“When a person loves chickens, I am their friend and comrade without further introduction.” ~ (Apologies to Mark Twain for bastardizing his original quote!)
I must declare right now that I am an unashamed chook lover.
I’m not too proud to admit how sad I was last year when my original three birds, all left us within the space of six months. Even when they grew old and stopped laying, they were such lovely personalities and useful for their poop-y contributions to my compost bin.
Biddy, Myrtle and Joy arrived as chicks and became much-beloved pets. Indeed, my kids howled and presided over their feathery funerals, where even now they service the garden, fertilizing the assorted fruit trees they are buried under.
For a while, we were without chickens. We had an especially cold winter, so I decided to wait until Spring to get three more young pullets. But I’m happy to announce we have three new avian ladies, Tweety, Hope and Chicky McChickerson (I let the kids name them this time, obviously.)
I know we will always have chickens, I’m sold for life.
But what about you? Have you thought about it and are a bit unsure?
Here are the most common questions I’ve been asked by chook-curious people…
How much work are they?
Most people seem to think chickens are a lot of work.
Frankly, I think they are less fuss than most family pets. For example, my inside-housecat Jinx needs to be fed, supplied with fresh water, be amused, loved and have her litter tray cleaned regularly. Chickens are no different, except they don’t claw at my new lounge and they actually supply us with useful resources like eggs and fertilizer. (Unlike the cat!)
But that said, chickens need more than just a morning visit to collect eggs. Every day I check to make sure their water bowls are full and clean. Same for their food supply. I remove the soiled newspaper from the roosting box and put it straight into the compost tumbler.
I do a headcount and make sure everyone has perky combs and no hints of illness.
The whole morning process takes about 5 minutes at the most. And collecting eggs is the perfect job for even little kids!
Once a week, I hose down the inside of the coop and put the detachable roosts and poop tray in the sun to dry. I clean out their watering reservoirs and refill with fresh water and a dash of apple cider vinegar. I also refill their laying pellets. That takes about ten minutes.
Am I allowed to keep them in my area?
That depends, so you need to be prepared. If your council or shire says no to chickens best find out before you pick up your chicks. Our council has rules about how close the coop can be to the boundary fence, and of how many birds can be kept which is fair enough. Roosters are usually a no-go in suburban areas.
Can I just keep them in the courtyard with a box for them to lay in?
No, you don’t want to do that. A good, solid chicken coop that is spacious, well ventilated and secure from any outside predators is a must. Plus, be aware that if you let chickens loose on your garden, they will make an enormous mess, digging up plants and scattering mulch. And, they’ll poop all over your paving and deck, or anywhere else that takes their fancy.
Our wood constructed coop has held up against the elements very well, we maintain it with the same oil we use on our deck. You can see the small purchased coop that we attached to the large enclosed run. Luckily, we already have sandy soil so the coop never gets muddy, the soil is very quick draining.
I let them out into the garden only under my strict supervision. The chooks even get to visit my front garden in their chicken tractor (a recycled guinea pig hutch with the floor removed) that fits perfectly in my raised beds. Chooks can dig over a bed better than I can, plus they eat the slaters and deposit fertilizer as they go. (Not something I can do!)
What about cost?
I bought our chicks for $15 each a few years ago and paid $25 each for ready-to-lay Hyline Brown pullets a few months ago. Our coop construction cost over $300 in materials to build, then an extra $100 for feeders, water dispensers and a good supply of feed.
How often do they lay? How long does a chook live for?
There can be a bit of variation regarding the breed of chicken, so it pays to do some research. My Hyline Brown chooks laid reliably for over 3 years. Three chickens delivered three eggs a day, with laying stalling to perhaps every other day during hot weather, and during their annual molt. Other than a case of mites which was swiftly treated without incident, the Hyline Browns did not suffer a single bound egg, or any other health complaint. My chooks lived for almost 5 years, which is pretty good for their breed. (They were spoiled!)
Don’t chickens attract mice and snakes?
I have seen one mouse in the coop, and my astonishment, the chickens caught it and ate it. But if you keep your coop secure, and tidy with feeders that don’t encourage spillage, then you should be ok. I’m in a suburban area so snakes aren’t so much of an issue, it’s actually neighborhood cats that tend to be more of a pest. While cats can’t get in the coop, their lurking can frighten your chickens.
Oh my god! Chickens are bigger than I expected. Are they good with kids?
I hear this all the time! A live, feathered chook with feet and head still attached is a big bird, but we tend to think of chickens plucked, shrink-wrapped and neatly lined up in the meat section of the supermarket! And those chicken feet served at Yum Cha have had their claws removed, so seeing an in-the-flesh chook can be a bit of a surprise.
Chickens socialized from a young age will make great pets. It’s important that kids are taught how to hold them properly and treat them gently.
Some breeds are friendlier than others. My friend is still traumatized by vivid childhood memories of being chased and pecked by her Grandmother’s flock of Rhode Island Red chickens. My Hyline browns were so amiable, I would sometimes take them with me to visit the kindergarten garden. Now our school has a flock of their own Hyline Browns who receive a lot of attention from the students, they eat all the fruit and vegetable waste from school lunches, and they are a friendly bunch.
So I hope that Q & A helped you figure out if suburban chickens are for you. Later in the month, I’ll have a chat about how to figure out many chickens you might want to keep and how you go about introducing new chickens to an existing flock.
If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask and I’ll do my best to answer them for you!