Backyard chickens truly are a gardener’s best friend. Not only do they deploy a fabulously dedicated daily pest-destroying army, they are ultimate waste managers happily recycling your table scraps along with any gardening debris. Additionally, their poo is utter gold for the soil & compost, they provide you with delicious yellowy-yolked eggs, and they are exquisitely delightful the way they waddle about filling your garden with peaceful cluck-cluck-cluck sounds. There is something very relaxing about gardening with a chicken beside you. Rather curious creatures by nature, they will often start digging up around you if you are planting, methodically fossicking about removing any soil pests as you dig about – literally doing the hard work on the spot for you re chemical-free pest management. They also love to have a little chat with you as they go, making for a very pleasurable gardening experience.
For the uninitiated hosting your own brood of chickens seems daunting at first – with thoughts of ‘what if I don’t have the right bedding? What if a fox gets them? What foods do they eat?’ flood your mind. But truly, as long as you get a few essentials right, chickens are very self-sufficient animals.
The best environment for backyard chickens is an area that they can roam freely without destroying your garden beds. Nothing will turn you off than them ruining all your hard work in the patch quicker than you can say ‘Cock-A-Doole-Doo’ merely doing what comes naturally to them – digging and eating. Space is a big factor too : they need as much as you can possibly give them with the utter minimum is 2 square meters per hen.
Chickens are social animals and therefore you should have more than two birds at any time, up to ten is the maximum most Councils allow. They originally hail from the jungle so thrive with foliage hanging above them where possible to recreate a green canopy. As a consequence, they instinctually go mad for pecking food that is dangling from above.
Layer pellets are readily purchased at specialist animal stock/ pet stores, but also at larger supermarkets due to chickens recent popularity. The girls require special seeds to lay their eggs, so ask your seller for info. Self-feeder boxes are recommended so your hens can feed themselves anytime during the day, and as the boxes are rodent and bird proof it saves you heaps of money on seed costs. They also need regular veggie/herb/fruit intake, so any kitchen scraps or garden scraps are ideal as well as most left over meals – eg rice, bread, pasta, etc. They also eat some leftover meats but limit the amount – they get plenty of meat from bugs/snails etc in the garden. Fresh water daily is essential, especially keep an eye on the girls in Summer – they overheat easily, so lots of shade from trees for them to hide under etc is vital. Chickens regularly clean dust baths – this removes bugs/mites etc.
At night they need somewhere to roost with a minimum of two different heights for their bird perches, as this sets up the flocks pecking order. The coop needs to be lined with straw or wood shavings, well ventilated, waterproof and contains boxes for egg laying (one per chicken), but also fox-proofed (impenetrable especially underground as foxes love to dig). A weekly clean will remove any mites that breed in the hay, and make homes in the girls’ feathers. Garlic husks sprinkled about are a great deterrent for mites/pests in chooks bedding. Regular coop cleaning also removes chook poo, which builds up causing mold and disease. Place this into your compost to age : chook poo is far too rich to put direct on the garden and will kill plants.
So as long as you get the environment right, feed them daily/provide clean water and keep them free from predators, they will be one of the very best things you’ve done and you’ll hopefully be hooked for life.