Allow us to introduce…

…the newest member of our merry band, the vivacious Bella!

When we first decided to get a large block of land, and considered running stock on it, our minds turned to Man’s best friend. What better time to look for a helper? We — and by “we” I mostly mean Grace — thought long and hard, but not too long nor too hard, about breeds and such like. We wanted a dog who would be fast, energetic, easy to train, loyal, good with children, and quiet (mostly; we have to make some concessions to reality). And while we’re at it, why not world peace? But we were pleasantly surprised. We went on Trade Me, which is New Zealand’s answer to eBay for our international readers, and found a family who were selling a border collie / huntaway cross for a relatively inexpensive amount.

It would seem that the family dog, the border collie mum, had some unexpectedly personal contact with Nana and Grandad’s unfixed huntaway. The result was a litter of no less than eleven puppies, which was a bit much for a town family to keep at home! So we stopped by for a visit. Most of the pups were mildly curious about us, but mostly just wanted to sleep, eat or play. One of them, though, a very little girl, climbed into my arms and nestled herself there. To this day, I say that she chose us, and Grace is quick to correct that to, “She chose you.”

Bella was born in March 2018, and we took her home in May. This is how she was about when we first got her:

And last month, when she was about ten and a half months old and had been living with us for nine months:

Bella is very much a puppy. She enjoys chasing frisbees and balls, and doesn’t always bring them back, preferring to run rings around us while holding them in her mouth. Grace remarks that the one thing she will catch and bring back to us is her own tail, which is frequently seen swinging rapidly from side to side. She will absolutely lick a small child to death at the slightest opportunity, much to the displeasure of Honeybee and, to a lesser but still significant extent, Stargazer. Ducky, on the other hand, doesn’t seem unduly concerned, and likes to put her fingers in Bella’s nose! Our life with Bella has been in some ways as much about learning ourselves as training her. For instance, we spent part of this evening trying to teach Stargazer that when Bella gets in her face she has to remind Bella who’s boss. Collapsing on the ground and crying is not an option unless you wish to be licked even more fiercely.

On the other hand, with grown-ups and other dogs, Bella is remarkably submissive, even timid. It’s not because of any harsh treatment from us; we think she was the natural runt, and we were told she was picked on by her litter-mates. She has started to come out of her shell a bit as she’s grown, and we hope she will be able to keep spending time as appropriate with other well trained dogs. In the meantime, she very much enjoys going for a run with me of an evening.

Over and out,

Victor

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Raising Chickens part 2

Incubation

(Warning – this post contains a video which may not be suitable for all viewers)

Hi all,

Let me share another helpful lesson on raising chickens. I last left off telling you about our chicken breed, “Brown Shavers”. We chose this breed mainly because of the high egg production and highly regarded good health. There are many other good options out there which have unique characteristics. One negative about the brown shaver breed is that they are not very good mothers. They do not sit on their eggs reliably and rarely go broody. This fact leads us to today’s topic!

So we have a brown shaver who’s name is Reep-i-Cheep (yes, I am a fan of Narnia). She fell broody sometime earlier this year which means her instincts made her want to raise chicks. She started to steal all the other chicken’s eggs and hide them so that she could sit on them all day long. It also means that she was not producing any eggs and not eating much food. She seemed depressed that her clutch (a nest full of eggs) never seemed to hatch.

Broody Hens and what to do

There are many ways to “break” a broody hen. A broody hen’s body temperature is much higher than a non-broody hen because eggs need heat to start the incubation process. Methods to break this cycle often revolve around reducing the chicken’s comfort and warmth. Some people talk about putting them in a wire bird cage with no “secure” or comfortable place to sit. Others have suggested a dunk in a cold water bath or a block of ice in the nest.

We are not running a commercial farm, and we have more eggs than we need so we decided to give Reep-i-Cheep some fertile eggs to sit on instead of breaking her.

Incubation

When a broody hen sits on a clutch of eggs, she needs to do so for a minimum of 21 days to complete incubation. An excellent broody hen will then take care of the chicks she has hatched until they are fully feathered and able to take care of themselves. It is okay for a chicken to get up a few times each day to eat, drink, and scratch about but it is vital for a broody hen not to be gone too long or else the eggs will get cold and will not survive. Reep-i-Cheep sat on her eggs for 23 days. At 22 days 3 of her eggs hatched. The remaining eggs were a combination of apparently unfertilised eggs and blood rings.

A blood ring occurs during the incubation of chicken eggs when the fertilised egg starts to develop but then later dies. When the blood vessels begin to form, and the embryo dies; the blood vessels decompose and rather than remaining attached to the embryo, they float in the yolk and form a circle which spans the circumference of the egg. You can see this if you shine a very bring light through the egg. Though there are many reasons for a blood ring to form, the sight of a blood ring always means death.

The technique of viewing the process of egg incubation with light is called Candling.

Reep-i-Cheep was pretty upset and continued to sit on the dead eggs while trying to be a mum to the three freshly hatched chicks. She also refused to eat and drink. Her instincts prevented her from seeing that these eggs would never hatch. She was pretty malnourished at this point too.

At this point, we decided to try to replace the dead eggs with more fertile eggs. We thought Reep-i-Cheep would sit on them again, but we decided to go with a better supplier. Unfortunately, the day after we got the next batch of eggs Reep-i-Cheep chose not to sit anymore and only continued to care for her three chicks. We found ourselves with nine partially incubated eggs and no broody hen and no way to get an incubator fast enough to keep them alive. The only chance they would have was to try to incubate them with the electric hen, much egg turning, and a spray bottle. Unfortunately for us again, the power went out at a point, and the eggs did not survive. We still tried to see if they would hatch but after 25 days had passed, we had no new chicks. We decided to film the results to see how far they had developed before they died. Have a look at this video below if you would like to see the results.

~Grace

Raising Chickens in the City

Good day everyone!

Today I thought I would share our first encounter with homesteading. Victor and I decided early on to try to raise a few chickens in our suburban house. In our town, you can keep poultry (apart from noisy roosters) on your residential property. Whether you take in rescued battery hens or try out a fancy breed, keeping healthy, productive poultry can save you money — plus you’ll enjoy the great taste of home-grown eggs.

Finding suitable housing 

We knew we wanted at least 4 good healthy chickens and we knew we wanted to hand raise them from day olds.  So that gave us the approximate space requirements that we needed to house them comfortably.  We looked around for an inexpensive option but purchasing a coop or building one from scratch was out of our budget range. Luckily for us, Victor’s parents were trying to get rid of their old coop.  So we took it home and remodelled it to remove the broken bits and add some new wood to the areas that needed it most.  This saved us heaps of money in the beginning because a standard kit set Chicken Coop and run can cost a lot!  The prices vary depending on how many chickens you want and any extra features you desire.  I think our expenses to fix it up were around $100-200.  A brand new one could run you into the thousands for a perfect setup.

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A good coop needs an ample amount of run space unless you know you can free-range and are happy to block off any areas you don’t want them to forage in.  It also needs enough nesting boxes for all your chicks.  Since our chook house has 3 boxes, we can have up to 6 chickens inside comfortably.

Also, you need to have a perch which is flat on the top so that their feet are flat to roost. I highly recommend getting a small bit of 4×2 or something like that rather than using dowels which hurt their feet!

Choosing a Breed

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Chickens come in all shapes and sizes.  From Bantams, which are your smallest breed to your heavy breeds like Australorps and Orpingtons there are plenty to choose from. I could write for days on the different pros and cons of the various kinds, but I will leave that for another day.  All you need to know right now is that we chose to get a favourite New Zealand variety called “Brown Shavers“.  We got ours from a local hatchery called Heslips HatcheryHeslips is a great place to go if you want a highly productive flock like ours.  They were shipped to a local distribution point where we picked them up.  You can also order and pick up directly from the hatchery, but that was farther away for us.

Raising Chicks

When raising chicks for the first time, you need to have specific items to care for them.  You need a broody box to keep them contained which has access to water which is shallow enough that new chicks can’t drown and it should have a small shallow feed dish too.  For feed, I highly recommend the chick starter that Heslips offers when you buy the chicks from them.  It’s excellent quality, and you can usually pick it up at the same time.  You’ll need to provide them with an ample heat source if you don’t have a broody hen to raise them from eggs.  You can choose to buy a standard heating lamp like they use for reptile aquariums but we personally prefer the use of a specialty poultry device called an “electric hen”.  An electric hen is a ceramic heating element that the chicks stand under when they are cold.  You can find these online as well as at some stock feed stores and hatcheries in New Zealand. The benefits of this form of heating are that it is cheaper to run, that it allows the chicks to manage their own temperatures, and that it doesn’t interfere with their day and night routine by adding excessive amounts of light.

As you can see our chicks had everything they needed to grow up.  It takes about 18 weeks for an average flock to go from chicks to Point of Lay (egg production).  Ours took a little longer because we purchased them too late in the year and they were delayed by winter.  On the other hand, this meant that our first year of production was actually much stronger and we had an average of 1.5 eggs per 24 hour period which is more than what the breed is usually capable of.  We feed our fully grown birds a premium grade feed called “Natra-lay”.  It’s the highest protein food we could find and is made with non-GMO seed mix.  It isn’t medicated, and it is free of all pollutants and pesticides, and though it does not have the paid certification of “organic”, it might as well be. We also give our girls scratch seed and occasionally mealworms when they don’t get enough from our yard.  Our girls are now nearly 2 years old!

We hope this has been helpful to you.  We plan on writing more about raising chickens very soon.  Thanks for reading and have a wonderful week!

~ Grace