The foxes around here sure know there are yummy chickens to be had. And as a chicken, it ain’t easy, livin’ free. Years ago the chickens used to free range around the orchards for an hour before the sun went down below the horizon. Chickens are amazing creatures, they’ll take themselves to bed at sunset, you don’t have to tell them to go. The foxes however, put an end to the free ranging.
As the sun crept closer to the horizon, I used to sit out with the chickens in the orchard. The chickens happily went about their business. Insects, small reptiles and frogs were nervous, but the chickens sure were happy. Eventually the foxes became something of a nuisance, and even killed one bird, but didn’t successfully make off with the kill.
The foxes blithely ignored my presence. I’d warn them off, but the lure of chicken is strong with those creatures. They probably know the old adage that unknown foods always taste like chicken, yet hanker for the real deal. Chicken sure is yummy. I could have shot the foxes, but then, they do some solid work keeping the rabbit population in check. What to do?
Stop free ranging the chickens in the late afternoon was the chosen option. A good friend told me that I was a bad chicken owner doing that, and he might be right there, but what else do you do? The chickens were safe in their sturdy all weather hen house and attached run. It was less effort for me too, because I no longer had to supervise the chickens free roaming around the orchard. But then, I had to spend time each day picking vegetables and herbs so as to supplement the chickens feed. Plus provide kitchen scraps.
Chickens which can’t free range, face a few health issues, and the quality of the eggs produced can decline. So, I ensured they consumed a diet made up from top shelf mixed grain feed with added shell grit, in addition to the other yummy stuff they were fed. Twice a week they also enjoyed a meal of freshly ground meat. Chickens are not vegetarians!
For quite a number of years the chickens have been doing well on that basis. Long term readers will know of my ongoing challenges with the rats. Chickens and rats go together because the rats are attracted to the easy grain feed. The rats have now been err, terminated, by Dame Plum and I, and their easy access to the chicken enclosure is now a thing of the past. Take that ya pesky rats!
Recently however, two chickens died in two days. That was unusual. You do lose chickens each year, especially during the cooler and wetter months of winter. But two in two days was a bit special. And of note, some of the chickens had begun consuming eggs. What a nightmare scenario – feeding top shelf grain mixes to the chickens, when they are only kept for egg production, and the cheeky scamps are consuming some of the very eggs they produce. Something was going on.
It’s impossible to really know, but I have a hunch that the quality of the grain mix they were consuming had declined, and this had impacted upon the chickens health. In order to make up the difference, the weakest chickens died, and some of the more demanding chicken breeds began consuming the protein and minerals which were available to them in the form of eggs.
You hear about fertiliser shortages, you notice some supplies of fertilisers are hard to obtain or much more expensive, but that’s probably when most people don’t give the matter a second thought. A few years ago I’d read that the protein, mineral, and vitamin levels in foods have declined for many decades now. That’s probably the result of intensive agriculture, after all, I’m not growing the grains the chickens are eating so have no idea as to the processes used. And anyway, if there is a shortage of fertilisers, or they’re rising in price, something has to give.
With all these considerations in mind, the top shelf grain mix was reduced by half, with the missing half being replaced by a high quality pellet mix. Unfortunately, the pellet mix does contain the intriguingly described protein source: “restricted animal material”, which is probably code word for horse or kangaroo, but realistically could be anything up to, and including the squeak. Anything! Soylent green anyone? It reminds me of the time Sandra and I were in Laos and were faced with the menu options: Rice with Beef; Rice with Chicken; Rice with Pork; and Rice with Meat (are you brave enough to ask?)
Mineral deficiencies always begin with the soil, and the chicken situation is no different. With that understanding of the problem, the mind began considering other solutions. The local plant nursery supplied a huge bag of mixed minerals in the form of mixed crushed rock dust. That now gets added to their feed. A number of backyard poultry websites also recommend adding in quantities of bone meal, and that stuff is easy enough to obtain, and now gets chucked in as well. So the chickens are consuming freshly picked herbs and vegetables + kitchen scraps + grains + pellets + shell grit + rock dust (grits) + bone meal + a twice weekly feed of meat. They seem happy enough now, and the egg eating has stopped.
The alarming thing about this situation, and alert readers will already know – if this is happening to the chickens feed, it’s probably also happening to the produce we all consume. The outcomes remain the same.
Earlier in the week, yet another storm dumped a whole bunch of rain over the farm. The surface drain we installed a few weeks ago around the chicken enclosure earned it’s keep. All of the storm water on the surface around the chicken enclosure was safely redirected down the hill.
I was a bit dubious as to whether that surface drain would work, but the results speak for themselves.
The surface drains we’ve installed near to the large shed ran for many hours after the storm.
It’s been a very wet year. Despite the best efforts of the surface drains, roof, and every other protection, a bit of water did get into the chicken enclosure through the aviary mesh. The damp and soiled bedding straw was removed and replaced with fresh and dry material. The removed material was placed on the two rows where the tomatoes will be planted out in another month or so.
Observant readers will note the extreme humidity visible in the above photo.
I’ve been adding all sorts of organic material to those rows over the past month, and the plan is to continue adding further material before then using a rototiller to mix the lot together and breaking up the grass. I’ve not tried this technique before to get a large garden bed begun, and will be interested to see how it works out.
It sure is wet this year, but the UV radiation from the sun is increasing and we’re now in the High UV zone, and the plants are growing. It looks green.
At this time of year, any grass gets cut away from the trunks of the fruit trees, and then left to fall as a mulch. And as each fruit tree is inspected, they get pruned. The prunings are collected. They then get chipped up and left on the surface of the orchard as mulch where they break down in not much time at all. The fruit trees in the orchard would probably grow faster if they didn’t have to compete with the grass, but being on the side of a mountain saddle, the grass holds the soil together and stops it running down the hill during big storms. The next photo shows the general arrangement for a young fruit tree.
The wonderful thing about trees is that they occasionally fall over. A fallen tree is both a problem, and a resource. Last year an unusual storm with strong winds originating from the south east (that never happens, except then) knocked over a tree. This week, we processed the fallen timber into chunks of firewood which will most likely get used in a year or two.
After harvesting the firewood, there is a huge amount of mess left over. We clean the mess up by breaking up the left over organic matter into finer particles which rapidly feed plants and produce rich soil.
And at the end of the work day, the machines also get cleaned up, refilled with fuel, and maintained before being put away. There’s no point not looking after the machines which make life easier than it would otherwise be.
A few months ago my mates of the Big Shed fame got us onto a cheese making course. We now make our own fetta cheese. It’s super easy to do. I’ve been asked in the past by people who live in apartments what can they do: Make cheese, that’s what. And whilst they’re at it, how about making their soap? That’s not hard either. Pah!
Spring is springing along. It’s still early days and spring is usually very long here. Some of the fruit trees in the orchard are in blossom, some are only now just breaking dormancy.
The above photo also shows the general arrangement with pruning. The trees form a canopy, and you can walk around underneath them. It’s not optimal for picking, but it allows the forest critters to easily move around the orchard, and anyway the wallabies work hard at keeping the forest open by breaking off all the lower branches. Why fight them? I now prune to accommodate them, and life goes more easily.
The asparagus spears are reaching towards the sun, that is if the big fusion reactor in the sky decides to show it’s face from behind the stormy clouds.
And I’m trialling a new variety of ginger known as Japanese Ginger. So far the plant has over wintered in the greenhouse and appears to be growing well.
Onto the flowers:
The temperature outside now at about 10.00am is 13’C (55’F). So far this year there has been 902.8mm (35.5 inches) which is up from last weeks total of 838.6mm (33.0 inches)