The Back Yard

Justin Newcombe's tips for creating a gorgeous and productive garden

Getting clucky over our feathered friends

By Justin Newcombe

Justin Newcombe extols the virtues of keeping a few chooks in the yard and gives a few tips on how to best care for them.

Chickens not only provide eggs but can be a great source of entertainment too. Photo / Natalie Slade
Chickens not only provide eggs but can be a great source of entertainment too. Photo / Natalie Slade

Our suburb seems to attract chickens. Long before we built a hen house we had the neighbour's escapee chooks lining up on our back lawn. That was five or six years back. From humble beginnings with a bit of chicken wire and a dodgy lean-to along the fence, we have slowly progressed to more permanent lodgings for our girls. We have also come to learn that chickens are more than just eggs.

Keeping hens in an urban environment does require a few considerations, so to this end there are council bylaws to ensure both hens and neighbours are happy.

Checking your council websites is a sensible place to start. There are usually regulations on the number of chooks you can keep, the amount of space each hen should have and the location of the hen house.

Rules aside though, the more space you can give your flock the healthier they will be.

We have a run measuring roughly 6 metres by 10 metres and at times it has accommodated up to five hens fairly comfortably. In addition to this, you need to allow your girls the opportunity to "open up new ground" by fencing off areas in the vege garden that need clearing (a chook tractor is perfect for this) or by letting them go for it in a weedy patch at the neighbours (under supervision of course!).

On top of your basic layers' diet, chickens keep better health if able to partake of daily greens (just like us really), and for a hen that means grass or leafy stuff.

Conveniently, chickens love a whole range of plants we like to term weeds and will happily demolish anything from dock to oxalis along with any more desirable plants that cross their path.

This particular dilemma brings up the question of whether or not to let your birds' free range.

In a suburban situation you have the stray dog and cat problem and the oncoming traffic problem, and as we learned at our house, chickens are not respectful of boundaries. City chooks are probably going to be safer in a run.

Once you've addressed the basics of accommodation and diet, you will need to ensure that your birds have enough shade in summertime and somewhere sheltered to escape winter winds and rain. We gave our hens the old plastic play house to use as a "conservatory".

Hens also need lots of fresh water and clean straw in their house and nesting boxes, plus their run should be padded out with some kind of litter (untreated wood chips, hay or dried leaves), especially during wet spells.

It takes a small, shared commitment from the family unit to provide a healthy existence for your chooks but the rewards are plentiful.

A small flock of city chooks can not only keep you in eggs for a good part of the year, but also your garden will positively explode from the free manure and compost from the run. Then of course there is the entertainment which is not to be missed: bordering on soap operatic, the dramas played out in the chook run will give any great epic a run for its money.

Soft city folk that we are, we just couldn't regard our girls in purely practical terms (we did try, to begin with) and they have become treasured pets, proving that chickens are so much more than just the eggs.

- NZ Herald

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