Four Feathered Ladies

Posted by Nick  | 31 Mar 2015  | 3 comments

Our farm family grew by four over the weekend. What’s that in those boxes, peering out? Could it be…

There was a welcome party when we brought the mysterious arrivals out to the paddock. Mica and Echo were both equally curious about the strange whistles and scuffling coming from within.

What on earth…

You guessed it – four fancy fowl! Chickens! Finally! Downton Abbey fans rejoice; meet Lady Mary, Lady Rose, Lady Sybil, and Lady Edith.

Lady Mary is a silver laced Wyandotte (the one with white feathers edged in black). Lady Rose is a buff laced Wyandotte (the brown and white one). Lady Sybil is a Plymouth barred rock (the one that looks kind of like a zebra). Lady Edith is a blue Orpington (the big smoky grey one).

That blue stuff on them is a staining powder applied to areas that have been pecked by other chickens to apparently deter further pecking, and also disinfects wounds. Lady Sybil had been a victim of this pecking by another chicken at the breeder’s, and the powder had rubbed off on her sisters.

After unboxing, we gently picked each of the ladies up and introduced them to their new luxury accommodation. It may look rustic to us, but it’s five-star compared to the cramped cages they were bred in.

Both the cat and the duck were bugging us, so we let them in briefly to investigate the new arrivals.

What the duck?!

I don’t think Echo was particularly impressed to have a bunch of intruders desecrating what has been her private pad for the past month. Being the larger bird she’s already at the top of the pecking order, or rather above it. It’s because her regal duck-ness is vastly superior to their petty squabbling, you see.

Mica looked a little too predatory for our liking, and the chickens were offended at her presence, so hers was a one-time visit.

When the ladies are a little older they’ll be able to put this feline in her place.

When the chickens got a bit overwhelmed, both Echo and Mica were relegated to watching the commotion from high perches of their own.

Let me give you the grand tour of the ladies’ manor – we’ll call it Fowlton Abbey – which is an old coop that happened to be here when we bought the property. You might have read about how I built a self-sufficient watering system for them.

I also biffed together a set of nesting boxes and screwed on a bunch of roosting branches.

There was already a hole cut into the chicken coop, so I built a little wooden slider in case we needed to shut them in for any reason. We’re keeping them closed in overnight for a week to let them acclimate, but after that they’ll just be free ranging. This coop is temporary; we’d like to build a proper one someday.

The ladies’ food dispenser is designed to keep vermin out:

The idea is that chooks stand on a platform which opens a lid concealing the food. It’s built to only activate under a chicken’s weight, though I suppose a couple of really smart fat rats could work it out in tandem. It’s left open in “training mode” at the moment, so they don’t spook and can get accustomed to eating from it.

Already at their young age (eleven weeks) the ladies have quite distinct personalities, and it’s interesting watching them sort out their pecking order. Poultry politics begins.

Lady Mary is a bit of a bully, pecking everyone’s butt. Though Lady Rose won’t stand for that nonsense, so chases her off. Ladies Edith and Sybil seem close friends, both underdogs.

Lady Rose (probably at the top of the pecking order but not a snob about it) is the bravest. She even took to leaping up on Char’s shoulder a couple of times.

“I ain’t ‘fraid of no ape!”

We were concerned about getting them to drink from the chicken nipple watering system. We’ve heard it’s difficult to encourage them. We spent a while tapping the nipples, but part of the problem was that the ladies were still a bit timid in our presence. We tried coaxing them with a laser pointer, too, which caught their interest. But, alas, it wasn’t bright enough – and neither were they.

Char stayed a bit longer and eventually saw them all successfully drink from the nipples. Yay, the invention works!

We let them outside on their second day, where we sectioned off a small area with a temporary net, so as not to stun them with too much too soon.

They seemed to enjoy it out there, pecking around in what was their first taste of mud and grass, and basking in the sun. The four of us, Echo and Mica included, must have watched them for over an hour, just doing their thing.

It was a charming way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Welcome to the farm, Ladies Edith, Sybil, Mary, and Rose! We look forward to eating your delicious free range bum-nuts in a couple of months or so!



Dead Bodies in the Attic

Posted by Nick  | 30 Mar 2015  | 1 comment

In one of our bedrooms we noticed part of the ceiling was crumbling. When we went to clean it up, a number of dead wasps tumbled down. How curious. An attic investigation was imminent.

When we crawled up there – holy crap. Monstrous wasp nests, the biggest we’ve ever found.

Okay, so that one is about the size of a golf ball. Not so big. Kind of cute. But turn around and – whoa!

That whopper is about the size of a rock melon. Luckily, the nests up here are dead – evidenced by the hundreds of wasp corpses littering the ceiling panels. Thankfully someone before us had the sense to exterminate them. A good sign for us attic explorers:

As if the above nest wasn’t unsettling enough, down the other end of the attic we spotted the source of the crumbly ceiling and falling dead bodies…

Yikes! We were more than relieved that these colonies had already been wiped out. I shuddered at the thought of making this discovery with a swarm of angry wasps attacking me in a confined space.

When I moved closer to remove the humongous hive with a knife, I heard buzzing… I immediately scampered out of there on all fours, terrified that the nest had been repopulated by some vagrant swarm. I had no choice but to investigate, so I fashioned myself a weapon (where’s a flame thrower when you need one?).

Okay, so a knife on a stick is a pretty useless defensive weapon against an army of wasps, but my main goal here was to prod the nest from afar and watch for any angry scouts that might emerge. I poked the monstrosity a couple of times. Nothing. Then I saw the source of the buzzing. A damn lone blowfly! Of course, my paranoia had got the better of me. I closed in and cut the huge nest free from the roof.

These nests are more fragile than you might expect. They look like hardened mud, but actually consist of wood fibre arranged in delicate paper-thin layers. I carefully extracted them and brought them out into the daylight for inspection and for Char to see.

Kind of looks like a large brain. If your sense of humour is as dry as mine, you might call it a hive mind.

They’re actually quite beautiful structures, don’t you think?

This one’s patterns remind me of planet Jupiter with its swirly orange storms:

This is the smallest, whose flaky exterior had fallen away to reveal the vacant larvae cells within:

I bisected the medium-sized one to see if there were cells to be found in it, too. Sure enough, a latticework of larvae incubators took up most of the interior.

Unfortunately the larger of the three had its interior missing, which disintegrated when I was removing it. I cut it open nonetheless out of curiosity. What once looked like a brain now looks like a pair of lungs.

Again, I can’t stress how relieved I was that these nests were unoccupied. It’s a mass grave up there, so when it comes time to renovate this place I’m sure we’ll have lots of fun taking down the ceiling beneath a shower of wasp carcasses.

With nothing to fear, this was actually a pretty cool find.

Shitty Plumbing & Murphy’s Law

Posted by Nick  | 18 Mar 2015  | 6 comments

There’s a particular time that rolls around, usually annually, where everything starts breaking. I’m sure it’s like this for everyone, right? Planned obsolescence aside, it appears that Murphy’s Law is abound this time of year. Our lawn mower (a hand-me-down from my grandmother) recently kicked the bucket, and because we do a lot of mowing here (read hundred-metre bush strip), it was urgent that we replace it. Thankfully, our new modern one works a treat; starts with a single pull and purrs like a kitten. When it comes to mowing, there’s nothing more frustrating than spending half the time getting the contraption to start.

Mowers are not cheap, especially ones with bigger engines to handle the amount of work we need one for. You know what else doesn’t come cheap? House pumps. Yep, our half-a-century-old one that came with this place recently sprang a leak.

Let me say this: I have very little experience with plumbing or pumps (I have minimal understanding of how they even work). This ignorance resulted in an amusing, but at the time frightening, mishap.

Deciding to take the old pump to a service centre to be inspected, I had to figure out how to decouple the pipes. Do you see that (very retro) mustard coloured tank on top of the pump? That’s where the water is pressurised to provide the house taps with, you guessed it, pressure. This contains about, oh I don’t know, ten litres of water. Pressurised water. Explosively pressurised water.

My mistake was not decompressing this tank first. I did turn off the inlet valve, thinking that would suffice, but I should have run a tap until the pressure tank had emptied. I did not, however, so when I went to decouple the outlet pipe from the pump – BOOM! I was instantly saturated from head to foot in an explosion of water. Ten litres of water evacuated a twenty millimetre hole instantaneously. The explosion was ear-ringing and blew me backwards.

Fright. Of. My. Life.

For more than a few moments I couldn’t understand why in the world all my clothes and even my shoes were wet. Where had all this water come from? When I understood what had happened and realised I was unharmed, just shaken, I burst out laughing. As soon as Char saw me she burst out laughing too.

In a fresh set of dry clothes, my visit to the local service centre revealed that it would cost half the price of a new pump to repair the old one. How about nope. I think forty years or so is a decent lifespan for a pump, and it would only end up causing us future strife, so we opted for getting a new one. Here’s that shiny new bad boy:

Figuring out how to hook it all up was actually pretty easy – there was no reason to be overwhelmed at the prospect, as I was. The old external laundry/tool shed where the pump lives will be taken down in the foreseeable future, so for now our new pump sits temporarily on a cinder block inside.

Less than a couple of days after installing the new pump, another plumbing mishap occurred which can only be described as horrifying to us green country-folk who are short on water. We lost an entire tank’s worth overnight – gone – emptied onto the lawn. The reason for this: Shitty plumbing.

It’s obvious this old cottage has likely never been scrutinised by a building inspector. Everything – the plumbing, wiring, even parts of the structure – seems retrofitted and thrown together with whatever was lying around. Take, for instance, this maze of plumbing under the house with all its superfluous joiners and odd shortcuts:

I’m a stickler for tidiness, so this really bothers me. The “that’ll do” attitude for permanent solutions makes me squirm. Also, these laundry taps… they’re just… wrong:

So because our sexy new pump is a bit stronger than its predecessor, the multitude of excessive joints in the plumbing began springing leaks of their own. Then one morning we were rudely awoken to find the entirety of our house water tank had been emptied onto the lawn, thanks solely to a poorly fitted pipe.

There’s the culprit. Someone hadn’t bothered to tighten the nut on the pipe properly because, I’m guessing, it was too annoying pressed up to the wood post like that. So yeah, without any secure mechanism to stop the flow, our new pump powered through fifteen thousand litres of rain water overnight, which we’d just recently caught in an unexpected, and much needed, downpour. Losing that much water in the middle of summer is, well… I won’t make an attempt at dry humour here.

Had Murphy not been running his errands this time of year, this might have happened during the daytime when we would have noticed it, rather than when we bloody slept!

I recall now that it wasn’t actually that long before that we had a similar incident happen with the laundry toilet. Luckily, Char noticed the plumbing had come loose before we lost any significant amount of water. That should have clued us on to checking other connections about the place. As you can see, this particular toilet’s plumbing includes a length of, yep, GARDEN HOSE:

Good job, mate. Ah well, in retrospect it’s all a bit of a laugh. Looking forward to redoing this forsaken plumbing – the whole lot. And mark my words, it’ll be a god-damn masterpiece.