Urban Chickens

They’re here! The eagles have landed!! After many years of dreaming about owning chickens (and far too many months building a coop), we are now the proud parents of three beautiful ladies. And not only have these chooks found us, but they’ve found a home in the coolest little suburb in Wellington.

So please welcome our three lovely hyline pullets, procured pre-teen at 13 weeks, and (we like to think) saved from a life in a cage. We’ve  named them Sophie (a là BFG), Lyra (of the His Dark Materials series) and Amelia (Earhart).

They’ve been here just 3 weeks now and they are an absolute delight. I love them. They are just beautiful. It’s hard to explain quite why I am so enamored – there is a certain calm busy-ness about them as they go about their endless forage for tasty morsels. I enjoy the sound of their gentle warbled clucks and the way they greet me when I come home and follow me around the garden.

My coop build seems to be suiting them well too. Although they have completely ignored my perch and prefer to sleep on top the raised platform I built to enclose the nesting box to make it darker and more cosy. Having space underneath the coop is ideal as there currently isn’t much shade from the sun until late afternoon (see Kath Irvine’s post about shade for chickens). They’ve dug out a good dust bed in there.

We stewed for some time on whether to get ex-battery chooks. Of course it is the right thing to do. However we had to admit that as time-poor novices, we really felt we needed a relatively easy introduction to raising poultry. It just wouldn’t have been fair to adopt emaciated, emancipated working girls that required more attention than we could offer.

Checking out the new arrivals

 

Chickens in Permaculture

So what do chooks contribute to the permaculture garden?

Eggs (and meat)

Hylines start laying at about 18 weeks, which means we should see eggs by Christmas. And they continue to lay regularly for up to two years after which their production tails  off. Other breeds differ in their laying patterns.

Of course urban chickens may be raised for meat. However, our girls are chickens for life and will not be food themselves. They are just too lovely to eat. Besides, I haven’t eaten chicken in over 20 years.

Manure

The wood shavings at the bottom of the coop are topped up regularly and cleared our every few weeks, providing a rich source of carbon and nitrogen. 🐔 Chicken manure on it’s own is too strong for  most plants, so this needs to be left to compost  for a period before mixing into garden beds.

Pest control

Chickens diet includes snails, slugs, caterpillars and other garden pests. Its quite comical watching them  sudden dart across the garden in pursuit of a moth. They can even be put to work on unwanted weeds and I hear they having a penchant fir the dastardly Wandering Willy.

Rotivation/ chicken tractor

Chickens’natural scratching and foraging behaviour can quickly strip a patch of weedy or grassed garden, while leaving nitrogen-rich manure in their wake. Our girls are initially running on a strip that ajoins the medicinal herb border, and this area will eventually be turned into garden bed. When they are done here, I’ll move them to the next area to be weeded.

Turning compost

This is something we’re considering trying as our compost is currently a soggy, putrid mess. By allowing chooks access to the compost, they can turn it as they forage, helping to aerate and speed the composting process. Plus the chooks get a high protein feast on all the bugs. A bit if mesh at the base will provide some refuge for tiger worms to escape.

Esther stalking the girls

Inputs

Happy chickens needs are fairly minimal.

  • a well ventilated shelter, safe from predators
  • access to food and water
  • shade and a dust bath
  • grit and fresh and dry forage material
  • Some open space to forage

Chickens are a cornerstone of our permaculture plan and I’m super excited to have them. They will help us build resilience, provide eggs, good company and will help  turn lawn into food just by doing what they do naturally.

[This post is dedicated to Tim who has indubitably seen enough posts about mulching]

 

 

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