Our chickens are now four months old, and they seem pretty happy.
Hermione, a hybrid brown
Esme, a Barnevelder
Ziggy, a Silkie
I bought them as day-old chicks, because they're cute, and I figured they'd be tamer and get along with each other. It works out a little cheaper as well, although it's a long wait for eggs!
The chicks lived in a brooder for the first five weeks. The brooder was nothing fancier than a plastic tub with sand in the bottom, and a desk lamp with a red bulb to keep them warm. Some items from the recycling bin were repurposed into a feeder and waterer.
Brooder box, sand and globe: $22
The pet food store round the corner sells chick crumble for $1.50/kg, so keeping them fed was cheap and easy.
Some people keep their chicks indoors for eight to ten weeks, but the weather was warm and they loved being outside. At two weeks we started putting them outside during the day, and at five weeks they moved out there permanently.
After lots of online research, I settled on a chicken tractor. Our garden is pretty small, and there wasn't a good spot for a permanent fixed coop. I designed the tractor of my dreams and my ace Dad built it as my Christmas present. There are perches up in the roof, a ladder, and a nesting box.
The plan was to have a tractor with a fox-proof wire floor, that I'd move around the lawn every few days. This would keep our lawn fertilized and aerated. I'd also let the chooks free range for a few hours every day.
Did you know that chickens poo? A lot? The poo got all mixed in with the lawn and the scraps I was giving the chooks and it got all slimy and gross. It didn't smell good, and it didn't mix well with our toddler who loves playing on the lawn, or the dog who liked eating the chicken poo and rolling in it.
I wasn't convinced by the fox-proof floor, either. Although I was pretty sure a fox wouldn't come while we (and our dog) were home, what about when we went away?
And speaking of the dog. She was OBSESSED with the chickens. I couldn't let them free range because she would definitely try and catch them.
The plan wasn't working.
Luckily, I'd designed the tractor to fit on our raised veggie beds. I thought that I could pop the chooks up there when a crop was finished and they could tidy up.
So new plan: the coop lives permanently on the raised beds. There are four beds and the coop will move every 6-8 weeks. When the chooks are in there I throw in compost, mulch, food scraps, wood ash and lawn clippings, which gets scratched up and mixed with soil and manure to make a fabulous loamy cocktail ready for planting.
The new arrangement is totally fox and rodent proof. The chicken poo only goes where I want it. Hurrah!
A couple of other things:
The hardcore poultry types on the internet say you shouldn't feed your chooks scraps (or not many scraps) because it impacts maximum egg production. I'm cheerfully ignoring this because Banjo makes a lot of scraps and it feels good to produce less food waste.
Speaking of hardcore poultry types, there are two main poultry keeping forums in Australia and they are at war with each other. It's pretty entertaining.
And my dreams of tame, cuddly chickens? Our obsessed dog is making it hard to hold them, so they are a bit standoffish. Oh well.