After three busy months our garden is now full of feathered friends!
The Orpingtons we brought with us from Melbourne continue to grow – but have still yet to lay a single egg. It took a while to be able to tell them apart – that sounds crazy now – but they finally all have names. There’s Cynthia – she used to be top chook but she’s recently been overthrown by Nutmeg and Marcie who are currently sharing the honour. Then there’s quiet little Walnut who’s ever so relieved that her nemesis (Cynthia!) is now at the bottom of the pecking order. Blackcurrant and Eggplant keep to themselves but are friendly and busy. And Pam – she’s the mostly white one – well she’s just Pam.
Two of our roosters sadly died – Rex, who was definitely a very fine leader and as such a real loss, and Rumbatum, who despite having gorgeous feathers was quite a bully. Rex’s death was a complete surprise and mystery – one morning he was just laying dead under the peach tree. No wounds. No earlier noticed symptoms. Rumbatum died a couple of days later – again no idea why. Naturally any animal loss is not only sad, but such a worry and quite a dent to our confidence as amateur farmers. I thoroughly read all the sections on bird disease, weaknesses and prevention in our poultry books and spent hours poring over alarming stories on the internet. More importantly, I chatted with our local vet – who suggested simple worming. Yep there I was contemplating the horrors of avian cholera only to find out that worms are the most likely to do our birds in.
Worms! They’re everywhere. The goats get them. The birds get them. Our future sheep and pigs will get them. Only 3 months in and I have to confess I’m rather obsessed with worms! They’ve become my farming nemesis. We drenched the goats, wormed the chickens and now everyone is on a diet of water spiked with garlic and apple cider, and diacetamous earth in their food a couple of times a week.
It’s a strong learning curve, this business. And as is always the way with me, I become quickly overwhelmed and convinced I won’t be able to do it, and then as it settles down, I continue to learn, experience builds, I gather some confidence, and then …. I realise I AM doing it and it’s all okay. Phew! Until the next unexpected turn :-)
Our other Orpington rooster – Gormless – is staggering on but he’s a bit hopeless and the girls are kind to him but clearly don’t look up to him. So we brought in a new rooster – Laurence the French Wheaten Maran – from a lovely family nearby who wound up with 8 roosters out of 16 chicks! And then at the Young Poultry Auction last weekend, Julian accidentally bought another rooster – William the Gold Laced Wyandotte. Now Laurence has the love of the girls but William is the master of crowing and strutting. Laurence seems content with this state of being and there’s been no fighting or stress. Goodness knows how it will play out.
Then we have two more chickens – the crazy Hamburgs, also from the Young Poultry Auction – Wolfgang and Elfrieda. That’s them up there on the gate. Yep. No one else bid on them at the auction so we snagged them for just $20 because let’s face it – they are really cute! But it was obvious within the first 5 minutes of putting them in the chicken field that THAT wasn’t going to work. Despite trimming one wing each, they were able to not only clear the fences, but the chicken house too and fly a good 5 metres up into a gum tree – which is where they spent their first night. And much to William’s annoyance, Wolfgang – half his size – seemed to think he was top rooster. And the Orpie girls were none too keen on little Elfrieda.
So we built the Hamburgs their only little run in the corner of the house garden – where they are surrounded by trees – and accepted that we were never really going to be able to contain them. We just have to make it appealing and hopefully they’ll hang around. The alternative is housing them in an aviary style set up – they’d hate that and I’d feel mean. They cheerfully hang out in their run during the day, Elfrieda lays us a dear little bantam egg most days, and come 5pm, Wolfgang announces to the valley (man, can he crow!) that they have retired to the gumtree for the night. There they stay until the sun has well and truly come up, when they flutter down to the gate and wait for our morning visit.
Of course their lifestyle increases their fox risk enormously but … we are picking out our Maremma puppy in a week or so, and fingers crossed Wolfgang and Elfrieda will keep safe until the Maremma is mature enough to keep those foxes at bay.
We’re also counting on the Maremma to keep our Guinea Fowl safe. They’re now quite big – they’ve shed their keet feathers and are now beautifully clothed in spotty ones. Their funny blue helmets are becoming more apparent everyday. And they just keep on growing – quickly coming to the end of their time in the A-frame tractor. Julian’s designing them little “tree houses” – they’ll be built on posts several feet off the ground, and like the Hamburgs, the best approach is to start by fencing their houses and keeping their food here so the guinea fowl learn that they live here. Then you can let them free range and encourage them to come back to the houses each night. But like the Hamburgs, they are very good flyers so it can be tricky. We’ll see.
And we’ve branched out into water fowl – 6 Indian Runner Ducks that joined us from Mallacoota (Leopold, Alice, Harriet, Hyacinth, Poppy and Chrysanthemum) that were quickly joined by Reuben and Flora – a breeding pair of Appleyards that were almost given to us by the lovely family that sold us our Guinea Fowl keets – and last weekend, another pair of chocolate Runners – Alfred and Gretel.
As Noah says “Those ducks sure love being ducks!” Oh they do! They are so funny and busy – adventuring all over the house garden, splashing in their pond, head ducking in their water trough, hunting for bugs, chatting with the Hamburgs, snoozing under the trees during the heat of the day, and literally dancing and singing with delight when it rains. And they are the best buddies.
When we brought Alfred and Gretel home, we let them out of their box just inside the house garden gate – there they stood unsure and still until they heard Alice (she’s the leader of the ducks) call – they cocked their heads to the side and with great delight and relief set off around the house to find their kinfolk. Alice had brought the others out to meet them – in a neat line of course – and the chocolate Runners just slipped into line as if they’d always been there. We get at least 2 eggs each day – sometimes 3. Flora’s the main layer and her eggs are huge and rich. The Runners also lay but we have no idea which ones – their eggs are a little bit smaller but equally lovely.
Ducks are so easy to look after. I think they’re my favourite. But they get worms too. Ugh!
Our last purchase at the auction was a trio of geese. I know almost nothing about them – except that they are less than a year old, there’s two girls and one boy, and they appear to be a mix of Australian Settlers + Chinese geese. The auction had all but wound up and everybody was leaving with their newly acquired birds when the Auctioneer remembered the geese that were outside. I was mad keen on them – had been looking on Gumtree for months – so quickly put up my hand – and I got all three for just $60. What a bargain!
They are real sweethearts. Guiseppe is the white boy, Francesca is the grey-brown girl, and Madonna is the spotty girl. When I call out “Goosey-goosey-goosey!” Guiseppe answers me with a funny little miaow! They mostly hang out with the ducks but can get a little bossy about the pond and the food. When Francesca decides it’s time for her bath, she just nips anyone else who may be in the pond on their tail feathers and out they scamper so that she can preen and stretch like a ballerina, splashing all that precious water everywhere.
And our garden? We had to fence off the vegetable beds – whilst the ducks and geese are supposedly good at eating the bugs, they also love soft green leaves – they demolished our strawberry plants and ate all the tarragon. And their big flat feet destroy seedlings so they’re currently banned from the beds. But they’re doing a marvellous job keeping the grass cut and fertilised and if I was so inclined, I could gather up all the downy feathers they preen each day and I swear by the end of the year I could fill several pillows. They do love to preen.
Instead, we are content to just sit back on the porch and watch with delight as they burst out of their houses each morning and get busy loving being ducks and chickens and geese. It looks like a good life.