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Chickens (eggs and pets!)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Chickens make great pets, they are docile, easy to keep and happily consume all your kitchen scraps, converting them into delicious eggs and rich manure. They are also excellent workers with their natural scratching and pecking put to use they weed, clean up fallen fruit and eat bugs. The trick with them is to devise a system where they work for you, not against you, as they can be extremely destructive in the vegetable garden when left to their own devises.

A mobile pen allows you to put your chickens to work within your vegetable garden. The dome design has a number of advantages over more traditional designs. It can be made to the size of the chickens you want, from three small bantams up to 12 layers. It provides them with plenty of fresh air, sunlight, shade, wet weather protection and protection from dogs and stoats. They are provided with room to perch and to lay. The round shape prevents the lowest ranking chicken form being cornered and harassed. Most importantly the dome is light and easily moved by one person and is cheap to build. All the materials can be bought from any hardware store or scavenged from around about. Yes you could buy a lovely macrocarpa chicken run from Kiwi Backyard for $1500 but I made my PVC piping dome for around $130. This doesn’t take so long to earn this back in eggs.

The dome and chickens are moved on to each ‘crop circle’ after I have harvested all my crops. I don’t weed or pull out anything gone to seed as this provides food for the chickens while they are cleaning up this area. All kitchen scraps, grass clippings, coffee grounds, dust from vacuum cleaner bags, ash from the fire, hedge trimmings, weeds and any other organic material. The chickens will eat what they like and scratch and mulch everything else whilst adding rich manure to it all. I generally leave them on each ‘crop circle’ for at least two weeks by which time the space has been transformed into beautiful rich organic material ready to plant the next crop straight into.

With this system I only do the fun things such as seed raising, planting, watering and harvesting, the chickens do everything else for me.

Chicken Breeds

Generally speaking I think the heavy breeds make better pets. They are quieter and easily tamed. They all lay brown eggs. These include:-

1.Wyandottes- a good layer and also a good meat bird. Very docile and non-flighty

2. White Sussex- an old English breed which are gentle and quiet. They lay brown eggs and being heavy are good for eating and low fences.

3. Barnevelder- Very quiet, good layers and not broody. The eggs are dark brown with rusty orange flecks.

4. Barred Plymouth Rock- These birds look like Zebra’s with their black and white stripes. The males grow huge and can be aggressive. They are moderate layers but late to mature.

5. Rhode Island Red- they have a lovely quiet nature. They lay well over winter and are good meat birds.

Light Breeds (white egg layers)

1. Araucana- comes from Chile. Often lavender in colour. Lay green or blue eggs. Very noisy. Good layers if feed well.

2. Legorne- the best layers of the pure breeds. Don’t go clucky but very flighty and scatty. Lay large white eggs.

You can by the Hybrid breed – Brown Shavers or Hyline brown from most of the poultry farms for around $18 as Point of Lay ( teenagers about to lay). They will lay for a good 18 months but then the egg production really drops off to nothing. Pure bred chickens will lay until much older and live for about 6yrs. Trademe is a good place to look for poultry. If you have an incubator you can buy fertile eggs off Trademe and hatch them yourself, great science lesson for the kids. Chickens start laying at about 4 -5 months old.

To get the best out of your hens you need to feed them well, they can’t be overfed. A 25kg bag costs around $37. You also need to supply hens with oyster grit and fresh drinking water at all times.

I worm my chickens each month by putting garlic clove in their drinking water for two days. Put rosemary, pine needles or wormwood branches in their laying boxes to keep lice away
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