beautiful heads

the eccentricities of guinea fowl

in they crowded

safely tucked up for their first night

checking

where are you little guineas

very quiet

staying in

first two brave souls

then a few more

out flew the last

and the flock was whole

adore pecking

exploring

mohawks

beautiful feathers

beautiful heads

fluttering

Our guinea keets have grown up – remember when we bought them at just 4 weeks old! Well, two and a bit months later, it was time to move on out of their A-frame and into something a bit more comfy, more suitable for cosy sleeping, and with plenty of access to lovely pasture.

We did our research and discovered (we’d kind of guessed) that guineas love to fly and thus, they love a tree house which they can flutter up to each night.  Cool – building a tree house would be fun! However, being raised upon a post would limit the size we could build, and given that all 12 tiny keets have grown up into gorgeous plump fowl, complete with bizarre check pouches, black wiry mohawks and heads that are bluer by the day, it looks like we’ll need to build at least two, possibly three.  How cute will that look – three little tree houses grouped in the bottom corner of the garden – Julian even wants to build them little rope gangways so they can go visiting each other like Swiss Family Robinson!

So, it was off to the workshop, paper and pencil in hand, to survey the building supplies and work out what we could build.  Fox proof of course.  Decent ventilation.  A landing platform with a door that can opened by us from down below.  A floor frame that can be mounted on a post.  And perches.  Guineas love to roost.

Julian came up with the dimensions for the basic design – floor, walls, and roof.  My contribution was the corner door (an outdoor table top I’d bought for pennies at the dumpshop – sure it would be useful for something) with a triangular landing platform – I didn’t want to sacrifice roosting space :-) – and the little window.  I wanted the window bigger so I could peer in and see what they were up to.  But Julian was mindful of rain getting in – so it’s smallish.

It took a couple of days to build.  And the door’s not quite finished – Julian needs to buy the supplies so that it can be opened with a pulley – which is just a bit neat!

But it was ready enough for the guineas, especially given they need to be trained to live there.  You see, guineas aren’t the smartest of birds, or the homeliest, and according to our research, they would rather be like the Hamburgs and sleep in trees.  All very well, but we want to keep tabs on these little birds.  We want to know they are safe each night.  We want to find their eggs.  We want them to earn their keep as diligent pest controllers  And, truth be told, we want to roast some for supper!  Thus, they need to be trained to realise this is their home.  This is where the good stuff is.

So the idea is, you put the house on the ground at first surrounded by an electric fence so’s that you can (hopefully) keep track of them during the day, and herd them into their house at night.  Then, when they are all happy with this arrangement, you raise the house so they can (hopefully) fly up by themselves.  Eventually you remove the fence and whilst they are free to wander during the day, they will (hopefully) come back each night.  There’s a lot of hope ;-)

Our chickens manage this beautifully.  They have complete freedom to roam the farm during the day (apart from the vegetable beds) – they have their favourite corners, trees and hideouts, and a meticulously followed routine.  You know where to find them according to the time of day.  Then, an hour before sunset, they are back at their house, pottering about having a nibble and a drink and as soon as the light begins to fade, they take themselves up into their house and settle down to sleep on their perches.  Easy peasy.

Our ducks are pretty good too.  They roam about the house garden during the day and then an hour before sunset, I usher them down to the electric fenced yard in the bottom corner – in they waddle and now, after a week or so, they simply form a single line and trot on into their lovely blue house where they nestle down into the straw, chat to each other for a while, then tuck their beaks in and snooze away.

The geese are utterly hopeless.  Let’s not mention the silly geese.

And those guineas?  Well, they are highly eccentric.  The first night we simply transferred them via the big dog crate to their new abode and that was that.  The next morning, after letting out the ducks, Julian propped open the guineas’ door and we waited excitedly on the porch to watch them explode out into the field and delight in their new freedom.  They didn’t get it.  They stayed in that house all day, peering out the little window and occasionally even coming close to the door to see what on earth could be out there!?!?! But they just would not come out. We felt awful – sure that their two months in the a-frame had turned them into little prisoners who didn’t have a clue how to live on the outside.

Then, just when it was almost time to start putting all the other animals to bed, out popped two guineas.  They strutted about confidently, then after surveying the field, began yelling to their comrades.  The rest came out in pairs or threesomes.  Finally there was just one little guinea left on the inside and when she realised – poof!  out she exploded.  The flock was complete.

And oh how funny is that flock!  They move like a school of fish.  Up and down, back and forth.  And if one breaks away, that’s it, the whole flock explodes, they race about yelling, then within seconds, come back to form their flock and move off once more.  So funny!  By day five, they still don’t come out until around midday, but then, they flock round and round the field, pecking away at the ground, squawking at the top of their lungs, and occasionally one will flutter up to the cherry tree or outside the fence.  But the minute they realise they have separated from their flock, they are frantic to get back and join their always bobbing, beautifully feathered siblings.

But come bedtime …

The first night, we went down to the field as it was getting dark and really struggled to get those guineas back in their house.  It took ages and eventually we were chasing guineas round and round the field – they run like the road runner – hoping they’d run at the (turned off) fence, get caught in the netting, then we could finally catch them and pop them into their house.  Oy!  The second night, Julian declared we should just let them be.  Nope.  If we gave up so easily, they would never learn to love their home.  So it was back down to play chasey with the crazy birds.  They would herd to a degree but then, as soon as we neared the house they would stop dead, refuse to move another step, then one would break away and we’d be off – again.  Dreadful stuff.

The third night we went down a bit later, when the guineas had already formed a little pile next to the fence and gone to sleep.   They were so asleep that they barely stirred when we approached and were quite groggy when we woke them up – we were able to pick up two each and pop them into the house effortlessly.  Then we realised the guineas couldn’t see in the dark – they ran straight into the house and waterer. We also noticed, unlike the ducks who run away from the torchlight, these guys ran into it – they preferred the light and were afraid of the dark!  So we shone the torch in front of their path instead of behind them, and lo and behold, they didn’t stop when they reached the dark house but kept shuffling forwards until eventually we’d managed to push all of them in.

Tonight, we were sitting by the fire, the wind roaring outside, lamenting that we still had to get the guineas into their house (everybody was tucked up, except of course, the silly geese) and Julian wondered whether he could set up a light in their house to attract them.  A light!  A light!  The wonderful blog article I’d read on how to train the guineas to move into their homes had SAID to put in a light and Julian had laughed this off as way too much for the humble guinea fowl.

Rubbish!  It’s not a frivolity!  It’s what attracts them to their home and makes them feel secure.  We could set up a little solar panel with a light attached, turn it on an hour before sunset, and hopefully, once it’s dark, they’ll all be in and then we can turn it out!!!!

So we tested it tonight.  The poor little guineas were huddled next to the fence (right next to the charger – which emits a green light – duh!) so we put the big dolphin torch in the corner of their house, then gently encouraged them up and began herding them over to their house.  Well.  It was a miracle.  They were still a little sleepy, but so comforted by that warm glow and trotted on over.  We got 9 out of 12 in on the first pass, the next two went in on the second, and the final guinea ran in helter skelter when he realised he was the only one left outside in the dark.  The whole shenanigans took less than five minutes.

Dear little guineas :-) With their floppy cheek pouches, vulturine eyes, blueing heads and those gorgeous, gorgeous feathers.  They are truly divine – I’m so glad they are here!  And isn’t that just the lesson – it pays to remember good advice :-)

Well, you know where Julian is going tomorrow don’t you.  Back to the hardware store for supplies to wire up that guinea house light!  And I shall paint their little door.

 

 

on angle

The Duck & Goose :: my painted farm

the fluffy helper

so much mesh

working on the fox proofing

under the ramp

tempting them in

D72_5988

close up

flora and reuben

the feeder

the rotten rosella

tools

top

middle

close up rosella

all sone

at the end of the ramp

on angle

in we go

I love building animal houses with Julian.  It’s such fun puzzling out all the questions that must be answered each time we build a new house.  What shape and size do we need for this particular species? How big does the door need to be?  What kind of access do we need to the interior?  How are we going to clean it?  What kind of floor does it need?  How much ventilation?  Does it need to be fox proof – what a silly question – everything needs to be fox proofed!!!  What are we going to build it out of?  And how much will THIS cost!?!?!

We built our original six Indian Runner Ducks a sweet little A-frame.  However, we came home from collecting the Guinea Keets with a beautiful breeding pair of Appleyard Ducks (hello Flora and Reuben!) and come the Bega Young Poultry Auction, we found ourselves with two more dear little chocolate Runners (hello Alfred and Gretel!) and three gorgeous geese (hello Guiseppe, Madonna and Francesca!).  That little A-frame was just too little.  The ducks no longer liked going in at night and there was no room for a nest for their prodigious egg laying.  Flora took to hiding her eggs around the garden (she lays huge eggs almost every day) and the Runners were simply dropping theirs near the duck pond!  As for the geese – phht! – no hope.

A new house was needed – one with ample room for now and plenty of room for little ducklings come spring.  But the building supply pile was looking skimpy as were the building funds.  Hmmm.  Serendipitously, Mum found the solution!  Being an avid gardener, she often hangs out at her local garden centre and knows the owner well – he was lamenting that he had a huge pile of hardwood pallets that were taking up way too much room so Mum asked if we could have a few and he was more than happy for Julian to visit with the trailer!  Woot!

Pallet building has surely become an “in-thing” – look on Pinterest and you’ll find heaps of furniture built out of the humble pallet.  However, these misguided carpenters appear to mostly rip apart the pallets – a lot of effort for some pretty crappy timber.  We wanted to use ours whole – fast and sturdy.  So – two pallets for the floor, two for each long side, one for the back and two for a ramp – all screwed together.  A big hinged door made out of hardwood fence palings we sourced from the dumpshop.  Corrugated from the dumpshop for the roof – mounted on a bit of our building timber left over from the chicken house.  And the whole thing was mounted on besser block footings that Julian spent hours carefully digging into the ground and levelling.  This means the straw litter will filter through to the ground and all we’ll have to do is keep adding fresh straw to the top!  Works a treat in the chook house.

However, pallets are NOT fox proof.  The author of my favourite chicken book – The Small Scale Poultry Flock – says he keeps the skulls of the few predators that have breached his defences – so that he can push them through gaps in his building to see if they fit!  I reckon foxes probably have pretty flattish skulls so I’m into filling in every nook and cranny.  Julian thinks I should get myself a dead fox, let it decay and then test that bloody skull just to make sure!  He’s quite sure foxes are no where near as flat as that.  I don’t know.  There’s a reason so many stories and nursery rhymes have been written about foxes and their fondness for stealing poultry.

Anyways, the pallets lack of fox proofing meant I had to completely mesh the inside of the duck house with poultry mesh.  It didn’t take as long as I thought – but it was rather cramped and arm-exhausting work, stapling all that mesh on.  There sure won’t be any foxes dining at my duck house tonight :-)

But the BEST bit about building animal houses is that I get to decorate them when done :-)  As I’m sure you can guess dear folk, I loooooooove that bit.  And on Tuesday, after having a complete hissy fit and floods of tears over the rats eating my arrowroot, echinacea and elder, rather than spending the morning ranting at Julian and Noah about the unfairness of nature, or stewing on the porch, or sulking in my bedroom, I gathered up my paints and headed down to the duck house.  There was that beautiful big fencing paling door just wanting for a spot of prettiness.

I never really know the details of what I shall paint before I start.  I’m a bit like that.  I knew there would be a tree – with blossoms and apples and leaves all at once :-) I call it the Hayao Miyazaki art style (Japanese filmmaker – always has all his favourite flowering plants in flower at once no matter what the time of year ;-).  I knew there would be ducks.  Runners?  Appleyards? Whatever was right at the moment.

And I have to say, I am utterly thrilled to pieces with this work.  For the tree’s trunk and branches, I took my inspiration from the cherry tree that shades the duck house.  Then added my details – I’m especially pleased with the leaves – I managed to achieve a build up of colour that from a distance looks appliqued!  Grass underneath – with fallen blossoms and fruit.  Then Reuben and Flora – the runners always run about as one flock so I couldn’t just pick a couple out.  Whereas Reuben and Flora – well, they’re like an old married couple :-)  So identifiable and so much character.  Perfect for painting.  The other side of the tree needed something but there wasn’t enough room for more ducks so I thought about what the ducks love – their feeder!  Even though they spend most of their day foraging around the garden, they do love to greedily guzzle up a slurp of scratch mix as soon as they burst out of their house each morning.  And finally, one of those pesky Rosellas.  They ate all our cherries and apricots last spring.  And now they love to hang out on the roof of the duck house and in the bare branches of the cherry tree, waiting to swoop down and have a little nibble of the scratch mix.  Buggers.  They’re exquisitely beautiful – but they are buggers.

I also feel, with this piece, that I’m really growing a style I love and that feels doable.  I want to paint much much much more.  Julian loves it so much, he went straight to the workshop and put together a big “sign” made out of marine grade ply with a rustic paling frame (he even mitred the corners) for me to paint “The Duck & Goose” on – we’ll hang it on the front of the house like an old fashioned English pub sign :-)  You see, we were hopeful our three geese would move in too – but they are so bolshie and just won’t.  Means the electric fence has to stay up – and means they are not as safe as I’d like, but what can you do.  Geese that refuse to go inside and Hamburg chickens that sleep in the gum tree!

We’ll have to come up with a different style house for the geese – I’m thinking an on the ground kind of lean-to that has a fox-proof floor and a very very easy to navigate door – they’re a bit dim those geese.  Oh well – whatever, it is, there’ll be more gorgeous opportunities to keep working on my painted farm.

layered around the neck

knitting a scrappy scarf

bands of colour

sewing the ends

layered around the neck

watching for the bus

from the side
theres the moon
with Julian

hugs

and off he goes

Way back when the weather was hot and I somehow forgot about all the other projects on my knitting needles, I decided I really really really needed to knit up the multitude of dk balls of wool left over from last year’s crochet shawl making.  All those stripes only used a fraction of each ball so there was plenty to dive into.  I also wanted rather mindless knitting – the sort that feels more like meditation than knitting.

I started with red – because red is always marvellous.  I cast on 5 stitches then began knitting … I just knit up each ball of wool until only a wee tail remained – regardless of where that was – tied on the next ball and set off again.  It was indeed meditative and after inspecting it, Noah declared this growing triangle to be an awesome scarf that could be tied round his neck like a huge knitted bandana.  Cool!  Now there was purpose to the knitting.

However, the weather continued to be warm and you know me … other projects jumped up, grabbed me by the neck and pulled me away.  It wasn’t until Monday, when I made Julian measure my tiniest double pointed needles (I’ve misplaced my fabulous knitting ruler) so I could start knitting a pair of socks – because by crikey, there was nothing else to knit :-0 – that Noah rolled his eyes and exclaimed “You could always finish that awesome scarf – then I could wear it to Melbourne on Wednesday!  Apparently the weather will be cold and dreak – perfect for a colourful scarf!”

Oh yeah.

So I did.  I knitted like a demon.  Of course – by this stage, there were hundreds of stitches in each row and with every second row,it grew yet wider!  Monday night I finished the dark dusky pink, added the flecky purple (this was from a jumper Old Nanny knitted Noah when he was little!) and began the flecky rust.  Man, I didn’t think that flecky rust would ever run out.  Then yesterday, after painting the duck house, I nailed that flecky rust and moved on to the royal blue … knit knit knit knit knit knit knit … then a wee bit more of lime green, then finally the navy edge.

Now with hindsight, I could have added another row of navy blue – I was terrified it would run out halfway through the castoff.  Frankly, if I had, Noah would not be wearing the scarf today.  I began the cast off last night whilst half way through a crappy movie with Julian – I made him stay up and watch movies of his choice so I could keep knitting.  In the end I was literally falling asleep mid stitch so it was time to put the needles down.

But I was not to be defeated, so this morning it was back up in bed at 5am, a steaming coffee by my side, and casting off.  All. Those. Stitches.  Oy!

The many ends were stitched in en route – I had to start with the light colours because it was still dark when we left at 6:30am to make the Melbourne bus.  By the time we arrived at Bega, there was just enough time and light to stitch in the dark ones, trim them all off and voila!  Noah had a beautiful mama-made scarf (talisman) to wear to Melbourne.  Now he will be toasty warm and protected by his mama’s knitted love.

It’s a funny thing, waving goodbye to your young one.  Yes, he went out by himself all the time when we lived in Melbourne – but he always came home at the end of each day.  Now, he ventures off to Melbourne every couple of months to catch up with friends, visit his favourite places … and we have to just trust that he – our very trustworthy, responsible and cautious child – will be alright.  Well of course he probably will.   In the past he has stayed with the family of one of Julian’s work colleagues – a lovely mum and 3 little kids who Noah plays with, and cooks with, and draws with, and the mum picks him from the train station and drops him off.  And is a caring, thoughtful and supportive listener each evening when Noah comes home from his adventures and appointments.

This time, he’s staying with an old school friend who’s recently moved into their own apartment in Prahran.  Oh my goodness.  That all sounds a bit too huge and alarming to me – but that lovely mum is there in the background if needed, and I guess the next week will probably be very exciting, empowering and a good taste for Noah of what it’s really like to stand on your own two feet.  All good stuff.

At least his neck will be warm.

Here’s the recipe in case you too have balls and balls of colourful yarn that could warm the necks of those you love.

Cast on 5 …

  • knit2, wrap, knit1, wrap, knit 2  (right side)
  • knit2, purl3, knit2 (wrong side)
  • knit2, wrap, knit3, wrap, knit2
  • knit2, purl5, knit2
  • knit2, wrap, knit5, wrap, knit2

… and so on.  Each right sided row starts with knit2, wrap, and ends with wrap, knit2.  The stitches in between – which grow by 2 each time – are knitted.  Each wrong sided row starts and ends with knit2 and the stitches in between (including the wraps from the previous row) are purled.  Colours are just added when the wool runs out.  The last two rows are knitted so as to provide the same edging the rest of the scarf has.

Perfect for knitting whilst watching movies, listening to audio books, and de-stressing.  Good for knitting in the car if you don’t get car sick. :-)