Chooks (chickens) have been domesticated for many centuries. They originate from the Malaysian rainforests so they love to free-range. Chooks are such easy animals to care for, can make great pets for children and are a valuable resource for the organic gardener.
You’ll need to check with your local council to find out their regulations. Some councils won’t allow you to keep any poultry, whereas others will—some even allow roosters.
Some of the benefits of keeping chooks:
- they supply you with beautiful, fresh eggs daily;
- your left overs will never go in the bin again (reduces waste);
- provide you with an excellent fertilizer base;
- they dig over the soil (so you don’t have to);
- they reduce insect numbers; great for around your orchard;
- provide you with live entertainment.
- Dry, fox proof shelter.
- A safe place to lay eggs and hatch chicks (if you have a rooster).
- A roosting perch off the ground (allow about 20cm per bird).
- Layer pellets (or crumble for chicks) should make up the majority of their diet.
- Kitchen scraps are great for variety.
- Wheat, corn or other grains should be offered occasionally, but not form the majority of their diet.
- Birds have no teeth; they swallow small pebbles or grit to grind down their food in their gizzard. They must have access to a supply of grit for this purpose.
- Never feed chocolate, coffee, avocado or rhubarb, as they are toxic to chooks.
- They must always have access to clean, fresh water.
If you don’t plan on letting your chooks free range in a garden area during the day, they will be much happier if you provide them with an outside run where they will be able to scratch at the ground and enjoy the sunlight.
I lock my chooks up from sunset to about midday. This way they’ve almost always laid their eggs by then, so that I don’t have to go on a daily egg hunt! Old grass-catchers from lawn movers make great laying boxes – just the right size and they offer ventilation.
Chook manure is a great base for a liquid fertilizer or to add to your compost heap. You never use it fresh though, as bird manure also contains their urine and will burn your crops.
To make a liquid manure, place it in a porous bag in a bucket and fill the bucket with water. After about three weeks or so you can use the water on and around your plants, diluted to look like weak tea.
Chook Manure for Compost
If you provide a litter of straw, hay or sawdust in your chook’s living quarters they will turn it into great compost material for you. They will scratch it, add manure and turn it over. You can add layers of this organic matter to your compost heap or leave it to turn into a fine, dark substance.