Year of the Snake

The last Year of The Snake was February 10, 2013 through January 30, 2014 and it won’t come around again until January 2025. You couldn’t prove that by me however.

In an earlier post I mentioned that in the not quite ten years I have lived here, I had only seen nine snakes on the property and two of those were just recently.

The dogs and I went out just before dusk tonight to turn on the heat lamp and move the chicks into the brooder for the night. After that was completed I walked around the front of the chicken coop to close the pop hatch to the main chicken coop and heard an unmistakable rattle. I called the dogs and retreated to the house where I left the dogs inside before returning to the chicken coop.

Sure enough there was a seriously p**d off rattlesnake, this one caught in the chicken wire of what I think might have been a rabbit hutch placed next to the chicken coop. The chicken coop itself is built with hardware cloth which makes it predator proof but the outside run to the coop and this small structure were built using chicken wire. It appears this snake went into the hutch and then was unable to exit — possibly due to eating whatever it went in after. At a guesstimate, this snake is a little over 2 feet in length.  If you look carefully, you can see the head. The tail might be a little blurry because the snake was agitated and rattling like crazy. Again, since I won’t try to disentangle it, with luck it will be able to get out on its own; otherwise, there will be another dead rattlesnake in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This snake brings my total up to ten, three just in the past few weeks.  I’m wondering if the brush hogging I had done a short while ago has moved the rattlers closer in to the structures. I may never know exactly why I am seeing more snakes, but I do know I am going to be taking more precautions when I work outside in the future.

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Continuing Saga of Tree

The beginning of July a tree crashed into the horse corral. See post here.

While a friend came over early the next morning to remove the crown so I could get the horse out of the corral, because there was a bee hive in the tree, he couldn’t cut up the big pieces of trunk until I dealt with the bee hive. At the time he left the plan was for me to take care of the hive and he would return the next week to finish the tree removal. I was unsuccessful in finding anyone willing to remove the hive and so had to resort to killing the bees. Not my first choice but I needed to get the horse back into her corral. As it turned out, my friend’s schedule prevented him from returning. After the horse tried to jump out of the (former) sheep pen – now rebuilt – into the goat pen, mangling the cattle panel and injuring herself in the process, I went ahead and put her back in her corral where she has been co-existing with a large tree.

Yesterday in the late afternoon, the friends who had assisted with the bees returned with a chainsaw and removed the trunk up to the fence. At that point, the chainsaw quit and we decided it was good enough for the time being. It has certainly made a difference in the appearance of the corral – I had forgotten how large the corral really is.

Taming the wild tree

The heartwood of the cottonwood had rotted out, as is common in the species. This allowed access for the bees and while we found the center of the trunk full of dark, rich “compost” when we got to the section where the bees had resided, that was mixed with honey comb and honey. I had been toying with the idea of trashing my shoes — traipsing through the sticky mess left by the tree removal cemented that idea. I figured it wasn’t worth even trying to clean the shoes.

Hopefully sometime in the next couple of months the rest of the tree will be removed and I can find someone to repair the fence.

Hollow cores

Remnants of honey comb and honey

Fall Flowers – Addendum

The previous owners had sown sunflowers in the area in front of the house. Since I haven’t been willing to use herbicides, my weed control is limited to pulling weeds by hand. I had thought I had pulled all the sunflowers before they seeded the first year I was here, and indeed, in the next couple of years I had a couple of sunflower plants but certainly not many. Over the years, the number of sunflowers have waxed and waned. This year though I have more sunflowers – and in places they have never been before – than I have ever seen. This photo doesn’t truly show the enormity of the situation.

Internet research suggests that livestock will eat the entire stalk, not just the head, so I plan on starting to pull sunflowers to feed to the remaining sheep and the goats.

A walk down the drive with the dogs the other day showed several different wildflowers in a wide array of delicate colors but unfortunately when I walked down again intending to take photographs, they had already disappeared, to be replaced with purple tansyleaf tansyasters. The closest I could come to my location was ten miles south and it appears the flowers blooming were those I had last week. Blooms are generally very transient in my part of the world so it is a matter of blink and you miss them.

ADDENDUM: So I took the dogs down the drive earlier this morning looking for wildflowers that I saw last week and did find some still blooming in a different area (as well as a “bush” that just exploded into color this morning). Photos are from the phone so not the best . . .

Farm Dog 101: Paper Plate Recall

Fix turned 24 weeks (6 months) old today. He still hasn’t outgrown the fuglies, but I am seeing some glimmers of the handsome dog he will be.

Fix at 24 weeks

 

Despite other Farm Dog 101 posts where I state I am going to start formal training with Fix, I have to admit that has not happened. His training to date has been just day to day interactions and doing chores.

So this evening, I decided it was way past time to get serious about training and I dusted off an exercise I used to teach to students in my beginning obedience classes – the Paper Plate Recall. This is an exercise I learned from a colleague, now sadly deceased, Dick Russell from Baton Rouge, LA. Rather than type it out here, I am providing a link to the exercise explained on another colleague’s blog: Paper Plate Recall.

So after chores, I put a leash on Fix, found a suitable plastic lid and put a few treats in my pocket. While Fix does know “sit’, I have not taught him a “stay” so he is a novice dog and a great example of the “magic” of this exercise. We started at 3 feet from the lid and finished, about 10 minutes later, approximately 60 feet away with Fix holding a stay while I walked away from him to put the treat on the lid and then while I walked back to him. Click on photos to enlarge.

Lid in foreground and Fix on Stay about 60 feet away.

After I walked back to Fix, I sent him to the plastic lid

Fix at the treat

 

 

 

Fix returning on a “come” command

Almost back

Chick Update

The chicks were two weeks old on Labor Day. I lost two of the chicks — one shortly after arrival for an unknown reason and one last Friday when I was late closing the chicks in the brooder and it was separated from the others and froze.

While everything I have read states that chicks have to be kept at about 95 degrees for the first week, with a drop in temperature of 5 degrees for each subsequent week, until fully feathered, I have not found this to be completely accurate. Chicks, indeed, cannot regulate their body temperatures well and do require attention to environmental temperatures – up to a point.

These chicks were kept in an enclosed brooder under a heat lamp for the first week. After that initial period, during the day I removed the cardboard which blocked their access into the larger (about 4×4) section of the coop, and allowed them to leave the brooder. I also turned off the heat lamp during the day. The chicks have been fine running around their limited space without an additional heat source. I do need, however, to put them back in a sheltered place (the brooder) with a heat lamp at night still.

On occasions when I have not secured the chicks before dark, I have gone out to find the chicks outside of the brooder but in piles (usually two separate piles) with the smaller bantams in the middle of the piles, and have had to pick up each chick to place it in the brooder for the night. With that one exception, all of the chicks – full size and bantam – have been fine. I wouldn’t want to chance that the chicks would all survive the night at this point without the heat lamp but it is clear that the high temperatures the internet and books tell you are required, really aren’t. I think common sense goes a long way in raising poultry and animals in a specific environment – i.e., what I can do here in New Mexico probably won’t be as successful in Vermont and vice versa.

Mix of full size and bantam chicks at 2 weeks, 3 days

Full size chick next to Red Frizzle bantam chick

 

 

Done. . .

Except for hanging gates and finishing the weaning pen.

 

A friend came over this morning and we erected the shelters for the wet and dry doe pens.

I used the fence line to set the shelters, and if needed I can tarp the back of both shelters along the fence line. These were inexpensive and easy to make using T-posts, cattle panel, baling twine and a tarp. The tarps were used billboard covers so there are images and writing on the inside.  If I had had to buy the T-posts and cattle panels, I estimate the cost to build both would have been about $150.00. Since I had everything but the tarps my total cost was 32.40. For comparison, the wood and tin shelters which I moved to the new pens cost approximately 300.00 each to build.

After it cooled down a bit this evening, I went out and finished digging holes for the two gate posts and then put up the rest of the fencing. The gates are tied on with baling twine for the time being.

View from south end facing north. Dry doe pen on left and wet doe pen north of the dry doe pen. I’ve moved the three dry goats so each pen now holds three does. Eight foot alley with gate. Kidding jugs straight back. New buck/weaning pens on right. I have not put up a dividing fence and gate so right now it is all one large pen. I will also attach hog panel to the fence for the weaning pen so the kids can’t get through the cattle panel. When I don’t have any young kids in the weaning pen, I will leave the gate between the two open so the bucks will have more space. Each pen has a shelter.

I moved the two bucklings from the kidding jugs to their new pen at feeding time. They spent about 15 minutes chasing each other around the pen before settling down to eat. Buckling on the right is CBF KS Cowikee. The buckling on the left is Seldom Herd DA Cosmos.

Chicks

I last ordered and raised chicks in September 2013. While I have had a few hens go broody and raise a clutch since then, because most were hatched and raised outside the coop, those chicks have had a short life expectancy. My predator losses have been significantly less since I finally finished fencing the perimeter of the property, but I have less than half of the number I raised in 2013. Between the reduction in numbers and the fact that egg production drops after the first couple of years, it was time to replenish my flock.

When I purchase chicks I try to do so in the fall (September) so that the chicks are old enough to be feathered by the time cold weather arrives. Chicks born in the spring will be old enough to lay in the fall (depending upon breed, between 5 and 6 months of age) but since I don’t use lights in my chicken coop, egg production does not generally occur until February of the next year when the amount of daylight increases. That means that I am feeding chicks / young chickens for about 9 months. I’m not sure where the phrase “eats like a bird” comes from, because, in my experience, young chicks eat voraciously. If I raise chicks in September, then by February the chicks are close to laying age and I’ve saved about four months of feeding without getting eggs in return.

To accommodate a friend who wanted bantam chicks which are not shipped in September, I placed an order this year to arrive the week of August 21st. So this past weekend I cleaned out the brooder section of the chicken coop, rebedded the brooder and enclosure with fresh hay, readied the feeders and waterers, and ensured the heat lamp was working properly. I had already picked up chick starter from the feed store.

Chicks were shipped on Monday and arrived at the post office early (I received a call at 5:28 am) Wednesday morning. My friend picked up the chicks as I was working at the office that day. When I got back into town that evening I stopped at her place to pick up the chicks I had ordered – Australorps, Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, Delawares and Red Stars plus two bantams – a white silkie and a red frizzle. Instead of the one free chick usually included, this shipment included several extra bantams which we split.

Almost Done

Over the past weekend I finished rebuilding the former sheep pen. Once a new shelter is erected, that pen will be ready for use. I marked off where the 8 foot alley gate needed to be set and ran a string to mark where the front of the two additional pens will lie. I couldn’t start building those pens until the other shelter was moved from the current goat pen to its new location as I didn’t want to have to maneuver around fencing. Monday evening after work a friend came over and we moved the shelter and brought over the two additional 8 foot gates which will be used for the two new pens.

Line showing where south and west fencing will be erected. This shelter was moved from former sheep pen

Tuesday evening after chores I strung the remaining lines to mark the two new pens and started setting T-posts and attaching cattle panel. The pens are about half done at this point.  I still need to dig holes to set posts for the gate in the alley and the pen gates before I can finish putting up the last cattle panels since those will need to be cut.  Other than installing the gates, I should be able to finish putting up the pens by the end of this coming weekend.

Second shelter moved from goat pen and east fence

Building the two new shelters for the doe pens shouldn’t take long so it looks like I may indeed make my goal of having the pens constructed and ready for use by the end of this month.

Back of second shelter and north fence creating alley way between pen and kidding jugs

Mystery of the Missing Eggs

For the past week and a half or so I haven’t been finding eggs in the nesting boxes. Then a few days ago when I went to check on eggs, I discovered a hen lying dead on the chicken coop floor. She had no apparent injuries so her death was a mystery.

Then Tuesday evening when I entered the chicken coop I found a rattlesnake that had gotten caught in the chicken wire in the run just outside the pop door.

If it had been anything but a venomous snake I would have gone to get gloves and tried to release it, but assuming the snake was the culprit in the missing eggs and death of the hen, karma caught up to him.

I’ve been here for ten years this November and with the garter snake from a couple of weeks ago and this snake my total snake count is four non-venomous and five rattlesnakes.

One Step Closer. . .

The other night after my friend finished brush hogging he took a look at the railroad tie post and gate he had put in for me about 7 or 8 years ago. He thought I had dug out enough that he could get it out and sure enough, one good kick and the tie fell over. He then dragged it over to where I was going to set it up as the alley gate. So tonight after chores I took a shovel and dug down about 18 inches. I had measured the edge of the gate to the center of the railroad tie and then measured the same distance from the edge of the lambing / kidding jugs to mark the center of the hole. Unfortunately, when I tipped the railroad tie up and the bottom of the tie fell into the hole, it didn’t fall into the center. I tried and couldn’t pick up the tie to re-center it and I also wasn’t able to push the tie out of the hole again. Finally, I decided I could live with the gate being a little off-center. It will still open and close, though only one way now instead of both directions. I filled in the hole and called it a night.