By Grace Boglev
If you have a yard and don’t mind a little extra pet care, it’s worth looking into keeping some backyard chickens. Hens are relatively simple and cheap care for, plus they have a range of lifestyle and environmental benefits.
Before you decide to keep chickens, keep in mind that they require consistent attention. Some animal shelters have seen a huge rise in numbers of abandoned chickens from would-be backyard farmers motivated by novelty rather than considered planning. Like all pets, they’re an investment, so make sure you have the time and inclination to give them the lives they deserve.
Eggs are fantastic. A great source of complete protein plus many essential vitamins and minerals, they’re incredibly versatile and an under-appreciated star of the average fridge. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to navigate the ethical concerns that come with the humble egg. As consumers, we can make the choice not to support factory farming, but even navigating the labelling on eggs to avoid cage eggs can be complicated.
One way to know for sure that your eggs come from a safe, caring environment is to raise the hens yourself – it’s not as hard as you might think, and can be very rewarding. Most chooks can be expected to produce around 4 eggs per week, which can really add up if you’ve got a small flock!
Food Waste, Compost and Fertiliser
Chickens will gladly gobble up scraps from your kitchen – vegetable peelings, old bread and leftovers are all fine feed for a chook. Plus, your chook can take this food waste and quickly turn it into fertiliser for your garden – a double win for you.
Chickens will go out of their way to snarf up slugs, snails and other pests in your garden. As long as you keep an eye on them so they don’t damage your plants, they’re a totally natural and highly effective insecticide.
Before You Start
Be sure to contact your local council about keeping chickens – different councils have different regulations concerning how many chickens you’re allowed to keep and the type of housing you must provide them. It’s also possible that you won’t be able to keep a rooster – while chickens are relatively quiet, roosters aren’t!
You can get chickens from a number of sources. The best place for you depends on why you want to keep chickens.
Buying your chickens from local farmers means that you can meet the people who raised your birds, as well as supporting a local business. This will also allow you to choose which type of hens you want – pets, egg layers, for meat or for eggs and meat. Consider looking for stalls selling eggs and hens at your local farmers’ markets. Otherwise, Humane Choice has put together a list of certified farms (though not all farms listed will sell hens, it’s a good way to find local farmers).
If you want to re-home a chicken that has been rescued from a factory farm, there are a number of organisations that can assist you. Animals Australia have listed some adoption organisations in New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania that they approve of. NSW Hen Rescue also have some useful information on how to care for rescue chickens and if they are suitable for you. Most rescue hens are unreliable layers, so if eggs are what you’re after, consider buying a small flock and adding a rescue chicken or two as well.
What You’ll Need
First, you’ll want a reasonably sized yard. Some councils will have regulations about the distance the coop and run must be from the fence.
The coop itself should be secure and warm, protected from the elements and including a nesting box and perch. You’ll also need an enclosed mesh run to protect your chooks from predators. Various state animal welfare legislation says that they must be provided with appropriate food, water and protection, so make sure your coop is of a standard that meets local requirements and your birds have everything they need to flourish and be happy.
Many suppliers of hens will also provide you with a coop, but you can also build one yourself. This set of instructions from Readers Digest Australia tells you how to build a small A-frame chicken coop cheaply, but there are many other sets of instructions available online depending on the size and style of coop you want to build.
Want To Know More?
There’s lots of information available online for raising chickens:
- this flyer from Western Australia’s Department of Agriculture & Food
- this information from Sydney City Council’s Green Villages
- and this FAQ from Suburban Farmer
are all great resources to start with. Happy farming!