Living with Chickens

Backyard chickens

If you are a regular reader of my blog you will know we have backyard chickens. When we moved a couple of years ago to our home in Toowoomba I did not think this would be possible. However, we reorganised one side of our 1008 sq metre house block of land, had an enclosed vegetable garden built, then suddenly we found there was space for a chicken coop!

The first step was to work out what type of home we would have for our chickens? Would we buy a flat pack or have one purposed built? My earlier posts describe what we went through to make the perfect place – a home for our chickens. We bought the Homestead from Somerzby. Before putting it together we gave it two coats of paint and made a few minor changes.

You may have heard of Frank Lloyd Wright, the American architect, interior designer, writer and educator. Even though he passed away in 1959 his legacy lives on. He said “regard it just as desirable to build a chicken house as it is to build a cathedral”. An interesting comment! Yes, we found it very desirable building our chicken house. To build a home for our chickens where they could find food, water, shelter, comfort and safety.

Our chickens are an important part of our urban eco system. They produce eggs for us and we care for and feed them in return. You may hear people say you can give your chickens scraps. If you do give your chickens scraps then take notice of what they eat and what they leave. Chickens are very discerning, they know what is good for them. Then there are others who say “only feed your chickens the leftover food you would eat yourself”. Our chickens are in the latter category and I have long list of what to feed them and not what to feed them, apart from their pellets which contain all the vitamins and minerals they need to keep healthy.

Five weeks ago we added two more chickens (young pullets) to our other two older chickens we have had for seven months. Integrating new chickens, having a mixed flock of ages has to be managed. Firstly, they are eating different types of food. The young pullets had a diet of crumbles while the older ones larger pellets. What should I do? After much research I decided it would not harm the older chickens for them all to eat the crumbles for a few weeks. After three weeks I mixed the crumbles with the pellets. I supplement their diet with grains, scattered in their run every morning, plus a few other treats during the day. They come to expect treats and every time they hear the key turn in the lock as I come from the back door of the garage they run to greet me! The “little girls” were shy at first but now they have joined the “big girls” and run to meet me.

For the first four weeks the “little girls” huddled together every evening at dusk. They did not go up to roost nor had they explored the area up the ladder or ramp which holds the roosting area and access to the nesting boxes. I decided it was time for them to join the “big girls” and one evening at dark with my head lamp (red lens to reduce the light) shifted them from their favourite sleeping spot and on to one of the roosting bars. I did this the following night and to my surprise the next night they made their way up all on their own, after slipping and sliding up the ramp. Then I discover that the four of them are all huddled together on one roosting bar the next evening – their integration is complete!

Even though the “little girls” and the “big girls” are now one happy family the “little girls” still know their place. They know who is in charge of the flock – the chicken, Carmella. More about the pecking order at another time. In the meantime, here are some photos of the chickens and their “home sweet home”.

Golda and Melba arrived at our place 5 weeks ago. This photo is taken when they were with us for 2 weeks. Golda is named after Golda Meir. She is a double gold-laced Wyandotte (an American breed). Melba is named after Dame Nellie Melba. She is a Barnevelder (Dutch breed). Their feathers are still growing and they are still growing up!
Melba after living with us for 5 weeks. You can see how much she has grown, including her tail feathers, in the 3 weeks after the earlier photo.
Golda after 5 weeks in her new home. A lovely natured girl looking very smart in her finery.
Lucy keeping her eye on the “little girls”! She is a little dusty after having had a dust bath.
Carmella is sitting down and relaxing. It looks like she is ignoring everyone at the moment. However, it will not long before she is showing the “little girls” that she is in charge!
We just made the run larger so that “the girls” all have a happy time together! They also have a swing in the coop. The dwarf black mulberry, near the nesting box, will give shade to the coop. After the tree grows taller and spreads out the wire will be removed. The chickens can then help themselves to a mulberry or two! The Viburnum shrub produce fragrant white flowers followed by red berries – another treat for the girls!

If you are thinking of having backyard chickens all you have to do is a little homework. Make sure you have enough space and give “the girls” a home they can be proud of! Backyard chickens provide heaps of entertainment. We are always checking on them and sitting down for a few minutes to watch and enjoy their antics. It is a relaxing and peaceful past-time.

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