The power of backyard chooks

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Alyson Hill... “For a productive pet, you just can’t go past chickens!”

EVER thought about having chickens, but worried it would be too hard in a suburban backyard? Worried about the law, smells, noise, rodents? Alyson Hill has the answers.

The Canberra-born author of the book “Chooks in the City” says there is a lot of misinformation about keeping chooks and it’s surprisingly easy for people living in the city.

And while more people seem to be getting back to nature by growing their own food and keeping chooks, she insists it’s not a trend.

“Years ago, lots of people had chickens, but then we got busy and both adults in the house were working full time so it became less common,” she says.

“In a life that speeds along faster and faster, it seems that people are starting to want to put the brakes on. They are interested in plants and soil and compost and gardens. By having chickens you can feel like you are doing your bit for the earth, not least because it makes you stop and think.

“Now we have a different mindset about it and we are connecting with the environment and our food.”
Not that Alyson’s chickens are food.

“I love to eat chicken, but I just can’t do it with my own. I name all my chooks so they become like part of the family,” she says.
There are a few reasons why keeping chooks is becoming popular again, not least of which is the fresh eggs.

“My children love eggs and my daughter is really into baking at the moment, so it’s great to have plenty of eggs on hand for when she’s experimenting,” Alyson says.

“Chooks are great for the garden and their poo is great. They are the most brilliant garbage disposals and there is barely a need for a compost bin because they just take all those scraps and turn it into fertiliser for the garden.

“For a productive pet, you just can’t go past chickens!”

Alyson has had chickens for the past 10 years at her home in Murrumbateman and previously in Amaroo.

She says a common concern for people contemplating keeping chooks is that they will attract rodents.
“If you keep the chook feed in rodent-proof containers and don’t put out any more feed than they can eat, then rodents aren’t a problem.”

She says there are no laws in Canberra against keeping roosters, but it’s not necessary.
“If a neighbour complains about a noisy rooster then it will be investigated, so the rules are similar to dogs in that sense. So you can have a rooster, but I can’t think of a reason why you need one,” she says.

“You can buy fertilised eggs very easily from places like allclassifieds.com.au.”
Alyson has also found that chook lovers tend to gravitate towards one another.

“You can always borrow a rooster from someone to service the hens,” she says.

Her top tip for chicken keeping in Canberra is to be sensible about the hen house.

“There are a surprising number of foxes in Canberra, so be careful about housing at night” she says.

Alyson will discuss the various breeds and their selection, the pros and cons of roosters, housing requirements, predators, breeding, feeding and general care at an event called “Chooks in the City” next month.

People contemplating introducing chooks into their backyard, can speak to Alyson and Teresa Zarlenga, who has chooks in her garden in Red Hill.

People can meet these productive pets, explore their abode and gain knowledge from Alyson’s extensive experience.

Teresa’s garden has been created using a wealth of recycled materials and plants. The garden is home to her “girls” who help her with recycling, composting and turning of the beds and provide her with hours of enjoyment as she watches their antics.

Morning tea featuring an array of recipes featuring eggs will be served.

“Chooks in the City”, Saturday, March 17, 9.30am-noon at Red Hill.
Bookings are essential at www.opengarden.org.au or (03) 5568 1138. Tickets are $60 and include morning tea.

Alyson’s book “Chooks in the City” is available from Smiths Bookshop, Paperchain Bookstore , Ginninderra Press , Book Passion (at Dickson shops and the Belconnen Markets), Little Dog Bookshop in Yass and the ACT Writers’ Centre.

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