Republic of Moreland

January 30, 2007

Livestocking in Cobes

Filed under: Brunswick,Coburg,urban farming,water — Kath @ 10:13 pm

When we were house-hunting a couple of years back, we looked at a house in Jones Street, Brunswick. It was advertised for a song, it looked neat enough from the outside, and our stomachs churned as we entered. It stank. Real bad. It was a mess. The estate agent — from Lewis — looked aptly embarrassed, poor fella. He didn’t even attempt to talk it up. For reasons we couldn’t discern, the house had two kitchens. They weren’t Kosher or Halal, let me tell you. One had a tap that didn’t so much drip as dribble stuff. Worse: the dank, sour-smelling concrete yard was overcrowded with pigeons, rabbits and flies, and no doubt rats—it was a vermin concentration camp.

When we left I had to spit in the gutter. It took all evening to get the stench out of my nostrils. Later that year I cooked rabbit stew, which I couldn’t eat for the memory of that Brunswick vermin-pit.

I actually love the smell of healthy livestock. (Or, I should say, farm animals. As Peter Singer has pointed out, livestock denotes some insentient consumer product.) Being a bit of a hygiene freak in the house, I have no problems with animals in the yard. Myths about urban farming abound. You can intensely farm animals in the city for produce, for fertiliser, for weed control and for pleasure and still be vermin- and disease-free. You can practice urban animal husbandry without resorting to Jones Street depravity.

Last year, Little One was lucky enough to have the world’s best kindergarten teacher. I loved her, Little One adored her, and I suspect LO’s dad had a bit of a fondness for her. She wasn’t just gorgeous, she brought many talents and ideas into the kinder-room. One of these was incubating eggs and raising chooks at Kindy.

I was surprised to learn that some parents expressed concern about this on “health grounds”. These were the same parents, I gathered, who held their childrens’ birthday parties at McDonald’s and who kept their infants occupied with Nintendo games and lollies.

If you read New Scientist or any popular science magazine, time and again you’ll be hit over the head with reports of studies showing farm children have better immune responses than city kids, largely on account of exposure to livestock. (And remember how small pox immunity was discovered: dairy maids had immunity from frequent exposure to cow pox.) The perils of our oversanitised urban environments are something I’m contending with now. Regulations about storing greywater are understandable but problematic. Provided you don’t have a contagious disease or e-coli issue, and provided the weather is cool, I can’t see much wrong in putting 2-day-old bathwater on fruit trees. I’m a very big fan of responsible regulation, but we tend to regulate for the kind of folk who run rodent concentration camps; not the kind, like me, who habitually clean door-handles and light-switches with Eucalyptus. (I take spray disinfectant to hotel rooms. I come from a line of hypocrite hygiene freaks: my father, a farm boy, scrubs his kitchen benches with metho. There’s dirt and there’s dirt, you see.)

Anyway, livestock. When I moved to Coburg I was delighted to discover Andrew’s Stock Feed on Sydney Road. That won’t last, I thought. Not with gentrification of The Burg. Blow me down, when I went in I thought I’d stumbled into the stock exchange floor. Or Glick’s bakery on a Saturday. The place was jumping. And they’re none too frugal with friendly advice.

Andrew’s Stock Feed is great, and so is the market for livestock supplies in Moreland. Many of us (particularly Greeks and Italians, I suspect) farm small animals: ducks, chickens, quail, fish, rabbits, turkeys and pigeons. And I was thrilled to learn recently of an enterprising Coburg business called Book-a-Chook. They supply everything chook-related (including coops) to local folk. They even hire out chooks and pens so you can try before you buy.

How cool is that? I didn’t need to Book-a-Chook, as we have some already. But one of my hens is broody: she’s been sitting on river pebbles for two weeks now, keeping them warm. Little One and I thought it’d be grand to swap the river pebbles for live eggs, so our poor virgin chook can incubate them. (How’s unfair is that? She gets none of the fun and all the labour.) So I called Book-a-Chook to see if they knew how to get some. A lovely woman called Deb advised me about this and a lot more chicken-related stuff, too, in the full knowledge that I wasn’t a paying customer. Like Andrew’s Stock Feed, she knew her stuff, she loved her work, and she was happy to take the time and trouble to share her knowledge for free.

I love this about Coburg.


  1. Excellent post, GoTA. You rock.

    One small and amusing oversight, though: I think you’ll find Glick’s bakery ain’t very busy at all on a Saturday… Can you guess why? (Don’t worry — I made the same mistake myself, once…)

    Comment by Bane of Malakas — January 31, 2007 @ 3:23 pm | Reply

  2. Oh, blush. I must’ve meant a Friday. Of course. (Not a very good Jew, am I?)

    Comment by Girl on The Avenue — January 31, 2007 @ 10:46 pm | Reply

  3. You’re a better Jew than I am, ‘cos I’m a Norse pagan. (“Yeah, real Norse!” as my aunt used to screech.)

    Something Moreland City Council could consider for any Sydney Road mall project would be to create green space for public cultivation. A public market garden, if you will, where folks could rent space. Imagine lovely green crops growing amongst café tables, trams and bikes passing by, absolutely no malakas… it’d be superb.

    Does Moreland Council have the cojones for such a bold innovation, as they say in the bullrings of Old Mexico?

    Comment by Bane of Malakas — February 1, 2007 @ 11:50 am | Reply

  4. Actually, Bane, you don’t need to create spaces for urban farming. There’s already plenty of space on retailer’s roofs. In Queensland salad vegies are being grown on roofs of retail strips to supply the local cafés with fresh produce. Apparently then the cafe scraps are composted, which feeds again into the system. See Geoff Wilson’s post on green roofs on this site. He describes the CQU project.

    Comment by Girl on The Avenue — February 1, 2007 @ 1:04 pm | Reply

  5. Love your blog GoTA.

    I’d love to have some chooks, but as we’re next to a park with a creek (Yarraville not Coburg), and there’s said to be tiger snakes there, I’m a bit worried about the chooks attracting snakes. Is that one of the myths?

    Also, do you have a dog? We have a lovely feisty dog who might think chasing them around was great fun. What is the behaviour pattern between dogs and chooks in general – do they settle down and ignore them after the initial excitement?

    Comment by Helen — February 8, 2007 @ 1:23 pm | Reply

  6. Thanks, Helen!

    I did write a response to this but it got lost in the ether. In short: call Book a Chook: Deb is very generous with chook info. Click on the link: her number is there.

    My chooks have attracted a few mice occasionally, but because they’re at the bottom of the garden, I don’t much mind. I’ve now managed to suspend a feeder from the ceiling of the coop, which seems to defy the rodents.

    I’ve had a dog who was very curious with the chooks, and sometimes a bit of a bully, but was able to be trained to stop herself from terrorising them. Some breeds are better around chooks than others.

    Comment by Girl on The Avenue — February 8, 2007 @ 7:09 pm | Reply

  7. Helen, I just spoke to Book-a-Chook’s Deb again (I’m going over to meet her this arvo: taking Little One to see her chickens!) She said there are online urban chook forums you can ask these questions at and get expert advice from all over: links to the forums are on the site.

    Comment by Girl on The Avenue — February 9, 2007 @ 2:11 pm | Reply

  8. […] livestock, so I went and visited Deb from Book a Chook in Coburg. (I discussed Book a Chook in a previous post.) Deb gave me three live eggs from her Bantoms, chickens I initially wasn’t too keen on, as […]

    Pingback by Backyard experiment #2 « Republic of Moreland — March 2, 2007 @ 6:26 pm | Reply

  9. Thanks GotA: will check it out.

    Comment by Helen — March 5, 2007 @ 9:08 am | Reply

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