Backyard Bliss: The joy of keeping chickens

A flock of feathered friends brings so much more than just eggs

Every morning I wander into our backyard, cup of tea in hand, and find a sunny spot to spend a few moments soaking up the bliss that is poultry parenthood. I admire our six ‘girls’ enjoying their snacks, searching for hidden treasures and grooming their feathers. Every now and then they have an amusing interaction that warrants a text to my partner at work (Babe, wait till you hear about the cute things the girls did today!).

It’s not all scrambled eggs and cute clucking, but any chicken owner will tell you that they enhance your life in ways beyond the breakfast bench. One of my good friends swears by her chickens’ grounding powers. She says, “It doesn’t matter what’s going on for me. Whenever I sit and watch the chickens it just brings me back into the present and makes me feel good.” 

Organic farmer and founder of Byron Grass Fed, Andrew Cameron, knows the many benefits of keeping chickens. He says, “they fertilise your garden, help reduce fruit flies, scratch around creating a positive impact on your soil, help give life to fruit trees, make use of your leftover kitchen scraps, help make compost and give you fresh, delicious eggs every day! They’re also a great way to introduce children to nature, and just so nice to have around.” 

Before you buy

Andrew explains the importance of having the right set up before you buy your feathered friends. He says, “shelter, laying and roosting spaces, and places to forage on fresh grass and weeds and take dust baths” are essential. “Chickens love shade and scratching around trees so keep that in mind when placing their home…Make sure your chook pen is snake proof as well as having protection at night from any predators”, he says.

If you’re in it for the eggs, you’ll want to buy them at around 18 weeks (they start laying at around 20-22 weeks). In terms of costs, the chickens themselves will set you back around $25, and then it’s about $5 a month per chook for food. Apart from that it’s just the set-up costs, which will vary depending on how luxurious your coop is. 

You’ll need:

  • A safe and comfortable coop, with plenty of shade, roosting space and access to greens and dust
  • Comfortable laying boxes (filled with straw/wood shavings) that are dark and safe for laying
  • A roosting spot to perch on at night (high up from the ground, the right shape for their feet and level)
  • Plenty of space so that they’re not overcrowded
  • Easy access to food and water
  • Diatomaceous earth – add to their nesting boxes and dust bathing areas to deter mites
  • Pellets (in addition to food scraps)

Choosing your chooks

When choosing your chooks, you have a few options: Heritage, Hybrid or Retired. 

Andrew explains that heritage have been less impacted by commercial breeding and so hold more genuine characteristics of older breeds. They tend to lay less but live longer and are a good option if you’re thinking of eating them down the track (provided you don’t grow too attached like me!). Heritage breeds include Sussex, Australorps (Australian breed), Orpingtons, Anacodas, Pylmouth Rocks, Silkies etc.  

Hybrid layers are more common and lay a lot in the first year or so before slowing down. Some common hybrids include Lawmans, Hylines and Isa Browns. 

If you ask Andrew what he recommends, he’ll always say retired girls. By buying a chicken from a local, commercial farm or hen rescue group, you’ll give them a chance to live a longer life after doing their job for a farm, and you’ll still get plenty of eggs.

We’ve experienced many ups and downs along the journey of poultry parenthood – from angry neighbours who received a few too many visits from our feathered friends, to the sheer joy that comes with your flock frantically waddling towards you when they’re called. But one thing’s for sure – I wouldn’t trade my girls for the world. 

For more about Andrew and some cool resources, check out www.byrongrassfed.com.au

Words by Jessica Humphries for Being magazine

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