Friday, 3 February 2017

Vegetable cage Chicken run

I am delighted! This morning I spent an hour or so making the first of the chicken runs that I've been planning (read about our planning thoughts here). It was easy to make and relatively cheap too. This one will have a dual purpose. At the start of the year I will put chickens into it so that they can till the soil in a raised bed and fertilise the area, while they are scratching around in the soil and eating the weeds and last of the crops in the bed.

Then, when the chickens have done their thing I can plant the bed with brassicas and put butterfly netting over the chicken run to create a vegetable cage. This should keep our cabbages and other brassicas safe from the voracious appetites of hundred of little green caterpillars.

To make the frame I used 8 x roofing battens 3.9m long and lots of 5cm (2 inch) screws. The total cost of frame was £25.

The uprights are 90cms long and the cross pieces are 105cms long, this was the most economical way of cutting the wood. So, there are 4 full length (390cm) pieces, 8 uprights, 6 cross pieces, 1 long diagonal and two small diagonal pieces. I will probably add two or four more small diagonal braces to add to the strength and stability of the frame, but it started raining and using electrical tools in the rain is a silly idea.

Here's how I put it together (if the video below doesn't work, you can find it on YouTube here)

The next step is to staple chicken wire around three sides (leaving the end without the cross brace uncovered) and to fix windbreak fabric or debris netting to the top. I will then create an end panel that can be held on with either a couple of bungee cords or small hook and eye catches. The end needs to be able to open so that the chickens can be let in to the run in the morning and out again at night. Once I am using it as a vegetable cage I can use cable ties to keep the end panel on it for the season.

I am really rather pleased with my handiwork and even though it has meant that I have been able to do little else today and I hurt all over, it was worth it. I had fun making something that is useful, that allows us to put the chickens to work without them having a free-for-all at their favourite 'all you can eat buffet bar' (our annual vegetable garden).

Projects like this are good for the confidence and spirit. There is something highly satisfying in being creative and when I can make something that is multi-functional, it is even more pleasing. This evening the plan is to have a hot soaky bath to soothe aching limbs, but first of all, it's time for a cuppa!
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Thursday, 2 February 2017

Planning poultry pens

 Mr J and I are so pleased with how well the chicken walkway has worked for us (and the chickens) that we have decided to build further runs in the chickens' fields and to that end I have ordered some more of the roofing battens like those that we used for the walkway.
 Rather than runs that use a building as one wall, the new runs will be freestanding, well not exactly freestanding as they will be anchored into the ground, but they will have four sides made from posts and netting.

Our thinking is that we could create a series of large runs that, during lockdown, will provide covered areas that the chickens can use and for the rest of the year we can leave the doors open for them to access the runs or remainder of the field.

The runs would allow us to keep family groups together which would be especially useful when we want to ensure that a set of females are breeding with a particular cockerel. The downside to this plan is that I will be back to cleaning out several small houses instead of using a deep litter bedding system in the chicken shed. But that seems a small price to pay for being able to ensure that the correct male is with the girls that we want to collect eggs from.

When we made the walkway it was very much a hit and miss affair, we didn't have a firm plan of how we'd do it and just felt our way through it. For the next pen or two, we will have a clearer idea of how to put the wood uprights and cross piece together to make the structure that we want.

The only part that we really struggled with, when making the walkway, was making a door or gate that fitted the allotted space. Making it the correct size was simple enough, but to stop it from twisting out of shape was more tricky, not helped I think, by the uprights each side of the door not being a) completely perpendicular and b) not being completely in line with each other. It's something we will work on for the next pens.

Once the new pens are completed I will section off an area inside each one that the chickens will not have access to and I will grow some vegetables in it. Then when lockdown happens next year, there will be some cabbages or other green leafy vegetables that I can feed to the birds by opening the restricted area a little at a time. And of course, even if there is no prevention zone order next year, the chickens still will be fed the leafy green vegetables during the winter months.

We haven't decided as yet whether the new pens will have a gently sloping roof like the chicken's walkway or a pitched roof like the duck run (above). I think the gently sloping roof option will be easier to build and as neither Mr J or I have advanced construction skills, the simplest option may well be the best.

The other design of run that I will build from this wood is a mobile run about four metres (13 feet) long and one metre (just over 3 feet) wide with handles at each end to help carry it. It will be a low run about 90cms (3 feet) high. This will fit on top of the raised beds in the annual vegetable garden and once lockdown is over, will allow me to put the chickens to work on the raised beds. They can eat the weeds and any crops left in the bed, till the soil and add manure to it. A few chickens should be able to make light work of the bed preparation in a couple of days and each evening they will be allowed to return to their usual house for the night. 

This was fairly successful last year when I made a makeshift run and now we have the opportunity to make sturdier and mobile raised bed chicken runs I am keen to have them ready for the chickens to go into once the lockdown ends.

The raised bed chicken runs will then be used to cover brassica crops to protect them from cabbage white butterflies and cabbage moths, both of which did substantial damage to the January King cabbages and red curly kale. Having dual purpose mobile runs means that we won't need to find a place to store the runs when the chickens are not in them.

The local builder's merchant have just delivered the wood and I'm heading out into the chicken field to do some measuring up. Although, I'll have to walk past the kettle on my way, so perhaps first of all, I should have a cuppa!
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Monday, 30 January 2017

A Day Off

On Sunday I woke up to find not only had it rained all night, but that the weather report said it was going to rain all day too. It's winter, what did I expect? Well, so far the winter has been very mild, a couple of storms, quite a lot of fog and a few frosty mornings followed by days that haven't defrosted the crisp whiteness, but nothing really wintery. On days when it's simply too soggy to spend much time outside, I find it is better to resign myself to a day indoors or to find things to do under cover. 

Since Thursday evening we have had the joy of new chicks in the house and I moved five of them into the nursery pen in the chicken condo on Saturday afternoon. You can see how I prepared the nursery pen on my vlog The Chicken Nursery

Early on Sunday morning I assessed the three youngest chicks that were still in the incubator and came to the sad conclusion that one was struggling beyond hope. It was unable to put any weight on one leg and each time it tried to stand upright, it fell forward, banging it's beak. So I did the kindest thing that I could do and put it out of its misery. 

Then I took the two chicks that remained in the incubator to the nursery pen to join the other chicks. So we have seven chicks and last night as Mr J and I watched them exploring their small secure cage, we saw that the little Appenzeller Sptixhauben chick possibly has splayed legs, we decided to wait another 24 hours and observe whether it really does have the problem of splayed legs or whether it was just trying to 'find its feet'.

Being the last Sunday of the month, a local fish and chip shop had its gluten free food session and as it's a while since we had some, Mr J and I chose to have a lunch that wasn't prepared in our own kitchen. So we sat in the van, balanced the packages of hot food on our knees and ate chips and onion rings while looking out at the not-so-scenic view of the back of a supermarket, all the while the rain poured down from the sky. There was a time when I would have wanted a beautiful view to look at while I ate, but nowadays I am happy just to be with Mr J and to enjoy the simple pleasure of someone else having prepared the food.

Following that we drove the few miles to my sister's home and spent a couple of hours catching up on all of each household's news, drinking tea, sharing laughter. I love my sister, not only because she is family, but because she's such a nice person. If she wasn't family, I'd choose to have her as a close friend. Her husband is equally great to spend time with. Both of them are grounded, humble, smart and caring, they are generous, adventurous and witty, all in all, they are good eggs!

When Mr J mentioned that we ought to head home to put the animals to bed, I realised that for the first time in over 12 months I had switched off from homesteading so completely that I had forgotten that we had a time constraint and needed to be back before dusk.

So despite having done some chores in the morning and evening, I felt as though I'd had a day off. This morning (Monday) I have woken feeling relaxed, happy and raring to go again, but before I start the morning chores, I think it's time for a cuppa!

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