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10 November 2011

Meet the girls

This is Lucy.

We're down to seven chickens now. We have barred Plymouth Rock Lulubelle, buff Orphington Martha, Australorps Cocobelle and Gracie, Old English Game bird Lucy and her two little girls, Mary and Kylie, who give the most beautiful white shelled, golden yolked eggs. Lucy and her brood came to live with us when Shane and Sarndra moved from their rural homestead into the Gold Coast. Lucy had reared a batch of mismatched eggs and although she was smaller than most of her hatchlings, she bossed them around and generally had all the chooks doing exactly what she wanted. Lucy is the first on the feeder every morning. The other chooks know that, we know it too. We have one of those feeders that is closed most of the time and when the chook wants food, she stands and a little step, which drops down and opens the feeding hatch. We put a brick under the step at night to stop rats feeding in the dark. Lucy stands on the step while I remove the brick, she is lowered to the floor of the chook pen - it looks like she's on a stage - and she starts eating before I walk away. All the other chooks stand back and wait, although sometimes Lulubelle might poke her head in to the trough. When she does, Lucy will peck her.

Every Spring, like clockwork, Lucy goes broody, hides somewhere and lays a clutch of eggs.

We have deliberately chosen not to buy Isa Browns and the general run of the mill chooks on sale at produce stores. They're bred for the cage industry, they've had their broodiness bred out of them and generally they will lay eggs almost every day, deplete their systems and then drop dead when they're about seven or eight years old. I know there are a lot of people who don't think there is anything wrong with that. I am not one of them. I want my chooks to live healthy lives and to go broody as nature intended.  When chooks have that natural period of broodiness they stop laying eggs when they feel they have enough under them, and their body has a break from egg laying and replenishes calcium supplies. We have a few old girls now who lay only a few times a year and we're fine with that. We're not going to kill them just because they don't lay eggs. They still catch insects and produce valuable nitrogen droppings. And, like us, they have a right to life simple because they're alive.

Cocobelle, Gracie and Mary above, Lulubelle  and Gracie below.

We'll have to get a few new girls soon. My preference is for either Barnevelders or Wyandotts but whatever we end up with they will be one of the old breeds. Just about any chook would suit our climate and probably an egg laying breed as opposed to a meat breed would be good. But who knows, I have found that chickens have a way of finding their own way to you. I would never have thought that I would have had an Old English Game bird - originally bred for fighting, but we have Lucy and she is such a character, you can't help but love her.

Walking into the backyard and seeing the chickens free ranging over the grass is one of the absolute pleasures of living as we do. They're as much a part of the backyard as the garden is. They help us keep the garden going and the garden produces food to keep them going. The chooks entertain us and produce the best eggs and all we give back is food and a safe haven. I think that's a wonderful exchange.


  1. Owh.. how I like to meet your girls ;o)

    Love from Holland!

  2. Oooooo lovely pics of your girls. I wish we could have chickens just not enough room in the little yard that we have. I can dream about them though!!!!!! Florence :0)

  3. I love reading your blog and seeing the pictures. I'm hoping one day to live in a semi-rural area and have chickens of my own.

  4. Have you thought of cochins? They are such a friendly breed. We have 2 bantam cochins, Daisy and Delilah, who come running when they see me and love to be held. We also have Wyondottes, but didn't handle them much when they were small, so they are a little flighty.

  5. I remember thinking when we first got chickens, how did we ever live without them?! Truly, they are wonderful animals. -Jaime

  6. Agree with you on keeping traditional pure breeds over modern commercial hybrids (the first two words of the description are reason enough).

    My four - a Welsummer, White Leghorn, Belgian Braekel and a Cream Legbar - have changed our lives so much. I set out to get birds that would each lay a different colour egg so I was aware of how well each was doing.

    It also means that when we give boxes of eggs as gifts to our neighbours, there's a marked difference from the standard mid brown shop bought egg.

    Whilst I understand the good intentions of those who keep ex-battery hybrids, it's not for me. I endeavour to grow open pollinated and heirloom vegetable varieties, where possible older varieties of fruits. I saw no reason not to keep that connection with history in my hen keeping.

    When the time comes to expand the flock, it will be with breeds like the Barnevelder, Wyandotte, Araucana, Marsh Daisy & Fresian Fowl.

  7. I've really enjoyed keeping
    White Sussex hens. They are a beautiful looking bird,friendly enough to cuddle, and are good egg producers.


  8. The girls are simply beautiful. I have thought about raising some myself, but hesitate for whatever reasons. Inadequate room, climate issues...guess I should read up on it more. There is a growing backyard coop movement here in my area. In the city we are allowed to have three hens, but I'm not certain what other parameters there are.

  9. Hi Ronda Jean, it was lovely reading about your 'girls' and took me back many years ago to when my hubby and I had 12 acres with cows, goats, geese and a ragged assortment of 'chooks'. They all had names and were very much part of the family and I miss my girls so much. We now have a very small yard and until recently had tried not to think about having them again, but there is something so special about the way they 'talk' and their very busy natures that I will be re-thinking this as we move towards a small but sustainable existence here. Jennn

  10. Wonderful to read of your chooks, Rhonda. I love the colouring of the Buff Orphingtons and the markings on the lace Wyandotts. In our experience, Isa Browns don't make it much past 4-5 years which is really sad.

    We haven't re-stocked with birds since our fox attack as it is coming almost daily now, scoping around for this and that. We have a trap that will hopefully catch it sometime soon and I'll then feel a little more comfortable about re-stocking.

    Thanks for sharing pics of your girls, you have a great team there, obviously living well in the environment you provide them with. :)

  11. Lovely to hear about the characters and habits of your chooks Rhonda...they look very happy! we only have 3 chooks at moment but they are providing more than enough eggs for us at the moment and i can notice the different personalities now...we are still yet to name them though!
    Although in a chook tractor at moment we are hoping to let them out soone to free range once the vegie patch is finished being fenced...i just have to get over my fear that something will get them if we let them out...we have a lot of wildlife around here....hopefully they will be fine!
    Jode x

  12. Blue Shed, I wrote about the heirloom-hybrid connection of chooks and seeds a few years ago. There is a strong case for sticking to the older varieties. I haen't heard of Belgian Braekel and Cream Legbar. I'll look them up.

    Kathy, we had a pair of cochins/pekins a few years ago as well as a pekin rooster. They're very friendly chooks and that rooster was a real beauty.

    Madeline, we too have kept light sussex, as well as buff and silver sussex. They're lovely chooks - so docile and friendly.

  13. I have an Isa brown, she belonged to a friend who didn't want her anymore and was going to make soup! so I rescued her. She's a crazy chicken, is so determined and resourceful, bossy and has ADHD I'm sure. Where the others gently and slowly pace the yard, she's frenetic and busy and stomps around and complains long and loud if I'm not on time with morning porridge, or letting them out...she's Edie...she drives me crazy but I love her to bits. But like you Rhonda, I hate to see her laying every day, with no rest, and she lays big eggs. She's about 6 now, and is starting to look thin, but is still glossy and healthy.

    I have a yr old buff plymouth too, who is sweet and gorgoeous and two little banties I gained from a school egg hatching project....Freya is tiny, but boss of the whole hen house. I love them all, and can't imagine not having them.

  14. I love that top picture. It captures the way a chook cocks her head to the one side, watching and listening perfectly.
    Also love the look of the Plymouth Rocks. They were the loved chooks of my childhood.

  15. Dear Rhonda, Just catching up on your blog and was so excited to read that you have a copy of your book in your hot little hands. Cheers to you and Hanno for all the hard work and time you have put into it. Congratulations, I can't wait to get my hands on one.
    Also just wanted to comment on this chook post. We have always had Isa Browns and they always come running when they see me, peck under my legs while I am gardening, and are very easy to handle. At the moment we have four white Tasmanian bred chooks which are very flighty, and lay more eggs without shells than with them. Give me my Isa Brown girls anyday.
    Regards, Trudy.

  16. I too believe in only having pure or old breed chooks. I want them to do what chooks do too! I have 6 girls - 3 Rhode Island Reds, and 3 White Leghorns. All are lovely, lay regularly, and have individual personalities.

    The RIR's are soooo funny when they come running when you call them in at night - they have really fluffy bums and their legs and fluffiness make them look like they're running and waddling at the same time!!!

    We just adore them, and they lay the most magnificent eggs - bright golden orange, and high topped yolks.

  17. Awww, you've made me miss my girls again. I had a few, 3 Isas kindly donated to me by a freecycler when she took my four bantam boys (when they started crowing), and 2 little bantams (mother and daughter). But with a suburban block close to the bush, we were attracting rats, so they had to find a new home on a farm. Much better for them, but I do miss them greatly.

  18. We were given four Isa Brown's and a bantam cross a few months ago and I see what you mean about the Isas. One of them is looking rather worn out and scruffy these days, but is still laying away as reliably as ever. Poor thing. Meanwhile, the bantam, the misfit of the bunch, has gone broody and is further at odds with the others as she occupies valuable real estate in the favourite nesting box. I'm really loving having chickens. If only all the animals living here contributed as much!

  19. I love your chooks, they're gorgeous, and I agree its a lovely thing to sit and watch them free ranging happily.
    I'd love to see a pic of Lucy, one day I would like an OEG hen too! :)

  20. If you like broodiness, our Blue Laced Wyandottes are the broodiest of all our chickens! Far more than even the Gold Laced Wyandottes :) I prefer heritage breeds as well, Rhonda. They seem healthier in the long run.

  21. Good choices in the new breeds. Wyandottes and Barnevelders are the true domestic backyard chicken if you ask me. Both are relatively new to the scene, when you consider how old some heritage breeds go back.

    Wyandottes and Barnies thrive on human contact. Like no other breed I've had, those two were the most personnable. I still have a few more breeds to try though. ;)

    I think Isa Browns have their place in a flock. I've got a couple this season and I've been comparing them to my New Hampshire and Australorps. I've seen them go broody and I've seen them taper off with egg laying.

    The reason Isa Browns have such a bad reputation for mortal egg laying habits, is because of the factory farming practices with artifical lighting and battery cages. When they live in your backyard and mingle in a flock with other broody breeds, they'll respond to the way you manage their environment.

    It's been my experience that every breed has the oddball that will suddenly cark it, no matter what you did right. I've had the worst luck with Plymouth Rock (a breed I've always wanted but cannot seem to raise past 12 weeks) and Light Sussex. It could be the stock I'm buying as day-olds, or it could be a particular bacteria/disease in my soils which only seems to show up in those breeds.

    I think given the right conditions, Isa Browns could probably lay themselves to an early death. Provide shade, light, space and a flock of different friends to scratch around with though; it's a completely different story.

    I enjoyed looking at your chicken friends and I'm always excited to hear about more additions on the way. I probably feel the same about chickens as you do about grandchildren. ;)

  22. Dear Rhonda,

    Did you see the program on the ABC on Tuesday night? It was about the secret lives of chickens. It is on catch up TV but is part of a three part series.

    I loved meeting your girls.


  23. I have a flock of 12 girls. But our neighbors have a new 1/2 wolf dog and now one of our hens is gone. I can't let them free range very often now. Breaks my heart.

  24. i love your thoughts on keeping hens,I would love to have some.

  25. I remember you writing way back about snakes and rats getting into the chicken coop. I wondered do you ever have any problems in the yard when the chickens are out with neighbor dogs or such? I take it you have close woven fences round your property. I enjoyed learning more about crooks today and learning the hint about the rat proof feeder system too. I remember you writing about keeping heritage crooks too to keep them in the system so to speak. I have told others about this and they never thought about it before. If you hadn't mentioned it I wouldn't have either. Thanks for mentoring us. Sarah

  26. Suzan, I started watching it, got half way through and fell asleep. I looked to see if it was on iview but it wasn't there. Thanks for reminding me to go back and find it. It was an excellent program. Found it!

    For Australian readers you can find it here for the next week or so:

  27. I have just three girls in our suburban backyard. One question for you. How do I keep them off the back deck? They do their droppings on the deck and then my daughters (4 and 1) walk in it and then walk it through the house. Plus, it doesn't smell very pleasant. I have found that if I have something unusual on the deck they tend to keep away, but it only works for a little while until they figure out it is harmless. Any other suggestions?

  28. You have gorgeous, wonderful hens! I love seeing my hens wander about the place as well. Although lately we've been partitioning them off a bit as they are quite happily ruining the spring vegie planting! A home to me doesn't feel like 'home' without a flock of hens milling about. There is something so settling, comforting and cosy about their gentle and very entertaining company!

  29. Hi Rhonda,

    I love this post and getting to know your girls. Next spring I hope to have my own flock...they'll be named after my mother and her three sisters: Lilly Lucille, Martha Aletta, Hazel Lee, and Melba June. My mom's maiden name is Goforth, so I'm going to put a sign on the hen house saying, "Goforth girls! Lay Eggs!"

    You've been my inspiration for wanting chickens, mostly because I love watching them, but also for the most wonderful taste of their eggs.

    Thanks for another great post and I can't wait to have my very own copy of your book.

    Diane in North Carolina

  30. Hello Rhonda. Hello little ladies. =)
    Almost every week I scratch my brain trying to think of ways to keep girls of my own without my determined dachshunds having them for supper!
    Growing up I always loved watching how they doted on my grandfather. He had a wonderfully mixed flock and also kept Peking ducks and geese.
    My favorite chooks were the reds.
    There is nothing so good as a freshly laid free-range chicken egg. I get them as often as I can from my brother's mother-in-law. If I buy from the grocery though, I find myself gravitating to the brown slightly speckled ones.

    As I said that it got me thinking and I googled and found this chart:

    Trinidad & Tobago

  31. Hi Rhonda
    I'm new to your blog, just been reading back through a few posts and they are wonderful. I am at the start of this journey after years of being in the cycle of earning and consuming with not much to show for it. Over a year ago I went vegan and my husband and I started to cut right back on everything to save for a house and our wedding. Being in London it's hard sometimes to live a simpler life but your blog is fantastic inspiration.
    Thank you!

  32. Diane, I like those names. I had a chook a couple of years ago that I named after my grandma - Stella Gladys.

    Anon, you'll have to fence off any area you don't want the chooks in.

    Vicki, that chart has been on my side bar for years. It's a real beauty and I often refer to it.

  33. I love your post about your girls. It took me back to my childhood. My grandma loved her chooks and gathered quite a collection of different breeds. I loved watching them wander about our orchard and vegie gardens. At evening it was my brothers and my chore to go and get them out of the trees and any other place they chose to hide and put them to bed. My dream is to have my own patch of land so I can have a few girls of my own. Our current lifestyle of moving every 2 or 3 years means no chickens for us - I couldn't bear to part with them, nor could I put them through the trauma of a move interstate. Once again, thankyou for your wonderful post and your lovely view on this world. Oh and I am looking forward to your book.

  34. Hi Rhonda,
    we have Wyandotts, a Rhode Island Red and a Buff Orpington - all of which are wonderful layers and beautiful birds that we love watching as they roam our garden. We have even just had our first ever batch of chickens born over the past 3 days as we allowed the Rhode Island Red (Agatha) to enjoy sitting on some eggs once she went broody. I am so thrilled that we found yours and similar blogs which made keeping chickens seem not so "scary" for us former suburbanites!


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