Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The Chicken Diaries - Week 12

Cacciatore is still the little escape artist - we are constantly having to catch her and put her back inside the pen. I wish she would grow a bit bigger so she couldn't get out so easily!

Bubbles has put on 66g this week, which seems small compared to the 82g she put on the previosu week. The kids have been picking her up more, I hope that it doesn't cause her too much stress.
Cacciatore has put on 70g this week (she put on 81g last week) and is looking like a very slim chicken. I don't think she'd be good for eating!

Mary is still laying on the weight and has put on 139g this week and next week will break the 1kg mark.

And here is spot having put on another 125g this week. He's pretty consistent with his weight gain. I wonder why the girls have weight gain all over the shop.
I found out they LOVE to eat oats - the whole oats that I had been trying to sprout. Since they sprout very poorly, I have been using them as a treat to feed the chooks and try to get them to be more tame again. It's also an effort to get the kids to stop picking up frightened chooks, but they are getting better. Actually, even Spot has stopped squawking so much when cornered and picked up by the kids, compared to before. I still don't think he likes it though.

My son has been helping clean the poo out of their roosting home! I was really impressed when he took the poopascoop and the bucket and took out all the poo and put it into the compost. What a good boy!

I'm thinking I might quit the weekly weighs and switch to fortnightly. I'd like to keep weighing them till they start laying though!

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Recycling Infant Formula tins and reusing vegetable "castoffs"

My sister had a pyramid of formula tins at her house and I told her to fill them up with kitchen food waste and I'd put it into my compost. I ended up with a whole lot of tins, and she ended up with a lot less junk in her house.

My mother told me that her sister (my aunt) would get old tins and use them as planters. Her whole garden was filled with them, so I thought I'd give it a try.

First you have to drill drainage holes in the bottom. I didn't have a drill at the time but I used a hammer and nail to make holes. But now we have a drill and I drill the holes.

Then I put a small layer of dry leaves and some shredded newspaper at the bottom, so that I wouldn't have so much dirt falling out the holes.

I filled it up with potting mix and depending on whether I had any worm castings, I'd add that when the container was about 3/4 full. Otherwise I'd mix in some blood and bone into the potting mix when the container was 3/4 full.

I had tried a whole variety of different things in the tins, but on the internet, people tend to stick to herbs. Obviously some of my experiments are not really good for the plants. I've tried a few things!

This was my first experiment with zucchini. As you can see the zucchini did well for a bit, but then soon it began to look rather sickly. It had plenty of water, and I put it on the ground in case roots wanted to dig into the soil to get more space. Next time I'll put them into a big pot!

These are dwarf beans on the left, and on the bottom right are some Thai Basil. The top right one had one rainbow chard seed, which is actually multi-germed and produce a few seedlings from each "seed."

Here is the base of a celery that I planted in one of these formula pots and it began to grow! I"m not sure how big it will get or whether I will get any usable celery from it, but it was a fun experiment. In the background is curly leaf parsley.

I also had one crop of coriander which I have already harvested. Gotta grab them before they bolt to seed though!

I had seen other people recycling their formula tins, and painting them first so they weren't so ugly to look at.

Onions are the other thing that I had planted to see if I could grow and they did sprout, but did not do well after that. I read that they need a lot of nitrogen, so I may have to fertilize a little more frequently!

It's solidly into Autumn now so I still have time to plant and get a crop before winter. I did make a raised bed in the middle of the chook area, but I wasn't sure what I could put in it that the chickens won't scratch or eat. I found this list on

  • Garlic, Onions and Leeks
  • Potatoes
  • Squashes
  • Legumes
  • Chives, Mint, Rosemary, Tarragon and Sage
  • Rhubarb (they will occasionally eat the young leaves but don’t seem to get ill)
  • Climbing beans once established
  • Currant Bushes (established and without fruit)
  • Asparagus (once in leaf)
  • Lavender

Here's hoping! It's weighing day tomorrow, so I hope the chickens have put on some weight!

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Chicken Diaries - Week 11

Not much to report, except the kids chasing the chickens around all the time has made them a little wary of being picked up! Slow movements are not too bad, I can get Cacciatore and Mary with slow movement but the other two are like little squawking rocket chickens!

But nobody escapes me and so I wrestled the chickens for their weekly photo.

Bubbles weighing in at 795g this week (put on 82g this week compared with 113g the previous week) is looking very Araucana-ey with the little cheek tufts. I inspected her comb again and it definitely only has the one row, so I'm hoping we have a girl. She is very loud with her chicken grrawww noise compared to the others who still have a bit of baby cheep.
Cacciatore is trailing the pack by a big margin now - she weighs 744g (and has put on  81g this week compared to 91g the previous week). It wouldn't surprise me if she was a bantam except that she came from the same hatching as Spot and Bubbles, so maybe she is at the bottom of the pecking order or something.
Gorgeous little Mary eats like a champ and is now a whopping 821g (having put on 155g this week compared to 124g last week). Though, when we went to the easter show and saw the size of a full sized light Sussex they were VERY BIG CHICKENS!
Spot has cracked the 1kg mark! He's put on 125g this week (pretty much the same as his 124g the previous week). I had a hell of a time chasing him around the yard and coop, he's a slippery little sucker!
We went to the Royal Easter Show on the weekend and spent a lot of time in the Poultry Pavillion, with the kids thrilled to see chickens and eggs. A comment made by HK when he was looking at the chickens was "Why do the egg laying ones look so much healthier than the meat birds?" The Hy-Line egg layers were brown and the meat breeds were white, and the meat ones just looked young and maybe not fully feathered. They probably WERE young, since meat birds are supposed to be ready to slaughter at 35 days, whereas egg layers need 18 weeks at least before they can start laying. Those meat birds did have big legs, but the purebreeds were lovely to look at, I think. No wonder everyone keeps bantams in their backyards!

I have been thinking about what breeds of chicken I would like to get, and if the Sussex temperament are anything to go by I'd love to have a whole flock of them!  Look at the marvellous colours they come in!

Buff Sussex
Speckled Sussex
Silver Sussex
This is like Lego.. you can't have just one, you want to get more!

Even though I clipped their wings, Spot is still flying onto the roof of the coop! Well, just the egg part, and so far he hasn't run away or tried to escape (though I have been told the chickens have been jumping and squeezing out through the higher, bigger holes in the Omlet fence, but running by themselves back in again). Hopefully he won't fly away!

Monday, 14 March 2016

The Chicken Diaries - Week 10

This week, guzzleguts Mary has overtaken Cacciatore in weight!

Bubbles has put on 113g this week (compared to 75g last week)!! I found that hard to believe. The kids have been picking her up more frequently though she is still very skittish. She does like to eat freshly chopped vegies though!
Cacciatore put on 91g this week (compared to 76g last week). She still jumps up on me, but with my son chasing her around, she isn't quite as welcoming as she used to be. Still comes readily when they seem my hand out with food in it!
Everyone's favourite, Mary, has put on 124g this week (up from 90g last week). She really does eat A LOT. If someone is in the Dine-A-Chook eating the crumble, it would be Mary. She is still a docile thing, but yes, she is now heavier then Cacciatore!
Look at my big boy! Weighing in at 901g (he put on 124g this week compared to 114g last week) he is still a scaredy-chook and it's so hard to get him to stay still on the weighing plate. But he will be 1kg next week!

The chooks have enjoyed perching on my garden furniture and nibbling on my container garden vegetables. But I have had enough of THAT.

Look at the poop everywhere! And my poor vegies being eaten to death, I had just made some new pots and planted some seeds and found the chooks had dug out some of the seeds (bean seeds are so big), so I decided THAT'S IT, time for some fencing.

This Omlet fencing was quite good, and portable and temporary, and though it took me a while to set up (because of the difficulty trying to figure out where the enclosure would be), I finally figured out that this was ok. The tops are a bit saggy and the chickens can get out the big squares but they can't get out the little ones down below. It's gonna make mowing the lawn a bit of a bitch now, though.

I tried sprouting some oats - ugh, that didn't go very well. Only got 3 sprouts out of it after a week, and so I fed it to the chickens but they seemed to really love it, especially Bubbles. Looks like wheat is the easiest to grow. I'll try barley next week and see how that is.

This week the chickens really got into the garden - they have decimated my wild bok choy which I didn't really mind, but they ate some and sat on the rest of it. I wouldn't mind it so much if they would EAT all of what they destroyed rather than having shredded leaves and plants lying everywhere.  So I'm giving my bok choy a break from the chooks and see if it goes to seed, and then I can have a whole lot more NEW wild bok choy.

Bubbles has the chicken clucking now (especially when stressed) but Mary is still cheeping like a chick at times. Spot does squawk when chased too. Oh, and I clipped Spot and Cacciatore's wings. They could actually fly quite high. It's not as bad as it sounds, I just chopped off the primary wings as per instructions in this picture.

It didn't hurt them and my son helped me hold the chickens, so that wasn't as traumatic as I thought.

I am worried about going away and who is going to look after the chooks. I can probably get a friend to look after them, but imagine how much poop there will be when I get back 2 weeks later! I did ask if someone could take them for 2 weeks, but people tell me that they would be killed or maimed if I tried to insert them into a new flock for 2 weeks!

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Worm castings - How to Use it and Harvest it

My worm farm is sitting there full of worm castings and I had no idea how to get it out without getting handfuls of worms too! I didn't want to lose all my worms, and they had done such a great job, I thought I'd better do some internet research about it.

Some people suggest an isolation method when you use a single bin system (like I do) where you put all the food on one side and all the worms will go across to that side, leaving the other side free to harvest your castings. This pic was from Vermiculture Blog.

At the moment this is my worm bin:

So I could try the isolation method. However, I won't be able to get the eggs or the younger worms, and I'd lose all of them into my garden. And it takes WEEKS to do that.

Another method is to use the hessian and pile the castings on top of it (and a container beneath). The worms will bury away from the light and the castings will remain. Another method where I would lose the eggs, but at least I could get a good load of castings and it would be quick.

A variation on the hessian filter is to make cone shaped piles and keep shaving off the outside of the pile as the worms dig into the pile. This way you could save a few more eggs. I read about it (and scabbed these pics) from here.

The last method is the empty it all out and sort through it with your hands method. As long as you don't mind getting dirty and sorting through all the castings by hand and picking out the worms. I think it's a bit long though.

I just need some time on the weekend and I will be able to get some castings so I can work with them for my plants. For seeds I am supposed to put the seeds on top of it and then cover and then work the casts into the top soil once a month.

For seedlings you are supposed to put the roots onto the castings and then cover them. Or you can make a mix of 1/4 castings, 1/4 peat moss, 1/4 leaf/hay litter/ 1/4 sand or garden soil (for drainage).

I'm looking forward to finally using some castings. I'm trying to make a second worm farm, so maybe I'll be able to get a little more usage out of my worms! It's hard enough now trying to find enough scraps for the worms AND the compost AND the chickens.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Chicken Diaries - Week 9

Everyone is now over 500g!

It's such a pain trying to catch them now. I'm wondering when I will stop doing this weighing thing. Perhaps when they start laying eggs?

Bubbles has put on 75g this week (down from 88g last week). Bubbles feathers are not smooth like the others - it makes me wonder if she has some frizzle in her genetics. No signs of a triple pea comb yet! Here's hoping!
Cacciatore has put on 76g this week (down from 79g last week). She is skittish when approached suddenly but once you have food out she will happily climb on you. At least the kids can still pick Cacciatore up.
Mary has put on 90g this week (more than her 88g last week). She eats really well. I've seen her using the Dine-a-chook very well, and she spends more time eating than I've noticed any of the others. She is also the easiest to pick up and has to put up with the kids constantly carrying her.
It is such a chore trying to catch Spot, who has now passed the 3/4 kg mark! He has put on 114g this week (down from 123g last week). Spot is quite a good looking chicken, I think. He hasn't yet started crowing, but he will be cracking the 1kg mark in a few weeks. I am thinking about getting a crow collar on him so I don't have to eat him.
Unfortunately for me, they were not very interested in the sprouts I gave them. However, I shall persist! I noticed today that they devoured zucchini when it was chopped very finely. Perhaps that's what I need to do for all their kitchen scraps.

I took pics of the grains I was sprouting. I used a mixture of wheat, barley and oats, and if you ask me, it looked like the only thing sprouting was the wheat! It's really easy - soak overnight, then put them into a container with some holes so it drains, and place that inside another container to contain the water that leaks out. Rinse it twice a day to stop the mould growing and that's it! They don't need sun or anything, I just left them on the washing machine or the kitchen bench.

Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Perhaps I need to starve them a bit so they eat it. Or perhaps it's too big for them. After today, I noticed they liked their food chopped up as fine as crumble so that might what the problem is.

I was concerned lately because they hadn't been doing dust baths. I kept checking the chickens for tics and mites and so far they seem good. However, today I saw Mary dust bathing in the dirt outside the pen, and Bubbles doing it inside the pen. What a relief.

If I had paid attention, I would have realised they had been doing it already! Here are Spot and Cacciatore soaking up some sun.

And the bottom two photos you can see some depressions which is where some chicken has been fluffing around in! Look at my uprooted veggies in the other one!

Next step - train them to use the treadle!

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The Chicken Diaries - Week 8

Another week passes! The chickens have been going well, they now go to roost on their own, and even when I let them free range, in the evening they go back to the coop and go to bed.

Everyone except Mary has been eating from the Dine-a-Chook feeder. We have been still putting food on the old feeder for her, and she has been eating well, as well as foraging for her own food.

It's getting hard to catch them for weighing and getting them to stay still!

Bubbles is so hard to keep still, but I managed to get a weight. Finally another chicken over 500g! Bubbles put on 88g this week, which is about the same as last week. Bubbles is very skittish and doesn't want to be picked up.

Cacciatore put on 79g this week, which is on par with her 71g last week. Just shy of 500g! She needs some coaxing now to come to me, but once she comes she still likes to jump on me.
Mary weighs 451g now, catching up nicely! She put on 88g this week as well, soon she'll be the same weight as Cacciatore! She is still the friendliest chicken, happy to be picked up and cuddled and manhandled, a good chicken for my son.

Look at Spot! 123g put on this week! He's been piling on the weight and he looks like a real chicken. He at least comes when fed to eat from the hand, though doesn't like being picked up still.

Now my new task is to try to get them to eat for the Somerzby feeder. The chickens are still scared of it and won't eat from it. It will take a few weeks of training to get them used to it, but Mary is still too small to eat from it, and I think I will wait till they are all over 500g before I start training them.

We also upgraded them to pullet grower feed. Phew, 20kg of feed! I wonder how long that would last.

I disposed of the fly trap contents into the compost bin, and I'm not sure that was a good idea. There were so many maggots in it, and I was afraid that they would take over the compost bin! I haven't seen any soldier fly larvae for ages, but the bin hasn't been taken over by fruit flies or house flies as far as I can tell. Unfortunately I put a lot of food into it lately and it's starting to smell a bit. Coffee grounds always make it smell a bit better, but I think I need a lot more carbon in it to get the balance back.

I started growing some grains for fun. I am trying to grow oats, wheat and barley. I've been following simple instructions - soak the seeds overnight, and then rinse them twice a day and make sure they are in a container that drains. After a week we should have some sprouts!