Sustainable Organic Gardening

Reasons to keep chickens

Bantam hen and chicks

What have chickens ever done for us? Let’s see – for a start, they produce eggs and fertiliser, control pests, eliminate weeds and take care of kitchen scraps. But for me, they are just great little creatures to have around and they make me feel more connected to the whole cycle of the garden.

It’s a very pleasant, gentle pastime (until they get into the vege bed!) to watch a couple of dozen birds off on individual adventures – scratching, dust-bathing, sun-baking, play-fighting, chasing each other and leaping for fruit. All you have to do is provide them with a safe, comfortable place to live, clean water and food.

To expand on that a little – the pen should be snake, dog, fox and hawk proof. We have a large aviary on a concrete slab; that part contains the perches, laying boxes (lawnmower catchers are ideal), water and grain dispensers. The yard attached is fully enclosed by wire mesh, including the top (this is a must, otherwise you’ll see crows flying off with eggs in their beaks). The chooks are fed grain, kitchen scraps and water each morning, then, weather permitting, they get to free-range in the afternoon. They come in to the pen as the sun goes down; they know where home is and there’s no need to call them in.

We’ve kept Modern English Game bantams for longer than 15 years now. Despite somewhat sporadic egg production and a tendency to take breeding way too seriously, there is much to recommend in this breed. They are gentle – the roosters are fierce defenders of their flocks but don’t attack humans. They are excellent mothers – I have seen a hen standing on a rock, picking berries to pass on to a chook below her who in turn fed them to the chicks! Their flock instinct kicks in at seemingly random times when most of the chooks will rise up in a squawking mob and fly ten metres or so for what’s probably a very good reason. They’re also quite friendly – we had one lot who liked to fly up and perch on people’s shoulders. Guests usually enjoyed it once they got over the initial shock.

The breed has a real jungle bird look – not cute and fluffy at all – and kids have dubbed them “dinosaur chooks” for their raptor-like shape. Their eggs are small – about half the weight of an average chook egg and with a lovely flavour. They’re exactly the right size for an egg wash over a pie and hard-boiled bantam eggs look great on a snack plate or in a salad.

Bantam hens with comfrey

Bantam rooster

Bantam hen

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5 Responses to “Reasons to keep chickens”

  • Linda Wood says:

    I have 5 chooks – a light sussex (my contralto singer), a silver sussex (the quietest), a speckled sussex, a wyandotte (by far the prettiest plumage) and ‘Blondie’, the last of my original 5 isa browns. Blondie is the most tame – pecking around right under my shovel when I’m digging in the garden. She knows when a fresh feast is on the way!

    The pure breeds definitely don’t lay as faithfully as the Isa, but then the vet tells me they are less prone to disease. And I was rather devastated by the loss of 4 birds in an 18 month period. They picked up a nasty worm (hairworm) from exposure to the local crested pigeon poo. Well, that was what we found in the last sick chook’s poo.

    I’ve been very careful with diet, worming & supplements since then – but they’re rather costly. So I’m going to give the chook block a try.

    • Chook Whisperer says:

      Hi Linda, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the chook block – it took our bantams a while to get stuck into it but now their egg yolks have gone several shades more gloriously orange!

  • Kerri says:

    So lovely to read your post about MGBs. We have kept them for about 2 years now and love watching their antics. Also had a youngster who used to fly up onto us. Wish we could keep roosters but live in suburban Brisbane so that is not an option. Do you sell yours? They seem hard to track down. Really a pity that they are not more widely known as they make the perfect backyard chook.

    • Chook Whisperer says:

      Hi Kerri,
      Yes, I reckon this breed is the most personable I’ve encountered. Every now and again our flock has a population blowout – I’ll post news when that happens, so watch this space for available MEGs!

  • Michael says:

    Great article. I have some other reasons to keep chickens at my website if anybody’s interested.

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