Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chook Chook, Chook Chook and the Ritz

You might be mistaken in thinking that all chooks are the same. A chook is just a chook, right? Chicken, hen, chook…whatever the name they are same.

Well, you might just discover you are mistaken.

Chickens are like people. They have their own likes, dislikes, and personalities. I’m discovering this even applies to foods that one breed will love and another dislike!

I have four chooks. Plus there’s the three my parents own, who live in the same garden as mine. Three different breeds, plus some really interesting personalities.

The only relationship Tui has to her namesake is the iridescent sheen of her glossy black feathers. She is a quiet, dependable, and sedate girl. Not easily ruffled, she gazes at the world through gorgeous black eyes rimmed with lashes. Tui likes to eat. She has a voracious appetite, even for a chicken.

Stomie is similarly a quiet fluffbum, named for the lovely grey tones in her feathers rather than her disposition. You might think she is a big bird, but interestingly, the New Hampshire Reds feel heavier…Stormie and Tui are either lightly boned, or mostly all feathers! Stormie came to us later than the other girls, as a replacement for Red Fred (rooster). She’s quite a shy girl, usually at the back of my little flock when it’s feeding time. But for all that she will tolerate a pat when picked up.

Tui and Stormie are both rather partial to lettuce of any sort.

Midge and Madge
Midge seems oblivious to the fact that she is only half the size of the big Australorps she shares a home with! She is noisy, bossy, and delightful. As is Madge, but Midge, although the smaller of the two, is definitely the bossier! Midge and Madge love to dig, which I guess is inherited from their Sussex breed. But in all other ways they are bantams. They make about twice as much noise as the big girls, on a quiet day! They are busy little girls, and lay a good sized egg for their small stature. I think we often miss out on the charm of little eggs these days – all store bought eggs seem to be a 7 or larger. My little girls lay about a 5…pretty impressive for a bantam, but still a small egg. Just the right size for Amy’s lunch of eggs on toast. After all, I eat eggs for the yolk and only tolerate the whites, so a smaller egg that is mostly yolk suits me just fine!

Both the Light Sussex Bantams love chickweed. They will always be the first to run up for a juicy worm and can dig up a storm. Midge is so fixated on food that she will literally walk out the cage door as soon as you open it! I guess she does need to get in first to ensure she can eat without being accidentally trampled!  I love that you can pick up both bantams at the same time.

I must admit to rather liking Midge and Madge.  My husband has pointed out that perhaps this is because they are a lot like me??  After all, I am small with a big personality too!

Polly, Molly, and Dolly
The New Hampshire Reds are officially still unnamed. It is a bit hard when they all look identical. I suggested Polly, Molly, and Dolly to my mum as something easy but it hasn’t really taken! My parents’ New Hampshires are a flighty bunch, although we’re finding them much better with age and more regularly handling. They are lean looking birds, but lay the biggest, dark brown eggs! One of them somehow manages to pop out an almost round egg!

All our chooks go crazy over anything soaked in yoghurt or milk. They think leftover rice or chow mien a fabulous treat.

And they seem to like their new home.

Aka “The Ritz”

Or “Chook Cage Version 2.0”

A few major design improvements. Namely, larger. My little cage would suit four bantams or three big birds okay, but was a bit small for my four. This one is also made bigger so that it takes up fully half of one of the wooden garden beds. That means we can have two chook cages on one bed, preparing it for the next round of planting.

Doors open both on the same side, rather than at either end, as of course one end is usually smack bang in the middle of a vegetable garden (as I discovered when trying to open the wire door on the old cage into a patch of lettuce!). Wooden door is not the whole height either, as we found it would clog up with dirt and get jammed being so close to the ground, so this one has a little lip top and bottom to allow it to open without jamming on either the dirt or the roof. Only I have discovered that this does mean a small space to get at the nest box – too small to put an Australorp in there from the outside! A Bantam, on the other hand is no problemo. The other major advantage to the new design is a LOT more covered area. My old cage just didn’t have enough. It ended up shrouded in a tarpaulin most of the time, but this one hopefully has enough ‘verandah’ to keep the girls at least partially dry. They are chickens, after all. Not too much molly-codling required.

The new cage has a deeper nest box. It retains the handles on the top of the wire end. The plywood end, however, has a rope handle fitted by my dad (thanks Dad, for that and everything else you’ve done to help me get the cage finished!). The Ritz is rather heavy. You can’t hold both sides like you can on the little one, so this really does require a few people to move it. But I guess that’s the price you pay for a larger residence! It’s actually slightly lower than the old one, but still big enough that I (or Munchkin) can get in through the wire door when needed.

The Ritz is also unpainted, because it took me HOURS to paint the last one. Possibly more time than it did to build it. Time being at a premium around here, this one is ‘au natural.’

It is much better built. I am really pleased with the progress I have made in my building experience. I learnt to ‘countersink’ this time (that means drilling a bigger hole through half your bit of wood, so you can ‘sink’ your screw down into it – that meant I could avoid the really, really, really long screws that were nearly impossible to get straight!).

I enjoyed using my new drill, and new drill bits. I still borrowed Dad’s saw. It’s the best! But I did manage to cut mostly straight this time – with the help of a cheap mitre box I bought. Grin.
I have now moved onto my next building project – a guinea pig hutch. It is sitting in my garage, half finished. It will probably still be there in a month, at the rate I’m going. After that, I might have to down tools for a year. Study time is creeping ever closer.

And here's the final improvement:  A new grain dish made by my ever creative dad! 

He permanently attached a terracotta dish to a piece of wood, so the girls can't tip it over every time they try to dig!  Their pellets already sit in an automatic feeder made of downpipe, another of his creations.  I think my girls rather like their new home.  They are certainly providing us with eggs and digging up a storm!



MaxineD said...

Love this post - the chooks really do have personality don't they!! Well done on your building too.

Elizabeth said...

Lydia LOVES the chooks here, we have to go and feed them every single day, and she pops into the cage and tries to hand them the food - it's so funny, and quite cute! But we need to remind her not to try catch the chooks, or chase them - just pat them gently when thay come near her!