Were there a live cam on the chook shed streaming my attempts to usher our new hens inside at dusk, I’d be assured a global following.
Circling with arms spread and bok-bokking my way around the enclosure – one chook in, two chooks out, all of us becoming increasingly frantic. After about ten minutes, six would concede defeat, leaving me to chase the seventh in useless laps for a further five minutes. Last week I almost employed the Garden Terrorist’s working dog skills; but I wasn’t confident it would end well.
They exasperate me each evening, but by morning I’m in love with them again. We have chooks! Hurrah!
In the weeks since their arrival, they have averaged five eggs a day – except on Sundays when productivity inexplicably dips 40 per cent.
This latest chapter in self-sufficiency followed a conversation at our Christmas street party last year. An employee of the nearby Freshwater Creek Free Range Eggs mentioned that the farm sells its year-old layers a couple of times each year, with the next lot up for grabs in March.
When I phoned in February, the very generous Farmer Jim ran me through everything I’d need and invited me out to have a look at the farm’s nesting boxes. Tanya’s latest project was underway – so I naturally roped in the rest of my family.
Jim ran us through the set up. Minimal wood in the chook house to prevent the spread of diseases, AstroTurf in the nesting boxes for the same reason. A wire mesh raised floor to guard against vermin and allow poop to drop straight through, reducing clean up and stink. And 10 degree rollaway nesting boxes for easy egg collection and so the chooks don’t eat them.
Chooks love eating eggs.
Oh. That’s a bit freaky.
According to Jim, starting our chook journey with $5-a-pop Hy-Line fowls was a prudent choice given the wily ways of local foxes that will travel up to 10km a night on the prowl for unsecured hens.
The planning & building
So on to the planning phase, which I delegated to my mathematically minded husband.
After two days of brainstorming, Googling, costing up the materials for a steel enclosure, realising why people opt for wooden ones, looking at the wooden ones and writing them off as too flimsy, we were back at square one.
Then Math Man had an engineering epiphany; create the coop out of repurposed items lying around the shed. The wood frame and roof insulation were left over from a work project, while the walls and roof were former billboard signs for his business. All we had to buy were the hinges and locks for the windows and doors and the wire mesh for the base. Farmer Jim kindly gave us off-cuts of AstroTurf for the nesting boxes and pieces of steel pole to use as perches.
The following weekend we picked up the chooks. The kids were so excited that Jim plucked one of the birds off its nesting box to ensure action would not be far off. Sure enough, within 10 minutes of arriving home, we had our first egg with another three following in the first hour.
Now it’s fair to say that with all the focus on chook housing I hadn’t given much thought to what to feed them.
I had figured some sort of grain and all the food scraps that had proven useless to my composting efforts.
“With food scraps, don’t give them anything you wouldn’t eat yourself,” advised Jim, before sharing details of the free-range chook pellets and shell grit he feeds his birds.
When that piece of information hit my cerebrum a few hours later, it left me stuck on the question of what made something a food scrap if I wouldn’t eat it? And thus my food scrap disposal plans hit another hurdle.
No meat (although they eat bugs and worms), no onion, citrus, chocolate (as if I’d ever throw that out), rhubarb, garlic, avocado and, according to Jim, vegies from the brassica family such as kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, turnips, mustard greens and cabbage.
In the meantime, I’ve found these chatty ladies will happily eat weeds such as nettle and dandelion and cuttings from overgrown herbs as well as a fair chunk of the scraps coming out the kitchen. And the occasional egg that doesn’t roll away fast enough.
Romancing the Chooks
Having based most of my chook-keeping knowledge on movies and novels I spent the first few days meandering around their enclosure happily scattering scraps, pellets and shell grit while clucking conversationally. To complete the picture, I really should have had my hair in a braid, a pinafore over my perfectly white brocade dress and lace-up gumboots. I blame Anne of Green Gables. And Pinterest.
After relating my feeding methods to the bemused shopkeeper at the local stockfeed store, he advised that throwing pellets on the ground would rot them and went on to sell me a feeder and water dispenser to be placed inside the chook house.
There really is so much to learn.
But the real clincher came when I told a chook-savvy friend about the shenanigans involved in getting the birds to bed each evening.
“Don’t they just put themselves in when it gets dark,” she asked.
Um. I’ve never waited that long.
So the next day I held off until after sunset and, guess what?
Those seven little ladies were all tucked up in bed.
“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”
– Arnold H Glasow
What do you feed your chooks? And what do you wear when you feed them 😉
All chook tips very welcome. Bok-Bok