June 1: chicken feed

2016/06/01 deej 0

One of the issues that anyone with pets or livestock runs into is feeding them. Not just the expense of providing them with the best possible nutrition, but also the practicality of it.


The cats, for example. We make up a raw meat mix for them, using human grade beef mince, minced ox heart, minced ox liver, calcium, gelatin, and a selection of supplements. Amusingly, it ends up being cheaper to do that than to feed them commercial cat food, although it does involve an early morning start every month or so to go to the meat market and buy ingredients, and then a couple’ve hours of mincing and mixing.


We do keep commercial tinned food (Ziwipeak) and cat biscuits * (BlackHawk Grain Free) as well, as a backup. According to all my research (even though I am not a qualified animal nutritionist), though, the raw mix is a healthy complete food for them – and they do like it.  I like that it smells inoffensive (plain, fresh, raw meat smell) and is of a quality that I’d be prepared to eat it myself. I have always disliked most tinned pet foods; the smell of them makes me feel ill.


* Cat biscuits should only ever be given to your cat with water; dry biscuits often lead to chronic dehydration and ongoing kidney problems later in life, because cats don’t drink a lot of water even if it’s available and their food is dry. Pour a little warm water over the biscuits and let them soak for a few minutes before giving them to the cat; it’s like cereal.


The chickens are a similar case. I’m not keen on feeding them pellets, because almost all of the pellets contain “restricted animal products” – which means brains and nerve tissue as well as all the other nasties which can’t be sold as dog food. I don’t know about anyone else, but I think that’s asking for prion diseases. Also, my chickens are fussy and refuse to eat the pellets. And once the uneaten pellets get wet, they turn into disgusting, stinky glue which dries to a disgusting, stinky, solid mess of concrete-like .. stuff.


Pellets are, however, the best easiest way to get the right levels of protein. Insects are the best protein source for poultry, but we haven’t had much luck so far with our attempts at farming black soldier fly or mealworms for the birds. “Scratch mix” (mixed grains) doesn’t usually go over 11% protein at best, and chickens really should get 15% – 18%. The Peters Free Range mix has just enough protein, but it’s expensive and often unavailable. What to do?


My answer is, again, mix my own. So I’ve done the calculations, sourced sacks of raw ingredients, and made up my own chicken feed. It’s a mash style feed, meaning that it needs water added to stick it together, because there’s ground soybean meal in there to increase the protein – but the chickens seem to like it.


chicken feed recipeThis recipe provides approx. 18-20% protein, depending on the exact protein content of the grains, which is more than the chickens need for health & growth (show chickens get 18% or 19% feed for healthier feathers). Our chooks do also get kitchen scraps and weeds and whatever grass sprouts in their runs, so I think it evens out.

Re-use, repair, recycle

2016/04/28 deej 0

An unexpected vet bill a couple’ve weeks ago (furbabies are epensive when they get sick!) ate into our infrastructure funds a little, and although we do have pet insurance, it’ll take a few weeks for any of those funds to get back to us for use.


In the mean time, we have ten baby guinea fowl which are almost big enough to need their own grown-up enclosure, so they can start learning where home is. Not to mention the five wyandotte chicks which are growing daily, and sharing a brooder box with the guinea fowl keets.


We do have a little sheltered ‘baby run’ for young chickens, but it still has the last lot of babies in it. Because I have a breeding program in mind for my chickens, to produce a specific type, I need to keep multiple roosters – and that means multiple pens for the birds. At the moment, we’re not letting them free range because we don’t have fenced paddocks for them to discourage local dogs and foxes, so the pens have to be big enough that all the birds have enough space, too.


A-frame guinea houseNecessity being the parent of invention, we’ve rescued a few more of the unwanted old truck tail-gates from our neighbour’s yard (with his blessing – he wants to be rid of them) to use as the base structure for (a) the new A-frame guinea fowl house, to be located in well away from the house this time, and (b) splitting one of the existing, oversized chicken runs into two smaller runs which can each house a little tribe of a rooster and three hens. We have a roll of wire netting, so we should be able to get that done this weekend. Yay for free stuff, and for saving a lot of very useful steel from the tip!


The other project which is on my mind is the rose arbor I want to put up on the north side of the house, to extend the summer shade cover offered by the verandah. The verandah is amazing, but in late summer we get the winter solar path while we’re still getting summer temperatures, and the house gets hot. Best solution: more shade, provided by beautiful, deciduous roses. They don’t do much except feed the bees and make me happy, but not everything is about pure utility, and roses do make me very happy.


In the same spirit of re-using stuff we already have or have access to, I’m thinking that we could make the uprights for the arbor out of the logs left from whent he builders came through with a bulldozer to make a pathway to get the house in. They shoved everythign into a big pile, so it’s a huge job to dig all the good timber out again, but on the bright side, all those tree trunks have been drying slowly in the dirt, so they haven’t cracked. I think we could get something really lovely out of them, as long as we put down concrete footings and stirrups to keep the timber off the ground and away from the ever-hungry termites.

eating meat

2016/04/03 deej 1

In WA, it’s legal to kill animals for meat, providing you own the animal, and no part of the carcass (including waste, bones and offal) leaves your property. And assuming that your local council hasn’t restricted slaughter of animals in your area via local by-laws, of course – many do.


You can’t legally sell the meat, though. You can eat it, or feed it to friends, family, or employees, but not to paying guests (i.e. restaurant or bed & breakfast guests). If you want to sell meat (raw or cooked), the animal providing it must be killed in a registered abattoir.


That’s relatively straightforward for goats, sheep, alpacas, cattle, and other medium to large sized critters. There are a few abattoirs in WA which will take animals this size and slaughter them for you in small numbers. Birds and small animals (rabbits, for example) are harder – until recently the only poultry abattoirs in WA were the ones owned by vertically integrated large corporations such as Inghams. There are now 2 small, private abattoirs which I know of in WA, both on farms which also raise and sell free range meat birds (Southampton Homestead, and Wagin Duck & Game), although I don’t know if either of them would accept birds from other producers.


I was reading about these two new farms, and a few links down the rabbit hole I read a post about commercial Ross breed broiler (meat) chickens. None of the information in it is new, but it disgusts me all the same. These poor birds have been bred to grow so fast that they are not expected to be kept past 8 weeks of age – because they die or cripple themselves if you do keep them alive that long. The birds are hybrids, with specific pure genetic lines bred for the maternal and paternal bird for the hybrids, because the Ross birds themselves can’t survive long enough to breed or even begin to lay. Their leg bones can’t keep up with the obscene muscle development, and their hearts give out because of the pressure they’re under. That’s what you buy when you buy supermarket chicken.


I sympathise with the farmers who are trying to make a living producing meat animals. It’s hard. The amount that an animal eats and the length of time it lives before being slaughtered for meat are costs to the farmer, and the price they get for the end product is ridiculously low. As a culture, we expect our food to be so cheap that it’s virtually impossible for a farmer to make any money producing it (don’t forget the multiple points between farm and plate where the price is marked up). A gentleman I spoke to a couple’ve years ago said that at best he was looking at $1 profit per lamb sold, if it was a good year and not too many of them died of natural causes (disease, exposure, intestinal worms, predators, …).


But at the same time, the lengths we go to to produce this cheap and easily available meat are awful, and ethically unacceptable. It’s simply wrong that a bird should be deliberately bred and hatched that will be crippled after 9 weeks growth. It’s wrong that supermarkets gain a monopoly on food distribution and then refuse to pay farmers a fair amount for their animals (or other agricultural products for that matter – this is a big issue for fruit, vegetable and rain farmers as well). It’s wrong that people are so squeamish about the fact that we eat dead animals that they refuse to think about the welfare of those animals before they die.


Is it wrong, then, to eat meat at all? Do we add to the problem by adding to the demand, which is supplied by these practices?


I believe that what you tame you are responsible for forever – and that we are therefore responsible for our companion species which we have tamed and modified for our use and convenience. They can no longer live without us, and if we stop needing them (which is to say, if we stop eating them in most cases) they will probably become extinct. That would be wrong, too.


So my own, personal answer is that eating meat isn’t wrong, unless the practices which produced that meat were themselves unethical.


We raise our own chickens, for eggs and meat, and we kill them ourselves when their time is up. They live a good life full of sunshine and dirt baths and plentiful grain and fruit and kitchen scraps, and when they die it is painless and as stress-free as I can make it. We use a nitrogen controlled atmosphere slaughter mechanism, so the birds just go to sleep without ever knowing the difference. We keep heritage varieties, which in its own small way contributes to maintaining the genetic diversity of the species by keeping those breeds from going extinct. We do what we can.


We still eat meat. We don’t (yet) produce all of our own meat, although I have plans along those lines. When we buy, we try to buy products with known provenance (where the thing comes from and how it was produced) from butchers rather than buying from supermarkets. Even then, though.. I don’t feel right about eating chickens which have been bred to be deformed by 2 months old. I may not be able to buy commercial chicken any more, even from butchers. I may have to step up the meat production plans.


flowers and fruit

2016/02/27 deej 0


We harvested our first apples from the orchard yesterday. A pair of tiny little King David apples – very nice, too, for what is meant to be mainly a cider apple.

Nothing else is fruiting right now, except the black nightshade (NOT deadly nightshade), but the adverts and signs are up all along the Swan Valley for fresh fruit, grapes and mangos. I like this season, with the last of the summer fruit, and the last of the swimming weather, but the first few cool nights of autumn.

The frangipanis are flowering, too, and the roses are all going crazy with flowers. The area just around the house smells amazing, and it makes me happy imagining it becoming more and more that way all year as I get more plants in. One of the pink siris trees we grew from seed is flowering for the first time too, which is neat. Reminds me of our old apartment in town (with a group of pink siris trees growing outside the window, which is where we got the seeds).

Today, I completed two quests: one was visiting the annual horticultural fair in South Perth, at which I bought four new hibiscus plants; the other was chicken related. Quest number one was planned. I love hibiscus, they’re one of my (many) favourite flowers. And in spite of a practical inclination towards planting productive plants wherever possible, I have a soft spot for flowers just for the sake of flowers. Thus the frangipanis, roses, and hibiscus, and the gazanias and gerberas I plan to plant in the rockeries. These hibiscus will join the slowly-growing hedge maze behind the house, just because hedge mazes are cool and make me happy. There are a few little nooks and sub-gardens planned for around the property, places to go and sit and read a book, or have a conversation with someone, or simply meditate. We’re going to have a little Japanese garden, with flowering cherries and Japanese maple trees, and bamboo, and perhaps a tiny little koi pond. There’re plans for a rose pavillion, covered with climbing roses and surrounded by scented, old-fashioned hybrid tea roses and hibiscus (so there are flowers in winter, too).

Quest number two was not exactly unplanned, but was also not exactly planned. I saw a gumtree ad, and I thought I’d call and check it out, and .. then I came home with four new chickens. Little white silkies, for the dinochook breeding program. Now I just need to get some malay game fowl, and find a way to interbreed the malay games (for shape and size and posture) with the silkies (for skin colour and feather type) without causing injuries to one or other bird.

There’s no real story here, just a few snippets of info. I feel achieved (two quests! And apples!) so I thought I’d share that.

hot and cold

2016/02/08 deej 0

The climate is something that a lot of people don’t really think about much, unless they happen to be involved in climate change activism or have friends or family who are. For my family, I am that person – although my family are generally better than average in terms of awareness of climate change and the science behind it.

Weeks like this – 41 degrees Celcius yesterday, and predictions of 42 – 45 degrees every day this week – make me painfully aware of these issues. The heat is unpleasant for me, but I spend my days in my air-conditioned office, at my day job. Even the cats spend their day inside the house, and while we don’t have aircon at home, we do have good insulation and passive temperature control designed in, so it stays reasonably cool inside until late afternoon most days. But I feel for the chickens and the guinea fowl; the best I can do for them on days when I’m at work is make sure they have full water containers and some shade for the day, and leave ice in or near their water.

Imagine if you had to sit outside for 8 hours, with nothing more than tepid water and a bit of shade as your defence against the heat.

My birds are pretty tough; I keep Transylvanian Naked Necks deliberately because they handle hot weather better than most breeds (the featherless necks give them more skin to lose heat through), and guinea fowl are naturally heat adapted. I’m a bit worried about the chicks, but there’s nothing I can do that I haven’t done. I’ll pick up a bag of ice on the way home, and any birds which are looking too heat-exhausted will get their feet bathed in ice water to cool their core body temperatures. (As an aside, this is a very effective treatment for over-heated birds – I’ve done it before, and the bird in question recovered completely and was eating again that evening).

To be honest, weeks like last week also make me think about the climate. Rainstorms and maximum temperatures below 30 degrees C aren’t “normal” for Perth in January. But weird weather is the new normal, and we all just have to adapt.

I’m hoping that planting a perennial food forest will give us a bit more stability in terms of food production than the standard annual cropping that most farmers in WA practice. Of course, the trouble with perennial production is that it takes time to get established; we won’t be producing the abundance of fruit, nuts and oils that I imagine for a good 5 to 10 years. So we’ll need to work out some short term production strategies as a compromise with reality.

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