How long do chooks live for?

ONE of the most common questions I’m asked as a chook enthusiast is: How long do chooks live for?

There are different answers to this and I will briefly present the facts.

Unfortunately, most chickens in this world only have a very short lifespan. Most are ‘factory’ chooks produced for meat, and they are on this earth for just  6-8 weeks. They endure a dreadful life in cages and other crammed conditions, and most never  feel a ray of sunshine on their feathers. In some ways, it’s  merciful that their life is cut short.

Female chickens that produce eggs in cages, barns and limited free range environments fare a little better, but only for as long as they can viably lay eggs for a commercial enterprise. Pullets (female chickens less than 12 months old) are most productive as egg layers from about 22 weeks old to about 18 months old. These “battery hens” can lay up to an egg a day during this period of their life. After this they are “turned over” because egg producers cannot keep older hens that only spasmodically lay eggs. The high intensity of factory farming leaves these hens totally spent. Most are then culled while others die of exhaustion before they turn  3 years old.

Backyard or farmyard chooks are indeed  the lucky ones and can live up to 10 years old. I’ve even heard of chooks living for as long as 14 years.

If a chook is raised in a stress-free environment in well-built housing, are fed a balanced diet and have a reasonable space to exercise, it should reach 4 to 5 years of age no problems. Tough, durable breeds like Rhode Island Reds, Australorps and Leghorns that can tolerate extremes in heat and cold will most certainly reach this milestone.

The most common chook in Aussie backwards is the Isa Brown: this is a hybrid breed which is also “bomb proof” to our changing climate. They can live up to 7-8 years old.

Big stink about chook poo

ONE of the big complaints about backyard chicken-keeping in the suburbs is not over the sound of chooks, but in fact their smell and hygiene.

You would expect the cockadoodaloo of roosters would be the major complaint; yet most owners comply with council bylaws that forbid keeping roosters in suburban areas. However, the maintenance of coops and chicken runs is another matter and this is where many chook owners seem to slacken off.

The stench of chicken poo is stronger in the warmer months, and becomes a particular problem if chooks are not able to free range. If they confined, the chook poo is more concentrated in an area like the chook coop or attached run. Do you know that chooks, on average, poo about 50 times a day. Now that’s a lot of shit!

Consider planting shrubs, trees and flowers that have pleasant aromas, like lavender and rosemary,  to counterbalance the chicken smells.

If the confined chook area is close to the neighbour’s dwelling then the smell is going to be a greater annoyance. That is why it is so important to consider your neighbours when you initially set up your chooks. Build your chook house away from living areas.

Also, the buildup of poo is a potential health threat to the chooks themselves. The stench of ammonia inside a chook house can be overpowering.

So please, clean out the chicken droppings on a weekly basis; keeping your chook area as clean as possible, and this  will make your backyard and neighbourhood a more pleasant place to live.


Doggone! dogs interracting with chooks in your backyard

For some reason many people think cats are the major domestic threat to backyard chooks because they kill birds. While cats are naturally drawn to small birds, making baby-sized chicks an easy target, they will rarely go after full-sized chickens. I’m happy to have cats share my backyard with chooks because they discourage other birds from stealing the chook food.

To many people’s surprise, dogs are one of the most common domestic predators. When they see a chicken making a racket, squawking and flapping its wings, the canine hunter instinct can snap into action and carnage can follow if you’re not around.

Dogs can happily live with chooks and with training and familiarization, be a valuable guardian, especially when it comes to keeping foxes away. But if your dog is not raised with chickens, you need to teach it not to follow its instincts to go after its natural prey.

Here are some tips: To introduce a dog to chickens, first do it with a fence or barrier between them. If your dog behaves and can “sit and stay” while the chickens move about, praise them or give them a treat. At this time it is wise to keep the dog on a leash. If it cannot keep still  and lunges at the chooks, yank the leash and berate it.

Once it starts behaving, there can be closer contact. Get another person to hold your tamest chook  while you have the dog on the leash. If you can let the dog see the chicken being held and it can remain in control, it is safe top move on to the next step.

Tie up the dog and supervise it as the chooks free range in your backyard. The dog will watch the chickens and eventually get bored and lose interest. Dogs will hopefully also catch on that the chooks are your friends and are not potential dinner.

There may be some hiccups with this system: it may be smart to be around during the first few days when the two interact, maybe over a weekend. I have heard that people have first tried less-valuable cockerels free ranging with their dogs. If the dog reverts to its natural instinct and snaps into action, at least it’s only a male – bound for the dinner table anyway – that is sacrificed.

Fencing is needed when dogs and chickens first come together

Fencing is needed when dogs and chickens first come together

It’s too darn hot

Happy New Year and almost on cue Summer has arrived with a vengeance in 2015. Chooks do it tough on hot days, and can easily die on scorchers like we’ve had this week. I’ve been away during these heatwave conditions and am always concerned when I hear the mercury will go close to 40C. Luckily I have left my chooks in good hands with neighbours and friends who attend to them daily.The heat of summer means we need to make sure our chickens are cool, have shady shelter and have fresh water at all times. In the Chooks house air circulation is crucial. In the garden give thought to planting shady trees and low shrubs. On hot days chooks rarely like to dwell in the blazing sun. They will take refuge under a tree or dig into the soil for cooler conditions

Chooks can’t sweat so they need to be able to regulate their body temperature. They will hold their wings out the increase the surface area for cooling. As mentioned in earlier posts they’ll drink heaps. So please check on the water. Chooks are known to knock over water containers. If they are left without water for more than 5 hours they can die. Also, chooks often don’t lay eggs on very hot days.


AT some stage you may have to deal with the problem of chooks becoming egg eaters. Whether it is out of boredom or because they are hungry and don’t have enough feed or need extra calcium, it is a problem that has to be dealt with quickly before others in the flock catch on.

One of the best ways to reduce the potential for egg eating is to collect eggs from the nest box as often as you can, at least twice a day if possible. Eggs that are left in the nest box stand more chance of being accidentally broken by another bird; it will be then be eaten by successive birds that come into the area. You know chooks – they are sticky beaks, so everyone is bound to get in on the act!

This is why it is crucial to collect eggs as soon and often as you can. I find that my chooks lay eggs either early morning or around lunchtime: I know this routine isn’t ideal if you work a 9-5 job. If you have kids, maybe you can make it one of their chores so as to improve the frequency of egg-collecting in your household.

If you can identify the offender, remove her for a spell in solitary confinement. Put some golf balls in her nest and soon hopefully a sore beak will encourage her to break the habit. Try to wean her off the habit by giving her eggshells stuffed with chilli, mustard or soap. If that doesn’t do the trick, you may have to get rid of her altogether. It’s simply not worth the trouble!

You may also need to review whether  your nesting boxes are  dark enough? Some people suggest that egg eating is more likely to occur if there is too much light in nest boxes.

A piece of hessian pinned across the opening of each box can help reduce the light.

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.




Backyard chook-keeper Dave Cooney collects his eggs



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

Max takes great care of mum's chooks

Max takes great care of mum’s chooks