Seriously though if you have health concerns about eggs and cholesterol it’s probably worth looking at the work of Chris Masterjohn who is currently pursuing a PhD in Nutritional Sciences with a focus on Biochemical and Molecular nutrition. He has an interesting story of his own which rattles some of our mainstream understandings about saturated fats, cholesterol and their link with heart disease. He’s published several peer reviewed articles, is widely read and a great researcher, which is great because cholesterol is such a complex area – just look at its molecular structure!
Another positive is the manure by-product which chickens leave behind. When composted with straw or wood shavings this becomes a highly fertile addition to your soil.
Chickens are also a great garbage disposal units. While they can’t thrive on kitchen leftovers alone, it does help to keep their diet varied and things we don’t eat such as outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage will highly valued by your new feathered friends.
Pets! Yes chickens can be great companions in the garden. It’s not always recognised but animals that have evolved to provide for humans (chickens are descendants of guinea fowl) have a need for human interaction. My chooks have a whining cluck when they’re being ignored but spend a little more time with them and they set about scratching and dust bathing very happily. I’m not sure whether it’s the security of having humans around but chooks love busy backyards and will get into less mischief when involved with their two legged companions. Here’s an example of hens that decided that life outside their enclosure was more interesting…
Negatives? Well you’ll have a food bill. Of course this can be offset by getting your own eggs, and manure.
Chooks need to be looked after, so if you regularly go away for more than a few days at a time then you’ll need a chook-sitter. Fortunately they’re pretty low maintenance so often the appeal of free eggs and friendly feathered faces is enough to get them looked after.
Housing chickens will also cost more than say a dog kennel and if you live in an area where foxes frequent you’ll need to make sure it’s fully enclosed with an additional barrier buried around the base of your yard as foxes are capable excavators.
What to feed them
You can buy a complete ‘layer’ type pellet but I tend to go for mixed grains and dilute it with some wheat from a local farm. The mix grains I buy come with ‘shell grit’ which ensures your eggs will have solid shells. Unfortunately having all that premium grain available in an open feeder attracts all the local birds so think about using a foot operated feeder. You will also notice your birds craving green feed such as grass or leafy vegetables – this is important as it helps to develop those desirable fatty acids I mentioned earlier. Below you’ll see I’ve grown some green feed, even chooks like takeaway!
Avoid giving them eggshells and raw chicken.
Chooks also need fresh, cool water available all the time – especially in hot weather where it may need to be refreshed a few times a day.
Too big a subject for this post, but I’d encourage you to get in contact with local breeders rather than buying cheap ex-free range layers such as Isa Browns. While Isa Browns are good layers they tend to live shorter lives and are prone to complications as they really are egg producing machines, the poor girls. Poultry breeders operate for the love of chooks and will help you to pick a breed suitable for your tastes (poor choice of words) and needs. This girl is a Hy-Line Brown, but she thinks she’s the Lone (free) Ranger.
When talking to people around the traps they’re often surprised to hear that the City of Greater Geelong allows you to have up to 12 hens and 1 rooster in a backyard. Surf Coast Shire allow for 10 birds in total while the Borough of Queenscliffe is a little more involved – best you call the council direct. The main issue councils worry about is annoyed neighbours, so maybe give the rooster a miss until you’ve won next door over with a few dozen eggs. Your local municipality may also have specific requirements around types of houses and flooring – I’m a big fan of ‘deep litter’ systems where around 30cm of wood shavings or straw is used and replaced when necessary.
Point of lay birds are usually available around Spring, so now is the time for planning and constructing your very own chicken run!