Archive for the ‘Chickens’ Category

Waiting for Spring

November 4, 2014
How are you out there?  We are waiting for Spring to settle in over here.  We have had some warm days over the last couple of months, but we’ve had plenty of wet, cold and windy ones too.  Just Sunday morning I was admiring the fresh snow on the mountain range in the distance and lighting the fire again at church.  We do love the scenery over here though, with the vivid green of the lush grass, the darker green of the trees, the blue skies and the white snow.  The dairy heifers in the paddock across the road add to the beauty too, and they found Kim very intriguing when he was taking this picture this morning.
  FromOurFrontGate
I hope we can grow grass like that on our own property one day, and I think my cow hopes that we can even more ardently than I do!
Cathy with Twinkles

Did I mention she is the best cow ever!!!!!!!!

So, what have we been up to?  Firstly I dug up our remaining fruit trees and put them in pots.  Until we can do a better job of keeping the possums and wallabies away from them in our prospective orchard area I decided it was best to keep them in the pigeon cage – which is fully fenced and inside the electric fence to boot.  I also prepped a couple of our chook house runs as gardens for this year, shifting compost into them and moving the chooks into different areas, setting up sprinklers and planting out some peas, lettuce, broccoli, kale and beetroot.  I’ve got some tomatoes and corn in the greenhouse waiting to go out, but we’ve had some serious frosts lately so it’s just as well I haven’t planted them into the garden yet, though we’ll have to risk it sometime soon.
Our chooks have been separated into one cage for the old girls and another for the young ones.  The plan was to breed from the old girls this year, but our Araucana rooster turned nasty and began to attack some of the hens – so he had to go without delay.  I had already had one hen go broody and we had given her a couple of eggs which hatched two young Araucana chicks this last weekend, so for once we are hoping for roosters!  Her other chicks are purebred French Marans, the eggs coming from a friend in town.  We can only hope they are resistant to Avian TB, but we wanted to get a few more of that breed so thought it was worth a try.
  Hen (Pea) with Yellow Chick
Yellow Chick

French Maran chick

Our poor long suffering turkeys have been struggling this year as the currawongs (a bird similar to a crow) have been stealing all their eggs as soon as they lay them.  To prevent this we ran some anti-bird netting between our two runs of chook house / garden cages today.  I hope that will mean the turkeys can safely lay and also that any hens with young chicks can be protected in there as well.
Netted Area
I have not been making so much cheese lately as I am spending more time outside, but when I was still going strong I made myself a cheese press which works well.  It is much better than balancing buckets of water on top of the cheese mold.  🙂  However we did recently make a large batch of hams from our last pig which are yummy.  Also on the subject of food we now have a freezer full of beef again.  I do love beef and there is nothing quite like a juicy piece of eye fillet steak for delicious dining!!!  It also means we now have one less mouth to buy hay for!
Press with mIni cheeses

My home made cheese press

Kim has continued to really enjoy his photography.  He just upgraded his camera again, and is currently selling the old one on eBay.  Now he is involved with a local club who have monthly meetings and he is going on his first excursion with them to take photos this week.  They are going to our local wildlife park after hours.  They also do an annual display in the local hall and every year produce a calendar with a selection of their photos of the Mole Creek area.  Kim has begun to go to a chiropractor who has helped him to recover from a back problem he was experiencing, and has improved his posture also.  His weight continues to drop on the sugar free diet and he was pleased to tell us all that he had lost 10% of his original weight just the other day.  No doubt many of you saw the recent blood moon.  Kim took some photos of course and it was interesting to watch, though I thought it looked more of a rusty brown than red.
Blood Moon
Kim spent quite a while putting a new roof on the tractor and draining the gearbox oil (well over 100L of it which I am told is not supposed to be a milky colour as it was in the photo – that was apparently caused by water getting into it over the years) and replacing it with the 50L it was supposed to have.
Transmission oil draining from tractor

Is that really supposed to be oil draining from the tractor?

Tractor

Shiny new roof on the tractor

 It is wonderful to have the tractor back again, there is so much that is easier to do with the tractor than without!  We manually dug a couple of fencepost holes while the tractor was out of service and I am here to tell you that doing it with the tractor is preferable.  We were also pleased to pick up a cheap but good Massey Ferguson mouldboard plough for the tractor in nearby Beulah.  Using the tractor for that is more fun than digging with a mattock too.  🙂
Plough
We have been busy down at the church with things other than the usual Sunday service, Bible studies and craft group.  We have burnt off a wood stack in the back paddock, had stumps removed out the front and set up a garden bed out the front of the hall.  Our wonderful overseeing pastor, with his own church up the Tamar Valley, has become seriously unwell with Lupus.  It is especially sad for us as it means we will no longer have his regular visits since he has to cut back drastically to try to manage his disease.  However he continues to organise speakers to come and take our services, though we have had to resort to watching some online sermons a few times lately while things settle down.  Still, we keep the doors open and enjoy the fellowship that we have.
IMG_5897
Caleb continues to study his Japanese course online with Macquarie University.  He struggles, even with his reduced workload, some days with his rotten health.  His Japanese is pretty good though!  Sam is going to see if the chiropractor can help him too with troubling neck pain and the debilitating nausea that he has had for over 10 years now.  We have tried so many other things that we figure it is worth a go.  Lydia finally talked her doctor into removing the side of her most recent ingrown toenail and killing the nail bed.  For some reason they were reluctant to do it, but having a recurring infected toe for months again motivated her to push the issue.  It was painful when it was done, but is healed now and hopefully will mean it will stay trouble free from here on.  Josiah once again has 2 new mice, this time called Cocoa and Trixie.  Along with his schoolwork he has been doing a little photography, and of course enjoys taking pictures of his mice.  He has been playing Minecraft online with a friend and they chat on Skype at the same time.  He actually got to meet this new friend in person recently on a homeschool hike and they got on well.  His friend now also has his own pet mouse, so they have even more in common!  We bought an online course in Swift programming for the iPods/iPads etc which Josiah has started as part of his homeschooling.  Kim, Lydia and myself have also been doing the lessons from the course and it is fun to get back into programming, although I haven’t gotten terribly far through the course yet.
SONY DSC

Copyright 2014 Josiah!

The appointed day for our private power pole to be disconnected finally arrived… and passed by with no sign of Aurora coming.  We don’t mind if they delay a while.  Our power plan is to add to the small off-grid solar system we have with a micro hydro system which should bring in power 24/7 summer and winter.  It should be good but will entail a fair bit of work and money organising a decent water pickup set up and laying out 500m of large pipe through our bushland down to the micro hydro turbine which will be housed in a shed near to the house – but not too close as they get quite noisy.  In the meantime we bought a nice secondhand Honda 6.5kVA generator, so even if the power goes off tomorrow we will be able to manage by using the generator for peak times when the solar system is not enough.  Kim also intends to mount a car alternator on our old non-working generator to be used to charge the batteries if they need it when there is not enough sunlight to do the job for us.
Generator
And finally we decided we needed a place for people sit outside in the fresh air when the weather is nice, so I gathered together some bits and pieces and we have a nice little outdoor spot now.  🙂  Frivolous but nice.
Outdoor Setting
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Hen of the Year – its a long story!

January 1, 2014

My Hen of the Year Award goes to the nondescript black hen in the photo.  She has no name but she’s a bit of a hero to me.  “Platinum”, the Silver Laced Wyandotte on the left comes in as runner up.  It’s a bit of a sad story, but with a heartwarming ending.

HensOfTheYear

We have had a bad year for spotted tailed quolls – or a good year I suppose – depending on whether you see it from the poultry’s point of view or the quoll’s.  Quolls are kind of like a fox that can climb trees, seriously efficient little hunters.  One has been systematically working it’s hungry way through any of our poultry that decided on the more adventurous life of roosting on the outside of the electric fence, rather than in the cages provided on the inside.  I had kind of given up on trying to do resolve it this year since we had a few feral birds that would roost 15m up in wattle trees and there was no way I could stop them.  I reasoned that most of them were destined for our bellies anyway, so ending up in a quoll belly wasn’t such a bad thing.  Then of course some of our hens decided to hide their nests and go broody in the bush.  Where possible we have moved hens with their eggs or chicks back into a safe area, but it is surprisingly hard to find where the birds are nesting in our scrubby bush.  You can walk right past them and not see them.  We even lost a couple of turkey hens who had hidden nests, poor things.

Anyway, one morning we had an Araucana hen come out of hiding with a bunch of tiny chicks in tow.  She was near the house and I thought I might be able to find where she was nesting if I watched her closely.  However it was not to be, she managed to disappear again while I was inside and I couldn’t find where she was hidden.  Hope reigns eternal and I figured I would just try the next day.  Then, in the middle of the night, I heard a loud squark.  I charged outside and was just in time to see her in her death throws with a quoll firmly attached to her neck.  He fled in the torchlight but there was nothing I could do for the hen.  Concerned for the chicks I hunted around for a while and managed to find 3 tiny fluffy little things.  What to do with them?  I really didn’t feel like setting up a brooder box at 1am in the morning so I hit on another plan.  Platinum and the black hen had been sitting on eggs which were just in the process of hatching, perhaps I could get them to adopt these newly hatched little ones as well? So I gathered them up, took them down to the chook houses and carefully shuffled them underneath Platinum.  I chose Platinum over the black girl as she is the more placid of the two hens, the black girl is very flighty – and more inclined to peck.

With a wish and a prayer I headed back to bed, but as I got back near the house I heard some sad and soulful peeping in the dark.  More hunting revealed a couple more fluffy chicks and I deposited them with Platinum as well.  This time I decided to have a drink of milk before going to bed so sat in the house for a little while before heading over to the caravan where we sleep.  Once again there was peeping in the dark, so I spend more time fossicking around in the dark finding chicks and delivering them to my patient hen in her box, and that wasn’t the last time!  Finally, around 3:30am I got back to bed, having found and delivered 10 chicks to a nice warm hen with no more peeping to disrupt my own pathway to bed.  It was cool and it rained before dawn, so I was surprised to find yet another 2 chicks looking rather lost and lonely but quite healthy when I got up the next day.  I gathered them up too and managed to put them into the box with their brothers and sisters without disturbing the hens too much.

Over the next day the two hens continued to sit on their own eggs while happily looking after their suddenly expanded family.  They competed a bit, both of them clucking at the fostered chicks to call them over to themselves.  They hatched another 3 chicks of their own.  The black hen was out and about first, so the dozen impostors who were older and more vigorous went off with her, while the 3 younger chicks, being younger and slower, stayed behind with Platinum.  It was all a great success and I was very pleased with the outcome.  The two hens continue to sleep together in their box and the chicks happily shift from one to the other of their foster mothers.

Imagine my annoyance when almost immediately yet another feral chook appeared with her own bunch of tiny fluffies trailing behind her.  One of the chicks was pretty slow moving and the hen left it behind, so we popped it under a lamp for the day to keep it warm and put it under Platinum once she had settled for the night.  She took it under her wing with barely a second thought.  She must think that this is how the whole process works now.  Lydia and I had searched hard and actually managed to find the new hens nest complete with hatched eggs so when it was good and dark, around 9:30pm at this time of year, we trooped out to catch her and shift them all to the safety of inside the electric fence.  It was rather frustrating to find that she had not returned to her nest but had taken up hiding somewhere completely different.  Grrrr!

The next couple of days were busy with the mad rush of Christmas events etc etc and I just didn’t have the time to do anything more about locating and moving the chook and her chicks.  One afternoon, when I went out to feed everything, I realised that I hadn’t set eyes on them all day.  Feeling rather guilty I started a search and sure enough I found a bunch of feathers that were pretty fresh and rather looked like they marked the demise of the mama hen.  I felt pretty bad.  The chicks must have been alone half the night and all that day and further searching failed to reveal any sign of them.  I dwelt upon it as I went back to feeding the stock.  Many possibilities crossed my mind as to their outcome, from being eaten by the quoll after he killed their mum to being taken by crows or currawongs during the day. Moving along I came to the box where Platinum and the black girl were settling in for the night.  I tossed out a handful of grain and the chicks came racing out from under the hens wings to have a snack before bed.  Chicks were everywhere scrambling over each other and ducking back under the hens with grain, and it dawned on me that there were more than the usual 16.  Sure enough, another 8 had been added to the number so 24 chicks were now comfortably snuggled up with our two foster hens!

I remembered then that I had seen the black hen that morning out and about with her chicks not far from where I found the feathers of the deceased mama hen.  She must have heard the lost chicks peeping first thing and gone out and gathered them all up.  It warmed my heart to think about it!  Such a great hen.  So since then she has been taking her 20 chicks out with her during the day.  It is a bit of a challenge to fit them under her wings at night, but Platinum is happy to share the workload and she keeps some of them warm under her too.  So, these girls have earned my appreciation and respect and a whole email dedicated to them.  🙂

We have now fenced in the large area between our two chook runs, so the mama hens can keep their growing chicks in there.  We are hoping this will mean that we finally have all our poultry under control, and that the new generation will learn to roost within the fencing rather than up whopping big trees.  Also all the adult hens are restrained within fencing too now so no-one can go and nest in the bush!  If they go broody we can choose to let them sit or to break them from the mood instead.  That is the plan anyway, we’ll wait and see what the reality brings.

I’m finishing with a family photo of us with all of our old VWs.  We are considering the possibility of selling a couple of them so I thought I should commemorate the fact that we currently own them, as the situation may not last for long.

Happy New Year

Cathy

Family2013         FamilySilly2013

Death of a Dream

September 26, 2012

Sorry it’s been a while since I last wrote.  I’m afraid that we have all been a bit “down” lately, and trying to sound cheerful in a blog post just seemed a bit too difficult.  I mentioned before that we have had some chooks get sick and die with weird liver effects and we had been trying to diagnose the problem using the internet, but when another hen become ill in the same way we thought it was time to call in the experts and so we took her to the local vet.  He was very helpful and sent us to the pathology section of the Department of Primary Industries (Ad Dept) for a post mortem.  The results came back as Avian Tuberculosis: no preventative measures, no diagnostic tests, no vaccine, no treatment, no cure, no hope for Lydia’s dream of an organic egg business anymore.  😦  Oh, did I mention that the disease is zoonotic?, so people can catch it too although it doesn’t seem to cause any symptoms from what I can tell.  The bug is particularly difficult to get rid of as it stays in the soil for up to 4 years, crosses to sparrows and other wild birds as well as to mice to spread it around through their faeces and since disinfectants don’t really touch it either it is basically here to stay.  The chooks can have the disease for many months or even a year or two before any symptoms appear as it only shows in the latter stages of the disease in birds 18 months or older.  This makes it is very hard to control from a bio-security point of view as you don’t usually quarantine new stock for 18 months!  Some birds are more affected than others, our Barnevelders dropped like flies whereas we have only lost 1 Araucana so far, but I doubt any are completely immune.  Apparently the disease is not seen so often these days because the modern commercial practice is to cull all laying hens at around 18 months of age.  So, that is bad news for us, we are now feeling a bit lost and in need of inspiration.

Still, life rushes on.  For a while we thought our lakes were not going to fill, but late rain in August filled them up and the horse and cow had to vacate their favourite paddock for higher land.  Since I last wrote we have started building another chook house / garden run, burnt off lots of piles of branches, tried my hand at making liquid soap and planted a bunch of fruit trees in a sunny spot then carefully ran an electric fence around them to keep the possums and wallabies away.  Spring is now thinking of coming to Mole Creek, and I have been hopeful and planted some tomato seeds in the greenhouse.  I’ve also planted lots of pea seeds in the chook house / fenced gardens so I am watching every day for them to germinate.  I love home grown peas!  We had another September wind storm recently, causing about 4 trees to fall behind the house.  We were actually quite pleased about that as we wanted the trees down but they were going to be really nasty and dangerous to try to bring down ourselves.  God felled them for us.  🙂  One of them clipped the lounge room roof but did not do too much damage other than poking a couple of holes in the roofing iron and flattening the TV aerial – Again!  We were without power for 2 days and were very thankful for our limited off grid power which allowed us to have lights, fridge and freezers and some limited computer use.

Anyway, I best be off to do the chores and get Josiah moving on his schooling for the day.  Other plans for the day include paying a farmer in Beulah for 10 rolls of hay to be delivered this week, poo picking the horse and cow paddock and checking on our boar Erlestoke who did not eat his tea last night – a major event for a pig!