Friday, January 6, 2017

Crack one open

Since the rainwater tank project, Christmas and New Years came in such close succession to each other, I've been taking a well earned break. I was feeling a little burned out and didn't want to have to contemplate big things for a while. And the beginning of a new year, is pretty big.

I've been reading in other blogs, how goals were being set for the year. Which is brilliant, but I just hadn't reached that mental place, for myself yet. Maybe in a week or two?

Large egg (top left) from parent hen, the rest are pullet eggs

A good place to pick up for this year, is the arrival of new eggs! Compliments of our new pullets, we hatched back in late August. It's been many years since we hatched eggs, and I forgot what the ideal number to incubate was. I started with 20 eggs, and ended up with 15 chicks. Too many for our meagre accommodations for them. I'll have to revise that number down to a dozen in future.

"Mumble", facing camera (RIP)

Sadly, one suddenly passed due to complications from their head injury (birth defect). But even 14 turned out to be too many. The small chicken tractor I resurrected, was quickly outgrown by the little scratchers.

It was increasingly becoming a problem, the older they were, to keep the tractor in the same place for just ONE day. They quickly fowled it and weren't able to graze for more than an hour. So it became imperative to decide another plan.

Poor man's patch job

Resurrect Middle Ridge chicken coop! Only it was partially demolished, with intentions to turn it into something else. Well the bones would have to do for now, so we purchased extra shade cloth to go over the top again. It was about 20cms too short, on either side, and the hens eventually figured out how to fly out the gap.

It wasn't really safe to keep them in overnight, so we let them in the run during the day, and they gladly toddled to their old tractor, for lock up, at night.

Don't mind the jungle!

We placed the chicken tractor, close to the coop door, so at dusk we could open it, and they put themselves to bed in the tractor.

This too worked for a time, until they out grew the tractor. With Christmas approaching, and hens still able to escape the coop during the day, we needed to secure the coop properly. Just so we could leave, and not worry a neighbour's dog, fox or wedge-tail eagle, might make a meal of them.

Hiding the hole, where the "permanent" iron, use to be

What a glorious and ugly patchwork job, that turned out to be. We didn't have time, let alone money to buy anything to do the job. So we scrounged bits of everything which didn't have a permanent purpose yet. From old guinea-pig cage parts, to ancient chicken feed bags, and even heavy pieces of steel we somehow managed to acquire. That's an old chicken perch too, which rotted at the base.

Thankfully we still have chicken mesh up to that orange conduit pipe. Which you can't exactly see. Much like the additional chicken mesh, I had to add above the pipe, to cover that gap the hens were flying through. But now they all live in Middle Ridge permanently.

During all this however (in such close quarters) we realised some of the roosters had to go. I was surprised how quickly these roosters matured. Some began crowing before 10 weeks.

 Blurry picture of the last rooster

Maybe I'll write another post about roosters, but for now, all but one, has been dispatched. Even his days are numbers now too. Limited space with maturing roosters meant, we had to cull many before they even reached a table worthy size. But they made excellent tree fertiliser, so have returned to the land they grew up on. I know that sounds harsh, but so is overstocking a flock with too many roosters, in limited space. The hens only have so far they can run.

Out of the 14 chicks we raised, only 5 turned out to be roosters though. Leaving us with 9 hens! That was quite a surprise. So were some of the features, which came out in the mixed genes.

Motley crew

We got 3 pure white hens, some which looked like regular ISA Browns, and do you notice the missing tail on the hen above? She has a pekin tail, which is a breed I've kept before. The presence of pekin genes, would also explain the feathered legs which appeared on some of the roosters too. So there are definitely some interesting genes in this mix.

Bantam pekin hens, I kept a long time ago

We even got some that looked like a ginger Australorp (the one feeding on the grapes, 2nd image above). We did have an old black, Australorp hen, who wasn't laying much at the time I was collecting eggs to incubate. But I'm sure, with some of the black hackles which have developed in some hens, a few of her eggs must have snuck in.

Unfortunately, she has now passed, as did her sister - Matriarch.

 Guarding her new friend

Matriarch was the one we had to let free range, outside the coop, because her sister had outed her from the new flock, we introduced. She was relentlessly pecked for doing anything, So free ranging daily, it was! Matriarch even became very protective of a visiting Brush Turkey chick, which naturally doesn't have parents from birth. They have to fend for themselves. It was sad when she passed. There are some hens which stand out from the rest. Matriarch was one of those.

But I'm not as sentimental as I used to be. When you are exposed to so many animals passing, or intentionally culled, you realise they carry on, in the landscape regardless. Whether they get buried under a new seedling tree, or they feed you in some other way, they go on to serve another purpose. Those turkey chicks are now fully grown, and I'm reminded of Matriarch, whenever they pass through the yard.

 One egg, two yolks

One eventuality I wasn't expecting though, is how one of the new hens is a regular, double-yolk, egg layer. It will become an issue when incubating eggs, next time. Double-yolkers don't tend to survive incubation, as there isn't enough room for two chicks to grow in the same egg. I was considering, only hatching a dozen eggs next time, but I may have to increase the numbers to compensate for the double-yolk, egg layer.

If you're wondering why we didn't properly prepare accommodations BEFORE incubating eggs - we "intended" to build accommodation straight away. Which I did with the chicken tractor (phase one, for growing chicks out) but when it came to building something bigger, our new rainwater tank project went over schedule by two months! That's eight weeks we could have been preparing chicken accommodation.

We just weren't anticipating how big the tank project, or time consuming it would be. But alls well that ends well, I guess. We're happy to see our recent additions, starting to lay now. We do have plans to upgrade Hilltop chicken coop again. But more about that, another time.

I hope the new year brings my readers, something to look forward to. Even if it's just a little time to recuperate.


  1. That tank project was a big job, you certainly earned a rest! Funny how some jobs can become bigger than we expect sometimes. I didn't write a list of resolutions as such this year, just a list of things that I'm looking forward to. That worked better for me this year. Hope your year goes well. Meg:)

    1. Ah, things to look forward to. That sounds like a nice list to have. :)

  2. I think you did really well, using what you had to hand. If everything always ran according to plan then we would never have had the saying 'Best laid plans of mice and men.' Adaptability is a key component of resilience.

    1. Yes, adaptability. Imperative sometimes. Absolutely

  3. Chris, I haven't made out a list this year either. I just want to finish off some of the things I have started and use up the craft supplies I have on hand already plus work on my sourdough making technique. I am still waiting for my 'new beaut' chicken pen which isn't going to be built any time soon so the chooks are out all day and enjoy wrecking my garden :-( Then there is the issue of trying to find where they are laying their eggs. Sigh! I found 14 today.

    1. Using up craft supplies is always a good idea. I've got some sorting through mine to do this year too. Have fun, using up yours. :)

  4. Welcome back Chris, I missed you!
    Nice bodge job on the coop/run! Some of our 'bodges' last longer then a 'proper' job.
    Is the tank full yet, you've been getting some serious rain in the area recently!

    1. The second tank is almost full, so happy with that. Rain can skirt right around us though, when the rest of the region is getting drenched. It's funny to watch the radar, and see all the clouds come towards us, then create a hole, right where we are, lol.

  5. What a good outcome from your incubating to have fresh eggs, I really miss that.
    You were very lucky to get the tanks setbup at this time, I left the wheelbarrow out in the front garden andvit has about 4 to 5 inches of water in it, your tanks will be holding heaps.
    I found something on the net last week called a Bullet Journal, it looks like the sort of method that just may keep me organized, there is a set up link on Google and it looks easy to follow.
    Your repairs to the coop are priceless, there is always plenty of makedo when you live out of town and have animals.

    1. Yes, we definitely got the tank in before the rainy season came. Which was something I was hoping we'd do. :)

      I'll have to look up bullet journals. Organised is something I'm trying to do more, lol. I hope the journal helps you achieve that too.

  6. I can't believe how quickly those chicks have grown. I'd all but forgotten about them since the rainwater tank took over your posts. Good job on keeping them in....amazing how all sorts of bits and pieces put aside for being 'useful one day' actually do become useful.

    I haven't made any commitments re this coming year....just getting through this latest hot spell will do me....37 yesterday, only down to 28 at night and 34 this morning before the cool change predicted at lunchtime. Roll on!!

    1. I know, they do growing quickly when you're busy doing other things, lol. ;)

      We had a streak of those hot days and nights (4) a few weeks ago. It wasn't fun. I know you'll be glad when that cool change blows in. Try to stay cool in the mean time. Easier said than done!

  7. The good thing about culling cockerels is chicken pie.

    1. Or chicken soup! :) All good ideas. Thanks for sharing.

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