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…
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.
Finally…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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