While we Were Away & Since We’ve Been Back

While we were away, the chickens did not die. Woohoo! Neither did they run away, incapacitate themselves or fall into the grips of illness. Frodo did manage to escape into the Vege Garden one day, but didn’t cause too much damage. The hens even managed to lay in the new coop. I wasn’t expecting them to go as far as laying in the new nestboxes, seeing as I only had time to relocate two of them, Frodo and Lizzie, into a nestbox at laying time the morning before we ran off on holiday. But I was pleasantly surprised to receive the report that two eggs were found in a nestbox one day.

The first day back I collected seven eggs from the coop. I was a bit confused. How many hens did I have now? I have got seven, but I was sure they hadn’t all started laying yet. The Husband was even confused and he really has no idea how many hens I have. It seems a couple of the eggs must have been hidden under some wood shavings down the far end of the coop and escaped collection the evening before.

Egg haul
Egg haul: It took me a while to figure out how I came to collect so many eggs in one day. At least two of them would have been hidden treasure from the day before. Check out Lizzie’s huge double-yolker!

Since coming home, I have been having an interesting time training the chickens to use the nestboxes and the new roosts that I’ve been working on. Frodo and Lizzie had the nestbox thing sorted and Kitty soon cottoned on of her own accord after I cut the entry holes bigger and added a fake egg. Don’t we just love Kitty? She’s so low maintenance. Georgiana and Sookie, however, are a different story. Georgiana has never been good at laying in a nestbox. In the old coop she would make a little hollow in the wood shavings on the opposite side to the nestboxes and lay there. She did exactly the same with the new coop, laying as far away as possible from the nestboxes. Sookie was no better, also laying down the far end of the coop but in the other corner. One day I spied her rolling Georgiana’s egg over into her corner before assuming the laying position on top of it.

Training with Georgiana and Sookie  initially involved a lot of relocating them to a nestbox when they went down the far end of the coop to lay. This did not compute with either of them. One time, even Lorelai was like, “Hey, look Georgiana, you can walk up the ramp like this  (cue Lorelai slowly walking up the ramp) and look – there’s a nestbox up here where you could lay your egg!” (Cue Lorelai peering into the nestbox.) Lorelai has not even started laying yet. She would make a good rooster. She obviously has some smarts. Eventually, Georgiana and Sookie had to get shut into the bottom nestbox at different times in order for them to get it. Georgiana has now got it the first time after being shut in. Sookie didn’t lay today so I don’t yet know if one shut-in session was enough for her.

Lorelai and Jane B have yet to start laying but they shouldn’t be far off, especially Jane B, who has now drawn the attention of Mr Bingley. Lizzie is suddenly moulting furiously after kind of stalling her moult with a bare tummy through winter. Poor thing. If she’d stopped laying her big eggs that might have helped her to finish moulting and regrowing feathers. She hasn’t laid for more than a week while she’s moulting big time so hopefully that will help to speed things along. I feel extra sorry for her because she’s hiding in the corner at night, not so energetic during the day and it appears that Frodo has taken top hen spot from her. I wonder if this will last. I feel pleased for Frodo, the matriarch, that she is finally top hen for the first time, but at the same time I feel stink for Lizzie. She and Mr Bingley were such great lovebirds. I have also moved the chickens into The Cedar Pen. The Orchard Pen was too soggy and getting overrun by falling grapefruit.

Chickens in The Cedar Pen
The chickens were stoked to be allowed into The Cedar Pen. There had been numerous escapes into it while I was working on the coop and leaving the gate somewhat ajar.

I came back from holiday to a very large oyster mushroom from the second flush of my mushroom kit. So good! Unfortunately, I rushed the putting down of the sides of the bag because I was supposed to do it while we were away, and the other mushrooms are shriveling up. Oh dear.

I haven’t done anything in the vege garden since being back, which feels horrible, but I just have to get the chicken coop finished. The weeds will have to wait. However, The Little Fulla and I did finish forking and shoveling the almost-composted weedpost pile into the chickens’ compost bin. This means we can get a move on with digging out the last fence post by the garage so that maybe, just maybe, we can get another raised vege bed built, or at least half built, so I can have more space for planting this season.

The seed potatoes chitting in the garage are coming along nicely and I bought my third variety, Agria, which are now chitting in the garage too. Of course, I have acquired more potatoes than I have allocated space for, so I really do need the aforementioned extra vege bed to be built. I will tell The Husband that his favourite Agria potatoes need somewhere to go. The onions seedlings are looking good and really need to be planted. I made time to sow my tomatoes, capsicums and chillies in the last week. This is later than I would like but everything has been a bit nuts around here lately. I’m glad to have them in the seed trays now. I also sowed some lettuces. I have a lot more sowing to do in the coming weeks so I need to keep doing a bit here and a bit there. I might need to get some more seeds too. After enjoying roasted parsnips so much when we were in Christchurch I’ve decided I need parsnips in my life. Thus, I need to buy some parsnip seeds. Who knows where they’re going to fit in the garden but we’ll find space, right? I’m also suddenly finding a need for other crops that I don’t currently have space for. Gherkins. Melons. Corn. Kumara – they can go in pots but how much work do I want to give myself right now?

Forays into gluten-free baking continued with another breadmaker bread recipe to try. I really liked this one, which I made with mostly brown rice flour. It was very soft. I want to experiment with adding seeds now.

After being on holiday I also had an urge to de-clutter. De-cluttering isn’t just a once- or twice-a-year thing for me, I often have small de-cluttering sessions. But my de-cluttering is pitted against The Husband’s tendency towards messiness. There was something about being on holiday that made me think, if I can find so much happiness while on holiday with so little, why on earth do I have so much stuff sitting around not getting used? After getting rid of a few bits and pieces here and there, one rainy morning found The Little Fulla and I de-cluttering The Husband’s clothes. Don’t worry, I got rid of some of mine too, even though I had done so not long ago. The Husband’s clothes were spilling out all over the bedroom with no sensible organisation even within the drawers and there were things that should have been gone long ago. So, I fixed it. And boy, did it feel good. Throwing bags of old clothes into a clothing bin is a good feeling.

I am trying not to talk about the weather, even though I may have briefly mentioned it already. Let’s just say the four letter ‘R’ word and the three letter ‘W’ word are still very relevant here. And my ‘when things dry out’ to-do list is getting longer. We did actually try to mow the lawn one day but the lawnmower had problems. Thankfully, The Husband has made a good effort to fix it so we should be able to mow the rest of the lawn soon. Depending on the ‘R’ and ‘W’ words of course.

Finally, the chicken coop. Yes, building the chicken coop continues. I hadn’t nearly finished it when we went away, it was just finished enough for the chickens to be able to use it. I took out all the temporary roost and accessibility items and built some proper roosts, although I am still tinkering with them. The current ones are all movable so there’s plenty of room for changes. There have been a lot of bracing posts and bits and pieces of wood to measure, cut and screw in. Each piece is time consuming because nothing is straight. That’s the trouble with building onto an existing structure. The concrete floor isn’t level, the fence isn’t straight, the roof slopes downwards. NOTHING IS STRAIGHT! Ok, I think I’ve got that out of my system. So, each piece of the coop means measuring, finding the right piece of wood from our stash, measuring again, cutting, checking that it fits, inevitably cutting again, sanding when needed and screwing in. A lot of this also has to be done with a small child on the loose. I have to think about what’s safe to do while he’s around and what’s do-able while he’s around. You can only get so many screws lost in the woodshavings. Sigh.

After cutting and heat gunning the nextbox openings wider I built a ramp and other accessibility features. These are subject to change when I get more nestboxes, so I haven’t made them too permanent. I was hoping to get the coop finished before I head off to Christchurch for Nana’s memorial service by myself in the morning, but I can only do so much. So, what’s left to do? I am part-way through doing the door, which required a few re-do’s thanks to uneven things and the sloping roof. Amazingly, I found six metal braces amidst the mess of the garage so I have done most of the door frame. I have done two wooden cross braces too but need to buy some metal braces to screw them on to the frame. Then I need to clad the door in something, which has yet to be ascertained. I really am doing this whole coop on the fly, based on what we’ve got. I will leave a hole at the bottom of the door for the chickens’ access. Then the door has to be attached to the coop. After that I will decide what to do with the rest of the wall to the right of the doorway. I was just going to put chicken wire across it but I may clad some of it in wood if there’s still a lot of light coming in after I’ve done the door. I also have to do a horizontal bracing post across the top of that wall. I think that will be just about it, other than tinkering to make things work better. And sorting out proper rain shelter from the other side so I can get rid of the black plastic.

I think there’s a reason I’m tired! I’m actually looking forward to sitting on a plane by myself. I could read a magazine, I could write a blog post, I could eat, I could just do nothing (you know you’ve been busy when you’re excited to do nothing), I could sleep… Here’s hoping the boys can handle the homestead while I’m gone for two days!

Chickens in the coop
The current night time roosting arrangement, before I move a certain pair of Wyandottes… Mr Bingley and his new first lady, Frodo, snuggle on the higher long roost with Kitty up there too. On the low, wide, plank roost are Jane B, closest to Mr Bingley, and Georgiana. Poor Lizzie hides in the top right corner. Sookie and Lorelai are either perching horribly on the thin edge of the top nestbox or Lorelai is in it. This is bad for two reasons: 1) bad for their feet, 2) poop in the nestbox. I move them onto a roost every night but they still go up there at bedtime. I’m going to put something on top of the nestbox just at night until I can sort it out properly.

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