For about fifteen years now, we've been members of a co-operative chook group at Ceres, the environmental park in Brunswick. The principle is simple: a group of fourteen households take it in turns, one day a fortnight, to let the chickens out in the morning, feed and water them; then return at sunset to lock them in securely against the foxes, and take home the eggs the chickens have laid that day. The chickens roam around under the fruit trees all day, doing what chickens are meant to do. Then once a month (first Sunday) there's a working bee when all the households gather together to muck out the sheds, distribute the poo over the garden or take it home, line the permaculture sheds with a fresh layer of garden mulch, and generally carry out maintenance on the shed or the gardens. We then have a pot of billy tea around the open fire and have a meeting. All the members are also members of Ceres.
There's a surprising degree of satisfaction in painting a chicken perch with lime, or spreading mulch in an orchard in a relay team of wheelbarrows and pitchforks. Yes, it's just once a month, and a far cry from real farming, but still. Sometimes we've incubated and hatched the next flock of baby chicks, too, at home, which is an amazing thing to do.
The group can't afford to buy organic feed, but we supplement grains and pellets with household scraps, bread and greens scavenged from local bakers and greengrocers. The eggs are smooth and incredibly fresh, with golden yolks. They come with bits of feathers and straw stuck on them. They come in different sizes, too: big and brown or small and sometimes greenish (there's an arakuna strain in the mix so we sometimes have chicks with fluffy heads; and I think these lay the pale green eggs).
Anyway, there is a vacancy for a Friday slot, so if you think this might be fun, email me and I'll give you the contact details for Bryan, the co-ordinator. You can follow this link on the Ceres page, but don't contact Don, the past co-ordinator, as he's in hospital recovering from a motorbike accident...
It should be said that Ceres is in process of radical change at the moment, and the relationship between the management group and the chicken group is currently being re-negotiated. The main point of tension is — unsurprisingly — land. Ceres needs to generate more of a profit, and a number of folk think the chook group "has too much land," but in fact, we use almost the perfect amount that our size flock of chickens requires to be classed as "free range." To see them roaming around under the apple trees, or digging little holes for dustbaths, or rummaging around for insects is to be reminded of the contrast with most modern farming practices. If you're going to eat meat (and members of the group have very different opinions on this), at least let it be prepared humanely.
Well, let me know if you'd like to join, or go on the waiting list for a future vacancy. Kids are welcome, of course.