One headache this spring has been the failure of the mowers -- both the mechanical and the human varieties. Yep, the machine broke and I didn't do anything about it. A little voice in the shadows of my brain kept saying, For crying out loud, you got goats, sheep and horses, why do you have to MOW anything? So I didn't much.
The result is fantastic in a crazy sort of way. Do I ever have grass. Lots and lots of grass. Because I do want the horses (and goats and sheep) to help keep it under control, I think I need to know what's what. Yet it is surprisingly hard to figure out. I google stuff. I ask around, but in the end, I really need someone who knows to just tell me, This one is timothy. This one is fescue...rye...orchard...crab...astroturf...etc.
This morning I picked as many samples of different looking grasses as I could within arms length of Josie's paddock. She would like to eat them all and if I knew what they all were I would feel better. I took pictures of each. Lots of pictures. Maybe my googling success will improve with these comparison pictures to use.
In the meantime, if any of my real farmer friends out there recognize one of these, could you post its name in the comments? I'd be super grateful. Really.
Considering how many outbuildings we have on this old farm, we have remarkably little useable storage space. That's because so many of the outbuildings look like this on the inside.
This is a 10 x 20 bay on the south side of the garage barn. You're looking at a solid mass of old construction debris, dating back decades. Farmers never throw anything away.
I have decided I need the space for animal housing. Long term, probably a big, roomy chicken coop. I'm not liking our current setup, even with the new space in the new barn. So, I will try again.
First step is to remove the junk. I went to Angies List Monday morning and pulled off the names of haulers. Guys with trucks and the will to do hard, dirty, physical labor. Here's the same space after less than an hour of work Monday evening.
Next step, a floor. I had a concrete guy come out to look Wednesday. While I wait for him to do his magic, I'll start thinking about the walls and some windows.
In the meantime, here's some interesting stuff that came out of the shed.
Huge 12-15 foot long pallets made from old wood. Somehow, someway, there must be a new use for these.
A tiny bottle from old green glass, that says DO NOT REFILL on the side. Surprisingly the only bottle found among all the junk.
An elegant old wooden door, with the original knobs and hardware. Wish this were still IN the house.
And most appropriately, old nesting boxes and an old burlap bag for Wayne Feeds Poultry Mixer. Clearly this shed was meant to be a chicken coop!
I'm pretty sure the number one rule of motherhood is don't eat the baby. Whitney, hen of broodiness, didn't get the memo. Sigh. Her parenting strategy so far? Sit lightly on eggs, keep eggs warm, turn eggs regularly, cluck softly to eggs, and finally, if hungry, eat eggs.
Yesterday was day 24 of Whitney's incubation stint. On day 21, the hypothetical hatch day for the original eggs, I checked the clutch up close. There were 15 eggs in the nest. Only seven had the markings I had made two weeks ago (out of about 12 originally marked). Nine of the 15 eggs were blue or green. Whitney lays brown eggs. On day 21 I also threw out all the unclaimed eggs in neighboring boxes, including several that had my original marking, but that had then been moved and abandoned on subsequent days. The day came and went with no chicks. Yesterday, day 24, Whitney had 16 eggs in her nest, only three of which had the markings I made on day eight and 11 of which were blue or green. The Ameraucanas continue to push Whitney off the nest when they want to use it.
The continued shuffling of eggs was making me nervous. Each day I am a little less confident that the eggs I bring inside are freshly laid and chickless. I decided to intervene.
I made a new nest for Whitney in a cat litter box inside a dog crate. I filled it with clean shavings, some fresh water and food, then carefully pulled the eggs out from under her and placed them in the box. I threw in two new eggs from another nest for good measure and finally lifted Whitney out of her nest, into the box and carried the whole thing into the barn. Holding my breath.
No go. The move woke her from her trance and she became visibly agitated, the way they do when they get separated from their flock. Fine. I moved the whole crate back out to the pen and placed it so she could see her friends. They crowded around and agitated some more. She still failed to settle. Instead she perched on the edge of the litter box and looked anxious.
I left her like that and went to clean out the coop. I hoped she'd resume her duties. A few minutes into cleaning I heard a loud pop. I thought Whitney must have sat down hard on the eggs and broken one. Um, no. She cracked it with her beak. On purpose. Yeah. And then ate it. It was not one of the fresh eggs. It was slightly rotten. Yuck. Pretty sure it had a bit of chickstuff in it too.
My first instinct was to throw the guilty party back in the pen with the rest of the hens and dump the whole lot of eggs. Curiosity got the better of me. I decided to wait and see what she did next. She had plenty of eggs. She could eat some and hatch some and probably still have a couple left over. She finished the first egg, but still wouldn't settle down.
After an hour or so of watching her pace around in the crate with no trace of broodiness left, I gave up and decided to let her out to rejoin her friends. I opened her door expecting her to head out into the pen. Instead, she hightailed it straight to the coop and the now empty nest. In she crawled. Ugh. Apparently evolution told her to stick with the nest, not the eggs.
Maybe that strategy works in the wild, but in the barnyard, it's a bit of a problem.
In the end, I nailed an old screen across the front of her nest inside the small coop. At least it will keep the other hens and the rooster from harassing her, pushing her off the nest, or stealing the eggs.
I put food and water in with her. Maybe she'll be content to eat the food and not the eggs. Maybe not. I'll give her a couple of days. If she stays broody and eats and drinks what I provide, I'll let her sit it out another three weeks.
Nineteen evenings ago, or thereabouts, I went to close up the chicken coop like I have every evening for the past year and half. Just outside the coop, I startled a raccoon, who ran off around the garage. I peaked inside the little shed to count the tails crowded together on the roost, as I always do. Dusk was past and dark was looming so it was a little hard to tell where one hen stopped and the next started on the crowded roost, but I was pretty sure I was one hen short.
Finally I spied, down in the farthest nest box, next to the small chicken door, the protruding tail of one white hen. None of my hens have ever slept in a nest box, so this concerned me. It was Whitney (as in the mountain, not the singer). She was far enough into the shed that I couldn't reach her without crawling over the sleepers on the roost, so I poked at her a bit with a long stick. Nothing. I thought either she'd already descended into her nighttime coma, or she was dead, our first raccoon victim. I decided to hope for coma and come back in the morning. So, I was surprised to find this the next morning. Not so much a coma as a stupor. A broody stupor.
Whitney is some sort of Leghorn cross, bred for production. I was led to believe that this breed rarely goes broody. Nonetheless there she sat, fluffed up, glassy-eyed, and clucking softly to a large clutch of eggs. And so she's remained for nearly three weeks now. As incubation goes it seems a long comedy of errors to me, unlikely to produce any chicks. The number of eggs under her seemed to vary at first, sometimes more, sometimes less. I couldn't figure it out until a more experienced friend told me to mark the existing eggs. Theoretically, this would help me know when to call time on the whole process and avoid letting Whitney spend the whole summer waiting for eggs to hatch. I did catch Diablo and Shasta (more mountains) adding new eggs to the nest a couple of times when Whitney took her midday breaks. But more strangely, once the original eggs were marked so that I could recognize them, I started finding them in neighboring boxes. I never have seen the deeds that led to this arrangement. Maybe Whitney rejected them and another hen claimed them. Maybe some hens flat out stole them for themselves. No idea. I've tried to remove any new eggs laid since the marking, but I haven't taken the rejected eggs. I'm not sure what to do with them. I don't know how long they were incubated or how developed they were before they were cast out.
I also am not sure how many eggs remain under Whitney.
What I do know is that day 21 is coming up and I will be on the look out for chicks.
I'm not the first to point out that the long drawn out winter made for an incredibly hectic spring. Several months of yard and barn work crammed into a couple of weeks. It's been ridiculous. In the past month, I've built a new chicken coop in the barn, built half of a new patio for the house, had the new barn wired for electricity, and expanded and improved three animal paddocks. I'm exhausted, but for the most part things have gone pretty smoothly. Just haven't had much online time.
The only serious problem we've had was with one of the new lambs.
About a week after coming home, the ewe lamb started groaning. She groaned on and off for a day or so, all whilst eating and drinking and pooping and peeing normally. Then Tuesday evening I got home to find her in clear distress. Fortunately, we live within easy range of a vet school with a farm animal emergency clinic. The vet said it was an ulcer. Too much stress from being weaned and moved too quickly. Many treatments later, she's much better. I'm still giving her antacid meds twice a day, but she is no longer groaning. Poor baby. The vet warned me that she could seem better and then suddenly die ('decompensate quickly' I think is how she put it), but I think she's out of the woods. We're significantly poorer, but I think we dodged a bullet. We have named her Clementine. Her buddy is Blue. He was very happy to see her when she got home from the vet. They are adorable and far more cuddly and sweet than I expected.