Before you go and get all ‘eggcited’ at launching your long dreamed of backyard egg factory, first there are some things to check. Words Wendy Maddison
We’ve all heard the news about the egg shortage and seen empty shelves at the supermarket. If you’ve been thinking about getting chickens for a while and have been preparing a place in your garden, then now might be a great time to finally bring your plans to fruition.
However, if you’re simply an omelette addict getting nervous about where your next fix is coming from, then I ask that you pause to see if you are making the best decision for yourself and the chickens. I’ve provided the following pointers, which are some of the basic things to consider before chickenifying your backyard.
Check your local Council website to find bylaws relating to the keeping of chickens. There may be restrictions on the number of chickens, how close to the boundary they can be, whether you can keep a rooster and more.
If you think that your neighbours are likely to object, try to soften them up with a share of your fresh eggs. You’ll be glad you did when one of your hens jumps the fence.
Before you run down to the local car park and grab a discarded bird with a pretty tail on it, please be aware that it’s probably a rooster and…
• Roosters do not lay eggs.
• Roosters are not required to get eggs from hens.
• Roosters are very noisy at 3am!
The only reason you would want a rooster is if you want fertilised eggs for breeding little chickens – and only then if you have enough space to keep the rooster away from your bedroom. And your neighbours’ bedroom, too.
Chickens are not throwaway commodities. They have personalities and even if they are not the cuddly type, they are easy to get attached to. Depending on the breed, they can also live up to around eight years, but may only lay for 1–3 of those years. So you need to ask yourself: When the egg shortage is over or my chicken’s laying period is finished, am I happy to continue caring for this animal?
It’s easy to say that you’ll just boil it up, but people often can’t face the ‘termination’ part of the process, let alone the thought of eating Roast Henrietta. Also bear in mind that birds bred to lay a lot of eggs are often not very meaty.
Chickens are social animals, so please don’t just get one – she will get lonely. They are also subject to predation, so they need a dog-, cat- and stoat-proof house to live in with suitable roosts. This should include clean nesting boxes; otherwise, your hens will hide a nest somewhere else, and you won’t see any eggs.
Chickens also need space to run around in. Part of their natural behaviour is to eat yummy things like greens and berries, and dig up the ground for tasty bugs. This means they may decimate your vegetable garden and dig up your daffodils, if not managed carefully.
Don’t underestimate how high they can jump or fly. A chicken with unclipped wings can escape over a six-foot fence and into your neighbour’s yard, where it could do damage or get attacked by their dog.
If your main concern is the potential for eggs to become unaffordable, then bear in mind that as well as providing housing for your chickens, you will need to feed them, and there is a cost involved. Chickens will not thrive on just your kitchen scraps. They need quality protein to create eggs, as well as grains.
Chickens also require time and care – they can get parasites and illnesses just like other animals. Even on a daily basis, eggs need to be collected, and chickens may need to be let in or out of their enclosure. Fresh water and food must also be provided, and their housing kept clean.
Having chickens for eggs is more about getting better quality eggs, not necessarily cheaper eggs. This is due to the freshness factor and because you have control over the quality of their feed.
You may ultimately find that the cost and time commitment may not justify the egg supply, especially as winter comes and your chickens stop laying while the days are short.
If you have a small yard with bouncy dogs and a cunning cat, don’t expect them all to be mixing and mingling on the lawn playing happy families. The chickens will be nervous about their potential
resident predators, and justifiably so.
Chickens need to feel safe and have a low-stress environment to ensure regular laying. This includes not getting mauled by your cute spaniel.
Contrary to the real world, photos in magazines and on Facebook never show the poop that is involved with having pets. Chickens are no exception.
As great as the droppings will be for your garden, you still have to shovel the stuff before it goes mouldy in the chook house. Let’s not mention the delightful squelch of poop between your toes as you frolic barefoot in your backyard. If you have kids playing in the garden with chickens running free, you’ll need lots of soap and a good doormat.
Chickens can harbour serious diseases, so it is super important to exercise good hygiene practices.
I hate presenting only the cons of chicken-ship, so I feel I must advise you of two more very important
considerations: one, if you have chickens, the fertiliser will greatly improve your garden; and two, these animals can be highly entertaining and great garden companions.
I loathe the idea of people just using chickens for eggs, because chickens can be funny characters and deserve to be a valued part of your garden and family.
If you’ve checked all the above points and you feel ready for extra chores, goopy toes, retired chickens and having the best omelettes on the street, then I suggest you browse back through past issues of Kiwi Gardener for handy hints. In the meantime, chat with other chicken owners and check out your local library for some excellent resources to get you started.
My wish is that this egg shortage will be the start of a revolution of people falling in love with chickens in their backyards, and I warmly invite you to be part of the movement.