Friday, October 28, 2011

Farm Story for October 22, 2011

Deb Potter, Merciful Hearts Farm,

It is hard to believe that our terribly hot summer has come to an end. We had gotten into the routine of watching the livestock lay in the shade while we scurried around to keep water troughs full. We also fed a lot of hay as the drought kept our regular grass from growing. Now it is time to begin thinking about our winter routine. And a big part of that winter routine is also feeding hay. We are very blessed to have a few good hay men who work with us to guarantee that we have hay available. As we’ve been using square bales this year we’ve stored most of our hay in the old barn. The old barn was on the property when we moved here thirteen years ago. There was also a three sided shed in the pasture we use for the donkeys as well as a nice Mennonite-built stable with five big stalls and concrete walkways. We appreciate all of the buildings but the old barn has certainly become a special place since we’ve been keeping it stacked full of hay.

We have mostly used the stable when we needed to house livestock. The old barn does not have a true foundation so that there is a gap between the bottom of the walls and the ground around it. That gap is great for letting a nice breeze through on a warm day but sure lets the cold air in on a nippy day. At lambing season that can be a problem as the tiny lambs nap in the chilly breeze. They are also subject to unwanted visitors. There is no point in trying to keep chickens out. They either wander under the barn walls or hop through the big opening above the half door at the back of the barn. We do not allow the chickens around the newly born lambs as the chickens peck at them, finding the dangling pink umbilical cord a tempting target. Some of the older sheep mothers will stomp and push at the chickens but most do not. We learned during our very first lambing season that it is better to double up ewes and lambs in the stable than to let the lambs risk a chicken attack. Although we’ll occasionally lock up a cow or adult goat temporarily, the old barn is mostly storage.

The dogs have dug out ruts to make it easier for them to slip in and out. Unfortunately the dogs have dug some holes right at the base of two of the doors so that we have to step carefully in and out so as not to twist our ankles. The pits are even more challenging when we cannot see where we are walking because we are carrying big bales of hay in to stack. I tend to be careful the first dozen or so times through the door and then my mind wanders and I trip in the hole, usually falling forward onto the bale I am trying to carry. I am alert for most of the rest of the unloading after a good scare.

Since the first hay cutting in spring we’ve kept the old barn almost totally full of hay. We do have one set of chicken nesting boxes in the old barn where I gather eggs daily but the hens have also gone about making plenty of new nests in the hay. I have found a few and check them regularly for eggs but whenever we are climbing up high to move hay and find eggs we feed them out to the dogs. The enormous Anatolian Shepherds love to climb the hay bales in search of their own eggs. They get an extra treat when they can corner a hen up on the bales. She will scream and spread her wings before jumping down in a cloud of hay dust and feathers. The dogs will jump off of the top of the bales trying to snag the hen in the air. The hen rushes out under the gap at the floor and is gone while the dogs go back to exploring. On a few occasions I’ve entered the barn to find a tumbled down mess of a dozen bales or so. The dogs are large enough to throw a stack of bales off balance and then ride the crashing pile to the floor. We have only had one fatality from these mishaps. I found a dead chicken under a bale pile. Although there is a slim chance it died from natural causes, my best guess would be that it was a victim of many eighty pound hay bales tumbling down.

I like to keep a water bucket filled in the old barn just in case a dog or goat spends much time inside. The scattered falling hay recently turned our bucket into a nice rat trap. The bucket ended up right next to a few bales. Some of the hay scattered from the bales ended up floating in the water bucket. I imagine the rats who had been busy eating the remaining oats out of the oat hay couldn’t tell the difference between the bales they were scurrying across and the hay floating on the bucket. One morning we found five rats drowned in the water bucket. We cleaned the bucket and disposed of the rats but right before bedtime I scattered some new hay in the water. There were no animals inside who needed to drink from the bucket. The next morning there were three more dead rats. I tried again the next night but did not catch any more rats. I doubt the rats wised up so prefer to think we put a good dent in our rodent population.

Just two weeks ago I was thrilled to find a big hunk of shed off snake skin next to the water bucket. The size of the piece of discarded skin that I found made me believe we have at least one five foot long black rat snake living in the old barn. I am thrilled! We much prefer the snakes to help control rodents rather than to have to put out traps (other than my bucket, of course) or poisons.

Right now the stable is a safe home to twenty two new layers. A friend wanted to order some chickens but only wanted a handful of them. The standard chicken order for newly-hatched chicks that will need to be shipped is twenty five. The fellow ordered Buff Orpingtons but only wanted a few so we bought the remainder once they were two weeks old. The pretty yellow birds now have their own stall in the stable where they scratch in the dirt and practice perching on a few cement blocks piled in the corners. These past few nights they have all appreciated the heat lamps that hang in the center of the stall. We had to move a few hens who had slipped into the stable out because we found that they had flown into the chick stall and were making trouble. There were two young hens who were taking turns holding the little ones hostage while the hens ate their feed and drank at their waterer. The big hens had plenty of their own food and water but I believe they were enjoying being bullies. I noticed one of the hens pecking the little ones on the tops of their heads every time they tried to leave the corner. Those two were swiftly removed from the stable. I imagine they are now picking on someone their own size in the old barn.

Find us on FaceBook – just search Merciful Hearts Farm!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Farm Story for October 8, 2011

Deb Potter, Merciful Hearts Farm ,

Pavl, our white crested black Polish rooster, is getting in trouble again. He seems to have a death wish. In the past I’ve told you about his near drowning and other run-ins with most everything on the farm including me. This week he has been at it again. He has his own little harem in the stable. We had to move him into the stable because the other chickens pull the feathers out of his crest which leaves him with a bloody bare head. We’ve given him an entire stall which is quite large and has a lovely window. He has the company of a few hens and three ducks that have been injured or also get picked on. They are a ragged little bunch but are safe and well tended now. Pavl does not always stay in his stall as he loves to fly up into the stable rafters and then jump down into other stalls or into the main section of the stable. He is ordinarily a happy little man in his own world.

I am accustomed to seeing Pavl sitting up on his windowsill and crowing in the morning or just watching the outside world in the afternoon. He usually peeks for a while and then jumps back into his stall but this week I realized that he has decided to start exploring. I don’t know how long this has been going on but in the past whenever Pavl has gone on an adventure it has resulted in a fight with another rooster, a near escape from a dog or some other episode that has ended in a rescue.

On Monday I went into his stall to feed and water everyone. I always glance to see where Pavl is before I step into the stall as there have been plenty of times when he has been in a foul mood and has flogged me with his huge spurs as I’ve stepped in. This time I did not see him so I glanced up at the rafters to see if he was hanging out overhead. He was not there. He was also not in any of the adjoining stalls. I had not seen him as I walked back to the stable. The dogs walked with me and they did not look either startled to notice him or guilty for perhaps having attacked him.

I walked outside to start my hunt. The first thing I came across was a long gently curved shiny black rooster tail feather. Since there was only one feather I knew it was not necessary to panic. When a dog does grab a chicken there is a big pile of various-sized feathers left behind as the bird pulled away. I continued to search. I found no more feathers but I also did not find Pavl. Sadie, one of the Anatolian Shepherds, was walking with me. She was a few feet ahead of me when she looked up and began to trot in the silly not-quite-a-puppy-anymore lope that indicates silly enthusiasm. Sadie trotted over to Pavl who was huddled tightly in a corner where two sets of pasture fencing came together. He was in a little bit of a dip so I had not noticed him. Sadie distracted him while I swooped in to grab him up. He slipped past both of us. Sadie now realized that we had a chase and became even more excited. I did not need her help anymore so grabbed her by the color and led her to the tractor shed where I could lock her up. She whined as I walked away to track down Pavl once again.

He was in the middle of the barnyard. I tried to calmly walk him into a corner again but he refused to play, weaving back and forth but staying out in the open. I have said before that a chicken has a brain about the size of my thumbnail but it is still enough brain to make a successful chicken. This successful chicken would not be caught if he couldn’t be cornered. And I’ve got plenty of proof that it is not easy to corner any creature when I am working alone. It was obvious that I did not need to waste any more time trying to corner Pavl. I did realize that he was no longer happy outside and was looking for a place to go that was not a corner. I was able to walk toward him and gently guide him back toward his window. He would not jump in let alone look up toward it. He was too busy keeping an eye on me. I realized he did want to go back in but was in too big of a panic to figure out how.

The stable has a large door on each end. One of the doors had a few goats sleeping in front of it so I decided to walk Pavl around toward the other door. When I had him almost there I ran ahead of him and flung the door wide open. It took a few more loops around the barnyard before I was able to maneuver him toward the open door. Just as I realized that the goats were up and heading our way, Pavl made a run for the door. I ran up and slammed the door behind him just barely beating the herd of goats who were hoping to force their way in for a quick rampage through the things they aren’t supposed to climb on in the stable. I ran around to the other door, slid in the stable and opened the door to Pavl’s stall. He took his time strutting in to rejoin his harem. I have no idea how many more times Pavl has gone off on a toot this week. I did notice that he is down to a single long tail feather so it is a pretty good bet that while outside one of the dogs has at least given him a good chase or he has tangled with another rooster.

I probably only lost fifteen minutes or so chasing Pavl around the barnyard but it is amazing how many of these little episodes in a week add up. It is rare that I walk out to gather eggs, simply gather eggs and then return to the house without stopping to do something else.

Little Joey, the stray cat that the children brought home from Apple Island about eight years ago, has decided that he wants to live in the stable. Last winter he had taken to following me out there as I made my late afternoon trip to gather eggs and to feed the dogs. A few days a week he would follow me almost all the way to the door than take a quick turn, jump through Pavl’s open window and meet me at the stable door as I opened it. I often add a bit of canned dog food to the dogs’ dry food and Joey discovered that if he was there as I opened the can I would let him lick at it as I scooped out the dry food. I then got soft hearted and began bringing an occasional can of cat food along. I would lock him in the stall where I do my dyeing and let him have his can there so that the dogs or chickens would not bother him. Now he has moved into the stable almost full time and I feed him a can of cat food there every afternoon. He has found lots of nice places to snuggle up and nap and seems to enjoy stalking the chickens but never risking a chase. Unfortunately, Joey has started walking on my table as I paint my dyes on the wool. He has overturned a few dye jars and tangled plenty of cellophane. I had to lock him in the tack room to do this week’s dyeing after trying just to push him out of my way. Just another little bit of time that I’ll never recapture but all our animal friends are just so amusing. I am beginning to think it is time to put a sturdy screen in Pavl’s window though!