Animals in Permaculture, Food & Seasonal eating, Permaculture principles and ethics, Waste reduction & re-use

How to Create a Good Home for Backyard Chickens (The Basics)

You've decided to get chooks for the backyard, and you're ready for all the good stuff your new girls will have to offer.

Chickens are wonderful multifunctional additions to any permaculture system. They convert food scraps into nutritious eggs, produce garden fertiliser & assist with insect pest control. They are also friendly, quirky creatures that will make a great social addition to your home.

But before you bring your new chooks home, it's essential that you have safe and adequate housing ready for them.

No matter what design you decide on for your chook 'zone', here is a basic checklist to get you started.

1. Is The Enough Space?

  • If you are keeping your chickens within a limited run, a good rule of thumb is to allocate about 1.5m2 interior coop space for 3 chickens, and at least double that in yard and run space.

2. Is It Predator Proof?

Max the Heeler x Kelpie demonstrating the essential need for your chicken yard to be fox, dog & cat proof. This chicken house and yard was made from a mix of new and recycled materials.
  • To make the flooring of your chicken 'zone' predator proof, you can install a large mesh flooring. Using large mesh is important because it allows the chickens to still scratch the dirt beneath- important for chicken self expression!
  • Alternatively, you can dig chicken wire at the bottom of the coop fence at least 50cm into the ground- this stops digging foxes from gaining access.
  • Yard walls also need to be high enough, about 1.8 meters will suffice.

3. Is Clean Food and Water Accessible at All Times?

  • A reliable, fresh water supply is critical to mainintain the health of your flock.
  • A grown hen will drink about 500mL water daily, and potentially double that in warm weather.
  • For a chicken 'waterer' to be adequate- it needs to be sturdy enough that it is not easily tipped over by chickens, or can have dirt or dust raked into it.
Hanging poultry waterers can be advatageous over other options as they cannot be tipped over or have dirt or dust scratched into it.
  • Chickens need access to a high protein feed (usually pellets) to supplement kitchen scraps and whatever food they find for themselves.
  • Treadle feeders that regulate the release of pellets are a great option to consider.
Treadle Feeders, such as the commercially available 'Grandpa Feeder' are a great option because they reduce pellet wastage and the attratction of rodents.

4. Does The House Have a Perch?

Perch material ideas include old broom handles or smoothed off rounded logs.
  • Through their evoluntionary survival traits, chickens prefer to sleep perched high on a roost.
  • To provide your chickens with the fundamental basics of a good home, you must provide them with a perch.
  • Perches should be at least 30cm off the ground, and allow 30cm space per bird. A perch diameter of 40-50mm is ideal.
  • While keeping your chickens happy & healthy, roosting helps to keep the chook house clean. Chooks do at least half of their poo at night, so having their perch situated above some kind of manure collection container or system helps to keep the house clean.

5. Is There A Sheltered, Comfortable and Well Ventilated Space in the Chook House for Egg Laying?

  • The chicken house requires laying boxes filled with comfortable and insulating nesting materials (such as straw mulch, shredded paper or highly scented pruned herbs (e.g. rosemary or wormwood- the addition of scented herbs has the adidtional benefit of detering mites!).
  • A good rule-of-thumb is to have one laying box for every 3-4 chickens.
  • Keep in mind that the nesting material will need to be changed regularly as they will be with hen droppings. Not very problematic considering it makes such a great addition to the compost.

4. Is it easily accessible for you?

  • Consider that you will need to easily access the coop to remove manure and eggs, as well as clean it in the event of any disease problems.

There so many design ideas and materials that you can use to build an economical chicken coop that provides safe and adequate housing for your chooks. Of course, the more upcycling/recycling/creativity that takes place, the better! See the 'Further Readings + Resources' section for some creative chicken coop design ideas.

Further Readings + Resources

Very Edible Garden (VEG): ;The Power of the Cook' and 'The Chook Files'

Good Life Permacultue: 'Chicken House'

https://goodlifepermaculture.com.au/tag/chicken-house/

Justin Calvery, CERES (2017). The Urban Farmer, How To Create a Productive Garden in Any Space.

https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-urban-farmer-justin-calverley/book/9780733334535.html

Food & Seasonal eating

Damn Delicious Zucchini Soup

A very yummy soup recipe to nourish your body and embrace your zucchini glut (it freezes very well!).

Ingredients

  • 5 medium zucchini
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • Garden Bouquet Garni- combination of herbs from the garden (e.g chives, thyme, bay leaves, parsley) in gauze to infuse and remove when cooked
  • 2 cups good quality beef stock or consommé
  • Cream and cracked black pepper to serve

Method

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the onion softens
  2. Add roughly chopped chunks of zucchini and slightly brown
  3. Add 2 cups of good quality beef stock or beef consommé, and some water to just cover the zucchini- less is more so that the soup won’t be too runny
  4. Add the bouquet
  5. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 mins
  6. Cool and remove bouquet
  7. Blend cool soup until smooth
  8. Serve re-warmed with cracked pepper and a little cream and cracked pepper
Food & Seasonal eating, Plants in Permaculture

Plants in Permaculture: Sunflowers

This year we grew sunflowers at our property for the first time.

We decided to sow a crop after picking up a few old dried heads from a planting out the front of a local school.

Of course, they have been BEAUTIFUL. Sunflowers are absolutely glorious beacons of summer and they have given us a lot of pleasure.

However, by observing and interacting with our crop, it's become obvious that sunflowers have usefulness and purpose in permaculture systems that extend beyond their aesthetic, and their "easy growing" nature.

Attracting Beneficials

Sunflowers lure beneficial bugs (including pollinators) into the garden, therefore acting to improve pollination of fruit and vegetables.

A Living Trellis

The strong and sturdy stalks of sunflowers act as a perfect natural trellis for summer crops such as cucumbers and beans.

Shade and Companion Planting

Sunflowers cast a shadow as they grow. This makes a good location for growing plants such as lettuce and spinach, which can otherwise bolt in full summer sun.

Green Biomass for Compost & Mulch

At the end of the growing season, chopped stalks and leaves of sunflowers spread over the garden as mulch helps protect the soil over winter. Chopped stalks and leaves can also be added to the compost pile as "green" nitrogen-rich material.

Nutrition for Humans and Animals

Sunflower seeds have a fantastic nutritional composition (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263340213_Nutritional_and_therapeutic_potential_of_sunflower_seeds_A_review). How sunflower seeds are consumed is often determined by their size and colour (which are variety dependent). You can harvest sunflower seeds after the sunflower heads have browned and dried.

The larger, often “striped” seeds, have human culinary application. These seeds need to be hulled and roasted prior to eating. Sunflower seeds add a tasty, nutritious crunch to salads, stir fries, veggie patties and biscuits. They also make a great substitute for nuts in any pesto!

The smaller black seeds can be pressed to produce oil, and the left over meal given to chickens to eat. Feeding the whole, un-pressed black seeds to chickens as a treat in autumn and winter helps them to gain weight and stay warm in the cooler months. The healthy oils of the seeds add shine and gloss to chicken feathers that increases their water resistance, also helping the bird to stay warm in winter.

Please comment on any additional features of sunflowers for use in permaculture you think should be highlighted below!

summery pic
News

End of Year Greetings!

Ballarat Permaculture Guild wishes to extend its warmest wishes to all members and friends as we approach the end of 2019.
Whatever your beliefs, whether you celebrate or not, we hope you enjoy a peaceful and relaxed end of year break.
We look forward to meeting more of you in 2020, whether it be at formal events such as courses or permablitzes, or socially at potlucks, the market or the pub.
Keep up with all our activities here

cheers
BPG Committee

News

BPG AGM

Ballarat Permaculture Guild, now in its 10th year, held its 3rd AGM as an incorporated body, on Wednesday 13th November, 2019.
There was a great turnout for the meeting and to hear the speakers reporting on the activities of the working party for a new LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) scheme.
All committee positions, except for Vice President, were filled without the need for voting.
The committee for 2019-2020 is -

President - Steve Burns
Secretary - Lisa Hofler
Treasurer - Karen Fitzpatrick
Ordinary members - John Moss, Elizabeth Moss, Liz O'Dwyer, Indigo Brooke, Jude Porteous, Sarah Ryan, Elise Sullivan

Keep up with all BPG activities via our Events page or the BPG page on Eventbrite

Permaculture courses

Permaculture Design Course

BPG runs an annual Permaculture Design Course (PDC) and has graduated at least 100 new permies since 2012. We're still collating figures for the ones prior to that but the first one that ran in 2008 had 40 participants, so it's possible the total figure is closer to 200!

We do smaller classes these days (max 22) and the format has changed several times to become the 8 weekends over 6 months model we use now. This extended format suits people who simply can't take 2 weeks off to do an intensive, live-in, style of PDC. It gives students time between classes to digest and reflect on the content, read further if they wish and work on projects.  Students get to know one another better over a longer period, often forming lasting friendships, local permie groups, and a broad permaculture network.

PDC students visiting Melliodora

Our students come from a fairly large catchment and we regularly have people from Melbourne, Geelong and Colac areas, as well as many from Ballarat and surrounding areas.

Our wide range of teachers are not only local but come from Melbourne, Castlemaine and Heathcote. We foster new teachers where possible (often past graduates)

Our site visits include Melliodora, a highly productive urban garden, a commercial worm farm and alternative buildings.

The PDC committee evaluates the course every year and adjusts the course in response to student feedback and teacher availability, in order to keep things fresh and current.

Undertaking a PDC can change your life and it's lots of fun. Consider joining us for our 2020 PDC. You can read more about the content and find an enrollment  form on our PDC page

Events

Keyline frenzy!

Darren Doherty is coming to Ballarat to teach keyline!

International permaculture educator Darren Doherty will be leading a one day workshop on the practical applications of P.A Yeomans Keyline approach to farm planning and water management.