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Archive | Animals

Are backyard chickens right for you?


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.

Pest Control

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.

Local Farmers

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).

Rescue chickens

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:

are all great resources to start with. Happy farming!

Photo credit
Chicken trio, kimll (CC)
Boiled egg over cheese bread toast, Ames Lai (CC)
laying eggs, dolanh (CC)
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Guilt-free movie snacks: why demand sustainable palm oil?

chocciesWhy should we care about sustainable palm oil in the products we buy? WWF Australia’s Sustainable Palm Oil Manager, Darian McBain, guides us through the jungle of better palm oil.

On a recent cold and rainy Saturday, I decided that the time was ripe for a lazy family movie night at home. But there was an inventory problem. Movie? Check. Snacks? Nothing. And what’s a movie night without snacks?

When I was younger, we always had chocolate coated honeycomb as a movie treat. So for the first time in years I went searching for some. I couldn’t see the familiar violet packet from my childhood, but there was another similar product from an Australian company. Unfamiliar with the brand, I read the packet, and may have emitted a small shriek of excitement (only a tiny one).

This packet had, on the front, a logo with a palm frond and the statement that the product was helping to save orangutan habitat. I turned the package over and read a whole paragraph about sustainable palm oil, deforestation and why they use fully traceable, segregated, Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) in their products.

This kind of label is a rare thing in Australia. We ate the honeycomb. I showed the packet to my friends and even to my mother, who took the (now empty) packet home with her to read the label more thoroughly and verify that her daughter does indeed have a real job (I work for WWF Australia as the Sustainable Palm Oil Manager).

So why the excitement? What we often hear about palm oil tends to be all doom and gloom, and this makes companies loath to draw attention to palm oil in products (even if it’s sustainably produced). So it remains hidden, which reduces the ability for consumers to make informed choices.

palm oil1

The reality of the situation is more complex than simply ‘palm oil is bad’, so it’s great to see a company acknowledging this publicly. Palm oil is in all kinds of things, from chocolate and biscuits to cosmetics and cleaning products. Approximately 50% of  items on supermarket shelves contain palm oil. But you wouldn’t know it, because palm oil isn’t listed as an ingredient on product labels. Instead we see vague substances like ‘vegetable oil’ or ‘vegetable fat’, and over 100 other non-specific terms depending on how the palm oil is processed.

Why is palm oil in everything? It is a useful ingredient for manufacturers – it can do things like extend the shelf life of products or improve shape and texture. Not surprisingly, use is on the rise. Global production of palm oil has increased tenfold since 1980, driven by population growth, rising incomes and urbanisation. Conservative estimates see a further 50% growth by 2050.

Around 85% of global palm oil production comes from Indonesia and Malaysia, with the remainder coming mostly from Africa and South America. The expansion of the palm oil industry has contributed to unprecedented economic growth in Southeast Asia.


So where do the orangutans enter the picture? The palm oil industry has contributed significantly to deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia; continues to destroy the habitats of endangered species such as orangutans, elephants, rhinos and tigers; displaces local forest-dwelling communities; and to top it off, contributes to global warming.

That doesn’t sound so good. Does that mean if we didn’t buy products containing palm oil the orangutans would be safe? Unfortunately the impact may be worse, on both people and the environment. If we stop buying palm oil and lobby manufacturers to use other vegetable oils instead, more land is likely to be taken up growing these oils. Oil palms can produce up to ten times the yield of alternative vegetable oils, making them a highly efficient crop. If we need more land, that might actually lead to increased deforestation and species loss. If companies in Australia and elsewhere stop demanding sustainable palm oil, growers will have little incentive to care about how they produce their crop.

wwf palm oil

So what can you do? Demand that manufacturers switch to using 100% certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) in their products. CSPO is certified against the principles and criteria established by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), developed to provide safeguards against deforestation, habitat loss and social conflict. The RSPO brings together palm oil growers, processors, manufacturers, retailers, NGOs and investors to transform the way that palm oil is produced, traded and consumed globally.

The RSPO standards are not perfect, but they are improving the sustainability of the palm oil industry. In 2014 around 16% of the world’s palm oil production is certified sustainable. If palm oil isn’t labelled, how do you know if a product contains CSPO? You have to go back to the manufacturer and ask them what they are doing about palm oil.

sustainable palm oi solutions

To help consumers sift fact from fiction, WWF produces a biennial Palm Oil Scorecard, which benchmarks companies’ commitments and progress towards procuring sustainable palm oil. Check out the Australian Palm Oil Scorecard here which shows what commitments manufacturers and retailers in Australia have made to CSPO, and the different types of certification used. Zoos Victoria produces  Zoopermarket to help you send a personal message to the makers of your favourite brands to use only CSPO.

When it comes to palm oil, the power is in your hands. Demand CSPO from manufacturers and retailers, and ask that companies commit to zero deforestation. If growers follow the standards of the RSPO and buyers of palm oil support these growers by purchasing CSPO, then we can begin to halt the devastating loss of forests and tropical species associated with this popular vegetable oil.


 Image credit
Chocolates, Jerry Wong (CC)
Jukwa Village, oneVillage Initiative (CC)
Orangutan mom and baby, Tail Feather Photos (CC)
Cargill’s problems with palm oil, Rainforest Action Network (CC)
Palm oil infographics courtesy of the World Wildlife Fund
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Name games: When bad labelling gets in the way of good choices

When it comes to shouting at the supermarket, toddlers have the market cornered on audio impact. But in terms of mental overload, products themselves can give a tantrum in the confectionery aisle a run for its money.

Farm fresh!

Organic essences!

100% natural ingredients!!

As brands have come to recognise the desire of many consumers to lower the impacts of their purchases, eco-labelling has emerged as the loud speaker of choice in the battle for trolley real estate.

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The lowdown on leather (part 2)

Suede shoe close up

Part one of this two part series discussed the environmental concerns around the production of leather. The impact of leather does not end here though: both humans and animals alike suffer as a result of consumer demand for leather goods. Ruth Hatten discusses these impacts and suggests ways we can navigate the issues when next shopping for leather.

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Otter’s tips for the Easter Bunny. Phew, there’s a handful!

Green eggs , not Easter eggs

Green Eggs (Flickr/Normanack) Copyright. Creative Commons License.

Easter is around the corner. A trip down the now colourful foil-filled aisles of the supermarket is all we need to remind ourselves that this holiday is now upon us. But with all these delicious offerings at our fingertips, how can we pick the eggs and Easter buns that will satisfy our tastebuds and our values, without the hassle? We’ve brought together the advice from a handful of guides to good eggs – many of of which can be found at your local store. Continue Reading →

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Clean your house and your conscience! Part 1: Animal welfare

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 2.05.18 PM

 A few weeks ago, Lisa Edney gave her take on the why and how of cruelty-free beauty products. Now she tackles how to ensure you are cruelty free and pro animal while cleaning your home and lists a dozen cruelty free cleaning products she’s tried and tested.

We all know that housework isn’t fun – I love to rush through mine so I can get back to actually enjoying life! (Love to clean? Lucky you! You’re very welcome to come by my house).

With that in mind, many people just want to grab the products they’ve been told work (easy and fast!) and don’t give much thought past whether it will smash through that tough beetroot stain or make the toilet smell nice.

However, the convenience of cleaning can come at more than just the monetary cost of the products we buy. We know about cosmetic testing on animals because it’s been brought to light over the years, but you may not have imagined that washing-up liquids, furniture polish, air-freshener and bleach are often also tested on animal. Unfortunately they are. Continue Reading →

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What’s the beef?! Meat Free Week put meat ‘on the table’


Photo: Australian War Memorial Collection

Melissa Dixon from Meat Free Week speaks to Otter about the impact of meat on our health, the environment and animals, and how we can change our meat consumption habits.

Ok, let’s get this on the table. We’re going to talk about meat. No, not slow roasted pork belly, wagyu beef or red duck curry, but rather how much of it you eat and what it’s doing to your health, and the health of the planet and its animals. And here’s the thing, after you’ve read this, we’re hoping you’ll want to talk about meat too.   Continue Reading →

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Eat less, care more and feel good with Meat Free Week’s Melissa Dixon and Lainie Bracher

Melissa Dixon and Lainie Bracher, co-founders of Meat Free Week

Photo: Melissa Dixon (left) and Lainie Bracher, co-founders of Meat Free Week

This year Meat-Free Week is supported by Voiceless, Bowel Cancer Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation. Otter spoke with Melissa Dixon, co-founder of Meat Free Week, about the impacts of meat consumption on our health, the environment and animals, and her tips on reducing the amount of meat in our diets. Continue Reading →

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