Dome Sweet Dome


Despite being happy in the dome (they don’t know how lucky they are to have so much room), the chickens love being allowed out to roam and forage in the garden. This is fine when we are around to keep an eye on them, but our garden isn’t completely fenced in, and they don’t understand the difference between our garden and the nature strip along the side of the road. They love wandering out alongside the road where they find all sorts of goodies to eat in the long grass and overgrown weeds.

There are always people walking up and down the road and they often comment on the chooks. However, some people walk past with their dogs, and sadly not all are on leads; we do have to be careful and keep an eye on the hens and generally keep them locked up and safe from predators. Keeping them safe and giving them space was the main reason for building the dome; we wanted them to be able to to flap their wings and explore. When they are shut in the dome, I sometimes tie up some ‘green treats’ hung from the upper struts, to provide some entertainment and make them work for their food. It’s also entertaining for us – watching them jump up for mouthfuls!


The local farmer’s market has a friendly fruit and vegetable seller who lets me take green leaves from the ‘bin’. It is usually full of imperfect vegetables and outer leaves of lettuce, cabbage, and cauliflower along with other ‘rubbish’, (takeaway coffee cups etc.) headed for landfill. I have occasionally been known to sneak some of my reclaimed chook food into our fridge once I get it home (does this make me a dumpster diver?) – one week I scored a bunch of beautiful beetroot leaves which were far too good for the chooks. But don’t worry – the girls do get plenty!

The hens are also partial to plain yoghurt; I guess that they find it refreshing on a hot day. I make yoghurt (kept warm next to the sourdough bread starter) and usually make extra batches during the summer so the chooks can have some as a regular treat. The calcium should help them with their egg production too.


At one edge of the dome there is a pile of loose earth, which I regularly top up with compost and sometimes grass clippings. This provides a good area for the girls to scratch around and to have dust baths. They get very excited when I add fresh compost, as it usually comes with a good snack of worms for them!

I found (saved) an old, slightly rotting, garden bench tossed out beside the road of a neighbour’s house (ready for a rubbish collection) and have put it in the dome for the chooks. It is a perfect spot for them to roost during the day as they like to be able to perch off the ground. I often look out of my window and see all three of them perching there in the late afternoon sunshine, surveying the scenery and looking very content. I haven’t managed to get a photo of them sitting there, as every time I approach the dome they jump down and rush to the door, expecting food or to be let out into the garden. – but, I’ll keep trying.


Under the Dome

Although the chicken coop was great, we wanted to girls to have some freedom so I was letting them out of the coop during the day. To start with this was fine, they didn’t wander far, but we don’t have a properly enclosed garden and after a few weeks they became more adventurous and decided they liked visiting the neighbour’s garden. That wasn’t too much of a worry, the neighbours didn’t seem to mind, but our concern was that they were walking along the roadside. We decided they needed a bigger enclosed area so they had more room to move about in when we weren’t at home to keep an eye on them.

We didn’t want an ugly looking run in the garden, and so Mr Rambles decided he would take up the challenge of building a geodesic dome, with the idea it would look like a garden feature as well as a practical home for the chooks. I trusted him with the design and was on hand to help with the labour. It was difficult to find the right materials, but we ended up using conduit piping.

After several days of cutting the right lengths and squashing the ends of each piece to make it possible to screw together (and acquiring many blisters on our hands) we were ready to start constructing.

The chickens were very interested in the proceedings and enjoyed perching on the dome from the beginning. It wasn’t easy and we weren’t too sure it was going to hold together, but it did. It looked fantastic. Wow, thanks Mr Rambles.

Now all it needed was some covering to stop the chickens getting out, and wild birds and other animals from getting in. After another trip to the local hardware store we came home with a netting which claimed would keep birds from getting through. I think it is designed for protecting edible plants from birds (veggie patches, fruit trees, grapevines etc.). Being an unusual shape it was tricky to cover the dome but we finally managed it, finishing parts off with a needle and thread to bring the seams together. Fantastic!

We let the chickens out of their coop and into the dome. We happily left them and went out. When we returned home they were happily free ranging in the garden, outside the dome!! I picked them up and put them back inside, turned around and they were back out again. A friend who was with us was in hysterics as I desperately searched around the bottom of the dome to find where I hadn’t sealed it properly, only I hadn’t noticed where they had pecked an enormous hole in the netting which they were happily jumping through! And so we learnt what ‘chicken wire’ is for. We purchased a roll and covered the bottom half of the dome with it. Job done.

It was a labour of love but well worth it. We have had so many positive and admiring comments from friends and neighbours, even inspiring some of them to get chickens and build a dome themselves. Not sure if anyone else has yet, but we will be happy to give them advice and help them learn from our mistakes.

The chickens are now happy in the dome, we do still let them out for forages in the garden when we are around to watch them, but in the dome they have space. They have room to flap their wings about, and enjoy sitting on and jumping off the coop. They also have a place for dust baths and an old bench to perch on. Lucky chooks.

Anticipation and Arrival

Since arriving in Australia almost ten years ago, I have longed to have some backyard chickens. After several house moves, including across the country, and renovations on our current home, which turned the garden into a builders dumping yard, we finally felt ready and took the plunge last September.

I grew up on a farm in England, and we always had chickens running around, so I think the Rambles boys were all thinking I must be a chicken expert. The real truth is I remember having fun playing with the chickens and I enjoyed collecting and eating their eggs. I only occasionally fed them, and I wasn’t the one who managed their health, cleaned them out, got up early to let them out in the mornings, and shut them up at dusk every night before the fox came. That was mainly all done by my mother. I told Master and Junior Rambles that we were all going to be responsible for looking after the chickens, but in reality history soon repeated itself!

Before we could get the ‘chooks’ we needed  a coop for them. I had great intentions to design and build one ourselves, using recycled materials, but the longer it took us to get around to it the longer it was going to be until we could get the chickens. Eventually we found a bargain priced coop on the internet, which looked like a good start for us. The coop arrived flat packed, and orange!

I wasn’t too keen on the bright orange wood, so decided it had to be painted. A friend of mine laughed a lot at this and was also concerned that I would think the coop would stay looking this lovely and clean after the had moved in. I knew it would looked ‘lived-in’ fairly quickly, but I was really pleased with it, a beach cottage coop for our beach side living!

We bought the 8 week old chickens from a great local business, New Leaf Nursery, who specialise in sustainable living ideas. After doing our research on different breeds, we decided to get ISA Browns, which are supposed to be friendly and good with children as well as being great egg layers. They travelled home in a cardboard box and seemed very pleased when they were let out of it into their new home.

I had been reading up on predators other animals who might attack or bother chickens in our area, but hadn’t heard anything about magpies. If you live in Australia in an area where magpies breed you will probably have experienced being ‘dived bombed’ by one when too near their nest. There was a magpie nesting in a tree outside our property, who obviously saw our young as a threat. To begin with they wouldn’t leave our poor young girls alone, they were constantly stomping around their coop and squawking at them loudly.

After a few days we let them out to do some ‘free ranging’ in the garden. Apart from being swooped by the magpies, they seemed really happy and settled. After several changes, we all finally decided on their names, Tilly, Billy and Milly. The magpies generally ignore them now, or perhaps the chickens have got better at standing up to them now they are bigger.

Of course one of the main reasons that we, and anyone, keeps chickens, is the eggs. How great to have a pet that supplies us with food. We weren’t expecting them to start laying until December but they surprised us in late October with our first (tiny) egg. We think it was laid by Billy, she looked as amazed as we did! The other two followed soon after, and all have been good layers ever since.