Keeping Chickens – Types of Chickens, The Chicken Coop, Chicken Health and More.
I would like to introduce you to my three pet chickens, Gertie (white), Ethel (black) and Mildred (black and white who is sadly no longer with us). They are all heritage hens or pure breeds. Gertie is a White Sussex, Ethel is an Australorp and Mildred was a Plymouth Rock.
Ever since we moved into our house in May 2013 I wanted chooks. The yard is big enough and the suburb we live in is so country like in look and feel, it just felt right. I also thought it would be wonderful to have our own fresh eggs and a great opportunity for Elliott to learn about looking after them.
A friend of mine has 6 chickens and her chooks really inspired me to get my own. To sit next to my friends chicken run and hear them cluck cluck clucking away is the most relaxing sound, I just love it.
But like any other pet, you have to be prepared in terms of their housing and shelter, safety, food and so on.
We learnt about the safety thing the hard way, but I do blame myself. Our dog Billy couldn’t wait to get a taste of one of the chooks (as you can clearly see in the photo below) and one day when I put Billy out in the front yard thinking that the side gate to the back yard was closed, I was wrong. When I got up from my front office to check him, my stomach sunk when I saw the open gate and I knew what I would find out the back. RIP Mildred.
Since then, we’ve put in a fenced chicken run with a gate so the chooks and Billy can happily share the backyard.
There are so many people I’ve spoken to that are keen to get chooks and really, they’re a wonderful pet to have if you have the space. So, I thought I’d put together my top 10 list of things I think you should know about owning backyard chickens.
Purebred or Hybrid Hens
There are a number of differences between purebred chickens and hybrid chooks. The main things that stood out for me were that purebred chickens typically live longer and lay longer, an average of 5 years. Whereas Hybrid chooks don’t live near as long. I was actually told that once they stop laying at around 18 months to two years old, they have a bit of a meltdown and die. Quite sad actually. There’s a lot more to choose from with Purebred hens in terms of their features and personalities but you will always pay a lot more for the purebred hens.
At least 1.5m2 is required per chicken
This is the recommended space needed for chooks to be happy and healthy. I would also recommend contacting your local council about keeping poultry.
A chicken coop
Chicken coops come in all different shapes and sizes. You can buy them ready made, you can buy them flat packed like we did and put them together yourself or if you’re the handy type, you can build one yourself from scratch or using recycled materials. The most important thing is that the coop you build is secure and provides proper protection for the chooks while they sleep and in bad weather.
This is our chicken coop, it could happily house 4 chickens.
It’s not only dogs you have to be weary about but foxes, cats and snakes. It’s best to keep your coop away from bushes and in an open area, make sure their coop and where they sleep is properly secure and there are no gaps where snakes can make their way in. There are some really great solar powered gadgets on the market these days which you put into the ground and they send off high frequency sounds and vibrations into the ground to scare off snakes and toads. They’re quite inexpensive and great if you are concerned about this type of thing.
Lastly in terms of safety, make sure there is sufficient shade for the chickens, especially in hot months. Our coop is next to a large magnolia which gives off plenty of shade over the coop. There is also some other trees which they like to hide under, especially the bougainvillea.
A mixture of foods
Chickens need a varied diet. In addition to the commercially available laying mash, chickens should have access to greens, grain and grit. Our chooks seem to love the pak choy from my veggie garden as well as silverbeet, kale and spinach. We also feed them scraps including wholemeal bread, rolled oats, fruit and vegetables. I was also told that if their egg shells seemed to be a little soft, grind up their egg shells very finely and add to their food (egg shells must be very finely grinded).
It is important that you DO NOT feed chickens rhubarb, avocado, chocolate, onion, garlic, citrus or lawn clippings. Potatoes are also not very good for them.
Access to water at all times
This is super important, especially in warmer weather. Without water, chickens will die. Water should be replenished daily and not kept in the sun where it can go green.
Block off gardens and veggie gardens
If you love your gardens, flowers and vegetables, my recommendation would be to fence these off so the chickens can’t access them. If you don’t, the chickens will absolutely flatten them i.e. scratch and eat the plants.
I was never quite sure how many nesting boxes to have per number of hens and because my girls aren’t laying yet (they’re still a little young) but my friend told me (and I’ve read) that chickens often lay in the same box anyway.
At this stage we have two nesting boxes which was to be for 3 chickens. We will be getting another 2 chickens soon and so I believe two nesting boxes will be more than enough. From my research, it seems that the rule is around about 1 nesting box per four hens.
Natural alternatives to worming
Nasturtiums are growing wild at our house which is great because I feed it to the chickens. It’s not only a great food for them, but the peppery green leaves are also a natural worming food because they contain natural antibiotic and antiseptic.
Cleaning your coop
We use wood shavings in our coop instead of straw because it was recommended to me and I find it very easy to clean out the coop when needed. At this stage I have been cleaning out the coop every one and a half weeks with daily spot cleans where I scoop out the poo that they’ve done overnight and then I just turn the shavings with a hand spade.The great thing about our coop is it has a tray that can be pulled out to clean all of the droppings. It’s really important to keep the coop nice and clean so to stop mites and other nasties and so it smells clean.
I’ve been doing a little bit of research though, on how often you should clean your coop and I came across what is called the Deep Litter method of waste which seemed quite interesting and smart. However, it did make me a little nervous because it was emphasised that you had to do it exactly right for it not only to be effective but for it to be safe for the chickens and not pose a health hazard.
The Deep Litter method is whereby the shavings or straw isn’t removed but instead turned and layers added. The poo then breaks down with the straw or shaving matter to create both warmth and eventual compost which you can then throw on your garden. I’m not game enough to use this method yet just in case I do something wrong!
I hope some of this information helped you a little more in making your decision about getting chickens. Please be aware that this is just a guide and is what I have learnt as a chicken owner. I would highly recommend that you talk to a chicken breeder or similar professional if you have any questions about raising chickens.
Have you got backyard chickens or are you thinking about getting some?
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