IN my seven years as a backyard chook owner I have never seen such healthy and happy chooks! On Sunday, I had the pleasure of visiting Hillside Poultry in Arthurs Creek, just out of Hurstbridge in outer Melbourne. Passionate chook owner Lisal runs a sophisticated, clean medium-scale poultry-keeping operation, specialising in Australorps, Booted Belgium bantams and Araucanas. The different breeds are separated in 10 large pens on a hill side with well-built chook houses and strong fencing. A neighbour collects the chicken manure weekly, which partly explains why the setup is so clean. I was so impressed after buying a pretty blue Australorp pullet that I had to post this testimonial. Lisal sells healthy, pure-bred, unstressed chooks at a reasonable price, and gives great service and advice. She sources her breeds as far away as Queensland. This is first time I’ve ever given someone such a plug. She takes orders, and likes to sell her chooks either at 15 weeks old or point of lay, about 22 weeks. Lisal sells 15-week Australorps for $25 and $40 at POL. Belgiums are slightly cheaper.
IT’S early spring down here in Australia and it is around this time when egg production will be at its most abundant.
The weather is warming up and the earlier break of dawn and longer daylight hours are sending a signal to your hens’ pituitary gland which in turn stimulates her ovaries to get busy.
Chooks – especially those in their first season of laying – could be producing as much as one egg a day. Additionally, you may find that some of your poor layers are “back on the job”.
Quite possibly, you could have a surplus of eggs at this time. I encourage you to share the bounty, either giving them away to family and friends or selling them for a small price to neighbours or work colleagues. I know people at work who do this, and normally charge about $5 a dozen. A bargain for fresh, mostly organic eggs. Most eggs bought in supermarkets can be up to 45 days’ old.
However, backyard chook eggs are golden delights – and will make connoisseurs sit up and take notice. Eggs laid by backyard chickens are the creme de la creme. The yolks are golden bright yellow, not runny and the whites are clear.
Allowed to forage in the garden, these chickens normally have access to grass, weeds, bugs, grit and are normally fed commercial pellet feed and kitchen scraps to round out a balanced diet.
INTRODUCTION TO BACKYARD CHICKENS
Saturday 20 September
Time: 11am – 1pm
Cost: $15, morning tea provided
Address: 24 Birch St, Preston
A practical, hands-on two-hour workshop on all you need to start up a backyard flock of chooks. The workshop will cover areas such as:
- managing chooks and protecting your garden
- composting and chooks
- breeds to buy
- welfare: how to keep your birds healthy
- fox-proofing your chicken coup
- best places to buy chooks
To book your place for the workshop, contact me directly either on 0407 515 482 or firstname.lastname@example.org
YOUR beloved chooks are more likely to die from fox attack than any illness, especially in the suburbs where there is no bounty on these predators. Be warned, early spring is a time when they are on the prowl.
Here is a story that illustrates the cunning and power of a fox. I was keeping a two-month-old buff pekin pullet in a big cage undercover on my back veranda, near my backdoor and separate from my small backyard flock. The cage is used as a dog transport cage and sometimes requires two people to lift it.
So you can imagine my dismay and surprise when I awoke this morning to find the cage upturned about 5 metres from where I left it last night.
The pullet, which was going to be a surprise gift for my son on his return from Bali next week, was dead and the cage a mangled mess.
Even inside a cage your chooks aren’t safe.
My anger is directed not just at the fox – that’s a natural instinct – but local suburban councils who do nothing about the record numbers of foxes about. What do we pay council rates for, if we cannot keep our pets safe?
In the country they bait and catch foxes and offer a bounty for their scalp. In the city, a fox’s only threat is a car bumper bar!
Anecdotally, I have heard about many chook owners who have lost birds in Preston and Northcote recent weeks.
A little boy will be very disappointed next week. And I feel sorry for the cute little pekin who didn’t stand a chance!
UP until now, it’s been a ladies show; but the arrival of a male on the scene has really thrown a spanner in the works! A young upstart rooster has really changed Iggy’s world.
It’s a bit like those stay-at-home Dads who infiltrate the world of mothers’ groups: it puts everyone on edge. And, all of a sudden, the females cannot really relax. So too with my backyard flock.
It all started this week when I acquired the services of a bantam buff Pekin rooster as part of a package deal: if I didn’t take the rooster well I didn’t get the pullet Pekin for free. The arrival of the rooster has upset the pecking order!
My top hen, “Iggy”, used to be able to lay her eggs in peace in the comfy surrounds of the chook house. Now, she has a rooster to contend with – he follows her everwhere, and now even stares her down as she lays her eggs. Imagine that! It would be like having somebody accompany you to the tiolet as you did your business. I would find it unnerving.
I’ve never had a rooster before, and truly I think this guy is on borrowed time. Like most roosters, he’s got attitude and thinks he’s pretty hot. I will give him that – he’s a good looker! But he’s too noisy for suburban sedate West Preston.
My neighbours are pretty forgiving, but we can really do without the cockadoodledoo at dawn. So my buffed-up rooster is definitely up for grabs!
I’ve learnt very quickly that when it comes to my backyard, I really do prefer the company of females.
WITH some overnight temperatures in Victoria dipping below -5C spare a thought for your animals outside and in particular your chooks on those cold, wet and windy nights.
Chooks’ feathers are a very efficient insulating system but draughts can cut right through them, and can eventually lead to illness and a drop in egg production. Cold draughts force the birds to use up their calories on keeping warm rather laying eggs if the hen house is poorly designed.
Also, give some thought to how you position your hen house: an east-north facing hen house is ideal in southeast Australia. It receives the warming winter sun but shields the chooks from the most chilling winds from the south and west.
Ensure that your hen house guarantees shelter from the wind and rain, has a dry floor and gets natural light, protection from draughts and some adequate ventilation. Try to limit the amount of mud and slush in your permanent chook run because no chook likes living in a wet, muddy environment; mulch and wood chips can help reduce the mud. Be careful of breeds that have feathered legs like the Langshan, Faverolles and Cochin – dry conditions are essential for these breeds.
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