Last week’s wind really dried the landscape. It was as if the strong winds blowing in from the centre of this hot continent stole every drop of moisture from the soil surface on the farm and then just took all of that moisture somewhere else. On the other hand that lack of moisture made the construction of the new chicken house and enclosure a bit easier than it otherwise would have been during the depths of winter.
The chicken house and run project – let’s call it “chooktopia” – has received several days of work this week. The chooktopia structure is quite complex because the entire structure is actually two very different sheds under the same roof line. And as if that wasn’t hard enough, I’m trying to foil the activities of the very naughty and intelligent rats, which currently enjoy free access to the existing chicken house and enclosure. Every night those rats are thumbing their twitchy little noses at me and making off with the chicken feed. It is mildly irritating to be outsmarted by a rat, but then I guess that is what is meant when people speak of “rat cunning”.
Anyway I must confess that way back in very early 2011, and despite having read many books on keeping chickens, I had absolutely no idea about either chickens or rats. Four years on, I’ve wised up on the subject of keeping chickens and also keeping rats. The new chooktopia project incorporates everything I’ve learned about both of those species since the innocent, heady, early days.
The basic galvanised steel frame of chooktopia was constructed this week. It is very exciting to see all of the steel posts in the ground and the whole steel frame tied together. I thought that it might be useful to look at how I actually construct these structures. If anyone has any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Firstly, some people may wonder why I have even chosen to use galvanised steel for the frame and cladding and that is a fair question. The simple answer to that question is that the rats will have quite a bit of trouble climbing up smooth vertical galvanised steel surfaces. Take that you rats! Rats can actually climb vertical timber surfaces with ease. Around here the rats live in burrows dug into the soil or alternatively in hollows high up on very large trees. The average family of rats in the forest here will displace sugar gliders, bats and birds. On the other hand, the rats don’t get an entirely easy time of it as they are easy prey for birds, foxes, cats or dogs.
Also, the average rat can chew holes into timber and scratch away at any weak edge on a concrete slab. It is a fair thing to say that easy access to chicken feed and scraps is on the average rat’s mind 24/7/365 (take that Kanye!). However, I am yet to see a rat that can chew its way through steel, so the main construction material for chooktopia is steel.
The design for Chooktopia incorporates 12 galvanised steel posts and this week was spent installing the remainder of those steel posts. The steel posts are set in structural grade cement in holes which vary from between 600mm (2 foot) to 900mm (3 foot) deep. The deeper holes are on the downhill side of the chooktopia project.
As a side note, the editor determines the location of the holes via a combination of string lines and tape measures – I do the digging! My understanding on such matters is that to ensure that the structure is an exact rectangle; the editor divides the design of the building into two opposing triangles and simply ensures that the longest diagonal side of each opposing triangle has the same measurement.
|A hole for one of the steel posts is about to be dug|
The commencement of the process for digging a hole can be seen in the photo above. The site of the hole has been selected by the editor and I then use a shovel to dig a square hole in the ground a few inches deep. The shovel in the photo above has the bright yellow handle and is sticking upright out of the soil. Before we proceed any further though, I have to ask the hard question: Why would anyone ever manufacture a decent shovel, and then give it a plastic handle? Seriously, the plastic handle (which I have a ready steel replacement handle for) is already showing signs of stress fractures…
The electric jack hammer (powered off the solar system) is then used to break up the very hard concrete like clay into small chunks. All of those small clay chunks are then removed by hand from the hole and a nice, neat and clean hole is left for the post to be cemented into.
|The electric jack hammer is used to break up the very hard clay in the hole|
If the clay is less concrete like, I have a one foot wide hand auger which digs a very neat hole and also lifts the clay out in the same digging process. The hand auger just does not work when the clay is as hard as concrete. Soil geek alert! On parts of the farm where compost or mulch has been added (even in small quantities) or a few years of chopping and dropping of the vegetation has taken place (via mowing), the soil is very easy to dig and plants grow in profusion.
|All 12 steel posts for the chooktopia project were installed this week|
By the end of the second day of work, all 12 steel posts were cemented into the ground. Observant readers will note the use of the string line and the very bright yellow post and pipe level which are both used in conjunction to obtain perfectly vertical and aligned posts. The two doors which were obtained from the nearby tip shop are yet to be installed into the chooktopia structure, but were on hand to ensure that they easily fit the cavities left for them.
During winter, because of the cold weather, the cement for the steel posts takes about a day to set. As a comparison, over summer that setting time for cement is about 2 hours. So, I had to wait until the following day to tie the entire structure together and set the roof height, using steel sections. The fancy descriptive for the steel sections is RHS which is an acronym for Rectangular Hollow Sections which is basically a rectangular steel tube.
|All of the steel posts have been tied together and the roof height set using steel RHS tubing|
In the photo you can see the chickens observing the new structure from afar under the shelter of a very massive tree. In the foreground is one of the many Tree Lucerne (Tagasaste) shrubs which make excellent chicken feed and are currently in flower. The Tagasaste seeds from the many trees here which were placed in the nursery garden bed have just recently sprouted from the soil. It is a smart tree that decides to get established here before the summer!
The recently built firewood shed wasn’t forgotten about as this week either as I installed internal and external 12V LED lights. It is nice to see what you are doing after the sun has set for the day! Was that lump a huntsman spider?
|The new firewood shed had an internal and external 12V LED light installed|
The winter solstice was last week, and over the past few weekly blogs I've been posting the solar PV statistics:
Battery % full at the start of the day - Amount generated by the 4.2kW of PV panels during that day
Tuesday 23rd June – 72% full – 5.2kWh
Wednesday 24th June – 77% full – 4.7kWh
Thursday 25th June – 82% full – 3.9kWh
Friday 26th June – 82% full – 5.3kWh
Saturday 27th June – 82% full – 2.5kWh
Sunday 28th June – 78% full – 3.0kWh
Monday 29th June – 83% full – 4.9kWh
How did the house get here?
April 2011 was like any normal April here. The weather was starting to turn cooler and the days were shorter in length. It is unwise to paint when temperatures are less than 10’C (50‘F) as the paint may not cure properly. Keeping in mind that winter was just around the corner, I painted and joined the entire outside of the house with three solid coats of paint before it got too cold. Most of the exterior surfaces were easy to reach so whilst it was a big job, it got done quickly.
|The exterior of the house was painted and joined|
Even more painting occurred that month as a very kind person that I work for donated some water proofing agent for the veranda deck and given there was still a bit of warm sun in the sky before winter set in, I painted that bright cyan product onto the veranda deck.
|Water proofing agent is painted onto the veranda deck over the thick fibre-cement sheeting|
A lovely neighbour donated hundreds of agapanthus plants which I used to line the driveways and access roads here. The ultra-reliable blue and white agapanthus flowers are plentiful every summer despite the scorching heat and are a favourite of the bees and honey eater birds.
|Donated agapanthus plants line the driveways and access roads here|
The earthmoving dude also extended the swale which collects any overflow of rainfall from the house water system and I started mulching and planting out the swale earthen embankment.
|The swale was extended and the earthen embankment was mulched and planting began|
|Two new solar PV panels were put on the roof|
Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about this next bit. Having read many books on keeping chickens, I was something of a purist and so happened to purchase a rooster thinking that this would make for a happy chicken experience. Anyway, after a bit of observation time, I named the rooster “Brian” after the brother of Jeff Lindsay’s gripping book (and television) character Dexter. Brian, like his namesake had to go, as he was a vicious rooster who killed a couple of the smaller hens and had the absolute temerity to attack even me. I was outraged by his behaviour and dealt with it by waking up early one night and sorting him out with a very heavy Gurkha knife. After that, peace and tranquility descended quickly into the chicken collective - I certainly felt better and Rumpole became the new boss chicken / benevolent dictator.
|Brian the recidivist rooster|
The temperature outside here at about 9.30pm is 5.0’C degrees Celsius (41’F). So far this year there has been 376.6mm (14.8 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total of 371.6mm (14.6 inches).