Chickens are becoming a common pet on the Northern Beaches. They are joyful backyard pets that add to the ambience of your house, but do need ongoing care like any other animals.
Most people keep between two and six chickens. To start a flock you can buy a group of point-of-lay pullets that are 16-24 weeks of age. Locally, most people get their chickens from The New Leaf Nursery at Ingleside. Older rescue chickens are also available.
Chickens are very sociable creatures, but they very quickly establish a group pecking order. It is never a good idea to introduce one chicken to the group. Always try to introduce a pair.
Setting up for Chickens
Setting up for chickens in your yard you should be aware of council regulations. Ideally build a chicken house or coop in a shaded spot outside direct sunlight. If the coop faces east, the birds will get lovely morning warmth.
Inside the coop the floor is lined with dry straw or wood chips. The chooks will enjoy a variety of perches but with large feet these need to be 4-5cm wide and can be made of natural branches. Nesting boxes come off the main part of the coop and it is good to be able to open these up from outside to look for eggs.
Each week droppings need to be cleaned out to keep the level of ammonia inside the coop down. This is really important, as the ammonia gas produced by droppings in a small space, can cause significant health problems for your chickens, especially respiratory disease.
Outside the coop, have an area with straw where you can add fruit, veges and pasta onto the ground for digging and foraging. This can be swept up and placed in the compost once a week.
Chickens also love a dirt patch to dig in. They enjoy having a dust bath.
If your chickens are not fenced in an area of your backyard, you will need to be able to cope with the chicken droppings. Chickens have softly formed droppings that can be 5cm in diameter. Droppings are very unpleasant and sticky to step on. They will smell and attract flies to your garden if not picked up regularly. Free range chickens will tend to gather by the back door waiting for you to bring out food. They poo where they gather.
When fencing off a chicken area it is important to know that chickens will fly over fences that are 1 metre high but will stay inside 1.8m fencing. Wing clipping can help keep your chickens in areas with lower fences, but the wings need to be clipped regularly.
There are foxes in this area. Foxes and feral cats might try to attack your chickens at night. We have even had clients lose chickens to sea eagles! Strong chicken wire is needed to predator proof a chicken run. It is recommended to close the birds up in the coop at night.
Chickens are best fed on good quality pellets. Using a feeding dispenser avoids waste and minimise the soiling of food. New Leaf Nursery at Ingleside supplies a great range of chicken food and bedding, as does Horselands up at Terrey Hills.
Green grass, parsley, and spinach are great to add into the diet along with vegetable scraps and pasta.
Fresh water is best supplied by dispenser to keep it clean and avoid spills.
Foods to avoid: Avocado, meat, green potatoes, bones, coffee, citrus, onion and rhubarb.
Hazards to avoid: Chickens will often peck at all sorts of things that are not food. Chickens love polystyrene boxes and will peck at them until their crops are full making the chicken very ill indeed.
A healthy chicken is bright eyed and has a colourful upright comb. To monitor for signs of ill health in your chickens, weighing them regularly and observing their dropping is helpful. A sudden drop in weight is a big concern.
Unwell chickens may have
- noisy breathing
- swollen abdomen
- drooping comb
- wing drop from weakness
- difficulty in standing