Late Winter on the Farm

It’s been a busy time for farm and wildlife activities over the last month.  The weather has been quite capricious as well.  I knew there would be payback for the lovely warm February this year!

Chicken Traumas….

On President’s day Regina (Salmon Favorelle hen 3 years old )

Regina - Favorelle Hen

Regina – Favorelle Hen

was pecked on the head so severely by Coq Au Vin (Easter Egger rooster 1 year old)

Coq Au Vin – Photo courtesy of

that the skull was visible.  She made a full recovery in about 2 weeks which is yet another testament to their healing abilities and tolerance for pain (good old fashion toughness and strong will to live!).

The rooster had been picking on some of the older hens, just warning them away from his favorites, but not anything serious up to this point.  My experience is that roosters that lives with a smaller group of hens will prefer them if they are then all released into a larger group.  This rooster had been raised with his “sisters” until about 8 weeks when he began to be too aggressive and he was moved to a pastured area with 1 year old hens.  After initial dissatisfaction (had to clip his wings to keep him in their area!), he settled in, got on with them very well and they loved him too.    I’d never had a rooster attack a hen and cause such a significant wound.  I put him in his own area and it was quickly clear that he’d been terrorizing some others as well because they stopped hiding within a few days.  I’d thought it was hen disagreements causing the slight dissension in the main group.

Since Coq Qu Vin is very good with people I decided to re-home him thinking that starting off with a new flock he wouldn’t have any prejudices.  I found a nice home for him and thought things were going well as there was no word for almost 3 weeks but alas he decided he did not like Buff Orpington hens either and he came home again.  He’s in his own pen with a view of the ladies while I decide my next approach.  I’m thinking of letting him run loose outside the chicken yard and roost in the greenhouse overnight.

Around the same time one of my Australorp hens broke a thigh bone completely (snapped in half) in two separate spots – one in the center of the bone, one just below the pelvis joint.  No idea what happened but she was suffering greatly although she valiantly moved around using a wing to support herself on the bad leg side.  She did not make it, the injury was just too severe.  Most animals have appetite loss if they are in severe pain which causes them to go down, not the injury itself.

Also a Dominique hen (KFC – so named because she loves “fast food” aka corn) tore a growth off her leg which bled for a long time despite my attempts to stop the bleeding.  After a week in the greenhouse with a bandage on her leg she was doing so well that I  returned her to the geriatric hen pasture to complete her recovery.

Goat Issues…

The (presumably benign) tumor on James’s (12 year old Angora goat) throat finally got to a critical stage.  He’s had it for over a year and I had a vet look at it soon after I first noticed it.  The opinion was that it was inoperable because of the location.  So…had not been looking forward to what was going to happen with him over time.   The tumor had grown quite large and reached the point where his skin couldn’t stretch any more, bursting open so that he was draining fluids from the opening continually.

Since fly season was approaching and he was clearly not feeling  good I decided to have the vet try to remove the tumor, knowing that there was a good chance he might not make it through the surgery.  A big snowstorm was expected (>2″ predicted) and the vet wanted to do it the day of the storm as all his other patients had cancelled and he could focus on the difficult procedure.  So… James went to the Vet the night before the storm and while my entire day was spent shoveling James surprised all of us by surviving the surgery in great shape.

He spent 5 days in the garage at night and in a stall in the barn during the days so he could be easily monitored in a sheltered, more sterile area.  He has progressed nicely and is happily re-united with his brother out in his regular pasture.  I still have to borrow the staple remover from the vet and take all the staples out but hope to do this early next week. His voice is normal again but he’s still coughing and choking more than normal.  Hopefully that will slowly improve as all the muscles in his neck and throat heal.

Of course he had to give me a good scare the other night.  I went out to do the evening feeding and couldn’t find him.  Finally I see him on the ground at the far end of a remote pasture.  I call to him and there is not motion so I start running and I can’t tell he’s alive until I touch him.  Then he shifts his eyes to look at me pleadingly but patiently.  He had managed to get tangled up in the electric net fence intended to keep the boys from knocking heads with the girls through the main fence.  There was no electricity involved, it was just being used as a visual and soft physical barrier.  He was perfectly fine after I got all the wires off his horns and front legs although he was grinding his teeth (normally a sign of pain) and for a bit I thought the plastic wires had sawed into his skull at the base of the horns.  Thankfully the wires were  only caught on an imperfection on his horn.   Needless to say this means they won’t be using that pasture again until I can work out a better barrier.  Unfortunate as it has better grass than their “home” pasture and they had been using that pasture with that fencing for months now without issue!

Bunny Mishaps….

At the end of March a baby bunny (eyes still closed) was found on the main path into the chicken yard with one eye pecked partially open and a large wound on it’s back.  Since the bunny was very cold it was brought into the house to be re-warmed.  There was no sight of a nest even after repeated attempts to locate one so  the bunny stayed in the house while I put a game camera up over night to locate the nest.

I was able to use the game camera pictures to find the bunny nest after a few tries.  There were two more rabbits in the nest also with pretty full coats and eyes closed, ears down (thus <a week old).  They were in the compost pile which was pretty wet due to the recent rain and full of goat poop and smelly hay as this is where the mess from the barn ends up.  I imagine this was the only place the mother could dig since the ground was snow covered from the 14 inch snow we received the week prior and the lack of any real warmup to significantly melt the snow since then.  It has been the second incidence of a 60 degree day followed by a significant snowfall this year.

It was safe in that it was a fenced area with electric lines around it but not safe for baby bunnies wriggling out of their nest and attracting chickens looking for snacks.  The short version of events is that after several attempts to reinforce and better water proof the nest, the mother wasn’t able to find them (even though it was in the spot she had put them in) and the injured one as well as another kept escaping from the nest and striking out for parts unknown. Since they were escaping through the fence around the compost pile there was no way to ensure their safety during the day (chickens) nor a way to keep them safe from Mother Nature at night in between feedings by their mother IF she could find them.

Unfortunately rabbits are very difficult for people to raise.  They require a formula that is very high in fat and protein (not even goat’s milk at 43% fat is sufficient, cow’s whole milk is 5%) plus the killer issue is they must eat a bit of their mother’s night time poop preferably every day.   Yes, there are 2 kinds of rabbit poop – dry pellets and a smelly, gooey kind they do at night.  Fresh poop is needed in order to inoculate their intestines with the proper bacteria to digest the fiber in greens (grass, etc.).  Without rabbit poop in their diet they will quickly die once they start eating greens. So if you don’t own a rabbit or know someone nearby with a healthy domestic rabbit and are not willing to spend $60 for the proper formula, orphaned baby rabbits are history.  I had been keeping the injured bunny going on goat’s milk since that was the highest fat and protein milk I could easily find and had been hoping to get the orphan back into it’s nest ASAP.  Keeping the bunny warm and avoiding dehydration were my main goals.

Once I decided I couldn’t keep any of them in their nest, I started looking for a wildlife rehabilitator that handles rabbits.  The NJ Association of Wildlife Rehabilitators provides a list of NJ state licensed rehabilitators on their website. Luckily Woodlands Wildlife Refuge is located fairly close to the farm and they rehabilitate rabbits.   I talked to them and they agreed the situation here at the farm could not be remedied so I dropped the bunnies off for them to raise.  The bunnies opened their eyes the evening before I dropped them off and they weighed 1.8 (the injured one) to 2.1 ounces!  Their eyes typically open at about 7 days. The injured bunny had healed very well and the injured eye completely opened a day before the other eye.  It might end being blind in the eye that got pecked, too early to tell but it looked clean and healthy at the time I dropped the bunnies off at the rehabilitators.

If you are interested in knowing more about raising orphaned rabbits and general information on their unique needs and growth benchmarks there is an excellent website created by Ron Hines (a vet)  who covers health topics on both domestic pets and common wildlife rescue info.  The injured bunny really touched my heart because it had such a strong will to live and was able to accommodate all the changes in it’s short life: learning to drink from a syringe and have it’s butt rubbed with a q tip (to encourage it to go) vs the way mom did it, a strange place with strange smells/ sounds and all while blind and in pain.  Maybe the bunny thought mom had made a very poor choice of nest location and was determined to improve it’s life even at 4 days of age!

Duck Sightings on the Pond…

A pair of Buffleheads had been on the pond for months, with an occasional extra male visiting from time to time.  When I went to clean out the pond overflow drain the male did a fly by quite near me several times making me think they might be nesting nearby.  They are cavity nesters using old Flicker or Red Bellied Woodpecker nests of which there are lots to choose from in the trees on the east side of the pond.  However, they disappeared shortly after that and haven’t been seen since Feb.

More recently a group of Ring Tailed ducks were out diving on the pond.  Their is also a pair of Mallard’s that have been here all winter.  The female has a bum leg which may be why they haven’t moved on.

 

Other (Human) Craziness…

When I bought the farm in 1997 there was a large dish antenna located near the side of the house.  I managed to remove the dish and find someone who wanted it not too long often moving in but after numerous attempts to use the metal support pole for “something” I realized it had to go.  Another example of how much things have changed in 20 years!

Last year I started digging around the concrete footings to scope the extent of the project. Needless to say I ran out of time as I was trying to put up a new fence around the vegetable garden and that had to take priority.  Since the weather in Feb, was so lovely, I returned to the task.  After I got down to over three feet, it finally dawned on me that even if I could get it completely uncovered there is no way I would be able to get it out of the hole and moved somewhere, not to mention where/how to get rid of it.  I tried whacking the concrete with a sledge hammer for awhile and concluded this approach would work but I’d be nearly 80 years old before I’d finished.  On to the next plan.

I decided to dig a trench, push it over horizontally and then cover it with dirt.  Being buried under three foot of dirt would get it out of the way and wouldn’t get in the way of planting things over it. This plan also hit a snag as it turned out that there were two reinforcing rods that extended well past the bottom of the concrete foundation!   After several attempts at pushing the concrete and pole over it had bent the metal rods enough that I could hacksaw through them.  Success at last as the foundation and pole slowly bent over and into it’s trench grave!  It only took about 45 hours of hand shoveling and 30 minutes sawing to see this amazing sight!  The trench has been refilled, three blueberry bushes are planted on top and one end has sprouted grass.  Definitely a project only a crazy person would have done themselves by hand!

 

On to snowblower and lawn tractor repairs!

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2016 in Pictures

Gallery

Wet Snowstorm

Ozzie Sleeping on Washed Shetland Fleece

Jasper on Washed Shetland Fleece

Fuzzy First Day Found (~4 days old)

Fuzzy Taking a Bath

Fuzzy After Taking a Bath

Fuzzy After Taking a Bath

Fuzzy talking to Andrea

Soaking Wet Baby Robin Day of Fledging

Geese on Shed Roof

Twin Fawns in Buddy’s Pasture

Jasper Supervising Baby Chicks

Jasper Supervising Baby Chicks

Goldfinch Family Learning to Eat Sunflowers

Goldfinch Family on Sunflowers

Goldfinch Family on Sunflowers

Goldfinch Family on Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Dominique Hen in Catnip

Coq Au Vin – Ameraucana Rooster (Photo Courtesy Alice Su)

Blue Heron on Rowboat

Cardinal Flower

Monarch Butterfly

Great Spangled Fritillaria

Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Hummingbird Moth on Lilac Monarda

Dragonfly at Pond

Ingrid and Starlight (Photo Courtesy Alice Su)

Jessie, James and Rembaldi (Photo Courtesy Alice Su)

TyDye in Deep Snow Path

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Visitor

The first day of Spring brought nearly 5 inches of wet snow. An early morning walk after opening up the goats and chickens revealed many beautiful sights.

Pond with Ducks and Geese

Pond with Ducks and Geese

Reflections in Pond

Reflections in Pond at Sunrise

A large group of Snow Geese passed over head, possibly on their way to Merrill Creek reservoir.  The sun lit up their white bodies and wings so that they glowed. The picture does not do the scene justice.  Their calls echoed off the hills as group after group streamed past.

Snow Geese at Sunrise

Snow Geese at Sunrise

Because of the snow there was evidence of numerous visitor’s over night.  There were opossum tracks out front, running between the hay feeders and the compost pile, and many others that could not be identified because the snow was so wet it didn’t capture crisp clear prints. Near the house where an initial pass at shoveling had been done there were very clear and awesome prints of a black bear!  A ruler is shown to fully appreciate the size of this bear.  The back prints measured 12 inches!  Just look at those toenails – wow!

Black Bear Prints in Snow

Black Bear Prints in Snow

Black Bear Prints in Snow

Black Bear Prints in Snow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following the tracks revealed that the bear had come down our western neighbor’s driveway, over the fence into our marshy area (where he looked around for awhile), to within 20 feet of the fenced area in front of the barn where the does are locked in at night, over the fence directly behind the house (fence bent!), up to the garage, and then over to the eastern creek and through to the next property. Luckily he did not decide to sample goats or chickens on his trip through the farm!

 

 

April Showers

30 something degrees and 6 inches of rain the last Wed. in April!  However, nothing like the 22 inches of rain in FL nor the tornadoes in the South so no complaints here.  The poor geese were watching their island nearly disappear as the pond could not discharge water fast enough to stay within it’s banks.  6 goslings had hatched out just earlier in the week, all survived the flood but one seems to be missing this week.

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Flooding on Mulhokaway Tributary Bordering East Side of the Farm

Geese on island in flooded pond

Geese on Island in Flooded Pond

Bad week for adult chickens.  Chocolate (an Ameraucana hen) was found dead one morning under the perches.  A necropsy revealed internal tumors and 4 fully formed eggs without shells in her intestinal cavity!  Several days later at dusk, Placido (the lone rooster, also an Ameraucana) was found face down in the drainage ditch near the hen house.  He had been seen walking the territory and crowing very shortly before he was found dead.  Had seemed in good health, was a good weight and had not a mark on him.  Best guess is that he had a heart attack or an aneurysm to go so suddenly.  It’s much quieter on the Farm without his cheerful crowing.  On the positive side, this year’s chicks arrived in good health!

Amerauncas, Chanteclers, Salmon Favorelles Chicks

Ameraucanas, Chanteclers, Salmon Faverolles Chicks

I’m trying some new varieties this year, Chanteclers and Salmon Faverolles.  Both were bred to lay well in the winter, and are very cold hardy.  The Chantecler was developed in Canada and the Favorelle has 4 toes (vs the “normal” three) and their toes are more flattened (vs completely round) with some feathers but not completely feathered.  I’m trying to get pictures of their legs but it’s not easy as they are not too fond of posing for the camera while held in the air (easiest way to see the legs clearly).

Both are rare breeds.  The Chantecler is listed on the Livestock Conservancy Conservation Priority Poultry Breeds 2014 Critical list and the Faverolle is listed on the Threatened list.  They join the Dominiques ((Watch) and Delawares (Threatened) that I’ve raised for over 15 years.  I always have Ameraucanas too as many of my customers love the green eggs they lay.  Last year I added 3 Australorp hens as they are great egg layers.   One was a runt (although she is doing well, just tiny) and another, sadly, has developed a neck twitch which means she won’t last long.  They are friendly and productive but have big combs which make them susceptible to frostbite.  I’ll post notes comparing the breeds as they get older.

I’ve finished another Inkle and like the pattern so much I think I’ll do another using some of my dyed yarn.

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Black and White Inkle with Warping Pattern

The picture above shows the warping pattern as well as the pattern as it is woven, and the finished Inkle is shown below.  I really love weaving Inkles as they provide a great sense of accomplishment very quickly!  I’ve been putting off starting on a set of tapestries I have designed and warped since I know it will take a long time to compete them.  It’s time to start washing fleeces since the Spring shearing was successfully done in between major rain storms!

Finished Black and White Inkle

Finished Black and White Inkle

Welfare for All

According to Merriam Webster welfare is “the state of doing well especially in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity”.  I think most people would take no exception to this definition.  The more difficult question is which living beings are allowed to experience welfare, how is this decided and by whom?  As a society we’re still struggling to resolve this for our own species, much less for other animal species.  Regarding our own species I think that people generally feel that all humans should be able to experience welfare, but differ in their approach as to how this should occur (food stamps and other social programs for example).

When it comes to domestic animals or wildlife there are additional barriers to coming to a consensus on this issue.  These include the lack of a common language or  communication medium with other animals, differences of opinion as to the relative value of non-human animals, and preservation instincts to name a few.  Recently I was reading news highlights on the 2008 California Proposition 2 concerning standards for raising poultry.  A good overview which also presents the case for and against the law is available on BallotPedia:

California Standards for Confining Poultry (2008)

The short version: “Proposition 2 created a new state statute that prohibits the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. The law is set to go into full effect on January 1, 2015.” (Source: BallotPedia link above).

Why would anyone not want farm animals to be able to move about?  It comes down to trading farm animal’s welfare for people’s welfare.  The change is disadvantageous for large commercial farmers, better for small family farmers.  Less money for large corporations potentially means job losses.  The price of eggs are also estimated to increase 20-25% which means fewer eggs sold and some people will no longer be able to afford them.  There is also the argument that it pushes the egg industry across country borders so that we potentially get food that is less safe because of differing regulations in other countries.  Moving farm industries across country borders is a topic for another day.

Food in the US has gotten amazingly cheap based on what is required to create it.  In 1901 the hourly wage was $0.17-$0.28 ( higher in financial and real estate industries) and a dozen eggs cost $0.22 or about an hour’s worth of wages.  In 2002 wages were $15.24-$18.87 hourly and a dozen eggs cost $1.24 (2003) or nearly 14 dozen eggs could be purchased for an hours worth of work.  In 1901 American families spent 42.5% of their income on food, 19.3% in 1972-1973 and 13.1% in 2002-2003  [Source: 100 Years of US Consumer Spending US Bureau of Labor Statistics Report 991.]  This is what industrialization did for farming beginning in the 1950’s.  It was claimed as a breakthrough because food became available to even the poorest people due to the sharp decease in the cost of food.  The resultant efficiencies of mechanization and scale are such that small farmers struggle to survive among large corporate farms.  More on this will have to wait for another blog entry as well.  But what is the real price?  The total price is far more than monetary cost alone.

There are still way too many people living in poverty without access to nutritionally sound food and by making food so cheap we’ve also made our society over weight with serious health consequences and associated health care costs.   Humans don’t need to eat as much meat as we do, but we do so because it has become so cheap and readily available.  Not to mention that the consumer has no idea what goes into getting that steak or chicken to the grocery store.  Most consumers don’t want to know either.  In summary, there are environmental costs, animal welfare costs, ethical and long term health consequences to the eater by producing and eating cheap food.

Here at my farm I break even on out of pocket costs at about $3/dozen (excludes insurance, property taxes, labor but accounts for seasonal laying habits ie- fewer eggs in the winter, more in the warmer seasons).  I could trim costs by selling chicken meat (ie- culling hens after their first laying season) but prefer the satisfaction of keeping them for the 10 years or more they will live with retirement status as pay back for the eggs they provided over time.  My hens all lay eggs up until they die, just not as many as when they were young; so they continue to be productive their entire life.  They also eat a lot of bugs out of my orchard and provide me with entertainment when I have the time to watch them.  They interact with me, they know who I am versus other humans, I can recognize the meaning of a number of their vocalizations, they have learned a small human vocabulary and thus they are sentient beings that can be communicated with at some level.  Because my hens are allowed to roam in a large electric fence protected pasture they do not get sick or carry diseases and they live and lay eggs for many years without my feeding them antibiotics or even worming them.  I believe it makes the eggs better for the people who are eating them as well.

Dominique Hens in Wildflowers

But the fundamental consideration is that as intelligent, highly versatile and capable beings we should be able to choose a course of action that protects the welfare of all living things rather than only looking out for humans.  Sometimes it takes more effort or creativity but I don’t believe that decisions impacting the welfare of humans can be approached in a vacuum as if what happens to us can be isolated or separated from all other life.

The Beginning…..And It’s a Cold One

After thinking about creating a blog for several years, have finally done it!  Hope to find time to post once a week or so as to what’s going on at the farm, my thoughts/ experiences on small scale farming and reflections on human-animal relationships.

Today is super cold….have done 2 trips so far to warm up water buckets and check for eggs since eggs freeze at 5 degrees.   I have heated water buckets (so luxuriously decadent!) but the cold is more than they can handle based on the ice forming along the top.   Seriously don’t know how farmers in the mid-west and the northern territories survive!  I give them and their animals a lot of credit.  All my animals look ok, although Starlight (goat) was shivering when I was out to check on them at 7AM.  She has warmed up now that the sun has come out and it’s up to a gloriously warm 5 degrees with 15 mph northwest wind.  The sheep seem to take it all in stride no matter what.  The chickens are mostly huddled in their big house, with a third hanging out in their plastic enclosed winter “room”.  They have an elaborate winter outdoor area due to the numerous hawks that also live in the area.  So beautiful to see the hawks flying nearby, but not much fun when they decide to stop in for a chicken snack.

Fun photo from last week, a great blue heron was hanging out with the geese down at the pond.  The Canada geese were washing up in the pond even though it was mostly frozen over.  Talk about hardy!

Dec. 2013 Heron supervising Geese washing up in the pond

Dec. 2013 Heron supervising Geese washing up in the pond