I try to get down to the garden most days. After all we have chooks to look after and although they have a feeder with grain supplied by the Organic Man, and a water container, I do like to look in on them regularly. Besides, between them and the ducks someone needs to eat our leftover produce and vegetable peelings. As mentioned before, we are on our 4th model of chicken accommodation. The first one was just way too small. Our main plan has been to have a mobile chook run, so that over time each of the garden beds can enjoy the pleasures of the chook manure, and the digging up couch and other weeds by the restless diggers, not to mention the hay we put down and the leftover green material that becomes like a compost heap. We figure each bed is entitled to these benefits.
By wanting a mobile run we encountered some challenges. The first one was really too small and they didn't have enough variety of spaces to move in - just up and down the alley. The second one included the current "chook shed" made from an old government supply desk that we found at the tip. That design had the shed as part of the external structure and I was constantly anxious about foxes making their way in via a loose connection. It had a back door for us to take the eggs out and a gate into the run part so that we could change over the water, add vegie scraps and fill up the grain. It was the back door that always seemed vulnerable to me. Sometime after building the second model, we at the Charnwood garden were educated by the convenor about the ACT regulations on the minimum size of chicken houses. Upon finding out the details, we realised our run needed to be extended from the one garden bed size into the two garden bed size. With some degree of urgency we cobbled together a bigger run to meet the requirements of the ACT chook legislation. This became known as model 3.
When it came time to move the shed into it's new place, which happens at the end of the summer growing season, just before the winter sets in, we decided to completely remodel the structure. This is when Tim came up with the lightweight construction we currently have. It is based on our tent structure with cross-over grey plumbing pipe, bolted together. Over this structure is chicken wire, tied together with plastic pull ties and various bits of string. Doesn't sound real fancy does it? In the process of designing the new chicken run, Tim managed to put the house completely within the shed so I no longer had to stress about foxes. It is quite an ingenious design and we've managed to move it twice. Another move is due around May.
So this is the front door, with the day's vegie scraps in the grey box waiting to be carried in. The two black Australorpes know the drill and are waiting for breakfast. If I could add sounds to this post you'd be able to hear the welcoming, almost cooing like noises they make when I arrive. As you can see, the old desk is in the enclosure and our rooster is standing on top of it. The front door is supported by two upright posts and is a strong but light steel mesh.
Here's the gang of three pouncing on the scraps. They rule the roost. It used to be just these three and then in December 2006 we brought home two, tiny, two week old chicks from Tess's preschool. The preschool hired an incubator and hatched out a clutch of chicks. They kept them for a couple of weeks and then families were allowed to purchase them. As mentioned, we bought two. Two brown ones. I don't know what type they are but they are growing up to be very pretty. In January they were getting too big for the rabbit hutch at home and so we introduced them into the hen house. Naturally enough they were still fairly small and were immediately harassed by the gang of three. I think the pecking order is: the biggest, fattest, black Australorpe is in charge (Henny Pen), then the next Australorpe, and then the Isa Brown and now the new ones (which includes a rooster) are at the bottom of the pecking order. The gang of three do not allow the newcomers to eat with them.
Here are the two newbies, hanging out on the desk top, drinking water from the water cooler, discussing the injustices of the world - last to eat, soggy bread, no yummy strawberries left.....The desk top is covered with a blue plastic tarpaulin that is getting pretty frayed. It protects the wood somewhat from the rain and chook poo. The back of the desk has what were doors but have now separated from their hinges. The "doors" are propped up with buckets and pails and things. I drag them aside to collect the eggs from the nesting boxes.
Here's the back door pulled open and I'm looking down through the gap I've created. Someone is doing the right and proper thing in the nesting box. We're pretty lucky and really do get more eggs from our three layers than we can consume. We occasionally waste some but mostly we give away our surplus. We make an effort to crunch up the egg shells and feed them back to the chooks to help with the calcium they need to make an egg a day.
Here's the rooster and his girlfriend still hanging out on the roof. They've been handled by children and adults since birth and while not exactly tame they are curious and seem to enjoy some attention in the chicken run.
I have been worried about my rooster's courage. He was pecked by that gang from an early age and so in my thinking that explains why he isn't standing very proud. I worry that he'll not learn to insist on his roosterly duties but then again he is still young - about 16 weeks old maybe. I'm hoping that as he gets older (and bigger) he'll learn to hold those tail feathers tall and proud.
This is the chook's water supply. It needs cleaning out every three or four days. This water container used to just sit on the roof but the chooks or the wind had taken to tossing it off and this wasn't good because on a hot day an animal needs water! Tim's solution was to hook up the container to the roof of the chook run with orange plastic twine. I don't think the colour of twine really matters - use whatever you've got. He's attached a carabiner to the twine so I can unclip it to clean and fill it every few days. You can probably just see the carabiner if you click on the photo. Anyway, that's enough of a tour of the chooks. Did you notice those blue skies? In Canberra we are blessed through the Autumn and the Winter with achingly blue skies. Beautiful.