Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Chooks (Chickens) Part Two - More benefits to keeping chooks

In my last chookie post I talked about how lovely it is to own chooks and how good they are for meat and eggs.

This time I'd like to tell you about more benefits to owning chooks!  They lend themselves so well to improving a property, large or small, simply by good management.  They can be penned or free ranged while still working on property improvement.

If you put heaps of chooks in one spot indefinitely, the soil will become compacted and nothing will grow.  There are a couple of ways to deal with this.  You can cage them and run a couple of separate pens from the cage.  You let them out into the same pen daily until it starts to show signs of wear and tear.  Then you rest that pen and start letting them into the other one.  Using this method ensures they always have grass and weeds to pick at.  If you only have a couple of chooks you won't need much space for this system.  If you are running heaps of chooks you either need these pens to be very large or you need more than two pens to run them in.
"Why are you taking my photo?!!!"  One of the Australorp hens.
You could use the recently occupied pen for a fertile vegetable garden as long as you have enough time to grow and harvest before the chooks are due back in that pen.  When the chooks are returned, they can eat all the left over veggie plants.

If you don't have enough room for more than one run there is another method you can use to still benefit from added soil fertility.  Put heaps of straw, weeds, paper or anything organic that will break down, into the pen.  Feed the chooks on the heap so that they scratch around in it.  It breaks down in a few weeks and turns into fantastic compost to use in the garden. Sometimes I specifically build a heap of straw and weeds on the one day, but most of the time I just add weeds bit by bit as I garden.  If you use this method, you'll need to make sure you are feeding greens of some sort (grass, lettuce, silverbeet...)  to your chooks.
This girl is moulting at the moment so she not at her most attractive!
I often throw in things that are organic and will break down, rather than put them in the rubbish.  When organic rubbish is stagnant in a big landfill it creates methane gases.  Here at home, I can put them back into the soil eventually.  So old cotton clothing, wool, paper etc. can be thrown in with the chooks pile of litter and they break it down for me!  Less polluting rubbish!

Free ranging your hens is very useful too.  As long as you have the space and fencing to keep them away from your veggie gardens, this is a lovely way to keep chooks.  I keep most of my chooks in the orchard and they wander around fertilising my trees (ie. pooing) and keeping insects under control.  The citrus trees don't like a lot of chook poo so by weighting some chook wire on the ground around the roots, chooks are discouraged from scratching under them.
It was a lovely drizzly day today.   Look at my hen shaking the rain off her feathers!
We are going to use our chooks as a very useful tool in our new orchard.  At the moment the orchard is a bare and infertile paddock.  It is on a steep slope and doesn't look useful for much but we plan to use the chooks and slope to our advantage.  By placing the chook shed at the top of the slope and using the roof for collecting water, we will be able to use gravity to get water to our plants.  Because the chooks will be living up hill from the orchard, a lot of fertility will wash down the hill when it rains.  If I use the system of heaps of straw in the chook pens, they can turn it into compost which I then wheelbarrow down the hill to the fruit trees.  Again the slope will work in my favour as I easily push the heavy barrow down the hill and it will be empty for the harder work of pushing it up the slope!

We plan to put gates at the bottom of the pens so that we can take the barrow on the most direct route.  It will also allow us to let the chooks into the orchard when the trees are mature enough.  Then they can scratch and eat bugs to their hearts content!

We'll keep our Australorps in the existing orchard and use the Dorkings in the new orchard, or vice versa.  That way we will be able to breed them without mixing the two breeds.
A Dorking hen who has just come into lay.
Now all I have to do is get all these plans out of my head and make them a reality! It could take us a looong time to get this system up and running because there is a fair bit of fencing and building involved.  We don't have a lot of spare time at the moment.  Once it's operational it should be an easy orchard to maintain.

Could you find a more versatile critter?!  They give me eggs, meat and compost.  They fertilise my orchard, keep pests under some control, reduce my rubbish AND manage to entertain me while they go about achieving all of this!

They love wandering around searching for bugs.
Can you see the lovely circle?  We feed the chooks veggie scraps and weeds, they make compost and improve our soil, we grow veggies to eat, feed the scraps to the chooks, they make compost and improve our soil.......


Busy mum of 3 said...

I am love, love, loving your chookie post series.
I've always wondered about the practicalities of keeping chooks, I'm inching closer and closer to keeping my own, and your advice is so helpful.

Thanks :)

Christine said...

Go chook power! Aren't they such generous creatures?

How do you go about preventing fox attack with your orchid girls, Linda? I would love to have ours running under the fruit trees again but the regular fox sightings make it impossible, unless we net the whole slope! I am thinking of investing in some electric fox netting that we can hook up to our small solar panel from the goat paddock but am worried that even this won't keep them away..

Caro said...

You won't always be pushing an empty wheelbarrow up hill- what about when it's full of fruit!!??

Linda said...

Busy Mum, they're pretty easy critters to keep and so much fun! I'd encourage you to throw yourself right in!

Christine, We have two Jack Russelly/Fox Terrier type dogs and I think they really discourage foxes. We have lost chooks before, but not for a long while so I think the dogs are learning to chase them off. We also lost some chooks to the dogs while we taught them.

Linda said...

Caro, I loved your comment! Isn't it funny, all the work and dreaming I have done yet I've only imagined planting the orchard, not harvesting! Maybe I daren't dream of pushing that wheelbarrow laden with fruit! Love the idea!!!