Free ranging on Martin Farm ~ Our journey from bust to breeding.

Discussion in 'Pictures & Stories of My Chickens' started by FreeRanging Hen, Dec 1, 2014.

  1. FreeRanging Hen

    FreeRanging Hen Out Of The Brooder

    81
    8
    33
    Sep 7, 2013
    Western Australia
    I've been attempting to upload photo's of our current journey to an album on my profile, with no luck.
    So I thought I may as well start a thread documenting our journey, to which I can continually upload my photo's to and tell my journey tales in.

    Backstory:
    We're on 90 acres in semi rural Western Australia, with bush land on our property and surrounding it too.
    We've had the privilege of having chickens since we moved here 6 and a half years ago.
    We started out with some older crossbreed bantams gifted to us, then we bought some Wyandotte's and some Orpington crosses at the local poultry club sale.
    We then ventured into ducks and geese.

    Over the years we lost some to foxes and dog attacks and the rest grew old that they barely laid anymore.
    We learned about rooster to hen ratio when we took in 3 Pekin roosters a friend needed a temporary home for.
    We learned about parasites, scale mite and stick fleas when we were gifted a pair of infested chickens.
    We learned how to sprout grain to improve feed nutrition and we learned that a broody hen shouldn't be left to nest with a broody duck, because apparently ducks eat chicks whole.... Or so we were told when our hen's chicks went missing overnight without a trace and we asked why.

    We rehomed the ducks because we couldn't supply them with enough water to satisfy their need to bathe in daily and we have no dam for them so they consistently messed up the goats water tubs. I do miss our ducks, they were such a pleasure to listen to singing.
    We still have the geese that the fox or feral dog left us when it pinched our nesting geese. They seem rather content with a deep bucket of water and the occasional paddle pool of water, though I'd like to build them an IBC pond now that we have more rain water storage and a water carting truck (we're not connected to any source of mains water out here and our rainfall is lucky to hit a measly 400mm/year).

    When egg production dropped so low that we weren't getting enough eggs to feed our growing family, we decided to venture into chicks to replenish our chook pen. First we tried day olds, who eventually moved into the older flock when they were big enough. This got us interested in poultry breeds and breeding and the possibility of one day maybe getting into poultry showing. We were hooked. Poultry enthusiasts in the making.

    We decided on the two breeds we'd like to have and breed, based on what we previously and currently already had on the property.
    The next thing was to research how to incubate, our chosen breeds' SOP, their genetics and how to establish a decent line with what we already had.
    We bought an incubator and some cheap eggs to try our first incubation with, before venturing into buying quality eggs to incubate.
    It was a success! Our first ever hatch was a 70% hatch rate.

    We found a couple beautiful quality cockerels, one of each chosen breed and after their quarantine period, introduced them to their respective pens.
    We were going well, or so we thought.

    Things got weird. We started having somebody trespassing on our property.
    I went out one night to see a couple torches flicker off down near our shed and heard the scrambling of somebody hurrying away in the dark.
    As I stood there with a friend on the verandah, perplexed by what we had just witnessed, I heard desperate cheeping from my chick brooder. When I looked, I noticed that their light was off.
    Thinking it had blown, my friend went to switch the extension lead off so I could replace the blown bulb, but it was unplugged.
    Not just tripped over, or fallen out and onto the ground from the power point over a metre high up the wall. No.... unplugged and neatly laid on the bench top next to the power point.
    Upon plugging it back in, the light turned back on. It hadn't blown, it had been unplugged.

    In the following weeks, we found closed gates open in the morning. Plants were trampled and snapped in the gardens. Things were moved around to different places through the night. Subtle stuff that really messes with your mind and has you questioning if it really was someone trespassing, or did you actually remember things incorrectly..... Then we started finding the chook house door open in the morning after being securely shut and wedged with a golf club... And our chooks started dropping like flies.
    Young and aged, new and old, we lost our whole flock. All the chicks in our brooder and all of the grown chooks up in the pen at night.
    The only poultry to survive whatever onslaught was happening, were the free ranging geese who consistently were going off at something through the night. They were spooked enough to decide to sleep up the other side of the top paddock, instead of their usual spot near the house.

    Now, I'm not saying for sure that someone was killing my chickens. I can't be certain of anything that happened without visual irrefutable evidence. It could have been disease, unchecked parasites, botulism.... Anything. Except in the case of my chicks, who were on a fermented feed, quarantined away from the rest and definitely not exposed to parasites in their brooder.
    All I know is that I lost my whole flock and I was not ready to introduce more poultry until I had made some changes to prevent any further losses.

    Around this time, my grandmother's cancer treatment journey took a turn for the worse and we eventually lost her. Everything I loved was dying around me. I felt terrible. I wasn't ready for starting my chicken journey again, so our plans were put aside until I was done grieving and ready to get back into life again.

    So..... Here we are a year later, in the present moment and I'm ready.
    These are the changes we've been making to prevent any possible causes happening again:

    We borrowed a very big, loud, protective male dog for a few months and it seems that whoever was around did disappear for a while. There are signs that they may be back this past month, so we're in the market for a big dog to permanently adopt.

    We've been gifted a farm cam, which will be set up in the big chook pen when my chickens are in there. This should capture any suspicious happenings, should they occur.
    The geese have a new designated enclosure to be built behind the chook pen, so they will alert us to any intruders, human or animal and hopefully scare them off too.

    The henhouse has undergone drastic changes, to improve air flow and ventilation.
    The frame of the house itself will be sump oiled to smother any possible mite homes.
    The old perches are gone, with new ones to be built in there soon.
    The whole ground and floor have been covered in hay as we're going to try the traditional method of a burn cleanse, in an attempt to kill off any possible disease or parasites that may have survived the past year of poultry barrenness.

    Our feeding regime will no longer be straight or soaked grains, but fermented feed as our trial of it last year was so successful and our chicks were thriving on it beautifully.

    Our watering system is being changed from an auto-filling tub of water, to either poultry nipples or those poultry in-line cups. Not sure which yet, so would love people's opinion on both products.
    Water conservation is a big concern here and I'm worried that the nipples may leak. This will prevent any water sitting stagnant, or being exposed to being polluted or poisoned.

    We have sourced a locally produced liquid vitamin and mineral booster. Similar to putting a mineral pecking block in their pen but better in my opinion.
    It's a fermented herbal liquid produced by a veterinarian who developed it with natural practises in mind. This will be used in conjunction with the garlic water we do for parasite prevention and fermented feed for nutrition consumption increase.

    We disposed of our old brooder and my hubby lovingly built me a brand new one, to my personal specifications and needs. This brooder is inside our house this time. I'm not taking chances. We've done so much hard work and made such an effort, that I'm not losing my chicks to a preventable cause.

    We're implementing a strict bio security regime for our property.
    We'll only be bringing fertile eggs in and avoiding bringing live birds in where possible.
    We'll be wearing bootie covers into the stock feed or places there are other poultry. Or washing our shoes afterwards if we haven't them on hand. We'll also ask visitors to wear them when exploring our property.
    This will hopefully prevent possible soil, bacteria or dander contamination as much as possible.

    I think I would like to get into poultry showing one day, but the risk of taking my birds off property, to exposed areas of other poultry makes me unsure I really want to risk it.
    I however, am still more than interested in preserving my chosen breeds and improving them to their SOP's. Showing them is not my main goal, but continuing their breed, to their breeds' perfection is. I believe it to be as vital as keeping our heirloom seed lines going.

    So here we are, ready to go again. Starting from scratch.....

    (The story continues, as we've just hatched our first batch of chicks but I'll get there in another post, after I post some pictures of our changes)
     
  2. FreeRanging Hen

    FreeRanging Hen Out Of The Brooder

    81
    8
    33
    Sep 7, 2013
    Western Australia
    Here's the sketch of our pen and chook house renovation plans. Some already done, some to be finished in the next few weeks and some to come in the next year.
    It's not to scale, but good enough to give the general impression. The outside run is currently 25m x 20m, with the house being 5m x 5m.

    [​IMG]

    We're adding in an internal brooder chick introduction pen, which I was inspired to do by another one on this site. This way we can safely introduce newer chicks to the big flock with time to get to knowing each other, before formally joining the flock.

    We were inspired to rectify our ventilation issues last year, when we read the BYC article about the necessity of adequate ventilation.
    After taking into consideration our winter and summer weather and winds, we've cut half of the north wall to provide a half open-front for air flow and ventilation (better shown on the next diagram).

    This north wall will have an extended lean-to roof, to protect from incoming rain on the rare occasion that it is driven in there by winds. This will also double up to provide shade for the chickens while the trees in the pen continue to grow and to shade the water IBC, keeping the water cooler.
    We have trellis framing to put on the front of the lean to, to grow a perennial up to provide more shade in the summer and cool down the hot summer winds that can come from our north.
    This should still provide plenty of air flow into the pen, without allowing hot wind in. In winter, it will still allow sunshine in from the low sun.

    We're adding three more enclosed pen areas over time, one for broody hens to safely nest and hatch their own offspring and two for putting specific breeding sets in, or for growing out chooks, or keeping roosters in without disrupting the main flock ratio. Extra space, is better than having no space and we can use them to grow extra chook fodder in while not in use.

    Below is a quickly drawn diagram to give the general idea of the ventilation now provided in the hen house.
    [​IMG]
     
  3. FreeRanging Hen

    FreeRanging Hen Out Of The Brooder

    81
    8
    33
    Sep 7, 2013
    Western Australia
    Improving ventilation in the old chook house, by making it an open front shelter.

    Before
    [​IMG]


    After
    [​IMG]
     
  4. FreeRanging Hen

    FreeRanging Hen Out Of The Brooder

    81
    8
    33
    Sep 7, 2013
    Western Australia
    The brooder my hubby lovingly built me.

    [​IMG]

    The height is perfect for my back issues. No bending over to clean, no reaching too high for any reason.
    Each door opens independently. No need for opening the whole front and risking chicks jumping out. No need to open the bottom when feeding or petting, only when I clean.

    Changes I would make, would be to put in a little Perspex window in one of the bottom doors, so my kids can see the chicks without leaning on the doors.
    I will also add a little lip on the inside so I can use sand again, as I find this the easiest for cleaning and it dries out wet chickie poos fast.
    A little shelf on the underneath would utilise the space below in a better way.
    Other than that, there's not much I would change.
     
  5. FreeRanging Hen

    FreeRanging Hen Out Of The Brooder

    81
    8
    33
    Sep 7, 2013
    Western Australia
    I was very lucky to be gifted some beautiful Australorp eggs and my wonderful hubby organised for some Barnevelder eggs for me to incubate alongside them.
    After a few anxious weeks our eggs started hatching.

    [​IMG]

    18 went into lockdown, two were quitters and sadly, I lost all but just 5 early chicks that hatched as a large angry storm cell rolled over our state and started to hit our property.
    As it picked up, I was concerned about losing power but never did I think it would affect our temperature and humidity in the way it did.
    The incubator spiked multiple times over a day and a half as the storm rolled on over us, coming on and off in all it's electrical fury and occasionally dropping a flash flood and cooling down the atmosphere.

    [​IMG]

    The temperature rose and dropped again and again. The incubator followed suit.
    At one stage, I walked into the room and my heart stopped as I saw the temperature reading of my incubator over 40*c.
    The storm rolled on, our skies were blue again and the temperature and humidity settled.... But no more eggs hatched over the next couple days. I was devastated.
    An eggtopsy showed all had developed and made it to lockdown, some had internally pipped but none got the chance to hatch.
    Painful, but lesson learned.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    I was very lucky to have 5 beautiful chicks hatch and am ecstatic to be a chicken carer again!
    2 blue Australorps, 2 black Australorps and 1 double laced Barnevelder bless me every day now, with their incessant cheeping chatter and demands for feed, crickets and worms.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  6. FreeRanging Hen

    FreeRanging Hen Out Of The Brooder

    81
    8
    33
    Sep 7, 2013
    Western Australia
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
  7. FreeRanging Hen

    FreeRanging Hen Out Of The Brooder

    81
    8
    33
    Sep 7, 2013
    Western Australia
    Our fermented feed.

    Our fermented feed recipe and method, based on the multiple recipes on this site, our local availability and our trial last year:

    3 parts wheat
    1 part oats
    1/2 - 1 part barley
    1 part split peas and green lentils mix
    2 parts black sunflower seeds
    1 part millet
    1 part sesame seeds
    1/2 part flax

    [​IMG]

    Place in a food safe bucket, or glass jar, that has enough room for the grains to double in size when they swell.
    No metals should be used for fermenting, as the fermenting liquid is corrosive and can also leach any toxins from the metal into the food.
    Add a dash of raw Apple Cider Vinegar with mother, if you want to speed the initial batch fermentation up by a couple days.
    Not necessary though, as natural yeasts in the air will get in and do this job for you.

    Fill with water, ensure the grains are well covered. I like to fill to at least an inch over the grains.
    Some of the grain, especially Sunflower seeds may float for a few days, but stirring daily will keep them good and they end up sinking into the mix.
    Cover with a cloth or leave the lid on loose or open a crack to allow air to get in and out.
    Stir well at least once daily.

    [​IMG]

    In a couple days you should start to see little bubbles of fermentation activity. This means your grains are fermenting and feeding the good bacteria, which let off gas as they eat and grow.
    In 3 to 5 days, your feed should smell sweetly soured but not offensive to the nose. When this happens, your ferment is ready to feed.
    Strain the grains, but collect the liquid. This liquid will kick start your next batch of fermenting, without the need for a vinegar starter.
    Return the liquid to your bucket or jar and add new fresh grains.
    Some people have a couple buckets going with a few days worth of feed in each, so they can overlap the ferments and ensure they have fermented feed batches ready to use for every day from each bucket.

    [​IMG]

    Some people like to just start adding new grains to the old batch after it's ready, adding new grain after taking out the days feed.
    For chicks, I like to whizz my fermented grains in the blender to make a chick mash. Blending less until they're big enough to eat all the grains whole.
    I whizz a few days worth at a time and store in the fridges this leaves me enough time to ferment another batch of grain in time.

    [​IMG]


    I like to serve fresh picked garden herbs and yoghurt to my chicks and find that they devour them faster if they are mixed through the mash rather than served on the side. The herbs have the added benefit of various health properties and help the mash to be less mushy and more of a drier consistency. Easier for gobbling up.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    *edited to fix mistakes and spelling errors.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2014
  8. FreeRanging Hen

    FreeRanging Hen Out Of The Brooder

    81
    8
    33
    Sep 7, 2013
    Western Australia
    Our chickies....

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  9. newtnn

    newtnn Out Of The Brooder

    46
    9
    31
    Oct 2, 2014
    Fennville, Michigan
    Wow! I'm surprised no one else has posted here yet, you tell an amazing story and the pictures are fantastic! I hope your chicks grow up big and strong for you. They made it through that first trial, so you know they have some gumption.
    I look forward to seeing how your flock grows in the future, thank you for sharing it with us!
     
  10. FreeRanging Hen

    FreeRanging Hen Out Of The Brooder

    81
    8
    33
    Sep 7, 2013
    Western Australia
    Thanks newtnn.
    I assumed it may be because people were tut-tutting as they shook their heads.

    No matter, I'm doing my best to get out of rock bottom, to being back on top of the roost again. I'll tell my story, so,others can learn from my journey, if not to just look at the cute photo's of the fluffy chicks! :D

    I plan to have lots more chicken stories to tell. Just so happy to have chickens again.
     

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by