Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Introduction to poultry


This is by no means an expert’s guide, more an amateurs insights. As I have just updated the site pages I moved this to a post in its own right. 

So given you have decided you want to keep poultry, for what purpose and what species/breed. You may also need to consider the follow;
Home raise turkey

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 





Housing and setting up can be as complex or simple as you make it. It also doesn’t have to be expensive. For our suburban girls we bought and converted a second hand dog kennel from a local auction. Adding a nesting box and step for it and fixed 2 pieces of 2x1 inside for them to perch on. Using longer pieces of 2x1 and chicken wire we constructed a run. The birds remained in the house/run during the day (secure from the dogs) and then free ranged around our garden when we were home.

 This set up also allowed us to regularly move the hutch and run, meaning the grass/lawn condition wasn’t too badly affected. So we didn’t need to dedicate a permanent area to the birds. I have seen a number of these ‘tractor’ arrangements on various scales. But if you’re not too handy you can also purchase them as a kit from many DIY stores and online.

 

Now we have finally phased out the smaller hutches and migrated our laying flock to a poultry shed, using another small housing and runs for younger birds.
 
Ducks and geese do not really need a nesting box or perch, but a secure area for shelter- a dog house would be ideal and all (including turkeys) nest where ever they feel safe (not always where you would prefer). We kept a small cover that I can move over any nests that do not have any shelter.


Our first home reared Christmas turkeys
Turkeys may nest in a box (if they feel safe), and require an open shelter and perches. They are more likely to roost wherever is highest (trees, the neighbours shed or vehicles- we had issues with this), ours always preferred the roof of the chicken shed or the eight foot fence posts.

As for feed, we found a local produce store and they advised we feed them pullet grower initially until they started laying (usually about 18-20 weeks) and then layers mash or pellets. Most other poultry would be better on a higher protein poultry feed/crumble. We use this to supplement our birds feed. As they free range and are happy to scratch and feed. We also keep food scraps from our kitchen and garden clippings... they key is variety.

So grains, rice, pasta, veg scraps (although onions and green potato peels are not advised) and avocado peels are toxic to all animals. Many people also do not realise you can feed chickens meat. As they naturally forage and eat bugs, protein is an essential part of their diet and makes a great ‘treat’, scrambling eggs is also acceptable.

They also need grit in their diet, which you can buy supplement, however egg shells are one of the best sources. Just grind it up, so they do not associate their own eggs as food.

 

Feeders and waterers come in various shapes and sizes. Initially we cut the side out of old (washed) 2l milk cartons and tied then to the chicken wire (to avoid spillages), nothing like a good bit of recycling! And for ducks and geese a child’s paddling/wading pool is ideal, but change the water regularly.

Breeding became a natural progression once we had a rooster and a drake. So we purchased an incubator.

Our incubatorwas yet an EBay purchase for about $60. No it’s not big or fancy and yes we turn the eggs ourselves. But it holds up to 60 chicken eggs; so is more than sufficient for our needs (as we only collect eggs for up to a week).

Muscovey ducklings
We were also put onto a product called“Breathe-ezi” we use this for sterilizing our incubator. This is actually a commercial grade disinfectant designed for large scale poultry sheds, but it is also water soluble which is great given we have a sensitive bio waste system.

We have also tried a friend’s 42 egg, self turning (rather pricey) incubator running in addition to ours. Contained some chicken eggs for him and some later duck eggs collected from an abandoned nest. I reviewed these separately in a post. I personally found this system both nosey and too complicated, but I guess it is automatic. We also met a serious show breeder with a commercial scale system worth thousands…so again it is one of those things, you need to look at your intentions and it can be as expensive as you make it.

Once the eggs have hatched you will need a brooder box. Again this can be as complex, or expensive as you like. For our first hatchlings we had set up a cardboard box, lined with newspaper and shavings with Tupperware boxes for food and water. They also need to be kept warm, so we bought a cheap light (on sale at Bunnings) and then they need food and water. However having them live in the house on the kitchen bench is not entirely practical!

Chicks stay in their incubator for the first 24 hours. Once you take them out and place them in their brooder box, it is important you dip their beaks in the water. From then on it is amazing how their instincts kick in. Also if their cold they will huddle together, if their too warm they will be at the opposite end of the box to the light. So allow for adjusting how high or low you place your light. Work lights are great for this, as they usually have a clip on the back and/ or a hook, so you can adapt to the space. One piece of equipment I would suggest purchasing is a digital thermometer, this way you can keep an eye on the temperature of the box (or the incubator for that matter if like ours it is not that fancy) and make appropriate adjustments.

Now our brooder box set up in the shed. Constructed from an old wardrobe that we picked up free; removed the doors, replacing them with mess panels and lined with shaving and/or newspaper. The advantage of the wardrobe is that each side can be divided into smaller compartments, for when birds are smaller and can expand as they grow. However this way each section requires its own light for heating and then food and water. It also means if we have staggered hatching we can separate them- as *an important note* birds can be cruel… It’s not called a pecking order for nothing!

I found introducing new birds to an environment (at any age) can be tricky. We tend to either introduce them at night, when their most calm, or preferably in numbers. Whilst the previous birds may still appear initially hostile, there is safety in numbers- and they will eventually settle. Other than that, if we’re home (to keep an eye on things) then we’ll introduce new birds during the day, whilst their not confined to their pen. This way they have the space to run and assimilate and work out their “pecking order”

 

As for keeping healthy birds we have picked up a few tips. All birds need space, shelter and constant access to water- this is probably more important than food. There are a few health issues or advice we have been given- as I am not a vet I will probably comment on them through posts, but not here.

As I have touched on earlier what you want from your birds will affect the species and breed. I have discussed commercial cross breeds vs heritage breeds on a number of occasions in this blog. So I am not going to dwell on it here. We have also experimented (more dabbled) with our own cross bred varieties, but we always come back to our heritage breeds; Sussex and Indian Game/Cornish
 

We have two chicken flocks, our laying stock predominantly Light Sussex and Silver Sussex. Although we have had a variety of laying breeds, and the odd few are happily living out their days here (particularly our original girls).


These breeds lay well (average 300 eggs per year) and for that reason are desirable. Also the males provide decent sized birds for the table, after all breeding means we end up with a lot of excess roosters.

 
We also breed and keep Indian Game (known as in Australia)/ Cornish (known a sin the UK). These provide a very meaty, almost double breasted table bird. Considered to be a potential base breed for the now commercial broilers. Though they can be difficult to breed and lay almost seasonally. So we keep these more for the love of them than for their output, though they do better when free ranged and graze well and cost little to feed.

We had originally planned to cross the two, in aim of the ultimate dual purpose bird… it may still happen.

 








We have also had success with Muscovy ducks and turkeys. But have decided for the mean time not to keep a permanent stock of either, preferring to purchase an occasional few to grow out for specific occasions.

Snake deterrents- Geese
And then there are our resident snack deterrents. Many local people use guineafowl for this purpose, as neither of us are fans we have geese. These lay seasonally and we had limited success with their first season; resulting in a single surviving off-spring ‘Ar-goose’. Geese are known to be noisy and aggressive; however ours appear to be more apprehensive toward people and only really make noise when someone arrives.. so they make great guard dogs!

They require very little food, as they graze well and keep the grass down. Although do not keep them on patchy grass, as they pluck it rather than snap it off. But do need a supply of water to play in, which will need changing regularly.















Thursday, 12 June 2014

What to do with a glut of limes?... (option two)


Answer: Orange & Lime Marmalade

 

So as you may have read from other posts (or the title) we have a bit of a glut of fruit at the moment. Or more to the point limes, as our young fruit trees have had a good season so far- limes and oranges. So in order to make the most of our productivity I have been using some preserving techniques. So next on the list is Orange and Lime marmalade.

 

I have made this in the past and whilst it tasted fantastic it did not set too well. So was only usable from the fridge, so that the constancy was a little thicker. So where I would usually use the rule of thumb of 3,2,1 method for jams (3 cups of water, 2 kilos fruit to 1 kilo of sugar). I am going for the equal parts fruit and sugar to number of cups. So for this recipe; 2 cups of water, 2 kilos of fruit and 2 kilos of sugar. And I have some jamsetta (a setting sugar with pectin) as a back up- though I would prefer not to use it.

 

Like I said I am not really following any strict recipe so I start by peeling my fruit (using a potato peeler). This helps avoid the pith, as this can be bitter tasting in the actual marmalade.

 

These peels I slice finely. I would say the finer the better, but it’s personal preference.  

 

Then juice the fruit.

 

With the remaining fruit (the body and any pips etc) place in a pan with the water and bring to the boil. At this point strain, discard the fruit bits (this is just the body, not the peel or the juice).

 

Return the water to the pan and dissolve in the sugar.

 

Add the juice, stirring regularly.

 

Bring to a bubble, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

 

I skim my jam at this point and then add the sliced peel and return to the heat.

 

I don’t time my jam as such, but I don’t want to boil it either. I like to leave it ‘blip’ for a bit, stirring regularly to get a feel for if its thickening.

An effective test is to scoop a small amount of the jam/marmalade onto a cold tea spoon. If it thickens/ sets then that’s great. If not then its probably time to read the instructions on the jamsetta.

 

For jam to set you need the appropriate sugar and pectin content. Pectin is generally found in the fruits flesh and seeds, so if like with this recipe the pectin maybe low, a jamsetta is a great backup.

 

From here as the jam/marmalade begins to cool it is decanted into sterile jars.

 

To sterilise jars, there are a few methods. I have always cleaned mine thoroughly by hand (for residue etc) and then run them through a hot setting of my dishwasher. Though as I have intention of entering a jar of this in the local show I decided to follow this by placing the jars in a hot oven for 20 minutes.   (Alternatively you could boil them in water first and then bake)

It is important to note that whilst everything I have read suggests you boil and bake the lids too. It is worth checking whether your lids have and plastic/ rubber in them. As this does not do so well in the oven (take it from personal experience!)

 

You may also realise that I use an old plastic bottle to decant my jam into the jars- cutting it  up to make a funnel (from the bottle neck) and a rest for the ladle (in the base). As the jam gets quite messy.

 

The idea is to get it as close to the top as possible; minimising the air trapped in it. And sealing ASAP- therefore making it airtight.

I also know of those who boil the sealed jars in water again at this stage to confirm the airtight, sterilseness of their jam.

Personally I have never done this, and have never had an issue. But I am not saying not too.




Ideas for a glut of limes... cordial

For those who follow us on our Facebook page may know we have had a glut of limes at the moment, as our juvenile fruit trees are having their best season to date! So we wanted to attempt some cordial.

Lime cordial is a bit of a favourite in our house. Particularly with myself being pregnant, lime and soda is a social staple. So we thought we would make the most of our fruiting fledglings.


So after googling a few recipes, as most turned out to be recipes to use lime cordial (i.e. cocktails) we settled on this one by Matt Preston (Australian Masterchef judge, for the non-aussies, or TV/reality show lovers).



One thing I will note is that all the recipes I found (this seeming the most straight forward) had an alarming amount of sugar in them… so guess this was a bit of an eye opener.

 But anyway the recipe called for

  • 10 limes
  • 4 cups water
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp citric acid
  • 1 tbsp tartaric acid

And apparently made 3 bottles. Now citric acid we had, but tartaric acid I have to admit I’d never heard of. But I did find some in the isle with the baking stuff (near the bi-carb).

Method:



Using a clean potato peeler, peel long strips of the zest off just five of the limes. Juice all the limes and keep the juice.



Bring water to the boil with the lime zest. Mix sugar and powders together.



Pour the combined sugar and crazy white science powders into the boiling water.



Stir until dissolved. Boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Pour in the lime juice, ideally pouring it through a fine sieve to remove any little bits of flesh that might make your cordial cloudy. Bring the cordial back to the boil and gently simmer for 2 minutes.



Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Remove the zest.



Now bottle in sterile containers and allow to settle for a day before using.

I have to admit this was delicious, though quite strong… and I like my cordial to have taste when I dilute it! And will be making this again.

It made 1.8l of cordial, so 2x 750ml bottle plus a little over.

Be interesting to see if it’s as successful using a natural sweetener like stevia…

Worm farming… take two (surely it can't be that hard?)

Well so far my worms have survived for 5 days… which is 4 days longer than my last attempt (last year). 

So your probably wondering why bother?


Well composting is an ‘easy’ action that any household can undertake. Not only would it reduce your carbon footprint, but the products can benefit the household too.

 
Following my previous failed attempt at a worm farm I did continue to use a basic composting using a compost bin; breaking down garden waste (leaves, grass clipping etc.) as well as our chicken waste (bedding, manure etc). As chicken manure, like all manure is very good for gardens you never buy it commercially pure… that’s because it’s actually too high in nitrogen to be placed directly onto beds; composting helps break it down, so it can be used successfully.

 

But I finally felt it was time to have another attempt with worms. Having gotten over my previous/failed venture, I was more adamant that I wanted a second attempt. Though this time I decided I would purchase the proper equipment. As I think my DIY version may have been my downfall last time (maybe there were chemicals/ or pesticides on the boxes I had not foreseen, along with those who drown in the base). 


So you may wonder why I am so obsessed with worms, but this simple addition should provide us with great benefits.  And I guess the idea that it should be something anyone can do, on any scale and it had beaten me was driving me mad! And a lot of what we do here you don’t necessarily need an acreage to do and this is one of them, in fact worm farming would be quite the opposite, I’m having to find scraps to feed them! As in general we really dispose of a lot of organic material- the pigs, dogs and chickens make short work of our offerings… although there are a few things that they can’t have (tea bags, coffee grounds, avocado or banana peels etc). But for the general family household worms are ideal. They speed up the composting process and once established composting worms can eat up to their body weight in food everyday! Which is a lot faster than a compost bin, requiring less storage space to breakdown far more waste. Which when you consider about 50% of all household waste is organic and could be recycled, it should be quite easy to feed them.

That and the organic matter we throw away has to go somewhere (landfill); which is not only costly, but means we need to use more land to store it whilst it breaks down. And it then releases gases such as methane into the atmosphere.

So for environmental reasons; not that and the prospect of producing our own compost and liquid fertiliser- which will be one less thing to buy, and cost for producing our own produce. As well as the plastic saved buy not buying/transporting etc. just makes sense!

That and for us we would have the added benefit to us of having our own supply of composting worms as/ when we need to ‘top up’ our bio-tank system and they would make a tasty treat for the chickens too.

 

For more information on composting or what you could do there are a wealth of sites and information available such as www.reducelandfill.org

 

So given on this occasion I planned to purchase a worm farm system (as opposed to building our own) I was ecstatic to find one on Gumtree (www.gumtree.com.au) preloved and in good condition. (This is also how I bought my compost bin)

And it is a very simple system www.tumbleweed.com.au available world wide. That we can expand at a later date.

So this time we started small, purchasing 1200 worms from the local hardware store. As opposed to my 1kilo from last time (this may have also been a factor… too many worms!) So I began by settling them in.

 

Beginning by shredding the cardboard packaging from the worms and placing it in the first tray.

Followed by shredded newspaper.















This I covered with the suggested 2 litres of water til the paper and cardboard were damp

Then adding the worms

And topping with some compost as I didn’t have the suggested coir brick usually supplied with this system.














Then some chopped veggie scrap.


(Yes I actually cut up the least favourable looking carrot in my fridge, along with a celery end and the outer leaves of a couple of lettuce, just to feed them!)
 








An topped with the proper matt... And to date they are going well!
 
For the moment (as its winter and ‘cold’) these guys will remain in the shed as ideal temperatures are 15-25°c. Once the cooler months are over I will move them outside, though I may need to consider a shady spot that doesn’t get too hot. This would probably be more appropriate for them come summer too. As the shed become very hot during the day.






I will also finally get to test my soil and moisture tester that I bought last year for the initial worm purchase… so I will keep you updated on their progress  and how their ‘produce’ goes too. I’ll have o check how long I have to wait for worm tea (liquid fertiliser), as I have a batch of seeds propagating that I would love to utilise it when it comes to planting them out.




*Worm tea is actually their excrement (yes poop) and can be quite concentrated, so it should be diluted with water to the colour of ‘weak tea’.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Winter already?!


Can you believe we are officially in winter already?
 




I guess firstly I should apologise for our absence, but we have been away for a few weeks. Enjoying a short trip back to Wales, to celebrate (as promised) my grandparent’s 60th wedding anniversary.

So as wonderful as it was to see our friends and family (sorry to those we didn’t manage to catch up with), even managing to pick up a few more souvenirs we home and getting back into the swing of things.

Now you may wonder what did we do with our place? (farm, smallholding… whatever you want to call it) Well we were very fortunate to know a couple who are ‘farm sitters’ who generally mind properties far larger than ours. So our place couldn’t have been in better hands! Thank you so much Dick & Lynne it was a real relief not to have to worry about our animals or furry babies.


On that subject, Matt & I are expecting another new arrival, only this one (shouldn’t) won’t have trotters, hooves, fur, or even feathers. As we are (or I am) now 27 weeks pregnant with our first child. We're expecting a girl in early Septemeber (and no pink please!). So I guess for many their thoughts would be on decorating the nursery or winding down. At the moment we are trying to fit as much in as possible as we have a few things on the ‘to do list’, due to being away. As well as a few more before I find things too difficult or tiring. I aim to continue as much as possible, but I am holding no expectations.

 

So this weekend being a long weekend I had hoped it would be the ideal time to ‘catch up’ a little. We made a productive start separating the pig pen. This is to allow part of their pen to recover, producing their own fodder. Then we’ll rotate the divided area to another section… and so on.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
To do this we just star pickets and electric fencing as our pigs respond well to this fencing method (although it is important to check your fencing regularly- as pigs are intelligent and will realise if it is not functioning properly).

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
It is also worth noting that their natural vandalistic nature you may have to watch whilst installing your fencing. I’m afraid there are not too many pictures during our installation as I spent most of it chasing the pigs away from the area to stop them breaking or eating the caps/ connectors!

Another job started over the weekend, but the unseasonal rain put a dampener on me getting any further (at this stage) to clear the veg patch ready for some new seedlings. That I did pot on Saturday too.

It still seems strange sewing seeds or planting in winter. But in the tropics its actually (usually) a great time to plant- as the wethers cooler, but sunny days. I guess its not as if we have to worry about frost. But I was surprised to find I didn’t have any tomato or zucchini seeds. So I’ll have to source some or perhaps a few seedlings to get a jump start.





I also used a few bio-pots with peat starter; I was given these by a friend some time ago, but haven’t used them yet. These can be transferred directly into the ground, hopefully reducing plant shock. So I’ll let you know how these go too.

 

So as the rest of the long weekend was rained off it was a weekend for indoors. But I have blogged about these separately, as this post is starting to get on a little.  

 

-Lime Cordial

-Marmalade & Jam

-Wormfarming