Tales of Chookonia #5: Finally!

Laying has begun!

The Girls have been studiously ignoring their tastefully appointed nesting boxes up till now. However, having provided them with an alternative out in the chook yard instead of inside the hen house (an Air B-egg-B, if you like), they have decided to finally take the hint. It’s nice and brown, and isn’t even as small as I’d expect a first egg to be.

This is almost certainly Ruth’s work. Currently, she’s the only one that looks ready to lay, although a couple of the others are nearly there. She’s large, her bum is very fluffy, her comb is larger than the others, and both comb and wattles are bright red. She’s also quite assertive about her place at the feeder and at rushing me when I come to the chook run, in case there’s some super-tasty snackage going.

Hopefully Elizabeth, Blanche, Peachy and Lacey follow suit soon.  Freshly-laid poached eggs on buttered toast: the food of the gods.

I must go and sort out some egg boxes…

Chasing a ‘solution’

It works!  The grasshopper net has made its inaugural catch.

As luck would have it, I was the first successful net operator, and was able to capture the details. Here is the solution to the grasshopper problem: chook protein. I could go on about the balletic grace with which I leaped about in the shade house…. but I’d be lying. There was a lot of crashing about and salty language. But I got her, and she was a big’un, at nearly 3 inches long.

In some haste (because she has sharp claws on those long legs, and strong jaws) I marched over to the chook yard and shook out the net. Instantly, 5 pairs of beady eyes focussed on the stunned and briefly still insect. And then it was on! Blanche* was the quickest off the mark.

Blanche in (temporary) sole possession

First one, then another of the birds would grab it and run hectically around with the thing dangling from its beak. Another bird would catch up and steal it. And again. And again. I swear, I stood there for a solid 20 minutes watching. Thing is, the grasshopper was too large for any of them to deal with all in one go. The legs are just too long and spiky. I mean, chickens can and do hunt and eat mice, but insects tend to be smaller and more manageable. The poor girls just needed a quiet moment to dismember it, but no such luck. Eventually it disintegrated from being pulled from one beak to another…

Ruth making a break for it, with the rest in hot pursuit

So I’d rate the whole thing a roaring success. Because 1) I got rid of a pest; 2) The chooks got extra protein and honed their hunting instincts; and 3) Lots of entertainment!!

I must see what they can do with a worm. I have plenty of those!

 

*The Girls have been renamed. All the Egg’ names were very clever and all that, but not really user-friendly.  So we have: Elizabeth, because she’s Queen of the flock; Ruth, because she’s the darkest, with a white ‘lace’ collar and is named after RBG, my heroine; Blanche, because she’s the lightest and has white undies; Peachy, because she has peach undies; and Lacey, because she has laced feathers on her back – she’s also the smallest and naughtiest, so her nickname is Madam Houdini.

The problem is the solution

We don’t have a grasshopper problem.

We have a chook protein solution!

Well, ok, it is a slight problem. Valanga irregularis is Australia’s largest grasshopper at a documented average of 75mm long (but has been known to go up to 90mm). For those who don’t speak metric, that’s about 3 – 3½ inches long. I know I’ve seen them bigger than that, though… They’re endemic to tropical and sub-tropical Australia, and we have them in the back yard. The little devils are hard to catch though, because they’re fast. Also, being so large they’re very destructive. They have a place in the ecosystem, but I wish there were fewer of them, now that the back yard is going to become more productive.

Anyway, the previous owners of the house had left behind a few very dilapidated garden tools and pieces of equipment. Amongst them was a rather tragic home made ‘butterfly’ type-net. The handle and frame were cleverly made from plastic-coated heavy-duty wire, but the home-made net part was totally rotten and full of holes. No self-respecting grasshopper would be held for long by something as inadequate as this.

We wanted a decent net to catch the grasshoppers. They’re a pest and they’re protein. The Girls would be gaining both nutrition and enjoyment from clearing them up for us, whilst at the same time doing sterling pest-reduction service. (They’re already playing merry hell with the green ant population – go, Girls!). So I dug out my roll of leftover mosquito netting, cut off a chunk, serged it into a sort of bag and stitched it around the frame. Item: one grasshopper catcher.

I look forward to feeding the resulting catch to the Girls. It’s almost as entertaining as bacon rinds…

Slytherin through Chookonia…

Our friendly rodent exterminator has taken up residence.

(TW: large snakes)

He’s a carpet python, and being non-venomous, is of no danger to us or indeed the Girls, but only the rats and mice that might be after the chook grain. Granted, he can give you a painful nip, but really, why would you want to get close enough to mess with him?

Sorry for the bad photo, but it was taken at night, in the dark, and very quickly. He’s about 2 metres/6ft 3″ long and is rather skinny, so clearly hunting has not yet been very profitable. The Girls didn’t seem too fussed about him, and quite honestly, I’d much rather have him around than rats or mice. For one thing, he leaves both the chickens and their grain alone.

The Husband thinks we should name him. The obvious choice would be to call him Severus Snake, but nah, too, well, slimy. He’s actually rather a good guy. I think we should call him Arnie. He is, after all, the (Ex)Terminator of all things rodent.

Sorry if this has all been rather traumatising, I know loads of people hate snakes. Australia definitely has more than its fair share of the really nasty, deadly ones. Arnie is just a great big fluffly pussycat by comparison.

He’s welcome to the job, I hope he makes a big success of it.

Tales of Chookonia #4: What a hoopla!

We got it done!

I’m talking about the hoop-coop, the chicken tractor, the daycare facility for the Girls. They have inspected it and appear to find it acceptable…

I looked at loads of YouTube videos about making a light, manageable, roomy chicken tractor. I looked at different materials, speed of assembly, price and minimal opportunity for stuffing it up. And I finally decided on PVC pipe. It’s inexpensive, it’s durable, it’s light and it’s easy to work with.

I did the drawings. I function best when I can make a picture of what I’m planning, and although this isn’t a technical drawing by any means, it has the information I need.

We bought the stuff and laid it out on the grass in the back yard. We looked at it, looked at each other, and couldn’t find a decent excuse not to get cracking. So we got cracking.

Day 1, we got the frame assembled. Day 2 we added the wire mesh, made the door frame and door, and added the towing ropes.

At the end of the afternoon it was done, and we pulled it up to the gate of the chook yard, opened both door and gate and stood back. The Girls investigated. We watched. They thought it was fine, but after an hour they took themselves back into the chook yard, where I’d thoughtfully provided a pile of watermelon rinds, which they love. It was all painless. They walked in without urging, and walked back out the same way. It’s not going to be a problem.

We still have to gussy up the back end with a bit of tarpaulin to provide shade and weather shelter. I need to make or buy a smaller water feeder to put in there. And that’s about it. We can move them around on the grass in the back yard, which they’ll help keep short for us while they reduce the bug population. We can keep them in there if we need to do work in the main chook yard or the hen house. We can keep them in there if they go broody, since there are no nesting boxes.

It wasn’t without its moments, but this build was pretty straightforward and definitely not complicated. No special skills required; I’d say the hardest part was getting 3m/10ft lengths of pipe home from the hardware shop.

Anyway, we’re looking forward to watching them on their travels around the back yard.

Tales of Chookonia #3

The Girls are thriving.

After a slow start, where they’d put themselves to bed in a big squirmy, feathery heap on top of the nesting boxes, I have trained them to use the perches and they are doing it all by themselves now. I go down at dusk to find them crooning quietly in a tidy row on the top perch. They’re also much, much tamer now. We can pick them up, they will eat grain out of our hands, and they don’t run and hide when we tip the kitchen scraps bucket over the fence and into their dish. They’ll weave around our ankles when we let them out in the morning, waiting for the grain ration.

So we thought we’d give them a taste of more space. We put up the dog fence on the lawn adjoining their run. It’s only 80cm/32in high, but it keeps a greyhound in, so why not a few hens? Well, because wings. It worked initially, and then ‘Madam Houdini’ got the bright idea in her tiny brain to see what the view was like up there. I shut that down fast. So, high on the agenda tomorrow is clipping their flight feathers, one side to start with, then both if it proves necessary. It absolutely doesn’t hurt them, but it will stop them flying up on top of the dog fence. Plus you can compost the feathers. By the time they grow back in, the Girls should be convinced that flying just doesn’t work any more.

We have plans for constructing a chicken tractor. For the uninitiated, this is a light, mobile cage for chickens. It comes in several forms: for day use only, for day and night, fully enclosed with predator wire, etc. We want it for day use only, so the chooks can have fresh grass to forage on every day, we get our lawn kinda mown and it stops them wandering too far, whilst protecting them from the only likely predator in this suburban back yard, black kites. We have two potential construction methods. One is made entirely of PVC pipe of various diameters and aviary wire, and the other is made of PVC pipe for the base, plus carbon fibre tent poles, shade cloth and mosquito netting (all of which we happen to have on hand). One is sturdier, one is cheaper (since we have the tent poles and at least some of the materials. Some experimentation, measuring and discussion is inevitable.

“You distract the human while I work out how to open this gate!”

Meanwhile, the Girls chook on…

Tales of Chookonia #2

The Girls have been hard at it.

I’m staggered by how much 5 young pullets have reduced the weed cover in their yard already. Apart from the hottest time of day they are at it constantly. Inspect – Scratch – Peck – Step. And repeat. And repeat. Around midday, they’re stopping and finding a shady spot, including some I hadn’t realised existed, resulting in moments of panic when I couldn’t see a couple of them. It really is horribly hot for young birds, and we hooked the hose up to a misting sprinkler in their run for a while to cool things and bring the temperature down a bit. The gazebo has been a bit of a godsend, as there’s always shade in at least part of their area.

Mouse came by to check things out and ensure they were staying to their own space. I have yet to break it to him that they will be ranging in part of His yard once they’re older. I’m sure he’ll feel it’s an Outrage, but he’ll just have to get used to it. The Girls are thankfully not too intimidated. He was silent, as usual; I’m pretty sure that if he’d been a barky dog they’d have felt differently.

They spent the majority of the day on the green pick, but when I moved their feeder closer to the water supply, they suddenly realised there was grain available, and pounced. I know the feeder is designed to be filled all the way up so they can help themselves at any time, but the climate is so humid and thunderstorms so rapid and frequent just now that I’d rather leave the grain in its metal bin under cover, and take the trouble to top it up daily if needed. Mouldy grain is a waste. They have also made short work of all the vegie scraps, so I’ll be giving them another helping tomorrow.

And that’s probably all the news from Chookonia for now. If anything interesting or exciting happens, I’ll let you know, but I won’t be inflicting daily minutiae on you.

Time enough for that when eggs happen!

The New Tales of Chookonia #1

Finally, the Girls have arrived.

On perhaps the hottest day of the year so far, we filled their waterers and feeder, put up a gazebo in their chook yard to provide some sorely needed shade, wiped off some of the sweat and went to fetch them.

We’d planned for Point of Lay pullets, but we wanted them this week because the Husband is on leave and we have time. Unfortunately, this week the supplier didn’t have 21/22 week pullets, only 15 week pullets, so we’ve brought the 5 of them home a little early, and will enjoy watching them grow for another 5-6 weeks before they start laying. We were charged less because they’re not full size yet. Bonus!

The cardboard boxes they travelled home in were liberally anointed with chook poo, and will be going on the garden to mulch the forthcoming potato patch in due course. Their chook house has a deep litter of pine shavings which will keep things fresh and discourage bugs and mites, and again, when it’s full of poo, I shall shovel it out and compost it for garden use. They will get garden and kitchen scraps in addition to their grain ration. I do like a self-sustaining system! Once they’re a bit more acclimatised, we’ll let them out on the grass, perhaps using the moveable, adjustable dog fence to ensure they graze the grass area by area and don’t create huge bald patches in one place and leave rank grass in another.

I’ve put the dummy eggs in the two nesting boxes to encourage them when the time comes. There’s a thinnish layer of sugar cane mulch in the chook yard for them to scratch in, which I’ve scattered with a handful of grain and vegetable scraps from the kitchen. So far, they’re ignoring everything except the water, the green weeds and the pumpkin vine, which is providing a shady spot to rest in. I must get some river sand and D.E. for a dust bath fairly soon, or they’ll be digging up the ground to make their own.

They’re pretty calm and docile, and very healthy looking. It’s so good to have Girls in the family again! We brought Mouse out into the garden after they were installed, and he glanced at them and then proceeded to ignore them completely. Perfect.

And yes, of course they’ve been named, although at this age it’s a little harder to tell them apart. They’re Eggatha, Eggnes, Egglantine, Eggnetha and Egglaia.