Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Lots of updates on the critters

Boy, this is going to be long. Three and a half weeks is a long time on a farm. Lots has happened.

Here we are, middle of March, and we've already had days of putting sunscreen on and using AC in the car come afternoon. Still feels weird to this Yankee.

After rain and rain and rain (6 straight weekends of rain), we finally have gotten break and have been celebrating glorious SPRING! The wildflowers are going nuts after such a wet winter, and now insanely blue skies and warm sun. The front yard is getting scraggly, and I was going to mow, but after watching one of the horses having a treat and kids picking widlflowers, I decided our old-fashioned style of mowing suits me just fine right now. :-) So I am going to bring a horse out each morning and afternoon to work on the lawn.

Our lovely niece, from upstate New York, visited for three weeks. She is a horse girl (woman! she's 20 now), has been riding since she was 9 and is very gifted with horses. She wants to be a horse trainer. She did awesome things with the horses while she was here, gaining compliments not only from Stephen and me (who are impressed with just about anything) but also from people who actually know and work horses. She was great with the kids, and a few times the three of them made treats for the horses.

Feeding the horses home-made horse cookies:

For us, it has been so helpful to get to know the horses better. We have ridden them, spent a lot more time with them, learned how to saddle them, and just generally feel more comfortable around them. To the extent that one of them has an abcess under his tail that requires twice-daily spraying for three weeks, and I am feeling fairly confident about doing this (yes, standing behind a horse, lifting up his tail and squirting his buns!)

The Horse Whisperer (our niece) left us on Tuesday. We were all very sad to see her go and hope she will come back soon.

The roosters are huge and loud and generally boorish. They have a sex drive that is insane. The whole reproductive thing for chickens is a pretty hit-or-miss affair, so the roosters compensate by doing it A LOT. Unfortunately for the hens, we bought a straight run, meaning we have roughly 30 roosters and 30 hens. These are very bad odds for the hens. We need max 1 rooster per 15 hens. So the roosters need to go. I can't believe it, but I am actually seriously considering killing a few myself, just to get started. There are so many of them, and it is really hard for us to coordinate it with Stephen's work schedule.

You may remember that when we processed the last batch of cornish-rocks, Stephen left one behind because she had a cold. Well she got better and integrated pretty quickly with the other birds. But for some reason the boys find her irresistable. A few weeks ago Stephen discovered her horribly pecked and practically dead. We nursed her inside for a while, but it seems that no matter what she is going to be attacked by the roosters. She now lives a weird life outside under the car port in a dog cage, let out only when there are people around to fend off the roosters who keep jumping on this hen hotty and ripping her scabs off her neck. Farmer Boy has named her Queen Suzanne. If she were not the one he had claimed as his special pet, she would no longer be with us. She has a sweet friend who has been named Lady Robert. Lady Robert is a RI Red hen on the smallish side, who is quite tame. The Princess carries her around for long periods every day. Molly the dog also has taken a liking to Queen Suzanne, and considers it her personal mission to run off all the roosters that approach QS... unless Molly is distracted by something else. So we do not let QS loose unless there is a human around. Here are Molly and Queen Suzanne sharing a meal:

The black stuff on Suzanne's neck is pine tar. Poor baby, it's like she has a target on her neck. Even the pine tar doesn't keep them off her.

The hens have started laying! Yippee! Since they are free range, I am positive there are lots of eggs somewhere that we are missing. I won't be surprised to some day see a mama hen waddle out with a bunch of babies. We have 30 hens, have had eggs for about 7 days, and only 9 eggs so far. I made some really slapped together nest boxes that someone has laid in once. I need to make better ones, and once the roosters are gone, close the girls in at night and let them out after sun up so that they have to start using the nest boxes. More incentive. Right now these birds are totally free range, and most eggs we find are in the dog house and in an open bag of pine shavings! If they wanted to they could all fly away in the middle of the night, but for the fact that some weird trance comes over them between 6:00pm and 4:15am. Note that this starts before dark and ends before sun up. Pretty wacky.

Here's an egg we got recently, so tiny! Next to a store-bought egg for comparison:

You know how roosters are loud? They're really loud. Under your bedroom window. At 4:15am. In stereo. Thirty of 'em. Time for chicken soup.

Um, what other critters... cattle! We hired some cowboys (really) to come and round up our cattle for us, load some to take to auction, and teach us how to worm them. Being newbies and working with poorly managed pastures which we have not had the time or money to fix, these girls have definitely gotten worms. As we move into a greater understanding of organic management practices we'd like to move away from the wormers. The stuff we chose actually is acceptable under the USDA organic beef regulations but it is still a drug.

So we sold 6 bull calves and a cow with a broken leg. We now have 6 cows, a heifer calf and a bull. I am pretty sure one of the mamas is pregnant, but they are all in rough shape due to the worms and having REALLY big calves nursing. I watched a 15 month old calf nursing off one cow a few weeks ago. In managed herds the calves are weaned at 6 months. We have zero cross fencing on the range they use, so there is zero management. After we finish the goat fencing, the next project is a cattle corral so we can begin to manage these animals better.

Here is one of the calves last November, right after a good milking session. Look at all that cream on his face!

Wednesday the guys came back and tried to load the old bull who was sick and dying. They barely got him in the trailer and then he couldn't get up again. They won't take him at auction like that. So we had to make the hard decision to kill him. :-(

There sure are some hard edges to this real life we are learning to live.

We bought a new young bull who is just a beauty. He is younger than some of the calves we sold. His youth will help keep him close and allow us to work with him to keep him gentle.

So on to goats! We have made definite progress in our strivings toard goat ownership recently. The rain has done dastardly things to our plans. Since Stephen has to keep working at his off farm job, most major farm work has to happen on the weekend, and it has rained for 6 weekends in a row. We also picked a most frightful place to put one side of the fence. Well, at least from the perspective of what is under the soil.... rocks!! Very very hard to get t-posts into a bed of rocks and clay. Stephen has been banging these 5 foot t-posts in manually. Actually, they are longer than that out of the gorund... they are 5' when they are installed. I tried to do it, and couldn't even lift the post driver over my head, on a stool. But he prevailed and as of today we have almost all the posts in that need to go in, so the hardest part is done. Now we just need to attach the wire, which should be do-able this weekend. A few days ago we visited Snowy and Sylvester, the two goats we are buying. They sure are funny looking! LaManchas are pretty unusual in appearance. And sweet as can be!

Dogs: There seems to be some inexplicable attraction of the doghouse to our daughter. A few weeks ago I was searching everywhere for her and finally found her standing on the dog house, barefoot. Yesterday I was looking for her and asked Farmer Boy where she was. "In the dog house. " Silly me.

Luke, Fred and Molly have found their peace with one another. Molly came back into heat, but Fred is just too ancient and exhausted to do anything. He must be Alpha Male, because Molly shows no interest in Luke. Since Fred is not willing to coooperate with Molly, Molly just hops on Fred and gets out her frustration.

Hank the horse stepped on Molly's paw a few days ago. She bled pretty badly at first but it didn't break. She limps every once in a while and favors it, but she can still run with the boys.

While the Horse Whisperer and I were attending to Molly's paw, I saw something odd out the kitchen window and did a double take. Here's what I saw:

Yup, that's a rooster swimming in the pool. Big oops! I like to think it went something like this:

"Ooh, maybe there's something delicious up there." Flap flap flap... "WHOAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!" Splash! "Hey, what the... help! Get me out of here! Heyyyyyyy!!!"

He was cold and wet so we wrapped him up in a towel, and put him in the nice heated bathroom to dry off.

And Miss Kitty...

I didn't write about this because I didn't want to face it... our cat didn't come home. She didn't come home after she followed the kids and Stephen on a long walk to the other side of the property . That night there was a big rainstorm. Well, she didn't come home for a long time. I finally realized she was gone for good. Two weeks after we lost her, Stephen and the kids went for a walk up the road. They came to a neighbor's whom we haven't met. Somehow during the conversation S mentioned we'd lost a cat. "Is this it?" the guy asked... and there she was! She had gotten lost way up on the other side of our property, and his tom cat had found her and brought her home. The back of their land abutts ours at one place. So Snugglebug is home. :-)

Here she is at 8 weeks old:

And now:

I adore this cat!

If you've made it this far, you must be one weary traveler. If you were here I'd boil some water for a cup of spicy Good Earth tea, and we'd sit on the couch and drink tea and eat chocolate chip cookies (assuming my family has left some in the cookie jar). Since you're not, I'll just say "Cheers!" from here, and imagine you making yourself a cuppa. :-) Happy day to you!


shannon said...

Oh - sounds like you have some rooster "processing" to do, and quick!....we keep it 1:15 and it's a good ratio. The hens get a good flock guardian, and they aren't too harassed. Keeping them in till after the sun comes up will get you more eggs in more accessable places - the nights I don't close the chooks flap, like last night, I wind up with eggs outside - today they laid three in a little depression they made next to the cat house, and Harri the retriever brought me one last night that had been laid in the cat house itself :). Glad you found your kit - when I was little one of mine wound up at a neighbor's too, weeks after we have given up on her. She was just living a life of luxury a block over :)Sounds like you have lots of things happening there - hope you can update more often!

Anonymous said...

Oh, Patti, I'm so glad that she came home. I was there when she got left behind and I worried about her. I was reassured by Stephen and Caeleb (farmer boy) that she would find her way, since she had "been around" the place for a while. So, I'm so happy to know the sequel to this story. Tell her I said "Welcome home." Next time I will insist we go back and look for her. Milly

Rurality said...

I had to laugh at the picture of the swimming chicken! Never thought I'd see that.

We had a really small egg like that too not long ago. Shannon is snickering behind her hand, because she's getting really big ones instead. :)

Mary said...

I hope you don't mind, but I've linked to you at my blog.

I'm *so* glad you got your kitty back!!!

traci said...

Just had to tell you how much I love reading about your "adventures!" Your photos are wonderful too--the rooster in the water is my favorite! :)

Thanks so much for sharing your stories!