Phew – a long hot summer is now behind us. Scorching temperatures, tinder dry landscape, fierce winds and bushfires here, there and everywhere! The hills and paddocks are a golden yellow of dry grass stalks or (as in the case for some of our paddocks) sun-baked earth as the new grass seeds wait for autumn rains to encourage their new green growth.
The incendiary landscape and strong winds were a real concern some days, with the car packed with valuables and important documents and fire plan at the ready should we need to evacuate. Luckily it didn’t come to that, but there were some anxious days watching wind direction and hoping that fires burning a few kilometres away wouldn’t come racing over the back fence. We chose White Stone Farm carefully, ensuring we are not among thick bushland (the tragedies of Black Saturday bushfires here in Victoria were still fresh in our mind when we bought the property in 2011 and served as a good reminder that being engulfed by trees can also lead to being engulfed by flames). The property backs onto large tracts of open pasture and grassland, although grassfires can also be incredibly fast and destructive. We kept our eye on this one burning not far away…
The dry spell was broken by a watery reprieve the other week, prompting some new growth to poke its green shoots through the dirt (only to be eaten by hungry chickens!) and the weeds are coming back with a vengeance!
Once, I would have been upset with the advent of weeds such as Purslane (left), Mallow and Nettle but with my trusty Weed Forager’s Handbook: A guide to edible and medicinal weeds in Australia (by Adam Grubb & Annie Raser-Rowland), I am looking forward to incorporating these highly nutritious plants into our diet instead!! It’s amazing the plants we overlook or disregard because they are ‘weeds’, when in fact they are incredible nutrient packed leafy greens – loaded with more vitamins and minerals than greens off the supermarket shelves can offer. And what’s more – they grow prolifically in our poor soil and harsh weather!
Summer has also been a time of chickens, chickens and more chickens! We incubated a big batch of eggs for 3 weeks over January-February, but towards the end we had little hope that they would survive as the incubator overheated on some of the really hot days and then we lost power for 12 hours, so they cooled down considerably. But, proving just how resilient they can be, 19 baby chickens of different shapes and sizes made it out of the egg successfully over 4 days.
Some of the chicks needed a little helping hand as the humidity in the incubator had dropped, leaving them in danger of drying out too much in the long hatching process. I was ever vigilant, ensuring they were gently sprayed with warm water regularly to prevent from drying and dying during the hatching process and was there to greet them as they finally freed themselves from their calcium confines.
The result – some very cute, multi-coloured fluff balls!
As they grow they have been moved into larger accommodation…from a polystyrene hot box, to a cardboard brooder box, then to a rabbit hutch to acclimatise them to outside conditions and play in the dirt for natural scratching, dust-bathing and foraging….
And finally into the Chicken Shangri-La A-Frame. Stace did a great job of designing and building this chook house, which has an automatic waterer and feed station and is on sleds so that we can drag it to a new part of the paddock for fresh foraging. The new chickens LOVE IT!
Due to our presence at many of their hatching events, most of the chicks have formed a strong connection, regarding us as Mum. They love to clamber all over us and snuggle up in our laps for a nap in the morning sun.
The summer’s trying conditions have caused a rethink on some of the things that are possible and those that are very challenging at White Stone Farm. Chickens however seem to be doing well, providing us with eggs, meat, antics and plenty of ‘awwwww…’ moments and laughs. As the broods continue to expand and the pastured poultry flocks are increased in the back paddock, more weird and wonderful chicken accommodations are being designed and built. Stay tuned for the newest Chook Wagon…currently in development! You take an old Ford Falcon…then rip out the seats and floor….