Having chickens in the backyard could be a smart way to get freshly laid eggs. But how practical is it for city dwellers?
“This is a very hot topic,” says Deb Campbell, owner of Barter & Sons Hatchery in Sydney, who says she has seen a rise in the number of urban families buying chickens. “I don’t know if it’s become very fashionable to keep chickens. Or whether they are easy pets as you don’t have to take them for a walk, or wash them, and they eat kitchen scraps.
“It’s grown every year probably for the last six years.”
Verity Chambers, who teaches journalism in Sydney, says one of the big motivations for her family to get chooks was the confusion they faced while buying eggs in the supermarket.
“We always bought free range, but then it became clear that ‘free range’ isn’t necessarily actually free range. There are so many definitions of what’s acceptable and cruelty-free. We couldn’t be sure, with all of the different classifications and conflicting regulations that the eggs we were buying were from happy, well-treated hens.”
She says her family tries to be as ethical as possible when shopping. “But one really easy thing we could do was to keep chickens, and do it well. They’re spoiled to pieces. Everyone in the neighbourhood brings food scraps, neighbours with tiny kids come past to say hi and play with them. They’ve been a really wonderful way to get to know our local community.”
Another reason was her children. “I’ve got two children, 10 and 12 years old. Certainly the 10-year-old was keen on having pets. At the moment it’s difficult for us to commit to a dog and my husband would never have a cat.” But her daughter loves birds.
They bought the chicken coop first as a birthday present for her daughter. “The chickens came a little bit later.”
Chambers says they didn’t build the coop for their six chickens. “We had thought about building it, but it was quicker and easier to buy a kit.”
Chambers says they did not have to take council permission to set things up. “I did check,” says Chambers. “We are within the Marrickville council area. It’s OK to keep backyard chickens as long as you don’t have a rooster. Roosters are a no-no in urban areas.”
She says another requirement by council is that the coop needs to be kept clean. “And in good repair, so that you’re not attracting vermin such as rats and flies.”
Chambers says safety of the chooks is an issue that has to be looked at.
“There are definitely foxes in Sydney … I think they travel quite a bit at night. We have wire mesh under the coop as well so no animals can dig into it.”
Advantages of keeping chooks
Chambers says one of the advantages of keeping chickens is fresh eggs. “I had no idea how not fresh supermarket eggs were.
“I’d say also just that personality thing. I just get so much amusement and entertainment out of them. They are pretty easy to upkeep as well.”
Chambers says people should think carefully about what they want to do with the chickens when they come to the end of their laying life. “We have already made that decision which is we are just going to keep them.”
Campbell, whose family-run business was set up in 1933, says they sell Barter Browns, Barter Blacks and Barter Whites. “They will lay an egg every day, which is what people want. People decide depending on how much space they have and how big a coop they are going to get.”
Campbell says for a family starting off she would sell an initial package consisting of two chickens and a coop costing $279. “You are probably going to get five or six years out of that thing, maybe longer if you paint it and look after it. But I think it’s a nice way to start off. Some people will go with the $1000 one, they are good metal ones. You can hand them over to your grandkids.”
Inner-city living is no barrier
Bunnings Warehouse national landscape buyer Nathan Monk says living in an inner-city area or having a small backyard needn’t prevent you from having your own chicken coop.
“If you are living in an inner city area, you can build a DIY chicken coop to fit the size of the space available. However, always check with your local council first, as councils have varying rules about housing chickens and roosters.”
Monk says different breeds of chicken require different amounts of space. “So always ask the breeder about space requirements when you purchase your birds. Chicken coops vary between quite small ‘tent like’ triangular shapes to larger multi-storey constructions.”
He says there are ready-made chicken coops available, or one can be built from scratch.
“There are no hard and fast rules in regards to the materials to use to create a chicken coop. Typically, chicken coops are made from wooden boards, plywood or particle board. The roof is usually sheet metal, PVC or roof tiles. You can also use recycled materials such as old pallets, corrugated iron, timber and chicken wire.
“A clever idea is to convert an old cubby house that the kids have grown out of into your chicken coop – just remember to ensure there is easy access to clean the coop if you are designing it yourself.”
Monk says as a general rule, a coop of 1.5 metres x 2 metres is suitable for up to six chickens.
“Remember to ensure your coop has nests for the chickens to lay eggs. Each nest box must be a minimum of 30 x 30 centimetres and you’ll need one nest for every two to three chickens.
“Water, food and bedding are the three main ingredients to a happy chook.”
Mar 23, 2016