Tag Archives: Hen house

Livestock update

I had been trying to do posts on different topics here, but things pile up, I find myself waiting to post until a particular project is finished and finding lots of other things that I’m wanting to talk about but feel I should wait until the earlier stuff has had a post. So I’m going to try forgetting about all that and have a go at doing a post once a week on the various goings on. I can always do a special post on a particular project/adventure when they occur.

So I guess I’ll do a bit of a catch up starting with the livestock. All of the chicks are going like weeds. We found Alice randomly joined the flock one day and had no inclination to go back to her chicks so I guess she was done with motherhood. Her chicks (the cross breeds) will be joining the flock in a couple of weeks. We managed to get 3 definite hens and 2 that I think are cockerels but they have no tail feathers to speak of so far.

The cross breed chicks

The Derbyshire Redcap (DRC) chicks are so flighty that we are having a bit of trouble keeping them contained, they just fly over the heras panels, but we got 4 hens and 2 cocks, 1 of which is really quite stunning so will try selling him. We are about a month of having them join the flock. I was a bit nervous given how much trouble the DRC pullets had given us but thankfully they are all now going into the house and have even started laying (had to wait until 30 weeks!). Just waiting for the eggs to increase in size a bit and then we shall hopefully start having eggs on the gate again. We’ve been in a bit of a low patch and I’m pretty sure we have an egg thief/eater. We’re getting a camera set up in the house to have a peek.

The lone chick (Ixworth) is starting to feather up now, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a hen. It won’t be ready to join the flock until Christmas time though. Not our greatest hatch ever but Aurora is happy with her chick.

We also had some surprise hens. A neighbour is moving away and had 3 hens that she wasn’t taking with her. We agreed to take them in so have 3 Rhode Island Red hens that were born in 2016. They are laying well so should have their eggs in our boxes soon. We’ll introduce them to the flock at the same time as the cross breed chicks. They aren’t a rare breed but I’m a bit of a sucker for taking in animals.

We lost Boomer, one of the Cuckoo Marans, about a month ago. Like Aino we have no idea what happened. Happy and healthy in the run up, no marks, no swelling and a good body weight. I guess it will just be one of those things. So we started the year on 8 hens and a cockerel and now have 23 hens, 3 cockerels and 3 possible cockerels. I have a lot of naming to do! The chicken house had a bit of an update so we have more space and better perching in there for the birds. Just need to update the poop trays and nest boxes.

Boomer, RIP

The geese really are growing like weeds. They are huge. Really huge. They still have a couple of their baby feathers but are well on their way to adulthood. There’s at least 1 gander, possibly 3. They have just started making adult noises so we’ll be watching for their behaviour and sounds to attempt sexing them. The two white ones are destined for the butcher but I would like to keep the other 3 if we can. We are just in the process of getting them some new housing built (our first real building project) but for now they are in the trailer, safe from foxes at least.

The sheep are doing really well. We have just separated off the lambs from the ewes, and the ewe lambs from the ram lambs and Cisco was having a bit of a try with one of the ewe lambs. Really hoping we didn’t leave it too late and aren’t surprised by lambs in January! They have all just turned 4 months. It’s a bit noisy out at the moment but that should settle . Once the ewes have dried off we will put the ewe lambs back in with them.

Ram lambs (left to right) Crais, Cisco and Crichton

Three of the ewes are off to slaughter at the start of next month. I’m quite nervous but so far things are coming together. We have people interested in the meat and will hopefully secure the orders and get deposits before they go off. I’ve talked to the butchers about cuts, the food safety officer should be coming around soon to give us our hygiene rating for selling the meat, I’m looking into distance selling as one buyer is quite far away, I’ve applied for our registration to handle Animal By-Products so that we can get the skins and horns back and been in touch with the tannery so they can process the skins. I’m also doing my food safety course, although we won’t actually be handling the meat. There seem to be a lot of different plates spinning with this but  it should be a good learning experience. The abattoir is a small one, attached to the butchers and there has been some good feedback about it so hopefully the girl’s last journey will be as smooth and non-stressful as it can be.

So I guess that’s a very long way of saying that despite being quiet on here we’ve been busy busy, and that doesn’t include all the harvesting and processing. More on that in the next post!

Dans

The Woodland Chicken Coop – Chicken Coop Company

We were a bit rushed into our first attempt at hatching chicks. One of the Brown Marsh Daisies went broody and we scrambled to get things together for her. As such we ended up with a less than ideal broody coop. The chicks quickly outgrew this and despite building an additional run for them it was soon evident that they needed to move to larger accomodation.

Our broody coop

Between my poor woodworking skills, Sam working full time and us trying to keep Chi entertained whenever we do anything we realised that we wouldn’t have time to build the kind of coop we would want. It needed to be not too large (as we weren’t wanting to having many chicks at one time), easy to clean out and moveable.

I searched the net and came across the Woodland Chicken Coop from the Chicken Coop Company. It seemed to tick all my boxes, I especially liked the slide out tray and the ability to open both the side and the top. It was on a special sale as well so we quickly bought it, there was less than 24 hours of the sale left.

Unfortunately, as with most rush purchases, all was not as it seemed. We put it together easily enough (of course with help from Chi), and moved the chicks as soon as possible. I was really happy with it, until I went out the next morning to let them into thier new run. It was 8am and the house was in the shade of a large mirabelle plum tree but the window was steamed up. I quickly let them out and when I opened the roof door the heat hit me in a wave. I then realised there was absolutely no ventilation on the coop at all. Sam quickly got to work with the drill to get some holes in the highest point. I went and looked at the website again to see if I had missed some instructions about ventilation but there was nothing. I was surprised to see that the coop was on sale again, at the same price we had paid, but that sale was also ending soon. Ah the eternal sale.

Makeshift ventilation

Within the first week we noticed the second problem with the coop. The nesting boxes are level with the perches. Chickens like to perch at the highest point and so you want your perches higher than the nest box to keep things clean. The chicks were sleeping in the nest box or perching on the edge and then pooping in the nest box. I cut out some of the cardboard packaging that came with the coop and created a false wall so they could no longer access the nest boxes. Afterall no-one in there should be laying. Bodge job #2.

Nest boxes level with perches

The coop was moveable, which was an important factor for us as with such a small run we were moving them to a fresh patch of grass regularly. A nice feature would have been a way to keep the ramp lifted up as trying to stop it from hitting you in the face when you are lifting the coop wasn’t the easiest thing.

The coop then seemed to be ok, until one day in the autumn I opened the roof door to find black mould along the underside. The ventilation job Sam did must not have been good enough. Unfortunately he had drilled holes on all the available ‘good’ space. They say for ventilation it shouldn’t be level with the birds heads so that they don’t have a draught, but the way the roof slopes that is only possible on the top most corner.

The roof got a bit mouldy and damp

Then the final problem hit on a slightly windy day. We were under the bird flu prevention zone and I had covered the run with tarp held down with some bricks. I went out to check the tarp was in place once the wind died down a bit. I was very surprised to see the tarp in place but 3 cockerels running around the field and the roof door, that I had been so in love with, over the fence and in the other field. It had ripped clean off it’s hinges. Although there were good locks on the run, the side door and the nest boxes, there was no catch at all on the roof door. The wind must have got under it and raised it (it has handy locking arms to keep it open for you), then taking all the force of the wind it would have been too much for the screws, especially with the damp damage from the lack of ventilation.

The roof blew right off the coop

The upside of the coop was that it was indeed very easy to clean out. I had read about small openings and hard to clean out coops but this one was a dream. I think the multiple entrances, sliding floor and removable percehes really help.

Sliding base

In short I think I have learnt my lesson and will stick to things we have built (should be easier now Chi is older) and sheds we have modified. Having the problems with this one has really made me appreciate our job on converting the shed into a hen house. We’ll fix up this coop, see what we can do about ventilation and use it as a quarentine coop for new or sick birds.

Dans

Busy bees

Well this weekend it was Mother’s day and Sam’s birthday but that didn’t mean a restful weekend!

It started on Friday evening when we caught up the sheep ready to move them to some fresh grass. We took the opportunity to do a body condition score (BCS) on them. This is basically feeling their backs over the hip area to assess how bony or fatty they are. This gives you an idea of how they are doing and what feeding they need. Especially Arya who we know is carrying twins as this can put quite a strain on her body. We also took some poo samples so we can check the worm burden of the sheep.

Checking Arha’s BCS

Saturday wasn’t too bad, a trip to B&Q to pick up some supplies and had a quick lunch out so we could get straight to work at home. First job was a delivery of manure. I’m trying desperately to improve our soil so some free organic matter seems like a good bet. It’s horse manure though so a bit weedy but we don’t have cow manure in great quantities in this area.

The manure delivery

Next was the usual jobs around the holding, including cleaning out the chickens. We’ve been having a slight problem with mice. Our house is filled with lovely deep bed of chopped straw for the chickens to jump off the perches onto. Unfortunately, this winter mice have decided it’s a great place to live. First it was two nesting which we cleared out. Then about a month later we had a young family which we also cleared out. And now a month or so later we have had 1 in there which I cleared out Saturday. I basically move all the additional things in the hen house (plastic nest boxes and a wooden step for the hens to reach the higher nest boxes) and chase out the mice. It seems to work as they stay away for so long, but I think we need to look into some traps if it persists.

The inside of our hen house (although the food is no longer kept in there)

Then I decided to brush off my very rusty skills to do a faecal egg count (FEC) on the samples we gathered on Friday. This tells us what eggs are being shed by the ewes and if they need worming. It was a nice low count of about 150 eggs per gram (epg), which wouldn’t be anything to worry about. However, I found a single Nematodirus egg. This is a type of worm that can be quite bad for lambs to get so the ewes will need to be treated in the next coming weeks.

The Nematodirus egg

Sunday, the day of rest right? Especially as it’s Mother’s day and a birthday? Well I was up at 8:30am and Sam stayed in bed until about 9:30am with Chi. Then it was all go again. The guy who owns the 0.5acre plot across the road has said we can graze the sheep there. It’s quite overgrown at the moment and the grass won’t be very nutritious so we’re going to send Anya and Aelin over there as they shouldn’t be pregnant and are being a bit of a nuisance to the others. But there is a pile of rubble at the back and the guy goes in regularly to get bits from his storage container so we’ve bought heras panels so that they sheep are safe and he can get to his stuff. They arrived bright and early so that was the first job.

Our next job was to finish marking out the berry patch. We marked out the blueberry row a little while ago and got some planted. We marked out the rest of the spots and cleared more of the area but there’s more moss and grass to clear and then of course the bushes to plant but I can do that on my own. Thankfully of the 31 fruit bushes we bought at our local garden centre it looks like 30 have made it through the winter and are budding. I’m holding out hope for the last one but we will see. They varied in price from 50p to £2 so pretty good value.

Next we had an impromptu chicken rescue. Aurora had got into the goose area and one of them went for her, judging by the squawking and honking I heard. I ran over to check she was ok and found her on the other side of the fence, on the bank of the drainage ditch that runs along our smallholding. There’s chicken wire along the bottom so she would have had to fly back over. I ended up climbing over the fence and trying to catch her on a steep bank. That was not fun but we got her back safe and sound.

No rest for the wicked, a quick drink of squash and we were back to work. We pulled back the weed proof fabric that we spread over the intended veg bed. It was much better than it had been but some bits were still growing. We dug out some of the bigger stronger tufts of grass, raked the area to be somewhat level, flattened out the fabric and marked out the veg beds. We’ll plant through the fabric this year, then in the winter we will pull it back again, mark out the beds top with well rotted manure. Or at least that is the plan. We’ll see how it goes.

The clocks going forward meant that it was still light out so we headed across the road to start putting up the heras panels. We managed about half before Chi woke up and we had to head in for dinner whilst Sam saw to the animals.

For the last job of the day Sam went to get a combination of Chinese and Indian for dinner whilst I baked him a birthday cake. It was an experimental apple and redcurrant cake. I thought I used enough redcurrants but they are quite subtle so I think I’ll double amount next time.

With all the stuff getting done, the plants growing, the buds on all the trees, the sheep getting bigger and all the eggs rolling in it really feels like the year is turning.

Dans

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Geese, chickens and freedom

Another long gap between posts. I’ve been updating the facebook page at least weekly with little things but to be honest it has felt very quiet on the smallholding for the last month. Not much has been going on, but as the blog has been mostly focusing on apples recently (or at least it feels that way!), I’ll try and give you an update on our livestock.

We plodded along with the bird flu restrictions hoping that they would be lifted at the end of Feb. Unfortunately the news came that they would only be partially lifted. Contact with wild birds must still be prevented but in low risk areas, like ours, birds can still be let out. There are a bunch of extra precautions that need to be followed, including use of things to scare wild birds away, keep feed and water under cover, making regular visits outside to scare wild birds and doing a full risk assessment. We had hoped to be ready to let the birds out at the start of March but we had  a bit of a nightmare with some guys chopping some trees down for us. The job was quoted as 2 days but has taken 6 days spread over 3 weeks and we have now told them we’ll finish it ourselves. It took the plans for release right off the table as the felled branches littered everywhere and moving around our (very) smallholding became difficult.

We did finally manage to let the geese out earlier this week though. We cleared the branches from thier orchard, re-sited thier house (which Storm Doris tried to do roly polys with), fenced off the trees that wild birds can roost in and made enough of a path to walk the geese around. They were very happy to be out again and have even started laying inside thier house which is a first. Last year they were insistant that laying in the bush was far better! I want to get some more cds up to act as bird scarers but we’ve not spotted any wild birds in there and all the food and water are undercover. Our next couple of jobs for the geese centre around thier ‘house’ and include sorting out the roof, cutting the door in half, adding some ventilation and painting it. Fingers crossed I’ll have some pictures of a swanky new goose house soon!

Happy to be on grass again

The chickens have been getting by in thier enclosure but they were longing to be outside. Unfortunately thier area is harder to keep bird free as they have access to the area under the leylandi and too many pigeons roost there and poop on the ground below. The issue was that it was the leylandi that were being trimmed and the area below them was a mess and we couldn’t fence it until we cleared it. If the guys had finished the job when they said we would have let them out a lot sooner. In preparation for letting them out I installed a shower curtain in thier run. It’s a clear one, hung over the entrance to the where the food and water will be undercover. This should deteer the wild birds but allow our (brave) chickens through. The chickens were a bit hesistant, especially Aramis, but they all go through it fine now.

The shower curtain acting as a bird scarer

i also wanted to do a similiar thing for the pop hole, my first attempt at covering the pop hole failed though. I used an old compost bag sack turned inside out as I thought the black would give more privacy inside and make some of the other nest boxes more appealing. However, our chickens are a bit dense and pretty much refused to go through it either into the house or out. I ended up taking it down and putting up a clear feed bag. This went a little better although Sam still had to help 3 of the hens to bed tonight. A couple more nights of checking they have all made it to bed and we should be good. Unfortunately I only took a picture of my first attempt.

The failed pop hole cover

We gave up on the idea of getting the leylandi fenced off and decided to claw back a bit of the garden for Chi. So we’ve halved the garden using bamboo canes and the scaffolding netting, which has given the chickens the ability to be let out again. Freedom finally! Two of the chickens tasted freedom slightly early though. We had to use the same scaffolding netting to fence the area off as we had used to cover part of the run. Buffy and Alice saw a chance and jumped over the panels leaving the rest of flock utterly confused as to how to get out. I’ll be getting some more bird scarer cds up tomorrow and then that’ll be their area done. The hens had a great time scratching around for insects, whilst Aramis ran around like crazy mating with all the girls.

The penned off area and two escapees

All of the chickens are back in lay now. Brienne (our mixed breed hen from our first hatch) is laying large brown eggs whilst Buffy (our White Leghorn from our second hatch) has much smaller eggs but in a lovely white. Buffy’s eggs are starting to get a bit bigger though so I still hold out hope for the breed average of ~55g. So far Akira’s eggs have all been fine, we had an awful problem of ridged eggs from her last year. The only other thing of note is Awen. She was a bit off colour in the autumn and we even brought her into the house one night to perk her up. She has seemed better since the new year but now she has come into lay her eggs have been a lot smaller than they used to be, with only one normal sized. The other day we had the smallest egg ever from her, 22g. We thought it would be a wind egg (just egg white, no yolk) but it was a complete egg, just teeny. All in all the eggs are piling up so we’re going to have to start selling at the gate soon, hopefully by the end of the month. I just hope people stop to buy some!

We have had one very sad event over the last month. I went to the hen house one morning and only 8 of the chickens were outside. I went in to get eggs expecting to see the other hen inside laying or scratching away but she was upside down under the perches. She must have died in the night and fallen off the perch as she had been pooped on overnight. I checked her over and she had been dead a while but there were no wounds and more importantly absolutely no signs of bird flu (I was pretty terrified when I saw her). I had had a good long sit down with Chi the day before watching the chickens and all had looked happy and healthy. This was Aino, and she had a good shape, a bright red comb and face and bright eyes. Nothing to indicate she would be dead the next day. Apparently they can get heart problems that do them in suddenly which is what I suspect happened. She was a character of a hen, always coming in an open door to the conservatory, living room or kitchen. She bossed the flock around when she was top hen and did a stellar job of brooding and raising her chicks. RIP Aino

Awen and her 3 chicks. RIP girl

I’ll try not to leave it so long before the next post, which I think will be an update on the sheep as you haven’t heard about them in a while.

Dans

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December catch up part 2: Bird flu

Aside from the usual festive season and a late tupping, December had the added surprise of bird flu, which although we had known about it being in the continent we were hoping it would pass us by. For those that don’t know bird flu was spreading through Europe in November and a Prevention Zone was set up in the UK on 6th Decemeber. That basically means that everyone with birds had to do everything they could to keep wild birds away from thier birds. At the bare minimum that meant keeping the wild birds away from your birds food and water as bird flu is spread through contact with bodily fluids. Cases of bird flu were reported in December, in wild birds, in a turkey farm in Lincs and in several backyard flocks, mainly where there were ducks and chickens together. Waterfowl can get bird flu but don’t show symptoms very well. Chickens drop dead quite quickly though. If you want to read more about the current bird flu situation in the UK the DEFRA page is up to date.

As it affects waterfowl differently we started by getting the geese into the shade tunnel. It’s a large polytunnel with butterfly netting over it and weed proof fabric down but no doors. We cleared out the left over plants from the last owners (we haven’t used this tunnel for anything yet), patched up some holes in the netting and nailed some tarp to the door frame. We also set up a small shelter using an old door and some chairs so that there was a dry spot for thier food and somewhere to get out of any heavy rain. Netting isn’t ideal as wild birds can still poop on it and it gets washed in with the rain, but it is better than the birds using the goose baths or drinking water as a bird bath or hopping all over the ground they graze on. The geese made it into a slippery muck bath pretty quickly so we had to shovel it all out and threw 3 bales of straw down. That seems to have done the trick but it’s starting to get mucky again now so will need to refresh.

The goose set up pre-straw

Geese are grazers though, and grass is the bulk of our geese’s diet. There was some grass growing over the weedproof fabric in the polytunnel but they ate through that pretty quickly. We tried them on some hay (with grit available to help them break it down) but they weren’t interested. They did pick at grains from the bales of hay though. They were having corn each night anyway as the weather had gotten cold and they kept eating that but seemed to have little interest in the goose food mix we bought for them. I saw an oppertunity and switched them to the flubenvet worming layers pellets in the hopes of getting them wormed before the breeding season hits. They weren’t interested at first but are eating it now. They are still looking in good condition (apart from April who has alway had a very prominent keel, even after they were wormed with an ivermectin injection), so I guess they are getting enough to eat. I’ll be so very glad to let them out again when the time comes though!

Happy geese post-straw

The chickens were a bit more difficult. If we put them in either of our other polytunnels there would be nowhere foxproof for them to perch. After losing Bellatrix to what I suspect was a goose attack I really didn’t want to put the chickens in the shade tunnel with the geese, even if it was partioned off. They also don’t do as well in the wet as geese do. The best option seemed to be to keep them in thier current house, but even though it is a shed rather than a coop it still isn’t big enough for them to be in there 24/7. We ordered some aviary panels the night the prevention zone was announced with a 3-5 delivery. We wouldn’t be complying immediately but at least we would have something in the works. Unfortunately the seller was awful. I emailed on day 3 to find out if there was tracking and was told the parcel would be with me on day 5. I emailed again on day 5 as it hadn’t arrived (after cancelling all our plans on days 3-5 just in case it came) only to be told it had been dispatched that day and would be with me in 3-5 days. Ebay were awful and just said I could refuse delivery and get a refund if I wanted. They arrived on day 8 and as soon as the chickens went to bed I set about building a run with cable ties, tarp and some scaffold netting. It was pretty tricky building it as the light went, without a torch (because I was too gung ho and just rushed into it), especially when I dropped the black cable ties on the floor!

The finished run. It was just a tad dark!

The chickens seemed to be a lot happier in there than I expected but slowly the layer of fallen leaves and bits of grass poking through started to turn into mud and they started to look unhappy. I didn’t want to use straw as I had heard about that harbouring bacteria and giving the chickens respiratory problems. I took the plunge and threw some of thier indoor bedding down. It’s schopped straw treated with pine oil and isn’t the cheapest but they were over the moon with it. Scratching about and nice clean feet again. It’s lasted about a week and what I put down went further than I thought, so I’ll get some more down tomorrow.

The hens were surprisingly ok with the confinement

The chicks were the easiest to deal with. I used the estimated 3-5 days before the run would arrive to intergrate Aurora and Buffy into the flock (our last broody hen and her 15 week old daughter). Buffy was a bit younger than I would have liked but I didn’t want to introduce them into the pen as there wouldn’t be much space for hens to hide before the pecking order was sorted. I had been thinking of killing the boys before Christmas so they wouldn’t be in too long and the coop they live in comes with a run so we just threw some tarp over it. That was fine until I went out one day and was greeted by 3 cockerels running around. I thought I must have left the side door unlocked when I put them to bed, or the wind something open. Well the wind had blown something open, the roof off the coop had been ripped off it’s hinges and was over the fence in the goose area. We had a rush job of herding them into the big polytunnel then moving the house and run and getting them inside that. They would be ok in there as we could still open the polytunnel doors for ventilation with them being self contained. It’s the last time I buy a commercial chicken coop though.

The roof flew straight off the coop

The prevention zone was due to be lifted on the 9th Jan but instead it was extended until the 28th Feb, which is very depressing. I think the chickens will be ok but I am not sure how the geese will cope with the breeding season whilst still in there. I was hoping to get them back out on grass before then, and I don’t know where they will lay as it is all so open in the tunnel and they like to be under bushes to lay. I’m now trying to come up with some sort of additional housing in there so that they can lay inside. Any suggestions are welcome.

On the upside we are getting eggs again finally. One of the Brown Marsh Daisies is giving us the odd egg which is nice. Buffy and Brienne (the two female chicks we hatched last year) have started to lay as well. Brienne is laying nice >60g eggs whilst Buffy is laying <30g eggs. I have no idea what breed Brienne is, the egg was advertised as Copper Brown Maran x Rhode Island Red, but she is pure white. Either way I think I might hatch some of her eggs this year, as she is a big bird producing big eggs, and a cross with Aramis (also breed unknown) could produce some nice chicks.

A Brienne egg vs a Buffy egg

The chicks weren’t very happy in the polytunnel though and had started to fight each other, so when the news came that they would have to be in for another 2 months we decided that d-day was upon them. We killed them the other weekend and got ok weights from them 1.2kg and (Bifur), 1.4kg (Bofur) and 1.6kg (Bombur).

The boys

It’s still not a task I relish doing, and I was a bit grumpy and stressed out leading up to it, but I was able to give them a quick end and we now have food in the freezer. Serving up our roast chicken and veg to my family for Christmas dinner was a really proud moment. Next year our own goose! Looking at how long it takes me to process them though, we may end up sending them away in future. We reckoned about an hour to pluck and then another 40 mins to an hour to process in the kitchen. That isn’t too bad if you have the time, and I am sure I will get quicker as I get more experience, but at the moment, with a toddler and still trying to get everything to set up here, it may well be a better use of time to have someone else do them.

I had another butchery task this month. We were gifted two phesants, shot the day before. Unfortunately, this was a few days before Christmas. They got hung up and I stressed about them until I could see to them after Boxing Day. I skinned these ones and I hated it, I do definately prefer plucking. I was quite shocked to see that they had full crops and gizzards, and that they were full of corn. Then I saw how much fat they had on them and how yellow it was. I had thought that with phesant shoots they were released and then you went huting them, but these birds can’t have been released much before they were shot and were fattened up ready for the shoot. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that, but I’m not sure I will be accepting any more phesants from shoots, fresh roadkill may be ok.

My first phesant

The last achievment of December was that I finally braved facebook. We have a page! Pretty much just random updates from the smallholding  but hopefully interesting enough to people. I’m trying to get some advice from trading standards as to what we need to do to start selling our produce and hopefully get this smallholding somewhat productive in 2017!

Dans

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New additions

It’s been a while since my last update*. Suffice to say I got ill and everything went a little out of control. I think it would be quite easy to mistake our polytunnel for a jungle at the moment! I need to get better at juggling illness and smallholding, maybe juggling babies and smallholding as well.

On a more positive note we have some new additions. Meet Baldrick and Barbara. They are two Embden geese, born mid May and hopefully one male and one female. I’m actually feeling pretty confident that Baldrick is a boy, his croak is harsher than Barbara’s. There’s also the grey feathers on the wing of Barbara, this is mentioned in the breed description as being  possible in females in their first year.

Baldrick and Barbara
Baldrick and Barbara

For the most part they have settled in well, although Baldrick quickly took the title of stupidest animal at Six Oaks. Within 10 minutes of being here he had gotten his head stuck in the fence somehow. Then he tripped over the goose bath, going face first into it. Within his first week he had also gotten into a fight with one of our sheep.

Our plan for these two is to send Baldrick off as a meat goose, see how we find the process and meat as a test for doing it on a larger scale. Barbara is going to join Athos’ harem and hopefully provide some nice Toulouse x Embden chicks for us to eat and sell as meat.

We had intended on keeping the two groups of geese separate for a while but in the time it took for Sam to get Baldrick to the goose area Barbara had broken out into the existing geese’s area. We just let them mingle after that. There have been a couple minor squabbles. Mainly when food is involved but for the most part they are happily co-existing, although not one group as of yet.

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Peacefully co-existing

Our first batch of chicks are doing well, well 3/4 of them are. We found little blackie (proper name Bellatrix) dead in the garden late one afternoon. Somehow the door to the coop had come open (the latch closing it isn’t very good and has since been tightened). We found Aino and 3 chicks huddled under a bush and Bellatrix dead in another part of the garden. I think it was a goose as there was one wound under the wing and blood on her legs suggesting she had walked wounded. She was also very close to the goose area. It could have been a cat or another chicken though. Catching the others was not fun, and included all of them running into the goose area, but we managed it. They’ve got a new coop and run on order to give them more space and keep them more secure. We had been thinking about bringing the chicks into the flock but after that we will wait until they are at POL (point of lay).

Aino's chicks in their new accomodation
Aino’s chicks in their new accommodation

Our last new additions are still in progress. Aurora went broody and in the quest for a truly multicoloured egg box we bought some White Leghorn eggs to go under her. We are at day 21 now and we have at least one chick hatched, possibly two. Aurora has been a different broody to Aino. For one her poos don’t smell half as bad as Aino’s, but on the downside she insists on pooping in the nest and is quite caked. We tried cutting the offending feathers off but it is all quite close to the skin. We’ll have to bath her once the chicks are hatched. She got very distressed at the trim we gave her and hatching day was around the corner so I didn’t want to spook her.

6 Whit Leghorn eggs ready for a broody
6 Whit Leghorn eggs ready for a broody

The hatch hasn’t been without issues as well. We had one infertile egg that we got rid of at day 18, not too bad out of six eggs. The biggest issue was born out of my stupidity though. Upon realising that Aurora has poop on her I decided to clean her off. Of course I wanted to stop her going back to the eggs so I blocked off the nest box before picking her up. Unfortunately I grabbed the coop door rather than the bit of cardboard I usually use. As soon as my hand moved away from it it fell and landed on two eggs. Cracked and bleeding. I was a mess. Ended up taking them inside, accepting that we had lost them and sitting down to feed Chi and take my mind off it. Sam had asked if they could still survive and I said of course not; cracked shell and bleeding – they couldn’t possibly. I googled out of interest and saw something about candle wax. Rushed to the kitchen got Sam and we got to work. They were severely cracked so a lot of wax was needed but we got them sealed up and put them under Aurora. Candled that evening and both were very much alive. Keeping everything crossed that they hatch!

Candlewax repaired eggs
Candlewax repaired eggs

That’s it for new additions for now, although we are in talks to get a ram lamb to come and service our girls, stay over winter and then fill our freezer in spring. Hopefully more on that soon!

Dans

* I actually wrote this post a month ago and it has taken me this long to get the pictures sorted out. I decided to post it as it was rather than update it. Two important updates should be mentioned though.

1) Aurora’s chicks hatched. We had 4 chicks hatch, which included one of my repaired eggs, so the method works! They are getting big now and I think we have 2 girls and 2 boys based on comb size.

Aurora and her chicks
Aurora and her chicks

2) We lost Baldrick. He went downhill rapidly, from looking a little depressed on a Saturday evening to being at death’s door on Sunday afternoon. In that time we had got him to a vet but they said there was little that could be done. He had a lot of lice which were jumping ship, he was thin and very watery diarrhoea. He had looked ok to me on Friday but I guess that shows I didn’t know what I was looking for. We have since treated the others for lice and worms and are giving extra feed to help plug any gap the grass isn’t covering. We’ll be rotating their grazing more as well. It was bad husbandry that caused us to lose Baldrick, some say that it is hard to tell with birds and most new keepers get losses this way, but we will learn from our mistake and I hope not to lose another bird to something so easily avoidable.

Wings hanging down - our first sign that something was wrong with Baldrick
Wings hanging down – our first sign that something was wrong with Baldrick

Feeling broody

No, no, don’t panic, it’s not me!

One of our Brown Marsh Daisies, Aino, has gone broody. It started nearly 3 weeks ago when we couldn’t collect eggs from one of the nest boxes for two days in a row as there was a hen on it. It dawned on me that it might not be bad luck (3 Brown Marsh Daisies and that nest box was everyone’s favourite). I tried to move her off and was thoroughly pecked for my efforts. Had to pick up the nest box and tip it to get her out – definitely gone broody.

Aino is the hen in the middle
Aino is the hen in the middle

We briefly thought about trying to break her of the broody feeling but I was hoping to buy some more hens this summer and hatching our own gets rid of the risk of bringing in disease so we thought we’d give it a go. We were wanting to increase the diversity of the eggs we were producing (currently 2 blue layers, 3 cream layers and 1 darker cream layer), so we went for some Cuckoo Maran eggs. I couldn’t find any locally so we braved ebay. It wasn’t the best of experiences. Egg arrival day came and went with no eggs. I emailed to be told the eggs hadn’t been laid yet, there were only 4 Maran eggs, not the 6 I’d paid for. The lady assumed I was incubating and figured it would be ok. I explained I had a broody and she was very apologetic, she agreed to ship the 4 Maran eggs along with some others she had. She also ended up refunding so not too bad in the end.

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Our current range of eggs

We also bought a little rabbit hutch for the broody so we could get her out of hen house and the popular nest box, we had eggs turning up left right and centre. We put the broody coop inside our big shed as it has a solid floor and we can shut it up each night in case of predators. Aino was moved into the broody coop two days before the eggs were due to arrive just to be sure she was serious about sitting. She did not want to budge!

Our broody coop
Our broody coop

We let the eggs sit for about 8 hours when they arrived. They turned out to a mix of Black Copper Maran, Cuckoo Maran x Black Copper Maran, Rhode Island Red x Black Copper Maran and Cream Leg Bar x Lakenveldar. Not really what I had wanted but I had read the advert wrong the night I ordered and the other eggs were to make up the numbers. Some of them were really large though, so if we can get a hen laying large eggs that should help, and we might end up with some interesting coloured eggs, assuming we don’t hatch all cockerels!

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The new eggs!

She accepted the eggs straight away although she kept having two Maran eggs peeking out from under her, sometimes feeling cold. We left them as they didn’t seem to be kicked out, and of course they were 2 of the 4 Maran eggs.

The two rejected Maran eggs
The two rejected Maran eggs

We bought a candler and then realised that we probably shouldn’t have started with Maran eggs as dark brown eggs are hard to see through! We couldn’t really tell with them but we saw veins with the others and a growing dark area when we candled at day 15 so fingers crossed.

Warm eggs whilst Aino takes a break
Warm eggs whilst Aino takes a break

At day 15 when we were candling I noticed a Maran egg had some cracks so we took it away and had a look, rotten. At day 17 I noticed another Maran egg the same, rotten again. I am hoping that these were the two eggs that had been peeking out. We did number the eggs when they went under Aino, but the pencil wore off. I’m guessing these two eggs just weren’t fertile. The other two Marans seem to be ok, so fingers crossed they hatch ok and are female. The eggs are due to hatch on Saturday so watch this space, hopefully all will go well and we will be having to come up with some B names from fandom!

Dans

Chicken update

We’ve been having a few cockerel issues lately. Aramis (as he is now known) has started charging at us during corn feeding times and giving our legs one good peck with his beak. We thought it was hunger as sometimes the pellets would run out during the day but he continued to do it even on days we kept on top of the pellets and even after all the corn had been given out and his girls were still pecking happily away at the ground. Sam ran after him the last time he did it and so far so good but he gets one more chance. If he does it again he is in the pot.

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Aramis – our cockerel

To be honest he may end up in the pot anyway. He’s a lovely looking boy and he does well showing the girls food and keeping them safe (he gets them all on red alert when one of our cats walks by). On the downside though we have to keep the eggs in the fridge and he has a favourite hen who is getting her back feathers damaged by his affections. We’ve had to resort to buying a saddle for the poor girl. On top of that he is another mouth to feed, and a big one at that! Just need to get myself booked onto a course to learn how to humanely dispatch chickens or have someone show me. Whatever happens I want his end to be quick and utterly unexpected for him.

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Our ‘First Lady’ showing off her saddle

We’ve also been having nest box issues with the chickens. We bought two nest boxes to attach to the side of the chicken house but we put them a little bit too high up I think. Nevertheless we did get a couple of eggs in them but then it rained and the boxes leaked. The tongue and groove joints weren’t done very well. We ended up putting an Ikea storage box in there on it’s side which has actually worked really well. We had 5 birds using it though which is too many (one of the Brown Marsh Daisies has made a nest underneath the house). We felted the roof of the box now though and the Norfolk Grey is happily using so I am hoping the others will follow.

On a good day we are getting 4 eggs that are suitable for selling (we only sell them if they are over 50g, not too dirty and not ridged at all). Two of the Brown Marsh Daisies are still laying very small eggs and the Norfolk Grey has a really ridged egg every 2 or three days. Not the best layers I guess. The Cream Leg Bars are doing a great job though, we sometimes even get large eggs from them and the blue shell is a draw for some of our buyers.

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Eggs!

We’re doing quite well selling eggs to family and friends and are now looking at getting some more chickens, laying some eggs that differ in colour to the ones we already have. We need to re-paint the hen house first though and get another nest box in (probably another Ikea box as it is working well). I’m thinking that we will wait until July for more chickens as that’s when the next round of worming is needed and buying then will mean that 1) the new girls get a quarantine treatment, 2) everyone is kept inside to allow them to sort themselves out so they will eat all the pellets and get a good dose of the wormer.

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Happy chickens

Dans

 

Chicken huts, veg beds and goose eggs

It’s been a long two weeks since my last update.

The first week not much happened. I succeeded in day to day care of our animals, the geese (April, May and June) and the cockerel (Casey). We discovered our limitations as a weekend went by without much progress due to Sam having a sore foot and Chi being very clingy with teething. We did however get our first egg from May (which made a very yolky scrambled egg), realised that June is in fact a boy who is now renamed Jules, got the hen house a bit more set up and saw the first seedlings peeking through the soil (radishes). I also made some progress with the geese, no longer having them try to bite me every time I go anywhere near them.

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Our first egg

This past weekend we really buckled down though. There were two main priorities, 1) move a builders bag of soil into the polytunnel and 2) prep the hen house for the girls. We did a pretty good job at meeting both of those. On Saturday we had the wonderful Lis over  and made short work of the soil. The second veg bed in the polytunnel isn’t quite a no-dig as I forked the surface a little just to break up the crust. I’m much happier with this soil than the last batch though, we didn’t find a single bit of glass in there. It’s now all levelled out and waiting to be planted in. I also cleared some more of the chicken wire from the sheep field, getting ready for the arrival of sheep.

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Our not quite no-dig second veg bed

Sunday was all hands on deck. We had another volunteer friend over, Kay, as well as her parents in the afternoon. Together we stripped the old roof off the hen house, treated some rotten bits and got a new roof on. We also got the feeder and drinker hanging, sanded the perches to give a bit of a rounded edge and installed a nest box. Thanks to the help of Kay’s dad we also got some more fence posts hammered into the sheep field.

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All hands on deck – even if you only have one free!

As if that all wasn’t enough, over the course of this week we’ve installed a pop hole in the hen house, made a makeshift shelter for the geese in the sheep field (there’s a shed on the way for them), had two more eggs, planted some fruit bushes, started making the outside veg beds and marked out an area (our mini orchard) for the geese to move into this weekend. Oh and we’ve arranged to buy some sheep at the end of the month. It really does feel like all things go at the moment, unsurprisingly we’ve been in bed quite a bit before midnight this week!

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Final touches on the roof before we lost the light

Hopefully I’ll be able to update a bit more often than once every two or three weeks.

Dans