Last year we found out, almost all the way through our sheep breeding season, that our breeding ram, MacDougal, was infertile. At the time, we rushed to get another ram in to try to breed the ewes before they went out of season. Nilsson was brought in, and seemed to get the job done, but this spring proved that he did not get even one ewe pregnant. Our vet said that infertile rams are very rare, he has only seen 2 in his 20+ year career as a vet, and he also raises sheep himself. So he said it was more likely that Nilsson got the ewes too late in the season.
We decided that we wanted to test the situation out, without risking not having any lambs for another season. So Nilsson was given first chance at two of our ewes. One ewe is proven, one is unproven. They have been living with him for over a month and we have not seen any interest or breeding from him at all. Looks like he is, indeed, infertile. Two rams in a row!? Seems to be pretty statistically unlikely. They are different breeds from completely different farms in different states. But, it looks to be true.
So that pretty much dashes our hopes of raising purebred Bond sheep, since the availability of them in America is down to just a few breeding-age animals left at this point. We are pretty desperate to get our Bond ewe, Tilly, pregnant this year as she is unproven and getting older. It gets harder and risky-er to breed a ewe for her first lambing the older she gets. I guess she will have to be cross-bred. But that is OK too, as we have had some amazing lambs with incredible fleece result from crossing the finewool breeds to the longwools and we will be crossing her with Wallace, our BFL.
So now that we know that Nilsson is not going to do his job, we set up the breeding pens for the season. Wallace, our BFL ram, has a group of wool ewes and one dairy ewe. Orville, our dairy ram, has a group of dairy ewes and one wool/dairy cross ewe. Let the breeding season begin!
We don’t have television. We have a running joke that the farm animals give us plenty of things to watch and enjoy. Each time we add a new type of livestock, we say “we got a new TV channel!” because we find ourselves constantly wanting to watch them and their antics. It is fun to see how different each type of animal is. Well, this week, with the guinea hens now free-ranging, we have added a new TV channel to the farm. Guinea TV. We are often found plastered to the front windows watching the guineas fight over a lubber, or scratching and dust bathing.
This is our first time raising Guinea fowl. We are raising them to help with bug control and snake patrol. We did not expect to get them as soon as we did, and were planning to wait, but things happened that led us to getting the keets in the middle of our crazy just-moved-to-a-new-farm-summer. We have been attempting to learn what we can about them along the way, squeezing in learning and research as we go. Due to all this, our plans for them have changed about ten times.
As with pretty much any livestock, opinions on the best way to raise them vary widely and often disagree with each other. As of last week, we had planned to keep them in the coop, with a fenced exterior pen for awhile to help them get accustomed to their coop and in hopes they would come home to roost each night. But after doing some more reading, and assessing our time constraints and the cost it would be to build them a temporary exterior pen, we decided to just go for it and let them free range right from their house. Everyone said that you should let them out a couple hours before nightfall the first time so they didn’t wander too far and that would increase your chances of them staying close to home. The question of whether they would choose to use their house to roost at night was anyone’s guess, as, apparently, guineas are known for just heading out and deciding they don’t want their house and they will find a new place to roost and live.
Day 1: We opened their little door at 5pm, 2 hours before sunset. By sunset, they still hadn’t even stuck their little heads out the door. They were cowering on the opposite side of the coop from the door as if the door was dangerous. Sigh.
Day 2: We opened their little door at 3pm. Giving a couple extra hours before sunset so they would hopefully get curious enough to come out. Nope. By sunset, they still were in there, cowering and afraid. At this point I worried maybe keeping them inside for the first 10 weeks of their life had somehow ruined them for living out in nature as intended. Sigh.
Day 3: We decided to open the little door at morning barn chore time, giving them all day to hopefully be curious. Again, they cowered in the corner. We hadn’t told Braveheart the plan and so he went into their house to do their morning water and food. Apparently, fear of humans trumps fear of tiny door in the wall, and they all came rushing out. Once outside, they realized that they were now outdoors and were more scared than ever. They stretched their necks to look back at their little door and into their house, but were so scared that Braveheart might still be in there that they wouldn’t even get closer to it than a few feet. Oh, well, at least now they were outdoors. They started to eat bugs and scratch and occasionally would send up the alarm at seemingly nothing. They learned the beauty of dust bathing. They stayed together as a tight group and didn’t go more than 10 feet from the poultry barn all day, working their way slowly farther and farther around it until they had gone all the way around it. But they continued to avoid their little door. This posed a problem…their water was in their house. There was nowhere else to get water and they refused to go in. We hoped they would go in as night fell and hopefully drinking just once for the day would be enough.
Dark descended and they were not even considering going in. But they were still sticking very close to the poultry barn area. We put a flashlight in their house, hoping if it was lit up in there and they could see if was safe they would go in. Nope. Finally, we decided to try to gently herd and coax them in. Well…herding guineas is definitely harder than herding cats. But do you know what is even harder than herding guineas? Herding just ONE guinea hen. Yup, we finally got the whole group to go in, except one. And once that one was alone she did not decide that going in the door with her friends was the safest option…instead she decided the world was coming to an end and she needed to just freak out and run hither and yon in the dark. Sigh. How do these things survive in the wild? So we gently herded her and coaxed her, and it took forever, but she finally went inside. At least they were all indoors, with the water, and safe for the night. We would just have to see what the next day would bring.
Day 4: We had Braveheart do food and water BEFORE the door was opened so that they could leave of their own accord, in hopes that then they would not view it as an unsafe place. It worked! They left on their own, and went back in several times throughout the day to drink. They slowly expanded how far they were venturing out from the poultry barn, getting farther and farther away, but returning often. They were eating tons of bugs. It was awesome. The question went back to…will they put themselves to bed, or decide that a tree or roof is a better place to be? The answer was…neither. They huddled near their little door as darkness fell, but wouldn’t go in. We had installed a light in there, so it couldn’t be that they didn’t like the dark. But still, they just huddled. So we did the gently herding and got them all in.
The same thing repeated a few days in a row…and then, last night, they put themselves to bed! Success!!!
The problem we keep having with them now, however, is that they have figured out how to fly into the chicken pen, but then can’t get out. They seem to think that the compost in the chicken pen is somehow superior to the huge pile of compost they have access to about 50 yards from their front door. So each day one or two get into the chicken pen and then can’t get out. It wouldn’t be a big issue except we haven’t had time to build the door for humans to get into the chicken pen. Which means as night falls and they still are stuck in there we have to climb a ladder up and then down to get into that pen. Sigh.
If you look on the mid-left side of the photo you can see the huge compost heap in the distance. And yet we have two guineas in with the chickens on their little heap of compost, and the rest of the guineas running around the outside edge trying to figure out how to get in. I guess the saying stands…the compost (grass) is always better (greener) on the other side of the fence.
Overall, we are very pleased with the guinea fowl experience thus far, and look forward to more guinea fowl TV.
I got my quilt “sandwich” pinned together and trimmed the edges.
But I quickly found that my antique treadle machine did not like to work with all the layers. The feed dogs are small and off to one side and getting it moved through easily without puckering the fabric was very challenging. I decided to settle with having pieced it completely on the treadle machine and got out my electric machine and walking foot and have been busy quilting it. Hopefully, I will finish it this week!
This week we were very blessed to be the receivers of an entire flatbed full of building supplies. An older gentleman was cleaning out a shed and said that anyone who could come load on their own and was willing to take everything, not just the parts they wanted, could have it for free. We jumped on the opportunity and ended up with a lot of supplies in very good condition. It included enough metal roofing to finish up the poultry barn roof – which we have been praying for. So that was exciting. And the rest of the stuff is all useful and in good condition as well. Nothing will go to waste as we continue to build our new farm. What a blessing!
We continue to recover from our bout of illness in the family. For the most part it was a routine week of school, work, and homestead. Routine is always nice.
This week we pulled off the big poultry juggling act and got all the poultry into their winter housing. We finished the chicken housing out at the poultry barn and moved the standard chickens from the coop out there. Then we moved the ducks out of the moveable tractors into what used to be the chicken coop and is now the duck house. Moving those Muscovies is no joke – there was blood loss by every helper. We even had long sleeves and gloves on and we still all lost at least a little blood. Those claws…whew. But it is done now and we are glad. The Welsh Harlequin hens are going to take some time to integrate with the whole group – but at least when they were in their tractors we had them butted up against each other so they all have interacted through the wire and are not complete strangers.
It also meant that we were able to dump the first load of compost into the chicken pen. We are happy to get our chickens back to work on making compost for us. We haven’t been able to do that since we moved to the new farm. As soon as we dumped it they immediately ran over and went to town scratching through it. They spent the rest of the afternoon and evening working on it. We need to add a lot more for them to work on. But this is a start.
That leaves just one more thing to accomplish before the cold really hits as far as livestock housing is concerned, we need to get the exterior pen finished for the guineas so they can go outdoors. They are still living inside their coop only. We plan to free-range them at some point, but in order to get them accustomed to “home” being their coop so that they will come back to roost at night and stay close around our property, we have decided to give them a temporary exterior pen for the time being and we will let them free-range at some point in the future – probably next spring.
There is also a ton of little details that need dealing with on both the poultry barn and the duck housing – wire buried along the exterior pens, trim work on the buildings, and a complete revamp of the duck exterior pen. But all those things can wait, at least now they are all safe and can live in their new places long term.
I finished the cozy winter sweater for Braveheart! I am glad to have gotten it done before the cold weather hit. Now he can enjoy it all winter. One thing I really love about hand-making clothes, whether by knitting or sewing, is that you can make them specific to fit the person just right. Braveheart is growing and is in a stage where his arms are very long right now. In order to buy him a sweater that fits the length of his arms, it is much to big around and looks like a tent on him. But if we buy him one that fits his body right, the sleeves are way too short. With hand-knitting his sweater, I was able to make it fit his body AND his arm length. It looks great and he is very happy with it.
The pattern was the Basic Set-In Sleeve pattern from the book Top Down Sweaters by Ann Budd. The yarn I used was from our ram Fergus’ 2020 fleece. Daniel made the yarn for me in the mill. It is a DK weight 3-ply with 15% bamboo blended in. The bamboo was pre-dyed a dark green. Fergus’ fleece was dark grey. The two blended together look really great, with a subtle green shimmer to the dark heathered grey. Plus, Fergus had a very nice, soft fleece. So it is soft, with the added strength of the bamboo. Very happy with this project.
I have really been having fun with my 1905 treadle Singer sewing machine. I think that sewing a basic square quilt was a perfect way to really learn to control the treadle. Starting and stopping over and over, literally hundreds of times as I sew each 4.5 square to the next has really helped ingrain in my head how to use the treadle well. I have finished piecing the top, and now will move on to quilting it – again, using the treadle machine. I am going to do a simple stitch-in-the-ditch to quilt it, so that shouldn’t be too hard. But managing the size of the quilt in the machine and all the layers will be a new experience from the piecing, so it will build my skills too.
It has been a week with all three – life, illness, and death.
Our family has been passing around a nasty cold this week. It is working its way through each person, no one got to skip this one. Ugh. But despite being ill, the animals still need tending, winter is still barreling towards us at a very fast rate, and life goes on. The weather has been much cooler and very pleasant and autumn-like this week. We have enjoyed that.
Matilda the bantam cochin hen had been setting her 7 eggs beautifully. She got off the nest daily to eat and drink and relieve herself, and spent the rest of the time happily incubating her eggs. When we changed her food and water she puffed up and growled at us – just as she should. Everything was going great for a hatch later this week. She was fine Friday night at chore time. Saturday morning at chore time she was dead. Setting on her eggs with her head in a natural sleeping position. Just gone. It was shocking, we have no idea what happened. It appears she died in her sleep. At least it was peaceful, that makes it a little easier. We thought to put the eggs into the incubator, hoping maybe they were still warm from her being on top of them, but it was clear she had died early in the night – both her and the eggs were cold. A hard and confusing loss.
The “Poultry Palace,” as the kids have labeled it, is coming along. We are hoping to get the chickens moved in later this week, freeing the chicken coop up to have the ducks move from their tractors into it. At which point…I have been informed…it will become the “Quack Shack.” 🙂 I love my kids and their fun, creative minds.
Our ewe lamb, Dixie, suffered some sort of poisoning this week. It is unclear exactly what happened. But a call to the vet revealed her symptoms to be related to either a poisonous bite, or eating something poisonous. We could not find any evidence of a rattler bite or a black widow bite on her at all. So it seems she might have eaten a toxic plant. But she didn’t have any diarrhea, which would have likely been present if she had eaten something like that. It is another mystery, we really don’t know. The vet said that there wasn’t much we could do by that time and that she would either pull through, or she wouldn’t. We watched her closely and prayed she would make it. After two days of not doing well, we were happy to see a little improvement on day 3 and each day since. She is still not totally normal, but continues to improve. We have kept the whole flock off the pasture since she got sick. We were pretty much done with pasturing for the year at this point anyway and were planning to stop soon. This just brought it on faster.
Our wether also has been dealing with health issues. He got an ulcer on one of his eyes. The vet said it was likely he got poked in the eye with something, a prickly seed or grass or something. We have given him a couple of antibiotic shots to keep an infection from happening and we have been watching and waiting. He has been slowly improving, but he is currently blind in that eye.
Lilian, one of our new BFL ewe lambs, has a funny habit of standing in the feeder. The other sheep just eat around her, but Solace, one of the goats, head butts her whenever she wants to eat in that area.
Speaking of Solace the goat, we decided to dry her off (stop milking her) until next spring when she kids. She had trouble keeping weight on with her twins nursing this year and came to us pretty underweight. We have been able to increase her weight some, but not as much as we hoped. Heading into winter with her underweight (and breeding season in November/December) doesn’t seem like the best thing for her. We have Belle giving enough milk for our basic needs, so we will dry off Solace and let her regain her condition before kidding next year. That way she will be going into kidding and milking at a good, healthy weight and will hopefully be able to be milk the full season next year.
Mother Earth News
The October/November edition of Mother Earth News has hit newsstands and mailboxes. I have another “Ask the Experts” column in this edition. Check it out!
Views From the New Farm
When we lived in the Rockies we constantly had people telling us how beautiful it was where we lived. And, it really was (is). But we have been continually amazed at the beauty we see out here on the High Plains. Especially the sky. In the mountains the sky is smaller (due to the mountains all around you). Here the sky is such a huge expanse. And the way the sun and clouds play together and create light, dark, shadows, and colors of all different shades is pretty amazing. We are really enjoying the beauty of the High Plains.