Saturday, November 28, 2015

More Than Free Range, More Than a Chicken Run

Although I call my chooks 'free range', I have had people call me out on that because they are, in fact, enclosed (most of the time, but they do break out sometimes.)

According to the Egg Producers Federation of New Zealand,
The key difference with free-range egg farming is the hens’ access to the outdoors.
The shelter provided may be fixed or portable, such as a shed, aviary, perchery or ark. In larger farms, flocks are housed in sheds fitted, which include nest boxes and perches, and birds are able to access the outdoors through pop-holes in the shed walls.
But my chooks live in a very different environment from commercial free range chickens. The following is just one picture of many that I found when I Googled 'free range chickens'.
It's certainly better than the conditions of the barn raised, or battery hens. And I'm not specifically criticizing Sunset Free Range Poultry, whose photo it is. But chickens were originally jungle fowl and that's why my chicken run is developing into a jungle. They do escape the run every so often, but rarely stray far and can easily be tempted back in with a little wheat or bread, as I discovered after a few years chasing them.

Our chicken run contains space and food for them, but also includes food for us.
So although you might not be able to see them clearly, against the back drop of bush, there is a grape vine on the fence, two avocado trees that grew up from food scraps, pear tree and apple trees. 
The nasturtiums are taking a break from being scratched up - I have a moveable fence as well as the main enclosure.
 Harekeke reaching over the the chook house roof.
 The ladies are slightly disappointed that I didn't bring down a second breakfast of scraps.
 But there's always something in among the harekeke roots.
 There's a fig tree there in the middle.
 An area of grass which has been seriously 'lumped' by constant scratching. The bunting is to scare away the harrier which was stealing the eggs - some of the chooks refuse to use the nesting boxes, preferring their homemade nest.
 Out in the movable fenced area there's tagasaste, and loquat and sugar cane....
 ....another pear tree and another fig...............
 And scented geranium under the two nashi trees.

They seem to like their home, and it's one of my favourite places, both beautiful and productive.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

But What Do You Do All Day?

In winter, when everything seems pretty grey most of the time, even when I'm not depressed, it feels like there is nothing to do, little to write about, nothing to write about, my life is boring and pretty bleak.

Then along comes spring with it's vibrancy and almost obscene lush growth, and I feel alive again. There's so much to do in the garden, in the orchard, in the apiary, and elsewhere around the land. In addition, I am working a couple of days a week. So now I am too busy to write, but even when I take the time to write I realise my busyness is unlikely to interest anyone but me.
Two days a week, for a couple of months in spring, I work for a local nurseryman, potting up native trees. I work in a beautiful garden, with a very knowledgeable man. It's tiring, but most enjoyable. The rest of the week is also busy, but mostly with work around home. Mostly enjoyable. Anyway, today I am going to answer the question I have been answering regularly, ever since I became a stay at home mother thirty five years ago, but with increased frequency now: "but what do you do all day?"

Here's Tuesday:

Did the usual feeding of the animals: cat; dog; ducks - also emptied, scrubbed, and filled their water trough; chooks and spent some time catching an escapee.

While collecting eggs, I discovered a dead rat in the trap I set about three months ago, and gave up checking about two months ago. This poor creature had eaten the egg, long since gone disgustingly rotten, and then died in the trap. I emptied the trapped and hosed it out and hosed it out again and again.... The smell was revolting but I managed not to vomit. Next job was to wash my hands with soap and hot water for a long, long time.
I then spent a couple of hours scything hip-high grass around the trees in the bottom orchard, and alongside the grapes and kiwiberry vines, then raking up the cut grass and distributing it as mulch.

After several glass of cold water, I swept the house, using the broom, as the vacuum cleaner is broken, and did a few more housekeeping chores to stay out of the hot afternoon sun for a while.
I sowed three long rows of carrot seed and one of beetroot, and raked up lots of mowed and scythed dry grass, spreading it on the gardens as mulch.
Mac had been mowing lawns in Raglan, but when he arrived home at a quarter to four we did a bee inspection. All four hives seem to be doing well, with eggs, larvae, capped brood, honey and pollen. I had thought one was queenless, and had ordered a new queen. The bees were all looking good and the hive I thought queenless was full of eggs and brood - what to do with new queen if it arrives? I sent the queen seller an email. (Two days later I heard from him, and as he hadn't filled the order yet, he cancelled it - a saving of $60 and a lot of work finding something to do with the queen.)

I chased and caught the chook again. (The following day I found and fixed the hole in the fence.)

I bottled the elderflower cordial, got the washing folded and put away, and on taking the wash basket back to the laundry, discovered the cat had knocked the next day's soaking chook wheat into the washing machine. So until such time as Mac can either take the agitator out, or tell me where his tools are, I'll have to use the old washing machine in the shed. I don't want to risk having the remaining, inaccessible wheat start sprouting in the filter!

Even after we both showered, I was too tired from trying to be self-sufficient in food to be bothered cooking. It was a beautiful evening so Mac suggested Hell's pizza for dinner - i.e. he wanted to go for a motorbike ride. I agreed, forgetting the hedges of privet flowers all the way to Hamilton, so spent most of the ride with my eyes closed, and my scarf shoved up my helmet acting as a makeshift air filter.

We ate down by Lake Rotoroa. I've been going there all my life. As a toddler: I remember the concrete igloo and concrete cars. As a child: the looong slide. As a uni student: swimming at night, and park-ups in cars, being chased along by patrolling police cars. With my own kids: Greg attacked by a swan when the bread ran out; Simon breaking his toe, me ignoring his complaints thinking he was just tired and grizzly. Coming here for a cup of tea with my mother after being told at the hospital she had terminal cancer (see below.) 'Happenings' in the seventies. Concerts. Walks with friends. Tonight, Hell's pizza with Mac. Still a lovely place.

Then across town to see Jeff, Konny, Steve and Heidi, and have a cup of tea before riding home in the dark - not that the dark made a lot of difference to me, with my eyes closed and scarf air filter.

Home. Hot chocolate. Watched Step Dave. Bed. Sleep. That's what I do all day.


Children still drive the little concrete cars,
Crawl through the Eskimo house,

Feed the swans and ducks with stale crusts
At the edge of the lake

(though no-one swims here as we did
long ago when my mother was young
and I was younger still)

Young couples still sit in cars at night
Talking and laughing and loving,
Walk through the rose gardens
Guiltily picking a red, red rose, for love

(though locked iron gates
keep them from the dark side we enjoyed
when I was younger)

Families still treat themselves
On a fine Sunday afternoon
To ice-cream, sandwiches and drinks
At the lakeside kiosk

(though no-one remembers TT 2s,
and chocolate dipped ice-cream
is no longer as special as it was)

And we sit at the white-clothed table
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon,
My mother and I together
Speaking platitudes sandwiched with

(What is there to say to an old woman
who’s just been told that death is waiting
on the other side of the lake?)


This was written about the day years ago (Tuesday, 20 December 1988) when I had taken my mother to an appointment at Waikato Hospital and we had been told she had terminal cancer. Afterwards we had morning tea at the kiosk at Lake Rotoroa, just down the road from the hospital, a favourite place ever since I was a very small child. She died 11 days later.