Chickens make great pets, they are docile, easy to keep and happily consume all your kitchen scraps, converting them into delicious eggs and rich manure. They are also excellent workers with their natural scratching and pecking put to use, they weed, clean up fallen fruit and eat bugs. The trick with them is to devise a system where they work for you, not against you, as they can be extremely destructive in the vegetable garden when left to their own devises.
Ways To Keep Urban Chooks
A mobile pen allows you to put your chickens to work within your vegetable garden. It provides them with plenty of fresh air, sunlight, shade, wet weather protection and protection from dogs and other predators. They need a place to perch at night and a box to lay their eggs. When not working in your vegetable garden they can eat the grass on your lawn. Click here to find out about the Keeping Chickens and Building a Permaculture Chicken Dome Workshop.
The alternative method, if you only have limited space, is the Balfour method. Build a wire pen, about two metres high, around the henhouse. Into this area throw straw, bracken, hedge trimmings, weeds and any other vegetation. The chickens will peck and scratch around in this eating insects and seeds whilst turning it all into fertile compost. Each year you can collect this compost to spread on the garden. Grow fruit trees within the enclosure or espaliered along the fence line. The chickens will fertilise the tree with their droppings and eat any fallen fruit.
A family of five requires about three chickens to keep them well supplied in eggs. As they are a flock animal three is really the minimum you should keep. Chickens need at least one square metre of space in a run each.
The two weather conditions that chickens need protection from is cold wind and the wet. They are happy to forage in snowy or frosty conditions.
They need access to fresh drinking water at all times and grit which they hold in their crop to process their food. They also need regular worming, especially if they free range. I give my chickens Poultry Health Tonic and Natural Wormer, which has grit, beneficial herbs and a natural wormer in the one mixture. My chickens love it and now I produce it in small quantities, from my garden, for other chickens to enjoy. This is what Lynn from Wellsford says about the Tonic….
I bought the above Poultry Health tonic off you late last month.
It’s probably just timing, but my lovely Barred Rock started laying 3 days later………………so I’m sold on the stuff!!!
The kids reckon it smells funny, the chickens fall over each other to get to it and mother is just happy cause she’s getting eggs again!!
Lizz from Wellsford
Generally speaking I think the heavy breeds make better pets. They are quieter, so less likely to annoy neighbours and easily tamed. If you choose to keep them in a moveable dome, or run, they also make the best gardeners. They all lay brown eggs. These include:-
The Heavy Breeds
1. Wyandottes – A good layer and also a good meat bird. Very docile and non-flighty. Real eye candy strutting around the garden.
2. Light Sussex - An old English breed which are gentle and quiet. They lay brown eggs. Being heavy these chickens are good for eating and low fences easily contain them.
3. Barnevelder – Generally very quiet, good layers and not broody. The eggs are dark brown with rusty orange flecks. The builds are quite small framed so good for the smaller garden.
4. Barred Plymouth Rock – These birds look like Zebra’s with their black and white stripes. The males grow huge and can be aggressive. They are moderate layers but late to mature.
5. Rhode Island Red -With rich chestnut glossy feathers these chooks are real show pony’s. They have a lovely quiet nature. They lay well over winter and are good meat birds.
6. Orpington – Large, strong, hardy and good natured. They make great mothers and lay large brown eggs. Extremely tamable and make great pets for children. Come in an assortment of colours including, black, grey, white, brown and mottled.
Light Breeds (white egg layers)
1. Araucana – comes from Chile. Often lavender in colour. Lay green or blue eggs. Very noisy. Good layers if feed well.
2. Legorne- the best layers of the pure breeds. Don’t go clucky but very flighty and scatty. Lay large white eggs. Keep in a covered pen as mine manage to jump vertically over a 2 metre high fence!
You can buy the Hybrid breed – Brown Shavers or Hyline brown from most of the poultry farms They will lay for a good 18 months but then the egg production really drops off and they can start laying really large mishapen eggs. Pure bred chickens will lay until much older and live for about 6yrs. If you have an incubator you can buy fertile eggs and hatch them yourself, a great science lesson for the kids. Chickens start laying at about 4-5 months old.
To get the best out of your hens you need to feed them well, they can’t be overfed. I buy layers pellets. You also need to supply hens with oyster grit and fresh drinking water at all times. They will devour all your kitchen scraps.
I worm my chickens using my Poultry Health Tonic and Natural Wormer. Put Rosemary, tansy, pine needles or wormwood branches in their laying boxes to keep lice away.
Most local authorities allow between 6- 12 poultry but no roosters but check as this does vary from region to region.