25 July 2015
I recently took a walk with my kids down the railway track that runs behind George Street in Hikurangi. What we noticed, nosing into backyards, was how many people had chickens. We had already joined this new urban trend, and we’re completely sold: chickens are awesome.
We got our three chicks from the Kamo Pet Shop for my daughter’s 10th birthday. They were given the lady-like names of Maurice, Rocky and Onkie-mo. After three months they were outside and laying everyday in the coop. We were eating eggs for breakfast, with stir-fried vegetables for lunch, and for dinner, mostly frittatas and quiches. They’re definitely fresher, even more so than free range eggs from the supermarket. The first thing we appreciated was how well they held together when poached.
But it’s not just those lovely packages of protein delivered daily that makes chickens awesome. There’s the chicken poo. I scoop it up from the convenient piles the make in the coop and put it in our compost bin. The kids are sometimes given the job of scooping chicken poo off the front lawn, but mostly it just washes into the soil with rain, fertilising my fruit and nut trees―like how nature intended.
It doesn’t stop there, however, because the chickens are doing a great job of keeping the edges along the fenceline clear, as well as generally being effective lawnmowers. They’re scratching about all day looking for insects and worms, and I’m guessing seeds, which means I don’t do as much weeding as I used too. I’ve read that they’ll scratch out moth larvae at the roots of fruit trees. I’m hoping this is true.
They’re fun to watch. One of the delights of being a chicken must be a dirt bath in the sun. Afterwards I’ve seen them lying down with their legs stretched out.
There’s something about the way they move around the lawn that’s predatory. Of course birds are descended from dinosaurs. If you’ve ever watched those BBC programmes on dinosaurs and you’ve seen a chicken run (surprisingly fast) then you’ll instantly see the connection to a pack of angry raptors. Those big legs get moving, like they’re cycling an invisible bike, and the head goes right forward for balance. It’s quite a transformation from your normal chicken pose.
The kids each have their favourites who submit to being cuddled. Onkie-mo is the most adventurous. She’s also the one who’s had “issues”, having gone broody a couple of times. The cure: solitary confinement away from the coop for 4 or 5 days.
While they fend for themselves over a roughly100 square metre area, we get chicken feed from the Ringrose Stockfood Factory, just up the road in Hikurangi. And they get leftovers: rice, cereal, stale bread, apple cores. Some people might be horrified, but we often put our plates and pans directly out onto the grass, they do a great pre-rinse.
There’s enough room on your average house section for a few chickens. It seems to me they’re an essential component in trying to live sustainably and taking responsibility for producing more of our own food. A few generations ago in New Zealand many families with land would have had chickens, going by the number of them in backyards in Hikurangi, that may well be the case again.