Almost ten years ago I started keeping poultry. Being a city girl I had no idea what was in store for me. I tasted eggs from backyard chickens and loved them. I liked the idea of having my own flock, letting them roam free and collecting beautiful eggs. But it was not as easy as I thought it would be. If you are planning to keep poultry too, then read what I learned along the way.
Battery Hens Can Learn to be Proper Chooks
The first chickens I purchased were 2 retired girls, who lived together in one battery cage. They were sad-looking creatures with some bald areas. What a delight to find their first 2 eggs the next morning. Technically they were still cage eggs, but I was totally thrilled. Finding eggs makes me feel being on a treasure hunt, even after so many years.
I also bought 4 young free-range pullets at about the same time. I couldn’t believe how fast the battery chickens learned from the pullets. Pretty quickly they were up on the roost at night and started laying their eggs in nests instead just somewhere on the ground.
To my surprise our 6 chooks were not boring at all. It was entertaining and relaxing to watch them scratch the dirt to find food and listen to the little sounds they make. So I took my tea down to their house in the morning and watched them. I found out they all haves their own personality and they are actually pretty clever and curious. After a while I could keep them apart from each other and I gave them names. I got attached to them, which was a big mistake as I found out later.
Ducks are so Messy, but lay Wonderful Eggs
Our ducks and chooks live together in one coop and they also share the same run. Ducks are messy creature and usually make the drinking and bathing water dirty within 30 minutes after changing it. The fox proof pen my partner built for our poultry was designed big enough for all of them, so that we can go away for a week without worrying about them. Well, since we have ducks the water needs to be changed at least ones every second day. In summer it has to be done every day. That means that only one of us can go away or we need to find somebody to do this job. Lucky we have amazing neighbours!
Despite that I would not give up keeping ducks. Their eggs are much richer then chicken eggs and have bigger egg yolks. Duck eggs give cakes and quiche an amazing colour. For some people they taste too strong, but I love to eat them boiled, fried or scrambled. And did you ever see duck eggs in the shops? I only saw them ones with an expensive price tag.
Geese are Territorial and can Become Violent
After a view visits from a fox family during the day (more about that later), I got 2 geese. I was hoping that they would at least warn me about fox attacks. I have to say, we didn’t lose any poultry since we have the geese yet. The geese make awfully loud honking noises even at night. I don’t think they will be a match for a hungry fox, but they might keep him at bay until I come.
I bought 2 females, but one of them was actually a male. Surprise! We called them Elsa and Anna, but then Elsa was renamed Hans, because he was so mean. He chased the cats, the chooks, the ducks, the kids and he attacked me twice. I learned to never turn my back on him. When he wants to attack, I am standing my ground and look into his eyes. Usually he backs off and honks angrily.
Hans became very territorial when Anna started to lay eggs. We kept the geese together with the chooks and ducks at first. But the geese built a nest in the house and chased the other animals out. They even pulled the chooks off their roost. Soon the ducks and chickens didn’t go in the house at night, because they were too scared. So my partner had to build them a house of their own.
Geese are messy too. You won’t believe how much they poo during the night. Keeping their house clean is a big job. Geese lay only between 30 and 80 eggs a year, but they are huge and delicious. Again, you can’t buy them in the supermarket.
Chickens can Destroy Your Garden Beds in no Time
True free ranging is actually in most circumstances impossible. The poultry house is about 25 m away from my veggie patch. I used to let the animals roam free during the day and only lock them up at night. They usually stayed near their coop. It took a view years before a brave chook wandered far enough to discover the treasures in my garden and soon all the others followed. Ones they knew about it, they ran to the garden as soon as I let them out. The chickens scattered the mulch onto the path, scratched out the seedlings and ate as many greens as they could.
So we had to make a decision: Should we put a fence around the veggie patch or should we build a chicken run? We chose the latter option, because I didn’t want to open a gate every time I needed something from the garden and we’ve had enough of stepping in poo all the time. The new chicken yard was built around the orchard, so that the birds could eat fallen fruit and keep pests at bay. It is pretty big and green for most of the year.
That worked for a view years until one day a chook decided to fly over the fence and the others followed. (Yes, the fence was not high enough!) Soon they were back into the veggie patch. What now? The wings had to be clipped! This solution became actually another problem. The chickens couldn’t fly on the roost anymore. Some of them didn’t like to sleep on the ground, so they slept in the nests and pooed all over the eggs! It was the job of my son to lift them up on the roost every night until their feathers grew enough for them to be able fly up again.
As you can see keeping, poultry keeps you busy. New problems keep coming up and you have to find solutions for them. But I have some more stories to tell you about keeping poultry, so read more in part 2!