Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Chickens and spiders

We put our second flock of chickens out on pasture this week. What a mess. I had forgotten how much time it took to train them to accept a new structure as their safe place, and to really venture out into the big wide world of the pasture. Up until a few days ago they had been living in a very small box like structure that we had to move every day to keep them on fresh grass. It was too small for all of them and too much work for me. The other day I put up the poultry fence and opened up one end of their cage. That gave them access to a 50' x 50' paddock. They loved it. Yesterday I moved the fence and introduced there new house. It is a 12' x12' shelter that is easier to move and will be their home from now on. Everything seemed to be going well. I finished the rest of the chores and climbed up my ladder to finish painting above the porch. A couple of hours later I had reached a point where I could easily see the pasture from the ladder. It was getting pretty hot and I was wondering how the chickens liked their new house. I looked out and found that half of them had forced their way through the fence and were piled up in a little strip of shade next to their old cage. The rest were piled up at one corner of the fence trying to get out. So, instead of finishing my painting I spent the next couple of hours catching all the chickens and forcing them into their new house. I kept them locked in there for about an hour with some food and water. Eventually they settled down and I was able to open the door and let them back out. This morning everyone was where they should be, but I am sure that when I move the fence tomorrow we will have a chicken rodeo again.

The house painting is creeping along. Having the kids in school was supposed to give me a lot more time to work on farm and house projects, but thing still move pretty slowly. I have the primer up and have started on the color. It is going to be a deep smoky blue/gray, but it looks pretty purple going on. It hasn't caused any wrecks yet, but I have gotten some interesting looks.

The fair is in three weeks. Tomorrow we will be giving Orphea her hair cut. Should be fun. Our friend Steve came out the other day and showed us what we need to do. I wish he had just done it, but we wouldn't have learned anything that way.

Pen - Sounds like birds are out for you at this time. The worm bin sounds interesting, but the pet value seems a bit thin. Maybe you could combine the worm bin with a rabbit hutch. The rabbit could be taken out for the girls to play with and for some exercise around the yard, but spend most of it's time in its hutch. No problem with yard damage. The hutch is built above the worm bin so all of the rabbit droppings go directly in to feed the worms. You can also add any kitchen scraps to the bin when you have them available. The worms will live quite happily in a bed of leave, and their population will expand depending on the food supply. I can send you some rough plans if you are interested.

Panhandle Poet - You are probably correct about the Heisenberg effect. We don't see the same effects in life that are theorized to exist at a subatomic level. Of course we don't know what really happens when we aren't observing, so it might be hard to prove. Observation is important however. The blackbird chicks made me take a harder look at my pasture. I have been working really hard on my rotational grazing, and things are really starting to shape up. The grass is coming back just the way it is supposed to, even with the rain shortage. When I look out over the pasture (just over an acre divided into 12 paddocks) the grass is deep green and ranges in height from 2" to 14" depending on where the paddock falls in the rotation. I am seeing some new grass species, some more clover, and various forbs spreading out in the pasture. The animals come back to the barn in the evening just waddling because of their full bellies. When I started a big portion of the pasture hadn't been grazed or mowed so the grass was really old and tough. After grazing I mowed it and put the chickens on it for a few days. They really shredded the old dead grass and mixed it all into the top layer of soil. I think this was really effective. The second time around I mowed again. The grass came back beautifully. Now everything is nice and green and even. Everything except one part of one paddock that didn't get included in the first two rotations. In this section there is a lot of older grass and weeds. It isn't the beautiful even green of the rest of the pasture. However, it is the home to over 100 giant garden spiders, various frogs, birds, crickets, mice, snakes, and who knows what else. The spiders are eating hundreds of flies and grasshoppers every day. On the rest of the pasture I couldn't find one spiderweb. I am sure there are some ground spiders, but there aren't any places for the big ones to build their webs. In my efforts to make a perfect pasture I seem to be eliminating a lot of diversity from the system. I need the grass to be young and nutritious, but maybe I should let some of it grow a bit older if the animals don't eat it the first around. It changes the aesthetics of the place a bit. It looks rougher, but I know the increasing diversity will make the system stronger.

My computer crashed the other day. I am trying to rescue some of the data from it like pictures and my address book. (I rarely back things up.) So far I'm not having much luck. If I should have your email address please send me a note at Roberts.ecofarm@gmail.com .
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