Finally, We Have Chickens

We recently bought eighteen two-day-old Barred Rock chicks. They were unsexed, so we will probably wind up with something like half of them turning out to be roosters.

Chickens, used properly, are outstanding creatures for permaculture systems. In addition to devastating the dreaded and fast moving kikuyu grass and other weeds that we have here, the chickens will provide us with manure for fertilizer, eggs and meat. They’re also a source of constant entertainment for young Owen and someone like me who has never kept chickens before.

Barred Rock chicks, two days old

We knew we wanted a dual use breed (good for both eggs and meat). I thought that the Australorp was a good choice. However, we couldn’t find any for sale in the area. We decided to go with what had a good reputation locally, what was available locally and what was immediately available.

We found a local couple who breeds Barred Rock chickens, (and several other varieties or chickens and ducks). I doubt that you’ll find anyone who knows more about chooks than Ken Vincent! He has been breeding and showing his chickens in competitions around the world for decades.

If you’re in the Far North of New Zealand and are looking to get some chickens and or ducks for yourself, contact Ken and Ruth Vincent in Kaitaia. Phone: (09) 408 3929.

So, Becky rang the Vincents and they had the Barred Rock chicks available. We did a bit of research and decided that they seemed like an outstanding choice. They’re very popular in New Zealand and in the U.S. (it’s a U.S. breed)—and probably lots of other places. Barred Rock are good layers, good meat birds, have a generally quiet temperament and rarely go broody.

We knew that making chickens work for us would require a plan and a system. After expending a great deal of money, time and effort (Becky’s dad, my father in law, did most of the building—both of my brothers’ in law helped with the chicken house), we have totally converted our gardens into what I would call an integrated rotational chicken system. The garden is now broken up into individual pens of between fifteen and twenty square metres. All of the pens are connected via a central race. Access to each pen is controlled. The chooks are only able to enter the pen or pens we want them to enter.

Our fences are only a metre high, but we think that will be high enough to contain the chickens for two reasons: First, Barred Rock is a large bird. Second, we’re going to clip their flight feathers. If they do manage to escape, we have a couple of options to remedy the situation. We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.

As for the layout, our gardens describe an L-shape in our Zone 1 and the main chicken house is located at the angle where the two legs of the L come together. This location is also the gateway area to Zone 2. We are able to send the chickens into Zone 2 as necessary. (See Wikipedia for an overview of permaculture zones, if you’re not familiar with the concept.)

Garden with partitions. The chicken house is visible centre left of frame.

The plan is to move the chickens from pen to pen as required. The chickens will provide tillage (weeding) and manure as they go.

What will we do with all the roosters?

Becky and I like to eat chicken. I really like to eat chicken. Industrial poultry production, however, has put both of us off of it. While it is possible to obtain organic chicken here, I’m not quite sure who is able to afford it. Definitely not us. So, we’re going to go about getting chicken meat in a more traditional manner…

As for what we’re planning on feeding the birds, it’s going to be a variety, most of which they will be finding themselves. We will grow some amaranth for them and possibly other grains that do well here. A major source of protein for them will be maggots. We have an inexhaustible supply of possums here. I have been resiting the urge to grab my rifle and head out into the night lately. I’m letting them build up until our chickens are outside full time. At that point, I will begin trapping and shooting possums at will.

After ripening for about a day (fly strike), the possum carcass will be placed in a 20 litre bucket with 10mm holes drilled around the base. The bucket is suspended above the chickens. People who have done this report that the chickens simply camp out below the bucket, waiting for the next pennies from Heaven to fall. Use biofilter (straw, sawdust or other matter) to keep the smell down.

Farmlet chickens will feast on maggots derived from possum carcasses

While it’s a simple matter to buy bags of feed for chickens, that practice is both expensive and likely to be disrupted in the future (energy shortages, economic collapse, weather related calamity, take your pick). Our goal is to see how little feed we need to buy. Ironically, the possum, a threat to multiple species and habitats in New Zealand, readily converts into maggots that the chickens love to eat.

This is just a general overview. We don’t really know the particulars of how this is going to work, or not work. The permaculture materials I’ve looked at are notably useless when it comes to details on systems like this. (Mollison’s Designers’ Manual has a couple of pictures of one operating in Hawaii.) So, we started with the theory and tried to come up with a plan to make it work.

11 Responses to “Finally, We Have Chickens”

  1. Kevin says:

    I love the possum trick! We don’t have possum here, and the mice terrorizing my wife this winter are probably not big enough, but we must have something around here… I don’t have a hunting licenses, but (while I don’t quite agree with the policy) there *is* a $200 bounty on (the famous snow) monkeys. And the hunters just end up just tossing the body because they “look too much like humans” to eat.

    Or, I could just get all the scraps and meat that is thrown away after its expiration date by the local supermarket.

  2. Kevin says:

    If there are flies and a carcass, you’ll get maggots.

  3. Jack says:

    Love the possum trick! May try this with some of the local woodchucks.

  4. Jay says:

    Marcin at Open Source Ecology had some ideas about a permaculture chicken system, but they’re untested. His email:

  5. ms lottie says:

    My birds are a mix of heavy and light breeds and even the heavy ones have managed to fly over a 1.8 metre fence and yes, wings clipped and all. If you want an unrelated purebred Barred Rock rooster I have one who is couple of months old and will eventually be heading to the pot.

    I’ve been looking into more sustainable ways to feed my chooks and read about maggots the other day. They were leaving scraps etc out for a couple of days, sealing it, checking on it every day and when ‘writhing’, would tip it out to the chickens. That way they didn’t get any hatching flys.

  6. Greg C. says:


    Are your pens open to the sky? Here in Orange County, Ca., I have lost some chickens and rabbits to Falcons and possibly owls (some have been killed at night).

  7. Eileen says:

    Wow I am so glad you finally got the birds.
    I loved bringing up chicks to chickens and got to thinking about them as pets and even named them. Bad idea.
    Try to just think of them as tools, egg layers, and meat for broth or eating, otherwise you might be devestated like I was when I lost my first 6 chicks to a fox or possum. Never figured out who came in the night.
    Your plan sounds good, but if you put the chickens in run with anything alive and green – they will eat it. My chicken ate all my flower seedings, dug up the lettuce seedlings, et. They will eat whole anything in sight (or peck it to death). That was another one of my lessons learned.
    And yes, do protect from the above and below until they are well over the size of a football. I would say large football but I know that footballs do not come in sizes.
    The idea of feeding the chickens maggots from dead possums sounds so gross, but is so ingenuous! My chickens eat just about anything (I feed them all scraps cut up bite size) but my books say don’t give them onions, garlic, celery, etc. unless you like your eggs with that flavor! I even feed mine meat scraps (which they love).
    I hope to grow oats, black sunflower seeds and other grains ( the chickens flock under the wild bird feeder to eat the scraps)and dry the green pond algae as well as other items for winter feed and let the birds forage during summer in addition to what I can give them as supplemental for the summer.
    Best of luck to you with your brood.

  8. pookie says:

    hahahahaha! LOVE the photo of you holding the dead possum. A freakin’ hoot. When I get around to chooks (not this year, unfortunately), I will have no problem growing maggots. My kitty’s cat food remnants are mondo prolific maggot producers. (I keep telling her to bring me another one of those lovely dead Norway rats to plunk in my raised bed garden.)

  9. Kevin says:

    @Greg C.

    Hawks are potentially a serious problem here. The garden areas are open the sky. If the hawk threat becomes a problem, we can run string or thin rope in a crisscross pattern over the areas where the chickens are working. That’s what our neighbour up the road does. It works.

    Just out of curiosity, where in OC do you keep chickens? And how many chickens to you keep? Do you eat them? I’m from Orange County, too (Newport).


    There is no doubt about where these chickens are going to wind up: In our bellies. We try to meet our meat whenever possible, and we simply don’t have the resources to let them multiply. (Besides, one can go on TradeMe—the NZ equivalent of eBay—and see people trying to give away their older roosters because they couldn’t bring themselves to eat the creatures when they crowed for the first time. Before we got the chickens in the first place, I decided that I wasn’t going to be in that boat.)

    The hardest part about all of this might be having to explain it to Owen someday. Yesterday, Owen picked up one of the roos and kissed him gently on the head.

    I thought, but didn’t say, “Owen, I’m going to have to kill that bird, and then mummy will put the carcass in her giant dutch oven.”

    However, one of Owen’s first phrases was, “More meat.”

    I think he may know score, at least somewhat. When he eats lamb he says, “Baaah baah.” When he sees sheep in the fields as we drive around, he also says, “Baaah baah.”

    As for the chickens scratching up the garden, they won’t have access to the garden areas that have crops growing in them. Once we’re ready to “mulch” an area, the chickens will be sent in there.


    I don’t know how many rats your cat brings in, but rattus norvegicus should be a prolific maggot producer.

    I caught one in a possum trap once!

  10. Greg C. says:


    I have only three chickens at this time. I’d rather not say where in Orange County since I’m probably in violation of zoning laws. I have no roosters, keep things clean, and I bribe my neighbors with eggs.

    I have been raising Aracanas for about ten years. My wife and I love them for their large yolks, perfect for eggs benedict. She won’t let me kill them, so they just live out their lives. One of them is going on ten years… so spoiled!

    We know each other from your OC days. We were both in a class called Science of the Initiate.

  11. mike king says:

    I would like to buy some laying hens from Keri Keri area.
    prefer some different breeds, up to 10.