The older generations will remember when the suburbs were awakened with the crowing rooster at dawn, and the milk man delivered the milk each day in glass bottles exchanged on the door step. There was a time everyone had laying hens in the back yard and collected fresh eggs for breakfast. While we probably don’t miss the crowing rooster at 5am, the enjoyment of collecting your own fresh eggs and cooking them for breakfast is a simple pleasure few are familiar with these days.
It may be that the traditional back yard is getting smaller and smaller, but you may be surprised how little space you need for a few hens and how easy they are to keep. They actually make great pets and will quickly become a productive part of the family.
We decided to show potential backyard layer farmers how easy it is to have the freshest, tastiest eggs you will ever eat, right from the backyard.
So what do you need and how do you get started? Well, you will need chooks, a chook pen and the best feed around.
Chooks you can usually find at your local produce store. They are sold as day old chicks if you are keen to start from scratch and patient enough to watch them grow for about 18 weeks to point of lay pullets, which means they are ready to start laying . Day old chicks do take some special care and need to be kept warm until they are able to regulate their body temperature. If you have less time and patience you can take a short cut and buy point of lay pullets that will start laying in just a week or two.
A chook pen can be bought at a local hardware store as a flat pack (lots of fun putting them together) or if you are handy, a few sheets of ply, some timber framing and wire netting and anything from a simple chook box to the Taj Mahal is possible. Chook pens can be a permanent structure or mobile. Either way it is great to let the chooks out in the afternoon for a free range and they will appreciate the chance to express their natural instincts to scratch and forage for grubs and insects, before returning to roost in the security of their pen.
Chook feed is what we do. It is readily available from your local produce store. We encourage customers to buy local feed were possible. Advanced Rural is based on the Atherton Tablelands in Tolga, and service all of North Queensland. We make about 40,000 tonnes of chicken feed a year, so we know a thing or two about feeding chooks.
If you are buying day old chickens, we have a medicated Chick Starter Crumble to ensure the baby chicks get away to a healthy start in life and grow well. By about 8 weeks of age they can be changed to a medication free Pullet Grower Crumble that will ensure they develop well into healthy point of lay pullets, ready to start laying by about 18 to 20 weeks of age.
When the first eggs are laid the feed must be changed to a high calcium layer feed. It is very important that layer feed is fed to laying chooks and pullet feed is fed to non-laying chooks. Feeding young growing birds on a layer feed will upset their metabolic development and can cause permanent damage to their ability to metabolise the high calcium levels needed for egg shell production. When they start to lay eggs their calcium requirements increase significantly and their reserves will quickly be depleted if a high calcium layer feed is not provided.
So what does it cost to enjoy your own fresh eggs?
To feed a premium product like our new Advanced Premium Layer Crumble will cost about $50 per hen per year. You can expect a high genetics bird such as a Lohmann or Hyline to cost about $25 to buy at point of lay and they should lay about 320 eggs in the first year of lay. This equates to about $2.80 per dozen. Pretty good value for free range eggs from your backyard. After about 12 months the chooks will continue to lay eggs but the older the birds get the less eggs you should expect and eventually you will need to replace them.
So even if you have no experience with keeping chooks, it really is pretty simple and very rewarding. Chooks are cheap pets that pay their own way and reward you with a delicious healthy breakfast. They really do have a lot of character and you will be surprised at how entertaining they can be running around your back yard.