Friday, August 26, 2011

Farm Story for August 27, 2011

Deb Potter, Merciful Hearts Farm ,

Lambing and kidding have been over for a few months and we had our last calf in June so I imagined we were pretty well done with babies until late next winter. It seems I was mistaken. Two babies have popped up in the last two weeks.

At the end of the day on a Thursday two weeks ago I walked into the building where many of the hens lay their eggs. I heard a tiny peeping sound. I knew immediately that somewhere there was a new chick. I searched and saw the mother before I spotted the chick. I knew the pretty white hen was the mother because the moment I stepped into the room she was in she flared out all of her feathers so that she would look big and intimidating to scare me off and protect her little one. She had only a single small brown, black and white chick. I have no idea where she had sat on her nest but there are so many places to hide around here that it is not uncommon to miss a broody hen setting on a nest at the top of the stacked hay bales or behind a building. This gal had apparently hatched the little one out somewhere else but had brought it back to her familiar place where she knew there would be a steady supply of food and water.

I was tickled to find it but doubted it would make it more than a few days. Our chickens truly are free range. Most thrive but there are perils, especially for a little chick. There are bigger and meaner chickens, water holes, dogs and even an occasional rat that visits in the night and would be just as content to haul off a live chick as a mouthful of spare chicken feed. I checked on the hen and chick one last time before dark and found them snuggled into one of the duck nesting boxes. We built the duck nesting boxes several years ago when we decided to raise ducks for their lovely eggs. The boxes sit on the ground and are 18” deep. They do make a nice place to hide in and this hen was doing just that.

The next morning the two were out making the rounds. I did see one near mishap when a big black hen jumped out of her nest box and landed on the chick. The chick rolled over in the dirt and mother hen raced at the offender, squawking and threatening with her wings. I love to watch a mother hen. She goes out of her way to scratch at the ground until a tasty bug or seed comes up. She talks to her chick the whole time, stepping back when something appears so that the chick can grab it. Should the chick wander far, she calls it back or races over, fluffs all of her feathers out and defends it from any real or imagined threats. This hen’s biggest problem seems to be the fact that her little one keeps getting behind a door that separates one room from the other in the laying house. She can see her chick through the screen but panics as it cannot reach her. The little chick bounces up and down on the other side of the door. I’ve concluded that chickens are fairly linear thinkers – If they can see a straight path to something it never dawns on them to go around the corner instead. More than once I have rescued the little chick before someone gets hurt. Even If the two were separated only briefly, there is still a big reunion with mother chatting away at her chick as it runs between her legs at least for the next minute or two.

I celebrated the chick’s one-week birthday and was pleased that it was still around. Just a few days later I found the hen and chick out in the sheep pasture. Gwen, the Anatolian Shepherd who is in charge of that yard, was sleeping in the back of the old barn. Baloo, the Pyrenees who climbs gates and goes in any pasture he wants, was sleeping in the stable. I was relieved that there were no nosy dogs to play with the chick as that could be bad news. I gently herded hen and chick back toward their usual quarters. The little chick celebrated its two-week birthday a few days ago. It is thriving, mother is fabulous and I am wasting plenty of time watching the two go about their day.

The second new baby arrived here on Saturday night. Sweet husband Al had gone out to do the final walk around before bedtime. He returned with something balled up in his hands. It was a small wet baby squirrel. He took it away from Allez, the Anatolian whose territory includes the woods and creek. She had been gently playing with it and had shown it to him when he came out to her pasture. It did not have a scratch on it but was almost drowned in slobber. It was also chilled. It had wrapped its tail all the way up over its head and had all of its legs folded as tightly as it could against its body. I dried it with a towel while Al went to retrieve a small cage from the garage. Once it was dried it still had very stiff fur from the residual dog spit but I did not want to traumatize it with a bath. We have done a fair bit of wildlife rehab over the years so still have necessary supplies. I located a small syringe with a soft tip or feeding and pulled out small clean towels. We checked the little guy for injury and dehydration and since he was fine and did not have an empty belly we put a heating pad under his cage and tucked him in for the night.

He was still alive the next morning so I took some powdered squirrel milk out of the freezer, mixed it up with water and cream and fed him a nice breakfast. He struggled as we held him, alternately licking at the tasty milk drops coming out of the syringe and turning from side to side to get out of our grip. He ate just a few small mouthfuls. We worked with the feeding process all day Sunday. By the evening he’d gotten the hang of it. He took a too-big sip once or twice and ended up blowing milk bubbles with his nose but never really choked.

By Monday he had the feeding down just fine, even holding the syringe with his front feet as he nurses. His routine now is to sleep for two or three hours, wake up, chirp loudly for someone to come feed him, play for a while, crawl under his towel and roll into a little ball for a nap and start the whole process over again. After checking his teeth and how well fur-covered he is, we determined that he is about six weeks old. That means, with luck, he should only need a few more weeks of nursing, some transition time to solid food and perhaps will be ready to release. Our biggest predicament will be to find a safe place to turn him loose. We are just too cat and dog intense here to assume he’d be safe living on our property. I guess life is never boring.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Farm Story for August 20, 2011

Deb Potter, Merciful Hearts Farm,

I have been flogged twice this week by a particular rooster. Fortunately, I had trimmed his spurs a while back so that he leaves a big bruise but does not puncture my skin anymore. It sure does hurt though. As I was going back through older market stories I came across this one about him. As I thought of his beginnings my anger toward him dissolved. I never imagined one of my regular market stories would save anyone’s life but thanks to this story our pushy rooster will keep his happy home. And I apologize to those of you who might remember this story from a few years ago.

This story started on a wet Saturday when we were due at Saturday Market. I drove through torrential rains on the interstate but tried to remain optimistic. As I exited the interstate, the rains slowed to a drizzle. I arrived at Market in a steady mist so decided just to unload my coolers of eggs and my tables. I left all of my wool products and soaps in the car thinking I would unload them closer to the Market start time. To make a long story short, as it got closer to eight o'clock the rains got heavier. The difficult decision was made to cancel Market for the day. Katy and I drove home and changed into dry clothing.

I decided to go about a normal day. Even though Al feeds the chickens when he gets up each morning, I make an early morning walk through to gather the duck eggs and to check on everyone. I waited until the showers let up a bit and headed out. It was just before ten o'clock. As I neared the chicken yard, I could see a wet lump in the mud at the end of the small pond. As I got closer, I realized it was a poor dead chicken that must have gotten bogged down while getting a drink in a heavy downpour. I could tell by its small size that it was one of the younger chickens that we'd started in July. When I got closer I realized that it was the little oddball chicken that the hatchery had added to my order as a bonus. This peculiar chicken was a white crested black Polish. Its feathers were black but it had a huge poufy mound of white feathers sprouting out of the top of its head and cascading down so that its eyes were almost covered. I had liked that little bird so was especially upset to see that was my dead bird.

As nasty as the weather was, I still couldn't leave that little dead body out in the mud. I decided to wade into the edge of the pond to retrieve it and move it to someplace a bit more dignified. As I took my first step down the muddy bank, my foot slid out from under me. I managed to keep from going all the way down to my knees by grabbing onto the fence near the edge of the pond. I was muddied but not badly so I steadied myself on my feet and reached for the body. It was about two thirds buried into the mud and every feather clung to it in odd directions, having been so completely soaked by the pounding rains. Its white crest was a dark clump of mud. I reached out and grabbed the edge of a wing so that I could pull it out of the mud. As I started to tug, I heard a little sighing sound. I took one muddy step closer so that I could get my hands around the bird's body and snatched it up. He tried to chirp. He could not open his eyes as they were plastered with mud. What little skin I could see through the mud coated feathers was a sickly blue white. But he seemed to be alive. I wrapped him up against my shirt and ran to the house with him.

I kicked my muddy shoes off at the downstairs door and raced my little messy bird to the kitchen sink. I began to run warm water over him. The first thing I did was wash out his eyes. He barely opened one when I was done but that did not discourage me. I washed and washed and washed some more. Every time I thought I was close to done, I was able to wash one more time to get more mud out of his feathers. I even washed between his little toes and up under his toenails. I hoped that the warm water was helping with his body temperature as it was so very low when I found him. Color was not returning to his skin but at least with the mud gone I really could see his skin. I even pried open his little beak, held his head sideways under the faucet and rinsed gritty mud out of his mouth. I wrapped him in a towel and held him up only to have his head flop heavily to the side. That was not a very good sign. But he did open an eye briefly for me.

I found Katy's blow dryer, set it on low and sat on the couch drying the little guy for half an hour. I would hold him at different angles so that his feathers blew up and away from his skin as I did not want any water trapped under them. His only response was to squeeze his eyes shut even tighter as the warm air hit the white feathers on top of his head. Once he was dry I put another small towel around him and set him on a heating pad while I mixed Gatorade. I was able to get him to take Gatorade from a syringe so got a fair bit into him and then just left him on the heating pad to recover. Every time I checked on him I gave him another shot of Gatorade. He was beginning to open his eyes when I lifted him for his drink. I did not know what to expect but it was a nasty rainy day outside so I had all the time I needed inside for this little project.

By the end of the day the little fellow was standing up. He did not walk far but did eat at a bit of feed that Al had brought in from the stable. By Sunday morning he definitely looked like he was planning to live. The house cats spent plenty of time trying to peek under the door to see what I had. I kept him safely locked up in my bathroom until Monday when I returned him to the chicken yard.

I have just a few chickens that have names as there are just too many to keep up with but this little fellow definitely deserved a name and it seemed appropriate for my Crested Polish chicken to have a traditional Polish name. Katy asked a European friend for suggestions. There was only one suggested name that I could pronounce, let alone remember and that was Pavl. I was told it is the Polish equivalent of Paul. So our little fellow became Pavl. Little Pavl was one lucky bird. And as much as I hated that Market was canceled, I believe his luck would have run out in that pond had I been delayed a few more hours.

I did corner Pavl after his latest attack. I turned him over, held him to the ground and scolded him. When I let him up he scurried away. I hope he got the message that I am still in charge around here as I don’t like having to watch my back every time I pass him.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Farm Story for August 13, 2011

Deb Potter, Merciful Hearts Farm ,

This has been a noisy week. I had determined to get lots of dyeing done so that I’ll have a good yarn inventory for Saturday Market as well as a nice supply to get me through the Indie Craft Parade which is coming up here in Greenville in September. Last year I was juried into the Indie even and it was quite a big deal. I was able to sell enough in just a day and a half to pay for much of the winter’s hay. That is why I was tickled to get in again this year and to know that they’ve extended the event for another day. Another day means the chance of more sales but it also means I have to have plenty to sell. Everything that I do is time consuming which is why Saturday Market works so well. I can have a good day of sales on Saturday but then have the week to dye, felt, spin and knit for another Saturday. That will not be the case with the Indie Craft Parade which is now less than a month away. So this sense of urgency explains my noisy week.

I do my dyeing outside in a stall in our stable. I can keep all of my supplies safe and have electricity and water. The dye fumes do not stink up the house and I have no problem keeping my dye pots and vats separated from my kitchenware. It is also pleasant to listen to our many creatures going about their daily routines as I work. Unfortunately, some of the creatures feel they need to be a part of all that I do. That is especially the case with a handful of sheep who think that they must go in and out of the stable I do. And once they are in the stable they try to force their way into my dyeing stall as they are convinced there are wonderful things in there that they need. Their pushiness and nosiness slows me down so I decided to be sure they were all in a pasture rather than the barnyard before I began this latest marathon dyeing session. Al scattered grain and pulled everyone into pastures. There are a few lambs who can still slip through the slats of the gate but most prefer to stay with their mothers so that is a small problem. Little Jagger, however, sees things differently.

Jagger is a little ram lamb who was born this spring to Jezebelle, one of our oldest Shetland ewes. He has a Tunis daddy because he is that pretty red color but has also sprouted little Shetland ram horns. Because of Jezebelle’s age, we decided to supplement her nursing with a daily bottle for her little lamb. He is quite content to spend time in the stable with or without his mother and has also figured out that he can get an extra scoop of grain if he’s inside getting under my feet and I decide to yank a few spare babies into a stall by luring them with sweet feed dumped on the old church pew we keep in the first stall. Yes, it is an old oak church pew from St. Andrew’s in Jacksonville, Florida. We used to use it as a bench outside the stable and then pulled it inside to stack feed on. When we got better racking to stack the feed on we began to use the pew as a bit of a feed trough and goat kid playground.

Well, Jezebelle has been corralled in the pasture while Jagger slips in and out. Jezebelle is one of Eric’s original three Shetland ewes. He spelled her name with “belle” rather than “bel” since she is a Southern sheep. She has lived up to her Southern Belle name and is also the loudest and most persistent gal on the farm. She has a bleat that I can hear inside of the house. She will pursue us, often tapping at us with her front foreleg when she feels she needs special attention. And Jezebelle always feels she needs special attention. She started out as a pitch black ewe lamb and with age her fiber has lightened and grayed but nothing about her personality has mellowed. She knows she is entitled to be in the stable so whenever she has seen me go into it this week she has bawled even louder. Rather than just enjoying the sound of chickens working outside the stable as I paint my dyes on my wool, I’ve had to try to ignore her angry noises. She gets even madder when she realizes that little Jagger has followed me into the stable. As I walk to and from the stable she runs along the fence line at the edge of the barnyard so that she can be even closer to me as she fusses. I know there is really nothing wrong with her so have gritted my teeth and ignored her all week as I’ve toted buckets of wetted wool. A few times I gently dropped her lamb over the fence to her hoping that would calm her. She briefly lets him nurse and then goes right back to her tirade. She has enormous black eyes that have stared hatefully at me. She has also trotted along beside me when I am in her pasture, swatting me with that front foot and then trying to force her way through the gate the instant I lift the chain. A few times I’ve cut through the back of the old barn rather than push and argue at the gate. It has been a trying week for the both of us.

Finally on Friday I decided that I had done enough dyeing and let Jezebelle back into the barnyard. She looked at me as if nothing had ever happened. Jagger ran up for a quick peek at mama’s udder and then the two of them walked over to the stable door. Jezebelle stared back at me and started that horrific bleating again, quite confident that she could now convince me to let her in the stable. I crumbled. I opened the stable door, let the two of them escort me to the stall where most of the feed is stored and got them a big scoop of sweet feed that I spread out across the milk stand for them to enjoy. I did not hear a sound out of them as I walked back to the house.

I really do feel like I got some good fiber work done this week. I spent some time at the spinning wheel but most of my work was on the other yarns I sell. Every hand painted skein that I dye has to be wound into a giant loop held together with lots of ties so that it doesn’t tangle into a mess. It is soaked in a bucket of warm soapy water and then laid out on cellophane on an eight foot long table. My dyes are mixed as I need them and then painted and drizzled onto the wet skein of yarn. The skein is wrapped in the cellophane and placed in a steamer for about an hour. It is funny to peek in on the covered steamer near the end of the process as steam builds inside the packet and blows the packet up into what seems to be a colorful living blob of a creature. Once the steaming is done the skein is cooled, unwrapped, rinsed a few times, wuzzed and hung to dry. “Wuzzing” is the term for holding a wet skein firmly and then flinging it around so that much of the water flies out. I love to do that over the concrete driveway and watch the pretty patterns that the water forms as it sprays out. A dried skein must be untied, rewound in a form that I can measure the yarn, retied and then tagged for market. It is always a good feeling to grab an armload of finished yarns and load them up the night before market. It is an even better feeling to take the money I’ve earned by selling them at market and hand it to the hay man, knowing we are able to put away lush feed to hold them through the coming fall and winter.

And here is a picture of Jezebelle and little Jagger on the day he was born:

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