Apr 12, 2021

Happy Chickens Are Even Happier With Their New Mulched Bedding

Seriana and Philipe from Navua
Seriana and Philipe from Navua

 

Fiji has just come out of the wettest wet season in a decade or more, due to  very wet "La Nina" conditions.  Our summer is in December through March, and this year the ocean became quite warm. We were extremely worried about the corals bleaching and dying, but Mother Nature turned on her "fan" and generated four cyclones, which cooled the waters off. The winds were quite destructive and frequent flooding occurred in the country.  The cyclones mostly affected the country 150 km north of us here at the farm.  But due to  all the rain, our pens became horribly muddy in spite of digging new drains.  The chickens and those tending them were miserable, and some of the chickens got sick in the unsanitary conditions.  Fortunately, a simple solution was developed and help was in sight.

In January our Happy Chickens project received a grant from the New Zealand government to purchase a wood chipper, and this seems to have solved nearly 100% of our chicken disease problems. The powerful wood chipping machine was an answer to our prayers! 

We have been busy mulching Chinese Jung Chao cane grass "mushroom grass", recently introduced to Fiji for growing mushrooms in, plus leguminous tree branches.  We do clean the houses regularly and use the dry composted manure for the farm's gardens and crops, but cleaning was not enough.  So we put a thick layer of fresh compost  over the chicken yard and any muddy places, and also a heavy layer in each of the seven hen houses. This prevented the hens from making dust baths in the dried up dusty compost inside the houses- it forces them to do their dust bathing in clean dirt far outside of their houses and yards.  Pathogens could be carried by chickens reveling in impromptu dust baths--that behavior has been stopped with the benefit of a disease free environment. 

The chickens also enjoy eating some of the chopped mulch, which is high in protein and sugars.  The freshly chopped China grass gets surprising hot within a few hours after chopping, not like other things we chop up.  Another grass crop is growing now, and we will be able to redo this every other month, after removing the well-rotted layer for use in the gardens. 

Fiji is going through a difficult period, with 40% losing their jobs due to the closure of all international tourism. With no unemployment benefits, poverty has become much worse in the country.  Happy Chickens offers an alternative to hunger; we continue to hatch about 15 dozen chicks per week, and we continue to give chickens to needy families. 

For the less needy, those who are not destitute and who still have an income through sales of farm produce, we continue to sell chicks at below production cost. The official government poverty line in Fiji is determined by when a family makes less than $3,500. USD per YEAR (not a typo).  So nearly everyone we deal with is struggling.  At $15. USD per dozen, we are able to sell all 15 dozen from the farm each week, which gives some contact time to do a tour of the chicken houses and to share knowledge on tips for success.  We often throw in some free chicks, especially for those who come far on foot or horseback, or if they come to buy half a dozen because that is all they can afford.  For people who were selected for a recent US Embassy funded livelihoods training here at the farm, we have given or will shortly give 2-3 dozen larger chicks each.  Many of these chickens we have raised up for six to eight weeks before distribution.  Photos are below.  

Here's a month's activity at Happy Chicken permaculture farm: 

1. A six-day hands-on workshop sponsored by the US Embassy as a livelihoods training for village women. 

2.  Delivery of two dozen two-week old chicks as a gift to a struggling older retired couple in Navua.

3.  36 half-sized chickens to six poor coastal families in Naidiri Village (5 hens and a rooster each), plus seven of these larger chickens were sent to a family in Naitasiri province, and eight were given to three neighbor children being raised by their elderly grandparents- they arrived on horseback and they caught two buckets of baby crabs in the stream for our fish pond in "payment"- but it was good fun!

There's never a dull moment living with Happy Chickens:  from mulching cane grass for therapeutic chicken baths and bedding, to enjoying a week of knowledge exchange with key villagers who will return to share best practices, supporting struggling elders with a much-appreciated gift of chicks, supplying pint-sized chicks to poor coastal families who in-turn share, watching kids catch buckets of baby crabs by our fish pond...it's all so meaningful and spells survival to so many here in Fiji.  

A heartfelt thanks goes out to all of you who continue to build this project, allowing us to expand the numbers helped, and to be resilient and find solutions to climate change challenges!

Austin Bowden-Kirby

Sharing our joy:  We've welcomed my newest grandchild, Joycelee, who will grow up with her older brother Kiki, mingling with the chickens and loving the healthy environment.

 

  

US Embassy funded Livelihoods Workshop
US Embassy funded Livelihoods Workshop
Wilma and Torika receiving their chickens
Wilma and Torika receiving their chickens
Each sack has 2-3 chickens!
Each sack has 2-3 chickens!
Mesake with one of his new half sized chickens
Mesake with one of his new half sized chickens
Feb 11, 2021

In the COVID-19 Free South Pacific, the Work to Save Coral Reefs Intensifies

Volunteers do a lot of work but also have fun!
Volunteers do a lot of work but also have fun!

EXCITING NEWS! Our project has been selected as one of only six case study sites for coral reef restoration by the United Nations, with our project taking up five pages out of a 45-page globally significant UNEP document!  Our full Kiribati report has also been updated and selected for publication as a chapter in a book on coral reef restoration.

While the Global pandemic has changed so many things, here in Fiji and much of the South Pacific there is no community spread of the virus at all, and so we can move about as always.  However, with no air travel and all commercial flights cancelled, it is still impossible to travel to Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Samoa, and so follow up trips planned for our sites there have not been possible, but we continue to work with our local partner organizations via email.  In the mean time, we have focused on the Fiji sites, with especially intensive work in the Malolo sites from September. 

We have gone into the sites each month since then, with teams of ten volunteers for two-week rotations, supervised by our two professional coral gardeners, Sarah, Keleni, and myself.  The volunteers are mostly unemployed graduates from the marine studies program at the university, living at home with their parents due to a greatly retracted economy, now that tourism is closed down.  These young people are real gems. They have an excellent background, but are bored with the present situation at home, and thus thrilled and thankful to be out in the ocean again! 

Surprise from Mother Nature:  A String of Tropical Cyclones Cools the Waters & Averts Widespread Coral Bleaching.

We have focused on preparing the reefs and coral nurseries for a predicted mass coral bleaching and mass death event, that was expected to hit starting this month (February), in the heart of our southern hemisphere summer.  Water temperatures have reached 33C (>90F), at times in our bleaching resistant coral nurseries.  Howevre, in a dynamic turn of weather trends, four cyclones hit Fiji in sequence since November, brushing past our sites (no direct hits), and cooling off the waters, so that only a minor bleaching has emerged so far.

Coral Saving Strategy has Crown of Thorns Starfish Relinquishing Killer Hold on Reefs

Our primary strategy has been to remove the venomous, coral killing, Crown of Thorns starfish (COTS), which have infested parts of our reefs, with intense focus in our planned coral outplanting and restoration sites.  We can not replant corals unless and until these animals are under better control, otherwise we are just feeding the problem. 

After removing hundreds of COTS from four targeted reefs, it is finally becoming harder to find them, as their abundance is much lower.  After two more months of mop-up operations, we will be ready in May to commence with the out-planting of corals trimmed from the nurseries , when the waters begin to cool off again. The goal is to create sizable patches of bleaching resistant super corals on the reefs, corals that will grow into adult colonies and begin to spawn, sending their babies onto the wider reef system.  This plan will test the idea that these corals share their heat adapted super-algae with nearby corals and incoming coral larvae, helping them to also become bleaching resistant. Our prediction is that the bleaching resistant reef patches will increase in size and diversity over time, and that the downcurrent coral populations will become more resistant, as the resistant corals spawn and send their larvae and algae into the wider reef system.  

In these times of great heat stress, the corals should not be fragmented for planting, as that added stress can lead to their death.  As an alternative strategy, entire colonies can be moved, if kept in the same upright orientation. Therefore, we successfully collected more super coral candidates from the hot pocket reefs and we moved one entire coral nursery of over 80 large mother corals from an extreme hot pocket into cooler waters. 

Local-focused Partnerships with Tuvalu and Kiribati Youth for Environmental Restoration and Food Source Alternatives to Overfishing

The Tuvalu youth group that we work with has sent a wonderful report and photos showing their work removing tons of invasive seaweeds that have smothered the corals, using the sargassum seaweed as fertilizer in their sweet potato gardens.  Weeding of the invasive seaweeds from around the few remaining corals in the town area is creating clean bare rock, which will receive corals trimmed from the super coral nurseries. This coral planting can occur after the third removal is completed, ensuring that the seaweeds are killed out in the restoration patches before the coral work begins.

The Kiribati nursery corals continue to thrive under the care of our local partners, who have recently sent photos of the nursery.  The over-abundant parrotfish continue to suppress the coral growth in the nursery, normally a problem, but at this time the slower growth has helped ensure that the nursery is kept manageable, with the corals we trimmed last March regrowing slowly and not fighting with their neighbors.  The planned creation of two new nurseries in areas with fewer parrotfish is on hold for now.  The efforts we took in teaching alternate food sources in this import-dependent community: sweet potatoes, edible banana flowers and stems, wild greens, and edible seaweeds, has proven very useful, as imports have become harder to obtain, with a major slowdown in shipping and total stoppage of air freight due to the pandemic. 

Unfortunately, we have not been able to follow up with the work in our partnership site on Moorea, in French Polynesia, with the "Coral Gardeners" youth-driven NGO. Even with flights inward possible, a COVID epidemic has ravaged the islands, as they have continued to allow tourists in.  

Livelihood Workshops for Reef Dependent Communities, Seaweed and Giant Clam Farming, and Disaster Relief Shifts into High Gear with our Experienced Corals for Conservation Officer. 

Back in Fiji, a livelihoods workshop for reef dependent communities is going on right now at our Teitei Livelihoods Centre, and our Naidiri coral restoration site is well represented.  Our community officer Simione Koto is missing, as he is off to the north of Fiji, to Vanua Levu island, to assist with cyclone relief and channeling disaster aid sent to us through GlobalGiving.  He is also following up on prospects for new coral restoration sites there in the two communities we are assisting.  The government has almost no aid for the communities, only a week of food rations, and no material support whatsoever, as the tax base of the nation has collapsed due to the closure of the tourism industry.  We are distributing cyclone strapping, nails, and roofing screws to secure rafters, beams, and roofs, to many households, to strengthen what they manage to rebuild.  The elderly and single mothers with devastated houses have been identified across the communities and are initial targets for urgent relief.  With the shoring up housing, both the structures and the people who live in them will be able to survive in the next storm. 

The Fiji Ministry of Fisheries sent four of their officers into our Mamanuca site and they are working with us on the farming of commercially valuable and edible seaweeds in the ocean as a potential community livelihood, well as the farming of overfished and endangered giant clam species, for restoration of the important species back to the reefs.

Volunteer and Intern Opportunity in Covid-19 Free Fiji for Families, and Students!

For individuals and families who read this who would like to come serve in Fiji as self-supporting volunteers, student interns, or scientific researchers in our coral reef and community development sites, we certainly could use your help.  We recently met with Fiji Immigration and it is possible to bring people in through quarantine and on the weekly repatriation flight from LAX, as long as we get you a proper volunteer permit valid for one year.  Marine biology, agriculture, natural resources management, and community development graduates worldwide who are passionate about community prosperity and preserving the coral reef ecosystem may find such an internship an amazing opportunity.  You might reach out to your university to see if this would qualify for an individual study course.  Otherwise the experience will be enriching and will help prepare you for a career in your field.  Please send us an email if you are interested.

As always, we thank you for your support and your continued and sacrificial donations, none of this amazing progress would have been possibly without small donors like you.  For those planning on donating again, coming soon is a matching and bonus opportunity in March from GlobalGiving- the "Little by Little" campaign, and again in April for Earth Week bonuses.  

Vinaka vakalevu,

Austin

Tuvalu Invasive Seaweed Removal Project
Tuvalu Invasive Seaweed Removal Project
Kiribati Coral Nursery January, 2021
Kiribati Coral Nursery January, 2021
Giant Clam Babies Arrive from Fisheries!
Giant Clam Babies Arrive from Fisheries!
Seaweed Farming Trials Begin in the Fiji Sites!
Seaweed Farming Trials Begin in the Fiji Sites!
Crown of Thorns Starfish Removed from Nuku Reef
Crown of Thorns Starfish Removed from Nuku Reef
Volunteers get a great experience and education.
Volunteers get a great experience and education.

Links:

Dec 15, 2020

Happy Chickens Are Saving Coral Reefs! Communities Harvest Coral-Killers for Use as Chicken Feed!

rocks prevent tipping & chicks from drowning
rocks prevent tipping & chicks from drowning

Because of patrons responding to #GivingTuesday, and with the sizable bonuses awarded by GlobalGiving, an urgent program to both protect endangered coral reefs and also to provide a necessary addition to scarce chicken feed was launched.

2020 continues to be a year of crisis all over the world.  Fiji’s border is sealed, and tourism, our largest industry, has closed down.  Tens of thousands of families have lost their primary source of income.  Families are struggling to make ends meet and to feed their children.  Shipping into the country has also been disrupted, impacting the commercial poultry industry, as shipments of baby chicks and fertile eggs from New Zealand stopped for several months, and now have resumed at a lower level, so prices for eggs and chicken in the stores have gone up, at a time when people have less money to spend.  We have responded by doubling the size of our breeding flocks, with the goal of producing 300 chicks per week, to meet the increased demand from the many small family farmers and those newly unemployed who have turned to farming.  However, the cost of chicken feed has also increased by 12%, affecting our base costs of production.  These problems of shipping during the pandemic are stretching the supply chain thin.  A simple thing like procuring chicken feed has become a complex exercise in spending more money and more time searching for an increasingly scarce commodity.  Fortunately, coconut trees planted in years past are now producing and so the chickens are fed coconuts in addition to their forging. We have also in recent months helped plant 5,000 coconuts in surrounding communities, and have provided fencing to protect them from stray cows, horses, and goats.

While in the past chicks were provided as a donation to families in greatest need, the majority of chicks in recent months were sold at cost of production to poor family farmers, with the goal of these farmers hatching chicks of their own and becoming self-sufficient, and spreading prosperity in the wider community.  We have also begun lending out small incubators to the best farmers. One small farmer has proven particularly exceptional, and so we have given him the machine.  We also gave nine roosters to a commercial egg producer and he paid us back in fertile eggs- a cross between our super roosters and his imported super layers.   

While these efforts in self sufficiency for small farmers continue, the New Zealand Government recently awarded us a grant to purchase a wood chipper, and so we plan to begin worm farming as a way of lowering feed costs, while producing valuable potting soil.  The wood chips and dry compost will also be used as litter in the hen houses and under the roosts, providing a cleaner environment for the happy chickens, especially needed now, as it is the rainy season.   

We also are sourcing another free source of chicken feed, harvested from the ocean- the crown of thorns starfish (COTS).  This is part of our coral reef conservation project, where we are funding the removal of a horrific plague of these venomous animals, which eat nothing but live corals, digesting the coral tissues and leaving behind the white skeletons. The COTS removal program is an emergency response leading up to a severe hot water coral bleaching event, which is predicted to hit our reefs from February until April.  Each adult COTS kills a saucer-sized bit of coral every day, and can live for years. Conservatively estimated, removing a single COTS saves 250 corals per year.  Last week we collected 450 COTS from Votua village, for use as chicken feed, paying a bounty of 25 cents USD for each.  Our goal is to remove at least ten thousand in the next six months, at a cost of US $2,500, saving over 2.5 million corals, providing a high protein, high calcium chicken food, and providing a much-needed cash income to the villagers.  We are encouraging the Fiji Government and other NGOs to support this effort for other communities during this coral bleaching crisis, in order to save the bleaching-resistant corals that do survive, helping the coral reefs adapt to the increasing temperatures caused by climate change.  

The villagers know how dangerous the toxic starfish are, as the local name is “Vula Walu” or “eight months”, as that is how long a COTS wound can last before healing.  So the program is helping make the waters safer for children to swim in again.  Each COTS has over a dozen arms covered in venomous spines.  The fishers load them into their canoes or used kayaks, bought from the closed resorts, and then spread them out on the shore to dry, until we come to collect them.  Their sharp thorns fortunately become dull on drying. They also lose their poisonous power, and so they can be more easily handled and ready to be eaten by the hungry chickens, eager for a nutrient rich natural supplement.  Dried COTS, stacked up like pancakes, are smashed before feeding to the chickens.  If they are not yet dry when we bring them in, we lay them out on the hill to dry at the farm.  

A gift of $25 towards this effort will remove 100 COTS, thereby saving 25,000 corals, while translating into joy for cash strapped families, and savings on happy chickens poultry feed, passed on to the farmers.  We will also begin offering baby chicks for trading in-kind for dried COTS, as a way of coastal communities becoming more more self-sufficient. 

U.S. donors, because of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed last spring by Congress, you may make up to a $300 cash donation to your favorite non-profit, and claim as a tax deduction next year, even if you don't itemize.  The IRS is encouraging citizens to utilize this special provision to benefit charities worldwide.

We're preparing for Yasa, a hurricane thought to arrive here in Fiji as a Category 4 within two days.  Yasa, in Fijian means sandalwood, and we grow some here at our permaculture farm. 

Godspeed to one and all during the holidays, Austin

Apakuki and Natanieli are excited about the catch!
Apakuki and Natanieli are excited about the catch!
Chickens enjoy picking coconut out of the shell
Chickens enjoy picking coconut out of the shell
Village Children Planting Hybrid Coconuts
Village Children Planting Hybrid Coconuts
Chicks one week apart in age
Chicks one week apart in age
 
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