Everything you need to know about becoming a free ranger...
Keeping chooks in your garden has many benefits. Hens are friendly pets, easy and “cheep” (sorry) to raise and a great way to teach kids about the responsibility of caring for living creatures. You’ll have chemical and hormone-free eggs waiting for you in your back garden every day, not to mention organic poultry too.
A bitter bit about battery
Battery farmed chooks have been a controversial subject for years, and it’s no surprise. These poor birds are imprisoned in a cage in a space smaller than an A4 sheet of paper, where they can’t beat their wings, feel the sun or run. Instead, they suffer 18 months of miserable egg-laying with lost feathers, claw sores and broken bones, only to be sent to the slaughterhouse at the end of it.
It goes without saying that eggs and meat from a fluffy, happy hen who darts around the garden in the sunshine will taste far superior to that of a battery bird. Free range farming allows the animals to roam freely instead of being contained - they can get exercise, scratch in the dirt, grow feathers, forage for food and, erm, stay chirpy.
Jamie Oliver made a TV show in 2008 that focused on the terrible conditions that battery chooks have to live in. His friend and fellow celeb chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall even set up his own intensive battery farm to see first-hand how chickens are treated.
You can buy chicken coops online, or find designs on the internet and build your own. Some coops can include a slide-out cleaning tray where you can tip out chicken waste into a compost bin or build a coop with wheels and handles that allows you to walk it around the garden fertilising as you go! Check with a local farm to get your starter chooks – if you give them the care and attention they need, they could lay eggs for you for more than five years. Here are a few tips for keeping your chickens:
• Check local laws for keeping chickens on your property
• Scatter pine shavings on the floor of their new home
• Make sure your birds have constant water supply to give them a higher egg yield
• Feed chooks protein (such as crushed grains) to help them produce more eggs, calcium (eg. crushed bones) to harden their shells and grit to aid digestion
• A great occasional meal is vegetable scraps – so you get to feed them and recycle your leftovers
• Allow chickens a large area in the back yard to run around
• Protect your hens from predators with fencing and wiring
• If you’re hatching your eggs, they’ll take 21 days and should be incubated