How To

How To: Keep backyard chooks

Chickens are the ideal backyard pet. They will help dispose of kitchen scraps, keep garden pests under control, produce fertiliser and reward a little attention with a steady supply of fresh eggs.

They’re easy to look after, can be accommodated in a relatively small space and are surprisingly good companion creatures once they get used to human interaction.

Before you start out, it is a good idea to check with your local council on whether there are any restrictions on keeping chickens in your neighbourhood. Most will have no objection although roosters can be problematic because of the noise.

You will need a suitable enclosure to protect your birds from predators, such as foxes or wandering dogs. Even wild birds can prey on small chickens, so a strong wire enclosure complete with a wire netting cover is recommended. Many people are happy to let their chooks wander widely during the day, but they should be locked away safely before sundown.

A protected roosting area with a paved floor and cosy nest spaces with hay or straw are also advisable to help your hens feel at home and make the area easier to clean. It is important to clean out the coop regularly and replace the straw to minimise the risk of mould, disease or pests spreading.

Also make sure you have easy access to water, so a clean, fresh supply can be maintained. Chooks will eat vegie scraps from your kitchen, but they will also need grain or high-protein pellets for a balanced diet. A bit of shell grit helps with their digestion and shell formation.

There are several options when it comes to sourcing chickens. The best for most people is to buy young birds, known as pullets, which are available direct from breeders, poultry clubs or rural supplies stores. An online search should show what is on offer in your area.

Buying small chicks is a cheaper option but these birds are often un-sexed, meaning you might end up with a few roosters. Younger birds will also need closer care and protection from weather extremes.

Another cheap option is to find older hens from egg farms. These birds are quickly discarded from commercial production but usually have years of productive life left with a little love and attention in a more pleasant backyard environment.

There are countless varieties of chickens but the most common backyard varieties are Australorp (black feathers, usually brown eggs), ISA Brown (brown feathers, brown eggs), Leghorns (white feathers, white eggs) and Light Sussex (white and black feathers, white eggs). All are good layers and make great pets. Bantams and Silkies are smaller, but also lay smaller eggs.

The Department of Agriculture and Food has detailed information about keeping chooks, including advice on common pests and diseases.

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