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Keeping Backyard Chickens
Monday March 19, 2012
Ten years ago you wouldn’t find too many chicken’s in the ‘burbs’, but now as I go walking around my neighborhood there seems to be chickens running about backyards everywhere.
There are many reasons chooks are making a comeback into urban backyards, and number 1 would have to be to save money. If your family goes through a carton or two of eggs each week for cooking and baking, then just on eggs alone you could be spending up to $600 a year.
There are also plenty of other reasons why people are taking to chickens, such as: wanting to lead a simplier lifestyle with growing their own veggies and having a few chooks; the health benefits of feeding your family fresh, organic, and free range eggs – the yolks are soo yellow, and the eggs taste delicious! And because they make wonderful pets for children, teaching them not only responsibility, but where their food comes from.
Aside from the eggs, the other great thing that chickens provide you with is one of the best manures you can find for both your plant and vegetable gardens. And they will also keep pests like fruit fly and lawn grub under control.
All in all chickens make wonderful, funny, and very helpful pets to have! If getting chickens is something you have been thinking about for a while, then here are a few tips to get you started, and to keep your chooks healthy and happy:
Councils can have regulations about how many chickens you are allowed to keep, and most councils will not allow roosters due to potential noise complaints. Best to give your local council a call first and enquire about any council requirements or restrictions.
Chickens need a lockable secure pen that rats and other animals cannot get into at night. If you will be keeping your chickens in a pen only, then make sure to select/ build a pen that is big enough so that they can move around comfortably. What a lot of people do is keep their chickens in a good sized pen during the day and let them out in the evenings to wander about the yard. Chickens will always take themselves back into their pen at night where they are used to sleeping without you having to worry about rounding them up. Just make sure to lock the pen up once they are all in. Also chickens like sun and shade, so a pen that gives both options (i.e. half covered, half open roof) is ideal.
Chickens need to have a nesting box where they can lay their eggs, and will generally always nest in the same spot once established. Ensure the nest is comfortable, fairly dark, and secluded from the rest of the hen house. You can pick up fake eggs to put in the nesting boxes which will encourage them to nest.
Chickens like to be high up off the ground, so they will need some sort of perch where they can fly up on at night to sleep. It can be as simple as placing a broom handle through the chicken wire.
Make sure to always have fresh water available. Best to keep the dish in a shady area, and if you can avoid metal containers as they heat up. If you use a water dish you might want to place a heavy rock in the dish as chickens have a habit of kicking bowls over. The other thing you can look at is hanging self waterering containers.
Along with any chicken foods and grains you might buy at the product store, chicken will also love your table scraps, and garden weeds like thistles. If you ask nicely, a lot of independent grocers will also happily give you any scraps they have like outer lettuce leaves and imperfect fruit and veg that is destined for the trash otherwise.
Avoid encouraging mice, rats, birds, and other animals into your yard by storing any chicken foods and grains in secure containers or metal bins that cannot be opened or chewed through by other animals.
Chickens need dust baths, and this is their natural defense against lice. Chickens will cover themselves in dust which will suffocate and kill any lice. It doesn’t need to be special soil, in fact from personal experience they didn’t like the ‘specially’ bought beachy sand I bought them that I thought would be perfect, preferring just the normal garden soil. If you don’t have any bare bits of dirt, make a little area by digging it up with a shovel, and the chickens will take care of the rest by scratching around in it until it is all broken up and they can bath in it.
Chickens are omnivores, this means they eat both vegetables and meat. In the wild, chickens eat grain, seeds, fruit, other vegetation, and insects, they often scratch at the soil to search for seeds and insects. If you are just feeding them table scraps and grains you might need to look into buying some ‘meat meal’ from a produce store, or I have also heard a lot of people giving their chickens raw meat, or diced up beef hearts. The other thing you can do is learn to breed worms in a worm farm, which chickens absolutely love. They are very easy to breed and live off your food scraps too. Of course you can always just dig around your garden and backyard and your chickens will be on hand to jump all over your shovel looking for any worms you dig up. Whatever source of protein you choose is completely up to you, as long as your chickens receive adequate protein to keep them healthy and laying.
Chickens have no teeth, so part of their stomach is used to grind up their food. This is why it is important to have some form of grit to help chickens to digest their food. You can buy grit inexpensively from produce stores and then simply sprinkle a bit over their food each day. I have also heard of people picking up small crushed stones and shells from the beach and crushing them further if required to use as grit.
Lastly, if you do decide to get chickens, please consider adopting ex-battery hens. There are many organisations that you can find online that are always looking for new and loving homes to adopt some very beautiful and grateful chickens.
Some interesting chicken facts:
- Chickens are thought to be the closest relative to the dinosaur
- Chickens were originally jungle dwellers
- Chickens can live up to 20 years
- The average hen lays 265 table eggs each year
- There are more chickens on earth than there are people - over three billion in china alone
- Chickens have more bones in their necks than giraffes
- Chickens are very social animals, they will fight to protect their family and will mourn when a loved one is lost
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