by helen Hawkes
IF YOU'VE never kept chickens, you won't have experienced the delight of fluffy poultry contributing not just to the atmosphere of your garden, but the wellbeing of it.
We asked chook fan and Northern Star journalist Alison Paterson to share the wonders of the backyard chook:
EVERY morning when we open up the hutch, the Feather Riot dash out like starters in the Tour de France.
Heading straight for the water bowl and the feed tray, they whirl past like a peloton on a mission.
At dawn, their cross clucking can be heard as they clamour for freedom, their noise levels rising as the day progresses. No matter the weather or temperature, it's reassuring to witness such a positive start to the day.
Perhaps this is due to my posse of five rescue chooks, costing a measly $2.50 per bird.
Perhaps they remember being one of six birds in a tiny caged space of 1m x 50cm, with no natural light or access to running about in the fresh air.
Full of cheek and curiosity, Gidget, Layne, Philly, Houdini and Betty are a regular little posse, a law unto themselves but always happy to line up for a treat of caterpillars freshly peeled off a lemon tree or the climbing beans.
The Feather Riot, as they are known collectively, are one of the best investments I've ever made.
Not only do they eat lots of bugs, provide heaps of manure for the compost bins, lay tasty eggs and dig over a garden bed ahead of the next season's planting, they're also wonderful companion animals, providing a positive vibe to the Paterson household.
They strut about the garden as though they own the place and sometimes I think they really believe that my husband and I exist just to tend to their every need.
It's hard to be cross with a chook - they look so ridiculous as they dash about chasing unsuspecting grasshoppers and, when I'm digging over a garden bed, perch nearby looking out for insects.
Perhaps they simply live in the moment and are happy to be out and about, enjoying breakfast and chatting to each other about their plans for the day.
Whatever their reason for rushing out in the morning, it always gives me joy to see these bundles of feathered cheek scamper down the ramp and into their run. This is my kind of rush hour.
Chook care 101
> The best time to get chooks is after you've installed an animal-proof hen house and run.
> Select a breed based on your need. Are you after eggs or meat, or both? ISA browns, Rhode Island reds and australorps are good layers, while faverolles, leghorns and brahmas are good table birds. Rhode Island reds, Plymoth rocks, orpintons, australorps and wyandottes are good for eggs and eating.
> Try before you buy. Some suppliers will let you hire a chook before you commit to owning it. Or offer to chook-sit for a friend while they are away.
> Hens need a continuous supply of fresh water and feed daily. You can buy commercial organic feed or give them table scraps of vegetables and meat - but no chicken, obviously.
> Always buy at least two hens. A single hen is a lonely bird.
> Check with your local council as some authorities restrict the number of chooks you can keep and may prohibit keeping a rooster in urban areas.
Source: Alison Paterson