Category Archives: Animals

Medicinal lunchbox for happy chooks

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Now that we have reticulation to approximately 90% of Edgefield, a world of opportunity for planting perennials has opened up, which was previously unsustainable. Slowly but surely I’m developing the perennial garden, focusing my attention particularly on the east orchard at the moment, which sits to the side of the house bordered by the driveway.

The current chook house and yard is in this zone but we have plans to fence off a much larger area that will encompass the east orchard and the developing “chook herb garden” (plus build an entirely new chicken coop eventually). Here my spoiled feathered friends will be able to roam, forage and scratch to their hearts delight without destroying my veggie patch and herb planters, which they do every time I let them free range.

As this area is directly adjacent to the house, we want it to look attractive, not a giant, ugly chook pen like the current eyesore. So I got a quote for a post and rail fence with robust chain wire fencing that will support vines so I can grow edible, flowering greenery up and over it. The quote made my eyes water. So, like many projects, it’s gone on the backburner for the moment and we’re looking into whether it makes sense to build it ourselves. Sure, fencing isn’t rocket science, but DIY, especially when you don’t really know what you’re doing, can elicit a huge time/opportunity cost. Food for thought…

Edgefield site map - chook garden

The east orchard/chook garden is highlighted in green on this sitemap of Edgefield.

Food and medicine forage for healthy, happy chooks

In the meantime, while my chooks are quarantined to their relatively small yard, I had the lightbulb idea of growing a medicinal herb lunchbox (in addition to other edible trees/shrubs) in the area that will become their new yard. Hopefully we’ll get the fence built before the end of the year by which time these plants will be established and thriving, giving the chooks instant nutrition, medicine and shade.

So far, this is what I have planted, with plenty more to come.

  • Tansy
  • Yarrow
  • Comfrey (4)
  • Wormwood (2)
  • Lemon balm
  • Rhubarb (3)
  • Geraniums (4)
  • Blueberries (five different varieties)
  • Mango, Kensington Pride
  • Lime, Tahitian
  • Lime, Rangpur
  • Lime, Kaffir
  • Olive
  • Plum
  • Pomegranate
  • Curry leaf tree
  • Mulberry

Other helpful chicken-friendly plants include chickweed, feverfew, garlic, ginger, hyssop, lavender, nasturtium, southernwood, rosemary, rue, nettles, horseradish, catnip, pennyroyal, pyrethrum, fat hen, wandering jew, tagasaste and there are plenty more!

I won’t be planting all of these as some are unsuitable for my soil and climate, some are invasive weeds, some are too big etc. But you get the idea. Whatever I plant, it’s going to need to be robust, hardy and as mature as possible before I let my ravenous flock of ladies (and two gentlemen) out into it.

 

Spring baby season

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The ducks and kangaroos are not the only ones having babies at Edgefield at the moment. There has been rather a lot of hatching going on in the chicken department and mostly NOT in the hen house. Perhaps I can blame my cluckiness on my friend Rachel and her family who recently moved in next door with their newborn baby daughter, Grace, from whom I have been stealing cuddles whenever I can. Oh there’s nothing quite like the smell and softness of a newborn baby’s downy head!

Anyway, I thought I’d give incubating a try with an incubator I borrowed off a friend. The first batch I tried were some of my own eggs, fertilised by my spunky rooster Dirk Diggler, who is getting a little long in the tooth and whose je nais se quoi may not quite have been what it once was. Only one egg hatched from a batch of 10. Two others were fully formed, the rest not at all. The likely scenario is that I drowned the two by continuing to turn the eggs past Day 18, which I now know not to do. Live and learn.

Then a mummy chook went broody so I stuck a clutch under her. Of that lot, only one hatched. Hmmm. So then my friend, Mel, gave me a dozen purebred Australorp eggs, which I got into the incubator a bit late. But we have had better success with that lot and hatched five chicks on 22 and 23 October (3-4 days ago). I managed to stick the first single incubator-hatched chick under clucky mummy hen who immediately took the chick under her wing. I tried to do the same yesterday with the five new little chicks and although she didn’t attack them exactly, she didn’t mother them either. So after leaving them huddled in her pen for about an hour, I rescued them and stuck them back under the heat lamp in the brooder box in the laundry. Looks like I’m going to have to raise these ones NOT as nature intended. Bummer.

FlowHive on ‘Australian Story’

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I’m looking forward to watching this episode of ‘Australian Story’ on the inventors of FlowHive. I’ve been watching FlowHive closely since it first hit the net and subsequently exploded across the world with its ridiculously successful crowdfunding campaign. I have been lusting after a FlowHive since the beginning but haven’t been able to afford one. I’m actually kinda glad now because what it has made me do is read and research about bees and beekeeping and not jump into it without truly understanding what it is all about.

There are many dissenters and many, many fans of FlowHive it seems to me. A blog and organisation I respect, Milkwood Permaculture, is not a fan. They actively and vocally warn against FlowHive essentially suggesting it’s not good for the bees nor the hive as a super-organism. They advocate natural beekeeping using a warre hive. I don’t wish to weigh into the debate because I just don’t know enough about it. But what I will say is that FlowHive, if nothing else, has brought beekeeping and the plight of bees generally into the public consciousness like nothing else I’ve read about lately. As an avid organic gardener, permaculturalist and hopefully, future beekeeper, I think that can only be a good thing. I find it a thrilling but daunting prospect and I think FlowHive has made beekeeping so much more accessible to people like me.

The other obvious point is that our bees are under extreme threat worldwide and anything that encourages more people to keep, nurture and protect bees the better. We need more bees. It’s that simple.

Restoring balance to the hen house

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While it’s never a pleasant task, it’s one we are committed to doing here at Edgefield, that is, humanely despatching with excess roosters and preparing them for the pot.

Poor Dirk, our spunky but rather light-framed rooster, was beginning to show signs of stress. This was undoubtedly caused by the three robust young New Hampshire cockerels that had recently begun to crow and frequently display their “roosterliness” by fighting and trying to dominate the flock. Dirk had his work cut out for him. The poor fella’s getting too old for these sorts of shenanigans. The pecking order and his position as Top Cock had to be reaffirmed and he needed a little helping hand to do that.

Admittedly, I played only a small role in yesterday’s killing of the three cockerels as Jeff gallantly let me off the hook. Although, it definitely takes two people to hold them down pre and immediately post chopping off their heads. But without going into grisly detail, we now have three freshly skinned and gutted carcasses, cut into pieces, which are “resting” in our freezer ready for a tasty winter casserole.

I’ve got to say, the act of getting so close to the raw, visceral and mostly hidden end of food production feels pretty good. However, I must admit, my super-sensitive nose does struggle with the smell during preparation of the carcasses. Blergh!

Charming chooks

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I’ve become a chicken fancier, a “mad chook lady” my husband teases me. I find them fascinating I must admit. In the way a crackling fire is mesmerising, I love to watch the pecking order politics and peculiarities of a flock of free range chooks. The antics of a couple of young roosters vying for the attention of the ladies and the vigorously contested position of Top Cock is especially amusing.

dogThere is so much to learn about them too, especially when keeping a sizeable flock of Heritage breeds in good health and happiness. Sure, anyone can keep a few hens in their suburban backyard with limited prior knowledge and, happily, there has been a great resurgence in backyard chook-keeping. However, I submit there is more to it than meets the eye, especially when you start to dabble in breeding. Keeping roosters, collecting and storing fertilised eggs, incubating (using broody hens or an automatic incubator), hatching, brooder boxes, feeding chicks – it’s quite a learning curve.

Those that truly value their chickens for all the incredible things they offer will make the effort to learn all there is to know.  However, it seems to me, there is apathy from some “amateurs” (and I use this term loosely) towards the health and welfare of their flock. Chickens, it often seems, are viewed as expendable. Even my husband jokes that “they only cost $15 each” (shows how little he knows!) When they get sick, there seems to be little thought given as to why or effort made to heal them and preventative measures taken to stop it happening again. The same must be said for protecting them from predators and I am roundly guilty of failing in that regard. Foxes are everywhere in the Perth Hills and they need no second invitation to wreak havoc on a hapless and helpless flock of chickens who haven’t been secured for the night (another reason I am so keen to build a safe new set of yards for my chooks).

Even though they are infinitely more useful and rather charming, chickens are rarely given the same status as a family pet. Whenever I catch Zen, my beautiful, lazy, food-obsessed Labrador (who we adore) stealing the chooks’ food scraps from right under their beaks, I tell him: “the day you give me eggs and meat, manure, tilling and pest eradication services, you can have all the scraps.” Never gonna happen.

Chickens in permaculture

Chooks are marvellously industrious creatures and the ultimate best friend of any gardener. They’re an integral part of any permaculture system and are the oft-quoted example of a closed loop system given in every Permaculture Design Course (PDC).permaculture_chicken

I have completed a PDC and a Certificate III in Permaculture. I have lofty aspirations to create my own utopian permaculture paradise at Edgefield and with baby steps I might eventually achieve it. But permaculture is patient (thank goodness) because so often I am not. One of the “take home” lessons I remember clearly from my Cert III is the advice not to bite off more than you can chew (a bad habit of mine) because “lofty aspirations” and unrealistic goals will only demoralise and set you back when they’re not achieved. My mantra is one small job at a time. For example, my current project (aside from building a new house for ourselves) is to build a magnificent chook palace for my growing flock followed by an integrated vegie patch and covered orchard… hmmm, my mantra doesn’t seem to be working. I think I will have to make do with my “rustic” little chook shed for the time being.

Despite my impatience and ridiculous project wish list, which will keep me busy till 2024, we are achieving the incredible by designing and building our very own beautiful, passive solar house. We hope to make as sustainable as possible. It may take us a while to fulfil that brief. Patient I may not be, but stubbornness, perseverance and a good work ethic I have in spades.

DIY brooder box and new Australorp chicks

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I built a chick brooder box and I’m a little bit proud of myself. It’s a simple thing but often they’re the most rewarding, especially as I now have six new one-week-old Australorp chicks happily peeping outside my back door.

I used as many recycled materials as I could and loosely followed some instructions off the net. I’ve been clearing out my shipping container and getting rid of box after box of baby clothes (a cathartic but slightly melancholy experience) and repurposed one for my brooder.

  1. I cut out most of the box’s rectangular lid with an angle grinder to provide ventilation.
  2. I had to buy a piece of heavy gauge wire mesh to fit over the lid, cut it down to size with the angle grinder with a hole for the lamp to fit / hang, drilled holes and secured it with cable ties.
  3. Add to that some wood chip mulch for bedding.
  4. I found an old spotlight buried on a back shelf of the garage which still worked, then inserted a new red globe to provide heat.
  5. I splurged and bought a thermostat online which is an awesome gadget. You plug it into the wall, plug the lamp into the thermostat, set your desired temperature, put the temperature probe at chick head height and you’re set. The light turns on and off automatically to maintain the correct temperature. Simple genius! It guards against chicks over or under-heating, saves me having to manually adjust the light and gives me comfort that I’m not going to start a fire, melt the box and kill my chicks. All good things.
  6. Add a mini waterer and a plant saucer full of chick starter crumble.
  7. Add chicks and voila! 

Designing a chook palace using permaculture principles

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Another rainy day design session at home, this time imagining a monumentally magnificent chook house that would do any dandy rooster proud.

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I wanted a lesson in SketchUp, an awesome 3D modelling program that Jeff uses regularly for work and in which he created some of the amazing images of our new house. But of course, ever the old school architect, Jeff can’t think without sketching. So, pen in hand, surrounded by library books on the subject, we set about designing the infrastructure centrepiece of our garden plan by hand.

The chook house is but one of many mini projects within the larger overall plan for Edgefield which will probably take us a decade to fully realise. 

My impetus for this doing this now is an unfortunate string of events involving a voracious fox and the loss of some of my prize chickens. Our current set up is a small coop from which I free range the chooks every day and lock them up at night. This scenario is left wide open to human folly (read: I’ve forgotten more than once to close the door despite a daily reminder on my phone). Devastated by my recent losses and wracked with guilt, I’ve decided that building an enclosed chook house, run and yards has become Number One priority on my to-do list.

chook house drawing

Sketching various configurations and nutting out the details.

We plan to design and build it ourselves using recycled materials where possible, both from an ethical perspective, but also because we’re on a budget. In reality, there is no budget for this at the moment. We are saving every cent to finish the new house. Despite this, I want it to be beautiful as well as functional. After all, it will be the centrepiece of our garden and this garden will be stunning, damn it…if it takes me till the kids leave high school! I want to build the wall facing the house (south side) out of recycled red brick which will match the built-in planter boxes on the jarrah verandah as well as the internal fireplace. The balance I’d like to build out of timber frame and zincalume metal sheeting with a skillion roof facing north to capture the sun. Passive solar design for our chooks: why not?

I’m rather hooked on chooks I must say and I plan to breed them. So I want this set up to accommodate up to 50 birds (a number that made Jeff’s eyes widen in disbelief). We’ll more than likely never get close to that many but numbers will fluctuate with the seasons, new broods and dispatch of roosters, so better to be safe than sorry. We won’t be free ranging anymore and I don’t want my precious soil to be ruined from overstocking birds.

Designing to permaculture principles

When designing with permaculture principles in mind I think about a system that minimises effort and maximises efficiencies. In permaculture, you’re taught that everything you do, plant, build or own should fulfil multiple purposes. For example, if you plant a tree, ask yourself, what is the purpose of that tree and how many functions does it provide? Will it provide shade, produce food (for humans and/or animals), act as a windbreak, fix nitrogen into the soil, produce timber, attract and protect wildlife, etc?

And so we’ve found, there is more to designing a super efficient, integrated chook house than meets the eye. Collection of manure and spoiled straw is as important a part of this system as egg production. The chooks will be the engine room of my garden; the nitrogen component of my future compost system, which will be located within stone’s throw of the chook house. I want nesting boxes and roosts located on outside walls with hatches for easy egg and manure collection. The design will allow up to six separate yards including the future covered orchard, which will enable me to rest the soil in some yards and plant green manure and fodder / medicinal herb crops for the chooks to access and enjoy. Importantly, it’ll enable flexibility including brooding boxes for hens and chicks, a sick / quarantine bay and a rooster yard if necessary.

The details have yet to be finessed but we’re getting there. I’m learning SketchUp via a much smaller project: designing potato and onion boxes for my new pantry. I’m going to build them out of some recycled timber floor boards we stockpiled from the demolition of our old pump house. But stay tuned for the chook palace in 3D!

Foxy loxy takes advantage of my forgetfulness

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The early dark of winter makes it especially difficult to remember to lock up the chooks each night. Our flock free ranges each day and returns to the coop around dusk. It’s right at the wrong time: the witching hour. I’m busy making dinner, bathing kids, feeding the dog, lighting the pot belly stove and numerous other tasks. Inevitably, the chooks sometimes get forgotten. And last night Mr Fox enjoyed breakfast on us.

I say breakfast as I’m guessing it was an early morning attack when the chooks had already left the coop as piles of feathers and one headless body were found among the trees in the yard. Had Mr Fox entered the coop, we would have been even unluckier and lost the whole flock of 12.

As it is, I lost a beautiful point-of-lay New Hampshire frizzle hen named Cappuccino and a sweet young French Wheaten Maran hen, both of which were part of trios I was looking forward to breed from come Spring. I am bitterly disappointed and sad, but only have myself to blame. I’d become a bit complacent. I remembered that I’d forgotten to close the door late last night when I was tucked up warm in bed. Needless to say, I didn’t get up.

So I’m down to the wire on the breeding front, with one rare breed Wheaten Maran rooster and hen left, and one New Hampshire rooster and flat-feathered hen. Hopefully I can stockpile enough fertile eggs from each of them to cobble together a clutch worth incubating. My friend, Toni, has one lonely little Wheaten Maran hen, which we’re going to introduce to my rooster and boost our egg production. She also has a serious incubator set up, which means we don’t have to rely on fickle hens to go broody.

Part of the grand plan for Edgefield is to build a new chook palace with multiple yards connected to a run ending in the future covered orchard. The chooks will have plenty of space but will no longer be able to free range which means I don’t have to remember to put them away each night and they stay safe and snug away from predators.

Sorry Mr Fox.

Chicken first aid

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I am a terrible mother hen. I recently realised late last week that my flock was/is quite sick and I hadn’t noticed, or rather I hadn’t investigated closely enough to clue in to what was going on and take action. I console myself with the thought that I’m still learning. There’s actually a fair bit more to keeping healthy chickens than most people think.

They’d been off the lay for quite some time and I was blaming it on the cold weather, the fact there was a mix of pullets (young hens not yet at point of lay) and sexes within my flock. I thought they might have been laying elsewhere too when I let them out to free range each day. But no, unfortunately not.

The poor buggers were infested with mites and lice, some have scale on their legs caused by burrowing mites, and many of them have fowl pox which manifests itself as nasty black pustules and scabs all over their combs, wattles and faces causing them to look rather deformed and ugly.

In the worst fowl pox case, my black Australorp hen’s eye had closed over and I decided to euthanise her on the weekend. She was the catalyst for the action. I’d noticed her comb was deformed but hadn’t had a chance to catch her and have a closer look. By the time I did, it was too late. That said, there is no treatment for fowl pox going by all the research I have since done on the net, reading my chook bible and talking to chook-savvy friends. It is a slow spreading sickness from which they eventually recover and to which they are then immune. It’s often spread by mosquitoes and/or open wounds caused from fighting or injuries. I don’t know how mine got it. Mosquitoes could be the culprit. Regardless, many of them have it now in varying degrees, but none as bad as the Australorp hen thankfully. I just hope it doesn’t spread further and cause more problems.

So on Friday, serious intervention was required. I did a fair bit of research into various methods of control including organic methods using herbs and wood ash. But in the end I decided to go the chemical route as I had a serious problem and there was a huge amount of work required to clean out the chook yard completely and treat all 17 chickens. I wanted to make sure it was going to eradicate the problem.

First Aid treatment

I gathered my supplies and set to work on 17 chickens:

  • Poultry Dust (I used more than 2 bottles) – to treat the lice and mites. I held them upside down by their legs and covered them all over, rubbing it into their feathers and all their cracks and crevices.
  • Canola oil spray – to spray their legs for scale.
  • Betadine – to disinfect and treat the fowl pox on their combs and wattles.
  • Vaseline – around their eyes.

It took me about 15 minutes per bird to do all of the above. Phew! I now have new names for many of my chickens, which I cannot repeat here! Needless to say, they didn’t like it very much. I tried to convince them it was like a spa treatment but they weren’t convinced.

Chook pen clean out

Jeff and I set to to work on the pen on Saturday. We removed, emptied and scrubbed all the nesting boxes and storage containers, de-cobwebbed, dusted, cleared out all the straw and bedding materials, which we spread out liberally all around the garden and fruit trees, swept the floor and scraped off accumulated crud off all surfaces. We then sprayed all the surfaces, roosts, nesting boxes, every crack and crevice where nasty little mites hide, with an insecticide (Coopex). I’d cleaned out the pot belly stove earlier and spread a bucket of wood ash all over the floor of the pen and then filled it with three new bales of hay. Happy chickens. Well, they’d better be anyway because if that doesn’t do it, I give up.

Where food ethics meat reality: killing our own chickens

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Toni Carroll, my friend and “chook mentor” who, thankfully, walked us through the whole process.

The three cockerels cock-a-doodle-dooing sealed their fate. We’d bred them from our own flock. They were handsome cross-breds out of our spunky Silver Spangled Hamburgh rooster, Dirk Diggler, and half Isa Brown half Coronation Sussex hens (I think). It was time to put into action what Jeff and I had been reading, watching on TV and talking about for a long time. Authors Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food), Joel Salatin (Food Inc and numerous books) and Matthew Evans (Goumet Farmer and The Dirty Chef) to name but a few had, over time, influenced us in a way that had made us want to get closer to our food, or rather, to source it closer to home. And how much closer can you get than raising it yourself?

At the moment, raising and killing our own fowl for meat is about as far as we are willing and able to go. The romantic notion of pigs, a cow for milk / beef or various other animals is unviable on our current 1-acre smallholding and we’re ok with that. This was, in itself, a very large first step for us and one of which we’re rather proud. It’s funny how killing your own animals for meat IS such a big deal. Probably the majority or the population eats meat but we have become so removed from that first step in the process that it has become thought of as an extraordinary act of brutality at which most people cringe. But now that we have gotten over the “hump”, done the deed once, I think it will become a much less gruesome task and one that I associate with fresh, delicious, complex meat for cooking and eating rather than the thoughtless killing of another animal.

I called Toni Carroll with whom I’d become friends through various chicken-related adventures and she came over on Sunday, 30 March to show Jeff and I how to kill, gut, clean, skin and pluck our young roosters ready for eating. While I admit it was a confronting task, at the end of it I was surprised to say I didn’t find it as bad as I thought I would. The most difficult part was breaking its neck. This is an optional step but one I wanted to learn how to do and it seemed easier than trying to chop the head off a live chicken, which I imagined would flap around like a crazy thing while I was wielding a cleaver. Not a comforting thought. So Toni showed me how to break its neck by holding on to its legs, lying it flat on the floor of the garage with a broom handle over its neck, standing on both sides of the pole and simply pulling the bird up hard till its neck snapped or stretched. Then came the worst bit. The inevitable convulsions of a dead but seemingly very alive bird which flapped, writhed and gasped for air. Despite assurances from Toni that it was very much dead and just its nerves were jangling, I found that part uncomfortable. Funny really given that I’d done the very same thing with a million fish before in my lifetime. Hopefully, this will become “normal” for me too over time.

Jeff had a go too but he opted to go straight to the beheading. And what I feared might happen, did. While making a clean cut, the convulsing bird slipped out of his grasp and went flip-flopping headless across the yard. I’ve got to say, it was a hilarious, if somewhat gruesome sight. Jeff and Toni got spattered in blood but he quickly retrieved the bird and we bled them into a bucket.

So onto the next step. We decided to skin two of them for a casserole and pluck one, leaving the skin on for roasting. I boiled a large pot of water and dipped one of the birds into it for about 15 secs before plucking, which I found surprisingly easy. Toni demonstrated on one and Jeff skinned the other. The gutting was unpleasant because of the smell but was over quickly. Then it was good wash under the tap and we were done. Toni advised the birds needed to rest for 2-3 days either in the fridge or the freezer to allow the meat to relax from the rigor mortis. 

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Plucking one of the cockerels ready for roasting.

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The look on Jeff’s face says it all: blergghh!

Then came the best bit – eating. On Sunday, 6th April, I prepared the most delicious casserole I think I’ve ever made, if I do say so myself.

Jo’s recipe for Edgefield Homegrown Chicken Casserole

Ingredients

Two whole chickens cut in quarters
Bacon
Mushrooms
Pickling onions
Garlic
Thyme
White wine
Vegetable stock and water
Tomato paste
Salt and pepper
Kale

I think that’s it for ingredients from memory. I just flew by the seat of my pants in terms of a recipe and it turned out great. The meat was really delicious. It was darker in colour, had more texture and was firmer than shop-bought chicken. The flavour was slightly gamier and more “chickeny” – just as Matthew Evans had described. Major thumbs up from all around my table so I was stoked.

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So all round it was a very positive experience and one we are now prepared to continue doing, which is good because I’m rather enjoying breeding chooks and with that comes surplus roosters. This is by far the best thing I can think of doing with them.

 

 

RIP Sassy, my best mate

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Sassafras – Sassy – Sass – DogFish, my jet black, rambunctious puppy turned grey-muzzled, arthritic old dog passed away naturally on Monday, 9 December 2013 aged 10 ½. It’s not dramatic to say it was one of the saddest days of my life. 

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Sassy, the day before she died – 9 December 2013.

She’d been diagnosed with a malignant tumour in her spleen a month earlier and, given her age, the vet suggested it had more than likely spread to other organs so there was little point in removing it and nothing much they could do for her besides make her comfortable. We’d watched her suffer through internal bleeds, after which she’d seemingly recover, then decline again, then bounce back, but it got to the point where I’d finally made the heart-rending decision to have her put down on Monday when nature thankfully took its course. I managed to avoid the hardest decision I think I’d ever had to make. Watching her trot around sniffing down the back paddock, and come barrelling to me for a lap cuddle while thinking “I have to put you down” is an emotional minefield that played havoc with my heart. I haven’t cried so much since Dad died. And so many of my tears were somehow mixed up in the emotion of Dad passing away too, 10 years later. For me, Sass and Dad were inextricably linked in my head and my heart. 

I got Sass in my darkest hour – September 2006. Jeff had left and returned to America leaving me heartbroken. At the same time, Dad had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and was rapidly going downhill. My life had imploded and I was struggling to cope. Mum, concerned about my well-being, had asked my sister Ros what she thought she could do for me. And Ros simply said: “Let her get a dog.” I’d wanted a dog of my own – very specifically, a black female Labrador – for so long but the timing had never been right. I’d moved in with Mum and Dad after Jeff had left so it probably wasn’t right then either with all that was happening in my life…or then again, perhaps it was perfect. Mum and Dad broke the news to me and I joyously went looking for a black Lab puppy.

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Sassy, on the day I brought her home.

Of course I fell in love with Sass the moment I laid eyes on her. She was THE most adorable puppy I’d ever seen and it was extremely hard to wait for the requisite 8-9 weeks until I picked her up. I remember that day in vivid detail because Dad came with me. By this time, Dad was very ill and he struggled to cope but he so very much wanted to share it with me. In a way, it was his parting gift to me. He knew how important she was going to be to me and how much I needed her. He sat in the passenger seat of my beat-up little Nissan Pulsar on the way home with this wriggly, biting, little ball of energy on his lap. I remember wanting to cuddle her so much right then but also enjoying watching Dad hold her. I don’t remember him being able to do that again so it’s a special memory.

Sass was my psychologist, my best friend and my dearest companion who rarely left my side in the early years. We were the dynamic duo and I took her everywhere. When my car finally died, I was given the white ute that had been passed around various family members. And so it was me and my dog in the back of a ute. I got into scuba diving and the UWA dive club became my second home. Everyone knew Sass and our beach adventures always featured a black Lab whenever possible. We nicknamed her DogFish for her incredible surfing and swimming abilities. She LOVED the water and nothing made my heart sing more than watching her crash through the waves and body surf at Leighton Beach, run along the shore, tongue lolling, a crazed enjoyment spread wide on her face. There’s just nothing like the beach for a Lab. It was our favourite place and we spent almost every weekend in summer there those first two years. Just her and me, most of the time.

Two years later and Jeff had re-entered my life. Shortly thereafter I bought Zen for Jeff and Sass, unimpressed at first, got a new groupie / lover / son / companion who never left her side. They became inseparable and we were a two dog family.

Sass was not an overly affectionate dog. Nothing like the heart-on-his-sleeve Zen who is so in your face and will do anything for attention and a cuddle. Sass was subtle and the master of pretence. She would sit close but with her back to you, body language saying: “You can cuddle me if you want to but I don’t need it.” At other times, when you sat on the ground, she would do her unannounced signature barrel dive – there’s nothing subtle about nearly 40kg of solid Labrador diving into your lap! She revelled in a good scratch and a cuddle but didn’t want you to know how much she liked it. She was the opposite of a needy dog – independent and, at times, aloof. But for me, she was always incredibly responsive and affectionate, grunting her pleasure at a scratch like a big black pig. I miss her vocal, expressive “yawning” in the morning to tell me it’s breakfast time and I still look for her paws sticking out from under the BBQ cover, her favourite place to lie to get away from the flies. 

Now a beautiful, tall Jacaranda tree marks the place where Sass lies. “Sassy’s Tree” will hopefully thrive here at Edgefield and will burst into its magnificent purple flower display to mark this time as each year passes. A fitting tribute to my favourite girl.

RIP Sass, I miss you so much.

New fertile eggs for clucky Mona

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Mona, my lovely chocolate brown Barnevelder hen, went clucky last week for the second time. So far I’ve hatched two clutches of eggs at Edgefield:

  • four eggs by Mona – only one female survived and she is now laying (i think)
  • four eggs by my little bantam silver-laced Wynadotte – three have so far survived and they are now pullets (gangly teenagers) and look to be out of the danger zone in terms that I’m free-ranging them and they haven’t been taken by kookaburras or crows like the last lot.

Not sure what the latest three are – breed or sex. As we have only one rooster – Dirk Diggler, the spunky Silver Spangled Hamburgh – they are obviously half SSH. The other half could be Barnevelder, Sussex X Isa Brown, SSH or Silver-laced Wynadotte. Two are dark brown (probably Barnevelder) and one is spotty and mottled like an SSH.

Anyway, as pretty as the SSH are, they’re not the best layers (infrequent small, white eggs) and they’re skittish and not very docile, so not the best around young kids. I wanted to bring in some new blood and breeds. I found a guy on Gumtree selling fertile Light Sussex eggs and got talking to him and he offered me eggs of a rare French breed called Wheaten Maran which are really pretty, very good layers, and super friendly and docile. He reckons he trips over them as they crowd in around his feet. So I bought four of each and brought them home to do an egg switcheroo under Mona yesterday afternoon (Wed 04.12.13).

But then what to do with four half “cooked” SSH X eggs? I candled them and they all looked like they had viable, well-established embryos in them so I couldn’t bring myself to chuck them. So I set up my electric frypan with a towel, hay and a kids forehead thermometer and then set about last night frantically trying to find someone who could lend or rent me an incubator. 

Facebook to the rescue! On the Hills Pets and Livestock Group, of which I am a member, a lady offered to put the eggs into her incubator which she has running 24/7. So I just dropped them off. Fingers crossed they didn’t go cold or I didn’t cook them when i was trying to get the frypan set up. I’m not holding out a lot of hope but I’ll just wait and see I guess.

As for Mona, when I went to check on her this morning she was off her nest and having a dust bath. But she was acting VERY cranky as broody birds do, fluffed up twice her size when she saw me and threatened to take my hand off. So I think she’ll hopefully go back and sit. Eight eggs cost me $25 and a long drive all the way to Wanneroo, so she better! I picked a couple of sprigs of mint and wormwood and lined her nest with them. The wormwood helps to eradicate fleas, ticks, lice etc and the mint just smells nice!

So anyway, now we wait. The four eggs in the incubator are probably two weeks off hatching (i forgot to make a note of the date) and the other eight are due on Christmas Day! Hooray!

Spring babies!

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The four newest additions to the Edgefield family hatched while I was in Brisbane this weekend. We named them Liquorice, Chocolate, Popcorn and Banana. Mumma hen is VERY protective of her babies but is happy in the new outdoor pen I just set her up in. She is pecking at the grass like a chook possessed, poor love. She’s deprived herself of sustenance for so long sitting tight on her clutch of eggs, she’s probably seriously malnourished. Anyway, they’re enjoying the sunshine, bugs and grass. Dirk (the rooster) came over immediately to check out what was going on and did his fancy courting dance on the outside of the pen. Very funny.

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Add 3 more and now there are 9 chooks

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So with my number of chooks rapidly dwindling, I decided to go get some more (fox fodder) today. After extensive research on the right breeds, I found a woman in Oakford and bought three pullets (12-15 weeks old). 1 x blue Australorp, 1 x Silver Laced Wyandotte, 1 x Barnevelder. So now we have nine chooks:

  • 2 x Barnevelders (Mona and …)
  • 1 x blue Australorp
  • 1 x Silver Laced Wyandotte
  • 2 x Coronation Sussex x Isa Brown (Lacey and Marshmallow)
  • 2 x Silver Spangled Hamburghs – hen (Hettie) and rooster (Dirk)
  • 1 x mixed breed chick (probably from Dirk so half SS Hamburgh)
Just as a record, the other breeds I looked up that looked good were:
  • Faverolle
  • Barnevelder
  • Cochin
  • Wyandotte
  • Langshan
  • Australorp
  • Plymouth Rock
  • Rhode Island Red
  • Silkies
  • Sussex

Our first babies at Edgefield!

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Mona, our Barnevelder hen, successfully hatched four chicks yesterday of mixed breed. Three eggs were brown (potentially hers and/or the two Coronation Sussex X Isa Brown hens, Lacey and Marshmallow) and one egg was white which belongs to the Silver Spangled Hamburgh hen, Hettie. Additionally, we currently have two roosters – another SS Hamburgh, Dirk, and a Frizzle, The Fierce Lady, who is no lady at all as it turns out. ‘He’ was thought to be a ‘she’ and was given to me by my cousin, Kim. But he is definitely a he! And he may not have long on this earth due to the crowing competitions he and Dirk are having.

We have chickens!

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We picked up Corrina, Lou Lou, Helen and Madame Mimi (or “Dat” as Hugo would actually name her I’m sure) from Comps Poultry Farm in Herne Hill yesterday. They are 5-week old 3/4 leghorns, two black, two white. It’ll be a while until they start laying (18-22 weeks) so we’re just fattening them up now and welcoming them to the family. The dogs were ecstatic at their arrival, needless to say! So far so good though and we haven’t had any carnage. The dogs have done serious perimeter investigation and have not found a way into our new coop. And they won’t! I’m stoked and the kids are really interested in them so that’s good.