Scratch around with backyard bantams
“Chooks have personalities,” says poultry enthusiast Debra Maffescioni. “In a group, there’ll be a shy chook and there’ll be one that runs straight up to you. They’re sensational pets.”
Conveniently, they also produce food – if you treat them right, you’ll get fresh, organic, free-range eggs. And if you’re a gardener, chicken poo is free fertiliser.
Ms Maffescioni’s business, Book A Chook, supplies (either for hire or purchase) everything you need to keep hens. She recommends that city dwellers keep smaller bantam chickens, rather than full size birds, which need more space and can be destructive. Most bantams lay an egg every second day (weighing about 45 grams). They’re easy to care for, even if you’ve got other pets. “Cats don’t bother chooks,” Ms Maffescioni says, “and most dogs can be trained to accept them. Visiting dogs are the biggest threat.”
Check with your local council – each one has different rules. Nearly all will let you keep at least a few chooks without a permit. Most don’t allow roosters, but be sure to find out. “Keeping a rooster is good for the hens,” Ms Maffescioni says. “If you can do it, I’d highly recommend you do.”
Pure breed bantams cost between $25 and $40. September is hatching time, but hens are in demand, so it’s a good idea to put your request in early. Ask Poultry Stud Breeders and Exhibitors Victoria for a list of local poultry clubs and reputable breeders.
Ms Maffescioni estimates that it costs about 20 cents per day to feed a fowl. Serve up table scraps and chook pellets or seed mix, available from pet shops and stockfeed suppliers.
Bantams don’t need a lot of space – so long as you provide dirt for dust bathing, even an inner city courtyard will be enough room for two. They’re social animals, so you need to keep more than one. Chooks need shade, shelter and water. The coop must be fox-proof, and have a roost for sleeping and a nesting box for laying.