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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New Beginnings

Several friends of mine took care of the farm for two weeks recently so I could travel out-of-state to pick up my next farm dog. I spent those two weeks back east – a week in Vermont and a second week in Pennsylvania. The shades of green in both places were truly beautiful and very different from home. However, things (mostly weeds of course) greened up here while I was gone and while the green may not be as vibrant it is nonetheless a very welcome change from the winter browns.

Before I left I had given considerable thought to where I wanted – and needed – to be with the farm to achieve my original goal of the farm being self-supporting. While I was willing to pay for fencing, maintenance, etc. I wanted the livestock to be profitable enough that expenses for hay and other items directly related to maintaining the livestock were not coming out of my pocket. After several years raising lambs, I finally acknowledged that the lambs were simply not paying for themselves and that my pocketbook was being steadily drained; hence the decision to sell off the sheep. At the current time, it hasn’t been determined whether or not the hogs will pay for themselves once I start selling hogs, although I suspect that the hogs, too, will be a money drain. The chickens are seasonal producers but because I really like fresh eggs, I’ll maintain a small flock of chickens.

In recent years, the only livestock pulling their weight have been the Nigerian Dwarfs. I am also addicted to their milk, another reason to keep goats. As I had started drying off my does prior to leaving on vacation, and expected my does to be dry when I returned, I made arrangements to buy a doe in milk on my return. The difficulties in finding a buck with an excellent milk pedigree whose owner was willing to let me health test and lease him resulted in me deciding to purchase a buckling. After considering the matter I decided to buy two bucklings, from different breeders and with different pedigrees but both out of excellent milking lines.

A well-known Nigerian Breeder was retiring and selling all of her breeding stock so, in addition to the doe in milk, when the puppy and I traveled to Tulerosa to pick up the doe in milk, I ended up buying the last two available does . Both does have been exposed to bucks for fall kiddings.

At the present time the three new does are housed in quarantine, and the two bucklings are also in separate quarters, all awaiting health test results. More information and photographs of the new additions will be forthcoming.

I am currently contemplating different arrangements for new pens which will give me more flexibility in separating dry does from those in milk, weaned kids and so on.

The new puppy has been home for just over a week now and has settled in very nicely. He is accompanying me on chores twice a day and learning the routine. He has also finally managed to get one of the older dogs to play with him a little.

If I just keep bugging her, maybe she’ll play . ..

Chase Games

Year of the Sheep . . . not so much

According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2015 is the year of the Sheep. Really not seeing that on the farm. This is the first year since I started raising sheep that all of my breeding ewes were not bred. Rather than the 20 plus lambs I normally have, this year I had eight.

It is, however, the year of the Chicken. I have had multiple hens go broody, starting with my first hen showing up with two chicks in tow. She unfortunately lost both those chicks, but the second hen hatched out eight chicks and those are doing very well. Hen number three hatched out seven but lost two within the first few days. While what I’ve read says that all eggs in a nest will pip out within 36 hours, that isn’t necessarily true. The chicks in this clutch were hatched over a week span so the oldest chicks are considerably larger than the youngest as demonstrated in this photo where the smallest can still spend the night snug and warm underneath mom while the oldest has to resort to sleeping on top of her. 20150615_Hen with chicks

Hen number four was not so lucky. She hatched out one live chick, with two that were unsuccessful in pipping out. Since she hatched her chick several feet off the ground in the hay stack, I moved her and her chick into a dog kennel in the barn. That worked for the first two weeks but then she started roosting on the top of the kennel and her chick, who couldn’t make it to the top, would roost as high as it could fly (it is now roosting on the top of the kennel) and from there it was inevitable that she would start taking the chick on walkabouts.

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Then hen number five showed up with seven chicks in tow that she had hatched somewhere on the property. She is down to five chicks but those are growing rapidly. A couple of days ago I went out and found hen six was showing her eight chicks the ropes. It will be interesting to see how many she successfully raises.

One of the reasons I had looked at Icelandics was to get chickens that would go broody and raise chicks. It is a really good thing that some of my hens decided to go broody this spring as the attempt to incubate the Icelandic chicken eggs I had shipped pretty much failed. Out of 18 eggs, only six hatched and four of those didn’t survive more than a couple of days. However, the two that did survive are doing well and I turned them out with the other chickens a couple of days ago.

Icelandic Chicks

Icelandic Chicks

It will be interesting to see if I get any hens out of the 29 chicks or if I’ll end up with a freezer full of chicken instead.

Unusual Year

As mentioned before, I have never had a hen go broody until this spring. One of my Americana hens has been sitting a clutch of eggs since late April and according to my calendar was due to start hatching chicks out this week. I went out shortly after lunch today to find two chicks under her, along with more than a dozen unhatched eggs. A little internet research turned up the information that hatching may take place over 36 hours so I’m hoping to find more chicks tomorrow morning.

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And we have been having thunderstorms (and hailstorms) on a fairly frequent basis this spring. The past few years the weather has been unpredictable, but generally rain is more likely to occur with the summer monsoons. The extra moisture bodes well for the pasture and will hopefully mean I won’t need as much hay this year. Joey found a unique way to stay dry (or mostly dry) during this afternoon’s thunderstorm.

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Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night . . .

I have been looking at Icelandic Chickens for a few years now. With my predator problem now under control (still knocking on wood) late last year I started a diligent search for an Icelandic Chicken breeder who would sell me some chicks. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in finding anyone who would ship anything other than eggs. So the search was then on to find someone local who had experience (and success) in hatching eggs with an incubator.

A chance conversation earlier this year found me that person and so arrangements were made to have 18 fertile Icelandic chicken eggs shipped this spring after the temperatures had warmed up but before the temperatures were too high. Yesterday I received an e-mail stating that the eggs had been shipped and were due to be delivered on Thursday. Since a tracking number was provided I went ahead and set up text messages every time the package was scanned to ensure that I was able to get the eggs as soon as they arrived.

You can imagine my surprise when this morning I got a text saying the package had been scanned in on arrival in Albuquerque. A second text followed shortly thereafter that the package had been scanned on departure. Shortly after noon I received a phone call from the Post Office stating that a package marked “Hatching Eggs” had arrived.

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Carefully Wrapped

Carefully Wrapped

While the Icelandic is supposed to lay white eggs, these appeared more of a delicate cream

While the Icelandic is supposed to lay white eggs, these appeared more of a delicate cream

And the moral to this story is that if you need anything delivered quickly and efficiently by the US Postal Service, send it with a live chick or marked “hatching eggs” — the US Postal Service excels at these deliveries — letters, not so much.

It is the little things that make everything all right with the world

Since finishing the perimeter fencing I have not (knock on wood) had a problem with coyotes so I have started leaving the pop hatch open and the chickens can leave the coop when they want every morning. Usually that means that the chickens are behind the house or out at the animal pens when I go out to feed. However, since they know that I stop at the chicken coop on my way to the barn to throw layer pellets, when the chickens see me come out of the house they usually start running to the chicken coop ahead of me. Every morning I count chickens just to make sure I’m not losing chickens to predators. In the last three weeks I’ve often been short one hen. Initially it was every other day that my count was one off and then it seemed I was off one chicken for several days in a row. Losing hens when you free-range is not unexpected so I figured the hen had indeed been picked up by a predator or otherwise gotten herself in trouble. While I briefly considered that she might be sitting on a clutch, I discarded that idea pretty quickly as in all the years I’ve owned chickens and with all the different breeds I’ve owned, I have never had a hen go broody. Years ago I had a Rio Grande Wild Turkey hen sit on a clutch of chicken eggs and hatch out seven chicks. She later lost her life to a coyote protecting “her” chicks. But I’ve never had a hen sit on a clutch of eggs.

So this morning when I counted chickens and came up with nineteen, I counted again. Sure enough the hen was back and she had brought along two new additions with her.

Well camouflaged.

Well camouflaged.

The long awaited EGG

Last spring a neighbor’s dog killed all my chickens save one rooster.

I try to raise chicks in the fall so that by the time cold weather hits they are fully feathered and by the time there is sufficient daylight they are old enough to lay. (Most breeds of chickens start to lay between 20 and 24 weeks, although some breeds used by commercial farms will start to lay at 16 weeks.) So early last fall I purchased a “Rainbow Layer” assortment of chicks from a hatchery in the mid-west. This assortment guarantees at least five different breeds of chickens from breeds that will lay white, brown or green eggs, hence the name “Rainbow Layers”.

The chicks were duly delivered a couple of days after hatching and a friend picked them up at the post office (long story) and brought them to me.

I had the brooder all set to accommodate the new chicks and several times a day for the next few weeks Tuck and I went out to the chicken coop to make sure the chicks were warm enough, hadn’t fouled their water and still had feed. The number of trips to the chicken coop lessened as the fall turned into winter, the heat lamp was turned off, and the chicks went from eating chick starter to chick grower. I’ve never understood the phrase “eat like a bird” for in my experience chickens are voracious eaters and the 25 chicks were easily eating 25 lbs of feed a week by the time they were three weeks old and by the time they were 12 weeks old that had increased to 50 lbs a week.

As January rolled into February the days started to lengthen and soon there was enough daylight to stimulate egg production. Then it just became a matter of waiting until the pullets were old enough to start laying. Finally today one of my pullets laid an egg.

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The color of ear lobes of the hen are supposed to be correlated with egg color so I was expecting some white eggs and since usually white egg layers start to lay at a younger age than brown egg layers, I was expecting the first egg to be white. Now that one has started the lay the rest should follow suit.

In the Beginning . . .

I moved onto the farm November 1, 2007. While I had a vision of where I wanted to be, I also knew that I would have to take small steps to reach those goals. At that time I had been self employed for several years, giving me the option of freeing up time to work on the farm but that came at the cost of not having the money to fund projects. As with all things, each small step has been a juggling act.

My horse wouldn’t be transported for another month so building a corral wasn’t a priority. I was anxious to embark with farm life though so I decided, since the property already had a beautiful chicken coop, I would start with raising chicks.

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I knew nothing about mail order hatcheries back then, so I ordered chicks through the local feed store. I had really wanted a heritage breed but the feed store didn’t order through a hatchery that had any breeds other than commercial White Leghorns available in November. So I placed an order for the minimum number of chicks (25) and waited for the call from the feed store telling me the chicks were in. Tiny little yellow balls of fluff soon arrived and I made the drive into town to bring home the new additions. Due to the cold weather (those living in other climes may laugh, but here in central NM temps below freezing at night and 30-40 degrees during the day are considered cold) I decided to raise the chicks in the bathroom instead of the brooder in the chicken coop. The master bathroom was large enough for a giant wire dog crate and small enough to keep at the requisite 90 + degrees using a space heater.

The first week went well. Despite the dire warnings I had received about chicks drowning in their waterer or getting overly chilled and dying, all my chicks thrived. The bathroom resembled a sauna but watching the young chicks more than compensated for that inconvenience. Since keeping the chicks fed, watered and clean was difficult with the dog crate on the floor, I had a “brooder” built that was high enough for me to comfortably care for the chicks. The top opened up and had a hole where a heat lamp could be suspended in the brooder, while a tray in the bottom allowed for easy cleaning.

This design just showed how little I knew about chickens. After setting it up and installing the chicks in their new home, it seemed like a great solution to the difficulties of using a dog crate on the floor. However, the first time I raised the lid to feed and water the chicks, the chicks went crazy trying to escape the dangerous thing from the sky. I had never had the chicks run hysterically when I opened the door to the dog crate so I figured the panicked reaction would soon disappear once the chicks realized that nothing was going to hurt them. Um, not so much. Every single time the lid was opened, the same hysterical panic occurred.*

As time went on, the chicks started to feather up. This meant that every time I opened the brooder and the chicks panicked I had very small, fine feathers floating through the area. Once the chicks got a little older, some were able to flutter their way out of the brooder and into the bathroom at large. By the time the chicks were fully feathered, my bathroom looked like a pillow fight gone wrong every time I cleaned the brooder or fed and watered the chicks (which was often because they ate enormous amounts.)

Lesson One: Never, ever raise chickens in the house.

* Oddly enough, even though the brooder in the chicken coop also has a hinged lid that lifts up, subsequent chicks have never reacted quite so violently to that lid being raised so I am guessing the shadows in the better lit bathroom were, at least in part, a trigger for the panic attacks.