Making do with what I have.

For those of you who are more visually orientated, I have put together a video of some of my work on building the chicken fence.  I managed to put the fence together with just some of the items I already had around my house, with a minimum of spending.

I hope that it might show what can be achieved with minimum materials.  I managed to complete this important job by making do and improvising.  Don’t let a lack of material prevent you from achieving your goals.

Our dog likes our chickens a little too much

While I was at work the other day, I received an urgent email from Kitty.  Our dog, Orlaith, was harassing our chickens.  Kitty told me that Orlaith was chasing them around our yard and cornering them by the fence.  I had never seen Orlaith hurt the animals, so I replied to Kitty, telling her not to worry about it.

The chickens waiting to be fed. You can see the fence next to them has seen better days

The next day I received a call from Kitty… apparently Orlaith was once again attacking chickens, yet this time she had killed one.  Kitty told me that she had tried to get the chicken from Orlaith, yet our dog was treating the chicken as a toy.  Orlaith was running around and trying to get Kitty to chase her.  It may have died at some point of this game.  Orlaith is well behaved when I am there, yet she isn’t very disciplined for other people (which is something we are working on).  In addition, Kitty told me that Orlaith had injured another chicken, which Kitty had caught and placed in a secure location till I returned from work.

I was unable to leave work early, so I returned home late (after the sun had set) and I found the chicken which Orlaith had paraded around the yard by the back door, along with almost a dozen broken eggs.  Orlaith loves eating raw eggs, so I guess she found a hidden cache of eggs.  When I checked the injured chicken I found it had died during the day.  After an investigation of the chickens I found that they were two of the three “miracle” chicks that were raised by a foster mother.  This is possibly the saddest part, as the third chick was male… I wouldn’t have minded too much if he was one of the chickens, as I intended to eat him.  With the two girls killed, it is a bit of a blow for our egg production.  When I checked the dead chickens I found no major injuries on them.  I suspect either they died of shock, or they were suffocated.

The aftermath of Orlaith’s “game”. Two very friendly chickens have died

I have to deal with this, I can’t have my dog killing our chickens.  I can see three possible solutions.

  • Get rid of Orliath
  • Get rid of the chickens
  • Stop Orliath getting to the chickens.

I don’t want to lose my dog.  I might consider losing my chickens, yet I don’t want to do that right now.  The only option is to stop Orlaith from hurting the chickens.

I know that one of the traditional methods to stop a dog from doing this is to tie one of the dead chickens to them…allow them to walk around for a few days with the reminder of the deed they had done.  I don’t think that is a very good solution.  Some people recommend an electric collar, yet I don’t want to go with that option at the moment.

 

Orlaith is in the chicken area. The fence can’t contain anything!

I think the only real solution is to build a fence or something to stop Orlaith from having access to the chickens.  I had built a small fence in the past, yet that neither stopped the chickens, nor prevented Orlaith from accessing the area.  I think I am going to have to think larger

The accidental death of a chick

Another accident happening on the homestead, where I unintentionally killed a chick while preparing to feed them.  I had moved the chicken tractor in order to give the chicks some fresh grass (what there is of it after such a dry summer) to eat.  As I moved the tractor I heard a loud screech and I stopped my motion.  A chick started flailing around the hutch and then lay still, blood leaking from it’s head.  I rushed over and picked it up, where upon it continued to flail around (and cover me with blood).  I rushed to the house to grab a paper towel to try to clean the blood.   I had assumed that it was a superficial wound and the chick was just over reacting.  I stood there, trying to keep the chick calm while explaining to Kitty what had happened.  After a couple of seconds I realised the chick had died while I was patting it.  It was very sad and I felt terrible for accidently causing this to occur.

 

I am sure you can hear in the video I am very disappointed, both due to the terrible loss of the little life that I had helped look after, also for the loss of an investment.  It is hard to over look the fact that when you keep animals, they will sometimes die.

My son wanted to bury the little one, so we found a nice place in the garden for him to conduct a little burial.

A new batch of eggs in the incubator.

The five chicks which hatched on the weekend have found a new home.  I did consider raising them up to adults, yet I don’t have the time or capcacity at the moment to do that.  I offered my son the chance to sell them, which he did with an online ad.  He placed the advertisement online and the next day two people asked to buy them  He made himself a quick $25 for all my hard work.  Next time, I think I might sell them myself.

Just days after removing the newly hatched chicks from the incubator, where I had been storing them, I decided to throw in another batch of eggs.  These were some eggs which I found quite by accident.  Whilst in the garden, working on the stairs that I installed on the weekend, the eggs were spotted amongst the plants… very close to where I was working.

 

When I spotted them on the weekend, I noticed that Orlaith hadn’t eat any of the 16 that were hidden, so I decided that she must not know of their existence.  I decided to keep my eye on whether a chicken was brooding them, yet over the next couple of days we only spotted hen sit on them once.  As I had just emptied my incubator I decided that these eggs may be the ones to go in next.

I gathered a dozen of the best-looking eggs, leaving four to take their chances (they didn’t last more than a couple of days… Orlaith took care of that).  I placed them into my incubator and, whilst I am not very optimistic, I hope that they will hatch.

The incubator I am using has proven to be very reliable, despite it’s low cost.  I have created a video of how I set mine up for running a batch of eggs, which might be useful to anyone considering the model I have.

When a life is on the line, it is time to be unconventional.

I don’t recall mentioning this earlier (possibly as I was intending to do a video on the process) yet I have been incubating a batch of a dozen eggs.  I placed them in my incubator almost a month ago, checking them daily to ensure that everything was going well.  On Friday night, while watching a movie with my son nearby, we heard a very faint chirping noise coming from the incubator.  We quickly rushed over and checked and we could see two of the eggs had small cracks from the chicks attempting to break their way to freedom.

I was a little disappointed to note that only five of the dozen eggs hatched.  I noted that one had not been fertilised, or at least no life started growth in that egg.  The others just didn’t make it.  It could have been due to my turning off the incubator turning mechanism when the first chick hatched, or it might have been something else.

When the last egg had hatched on Sunday morning, I removed the five chicks from the incubator (while leaving it running incase any more would hatch) and placed them in a brooder box with a heat lamp to keep them warm.  I left the room for an hour to continue work on another project, and when I returned I realised that the heat lamp wasn’t working.  One of the chicks had actually started to go into a type of shock.  It was moving very little and was cold to the touch.  I picked it up and held it close to my body to try to impart some warmth back into it.  It seems to work, as after 5 minutes it started to move again.  I brought it inside and placed it in the incubator to warm back up, while I tried to come up with a solution.

I decided that as the sun was shining and the day was warm, I might be able to leave the other four outside to try to soak up some of that heat.  I placed them in an old bird cage and they seemed to really enjoy spending time on the grass.  This would give me the time to work on a solution.

I searched the house for a lamp that I could place in the brooder box, yet every lamp used the new type of light bulb we have in Australia.  They are very energy efficient, putting out very little heat, so they were no use to me for this.

I could not buy a new bulb.  As I mentioned, the heat producing bulbs are not available in Australia, and the heat lamp bulb was from a shop in the city (I was not driving hours both ways for the item).  I thought about my problem and I realised I had the solution all along.  I removed the unhatched eggs from the incubator (checking them all for signs of life, of which there were none) and then placed within the food and water the chicks required.  While the space was going to be limited, at least they could stay warm for the night and I could buy the heat lamp bulb in the morning.

I bought that bulb today and the chicks are now back in their incubator.  I think that this was a great example of not being constrained by the limits of your plans.  If I didn’t think of a way to get around my problem the chicks would have died during the cold night.  By thinking outside the box (or in this case, inside the box), I came up with a solution that ensured the chicks survived till I could provide them with the proper environment.

The battle against the mice rages on…

I thought that I had beaten the mice with all the work I had done in the greenhouse.  You may recall I have mentioned the trouble I have had with them in the past.  My little plant protector had ensured that my seedlings were not molested by the midnight rodents… yet I failed to make an impact on their activites.

When I found that they were climbing into the buckets and eating their fill I started to cover the buckets with a wire screen, yet the mice learnt that they could push it out of the way.  I decided to place an empty bucket into the main bucket (on top of the growing fodder), and that had great success for a while.  The mice seems to stop their visits, the only real sign of their actions were that if I failed to fill the grain soaking bucket enough, they would climb in there to eat some barley. I could live with that… especially as it was easy to put a little more water in the bucket.

All that changed a couple of nights ago.  When checking the buckets one evening I noticed that there was a hole bitten into the base of one of the buckets, with all the grain missing from just within the hole.  I realised that the area had a slight crack, which may have encouraged the mice to explore.  I removed all buckets from the fodder circulation which had a crack or flaw.  The next night, another bucket was chewed through… this one didn’t have a flaw, so I realised the mice were getting smarter.  I decided to double bucket every bucket to provide additional layers.

The next evening I found the lengths the mice will go to in order to eat fodder.  They had eat a large portion of a bucket.  I realised that I needed to up my game, so I have decided that I will need to use steel buckets.  I know that mice can eat through steel… I just hope that it is not something they realise.

A look at my chicken feed fodder system at work

I noticed recent interest on Reddit concerning fodder systems to feed chickens, so I thought I would put up some information on my process.

I have my original videos, which show the fodder system I created.

As well as a new video my son filmed today, showing how easy the system can maintained when you have it down.

Don’t forget, if you would like to know more, I have some instructables which I made for Chicken fodder, and my system for Rabbit fodder.

Is there a difference between store bought and home laid chicken eggs

Are free range eggs better than those from the supermarket?  According the an article in Motherearth News, yes they are.

I am not 100% sold on the results of this study.  The results show that the pasture raised chicken eggs were much healthier for you than store bought eggs.  It apparently consisted of eggs from 14 different flocks from around the states which were compared to the USDA results for eggs.  I think that the sample group was much too small to really represent the correct results.

Home made french toast.  The one on the left was from eggs my chickens laid, the one on the right is a store bought egg.
Home made french toast. The one on the left was from eggs my chickens laid, the one on the right is a store bought egg.

I do know how I have found my home raised chicken eggs when compared to store bought eggs.  Here is a picture of some French toast (yes, I know it isn’t real French toast, yet it is good enough for us) we whipped up on the weekend when we had a glut of eggs from our girls.  One of the pieces toast appears bright yellow, this was the home grown egg.  The other egg was a store bought one, and you can see that the colour is washed out.  The taste difference was very obvious too, with the home grown egg having much more flavour with layers to the taste.  The store bought egg tasted bland when compared to the home grown egg, it just tasted of egg with no subtle flavor.

 

I suspect much of the additional flavor comes from the diet of the chicken.  I had a friend who recommended feeding chickens chilli (which I have not done, and I am not sure it would be a good idea).. he swore that the eggs had a hint of chilli in them and made excellent meals.

Old picture from my old house, showing a chicken and a duck egg.
Old picture from my old house, showing a chicken and a duck egg.

So if you ever get the chance to try one I would recommend it.  I am sure if you try you could find a place near you which sells home made freerange eggs.

How to determine rotten eggs from fresh eggs.

As we have chickens that lay eggs for us, it is important to be able to collect fresh eggs.  Unfortunately, we can’t always be sure the eggs we find are fresh, because the hens lay them where ever they want.  One of the ways which I have used to determined freshness is to place them in a vessel of water.  According to popular belief (and pretty much every page on the web which deals with how to find fresh eggs), the eggs which are fresh will sink, and the eggs that are off will float.  This is due to rotten eggs producing gas, which makes them lighter than fresh eggs.

I have used this technique for nearly 10 years and always been happy with the results.  I have never been surprised with a rotten egg.  I have had so much confidence with this that I usually just break the eggs in to a saucepan to cook if they pass this test.

 

Well, on the weekend one of my children found a previously unknown stash of eggs.  We collected around 20 eggs from two piles, so I ran the normal checks on them and every egg checked out.  I decided to make fried eggs for lunch due to this unexpected windfall, so I broke eggs into the frypan and started to cook them up.  When I broke the fourth egg into the pan a large amount of fluid accompanied the egg.  I immediately noticed the difference on constancy.  Then the smell hit me.  That was a rotten egg.  Not very rotten, yet bad enough.  I had to throw away the other three eggs as they were tainted with the fluid.

I started to then break eggs into a bowl to check them before I cooked them.  The majority of the unknown pile of eggs were bad.  One of them was so bad the yolk was black.  I threw that one down the sink immediately, yet I doubt I will forget the disgusting smell and appearance of that egg.  I found a similar image to the nightmare inducing sight, which I have placed below.

 

http://www.kungfufarming.com/chickens/myth-bad-eggs-float-and-good-eggs-sink/

I don’t know if I will keep using the floating method to find the fresh eggs.  That one failure has definately tarnished a previously flawless method.  I think I will just go to breaking all eggs into a bowl and working out if they are any good to eat.