Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Present and future planning

While I was working in the garden yesterday morning, the postman delivered a parcel. I didn't notice him arrive and leave the package by the boot room door, so when I went inside to make a cuppa, there it was on the doorstep, waiting for us.

We had ordered some bits and pieces online, but we weren't expecting them to arrive yet, so I was curious about the parcel. Inside the padded bag was a letter from Mr J's niece, Helen. Amongst her news, she wrote that she had read on my blog that I wanted a compost thermometer and decided to send me one as a gift.
So, I sat at the kitchen table with tears in my eyes because I was so touched by Helen's generosity and thoughtfulness. It is so often the small acts of kindness that mean more than grand gestures, those moments when we reach out to others and connect with them at a personal level that are so special.
After a cuppa, I headed back out to the kitchen garden, compost thermometer in hand. I plunged the thermometer into the compost heap pumpkin patch that we made a couple of days ago and the temperature was 52 degrees, a heat sufficient to break down the materials in the compost heap. The older compost heaps though were a different story. Both the compost bays with spent grain and straw have cooled to well below a temperature that will aid the breaking down of the materials, which might explain the less than pleasant aroma near them.

So I need to find some green materials to add to the compost bays, there are plenty of weeds that I can lift from behind the piggeries to add to the compost bays, but I don't think just adding it on top will be enough to restart the decomposition. So over the next few days, I will dismantle the compost bays (one at a time), turn the contents of the bays and add in plenty of green material. I may need to add an accelerator too. I don't have any comfrey large enough to use, so will cut down some stinging nettles from one of the patches that we have left in place as a home for the local butterfly population. The 'stinger' patches are big enough to be able to harvest several bucket loads without depleting them too much.
In the middle of last month, we created an outdoor run for the chicks, so that they could spend a little time each day (weather permitting) outside in the fresh air. You can read about it here (Fences, hedges, paths and structures). We made it by strapping together some of the panels that my daughter's chicken house had with it when we brought the henhouse from her home to ours. The chicks no longer need it as they are now housed in the chicken field in their own house with fixed run prior to joining the flock.

This meant that the panels were available to use for something else if we needed them. And, yesterday we put them to good use. Our next batch of chicks are due in six days time and our plan is to keep them in the safe enclosure that we created in the boot room for the first few days. Big Red and Little White lived in this enclosure for a month and I took them outside from about 10 days old for a little while each day before returning them to the warmth of the brooder in the boot room.

This time however, we expect there to be a few more chicks (hopefully a dozen or more) and we don't want the noise and smell of a several small chickens to fill the house, so we have decided to have them in the boot room for up to a week before moving them to the chicken condo in the former stables. To have them in the chicken condo safely we needed to create a pen in which they'll have room to run around but also be safe from any predators and from the older chickens for the first few weeks.

So Mr J measured and cut a sheet of ply wood and fixed it to the panels to make a base. I then covered it with chicken wire and folded it around the sides to make it less easy for any rats to gnaw through the wood to access the little chicks inside.
Then we turned it the right way up and put it onto a double length pallet that we'd been given by the man who had delivered the plywood panels to us last month. A couple of screws fixed through the base of the new pen into the pallet secured it and stopped it from wobbling from side to side.
We thought about fixing shallow sides around the pen to reduce draughts, but decided that we can lean these offcuts of plywood if need be, but the pen is inside the stable and so is fairly sheltered already and if it gets particularly windy, I can just prop these offcuts around the pen and then remove them when it calms down again. Mr J fixed the central roof panel in place and I will use cable ties to fix each of the roof end panels in place leaving one side tied with string. This way both roof end panels can be lifted up (as though they are hinged) for easy access for cleaning the pen, feeding the chicks and changing their water for fresh. The chicks will live in this pen from the end of week one until they are four to five weeks old when we'll move them to housing outside so that they can start seeing the other chickens and they all get used to each other. As we have done with Big Red and Little White, I will allow the new chicks to experience outside for a while each day (once they are big enough) in a run that we'll make in the next few weeks. 

We placed the brooder into the run to check where would be the best place for the electrics to live. Mr J found a small  bedside table in the barn to use to sit the extension lead and plug on together with the adaptor for the brooder. By putting them on the lower shelf of the bedside table, they will be raised off the floor and also sheltered from any rain drops that may leak through the roof. We think we've placed it where there are no leaks, but you never know!

I divided the stable into two by using old pieces of conservatory roof and a run panel that isn't being used (yet). The chickens looked a bit miffed for a while, but soon realised that I had moved their favourite dust bathing material into their half and settled down to flick dust over themselves in their almost daily ritual of dust bathing. A fresh layer of wood shavings on the floor around the new pen gave it a smart look, which I am sure won't last for long, but yesterday it looked smart and ready for the new arrivals.
Picture Credit www.barterandsons.com.au

Last night I made one final check of the eggs in the incubator to remove any that are infertile, the last thing I want at this stage is an egg exploding over the others. I am very disappointed with the Australorp eggs that we bought. We paid £45 for a dozen eggs and only four were fertile, whilst we paid £15 for a dozen white Jersey Giant eggs and ten are fertile. All we can hope for is that we get some females and a male Australorp so that we can increase the size of the flock. And hopefully, I can find another breeder and be able to either buy a couple of pullets (young females) or some more eggs to hatch.

The White Jersey Giants should hatch well enough, the eggs came from the same breeder as Little White's egg and she is healthy, strong and feisty!

It's dull and rainy this morning, so I think I will tackle a few chores indoors, but first, as always, it must be time for a cuppa.

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