The following is an article that was published in Grass Roots Magazine, which was written by Kerrie Kruger at Krugers Sheetmetal.
Last year I wrote about our life on our farm and the chicken feeder that we make and sell. GR readers are a wonderful bunch. Since then I have enjoyed many phone calls and emails from co-Grass Roots readers. I just loved being able to talk chickens with co-enthusiasts and those new to the keeping of backyard chooks.
We have even converted one of the staff, Phil, who is now the proud owner of three of Ian Nash's Hamburgh hens. These hens are certainly pampered with Phil just nipping home at lunch on hot days to pop a frozen water block into his girls' water dish.
We are absolutely delighted with the response we have had from advertising in GR, and attending local markets. I have had a crash course in organising the delivering of the chicken feeder all over Australia. We have buffed up our geography knowledge looking up maps for town locations from Tassie to WA and north Queensland. In keeping with the reuse/reduce principles, we decided to package the feeder in a single cardboard sleeve that can be recycled in the compost, maybe after being used for the kids' construction project. Let me know of any interesting ways you may have used the cardboard.
In spring we organised and sponsored a backyard chicken workshop held in the wonderful garden of Ian Nash. He and co-speaker Suzanne presented a fantastic workshop. We are hoping to run another workshop soon, so if you live anywhere near Teesdale, Victoria (ours and Ian's home town), and want to learn more about chickens, then please contact me.
Our property of half an acre has been established along permaculture principles, so the chook run is located within the orchard - the chickens benefit from fallen fruit to eat, shade from the trees in summer, and somewhere to climb -yes, they like to perch up on a branch during the day and survey their world.
The orchards benefits from the hens' manure and they seem to have made an impact on the amount of apples infested with codling moth. We benefit as we don't have to clean up fallen fruit.
We have thickly mulched our chook run orchard with pea straw mulch. This run is on a slope and we found that all the mulch would work its way down the slope into one corner, so we have just recently placed a row of bales across the middle of the area to hopefully stop this problem. So far so good and an added bonus is the chickens have a new spot to view their domain from. This mulch stays in the pen three or four months till all the seeds have been removed by the hard-working hens. This keeps them active and happy scratching through the mulch and we end up with seed-free well-fertilised garden mulch, usually used in the vegie garden that grows their greens.
One day it occurred to me that we should have the feed storage area closer to the chook run. So, as we GR people do, we checked out the pile of useful materials behind the shed and relocated an old small shed, some concrete pavers and an old shelf unit and bench, built it into the fenceline of the chook run and there you go, a very handy shed for grain store bins (plastic rubbish bins) and a few old metal ones, of course. The shelf unit holds the apple cider vinegar, garlic etc for chook tonic treatments and the bench is a fantastic place for chook first aid.
We have been asked a few times if the chicken feeder can be used with ducks. This intrigued me, so I have just started a trial with them. I'm not sure if they will respond like the chickens and self-regulate or not. Will they learn to step up to open the lid? How long will it take them to learn?
We only have two ducks at present, a white large Pekin cross and a large brown duck of unknown heritage. They are not the friendliest or, I suspect, the cleverest ducks we have owned, but they are entertaining and keep the snail population under control.
The trial has been going for a fortnight with the feed tray lid open. The two ducks refused to go anywhere near the chicken feeder till they became hungry (about two days). They were free ranging, not locked in the house, so still had access to bugs, grass etc. They are now eating from the tray, but certainly make more mess scattering pellets around the treadle plate and ground than the chooks do. The chooks actually make no mess! So with ducks the feeder will work for ease of feeding, but you may still have mice and sparrows. I can report the ducks are successfully using the feeder now and only eating what they need. They ate a lot at the start, but have slowed consumption down.
I was delighted to be able to take the students of Nicholas's school to Ian Nash's garden last spring. They had a fantastic time and Ian was so generous with his time and knowledge. The reason for the visit was inspiration for the kitchen garden and chicken keeping 101. At the school we have a new kitchen garden, from which we have been able to sell some produce. These funds are being saved for, yes, you guessed it, two Hamburgh and two Pekin chickens from Ian. In the kitchen garden the students took great delight and surprise in our purple carrots and at present we are attempting to grow the world's largest pumpkin.
At home we are one step closer to installing our Raeburn cooker. We have been looking for someone to install the hot water tank and pipes and run the existing solar hot water system and this new system together. Via work we have now made the acquaintance of Stewart, so hopefully by winter we should be totally self-reliant for hot water, if we are diligent in our use. Next project, learning to cook on a wood stove. Better get out the back issues of Grass Roots. I have also been following and implementing Asphyxia's Riot for Austerity at home, the concept really makes you accountable for what you buy and use.
It is interesting to note that in the last year, more repair jobs have started to come in; more people are wanting to repair and reuse rather than throw it out and buy new. I suspect it is due to the downturn in the economy and hopefully the desire to save the planet's resources, but for whatever reason it is great that people are realising that many items can be repaired, not thrown out into landfill.