Keeping Chickens

Buff sussex henThe benefits
Keeping chickens is rewarding in so many ways. With healthy, well feed chickens come the supply of fresh delicious eggs, enriched compost for the garden, minimized kitchen scraps and the bug population is kept under control. Chooks can scratch and turn over your garden, aerate the soil and help weed under your trees. They can teach your kids about the wonderful cycles of life...broody hens, hatching eggs, fluffy chicks....what an educational experience for our next generation. Chickens make ideal pets for kids and adults alike. Their quirky personalities can be a winner with children. They teach kids about sharing, routine and resposibility.

Chickens and the law
Each council has its own rules and regulations regarding the keeping of chickens in urban areas so check before buying. Most councils ban roosters because of the likelihood of offensive noise but they can also limit the number of hens kept. Check if your property has a convenant as this could exclude the keeping of poultry. Be a good neighbour and check before buying a coop and getting set up with chickens.

Choosing a breed
Here in NZ the choice is either the reliable commercially bred hybrids (hyline brown or shaver brown) or the lovely rare heritage breeds of poultry. The heritage breeds are becoming very popular these days as a backyard layer offering good laying ability alongside decorative looks. If you are looking for chickens with diversity in personality, plumage, egg colour and laying seasons then have a look at the beautiful heritage breeds. Please see our list of the heritage breeds we keep or talk with us if you would some advice on the best breed to suit your requirements. We almost always have brown shavers pullets available if looking for a good basic layer. We love our poutry and will be happy to assist.

Hatching eggs, chicks or pullets?
Healthy happy chooks can live for anything up to 15 years depending on the breed. Pullet is the term used to describe a young female chicken from around 6 to 8 weeks old up till 12 months of age. Then she is called a hen. A young male is called a cockerel up till 12 months of age then it becomes a rooster (cock). When looking to purchase heritage poultry it is best to purchase birds from a reputable breeder. The season runs from early spring (start of the breeding season) through to late autumn. Spring will be the best time to purchase chicks or young birds especially if you would like them to be laying in february/march. Young pullets around 12 to 16 weeks of age is a good age to introduce birds to their new home and grow them on till they start to lay. Birds can also be purchased at POL (point of lay) which means that they are just starting to lay eggs. In the heritage breeds these birds will be around 24 to 32 weeks of age. In the commercial hybrids POL is is around 20 to 24 weeks. Hatching eggs is another fun and education way to go. These can be purchased from a reputable breeder and be couriered anywhere in NZ. Fertile eggs are collected from the nests of breeding pens where there is a rooster running with hens. Eggs used for hatching need to be handled and stored correctly so purchasing them from a recognised breeder makes a big difference. All you will require to hatch them (it takes 21 days) is a dedicated broody hen or a reliable incubator. This is the most economical way to start your flock and most enjoyable. When the chicks hatch you will get both cockerels and pullets. Once your chicks are sexed around 6 to 12 weeks the males can be given away, humanely dispatched or grown on for a roast. Most of the dual purpose heavy breeds make great table birds. So if you have the facilities and live rural fattening the cockerels till 6 months of age will provide your family with a good old fashioned chicken dinner – full of flavour and goodness! The remaining young pullets can then be grown on to become the layers in your backyard. Another option is purchasing day old chicks. Chicks will need the correct care as they grow: heat source, high protein crumble, fresh water etc. Most heritage day old chicks cannot be sexed so they are sold unsexed up to a week in age. This is a good way to go if you do not have the means to hatch eggs.

How soon do you want eggs?
When do you want your chooks to start laying as this will dictate what age is the best age to buy your chickens. Also it is a good idea to talk to a breeder and see what availability is like in the breeds that interest you. Keeping chickens takes some forward planning so best to get set up with all the essentials before you bring the chooks home. Most important is the chicken coop or hen house plus you will need drinkers, feeders, shavings and feed.