Hey, it’s hay!

Today I sorted out the hay situation for the sheep. Since I live smack dab in the middle of dairy country I figured getting hay wouldn’t be too hard, and sure enough it was as simple as introducing myself to another of my neighbors and asking them to call me with their prices. No more than an hour after our conversation he arrived with his hay tractor containing 10 large squares of hay and some small bales of straw. By large squares I truly mean massive squares – these guys are 7 feet long (4×4 feet wide/high I believe)! They were manipulated skillfully by the farmer with his small tractor and are most definitely staying right where they were put for the entire winter. We covered them with a tarp to keep out the rain after transferring a week or so worth into our barn lobby for easy distribution.

I imagine it was an interesting day for the sheep. They all gathered around the barn when the farmer was unloading the hay, watching curiously. They all flocked around us while we spread out the straw inside the barn, some tried to nibble the seedheads but most gave up quickly. They all went crazy for the new yummy hay, and I learned very quickly that the bales are very compact indeed and a little goes a long way with my tiny sheep!

Then we spoiled them and gave them a yummy grain snack with lots of snuggles. That’s just how I roll.

The bird pen got a fine layer of straw and now looks like a golden oasis amongst the dying/frozen grass. I’m sure all the birds are greatly enjoying finding the seedheads. It won’t be too much longer for the turkeys until they are ready for harvest, we are beefing them up and they are eager to eat so it’s a win win situation.

We have a bit more cleaning to do outside, some firewood is coming in tomorrow morning, I need to finally put away all the summer tools and get out the winter ones… but we are well on our way to preparing for the winter months which seem to approach quicker with each passing day 🙂

Rebellion Controlled!

Animals love to rebel. It seems to be a common trait between all species!

We fixed the duck solution by trimming one wing, just as we did with the turkeys, and housing them in the garden. They were startled at first but are taking to their new living situation ok.

Tess the cat has finally started to leave us alone and make the barn her home. Hooray for that!

I brought Lee into the field today to corral up the sheep and he did a surprisingly good job in both being serious and responding to my commands. There is hope for him yet! He’ll never win any shepherding awards I can tell you that for sure, but he’ll be a valuable asset. I think eventually once I have enough sheep to warrant it (so probably 2012) I’ll make an arrangement to adopt one of his offspring that shows good signs of wanting to herd sheep.

As with everything, one day’s perspective is enough to refocus your mind on what is important. We are focusing on securing the fields with a second offset layer of fence so that not even the goats can escape. This way we can bring home two more Maremma pups who will get used to guarding the flock and allow me to expand to multiple fields next year. We hope to have them home ASAP, Heidi is certainly up to her neck in cute but studious guard animals! If you know of a farmer who’s looking for a livestock guardian pup do let me know.

Animal rebellion

Charlie the injured duck is missing.

All the other ducks have taken to visiting my neighbors, getting all in their business, hanging out in a muddy puddle pond by their heavy equipment.

Tess meows all day. She is lonely. She’s supposed to be a barn cat, not a snuggle machine! One more animal noise to contend with.

Lee… doesn’t have the best shepherding intuition. He’s handy yes but he just can’t get the concept of actual herding so far. I have a feeling he simply missed the boat on that one.

Why does the world change so suddenly for me!!!

Edit 1: As of now (two hours later), Charlie has returned, and all ducks have been given a wing trim and put in with the turkeys. We’ll set them up the Turkey Haus to hang around. The other problems aren’t really problems that need to be fixed quite so drastically, which now leaves me some time to go fix up the field’s fencing… The life of a farmer never ends!

A Chicken Update

The chickens are more of a background creature on the farm so I rarely talk about just them. So here’s a chance for me to do just that.

We had some chicken losses this year, probably due to the small local population of hawks though I can’t confirm this first-hand. One thing’s for sure, they just disappeared, up and gone one day.

The remaining Don Juan bunch

Of Don Juan’s group, we lost one of the Mexican girls and two of the spotted hens.

All Vanilla Ices family is good!

We have lost no one from Vanilla Ice’s white group (the second hen is hiding in the ground behind the hen in the foreground). The red silkies I adopted have all since disappeared.

This is a natural result of a few factors.

One, my chickens are bantams, they are quarter to half sized chickens. While this means they are nimbler, it also means they can be predated easily by things like snakes and raccoons. It also means their babies are super tiny and thus are basically little jalapeno poppers for rats.

Two, my chickens are completely free-range. We provide them with water and food and a nice home, but they choose to go do their own thing during the day and sleep in various spots in the barn at night. This makes it easy for sky creatures to hunt them down and also lets them do dumb things like wander off into a hole or walk into a dog’s mouth. A side effect is that we had no real control over egg collection nor when they went broody and could not directly care for the newborn bantam chicks.

I will be fixing my chicken approach in a few ways. I do believe that chickens should be free to roam around in the grass and dirt etc, but I want to give them a much more secure home to rest in during the night, one that also lets me collect their eggs with ease. I will also be moving to a larger breed of chicken instead of raising the bantams. Bantams are delicate and dainty little things who produce small eggs and barely any meat on their carcass. Comparing bantams to regular full chickens is kind of like comparing an orchid to an apple tree in terms of how much it gives back to you. If your priorities are beauty well then of course the orchid and bantam win, but my priorities are reliable food production, so it makes sense to change to the traditional breeds. Now with a half year’s experience under my wings I know where and how to buy these regular chickens, so I can spend the fall and winter planning my construction and the spring building and stocking it with some fine feathered friends, ones who will be more safer and provide me with more value than the bantams.

That said, the bantams were great to learn with, I do not feel in any way that I squandered my money on them. In fact I ended up getting my ducks from the same bird auction as the chickens, so if not for my want of chickens I wouldn’t have learned how much I love raising ducks. And I don’t intend to get rid of the ones I have now, I will make them a nice secure winter hangout (probably they’ll hang with the ducks anyhow) and tend to their needs, and in the spring if they are still around I will make them a nice and safe enclosure where we can all tend to their young without fear of rats etc.

October Sheep

Here are some recent pics of my Shetland sheep flock here on the Happy Panda Rainbow Farm during October of 2010.

Macaroon

Macaroon, the leader of the girls.

The Price in October 2010

The Price, the third and last ram lamb born here in 2010.

Ginger Rogers

Peebs’ mom Ginger Rogers, always making a face of some kind…

Gin

Gin, a striking badgerface katmoget.

Volcano God lounging under a tree

My precious Volcano God relaxing under a tree. See how grey he is becoming! Such a drastic difference from the black he came out with.

Vanessa Redgrave

Vanessa Redgrave. I love her little booties and white patched face.

Sudbury

Sudbury showing off his much nicer horns compared to Peebs. Sudbury is basically a better version of Peebs in all aspects except for rudeness and chunkiness and derp-face.

Rolo

Front and center is Rolo, behind-right is Lady Baba, behind-left is Keelin (or Nepean, can’t see the ear to know for sure).

Shy Trio

Here’s a better shot of the Shy Trio – Keelin up front, Nepean behind her, Lady Baba to the right.

Sheep not pictured – Peebs (view him in the previous post), Snikertini, Liberia, Maggie.

Everytime I visit the sheep, which is quite often now that I don’t have to catch and tie up an angry ram each time, I see if I can remember all of their names. It gets hard when they are all in one flock and I can’t see their heads, but it’s possible. Eventually, very likely much sooner than I expect, I won’t be able to remember everyone’s names off the top of my head, or be able to identify them by fleece color alone. It’s crazy to think that not even a year ago I was dreaming of the day when I would have sheep, and here I am now with a flock of 15 and one birthing season under my belt. It makes me excited for what the future will hold!

A Trouble Ram Lamb

Peebs

Peebs. My first born lamb here on the farm, alone in the world for two weeks until his brothers came out of their mama. Ginger Rogers was Frankie’s #1 girl, thus lil Power Blaster here was basically the prince of the barnyard. I’m not wise enough yet to wager on how sheep think/work/grow, but if I were I would bet that Peebs was mostly influenced by his father whereas Volcano God and The Price are mostly influenced by their mother. I of course don’t discount that it was my own actions that have influenced his behaviour, though I did try my best to not fawn over him.

Either way, this is the situation:

Peebs being a menace to society

Peebs is a friendly and needy lamb. With very close horns. And a fleece that is, to put it, mediocre.

On any other farm any of these criteria can be enough to disqualify the ram from breeding. Back in the Spring I decided that Ginger Rogers’ genes were not ones I wanted to spread via a ram so I castrated him. Nonetheless he is showing signs of being interested in sex. Since this year’s breeding program didn’t come to fruition, we shall see if Peebs sires any babies, which we will likely use for our Shetland meat program.

What a lucky guy. On many other farms he would be toast by now. Here he gets to live until his horns cause him potential damage, until he pushes the line with me too far needy-wise, and possibly can remain to be a herd sire for the meat program thanks to his massive ability to become chunky in no time.

Being born a boy animal on a farm is unlucky. Unless you are spectacular and worthy of being a stud or have other redeeming traits, you are likely destined to have no existence whatsoever. Here in dairy country I’ve heard that during birthing time you can walk around and collect all the boy calves you want for free, they are that worthless in the scheme of dairy operations. Same with chick production lines, the boy chicks are put onto a separate path that essentially goes into a chick mulcher.

Of course every farm can be different and have alternative approaches. I certainly value my male sheep and retain them as wethers (provided their horns don’t pose a threat to themselves). But still, perhaps this is something to consider when you consume your next mass-produced produce. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over this past year, it is how disconnected many of us are from our food sources, and how much value one can gain by making that connection happen. You don’t have to come be a farmer like me (though I’d love your company), you can simply come and visit a local farm and give your dollars to them instead of the grocery store. Hopefully you will find a farm open like mine is, where you can go and meet your future meat and appreciate it while it’s still around to feel loved. To me, this type of relationship with my meat is much more preferable than one where I walk into a store and buy a slab of an animal whose living conditions are unknown to me save for misleading clues in labels like “organic” or “free range”.

It all boils down to my one and only cherished belief: the golden rule. Treat others as you would want to be treated. If I were a butthole of a needy lamb named Power Blaster, I would love to be given one more day to continue existing. Sure it might suck to finally become meat, but if you compare the fun (and sometimes dramatic) life my animals have over the desolate lives given to many battery-raised animals, mine come out happier and more fulfilled. Sure the meat is more expensive than industrial-operation scale meat. But my animals are as happy as they can possibly be, and if I have the choice as to what meat to consume it’s gonna be happy meat over industry meat.