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Keeping Chooks

Home > Sydney > Fun for Children | Food and Wine
Published September 24th 2010
Where would we be without the egg?

Omelettes, souffle and meringue would be a distant fantasy, youths would have to throw something else from moving vehicles, and we would also be without the chook, depending on what came first. In other words, the world would be a much poorer place. So in ode to the delicious, nutritious egg, why not set up your own little shrine to the rounded wonder in the form of a backyard chook pen?

A great way to teach kids how to nurture living things and to avoid the cage vs. free range debate at the supermarket, keeping chooks can be done successfully in a small backyard by following a few simple guidelines.

1. Environment
Providing a safe and humane environment for the birds is vital for their longevity and quality of life. You will need to keep them safe from predators, which in the 'burbs include dogs, snakes, foxes, and even birds of prey, while allowing them space to forage. A good way to get this balance right is to have an enclosed pen for ranging around during the day with a secure coop with perches for night-time. Be sure to place it somewhere dry, as wet chook pens are smelly and unsanitary chook pens, and at least a metre from a dividing fence, in line with local council regulations. See some DIY designs here, or buy a ready-made one at a produce shop or online.

2. How many and what for
Next you will need to decide if you want to raise your chooks from day-old or later, and how many birds you want. This depends on what you want your chooks for. If they're for kids or a more pet-like situation, you might like to raise them from cute, fluffy day-old chicks. This can result in a tamer bird that can even be trained, but you will be feeding something that doesn't produce any eggs for 18 weeks or more, and it's more fiddly, as you will need to keep them warm with a brood box and look after them more closely than adult birds. Also, the sex of day-olds isn't always clear, so it's possible you might end up with a rooster, which are prohibited in residential zones. On the alternative, if you're just doing it for the eggs, buying point of lay hens would be a better idea. The average laying hen lays about five or six eggs a week (younger, more reliable ones will pop one out every day without fail), so keep your egg-consumption needs in mind when deciding how many birds to get. Of course, you can always give away or sell the excess eggs. The number of birds you can keep depends on the size of your property, so make sure you check the local council regulations in relation to this.

3. Feeding
Feeding chooks is not difficult, as they will eat just about anything. Buy a base food for them, such as layer pellets or grain mix for their particular age group from produce shops, and be sure to always provide clean water. Chooks are great for getting rid of kitchen scraps, and they love the variety in their diets. Ensure that they have some shellgrit in their diets (most laying mix has this in it), as laying all those calcium-rich eggshells renders chooks prone to calcium deficiency.

4. Happiness
Keeping them happy is also not difficult, if you keep in mind that chooks have almost no defence mechanisms. Chooks love to range around, taking dust baths to get rid of mites and pecking at insects and anything green, so if you have a bit of backyard space, they will take care of any bugs for you, and their manure is fantastic fertiliser. Keep in mind that chooks are exceedingly trusting, adventurous, and friendly. A plump chook is a tasty meal for a predator, and even if the chooks can't get out, this doesn't meen predators can't get in. If you let them out of their pen, make sure your fences are sound, or keep an eye on them. Although chooks aren't generally the best fliers, clipping wings is a good idea if your chooks are particularly adventurous.

If you think it all sounds like a good idea but don't want to commit yourself too much, you might consider renting some chooks and a pen to see if chooks suit your situation.

If you follow a few rules, you will have eggs coming out of your ears and a rewarding pastime that is good for you and the birds.
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