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A Beginner’s Guide to Backyard Chickens

“Where do I start?” we hear you ask. “With a chicken or an egg?”

There are many reasons to consider having chooks as pets: they are cute, cheap to keep, require little supplemental food, and they provide manure for the garden. Our favourite part? They provide you with delicious ethical eggs. 

Where do you get chickens?

Check out your local options first – farm supply stores, rescues, markets, Facebook groups, even your local paper may advertise hens for sale. 

How many chickens should I keep?

One chook is a very lonely chook. Being a very social creature, chickens should be kept in groups. Three being the minimum, five being optimum (in case one or two unfortunately pass). Make sure to check with your local council on rules related to keeping chooks.

Photo by Chatnarin Pramnapan

What do chickens eat?

Chickens will eat any good food scraps; from salads, vegetable peelings, fruit, nuts, leftover mashed potatoes – no meat! Being omnivores they will naturally hunt bugs and mice. Supplemental chicken food or layer pellets should be provided as they contain additional minerals, trace elements, calcium and shell grit to assist feather formation, general health and egg formation. 

How soon before I get eggs from my chickens?

If you want eggs immediately then buy four to six-month-old pullets instead of cute little chicks. Pullets (young hens) will start to lay when they’re four to six months old depending on the breed. It is reasonable to expect one egg every day but none during the yearly moulting period. 

Photo by Emiel Maters

Where do I keep them? 

Chickens can keep themselves warm but cope less well in the heat. A dry, ventilated coop is best as they don’t like damp conditions. Chooks don’t like drafts so ensure ventilation is away from roosting locations in the coop. The coop will require regular cleaning to reduce odour but this will depend on the size of the coop and the number of chickens.

Will they be noisy?

Who doesn’t enjoy the sound of happy hens clucking? If it’s a cock-a-doodle-do in the wee hours of the morning – then you have a rooster!

Photo by William Moreland

If it’s a cock-a-doodle-do in the wee hours of the morning – then you have a rooster!

How do I care for my chickens? 

Most health issues occur when raising chicks; keep an eye out for bumblefoot and pecking wounds. Poultry bathe with dust baths rather than water, you can add some diatomaceous earth to assist but generally dust is enough to get rid of any mites, etc.

Making the walls high enough is not enough protection from predators. You must have the floor wired to prevent anything gaining access to the coop via digging. If you have a pen, place chicken wire about 30cm out from the enclosure wall to deter diggers.

If I want more information, where can I go?

You can read our full article in Issue 11 of Junkies Magazine or search the web for local poultry clubs. If you source your chickens from a rescue or breeder, they will probably be more than happy to share their tips and tricks for keeping hens.

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