Keeping chickens is good for the soul, garden and kitchen, according to ‘The Chicken Lady’ Helen South.
She has been around chickens her whole life but has been running her hobby/business for five years.
Helen says chooks are great companions for people of all ages and caring for them is a great way to fill in the day, but there are a few things to consider.
The first step is to contact Moreton Bay Regional Council to find out if your property is suitable for keeping chickens and what the requirements are.
Once you have the green light, you need to set up a safe, comfortable and secure home for them that protects them from wild birds and other creatures including dogs, cats and snakes.
“They will attract wild birds and rodents. It’s good to have a system in place to avoid that,” Helen says.
“Wild birds give chickens diseases, so it’s best to keep the two separate.”
Use small-gauge wire and ensure nothing can squeeze under it.
A thick layer of clean sandpit sand is the perfect base because it is absorbent and easy to clean.
Helen recommends using wood shavings in nesting boxes because it is also absorbent, warm and will reduce odours.
“It’s three-ply versus one-ply toilet paper. If you use hay or straw, it breeds bacteria and smells because it holds moisture,” she says.
Chickens like a safe, dark space to lay their eggs, so it is important to provide a nesting box for them. You will only need one or two for up to six chickens as they tend to prefer sharing boxes.
When it comes to feeding your chooks, you cannot go past a good quality laying mash and kitchen scraps including vegetable peelings, rice and pasta. Do not give them avocado.
In winter, it is important to bump up their protein intake to ensure they have what they need to stay healthy and warm. This can include soy beans, raw liver, or anything with high protein levels.
Many chickens will ‘go off the lay’ in winter, but if you feed them finely chopped cow liver for a couple of weeks, they will start producing again.
They also need fresh water provided in water feeders to avoid contamination.
Adding 30ml of apple cider vinegar to 1 litre every now and then is good for them, as it is for humans.
“A lot of things that are good for humans are good for chickens,” Helen says.
Giving your hens plenty of room to move is important for their wellbeing and to promote the production of eggs.
“The happier your chickens are, the better they lay, so free range is the best possible scenario for a chicken’s life,” she says.
“They don’t like being couped up like a battery hen – just watch them around your vegie patch.”
Helen says the eggs taste better because they are fresh and free from human interference, and the yolks are a bright, golden yellow.
“When you crack a fresh egg, it plops into a frying pan like jelly,” she says.
If you feed your chickens cracked corn, the yolk colour will be even brighter and adding shell grit to their diet improves shell quality.
Eggs are not the only useful byproduct of keeping chickens. The woodshavings and manure are good for your garden but are too potent to use without being watered down.
“Put them in a big drum and fill it with water, then use the water on your garden beds. The more watered down it is, the better it is,” Helen says.
She says there is much to know about chickens – they get used to routine and can recognise up to 100 people. Aracana chickens produce an egg with a light blue shell, and chickens with white earlobes will lay white eggs.
“Every day, I learn something new about chickens,” she says.
Top tip: Do not keep farm fresh eggs in the fridge. They are better in a cool spot at room temperature. This preserves the natural protective coating on the shell. Condensation in the fridge removes it.
To find out more, see Helen at Gardenscapes Landscape Centre, Deception Bay, every Saturday from 9am-1pm, search Helen’s Happy Hens on Facebook or phone 0404 265 628.
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