When our son turned five, I bought him what I thought to be THE coolest birthday present ever. It was the one thing I badly wanted as a kid, and assumed he would also love… a whopping big outdoor playhouse. Cool right? When I told him that his mystery birthday present was arriving on the back of Granddad's truck he was wide-eyed with excitement and wonder. However, when it arrived, his wonder turned to disappointment. He was imagining Granddad might be delivering a new bike, a rocket ship, a dinosaur or some other exciting truck load of boy-type fun. My childhood dream, it turned out, was nowhere near his!
The playhouse spent most of the next 10 years as a storage shed for bikes, trikes, balls and other outdoor paraphernalia. Sporadically, I'd clean it out and encourage the kids to actually play in it. Which they did a handful of times, until a handful of rather large, long-legged, hairy spiders saw the untapped potential of this vacant real estate and set up their own home. And that was it. The playhouse was deserted, the kids actually feared it. So it sat, a home for unwanted toys and spiders with a taste for the indoors.
But that all changed about two years ago when we found the perfect tenants. Six feathery, clucky chooks. I'd wanted chooks for years - we had them when I was a kid and I have fond memories of my own baby chick that followed me everywhere, and of gathering freshly laid eggs and enjoying yummy, golden-yolked eggs.
The playhouse was the perfect chookie castle. It's super sturdy and totally watertight, we just needed to add a few roosting poles and nest boxes - a couple of second-hand beer crates did the job nicely! Setting up the chook enclosure down in the back yard did take a bit of time, and money was particularly tight, so we mustered every ounce of ingenuity we had and used whatever we could recycle! We had a stack of metal poles and netting from the kids' trampoline enclosure that had broken months before. The poles were perfect for the frame, we just needed to buy some wire mesh (discounted of course!) and we used the netting to help block up holes in the bush and hedge that they could escape through when we let them out to forage. The end result was a fabulous, secure chookie area that has resulted in hundreds and hundreds of delicious, home-grown eggs!
Thankfully, this was one recaptured childhood memory that did not disappoint. I still love heading down to the chook house each morning and gathering up those freshly laid, warm eggs. Sometimes they're huge double yolkers! And the colour and taste - mmmm!
We've only had to buy eggs twice since we set up, and that's been during winter when the girls tend to lay fewer eggs. But that's okay because in the height of their production we were getting six eggs a day! Our friends, family and neighbours have been kept well supplied. We've even set up a barter system with a few of them - we've swapped eggs for all sorts of goodies; vegetables, babysitting time, fresh baking, bread and so on! And a carton of fresh, free range eggs is the perfect way to say thanks for those little favours that others do for us.
By my reckoning, it cost us a total of $300-ish to get set up, including the cost of the chickens, the wire mesh and the extra bits and pieces like new hinges for the playhouse door and so on. We were buying two dozen eggs every week (we eat a lot of eggs!), so that's around $16.00 a week. We now only pay around $4.00 a week for grain - and are getting an abundance of super fresh eggs from super happy hens!
And of course, the chooks offer so many more benefits than just yummy eggs! They love to devour scraps that would normally take up space in the bin, they keep on top of the weeds and they provide fantastic fertilizer! And with any luck, our kids will have wonderful childhood memories of baby chickens and fresh yummy eggs too! (which may just make up for their bad memories about giant spiders in the playhouse!).