In this edition:
- Festive Glamour: When the festive season throws you an occasion, you need to glam it up.
- Andrew McUtchen looks for fun in cricket with former Australian cricketer Damien Fleming.
- Take a look at our Christmas Gift Guide.
Theres something about them I find relaxing, she says. Just watching them graze and their little cluck, cluck noises. I like sitting up there. Its therapeutic.
An animal lover who cares for two Staffordshire bull terriers, three tabby cats, a 12-year-old green tree frog, two Eastern long-neck turtles and 30 goldfish, to complete her zoo, Wendy has always wanted chooks. Upon moving to Rowville, she frequently mentioned her desire to husband Brett, but for seven years he was reluctant.
In August last year after a weekend nursing shift, however, Brett beckoned Wendy to the yard. On the premise of a development in their flourishing veggie garden (bok choy, cauliflower, leeks, carrots, celery, broccoli, olive trees), she immediately noticed the chook house not far from the back fence. Unbeknown to her, the weekends Brett had spent in the garage about which she had complained were in fact devoted to finessing a coop. Naturally, she was excited.
Assembled with love, Brett spent almost $1000 on the coop's creation. The basic shelter, a deluxe penthouse made from farmed, kiln-dried timber, was purchased from the Planet Poultry website for $599. But it was the add-ons such as Victorian fencing, hooks to hang lettuce, a striped canvas awning and a coach solar light that increased the cost. To ensure the birds safety, Brett also fox-proofed the 14 square metre area by placing a sheet of concreting mesh under the coop.
Brett has a quirky personality and likes to make me laugh, Wendy says. He started saying that the chooks needed their own letterbox and so he attached one to the fence: we are No.41 in our street and the chooks are 41.5. He then added a plastic satellite dish to the roof and has a tap and shower mounted to the fence. Often I will come home and wonder what he has put on next.
The Harts have seven bantam Wyandottes. They were chosen for their variety of colours, suitability to a small yard and lifespan of up to 10 years. The hens were sourced through the Backyard Poultry website for $25 each and Wendy christened them the old-fashioned names of Betty, Mavis, Doris, Charlotte, Lucy, Alice and Sophie.
The outlay of the chook house may have been expensive but the birds maintenance remains minimal. Wendy spends $20 on a two-kilogram bag of pellets every two months, which she uses to keep full a container near the coop for variety of diet, she also provides mixed grain and daily veggie scraps. Each week she cleans inside the house and rakes the outside area.
The chooks lay an average of two 45-gram eggs each day. Enough for the Harts' own use, they are poached, used in pasta and contribute to tuna mornay. As well as the birds soothing presence, Wendy enjoys the sustainable aspect of chook keeping. The practice supplements the couples already admirable habits of composting and water collection in 5000- and 3000-litre tanks.
I have always tried to be environmentally friendly and do the whole recycling thing, she says.
I like the fact that you can give them the veggie scraps and then put their poop back on the veggie garden. There is never any waste, and I dont have to throw things out. If I bring some veggies or herbs in from our garden and I dont use them, I just give them to the chooks.
Brett is a former volunteer for Stafford Rescue, an organisation that re-homes unwanted Staffordshire bull terriers. The couple is passionate about animal welfare and cage eggs.
In winter they might not lay as many eggs and so I might have to buy some, she says. But I research where I am getting store free-range eggs from to make sure they are genuine. Because of how we keep our chooks, psychologically, our eggs taste better.
Tending to her hobby has meant a growing fondness for the fowl. Wendy has become attuned to their different personalities (Mavis is a bully who keeps everyone in line, Doris an escape artist who keeps flying over the fence), and so in June when Sophie developed a lump on her eye, she was concerned.
Initially, the vet thought it a sinus infection and Sophie was given antibiotics. A second visit diagnosed an abscess, which was then drained. Wendys delivery of antibiotics and regular eye cleaning changed the relationship between her and the chook; her frequent handling made Sophie quite tame. But when the problem persisted, an avian vet diagnosed that she had a tumour and needed her partially shut eye removed. And so the night before Sophies operation, Wendy extended special care.
I put a towel on the couch and she sat with me and we watched TV, she says. Because she was so sick, it wasnt like she was running around pooing everywhere, she just sat quietly by my side. Sophie likes sardines and so I gave her about a tablespoon as a treat.
While Wendy treats her chooks with extra love and care, it isnt mandatory that everyone mirrors her efforts.
Chooks are not like cats or dogs but they need the same care, she says. Once the initial set-up is done, they are not hard to maintain, and then you will reap the rewards of them running up to greet you to be fed and fresh eggs. From then on you are not going to be buying cage eggs and in that way, know you are making a difference.