In keeping with the recent Star Trek references on the blog I thought that I’d introduce readers to the Antarctic Anomaly which is hovering over the South Eastern corner of this continent! In Star Trek speak, an anomaly is anything that is unusual or can’t be explained and that story trick is quite often rolled out to wind up an otherwise complex storyline that would be too difficult to finish in under an hour. Everyone has heard of the story finishing with the ending: “And then I woke up”. It’s a bit of a lame ending and everyone knows it.
Anyway, an Antarctic anomaly is sort of like that because the Bureau of Meteorology promised an “Antarctic Vortex” with snowfall down to elevations of 600m (1,968 feet). Storms damage homes in NSW as heaters cause fires in Melbourne . The weather here has certainly been windy, cold and damp. However, to me the conditions haven’t felt extreme and it was much colder a few weeks ago, though perhaps not as wet. Other parts of the continent have felt the winter bite much harder than here though and there have been reports of snowfall up in the mountains of southern Queensland and northern New South Wales which are normally very sub-tropical environments. Here, the vortex has simply has driven me indoors.
One of the interesting things about living on a farm is that there are a lot of outside activities to do. The weather therefore dictates through every season just how much outside activities can be performed. By necessity I keep a very close eye on the weather. This week I managed to put in one single full work day on the new chicken enclosure before the Antarctic Vortex hit the farm. The rain began on that evening too just as the sun dropped behind the horizon and I hadn’t yet put either the chickens or the tools away. Needless to say both: the tools; the chickens; and I all ended up a little bit wet.
|The construction on the new chicken enclosure continued this week|
A few days earlier during this week, I’d spent a day at a business where everyone was sniffling and sneezing. That sort of thing doesn’t bother me, but then the next day I started sniffling and not feeling very well either. I could not deny that the future weather was going to dump some serious rain with that Antarctic Vortex, so I just “manned up” and despite my sniffles, I got to work with the construction before the wild weather hit.
The new chicken enclosure has now had the steel roof battens installed. A roof batten is a fancy name for the horizontal bit of steel which the roof sheets are anchored too and there are three of them on each side of the roof. Roof battens in this instance also perform the useful function of keeping the roof trusses (the A frame bits of steel roof) upright and braced. The black internal door to the chicken shed was hung that day too. And I even had time – between all of the whining about being sick (spare a thought for the long suffering editor) – to install some of the chicken shed steel sheeting. I felt pretty good about the work done and day’s hard work did much to relieve the suffering from my sniffles.
No further outside work was possible after the rain hit. However, given that there is already an existing chicken run and enclosure I thought that it might be useful to share some of the things that aren’t working with the current structure and what I'm doing about it with the new chicken project. It highlights many of the things that I have learned over the past four years about chickens, their sheds and their enclosures.
|The current chicken shed and enclosure|
The above photo shows the current chicken shed and enclosure and I’ve labelled a few points of interest with the letters A to E which I’ll now discuss individually:
A – The roof of the chicken enclosure / run is uphill of the chicken shed. Because of the angle required for the roof, it collects every single stick or leaf that has ever fallen onto it. Roofs should generally be designed to shed those materials onto the ground. The welded steel mesh that forms the roof also traps leaves and sticks in the mesh (and plenty of them can be seen in the photo). A solid steel sheet roof that is angled downhill will assist with shedding that organic material off the new chicken enclosure roof. It will also help to keep the new enclosure dry during winter and shaded during summer.
B – Observant readers will have already noticed the logs around the chicken enclosure. Those logs were put in place to stop the incessant digging by predatory animals to get into the chicken enclosure for an easy feed. On the internal side of the chicken enclosure the chickens were also thoughtlessly scratching away at the buried steel wire which was protecting them from foxes, dogs and cats. The new enclosure includes buried sheet metal encased in concrete which should eliminate that problem.
C – Poopy the Pomeranian showed me very early on that he could easily chew through heavy duty chicken wire – given enough time – so the current chicken enclosure has a double layer of that heavy duty wire and this seems to have resolved that issue. However often the dogs and the chickens give each other stink eye through the heavy duty chicken wire. Each of the different species wants to eat the other (seriously!). To add a further complexity, the rats can use the chicken wire as a ladder into the chicken shed and enclosure. The simplest way to resolve those problems is to have a skirt of solid steel sheet buried into the concrete surrounding the new enclosure.
D – A few years back I had to modify the roof of the chicken enclosure because the local parrots discovered that with a bit of effort they could get into the chicken run through a small opening underneath the roof drain. Once the parrots were in the chicken enclosure they gorged themselves silly on top notch free range chicken feed. The unfortunate thing about that situation was that the local parrots were just not quite smart enough to get back out of the enclosure again! I added another layer of chicken wire over the roof drain to keep the parrots out. However, the rats now use that roof drain as a super highway in their travels and I can no longer clean the drain of their manure. You’ll also notice that the roof drain is on an angle of about 20' from vertical which means that it overflows during very heavy rain – as it did this week. On the new enclosure the drains are on the outside of the construction.
E – The steel wall sheets do not cover the gap between the top of those wall sheets and the steel roof sheets. The gap is not big enough for the local birds to get into or out of the chicken shed, but it is big enough for the rats to happily frolic about at night twitching their noses at me in sheer pleasure for the tower that I inadvertently built for them.
|Internal photo of the current chicken shed|
F – I used steel reinforcing bars for the high up perches for the “cool kids” of the chicken collective (The Borg anyone?). Chickens that are in the higher echelons of the pecking order like to sleep higher up at night than the lower order chickens. Steel makes a better perch for such chickens because leg mites live in timber perches and those can become a nuisance for birds and can eventually even make chickens lame if they are left untreated for too long. Treatment usually involves smearing the chickens legs with a petroleum jelly which is not a fun process for either me or the chicken! Getting back to the perches, the problem with the current setup is that the jump between the top of the laying boxes and the highest perch is just a little bit too high for the cool kids and sometimes – well quite often, really – they miss the perch and fly back to the ground. It is hard to look cool for a top order, head honcho chicken when that sort of thing is going on and the under chickens snigger as they see it happening! An intermediate perch will be installed (at a location where I am also not likely to accidentally walk into it which would also be very uncool) where the cool kids can jump their way to the giddy heights of chicken coolness!
G – The very uncool kids of the chicken collective sometimes end up perched at night on top of the lowly plastic feed bin. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem except that most days I have to open the feed bin and it is usually covered in chicken manure. The feed bin has to be stored under a hinged cover that the chickens can’t get onto and do their night-time business on.
|The chicken run after many days of rain|
I – The current chicken run has a very deep mulch which helps turn the chicken manure into soil. However after well over an inch of rain, the entire deep litter gets very soggy and can potentially turn anaerobic (which is a fancy name for an environment where the harmful bacteria that are happy to live in an oxygen-free environment thrive). Many years ago I installed a drain pipe to take away any excess water in the run at the lowest point. As you can see the white pipe has broken because the chickens scratch and dig around the pipe. Also the deep litter mulch tends to block up the pipe during a very heavy rainfall and sometimes the pipe can disappear entirely underneath a small mountain of soggy mulch. A solid roof keeping the worst of the rain off the deep litter as well as a concrete pit for the drain should rectify those issues.
There is plenty that does work well with the current chicken shed and enclosure and the ladies are far better off in there than in an industrial chicken farm. However, the new chicken shed project aims to resolve a lot of the current problems and make life just that much better for the ladies.
Back to the Antarctic Vortex though and the weather this week certainly dumped a whole lot of rain on the farm. A good storm tests all of the water systems and I noted that by the afternoon of Sunday, despite the lack of snow, the swales had started to fill up. A well-established Ficus tree and a much newer golden willow behind it were enjoying the wet conditions of the swale.
|The lower swale began to fill up on Sunday afternoon|
The rain provides an excellent opportunity for inside activities and one my favourites is home brew. I’ve been working towards being able to age my country wines for at least a year before consumption and have run into a bit of a problem. Already the farm has been hit with the awful problem of Peak Rocks and also Peak Jam Jars (bottles). But now, brace yourselves for the worst situation of all – Peak Wine Bottles. Seriously this is true, as the local waste transfer station has stopped anyone from recovering any materials at all - and they have thousands of the things. The much further away tip disposes of glass bottles into a huge dumpster where the bottles mostly smash anyway and I assume that the glass is shipped to China for reprocessing. So now, I’m having to go and purchase a product that people otherwise throw out every week (crazy days indeed!). Go figure!
|Toothy keeps a close guard on the mead, ginger, quince and rhubarb wines whilst a loaf of bread cooks in the oven|
In order to achieve that goal of ageing all of the home brew wines for at least a year, I’ve had to double the amount of steel racking which I use to store all of the wines, chutneys and jams. This is serious business! The very heavy duty black plastic storage bins were a freebie gift from the local daffodil farm and they are almost indestructible and help spread the weight load across the shelf.
|The storage racking for wines, chutneys and jams has recently been doubled|
In breaking dog food news, I’m still in the early experimental days of dog food production. It now takes about two hours of work per week to produce a week’s supply of 100 x dog biscuits and all of their breakfast mix. Every time the biscuits are in the oven I keep thinking that because they smell so good, they’d be better served as a savoury side order to a seafood chowder than to give to the dogs.
|The dogs breakfast mix and biscuits wait to be cooked in the wood oven|
Battery % full at the start of the day - Amount generated by the 4.2kW of PV panels during that day
Tuesday 7th July – 80% full – 2.4kWh
Wednesday 8th July – 78% full – 5.7kWh
Thursday 9th July – 85% full – 3.3kWh
Friday 10th July – 89% full – 4.7kWh
Saturday 11th July – 88% full – 2.2kWh
Sunday 12th July – 83% full – 0.9kWh
Monday 13th July –73% full – 2.1kWh
The temperature outside here at about 8.30pm is 4.1’C degrees Celsius (39.4’F). So far this year there has been 422.2mm (16.6 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week's total of 382.4mm (15.0 inches).
I've run completely over time again gas bagging about the chickens because it was a story that is important to share and now we have no time for the continuing adventures with the house construction. We'll continue next week with that house construction thread! Till then...