Two Quackers and Some Quail December 2015
  We started off our December on the farm with some poultry. While in Johannesburg I popped into Turf Pet Hyper down in Turffontein to see what I could find to put into our finished aviary.
  There were the normal parrots, budgies, finches and general pet stuff - nothing really suitable for the farm.

But then the shop attendant took me into the back room where they kept the serious poultry. Roosters, chickens, quails and ducks! Now that's more like it.

After some discussion and advice I settled for three of the cheaper little rain quail (one male, two female) and two ducklings (pot luck on the sex with them). I couldn't wait to get back out to the farm that afternoon with our first poultry.

  Martie obviously took to the ducklings immediately (they were really cute) and after a bit of "playing" with them, we put the ducklings and the quail together into the big aviary with some food and water so that they could settle into their new home.

 
Didn't take these cute little fluffies long to get into some mud
   Very handsome little rain quail


  Pumphouse Bathroom Bath Waste Access Hatch
  With the builders off for the first weekend of December, I had a chance to catch up on some of the jobs that I wanted to do. I got all the woodwork tools out, selected some smaller pieces of saligna from my stock and put together the little pumphouse bathroom bath waste inspection hatch.

Once the framework pieces were cut, jigged and glued together, I joined a few scraps for the door, trimmed everything to fit and painted it all with some Woodoc 30. Once that had dried I fitted the hinges and doorknob and slipped the whole unit into place under the bath. It was a tight fit into the brickwork so all I have to do now is run some silicone sealer around it when I do the rest of the silcone sealing in the bathroom.

 
Little inspection hatch frame glued and jigged   
   Inspection hatch Unit installed


  Clearing Some Forest
  While I was busy with my woodwork, Martie decided to start clearing the forest next to the driveway around the aviaries and down to the forest shelter.

It's so great to sit in the forest in the shade of the trees with the breeze blowing through on a really hot day (and it's looks like with the climate changes in store for us, we're going to have a lot more of those). It's a coolness you just can't get indoors, even with all the windows open.

But there's so much "forest debri" around we can't even get a picnic table in there. So the ground was cleared of sticks and bark strips down to the bare ground so that we could see what was what in there. A lot of the trees are dead (from the big fire that ripped through there a few years ago - before we bought the property) and there were also lots of burned stumps around.

And we were very pleased with the results. Once we could see the potential with all the little clearings in there we decided there and then that long term we would put up a log fence parallel with the driveway about 15 meters into the forest with upright sticks between the
   Before clearing . . .

   . . . and main clearing done. Piles of sticks still to be taken away.
  horizontal poles to block off access for the duiker and porcupine. We can then plant shrubs and maybe some ground covers in there as well. For the time being we put this one on the bottom of the projects list, but at least now we'll be able to use the area for nice cool breakfasts and lunches.

What the exercise did reveal though, is the condition of the lower trunks of some of the bigger trees along the edge of the driveway. If I'd known of this before we started building, I'd definitely have built a few more meters away from the forest! We'll be keeping a very close eye on those bad ones very carefully from now on.

 
Some tree trunk bases in really bad condition   
   A few bakkie loads taken away for burning


  More Eland
 

  Another herd of eland passed through on the weekend, again hanging aound for a few days and then moving off.

There's now adequate grazing on the hillside and they seem to be behaving themselves - only one or two hopping our fence around the front of the property where we can't see them - but we see the hoof imprints in the sand on the driveway!


  Stuff That's Growing . . .
  Our ducklings are growing at a phenomenal rate. We feed them growing mash - not sure if it's the food but I'm sure they've doubled in size in their first week with us. After one week with us they're still fluffy and cute, just considerably bigger fluffy and cute.

As they are eating the same food as the quails, we keep them all together in the big aviary. We had to make use of the small aviary to manage the quails as we had a very dominant female that continually attacked the other females (and poor solitary male). We first kept the male separate but the dominant female continued pecking at the other females. So then we put her into solitary confinement in the small aviary and everyone seemed happy. Interesting that the only time we heard the male calling was when he was separated from the females.

Those aviaries were a good buy. They have really come in handy getting our first poultry going on the farm and we feel confident leaving the birds safely up in the driveway about thirty meters from our living area. They are really well designed with welded mesh just the right size to keep the birds safely in and the wildlife predators safely out (they say the only thing worse than losing your duckling to a predator is losing a part of your duckling to a predator).

 

  You will notice Charlie is no longer the mean slim running machine she used to be. We weren't sure up until about week four, but she is now noticeably bigger (and heavier) and is definitely pregnant.

The father is Kevin's dog, Diesel (with a name like that he'd have to be the virile hunk) and when she was last on heat we invited Kevin to bring Diesel over. The timing was perfect but it was a bit of a traumatic morning for everyone involved. It was first time for Charlie and Diesel, we hadn't had any experience with dog mating and Kevin breeds horses, which he says is a much quicker affair. Anyway, the job was done and Charlie should have her puppies late in December. That's also going to be something new for us but we're researching so we don't have any nasty surprises.


  . . . And Stuff That's Not
  The big crops are not growing well - and it can only be the weather. Although it may look as if we've
  had reasonable total rainfall, it has been made up of small thunderstorms giving us from 1 to 8mm of rain interspersed with persistent heatwaves. The heat and wind dry the soil out very quickly after the little rains. And having a torrential downpour of 24mm just doesn't help much either as that amount of rain falling in an hour from a cloudburst just runs off the surface down into the valley (taking a layer of topsoil with it!). So the soil is just not getting a good soaking and the water table is still not rising.
   Maize in the background, lucern (actually, a lot more
   weeds than lucern) in the foreground


  Birding Update and New Sightings
   
         The first flock of our Amur Falcons arrived                              White-fronted Bee-eater passing
        riding in on a big storm front one afternoon                          overhead with it's familiar flight call
 
   
Fiscal Flycatcher
White Browed Sparrow Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
 
   
Cardinal Woodpecker spotted again in the forest   

   . . . and from the suburbs, the Cape Sparrow

   Cape Wagtail (another visitor from the suburbs)

 


  Brickwork Update and Built-in Braai Progress
  The builders were back for the second weekend of December and first job was to finish the brickwork for the little retainer wall in front of the kitchen next to the new step that leads from the kitchen veranda down onto the driveway.

Then is was back to the main veranda where the steps out onto the grass area were completed. We had cleaned up there so nicely to the point that I could run the tractor and slasher over it to cut the grass - now it's full of builders mess and rubble again.

But all these little steps really make getting around the building site a lot easier for us. Before if we needed to get from the driveway up into the house area we would have to "climb" up onto the driveway veranda. Now we can just use the steps to get up there a lot more comfortably. The same goes for getting out of the main veranda onto the grass area.

Next Leno got going on the base for the built in braai on the main veranda which integrated into the steps. Not a big structure so it went up quickly to braai level, where lintels will be laid in to support the steel braai. There will be openings in the front for a storage cupboard and at the back for access to electrical stuff, mainly solar lighting.

      Kitchen veranda retainer wall finished off

      Steps from main veranda out onto front grass area

      Base for built-in braai completed

  Veranda Concrete Floor Slab
 
The little top level corner
that started it all      
In order to progress further with the veranda braai structure it was necessary to lay some of the top level veranda floor slab for the planned braai "work area table" to be built onto. And, as per Leno's thinking, if we were going to pour concrete for a little corner, we may as well cast the entire top veranda area floor slab.

And why stop there? If we put in a few additional hours work could have the kitchen veranda area levelled off and the floor slab cast there as well.

So Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning we spent mixing, spreading and levelling concrete and now the entire veranda area has a nice smooth and level concrete floor.

By covering more of the sandy areas around the house, it should reduce our dust problems even more. I keep thinking though, whether it's such a good idea as the second level of the house still has to be built and with the way the builders mess, it may be a stressful time for me trying to keep the concreted areas clean and undamaged for the cement tiles that will need to go down there.


 
Levelling the kitchen veranda   
while waiting for more materials to arrive   
   Main veranda concrete floor completed
   - view from the main veranda lounge entrance

 
And a view from outside grass area   
   Starting on the kitchen veranda area

 
Kitchen veranda area complete      
The quick decision to concrete the kitchen veranda area had me into action mode as I hadn't planned the waste system for the kitchen yet. A quick consultation with the kitchen boss and I was able to make the decision on the position to where we could connect all the waste pipes from the kitchen.

I then had to quickly rummage through the plumbing box for all the necessary 50mm pipe fittings. The system was quickly designed and built by cutting some pipe (fortunately we had lots of 50mm pipe lying around up at the pumphouse which we used for running the bathroom waste down into the lucerne patch) and glueing the pipe to a few elbow and joiner fittings. Finally I dug all the pipes a few centimeters into the sand. I finished all that just in time as the building team had the concrete mixed and ready to throw the slab.

We had the whole job done by lunchtime Sunday.



  Fitting the Built-in Braai
  With the floor slab in place to support the work area table, after lunch we were able to continue work on the built-in braai. Leno built the small wall for the work table on the side of the structure while I cut all the lintels to size. He then laid the lintels into the brick structure to support the braai and across to the new wall to form the work table.

Then he finished the brickwork around the steel unit to the height of the chimney connection point.

And that's where we stopped as I'm not sure how we're going to go from there. The braai structure has to act as a support column for the veranda roof and integrate nicely into the veranda roof (when we get there).

The open area below the built-in braai is for a storage cupboard and the pile of cement bricks will need to stay there to hold up the little roller course until it is properly set (three weeks).

      Braai unit in place, getting it all straight and level

      Built-in braai completed

  Duckling Gallery - After Two Weeks With Us
 
"Maybe if I close my eyes for a while they'll just disappear . . ."

 

Those two duckling of ours are so entertaining. A bit tricky getting the dogs used to them and them used to the dogs, but everyone seems to be getting along fine now.

The dogs just ignore them and they are quite happy with the dogs or us moving past very close to them.

They love their "greens" and will take them from our hand. They'll even follow us around, but just don't try to touch or pick them up - you'd swear there was a full on predator attack!



  Some Chicks Move In
  On one of my visits to fill our water tanker on Che's farm we discovered one of her free range bantam hens had managed to hatch six chicks. Looking at their colouring, the probability is high that they were fathered by one of her free range "ninja" roosters (they attack anything and kick like ninjas!).
 

With the abundance of free range dogs, cats and kids around her farm, there was not much chance of their survival there, so we captured them (big challenge fending off the roosters and keeping the hen and chicks together), put them in a box and brought them across to our farm.

The problem female quail was quickly moved to the big aviary (thankfully no more problems there) and the little bantam family was put into the small aviary. With some food and water they settled nicely into their small but cosy new home.



  The Quail House
 

  We had lots of knotty pine tongue-and-groove offcuts left over from the garage doors. Although the big aviary had a roof covering around one third of the area, we felt the quails needed some additional shelter and protection.

So it was out with the woodworking tools and with some scrap plywood sheet for the floor and roof, I put together a little house for them. It worked out good and solid and with a hinged roof so we can check up on what's going on inside there.


  "Hey, you guys coming for walkies now or what?!"
 


  Some Smaller Things
  From time to time I get a chance to get down low and look at some of the little things around the farm. It's so interesting how species gets introduced without us really noticing until they are fairly well establish around the buidings. For example, before we started building we had never seen a garden skink, a daddy longlegs (cellar) spider or an hourglass spider on the farm. Since we've started building there, they're now abundant.
 

I can only think they have come from the builders yards when our building materials and bricks are delivered. Not much we can do about it now but keep an eye on how they affect the local eco system. Noticable already is an increase in numbers of the spider-hunting wasps that make mud nests on our walls and cram them full of paralyzed spiders for their grubs to eat. There have always been a few fiscal shrikes around (they often spike their lizard prey onto barbed wire fences and acacia tree thorns) but no more that when we started building. We can only observe, but are aware.

 
The "Oogpister" - He's so mean he deserves a side 
and front view
 

We have quite a few Ground Spitting (Oogpister) beetles. This large, predatory ground beetle preys almost exclusively on ants. It storms in to ant territory, gobbles them up in its jaws and uses its strong legs to kick away any ants that try to ward it off. The beetle also extracts acids from the ants which it can then spray as formic acid from its abdomen to defend itself from larger predators. We just stay out of their way and let them get on with finding their ant colonies.

 
   Velvet Ant
   Assassin bugs attacking a millipede
 

Staying with the scary stuff, above left is the Velvet Ant. Not an ant at all but actually a wasp! And like any wasp, it can sting. And this wingless female's sting is particularly painful. Velvet ants are found in areas with sandy soil where their prey are most likely to be found. They dig into the nests of other wasps and lay their eggs on the larvae inside the nest. When their eggs hatch, their larvae consume their host.

Above right, even with the little bits of rain we've had, the shongololos are out busy eating all the decaying plant matter around. And of course, the millipede assassin bugs are around as well to prey on them. They hide out during the day under stones or amongst debris and head out in search of shongololos at night. They are ambush predators that slowly approach their prey before quickly grabbing the shongololo and piercing the body with their proboscis, sucking out the insides while it is still alive!


  Relocating Joburg Bees
  The bees that we split from our home hive last year in September have finally absconded from the old hive on the farm. We're not sure what happened, but when we checked on them one day they were gone and the hive was deserted (all honey gone and only some wax left there). Unfortunately, until we have more veggies and crops growing, there will just not be enough forage for a good strong swarm of bees.

Anyway, our Joburg home tennants were not happy with the bee hive at the front door (although we lived quite happily wth them with clients in and out all day long for years) so we decided to move them from the suburbs out to the farm.

 
New hive with super in place, old hive opened for them to clean out      
We went through on Friday afternoon and stayed late into the evening. When all the bees were in the hive we blocked off the entrance holes with some newspaper, wrapped the hive, loaded it on the bakkie and took it out to the farm.

We had the normal few angry bees for a few hours the next morning, but the operation went smoothly. Just hope they can survive out there with us until we get our farming established.


  Brown House Snake Invasion
  There must have been a clutch of brown house snake eggs hatch in the area as we are finding little snakes all over the place. They all seem to be about the same size.

The first one had squeezed itself into the door gap at the pumphouse bathroom, surprising Martie as she was about to push the door open to go in to brush teeth one morning. The next one, also found
 
by Martie, in the builders woodpile while she was looking for a piece of wood for blocking off the bottom of the small aviary. Then she had one almost slither over her hand while she was working in the vegetable garden.

Then I also found one in the pumphouse bathroom - it obviously had it's eye on our bathroom lizard!




  More Growing
  Still growing at a furious rate, we now often let the ducklings out of the aviary to be with us for a few hours. They still continue to entertain us every morning with their weird off-balance waddling and feeding antics.

We've recently had a few predator scares, though. One morning we were busy with our early morning chores around the growing tunnels and the ducklings were leasurely feeding and drinking at the workshop entrance. Suddenly one of the Steppe Buzzards (yep, we've now seen two of them circling over the forest in the same thermal one morning) swooped in low for a closer look. Not sure if it was Martie's scream or their natural insticts kicking in, but they both dashed into the workshop in a flash!

Another morning (thankfully the ducklings were safe in the aviary) we heard the mother hen in the small aviary squawking madly. Martie dashed out to see what was going on just in time to see a mongoose dash back into the forest.

      Just crazy for greens

      Flap them all you like, those wingy things aren't ready to work yet

  Starting the Chicken House
  After taking the Day of Reconcilliation holiday weekend off, the builders were back midweek after the holiday weekend to work on the farm again. And with all the steps and other brickwork jobs done, it
 
The Chicken House plans      
was time for a new project. Since we now had chickens, the new project just had to be chicken related: The Chicken House.

We considered a few variations of temporary structures (which I'm sure would have been a lot cheaper) but finally opted to build a proper brick and tin roof structure to match the rest of the structures around the growing tunnel area. It would also require a fenced off open area around the building to keep our chickens well secured.

So after getting Martie to jot down on a bit of paper what she had in mind for the structure and surrounds, I could draw up
 
Front view with dimensions      
a very rough front view with some essential dimensions and in no time the building team were out clearing the grass away so we could start building.

We all worked really hard through the day and although the structure was simply four outer walls and was only five meters by two meters, I still can't believe we basically took the project from grass to floor level brickwork in one day.

So now our chicken house structure was all planned and well on it's way up.

 
1 - 09h30 Clearing the 5x2 meter grass area   
   2 - 10h10 Starting to dig the foundations

 
3 - 11h45 Digging of foundations completed    
I've numbered and time stamped the captions to the pictures here in sequence to show the day's progress.

Next stage is to get the brickwork up to window sill height where we will leave two large openings for "windows" which will just be frames with chicken wire in them. The front of the structure will also have a full height doorway. On the back of the structure we will have four vent openings.

Then we'll use normal roofing beams and perlins and attach a chromadek roof to match the water station and garden shed nicely. Should look cool!


 
4 - 12h00 All materials ready and mixing concrete   
   5 - 13h00 Foundation concrete cast

 
6 - 14h50 After lunch, setting up profiles   
   7 - 16h30 Brickwork done to floor level


  More Chicks Arrive
  On another trip to Che's farm to fill our water tanker for the builders we came across another bantam hen with chicks. She had managed to hatch four chicks. The little family was also captured (lots of rummaging through the farm woodpile to get them all), boxed and brought across to our farm.

The small aviary obviously wasn't going to be big enough for the two families, so we had a quick planning session on where we could keep them. It would be a while before our chicken house would be ready so we decided to put the new family into our number 4 growing tunnel. Unfortunately they had to stay in their box on the "dining room" table for an hour or so while we prepared the tunnel. We put up a shade net fence, made a quick shelter from some plywood and moved some pot plants in from the nursery tunnel. Then we let them loose into their new home environment.

Then we had a brainwave. As the growing tunnel had so much space, why not put all the
Another box of chickens

Putting up the shade net "fence" around tunnel #4
  chickens together? Big mistake. A serious hen fight ensued and we had to frantically separate the hens and their respective chicks, which was no easy task as the new hen just "claimed" all the chicks! Thankfully the chicks from each family were different sizes so we were able to separate them and put the old hen with her six chicks back into the small aviary. And all was again calm on the chicken front.

 
New hen and her four chicks all 
settled in nicely in the growing tunnel with some pot plants and shelter


  Cloudburst
  Once the chickens had settled in I headed off to do some work in Johannesburg. The cumulonimbus clouds were building quickly and around midafternoon Martie reported a cloudburst on the farm (actually, the heavy rainfall stretched all the way into Joburg that afternoon). The farm got 28mm of rain in about an hour - far too much in such a short period of time, resulting in runoff washaways and some flooding.

 
River down the driveway
Losing a bit of river sand into the forest

The big hole where we removed the tree root full of water

  Martie had a tough time out there on her own. This time she had to rescue the tortoises as well as the new hen and her four chicks. The growing tunnels are a bit dangerous for animals in a cloudburst situation as there is no drainage out of them and the water doesn't soak away fast enough. She also had to spend a lot of time sweeping water out of the garage as it poured down under the door from the house. Whew, hard work.

 
New chicken shelter flooded
Water pouring down from the house into the top garage


  Early Morning Walk to the Dam
  Even though we lost most of the water to runoff, we did get reasonable soaking from the rain. And early morning walks after the rains the previous afternoon or night are always amazing.

 
Looking up from beyond the growing tunnels, our "lawn" in front of the garage block now very green

  The dam on Che's farm had also taken in some of the runoff from the hills. It was so nice to see large volumes of water again, even though it all soaked away within days - hopefully lifting the water table a wee bit .

 


  Cock-A-Doodle-Doo
 
Handsome rooster - but he gets up far too early in the mornings!      
Seeing as we now have two of Che's bantam hens over at our farm, she decided that we may as well take the whole flock. So early one morning another box arrived with the rooster and another young hen in it.

We put them into the growing tunnel with the hen with four chicks and provided they kept their distances, all was ok.

And now we have a natural alarm clock - set for 04h30 every morning! Anyone know of a software patch to change the time settings on roosters? Just resetting to an hour or so later would be great.


  Chicken House Progress
  We started the week before Christmas with the builders wanting to push on with the chicken house.

Tuesday morning they got going early and cleared out all the excess sand from the middle of the structure (the building sand pile now getting bigger in the driveway again), compacted the floor area, mixed up a few wheelbarrows of concrete and then poured the floor slab.

I tried to get them to smooth the floor nicely, hoping that we wouldn't have to screed it later, but they started building before the concrete was properly dry and it ended up a bit of a mess, although no problem structurally. But that's the way of Leno and his team - when I'm there I can enforce some quality control, but when I'm out they just get the job done!

By the end of the day they had the structure almost up to window sill height. I had to keep a close eye on the door opening. They usually have a door frame to work to but I'm going to make all my own wooden frames, so the brickwork needs to be straight and the opening gap even until I can slot the door frame in for them to build around.

Through the day I managed to get most of the fencing materials together from various suppliers around town. Expensive stuff, but we're determined to do the chicken house properly - in fact it's probably going to end up more like the "Chicken Cottage"!

      Sand pile cleared away and floor levelled and compacted

      Concrete floor layed

      Building almost to window sill height

 
Fence post system
Fencing wire, welded mesh fencing and the gate


  Gardening
  Martie's making a start on the garden outside her kitchen. Starting a garden off from scratch here is tough. She chose to leave the big fallen tree stump there - we just cut off a few of the "untidy bits". She'll be working around them as features. She also found a very tall forked stump and the builders helped her plant it. They did look a bit puzzled - like why don't you just use it for firewood?

It's going to take a while to get the plants there established, so the sooner we start, the sooner it will look like a real garden.


  More Chicken House Progress
  The Wednesday before Christmas the builders were back out again to work on the chicken house. It was a bit of a slow day with not too much noticable progress.

Leno started with brickwork, getting the structure two courses above the front window sills. The structure was not too complex with single brick walls front and back with a pillar next to the doorway to give the front wall some strength as it doesn't tie into the corner. The short side walls were double brick walls, face brick outside and cement stock bricks inside.

About lunchtime it was time to set up some scaffolding. That is such a time consuming task as they try to put a system together so than Leno can move around the entire structure and his helpers can get the bricks and mortar up to him. Once Leno's up there on the scaffolding he doesn't get down for anything - he even eats his lunch up there.

Once the scaffolding was all in place Leno was able to continue building up a few more courses before we ran out of time.

      Structure up two brick courses above window sill height

      Scaffolding erected and a bricklaying continues

  Chicken House Window and Door Frames
  The woodwork team were falling behind. I was already one step behind in getting the door frame ready before the brickwork got too high and Leno was now ready for window frames. I quickly cut, sanded and assembled the window frames first and while Martie painted them with sealer I got going on the door frame.
 
Wood for the front window frames being prepared   
  Window frames assembled and painted with sealer

 
Door frame sides   
For all the frames I used standard 114 x 38mm roofing timber, the 114mm works out just a bit wider than the width of a brick so it should allow for the plaster inside to finish up against the timber.

I just glued and nailed everything together, jigging all joints with square clamps to make sure everything was square.

The window frames will eventually have another chicken wire frame screwed into the inside of the opening.

For the door frame I cut 10mm slices off one of the
Joining the door frame   
  lengths of timber and glued then onto the insides of the frame for the door to close up against. I think I can make the door as well. It all seems simple enough - can't see why it shouldn't work.


  First Quail Eggs for Christmas Day
  Our quails produced their first two eggs for us on Christmas Day. Martie boiled them and we had them in our Christmas lunch salad.

We're not ready to breed quail yet and will probably need an incubator to breed them in captivity, so for now their eggs will be breakfast. Although smaller than fowl eggs, they are more nutritious and much better for you than fowl eggs and are higher in vitamin A.


  More Chicken House Progress
  Over Christmas there wasn't much going on at the farm: just trying to keep our plants alive, keeping and eye on Charlie's pregnancy and watching 2 ducklings and 10 chicks grow.

While the builders were off we had a chance to catch up on the chicken house woodwork. Once all the frames were painted with sealer I fitted them into the front wall brickwork. I battled a bit with some of the bricks, but nothing that couldn't be fixed with a touch of the angle grinder. All woodwork fitted into the front wall and looking good.


  Some Vegetable Updates and Summer Flowers
  We're now in the peak of our growing season. It's been tough with less than even reasonable weather but we have some successes. Below the best of them so far.
 
The best gemsquash I have ever tasted!   
  Some lucern "greens" for the ducks

 
Still hope for some butternuts
and a watermelon or two
Little Pride of India tree
giving a good show this year
First rose on the farm - grown from a cutting from Jhb house


  The Weather
  Really shouldn't, but we just have to mention it. We've had the most amazing thunderstorms build around us - we've had all the wind, the lightning, the thunder and even the most beautiful
  rainbows. And when we do get any rain, we get around 1mm per storm. The water table is dropping steadily - we now get just over 500 liters per day from our borehole (last year this time we were able to pump over 800 liters a day).

And the heat - the heatwaves just keep coming one after the other with winds that actually scorch the plants, even if they are watered twice a day. It's tough right now but the sky photography is fantastic.


 







  Six Healthy Puppies Born
  Around midmorning on the 28th of December, Charlie headed for the whelping basket that Martie had so meticulously prepared for her and produced six beautiful little border collie puppies.

Thank you, Charlie, for having your puppies during the day so that we could be part of the experience. It's just amazing how nature has built in all the necessary instructions and abilities for
 
animals to give birth to their young. No help was really necessary, but I did help break open the bags at the pups' heads to ensure that they could get breathing before Charlie cleaned up and chewed off the umbilical chords. We didn't want to lose any of them.

As you can imagine, there wasn't much work done around the farm for the rest of the day. It was all fuss around Charlie and her six cute little new puppies.


  Setting Up Crop Sprinklers
  All was not going well with our mealie crop. The plants were being pounded by searing hot winds all day with not enough water to really get growing. We had hardly any rain worth mentioning and for one and a half weeks we were hand watering with the hose pipe from the water trailer, which was just taking up far too much time.
 

And the last week in December was basically the end of the planting season for planting our next section of mealies and to get our sunflower seeds in as well. And they would also all need watering.

So I decided set up two irrigation sprinklers and connecting them to the water tanker pump. Worked a treat - there was good pressure with the water pump on idle and I was able to have the mealie field watered every morning while I managed the borehole pump to water the vegetable tunnels and fill the water tanks.


  Chicken House Air Vent Frames
  After our "puppy day", the following day it was back to work. Next job on the chicken house was the air vent frames. They would be built into the back wall just below roof height to give light and allow airflow through the room.

I made up four four frames from some 114 x 38mm roofing timber, glued and nailed all the bits together with square jigging.

Once the glue had dried and they were painted with sealer, all the woodwork frames for the chicken house were done.


  More Chicken House Progress
  The builders pushed on through the last week of December on the chicken house. We managed to just keep ahead with the woodwork and they continued laying bricks. It was really starting to look smart - actually too smart for chickens! It's definitely going to end up as our "Chicken Cottage".

 
Front wall brickwork finished - all wooden frames in   
   Setting up scaffolding for back wall

 
Growing tunnel area now with three structures: water station, garden shed and chicken house


  Chicken House Build to Roof Height
  Our intention was to get the chicken house finished to roof height before the end of the year. With the builders only going to put in one more day of work before taking their new year break, we got it there with just some finishing brickwork to be done.

We spent the evening before their last working day cutting the roofing beams to size and painting them with sealer in preparation for fitting them into the brickwork.

      Painted roofing beams on the dining room table to dry overnight
  The builders arrived for their last day, tied the roof beams in with some roofing wire and bricked up around them on the front and back walls. The side walls would require the normal grinding of each brick to get them to fit to the slope of the roof. We'll have to leave that for next year.

 
Roofing beams fitted - front wall view 
and back wall view with air vent frames also fitted

  End of 2015 Animal Update
 
Ducks out for feeding and entertaining us every morning       

Charlie's puppies now 3 days old      

A dozen quail eggs from three hens in six days?      
Not sure if we can classify our place as a real farm yet, but so far we've got quite a collection of animals - and they all mostly seem to be getting along fiine.

Our ducklings have been with us for a month now and have grown from cute little fluff-balls to formidable sized birds. And I think they've still got a long way to go.

Our three dogs Dakota, Charlie and Tess are all great to have around. Charlie and Tess are really good playmates and they all love the open space. Dakota is over 15 human years old now and sometimes gets a bit grumpy with the youngsters, but she still keeps up with us on all our walks.

And of course we now have six new puppies, still very manageable with mother Charlie doing most of the work. But all that will change soon.

Then there's one little rain quail rooster, and our three little rain quails hens. The hens are producing lots of little eggs now. From Christmas to month end we collected a dozen!

And finally, one bantam rooster, three bantam hens and 10 chicks. Still got to integrate them all together as the two hens with chicks are just refusing to get along. We tried putting them all together in the growing tunnel again but had to separate them within minutes. Separating the hens was easy enough, but it took us a very stressful nearly half an hour to separate and catch the chicks to get them back with their respective mothers.


  Finishing Off the Year Quietly and Peacefully
  We ended off our year with our good friends Johan and Marcelle over for the evening, firing up our new built in braai for the first time.

Thankfully there wasn't much wind so we didn't need the chimney to draw the smoke away. Everything worked well.

A few glasses of good wine, good food and good company. What more could you want? And we were all back home in bed in time to hear the suburban hooligans in the very far distance making big noises with their expensive fireworks.