Jan 24, 2009

cumulus clouds and sheep

Yesterday morning was a very slow start to the day, so we dropped Merl into work in the car, because the bus was long gone by the time we'd finished breakfast.

Driving around the harbour we could see the whole harbour basin filled with cloud, but the hills around it were in bright sunshine. It was very cool.

Miss4 began a discussion on what type of cloud it was. (She's an avid 'Magic School Bus' reader).

Miss4: "That's a stratus cloud, because it's so long and thin... there are other types of cloud, like cumulus and cumulo-nimbus clouds. Yeah, cumulo-nimbus clouds are when the wind comes along, takes the top of a cumulus cloud and the whole thing gets big and dark - that's a storm cloud. Cumulus clouds are big puffy fluffy white ones..."

Daddy suggested that Cumulus clouds look like sheep

Miss 4: "Yeah, just like sheep. But without the legs. And they're not alive."

I'm glad we got that straightened out.

Jan 21, 2009

Making a Chicken Dome - Day 5

Mission accomplished!

If you want the stepwise instructions, begin your adventure with
Day 1 - making the frame
Day 2 - crossbracing the dome
Day 3 - making the door
Day 4 - covering the dome with chicken wire
Day 5 is populating your dome with chickens!

As you can see in the photo above, we attached the door using sophisticated rope and bungee cord technology. The 'hinges' are loops of nylon rope at top, middle and bottom of one side. the 'latch' is a bungee cord or two at the other side to keep the door shut.

Bungee cords are also working well at keeping the tarps over the top of the dome. The tarpaulin is important in this setup as chooks don't like getting wet. (They also don't like things flapping above them, so there is possibly a better way of doing this. I shall give it some thought).

You can also see the roost/perch. This is a pruned treebranch, painted with motor oil to kill any mites that might be lurking and hung up using tie wire. Apparently chooks like roosts of about 5cm to 8 cm wide (2 to 3 inches) so they feel nice and secure. We've since found that our girls prefer 5cm, not 8cm.

On the left is Mk1 of the water bottle. It's a recycled milk bottle with the sides cut out and enough room at the bottom for water to sit. Not ideal. This needs to be topped up about three times a day at the moment and I'm going to use a different system. To the right is a tuna can with shell-grit in it. The chooks can help themselves whenever they want some. The tuna can for the shell-grit came with our chookies and it works really well.

Here are our ladies and their nesting box in the background. The nesting box is an old beer crate with a couple of planks nailed on the front to give a bit of privacy. In the front is the lovely Abigail - she is our egg-layer at the moment as Belle (in the rear) has started her moult. They are Brown Shaver hens which are a modern hybrid breed, bred for egg production. We get brown eggs - one a day from Abigail.

Things we have changed since the photos were taken:
These photos were taken the day after we collected our hens and settled them in. That was about 10 days ago and there have been a few changes.

nesting box
- this is now raised off the ground on a couple of cinder-blocks. Abigail started laying her eggs on the floor of the coop, and one book we got from the library (Free Range Poultry by Katie Thear) suggested that raising the box up will help clear up any confusion as to what constitutes a nest.

This does seem to work, although I still find the odd egg on the floor - I suspect it gets kicked out of the nesting box at night because both ladies refuse to sleep on the perch and instead cram themselves into that little box to sleep. This is not a long-term option since their feet will start to get hurt if they stand flat all night. It seems that the classic 'Linda Woodrow Dome' will need some modification for our quite cold nights (and chickens who are used to sleeping shut away in a box). I have plans to modify a rabbit hutch we have lying around to turn it into a nesting box/perch house which we can sit alongside the dome - so the dome will be more of a 'run', rather than a complete housing solution.

perch - The one in the photo is too fat - the chooks wouldn't use it. We now use a more slender branch - more the 5cm end of the scale than 8cm - and they happily sit up on that during the day (but not at night - see above).

water - I've attached the water container to the dome using wire, instead of rubber bands. This is neater, doesn't warp the container and is easier to get the bottle out for cleaning and refilling. I am, however, going to spring for a watering system, because this one needs filling morning noon and night, and chooks can die if they get too thirsty. It's just too risky.

food - I've made another container, just like the water one, for layers mash pellets. The chooks get plenty of garden and kitchen waste, but it is of variable quantity and quality, especially at this stage when we are just establishing the system. With a supply of mash off to the side the chooks can top up when they feel the need. Some days they eat it all, other days its hardly touched.

sand - I did add a tray of sand so they could have a place to dust-bathe, but they pecked it a few times, covered it up with mulch and dust-bathed in the dirt instead. So I took it out again.

orientation - we swung the whole thing around a bit to provide better protection from the Southerly that came up during the weekend (the Southerly is the cold wind at this end of the world - there's nothing between us and Antarctica except a couple of uninhabited islands and a few penguins).

In all, it has been a very successful first week of chicken ownership, even if the steep learning curve (and my pregnancy tiredness) has meant that we've only just gotten around to sharing it with the world! If my kids can't find me, they're learning to check outside at the coop, or inside at the windows overlooking the coop - I am enjoying sitting and just watching them go about their business.

Oh, and one other chicken link. Radio New Zealand's National Program has been running a series on keeping backyard chooks, where the presenter converts his Wendy House into a chook house. Lots of good advice and chicken photos at the Funky Chicken Farm, including a video on how to check the pelvic space of the chicken to see if she's ready to lay (videos on Page 5 'book book book'). This has been very timely and I keep 'shushing' the family so I can hear what they're saying - thankfully each episode is only about 15 mintues long!

Edited on 7 April 2009 to add
Chicken Update - How we're doing 3 months on - found here


Jan 14, 2009

Baby #3

Yes indeed, I am 8 weeks pregnant!

According to one week-by-week guide I read last week...
You may have either gained or lost a few pounds, but are not showing yet.

Oh yeah?

Clearly written with the first-time mother in mind, methinks (or perhaps for those with functioning abdominal muscles...)


Jan 10, 2009

Making a Chicken Dome - Day 4

Hopefully this is the second-last post in our epic chicken-dome/tractor/coop making adventure!

Day 1 is making the frame
Day 2 is crossbracing the dome
Day 3 we made the door
Day 4 is covering the dome with chicken wire...

I got an email yesterday from the current owner of 'our' chickens letting us know that the time was getting close for them to be re-homed. This engendered a flurry of activity at the homestead as we had only half-covered the dome with chicken wire and it was definitely not ready for chickens!

The easy step-wise type instructions are simple for Day4. "Cover the dome with chicken wire, remembering to leave the doorway open".

That's it, really. But there are some handy hints to go along with this.
1) Wear gardening gloves. Your hands will thank you
2) Use tie-wire to attach the chicken wire to the dome. A pair of needle-nosed pliers can be helpful for this, but not strictly necessary
3) The pointy cut-ends of the chicken wire can be wrapped around neighbouring wire to anchor them together, instead of using tie-wire.4) If dogs are a problem, make a foot-long 'skirt' of chicken wire to lie on the ground, out from the base of the dome. Cut darts into the wire so it will lie flat.
5) If you think sparrows and other scavenging small birds will be a problem, use fine-gauge chicken wire - bird netting I think they call it. This is the stuff we were able to buy easily from the garden shop. We also re-used ordinary chicken wire that we found under our house, so our dome is a mix of the two. I don't think I'll mind feeding sparrows, but I don't know how I'll feel about that in a few months :)
6) Tying the chicken wire to the frame is much easier with two people - one on the inside and one on the outside, pushing the tie-wire through to each other.

We collect the chickens on Monday or Tuesday evening, so our next post on this topic will include pictures of our finished dome, complete with inhabitants!

I can't wait!

In the meantime, for those of you with unsatisfied chicken urges, Rhonda is having a "Kitchen Table" post this weekend all about chickens. Lots of excellent advice from Rhonda and everyone else who has contributed to this fine idea.

Day 5, Chicken Dome Completion!

Jan 7, 2009

I must be doing something right

Whenever I put Miss1 down for her afternoon sleep, I give Miss4-and-almost-5 a chance to get anything she would like to play with out of the room. They share a bedroom and so there is usually a half dozen toys and/or books that get ferried from the room and dumped in a pile in the hallway, just in case she might need them in the next couple of hours.

Recently, we had the following exchange...

Me: I'm about to put [Miss1] down for a sleep, it's time to get anything you need out of this room

Miss4-and-almost-5: (with a slightly puzzled frown on her face) But there's nothing I need in here.

Me: (in utter disbelief) Really?

Miss-4-and-almost-5: (as if explaining the obvious) There are lots of things that I want, but nothing that I need. They're not the same thing, you know.

Jan 3, 2009

make your own apple cider vinegar

Here's the scenario:

It is New Year's Eve. You are at a friend's house and have offered to make the Guacamole. Your friend hands you the perfect avocado, the pottle of cream cheese and gives you directions to the chives in the backyard. They then reach for the apple cider vinegar from their cupboard and say "Ew gross, what is that?!" You come over for a look and see a floating disk of slime in their bottle of vinegar.

What. do. you. do?

If you have been following Rhonda's wonderful blog, you reach for it and say "Oh Cool! You've got a Vinegar Mother! Do you want it? Cos if you don't can I have it? Please?"

Yes, truly.

Rhonda's got a couple of posts on making your own vinegar here and here. I was so inspired I decided to try it myself. I had been idly thinking about making my own vinegar using one of the recipes that don't start with a 'mother', since I've been feeling like vinegary things lately (mmmmm, pickles), but after having such a lucky find on Wednesday I was propelled from idle thoughts into definite action.

vinegar ingredients

So here's what you start with. Apple juice (the bottle on the left), a sterile container to make the vinegar in (on the right), and your 'mother of vinegar' (in the centre). I used 3L of apple juice and a gallon container. Use less if that's what you've got.

the 'mother of vinegar'

Here's what the 'mother of vinegar' looks like when poured out into a small bowl. I vaguely remember an old boyfriend making 'kombucha' - some odd mushroom drink thing that's supposed to be fabulously good for you. It looks a bit like that.

apple juice and red wine, with mother added to each

Then I split the mother, by gently pulling it apart with a couple of butter knives. Then poured one half into the apple juice and the other half into a half-litre of red wine leftover from a dinner earlier in the week (I figured I might as well make red wine vinegar while I was about it!). You can see the mother floating in the apple juice.

the vinegars-to-be, in the hotwater cupboard

The jars were covered with muslin cloth to allow them to breathe while keeping the vinegar flies out, labelled with the contents and the date, and put safely away in my hotwater cupboard. Rhonda says you can leave it on the bench to ferment happily, but I don't have that much bench space, my little projects need to be kept away from inquisitive hands, and frankly my bench top is not the warm 25-30degC that she enjoys in her northern Australian climate. The hotwater cupboard will do nicely.

Now all I need to do is be patient for anywhere between 2 and 6 months.

It's very exciting. I'm not sure I can wait that long!

Jan 2, 2009

homemade dishcloths

my hand-knitted dishcloth

The first time I heard of people knitting their own dishcloths I knew I'd found the weirdo fringe of simple-lifestyler greenie people. I mean, why would you do that?! I can cut the standard blue-striped supermarket cloths in half and make a packet last a whole year by frequently washing them and never letting them stew in their own stinky juices on the bench (gross).

And then I kept coming across people saying how great homemade dishcloths were. They are even cheaper than store-bought (especially if you have a hoarded yarn stash inherited from several generations - as I have). They ostensibly last longer. And if made from 100% natural fibres can be composted at the end of their lives.

So I figured it was worth a try.

Our current batch of store-bought cloths are all just about to give up the ghost - they have started to split lengthways and generally fall apart. I thought about writing them up on the shopping list, but hesitated. Knitting a rectangle would take all of an evening and if it works as well as everyone says, then we wouldn't need to purchase any dishcloths anymore.

Off to the wool basket I went. There I found a bag of coloured cotton yarn that my Nana had bought for me when I was about 9 years old. I distinctly remembering begging her to buy it for me because the colours were so pretty. She did so, reluctantly, on the condition that I would actually make something out of it. That bag of yarn has been niggling at my conscience in a very low key way for nigh on 23 years. So that's another 'point' in favour of knitting the dishcloths!

I used this pattern here at Groovy Mom, and you'll find plenty more here at Knitting Pattern Central. I used no7 (4.5mm) knitting needles and 100% cotton, double-knit (8ply) yarn.

With some trepidation I used my new dishcloth the next night. I was skeptical because I wasn't sure if it would absorb the water or just move it around. And if it did, would it wring dry enough to not leave the bench soaking wet when wiping up? And would it get clean again once I washed the pots? Had I just wasted an entire evening knitting a useless thing?

I am so happy with the result that I now have 5 dishcloths in my drawer!

These cloths work way better than the supermarket *(rhymes with chucks)* cloths. The ridging from the knitting mean there's a bit of texture to rub the pots etc clean. The cotton is completely absorbant (like a towel), but the open weave means it wrings out to just damp for wiping the table etc. And they can be safely sterilised at the end of the day by scouring them with hot water from the kettle, or nuking them in the microwave for 1 minute.
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