A Friend Indeed

Rusty and Mr. Chubbles, a friendship is borne

Rusty and Mr. Chubbles, a friendship is born

Rusty and his portable chair

Rusty and his portable chair

Man’s best friend might be dog, but who is dog’s best friend? Okay, my dog, Rusty, adores me more than any other living thing, but that’s not the same thing as being a friend. A dog needs someone he can play with when he’s bored, someone he can sit on when the floor’s cold, someone he can eviscerate when the mood strikes. For Rusty, this true friend is Mr. Chubbles.

Mr. Chubbles has the upper hand in the wrestling match

Mr. Chubbles has the upper hand in the wrestling match

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Oh oh, I sense some stuffing redistribution coming soon

Mr. Chubbles after having lots of fun with Rusty

Mr. Chubbles after having lots of fun with Rusty

Mr. Chubbles

Mr. Chubbles after surgery

This friendship of Rusty’s has taxed my sewing skills. I suppose it’s my own fault for donating an old stuffed toy to Rusty’s initial cache of loot. Mr. Chubbles was designed for children, not rambunctious dogs. He lasted, in tact, a surprisingly long time – a couple of weeks anyway. Then the first tear. I didn’t despair, I broke out my needle. Again and again and again. Over time the plastic surgery has taken its toll.

Elephant, another great friend

Elephant, another great friend

Elephant after surgery

Elephant after surgery

Chubbles (I’m not sure when the “Mr.” title appeared) used to have a face, 2 arms and a full torso. But being Rusty’s friend is a hard job. Elephant, who used to have a head, a trunk, tusks, a tail and 4 legs of approximately the same length, can attest to that.

I’m sure they love Rusty as much as I do – what’s not to love?

Friendship? Or is it love?

Friendship? Or is it love?

Posted in dog | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Impromptu Hamper

I invited myself over to friends’ on Saturday. I was going to be in that part of town and I wanted to see them and they were polite enough to accept my reverse-invitation – they even seemed to think it was okay to arrive just before lunch time. They are good friends and good people.

Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch. They asked if I would pleeeeeeease bring them some honey as they had stooped to buying commercial stuff. (If you aren’t sure why that would be a problem, check out my post on honey. Plus my raw honey just tastes better.)

I figured if they were out of honey, they definitely were out of pecans so I bagged up some of those.

Then I remembered they like marmalade which is good because a) I just made a batch of lemon/orange marmalade based on my kumquat marmalade recipe and b) I’m not a huge fan of marmalade so I really really like giving it away. I know it sounds dumb to make the stuff if I’m not a fan but some very generous people gave me a bag full of lemons off their tree – only so many can be made into lemonade – and my orange tree is dropping oranges. Waste not, want not.

Finally, since I was arriving at meal time I figured I should come with food – well, more food. I baked a carrot cake using this recipe substituting my homemade pecan meal for the almond meal and throwing in a handful of pecan nuts just because they taste good. My hen’s eggs, my bees’ honey, my trees’ pecans and carrots from the shops (not doing much in the way of veggie growing at this point in my “farming career”) makes a very healthy and incredibly cheap afternoon tea.

How to transport all these goodies? A basket works a treat and doesn’t it look great? Just like a gift hamper. I thought about running around trying to collect things to make it look even better but then it dawned on me I wasn’t making a gift, just visiting friends. This was definitely going to definitely do.

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Posted in Recipe | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Nightmare Scenario!

Rusty and the chooks - waaaayyy too much interest

Rusty and the chooks – waaaayyy too much interest

I have chickens and I have a dog. That combination was tried and failed miserably in the past. We put a lot of effort into finding a dog that would make the combination more successful. Rusty had zero interest in poultry when he was a pup. Then he grew up and bird chasing became a great hobby. The cockatoos on the farm see him running and take flight (well, there was one old, sick bird that didn’t take flight, but I saved him by shouting at Rusty who actually dropped the poor thing).

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Rusty, so innocent in appearance

I struggle with and try to stay on top of Rusty’s interest in my chooks – not that I’ve had huge success. He no longer jumps on the chicken wire surrounding the run when I’m inside with the chooks, but he watches them too keenly for my taste. And if anything “exciting” happens in the chook run which causes flapping and squawking, and general chicken frenzy, well, then all bets are off.

That’s one half of the nightmare scenario.

Molly - a month before the incident

Holly – a month before the incident

My chickens are not really pets. All 6 of them were adopted when they were well beyond chick stage (3 were 2 years old, 3 were 3 years old when we got them). They are sweet things but not keen on being held and avoid contact. Except when I open the run and they’re expecting goodies. Then they cluster at the gate. Holly, being more foolhardy than the others, even tries to peck a few blades of grass outside the run when the gate’s open. Sometimes she tries to make a break for it but I scoot her with my foot. You’d think she’d have learned because she escaped on day one using this sneak-out-the-gate method, only to be captured and carried by Rusty. But I think she’s forgotten.

That’s the 2nd half of the nightmare scenario.

Rusty = match, Holly = fuse. An explosion waiting to happen – and it did.

Holly was a bit faster and more persistent than normal Sunday morning and out she darted. Rusty, on my heels, grabbed her and took off. I shouted, he ran faster. He paused and loosened his hold on Holly (because I yelled “leave it”, to adjust his booty or to catch his breath?). She flapped (bad mistake). Rusty grabbed again and ran again and I kept yelling and chasing. 99% of the way around the run, just outside the gate, he paused again (again, why?). I got him to release Holly (it’s all a blur) and held his neck to the ground scolding. Holly waddled away. I started to drag Rusty to his run (he wouldn’t walk – I think he knew I was unhappy; I wouldn’t let go of the scruff of his neck – he was right, I was unhappy). My plan was to lock him up and then try to capture Holly. She waddled into Rusty’s run (I’m serious, this chook has a death wish). I went into the run telling Rusty to sit and stay (yeah right).

The battle field

The battle field

Rusty lunged at the fence of his run, Holly fluttered, Rusty lunged some more. Somehow I caught the bird and she settled right down (surrender or did she sense a rescue?). She seemed okay. There was a drop of blood on the top of her head and she was ruffled but otherwise I didn’t see any problem. I didn’t want to investigate too much figuring emotional trauma was the biggest concern. I’ve heard chickens die of fright quite easily.

All through this drama, Lenny was screaming at the top of his lungs in the chook run. He didn’t like his girlfriend being eaten (rather gentlemanly of him if you ask me). I plopped Holly back in the run and she waddled to the corner with Lenny clucking behind her. She sat and contemplated. He stood guard.

I fed the chickens and gave them fresh water (Holly loves fresh water – I overflow the containers so she can dig in the mud – she didn’t). She sat and contemplated some more. Lenny stood guard some more.

Ruffled and missing 1 drop of blood

Ruffled and missing 1 drop of blood

Feeling safe

Feeling safe

About 30 minutes later I went down to see how Holly was doing. When Lenny saw Rusty in the distance, he raised the alarm. I made Rusty sit and stay – this time he did (he was far enough away to be able to control his enthusiasm). Holly had moved about a foot from her corner. She waddled into the nest box when I got too close.

She looked okay. Ruffled and stressed no doubt, but she always looks ruffled (she really needs to get her new feathers) though stress is not her MO. I think she even laid an egg a few hours after the attack (I guess it was well progressed), but skipped Monday. On Monday morning (yesterday) she was subdued but, by the end of the day, she was back to chasing Molly away from the warm mash I’m making them every day (Molly is sick and it gets cold at night). I’m making Rusty sit and stay well away from the run every time I go down to the chook run and he obeys. Everything is pretty calm just 48 hours after the incident. So I guess that means it’s closed.

As to what comes next, I guess Ever Vigilant will be my motto. And to think my dream was that my dog, who had no interest in poultry, could wander the farm with my free ranging chickens protecting them from the foxes. No free ranging for my birds 😦

 

 

Posted in Chickens, dog | Tagged , | 21 Comments

Backyard Beekeeping vs Professional Beekeeping

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Amateur and professional beekeepers working side-by-side

A couple years ago, my husband and I became backyard beekeepers. Frank’s father had been a hobby/semi-professional beekeeper yonks ago so Frank had some idea what he was getting into, though that was a different hemisphere and a different generation. I really didn’t know anything about beekeeping before we started but I’m the sort that likes jumping into the deep end.

The way we learned was to join a local amateur beekeeping club, read every book on beekeeping the local library stocked (literally) and I spent hours online perusing websites and blogs. Most of this happened after we brought the bees home but we did get a critical introduction from the local club’s apiarist on one of their open days.

Absolutely every one I talked to, every thing I read and every reference I uncovered was aimed at backyard beekeeping (I assume professional beekeepers are too busy to blog!). Generally people with 1-6 hives, almost always people who weren’t overly fussed if they harvested any honey at all, typically people with jobs and lives well away from horticulture/agriculture/farming/animal husbandry.

Then I landed this caretaker gig at the farm owned by the Wheen Bee Foundation and was introduced to professional apiarists. These guys have made a career out of bees in the government or commercially. They keep hives which number in the hundreds (or thousands) and are active in the professional bee community. I was keen (continue to be keen) to learn from these experts. I’ve still got a long row to hoe, but I have found some differences that I figured I’d share.

The differences really fall into 2 categories: attitude and method. I’ll discuss them separately below.

The attitude of a professional beekeeper is much more zen about the life of a bee, even a colony of them. A bit of disease, a few squished bees, a pile of dead bees – well that’s just to be expected and something good colonies can overcome. The seasoned profi takes it in his stride and makes a snap decision about whether intervention is necessary for the good of the apiary or whether to leave the hive to its own devices. If hives die, as long as there’s not disease risking the apiary, they can be replaced with splits in spring. Thankfully I haven’t met anyone as ruthless as the guy in the film More than Honey who sees bees strictly as a dollar figure, but the professionals I’ve me also don’t get too emotional about insects.

A backyard beekeeper tends to fret about little things, strives to keep every single bee happy and healthy and worries about the comfort of their bees (Is it too hot today? Maybe I should move a water source a little closer. Will they stay nice and toasty if I put a bit of linoleum on top of the hive?) The end result is a lot of questions, bees being inspected too often, more time spent in contemplation with the hive open (and therefore vulnerable) and more stress for the beekeeper and quite possibly the bees as well.

I don’t know that I’ll ever get as casual about my hives as a professional, but I’m trying to get better at not worrying quite so much about things that aren’t perfect in a colony.

Then there’s the method employed by a professional beekeeper. I guess it can be summed up in a single word: efficiency. The old-hands I’ve worked with here are into a hive, slinging boxes, lifting frames, shaking bees and then onto the next hive before I have my camera out of its case. A full inspection of 23 hives including checking the brood frames, installing queen excluders, fitting and/or cleaning beetle traps, and moving frames and boxes between hives to help out a few weaker hives takes about 2 hours. I think Frank and I could accomplish the same feat in about 2 days on our own. Some of that speed comes from practice and experience which also breeds confidence, but a lot of it comes from attitude (see above) as well.

Into the brood, supers on lid

Into the brood, supers on lid, right side up

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Lid still on super, tipped on its side

As amateur beekeepers, we are very methodical, opening first the lid which we turn upside down next to the hive to hold the top super. The second super is moved onto the top super and so on until we get down as far into the hive as we want to go. We do this no matter why we’re entering a hive.

The profi’s I’ve met tend to set the supers, full of honey-laden frames, on their side. I was taught that you shouldn’t change the orientation of the boxes – bees don’t like it and nectar could drip and drown bees. I’ve raised this concern with two experts and they just grin. They do it this way because it’s faster (good for bees and beekeeper) and easier on their back (which can be critical if you’re lifting hundreds of boxes in a day). It also apparently helps when honey-harvesting, the bees escape quickly from boxes standing on their side and, those that don’t, can be blown out (using a normal leaf blower).

Hanging oil traps

Hanging oil traps

There is one problem with this upending of boxes now that we have small hive beetles in Sydney. If you use the hanging oil trap that fits between frames, it will spill and kill a lot of bees which may be why I haven’t met a professional beekeeper who uses this kind of trap.

The most obvious difference in the way an amateur behaves around a bee hive compared to the way someone who makes his living off of bees behaves is that the profi is more targeted whenever opening a hive. He only goes into hives when he needs to and then doesn’t delay things by looking around out of curiosity. As near as I can tell there are for 4 reasons a profi will open a hive: to harvest honey, to check the health of a hive, to manipulate hives (split, merge or redistribute frames to strengthen weak hives) or to requeen. Harvesting honey is easy – off come the supers (judged to be ready for harvest more by heft of the hive than by frame inspection) and the brood is left alone.

Queen spotted on the brood

Queen spotted on the brood

For the other activities, it’s all about the brood. In these cases he pops the top super off with the lid still attached, sets it on its side and goes into the next box. If there are 2 supers he can tip them both over together (I’ve been told by one he does this though never seen it in action – the supers are too heavy and he says you need a log or something to tip the hive over). Since he’s only interested in the brood (where you’ll find any disease or health issues and, obviously, the queen) and how the bees behave around the brood he doesn’t worry about the honey supers. Nor does he try to see the queen (unless it’s time for requeening) he just needs to find evidence of her laying.

 

Brood inspection

Brood inspection

The profi can even judge which box holds the brood by weight. Normally it’s the bottom box (if you use queen excluders, this is pretty much guaranteed) but, if you don’t have an excluder in place, the queen can move up a box or 2, especially if it’s winter and she’s seeking warmth. Once he’s in the brood nest, he starts pulling out frames. In a nano-second he identifies if the brood is healthy, then he either sets the frame aside to go into another box (when moving or consolidating the brood) or slips it back into the box where he wants it. Frames being moved out of the brood box get a good shake to make sure the queen didn’t get shifted where she wasn’t wanted. I once saw a beekeeper pick the queen off a frame and drop her in the top of the brood box faster than I could even spot her. Something I’d never try for fear of damaging that most valuable of bees.

I have to admit that the professionals seem rougher with the bees than I’ve been taught as a backyard beekeeper but, because they’re so much faster, I think the bees are probably less traumatised and have less time to get angry. Profis may even squash less in their quick, decisive moves than we manage with our careful sliding and jiggling of things into place (though I’m not convinced on this point).

Maybe there’s a third category of difference beyond attitude and method – it’s just plain old knowledge. Watching a professional beekeeper “inspect” an apiary is a thing of wonder. He walks in and can determine by sound and movement where he needs to look further. A moment spent squatting in front of a worrying hive before bending over behind the hive to lift the back to see how heavy it is enough to tell a profi what the problem most likely is. It’s almost a 6th sense.

I can’t close this post without pointing out a the most amusing difference between the way the profis I’ve met on this farm (maybe not all professional beekeepers) and I (maybe not all backyard beekeepers) work: protective gear. I suit up with hood, gloves, boots, overalls and prayers. They go out with no gloves, sometimes short sleeves and shorts, and generally no head gear at all (though they are maniacs with the smoker). In the photos above, one of the beekeepers did put on a hat with a net over it though on the 2nd hive the net came up and protected his hat, but not his face. I can confirm every profi I’ve worked with gets stung, but it just doesn’t bother them. Or at least, not as much as the gear would. I’ve met beekeepers that actually say they find short sleeves more comfortable. More comfortable even with many stingers in your arms!?!

Basically, amateurs talk a lot about bee stings and don’t like them, professionals just shrug it off and get on with things.

Here’s me in my quick-inspection suit. I skip the full jumpsuit if we aren’t going to be spending a lot of time in the hives. And I feel brave with this “minimal” beekeeper’s outfit!

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I’ve got a long way to go before I could be mistaken for a professional beekeeper, and if it requires me to be sleeveless during hive inspections, that’s one masquerade I’ll never pull off.

Posted in bees | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Dogs are Disgusting

I adore Rusty. He’s so loving and sweet and cute as a button.

He knows how to have a good time – he loves toys!

Tennis ball, T + 6 minutes

Tennis ball, T + 6 minutes

He’s bright enough to find the softest seat in the house.

Comfy chair

Comfy chair

He knows how to enjoy the simple things in life.

Delight

Delight

 

But (why is there ALWAYS a but?), he has rotten taste. I mean that literally. He likes the taste of rotten things.

A friend recently took her dog to a vet who sent her home with a couple of rabbit carcases and heads. She was game to feed her dog the carcass but the head was a bridge too far. She dropped the heads off at my place thinking Adler, my cat, might like them. Of course cats don’t eat dead bits left lying about, if they did, we wouldn’t have a feral cat problem in Australia because they’d be regularly poisoned (like those dumb foxes).

I don't think so!

I don’t think so!

Rusty had no such qualms. The first head was keenly received and sniffed and licked and inspected and carried around and vanished. Yes, he vanished it. The second head was “vanished” much more quickly. I was sure they were both eaten and that would be the end of those furry and, quite frankly, scary looking heads.

Ha. Six days (that’s right, 6) later, I saw Rusty digging something up in the back garden. It had ears!!!!!!! Shortly later it was again “vanished”. On the 7th day, ears appeared again out of no where. They are currently vanished where I honestly hope they stay.

I think I saw a bunny rabbit

I think I saw a bunny rabbit

Of course, he wanted to come and give me a good lick after this great fun had ended. Yeek.

Before anyone feels obliged to tell me, I do know that dogs bury their meat for a good reason. A nice bit of bacteria grows on it that is good for the dogs digestion. But I can tell you, it isn’t good for the dogs adorability factor!

Posted in dog | Tagged | 7 Comments

Another One (Two Actually) Bites the Dust

Dead hive being enjoyed by robber bees

Dead hive being enjoyed by robber bees

A little over a month ago I posted about robbing bees. It turns out that a colony had died and so some of the cleverer bees from the other colonies took advantage of the gap (nature abhors a void) and started stealing the unprotected honey.

It’s happened again.

I’d be panicking that maybe something was seriously amiss in my little apiary but I luckily had a visitor on the farm who is an expert apiarist, he works for the government in this capacity. He brought his right-hand-gal with him. They were kind enough to come into the apiary (smoker and hive tool in hand) to see if anything untoward was going on. I had my list of things for him to check ready:

Problem 1) I’d tried to save a dying, queenless colony (C2) a couple of weeks earlier by providing some young brood, hoping they’d make a new queen. He opened the hive and said to give up. There was clearly evidence that they’d tried to make a new queen (partially removed queen cell), but there was no queen in residence. The colony will die, the bees are “disheartened” and there is no turning them around, at least not in the middle of winter. She agreed and my suggestion to merge the hive with another using newspaper to separate them was frowned upon. The bees are too disheartened to even eat through newspaper and the risk of the remote chance that they have some disease is not worth adding a few bees to a winter colony in dearth. As it is a mid-winter dearth they have little chance of begging admittance to another hive. They are doomed. (Oh 😦 )

Problem 2) A reasonably strong hive (C1) had been experiencing high deaths, I suspected another pesticide poisoning incident. He inspected the hive and said it is fine. I spotted the queen, she is a lovely, fat thing the colour of caramel. This queen was from April. The colony was also requeened in January but that queen had died/vanished by the April requeening. I think we now have a good queen and the hive will do well over the winter. My expert did say there is plenty of honey and pollen stores but no indication of new food being brought in so, with a laying queen and a dearth on, a colony can run out of stores even when it looks like there is plenty. I’ll have to watch that with all my hives. :-/

Swarm of feral bees?

swarm of feral bees?

Question (not problem) 3) The swarm from 16 May (C3) is looking great. I asked my expert about it. He agreed that’s waaayy too late for a swarm (everyone agrees that). He noticed the bees were darker than my others (something I’d also noticed) and we surmised they are feral bees who moved into our apiary. This is apparently pretty common. We have created a giant lure which is fine with me. The swarm landed on the back of one of our hives and was easy to collect. It was the 2nd swarm to do that this autumn. (The first one didn’t survive.) Maybe this feral bee habit will help make up for our losses. 🙂

IMG_5718-002Problem 4) There was one hive (B1) that looked funny for the first time during this inspection. Bees were working hard to get into the small ventilation holes at the back of the lid. We looked out front (see the photo at the top of this post) and there were a lot of bees there too. We suspected robbing so opened the lid. All those bees out front were robbers. The colony is gone. No sign of disease or pests. Another failed queen, this one from the April batch. 😦 😦

Stray bees

Stray bees

Once it was dark and cold, I returned alone to my diminishing apiary. At night the robbers had gone back into their own hives so there weren’t been many bees in the hive. I loaded the 3 boxes making up Hive B1 (no colony in residence) onto my specially designed bee-hive-trolley (I didn’t know such a thing existed before moving to the farm and finding it in the shed). I put the boxes, undisturbed, in the honey room and went to bed.  In the morning I discovered that a few bees had camped out in the dead hive and woke up in the honey room. Poor things couldn’t figure out how to get through the glass to go back home (no doubt with full tummies).

In the next couple of days, when the weather permits, I will distribute the frames of pollen and honey amongst the remaining hives. Waste not want not.

All of the original 23 hives were requeened this year, half in January and half in April. We’ve lost 3 colonies since then (including C2 which is in its final death throes). The expert tells me 4 dud queens (counting the one that was requeened twice) out of 24 is an acceptable rate. It could, in fact, have been higher but the colonies may have replaced any other failed queens that we installed in January without us noticing. This wasn’t really possible with the queens installed in April, that was too late in the year for them to replace a bad queen.

17% failure sounds like a pretty bad ratio to me but I’m trusting the expert. Anyone out there have any comments about what failure rate you might expect with requeening?

So, I’m about to have 21 hives in my apiary (B1 & C2 RIP). Still a lot, but each colony death saddens me a little. Yeah, I know, they’re just insects.

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Holes appearing in the apiary

Posted in bees, Nature | Tagged | 13 Comments

Off Topic

This blog is about my garden (farm) and animals (dog, cat, chickens and bees) with a bit of cooking thrown in. It’s not about my writing, I have a website for that here. I keep the two separate but this post is the exception that proves the rule.

My 2nd novel has just been published (I can hear the fans cheering out my window as I type this – just kidding) and is also available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. This isn’t something that happens very often and so is monumental enough (to me) to cause the blurring of lines between my blog and my website.

My book’s called Life’s Journeys and was published, as was my first novel, Starting over, by Wings ePress. Wings is a small, independent US publisher. I’m grateful to them for publishing a totally unknown and unpopular Aussie author. For creating a cover for me, for providing me a couple of editors and for placing my work out there for my dad to buy (he’s my number 1 fan) and maybe one or 2 other people. I’m disappointed that the only print copies come from the US which means those of us living outside of North America have to spend as much on postage as on the book (that includes me) but, in the age of eReaders, that hurdle is becoming less of a problem (hooray).

Here’s what the book looks like (ain’t it lovely?). I’ve put the blurb from the back cover in-between the pics so you can actually read it.

Life's Journey - WEB 1Lifes Journeys Back Cover.jpgAt 29, Sophie’s future is clear, she’ll rise through the ranks to take the reins of an international conglomerate determined that neither mortal man nor corporate games can thwart her.

Not, anyway, until an international merger diverts her climb down a cul-de-sac where one hurdle too many provokes her to fight back.

Galleys are a nuisance, cats rule!

Galleys are a nuisance, cats rule!

I wrote this book before I moved to the farm, before I got bees or chickens or dogs or cats. Which is a good thing because writing takes a lot of time and is best done when there are no distractions. For example, it’s necessary to approve the galleys of your book before your publisher can release your masterpiece. Here’s me snuggling down with a good book 😉 to hunt for typos. Honestly, could Adler make it any harder? My publisher was waiting but Adler wanted to snuggle. How could I push him off? Do you think Leo Tolstoy had a cat? No way, otherwise War and Peace would only be about 100 pages long!

Anyway, enough digressing from my digression. Time to get back to pulling weeds and pruning vines. Here ends my little celebration – I just wanted to share it with you.

Posted in cat, Writing | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

Soup for Seven

Volunteer pumpkin vine

Volunteer pumpkin vine

A volunteer pumpkin vine sprung from the compost in autumn. It finally collapsed and the pumpkins needed harvesting before they rotted and/or were eaten by whatever eats pumpkins (rats and possums at least).

I know exactly one thing to do with pumpkins, that’s to make soup, which I did. A nice batch for me and one for my chickens as well.

IMG_5632 IMG_5650 IMG_5658Utilising my standard recipe for pumpkin soup resulted in a lunch that was yummy as ever. Real winter food – warming, hearty and fills the gut.

For my chickens I made some variations. No spices, no cream, no anything besides pumpkin and carrots boiled and blended. They got the pumpkin scoopings which included the seeds but they got their very own carrot. At the end I added in some of their feed pellets (which are full of everything they need nutritionally) and some left over pasta (which my chickens – probably all chickens – love).

It’s been cold outside with the nights dropping below freezing so I thought a warm mash would be just what the doctor ordered. Imagine my surprise and frustration when the dumb birds turned their beaks up at my offering. Lenny tried pulling out a pumpkin seed then a lump of carrot and making his, “I’ve got a great treat here,” sound, only to have the same reception I did.

I suspect the chooks were actually full and not in need of something unless it was amazing – my “soup for seven” wasn’t it. It had been about 3 hours since I took down their morning porridge (boiled up chook feed with oats, yogurt and honey to boost their immune systems – they’re battling winter colds) which was not in evidence when I went down with their new treat. The second problem could have been the lack of yogurt. They love yogurt and I tend to mix it with everything I give them. I thought this “soup” might be special enough without it. I guess not.

Holly did eat some – she eats anything – as did Henny. I’m sure (hope) if I go down in a couple of hours it will all be gone and none of my chooks will admit to eating it. I just wish they’d have liked their “soup” as much as I did mine. It’s a bummer being a chef with such a tough audience – but I’ll persevere. Yogurt for afternoon tea it is.

Holly the glutton

Holly the glutton

 

Posted in Chickens, Garden, Recipe | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Tropical Chicken

No, this isn’t a recipe involving mangoes, this is one of those “what the?” posts.

Overnight the temp got down to 0.2 C (which is near enough 32 F). Nothing froze (unless you count my feet) but it was coooolllld. So cold that I didn’t go out to top up the chicken feeders and clean out the coop until about 10 o’clock when it had reached 10 C (50 F). Still cold, but this is the temp when bees start to leave their hives and so I figure I can leave my house.

Finally, some reasonable shade

Finally, some reasonable shade

Imagine my surprise when I rounded the corner and saw all of my chickens sitting in the shade! Are they dumb or what? Surely they weren’t hot. Maybe the sun fades their feathers? Okay, I understand that they effectively wear a down jacket 24×7 but surely their little bodies are acclimatised to their outer wear and they can cope. If they seek the shade when it’s 10, how in the world can they handle 40 (104 F)?

I don’t have a photo of my chooks huddled in the shade because as soon as I am within eyeshot, they all clamber at the gate enthusiastically awaiting whatever treat I might have with me. Pavlov made a big mistake when he studied dogs to understand conditioned response to food stimuli – chickens are way ahead of the pack there!

I Wanna Treat

I Wanna Treat

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All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

Henny, no feathers, sunbathing

Henny sunbathing – with no feathers on her back, the sun felt good on her belly. Don’t her shoulders look sore?

We had a feather problem in our coop – Henny didn’t have any on her back (or shoulders). I mean NONE. From above, she looked like the proverbial Christmas Goose, ready for the oven. The top photo was taken in May (which is autumn here) when she was trying to moult. See the one tiny pin feather and one bit of down? Tragic. Random feathers kept coming in and then vanishing.

IMG_4745-001IMG_4825-001When we got Henny in November, her previous owner said 2 hens to one rooster had never been a problem before. But just recently Henny had started losing feathers. (They were 2 years old, should I believe their old owner that Henny’s problem was only now becoming visible?) Regardless of her past, her present was patchy and her future was looking problematic. This de-feathering was a sad state brought on by too much brotherly love. Literally. Lenny, her brother, was loving her bald. I’ve read that roosters can mate 50 times a day and, by the state of Henny’s back and wings, I reckon Henny was his victim (aka, true love) for 49 of those. Penny remained fluffy and chicken-like.

The lack of feathers grieved me more than it did Henny. And it didn’t seem to bother her brother at all. He still hopped on for a ride whenever the urge struck. Which was clearly too often. She ran the real risk of cuts and abrasions any time Lenny mounted her. It was just horrid.

IMG_4812IMG_4859-002WP_20140208_003-001So I made Henny a chicken saddle (I called it a jacket which I first heard about from Eddie at mygardenmychickens and got some help from Lil – thank you!). I made mine out of soft denim which should have been very comfy and durable. The unappreciative hen pecked at it a while but then settled down and ignored it. Then she took it off (somehow) so I reduced the jacket size and tried it again and then she threw it off and… This went on for a while until I gave up.

Realising that the jacket wasn’t working and that Lenny wouldn’t give up, I panicked. The nights were getting cold, Henny would start her moult soon and she’d miss her chance to get her feathers back (chickens won’t grow replacement feathers until they moult which means you have one, maybe 2 shots a year at re-feathering a hen). So we got Holly, Molly & Polly which I posted about here. Henny and Penny were kept in half of the run all by themselves with Lenny relegated to living in the low-rent digs with the new girls. From 21 May 2014 (right after writing that post about opening the run at night – we decided that wasn’t going to work) Lenny wasn’t ever let into the half of the run with Henny & Penny and watch what happens to Henny’s feathers! The photo at the top of this post was taken on 21 May, just 5 days later…

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26 May 2014

Henny getting new feathers

30 May 2014. At this point we thought her shoulders were scarred and would be feather-free for life

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2 June 2014

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6 June 2014 – look, she’s moulting everywhere

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6 June 2014

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12 June 2014

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15 June 2014

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24 June 2014 – she looks like a real chicken. She’s a bit pale and her tail feathers aren’t really in yet but she’s clothed!

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 
 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 
Barely one month from the day I separated Lenny and Henny, I had gone from a chicken screaming out for a roasting tray to one that’s all dressed up … but locked in her run.

Now, time to start thinking about merging our 2 mini-flocks….

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