28 September 2011

Life and Death Update

A happy surprise, this morning: As I went to let our Two Chicken Flock out of their house this morning, I was greeted by another little blonde hen! Evidently she's been sleeping rough somewhere, and escaped the Ratel's attention.

When there were four roosters she was getting a really hard time from them. Roosters at the teenager stage are - just like their human counterparts - randy little wosnames, and with too many in the flock, they keep trying to prove their manliness... errr... male-chickenness... to one another, and the hens suffer from what might best be termed Overattention. So this little hen probably went off to sleep in a convenient bush to escape all the bonking, and has been sleeping there ever since. Perhaps she'll rejoin the other two, now that the pressure's off.

Nice... A 50% increase in the flock for no effort!

23 September 2011

Life and Death

Warning: Graphic images ahead. Squeamish people should leave now.

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.
A visit by a neighbourhood Ratel (a.k.a. Honey Badger, though they're not related to Badgers at all) has dealt a severe blow to our status as Chicken growers and breeders. It's been quite a long while since the last time a Ratel managed to get in to the Chickens, but the recent visit from our other wild visitor - a Caracal - should have given me ample warning that our chook-house security needed attention. I am a bad and neglectful human person.

The night before last I was woken at about 10:30 by a tremendous bumping and banging, squawking and flapping from the chicken-house. Leapt out of bed, grabbed a light and rushed out to find a full-grown Ratel sitting in the midst of the flock. I opened the door and Ratel leapt out and vanished into the night, chased by an overenthusiastic Keira dog.

It was mayhem in there. Dead chickens all over the floor. Still, not much I could do in the dark, so I shut all up and went back to bed, only to be roused again half an hour later! Sure enough, the Ratel was back in the chook house, and, obviously spooked by the strong light destroying its night-vision, spitting and hissing at me. These animals are not to be trifled with, so I kept a wide berth as I opened the door to let it out. Utter chaos inside.

Next morning revealed the full extent of the damage.

Over the past several months we have lost quite a few chickens to neighbourhood dogs. It seems that non-permanent residents are incompetent to take responsibility for controlling their dogs in a farming area where livestock of all sorts abound.  Stock loss to dogs - including feral dogs - is a significant problem for all the farmers in the area, and many of them have a zero-tolerance, shoot-on-sight policy for unknown dogs on their land. As a result, our flock numbers were way down to only 4 hens and 4 roosters.

Our prized young rooster, horribly mutilated
by the Ratel's attack. I dispatched him quickly
and cleanly. He is tonight's supper.
Now we're down to 2 chickens. Just one rooster and a hen. Very sadly, the one young rooster, who we had earmarked as breeding stock, was severely damaged by the Ratel, and I had no option but to put him out of his pain. The Ratel had ripped the entire front of his face off, including his beak.

The other young rooster seemed, at first, to have some chance of recovery, but on closer examination I found that he was unable to breathe properly, could not drink water, and his mouth was filled with dried blood. I suspect that his tongue was gone.

Another hen I found alive, but with both eyes scratched out. Later inspection showed that her body had been badly torn in places, too.

This poor dear had had both eyes scratched
out, so there's no chance of her surviving.
I had the unpleasant responsibility, yesterday morning, of killing them all. Another rooster and a hen are simply... gone. I presume and hope that at least the Ratel ate them. What I cannot comprehend is the wanton destructiveness of Ratels. I can easily understand - and sympathise with - animals taking our livestock for food, but the sheer killing of everything that moves is beyond me. Perhaps an animal behaviourist could explain it to me.

The remaining rooster is reasonably hale and well, with only slight damage to his comb. He's looking a bit lost, though, wondering where the hell all his hens have got to.

I spent the rest of yesterday fixing the floor of the chicken house so that nothing can get in (that way) again. Until the next time...

15 September 2011

Weeds in Pathways

Patrick has written an interesting post about keeping gravel pathways clear of weeds by using a weed-burner. I think this is an excellent idea! I use a small blowtorch for periodic debugging of the Chook House, preferring to scorch the inside surfaces and roosts rather than use noxious poisons. I confess it has never occurred to me to use it to get rid of weeds. I'm slow, I know...

And weeds, in the veggie-garden paths, have been a perennial bugbear forever.

A year or so ago I had an inspiration for "dealing" with the pathway weeds. A method that differs quite radically from Patrick's strategy, approaching the problem from an entirely different angle. But, in fairness, our circumstances and constraints are completely different. I am not working in a community garden, so I don't have to deal with common pathways, nor with rules about how I may run my garden! Nobody comes to give me dirty looks if I neglect the weeding of pathways!

Nor are my pathways gravelled. I shudder at the thought, since I am wont to wander about the place in my bare feet (and, frequently, barefoot in my head, too) and gravel is  - along with stone chips - one of the nastiest, most barefoot-unfriendly things you can do to the world. Don't.

I freely admit that I had not thought much of my solution to the weed-in-path problem, until Patrick's post made me re-look at it and realise that, perhaps, it is quite a novel idea for some people.

For years I fought the weeds. Sans gravel, this was mostly achieved with a conventional push-hoe, and took me about 15 minutes per pathway. But sometimes it got neglected, and then it ended up taking a bit longer. Especially in Winter, when the Winter grasses take hold with their strong, tough, bushy roots. Then it takes quite a lot more energy. Until my epiphany...

Pennyroyal clumps planted into newly-weeded
pathway. Clumps derive from the bits weeded
out of veggie beds. The whole process is a little
slow to start with, but that's the nature of all
exponential growth systems!
I realised that, outside of metalling the pathways - a concept I dislike - weeds were always going to infest the paths! Given that something always wants to grow in the bare-soil paths, perhaps I'd be better off planting something more manageable and less rampant than the usual motley collection of weeds.

So, for the past year or so, I've been planting and expanding Pennyroyal as my preferred Pathway Plant Of Choice. It mostly keeps the weeds out once established. It grows fairly slowly and is shallow-rooted, so the bits that do grow into the veggie beds themselves are easily sliced out with the spade. It smells great as you walk around the garden, and it's kind to bare feet!

The only downside of Pennyroyal Pathways that I've come across is that, when the Pennyroyal wants to flower, it grows loads of long tendrilly flower-stalks, and the leaf-mat tends to become a bit sparse and thin. This is not a big deal for me, since the rest of the year it presents a dense, and above all weed-resistant, pathway covering.

All win!

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