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Chooks — the most populous bird in world

Story and photos by Russ Grayson

The most populous bird in world, the average global stock of chickens is almost 19 billion, or three per person, according to statistics from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (Source: The Economist). Estimated global population more than 24 billion in 2003 (Wikipedia). Most populous in China followed by the US, Indonesia, Brazil, India.

  • Common name: Chicken, chook (Australia).
  • Scientific name: Gallus gallus domesticus.
  • Growth form: Bird to medium size, primarily terrestrial though capable of short duration flight.
  • Reproduction: From egg.
  • Centre of diversity: Probably multiple centres of origin. In China about c7000BP. Descended from Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus) of India.
  • Distribution: Global.


Chickens in community gardens need:

  • a reliable supply of fresh water
  • a reliable supply of food
  • secure, weather and predator-proof housing
  • a scratch yard scaled to the number of birds
  • access to sunlight and shade in the scratch yard; to provide shade, some gardeners plant fruit trees and protect them from the chickens’ digging with large stones around their trunk; the birds usually eat fallen fruit
  • regular inspection for disease
  • a sturdy, high fence around the house and yard to keep predators out.
The chicken scratch yard and housing at Glovers Community Garden in Sydney. Young fruit trees will grow to shade part of the yard and are protected from the chooks with tyres. The 200l fuel drums store rainwater falling on the roof of the chicken house for use in the garden. The interior floor of the chicken house is mulched so soiled mulch can be composted. The high fence protects the chooks from predators.

Community gardeners sometimes set up a chook team of people interested in managing the birds. They have a daily roster to provide the needs of food and water and to inspect the birds for disease and the integrity of their housing.
Foxes have devastated chicken flocks in a number of community gardens. Perimeter fencing around the chook enclosure should be high, loose so that foxes cannot find a firm grip and climb over, and buried at least 20cm into the soil as a safeguard against the foxes digging their way into the yard.

Uses in community food garden design:

  • food source — eggs and meat
  • community gardeners sometimes use chooks to clean up crop residue and to scratch, loosen and fertilise garden soils with their droppings in preparation for planting.

Chooks may be released into the community garden’s tree cropping zone for limited periods when plants have grown to larger size. Time spent in the zone is closely monitored otherwise the chooks will damage plants, especially ground covers, because of their scratching behaviour.
Releasing chooks into vegetable gardens is likely to damage crops.
Gardeners have developed systems of rotational garden management:

  1. An area of the chook run is fenced from the scratch yard and is fenced into a number of alleys a minimum five by two metres in size.
  2. The first few alleys are planted to annual vegetables; successional planting of crops that mature around the same time are then made in all alleys.
  3. When the vegetables in the first alley are harvested, chickens are put into the alley to eat the crop residue, loosen the soil with their scratching behaviour and fertilise the soil with their scat.
  4. The first alley is replanted when the chickens are moved to the second alley after vegetables there are harvested.
  5. The chickens follow harvest in each successive alley.

This is a garden management regime based on the characteristic behaviour of chickens and successional, sequential planting of annual vegetables.

This moveable chook pen complete with housing and laying box was large enough for three birds. With housing built in, this model avoids the necessity of returning chooks to their house and yard every evening. The model can be scaled-up for more birds and equipped with lifting handles or wheels to make moving between garden beds easier. The design is not as fox proof as a permanent yard.

A similar system is based on moveable polypipe and netting or poultry wire enclosures. These may be rectangular or circular.

  1. A series of garden beds of identical dimensions (length and width) are built.
  2. Flexible poly pipe or timber enclosures covered in netting or poultry wire are made to the same length and width as the garden beds, and perhaps 1.5m high or thereabouts.
  3. The garden beds are sequentially planted with annual vegetables that come to maturity around the same time.
  4. After the first garden is harvested, the enclosure is placed over the garden bed and the chooks introduced to eat crop residue, loosen the soil with their scratching, and fertilise the soil with their scat.
  5. When the chickens have cleared the first garden they are moved to the second, after harvesting.
  6. The first garden is replanted.
  7. The chooks and their enclosure follow the harvesting of the beds around the garden.

Following from permaculture design system co-inventor, Bill Mollison’s description of birds as “the mobile part of the forest”, chooks are the mobile part of the garden.
Uses: Eggs, meat, feathers.


Check local government regulations on keeping chooks in urban areas.
Period of human us id chickens: Possibly 5000 years.

A moveable pen and chicken house sufficient for three or so birds. This is a commercially available model

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