Moreidlethoughts Weblog

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Some of us were having a web-wide conversation over at Malc’s place about the savvy-ness of chickens and the problems with free ranging poultry.

So I thought I’d write a post-poultry post. ..

Sadly, I don’t have any chickens (hereinafter called chooks [rhymes with books] as chickens are the baby version) at this place.
I’ve been campaigning for ’em for ages. Every time I have to take vegetable scraps to the compost bin I say “Need chookies!” And one day, we will get some chookies.

But first, we need to build them a chookenarium (that’s The Man’s word for chook house.) Now, as we are in suburbia, that dire and dreadful place where evil lurks in every shadow and where the City Council has its own view of what may or may not be kept in a suburban yard, we can’t just shove the birds in a cockatoo cage at night and let ’em loose at daylight.

And there are laws governing the numbers and distance from boundary. Oh, yes! And because roosters crow a bit, you can’t have a rooster here. Heaven forfend that he should wake people at 2am! Dogs you can have. Bark they may (and do!), and at any hour. But a rooster? No way, Jose!

So…I can have up to 10 hens in a “suitable” enclosure. I’ll probably go for 6. They will have a secure wire netting fence (dug into the ground at least 600mm to deter diggers, like foxes and dogs) of chicken wire (open part of the mesh about 1.5cm ) and the wire will also cover the run. Why? Well, because they might fly out and other birds and animals most certainly will get in, looking for free food.

Now this may be something as “harmless” as lorikeets after the chicken grain. Cats, while not eating chook food, would go for small birds. It would be like shooting fish in a barrel! Or it might be a fork-tailed kite. Trust me, the kites don’t want grain unless it’s in the crop of a chook! Serious now: wild birds could be carrying disease, like bird flu, so the top wire is sensible. And that guage should be too small for even doves to get through. I really hated having to kill badly injured small birds.

Rats. Ah, yes, rats. They love the food and they particularly love eggs. Pythons eat rats (might eat baby chicks, too, but without a rooster…) so at our former place, I was happy to let my cats and the resident python deal with the rodents. Here? Hmm…I think I’ll deal with that when and if it happens. Definitely NOT with poison, though!

For their own good, I’d lock the birds in a secure house at night. Yes, if their wings are not clipped, they can flap up to a tree branch, but they are very inefficient fliers and there are still dangers after dark. And for perches, use rough tree branches, replacing them when they become smooth, otherwise the birds will get a horribly painful condition called “bumble-foot.” Same applies to you canary-and-budgerigar people.

Our Council say we can’t let them range freely. Oh, yeah? My birds, my yard, my rules! This means that if I let them out to scratch about in the garden it will only be when I am on guard. For their own good! I had the routine down pat: glass of wine in one hand, leaf rake in the other and 3 whistle-trained cats. By th’eck! Those chooks knew what was good for them!

Oh, Ziggi (and anyone else)… make sure you have enough head room for a tall husband. Well, someone has to muck-out, yes? And I wouldn’t recommend trying to do that in less than 2m!

And, having mucked-out, what are you going to do with the stuff? Put it on the garden? No! At least, not until it’s “cooled down” or it will burn your plants to death. Compost heap is what you need for this. If you don’t already have a heap ( or bin) you’d better get one started.

Back to the birds…they do need food and fresh water and, just as in our kitchens, the recipes are many and varied. The easiest way is to buy commercial feed from the produce merchant. You can supplement this with a little corn and some table scraps. Don’t give them fatty stuff, like the fat you’ve trimmed off your meat. Sure, they’d scoff it, but it’s not good for them. They love and need lots of fresh greens. But not greens from the Solanum family! (The Smiths and the Jonses are OK!) And don’t give them egg shells as this encourages the beggars to peck their own eggs. If you do have a hen that breaks and eats eggs I don’t know of any remedy but the cook-pot. Sorry, but it’s one of those harsh facts. So that’s a good reason to collect the eggs early.

Bringing us neatly to when? Usually, hens will have laid their eggs (for the novice, that is one egg per hen per day) by mid-late morning and, as hens invented advertising, you’ll know!

Laying boxes? Hmm…you can go all Frank Lloyd Wright and build a whoop-de-do affair. Or you can use a sturdy cardboard box, lined with straw or shredded newsprint. When it gets battered and grotty, simply add it to the compost and replace it. When you do put in fresh bedding, give it a generous sprinkle of Rotenone (Derris dust) to combat the bird lice. I used to dust my birds, too. Chooks also get scale mites which can be crippling if left untreated. Best deterrant? Vaseline! Yes, you will get filthy. No, the birds will not love you. But it works. Simply rub a good thick coating of Vaseline (petroleum jelly) on the legs. Try not to get it all over the feathers. Some people use diesel and other similar stuff. Ouch! At least this hurts neither them nor you.(But it’s best not done on the day you have posh folk coming to dinner!)

Bored yet? Totally turned off the idea of chooks? Want to continue paying top dollar to the supermarket? OK, I’ll stop in a minute, but I just thought I’d mention that young hens start to lay at about 6 months of age. And hens go off-lay in the cold, dark winter months. So keep this in mind when buying your chooks. If you can, get some winter-hatched birds which are ready to start laying in Spring;then they’ll go right on providing cackle-berries til next winterand maybe even til Spring. If you get Spring-hatched, well…you do the arithmetic! When they do stop laying they moult their old feathers and their protein goes to make nice, new, glossy feathers.But not eggs. *I had wintry Wiltshire and Washington in mind, but it occurs to me that some readers may be “Down Under” and might be able to get spring-hatched birds to begin laying in autumn/winter. Talk to locals in your area about seasonal variation.

And over at this blog, Celia has written about her hens in Suffolk, England. So, if you want to read more about English chooks, do pop across. There’s even a Youtube demo!

Chook stuff finished (sort of!) and moving on now to rats…

Mavis the rat

Remember Ziggy? Well, that was my first Ziggy, but a few years ago, when we were involved with raptor rehabilitation, I had another Ziggy. This one was real. A bit like the one in the picture.

You don’t need to know the more gory details of this episode in our lives (do you? really? sick people!); suffice to say I had breeding rats.

Anyway, one day, when I went down the paddock to check on Nelson (an owl; I’ll tell you about him another day perhaps), I saw a rat on the ground at the back of his aviary. “Oh! Bugger!” I thought. “Now I’m going to have to deal with a half-eaten rat.Yuck!”

I walked calmly (no sudden movements!) to the end of the run and, as I bent down to pick up the ratty remains… the rat scampered up my arm and sat on my shoulder, washing his whiskers!I was in love!

Putting my hand over him, I calmly (no sudden movements, remember?) walked back to the gate and out, with the rat.

I examined him carefully and it appeared Nelson had not even touched him. So I put him in with the breeding females, where he was a great success. I called him Ziggy. When he wasn’t doing his thing with the girls, he sat on my shoulder as I went about my chores. I bawled my eyes out when he died.


I’d had concerns about those Shrike Thrushes (blimey! typing it is almost as difficult as saying it!) as I hadn’t seen them for ages. But Rufussetta (blame Ziggi) was on the nest this afternoon. Perhaps all is well after all. What do I know about wildlife, anyway…

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Author: dinahmow

A New Zealander, currently living in tropical Queensland,Australia (with 2 cats and one Main Man).Old enough to remember George VI, white tennis balls and life-before-television.You want more? Read the blog!


  1. I had no idea you were a rat woman! Your late Ziggy looks like our late Zed. Rats are such intelligent, affectionate, social creatures that it boggles my mind why anyone would rather have gerbils or (and especially) hamsters. Their lives are so short, though, and both ours died of various forms of cancer.


  2. In my area, a few years back, millions of chickens and ducks were slaughtered because of an outbreak of bird flu. It crippled the poultry industry for a long time. Some people blamed small scale backyard farmers. Oh that bothered me, as if the medieval prison conditions on commercial farms is a healthier than a few chickens roaming free in someones backyard. Good for you Dinah, giving those birds their space!

    Having a glass of wine while sitting out back supervising ‘chooks’? Actually sounds like fun.


  3. ooooooo I’m definitely getting some more chooks! and as for Ziggy the Rat star, was he an escaped domestic or a wild man about time who knew which side his bread was buttered?
    In my previous life I had chooks in a chookararium but I had a fancy to let them run wild, there’s nobody much to upset around here (except Freddie-mental) but I guess they’d pretty soon be fox food eh?
    Thank you for the lesson – now going to start preparation for tomorrows nightmare 😦


  4. ‘about town’ not time! time? where did that come from?!


  5. andrea…yes, rats are of way-above savvy.Ziggy was one of the lab rats which were supposed to be raptor food. Never tried to integrate wild ones!

    ellen…thankyou! I, too, hate chook prisons and have for years refused to buy those eggs.

    ziggi (twice)yes, best to lock them in at night. And I think your gaff about time is probably due to the pressure your husband has (most unfairly!)heaped on you.


  6. That’s pretty comprehensive, Dina. Hope it’s convinced a few people to get some hens.

    We’re lucky in that there’s an almost complete absence of predators as long as I keep the dogs under control. There are a couple of hen harriers about, but they seem only interested in rabbits.


  7. malc…more info should be sourced locally;this is just what worked for me.
    Hariers, eh? I had a spotted harrier once and made the mistake of housing the brute next to 3 young birds of the hawk clan. Damned harrier struck through the hessian screen!Great birds to watch, though!


  8. I haven’t really got any strong views about chickens (funny, that) but I just thought I’d pop in and say hello. Long time no communicate.


  9. thank you; that told me more practical information about chickens than i’ve gotten in from a multitude of other sources!


  10. What an excellent run down on keeping chooks. My daughters have 2 very pampered chooks, Marilyn and Tilley, who have free run of the garden during the day, are allowed to spend a few minutes in the evening with the family, and then are carried in state to their chook appartment. Thanks for visiting my blog, I’ve subscribed to yours so I can keep an eye on those chooks. I’m hoping to get back into the DaD routine, lots of blank pages so far but no guilt.


  11. I’m speechless. What a bunch of foreign but interesting stories. I wish you the best of luck with your chooks. As a city dweller I have no chicken experience (except vicariously via two friends who tried to keep chickens but were repeatedly foiled by smart predators). My rat experiences only include babysitting my sisters rat once (he chewed up most of my blanket that was hanging to close to his cage) and the ones that live in or travel through my garage and leave poop everywhere.


  12. reg…nice to see you’re out and about again;thanks for popping in

    fn…well, I hope it is useful!

    carol…welcome! And I love those weird fish of yours!Can hardly wait for a bookful!

    jana…thankyou. I know many people have limited experience of these things so I wanted to “keep it light.”


  13. Enchanting writing, Diana.

    Half of me longs for chooks – the half that eats eggs – half of me can’t have them because I don’t have the heart to kill ’em. I also can still remember that childhood experience of stepping on fresh chook poo with bare feet. Yep, right up between the toes! I’d rather be stung by a bee. And was.


  14. Interesting and thought provoking – as usual. We don’t have enough space but here you’re allowed up to six hens without consent if housed etc (no roosters or course).
    We are lucky to be getting ‘farm fresh eggs’ from mum whenever we catch up. The hens she got with her place were rescued from a battery farm. The previous owner put a lot of work in rehabilitating them – they wee featherless, had to learn how to walk and essentially how to be chickens. Though still sporting clipped beaks, mum now has them fully free ranging.


  15. robyn…ah, yes! The squelchiness.(I deliberately didn’t mention that!) And bee stings? Had a few of those, too, when we had beehives.

    denise…hooray for your mum! Battery hens are one of the saddest sights. And aren’t farm eggs the BEST to cook with?


  16. I’m liking the thought of a FLW hen house!



  17. WOW David Attenborough has nothing on you.

    What a shame that a ‘Cock of the Walk’ won’t doodlee doo! Bloody Dogs can bark any bloody time they bloody feel like it…hrrrumph indeed.

    I was told that there was 4 or 5 chickens for every that true?
    I do remember reading that chickens, having descended from early Reptiles, retain a recessive gene that would allow them to grow TEETH!
    So watch out.

    Since the precursor Reptiles were gracious enough to develop the Penis and the Egg, the age old questions concerning which ‘came first’ can be put to rest.


  18. iltv…yes, wouldn’t it be good! I’ve seen some pretty swish buildings.And some dumps!

    donn…not sure about the hen/human ratio, but I do know there are a lot of chooks in the world. As for the teeth – no, thanks! I have enough scars from beaks and claws!


  19. Very comprehensive chicken post! And I have most of what you mentioned in the works. (this has only come to pass when I *promised* my husband that he would not have to have *anything* to do with them!)


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