Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cardboard Castle

Over the weekend I helped my friend's daughter to build a castle for a school project. It had to be relatively historically accurate, so we built a concentric castle [multiple walls] with a working drawbridge.

We had a lot of fun building it out of cardboard boxes, toilet rolls, poster tubes, chocolate boxes and pop-sticks.

The builds all can be removed. There is a keep with a 'princess tower', a church, tailor, blacksmith, stables, place of arms/fighting arena, a well and of course a working catapult!


Church and oratory.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Keeping Chickens: Terminology

Sorry, not a very exciting post this week, but what I feel is an important one for new chicken owners.


There is often a lot of terminology and slang thrown about with any subject, and chickens are no exception. Here is a list of some of the terminology, abbreviations, acronyms and slang that one might come across regarding chickens.

Chick - A baby chicken
Pullet - A female chicken under 1 year old
Hen - A female chicken over 1 year old
Broody - A hen who is sitting on a clutch of eggs
Cockerel - A male chicken under 1 year old
Rooster - A male chicken under 1 year old
Hooster - A female chicken who has taken on rooster traits, such as crowing, and growing a larger comb/wattles.
Chook - Australian slang for chicken

Spurs - Horn like growths on the legs of roosters.
Wattles - Red fleshy growths that hang from the throat, just below the beak. Males have larger wattles than females.
Comb - The red fleshy growth on top of a chicken's head. They vary in size and shape depending on the breed. Males have larger combs than females.
Full Beak - A chicken who has not had their top beak trimmed. This mostly happens with commercial birds, such as the Isa Browns to stop cannibalism in commercial settings.

Candling - The art of using a torch or bright light to illuminate the interior of an egg to check development of an embryo.
Bloodspot - A spot of blood sometimes found inside eggs, it doesn't indicate fertility and is not a partially formed embryo.

OEG - Old English Game, a breed of chicken
RIR - Rhode Island Red, a breed of chicken

Blue - Dark grey feathers
Lavender - Light grey feathers
Laced - The outside edge of the feathers is a different colour to the centre, when on the bird it gives a laced effect.

Having trouble understanding anything or want some other aspect of chickens explained?
This will be a post that will often be edited to incorporate more terminology. Please feel free to leave comments if you need want explained or explained further. :)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Keeping Chickens: Housing

Chicken housing is really quite important and it should be the first thing done before bringing home your feathery friends.

The coop is where the chickens sleep at night and may or may not be integrated into the chicken run. It is important that the coop is secured from predators and is weather proof. They need good ventilation, somewhere too roost and somewhere to lay eggs. Water and food access in the coop isn't necessary [unless they will be locked in the coop section for long periods of time during the day] but an option if it suits.

What the coop actually is, is really dependant on your space and how many chickens you have.

It can be as small as a chicken tractor that holds a couple of hens. A chicken tractor is a portable coop and run that can be moved around on the grass.
Chicken Tractor source
Or as large as a children's cubby house placed inside a run housing a large flock of chickens which can be securely shut at night.

Sheds or aviaries can be converted easily into secure housing and some are actually designed and sold specifically to keep poultry in.
Poultry shed source

Or if you really wanted something unique, what about a gypsy caravan?

The number one thing to remember is to make sure it is completely secure from predators. Foxes, cats and dogs are the most likely suspects to try to make a meal of your chickens. Floors need to be solid [concrete, wood...] or if that isn't an option have mesh laid down to stop predators digging under and in. Doors need to be able to be latched securely

Chickens love to roost high, as high as they can get in most cases. It's a natural instinct for them to keep out the way of predators. The simplest of designs is two or three horizontal poles attached to two or three vertical posts [depending on the size needed] which is then leaned against the wall of the coop at an approximate 45 degree angle.

45 degree roosting rack source
In smaller coops-like chicken tractors this is not possible, so a horizontal pole secured on two walls works fine. Many manufactured chicken tractors will already come with roosts installed.
Horizontal roost source
When installing roosts, make sure they are higher than the nesting boxes, or the chickens will roost in the nesting boxes and soil the straw and possibly crush any eggs laid in the boxes.

Nesting boxes
Nesting boxes can really be made from anything, as long as the chicken's can fit in them. Old clean paint tins, hollowed computer monitors, wooden boxes or plastic drums.

I personally use cleaned out old 20L liquid chlorine drums I get from a local salvage yard for $2. I cut 2/3 of the bottom of the drum off with a angle grinder and voila, instant nesting box! They're easy to clean, don't break very easily and are perfect size for my chickens [or two!].

It's a good idea to give the chickens a choice of a few nesting boxes. Chickens will often end up with a favourite nesting box, and almost guaranteed it will be the favourite of ALL the chickens! Mine all like to lay in the black drum nesting box.

Normally a run would be attached to a coop, but in some cases the coop may be a separate structure inside the actual run.

Runs need to also be secure from predators, whether or not the chickens have access to the run all the time. Smaller runs attached directly to the coop should either have a large mesh floor especially movable coop/run combinations like chicken tractors or have predator proof fences.

Predator proof fences can either be done by digging a trench about 30-50cm down and laying in heavy duty mesh wire or laying at least 1/2 a metre of mesh along the ground out from the bottom of the fence and securing it down. This is to deter foxes, cats and dogs from digging under it.

Smaller runs should also have a roof to stop foxes and cats scaling the fence and to also stop predatory birds from taking or harassing the chickens. It also will stop other wild birds consuming the chicken feed. Larger runs that cannot be roofed should have a coop that can be secured at night.

Free ranging
All chickens love the chance to free range in the yard, finding grubs and bugs and eating weeds [and precious plants if you aren't careful]. Even if they can only be let out for a couple of hours before dusk it will benefit them-they love to explore.

Just be aware that predators can still strike during the day-even foxes, so it isn't really advisable to let the free range if no one is home.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Weekend Omelettes

We are trying to get back on the wagon of eating healthily. Ever since Ember was born, we've often resorted to fast food or frozen meals instead of cooking our own food. It was a really bad habit to get back into, especially for our health and energy levels.

Now that I have harvest-able produce from the garden I have no excuse not to be cooking with it! I started by just adding greens to make the frozen dinners a little more substantial, filling and healthy.

Last night I had enough energy to actually cook from scratch. Lime and Chilli Squid was on the menu, made from fresh locally caught squid, chillies from a friend's garden and limes from the fruit and veg co-op.

This morning I decided to use some of the glut of eggs we have [two and a half dozen with more in the coop!] and make some omelettes.

Weekend Omelettes

For two very hungry people I used 8 eggs plus two extra egg whites [the 2 yolks I put aside for Ember to have]. It was probably a little too many for both of us, next time I think I'll try 6-7 eggs.

I added some roughly chopped greens fresh from the garden; silverbeet, spinach-beet, baby spinach, beetroot leaves, pak-choy leaves, coriander, parsley and dill.

Mix it all together and add some pepper [or preferred seasonings].

Pour half the mixture into a heated frying pan-I use a small dob of butter to stop it sticking. When it is cooked well on the bottom, fold in half, lower the heat and allow to cook for a few minutes. The inside will often be runny, so if you don't like runny egg, cook for longer. Serve.

Now I really suck at getting omelettes out the pan without turning them into a dog's breakfast in appearance. Half of mine came out ok...the other half, still tasted good!

To Paul's I added 1/3 can of crush tomatoes, which made it even harder to flip and get out the pan...his looked like this!

And even Ember didn't miss out. She had a egg yolk 'omelette' which she enjoyed immensely.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Apology and a Surprise

First up I'd like to apologise for the lack of a Keeping Chickens post on Friday. Life was rather hectic that day and I only remembered about posting way too late to write a post and too dark to take photos.

Hopefully this will appease the chicken folk... :)

Three weeks ago my perpetual broody decided to sit on 21 eggs. This was after I had told Paul not to leave eggs in the coop because I have a rooster the eggs are most likely fertile. Three or so days of not collecting the eggs and bam! My broody was broody again. I decided to let her hatch the eggs because I didn't know how long she'd be sitting and didn't really want to destroy eggs with partially developed chicks in them.

Well today, I went to release the rooster from his rooster box and saw this!

Out of the 21, 7 remain and one is already well on it's way to breaking out into the big wide world!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Geeks and Cushions

Over the weekend I decided that our couch needed more cushions. It only had two!

With the help of some of my friends I came up with a list of cushions I am going to possibly make. This is the list:

  • Ctrl Alt Del
  • Esc key
  • Pacman and the Ghosts
  • Tetris
  • Android robot
  • Dr Who's TARDIS
  • Linux Penguin
  • QR Codes
  • Canon Lens
Turns out that most of my friends are geeks. Which I guess is a good thing...because I am one too! This house is full of geeks and the way Ember is going, she'll be a geek soon too. So lets add to the geekiness with some geeky cushions!

First I decided to make a Pacman cushion. Easy right? Just cut a wedge out a circle, sew it up and stuff it? What could possibly go wrong?

Well...when I'd half stuffed the Pacman, it kind of resembled a giant yellow fortune cookie!

This really was not a good start...but I persevered until it was fully stuffed hoping it might look better then. But... it still looked like a fortune cookie! *Sigh* The mouth section was too long and pointy in relation to the Pacman 'body' and the mouth was definitely not wide enough.

I attempted to fix it by slip-stitching the points in on themselves to make a more 'blunt' mouth, which kind of worked to remove the fortune cookie look. Unfortunately it did not solve the 'not looking remotely like Pacman' problem.

So now I have a yellow cushion that looks like a round of cheese with a chunk taken out of it...or a very fat fortune cookie. I think I might leave that for awhile and try something different.

Next up I decided to try a QR Code cushion using felt.

A QR Code for those who don't know, is basically a type of barcode. The QR code can be used for all kinds of things, from basic text to URLS and phone numbers.

This is a QR code for my blog URL

Smart phones [Android phones, Iphones, etc] can read these with a QR Code Reader app.

And my phone reading the QR code off the screen and showing the link to my blog

I decided to keep mine rather simple, so I started off with Ember's name. I pieced it together out of felt bits which took a fair while. It looked awesome but came across one major issue.

I couldn't get the felt QR Code to read with my phone! Mega fail. I think it was mainly to do with the shadows being cast on it from the lights. I scrapped the idea of using felt [I was rather relieved to be honest. I had no idea how I was possibly going to stitch all the pieces on without mucking it up!] and pulled out my best friend. A Sharpie!

I traced the QR Code outlines onto the white fabric and coloured them in. They turned out better than expected and they all read with a QR Code reader.
Three QR Code cushions. Codes L-R read Ember, Rachel and Paul

Close up you can see where the marker has bled, but they'll do for now. I'm thinking of getting them custom printed via Spoonflower.

Monday, May 7, 2012

May: Week 1: Garden Update

We've had some beautiful Autumn weather so far this May, lovely sunny days followed by plenty of rain. Everything is going great guns in the garden, and so are the weeds! I swear each day I weed, I come back to find just as many have taken their place. I guess the good thing is that my actual vegetable plants are growing just as well...if not better than most of the weeds. And at least now most of the plants are big enough to mulch under, so I'm slowly winning the weed war by smothering them in pea-straw.

What's growing in my garden at the moment:
Snow Peas
Sugar Snap Peas
Telephone Peas
Broad Beans

Carrots [orange and purple]
Potato plants

Garlic with cabbage seedlings behind
Pak Choy
Spinach beet
Baby Spinach
Pak Choy
Garlic Chives


The last week has seen the first harvests from my vegetable garden. I really love having quick growing crops to satisfy my family's hunger for fresh food.

Third harvest from my garden-radishes, baby spinach and Pak Choy...a present for my grandparents.

So far I've harvested:
Young Pak Choy
Baby spinach leaves
Spinach beet
Young beetroot leaves

When I thin crops like Pak Choy and beetroot, I use the thinned out seedlings in our dinners-they may be small but still taste just as good. Young beetroot leaves have a lovely flavour similar to silverbeet when steamed lightly and add a lovely dash of colour with their deep red stems.

Young beetroot and spinach beet.

I'm still having issues with my dogs getting into my garden to toilet-they slip through the sections I haven't fenced properly. It's getting irritating having to remove dog poo and uncover/replant the seedlings they destroy. A trip over the weekend to Bunnings got me supplies to finish off fencing the garden from my furry little "helpers". I still haven't finished the new fence, but it's taking shape and should be done by tomorrow.

A Little Bit of Sewing...

I manage to snatch precious few moments to sew. I guess full time study, looking after Ember, tending a vegetable garden and, I mean chickens, takes up almost all my time. Not to mention me starting a weekend job soon too [crazy, yes I know I am!]

But even being so busy I have managed to make a few things in the last few weeks.

I picked up this gorgeous baby towelling at Spotlight last year, which was decorated with bright coloured fish. Perfect for making a little hooded towel for Ember. I made the pattern up as I went and luckily it worked! I bound the edges with the same binding I used for my quilt-Ember is totally fascinated by this binding!

The other night after her bath, I put it on her and Paul had found a light up baggage tag which looked a bit like a light sabre. So now she has the nick name of Darth Fish!

I made fabric Poppies for ANZAC day out of fabric scraps and buttons from an old skirt. I put Ember's on a ribbon to wear as a headband.

And for once I am rather organised for Mother's Day...well at least for my mum!

I had some very special Schnauzer fabric I wanted to use to make something for her. I just couldn't work out what I wanted to make with it! Being a sewer herself, it makes things rather difficult when looking for something I can make her that she a] doesn't already have, or b] can make better than me! Finally I decided on making a sewing machine cover for her.

I was pretty sure she didn't have a fabric cover yet, so I sneakily rang dad and asked him to check and also give me the measurements of her machine.

It was yet another "make it up as I go along" patterns, and to be really honest I am surprised at how well it did turn out! It has pockets either end to store bits and pieces in and a handle on top for easy removal. I machine bound the hem and did 'piping' along all the other edges [the piping is just folded material sewn into the hems]

Mum's machine is bigger than mine, which is why the cover looks all loose and too long!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Keeping Chickens: Food and Water

I would normally cover housing chickens before writing about what to feed them as logically you need housing before you can get chickens. But this week has been insanely busy, and this post was almost finished, unlike the not even started housing post! Even as I type, I'm typing through Ember [Little Miss Pickle!] trying to drool my face off and escape out my arms! Why am I not an octopus with 8 arms? Would  make blogging with a 6 month old a lot easier!

Anyway, sidetracking a little there...

When it comes to feeding chickens, everyone does it differently. There isn't really a right or wrong way, just what works for you and your flock.

I've put together a basic list of things that you can feed your chickens, you don't need to feed them all, except of course water and either a pellet and/or grain as their main food.

Image by rapidyak
Probably the cheapest and most convenient way of feeding chickens. It's crushed up grains mixed with vitamins and minerals, along with some other stuff and put into pellet form. Most chickens will eat them...eventually.

I would point out here, that most pellets you buy DO contain animal products. So if you have issues with the use of animal by-products I'd avoid using pellets.

Often comes in a variety of mixes and single grains. The grain mixes are better than feeding a single grain, as there is more variety and balance nutrient wise. Grain mixes can be fed as the main food source, with pellets or as a treat. Just be aware that if fed with pellets some chickens may start only eating the grains and leaving the pellets.

A basic mash is pellets and sometimes grains soaked in water to form a mash, other mashes may contain other beneficial things like yoghurt or garlic. Often served warm to chickens in the morning, some believe it encourages them to continue laying through the winter. Mash doesn't keep long and must be replaced each day to avoid contamination and bacterial growth that could make the chickens sick.

Personally I have never fed my chickens mashes due to sheer laziness on my behalf.

Fresh Greens
Chickens love foraging through freshly picked greens. It can be anything really, grass, weeds, silverbeet, vegetable plants past their usefulness. Just make sure the plants aren't poisonous and haven't been poisoned. Long green grass can cause crop impaction in some chickens. To avoid the risk, cut the grass up into shorter lengths. The long grass is not so much of an issue if they free range and eat it, more in the case of it being picked and put in their coop.

Table scraps
Table scraps should not make up the majority of their diet, as it is not nutritionally balanced. Try to avoid feeding large amounts of citrus and onion scraps to them, as often they won't eat them. Also avoid putting meat bones or large amounts of meat/meat fat in, because they may attract rats.

Chickens do enjoy meat, especially raw mince but keep as more of a treat or if they need a protein boost when they are moulting or not too well. I also advise standing back when giving them meat...most chickens will go bonkers over it!

Fresh water should always be accessible to the chickens. It is often a good idea to have more than one water container, should they knock one over. 

Shell Grit
Shell grit is important for chickens to keep up their mineral intake, particularly calcium for egg laying. A lack of calcium can lead to very thin shelled eggs or even shell-less eggs being laid. Shell grit can be added into their feed, or placed into a container where the chickens have access to help themselves.

Bandsaw Dust
Sourced from butchers, bandsaw [or bone] dust, is essentially crushed raw bone. It's extremely beneficial in small amounts given regularly as a source of protein and calcium, especially when chickens are going through their annual moult.

Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is used as a general tonic and natural worm control. It is most commonly added to the chicken's water supply-1 teaspoon per litre of water.

Garlic is often used as a natural control for worms. It helps build a resistance to worms and can work as a natural wormer if the worm burden is light. Most commonly garlic is crushed and added to their water, but can also be put in mash mixtures.

Full of beneficial bacteria, yoghurt will help boost the good 'gut flora' [bacteria] in the chicken's digestive system. Particularly useful if a chicken is not well or after a course of antibiotics-which not only kill of bad bacteria but the good ones too. It can be fed alone, in mash or mixed with table scraps.

Put in their drinking water, molasses will give chickens an energy boost. Particularly useful for stopping broody hens being broody.

Eggs and Egg shells
Probably one of the more controversial foods to feed chickens. Feeding eggs and their shells provides a good source of protein and calcium [from the shells]. It's also a good use for eggs that are too old for human consumption or need to be withheld due to medication or antibiotic use instead of wasting them.

Some people believe it can give chickens the taste of eggs and will lead them to egg eating, others don't. I guess it really depends on how you feed it to them. Boiling them whole and then mashing them is one way, smashing the eggs and mixing it into a slurry with veggie scraps or adding crushed shells and beaten eggs to mash would be some ways to 'safely' feed eggs back to the chickens without running a risk of them developing unwanted egg eating habits. I would avoid smashing eggs open in their run for them to eat.

What NOT to Feed Chickens.
This is always a relatively subjective area. I've had chickens eat things they "shouldn't" and been fine BUT that's not to say that one day it might affect them and make them sick.

Citrus Peel-chickens don't really eat it and it doesn't rot down too well in their pens
Onion skins-same as citrus peel
Corn cobs-full corn cobs are fine, but once empty they are of no interest to the chickens and do not rot away easily. They can also be hazardous to dogs if swallowed, causing intestinal blockages and expensive surgeries for removal.
Rhubarb Leaves-it's not advisable to let chickens eat rhubarb, but don't worry if they peck at the leaves of any plants you have-it is doubtful they'd eat enough to make themselves sick.
Oleander-All parts of the oleander is poisonous and I wouldn't recommend feeding it to them.
Meat Bones-nothing wrong with giving bones to them, just that they may attract rats if left in the coop too long.

I am sure there are more things chickens shouldn't have, but I cannot think of them at the moment!

When it comes to feeding my chickens, I'm not really very high tech. I use empty icecream containers for their feed or just scatter it on the ground for them to forage for. For their water I use a 12L hanging waterer from the fodder store to stop hay, dirt and poo getting into it.

There are dozens and dozens of styles and designs of waterers and feeders you can get for chickens. Some are simple and others are more complex, in the end the best one is what works for you and your chickens.

Just thinking about all the different designs I have seen and heard about, is making me think about doing a separate post on them.

Please excuse the lack of photos at the was almost dark by the time I started working on this post and darkness does not make easy photography.