A Farm Story for July 9, 2011
Deb Potter, Merciful Hearts Farm
email@example.com , mercifulheartsfarm.blogspot.com
We irrigate our pastures and provide water to the barns from our spring-fed creek that runs at the back of the property down in the woods. That has worked nicely over the last few years, especially to provide enough water during the droughty summers to keep us from losing our pasture grass all together. We rotate our animals to cut down on the stress on the pastures but a dry summer has the potential to completely kill a pasture.
Sunday started out with a pleasant morning in church and a little bit of knitting in the afternoon. I went out in the late afternoon to feed the pasture dogs and check the month-old chicks that we are raising out to add to the laying flock. When I turned the faucet to water the birds absolutely nothing happened. My sweet husband, Al, was out feeding hay to the sheep so I asked him about it. We had had some thunderstorms earlier so he checked the breakers on the chance wed had a lightning strike. One of the breakers was tripped so he reset it and then decided to walk down in the woods to check the pump. I assumed the water would be running shortly. He returned rolling his eyes.
Micah, our Dexter bull, is about 12 years old. He frequently lives by himself in the largest pasture which takes in the woods and the creek. He goes through fits, bawling at the nearby cows, snorting and pawing at the ground. Not long ago I saw great clouds of what I believed to be smoke rolling out from behind the stable. I raced out fearing something was on fire but soon realized it was just Micah kicking up a dust storm on a very dry day as he pined for the nearby gals. He is a sturdy fellow who can create quite a show when he wants to. Well, Micah had apparently been acting a fool down near the creek on Sunday.
The electrical line to the pump is buried all the way to a tree next to the creek. There is conduit running four feet up the tree trunk to a shut off switch and then down the tree trunk to the pump. It seems Micah managed to hook the conduit with his horns and tear it from the tree trunk, breaking the electrical line in the process. Al repaired the electrical line Sunday evening. He found that his repair did not fix the problem. He switched the water source for the barns over to house water and decided to tackle the problem again on Monday. I watered the chickens and didnt give it a lot more thought.
On Monday Al tightened up the wires that were connected to the pump and checked a few more things. He walked up the hill to the stable, turned the water back to the pump and walked down the hill again to flip the pump back on. He returned from this trip announcing that he had to make a trip to the hardware store. When he had turned the pump back on it worked but it was also shooting water up from a small part that had broken off the side of the pump. On closer examination, it appears that not only had Micah tried to rip the conduit off the side of the tree but he had also torn down a huge poison ivy vine that was wrapped around a dead branch farther up the tree. The dead branch fell, whacked the side of the pump and bounced up at the edge of the creek where Al had really not noticed it as he was focused originally on the electrical problem. Micah continued his little fit on Monday, pushing on the back gate so intensely that he broke the strap that holds the gate shut. He is now visiting with his latest girlfriend. The gate is repaired now and well move him out in a few days when he decides hed again prefer to be a bachelor in the woods. Oh, Micah.
The chicks that came in the mail a month ago are really growing. The little gals are enjoying plenty of feed and water and have quickly learned to pick through the waste hay that I rake up and pitch in for them to explore. They are quick to pick off the stray bug who rides in with the hay. The high temperatures weve been having meant that we were able to turn their heat lamps off during the daytime by the time they were a week old. They have gone from little fluff balls to fully feathered birds who are now flying to higher and higher perches in the big stall where they currently live. In another week well divide them into two stalls rather than one so that they have more room to roam.
At the beginning of August we will move them outside with the other birds. Our birds truly are free range. People who buy our eggs at Saturday Market often ask what I mean when I say our eggs are produced by free range birds. I hate the games some folks play with definitions. Once we move the young ones out of the stable they have about 13 acres to roam around on. Most of the birds stay up near the old barn or the chicken yard working through the grass as well as the piles of hay and manure in the pastures. The chicken yard is a very large area with a few trees, a small pond and two buildings full of nesting boxes. The area is fenced to keep the goats, sheep and livestock guardian dogs out but there are chicken-sized holes in many places along the bottom of the fencing so that the birds can come and go as they please. We feed the birds in this area so that the sheep and goats dont eat their feed. Although they love the grain we feed, the goats are especially attracted to all the fresh goodies we bring from the Hyatts prep kitchen. Our chickens get lots of nice goodies from the Hyatt like potato and carrot peels, lettuce leaves, fruit peels and wilted greens. I do share things like the big broccoli stems with the goats and cattle but the bulk of the fresh goodies go to help add variety to our chickens diet. We also prefer they lay their eggs in the many nesting boxes here as the dogs snack on any eggs they find outside of the fenced area. Most of our dogs eat the egg shell after they carefully nibble a hole in it and suck out the tasty middle but I sometimes find a half-eaten shell, evidence that one of the dogs found an egg under a tree or on a hay bale in the tractor shed before I did.
I grew up with free range chickens before the term was even coined. There are certainly down sides to this way of raising birds. We are fortunate that our livestock guardian dogs keep an eye out for the chickens but we do lose an occasional bird to a raccoon in the woods or to the pair of hawks that nest annually in a nearby tall pine and use our flock to train their young to hunt. I am also quite sure that we do not find every egg laid on the property. Whenever I find a new to me nesting spot I give those eggs to the dogs and begin checking that spot again the next day to be sure the eggs are fresh. I do love the fact that I can look out any window or walk most anywhere on the property and see a hen cheerfully going about her day scratching for food, bathing in the dust or even curled up napping with a sheep or goat.
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