Friday, 25 April 2014

Small Scale Poultry Wrangling

chook run

Long had it been a dream of mine to have my own poultry. I remember in my toddler years, oh so long ago! having bantums in the back yard and the charm and innocence of those years made poultry keeping so attractive to me, it is a very dear memory. Tiny chicks, clucking hens and watching their industry and comedy were something I wished to recreate and make an integral part of the self sufficient grow our own lifestyle so close to our hearts.

Shed partitioning
Our move to this coastal Idyll afforded us the opportunity for fulfilling this particular dream of mine and for 2 years we worked at creating an area for devoting to our poultry ambitions. We took this long due to frequently stopping our endeavour for planting, harvesting, renovating and landscaping as other projects demanded our attention as well as coastal foraging, fishing, swimming, snorkelling, photography, junior life saving activities, driver education and several trips to the big smoke for medical attention not otherwise available to regional dwellers.

laying boxes
Having only a little more than an 1/8th of an acre, which is an average domestic block, we had to make best use of limited space and so we dedicated the whole back fence line to a chook run. Making the run 1 1/2 metres wide seemed reasonable and would discourage the sea eagle population from drop and grab forrays for our ladies of feather. We also thought it prudent to dig the wire surround into the ground to discourage vulpine incursions in case they wandered into our coastal residential area, the wilderness being not so far from where we are we thought better safe than sorry. We took time out to plant out a small food forest in front of the run for more shade and perennial food plantings on a permiculturesque design intention with berry brambles and multi-grafted fruit trees. This food forest would allow free range foraging area for the poultry as they would assist with pest control, turning the soil and manuring as well as have dust baths and quiet hen parties in the privacy of the sheltered treed spaces.

branches become roosts
Digging in posts, tensioning wire, nailing and clipping and securing was all a learning curve for me with a lot of manual labour involved that was heavy and required a kind of precision I had never before asked of myself. We then designed a hen house in the back of an existing shed by dividing it and partitioning making best use of what we had as well as finding a screen door at the local tip shop. Focussing on easy to clean and well ventilated as well as ease of access for both the human carers and the ladies of feather. We then re-purposed an old cupboard into layer boxes which came up remarkably well using the cupboard door as egg collection access external to the roost area but still inside the shed. A couple of donated branches from a pruned fruit tree gave us roosting rungs and a bale of straw, bedding.
shed water storage

The council had earlier in the year fortuitously changed over the green waste bins and gifted the superseded smaller bins to the household and this gave us the great opportunity of a rainwater storage unit to the shed and water on tap for the poultry. Rigging up the self watering system was a plumbing challenge that works perfectly with inline taps and filters and all the bells and whistles a chook could wish for and utilises a resource that had previously run away into a rear neighbours yard.

pallet gate
We also managed to re-purpose some used pallets given to us for free by a local hardware business into an impressive and beautiful gate and so our poultry security was assured. The addition of a shade sail over the shed's poultry door to allow shade  from the afternoon sun, to keep the water dispenser cool and additional sea eagle protection pretty much completed the scene for perfect poultry accommodations.

Free range pond
A donated clamshell sand pit was ideal for a duck pond as well as a great protein delivery system considering the number of frogs that choose to spawn in it despite adversity and a determined duck bill. Additional water was made available at the rear tap by digging in a second hand vanity sink unit found for a bargain price at a builders' recycling centre. A cap on the drain and a plug to hold the water in place was all that was needed to create a duck perfect refreshment centre. Daisy was very impressed with this landscaping addition to her free range area and can frequently be found resting her head next to her sink dozing in contentment.

Isa Brown hen
Christmas 2013 saw us with the delivery of 4 young Isa browns and a Pekin duck named Daisy. I was smitten sideways to finally have a feathered family and the potential of eggs for our menu, both hen and duck. Sadly 2 of our purchased hens started crowing and after advising our supplier we were promised 3 more hens, including another Isa brown and two Australorp hens, and were given the crow boys for culling. We fattened our boys up and they became Roast and Stock a few weeks later and we sat back and waited for the duck and the 5 girls to either lay or crow.

Daisy Duck
The year as seen many a feathered adventure and we now get up to 6 eggs a day, although Daisy as yet to lay we are very happy with our ladies. Daisy has the soul of a regimental sergeant major as she determines the proper place and activity for her hens even down to encouraging the girls to come out and play in the most inclement weather. I honestly think I saw that look on their chooky faces that says "You is one crazy feathered creature!" I seriously think the chooky assessment of the duck's mental facility is accurate ... that wasn't weather for fun ... not even for ducks! The hens divide their time between ignoring their duck bully or humouring her for the sake of a quiet forage. Their social dynamic is to me a source of constant entertainment and I am frequently found on the balcony watching their antics and throwing titbits for their enjoyment.

Further to accommodating our fine feathered family we have made use of our location by foraging for seaweed to top dress our raised garden bed that is in winter fallow. This gives the girls access to micro minerals as well as encourages worms and insects to the surface for the girls to have all sorts of fun catching as they break up the seaweed and turn the garden over for us. Encouraging their natural instincts and behaviours makes for happy birds. Our State environment regulations allow us 20 litres of seaweed each per day which I think is excessive, but once a month for enriching the garden and the lives of our poultry it is worth our effort to make use of local wild produce. We also collected shell grit, which we are allowed 10kg each per day, and re-purposed a used tyre to make a shell grit bed for them. Some pummelling action from my son with the blockbuster rendered the shell-grit into a smaller mesh size and the girls now have access to calcium and a place the scratch in something different.

Mention must be made of our local hardware store who's assistance at times has been beyond the call of customer service, Our young neighbour and friend who has consented to short break small animal wrangling duty and of course my youngest son who has enthusiastically taken on the ongoing care of our extended family proudly announcing their production and cleaning the steps and paths as required.

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