Sunday, 15 May 2011

GTUF Chicken Tour 2011

Ten of the Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers took a chicken tour on Sunday, visiting a couple of neighbours who already keep chickens, to see what their coops are like and find out what they have to say about the experience. We started at Lindsay's, where her four hens are kept in a converted rabbit hutch,

to which has been added this run to give them a bit more access to light (it's kept covered, to keep the hens dry and safe from predators).

She's had chickens for a while now, and is able to share the work (and eggs) with another couple. She walked us through her feeding routine, which includes this organic feed

as well as weeds, garden greens and selected kitchen scraps

and a dollop of oyster shell (plus eggshells) and - as a special treat - some chicken scratch. Edibles are kept in an old metal file cabinet, to deter rodents; and the birds should be fed early in the day so that they have time to eat the food, rather than risk having it lying around when the chickens go to sleep. She uses a mixture of wood shavings and straw for flooring; the straw keeps the coop odour-free. When the flooring is dug out it will be a great addition to the compost.

Two of the hens are happy to be handled; the other two not so much, even though they've all been reared together. Our next chicken keeper suggested that, if possible, chickens should be handled regularly so that if they need some kind of treatment it will not stress them out.

A simple chicken tractor, so they can move around the property and be safe from predators.

At Kyla's we admired her two story, terracotta-roofed coop with the airy courtyard which can be closed off if needed.

The coop is reasonably secure; there are raccoons in the area, but apparently they don't always attack chickens, and so far she hasn't had problems with them. The chickens spend the winter in a warmer greenhouse, with regular forays into the garden to grub and scratch.

She started off with bantams

which score points for cuteness,

but not for the number or size of their eggs.

Both owners spoke a bit about breeds: basically they don't care as long as the birds are healthy and reasonably productive. Heritage breeds may be tricky to care for, but possibly have fertility over a longer part of their lifespan, so it's wise to plan and research a bit before taking the plunge. Check out any sources of animals as well, to make sure you're buying from someone reputable.

Kyla's had chickens for a few years and has found them from a number of sources, noteably poultry swaps (the one in Metchosin has been recommended by a couple of people) and - which is also excellent for finding chicken-related bits and pieces, and building materials for coops. Borden Mercantile is a recommended outlet for feed and new equipment. The usual cautions apply if you're acquiring used equipment: it needs to be spotlessly clean so you don't end up with parasites or more serious diseases.

Both Kyla and Lindsay agreed on a couple of important points. One was that neither planned to do away with members of their flock when they stopped laying. They pointed out that hens don't abruptly stop laying, but have diminishing fertility when allowed to lay naturally (battery hens are tricked into year-round laying by exposing them to unusual levels of light, and so in addition to being in an exhausted physical condition they can also exhaust their supply of eggs in a year or two). Some can go on producing the odd egg until they are as much as 8 years old. They also pointed out the additional value of hens, which is to convert garden waste into manure which can help their compost and build the nutrient levels of their soil. And they are just entertaining to have around.

Smart chickens consult their calendar...

And a glimpse of summer in the greenhouse:

Monday, 2 May 2011

May Day Lasagne Party

The hands, minds and muscle of GTUF came to the rescue on Sunday, celebrating a rare spring-like day of sunshine and offering some labour for Labour Day. They arrived ready to transform cardboard, newspaper, straw, llama manure, grass clippings, seaweed and leaf mulch into garden beds which will yield fruit for passing pedestrians.

We started with the boulevard. First you use your lawn edger to score a trench around the edge of the bed.

Line the trench with newspaper: hose it down.

Then apply the cardboard, which keeps the weeds from rising up through the soil. Hose that down too.

Line the trench with straw, and then cover the cardboard with llama manure.

Top with more straw

and whatever else is on hand: grass cuttings, seaweed, leaf mulch.

Plant raspberries, plants dipped in a little EM, watered in well, and bedded in enriched soil:

Time to move up a level to the corner of the lawn. Edges dug, lined with newspaper.

More cardboard on top of the newspaper.

Straw and manure, followed by grass clippings and seaweed and leaf mulch...

and all ready for rhubarb.

Preparing the planting hole for rhubarb, which roots deeply: cut an X in the cardboard to allow the roots to penetrate

place the plant and water really, really well (fill the hole with water)

and then surround with a nice blanket of good soil.

Moved along the wall to make another bed, for strawberries.

Cardboard, straw, llama manure..

..water well to prepare for planting.

Strawberries all planted. Shallow rooted, so they don't need to be bedded in like the rhubarb.

Water them in.

The long view: three beds in just under three hours. Thank you all!

Everyone happy... with the possible exception of some ground-dwelling bees who may have been displaced in the process.