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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saturday Stuff

What a great day! This morning, I went with my friend Stephanie to the Eastern Iowa Poultry Association show. We saw vast numbers of chickens, ducks, and geese. I saw lots of chickens I liked, especially some blue-grey feathered ones and some lovely big cochins. There was an excess of Columbian wyandottes and partridge wyandottes, but they were all nice birds. We met some members of the forum BYC and shared stories. I sold two frizzled barred cochin bantam hens and a bantam silkie who I believe is a hen also. I was very tempted to buy some very cute ducks but we haven't got anywhere to keep ducks safely so that idea was quickly squashed (yes, all by myself I managed to resist). I also eyed the Rouen ducks quite intently. They are large, and unlikely to be targets of the snapping turtle(s?) in my pond. I will ponder this. I was also tempted to buy some new hens but I didn't see anything that caught my fancy to a point that I could not resist, and besides, I had blue Andalusians at home in the incubator in the process of hatching (7 hatched out of 11, not too bad!) Here's one of the little fluffballs to look at!


Afterwards, we went home via the outlet mall and found that the Geoffrey Beene store was having a tremendous sale. That was somewhat disappointing, because they are closing down. All their clothes fit me very well, so I am annoyed at their disappearance, however, I was able to buy a number of nice items for winter and some things for Kelly for Christmas, all at 70% off regular price. Not too shabby!

When I got home, Kelly had already been to pick up our new tractor. This is a very exciting moment for our farm - our very first tractor. If you had told me 5 years ago that I would own a tractor today, I would have laughed hysterically and told you not to be so ridiculous. Ah, how life changes unexpectedly! And so delightfully too! I haven't taken pictures of it yet, but it is a Kubota 7200 and it's a nice bright orange, and it comes with a belly mower and a snow blade and a 3 point hitch, which is fabulous because we can now buy a tiller (hopefully on Craig's List for a good price) and a bale fork.

I went out to collect eggs and there were 6 eggs. This is my first ever 6-egg day. I decided to commemorate that by starting an egg counter here on my blog. I will try to keep it updated but can't promise every day will be a 6-egg day! I had leftover chicken/apple/gouda sausage rolls for supper with leftover sweet potato from the Thanksgiving meal, with a nice cold Woodchuck Apple Cider. Yum.

Friday, November 28, 2008

New Arrivals

No, I know what you're thinking. Not Muffin babies. Muffin did "nuffin" today. Sigh.

BUT, the great excitement of today overshadowed any lack of activity from Muffin. Today we got our VERY FIRST buck!!!! Wooo hooooo! And a handsome guy he is too! Today we visited Black Cat Creek Farm in Lone Rock, Iowa, and purchased a Nigerian dwarf buck who is 2 years old. He has a truly beautiful set of horns, a rich black and chestnut brown color with some lighter patches, and a reasonably gentle disposition, which is great for a buck. He does smell like a buck, but then...he IS a buck, so what else would you expect?! Right now, he is in with our Nubian girls. We are hopeful that they might find him pleasing and vice versa, such that we might have some mini Nubian kids in the spring. He is named Ramses, which is a fine royal name with an Egyptian flair.

In addition, we also purchased a delightful young Nigerian dwarf doeling. She is a very sweet and gentle little goat, and she has a delightful coloring. She looks similar to Opal in some ways, but more caramel colored, and she has an interesting marking in white on her side (hieroglyphics, perhaps?!). We decided that she needed an appropriately Egyptian sounding name because we hope that when she is old enough to be bred (next fall) that she might enjoy spending some time with Ramses. So, her name is Lotus. A beautiful flower, for a beautiful goat.
Black Cat Creek Farm also breeds llamas, and they had some gorgeous llamas there today that were simply breathtaking. I wanted to take them all home with me! No, not to worry, we did not get any new llamas today. Just goats!
So our new goats seemed to settle in very well today, and the Nubians took to Ramses without incident. Xander tried a little head butting but Ramses would have none of it. On the other hand, the mini girls and Buford, the mini wether, decided that the arrival of Lotus was reason for everybody to do some boisterous goat play, and there was head butting between nearly everybody in the pen! Lotus stayed on the outskirts and tended to look at all the other goats as if they had lost their minds, which perhaps they had.

Here's Puffin, the dancing goat! I think she was actually preparing for a head butt with Lotus but she didn't follow through. Such a show off! Buford is clearly impressed.
Stay tuned for their further adventures. I'm sure we will be watching their personalities grow and seeing how they fit in with their respective herds. Eventually, Ramses can be introduced to the rest of the mini girls, but not until they are a bit older. I'm sure that won't stop him from rubbing noses through the fence line.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Not Today, said Muffin

Well, no baby goats appeared in our lives today. Muffin ran around with her usual abandon and didn't seem to show any signs. We felt her sides and checked her udder and teats but she isn't really showing any sign of anything, except for her well rounded sides, which could just be a sign of eating too much! We are not sure what to think. I tried to feel for kicking legs or any other sign of imminent new herd members, but no such luck. Maybe she is just teasing us. We bought her as having been bred, but perhaps it didn't take, or perhaps the person who sold her to us was not as honest as we would have liked.

No matter, we are happy to have Muffin with us and hope that she will have a long and happy life on our farm, babies or not!

Hope all my readers who celebrate US Thanksgiving had a great holiday, and I hope all my other readers had wonderful days too!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Muffin is due


Muffin the goat is due to have a baby goat on Thanksgiving Day. If she does indeed carry through with this intended plan, it will be our first goat birth experience. Thus, it is causing much excitement here at Whispering Acres. We have been reading all our goat books, along with various internet goat websites, about how we should proceed. Mostly, we should stand back and let her do what nature intended. There is an overwhelming desire in me to hold her hoof and tell her to breathe deeply. I don't think this would have the desired effect.

If she has any trouble, after some time, then I may have to intervene. We have the latex gloves handy. I have studied various drawings of how baby goats may be positioned within the mother goat, and how one should go about correcting any problem. This appears quite sensible and easy on paper. I'm sure it's a different matter when one has one's hand inside a goat and no little drawing to show exactly what is going on in there. And amazingly enough, none of the little drawings show what happens if there is more than one baby goat present. I imagine it is a complete tangle of legs and ears and heads and tails. How can one determine which parts belong to whom without a diagram? It is quite common for goats to have twins or even triplets. So how I shall manage if anything does seem to be wrong is a mystery, but we have managed through pink eye and deer meningeal worm, so we shall manage our way through this also.

On the other hand, I am just deeply worried that she's just chubby and not actually pregnant. I keep looking at her and feeling her sides and trying to figure this out. She was purchased as having been bred, but it is difficult to know for sure. We are watching for the potential signs, and hoping for the best. It would be quite inconvenient if she were to decide that the perfect kidding time was during the Thanksgiving meal that we are preparing for Kelly's family. But it is not for us to decide. Stay tuned for news. Or no news.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Those Sneaky Chickens!

Well it's winter here, or just about, so I figured that my hens were taking a break. They don't like the short day length and to be honest, neither do I! They were laying maybe 3 eggs a day, and I was happy with that. I have a lot of young hens who aren't laying yet, and a lot of old hens who probably aren't laying any more. So, my red stars just kept laying, and I collected my 1 to 3 eggs each day and felt like it was their break time, and goodness knows they need a break!

So yesterday I was out in the coop, looking for eggs, and I heard some soft clucking noises, and yet nobody was in the nest boxes. I looked around....nobody on the perches, nobody in the doorway, nobody to be seen! I did my little chicken voice: "Where's my little hen then? Who is hiding in the coop?" and gentle clucking resumed. I was stymied. What was going on? Eventually, I realized that the sound was coming from very low down, so I got down onto the wood shavings and straw, and realized that my very industrious and sneaky hens had actually created a hollowed out area UNDER the nesting boxes that we built.

So, I put my hand under and pulled out an egg, and another, and another....and ended up with 13 eggs! All pulled out from under the nest boxes. I had to candle them all to check for development, and also do the float test. They were all fine and fresh (it's cold enough outside to be equivalent to a fridge!). So now I am wise to their little plot, and will keep an eye on their secret stash. Had a great omelette last night though!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Chicken Giggle Hat

I got a hat today. I don't have a lot of hats, although I do like selected hats. I have a lovely chartreuse green straw hat that I like to wear for summer fun. Well, I think it's lovely, and it always makes me feel good when I wear it. As if I take on a sort of mysterious air. Well, I might admit to being a wee bit eccentric, so that probably explains where I get these silly ideas.

I also have a nice straw summer hat with a narrower brim than the green one. It's a dark and light woven straw and quite fetching, at least in my opinion. It has a dark flat ribbon band around it and is not flashy - just a quiet sort of a statement.

There is something about people who wear interesting hats - it's sort of a statement that they're not afraid to express themselves, and that they're not really that worried about what anyone else thinks. I like to be that brave, on occasion.

Today's hat is, without question, my absolute favourite hat I have ever owned. This is a very special hat, and every time I look at it, I have to suppress a giggle, which is why I have called it the Chicken Giggle Hat.

At my place of employment, we had a craft fair, as we usually do at this time of year, and employees who do crafts such as sewing, woodworking, candle making, etc. have an opportunity to sell their wares. Well, one of our employees is quite the knitter, and she makes interesting bags and hats. This year, she is making chicken and turkey hats. I was completely taken as soon as I saw them. "Delightful," I said to myself. And to top it off, she will even do a custom designed chicken hat from a photograph! I declare, I will take her a photo of Rosie and get a Rosie hat made.
So now, every morning and evening, when I go to check for eggs, I shall be sporting my new chicken giggle hat. I feel that it will allow me to meld with my flock, and be at one with the hens. It's cold here in Iowa, and one needs a good egg collecting hat in the winter.

p.s. If anybody wants a custom hat, leave a comment and I'll get you hooked up!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Upsidedown Chicken = Not Good

It's not a good thing when you find a chicken upsidedown in the straw. In fact, an upsidedown chicken, with both legs in the air, has a tendency to cause significant alarm in the owner, namely, me. I went rushing over to this poor creature, naturally assuming it was dead, because this is a most unnatural position for any chicken to maintain for any length of time.

Nonetheless, it was alive. I gently picked it up and cradled it and it moved vvveeeeerrrryyyyy ssssllllooooowwwwlllllyyyyy in my hands. (You have to read that properly, in your mind, speaking with the velocity of cold molasses - it's OK, go back and read the sentence over again, so you get the full impression). Got it now? Moving on...

Truly, I was distressed, but hopeful. I took my poor Polish chicken inside and put it with all the baby chicks in the brooder under the heat lamp. It took several hours, but now it's running around just like all the others. I have to keep calling this chicken "it" because I can't tell which of the pair is the male, and which is the female. They are both very similar. Here is a picture of the pair from when I first brought them home. I should take a new picture, but this one is the only one I have for now.

So today we went to a local hardware store and we bought two (yes, two) aluminum sheds. They were $290 apiece, but we feel that it was worth it, because our homemade efforts take lot longer to build and we are behind on coops. So, tomorrow's task is building 2 aluminum sheds (each 10 x 8) and installing some nice straw bales in them for insulation, and ensuring that our chickens all go inside for the night. The Polish should have been inside another structure but they have a habit of going on walkabout and roosting elsewhere. That's what happened and why this one got so cold. Even if we get just one shed completed, I'll be happy.

Then we shall have two more coops and, in theory, enough space for all our chickens, even the picky ones who currently can't make up their mind about which coop they prefer of the two existing coops. Now if I could just get help with this egg hatching addiction problem...

Lesson learned: Happy chickens are upright and active. Always ensure your chickens are happy.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How to keep a chicken warm

Last week I participated in an impromptu chicken rescue effort. I had inquired about a Craig's List advertisement for 1-year old laying hens. A local poster had 25 to sell and I e-mailed on Thursday afternoon to ask if she would sell smaller numbers. I had offered to buy 5 of them. I didn't hear from her on Thursday evening, so I supposed that she wasn't interested. On Friday morning, I received an alarming e-mail advising me that if I wanted any chickens, I should come over right away because her child had let them out of their pen and her dogs were killing them.

There are times when adrenaline just kicks us into hyperdrive, and this was one of them. I rounded up chicken carrying crates in a matter of seconds, fetched my chicken-catching net (a fishing net on a long pole) and work gloves and jumped in the truck. Time was of the essence. I drove quickly to the appropriate location, without breaking any speed limit laws of course (cough, splutter...)

Anyway, I arrived to find a yard full of barking bulldogs (this clearly being the home of a bulldog breeding operation). I had to make my way past dead chicken bodies and body parts. It was rather upsetting to say the least. And when I met my soon-to-be new flock members, they were a bit of a sorry sight. The owner explained that her son has ADD and forgot to feed and water the chickens sometimes, and she didn't have time to keep checking on them. I knew, of course, that I had to take them all. So, we rounded them up and crated them and I rushed them home (once again, of course, no speed limit laws were broken...I think...)

I thoroughly inspected 18 hens and 3 roosters. Mostly they just had superficial wounds, but some had severe feather loss, older skin lesions, many have bumblefoot (a fairly common foot infection among poultry) and some have scaley leg mites. I prefer to use natural remedies so they are not receiving antibiotics - just vaseline on the legs and feet (smothers mites and kills them), foot washes and ointment for their skin problems, and some good old fashioned chicken cuddles.

ANYWAY, all this brings me around to the subject of keeping chickens warm. Since many were missing large quantities of feathers (combination of over-zealous roosters, poor diet, and dog incidents), I had to determine how to keep them warm. I keep up with a blog by Lola Nova, because she shows fun sewing projects on her blog and I like her thoughts. I don't personally know Lola, but she inspired me to be creative with fleece. I used my first rescue chicken, Rosie, as a model for my chicken coats. Rosie will tolerate just about anything because she is such a sweet girl. So, she was my perfect model - she allowed me to measure her and do multiple fittings. I had her in a box next to my sewing table while I worked on this project.
Rosie has a habit of putting wood shavings on her back in her nest box when she is preparing to lay an egg. As I began my sewing project, I looked down at Rosie in her box....
Yes indeed, we were preparing for an egg....
So Rosie kept trying to make herself disappear into a sea of shredded paper, and I kept sewing away and gently measuring Rosie and trying one wing through an improvised "sleeve" hole and of course this would dislodge paper, which she diligently replaced. I kept sewing, she kept pushing, and sure enough....
The coat was made just about the same time that the egg was laid. And a very large egg it was indeed. 3.2 ounces in fact, beating out the earlier egg from my "Rosie's Enormous Egg" post.
Here is Rosie on the henwalk (because she doesn't do the catwalk).
So having determined that chicken coats were truly possible, I proceeded to make some for my worst case chickens, who seem very happy with their new outfits (although one does undo the velcro all the time - sort of an exhibitionist chicken). They come out of the coop more often now with everybody else, instead of staying huddled inside. So thank you Lola, for the crafty inspiration. My chickens certainly think it was a great idea.


Edited 15/12/12 to add photo showing overall pattern...plus this description:
Here is a picture of the coat off the chicken.  I haven't got any of the coats any more, so I am not sure of exact sizing, but this is how it looks when flat.  You can see I put a velcro closing on it at the neck.  I didn't want to use a button because I didn't want any button ingestion happening!  The most important measurements are the space between the two wing holes - measure your chicken's back but it's probably 4 or 5 inches on a regular bird I think - and the length at the top edge that goes around the neck.  Ensure the top edge is long enough to go around the neck without compressing on the crop when full.  The full coat length should be easy to measure - just go from your chicken's neck to the end of the tail.  I did zig-zag stitching around the sides and around the wing holes but that's not entirely necessary.  It just helped keep it a little bit more secure.  Also, I recommend not using red fleece - chickens like to peck red things.

Secret Meeting of the Llama Minds


Meeting of the Llama Minds called to order. Minutes taken by Hazel.

Present: Hazel, Cabernet, Lilly
Meeting time: Wednesday, noon.

Cabernet called the meeting to order. Hazel and Cabernet welcomed Lilly, new member of the Secret Llama Intelligence Collection Enterprise (SLICE).

Lilly reported that a 2 legged creature with a small black box was in the vicinity and looking in their direction. Hazel and Cabernet assured Lilly that the 2 legged creature was entirely useless and didn't even have any fur, so how intelligent can it be? Lilly was reassured.

Hazel reported that there was an increase in small 2 legged creatures with feathers this week. It is unknown where these creatures are coming from. They appeared in small groups. Some were missing feathers. Reasons unknown but requires investigation. Cabernet reported having a short conference with a group of them but they were only interested in discussing food and something called "egz" but the significance of "egz" is unknown at this time. Hazel indicated that in her family's oral history tradition, there was mention of small creatures named ginneepigz that lived in the wild in her ancestral home. Committee has decided the small feathered creatures are ginneepigz, until further information shows otherwise. Hazel reported peeking into the ginneepig house and she saw a ginneepig making a lot of noise and then leaving behind a mysterious brown oval object. Later, the 2 legged furless creature came and stole the object. Conspiracy possible. Further investigation needed. Photographic evidence of ginneepigz provided here for consideration.

Lilly brings new intelligence from the distant parts of the world. She endured a long travelling session in a white box with wheels on it. Noisy and distressing, and many large other boxes were moving past her quickly. Suggested a mass migration of some kind. Reason unknown. It was raining during her journey and she is unsure of details due to the stressful situation.

Lilly reports the existence of other small llama like creatures where she came from, but they do not smell like proper llamas. They are shades of brown and white but do not look quite like the smaller llama like creatures at this location. But they do smell the same. Possibly related.

Discussion of the 2 legged creatures possibly coming to remove fur in future, and how to best deter them from this practice. Cabernet suggests that the humans are stealing the fur to try and figure out how to grow their own. Serious breach of security. Must be stopped. Hazel suggests spitting on 2 legged creatures and generally behaving in a rowdy manner. 2-legged creatures are weak. Lilly says not all 2 legged creatures are weak because two of them managed to get her into the white box for her journey. Committee to discuss other means of deterrence at next meeting.

Lilly inquired about the dining options at this location. Cabernet and Hazel assured her of the good grazing and excellent hay provided. Hazel pointed out the 2 legged creatures bring the hay. Cabernet laughed and said this was simply a ploy to try and learn more about SLICE.

Lilly also inquired about the new creatures with less fur and some with horns. Hazel advised that they are called "gotes" by the 2 legged creatures. Cabernet said the gotes need to be herded because they are generally stupid and like to let the humans pet their heads. Lilly indicated her amazement at their behavior.

Action Items: Investigate 2 legged creatures and relationships with ginneepigz. Try to find a ginneepig who is willing to be an informant. Offer llama-back rides as incentive. Watch gotes carefully for evidence of conspiracy. Convince 2 legged creatures to acquire more llamas.

Meeting adjourned by Lilly, who was just too excited about joining SLICE and had to go visit the llama latrine.

Friday, November 7, 2008

And suddenly, there were sheep

Well, I suppose it wasn't that sudden. We researched them quite diligently before we bought them. But here they are, 3 Icelandic sheep. Quite a delightful little herd.
Unlike other sheep breeds, Icelandics can be shorn twice a year - in March and September. These were not shorn in September so we will need to shear them in March for the first time, since it is now too cold in Iowa to shear them. In fact, we had our first snow today. Ick. Another interesting thing about Icelandic ewes is that they are great for milking. Sheep's milk cheese is quite a delicacy so we look forward to trying our hand at that!

The ram's name is Blizzard. He has quite magnificent horns. I learned that sometimes the horns can get too close to their skull and cause problems. It's possible that someday the vet may need to either remove part of them or file them down in order to prevent any such problems. Blizzard is quite approachable and likes have to have his head rubbed. He is very protective of his ladies!

The first ewe's name is Bianca. She will eat out of my hand but doesn't want to be touched. She will, I hope, become more accustomed to me with time. You might notice that their fleece is quite long and somewhat straighter than other sheep. Their fleece has two "parts" to it. The outer part is longer and straighter and it's called the "tog" while the underneath part is more curly and crimed, and it's called the "thel." Both parts are apparently of interest to spinners and weavers and other fiber artists, but they have different qualities.

The second ewe's name is Flurry. She is very skittish indeed. In fact, I refer to her as the Flying Sheep. She has achieved incredible air space under her when escaping human attention. For example, she will go flying over the feed manger or even over the goats. I do believe she has attained approximately 5 foot high jumps. Too bad there are no Sheep Olympics.
So far they are all doing well on our farm. The ram likes to herd the goats and llamas out of the way. We plan to build a second barn so that they will have their own space, since they don't seem to be too keen on sharing. Stay tuned for their further adventures!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Little Goats Playpen

Today Kelly finished an expansion of the little goat pasture area. To the left is a picture of Opal (light coloured Nigerian dwarf) and Stuffin' (black pygmy). They had been more confined than we wanted up to this point, so we had figured out an area that they would easily move into and Kelly installed fence posts and fencing and then made two gates to make the access easy for us to get into the pasture area also. They were very excited at the new, larger area and explored it quickly, ravishing the new areas of dried weeds. I have never seen such a feast on dead vegetation! They also love the oak leaves that have blown into that area. It seems true, what they say about goats eating anything. One positive aspect to this is the great compost they provide me with afterwards!

Here is a picture of Opal trying to challenge the goats on the other side of the fence. She is a small goat with a big attitude! This is the preparatory move for a head-butting episode. She will often do this and never follow through on the head-butting part. It's more like she's a dancing goat!

We were very lucky to have such great weather this weekend. Even though we had a few frosts last week, we were outside in T-shirts and shorts this weekend. It was really warm in the sun and the day was fantastic for working outside. All the bulbs of the earlier post have now been planted, along with a peach tree, some daylilies, and some asiatic lilies as well. Not many weekends left like this, and soon enough the snow will fly. I can't wait to see goats frolicking in the snow!

Here's a picture of Opal in the foreground and Cookie in the middle, with Muffin behind her. Muffin is due to have babies on November 27. We are looking forward to that new adventure. There are six little goats in this pasture now - 2 young Nubians who might be mini Nubians (Cookie and Coffee), 3 pygmy goats (Puffin, Stuffin and Muffin), and 1 Nigerian dwarf (Opal).