If you have ever thought about keeping pet chickens then you probably have a few questions. What do they eat, how much space do they need, are they hard to care for, do they stink?
Now I’m no chicken expert but we are rounding out our third year of keeping them as pets and as the self-appointed ambassador for chicken ownership I thought I should tell you guys the answers to my most frequently asked questions. I’m nice like that.
Should we get chickens?
Of course! They are low maintenance, they eat your scraps, they give you fresh eggs every day and remove the spiders from all the places that toddlers most like to stick their hands. They ask nothing from you and don’t hold a grudge. One minute your two year old will be carrying one around upside down (not behaviour that I endorse) until it wiggles away and the next minute it’s back clucking and pecking at the grass. They seriously couldn’t give a rats if you ignore them all day or smother them with love. Cluck-cluck basically translates to ‘whatevs’.
What exactly do they need coop wise?
Their needs are simple: somewhere to roost, somewhere to lay and somewhere to peck around.
We got a coop from here and fenced off a huge square of our yard but the word overkill may have been thrown around. As long as they have somewhere safe to sleep at night and a fenced off pen for them to peck in then they’re laughing.
When you’re putting up the fence just make sure you dig a little trench for the chicken mesh to sit in so it is about 20cm under ground, this will stop the chooks from scratching under it. If you’re in an area that is prone to foxes, a covered pen is also a necessity; you don’t want them to get munched.
As far as space recommendations go, about one square metre for each chicken is the average but it all depends on what you’re working with. Some people have much smaller spaces but let them out to peck around the yard every day, others have huge pens but the chickens don’t get out much. We have a huge hen area and spoiled fat hens who run the yard and sometimes can be found in the lounge room watching TV with the kids. Also behaviour that I do not endorse.
What do they eat?
Short answer: everything. Long answer: if you want them to be healthy layers, a layers mash is a real necessity – they can get all sorts of issues if you’re not giving them the vitamins and minerals they need. But they also love scraps. Of EVERYTHING! The more random the better. Pasta, leftover curry, vegetable and fruit scraps, you name it, they will eat it. Just don’t give them green potato peels because they are poisonous and also don’t feed them chicken because that’s messed up.
Is their pen gross?
Yes and no. The coop itself needs to be cleaned once a week but it isn’t a difficult task. As far as the pen is concerned, as I said before, ours is huge and we actually use it as a bit of a dirt farm for our flower beds. We live on the coast so our soil is just sand but in the chook pen it is rich and black and unless we have a long time without rain, it never smells. Chickens will kill the grass in their area with their constant scratching, but they mix up awesome dirt out of all the food scraps, poo and the other such randomness. So in my opinion, not gross at all, especially compared to dog poo. If it does get a bit on the nose some dirt-watering will do the trick.
What about rats and flies?
A lot of people are concerned about hens attracting rats. We actually had a rat problem on our block when we moved in, but as soon as we cleared the rat’s (barf) habitat they haven’t been back. As long as the chook grain is in a feeder and not just a bowl there is really nothing to attract them.
As far as flies go, yup. If it hasn’t rained in a while there are definitely flies around but again, set up the sprinkler and the area will be clear of poo pretty quickly.
What are the better breeds for kids?
We have an Australorps, some Isa Browns and a Leghorn. The Isa’s have always been great, quiet and docile pets that are happy to be handled/tormented. Our Australorp thinks she’s a dog – sneaking inside to put herself to bed in the play kitchen, following the kids around so she can eat what they drop and basically just making us laugh all the time. And the Leghorn is beautiful to look at but a bit skittish. Check out this list, it’s a great resource for families choosing a breed. You should also think about getting hens that lay for longer than two years, our Isa Browns have basically stopped laying now and they are getting a bit cranky.
Do councils have rules about keeping chickens?
Yes, basically no council lets you keep a rooster in suburbia, which is fair enough, and the number of chickens allowed ranges from 4 to 10 depending on the area. Most of the other recommendations are basically just common sense; don’t have your coop right next to a dwelling, keep it clean, keep it smelling good and be respectful to the chooks and your neighbours.
Let me know if this post has given you the nudge you needed. #teamchicken
More for families with pets: