Sunday, November 10, 2013

Updates from the farm

In the spirit of journaling, and so I don't have to keep relearning the same things over and over, here are some updates and lessons from the past year. This is gonna be long.

Coaxed to come down
Thing 1 and Thing 2 in their tree
1. Thing 1 and Thing 2. Our first home-grown chicks. Offspring of our first flock. Hatched in late May. Raised entirely by Whitney. Picked on mercilessly by aunties Shasta and Santa Cruz. These two are huge. As of the first of November, they were about twice as big as any other hen in their flock, yet very clearly at the bottom of the pecking order. They also continued to refuse to go into their coop at night. Every evening, for five full months, after the other chickens of Flock One had retired for the evening I went out to the chicken yard and pulled these two out of the big chicken tree and carried, chased, or otherwise encouraged them to go in the coop.  No more. With winter knocking on the door, I called time on these two. No more climbing the chicken tree to bring them in (I know, I know, I'm slow to adapt.) As of a few days ago, they are now officially members of Flock Two. I locked them in with the second flock for three days. I'm hoping they'll get the message and forego the tree. We'll see. It may take more than three days.

Toaster and his free range hens
2. Flock Two. This is the flock that came from the Amish hatchery this past spring. Five orpingtons, two brahmas, a jersey giant, a copper marans and two blue marans (including 1 rooster). This flock, led by the infamous Paris, is now free range -- by demand. Flock 1 pretty much stays in the chicken yard all day. Flock 2 sneaks out first thing in the morning and roams freely all day. They do come home at night, so I don't try to block the ranging. The vintage nesting box goes mostly unused. I find their eggs all over the barn -- in the haycart, in the goat pen, everywhere. The blue copper marans rooster -- Toaster by name, Chuckie by association -- has grown up to be beautiful, but much reviled. The sound of his footsteps over my shoulder haunt my dreams. If I could train him to attack only intruders, I'd leave him out 24/7 and call him an LGD. Sadly, he considers me an intruder. He's the first and only animal I've ever owned that I truly dislike. Because of Toaster, I will probably not let any hens go broody again, so as to avoid more roosters. Chicken birth control is the lesson here.

3. The thorns from hell.  No one had a good solution for dealing with thorny honey locust trees. In fact, I got the distinct impression that no one who knew anything about farming or homesteading or livestock or well, life in general, would ever be daft enough to buy a property filled with honey locusts. Yep, I get that now. Over the past year, I have tried two different solutions to this problem. One was to simply cut a locust down. Um, yep, unequivocal mistake. It is very hard to clean up a downed tree with killer thorns. A lot of it is still on the ground and blocking prime paddock area for the little mares.  The second solution, tried on the two big trees in the big mares' paddock was to simply break all the thorns off that I could reach, up to about 7 feet off the ground. It was a boatload of thorns to remove, but only a couple of hours of easy work and in the end, I had two large, smooth-barked shade trees out in the paddock that kept the girls cool and breezy during the summer and caused no harm. A few thorns tried to grow back, especially on the younger of the two trees, but they were soft, pliable, and easily plucked off as I passed by doing other things. The back fields on the old farm property are filled with old locusts trees. They will all get the shearing treatment when the time comes. I call this learning experience a success.

Wild grapes
4.  Wild grapes.  Well, I've gone around and around about this one. First I mistook them for kudzu (which apparently doesn't yet, but may soon, grow this far north). Then I recognized their grapeness and rejoiced. Then they matured into something only the birds would eat - nasty, bitter, little pips of grapes -  and I shook my head and sighed. Like the honey locusts, grapes, too, are all over the old farm property and will have to go eventually. The best cases are the locust trees entirely shrouded in heavy ropes of grape vines. Talk about  no-go zones.

Do orchids go to seed?
5. The little flower that resembled an orange tiger lily turned out to be a wild orchid. I know this because I carefully walked, mowed, and worked around it all summer, waiting to see what it would do. Definitely an orchid. Orchids apparently grow wild around these parts, like the grapes. I am enchanted by the idea of orchids growing wild on my property, though I brace myself for whatever lesson comes next. What exactly -- poisonous? Invasive? Turn into locust trees their second year? We'll see.

Clem and Johnny Blue
enjoying the new pasture.
6. Clementine. Clem's the little ewe lamb we got in the spring. She nearly died when we first brought her home. The stress of weaning and  moving, combined with too much grain and not enough forage, led to an explosion of worms and ulcers. Her groans were pitiful, but the vets took good care of her and she recovered. She does love her grain though and will refuse forage in its favor. Late in the summer she started groaning again, so I wormed her, gave her antacids again for a couple of weeks, backed her off to only a few pellets of grain a day and added probiotics to her diet. This seems to help. Lesson here? Taking care of sheep can be tricky.

If you squint you can see where River is missing fleece
on her back from the spinal tap.
7. Riversong. We nearly lost Riversong to meningeal worms recently. It started out as a little weakness in her hind end. I treated with copper and selenium. I dewormed. Nothing seemed to help. When I came home from work one afternoon and found her down, I raced her to the emergency clinic at the vet school, where the vet gathered all the students around and walked them through the diagnostics, including blood, fecals, urinalysis and a spinal tap. She suspected meningeal worms all along. All the vets were very sober. "What a cute goat -- oh, no, not the worm." Like Clem, Riversong nearly died. Fortunately, the worms had not ascended to her brain yet (ugh) and with some super strong dewormer and anti-inflammatory meds, she made a come back. She is now pretty much recovered and as beautiful as ever. Meningeal worms, I now know, are spread in deer feces and there is nothing you can do about it, except deworm prophylactically. This is confusing to me, because in the case of Clem, the ewe lamb, the same vet clinic told me NOT to worm prophylactically because of worm resistance. Lesson here? Taking care of goats can be tricky. Also, I really shouldn't wait until an animal is down to take them in. Thankfully, River is still with us.

Ameliapond all cleaned up
8. Fleeces. In the spring, I had the goats' fleeces sheared for the first time. Some alpaca shearers came to do it. It was not a pretty scene. The goats were dirty and matted. The shearers were befuddled by their goatness and very slow. Time being as short as it has been this year, I've only just started cleaning the fleeces up. What's not matted is beautiful. My weaving teacher has helped out, by showing me how to wash and spin the locks without having to card everything. She is a long time wool person and was skeptical that these goat hybrids would be anything other than itchy mohair. Well, 10 minutes with Donnanoble's fleece seemed to change her mind. More like long staple cashmere than mohair. Sweeeeet.

My first weaving project
9. Weaving. Woohoo! What else can I say? I see some spectacular Pygora/wool scarves in my future, but that update will have to wait. When I finish my first and current project (which has evolved into a scarf of 5% intent, 95% exploration) I'll post it, but I only get to work on it 3 hrs a week, so it could be a while.


  1. Poultry can be challenging - they never listen to you. And I SO agree with the trickiness of taking care of sheep/goats/poultry/dogs/cats. You try to stay on top of everything, listen to experts and it still gets away from you. Hope everything has settled down at Tyche's Run. That fleece is beee-u-tiful!

  2. Chickens... Don't get me started. That's some beautiful fleece though! And the weaving too!!!