It’s raining today. I didn’t want it to rain right now but I am grateful for my plants to get this rain. The reason for not wanting rain is that we are up to our elbows finishing the chicken tractor. We offer you another installment by Sue Vingerhoets, farmer on Foxglove organic farm.
This mobile hen house can be moved into place for the hens to work over a piece of ground and when they have eaten everything- goggos, goggo eggs, grass, weeds, etc- then we move it to a new place. The hens have their house for nights safely locked away from the otters, mongoose and other predators and an enclosed yard to keep them working a smallish area by day.
My clever husband has planned to fit some sort of magnetic lock which can be opened by a remote control. This means I won’t have to walk all the way down into the fields at day break (which is earlier than sunrise by the way) to open the door. I can stand at the top of the hill and press the button. Actually, in their first position, I can stand at my front door. Nice. But it has not been fitted yet and so down the hill I go.
The hens will still need 2 visits each day. In the morning, I go to the yard, clean out their house, put out more food and water, collect eggs, check fences and just see what they are all up to. In the afternoons, hopefully after all the eggs have been laid, they will be let out of the yard to roam all over. Most hens will put themselves to bed. They go back to wherever they got out of in the morning so you have to move the house at night when they are locked in. Then in the evenings as it gets dark, I go again for any late eggs and to put them to bed securely.
Cleaning out their house involves a short rake and a small tarpaulin. When we mow grass (a lot and often!), we leave some where it is cut so it can dry. I use this as the bedding in the hen house. It makes it easier to just rake out all the manured grass onto a tarp and carry it to the compost area. Once each week, I sweep the whole house completely and scrub the floor with a mild solution of lye or EM (effective micro-organism) and water. This keeps parasites away and even the hens like a clean house.
Hens are lovely to keep and while I don’t like any birds in cages (or runs), I have discovered to my amazement that my hens are happier with a set home. Yes they like to leave it and roam around but they go back often if allowed out all day. A safe place, it seems is their choice over variety. I have tried to come up with some reason and just can’t find a logical human answer.
With the weather changing to autumn, we have had many night adders around the house. Our rescue kitten has found 4 out of 6 over the last 10 days. Thankfully he is clever enough not to attack but keeps them cornered until we find him. One of these snakes we found chasing a frog. Husband was trying to catch the frog to save it and I was trying to catch the snake to stop it getting the frog. I am afraid the frog was bitten twice during the catching. The snake was determined to eat more than it’s desire to get away from danger. We gathered up snake and frog and relocated them together. At least the frog’s life was not in vain. It was a useful frog. To the snake anyway.
Autumn always brings a lot of things to be done- from harvesting the last of the grapes and making jelly, to harvesting various seeds and cleaning those, to preparing new compost for spring planting. There will be lots to tell you for the next few articles starting with having volunteers on the farm and all that comes with that.
The following is a piece written by the latest volunteer- a person very new to the real and physical aspects of where food comes from and what it takes to get it to her plate. I think everyone should volunteer and get involved in the production of something they love to eat. It can be eye-opening, shocking, exhilarating, fun but always educational. Join a volunteer organisation like wwoof.org or helpx.net and see how special your meals are.
By Sue Vingerhoets
Organic farmer Sue regularly writes for us on farm activities and challenges. For more details write to her here.