Archive for the ‘Livestock’ Category

Chicken 911 Update

Now it has been over a week of treatment, and the girls are looking better already! The feathers are coming back in on their backs and heads/necks of the first two hens, and they are running around with the flock, and not crouching when we enter the pen. The two Americana’s feathers are just starting to grow in on their backs and tails, one more so then the other. One does not seem to mind the treatments, while the other still spends all of her time hiding under one of the nest boxes. Both of their little bottoms are still naked and I repeated the lice treatment. I added black oil sunflower seeds to their diet to help keep them warm an heal the skin in the days to come. One of them, bless her little heart, even laid an egg!

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Chicken 911

As many know, our farm has a rooster-rehoming program, where we take in unwanted roosters, and place them into breeding programs or homes of people who can keep them. I would never encourage any backyard chicken owners to own a rooster who is not actively breeding their flock or who does not need one for lawn patrol for their free-range hens.
By nature roosters are mean and aggressive – even if raised from chicks and handled a lot. This is NOT a reflection of their keepers – it is the nature of the beast. It is a rooster’s job to be protective and aggressive towards any and everything he deems a threat to his ladies, this includes his keeper. This is their job!

At our farm we have used everything from a “rooster stick” (a quart size plastic milk jug with dry beans in it, duct tapped to an old broomstick) to a metal trash can lid used as a shield to enter some of our breeding pens. Once a year we do spur removal for our own sake as well as the safety and well being of the hens.

Our program is a service to the poultry keepers in our area who can keep hens but not crowing roosters. More often than not, one of those little yellow balls of fluff that the feed store PROMISED would all be female, turns out to be a boy. So when the day comes that “Jane” turns out to be “John” Oops…you really don’t want the neighbors to start throwing rocks at you at 5 am, or having to run for your life to keep from getting flogged and spurred every time you enter the chicken yard to collect eggs.

But at times, it is not just these crowing, spurring, bags of feather-covered hormones that get turned into us for placement. At times we get their counterparts, the unwanted or battered hens turned in as well. We also take in the girls who have suffered predator attacks, sickness, or neglect and do our best to heal and restore them. We will show you now the process and progress of four of these hens that have been brought in to us this past week.

white leghorn

first two

The first two brought in were a Leghorn and a Buff Orpington. Both had the feathers missing from their backs and the Leghorn’s head was picked at.  Both were covered in lice and crouched down on the ground if you tried to get near them. The first thing was to treat the lice and at the same time worm them. The next step was to spray the bare pink skin with Bluecoat to protect them from getting sunburned. I am sure that smarted a little bit at first, but soothed the bare skin and coated it from further damage.
By the next morning both hens seemed a bit better, and it was time to treat them again. This time a product called “No-pick” (you can get it at most feed stores and it is something you should ALWAYS keep around for first aid if you have any type of poultry) was slathered on the wounded areas and gently worked all the way down to the skin. This step is repeated every day, twice a day until the feathers start to grow back and cover the bare skin. This can take weeks sometimes, so we must be patient and keep up with the treatments.

second two2

second two
Two more birds were turned in a few days later in even worse shape. These two Americana hens were more bare skin than feathers and their tails were just about all the way gone, as well as their wings. Their heads were all picked up as well as their bright pink little bottoms. These two girls were also very frightened of being handled and flighty. I started the same treatment on them as the first two hens, and by the time I got done applying the Bluecoat, they looked like they had gotten into the studio with Picasso during his blue period. While I looked like I had been in a fight with a tagger during a Purple Haze concert! All in all, everyone felt better when all was said and done.
Stay tuned! Pictures will be posted every few days of their progress through the healing process.

Little Orphan Phoebe

It was a first birth for Claire and I was frankly surprised it went so rough. Her mom had always had an easy time getting her kids on the ground, and some of the time did it without any help. I was sure she would follow in her mother’s footsteps. This time I was wrong. It was Monday morning and I noticed that her udder was quickly bagging up (of course she was not going to do it over the weekend, when I had time off work- doe’s code of honor). She started to get “that look” in her eyes and I knew her time was drawing near. I called in to the office to let them know I would be late, and started my watch. By noon she was picking at her food and talking to her side- it should not be long now. By 2 pm she was down on her side pushing, but by 2:30 she was not making any progress. I got out the gloves and the lube. There was a tiny pair of feet in the birth canal but not a head to be felt. Not good. I let another ten minuets go by and still no progress. I have done this enough to know when it is time to call the vet. Dr. Bailey was not in the office but I did have his cell number. He was only a few minutes away and came right over. He could feel the feet as well, but not the head with them. He tried to turn the kid, and then only had the head, but no front feet.
There just did not seem to be a way to get this baby into the proper position. “Well” I said at last “Just bring the kid out head first.” Dr. Bailey always likes to have the feet as well, but decided to deliver the kid without then this time. After some pushing, and a few screams from the doe, a tiny doe kid was pulled into the world. Dr. Bailey was surprised to see she was still alive. He handed her off to me and reached back in for the next one. Again after much pushing and pulling, a tiny buck kid was retrieved, weak and sputtering, but alive. He weighed in at only 1 lb 6 oz, and she just under 2 pounds. I am not sure if it was the traumatic birth or just Claire’s take on being a new mom, but the doe did not seem to want to have anything to do with these newborns.  As Dr Bailey looked down at the two tiny, struggling babes on the blanket, he looked at me and said that I now had my work cut out for me. I think it was his kind way of saying these kids really did not have much of a chance at this point. If I could get them past the first 48 hours they might have a chance.

Newborn Phoebe

For the rest of the afternoon, I milked out the colostrum from the VERY uncooperative mother, and fed the kids with an eyedropper. I followed the doe around with the babes, hoping she would bond with them. Not only did she not want them anywhere near her- she actually turned around and butted them away, hard!
By that evening the night air began to chill, and I had no choice but to go to “plan B”, and bring the poor little things into the house. I found a large cardboard box, lined it with a plastic trash bag, and covered the floor with newspapers. Next I put down a heating pad, and then some large towels. this would keep them snuggley and warm. Both were too weak to suck on a bottle, so I fed them every 4 hours with the eyedropper throughout the night.
By the next morning, the little doe was strong enough to stand a bit, and I once again took her out and tried to introduce her to her mom. This time Clair knocked her for six, so I took her right back into the house. I came to the sad reallity that I would now be raising my very first pair of orphan kids.
The first 3 days were very tedious, keeping up with the feedings every 4 hours around the clock. By day 4, the little doe was finally able to latch onto the nipple of the bottle, but the little buck kid continued to grow weak, and he left us that same afternoon. It was touch and go every day with the doe. She did not gain much weight, and chilled easily. She was not able to stand up very well, and seemed weak in her front legs. Sometimes she did not want to eat at all, and I had to revert back to the eyedropper. I bought some Pedilite to keep her hydrated, and put a few drops of Red Cell in her milk at each feeding. Still she struggled.
I remembered when one of our goats had been anemic the year before, and we had given her injections of B-12, so I began to give the little doe 1cc of the B-12 every 12 hours.
At 1 week of age, she seemed unable to walk altogether, and was still not gaining any weight. I would hold her in my lap and move her little legs for her, so her muscles would not atrophy. This went on all through the second week of her life, until I noticed she was sometimes able to stand for a few minuets. I began to get behind her and just scoot her along so she would have to take small steps. I slept on the couch with her curled up in my arms to keep warm.
By week 3 she was taking more steps on her own, but was all but lame in the right front leg. I began to feed her a few teaspoons of greek yogurt every day, and continued the B-12 shots. She began to walk a bit more. Then one day I found her in her box laying stiff on her side. It looked she had seizured. She was still alive, so I got her upright and got her moving again. At one month old, I gave her 1cc of CDT and prayed. She still weighed a good pound less then the set of twins that were born a week after her. Her right front leg still buckled out in front of her, causing a limp.
More shots, more bottles, more prayer – day after day. I never even did name her, for fear every day that she would not live. Then the day came at last when she took a turn for the better. Her legs became stronger, she started to walk with ease, and then she delighted me one day when she jumped up the porch steps. At 5 weeks I tapered the B-12 down to 1 cc every other day, and then tapered off of it. We named her Phoebe, and she is now doing quite well. She downs 4 cups of milk replacer everyday, has gained weight, grown, and has started to nibble at some hay.

Our healthy, happy girl.

Now, at 6 weeks old, we go in back and have “play dates” in the nursery pen with the other moms and babies. We then race each other back down the driveway and into the kitchen. I marvel at her sweet but spunky personaility and try not to think back on those hard days we had together. Each day now she is less and less dependent on me, and goes off to explore her world more and more without me, but that’s ok. That is as it should be. As much as I enjoy the special bond we share I will be glad for the day when she will be able to go out and join the tribe.
For now I will just enjoy the last few weeks of the bottles, and the cuddling, and the sweet goat murmurs she whispers in my ears.
All the worry has been worth it, and it reminds me that I am indeed a goatherd, and to always be humble before God’s creatures.

 

 

 

We Welcome Summer!

Even though we are experiencing our normal “June gloom” this time of the year here in Ventura, we are still ushering in our summer solstice on Wednesday, June 20th at 4:09 pm PDT. This is the moment the sun reaches its farthest point north of the equator. This will be the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, and then from here on out, the days will start to get just a bit shorter until the winter solstice in December. The north pole is tilted as far as possible towards the sun now, and those of us north of the equator get more rays of the sun in the summer months.
Every year when the sun finally does manage to cut through the overcast mornings we get our long, hot lazy days on the farm. The animals will be active in the cool mornings, and then again at dusk, but will spend the heat of the midday napping in the cool shade of the trees and shelters. It always makes for more work in the early mornings trying to keep everything watered down and cool, and we keep thick layers of mulch around the bases of the rose bushes and trees to keep their feet cool on these hot summer days. Each morning now I am greeted by small lizards basking on the back door steps and clinging to little niches on the wooden fences. Some of the more bold ones do little push-ups at me as I walk by but hold their ground. I can always tell a few of the slower moving ones by their stumpy tails –  courtesy of Lucy the farm cat.
The goats have shed their thick winter coats and are becoming sleek and shiny in their summer wear. The dog is enjoying once again raiding the berry patch, I think she loves this summer treat as much as we do! The chickens will soon be enjoying the leftover squash and other summer veggies as the warm season gardens are well underway now. I am longing for that first ripe tomato and looking forward to grilling some eggplant and squash. There is nothing quite like cooking summer veggies outdoors on the grill or sipping a nice cold glass of sun tea in the garden while sitting in the shade.

Welcome back summer!

Spring Egg Olympics 2012

We have been in full swing with the incubators since the Easter chick rush, and we have been selling chicks almost as soon as they hatch these days. We have met some wonderful new chicken keepers and some really nice 4-H families this season, as well as repeat customers.

Here is the lineup that made our “Odd shape egg contest” finals this spring.

Top row is a normal size/shape standard egg.  Below that you can see some of the funny attempts our girls have made so far.  The bowling pin in the first row is my fave.  The big green oval at the bottom was a double yoker!  Yes, as you can see,  some of our hens have a great sense of humor!  Way to go gals!

Quinn’s Twins!

Buckling #1

Buckling #2

Winter working and waiting

This was yet another busy winter clean-up weekend on the farm. Some very important things on the list got tended to- like cutting down the tree branches that were touching the roof so the insurance company would stop having a fit-and then some other less important work like pruning back more of the roses in the front garden. It was the perfect day for it. It was not too hot and the ground was still damp from last week’s rain, which made weeds with long taproots very easy to pull up. I love when I am able to get in “work mode” and really enjoy the pace of the day’s activities. Although I know we are still technically in the throes of winter – the night temperatures still drop below freezing and the days are still very short – but the gardening bug has bitten us early this year and we have a lovely raised bed of cole crops, garlic and onions planted now. We managed to plant a lettuce box as well. This will be a good distraction so we won’t be too hasty and try to plant warm season veggies too early. This year the greenhouse is full to the brim with lettuce and other bright green leafy things that can stand the low temps. It makes my heart feel full every time I open the door and step inside and see the benches covered with green, a real contrast from just outside its walls where the rest of the farm is still mostly brown and crunchy. There are also quite a few rose clones from fall growing out in a bright corner, and a few water baths with hopeful cuttings creeping along in the cold…..waiting.

The roses that were pruned back were in the “pink garden” next to the front of the house. They are mostly hybrid tea roses used for cutting and bringing into the house. This garden had been in a lot of shade until we cut down the big pine tree in front last winter, and now it gets a lot more hours of direct sun. The plants were scraggly and leggy from having to reach for the sun and it has taken the past few pruning seasons to try to get them back into shape. Some still look like they will take another couple of hard prunings before they will be just right. Right now they look like nothing but thorny brown sticks poking up out of the heavy layer of mulch around their feet…..waiting.

There are two does in the nursery pen this week, Quinn and Bunny. Quinn is dilating and has started to bag up so we keep a close eye on her these days. I am not sure about Bunny, I think she may fool us for a while still. This is Quinn’s first birth, so I am really not sure what to expect from her, but her mother never had a problem getting her kids on the ground, so we hope Quinn follows suit. The goat shed is clean and lined with fresh straw, the lights have been strung across the yard and set up in the pen, and I will make sure there is a stack of clean towels stacked and ready to go- but for now we just watch for signs and bide our time…..waiting.

Even though there are a few warm days here and there, winter still has a firm grip on the farm. There are only a handful of eggs each day and only the odd chick that hatches in the one incubator that we run through the winter months. We have eaten the last of the squash that was in storage, and feast sparingly on the jams and foods preserved from last summer’s harvest. We will be in full swing again before we know it, and looking for a chance to sit down all too soon, but for now we spend a lot of our time just waiting.

Winter’s “Tween” Week

December 21st  brought us once again to the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. The good news is, from here on out the days will slowly start to get longer once again. This is that in-between week when we start to put away Christmas and look ahead to the new year. Christmas cards have stopped coming but the good news is now the spring seed catalogs are starting to fill the mailbox! All the beautiful winter scenes – snowmen, stockings hung by crackling fireplaces  – are now being replaced by glossy pages of colorful spring flowers and plump, ripe fruits and vegetables. Stirring our hearts and minds into that euphoric state of happiness that helps us cope with the now freezing tempetures outside. The nights have been well under 30 degrees for at least the last 2 ½  weeks now (and yes, I do get to complain because this is Southern California).

During the morning feeding I get to go crunching across the frozen grass and push my way through stiff cold gate hinges to be met by frozen hoses as I fill mangers and de-ice water buckets.  The tribe of goats stay tucked down in the thick straw inside the barn and they don’t even budge when I fill the feeders with fresh hay. Nikki (the LDG) is usually somewhere in the middle of the pile of goats, all keeping each other warm, and only just barely lifts her head and opens one eye when I peek in on the group. They all know their breakfast will be waiting for them when they decide to leave their warm nest and venture out into the morning. For now, they will sleep in until the sun crests the mountain and the day warms up a bit more. To be honest, I can get these jobs done a bit faster when the animals are not all underfoot, but I miss the sounds of them pushing and calling for their morning meals.

As I look across the gardens and raised beds most everything is brown and crunchy and weary from the cold. Most of the dead plant matieral has been pulled up and tossed into the compost piles. The pomegranate trees were pruned back hard in the last few weeks and the piles of leaves and clippings have been burned as kindling in the fireplace. This week we worked on pruning back the roses and berry canes. I cleaned out the barn and treated all of the animals for lice since they are all sleeping together in closer quarters now. We took advantage of some of our time off to trim the spurs on all of the roosters and everyone in the barnyard received a pedicure this month (I have the blisters to prove it!) This coming week I plan to clean out the nursery pen and get it fixed up for the first babies of 2012 (due the end of January). There are currently three does in the breeding pens, and four more will go in late Febuary or early March for summer babies. This morning I dragged the plastic boxes from the garage back into the house and started to pack up the Christmas ornaments. Tonight I will try to finish this job, and then start to toss out the leftovers that have been pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten about. I will eat the last of the christmas baked goods as I reflect on this season. Christmas is over, and the year is almost done. I am right in-between tired and happy this week. Not a bad place to be if you stop and think about it.

Helping Hands

I have come to discover that all work on this farm falls into one of two categories- a “job” or a  “project”.  A job usually needs to be completed in a shorter time frame, and a project can sometimes be left open-ended for a time. Both can mean a lot of hard work, and sometimes we put these things off for as long as we can before starting, knowing the work ahead of us. But just like in the song from Mary Poppins, if we try to have some fun while doing it, or at least make it interesting, it can go by a lot quicker and not seem as taxing on our minds and bodies. Also, more hands always make the work load lighter, so if you can get others to help out, it does make a big difference.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving was a “work day” on the farm that started very early for us. After the morning’s first cups of coffee, it was time to finish the project of getting the large Joseph’s Coat rose, that has been overgrown and pulling his arbor down for the last 2 years, under control. I had already spent the better part of three or four hours (on and off) cutting back the overgrowth and bagging up the canes with their abundant sharp spines. Not an easy or fun task to say the least. Anyone who has ever tackled this particular species of rose knows exactly what I am talking about. He is a wicked spiny beast that is hard to tame – even the leaves have spines!

Now it was time to get down to shaping the main part of the bush, and getting the arbor back in an upright position. Since this was way too big a job for just myself, I enlisted the help of my friend Matt Boeck from Rancho Organica in Santa Barbara. He has much more knowledge then I do when it comes to pruning back canes. So, armed with long handled loppers and pruners in hand, we marched together into the battle against this massive errant rose. It took us a solid 45 minutes of clipping, lopping, and pulling, all the while being pricked, poked, scratched, and snagging our clothes before we were able to finally get this beastly climber under our control. Then we had to reposition the huge rebar arbor and tie the remaining canes to it. At last we were able to step back, tired and bloodied from the struggle, to admire our handiwork. A long hard project finished at last! In no time Joseph will make his comeback in a controlled way, and he will be much easier to deal with and tame in the coming years. Thank you Matt!

Next, it was time for processing the Christmas turkey and a few meat birds to go into the freezer. If you are vegan or a PETA person, please skip this part of the story and read below about the goats. This bird was scheduled to be done the week before Thanksgiving, but was given a stay of execution because we got rained out that day.  Our friend Katie from Zack Family Farm came over for this job, and Christy also joined in, and we spent the next couple of hours having what we affectionately call one of our “chicken pickin’ parties.” Again, the more hands, the easier and faster the job goes, and before we knew it, this job too was completed.

Then Dr. Rose (who happens to be our dentist) stopped by for a long overdue visit, and we gave her a full tour of the farm and all the animals. After that pleasant break, it was time for the last job of the day that we had been putting off for a week – time to worm. delouse, and trim the hoofs of all the goats who are out in the field (13). Christy graciously volunteered to help me with this. We moved the milk stand in front of the empty nursery pen and then brought out all of the tools and treatments necessary for this procedure. The goats were all bribed into the small pen with a bucket full of sweet grain and locked in. It is an old trick but they fall for it every time. Each goat is then brought out in turn, and either held on a lap, depending on how cooperative they are, or placed on the milk stand with their heads in the sanction while we treat them.  Most of the younger goats don’t mind these ministrations, but some of the older does do not like having their feet worked on, and in fact will fight against it. But in the end everyone gets treated and nothing is really hurt but the pride.  We also take this time to check eyes and noses, feel to see if everyone is in good weight under their heavy winter coats, adjust collars, and try to see if we can feel movement of the babies with any of the pregnant does. We were blessed to discover that all are in good health this winter.  After all the catching, dragging, hoisting, holding, inspecting, clipping and treating, it was the day’s end and we were beat. 13 goats times 4 feet each makes for 52 little hoofs to trim, so there is inevitably a blister or two by the end! As we walked wearily from the field and close the gate behind us, we are very tired, yet at the same time there is a great sense of satisfaction in knowing that we completed this job. It needed to be done and we did it. As I dragged myself to my final reward – a nice hot shower to wash away the day’s dirt and grime – I felt good about the jobs and projects completed this day. I am thankful for all who joined in, their helping hands made these things easier and their company made the time go faster.  Thank you, one and all!

As Autumn Begins and a 12-Hour Road Trip

I picked the first ripe bright orange pumpkin from the garden today and brought it into the house. As I set it down on the edge of my dark brown wooden dining table, my eyes caught the two warm fall colors together for the first time. Very autumnish. Just at that moment I thought how the land is now signaling that we are officially headed for fall. It is funny how the plants and animals here seem to know this even before I became aware of it. The summer season had changed her gown before I even noticed. I just started to be aware of the fact that in the last two mornings it is still dark when the alarm goes off at 6 am. This is one of the first things that brings my mind to the awareness that the summer season is officially winding down and will began giving way to autumn.

The equinox was actually on the 23rd of this month (at 9:04 if you’re counting). All across the nation, folks will be wrapping up their growing seasons as they say goodbye to their summer gardens. Labor Day weekend marks the beginning of this passage for most of the United States. I guess it’s time for me to toss my white sandals into the back of the closet, and start to look for some of my sweaters now.

We are lucky here in parts of California, as we will still be able to plant in the fall, and coax at least one more round of summer veggies before the winter frost sets in. I am always thankful we live here in Ventura County because we can grow at least some veggies and herbs year-round! Onions, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, garlic are great for planting this time of year! We currently have bell peppers coming out of our ears, and much squash still going strong. Some years past we have had long “Indian summers” where the warm weather has remained – one year we had ripe tomatoes up until November!

The roses are all putting off a lot of red growth right now as they gear up for their fall blooms. These are the blooms they will set their winter hips with to save energy in to get them through the winter months, so these blooms will be large and longer lasting then most of the spring blossoms. I like my rose gardens in fall.

The poultry are about through molting, and it has been a real chore to keep ahead of raking up all the feathers every week. Egg production is still strong, and we are still getting a lot of nice chicks hatching in both incubators every few days. The game bird season is over, but we did have two turkey poults that hatched very late this year. We are still getting a few quail chicks.

In the goat yard, we have weaned the babies, and it has gone well this year. I think the moms were ready for this to happen, even though the babies complained a bit.

We welcomed a new face here a month ago – a young herd sire to replace the two older bucks we lost over a year ago. Desert Sun’s Royal Demand came to us all the way from Desert Sun Pygmies in Klamath Falls, OR. Linda Colville has been a breeder and pygmy goat judge for many years and has a beautiful herd of animals there. I had owned a buck from her for many years and already know that this bloodline mixes well with mine. Although young at 8 months old, Royal Demand has already done well in the show ring, has good structure, strong caramel genetics in his pedigree, and to top it all off he has a sweet personality. What more could we ask for in an upcoming herd sire! The only trouble we had with this buck was the actual act of getting him from Klamath Falls, OR to Ventura, CA. The airlines charge over $300 to fly an animal in the baggage compartment so we decided to try a different way. Linda had a friend who lived about 3 hours away, and she was headed from Oregon to a pygmy goat show in Watsonville, CA on August 19th. We would be able to pick him up there the next day on the 20th. Watsonville is about a 5 1/2 hour drive from Ventura. Woo Hoo- ROAD TRIP! A very dear friend of the farm learned about our plans and decided to make it an exciting adventure for us. We were provided with a beautiful new rental SUV to use, and enough gas and food money for our journey. Christy and I packed up a cooler full of food and drinks, and we hit the road at noon on Saturday. We drove all day, stopping along the way every two hours or so. We took Mandy (Christy’s dachshund) with us and enough CDs to keep us entertained the whole trip. We left right around noon, took turns driving and oddly enough, got back to the farm just about midnight-twelve hours later, even after being a bit lost once or twice. We made very good time. The new guy has settled in to the farm well, and we are enjoying this new addition to our herd.  Welcome to Blue Hill Farms, Royal Demand, we hope you will be very happy here!