James Hilyard is Ipswich City Council’s Infrastructure and Environment Department, City Maintenance manager.
James is a horticulturalist, arborist and holds a master’s degree in sustainability.
In this month’s column, James talks about why he likes to keep a few chickens in his garden.
During recent times there has been a run on certain items such as hand sanitiser, toilet paper and believe it or not, chickens.
It was almost impossible to buy hens as breeders and rural supply merchants struggled to keep up with the demand during COVID restrictions.
I am reliably informed that supplies of hens (like toilet paper and hand sanitiser) have returned to normal.
So what are the benefits of having chickens in your back yard and where do you start?
Chickens lay eggs, eat weeds and insects and provide plenty of organic fertiliser with their manure.
They are great company and will also take care of your kitchen scraps converting waste into eggs and fertiliser.
These are my best tips for keeping chickens in your garden.
You need a chook house
There are plenty of off the shelf chook houses available from hardware stores and rural supplies merchants and they are both practical and nice and neat with easy access to laying boxes etc.
You might want to go down the road of building your own, as I did, as it is much more fun and you get to reuse and recycle all the odd bits of flotsam and jetsam under the house that you couldn’t bear to take to the tip, as you were sure it would come in handy one day.
Just remember that foxes love chicken dinners and basically any hole you can stick your fist through is big enough for a fox to pass through too. Not good.
Think also about where you want your flock to be able to roam, maybe some fencing is in order if you have a prized floral garden bed.
You need to buy some chooks
If you are a first timer I would suggest getting ‘point of lay’ pullets. These are young ladies just starting out on their egg laying careers and are generally a lot easier to look after that day old chicks.
I suggest that you go for the old fashioned breeds too. Hybrid birds will lay an egg a day for two years than basically stop.
Then you have the dilemma of either putting them in the pot or finding a retirement home for them.
Some suppliers will actually buy them back and provide a happy home for the birds until they quite literally fall off the perch.
The old fashion breeds will lay throughout their golden years and well into retirement just not as frequently as in their prime.
Leave the roosters behind, unless you are on lot of land with neighbours far away, as they are noisy and should be avoided.
Save money on pesticides
Chickens will take care of anything that flies, bites, eats leaves, stings vegetables and crawls.
With your chickens on patrol to keep the bugs at bay, you will save time and money having to deal with them yourself.
Free organic fertiliser
The by-product of all this for the gardener is a wonderful organic fertiliser.
Best to add the raw manure and egg shells to compost and wait a week or two. It will really get your compost activated and by the time it goes on the garden it will have your plants really jumping out of the ground.
I like to add some to an old mesh bag and sit it in a bucket of water for a day or two and then use it as a foliar feed fertiliser. Fantastic for leafy vegetables and fruit trees.
Just make sure you really wash your produce before you take a bite.
Watch out, the chickens are about
While there are many benefits for having a flock of girls scratching around your backyard, there can be some unwanted side effects.
But with some measures in place, they can be managed.
They do like a nibble and they could damage plants or flowers with their scratching and pecking.
A simple remedy is to keep some fencing wire or bird netting around beds you want to keep the chickens away from.
Or let them roam only for a few hours at the end of the day, as they come in themselves as it gets dark.
Be sure to check you are complying with council requirements.
Be thoughtful of your neighbours by ensuring they are not noisy, they are confined to your property at all times and you store chicken feed appropriately so you are not attracting vermin.
On the whole, I think having a couple of chickens is worth the effort.
They will give you fresh eggs and your home grown vegetables will be tastier and healthier thanks to their contribution.