Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More critters on the farm . . .

Tonight I brought back three coolers full of tilapia.  They are voracious eaters of pond scum and algae, and are also bottom feeders.  I fully expect these 60 fish to do a number on the pond this year. 

I was supposed to get 125, but there was a problem with that hatch, so the breeder gave me 10 leftover one pounders from an earlier hatch and about 60 fingerlings.  He assured me that I will be amazed at how much they can eat.  $40 for the lot of them.  My neighbor told me another option is to dredge my pond.  It is nearly an acre and a half and was originally 14 feet deep in the middle.  Only $75,000 to dredge it.  Hmmmmmmm.  $40 or $75,000.  Not a hard choice to make.  I will give the tilapia a chance to do their thing.

Well, off to bed.  Another big day tomorrow.  Androo and I will put in the last of the herbs, then Allen and I are going to start going through the garage.  The eight cubic yard dumpster that I rented for two weeks is getting very full indeed!

I am really in a clean up and clean out mode.  The barn is done, my closet and bathroom are both done and now the fish are taking care of the pond.  Little by little, this place is shaping up.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Another emergency in the milk room

It's 10:30, and I'm just now coming in.  Another long day.

Tonight Leifschon called me to tell me that the vacuum pump wasn't working right.  Thank goodness she was on the last wash cycle.  We have been very lucky.  Only once has it failed BEFORE we were done milking.  But it is still a hassle.

She called Kent and he came right over.  He is so good to us.  And he is so good at fixing things.  I sat on a box listening to the pump try to work and made plans for how I would handle being without a pump tomorrow morning.  I would call the dealer in Ligonier, get the new pump to the barn in the morning, skip morning milking.  The two older calves would be fine.  They are only two weeks from being weaned anyway, but the two little ones would have to be fed.  I have enough milk in my fridge to take care of the heifer.  We are feeding the bull with non-organic milk from Steve, since he is going to the sale barn on Friday and doesn't have to maintain his organic status.  So feeding the little calves would be taken care of even if I couldn't milk in the morning.

Okay, I had everything covered.  (Oops, there was that awful sound again as Kent tried the motor . . .)  And then Leifschon said, "Good luck trying to keep Blossom and Caramel away while you feed Delaney and the bull calf."  She had a point. 

I said, "Do you mind hanging around to help me move the calves to the nursing pen?"  It has two sections, so I would be able to keep the big calves from the little ones while I fed them.  She was more than happy to help, and it went pretty well with two of us.

About that time, I heard the vacuum pump running smoothly.  Music to my ears!  Kent had worked his magic once again.

He said there was a buildup of dirt in the vacuum line, that there should have been a filter installed at one point in the line.  He showed me where the dirt was getting in.  I don't know these things.  Guess I should have spent more time examining drawings of the mechanical end of a dairy barn instead of focusing on the layout of the milk room and the milking parlor.  Live and learn, hey?

Kent will be back tomorrow to finish up the job so that the line stays clean.  But for now, we are up and running yet again.  A little duct tape was involved in tonight's fix.  ;-)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

It was my fault.

Yesterday afternoon, I realized that there was a bone just a few feet from where my hen died.  I am quite sure she was killed by Tashi, and I am quite sure it was over a bone.  I threw some raw bones out to the dogs in one part of the yard, for the chickens in another.  That was very foolish.  The chickens didn't stay put.  I'm sure the one that was killed decided to have a little of Tashi's bone.  Tashi doesn't share.

It was my fault.  I didn't think things through before I tossed out the bones.

Now there are nine . . .

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I have lost two chickens in the past two weeks.  This latest one was lying in the drive.  I fear that Tashi is at it again.  The shock collar is on her.  This makes me so sad . . .

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Campines and their laying habits

You have heard me railing about the dearth of eggs lately.  There are a lot of reasons - it's hot, a critter was stealing them and eating them, and they lay them wherever they want.  I found 13 of them in a flower bed.  They spend a lot of time in two little copses south of the house, and if I were willing to tramp through the underbrush, I'm pretty sure I would find some in both of them.  However, the thing that blows me away is that sometimes I find them on the ground - a single egg under the bird feeder, an egg in the grass ten feet from the door to the Moop, an egg in the lawn between the house and the Moop.  What is this?  I've never heard of such a thing.

I thought maybe I was doing something wrong, wrong material in their nests, Moop not clean enough, letting them out too early or too late.

Here is what another farmer has to say about her Campines.  

"Our [Campines]: one hen free ranges even to lay eggs -- never in a standard nesting area. Our cock refused to be confined when we tried to initate a breeding program. Some have been "friendly" enough to eat out of a hand or be a garden companion. Our favorites among the white egg layers."

So you notice that this other "crazy" person says that these are her favorites, don't you?  They really do get under one's skin, and firmly in one's heart.  Otherwise they would be firmly in one's frying pan!

More chicks

What, am I crazy?

I lost 10 chicks in the first 24 hours.  It took the postal service four days to get them here from Ohio.  It is a miracle I didn't lose more.  The Buckeyes seem to have been the hardest hit.  I think these chickens are a bit fragile, at least compared to Campines.  Considering how well the Campines made it through the winter, foraging in snow and running through drifts that were almost to their heads, I would have expected them to react poorly to the heat.  But they didn't.  I lost three Buckeyes while they were still in the greenhouse, which is why they are now residing in my house, while the Campines all made it through.  And the Campines were raised in the greenhouse last summer - no wimping out and coming to the house for them.

The company said they would replace those first 10 chicks, and they are shipping express.  While I think part of the problem was that the first shipment came during a holiday week when mail gets backed up, still, the hatchery and I both think that the post office is not to be trusted.  I should have the new chicks this morning. 

Why am I crazy, you might ask?  I could have gotten credit for 10 chicks.  Instead I opted to get replacement - replacements that are three weeks behind the others.  That means they will need to be raised separately, at least for a few weeks.  Chickens are mean.  The big ones will kill the little ones, and so they must be kept apart.  We have such romanticized ideas about animals - how pure they are, how innately smart they are.  Hah!  Not so!!  Especially chickens.  I am fascinated by them and repelled by them at the same time.  They cannot be trusted, they cannot be trained.  It is every chicken for itself.  Dogs can be taught manners.  Even cats can be lifted above their baser instincts with enough attention.  Cows are very trainable, of course.  But not chickens.

So I am sitting here this morning wondering why I didn't take the credit, why I wasn't content with ONE box of chickens in my atrium instead of two, why I didn't get a bigger box for the new little ones, why -- why -- why???

Yup, I'm crazy . . .

 This year's chicks, three weeks old.  The dark ones are Golden Campines, the light ones Buckeyes.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Chickens 1, Susan 0

The chickens are going wherever they please!  They have been running free too long to stay in that pen.  Tonight Buster was at least 15 feet up in a tree, crowing with gusto!  I fear he is laughing at me.

On their first day of "captivity," all ten of them were out of the pen by the time I was done milking.  So much for putting line up to keep them in.  However, the fence does give me some sense of security, since there is no evidence of anything skulking around their Moop at night.  So while it is not keeping them in, it is keeping the skulker out.  There is something to be said for that.

They are happily returning to the Moop at roosting time now.  I am finding about three eggs in the nests every day.  Occasionally I find one on the ground.  That has happened often enough to convince me that it is yet another of their bad habits.

They have no manners, will not be trained, and they are definitely winning . . .

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Not sure who won, me or the chickens . . .

I have given up on free range chickens.  The idea was that they would take care of the flies before they hatched and cut down on our fly population here.  That hasn't happened, but of course I only have 10 chickens left, so 20 acres of pastures is a lot of territory for ten chickens to cover.

I have had to fence in anything I don't want them to destroy.  The other day, after wondering why I wasn't getting any strawberries, I walked outside and saw all of them INSIDE the fence I had constructed around the strawberry bed.  They love anything red, so of course they got to all of the wild strawberries before I did, as well.

I got several new blueberry bushes, and they were hanging heavy with fruit when I planted them.  No fruit, all gone, every last blueberry down the gullets of the chickens.  I saw a hen with half a small snake hanging from her beak.  She was having quite a time with it - it was probably three or four times the size of a large nightcrawler - but eventually it was down the hatch!

Now add to this frustration losing another hen to a critter Saturday evening, finding egg shells on the floor of the Moop and in the nests, one of the feed totes being ripped open and half the feed gone, and ending up keeping the chickens in the garage to keep them safe for the last two nights, and I have reached the point where it is time to give up.

Oh, I forgot to mention that they are laying "in the wild," so I am lucky to get an egg or two a day.  I found 13 eggs in a flower bed, five eggs in a box of gate handles and fence parts, one on the ground by the bird feeder, and two on a shelf in my garage.

Here is a pic of the box of fence parts.  Now, wouldn't that be dreadfully uncomfortable?  But there they were!  Five eggs amongst the plastic parts.

I'm not sure who won.  They have worn me down.  But they will be in the Moop again tonight at dusk with the gate closed tightly behind them, so I doubt that they will feel like the winners.  Here they are enjoying their last taste of freedom.   Once they are settled in for the night, the gate will be closed 24/7.  Then it will be safe for me to plant my herb garden.  They leave the established plants alone, but tender young seedlings are their bread and butter.

Here is the view through the gate, the gate that will be shut up tonight.  I hope the thieving marauder is not able to breach the fence.  I hope they are safe tonight, back in their Moop.  I love the little critters.

PS - It wasn't so easy.  Only eight chickens are in the Moop tonight.  I had to capture them one by one and throw them over the fence.  I missed two, so eight are in the Moop, and two are fending for themselves overnight.  I opened the garage door and left the light on, hoping they will return before I go to bed.  I won't sleep well worrying about those two, wondering if they will make it through the night out amongst the predators.
PPS - Last two chickens were home this morning, one of them inside pen.  My next challenge will be keeping them in without clipping their wings.  I just spent about a half hour stringing orange twine from post to post across the top of the pen.  Will have to get more on my way home from market.  If it can keep hawks out, then hopefully it will keep chickens in!

Monday, June 14, 2010

I'm living with chickens

This has been quite a day.  I trained four new milkers tonight, which of course adds time to the process.  I was just in the second cycle of the washing up when I heard a strange sound coming from the vacuum pump.  It was a big problem!  Thank goodness it didn't happen while we were milking, or all of the milk would have gone down onto the floor of the milking pit.

Kent came over and did his magic to get it running again.  I heard a commotion outside and realized it was nearly dark and I hadn't put the chickens up for the night.  And why were they screeching outside the barn?  I ran outside and one was perched on Kent's truck.  She wouldn't come down.  I went to the Moop and there were three or four wing feathers on the floor.  Something had attacked the chickens!  I found seven of them sitting on my composter.  They wouldn't budge.  Then I saw two more on the room of the lean-to for the calves.  Okay, that is all 10 of them accounted for.  I lost one Saturday night, and whatever took her must have come back for dessert.

In 1983, we traveled through Bavaria and were amazed to see houses and barns connected as one building.  but there is something to be said for it.  I am now living in my north central Indiana version of a Bavarian farmhouse.

I get so mad at the chickens for getting into my garage.  Well, I felt differently about it tonight!  I chased the one off of Kent's truck, then lured her to the garage with some cracked corn.  Then I picked up the ones on the composter one by one and took them into the garage as well.  Buster was with that bunch.  Last, I took a ladder to the lean-to and managed to scoop up the last two in one armful.  I took them to join the others in the garage.  I did back out the car, but I really don't care if they poop all over everything in there.  I am so worried for them.

I wrote a few days ago about the heat getting to the chicks, and I brought them into a spare bedroom.  They are still there, doing fine, no more losses.

Here I sit, at 11:18 p.m. having popcorn and a martini for dinner, surrounded by chickens.  When I left the corporate world, this is not what I had in mind.  But you gotta do what you gotta do, and those birds are depending on me.

Organic certification

My application for renewal of my organic certification here on the farm (including cows, chickens and greenhouse) just went in the mail.  I beat the deadline by a little more than 24 hours.

Enough said.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rosie on the run

Yesterday the heat got to the chicks.  I used the greenhouse last year, but I only had Golden Campine chicks then.  This year, I have lost a lot of Buckeyes, and I lost two to the heat yesterday, while the Campines weathered the heat just fine.  I was worrying about them when I went to sleep, planned to move them to my basement this morning before daylight, until I can find another solution.  I woke up at 3:00 a.m. worrying about them, and decided to act immediately.

Chicks have to be moved in the dark, and it is dark at 3 a.m.  An hour later, chicks were cozied down in their brooder box in a spare bedroom in my basement.  However, that is not a great solution, and they are probably going to make another move tonight to the screened deck off my living room.  How I will move them from there to their permanent home in a few months is something I will deal with later.

I slept until 7 a.m., something I rarely do.  That middle-of-the-night work project probably had something to do with it, since once I knew the chicks were safe, I slept just fine.

I got up feeling well rested, looked out the window and saw Rosie in the yard just outside the garden.  What?  She was supposed to be in a paddock a long way from there!  Sure glad we got the fence up around the garden to keep the chickens out, because it kept Rosie out too, Rosie the lover of kale. 

I had planned to do some fence work today as soon as I finished up the last two pages of my organic certification paperwork.  The deer broke the top wire in one of the new pastures south of the pond.  Since Rosie had been nowhere near that area, I was sure that wasn't the problem.  I hopped in the golf cart and headed out to see what had happened.  She managed to break down a corner post!  Good grief!!  I knew their paddock was getting thin, but she didn't have to be so outspoken about it!

I managed to push the corner post up part way, get the insulated wires back around it, and then I rammed into the post with the golf cart to get it into its former upright position, or at least close enough that the wires were taut again.  The gate had been destroyed there, so I made a new one with some tape and push-in fiberglass posts.  Then I went down and repaired the deer damage on the perimeter of the new pasture, since I wanted to move all of the cows down there.

I had no trouble getting Rosie inside the pasture fencing.  I herded her to the other dry cows.  I have no idea why the others had stayed in, but thank goodness they did!  Then I herded the whole bunch of them towards the new paddocks and went back to the barn to put away tools and take care of some other chores.  By the time I was done, all of the cows, including Rosie, were happily in Paddock #22, munching away.  I closed them in, took them their daily tray of minerals and came in the house to have breakfast.

I am so thankful that Liefschon, one of our milkers, is milking for me on Sunday mornings now.  If she wasn't, I would just be finishing up milking and would have had all of those fencing chores still ahead of me.

Well, back to the organic certification paperwork.  It will be ready to go to post office tomorrow morning.  Gee, I'm going to beat the deadline by one whole day!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Moving the calves to a bigger pasture

It's past time for the calves to get out of the nursing pen.  Besides, the grass needs to grow up a bit in there before Lucy and Rosie freshen.  They will want to munch while they are in there.

We tried to move them once, and Caramel went through the electric fence - not once, but about three times!  We saw her little body jerk when the electricity hit her, but it didn't deter her a bit.  She wanted out - wanted to experience wide open spaces.  It was obvious that it wasn't going to work, so we lured her back to the nursing pen, along with Delaney and Blossom, where there is no electricity because the whole paddock is lined with heavy fencing designed to keep calves and smaller animals safely inside.  We used a bucket of milk to finally get her in the nursing pen with its secure fencing. 

Very quickly she ignored the milk bucket.  We are really lucky we got her in.  I saw her walking the perimeter of the pen, head down, going very slowly.  She was obviously looking for an escape route.  I just stood there and laughed.  That little stinker!  Her mother was an escape artist, too.  They have Normandy blood, and Normandies are notorious for escaping. 

This morning, when I was done feeding the three heifer calves and the bull calf - another Sam Junior until he is sold - I lured all four of them into the larger calf paddock with the empty buckets.  Blossom went right in, and to my surprise, so did Caramel.  I finally lured Delaney and Sam Jr. in.  I heard a few startled cries as their noses hit the electric fencing.  But Delaney and Sam Jr. escaped anyway - both of them ignoring the shocks and taking off, one to the north, the other to the south.  I thought I was in deep trouble.  How would I get them back in?

I forgot about the herd instinct.  There was no way that Blossom and, surprisingly, Caramel were going to leave that pen.  They are the biggest, and they were hitting the top wire, the really hot one.  They decided to enjoy their new digs and began running from one end of the paddock to the other, enjoying the spaciousness of the paddock after two months in the small nursing pen.  All of that room!  They were in heaven.  The two who had escaped looked longingly at the two inside.  Fortunately they had not escaped into the same paddock, or I don't think things would have turned out so well.  Both of them braved yet another shock to get back in the pen with Buttercup and Caramel.  Job done, all four in the larger calf paddock, happily running from one end to the other, then stopping to eat some of the lush grass that is growing there.

They are such beautiful animals.  I stand in awe when I watch them.  I will be sad to see Sam Jr. go.

The count

I just realized that I haven't done a count on my blog for some time.  Long time readers will remember that I often ended each blog with the count of animals around here.

Well, here it is.

This morning, there are three dogs, one cat (who smells faintly of skunk), two bulls, nine milk cows, two yearling heifers, four new calves, ten laying hens, one rooster and 34 chicks.  My, it is getting heavily populated around here!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Another dreary day . . .

Androo and I worked together for a short time this morning before I had to head out for market.  I have so little time to work with him.  I am supposed to be mentoring him, not that he needs much, but even so, I felt grateful to have 45 minutes to work side by side with him in the garden.  I do enjoy dirt under my hands instead of computer keys.

It's another dreary day.  It never stormed badly enough that Androo had to leave the garden, so he got a lot done today.  He quits at 3:00 p.m. on Wednesdays, so it will be a "short" day, but he has the seeds ready to go - it's a fruit day, and we need to get more beans in.  Aunt Ida's pole beans will go on the trellis.  The others will make it into rows wherever there is a little space left.  The yin-yang bean seeds are almost gone, so I've instructed Androo to put one or two hills in the herb garden by the greenhouse.  I want to save seeds and don't want any cross pollination.  I know of people who have saved bean seeds that were grown near other varieties, but better safe than sorry.

This dreary weather is a bit depressing, but it is sure good for the radishes!  My second sowing of radishes is doing far better than the first.  April was hot and dry, and I didn't have my irrigation system set up yet - who knew?  April is the month that is supposed to be dreary, but it wasn't, and my radishes were terrible.  These June radishes are tender and round and bright red, crisp and tasty.

If you have been reading my blog for awhile, then you know how much I love collards and kale.  Quite a bit of it is up, and I am already harvesting from the biggest of the kale plants.  Today Androo tucked in small starts from the greenhouse everywhere there was room.

My garden isn't very big, but the variety is pretty impressive!  My market basket customers are never bored with what they see in their baskets each week.  The asparagus is done, but now the baby turnips are coming in, and most of my customers love a batch of wildharvested greens such as stinging nettle, lamb's quarter and chickweed.  Variety is the spice of life.

Well, I need to tackle another page of my organic certification paperwork.  Deadline is fast upon me.  I'm just about done, but "just about" doesn't cut it with the certifying agency.  That postmark better be on or before the 15th, or I'm toast!

The chicks and the chickens and the garden

My losses with this year's chicks are quite high.  The hatchery is going to replace the first 10 that died.  I'm not sure what the deal is.  Nothing is different from last year that I know of, but I dread going out to the brooder and seeing yet another dead chick.  I know, it is "just a chick," but my heart is sad when I find yet another.  They are such cheerful, busy little things, and then, so soon, they are gone.

As for the chickens, my 10 laying hens and Buster The Rooster, they are driving me pretty nuts.  The hens are laying eggs just about anywhere but in their nests.  I am getting somewhere between zero and two eggs per day.  Sunday I found 13 eggs in a flower bed that I was cleaning out.  Who knows where they are laying now?  My friend Misty informs me that as soon as you find the nest and remove the eggs, they don't go back there again, so it isn't like I can hunt eggs here and there and find them all.  It is a mystery where the eggs are going since I found the nests in the flower bed.

It is not that they are going broody, that they are collecting eggs so that they can set and hatch, or at least I don't think so.  I guess one of these days, if a hen suddenly doesn't show up for three weeks, she may just show up with a bunch of kids in tow.  But it is unlikely, since Campines rarely go broody.  It makes you understand why this is a very rare breed. 

On another and more cheerful note, I am now finally harvesting in my garden.  Sugar snap peas are coming in, and lettuce is still doing well.  We are going to set out more lettuce today.  I wish I had planted more turnips.  They are delightful!  I must remember to do a full row of them next year.  Androo will be here to weed and plant today.  Since thunderstorms are predicted, I can only hope that we can get some time in before they hit.  There are plenty of things to do in the soap room if the storms reach us, but we really need to get more planting and weeding done today.

There is never a dull moment on a farm.