Before getting chickens, ask yourself and your family:
- Why do we want to keep chickens?
- Are they going to be purely ‘livestock’, or are they going to have names and be a part of our family?
- How will we handle it, if they become sick, or injured?
- Who will look after them if we are away, or on holidays?
- What will we do with them if we decide to relocate/ travel around the world for 6 months of the year/ cannot keep them for other reasons?
- What will we do if they stop laying so many eggs as they get older?
Please research the local rules and regulations on chicken keeping, with your council, to determine if you can even have backyard chickens in your region. If you are renting, you must get permission from your landlord first.
Chickens are one of the most urban-suitable, kid-friendly and socially acceptable forms of backyard livestock. Chicken keeping can be so rewarding and fun!
Collecting fresh eggs from your backyard never gets old, especially when you know the quality of the eggs, and the care shown to the chickens, is optimal.
It is a pleasure to watch your chickens do their thing, scratching and dust bathing, bok-bawking after laying an egg. The entertainment factor is high, as they go about their day or when there are treats on offer. Having them as companions as you garden is delightful, as they happily gobble up pests, help you dig, and fertilise as they go!
If you have children, the positives that they experience from keeping chickens is so worth it. They learn how to feed, check and care for animals, as well as life cycles, ecosystems and the value of an egg. They can become more aware of the food they eat, and love giving the kitchen scraps or garden waste to the chickens.
Chickens can be an integral aspect of building an urban homestead, because they:
- provide eggs that are high quality, and ethically produced
- eat your kitchen scraps, garden weeds and pests
- provide nitrogen rich fertiliser
- they are great for education, entertainment and companionship
- can be relatively low maintenance
This is a serious commitment, at the same level of getting any pet or caring for any animal. Chickens can live for a long time, up to 8 to 10 years, or longer! There are cost, space and time requirements to consider, and other common issues.
If chickens are going to be your pets, you can form a relationship with them, similar to other pets. But they can get ill/ injured easily, and their death may have an emotional impact on you and your family. Are you prepared to pay for vet costs or time spent nursing them back to health?
If the chickens are going to function purely as livestock, are you prepared to dispatch them when they are getting older, and not laying very productively? Or have someone else do it? If you are concerned that you or your family will bond with them, making it harder to kill and eat them, perhaps consider getting a common breed (that is known for egg-laying, like Isa Brown or Australorp), and get all the same breed/ appearance. And don’t give them names!
The time challenges with keeping chickens are:
- time to care for them properly, including keeping their nesting area, chicken run and food/ water containers clean and secure, collecting eggs, checking for pests or illness, regular health and other maintenance
- if you need to, or want to travel, you may need to arrange care or ‘chook sitting’ when you are away
- time spent handling illness or injury
Other common challenges that can occur when keeping chickens include:
- pecking order and behavioural issues
- noise and odour
- garden destruction
If your main objective is to have an abundance of backyard fresh eggs, please be aware that chickens can be up to 6 months old before they start laying, and there will be a certain time period in the year (usually Winter) when they may stop laying, as there is not enough daylight hours to stimulate egg production. Some hybrid breeds do not experience this. Other reasons they may decrease or stop egg production are related to moulting, being broody, another chicken higher in the pecking order is broody (and hogging the favourite nest) or being unwell.
THE EQUIPMENT & SET UP
The equipment you will need includes:
- brooder and equipment (if getting chickens under 10 weeks old)
- chicken housing & nesting boxes
- chicken run fencing
- food and water, plus the containers
- nesting materials, such as wood shavings, shredded paper, grass clippings etc.
Chickens require a clean, ventilated and secure place to roost, which means sit or perch on horizontal poles, to sleep. They also need a nesting area to lay their eggs. During the day, they also need to have enough space to run around, dust bathe, and scratch the dirt. They need protection from predators during the day and night.
We have an Australian made metal chook ‘tractors’ (which you can move them around your yard, on their wheels) from, Royal Rooster, had a double height model which allowed for up to 10 chooks, and is very durable. It was easy to put together, is very secure, and had optional extras we wanted, like fox-proof flooring and weather shields. We have had it for over 5 years now, adding our own automated waterer, and a large feeder.
You may be able to source affordable equipment through your local classifieds, or community noticeboards. You may be able to build or make your own chicken house and run.
Chickens come in a wide variety of breed, size, shape and purpose, including backyard chickens for egg laying, breeds for meat chickens, for dual purpose (egg laying and meat), and there are also breeds favoured as show chickens. Hybrid breeds have been bred to be egg factories, laying more eggs without the usual downtimes, but these chickens generally have a shorter life expectancy.
In terms of size, there are full sized ‘standard’ chickens, and bantam chickens, which are smaller (and their eggs are smaller). Some chickens breeds are naturally bigger chickens, and some are smaller.
Consider what your purpose is to getting and keeping chickens, then research your options:
- producing eggs – year round, for several years
- backyard pets with benefits, who tolerate urban areas and kids
- dual purpose breed
- reproducing/ breeding, and are known as good mothers
You may also need to decide what age chickens you will get, whether you want to start with fertilised eggs, newly hatched or week old chicks, teenage chickens, those about to start laying, or retired/ rescue hens.
You can buy chickens from local hatcheries, or breeders. Try your local classifieds, online communities or forums for recommendations. There may be a chicken or poultry association in your area, who have their own buy and sell classifieds, or can direct you to reputable sellers.
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