And Life Goes On . . .

I received a call from the Iowa poultry breeder on Tuesday evening while I was milking goats. Unfortunately, my order of Icelandic chicks wasn’t able to be filled – his hatch only provided five chicks – so a shipment had been made that day which contained chicks from two different breeds as well as the five Icelandics. I really didn’t want any other breeds, but a minimum number of chicks have to be shipped in order to keep the chicks warm enough. The US Postal Service came through with flying colors again — not necessarily great about delivering letters timely, but live chicks are always delivered quickly — and I got a call on Thursday at 6:06 am from the post office stating my chicks were ready to be picked up. While in past years I would have been out the door in 5 minutes, I’ve learned that the chicks can really handle another 30 minutes in their box so I took the time to have a cup of coffee before heading out. When I got back home and took the new chicks out to the brooder, I opened the box to find . . .

Range Sussex

12 Range Sussex chicks. These are not a true breed but an experimental cross between Sussex and Dorkings first made by this poultry breeder in the mid-1990s to determine if the cross was less susceptible to certain poultry diseases.  These were sent as “filler” chicks.

The remaining ten chicks included five Partridge Barnvelders and five (one dead) Icelandics. The black(ish) chick is an Icelandic and the brown chick behind it is a Barnvelder.

Given how my year has gone to date I guess I not surprised that the one chick that didn’t survive shipping was one of my much anticipated Icelandics.

I’ll have an update on the (lack of) progress after the fire in a few days. I’m too depressed to want to think about it right now.

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Icies

I have wanted Icelandic chickens for quite some time. A few years ago I had tried the route of having hatching eggs shipped but only ended up with only six chicks hatching and only two survived more than a couple of days. I lost both to predators within a couple of months.

A friend with Icelandics had a hen go broody and hatch four chicks out of a clutch of 8 eggs. I was supposed to pick up the four chicks on the 22nd, but the fire on the 20th prevented me from getting them as planned. I did manage to pick up the chicks a few days ago. Since I’ve never raised such a small number of chicks in the brooder before I was a little concerned whether the heat lamp would be sufficient but the chicks all seem to be doing well.

Icelandics are what I would call a “land race” in dogs — a breed that is focused on breeding to maintain function rather than breeding to create a uniform appearance. All four chicks are different colors and it will be interesting to see the adult plumage for each.

Icelandic Chicks

I had an order for Icelandic chicks from a poultry breeder in Iowa last year but due to circumstances, he was unable to fill the order. Rather than request a refund I asked him to ship chicks this year when he could. I recently got an e-mail from him saying he hoped to ship chicks in mid-June. By then, these four will be able to be moved out of the brooder into the associated section of coop. I’m excited to finally get my Icelandics (now to wait and see how many roosters versus hens I get as the above, as well as the ones which will be shipped, are all “straight run” and not sexed.

Este es el fin

I previously mentioned that going into this year I was still uncertain as to the future plans for the farm. After having spent the last week dragging myself out of bed to attend to the livestock, I have made a decision about the farm.

Fix, my young English Shepherd, turns two tomorrow. He is an exceptionally nice dog – very good structure with effortless movement and a wonderful temperament. However, while he has shown a lot of potential as a working dog, he has been very slow to mature. While this was not a problem when I had Tuck and I could afford to wait for Fix to grow up and develop into a useful chore dog, Tuck is no longer around and I can’t wait any longer. Fix on his good days (i.e., when his brain is engaged) has proven to be a useful dog. However, Fix, as is the case with most adolescent males of any species, lacks focus and all too often will start a task and then find something different to engage his focus. Losing focus while moving stock in open spaces can be, and often is, disastrous. So, while there are some tasks that Fix can do, and does, on a regular basis, there are other tasks where I no longer even try to use a dog. The bottom line is that I can no longer effectively and easily raise sheep.

Since losing Tuck last June, I have been looking for another working English Shepherd. After many frustrating months of no prospects, a friend found a litter in Virginia that had potential. Unfortunately, based on her evaluations of the puppies at 5 weeks and 7 ½ weeks, it appeared that while the litter was very nice, it was unlikely that there was a puppy to suit my needs. Finally, in desperation I turned to looking for a litter of working bred Australian Shepherds and found a litter on the ground in Texas from a very well known breeder. After committing to putting a deposit on a puppy, I returned to my search for an English Shepherd, figuring if I could find what I wanted before picking up the puppy I could eat the deposit. After more e-mails with English Shepherd breeders I have finally faced up to the bitter truth – the majority of English Shepherds today are not working dogs and those few breeders of proven working English Shepherds are breeding a dog too large for my purposes. Over the years I have run cattle, hogs, sheep and goats, not to mention the turkeys and chickens, on my farm and never once in all that time have I ever wished for a larger dog than I had. Since it is important to me that I am able, if necessary, to pick up and carry an injured dog, a 60-70 lb dog is just not viable.

I had contemplated getting rid of the sheep when I lost Tuck but several friends discouraged me from making any decisions while I was still grieving Tuck. In hindsight, I should have followed through and off-loaded the sheep last year, but I plan on rectifying that mistake this year.

As soon as it is feasible, all of the sheep, and half of the goats, will be off the property. I will make a final decision about the remaining goats at the end of this year when the milk test I started in February is concluded.

I will no longer need a working dog so I can pass on the puppy and Fix can grow up at his own speed. Este es el fin

A Look Back and the Present

Last year my forecast for 2018 was pretty simple:

Going into 2018 the only knowns are that the chicks I bought in August should start laying in February or March. The possibilities are that if the does I exposed to bucks were indeed bred, I can expect kidding season to begin in February; if the ewes were indeed bred in November, I can expect lambing season to begin in April; and if the preservation center I pre-ordered from does not suffer any poultry losses this winter, I can expect 25 Icelandic chicks to be delivered the end of May.

In a nutshell, my plans for 2018 are to not have any concrete plans and to see what the year brings.

It was just as well that I had no concrete plans for the year. The chicks did indeed start laying. The does did not kid as planned and I was not able to start a milk test as hoped for in 2018. The ewes did lamb but I was unsuccessful in selling lambs (all were sent to the butcher in February) and I did not get the expected Icelandic chicks (current plans are for delivery the end of April).

I lost my working dog and best dog ever (Tuck) in June last year and with him, lost my enthusiasm for the farm. Going into 2019 I wasn’t – and am still not – sure exactly what my plans are for the farm.

My Morgan mare foundered between snow storms in January and I had her euthanized four months short of her 32nd birthday.

While I did not intentionally breed my remaining ewes last fall (long story about how they got bred) – and all five ewes have lambed. The first lambed with twins without trouble. The second had twins but lost both within a week. The third had a single and the same morning the fourth had twins – both struggling but still alive. The fifth also had twins so I have seven live lambs on the ground.

I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to get does bred last year and rebred in August for January kids, hoping I’d be able to put the does on milk test this year.

The first goat kidded in January with triplets. I wasn’t home and when I got home after dark only two kids were alive – both male. I moved that doe and her surviving kids to the lambing jugs and also moved another doe which appeared to be close to kidding. Nutmeg did indeed kid either late that night or early the next morning – and lost all three triplets. In asking others for possible causes, I was told that it was possibly a selenium deficiency. Selenium has a narrow therapeutic window and I have never supplemented with it before, though I did have a syringe of a selenium/vitamin E gel in my goat supplies. I kept a close eye on Spice but it appeared that although she looked bred, she hadn’t been as the window for kidding based on the dates of exposure to the buck had passed. About three weeks later, when I was doing the evening chores it appeared Spice was in labor so I moved her to the lambing jugs. I checked on her frequently and sure enough about 9:20 pm she started to deliver a kid. It appeared she was in trouble so I went back in to get the necessary equipment and came out in time to help reposition a kid. A second kid followed shortly thereafter and since the other two had triplets, I hung around waiting to see if she was going to have a third. The temperatures this winter have fluctuated wildly and of course she picked the coldest night in several days to kid. By the time I finally got back into the house after midnight the temperatures had dropped into the mid-teens. Spice did indeed have triplets, all of which were very slow to get up. I didn’t expect any to survive but I did dose all three with the selenium/vitamin E gel (and also dosed the lambs that were born about the same time.) I was very happy to see that all three were still alive in the morning, though I did lose the third born a couple of hours later. The two surviving kids are both female and doing very well, except for the fact that the tips of their ears were frostbitten. Since Spice kidded later than expected, I will have to DNA test both bucks, Spice and both doelings to establish parentage before I can register the doelings. Cha-ching.

A selenium deficiency also explains the difficulty in getting the does bred so all the goats are now on a monthly supplement.

I was able to put the does on milk test starting in February. The results are acceptable, but not as good as I had hoped. My hay supply dwindled faster than expected, likely due to me feeding more during the really cold weather, and the quality of hay I was able to get to tide me over has been inconsistent. The first 20 bales were horrible and I ended up discarding quite a bit. A friend then bailed me out and sold me some better quality hay which I have been supplementing with pelleted feeds. I suspect the feeding regimen is largely responsible for the milk test results so far. Unfortunately, my hay supplier can’t provide hay until late May so the milk test results may not be what I expected and hoped for.

Then just because it has been a difficult year so far, in late January my furnace went out. Since according to the model number it was 26 years old I opted to replace it rather than try to repair it. After five days with no heat, I finally was able to get a new furnace installed. Not wanting to be parted from an old friend, I guess, the washer (left behind by the previous owners and also 26 years old according to the model number) quit working in February. It took ten days to get a new washer installed. I went ahead and had them haul off the dryer as I figured it wasn’t going to last much longer either and it saves me from having to deal with the removal as I wasn’t planning on replacing it. Of course the March winds started up a couple of days later so my plans to put up a clothesline have been put on hold and I’ve been using a drying rack inside. Cha-ching, cha-ching.

Hopefully the rest of 2019 will be less eventful and less costly.

 

Chickens, chickens and more chickens

Icelandic cross??

This past spring the young Icelandic rooster gifted to me tried to protect two hens from a coyote and unfortunately all three chickens lost their lives.

However, one of my hens hatched out four chicks and successfully raised three. (Clutches are a communal effort so the parentage of the chicks is always debatable.) Two turned out to be hens – one is a dirty white so is likely a Delaware cross – and the third was a rooster. I *think* that my Icelandic rooster might have been the sire of this particular chicken.

 

A few weeks ago, the friend who gave me my original Icelandic rooster gifted me with another Icelandic rooster. This one is older and has gone through a molt. His tail feathers still need to grow back.

New Icelandic Rooster

And finally, towards the end of the summer one of my hens decided she no longer wanted to roost in the coop. Since she could avoid Fix (and me) by going through the cattle panel into either the corral or goat pens, we were never able to move her back to the coop at night. I figured she would have a short life expectancy spending the night outside, alone but she continually surprised me by being present every morning when I went out to feed. Every night after the rest of the chickens were locked up in the coop, I would look for the errant hen and be unable to find her. However, a couple of nights ago I finally found where she had gone to roost.  See if you can find the chicken.

Last night the temperatures dropped to 18 degrees and I was sure the hen couldn’t have survived, but she was hanging out at the animal pens when I went out to feed (though she did follow me back to the chicken coop and ask to be let inside.) We will see if she goes back to the coop tonight with the rest of the chickens. [Note: she did not go to roost in the coop with the other chickens tonight.]

Tuesday Takes

Oddly I have a plant that is producing two different colored spaghetti squash – one started as a green stripe and the other as a light cream. I have been checking daily to see if any were mature enough to cut off the vine and today the rind of the green one finally seemed hard enough. I’ve never seen a spaghetti squash this color before so it will be interesting to see what it tastes like.

Three of the chicks are still alive and growing rapidly. It looks like one is a Delaware cross (the rooster is a mix) and the other two look like Australorp crosses.

“Surprise” Survivor

My two Buff Brahma bantam hens started setting weeks ago. Long past when I could reasonably expect chicks to hatch (average of 21 days), both hens were still broody and I left the eggs under them in the hopes that they would still be setting when the Icelandic chicks were expected to arrive. To my surprise, three chicks were actually hatched although only one survived. The hens came off the remaining eggs a couple of days after the surviving chick was hatched. I removed the remaining eggs and hauled them out to the front pasture, far from the coop and animal pens, to be left for the wildlife. Since I no longer had expectations that the bantams would raise the additional chicks, I cleaned up the brooder and prepared it for the expected Icelandics (which didn’t arrive and may not come this season after all). Then, unexpectedly, the bantam chick died about a week after hatching.

In the meantime, two of my young full-size hens had gone broody and were sitting on eggs. One, an Australorp, was in an upper nesting box while the other, a Buff Orpington, was in a lower box. I went out a few days ago and heard cheeping. The Australorp was off the nest and in the main coop with a small little black chick. When I set up a dog house in another section of the coop and moved the hen, I discovered a second little black chick under her. I transferred a few eggs into the dog house on the off chance she would continue to set and proceeded to put the remaining 38 eggs in a bucket in anticipation of hauling them out to the front pasture. I decided to leave the bucket and eggs in the coop overnight and see if the Orpington was still setting the next day as she had been sporadically coming off the nest. She was off the nest in the morning and again in the evening so I proceeded to collect her eggs as well. All told the hens were sitting on a combined 86 eggs. However, when I removed the bucket from the coop I was hearing cheeping that didn’t appear to be coming from the section where the one hen and her two chicks were safely ensconced. As I carried the bucket down the drive I continued to hear cheeping so instead of just throwing the eggs out, I picked up each egg out of the bucket and placed it in the brush pile where I toss old eggs. At the very bottom of the bucket I found an egg that was cracked and when I picked it up I heard very clear and loud cheeping. I carefully peeled the egg open and found a bedraggled chick. Not expecting it to actually live, I carried it back to the coop and put it in with the hen and other two chicks. I was very pleasantly surprised this morning when I went out to the coop and saw three chicks running around.

The chick in the center is the “surprise” survivor

 

Spring Eggs

As my laying hens were aging, this past August I purchased 14 sexed chicks from a hatchery. I try to raise chicks in the fall so that they will be old enough to start laying by the time the days have lengthened again. Friends had wanted bantams so I ordered bantams as well. However, none of the bantam breeds are sexed so one has to assume a 50/50 split between males and females. The hatchery I ordered from stops shipping bantams in late August and I therefore placed the order for the last delivery of bantams. While the hatchery includes one free chick (to cover potential loss in shipping) this time around about twelve free chicks were included – all bantams. I assume it was because there was a surplus of bantam chicks. I ended up keeping three bantams – all Buff Brahmas. As it turned out, two were pullets and one was a rooster. I know this because the rooster started crowing two or three weeks ago and today I got my first egg from one of the hens. The others, all full-sized breeds, started laying about five or six weeks ago and I was starting to despair of getting anything from the bantams. Bantams are known for their broodiness and I kept these for that reason. However, a hen that doesn’t lay won’t go broody. I am now hopeful that at least one will be broody about the time that my Icelandic chicks arrive the end of May.

Full size egg on left – Bantam egg on right

 

Farm Dog 101: Chore Dog

The young chickens are not quite six months old but were large enough to allow out. The first couple of days, none seemed interested in venturing out of the familiar enclosure attached to the chicken coop but eventually the bravest started exploring the area immediately around the chicken coop and the others soon followed. Fix is helping to put the chickens up a couple of nights ago. The rooster is the Icelandic given to me by a friend. Notice how calm and quiet Fix is moving – just enough pressure to move the chickens without panicking them.