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Sustainable Life: Backyard chickens

Mia Swainson

There’s so much to love about backyard chickens.

The eggs are superb. They make a delightful clucking sound that gives your backyard a rustic charm. They give you unconditional love… because you feed them. They turn scrap food into compost. They even save you money on eggs.

I’ve kept chickens in my Canberra backyard for about eight years. I didn’t think too much about it to start with, just a few chooks in a friend’s old chook house out in the backyard.

Then one day I came home to find the vegetable patch had been totally destroyed – the green leaves eaten and the ground turned over.

I looked at the chooks, then back to the area that was formerly my veggie patch, then back to the chooks. Something had to change. We fenced the chook run and only let them out under adult supervision.

The 'Bantam' chook run by Uncle Joe's Mobile Chook Run. Made here in Canberra and available at unclejoesmobilechookruns.com.au/chook-runs.html

The ‘Bantam’ chook run by Uncle Joe’s Mobile Chook Run. Made here in Canberra and available at unclejoesmobilechookruns.com.au/chook-runs.html 

Now, chooks don’t live forever, but the average life expectancy of chickens in my backyard is about three years. I’ve had a few fox attacks, avoided now by locking up the hen house every night – not just when we feel like it.

I’ve also had a serious case of pecking order problems. This happened when we introduced two 15-week-old chickens to the living quarters of two older chickens.

I’ve experimented with different types of chooks.

Not too many types though, because our house is all about the eggs. I find it hard to go past ISA Browns, because they produce more eggs than other breeds. I also find them smart and friendly.

The other types I’ve tried were Leghorns and Australorps. I know that some people also really like bantams, or small chickens as they lay small eggs and look very, very cute in the back yard. There are also some breeds who lay different coloured eggs, like green or blue eggs.

So, what are the basics for getting started with chooks?

 1. A secure place for them to sleep and lay eggs

You can pick up second hand hen houses on Gumtree, build your own or buy something new from a pet shop.

Because it’s cold in the Canberra winter, we insulate our hen house with an old blanket that’s attached using a staple gun to the inside of the walls and ceiling of the house. This helps to keep our chickens laying throughout the winter.

I also lay old newspaper in their roosting area, covered with nesting hay or shredded paper. I change the paper and hay at least once a week to keep the chooks healthy.

2.  A source of water

Pet shops or farm supply stores can help out here as they sell special poultry water feeders.

I’ve gone through a few of the large, plastic water feeders since we started, as they’re easy to buy locally.

3. Food

You can get away with feeding your chooks by hand every day, as long as you’re always around. I give my chooks kitchen scraps. Ours especially love left over pasta, corn and watermelon.

We also supplement this with grain and if you don’t want to buy any more equipment, just throw them a handful or two each morning (more on those cold winter days).

Because we like to go away on weekends, we have invested in a fancy chicken feeder; Grandpa’s Chicken Feeder is the brand. It encases the feed in a metal container that only your chickens can access – making sure that I don’t feeding mice and other local birds with my grain.

4. A fenced yard

This is important so that your chooks don’t wander off and meet a car or get chased by a dog.

So enjoy those fresh, happy, free-range eggs from your own back yard chickens. I love ‘em – the chickens and the eggs!

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Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp).

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