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Chickens at Booyong ….

We’re very happy to continue to have our neighbour Ashleigh supply and care for our chickens at Booyong. Sadly some chickens in their coop were recently taken by a fox. This saddened us all greatly, but is unfortunately common in rural areas.

Ashleigh and had Mum love chickens and have generously offered to supply fresh eggs to our guests. We’re so grateful – thank you. We especially love the beautifully sign your Dad created for the chicken coop door.

The Chickens coop is well and truly established at Booyong, we love having them there and so do our guests, they are such an important part of the rural experience. Like anything, we are constantly learning, and Kristen has made some great recommendations for how we can improve the environment in the Chicken Coop.

We’re lucky to have had Bob build a lovely coop for our chickens. It certainly exceeds any regular expectations, with its brass door knobs, a timber deck that overlooks the dam, timber perches and it even has floral windows! Mesh has since been placed around the lowest area of the henhouse to keep snakes and rats out.

Chickens generally require 1m squared of floor space per bird, dust for bathing and seclusion for laying. The nest boxes are required to have 10cm of litter and should always be kept fresh. Nest boxes are in a cool dark spot and one box per 5 hens is enough. The nest box can be lined with pine needles, dried grass, wormwood or herbs. It is also very important to keep the henhouse clean, painting the floor can assist making cleaning easier. The floor of the hen house should be topped up every 2 months with shredded paper, coffee husks, rice hulls or wood shavings. When we do this we place the chook poo into a composting bin to later be used in the garden. Twice a year it should be cleaned out and the floor sprinkled prior with DE Diatomaceous Earth ($29 for 5kg).

During the Winter months the hens will prefer high perches to keep warm, and in the summer months they prefer to perch closer to the ground. The perches should be brushed regularly to keep them clean. Ventilation in the roof is also beneficial and something to consider for the future, especially given the hot and dry weather the past 12 months. In summer it’s important not to remove the litter as the hens will scratch deep into it on hot days to cool down. They also benefit from shell grit in their food and it is important to provide additional water that is kept in the shade.

Birds are often eating the chicken feed at Booyong, this is concerning as they can spoil the feed and introduce disease and parasites. I recently saw a gardener had placed fishing string across the roof or the henhouse to deter birds, which sounds like a great idea. Our neighbour Kristen has found that her chickens hate layer pellets, and when given scratch mix a lot of it gets wasted and attracts the local ducks and pigeons. So, she uses poultry supreme from mitre 10, it’s a crumble and it’s easier for the bantams to eat and has no wastage. We’ve found with the new feed and addition of a shade sail the bird population has significantly decreased.

The chicken pen also has a mulberry tree to provide shade and feed for the chickens, they thoroughly enjoyed the fruit this year. The chickens also enjoy climbing into the Mulberry tree branches in the late afternoon. We would prefer the hens to be free ranged so they can find shady areas in the garden, but this is not always possible. As the Mulberry tree is becoming more established, they have a lovely shady spot out of the sun to enjoy!

Other plants to grow for shade and food include grape vines over the top (Pandorea pandorana or Pandorea jasminoides), banana passionfruit or natives like Clematis aristata or Clematis microphylla. Cucamelon are also a possibility to grow up the wall of the chook pen as they grow fast from seed and dies back during winter, self-seeding and coming back each year and providing food for your chickens.

This is a great idea seen at a Seedsavers group meeting, cabbage on a string to keep them entertained.

When they do free range we were surprised when Amelia chose the leaf litter of the staghorn to lay her eggs in the afternoon. She did this every afternoon, like clockwork. So amazing.

Chickens also get bored so we will look at adding some fund things for them to do when they are unable to free range, like a lettuce on a string, a swing or a mirror. We recently found they enjoyed eating a halved Rockmelon as a treat and it kept them entertained all afternoon. Something to remember for the future.

Weeds can be recycled by tossing them into the chook pen, they eat the seeds and this also gives them the opportunity to scratch about. They also had a fabulous time, tilling the garden beds after they were weeded. Whilst they made a bit of a mess their help was greatly appreciated! We found placing edging around the beds we were able to keep more of the soil and mulch retained.

Chickens are susceptible to red mites who eat chicken food and reproduce rapidly in the Summer months. For this reason, water and food containers should be rotated to keep clean and during summer months frozen water bottles can be added to their water containers to keep it cool as chickens don’t like to drink warm water.

Another great idea we discovered recently was to place some Potash in an old tyre for them to have a dust bath – this helps with mites also.

We’ve done some research regarding what they eat and what they don’t. The chickens are still getting used to the food scraps we give them, but had no trouble with high protein pellets we purchased from the co-op. They also benefit from shell grit ad chicken pickings. The RSPCA  say they eat almost anything, but what they can’t consume is rhubarb, avocado, onion, chocolate, garlic and any citrus fruits. Scraps should be broken or cut up into small pieces as chickens don’t have teeth. They also mustn’t be fed lawn clippings, as they can go mouldy very quickly.

Chickens benefit from wormwood planted outside their coop, they also enjoy home grown amaranth, sunflowers, chicory, millet, alphalfa and salad greens. Kristen has said they also like lavender and rosemary so we will propagate some and create a garden bed along the perimeter.

Our bantam chickens have become accustomed to their new home and are now supplying fresh eggs daily. We encourage anyone visiting to keep their food scraps, avoiding those listed above feed the chickens during your stay. There is a track from the house to the coop so you can visit the hens, and feel free to take a few fresh eggs of a morning and enjoy them for breakfast.

Reference – The Contented Chook: Practical Tips and Inspirational Ideas for Keeping Your Hens Happy, personal experience and our lovely neighbour Kristen

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