What a Coop!

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Tseliso has done a fantastic job upgrading our chicken coop and we are thrilled with the result. A while ago I wrote about how frustrated I am with the devastation caused by our free-ranging chickens in the garden and how we never have a reliable source of eggs (see Project Chicken!) Thank you so much for all the wonderful advice I received. It has been such a help and I am determined to learn more about what makes chickens tick. Anyway, there was unanimous opinion that the coop needed to be upgraded with an outside chicken run so that they don’t have to be let out as often. It has taken a bit of effort, but I think Tseliso has done a fantastic job so far. His brief was to re-use as much stuff lying around our yard as possible and to raid the farm workshop for any other supplies he needed. I downloaded plenty of photos from the Internet with ideas to show him. It is not the most fancy and luxurious coop compared to some we have seen, but I think it will do for now. We could add some more bedding and dry leaves, but already when I visited this morning there were four eggs to collect – the first in months! What’s for breakfast I hear you ask? Why boiled eggs on toast of course!

DSC_3734DSC_3775DSC_3763DSC_3736A beautiful old pepper tree hangs over the run so there will be plenty of shade during the day. Sticks and branches have been placed strategically to give them some places to roost outside. I also read somewhere that chickens love to scratch in ash so we’ve re-used an old water feature from the garden to hold ash from our fires in winter. We could also easily add dry leaves and food scraps from the compost bin as a treat. Inside, there are some new nesting boxes made from old plastic containers.

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The best thing about this new coop is that I can sit on a rock and observe the chickens much more closely than before when they would simply scatter and run around the garden. In fact, this morning whilst counting and watching them I realised that we have one more white rooster than we’re supposed to. I have no idea where he came from! The chicks are also starting to grow up so we’ll soon be able to separate the hens from the roosters. There is much thinning out to do and some of the old ladies are definitely past their prime. One piece of advice I received is that hens stop being productive after about three years so no wonder there are no eggs!

It’s probably a bit of a shock for the chickens that they are not being let out into the garden, but I will let them roam a bit once or twice a week. They also seemed quite happy whilst I was sitting with them, clucking and chatting away. Again, I’ve read that a noisy chicken is a happy chicken. There is still much work to do on this project, but I think we’re making progress thanks to all of your great inputs and Tseliso’s hard work!

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Project Chicken!

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I have complained about our free-ranging chickens before and how they cause havoc in my garden without giving us a reliable source of eggs and/or meat (see Home Sweet Home). When I first came to Vastrap the chicken coop was a simple wire structure situated right behind our guest rooms. The roosters would crow loudly at all times of the day and night (not only dawn) and our guests would appear for breakfast with dark blue circles under their eyes having not had a wink of sleep. Anticipating that visitors would be reluctant to return, among them my family, I moved quickly to rectify the situation by asking Quentin nicely to build a proper stone hen house further away from the house. This has helped immensely for the noise problem and our guests sleep more soundly now.

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‘New’ chicken coup under the pepper tree.

But still, the chickens don’t do what I want them to, which is entirely my fault as I have not invested any time learning what makes them tick. Having recently dipped a baby toe into the topic, I realise there are a lot of very passionate people out there who spend a huge amount of time worrying about their chickens and making them happy. So, it’s high time that I learn something new. A few friends have already given me some great advice (thanks Ena and Caryn!), but I’m hoping to access the blogging brains trust to make absolutely sure that Tseliso and I are on the right track. At the moment we have two roosters, about 8 hens and 14 chicks running around the yard. After having had no chicks for two years we’ve recently had a population explosion! In tandem, there has been a complete dearth of eggs.

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Over the next few weeks, Tseliso has been tasked with remodelling the coup to include better roosting perches, more comfortable nesting bins and an enclosed chicken run so that we don’t have to let them out every day. At the moment they free range 5 days a week and generally only stay in the coop over weekends. From the advice I’ve had so far it seems the ratio should be the opposite. I’ve printed lots of good ideas from the Internet on how we can recycle things lying around in the yard to make the hens more comfortable.

Through this project I would also like Tseliso to learn how to manage his own chickens more effectively. My goal is to get a more reliable supply of eggs, but his requirement is to have more chickens for his family to eat. This is even more important since he recently became a father to a beautiful baby girl named MaTseliso. I presume that the two goals require slightly different management techniques, but I’m not entirely sure. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! I will report back on our progress in a few months, hopefully with positive results for both of us.

Tseliso, Elizabeth and MaTseliso (3 months old).

Tseliso, Elizabeth and MaTseliso (3 months old).

Sunday morning babalas breakfast

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What to do when you were up very late on a Saturday night with good friends?

Wake up late. After coffee and rusks in bed, stoke up the AGA and take a walk to the chicken coup. The fresh air will do your groggy head good. If you are lucky there will be some eggs to collect. Now don’t be  greedy. Take as many as you need and leave the rest behind for the hen to incubate. They should look something like this…

Fresh from the coup.

Chop up some baby tomatoes and mushroom. Add fresh thyme, parsley olive oil, salt and pepper. Pop into the top AGA oven for 15 minutes. Lay bacon on a tray and place in the same oven until slightly crisp.

Heat a pan on the AGA simmer plate. Add butter and scramble egg mixture. Be careful not to overcook as the plate can be very hot!

Quick scrambled eggs on the simmer plate. 

Toast some left over ciabatta bread from yesterday’s soup lunch. Spread the toast with butter, put it on the tray with the bacon fat and place in the hot AGA oven for a minute until the butter melts. Serve with tomato chilli jam.

Look at the colour of those eggs!

I’m no food stylist, but I think the colour of those eggs speaks for itself. And they taste as good as they look. Babalas cured!