Monthly Archives: August 2010

Meet the sheep

On Sunday, we headed up to the sheep farm to pick out five ewes from this year’s lambs.  The shepherd had 13 girls in a holding pen, waiting for us.  We talked briefly about what to look for (straight back, broad build that could hold a lot of meat, strong Cheviot traits like the roman nose, not too small), and then proceeded to spray paint neon pink dots on the butts of our favorites, so we could keep track of our top choices.  Sheep have a tendency to huddle up together when they feel threatened, which makes it difficult to discern one ball o’ wool from another… sort of the opposite of the SPCA, where the dogs practically do tricks to get you to engage with them.

Once we guessed our way through 5 good looking girls, the shepherd led them into a shoot where we could de-worm them.  This was part tutorial, part “now you won’t have to try this on your own until Spring,” which is all to say just another example of how awesome this shepherd is when it comes to her willingness to help out a couple of rookies.

A quick note on de-worming: our goal is to have an organic farm, not for the sake of certification or higher sales prices, but because that’s what we want to eat and how we want to raise our animals.  However.  Sheep.  They are sorta crazy prone to worms, and unless you are going to raise a huge flock where you don’t mind some of them dying, or you are an expert shepherd who’s mastered pasture rotation, you will not succeed.  Or so I’ve been told.  As the book put it, have organic be the goal, but don’t try it your first year.  That struck me as reasonable advice, even if the purist in me feels that if you can’t raise something naturally, maybe you shouldn’t be raising it at all.

But back to the actual process.  The hardest part is catching the sheep, even in a tight shoot.  They want nothing more than to be as far away from you as possible, so you end up using your thighs to hold onto them just north of their hip bone, leaving both your hands free to wrestle their faces up enough so you can open the mouth and push in a dose of medicine via a round tipped syringe.  The shepherd could do this by herself, but it was a two person job for me and Will (one holding the animal, the other dosing it).  We also learned that you can check their eyes to get a sense of how bad the worms might be (the redder the eyelid, the healthier, as worms make the animals anemic).  I like diagnostics that I can do myself, assuming I can ever get close enough to grab one of them.

Then we loaded everyone up into a trailer and the shepherd and her husband followed us down to the farm.  The girls took to the place instantly, and the backyard magically transformed into a pasture.  And our home felt worlds closer to being a real farm.


Ducks, meet Pond

After a week in their new yard by the pond, the ducks still hadn’t ventured up the ramp and into their lovely new house.  So Friday night, we forced it upon them.  We shut the front doors, opened the roof hatch and placed each panicked waterfowl inside with ample food and water for the night.  The catching part was moderately traumatic, but once inside they settled into the hay for the night.

The next morning, we opened one door and hoped they would use the ramp to get down.  No such luck.  While, at least, they didn’t come tearing out the moment we opened up the house, they all jumped out within 10 minutes, never to return again.

Originally, the plan was to keep them fenced off from the pond until the quacks learned to use their home, but we gave up today.  Hilariously, once the fencing was removed these ducks had no idea what to do, and all 9 have continued to lounge about in their yard so far.  We’ll see what the heck they do tonight.

Our new plan (there’s always a plan), is to move the 3 new ducklings directly into the duck house once they are big enough to leave the shed and heat lamps (another week or two).  After a week holed up in their new home, we’ll open up the doors and see if they know to return to the house.  And then, if we are lucky (which, for the record, we are not), the older ducks will learn from the youngsters and all will happily bed down indoors every night.  And read bedtime stories to each other (what?  that’s no more unreasonable than my assumption that the duck house project wasn’t all for not).

I miss the chickens.

Duckling Update

Good news!  My broken little duckling is doing much better today.  The swelling is almost entirely gone, and while he still has a bit of a limp, he is trying to get around.  I didn’t kill him.  Hurray!

I think gimpy and I are now permanently bonded to one another, what with his injured right leg and my broken left foot.  We are quite the pair.

“Shoot the dog”

Today we called the local extension to report the chicken massacre, and they told us to call the local police, who told us to shoot the dog if we see him going after the coop again.  Yup, The Law just suggested I commit murder (pet-tricide?) by successfully discharging a firearm in the direction of an animal that I do not own.

Oh no.  That’s so not going to happen.

The good (good?) news is that we were also told that a dog with the same description as the one we saw the morning after, sniffing around the coop, was recently picked up by animal control, so *hopefully* this is a non-issue (what with the arrival of the electric fencing and all).

I am definitely not “country” yet.

I broke a duck

This morning, Will was showing our cleaning lady (yes, I’m such a frontier-poser that I have a cleaning lady, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than marriage counseling) our keats and ducklings, when he noticed that one duckling had a horribly swollen foot.  Turns out, I failed to remove the band from this guy when he arrived two weeks ago, unlike his  siblings.  The poor thing!  It looks like his foot was blown up like a balloon.  Will managed to remove the band, and we bandaged the resulting cut with some Neosporin, gauze and tape, but I’m convinced there is no way this leg is going to heal.  I broke a duckling.  A poor little duckling, who was already a replacement for another duck that got eaten by a fox.  The chickens were a blow, but only indirectly our fault.  I flat out neglected to help this little quack and now he may not make it.  I feel absolutely terrible.
It has not been a good week here on the farm.  Not at all.

Chicken Massacre

Last night something got into the chicken coop and killed all 27 birds.  And left their bodies.  All evidence points to a dog (based on the fur caught on the hole and the bodies being left vs. eaten).

Will had the misfortune of finding the massacre during the morning chores, when I was already off to work.  So yeah, that was a weird phone call.  Then the poor man had to collect the bodies and bury them deep enough in the compost pile so that the offending animal won’t come back tonight for more fun.  Needless to say, he’s had a rough day.  Adding insult to injury, the electric poultry fencing that we were planning to use to start day ranging the chickens arrived this afternoon.

I, on the other hand, am trying to stay calm about the whole thing.  After all, isn’t this part of the whole farming thing (for bounty or for drought)?  Sure, it’s sad they died such a miserable death (at least with the fox who got two ducks a month ago, he presumably ate them, instead of using them as a squeaky toy).  It’s frustrating that we’ll have to start over with another batch of day old chicks, dealing with the heat lamp and the temperature checking.  We’re out the cost of those first birds and the 8 weeks of feed they’ve consumed.  But they were just chickens, not pets.  I think the sense of having failed them is a greater burden than their actual loss.

So now what do we do?  I’ve already ordered new chicks (30 hens, 1 rooster, 1 mystery chick), which arrive next week.  Will is going to dig a trench around the outdoor coop and reinforce everything with hog wire buried at least a foot deep, as the existing chicken wire obviously isn’t cutting it.  We may install a motion sensor light to alert us to predators (as we can’t hear the chickens over the frogs).  We may think about getting a real farm dog, to sleep outside and guard the birds.  We may put the electric fencing around the coop at night.

We’ve been told the dog is likely to come back, which is its own problem, and that we should probably report this to the police (apparently this is illegal and the dog owner is supposed to compensate us for our losses, assuming the dog in question isn’t just a stray), but I haven’t decided about that part yet.  It feels unneighborly.  Has anyone else dealt with this?  Is there an etiquette to the whole “I think your dog mangled my entire chicken flock” conversation?  I’m more likely to swallow to $300 and give it another go.  But we’ll see.  If he’s back lurking around the property again this week, the authorities may be called.

Buff Orpington - 8 weeks

Rocky, the Barred Rock who used to greet us at the gate (8 wks)

We’re getting sheep

A farmer friend told us “just take on one animal a year, and you should be fine.”  How about five?

In addition to the chickens, ducks and guineas we currently have in residence, and the piglets that were born last week (and should be arriving in mid September), we just agreed to purchase 5 Cheviot lamb ewes.

Honestly, it was just a coincidence… a good friend of ours knows the shepherd, and she was looking to get rid of some lambs.  And Will is sick of mowing the pasture.  And I ordered this book, Living with Sheep, which is so far absolutely amazing… super informative but still conversational… the kind of book that makes you think, “gosh, we could totally raise sheep.”  And so we went to visit the flock this past Sunday.

The shepherd is amazing.  She was so kind, offering to drop off the sheep, and telling us we can give her a call at any time for help… that the people she bought her original flock from offered the same thing and she couldn’t have done it without them, so she wanted to be that resource for us.  Can I mention I love farmers like this?  The community of it all!  Then her border collie rounded up the sheep, in a manner that can only be described as professional, and while I can’t speak for my husband, one look at those lambs and I was sold.  I want to wake up and see that in my backyard.  I want to figure out what one earth to do with all the wool.  And yes, I want to breed these girls and have an ample supply of fresh lamb meat in my freezer.

So this Sunday, Will gets to pick out our five girls.  Meaning this Saturday it’s off to Southern States (we go there a lot now) to buy a water trough, a mineral feeder and minerals.  And that should be it for now.  At some point we’ll need to buy alfalfa hay for the winter, and construct a small three-sided run in shed (to block the wind, but more to house the hay), and maybe some movable fencing so we can do some serious pasture rotation, but we’re going to start gear-light on this undertaking.

And yes, we are absolutely crazy to be taking on so much at once.  Our new favorite rationalization: if we decide we don’t want to raise any particular species anymore, we’ll just eat them.