8 Reasons why Chooks rock

“Okay Svenja, you’ve explored your philosophical talent and have rambled on about future generations and about living in better balance with nature. But you haven’t yet shared any tips on how to do it!”

Alright then, straight into it, my favourite topic: Chickens! Don’t worry you will hear lots about them. All my Facebook friends do, haha. Let’s face it, they’re included in the header of this page therefore they must be important.

POO!

“What?! Don’t shout gross words at us!”

No no no, I mean manure. Fertilizer. Nitrogen for the soil.

I remember when I grew up in Germany the soil in our backyard was just so dark, crumbly, moist and rich. You only had to dig a little bit and came across worms and roots. It was nice but because I’d grown up there I thought that soil like that was just the norm and didn’t appreciate it much. And then I moved to Meekatharra, a little dry town in the middle of the Outback with annual rainfall of about 220mm (about a third of good ol’ Germany’s precipitation) and a hot, dry climate with sunshine that burns down on the ground relentlessly. The soil is just one big baked rock. You dig in it and you either hit rocks that send a clear message through your shovel into your elbows and shoulders, or the dirt just chips away and falls apart as sand. The Meeka dirt has a lot of minerals in it but due to the climate it never had the chance to accumulate lots of organic material. Chicken manure (once it’s been composted) is a great soil amendment adding quick release nitrogen (important for leaf growth), phosphorus and potassium. My chickens live in a coop & run and get to free range the garden every few days for a bit. This means most of their poo is concentrated in the coop and run. Every week I rake it up and put it in my compost tumbler. Here’s a weird fact: it’s one of my favourite gardening activities. “Hey Svenja, how was your weekend?” – “Oh it was GREAT, raked up chicken poo. Loved it!” … Weirdo. Maybe it gives me so much joy because I know how good it is all around. Chookies get a clean coop, compost gets filled up, planet saved a smidgen more. Read more on manure here and here if you’re interested in poo.

SCRAPS!

My chickens and I are very much alike – we love food and often go about it like seagulls with a chip. The chooks go nuts when I come around the corner with the scraps container. Whatever we had for dinner the night before – the chooks are getting the off cuts. Well, since we’ve got our dog Rex there’s an extra level in the food chain, so he gets any meat off cuts first and whatever he doesn’t like goes to the chooks. Sorry chooks, I know how much you love your steak. It not only reduces my food scraps but also reduces my cost when it comes to buying chook food.

I love the fact we don’t put food scraps in our rubbish bin anymore. There’s hardly any food scraps in it which not only makes it more pleasant for us (we don’t have to empty the bin so often, it doesn’t smell so much, the outside wheelie bin doesn’t attract stray dogs anymore) but also helps the environment. How? Our rubbish bin gets emptied into a truck which then dumps all its contents at our rubbish tip. Landfill. The rubbish tip gets pushed up every now and again and the food scraps sit next to plastic, paper, nappies, cans, glass, fabric, wood, electrical parts, … You name the material – it’s in landfill. Where you live you might have recycling which reduces some of these components but fact is a loooot of food scraps and organic material end up in landfill worldwide. Landfill is not a big compost heap. Organic material doesn’t break down as nicely as it does in your compost at home and doesn’t turn into the sweet, earthy smelling crumbly goodness. It rots, attracts flies, stinks to heaven (quite literally) and releases methane – a green house gas much more potent than CO2. Food waste is ridiculous. One half of the world is starving, the other half of the world is going to the gym to lose extra fat (these are not the real figures but you get the picture) and somehow we find the luxury of throwing out extra food, but that’s a story for another day.

I know my six chickens can’t solve the problem of thousands, millions of tons of food scraps, but just imagine if every city had an army of chickens that munched through the food scraps – that would make a difference. Food for thought.

PESTS!

No, I’m not saying chickens are a pest. Though if you asked Pete he might agree with you after they’ve pooped on our back patio. Chickens and concrete. I don’t know what it is but concrete seems magnetic to chicken poo. Luckily our dog loves chicken poo and licks it all clean. Eww that’s gross. But handy.

Chickens eat a lot of the garden pests. I used to have crickets (or some other creature of the order Orthoptera. Grasshopper? Locust? Not sure.) in the backyard that would be all over my veggie patch and the lawn. Now I hardly see any. Or if I do then they’re clumsily trying to scale our fence to get away from the pursuit chicken. Have you seen Australian crickets? They’re huge! I mean humongous! Aussies probably think they’re normal but for my mollycoddled little German self they’re big and somewhat terrifying. My chickens like them that way though – a perfect snack to reward a successful and exciting chase.

SCRATCHY!

Chickens looove to scratch. Even if I give them some food in a bowl they sometimes still scratch around it even though it’s totally useless and doesn’t “un-dig” any more of the food. Scratching is hardwired deep in their brain. I hatched my chickens in an incubator and was amazed at the range of behaviours they displayed even though they had never seen an adult chicken that could teach them how to scratch or how to dust-bath or how to stretch their legs and wings. And yet, when we dump a load of lawn clippings in the chook run it doesn’t take long for them to spread it all out and mix it beautifully with the dirt, their poo and leftover scraps.

My favourite weekend pastime, after composting chicken poo of course, is to chill with the dog in the hammock, listen to a podcast and watch the chickens roam the garden and scratch around in the dirt. It aerates the soil, it lifts weeds, it mixes organic matter and it’s good for their little chicken souls.

WEEDS!

Even though my hubby despises the chickens for their poo-on-concrete habit, he loves them for their weeding-the-lawn talent. We used to have a variety of weeds growing in our lawn. Not anymore. No weed-killer needed, all we have  to do is open the coop and let them do their job. Chickens eat whatever they can get their beaks on, or at least they try everything. And if it’s good it’ll be demolished. So be sure to keep them away from your veggie patch unless you want that mowed down.

FUN!

I wasn’t always a chook person. I’d probably never even touched a chook until I was in my early twenties (except for one on the dinner plate but that’s not what I’m talking about here). It just wasn’t something that I was interested in. And then my dear friend Sonja started hatching chickens and she inspired me and helped me to do the same (as she does with so many things :)) So, Sonja – this whole chicken craze is all your fault! And so is the fact I’m living in Meekatharra. Come to think of it, Sonja, without you this whole website wouldn’t exist! Cheers! 🙂 And without you, dear Sonja, I would have never met my dear chicken Diplo!

Diplo is the coolest chook. She’s quite clever. Very early on she figured out how to escape the run and enjoyed hours of uninterrupted grazing. Then I would come along with scraps and throw them into the run – all the other chickens were devouring the goodies while poor Diplo was outside the run! She then very quickly figured out that her big human could easily help her back over the fence, so all I had to do was bend down, stretch out my hands and she would walk right up to me to get a lift. Now I can stand a few meters away from her, bend down, stretch out my hands and she will come running up to me and do her cute little shuffle and then waits to be picked up. Then she’s just relaxed in my arms, gets a cuddle, talks to me and eventually wriggles to get put back down again. Quite often I sit outside to have my lunch and she will escape the run, come up to me, hop on my lap and start eating my food. Well, I tend to share it with her if it’s good to eat for chickens… One day she didn’t even hop on my lap, she just jumped up beside me and snatched a whole sandwich out of my hand. I was left hungry but entertained.

My favourite chicken Diplo (short for Diplomat)

My favourite chicken Diplo (short for Diplomat)

MEAT!

I believe if you choose to eat meat (which I do) you should ensure that the animals lived a good quality life and died quickly and stress-free. Luckily today people are becoming more aware where their meat came from but not that long ago it seemed that the average consumer just wanted meat for a low price and was quite oblivious to the fact that their chicken dinner or beef steak at one stage was the working muscle of a chook or a cow. Slaughtering and butchering is not for everyone and I appreciate skilled people who do the work for me (simply because I’m not particularly good with a rifle and would be worried to injure the animal instead of quickly killing it). That, combined with the love I have for my chookies means that they are likely going to live out their happy lives and are going to be buried or something like that when they pass away from old age… I’m a softie when it comes to my pets.

But, if you like to eat meat, you want to reduce carbon footprint from transport, you want to know that the animal ate a good diet and had a good life, and you (or a friend) are skilled at slaughtering – then growing meat in the backyard is awesome!

And finally…

EGGS!

Of course! This is probably the main reason people get chickens. Oh the eggs… You get out whatever you put in. Make sure your chickens have access to water, a varietyof kitchen scraps and get to free-range in the garden and you will be supplied with healthy, fresh and delicious eggs. This blog goes into more detail about what to feed your chickens. Our six ladies give us more than enough eggs though their egg production ranges from 2-6 eggs a day depending on weather (too hot in summer where we live), molting (when they renew their feathers) and cluckiness (when they think they’re going to hatch out baby chickens. Ladies, we don’t have a rooster. It’s not going to happen.)

Yes, chicken food costs a bit of money and to be honest I haven’t calculated whether the chickens are making us money (I haven’t had to buy eggs for a year now and have given many many many dozens away to friends!) or if they’re costing us money, but the joy I get out of harvesting eggs from our backyard is priceless anyway. The first time I found an egg in the chook run (in the dirt, all dirty and tiny compared to commercial eggs) I was over the moon! It was too good to be true and I was actually wondering if Pete had sneakily put a store-bought egg into the run, just to make me happy. (He hadn’t. I checked with him.) I just couldn’t believe it that there were eggs being made in my backyard. It was quite a moment!

The very first egg from my backyard! The small, dirty one on the left.

The very first egg from my backyard! The small, dirty one on the left.

Since then I have hung around my chickens in my hammock and have, probably quite creepily come to think of it, watched them lay eggs. They sometimes strain a bit but they very quickly get back to their business of foraging the lawn and seem quite happy about having relieved themselves of that pressure and don’t care that I take the eggs away. It’s like being out and about and needing to go for a number two. Imagine you’re in a shopping centre, going for a lovely stroll around the boutiques but you can’t quite enjoy it because nature is calling. You somewhat hurriedly look around for a loo (that’s when the chickens pace around the nesting box which sometimes is occupied, oh no!) and then do your business. After that you don’t spare another thought about it but just happily go back to your shopping again. It appears to me that’s what it’s like being a chicken.

They either love each other or they don't realize there's another nesting box below.

They either love each other or they don’t realize there’s another nesting box below.

I believe we all have a role to play when it comes to living on and with the earth and the chickens really have embraced theirs and managed to become a successful species through forming a symbiosis with humans – they give us eggs and meat and we give them safety and help them breed. And together we can live much more sunstainably. The funny thing is – this is no new science. We humans have lived with chickens for so long but somehow our culture managed to lose that connection. I’m so very glad I got it back!

Just hatched

Just hatched

Baby chickens are so cute and fluffy and funny.

Baby chickens are so cute and fluffy and funny.

2 Responses to “8 Reasons why Chooks rock

  • ?You are welcome ?

  • OMG Svenja; you are too funny! Love the ‘needing to do a poo while out shoping’ analogy. I’m looking forward to being settled somewhere so that we can have chooks again.

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