Flock Update

Time for a flock update 🙂

Up until last week nothing had changed with the big flock, everyone was healthy and most were laying well. Then Della, my older Ancona girl, had a prolapsed vent which I couldn’t fix and had to be put down. All in all it was not the most pleasant experience, but I learnt an awful lot and at least this time it didn’t cost me several hundred dollars in unnecessary vet bills.

At the same time Arabella TopKnot, the broody hen who raised our four outside chickadees, had decided she was over being a mother and deserted her brood – they were 12 weeks old, definitely old enough to be left alone. So Arabella went in with the big chooks and replaced Della. She may have even started laying already!

Two of the three roosters are destined for the table and will be done sometime in the next two weeks. I’m keeping Barney, my only Barnevelder, while the Gold Laced Wyandotte and Rhode Island Red will soon grace our table. Looking forward to eating chooks we’ve raised ourselves. We know that they’ve had a really good life – no overcrowding (our coop and run could house twice as many chooks as it does), lots of sunshine, natural foods and free ranging – the kind of life all chickens should have.

Unfortunately they’ve been free ranging into the neighbours too, so three nights ago the entire flock had their wings clipped. I’m hoping that will curb the more adventurous birds! I’ll find out tomorrow when I let them out into the paddock again.

Of the seven little chickadees we hatched late autumn, I know for sure that I have two cockerals – the golden mixed breed, who thinks he’s a big boy at 13 weeks, and the little blue/red Araucana – I saw him crowing this morning, so now I know for sure. Golden boy I’ve named Christmas because that’s when we’ll eat him 🙂 As we’re keeping the Araucana I’m calling him Arioso from Vivian French’s ‘Five Kingdoms’ series.

I’m still not sure with the two outside Light Sussex. I think I have a boy and a girl. If so, I’ve decided to call them Tom & Barbara, named after the main characters from the show ‘The Good Life’ a show that helped us in our journey of rediscovering what it was we really wanted to do with our lives. However, if Barbara turns out to be a he, he’ll become Dinner instead!

Fluffball (wheaten Araucana), Puffball (Light Sussex) and Skid (mixed breed) from the hand raised trio are still all looking to be girls. I’d really prefer it if they all were as it would fit in with my plans much better. These three will be the founding members of our home flock – the flock that will be working the garden beds around the house, so I don’t have to.

At this stage I’m thinking that the rest of the home flock will be made up of Arioso, Arabella TopKnot (who has some Araucana in her breeding) and Cana who’s a lavender Araucana. I’m considering adding my two Spanish girls to this flock as they haven’t yet proven themselves to be great layers. I’m thinking some Spanish Araucanas could be quite interesting, we shall see…Mostly I just want lots of blue eggs 🙂

Is it a boy or a girl?

Trying to figure out which of our seven chickies are boys is driving me batty. ‘I think it’s a girl, no I think it’s a boy…’ has been my thought pattern every time I look at them!

I KNOW that we have one rooster from the outside four – I thought he might be from two weeks old. When he started crowing at eight weeks, I knew for sure. At twelve weeks he’s doing the little dance for my older girls when they come close enough! He’s the little mixed breed fellow.

I’m almost positive that the outside Araucana is a boy, some of his tail feathers are long and curved, his face is much redder than the other Araucana and he’s definitely way more boistrous.

Of the two Light Sussex from the outside brood I’m almost positive that one is a boy (longer tail, some curvy feathers, bigger wattles, darker red) and the other a girl (short tail, no curvy feathers, smaller wattle and not as red). I only want one Light Sussex rooster, so if the girl turns into a boy we’ll eat him; if she stays a she, she gets to stay.

And at this stage the hand raised trio are all looking to be girls – I’d like it very much if they were!

Chicks & Chooks, together at last

D-day has arrived – it’s time for my six surviving chickies to go in with the big chooks. Six chicks out of twelve, a 50% success rate. I was hoping for higher, but at least I got that. Half of them are roosters. I knew that I had at least one – the crowing was a bit of a give away. But I know for sure now – Tony, the chook man, showed me how to tell the difference.

Roosters feathers are different to hens on the rump region, they become long and thin just before the tail and are called ‘saddle feathers’. In the same area hens feathers remain fat and rounded. So my only Barnevelder, only Rhode Island Red and one of the Gold Laced Wyandottes are boys. Well, that’s two, maybe three for the table – might keep one for breeding – and I got three girls to replace the three I lost last year, so that’s good.

It was just after dusk when I grabbed the chickies and put them on the roost in the henhouse with the big chooks. Interestingly not a single one of them stayed on the roost, they all jumped down and huddled in the corner together. Not surprising really when you consider that’s what they’ve been doing all their lives, except when they decided to roost on their house and in the creeper instead of going to bed in the cute little house Tim built where they’d be nice and safe! Xav and I spent many nights searching for missing chickies, until I trimmed back the creeper cave and it no longer seemed so dark and appealing.

Anyway, everybody was still alive in the morning when I let them out, so that was nice. I left them all locked in the run that first day to give the youngsters a chance to adapt to their new home. The first lock up was interesting – none of the young ones wanted to go in, and when I physically put them in they ran back out the door! So that was a bit tricky! However, after many exclamations about their inability to stay in the house or let me catch them, I finally got them all in, and again they roosted upon the floor beneath the roosts.

Day two and I opened the run. The big chooks roamed free while the chickies stayed close to their new home. On the third day Sprinter (my only surviving Ancona named for her incredible short bursts of speed) decided to give roosting a go, and after about a week they were all roosting quite happily, well mostly anyway. I think it’s going to work, and most importantly, all fourteen chooks are doing well.

Chookie Delay

No Chooks today, so sad 🙁

I had a phone call from my chook supplier last night telling me that he wasn’t happy with the quality of some of the birds he was sourcing for me, so could I wait another month? He didn’t want to sell me chooks that were poor quality. I’m very, very grateful for that.

I’m disappointed though. Was soooo looking forward to picking up our girls today, but I’d prefer to wait than get substandard chooks. Not all of them were substandard. I could have got half my flock, but then I’d have to deal with introducing new birds to an established flock. Something I’m trying to avoid in the beginning of my chook keeping career.

On the upside, I’m really glad I’m getting my chooks through this guy – he’s looking after me and not out to rip me off. He knew I’d be disappointed (I’ve been talking to him for the last four months about which chooks I should get) but he said he’d much prefer me to be disappointed now than disappointed in the long term with poor quality chooks. Besides, it would make him look bad and I’d probably never buy from him again!

He did say that if he’s able to source those other breeds I’m after before next market day, he’ll deliver them sooner. The delay gives me the chance to finish one or two small things in the coop that are bugging me, especially setting up the enclosed space for our broody chook and future chickens.

It also give me time to research the geodesic dome chicken tractor and put one together, maybe even before the girls arrive. We’ll be using it as a day run. That way the girls can help me turn the weedy mess that calls itself a lawn, into beautiful, productive (eventually) circle gardens.

 

 

Still more about Chooks

Chooks! Chooks! Chooks! Whoever knew that choosing a breed of chook was going to be so hard!!!

In researching chooks, the only thing I haven’t been swayed on was the fact that I didn’t want commercial hybrids. Right from the beginning I’ve said I don’t want Isa Browns or Hylines, even though they lay lots and lots. Although, only for about 18 months, maybe 24. That’s why commercial egg producers get rid of them after a year. I still don’t want them!

Looking back over my notes I realise that actually, it’s two things that I haven’t been swayed upon. The other was colour. I wanted some pretty chooks, something with a bit of colour.

My research has led me through so many different possibilities over the last couple of months, that I thought we’d do this and I thought we’d do that, and I’ve uhmmed and ahhed about which breed so many times too. I’ve wavered between ‘Dual Purpose’ birds and ‘Layers’ on a regular basis. The primary purpose of chooks was eggs, but we also wanted to eat our chooks too! And originally my thinking was such that we would get  only one breed, so which one to choose?

Barnevelders or Wyandottes? Light Sussex or Plymouth Rock? Australorp? Ancona? Faverolle? Welsummer? Adulusian, Leghorn or Minorca? Dorking or Orpington? Hamburg or Houdan? Langshan? Naked Neck? Araucana? New Hampshire or Rhode Island Red?

In the end, I couldn’t decide upon only one breed, so now we are getting a variety 🙂 It wasn’t such an anguishing issue for anybody else – I’d had only one request, and that was for the Araucana, because Brydon wanted blue eggs. Of all the different breeds out there, the Araucana, Barnevelder, Wyandotte and Ancona, have been serious contenders from the beginning. But I oscillated quite a lot between the breeds.

Also In the beginning, I was liking the idea of getting some fertile eggs and hatching our own, but after much research I decided against it. Too complicated and time involving for me and my special needs family! Then I was liking the idea of getting 4 week old chicks already sexed – 1 rooster and 12 girls – so we could handle them and get them used to us and get the boys used to them…

What I eventually decided upon was getting at least one chook from a breed known to go broody and also be good sitters and good mothers. When she does go broody I can get a clutch of fertilised eggs from a local breeder and stick them underneath her. She can do all the hard work – it also removes us a few steps so that when the chicks are old enough for us to know the difference between the girls and the boys, it won’t be so hard to kill and eat the boys.

We decided that at this stage we won’t be breeding them, so we don’t need a rooster. I’ve located three local suppliers from whom I can get fertilised eggs of a variety of different breeds, so I am definitely not in too much of a rush. At first I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to breed with a mixed flock, but I’ve since found out you just have to take the girls out of the flock and isolate them for a while with their rooster. After about two weeks, the eggs they are producing will be the purebred variety. Sounds easy enough for when the time comes.

Okay, I’ve ordered our chooks, nine in total. One from a broody line and the rest, decent layers. We’ll get them at the end of this month, so now I have to make sure the coop is ready!

Below is my revised and shortlisted table of birds I was seriously considering, ones that would probably do well in our climate zone, sorted in eggs per year (a rough estimation) because the primary aim of our first flock is to produce eggs for the eating. Breeds with Egg under the Bird or Fertile Egg category means I want these breeds and hope to get them by putting fertilised eggs under the broody hen.

Any roosters we get from the hatching of fertilised eggs will be used for the table, although it’s been suggested that as I will be using purebreeds, to get an expert in to check the roos over, because there may be one or two roos worth saving for breeding purposes. The girls will be kept on as layers or we’ll sell them if we have too many.

 

Breed Purpose Eggs p/year (Av) Buy Bird or Fertile Egg
Ancona Layer 225 Y Bird
Leghorn Layer & Show 225
Andalusian  Layer 210
Hamburg Light 210 Y Egg
Langshan Dual purpose 205 Y Bird
Minorca Dual Purpose 200 Y Egg
Sussex  Dual Purpose 195 Y Egg
Araucana  Layer & Novelty 185 Y Bird
Rhode Island Red Dual Purpose 180
Barnevelder  Dual Purpose 175 Y Bird
Welsummer Dual Purpose 175 Y Egg
Australorp Dual Purpose 170
Campine Dual Purpose 170 Y Egg
Faverolle Dual Purpose & Show 170 Y Egg
New Hampshire Dual Purpose 170
Wyandotte Dual Purpose 165 Bird
Plymouth Rock Dual Purpose 160 Y Egg
Dorking Dual Purpose 130

In the end I chose the Ancona because, even though a little flighty, it is a good forager, good layer, does well in the heat and is a striking looking bird with a reverse dalmation affect. The Langshan is another good laying breed, good forager and does well in the heat and cold. The Araucana was chosen for its blue coloured eggs and good foraging skills. The Barnevelder because it’s adaptable and does well in most climates, is a decent layer and forager and a good looking bird. And the Wyandotte was chosen because I always wanted one – they are the prettiest of the lot (I’ve ordered a gold laced one) – and they go broody easily, so are not recommended if you want lots of eggs. She will, hopefully, be the one we use to hatch our fertilised eggs. All these breeds are being sourced locally, less than 2 hours drive away, so they should be okay with our climate – I hope.

Chooks

Our aim it to get ourselves some chooks soon, so right now I’m researching chook breeds. We don’t want commercial hybrids like Isa Browns, the same way I don’t want commercial hybrid fruits and veggie seeds, so I’m looking into heritage and rare breed chooks. I’m partial to something interesting, a chook with a bit of colour.

There are so many different breeds! I didn’t realise I’d have so much choice! So far breeds I’m considering are: Faverolle, Dorking, Ancona, Plymouth Rock, Lakenvelder, Australorp, Andalusian, Barnevelder, Houdan, Minorca, Orpington, Light Sussex, Welsummer and Wyandotte. However, I’ve not been through all the breeds yet, and I’m not sure if all these breeds are available in Australia.

To help with making a choice I am in the midst of constructing a table listing all the points that are important to me, trying to gather most of my resources from Australia, considering that is where we live. It’s quite a big affair. I’ll publish it at some point, when it’s mostly compplete, with hopefully a list of the chooks we chose.

We don’t have a chook shed yet, nor do we have a chook dome for our planned circle gardens, but we have come to an arrangement with our neighbours. They have an empty chook shed and yard and hadn’t decided whether or not they would get chooks, so I proposed us getting some chooks and keeping them in their chook shed and sharing the eggs. They’re doing up their chook shed even as I write this! We won’t be ready to have chooks in our mandala garden system for quite some time yet and I am so sick of buying supermarket ‘free range’ eggs where my idea of free range of chooks roaming around in big paddocks is not necessarily the reality.

Something I found really interesting was how different the yellow of the eggs are from true free ranged chooks to the free range ones I’ve been buying from the supermarket. I saw the hard boiled yolks of a friends free ranged hens eggs and they were almost a curry yellow green in colour. At first I thought they were curried eggs, but no, it’s because these chooks free range. My supermarket free range eggs are not that yellow when hard boiled! Apparently it has something to do with the amount of fresh greens the chooks get!

Interesting colour is an important factor in choosing our chooks, but it’s not the only one. Mostly we want fresh eggs, so we want chooks that are decent layers, and we want chooks that are nice meat birds too as we plan on eating any roosters we get. We also want chooks that are placid, not flighty or aggressive. They need to be hardy too. We get 40 degree days here in summer, thankfully not regularly, and in winter, at night, it can get  down to -5! So the girls are going to need to be able to cope with both the heat and the cold.

Tatong Tattler Post – July 2013 – Permaculture Adventures in Molyullah

This month’s been a busy one, especially with preparing for a Minecraft themed birthday party. Should have started making the props months ago! So between the usual running around and preparing for the party, not much else got done.  However, I’m happy to say, the party was a great success, running for two days over the Queen’s Birthday weekend. ‘It’s the best themed party we’ve ever done,’ said our eldest. He’s now planning his superhero and villain themed party. It’s a good six months away, so I guess we’d better start preparing now!

Despite being swamped with party preparations we still had Cary from ‘Smarter Green’ come and quote us on solar. He was great. Friendly and efficient. He checked out where the shadows were coming from, got up on the roof, checked in the roof, asked us what we were after, chatted about other ways we can reduce our energy consumption…

Turns out he’s a former* Benalla boy and after visiting us, is thinking about moving to Molyullah. Totally understand why. J He has fond memories of Molyullah having won his first blue ribbon at the Easter Sports on his pony Cinders! Thoroughly recommend him if you’re looking into solar. Jeff also put in a fence pole and gate between our place and our neighbours so we’ll be able to access their chook shed without me clambering over the fences, catching my foot in the wire and falling on my face, which is bound to happen at some point.

Capeweed is popping up everywhere! But as we’ll be doing everything organically here, I won’t be using poison. That said, I don’t plan on letting it run rampant either. One of the many things I have learnt over the last four years is that you can learn a lot from weeds; they can tell you a lot about the health of your soil.

The presence of capeweed tells me that my soil is not healthy and balanced. A quick scan through Pat Colby’s book ‘Natural Farming, A Practical Guide’ reveals that among other things, the presence of capeweed in my pasture is an indication of a soil low in magnesium and probably also low in calcium. Pat Colby says, ‘It is the norm in tired, exhausted soils, which usually have a low pH to match.’ Natural Farming, p.172. Dolomite should help, but to be sure, the next step is to take a whole lot of soil samples and send them off for testing.

And now, back to the chooks. Last Tattler I made it known that I was interested in rare/heritage breeds of chooks and that I thought I might start my flock off with Australorps and Wyandottes. I’ve since met with two passionate chook ladies and now have a stack of resources to work my way through. There are so many different wonderful breeds to choose from! So which chook to choose? So far I’ve come up with a list of about twenty different possibilities!!!

We’ve decided on a mixed flock which will give us the chance to experience a variety of chooks and discover which ones are best. We definitely want dual purpose birds so we get eggs and meat, with a few layers thrown in to up the egg production. On the list are the Barnevelder, Langshan, Australorp, Welsummer, Araucana, Minorca, Campine, Dorking, Wyandotte, Rhode Island Red, Light Sussex, New Hampshire, Leghorn, Ancona, Hamburgh, Andalusian, Faverolle, Legbar, Indian Game and Transylvanian Naked Neck. I can get day old chicks from a local breeder and through her I could get me ten of the different breeds I’m after. But what to choose?

According to the chicken coop and run size I could comfortably fit 12 birds and a rooster, giving them about 1m square per chook (not that we’ll be getting a rooster any time soon). Apparently I could squeeze more in, maybe even double it, but twelve girls should give us ample eggs,. We were going to raise them all from day old chicks, but as they won’t lay for 5 to 6 months, we’re now thinking of doing a combination of point of lay pullets and day old chicks. That way we’ll get some eggs sooner and have the joys of raising chicks. However we’ll have to get more chicks than we need as half of them will probably turn out to be cockerels. They’ll be good pure breeds though, so although a couple might end up in the pot, there’s a good chance we’d be able to sell off the boys to people looking for good purebred roosters. Dilemmas, dilemmas.

* Note: I changed this article slightly to the Tattler version with the addition of the word ‘former’ in an attempt to make what I was saying a little clearer 🙂