how we became chicken keepers

Along with my husband and two kids, four chooks, thousands of bees and one fat cat, we reside in Canberra, the dust bowl of Australia, hot summers, freezing winters, roundabouts, the capital of Australia. We are living on a 1000sqm block (about 1/4 acre), which we have been developing into an urban homestead since 2009. One big part of our plans, was to get chickens. This is the original story, which spans from August 2011 to October 2012, of how we became backyard chicken keepers…

To Chicken, or not to Chicken

Growing Home The Chicken Diaries

That is the question. The ongoing discussion in our house. We have wanted chickens for quite a long time now. It keeps getting scheduled in, and then put off again. We have a good corner of the backyard to put a chook house & run, but it needs sorting out first, plus we need to either buy or build the chook accommodation. We also know how time-poor we are, and lately, so lacking in energy a lot of the time. I know chickens could probably live in fairly basic conditions and be OK (we know of a couple of very free-range chooks who roost on the handles of a bicycle at night!) but these are living things, and we have no experience… we want to do it right.

Then there are the horror stories I keep reading about, Mrs Bok’s flock, Darren of Green Change, Christine and Kitty’s Kaboodle, and these experiences upset me, because I am sure you can get attached to your chooks, maybe you feel like you’ve let them down, they were your responsibility. I worry that something I do, or don’t do, will cause them suffering. Yes, having a go is one way to learn, but there seems to be so many things that can go wrong with a poor little chicken, and I am still learning and filling my brain with garden issues. The vegetables might die if I stuff up, but they have far less feelings and charisma than chickens!

The other factor is that we are time-poor. Will we have enough time to look after them properly, but also, do we really need to be taking on a new learning experience now? Have we not learnt our lesson in terms of taking on challenges, all excited and motivated at first, then exhausted and sick of it soon enough? We’ve sensibly been reminding ourselves of the lessons we’ve learnt, and dampening our desires to rush off and get flocked!

I have the feeling we will be so happy we finally did it. I’ve been wanting some pets, thinking of a nice furry cat, but chickens give you eggs, give you poo, and eat your kitchen scraps, maybe even pests from your garden. They are entertaining, and educational for us all. We’ve got names for them already… Rosie, Gingerbread, Amelia and Princess Layer. I’d love Wyandottes or Barnevelders. Maybe good old brown chickens would be a good way to start. We can do a rental through a local company that provide chicken houses made from recycled materials, everything else you might need, and provide assistance or advice, even a chook motel or premium chooksitting services!

The latest rationalisation to delay is ‘let’s get the garden finished first’, because there is still so much to do. Oh, but when is a garden ever ‘finished’!? Chickens are part of the closed loop permaculture system we hope to set up here in our ‘urban homestead’. In fact, I feel like I can hardly call myself an Urban Homesteader, even ‘wannabe’ as I usually refer to myself, without having chickens in our backyard, the quintessential urban homestead accessory! Trendy or not, raising chickens for eggs and meat (and poo and fun and all that) does take effort and there is a cost. Now I am sure fresh eggs from your own chickens makes the effort and cost all worthwhile, but we can buy local, free range, organic eggs.

The Chicken Diaries – Day One

Today (September 2011) we became the proud parents of 3 Light Sussex and 3 Speckled Sussex chicks, ranging from one day old to 2 weeks old. No matter how novice, we are now ‘chicken keepers’, and like all newborns, we are giving them attention (not too much stimulation though) and fretting over their well-being. We have them in a brooding box we got and cleaned up from the local tip shop for $10 (it probably had been a guinea pig house), bought an infra-red heat lamp, have a heater on and thermometer, aiming for about 33’C, and set them up in a quiet area of the house. They seem comfortable, are not too hot or too cold, are eating and drinking, and doing a lot of sleeping. We are pretty pleased with our cute additions to the family! But, let me say from the start that we are going to try walking a fine line between these chickens being named and loved family pets, but also practical, egg-laying, scrap-eating, fertiliser-giving, and potentially meat-providing, ‘livestock’ too.

I am realistic that we will become attached to these chickens, our first foray into backyard livestock (if you don’t count the worm farm!) and I am not stopping myself or the kids from loving them and caring about their well-being. My husband seems very fond and fatherly about them, though he is the one we will look to, if it becomes necessary to euthanise them. I do not doubt that my husband is capable of killing these animals with his bare hands or a sharp axe, if we have a sick or injured bird, or some turn out to be cockerels. Could I do it myself if he was not here? It would be hard, but if the chicken was suffering, I can only hope I could summon my inner strength and find some farm-girl gusto. But my husband, he is adamant he will have no trouble killing a chicken to ‘put it down’, or for eating, if it comes to that.

Does this sound callous, or even perhaps, ambitious? We go into this keeping of chickens with our eyes wide open, but very aware we are novices, and there could be situations we are not prepared for. Part of this experience, or ‘experiment’ if you will, is overcoming obstacles and facing challenges… even if that means facing our own ethical dilemmas, and gathering the courage to end the life of an animal we have raised.

I know circumstances, and our intentions, can change. I know we have no experience in slaughtering and butchering a chicken, or eating one of our own, but we believe we can do it. If we had nothing else, would we eat what we needed to survive? It’s not like we are learning to eat slugs or weeds, this is something people have done for many eons, and many people do today on a regular basis! This is something my husband has been quite keen to learn and practice, since he watched Collapse, and the first thing he said to me was, “We’ve got to get some chickens”. That was about 2 years ago, but our intentions remain the same… to be able to feed ourselves in hard times. He moved on to being keen to start bowhunting, as the ‘provider’ role in our family, it makes him feel a little more secure, that with food security, climate change, end of cheap oil and other future issues, he could feed his family. I admire this characteristic in him.

Chickens provide so much more than just feeding us with their eggs or meat. Fertiliser, scrap & weed eating, pest control, education, food awareness, companionship, entertainment, and insight. We don’t start this journey intending to eat them, but of course, raising meat chickens may be a useful skill to have in the future. Death and killing are part of the cycle of life and eating, and something I do not distance myself or my family from. But will I be able to help my husband actually kill a cockerel/ rooster, pluck it, process it and eat it? Only time will tell. I feel that as an ‘urban homesteader’, that is something I should be willing to try. Will I be able to, in the very least, handle the knowledge that he had to ‘put down’ a chicken and dispose of it, or bury it? Yes, I am quite certain that won’t be a problem (though I will no doubt be sad at losing an animal we raised). We would not have gone into the business of keeping backyard chickens if we did not at least think ourselves capable of that.

So, these are some deep and meaningful issues to bring up for Day One of my Chicken Diaries. Some questions need to be asked and pondered before you start, like will we take a sick or injured chicken to the vet? Some things need to be explained to the kids, like how little chicks are delicate and they could find one dead or sick. And sometimes you just need to put the heavy stuff aside and enjoy the experience! They are cute, they are going to provide us with so much, and we only hope to provide them with all the love, care, respect and happiness they need to have a wonderful life. As for names, well, so far we have: Robot Chicken, Princess Leia (layer), Amelia, Spotty, Guinevere and Tweet Tweet.

The Chicken Diaries – Day 5

The chickens are all doing well, and growing nicely, seeming to gain feathers and lose fluff even within hours! Two of them have definite tail feathers already, compared to the others of the same age (remember we got some already at 2 to 3 weeks, and a couple of younger ones)… oh, well, we’ll deal with any cockerels as it happens! They are healthy, happy, curious, shy, and super cute. They are very funny with the little things they do, but oh, so hard to take photos of… they move too quick! When we first got them home, we showed them their water and food, and I also wet my finger and dipped it in their food to get them to eat, which they just loved. Now they go crazy for it… when we go into their brooder, they are happy to see us, but as soon as we open the brooder lid and put a hand in, they run over, scampering over each other to get close to the ‘finger food’ and happily peck away. I was worried that I would teach them a bad habit, but they still eat from the feeder. But what if they develop a taste for finger?!

The kids are enjoying checking on them, ‘finger feeding’ them, and making sure the temperature is OK. We have a heat lamp, but also an adjustable heater in the space where their brooder is, which is actually set up in the small ‘foyer’ area of our house. It is enclosed, with sliding doors on each side, so easy to access them, but also, provide them with quiet time as needed. It is easy to maintain the temperature, but also, clean up as it’s timber laminate in there. Only problem is people coming to our front door, which doesn’t happen too often, but I covered the door bell button over just in case! So far the brooder has ample space, but I can tell in a few weeks time they’ll be running out of room, and worse, able to fly out easily when have the lid open, which some are already trying to do… just to see what is on the other side! We need to put a roost in there too, to get them used to that. Once they are big enough, they can start spending time outside in their chook house during the day, and just be brought in to sleep at night.

Tweet-Tweet, the youngest, gets left out a bit. We try to include her, but then the ‘pecking order’ happens and either she gets pushed aside, or someone has a go at her. I keep saying she’ll grow up to be the boss! I figure that this way they are getting used to us, our hands and our voices… and it is so entertaining! All the chook experts can tell me if this is not good for them. Obviously we practice good hand hygiene before and after. Maybe it’s teaching them to peck at our hands, which could be bad when they grow up and have bigger beaks!? Anyone know why they love this so much?

The Chicken Diaries – Day 16

It’s been a while since we’ve had a chicken update, as I’ve been so busy gardening, sewing, school holidaying and of course, caring for the chickens! They’ve grown so much, like dawky, gangly teenagers already. Except Tweet-Tweet (whom I call ‘Tweeters’), she is still tiny and fluffy! She is only 17 days old now (the others were already about 2 weeks old when we got them), but so much smaller than the others now, we are thinking she might be a bantam… or maybe they’ve all just had growth spurts. She is the tamest and cutest (don’t tell the others I said that!) and loves jumping on my hand when I am not looking, and running up my arm, trying to get out I think! Oh I hope she turns out to be a girl, we are more attached to her because she is so small (but still bold and clever, she gets what she wants and doesn’t get bossed around!)

Trying to work out if they are boys or girls has kept us amused… ooh, those two have long tail feathers already, check out that one’s big comb, that one has solid legs and loves bossing everyone around etc. The two in the photo above have the longest tail feathers, and in general the most feathers, and that’s why they got a little venture outside. But the bossy one has barely any feathers for such a big chicken with such bossy pants… his/ her name might have been Princess Layer, but nicknamed Princess Bossy Beak by my daughter! Oh, well, time will definitely tell, and we can only hope we come out with 4 chooks like we were aiming for…

They still love being ‘finger fed’ and are getting used to eating their chicken crumble from my hand too. The older ones have become a bit more flighty about being handled, but still come rushing over when they see it’s finger feeding time! The kids love to finger feed them too, even though the chickens little beaks are pretty powerful now. They’ve been having some mashed vege’s, as recommended in Jackie French’s book, but also, they have been loving some finely chopped lettuce as a treat too. So spoilt! But it’s something different for them to do, their brooder must be getting a bit boring by now. We decided to give a couple of the more feathered chickens some outdoor time, but it didn’t last long, as a breeze went straight through their fluffy areas, plus we didn’t want to freak them out. We are planning the chicken run at the moment, and I am keen to do ‘deep litter’ method, if anyone wants to tell me how they do it, I would be very appreciative.

The chickens are happy and healthy, and we are so glad we decided to go ahead and get chooks. I’ve got gardening work lined up for them to do already, and can’t wait to start feeding them some lovely kitchen scraps as rewards. We are very glad we got them as babies too, to handle them, plus they are cute and interactive pets. They are easy to care for, as we have a good set up with an adjustable heater, and the heat lamp, with a thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature, and reduce it each week. We check on them frequently throughout the day, and play with them or talk to them, but leave them time to sleep/ rest too. Then it’s just changing the newspaper and wood shavings that line the bottom of the brooder, plus their food (which gets a bit of wood shavings and poo in it) every second day. But I am changing their water twice a day, as they seem to scratch and kick wood shavings into it so easily! We set up a roost for them to get used to it too. Soon enough there won’t be a lot of height in the brooder, but if the days are warm and they have more feathers (except little Tweet-Tweet) they can start to spend more time outside!

The Chicken Diaries – Update (October 2011)

Chickens are cute and entertaining, and we think (not counting them before they grow up) we might actually have 5 hens, and 1 rooster. Tweet-tweet, the youngest, is only 4 weeks old, so she could still turn out to be a he (that would be sad, Tweet Tweet is lovely and tame, I don’t think I could eat that one!) But 4 of the more older ones (about 6 to 7 weeks old) look much like hens, but one, Bossy Beak, is very rooster looking and acting, strutting around, shaping up to the others, first to check out new food or things… who knows, until the fat rooster crows! They spend their days outside in their chicken house, which has enough for a ‘run’ area for now, but we have cleared the corner of the backyard, just need to build a secure run for them. They love being outside, scratching, exploring, doing chicken things (chicken essence, I think Joel Salatin called it! They sleep inside in their brooder box at night, though they are too tall for it now, really, but it’s OK for sleeping in, and in a week or two, we’ll try them outside at night!

The Chicken Diaries – 7 to 9 Weeks Old

Our babies are growing up fast! Five of the chickens are now about 9 weeks old, and Tweet Tweet is 7 weeks old. We have really noticed that 3 had quite pronounced red combs, which filled out quickly over a couple of weeks, and fast growing wattles too… but three of them barely had any, and still don’t. We’d been busy looking at the shape of their bodies, feathers and tails, thinking how hen-like they all looked! Except Bossy Beak, who always looked and acted rooster-like since early on… and has a great time crowing every morning, getting better and better at it!

We’ve had them outside day and night now for just over a week now, and they are doing well so far. Finally they got the hang of going up to roost at night, though they still huddle in the middle of the tractor together when there is rain blowing in! We haven’t built a proper permanent chicken run yet, still debating the best way to go about it. For now there is enough room for them to ‘run’ in their Royal Rooster Chicken Castle Deluxe chicken tractor (recommend up to 10 chooks by the manufacturer, though I don’t think we’d ever want to squeeze that many full sized chooks in) which gets moved each day. That will be fine for the next 5 weeks or so until we go away (the chooks will go to a Chook Motel). Before then we will know, and have re-homed or eaten the roosters. Then in January, my husband will (finally) have some annual leave and we can build it then. If we do only have 3 hens left, I am hoping to get a couple more POL or pullets, but we’ll see. Three is probably a good number for us, really.

So far they aren’t too excited about snails and caterpillars (getting too spoilt I think!), but they love the greens we pick them, stale or ends of bread, some vege peels, and the grass the kids love poking through the mesh to them. My husband has also watched them catching flies! It’s funny to watch them exploring their world, and reacting to noises… or the visiting cat (one reason we really want to make a very secure chicken run). They don’t get too easily ruffled, in general. We’ve noticed personalities too. Princess Layer really is a princess, so fluffy and beautiful and a bit aloof. The Speckled Sussex are much friendlier in general, esp. Tweet Tweet and Robot. They seem generally nice to each other, no major pecking order disturbances so far. Tweet Tweet had a very sore and bruised foot about 10 days ago, was limping, but all better now, but we think it was an accident while they were still in the brooder area at night.

All in all, we are so happy to have chickens, and glad it was a project we finally decided to do. Even though sometimes I feel overwhelmed or frustrated by this whole urban homesteading gig, it can be so rewarding and positive.

The Chicken Diaries – 11 to 13 Weeks Old

I’ve been meaning to update The Chicken Diaries, but I’ve been meaning to do a lot of things! Tweet Tweet is 11 weeks old, so the other 5 about 13 to 14 weeks old. Bossy Beak is still crowing up a storm, so far only at a decent time in the morning! Robot Chicken has the most beautiful glossy green in his tail feathers, and irridescent purple in his wing feathers. There has been a little concern that perhaps the other Light Sussex, Geneviere AKA Jimmy, that we presumed was a rooster, maybe wasn’t. Everything said rooster, except he/ she just didn’t have any shiny tail feathers, like Bossy and Robot do, and hadn’t been seen crowing. Hmmm, anyways, they’ve all been such well behaved chooks, though soon, six is to become three.

You can see the difference in the red combs and wattles compared to the two roosters at the back, and Princess at the front, who is the same age (a week difference max.) If we had time, we would have happily kept the roosters until we knew for sure they were in fact, boys. As we are soon going away for a week, and the hens are going to a ‘chook motel’ we had to make a move. We wanted to offer them for free to anyone who would keep/ breed roosters first, before dispatching them. They may as well live as long as they can on a farm, than end up as rooster soup. For starters, at 13 weeks, they are still scrawny and we’d better off to buy a chook at the butcher if we want to eat one! I also think it is a sad part of livestock, that it is the boys that get the chop, simply because of the gender they happened to be born! However, we’ve always said from the start that one aspect of keeping chooks, is connecting with our food, and getting them as babies meant we had to be prepared to either rehome any roosters, or eat them.

We offered them for Free on a local classifieds, and had a few interested people. We made a decision to give them to the first guy, who would take them all. Then we started to wonder, is Jimmy (was Geneviere) really a rooster? Wouldn’t it be a darn shame if we gave a perfectly good hen away, all because we are novices and didn’t know better! Geneviere had big red comb, and wattles (see photo below), and the start of a rooster-like tail, so we called him Jimmy instead.. but then we noticed there were no glossy tail feathers spiking out like the other two roosters… and no (witnessed) crowing. Perhaps because Bossy Beak has been a very dominant roo from an early age, the other two haven’t crowed yet? (None of the chooks has very developed spurs yet). I did ask on Facebook, and posted some photos/ description on the Backyard Poultry Forum, for reassurance that the chook is a boy. To an expert though, it is pretty obvious that Geneviere/ Jimmy is a boy.

In the mean time, I was feeling a little unsettled about the guy who was going to pick up the roosters… he would have a 3 hour drive to take them back home. OK, I know that given if they stayed here, they’d end up dead, maybe this was the better option for them, but I still didn’t want them to suffer and be stressed out in a box in a car. I also wasn’t sure if this guy was taking them to a farm to live (or just intending on eating them), even though our ad in the classfieds clearly said that they were on offer for someone who wanted to keep them. He texted me they were going to a farm, but when he cancelled his plans to come here at the last minute (sick grandma) and wouldn’t be able to pick them up til next weekend, I was relieved. I was happy to call one of the other interested parties, who said they’d happily take them all to their 60 acre farm, and would be there to pick them up in an hour. Lucky Roosters! A farm with loads of lovely ladies to hang out with, and a much shorter drive to get them there… which is where they are headed now. Plus, the people who took them, raise and sell Silver Laced Wyandottes, and Plymouth Rocks chickens… so when we want to add to our flock, we can go and buy a couple from them.

It may seem strange that we were willing to dispatch and eat them ourselves, but didn’t want to give them to someone else to do that. Part of the experience of keeping chooks, and thinking one day we may raise meat chickens, includes knowing how to kill and process them. We’ve not done it before, and as I discussed I am not sure I’d be able to be involved in it at all. (Euthanising them is a different topic). So, if it was going to come down to that being their only option, we wanted to have that experience ourselves. To give them as ‘decent’ a death as possible, with as less misery or stress to the animal. Besides thinking maybe I’d not be able to eat a home-processed-chook, my main concern with doing it ourselves was only making sure as first timers, that we could do it quickly and efficiently. Now, of course, they’ve gone to live on a farm (the guy who got them was a lovely fella, and his wife does the chicken keeping), and all we can hope is that they get to lead long and happy lives. Maybe if we get chicks again, we’ll be in the position to keep any roosters long enough to feed them up and make it worthwhile eating them, but for now, I feel very happy with the outcome. Our three hens are getting used to their brothers being gone, which means more room in the chicken house… and more treats for them!

The Chicken Diaries – 18 to 20 Weeks Old

I have not written about the chickens since the roosters went to live on the farm, before Christmas. Now the three girls are growing up, and we are hoping they’ll start a-laying anytime soon. I noticed the wood shavings in one of the nesting boxes was hollowed out a bit, and I’ve seen Spotty checking that area out a few times… but who knows, maybe she was just lost, and the wood shavings were moved during a tussle or something! Princess Layer and Spotty, the older two, have quite red combs and wattles, so I believe that is a good sign they are mature enough to start. Tweet Tweet, who is two weeks younger (maybe three) are still small and pink. They all have lovely fluffy bums though, as you can see from the photo above! Chickens are hard to photograph… I need to give them treats and then take photos whilst they are standing still!

The Chicken Diaries – We Have An Egg

Growing Home The Chicken Diaries

My husband was so excited, he called me at work! We’ve been waiting for a few weeks, checking the nesting boxes, giving words of encouragement and lots of high protein treats. The oldest two chooks, Princess Layer and Spotty are about 23 to 24 weeks old now (Tweet Tweet was always 2 to 3 weeks younger) so we think it was one of them, and Spotty has been seen hanging around the nesting boxes before, so maybe her? It is small, but perfectly formed (though we haven’t cracked it open yet) with just a trace of pink (blood) on it. It is exciting, but also, makes me ponder for a moment, that our chooks are ‘coming of age’ and how they feel about the changes going on in the bodies! Does a chook go ‘what-in-the-heck?!’ when she lays her first egg, or is it a natural experience and she feels all zen about it? I know, a little strange to think about it like that. Funny too, that my husband and I were more excited about it than the kids!

The Chicken Diaries OCTOBER 2012 – And Then There Were Six

So exciting, we have added three more chooks to our backyard flock! We picked up these 8 to 10 week old pullets on the weekend. The greyish one is a Silver Sussex, named Sylvia. The black and white ones are Silver Laced Barnevelders, with the older/ bigger being called Brynhilder, and the younger/ smaller one if Fluffy Wuffy. We are calling them the Little Sisters (and our original chooks are the Big Sisters, of course). Oh, they are so little compared to our other three girls (now a year old) and so, so cute. They are very timid, of course, and we have set up a separate chook house and chook run from the other three (though right next to each other) because we realised when we got them home, there was no way they could all be housed together due to the size difference. We couldn’t risk the ‘slip them in at night when they are all asleep’ trick, and then find the fall out the next morning. Tweet Tweet and Princess Layer are not overly worried about them, and the couple of times they were near each other, were only bothered if the little sisters came near the food. Spotty, however, is not impressed. She will chase them and peck them, and even now they are separated by the ‘playpen’ fence, she still wants to have a go at them. We always thought that Tweet Tweet was the top of the pecking order, but Spotty seems the most put out by the new additions. Hmmm, we’ll see how that plays out once the Little Sisters have grown big enough to integrate them all together.

I have been meaning to update you about our chooks, because we had an issue, and it is because of my neglect to regularly inspect our girls that it got as bad as it did. Lice. Two of the three chooks had ‘chicken nits’. I knew mites and lice were something that happened to chooks, I just figured ours were fine. I’d never really inspected them, or done a ‘nit check’ like we do with the kids! It wasn’t until I noticed a re-occuring ‘poopy bum’ on Princess Layer that I decided she needed a wash, and that’s when I saw them!! Little, pale brown to beige, oval shaped critters. And (please don’t read this if you are eating, or of sensitive intestinal fortitude) clusters or clumps of lice eggs, particularly around their vents. Except Spotty. She didn’t seem to have a single lice on her, or any egg-clumps stuck to the base of her feathers. Go figure. Princess Layer had them the worst, and not far behind was Tweet Tweet (who also had a bit of poopy bum, when I picked her up and inspected her… her brown feathers did not show it up as much as Princess’s white feathers). Oh, my, I felt like such a terrible chook-mother. I mean, we pick our chooks up all the time, we observe them a lot (including their cute fluffy bums) but I’d never checked closely to their vents or the skin under their feathers.So, I replaced their bedding, moved their chook house and run, bought and applied Pestene powder, wormed them at the same time, cut off some matted poopy feathers & egg-clumps, and have been keeping up the treatment weekly, for any lice eggs that have hatched since. Poor, poor chookens. They haven’t been too upset by it, they’ve continued laying, been eating & getting around just fine. Other than Spotty having a limpy leg for a while, they have been happy and healthy.

We are buying some diatomaceous earth to sprinkle carefully in their nesting and dust bath areas. There are other natural methods too. By adding a couple of covers over the top of the ‘playpen’ chook run, we have kept a lot of the wild birds out too, including the Indian Myna’s, which apparently are quite good at spreading lice. Of course, the big thing we will be doing is checking them regularly!! We did hesitate to get the new chooks when we were still dealing with eradicating lice from our original flock. However, the opportunity to purchase some rare breed chooks, that were already at the age to handle being outside, had come up and we had agreed to buy them. Now they are being housed away from the other chooks anyway, it doesn’t matter as much. Of course, we will still be keeping a close eye on our little peepers. We are talking to them, going into their playpen, and picking them up sometimes, to get them used to us. They get locked up in their little chook house each night, and happily run around, scratch and explore their new home during the day. Did I mention how cute they are! They have a shared fence with the other girls, and when the others are free-ranging, they are getting exposed to each other through the other sides of the fence too. Once the Little Sisters get big enough to defend themselves, or to not fit in their little chook house anymore, it will be time to start assimilating them in with their Big Sisters. I will post some photos of how we have their houses/ runs set up in the next post!

The Chicken Diaries – The New (Temporary) Set Up

As I mentioned in my last chicken post, about adding three more chooks to our flock, that we got them home and it was suddenly very clear that they could not be integrated after a few days of ‘getting to know one another’ like we thought would happen. The new girls, or as we are calling them, ‘The Little Sisters’ are only about 10 weeks old. The original chooks are over a year old now, and being affectionately referred to as ‘The Big Sisters’. (Which was sort of a dumb idea, as now every time I mention ‘Little Sisters’ I start singing the Elvis song). Anyways, the size difference is huge. We sort of forgot that 10 week old pullets are not very big. Of course there will be an adjustment period at some point, but we could hardly put three tiny chooks in with three full sized chooks one of them is a BIG chook, not mentioning any names, Princess Layer, and risk the fall out being worse than just integrating same sized chooks with each other. Luckily, we had already planned on extending their chook run (since we were going to have a total of 6 chooks), so we had ordered more ‘pet enclosure’ from eBay, which came the day after we got the chooks (phew). I also bought a pet ‘cage’ or carrier from a local pet store, and using a large canvas tarp that we had, made the Little Sisters a temporary home too. It means they can be completely, safely locked in at night, as the chook run doesn’t have any flooring. The Big Sisters continue to stay in their own chook house at night, which has a fox-proof flooring. Eventually all six of them will share the main chook house, it can hold up to 10 chooks apparently. Both lots of chooks are let out during the day into their own chook runs, which now have a double cover over them, to stop Tweet Tweet from flying out, and from the neighbours cat thinking it can get in. So far so good on both accounts. (The Big Sisters still have their supervised free-ranging time in the garden too). These chook runs have an adjoining fenceline, so they can still see/ hear/ smell and harrass each other. Well, of course, we don’t want the Big Sisters harrassing the little ones, but it is all part of it, and best to let them get used to each this way.


We currently have four chickens, Tweet Tweet, Princess Layer, Sylvia, and Fluffy Wuffy. Sadly we lost one of the newer ‘little sisters’ Brynhilder, when she suddenly died in early 2013, without any signs of being unwell. Then in 2016, after a long time of not being quite right, Spotty died. She had a dusky mottled wattle and comb for many months, though was healthy and active in every other way, until several weeks before she died, where she slowly went downhill. She picked up at times, with some TLC, but though very sad, it wasn’t unexpected when she finally died.

Our remaining chooks, Tweet Tweet and Princess Layer are now about 5 years old, and Sylvia and Fluffy Wuffy are 4 years old. They all still lay in the warmer months (they go off the lay in Winter when there is less daylight hours), though both Princess and Sylvia tend to go broody then too (and stop laying!)

read more of our adventures and stories


Did you ever imagine you would become a backyard beekeeper? Me neither! Yet here I am, donning the whites and smoking it up all in the name of apiarism…

urban homesteading – a story of soil & soul

Growing up with edible gardens, to going green, to preparing for zombies, to just eating real food! What an adventure…


To me, real food is less processed, less nasty chemicals, more nutrient dense, AND whatever foods you can happily digest & nourish yourself with. My family took quite the journey to get to that food philosophy though…


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