The first chickens that called Australia home were picked up in Cape Town and landed on Sydney Cove with the First Fleet.
Most did not survive the journey due to moldy food and wild weather, but four months after the European settlers arrived in January 1788, there were 87 chickens in the colony.
The first reported cockfight took place in Brickfield Hill in Sydney in 1804, the first verifiable poultry show was held in Hobart in 1855 and in 1924 a Rhode Island Red set a world record of 319 eggs in a year at Burnley College, Victoria.
By 1945, the largest poultry farm in the world was run by the Carter brothers in Werribee in Victoria with 250,000 layers. The first KFC opened in 1968 in Guildford in Sydney and chicken salt was invented in 1970 in South Australia.
For over 200 years, Australians have had a complex history with this most domesticated bird – hundreds of millions of which we now eat every year, making it by far the most popular meat in the nation.
A new book called This Chicken Life and subtitles “Stories from chickens and the Australians who love them” examines our relationship with modest chook in the past few centuries.
Emily Halloran (photo) is studying a Bachelor of Veterinary Bioscience at the Roseworthy Campus of Adelaide University. The 25-year-old wants to become a specialized chicken vet. Her story appears in a new book called This Chicken Life and subtitled “Stories from chickens and the Australians who love them” in which our relationship with the humble chook is explored
Kelvin Smith (photo) started breeding pure-bred poultry in the early 1970s when he was 11 and 33 years old. “For every show he ever reviewed, he stood up to the fart of Mus, put on his very best clothes and finished the outfit with an ugly Foghorn Leghorn tie,” say the authors of This Chicken Life. “It gives a clear cut to his jib”
Chickens were originally kept mostly to produce eggs and were generally only eaten after they had stopped laying. Flocks of a dozen or more birds were still commonplace in suburban backyards well after the Second World War.
Because chicken production became industrialized in the late 1950s and chicken meat became more affordable, it was no longer economically worthwhile for most households to keep their own chicken coop.
Nowadays chickens return to the backyards of the entire country, because consumers pay more attention to the origin of their eggs and meat. They are still being paraded during shows, kept as pets and on social media.
“Having chickens in your life is so hot now,” says the publisher of This Chicken Life. ‘If you are not obsessed yourself, you know someone who is.
“Within a few years, keeping backyard chooks from something that you did nonna turned into the mainstream.
‘Chickens are in city centers and comedy performances, old people’s homes and poultry shows, prisons and weddings.
‘Regional poultry clubs have been revived by the influx of tree changers and hipsters intoxicated by exotic heritage varieties. Chickens have Instagram. Chickens are everywhere. “
Among the stories collected in This Chicken Life is that of Victorian women Miranda Boulton and Cori Hawtin who make wheelchairs for chooks. They once spent $ 4,000 on the veterinary bills of a single bird.
There is also Queensland schoolboy Max Cosgrove who designs and sells bikinis for chickens.
Queensland schoolboy Max Cosgrove (photo) designs and sells bikinis for chickens, which he calls ‘chikinis’. The 12-year-old also has a runaway line of chicken fashion and ankle straps. Or, as they are known in Max’s product universe, “chanklets.” They are the first product in its planned range of chicken jewelry, or ‘choollery’
Kelvin Smith started breeding purebred poultry in the early 1970s when he was 11 and 33 years old. Emily Halloran, 25, is studying to become a specialized chicken vet.
Comedian Jennifer Birkin believes that cats and dogs are too needy and says that human babies all look the same, but has found her audience with a one-woman show called Crazy Chicken Nerd.
The author of this Chicken Life author Fiona Scott-Norman is a writer, comedian and cabaret director who lives with her eight heritage bantams. Photographer Ilana Rose has a background in documenting grim subcultures and a strong interest in social justice.
In addition to individual stories from chook lovers, their book contains a history of chickens in Australia and chapters with practical advice such as how to name chickens, how to choose breeds and how many birds to keep.
This is a modified extract of This Chicken Life from Fiona Scott-Norman and Ilana Rose, published by Plum, RRP $ 32.99:
Miranda Boulton (photo) and Cori Hawtin make wheelchairs for chooks. “We have probably spent as much money on our animals as parents have on their children,” says Miranda. ‘My entire wage literally goes to taking care of them, feeding them and spoiling them. You do it because you love it ‘
Miranda Boulton and Cori Hawtin: Dynamic duo, animal rescuers, makers of chicken wheelchairs. Live: Murrumbeena, Victoria
There is a touch of MacGyver about Miranda Boulton. She is resourceful. Handy with tools. A problem solver. The neighbors lost their herd of foxes, which means that you are next, so she provided her three chicken coops with automatic closing doors fitted with old car antennas and a few laptop batteries, with timers connected to the mains. “You just hope you don’t have a power outage.” She has cameras (plural) installed in every coop, so that she and her equally rescue-obsessed partner Cori Hawtin can check and see that everyone has been put into it. “It’s just like a baby camera, isn’t it? For our babies, “she says drolly.
They are the first to admit that they are getting a bit out of hand. “We have probably spent as much money on our animals as parents have on their children,” says Miranda. ‘My entire wage literally goes to taking care of them, feeding them and spoiling them. You do it because you love it. “
Miranda Boulton (right) is resourceful. After her neighbors lost their chicken herd of foxes, she fitted her three chicken coops with automatic closing doors set up from old car antennas and laptop batteries, with timers connected to the mains. She has installed cameras in every chicken coop so that she and her equally rescue-obsessed partner Cori Hawtin (left) can check the chooks
Horses are particularly expensive to care for. But one of their rescue chickens, a chicken named Stormy, earned $ 4,000 at the vet. “That was not a blow,” Miranda remarks. “That was more than months of treatment and medication and surgery. But if you look at the end, yes, that was a chicken of four thousand dollars. “
“But we would do it all over again,” says Cori. “We would never go,” Okay, we love that animal to a dollar, and if it hits two thousand dollars, it’s over. ‘ We do our best. “
They go above and beyond, clear and simple. Miranda is also the founder of Chicken Therapy Chairs, a home company that makes and dispatches wheelchairs for post-operative or incapacitated chooks. You could call it a side issue, except that it is not priced to make money; the seats simply cover their costs. Miranda can often be found outside, spray PVC pipes in bright primary colors, or inside, package orders late into the night or sew the hanging fabric hammocks (with leg and poop holes) for the wheelchairs. ‘They have to be sent quickly because people now want them because their chicken is now sick.
Miranda (photo) is also the founder of Chicken Therapy Chairs, a home business that makes and dispatches wheelchairs for post-operative or incapacitated chooks. You could call it a side issue, except that it is not priced to make money; the seats simply cover their costs
“They are desperate and take five to ten days in some countries.” There are four standard sizes (including a tiny chick), but nothing is standard when it comes to a chook with special needs and seats are often tailor-made. ‘There will be a chicken with one leg, or a chicken with a neck that needs a lower rail at the front to reach the food bowls. Another chicken has no wings. Every chicken has a story. “
The demand for rehabilitation chairs for chickens is high and rising. “Working hours aside, and the time we are on the farm, every free minute does this.” Miranda sells up to ten seats a week, so far more than five hundred, with rapid spread of words through online networks of animal shelters and chook lovers, and outbreak news. From a media perspective, it’s a strange story on a slow news day (chicken wheelchairs? LOL), but the therapy chairs address a real problem now that chooks are seen as pets rather than just as cattle. In retrospect it is only clear that sick accompanying chooks will have aftercare requirements. How do you physically rehabilitate a chicken with a broken leg? Or one that has had a stroke? And how do you give a qualitative end to life to rescued broilers with leg and back defects? At the most basic level, chickens need their buttocks off the ground, otherwise they are in their own waste and cannot forage. Everyone plays catch-up, including veterinarians.
Miranda can often be found outside, spray PVC pipes with clear primary colors, or inside, package orders late into the night or sew the hanging fabric hammocks (with leg and poop holes) for the wheelchairs (photo). “They have to be sent quickly, because people want them now because their chicken is sick now,” she says
Miranda and Cori see chicken therapy chairs as part of their service to the community. ‘You will receive an email with the text:’ My chicken can finally sit up and eat! “They are in the clouds,” says Cori. The seats offer clear benefits for the quality of life, some of which are social. A chook in a chair is one that can be outside with his herd. Best of all, the Miranda and Cori therapy chairs have opened to a community of like-minded people, both here and internationally. After years of good disposition of judgment, it was wonderful to realize that there are many others who share their passion. “It’s huge. I never realized, but there are people in Australia who love their chickens like us. Other people recognize these small individuals and that they are part of the family. Suddenly we go: “Oh! We are not crazy!”
Kelvin came through the poultry classes in the old way, from junior to senior. It was then a desirable hobby. Something a young boy could do without supervision. Something you can do cheaply. “We didn’t have color TV then. People were lucky to have a TV point. Everything was outside. It was cycling, it was fishing, they were animals’
KELVIN SMITH: Right poultry, lover of novelty bands, great personality. Lives: Stanhope, Victoria
Kelvin Smith, until recently from Shepparton, a big, blunt man in his fifties with a big, smooth smile and lots of opinions, started breeding purebred poultry in the early seventies, when he was 11 years old. I picked it up in primary school in sixth grade. Started showing when he was fifteen. Lifetime member of the Goulburn Valley Poultry Club. President for ten years. Been a judge for thirty-three years. For every show he has ever judged, he stood up to the fart of Mus, put on his very best clothes and finished the outfit with an ugly Foghorn Leghorn tie. It gives a clear cut to his jib.
Kelvin Smith is still assessing chickens, but he has recently sold his breeding chickens. It is his first time without chooks in 45 years
‘Oh, it was given to me by someone. Do not remember. It was before one of the women, so I’ve had it for a long time. It’s just my little view of life that doesn’t take yourself too seriously. Because I don’t do that. Today I am the judge, tomorrow I can be an exhibitor. Does not matter. I am wearing my damn good clothes, my jacket and my chook tie. “
Kelvin came through the poultry classes in the old way, from junior to senior. It was then a desirable hobby. Something a young boy could do without supervision. Something you can do cheaply. “We didn’t have color TV then. People were lucky to have a TV point. Everything was outside. It was cycling, it was fishing, they were animals. “
Kelvin considers himself a lucky man. “I never had to lose them as such.” When he went to college, his parents took care of his chickens. Later, before settling in Shep again, he made a deal with another breeder to take care of his chooks in exchange for food for both couples.
“I had chickens running through my blood, and for years, life was all about the chooks.” His perseverance has paid off. “At the end of 2000 I was someone to be reckoned with, you know. I’m pretty sure enough people shivered when they saw my car drive to a show grounds. “
Times change, and so do people. Kelvin is still judging, but he has recently sold his breeding chickens. His first time without chooks in forty-five years. Damn hell, Kelvin. He has reasons. His new job in farm supplies means he has to work on Saturdays. Exhibiting and judging destroys your weekends. He is also in his fifties, there was no money to be made on the farm and it became a bit of hard work. He has a new wife, no children. He sold and they moved to the city. “I just got a little bloody backyard now.” Yet it fits them. “We can do what we want. I don’t go to shows every weekend. “Kelvin is going boogie boarding at Ocean Grove. He collects antique bottles, and now he can go to bottle shows. “I miss it. But I enjoy my new life a little more. “
But never say never. He has not sold his large trailer and there is still a shed on it. “I can see it over the garden. You never lose interest. One day I could see something that stimulates my imagination. I enjoyed the whole experience. Maybe someday I’ll get that last shed and set it up. I have not sold all my incubators. I have not sold all my breeders. I didn’t sell all my respectable show pants and I saved one shed. So. What does that tell you? “In his blood.
Emily Halloran says that veterinarians took her sickening chooks to not necessarily be chickens. And they certainly didn’t take her seriously. “They drop everything because the dog is sick, but if it’s a chicken, they say,” Oh well, “. SO rude, “she says. Her answer was to study for a Bachelor of Veterinary Bioscience so that she can become a specialized chicken vet
EMILY HALLORAN: Chicken-veterinarian-in-training. Lives: Adelaide Hills, South Australia
Emily Halloran, twenty-five and studied a Bachelor of Veterinary Bioscience at the Roseworthy Campus of Adelaide University, experienced two ‘Aha!’ moments on the way to becoming a specialized chicken vet. The first was when her pet Rooster Night, a Silkie cross bantam, almost died due to flystrike in his comb. ‘I had to pull each made individually out of his head, and I did that for five weeks. It was completely disgusting. But he recovered and I thought, “I have this. If I can do this, I could work as a vet for chickens.” Because it was very dirty indeed. “
The second realization was of the creeping variety: the vets she took with her distressed chickens were not necessarily among chickens. And they certainly didn’t take her seriously. “I have had a lot of bad advice. I took chickens back and forth while I should have just put them down. The vets didn’t know. They were guessing. And some of them can be so rude. They drop everything because the dog is sick, but if it’s a chicken, they say, “Oh, yes.” So rude. My chickens mean the same as my dog and cat. They are pets. I love them. And there are many of us who do that. “
“My sister, Annie, brought three chicks from kindergarten to raise,” says Emily. “Then I more or less took over, cared for them and fell for their personality. I devoted my afternoons to them instead of my homework. Then I kept adding and hatching more and more ‘
Pure in heart and determination (it is one thing to think that a chicken doctor might be fun, something completely different to dedicate the years to training), Emily wants to be the caring veterinarian who a) knows what she is doing, and b) wins do not embarrass or judge you because you ate a chicken. She understands. She loves all animals and they are attracted to her as if she were a Disney princess, but they are chickens that nestle in her heart.
‘My sister, Annie, has brought three chicks from kindergarten to raise. Then I more or less took over, cared for them and fell for their personality. I devoted my afternoons to them instead of my homework. Then I kept adding and coming out. I know it sounds crazy, but they make me happy. If I feel down, I can talk to them. They are great to sit on your lap, just to stroke their feathers and they fall asleep in the sun. I’ll tell them what makes me stressed. I have a real attachment. Every night when I lock them in, I give them a hug and say goodnight. “
Emily’s chooks have quite a bit of woody hill behind her parents’ home, which gives them lots of spotted light and overhead coverage, a must-have for good mental health of chickens. Taking care of the herd became a valuable one-on-one with her father, Mark
Fluffy Feet, named by her sister Annie, was hatched when Emily was in year 8, making the Silkie 12 years old. Last year another one, fourteen years old, died a gala life for every chook, and more than a hundred times the age of a broiler. She is doing something right. Emily’s chooks have quite a bit of woody hill behind her parents’ home, which gives them lots of spotted light and overhead coverage, a must-have for good mental health of chickens. Taking care of the herd became a valuable one-on-one with her father, Mark. They worked closely together when Emily was a child and formed a close bond. “It was a good project to do with him. We built a chicken coop, which grew into two chicken coops, which grew into an extension. We are about to get a new upgrade. “
Max Cosgrove (photo) is an only child whose mother Belinda fought against breast cancer. Max spends four hours a day with his swarms of purebred chooks. An hour in the morning, feeding and watering, then cleaning in the afternoon, checking the incubator and leaving them all free
MAX COSGROVE: Chicken entrepreneur, breast cancer research researcher, inventor of the Chickini, Cheanie, Chumper, Chickenator, Chandbag and Chanklet. Ideas man, schoolboy, son. Lives: Machine Creek, Queensland
Max Cosgrove has surprising blue-green eyes with a distant look. The kind of look that you get, probably, when the back deck of the family farm looks out over an endless rolling plain. If you are an only child. When your mother has had a scary battle with breast cancer and you have to step up a lot. The rest of Max is sturdy, cheerful and accommodating: a young man of few words and the most unlikely entrepreneur in Australia. A twelve-year-old with a runaway line of chicken fashion and ankle straps. Or, as they are known in Max’s product universe, “Chanklets.” They are also the first product in its planned range of chicken jewelry. Sorry: “Choollery.”
Max spends four hours a day with his swarms of purebred chooks. An hour in the morning, feeding and watering, then cleaning in the afternoon, checking the incubator and leaving them all free. There is of course school – where he is the captain of the softball team – but there are also four cows (Knuffels, Lucinda, Lagoon and Meester) to look after and fencing to check. Then there is the store he sets up on the property to sell his special chicken-feed mix and hand-riveted chicken feed, his branded Chook Poo Brew fertilizer, the chicken hats and sweaters knitted by his nana and great-aunt, roo tires for the roosters, chicken fascinators and small chick purses. He postpones his own calendar. He sells extendable mango pickers and organic mangos. He has a stall at the Mount Larcom farmer’s market, sells chooks via the Facebook page of Max’s Chickens (more than 11,000 subscribers) and has won ribbons for handling and best of breed at the Mount Larcom Show. “We have to call him at the end of the day. He would be there all night, “says his mother, Belinda.
Max besteedt tien uur per week aan het naaien van zijn ‘chickini’-assortiment – bikini’s voor kippen (foto) – waaraan hij dacht nadat zijn moeder een dubbele borstamputatie had ondergaan. Zijn ‘cheanies’ – of kippenmutsen – werden geïnspireerd door haaruitval. Hij schenkt een dollar van elke verkoop van chookkleding aan de Breast Cancer Foundation
Max besteedt ook tien uur per week aan het naaien van zijn ‘Chickini’-assortiment – bikini’s voor kippen – waaraan hij dacht nadat zijn moeder een dubbele borstamputatie had ondergaan. De ‘Cheanies’ werden geïnspireerd door haaruitval. Hij schenkt een dollar van elke verkoop van chookkleding aan de Breast Cancer Foundation. Tot nu toe meer dan $ 1000. ‘Toen mama chemo had. Toen ben ik begonnen. Ik hou van … Ik hou van het idee om te geven. Het is moeilijk om als familie door borstkanker te gaan, dus ja, het is goed om te ondersteunen. “
Max werd geboren met de drukte. Zijn eerste onderneming, vijf jaar oud, was een busking-expeditie aan de voorkant van de boerderij (op een weg met zero drive-by traffic), gevolgd door een al even gedoemde bermkraam die zijn speelgoed verkoopt. Toen hij zeven was, gaf een leraar hem een paar kippen, en hij speelde met het verkopen van eieren voordat hij besefte dat de kippen zelf winstgevender zouden zijn. Hij spaarde voor een ‘quad’ (een haan en drie kippen), leende geld van zijn ouders om een broedmachine te kopen en las boeken uit de plaatselijke bibliotheek. Toen hij de inspiratie voor Chickini’s had, vroeg hij om een naaimachine en volgde lessen.
Max steekt geld in het upgraden van de chookpennen en het kopen van de kippenkoekjes. Hij heeft ook zijn mama Belinda-sieraden gekocht, waaronder een zilveren ‘levensboom’-ketting. ‘That was right on when I was diagnosed,’ Belinda says. ‘He’s always been kind.’
Within two years Max had ten pure breeds of chicken (about a hundred birds), a high proﬁle and a loyal clientele. Tickled by his youth and enterprise, people drive for hours to buy his chickens and merch. He paid back the incubator loan and bought his own quad bike and skateboard, several head of cattle and an affectionate rottweiler called Rocky. He’s saving to buy the house down the road, and has his own debit card for supplies. He puts money into upgrading the chook pens and buying the chickens treats. He’s also bought his mum jewellery, including a silver ‘tree of life’ necklace. ‘That was right on when I was diagnosed,’ she says. ‘He’s always been kind.’
Max cares for his chickens. He cares full stop. ‘When I was sick,’ says Belinda, ‘he treated me like his baby. I was too crook to do anything, and he’d be out there getting himself ready, making his own lunches, making me something before going to school. I’d watch him get on the bus then I’d sleep all day, set my alarm to watch him get off the bus, and he’d throw down his bag, get me a water, a cup of tea, look after me. He ran me baths, because I ached so much. It must have been hard, but he didn’t complain, not once.’
Max doesn’t even complain to the chickens. ‘No way. I just sit with them. It’s quiet. Because they don’t talk back.’
Comedian Jennifer Birkin (pictured) feels cats and dogs are too needy and says human babies all look the same but has found her audience with a one-woman show called Crazy Chicken Nerd
JENNIFER BIRKIN: Comedian, traffic controller, pop culture obsessive. Lives: Adelaide
Jennifer Birkin, blunt smart-arse and chicken and pop-culture obsessive (she has ‘Don’t Panic’ painted on the roof of her house), is performing her first solo comedy show, Crazy Chicken Nerd, in a dim bar underground lit with fairy lights and a single lamp.
‘I’ve got 1051 photographs on my mobile phone, and 832 of them are of chickens,’ says Jen, and the audience laughs, somewhere between impressed and shocked. ‘They’re revenge. People look offended when I say I don’t want to see a photo of their children. They think I’m joking – because I do joke a lot – but I’m serious. No. I don’t want to see it. It’s a baby. They all look the same to me.’
It’s the Adelaide Fringe Festival, and Biggie’s basement, with its close black walls and graffiti-splashed toilets, has been pressed into service as a venue – alongside every other room in town bigger than a breadbox. The stage is not so much a stage as an eked-out corner of polished concrete floor. But a woman and her chicken don’t need much room, and the audience, invested, lean in for Jen’s talk about how her chickens have taken over, and to watch Willow peck around for scattered wheat. Jen’s hand-reared Partridge Silkie, named for Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s bestie, doesn’t have any lines, but is very much the charismatic co-star.
‘I’ve got 1051 photographs on my mobile phone, and 832 of them are of chickens,’ says Jennifer Birkin (pictured). ‘They’re revenge. People look offended when I say I don’t want to see a photo of their children. They think I’m joking – because I do joke a lot – but I’m serious’
‘Before the season I took the chickens to the bar a few times, to see how they’d go, to make sure they didn’t mind the lighting or the music,’ Jen says the next day, sitting in the backyard of her unpretentious old Adelaide house. She’s framed by chooks and small building projects. ‘They had to be happy. It was an experiment, and I was careful. Went around and told people I had a chicken and was about to take it out of the basket, because some people don’t like flappy birds. But then I take her out and, of course, all anyone wants is to hold and pat the chicken.’ Understandable. Jen enjoys patting the chickens herself.
This Chicken Life by Fiona Scott-Norman and Ilana Rose, published by Plum, RRP $32.99, photography by Ilana Rose
Chickens and comedy are Jen’s blithe way of interacting with the world. And, to an extent, avoiding it. ‘I can be an extrovert and an introvert. I can talk to anyone about anything – my grandmother said I was inoculated with a polygraph needle – but I can’t stand stupid. People drive me nuts. I am almost obtusely independent.’ She’s ambivalent about many things. Other people. Relationships. Dogs and cats. ‘They’re too needy.’ Joking is Jen’s way – it leavens her candour – and the chooks supply the rest: entertainment and stories to tell, an occupation for her roving mind, undemanding company, eggs she can sell to the neighbours, and a tickling sense of self.
‘Chickens are part of my identity. I’m known as the crazy chicken lady. Posting birthday pictures of chickens on everyone’s Facebook page for the past four years probably hasn’t helped. But chooks are perfect. They don’t need me when I’m not there, but when I need them, here they are. I can go out at night and not worry. They’re funny to talk about and better than a lot of people. They’re not critical. They don’t judge me and, yes, I have to deal with judgement. You’re a woman who doesn’t have kids, there’s judgement. You walk down the street and a car will drive past and someone will yell out that you’re fat. Thanks for that: I know, well done.’
Jen’s got a lot of steel under the self-deprecation and bad chicken puns (‘I’d like to thank the chick on sound’). She’s complex and self-aware, and has her work-life balance enviably sorted. She’s a trained nurse with a degree in genetics and zoology who reads science texts for fun, but these days chooses to work as a traffic controller. One of the people who hold up ‘Stop’ and ‘Go’ signs on roadworks, or guides pedestrians around potholes. ‘It beats working for a living. It’s easy. I don’t have to think about it when I come home. I’d much rather think about chickens. And I do. A lot. They’re good company.’
This Chicken Life by Fiona Scott-Norman and Ilana Rose, published by Plum, RRP $32.99, is available from here.
Chickens and comedy are Jen’s blithe way of interacting with the world. And, to an extent, avoiding it. ‘I can be an extrovert and an introvert. I can talk to anyone about anything – my grandmother said I was inoculated with a polygraph needle – but I can’t stand stupid’