Receiving Pregnant Sheep “Hoo-Ha” Photos by Text: Farming in the 21st Century

My friend’s sheep is pregnant.  This being my friends first sheep pregnancy, she is on pins and needles awaiting the birth.  This has lead to numerous phone calls back and forth, and since we had gone through several batches of piglets, I know how stressful it can be.  I’d like to imagine my friend and I as hardened farmers, chatting back and forth over a fence, with a piece of hay sticking out of our mouths, wearing cowboy hats- speaking with a southern drawl.  We’d be looking to the sky knowingly and saying something like “Yup, rains finally comin’.  ‘Bout time.”, before I’d hike back up to the barn and throw on a weathered rain poncho just before the heavens opened up.   Of course, I wish I was as cool as this farmer image in my head, but the reality is more like the following…

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Tranquil chicken photos… of the chickens free-ranging as the snow is melting!   Don’t worry, no sheep photos of poor Lisa.

I’m standing in the front hallway with cell phone in hand, am looking at the weather report on a screen.  It says the temperature is dropping below freezing.  I make a mental note to tell the Chef to plug in the chicken water heater this evening, as I am heading out the door, and I am already late.  I am trying not to trip over our pug, while the smallest cat is trying to claw my ankles – successfully destroying yet another pair of socks.  I grab a scarf and wrap it stylishly around my neck, hoping that in doing so, it covers the toothpaste stain on my shirt.  Farm puppy #1, now at 90 pounds, has decided now would be a good time to try to run between my legs.  Tripping over rubber boots in the hallway, my phone buzzes and reads: “I’m worried about Lisa.”.

Lisa, I should mention is my friends sheep.  I have no idea what her three children are named, but I do know who Lisa is.  I am locking up the front door, tripping over chickens that have decided that the sunniest and warmest spot is our front porch, and realize that this is requiring a phone call response.  I jump in the car, and call my friend on speaker.  “Hey.  So what’s wrong with her?”.

“Well, she’s just looking really uncomfortable, and she’s making those noises that I make when my back pain’s really bad.  Like when it hurts so bad that all you can do is moan?  Well, that’s what she sounds like.  I think she’s trying to get into the one of the barns, but it’s all blocked in with snow… which I have started shovelling, but it’s 4 feet deep.  I don’t know, maybe her labour’s starting but I didn’t think she was due yet!”.

I ponder this, while driving to my physiotherapy appointment.  “Well, what’s her hoo-ha looking like?”.  Yes, I realise it’s not clinical, but in our house, that ended up being the exceptionally mature and scientific term we used.  We had been looking at our pigs back ends daily when we thought they were ready to farrow, while also watching their teats and bellies getting more and more swollen.  The Chef I discovered, really didn’t like me asking “Did you look at the pigs vagina today?  How’s her vulva?”, and so “Hoo-ha” became the go-to word.

“It’s swollen.  But I don’t think she’s ready, I think she’s going to have twins.  She’s huge!”.

“Do you think you can clear out the path to the barn so she can get in?”, I had visions of poor Lisa having her twins outside in the snow, after she was unable to get access to the barn she had picked for her maternity ward.

“Oh yeah, I got this, just one more thing to do.”

“Well make sure you’ve got lube on hand and your nails are trimmed just in case, and let me know if something happens!”.

It’s at this point I realize that I’m sure we’ve had a visitor or two in our barn wondering why there’s a tube of KY jelly in there, but was too polite – or fearful – to ask.

So I arrive at my physiotherapy appointment, incognito as a normal clean person.  There are already two clients sitting in the closely placed chairs of the waiting room, with only the one remaining seat between them.  It’s now of course, I hope that I didn’t step in any farm poop on the way out the door – as close proximity situations like this is usually when I notice things like that.  I squeeze in, shoulder to shoulder with the strangers and I look casually at my boots, praying they are poop-free.  I’m certainly not dog-hair free.  Of course, that’s when the picture of Lisa’s swollen vagina pops up on my extra large iPhone Screen, in full colour.  The message that followed, “What do you think?”.

What do I think?  What do I think!?  I think I’ve never closed my iphone screen down so fast and thank god that the image was so close up that the people on my left and right had no idea what that swollen pink mess was!  I got enough of an eyeful to feel sorry for the sheep that’s for sure, but the woman to the left of me surely thought that was the ugliest baby ever to have its photo taken.

After my appointment, I sit in my car in the parking lot and study the vagina.  I send a return text “Maybe 48 hours?  I don’t know…”.  A speedy response of, “That’s what Jim said!” makes me laugh, as the ability to send out sheep vagina photos to every farmer so that they can weigh in their opinions for some reason makes me laugh.  I sit wondering where Jim was when he received the text.  He definitely wasn’t in a physiotherapists waiting room, that’s for sure.  He’s far more of a southern-drawl cowboy hat wearing farmer kind, and frankly was surprised that he even had a cell-phone.

But technology certainly has made our farming easier.  There are Facebook chicken groups, that hold poultry swaps and American Guinea Hog forums that can answer anything from farrowing to butchering.  Got a question about your animal?  Chances are, there’s a Facebook group for that.  You can quickly post it, and instantly 10 other farm animal owners can weigh in, often having gone through the same thing themselves.  Technology is assisting the farm community knowledge to be spread, which I’m so grateful for.  You don’t even need a cowboy hat or a fence to lean on…

Several days later, still on sheep-watch, I texted my friend “Any word on Lisa?”.  Lisa still hadn’t delivered, and after looking at her photo once again, I texted “I think her hoo-ha needs to be ‘pouting’ more.  It’s not swollen enough.”.

“Well, I’m pouting.  I want this damn sheep to birth!”.  Sadly, there are some things that technology just can’t help with.  In the meantime, we sit and wait!

Happy Farming!

Sincerely,

The Shepherd

 

P.S. An update… Lisa gave birth to healthy twins!  Both momma sheep and friend are thrilled!  And Lisa also got her barn of choice, just in case your were wondering!

 

 

 

Rosé and Fixing Toilets: Pairing Wines to your Farm Chores

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All I know is the Shepherd will shovel a lot of chicken &^*@ if she knows that there is a cold glass of this at the end of the day  – Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc

As we are in the middle of a house renovation, of a house that desperately needed love, we are sometimes fixing things temporarily before they can be replaced fully.  Our en suite bathroom being one of them – the toilet had been continually running, and although it is scheduled for replacement, there was no sense in doing it quite yet… since everything in the bathroom has to get replaced and we weren’t quite ready for that.  So we figured out the small part that needed to be picked up and installed, and while mid install – which involved my hand deep down and up to my elbow in the back of a 30-year-old toilet, cursing with the fiddly bits of plastic, the Chef shouted up to me “Care for a glass of wine?”.

 

Now on the days I use power tools, I do refrain from my 3 pm glass, but on days that I’m shovelling out chicken coops or apparently fixing toilets, it’s wine full steam ahead.  Because nothing is more perfect then working hard all day, and taking a well deserved break at 3 pm – and sitting back and reflecting on what’s been accomplished while enjoying the nose of a lovely Sauvignon Blanc.

But with my hand in the toilet, I suddenly was wondering, what wine pairs with toilet repair?

Food pairings are one thing, but pairing food to tasks is always fun game to play at our farm – not that we always have what would ideally be paired with the task, but it’s fun anyway.  If the heritage chickens you are cleaning up after, are bred out of England (Light Sussex), New Hampshire (New Hampshires), New Jersey (Jersey Giants), and some chickens have some Chilean roots (Ameraucanas), what wine should you shoot for?  A white with high acidity to cut through the poop, with a great floral nose to cover the smell?  But from where?

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I don’t care what you say… if my hand is going in the back of a 30-year-old toilet, I may be rewarding myself with wine a little earlier then 3 pm.

So with one hand in the toilet, I yelled to the Chef “Text Benta what wine pairs with toilet repair?”, as our friend Benta once owned a vineyard, so as far as I’m concerned, anyone whose owned a vineyard is qualified to give wine advice.

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Waiting to try the Emandare Sauvignon Blanc – a Canadian wine made from grapes from our friend’s old vineyard…being saved for a special occasion… like when the bathroom is finally completely gutted!

“Rosé.” was the one word text the Chef received.  No explanation.  But with the shortness of the response, and the speed in which it came – it’s clearly gospel.  Sadly we were short on Rosé, but it was added to the list should the toilet fix require yet another part from the hardware store.

So, in case you’re wondering, I had to settle for a Pino Grigio, that happened to be cold and in our fridge.  And even better, I managed to fix the toilet.  And nothing pairs better with victory, then a cold glass of a great white wine!

So the next time your dealing with something smelly on your farm – or just a right pain, play the wine-pairing game.  You get points for creativity and justification. Just make sure you have something in the fridge to look forward to!

Cheers and Happy Farming!

Sincerely,

The Shepherd

 

 

 

“Splish, Splash, he was takin’ a Bath”: Physiotherapy for your Duck

We have a little new pekin duck that seems to have trouble walking.  We hadn’t even noticed, but when we attempted to integrate him into the larger pekin flock of 6 ducks that are older by about 3 weeks, they started to pick on him and made a bloody mess under one of his wings.  As soon as that happened, he then was quickly escorted by way of trusty cardboard box, from the barn to the house for an assessment.

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“Is it coming to live with us permanently Mom?”

I checked him out, and I determined that his legs were slighted bowed – but no breaks.  It was hard to tell what was now going on under the one wing, so he was moved into a large tupperware bin to heal, with his own food and water and comfy dog towel.  Which is a nice perk for a duck, private food and all, but we weren’t sure that the duck would be getting to move and use his legs so that he could eventually return to his duck peeps – and be a normal, happy duck.  After all, sitting by the food bowl, eating and not moving was probably what got him into this mess in the first place.  Although, I can’t be too judgemental, since that’s exactly how I behave at cocktail parties.

Enter, duck physiotherapy.  Now by no means am a trained physiotherapist, never mind one for ducks.  However, still enduring my own physiotherapy, I do know the premise.  Keep using it, if it gets sore or hurts… stop.

So, to get little duck moving, I decided to let him walk free in our house.  Crazy?  Sure, but we have long passed that point and it always seems like we have one animal or another in here anyway, never mind the 2 adults, 3 dogs and 2 cats that are regulars here.  So little duck started out his journey cruising around our kitchen, being greeted by of course… 1 adult, 3 dogs and 2 cats.  Oddly, everyone is used to having animals everywhere around here, so no one seemed fazed that a little duck was cruising around underneath our bar stools in our kitchen.

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Little duck – not to keen on the butt sniff.

Little duck was none to happy, but he was moving.  Of course, when ducks are frightened the first thing they do is poop.  And apparently, the second thing they also do is also poop.  And third thing, fourth thing and fifth thing.  So he would walk, take a break, poop, and when the dogs were sniffing his bottom a little too much, he would cruise again… not quite sure of this environment of laminate flooring and kitchen cabinetry.  Me following little duck, with cleaning cloth in hand.  I’m hoping he felt it was an improvement over the tupperwear bin – at least it was certainly more exciting!

I suddenly had a eureka moment.  Swimming!  Ducks love it, and that would stimulate his little legs… the more movement the better!  So I started filled up the kitchen sink, and plopped in little duck and stood back.

Ducks and water have got to be the most fun things to watch on our farm, but watching from a foot away in your own kitchen can be a wet experience.  If you ever have the inclination to conduct duck physiotherapy in your own kitchen sink, please keep in mind the following:

Don’t bother to clean the floor first.

Don’t bother to clean the counter first.

Don’t bother to clean your bathrobe first.

Don’t bother to clean your backsplash, any dishes on the counter, adjacent stove, or window first.  Have on hand at least 8 dish towels and 1 large towel for drying off said duck, and you may want to launder those with your husbands bathrobe that you decided to throw on that morning.

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Best day ever!  Little duck enjoying warm water!

Of course, all this was completely worth it.  Little duck had the time of his life, splashing and cleaning and frolicking and drinking the water – like only ducks can.  The great thing was, that after he had cleaned himself it was apparent that it was only one feather that had been pulled, and not a disaster wound which I though it might be.  Pin feathers (brand new feathers that are growing in) when pulled bleed a ridiculous amount, and make an injury look far worse then it is!  I was thrilled that the mess was only caused by one feather!

Once little duck was fully wet, and had a great little swim, it was essential that he got dried completely before returning him to the tupperware bin, under the heat lamp just for good measure.  Although his feathers have started to come in, he is still a fluffy duck, and was soaked down straight to the skin… and if a bird gets cold on it’s back, it can be fatal.  So after the swim, he got a towelling massage and plunked back under the heat lamp which he seemed to love!

So after four days of physiotherapy, sniffs from the dogs and cats, little duck’s legs seemed to be motoring just fine.  We had just recently moved the Pekins from the barn to their outdoor house, and so they were a bit irritable anyway with their new living accommodations, so adding little duck into the fray seemed to be the least of their worries.  He, or I suspect she, seems to have returned to the group just fine.

So if you have a problem duck, a little physiotherapy seems to go a long way!   Just remember to have towels on hand… lots and lots of towels!

Good luck with all your animals, whatever they may be… and as always, Happy Farming!

 

Sincerely,

The Shepherd

 

 

When the Feed is Always Greener

It seems that animals, or at least one ones on our farm, like to change up their food whenever the opportunity is presented.  For some reason, whatever feed the “other” animals are getting – pellet, kibble or crumbles – always looks more appetizing.

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“Whaaat? Me in the dog food?  Nooooo”.  Busted.

Food in our house, is a big deal.  The Chef is focused not only on the food he cooks, but the presentation as well.  He says that food presentation is important – fresh pasta noodles are gently twisted into the dish in our house, before the bolognese sauce is added.  The duck breasts with a port-wine reduction are always cut “just so”, and plated with care.    So maybe that’s why the cat wants to eat out of the fancy silver puppy dishes, although the kibble, I can assure you is most often unceremoniously dumped in.  Of course, our older dog also helps herself to the higher calorie puppy food too…

The puppies, not to be  outdone, enjoy the cat food too.  Even though we have it placed high up on the bathroom counter in an attempt to keep the dogs out of it.  Difficult now that the puppies are 90 pounds – and a smart 90 pounds.  Every so often, a puppy escapes our watchful eye and helps themselves… although they haven’t managed to be so quiet about the process so we often catch them quickly in the act.  But the cat food isn’t their only weakness – we’ve also discovered they have a panache for chicken and turkey feed.  We had to change the way we fed the chickens on the farm and store the bags of feed, or the puppies just helped themselves – much to the displeasure of the chickens!

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Only the best tasting water comes from the toilet.  The cat is upping her game.  Ugh.

So with the puppies eating the cat food, the older dog and cats eating the puppy food, the puppies trying to eat the chicken and turkey feed if they get the chance…  the cats decided to up their game.  We had a visiting dog teach them, that the best tasting water comes from the toilet, and so our delicate cat decided she would like to partake.

Of course, I did mention that our puppies are bright, and once they saw that the cat was onto something… they wanted in.  So now they drink from this fine porcelain container as well.  Which would be fine, if they managed to keep some water in the bowl as opposed to all over the bathroom floor… right before guests are arriving… sigh…

You will be happy to know that neither the Chef or I have succumbed to delights of toilet water drinking, nor have we sampled any kibble so far.  The Chef however has been sneaking various treats to the dogs, as one has now developed her cheese palate to recognize that cheese slices – specifically bought for her to sneak medication in – is not a cheese worth eating and will spit them out.   She much prefers the smoked Gouda.  Thank goodness the other dog isn’t so fussy.. or maybe the cats will eat them if presented “just so” in a silver dish!

Here’s to the joys of animals!  Happy Farming!

Sincerely,

The Shepherd

 

When Your Ducks Are Jerks

Ducks have different personalities.  I don’t care what anyone says, but you can’t mix certain ducks together, no matter if they were raised together.  We have or rather had, 4 different species of ducks.  Indian Runner ducks, Muscovies, Pekins and Appleyards.  And they are very, very, different…

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Pekins (pure white ducks) and Appleyards, herded into a corner in our barn.  Note the hairy eyeball I got for doing that from the Appleyard male (green head). He was not amused.

Pekins, as far as I can determine, are labs of the duck world when it comes to food.  All they want to do is eat.  They will be at the front of the line, and will muscle in and try to snag whatever is available.  Personality wise though, unlike sweet labs, they are the top for domination in our small duck world here, since they seem to realize that they are the biggest ducks around.  And that’s where the problem really starts.  These Pekin ducks, or at least the strain we got, are jerks.  They tend to bully our other ducks.  Our Silver Appleyards were almost the same size, but didn’t have the personality to take them on, although they did travel together with the Pekins as a pack.  Maybe they know that hanging with the bullies is better then not.  Our Muscovies had decided that they won’t hang out with them at all, preferring more intellectual pursuits like having loud whispering and head-bobbing arguments in groups (since they are a quack-less duck) over politics of the day, usually by their water bucket.

Meanwhile, we had two little Indian Runner Ducks that were hysterical.  They were vocal little guys, cruising around the yard in their completely upright manner, talking back and forth about the weather.  Their conversations are a little more basic then the Muscovy’s:

“Do you think we’ll get rain tomorrow? I do think we’ll get rain.”

“Yes, I do in fact believe we will have rain tomorrow.  Look at that cloud.  No, that one!  That definitely looks like a rain cloud to me.  Definitely, definitely rain tomorrow.”

This banter was constant, and they generally kept to themselves, and were a lovely personality with delicate frames as they were bred for laying -certainly not a meat duck with that tiny frame!  This of course was a problem, as due to the Pekin’s size and bullying, I was concerned about their safety.  When a Pekin wants to assert that he’s top dog with a fragile petite duck, a lot a chasing and biting goes on, and no one seemed happy about the outcome.   So, sadly the Indian Runners had to go.

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Muscovies with their red masks in front, letting the little Indian Runner duck hang out with them at the rear.

The Muscovies certainly are the easiest to manage, as they hunt for slugs on their own, and although they like to have some pelleted duck food, it’s not their top priority as they have been hunting and eating all day on their own.   We haven’t eaten a duck yet, but apparently their meat is less fatty then regular duck and delicious.  And their ability to reproduce easily… we decided they had to stay.  The slug count has been at an all time low since their arrival, and that was alone worth it!

So the Appleyards and Pekins went off to different farms – both farms were looking for some new males to add to their breeding lines of ducks and the ladies were bonuses.  For some reason, the Chef was delighted about that!  And admittedly, so was I!

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How can you not want to hatch out more of these?

So we solved our duck jerk problem, to narrowing down what kind of duck worked for our farm.  Which was great… until I recognized I have a hatching addiction. Because before we sold the ducks, I gathered up the eggs and put them in our incubator.  Unfortunately, I had no idea what I had… since the Pekin, Appleyard and Muscovy eggs were all mixed in, so it’s been interesting seeing what has hatched in the last several weeks!  And yes, I realize they eventually won’t get along, and will undoubtably go off to other farms, but raising ducklings is so much fun!

So picking a breed of duck that works for your farm, and meshes well with your other animals is important.  And again, only discovered through trial and error.  And if you can’t help yourself by putting found eggs in the incubator, I totally understand.

Good luck to you on future duckling hatches!

Sincerely,

The Shepherd

 

 

Simple Farming Joys: Raising Ducks in a Snow Storm

This winter so far has been the worst it has been, as long as I can remember, in our area for snow and cold. With the mild temperatures of southern B.C., we rarely see snow.  When we do have it, it stays for 2 days, everyone comments how pretty it is and the schools close and everyone goes tobogganing…  and then it melts away.  We all sigh and say how wonderful it was, and how picturesque,  and carry on with our normal lives in the cold and rain.  That’s the norm.

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Big Fluffy Farm dogs in the snow… at least they love it!

This year however, has been completely different.  We have had a ton of snow… and the snow has stayed.  And just won’t leave.  Our mild temperatures are currently sitting at about zero celcius, to a couple of degrees warmer or colder… and so it’s staying.  Add this to windy winter storms with power outages, and suddenly, you have horrible conditions for raising baby ducklings.

Of course, only an idiot would attempt raising ducks in the winter I have concluded.  Real farmers know better, clearly which I am not.  They probably know that if you have a power outage, the last thing you want to be doing is carting boxes of upset ducklings up from the barn so they can hang out in the house with you, quacking even more loudly in protest.  They probably also know that starting up a generator only so you can feed the electrical cord through the window to plug your incubator and heat lamps to, by candle light, is also ridiculous.

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A box of unhappy Pekin ducks… catching the shuttle once again from barn to house.

Of course, you would never  know all this was a crazy idea – raising ducklings in the winter – unless you tried it.  And I know it’s all my fault – I just look at a laid egg and I see potential – the potential to hatch out something amazing.  Watching the ducklings grow and develop right before your eyes!  I mean, how can you not love ducklings?

Of course, the novelty of carting a box of ducks back and forth to the barn wears thin, especially when the power comes back on, and then turns off again an hour later and the whole process starts again.  And the fishing the power cord back through the window, and unplugging and plugging in the incubator, sealing the window, putting more paper down for the ducks and so on… never mind figuring out what’s for dinner.  When will winter finish?

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Pekin ducklings… apparently the Shepherd’s Kryptonite.

I will say, we are getting the hang of it. I’m not saying I’m liking it, but we are getting the hang of it!  Will we do this again next winter?  Absolutely not… no way.    Well maybe… if the weather’s better…. because who can resist ducklings? They’re so fluffy!

Sigh…

Good luck and Happy farming!

The Shepherd

The Hardiness of Heritage Chickens

A chicken keeper knows that injuries happen.  When it’s your first one however, a pretty large freak-out occurs on behalf go the chicken keeper – never mind the chicken.  Or at least it did with me.  Our first chicken injury occurred (or at least the first one that I noticed), to one of our hens – when one of our roosters was a little too amorous and cut one of our gals with his talons.  Badly.  I was so worried, as the gash was huge and ran down one side of our poor hen.  We immediately put her into a large dog crate, and was moved into our kitchen for recovery.  She was pampered for a week, with generous applications of Polysporin, and talked and cuddled with everyday.  She of course got special treats – like chopped tomato straight from the cutting board, talked to everyday (although I admit it was odd eating chicken in front of her at the dinner table… being a resident in our kitchen it couldn’t be helped…) and treated like royalty.  When it came time to go back with the flock, she scampered off happily all healed up, and happy to get back to the great outdoors.  Crisis conquered, and the Shepherd was happy.

I was then on high alert and looking for injuries, but I was amazed later to find that there were some cuts that I missed, and that the hens were happily healing up on their own – without me chasing them around with Polysporin on my finger. Some injuries of course needed intervention, like foot infections (which required draining, thank god I’m not naturally squeamish but that one even tested my limits), but generally, it seemed that large nasty cuts that appeared would heal up on their own. It was remarkable, amazing and wondrous.  How resilient they are!  And that’s when a racoon decided to put the chicken healing to the test.

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Weeks and weeks later… what an improvement… and what gorgeous feathers!  See, he really is a specimen!

We’ve had some serious predation on our farm with a bear and a skunk so far, but previous to the bear’s arrival, we had a serious issue with a racoon… that every day or night it was eating someone from our farm.  Our favourite drake duck was eaten, 2 roosters died protecting their girls, a couple hens and turkeys mysteriously vanished.  It was frustrating, as the Chef completed repair work to the metal protective mesh every night for weeks on our turkey coop, and traps were set… all in an attempt to outsmart the racoon.   The racoon however, was brilliant and us, amateurs, as every night it seemed like we were loosing.  A live trap was set, which the racoon liked to go into, take the bait, and then escape from.  The Chef was also taking it hard, as it seemed that all the protective roosters and drakes were dying in the evening battles trying to protect their gals.  Finally we were down to one lone rooster, our black Jersey Giant, whom was both a gentleman and a gorgeous specimen.  We thought we had everything locked down of course, and we thought we had finally got everything just right.  But the next morning, we found two dead hens, and our gorgeous rooster had been mauled, and had the back portion of his head removed, and was laying on his side and not looking well.

The Chef was crushed, and so was I.  The Chef had moved him into the barn for protection, and to have me assess his injuries.  With both of us taking a serious look at him, the Chef was speaking in hushed tones…”Honey, I don’t know if he’s going to make it.”.  I was trying to be logical and see past the bloody mess, and it looked to me that he had been scalped… and that a 1.5 inch by 3 inch portion of skin and feathers was now missing from the back of his head and neck.  But it also appeared that his skull and spine was intact, but what to do?  If this was a human situation, I’m sure a skin graft would be in order, but what do you do for a chicken?  I couldn’t stitch it closed, as there just wasn’t any skin there to stitch.  The poor rooster was still stunned, and not doing much of anything, but could stand up on his own.  “Well…”, I said, “we could cover it in poly, and see what happens.  Leave him in here with food and water, and see if he pulls through…”.  The Chef seemed happier with this, so I grabbed the trusted Polysporin, and covered the wound thickly.  The rooster was gently placed on the barn floor and food and water put down for him, and then we waited.  And waited and waited.  He was eating and drinking, but when he wasn’t he would stand stoic in the corner, and wasn’t interested in anything or anybody – person or chicken – that came into the barn.  By the third day, I thought it was time to deliver the bad news to the Chef, as my thoughts had returned to a humane dispatchment.  The Chef, however, was adamant of not giving up on his little buddy.  So with that, the rooster continued with what we hoped to be, his healing in the barn.

Looking back now, I wish I had taken pictures of his injuries. At the time however, they were so horrific, that I don’t think many could have stomached looking at them.  And in truth, at the time it just didn’t seem right taking photos of him, after he had been through so much.  I mean, I know I’d be pretty upset if a predator mauled me, after killing and eating two of my friends, and a friend wanted to take photos of my gaping wounds just for fun!  No thanks!

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Finally, nothing left except this small tiny scab, and fresh pin feathers coming in!  What an improvement!

Several weeks later, we could see improvement, but the healing was slow.  Our rooster hid in the barn mostly, and when he did go out for sunshine, it was short lived as we would catch him standing completely still, hiding by the shed and not moving.  I suspected that it hurt terribly to move his neck about, pulling or stretching the skin that was trying to grow over his skull and neck.  So we would gently herd him back into the barn, since he clearly wasn’t able to protect himself, never mind protecting his girls like a good rooster wants to!   Poor little man!

The skin did start growing back, which was remarkable.  The huge bright-red hole had finally turned into a large scab, and Mr. Rooster was finally starting to act like a rooster again.    At one point, we heard a crow escape his beak.  We were ecstatic!  The Chef was joyous one day when I heard him yelling to me from the barn, “He’s mounting a hen!  The Rooster’s mounting a hen!  He’s back in the game!”.

So we learned not to give up.  The rooster, whom as yet to be named since I thought he was a goner for so long, remains just “the rooster” or “Mr. Rooster” when we are feeling formal, and now resides full time in the barn in lockdown with a bunch of his ladies so we can hopefully hatch out more of his breed.  He seems quite pleased with this arrangement, since we currently have snow and it’s miserably cold outside, I think he could do with a little pampering and living the easy life.  He’s certainly has earned it!  So for your next chicken maiming, the key is not to panic.  It will look awful, horrible and yes it will be stressful.  But give them them a safe environment to heal themselves, and you’ll be happily surprised… and so will they!

Good luck and happy farming!

Sincerely,

The Shepherd

 

The Spice Girls Method of Hobby Farming

I have a suspicious theory that there are stages to hobby farming that every new hobby farmer goes through. I write this, since our farm is changing and developing as we learn all about the upkeep and personalities of our animals.  Learning what we like, are able to raise, and are able to keep safely, is something we are learning over time. However, the hobby farm does have limits, so in the infamous lyrical genius of the Spice Girls, I’ve realized it comes down to “Tell me what you want, what you really, really want!”. Let me explain.

At the beginning, when a hobby farmer buys their first farm, they want it all.  Or at least I did, and didn’t know it yet.  You get a little punch drunk, or farm drunk, with the possibilities.  You finally have the S-P-A-C-E, which we never had in suburbia, to do what you want with.  It’s exhilarating.  We started with chickens (the gateway farm animal), which then proceeded to ducks, then quail, then pigs, then turkeys, then sheep… and somewhere in there we also got guinea fowl.  Which is all fine, except they do all have separate needs and wants, different housing, feed… you get the idea.  This is an “Acquiring Stage”, where you are collecting animals, either though purchase, trade or adoption.  This stage can last for a while, whether it be a few months or a few years, but somewhere in there, you’ll plateau.

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Yes.. Muscovy ducks and ducklings!  That’s what I want, what I really, really want!  THEY’RE SO FLUFFY!

In our case, the plateau hit with the realization that predation in our area is serious (coyotes, cougars and bears.. oh my!) and that we don’t have the funds to build the required shelter to keep them safe (specifically the pigs), nor would be want to.  We want our animals to be outside, enjoying the fresh air, grass and dirt, and locking them inside a barn all day wouldn’t make them happy, and in turn, wouldn’t make us happy.  This, I think, would be appropriately called the “Reckoning Stage”. I suspect that the “Reckoning Stage” might be entered for a wide variety of reasons: lack of finances, lack of time or flat-out-worry and stress about how much your neighbourhood bear likes bacon.

Which brings me to the Spice Girl’s lyrics.  It’s a hard look at your farming situation, determining what you want, what you really, really want… and sticking with that.  Other animals, although fun to have, sometimes take up too much time, or are too much stress and worry, making your hobby suddenly not-so-fun.  Laying in bed at night, and jumping over every sound, worrying about your pigs is not the recipe for a good night’s sleep.  Since we have hit the reckoning stage, we are now we are in the “Paring Down Stage” stage, recognizing what animals we overly worry about, and finding safe homes.  We lucky sold our rare (in Canada!) American Guinea Hog breeding pigs and Babydoll sheep quickly, since the hungry bear in the woods was keeping me awake at night.

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I don’t care what people say.  Chickens equal comedy.

Of course, you wouldn’t know what you wanted unless you tried it. Your personality and work habits also factor in, and although I know lots of people that have lived on farms and “hate” chickens, I think they’re wonderful.  There’s a wide variety to choose from, and once trained, they put themselves in at night, and our automatic light controlled doors close them in and secure them for the evening.  Easy, predator proof, stress and worry free…  and I love watching them forage.  Nothing quite like watching them run across the front grass.  Our Muscovy ducks are also entertaining, and watching them have group meetings is comical.  All that head bobbing and loud whispering, I can only imagine what they get so worked up about!

So now we are down to chickens, Muscovy ducks, quail and a few Ridley Bronze Turkeys, where everyone is locked down completely at night, and they forage all day… and the farm seems a heck of a lot more peaceful… and this farmer’s stress alleviated.  So if your farm is a little too busy, a little too much, a little too stressful for whatever reason, do yourself a favour, and use the Spice Girl wisdom.. and put all your focus on what you really, really want!

Happy Farming!

Sincerely,

The Shepherd

 

 

In Search of the Perfect Chicken

People may not know this, but like dogs, chickens and chicken breeds have been bred for different purposes, and have different personalities.

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A Light Sussex Hen – A friendly, and photogenic gal!

I know.  It seems crazy, the whole “different personalities”.  But honestly, when you start raising them, the differences are obvious.  I researched the tastiest chicken breeds, and since getting the famous French (from France) Bresse breed was not possible, and the Canadian Bresse was a ridiculous price (they were to be my first chickens after all, and the price of $22 per chick seemed a bit scary), I looked to studies in taste.  I found a study by Wes Hunter titled “A comparison of heritage breed broiler chickens on pasture” where he gave different breeds the exact same diet, put them on pasture, and then had a taste test.  I’m oversimplifying here, but I would highly suggest the read as he has incredible data compiled on feed rates as well, never mind the taste test portion.  After reading this, and determining availability in our area, I made the decision to put in an order for Light Sussex (for eating) and Ameraucana Chickens, since the Ameraucana chickens I had only been dreaming about for the last… oh… 10 years or so, ever since I saw the gorgeous blue eggs in a Martha Stewart Magazine.

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Ameraucana hen, with her normal panicked look of getting busted laying an egg in our front planter.  Note her tufted cheeks which is a characteristic of this breed!

So I put in the order and waited… and waited and waited.  Finally the day came for pickup and surprise, they didn’t have enough Ameraucanas on hatching day and would I be interested in New Hampshires to top up the order?

Well, I personally wasn’t, but I knew that my husband had talked about having “brown” chickens, and since we were currently limited to black, white and grey… I agreed to the New Hampshires since I had already dragged him on this crazy chicken journey in the first place.

So what did we discover?

Light Sussex were the slowest to feather out of our group, which meant they had to spend longer under the heat lamps.  This is important, as the chicks lungs are located just under their upper backs, and if they aren’t kept warm, you’re in trouble. But with all their little friends developing way faster, and ready for the great outdoors sooner (or at least moved to our barn), we ended up dividing the groups up.  Which wasn’t a huge deal but as a first time chicken owner I was concerned.  Would they re-establish their pecking order?  Was a pecking order even established at that age?  Would they be permanently psychologically damaged and have to go for chicken therapy as adults?  I was a neurotically worried parent, but watching their development was amazing, and took the place of television on several evenings.   You know you’re a crazy chicken owner when you would prefer to sit on a stool in front of the brooder with a glass of Pino Grigio and watch the antics.  The Light Sussex chicks were the most friendly and fearless, and my worrying was unnecessary, as they grew up to be the most easy going birds.  And friendly.  Really friendly.  Like exceptionally friendly. Like wanting-to-hang-out-on-the-front-porch-everyday-and-talk-to-you-everyday friendly.  And yes, it’s charming.  Until the chicken poop starts piling up.  Oh, and those beautiful white feathers got covered in  brown dirt when they decided to dust bath in our front garden… I suddenly felt like an embarrassed parent with a sticky child covered in drippy purple popsicle…

Our Ameracaunas were the exact opposite in personality.  They were skittish, and if Chicken Little was ever a real chicken, this would have been his breed.  They would run in the opposite direction from you, giving panicked chirps at top volume.  As adults, they seemed to settle, but only slightly.  And the roosters were vicious.  Or at least the few that we ended up keeping for breeding.  We had a problem with an owl for a while, until our one exceptionally mean rooster stayed out all night and, we believe, took care of the owl.  He certainly wasn’t as big as the owl, but he would take on anything, and the owl never came back. In the end we had to butcher him, as he was attacking us constantly and we didn’t dare turn our backs if he was anywhere close.  The bruises and claw marks on my legs just weren’t worth it…

Other people have said their Ameracuana chickens are super friendly, so I don’t know if the line we got was just skittish and crazy.  Our hens are great in the fact they don’t hang out on the front porch (unless to lay an egg in the planter), and prefer to forage instead.  And they do lay those gorgeous eggs… sigh.  That blue colour really is stunning!

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The famous blue colour of the Ameracuana’s Egg…gorgeous!

The New Hampshires were the surprise bird, that was fast to feather out, friendly but not annoying, and was laying sooner then the others.  The New Hampshire roosters were big and reminded me of linebackers.  However, we couldn’t keep all the roosters as our gals were getting bare backs from all the rooster attention.  And those roosters were delicious!  Although we started with the idea of having both dual purpose (a chicken that is both a layer and a meat bird) and layers (smaller bodied chickens bred for just laying), I think we have now narrowed it down to wanting layers… The layers require less feed and there is only so much chicken two adults can eat!

Of course, these personality traits are generalizations, and there are differences within the breed as well… for example we have one New Hampshire hen that loves to be picked up and cuddled.  She seems quite delighted to be carried around like a special chicken.  Her sister however, that looks identical, will try to take your hand off if you got too close.  Some of our Ameracuanas are braver then others, and some of our gals were more… er… submissive then others, and seem to be the rooster’s favourites.

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A New Hampshire hen, helping with fall harvest.

Taste wise, I couldn’t taste the difference between all of our birds, but the size of them was  something that was obvious.  The chunky New Hampshire rooster for example, over the sleek Ameracuana.  And since our chickens free-range all over our property, their legs are ridiculously huge.  The meat flavour is incredible, and not even close to the bland supermarket variety.  In explaining to friends the difference, I compare the taste to Jelly Belly Jelly Beans.  You know when you eat one, it’s amazing how much flavour they pack into one bean?  That’s the same with the chicken meat… it’s full of flavour, even after being boiled forever in soup.  Truly amazing.

This summer we obtained Jersey Giants, recognized for their large size, which are beautiful and elegant birds.  I am liking them way more then I thought I would.  They aren’t super friendly, but just seem happy doing their own thing and seem to forage as a team.  Their rate of lay is average, and were designed to be a replacement for turkey (based on their size), but still, they are stunning with their gorgeous black feathers… so they get added points for beauty and grace!

So I feel as though I’m still searching for the perfect chicken.   If I was in a small residential area – and was only allowed 3 hens – I would probably be quite delighted with the friendly Light Sussex, as they would be a great chicken for visitors to cuddle.  Since we free range our birds, I think having a slightly more skittish breed can be an advantage as they are more pretor savvy.  Of course, rate of lay is also important, so finding a layer that forages well to keep feed costs low and produces well I think is the “perfect” bird… which breed that is, I’ll have yet to find and raise…

And of course, for those dust baths in the garden, a dark feathered bird would be much appreciated!

Sincerely,

The Shepherd

P.S.  I would love to hear about the breeds you have, and what you like and don’t like about them!

 

Chicken Myths Exposed – Chapter 1: Chickens Are Excellent in the Garden

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Chickens in the garden… leaving destruction and chaos in their wake.

Today I was cleaning up outside, and dumping more used bedding of straw and wood chips  into our now very dormant garden… with the chickens busily running around me.  They get extremely excited when I dump stuff into there, and immediately start digging even more feverishly in amongst the straw.  It’s as though they know that worms are in the dirt, but the extra layer of straw just makes the game that much more exciting.  Funny though, in the spring and summer months, I am constantly chasing them out of the garden with some sort of gardening implement in my hand, yelling like a crazy person”Chicken out!  Chicken out!”, and those jerks somehow manage to sneak back in when I’m not looking.  If you’re someone without chickens, you might be asking yourself, “Aren’t chickens supposed to be great for the garden?  Aren’t they the perfect bug catcher, that delicately work around your plants?  Don’t they leave nitrogen behind that is supposed to be good for the garden?”.  Let me tell you that I don’t care how many beautiful pictures there are on Pinterest of chickens magically weeding your garden, it is utter and complete, um… how should I put this…oh yes, that’s the right word… bullshit!

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Happy chicken digging and scratching in the garden, turning in the used quail bedding.

The photo of our garden shows the chickens busily scratching for the bugs and worms.  Which is wonderful now, as by doing so, they dig and fluff-up the soil, turning in the straw and nitrogen-filled poop into the garden… fabulous.  Unfortunately, this is exactly what they do in spring as well, and they also love the tasty little seedlings you’ve planted.  Never mind tomatoes. They love tomatoes, and will happily risk being chased by a crazy woman with a rake.

So, we tried to protect the garden.  What you don’t see along the fence, is black invisible net-styled fencing. The wooden sticks that line the bottom of the fence edge aren’t for artistic purpose.  They were cut from extra shingles we had, and nailed one day up with the pneumatic nailer when I was ready to strangle some of our hens whom were sneaking in through the bottom of the netting. Some still managed to sneak in, somehow navigating through the widest space of the boards, and cutting the invisible netting.  Now that it’s winter, we open the gate and let them all in, so it’s mayhem like this everyday.

 

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Turkeys don’t dig… they just photo-bomb.

Oh and a heads up… the chickens also like to dig around the base of all your perennials, so my peonies got dug up.  It seems like they’re leaving the rhubarb alone, so at least that’s a win.  The chickens love digging up the odd potato as well, but aren’t interested in eating them… of course, our dogs for some reason love playing with the potatoes and leave them all around the yard so I suspect come next spring, we will have numerous potato plants growing in strange places…

As for the ducks, the ducks head into the garden when the chickens do, just to see what’s going on.  The ducks aren’t destructive, just nosey!  And the male turkeys follow me in there when I’m working as they like to strut their stuff…  constantly!  That and wanting rides in the wheel barrow.

So when planning your farm garden, keep in mind how your going to protect it from your chickens. In the winter months, they’re fabulous. In the spring and summer, you better pick your garden tool to shake!

Good luck and happy farming!

Sincerely,

The Shepherd