The Long Winter & The Hope of Spring (Plus Mr Fattypants), Part 2

Chickens

Hatching season started with a bang. I set 26 eggs in the incubator. When I candled them on Day 8 I was speechless. Every single egg was fertile and growing. I’ve never had that happen before. I did specifically pray for them at the start that God would help them to grow well and give me the wisdom to look after them well. And boy did he. 25 of the 26 chicks hatched. The last one looked like it died on Day 19 or 20 for some reason. This is our best hatch ever! We had to buy another plastic storage container to make another brooder box. I’m feeling pretty pleased with Basil the rooster right now too.

The chicks were in the lounge behind the baby barrier to start with. We got three splash chicks, 12 blue chicks and 10 black chicks. I’m not entirely sure about who the mothers of some of the chicks are but I have tagged all the chicks and written their hatch number on the tag with an ultra-fine marker so I can compare them to my database and notes that I made about the eggs and watch them as they grow.

Little cheepers are back in the house once again.

The chicks are now in the garage, some in the big cage and some in one of the brooder boxes on top of the big cage. I feel so much better about things now that the horrible rat has gone.

I bought some poultry netting, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for years. It has the ability to be electrified, which may be useful at the next property, but for now it is a game changer for getting the chickens to work in the garden without getting to desirable plants, dangerous plants or places that I don’t want poop on. I have 25m of netting to work with. I herd the chickens out in the afternoon on fine days, after they’ve finished laying, and they eat and scratch up weeds in the enclosed area that I have set for them. They are doing a fantastic job and have moved onto another area. The greens are doing them well too.

The feather children having a probiotic yoghurt treat.

Since the neighbours over the back rapidly learnt chicken math and there were a few escapees it was time we all fortified the fences. On our part we screwed vertical outriggers into the tops of the fence posts. I was going to run a length of wire through them to add an unstable height layer to the fence to deter chickens from trying to get over it. Then I realised we have masses of the red horticultural twine I use for winding plants on the trellis system so I ran that through all the outriggers. It’s probably even better being red as the chickens will see it and hopefully be confused by the stability of it. At the same time the neighbours attached horizontal outriggers onto the sides of the fence posts and ran some wire or some of my twine through them. Since then, there haven’t been any chickens in or out of our part of the fence in any case. You can see our fence set-up in the second ‘canal’ photo in Part 1.

There was a horrible incident with the neighbours’ chickens recently. I heard a lot of commotion going on and when I went to check I busted another neighbours’ dog in the back paddock chasing their chickens. I yelled at it twice before it casually sauntered back home, looking like it was having great fun. It had killed one chicken and there were multiple piles of feathers lying around. Another chicken was limping badly. I called the neighbour and the dog ended up caged. That night I found myself teaching the neighbours how to dispatch a chicken for the first time. Two other chickens had deep gashes and they had decided to put the three injured chickens out of their misery.

I felt so bad for the neighbours, both for their loss and the fact that they had to face such hard choices early on in their chicken keeping. I remembered how it felt to have to kill a chicken for the first time and, while I could almost do it in my sleep now, they probably didn’t know how to do it, or at least not easily. As I ushered my neighbour and his son to the killing cones in the dark, with the light of my headlamp, I had a moment of ‘wow’ as he admiringly looked at my setup with the upside-down, cut-off cones, knife, outdoor sink and rain barrel with lightly gravity-fed hose and I realised that even though I haven’t gotten to do much for a while and the weeds are getting nuts, I have made great progress since the beginning and I have learnt so much. A simple set-up it may be and the latest intended improvements haven’t happened yet, but it’s way better than trying to chop off a chicken’s head on the ground. It makes me happy to be able to share what I’ve learnt with others.

In more positive news, the second batch of eggs are in the incubator.

House & Garage

Part of the reason this season has seemed so frustrating is that I felt like I wasn’t seeing many results. I usually get more projects done in the cooler months but this year (on top of the late pregnancy/newborn phase last winter) I didn’t make much of a dent. I was reminded that this particular season was not a harvest season for me. It was a season of preparation and sowing, both for my family members and the running of our homestead. While I wasn’t seeing much harvest, the ‘soil’ of our homestead was getting well-prepared and the sowing has been huge. By the goodness of God we have been able to gather resources and equipment for processing, preserving and storing food that mean we will have no lack. We have the means to put up not only more of our homegrown food but also food bought in bulk from stores, farmers markets, roadside stalls, etc. We can buy produce in bulk seasonally and stretch it further and further through the year while reducing our expenditure on bought processed foods.

I have done a lot of work on storage for the pantry. The wire shelves and baskets and plastic Sistema storage containers have really allowed me to max out what we can fit in the pantry. Now I’m working on the bulk storage. The pantry isn’t big enough to store many bulk containers so we will be storing some elsewhere. I got five 5 gallon (22L) food grade buckets for a great price on Trade Me, without lids. Then I bought gamma lids for them from Repco, which aren’t labeled as food grade but are made with food grade material so I’m ok with using them as lids. We don’t have food grade gamma lids available here. They unscrew so easily compared with prising normal lids off. I need to wash them all then figure out what I’m putting in them and where.

I got another shelf installed in a cupboard in the hall, giving us more storage space.

I have been slowly chipping away at tidying and organising the garage. I’m seeing real progress now. It’s starting to actually look like a proper garage instead of a giant mess pit. I had to deal with things around the freezers. Old Leonard was icing up so badly that he needed to be replaced. I decided we finally needed to get a chest freezer to fit more food in.

I found an old but good chest freezer on Trade Me that someone was selling just down the road. It wasn’t as big as I was wanting but I figured it would do for now and it was very cheap. The next thing I knew we had two chest freezers for the price of $90! A friend asked if anyone wanted their small one so we snaffled that up too. We’ll see how we go with them and their sizes. I have bought bags to organise and store in the freezers, we just need to have a big session rearranging everything.

The freezer acquisition happened while we were recovering from the flu so it was hard getting everything juggled around and ready but it was a real blessing. The Husband and I only got it mildly, mostly just feeling tired and weak. The kids were worse off but we all managed to help each other. Dealing with all these sicknesses has really taught me the value of what we eat and drink. I have seen how well my immune system has fought off all the sicknesses the kids have brought home, despite being sneezed and dribbled on by a very small child. God has taught me how to eat well to look after my body, not just good remedies to have when sickness strikes but nourishing food and drink choices for daily life. Now I’m making sure the kids get some homemade probiotic yogurt every day, despite some reluctance, as well as bone broth. And I’m trying to use more of the vegetables that The Little Fulla likes so he eats more. He can eat a whole bowlful of steamed broccoli or cauliflower if it’s left near him. And we can’t complain about that!

Back to the garage… Having the chicken equipment shelves done and getting the old, weird shelf rack out of the way has opened up the way for me to move onto the next, adjoining space, involving more shelving. I’m also making plans for the tool wall. The plans are flying out left right and centre! We got out most of the big things that needed throwing out and I took a stuffed carload to the dump. It is making us talk and think more about reducing waste by making more informed choices and looking after what we have. I’m really enjoying having the chicken equipment area so organised and clean and I can’t wait to have a more usable area on the other side to be able to work on building projects without fighting through the mess. We’re in the awkward middle stage now where some things are nicely organised and stored and everything else is getting shuffled around and sorted through while we figure out what to store where and how.

Now we really have a freezer wall. The shelves at the back are for chicken equipment storage.

Knitting

I am finally back to knitting something! I’ve been absent from crafts for a while too. The project is Miss Scarlet’s Christmas stocking, which has a deadline. It feels good to be sitting and knitting again. I have had to put a lot of effort into creating balance lately, making sure I don’t leave tasks to be done in the evening so I can have enough time to sit down and relax, while still getting to bed early enough. And yes, I’m trying to make time for writing too as the desire to write is burning within me. It really has been a long winter. But spring is here. And so am I.

Peaches are coming.


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