Claire Bickle is a Brisbane based poultry and gardening expert. Not only does she teach horticulture at TAFE, she’s a regular contributor to popular gardening publications, and has her own Chook Talk Back segment on ABC612. Chances are, if you're a serious poultry enthusiast in Australia, you've read or heard Claire’s work!
We had a chat with Claire to tell us more about her chickens and chicken keeping practices, how she combines this with her beautiful garden and where you can find her next.
BYCC: Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
Claire Bickle: I’ve been a horticulturalist based in Brisbane for 23 years, I write for a variety of magazines such as; subTropical Gardening, Good Organic Gardening and I write the Urban Chook column for Earth Garden Magazine each quarter. I teach horticulture part time at TAFE, am a member of the Horticultural Media Association and a mother of three children.
BYCC: What sparked your interest in chicken keeping?
CB: Chicken keeping followed the meeting of my husband and a permaculture course. He already had some Australorps and when we moved into a property that sat on 3 acres we started up our own edible gardens and chooks, ducks and turkeys seemed to us to be a natural part of the grand plan that we would implement.
BYCC: What kind of chickens do you have in your flock?
CB: What chooks do we keep? Over the years I have kept dozens of breeds of chickens as well as Guinea Fowl, Turkeys, Quail, Ducks and Geese but the main breeds we have today are the Araucanas. We have a breeding team of those as well as a mixed hen pen consisting of several types of Sussex, Plymouth Rock, Wyandotte, Belgian and we are starting up again with breeding Silkies.
BYCC: Do you keep other kinds of poultry as well?
CB: Other types of poultry that we keep these days are a pair of slate coloured Turkeys and we are just about to revisit the keeping of Quail.
BYCC: Do you let your chickens free range outside, or do they stay in a run area?
CB: We have our poultry both free ranging and confined to run time depending on weather conditions and times of day. For example if I know we are going to be late home I won’t let them all fully free range around the yard.
BYCC: In addition to chickens you’re very knowledgeable about gardening - do your chickens and gardens ‘get along’?
CB: Gardens and chooks – how does that work at my place? We have our edible garden fully fenced, that way we guarantee the safety of our edibles from pecking beaks. The rest of the garden generally copes with a bit of scratching here and there and I pop wire around any new plantings.
BYCC: What’s your favourite thing about owning chickens?
CB: I love the backyard companionship, their individual personalities (they’re not stupid) and of course fresh organic eggs.
BYCC: What’s the number 1 question that people ask you about keeping chickens?
CB: There are many of these first time chook owner questions I am regularly asked, one would be “how many chooks can we keep and what happens if we have to introduce new chooks to the old ones” and of course “why aren’t they laying?”
If you are thinking about keeping chickens in your backyard have a peck at our Complete Beginner's Guide here.