Quatre Saisons - natural sustainable farming
Quatre Saisons

My Basket

Yass River Road
P: 0411 093 035
F: 02 6123 6111
E: Quatre Saisions
Facebook | Blog

wyandotte and black runner.jpg

Compost making champions

Think that chooks are an expense that will never pay for itself while they cost so much to feed and eggs are so cheap at the supermarket? (as if taste and nutrition count for nothing!)

It never occurred to me to do the math on the chooks- just numbers on a page to me- but did you realise that top-dressing a 1.2 x2.4 metre raised veggie bed once a year with just 10 cms of finished compost requires nearly half a cubic metre per bed of compost. Twice yearly cleaning of the chicken house yields enough compost for the average suburban garden for a year. At $8- $10 per 30 litre bag that’s significant savings in buying in bagged material and even beats the economics of bulk delivery compost blends. A 30cm deep layer of spent chicken litter in a 2×4 metre coop is 2.7 cubic metres of compost. It’s easy to see the saving an integrated approach to gardening can have.

Small-scale poultry keeping

The household poultry flock can be a rewarding hobby that supplies fresh eggs, maybe table birds and natural fertiliser for the garden.

Contact your local council to obtain information on their by-laws for keeping domestic poultry. These may restrict the number of birds that can be kept and usually prohibits the keeping of roosters in residential areas.

Remember, a rooster is not needed for the hens to lay eggs.

What to expect.

In her first year, a hen may lay up to five eggs per week but her production will decline with age, and there will be a period of non-production during moulting in winter.

A flock of about six birds will provide plenty of eggs for a family of four.  To maintain egg quality, eggs should be stored in the refrigerator.

Day old or Pullets?

The point-of-lay pullet is around 18 weeks old and should start laying when she is about 22-24 weeks old. The four to six week period between purchase and first egg allows the pullet to get used to her new surroundings and settle in. The best time to buy pullets is in December or January, as they will then lay for a full 12 months, without moulting in autumn.

It is not recommended to mix birds of different ages (and anecdotaly breeds or colours) as this can upset the flocks established pecking order.

If obtaining day-old chickens, it is important to brood chickens at the correct temperature in an area free of draughts and with plenty of light.

Chicks should have clean, fresh water in suitable shallow containers that they can not accidently fall into. Your local proiduce store will have inexpensive waterers that are suitable. They should also have access to suitable feed at all times. Keep an eye on the chicks, especially during the first few weeks and make sure they are comfortable. Use a chicken starter mash or crumble until they are fully feathered and spending the days outside scratching about.

By far the easiest way to raise chicks is with the help of a broody hen, and she will willingly raise ducklings and guinea fowl keets too!

Pullets are easy to introduce to your yard, and so long as they are protected from older longtime residents until they have a chance to acclimatise, will provide you with years of trouble free service.

The breed you choose will depend on your situation, some breeds will provide lots of eggs, some breeds are quieter and better suited with children and some breeds are smaller which may better suit a small garden even though the egg size is smaller.

Housing your poultry.

It is worthwhile spending a few extra dollars to build a henhouse that is easy to manage - wide opening to make it easy to clean, free from draughts and easy to enter.

Two types of permanent housing are the deep-litter unit and the cage system. Suitable litter materials are pine shavings, sawdust and straw. It is very important to ensure that any material used for deep litter bedding is free of chemical treatments. If the litter is kept at least 15cms deep and dry it will absorb bird droppings, will not smell, provide a better fertiliser for the garden and reduce the risk of disease to the birds.

Small portable chicken houses or 'chicken tractors' may also be used. For their safety you will need to keep poultry in a predator-proof hen house with an attached run during the day, for example while you are not at home. You will need to lock your birds in, especially at night - foxes do inhabit the suburbs too. Caging birds in a large well ventilated sunlight filled house is not cruel- hens are happy if they can be let out even for an hour in the late afternoon. Because there is plentiful feed, rats and mice may breed unless the shed is properly constructed and kept clean. The chook house also needs bird-proofing because wild birds, especially sparrows and miner birds may introduce disease and eat feed. Larger birds will steal chicks and eggs. You may find it is necesary, as the seasons progress, to shift the hen house regularly to locations where it is not exposed to extreme temperatures and wind - a little early morning sun is ideal.