sabato 19 novembre 2011

Get your own supply of eggs

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FLUFFY LOVE: Estelle Johnston, 6, holds one of John Earney's chickens.

If you're still stumped on the chicken or the egg question, opt for both.

Get some chooks and you'll have fresh eggs on hand for much of the year, plus you'll have some easy-to- please gardeners.

One of those spreading the word on these birds is John Earney from Avonstour Heritage Organic Farm in east Taranaki.

"I think everyone should have a few chickens and a pig, but you aren't allowed pigs in town," John says.

He and partner Ruth Healey specialise in old-fashioned chickens, including Barnevelder, Orpington, Leghorn and Chinese silkies, which live longer than more modern breeds.

"They get rid of scraps and are good for children," he says. "They show them the reality of life because children today don't know where eggs and milk come from."

Just to be clear here, John isn't saying chickens provide milk - he's knows that white liquid comes from goats, oh yes, and cows.

At the Farmers' Market Taranaki in New Plymouth on Sunday mornings, John is there with his organic meat and a cage filled with chickens.

As he chats, people, especially kids, stop to cluck over the black, brown and white birds.

One little girl even gets to cradle a Chinese silkie, which sits quietly in her arms.

"How many kids would have picked up a chicken like that girl?" John asks.

He's brought the birds in for people who've ordered them.

Anne and Robbie O'Keefe from Huirangi, near Waitara, arrive to pick up a few to add to their poultry family of three.

"The grandkids love getting the eggs," Anne says.

The couple have an orchard, so the chickens get to roam under the fruit trees.

"They have got free range and a nice big paddock to run around and we've got a neat little house for them to go into at night," Anne says.

Robbie adds: "Their eggs taste so much better too."

Anne says the birds are well fed and even get silverbeet.

"We've got a great big area of raised gardens and we grow all our own veges. It's the good life at home at the moment," she says.

John says chickens mostly look after themselves, but they do need to be fed regularly, at least once a day and sometimes twice.

To thrive, they need a good balance of protein, so owners may have to buy pellets or wheat to feed them. "It's a good job for the children - go and feed the chickens," he says. "Or let them free range and they will eat worms and grubs that are free. Top that up with your house scraps."

The biggest concerns for chooks are predators, such as the neighbour's dog or cat, or stoats. "Your own dogs and cats don't generally attack their own - they know not too," John says.

The chooks will need a safe place to roost at night time. Their house should be kept clean and secure from enemies.

"It's the same as everything - the more you put in, the more you get out."

In this case, that's eggs.

If people want to have fertile eggs to get chicks, they need to have a rooster. That's not a great option in town because neighbours are likely to complain about the male bird's early-morning cockadoodling.

"Silkies are the best breeders of anything," John says. "They're the best mothers, best broodies, quiet and easy to handle. You can put anything under a silkie."

John says you can tell when chickens have gone broody and want their eggs to hatch. "They sit on the nest and won't get off and they cluck, cluck, cluck; hence the term clucky."

Elise and Jeremy Smith say their black bantam-australorp- cross got broody and is now a new mother - to ducklings.

"The black chicken has been laying her eggs in with the ducks, so she's convinced they are hers," Elise says.

The unnamed chicken and mother duck are sharing parenting duties and it's the chook who's most protective of the 13 yellow babies.

"She did pull feathers out of the red hens today," Elise says.

On cue, black hen ruffles her feathers and runs at a fellow chook that gets too close to the ducklings. Tail feathers fly off and float to the ground of the large bird enclosure.

The antics of the surrogate mother make for riveting watching as she herds "her" young and scatters rivals.

"With 13 ducklings there's lots of random movement, like a screensaver," Jeremy says.

Luckily, the black chook isn't too protective of her new flock. "I was worried she was going to stop them getting in the pond, but she just marched up and down the side of the pond, just watching them," Elise says.

At night, the mother duck, black hen and ducklings sleep together. Becoming a mum has helped the hen settle down.

"She was an escape artist and we would see her running across the driveway like a roadrunner."

The couple's black poodle, Snoop, found her nesting in a stand of bamboo by the house.

Elise puts the hen's antics down to her upbringing. "Her mum used to live in the grapefruit tree."

To get chickens to roost in the right place, it's important to lock them up in their shed or coop for a few nights and feed them.

Elise also has advice on caring for chickens and ducks: "Get your father to feed them and look after them."

Her dad, John Gledhill, lives next door and he visits the birds every morning to feed and check on them.

Out at Avonstour, John's chickens are part of the eco- system of the orderly organic farm. The bantams especially, help with parasite control. They peck around the paddocks after the stock has been there and eat the parasite larvae.

Another use for chickens is as a chook tractor, which is part of permaculture practice.

To do this you make a moveable chicken dome or cage that fits over a garden bed, complete with a roost and the ability to cover it up or let in light depending on the weather or time of year.

When a garden has finished producing or you want to dig a new bed, simply put the chook tractor in place and let the chickens do the hard work.

Not only will they clean up the garden, they will also add their own manure to it.

But for many people the best thing about having chooks is the eggs.

When you get chickens they will go off laying for a few days or up to a couple of weeks until they settle into their new home.

John says the wait will be worth it and he highly recommends hooking up with chooks. "For me it's an inroad to self-sufficiency for people. It's just a little thing."

But it's a start.


- Taranaki Daily News

Orignal From: Get your own supply of eggs

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