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.