River Cottage Australia

Top Tips for Keeping Chickens at Home

You don't need to live on a farm to enjoy the benefits of keeping chickens at home. Here are Paul West's top tips. 

Apart from providing you with delicious eggs all year round, there are so many benefits to keeping chooks.

They’re a great source of manure for fertiliser. They control insects and pests in your garden, adding to their natural diet in the process. And you’re helping to reduce demand for battery and caged hens.

Here are Paul West’s tips for caring for your chickens:

  • Letting them roam free during the day is great but you’ll need to house them at night.
  • Before you build a chook house, I recommend checking with your local council if they have specific regulations on size and location. The welfare of your chicken should always be your main priority.
  • Ready built hen houses can be easily purchased; a quick web search will give you a load of options. But, if you’re looking to keep costs down and recycle materials, the first thing to consider is making it weather proof and secure from predators like foxes and that includes domestic animals as well; you don’t want to wake up one morning and see that your cat has wreaked havoc in the chook shed.
  • Chickens love to perch at night but need to be at least 50cm from the ground.
  • You can use tree branches or old timber but make sure they’re at least 5cm wide.  
  • Don’t put the perches above food or water receptacles; these will be contaminated by their droppings.
  • Hens also need boxes to nest and lay eggs in. Wooden boxes are ideal but they need to be at least 30cm squared and lined with straw.
  • Make sure they’ve got plenty of shade from the Australian sun during the warmer months.
  • Chooks are very social animals and shouldn’t be kept alone. When introducing new hens to the roost, do it more than one chook at a time or it’s likely to be picked on.
  • Chooks love to root around the ground for grubs and worms. To add to this, you can feed them left over kitchen scraps like raw vegies and vegie peels as well as fruit and table foods such as wholemeal rice, rolled oats, cooked pasta & beans.
  • But don’t feed your chooks avocado, chocolate, green potatoes or rhubarb or you’ll end up with sick chickens.
  • Access to clean fresh water daily is a must.
  • A call to your local vet if you’re unsure about what to feed them is also a good idea.
  • There are seemingly endless varieties of chicken breeds and some are better layers or better for eating. But some are dual purpose meaning they’re good for both.
  • Some breeds to think about getting are the Aussie bred Australorp or breeds from further afield like the Rhode lsland Red, the Sussex or the Wyandotte. All of these birds are friendly and suitable for the backyard.

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1 comment
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Posted by Bella PepperReport
Hi Paul, Congrats on a great show. I have been a River Cottage fan for years. Loving what you bring to the show. Chickens are new in our house as well. We are still in our first year. We have two chooks named Poached and Scrambled. Real little ladies except when I spoil them with warm porridge on chilly days as they like to stand in it to keep their feet warm :) We have had issues with red mite due to wild birds sharing their food. We have found using Diatomaceous Earth ( Fresh Water Fossil Shell Flour) in their bedding and dust bath and putting all spent lavender flowers in their bedding has eradicated the problem. It is so safe to use you can put it in your animal feed to help with parasites. I'm always up for a eco solution and loved your goat solution in the last episode. Keep up the good work.