ONE of the cheapest and most rewarding ways to raise chickens is from chicks, incubated in your own house. But while there are plenty of joys in this process, there are also many aspects to be wary of. What if the batch of eggs you hatch are mainly males – soon to become unwanted cockerels? And how do you prevent the high mortality that can accompany raising chicks?
Fertile chicken eggs hatch after 21 days of incubation. This can either be done the natural way – with a broody hen faithfully sitting on a clutch of eggs, keeping them warm and rotating them at least three times a day, for that time, or in an incubator at 39.4C. Depending on how serious you are as a breeder, you can purchase a sophisticated new incubator (capable of heating up 440 eggs at $1000) or a simple one that can process about 40 eggs for $100. There are obviously much cheaper ones available on the net. I’m assuming most people reading this blog would be quite happy with a simple secondhand incubator that you can buy for less than $50 on Gumtree or Ebay, or happy to take their chance with nature’s way and a broody.
I am interested in people’s stories of hatching and rearing your own chicks – it’s certainly a great education for children, and it can be an economic way to raise a flock and then to on-sell surplus stock to others.
There are many breeding operations who will post fertile eggs through the mail. You can buy a dozen of a particular breed, up to $100 depending on the breed, and the results can be very rewarding, especially if the majority of the surviving chicks are female. One of these operations that sell fertile eggs is Wallan Poultry Rare Breeds.
MANY of you who are reading this blog are trying to make a difference at home with your footprint on the environment. Some of you have water tanks, others have solar panels while many people are doing simple acts like improving home insulation and composting home food waste. Well, chooks can help complete the picture in the backyard. In fact, chooks are also champion composters. Since I got chooks about seven years ago I have had next to no food rubbish. With the exception of citrus and potato and some vegetable peel and coffee grounds, all kitchen scraps are decimated.
Chook-keeping is becoming trendy. Normally, I’m not interested in the latest fads but I don’t mind being on board this bandwagon. Maybe you’ve had a similar epiphany – well, you’re not alone. There’s a groundswell rejecting the multinationals who are dictating our food choices, and much of this movement is occurring in the suburbs. We seem to be returning to the ways of previous generations when keeping chooks was commonplace.
Keeping chickens in your backyard is more than a hobby, it’s a more sustainable way of life! I would also like to believe there is a repulsion towards the way we “manufacture” chicken meat for profit, and that people are reacting to the cruelty of the poultry industry. I was horrified when I learnt that the average hormone-boosted table chook lived only eight-ten weeks in a small cage, not once feeling the rays of the sun on their feathers. How did we get to the stage where we devalued other animal life so much? If you feel the same way, I encourage you to post a comment here.
IN my seven years of chook-keeping, I can truly say the best way to buy chooks is through a backyard breeder. They have passion, creditability and knowledge, and when purchasing a chook from them you’ll get peace of mind that you won’t end up with a dud!
What do I mean by a dud? Well, firstly, that you’re getting the correct breed and sex of chook that you’ve paid for, and that it’s disease-free and vaccinated and that it’s the age they tell you!
There are plenty of unscrupulous types out there who will happily take your hard-earned cash and give you a cockerel when you asked for a pullet, or off-load an old hen well past her used-by date when you wanted a point-of-lay pullet.
For those wanting to buy a quality pure breed chicken, there’s never been a better time to source a start-up flock and get great advice. This Saturday (July 5), a number of pure-breed poultry clubs are staging a show at the Melbourne Showgrounds.
Poultry used to be a part of the Royal Melbourne Show in September but the MasterChef Australia program kicked them out of their Melbourne Showgrounds pavilion. Instead they stage this show in July, to only a small crowd of enthusiasts, which is a shame.
This is where backyard breeders, poultry club stalwarts and chicken enthusiasts exhibit their prized hens and roosters. The Wyandotte, Langshan and Australorp clubs of Victoria are among several clubs who will be represented. I recommend you come and have a look and make contact with these exhibitors – many of whom are small scale breeders.
They may even be able to sell you chooks on the day. At the very least, they will take your number and contact you when they do have young chooks in stock. These breeders are a wealth of knowledge and most are only too happy to share some of their wisdom.
These breeders often specialise in only one breed and have a proven record of producing a strain of healthy layers: as a result, you can be confident you are getting the genuine product and not some half breed when buying from them. However, it does pay to question them about their operation and how they tell the sex their chicks and vaccinate their flock.
For more information on Saturday’s show visit the Poultry Stud Breeders and Exhibitors Victoria website: psbev.com.au
Iggy the chook is currently looking for a mate. She asked me to post this note on the blog after I sold some of her mates last week.
Iggy is not particularly fussy, although she’s not that keen on randy roosters: she’s used to the company of females.
Applicants don’t have to be too clean. Iggy herself admits she isn’t house trained and confesses to pooing and foraging everywhere.
In the past Iggy has lived with other hybrids and pure breds and so isn’t snobby! She gets on with most types despite her teenage years when she thought she was a queen bee and liked to boss others about. She’s mellowed with age!
So if you think you fit the bill, apply within via the blog.
IF you’re interested in keeping your own chooks and want more advice, you may want to purchase the winter edition of ReNew magazine which has a feature on the subject written by yours truly. And as a special deal for followers of chookchat.com.au, ReNew has set up a discount coupon of ‘backyardchickens’ which is available exclusively to my blog readers. It gives 15% off a ReNew subscription. The coupon code expires on 30 September 2014 and my readers can enter the coupon code at checkout when ordering a ReNew subscription on their shop at: http://shop.ata.org.au/shop/renew-subscription.
“WHERE do I buy a chook?” was the most common question fired at me at a backyard produce festival in Melbourne last month. And for those taking the plunge into starting a backyard flock, it is understandable why sourcing a chook can be a little mystery.
At my stall at the Darebin Homemade Food and Wine Festival, I recommended to most people to start with a couple of hybrids (crossbred hens) aged about 22 weeks old – this is called point-of-lay age. I gave this tip because hybrid varieties like Isa Browns are relatively easy to obtain, usually easily tamed and most importantly are prolific egg layers.
On the outskirts of Melbourne, hybrids are available from commercial hatcheries in Werribee, Doreen, Research and Coldstream. One of the best around Melbourne is Wagner’s Hatchery at 31 Killara Road in Coldstream (www.wagnerspoultry.com.au).
I have personally got great value out of their Isa Browns which are very prolific layers, friendly to handle and most have great personalities. All their stock are also vaccinated. Wagner’s offers chooks for sale at point of lay for $17 each and are open 8am-12midday Mon to Sat. This is the best age to buy a chook because they are ready to go and you have not wasted money feeding or time raising chicks to pullets.
If you want to pay less, hatcheries and poultry farms are also keen to ‘turnover’ older 16-month-old hens who are nearing the end of their most prolific egg-laying days. These hens will still be laying when you buy them, but may only continue producing eggs for a further 12 months, albeit at a reduced rate.
Some poultry farms also may offer ex-battery hens to the public, but please don’t pay more than $5 a bird. They will be very timid, have half their feathers and may find it difficult to walk at first. With a little tender loving care their condition will improve, however many do die and they also may not be worth keeping if they produce no eggs at all!
On the other hand, where to buy pure bred or heritage chooks is a little more challenging. It is not as straightforward as venturing down to your local pet shop. For a start, it is unlikely that a pet shop will sell chickens like Australorps, Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds and Faverolles. Poultry is sold at markets, but how can you be sure you’re buying a healthy chicken from a reputable supplier, and that you are actually getting a hen and not a cockerel?
Dealing with breeders direct is a better bet. They advertise chooks online (try Gumtree), through the magazine Australasian Poultry and the Weekly Times. Word of mouth is also one of the best ways to find a reputable breeder. Moreover, community animal farms like CERES in Brunswick and Edendale Farm in Eltham provide excellent leads on where to locate local breeders who sell chickens.
By the way, those who visited the Darebin Homemade Food and Wine Festival may have seen a Sussex buff hen and white Leghorn hen that I had on display. Both are about 28 weeks old and are for sale at $20 each, or $35 for the pair.
If you are interested, phone me on 0407 515 482
Thanks for all those chook lovers who stopped by for a chat at my stall at the Darebin homemade food and wine festival a week ago. I’m presently on a chook fact-finding mission overseas,and will personally make contact with you who left email addresses when I return in early June.
BUDGET getting you down? Worried how you’ll make ends meet?
Well, a couple of backyard chooks is a great way to arrest a rising household food budget and to feel good about yourself in the process.
Buy a pair of point-of-lay hens for about $17 each (see ‘chooks for sale’ on the menu on this blog site) and they’ll provide enough eggs for a family of four. Think of all the dishes, both sweet and savoury, you can make with eggs, and you’ll soon be over the Budget blues.
And think too about how you will be saving two chooks from a life of misery!
If you want to learn more about how easy it is to keep backyard chickens, come and visit me at the Darebin Homemade Food & Wine Festival tomorrow (May 17) between 1-4pm.
I have a stall there and will be displaying some of my chooks. The Festival is being staged at the Preston City Hall, 284 Gower Street, Preston (Melway ref. 18/G12)
I DON”T know if it’s the change of seasons, or the fact that my star chook is moulting, but suddenly I am not scoring any eggs from my flock.
There’s nothing more frustrating than putting all the effort into raising backyard chickens yet getting no immediate benefit for it.
It’s been about 3 weeks since I’ve had a single egg from my 5 chooks. Could it be that they’re not receiving enough protein? I’m feeding them pellets and kitchen scraps, yet they still seem very hungry.
Any tips out there in chook land?