Why Heritage Breeds
Heritage or traditional breed chickens have been around for hundreds of years. They are purebred birds that have stood the test of time and adapted to their environment. These birds tend to be more foregiving when it comes to novice chicken keepers as they can survive with some basic care. In their day these birds were considered the champion egg layers but since cross-breeding and hybridisation they are no longer the super egg layers, this title belongs to cross-bred birds. Heritage breeds lay eggs for up to 7 years, although the number of eggs might taper off. Hybrid birds on the other hand, only lay for about two to three years and then they stop laying. To preserve the heritage breeds it is important for backyard chicken keepers to continue to keep and breed these birds.
Caring For Your Chooks
Shelter: Chickens require shelter from the rain, sun, wind and predators. A good sturdy chicken coop, that foxes and other predators cannot burrow under is ideal. The coop should also have 1 or 2 laying boxes where chickens can lay their eggs. Laying boxes should be protected from direct sunlight and they prefer it to be a little dark. Put some hemp bedding or straw in the bottom of the laying box. Also if your coop is on a concrete base or simply on the ground, use an absorbent material such as straw, sugar cane mulch or hemp to put on the floor as this will absorb the droppings and keep the coop clean. Both the laying boxes and coop should be cleaned regularly and the straw taken out of the coop can be used in the garden for mulch and compost.
Food & Water: Chickens require access to fresh and clean water daily. This is particularly important in hot weather. Food should include vegetable scraps, a good seed mix or layer mash and where possible some bugs such as soldier fly larvae. If birds are free ranging they find bugs for themselves.
Companionship: Chickens are very social creatures so ensure you keep more than one and handle and talk to your birds regularly. Chickens are able to recognize up to 200 faces, so don’t think they don’t know when you are around.
Illness: Chickens can get ill, some things that can plague them are worms which gives them diarrhoea (dirty pants). The chicken will look ill, lose weight, have a poor appetite and drink more water than usual. The remedy for worms is feeding them comfrey leaves and garlic. Also scatter wormwood leaves all around the coop. Prevention would include feeding them oats weekly and putting garlic and cider vinegar in their water. Lice, fleas and mites can be prevented by keeping the coop clean and dusting their coop with diatomacious earth
Happy And Healthy Chooks
Healthy chickens have the following:
- Bright, full and waxy combs
- Bright, shiny and alert eyes
- Clean nostrils and no sound of laboured breathing.
- Heads and tails held high
- Breasts full and plump
- Abdomens firm
- Feathers smooth and clean
- Droppings firm, greyish brown with a white cap.
Happy chickens do the following:
- Scratch in the soil looking for bugs
- Take dust baths
- Maintain a pecking order
- Go broody and mate (if there is a rooster about)
Selecting The Right Bird
It is important to find the right bird for your situation and requirements. Below are some things to consider[ultimatetables 21 /]
Popular Heritage Breeds
- Rhode Island Red
- Wyandotte (various colours)
- Silkie (small breed, great for small gardens & children)
- New Hampshire
- Araucana (lays blue eggs)
Chickens & Permaculture
Permaculture is about understanding and encouraging a healthy relationship between plants, animals, humans and the environment and in so doing creating benefit for all. Chickens not only provide eggs and meat but produce manure for your garden and their scratching habit can be used in all sorts of ways like turning your compost pile. Chickens are also ferocious bug hunters so they make quick work of catching all the unwanted bugs in your orchard or veggie patch. From a social perspective they are a delight to have around teaching children and adults alike how to care and interact with birds and the environment in general.
YCG will be hosting a chicken workshop, to book click here