Winter is Coming

The seasons are shifting. The air has a beautiful coolness about it after the oppressing heat of summer on the plains. We are loving it. It has reinvigorated us to get projects done and be outdoors.

The farm is in such a better place than it was a year ago. We moved to the new farm in June of last year and worked tirelessly, regardless of the triple-digit weather, all summer and through the fall, which was unseasonably warm and long (a blessing because we had so much to complete), so we could try to get humans and animals somewhat acceptably set up for winter. And we did get everyone acceptably set up. But there were definite areas that were lacking and that made caring for the animals through the winter cold and into and through birthing season harder.

The projects we have been able to accomplish this summer and fall have us heading into this second winter at the new farm in a much better place as far as human and animal housing goes. It should make for less work and everyone living more comfortably through the cold. We have two more small barn areas closed in for the sheep and goats that will be nice during storms and also serve us well during lambing/kidding. We have improved the poultry housing and built another “wing” on the poultry palace (another coop attached to the poultry barn) that is giving us a lot more options as we have young chickens and turkeys growing out and have increased our breeding flocks. And we have more hay storage areas to keep the hay protected from the wet weather.

We only have a few more things to accomplish before winter really sets in, which is still a month or so away, depending on what the weather does. Our first frost should be along here within the next couple of weeks. We are keeping an eye on the forecast, so we can bring in all the green tomatoes that are still on the vines to let them ripen in the root cellar. We also still have several cantaloupe in the garden and a butternut squash. The rest are done.

We have a small box planted with some late fall/winter plants that we plan to cover with a tent. But they didn’t sprout as well as we had hoped, so there isn’t much for season extending this year. It is not surprising, really. I have heard from gardeners from Canada, Colorado (High Plains and Front Range), Kansas, and Georgia – all who are experienced and have been in their location, gardening, for many years. And all of them are saying the same thing. This was one of the worst years for their garden. Since this was our first experience gardening in the High Plains, and we did straw bales instead of soil, I am really glad that we were able to harvest anything at all, especially considering what all these “old timers” are saying.

One of the projects we are trying to get done before winter hits is building the new garden. The straw bales are breaking down beautifully, and will provide an excellent base layer for the garden. The centers of the bales are so decomposed, in fact, that the bailing twine is suspended up in the air across from end to end.

We plan to put our farm compost on top of it. Over time it will compost more in the garden. Garden soil is like wine – it gets better with age. Our garden at our last homestead took at least 4 seasons before I felt the soil was getting good, and by the 9th season it was a thing of beauty. Some things just take time.

Another big project is putting up our firewood for winter. With prices soaring everywhere for everything, including propane and electricity, we are even more intent on being able to use the wood stove as much as possible to heat our home. We have started the process of putting up firewood, but still have a ways to go.

We are saving the long list of indoor projects for over the winter, and working outside as much as possible while the beautiful autumn weather holds.

Productive Poultry

The second turkey hen completed her hatch! Two poults hatched. There were 3 eggs. So that is good. She is currently mothering them pretty well, though not as well as our other hen has been doing with her poults. The turkeys are definitely earning their keep! We have high hopes for next year, when we can set more eggs and thus have bigger hatches. But for now, we are content with our 5 poults.

I continue to try to get a photo of poults to share, but the turkey hens are super duper protective. Which is good. But it means that when I want a photo, this is all I get:

Our bantam Silkie hen has decided she is done raising the turkey poult that was rejected by the turkeys and that she raised for us. He is 8 weeks old now, and now she wants to set again. It is pretty late in the season, but we have a good set-up, so we decided to go ahead and let her set. We will be putting supplemental eggs in the incubator to make up for any infertility or loss. We really like this method of doing it because we end up with more chicks than the hen can generally hatch on her own but we don’t have to brood them because she does it for us. Earlier this year we set 15 total eggs, 6 under the hen, 9 in the incubator, and we ended up with 10 chicks, which she was able to successfully raise. We are collecting eggs now and will hopefully start the set this weekend.

Feels a bit like spring, with all these poultry hatches. Even though it is not the typical way to do it, we have always been fine with fall chicks, they make for more eggs come spring, so that will be nice. And the fall turkey poults will mean meat in the middle of winter, which will also be nice.

Speaking Different Languages

Sorry it took so long to finish telling this story – it has been a busy week.

To read the first part in this story, click here.

We decided to see if we could get our bantam hen, Eve, to raise our rejected turkey chick for us. Eve has raised and adopted many many chicks over the years. But, #1 they have all been chicken chicks, and #2 she has always chosen to set before we gave them to her. We have never asked her to randomly take a chick when she hadn’t already chosen to set on some eggs and therefore wasn’t in “the mood” to mother. At this point, she was 5 weeks past hatching out chicken chicks and was busy raising them. But we figured it was worth a try.

We put the turkey poult in our big brooder, which is a large rubber livestock trough with a wire mesh lid we made for it to protect the chicks we brood from the barn cats. We put Eve in with it and watched and waited. It was really interesting to watch her actions and try to guess what she was thinking. She looked at the poult, looked up at us, looked at the poult again, looked back up at us. It was as if she was asking what we wanted her to do with this little one that we had put in with her.

Call me crazy, but I talk to our animals like they can understand me. I have been shocked how many times they really seem to get it. I don’t think they are literally understanding my words, but I think we humans really ignore the significance of body language, which is a huge part of animals’ ways of communicating. But when we talk, we are naturally giving body language as we talk that we don’t even realize that we are giving. And I believe that is how the animal is somewhat understanding what I say.

So I explained to Eve that the poult was rejected and that we needed her to raise it for us. She continued to examine the poult, and then look up at us standing there. Then she scratched the ground and pecked at a piece of food and did her mama call that she does to show her babies food, and then looked over at the poult. The poult just stood there blankly, clearly not understanding what she was saying. She looked back up at us as if to say, “I tried, and it isn’t doing what it is supposed to do.” Then the poult let out a few cheeps, calling for food, mama, help…I am not sure, but a somewhat distressed cheep. Eve scratched and pecked and called the poult over to the food again. It still stood their blankly, not understanding what she was saying.

It was interesting because I figured that both of them being poultry would make it pretty easy for them to understand each other – especially with the body language and all. But they didn’t, it was more like watching two people who spoke completely different languages trying to communicate. Not to mention, we have heard that turkey poults are slower learners than chicks, and that definitely seemed to be true with this little guy. He just seemed slow. We had already tried dipping his beak to get him to eat and drink and he was not getting it. I read that turkey chicks will starve to death standing in a dish of food – I don’t know if that is just a saying/exaggeration, or if it is true. But the poult definitely was not understanding how to eat and drink. Since the turkey hens hatched him, we had no idea how old he was and thus didn’t know how much time we had to get him eating and drinking before he would start going down hill. He seemed weak and tired, but that could have been from being stuck behind the crate calling for his mom. Or it could be that he was already a couple of days old and was needing nourishment pretty badly.

Since it was obvious that Eve was not planning to do him harm, and since it was plenty warm and we weren’t afraid of him getting too chilled very quickly, we decided to just watch and wait and see how it all played out with the two of them. We took the poult and put him underneath Eve. She did not settle down on him to warm him like she does with chicks. She just stood there looking at him under her.

He continued cheeping and wandered out from under her as if he had no clue that under her was where he wanted to be. We were really wanting her to squat down like she normally does and give him a nice cozy place to be, to hopefully kick in some instinct on his part to be under the warmth of mama. But she would not squat down, she just stood there.

Over the next 10 minutes she continued to try to convince him to eat, and he continued to wander aimlessly cheeping. She purposefully walked and stood over him a couple of times, but didn’t squat down like normal, just stood there over top of him and looked at him. It was looking like it wasn’t going to work.

Eve belongs to our daughter, Sunshine. When she was little she would carry Eve around and feed her special treats from the garden. Sunshine came down to see what was going on with the Eve/poult situation. She looked in and told Eve that she knew we were asking a lot of her, but if she could please take care of this poult it would really help us out. Eve looked at Sunshine and when she was done talking Eve squatted down with her wings out like all mama hens do for their babies and called the chicken call that they do to call their babies under them. The poult turned and ran right under her and she settled down on him and his cheeping stopped.

We were all so shocked! Apparently, that specific call is the same in both turkey and chicken language. They were finally speaking the same language, at least on one thing. Now if we could just get him eating and drinking, maybe all would be well. We left them alone together, figuring that he needed some warmth and rest and hopeful that Eve could teach him to eat and drink now that he had accepted her as a warm bed. But we were also trying to be realistic and remembering that chick mortality is high in the first few days, especially with turkeys.

Over the next few days he slowly learned from Eve how to eat and drink, and he strengthened. They bonded more and more and as of now it is looking like Eve is going to happily raise this little turkey. I had read that turkeys don’t do much scratching like chickens do. Well, this turkey is learning from his adopted mama, and he is scratching and pecking around the brooder like crazy, copying what Eve does. I guess he is going to be speaking chicken from now on. We will see what happens as he grows to be bigger than his mama in the next month or so.

Hatching Baby Turkeys

When we bought a breeding group of 1-year-old turkeys a couple of weeks ago they came with an added surprise – fertile eggs. Two of the hens we purchased had decided to set before we picked them up. We decided to bring the eggs with them and see if they would continue to set despite the stress of moving to a new location. When we got them to the farm they went right back to setting. They had 5 eggs that were still alive at the time, 2 of which were farther developed than the other 3. They are very aggressive mamas, so we have left them alone and just waited.

Little Miss was headed by the Turkey coop this morning and noticed that both setting hens were out dust bathing. So she decided to check on the eggs since we never get a chance to see them with the protective mamas. She found 4 eggs and 1/2 an egg shell, but no chick. She sat there quietly and could hear a cheeping, but couldn’t find the little guy anywhere. She came in the house to get a flashlight and when we got back out to the coop, one of the Mama hens had resumed her position on the eggs. We used the flashlight and followed the cheeping sound and found the little chick trapped behind the plastic dog crate that the hens are setting in. It seems that when the hens left the nest he tried to follow and then got lost.

We pulled him out and tried to give him back to the setting hen, but she pecked at him visciously. We don’t know if it was because she was being aggressive to us and therefore was aggressive to him as well, but we didn’t want to risk him getting killed so we took him back out.

What to do!? If the mamas keep hatching out more chicks from the eggs, will they accept him back if we find a way to slip him in? Will they not be good mamas and reject the rest too? We don’t want to brood him all by himself in the brooder if we can avoid that option because that is a lonely way to grow up, and then how would we ever integrate him back in with the flock? And was he from the two eggs that were farther in gestation, or the three that were not as far – as in, how many more might be coming and how soon?

As we contemplated options, standing by the turkey coop cradling this little fluff ball in our hands, we noticed Eve, our bantam hen, scratching around with her 5-week-old chicks in the pen right next door. Anyone who has been reading our blog long knows about Eve. She is an amazing broody mama hen.

Eve with some of the many chicks she has raised over the years

Could Eve take him in with her chicks? No, her chicks were too big, they would bully him. BUT…her chicks were big – fully feathered – and able to take care of themselves. Maybe…just maybe, we could convince her to take him as her own if we took her away from her other chicks and put her alone with him. Will she mother him for us?

Time will tell…

Multiplying Chicks

Our hen, Eve, has been sitting on eggs for us again. She is our very reliable 10-year-old broody hen that has raised 1-3 broods for us every single year of her life.

Eve is a bantam hen and can’t fit many eggs under her, but during warm weather can raise more chicks than the amount of eggs she can set on. So, we like to put some eggs in the incubator when she sets to supplement her hatch and make up for any loss. We set 15 fertile eggs – 6 under Eve, and 9 in the incubator. We had a wonderful hatch of 10 chicks total and we added the ones from the incubator to Eve’s brood as soon as they were dry.

Eve is doing beautifully raising her brood, and she struts around proudly because she is the only hen she knows that can hatch 10 chicks out of only 6 eggs. 🙂