Thursday, 26 February 2015

New Chickens

New Chickens but also an electric fence

Yesterday 19 white chickens arrived yesterday from a commercial farmer who takes day old chicks and grows on until they are ready to lay. They are commercial Point Of Lay chickens but I can't remember the make and model number of them. 6 Cockerels, 1 to keep and 5 to fatten up and eat.

They were kept in the shed for 24 hours before letting them out and the first thing that struck me was how much and how quick these things eat compared to the Leg Bars, Leg Horn and Silky chickens of before.

The previous chickens would slowly eat their food and there would have been some left after 30 minutes but these lot eat everything within 2 minutes. When I fed them in the shed all I could hear was tap tap tap as the beaks hit the floor as they pecked, and then it fell silent as they finished.

Around the pen I've put an electric fence at the top which will hopefully stop the fox but of course time will be the judge of this.

The last lot all had names and different personalities but with 19 white commercial almost identical chickens that's unlikely to happen without a tin of spray paint and some imagination.

With the wings now clipped it's just a matter of sitting back waiting for eggs and since they are from commercial stock these things are likely to lay eggs in a prolific fashion so our diet is likely to change to omelette, scrambled, poached and boiled egg along with lots of cakes :) .... or alternatively a possibility into starting to sell produce at the country market.

They are supposed to have 100g of special feed per chicken per day (almost 2kg) while we slowly wean them off of their normal food onto corn/wheat, layer's pellets and kitchen scraps but luckily the farmer gave us 4 bags of their normal feed thrown into the price. It's looking like the feed might be close to a £1 a day once they start laying. This living cheaply and having your own eggs and meat is beginning to look like the expensive option - especially during the winter when no eggs are forth coming!

Since the farmer doesn't want cockerels I have been told I can have as many cockerels as I want or can cope with but now we are about to find out if the cockerels will tolerate each other. They have been split up from the hens (although 1 was left with the little flock, brood , peep, clutch or chattering or what ever the group is called). If they can't get along we'd better create some freezer space!

Since the neighbour has just given us a 4 yr old apple tree which I planted in their coup I guess I can now say the eggs come from "woodland chickens" as is now the fashion. That's what another local chicken farmer has done, planted a few young trees in a field where the chickens can roam and now the supermarket has "from free range woodland chickens" printed on the boxes, with a higher price of course.  

Just remembered the chicken shed needs some more roof felt and another roosting perch, more items on the job list.

Who'll be the first to get a shock as we forget the electric fence is live in the morning? Seems like the kids have got the job of letting the chickens out in the morning :)

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Water Quality Testing

Water Quality Testing

One thing always leads to another....

I was asked by the Wildlife Trust to do some Salinity Water Tests on various water bodies as the previous volunteer had stopped doing the tests. It involves a good walk all over the nature reserve visiting all the ponds and taking Salinity readings. The results are useful to know for various reasons but recently they are being used to determine what effect the December 5th 2013 storm and tidal surge / sea breach had upon the ponds.

Since I use the blog to remind myself of my thoughts at the time when I look back in a year or two I'll mention that it takes about 12,000 steps to complete and takes about 4 hrs.

There are various types of ponds from freshwater, brackish to very brackish with some drying up in dry summers. Some are heavily influenced by the tides.

When I looked at the 2013 results for the 25 or so water bodies and compared them to the 2014 results I realised that several ponds react differently to others at different times of the year. Testing the ponds once per month, although revealing a lot of interesting information, posed more questions to me than answers. I've therefore increased the number of water bodies tested to over 50 to get a fuller picture.

Testing even more ponds then posed more questions and highlighted the fact that on a site where there are salt marshes, freshwater marshes, sand dues and meadows with man made barriers and natural as well as man made creeks and ditches connecting different parts of the site, it was a far more complicated environment than I had first thought.

What a salinity test is
A salinity test is a measurement of how much salt is in the water, at least I thought tit was. Even testing the water poses many more questions than just "what is the salinity".

For a start the results of a test can be reported as a unit of electrical conductivity, EC, which uses the unit of Siemens (that's probably where the company of the same name got it's name) but the amount of electrical conductivity is smaller than the Siemen (S) so milli or microSiemens are used (mS or uS). The test basically measures how conductive an area of water is over 1 cm of distance (the positive and negative probes are 1 cm apart). It is measuring the amount of ions in the water.

Unfortunately this EC measurement is often expressed as Parts Per Thousand (ppt) or Parts Per Million as well. This equates to milli grammes per litre and introduces another term called Total Dissolved Solids (TDS). This is the weight of salt that would be left in a bucket if you evaporated all the water off and weighed what was left.

Total Dissolved Solids
 The problem with evaporating off the water and weighing the residue is that it doesn't represent what was in the water precisely because some things that you want to measure also get lost. Evaporating water and calculating what is left is difficult and can't be done quickly or out in a field. An electrical equivalent is used instead.

Electrical Conductivity
The unit of Siemen is simply the reciprocal of the Ohm (1/Ohms). The reciprocal of the Ohm is written backwards, Mho. The problem is that different salinity testers convert the electrical conductivity to a TDS reading (ppt or ppm) in different ways.

There are various different representations of how much salt is in water.

Some, perhaps most, testers measure the conductivity and convert to a TDS value which is a representation of how much Sodium Chloride there is in water, the NaCl equivalent. They report the value in ppm.

Others convert to a TDS value which is a representation of how much Potassium Chloride there is, the KCl equivalent. Also reported as ppt.

And also other testers convert the electrical conductivity to a TDS value in ppm that represents a mixture of salts, 40% sodium sulfate, 40% sodium bicarbonate, and 20% sodium chloride, which is the 442 representations.

A Tale of Woe
So, you could have 3 different testers that give 3 different readings.

A tester that converts 1 mS/cm into a NaCl TDS value could be 500 ppm (0.5 factor)
A tester that converts 1 mS/cm into a KCl TDS value could be 550 ppm (0.55 factor)
A tester that converts 1 mS/cm into a 442 TDS value could be 700 ppm (0.7 factor)

On top of all that, 1mS/cm electrical conductivity unit is different around the world.
The USA would convert 1 mS/cm as 500 ppm
Australia would convert 1 mS/cm as 700 ppm
Europe would convert 1mS/cm as 640 ppm

So you not only need to know what the TDS salt value represents (NaCl, 442 etc) but also which market it is aimed at.

On top of that is the temperature compensation. Water conducts electricity differently at different temperatures. From what I can gather most EC testers compensate to a temperature of 25 degrees Celcius at the rate of 2.1% per degree difference from 25 degrees C. Other machines can compensate to 20 degrees C and some machines let you assign the compensation percentage from 1% to 3%.

There is no standard at all.

Then of course you have cheap, very accurate testers  made in China (and they are accurate) and you don't know which standard mS/cm value they use (USA, Europe etc) which also doesn't help. 

I have also found that even when you know the conversion factor (0.5 for example) it isn't liner, ie, although they say that they use 0.5 the algorithm actually uses between 0.45 and 0.55 at different parts of it's full scale.

Then some manufacturers seem to use 0.71 as a linear factor.

With the temperature compensation for a reading of 500 ppm taken at 20 degrees C referenced to 25 degrees do they work out 5 x 2.1%  which is 10.5% difference and add that to 500 which equates to 552.5 ppm or do they work out the compound percentage change for 5 degrees which is:

500 + 2.1% = 510.05 ppm
510.05 + 2.1% = 521.2205 ppm
521.2205 + 2.1% = 532.1661305 ppm
532.1661305 + 2.1% = 543.341619241 ppm
543.341619241 + 2.1% = 554.751793245 ppm

The difference isn't much, 2.25 ppm, when measuring low salinity readings but if you had a value of 15,000 ppm (15 ppt) the 5 degree celcius compensation values could be 280 ppm difference.

A ppt salinity reading from one machine could be 5000 ppm while another could be 7735 ppm from another, around 50% difference for the same piece of brackish water.

The Problem
I face this exact problem. When I compare the 2013 salinity results with the 2014 results some of the results of ponds that had sea water pour into them making them very saline were 50% or so lower than in the previous year when the sea didn't pour into them. Clearly either a different machine was used to take the readings or the same machine had different settings applied. Both years results are correct and accurate and I know what settings and conversion factors were used in 2014 but what factors were used in 2013?

The difference doesn't matter much for some ponds since they were and still are fairly low salinity readings but many ponds were and still are very saline but can't be compared.

Some Detective Work is Needed
It looks like I need to try and work out what tester was used in 2013, what salt it was compared to (NaCl, KCl, 442 etc) and use the temperature readings to reverse the ppt readings back into the mS/cm electrical conductivity measurement in order to compare one year before the sea breach with the following year after the breach.....DOH!

Anglian Water
Being a bit sad and not getting out much I decided to look at my own drinking water composition as measured by Anglian Water. See 

They handily publish what the minimum and maximum values for electrical conductivity are of my drinking water. I also looked up the values for the Nature Reserve. Both my water and the Reserves tap water read identical on 2 different salinity testers. Both readings were 0.31 ppt. 

When you convert the Anglian Water EC values for both locations in ppt or convert my ppt readings into EC values (mS/cm) I find that my readings, taken with 2 accurate testers, do not fall within the range specified by Anglian Water, even when I compensate for the fact that their readings are referenced to 20 degrees C and mine are referenced to 25 degrees C. They also don't publish, not that I can find them, what type of machine they use. I can only presume they use the European value of the 1 mS/cm and not the USA one or Australian. Their readings no matter how I look at them are 25% higher than my readings.

Salinity in a pond
Another problem that I have found is that although you can take a salinity reading in a pond, if you move 20 feet along the pond and take another reading you can get a different reading, but only on some days. This tells me several things, one accuracy of the meter isn't that important unless you understand what causes this and if you do understand it the reading is wrong unless you put that reading into context. The context perhaps should be multiple readings from multiple places of the same pond on the same day within a few minutes of each test. It is caused because rain water or run off water hasn't mixed well in that location or salty water has seeped in and not mixed.   

I've come to the conclusion that salinity readings should only ever be done in mS/cm and not converted into TDS readings. Many more measurements need to be taken and each pond really needs a volume measurement as well as profile taken as to how salt or freshwater mixes over time since rain or high tides.

Why can't life be simple? Trying to learn something new is hard enough without these little complications.

Although I've learnt a lot I still have 2 years worth of data that I want to compare and have learnt that I can't unless I do an awful lot more work

The Future
To produce meaningful results of the salinity tests I have started to add PH tests and have started to log the tides as well as introduce the recording of the time along with the salinity results. As the salinity rises and falls I need something to compare the changes to and I presume the changes are mainly down to the tides as well as rainfall and evaporation. I have also added other information such as the life forms seen within the ponds and different vegetation as it appears.

The previous people taking the salinity readings didn't log the time or combine the readings with any other data and because it was done just once per month very little information could be gleamed from the results apart from "this pond is more or less saline that that other pond and the salinity changes throughout the year".

I want to know why it changes, what effect the rain, sun and tides have on the different ponds, at what salinity levels do the dragonflies and other insects get affected and how long does one event, such as a high tide or rain or sunny conditions, take to effect the salinity and by how much.

Environmental Science Degree
I am aiming to take a Science Degree but will need something to research and this fits the bill. To this end I took a 3rd year Environmental Science Student around the site and explained what I was doing because she is almost at the end of her degree and needs to finish her dissertation which is on the "effects of salinity with respect to the Orchids on a freshwater marsh or meadow". She turned up to see the reserve (at the wrong time of year for Orchids) with the wrong test equipment and a PH meter which was not calibrated, but to her credit she had brought some de-ionized water to do the calibration but didn't know that she needed a PH buffer to calibrate against. She also thought a salinity tester was a Calcium tester so had rented the wrong equipment and didn't know anything about an Electrical Conductivity / TDS meters even though her study depended upon the results of them. Orchids require Fungi or Mycelia to form a symbiotic relationship with the them in order to grow which she didn't know and she couldn't identify an Orchid either. She had only 4 or 5 more weeks until her whole dissertation had to be handed in complete with study data, methodology and conclusion / findings etc but apart from all that she was hopeful about passing.

Unfortunately she doesn't appear to have learnt anything in the last 3 years of University, not that corresponds to what her dissertation is about anyway, can't be bothered to look things up and admitted that when she tried to read a scientific report in her area of study that she found it rather difficult and got bored reading it, and is looking at a Masters degree next. 

When I asked how she got on her course, because I need to find a way in, she said various Universities turned her down but since she took a Maths A level (and failed with an E, or passed with an E) she could get into one of the Universities if she obtained one more A she took an A level in Dance....and got accepted onto a Science based degree course.

Begs the question how good are people with degrees, what actually do they get taught and would it be worth me taking an A level in "dance" to get in?

....and I have to give her all the data that I've collected and just in case someone spots that our 2013 data doesn't correspond with the 2014 data I have to convert it for her some how. 


Monday, 9 February 2015

Sedentary Lifestyles

Sedentary Lifestyles

During most of last year I did a job that basically involved standing still for 10 hours a day. That's a bit of an exaggeration but not much since I was spending hours up a ladder or standing wiring up electrics for an electrical company. I put on the best part of 1 stone (14lb) of weight.

The weight gain became a little worrying and I needed to lose it. I need targets and statistics so I used a pedometer app on my phone to count how many steps I do during a normal week and thereby I'd know how many more I need to increase by to become more active.

I've since stopped that job and have gone back to my normal lifestyle, which means I'm very busy and active during the winter and less so from about now, February, until October.

Reading up on how many steps we are "supposed" to do, and how much exercise health professionals say we need to do suggests that we should be aiming for approximately 150 minutes or 2.5 hrs of moderate exercise per week, or ideally 30 minutes per day. 

The number of steps a sedentary person does is around 2,000 to 4,000 steps per day and the goal of 10,000 per day would suggest that you are an active person. 12,500 and above is a "very active" person. 70,000 per week is active and above 84,000 per week is very active.

I knew that I always do more exercise even on a quiet week than 2.5 hrs but had no idea how many steps I'd do.

I managed to track my steps for the very last week of my winter schedule, when I am busiest. Most weeks during the winter are the same apart from the last week which was a little less busy, although it was only one active day less. 

The number of steps that I do during the winter weeks is around 130,000. The last week actually measured 127,500 steps and since that was slightly less busier than the normal week I presume for 12 winter weeks I would do between 120,000 and 140,000 steps per week.

The app also measured how many "active hours", calories burnt and distance travelled. My active hours measured 22hrs for the week, the distance was 77.5km and calories burnt were 5,000 during this exercise.

I was impressed by just how active I am compared to most people but that then got me thinking, what did I do and how would that compare to rural people with an active lifestyle many years ago?

During the week I only had 2 days that involved walking from a to b. Those 2 days were when I was bush beating for local game shoots - often during the winter I'd do 3 days of this but they are only relatively short days, 9am start, 4pm end although I walk there and back (or cycle). The other days were spent digging the garden and chopping wood and volunteering for 1 day at the Wildlife Trust and those days are much shorter.

Although I clocked up what I thought were very impressive numbers I then thought about what a farm worker, or rural estate worker would have done 100 years ago. Back then, in my area, they would have done bush beating, even more because there would have been many of them but not just beating, they would have had to have walked around the estate or farm on a daily basis checking the game birds and looking and protecting their nests all year. They would have also walked around fixing fences, chopping down trees for firewood, ploughing fields, feeding animals etc. I think that they would have done similar jobs to me, for more hours per day and often for 7 days a week.

I therefore think that they would have clocked up 200,000 steps per week and covered 100 km distance.

The idea that 84,000 steps per week makes someone now days a "very active" person seems to reflect the modern lifestyle change rather more than being a true reflection of an active person. It highlights to me why we are all fat and unfit if we class someone as very active and thereby fit if they only do 84,000 steps a week. That isn't active or fit compared to what even the average person would have done 100 years ago when most would have walked to work and many many people would have worked in the fields.

The following week I tracked my normal, non busy week. 78,000 steps and 13 hrs of being active which included some chopping of wood, a volunteering day at the WildLife Trust and just one day walking to school and back (1.5 miles each direction). This week included 2 days of doing absolutely no exercise at all. 2 days in the car or sitting down where I only clocked up 3,000 or 4,000 steps per day. Several things about this week caught my attention. Firstly sedentary people do around 3,000 to 4,000 steps per day which means they literally sit on their backsides all day since that number of steps is taken up going to the loo and walking to and from the fridge and car and getting up to look for the TV remote and the odd walk up stairs to and from bed. The second thing that caught my attention was how little you have to do to almost be classed as very active, one day walking to and from a local school and 1 day out walking around a nature reserve - I did almost nothing for the rest of the week.

I think the government and health workers have got it all wrong by telling us what we should be aiming to do to become active. The goals are far too low but what is worrying is that they were, or are, considering lowering the amount of exercise they tell people to do, 2.5 hrs per week, because it is unrealistic and most people are ignoring it. I'm sure by setting a lower target their figures for how well their targets are being achieved will then look good but it is really missing the point. Just walking to school and back in the morning and afternoon would allow me to clock up "very active" status. 

It is all well and good saying that people don't have the time in their busy lives to exercise but something is clearly wrong with the modern lifestyle and surely changing the lifestyle to make time for exercise is better than lowering targets and accepting that there isn't time. I'd prefer to exercise than earn more money and then have health problems when I'm old and die younger. What's the point of not finding time to be active if all it will do is make you be ill and an invalid in later life. Once you get to 60, have a heart attack, and feel sorry for yourself I'm sure you'd wished that you'd found a couple of hours per day to walk.

I can see clearly for myself what exercise does for you, I go bush beating with 60, 70 and 80 year old men who have all had an active life and they are still fit right upto the day they drop dead. In the last 5 or 6 years the old beaters that have died have all been around or over 80. I've also seen 60 year olds retire, come bush beating, so as to get exercise, only to have a heart attack a couple of weeks later because their bodies simply aren't up to it. They retire and only then think of keeping active but unfortunately they find that they haven't got long for this world and they now have to keep taking it easy. They retire with plenty of money but can't spend it doing what they want.

The other thing the pedometer has been useful for is showing me how much I over eat. The busy week showed that I burnt off 5,000 calories and I know this is well under what I really burnt because it didn't take into account that chopping wood involves a lot more than a few steps and also bush beating isn't just walking, it is waving a stick and ducking and diving through bushes, hedges and walking over fields with clods of clay sticking to your feet. I would guess that I'm burning off another 1 to 2,000 calories during those weeks which suggests that I am eating upto 7,000 more calories per week than I need. That's a lot per day. It also shows that cutting out a few of the bits of junk food and only having slightly smaller meal sizes and the weight will have to fall off.

In fact, during the winter I lost most of the 1 stone I added during my sedentary job and the last 2 weeks I've been aware of what I have been eating and have not been on a diet but just questioned whether I needed that snack or not and have lost 3lb. I haven't gone without, haven't changed food, nothing difficult, just made myself aware of how many calories I'm eating.

I can see that I'd get down to a very good weight just by being aware of what I shove into my mouth. On quiet weeks I need to not stuff myself and on busy weeks I needn't worry about it one way or the other. 

Anyway, I'm off now to chop wood and move a pile of manure from one part of the garden to another.