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The Maitland Mercury
 
29 April 2020 | The Maitland Mercury

How the humble backyard chook is suddenly in huge demand

Who'd have thought it? The humble chook is suddenly in huge demand.

While loads of people in lockdown are buying pets to keep them company, many are picking pets that produce breakfast right in their own backyards.

Yep, chook sales have spiked since the COVID-19 pandemic hit as families want a fresh supply of free-range eggs and to be more self-sufficient.

So, first things first. No, you don't need a rooster for the hens to lay (your neighbours can now heave a sigh of relief) but you do need to check with your local council as some have limits on the number of chickens allowed and proximity to neighbours.

Once that's done it's time to choose your feathered friends. There are hundreds of chook breeds out there but some of the most common hens for home owners would have to be Isa Browns and Silkies.

But what's that I hear you say? Which breed is top of the laying pecking order? Some say that accolade goes to Rhode Island Reds as they're renowned for being great layers.

Having a mixed flock with a few different breeds is often recommended, but if you like a regular supply of eggs, you won't go wrong with Rhode Island Reds or Australorps.

We went to Lisa Margan, owner of the hatted Margan Restaurant at Broke, for some inside tips on all things chooks.

She has a flock of nearly 30 chickens that used to provide eggs for dishes on the menu, but now the restaurant is temporarily closed she's selling them in veggie boxes with fresh organic produce from the one-acre kitchen garden for pickup each Saturday.

"We've had several breeds over the years and now mainly have Isa Browns and Barter Browns," Lisa says. "The Barter Brown was originally bred by Sydney chicken breeders Barter and Sons and crosses the White Leghorn with the Rhode Island Red. It's now bred true and is a popular chicken for durability and egg production.

"We change our roosters about every year or so and our current one is a Wyandotte which has feathers in a striking black and white pattern. He is very fancy.

"We also usually have the white Leghorns and glossy black Australorps, and often have a few bantams for their cute appearance and friendly natures.

"Our flock are free range by day and tucked away safely in their hen house at night as we have lots of predators that target our chickens - foxes, quolls and one night someone actually stole the lot! - so we've added a padlock to the coop. It's always a major heartbreak to lose them as they have such personalities."

WHERE TO BUY CHICKENS LOCALLY

Lisa's chickens are for egg production only, not meat, and suggests you research local reputable breeders in your area if you plan to invest in a few chickens.

"Most breeders will freight chickens, so we buy from breeders who have the breeds we want," Lisa says. "Nulkaba Hatchery is closed but they still supply hens for laying. One tip for newbies is that it's more economical to buy younger hens and wait a couple of months for them to settle in and mature and then start laying."

Chickens start laying eggs when they're around 16-18 weeks old and can lay between 250-300 eggs in their first year.

"On average chickens will lay one egg per day in peak season, which is the warmer months. They don't lay much over winter when they start to moult. This is when they get fresh feathers and built up nutrients for when they start to lay again, " she explains.

You need a safe and sturdy chicken pen, which you can buy or build in a permanent position, or opt for a chicken tractor, a coop on wheels that you can move around the garden. Plus, straw for their nesting box, layer pellets, grain and kitchen scraps to feed them and fresh water daily.

Backyard chickens are in huge demand but you can check out The Rare Poultry Breeders Association's website, which has a list of breeders. Here are a few local suppliers.

POULTRY ONLINE 0448 737 952

Nulkaba Hatchery is closed but owner Jeffrey Moth is still supplying laying chicks and point of lay pullets (that's poultry farmer speak for a young hen that is about to lay their first egg) by delivery only through his Poultry Online business. Minimum quantities apply. Day old chicks cost $6.50 and starter pullets are $21.50. Courier cost is $19. If you want to get a group of people together to put in an order that's fine but one person needs to coordinate the order and delivery is to that person only.

CACKLEBERRY GRAINS @ COORANBONG 4977 2407

Cackleberry doesn't have any point of lay pullets left but is selling 13-month-old Hyline Browns for $15 each until May 17. The chooks are already laying and they say they will lay daily for at least the next six months and then will drop off to four to five eggs a week. You must contact them to order and organise pickup.

THE POULTRY PALACE @ ELLALONG 0412 588 813

This small poultry based hobby farm located in Ellalong has 12-month-old Isa Browns for sale from $20. The hens are currently laying and are fully vaccinated and wormed.

JD'S BACKYARD HENS @ MEDOWIE 0428 498 298

Julia Davies has 10 types of heritage breeds, including Pekin bantams, Polish Frizzles and Australorps, but they're off the lay at the moment. She also sells point of lay Isa Browns for $26.50, which she doesn't release until they're 16 weeks of age. They won't be available until June, but you can put your name on the waiting list.

FARMER JESS @ BRANXTON 0457 374 436

Farmer Jess from Hunter Valley Poultry has various purebreed chickens including Silkies, Wyandottes, Pekin Bantams and Hamburgs. She supplies laying pullets from day one to point of lay. She's sold out but is hoping to get some young point of lay Australorps - an Aussie-bred laying hen - in May, which she'll be selling for $40 each. Contact her to go on the waiting list.

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