Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Chicken tractor and new feeder

The chickens have kept us busy for the last few days. The youngest chicks are now 9 weeks old and last night we moved 4 of them into the chicken shed with the older birds. 

So this morning we dismantled the run that was attached to the house that has been their home for the last five weeks and stored it in the back part of the stable. Then we moved the house into the stable too. It won't be needed for more chicks until next year and by keeping it inside we will protect it from the winter weather, hopefully helping it to last longer.

It will be interesting trying to get the four to go into the shed tonight, each time we move chicks into the shed we have a couple of evenings that we spend chasing small birds around the field herding them into their new accommodation.

This afternoon I created a vermin-proof feeding system (fingers crossed that it works). I had bought a set of toggles online, so following the written instructions that came with them, I made a hole in the base of a large bucket (a fermenting bin), dropped the toggle thingy into the hole and headed outside. I partially filled the bucket and popped the lid on. Outside I hung it on a rail to see if the birds would be get the hang of how to feed themselves.
 Mr J will make a tripod stand for the bucket to hang from and it should need topping up about once a week or two (depending on how much the birds find to forage and how much they get given from the garden, instead of eating feed).

The birds need to learn to peck at the toggle hanging down which is allow a few pellets of feed to drop out. It took Big Red about five minutes of inspecting the new feeder and watching me tap the toggle to work out how to get more food from it. Hopefully he will teach the other chickens how to use it.

After that, I dismantled the temporary fencing that we had put around the youngest Australorps' house so that I could move them to another part of the garden. They have done an admirable job in reducing the weedy grass to a flattened state and fertilise the ground, but it is time for them to move on to the next area that needs preparing for plants. The permaculture idea of different elements of the smallholding working together works so well for us. The chickens prepare the ground for us to plant in and at the same time get a constant supply of new, fresh green food. Win - win!

Freed from the confines of their run, they headed straight for the 'all you can eat buffet bar' and tucked into some spinach, chard and kale. It's a good job that I am growing these vegetables for the chickens or our greens supply would be severely compromised this week.

I pushed the hen house to the new spot. The young Australorps are in the house on wheels that we bought a couple of months ago, which makes moving it around relatively easy. Their next task is to clear some of the overgrown area into which we will be putting raised beds for vegetables next year. I moved the chicken wire netting with it's bamboo stakes and the makeshift gate, made from a couple of fence stakes and ready-made chicken run panels.

Once their new home was ready for them, I easily gathered up the chickens. They didn't seem to notice me walking towards them as they were too busy scratching in the ground for worms (the protein section of their buffet). They seemed quite happy to start exploring their new allotted space and immediately set to work on scratching the ground and pecking at the weeds. 

This process would be faster and easier if we could use flexible chicken netting that comes with its own spikes to push into the ground, but these little chickens are still small enough to squeeze through the gaps in the netting, so chicken wire and canes it needs to be.

Next year I hope Mr J and I can build a portable run that we can move from raised bed to raised bed so that the chickens can clear each bed as a crop is finished. And, once the food forest is more established the chickens will be allowed to roam through that on a semi-regular basis as they will eat grubs and insects and fertilise the ground. Of course they will eat some of the plants, but I think that's suitable price to pay for the removal of bugs and the adding of rich nitrogen matter.

Anyway, after all that work out in the garden with the chickens, I was pleased to head back inside and put the kettle on for a cuppa.

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