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.