Looking after your chooks

What sort should I get?

Chooks come in two sizes. Standard OR Bantam. Having kept both here in suburbia I thoroughly recommend BANTAM.

They lay smaller eggs, and may lay less frequently than their larger counterparts, but are more suited to city living. Standard birds will lay a full size egg every day, but their destructiveness is astonishing!! I fell in love with a pair of standard sized ‘Frizzles’ and bought them home here and put them in with my ‘Pekin's’ They were gorgeous birds but their strength was amazing! Although they were quite tame, the kids were unable to hand feed them simply because they pecked too hard!! Their scratching in the garden beds left HUGE holes, their legs had incredible strength.
I would not have been surprised if one had of disappeared to China! That’s how big the holes were!!
There are many other bantam sized birds available. Wyandotte's are another option, being very similar to Pekin's.

‘Silkies’ also make great pets, though their egg laying is irregular. Chooks do like to associate with their own kind, so it’s best to stick with one breed, although many people do successfully keep a variety of different breeds together. If you are tempted to keep a number of different breeds it's perhaps wise to keep 'just one' of each bred that you like. You might find, that if you were to keep say 'three Pekin's' and 'three Silkies' they might 'split' into two separate groups and not bond and form a family group.

Roosters - To have or to have not........

There is no doubt that having a rooster is beneficial to your flock. The term ‘pecking order’ is derived from a flock’s social hierarchy.
The ‘top bird’ will visibly boss the others around, eating first and bullying younger birds. With regular observation, it will be very easy to work out your flock’s pecking order. A rooster will bring a greater sense of community to a flock. Looking after the others in a very noble fashion, he will even

eat less than his brood, calling them to food and watching over them as they eat. He will bravely defend them from any lurking predators.

And they can be dashingly beautiful; their colors and plumage being considerably more striking than that of a hen.

But then there is the noise factor- think of your neighbors!!

Consider too, whether or not you want to breed. Chicks are great fun for kids, and easy to rear. The benefits of raising your own are a familiarity from the word go – this equates to more relaxed, friendlier chooks. Think carefully though, about breeding, before you do...................In a poultry hatch, you can readily assume that the hatch will be 50 /50 - half male / half female..............

Do take into consideration that 50%of the hatch will be male.................The average clutch of eggs in a batch is 10..............that's 5 ROOSTERS..........

If you are unable to keep them, you must have 'a plan' of what you will do with these unwanted chooks BEFORE you breed them...............

How many can I have?

ALWAYS get your chooks from a reputable supplier!! I’m very fussy about who I get new birds from, it’s very easy to introduce a sick bird into your flock and then lose the lot!! Never buy a chook from a market!! Not unless you have years of experience with chooks and know how to tell if they are healthy.
I think it’s best to start with young birds and raise them yourself. Yes there will be a delay in egg production, but your birds will be tamer and more relaxed in your presence.
NONE of the older birds that I have introduced in to my flock have become tame enough to eat out of my hand!
Most council’s will not allow you to have more than six birds without a permit, but I think three is a perfect number for a suburban garden. (One could be a rooster if you wish)
Do remember that chooks like to scratch and bathe in the earth, so you can expect a small amount of damage to a garden bed if you are letting them free range. Bantam chooks are considerably less destructive than full size chooks and indeed I have found that with just three chooks their free ranging is barely noticeable in terms of garden destruction.

You should never keep just one chook, poultry are social animals and one would become very lonely. The same rule applies when introducing new hens to a flock. If numbers allow, never introduce just one at a time, it will be terribly bullied by the other members of the flock. It’s best to introduce two or more at a time, so they will have friends, until they assimilate properly.

If you do need to add just the one new bird then it's best to confine the new chook with just one of your other chooks and keep them confined by themselves until they form a bond. There will still be the inevitable 'fisticuffs' for a couple of days, with your older bird showing her authority over the newer bird but at least it's a fair fight! When you feel that these birds have bonded sufficiently, then you can place them back in with the other members of the flock. Again there will be the inevitable 'on for young and old' but at least they have a buddy to stick with.........

The Coop

Chooks in suburbia will need a secure, warm, dry hen house. I have found that adult birds can look after themselves quite well,but young birds definitely need protection. There ARE predators here in the city!! Whether it is a dog, a cat or even a fox (they’re here too!) all chooks need to be secured at night. We have lost some young birds; at approximately three months in age to what I think was cat.
New birds should be kept locked in their coop for at least three to four days, so they know ‘this is home’ and they bond with their lodgings.

They will then proceed to ‘put themselves to bed’ just before dusk every night. They should then be locked in until morning.
With a new flock it’s best to let them out for short intervals late in the afternoon, gradually increasing their time out so they don’t

get lost. Once familiar with their domain they will return to the coop to roost at dusk. ( much more obedient than children ! )

I do sincerely recommended ‘free ranging’ your chooks.


Feeding your chooks

We feed our chooks a vast range of seeds and fresh table scraps. By table scraps I mean ‘leftovers’.

We rarely feed our chooks any sort of animal product, such as meat, milk, and cheese, although many people do, and we do now give them natural yoghurt regularly. We begun experimenting with natural yoghurt regularly some time ago, (for healthier insides), and they scoff this down, so they must like it!

I don’t believe animal products to be a necessary part of a chooks diet. A chook eats bugs and worms for protein, not cows and other chickens!!

We only feed them food that is absolutely fresh! This is very important ..........a chook is NOT a compost bin...........

You wouldn't feed spoilt food to a cat or a dog ............a chook is no different. We place leftovers on a special plate at night, refrigerate it and give it to them in the morning, making very sure we clear away any remainder that night. We feed our birds a blend of wheat, cracked corn, safflower seeds, sorghum, crushed pellets and sunflowers seeds with shell grit added.
You can buy pre-mixed blends if you prefer, but I would not recommended feeding solely with wheat or just commercial layer pellets as I know some people do. When buying food for your chooks, consider how many you have ........don't buy a 40kg bag to feed just 3 / 6 chooks. It will be stale before you can finish it ....................Better to buy small amounts if you only have a few chooks.
Chooks have health requirements just like humans. Different seeds meet different requirements. Birds will also eat more during the colder winter months, and their rations should be increased accordingly.
They need shell grit (or finely crushed roasted egg shells) to help grind the grains up in their gizzards and kelp with the calcium need to produce eggshells.
Our chooks go mad for mashed potato, grated hard boiled egg, and fresh greens. Lettuce and silver beet are ‘chocolate’ for chooks!
They are also quite efficient lawn mowers……………………………………


We buy all our feeds and equipment from Andrews Stock feeds In Coburg. Their feeds are fresh, well priced, and they are very helpful with any poultry enquiry. They are located at 165 Sydney Road, just near Moreland Road.They are also now stock certified ORGANIC feeds, which are difficult to locate for most people. Call them on 9386 0326.


Keeping them healthy

Chooks can suffer from various health problems, but your best bet is preventing them before they happen. I look at our birds everyday and would immediately remove anyone that I thought were a bit ‘off’ in any way at all.
I have once had one sick, she couldn't’t seem to walk properly. I removed her from the coop, placed her in a box in the warmest part of the house and hand fed her water for four days!! She recovered, but I don’t know to this day what was wrong with her!

I've also had one die............for no reason at all that I could see..............she seemed to lose weight and I noticed she seemed lethargic. I segregated her and she just faded away over the next week ................I could have gone to the vet for an autopsy...........but everyone else was fine, and sometimes these things happen. She was 5 years old when she died, some would say that's a good innings for a chook. ( My oldest here at the moment is 7 and a half , and there will be tears when Gertie moves on to the big coop in the sky...........)

I had a respiratory infection in some young birds in 2005............that was my own fault. I broke the golden rule and brought home two young hens and popped them into a coop with some young hens of my own ............STUPID. These new hens never showed any sighs of being unwell but four of my own birds became quite sick. It cost me $270 in vets fees and taught me a valuable lesson. Pay attention when you are buying new birds............ At the time I thought it was just bad luck, although the vet did tell me he thought that I had brought the illness in. It was a good six months later that I returned to the same breeder for more birds, only to see hers rasping and struggling to breathe........... that's when I knew he'd been right. Needless to say I beat a hasty retreat that day and have never returned. The infection was treated with antibiotics, one called Tylan, that is only available form the vet, and another that I continued on with, called Oxy B that is readily available form a stock feed store. I was lucky, although one of my hens was quite sick, the others had minor infections........they all recovered. A bad respiratory infection can be fatal if not treated quickly. Pay attention to your chooks and observe them regularly.

We worm our chooks with a commercial worming liquid every six weeks and give the straw in the coop an occasional dusting with an anti mite powder, but try very hard to keep our chooks healthy naturally. Greens are a very important part of a chooks diet and we try to give them access to greens every day. By greens we mean, lettuce, sliver beet, parsley, cabbage, etc............
Garlic in their drinking water is a natural wormer and lavender cuttings mixed in with their bedding is an alternate anti mite/lice remedy.

A fresh and varied diet, fresh water and a clean,
dry environment are your best bet.

Healthy chooks are happy chooks!!

Hand rearing chicks.

If you are buying chicks that were born in an incubator, it is necessary to hand raise them in a broody box.
It’s very easy to raise chicks this way.
Provided you keep the box clean and feed and water them at least twice a day, you’ll have no dramas.
You simply need a large box; and a light source to keep them warm. (Make sure its not an energy-saving fluoroscent globe - they don't produce enough heat.)

Don’t over crowd too many in one box, remember they will grow!
You’ll know if the heat is right because the will huddle under it for warmth if it’s too cold, and move away if it’s too hot.

We use a standard desk lamp with a 40 watt globe.
We lay down newspaper, and a thin layer of wood shavings.
With my current clutch I have provided them with a mummy hen, a stuffed white rabbit!
They seem to love it; we’re not sure what they think it is!!
We take them outside to play on the lawn (if the weather is fine) at about 2 weeks old. At 5-6 weeks they can go outside

in a secure coop, but we segregate ours from the older birds, until they are at least 12 weeks old.


Foxes in Melbourne? You bet!

WARNING: Foxes are very active at the moment. Please be extra vigilant and make sure you shut the chooks in at night.


check out this link for up to date information about the urban fox problem. (Warning: this clip contains some graphic images.)