Thursday, May 26, 2011

What's next? Giraffes?

Katherine outside
Katherine tells me that Giraffe has a baby in her belly, just like our two expectant cows.  

Good neighbors

I'm always surprised how well our species interact. 

Here several of the piglets are cleaning up the spilled chicken feed.  This was actually a convinient way for the little ones to access feed withouth their parents fighting them for it. 

Now that the sow and boar are moved out of the barn, the piglets just pop through the gate and sleep with the two pregnant cows in the fresh straw of the stalls.  I feed them there with the cows and the parents get their grain out in the pasture. 

Appartment living, country style

Buff Orpingtons and their cousins, Black Australorps are the usual culprits
Scott built a few more nest boxes for my hens, but the old ones are still the most popular.  Out of my small (less than a dozen) flocks, I've usually tolerated a single broody hen who refuses to leave the nest in the vane hope of hatching eggs. 

This spring I have at least five with the same aspirations.  These ladies are so intent that they never leave the house to forage.  In fact, I think they eat very little at all and their egg production suffers.

When the first of this batch to go broody, a Buff Orpington, started, I took eight eggs and set her on them in an empty rabbit hutch.  The point of separating her is to keep her focused on her job (not really a problem) and to keep other hens from bothering her or adding fresh eggs to her clutch.  After the required 21 days of confinement, she had not hatched a single one.  I gave her a few extra days for good measure, but nothing.

Out of curiosity, I cracked all the eggs open.  Several may have been unfertilized, or had just not gotten started properly, but a few had chicks in various stages of development.  Two where nearly mature.  I don't know exactly what went wrong, but I can think of a few things to change if I try again.  For one, the cage was too big.  She had to leave the nest to reach food and water.  The extra space also allowed her to move the nest around when she turned her eggs, sometimes leaving one or two behind.  For another, we tried this in early spring and the cold snaps may have been too much for the eggs.

Now the question is what to do with the five freeloading hens that are taking up valuable real estate that my layers need...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Twin chicken egg and an abandoned bird egg
Someone in our flock keeps laying these monster double-yolk eggs,  this one is the biggest yet.

Sadly, we're getting ready to down-size the flock.  I thought I could find a good venue for selling my surplus eggs, but that's turning out to be more trouble than I want.  Scott and I agreed that a dozen hens would be enough to supply our family, pigs, neighbors, and friends with a few left for the food pantry.  Fewer hens would also allow the grass to recover near the chicken house door. 

Getting ready for baby

JWest's Tom Sawyer, the dad
Mary's normally discrete backside is now bulging with the imminent arrival of her new calf.  With this sign, called "springing" in farmer lingo, I'm checking her every several hours for further signs of labor.  Her bag is full and the teats are getting tight with new milk.  Her due date is tomorrow, and I expect she'll be right on time.

All this vigilance is to make up for missing both calvings last year.  The only thing keeping me from spending tonight in the barn is that we will likely have rough weather and we may all be sleeping in the basement instead. 

Martha, my heifer, is due to calve on June 3.

(P.S. Scott found my photo of Mary's pregnant butt too offensive for general audiences, so I deleted it.  I will include it with any birth photos on a separate page.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pasture management

Mary, her yearling calf, Abe, and Catalina
I let my front paddock become overgrazed last year while we built fences, but it is recovering nicely with the winter and spring rest.  Though this is intended to be my legume-rich pig pasture for the summer, there was so much clover that I had to call in the cows to harvest it.  I held the six of them on this two acre plot for about five days.  Then, cattle were out and pigs again had access to the field. 

Now that all the doctoring is done for a while, I am moving the pigs into their summer cottages and out of the barn stalls where they have slept since moving to Bluestem Farm.  These will be cleaned up and freshened for the next round of babies- calves!

Mary and Martha are both due to deliver in the next few weeks, so they are quarantined in the west paddock to be near the house and barn.  I want the stalls ready in the rare case that they need birth assistance.

I was pretty confident that Mary had weaned Abe a few months back, and that was confirmed when I shut the mother in away from him.  They can still visit through the fence, but there was no bawling at all.  With the impressive store of fat that Mary has accumulated from the spring grass, I was sure that her body was handling the pregnancy well even without artificially weaning her first calf.  

Grasshopper uses

Scott put a larger engine in the Grasshopper since we are finding it to be so useful.  He'll be finishing up the man-lift (Karen lift) basket soon so I can paint the eave trim on the house, but for lower heights sitting on the forks works, too!  Here is the family out placing the purple martin house on the newly repaired post.  Birds moved in that very afternoon.

2 pigs, 3 nuts -or- More castration woes

I promised the vet I would try to castrate the final two boar piglets myself (with Scott holding them).  So Monday was the day.  Now of the 5 pigs, one is a girl, and two have castration scars already, but none of that is easy to see when they are on the move.  After a chase, I had both correct boys in the cat carrier.  Scott held the first guy up-side-down by the back legs; I cut and found NOTHING.  Failure again.  We released both pigs and rescheduled with the vet.

Now, other mammal boys keep their testicles in a conveniently accessible pouch, but boars hold theirs up in their body cavities.  Because of that, they can't be banded like bulls, but have to be cut.  Once you have a slit into the body, you still have to palpitate the testicles and manipulate them out of the hole individually. 

At the vet again, we processed each pig in the parking lot shared between the vet office and the local diner.  He made the first pig look so easy, but the second pig- the one I had tried- only yielded ONE testicle!  The side I had cut had nothing to find!  I felt somewhat vindicated that my second failure was not all my own.  Check back with me in six months to see who cuts the next batch of baby boars.

Also, the one pound babies born 7 weeks ago are now close to 20 pounds each according to the scale at the vet.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Trudy's 2011 litter

I'm pleased to (belatedly) announce that Trudy and Buttercup became the proud parents of seven piglets on April 7, 2011.  Of these, one gilt (girl) and four boars survive, of the home.

The piglet in my lap was the only one born before my early morning check.  I witnessed the other six pop out over the next hour or two.  One runt was weak from the start.  Both he and one brother "disappeared" during their second night under mysterious circumstances...

Castration woes

First time with pigs in my car
I'm getting my stories out of order here, but the boy piglets born April 7 have been in need of castration for a few weeks now.  In the true spirit of book learning, I reread the appropriate passage in Hobby Farms: PIGS, bought scalpels and iodine, and enlisted Scott as pig restrainer.  What the book didn't reveal, is how much fat you need to cut through to reach the desired organs.  I must have put a half inch deep slice in the poor guy (not Scott) before I gave in to his persistent shrieks (also not Scott) and gave up.

At the invitation of our vet, I loaded two of my boar piglets into a large cat carrier and took them to town for professional treatment.  Within a few tense moments, the new barrows (castrated boars), the vet, and I were all bleeding slightly and the job was done.  Now, the rest of the boar piglets are for me to do.  Soon.  If I can get Scott to help.

Follow me, kids...

Our mama pig leads the family out to graze every day.  The little ones are eating clover and the corn/soy mix we have ground at the Baldwin elevator.  Alternating mud baths and sun bathing round out their day.  Occasionally I catch piglets making forays in through the chicken door to clean up the dropped chicken feed, too. 

Weaning at 8 weeks is standard practice with hogs, but I'm tempted to leave them all together for a while longer.  Part of the humane practice of raising animals is to decrease the stress of young weaning and let the generations bond longer.  On the other hand, Trudy won't begin cycling again until after she is weaned from the litter.  With 4 months gestation and 2 months nursing a litter, we can have spring and fall litters at the same time each year.  Longer nursing would mean either a sporadic farrowing (birthing) schedule, or housing the boar separately for much of the year and having one litter.  Most likely, I should wean early, breed Trudy back, and then reunite the family.