Why do we need another chicken blog or forum?

Many chicken forums are moderated to sell commercial feed, chemicals and ideology.
I prefer to find my own balance between nature, welfare and cost in raising happy chickens.

Friday, February 24, 2012

useful bucket trap for rats

Since rats have been perching on the bucket rim to take soaking grains, I thought I'd have a go at making a bucket trap.

I've made a few in the past following internet directions, but none has worked. Rats are more than anything else creatures of habit, and the sudden appearance of an oil-smeared bottle sitting above a water-filled bucket makes them wary. I suspect these traps only work when there are so many rats around the place that some (particularly young ones) are absolutely desperate for food.

Last night I filled the soaking bucket so the water sat about 7.5 inches or 19cm from the top. Then I sprinkled a layer of sunflower seeds to float on top.

This morning I collected 3 large dead rats from the water. About a third the sunflower seeds had been eaten, so perhaps the seeds were a little too close to the top (some have probably eaten their fill and gotten away), but still, it's a good result.

I doubt this will work for long if I keep setting the trap in the same way. However every few nights I'll make sure the grain is right at the top of the bucket so any remaining rats can obtain a feed. Meanwhile of course I'm removing all other food sources before nightfall.

Hope this works for others as well!

Friday, February 17, 2012

chick diet

Just wanted to show my current chick diet for the 9 week olds. They're extremely well grown and are doing well on it, having been gradually introduced to larger kernels (so I no longer have to grind anything for them).

Ingredients are sprouted wheat, corn, peas and sunflower seeds; soy meal (non GM); lucerne (alfalfa) chaff; seaweed meal; salt; and soured skim milk.

Of an afternoon they also get fresh greens to pick at. I'm extremely happy with their growth (below).

Some malay coming through in the bird on the left. Her mother was the ISA brown x malay game.

Leghorn x red layer, well grown and healthy at 9 weeks.

A little bit of malay game gives this cockerel a nice shape and stance. He's heavier than the cockerel in the previous picture, even though he's trimmer to look at. His mother was the ISA brown x malay; his father was leghorn.

These birds are well grown for 9 weeks of age, and have nice temperaments to boot.

home grown extras for chickens

Chickens love comfrey, yet seem to know their limit. It grows well in shade as well as sun, and supplies a variety of vitamins including B12 (though whether it's the most useful form of B12 I'm not sure). It's also a rich source of minerals and was known as 'knitbone' in former days. Much is made of its toxicity (it's apparently got some chemicals that are liver-toxic) but I've never seen the chickens gorge on it, nor have they come to harm. (They never had access to comfrey when they showed liver damage while eating lupins, or perhaps I'd have suspected comfrey.) I think chickens are extremely good at knowing what to eat or not eat, and I trust them on comfrey.

Overgrown zucchinis make great chicken treats. Just slit them lengthwise and watch!

...my rotting wheat update, and more on rats...

Unfortunately this post also concerns rats.

Recently I had major trouble with wheat not sprouting, and going off in the sprouting bag. My first assumption was that rats were climbing over the bag, contaminating it with droppings and urine, and thereby causing the wheat to go off. However after I'd dealt effectively with the rats nibbling through the bag, the off wheat continued, so I felt it must have been pre-germinated or otherwise damaged before purchase (see my other post about off wheat).

Once I stopped rats getting to the sprouting bag it seemed there could be no other source of micro-organism contamination. My soak times were always 24 hours, never more, and the ratio was 3/4 water to 1/4 grain (important to prevent fermentation). My feed bins were in good shape and generally air-tight. The wheat was brought fresh. Weather wasn't a problem as it hadn't been too hot. Perplexingly, shortly after being soaked, the wheat smelled rotten, not mouldy. I couldn't understand where the contamination was coming from, but it did seem bacterial.

Then I had a little thought. I looked at my soak-bucket and realised some of the grains (ones still trapped in a hull, and occasional sunflower seeds that had gotten mixed in) were floating on the surface of the water. I suddenly realised that this might be attracting rats to the water-filled bucket.

So that night, I put a lid on the bucket, and the next morning the lid was sprinkled with rat droppings. Then when I drained the wheat and hung it to sprout, it sprouted beautifully.

So this is what must have been happening all along:

- I was leaving the wheat to soak overnight without a lid, thinking that nothing could harm wheat sitting at the bottom of a water-filled bucket! The soaking wheat was a good 40cm below the water's surface. The water came right up to the brim.

- Apparently rats were perching on the bucket rim to snatch food floating on the water overnight. Some of their droppings would have fallen into the water.

- The rat droppings were causing the wheat to break down and rot faster than it could sprout.

This was a very sobering discovery, not least because the birds were sickened by eating what should have been perfectly good feed. And goodness knows what germs I'd been bumping into while handling the bag of feed and the rotting sprouts. Needless to say I owe the feed store an apology for casting aspersions on their grain.

I must admit, I'm astonished at the ability of rats to find food (and foul it). Unfortunately the neighbour's property provides ample cover (there's a huge lantana patch crowding against the fence) and these are tree rats, so very agile. But at least I can stop them fouling the water I soak my sprouts in!

Since adding a lid I've had no more smelly grain, no sick birds and plenty of eggs!

rats and how to deal with them

Confession! I have a persistent population of rats. They live in the scrub behind our back fence and slip over the fence during the night to eat any fallen food from the ground. I have to be very careful not to leave food lying around.

Every few weeks I rebait the trap and usually catch a few, but of course the really wary older rats are too clever for that little ruse. They won't touch baits, and although I'm scrupulous at cleaning up spilt food when I'm trying to catch them, they're amazingly smart.

Some time ago I realised they were shinnying down the 40cm long wire hook my sprout bag hangs on, and nibbling at the sprouts. I kept trying new places to hang the thing, only to see telltale bag-holes a few days later.

So I did this:

For a little extra detail, here's a close-up of the top arrangement:

The silver thing is an upturned stainless steel bowl bought cheaply from one of those two-dollar stores. I made a hole in the bottom and slid the wire through (after straightening it temporarily). Then I wrapped a rubber band around and around the wire just below where I wanted the bowl to sit. The rubber has a good purchase on the wire, so it doesn't tend to slide down, but to make sure, I added a layer of glue. Then I sat a disc of foam matting (purpose-cut and also threaded over the wire) to help ensure the stainless steel bowl doesn't tip too far when a rat climbs on top of it.

Since rats are coming along the beams in the shed roof and then clambering down (rather than jumping onto the bag from below) this is an effective barrier. They can climb onto the bowl but they can't get over the lip of it to reach the wire again.

There have been no more rat raids on the hanging sprouts!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

ancona x red layer at 19 weeks

Just a quick update on the ancona x too. She's half ancona, half red layer. The others of her hatch have more red feathering on their faces and chests, but I don't mind the basic black. And she's certainly very glossy!

The willow legs are also nice. All five ancona x red layer pullets have these.

Here's a completely gratuitous head shot of one of the commercial bred ISA browns I bought at point of lay (but which have only just started). I do quite like the white streaking. She seems like a nice well behaved bird. Her beak was clipped before I got her (often birds raised away from soil or other abrasive materials get very overgrown beaks by 20 weeks).

meat hybrid x leghorn rooster and pullet

Just thought I'd show how the meat hybrid x leghorn experiment is going.
I'm happy with both cockerels and pullets (though I've only ended up with two of each, after various troubles getting the incubator to hatch anything at all).
So here they are.

These birds are enormous, but not massively overweight. They can jump up 600mm to perch, and are just as adept at getting down. In fact (combs aside) they remind me of the way Indian game (Cornish) used to be, full of
power and vigour.

They're also of the right temperament. In fact they're better than many male birds I've kept, as I'm having no great trouble keeping both cockerels in the one pen. This may change as they mature, but basically they ignore each other most of the time. And needless to say they don't show any signs of turning on me, nor are they what I'd call 'too tame' (often a precursor to human-aggression).

They're not quite 19 weeks of age, and one of the pullets laid an egg today, so that's pretty good going.

Fingers crossed!