Most of the chickens available at this time of the winter are the crossbred Isa Browns which lay constantly but die by the time they’re two years old. They seem to have managed to bypass all the ancient protections of going broody every few months, and resting during the winter. They don’t even need to be tricked by extra lighting to keep them laying. So their poor little bodies burn out quickly.
In contrast, the Light Sussex ladies we had for the last two years were much larger, and rather picky about when they felt like laying. One had a limp and ended up with vet bills that probably wiped out our egg profits.
Since we’re hardly starving, chickens are a convenience and entertainment for us. I chose Light Sussex because they’re pretty, and because I remembered them from a friend’s farm many years ago. They were also recommended as a good traditional breed for both eggs and eating.
Craig pointed out that he wasn’t going to be killing any chickens and if I wanted to eat one, I was was on my own. He also asked, however “Why are we feeding them in the winter if they’re not laying?”
On a cold windy night a few weeks ago, the roof of the mobile coop blew open despite the rock I’d placed to stop that happening. A fox took the invitation and did its own eating. There was nothing left of my lovely ladies except a trail of feathers.
We don’t need to feed them any more. But there are no future eggs either.
So I invested in new Rhode Island Red chicks. They won’t lay for about five months. I’d have to wait months anyway for point of lay pullets that are not Isa Browns. We haven’t had chicks since we first had hens in Brisbane, years ago.
It’s a different proposition keeping them in chilly Canberra compared to subtropical Brisbane. Hence the heated bathroom, while we shiver in the rest of the house.
The dogs are convinced we are keeping some delicious treats from them. Which we are.
In the first attempt at a brooder box (a puppy travelling cage) the chicks tended to leap for freedom into the hand basin as soon as we opened the door, and even made the effort to squeeze through the mesh if we didn’t block it with cardboard.
Craig says “Biologists call this an unstable equilibrium”.
So we gave them more spacious quarters in a plastic storage bin.
They proceeded to poop and scatter feed regularly all over that just like the last one.
I was glad to have the little chick water feeder, as they like to stand in their food and water. We lost one of our Brisbane batch of chicks to drowning so I was aware of that problem.
I also fixed a way to stop them climbing up and sitting in their food bowl.
Or so I thought.
One of the chicks likes to squeeze itself in and use it as a sort of nesting box. I’m hoping it will grow out of it soon.
The two largest, which may be cockerels as they weren’t sexed, like to stretch up as high as they can and flap their wings, then make frantic leaps about. So our immediate task is to find the lid of the crate and put some mesh in it.
Their next container is likely to be the guinea fowl coop we’re building. The best way to keep guinea fowl is to raise them from chicks (called keets) in the same box that you use for their night coop later. Our mobile chicken coop is great for chickens, but not so good for guineas because they need more space to range and don’t like changing the place that they roost.
So we’re building a box.
Craig was initially horrified at the idea but came around to it when we realized we had the old piano crate from when we moved to Australia.
The pieces have been taking up space in the garage while we waited for the right project to use them on. And this is it.
I looked up information at guineafowl.com but only found one design I liked which was Mike’s Guinea House on Stilts. He suggested it should be about 8 feet by 4 feet, including verandahs and lots of windows for them to look out.
The important thing is to use it as the brooder box so that they know it well.
We modified the design to have the whole rear wall openable for cleaning. That will be made of corrugated iron like the roof.
Our neighbours who’ve had guineas have pointed out that they’re VERY NOISY. Theirs have mostly ended up roosting in the trees and being eaten by foxes, eagles or owls.
But I’m hopeful all the same.
After much complaining Craig’s done a fantastic job. It’s great to have a workshop and some decent tools again. Thanks to my brother Andrew, the workshop even has a window. Not that we can fit this coop into it. It has to go onto the verandah, holding place for all our household excess.
The coop is now mostly finished. I just have to paint it and then we can attach the roof and doors.
If the guineas don’t like it I suppose it could make a cubby house for very small children.
“Or a dog house” suggests Craig.
“You want me to put a mattress in for you?” I ask him.