Who’s looking after your chooks?

Little Red Hen waits patiently for her breakfast at the backdoor

Don’t forget your feathered friends when you go away this summer

WHO’S going to look after your chooks this summer holidays?

If you haven’t given serious  thought to this question nor have anyone in mind to care for our feathered friends while you’re away, then you might as well kill them right now yourself to make into your Christmas roast.

Better you do it because it’s highly likely that either a fox, a wandering dog or dehydration will claim your birds  if  the chooks are left to their own devices for an extended period of time – by that I mean more than a weekend.

Backyard chickens aren’t the most demanding creatures but they do require a reasonable level of care and attention if they are going to survive through the summer. So if you haven’t organized a reliable friend or neighbour to feed, water and attend to your chooks while you are away at the beach house, then there’s a fair chance you won’t see  all of your flock when you return.

It seems once-cute puppy dogs aren’t the only animals that are abandoned in January. I heard a terrible story of how a flock of kindergarten chooks perished over a hot weekend –  the kids returned on  Monday to find their chooks had died of thirst after the water containers had been kicked over during the weekend.

So how can you have peace of mind that your chooks will be OK while you’re taking that well-earned holiday break? As I mentioned earlier, you need to find somebody reliable to look in and attend to your chooks at least once a day.

You could give a neighbour a trial run over a weekend and see how they cope before you give them a longer assignment of a number of weeks. It’s not an onerous job: it just requires a little diligence. Their little reward could be the eggs that the hens give. And chooks will love anyone that feeds them – it’s not an unpleasant job.

The temporary chook-keeper’s  tasks will include: locking up the chookhouse at night (and unlocking and letting the chooks out in the morning), making sure pellet feeders and  water containers in the chook run have adequate supplies, egg collecting and some basic cleaning.

Running out of fresh drinking water is one of the worst things for chickens, and many people underestimate how much birds drink. A large drinker that contains 15 litres will last four chickens about two days, but usually much less time on hot days. Also try to remind the temporary chook-keeper to position drinkers in the shade and to put feeders under cover and out of the rain to keep the pellets dry.

If you are away for up to a month, the chookhouse and chook run will also require a clean.

Whatever you do, please don’t leave your arrangements to the last minute, and send your neighbour or friend reminder messages at the end of the day to lock up your chooks at night – remember foxes never take a holiday!

Best place to buy chooks

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.

Lay Lady Lay

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.

 

 

DSC_0702

Backyard chook-keeper Dave Cooney collects his eggs

UPCOMING WORKSHOP

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 justinbrasier@hotmail.com

Max takes great care of mum's chooks

Max takes great care of mum’s chooks

Fox threat grows

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!

Rooster who thinks he’s buffed up

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.

Baby, it’s cold outside

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.

langshan

Langshans with their feathered feet require a dry environment underfoot

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.

More on buying chooks through the post

YOU”D be surprised what can arrive in the post. Imagine getting a dozen eggs in your letterbox – not to eat but as a start-up to raising chickens for lifestyle and maybe profit.
Many backyard chicken-keepers opt to hatch eggs either with a broody hen or an incubator. As mentioned in the previous blog, this is a low-cost way to get into the chook business and can be potentially profitable on a small scale.
By the way, a broody is a hen that wishes to lay eggs and who will sit on a clutch of eggs until they are hatched 21 days later. Some breeds make great broodies like Silkies while others like Leghorns show no interest at all. Incubators, on the other hand, are machines designed to replicate the sitting hens in terms of heat and humidity – some will even rotate the eggs as hens do!
Pure bred eggs can be purchased from poultry producers for between $35-100 a dozen. If your clutch ends up producing predominantly healthy females and they are pure breeds that are in demand you can make a tidy profit. For example, you can buy 12 fertile Australorp eggs for about $35-40 through the post. One point-of-lay Australorp can command $40 on the market. So you can do the sums!
1044771_10151752711558582_1959566348_n

Faverolles are a pure breed that can be accessed economically through mail-order fertile eggs

Understandably, some people may be nervous about having eggs sent through the mail, especially after they’ve parted with their hard-earned. But most deliveries arrive in-tact, according to Ken Mead of Wallan Poultry. “We prefer to mail eggs to our customers, as we package them well, and know that our customers will hopefully get a good hatch rate, depending on the Postie. This also means that we can make the eggs from our mostly show quality chooks, available to everyone around Australia,” Ken says.
“Our goal is to make it available to everyone in Australia, to have access to obtaining eggs or chickens from these great looking quality chooks.
We source our poultry from the best breeder in the country of that particular breed, and then make them available to every one.”

Incubate your own

hitech incubator

a hitech incubator that can handle up to 80 eggs

Aquarium Incubator

An incubator fashioned from an aquarium (note the thermometer)

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.

 

Sustainable pets

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.

Max takes great care of mum's chooks

chooks are a great pet to interact with