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DIY: A Collapsible Chicken Tractor

20 Oct

I’ve been acting a little too normal lately, so I felt it was time to insert a little dose of weirdness back into the neighbourhood. What better way to do that than to park a chicken or two in the front yard?

I’ve been thinking that it’s a good idea to use the chickens to assist in weeding, cultivating and fertilising the soil. It’s not a new concept, but up until now I’ve found that the girls do more damage than good. They’ve eaten my veggies more times than I can remember, and when they even dug up and ate my flower bulbs It made me very cross indeed!

I’ve been thinking of constraining them in some form of moveable chicken tractor. As most of my gardening occurs along the road, I’ve been thinking that a small bottomless coop in the same width of my Bed A is the best idea.

So during the week P spent a good portion of his birthday designing and purchasing the materials for this little masterpiece. Isn’t he sweet?

The idea is that the tractor would:

  1. Be bottomless for the chickens to scratch
  2. Be collapsible so it doesn’t take much room to store
  3. Provide shading for the chooks on hot days
  4. Prevent the chooks scratching the soil sideways out of the garden bed
  5. Be big enough for a couple of chooks to comfortably scratch around
  6. Be able to be anchored down so it wouldn’t blow over (and allow the chooks to escape)

So after a few iterations in the design, today he finished it.

It is square, lined with shadecloth and quite sturdy.

And as per the brief, it collapses down flat.

My parents visited today and helped in the commissioning. It was a perfect fit, and P pegged it down through the eyelets installed for the purpose.

We decided that one of the broody hens was the best candidate to get us started. I’ve been trying to get the broody ones off the laying boxes without much success.

She went in quite happily. There was plenty of baby spinach to gobble up and worms to scratch around to find. The kids thought it was loads of fun!

We left her there for a couple of hours this afternoon. There is still plenty of digging to be done, so I might put two hens out tomorrow.

So P is a very popular husband indeed!

Easter Eggs, somewhat scrambled

10 Apr

We went away for the Easter long weekend. We attended the Katoomba Easter Convention, and stayed with some lovely friends in a beautiful cozy house.

Attending the convention for the past 2 years has been a wonderful way to celebrate Easter – reflecting on God’s love for us in sending his Son to die in our place. I feel refreshed and encouraged. The kids had their fair share of chocolate, but it’s good to take the focus away from eggs and bunnies.

Back at home we left the chooks with plenty of food and filled many large tubs of water. After that we just locked them in the coop and hoped for the best. We arrived home late last night after being away since Thursday, and I sent P out immedately to check on the girls. The first thing he noticed was that the coop door was open. Not a good sign, but they appeared to all be fine and accounted for.

So this morning Little D and I went out to collect the eggs. 15 all up, so I think we must have a third layer (at least). Unfortunately 15 eggs in a basket was a bit much for Little D to handle reliably, so a couple ended up cracked by over-enthusiasm. I guess they will have to go into dinner somehow.

There is very little consistency in the size of the eggs. The new layers are producing small eggs in the realms of 45 grams, and someone is producing 80 gram whoppers. The 80 gram eggs do not even fit in cartons properly.

And this afternoon D left the back screen door open. The chooks are so sociable that they actually run to get in when given the opportunity.

I thought I heard some brocking a little bit closer than normal and I turned around to see this sight. The difficult job is herding them out again without them pooing on the floor.

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter. I have a lot of posts and comments to catch up on.

Harvest Monday – 19th March 2012

19 Mar
Like me (in my third trimester), it’s slowing down in the garden again this week. I hoped to harvest the second crop of edamame soybeans, but it didn’t quite happen.
The tomatoes are almost finished and I’m keen now to get the front bed stripped out because the brassica seedings are ready and I want to get the shelling peas and root vegetables sown soon.
1kg tomatoes
I’m finally getting some joy with the tomatoes. I’m keeping more than I’m giving to the chickens thanks to the fruit fly exclusion bags. A follow-up crop of black cherry tomatoes is just starting to produce too, so there’s a mixture of Black Cherries, Grosse Lisse, Brandywine and Rouge de Marmande. My real regret has been the failure of my San Marzano crop, which I would loved to have bottled.
I used these in a curry, on sandwiches and in a tomato salad on Saturday night.
I have recently transplanted the winter tomato seedlings (Stupice) into the garden bed, so I hope with a bit of care that these will provide me with tomatoes through winter, when hopefully I won’t have to contend with fruit fly.
1 handful of oregano
Some of the strong, flowering leaves in the tomato salad.
4 Cucumbers
2 Lebanese and 2 Double Yield. More bread and butter cucumbers – I can’t get enough!
3 Carrots
Shredded into some okonomiyaki on Thursday night.
A few mulberries
Picked off and eaten as I (and a few others) wandered the garden.
8 Eggs
We have a second chicken laying! Not sure which one yet, but on Saturday we got 2 eggs instead of our reliable 1, and the second was quite a bit smaller and very pale. I’ll have to keep my eye out for who’s responsible. The photo above is of J with our definite layer – she and the other cross-breed are truly the most patient hens. J man-handles them like this several times a day, and they never get sick of it, or even try to run away. They just patiently let her pick them up, and even seem to enjoy the company. The pure-breds on the other hand are terrified of her.
4 Beetroot
I’ve run out of pickled beetroot and desperate for another batch. I’ll try to track down a few more in the back garden tomorrow to make up enough for a batch.
200g green beans
Some from the bush beans, and a small handful from the self-seeded lazy housewifes. The next crop of dwarf beans is coming close to production now.
1 piece new ginger
I realised that I had run out of ginger when I was cooking a recipe this week. Rather than resorting to the powdered stuff I thought I’d ferret around and see if my plants has actually produced any rhizomes. Not a particularly impressive result in the almost-full-shade location, but easily enough for my recipe. As a bonus, the rhisome was split into 3 other very easily divisible plants. I took the opportunity to split these and relocate to somewhere more favourable.
For more great harvests from all over the world, check out Daphne’s Dandelions.

Protecting tomatoes from fruit fly

24 Feb

Never before have I had problems with fruit fly. So much so that I didn’t know what they actually looked like or how much of a menace they are. This year however I’m growing a larger variety of fruit, including large slicing tomatoes. I’m no longer so naive.

So for the past month I’ve been fighting a fierce war, which mostly involves a lot of stamping my feet and pouting.

I concluded that I can’t wait for the fruit to ripen on the plants – they get stung long before then. So I started to pick them green, just as they start to blush. That’s no longer working.

I tried harvesting them anyway with a view to cutting around infected flesh. But even the fruit with minor stings (even just on ripening) are well and truly gone by the time they are red enough to cut. These blighters ruin tomatoes – quickly.

I’ve learned my lesson – once the fruit is stung there’s no use keeping it on the plant.

So this evening I went out and discarded all fruit with stings. There was more than 4 kilograms, which would have been much more if I’d let it keep growing until ripe. A couple were extremely large Brandywines – maybe 400g each already. Heartbreaking.

The chooks are getting spoiled – they leave the green ones  on the coop floor until they start to ripen, by which time they are crawling with grubs. Bonus points! Funnily enough they’re not getting through the layer pellets very quickly – I think my eggs are simply tomatoes with added protein, rearranged.

But I did have a plan. I’ve done a lot of reading and concluded that baits and traps are helpful, but won’t prevent losses. What does seem to help however is exclusion.

So I bought these nifty bags. They are made of lightweight mesh, allow plenty of light and airflow, and can be reused for different crops over multiple seasons. Most importantly, they apparently stop the fruit fly.

I bought 10 of them as a start, and bagged whole trusses at a time. It would have been more efficient if I didn’t already have to throw out a significant portion of my crop, but I’m confident that the fruit I have bagged should be safe.

I’m going to see how they go and probably buy some more bags if they are successful. I’m going to need a whole bunch soon to protect my second crop of Anna apples – 14 fruit have set on my dwarf tree already, with many new flowers open now. Not bad for a follow-up crop. I think I will have to thin them, but we all know how good I am at that!

So who else struggles with fruit fly? Any other strategies I should know about? I’m I setting myself up for disappointment?

Tonight I planned Thin-sliced beef with sesame for dinner, but after getting home from work I really couldn’t be arsed. So instead, we had:

Can’t be arsed salad (that won’t stick to your arse)

  • Iceberg Lettuce
  • 1/2 an avocado, cubed.
  • 2 tomatoes, roughly diced
  • Handful of pitted kalamata olives
  • Small tin of Tuna in springwater
  • a few spoonfuls of baby capers
  • A handful of green beans
  • Japanese fat-free sesame salad dressing

Basically, I just grabbed whatever salad-type ingredients I had on hand and chucked them together.

I use this Japanese salad dressing constantly because I LOVE it, and it’s great for P’s diet because it has basically no fat and very low in calories. It’s just a mixture of vinegar, soy, rice wine, honey, and thickeners. There is quite a dose of flavour enhancers thrown in for good measure, but I’ve never been particularly afraid of MSG. In fact, I even add it to my cooking sometimes. I should be ashamed to admit that, shouldn’t I?

And we have an egg!

23 Feb

Came home from work this afternoon and sent P out with some scraps for the chickens. He came back with this:

We had one very excited little girl, and one excited Mummy here too I must say!

The chooks were 20 weeks old yesterday, so it’s on the early side for laying, but we do have 2 cross-breeds that can apparently lay from 18 weeks onwards. The thing that really surprised me was just how big the egg was – 56 grams, which is extremely large for a first egg.

I have a bit of a confession here – when I was in uni I collected eggs from cage hens as a weekend job. So I had a fairly firm idea of what to expect from first eggs – 40 grams or so, sporadic. 56 grams rivals a fully-developed hen. One of my girls is quite an egg-laying machine!

Now it will be interesting to see how regularly she lays from this point onwards. It will be difficult to tell if I have one regular layer or a few laying sporadically. Might have to stalk them over the weekend to see if I can catch one in the act.

P is now below 80 kilos, so less than 2 kilos to go. Tonight for dinner we had:

Cajun Chicken with Chunky Salsa

From Low Carb, Low Fat by Pamela Clark


  • 4 chicken breast fillet (halves)
  • 1 tsp cracked back pepper
  • 2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped finely
  • 2 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp olive oil


  • 2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small red onion, diced roughly
  • 1 medium green capsicum, chopped roughly
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lime juice

Put the chicken in a bowl with the other ingredients, mix well to coat and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Make the salsa by combining the ingredients in a bowl and tossing well.

Fry the chicken in a lightly-oiled frying pan until cooked through.


Pretty simple, huh?

A Rooster Return

22 Jan

I wrote recently about our suspicion that one of our chickens was a rooster. Unfortunately he started sprouting tail feathers, making rooster noises and ‘mounting’ the hens, so our fears were confirmed. Off we went today to return the poor fella to the farm.

P cut some window holes in a box so the rooster could see out and we bundled him into the back of the car.

Not sure exactly how it happened, but somehow we found ourselves hurtling down the M4 with our rooster in the back playing the chicken dance song to the kids – I can’t help but laugh looking back on it 🙂

The kids with the new chickens

We arrived at the farm and as we were getting out I mused to P – 5 chickens is such an odd number, don’t you think? He groaned at me, rolled his eyes, and out we got. He knew what was coming.

The lady at the farm took one look at him and declared immediately that it was beyond doubt. Not sure if she was trying to make us feel better, but she said she was sure that someone else would take him for breeding – he really was a lovely looking specimen and he was pure-bred after all.

She produced two potential ‘replacements’ the same age, and I declared it a sign – we were meant to have 6 chickens!

The lady mentioned that some of the other birds the same age are already laying, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for lovely eggs soon.

The kids had just as much fun as they did last time, patting the chicks and running around. Little D stubbornly refused to leave, so we had tears bundling him back into his car seat – “more pat!, more pat!”.

For anyone in Sydney looking for chickens I highly recommend Barter and Sons Hatchery in Luddenham. Their chickens are healthy, and I now know (from experience) that they honour their sexing guarantee cheerfully.

Bringing the girls home, I was actually glad we bought two because they seemed a bit ostracised from the flock. They didn’t seem to know what to do or even where to sleep this evening, but I’m sure they’ll get the hang of things shortly.

On our way home we stopped in at one of the lovely roadside stalls you find in rural areas. A local farmer was selling boxes of tomatoes really cheap, so I bought a box for canning. I have a bunch of girlfriends coming round tomorrow to help process them. We have no idea what we’re doing, so wish us luck!

I think my she is a he

9 Jan

Compare the two Rhode Island Reds

The chooks are 3 months old now. This week they started saying brock brock instead of cheep cheep, and they have developing crops and increasing appetites. In addition to the grower pellets they are mowing through my kitchen scraps and processing garden waste like a dream. I’m in love!

Why don’t more people have backyard chickens?

Now the concerning part. Of my five chooks I have two Rhode Island Reds. Hatched on the same day, I was expecting them to look fairly similar. Unfortunately one is bigger, and has a *significantly* bigger crop. I’m concerned, and my dad (who works in the egg industry) is too.

My potential rooster

I think my she is a he.

There are more problems with this that I can count, but to start with – roosters are against my council regulations. If this clucker turns out to be a rooster, it simply can’t stay. Luckily the farm I bought the chooks from offer a sexing guarantee, so they should *ahem* replace my  rooster with a hen of the same age.

I hate to think of the fate that befalls my poor little guy.

Here’s hoping that my big girl is just a little ‘well developed’ for her age…

If it turns out well, then she may need to be renamed Bertha.

Getting their wings clipped

4 Dec

The chooks are growing, slowly (I want eggs nooow), but surely.

They are about 9 weeks old and they are starting to look like chooks. Their voices are breaking in a very 13-year old boy kinda way, and J has declared that they are all roosters because they are growing red crops.

A few times lately we have discovered the chickens perched up high on the tall bars that used to hold pot plants when the chookhouse was a shadehouse. Seeing as we also let them free range in the yard from time to time, yesterday P decided that it was time to clip their wings.

My Dad had given P a short lesson on how to do this, and looking now at lessons on the Internet, his method looks a little excessive. The chickens didn’t seem to mind though, so I guess it was OK. He clipped one wing on each chicken only. The idea is that you unbalance them so they can’t fly properly.

I imagined as he was doing this that he was going to turn to me and say something along the lines of “stop taking photos and help me, you twerp!”, but he didn’t – he clipped all 5 chicken’s wings on his own while I watched, completely uselessly.

After he finished each chook, the kids pounced on the feathers, collecting them in their specially-constructed “feather-catcher”.

Tonight was the street Christmas party. Normally this is held in the park across the street, but this year it was rained out. The whole neighbourhood then piled into our place, with the majority of people in the carport, under my hanging garlic. It was really lovely to see everyone and show them the chooks and the rest of our crazy food-growing yard which is normally hidden from view. We managed to get most of the place somewhat respectable, and I’m feeling much more enthused about the garden as a result.

I have big plans for the coming week!