Saturday, February 21, 2015

F is for Flock Block

There are lots of recipes for these around the web - the Flock Block, otherwise known as a bird seed cone.  I decided to adapt recipes I found online to suit what I had to hand. You can use anything really, the only required ingredients being some eggs and an oil of some sort to act as a binder.  This is a baked flock block, hence the inclusion of eggs.  I did see quite a few recipes that used an animal fat (such as lard or other fat that's solid at room temperature) but whilst these might suit a climate with cold winters below zero, that would just fall apart in our much milder Australian weather, particularly when it gets over 40C here in summer!

So here is what I used, mainly as this is what I had to hand:

  • 2 cups mixed grain
  • 1 cup crushed egg shells (I like to recycle, but shell grit would do just as well)
  • 1 cup pellets
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 5-6 bantam eggs (or 4 standard eggs), lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup treacle (or molasses, honey or similar)
  • 1/2 - 1 cup vegetable oil

Mix together all the the dry ingredients in a bowl.  Mix together all the wet ingredients except for the vegetable oil.  Add wet ingredients to dry, mixing well, and then gradually add in the vegetable oil until you get a mix that's wet enough to stick together well when a handful in squeezed into a ball.  The amount of vegetable oil you need will obviously depend on the dryness of your mix ingredients.

Put into a lined tin - I used two loaf tins, and this produced blocks about 2-3 cm deep.  Use a chopstick or similar to poke a hole in the mix to use for hanging it later. Bake at 200C for about 20 minutes until starting to brown.  Cool, attach string, and hang for your chickens to enjoy! 

Other suggestions to add:

  • Meal worms
  • Peanut butter
  • Wheat germ
  • Any other seeds you have
Our chooks took a day or two to figure out what to do with it, but once they got the idea, the entire thing was demolished within about 2 days!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

E is for egg tracking: Eggspense review

Usually I just get a pen and put a few marks on my wall calendar to track how many eggs the girls lay each day, but I've long had it in the back of my mind to look into writing an app to do it.  Of course it's been done already!

I was after something that would record how many eggs we got each day so I could look at totals and patterns over the year, and maybe put in extra things that it would be nice to track, such as when I worm them (and be able to set reminders).

I'm notoriously cheap when it comes to buying software but I thought it would be nice to have something on my phone, so after a little bit of searching backyard chicken and egg forums, I decided to give eggspense a try, as it works on Android.  I think it only cost me a couple of dollars.  It doesn't allow me to put in reminders, but it does record the expenses of keeping chickens so you can work out how much it costs per egg!  This is a constant refrain of Mr Potter, who insists that the chickens aren't earning their keep.  Well of course not, they're pets as well as egg producers - the whippets certainly aren't a cost neutral exercise either!  But seriously, I've been a bit concerned about the egg quota lately - it seems to me that with 5 young chickens we should be getting more than 2 eggs per day on average in the laying season.  It's been a bit hot lately, and they do tend to lay a bit less when things are scorching, but overall its's been a mild summer and not unbearable like the summer before Rose was born.

So here's the first two weeks of egg tallying.   I haven't bought any feed lately, so there's nothing under expenses as yet.

The plot that I've shown here I've actually recoloured in Irfanview (best freebie imaging editor around for quick and dirty fixes and ease of use!). So here's my first bit of feedback for the developers: what's with the dark blue dots on black background for your charts?  And the tiny tiny font on the chart?

And I couldn't manage to share this chart directly with blogger, but it was easy enough to download and save, which I need to do so I could edit the colours!

On the plus side, the app's pretty easy to use, and I generally remember to put the egg numbers in straightaway as I'm rarely without my phone, which couldn't be said for the old method of writing it down on the calendar in my study.  It would be great to also be able to set reminders of things such as worming though, or just log other things of note, such as when they moult or when a broody hen might affect the egg numbers.

After six months or so, when I've averaged out the expenses over a decent length of time, I'll post an update on how much it really is costing me to produce eggs!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

D is for Dried apricots

After our recent apricot harvest, we got a bit sick of eating them.  By we, I mean Rose (who didn't seem to like them much) and me, since Dad doesn't eat fruit.  Plus some of them were a bit overripe and squishy for my taste.  So I decided to dehydrate them in the oven.

First, halve the apricots and remove the stones, plus any squished or bruised bits.  You can treat them with ascorbic acid supposedly to stop them going brown when they dry - I had ok results, but didn't really try to improve things.  I found a great article online which covered all the detail.

Anyway, I crushed 500mg of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) tablets using a mortar and pestle, and dissolved the powder in 1 litre of water.  Soak your prepared apricots for 5 minutes or so and then drain and dry well.

Spread out to dry - I used a pizza tray as it had holes on the bottom to help with the drying. Leave the oven on the lowest setting possible (mine goes down to 50C) for as long as it takes.  I left mine in for 24 hours, but they probably could have done with a bit longer.  I used the fan forced option on my oven, as I think that ideally the temperature should be as uniform as possible.  I didn't leave the door ajar, but did crack it open fairly frequently to let the steam escape.

You can see the results in the photo - they do taste good!  As they don't have any preservatives, the article above recommends freezing or vacuum packing to prevent mould growth.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

C is for cucumbers

Cucumbers are one of the few vegetables (along with peas and possibly cauliflower) that Rose will actually eat.  So this year I planted 3 Lebanese mini munchers, from Diggers' Club.  I chose these ones as the actual cucumbers are quite small, to suit my small plots, and I've trained them over the wire that encloses each plot.  As my plots aren't that big, I'm always looking for ways to increase how much I can cram into them, so training them seemed like a good idea.  They have tendrils to climb with, but don't seem to climb without some help, being happier to sprawl over the ground.

After a slow start, they're cropping really well.  I get maybe a half dozen each week now, with plenty on the way.  They're lovely and crunchy.  But it looks like the natives (mice?) have found them too. Fortunately, I think there's enough to go around, although I have been picking them a bit earlier than I would ideally like to make sure we don't lose too many.

While I'm here, seems like a good time for a panorama update. We've just done a top up of all the mulch in the backyard (six cubic metres of pine bark) as it was wearing very thin with the whippets doing laps down the bottom and then up over the lawn.  I'm forever trying to repair the lawn, although summer is probably not the best time for it.  Amazing how much greener everything looks with a dark base to set it off.