Friday, February 25, 2011

Today's catch

Chickens aren't fooled by our latest snowfall.  They know that the days are getting longer.  (It doesn't hurt that we've increased their supplemental light hours, too.)  Until today my record production day from this young flock was 2 eggs.  Today the ladies have started working in earnest with this 11-egg haul.

In addition, I've noticed the ducks "mating" again, so they must be getting ready to lay soon, too.  With our last thaw I've been letting ducks run loose instead of shutting them in their house at night.  They visit the chicken pen for food, bathe in an outdoor pan that I keep filled, and sleep wherever they like (barn, duck house, or under the porch).  They have found ample forage in the yard and pasture.  When they start laying, though, I'll need to reimpose some structure on their ducky lives.  Ducks usually lay in the morning and can be let out to forage after that, but they do not return to their house at dusk as reliably as chickens do.  Perhaps they should be confined with the pigs.  Then, the job of collecting duck eggs can fall to Trudy and Buttercup for their protein and calcium rations.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Enjoying the weather


Blogging break

Blog post frequency is inversely proportional to outside temperature and insolation.  That is, with the last week of warm and sunny weather, I found may other farm chores to tend to; now that it's 40 degrees and rainy, I'm back at the computer.  Some of the things we did this week:

- replenished our hay and alfalfa stores
- added a barb wire strand on the top and bottom of our paddock field fences
- started the late winter orchard pruning
- spread old hay in the former hog pen for future planting
- graded the new topsoil around Scott's shop building
- wandered the back 40 and neighboring fields
- groomed the cows to help shed their winter fur
- uncovered the garlic bed
- bonded with Trudy and Buttercup

Monday, February 14, 2011

New chicken house door

The flock has spent the winter "foraging" in the barn which hasn't done much to add to their nutrition, but has been good for moral.  Chickens need entertainment and employment to keep them out of trouble.  Left in confinement, even in a largish chicken pen, they are prone to cannibalism.  Usually the flock will choose the least dominant hen and pull the feathers out of her tail and peck her back until it bleeds.  Once they start this, it's a hard habit to break.  Last winter with the hens house-bound in the old chicken house from the ice and snow, I had to remove a hen for this reason.  She later was able to return when the flock started free-ranging again.  This winter with access to the barn I haven't' had any social problems in the flock (excepting the extra rooster).

Yesterday, Scott cut a hole in the barn to let the chickens access the cattle corral.  This was always the plan, but Scott outdid himself with this design.  The steel door slides up between two vertical channels with a tug on a string that connects through two pulleys to be operable from the barn without going in the pen.  The rest of the structure is a wind- and dog-baffle.  Chickens entering the barn can navigate the narrow hallway between the door and their pen, but dogs and coyotes cannot.  We tested a similar design on the old chicken house and it worked against Koda, the egg-eating dog.  Opossums, raccoons, and cats can still get in this way, but these are less of a problem around here with Holly, the dog, on patrol.  I'll still need to close the flock in at night for their protection and to keep them laying eggs where I can find them.

Happy Valentine's Day

Here's our kitten, Mark, getting some love from Abe and Mary.  He seems to have a fascination with his big friends and will cry until they rub him all over with cow snot.  He comes away crusty, but happy. 

Free at last

Buttercup, the Guinea boar
I shut the cows out of their corral yesterday and turned the hogs outside.  Both buttercup and Trudy enjoyed a little romp in the sun, but came back to their pen in the barn to snooze.  Today is warmer, so I let them out again and fed their grain ration in the clean hay.  This seems to have done the trick for keeping them outside for a while.  They rooted around, ate, and then bedded down in the hay. 
Trudy, the Guinea sow

I moved the hay ring out to the tall grass in another paddock for the cows.  Now that the snow is gone I want to keep them out of the mud they have made in their corral.

As best I know, Trudy will farrow her litter in early April, but if she met Buttercup in early December, it could be as soon as the last week in March.  Either way she'll soon reach her third trimester (last 5 weeks in hogs) and need a little pampering.  Soon I will worm them both (actually, de-worm them) and after 14 days I'll move her to a new farrowing pen.  I'm not really sure where that will be yet, but I have more than two weeks to think about it.  The 14 days gives her time to shed her internal parasites and not carry them to the new area.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

First egg

At last!  An egg from my little hens.  By the blue color I know it is from one of my two Americanas.  The white one has become a special favorite of mine.  Scott found the egg, of all places, in the nest box, while putting in a chicken door from the hen pen to the cattle corral. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Buttercup and Trudy again

My sister asked for more photos of the Guinea hogs.  I'm afraid these aren't any better than the last ones, but I hope my hogs will photograph better once they are out on pasture.  They have been patient with their pen in the barn and their rations of alfalfa hay, grain, and stale baked goods, but these guys were made for better things.  When spring comes they will have acres of pasture to explore and consume.  I have high hopes of planting some test plots of field peas, beets, oats, and rapeseed (canola) for hogs to self-harvest.  If these grow well, I can provide nearly 100% of my hog feed right here on Bluestem farm- at least for a season.  Growing my own organic chicken feed is on the project list, too, but probably not for this year.

A good man is hard to find

A good man may be one in a million, but in my experience, a good rooster is about one in four. 

(On a side note... I'm always surprised when people ask me this question, but it has come up often: Don't you need a rooster to get eggs?  The answer, is of course not!  Hens, just like women, "lay" an egg on a regular schedule, whether or not there is an available male of the right species to fertilize it.)

Since I haven't ever raised chicks from my own eggs, it doesn't matter to me if they are fertilized or not.  A good rooster, though, can play a helpful social role in the flock looking after his ladies, keeping the group cohesive, and keeping the peace. 

I didn't actually order a rooster with this batch of hens, but the hatchery included these two for free: a Black Australorp, and an unknown breed.   I preferred the black, since he is of a breed I know well, but the real test was to let the ladies decide.  Wings down, they prefer the black.  When I pick up a hen, he is the first to come running and check out the situation.  More of the ladies forage with him than with the other.  Most importantly, the intimate advances of the black rooster are tolerated, while the best efforts of the mottled rooster result in a great deal of squawking, with the usurper being chased off by the favored male.  So it's not my fault, but spotty rooster will have to go.  It's for his own good, really.  The black male is defending his harem with increasing vigor, and the other, while not a great lover, is certainly no fighter.  This picture doesn't do him justice, he's a big bird and will just fit in the new pressure cooker my Mom gave me.

I actually let him out of the cage since I didn't want to butcher in this cold.  He'll spend a night in solitary sometime soon while I take him off feed for the 12 hours preceding the end.  I've heard this makes chickens more calm at the end, but the real reason is that an empty gut makes them much more sanitary to clean.

Snow and more snow

There are only a few gates that I can either open or shut around our permanent snow drifts.  Most of the paddock gates are open so my herd has access to the larger pasture.  When it's cold they are happy to huddle around the hay bale or duck into the barn, but it warmed up to a sunny 20 degrees today, and I was glad to see Mary lead the rest out for a romp in the snow.  It's not healthy for cows to be confined in a small lot for long, though I think it's excusable when the ground is frozen.  I may put the next bale out in the pasture when the weather warms up.

I love to see the young ones kicking up their heels and getting some exercise.  I was also pleased to see that Catalina, my new heifer stayed with the group when they went exploring.  When Jake was new and Molly (my milk cow, now sold) was in charge, the herd was always trying to ditch him in the tall grass.