Google Farmers – The Year In Review

It’s been (more than) a year since we moved to our lifestyle block. I still remember leaving Auckland at 5am with a boot full of chickens. The other half left with a boot full of cats and the trailer full of random odd items that we didn’t want on the removals truck. I arrived in Whangarei at 8am with a boot full of very smelly chickens. The other half arrived a little later with the type of hearing loss that can only be achieved after spending 3.5 hours in a car with 6 unhappy cats.

Since then we’ve expanded the chicken collection and added ducks and more recently geese. I’ve learned how to make chicken coops, and then had lots and lots of practice perfecting them as every chicken on the premises decided to go broody at the same time. I’ve made everything from a small rabbit-style coop, through to a walk in shed, and even a portable (sort of) walk in fully-covered aviary.

On the downside we’ve dealt with a mysterious respiratory illness in the chooks, which remained mysterious even after extensive testing was carried out by MPI, though we have a long list of things that it wasn’t. With that over and done with (thankfully only affecting a couple of hatches), we then had fowl pox make an appearance. Fowl pox is basically chicken pox for chickens (and other poultry) and isn’t generally problematic unless a chook is unfortunate enough to get a pox in a really stupid location (like on its eyelid, or worse still, inside the mouth).

As well as poultry, we’ve (well I say “we”, the other half has) removed fifty or so olive trees from the bottom paddock and replaced them with a wide variety of fruit trees, including apples, pears, avocado, fig, loquat, oranges, nashi, cherries and almonds. Eventually one of us will get around to installing some chicken wire around that paddock and the recently acquired geese will move in there.

We’ve bought and learned how to use a ride-on mower. Mowing the lawn (or the orchard…) has never been so much fun! Anyone that hates mowing the lawn should get a ride on 🙂

Speaking of mowers, the sheep are doing well. Stinky, the ram, is in with them and we will hopefully have some lambs in spring. The two Anglo-Nubian dairy goats are still respecting their fences (when they’re turned on anyway). They’ve also had a visit to a buck and likewise are hopefully expecting in September. The goats had their living quarters expanded as part of the mad build-a-billion-coops campaign, using a variation on the walk-in chicken shed design (because goats totally NEED a chicken sized door, right?)

Off the lifestyle block I’ve become involved with badminton in Northland. I’m playing on a couple of their teams, playing 3 times a week most weeks, and some weekends as well. I’ve also discovered that yoga is not just for hippies.

Bonsai and Not Bonsai Gardens

The vegetable garden is currently being referred to as the Bonsai Vegetable Garden. That’s because someone (who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty) didn’t add anything to the soil when planting out this year’s seeds. No compost, no shredded bits of tree, no chicken poo, not even bags of chemical fertilizers. Nada.

As a result the stakes-required tomatoes are struggling to reach a majestic height of 30cm and most definitely do NOT require stakes. Perhaps a rack to stretch them on.

The potatoes didn’t mounded, so we didn’t get many potatoes, but what we did get was delicious. The zucchini have finally gotten started but despite 5 plants there’s a distinct lack of female flowers. Perhaps they’re trying to beat the chickens on “highest boy to girl ratio”. Yes, lots of cockerels and very few pullets.

The only things that are bucking the trends are the lettuce and sweetcorn, both of which appear healthy. And the herb garden, which actually did receive a generous blessing of compost.

The herb garden before (October 2013):


The herb garden now:


This autumn will see the vegetable garden relocated. In its current situation it’s heavily shaded by the very large citrus trees that someone planted on the northern side of it. It’s also some distance from the house and we find ourselves not wanting to trek down there to acquire lettuce. The plan is to put it close to the house and set it up so that we can be super lazy most of the time, with raised beds, built-in watering and easily accessed storage for compost. Oh, and to have goat-proof fencing since we’ll be stealing part of their paddock for it.

Busy Times

It’s been a busy few weeks. Or a lazy few weeks from the blog point of view. Quite a few things have happened since the last post.

We’ve added some Silver Appleyard ducklings to the menagerie:


And these hatched last weekend:


This weekend the adult Hamburgs go back home. After three months of them hanging around the place they’ve become part of the scenery. They’ve learned exactly when cat feeding time is, and hang around by the back door waiting for the cats to be fed. Then they stare at poor Point Five until she yields her bowl to them. I don’t think the cats are going to miss those chooks, even though we will.

We’ve got 12 eggs under a broody hen, and are getting some Langshan eggs to put into the incubator this weekend.

The List of Things To Be Built(tm) is getting ever longer. Top of it is: goat milking stand, chicken shed and a better goat shelter. And a fair few smaller items such as: bench for top of hill with view, entrance hall bench/shoe rack and a pair of small outdoor tables.

A Week of Leave = Putting Feet Up?

Last week at Chez.Chooks we took a week off from our regular day jobs, swapping the chair and computer screen for gumboots and the fresh country air. And boy, was that air fresh. For the whole week we had a very robust westerly ripping across the property.

Mrs Chez.Chook started the week off by taking refuge in the workshed on Saturday morning with a giant kitset for a chicken shed, finally emerging with this on Tuesday morning:


Meanwhile Mr Chez.Chook had been hard at work clearing, and then repairing a trellis, and then digging out a couple of ornamental hedges before replacing the whole lot with this:


Then during Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday these little miracles hatched out under a broody hen:



The arrival of those bundles of fluff necessitated the creation of Yet Another Chicken Coop. The sleeping compartment (pictured above, kind of) was knocked together on Thursday afternoon and mum and chicks installed that day. The day compartment took a little longer, but was given to them on Sunday morning.

If that wasn’t enough work for one holiday, we finally got around to unpacking (most of) the rest of our boxes from moving here four months ago. We can almost see the garage floor!

Coop Construction

Just three weeks ago we bought two new small coops to help house the rapidly growing chick population. The idea was that we’d be able to use those two, plus the Cheap Chinese Coop (hereafter: CCC), to house the various age chicks – one age group per coop, and all would be well.

Shortly after that we volunteered to temporarily look after a breeding trio of Hamburghs. So the oldest chicks got evicted from the CCC and chucked in with the adults over in paddock 5A. Hamburghs were installed in the CCC. Chicks soon discovered that they were small enough to circumvent (walk through) the improvised doorway on the wood shed and returned to their old quarters. So now there are three Hamburghs and 5 chicks all occupying the CCC.

Around about the same time one of our hens went broody. The obvious plan at this point is to give the incubator chicks to the hen when they hatch. Only there was nowhere for them to live as all the quarters were occupied by chicks.

Anyone that has tried to buy a chicken coop will know that they come in a wide range of prices, ranging from palpitations right through to instant heart attack. Quality can be highly variable, and some of the “design features” can be highly questionable, such as perches fit for a budgie and nestboxes that even a bantam would struggle to crowbar herself into, let alone the large chickens that we have.

Armed with a modest budget (thankfully non-zero), some basic tools and a seriously awesome workshed I set to work on producing a coop fit for a very large light sussex hen and a brood of 18 chicks. Some of the requirements were:

  • Must be moveable short distances with just one person.
  • For longer distances fitting on our 6’x4′ trailer would be optimal.
  • Nowhere for chickens to run that humans can’t easily get to.
  • Lockable sleeping compartment.
  • Some exterior shelter from rain – so chick food doesn’t get wet and gloopy.
  • Sturdy.
  • Hard to kick shavings from sleeping area into outdoor area.

I started by looking at one of the recently purchased coops as they met the basic requirements in that they are sturdy, easily moved, and have exterior shelter from rain. With that as a basis I got started making the frames for the two long sides:


After that some bits of wood were screwed between the two sides to produce a cuboid shaped object:


A door was made and hung, and mesh attached:


Finally, bits of plywood were attached to the sleeping quarter end, and lids made:


Of course, all coops are now full again and we have two more broodies sitting on eggs…


The eggs in the incubator hatched over the weekend and we now have 14 robust chicks. We gave Susie, one of our broodies, two chicks on Friday night, and followed them up with the remainder over the course of Saturday. She’s being a really good mother, and best of all, doesn’t attack humans that come near her and the chicks. 😀

Here’s one of the chicks, looking all at home in Susie’s feathers:

Cosy Chick

Broody Hens Everywhere

It never rains but it pours. Buses always come in threes. Birds of a feather flock together, or at the very least go broody together.

Susie has been broody for the last 3 weeks. We started by trying to kick her off the nest in the hope that she’d give up, but she’s been quite persistent. However, as she’s in the chicken shed with the other chooks it’s not practical to let her brood in there. When she gets off her nest to have some food and water another chicken invariably comes along and decides that it would be a great place to lay an egg. Susie then comes back and finds the nest full of chicken and sits on another one instead. The other chicken finishes laying her egg and walks off, leaving the eggs that are supposed to be being incubated to get cold and die.

So, our solution to this is to let her sit on plastic eggs (yes, you can buy fake eggs). While she’s keeping those toasty warm I’m building a broody chicken run. We plan to transfer her into that later this week, and then at the weekend once the incubator eggs have hatched we can take some of those chicks and slip them under her at night while she’s asleep. Hopefully she’ll believe that they are hers and raise them.

Meanwhile, Flap has thrown a spanner into our plans. She’s been getting out of the chicken paddock regularly, but shows up when called. A few days ago she didn’t come when called. Two searches of the garden later we still didn’t have a clue where she was. A third search on Sunday with our niece eventually found the chicken, sitting in plain sight, but well camouflaged against the leaves. Sitting on 16 eggs.

We transferred Flap and her eggs into a rabbit cage in the garage. Unfortunately she’s not the sharpest chicken out there and eggs kept slipping out from under her and not getting tucked back in. So after candling all of the eggs, and finding all viable, we’ve taken half a dozen off her and given those to Susie to keep warm for a few days, and left the rest with Flap. We’re hoping to be able to give Susie her chicks this weekend as planned, do a quick incubator clean, and pop Susie’s eggs in the incubator.

Someone’s bound to ask why not just let Susie hatch out the eggs from start to end. The answer there is that she’s already been sitting for 3 weeks at this point and there’s no guarantee that she will sit for another three weeks.

So, chicks will be everywhere soon. More chicks than we had planned for, and different chicks to what we had planned. :/

Sheep Shearing

Today was the day our sheep got their first hair cut.

The shearer showed up with his ute, sheep dogs and trailer carrying mobile sheep pens shortly before midday. The trailer was positioned at the gate to the sheeps’ paddock and the dogs put to work rounding up the sheep. A decent workout for the dogs later the sheep were penned and ready to be shorn.

This is what they looked like part way through being shorn:


This is what they looked like afterwards:


When they first saw each other after being shorn there was a short double-take moment as they failed to recognize one another. Soon solved by a good sniff though!

Here is the wool the shearer took away:


Like a Duck to Water

The ducklings are now 3.5 weeks old. To celebrate (and to clean them up a bit) we gave them a bath.


Then we decided to add a red Hell Pizza devil duck to the bath. We’ve never seen the ducklings scramble to get out of their bath so quickly before!


Once the devil duck was banished they were happy to get back into the bath. Afterwards they spent a while drying themselves off.



At the weekend we got a couple of ducklings.


They’re currently 12 days old (11 days in pic). We don’t know if they’re boys or girls yet. We’re hoping for either two girls, or one girl and one boy.

They’re very messy! I’d read that ducklings were messy, but went, “Meh, how messy can two ducklings be?” The answer is very. They went into a spotlessly clean brooder, and five minutes later the paper covering the bottom was soaked in water and there was stuff everywhere. It seems that when drinking they fill their beaks then shake their heads to spray the surroundings with water. Same thing for food. They’ve even managed to splatter food on their heat lamp.

Romeo: Still out of the orchard 😉