DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS

DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS
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3 February 2014

Chickens - homesteading in the urban backyard

We have seven chickens left. The last of our old girls died late last year and now, even though we miss those old characters, we've started building up our flock again so we'll have plenty of eggs. Kate at Beautiful Chickens has some girls ready for us and as soon as the chicken house renovations are complete, we'll pick them up. I can hardly wait.

At the moment we have Lucy, an Old English game hen, she is our oldest chicken. She came to us when Shane and Sarndra moved from the country to the city and couldn't take their chooks with them. Lucy arrived with a flock of older chicks she'd hatched, many of them roosters, and now she's the only one left. Lucy is blind now so we've been hand-feeding her and moving her around the yard so she stays in the shade. Hanno puts her in a nest at night and gets her out every morning. He feeds her bread and milk with chicken pellets and greens thrown in for good measure. When Jamie is here, he hits the side of Lucy's metal bowl with a spoon so she knows where her food is.


This is Lucy.

Her Royal Chookness, Lulubelle.

Sitting on the recycled timbers going into their new home, Annie, Fiona, Blue Bell and Nora.

Blue Bell.

The others are Lulubelle, the Plymouth Rock chicken I was holding in my Women's Weekly article a couple of years ago. Lulubelle is still laying and keeps the other chooks in hand (or wing). We have Fiona, our crazy Araucana who lays the most beautiful light blue eggs and Annie, a New Hampshire. Today, we discovered that Annie and Fiona have been hiding a nest of six eggs and taking it in turns to sit on them. Hanno had a tree felled a couple of weeks ago and the top of the tree was still in the chicken run. It was in the cool darkness of all those leaves where they made their nest and we only discovered their secret when I saw Annie go in and Fiona shoot out of the branches. Late summer is often the time when chickens go broody and want to sit on eggs instead of have you take them. Fiona is quite aggressive when she's protecting her eggs and if you have a hen like this, it might serve you well to wear gardening gloves when you take the eggs from the nest.

There isn't much you can do if your chickens go broody. It's part of the natural behaviour of pure breed chooks. Even Lomans and Isa Browns occasionally go broody although most of them don't, the tendency to reproduce has been bred out of them over the years.  If you do have a broody the only thing you can do is to get them out of the nest whenever you see them in there, or lock them out of the nest area. We tend to let out girls sit on the nest for a short time and hope they snap out of it. Most of the time, they do.

Cora, blue laced Barnevelder.
The crazy princess Fiona.

Cora again.

The other chickens are two blue lace Barnevelders - Cora and Nora and a blue Australorp - Blue Bell. Nora has been laying for a couple of weeks but Cora has only just started laying and her eggs are still small. This is quite normal for a newly laying chicken - small eggs, sometimes they don't have a shell and sometimes they are double yolkers. All that sorts itself out when their hormones settle, then we look forward to about five eggs a week from each girl. The only non-layer is Lucy but she's raised chicks in the past so she's done her duty. 

We're getting to the end of summer now. We helped our chooks get through the very hot weather by having an extra water container on hand. Chickens will die without fresh water. They also like to stand in water  during hot weather so if you have a wide open bowl or a bin lid, upside-down, fill it with water so they can go there to cool down. It's also a good idea to have blocks of ice in the freezer for the very hot days. Just throw one into their bucket when the day starts getting hot and it will encourage the chickens to stay hydrated because they love drinking cool water.



This is the view looking from the front of the chicken coop over towards the back of our yard. The trees provide shade during the summer, then the pecan loses its leaves in winter giving the chooks much needed sunlight during the colder weather.

In the next couple of weeks we'll have to start looking for signs of mites and fleas. These often present in autumn. We use Diatomaceous Earth (DE) here. If we see the chooks pecking at their feathers or preening a lot, it generally means they have mites. We cover them in DE, especially under wings, around their comb and wattles and under the tail. This generally fixes things in a few days.  When the girls moult, which they usually do in autumn, it's a good idea to have a good clean out of the chicken house and nests - sweep up everything that's been laying around and put it on the compost heap. If you have one, use a pressure hose to clean the coop, if not, a hose will do. Don't forget the nests and roosts. When it's all completely dry, add straw or hay to the nests and floor, then throw a few cups of DE around the coop and in the straw and nests. That should keep things in check and the chickens comfortable for a few months.

Just one more tip. A few people have asked about worming chickens. It's not recommended to worm chooks any more - it's another chemical they can do without. A crushed garlic clove once a month in all the water containers - leave it there for three days then give plain fresh water again.  If you notice foamy diarrhoea and your chickens look thin and sick, they might have worms and you should treat them. You'll also have to clean out the coop again and replace all the straw.

This young chap is a native bush turkey. They roam freely in and out of the rainforest and often irritate gardeners by scratching through gardens. This fellow visits a couple of times a day, has a feed of pellets, wanders around with the girls for a while, then leaves again.

We couldn't do without our hens. In the past couple of weeks during the summer heat, and with two of our girls broody, we've only been getting about three or four eggs a week. When we have times like that it shows me how much we rely on our little ladies and their eggs.  Hanno went to the organic farmers market on Saturday and even though we could have bought eggs there, they're never as good as ours. I bet you find the same with your girls too. Nothing is as good as fresh eggs from your own back yard.  How many chickens do you have now?

41 comments:

  1. Oohh... still dreaming, hoping and wishing for some chickens in my household. But first I have to found myself a good home for that. 'Cause chickens on the balcony.... ;o)

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  2. Your chickens are so adorable, Rhonda. It's great to see you and Hanno take care of them as they age. Love the coconut-looking trees in the background -- feels like home. We've got no chooks, but I'm planning to read up on it for the future. My granny used to have them too and we would take turns feeding them. I've got lots of memories of my granny and grandpa and I'm sure Jamie will have lots too!

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  3. Yes we have had chickens since 2008. We started with 2, then went quickly to 5 then 9. We are now back to 4 again. I need to extend their coop as I onlyl let them out a couple days a week when i have time to watch them so that they don't get into my veggie beds. We also use DE...actually is time to dmthem again. Thanks for the reminder.

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  4. We have two cross breed layers that I bought last year and two Australorp crosses that I got off a local breeder.

    Interestingly normally my cross breeds/Ida browns have been the most friendly, and while these two are, they are also the most vicious I've ever had and will actually peck at you when you go into the run... Any ideas?

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    1. han_ysic, how old are the crossed australorps? Could they be roosters? Roosters are territorial and some will have a go at you when you enter the run.

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  5. Morning Rhonda.......I have only 4 chickens now. Last week I took my 9 yr old bantam Goodie off to the vet to be euthanised. She'd had a couple of episodes of not being able to walk and didn't eat, so I did what Hanno's been doing......fed her by hand, moved her around in the shade or the sun, and put her in a nest at night. Often I'd find her when the hens were let out sound asleep, tucked into my dog's side as she had her afternoon bone. She always came good and was her her usual perky self, but this last time nothing was working and I couldn't bear to see her like that any more. Of the others, only two lay.....Brenna's an Australorp and hasn't layed since her last moult, the feathers have never grown back on her rump, occasionally she drops a soft egg, and sits in the nests a lot, but not in a broody way but doesn't produce anything. She's not sick, is big and glossy, has a lovely bright red upright comb, eats for England and is very active but no eggs! She has the same good quality food as the others, lots of grit is available plus they get to scratch in the garden every day but no eggs! Any ideas? And yes, I do miss the eggs, can't quite bring myself to buy even the organic free range ones from the market garden.

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    1. Poor old Goodie. Nanette, isn't it lovely how close you can get to chickens. Many people think they're dumb but I have found that chickens are a lot like people. You get warm personalities, aggressive types, silly, crazy, quiet and show-offs. We used to have an Australorp with a featherless rump. She was one who died late last year. She looked and acted like the others and just dropped dead one day. How old is Brenna? My guess is she's too fat to lay. It's incredibly difficult to get chooks to eat less but if you can, drop her food rations by 10 percent and see how see goes. You could also try her on rockmelon/cantaloupe. I have found that to be an excellent tonic for chickens.

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    2. It did occur to me as I wrote, that she could be too fat. She's 18 mths old...funny two Australorps with the same bare rump problem. I got her from the lady at Brookfield where you used to get yours......I wonder if they're related. I'll try the less food and the rockmelon and see how she goes. Thanks

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    3. They could be related, Nanette. We got our old girl from Brookfield. Good luck getting her back to eggs again.

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  6. What beautiful girls, Rhonda. I can feel your joy in having them as part of your homestead in your writing. Just noticed how lush and green your grass is - is it any special variety or just the sub-tropical setting you are in that keeps it so beautiful? Ours is so dry down here in the South Eastern Tablelands:)

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    1. We didn't plant this lawn so I can't be sure what it is, although it does look like buffalo grass to me. It goes brown when we don't get rain and at times I've thought it was dead but it always comes back after rain. We never fertilise it, nor water it, it survives on what nature and our chooks give it.

      I just had a look at your new home. It's beautiful! That is my kind of house. I'm sure you'll build it into something really special.

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  7. We have ten chooks of various breeds and crossbreeds now, and five new little pullets to grow on for next season. Three of my hens tend to go broody but aren't reliable enough to sit on eggs so I tend to use the incubator for hatching these days. They'll stick to a nest like glue then get up on day 16 and climb back into a different nest or something silly like that. I've tried just leaving them to 'get over it' but they don't. Throwing them off the next twice a day doesn't help as they just climb back on *sigh*. They just sit there for weeks; not laying and getting thinner so I've resorted to an 'anti-broody' cage. They have a large cage in the shade with food and water and a roosting perch, but a wire mesh floor set about an inch off the ground. They can't comfortably hunker down on the ground and have to perch and get the wind up their knickers! I've found that if I let them out in less than three days, they go back to the nest. So now, three days in the windy-knicker cage and then back out to roam and (hopefully) start laying again!

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    1. We've only had one broody who sat for weeks. I've heard about the anti-broody cages. It's good to know they work. Good luck with the pullets.

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    2. I too, have employed broody cages. We used to have a Buff Sussex chicken who went broody almost every month. Boy was that one fat, fluffy chicken! She took three days to get over it and then returned to the flock as normal.

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  8. I love reading about your chickens! We still have 5, but like you the laying has been a bit hit and miss lately. We love our fresh eggs and haven't bought a single one since we've kept hens.

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  9. Hi Rhonda!

    We have four chickens: a *very* broody Barnevelder (aren't they beautiful?) called Harriet, a White Leghorn called Matilda, a young Rhode Island Red hen (we hope "she" is not a rooster!) called Rose, and the boos-chick is a Black Australorp called Raven.

    Only Raven and Matilda are laying at the moment. Poor Harriet is nutty on her nest and when she comes out she tries to bite the heads of the other chookies. We're thinking of trying to get her to hatch up some chicks to break her broody cycle!

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  10. I loved this post. We are planning to begin raising chickens this spring. We want to have two hens. We just bought a coop kit and we'll get chicks in a couple of months. My husband grew up with chickens and has a lot of knowledge but I'm a newbie with all of it so I'm reading as much as I can. I love your blog anyway, but this post was especially timely for me, so thank you. :)

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  11. On further reading the comments, we have an Orpington (so similar to an Australorp?) who is about 18mths old and was laying and now has stopped. She often sits in the nesting boxes and produces - NOTHING! She is definitely not broody (our Wyandotte often is so can tell the difference) She eats alot too, but is very active. It's hard to tell if she is overweight under all those glossy feathers! She actually finally did lay 'something' the other day. An egg about the size of a 20cent piece. I will try rockmelon too.

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    1. Ailsa, Australorps were bred from Orpingtons, they're an Australian breed and they're both big chooks. Your girl might have been put off her laying by something. Is she eating high protein food? They need that for egg production. Laying that 'something' might be a good sign. It might mean she's coming back to laying again. Keep an eye on her because 18 months is way too young to stop laying.

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  12. I love reading about your chooks :) We have had ours for about 13 months now, and I can't imagine not having them now, they add so much to a simpler life, my kids adore them and we all find them an endless sorce of entertainment. We have 2 girls, Nugget and Icecream. We only got Icecream a couple of months ago, you may remember Rhonda, I posted a question in the forum about helping her settle in and become a bit tamer? Well, after spending time with her each day, she is now much more "social" than she was :) She will now happily follow me around the garden, and although she can still be a little skittish, she is much tamer and easier to handle :)

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    1. Larissa, I do remember your chook on the forum. It's good she's settled down a bit. Some chicken breeds are skittish and timid, it comes with their breed but I've found that all chooks benefit from spending time with their humans.

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  13. HI Rhonda, Love your chooks, they are beautiful. I really love my chooks they are just the best pets to have, mine are a bit slow at laying at the moment it must be the heat down here. You are right about the color of the eggs, I was at work the other day and someone sat next to me eating scrambled eggs and I said what is that, as the color just didnt look real to me as we are used of fresh golden scrambled eggs but these ones were nearly white ...ew. I think every back yard needs a couple of chickens lol xx

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  14. We have four hens and a rooster. We keep trying to get the hens' numbers up to about half a dozen, and fate keeps thwarting us. We had an Australorp and an Easter Egger taken by predators this past week. Luckily the remaining ladies are starting to pick up the pace on their laying, so until we find the right hens to add to the flock we'll be okay.

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  15. I had fresh eggs for the first time ever recently. I can't believe how much better they taste! I live in a big city, but have been considering getting some for our backyard.

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  16. Dear Rhonda - my hens are Geraldine, Milly and Tilly. They were advertised as bantams but as soon as I saw them I knew they weren't and the egg size proves that-- not that I am complaining :-) I am awaiting one of them to go on the cluck because I want to put some fertile Australorp eggs under it. I have not had that breed before and have liked what I read about them. When we moved here I asked husband and son to concrete the part of the henhouse where they perch and the nesting box is to make it easier to me to keep clean AND make sure no rats or ferrets could dig in. The run part is on grass but has wire netting on the bottom. I would love to let my hens free range BUT we have a lot of hawks here and I have lost a couple of chickens before.
    Karen NZ

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  17. Mrs. Rhonda. Everything you teach me in your blog are so I want to do. But when you're younger with little children in tow. May I know how to keep home real tidy. I mean how to manage it because whenever I tidying up home it will not last until next hour. Please tell me

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    1. my45spirit, we are in different seasons of our lives. I have raised my children and they're now men with families of their own. Your home will not be tidy all the time when you have children. What matters is that you spend time with them and model the behaviour you want to see in them. Everything else will come in its own time. xx

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  18. Hi Rhonda, We haven't had chickens since our flood last year but I am investigating a few options on our property as I love having them. We have room for a large run, I just need some cooler weather and a motivated husband to give me a hand. Wish me luck with the second one :) Cheers, Tanya

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  19. Hi Rhonda, thanks for your reply. Yes, they are all eating a high protein layer pallet. She laid another small egg today, with a soft shell. Have given them some rockmelon too.

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  20. I enjoyed your chicken story so much. I think I am allowed to have up to 6 where I live. I've never had them before myself. My neighbour has 3 that I often see "free-ranging" in the neighbour's yards too. One goes over the fence and the others follow. It is great fun to watch them. I long for them myself, but your previous pictures of snakes have put me off a bit. I worry that I will be attracting snakes. I am not in good health myself and I also worry about having to check the entire back yard frequently for eggs. Your stories are fun anyway. xx debbie

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  21. Hi Rhonda, great post again. We've only had 3 chickens, all Isa Brown. After nearly 2 years they are still in peak condition, probably due to the fact we let them free range completely in the back yard (800 square meters) all the time, plus the organic grain feed. However, the next batch will be fenced in a small area, as I've found chickens are quite destructive and we want to expand our vegetable garden. I find most of the recommended space per chicken is just too small, that is if you want to give your chicken a reasonable quality of life.

    Anyhow, I must say Isa Browns have been excellent layers, but as we don't need 21 eggs a week, and this breed doesn't do enough of its own foraging, we'll look at getting a heritage breed next time (we live in Proserpine, central QLD by the way). Thanks again for your information. Monica

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  22. Loved this chook post! :) I have ten hens, Silkies, Pekins, Langshans & Araucana x's.
    All free range my yard and are also pets. Every day collecting eggs is fun & my kids enjoy it.
    Eggs are a bonus really as the chooks do so much work in the garden anyway.

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  23. I had to laugh about your comment concerning broody chickens. My clucks hide eggs and hatch out chicks every spring. Last week one of our girls hatched out 14 chicks under the house. Broody hens are so sneaky!

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  24. Hi Rhonda and Hanno, love this post ,found it very interesting. We have at the moment 5 chooks. We inherited them in October last year ,no idea how old they are but getting 5 eggs 3 days a week 4 eggs 2 days a week and 2 eggs on the other days . These are not the friendliest of chooks and get very distressed if cornered. A few weeks ago I found a secret nest ... I , can't say how many chooks were laying in it but we have destroyed it and they are back to laying in the boxes in the shed. .This last 2 weeks we have 2 broodies,I keep chasing them of the nests but they are determined . I have heard you can hose them as their body temperature is higher .Don't know how that will go .We did have a 7 year old Bantam who was blind and partially deaf but somehow or other a Quoll got her , a cruel death after all these years of being cherished! We clean the chook poo up every morning as it only takes a few minutes, use dolomite round the nesting boxes and on the floor it helps keep mites at bay . We have been very lucky and so far have not had any nasties. I also give them a little Slippery Elm in their food once a week ,it helps keep their gut clean . They free range and have access to grit ,seeds ,water all the time. My neighbours 2 chooks come over and join ours every day , quite funny really. no idea as to breed ,think they must be a Heinz 57 variety. Do you know if DE is a poison and is their a withholding period before you can eat any eggs? Appreciate you time and effort of all you do Margaret in Tasmania

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  25. I have no chickens, but wish I did.

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  26. I have also enjoyed your post and all the comments following it! We started off a few years ago with four bantams from a friend who had dozens of them. We never knew what breed they were, but they were lively and laid the cutest little eggs. As they died off, we replaced them with chooks from another friend, and also from members of a local Poultry Club. We had Sussex, Wyandottes and a few others, but now we have one Sussex (white with some black feathers on the neck) and five Rhode Island Red hens, and one Rhode I.R. rooster. The Sussex hen gets clucky quite often, and gets very aggressive when we take her eggs, so I do as you suggest and wear gardening gloves to avoid being pecked.
    We've been getting 3 to 4 eggs a day all through summer, which we are surprised at, but very happy! We can only assume they are happy, well fed and coping well with the heat as they trot around the yard to find the shadiest places for a dust bath or a drink of water.

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  27. We have 7 chickens,5 are Rhode Island Reds,1 is a white one and the other is a beautiful slate colour but I'm unsure which kind it is. We purchased them from our weekly auctions just outside of Gawler, South Aust but we've only ever had 2 eggs per day.Are they too old and how do you tell their age?

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    1. Did you buy them as grown chickens, Wendy? If so I don't know how to tell their age. When they're young, their comb and wattles will be much smaller and will grow as they get closer to laying. If your girls are only laying two a day, they might be a few years old. Chooks have a peek laying period of about three years and this drops off as they age.

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  28. Very lucky girls. I love chickens and have had backyard chickens before. I'm happy you are keeping Lucy and giving her a good life at the end of it. She's a beautiful girl.

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  29. We currently have one of our hens sitting on 6 speckled Sussex eggs. I can't wait to see the results! Your Barnevelders are beautiful chooks.

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