Tuesday, 18 May 2010

7 Rules for Keeping Chickens

Letter for all those who have loved and lost a 'girl'
To Keeping Chickens Newsletter subscribers from Susan in Melbourne, Australia

Rule 1. Don't name your girls...I started with A for Anita and by the letter T and with only 5 girls to show for the alphabet, I decided it was emotionally safer to just call them 'girls'.

Rule 2. All herding dogs will herd - feather or fur or wool! Be prepared to introduce dogs on a lead and accept that they will have to admire your 'girls' through a fence. It's a very strong instinct to herd/chase and the girls simply don't have the heart for it.

Rule 3. Fences are made to fly over or wriggle under. I have divided my yard nicely with 4 foot lattice fencing. It has created a lovely backdrop for our garden and a freeway for the girls! Yes, I have trimmed a wing on each but they still manage easily to 'bank' over the fence. I am reluctant to totally remove their main defence mechanism for escaping predators including the deaf cat from next door.

Rule 4. Foxes will hunt anytime of the day. My previous hen house was broken into 3 times and each time I reinforced the walls with another layer of wire, then wood. I started to feel like one of the three pigs! Then the fox broke in through the wire roof of the run. I now have a welded mesh house with mesh floor. Most nights, after putting the girls to bed, I let the dogs run around the yard, leaving wet messages on the bushes, etc. This seems to ward off the foxes during the day while we are at work.

Rule 5. Be careful where you bury your dearly departed girls - their sisters have a gruesome tendency to dig them up (or the dog)! Apparently it isn't considered good manners to drop them into your neighbours garbage bin either...oops! (I had run out of ground space)

Rule 6. Your girls will lay way past their 'best by date'. As a result of bonding, feeding and protection, the eggs get bigger and better tasting. Even if they are old and can't lay anymore, they are still eating garden pests and delight in seeing you in the garden. Probably best not to dwell on what goes into their egg production - eewww

Rule 7. Try and go vegetarian for a month a year. It's a good reminder of all the other foods that are out there. It honours and recognises the importance of all life, especially our 'girls'.

Thanks for the newsletter and I love some of the designer hen houses! It's got me thinking about what to design when we move to live at the beach - at least a small surfboard as a ramp up to some beach sheds???!!!

Susan, Melbourne, Australia and enjoying a beautiful, balmy autumn/fall.


tbsomeday said...

love your rules :)
very true aren't they?

we do have both of our "herdy" border collies living with the free range flock peacefully now
there were some mishaps...but one dog now ignores the fact that they exist while the other lays and stares at them for hours in true border collie fashion!

i like the vegetarian tip being one myself :)
course that means i've never fed my chickens beef....ewww
i would try lights if i were going for more eggs...but i just let them cycle naturally

infoaddict said...

Cat food, mince, or bandsaw dust (what's left behind after the butcher does their thing on the big bandsaw) are excellent for chooks at any time, but really do seem to have an effect at maintaining some semblance of egglaying during the transition to cold weather ...

This is to provide the protein they're otherwise missing out on as the bugs, worms, and small mice they otherwise eat during summer go into hibernation/die/etc over winter ...

Angelle said...

Interesting about cat food, Infoaddict. I had no idea it's good for chickens, but I have long known it is as addictive as crack for them.

Susan, I don't feel as bad now that I've read this. I recently decided to keep my girls cooped (so am adding a commodious pavilion to my 4x8 foot coop) because of the ... ummm ... attrition problem I have had letting them free range.

Thanks to my daughter, we observe "no meat November." Enjoyed this.

Anonymous said...

I am astounded at all the talking of feeding chickens on minced beef, butcher meat and cat food.
Although it is widely known that chickens love meat... it is in-fact.... AGAINST THE LAW. Not to mention the other fact... As human beings... we should not be eating any animal that eats meat.This would also apply to the eggs. There are serious health issues here... That is why it is ILEGAL

infoaddict said...

it is not permitted, in Australia, to feed commercial chooks or pigs (both omnivorous animals) with "slops" - ie, kitchen scraps. This is because of the inability to know the quality of the scraps being fed, NOT because there's an inherent risk in feeding these animals on meat-based scraps.

Highly-processed meat-based feeds such as meatmeal (basically a dried powder) are permissible additives to commercial chook feeds.

They are not permissible additives to feed for herbivorous animals such as sheep and cattle.

In your own backyard, as long as you're not selling the eggs, you can feed your chooks whatever they wish to eat.

David said...

The books I have read say avoid meat but I have given my hens bits of bacon rind and they love it! they seem to like very odd things too! olives are like a drug to them!
I read Avacado was bad to feed them but it didn't say why?

Unknown said...

I don't know the exact science of it but many official animal welfare groups list avocado as toxic to animals (cats, dogs etc.) and birds so it is definately best avoided.

the Wonderer said...

Chickens are definitely not vegetarians. They are omnivores, and eat meat in the form of bugs, worms, etc., which form an important part of their diet. They certainly can eat meat from other animals. They've been known to eat mice, snakes, other chickens, chicks, eggs, as well as the meat in your leftover sandwich. I wouldn't overdue the meat leftovers, but they can eat all the insects they like. My flock free-ranges on bugs and grass and they love to get treats from me (fruits, veggie leftovers, etc), but that's a small part of their diet.

Anonymous said...

I always name all of our chooks, and yes we have a little cry and "funeral" when one passes (only two so far thank goodness) :-S

I also let them free range and they are never locked up. Even if their lives are cut short by an unfortunate incident with a predator, I still figure they have better quality lives roaming about the place then they would locked up. That said, I worry every morning on the walk to give them breakfast that there will be some horrible scene awaiting me :(

Anonymous said...

Another Rule... Take time to just sit and enjoy all your chickeness.

Jeanine said...

Love the rules... So true. About feeding your chicks meat. Ours eat what ever they can catch, they are free-range. Many times we have been entertained by them because one has caught a small rodent. They chase each other and try to steal the meat. They will eat ANYTHING they can catch, including small mammals and snakes. We also see them on a regular basis eating out of the cat food bins. We have barn cats and the chickens just love their food, as well as the grain we put out for them. We don't intentionally feed them meat, but then, we don't need too! They can and do catch their own!!!

William said...

I just started in the chicken business but I love watching my hens and lil roo I let them out during the day while tieing up the dogs( a few incidents happened for them to get tied up) mMy pullets just started laying a few days ago but the first one I got I was so happy it was unbelievable :)

Sumalee and David said...

Love your rules however, we do name our chickens because we consider them to be a part of our family and yes, we have cried over their demise a few times already but whether they have names or not, I think we would still cry. They have so much personality and love to follow us around the yard.

amy said...

my chickens are under weight no ma

despite all my errorts to fatten up to a healthy weight.
i'm thinking mybe it is time to worm them. I u
have read that fenbendazole is used in England with
great success, but that it is not
yet approved in the states for use in poultry, there fore I cannot find any product here that is specifically for chickens. Nor can I find a dosage chart to dose my flock safely with fenbendazole. I did find some info at the msucares.com web site but they are talking about dosing 1000 birds. Does any one have any advice or information to share concerning worming a small backyard flock (nine beautiful girls)? Thanks!