Beginners Guide To Keeping Chickens
Why Keep Chickens?
- The best tasting nutritious eggs.
- Ethical farming and happy chickens.
- Environmentally sustainable.
- Garden maintenance and insect pest removal.
- Amazing pets with interesting and unique personalities.
- Leftovers recyclers.
- Compost producers.
- Low maintenance.
Are Chickens For Me?
A small amount of time each day
Allow for approximately 10 minutes or so a day to check on your chickens, collect eggs, top up feed etc
Can I keep chickens in my backyard?
Chickens don’t require a large amount of space. With the exception of apartment blocks, if you ensure you have an appropriate flock size(min 2 hens) and access to a run area or be allowed to range freely, you will be fine. That said, the more space for foraging the happier and healthier they will be. Also check with your local council for any specific restrictions such as maximum flock size or prohibition of roosters.
The cost factor
The most significant cost is the initial setup cost of the coop. These can be purchased for a few hundred dollars and we suggest you check out your local classifieds as free or bargain setups occur frequently. The cost of a hen typically ranges from $10-$50 depending on age and breed type and feeders and waterers are typically inexpensive or can be easily made oneself. Ongoing feed and maintenance expenditure should be more than offset by the value of delicious free range eggs.
Show Me The Chickens
How many chickens should I get?
Being social creatures, you need at least two and depending on coop/range size, three of four is a great number to start with. You can always scale up once you’ve learnt the ropes and depending on how many eggs you eat, can avoid a boom bust period of egg laying in the hens more vigorous early years.
What to buy, chicks or chooks?
A point of lay pullet(a young hen) is perfect for beginners as you will gain maximum laying span out of these hens and they are grown enough to be able to largely fend for themselves.
There are hundreds of varieties of chickens, but we suggest you look for excellent egg layers that are friendly, attractive and suited to an Australian backyard.
Chicken House – The Coop
A proper chicken coop will allow for happy healthy birds and will make your life as a keeper that much easier.
Predator proof: In Australia this means foxes, and you need protection from all four sides. The coop either needs a solid floor to prevent burrowing or wire mesh dug into the ground surrounding.
Weather protection: Chickens need to be dry and undercover at night and have shade options for sweltering days and adequate ventilation in the roosting area.
Roosting poles to sleep on: At least 30cm off the ground, allowing 30cm space per bird and approximately 40-50mm wide.
Nesting boxes: Somewhere for the chickens to lay in private. Recycled lawn mower catchers or timber boxes are fine.
Hen run: An enclosure attached to the coop, predator proof and the larger the better so your chickens will be happy when not let out to roam free.
An example of an off the shelf coop and hen run that would easily suit the average Australian backyard:
Gear You Need:
Feeder: Best suspended off the ground and automatically refills – the larger the better to minimise having to top up regularly.
Waterer/Drinker: Suspended off ground, filled with fresh water, shaded and automatically refills. We highly recommend either nipple or cup drinkers fed off large UV resistant bottles to minimise hassle.
Food: Buy a complete feed in pellet form which will prevent your hens from scratching grain onto the ground trying to find their favourite pieces. Food scraps are also great but definitely avoid mouldy food, avocado, green potatoes, chocolate and rhubarb. Chickens are omnivores and will also consume plenty of insects whilst ranging.
Bedding: Pine shavings are excellent and will help keep the ground dry, clean and minimise vermin. You can periodically add more to balance out the excess nitrogen and make excellent compost for the garden in the process.
Caring For Chickens:
Daily: Collect eggs, check feeder and waterer, open and close coop for daily range.
Monthly: Change or top up bedding if using deep litter method.
Bi-Annually: Thoroughly clean coop, feeders and waterers.
Should parasites or mites appear, they can be controlled by dusting the hens and coop with Pestene powder. Worms can be dealt with by using a preventative medication or the natural alternative of adding garlic to the waterer.
Gather eggs once a day and store in recycled cartons with the pointy end down.
Unless your eggs are particularly dirty, avoid washing as eggs are laid with a natural protective coating to keep bacteria out.
Enjoy your home produced eggs with some amazing recipes: http://www.seriouseats.com/tags/egg