Poultry


We’ve arrived!  After many years of waiting, wondering, studying homesteading, preparing the farm, we finally made it!  I cannot express to you how wonderful it feels.  As you read, we had a few unwelcome adventures along the way.  There’s nothing like a leaking fuel line, an unexpected layover at a small-town repair shop, on a hot day with a trailer full of overheating livestock from a cold climate, and a loose and stubborn chicken running around a parking lot , being chased down by 2 kids and 2 helpful truckers, to get the blood pressure up a bit!  I drove the truck and trailer, and a girl-friend drove my minivan with the kiddos.  She was such a God-send through the whole ordeal, and for the whole week after!  What should have been about a 15-18 hour trip turned into a 22 hour trip.   We arrived at almost 2 in the morning, got the kids in bed and began unloading animals.  We had to walk each of the goats, dogs, and donkeys about 200 feet from the trailer to the barn, through the tall hay field.  The tall grass was so foreign to them, not a single animal attempted to take a bite!  They didn’t know what to think of this stuff brushing against their bellies!  Oh, what an adventure that day was!!

While Will, our resident house pet knows and seems to enjoy the place, he doesn’t leave the front porch much.

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The other animals, to the contrary, are still trying to figure out this place.  Some seem to think they have died and gone to a heaven far beyond anything they could have dreamed of, while others are still trying to figure out whether they are in heaven or some kind of purgatory.

Honey bees:  definitely think they've died and gone to heaven!  I've never seen such full pollen sacs on the workers' legs, and when we checked today, the queen has gone crazy laying eggs.  The workers are building up honey and pollen stores, and are so content foraging, they showed no signs of aggression as we inspected the hive today.

Honey bees: definitely think they’ve died and gone to heaven! I’ve never seen such full pollen sacs on the workers’ legs, and when we checked today, the queen has gone crazy laying eggs. The workers are building up honey and pollen stores, and are so content foraging, they showed no signs of aggression as we inspected the hive today.

When we first arrived, the chickens weren’t quite sure what to think.  Until today, they were living in the stock trailer, using it as a makeshift coop until we could get theirs’ finished.  Notice the rabbit cages are also still in there, until we get a permanent area set up.

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It took a couple of days for the hens to learn to go INTO the trailer at night, rather than hide out UNDER it.  It also meant that M has stayed busy hunting eggs when they decide to lay in the grass or under the trailer, rather than in the makeshift nestboxes we put in the trailer.

Look closely, they're under there, enjoying the shade.

Look closely, they’re under there, enjoying the shade.

Hens foraging the hay field.  They have definitely decided they are in hen heaven!  Their feed consumption has dropped by half I think, and their crops are always stuffed with bugs, seeds, and whatever other treats they are finding out there.  Our egg yolks have already turned a bold orange color from all the greens they are consuming.

Hens foraging the hay field. They have definitely decided they are in hen heaven! Their feed consumption has dropped by half I think, and their crops are always stuffed with bugs, seeds, and whatever other treats they are finding out there. Our egg yolks have already turned a bold orange color from all the greens they are consuming.

The donkeys aren’t sure what to think.  Probably depends on what time of day you ask them.  Most of the day, they hang out in their spacious stall together.  I added a few toys to keep them entertained.  In the late afternoon, they get to go out to the trimmed pasture as we wean them on to the rich grass here.  As long as the grass is short, they enjoy it, but if you ask them to go into the longer field grass, they get pretty nervous.  They don’t seem to realize it is food as well.  In addition, the bugs are driving them batty.  I have had to start using a bug repellent ointment in their long ears due to all the bites they were receiving.  After a few hours in the buggy, humid outdoors, they are usually standing at the barn doors waiting eagerly for me to let them back in to their cool, bug free stall.

Donkeys:  Too short to see over the rails!

Donkeys: Too short to see over the rails!

 

Dogs:  Totally in heaven here!  As soon as I let them out every morning, they run and romp and chase each other until they are almost overheated.  The fighting has decreased significantly, and even then, it is typically only when I put them back into the stall together at night.

Dogs: Totally in heaven here! As soon as I let them out every morning, they run and romp and chase each other until they are almost overheated. The fighting has decreased significantly, and even then, it is typically only when I put them back into the stall together at night.  The only problem so far is that my white dogs have turned a clay-orange color since we are in the midst of a very wet, muddy spell here. 

Like the donkeys, the goats’ thoughts seem to vary with the time of day.  At night, or when the donkeys are out, the goats are stuck inside a stall/alley area.  They have plenty of room, but get very bored.  Latte tends to bully Joy to no end during those times (hence the reason I allow them 2 areas to roam).

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Mocha and Caramel, growing as fast as IL weeds, and drinking almost a gallon a day of Latte's milk!

Mocha and Caramel, growing as fast as IL weeds free-choice nursing on almost a gallon a day of Latte’s milk!

The girls are definitely in caprine heaven when we turn them out.  They run and leap and romp almost as much as the dogs at first.  They have also worked up to staying out for about 8 hours a day now, and seem to be thriving.

The girls are definitely in caprine heaven when we turn them out. They run and leap and romp almost as much as the dogs at first. They have also worked up to staying out for about 8 hours a day now, and seem to be thriving.

The only issue the goats have had is that the stress of the move combined with the heavy milking from Joy and Latte caused them both to drop a lot of weight.  To make matters worse, none of the goats were eating their portions of grain like they used to.  As a result, I was forced to purchase my first non-organic feed in the form of Calf-Manna.  This is a product that contains a load of B vitamins that work to stimulate the appetite, as well as high carbs to help with weight gain.  Despite the non-organic nature, it is a pretty good product for such issues.  It works.  Faith is due to deliver next week, so I am eager to see how that goes.  She also shrunk in size SIGNIFICANTLY, but I can’t tell if she has lost weight, if the baby shifted, or what happened there.

We also have 3 new faces around the farm.  Two days after our arrival, my friend and I were working on cleaning out the barn when we saw several mice run out of their hiding spaces. The next morning, I called the local small-town animal shelter and told him I was in need of some barn cats.  I told him I would take ferals or otherwise unadoptables, but couldn’t pay a lot of money in adoption fees since they were destined to be barn cats and I had no idea if they would stick around.  He told me to come on over for a visit.  M and I went over, and came home with 3 new kitties.  The added bonus is that all 3 are SOOOO sweet and lovable!  It’s a bit hard to milk with a kitty intent on helping, but we are getting by.

Sarah

Sarah

Shadow, testing out the new hen nesting boxes we were working on.

Shadow, testing out the new hen nesting boxes we were working on.

Katie

Katie

A few other random Red Gate Farm happenings, and some of the projects that have kept us busy this week (in addition to the normal unpacking associated with a move):

My first hay!  My friend and I cut it with a scythe, raked it and fluffed it for 3 days while it dried, and then S helped me get it into the barn for storage.  It isn't much at around 150 pounds, but I'm pretty proud of it, and the animals seem to approve.

My first hay! My friend and I cut it with a scythe, raked it and fluffed it for 3 days while it dried, and then S helped me get it into the barn for storage. It isn’t much at around 150 pounds, but I’m pretty proud of it, and the animals seem to approve.

S and JR working on the chicken coop.

S and JR working on the chicken coop.

The hay field, desperately needing cut, but the weather won't cooperate.

The hay field, desperately needing cut, but the weather won’t cooperate.

My garden!  I built the square foot garden boxes and planted the seed while I was here in March.  Many of the seeds sprouted!  We are already eating radishes, and looking forward to harvests of sunflowers, spinach, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, onions, beans, kohlrabi, corn, and more!  There are plenty of squares that didn't grow, so I have ordered plant starts from Azure Standard to fill the gaps.

My garden! I built the square foot garden boxes and planted the seed while I was here in March. Many of the seeds sprouted! We are already eating radishes, and looking forward to harvests of sunflowers, spinach, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, onions, beans, kohlrabi, corn, and more! There are plenty of squares that didn’t grow, so I have ordered plant starts from Azure Standard to fill the gaps.  We also plan to expand on these beds quite a bit. 

Chicken coop got finished today!  I will have better photos later.

Chicken coop got finished today! I will have better photos later.

Fruit in the orchard.  Some of the trees seem to be having a problem -- blight maybe?--so I treated with some copper sulfate.  Oh, how we would all love to eat our own fruit this year!!

Fruit in the orchard. Some of the trees seem to be having a problem — blight or leaf curl maybe?–so I treated with some copper sulfate. Oh, how we would all love to eat our own fruit this year!!

Iris, peaking over the gate into the front of the barn.  She likes to know what's going on at all times.

Iris, peaking over the gate into the front of the barn. She likes to know what’s going on at all times.

That’s it for now!  I’ll post more as I have time.  Tons of work to do around here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a military brat who married military, I am well-versed in cross-country moves.  Packing, loading up a bunch of kids, and even living in a “TLF” (Air Force acronoym for “Temporary Living Facility,” which is really just a souped-up hotel room) until we find a home doesn’t scare me in the least.  I’ve never lived in the same house more than 5 years in my life.  I’ve slept at interstate rest stops, exercised my horse and dogs in gas station parking lots, and had more adventures than I can count.  Despite my past experiences, however, I am learning that moving a farm is a whole different ball game!

R holding Caramel.

R holding Caramel.

We had to trim down the number of animals we had, so we kept our favorites as foundation breeding stock to get Red Gate up and running.  Due to unexpected events with the goats, we wound up with more milk than we can drink now, so we wound up not buying the 4th doe I was wanting so badly.  All in all, we are moving 30 animals, including the house dog and cat.

Mocha, 2 weeks.

Mocha, 2 weeks.

In order to move, we bought a truck and trailer and had to begin planning our breeding and baby-delivery dates for all critters back in early fall, based on the moving schedule.  That turned out to be easier planned than accomplished.  I think the rabbit doe is the only one who cooperated.  I had to arrange for a ridiculous amount of veterinary and state transport permits for traveling with livestock.  Here in CO, equines and cattle must have “brand inspections” to prove ownership before you travel or sell an animal.  All goats must be registered, either through ear tags or ear tattoos, and there is NO exception for 5 lb., 2-week old kids.  Caramel’s ear was so tiny when we tattoo’ed that I’ll probably have to re-do in the future.  But it was that, or an ear tag almost as big as her head.  The poultry all had to have blood work done, the rabbits had to have their temperatures taken, the dogs had to have their rabies licenses inspected, blah, blah, blah…. Several hundred dollars later, the states and federal government have decided our animals are safe to travel.

Caramel, 2 weeks

Caramel, 2 weeks

Just as things were coming together, last Wednesday, the truck’s radiator spontaneously sprung 2 leaks.  On Thursday, it spent the day in the shop getting fixed.  On Friday, we walked out to find a truck tire going flat and the spare was totally dry-rotted.  On Saturday, we discovered the tire was unrepairable and had to buy 2 new tires.  On Sunday, the radiator sprung another leak, so it spent all day Monday in the shop again.  With just over 2 days before I am supposed to be driving this truck, loaded down with a 20 foot gooseneck trailer hauling 28 of my 30 animals, we are praying it is fixed once and for all.  I’m just so thankful it happened now instead of half-way through remote Kansas!

As if that wasn’t enough adventure, we had a bought of a stomach virus that bounced around the family, landing me in the E.R.  My blood sugars had plummeted, and because of the virus, the glucose I ate wasn’t working.  As my sugars approached the 30’s, I knew it was time for S to get me to the hospital for some intervention.  A bit of Zofran to calm my stomach did the trick, and my sugars were on the rise.  They went ahead and gave me an IV of saline and magnesium though, to replenish what I had lost.  It all worked out, but I wound up missing my going-away party at church the next day.  😦

One of the most frequent questions I have received lately is regarding how we are going to accomodate so many animals of so many different species in one trailer.  So, now that the trailer is almost set up and ready, I took a few photos to show you.

Our trailer, custom made with this trip as well as our future plans in mind.

Our trailer, custom made with this trip as well as our future plans in mind.

First, I built new, large rabbit cages, which will be our bunnies’ home for at least the first few months while we figure out what our long term rabbit plans are.  I bought the wire for several cages, but only built 2 for the trip.  Each cage measures 18 inches tall x 48 inches long x 30 inches deep.  It has 2 swing-in doors for easier access, a hay feeder, and plenty of space for feeders, waterers, salt licks, nest box, etc.

Rabbit cage

Rabbit cage

One of the cages will house our mature doe and her 2, 3 month old doe kits.  In the other cage, I inserted a section of wire to divide it in half, and it will hold both our bucks.  The divider is simply held with zip-ties so we can easily cut them off when I get the other cage built, and the dividing wire is cut to a size I can use on another cage.

The same cage, showing divider section.

The same cage, showing divider section.

I filled the gooseneck of the trailer, an area roughly 8 feet deep x 6.5 feet wide x 4 feet tall, with pine shavings.  This is where the hens and rabbits will travel.

There will be a cage on each side, though I left the other one out for the photo so you can see behind it.

There will be a cage on each side, though I left the other one out for the photo so you can see behind it.

Behind the cage are, in the very front of the gooseneck, we put a chunk of hay to keep the girls busy and a hay-filled nest box for any hens who decide to lay in-route.

Behind the cage, in the very front of the gooseneck, we put a chunk of hay to keep the girls busy and a hay-filled nest box for any hens who decide to lay in-route.

There will be just enough space on each side and in between the cages for a hen to squeeze through, which will hopefully prevent any dangerous corners where the hens could pile up and suffocate each other.  There is a “calf-gate,” or gate type panel that folds up to seperate this area from the rest of the trailer.  I forgot to take a photo of it up, but you can see it hanging down in the top photo of the gooseneck.

The next, front section of the trailer has access through the man door on the side of the trailer.  The goats and dogs will ride there.  First, I wrapped a week’s worth of hay in a tarp and tied it to the center gate.  The goats can jump on it if they desire, which is why I covered it with a tarp–to protect it from being eaten or peed and pooped on.  The rest of the area was filled with shavings and some straw for the babies and Faith, who is very pregnant.  They will have a hay bag to keep them busy, and a small bucket of water.

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The hay inside the tarp in the goat area.

 The rear of the trailer was simply bedded with lots of shavings for the donkeys.  They, too, will have a hay-bag and a bucket of water.  Because the donkeys are fairly small, I don’t plan to tie them in the stall.  They will be able to freely stand, lay down, turn around, and move a bit, which will hopefully reduce their stress load a little.

The donkey area.

The donkey area.

That’s the tour of the trailer.  Pretty simple and basic, but hopefully comfy, cozy, and stress-reducing for the critters.

Now if I could just reduce my stress!  I have packed about 80% of the house, and will try to finish the rest tomorrow.  We have another therapy appointment with the boys and I have to start loading the vehicles.  Another major challenge I discovered in regards to moving a farm is the fruitless efforts involved in trying to use up things that keep being produced!  For example, in an attempt to empty the fridge, we have been eating lots of eggs and drinking milk at every meal.  Just this morning, we ate 16 eggs and drank 1/2 gallon milk at breakfast.  30 minutes later, I went out to milk Joy and Latte.  I tried to use up some of the milk by feeding a pint back to each doe, and another pint each to the two dogs.  I still wound up filtering almost 1/2 gallon and putting it the fridge.  By day’s end, I will have at least another 1/2 gallon and 12-14 more eggs!  I never considered the fact that these high-production animals don’t come with an “OFF” switch to temporarily shut them down.  It’s all or nothing, and it’s up to me to find creative ways to use the bounty.  Eggs or milk, anyone?

It’s high time for a farm report!

Some of the hens going after a fresh treat of hay on a snowy day.

Some of the hens going after a fresh treat of hay on a snowy day.

Hens:  All our hens finally made it through molt, and all the chicks from last summer finally got big enough to lay.  Out of 20 hens, we are up to about 16 eggs a day–the most we’ve ever had!  Winter cold and short days interfered with their starting to lay quite a bit.  Originally, we installed a light in the coop, on a timer, to counter the short days.  Unbeknownst to us, though, it came unplugged at some point (I generally don’t make a habit of waking at 4:30 a.m. just to check the chicken’s light.  My commitment has its limits!).  So, the short days had its effect on the girls.  Nonetheless, a new one seems to be coming on line every day now, as the day length increases, and the weather warms slightly (we are up to 20* nightime lows!).  Five of the girls will soon be going to another home.  The other 15 are on a list with the state vet lab to be blood tested for Pullorum Typhoid (a particular strain of salmonella) when the testers come through our area in late March/April.  This test is required for any poultry crossing state lines, and since we are moving all the girls with us, it is required by law.  After all the testing and efforts we are going through to move these girls with us, I just pray the stress of the move doesn’t send them into another molt and delay laying by several months!  We might need to use eggs as bribes to our new neighbors as they adjust to our menagerie of animals and unique sounds that come from a farm like ours (nothing like a donkey braying for her dinner at 8 p.m.!)

Shiloh (front) and her jenny, Asha munching some breakfast.

Shiloh (front) and her jenny, Asha munching some breakfast.

Donkeys:  The donkeys are doing well.  They are probably the closest thing to pasture ornaments I’ve ever had at this point though.  Asha is a pistol at 9 months old–totally full of herself!  I haven’t worked with her as much as I’d like to thanks to the cold, but she is doing well despite that.  Shiloh seems to be enjoying her days, eating and caring for her youngster.  She is still very protective and will totally spaz out if Asha is taken from her (though she is fine with being taken away from Asha–go figure), but she gets better the more we work on it.  Asha is still nursing, so they are pretty close.  There really is no reason to discourage it at this point in time.  When I do saddle up Shiloh (maybe once a month right now–everything else is just bareback–she spends the first 30 seconds pouting, walking funny, and generally trying to convince me she’s never had a saddle on before.  When I threaten to make her trot a circle or two, she suddenly changes her mind and agrees to give rides to the kids.  She’s such a goof!  I love her personality–so gentle and sweet, yet so quick to let me know what she is thinking!  I am envisioning riding my draft horse (to be purchased after we move) down the trails at Red Gate, as my children follow closely on their donkeys.  I also have harnesses toward the top of my “to-buy” list, for after this CO house sells.  I hope to turn them into driving donkeys, so Asha will have a job until she is rideable in another 3 years.  I can also use them for smaller pulling tasks around the farm that way.  I recently trimmed both girls’ hooves.  I am getting increasingly confident with doing that job, and enjoy knowing that I’m saving a good $70 every two months!  It will probably save me more once I get my draft team (since most farriers charge more for the big ones).  For the sake of my out-of-shape and injured back though, I think I will have to learn to space hoof trims between the goats, donkeys, and horses, in such a way that I do about one animal a week instead of trying to pile them all into a day.

JR's colored buck, Jupiter, wanting out of his cage for some play time.

JR’s colored buck, Jupiter, wanting out of his cage for some play time.

Rabbits:  The original plan was to move 4 rabbits–2 does and 2 bucks.  Recently, however, a new doe that JR had raised (a kit of his favorite doe that died last year), was pregnant and contracted sniffles.  The day before she was due, she died.  JR was heartbroken.  We are down to 1 doe and 2 bucks now, and he is debating trying to get another doe out of one of his remaining litters, or just wait until we move and try a new line entirely.  He is really hoping to add some more color to his herd, so he is waiting to see if this colorful buck produces any colorful does in the next litter.  Our last doe is pregnant by him, due to kindle in about 2 weeks.  Her last litter is running free in the colony with Pelham, our American Chinchilla buck (the best babysitter anyone could want!), and they are due to be harvested in about 4 more weeks (we harvest at 12 weeks).

Faith (yellow collar), daughter Joy, and Latte in the back.

Faith (yellow collar), daughter Joy, and Latte in the back.

Goats:  We have our 3 Alpine does–Faith, daughter Joy, and Latte.  I am only milking once a day right now; Latte is producing about 3.5 lbs. a day (almost 1/2 gallon), while Faith is only giving about a pint.  I want to keep her going until I know she is pregnant.  Joy has been confirmed pregnant, and is due to kid around March 28.  She is our first scheduled, so we have a while yet.  I have asked S for a specific, 4th doe for Valentine’s (assuming the owner is willing to sell outright instead of trade like we had originally discussed).  Not sure if he’s taking me seriously.  After all, “goat” and “Valentine’s gift” aren’t usually too synonymous, I guess.  If that did happen to work out, the new doe is due to deliver about week after Joy.  I plan to blood test Latte and Joy next week, just to help me with my planning around the move.  After all our struggles getting them all bred and pregnant, I really hope they finally settled.  Neither has cycled since their last breeding, though, so I am hopeful.  I have my theories as to why they didn’t settle the first time or two.  IF they conceived, then Latte is due May 2–two weeks before we move!  Faith would be due June 7, meaning she would be traveling while pregnant, and then deliver at Red Gate.  That also means that, as hoped 2 breeding seasons ago, my former buck Stallion would be the sire of the first kids born at Red Gate!  It has also worked out that I have Joy and Latte, both daughters of Stallion, meaning that Stallion is essentially the foundation sire, and his line, Mamm-Key, will help build the basis of my dairy herd!  Other amazing lines in my girls include Harmody, Redwood Hills, Jailhaus, Cherry Glen, and Tempo Aquila.  If you know much about the Alpine lines, then you can understand how exciting it is that I have managed to tap into the hard work and careful breeding associated with those lines, all of which are known for high-quality, high-producing goats, many of which go on to win championships and/or milk stars.  I am just thrilled to be at that point as we head east where other lines are better known, and these girls will be considered “new blood.”

Athena, the ever-faithful, always-on-duty LGD

Athena, the ever-faithful, always-on-duty LGD

LGD:  Athena has a won a place on our farm for good!  In fact, she has probably won a place for livestock guardian dogs in general on our farm.  We have never had an issue with a predator when she was on duty, and we haven’t lost a single animal since S shot the rogue (possibly diseased) fox earlier this year.  In addition, we are pretty sure she has deterred a couple of humans possibly trying to steal a goat or two.  Her guarding brings us such piece of mind.  Back at Red Gate, there has recently been 2 sightings of cougar within 1/2 mile or so of our farm, and last year, a calf carcass was found in a tree not too far away.  We also just found out we now have a resident bald eagle, not to mention the surplus of raccoon, opossum, bobcat, coyote, fox, skunk, and deer–all of which enjoy at least one variety of the animals or crops that we plan to grow.  She’s a great dog, highly intelligent, and will likely have her work cut out for her there!  I am so thankful we took the opportunity to raise her here so she was ready when we moved.  Her only downside right now is that, at 18 months old and around 100 lbs., she still acts like a pup–albeit, a very large pup.  Her only playmates are the goats, who easily tire of her playful antics.  On occasion she also barks, we suspect, out of boredom. That fact, in addition to upcoming kidding season, in addition to the much larger acreage and increased wildlife she must patrol back east, we are considering getting her a playmate that will also help her patrol.  I am being choosy though, as I want a pup almost identical to her.  I am looking for a young (under about 4 months old) female pup that is 3/4 Great Pyrenees and 1/4 Anatolian Shepherd.  I LOVE this cross.  It has proven itself so well here in CO, that there are some folks trying to make an official breed out of it known as the “Colorado Mountain Dog.”  Unfortunately, their popularity here in CO makes their price outrageous.  I was very blessed to get Athena for the price I did, because the seller didn’t understand what exactly he had.  Therefore, if you happen to know of anyone selling a litter of this cross for an affordable price, and the pups will be around 2-4 months old AFTER April, please let me know.

A few live hives, and a few empty ones.  We are storing the empty ones outside just because we have no other area to put them at present, plus it looks better for home showings.

A few live hives, and a few empty ones. We are storing the empty ones outside just because we have no other area to put them at present, plus it looks better for home showings.

Honey Bees:  The bees seem to be hanging in there.  We have 3 hives that seem to have survived the winter.  I think we are past the danger zone at this point.  We are likely going to sell one before we move–a very hardy hive whose genetics have survived at least 3 CO winters (a VERY rare feat around here!).  Because they are so adapted here, we aren’t confident they would survive the heat and humidity of Red Gate.  We are probably going to move 2 other hives back east.  I have been working on getting more comfortable with the bees, as I replenished some of their honey stores, and learned how to handle some of the tools.  I will basically be having to handle them alone this summer and fall, so I want to be sure I have a clue what I’m doing.  Guess I will soon be able to add “Bee keeper” to my lengthy job description.

In other farm news, in preparation for moving, we bought our truck and have ordered our custom trailer, which will hopefully be here in about 4-6 more weeks.  I look forward to loading all the animals up for some trial arranging to see if our planned set-up will work for the move.  I am also working on a grain order to re-stock all our barrels prior to move.  I will lose my custom-grain source once we leave CO, and it is too expensive to ship.  I haven’t been able to find another source of organic grains closer to Red Gate, so I’m not sure what I will get when this is all gone.  Finally, we are still working on selling our house.  We have begun minimal packing to help eliminate any clutter and better stage the house.  We are continuing to work on needed repairs and improvements.  We show the house quite frequently, which makes us confident we have priced it right, and we have even received one offer.  Unfortunately, it was from a “city” guy who had no appreciation for the value of the land rights we have, as he didn’t care about animals.  He literally wanted to buy JUST the house, at a price just slightly above what we paid for it 2 years ago as a FORECLOSURE (which he got from public records).  S tried to explain that things don’t really work like that.  He is welcome to buy the place, and welcome to make a FAIR offer, but he couldn’t just buy the house and have us discount for everything he wasn’t interested in. In addition, he also wanted us to remove ALL fencing, shelters, and everything we had setup for animals.  That doesn’t bother us, as we could easily sell it around here.  It just didn’t seem to be a very good offer in general, so we declined.  We have had a couple folks return multiple times to look.  Most of the viewers are folks who still have to sell their house before they can get financing.  We have also had several requests to rent or to owner-finance, neither of which interests us.  We just want a no-hassle, easy sale and be done with it.  We are praying the right family will come along–perhaps even one that has dreams of taking that “next step” like we did, who can appreciate the work we did here, and who desire to be more sustainable and less dependent on the economy.  Who knows what God has in mind?  If we don’t get an acceptable offer by March, we will be listing it with our realtor (and raising the asking price considerably–closer to the realtor recommended–as a result).  We’ll see what happens.

We have been busy around the farm this summer, trying to find the balance between getting things set up for another frigid and long winter, living temporarily, and preparing for our move in the spring.  Unfortunately, my busy-ness has decreased my blog readership by about 60%, so I guess I really need to make blogging a priority again.  Since farm-related topics seem to be the main topic of interest, I will start there this week.

We had to purchase our hay in 3x3x8 foot bales this year.  Thanks to the severe drought, there just wasn’t much to choose from.  In fact, to give you east-coasters some appreciation for real drought, a 55 lb. bale is currently going for around $13.50, while 70 lb. bales are going for $15.  The 800 lb. round bales I used to buy in GA for $30 cost about $200 here.  It is absolutely insane!  Thus, anticipating steeper prices and more shortage as winter arrives, we calculated out how much we would need to get us through the move, with a little left over for weaning onto pasture.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have a place to store bales of hay that big, so we built a cheap shelter out of cattle panels, t-posts, a tarp, and bulletin-board tarp.  It’s ugly, but it works, and can be torn down in about 30 minutes. I will probably do an separate post on the shelter for anyone interested.

Between the hay prices and the move, we have cut down on our animals.  So, our farm, which has done a complete turn around from the animals we had this time last year, now consists of 2 milking does and a spring doeling.  I recently submitted bloodwork from all 3 for several different tests, as these particular does had never been tested (just their parents before I got them), and, as expected, they were negative for everything–always a good thing!  I also plan to submit manure samples from them, just to see how our natural deworming regimine is working.

American Alpine, Latte, is a 2-year-old second freshener, producing just under a gallon a day currently. She peaked at 1.5 gallons. She is, coincidentally, a daughter of Stallion, our buck from last year, and a sweetheart to boot!

American Alpine, Faith, is a 1 year old first freshener, producing about 3/4 gallon a day this year.

American Alpine, Joy, is a spring 2012 doeling out of Faith (above) and Stallion, our buck from last year.  She is a very nice and correct doeling, and I am excited to see how she produces next year!

Of course, Athena is a keeper.  I am still toying a bit with improving her training slightly, but we absolutely adore her.  Her instinct to protect her animals and family are just fascinating to witness, just as her instincts to keep the peace are entertaining.  She always happily alerts us to any deer, squirrel, or fox that comes around (yes, that also means she is a bit noisy at times), but we haven’t lost any animals when she is on duty.  If the does start fighting over something, she is quick to break it up, either by grabbing a tail or leg and hauling the offender away to the other side of the pen, or just by getting in the middle and barking a scold at them.

Athena, the livestock guardian dog. She is 3/4 Great Pyrenees, 1/4 Anatolian Shepherd, and 100% sweetheart!

We also have Shiloh, the jenny, and her 3-month-old jenny foal, Asha, who we have decided to keep–seeing as how we do have 5 children that want to ride.  I have been slowly increasing the amount of time I work with Asha, teaching her basic manners, and Shiloh is getting ridden one to two times a week right now.  We are hoping to increase that to 3 or more.  Of course, it is my limited time that slows us down, as I have to bridle her up for the kids to ride.  I trimmed both girls’ hooves today, which I am quite proud of (and quite feeling it tonight–I’ve never done 8 hooves in a single afternoon!)

Shiloh and Asha, the standard donkeys (or burros, depending on which part of the country you’re from).

JR has had quite the rabbit enterprise this year, learning all about advertising, customer service, support-after-sale, dealing with difficult customers, and more.  He has sold about 15 rabbits this summer alone, some live, and some dressed. I have also perfected a couple of rabbit meat recipes that our family really enjoys, so I think the rabbits have earned a permanent place on the farm.  After we sold off all our extra breeders and then JR’s favorite breeding doe developed severe mastitis in one of her teats (I didn’t even know that was possible!) and had to be put down, we are down to just 4 rabbits, 2 does, and 2 bucks.  One of each is currently breeding age, and the other 2 are still growing as replacements.  The youngsters give us a back up in the event we lose a breeder over the winter, but we are hoping to move all 4 to give us a good start at Red Gate Farm.  The breeding doe currently has a litter of 5 week old kits, that will be weaned in the next couple weeks, and harvested after Thanksgiving.  We hope she will keep us supplied until we get settled and start breeding the new girl.

Pelham, our American Chinchilla, and current sire.

Hope, a Harlequin rabbit, and our current breeding doe.

Our up-and-coming buck, Jupiter.

Our still-growing doe, Mars.

Our current litter of kits. All are already reserved for meat.

Then there’s the chickens.  We lost all but 8 of our layers from last year to the fox (who has since been dispatched), then we were gifted 5 more layers early this summer, giving us 13.  Of course, half of them started molting mid-summer, so we have been getting about 6 eggs a day for several months now.  In addition, we were given 12 more chicks in early summer, most of which are pullets we are raising as layers.  Some of them are Americauna’s, meaning we could finally get a few green/blue eggs mixed into the batch.  Depending on how many wind up being roosters, I may sell a few of the pullets this fall.  I was hoping to take a few with us when we moved, to hold us over until we could raise a new batch, but I have discovered several states we will be driving through may require certain tests for poultry.  So, depending on the process and price, we may just sell all the girls next spring and just start over.

Of course, I can’t forget the honey bees.  We have 6 hives now, which we will maintain through the winter.  If all survive, then we will sell 3 hives, mainly to get rid of the larger sized boxes.  S has really spent this year focusing on regressing his bees and using natural, non-chemical methods.  While the process has been very successful in terms of producing healthy hives, due to the regression process, the severe drought (meaning minimal nectar flows), and the fact the previous owner harvested too much honey last year, we aren’t sure we will get to harvest any this year.  It’s kind of borderline at this point.

Finally, just for kicks, we recently had a visitor.  A very smelly, rutty visitor, who reminded me why I sold Stallion last fall.

Meet Marcus, a very well-bred American Alpine buck from Harmody Alpine lines. Notice the incredible bouffant hair do….

You see, this little buck was just born this spring.  Chances are, that hair will keep on growin’, until Marcus resembles his dad, Elvis….

Elvis was quite the king of the herd. Look at that hair!  And he was only a yearling when this pic was taken last year.  I borrowed this pic from a friend’s website. Our black Alpine doe, Onyx, was bred to Elvis last year, but we wound up selling her twin boys. I am rather hoping to keep a little buckling out of him if I can get my hands on one.

Don’t you just love the resemblance?

Well, guess that it’s for now.  Wait until you read tomorrow’s post about a quite unexpected adventure we had in the middle of the night!  Let’s just say it involved a drunk guy, several accomplices, our woods, Athena, and several sheriff’s deputies wielding spotlights and shotguns!

We had quite the adventure this weekend….our first annual Chicken Harvest!

Roosters caged and ready for harvest.

Back in early spring, before life got as nutty as it has been, we were asked to host an event to both teach people, as well as have the efficiency of an assembly line of folks, to help harvest around 80 chickens.  We agreed, thinking it would be a great experience for us to host and teach, and because we were interested in the help harvesting our own 40 or so birds.  It also allowed us the benefit of ordering a large batch of meat birds as a group to save with a quantity price and shipping.  So it was arranged, and we were committed.

Now, when most folks think of meat birds, they think of the mutant, over-hybridized, massive broiler type chicks you buy, raise for 6-8 weeks, then butcher.  They are considered the most feed-efficient birds around.  After all, you only feed them for 6-8 weeks.  The flavor, however, is not generally as good as the old-fashioned breeds of chickens, because the way these hybrids grow, they literally want to do nothing but sit by a feeder and eat all day.  After the first few weeks, they aren’t even that interested in free-ranging to supplement their diet with the bugs and greens that add so much flavor to the meat.  About the only way to get the benefits of free-range flavor is to pasture them in frequently moved chicken tractors.

Due to our altitude (over 7600 feet), and the lack of oxygen around here, the hybrids don’t seem to do that well over all.  I have one friend who raised a few, but at 6 weeks, they started petering out, and by 8 weeks, they were dying of heart attacks.  So, we chose instead to raise the old-fashioned, hardier meat-bird.  The flavor is incredible and they don’t just up and die on you, but the down side is that they take 4 months to reach an edible weight, and all that free-ranging plus the additional age creates a slightly tougher meat.  Nonetheless, we think the trade off is worth it, at least while we live here.  We may try the hybrid birds when we live at Red Gate.  We’ll see.

Anyway, back to the harvest event….

We spent Friday eve and Saturday morning setting up all the supplies we had gathered.  We were blessed with a poultry plucker, free of charge, in exchange for making some repairs to it.  S made the repairs, and has decided to build his own now that he knows how it all works.  (Thank goodness!!! I officially hate hand-plucking!)

The calm before the storm…all set up and ready to harvest.

About 18 people showed up to help–most of whom were planning to take home packaged, freezer-ready birds.  We had 2 assembly-line tables (or maybe I should say “dis-assembly-line!”), where each person had a specific job they did to prepare the chicken.

S teaching the different “dis-assembly” stations.

One person was basically in charge of getting the chickens and putting them into the killing cones.  We had 2 killing cones, and one guy and one woman were taught to “stick” the chicken in order to relatively painlessly bleed him out and kill him.  Then, some teenage girls were in charge of dunking the dead and bled chickens into the scald tanks, while another lady oversaw the plucker and then passed the chickens to the appropriate dis-assembly tables.

Scalding the birds.

After the chickens were disassembled and the parts and offal all seperated into designated containers, the remaining carcasses were put into chill tanks.

One of the lines, with S assisting as needed.

After chilling, we had  inspectors that looked them over, removed any left-over pin-feathers or unsightly material, and moved them into processing chill tanks.

Inspector looking the bird over.

Finally, the “owner” of the birds would place the birds on our home-made drying rack, give a final once-over, package their birds as desired, and move them to their final cooler, where they could then be set aside to go home later.

An owner giving her birds the final inspection.

It probably took about an hour to process the first 10 chickens, but then we got on a roll, and processed the remaining 60 or so in the next 2.5 hours.  Nothing to really be proud off compared to experienced processors, but for a bunch of total amateurs, I’d say we did quite well!  As an added precaution, we actually divided birds into individual batches (a batch being one person’s group of chickens).  Between each batch, we asked everyone to take a quick break and re-sterilize all their equipment.  We were surprised to find that one person showed up to volunteer his time sharpening everyone’s knives.  Turns out he was quite the knife-sharpening expert after living in the wilds of Alaska for most of his life, hunting wild game, and learning the fine arts of good knives and sharpening skills!  We took advantage of him and had him sharpen a few of our more difficult knives.

So,we had a great first experience, received some very encouraging feedback, were told how the event thoroughly inspired a few “city folks” to get more involved in their food habits, and generally had a wonderful day of fellowship ending with a freezer full of chicken to feed our family for the next year.  As an added bonus, I pre-sold almost 20 of our birds, which helped pay for all the feed involved in raising them.  Because they are free-range meat birds, folks happily paid $15 for the smaller 2-3 lb (dresed weight) birds we were offering.  Plus, we got to keep most of the offal material to feed Athena.

We look forward to offering many more of these in the future!!

This year, we decided to raise and process all our chickens in one batch, for the most part.  Poor S butchered so many last year, but they were all spread out, which was really quite a pain to deal with.  So now, we are almost overrun with chickens–primarily roosters!

We have spent the summer raising about 40 roosters for meat.  At our altitude and low oxygen levels, the standard cornish-rock hybrids won’t survive, so we are forced to use more traditional giant-breed type chickens.  This means that, rather than butchering at the normal 6-8 weeks like most meat birds, we have to raise them longer–around 4 months to be exact.  As a result, we have also had to deal with all the typical problems of standard breed roosters–like escaping from the pen to free range, breeding my hens, roosters challenging each other, roosters crowing at all hours of the day and night, etc.  With over 40 of them out there, I am more than ready to introduce them to my freezer.  I have managed to pre-sale about 10 so far, with several more having been requested.  Since I ask a nice price due to their being fed organically and free-ranging and/or housed in movable temp-fencing so they can always forage, the income has definitely helped pay for raising them this year.

To help us out, in a week and a half, we are hosting a community (of sorts) chicken harvest, where folks will be bringing their birds, and we will all work together to get everyone’s processed.  We have been blessed by someone lending us a poultry plucker so we didn’t have to pluck by hand, and we are expecting to harvest almost 100 chickens in total that day.  It will be interesting!

For the record, I’m talking about a buffet FOR the hens, not OF the hens!

For some time now, I have wanted to devise a way for my layers to have free-shoice access to their supplements, but had some trouble.  I don’t have a huge coop, so my free space is very limited.  I didn’t want a seperate hanging container for every supplement.  I also couldn’t have bowls of supplements laying around, or the scratching hens would simply fill them with dirty bedding. Finally, I found a supplement and grain feeder that I loved. 

Supplement feeder from Murray McMurray Hatchery (http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/free_choice_wall_feeder.html)

 

I did NOT love it enough to pay the $110 +shipping asking price, however!  I liked several things about it, though–the free-choice access, the wall-mounted, compact design, the seperate sections to divide the supplements, the easy-to-clean stainless steel construction, and so forth.  So, I started lookng into options that could meet that criteria, and suddenly had a “light-bulb moment.”

First, I bought solid bottom rabbit feeders ($10/each), then gathered some scrap wood and screws. I drilled 2 holes into the back of each feeder, then drilled the screws into the backside of the board and into the back of the feeder.  The downside of this is that the screw tips stick out into the inside of the feeder, but it’s the best I could do.  I could probably snip the tips off one day, but I don’t really anticipate a big problem since I would only stick my hand in there for occasional, rare, cleaning.  In that case, I guess I could simply take the unit apart. 

After attaching the feeders to the backboard, I then attached the entire unit to the inside wall of my coop.  Of course, the downside of attaching anything to the inside of a chicken coop is that chickens like to perch on it, resulting in feeders full of poultry manure.  To overcome this problem, I used additional scraps we had to build a steeply slanted roof, positioned over the feeder unit.  I did have to position this carefully since the only real downside to these feeders is that the tops open from the back (since they are designed to be placed on the outside of a rabbit cage),  I had to be sure to leave plenty of clearance to fit my hand and a supplement scoop underneath to fill the feeders, but not have it so high that “teenage” chicks would be tempted to perch on the feeders anyway. 

Custom made "Poultry Buffet"!

I built the entire unit in about 2 hours, for around $30 plus the cost of a few screws.  I’m sure you could build it much cheaper, but I was in a rush and didn’t have a lot of time for price-comparing the feeders.  If you could find a rabbitry going out of business, then you could potentially design it for little to no cost!  You could potentially build it out of scrap wood, but I prefer the improved hygiene of steel. 

 In any case, now, my girls have their own personal buffet, where they pick and choose whether they want grit, oyster shell, or kelp.  One great advantage of this design is that I can always add additional feeders if I decide I want a new supplement.

After my recent adventures with a sick goat and layers roosting in the nest boxes, I finally got a break over the last few days.  In fact, things have really started looking up in several ways….

Lilac is doing great.  Her mouth is continuing to heal, I have not had to treat for anything, and her appetite has returned.  She still won’t eat as much grain as I would like, but I’m pretty sure it’s because she is always so intent on her babies.  As rambunctious as they are, they are a handful, and when they run in opposite directions, poor Lilac has a fit keeping track of both of them. 

No worries, though.  Faith seems to have taken on the role of big sis and playmate, and is always eager for a game of headbutting with the little guys.  Since we got her, she has proven to be our most playful, and still acts very much like a youngster herself.  Hopefully she will mature a bit in the next couple months, before she delivers her own kids!

"Aunt" Faith and the boys

This weekend, I seperated the babies and Lilac at night for the first time.  That was an adventure in itself as cold as it was, and trying to ensure they stayed warm!  In any case, Athena the LGD, has been assigned kid-duty, so after giving her some opportunity to get to know the babies, and vice versa, Athena now moves between pens each day and night.   Lilac proved to be an incredible milker.  I have never before seen her full potential since she had been milked through and almost dried up twice before I got her.  Now, though, the babies nurse all day, then I take them away at night to sleep on their own.  About 12 hours later, I milk Lilac, and return the babies to her.  Every morning milking, I get 3.5 lbs, which is about 6 cups!  Oh, I can’t express the relief to finally have our own milk supply again!!

The other goats are doing equally well.  Sara is looking gorgeous, and she is starting to look heavy in the belly as well.  She has her playful moments, but she has really matured and grown up a lot (in every way) in the last 4-5 months. 

Faith and Bell are best buds, and you rarely see one without the other.  They are about the same age, though I find it interesting since their personalities are so different.  Bell is a people-lover, and won’t leave my side when I’m out there.  She is calm, easy-going, and generally laid back.  Faith, on the other hand, is Miss Independent, only allowing pets when she wants them, and just goes non-stop.  She is also our trouble-instigator now that Stallion is gone.

Bell

Onyx is odd-woman out.  She hangs out with the other girls, but hasn’t really bonded to any one in particular.  She lets me pet her on her terms (usually around feeding time).  She is my next doe due to kid, and her belly is huge.  She is built wider than my other goats anyway, but with that baby belly, she just seems massive to me.  Hard to believe she has almost 5 weeks to go!

Athena is coming around and gradually earning her way back to pasture-guard duty.  Since we lost two chickens to her playfulness, she had lost that privilege, and was never turned out unsupervised.  She was also not obeying well when off leash.  The few days we had her in the house around her spaying proved highly beneficial in every way.  It encouraged me to give her some work on leash, and she bonded a little more to us.  As a result, she is listening and obeying sooo much better, and we can now trust her a lot more.  Her big problem now is simply the fact that she is a 6 month old pup, and gets bored very easily.  She is digging large holes all over the goat pen, and occasionally chases the goats or tries to play tug-of-war with one’s tail.  She has proven quite gentle though, and has never gone overboard.  All the goats except Bell will put Athena in her place when they have had enough, and though I haven’t witnessed it, I suspect the others stand up for Bell too.  She is better with the chickens, as long as we remove her from the pasture within about 2-3 hours.  Otherwise, she gets bored and tries to play with them.  She is a good pup most of the time, though, and we are truly enjoying her.  I figure another 6-12 months and she should calm down significantly, and be much more trustworthy.  In the mean time, good, dependable, ole’ Will gets to pick up her slack with pasture guardian duty.

Shiloh the donkey has become the single animal on our farm that does little to earn her keep.  Between the snow, ice (I haven’t seen my front yard in 8 weeks from the inches of ice on top), cold weather, and other priorities, we have not been riding her at all–even for therapy.  She has been getting a little more onery toward the other animals, though I don’t know whether it is the progressing pregnancy making her cranky, or what.  I learned she is absolutely NOT trustworthy around the baby goats when I made the mistake of turning all the goats and donkey out in the pasture one day.  We have done this regularly, but baby goats were never part of the mix before.  Somehow, one of the babies got seperated from mom, and before Lilac could get to it, Shiloh went after him.  Thank the Lord, I happened to be walking by the door when it happened or she no doubt would have killed him.  She was bucking, stomping, kicking, you name it.  I couldn’t believe my gentle donkey had turned into an attack animal!  He was so tiny, I think she had trouble keeping track of where he rolled to each time she hit him.  Thankfully, as soon as she heard me yell, she stopped, and I ran out and retrieved the baby who, amazingly, turned out to be just fine.  He ran off to mom and started nursing to calm himself. We have not allowed her out with them since.  So, now I have to rotate them through to make sure all get sufficient exercise.  She is still a sweetheart toward humans, though, and we tend to be optimistic.  Therefore, we are seeing her current use as a producer for our varied compost pile, an eater of our goat-waste hay, and an eater of the pasture grass that the goats don’t care for.  Once we get the pasture cleaned out and a bit safer for riding in, JR is planning to do a lot more riding since I won’t have to be there all the time if he is in a fence. 

The rabbits seem to be doing well.  We got part of phase 2 of the pen accomplished, in that we laid down some 2×4 welded wire fence along 2 edges of the pen to stop the tremendous amounts of burrowing they were doing in those areas.  We are still waiting for a bit more ground thaw and an opportunity to drive to the correct store to buy the type of pipe of we need to finish the rest of it.  In the mean time, we are hoping at least 2 are pregnant.  I arranged for a little date between a harlequin doe and buck, which proved a success, so she will hopefully deliver in about 10 days.  She has delivered before, but this was the little bucks first time, so we’ll see.  I am also hoping that Pelham, our AC buck has bred another of the harlequin cross does and/or the AC doe, both of which run loose in the hare-pen with him.  They have been together right about 4 weeks now, so it could, theoritically be any time that one of the girls delivers.  I hope. 

Phase 2 of the hare-pen construction

We aren’t sure how the bees are doing.  They only come out of their hives when temps are over 50*, and that has only happened about 3x this month.  One hive wakes up, but MANY dead bees have been tossed from the hive on those warm clean-up days, so we have no idea how many remain.  We think we observed life from the other 2 hives one day, though,  it also seems that the good hive bees are actually entering the other 2 hives and stealing the honey out.  I fear we may have lost both of those.  We are starting to think we got suckered into buying a batch of sick bees, in hindsight, but we are hoping this one will survive, and give us a good, hardy colony to go into the next season with.  Once the weather warms up, S is going to work on sterilizing all the hives, transplanting the live colony into a clean hive with more natural comb frames, and see what happens.  We aren’t expecting to harvest much honey this year, but we are hoping to learn a great deal from the experience. 

Finally, I am thrilled to report that I have not had a dirty nest box since I added the curtains last weekend!  I now get 6-8 clean eggs each day, and my nest boxes are nice and tidy.  Now, if I could just convince that old rooster to love on the hens equally, rather than singling out just the 2!  They are starting to loose too many feathers where he stands on the poor girls all the time. 

Guess that wraps up this farm report.  Thanks for reading!

As if I didn’t have enough challeges in daily life right now, I have also been battling an issue with my hens. 

Oh, I’m thrilled to report they are finally laying!  I estimate that about 7-9 are laying regularly, as we get 5-7 eggs every day now, with 6 most days.  I suspect I know who isn’t laying, as we never see them in the nest boxes.

Except at night.  Which leads me to my latest battle.  You see, hens are supposed to use the nest box ONLY for laying an egg.  As a result, that means the nest box stays nice and clean for the egg, and the egg doesn’t get contaminated with chicken poo.  However, when they roost (sleep), they poop right where they are, making a big mess–including when they roost in the nest box.  I was having to rinse my eggs every day.  I tried the old “go out after roost time and shoo the hens out of the boxes” trick, but it wasn’t working.  Every day I was finding messy eggs, and it was causing more work as I tried to keep the boxes clean, which in turn cost more money in the nest bedding (usually a mix of hay and straw). 

Plan A, the original coop design, was comfy nest boxes and shooing the roosting hens out.  It didn’t work.  The worst of the problem was hens roosting on the outer lip of the box, with their tail ends hanging into the nest, thereby leaving a mess along the front edge in the morning.

So we tried Plan B….S cut some port holes out of a piece of scrap wood, and I hoped that darkening up the box would help prevent some roosting.  S also added a new roost along the front, both to allow the bigger hens to easily enter the tiny holes, and to provide another option for roosting.

It didn’t work.  In fact, the hens went from roosting on the outer lip to just going inside the nest entirely, making the entire nest messy.  Sometimes, 2 or even 3 would share a nest.  So, this weekend, I resorted to Plan C…stapling strips of fabric across the port holes, to create a completely isolated nest box.

BINGO!  As of 2 days later, my nest boxes are still clean!  Not a single hen has been caught roosting, and not a single pile of manure has been deposited in a nest box.  My eggs are clean, which means I don’t have to wash them, which means they are able to keep their naturally protective coating on the shell to keep germs out.  We’ll see if it lasts, but it seems the roosting hens still wanted to be able to see their coop-mates.  With the fabric in place, they can’t see, so their security is taken away (or at least that’s my theory).  On the other hand, the layers want to be as secluded as possible, so they appreciate the darkened, more private boxes. 

After further research, it seems the root of my problem is that my nest boxes are not located correctly.  Apparently, they need to be located sufficiently away from the roosts, and lower than the middle-level roost if they can’t be seperated significantly.  As you can see in my first photo, my boxes are located directly adjacent to my roosts (with some roosts actually touching the boxes), and at the same level as the most popular roosts.  Therefore, when the higher roosts fill up with hens, the remaining hens were content to roost on the boxes rather than perch on the lower roosts. 

As a final note, should you find yourself using this final technique, the hens were not thrilled about the change to their boxes when I added the fabric.  So, I pulled the 2 middle pieces out of the way of the opening (I just tucked them up out of the way), which allowed the hens to more easily see the other side.  Then, I took a few hens, and placed them inside the boxes, to find their own way out.  Within a few hours, I had my normal number of eggs.  That evening, I allowed the 2 tucked up strips to fall back down, completely closing off the hole.  The following day, it didn’t seem to bother the girls at all.

Isn’t the idea of self-sufficiency so neat?  Think about it.  With a little extra work to feed animals and clean pens, you can have creamy, wholesome milk, fresh, healthy eggs, beautiful, clean, safe meat, and more to eat.  If you are baking and need an egg, there is no need to run to the store, rather, you just run out to the coop and get one.  You can use your surplus milk to make cheese, yogurt, kefir, and so much more.  Table and garden scraps, surplus eggs, milk, and other dairy products can all be recycled by feeding right back to the animals, increasing their nutrition.  Some surpluses like milk, eggs, and extra critters can be sold to bring in income, which in turn can keep the hubby home from work.  If the animals are raised using natural or organic methods, then prices can fetch a premium.  Male animals can be studded out, all the above can be used for bartering, and the list just goes on and on and on!  It’s a perfect world!

Or not.

You could also have a flock of laying hens that refuse to lay.  You can have a herd of goats and not a single one producing milk.  You could even have a colony of rabbits that don’t reproduce!  Which is exactly where we find ourselves at the moment.  Our layers don’t lay, our rabbits won’t breed, we think most of our bees may have died off, our goats don’t milk, our donkey is getting increasingly cranky in her pregnant state, our livestock guardian pup has hit a phase where she has far more fun chasing the chickens than guarding them, and there is so much snow outside that my work load, and the animals’ feed consumption has doubled. 

Amazing to think that, after 8 months of our new farm life, we have reached the point of…..umm….memorable adventures and purchasing our milk and eggs from friends whose herds and flocks are doing so much better!  No doubt it takes the idea of self-sufficient into a more meaningful and truthful realm of God-sufficient.  Truly, we pray daily right now that God would bless our efforts with production. 

Of course, the goats not milking were my choice.  I had 2, and chose to dry off both simultaneously–Lilac because she was due to kid in 8 weeks, and Sara because she was being bred and I wanted to improve her health.  Then, we bought our other 3, all of which are hopefully bred.  So, we have high hopes that Lilac will soon be supplying us with some delicious milk, as she is due to freshen in just 2 more weeks.  We are holding out faith right now that our other goats will have healthy pregnancies, produce healthy kids and an abundance of milk, and that we will be able to easily sell the surplus goats (Lilac, Sara, and most of the kids) for a price that will help us break even from this year, and possibly put us a bit ahead for next year. 

We have made lots of changes to our layer coop.  We have added artificial lighting to increase their “day” hours, I have increased the protein in their feed, we built a supplement feeder to ensure they are getting all the grit, calcium, and nutrition they could possibly need, and we are even considering insulating the coop somehow.  So far, we are getting 1-3 eggs each day, which, although an improvement over 2 weeks ago, still leaves us short of eggs.   It doesn’t help that one day the light works fine, and the next day something goes wrong and it refuses to turn on.  Nonetheless, we are praying that our layers will increase their laying soon, so they can earn their keep around here.  The good news is that, despite winter being in full throttle, we haven’t lost a single hen to the cold or to the fox.

We have also made a lot of changes to our little rabbitry.  One of our American Chinchilla does proved infertile (I even hired a proven buck to make sure), my buck decided to quit breeding, and my final hope for our AC breeding program, a little doe, up and died this week.  I have no clue why.  So, that’s it for the AC’s–at least until we move to Red Gate.  In the mean time, I was ready to throw in the towel, but S wanted to try again with a new set of rabbits.  I managed to buy out someone else’s rabbitry since they were moving.  We got a pile of crossbred Harlequin and Rhinelanders.  Although smaller than the AC’s, they are acclimated to our altitude and environment, seem to be very hardy and prolific around here, and the cross adds a good bit of hybrid vigor.  The smaller size will be better for JR to handle them.  We got a few too many (intentionally), including a mother/daughters set that get along really well, with which we are hoping to start our colony run soon.  So, as soon as we clear some space by harvesting a couple of excess rabbits, we are praying that our new rabbits will do the rabbit thing and start procreating. 

Athena is experiencing some big changes.  I have intensified her training quite a bit.  I had to take her to the vet for her rabies and distemper shot recently, where she proved to be 54 lbs at just 5 months old!!  She is growing so quickly, and becoming so independent, I decided it was time to introduce some basics.  We are working on not chasing chickens or chewing goat tails, walking on a leash, sitting, and coming when called.  We have also allowed her in the house a couple times just to expose her to something different.  In addition, I have been socializing her a bit, as she was starting to bark at any person that came around–even if we were with them, which we don’t want.  We are having to make changes to her diet as well.  As much as we love the BARF diet, she is currently eating around 5 lbs of meat each day, in addition to occasional bones, grains, fruits, veggies, eggs, and other raw foods.  And she is still on the lean side.  After we were blessed with an entire flock of chickens that S spent a total of 8 hours butchering, and will soon do a couple rabbits, all to feed the dog for about 2 weeks, we realized it is no longer sustainable.  Had she been a chihuahua, that would be one thing, but we can’t afford the time involved in keeping such a massive and fast-growing pup fed this way.  So, we are backing off.  In the hopes of being able to try again in the future, we are simply cutting her BARF diet in half.  She will get one meal of all-natural kibble each day, and the other will be some sort of raw food like she is accustomed to.  This will hopefully keep her system functioning well, and keep her healthy, but allow us to back off on the amount of meat we have to collect just for her. 

Finally, we aren’t sure what’s going on with our bees.  After almost 2 months, we finally had a day recently when the temps crept over 50* out, which meant the bees could come out of their hives.  I only saw activity around one hive though.  I fear the other 2 may not have survived the transition.  In the mean time, S has been doing a lot of research.  We fear we may have been sold hives that had some known problems (which explains the great deal we got!), so he has been researching what to do about it.  We are hoping to use some natural, chemical free methods that have been proven in several other countries to essentially sterilize all the empty hives, and then start fresh with new, clean trays for the bees to build on.  Once the bees wake up from their winter dormancy, and the pollen starts flowing, we hope to transplant the surviving bees into the sterilized hives, and then sterilize their old hives as well.  We figure it can’t hurt to try. 

Needless to say, we are holding out hope that this is just one of those dry slumps you hear about, and that, God willing, the new year will bring with it a great deal of production and success on our little farm.  I have to tell you, though, we are learning to trust and rely on God through all this.  Despite the slump in our own farm production, God has provided, and we haven’t had to inrease our trips to the grocery store at all.  We always seem to have a friend with surpus eggs or goat milk just when we needed it.  We have had goats, rabbits, and chickens donated to us almost as fast as we could take them.  Not once have we had any shortage of meat, and just when I start rationing the milk and eggs, it seems I encounter one of our friends with a surplus.  We have even had an offer to supply us with an entire batch of Araucana peepers in the spring, so we won’t have to buy any, and we will have some fresh ones to raise to replace our older and lazy layers next fall.  It’s a great reminder that we should never be discouraged, and that God will always provide for our needs!!

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