29 July 2014

Keeping Chickens NZ - a new facebook page

I love the idea of fueling the enthusiasm of New Zealanders for keeping chickens. Quite a few of us do, and a lot more of us would like to!

Anna hand-feeding our chickens last weekend.

I've created a Facebook page called 'Keeping Chickens NZ' to bring people together. It's a place for sharing interesting chicken news, and getting fresh inspiration and ideas on all things chicken-related. I'll also be sharing my chicken blog posts there.

You can look at it even if you don't belong to Facebook: click here to see it. I've just shared a video of a little boy cuddling a chicken on it - it's divine. I wish my chickens would do that!

22 July 2014

Jane and the crazy orangutan

Why would an 80 year old travel for 300 days a year?

Because she's Jane Goodall, of course, famous chimpanzee researcher and now environmental activist. I sat on the ticket-purchasing website when I heard of her June talk in Auckland and managed to successfully hit 'buy now', unlike most of the people after me.

This photo is from Jane Goodall's website, where
you can read more about her work.

What a woman! She spoke for over an hour, with no notes, but enormous wisdom and intelligence. We were enthralled, much like the other audiences she speaks to on her travels, I am sure.

We laughed when we heard she wanted to be like Dr Doolittle as a child, and that the only thing wrong with Tarzan is that he married the wrong Jane!

After about 30 years of studying chimpanzees in remotest Africa, she realised that she must turn her attention to conservation and environmentalism. Environmental destruction and the bush meat trade were the main threat to chimps.

Decades later, she keeps going, driven to make this planet a better place. The audience in the Aotea Centre applauded and agreed. We laughed again when she said "Some people are very good at making money, and that's fine, as long as you use it to make the world a better place. For example, give it to me!" I'm sure I wasn't the only one making a donation in the following days.

She inspired me to take my children to the Auckland zoo in the school holidays that have just passed, not least to see the orangutans. Naturally Jane mentioned orangutans and the palm oil plantations that threaten their survival. I wanted the children to see why I won't buy commercial crackers and biscuits, which were the last bastion of palm oil in our house. These days they are just as good as me at checking labels and returning items to the shelf if they don't measure up. (Well, at least when I'm with them!)

Excuse the poor photo, but this guy did not disappoint. The zoo's male orangutan is awe-inspiring. Not only is his hair red, but his crazy body hair is about a metre long! It drapes behind him in rastafarian-style dreadlocks. He wouldn't look at my camera, but framing his face are enormous cheek pouches. My Stars Wars fan of a husband tells me that orangutans were the inspiration for Chewbacca.

So here we have an iconic species that is critically endangered - but what are most of us doing about it? Looking for crackers that cost less than $3 a packet and buying flavoured smelly stuff from the supermarket. I reckon we should cut it out and start behaving ourselves!

I also love this campaign - the idea that we idolise some extinct species and think how wonderful it would be to recreate them from ancient DNA, all the while ignoring the fact that equally amazing species are still alive but on the brink of extinction.

Priorities, people!

From the Auckland Zoo palm oil website:

In New Zealand, there is currently no legal requirement for palm oil to be labelled on product packaging, so you probably don’t even know if you’re consuming it! With many names for palm oil, it can be confusing!

Palm oil can be listed as:
Palm oil kernel
Anything containing the words
“Palmitate” or “Palmate”
Elaeis Gunieensis (scientific name
for the oil palm plant)
Hydrated Palm Glycerides
Hexadecanoic or Palmitic Acid
Likely to be palm oil:
Vegetable Oil
Anything containing the
words “stearate, stearyl”
Anything containing the words
“cetyl, cetearyl”
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)
Sodium Laureth Sulphate
Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate
(SDS or NaDS)
Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate
Calcium Stearoyl Lactylate
Steareth -2 and Steareth -20
Emulsifier 422, 430-436, 465-467,
470-478, 481-483, 493-495, 570

1 July 2014

Giving chickens fresh ground

It's the middle of winter, muddy and grey. Sometimes on rainy days my chickens spend much of the day "in bed" - in other words, up on their perch. This amuses me greatly!

At this time of year the soil never dries out, and that really matters to confined chickens. These wonderful birds love to spend their days scratching and pecking through mulch, finding and gobbling insects and other greeblies. And my silverbeet, of course. The stalky look is not good.

My favourite chicken, a 4 year old black Orpington, behind a
hen and chicken fern.

The vegetable munching of free-ranging chickens is a big problem. Another is that they poo on paths. (Well, why would they poo on the grass? That is where they peck and eat!) Children walk barefoot on paths and then into the house. So I fence my chickens into a pen. It's the only solution for most urban chicken keepers. Unfortunately at this time of year the pen's soil is quickly exhausted , and they end up on a hard, smelly pan of dirt.

The best option is to regularly move the pen. We don't have much space for that. Another option is to chuck lots of stuff, such as weeds or leaves, into the pen to create some mulch for them to scratch through. Every now and then I also dig over the soil, but when I did it recently my nostrils were greatly offended. I know chickens have a good sense of smell, so it must be a fairly torturous situation for them - their flooring, their entertainment and their dinner plate are all foul. It's too foul for my fowl.

But I can do better. I've come up with a way to give them a "holiday" on a bit of fresh ground. Earlier this month I went to the Fieldays (no spelling mistake, it really has only one d). I bought a bunch of horse-size electric fence posts for $40. I felt like a real farmer! I like the posts because they are light, but most importantly they are easy to get in and out of the soil, and therefore form the basis of an easily portable fence.

Back home I used strips of old clothing and whatever else I could find to tie some plastic garden mesh between the posts to make my moveable fence. The mesh is only 90 cm high - not high enough to imprison agile birds like brown shavers if they really want to escape - but I've noticed that on fresh ground they don't try.

So now my chickens have happy little breaks from their overused soil for a few hours at a time whenever the fancy takes me. I love watching them in their element, heads down and tails up, as they happily work hard at discovering goodies.

One of their favourite spots seems to be under our citrus trees. I suspect that they are eating something there does bad things to the citrus, which have whitefly and sooty mould. The slug damage to the ripe fruit weighing down our mandarin tree certainly seems to have stopped.

A tip: If you like to give your chickens fresh ground in this way, remember to give them a bowl of water in their temporary pen. They need to drink little and often, even in winter.

Can you spot the vege garden safe in the background?

This kind of ground is paradise for chickens. Remember, thousands of years ago they were junglefowl - give them a bit of jungle whenever you can!

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