Category Archives: Chickens

Easter Special: 20% off all garden consultation and design services

We’re celebrating the Easter holiday with a special saving for our internet followers!

Take a huge 20% off any garden consultation or design package!

Home visit +1 hr of personalised professional advice

was $60 now $48

Home visit +  1 hr consultation +  written report

was $300 now  $240

Want your own kitchen garden? Get the right advice and solutions for your new food garden or bring an old one back to life.

Sloping, rocky, small or problem block? Yes, you CAN have a fantastic food garden!

Your personal kitchen garden consultation by a qualified Permaculture designer

A plan that’s unique, and maximises your aspect and features in the best way for a gorgeous and productive garden.

First, you’ll have a home consultation to discuss your situation, wants, and ideas.

Then, you can choose to add a personalised program of care and advice specifically for your location and needs, and even a 2D design for your future garden.

Whatever you choose, you’ll get reliable, professional advice that’s right for your situation.

Sample design: intensive fruit garden

Which option is right for you?

Option A: $60 now $48

Perfect for when you have a basic concept for what you would like from your kitchen garden and want some help getting started.

Home consultation

I’ll visit you to discuss your space and ideas, as well as potential challenges. I’ll also give you effective, environmentally sound ideas and tips for how to best turn your ideas into reality.

Option B: $300 now $240

Turn your dream into reality with a home visit, great practical ideas, plus a report filled with creation and management advice and details to make it happen!

Home consultation

PLUS

Written report including links to relevant websites and suppliers

Want more? You can also order a 2D design of your future garden for as little as $180 (average design $200-$250)

All the expertise and help you need to start growing and enjoying fresh fruit and veggies from your own kitchen garden!

1 hr home visit consultations are available within greater Sydney area only. We also offer phone/Skype consultations for clients who live outside the greater Sydney area. You just need to provide us with photos and an overhead map (such as in a contract of sale) of the site.

We offer  home visits to Central Coast, Bathurst and Wollongong (approx. 2 hours of Springwood, Blue Mountains) clients who book a consult plus written report or design services.

Call me on ph:0431 383 516 or fill in the form below to book your time and I’ll get back to you.

*Bookings must be made by Tuesday 2/4/13 to claim this discount.

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New series of short workshops

We would like to announce that we are now running a whole heap of short workshops focussing on the essential skills of food gardening. Topics include making compost, caring for chooks and a whole heap of other fun things!

Dates and details are in the link below. We hope to see more of you here soon!
https://healthyharvestnsw.wordpress.com/permaculturecourses/food-garden-favourites/

From plan to reality- a mobile chicken coop that works!

We finally have a mobile chicken coop that is appropriate for our needs and that suits the landscape of the property!

I have kept chickens for coming on three years and would consider myself an over-protective parent. I still haven’t lost a chook to predators even though we have lived adjoining bush land the entire time and our neighbours have suffered losses. I also think I have made all the mistakes in coop design possible in the past and hopefully have remedied them all in my new design!

Old coop

The temporary barracks

The problem:

After we moved here, I had no chicken coop. I stumbled upon an old trampoline frame which I quickly converted using materials that I brought with me from the old house. Unfortunately, it was a bad design for the chickens, me, and the land. Access was poor for egg collection and it could only be placed in a couple of spots on the land that were flat enough. When the ground was too steep, the chickens wouldn’t use their roosts and they would slide around in the nesting boxes. We ended up with lots of broken eggs and egg eating became a bad habit for a couple of the younger chooks. At least 1-2 eggs were being lost each day. We had looked around for manufactured chicken coops that were suitable but we were unable to find any. It seemed all the coops were designed to sit on flat ground. Great, except that we have little to no flat ground!

The solution:

I came up with a concept of a coop that would suit everybody and was designed for our hilly, uneven landscape.  This new design is specifically planned to suit our needs. It is an exclusively free-ranging coop and is not a chicken tractor. The chickens roam outside during the day but are free to come in and out of the coop to lay at will. The chickens have no access to the soil whilst in the coop, but since they’re either laying or roosting most of the time that they’re in there it’s not really an issue. The floor is made of wood which I can easily fill with grass, straw and other treats, and just as easily empty out onto the garden or compost after they are finished with it.

Original design

Planning the palace

To work out how my dream coop would be, I needed to consider both the requirements of the chickens and the requirements of the humans using it.

The requirements of a chicken in the coop:

  • protection from weather and predators
  • access to food and clean water
  • enough space to nest and roost

Our requirements:

  • Access, access, access – it had to be easy to clean and change food/water, as well as good access to tend to brooding chooks (a big one most people don’t think about). If you are planning on raising chicks you need to be able to separate the brooding hen with the fertilised eggs from the rest of the group. If you don’t it can turn it to utter chaos. We have a separate small cage that has its own food and water and it can be placed inside the main coop. The brooding chook is placed in there for the gestation period and no other chickens can get in. If you try and take the broody chook away from the rest of the flock, she can stop being broody and then you lose the fertilised eggs.
  • Easy to move – although the new coop is quite large, I can move it alone by wheeling it around the property (though it’s much easier with 2 people).
  • Able to sit flat on a hillsideThe 2 front legs can be adjusted to different heights depending on the slope and there are wheels on the back. This also creates a shady space under the coop for chooks to rest on hot days or in rainy weather if they don’t want to go inside.

    dan and coop

    Almost ready

Cost and materials:

The coop cost about $200 in materials as I was able to use some recycled materials. The roof and sides were all tin (recycled) and the wheels came from a retired BMX from our local “Freecycle” network. If everything had been bought new, it would have been more like $400-500. (This cost excludes labour. This is not something a beginner can make. I had to get a fellow Permie friend, carpenter and all-round builder who was able to weld this up for me. I was lucky that he taught me to weld in the process so I can now make these sorts of things myself.)

New digs and area to scratch

A room with a view

What chickens want: a question of chook-food

Blog reader Janneia asks:

Hi Dan.
I’m about to pick up my first ever hens :) and want to know about feeding them grains. I have lots of weeds, scraps etc and would rather buy only what they need instead of simply getting a commercial mix.
Thanks!

Here’s my answer:

Hi Janneia,

What a great question. Chickens are omnivorous animals and require a diverse diet to live well. Like us, they need an amount of vegetation, protein and carbs. Chickens in their natural environment of the jungle roam from place to place scratching as they go. Their main interest is eating meat in the form of bugs, worms, and lizards (just to name a few preferences) and greens and seeds along the way. In an enclosed environment, chickens lose that ability to move on when the bug population is low.

It’s important to decide how you will house the chickens and therefore what level of attention you need to give to their dietary requirements. Chickens that free range totally will clean up the bug population quite quickly and although people often think that letting them wander anywhere is the best thing for the chickens, I would disagree. I prefer to see the garden sectioned off into smaller areas and allow the chickens into one of those areas for a couple of weeks before moving them on to the new area and allow the scratched up area to rest for a few months during growing season. A mobile chook house design is very helpful for this. This way, the chickens naturally disturb the ground and fertilise it at the same time so it is a positive use of the land. Allowing the chickens constant access to the same piece of land will see it overgrazed and scratched up, never allowing it to recover, and has a very negative effect on the land.

So, to answer your question, it is very hard to feed chickens well without bringing in any supplementary feed. You should give them weeds and scraps anyway but this accounts for very little of their dietary requirements. It certainly adds to the quality of their life and entertainment! In order to reduce the amount of grain required, you need to increase the protein you feed them. You could start a large worm farm (feeding it with scraps from other sources such as neighbours or restaurants) and feed the worms to the chickens or you could try Black Soldier fly composting and feed the larvae to the chooks. I have a friend that gets scrap meat from the butcher to feed to the girls once per week (just don’t feed them any chicken meat!). I have started growing eating fish in an aquaponics system and will feed the offal to the chickens.

You can also recycle the used eggshells by drying them in the sun then crushing them into tiny pieces (you don’t want them learning to eat the eggs so need to disguise them) and adding it to their grain mix. This gives them back some minerals such as calcium that they would otherwise replenish through eating small stones as they graze so is extra helpful if you don’t let them free-range.

If you are doing all the right things, you can get away with feeding the girls about a handful of grain each per day but I would highly recommend you start with more and reduce as you see how they go. If you are not feeding them enough they will tell you by crying and not laying.

Happy chicken-raising, it’s great fun and very rewarding!

Daniel

Here’s a few useful resources for the chicken-conscious:

http://www.poultryhub.org/nutrition/nutrient-requirements/ (all-round great site for all sorts of chook info)

http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1317/ (nutrition for backyard chicken flocks with some good information tables)

Book – Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow (a comprehensive guide to raising chooks, highly recommended for those who want to know a bit more)

What tricks have you found to make your chickens happy and healthy? We’d love to hear about them!

Compost is hot, but chook mulch is hotter!

Compost vs mulch

Last post, I wrote about some of the finer points of successful composting. Compost is a great addition to your soil and is vital for making good seedlings. Still, making enough compost to regularly apply to your soil (as many books suggest) is often difficult, requiring excessive amounts of time and materials. If you have added lots of organic matter into your soil and you are happy with the state of it,  I do not think compost is regularly required (though it’s still a good idea to use a decent handful in the planting hole before planting out seedlings). However, for kick-starting a new garden with poor soil (or no soil as is the case for my new garden), you might initially bring in large amounts of compost or manures. Avoid “garden mixes” unless you are on clay as they have too much sand in them. If any readers have an entrepreneurial bent, a specially-made soil full of clay (rather than sand) would be a hit in the Blue Mountains!

Assuming your soil is good, here’s what I recommend, and what I do in my zone 1 garden. Make compost exclusively for seedlings and compost tea. For the rest of your garden, make chook mulch!

How to make chook mulch

1. If you have any spare land or lawn that just never gets used on your property, let the grass grow tall (rather than mowing it) and sow it with a “forage seed mix” that you can buy from rural supply shops. If you don’t have one of these places nearby, the grain in a poultry seed mix works just as well. If you don’t have spare space to grow grass and weeds you  might try a few other things:

    • Ask your neighbours for their grass clipping and weeds.
    • Find a nearby vacant block and ask if you can maintain it.
    • Look around. I recently found a place locally that the council mower men stash grass clippings which could be used for this same purpose.

Why grow your own mulch crops? A few words about plant diversity and plant health:

Unless you’re growing your own grasses and weeds to use in chook mulch, you’ll probably be buying it in the form of straw. Most straw is baled from fields of single crops like wheat, lucerne etc. All of those things are good but the real magic comes from having a diversity of plants in your mulch. Why? Different plants contain different essential elements that other plants require. Let’s use comfrey for an example. Comfrey contains: silica (to build cell walls); nitrogen (to promote leaf growth); magnesium (many uses including making other elements accessible to the plant); calcium (cell wall development and general growth); potassium (to help promote flowering and fruiting; and iron (which allows the plant to photosynthesise and transpire).

comfrey

The goal is to get as many of the essential elements plants need from the soil, into your mulch, and back into your garden. Here is a link to a list of plants you can grow that will help you create great mulch. These types of plants are called “dynamic accumulators”. As well as comfrey, some other common accumulators include carrot, parsley, and borage. These guys are great for bringing in beneficial insects too. Get to know them. They’re some of your best friends in the garden!

Grow lots of dynamic accumulators so you can feed them to your chooks, along with your weeds and grasses. That will ensure that the finished product is a feast of essential minerals for your garden.

parsley

borage

carrot

OK, so now you’ve got your mulch crop sorted…back to making chook mulch!

2. Get chooks and make a straw yard (a chook pen that you can throw straw into and collect it again later).

3. Now cut an armful (I use a 60 litre bin) of grass/forage crops/weeds every other day and give it to the chooks.

weeds, glorious weeds!

Buying a hand sickle or a “Kama” knife from Green Harvest here, will make this job (and many others) ten times easier.

Kama knife

Throw all your weeds in there too. This reduces the amount of grain you need to give to the chooks (I have found about 20% less), and they’ll eat the bits they like (including all the weed seeds) and kick around the grasses/weeds they don’t want to eat so they never has a chance to re-root.

Girls getting excited about the new grass delivery!

4. Let the chooks do their thing for a couple of days. Try to keep any new material away from the older stuff, e.g. up the other end of the straw-yard.

getting stuck in

5. Now you have mulch for free, which is also covered in manure! While teaching my most recent permaculture course I was asked if the fresh chicken manure in the mulch would harm the plants. If the fresh manure was dug into the soil, yes it may burn the roots of the plants. Recall from last article that if fresh organic matter is added above the soil, it slowly breaks down over time. We are just adding the mulch on top of the soil so it is of absolutely no harm. In fact, you can’t regularly buy mulch as good as this anywhere!

6. Apply chook mulch to your garden in a layer of approximately 15cm. Don’t skimp- sprinkling it on isn’t enough to work its magic.

Chook mulch is a winner. It gives you free mulch, happy chooks, delicious golden eggs, fantastic soil, and great gardens!

De-seeded and manured mulch: chook mulch!

Open now: weekend intensive “Practical Permaculture” course Saturday 30th June – Sunday 1st July

Practical Permaculture: Creative ways of designing and living for a more sustainable future

A two-day experiential course

Saturday 30th June & Sunday 1st July 2012

Facilitated by Daniel Hatfield and Gordon Williams

Venue: Private home and gardens in Railway Avenue, Faulconbridge, NSW 2776
(convenient for train, bus and free on-street parking)

Time: 9.00 am – 5.00 pm

Fee: $150 early bird (until 25th June) or $180 after 25th June

The number of participants is limited to 15 people to facilitate an intensive learning experience.

Join Permaculture teachers, designers & gardeners Daniel Hatfield and Gordon Williams for a weekend of intensive permaculture design, theory and practical workshops for the home gardener or backyard farmer.

Learn how to

  • Harness Permaculture principles and practical strategies to beat rising food and energy costs

  • Understand and apply Permaculture design techniques for a healthy, comfortable home and garden

  • Create your own Permaculture garden design and learn how to bring it to life!

Topics include:

  • efficient energy planning and systems
  • fundamentals of site design
  • climate and microclimate
  • landforms, soil and water
  • waste resources and systems
  • garden layout and design for urban, suburban and cold areas
  • orchards and food forests
  • animal forage systems and aquaculture
  • community strategies for engagement and action including urban food-growing, recycling and economics.

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Learning objectives

By the end of the course you will have:

A working understanding of permaculture designs and principles.

Ideas and confidence to create your own permaculture design project.

The pre-requisite skills and knowledge to complete a Permaculture Design Course.

Learning methods

A significant portion of the course comprises experiential learning. Practical demonstrations and small group workshops on key permaculture techniques are designed to bring to life and reinforce core theory and concepts.

The course provides a solid grounding in Permaculture theory, combining this with practical skill development through interactive learning experiences and course handouts. A range of learning methods are used including: presentations, video, experiential exercises, and small group activities.

About the teachers

Gordon Williams is a Permaculture consultant and educator currently working in Sydney and the Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.

Raised in the Blue Mountains, Gordon was able to spend time in the surrounding national parks and bushland where he gained an appreciation for the natural systems within them. His six years of experience as a carpenter has led to a deep understanding of the difference between good and bad building design and construction. As a result of these experiences his passion is to see the built environment blend smoothly into the living surroundings.

Gordon’s journey along the Permaculture path began when he inherited the family kitchen garden. While on the hunt for information on growing food, Rosemary Morrow’s book ” Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture” proved to be a revelation.

Gordon has trained with some of Australia’s most respected Permaculture educators such as Rosemary Morrow, Darren Doherty and Geoff Lawton. He has also worked at the Permaculture Research Institute in both educational and on farm roles.

Daniel Hatfield is a passionate food gardener, educator and permaculturist. He has been working professionally with plants and gardens since 2006, focusing specifically on organic food gardening since 2008. Daniel believes in producing and promoting growing healthy, seasonal and local fruit and vegetables. He describes his practices as ‘beyond organic’. Daniel approaches food gardening from a wholistic perspective, addressing issues at their core, rather than use quick-fix sprays or fertilisers, either organic or inorganic. He enjoys sharing his passion for permaculture and helping people develop confidence and new skills in organic gardening.

Daniel takes his inspiration from the principles of Permaculture, as well as organic farmers such as Eliot Coleman and Joel Salatin. Daniel completed his Permaculture Design Certificate under Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute, and holds tertiary degrees in art and photography.

What people are saying

The presenters, Daniel and Gordon, were knowledgeable and friendly. The course was a good mix of practical workshops and theory. The group size worked well and made for a cosy and enjoyable learning experience.

I had read a lot of books but discussing the theories, asking questions and hearing practical examples just helped cement it all. It seems to have stuck better..

Good interactions with the participants, lots of helpful diagrams, reference books and clear and lively delivery from both presenters.

The workshops were tailored really well. The right length, plenty of opportunity to get our hands dirty and a consistent but not overwhelming stream of information to accompany the practical skills.

Lots of fun and really informative. Great to get outside and practice some of the theory. AAA+++

Very good would recommend it to any one interested in growing food

Overall the course was fantastic. Daniel and Gordon were knowledgeable, enthusiastic and willing to share both knowledge and resources. I learnt so much more than I thought possible.

A BIG THANK YOU for the wonderful course, the beautiful venue(s) and the nourishing company. I would highly recommend the course.

Booking

The number of places is limited to 15 to facilitate an intensive learning experience. Please complete the booking form below and forward the course fee to D Hatfield, 10 Parkes Crescent, Faulconbridge NSW 2776 by 25th June 2012 for early-bird discount ($150) or by 29th June 2012 for regular payment ($180).

Payment available via bank transfer or credit card (details available on booking) or cheque or postal order payable to Daniel Hatfield.

Cancellation

Cancelled bookings will receive a full refund up until 2 weeks before the course. After that time you are welcome to transfer your booking to another person but the fee will be non-refundable. Please note that this course requires a minimum number of 10 participants to go ahead.
Contact:

E: daniel@healthyharvest.com.au, P: 0431 383 516

Weekend Intensive Course: Practical Permaculture for Home and Garden

Practical Permaculture: Creative ways of designing and living for a more sustainable future

A two-day experiential course

1st and 2nd of September 2012

ALSO

3rd and 4th of November 2012

Facilitated by Daniel Hatfield and Gordon Williams

Venue: Private home and gardens in the lower Blue Mountains
(convenient for train, bus and free on-street parking)

Time: 9.00 am – 5.00 pm

Fee: September course $150 early bird by 18th of August or $180 thereafter.

November course $150 early bird by 19th of October or $180 thereafter.


The number of participants is limited to facilitate an intensive learning experience.

Join Permaculture teachers, designers & gardeners Daniel Hatfield and Gordon Williams for a weekend of intensive permaculture design, theory and practical workshops for the home gardener or backyard farmer.

Learn how to

  • Harness Permaculture principles and practical strategies to beat rising food and energy costs

  • Understand and apply Permaculture design techniques for a healthy, comfortable home and garden

  • Create your own Permaculture garden design and learn how to bring it to life!

Topics include:

  • efficient energy planning and systems
  • fundamentals of site design
  • climate and microclimate
  • landforms, soil and water
  • waste resources and systems
  • garden layout and design for urban, suburban and cold areas
  • orchards and food forests
  • animal forage systems and aquaculture
  • community strategies for engagement and action including urban food-growing, recycling and economics.

Learning objectives

By the end of the course you will have:

A working understanding of permaculture designs and principles.

Ideas and confidence to create your own permaculture design project.

The pre-requisite skills and knowledge to complete a Permaculture Design Course.

Learning methods

A significant portion of the course comprises experiential learning. Practical demonstrations and small group workshops on key permaculture techniques are designed to bring to life and reinforce core theory and concepts.

The course provides a solid grounding in Permaculture theory, combining this with practical skill development through interactive learning experiences and course handouts. A range of learning methods are used including: presentations, video, experiential exercises, and small group activities.

About the teachers

Gordon Williams is a Permaculture consultant and educator currently working in Sydney and the Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia.

Raised in the Blue Mountains, Gordon was able to spend time in the surrounding national parks and bushland where he gained an appreciation for the natural systems within them. His six years of experience as a carpenter has led to a deep understanding of the difference between good and bad building design and construction. As a result of these experiences his passion is to see the built environment blend smoothly into the living surroundings.

Gordon’s journey along the Permaculture path began when he inherited the family kitchen garden. While on the hunt for information on growing food, Rosemary Morrow’s book ” Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture” proved to be a revelation.

Gordon has trained with some of Australia’s most respected Permaculture educators such as Rosemary Morrow, Darren Doherty and Geoff Lawton. He has also worked at the Permaculture Research Institute in both educational and on farm roles.

Daniel Hatfield is a passionate food gardener, educator and permaculturist. He has been working professionally with plants and gardens since 2006, focusing specifically on organic food gardening since 2008. Daniel believes in producing and promoting growing healthy, seasonal and local fruit and vegetables. He describes his practices as ‘beyond organic’. Daniel approaches food gardening from a wholistic perspective, addressing issues at their core, rather than use quick-fix sprays or fertilisers, either organic or inorganic. He enjoys sharing his passion for permaculture and helping people develop confidence and new skills in organic gardening.

Daniel takes his inspiration from the principles of Permaculture, as well as organic farmers such as Eliot Coleman and Joel Salatin. Daniel completed his Permaculture Design Certificate under Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute, and holds tertiary degrees in art and photography.

Booking

The number of places is limited to facilitate an intensive learning experience. Please complete the booking form below and forward the course fee by May 3rd to D Hatfield, 10 Parkes Crescent, Faulconbridge NSW 2776.

Payment available via bank transfer (details available on booking) or cheque or postal order payable to Daniel Hatfield.

Cancellation

Cancelled bookings will receive a full refund up until April 20th. After April 20th you are welcome to transfer your booking to another person but the fee will be non-refundable. Please note that this course requires a minimum number of 10 participants to go ahead.
Contact:

E: daniel@healthyharvest.com.au, P: 0431 383 516

NEW WORKSHOP ANNOUNCED: Organic Gardening for the Backyard Farmer (PAST EVENT)

PAST EVENT- click here for current courses

Sunday 1st April 2012 10-4pm Faulconbridge, Blue Mountains

Over the next few months I will be running a few organic gardening workshops on various subjects aimed at beginner to intermediate food growers.

Workshop structure

Morning: Theory The morning will consist of a 1.5 hour theory lesson followed by approximately 30 minutes of questions and answers. Please start thinking of your questions to bring along. They don’t need to be related to the specific topics discussed, but please keep them inside the realm of organic gardening.

Lunch: We will break for lunch at 12pm for 1 hour to share a meal and lively conversation together. We’ll provide light refreshments, but please bring your own water bottle and a plate of food to share for lunch.

Afternoon: Practical experience. The afternoon session from 1-3pm focusses on practical implementation of some of the things discussed.

What you’ll learn

Learn how to make real compost

I will show you how to make a compost superior to ANYTHING you can purchase from a shop. You’ll also learn how to make it on a small or large scale. Far too many weeds end up in land fill but are full of minerals that need to be returned to your soil. I will show you how to kill the weed seeds and make great compost from garden waste. You will also learn about the nutritional requirements of your plants and how to keep your soil (and your plants) in good shape.

Use chickens as part of your vegetable growing system

Chickens are a valuable part of an organic gardener’s tool kit. Chickens eat all your bugs and weeds, scratch and till the soil and give you free fertiliser. Learn how to use chickens efficiently and constructively (not destructively) as part of your garden system. We will be moving my chickens from their current home/garden bed into another garden bed. You can find out more about this growing system in this article. Bring along your best chicken-rustling boots!

Build a no-dig garden bed

A no-dig (or lasagne) garden bed is a simple design using lots of straw, weeds and manures (and chickens as in the photo above) to build layers of a  garden bed on top of the ground, rather than digging organic matter through your soil. Using this technique you never have to worry again about how terrible your soil may be. We will put this in to practice by building the last few layers of 2 large no-dig garden beds.

Square-foot gardening

We will be laying out a grid design and planting out a square-foot garden bed. Square-foot gardening is a simple and productive way to grow vegies in a small space. You can find more about square-foot gardening on this website.

What to bring

Please bring a folding chair, gardening gloves, hat, gum boots, sunscreen, water and a plate of healthy food to share at lunch.

Cost

Workshops are free, though a donation of $5-10 is appreciated to cover the cost of advertising and refreshments.

Safety Note: Although your skill level is not important, my block is quite steep and you will need to be able to walk easily on grassy slopes which may (more than likely) be very muddy and slippery. These workshops are unfortunately unsuitable for people with any walking related issues or disabilities.

Please fill in the form below to reserve your place, or alternatively accept the invite you may have received through Facebook. You do not need to fill out both!


Easy DIY chicken manure collection

The one downside to my rotating chook house system is not being able to collect manure from under the roosts. Most chicken coop designs should have the possibility to go in and easily scrape up the manure to be used in compost or in other areas of the garden. In my design, the chook manure just drops straight into the garden bed and is quickly scratched in to the soil and disappears. Great for my raised bed crops, but not so great for the rest of the garden! Manure can be used fresh mixed into compost, or dried out, left to mature and used on the garden at a later time.

I have tried to think of clever ways to easily catch the manure but flaws in the roost design were stopping me.

The old roosts

I wanted to be able to put a tarp underneath the roost so to collect the manure at night time (chickens do the majority of their pooping at night). This seemed impossible with the current roost set-up. I opted to change the roost, not only to aid manure collection but also to make it much easier to move the entire structure from one bed to another after vegetable crop harvests.

Roosts with wire for suspension

To build this coop I used wire mesh which is sold under the name of “rabbit wire” it is much stronger (and double the price) of the usual “chicken wire”. Normal chicken wire is so soft that foxes have been known to stretch the holes to gain access to coops so, despite the name, it’s not ideal material for building chicken housing.

The new roosts are suspended off the floor by hanging them from the sides of the coop. I doubt suspending the roosts would have worked using normal chicken wire, but rabbit wire is strong enough for the job.

I have tested the strength to see if they can hold the weight of 5 or 6 chickens and it seems to be pretty strong. We will see over the next couple of days.

I then placed a tarp on the ground and could lay it flat without roost posts getting in the way.

New roosts in situ

I went back to collect eggs and found that the girls have been kicking soil all over the tarp so I have now tied off the tarp to the walls above the ground making a low hammock. The girls can still easily access the roosts (they’ve already tried them out). Hopefully this will now stop too much soil getting in the tarp and the soil that does go in is welcome….it’s chicken powered awesome soil! I’ll be harvesting their manure every couple of days, so I can use it regularly around the garden and so their coop stays clean.

Poo-collecting tarp hammock!

I paid them a late night visit to check the roost was holding up. No problems: 8 girls on the top roost and it was staying strong.

This morning I went down to the coop and harvested my first manure crop. Super easy, super quick, super poo!

One night's harvest

Simple raised bed readiness trial and proof of chicken power!

The vegie garden beds in my backyard (currently 3 with 2 more to construct……do I hear a workshop calling?) are part of a rotation grazing/manuring system which also provides housing and a run for chickens. One bed has the chickens while the other two are used for growing or resting (you can find out more information about this system in 2 previous posts here and here).

  • Raised bed 1 was home to the chickens for about 6 months and is now waiting to be planted out.
  • Raised bed 2 is currently housing the chickens.
  • Raised bed 3 is waiting for chickens.

To test whether the two empty beds are ready to plant out with vegies, I ran a very simple trial to assess the soil quality. I planted the 2 empty beds with a green manure crop (lupin, chickory, red and white clover) and waited for the results.

What’s in the beds:

Each bed has been treated differently as they are in different stages of the rotation system.

Bed 1: This was the chooks’ original home bed. It has been filled over a very long time with weeds, which have been converted mostly into soil by gradual decomposition, and manure from the chickens. This bed was also top dressed with manure.

Bed 3: This bed has not yet housed the chickens and contains a lot of old sticks (to fill the bottom) and then was dressed with very, very broken down mulch followed by a thick layer of cow manure.

Results:

Unsurprisingly, the Bed 1 was a great success. Almost everything germinated and looked incredibly healthy despite no supplementary watering. Clearly the chooks are working their magic!

I celebrated by digging in the green manure crop and let the chooks have a worm-hunting party in the bed (but you could also let the green manure rot down).

Bed 1: chooks demolishing the green manure crop (under careful supervision by the guardcat)

The next step is to supplement this bed with a little extra compost (just because the bed is not quite deep enough yet), and then I’ll be planting out my first crops of winter vegetables (carrots, beetroots, cauliflower, broccoli) for the year.

Bed 3 struggled with germination and only the lupins survived in the end. The lupins are still growing now but look pretty yellow and unwell.

3: Not ready for planting as hardly any clover and lupins are yellowed

Clearly this bed will not grow vegies well at the moment, so the chooks will be moved on to this bed for a few months.The nitrogen, phosphorous and minerals from foraging greens will pass into the manure and the beds making the soil fertile, just like Bed 1!

So, by having chickens who are fed good quality grains and a varied diet of forage crops from your kitchen and garden, they will provide almost all the minerals you really need for fantastic soil…not to mention beautiful eggs!

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