Friday, February 22, 2013

Hooray for Hay!

A new bale of hay was delivered today!  Hooray!  Five ruminants don't actually eat that much hay, so it has been nearly a month since my last large bale was delivered, but it was almost finished, so I'd called to ask for a new one to be brought down this week, and today it appeared.

I'll have to blog about some of the improvements inside the house soon, but one of the other improvements that took place this winter was a feeding barn improvement.  The critters (3 goats and 2 sheep) have a sleeping barn and a feeding barn.  They sleep in a barn that is attached to the back of the house.  It's a suitable size and comfortable for them, but the building used to be what's called a "summer kitchen."  This was a building used in the summer months for cooking tasks, which meant the rest of the house stayed cooler.  Usually a summer kitchen was built over a stream, so that foods could be lowered through a hatch door into the stream to be kept cool.  That means that a summer kitchen has a floor in it.  The "floor" in my barn was therefore about 2 feet above ground level.  Although the floor is long gone, there is no door at floor level now - the doors are accessed by steps as Caramel demonstrates below (the steps themselves were an improvement that I'll have to blog about once I get some pictures).  Also, the sleeping barn has "people" sized doors and not barn doors.  

The upshot of all this is that I can't get a large bale of hay into that barn.

There are a couple of other smaller barns, but the problem with the smaller barns was that a hay bale couldn't fit through the original doors on those either.  Here's the smaller barn earlier this winter, prior to it being modified.

When I finally managed, after many months of searching, to find someone to help chunk some of the 8 foot hardwood logs in my yard, they were also able to widen the hay barn door.  This means that I can now push a large bale of hay into the feeding barn, using the tractor, and the animals can still get around it.  I know it seems like a small thing, and it only took about half an hour to cut the opening out, but it was really a big relief for me, and a tremendous help for feeding large bales. There are two advantages to this small hay-feeding barn.  First, the animals seem to recognize that this is a feed area, not a sleep area, so they don't sleep and poop on this hay.  Second, it reduces fire risk.  Large bales of hay that get eaten slowly, and which get rained on, can begin to compost in the centre.  This means that the middle of the bale can become really hot, and eventually start a fire.  This nearly happened last year here, but fortunately the smoking bale was discovered and moved away from the barn (yes, the one connected to the house, and yes, that would have been very bad!)  The bale is somewhat protected from the elements in this smaller feeding barn, but also, if it does catch on fire, it's relatively far away from the house and much less of a risk.

Here was the barn after the modification and after the first large bale of hay was delivered.

Today, though, it was a tight fit!  This was an especially large bale.  I used the tractor bucket to squash it a bit on the top, and then I gently manoeuvred the bale into the barn.  There's a small space for the critters to creep around on the right hand side.  As they begin to eat this bale, I'll be able to push it in a bit further, but for now, it's staying where it is!

I'm extremely grateful to live in a region that is not suffering the hay shortages common to so many other areas, especially south of the border.  This bale, which is primarily timothy hay mixed with alfalfa, and a little clover, was $30.  It's taller than me when on its side as shown in the barn doorway, and I'm over 5'10" in my barn boots, so that's a big bale with a small price. I'm very lucky to have such reasonably priced hay that is Fezzik approved!  (Edited to say that for those who are unfamiliar with the price of hay, this bale in many places would be over $150, which is why I am so very grateful.)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A remarkable rescue moment

Warning - long post - but a good one!

About 3 weeks ago, I lost a chicken to a neighbourhood dog.  It was pretty upsetting, and I had a bad feeling the dog would be back, but I tried to keep vigilant and keep an eye out for it, and I listened intently for chicken screeching.  Everything seemed OK, and I think the dog was on an unauthorized walkabout.

But then, unfortunately, early last weekend (I think it was Saturday), 2 chickens went missing.  I always count at night when I lock up.  There were 16 instead of 18.  I looked for signs of a struggle.  I looked for feathers.  I looked for dog footprints...but we'd had an unusual quick thaw, and there wasn't much snow left.  I could not find a trace of the 2 hens.  They were small ones - from my 2012 spring hatch.  Both likely had a bantam parent on at least one side, so they were easy prey.  I wondered about eagles...hawks...raccoons?  They get locked in at night, but in the daytime, they do free range.  It's a risk, but I prefer having my birds roam around and enjoy their freedom.  For several days, I was vigilant about checking for predators.  I saw a fox on Sunday morning last week (I know because that's the day I downloaded the photographs) and I wondered at the time if that fox had taken the chickens, but of course, I had no way to know one way or the other.  Here's a picture (yes, distant, and during fresh snow) of that fox.

The fox picture is my only marker as to when the chickens went missing, because it was before that day, given that I immediately wondered if he (she?) was the culprit, upon the sighting that morning.

So.  That was that.  I kept an eye out for the chickens, in case they had decided to bravely sleep in a tree one night, or hatched some other silly plan, but there was no sign of them.  I was sad, but these things happen.

In the meantime, we had a brutally cold week, last week.  Night time lows were in the -20 range Celsius, which was in the range of -4 F.  The wind chills were even colder.  There were 3 or 4 nights like that, and then the temperatures warmed a little on Friday, just ahead of the big nor' easter blizzard.  The snow started Friday night, and went all day Saturday, and continued today.  Here's what it looked like when I opened my door this morning.  The winds were so strong that my orange 'puppy' was relatively clean and ready for later use.  I just wanted to wait until the snow stopped.

I was thrilled to pieces when my neighbour showed up later this afternoon with his tractor (much larger than mine) with a nice warm cab on it, and a snow blower attachment!  Hooray!  He did in about 10 minutes, what would have taken me at least 2 hours.  Amazing.  I need one of those snow blower attachments!

I donned my insulated coveralls after he helped out, in order to make a path for the sheep and goats to get to the barn.  I knew that it wouldn't take too long for me to do that part, and I was pleased at the prospect of not having to spend quite so much time outside.  So, off I went, riding the orange "puppy" for a while, clearing a path and slip-sliding away on the fine, crystalline snow.

As I approached the barn entrance, I found the snow getting deeper and deeper due to wind drifts.  I had to spend a lot of time in the area, and I deliberated over just giving up for the day and finishing tomorrow, but I decided to just get it done.  I was running out of space to put all the snow, so I pushed a roll of wire fencing off to the side with the bucket.  At the base of the roll of fencing was an upside-down plastic blueberry harvesting tray.  I didn't even see it under the snow, but the tray lifted on the edge of the tractor bucket when I was moving the fence roll (which was also mostly under snow).

That green thing in the picture below is what a plastic blueberry harvesting tray looks like when it's upside-down.  Not very big.

As the tractor bucket lifted the plastic tray...I saw a movement.  I stopped lifting.  Disbelieving my own eyes, I saw a chicken head pop out of the snow.  Stunned, I thought I'd missed an adventuring flock member as I was going forward, but then I realized, I hadn't yet opened the barn door today, because I fed everybody indoors, due to the weather.  There was only one possibility.  This was one of the hens that had been missing for an entire week.  I immediately slammed on the tractor brake and rushed over to uncover the poor bird.  She was covered in ice, shivering, and definitely underweight.  Her crop was entirely empty.  She was weak, and a little bit listless, but alive.  I rushed her into the barn and went back to dig in the snow.  I quickly found the second, amazingly still alive, chicken.  The two of them had been under that plastic bin for an entire week.  All they'd had was snow, and maybe a little grass if they had scrabbled down far enough.  I can't be sure because their shelter was disrupted by my plowing.

To say I was surprised is a vast understatement.  I was absolutely stunned.  I can't believe they made it through that incredibly cold weather and then the depth of snow that was on top of that tray, and made it out alive.  I can't believe the tractor caught the tray at just the right point to reveal them.  I can't believe I didn't hurt them with the tractor.  It's just incredible, it truly is.

This little survivor is a wee bantam that I'd named "QB" which stands for Quarterback.  I don't like football, and I don't know much about it, but one of the few things I do know is that the quarterback is usually a small player who always runs with the ball and dodges everyone else.  QB always grabs treats and runs, and she's so small that she skirts around everyone, so that's how she got her name.  Here you can see that she has some bedraggled looking feathers.  They'd been inside the barn for about a half hour by the time I took these photos so they looked better than when I first found them.  She has a little frostbite on her comb tips.

This is the other little trooper - as you can see, a bit the worse for wear.  She had some frozen tail feathers.

She's mostly black, but with a little bit of gold in her neck feathers.  She needs a good name now that she's proven herself to be such a remarkable survivor.  I'm leaning towards "Klondike" because of the gold neck feather touches, and the fact that she kind of struck gold in her luck of being discovered today. She was the one who stuck her head out.

I held each of them for a while, talked to them about their courage and strength, and tried to thank them for not giving up.

After having her fill of pellets, QB retreated to a quiet spot to recuperate, and Egwene came over to check her out.  

Most of the others were eating snow where it enters the corner of the barn.  I give them water but it freezes so quickly these days, so they seem to adapt to eating snow.

Nidia was checking out little Klondike.  Nidia is my most talkative hen, and she was chatting up a storm while all this was going on.  It was as if you could tell that there was excitement in the flock.

Klondike headed over to the same area that QB had chosen, being checked out by Cashew along the way.

It was then that I began to notice....all the birds were gathering near QB and Klondike.  A few at first....

 ...and then nearly all the hens, plus the 2 roosters, surrounding the two "missing" members of the flock.  It was interesting, because usually I don't see that kind of behaviour in my chickens.  In fact, when others have died, they have pecked at, and even eaten, the dead flock member.  They don't seem all that caring, as a group, but this seemed to indicate something else going on.

Tonight when I went in to close up the barn, QB and Klondike were side by side on their roost.  You can see them on the far right end.  There are several places where my birds roost, but I have a feeling these two will be side by side for a long time to come.

I still can't believe that they lived together under that plastic box for over a week, with just snow and maybe some dead grass.  It's a testament to their hardiness, and hopefully also the fact that they were healthy when they first got into that mess.  They will certainly be well fed in the coming days!

So if you find yourself missing a chicken, look long and hard.  Look under things.  Look inside things.  If you don't find feathers or obvious signs of distress, they may still be around.  Don't give up!  Amazing things can, and do, happen!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Run Jet, Run!!

I simply adore my new adopted hound, Jet. He's a wonderful companion and a crazy, goofy hound. He puts a smile on my face every day and makes me get up and walk away from the computer for a while, which is a good thing when I have enough work to keep me going for hours and hours on end! He's particularly fond of the fresh snow. There's something about it that makes him want to run, even more than usual.

I bought him a really long leash that is actually a horse lead.  It's made from the same material as regular dog leashes, and it has a very sturdy clip on the end (after all, it's meant to be strong enough for a horse!)  The leash is 30 feet long, and that allows him a lot of leash to go do his sniffing and exploring without dragging me all over the place on a regular 6 foot leash.  I use the 6 foot one at night when it's dark, but in the daytime, I use the long lead.

The snow fell all day yesterday, some overnight, and it's still going - over 6 inches now, probably 8 or so.  I'll be taking that orange "puppy" for a ride later, but I'm waiting until the snow stops.  One of the good things about living out in a rural area is that nobody complains when your driveway isn't cleared immediately upon snowfall, and there are no sidewalks to clear.

The other great thing about living rurally (and working from home) is that you can take your dog for walks in the pasture while wearing your fleece penguin "onesie" pajamas, and nobody sees or cares.

Another necessary part of the attire for dog walking in the snow, is a chicken hat.  If you don't have one, you should.  And you should buy one from my Etsy shop!  Unfortunately, I haven't had much time for crocheting lately, so you'll have to wait until I get some made before you can buy one!

So once you're all ready in your jammies and chicken hat, you take your dog for a walk, or in Jet's case, a run.  I really tried to keep up with him with the camera, but he's fast!  In any case, here's a video of Jet on his morning run.  Enjoy!

After a good run, a little energy food might be needed.  It's always good to lick out the empty peanut butter jar.  Nom nom nom.

And then, finally, we rest.  (well, one of us rests, and the other one starts her work for the day!)