July 2019 Take Pleasure in your Chooks

Take Pleasure in your Chooks

Add up all the world’s cats and dogs, cows and pigs and there would still be more chickens. Toss in every rat on earth and the chook still rules. More than 20 billion chickens live on our planet, three for every human alive. 

Keeping backyard chickens is rapidly expanding across Australia. 

Chooks are popping up in more and more backyards, schools and nursing homes… because chooks, not only turn table scraps into eggs, they have great personalities and make wonderful companions.

Here are a few ideas to look after your flock over the coming months.

The chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) is a type of domesticated fowl, a subspecies of the red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) from the dinosaur era.

The chook house should mimic the forest as a safe and social resting place

Coop placement in your garden design depends on many factors. If you want to keep them in an orchard, their scratching and excavations damage feeder roots, which then sucker, so place mesh on the ground around trees.

If you want to tractor chooks in the kitchen garden to build up your soil structure, a small one by two metre enclosure for a few birds, moved daily, will create friable soil quickly. You can help them dig by forking the soil gently first, then cast a few grains into the crevices.

A final factor in coop placement is that your chickens are family members, they’re lovely to watch and hear, and they like to be near you! 

Chickens are affected by overcrowding. Their social etiquette requires room for them to run around and to flap their wings! As a minimum, allow one square metre of perch space per four chooks, and at least two square metres per chook for their outside day run. This provides space for dust baths, escape routes, roosters crowing and a sunny spot to rest together.

A walk-in coop is the ideal design to collect eggs and to allow you to inspect the perches and service the coop.

Nesting materials should not be hollow stemmed, because they provide a mite habitat inside the stem. Pine needles, many native grasses, shredded paper or wood shavings are best. 

On each full moon, make time to service the flock and the coop.

Scrape perches and nesting boxes clean, then scrub with a 10:1 water vinegar solution. Replace nesting materials and add aromatic herbs like rosemary, lavender and oregano to repel mites. On the same night, sneak in and paint your chooks’ legs with cooking oil to smother any leg mites.

A treatment of Super Mash feed supplement each full moon, gives them a boost of nutrients and probiotics for gut health and vitality. Ingredients in Super Mash, like sulphur and garlic, exude from the skin to deter lice and mites and prevent intestinal worms.

Chickens value a varied diet. Fresh green pick is essential. Grass clippings, sprouts, weeds and harvested leafy greens each day keep their digestive system healthy, yolks yellow and, if you eat some birds, green pick gives their meat local flavours.

Chooks love protein, especially during the autumn moult. Protein can include mealworms, meat scraps, garden worms and maggots. Keep logs and rocks in the day run where they can scratch for treats.

You can also sprout grains which are soft and digestible and they give your chookies a living food to enjoy. To make sprouted grains just soak a half a bucket of wheat or barley in a bucket overnight. Drain and rinse at least once a day for three to four days until they start to sprout. Give generously.

Chickens can draw calcium out of their bones to make eggs, so during lay season your girls need a calcium boost. Dry your egg shells over the week, pulverise in a blender and place in an elective feed container. 

Take time to sit and watch your flock. Apart from being a calming and entertaining thing to do, you’ll notice flock dynamics and warning signs of health problems. 

So grab your cup of tea, sit down and take pleasure in your chooks.

June 2019 Predators

Predators

Chickens are such important critters in our lives, it’s no wonder the biggest problem we face is predators. 

It’s up to you to protect your chickens and it all starts with the physical chicken coop security. But who are the predators?

Snakes, goannas, quolls, hawks and eagles are common but no hunter is as efficient a killer as the fox.

Foxes are stealthy, tricky, very strong and can decimate your flock in one night – a shocking and heartbreaking thing to go through.  

Winter is the ideal time for a fox to hunt. Long nights, windy conditions and humans safely inside are ideal hunting conditions. A fox will stake out your place for weeks prior to an attack.

Known plurally as a ‘skulk’ or ‘leash’ of foxes, their eyes glow green in torch light instead of red or orange of other animals. They are most often single predators, but can travel in pairs.

Foxes have an amazingly good sense of smell (better than dogs) and more heightened senses generally which include whiskers on their face and legs to assist with navigation during nocturnal travels but they also hunt through the day.

They can travel 10-15 km from their den to find food and will map food sources by smell.

Foxes can thrive in cities where there are lots of hiding spots under buildings and plenty of food waste.

If you’ve got a fox skulking around, you can talk to your local council or Lands Department who could assist with at trap and humanely disposing of a trapped fox.

Snakes are predominantly attracted by rodents and eggs and won’t usually eat a chook, though they would gulp down a young chick. Keeping on top of rats and mice and collecting eggs every day will reduce the prevalence of snakes.

Goannas are similar to snakes but will harm a sitting chook to get to eggs. If you do have a chook wounded by a goanna a slathering of honey to the wound will help to heal the nasty toxic wound.

Quolls, Tassie Devils and Goannas are protected animals so must not be harmed. You will need strong preventative measures to keep them out of your chicken coop.

If you have free ranging hens it can be more difficult to protect them against birds of prey, feral cats and dogs.

Rats and mice are attracted to easy access of chicken feed so keep your feed secure and dont have surplus grains lying around in the coop. 

On poisons, avoid using poison pellets and blocks. They make for a slow and awful death and you risk secondary poisoning to birds such as owls, hawks, your chooks and other critters. 

Fortress Chicken… the best defenses

  • A strong and secure run and coop sleep-house with galvanised netting or mesh.
  • Floppy fence top facing outward if the coop is not fully covered
  • 300mm mesh apron facing outward at the base of the fence, they’ll dig close to fence but can’t easily tunnel under.
  • Keep your chicken feed secure and don’t leave food around
  • Use double latches on chicken run and sleeping coop
  • Electric fencing with hot wire or wired chicken mesh
  • Light activated coop door – from www.coopsecure.com.au
  • Fox lights are available online – a random sweeping strobe 
  • Predator sensor light – activated by movement close to the coop
  • Urine and smell of people – hah! wee around your coop 🙂
  • A good rooster will always keep one eye out for danger. If he spots anything, he’ll sound the alarm and gather his hens in a safe place. Listen for alarm calls
  • Your family dog makes an eggcellent poultry protector and will alert you to predator threats. Your trusted pooch will hear a fox yelp and scream on a windy night and tell you there is danger afoot!

The chicken, in their dinosaur days, may have had the forest as protection. These days they are more exposed.

In these drier times, with less natural bush foods around, your chook flock is a target for every sky and land based predator. 

Perhaps you need to upgrade security!