The pallets held down one side of weed suppressing membrane and on Tuesday I moved several barrow loads of wood chippings (from our trees that were taken down last month) to cover the membrane and complete this side of the vegetable garden. It looked splendid and I was very excited to have quite so much space in which to make compost.
Late Tuesday afternoon we learnt that Defra had announced a 'Prevention Zone' to protect our poultry from the risk of Avian Flu. It took me quite a while to find out what was needed to be done to comply and the announcements that I saw said it covered England. Mr J and I realised that if Wales didn't have such measures, it very soon would. And Wednesday morning I found the relevant information saying that it applied to Wales and Scotland too.
So after careful reading I came to the conclusion that I would need to find a way to keep the birds inside a covered area for the next month at the very least. Reading between the lines, I suspect that this situation may well continue for longer.
Our birds are kept in four separate areas, one for each breeding flock and so we needed to create four separate pens for them. What a headache! But, looking for a positive in all this chaos, it has meant that we've had a long hard think about which birds we really value and we've assessed whether we want to keep all the birds or reduce the number of different breeds that we keep.
In the end, I decided to put the chickens into two areas and the ducks in their own pen. So armed with strong resolve and somewhat weak body I started to tackle the task. The irony of this announcement coming a few hours before Mr J went back to work for the week didn't pass me by. There is an urgency to getting the birds under cover and so regardless of my body being in the throws of another hashimoto's attack and regardless of having used just about all my energy making the pallet fence, my plan for the rest of the week curled up on the sofa had been scuppered as Mr J works four days a week and he was returning to work on Wednesday morning. It was time for me to dig deep and get on with it!
I started by putting chicken wire around the top section of the stable where up to now it had been open.
The gate was only waist high so that also needed extending to full height. I am so pleased that we have collected so much scrap wood this year, it meant that I could rummage around in the piggery and find suitable pieces of reclaimed timber to use. There are still nails in the wood and I didn't have the strength to lever them out, so I wrapped duct tape around them to protect our hands and act as a warning to be careful handling that section of wood. This week I have wished over and over that we had electric drill/screwdriver (one of those ones with a battery pack so they can be easily used where there is no power supply), because using a manual screwdriver for this kind of task was rather soul destroying.
The chickens will still be sleeping in their shed, so I moved their flexible fence to give them a narrow corridor between the shed and stable along which to travel morning and evening. This corridor will then be covered and enclosed to ensure that the chickens are protected from contact with wild birds.
I hung their vermin proof feeding station from a beam and placed buckets of water with apple cider vinegar and garlic on to a pallet (so it's less likely to have wood shavings kicked into it.
They don't seem terribly impressed at their sudden confinement. The Cream Legbar girls aren't too bothered as they prefer to be out of the wind and rain, but the boys and the other chickens are looking quite stressed. I am sure that they will settle down, especially once I have the walkway covered and enclosed as they will then have access to at least a small area outside.
Mr J and I spent Wednesday evening trying to work out where and how to create a covered area for the Jersey Giants and Australorps. We spent half an hour or so looking at the back piggery, but it's roofing panels have deteriorated significantly over the last year and there are large oil drums of 'we don't know what' that could well be toxic to birds, so we talked about ways to fence off that part of the piggery to allow the birds to use the rest of it. It looked like a nightmare of a job and I was already feeling fairly fragile.
Thursday morning I had a lightbulb moment, I had realised how to turn the outbuilding that I've refer to as my garden room into a comfortable place for the black and white birds. I took out the wood, hazel poles, bags of bags, paddling pool and a host of 'stuff' that we had dumped there to be put away once we had somewhere for these things to live. The dry wood I stored in the wood store in the stables and I put everything outside the old barn door (which doesn't open, so I wasn't blocking it). Once clear it became obvious that this would be an ideal chicken palace.
So with the drizzle steadily soaking me through I went to the vegetable garden and dismantled the lovely pallet fence that I put up only four days earlier!
I had almost run out of cable ties having used so many to create the fence, so was careful about not waste them, placing all the pallets before actually securing them together.
I used the gate that I'd made by lashing together chicken wire panels which had been between the two chicken fields, but as it wasn't going to be needed for the next month, this seemed the simplest way to make a door. I found the longest piece of wood that we had, but still it wasn't quite long enough to reach the top of the outbuilding, so I created a small base from two pieces of wood which, once bedded into the ground at just the right place, allowed the upright wood to be wedged into place. In this photo you can see that I hadn't quite managed to knock it vertical yet. I put a piece of 2"x1" across the top of the door to stop the door falling out and another length of wood (2"x4") to brace the vertical length. It was still pretty wobbly and needed securing at the top, but I didn't feel well enough to be climbling ladders so I sent a message to the tree surgeon to see if he was free to help me for a short time.
As the chicken house is wider than the doorway I needed to move it inside before putting up the second side of pallets. This meant moving the Jersey Giants who, by this time, were looking very stressed at all the change going on. I moved them into the field that Big Red and his girls had been in and Little White continued to crow his stressed and mournful crow while he watched me push his house out of his field and into the outbuilding.
I moved the last few pallets into place and was so tired that I started crying as I screwed them into place. I was relieved to hear Mr J's van come along our lane only to realise that it wasn't him, it was our friend the tree surgeon coming to help. There is something about having someone you don't know terribly well arrive, it makes you put on a smile and not show how rotten you are feeling and that is exactly what I did. And it helped to have somebody else there, I felt less overwhelmed by how much still needed to be done.
He hopped up his ladder and straightened the vertical post, securing it with a fixing plate that I had ready. Then he stapled chicken wire from the roof downwards across the full width of the outbuilding.
When Mr J got home he carried more bales of wood shavings and chopped rape seed stems (bedding often used for horses) to the outbuilding. I had managed to spread the contents of two below and around the chicken house, but run out of strength to carry enough to cover the whole floor area. The light was fading fast, but there was just enough light to carry the Jersey Giants to their new accommodation and put them in the house for the night.
I ached all over and headed inside to start cooking our supper and looked forward to having a long hot soak in a bath. After supper we watched a little television and then I headed to the bathroom. This was going to be the best bath - ever!
Or not. As I turned off the hot water tap, it came away in my hand with water gushing at full flow into the bath. To avoid flooding the bathroom I pulled out the plug. We searched for an isolating valve for the bath, but there wasn't one, so Mr J turned off the water at the mains. Too late I realised that now I had no water in the bath and so that was the end of my hot soaky bath idea. It seemed that this week was just going to throw everything it could at me to make life awkward. I went to bed feeling rather sorry for myself and as I lay there in a cold achy grump I started thinking about just how much worse things could be. Sometimes it's good to give yourself a mental kick in the pants, I pulled myself out of my sorry mood and fell into a deep sleep.
On Friday morning before I let the birds out of their house, I fixed the final row of chicken wire into place securing the bottom of it to the pallets and overlapping it by about fifteen inches with the top section put on by the tree surgeon. I secured the overlap in a few places to ensure that the birds wouldn't be able to get out and created a makeshift lock (with baling twine and a hook) for the door. Then I let the birds out to explore their new temporary home.
I moved the Australorps into the new chicken palace, Little White greeted each one by letting them know who is boss. There was a bit of jostling and shoving, but nothing violent, but then if I was a chicken, even one as big as an Australorp cockerel, I don't think I'd take my chances against Little White, he is a very large bird.
Then I turned my attention to the ducks. I lifted the flexible netting that has been around one third of the vegetable garden (the short side at the far end of the veg area and along the side by the duck enclosure) and moved it to create a narrow passageway from the duck house into the small enclosure where the ducklings were in the summer. This means that the ducks avoid walking under the trees where wild birds like to sit and deposit their droppings below. The ducks are very upset by all the change, they now have an area about forty feet square, but that will reduce by at least half.
Tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon Mr J and I will create a makeshift covered enclosure for the ducks. I have run out of strength to carry any more pallets, so will need to rely on him to move them from the garden to around the duck pond.
We have looked at the options of buying an enclosure, which I think will be the answer in the long term, but we need to get the ducks under cover as soon as possible, so a rough framework covered on the outside with chicken wire and covered over the top with a tarp, some corrugated metal panels and a rigid, clear, twin wall plastic panel will have to do. It will keep them safe even if it doesn't look pretty and we will have complied with the Defra order.
I have hung a bottle of hand gel on the gate for visitors to use and we've bought an approved disinfectant for a foot dip before we enter the birds' enclosures. Hopefully, we now comply with all the biosecurity measures that we need to.
I plan to spend most of next week on the sofa or in bed to recover from the stress and physical strain of the last few days. But before then we have one other event to enjoy.
Tomorrow morning we are heading to Bristol for several reasons. Firstly I want to visit my parents' grave because I like to place a Christmas wreath on their grave. Then we are going to a shop to buy a few essentials that we will need in the next couple of weeks. After that we will be heading to collect our two new family members.
Monty (front) and Tabitha are nine years old, their last owner has passed away and we jumped at the opportunity to give them a home. Hopefully they will be happy to curl up on the sofa with me as they get to know us over the next week or so.
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