Thursday, 5 January 2017

Building a duck run

When the Avian Flu Prevention Zone was announced on December 6th I spent a couple of days getting the stable conversion completed so the chickens had their splendid condo and creating the chicken palace, so that was them safely under cover and the ducks had to make do with a very makeshift space with a tarp slung over some bamboo canes, which didn't stand up to the wind and rain very well.

We ordered a large pen which arrived very quickly and had easy to follow instructions for putting it together. It was really a two person job, but as Mr J is out of the house from shortly after dawn to just before dusk on the days that he works, I tackled putting it together.
 Once I had worked out which piece went where the construction was relatively simple.
 The roof sections went together first.
 Followed by legs on one side.
 And then on the other side.
Followed by the base poles. The large heavy duty poles slotted into connecting pieces and were held in place with wing nuts. It took me a couple of hours to build the frame, which I then fixed to the ground using the ground pegs supplied.

Getting the chicken wire over the frame was a different matter. The instructions say its a fiddly job that requires patience and oh boy, they were right! About 1000 cable ties later, the netting was on. The hardest part was getting enough tension across the chicken wire while I also tried to fix it to the frame using a cable tie. 
You can see on the right of the photo that I hadn't yet pulled the chicken wire tight before fixing it to the corner post. The metal of the chicken wire has quietly shaved a layer or two of skin from my hands and I have dozens of tiny cuts on the back of my hands from the spiky ends of the chicken wire. 
The end result is great. The run is 6m by 4m and has a skirt of chicken wire around the outside to discourage burrowing predators.

We've put tarps over the top of it, but have decided that this not only makes it quite dark , but the crinkly, crackling noise that it makes in the wind is not very nice for the ducks, so today I will be ordering some scaffolding netting which will offer protection from any falling wild bird poop, but will let in a little more light and be less noisy.

Yesterday it was announced that the lockdown will continue until the end of February, so I am pleased that we've opted for a more permanent structure to keep the ducks safe and secure. Once the birds are allowed to free range again we can use the pen for raising this year's ducklings, giving them a much larger space than the ducklings had last year, but one that keeps them separate from the adults.

Now that the duck run is ready for the ducks to move from their makeshift space I can turn my attention to creating a pen for the chickens. They have been inside for a month and tempers are starting to fray (their's, not mine). Big White in particular is starting to get aggressive, which is unusual for this breed.

I will create a run from the chicken palace so that the Jersey Giants and Australorps have some outside space. I plan to build a covered run that leads straight off the chicken palace, sanitise the grass, cut a pop hole in the wall of the building and then allow them out each day for some fresh air and scratching.

After that I can work out how to create a similar covered outside space for the chickens in the condo. But, before I head outside to tackle anything else, it's time for a cuppa!
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Tuesday, 3 January 2017

How Chicken Maths works

So what exactly is Chicken Maths?

It's easier to show you than to give an exact explanation. Chicken Maths happens when you get your first three chickens.

 Just like we did! Then for no particular reason you feel the need to have a few more chickens. 
Photo Credit. Merv Parry
 So you get half a dozen more and then you need a second coop.

 And then you realise that you probably need a spare coop for isolation in the case of illness or injury. 

And then you need to extend the run on your coop to give the young birds more space to run around.
  So, even though they are under the cover of an outbuilding you create secure rainproof space for them. And you get a cockerel.
Photo Credit David Morgan
 Then you see a breed of chicken that you really like and you buy a small incubator to hatch some eggs.
 And you hatch just a couple of chicks to add to your collection of birds that six months ago was just your first three chickens.
 And then the incubator breaks, so you may as well replace it with one that can incubate more eggs at a time.

Then you spot a breed of chicken that you know you just have to have.
Photo credit Breeder's photo
  And somehow you find some eggs of this lovely new breed are starting to hatch in your incubator.
 And you end up with a dozen little chicks running around, so now you have twenty-four chickens.
 And to house your growing collection of birds, you need another, slightly larger chicken house.
 And somewhere along the line you find that you have become a crazy chicken lady.

Even though most of your hatch turns out to be boys, that's okay, because they can be table birds and anyway, you find some commercial free-range hens that would be going to slaughter and you decide to rehome four to give you more eggs over winter. 

Of course you come home with nine of them.

As time goes on, some of the boys become table birds and your flock diminishes a little. Then you have a good think about your birds and you decide that the laying flock is pretty dull to look at and you fancy something more colourful and interesting to join the merry throng, so you start to look at what other breeds you might have to liven things up.
Photo credit - seller's photo from advert for hatching eggs
 I really like white birds and black birds, so a combination of those is ideal. These Light Sussex are a common chicken, but would be a nice addition.
Photo credit - seller's photo from advert for hatching eggs
 But then, spotty birds with punky hair-dos would be fun too. These are called Silver Crested Appenzeller Spitxhauben.
Photo credit

And Silver Laced Wyandottes are beautiful and somehow they become a must-have bird too.

So the incubator comes out of storage and gets plugged in again with some eggs in it to introduce some more variety into the flock. And so it goes on...

My suggestion is to be prepared to fall in love with chickens and just accept that Chicken Maths happens.

Please note that all my own photos were taken prior to the Avian Flu Prevention Zone order and our birds are now kept inside as required by law. 
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Monday, 2 January 2017

Aspirations for 2017

 Happy New Year!

I'm not going to do a look back over 2016, I feel as though I've documented it enough already and reviewed our first year on the smallholding during November and to me the best part of the new year is the possibilities that lie ahead.

So, for 2017 my hopes include

To learn more
I'd like to take more courses, read more and research more. By continuing to learn I'd like to not only increase my knowledge, but to keep my brain engaged and alert. I've been looking at a variety of courses including a Permaculture Design Certificate, a horticulture certificate and practical skills like charcuterie, cheesemaking and woodworking.

To start driving again
I haven't driven a car on the road since September 2015 and while Mr J is more than happy to drive me anywhere I want to go, not having the independence is irritating. I stopped driving when I became too ill to be safe on the road, after all it's no good to be behind the wheel when you keep falling asleep, your ankles are too swollen to be able to move your feet properly and your legs jerk uncontrollably. The decision to stop driving was entirely my own, I just wanted to keep myself safe and respect the safety of others on the road. Both the jerking and falling asleep are now as good as gone and the swelling has reduced far enough to have almost full movement in my feet, so it seems to make sense to start getting myself back on the road.

To raise our own ducks

Early last year we bought Frederick and Mrs Warne, the ducks that we weren't going to name. We hatched two ducklings from eggs laid by Mrs Warne and we also hatched a further five ducklings from eggs brought via eBay. We enjoyed raising the ducklings, we were surprised by how endearing they are, but when the run up to Christmas arrived we said goodbye to five of the ducks. Frederick, one of the two and three of the five were despatched. This leaves us with one of Frederick's sons (whom I've imaginatively named Frederickson), Mrs Warne and two girls from the five as our breeding flock for 2017. Mrs Warne has continued to lay eggs throughout the winter, she had a short pause during early autumn and is now back to laying around 5 eggs a week. The two younger girls haven't started laying yet, but I don't think it will be too long before they do and Frederickson has started practising treading on the girls, although nothing is actually happening as yet other than a lot of noisy quacking and some fairly inelegant balancing tricks.

To increase the flocks of Australorps and White Jersey Giant chickens
We have seven white Jersey Giant chickens of varying ages. Little White has been renamed Big White as he is huge and he shares a house and pen with three females, one of which is at point of lay and two are a month or more away from laying. A younger male now lives with the 'spare' cockerels, young males destined for the table that I have separated from the flocks to prevent fighting that could lead to injury. The two youngest Jersey Giants were hatched late in the year and are now eight weeks old. Normally at eight weeks I would integrate the chicks into life with the older birds, but because of the lockdown, the chicks would have no escape from (possibly unwelcome) attention of bored birds and I will wait a while longer before the integration process.

There are six Australorps, two females, four males. Two of the males are separated and now live with the other young cockerels. The older female (hatched in late June) is just coming into lay, at least I think she is and the younger female is about a month behind her. I'd very much like to hatch several more Australorp chicks, the boys make good meat birds and they are all very affectionate and more girls would give us a constant supply of Australorp eggs. What I can't decide is whether to wait and hatch eggs from the birds that we have or whether to find some eggs from another breeder to widen the gene pool of our flock (we currently have birds from two different lines).

To complete the raised beds in the annual vegetable garden

In 2016 I created seventeen raised beds and there are still five more to be created to fill the annual vegetable garden. Together with the pumpkin patch and food forest, we should then have enough space to grow just about all our vegetables and herbs for the year. This level of self-efficiency would be very pleasing.

To plant more trees
I still have masses of trees waiting to be planted. There are approximately two hundred hedging trees and shrubs for the west perimeter of the smallholding and around 12 larger trees waiting for their permanent positions. I planted fourteen fruit trees in the late autumn and have selected some other types of tree that I'd like to add to our food forest to give us an even wider choice of fruit in years to come.

To expand the Food Forest
The main part of the food forest is now laid out, small trees and fruit shrubs have been put in place, perennial plants and ground cover plants are planted and should romp away this year. I have decided that I would like to extend the food forest into the chicken fields, so that although there would be fewer fruit bushes, there will be some fruit trees, herbs, flowers (for the bees from next door's hives) and berry canes will be able to scramble up and along the netting that divides the chicken fields. The herbs will provide an additional source of food for the chickens, the trees will provide some shade and the windfalls will give them rich pickings and no doubt the chickens will share the berry crops with us. The chickens' manure will continue to add fertility to the soil and their pecking and feeding activities will help to reduce the pest population.

To install a large duck pond
View to behind the piggeries
We have identified two areas that would be ideal for a large pond. One is behind the piggeries which would be a good use of the space and the other is within the existing duck enclosure (an area about 150 feet by forty feet, so plenty of room for a decent size pond). This second site is the one that I'd like to complete this year. By digging out a large pond, we can use the soil from the excavation to create a mound for a swale. The pond would be dug out of the highest point of our land (which is not quite, but almost flat) and the mound would encourage rain water to move more slowly through and across the ground, it would also give me a raised area to plant another hedge of currants, berries and nuts together with wild roses for rose hips. This hedge would then act as a wind break and reduce the damaging impact of the winds that whistle across the whole smallholding. This particular hedge would help to protect the vegetable garden a little more.

To offer volunteering opportunities
We would like to offer a chance for people to come and experience life on a smallholding built on organic principles. For this to happen we will need to find a suitable caravan for volunteers to stay in and I think installing a composting loo on site would be a smart move too (some comforts are important to establish early on!). In exchange for their volunteering effort, we will provide accommodation and meals and share what we've learnt. We aren't by any stretch of the imagination, experts in any of this, but we do have some experience, our trial and error has taught us a huge amount in a short time and I'd be delighted to share some of that experience with other like-minded folks.

I have no doubt that as the year goes on we will find other projects and activities that we want to tackle. The back of the piggeries needs work if it is not to become a tangled mess of brambles and weeds, the piggery buildings need attention to prevent them from rusting and collapsing, sections of the stable roof need mending and gutters need replacing... the list goes on and on.

Right now I need to go and complete the project that I've been working on for a couple of weeks, but as it's jolly cold outside first of all, I will make a cuppa!
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