Raising Turkeys (and assorted birds)

This week on KiwiHomesteading;

The challenge of raising turkeys

When Victor and I decided to move to Canterbury we were very interested in finding a place where we could become self-sufficient and build a sustainable life.  We started small by raising chickens in the city and growing a veggie patch. We always knew we wanted to do bigger things.   Now, I come from a long line of people who are used to eating turkey for a special day in November.  You might know what I’m talking about… That big day in the US when two birds are on death row for being turkeys and one is famously pardoned?

Yes, I’m talking about Thanksgiving.  Well in New Zealand it is really hard to come by turkeys prior to Christmas and even then they are extremely expensive.  Americans are used to basically buying all the “fixings” (ingredients) for Thanksgiving dinner (and pre-Christmas shopping for presents) and if they spend enough money the shops will often throw a whole turkey in for free! Even a small (by American standards) frozen turkey would cost about 90 New Zealand dollars.  That’s out of our price range for just the meat for one meal, to be honest.  So instead we’re growing our own.

Turkeys themselves are very interesting creatures.  They tend to be excellent “egg-sitters” and go broody easily but they’re terrible mothers who often lose track of their turkey (or chicken) chicks.  They are also not very smart and will accidentally squish a bantam chick that they’re trying to keep warm.  The males are stunningly feathered and have very hilarious and comical “strut-dances” as they eye their females.

Now it happened that our three species of hen — turkey, chicken and guinea fowl — all started laying eggs at about the same time. It also turned out that at least one guinea fowl, at least two turkeys, and several of our chickens were male. Barnyard complications ensued. For example, the females would all share the same nesting boxes when laying, and so the broody birds ended up sitting on assorted eggs that would take different lengths of time to hatch. Moreover, even though we had more nesting boxes than simultaneously broody females… You know how in real estate, it’s said that the three most important words are, “Location, location, location?” It turned out that some nesting boxes were particularly highly sought after, so that we might find two turkeys and a big chicken in a nesting box that might comfortably accommodate one large bird or two small ones.

We also discovered something biological. As mentioned previously, turkeys don’t make very good mothers, so we salvaged a lot of our early eggs to incubate them at home (we’re still living off site). Many of the hatchlings were easily identified, but there were some that confused us. They came from little white speckled eggs, so we thought they were guinea fowl chicks, but as they grew they looked way too much like either chickens or turkeys. Well, as it turns out, guinea fowl are capable of interbreeding — and producing viable offspring — with both chickens and turkeys! So we now have guinea chickens and guinea turkeys running around. Do not try this at home, kids — guinea fowl hybrids are high-spirited animals.

It was shortly after that, for (mostly) unrelated reasons, that we decided to sell our adult guinea fowl. But that is a subject for another post.

We will leave you with a picture of our star turkey, Tom, although his career is now drawing to a close.  Jerry will continue on in his place as per tradition!

Verses of the day

2 Thessalonians 3:5 “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.”

Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as  you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

~Grace

Tom Turkey 2019

Still alive.

Winter is not an easy time of year for the Kiwi Homesteaders. The coughs and colds come out in force, with three kids in kindergarten. We’ve also been house-sitting for Grace’s parents, and that has at times felt like a mission, with maintenance items coming out of the woodwork and a lot of floor space to deal with.

So this blog took, once again, a back seat. I’m sure that, like exercise, blogging requires a slog of commitment until a habit is formed.

Less than halfway through winter, though, our Araucana hen, Mary Hen, decided to start laying very pretty blue eggs, and our rooster, Robbie (yes, based on Robin Hood and the maid Marian), rose to the occasion. So we had high hopes that we would welcome a batch of pure-bred Araucana chicks.

But, alas! Disaster and disappointment were our lot! Grace had bought an incubator off Trade Me in April, and it passed its first test, but when she turned it on again it failed badly, going into an endless cycle of rebooting, and shocking me while I attempted to investigate the problem. Time to invoke the warranty.

So what to do with the eggs? Eat them, or try something else? Well, in business, there’s no sense doing anything by halves.

So off to Chook Manor we drove, to equip ourselves properly. We spent about five times as much, but instead of a product of indifferent quality that could just as easily have died in the middle of a batch of eggs and lost us hundreds of dollars worth of livestock, we now have a Brinsea Ovation 56 EX, reputed to be one of the best on the market for small to medium-sized batches of eggs. And because it has a thermostat and a hygrostat, we don’t need to worry about the temperature or humidity, once we figured out one or two knacks to operating the equipment.

And so, between Mary Hen’s contributions and a number of Waipahi eggs (the Waipahi being a recently developed breed from Southland), we started our first incubation batch of 20 eggs. It turned out that four of the eggs were duds — infertile, perhaps, or the avian equivalent of a miscarriage — and another two were stillborn, and a seventh died a few days after hatching. But the remaining 13 are healthy and happy, and we moved them into our chick coop today at four weeks old.

And Mary Hen, not content with her efforts, is still laying. She seems determined to be a mother one of these days.

Don’t worry!

It is, “Situation normal, completely crazy,” at the Kiwi Homestead right now. I don’t believe we’re called upon to practice Zen-like detachment, though. This world is real, the battle lines are real, and we’re in the thick of it.

Grace fell a month or so ago and hurt her leg. By God’s mercy it wasn’t fractured, but a good couple of months, at least, of recovery are needed. For our readers who pray, prayer for swift and complete healing would be much appreciated.

Our builder applied for a building consent (the current New Zealand term for a building permit) for our house a month ago. The Council has come back to us twice wanting clarification on many points. Peace and patience are the order of the day, and they sometimes feel like a tall order. We hope to hear back within a few days.

Grace’s parents, with whom we have been living, are off overseas for several weeks, and we are house-sitting for them. No sooner did they leave than a leak in the plumbing became apparent. Cue calls to plumbers and builders to stop the leak and repair the damage already caused by it.

Sickness has been rampant, with back to back viral illnesses brought home by our children in kindergarten. Everyone is, though, getting better.

It is the shortest day today, and winter is definitely here, with long nights and crisp frosts. Serotonin and Vitamin D are at their yearly low.

And yet, in the middle of the chaos, the sun is still shining, the world is still turning, and God is in control and will see us through.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. — Philippians 4:6

One Crazy Drive

Hello, again my dear readers!

At last, I bring to you our tale of the journey over the mountains to the West Coast of New Zealand.  We had bought two chicken coops on Trade Me, and they were for collection by the buyer. Victor got up bright and early, and nipped down the road to collect a car transporter, as there was no way our ordinary trailer would hold even the bigger of the two coops by itself, let alone both together! Would we be able to collect them both and bring them back in one day? Would they fit, and would our vehicle be up to the task?

Our drive over was uneventful, except for a heavily laden cyclist on a tricky hill, but we were happily entertained by the use of the age-appropriate children’s radio broadcast Adventures In Odyssey by Focus on the Family as we drove through sunny hill country, grand beech forests, and remote farmland. We had a few stops for toilet breaks and for food (plus one to collect our old chicken water barrel), but our adventure didn’t really start until we arrived in Stillwater, on the outskirts of Greymouth.

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We stopped to pick up our first coop, the larger of the two, and were asked to wait around fifteen minutes for the front loader to come from next door. We spent the time mostly looking over our purchase and talking to the man who built it.  He is a retired builder, and we could tell that he puts his heart and soul into whatever he does.  His other coops, dog runs and other sorts of small but well-designed buildings were all over the small farm section.  He even offered us some extra things like a bag of clean wood shavings to line the coop when we got it to our home.  When the front loader arrived, the builder took time to make sure that the coop was properly loaded, and he and his grandson helped to secure ratchet tie-downs and add orange flags to the coop to make it stand out more on the road.  He offered a little advice on driving such a heavy load that was also very much appreciated.  We left feeling very happy with our purchase and wondering strongly if we might see the kind old builder again.

Our second big stop was to pick up the little colourful “maternity coop” as Victor calls it.  We waited what seemed like forever to find someone who could help us load it.  We had tried to call in advance to tell them when we would arrive, but no one had picked up.  We certainly had arranged to pick it up that day in any case.

Honeybee and Stargazer spent their time wandering around looking at the ponies, climbing random things, swinging on the little two-person swing and generally having a good time.  Duckie spent most of the time waiting asleep.  Victor and I wandered around mostly just talking about the big coop.   It wasn’t that the little coop wasn’t nice… it just isn’t quite as grand as our big coop.  Eventually, the landowner was able to get his forklift and helped to load the coop.

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They Both Fit!

By now it was getting dark, even though the West Coast is supposed to be only three hours drive from home and we had left at ten o’clock in the morning. By mid-April, the days here are getting noticeably short. We certainly wouldn’t have wanted to go on such an expedition any later in the year!

We had originally expected to be home in time for dinner. In typical Kiwi Homesteading style, where everything takes longer than expected, that didn’t happen. So it was dinner in Greymouth, where the golden arches came to our rescue, and then off down the highway. Ducky’s cherished blanket toy was a casualty of war, sadly, lost (we think) on the side of the road.

Now there are two main roads over the Southern Alps between Canterbury and the West Coast. The longer, gentler, more northerly route is the Lewis Pass, which we took on the way over. Since it was already so late, we decided to come back over Arthur’s Pass, the more direct route. As we headed east along Highway 73, we passed grim signs: “Ye who bear heavy burdens, beware the road ahead,” and, “Turn back now, lest thy carriage prove unworthy,” and finally, “Fly, you fools!”

Well, actually the sign may or may not have been more mundane like this: “STEEP GRADES. NOT RECOMMENDED FOR TOWING VEHICLES.” But this is Middle-Earth, after all.

At first, we wondered what all the fuss was about. It wasn’t until we left the gentle valley of the Taramakau and started up the Otira Gorge itself that it became evident that the warning was not in vain. Victor watched as the gear counter, which started at a healthy 5 out of 6, went inexorably down to 4, then 3, then 2… the accelerator was on the floor… the engine toiled manfully as we crawled, inch by inch, up the perilously winding road and the long slope of the dreadful Viaduct.

Just as we thought that the engine was at its final gasp, we started to climb faster, and I exclaimed that it couldn’t be the car doing this, it was God pushing us up the hill! The girls and I all praised God as we continued to gain speed in our climbing efforts.  Each time the car seemed like it would slow we in earnest prayed loudly something like “Please! push this car up the hill, God!”.  Stargazer yelled “You can do it, God! I know you can!”.

Not long after that, the slope lessened, and we soon saw, standing tall in our headlights, the Dobson Memorial, marking the summit of the high pass.

There were two remaining questions for us. The first and most vexing was that of fuel. There are very few petrol stations in the Southern Alps, and even though we had filled up in Greymouth, our car needed lots to drink to get over Arthur’s Pass and the gentler but higher Porter’s Pass, and on the further side of Porter’s there was still a long road over the plains. Mercifully, the petrol station at Springfield was still open.  It is fairly rare petrol stations to be open late at night in the country.  Victor certainly sighed in relief when we pulled up and noticed that it was actually a 24/7 pay-at-the-pump type petrol station.

The second was whether we would fall asleep, especially Victor, whose eyelids were starting to droop. I wasn’t in any better shape myself, and my eyes were sore and my vision blurred. The roads were almost deserted, and the river mist lay thick on the land. The music was either grating on our ears or sending us to sleep. Finally, we were resorting to trying to name animals, chemical elements, books of the Bible… anything to keep our minds alert as we drove those last few miles.

We made it home in one piece, and after cleaning up a carsick Ducky and putting to bed the older two, we were only too pleased, after a successful but very tiring expedition, to collapse into bed ourselves.

I hope you have enjoyed our story for the evening.  We will follow this up with a post with more photos of our coops and the work we have done to set them up.  Please follow us on Facebook if you haven’t already as we will likely post quite a few more pictures there than on here. You may also get a few sneak peeks at our new animals.

Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

~Grace

Chicken Coops

One of the most difficult things for Grace to do when we started renovating our old house was say goodbye to our six brown shavers and three chicks. They went to a good home with some friends of ours, but we missed their personalities and their eggs, which we used ourselves and sold surplus.

Now that we have our block of land, we were in a bit of a dilemma. Did we try to build a chicken coop from scratch, or buy one pre-built or even kitset? We thought the former would be how we would have to do it, as getting a decent sized chicken coop in New Zealand is not particularly economical. On the other hand, to buy building materials, transport them to site, cut them to length, fit them together, and so forth is a significant hassle, and although we have most of the tools by now we don’t yet have power to the site, nor a workshop. And we didn’t want to wait until our house was built before we started our chicken farm. Lead times are big: the egg must be hatched, then the chick grown to point of lay, which process takes approximately eight or nine months.

So, this morning we hopped on Trade Me and looked for coops. And lo and behold, what did we find but an as new coop that would hold up to 20 or 30 hens, and a slightly older and smaller coop that would be fantastic as a maternity unit! And both are on the West Coast, only a shortish drive from us.

Shortly, therefore, we will be taking a trip with a big flatbed trailer to collect a couple of chicken houses. Watch this space…

Over and out,

Victor

Good Friday

Hello readers!

I feel that I have gone completely silent of late. It’s the time of year: 31 March is the end of the New Zealand tax year, and I, Victor, was up to my eyeballs in dealing with several months’ worth of financial data. That little project is still ongoing, but there was a bit of a time crunch for our Goods and Services Tax (GST) return (for our American readers, this is our version of sales tax, but more like a European-style Value Added Tax). Anyway, I was finally able to pause and draw breath about half-way through this month.

On top of all that, we had to refinance, due to a lame bank that said it would offer us enough funds to build our house and then refused to do so. Apparently, that particular bank prefers to deal with “dinkies” (double income, no kids) like my and Grace’s parents. Having three kids and only one full-time income earner made us into a big risk from their perspective. And policymakers these days wonder why young adults aren’t marrying and having kids the way they did back in the day… but I digress.

In better news, we have finally signed the building contract! Which feels like the end of a very long process and yet only the start of another. Still, we should start seeing real and measurable progress shortly, once the builder has drawn up the full plans (much more comprehensive than the “scheme plans” done so far) and they have gone to the local council for a building consent. It all takes time, but we will get there, God willing.

And speaking of God, it has been good for us to take Easter off, as is the law and custom in New Zealand, and to pause and reflect on what God has done for us in Christ. Again, for our American readers, Easter has the same role, in some ways, as Thanksgiving, being the “other” big holiday (apart from Christmas) and a four-day weekend. Of course, most use the time for general holiday purposes, but for us, Good Friday is first and foremost a day to pause from the stresses and bustle of life, and remember.

1 Who hath believed our report?
And to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of a dry ground:
He hath no form nor comeliness;
And when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

He is despised and rejected of men;
A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:
And we hid as it were our faces from him;
He was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:
Yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities:
The chastisement of our peace was upon him;
And with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned every one to his own way;
And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
Yet he opened not his mouth:
And as a sheep before her shearers is dumb,
So he openeth not his mouth.

He was taken from prison and from judgment:
And who shall declare his generation?
For he was cut off out of the land of the living:
For the transgression of my people was he stricken.

And he made his grave with the wicked,
And with the rich in his death;
Because he had done no violence,
Neither was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him;
He hath put him to grief:
When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin,
He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied:
By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great,
And he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
Because he hath poured out his soul unto death:
And he was numbered with the transgressors;
And he bare the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

 

Peace,

Victor

De fine incepti

Dear Readers,

Thank you very much for sticking with us all these months as we’ve been working hard to find our permanent home. As you might be able to tell from the above Latin phrase, we’ve reached the end of Step 1, and we now own a beautiful farm block! Our new land is 4.65 hectares (roughly 12 acres) in the heart of Canterbury, just northwest of a little country town called Cust. Our property has a fairly gently rolling, but mostly flat landscape but it is surrounded by mountain views!

We carried out our final inspection of the land on Saturday 23 February. This inspection is properly called the “pre-settlement inspection”, and if you buy real estate in New Zealand using the normal contract, you’re entitled to one such inspection as late as the day before settlement day. We’ve found these to be very useful, as you can check that the property is in good shape and that all the chattels you’ve bought are there and in good working order. Apart from the odd deceased sheep — another farmer formerly used the land as sheep pasture — we found nothing untoward, and it was full steam ahead. Settlement itself was very smooth, as our lawyer has taken good care of us, and so the magic spells were uttered and the land became ours about midday on Thursday 28 February!

Now I would very much like a suitable name for our lovely new block of land. I like the thought of something to do with the three prominent hills around us (Mount Oxford to the west, Mount Thomas to the north, and Summer Hill to the south-east), but Victor is still waiting for that flash of inspiration. We welcome any suggestions from the readership, so feel free to post them in the comments section. The winner (if there is one) will get exclusive bragging rights and a shout-out on the blog.

No sooner had we settled on the land than we got right to work. Victor took Friday 1 March off from his day job, and we met with no fewer than four contractors on the site.

The farm came fully fenced around its perimeter, but we decided that we wanted to have a few different little paddocks fenced off and needed some water lines put in, so we could water any animals we acquire. Thanks to Austin of Homesteady for the suggestion; a water line out to the middle of the section has proven remarkably inexpensive, and is sure to be a lot better than carting water barrels around with a tractor! We also wanted a new driveway put in; all the services (power, water and phone) are in the south-west corner of the section, and the existing vehicle gate was in the south-east corner. We didn’t want to have to construct 200 or more metres of driveway; that would have been both costly and wasteful. Victor found a local fencing contractor who has done excellent work; more on that below.

Another contractor was the environmental engineer, who was there to help us design a suitable septic and stormwater system. The fencing contractor helped her by digging a test pit, since he needed to do the water trenching anyway. We’ll say more about her work in due course, but will note that this needed to be done early as a wastewater design is a necessary part of building approval.

The two other contractors were a driveway contractor, who just came out to have a look, and a water pump supplier.

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I found a “local” who was in need of a few acres of land to graze her horses, so the big portion of the grass that we don’t need right away will be kept clean and earn us some income at the same time. The pre-existing vehicle gate has come in very useful: it gives her a means of access without having to go through the home paddock.

The fencing contractor is Andy Smith, who runs a business called Rural and Lifestyle Fencing. He also does lifestyle block irrigation and stock watering. As you can see from the image to the left we’ve chosen to add three 80 litre ball float valve filled stock troughs, one for each paddock (except the home paddock, which came with its own trough). It took him less than 5 days to complete more than 300 metres of new fence lines, drive the gate posts, and do the irrigation lines and set up the troughs for us. Everything looks very professional and we think it will last for years to come.

Whenever we go out there, Victor and I feel our spirits rise. Stargazer keeps asking where our house is, and of course, that is going to be a whole journey in itself. Honeybee likes picking up objects of geological significance and seeing how they taste. I don’t know if she’ll get any beneficial minerals from that or not; Victor thinks probably not, as those rocks are likely to be mostly silica. In the end, at least she’ll have a robust immune system! Little Ducky has yet to express any certain opinion on the subject of the new property. She seems to just want to drink her goat’s milk and spend time in her Daddy’s arms. Our Bella absolutely loves it of course.

Isaiah 40:30-31 says:

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I hope you find rest, renewal and comfort in this passage as I have in the past few months. I feel that God is leading us on a very big journey and I hope you will continue to support us as we follow in His steps!

God Bless you and your house

~Grace