Living with Chickens

Caring for backyard chickens

More and more people these days have backyard chickens. I believe there are at least two reasons for this. Firstly, chickens give a valuable food source – eggs; and secondly, they are entertaining. Caring for backyard chickens is a great way to teach children about responsible pet management. While it is fun collecting the eggs, there is more to owning chickens than eating a great egg.

One of the downsides of introducing chickens into your backyard is not thinking ahead about the chicken’s welfare. I have heard of people having chickens that roost at night in a tree in the backyard. Chickens are vulnerable to predators and a responsible chicken owner will make sure that they have clean and safe accommodation.

As animal owners we must give proper care to our pets. This includes providing food and water; accommodation or living conditions; understanding your pets normal behavioural patterns; treating disease and injury and handling the chicken appropriately. Read more here.

If you buy eggs from the supermarket you may have noticed a sign explaining that there is an egg shortage. Such is the demand for eggs that the commercial production of eggs has given us the “battery hen”. With this comes many welfare compromises. The RSPCA and I believe that “hens deserve better”.

Yesterday the Federal Government introduced the start of a new national standard for hen density. For eggs to be labelled free-range there must be 10,000 hens or fewer per hectare (one square metre per hen). The hen density must be displayed on all egg cartons. The hens must have meaningful and regular access to the outdoors. More room, the happier the hen.

My backyard hens are happy with the amount of space in their coop and run. Their coop is big enough to take 12 hens, with a daily run outdoors. For four hens it is an ideal space. From around 7am in the morning they spend most of their day in the run with infrequent trips into the coop for a pellet snack or going into the nesting box to lay.

They have fresh food and water on demand; a clean and safe coop; kale (most days); grains scattered in the run early morning; treats such as veggies and/or meat morsels (leftovers from a roast) and dried meal worms – but not all at once or all on the same day!

Princess Carmella is in charge of our flock of four hens. The pecking order is well established, and she insists on having the best of everything for herself. When I put food such as the grain in several places she runs from one place to another to get her favourite grain “corn”. The two chickens I introduced 11 weeks ago know their place and step aside if Carmella moves in! However, as Golda and Melba are growing physically they are also growing in courage. It is the only way they will get their share of treats!

Carmella with Golda and Melba. Lucy’s tail just made it into the photo!

Carmella is an interesting hen. Every now and again she will make a sound like a duck. I wonder whether she grew up in those early months of her life with ducks in a nearby pen! Also, when she sees me during the day she will squawk continually, her way of asking for a treat. When this behaviour does not produce a treat, she soon accepts the situation and quietens down.

Golda has grown a lot in the past few months. You can see that the hedge at the bottom is bare. All four girls love Lilli-Pilli leaves and berries.
Melba is a lovely girl – such great shiny feathers and more importantly a fluffy rear!

Right now, Lucy is moulting. It can happen at any time and it is important that she has more protein in her diet. The dried meal worms are good for this. Throughout the moult hens stop laying eggs. As Golda and Melba have not started their laying career our backyard eggs are few right now.

Golda and Melba 9 weeks ago. My oh my how these wee girls have grown in comparison to the photos above!

Caring for backyard chickens is rewarding, but it does take effort to be a responsible chicken owner. What I like about it is that it gets me outside. Every now and again my One&Only and I stop and stare, take a few minutes out of our day and watch their antics. Caring for chickens, like other pets, is good for our mental health. Read a short story about a man whose life was saved by caring for ex-battery hens.

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