06 May, 2020

Keeping backyard chickens

 

With self-sufficiency becoming the new norm, it’s no surprise that chickens are popping up in backyards everywhere. Keeping chickens has many benefits and done properly will reward you and your garden for years to come.

Taking the time to do your research and providing appropriate care gives your girls the best chance of living long, happy and healthy lives.

Be sure to check local regulations about keeping chickens before you get started, especially if you live in an urban area.

Why keep chickens?

  • Access to fresh eggs
  • Reduce food waste
  • Fertilise your garden with composted chook poo
  • They make fun household pets
  • They’re great company and can have a calming effect which is good for our mental health.

Choosing a breed

With so many varieties of chooks available, it is important to select the right breed for your purpose, depending on whether you’re wanting eggs, meat or pets. When choosing chickens for eggs, be aware that some varieties are more prolific layers than others.

Other factors to consider are the amount of space available, the proximity of neighbours and whether you have small children.

Popular backyard breeds

  • Lohmann Brown
  • ISA Brown
  • Black Australorp
  • White Leghorn
  • Rhode Island Red.

Fluffy bantams like Silkies are quieter breeds and ideal for families with smaller yards - they’re also super cute!

Chickens can be purchased from one day old all the way through to point of lay. If you’re keen to have fresh eggs quickly, it’s best to buy birds that are ready to lay.

How much space do you need?

Self-confessed chicken whisperer and Gardening Australia presenter, Jessamy Miller says that for backyard chickens, a good guide is half a metre per chook in the hen house and around a square metre for each chook in the chicken run.

However, local council guidelines may require additional considerations such as the distance a chook house must be located away from adjoining residences or property boundaries. For Sunshine Coast Council regulations, check out the Poultry, Birds and Livestock Fact Sheet on the Keeping animals and other birds page.

Choosing a chook house

There are many options for chook houses including commercially available shelters like movable chook tractors for smaller yards. You can also build one yourself (check out some of the videos online) or repurpose an old cubby house or shed.

Keep in mind that chickens like to perch at night so the chook house will need to include somewhere comfortable where they can be off the ground. Some other things to consider:

  • Ensure there is adequate protection from predators, especially snakes and foxes
  • Add ventilation to reduce heat in summer
  • Must be weatherproof and without draughts or leaks
  • Chickens like to lay in private so be sure that nesting boxes provide a comfortable, private space, preferable with low light (aim for one nesting box per 3-4 birds)
  • If keeping a large number of chickens or if you’re unlikely to be around at dusk, consider installing electronic doors which close once the birds have moved inside for the night.

Keeping backyard chickens healthy

Like any pet, care and attention is required to keep your chickens healthy and producing eggs.

They’ll need a varied diet that includes:

  • A balanced poultry mix as the main part of their diet so they get all the nutrients need for optimum health
  • Treats such as other seeds grains to supplement their diet and encourage foraging
  • A variety of fresh fruits and vegetables such as kitchen or garden scraps can supplement the poultry mix (according to the RSPCA, suitable options include vegetable peels, bananas, apples, berries, carrot, bok choy, silverbeet, spinach, cabbage and broccoli).
  • Shell grit to boost calcium levels, ensure eggshell strength and support digestion.

Avoid feeding chickens foods high in fat or salt as well as anything that is rancid or spoiled. “Specific types of food that hens should not be fed include raw potato, avocado, chocolate, onion, garlic, citrus, uncooked rice or uncooked beans.” - RSPCA

Your girls will also need constant access to fresh water and an area of sand or dirt where they can have a dust bath.

Tips for chicken care

Most chickens live around 5-8 years. They are creatures of habit so setting up a regular routine will help them live happy and healthy lives.

  • Ensure they are locked up at night
  • Collect eggs every day when they are laying (most chickens produce fewer eggs in the cooler months)
  • Clip wings regularly to ensure they don’t fly away
  • Prevent worms by implementing a regular worming routine, and treat any worm infestations promptly
  • Consult a vet if a chicken becomes injured, lethargic or shows signs of digestive distress such as diarrhoea, and to inspect the remaining hens if one of your chickens dies unexpectedly.
  • Regularly clean coops, nesting boxes and runs to prevent odour and flies breeding. Remove any uneaten food scraps.

Finally, in our warm Sunshine Coast climate, be sure to keep your chickens cool in summer by providing shade, plenty of fresh drinking water or even a light misting with water.

If you would like to dive a little deeper into keeping happy chickens, check out Morag Gamble’s Permaculture Masterclass: Permaculture Design for Happy Chickens and Eggs.

There’s also How to care for chickens from chicken whisperer Jessamy Miller by Gardening Australia.

If you have any tips on keeping backyard chickens that we should include this story, please send your ideas to theteam@livingsmartqld.com.au

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