Raising Chickens in your backyard

Raising Chickens will make a fantastic addition to your organic vegetable garden.

Fresh, free range eggs for brekky each morning, little friends to follow you around, what could be better for your garden?

Well maybe worms!

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Here's some info to help you with Raising Chickens in your garden

  • They'll need a dog proof hen house for them at night (and daytime when you aren’t home).
  • Always have fresh water available and shade
  • Don't overcrowd their yard. Have a perch In their house (they like to sleep on it at night). Up to 4 chickens will lay eggs in the one nest – but have more available.
  • Free range if you can – they train very easily to follow you to their bed – ok so they are following the food scraps!
  • If free range they may not always lay their eggs in the coop. If you don't want to play "where did the chooks lay their eggs today" you may have to keep them locked up until they lay.
  • Have some seed or pellets as a back up to your food scraps – I find this helps when they stop laying eggs also.
  • Collect their poo and dig into your garden (don't put fresh poo into a veggie garden). Or put it into your compost bin. Chook poo makes excellent fertilizer. So does worm poo.

If you're looking for Chicken Coop plans - Here's a great ebook with many different plans to give you all the information you'll need when Building a Chicken Coop. You'll have the happiest chickens on the block!

Raising Baby Chickens

Here are my top tips for raising baby chickens. I had my first little baby chicken this year, so cute.

  • Keep them warm - mine was in a box with a light bulb for warmth. If they huddle under the bulb then they are too cold. They should chirp and move around their box happily if they are warm enough.
  • Water, keep it clean and always have it available. Don't put in large dish as they will get in and can drown or chill - I have a dish so I put a coffee cup in the middle so she can't get in. Keep the water warm as they can chill easily.
  • Food – buy proper food from the produce, it's very cheap. Put some around their box so they can peck.
  • No cuddles from the kids if you can! They are too fragile so too easy to injure them
  • Sawdust or shredded paper in their box will make it easier for them to walk around.
  • Put in a Perch once you have everything else set up. They'll get used to this quite quickly.
  • - Make the box easy to clean as they poo a lot!

It's hard to determine if baby chicks are male or female, so if you don’t want a rooster buy older chickens. 16 - 20 weeks is a good age to buy chickens (point of lay age).

Did you know?

  • Chickens can only lay 1 egg per day each and will go off laying at times during the year.
  • They lay best when they have 14 hours of sunlight - add artificial light to their coop to extend the day during the winter months.
  • Getting a fright can stop a chook laying, sometimes for a few weeks.
  • Chickens like to take a bath – a dirt bath. Make sure they have access to some loose dirt. Dirt baths can suffocate poultry lice.

raising chickens dirt bath
  • Keep the water when you boil an egg and feed it to your plants – it contains calcium from the egg shells.
  • What can I feed them?

    • all of your fresh kitchen scraps, except those listed below.
    • Chicken Seed or pellets
    • Put a little Apple Cider Vinegar into their water (make sure they like it!)
    • Lettuce and cabbage is ok but not too much.
    What not to feed them

    Some people will throw everything to the chooks but there really are some scraps that are better off in the compost heap. I don't believe they "know" what they can and can't eat. All animals get sick or die eating foods they shouldn't but don't know otherwise. These foods can be toxic to chickens or cause upsets like runny poos and upset stomachs.

    This list comes from the net and from chicken owners that I know. Some sites will list a few of these items, others will have a different list - I've put everything I can find just to confuse you! no seriously so you can make up your own mind - do some more research if you want - or do what I do and top up the compost bin with this list.

    • Stale scraps – keep it fresh
    • onion and chilli
    • avocado (toxic, should not feed this to dogs either)
    • pumpkin seeds
    • Green potatoes or potato peel (best no potato at all)
    • citrus
    • Rhubarb Leaves (due to the oxalic acid)
    • Cucumber or corgette skins (gives them the runs!)
    • If you feed corn or maize make sure it’s cracked and not whole and only give a little bit
    • I just read not to feed bacon (too salty)! Umm I don’t feed my chickens meat…
    • There is a whole list of plants (weeds, herbs) not suitable for chooks.

    Why not grow your own food - sunflowers, grain (oats, barley, maize, wheat), clover, lucerne... Just a small patch, you don't have to move to the country.

    Social problems

    Raising Chickens is not hard but here a few social tips you may need to know.

    Dogs! My Border Collie is great friends with the chooks but at the start he wanted to chase them of course. Now he protects them from other neighbourhood and wild dogs.

    They can go broody at times. This means they will sit on their eggs hoping they'll hatch – sometimes there aren’t even any eggs in the nest. She won’t be laying eggs and at the worst may forget to eat or drink. Plus she won’t be with the other chooks so will be vulnerable to a snake or dog attack. It's best to get her off the nest – maybe lock her out for a day and remove any eggs if there are any.

    Cock-a-doodle-don’t: Don’t buy a rooster if you are in the suburbs – your neighbours will not be impressed! Neither will you with the early wake up calls.

    Health Issues for your Backyard Chickens

    Runny poo - Could be too many layer pellets causing diarrhea– make sure they have other food in their diets.

    Soft shells – Could be lack of calcium. Add pellets to your feed. Grind up some cuttlefish and add a little to their feed or provide a dish of shellgrit.

    Lice/ Mites/ Fleas - If you notice any of these you will need to act quickly. You will need to give the yard and chook house a good clean and treat any wooden areas such as their perches. Clean out their nests also.

    To treat the chickens you have choices. There are many natural things you can try – do a google search and see what solution suits you.

    Some I found include: Feeding them sulphur (Pat Coleby books), lime sand, diamateous earth, dust birds with one part derris dust to one part talcum powder (Jackie French), paint the perches with eucalyptus oil mixed with borax (Jackie French), neem oil (insects don't like)...

    Keep them healthy and try some preventative measures to avoid the problem occurring. For example: add a dash of apple cider vinegar to their water, keep their scraps fresh, put some diamateous earth into their dirt bath. (be careful when using this as it’s a very fine powder – wear a mask and keep away from the kids).

    For more information from raising chickens to building a chicken coop visit www.raising-chickens.org

    Final note: If you don't think raising chickens is for you then please, please buy free range eggs.

    "Regard it as just as desirable to build a chicken house as to build a cathedral."

    Frank Lloyd Wright