The Chook Book ($13.95 Australian 1993 Aird Books)
I love chooks. There's nothing more beautiful than a mob of White Leghorns like sailing ships flying with the wind, comfortable Australorps with their fluffy black knickers dedicatedly sifting through the old tomato bed for insects and tit bits, or a tribe of Rhode Island Reds scratching under the lavender. There's no sound as domestic, either, as a mob of chooks clucking in the backyard. It gives you a feeling of safety and security. No matter what disasters are around you you've got eggs and meat and entertainment down in your backyard.
I think I began to love chooks and eggs at my great grandparents' household. Together with my great aunt they went through at least two dozen eggs a day - fried or poached eggs for breakfast, with perhaps a toasted scone from the day before; pikelets for morning tea; a ham and egg pie for lunch or egg and lettuce sandwiches, with stewed fruit and custard (which had even more eggs in it than the ham and egg pie); sponge cake or tiny cream cakes and lamingtons for afternoon tea; a roast for dinner (chook preferably) with lots of veg and more stewed fruit and custard or pavlova or icecream - I had home made icecream there for the first time, richer in eggs than anything else we'd eaten the whole day.
The eggs- and the chooks- came from the backyard, and their clucking was a happy background as we ate our cream cakes for morning tea. The hens ate the scraps and the weeds and snails and elderly lettuces or cabbages from the garden and their manure fed my great grandfather's prize dahlias. In fact I think that is most treasured memory of my great grandparents- my great grandfather's calloused hands resting on his massive belly while the two women passed him plate after plate of cake and the hens cackled out the back.
They died in their nineties, soon after each other, and I don't know what happened to their chooks.
Later I discovered the joy of living with my own chooks- White Leghorns all dignified and brainless, canny Australorps scratching through the asparagus; big bummed domestic Rhode Island Reds pecking the woolly aphids from the apple trees; Perce the Chinese Fighting Cock who attacked everything male- but only from behind; Rodney rooster proud and cocky, all fifties brilliantine and black and green feathers strutting like he owned the world.
It's no coincidence that most peasant cultures include chook keeping. Backyard chook keeping makes sense.
Everyone can keep hens. Even if you haven't optimum conditions, they will still be better than those that battery hens experience- crammed in small wire cages and fed with antibiotics to keep them alive. Anyone who eats eggs or hens from the battery poultry industry helps keep this system going. Instead- have a brood of cluckers pecking by your back fence.
I'd hate to be without chooks now. I love the domestic sound of chooks clucking. I love roosters crowing at dawn. I also love not having to worry about the pests that they clean out of the orchard; wondering what to do with meat and prawn heads and other scraps (chooks are so much easier than compost) I love their eggs. I love their meat. But most of all I just love chooks.
Why You need Chooks
Chooks will give you the sort of egg you can rarely buy; meat that hasn't been seen commercially for thirty years; manure for your garden, they solve your compost problems and give infinite pleasure.
They'll also save you money.