Chickens (or Chooks) have been a part of the Australian landscape since the arrival of the first fleet in 1788, bringing with them a total of 87 chooks as part of the establishment of the new colony. Today there is estimated to be 84 million birds in the country which doesn’t account for chickens kept domestically, so it’s fair to say they have been around for as long as there have been houses. In fact, its likely your parents, grandparents and even great grandparents kept chooks, and here’s why. The obvious one – Eggs It’s no secret that eggs come from chooks, but what you may not be aware of is the taste and colour difference between store bought eggs, and eggs from home, which results in eggs that taste far better and have a vibrant healthy colour to them. The reason for such a difference is simply their diet. Chickens raised for commercial eggs, have a diet that is also selected for commercial reasons, being fed a strictly controlled diet of mashed grain pellets, or even for those commercial chickens lucky enough to be able to “free range” their diet is limited to the small amount of grass and whatever they can scratch up, keeping in mind they are competing with hundreds or thousands of other chickens. When you raise chickens at home, you have the flexibility to feed them decent healthy seeds and grains, scratch mix and whatever else you may have around your house (including your kitchen scraps but more on this below).
Free Garbage Disposal Ok so we touched on this, but chooks being omnivores will eat almost anything, from the ends of the cucumber from that garden salad, to the broccoli and spinach your kids told you they finished but stashed under the table, or that crusty bread that was out for just a little too long. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that store bought chicken feed was hard to come by, and all chooks had to eat were the scraps from the kitchen, and whatever else they could scratch up from around the yard. As an added bonus, feeding chooks kitchen scraps will keep them from landfill, which will save an estimated 1.9kg CO2 for every kg of kitchen waste. Tip: adding crushed egg shells back into the scraps will give back valuable calcium to your hens which they need for egg production and help keep them healthy. (Note: Chooks can eat a lot of different foods, but there are definitely some foods to avoid. If you are considering keeping chooks you should take a look at what not to feed them)
Natures Pest Controllers So we said that chooks will eat almost anything, and we really mean it. From slugs and snails, to cockroaches, spiders, worms, grubs and all critters in between your chooks will scour whatever space they have from top to bottom in search of an easy snack. It has even been reported that chooks will eat mice (We have actually witnessed this first hand!) With such a varied appetite, you will reap the rewards of letting your chooks roam your yard as they will clean out all of the unwanted critters in hiding places you never knew existed. We have even heard of backyards that were once infested with red back spiders, becoming completely free after just a few short sessions of letting chooks free, potentially saving you hundreds on a pest controller, and totally avoiding harmful chemicals being sprayed around your home.
Free Fertiliser When it comes to fertiliser, manure is one of the best additions you can add to your garden as it adds humus to the soil helping to retain moisture and reflects the nutrient balance that plants need. Whats more, when comparing manure from cows, horses, chooks and other animals, chook manure often has the highest nutrient content largely due to their diet and if fed a high calcium diet for good egg shell formation, their manure may have a “clay breaking” effect on the soil. Chook manure also has a higher nitrogen level making it the ideal fertiliser for green leafy plants and vegetables. Just be sure to dig your manure into the soil to prevent the nitrogen from escaping as ammonia gas.
Garden Maintenance Do you often find that weeding, digging and preparing new garden beds is a bit of a chore? Then why not practice a little bit of lazy gardening and let your latest garden helpers do the work. Not only will you have your work done for you, but your chooks will thank you for the opportunity to go nuts digging, scratching, pecking anything that grows, moves, digs or otherwise inhabits your garden bed. Simply set up a temporary fence around your garden bed (and consider some sort of temporary roof too if you have predators around, or your chooks are likely to escape), add your chooks for the day (don’t forget to give them water) and let the chooks do the rest, including adding fertiliser to the soil. Repeat as necessary.
The rules regarding keeping suburban chooks are not very onerous, and are governed by your local council. In general chooks need to be kept clean, odour free and not be causing a nuisance. Roosters are usually not permitted, and the coop must be of an adequate size to house the number of chooks kept, and be a minimum of 4.5m from your house. More specific advice can be sought from your local council, however most of them will not have any issues unless they get a complaint.
We hope you enjoy your new feathered friends, and discover (as we have) that each bird has their own unique personality which makes watching them go about their everyday business that much more entertaining.