Thursday, June 2, 2011

Farm Story for June 4, 2011

A Farm Story for June 4, 2011
Deb Potter, Merciful Hearts Farm

Although we do make an effort to observe a quiet Sunday there are times when things just come up on the farm. This last Sunday we added an amusing bit of work to our day of rest. Our friend, Jeff, who is the farmer behind Iszy’s Heirlooms at Saturday Market, texted to ask if we’d like a little animal food. He had mentioned to me on Saturday that the excessive heat would be making his romaine and Chinese cabbage bitter. He wanted to know if we’d like to come get it for the livestock. Since we work hard to give everyone a little variety in their diet we took Jeff up on his offer.

We loaded up a wheelbarrow, work gloves and lots of ice water. Jeff had mentioned that he had a fair bit to pull out so we came prepared. There were two long rows. I twisted the heads off at ground level and Al followed behind to load them in the wheelbarrow and then cart them back to the pick up. In a very short time we had all the lovely greens cleaned up. Although we didn’t keep an exact count there were about 150 heads which filled the entire bed of the truck. We tarped them so as not to leave any along the highway on our trip home.

We were greeted by the oxen who just have a sense when we are pulling into the driveway with something edible. Zeb and Gates are in a front pasture and simply dance whenever we pull in with a new load of hay, culls from Jeff’s or any other treats. These same steers couldn’t care less when I come and go throughout the week but when I return from Saturday Market they watch closely to see if I pull on of the cull buckets from the back of my car. They are especially enthusiastic during tomato season as Jeff culls his tomatoes to very high standards, often leaving us with a few nice big bucket loads of juicy treats. The oxen are spoiled as they usually get the first serving of any goodies we bring home to the farm. This time they got an entire wheelbarrow load of cabbage.

The geese got some romaine. They are a trio of Pilgrim geese, a heritage breed, who are so particular when it comes to food. They will eat romaine but not cabbage or collards. They honked and pranced around as they saw me coming with three gigantic heads of lettuce. They tore them to shreds and devoured them. They always have grain available and plenty of other good food but this was special.

Throughout the rest of the afternoon we distributed seven wheelbarrow loads to the other creatures around the farm. By evening the only signs of their feast were a few dirty roots in the pasture and lots of creatures contentedly chewing cud.

I was expecting a chicken delivery this week. When I’d placed my order several months ago I wasn’t thinking about this being a holiday weekend. Our day-old birds are shipped from Iowa and usually arrive on either Monday or Tuesday morning to our local Pelzer post office. I get a six a.m. phone call telling me to come to the back door to retrieve my birds. Obviously, I did not get a Monday call as the post office was closed. I assumed I’d get the call on Tuesday morning but Tuesday morning came and went. I was out gathering eggs Tuesday afternoon when my cell phone rang. It was someone at the postal distribution center in Greenville. He told me he had my birds and they would be delivered to Pelzer the next day but they’d arrived at Columbia that morning so he thought I might want to drive to Greenville to get them rather than let them sit in their shipping box for another day. I called my sweet husband who works in Greenville. He swung by and retrieved them at the end of his work day.

Since Tuesday was one of our ridiculously hot days, I was not worried about the birds maintaining temperature once they were out of the air conditioned postal facility. They require temperatures of 90 to 100 degrees for their first week of life which is why we hang heat lamps above the birds. We unloaded the little gals into their brooder box, not bothering to turn on the heat lamps as it was almost nearly 100 in the barn. We immediately gave them water and chick starter feed. I had ordered 100 pullets (female birds) so we counted them out as we unloaded them from the shipping box. We had 102 live birds and one poor little girl dead in the corner of the box. Although a dead bird always makes me sad, it also amazes me that the tiny birds can routinely survive their air, truck and car trip from half way across the country. In no time these new gals were noisily and busily checking out their new home. At nightfall we plugged in the heat lamps and left them to themselves as they were huddling down in small groups and going to sleep for the night. So far they are doing just fine. I think they are enjoying the high temperatures more than anyone else on the farm this week and I don’t mind not having to have the heat lamps on all day long.

The birds are in the stable which is also where I have a stall set up as my dyeing studio. I have been very busy this week dyeing lots of wool and new yarns for Market so I’ve spent lots of time checking up on the little ones. I love to hear their constant baby noises as I work. They have three waterers which I clean often. We’ve bedded them with oat hay which they manage to continually kick into the water as they are scratching around looking for interesting things to eat. They have starter feed in feeders but since their instinct is just to search everywhere I also just scatter some feed in the hay. It is funny to watch a two day old working so diligently to feed itself. They are independent little ladies as long as I do my job and keep them fed, watered, warm and dry.

The heat has been fatiguing. I am spending extra time constantly checking water troughs around the whole farm. We have some automatic waterers but in intense heat I don’t fully rely on them, preferring to keep the water all the way to the top of each trough so that even the shortest or smallest animal can easily reach a drink. I fear the laying hens may go into an early molt and quit laying as well because of it. We have fans and misters set up in the areas where they congregate but they still lay sprawled across the ground looking pitiful. We have plenty of laying boxes but some gals just insist on doubling up and setting two to a box. Often both are panting, breathing rapidly with their beaks wide open. On a normal day I ignore them but on hot days like these I walk around plucking the spare gals out of the boxes. When I set them on the ground they usually just shake, rearrange their feathers and walk away as if nothing had happened. I guess they don’t realize I’m spending a lot of time doing silly little things like this to keep them comfortable and healthy.

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