How to grow How to: keep chickens

How to: keep chickens

 

Chickens are endearing and easy pets to keep. And they provide free nutritious fertiliser for your garden, eat your kitchen scraps and deliver delicious free-range eggs for years to come!

 

Why chooks?

Free, fresh free range eggs, the best you've ever tasted

The only environmentally sustainable pet for your backyard, turning wastes into food

They eat all your kitchen scraps, leftover take-away dinners, mouldy cheese and the contents of the 'land at the back of the fridge'

They remove weeds from your garden and turn your compost heap over for you

Kids love them (and they can be tamed)

The best eggs you've ever tasted (did I say that before?) up to 6 eggs per chook per week

 


Photo - Linda Ross

 

Pickin’ your chicken

If you are new to the game we suggest buying pullets, which are four-month-old chickens, which have just started laying. If you choose from a local hatchery you’ll be sure that your chickens are happy in your climate. A quick vet check and vaccination will ensure you have healthy chickens.

 

Housing

Hens need a safe clean dry sheltered place to roost each night and a scratch run for the day. Birds that roam will be happier and less likely to develop boredom-induced problems such as egg eating and pecking. Our A-frame coop (see below for our easy step-by-step guide) has one end for roosting and the other as an outdoor run and is an excellent option as it can be moved around your garden fertilising the lawn. Other options include a galvanised aviary with a wire run to one side. The floor of the roosting end of the coop should be covered in straw, which can be cleaned up and added to the compost when you move the coop, or put straight on to garden beds as mulch.

 


Chicken coop. Photo - Linda Ross

 

Feeding

Chicken pellets are available from your local produce store (we’ve been using Carlingford Produce Store for years). These will have a mix of grains. Kitchen scraps are important too; your chickens will love leftover lettuce, greens and vegetable peelings. Chickens love scratching around for insects and will delight in eating curl grubs, snails and slugs. They can either do this by designated time spent roaming around your garden or you can pick the insects up and feed it to them inside the coop.

 

Watering

Fresh water should be available at all times, especially in summer. Purpose-built water dispensers are handy. In fact we just use a bucket and keep it full.

 

Disease Prevention

We have never had a problem with disease; well-fed happy chickens living in clean conditions will not be susceptible to mites and parasites.If the coop gets very hot, mites can be a problem, so make sure you provide shade. A dusty area in which chickens can dust bathe, which chickens love, will also help avoid problems with mites. Adding three crushed cloves of garlic (for two chickens) into their grain every month will help prevent intestinal problems.

  

Choose a chook

These five chooks are among the best domestic chickens – great layers and great friends!

The Rhode Island Red lays about five eggs a week and has a docile temperament.

The Isa Brown will lay five eggs a week and are friendly, good in small areas and docile.

The Silky bantam lays three cream-coloured eggs a week and is docile.

The Sussex lays four brown eggs a week and is docile.

The Australorp lays five brown eggs a week and is shy.

 


Silky bantam. Photo - photolibrary.com

 

Check regulations

Check local regulations on keeping chickens with your council. There may be restrictions on how many you can keep, how close the coop is to the boundary fence or on keeping roosters (which you don’t need). Two or three chickens will be a happy group and keep you well fed.

 

Where to buy

NSW

Pat Schembri, Windsor Rd, Vineyard ph (02) 9627 1423

VIC

Pat Schembri, Windsor Rd, Vineyard ph (02) 9627 1423


How to: build a chicken coop

 

Build the base frame

Begin by making the 1500 x 900mm base frame. Construct an A-frame at both ends. The overall height is 900mm. Cut and screw a ridge board between the two end frames.

 

Add the rafters

Measure 800mm from one end and screw fix two additional rafters to the base frame and ridge with 50mm x 8g screws. Add trimming pieces to frame up a 400mm high and 300mm wide door at either end.

 

Lay the floor

Cut paling pieces for floorboards and fix into place with galvanised nails. You might need to cut the last board to size.

 


 

Erect the walls

Cut more palings to line between the rafters, leaving an opening, then line between the rafters. Keep the boards butted tightly against each other to prevent drafts. Make a door frame (as in step 5) and line with boards.

 

Make the door

Make a frame with screwed butt joints allowing 5mm clearance all the way around. Cut the chicken wire and fix with 12mm galvanised U-nails. Attach door with two butt hinges and secure with a small gate hook and eye screw.

 

Wrap the wire around

Attach the chicken wire to the front and wrap around the sides and bottom of the coop, ensuring there are no holes or protruding pieces. Attach the palings with 40 x 1.8mm galvanised nails.

 


 

Text: Linda Ross

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About this article

Author: Linda Ross

Garden Clinic TV