A collection of my favourite daily moments in the last 1-2 weeks.
My history as a photographer, and some experimental shots.
I know, because the Rubbermaid Roughneck container containing their food, which I keep snugged up to the side of the tractor to prevent the tarp from flying around, was not only flipped on its side, but the lid was off and the food spilled out. Further inspection revealed several tooth-mark punctures in the lid.
The tire used for tarp-anchor on the other side was also flipped over.
The huge, 6 cu. ft. bag of pine shavings that was also being used as tarp ballast/dog digging deterrent had been dragged several feet away, with puncture marks in numerous places through the plastic. (The bag weighs around 50 pounds or more, would be my guess.)
And the outer layer of poultry wire on the "front" of the chicken tractor was completely mangled. The inner layer was stretched, but had managed to hold.
So, that's why Sunshine was barking last night... Every time I stuck my head outside into the dark (we have no outside light right now) I could not hear any kerfuffle, so I figured she must have been barking at the fireflies. (Yes, fireflies. In my thirty-something years as an Alberta girl, that is the first time I have seen fireflies here.)
Tonight's plan: "Tether the dogs close enough to the chicken coops to actually fulfill their purpose as guard dogs, but not so close that they can molest the poultry themselves."
We'll see how it works. My only fear now is that I may find a mangled dog in the morning instead of a mangled coop. I'm not really sure what made all those teeth marks, after all.
By the way, that "tie the dead chicken around the dog's neck" thing? I'm giving up on that. It never works. They only eat the chicken. Lesson learned? I think not.
Now granted, I no longer weep when I find a dead chick from confusing causes in amongst the healthy ones--an event that, thankfully, has been rare this year. And the only deaths of adult birds that I weep at are the ones I inflict myself.
In fact, I am emotionally hardened enough already that I don't really cry when the deaths are inflicted by another sentient being, either. But not so hardened as to feel nothing. Oh, no--there are definitely other emotions evoked.
This week has seen some serious losses to my flock. The flock that we spend money, time, and effort on so that WE can have the benefit of our labours, not some random passing coyote who realizes that these dumb, domesticated birds are much easier hunting than the other prey he might find in the trees.
I should have 20 adult birds. I only have 12. The numbers have been dwindling at the rate of about one a day.
Jason has been working on digging the post holes for a permanent, enclosed, fortified-against-wildlife chicken run, but it is slow going in our gravel-pit of a yard. Also, he is away on a work trip this week, so hasn't been able to take advantage of the ground softened by rain, and I have been too busy to do the same.
We can't get that thing finished fast enough. I managed to get a "temp" enclosure of orange snow fence and electric-fence-posts up around the coop the other night (the soft ground certainly helped with this project). It has, so far, mostly managed to fulfill its purpose of keeping the chickens inside, out of the trees where they are "sitting ducks", so to speak. At only three feet tall, the soft plastic wasn't animal-proof by any stretch, but I hoped it might be a deterrent for the coyote.
Nope. Two more today. I could see the remains of their struggle right on the border of the fence, little feathers scattered about as an enraging reminder that something else was profiting at my expense... and probably laughing at me, too.
You know, I know Roald Dahl has us all sympathizing with a chicken-stealing fox in his classic story, but in my heart, I am really with Boggus, Bunce, and Bean. Those darn foxes, coyotes, and other critters have no right to the fruits of my labour!!
However, despite the staggering losses to my adult flock, my chicks have been okay so far, as they are always completely enclosed in our other, smaller chicken tractor, within which they are warmed by a heat lamp, protected from the wind, and get to see fresh grass about once a day. When we first got the chicks, Sunshine (our golden retriever) proved that although she seemed to have overcome her need to chase adult chickens around, she had just as keen of an interest in these new little appetizers as Koda had with last year's newbies--at four days old, she managed to dig a hole under the chicken tractor and extract at least one chick before Jason caught her in the act, little brown body still in her mouth.
Koda had been spending a lot of time kennelled, unless we were outside, since he has a tendency to wander off to the neighbours' to visit his buddies if left alone outside for longer than ten minutes. However, Sunshine had been free to wander around (ideally, protecting the yard from thieving coyotes). Since that incident, they have both been on detention.
We make an effort to make sure the dogs get several hours of exercise a day, which is usually pretty easy. When we are outside doing our yard work in the evenings, we let them out, and they exercise each other. However, with the rain for the last several days, I haven't been outside that much at night. Since Koda seems to have been doing better (not running off), and Sunshine had seemed to be less interested in the chicks now that they are a little older, I thought I would just let them run around tonight and keep an eye on them. So, every now and then, I would look out the window and see Koda running around. It should have set off an alarm bell that Sunshine was not there wrestling with him. But it didn't--after all, she isn't the one who runs off.
When I went out to "put them to bed," I was very thankful it wasn't raining.
Because I got to fix holes in my little chicken tractor's poultry wire (she went through two layers!)
And Sunshine gets to spend the night with a dead chick around her neck. I don't know if she got more--the hole which she also dug in the ground under the rear edge (and dragged one through, I'm sure--the holes in the wire didn't seem big enough for her to get through, and the chicks were more interested in staying at the opposite end under the heat lamp) was certainly big enough!
Sunshine had an epic fail tonight. I'm just thankful that it wasn't quite as epic as Koda's--as far as I can tell, she only got a few, (a lot less than 40!) and maybe only the one I caught her with. It's really hard to count seventy-five portable little chicks!
Why do we have dogs again?
(On a more positive note--Koda seems to have either learned from last spring's experience, or has grown past that stage, as he has not attempted poultricide this year.)
A perfect way to get an "instant garden", while doing something with the ratty straw bales that I used to winterize my chicken coop with, thought I.
Well, it just keeps getting better.
As the plan evolved, Jason helped me set the bales up in a ring around an odd patch by the vegetable garden with a little dirt in it. The dirt was "left" from when I was first building my raised veggie garden beds, and I had needed a place to dump the dirt-in-waiting before moving it into the beds. That was two years ago, so mostly it had been taken over with quackgrass, dandelions, and a bit of the marshy weeds that had come with the dirt. (I got this dirt from our friends Greg and Robin, who had made a big pile of topsoil while digging a new dugout for their water source a couple of years ago.)
After circling up the bales, the boys covered the top with composted chicken litter from the winter (one more "waste item" getting put back into use!), and drenched the whole thing with water to kick-start the composting process. A week later I managed to dig and pull and chop most of the weeds out from the middle, and in between battling mosquitoes I had time to think what a waste it was to just be throwing that valuable greenery over the side to smother the wild strawberries.
That night, while I was reviewing the ins and outs of straw bale gardening on this site, my eye was caught by another link called "lasagna gardening." (Wouldn't you be curious how pasta and meat sauce works into the garden?) Well, by the time I had read that page, I knew what I was going to do in the middle of that straw bale garden.
My original plan had been to dig out the weeds, throw in some sunflower seeds (which I have been collecting for years, because apparently I have many good intentions when it comes to flower gardening, and am a little short on follow-through) and see if any of them grow. I wanted to clean out my seed drawer and start fresh, and I knew most of them would likely not germinate anyway, due to their age, so what difference did it make?
However, I really liked the idea of sheet composting the middle section of the garden. For one, it would help the straw bales retain some moisture. For two, it would give me a good start on some nice, rich soil, and the beginnings of a permanent, rather than temporary, garden spot. For three, it would help me use up some stuff that was laying around the yard.
So, in went the layers. Ripped-up cardboard boxes, followed by all those weeds (and then some) that I had dug out the night before (Yes! I actually put weeds into my garden!), followed by a layer of composted chicken litter.
Several days passed before I was able to progress from there--days involving rain, and snow, and wind, and coldness. Sunday afternoon was bright and sunny, and I knew I had to finish the job before the growing season got any shorter.
More layering commenced: partially-decomposed compost from the bin (collecting since last summer, but some of it was pretty fresh); partially-decomposed straw from the dogs' winter bedding; extra bags of peat moss that were laying around, full of holes and ants (the peat moss and ants went in, not the bags); some potting soil in a thin layer on top.
After that, I mixed all my sunflower seeds--old and new--together for the official scattering. The boys and I each took a handful and threw them in--the result was covering a rather smaller area than I expected that many packets of seeds to handle. A bit anti-climactic, since I had been promising them they could help me plant sunflowers once I got the garden ready. Oh, well. I filled in the rest with daisy seeds.
Then I planted as many other flower seeds as I could around the straw bale edges, leaving a few spaces to insert tomatoes in a week or two when my plants indoors are ready to move out.
Will anything grow? I don't know. It would be nice if it ALL grew, but right now, I am just kinda excited to see what will happen.
I call it my "Anything Goes" garden. If no sunflowers grow, at least I might get a few more hills of potatoes out of the deal from the "extras" we threw in the compost pile last week! :-)
Potatoes sprouting in the veggie garden (wire to keep the chickens out)
The peas and corn have sprouted! Yay! (Last year, my corn didn't grow at all. Also, I'm using last spring's pea seeds. I was a little relieved to see them start to peek out above the dirt.)
Gardening assistants? Well, three out of four, anyway. The hairy one mostly likes eating the fertilizer!
Open your peepers!
After initially thinking I would not get any chicks this spring, because I thought I might be travelling a lot (among other reasons), I changed my mind. However, I have made a few changes already from what I did last year to make it a little easier and more feasible for me. Learning is a wonderful thing!
First off: raise broilers for meat birds (as opposed to dual-purpose). That way, you can butcher in August--much better use of time and money per bird. Nicer meat. And none of this "having to feed them through the winter" nonsense.
So, we have 50 fluffy yellow little Cornish Giant chicks running around in the brooder. You'd never know they will be ready to butcher in only 8 weeks, would you? (The 25 auburn chicks are Rhode Island Reds. I will keep the hens for layers and butcher all but one of the roosters.)
Secondly: Brood them in the chicken tractor. This idea was thanks to Robin B., my friend and local mentor in all things farming. She's not my only mentor, but I have leaned heavily on her as I have made my fledgling attempts at gardening (she grew up here and knows what grows best) and chicken farming, and we have also swapped ideas on homeschooling and diet. She said that her and her husband have found that if you just cover the chicken tractor with a tarp to keep the draughts out, and make sure the heat lamps keep it warm enough, the chicks do fine, and you don't have to worry about splay-leggedness or other issues that arise when brooding them in small confined spaces in wood chips. (Yay! I don't have to clean a brooder box every three days or listen to chirping, hungry chicks dragging me out of bed in the wee hours of the morning!)
I am also revving up to get my garden in this weekend, or at least most of it. I have been struggling with where to put the flowers I've started. I was going to make a flower bed right in front of the trailer, but now that we're moving the trailer, that's not going to work! So tonight, I looked out across my yard and surveyed the options. My eye espied the pile of straw bales no longer being used to insulate a coop, and I had the inspiration to try straw bale gardening this year! That way, it is only temporary, and I can move my flower bed back in front of the trailer in a year or two (where I'd really like it to be.) I'm so excited, now, and can't wait to get started!
Plus, the high-nitrogen composted chicken manure from the winter will give my new straw bale garden a great start--I was wondering where I was going to use that! :-)
Happy Spring, friends!