My chicken has spurs

Bertie has grown some wicked spurs on the back of her legs. I will admit that when they first started to show, I was concerned. Mostly that she might have actually been a he.

I have no problem with roosters, and would happily have one, however the laws here don’t allow it (in suburban backyards). My concern was that if she was a rooster and started crowing, the neighbours would complain and I’d be forced to give her up.

Bertie is definitely female, so that will not be a problem – she just also happens to have some pretty awesome spurs on the back of her legs. I’ve since learnt this is quite common with some breeds of chicken.

I am considering having them removed though, or at least filed back. She walks a little awkwardly, with one foot directly in front of the other (she’s done this since she joined our little flock). Now that the spurs are almost an inch long, it’s affecting the way she walks.

She tends to lift one leg right up, before moving forward and I think it’s because the spur is in the way. I’m concerned that in the long run it may cause problems with her feet or legs.

I’ll be taking both her and Doreen to the vet soon, so I’ll see what they say and go from there.

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The war on aphids has begun

I’ve grown broadbeans twice before, and have never had any issues with pests. If anything, it seemed like they were immune. Although there is quite a bit of time between sowing and harvesting, I always like to grow them. Not only do they taste good, but they have a pretty flower that attracts bees to my garden.

This year, I’ve recently noticed that some of the leaves near the bottom of the plants are a bit yellow and dying. On closer inspection I found the cause. Aphids.

Now I generally don’t mind if there are ‘bad’ bugs in my garden. As long as they refrain from taking over, or doing so much damage that they kill my plants, then I’m all for allowing them to coexist with the ‘good’ bugs.

In cases like this however, when they seem to have had a population explosion, I have to declare war. Me and my trusty garden hose again a billion little aphids.

I probably shouldn’t say ‘little aphids’ because it makes them sound cute. Poor little aphids just want to eat and live like the rest of us. Well, not on my watch.

The sap-sucking vampires of the plant world are not going to destroy my broadbeans… and so the battle begins.

UPDATE (03.09.16): I always avoid the use of any pesticides or herbicides on my garden and lawn, so it can be a little tricky at times. I was using the garden hose to manage my aphid problem. A light spray on the broadbeans each morning, hosing off any aphids. This was working well until I broke the hose.

Now, I’ve found that if I hold my hand under the broadbean and shake the top, the aphids will fall onto my hands. I then give them to my chickies, who peck them up pretty quickly. This seems to be working quite well.

“The coop”

Earlier this year, after six long weeks (plus a four week break inbetween when we were on our honeymoon), we finally finished our new chicken coop. When I say ‘finished’, I actually mean almost finished, because there are a couple of minor things I need to do when I have the time.

As I mentioned in my last post, I never actually drafted proper plans for the coop. I did a couple of 3d sketches of what I wanted, worked out in my head how the main parts would come together, and then went from there.

I needed the coop to be manoeuvrable, so I decided to build it in three separate parts (that would remain separate).

Below, you can see parts 1 and 2. Part 1 is an outdoor section that can be closed up if need be and part 2 is the base of the ‘house’. There is an outdoor roost in part 2.

Coop-01

The timber is quite thick – from memory, I think it is about 32 or 40mm thick. It is definitely heavy than our previous triangular coop, however I wanted it to be thicker and stronger.

Part three, ‘the house’ was the more challenging section of the three. I think this is mainly because I knew in my head what I wanted, and was happy to adapt new changes along the way, whereas my husband was over all the changes I was making and getting more and more frustrated as we progressed.

Coop-02

I wanted the house to be raised up off the ground so the chickens had the space underneath to use, and so it would not kill the grass (we rent). I also needed to make it as easy as possible to clean.

The pitch of the roof is quite high for two reasons. The first reason was so that when I cleaned it I could actually stand and lean my upper body inside the house without stooping. The second was to dissuade Bertie from flying up on top of it.

There are vents running along the top of both sides, which are always open. The eaves extend down far enough to protect these from the rain (sometimes a little gets in, but only when the wind is blowing it sideways!). There is also a vent with a door above the nesting box that can be opened or closed depending on weather (for extra ventilation and light).

The whole back wall is a door, and there’s also a door on the opposite side of the nesting box.

The nesting box was created so we could easily access the eggs. The creation of this caused quite a few arguments. My husband thought we didn’t need it, and I thought we did. Not only would it look cool, but it would also serve a purpose.

In all honesty, if I were to build this coop again I’d probably leave it off. Neither Bertie nor Doreen use it. They both have a favourite spot in the back corner of the coop where they choose to lay their eggs. So it serves no other purpose than looking pretty.

Coop-03

A large tray forms the base of the coop, which slides out from the rear. It’s a little difficult to get in and out at this point, as I haven’t added any handles (that’s one thing that’s on the to-do list).

There are two roosts inside. They’ve been made so that they can be taken out if need be. I based them off the size of the roost in the original coop, and routed the edges. From my research I found that the size of the roost is important, and having sharp edges is not particularly comfortable for hens, hench the routing.

The pic above (and below) is the finished product. I used two different coloured paints, because I thought it would look better. Initially I wanted to retain the timber appearance with some sort of stain, however I could not find a suitable product that would be safe for the girls. I didn’t want to paint it, but in the end found it was going to be the best protection against the weather. I made sure to choose a paint that would be as safe as possible with little to no VOCs, and only painted the outside elements (including the inside of the doors).

Coop-04

While it’s certainly pretty to look at, the coop isn’t predator proof, at least not to the extent it would need to be if I lived in a rural area.

Here, the main problems would be dogs, foxes, snakes or possibly hawks. It’s unlikely that other dogs would end up in our yard, and I am yet to see any foxes around here. Plenty of kangaroos, but no foxes. We’re basically in suburbia, so there are rarely any hawks or snakes.

When we eventually end up on our own piece of land, I would need to make some changes to make it safer (especially against foxes), however a few adjustments will sort that out.

While it took 6 weeks to build, I am so happy with the end result. Doreen and Bertie have a nicer home to live in that doesn’t leak when it rains. Plus, it’s big enough for us to add some more chickies to this little flock. Now I just have to convince my husband!

Grand plans for a new coop

When Doreen and Chimmi (Isa Browns) became a part of our family, I bought a triangular chicken tractor from a company called Backyard Chickens. The coop was flat-pack and was pretty easy to put together.

While I found it worked quite well, over time I came to realise that ventilation was an issue. Unless the coop was undercover (which it wasn’t), the one and only vent had to be closed when it rained otherwise the chickens would get wet. This meant that there was almost no ventilation.

If it only rained for a night, it wasn’t too bad, however where I live it often rains for weeks at a time, so this was an issue.

I also found it somewhat flimsy.

The size of the coop was okay, given the girls would free range in the yard every day, however if I wanted to add to their flock in the future (which I totally do, and will), then it would not be big enough.

It was for these reasons that I decided we would build our own.
Firstly, I researched many, many different websites to determine the most important things for housing hens, and these are the top three things I came up with:

1.    It had to be portable (we rent, so no permanent coop allowed at this stage)
2.    Ventilation was (and is) very important
3.    Safety from predators was paramount

These were other key things that I took into consideration:
1.    Needed to be easy to clean and maintain
2.    Non-toxic materials
3.    Enough space for the chickens (including potential extras in the future)
4.    Needed to be sturdy (more sturdy than the triangular coop we had)
5.    I wanted it raised up off the ground

Now it certainly helped that I am a draftsperson by profession (even though I’ve only been doing it for a couple of years now) and my husband is quite handy with the tools.

That said, he has since told me that we are never, ever building another chicken coop again. I’ll just give him a bit of time to get over that. I have grand plans to build a rammed earth permanent coop one day when we have our own piece of land to call home and I’ll need his help.

I think one of his biggest gripes was that I took 6 weeks to build, and I didn’t do proper plans for him to follow. I also apparently kept changing my mind. Who, me?

Anyway, it was finished and it didn’t end in divorce.

I will include some pictures showing the different stages of construction in another post.

Shiny feathers

Apparently shiny feathers are a sign of a healthy hen. That’s great news! Both my hens have gorgeous shiny feathers, and I just love watching them glisten in the sunlight.

Bertie, my black australorp has a beautiful dark green sheen to her feathers. Unfortunately she’s too quick, and I haven’t managed to photograph that particular shade just yet (I’m never at the right angle to capture the green colour). All in good time.

Watermelon for the chickies

My hens looooove watermelon. I can leave a huge wedge outside and by the end of the day, it’ll be eaten right down to the green rind. Between the two of them, they devour it pretty quickly.

I feed it to them throughout the year, but it’s especially good in summer. Given chickens don’t handle the heat well, it’s a great way to help keep them hydrated.

They’re a little wind swept this morning – it’s crazy windy outside right now.

A fine day to moult

When I first got chickens, I did a lot of googling and read a lot of different blogs about looking after hens (I still do this). One thing I learnt but didn’t really understand until I experienced it first hand, was the moulting of feathers.

For some reason, it never occured to me that there’d be feathers everywhere. When I say everywhere, I really mean literally everywhere! I have found feathers in my bed, in my lunch, in my car… they end up in the most random places because there are just so many of them. It looks like a hen has been devoured and all that is left are the feathers – there are that many.

It’s currently the middle of winter here, and Bertie is experiencing her first ever moult. It’s not a harsh moult (ie she doesn’t have huge bald patches), however she is somewhat scraggy looking.

You can see the pin feathers around her face and wattle in the above photo. I find it really cool, and love seeing all the pin feathers when there are a lot.

Doreen will have her third moult later this year. She tends to moult sometime in summer.

I am yet to see them experience what is considered to be a bad moult. I imagine that will be a site to see!