Saturday, 26 July 2014

What happens when a chicken moults...?

All chickens moult. Its a normal thing for them to do, and, they need to do it. Moulting gives them a rest from laying eggs and a chance to build up the reserves of various mineral and vitamins that they used up when they laid all those eggs for you! Chickens tend to moult as it gets colder, so Autumn-ish time, in most climates. Here in Brisbane, it doesn't get terribly cold in Winter. Our sub-tropical winters are quite mild by comparison to most, and as such, my chickens seem to moult whenever they damn well please! In colder climates, they seem to moult, grow back their feathers but not start laying properly again until spring creeps over the window sill.

I noticed my wee Pekin bantam had gone off the lay and so I tried to get some photos of the moulting process so you can see what it looks like. Its not always easy to spot, but the first sign is usually that they go off the lay. Chickens tend to lay on a 25 hour cycle and so will lay an hour later each day on average. Its got to do with the length of the day and the age of the chicken - so don't set your alarm clock to them!

 
This is Dawn, my wee Pekin bantam about two years old, in full feather while she was laying.
See how she is nice and smooth and plump?
 
If they have been off the lay for over a week, keep an eye on them and see if you can see them losing feathers. They generally lose them starting at the head, then the body and the tail feathers are last.

 
In this photo, Dawn is looking a bit ragged around the edges. Not as sleek and well groomed as she usually is.

 
Can you see her cute double tail feathers...?

 
I certainly noticed when that fell out!
They don't loose all their head feathers and then all the body feathers and then all the tail feathers and become bald. Its a much slower process and the head feathers are usually growing back at the same time the tail feathers are dropping off.
 
 
Over all she is a lighter colour as her feathers drop out you start to see the bases of the remaining feathers. She isn't as tightly feathered or as uniformly coloured as she was. Its not always easy to see...

 
If you look carefully (you may have to blow this picture up a bit) you can see the new feathers on her backside growing back. Those little bobbly things hanging down are the new downy ruffles starting to grow back.

 
The lose up to 60% of their feathers. Mine don't usually get big bald patches, but that can happen too. If they do lose big patches and have skin showing, keep an eye on them that the others don't start pecking at the bare skin. Chickens are brutal and once they draw blood they often wont stop pecking until the chicken is dead. Red and blood make them a bit crazy, I think. If they are pecking at a moulting flock mate, separate out the pecked chicken and clean up all the blood. Try popping the pecked chicken in an isolation pen inside the main pen until the fathers grow back or she may lose her place in the pecking order when you put her back in with the others.
 
 
This is our isolation pen. Storm had a cold and this was the only way to force her to eat the antibiotics. She got locked in here with the doctored food until it was gone. As this was for a short time (an hour at most) it was in the backyard where I could see when she had finished the food with the antibiotics. If she needed to be in it all day, I would have put this cage in the big pen so they could see each other and talk but not hurt her.
 
 It took less than two weeks for a very sick chicken who had to sleep in our room so we could watch/medicate her at night to lose her place in the flock. She was about fourth or fifth but is now at the bottom and seems to be staying there.
 
 
This is Storm. She is a blue Leghorn and a bit older - maybe 3-4 years. When she moults, her comb goes lighter - more pink than red, it flops over a lot more and she looks a bit shabby too.

 
She lost a lot of feathers on her backside. 
 

 
But Misty lost the most this year!!
Poor wee thing - you'd think she had been through the lawn mower!
 
The higher up the pecking order your chickens are, the less hassle they will have with the moulting process. The newer ones or the babies who will automatically be lower in rank, may get a hard time. I have found that my chickens can get quite sick before I notice it even though I spend time with them every day. For a chicken in a flock, its important not to show any weakness and be left out or pecked to death, and so they tend to do all the normal things you would expect them to do and then simply drop dead for what looks like no apparent reason.
 
Some chickens lose colour in the skin, legs and heads as they lay eggs. This bleaching of various minerals is normal and this is where they store the supply of minerals etc for their eggs. When they moult, they seem to eat as much as they did when they were laying and if you watch carefully, you may see the colour come back into the skin, face and legs. (If the wattles and comb are blue-ish - this is really bad and not normal. You may need to see a vet)
 
I find there is a big gap - sometimes months - between looking like they have finished moulting and laying eggs. I think its because they don't have enough of a certain mineral and, like humans, wont ovulate until the body conditions are right. If you are tracking your chickens moult and you think it has been to long, try changing the feed. Some feeds are too low in calcium, protein and other bits and pieces and they may simply not be getting enough of something to start laying again. Also make sure you are worming them regularly as worms can take be quite a burden on them.
 
Pop into a local produce place and see what multivitamins they have for chickens or buy them a bag of mixed grain for a treat if they seem to be taking too long to come back on the lay. Let them free range if you can or maybe throw them a bone or two from last nights stew. I have heard of people popping a bit of road kill into the pen as a treat but I find I cant get a whole dead kangaroo in to the boot of my hatchback - just kidding - I haven't tried it but they do go very silly over any meat scraps that end up in the pen...
 
Some chickens look fine and loose very few feathers for the whole moult. Others look like they have been through the lawn mower backwards! I also find my more temperamental chooks (Especially my Aracana's) get even more flighty and nervous when they are moulting. Placid chooks often sail through without too many issues. They stop laying eggs, don't seem to lose any feathers and then three months later, start laying eggs again for the next nine months!
 
Once your chickens have been through a moult, their eggs will get fewer but bigger! In the egg industry most chickens are allowed to live until their first moult - that is the first year while they are laying every day. Once they go into moult (and the "farmers" use lighting to ensure they stay laying for as long as possible) they are turned into dog food. Some are allowed to moult as there is a demand for larger eggs as well. Once these girls reach their second moult, its the dog food can for them too.
 
I have a couple of girls who are over five and they may only pop out an egg or two a fortnight, but by golly, they are huge! I wouldn't want to be popping out something that big every day, that's for real!
 
Enjoy the moulting process and spoil your girls - they deserve it after all the hard work they have put into producing beautiful eggs for you!
 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

"The high price of materialism" - a video by Tim Kasser

I was cruising some blogs that I read and came across this video on No Impact Man - Colin Bevan's blog and just had to share it with you in case you hadn't seen it yet.

Its called "The High Price of Materialism" and expresses things that I had thought but hadn't been able to put into words (or pictures!). I think people who read green-y, eco friendly, homesteading, values based lifestyle type blogs and websites probably consciously or maybe even unconsciously, would agree with a lot of what Tim Kasser says; and draws!

Its a very succinct and basic answer to the question - How do I live my life, if my life isn't about buying things and getting the next payrise...?

Building and living a life that expresses and promotes intrinsic values is the answer. How each of us do that is an individual response. Some will have no TV's, others limit the time the spend with it on. Some garden and produce their own food, other buy local organic veges. Some of us will be vegetarian, some locavores, and others totally organic. Some of us volunteer, some of us blog, some of us build strong family ties, some build community when they walk the dog. I think a lot of  us do a lot of these things because it feels good, but for me, it was interesting to see it in words and see the greater logic and impact of what I have been bumbling around doing in my own little world!

Have a look at the video and let me know what you think!

 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Patching big holes in the seat of jeans!

Just recently I have had a hole patching frenzy with lots of jeans in this house! It can be very frustrating to rip a hole in those favourite oh-so-comfortable jeans and render them useless. Unless you have no neighbours to be offended the sight of a bit of backside hanging out of your jeans that is! I got quite good at patching those stress tears that happen across the worn seat of your jeans, and sometimes, on the inner thigh. The patch isn't going to stand in for a $200 a seat Gala Charity Night outfit, but will be just fine for casual, garden or around the house wear.

Here's what I did...

 
You can see the stress tear across the seat of the pants. Its not a tear where its been caught on something, just where its worn out, and then you bend over - that's all those jeans could take!

 
First I pinned them together with long quilting pins as well as I could, so that the two halves of the hole are where they should be.

 
Then I turned then inside out and cut a patch from our "sacrificial" jeans (especially kept to repair other jeans) to a fair bit bigger than the actual hole.
 
Pin the patch to the inside of the jeans so you know it is where it is meant to be - covering the whole hole with some well over the edges. Then turn the jeans back the right way and put more pins in the top side to hold the patch from the outside instead of the inside - and take the inside pins out. It needs to be sewn from the top side and you cant see pins on the inside and if the machine needle hits one you might break it.
 

 
Then sew in a zig-zag, well beyond the tear, back and forth across the tear using your back stich button. I found that the tear always opens up, hence using lots of pins in the first instance. Take the pins out as you move across the tear with the sewing machine.

 
The take the jeans out and rearrange it all so the you can do the same thing but along the tear - rather than across it as we did last time. The idea is to give as much support to the underlying good piece of material as possible. Its almost like re weaving the material! Go back and forth as many times as you think it needs, always going well beyond the edges of the tear to give as much support the worn material as possible. You can do this as many times as you think it needs. The wider the gap and the more worn the material - the more zig-zagging I do.
 
 
Keep the patch underneath as flat as possible and keep checking that you haven't caught it under the needle on your way across. I keep running my hands over it checking for bumps.
 
 
When you find one - just snip away the threads that have caught the patch and resew over that area again. With so much stitching running back and forth, you probably wont have the patch unstitch itself.
 
 
Its not the most glamorous patch in the world but it gives me (another) pair of garden/work jeans that are still very comfortable!

 
The inside isn't going to win any fine stitchery awards at a local show, but since not many people are going to see it - it doesn't have to be a work of art! The new strong material and all the lines of stitching should take the pressure off the strained and weak material letting you get quite a bit more wear out of what otherwise, is a perfectly good pair of jeans.

 
Snip of any excess material being careful not to cut the lines of stitching and pop your jeans back on!

Having fixed four pairs of jeans over the weekend (not all of them mine!) I got this down to a fine art. I wore these patched jeans this week I can say that after the first few wears, I didn't notice the patch anymore. When I bend over, there isn't as much give in the back of them as there was - but that's probably a good thing (and reminds me to bend my knees more).

Its a good quick solution to keep wearing jeans that otherwise are good. This works with knee patches as well as long as its a tear and not a gaping hole. We sacrificed the oldest most worn jeans we had between us to patch all the other jeans but any solid, thick robust material would work - but its going to show through the patch when its finished so pick a colour that you don't mind people mistaking for your undies!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for not sending something to land fill 
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for using things you already have and not spending any money at all.
Time cost: About 20 minutes a patch - some of its a bit fiddly.
Skill level: Back and forth straight line sewing.
Fun-ness: It was fun to present various family members with their favourite jeans able to be worn again!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Refilling old candle holders with new home made candles!

I had a number of nice wee candles that had burnt down to the bottom of their containers. They were too nice to throw away and I decided that I might be able to refill them with some more wax that I had lying around and use them again. Jumping straight in as I am apt to do.... I learnt a bit about candle making the hard way!

Here's what I did...


 
First I gathered up all my old wax. I scooped the wax out of old candles by either melting it for popping the whole container in the freezer for 10 minutes or so - most of the wax just popped out of its container after that!

 
I bought a length of candle wick from my local handcraft store. This was 6 meters and cost me $4.

 
I used the double boiler method of melting all my wax together. I used an old tuna can as I was only planning on filling four small candles. Don't let any water boil over into your wax. It will make your candles go funny...

 
I gently stirred the wax as it melted.

 
I measured the depth of the candle holders and then doubled that to cut my wicks.
 
 
I prised a couple of wick holders off the bottom of some candle holders - the glue just peeled off - and then I forced the hole open with the tine of a fork and threaded the wick through and tied a knot. I used two threads from the wick but once I had made the candle and lit it, I wished I had left the wick whole with all the threads. I think it holds itself up better and burnt better.

 
To stick the wick holder where I wanted it, I dunked it in the hot wax a couple of times...

 
And then used a (fondue) fork to push it into place at the bottom of the container.

 
Then I wrapped the top of the wick around a pencil and held it in place with a peg. This is why you need the extra length. This is so the wick stays in the centre of the candle when you pour the wax in. 

 
When I went to pour the wax into my prepared candle holders, I discovered that it was going to be hard to pour from my tin can and so I had to squeeze the tin until I had made a spout. Would have been better to do this before I started and without hot wax in the container...!

 
There are a number of ways to clean up spilt wax...
But I prefer to be safe than sorry and to pour carefully and slowly and to put newspaper down, than to clean up wax spills!

 
As it turned out, all my odds and sods of wax melted together to make a lavender colour for me and were scented to boot! I think normal colour mixing rules will apply. Red and white wax will make pink candles. Yellow and red will make orange. And green, red and blue will make a cacky brown... (which may be ok in the right setting...)

 
Once I had poured my candles, I read some bits and pieces about if the wax wasn't hot enough it gathers around the wick and makes a bump in the middle of the candle. For me, that's not a biggie as these are just for me to play around with and enjoy. Once I had done a little research, I can recommend that you do it before you start to play rather than afterwards!

 
The next day I was surprised to see that each candle had a neat little hole in it!
It turns out to be a perfectly normal thing to happen and you have to do a second pour the next day when the candle is completely set. So make sure you save some wax for that! (See what I mean about read first, pour second!)

 
So with the scraps of wax I still had lying around, I melted it and tried to pour it neatly into  the holes... I'm not sure I succeeded!?!

 
Once the new wax had set (the next day) I then I cut the wicks to a centimetre or so and lit the wicks.
 
It all seemed to work fairly well to start with. As the candle melted down a centimetre or so, my wicks started falling over and putting the candle out. I think my wicks are too thin and unable to hold themselves once there was a full layer of melted  wax.
 
They have been fun to play with and it was a pleasant way to spend an hour or so in the backyard one afternoon but I think I'm a long way from making professional looking (and behaving) candles!
 
There seems to be quite a bit of info floating around on the web on how to make candles but for an afternoons project that sets you back $4 and an hour or so, you don't need to get over excited with equipment and an overload of information. After all, you can always remelt any candle you make that you aren't happy with!  
 
A few tips though - don't use crayons or food colouring to colour you candles. They are made from different materials and wont mix properly with the wax and make a nice colour or candle. The food colouring I tried is water based and simply wouldn't mix in with the wax last time I tried this. 
 
And due to the holes that will appear - its a two day project!

Once I had had a play and discovered some of the pit falls - I found these great instructions at Cajun Candles. Have a read before you start to play!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for reusing wax and containers that might otherwise end up in landfill! 
Frugal-ness: $4 for a number of afternoons fun has got to be a bargain!
Time cost: About and hour the first afternoon and maybe 15 minutes for the second pour the next day.
Skill level: quite easy, if you track down a few instructions first!
Fun-ness: I had a very pleasant afternoon playing with melted wax. Quite therapeutic indeed!

Friday, 4 July 2014

Making a lucky horseshoe for a wedding!

With my niece getting married next weekend, I thought I had better get started on making the horseshoe I had promised to make her. Her Mom had sent me a sample colour and I had my own one made for me for my wedding by my Aunty as a template... so all I had to do was get started. Its not easy to make something for someone else when you are in another country and can't easily see the style's and themes she is thinking about - but I gave it a go,

The one my aunty made me for our wedding!

Here's what I did...

I used the sample to match the ribbon and flowers to. I didn't want it to be just two colours so I chose lighter and a darker blue flowers to go with the sky blue as well as the white and some silver ribbon to add a highlight.





I managed to find a couple of very cheap and almost plain horseshoes at the op shops and used them as a base by taking off the decorations already on them. I discovered later that there are cardboard templates that you cover easily available from large craft shops ( and probably $2 shops too!)



Lace off cuts are everywhere and you only need a small piece to go around the outside. Glue or sew on depending on your patience! And then for a final touch I added some charms:
Frog for us, Heart with a key, H and T (their initials) and a dolphin as part of their honeymoon will be on the Gold Coast. (Tied on with thick silver thread)

 

 And voila! 2 lucky wedding horseshoes for my beautiful soon-to-be -wedded niece Hazel!

  


Googling 'wedding horseshoe' in image search is a good place to get ideas from. Starting with bases that were already covered gave me a head start. Then it was just a case of sewing, tying or gluing parts on. Now I've got to get it over the Tasman Sea flat and in one piece!


Score card:
Green-ness: 4/5 Using recycled and unused bits and bobs makes it a green wedding project!
Frugal-ness: 4/5 Raiding my boxes (and my neighbours box) of bits and made this a very fugal project. Ribbon and flowers are not too expensive new - but I like to recycle. That's a "something old' - even if she doesn't know that!
Time cost: Starting took me nearly a week. The first one took about two hours and the second about 1/2 an hour. I think I had got more confident since the first one!
Skill level: Cutting and pasting - with a few stitches here and there. Pretty basic!
Fun -ness: Its great fun making something that you hope she will have for a long time to come!

Friday, 27 June 2014

How to make your own bread board and spoon butter!

My bread boards were in dire need of a bit of TLC. Occasionally I smoothed them over with a bit olive oil but it seemed to wash/wear off quickly... Some of my wooden spoon were getting a bit dried out as well and looking decidedly second hand so I decided to have a look on the net and see what oil I could use to bring them back to their former glory...

Of course, the net was full of wonderful ideas and recipe's. I found one that I thought would work for me. It was a recipe for spoon butter



Here's what I did...

 
Spoon butter, I quickly discovered, was easy to make and just what was needed. To make spoon butter you need a wide mouthed jar and some beeswax and some paraffin oil. My beeswax was in the third drawer down (goodness knows what else is hidden in this treasure drawer) and the paraffin came from Woolies for the princely sum of about $2.50. The wide mouthed jar came from my jar collection - just make sure it will hold about 250ml for this recipe. 
 
--Spoon Butter--
 
50gms of pure beeswax
200mls of paraffin oil
Jar that can hold about 250mls
 


 
Clean your jar and then pop it into a pot of simmering water with the beeswax cut up into small pieces. Gently melt the beeswax.

 
When the wax has melted, slowly add the paraffin oil. It will be colder than the beeswax and make the mixture go lumpy. Just continue to heat and stir gently until it all melts together again.

 
The mixture smells and looks just like honey at this stage!

 
Either leave it in the pot over night to set or if you can lift it from the pot (pop the lid back on first in case it tips) leave it on the bench over night to solidify.

 
And in the morning you get a jar of creamy spoon butter!

 
It smells beautiful!

 
Get out all your wooden bits and pieces
 

Dig out a scoop with your hands and slather all over your breadboard, wooden spoons and anything with a and unvarnished wooden handle.
 

 
 
 
Its not so easy to photograph but you can see the difference between the two breadboards - in colour anyway!

 
Before (left) and after (right) pictures... The difference under fluoro light isn't so great on the mass produced stuff but my hand made spoon came up just wonderfully. Leave the butter on your utensils overnight and then in the morning, wipe of any excess and buff with an old piece of cotton material.

 
I can highly recommend spoon butter for both your spoons and your breadboards!
 
For this project I used medicinal grade paraffin oil found in the "medicine" isle at the supermarket. Its sold as an "old fashioned" cure for constipation and can be taken orally. I figured that if you could drink the stuff then it would be ok to use on things that you cooked with.
 
The original spoon butter recipe that I found on 3191 miles apart blog used the paraffin oil, but of course after you find and make something you almost always find an tweak that you wished you had tried! Heidi over at 101 Cookbooks used Coconut oil for her spoon butter - a tweak I will try next time I make some. She says the coconut scent it impregnates the wood with, is divine. She is also against using by products of the petrochemical industry which paraffin oil is and coconut oil isn't!

Spoon butter would make a fabulous Christmas gift for the cooks that you know - but I noticed that my label became "oiled" quite quickly... Maybe a laminated tag with instructions would work better.

I also found that the spoon butter soaked into my hands and left them feeling really good. Maybe pop a few drops of your favourite essential oil in and use it as an intensive hand cream instead of using it as spoon butter...?

I'm quite keen to try this with the coconut oil now - I just need more wooden things to put it on!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for using natural products to extend the life of your utensils
Frugal-ness: 3/5 depending on what oils you have/use and wether you can find a bit of beeswax in your third drawer down!
Time cost: About 10 minutes to make, overnight to set and a minute or two to massage each utensil.
Skill level: If you can boil and egg - you'll be just fine!
Fun-ness: Its was really good fun to smooth the butter all over the spoons and left my hands smelling of honey!
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