Saturday, 1 June 2013

Chooks (Chickens)

We've been keeping chooks for about ten years.  We've fallen in love with them and would never be without them now!  Over the years we've also had guinea fowl, turkeys, geese and ducks.  I love all poultry but find chooks the easiest.
They don't require a pond like ducks and geese.  They are fairly easy to contain to an area and they provide eggs.  They have an almost magical ability to make you feel good!  Watching chooks foraging, scratching and listening to their cooing and clucking noises is the most peaceful and calming way to spend time. 

Often when I am feeling stressed and rushed in the morning, I race out to the orchard to let the chooks out, quickly feed them and check their water and then......  Uh oh!  I often completely forget I'm in a hurry and spend a few minutes watching them.  They are like an instant dose of relaxant!!!
The Australorps
We originally bought chooks for eggs but now we are moving towards meat as well.  We have decided if we are going to eat chook then raising our own is the kindest and most sustainable solution.  We know our chooks have lived a VERY happy and healthy life and there are no food miles or resources wasted as there would be in a commercial production method.

We have eaten four of our chooks so far but I found it a very hard process.  Home butchered chook tastes very different to the free range I was buying at the supermarket.  It is actually much nicer and more flavoursome.  The problem was the intense flavour made me very consciously aware that I was eating my own chooks and I struggled psychologically with enjoying my meal.  The difference in flavour was a bit like a slap in the face!

Our Bantam is four or five years old but still mothers very well
We have had a break from eating our own chooks but in the meantime I have been lucky enough to be able to buy some real free range chooks.  I have really enjoyed cooking and eating these, because I don't have a personal connection, and I figure that if we eat our own chooks again, I will cope better now that I am used to the flavour.

We have tried a few different breeds of chook.  I can tell you right now that if it's eggs you're after, Isa browns and some of the crossbreeds are the best.  For us there is more to the equation than just finding the best egg layer.  We like to have heritage chooks so that we can keep the breeds going.  Commercial production of eggs has meant that chooks have been cross bred solely for their laying ability and many heritage breeds have become threatened.  Some very important traits have been bred out of the cross breeds.  They don't make good mothers because they won't sit long enough or look after their chickens.  Their survival instincts aren't good either.  They don't watch out for predators as well as many of the heritage birds do.  Some of the heritage birds are hardier too.
Our Bantam raising the Dorking chickens
If you would like to raise heritage it would be wise to buy a book with the different traits of the breeds.  They are very varied.  Some are better for eggs and some for meat.  Some are better suited to certain climates and some are great mothers.  After doing some basic research you can make a choice on the breed that is perfect for you!  I was lucky enough to receive Organic Gardener's essential guide to Backyard Chickens for Mother's Day.  It has heaps of fantastic information and I think it only cost $11.95 from memory.  I would thoroughly recommend it for a good reference point.

Our choice of chooks was easy.  We know people who raise chooks that are suited to this area and are supposed to be good dual purpose birds (good for both meat and eggs) so we have access to their eggs.  We own a bantam hen who did the sitting for us.  Bantams are often good mothers.

At the moment we are raising Dorkings and Australorps.  The Dorkings are quite small but I have read they are good dual purpose.  They seem quite a resilient bird and are a bit timid.  We have three hens and a rooster.  The Australorps are my favourite.  They are HUGE birds and are very friendly if you spend time around them.  We have six hens and one rooster.
One of our Dorking hens
At the moment they are all free ranging in the orchard together.  They are just at the point of lay and given the time of year, we don't expect many eggs until the spring.  In spring we will separate them so that we can raise chickens without crossing the two breeds.  The Australorps will stay in the orchard and we will move the Dorkings into a paddock that will become a second orchard.
We used to have Light Sussex chooks too and they are a good large breed if you are after meat as well as eggs.  I had to make a choice between the Sussex and Australorps which was hard because I love them both.  We have been left with one Rooster who was the runt of the litter.  He is named Fluffy, would you believe it?  He is the most pathetic rooster I have ever seen.  He doesn't even crow but with a name like Fluffy I'm sure you've guessed he's the kids beloved pet, so I'm stuck with him.  One last solitary chook makes up our complete flock.  She's an Isa Brown and lays very well but I think when she goes, I will just stick to heritage.
Our Belle is in charge of the poultry these days.  She loves the birds and spends more time with them than she does with her dog!  As soon as she has unpacked her schoolbag and had some afternoon tea, she disappears to the orchard and I don't see her for hours!  So we decided to allow her the responsibility of caring for them. She has taken it on with absolute enthusiasm and I think she is looking after them better than I did.  She's forever fussing with their nesting straw and checking their living conditions.
So that's our chook story!  What's yours?


Nicole (Make Sew Bake Grow) said...

Hi Linda,
Funny to read this today, as our last week has been ALL about chooks!! We are committing chicken sin and combining our two pens into one, which means we will have multiple breeds in one pen. However, we figured that we are only breeding for our own egg and meat consumption, not to sell, so we're ok with it. We have Plymouth Rocks, including a rooster a couple of Australorps, an Isa Brown and a silky bantam. A motley crew!
To prepare for this change (which was necessary to make room for our minature goats which will be coming soon) we culled some of our old girls and a couple of roosters. The second cull in a month - our freezer is nice and full of chicken meat! We love the fact that we know exactly how our meat was raised and killed, and the flavour is lovely.
We have been busy building fences around the food producing parts of our garden so that the chooks can free range during the day - I agree, so relaxing to watch them!! Funny little things :)

Margaret said...

Many years ago when we lived on a farm we had a hen with chickens, who would take her baby chicks and sit on some little pups, while the mother dog had a bit of a run around, a good drink and some food.
I panicked when I saw her heading under the tin shelter the first time, but she just got comfy, settled her babies under her feathers, then fluffed and fluffed until the puppies were covered too.She would stay for about half an hour, till the dog Mum came back,then wander off with the rest of the chooks, this went on for a few weeks until the pups were old enough to run around.

milow said...

I love all your chooks they are stunning

Lynda D said...

What a lovely post. Im so envious.

Kirsten McCulloch said...

What gorgeous chooks. We have a Light Sussex at the moment and a couple of browns (I think they're Isa Browns, or maybe Hylines - they were chicks in the kindergarten, that we ended up with).

The Sussex is a hopeless layer, but I'm guessing she'd make a good mum because she's forever going broody. I was planning to get some chicks to raise for meat this year, but we didn't get to it, so maybe next year I'll get her some eggs...

But like you, I wouldn't be without chooks now. We've had them for years, with a break for a few years when we first moved here and had our first child (who's 11 now).

I love that Belle has taken responsibility for yours. I can see my Mikaela doing that eventually here, but she's only 6 and can't reach to unlock the gate from the outside yet, so probably not for a while! We used to have silkies, and she frequently asks if we can get some again one day. Gorgeous creatures.

Linda said...

Hi Nicole, Your chook set up sounds so much like ours. Good on you for eating with thought!

Margaret, That is the cutest story. I would have loved to see that!

Milow, Thank you. I love our chooks!

Lynda you'll have to get chooks! They are so good to have around for so many reasons!

Kirsten, I love Light Sussex chooks. They are so pretty. Great that she's showing mothering qualities. Encourage Mikaela. It's gorgeous to watch kids showing such enthusiasm!

Anonymous said...

Lovely, lovely chooks. I was having a big discussion with my four year old yesterday about all things chooks, eggs, and chickens so he loved seeing the pictures of your girls.

Linda said...

Hi City Hippy, I'm glad he enjoyed the photos. I went back through the post so that I could see it through a four year olds eyes and realised I've put the same photo up twice! Doh!

Liz Beavis said...

I don't know how I missed this one! Great chook post, and explanation of the choices of breed. We have a few hybrids with our pure breds, and the hybrids just lay so many more eggs, its a tricky decision!

Fiona from Arbordale Farm said...

We have a rule that if you are going to eat it you do not name it, except for names like our cows got (Freezer 1 and Freezer 2). We kept our meat chickens separate and when we do them again they will be separate and nameless. It makes the eating easier.

Linda said...

Definitely Fiona! We haven't eaten one with a name yet! It just completely changes how you look at the, doesn't it?