When someone talks to me about chickens two things happen. I have a warm fuzzy moment as I absolutely love chooks and then the next thought is oh, what is wrong now? Most people talk to me about chickens when there is something wrong with them and I am happy to try and help. As a child I seem to remember bantam roosters who attacked me but as a teenager and adult I have had the most amazing good natured roosters.
As a teenager I used to chat to a local farmer about chickens, who inspired me to start showing them and my love grew from there. My brother gave me some chickens, and I remember a white hen who had a very bad ear infection and medication did not fix her completely. She could not eat by herself due to bad balance and coordination but could walk around and scratch. So I made a special spoon and fed her daily, straight down the throat. She lived a number of happy years after her illness. My father gave me some Minorca chickens, a rare Spanish breed, but the catch was they were in Tasmania. I imported them to the mainland and showed and bred these magnificent birds. I had a gorgeous Old English Game pair walk in off the street and showed them and they then reproduced. Then there was Nigel, a rooster who started as Nigella who I rescued from a rental property. She just kept growing and growing and started crowing, and became Nigel (pictured below). He grew to 10kg and lived a happy life for 2 years until he died quickly of a heart attack. He must have been a meat chicken who are meant to be culled at 5 weeks of age. He was a gentle giant. Are you seeing a pattern of chickens as gifts here?
I was once on a train returning from the Easter Show, and there were two farmers from Dubbo who had cattle and chickens at the show. They were staying at a relative’s house during the show hence they were on the train. One of the farmers said his chickens were the only thing that got him through the devastating drought. He was motivated to get out of bed each day to feed the chickens who would come and peck under his feet. Everything else during the drought was devastating, seeing animals lose condition, seeing bank accounts run dry from buying feed and of course the lack of life outside. My father used to say it is ok to go and talk to your animals no one will think it is strange, but if you start talking to your computer you may need some help.
I use chickens for teaching, and see youth receive the benefits from these amazing animals. They quieten down easily and are easy to hold for young people. I am also so amazed when I see students who can be difficult with their teachers in the classroom, hold chickens with the greatest care and respect. From this a connection can be made with the student. Hens lay eggs every 26-27 hours depending on the breed. This makes a great cross curricular activity of cooking with the eggs. Making the link in children’s minds that eggs come from chickens not the supermarket. In the school environment eggs can also be a great little money earner along with teaching students about food safety, labelling and money.
By now you have realised I am a crazy chook lady. Here are some facts about chickens I thought I would share with you.
- Eggs purchased form the supermarket can be up to 6 weeks old. When you eat fresh eggs for breakfast from your own hens you can definitely tell.
- Some eggs have a blood speck, this does not mean the egg is fertile, simply an imperfection. A fertile egg has a ring around the germinal disk (small white circle in yolk). Of course, fertile eggs are fine to eat.
- Chickens are easy to prepare and show. No papers are required but the chickens must be purebred.
- There are hundreds of rare chicken breeds. By owning and breeding a rare breed you are contributing to preservation of the breed.
- Chickens must be locked up securely at night as foxes will kill and eat them.
- Chickens naturally perch at night and must be provided with suitable perches so they can maintain there natural behaviour.
- To a chicken the next best thing to an unsuspecting beetle or worm are kitchen scraps. If you cook you have scraps. Why put them in the general waste when you could recycle the scraps by making eggs?
- Hens combs get larger before they lay.
- Chickens can recognise their owners.
- Chickens have better eyesight than humans. Remember they believe bugs and worms are delicious.
There is so many options for people when it comes to keeping chickens. I strongly encourage you to think about getting some backyard hens. Everything else aside, fresh eggs are delicious and an abundance of eggs make great gifts.