IF there’s one topic that can really get people excited, it’s chooks.
A quick request for quirky chook owners on the Bendigo Advertiser’s Facebook page this week received immediate and enthusiastic responses.
Local hen lovers gushed about their feathered friends and proudly showed-off tailor-made chicken coops.
“Ours have a chandelier in their nesting house. All chook houses need a chandelier,” wrote one.
Another wrote that their chooks lived in style with “French doors and jarrah decking.”
Others described scenes that can only be interpreted as the chooks’ seamless integration into family life.
“If I’m having breakfast home alone, I’ll sit on the step and share my porridge with them,” wrote Emily Prince.
“She loves cheese and vegemite sandwiches,” said Kate Strom, who paid hundreds for her hen, Hetty, to have surgery.
When I was a kid everybody had chooks in the backyard and then it went right out and now everybody's into it. People are fascinated with poultry.
Increasingly more residents in suburban Bendigo are keeping chooks.
Huntly pullet grower Lou Ruedin has a large trade supplying backyard chooks to households in a 200-kilometre radius of Bendigo. His business turns over 12,000 birds a year.
"I've literally got thousands of customers now and they come back to me every year," Mr Ruedin said.
Local pet store PETstock has also been feeling the rise in popularity.
Store manager Cameron Hyatt said they never used to sell the animal at all.
Now chooks take up 15-20 per cent of their pet sales and the numbers continue to rise.
Mr Hyatt said the days of chooks as purely functional animals, providing eggs or - dare it be mentioned - meat, are gone.
“The new generation of families are actually making them a pet,” Mr Hyatt said.
Mr Ruedin said he'd noticed many of his customers were getting quite attached to their chooks.
"Some people keep them way too long because they're way past their productive life," he said.
Passionate chook owner Kate Strom said productivity had nothing to with it.
"I don't have her for eggs, I have her for love," she said.
Her hen Hetty had a life-threatening condition in which her eggs were being excreted inside her body.
Ms Strom paid for a surgical implant to save Hetty's life, though now she cannot lay eggs at all.
She said Hetty was a wonderful companion that could "satisfy loneliness".
Kennington primary student Sebastian Robinson, 8, has a similar opinion.
"They're good to listen to if you feel alone," he said.
Pyramid Hill's Rachel Cain said companionship was a major factor for her son.
He reads books to their chooks Burkie, Simon, Harris, Sophie and Barney.
“He’ll spend hours in the pen out there talking to them,” Ms Cain said.
Parents also like chooks for their educational value.
Ms Cain said feeding the chooks and giving them clean water gave her children responsibility and “life skills”.
She said the chooks also gave her children an opportunity to get outdoors.
“Sometimes kids miss out in this day and age with all the technology and this is a way to get outside,” Ms Cain said.
Kennington mother Carla Taylor dabbles in chook breeding and said caring for the chooks gave her children the opportunity to learn about life and death.
She said the chooks gave them an outdoor hobby and got them off the computer.
And, she said, chooks fitted well into ideas about sustainable living.
"People are growing their own vegies. The chooks and the vegies go together because you put the manure on your garden."
Central Victorian Poultry Club member Graeme Smith said he had noticed the trend growing.
“When I was a kid everybody had chooks in the backyard and then it went right out and now everybody’s into it. People are fascinated with poultry,” Mr Smith said.
He said the backyard chook revival could be attributed to a trend to get "back to nature".
"I think people have a bit of a thing against mass production hence that trend towards organic-type products. I think some people believe by having chooks in their backyard at least they know where their eggs come from," he said.
“They’re frustrated farmers maybe, and having three or four chooks in the backyard is their own little bit of self-sufficiency.”
He said there was also another, purely aesthetic reason to own chooks.
"A lot of people that want backyard poultry, they don't want your normal Isa Brown that lays eggs, they want something that's pretty."
He said heritage breed auctions and competitions were becoming more popular throughout Victoria.
Whether for beauty, produce, companionship, sustainability or education, it's clear these birds are capturing many hearts in the Bendigo region.
Facebook user Jules Butterworth wrote this week: "Life just wouldn't be the same without my feathered friends. I can't understand how people don't have chooks."