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.

finding autumn

feather of red

sewing

guinea house

Fu

tea tray

kniyyinh

mumbulla

rooster

with tree

small stick

cobargo

maple
chicken tree

caravan

cloud

bucket

apricot

quilt

Since settling into Wombat Hill, our weekends have almost all been spent outside.  Long summery weekends full of sweaty work, hats and sunscreen.  Mostly building. There is a never ending list of building requirements.  Especially as more animals find their way here.  I could really enjoy some quiet, rainy indoor weekends but I think we’ve had less than 3 of those in 3 months.

Julian says he’s sick of building poultry housing (he wants to move onto fencing so he can get his weaners and suffolks) – and yet there always seems to be a need for more :-)  Last weekend we built a new house for the ducks and geese to share “The Pallet Palais”!  Made from all blue hardwood pallets – given to us for free – it was quick but heavy to put together.  Julian added beams to create a skillion roof and today I’ve been stapling heavy gauge chicken mesh to the inside walls and floor to make it fox proof.  The we shall nail some reclaimed palings to the front – cut an arched doorway out of them (Julian says that will be easy!) and add a door.  Oh they shall be nice and safe then.  It’s been terribly gusty today, but in that blue palace tucked into the hedge at the bottom of the garden, it’s protected and peaceful.  Not that the ducks and geese will care – the more inclement the weather, the happier they are.

We devoted yesterday to building the first of 2 “treehouses” for the guinea keets who are rapidly turning into blue helmeted guinea fowl.  They will hold 6 to 8 fowl each and will sit atop posts in the opposite corner of the garden.  Apparently guinea fowl love flying up to their house for the night.  But at first they’ll be on the ground, surrounded by electric mesh, until we convince the guinea fowl that their houses are the bees knees.

Yesterday, as the day drew to a close, we had all tired of tools and planks, we stood up and noticed that it did look and feel a bit like autumn.  The Japanese maples have all of a sudden started glowing.  The apricot is fast dropping yellowed leaves everywhere.  The grape vine leaves are toasting up and falling off.  The tree near the goat yard is looking ever so pretty – like a powdery rhubarb.  And no matter which direction we turned, the light was a rich syrupy golden, whilst the gathering breeze was positively nippy.

Yes.  Autumn looks like it finally might be making an appearance.  Come on! Come one!  Bring your blustery winds, your day long showers of rain, your slow mornings and quick dusks.  We’re ready!

the feathered garden

runner girls

on the gate

wolfgang

elfrieda

hungry

emerging

laurence and his adoring girls

cynthia

dust bathing

pam

william

crazy keets

sleeping and busy

madonna

under the maple

guiseppe

francesca

banned from the garden

reuben and flora

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.

painting the farm

whitewash

little guineas

helping

blue flowers

strange flowers

good company

with rabbit

hunny bunny

tree

on angle

finished

 

I’ve fallen into that habit where I think “I won’t invite people over until I’ve finished this and this and this and this and this …”  Both in person and here at block-a-day!

However, given my other habit of having a million things on the go at once, that can make for very sporadic posting … and telling Julian that we cannot invite that nice couple over until I’ve painted the dining room walls orange.

That’s changing.  Those lovely people can come anytime regardless of what colour the walls are and I’m just going to share what I’m up to here – not wait for the “ta-da! It’s all done!” moment.

I might have said this before? Well I’m going to do much better this time ;-)

So lately – I’m decorating the animal shelters and it’s such blissful fun!  I’ve started with the smallest – the guinea pig hutch which moves round and round the vegetable garden whilst the little pigs greedily tear up all the grass.

First up I whitewashed everything with an all purpose prep coat.  Well I started it, but when I had to dash off to an appointment, Noah cheerfully finished it off so as it would be all ready for painting when I got home.  He’s a darling – always happy to indulge any of my creative impulses.

We decided on a Moomin theme for the guinea pigs – these wonderful books and comics by Tove Jansson being one of Noah’s and my absolute favourite books and illustrations.  And whilst he wasn’t keen on any actual painting – he’s much more into water colours, copic markers and digital art making – he was happy to bring his drawing and Hunny Bunny the Rabbit down to the veggie garden to spend a truly lovely afternoon with me.

I started with Tove’s cover for Finn Family Moomintroll as my starting inspiration … and then just made it up as I went along.  One of the most delightful things about making it up is that I can have whatever loopy flowers and trees I want.  Good stuff!  And my beloved sun – I always want to add that no matter what my medium – embroidery, mosaic, paint, fabric – that combination of red, rosy pink, orange, and egg yolk yellow is my all time favourite.

But Moominpapa and those Hattifattners – they are just pure Tove.  Well, except that I had to add a bit of blue to Moominpapa so he’d show up – and a bit of green to those crazy Hattifattners.

We all love it!  Eventually, I will add pictures to the ends and front of the hutch, then trim the whole lot with red gloss and a protective coat of varnish for the artwork.

Until then – it makes us all smile every time we look down into the veggie garden, and I swear I’ve even noticed the ducks standing at the fence, looking in with curious appreciation!