Living with Chickens

Chicken Tales

I have a few chicken tales to tell. I am never short of a story about chickens since they came to live with us around five years ago. My knowledge of chicken behaviour and how to manage backyard chickens has grown over the years.

Did you know that there are more chickens in the world then there are humans? Some of them get treated humanly and others do not get treated very well – the battery hens! If you are thinking of having backyard chickens it is not as simple as buying a chook pen and bringing them home. Make sure you do your research about what you need to do to get the best result – happy hens and delicious eggs for breakfast.

There is a great book for kids by Melissa Caughey that has all the information about housing, feeding and caring for chickens. While it is written for kids it can guide parents in their support of children who have backyard chickens. There is also plenty of information online that will set you on course. But as I discovered not everyone is informed about the best way to care for backyard chickens.

Golda and Carmella out and about in their run. As you can see where chickens forage they eat every last piece of green grass.

Walking around my neighbourhood I came across eight backyard chickens all confined to a small space. There were two very small coops. I have not been back lately to see if they have all survived. If they did they would not be happy. Chickens (once they start laying they are hens) like to forage and when confined to a small space problems will arise. Further, they need water and food on demand, if they are not free ranging.

The basics for happy backyard chickens are a comfortable and secure home; adequate space to forage and play; and access to food and water. Treats such as greens, meal worms, leftover fruit and vegetable bits. Giving your chickens a few morsals of meat from a roast will ensure they will love you for the rest of their lives!

Lucy (back) and Carmella. Caring for chickens will keep them happy and healthy.

My chickens love their greens including kale, rocket and baby spinach. They also get the occassional treat of meal worms. They have food, water and shellgrit on demand; two comforable nesting boxes and an auto-door. The latter is more for me than the chickens. I don’t have to go outside at night to lock them into their coop or go out early in the morning to let them into their run. They spend most of the day in the run. The shrub, dwarf mulberry tree and passionfruit vine planted in the coop run are growing well and give the chickens shade on a hot summer’s day.

Golda in the cage (no star hotel) wondering why this is happening!

In the past two months I have had two chickens go broody. It happens mostly with heritage hens, pure breeds. No one really knows why it happens but it is a combination of hormones, instinct and maturity. If a chicken is sitting on unfertilised eggs or no eggs at all, you cannot leave them there. They will lose condition over the 21 day cycle as they will rarely leave the nest for food and water.

Keeping Carmella in a separate area of the run away from the nesting box did not work. She flew up to the top of the fence and then straight into the coop and the nesting box. When broody the hen is determined to get back to the nesting box as soon as possible.

Breaking broody behaviour can start with taking the chicken out of the nesting box once you realise they are broody! The behaviour is very compelling and they will continue to return to the nest. The best way to break them is to isolate them in a cage so the air can circulate underneath and cool them down. This alters the hormones. It usually takes three to five days. But this time it took much longer. With Carmella it took three lots of isolation. Firstly for three night, then for five nights, then a few days in a restricted area that did not work. I placed her in a separate part of the run as Golda had gone broody and was in the cage. However, Carmella flew over the fence and immediately went to the nest. Fortunately, at this time Golda’s broody behaviour was broken. So, she went back into the coop run and Carmella back into the cage for another six nights. In between she was let out for a walk around the coop run, but if she went back into the nesting box it was back into the cage.

My backyard chickens waiting for their treat .

As you read about my chicken tales can you understand that it is not as simple as getting a coop and getting chickens for your backyard. To be a responsible chicken owner means understanding the needs of chickens so that you can give them a happy life. If you have backyard chickens, like me, you will always have a chicken tale or two to tell!

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