Sustainable Darebin and chickens

The Darebin Backyard Harvest Festival is on every November. It’s a series of open gardens and workshops all about sustainable urban gardening. The events are all free for Darebin residents. I went to a permaculture workshop a few weeks ago, and a backyard chickens one yesterday, with Justin of ChookChat, who lives just a few blocks away from us. It was an excellent event – informative and entertaining. I am now even more determined to get chickens! My dad found an old broken coop on the curbside, and is restoring it for me. Recycled! Sustainable! Chicking! 

The battery rescue chickens are ISA Browns – a breed developed to lay a lot in their first two years, and not much after that. Heritage breeds lay less eggs per week, but will lay for many more years. So I think I might get a mix – two rescue girls and one or two heritage. Hopefully they will all get along – I hear that introducing new birds to a flock can be quite stressful!

One of the biggest dangers for urban chickens is foxes. The fox population in Melbourne is huge – much bigger than in the country. Wherever you are in Melbourne, you are never more than 600m from a fox. Some estimates say there are up to 10 foxes per square kilometre. We will have to do some serious fox-proofing. And hopefully Dame Maggie will help protect the flock. Not chase them. I’ve been taking her to Ceres a lot to get her used to being around chickens. She loves watching them.

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Rescuing chickens

The studio construction is poised to start – just awaiting a builder’s permit which of course was delayed by some entirely unnecessary administrivia. In the meantime, I have been thinking a lot about chickens.

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My parents’s next door neighbour, Sabine, recently adopted three battery rescue chickens. She has a tiny little courtyard of a garden in Clifton Hill, but manages to cultivate the most amazing range of fruit and vegetables, mostly in pots. She also has a beehive. And now, three chickens.

Battery chickens are culled when they are 12 months old, as their laying productivity starts to drop afterwards (not by much, they still usually have four or five steady laying years left in them… or more). They are ground up and sold for pet food or fertiliser.

But $5 can get you one of these chickens yourself (the $5 goes mostly to the running costs for the rescue people, plus worming and vaccinations for the chickens). At first, the chickens look pretty sorry and naked. In the battery cages, the chickens pull out each other’s feathers (due to overcrowding and boredom). Their beaks are clipped. They don’t know how to walk around (their cages are all angled so the poo rolls away) or scratch, or eat food scraps. They have never been outside.

Within days, Sabine’s chickens were scratching around. They learned to go into their coop at night. They started laying the first week she got them. Their feathers are starting to grow back. They are the most docile, relaxed, happy chickens I’ve ever seen.

There is some debate about rehoming ex-battery chickens. Some say that by rehoming them, we’re just allowing the cycle of cruelty to continue. But battery farmers don’t make their money from selling 1 year old chickens. They make their money from selling battery farmed eggs. So the best way to combat that industry is to produce your own eggs, and give the excess to friends. And isn’t using their chickens to do it kind of awesomely ironic?photo 2

I want some.