The chickens must go

00:41, Aug 31 2012

I've made a decision that's been killing me all week. I've decided the chicken wrangling game is not for me. At least, it's not for me while we live at Wild Estate. Had I a lifestyle block, or a large, flat, sunny section, then things would be different, but as they are, the chickens must go.

Why, you ask? Everyone who has chickens seems to love them, so what's my problem? I had such high hopes, and was so in love with them when they first arrived, just a year ago. But there are multiple reasons I am not cut out for chickens.

First, my section is sloping, and in winter 75 per cent of it is in the shade. That leaves only a small part of it that can be used for gardening, play area and chooks.

In my naivete, I believed all those articles about how amazing chicken tractors are, those portable coops that can be moved around garden beds to let the chickens scratch up the ground, dig up weeds and prepare the ground for you. What I found was that my girls were actually incredibly selective, and denuded the ground of grass, but managed to stir up dock seeds that have since flourished into full plants, and are so big now, I need to dig them out with a spade.

Also in winter, my ground gets boggy from rain, so the chooks' run has flooded several times. This is no good for chickens - they get ill. And mine have been ill or had some issue pretty much right from the get-go. They've had scaly leg mites, lice, red mites in the coop and colds. Yes, chickens get colds. They sneeze. None of it is pretty.

I tried using the deep bedding method to work more organic material into the soil to make it drain better, spent hours collecting leaves over the autumn for this task so I didn't have to spend money on straw, and hours shredding leaves and levelling off the ground, but still the run floods. I now buy straw, which I have to drive out to the Hutt for, and spend money on. Honestly, the eggs aren't that good.


A solution to this is to let the chooks out of their run whenever I can to let the ground rest, but that means they're free ranging around the section or fenced off in another part of the garden, and if I were home more often I might have time to shepherd them into another place I could manage that, but more often than not, it only happens on weekends. Soon free ranging will not be an option because the gardens will be full of spring seedlings I don't want them to massacre. Last year I let them free range while I went out somewhere in the afternoon, and when I came back, both my blueberry bushes had been mercilessly dug up. I've tried fencing off the garden too, in case you were wondering, and it doesn't work on my section where vegetables and fruit bushes grow all over the place. 

The other problem I have, as if this wasn't enough already, is that two of the three chooks don't even lay eggs. The two Light Sussex promenade about the place like queens, but do bugger all. One of them starting laying about a month ago, then stopped, and I don't know why. It's not for lack of good food; they get pellets, I get them leftover greens from the vege market and grow silverbeet and spinach for them, I sprout wheat for them, they are given scraps from at least three households. I check them constantly for parasites and illness, and treat whatever's happening straight away. At the moment, the girls are all in good health, fingers crossed. Ginger, the energetic Shaver, is as reliable as the French rail system - she lays every morning at the same time. She's amazing and funny and spirited, and this is why the decision has been killing me - we all adore Ginger.

So the chooks are going somewhere else. I am putting a lot of my failure with the chooks down to my lack of love for it. I'm sure the next family Lemmy, McNulty and Ginger live with will have many eggs, no mites and lots of fun.

Do you have chickens? What have your experiences been?

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