Archive for the ‘Poultry’ 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.

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!

Spring has sprung

… the grass has riz. I wonder where the flowers is?

The vernal, or spring equinox, is one of two times during the year when the length of day and the length of night are almost equal.  When this happens, the egg balancers and broom standers come out of the woodwork. As folklore would have it, this position of the sun and other planets on the equinoxes means that miraculous feats of balance can occur. True? Not! But two times a year, a few die-hards always try.

The vernal equinox occurs when the sun is positioned directly over the equator of our tilted Earth – at 1:14 a.m. EST on March 20th. The equinoxes and planetary alignments really have no physical effect on earthly objects. The whole egg balancing myth may have been started to fit into the springtime fertility theme, just like chicks and ducklings and baby bunnies at Easter. Nothing says springtime like fluffy little baby animals.

For me spring is very much like hope. It always comes anew every year, and brings with it the rebirth of the land. It starts off with silent messages, like the first bud breaking  in the vineyard, and the crocuses pushing their way up from the frozen ground. Then we we start to see the return of the butterflies and seasonal songbirds whose songs we have been craving all winter. Soon the fruit trees will blossom and the bees will come out from their winter quarters to revel in the splendor.  Everything that has been brown and weary will teem with new growth and be fresh and green once again with new leaf and flower.  The brooders and grow out pens that have stood empty all winter, will once again be habitats for new life born in the coming months, and we will count them all as blessings.

Yes, I am ready for spring this year, and even though I know it will still freeze for a few more weeks, I am happy to see it announce its official return on my calendar!

Daylight Savings Time and Ready for Spring

I have always liked the concept of daylight savings time, but when it actually comes around it always messes me up for a few days. First, I always have to remember the “spring forward, fall back” thing, to be able to remember which way to turn the clock. Then I have to fight with the VCR, microwave, clock in my dashboard and my cell phone- I am really bad with all things tech, so this is a problem for me every year. It always takes a few days for my body to adjust to the “extra” or “missing” hour-but I never did understand why they say we gain or lose an hour, when there are still 24 hours in a day. We did not “gain” an hour in our lives-if that really happened we could just give ourselves more hours in time and at some point I think it would cause some time warp in the universe. I guess it is just something that the government cooked up so we would not have to drive to work in the dark in the winter months when the days are shorter. Anyway, to me it just feels like jet lag, but without getting to go on vacation. I do like getting home and being able to get a couple of things done in the goat yard before it gets dark though.

I am ready for spring. We have had over 2 1/2 months of freezing temps every night and no rain (and remember, we get to complain because this is Southern California.) Everything has been brown and crunchy for a long time. I am starting to see little signs that spring is trying to peek out in a few places, hoping that the freeze is over. The last frost date for our area is April 9th – so we may still get hit with some low temps again, but it has been 38 degrees and above for the last 4 mornings in a row. So this gives me hope that the worst is already over. The plum tree has put out a timid row of blossoms and the mulberry tree has broken bud. I planted out some artichokes that we started in the greenhouse a few months back, and put down very heavy layers of mulch to protect them. I also put some rose clones into the ground that had been hardening off outside near the house, and have moved more from the greenhouse to the front garden to get them used to the outside temps. I have tomato starts that I am chomping at the bit to plant out but I know full well I will have to drag out the Wall-O-Waters and keep a close eye on them if I do.

I have been eying the boxes of seed packets on the kitchen shelves that I have earmarked for this planting season but I don’t want to jump the gun. I will not let myself be seduced by their glossy photos and promises of days to harvest. I know the ground is still too inhospitable to plant warm weather veggies, no matter how tempting it becomes. It will only end in heartbreak otherwise.

We are on the dark side of the moon cycle this week, so I will spend this week battling weeds, pruning the last of the frostbitten canes and branches and putting up bean poles and trellises.

The incubator is now full of eggs that are set to hatch the week before Easter and the fertility is up in all of the breeding pens now. I got the first turkey egg of the season yesterday so I am sure the other game birds will follow along soon. I have been keeping an eye on the nursery pen, and have my birthing kit cleaned up and organized, and a stack of clean towels at the ready.

Spring is always a crazy time on the farm, but I am ready!

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!

Faring the Fair

Today is opening day of The Ventura County Fair, located at beautiful Seaside Park in Ventura CA.  The 2011 theme is “The Bounty of the County”.  This year we were invited back to Uncle Leo’s Barn, an area of the fair set up for children of all ages to come and get an up-close look at a variety of farmyard animals from this county. The helpful staff is always on hand to answer questions and tell the stories of the animals’ lives on their respective farms. Since I was a city kid growing up, many of my first and fondest encounters with farm animals happened at our local fair, so this is something that I am always happy to participate in. I love to see the children interacting with the animals and wonder which ones of them will possibly someday become our future farmers of America.
Our adventure began just after supper last night when Christy and I accomplished the arduous task of collecting the selected animals (Kitty the pygmy goat and her 6 week old twins)  and systematically loading them into the back of the Dodge Dakota for the short ride to the fairgrounds. Kitty was not very keen on the idea (to say the least) and she would not budge an inch, and needed to be hoisted up and carried-she objected to this to such a state that we had to get a rolling cart to stand her in to get her the rest of the way down the driveway (the only thing that got hurt was her pride). Once in the truck with her kids, having located some feed, she calmed back down. The next stop was over to our neighbor Katie’s farm to help her load up her three Emden goslings into crates, and then everyone into the truck!

Kitty was not really very happy about having to share her ride with the poultry, but there was not much she could do about it anyway.  Total- three pygmy goats, three giant white geese, and three silly gals- needless to say there was MUCH squawking going on in the truck the entire ride to the fair by both humans and animals alike.
Arriving at the Garden Street entrance of the fairgrounds, we were ushered in and allowed to park right out in front of the barn. Some of the staff was there to greet us and help us unload. The geese were carried in their crates and the baby goats were scooped up in our arms and carried in without any problem. Then there was Kitty, who once again would not budge an inch towards the barn. Even just 30 feet seems like a very long way when you are on the other end of the lead of a stubborn animal that is determined NOT to walk for ANY reason we could give her. We tried to coax with a feed bucket, we tried to let her follow her two babies – nothing. She would not budge. In the end, Christy hoisted her up unceremoniously and carried her stubborn butt all the way into the barn and plopped her down in the pen. No small feat, as she must weigh 65+ lbs, has a full udder of milk, and had all four of her legs as stiff as iron and unbending every inch of the way. Not to mention the evil eye she was giving everyone or the unhappy grunts she was voicing at all of us the entire time. But as is the ways of most creatures, once she found the feeder she was content with the new digs. The display pen for the goats is set up with a tall wooden ramp with a platform at the top, and also has a big rubber tire for the kids to play on. The doe kids were not too sure about this setup at first, as they only have had logs to jump around on in their pen at home. Diana was the first of the two kids to be brave enough to try out the ramp but I was sure by the end of the night she and Tess would both be playing “queen of the ramp”. After fair notice to the barn staff that Kitty is clever enough to not only open up the latches on her pen for untimely escapes, but if left unchecked she may also let the others out as well, we went over feeding and care instructions.  We left the animals to settle in a bit and went out and turned up the main thoroughfare to stroll along and cool off from our struggle with Miss Kitty.

Although the fair was not yet open there were tons of people all around. Trucks were parked over every foot of the walkways and the place was bustling with activity. Vendors were setting up booths and unloading boxes, rides were being tested and everyone else seemed to have a bucket or a broom in their hands. Officials in electric golf carts were swerving by on all sides and last-minute touches were being put on displays everywhere. Halfway down the fairway we ran into the small livestock superintendent, Elzie Daniels, who we then had a nice chat with about what has been going on in everyone’s backyards and barns for the last year, livestock births and deaths,  and things we wished to purchase. It is always nice to run into old friends and catch up on each other’s lives. He even had some photos to show us of his beautiful Jersey calf born on the 4th of July. Congrats Elzie, she is a beaut!

We continued our walk all the way down to the main gate and then turned around and headed back to the barns to check and see how the critters were doing. We ran into a couple of 4-H kids bringing in their animals in the rabbit and poultry barn and after a few more short chats we did one last check of our animals before heading back to the truck. The geese had found the wading pool and Kitty already had her head in the feeder. The twins were bouncing on the big rubber tire and it looked like they just might be the hit entertainment of the barn this year. I know the children will love them. Things were all in place as they should be, and we are all ready once again to fare the fair!