Resilience of Chickens

Chickens are amazing creatures.  They are really tough in many respects and really fragile in others. A chest infection or eggbound oviduct can kill them quickly, whereas grave wounds can just seem like an annoyance and they pull through.

Take, for example, one of our beautiful, big Light Sussex girls.  In the morning, as they burst out of the chicken Falcon to have breakfast, I didn’t even realise anything was amiss.  Everyone ran around and had their breakfast in a frenzy of food gobbling excitement, I gave them a cursory glance over to see if anyone looked mopey, dull feathered or otherwise untoward and then headed to the Big Shed to help Stace with some stuff.

About half an hour later the chickens ran past in their excitable hurry to find the next tasty grub.  There is usually one particular hen, or sometimes it’s the rooster leading the charge to the next feeding spot and everyone hurries along after, fearful of missing out or being separated from the flock (leaving them vulnerable to attack by our resident Magpies). The main group passed and then hobbling along behind trying to keep up was one of the big beautiful Light Sussex hens.  With blood pouring out of her foot!

Stace and I raced over and grabbed her and were horrified to find that two of her toes were missing!  They had been sheared clean off!  Perplexed how it may have happened – perhaps she got her toes caught in the wire floor of the car as they all jumped out…I raced her off to the house for emergency medical treatment.  For me it was an emergency…to the chook it just seemed like an annoyance because she wasn’t eating with the others!

I bathed the foot and inspected the wound closer.  Two of her toes had been cut off from the first knuckle.  She patiently let me bathe her foot in a warm saline solution, then treat her with antiseptic and bandage the would.  We set up a clean and dry hospital cage outside the back door and although perplexed by her new bandage, she settled in well.

Chook with foot injury

We inspected the chook Falcon but couldn’t work out exactly what had happened.  No toes remained…likely they were gobbled up by an over eager breakfast eater!  Eeew.

Each day I would change the dressing and ensure that the wound was healing well and she was bestowed with the name Peggy…short for, you guessed it, Pegleg.  It looked horrific, but the healing process was amazing, with the skin growing over the exposed bone.

Chook with foot injury

Chook with injured foot recovering

Eventually it was healed enough for the Great Outdoors and Peg had taught herself how to balance on her limited number of toes.  She is going great now, with no hint of a limp or disability – you can’t tell her from her Light Sussex sister.  She has adapted her scratching technique and forges on in her chookie way.  What a trooper is our Peggy!

Peggy the chook recovering from a foot injury

Waiting for chickens

With my new found hours here at the farm, it’s been timed perfectly with our decision to incubate a new batch of chickens for our laying and eating flock.  Carefully collecting up the best selection of eggs from our favourite hens, we carefully stored them until we had enough to turn the incubator on and start the 21 day process.  And then my mother hen duties began.

My vigilance over the last couple of weeks has been firmly concentrated on the incubator in the spare bedroom.  Inside the quietly humming machine, the miraculous growth of baby chicks from mere fertilised cells to gorgeous fluffy, fully-functioning chickens curled inside their protective shell is taking place.  In order for this to go smoothly, the incubator must be kept at the right humidity and temperature, so regular checking to make sure that the power hasn’t failed, or the ambient temperature isn’t affecting the machine or that the humidity is still good is a regular part of my new routine here at the farm. I hover around the machine that provides such life support to our growing chicks to ensure that the specific temperatures indicated on the incubator instructions are set correctly and that all is well: 38.2ºC from 1st – 6th day, 38ºC from 7th – 14th day, 37.8ºC on the 15th day, then 37.3ºC from the 16th – 21st day and make sure that the auto rotator in the incubator is doing its job a couple of times a day.  It never ceases to amaze me that hens control all of these important temperature and humidity functions that are required with a developing egg just with their body, the amount of time they spend sitting on the eggs and they instinctively know when to turn them, heat them up, cool them down and just when their babies are preparing to hatch.  Nature is truly an incredible thing.

So, when the time comes in the next couple of weeks and all being well, our babies will hatch and we’ll have another new brood of (hopefully!) lots of new female layers to add to our pastured poultry flock.  Our incubator chicks from last year are doing really well. It’s been amazing watching them grow over the last year.  From early beginnings as they struggled to get out of the egg and take in the world for the first time…

chicks hatched

Tiger Newly hatched

Becoming inquisitive balls of fluff, where every day is a delight watching their antics as they eat, sleep and explore…(I spend a lot of my time ‘chicken watching’ during this particular stage…!)

Incubator chickens at White Stone Farm

baby chicken morning

Sleepy chickens

Enjoying their first dust bath…(and appreciating just how instinctual dust bathing is for them!)

First dust bath

Those early childhood years as they continue to explore their surroundings and get ready for the big move outside…

Young chicks

Watching as their feathers start to come through and the array of beautiful colours they will become…

Different coloured chicks

More world exploration (and dust bathing!) as they are moved outdoors into a protected spot to enjoy the sunshine and warmer weather…

Young chicks outdoors

Meeting the other hens…

Chicks meeting chickens

Those awkward teenage years where they are finding their independence and exploring their world (although they still want to get close and sit on your shoulder!)…

Chicken on shoulder

To capable and independent adults with beautiful personalities and temperaments.

Older chickens exploring

It’s always an exciting journey watching them grow and develop.  The hardest part is when the roosters come of age and after enjoying halcyon days on the farm without a care in the world, they leave this earth and are loved and respected at the dinner table.  There is always tears then…but that is the path of ethical meat for us.  With lots of love and respect every step of the way.

So, as I wait for these new chickens to come into the world, fussing and clucking like a mother hen to make sure that their conditions are juuuust right for a successful hatch, I am eager to meet these new personalities and can’t wait to get to know them as they enjoy their lives here at White Stone Farm.

Springing our way into greenery!

Spring is finally here at White Stone Farm.  Hooray!   Winter was frosty and we got a good dose of rain.  Our water channeling system successfully harvested rainwater throughout winter, with our drainage channels filling and slowly but surely moving the water across the block, collecting in small pools along the way.  Our main dam is nearly full now!  Double Hooray!

Dam in flower at White Stone Farm

These pools are now a fantastic habitat for the many wild ducks as they come in their pairs during Spring to stake a claim over one of the many hollows in the River Red Gums and frolic on their newly made ponds.

The landscape has also appreciated the watery gifts from Mother Nature, with grass growing in abundance where there was only bare, baked earth a couple of months ago.  It never ceases to amaze me how grass and other plant seeds can lay dormant over those perishing, dry months and create a resurgence of greenery when the rains finally appear.

Chickens grazing at White Stone Farm

Misfit moultingThe chickens LOVE the greenery, turning into grazing herds in these springtime months and the warmer mornings and longer days kick-start their egg laying once more.  It was pretty ugly times over winter with our Misfits (our ex-cage layers who already have some physical appearance disadvantages!) going through their molt.  Why Mother Nature’s colder weather inspires their little chicken bodies to shed their feathers is still a mystery to me!

Our A-frame chickens are growing fast, with a number of stunning roosters in the mix. They are now urgently seeking homes (let us know if you are keen!), otherwise they will sadly end up in the pot.

Light sussex roosters at White Stone Farm

The llamas are appreciating the fresh green grass and are busily mowing some areas for us!  They always look so miserable in the cold and wet, so it’s nice to see them enjoy the warmer days in the sunshine.

Llamas at White Stone Farm

Our greenhouse carefully protected a number of more fragile plants from frost over winter and we now have lots of lovely seed to collect, dry and replant for next season.  One of my favourites was the gorgeous purple basil – a stunning colour and super tasty!

Purple basil

Winter was a great time for creating in the kitchen.  Our Autumn harvest was turned into soups, stews and chutneys.  With a long history of European farming settlement out here, there is also an abundance of European trees – many now classified as weeds, that are both tasty and incredibly good for you!  The humble Hawthorn berry makes a wonderful chutney – and goes particularly well with kangaroo! Yuum!

Hawthorn Chutney at White Stone Farm

Kombucha at White Stone FarmInspired by some recent workshops with the Ballarat Permaculture Guild, Tread Lightly Permaculture and the Hepburn Relocalisation Network, I’ve been fermenting lots of foods. In a world where everything store-bought is highly processed, pasteurised, neutralised and homogenised, little goodness remains.  Fermentation helps to naturally increase the longevity of foods, but also does wonders to your intestinal bacteria and overall health. Sauerkraut, Sourdough bread, Keffir, Kombucha (right) and Miso have all been made and enjoyed and will keep us well fed and nourished over the months to come!

And a recent change in my working life – with a sudden loss of my desk-based job has created new opportunities to be on the farm full time.  It’s exciting to be able to turn much more of my time, energy and attention to White Stone Farm and all the projects we have on the go…as well as lots more in the pipeline!

After all, it’s not a bad office to spend your days, is it…?

White Stone Farm vista

 

Hazy shade of Winter

Look around…

Leaves are brown…

There’s a patch of snow on the ground…

Frosty morning at White Stone Farm

Winter has arrived and thankfully some good soaking winter rains arrived with it.   It was a dire time throughout Autumn, with the rains arriving on the very last day.  But then Winter descended and with it those cold mornings that our central highlands of Victoria are renowned for.  Mornings were frosty and it was difficult to get out of bed!  Even the chickens struggled to get out of their Chook Falcon on those chilly days!

Frosty chook falcon at White Stone FarmLlama in puddleBut the nights were good for cosy-ing up next to the fire with a good permaculture book or two!

Leading up to winter and the promise of rain approaching, we realised that we needed to improve the water harvesting and drainage on our property.  Over the last 2 winter seasons here, we have been inundated with rain and bad drainage, creating a swampland across the entire block.  I’m sure the llamas and horse started to get webbed feet!

With our winters so wet and our summers so dry, we needed to be able to channel that resource into catchment areas to decrease their evaporation and increase their usefulness (other than just breeding mosquitoes!).

Last winter, we painstakingly mapped out the slightly-lower-than-very-flat areas on the block (did I mention we’re sitting on a plateau and have very little slope?!) and Stace worked hard digging (mostly by hand) a series of channels and pools to collect and move the water across the block.

Poor drainage at White Stone Farm

Stace digging channels at White Stone FarmThe chickens helped where they could…most of them just hanging around for a tasty worm to be turned over with the next clod of earth.  Most of the time they just got under Stace’s feet…but that’s what happens when you have free range chickens!

With torrential rain finally falling down, we watched with expectation…and discovered that Stace’s hard work creating a system of drainage channels throughout White Stone Farm worked a treat! Hooray!

Winter used to depress me, with our beautiful property becoming a cold, sloshy, swampland…but no longer. I now see it as working with nature and utilising her bountiful resource.  We now have a series of ephemeral pools and can move water slowly through the paddocks and use it more effectively to grow veggies, get water to stock and continue to rejuvenate the landscape.  Our small aquaculture dam beside the greenhouse, which is the main source of water for the greenhouse as it cycles through, ran completely dry over summer and autumn, but is now nearly full to brimming!  Hooray!  Our native fish that nearly perished in the hotter months and had to spend some time in the fish tank in the lounge room are back in their outdoor home finding natural food and (hopefully) growing big and fat!

Greenhouse and aquaculture dam

Winter is such a cosy time, for hot soups, crackling fires and long days of rain to refresh the landscape after a parched dry season.  And now we will get to enjoy all that water long after winter is gone.

The Highs and Lows of Ethical Meat

One of the biggest reasons that we moved out of Melbourne and onto our own land at White Stone Farm was to be able to produce our own food.  Where food comes from is important to us.  What chemicals have been used in the production of fruit and vegetables, what sort of conditions were supposedly ‘cage free/barn laid/free range’ chickens kept in (you’d be surprised just how little area is allowed for commercial ‘free range’ egg production) and how long has that leafy green been in cold storage and trucked across the nation to get to our plate??  When you buy your produce from a supermarket, you can never be really sure of the answers to all of these questions.  And that just wasn’t good enough for us.

The same goes for meat. Top of our concerns is the treatment of animals, the conditions they are kept in and very importantly, how much stress they had to endure as they meet their maker to become made into meat.  In today’s mass consumerism for meat products on a huge scale, it requires a huge need for thousands of animals to supply the demand.  And conditions are not always so favourable. Continue reading

Poultry Politics

Our poultry are an important part of White Stone Farm.  They are our natural insect control, fertilizer makers and feathery entertainers.  (And one day, some of them will make it to the dinner table as well).

Poultry are fascinating.  The way the chickens go about their business in their endless search for tasty bugs, the way they relate to each other in the flock, maintain their pecking order, interact with the other animals, peck, preen, dust-bathe, squawk, cheep, cluck, scratch, explore and cock-a-doodle-do (for the rooster at least!) – all of that is really interesting stuff!  And it entertains us to no end!  Except the cock-a-doodle-doing at 4am…

Chicken peckOur house chooks – Avalon, Bentley (and her 2 chicks), Commanche, Delorian, Eldorado (and her 9 fluff-ball chicks), Ferrari, Galaxy and rooster Henry Ford (yes, all alphabetical and car-themed…) live in the old stables and go about their business of scratching and exploring around the house, garden and nearest paddocks.  On a hot day their favourite spot is under the house, so it’s not uncommon to be sitting in the lounge and have Henry cock-a-doodle-dooing under your feet directly under the floor! Continue reading