|LICKETY SPIT FIBRE FARM||
Today we started on physical development for Elsie. She hasn't been walking enough so her legs aren't strengthening and her tendons seem all out of control. So she only gets her bottle after she walks a bit. If the weather is nice she will walk outside, and if it's raining she'll do laps in the barn. She looks a bit awkward and she moves slowly, but we expect it won't be long before she's jumping.
Dr. Sherry came today to give a herd health checkup. The sheep and alpacas were all vaccinated, except for Elsie. She also took a swab from Apricot, to see if there was some kind of medical reason for Elsie's poor birth condition (and, I guess, apply that reason to the other 2 lost lambs).
We had mentioned that Buckwheat, the ram, had been coughing. Originally we thought it was just the hay tickling his throat, but it's been going on now for a bit. Dr. Sherry took a blood sample from him - she worries that there might be Q Fever in our barn. That is a fatal virus that can also be transmitted to humans. We notified the previous owners of the sheep and he came over to talk to her, too. It's not something you hear a lot about, although she has done a lot of research into it. She also warned us it could be Ovine Progressive Pneumonia. It's all a bit overwhelming. How could we just be starting this flock and then stand to lose them all?
On a positive note, Elsie seems to be getting bit stronger, being bottle fed. It's quite the ordeal, trying to hold Apricot and nurse her, but adding the colostrum to the milk replacer seems important. And Elsie does try to nurse when I've got Apricot held still. Maybe she'll get strong enough to be able to stand up for her right to nurse. I think that Apricot is just so flighty that the smallest thing spooks her and Elsie isn't strong enough to stand up to her. So the bottle seems a good compromise. It can take her 20 minutes to finish her 1/2 cup milk - I doubt Apricot has that much patience.
Poor little Elsie hasn't been progressing well. She has a round goiter on her neck and she is raspy when she nurses. We had the vet do a farm visit on Saturday... he suggested a mineral deficiency might be the cause. He gave her a shot of antibiotic and another dose for us to administer Sunday.
We continued to help her nurse and to encourage her to stand. She seems to want to sleep alot.
On Sunday she got her 2nd antibiotic shot. She didn't get better but she wasn't getting worse either.
Today we ended up taking her to the vet clinic. We saw Dr. Sherry, who is the sheep and alpaca vet. The prognosis wasn't good - Dr. Sherry worries that it might be Q Fever, which is a communicable, terminal illness. She also saw infection behind Elsie's eyes, and possibly in her lungs. She was very sweet when she told us that there was no way to predict if Elsie will make it, that we would have to do the best we could in supporting her. I asked her about switching Elsie to a milk replacer since Dr. Bob had thought it could be some kind of mineral deficiency and Dr. Sherry thought it wouldn't hurt. So we started her today on milk replacer with colostrum from Apricot plus corn syrup. Fingers crossed. It would be devastating to lose another lamb.
On a positive note, Beatrice's chicks hatched - 2 tiny tiny chicks. I worry they might fall though a crack in the stall and get lost! But they stick close to mom and dad. Since we moved the laying chicks and the ducks into the stall with Beatrice and Hudson (divided by chicken wire) its a very active stall now. A happy place to take our mind off of Elsie.
The sheep were absolutely freaked out by the arrival of the alpacas. They were running back and forth and slip sliding. We still had a pregnant ewe, whom we didn't want getting too worked up. So we locked the 4 sheep up in a stall together.
Around 8 pm I heard a plaintive cry and looked in on the sheep and amazingly enough, there was a little lamb. Apricot had literally given birth in 45 minutes without any prior warning.
We decided on Elsie as the name and were happy to see that she looked fully formed and sturdy. We took the ram and 2 other ewes and put them in their own stall and sat back to enjoy mom and baby. But after 45 minutes Elsie still hadn't stood up. So we helped her to nurse, which was an experience - catching and holding Apricot while keeping Elsie out of harm's way, then holding Elsie up to Apricot to nurse.
She seemed weaker than she should have been and we were afraid that we'd have another lost lamb. We started to help her nurse every couple of hours, to make sure that her skittish mom didn't completely deny her nourishment. And prayed she'd make it through the night.
The tractors are finally done. So the meat birds have been moved in - 15 to a tractor. It turns out we had 63 birds (extras from the hatchery) so one has 18. We've started them off with water and feed inside the coop to get them settled in but eventually the waterers will be moved outside.
I started the tractors off alongside the big garden so that hopefully the bad bug population will be knocked down. Since the garden is freshly planted, the chickens can't roam freely in there - they dig everything up. Last year they did keep the Colorado beetle population under control, but the potatoes were well established when I let them in. Hopefully bugs migrate from the pasture past the tractors so that those chicks will become excellent hunters and the garden will be spared.
Around 4 pm we hitched up the horse trailer and headed off to John's to pick up the alpacas. We took 3 trips: 1 with the boys (and I can't describe how much spit was lining the trailer when we arrived at our barn!) and then 2 with the girls. We had thought to fit all the girls in together, but since Shauna-Marie is pregnant, we didn't want to risk crowding or trampling. Some of the girls were very resistant to getting into the trailer (Phebee performed an excellent lie-down-I'm-not-moving trick), but eventually they were all moved to our place. And curious to look around and check out the sheep!
Susan's daughter, Cam, meets Johnny. It seems that kids are naturally drawn to the alpaca's gentle and curious nature.
This is as good a photo that I could get - Amelia hatched her 4 chicks. I put her and the chicks into one of the tractors so that the other hens wouldn't pick on her tiny chicks - they are the size of a golfball maybe. Amelia is a RUTHLESS mom. Any time I try to put my hand into the tractor to change the water or top up the food, she flies at me, screeching and fierce. Also, the layout of the tractor makes it impossible to get a good photo. I can hardly wait to see what these chicks look like - the Polish Frizzle dad(s) are sure to add some interesting genes.
I want the meat birds to be able to be outside. But I know that my neighbours (who have already suffered with the layers getting into their garden before I put the fence up) would not be thrilled at another 60 birds roaming my property (and theirs). So I have convinced the boys of Max FX to help me build these tractors - a weird hybrid between a layer's coop and a broiler tractor. I definitely wanted to have the option to lock them in if predators seemed to be a possibility. And for their food to be covered. So the coop portion is substantial. But the run is 4x8, and it has turned out to be fairly easy to move. There will be 5 in total, so about 12 birds per tractor. I can hardly wait to put my chicks in there!
The ram has been coughing. It almost sounds like he has hay stuck in his throat. Michele is giving him penicillin in the hopes it clears up.
And two of the hens are playing musical nesting boxes so I'm not sure that they'll ever hatch anything.
The ducklings look so bored in their brooder. They'll be glad to get outside.
Roosters. Noisy, bossy and sometimes aggressive. But without them, you can't have chicks.
We have 3 broody hens - Amelia, the silkie, and one New Hampshire and an Ameracauna x. Beatrice, the cochin that lives at the barn, is also broody.
We met at John's at 8. The shearer, Karen, was already set up and so without ceremony we were off.
Michele and I had spent the day before getting ready for shearing, based on what we had seen at Sharon's. We had bags and tags and pins and ID pouches. The first cut is the "blanket". It is the most valuable of the fleece. It goes into a bag with the animal's name on it. The "seconds" go into a separate bag - those are the other parts of the fleece that aren't quite as good for wool. Each bag must be clearly identified so that if fleece testing is done, it is done for the correct animal.
The process is intense, and there is no time for picture taking. The alpaca is brought from the holding pen and 3 people help get it onto the table. Legs are gently strapped to the table and so it begins. The shearer is shearing the whole body while 2 others hold the legs. Then the owner / owner's delegates trim the legs and the top knot. It is important to get out of the shearer's way! Someone else collects the fleece and bags it. Then the teeth are checked, and if necessary trimmed down. This is also the time that nails are trimmed and shots can be given. The whole process at Alpacas at Mud and Eighth took about 10 minutes. We were averaging about 12. I was so grateful that we had been to the open house and so knew basically what to do. We weren't an embarrassment, anyway. We had brought another competent woman, Jamie, to learn the ropes with us in hopes that next year she'll help us again. Between the 3 of us we managed to make the legs and topknots look modestly presentable.
Once the shearing is done, the alpaca is lowered to the ground and escorted away - they seem so happy to be free of the fleece that they drop to the ground and roll.
This is Karen, the shearer, with Johnny. It was his first shearing - he is only 11 months.
After the shearing, the whole group has lunch together and Karen and her gang are off to their next appointment.
She has a great facebook page - she is Shearing Ontario.
Our herd done, I had to go back to work. It was a relief to have it over with - I had been pretty nervous about it. But now we can make plans for how to do a good job at our farm next year.
A sheep farmer meets an urban gardener. Fleece ensues.
The Reading List
*Animal, Vegetable, Miracle