I had a priority in mind from the first moment I set foot in our new back yard and saw that there was already a run and coop in place, CHOOKS! Having lived most of our lives in apartments and resorts or in rental accommodation our son Lawson hadn’t had the benefit of being able to grow up with a pet that didn’t live outside of a fish tank. He craved (as did I) to cuddle a pet, have it follow you around, greet you when you came home and generally give you that unconditional love that only pets can.
We had a friend who lived on acreage on the Sunshine Coast who introduced us all to the concept of chickens as pets. We spent ages at their place watching chooks roam the yard, hearing them cluck, chasing them off the deck and feeding them kitchen scraps. We even learnt how to pick them up and give them a cuddle. Breakfast was harvested from the nesting boxes each morning and then cooked up on the barbecue, with bacon and toast. The fluorescent yellow yolks standing proud from the chooks varied diet of human food, insects, grasses and weeds topped up with laying pellets to keep them healthy and egg shells strong.
I spoke to our son’s Drama teacher, who owned chooks on a suburban block about the pros and cons. She convinced me that it was better in the long run to raise chickens from “day old” chicks rather than take the cheats way out getting point of lay hens. I didn’t know if I was up to that challenge… but when she phoned just days later with the offer of baby chicks I just couldn’t resist.
I had asked her for six chicks, for just enough eggs every second day to fill a carton. However, she had a “good news – bad news” scenario. Apparently the incubation program at her friend’s school had eight chicks left and all those that weren’t taken by well meaning households would be euthanased! I’m sure that if the preschools knew that this was the fate of the baby chicks the children delighted in seeing hatched from eggs, they would think again about doing the program!
For the first few weeks we kept the chicks in a plastic box our lovely Drama teacher had leant us, with holes drilled in it for ventilation, a light bulb for warmth and newspaper, straw and food containers. This all sat inside the shower recess of our spare bathroom. As they got bigger they became messier and the smell became worse in that warm confined space. When it was apparent that there were going to be house guests for the following weekend and the second bathroom was going to be required I spent the weekend securing the old chook house inside the run to make sure it was snake and vermin proof. We plugged holes in roof and walls engaged my father in law’s help to make a sliding hatch that they could walk in and out of once they were bigger. We placed the plastic box on its side inside the chook house, barred the sliding door and walked away. I was silently hoping all night that they would be okay.
The chickens grew rapidly and it wasn’t long before we had them running around inside the pen during the day and just secured in their comfy box at night.
They spent the required time in the run to know that this was their home and then just a week after they had had free reign of the run, we opened the gates.
There’s nothing like a free range chook. We still sit for ages watching their antics as they clucked around us on the grass. It was very apparent that they had adopted both Lawson and I as their parents and we were both content to hold that role.