As part of a permaculture system, having chooks is a fantastic way to go. They supply you with eggs, help get rid of food scraps which may otherwise simply go in the bin, and produce manure which (when allowed to age) is fantastic to use on your garden to feed your plants!
Keeping chooks is relatively easy. Do check with your Council, as some have regulations on how many birds you can keep, and proximity to neighbours, etc. Chooks need somewhere to keep warm and dry and safe at night, access to fresh water, and ideally dirt to scratch in.
If you can plan it, allow your birds access to your garden every now and again. Some kind of temporary fence is a good idea to keep them out of areas you DON”T want them to disturb. And letting chooks have fun IN your garden between planting seasons is worthwhile – they help get rid of insect pests, will eat weeds and help loosen the soil.
It is a good idea to plant out extra herbs and greens that are particularly tasty or beneficial to your chooks. You can use these to supplement their feed by picking leaves/branches and tossing into the pen from time to time. General poultry tonics and laying stimulants include:- garlic, onion, chickweed, dandelion, fennel, wormwood, rue, cress, marigold, mint, vervain, comfrey, borage, thyme, marjoram, sage, nasturtium, mugwort, gotu kola and parsley.
Chickens generally enjoy green, leafy vegetables. Growing a few extra Silverbeet plants just for your girls is a great idea. They will also appreciate lettuce, beetroot, turnip and radish tops, warrigal greens (NZ Spinach), spring onion tops, broccoli and cauliflower leaves, kale, cabbage, and of course fresh winter grass weeds!
Many herbs are also insect repelling, so if these are grown next to the pen so chooks will brush against them this can be useful. Or by regularly trimming branches and tossing them into the pen so they are trodden on and scratched up to crush the leaves and release the scent. These insect repelling herbs include: Artemisia’s (such as southernwood, wormwood, mugwort), tansy and fennel, rosemary, catnip, feverfew, lavender and pennyroyal. Chooks may pick at these herbs but will only eat what they need.
For intestinal worms, many herbs can be fed to chooks on a regular basis, including nasturtium, nettle (which should be cooked and added to mash), garlic (which can be added to mash or drinking water – ideally at around the time of the full moon every month)
Another recommended treatment is once a month leaves such as horseradish, wormwood, tansy, elder, santolina, rue, hyssop, can be mixed with onions, garlic, grated carrots, mustard and pumpkin seeds and then added to feed at a rate of about 20%.
Enjoy your chooks (they are very entertaining!), keep them healthy and enjoy the wonderful benefit of fresh eggs!