Fat hens pecking around the garden, a colourful rooster crowing, lovely fresh eggs. This is what having your first chooks can be like, but according to LLS district vet Lou Baskind, it's also important to remember other realities about chooks: diseases, expenses and poop. Lots of it.
Before buying your first hens, Lou says it's important to consider what you want chooks for. "You might want chooks for eggs for home, to sell eggs, for meat, as pets or even turning over the garden," she said. "Make sure the breed you choose matches what you want. For example, commercial breeds like Hylines or Isa Browns lay lots of eggs, but they have a shorter laying career and are more prone to problems."
Lou said it was a good idea to buy the number of chooks you want at the beginning. "It's just better socially and also for disease," she said. "But if you do get more chooks, be sure to quarantine them. Three to five hens is a good balance socially. Three hens can lay one-and-a-half dozen eggs a week."
Lou said when choosing a yard area for the chooks, it was important to remember they would pull up the grass and vegetation, and it could become muddy. "Damp soil is bad for diseases, so when choosing an area, you might need drainage or gravel or straw to keep it dry."
Their housing needs to be comfortable with protection from heat and cold, and the perches need to be wide and flat instead of round so the chooks can roost on them.
And protection is crucial. "Every day you don't have a fox attack is just one day closer to getting one," she said. "The yard needs to be absolutely fox-proof, because foxes jump, climb and dig."
Lou said nutrition was important. "Good nutrition is the difference between chooks surviving and thriving," she said. "They need clean water, and when buying feed, make sure it has around 16 per cent protein for layers. Don't just rely on the name and branding. Chooks might also need access to extra calcium, such as oyster shells or calcium granules."
And then, there's poop. "The poop holds pathogens and worm eggs," she said. "The amount of poo can build up quite quickly."
Lou said keep an eye out for diseases, particularly avian influenza and Newcastle disease. "Try to stop wild birds from congregating by using netting and feeders they can't access," she said.