Wednesday, March 12, 2014

All aboard!

Over the years we have tried all sorts of ways of keeping our chooks (fowls for the non-aussies) in a healthy manner.  Our first attempt at a moveable pen was ok, but it was too heavy to move easily, so it didn't get moved enough, and the timber A-frame house was dark and dingy and hard to clean so pests built up.  We built a great little moveable 'chook tractor' which I still use (mostly for mother hens with young chickens), which we built of corflute and protect the occupants with a couple of electric wires.  Its down side is that it can only fit 3-4 full size hens...

Our next attempt was a great big run probably about 1/8 acre with a 'raw' strawbale house.  The house solved a few problems - it was roomy and well insulated but rats also found it comfortable and since it was close to my vegetable garden it has caused me alot of grief with rats eating all my garden....  The yard was supposed to be divided into 4 sections so we could rotate the chooks, but it never quite got finished... Then the crows found the house and well that was the end of the eggs!

Well, it probably sounds like this is going to be another doom and gloom post about things going wrong, but its not (fingers crossed)!  We think we may have now found the ideal way to keep a decent size flock that doesn't harm the soil and keeps the chooks healthy and safe.

The chookshaw!

Just because its practical, doesn't mean it can't be pretty!

We have called it the 'chookshaw' because its essentially just like a rickshaw those Asian people powered vehicles.  The chookshaw is the 'nighthouse' where the hens hop in to sleep and lay their eggs.  During the day they come out into an electric netting enclosure that we move about the paddocks every two or so days (right now we have very little grass after a hot dry summer).  We hope that this method will achieve two goals, giving our chooks a great life (and thus making their eggs great food - nutrient dense - to use the current buzz word) and also as a way of fertilizing our pasture.

Letting out the flock onto new pasture
Anyway, probably the main drawback (and perhaps its not a drawback as such) is that it HAS to be moved every two days.  Rain, hail or shine.  To leave them too long in one place means the paddocks will turn to desert and we just can't afford to do that.  I suppose its good in that it forces us to do it, even if we don't feel like it where as all other systems tend to allow you to be lazy and 'do it tomorrow', now that is not an option.  This is not a new idea (or anything we have come up with) many small farmers are keeping their chooks this way, in fact there is a great book that covers the ins and outs of this and other great chook related stuff, you can read about it here.

The electric net, the horizontal wires are 'live' and serve to protect the flock from foxy.
If you search the internet for electric netting and poultry you will find loads of info and there are sellers of electric netting in Australia too, although our selection is limited compared to what people have access to in the US (I got the 'starternet' by Kencove from Allsun, and we are happy with the quality of the net, although I've never seen the Premier net that everyone raves about).  I want to experiment with using the net for other animals in the future - goats and sheep maybe?  At least kids (goat, that is!) or even calves, who knows?

Flockster in the making?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Goodbye 2013 and hello 2014

I'd like to say that 2013 had been a great year for us, but while not we didn't suffer from terrible events and we are alive and well, its hard to say that our little farm had a great year.  I don't like to complain, everyday I remind myself how lucky we are, we are doing something we love and we live in a beautiful place and quite frankly there are people out there who are doing it really tough, so in the grand scheme of things we can't complain.

However, 2013 just wasn't our year...  We had a terrible summer, so hot and dry, broke many records etc etc.  It caused our goats to dry themselves off.  That in itself wasn't the end of the world as such, as we could have done more to prevent it, but you get comfortable in your situation, and you just assume its all going to keep on going as it was.  Hmmm....  So we contemplated our farm goals, what we wanted to do and we decided that we would buy a Jersey cow close to calving so we would be without milk for only a little while....  I have posted pictures of Buttercup the cow and I was looking forward to posting photos of her little calf, but it seems we were cheated and our cow wasn't in calf.  Which was very disappointing, not to mention a costly mistake.

So we decided we still had time to get the goats in-kid, but due to two diseases CAE and JD we needed bloodtests and the breeding season was nearly over by then, so I bought a buck, Chip.  He is lovely and I'm happy with him.

Chip - he is 3/4 Toggenburg (from really good bloodlines).
But then of all the things that could go wrong and all the assumptions I could make, I just wasn't prepared to lose my beautiful Dorka goat.  Our first doe, the one that changed our world, helped us to provide more of our needs than almost any other animal on our farm, the inspiration for the blog (there is a pic of her on the 'about this blog' tab).  She died, and I miss her so much.  Its been two months since she died, and the farm is empty without her, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of her.  I think of all the animals here, Dorka for me symbolised all that we were working towards, our journey to self sufficiency.

Dorka the day we brought her home 4 years ago.  She wasn't friendly when we got her, but she settled into her routine (a little too much you could say) and we know she had a good life here.
And so there you go, we could rename 2013 as the year of no milk.  Hopefully 2014 will be the year of lots of milk as it just doesn't feel good having to buy it all the time.  There was a real sense of achievement in milking the goats everyday, and I really miss it.

I will also apologize for not updating this blog as much as I should.  Looking after a farm and a family is a pretty time consuming thing, and combined with our painfully slow internet connection (hence I haven't been posting many photos), it just doesn't seem to happen as much as I'd like to.  I like to think that I may do better this year, but who knows!!!

So best of luck for 2014, hope that whatever life throws at you, you can still make the most of it all and remain positive and keep trying for the future.  That's all we can do really.