Saturday, 19 August 2017

Using leaves as deep litter in the chicken pen.

We get seasons up here in the Hinterland! This means that we get lots of leaves on  the ground as well. This is a resource I haven't had before as living in Brisbane, there are very few deciduous trees around to collect leaves from. It turns out that some people up here sweep the leaves into big piles and burn them or collect them up into bags and take them to the dump!?

I have a friend who has an avenue of deciduous trees and he wants all the leaves off the grass. He was keen to blower vac them into a gully, I was keen to collect them all in the trailer and bring them home. It took about ten trailer loads to get the bulk of them home (and he thinks I'm mad into the bargain) but how could I pass up all those lovely leaves?

Here's what I did with them...

The first few trailer loads went into the chook pen on the floor. I piled all the leaves onto a tarp and then dragged them into the pen and upended the tarp. It made a messy big pile that covered the stump and branches and the bread crates that were to give the chook some dry space for preening, When we got up here it rained solidly for the first few weeks and they were always in the mud. The branches gave them a place to perch, preen and get out of the wet.

It didn't take them long to decide this was an amazing thing to happen to them and even though I really don't think then leaves were full of bugs and worms, the chookies thought that they might be in there and flattened the pile across the pen in less than an afternoon.

My reason for putting the leaves in the pen was threefold.

First I hoped the leaves would soak up a bit of the water lying around in the pen while it was raining.
Secondly, it give the chooks something to do. A bored chook is fairly destructive and sooner or later they will pick on the youngest, newest or weakest for entertainment. Mine are free ranged in the backyard each afternoon so its not so much of an issue for them but like anyone, they like new things, something to do and scratching through piles of leaves is, as Joel Salatin would say, letting the chicken express it chicken-ness - or was that Michael Pollan? At any rate, I like the idea of my chickens expressing their chicken-ness and bringing me to my third reason, they have turned over every leaf a hundred times with those claws, they are making great compost and mulch for my gardens!

I think deep litter for the chook pen is a good thing on a number of levels. It uses up a free resource that would be wasted otherwise. It brings more organic matter onto my property boosting the potential fertility of my place. It amuses my chooks for hours on end (and happy chooks lay much better eggs!) it soaked up all the excess water in the pen and eventually, it was raked out and put on garden beds and they were given another trailer load to play with and start the cycle over again with.


Another thing I tried this winter was deep litter in the hen house. As it didn't get that cold in Brisbane and the girls were all born and bred in the subtropics, I put a single cardboard layer inside the coops each winter as insulation and had the usual newspaper covered in sawdust or straw to soak up the droppings. Winter up here in the mountain is much, uch colder and Even though I put a few of the packing boxes to good use as insulation, I was still worried about how cold it was for them.

So I put a pile of newspaper on the bottom of the coop, followed by the usual straw and instead of cleaning it out when the poop levels get to high, I covered it with a thick layer of leaves. After a few months there is a substantial amount of compost fermenting away in the bottom of the coop producing a bit of heat (I hope) and insulation (Im sure!)

Normally I would be keen on keeping the poop from building up inside the coop but each time I put in the layer of leaves,the smell goes away. I know its not good for any animal to be sleeping in its own poop but once a thick layer of leaves goes in, there is no visible poop for them to stand in and the ammonia smell disappears too. I have read about American Chicken keepers who do this sort of thing in the Winter when their chooks cant go outside in the snow/storms/blizzards and they just put a new layer of straw/hay/whatever on top every few weeks and clean it out in the Spring once the chooks can go outside again.

This is the principle I am trialling for this coop this winter. The coop is a temporary one (like everything at the moment) and in time we will put in a proper coop and run for the girls when we decide on a more permanent  set up for the whole yard. If this works and I end up with some great compost and there is no detrimental effects on the chooks, then I'm guessing I'll be keen to set up the "proper" coop to do this for next Winter.

Using the leaves on the inside of the coop and outside in the pen has been great so far and I'm quite pleased with the results so far. Have you used this system before? What did you think? What were your reasons? Id love to hear what you think!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for using a natural resource that would go to waste otherwise!
Frugal-ness: Only the petrol cost. If the leaves were closer I would have wheel barrowed them home but 4km was a bit far...
Time cost: About an hour to get two or three loads a day depending on how we were feeling. Most of the time was in raking them all up.
Skill level: Raking, raking, raking...
Fun-ness: Flinging leaves at each other was great fun even if it wasn't getting the job done!

Friday, 11 August 2017

My free, chook proof (so far) scavenged garden fence!

Since we moved to the hinterland I have been keen on getting a vege garden up and running for a couple of reasons. One, because the shops are so far away and two, because the soil and weather should allow us to grow veges!

So I waited a few months to see where the sun fell, where the rain water flowed and what sort of winds we had - actually I had too much unpacking and rearranging to do to worry too much about anything else, but while I was hanging curtains and putting boxes in the trailer to go to the dump, I was noting the sunny spots, the drowned out tank over flow patches and the areas that never got any sun!

Once the inside of the house was sorted (well, lets say its liveable) I turned my attention to the prospect of a small herb and vege garden. I have no money to spend on this garden so it was going to be small by necessity rather than choice. I also have a flock of hungry chickens who think that all things green are for their dining pleasure (goats may be less destructive than my horde of chooks!) so it will need a chook proof fence. Permaculture principles state that a vege garden needs to be close to the house or I wont go and get the veges... So with these points in mind -

Here's what I did...

I decided to start small and expand - better to have a small success than a large failure was my theory - and chose a morning sunny corner. This bush was already there and has had a prune - you can see the dirt showing that it was much larger. My initial theory was that the shrub could stay - but I wish I had taken it out at this stage rather than when I was almost finished building the garden...

I collected bits and bobs from around the yard and our junk pile. Some Koppers logs from a defunct front garden and a couple of hardwood planks decided the garden dimensions. Four star pickets became the corners and an old piece of dog fencing became my base fence. I thought the chooks would be able to get through the wire - especially if they are motivated by the sight of fresh green lettuces and so I started cutting branches and weaving them through the wire to make the holes smaller.

I put the star pickets in to hold each corner and then wove the picket through the wire to hold it in place.

The Besser block is to raise the down hill corner a bit - partly for aesthetics and partly to raise the corner so the plants don't get water logged. I put one of the middle posts on the inside of the garden to keep the fence from sagging outwards. I started this fence with fairly robust branches.

I cut the dog wire to the right length and then curved it around a star picket gate post to fix the ends of the fence. I happened to find a bit of dog fencing wire from the fence that got taken out that fitted the wood base of my garden. So I ended up with four corner star pickets and two star picket gate posts that support my fence.

I haven't got a photo of it, but when I was filling the garden with an old compost heap that I dug out of a neglected part of the garden, the chookies could walk in and out of my garden at will through the branches and wire and enjoyed digging in the dirt I was putting in there. The gaps in the fence were big enough for the smaller chooks or the bolder chooks to get through. I started collecting skinnier stick to put in the gaps and then decided to put taller ones in as well to discourage the chooks from flying over the fence.

The stick that I used as the palings were reasonably heavy and this down hill corner was "sagging" a bit so I used a piece of wire across the corner (the bright shiny piece in this photo) to pull it together and provide a bit of stability. This fence isn't going to survive a decent storm but as a temporary, lets try a garden here fence, it will do!

The gate is the original door to the "hospital cage" that got an upgrade when the Quail spent a month in it waiting for their big cage to be erected. It was originally off a home made aviary. I put a few long sticks through the gate to discourage any chooks from flying over it too.

I used a couple of cable ties as the hinges and a coloured rock as the lock. Its a very light gate. A determined possum or wallaby would be able to get in but I'm hoping the presence of the dog and the six foot high chain link fence around the rest of the yard is deterring them from coming near my garden at the moment!

Before I planted anything in the garden, I put a couple of "bait plants" in there for a week or so. Nice big green seedlings in a pot were sitting enticingly in the sea of brown compost. I had the gate and fence finished and the chookies hadn't been able to get in for a while but I wasn't prepared to plant it out and discover that they needed the motivation of expensive seedlings to prove they could get in.

The chooks showed a lot of interest in the bait plants but after a week they hadn't got in. Nothing else had touched the plants and so I took the risk and planted out a punnet of mixed lettuce and Asian greens seedlings - so far so good. I haven't planted anything close to the edge as the chookies can still get their heads through some of the holes.  There's a couple of sprouting onions and potatoes in there too somewhere!

I think the tall sticks also deter the cockatoos and other parrots as they move in the wind and aren't strong enough to take the weight of these birds. So far they haven't shown any real interest in the garden and the few seedlings have remained unmolested.

Its certainly not a garden for the pages of "Better Homes and Gardens Than Mine" but if you are into rustic or interesting garden fencing, then this free, chook proof (so far) one might be the one for you!

It took a bit of time to collect the right sized branches and sticks. I weaved them through the fencing but found that they bunched up a bit and in some places I have five sticks in some places where I'm sure one well placed one would've been sufficient. I could have wired the branches in place or cable tied sticks to stay where I wanted them but I'm trying not to use plastics these days and didn't have an easy to bend wire to hand. This style works for me as I collected sticks on my afternoon walks with the dog and wasn't in a hurry. Its still cold at night here, around three degrees and so I wasn't in a rush to get the seedlings in, just in time for a cold snap or a frost.

Ultimately we will put in a large covered completely animal proof garden that (hopefully) will provide all our greens and a few other veges - but until then, this will be our place to learn and see what works and what doesn't. I'm sure you'll see a few more posts featuring this garden in the future!

What free garden fencing have you made? Post some pictures or links in the comments!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for using items that
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for not spending any money on the garden and fencing!
Time cost: About 2 weeks to get the basics in place plus waiting time to see if the chookies could get in. 
Skill level: Confidence and desire to do it!
Fun-ness: Great fun to see my veges growing on the inside of the fence and the chooks on the outside of the fence!

Friday, 4 August 2017

Small Scale Backyard Hugelculture!

I read an article, ages ago, about a woman who never let a shred of organic matter leave her property. She also collected as much greenery, dead leaves, left over food from a local day care and any organic matter that she could lay her hands on and turned her yard from a barren moonscape into a lush suburban oasis. This long-ago-read story has been my basis for not getting a council green bin and not allowing my husband to take a trailer load of anything organic to the dump - even though its free for us to do that!

So what do we do with all those random branches that fall during a storm? What happens to the bottom of the chook coop when it needs cleaning out? What do we do with all our prunings and rakings after a garden tidy?

What doesn't go into the formal compost heap gets put it in a pile in a hidden part of the garden and after a couple of years, its all composted down and is a really good place to plant new plants! It turns out that this "no waste / cant leave the property" policy that I have, is also called Hugelkulture in some circles!

Hugelkulture is usually a large scale gardening technique where you take whole tree trunks and put them in a pile and then cover them with progressively smaller and smaller branches and finally leaves and a covering of compost and dirt. The idea is to then plant out the top dirt layer. The plants draw their nutrients from the rotting branches underneath. The tree trunks eventually also rot out releasing their nutrients to the plants above. This system also soaks up water well, stays hydrated longer and is a really, really good way to absorb all those nutrients locked up in the tree and your garden waste!!

Here's what I do...

In our new place I wanted to revegetate the back third of the garden. Its heavily shaded by a giant Moreton Bay fig and a large number of other large native trees. A vege or flower garden wouldn't work in this heavily shaded space and it seems like a good place to grow trees to screen the fence and to enhance both our view, and the neighbours view!

So as I was taking out various weed trees, cutting back unruly bushes and attempting to eradicate the bamboo patch, I ended up with a pile of smallish branches that normally people might take to the dump or put in a green waste bin. Instead I used them to start my "garden beds" and piled them up in the areas I want to revegetate.

As Winter progressed, I met people who were getting rid of Autumn leaves (?) and discovered that people will generously reward you for arriving with a trailer and a rake and taking the leaves away for them! These, I added to my piles of branches! (The leaves, not the rewards - I drank them!)

Another neighbour took out a tree and didn't need it for firewood or garden edging and over the period of a week we removed the whole thing, branch by branch and piled it into my Hugalkulture piles in the back yard and also covered them in a trailer of leaves.

At the moment they just look like a pile of sticks and leaves. I need to have another go at them with a pair of loppers and break the branches down a bit more. My husband sometimes just puts his boots on and stomps all over them - its a crude but effective method of breaking the branches down I have to admit!!

The way I make Hugalkulture beds isn't an instant system. I'm attempting to mimic Mother Nature, but in a slightly faster time frame! She knocks a tree or two over and then slowly they break up and disappear into the mulch and eventually grow new trees where the old one stood. I'm just breaking the branches down quicker and bringing the mulch to the tree. If I had access to dirt or compost, I'd be adding that too!

You cant really see them in this picture but I have started planting native tree seedlings that I've collected off neighbours and friends and have been making a hole for them, filling it with compost and planting my wee tree in amongst the mulch. Hopefully they will start to grow and create a forest of native trees on my side of the fence... soon?

The soil here is pretty good, being volcanic and we also have a fair bit of rain here too which helps! I think the tree branches and mulch will help protect the seedlings as they grow and eventually provide them with all the nutrients they need to get bigger.

Its not a "pretty" gardening method, I have to admit, but works for me in that we are trying to recreate a natural looking forest with paths through it, not a parkland. I have also noticed that the chooks don't like to climb on top of the piles as they aren't solid and so aren't digging too much up at all. If you need a more aesthetic garden bed, put some wood chip or other cover as your top layer and don't let the chooks near it!

I have been putting grain on areas that asparagus fern weed grow and this encourages the chooks to scratch at the roots and if not eradicate it, certainly weaken it. I'm a bit worried that my light version of Hugelkulture wont smother the asparagus weed but nourish and cosset it and it will grow like the weed it is! So I'm putting the girls to work on it before I start on my mulch piles in that spot.

According to the little bits I've read about this gardening method, the idea is to make a huge pile of trees/branches/organic matter, cover it in dirt and start planting. The insides of the pile will rot and collapse over time allowing you to plant deeper into the layer of composted organic matter that gets deeper each year. I don't have huge trunks to put on the bottom of my piles, nor trailer loads of dirt for the top so, again, taking my cue from Mother Nature, I just put whatever comes to hand on top of the pile and let time do its thing with minimal help from me.

I wish I had photos of the places in the old place that we piled fallen branches, garden pruning's and grass clippings. We picked a spot each year and made what were really just informal rough compost heaps and then after a year or so found a new spot to  put all this garden "waste". We popped a plant into the top of the old informal "compost heap" and within a short time the plant grew too big to see where the pile had originally been. The photos would all just be of happily growing plants if I did have them!

If we had a bare paddock in the blazing sun and access to dead trees on a large scale, I could see the sense in using Hugelkulture they way it was designed but as I have a small shaded backyard, this light version of Hugalkulture is working really well for me!

If you are keen to explore this concept a bit more, these websites have been really helpful for me to learn about Hugalkulture from.

Let us know what your experiences with Hugalkulture have been like in the comments below. If you know of a great Hugalculture site, link to it in the comments and we can all go and have a look at it.

Happy Hugal-ing!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for not letting anything organic leave the property!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for getting mulch for free!
Time cost: Whatever time you have. Its a long term commitment this Hugalkulture stuff...!
Skill level: Just raking, dragging, piling skills with a lot of patience!
Fun-ness: I'm really enjoying collecting branches from around the garden and its been a great way to get to know the neighbours - especially the ones with deciduous trees!

Friday, 28 July 2017

Eating weeds! Trying Plantain Lanceolata for the first time!

There is this big paddock down the road from us that I walked the dog at the other week. It seems to be quite a few acres and has lots of areas for us to explore next to the creek. Walking the dog here coincided with reading a post about eating weeds. On our next walk I saw huge quantities of what we called, "soldier seed plants when I was a kid. We played a game where you picked the seed head on a long stem and then swung yours at the other persons, who was holding it still. The idea was to take turns and break the head of the other persons soldier to win.

It turned out that this weed to also be an edible plant!

I did a bit of research and discovered that this weed I have spent my life walking over and never knew its real name is actually a member of a nutritious vegetable family!

I so had to try some!

Here's what I did...

First do a bit of research and make sure you know exactly what you are planning to eat and make sure you are getting your "weeds" from a place that hasn't been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides. Then grab a pair of scissors and a basket/bucket/bag, the dog and maybe a book that ID's the plants you saw and head off to fetch yourself some free nutritious veges!

I decided to pick my vege weeds from the edges of this paddock, away from the places that other people might be walking their dogs... Just in case!

Then I started by looking for the tell tale seed heads of my target plant, Plantago Lanceolata - they seem to produce seeds all year round - and checked my book to make sure.

And... Yup, It sure is! Also known as Lance Plantago, Rib Wort, Narrow Leaf Plantain, English Plantain, Ribwort Plantain, Ribleaf and Lamb's tongue. It has a well known and easily recognised relative, broad leaf plantain that is also edible but quite different to look at.

When I arrived at the paddock this particular afternoon we had had a bit of rain and there was lots of young leaves and since I had plenty of time and a huge paddock of these leaves to choose from, I picked the youngest tenderest ones I could find.

I collected a number of plants along with my Plaintain. I wanted to properly identify some that weren't in my book and I collected a few that I knew the chooks would love. I couldn't resist the daisy or a piece of Tibocina flower for the vase whilst I was there.

I had also identified "cats ear" (Hypochoeris radicata) and read that it was also edible. As there were lots of these plants there too I collected a few of them too.

The cats ear look like dandelion on first acquaintance but once I found this website that shows you the difference between the two plants, I could properly identify what I was looking for. I chose to try the cats ear and plantain together for my first "weed" mead!

First I rinsed them in a colander to get off the dirt and grass and what ever got tangled up when I picked them. I can say after doing this a few times, that its better to do all your sorting in the field. I now pick through and only take home the best leaves and try not to put grass etc in my basket. It makes the preparation at home quicker and easier.

Then I steamed/boiled them on a pot of boiling water. They cook down to practically nothing! A basket full will cook down to only a very large handful!

I used a pair of tongs to fish out the bits that shouldn't have got this far (grass coloured grass is so hard to see in amongst grass coloured leaves) and to toss the leaves about to cook the evenly.

I wasn't sure how long to cook them for but being Winter, I figured they would be tougher now than in the spring rains and went for a full 5 minutes.

Then I put them under the cold tap to cool them and stop the cooking and squeezed out the water. I cut them up into small bits with scissors while they were in a clump. They were surprisingly tough still so I made sure they were quite small pieces.

I popped them in a bowl and added preserved lemon, mint, flour, egg, garlic, salt and pepper to make a thickish mixture to put inside pastry.

Using a standard sheet of bought flaky pastry, I popped the mixture on the top and rolled them up and popped them into the oven.

And they didn't look so bad!

And so we ate a lemon, mint and garlic flavoured "sausage" roll where the primary ingredient was a weed! It is a much more robust taste and texture to spinach, I would almost go as far to say its a bit mushroom-y in texture. It was certainly very tasty and we had no adverse effects what so ever! 

Since then there has been the plantain, caramelised onion and cheese tarts which were really, really yum. The plaintain held up better than a spinach base and is chewier and less watery.

And then there was the vege bake with left over roast lamb, roast veges, cauliflower etc in a cheese sauce. The plaintain was chopped up fine rather than the starring ingredient.

Its been a fun thing to incorporate into our lives, It seems that plaintain is grown as a crop in some countries, is chock full of vitamins, fibre and is a really sustainable vegetable to grow.

Have a look at some of these websites that help identify the right plant and give you an idea of  what health benefits are attributed to them. For my two cents worth, We noticed we slept better and don't get up to the loo so many times in the night after a meal with plaintain in it!
If you decided to try it - let me know what you thought!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for eating greens provided by Mother Nature 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for walking down the road for a basketful of organic, pesticide/herbicide free greens that cost nothing!
Time cost: 10 to 15 minutes plus walking and consulting book time - also don't forget to bring the dog home and stop and smell (pick) the flowers!
Skill level: Just positive identification and a large dose of faith!
Fun-ness: You really start to look at weeds in a different way. I have been tempted at the lights to leap out of the car and grab some weed that I'm sure is edible growing on the traffic island! Its quite fun to be able to identify free food!

Friday, 21 July 2017

Making a bench seat legs with stumps and milk crates!

We were given a wooden table with two long seats set by a friend who was moving house. They were all a bit past it and we meant to paint them and do them up a bit, but never did.

 Eventually the legs on the seats rotted out taking the back part with them. The seat part of it was fine and I still wanted to keep that bit, just in case we figured out a way to put new legs on them... one day.

And we did!

Here's what I did...

The first incarnation involved simply putting them in the garden on a couple of milk crates after I painted them again...

Simple, weather proof, cheap, easy - but granted, maybe not the most glamorous bit of garden furniture you have ever seen...


And then on the way home a few weeks ago, we saw a guy giving away "free firewood" from a gum tree he had cut down in his driveway and just wanted gone. We filled up the boot with the ones we could carry (hardwood is very heavy we discovered)  and so the tree stump legs for the bench seats were created! This one works really well. Its got a couple of rocks on each side of the stump as a chock to stop the log from rolling away. Its quit low, but for kids and short legged people such as myself, that works well!

These stumps were skinnier and taller and this set up in the front yard is much higher. My feet "dangle" when I sit on this seat. The sheer weight of the stumps makes it quite stable but it wouldn't be the best way to do this if you have littlies who might not respect the weight of the falling stump when climbing up on it. You also need to make sure the stumps are cut level so your seat is not sloping side to side or end to end.. If not, you could dig the stumps into the ground in such a way that the top does become level. Or you can screw a piece of wood to the downward sloping side to even it up - that turns out to work better than the rock I put in there for the first few days!

We already had the bench seats from the set we were given, and with a coat of house paint on them, we hope to get a few more years out of them yet. The original legs weren't painted and didn't take long to rot out completely in the nice wet tropical summers we had in Brisbane. The milk crates probably would last a heck of a long time being plastic and all. The stumps are hardwood and even though they haven't been treated or painted, I think they will last us a few years - until the next bench seat incarnation anyway!

What have you made garden furniture out of? Anything unusual? Something different?
Share it with us in the comments section below!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for recycling and reusing 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for not spending a cent on garden furniture!
Time cost: As long as it takes to find some one cutting down a tree!
Skill level: Strength. Brute strength for lifting hardwood stumps in and out of a car!
Fun-ness: great fun to be able to sit in the sun on a cold winters day!

Friday, 14 July 2017

Where to put a sick or injured chicken...

We have been keeping back yard chickens for about twelve years now and sooner or later you get a sick chook that needs to be separated from the others for its own safety (Chickens will attack and kill a weak, sick or injured chicken sometimes) and in case what it has caught is contagious and so the other don't all catch it.

I spend a lot of time watching my chooks (we don't have a TV remember!) and as a result I pick up on things that don't seem quite right quite quickly. If I see a chook limping, sitting a lot, staying away from the others, not joining in when you throw treats on the back yard or just not seeming right AND I can catch her pretty easily, then there is definitely something wrong.

This post is not so much about why the chook is sick but how I "hospitalise" them when they are.

Here's what I do...

I spend a bit of time watching the chook in question so I can see what she can and cant do before I catch her. Can she walk? Is she eating? Why did she get my attention?
Sometimes I take a video on my phone or camera. This saves me having to "make her" do the thing that is obviously hurting her again and again to show the vet (and other people) what the problem is.

I only attempt to catch her when I'm sure I've seen all her behaviours. Obviously if the chook has been mauled by a dog or is stuck in a fence etc I wont spend half an hour watching this but if I think I'm seeing a cough, a limp, a sitting chook or a wobble of some sort, I want to be able to answer all the vets questions with confidence and actual knowledge.

Chickens are social creatures and if I cant "treat" her ailment in the pen I do. If not I separate her out into our "Hospital Cage,"

 If I think they are hurt rather than contagious I leave this cage in the pen so they can still see the other chickens and are still part of the flock. If they just need some medicine, pain killer or to stop walking this works well as its big enough for them to walk a few steps and stretch but not to go anywhere. Its waist height so I don't kill my back trying to catch or feed her with a cage on the ground. Its wired so nothing can get in and she cant get out and the door opens sideways to make access nice and easy. It was a home built aviary of some sort that we got from the "dump shop".

I put roosting perch in there for those that can and want to use it. Its a branch that's been screwed onto a  piece of dowel and then screwed onto a thick base that can hold 3kg of chook with out toppling over. The base is mostly hidden in the shredding.

I also put a jar in the corner for the chook to drink out of - its harder for them to tip it out or stand on- and if I need to I can tie it to the corner with a cable tie or piece of string. I can sterilise a jar if I need to and I can measure small amounts to medicate her if required too. I have found that all of my chooks would rather die than willingly drink medicated water, so generally I will "force" the medication down their throat via a syringe while holding a their head in the other hand. Once they get used to this, its easy, but until then, it can be a challenge. If they fight you a lot and its too hard, wrap the whole chook up in a towel so they cant flap, kick or scratch. Get some one else to hold them firmly around the belly and chest and then attempt to hold the head in one hand, use your thumb and middle finger to prise open the beak with the hand holding the head and aim the syringe straight down the gullet with the other. They really aren't keen on this but if you make it quick and they get a treat afterwards, they seem to accept it a bit more. Remember a chook that lets you handle it easily if a very sick chook indeed... A fighting chook is a good thing!

I put shade cloth on the side if I think its too sunny for them and offer things like grass or greens on the side for them to peck at if they are in the mood. The greens need to be pegged or attached quite firmly so they can "bite" off a piece small enough to swallow. A chook that's not eating her greens is probably very sick...

This is Cloud, a white hybrid layer. She had egg perontinitis. That's where the egg is "laid" inside the chook and goes rotten. It then blows up and then when all the infection and swelling goes down her insides were so mangled and scarred that her dinner wasn't able to go through the system properly. She was slowly being poisoned to death with rotten food stuck inside her. She had a big hot tummy (the infection) that finally came down and then she got more and more listless and spent a lot of time just sitting with me. She liked the company and needed to be kept away from the others as they just attacked her. We ended up getting the vet to euthanise her as egg perontinistis is usually incredibly uncomfortable and fatal due to the damage done to the internal organs. Cloud was carried around everywhere with me when I was at home once she got to the point of not wanting to forage on her own. You know you have a sick chook when instead of chasing them out of the house, they will sit quietly with you when you are sewing or reading - inside or outside.

This is Splash, a white or light Brahma. She had paralysed legs and what I now think might have been (Maraks?) growths or cancers on the leg nerves. She was limping one day and falling over the next. She couldn't run and was too easy to catch. She went through a month or two of losing all the use in her legs no matter what we did. The bird vet we use (Adrian at Brisbane Bird Vet ) thought it might be neurological and he had some student vets with him who spent hours testing her and testing her for everything they could think of with no conclusions. We kept her in these tomato boxes as they slotted together and made a great wee spot for her to hide in while her legs went through this weird paralysis. Just as we were thinking this is no life for her and wondered about euthanasia, she started getting better. Slowly but surely gaining strength and finally walking and running again. She was eating properly and still pooping while she was paralysed so we kept feeding her, massaging and moving her legs and bathing her when the poop built up on her too much. She ended up back in the pen and was great for another 6 months or so before she went down again with the same symptoms but died in a fortnight this time.

The box worked well as chooks like secluded dark places to wait out their illness. Most vege shops will have them and be happy to give you a couple. I put shredding in the bottom for softness and then put a layer of newspaper and then a towel for Splash to sit on.  I also used old face washers as "nappies" so I didn't have to wash to towels all the time. A sick chook still produces a lot of poop and it all has to be cleaned up at some point. The smell will make sure you do!

At one point we had two sick chookies. Thunder was bit off colour for a few days. She had a pale comb and was too easy to catch. We thought she may have been coming down with whatever Splash had but after a couple of days of sitting in the box with treats and antibiotics she decided she was all good and jumped out the box, pooped on the bedroom floor and found her way outside.

Any chook that stays where you put it really isn't well! I use old towels over the top to help them feel secure and to cover them at night to keep them warm. A sick chook might not be able to generate enough body heat to stay warm at night, especially in winter. Sometimes I pop a hot water bottle in the box as well for them. In Summer I might give them a rotating fan to help keep them cool.

I like to keep an eye on my sick chookies. I tend to keep them in the bedroom with me at night and in the lounge or dining room during the day. Its up to the individual. As long as you are keeping the chicken clean, its not much different from having the cat or dog (or rat or guinea  pig or budgie) inside as many families do. Our laundry or garage was no good for this sort of thing.

One of our chookies got this weird epilepsy thing where she would literally have some kind of flapping fit that lasted 30 seconds or so. She would sit quietly in her box listlessly all day and then out of the blue four or five times a night, she would freak out and flap and squawk in a most disconcerting fashion. I was more frighted of the damage she could do to her wings while she was fitting and in the end she slept in the bed with me (us!) where I had her wrapped in a towel and when she had a fit I could hold her close until she stopped and then we could all go back to sleep. She seemed to like the company and in the morning would sit on us contentedly preening and watching us while we got around to getting up... Its was kinda nice and very Disney like, until she pooped! This lasted a week or so and then she stopped fitting, got well and went back into the pen - we think maybe it was a heavy metal poisoning, but we really don't have a clue.

Something new I am trying with a lot of success is dried leaves instead of towels or newspaper in the bottom of the box. It has the advantage of being free and very available, being Autumn/Winter at the moment. We got a trailer load of fallen leaves from a friend and popped it the chook pen for them to rummage through. When Misty sprained her leg and needed some time out I used the tomato box filled with leaves at night and bought her inside (although I think this one is a mango box from Christmas time). I am wondering if died grass or dried lawn clippings would work as well - leaves are mainly a seasonal thing... This is Soleil in the picture, a French Wheaten Marans. She is a poddy chook. She was hand raised, then cossetted by the husband who wanted a tame chook. Now she has no fear of anything, thinks she is human and believes she can go anywhere and do anything. She walks through the house at will and jumps in the car... Hilarious and very entertaining unless you are the one cleaning up the chook poop all over the house and in the car. If she didn't lay such magnificent brown eggs she might not be quite so tolerated...

I find that the poop is dryer and easier to handle when I use leaves in the box. I can wrap/scoop it up in the leaves and just chuck it in the garden/compost, fluff up the leaves and pop the box in the sun to dry out and/or kill any bugs that may be in there.  During the day Misty is the hospital cage by the front door so I can see her a lot and check on her. We have also filled that cage with leaves and find the smell is much less and its so much easier to clean as well.

We have used paper shredding, towels, newspaper and everything in between to line the chooks night hospital boxes over the years. I find the leaves have been the most successful in keeping the chook smell down. They really lengthen the time the box can be used and don't need to be washed like the towels do. I have had Misty in the lounge overnight in her box and didn't smell her presence in the morning as you usually can. Somehow the leaves absorb most of the smell. I top up the leaves when I need a few more to make a comfortable nest for her to sit in and because I know its a sore leg, I fill it as much as I can to be nice and soft for her.

I use the smaller boxes at night as they don't move around too much and the bigger boxes during the day for the ones who aren't wanting to be in the sun during the day but need a bit of room to stretch and move around a little. The boxes "lock" together to make a bottom and two sides. Another one can be used to make a "back", although you may need to figure out a way to make it stay there with a bit of packing tape or just the weight of a towel. A towel suffices for a roof and a front cover for the ones who really want to hide from the world. I find that the chooks tend to sit and stay in them if they feel safe enough and the towel over the top helps them to "hide them from predators".

If the chook is escaping from this set up, see where they are going. Is it darker? More secure? Smaller? Then you need to make their hospital box like that. Are they in the kitchen knocking over the compost bucket? Then they can go back outside with the others or need to be in an isolation cage on the grass somewhere. I take my cue from the chooks actions and try to set them up in a place that they feel safe and comfortable. I always have fresh water available for them and something to peck at. I try to give them a bit of sunshine if they are up to it each day and have grain and greens on offer. I also offer the baby bird feeder mix from the produce shop as it has lots of calories in it if they aren't eating much.

I get them to the vet as soon as I can. Chooks are very good at hiding their weakness and usually by the time you work out that something is wrong, make an appointment and get there, its often too late. Birds have fast metabolisms and when they finally let you see that they are sick, they are pretty far gone.

Its not much fun having a sick chook but I find that a few days of a dark place, lots of good food and peace and quiet along with an antibiotic/medication can work wonders after they've seen the vet.

How do you house your chooks when they aren't well? Let us know in the comments - we'd love to hear you sick chook tales!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for using a naturally available leaf base for the boxes 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for getting a free tomato box and not having to pay for a sick chook bed!
Time cost: 10 minutes to set up if you have it all ready - just in case...
Skill level: Basic observation, love and attention!
Fun-ness: No fun at all having a sick chook I'm afraid...
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