On a recent sunny Sunday my housemates and I decided to adopt some chickens. We had no chicken coop, no chicken food, no feeder — nothing apart from half an unused back courtyard.
So we went scavenging.
Within a day or two we had built our very own custom super coop and chicken run using wholly recycled materials that we either found by the roadside or sourced from Gumtree.com.au and friends.
We now have two chooks, happy to scratch the days away, which each lay an egg daily. We plan to add two more to our new farmyard.
It’s really quite simple — not to mention fun, environmentally friendly, economical and surprisingly therapeutic — to keep chooks. Here’s what you’ll need — and what you’ll need to consider — to set up your own chook coop in Melbourne:
Chickens don’t need a huge amount of space, but every creature deserves to be able to carry out its primal needs in comfort. For chooks, those primal needs are scratching for food, taking dust-baths, laying in a dark space and sleeping perched above ground. Ideally, you will be able to let your chooks roam about your garden during the day, and have a good-size chicken run for them to frolic around in when you’re not at home.
2. A coop
Chooks need shelter to keep them warm and dry at night and cool during the hot Melbourne summer. The coop should include a nesting box where the chooks can lay their eggs in privacy. Click here for more info on coops.
3. Fox proofing
Many people are surprised to hear there are foxes in Melbourne. They’re not as common in the city as in the outer suburbs, but when it comes to caring for your chooks it’s better to be safe than sorry. To fox-proof your coop, the best idea is to make sure it’s lockable at night as well as secure on the bottom so foxes can’t burrow under the fences — a wooden, chicken wire or concrete floor should do the trick. If your property is surrounded by a fence of at least two metres in height, your chooks should be pretty safe.
4. Chicken food
Chooks need protein to make eggs, so a diet of worms and bugs, chicken pellets, fresh food scraps and oyster shell grit should cover their main dietary requirements. (Your local green grocer can usually supply you with plenty of old veggie scraps.) If you want to indulge them, give your chooks an occasional handful of mixed grains. You’ll also need to make sure they have a constant supply of fresh water. For more info, click here.
Do some research and decide what you want from your chooks. Pets? Layers? Meat? For laying hens, it’s best to remember that as chooks get older their laying slows. Most healthy chooks should lay about 250 eggs in their first year, and after that their productivity will slowly decrease. A chook usually starts laying at about 21 weeks old (chooks at this age are called ‘point-of-lay pullets’). Most councils have a limit on the number of chickens you can keep without a permit; check your local council for guidelines. If you simply want a pet, why not get a rescue hen? These poor souls are rescued from battery farms, where they’ve generally led miserable lives. (Try Crystal’s Barnyard Pets.) Here’s your chance to spread some chooky love.
For more details on the ins and outs of keeping chooks, the Burke’s Backyard website has a lot of handy info.
If you have any tips or tricks on keeping chooks, please share!