Chooks. Some people out there might think that they are only good for roasting or eggs but aside from that, they make brilliant pets.
My "divas" (Rhianna, Beyonce, Gaga and Brittany) are very much part of our family and have the funniest little personalities. Ewan loves them and I think they give my back yard atmosphere plus they're the easiest pets to keep, they only need food and water. They don't need taking to the park for a walk and they're fairly self entertaining. The bonus is, they give me an abundance of fresh eggs. We keep as many as we can eat and the rest I take to work and sell which pays for all the costs of keeping them (feed, hay, worming etc). ie, free eggs and pets, I wish my cat and dog were so self supporting, they seem to cost me the earth in food and vet bills!
Lately I noticed that the diva pen has been looking a little drab. It was basically a dust pit and although I let them out into my backyard to play a fair bit, I still thought it was time for a tidy up and addition of a chicken playground.
First I cleaned out the laying boxes and yard. It didn't take long, just a quick rake and I put all the poo, dirt and waste into a pile ready for the veggie garden.
Then Ewan I started the fun stuff. I purchased a bale of straw from the local pet feed store ($8) and then stole some lavender from the neighbours garden for the nesting boxes. It apparently helps relax the chickens when they are laying their eggs!
Aside from the feeder, I hung some edible flower plants and blackberries for the chooks to peck at. I also found an old orange fruit net/bag and filled it with veggies like apples, lettuce, some plums and herbs.
The rest of the straw bale I left in the middle of the yard and over the next few hours the chooks scratched and pulled it apart. They loved it!
Lastly I put in some logs and bits of timber which the chooks could perch on and jump all over. It is the perfect "chicken playground" and far more interesting for them than before.
You don't need much space to keep chooks although the more the better of course. Legally I'm pretty sure you need a space of 0.9m2 per chook which isn't much really. My chicken house is an old apple crate which Roge added some laying boxes and some perches to...oh and put on a roof! All the materials were scraps of bits and pieces laying around so it didn't cost anything.
I feed my chooks a high protein laying pellet which I load up in the self feeder. I also give them some mixed grain which I throw about the yard so they can scratch around and find it. I also add some ground up shells into the feeder to give them good strong egg shells (it's called shell grit and can be purchased from the pet feed store). Lastly I feed them scraps from the kitchen except for some things which they can't eat like, citrus fruits, potato skins, beans and their own egg shells (it encourages them to eat their own eggs which is not good!) Funnily enough you would have noticed I didn't exclude meat scraps. This is because chooks eat meat!
I get one egg per day from my divas most of the time. Over winter the white ones don't lay as well but the brown ones which are specially bread for laying, will lay all year around.
Recently one of the white chooks (Brittany) went broody which means she wanted to hatch some chicks. She was sitting on all the other chooks eggs and wouldn't get off them. I don't have a rooster so I introduced seven eggs from my mum who has a rooster and exactly 21 days later, I ended up with seven new chickens!
They grew so quickly and now they are almost full grown chooks!
I've kept two so now I have six "divas" although I must admit I haven't named the new ones. They're a breed called New Hampshire Reds so they will have red feathers but I'm struggling to think of any human divas who are red heads to name them after. Any suggestions are welcome.
The remaining chickens have gone to my mum's house. The roosters will get their heads chopped off and eaten (not my cup a tea but my mother lives a lot more self sustainably than I do. My roast chickens come from the supermarket deli!) The hens will live on and provide lots more eggs and chickens in the future.
18 months ago I didn't know the first thing about keeping chooks and even now I wouldn't say I'm an expert but I'd also say, its not rocket science! I googled a few things to start with and if I have a problem with one of them, I've asked the local pet food shop staff and that's helped a lot. I'm a total advocate for keeping your own hens because you know where the eggs are coming from and it's a lot more humane than the supermarket egg producers. Those poor chooks are kept in the most appalling conditions and that's not only the caged egg producers.
I purchased my two brown chooks from a local chook farm that is supposed to be a "free range" farm and I can tell you there wasn't much free range going on. The chooks were all in cramped little huts and let out into a bigger yard one every few days. It was a total dust pit and disgusting. My chooks had feathers missing and were quite timid. That I'm happy to say has completely changed. They are fat and really tame now and quite the little entertainers! You can usually "save" a chook from these type of farms as they only keep their chooks for 18 months whilst they are peak layers. After this they may not lay as regularly (but I haven't noticed a difference, they're my best layers) and cost only about $5-$6 per chook.
Anyhoo, there is so much literature on keeping chickens, this blog isn't intended on being one of them other than to encourage you to think about keeping some chooks yourself. It is financially rewarding but more than that, they become part of your family, such wonderful little characters and great for kids learning the responsibility of keeping pets. And lastly, no they don't smell. If you rake up their mess every now and then it's all you need to do to keep the smell at bay. I've changed cat litter boxes that smell worse than my chicken pen!