Chookonia begins

Since we first moved here 14 months ago, I have wanted to have chickens.

It’s clear that there used to be some here, as evidenced by the totally dilapidated hen house near the end of the back yard. It’s only good for demolition now, but there’s a lot of back yard for a small flock to enjoy. Many things have prevented it happening, all perfectly understandable, but finally, finally, it seems as if it will go ahead.

Chookonia sketchDespite the heat and humidity, we have been doing some yard work towards this end; most notably, we’ve started digging the 8 post holes for Chookonia, the palatial hen house now taking shape in a shady corner of the back yard. It will be 3 metres square, 2 metres high, solid but airy, and will have a raised brick floor under straw to keep the Girls dry and cosy even if the yard gets very squishy and muddy when the Wet finally decides to start. It’s large because there will be times in storm season when they will be safer kept in than let out.

Chookonia planThe project is not a small one, which probably best explains why we’ve put it off for so long. The impetus came when we got permission to recycle all the dumped building material from the block next door. Not only do we have enough corrugated steel to make the chook house, we can also mend the shed roof, making it a bit more unlikely that the next cyclone will see it landing on the golf course half a kilometre away.

We’ll be getting some help putting up the frame, which needs to be embedded in concrete in holes sunk 40cm down, and mounded at the top so rain will run off. We’ll probably also get some help when we come to put on the roof, but the rest is down to us. I foresee some colourful language, hurling of tools, stomping around and going off in a sulk… We are both terribly clumsy. We have to make a sliding chicken door, a hinged person door and a nesting box access hatch. Endless possibilities for things to go wrong!

The Girls. Three Australorps and three Isa Browns.

Some of these will hopefully be arriving in the next couple of months…

The Girls will be getting a permanent run under the trees for shade and shelter, and protection from the quite large birds of prey round here. They will also be allowed into the back half of the yard once we have upgraded the fencing so they can’t sneak underneath it. You know how it is. If there’s one small hole in the whole 200m of fence, they’ll find it and be through in a flash.

I can’t quite decide how many Girls we need. I’ve always had six; three Australorps and three ISA Browns. I love the Lorps best, they are beautiful, friendly, stately and calm and lay large pale brown eggs. The Browns are slightly better layers of mid brown smaller eggs, and are a bit smarter, but they are also a bit more aggressive. The mix of 3 of each seems to work well, so I’ll probably end up going with the same again. I’ll be getting point-of-lay pullets rather than chicks, so they’ll be ready to start work a bit sooner and won’t be so vulnerable.

I’m looking forward to seeing one of my favourite sights again, the Girls hitching up their fluffy skirts and flat out racing for home because I’ve called them in for the evening grain. Closely followed, I might add, by two of them having a tug of war over a piece of bacon rind…

We’ve made a good start. Now we just have to keep the impetus going.

 

Getting well in Eden

…Perhaps Eden is a slight exaggeration. I’m pretty sure there was no chicken poo in Eden.

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“If it moves again, I’m going to eat it!”

Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 5.02.38 PM Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 5.03.09 PM Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 5.04.00 PM Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 5.04.25 PM Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 5.04.50 PM Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 5.05.17 PM Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 5.05.47 PMIt’s time to bid farewell once again to Dorrigo. I’m glad to be well enough to move on but I’ll be sorry to leave. My sister’s back yard is a very healing place. It’s filled with fruit and flowering trees, birds great and small, and an endless array of rampantly, gloriously happy vegetables and flowers. I get inspiration for my own very different garden every time I visit, and rarely leave without some garden ‘loot’.

The creatures are inspiring too. The Girls stroll around in a stately fashion, patrolling for insect pests, seeds, worms and tiny invisible delicacies. The only time one sees them agitated is at supper time, when they hoik up their fluffy black skirts and flat out run into their chookyard to demolish the grain, vegies, weeds and occasional doses of comfrey they’ve been served. In return, they give us warm, light brown fresh eggs, with dense whites and brilliantly orange yolks. The taste is something so completely different from what you buy in the shops that you’re spoiled for the bought thing forever after.

They’re like elegant and dignified bourgeois French widows, clad in shimmering black satin, with black fishnet hose and distinctly Parisian black froufrou undies. Perched on their heads are brilliantly coral red combs, like chic little hats. I love the Girls…. I’ve been promised my own very, very soon.

It’s spring here in northern NSW. Along the road from the coast up the mountain, there are jacarandas, crepe myrtles, tibouchinas and flame trees in bloom. Despite very little rain, things are still green and lush. and the vegetables and fruit are vibrantly colourful.

I’m woken in the morning by the cheerful giggling of currawongs, the loud gabbling of rosellas and galahs invading the chook run to steal grain and bits of fruit, and territorial announcements from the magpies. Everywhere my eye turns there’s some magic going on.

I’m sure I’m getting better much faster because my eye is at rest on all this beauty, and my mind is at peace. 

Plans for Chookonia

I’m a woman on a mission.

I have made a startling discovery: it is impossible to buy point-of-lay Australorp or Isa Brown pullets in Mackay. Whaaaaa?! They’re only some of the most reliable layers, placid, easy to care for, friendly, undemanding and healthy chickens around. The Australorps were bred specifically for the Australian climate and Australian conditions.

The Girls. Three Australorps and three Isa Browns.

The Girls. Three black Australorps and three red Isa Browns. I miss them…

According to the feed store where you can buy day old chicks, there’s “no demand”. Everyone these days wants the fancy breeds, for prettiness and cuteness, as pets for the children. I could have as many Silkies, bantams of every kind, Indian Game Hens, quail, guinea fowl and other exotica as I wish. What I can’t get is reliable layers of the right age.

I love my Australorps. But I may have to substitute another good laying breed, and I’ll probably have to buy them further south and have them shipped up here. I want POL birds so I don’t spend months feeding them before they start laying, and so that they’re old enough that I know they’ve had their innoculations. No point in starting a flock with ailing birds.

But first, we have to construct their quarters. In my previous life, I had large and spacious chicken accommodation, a fenced yard under large old trees for shade, and a quarter acre paddock where they could roam freely. It was known as the Chook Mahal. We’re a bit more restricted in the new house, having no old trees in a suitable spot, we will need to construct the chook house, the enclosed yard and a fence for their free ranging area. I’m already planning to grow a passionfruit vine over the enclosed yard for the dual purpose of giving the Girls some good shade whilst at the same time ensuring the passionfruit gets plenty of chickeny goodness at its roots. I anticipate a regular supply of fruit!

The plan is that the chook house (to be known hereafter as Chookonia) will be fairly large and on a concrete slab so it drains well and can be hosed down. Apart from the nesting boxes it will be mostly open but roofed over, so that they have an outside area to scratch around in when the rain is torrential and they can’t spend much time in the yard. There’s no problem about keeping them cosy in this climate. The concrete floor and the ground in the enclosed yard will be thickly covered in straw or sugar cane trash so they can have a lovely scratch, poo over everything and eventually I get to cart it away and put it on the garden. Outside the yard, they can scratch and range in the orchard area and help clean up the fallen fruit.

But first we have to demolish the dilapidated and termite-ridden wreck of a shed that’s already there, lay a concrete slab and construct a carport, lockable store room, and the aforementioned chicken accommodation at one end. And we have to get a water tank to catch the rain off the roof, as there’s no water laid on at that end of the garden, and I don’t want to haul water all the way up there every day.

Just a little bit of work to do, then….