A little help from my friends


    By Ali Manns

    As a kid, I vividly remember how the sight of roaming chooks in her ornamental garden would ruffle my Mum’s feathers. Escapees from my Gran’s pen next door, they would scratch up my Mum’s beds with relish, and draw many a curse before being directed back home with the help of a sweeping brush.

    Now grown up with chooks of my own, I assure her that in the right space hens make fantastic gardening companions and can hold a valuable place within a suburban backyard. Our western suburbs councils even encourage chook-keeping with a generous limit of 10 poultry per yard in Maribyrnong and Hobsons Bay. Hens, ducks and quails are generally permitted, though roosters vary from council to council.


    Eggs and companionship are obvious reasons for chook-keeping. A certain thrill comes with collecting eggs from your own backyard nestbox and stroking the hens that laid them. It is a touch of farm life in the suburbs. Plus a window for kids, young and old, on how food comes to be on our plates. The personality and playful antics of chooks make them good pets, especially if they get used to being handled when young.

    There are even more benefits for the household and garden.

    Household waste reduction

    Incorporating chooks into your garden creates a wonderful closed loop system for organic waste. Veggie garden waste, (unsprayed) lawn clippings, weeds and household food waste can all be fed to chooks as a supplement to their grain/pellet feed. And in a process akin to alchemy the waste is converted to not only those glorious eggs I mentioned but also (and no less glorious) manure, A.K.A. nitrogen-rich fertiliser.

    Supercharged compost

    So that it does not ‘burn’ roots of plants, fresh nitrogen-rich poop is best added to the compost bin along with carbon-rich straw or wood-shavings from the chook house. In time it becomes compost to enrich your garden soil and provide you with more veggies. What a wondrous ongoing cycle!

    No job too big

    And when it comes to change of season, that ground scratching talent of theirs can be put to good use. Under a bit of supervision, poultry can be given access to finished veggie beds and will make short work of clearing leftover plants, weeds and undesirable insects, while also depositing some of that fertiliser they profusely produce. A win for them and for your back!

    What chooks need

    In order to live their best life standard-size chooks need about 1 square metre of space each (bantams need half that) so assess how much space you have before you go shopping for your flock. A high fenced and roofed coop is the gold standard and a shade cloth on top will offer respite from the sun and rain, and importantly from invading sparrow, mynas and doves who will otherwise soon locate the feeder and water troughs. Keeping these pests out will not only keep your grain costs down but also reduce your flock’s exposure to mites and lice.

    A secure house with a perch for night-time is all important. The main predator of concern, Fantastic Mr Fox, is a wily opponent and surprisingly prevalent in our westie neighbourhoods. To out-fox this biting, climbing and digging killer, a strong wire floor which extends beyond the walls of the house is advisable, as is a Fort Knox strength house. While there are many pretty chicken houses on the market, many are made of flimsy, lightweight wood and no match for the teeth and jaws of a determined fox so choose a metal aviary if possible.

    Lastly, remember the expression ‘good fences make good neighbours’. It very much applies to chooks and next door’s ornamental garden. 

    Ali Manns is a Permaculture Designer and Educator living in Yarraville and can be found at

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