|LICKETY SPIT FIBRE FARM||
The lambs that we ordered in the spring were ready for pick up a week or so ago but we didn't want to pick them up until after Buckwheat was gone.
We had chosen 6 lambs - 3 Romney and 3 Icelandic. When we got to Willow Farm we swamped out a few of the choices - in the interim between choosing and picking up a few of them hadn't really grown a lot - which Josslyn supported. We actually added a 7th - a Merino/Romney cross which I couldn't help but take.
I haven't even gone through my first season of sheep shearing, and already I am a fleece hoarder! I am so curious to see the result of her crossing those two types of wool.
Introducing the lambs to the ewe's wasn't as stressful as I had imagined. There was a bit of position asserting, but for the most part the sheep accepted one another and kept on grazing. And the alpacas completely accepted the sheep. There was a bit of running on the part of the smaller lambs, but generally speaking the whole thing was very smooth and easy.
We are hoping that Elsie makes friends with the other lambs and has some companionship - sometimes her mom and the other 2 ewes leave her alone while they go off together.
A freak storm hit us around 6 pm. Thankfully, Michele was home to close up the barn and the coop - I was at work and had watched it coming up over the mountain towards us.
It was a brutal storm in places and not having lived through a tornado, I haven't seen a more ominous sky. By the time we were both home, the storm had passed for the most part with only a few pop-up cells going through. The poor pullets were huddled under the coop - they hadn't known to go through the pop door instead of the man door. Of course I had to lie in the mud pulling them out from under the coop and hand them to Michele to put inside the coop. And of course some of them tried to take off. Teenagers.
The sheep and alpacas were snug and calm, which was a relief.
But the next morning we could see the damage. Our garden was tossed and ragged but most everything survived - only our sunflowers and raspberries seemed beaten. But the corn crops in the area had taken a huge hit - there were pockets where giant circles of crop were just lying down on the ground, pushed over by the wind.
It seems horribly unfair that the crop farmers should get hit like this when the spring was so wet and after a year like last. Before I knew farmers it was all an academic concern - " oh poor farmers, climate change must be really impacting them" - but now it seems so much harsher. Now these are people that I see at community functions and at the fair. These are the people that I buy produce from, whose family I know.
They say that freak storms like this will only become more common as the effects of climate change become more pronounced. Its bad enough for urban folks who have flooded basements and tree-damaged roofs. But the rural folks have the floods and the tree damage but their livelihoods are also at risk. And our food supply is most definitely at risk. Just think about how much apples cost last year after the frost.
Dr. Sherry put Buckwheat to sleep today. Last night and this morning I made sure he had lots of pellets and grain to eat, and then today I went to work. Poor Michele had to help Dr. Sherry do it, and then she buried him at the back of the paddock. I thought that was nice - his spirit could still be running with his girls.
I realized we didn't have a good picture of him, so I didn't add any here.
The vet called and the ewes (including Elsie) are O.P.P free. So they can go out into the paddock with the alpacas.
The ewes are still incredibly skittish, but Elsie is calm enough that the alpacas have been able to get to know her to to accept her as part of their herd.
It's such a pleasure to let them get outside! I feel for Buckwheat, though - he is in his stall, watching them run. We can't let him out for fear he will infect the girls. It's no way for him to live, always watching from behind the gate. Dr. Sherry is coming on Wednesday to put him down. I dread it.
We have begun to breed the alpacas. It's a lot more challenging than one would think - the females are induced ovulators as opposed to having a distinct breeding season where they are in heat. Their proximity to and the behaviour of the males induces them to ovulate and so breeding is actually part of a whole courtship it seems.
We think it will take may tries for us to learn the trick of it- and even experience doesn't guarantee conception. After the first breeding, the females are reintroduced to the males every few days to see if they show interest. If they do, then the mating takes place again. Then the whole "test / remate" thing goes on again.
Once they have conceived, the females carry the baby for 11.5 months, which is a long time for a girl to wait!
Shauna-Marie is getting so big, we are really excited to see her baby (which is called a cria).
We went to feed the barn chickens - Hudson, Beatrice, and their 2 chicks. One chick is missing. There is no sign of a predator which must mean a cat jumped over the fence into the run. And all along I've been a supporter of the barn cats - catching the mice that always seem to be everywhere. But I had stupidly thought they would leave the BARN CHICKENS alone! Like the house cat George leaves the chickens alone - she knows they are not hers to eat. Yet it seems the barn cats don't know that rule. I am going to have to rethink their place in our happy family.
RIP little chicken - you were guaranteed to be a very cute hen.
We added 40 more broilers to our barn. The learning curve continues. This time we moved the brooder into a stall in the barn so the chicks would be warmer and safer from predators (not that we have had problems with them yet, but why take a chance) and it would leave room for hay.
There are more white ones than red coloured ones... it will be interesting to see how different they are than the first batch. This is another group of "Frey Special Dual Purpose". The brochure says the white ones are male and the red one's female, but we didn't have any white in our first run. I will have to watch for fighting, I think. With smaller flocks in each tractor, hopefully they will have more distraction and the fighting will be kept to a minimum.
The chicks hatched by Amelia are growing up and are turning into excellent hunters. In their run, they are constantly looking for bugs and tiny shoots - they seem to always be on the move. Amelia and her 4 don't eat a lot of "store-bought" food because they seem to get a lot to eat by foraging.
Compare that to the broilers. They also have the opportunity to hunt for food in their runs and we started to move the tractors every day so they would have fresh pasture each day. We also toss in garden scraps and cobs of corn. But where Amelia's crowd would be all over things like the corn or broccoli, the broilers seem uncertain as to what exactly has been offered to them. They do all the normal chicken things like scratching and pecking, but there seems to be a disconnect between the pasture they are on and the greens that we throw into their run. I wonder if it's the example of the mom that's missing? Where Amelia has trained her brood by example, the broilers have only had instinct to go on. So until the brave one pecks at the cabbage and tries it, the cabbage will lie there wilting. In the tractor down the field, though, Amelia will attack the cabbage which will incite her young ones to swoop in.
I have wondered if it's also the nature of the hatchery broiler... that even though ours aren't the "commercial" variety of broiler, they have been selected as good meat birds by the commercial hatcheries. It's difficult to find a hatchery where you can order 60 heritage type birds to raise for meat. The hatchery offers you the 4 types that produce the top results for the least amount of time / feed. These chickens have been bred to sit by the feeder and "efficiently convert feed to weight". So while the variety that we chose would be what I consider a "normal" chicken (ie something that can live for more than 9 weeks before it dies of a heart attack), it is still not the kind of chicken that I would hatch out my flock if I could hatch 60 chicks at a time.
So, being a variety that is perhaps more out of touch with its heritage than the layers, my broilers are maybe somewhat less instinctual than my hatched mutt chickens. And couple that with the absence of an experienced mom, the broilers perhaps haven't learned about all the good things they can eat. This makes them more dependant on their feed than I had hoped. My layers eat very little feed because they have access to anything they want on the property - they don't need store-bought food. But the broilers eat more than I had expected. Of course, they are teenage chickens which means they don't do much more than eat, but when we started this I had visions of buying very little feed (thinking that they would be "living off the land"...) and so I'm surprised at how much it's costing to feed them. Unlike raising teenage humans, cost of feed directly translates into cost of final product. I believe, however, that what they eat off the pasture will make them healthy and hopefully tasty and worth every penny!
Buckwheat is a fantastic ram. He is affectionate with humans (because he loves food so much) and yet protects his ladies. He is pretty greedy with the feed, and so is a bit on the chubby side but that is also because they've been confined in a stall since we've been uncertain about their health issues (and how it could impact the alpacas). But he really is the sweetest.
Today the vet called, and Buckwheat has tested positive for Maedi Visna virus. This is a terminal illness that in Buckwheat will manifest itself as pneumonia. There is no cure and it will eventually kill him. And worse, it can infect the whole flock. Thankfully it doesn't transmit to alpacas. But the vet will have to come and check the ewes and Elsie.
Elsie has been making such progress. She is stronger and is eating more. Her legs seem to be straightening out, also. If she has the virus it will be devastating.
The new lambs are supposed to be coming in a couple of weeks, also. We can't risk their health, so we've postponed picking them up until we figure all of this out.
This is a happy photo of Elsie meeting Cinder, who is a very senior Jack Russell.
Last year hay was scarce because of the weather. We've been worried about hay - we got some from last year in, to tide us over until this year's crop is ready. Michele's fields were converted to crops after she sold her sheep a couple of years ago, and so while one was planted back to hay this spring, it won't be ready for much this year. We will have to buy all of our hay. We put an order in with the farmer that grows on her fields, but the spring has been so wet that it's been impossible to get the hay in.
The hay gets cut, and then it has to lie in the field for a couple of days to dry. Then it gets baled, or rolled, depending on how it will be stored. If there isn't a stretch of good, dry, sunny weather, the farmers don't risk cutting down the hay. If it gets rained on while it's lying in the field, it can wreck the crop. So the hay has been growing a lot longer than is ideal because it's been raining so much.
This week the weather finally shifted so everyone has been madly cutting down hay. You can hear the tractors in the field until late at night as they try to take advantage of the weather. Our first delivery was ready today. After work Michele, her kids and I pulled it in from the fields next door to me. It's only 12 rolls, but it feels so good to have something put aside. I had heard rumours of people having to get rid of livestock this winter because hay was scarce and therefore expensive, so they couldn't afford to feed their animals. That must be heartbreaking. We've been trying to calculate how much hay we'll need to get us safely through the winter, without buying too much and wasting it. I don't want to be scrambling next spring, paying a fortune for hay that we are desperate for.
It's almost like a root cellar - the hay barn is starting to be reassuringly stocked.
A sheep farmer meets an urban gardener. Fleece ensues.
The Reading List
*Animal, Vegetable, Miracle