Are you looking to live a greener lifestyle? Keeping backyard chickens is an easy way to have start your move to a more sustainable life. Not only do chickens provide eggs which can be used in so many delicious ways but they also help to create a more sustainable environment. They enjoy feeding on household food scraps, assist with composting and produce a fantastic natural fertiliser for your garden.
Many chicken owners comment that their chickens provide them with a source of peace and serenity and make them feel more connected with nature. Owning chickens is a small taste of the paddock to plate philosophy.
Backyard chickens are generally healthier than those kept in large scale chicken farms and are exposed to quiet a broad diet, so in turn produce eggs that taste better than store bought. The eggs laid by backyard chickens are richer in omega 3 fatty acids and lower in cholesterol than farmed eggs.
Some backyard chicken owners opt to keep their chickens free-range. This means they can exercise by roaming the yard happily, scratching about for tasty tidbits like, grass, greens and bugs. These tidbits offer additional nutrients to their provided diet, making for an all-round healthier chicken and the healthier the chook, the better the quality of eggs that they produce.
The garden will benefit from the chickens too. These busy little guys are great at keeping the bugs at bay and their chicken litter (their manure mixed with their bedding material) is the ultimate fertiliser that is full of nutrients vital for healthy plants. Their manure will boost your compost quality and enrich the soil when it is applied to your garden beds.
Throughout Australia, keeping backyard chickens is becoming increasingly popular. Whether you live in a rural or residential area it’s important to check your local council regulation before setting up a coop and purchasing a flock. You can check out some general council regulations for each state here.
Most of the regulations are based around the number of chickens you can keep, the set-up of the coop and chicken maintenance. For social reasons, it’s advisable to keep no less than three chickens and thankfully most Australian councils will allow this.
Housing and Keeping your chickens safe
When choosing a coop, it is important to consider how many chickens you plan to keep and if you will have them free range during the day. If they are free range they could accept a smaller coop than those that are kept in a coop fulltime.
It’s important to protect your flock from extreme weather conditions and predators, such as foxes and snakes. A quality coop with a strong frame and strong wire mesh will keep the predators out, while a coop with roofed sections, and enclosed nesting areas will protect chickens from the elements of the weather. The addition of a wire mesh floor will further help to prevent predators from digging in under the coop.
i.Pet Large Wooden Chicken Coop – Rabbit Hutch
Feeding your flock
Mature chickens require a constant supply of feed, shell grit and water. A good quality chicken feed is a must and will form the bulk of their diet. Kitchen scraps such as leafy greens, yoghurt and porridge provide additional variation to their diet. A constant supply of fresh water is a must as a chicken can drink between 500 -1000ml of water per day depending on the weather conditions.
Eating keeps the chickens busy and prevents them from becoming bored. Boredom in chickens can result in destructive behaviours such as feather picking and disputes in the peaking order of the flock.
What breed to choose?
When it comes to choosing which breed to stock your coop with, there are plenty of breeds to choose from. Depending on whether you want to keep chickens for their egg laying ability or for ornamental purposes there is a chicken for you. Still can’t choose? Why not have a mixed flock? Below we describe some the most popular backyard varieties.
Appearance – Varying patterns of red to brown coloured feathers.
Eggs – prolific egg layers, typically producing 300 -350 medium brown eggs per year.
Features – These are hardy and very friendly birds. They may need a protein supplement to help keep their feathers healthy as they put so much of their nutrition into egg production.
Appearance – These chickens are kept as an ornamental breed. They have the softest, fluffiest feathers around and even have feathered legs. They are only available in bantam (miniature) size.
Eggs – Silkies are consistent layers – laying around 3 small cream eggs per week, that’s and average of 156 eggs per year.
Features – They have a very friendly, docile manner and love human interaction.
Australorp (Australian Orpington)
Appearance – Available in standard and bantam size. They come in an assortment of colour variations such as black, white and blue, with glossy black being the most common.
Eggs – They are good layers, producing an average of 250 – 300 large, light brown eggs annually.
Features –Australorps are calm, friendly and hardy birds.
Appearance – They have soft silky feathers that sits smoothly on the body. Their plumage comes in many different colours and patterns, ranging from white to brown and black. The hens have large, bright red combs that flop to the side. Available in standard and bantam sizes.
Eggs – Behind ISA Browns, these are the second best egg layers. They produce more than 300 white, medium to large sized eggs per year.
Features – These hardy hens have been raised around the world in a variety of climates. They aren’t overly docile and can get a bit noisy so may not be suited to an urban backyard.
Appearance – Available in Rhode Island Red or Rhode Island White.
Eggs – This breed has a high egg yield. On average, these chickens produce 250-300 extra-large brown eggs annually.
Features – They are a Docile and very hardy bird.
Appearance – These birds are generally kept for ornamental purposes. They have a distinctive pom-pom type crest on the top of their head. There are bearded, non-bearded and frizzle varieties available. This dense feathering pattern on their head reduces their vision, so they are particularly vulnerable to predators.
Eggs – They produce on average 200 small white eggs annually.
Features – They are very docile but not very hardy when it comes to cold weather.
Day to day chicken maintenance
Chickens are fairly easy to care for but there are a few things you will need to do each day for them.
- Make sure they have plenty of food and fresh water
- Check for eggs! This is a job the kids will love. It’s like going on an Easter egg hunt every day. Beware, if the eggs are left for too long the chickens may eat them themselves.
- Check the coop for cleanliness. If it looks too dirty, remove any waste and change the bedding
- If your chickens are free range, leave the coop door open so that they can come and go. Be sure to count you chickens at the end of each day to make sure that everyone is safe and accounted for.
Over time there may be other jobs required, such as giving the coop a deep clean, bathing the chickens or tending to mites. These jobs are necessities, but don’t worry to much early on. There are plenty of great blogs and videos to assist. The important thing is to make your chickens feel happy and at home.
Backyard chickens are a great addition to any family. Not only are they lovely pets but they will give you a bounty of eggs to enjoy and give your garden a much needed nutrient boost.