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How to Keep Chickens in Your Backyard

Home > Sydney > Outdoor | Environment | Gardening
by glenop (subscribe)
So much to see...so little time to see it all.
Published August 5th 2012
The pet that keeps on giving eggs
ISA Browns are egg laying 'machines' and easy to keep


In a parallel universe where Glenop is king, I would make it compulsory for all new houses to have a vegetable garden, solar heating panels, water tanks and chickens. Yep, chickens. (Well unless you're a vegan, I'm sure we can come to some arrangement) It just makes sense to me that even city slickers like us should be as self-sufficient as we can be.

Keeping chickens is one of the simplest and cheapest ways we can be more self-sustaining city dwellers and contribute to the 'integrated farming environment' one of the core principles of permiculture. You'll also know the origin of your eggs and how 'organic' they are.

I can't think of a more useful pet than a chicken. (Well unless some mad scientist crosses a dog with a chicken and we get an egg laying non barking dog). Apart from providing more eggs than the average person can eat, they will rid your backyard of insects and snails, keep your grass and weeds down, turn over your soil and supply you the best fertilizer possible for your vegetable patch. You can hold them, pat them, stroke them and even take them for a walk.

Hen Pen-House


So can the average city backyard have chooks? Absolutely! I have been keeping two chickens in my smaller than average backyard for the past three years. As you can see in the above photo of my own wonky home made hen house, you don't need a lot of room to keep a few chooks. Approximately one square metre per bird is all you need.

Here are a few basic tips to help you prepare, house, select stock, feed and maintain a two to three chicken 'flock'.

Preparation

You probably should start by checking with your local council about any restrictions. These regulations however tend to refer to the numbers of birds you can keep, the keeping of a rooster (which you don't need anyway) and the distance you should keep a coop from a neighbour's fence. Many councils have information sheets and even workshops to assist the novice chicken owner.

How many birds do I need?

You should have a minimum of two hens (they are social creatures and like a bit of company) but it will largely depend on how many eggs you can cope with and how big a coop you can fit in your yard. Factor in up to six eggs per healthy producing bird per week. Your hen's egg production may slow down during winter, when they're sick and as they age. They'll stop laying all together when they moult.

Luxury fittings include, carpet of wood shavings, feeder, sand bath, laying box and perch


What kind of Hen House?

If you have the room and money, a 'chicken tractor' or portable coop is a good way of housing your chooks and moving them around your yard. There are less mobile chicken palaces available or you can build your own. Recycling one of those multi coloured kid's cubby houses can make a good basis for a chicken coop.

No matter which way you go, you should have part of it roofed to protect your precious hens from the elements. In summer, make sure your hen's house has some shade. You will need to decorate your hen house with the following fittings:

Wood shavings for the floor of the coop and the 'run' (the outdoor area),
Self waterers and feeders are handy, especially if you are going away for a few days,
A nesting box to lay eggs with a bed of shavings (you only need one),
A perch for roosting at night (chickens instinctively prefer to roost off the ground.)
Have an area that is just dry dirt or sand as they do enjoy a good dust bath.

When they're not eating and laying eggs, my chooks C1 and C2 love sun baking


What breed of chicken do I want and where can I get them?

You gotta ask yourself two questions;

1. Do I want a chicken that lays lots of eggs and is tame and docile?

2. Do I want something fancy that lays less eggs and a bit more 'flighty'?

I've tried both personally and I can't go past the reliable ISA Brown. The ISA Brown is a egg laying machine. They are a medium size bird and as tame and docile as can be. The downside of keeping ISA's is that their egg laying life is not long lasting; two to three years although mine are still pumping them out. I suggest you do some googling to see what your options are.

You can rent the backyard chicken experience if you're not confident that the keeping chickens thing is for you. Check out Rentachook. You can check out posts on Gumtree for chickens for sale or head out to places like Barter and Sons and pick them up yourself.

What do chickens eat?

Egg laying machines need quality layer pellets, but chickens are very instinctive creatures and they know what they like and what they need. They will go crazy over some of your left overs such as meat (but make sure it's in bite size pieces as chickens aren't good with a knife and fork) cheeses, bread, pasta, rice and fruit (but not citrus). They love their greens (not herbs) and some vegetables (but won't touch potatoes or onions.)

Chook Maintenance

Your chooks are not likely to take up too much of your time unless you like looking at chickens all day. What you will need to do is:

The area under where your chooks perch for the night will accumulate a lot of poo pretty quickly. You'll need to remove this regularly and use as fertilizer (allow to dry first) or throw it on your compost heap. Try and do this daily in summer unless you like flies and the accompanying smell.

Keep the floor of your pen dry with shavings and change it once a week (throw your old spent chicken poo laden shavings in your compost pile).

Collect your eggs daily if you can

Check they have sufficient water and food. Do not let your chooks run out of water.

Take them for regular walks. You will need to supervise them if you have any treasured plants. Like badly behaved children, as soon as your back is turned, they will head to your most precious plant and either eat it or dig it up or just make a mess by scratching and digging for worms and bugs in your soil.

Inspect the skin under their feathers now and then to see if they haven't picked up any fleas, ticks or any other nasties.

Glenop's Big Tips

Buy your pellets in a 10 or 20 kg bag. You can also buy wood shavings in large tightly packed bags. It is much more economical and you'll only need to visit your produce store or Petbarn every 4-6 months.

Rain will turn the bottom of any open hen house into smelly sludge and you'll need to clean it out pronto. I use a large piece of clear plastic as a 'raincoat' (like what they use to wrap around new mattresses or lounge suites). You can throw it over the coop if rain is predicted and you can keep it on for days as it will let in the light.

A container for scraps placed outside the coop will help keep the floor of your hen house cleaner for longer.

Crunch up the used egg shells and feed them back to your chooks as 'grit'. This will assist in strengthening their shells.

Unlike children, what you don't need to worry about is getting your chooks up in the morning and putting them to bed at night. Despite the small brain that resides inside their tiny heads, they will work that out all by themselves.

Even though it is not yet mandatory to keep chickens, it makes sense on many levels. Cheaper to buy and maintain than a dog or a cat and helluva lot more useful!

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Why? Because keeping an egg laying pet is easy
Your Comment
Great article!
I raise chickens for eggs and I get fresh eggs everyday. It's so fun to raise them since they get rid of insects and snails in my yard but what I like most is when they are doing their sand bath.
by 19jor (score: 0|8) 2080 days ago
A great article. It made me smile the whole time when I was reading it.
by Wendy (score: 2|882) 2848 days ago
Excellent advice Glenop. I sometimes 'chicken sit' my neighbour's chickens when she goes away and have found her hens to be such delightful characters.
by Rita Price (score: 2|230) 2814 days ago
I've been looking around my area (North of Sydney) without success to find some of the more 'exotic' types of chicken. Where should I look? Gumtree seems to have few chickens other than your basic 'brown' and whilst they *are* useful (we have two) I'd like some other varieties as well... e.g. a nice big Brahma chicken or two!! :)
by welsh (score: 0|4) 2538 days ago
Cheers Wendy!
by glenop (score: 2|823) 2848 days ago
Informative and intimate :-)
by Heidi McElnea (score: 1|34) 2845 days ago
The first picture is appalling, those Isa browns have poor feathers and have been de-beaked
by gemma (score: 0|2) 2587 days ago
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