Meet Hewie, Dewie & Lewie, our new Silver Sebrights!

It’s been a busy week! Dad is in town, and next week I start a new job, so several projects needed to be completed, one of which is the chicken coop.

Finally! Around two years ago we started researching quail. That idea went through several changes – at one point it had turned into a duck adventure – but finally the confusion cleared and now we have a small coop/run large enough for a handful of bantams.

Pro’s of going with bantams:

  • They are compact – we live in city and on a fairly small lot.
  • Less sound/smell/mess – hopefully, we will see.
  • Will allow me to move the coop closer to the house for easier maintenance.
  • Will get me used to the idea of taking care of animals (other than feeding wild birds and the indoor dogs.)

And the con’s:

  • Expensive for their size, aka not worth the money since they don’t lay eggs often. (Ours aren’t laying yet, and while they will lay less than standard hens, they will give me good experience)
  • Poor layers. (Again, this is more of a con for an established farmer or someone solely wanting the chickens for the eggs)

We ended up bringing home three female Silver Sebrights. Wow they are pretty. We didn’t expect to bring home something so fancy, but I guess most bantams are show birds anyway. They may as well be pretty to look at. Hewie is on the left – she is a bit larger and seems to be the leader. Dewie and Lewie seem to be chill. Dewie is in the middle and has darker plumage. Lewie is on the right.

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Here are some notes on Sebrights provided by MyPetChicken.com.

The coop is more or less a mix of plans that looked like they would work for our space. We started with a very sturdy, homemade dog house. From there we cut out floors, doors and covered it with 1/2″ hardware cloth. Roosting boxes were made from old plastic milk crates that were cut in half and mounted to the wall.

new chicken coop
The new chicken coop near the end of construction.

The run is made of untreated 2×4’s and is wrapped with a sturdy chicken wire. Since our chickens are close to the house, and securely locked in the coop at night we decided that chicken wire would be ok.  In any other case we would have used the 1/2″ wire on the run as well.

It’s not complete yet, but as we learn more we can tweak it a bit. So far the chickens seem content, and the dogs have not torn the coop down so I consider it a success!

chickens pinterest

 

 

 

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Rendering fat for making bird suet.

Earlier this year, a friend offered us several bags of fat from their uncles processed pigs. Being avid birders, we immediately thought of using the fat for suet, and gladly accepted.

As usual, we had more ideas than time, and the suet sat in the freezer for almost a year. Finally we allocated time for the project, and researched suet recipes online. Usually when trying something new, I will look for similar recipes. In my mind, consistency like this means a greater chance of success.  For suet ideas and ingredients, I relied on a several sites.  Wildbirdscoop.com  and The Farmers Almanac will get you started.

My ingredients changed last minute –  over the last few months, I kept scraps of bread, leftover nuts and such to be chopped up and added to the suet. Unfortunately, I moved it from the freezer to the fridge too early and it molded. That went into the trash, and I scanned the kitchen for items to include. The final ingredient list included peanut butter, oats, a standard bird seed mix, and a partial quart bag of West Virginia blackberries.

My tips for ingredients are to make sure everything is dry and similar in size so that your suet will stay together in a single piece.  In the first batch, I added berries that were too wet, which caused the suet to crumble, which is messy, and will lead to the suet falling from your feeder.

You need to have your ingredients ready before you render your fat, as you will need to add it to the warm fat so it can be molded into the size and shape you desire.  We tried 2 forms for the completed suet: a mini muffin tin and a 9×9 Pyrex dish (both lined with plastic wrap).

Once your rendered fat is strained and still warm, we added our “good stuff” ingredients, which were berries, oats, and bread – basically everything but the store bought bird seed. Once that was mixed in, I added bird seed in small, half-cup batches, until the mix looked thick and filled with ingredients for the birds. By this time, the mixture had cooled, and I carefully made small balls of suet and flattened each ball in the mini muffin tin. Once that was full, the remainder went into the pyrex dish.

Important note: some recipes say you should render the fat 2 times so it ends up harder. I would recommend this!  I only rendered once, and the result was very soft suet. The mini muffin suet blocks work well, but will melt quickly. I keep them in the freezer until needed. The pyrex dish never got hard, and since its in a large dish it had to be divided into smaller chucks. The pro of having softer suet it that it can be rubbed onto tree bark, which the wood peckers loved, but for general use, I would render twice.

For the process of rendering the fat, which I had never done, I relied on Good Cookery, which has provided an instructional video.

I won’t transcribe the entire rendering process, mostly because I found myself referring to that video while I actually rendered the fat, pausing when needed, to ensure that my product was looking similar.

Here are a few pics of the finished product, with some pics of the fat as it’s rendered.

Oh, it’s also worth noting that you can now sign up for email updates as blog posts are released. Click here to sign up!

Room-temperature suet and water warming on the stove top.
Starting off with room temperature suet, with about an inch of water in the pan.
Rendering fat on stove top.
The suet will start to turn slightly translucent as the fat is rendered out.
Fat turns dark as it cooks down.
The fat will turn to a dark golden brown as it cooks down. This is almost done!
Separating rendered fat from cracklings using a collander.
The fat is rendered. Time to separate the fat from the cracklings using a colander.
melted, rendered fat
The melted fat will turn a pale cream color as it cools. This is the time to mix in additional bird foods.
Rendered fat with additional bird treats stirred in.
Now we have added seeds, nuts and blackberries.
Finished bird suet.
Suet was spooned into a plastic wrapped muffin tin to make easy to handle standard pieces.
Finished bird suet waiting to be frozen.
These suet chunks are cool and ready to be stored in the freezer until ready to use.
Fresh bird suet from rendered fat.
Close up of finished suet ball for birds. Use on pinterest.

Our busy birdbath, and tips from our birdbath design experiments.

 

 

It’s been a dry month in this part of Georgia. Leaves are drying up and falling, much earlier than usual.  We had lots of rain with Hurricane Irma, and today we have rain with Nate passing over us, but in between was bone dry. Dust clouds follow the lawn mowers, and lots of birds have been flocking to the birdbath.

This month there are several new birds, or at least rare birds, that are hanging out. About a dozen warblers come in daily. I believe they are Tennessee Warblers , but I’m not 100% sure.  Redstarts and Hooded Warblers have also stopped by often.

You can see Tennessee Warblers and a Redstart in the video below.

 

 

 

The birdbath in the video is homemade, and started life as an experimental fire pit. During the experiment it filled with water and birds immediately started visiting it, ignoring the 2 store bought birdbaths in the yard.  After researching birdbaths online, adjustments were made and birds absolutely love it – even though it is a little dumpy looking.  Dad helped me set this one up a few years ago. When we finished, we sat down before gathering up the tools, and looked over to see a bird work its way down through the branches to get in the water. We were completely shocked.

The reasons I think the birds like this one, versus the store bought baths are listed below. This info came from several sources, and lots of trial and error, but Cornell is a good resource for birding if you’d like to research further.

Mark’s Birdbath Tips:

  • Natural is better. Birds need to feel at home and trust the space.
  • Birds can see water from above easier if the birdbath has a darker bottom.
  • A bath with a rough bottom is easier for birds to land and stand on.
  • Add rocks to vary the puddle size so its welcoming to birds of different sizes.
  • Shallow is best. The deepest part of this bath is only about 2-3″ deep, and in those spots I have rocks providing a slope so nothing gets trapped without an exit.
  • Add a fountain so there is a trickle. It does not need to be strong, but the sound will attract birds. The pump I use is about $20 at Lowe’s and is simple to set up.
  • Don’t put your pump at the bottom of the pond – it can get clogged with sediment and burn up. Set it on a block or a brick to keep it off the bottom.
  • Provide natural cover, like branches and plants, so the birds can check out the surroundings before jumping into the pool. They need to trust the area first.

I found that most birdbaths at stores were designed around humans, not necessarily birds. For this reason, I got a pond liner and altered it to fit my needs. See the diagram below. Since it worked well, we followed the same tips and built an even larger version for my dad in West Virginia. It too gets more birds than his previous birdbaths.

About the birdbath in the video.

We started with a simple pond liner from Lowe’s and dug a pit just slightly shorter than the height of the liner.

birdbath diagram

Because most pond liners are too deep for a birdbath, we bought hardware cloth wire and made a shelf about 3 inches from the TOP of the pond. This is to hold rocks and give a “bottom” to the bath, but will still allow you to have a large reservoir of water. Don’t Secure the wire yet, just set it in and measure the distance from the bottom of the liner to the wire. Note that I forgot to label the wire in the image, but its roughly the same as the “water level” line.

That measurement will be the height of the supports you need for the basin that sits on top and serves as the main part of the bath. I used a cinder block standing on its end. If its an odd size,stack bricks or even use an upside down bucket for support.

Add a brick or something similar for your pump to sit on. The liner we used had a ledge built on to the sides that was perfect for the pump.

Once that support is in, you can place your wire back into the liner. The wire should be resting at the top of the support. Remember – you aren’t looking for perfection here. As long as your support is stable you’re good.

Cut a hole in the wire large enough for the pump, the hoses, and your hand to fit into.

Make sure the hole in the wire is above the spot or brick where your pump will go. We screwed the wire to the top lip of the birdbath. Pre-drill these so it doesn’t crack the liner.

Next Add a layer of bricks, or in our case a half cinder block on top of the support, sandwiching the wire in between.

Add your basin on top of this. Ours was a homemade concrete bowl, but on dad’s we used a dark saucer, about 15″ wide from Lowe’s that was meant to sit under a flower pot.

Make sure the stack is stable. If yes, you are ready to add the pump through the hole in the wire.  The hose from the pump will run into the basin. The basin will fill and then pour over into the pond liner.

Add a little water to the basin and test the pump. You will want to add a rock, or small piece of wood under the basin so the water pours where you want it to.

If everything tests well, fill the liner up  so that there are about 2-3 inches of water over the wire.  You can add rocks to the basin, and to the wire on top of the wire in the pond liner. This way you get two good layers to your birdbath. Rocks and natural items can be added to hide any of the wire or support as well.

Add a tree branch or plants for the birds to perch on while they wait to bathe. This seems unimportant, but after dad told me to do this I started seeing more birds. I believe it gives them a feeling of safety.

That’s pretty much it. We have set up the yard to give birds lots of cover and opportunities to feed as well.  Hopefully these tips help out with your birdbath design.

Cardinal photos used with permission of Cindy Barnes Reed Photography. @cindybarnesreed on instagram.

naturalbirdbath

Chestnuts, Chickens and a blood-thirsty Chipmunk.

It’s been a busy week here, and while there are no big projects to note, there are lots of smaller things in process that I’ll chat about. Mentioning something on this blog means accountability, and guilt will follow me until there is a follow-up, so here we go.

Irma passed over us less than a week ago. It was the first time in history that Atlanta (+- 250 miles inland) was placed under a tropical storm warning.  We got off lucky! There were wind gusts around 74 mph at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, a couple of miles away,  and many trees came down, but no damage other than a kiwi trellis falling over. Within a 5 block radius we saw at least 4 huge trees that were uprooted. I’m talking >4-foot diameter trees. Power was out to most of the neighborhood for a few days, but we were lucky and were reconnected after 7 hours. Internet was out a few days, but like I said we got off easy!

Along with trees, Irma blew down lots of chestnuts. Dad was in town visiting (great timing, right?) so we gathered up a cooler full for him to feed the squirrels/deer/chipmunks in West Virginia. A month ago, he and his friend saw a chipmunk attack and kill a bird, so we jokingly decided it was time to feed the chipmunk before he gets a thirst for humans. Have you ever heard of a chipmunk killing a bird and eating it? That was new to us.

Quail or chickens?  For the last year or so, I have been thinking about getting quail, then possibly moving on to chickens if the quail went well.  With no steady income, or even the intent to stay in Georgia for long, I was hesitant to pull the trigger. Well, I have decided to start gathering up materials needed for a small coop, large enough for 3 hens.  Last week dad and I came across a coop that was unfortunately filled with wasps. That coop was simple and perfect. I couldn’t get it, but at least it helped me realize what would work best here.

The idea of building or re-purposing something into a coop had crossed my mind, but nothing jumped out as a possibility until last week when someone posted a handmade dog house for sale. It had been built by a grandfather and grandson duo for the grandsons new dog, which ended up being a house dog, so it was being given away free. FREE! It’s in the backyard now, waiting to be converted into a coop. As dad would say, its build like a brick sh*t house. I’ll start assembling materials and build a run, and sometime October will get three hens. Check it out below (and ignore the Irma mess)!

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Dad and I wrapped up his visit by doing a little fishing at Lake McIntosh (pic below) in Peachtree City, Georgia. Georgia fishing is different than West Virginia fishing, mostly in the fact that no matter when or where we go, or what we use, we see no fish. To this day we have not even seen another person catch a fish in Georgia. The internet tells me it’s done, but for us it’s relaxing and that’s good enough. I guess.

That’s it for now. Be good everyone!

 

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Building up the pollinator garden.

For 2017, we really tried to add more blooms to the garden and back yard for the pollinators.  It’s just never been a priority, but I’ll admit that I’ve enjoyed having them around and thought I’d share some photos I took on the Canon G7X that I was given for my birthday. It’s the best point and click camera I’ve ever owned. These pics are unedited, only resized. I’m no photographer, but the quality is pretty good for just pushing a button. The video of the baby bluebird leaving the nest for the first time was also made using the Canon.

 

The gaura, butterfly bush, and the orange flower (do you know what this is?)  on the bottom left had the most traffic.

Gaura – Petunia – Dahlia

Nasturtium – Rose (unsure of type) – Butterfly Bush

Unsure – Impatiens – Rose (unsure of type)

Fertilizing the pea garden with banana tea.

The yard and garden are giving hints that Fall is getting closer. The poke berries are gone and the leaves are wilting. Tomato plants and potatoes are drying up and I couldn’t be happier. I get excited about pumpkin flavored things and freak out when the first leaves start to drop.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the vegetable garden. It looks horrible right now. Part is covered with weeds, part is starting to die off, but part of the garden is ready for fall plants.  This week, we are planting more Nantes carrots, which did really well last year, and peas.

Back in the spring I planted peas and failed them. Somehow I planted them then moved on to other parts of the garden, completely forgetting about them. They grew quickly, but with no supports to climb, they knotted up into wads about 6″ high. I tried to correct the issues by building a half-assed trellis and carefully tried to untangle the plants,  but it was too late.

So, with this planting I am working on the soil and adding a permanent support for them them to climb.  Peas are new to me this year. I read that they like phosphorus and potassium, which made me think of the 3 bananas I found in the back of the fridge. After some research I learned that it’s actually pretty common to put banana peels (organic is best) in the garden for the nutrients. Most sites call for chopping up and dropping the banana on the ground to decay, or burying them near the plants.  Our dogs have been known to break into the garden to investigate new smells (resulting in them eating every squash plant after they were sprayed with fish emulsion).

For that reason, I went with a banana tea recipe. Hopefully once it dries, and the ground is turned over there will be little trace of the banana. Wishful thinking anyway.

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For this experiment,  I took the 3 very very ripe bananas, removed the stickers,  and chopped them up into chucks small enough to fit in the blender. The skins and the fruit can be used here – they both have beneficial nutrients. The stems were very dry and hard, so I removed them.  These bananas looked bad, but had no rot – I would have trashed the rotten pieces. I blended them with a little water and added them to the biggest metal container I could find. About 12 cups of  hot water were then added to the pot and it was allowed to steep overnight. This is not a pretty process (thus no pic of the finished product), but it smelled like banana bread, so it wasn’t that bad.

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The next day I took the mixture and poured all over the area that will soon be the pea bed and trellis. Next steps are to add a bit of better soil to the spot and turn the dirt just to mix it all a bit.

Keep in mind this is an experiment and I will follow up with results. It sounds like it should be beneficial, right? Here is another resource if you are curious about the other ways of using bananas in your garden.

We will see!

 

Quick steps:

  1. Remove stickers, any rotten sections, hard peel (or anything that wont blend well)
  2. Cut into chunks appropriate for your blender or food processor.
  3. Blend like a madman.
  4. Pour mixture into large pot capable of holding hot liquids that is also easy to carry.
  5. Add hot water and allow to steep. (Above I used 12 cups of water and 3 bananas. I based the amount of water on the amount of garden area I wanted to cover.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bye bye, bluebirds. (2/2018 Update)

Over the last week the young bluebirds have been much more curious about what lies outside of the birdhouse.  Even as we sat on the deck, within 6 or so feet of the box, they would hang their heads out of the box to check us out. Today they seemed more interested in the cardinals, catbirds, and other birds eating suet nearby, and before long one was standing in the entrance, thinking about flying off.

All three ended up leaving within a few hours. The first two I watched, but the last one was shy (leading to the nickname Shy-a la Bird,  which is probably not funny to anyone other than me), so I set up the camera and left him alone.

The video quality impressed me as it was zoomed to the max and resting against a dirty window about 8′ from the bird house.

Good luck blue birds!

 

February 20, 2018 Update! The blue bird family returned a few days ago and have been rebuilding the nest for spring!