Backyard Chickens: Candling Eggs

Backyard Chickens: Candling Eggs

So you’ve got chooks and a rooster and you want some chicks. But how do you know if the rooster is doing his job? 

The way to check eggs to see if they are fertile is called “candling”. Candling involves putting a bright light behind the eggs to see what is inside. It’s really easy to do and great to see if you’ve got chicks. 

 
There are some particular detailed signs to look for at all stages of growth inside the egg, but at the later stages of development it is very easy. It is as simple as looking for a part inside the egg where light does not pass through. A growing fetus will be opaque while the reminder of the egg white and yolk will be translucent. 

      

The image above is around 10-12 days since fertilisation. A egg will normally take around 18 days to hatch. 

Urban Farming: Dealing With Pests

Urban Farming: Dealing With Pests

Last summer was our first at our new rental. We built the chook run in a back corner, where the remnants of an old run was, using the parts of our previous run bought over when we moved. Inside the new chook run were two fruit trees – a beautiful big fig tree and a small, but rather healthy looking nectarine.

What we learnt from our first season here was that sparrows and blackbirds loved both the chook run and the fruit trees.


Now this isn’t rocket-science. We have always had fruit trees, we’ve always had chooks and we’ve always had issues with birds. But never like this! It wasn’t uncommon to see 30 or 40 birds eating the chook feed, polluting their water, getting stuck in the bird netting covering the trees and damaging the fruit.

We managed a good harvest of figs despite the birds, but the pollution of the chook run and general pest that they are meant I needed to do something.


After giving all the trees in the chook run a good haircut we set about enclosing the run with commercial grade fruit netting. It will keep the birds out but is gentle enough that the fruit trees can grow and not be damaged by wire.

The method of enclosing the run is simple – using some lengths of timber secrets across the yard, the commercial grade bird netting is simply screwed down and pulled tight forming a ceiling. There are a few gaps to plug and patch but in relatively quick time it is sealed up.

I have to give a massive shout out to my Father in Law Graeme who came over and finished off the job for me! Without his help it would have remained a half finished job for some time no doubt!

The fig tree is just budding now so time will tell if this method works to save both the chooks and the fruit!

– Jono

Dirt in the Blood: 5 Generations of Urban Farmers

Dirt in the Blood: 5 Generations of Urban Farmers

One of the things I remember most about growing up was helping Dad in the veggie patch. We used plant it out, harvest it, prune the citrus trees, tend the chooks! It was great as a kid to be out, learning about nature, and watching as your hard work produced tasty food that you could eat fresh from the garden!!

I am told that my Great-Grandfather was a Market Gardner in south Sydney and his Son, my Grandpa, had a garden which definitely resembled a market garden. It had rows meticulously planted, perfectly straight with string lines and multiple succession crops of peas and the biggest cauliflowers and cabbages I have ever seen in a backyard garden! My Grandpa had gardening passed on to him from his Father and he handed it on to my Dad. My Dad’s love of plants resulted in him studying Agriculture. He even became a commercial agronomist and plant breeder with Yates, all the while growing plenty of our own veggies at home.

IMG_8108[1]

My Dad then passed this love of gardening to me and my sisters. All three of us loved to harvest the beans and broccoli and onions and carrots. We had plenty of fruit trees and passion fruit and I love to collect the eggs. It was a family affair when it was time to plant or harvest the crops in the backyard.

All three of us kids are now grown up with our own kids and we all have big veggie gardens in our backyards. Both of my sisters went on to study agriculture and one of my sisters has even become a Horticultural/Agricultural Scientist in Tasmania specializing in vegetables! You can only imagine what her garden is like!

And now we are all passing on this love of veggie gardening to our own kids. My kids love getting into the Urban Farm, even if is just to collect a few eggs (or catch a chook for fun), pull out a few weeds or get in and plant the next crop! And best of all, like my childhood, they know what raw food looks and tastes like and they know where their food comes from!

Its a multi-generational love of urban farming! We must have dirt in our blood!

– Jono

Dirt Theology: Creation, Restoration & Gardening

Dirt Theology: Creation, Restoration & Gardening

Genesis 1-2 is full of dirt! It just keeps popping up everywhere! And God does some incredible stuff with it!

God gathered the waters together so that dry dirt could appear (Genesis 1:9), and he even took a handful of dirt, breathed life into it and created people (Genesis 2:7). But of all the great things that I love about God and His dirt, I especially love this:

And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good… And The Lord God planted a garden. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to sight and good for food. (Genesis 1:11-12, 2:8-9)

God was a cosmic gardener. And he created human beings to be gardeners  of sorts (Genesis 2:15). As a person who loves getting dirt on my hands as I tend the chooks, plant and harvest crops and dig up the soil, I love the link back to Eden. When I’m in the dirt I love the sense that in someway I am connecting back to my true roots, back to the time when things were the way God intended. There is something beautiful about that.


But tending the garden doesn’t just pull me back to my original roots, it points me towards my future, the New Heavens and New Earth (Revelation 21:1). God tells us that one day, when Jesus returns, everything wrong will be undone and everything right will be restored (Revelation 21:5). The Earth will not be destroyed, but restored. Beauty, life, goodness… restored.

This restoration of our relationship with God, one another and creation will once again happen in a garden. The City, the New Jerusalem, will come down but the city will be over taken by a river and a fruitful garden. Eden will be where we find true life again (Revelation 22:1-3).

Scripture plainly teaches that the Kingdom of God is “now and not yet”. We have a taste of life with God now, but it’s fullness is yet to come. And as we wait, we work. We work for a world which resembles the world to come.

When I pull out weeds which are choking my vegetables and stifling growth, I am reminded of my task of working for a restored world. As a Christian I am to be seeking order where there is chaos, life from the dirt.

As I see crops grow from the dirt I am reminded that my God brings life from the ash heap, hope where it is hopeless, life from dust. God is working for restoration of people and a world who are hopeless to save themselves. And he has invited me to join him in that work.


As I tend the garden and healthy crops grow and produce food, I am reminded of God’s provision and grace in my life, even now. But I am also called to look toward the time when God’s provision, love and grace will be experienced in abundance!

As a care for our chooks I am reminded that one day all of creation will be restored. Perhaps I will no longer have to treat lice and mites, but rather I will watch and join in as all of creation, the chooks and plants and even the rocks, sing praise and glory to God our King!

God is a God who brings life from dirt. And one day he will restore even the dirt to be all that he originally intended it to be.

– Jono

Backyard Chickens: Wing Trimming 

Backyard Chickens: Wing Trimming 

We’re visiting my wife’s family in the city. They have a few chooks which enjoy the odd escape attempt. Not good when the suburban fences are only 4-5ft high. The answer, which is sometimes controvsial, is to clip their wings… or build higher fences. 

Clipping the chooks wings doesn’t hurt them at all, however some people still don’t like the idea of cutting away naturally growing parts of a live animal. I don’t clip our chooks, not because I am against it but simply because it’s unnecessary in our backyard chook run where there are plenty high enough fences. 

And if you want to know how to do it, here is how: 

  

Using 2 people, one to hold the chook and wing, the other to cut the feathers, cut away around half the length of the first 10 flight feathers using sharp scissors, nail scissors/clippers or another suitable cutting tool. You can cut only one wing, with the theory that the bird will be unstable and unable to fly, or both wings to make sure they won’t escape. And that’s it! It is an easy job which takes seconds. 

  

When the wing is cut, the bird naturally tucks the cut feathers under the wing when it is folded so that it is barely noticeable. But you may need to keep an eye on those feathers when they start to moult and trim the new feathers again when they re grow. 

– Jono

The Hungry Season: Winter Veg Recipies

The Hungry Season: Winter Veg Recipies

Winter is, for obvious reasons, slower in the garden. But the produce that we pick can be just as delicious!

We’re not as self-sufficient over winter as the array of veg and the speed at which they grow makes the quantity of produce lower until early spring. However, along with some beautiful backyard eggs, beetroots, some leafy greens and broccoli, great dishes can be made.

We had a wonderful surprise two days ago when I pulled out a frosted, self sown potato from the summer potato crop. Underneath this single plant was 2.5kg of hidden gems!! A great find during the hungry season!


Here are a couple of our favourite ways to cook winter veggies.

BEETROOT, WALNUT & FETA SALAD

beetroot salad

This is a winter salad which can be served warm. Roast chopped beetroot (bite sized) in some olive oil and balsamic before tosses it into a baby spinach leaf salad with chunks of feta and some crushed walnuts. Add a bit more olive oil and balsamic to dress the salad.

KALE CHIPS

Kale-chips

Kale is a wonderful and versatile veg that can be steamed, stir-fried, added to dishes and even baked! Kale Chips are a delicious baked snack or side dish and it’s easy to do.

We flavour our Kale Chips with sesame seeds, olive oil and sesame oil and then just pop them into a hot preheated oven until they are crispy (which doesn’t take very long). They go a dark brown, or even a black colour, but the taste is terrific and they just dissolve in your mouth!

FRIED EGGS WITH STIR-FRIED GREENS

 

This is a simple dish which is great for a light meal, breakfast or lunch. Stir-fry a mix of winter leaves (Kale, spinach, beetroot leaves, chard, silverbeet) in some olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Place on a crusty piece of toast and top with fried or poached eggs cooked so the centre is still runny. If you’re able to find some field mushrooms, this goes great with the kale leaves and egg!

Winter!! Doesn’t have to be the hungry season!

Jono

Backyard Chickens: Moulting

Backyard Chickens: Moulting

In possibly one of the coldest weeks in the Australian Autumn this year, one of my chooks decided to moult. Well, at least I thought she was moulting. The only problem was she lost ALL of her feathers… and it was on wet, windy days with maximums of just 12°C (54°F).

 

Susie Chook looking ready for the pot!

 

As it turned out, “Susie Chook” was moulting and not sick or diseased. She lost all her feathers save those on the very top of her neck and face, but there was no sign of lice or mites on her body. In a few days she had new feathers growing and within 7-10 days she was completely grown out with new feathers. The other chooks in the run also moulted around this time but none of them moulted as severely and quickly as Susie.

Susie Chook’s new feathers

 

This sort of moulting where a bird loses all their feathers at once is not overly common. A bird will usually moult in late summer or autumn. You can tell if your chickens are moulting when you see old feathers littering the run and lack of feathers or scruffy feathers around the body and particularly the neck. This is usually a longer gradual process than poor Susie Chook’s effort this autumn. If there is a particularly severe moult it will typically be only the neck feathers which will drop all at once.

Birds generally stop laying during a moult and if it is late in autumn some may not lay again (or only lay periodically) until the days warm and lengthen in spring. Birds may also require some extra protein in their diet to cope with the moult.

When a bird begins to moult, it is a good idea to check them for lice, mites and other problems to ensure that the reason why they are dropping their feathers is due to an annual moult and not some other stress or disease/pest related issue.

Jono