18 September 2012

12 surprising things about keeping chickens

My last post on chickens got so many visits that I think those feathered creatures must be of interest!

So here's another one. This is what surprised and mostly delights me about keeping our four 'townie' hens:

1.   Things we find disgusting are delicious to them – cockroaches, slugs, crushed snails and jellymeat the cat’s been turning his nose up at for two days. Somehow it makes finding a cockroach a little bit nicer when I think of the pleasure it will give them.

2.   They are actually in control of their bowels – while they’re awake, at least. If they are allowed to free range, they poo preferentially on the paths (nicely positioned for your barefoot child to trudge through on the way into the house). This makes sense when you consider that the grass and garden are actually their pantry – they don’t want to foul it. Also, they never poo in their nestbox (unless you position it higher than their perch, in which case they’ll sleep in their nestbox instead of on the perch, and their night time incontinence will let them down).

3.   How incredibly quick they are at spotting and catching food. You know how quickly cockroaches run away? They’re not even a hint of a match for a chicken.

4.   How fussy they can be. If you throw them some carrot peelings or red cabbage leaves, they don’t even sniff them. They just look the other way and wonder if you’re crazy.

5.   The extent of the sparrow problem if you leave their food uncovered. After a few weeks we spent a lot of money on a hopper that is totally sealed until they stand on a platform to open it (a Grandpa’s feeder). It is cheaper than feeding hundreds of sparrows. We have found the odd dead sparrow that has braved the open feeder and been suffocated when the lid closes on it.

6.   Their desire to free range is enormous. I speak only from the experience of a smallish suburban section, but if you free range them all the time you will have poo on your paths, no lettuce, spinach or silverbeet in your garden, and holes pecked in your tomatoes. If you free range them just some of the time – when you can herd them, for example – they spend their penned-in time longing to be out, screeching mournfully and pacing the walls of their pen.  It is almost kinder to never let them out, because then they don’t expect it. Do, however, throw them grass and other favourite greens whenever possible.

Mmmm, grass.

Our favourite greens, silverbeet and spinach.
Thanks kids!
7.   How divine it is to watch them free ranging, expertly scanning, racking and pecking at the ground. One day I'd love to have a place big enough to free range them comfortably (with a fenced-off vege garden - not sure what I'll do about the paths) and be able to watch them from my kitchen window.

8.   How they love being under trees. They don’t like aerial predators (like aeroplanes!) and the trees shelter them. Plus, they’re descended from jungle fowl, so please give them a bit of jungle!

9.   Their instincts can be almost overwhelming. When dusk comes, they become frantic to find a high place to roost for the night. If they can’t get to a perch they’ll go up a tree if they can. Ditto their need for a nestbox: they really, really like a private place to lay their eggs.

10. How social they are. “Oh, I see you’re preening, I’d better do it too. Oh, dustbathing time now, is it? Okay, me too.”

11. They don’t like change in the food department. One time I stopped giving them pellets and switched to grain. They mostly stopped laying immediately, apart from some soft-shelled eggs. I’ve heard others say the same thing when switching from one pellet type to the other.

12. Their ferocity. Once we put eggs under a broody hen, and one of them hatched. The other hens nearly slaughtered the chick. His mother joined in the assaults after a few weeks, I think in response to his understandably nervy behaviour and jerky movements. I was relieved to realise he was a boy, and gave him away. (Note: I think he would have been fine in a free range situation where he could get away from the others, the brutal beasts – I was disgusted with them.)

This post is being shared at Frugally Sustainable and Fresh Eggs Daily.


  1. I love this post! I hope I can persuade you to come visit my blog Fresh Eggs Daily and link up to my Farm Girl Friday Blog Fest: http://fresh-eggs-daily.blogspot.com/2012/09/farm-girl-friday-blog-fest-2.html

  2. Thanks Lisa. I shared my post there just now. Great blog and links... after reading one of them I'm going to season my cast iron pan tomorrow!


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