Sunday, November 14, 2010

Poultry Life

Poultry bring such joy into life. They provide yummy eggs and meat, composting and many hours of pleasure for adults and children alike. They really are a resourceful animal. If you can only keep one type of animal, then poultry are the best possible choice you could make.
If you're not sure having poultry is for your family, you can give it a trial run by hiring some chooks. That's right you can HIRE chooks!

First thing you'll need to do is contact your local council and find out what restrictions they have on keeping poultry.
Some don't allow any poultry, some allow a small number with restrictions to pen placement and some allow as mony chooks as you like given you don't have a rooster to reduce noise.

Second is to consider the space you have available for poultry keeping. This can even affect the type of poultry you want.
Next you want to consider how many chooks or ducks you want to keep, this will affect the size yard you want. A good hen will lay an egg every day or two in optimum conditions. I'm not sure about ducks as I'm still new to the lovely quackers.

When you've decided what type of poultry you want, the amount you want and space you have you can start contemplating the building materials .

If you have small yard, you can opt for a chook tractor or dome.
Chickens tractors look like huge rabbit hutches and can be moved around the yard to give the chooks contained new grazing grounds each day. You can find tractors that will accomodate between 4 and 12 hens. A commercially made one can be quite pricey, so if you have a welder in the family you can cut costs by sourcing the required steel from a salvage yard and having one built.
Chicken domes are a small enclosed dome built with bamboo sticks or whatever you can find to suit the purpose. They fit well in a permaculture garden where circular beds are encouraged. Just lift and move along to the next bed when it's time.

For a larger yard, a small garden shed and fenced off area can make for a nice cheap pen. Once again visit your salvage yard, tip or check through the local paper for supplies.
Garden sheds can be found rather cheap and often free in your local paper if you're willing to dismantle, pick up and transport it home to be erected again.
A simple fence can be built with star pickets or copper logs (treated pine) and some chook wire. Depending on where you live you may want to add some tin around the bottom to deter snakes, rabbits, dogs and foxes climbing or digging around the fence.

If you have a large amount of space like our 90 acres, there are no limits to your pen other than your imagination.
We decided on a chook run of 25 by 20 metres to ensure plenty of space in the case that we can't let the poultry out for any amount of time. The poultry yard opens into the fruit orchard so that they may roam free and clean up any fallen fruit or insects and pests, while at the same time manuring our orchard.
The fence is built from new and recycled star pickets, chicken wire and recycled tin for fow protection. The house was built with recycled wood and tin, creating a house that is 5 by 5 metres. Both entry doors were recycled flyscreen frames, one still to be attached onto the house.

Other ideas for chook houses are recycle water tank halves, straw bale shelters and chook wire and burlap sack built shelters, such as is explained in John Seymour's "Complete Book of Self Sufficiency"

It's a good idea to check out some poultry books and online forums to decide on which types you want to choose. This will depend on your purpose for having poultry, your family needs and your yardage or fencing availabilities.
We like to go for heritage breeds of old so have decided on Wyandotte chooks for their meat and egg qualities, Orpington chooks for their winter laying habit and Muscovy ducks for their meat and eggs.
Having ducks, I feel it is important to provide water in the way of a small pond or baby bath. Some say this is not necessary, but I feel that nature did not intend for ducks to go without a larger water source.

A nice shady tree is important in a poultry run for our hot dry summers, as poultry do suffer heat stress quite easily. If a tree is not an option then a shade cloth is an acceptable alternative. Make sure you provide PLENTY of cool fresh water for your poultry. We have set up a 1000 litre water container to an automatic self watering system that keeps the poultry water tub full. I'd like to set a tap in the tub so that I may empty and scrub the tub ocassionally.

Some people feed their poultry laying pellets, but we choose not to as we don't want steroids or hormones in our own meat and eggs. We feed soaked wheat instead and provide plenty of scraps and free ranging time for weeds and bug munching.
In winter you can add some barley to the soaked wheat as it encourages poultry's internal body temperature to raise, keeping them warmer. For this same reason it is important to NOT feed barley through the summer months.
Ducks are great at polishing off insects, snails and slugs from your garden without destroying it in the way a chook would. Some ducks do love the odd leafy scraps but in my experience so far, they're not keen on other kitchen scraps like chooks are.

It honestly is a pleasure to look out the kitchen window and see chooks foraging around the fruit orchard or sit on the verandah listening to the chatter of ducks.
You will never find a guard dog as alert as our guard goose, who helps to keep foxes away and protects our ducks during the day and guards the whole poultry run at night.
we hope to one day add turkeys, peacocks and guineafowl to our poultry run... all in good time.