29 June 2007

Keeping chooks in the backyard

These are are Rhode Island Red chooks.

How could you live without chooks in the backyard? Don't answer, I wasn't really asking. ; )

I've been keeping chooks in the backyard since my kids were little. When I wanted to teach my boys about
responsibility and looking after something other than themselves, chooks taught them all they needed to know. When I wanted to encourage gentleness as a contrast to the harshness of boy's games, the chooks took over and taught that it was ok to cuddle, speak softly and to defend the helpless. The chooks also showed my boys they were capable of justifiable anger and if they tried to take eggs from a broody hen, they paid for it with peck marks and a renewed respect for motherhood.

This rose comb Light Sussex hen was at the local poultry show a couple of months ago.

Chooks are excellent foragers. They can turn vegetable scraps, lawn clippings and green waste into compost faster than I can, simply by constantly turning over whatever is put in the pen. We have a compost heap and bin but when we need compost in a hurry we empty lawn clippings, vegie scraps and leaves straight into a small contained area in their pen. The chooks go in and out constantly throughout the day to scratch through it. We keep it moist with some tank water, they add their droppings to it and within two or three weeks we have lovely sweet smelling dark compost.

But overall we keep chooks for the delicious fresh golden eggs they give us. Nothing is better than a fresh egg, either softly boiled with toast soldiers, in a light fluffy sponge cake with homemade raspberry jam gently spilling over the side or in a quiche full of dark golden yolks, freshly picked green onions, red peppers and mushrooms.

This is a laced Wyandotte hen was also at the poultry show.
Having been explained the plight of pure bred chook by Pam, a member of ALS, I will keep only pure breeds from now on. Pure bred chooks are like open pollinated seeds. If we don't seek out pure breeds all that will be left in the future will be hybridised chooks bred for the poultry industry. Many of us who farm our backyards choose open pollinated seeds because choosing hybrid seeds is choosing corporatisation of seeds over the heirlooms that have been passed down over the generations. We do the same if we choose Isa Browns or Hyline chooks over pure breeds like Wyandottes, Plymouth Rocks or Barnevelders. Our last additions in the chook house were pure Rhode Island Reds. I'm looking to buy a couple of Welsummers next.

Hmmm, I
might have scrambled eggs with parsley and chives on toast for breakfast today because even in the middle of winter we are still getting six eggs a day. I'll put the kettle on.
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