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Keeping a few chooks in the backyard is a fantastic thing to do! Whether you research and source some of the rare and lovely old fashioned breeds, or whether you save some commercial Isa Browns from a life in a commercial chicken farm, they will provide you with hours of entertainment! Not to mention the benefits of recycling food scraps, producing useful manure, pest control in your garden, and even supplying delicious eggs!
Check with your local council what regulations apply. Some councils have limits on numbers, or proximity of enclosures to neighbours, etc. And nobody in suburbia is very tolerant of roosters!
So while you can buy fertlised eggs and incubate them until they hatch (which is a wonderful thing to do with kids) – be prepared you may well end up with unwanted “boys”. Unfortunately most of these do not end up enjoying a happy life – many are illegally dumped; something we have seen more than once.
Sexed young chicks are available, and again seeing fluffy, tiny chicks grow up is something kids love. Chicks are surprisingly robust. A lightbulb for warmth, chick starter crumble and a shallow dish of fresh water is all they require (along with adult supervision to ensure they aren’t cuddled to death!)
Commercial breeds like Isa Browns commence laying at around 20 weeks, and will generally produce an egg a day for at least two years. Pullets are young hens soon to be laying, and can be bought for around $20 each.
Egg farms usually replace their birds at around 18 months. These “old” hens are available very cheaply – around $10 each and will continue to supply eggs for some time. And rescuing these bedraggled girls is a great thing to do. Most will have spent their lives indoors in cages. They will need to be taught to roost and may even take a few days to venture outdoors and do chooky things, having spent their life in a tiny cage indoors.
The unnatural accelerated egg production of commercial breeds leads to exhaustion and they generally have a shorter lifespan, Often 3 - 4 years, but they have been known to survive much longer, still popping out the odd egg every week at least!
An alternative is to source out some of the older breeds of chicken. Thankfully, there are specialist breeders around Perth you can track down via the internet (you may need to be patient, as chicks are usually not available all year round). And these hens are more expensive; $30 - $40 each, depending on age and the breed. Some of these breeds are absolutely gorgeous to took at, and there is a range of egg sizes and even egg colours produced.
Most purebreed chooks have a longer lifespan of at least 8 – 10 years, and a longer laying lifetime, but may only lay every 2 – 3 days and will have more laying breaks throughout the year.
Chooks will sometimes go “off the lay”, due to extremes in temperature (hot and cold), upsets within their environment, and when broody or moulting. Often a change in diet and added protein will get them back on the lay, but keep in mind these breaks are natural.
Good housekeeping and hygiene will keep birds healthy. They can be prone to parasites, stickfast fleas, etc, but there are remedies (both commercial and natural/homemade) to deal with most of them. Clean out your pens regularly – the waste makes great compost! Ensure clean, cool water is always available and make sure chook pens are fox proofed.
Foxes are still around in many outer suburban areas, and the heartbreaking discovery of a fox kill in your chookpen is certainly something you will want to avoid.
If you take good care of your birds, you will be greatly rewarded!