Château de Chicken

One of the goals for our farming venture was to build up a small flock of laying hens to supply eggs to our shop. We currently buy eggs in and although they are of fairly good quality and free range, they come from Sydney, which is 6 hours away. Also we all know that free range according to large scale egg producers is not the same as free range according to small holders, who really just want the best possible life for their animals.

The first thing we needed was a chicken coop. After browsing online i came across a few that were exactly what we needed. Unfortunately with a space ship like design and features which included a hand crank conveyer belt egg collection system and light activated nesting box gates, the price tag being of many thousands of dollars, was well out of our reach. However taking a few basic design elements from it, i was fairly confident that i could make a low tech version out of recycled parts.

I started with an old farm trailer (which i was able to swap for the promise of a few chickens once they were ready for the plate).

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After stripping it i increased the floor space of the trailer by bolting a large steel roof rack cargo carrier to the old frame.

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I attached two pieces of scaffolding frame to either end then using some scrap timber and corrugated iron sheets, i finished the frame and then put a roof and one side on. I still needed a ramp and a set of nesting boxes so i hit up a few of our local tips and found an old laundry cupboard that when turned on its side was a set of five nesting boxes. We then filled the nesting boxes with easy to clean Astro turf, this is instead of constantly having to replace straw or other similar nesting material. I also found another steel roof rack cargo carrier – this one being much lighter and perfect for a ramp. I went home and mounted what i had found and then enclosed the whole thing in chicken wire. And Voila! Mobile chicken coop. Obviously there were quite a few frustrating moments when things that were not made to fit together didn’t and therefore needed some alteration but that’s half the fun of using recycled materials – it’s like a giant 3D puzzle.

IMG_1864Corrugated roof and side plus ramp

IMG_1865Ramp and nesting boxes

IMG_1869Inside view of the nesting boxes and perches

IMG_1873Open nesting boxes

IMG_1874Astro turf in nesting box

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Farewell Pig Pigs

As you know from This Little Piggy Went To… , two of our pigs were scheduled to be culled just over a week ago.

The plan was to separate them from the other two pigs (the ones that we are using as a breeding pair), out of sight in a smaller paddock.

I’m happy to say the whole thing went perfectly. When the butcher turned up, both pigs were asleep so the first went in her sleep and the second went a few seconds later before he even knew what was going on.

For those of you who are new to the ins and outs of culling a pig, after the pig has been slaughtered (in the case of our two – a shot to the head to kill, then a clean stab to the heart to bleed them out) they then need to be scalded. This involves dunking the pigs body in really hot water (as the name suggests) then running a metal scraper over the entire body to remove the hair and the outer layer of skin (which in the case of our pigs the hair is black  – what is revealed is the soft pink skin underneath that we are all so fond of eating crackled with salt and pepper), then the toenails are removed, which was news to me the first time i saw this done. This revelation left me somewhat relieved as i frequently use pig trotters and was always a little worried how well they cleaned their feet. It turns out what looks like their nails are actually the bone the nails are attached too. After that the pig is gutted and then weighed (this is its dressed weight). Ours came in at just over 70 kg each, which we were pretty pleased about.

Now let me tell you when the time came to say good bye to these two i was feeling pretty nervous and a little reluctant. After all, i had spent a lot of time with these pigs; feeding them daily, moving them weekly and giving them i don’t know how many belly scratches. It left me quite attached to them. That being said i would not have it any other way because i don’t want to forget where my meat comes from and the day killing an animal becomes easy or enjoyable is the day something is wrong.

To respect the pigs i want to use as much of the animal as possible however after a quick search online i am left feeling a little disheartened about the lungs, heart and liver. No where could i find something that i thought would really make them shine, leading me to believe the art of cooking offal is a dying one.

If any one has any recipes that will make these undervalued cuts something special i would love to hear from you.

Wholemeal Bread

Before I get started, just a few tips:

  1. Not all wholemeal flours are created equal. A lot of the stuff you buy from the supermarket is actually reconstituted. They take white flour and simply add crushed husks to it and quite often those husks are stale. You can tell this by the look; it looks like bleached white flour with little pieces of yellow or brown husk in it, and the smell; it has a bitter old vegetable oil smell to it. Apart from having a little extra fibre this flour has just as little nutrients as bleached white flour (zilch). Real wholemeal flour on the other hand should be a blend of whites, browns and greys – all being of the same consistency. It should also have a sweet nutty smell and be moist on the tongue. If you are going to use wholemeal flour often it pays to do what we do and find a good quality whole foods shop and buy your flour in bulk bags, storing it in a 20L bucket. This way we end up paying almost the same price per kg for certified organic, good quality wholemeal flour as you would the cheap wholemeal flour from the supermarket
  2. I have not included a total required amount of water in this recipe as i find it varies greatly depending on the flour and the weather
  3. It’s almost impossible to overwork bread dough by hand, your arms will give out before that happens. If in doubt, knead more. If you under work your dough, your bread will be crumbly and after a day or two will start falling to pieces

Wholemeal Bread Recipe

Wholemeal Bread

Ingredients
500g wholemeal flour
1 tbsp blackstrap molasses
7g dried yeast or 1 sachet
60ml hot water
1 generous pinch of salt (I use pink Himalayan salt)

Method

  1. Dissolve the molasses in hot water and then add just enough cold water to make it lukewarm. Gently stir in the yeast and set it aside until it starts to foam
  2. In a large mixing bowl combine the flour and the salt. Make a well in the middle and pour the molasses mix in. Start to combine, adding water as needed to form a soft dough
  3. Turn the dough out onto a floured bench and start kneading. Add more flour as required. Knead for about 5 to 10 minutes or until your dough becomes elasticity
  4. Push the dough into a greased loaf tin or a cast iron pot and cover with a moist tea towel. Let sit until it has doubled in size. Don’t knock it back, just pop it into a preheated oven at 220°c or 200°c fan forced for 20 to 30 minutes. When it sounds hollow it’s ready
  5. Enjoy!

As Happy As A Pig In Pasture

Let me introduce you to our pigs.

We bought them on Father’s Day this year when they were about 8 weeks old and had just been weaned. We decided to go with two old English breeds: the English Black and the Berkshire. We purchased a brother and a sister of each and the plan is to eat one of the males and one of the females that way we will be left with one Black and one Berkshire to cross breed.

IMG_1491From left to right: female Black, male Black, male Berkshire and then female Berkshire (she is purebred but her colouring is a throw back)

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As far as i know this is the first time these pigs had seen grass and were a little overwhelmed in their new surroundings.

However it did not take them long to start doing what pigs do best, eat!

The Pig And Poultry Plan

When deciding what to do with the land we had been given, pigs and chickens instantly came to mind. However that was the easy part – working out how to keep the two on the same property would require a little more thought. After hours of research we came up with some criteria we had to meet:

  • Both the pigs and chickens had to be free ranging using the strip grazing technique
  • The chickens had to be protected from foxes
  • The whole operation had to be chemical free
  • Everything had to be fairly mobile as we don’t actually own the land

With this in mind we started devising a plan. Typically pigs are kept in one paddock, the chickens in another, and never the two shall meet. However i came across the concept of grazing chickens in the paddocks the pigs have just been in. Their relentless scratching helps break up the pig manure, which in turn helps the paddocks recover faster as well as breaking the pest cycle. This idea intrigued me and raised a question; What was stopping us from grazing them in a single paddock?

Being an avid believer of the permaculture principle of everything serving more than one purpose, i did some more research and found farms in the US that free ranged their pigs with several types of meat birds in the same paddock. They found that the pigs deterred predators like coyotes that would normally have the birds for lunch. Pigs will generally leave chickens alone if there is plenty of food for both and as long as the chickens can’t get cornered, they have no trouble outrunning a pig.

We decided to put a safety net in place anyway which also serves several functions. As our chickens are going to be used for meat and eggs we are providing a mobile chicken coop with nesting boxes, known as a chicken caravan. The birds can come and go as they please during the day and then they will be locked up at night. This will also house food and drinking troughs so the chickens don’t have to compete with the pigs.  The caravan will be placed in the centre of the paddock with a single strand of electric fencing wire around it to keep the pigs from getting in to the coop. The centre paddock will also provide a safe zone for the chickens if one of the pigs does start to get a bit rough. The overall size of the paddocks will be 500m² and the pigs will spend one week in each, before being moved to the next. This will give each paddock at least 3 months rest between grazing. The pasture is currently quite poor – to remedy this we are hoping to sow wheat, barley and some vegetables, like pumpkin. Once harvested the vines will make a tasty treat for the pigs.

This is a basic layout of how the paddocks will be set up:

paddock layout 1

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This is the first paddock ready for the pigs

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We have provided a movable shelter for the pigs to to give them some permanent shade and to protect them from the wind and the rain

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As you can see this paddock has wire mesh as well as the electric fence. This is to provide a physical barrier while the pigs develop a mental barrier to the three strands of hot wire. Once they have learned to respect it the wire mesh will be removed.

In around a month the first batch of chicks will be ready to be put onto pasture. I’ve almost finished building the chicken caravan for them from an old trailer and other recycled materials I have salvaged. In the mean time hopefully the pigs will enjoy having all that room to run and all that grass to eat!

Showering With Chicks

The only thing that i like more than a bargain is reusing, recycling and re-purposing. Because of this, my Saturday morning ritual often consists of getting up early to visit the local and not so local garage sales. While I’m out and about i also pop into the waste management facilities (the tip) which we have a few of. Now over the years i have had to train myself to really look hard at things and ask myself “Will i actually use this?” in fear of ending up on the show ‘Hoarders’. However when i saw these beauties i knew exactly what i was going to do with them.

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You see we had been looking for brooders for our chicks. At one stage i was going to build one out of old cool room panels but these were perfect and required almost no alteration.

The steel box turned out to be the old hopper the tip used for sorting aluminum cans but the bottom had rusted out. I replaced the floor using some timber and a couple of sheets of tin i pulled out of an old trailer that I’m turning into a chicken caravan.

With the two fibreglass prefab showers i placed them end to end, drilled a couple of holes and tied them together with some wire, and then used some spare tin i had from the floor of the other brooder to make a divider with a door to keep the heat in one side.

I gave them both a good clean, filled the bottom with pine shavings and added a feeder and a drinker. And Bob’s your uncle. Or not quite. What about the heat source i hear you ask?

As Laura mentioned earlier in 50 Cent Becomes A Father, we are using reptile heat mats instead of brooder lamps. There are a couple of advantages to this. They are a lot more energy efficient, the chicks become used to the day/night cycle because there isn’t a constant light shining, there is no risk of a fire starting, and you don’t have to worry about the globes running out. I am using the basic design of a cold brooder which is an insulated box that the chicks can come and go from as they please. It is usually warmed by the chicks own body heat however this style of brooder is not recommended for cold places or for chicks under 3 days old as chicks younger than this cannot produce enough heat on their own.  So this is where the heat mats come in. I have placed a heat mat on the top and bottom inside of an isulated box (the insulated box being the top of an old plastic dog kennel) and am using a temperature probe attached to a digital thermostat so i can easily regulate the temperature inside the box.

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Originally I joined two heat mats together for the bottom of the box (i have since removed one of them as only one is really needed and i forgot to take a photo of just the one)

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I then buried the heat mats under the pine shavings

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I fixed a heat meat onto the inside top of the box

IMG_1350The end result

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As it is winter here at the moment, i am also covering the box with material for extra insulation

The chicks will spend their first two weeks in this brooder and then they will be moved to the fibereglass brooder. The fibreglass brooder has a separate thermostat attached to two heat mats, which are buried in the litter to provide extra heat on cold nights

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Costs involved to set up both these brooders:

Hopper and Fibreglass showers $30.00
Heat Mat x 4 $68.20
Thermomstat x 2 $19.98
Small Feeder $4.30
Small Drinker $5.00
Large Feeder – My parents had lying around
Large Drinker – $13.70
Pine Shavings 60L (this is obviously not just a once off cost) – $14.00
Total $155.18

All other materials were salvaged for free

It only took me a couple of hours to set these brooders up. Considering we can probably run about 50 chicks in each brooder (this is abiding by the NSW Department of Agriculture recommended guidelines of how many chicks per sqm), i think that this was extremely good value for money.

As a comparison, i did a quick search on eBay and the cheapest option of a brooder (not including postage) was $320.00 plus $50.00 extra for a removable litter tray. This is basically an aluminum box which included a brooder lamp fitting but not the globes. It also doesn’t include any accessories such as feeders, drinkers etc. It states that it is suitable for 40 chicks but at 800mm by 500mm that is only 12mm by 12mm per chick – i certainly would not pay that amount of money to keep my chicks in conditions like that.

My next endeavour will be turning an old trailer we were given for free into a chicken caravan.

NSW Department of Agriculture Brooder Recommended Guidelines: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0013/203521/small-scale-brooding-rearing-chickens.pdf

Our Land

So i thought i would show you the five acres of land that we have been given. We will be free ranging pigs and chickens using the strip grazing technique. The plan is to break the land into 60sqm paddocks with three to four strands of electric fencing wire.