Building Animal Housing with Pallets: A Quick and Dirty way to make your Animals Happy

Building with pallets is something that we have become quite accustomed to on the farm, as they are free, easy to use, and can be used to form the base of almost any animal housing or fencing quickly when you need just that… which seems like all the time around here.  Suddenly the ducks are too big for their current pen, and a house is required.  Of course, pallet houses aren’t something worthy of a decorating magazine, and I’m sure Martha Stewart would have a conniption, but the ducks don’t seem to mind so I’m going with that win.

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The all new Pekin duck house… it’s not fancy, but it’s functional.

If you have a cordless drill, the general assembly of the palettes gets even better, or at least sturdier.  Of course, dragging around water-logged pallets through the last of the melting ice and snow makes the job that much more challenging (which is when I did it), but the speed in which you can get the job done is the enjoyable part.  You an stack the pallets any way you want, and by draping an ever-so-stylish blue tarp across the top, you can cut the wind.

Of course, if you get really creative, you can always stuff straw in the palets as insulation, which I’m sure our ducks appreciated.  The important thing however, is understanding the stamps on the side of the palets and what they mean, and what to look for.

Palets are treated so that insects won’t be transported in a wood, but it’s important to know what your pallet was treated with.  Chemicals or heat are generally the options, depending on where they will be headed.  Europe apparently doesn’t allow chemically treated pallets, as the chemicals are so horrific… so you don’t want that stuff leaching into your farm’s soil.  The good news is, you can easily hunt for the heat treated ones.

fullsizeoutput_13ePallets are stamped with a code, and if you see the magic letters of “HT” you’re in business.  “HT” stands for “Heat treated”.  The rest of the stamp, isn’t important for our usage, but for interests sake “IPPC” stands for “International Plant Protection Convention” (embedded in the wheat symbol), the first set of letters represent the country of origin (Canada in this case) and the numbers represent the auditing agency responsible for overseeing that specific manufacturing of the pallet.

So, to simplify, just look for “HT”.  If you can’t find the letters, don’t bother with the pallet – or at least that’s the rule at our farm.  We’ve built tones of stuff with pallets – raised planters for our new orchard where the water table is too high for the trees, duck houses, pig houses, nesting boxes… the list goes on.  Dismantling a pallet is a bit slow, but with a Sawzal Saw, you can cut right through the nails – just make sure you have some extra blades, as it’s pretty tough on them.

So whether it be for crafting or farming, pallets are fabulous… and best of all… free!  And although they don’t make the most stylish housing, the ducks don’t seem to mind!

Good luck and Happy Farming!

Sincerely,

The Shepherd

Our Vegetable Patch is Rated R

I had no idea what has been going on in our vegetable garden, as I’ve been wandering over there and have been harvesting kale and chard for salad, but I had let the weeding slide.  So when the temperature had finally dropped one evening, I poured myself a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and set to work for a lovely evening of weeding to a slowly setting sun while listening to the happy clucking chickens still milling about on the front lawn… how perfect and romantic.  Sigh…

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Normal Carrots – rated PG

I’m embarrassed to admit that some of the weeds were the height of the veggies, so their roots were pretty thick… which dislodged some carrots that I had no idea how big they had become.  I was thrilled, and excitedly texted some carrot photos to the Chef whom was out of town – because I now realize, that’s what old married people do.

Please note that I was acting like a heathen and drinking white out a larger red glass, which I conveniently included for scale on an Adirondack chair.  Those carrots are huge, or at least they are for organic ones grown in our patch!  I was pretty impressed and immediately went to harvest more as I planned to eat them fresh and raw for dinner.  Delicious!  What a perfect evening!  So I headed back to the garden.

And that’s when things got… a little, ahem, naughty.

Giving your vegetables room to grow is one thing.  Not monitoring your vegetables like a chaperone at a grade 8 dance, apparently lets things get out of hand… and so after harvesting some unmonitored and frisky carrots, (that clearly had been listening to a whole lot of Barry White), I rushed them into the house so the neighbours wouldn’t see.

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Look away children… Carrots… rated R.

I’m not going to lie.  I felt really awkward taking their photos… because discovering your innocent vegetable patch has been taking lessons out of the Carrot Kama Sutra play book is a bit shocking.

IMG_1716I was horrified.  What if there had been kids at our house when I harvested those things?  How would I have explained that?  “Well Timmy, when the mommy carrot and the daddy carrot love each other very much, they grow very close together and…”. Nope!  No way!

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Mommy and Daddy Carrot… ahem.

So… be warned.  Don’t ignore your vegetable patch.  Water.  Get in there.  Weed.  Talk to your vegetables about the perils of uninvited weeds, non-organic fertilizers and the internet.  Be good to your garden.  Otherwise, you’ll get wild and frisky carrots hanging out on your countertop that your not quite sure to do with… because eating them just seems weird.

Now… I wonder how the beets are doing?

Good Luck and Happy Gardening!

Sincerely,

The Shepherd

The Secret Language of Canadian Farmers

When we both started in on this crazy idea of starting a hobby farm, I was designated as the researcher.  I read everything I possibly could… books, blogs, Facebook groups – mostly on chickens mind you, but none of it prepared me for what I have now figured is the secret language of Canadian farmers.

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Ducks, fantastic producers of “messy” liquid fertilizer.

 

I suppose that I should have suspected that this unique group would have it’s own independent language, just like any other subculture, but there are no books on the subject as far as I’ve found.  The hysterical part is the Canadian politeness coupled with the farming is what makes it comical – as I can’t imagine any other group of farmers being this way.   Let me explain.

I was at a poultry swap, and chatting with another gal when I let it slip that we had baby chicks in the house – yes, that’s right, those adorable cute fluffy chicks that I love sitting and watching with a glass of wine.  This farmer looked at me, jaw open in utter disbelief, followed by a “In your HOUSE?”.  She quickly regained her composer as she followed up quickly with a “Aren’t they, um, a bit, dusty?”.  After raising up baby chicks in the house, I can tell you exactly what “a bit dusty” translates to: chicks create a dust from the shedding of that oh-so-cute fluff… and that stuff goes everywhere!  It turns into fine dust that coats everything…  Which was fine, as we were undergoing a kitchen renovation at the same time… so the walls missing in our kitchen and a little more chick dust mixed in with the drywall dust wasn’t even noticeable – or at least not in the kitchen.  However the moving boxes not yet unpacked were coated in chick dust, and in batches of chicks raised since, we have learned that it’s the norm.  Chicks are incredibly “dusty”, and the last place you want them is in your house… especially if it’s not under reno!

Then there are ducks.  I was chatting with a farmer and when I was telling her about how excited I was about getting ducks, she advised in a wise tone that ducks “can be messy”.  I have since learned, that farmers have their own scales for muck, and if anyone tells you that something is “messy”, you should probably take their advice and run in the other direction.  Ducks, unlike chickens, like to clean their beaks as they eat.  It’s so that no food bits get stuck in their nostrils in their beak, and they seem to enjoy splashing their water everywhere.  They also suck back a whole lot of water… and what goes in must come out.  So needless to say, all that water going in, comes out as fantastic liquid fertilizer.  And lots of it.  LOTS.  Which you are going to have to do something with for the health of your animals, as even with free-ranging them during the day is great… but that nightly liquid poop builds up quickly, and becomes a disgusting slippery mess.  Yes, ducks are “messy” – a complete understatement – but then you get ducks, fall in love with them and then your stuck.

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“Barn Cat” cat food – a favourite of barn cats everywhere… in our un-renovated bathroom, on the counter as the dogs are also a fan of “Barn Cat”.

Of course, not everything in the secret language is polite understatement.  Some of it is straight up code.  There is this fantastic cheap cat food that we get at the feed store.  Fantastic, as in we tried our cats on all sorts of fancier and more expensive cat food, yet they seem to prefer this brand.  The Chef happened to be dropping into another feed store, and was asking if they had any of this stuff on hand, and was busy describing the bag as he couldn’t remember the name of it.  He was interrupted by the store clerk, “Oh, you mean Barn Cat.”. The Chef was sure it wasn’t called “Barn Cat”, but the clerk further explained “It’s not actually called that, but that’s what we call it – and everyone else.  Next time you’re in, just ask for a bag of ‘Barn Cat’.  Everyone will know what you’re talking about.”. Low and behold, he was right. There are probably thousands of barn cats fed with this stuff.

So between the secret code words, and polite understatements we are getting the hang of this secret language, and are even beginning to speak it ourselves.  I was explaining to someone that our chickens can be a bit “particular” when picking a location for their egg laying – to explain 3 full-grown chickens all trying to cram into a favourite nesting box at once.  It was ridiculous, especially when we have several other spots right beside that box – but that is the preferred spot, so who am I to argue?

So if your new to farming, listen to what the wise farmers around you are saying… and listen hard.  And ask questions… lots of them!  The nice thing with Canadian farmers, is that they are great people, happily willing to share advice, but just have their own polite way of doing it… like telling you that your extra roosters are best to go to “Freezer Camp”.

Good luck and happy farming!

Sincerely,

The Shepherd

 

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