Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
Now that we lived in the shed we could settle into life in the countryside and shape the surroundings of our home. We had a beautiful kurrajong tree growing 10m down the hill from the shed and to the side of that we built a chook shed (chooks are hens). We put up chicken wire fencing to surround the equivalent of a suburban backyard for the chooks to have plenty of space to stretch their legs. This was in the days before I had heard of ‘free-range hens’. Our hens were truly free range, unlike the cheating of commercial operations that is allowed in Australia, with a measly 1 square metre allocated per hen. The yard for the chooks had black wattle trees and some shrubs surrounding the perimeter and within the yard, providing the chooks with shade and variety. They seemed happy!
We put old milk cans on their side in the shed and placed fresh straw inside and old vegetable boxes lined with straw as places for the chooks to lay their eggs. We propped large, strong branches from one side of the shed to the other so that the chooks had somewhere to roost.
I have many happy memories about our chooks. I can remember the thrill of stroking a chick for the first time. Their downy feathers are so soft! We named our chicks names like Rocky (the rooster), Hetty and Speckles. I loved our chooks. I visited them everyday and would spend time sitting in the dust watching them have dust baths, I would take them insects and grubs that I caught in the garden and watch them delightedly snatching these delicious treats. When I would walk into the chook shed Hetty would squat on the ground in front of me. I don’t know if she was frozen because she was afraid or what her motivation was but I would squat next to her and stroke her smooth feathers, sometimes picking her up and carrying her around.
It was a thrill everyday after school to run down to the chook shed and feed those sweet birds with layer pellets, cracked wheet and their favourite which was cracked corn. While they contentedly clucked around eating I would go into the shed and collect the eggs. If I was lucky there weren’t any broody chooks (sitting on eggs for weeks to hatch chicks) and I wouldn’t get pecked when I stuck my hand into the old milk cans.
I recall that it was traumatic when we bought point-of-lay pullets and we trimmed their wings to stop them from flying away because the pen didn’t have a roof. We cut through the feathers as close to the blood supply as possible to make sure that we didn’t hurt them but also make sure that they couldn’t get away. The chooks didn’t seem very bothered by the process but I was afraid that we would hurt them.
I can’t wait to buy a house in Australia with a yard big enough to let us have chooks. I’m sure that my kids will love them!