Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Broody hens - what now?

The hens have made a good start. They settled in well and were producing an astonishing four eggs a day. I have identified which egg belongs to what hen.The brown eggs are laid by the hens without a comb. The small egg to the top left was the first one produced by the boss hen after she went through a period of about three weeks being broody. During this time she was pestering the other three chooks with the result that production of eggs was down. The three pictures were taken on 3rd, 4th and 5th November 2013.
The chooks look quite similar, but the eggs look so different. Does this mean they come from different races. The combs give it away, two have a short one and two have long combs. I think these are (mainly) Light Sussex hens.

The home made nesting box was clearly too big for the Isa Brown. These hens fit in well. The two nest places have been well used, but when the broody hen (without comb) placed herself in the middle of the box there was not much room left for the other hens to lay their eggs. However, it was splendid for Ms Broody. She was able to put all eggs under her feathers and brood away happily.

Egg production went down and we had to do something about Ms Broody annoying the other hens. A simple separating wall did the trick. Now we have two compartments and hens cannot interfere with each other when laying.

Ms Broody finally got out of this mood when the egg supply dried up. However it did not take long until the second hen became broody and egg supply got diminished again. And  then the first Ms Broody got back into it too. I was not aware that chooks can get in and out of broody mood. But it seems to be quite normal http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/791285/broody-for-the-second-time-in-a-month.

For three days now two hens are hogging the nesting boxes and give my other two eager chooks some grief when they want to get into the comfy spot. May be the nesting box was designed too comfortable? I believe it's simply the season for hens to do their thing. But my other hens need to get on with their business.

How to stop broody hens from brooding has been subject to a few publications. When I grew up on a farm we used to put the chook into a sack and hang her up under the roof of the barn for three days. This cruel treatment usually stopped her from creating the heat needed for brooding and get her back on track after three days.

My friend suggested the use of a cage and organised one for me. Ms Broody#1 has been in the cage most of yesterday and the day before. At night time I always let her out and allowed her back into the co-op. It has not done the trick yet, but I will persist.

This morning I found Broody#1 and #2 in the nesting box. I chucked them out and provided fresh veggie scraps and laying pellets. I will check the scene again in an hour or when the noise starts. Usually my other hens complain loudly when they can't get into their usual spot. The cage is waiting for Ms Broody#1, sad to see her sitting in there but this is a warranted temporary measure.

The only other options would be to get some fertilised eggs and put them under her. This would need me sorting out the food supply for my future chicken stock first and being prepared to deal with roosters should any eggs be fertilised. The council does not allow any roosters so they would be destined for the pot. I need a bit longer to think this through. But food supply is  already getting better, as my neighbours are chipping in with their food scraps and a steady supply of vegetables is coming in the direction of my hens. Big thank you to them. Keep it coming.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Growing nectarine trees in Perth

We planted two nectarine trees on 26 July. They were bare rooted then and about five years old. They grew in Beverley before they came to us and were about 1.75m high. We prepared the earth with compost and worm juice and sat them into the soil, not too deep and about less than a metre from the fence, as I am considering future espalier growth.
Nectarine Trees 25 July

We mulched the soil around the stem but not too close to it and I installed a plastic grid that prevents the chooks from scratching directly under the trees. The trees took to the new place very well and about three weeks later started flowering in the with very pretty pink flowers.

Nectarine Trees 24 August
I was surprised to see that so much fruit had set, as I did not observe many bees or native insects around the the trees. Lots of the fruit fell off in the winter storms and heavy rainfall in September. Upside was that the tree's root system grew well and the wind brought back the number of fruit to a level the tree can manage. As soon as the fruit had set I made some fruit fly traps, just to be sure. They filled up quickly in the rain and had to be emptied. I will make some more in the coming weeks and have noticed the first nibbles by birds on bigger fruit in the top of one tree. Will think about netting when closer to harvest.

Also there is an issue with leaf curl. Currently it looks like the tree can manage, as there is no infection on recent leaves. My worm juice treatment seems to kick off, boosting the tree's immune system. However, I'll keep an eye on it and will spray when needed.

All in all, a promising start to growing nectarine trees in Perth.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Chooks in an urban backyard

Still excited about chickens they have now become part of my daily routine.

The chook minding arrangement with my neighbour's hens, while she was on long service leave, worked well. I loved the sound of the chicken in the back yard and the daily eggs were a welcome addition to our menu. However, they never accepted the chook house we built for them and instead roosted behind he shed under a door that I leaned against the shed for protection against the rain and wind at night.

The neighbour came back on 5 September and she rightfully claimed her Isa Browns  back on Saturday 7 September, the day of the Australian election. I only returned four, as one had died in the three months I had them, probably of old age or too big eggs.

Time to act! As usual the universe provided again and just two days later, on 9 September, a friend of mine brought me some beautiful chickens back from Albany: four hens, and they survived the transport well. They had to stay in a big cardbord box for over 20 hours. They were picked off the roost at 9pm and then left in the box on a wheel barrow in the shade until if was time to leave for the 500k travel to Perth, around midday. I was told that one actually jumped out at a pit stop and nearly escaped the car, as they had left the windows down to allow plenty of air in the vehicle. But when the friendly driver got back the hen made her way back into safety quickly and jumped back in the box.

Another wheel barrow got the box including content safely into my big chook pen and when we tipped the hens out about 5:30pm they were in good shape and started scratching immediately. They also took to the water, as they were quite thirsty. Out of the box as well popped three intact eggs. They were fed and that night time the chickens rested under the plum trees near the fence.

Around 9pm I transferred them onto their roost. This generated  a bit of noise, as they were scared. But I knew I had to get them used to the roost immediately. Also they would have never found it by themselves. They soon settled down. It was easy to grab the while chooks in the night, not being well camouflaged. So fluffy and light they dd not put up much resistance, just the fourth one knew what was coming and tried to escape, but to no avail.

I watched them descent the chicken co-op ladder the next morning and they with a smile I saw them starting their new life. Shortly after that I found a fourth egg laid that night under the tree before the hens were moved.

They settled in well but are a lot more fickle than the Isa Browns my neighour has. This race is made up of a lot of Brahma without the fancy feet.I call them Perkins Beach chooks, after the place they came from.

They had a tough time in their first weeks as it has been raining a lot and there is not a lot of shelter, apart from trees or inside the roost. They found their co-op without fail each night and have produced a lot of eggs. I have actually not bought any eggs since I got my neighbour's hens and the cost of the laying pellets is negligible compared to the pleasure and fine returns that poultry bring.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Chicken at work

The neighbour's chickens have moved in and they settled in well. In past three weeks they flattened all greens in the chook pen, ate most of the slaters, inspected the raised garden beds and have done a wonderful job at tidying things up.

The big nesting box has been accepted too. The hens produce an average of 1.5 eggs per day. Enough to feed us per week. Have not bought eggs yet since the chooks moved in. But bought some laying pellets, Australian made and produced by Weston Milling, hopefully from GM free products. I bought the pellets at City Farmers, and asked them about GM content in the animal feed. They referred me to Weston Milling. Will follow this up with them. Although there is only GM canola produced in WA, they could easily import GM animal feed from overseas, especially from China and use it in their locally produced poultry pellets. One of the reasons to have my own chicks was to control the poultry feed, and wanting to exclude GM feed.

The poultry feed should include 15-18% protein in order to produce lots of eggs. Where should the protein come from? I do not want the laying pellets to come from GM fed animals from feedlots. I will report back on my journey exploring the origin of the Weston Milling Protein. My hens are old, they have had a production cycle in a battery and probably already had a year or two in my neighbour's chook pen.

During the last two days I let my five hens out of their 6x9m enclosure and allowed them to wander through the rest of our big backyard. They loved it, especially the scratching under the layer of mulch that has been rotting away for 1.5 years. Plenty of slaters and insects around. The chooks had a feast. The only victim was a basil plant in a pot that I had not moved out of the chicken's way in time.  Fortunately they don't seem to like the rocket, the parsley and the kohlrabi. they also have not touched the sweet potatoe leaves next to the old watertank.

The productive part of the garden near the second patch has been fenced off with a plastic mesh which we used before to protect the roots of the plum trees during transport before transplanting. The new fence is working well, only needs one dropper to stay in place and keeps the chickens out.  Lettice is growing well, parsley shooting up everywhere and lot of sunflowers emerge. And there is room for the productive space to even grow bigger, following the motto of Charlie: "The Edge is Where it's At".

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Getting closer to having chickens - borrowing the neighbour ones!

My raised garden beds have been in place a while, but production has not been as good as I expected. The zucchini plants were eaten and the are tomato seedlings the same and not produced even one tomato. The soil has dropped a bit and while one of the beds is full of nasturtions at the moment the second one hosts a slater megatropolis. I tried several ways to get rid of the beast, including hand picking them. The only way to get rid of these beasts in any sensible way was to finally get hens.

Our council allows to have poultry. There are local laws under the Health Act that makes the following specifications, in Division 4:
  1. Poultry and pigeons shall be kept overnight in a properly constructed and securely fastened enclosure. The enclosure (chicken coop) is to have a smooth concrete floor at least 50mm thick so that it can be adequately cleaned.
  2. The associated run area should be fenced to prevent poultry coming within 15 metres of any dwelling or 18 metres of any street. A free range area of 30 square metres is recommended.
  3. All enclosures within which poultry are kept shall be maintained at all times in a clean condition. At the direction of an Environmental Health Officer you must adequately clean or re-position an enclosure that does not meet adequate hygiene or structural requirements. 
  4. A combined total of not more than 12 poultry and pigeons may be kept outside the prohibited area.
  5. No roosters are permitted to be kept on any premises, but no roosters.

We are lucky as the property is neither on commercial land nor in the part of town where poultry is not allowed at all, which is closer to the centre of Perth. Our chicken coop is next to the neighbours garage, which not a dwelling, as this only applies to buildings for human habitation. Not sure why they mandate a distance to the next dwelling, probably for hygienic purposes, public health issues. We don't quite make it with that mandated distance, but there is a significant distance. The total free range area is only about 15 square metre, but if 30m3 is right for 12 chooks, that will do for the number I plan to have which is 5 at most! The guidelines need updating. To encourage people to grow food in an urban setting, the restrictions should be limited on how people can do this, as long as public health concerns are met.

After we build the fence we got the neighbour's hens over for a day. They loved it and got stuck into the slaters right away. However at night time they were reluctant to slip back through the very small gap in the fence and the neighbour was not happy for the chooks to stay over night. The part of the fance we had taken out was simply not big enough for the chicken to get through comfortably and the birds were scared to push their way back, due to the lack of motivation at the end of the day, no green grass being in sight. We chucked them back over the fence by hand the next day and the trial was abandonned

Soon the chicken are coming over for good, the hen house should be finished by tomorrow morning, the laying box is done. We already dig over the neighbours backyard to get ready for planting radishes and lettuces. Two rats jumped out of her compost scampering for shelter, a sign that the compost was much too dry anyway. We enhanced the soil with two bags of sheep and cow manure and the rain today has watered it in beautifully. Looking good, ready for seedlings!
Lemon and avocado tree in the new garden bed, but not too much shade.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Getting ready for chooks

We finally built the chook pen in October 2012, after contemplating about it for several years; but summer passed without the friendly animals taking home on our property. The pen measures about 15x10m and is built in a rectangle with the garden shed in one corner.

The area has a bit of shade during summer, from an olive tree near the she and a ficus in the middle of the garden which is our oxygen lung and guarantor for a cool backyards even in a hot summer. the area also it holds two raised garden beds that were unproductive last winter due to a slater invasion. The chooks will sort that out. I am certain about this.

Home made fence spreader for the top of the pole
It was easy to erect the fence, just dug a whole and inserted the fence poles into the sand as is. Spreaders hold the poles apart, the mesh is tied to the top and bottom of the fence poles with wire. It took us two afternoons with two people and turned out a decent exercise and accomplishment.

The decision still had to be made where to house the chooks and where to put their nesting boxes. We decided against putting them into the shed and have started to built an annex on the back of the shed just for the chooks, between the shed and the neighbour's garage.

We hope to finish it this Sunday and the hens are already waiting.

My neighbour is on long service leave in Europe at the moment and she has agreed for me to mind her five chicken in our backyard, giving them a holiday from home. Chook minding at its best. This gives me an opportunity to check out whether having hens is the right thing for me, does not tie me down past September 2013, hopefully results in a friendly slater eradication outcome and might even give me some eggs. Lots of benefits in this temporary arrangement.

Hopefully on Sunday this saga continues and the chicken can settle in. They are rescued battery hens and are still laying. However, I have not found any eggs yet, despite the neighbour being away for 6 days already, as the neighbours chook pen is a gourmet place for some nifty crows that take care of the eggs. Another neighbour just told me that he saw them fly up to the gutter with an egg in their beak, then drinking the egg in the gutter, leaving no trace of their crime. I swear to make life very uncomfortable for the crows if they venture into my chook yard. We will give the hens proper nesting boxes that keep out the crows, hopefully.
More learning and the promise not to neglect this blog for as long as I did since the last post 6 months ago.