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Backyard Chooks – What, where and when….

By 23 April 2012 25

Hello Rioters,

I am hoping to get some information regarding back yard chickens in Canberra.

According to Dr Harry Cooper, Isa Browns are the best in terms of breeds for families just wanting pets to lay eggs. Does anyone have any opinions on this? We’re not interested in any fancy breeds. Just good, friendly chickens that produce ‘normal’ sized eggs on a fairly regular basis

At what age do they start to lay? We want birds that are ready (or almost ready) to lay.

Recommended breeders/sellers – where can we buy them, and what should we expect to pay?

At this stage, we’re looking to purchase 2 hens. Any other advice would be greatly appreciated.

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25 Responses to Backyard Chooks – What, where and when….
#1
Holden Caulfield2:53 pm, 23 Apr 12

I’m moderately interested in this too. I understand Uncle Joe is the man you need…
http://web.me.com/earthsake/unclejoesmobilechookruns/home.html

Also, google told me to read these…
http://the-riotact.com/backyard-chooks-in-canberra/20160 (2 years ago)
http://canberrachooks.net/

#2
mp26153:11 pm, 23 Apr 12

Most birds are sold at what is called “point of lay”. I think that is approx 18 weeks. The old guy with the battered yellow suzuki at the jamo markets sells the isa brown variety for $18.

I bought some last year and they have been excellent producers. It took them a couple of weeks to start laying but now it’s perfect 70 gram eggs every day.

Buying the laying pellets from FAW, for the rural feel. they also gave me a handy booklet and a free feed scoop.

Make sure the coop is fox proof. I think it’s best to keep the birds in a run. They will crap on your deck otherwise. let them out for a wider forage once a week or so. They will eat just about any scraps, except citrus, onion, and some enormous zuchinis from the neighbour.

heaps of good advice online and from the local poultry breeders.

#3
enrique4:10 pm, 23 Apr 12

The following site is a goldmine… http://www.backyardpoultry.com.au

#4
shirty_bear5:01 pm, 23 Apr 12

mp2615 said :

Most birds are sold at what is called “point of lay”. I think that is approx 18 weeks. The old guy with the battered yellow suzuki at the jamo markets sells the isa brown variety for $18.

I bought some last year and they have been excellent producers. It took them a couple of weeks to start laying but now it’s perfect 70 gram eggs every day.

Buying the laying pellets from FAW, for the rural feel. they also gave me a handy booklet and a free feed scoop.

Make sure the coop is fox proof. I think it’s best to keep the birds in a run. They will crap on your deck otherwise. let them out for a wider forage once a week or so. They will eat just about any scraps, except citrus, onion, and some enormous zuchinis from the neighbour.

heaps of good advice online and from the local poultry breeders.

Good info.

We got two from the old guy at Jammo about 4 months ago … one started laying more or less immediately; the other took about a month. Now getting 2 beaut googs most days.
Best to go see him on a Saturday afternoon – he tends to sell out quickly, but will take an order for collecting the next weekend.

Foxes haven’t been a problem for us [touches own head], but they are widely reported to wreak havoc on backyard chooks. We have a (small, timid) dog and one neighbour does too. Have heard claims from elsewhere that this is enough to deter foxes, and it seems that way at our place.

Haven’t been to FAW. I recommend the pet supplies shop next to Toyworld on Barrier St, Fyshwick.

#5
pink little birdie5:11 pm, 23 Apr 12

we buy mum’s chooks at Powell’s stock feed in Phillip. The chickens are usually ready to lay when you buy them but they will take a couple of weeks to settle into their new home and start laying. Our chooks eat most things though we don’t give them meat, tea leaves or coffee grounds. Make sure they have pleanty of room to roam normally.

Also if you are starting off with 2 and are considering adding more only add them 1 or 2 at a time. When we added 6 chooks to our 4 the 2 groups wouldn’t associate with each other. (like the four wouldn’t let the 6 into the chook shed but the six wouldn’t let the 4 in the tree)

#6
dr. faustus5:36 pm, 23 Apr 12

Check out the upcoming sale being held on the 13th May by the Canberra Queanbeyan Poultry Club: http://www.cqpoultryclub.com/sale.htm

It’s a pure breed sale, meaning there will be no ISA Browns there. ISA (which is an acronym) Browns are hybrid layers designed to lay a lot for the first 12 months (after they begin laying at 6 months of age). They will lay very well for that first 12 months then the eggs will start to peter out and it’s not uncommon for people to see reproductive disorders in their birds at around the 3 yr mark. These birds have been bred to fit the needs of the commercial industry – high production until they are replaced after a year. On the plus side they are cheap and readily available, and they are quite friendly towards people. They will have personality and be good pets, just like any chicken.

However if you are after the ‘heirloom tomato’ of the chicken world (as opposed to ISAs or red layers – the supermarket tomato equivalent ;-) then check out the pure breed sale that I linked to above. Pure breeds of chook can equal an ISA in productivity in the backyard environment and they will continue to lay for more years. They should also live longer than ISAs. As a guide, Australorps or Australian Langshans are good, placid birds to start with. You will pay twice as much for pure breeds as you will for red/brown hybrids or ISAs – that’s the ‘unfront’ downside.

There has been mention of dogs deterring foxes – a dog will help but is not enough. The only safe approach is to shut your birds in a pen that has mesh (not chicken wire) on top, bottom and all sides – at night and when you are not at home. Canberra has plenty of foxes.

Pretty much all breeds of chook will start laying at about 6 months of age.

I know you said that you are not after a ‘fancy breed’ but I did want to put in a plug for pure breeds. :-) People are getting into heirloom veggies etc, recognising that they have a lot of value and will disappear if people don’t grow them. Well, pure breeds of poultry are the same – a valuable part of the world’s stock of gene pools and they have a place in our backyards too.

But if you really want great layers and great personalities then get ducks ;-) One of my ducks has laid over 320 big eggs in a row since last May, and counting.

I hope you enjoy your chickens. Whatever you get you will find that they are great pets and you will get tasty eggs that have been laid by happy hens.

#7
gottahunch6:08 pm, 23 Apr 12

I have Brown Isas. They have good personalities and I get an egg from each one a day. I got mine from Gibbs farm centre in Queanbeyan and you can get the food and wood shavings from there too. They start laying at around 18 – 20 weeks.

#8
Rusalka7:38 pm, 23 Apr 12

We get our chicks now from Yarralumla Nursery. They are sexed, wormed and vaccinated but you do pay $12 for the privilege. That being said, we have bought two Australorp chicks from there and they are wonderful layers. Much better than our two Isa Browns. And Australorps are beautiful, with glossy black feathers, an iridescent green sheen and rusty red flecks through their breasts. If you’re going to get functional pets, pretty is a bonus! But they also tend to have Isa Browns/Rhode Island Reds and Leghorns (white) if you desire.

I hands down recommend chicks over pullets or ready to lay. Hand raising them, they imprint somewhat on you and at least trust you implicitly. And from your side, they are so cute!! We walk outside and our girls all run up to us, follow us around, help us garden and are happy for hugs. The one chicken we had that we didn’t hand raise as a chick wasn’t interested at all in us, and was very hard to catch if needed.

Depending on the breed depends on when they start laying but around 3-4 months. We try to keep 2-3 layers for eggs for 2 of us. Remember though they only lay regularly for 3 years and may live for twice that long. Enrique (#3) is right as well, that website is fantastic. Also make sure you have a lockable pen with wire dug down into the ground, and a roof, as foxes are all through the Canberra suburbs and have taken some of ours and friends of our birds when they have been left out too late.

Good luck! Chickens are lots of fun as pets. I found a nest in the lavender on the weekend with 12 eggs in it, even as a grown up I love hunting for eggs!!

#9
kakosi10:11 pm, 23 Apr 12

Dad used to get young chicks from a local farmer – white, brown doesn’t make a difference to egg production as far as we could see. The smaller the hen size the smaller the egg of course and the white hens produced the largest eggs. Dad would get one rooster if he had several hens to stop “pecking” fights but if you have a large run with plenty of room you shouldn’t have too many wounded hens and roosters can damage chickens in confined spaces. Our chickens did well on purchased chicken feed, river sand to peck/dust their feathers in, as well as kitchen scraps (they’ll eat most anything but don’t feed them meat product). Whoever you buy from make sure they are disease free and vet checked as one sick bird can infect the entire roost.

#10
dr. faustus7:37 am, 24 Apr 12

A few people have suggested that chooks can’t have meat products, but in fact chickens certainly can have meat in their diet. They are omnivorous and will eat any insect, spider, grub or mouse they can get their beaks on. Likewise they will love a bit of extra meat given as a treat – raw mince, leftover spag bol, bandsaw dust (the stuff that comes off the butcher’s bandsaw after cutting up chops etc). They also love bacon but make that an occasional treat as chooks don’t need a heap of salt in their diet.

Once you see a chook running past with a mouse in its beak, closely pursued by all the other chooks, you’ll see that velociraptors still walk amongst us ;-)

Many poultry feeds contain meat meal (basically ground up and dried meat) as the primary source of protein in the feed. Products without meat meal will rely on things like soybeans instead. Just check the label. As far as a protein level goes, aim for something around 16 to 17% protein (at the higher end if you have birds that lay daily or close to it). Don’t feed scratch mix as a staple diet – it doesn’t have enough protein in it and is only intended to be tossed on the ground now and then do the chooks have something to scratch around for. Personally I feed pellets, as with a grain mix the chooks tend to eat the bit they like the most (the sunflower seeds, usually) and ignore the rest – unless you only give them a day’s worth of feed at a time (ie whatever they can polish off over the course of the day).

Your birds will need to be wormed with a commercial wormer every three months (especially if you have them living on the same patch of ground most of the time). Look for a wormer that kills tapeworm. Wormers come in tablet form (great since you can accurately dose each chicken) or liquid form (usually for adding to drinking water. Unfortunately things like garlic and vinegar in the water will not be an effective treatment against worms. Do your birds a favour and use proper medication. When I worm my birds I also dust them for mites – tomato dust containing rotenone is the cheapest way (or you can pay more for Pestene powder which is essentially the same thing).

If you end up getting chicks keep an eye out for signs that indicate they may have a coccidiosis infection (a protozoan that attacks the gut). The chicks will look hunched up and unhappy, and their droppings may have some evidence of blood. The treatment options are Baycox (most effective), Amprolium or something containing Amprolium (next best option) or a sulphur based medication (from pet shops and the least effective option but better than nothing). Chicks are quite susceptible to coccidiosis do I’d recommend that for your first chooks you get birds that are at least 4 months old. They will be past the main danger zone.

If you do get birds younger than this they will need feed formulated for birds their age. Up to 6 weeks of age feed ‘chick starter crumble’. From 6 weeks to 16 weeks (or 4 months) feed ‘pullet grower’. After that they can go on adult food. Adult food has too much calcium in it for birds younger than 4 months.

#11
sarahsarah8:13 am, 24 Apr 12

This thread makes me long for a yard big enough for chooks :(

#12
Holden Caulfield10:07 am, 24 Apr 12

What’s the life expectancy for a good laying hen? And what do people do with them when they’re no longer producing?

#13
watto2310:22 am, 24 Apr 12

I’m also wondering just how big a space do you need…..

#14
pink little birdie11:04 am, 24 Apr 12

watto23 said :

I’m also wondering just how big a space do you need…..

We have 6 chooks in their pen which is about 5m by 10m With an additional shed of 2×3. Their weekend pen is approximately 4-5 times as big. but this is considered big (and our chooks spoilt)

Holden Caulfield said :

What’s the life expectancy for a good laying hen? And what do people do with them when they’re no longer producing?

Let them live a while longer is peace then eat them om nom nom
Eat them nom nom

#15
Very Busy11:30 am, 24 Apr 12

Rusalka said :

I hands down recommend chicks over pullets or ready to lay. Hand raising them, they imprint somewhat on you and at least trust you implicitly. And from your side, they are so cute!!

Good luck! Chickens are lots of fun as pets.

I absolutely agree, especially when buying larger numbers of them. Introducing larger chickens to each other can be less than harmonious.

We have 6 Isa Browns, all bought together from 1 day old, who live harmoniously together in a 20sq metre run. This is more than enough space. This is our 3rd lot of Chickens since we built our run 8 years ago. Both of our previous lots were of 3 Chickens and included Australorps. Our first three were all killed by a fox when they were 1 year old. I then enclosed the run with a wire roof.

Something to ask when buying day old chicks: Some suppliers will use a hot iron to burn off the end of the chick’s beak. This is done to reduce injury if the Chickens peck at each other. My experience is that this is totally unnecessary when buying day old chicks that will not be mixed with other chickens. I think it does more harm than good as the chickens have more difficulty using their beaks to eat. Often the top and bottom beaks end up uneven which makes it even harder for them to pick food up.

Also, you should never have just one chicken on its own. Aside from the fact that they enjoy company, maggots can grow in any dags which remain on the chicken. A second chicken will remove the maggots if they arise and stop them from infesting the chicken’s insides.

Good luck!!!

#16
dph12:57 pm, 24 Apr 12

Just make sure you build a very secure pen for them.

I use to house sit for some family friends when they’d go on holidays. I had the unfortunate experiance of waking up one morning to find the chickens had escaped their pen overnight.

There were feathers scattered everywhere & the property was located next to a nature reserve. It didn’t take long to figure out what had happened.

#17
Piratepete1:12 pm, 24 Apr 12

Talk to Simon at Powells in Phillip. He has chooks of his own, sells them and is very knowledgable. He only sells ones that are from good breeders who do the right thing and they are vaccinated, wormed etc.

#18
Skyring2:24 pm, 24 Apr 12

A lot of good advice in the comments above. We’ve had backyard chooks for years, and it’s a pleasure to see them living happy lives roaming around freely, scratching around for their tucker, distributing the mulch and adding their blessings.

So far always browns, but the downside there is that after a while they give up on the laying and live long happy lives. But when they do lay, it’s a regular egg per day, set your watch by it.

We have a pen that supposedly keeps them from the rest of the garden (and my wife’s preciousest plants) but they manage to somehow escape when they want to, and a solid coop against the night foxes. They march in each night, good as gold, tuck themselves into bed and wait for me to come lock them up.

Best to have an enclosed back yard. We had one they could easily escape from in Campbell and every now and then they’d go rampaging through the neighbourhood, spreading terror and chookshit through the neighbouring gardens and I’d have to go hunting for them banging on their feed bowl and calling out “chook chook chook!” and feeling that I wasn’t appearing as dignified in my middle age as I’d always intended.

We give them a couple of handfuls of laying grain plus the organic scraps from the kitchen and leftovers. Occasionally I’ll catch a blowfly up against the window and hold it out and they’ll come running as fast as they can to eat it from my fingers.

The “ground” in their pen is great garden mulch. I chuck in lawn clippings, autumn leaves, the leftovers from their kitchen scraps, their droppings all added together and regularly turned over by their scratching. Absolutely top tucker for the garden.

And every now and then one dies of happy old age and is returned to the environment in the corner beyond the roses.

#19
Calamity2:43 pm, 24 Apr 12

I really want to get a couple of chooks but we only live on a reasonably small block, so I’m a bit worried the chooks might be loud and frustrating to neighbours. Advice?

#20
shirty_bear3:14 pm, 24 Apr 12

Calamity said :

I really want to get a couple of chooks but we only live on a reasonably small block, so I’m a bit worried the chooks might be loud and frustrating to neighbours. Advice?

According to various sources (including previous RA chook threads), it’s roosters that get noisy. Which is presumably why you aren’t allowed to have them in suburbia. Hens make very little noise, and when they do it’s kinda pleasant and not real loud. I would think that only the grinchy-est of neighbours would have a problem. Maybe share a few glorious fresh eggs with them – you’ll likely have plenty to spare.

Holden Caulfield said :

What’s the life expectancy for a good laying hen? And what do people do with them when they’re no longer producing?

Our previous pair were re-homed so we didn’t know their exact age … but my guess is that they were 4.5 – 5 years old. An egg each every day for 18 months, then they both stopped cold within a couple of days of each other. Waited about 3 months for the laying to resume, but it didn’t. Decided that keeping non-laying chooks was pointless, so I … ummm … terminated them and got 2 brand new ones that work much better. Would’ve liked to have pensioned them off somewhere, but didn’t know who would want non-laying hens.

#21
buzz8196:20 pm, 24 Apr 12

shirty_bear said :

Calamity said :

I really want to get a couple of chooks but we only live on a reasonably small block, so I’m a bit worried the chooks might be loud and frustrating to neighbours. Advice?

According to various sources (including previous RA chook threads), it’s roosters that get noisy. Which is presumably why you aren’t allowed to have them in suburbia. Hens make very little noise, and when they do it’s kinda pleasant and not real loud. I would think that only the grinchy-est of neighbours would have a problem. Maybe share a few glorious fresh eggs with them – you’ll likely have plenty to spare.

Holden Caulfield said :

What’s the life expectancy for a good laying hen? And what do people do with them when they’re no longer producing?

Our previous pair were re-homed so we didn’t know their exact age … but my guess is that they were 4.5 – 5 years old. An egg each every day for 18 months, then they both stopped cold within a couple of days of each other. Waited about 3 months for the laying to resume, but it didn’t. Decided that keeping non-laying chooks was pointless, so I … ummm … terminated them and got 2 brand new ones that work much better. Would’ve liked to have pensioned them off somewhere, but didn’t know who would want non-laying hens.

Hens will lay for a max 2-3 years, after this time they are roasts.

Isa Brown are great, I have 6, we got them from Neptunes Haven in Queanbeyan, I don’t really recommend them as I think they lied about how old the chooks were when we bought them.

Currently I am getting 4 eggs a day from the chooks, waiting for the two youngest ones to start laying after winter I should get 6 eggs a day.

To work out if a chook is close to laying you have to look at their combs, if they are pink and small they are too young to lay, when they get a nice red colour they will start laying.

#22
tommy6:33 pm, 24 Apr 12

Bellchambers at Fyshwick is the only place to go. Call ahead to order your hens (i think they get them n thursdays) and take a wonderful step in time that the whole family will enjoy. ours started laying the day we got them!

#23
dr. faustus6:45 pm, 24 Apr 12

Space wise, standard (ie large, not bantam sized) chooks need a minimum of 1sq m per chook in their pen. That’s an absolute minimum. Bantams need about half that per bird (again, that’s a bare minimum). 1.5 sq m per standard hen is a better space to aim for. Standard hens need about 30cm or perch space per bird. Perches should be a thick as an adult ankle. Chooks don’t grip onto the perch like a budgie, they need a broader surface to stand on.

In the ACT you definitely can keep roosters in suburbia. The ‘animal nuisance’ legislation applies to them, as it does with dogs. Check out the animal nuisance guidelines on the ACT government website. It’d be unusual to get noise complaints about hens (females) even though they can be loud when they all get going.

#24
Bramina7:45 pm, 26 Apr 12

I hear alpacas are good for foxes.

#25
rapunzel15:26 am, 12 Jun 12

Alpacas are fine depending upon the area they roam. We have 5 alpacas, female and male and still had a fox problem. We let the chickens, ducks and geese roam with the alpacas and sheep in approx. 5 acres. Everything was fine until we went out for approx. 2 hours, called the poultry in, only to find that two geese had been attacked by the foxes (heads bitten off which is a typical trait of the foxes). Foxes will stay away from dogs and people if they are aware that you are around. My advice is to keep the chickens well protected with fencing and definitely locked in at night. Foxes have been known to dig right under fencing and also will scale a 6 ft fence with barbed wire stranded at the top.
In regards to chicken types, Isa Browns are one of the best layers, they are a hybrid developed for their high egg laying capacity. Our Isa’s tend to last approx. 2 years then they end up in the pot. We tend to keep on introducing a new rooster ever 4 years to prevent any major malformations and breed the rest of the chickens that we need. The rooster is generally an Isa Brown or a Red/white leghorn, therefore the egg production is kept up. If you are interested in attractive chickens I would go for the pure breeds as mentioned before, but for egg production alone, Isa Browns or a cross of Isa/Leghorn is the best option. The birds are prone to a variety of diseases though, regardless of whether you live in the suburbs or the country. There are plenty of sites on the net indicating the problems with descriptions and photos.
In regards to age, layers range from 16-20 weeks old. Sometimes they take time to settle in, sometimes not, depending upon where you have bought them from. There are plenty of places to buy your chickens from. If you have children, day old chickens or week old chickens are cute and the kids can watch them grow up, though must admit that ducks and geese are cuter. Brooder boxes for the young chickens are cheap to buy or you can easily make your own.
Good luck in your purchases…they can be bought from a variety of pet shops also found in the classified ads on the net. Prices vary from $12-20 dependent upon age.

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