this time, they will breathe only once every few minutes, their heartbeat becomes faint, only around 20 beat per minute, and their body temperature drops to around 10c.  During hibernation it can be very difficult to tell whether a hedgehog is dead or asleep so, if in any doubt, it is best to just leave them where they are until warmer weather.

Hibernation is temperature driven and climate change and warmer winters mean that, in some parts of the country, hedgehogs may not hibernate at all.  Hedgehog rescue centres now recommend feeding a nutritionally balanced food like Spike’s Foods all year if you think they might be around (you can often tell by looking out for their droppings).  It's best not to feed tinned food in winter as, due to its high water content, it quickly gets very cold and can chill a hedgehog's stomach.

Feeding Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs are known as the gardener's friend as their natural diet consists of slugs, snails, caterpillars, insects and small invertebrates.  Leaving out a suitable food, such as Spike's Foods or Wildthings Hedgehog food, will help to encourage them to visit your garden; with their excellent sense of smell they can detect food at quite long distances. 

The traditional bread and milk is not a good idea as, although hedgehogs will tuck in and eat it, it can cause tummy upsets and diarrhoea. 

Hedgehogs enjoy peanuts but these should be fed crushed or as peanut granules (whole peanuts can lodge in the mouth and cause necrosis) and only in small amounts as large amounts over a period of time may cause brittle bone disease.  

Hedgehogs particularly need food and water in the autumn to build up their weight ready for hibernation and in the spring when they come out of hibernation and, also, during hot, dry spells in the summer when their natural prey is in short supply.

Poorly Hedgehogs

If you find a hedgehog out in daylight, it could be that he's in trouble – orphaned, injured, poisoned, ill, cold or starving, and needs help. Though if the weather is very hot and dry, he may just be thirsty and looking for water and Mother hedgehogs will sometimes leave the nest during the day to search for food.

If he does not curl up into a ball he is ill and, if he is laid on his side, it is serious and he needs help. 

However, please remember that hedgehogs are wild animals and easily stressed by contact; they should only be treated as sick if there are obvious signs of injury or distress. 

If you see lots of white blobs on a hedgehog, these are probably either ticks or maggots and require expert help, either from a Vet or your local hedgehog or wildlife rescue.  Please do not try to pull ticks off a hedgehog as the head can be left behind and lead to infection.

How you can help Hedgehogs

  • Leave out water and a suitable food, such as Spike's Foods or Wildthings Hedgehog food.
  • Leave part of your garden to go wild.  Hedges with natural undergrowth, wild flowers and log piles will all provide food and shelter for a variety of wildlife.
  • Whenever possible, use natural alternatives to pesticides and herbicides and garden as organically as possible; dead slugs and snails make an easy meal for a hedgehogs but may harm him if they were poisoned.
  • Be extra careful when strimming undergrowth as hedgehogs may be asleep in it.  Many are taken to recues and animal hospitals with horrific injuries caused by strimmers.
  • Ensure swimming pools and ponds have an easy exit so hedgehogs, and other animals, can climb out.  Many fall in looking for water in hot, dry weather then, unable to get out, swim until they're exhausted and drown.
  • Ensure all netting is left at least 4-5" above the ground; hedgehog spines easily become entangled.
  • Re-site all bonfires immediately prior to burning - they look like an ideal nest site to hedgehogs, many of whom are hurt or killed on Bonfire night.
  • Be careful when turning or moving compost heaps - again, they look like a good nest site to hedgehogs.
  • Ensure empty food containers are disposed of properly, ideally by recycling.  Hedgehogs will try to lick out the last scraps of food and can become stuck as their spines prevent them from backing out after their meal.  They will starve to death unless they are lucky enough to be rescued.

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Swans and Ducks

Facts and figures 
Members of the family Anatidae of the order Anseriformes
Natural Habitat - lakes, ponds, slow-flowing rivers, canals and estuaries
Natural Diet -
Swans - water plants and vegetation, insects, frogs, worms, snails and small fish
Ducks - shellfish, small crustaceans, insects, snails, grains, seeds and grasses, frogs and water plants.
Supplementary Foods: Wild Things Swan and Duck Food


A bit of background

Swans and Ducks are members of the family Anatidae. They are unusual among birds as they moult all their flight feathers at once, leaving them unable to fly until the new feathers grow through; most birds only lose one or two feathers at a time and can still fly during the moulting period.

Geese are also members of the family Anatidae, and share the same distinctive V-shaped flight pattern.  This is most noticeable in geese and swans but can also be seen to a lesser degree in ducks.

Swans

Males are called cobs, females pens and the young cygnets.

There are five species seen wild in this country – Black, Mute, Trumpeter, Whistling or Bewick and Whooper - and they are found mainly on freshwater lakes, slow-moving rivers and canals and river estuaries; swans are able to drink the salt water found here by filtering out the salt. 

Bewicks, Trumpeters and Whoopers are migratory; the Mute swan is probably the most commonly seen in Britain and is quite distinctive with its bright orange beak. 

Swans are amongst the largest birds, Mute swan males are about 10.5kg and the females about 9kg.  Swans have few natural predators in this country though foxes may take cygnets; pollution, discarded fishing lines and hooks and overhead power lines are some of the major hazards facing swans.

duckfoodYoung

Swans can breed at two years old but are normally three or four before they produce their first clutch. 

They mate for life though should one of them die, they may find a new mate. 

Swans are very territorial during the breeding season (April to May) and are at their most aggressive at this time.  They nest next to water, usually returning to the same site each year; Trumpeter swans may build a floating nest.  Swans, their nests and eggs are protected by law and it is illegal to interfere with them.  

Up to ten eggs are laid at 12-24 hour intervals and take 35-41 days to hatch, hatching out within 24 hours of each other.  The eggs are mainly incubated by the female though the male will do so for short periods to allow the female to feed and, should the female die, will take over incubation.  The female will take the cygnets to water at one day old and they will spend most of their growing period in water to allow their legs to grow strong enough to support their bodyweight.  The cygnets will start to fly at four to five months old and will lose their distinctive grey plumage in their first spring. 

Although swans will normally lay only one clutch a year, they may produce a second clutch should the first one be lost, or if they lose all their cygnets very young.

Feeding

Swans naturally eat water plants and vegetation, insects, frogs, worms, snails and small fish.  They have been known to eat potatoes left in the fields after harvest.  Although they will happily eat bread and, in small quantities, it is unlikely to do much harm, it provides very little nourishment and will fill them up thus preventing them from seeking out more suitable food.  Large quantities of bread have been linked to possible malnutrition and it is better to feed a suitable food such as Wildthings Swan & Duck food

Ducks

Males are known as drakes, females as ducks and the young as ducklings.

There are many species of ducks with a wide variation in size with the males usually slightly larger and more colourful than the females. 

They have very dense, waterproof top feathers with warm down underneath and webbed feet which make them very good swimmers.  Some species are migratory between their breeding grounds and winter feeding grounds. The Mallard is probably the commonest duck in this country and was first domesticated in China over 2000 years ago. 

Muscovy ducks are unusual in being able to roost in trees and are one of the best fliers.  They do not spend as much time in water as most ducks as their oil glands, which help to keep the feathers waterproof, are not as well developed as in other ducks.

Young

Ducks pair bond for one season, if at all, and build their nests on land, sometimes quite some distance from water.  They lay 10-14 eggs, which are incubated by the mother and take 24-28 days to hatch; though laid on different days they will all hatch on the same day.  The ducklings are taken straight to water after hatching by the mother and can swim immediately; they can fly at about 2 months old.

Feeding

Most ducks eat a wide variety of foods including shellfish, small crustaceans, insects, snails, grains, seeds and grasses, small frogs and water plants.  As with swans, they will readily eat bread but, again, it does not give them much of nutritional value and, because they are full, discourages them from finding better, more nourishing, food.  Feeding a more suitable food, such as Wildthings Swan & Duck food, will provide them with a better source of nutrition.

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Wildlife gardens

Creating a Wildlife Friendly Garden

Go organic – reduced use of pesticides and herbicides will encourage many more species to your garden.

Use peat substitutes (readily available from good garden centres) where possible – peat bogs support many different species of birds, plants and insects and are one of the most endangered habitats in Europe.

Having a pond is, perhaps, the best way to attract wildlife.  Many species live in water for all or part of the year and other animals and birds will come to drink.  Make sure any animals that might fall in are able to escape.  Plenty of plants in and around the pond will provide cover for visitors while a rock pile nearby will provide cover and a sunning area for frogs and newts. 

Compost heaps not only help to reduce the amount of waste going into landfill but also provide shelter and food for many insects and invertebrates, in turn attracting predator species.  Hedgehogs and other small mammals may also use compost heaps for shelter so be careful when turning or moving them.

Think about providing wildlife friendly plants.  Hedges and evergreens will provide shelter whilst nectar-rich and berry plants will provide food for insects and birds.

Specialist shelters are also available for bees and ladybirds. 

Having a variety of plants will attract different species of butterflies; the best known is probably buddleia but also consider nettles (perhaps planted in a container to stop them spreading), hops, including the golden hops, holly and ivies, thistles, which can be very decorative, lavender and some grasses.  Butterfly numbers seem to be in decline, along with many other species, so anything we can do to help them is well worthwhile.

If you have space, allow part of your garden to grow wild – undergrowth will provide shelter for small mammals, rotting logs will provide habitat for many insects and invertebrates, while nettles and wild flowers will attract butterflies and other insects.

Bird tables, nest boxes and baths will all encourage birds into your garden and specialist foods are now available to attract different species. 

Peanuts should be fed in a feeder that prevents birds carrying off whole nuts as these can cause choking in young birds.  Squirrel proof feeders will help to ensure the birds get their food.  With the decline in so many species of birds, it is now considered advisable to feed all the year round, particularly in the winter, during the breeding season and in hot, dry spells.  Make sure fresh water is available, both for drinking and bathing.

Providing a separate, suitable food for squirrels is believed to encourage them to leave your bird feeders alone.  Squirrel feeders are widely available as are squirrel foods.  Try to ensure that feeders are placed close to cover so that squirrels have an easy escape route from possible predators.

All feeders and bird baths should be thoroughly cleaned once a week using an appropriate, animal friendly disinfectant; nest boxes should be cleaned at the end of the breeding season.

Suitable habitat for bats is in decline so putting bat boxes up in suitable spots can help these enchanting creatures.

Burn bonfires on the day they are set up.  If this is not possible, they should be moved before burning.  Many small mammals will see a bonfire as an ideal nesting place; hedgehogs are particularly vulnerable on Bonfire night and in late autumn as they look for hibernation sites.

Although not directly connected to the garden, drive carefully, particularly at night – huge numbers of animals and birds are killed on the roads each year. Estimated numbers are:

  • 50,000 Badgers
  • 100,000 Hedgehogs
  • Up to 50 million birds
  • 20 – 40% of the breeding population of frogs and toads
  • Plus many foxes, squirrels, stoats and weasels, deer, voles and shrews and other species

In a Nutshell ...

  • Garden organically
  • Use peat substitutes
  • Build a pond
  • Grow wildlife friendly plants
  • Allow part of your garden to go wild
  • Build a compost heap
  • Provide nest boxes for birds, bats and hedgehogs
  • Provide supplementary foods such as the Wildthings range or Spike's Foods

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Wild Things Animal Feed
Wild Things Animal Feed
Wild Things Animal Feed