CHICKENS can be a great addition to the garden, fulfilling various roles such as producing eggs, fertilising gardens and eating your food scraps.
The most trouble-free chickens to purchase are vaccinated hens at the point of lay (16 – 18 weeks) from a reliable commercial source.
Chickens need a well-drained and well-ventilated pen.
Make sure the chicken pen is fox and wild bird proof and, unless the sides are attached to a wooden or concrete floor, dig them into the soil to a depth of at least a half a metre.
Part of the pen needs to be under cover, particularly where the chickens roost and lay.
It works well if the chicken house/coop is located under a tree for shade.
The chicken coop should be north facing with an eve about a metre long to protect from the summer sun and the rain but to still let light in during winter.
It is easier to manage the chickens if the chicken coop is high enough for you to stand up in. Cover the floor with sawdust or straw to form a deep litter with the chicken’s droppings.
Nesting boxes need to be off the ground, dark and have fresh, clean straw that should be replaced regularly. Ideally build the chicken coop with outside access to the nesting boxes.
Perches for roosting need to be wide enough for the chickens to comfortably stand on.
Commercial layer pellets or crumble that can be bought in 20 kilogram bags at your local rural store are a satisfactory food source but chickens can be supplemented with food scraps.
Don’t feed more scraps than the chickens can consume, or the leftovers will attract vermin and create odours.
A round feeder is good for the pecking order as the weaker chicken can be on the other side of the circle and not beside the dominant chicken. Provide enough feed for no more than three days to prevent it from becoming stale.
An automatic chicken feeder is preferred; these are suitable for all backyard chicken flocks and the step-on mechanism helps prevent vermin, wild birds and rain from ruining the feed.
Chickens also need continual access to clean, fresh water.
Finally, monitor your chickens daily for their health, egg production, and food and water availability.
If you have more than 50 chickens, you are required to have a Property Identification Code (PIC) and also a unique egg stamp. You can apply for a PIC online at agriculture.vic.gov.au.
Additionally, you must either be in a recognised industry or commercial quality assurance program, or complete and follow Agriculture Victoria’s food safety management statement.
Check your local government requirements, as many have by-laws on flock size and housing.
For further advice please contact your local veterinarian or your Agriculture Victoria district veterinary or animal health officer on 136 186.