Friday, September 25, 2009

Coons Had a Chicken Dinner

Those triplet raccoons living under our deck just wore out their welcome. They actually pried open a sliding "chicken door," a small hatch-type door that slides down between two wooden flanges. They pulled hard enough to bust one of the flanges, and treated themselves to one 3-month-old chick each.

Naturally one of the victims was the prettiest one, the Brahma. Coons have discerning taste, evidently.

Anyway, I reinforced everything so that can't happen again, but I'm down to seven chicks. I like to keep 10-12 layers at a time, so I'll go get some more this weekend. I'll keep them separate, since they're younger, and that way I'll have staggered laying, as their molt should hit at a different time than the current flock.

When chickens molt--- which they do about once a year--- they pretty much shut down, laying-wise. Takes a couple weeks before they're back to work, and usually each molt slows their production a bit. By their third molt, they're usually played out from a production standpoint.

By the way, I think I'm gonna live-trap the coons and relocate them. I'll post some pix if I decide to do that.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What's That Funny Lookin' Bird?

One of the drawbacks of having property in the Santa Monica foothills is the extreme fire danger, and the resulting difficulty in finding affordable home/fire insurance. CalFair is required to offer insurance to all who are otherwise refused; but I decided a little over 10 years ago to take a different tack.

I became a "farm," eligible for farm insurance (and much lower rates with better coverage) by fencing some pasture area and running emus. Originally I was going to "board" another guy's breeder birds, but he flaked on me after I fenced in an acre-and-a-half or so. So, I ordered some emu babies from Kansas (it was much cheaper to buy the and fly them here than to buy them in CA, go figure).

Now the survivors (two were lost to coyotoes when small) have paired up and wander around the property, trading feed for insurance discounts.

They're not much good for grazing--- I was hoping they'd help with weed abatement, but no such luck. On the other hand, they're very easy residents. Once fully grown they require no shelter, no special attention, just food and water. They eat "Ratite Maintenence" pellets from Star Milling, and they love a treat of grapes now and then.

Emus pair up, so my two male/female pairs each stick together, occasionally chasing each other if they feel they're being encroached upon. The male sets the eggs; at their peak they lay about 30 big, emerald green eggs per season (Nov-Mar). Once the male feels he's got a clutch of eggs he'll set them for about 60 days, with very little movement, no food, no water to speak of. He just goes kind of comatose, rising once in a while to turn the eggs.

I don't raise chicks; I remove the eggs and give them to friends, donate them to museums and schools, keep a few for conversation pieces, etc. Four emus is all I want, and there's not much of a market for selling chicks right now.

Here's a quick video where I talk a little about "Blue," my most tame emu. They're all very docile, but he's downright friendly--- and lazy as hell, as you can see...

Thanks to Sean Arenas for the videocam work. You can see Sean's other work here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Composting with Worms: Vermiposting

Here in the volcanic foothills of the Santa Monica mountains in Southern California, the "soil" is mostly rock. In order to have any kind of respectable vegetable garden (or grow much of anything that isn't a native chaparral plant, for that matter) you have to create soil.

I do that by scavenging around for dirt (sometimes I pick up fill dirt from Craigslist) and composting practically everything. Kitchen waste, leaves, horse manure from neighbors, chicken manure and shavings from my chickens, grass trimmings from a neighbor, you name it. There's no such thing as food waste here; if leftovers don't get fed to the chickens, they get fed to the worms, or to one of the big compost bins.

As you can see from this video, I use a small vermiposting (the technical term for worm composting) "station" for table scraps and other random food. I also have a large outdoor bin for bigger loads.

The cool thing about one of these little stations is that you can use them indoors. They don't smell, they're easy to manage--- perfect even if you live in an apartment, and you want to practice composting while you're saving up for your suburban ranch. I got this one (and an initial load of red wrigglers) from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm.

I especially love the worm compost for my tomatoes. Mixing that stuff into the soil is like giving my tomatoes crack, they just go crazy. Very high nitrogen content, I'd guess.

If you want to learn more about vermiposting, I recommend the "bible" on the subject, "Worms Eat My Garbage." Here's a link to the book at Amazon.