Simple Living Series - Let's talk chooks, part 3

3 February 2010
Chickens were the first pets my sons ever had.  Shane and Kerry were about eight and nine when we bought our first little flock.  The boys helped look after those chooks and it was their responsibility to feed them, give them fresh water every day and to collect the eggs.  They used to walk around with them and take them visiting to various hidden spots in our back garden.  Those chooks taught my sons about death and new life, and the importance of a gentle touch.  They were an important part of their childhood.  Whenever they visit now, they still go out to see the chooks.
At the moment we have our chooks roaming through the dying vegetable patch.  They're scratching around, turning over the compost and eating bugs.   Soon they'll be out of there after a job well done and we'll be planting up again.  Above is Anne Shirley and with Kylie on the compost in the background.

If you have small children you must teach them how to be near chickens.  Chooks will be stressed if they're handled roughly or if children are screaming near them or chasing them.  The same goes for dogs and cats.  Our dogs have always been protective of our chickens but it is in their nature to see chooks as prey.  You have to spend time with them and show them that the chickens are a valued part of the family and should not be chased.  This takes time and patience.  You'll have to pick up the chooks and sit with them.  Call the dog over and let him smell the chicken while you're holding it.  Pat/pet both of them so the dog realises the chicken is a friendly addition to the backyard.  Doing that over and over again will help train the dog.  Still, don't leave the dog alone with the chooks until you're absolutely sure it won't attack the chooks.

If your chooks start scratching and you notice they have lice, this is fairly normal in dry and warm temperatures.  Treat the lice straight away by covering the chook with food grade diatomaceous earth.  You can usually buy it from your local produce/grain store.  Make sure you cover under the wings and tail and around the comb and wattles.  To help prevent this happening again give the chooks an area where they can dust bathe.  It just needs to be a bare patch where they can scratch up the soil and roll in the dry dirt.  This is will help prevent lice.
This is our new feeder.  We wanted a feeder that would keep rats out of the food when it was left overnight.  This feeder closes when there are no chooks around.  When they want to feed, they stand on the steel plate at the front and the hopper opens.  Currently it's in training mode while the chooks learn where the food is and how to get it.
There is still so much to write about keeping chickens but space and time will make this my last post on them for a while.  Please try to buy pure breeds and not the Isa Browns that are available almost everywhere.  You might have to look around a bit but there will be pure breeds available near most capital cities and large towns.  But no matter what breed you buy, all chickens will add to your life.  They'll give you hours of free entertainment with their mad antics as well as the best and freshest eggs available.
Quentin at the feeder with two broodies in the background in the blue nesting boxes.

Karen, you should work on worm prevention.  Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and a squeeze of garlic to every 10 litres of the chicken's drinking water.  Keep new chickens from old ones to prevent worms being brought in. Make sure their water is always fresh and clean. Feed them good quality food.  Keep their quarters clean.

Carol, I guess we don't let the chickens reproduce because we don't want to keep roosters and we find it difficult giving them away - you never know if they'll end up in the pot.  When we gave away Seth we offered him with his girlfriend, a silver sussex hen and hoped they'd stay together as a breeding pair.  But you can never be sure.  If we could be guaranteed all girl eggs, we'd do it but the roosters are a real problem for us.  A couple of years ago we threw caution to the wind and had some rare  fertile partridge Wyandotte eggs sent to us which we put under one of our Rhode Island Reds.  They hatched out on Christmas day when we were at the Christmas breakfast, and the first time mother squashed all of them.  What do you do with your roosters?

Kathy, I'd ask your immediate neighbours if they have a problem with you keeping three chickens.  I bet they don't.  Your zoning laws are stupid.  Imagine what our pioneering ancestors would have thought of such nonsense.  Chickens helped them survive through very tough times when there were no supermarkets or corner stores.   Everyone has a right to raise their own food and a few chooks doesn't diminish the neighbourhood, it does the opposite.  Good luck.
Penniless, Polish chooks are not good layers.  Often they don't lay at all.  It's been bred out of them and now they're usually kept as show birds.  Many chooks go off the lay when they're moulting and will restart when they gain their feathers back.  They put their energy into making feathers rather than making eggs.  You could try giving the non-polish chooks a week of high protein feed - just soaking a slice of bread in milk will provide added protein for them.  See if that works.  How old are they? 

Leslie, once chickens know that their own eggs are food, it's difficult to break them of the habit of eating them. And often, if the other chooks see the eggs being eaten, they'll join in.  Leaving eggs in the nests for long periods is a great temptation for chickens.  I doubt there is a cure for this but collecting eggs frequently will take away the temptation.

Jan, snake proofing a chicken coop is quite difficult.  Snakes don't know about fences or doors, they just see everything as another obstacle to overcome.  You'll need to block every  hole, even the very small ones.  We did that with the small hole chicken wire but you could also use shade cloth or fly screen wire.  Pythons are the worst around chooks because they will swallow a chook whole, smaller snakes will look for eggs and swallow them whole.   So get your hammer and nails and go over the chicken coop looking for any hole and block it off.    Good luck.

Pinkandwhitepony, a good sized small flock would be eight chooks, a large one 20.  You should never keep just one chook.  If you want eggs for breakfast and you have a small family, three or five chickens would do.  Speaking about companions, you'll find if you get different breeds, often the same colours will become friends.  Our black chooks rarely hang out with our white and buff coloured chooks.  Heather, our salmon coloured Faverolles, is friends with Martha, a buff Orpington.  The red chooks stick together and the black chooks always wander the backyard in a group, without any other colours.

Annikka, chickens rarely overeat.  They regulate themselves well and that is why most people leave a hopper full of feed in the chook pen so they can eat when they feel like it.  We give out chooks bread almost every day and only the large varieties, like the Orpingtons and Sussex are big girls.

Yvette, your chicken house sounds like a masterpiece of recycling,  Well done!

Becky, I'm no expert on breeding chickens but I would imagine the separation from the main flock would be the most important thing.  Also, make sure your breeding girls are healthy and maybe feed them extra protein to get them through the long days of sitting on eggs.

I hope I have encouraged you to think about chickens if you've never had them before.  Like most other new things, you'll have to learn about your girls and give them good food, love and protection but they will return everything you give to them tenfold.   Dive.


  1. When we first got into raising poultry we got alot of chickens 118 to be exact. Many of them were roosters. We waited until they were 17wks and took them to the butcher. They were scrawny 2lb birds and I used them for soup. Since then we only have our golden red layers and we do two batches of broilers which we butcher and sell or keep for ourselves. I did find that Silkies are the best brooders. They do all the work of rotating the eggs and keeping them warm. They sit on the eggs for 28 days and only get up once a day to eat and drink. We only did this twice just so the kiddos could see how it worked and we had friends who were willing to take whatever hatched.
    Also we had large roosters and they got mean, defending their girls and their pasture. With small kiddos we had to cull them from the flock.

  2. I have 14 hens and we are lucky these days to get 5 eggs a day but the hens will remain here as pets.
    I currently have a hen on 9 eggs ready to hatch on Saturday.
    My kids adored the experience last time and from 7 hatchings we only got 2 stunning looking roosters.
    They did have to be rehomed though as they took to chasing my Son.
    They were handled and handraised but never the less Chase him they did!
    I do love having the chooks and watching them wander and dust bathe scratch throughout our Property.

  3. I do love our girls! We have 19 hens and a rooster. They are Shaver red sex links, half Rhode Island Red and half White Rock. I would love for our girls to hatch their own chicks but they are not inclined to do so, unfortunately. I think it has been bred out of them. I will be hatching some this year in an incubator. I would love to incorporate some good sitters and mothers into the mix.

  4. Excellent post - once again! Thanks for hitting on children and dogs. That helps a lot.


  5. Rhonda I am typing this with one hand have new grandaughter in other as her mum is unwell but please tell me where you got the chook feeder in the photo.

  6. I really like the feeder you have. I've never seen one like it before. We have 13 hens. Barred-Rock, Reds, astralorp/mix, & 1 americana. The americana lays greenish blue eggs. I enjoy the look of the brown eggs so we try to stick with that kind. It's cold here right now, and so we're not getting any eggs but hopefully soon they will be laying again.

  7. totally off topic:
    whey is really better than water when it comes to baking bread!!! i read somewhere on this blog to use it and i'm so happy that i did - my bread tastes fancy and expensive-ish now :p
    lol so thanks for the tip
    on topic:
    i'm dreaming of my own little hobby farm with chooks and veggies and fruits and herbs and it sure helps to be able to learn so much in advance, thanks!

  8. Anonymous and Vickie, we got the feeder from this place:

  9. Hi Rhonda. One of the joys I have in really fresh eggs is the ability to poach them. You know how there are all sorts of cooking techniques for poaching eggs? I have a great technique -- chooks in the backyard. :)

  10. Rhonda, thanks so much for this series! We've been thinking about getting chooks for a little while, and recently decided that we'd aim to get some once summer is done. So your thoughts are very timely!

  11. I have only really discovered your blog and this series was particularly wonderful! It took a while to convince my husband that we should have chickens here in Japan, but now that we do they are great. I still have to convince him that free ranging them is a good idea in the late afternoon, but as long as I pick up all the poos on the deck what he can't see doesn't seem to worry him too much! I look forward to my daily dose of your great blog. Thank you for inspiring so many people.

  12. We live in suburban Adelaide, and council laws are pretty strict. However , to compensate for our concrete floor, we sneaked a dirt run as well.! We have three young, and one old girl, Rosie.
    My daughter raised these three from day old chicks and the memories of her with these little fluff balls following her EVERYWHERE will remain with her forever...those chooks adore her. She was four when we got them, and it taught her so much. I would say to anyone looking for a great pet, with great returns, that nothing beats a few chookies....Suzanne.

  13. This is a timely article for me. A friend has kindly raised me a trio of Pekin Bantams, which will shortly be moving in with us. Great Info. Love your blog generally, keep up the wonderful work.

  14. Buying day old sexed chicks or even just pullets to avoid the 'problem' of roosters is a bit of a problem itself. Depending where you get your chickens from of course. The hatcheries are culling tons of day old roosters, often they get ground up for petfood. Throwback at Trapper Creek has a thought provoking post on it.

    I like to buy fertile eggs of my breed of choice, hatch both sexes and make good use of both (eggs from girls, meat from boys and poop and bug patrol from both). You can kill and eat your roosters around the time they start to crow - still tender and eliminates any nuisance to the neighbours.

    It also infuriates me when I see roosters dumped at restspots on the side of roads, this is no way to deal with the 'problem'. What is more cruel? A short, happy productive life or a short life(because of predators or cars), half-starving, scavenging for scraps on the side of the road?

  15. Do you have issues with brush turkeys? Since summer started we have had brush turkeys trying to mate with our chooks. We have had to fence them off in a small area, and they get very annoyed at their confines, given they were used to having the entire backyard to roam around in.
    Also, what about rodent protection? I love the feeder you have, where did you find it? Is there anything else you can do to stop rats / mice around chooks?

  16. Oh, I loved reading this series of articles you wrote. Your enthusiasm is contagious.

    Thank you,

  17. Congratulations Rhonda,I am impressed, you found the glitch in our system!Yes we do end up with some extra roosters but as soon as they are old enough to distinguish we humanly dispose of them as I find it hard to raise and eat one of chickens (so why do I buy dressed chicken to eat?)
    I think we all have to follow what works best for us.
    May I add that I have been a follower and fan of your blog for a long time and you now have my four daughters (plus friends) as followers too. I firmly believe that if the younger generation can follow through with what you are recommending we will have much happier and more contented families and communities. Good vibes snowball don't you think?. Thanks, Carol

  18. Hi Rhonda

    We're getting out first Chooks this spring and I'm looking forward to it but I'm nervous. I have a quick question if I may. How safe is it to let them scrath around out veggie plot? Will they cause too much damage around new plants? Thanks in advance for any help and advice you can offer.

  19. Thanks for the answer...
    I understand and have experienced the frustration and concern over getting rid of the roosters.

    We have some neighbors who are willing to take some. They have more space and many hens.

    This has been a very good series of posts.

    Becky K.

  20. Rhonda, I would love to have chooks some day but I have cats and always will. How do you keep your chooks safe with your cats? Great informative post.
    Karen in CT

  21. A few years ago, we had barnevelder chickens. I gave them the usual feed and some grain. But they stopped laying eggs. When i stopped with the grain, they started to lay eggs again.
    The man i bought our chickens from, told me he had the same experience.

    When winter started and we had a lot of snow (7 weeks already, i'm 43 but this is new for me in Holland) we gave them food all day and you are right. They don't overeat.
    I give them organic food and my newhampshire hens are laying eggs in winter. This is rare, but very nice :-)

    Annikka from the Netherlands

  22. Leisa, the only other thing I know that's effective against rats is a good cat. Our Hettie used to keep the rats and mice away but she's too old now to bother with it. We do have bush turkeys around here and they often come into the yard but they come to eat the grain, not mate. Alice chases them when she sees them.

    Affi'enia, we only let them in the vegetable garden when it's dying down and we're not concerned about the plants. They've been in our garden for three weeks now and they've eaten the comfrey to the ground (it will re-shoot), picked all the leaves off the capsicums, and turned over the compost many times. It's not nearly as bad as I thought it would be and it's done the garden a lot of good. We now have no caterpillars or grasshoppers within cooee. I thought they'd scratch around the roots a lot and although they did do that, the damage was fairly minimal. However, I'd not let them back in unless the garden was dying off again.

    Karen, pet cats usually don't harm grown chickens. We have feral cats here that would eat a chicken and that is one of the reasons we have a secure coop at night for our girls. If your pet cat starts chasing the chooks, generally one peck from the chook will stop it. However, if you're going to buy baby chicks, and unsupervised cat would be a major concern.

  23. I just wanted to take a moment to comment on your choice of names for one of your chooks. I love that you named the lovely redhead Anne Shirley. Being from Prince Edward Island myself, I can appreciate the reference! I love your blog and look forward to reading it daily! Thank you so much for your insight.

  24. Just wanted to second Rhonda's remark about Isa Browns. We got them at first, and found that they do what they are bred to do: they lay their guts out for a year or two. Commercial egg growers cull them at this point, and we have found that the birds themselves are not robust enough for a backyard environment as they are bred for battery farms, so they don't live long.

    Rhonda might be too busy to post more about chooks, but don't forget the the DTE chook forum! I also post about chooks at my blog.

  25. We love our backyard chickens! We have three hens, which has proven to be just right for us.

    Living in a hot, humid climate, we did start to have fly problems, but solved it with diatomaceous earth. I wrote about it on my blog -- the DE is definitely a lifesaver! I've been taking it myself and have noticed less hair falling out and stronger fingernails :)

    I do wish we could let them roam a bit more, but living in a suburban neighborhood, and not having a fenced yard, means I have to really keep an eye on them when they're out of the coop.

    Thanks for the great posts on keeping chickens, Rhonda!

  26. Last year when our chicks hatched we had 2 boys. One I kept ( we live in the middle of nowhere) the other I was lucky enough to find a home for. There are often bird shows here so I took him down to one of them and he found a new owner who was going to use him for breeding, to introduce new blood. This year I have three certain boys and one I'm not sure of yet. I have no idea how I'm going to find homes for 3/4 boys :( But like you I couldn't bear them to go for the pot so I will search and search.

  27. Reading these articles on keeping chickens just wants me to start sooner. However I have to hold back a little while longer. When we moved here 2 yrs ago I dreamt of having a vegies,herbs,a pond and laying hens.

    I have to slow down and get one done at a time---still have to clear most of the area needed but one day it will be as i pictured it.

    ----Krystal(still dreaming)

  28. I do so love my girls and have vowed to never live chickenless again. They bring so much life to the backyard. Though they're quite upset with me and this rain right now - soon they'll be back to scratching around outside.

  29. We are hoping to get chickens this summer, thanks for all the info. It is definitely a learning process.

  30. Rhonda, had to smile about the dog not chasing chickens. We had three lovely girls - we also have a Yorkie. They very quickly realised he was no contest!

    He never showed any inclination to chase them but they quickly showed an inclination to chase him. Now, if he hears the wheezy 'pawk' of a chicken he gets that look of panic!

  31. We raised White Cornish Cross chickens last spring to dress for the freezer. These poor critters have been bred to do nothing but eat, drink, and poop! The poor things couldn't even be taught to roost. They are ready for the freezer in only 4-5 weeks but I don't trust their genetics to raise them again. Since I'm new to this is there any recommendation for another breed of chicken that is good for meat that will not take forever to mature. My husband bought cockerels the second time, they loved being outside free ranging, were fun to watch eating bugs, garden goodies, etc. but those guys were tough as shoe leather, only good for making broth. The chickens were so much for the entire family. The grandchildren were fascinated by their behavior and loved helping grandma and grandpa in the chicken house. Our kitties even enjoyed them.
    My neighbor has hens and keeps us in eggs year round and of course we trade her meat chickens. These blessed animals have brought us closer.


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