Thursday, 14 July 2016

Working on nature's time scale

Mr J and I spend a lot of time planning. We talk through what might happen and how we can deal with the inevitable and hopefully are ready to cope with most eventualities.

We have been talking about dividing up the flock of chickens once it has increased in size so that we have two, three and then four areas for the different breeds. The first small flock will be the Cream Legbars as we have six healthy happy girls and a young cockerel and also two very young boys.

We knew that in the next few weeks we would need to separate the Cream Legbars from Jack, Diesel, Big Red and Little White so that the cockerels didn't fight and hurt each other and also so that there was no chance of Big Red doing his thing with the Cream Legbar girls.

So we had planned that when the time came we would divide the chicken field into two and put a new house into the half that doesn't have the chicken shed in it. The new henhouse would be for the Cream Legbars because although they are the first flock we have, they are likely to be the smallest of the flocks.

Yesterday started well, I'd had a refreshing night of sleep and headed to the garden to plant some more leeks into spaces between other vegetables and to plant some oca and dwarf kale in the bed where I have lifted some garlic creating space for young plants to go in. I broke down some more cardboard boxes, removing all the sticky tape (as I don't want to put plastic into the garden) and laid the boxes on to the grass where the next raised bed is going. My intention for the day was to complete this new raised bed but nature had other ideas!

While I was looking to see if the compost area in the chicken field was ready to use yet, I saw the Legbar boy and Big Red starting to get nasty with each other. I am really surprised that Big Red is mature enough at nine weeks old to want to square up to the older boy and in hindsight I suspect that he wishes he hadn't. It wasn't the manliest squeal of pain that I've ever heard as the Legbar boy taught Big Red who was in charge.

I wasn't going to leave them in the field together as I don't want either of them to get hurt, so the dividing the flocks was just going to have to happen sooner rather than later as we had planned. The planning conversation had gone something like 'All we need to do is to add three more pallets to the fence over there, which will free up the chicken fencing (as then the ducks still won't be able to get into the kitchen garden) and we can use the chicken fencing to divide the field. Then we can put the other chicken house in their and pop the Legbars into that side of the field.' It never ceases to amaze me how long an 'all we need to do is' can actually take!
So we moved three pallets from the front of compost bins and lashed them on to the end of the existing fence with baling twine. The pallet fence will eventually go all around the kitchen garden, but we can only do so much at a time as we find the pallets. This allowed us to use a 50 metre length of flexible chicken netting in the chicken field together with a short length that we had lying around to divide the field into two areas.
It's at moments like this that I wish I was younger, fitter and healthier. Every task takes much longer than it used to when I had reserves of energy to draw on. Nowadays my energy levels go from two-thirds full to empty in minutes, so unless I pace myself carefully I find I have to stop completely. Sometimes it can take a day or even up to three days to recover from getting worn out, so it's really important to be careful about how I do these physical tasks.
Before we put the flexible chicken netting in place, we moved a couple of bales of straw and some large logs so that there would be some in each section of the field. The girls have become used to scratching around in and being fed in the 'circle of love' that we previously made for them and we want to recreate it in the other part of the field.

For the chickens this is just the area where they scratch, for me it's a source of compost. I dump the sawdust and manure from their chicken house there, together with any plant material from the garden that they might like. They scratch through it, mixing it and breaking it down, giving me a quick and easy source of compost for the raised beds. Later in the month I will move the bales around and net off the current circle of love. Then I can plant young plants in this well fertilised ground and grow some kale, cabbage and other winter hardy plants that I will use to supplement their food in the winter months. It seems ideal to use the chickens natural behaviour to create a good growing conditions for plants that will then become their food. It will reduce our feeding costs and give them additional leafy green food at a time when these are in short supply in the rest of the field.
This is the first 'circle of love' that I have now sectioned off with chicken wire and bamboo canes. Into the fertile soil I have planted seed potatoes, which are growing well. When they have been lifted the chickens will have access to this area again. I may also put a few kale plants in here so that when they are allowed back into this area, they have an extra treat.

Anyway, Mr J then inserted the poles of the flexible netting into the ground. The field is too dry and hard for me to be able to push the poles into it, but between us, we got the netting into place and I created a gate arrangement so that we can get in and out of the new section easily.

We then carried the new (new to us) chicken house to the field and put it together. Luckily we have learnt how to put these houses together quickly, so it only took a few minutes to fix the nesting box in place and the roofing panels on. Feed and water containers were put into the new area and as luck would have it, the chickens, who are naturally inquisitive (nosey) followed us into the new section of the field.

Both sets of chickens were pretty put out (except for Diesel who didn't appear to give two hoots) that they had been separated, but I know that in the long term the young cockerels really won't want to be in the same area.

Bed time became the fiasco that we had imagined it would. The Legbars were desperate to go to the shed to sleep and as they were starting to get stressed by being excluded from it, I let them through into the side with the shed and to go the roost there. Once they had settled down, Mr J and I carried them one by one and put them in the new henhouse so that they could start the new day there and should be happy to go to bed in the henhouse at the end of the day.

In amongst all of this happening, one of the Legbar chickens was being broody. Mr J and I agonised over what the best thing to do for her was. I would prefer to allow her to be broody and give her a quiet space of her own to let her sit on some eggs. She is miserable at the moment and it seems that it would be kindest to let her do what comes naturally to her, but we just don't have the capacity at the moment to have another small house taken up for four to six weeks with another broody bird. So we have tried to 'break' the broodiness but as I write, we haven't been very successful.

It's now Thursday morning and the Legbars went to bed in their new house last night with a minimum of fuss. They seem to be settling into their half of the field well, but the broody chicken is still broody, so I am going to ask Mr J to create a safe place for her to sit on some eggs (which are unlikely to be fertile) for a couple of weeks and then, when the eggs in the incubator have hatched, we can give her some chicks to raise as though they were hatched from the eggs that she's been sitting on.

Last night we candled the eggs in the incubator. There were seven fertile duck eggs that we checked last week before adding the hens eggs and to our delight there are ten fertile Australorp eggs, one Cream Legbar crossed with Rhode Island Red bantam (RIRb) and four that are Jack and Diesel crossed with RIRb. So I am keeping my fingers crossed that we have a good hatch rate this time from the twenty-two fertile eggs in the incubator. And there are five or six eggs under the broody hen whose chicks are due to hatch around the same time as those in the incubator.

This morning the plumber is coming to install a different sink in the bathroom, so I will be doing all things domestic while Mr J heads out to buy some materials to make a small house for the broody hen and another house which we'll use for the ducklings when they hatch. As the plumber is due in twenty minutes, I had better go and put the kettle on.

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