Wednesday, December 23, 2015


So I've figured out why Punky Rooster (silkie) was Head Bird around here for so long, in spite of being a bantam amongst full size chickens.

One third the size.  All thirds the attitude.
It all came about because I brought home a new rooster - now don't think I'm super crazy, because he came with a hen, and they are French Black Copper Marans.  Extremely fancy birds and I would have been crazy to pass them up.  I put a small pen in the corner of the coop for new arrivals, so that the old chickens can get used to them without being able to beat them up.  My main concern was Chick Jagger, the Wyandotte rooster, who has supplanted Punky as Lord of the Barnyard by dint of being huge and a jerk.  And I wasn't concerned, because while the bantam hens can get into the introduction pen no matter what I do, Jagger cannot.  Everything would be fine and nobody would get destroyed.

Then I went into the coop to check for afternoon eggs and found Punky jumping on the new rooster's head.  Apparently I can't keep him out of the introduction pen either, and not only does he fight dirty, but this larger rooster was clearly confused why this tiny bird was shoving him into a corner and jumping on his face.

So in conclusion, silkie roosters (or at least my silkie rooster) are devious little bastards, and Marans roosters have excellent calm temperaments.  With luck, Punky is done trying to destroy the poor new guy and there will be peace in the coop again, but I would not count on it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dry off is coming.

I whine about winter a lot.  It is cold, it is often wet.  The hoses freeze, so I have to haul water in buckets.  I have to feed a lot of hay, and therefor worry incessantly about running out of hay (even though I never have).  So when Game of Thrones hit my radar, that "winter is coming" thing came out of my mouth a lot.  Gotta get the hay up - winter is coming.  I don't know if I have enough buckets - winter is coming.  Or better yet, why are the handles on my buckets breaking?  Winter is COMING!

But you know what I hate more than winter?  Dry Off Day.  Every goat needs to be dried off (ie, I stop milking her and her milk dries up) two months before she kids again, so that she can rest and rebuild her udder.  If you don't, lactation quality and quantity goes way down, particularly colostrum quality - and that stuff is liquid gold.  Literally the difference between life and death for those baby kids.  So Dry Off Day is super important for the goats.

But it also means no more milking, and chores without milking are just depressing.  It means no more milk, and the kids always cry the first week of store cow milk because it's just not the same.  It means I have to pay really close attention to my yogurt and cheese making cultures or they're going to be dead by the time I have milk again.

So down with winter, sure.  But next year, I'm staggering the breeding of my does so our dry season is as short as possible.  If I'm going to be out there freezing my buns off in the barn, I want MILK, dang it!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Goats: occasionally too smart for my own good

Now I love my goats.  They make me laugh every day.  They do however tend to develop some behaviors that also make me want to scream.  The most frightening at this time revolves around these kinds of latches:

And the fact that goats can open them any time they wants to.  Let's just make this clear: any time she wants to, a goat can get into 2/4 of the kidding stalls, the coop, the stall off the milk room, and THE MILK ROOM.  Did you know I keep feed in the milk room?  Fortunately none of them have figured out how to get open the twist top bins I use, even by knocking them over and jumping on them.  I am also grateful that, generally speaking, they only want in when I'm in there (they know I can get the feed cans open).

So now all my doors and gates have hook and eye latches higher than the goats can easily reach, too.  Or close with a carabiner.  Heaven help me if they figure out how to operate a carabiner.  This is also conclusive proof that goats are smarter than sheep - the previous owner of our property ran Katahdins, and found all these latches to be perfectly adequate.  He also kept several of the tube gates shut by hanging the chain on a nail.  Yeah, goats figured that one out in about five minutes.

Friday, November 13, 2015

And the lesson is...

So this morning two of the roosters were fence fighting. I have the silkies shut in the new coop with the khaki campbell ducks for population balance (if any of you speak duck, tell the khakis THE CONFINEMENT WILL END WHEN THE BABY MAKING IMPROVES). Today I opened the old coop yard so the chickens could get in there and clean up the weeds, so of course Chick Jagger (Wyandotte) decided that this was the best possible time to try to fight Punky for the title of Lord of the Poultry Yard. Now roosters fighting isn't usually funny, what with all the violence. But with a fence in the middle it looked more like a chest bumping contest, and was kind of hilarious... especially since Punky wouldn't back down from a bird literally twice his size! That is also worrisome of course because if they could really fight, Jagger would destroy Punky. I happened to be standing there filling the waterer in the yard. Slowly, slowly I moved around to the side. And sprayed Jagger with the hose. He of course ran away because DEAR LORD THIS ROOSTER ATTACKS WITH WATER! And Punky just stood there strutting and crowing, because Jagger ran away = I WIN. Which is good for me because having a small rooster that respects me well as top dog is better for me than Jagger, who is doing that crazy adolescent rooster thing. But the lesson here is that I am a jerk, at least to roosters. But for once me breaking up fighting poultry actually worked out for the best. I hope.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Things I never expected about ducks

The last one was fun so I'm doing it again!

  1. Male ducks do not quack.  They in fact sound a lot like Donald Duck, only quieter.  Somebody on the Disney staff actually knew a thing or two about ducks.
  2. Female ducks make up for the lack of quacking from their boyfriends... especially laying breeds.  High strung ducks = LOTS AND LOTS OF QUACKING.
  3. Ducklings, no matter how often or how gently they are handled, seem to go through a crazy panic bird phase starting when they are about two or three weeks old.  This is about a week before a lot of mama ducks give their babies the boot in nature, apparently, so it makes sense.  It is still obnoxious.
  4. When the panic bird phase ends depends on the breed.  Meat breeds settle down right around when they start laying... when they are 20 weeks old.  I'm still waiting for the laying breeds to settle down.
  5. Domestic ducks (except for Muscovies, which I'll get to later, and Mallards, which I don't ever want to own) do not fly.  They also have stupid flat feet and look a lot like a wind up bath toy when they run.  They are still faster than you.
  6. Muscovies fly.  I mean they really fly, like "oh hi I'm a duck and I want to roost on top of your house" level of flying.  I keep having this idea that I can leave their wings unclipped and it will be fine.  I don't know why I keep having this idea.
  7. While ducks are extremely stupid, they are creatures of habit, and if you can make them do something for about three days (say, go into the coop at sundown), they will do it basically on their own ever after.  This is wonderful most of the time, but terrible if you need to get them to do something else instead (like sleep in the other coop).  Because they will do everything in their power to make everything exactly the same always forever and ever, including running you over with those stupid flat feet, which isn't as funny as it sounds like it should be.
  8. There is a saying, "being nibbled to death by ducks."  I will tell you, I have been bitten by ducks (broody mommy ducks are full of rage), and it is actually quite painful.  Especially when it is done over and over at high speed and accompanied by valiant attempts to beat you to death with her wings.  Just don't mess with broody Muscovies.  It's almost always a mistake, and very rarely worth it.
  9. Mother ducks are extremely protective of their babies.  The problem with this is when the hen across the way also hatched out some very nice babies, and she decides that those must be her babies, too, and OMG THAT EVIL MONSTER HEN IS STEALING MAH BABIES!!!1  When hens fight over the ducklings, the ducklings always loose.  I have ended up with more brooder ducklings this way than any other issue with the hatching process.
  10. Speaking of ducks hatching eggs... sometimes, when the eggs are hatching, the mother ducks will push pipping eggs and wet ducklings out of the nest.  They can't get back in on their own, obviously, and the mother ducks either can't or won't help (although they will call to them - the mother ducks may just be stupid).  When you try to put them back you will get bitten.  A lot.  I like to just put them in my incubator and avoid that whole mess.  This is the second biggest reason I end up with brooder ducklings.
  11. Do not gauge a duck hen's ability to hatch eggs by the first nest she sits.  There will be quite a lot of rotters and dead ducklings the first go around, and you may panic and think that you will never have enough ducklings to raise for the freezer.  Her second nest she will probably hatch twice as many ducklings as you thought she had eggs under there, and you will suddenly have an army of ducklings breaking into the feed corn like they own the place.
All in all, I wonder why I keep ducks about four times a year.  But then there are the times when I sit on my front porch and watch peaceful roving packs of ducklings grazing in my front yard, keeping the place free of basically all bugs in the process.  Plus roast duck for dinner and poached duck eggs?  Yeah, they'll be staying.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Tips for new beekeepers

  1. Even if you are just going to refill the feeders, bring the hive tool.  You never know when you'll find a bit burr comb that needs scraping off, or what the bees will have glued together next.
  2. Give the smoker a little puff every couple minutes to make sure it is still burning in there.  They can go out with just the air flow from the spout.  Or just for no reason at all.  You want to make sure that's smoking before you open the brood box.
  3. If you turn the smoker sideways, unless you are holding on to the lid, it will pop open.  You have been warned!
  4. Sometimes even a happy, well-mated, healthy queen will lay two eggs in a cell.  I theorize she does this to cause me anxiety, in revenge for digging through her hive.
  5. Sometimes bees make a hot mess.  Even on foundation.  When you clean this out it will make them very angry.  Try to catch them early.
  6. The moment you say "don't worry I stand there and watch them all the time, and they  never sting me," somebody will get stung.  Or at least have a bee crash into their face and make them think they were stung.
  7. Grass can and will grow through your screened bottom board and out the entrance of the hive.  This is not fun to clear out.  Don't skimp on the landscaping cloth under your hives.
All together bees are really fun and rewarding, even before you harvest your first frames of delicious, delicious honey.  They are not however as easy as beekeeping websites make them out to be, if only because every time a newbee starts a new hive, they (like us) will find new and exciting ways to derp it up.  Fun!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Things I never expected about chickens

  1. Different breeds of chickens don't just have different personalities... they have different voices.  Wyandottes chatter.  Faverolles grumble.  Silkies almost coo.  Easter Eggers glare at me and hiss.  I don't think they like me.
  2. Ever hear the phrase, "madder than a wet hen"?  It's true, they do get pretty cranky when they are wet.  Unless they happened to grow up in a brooder full of ducklings.  Then they lie in the mud with their "sisters" when it gets hot.
  3. Two roosters do not crow twice as much as one rooster does.  It is more of an exponential equation.  We have three roosters and the crowing basically never stops.
  4. You quickly learn to recognize roosters by their crow.  Punky Rooster (silkie) greets the day in a clear, piercing tenor.  Chick Jagger (Wyandotte) is our bass - he almost sounds like he's howling.  Chikki Hendrix still has a derpy cut off crow that we had hoped he would grow out of.  Inexplicably the hens seem to like him best.
  5. You also quickly learn to ignore all the dang crowing.  They start about an hour before the coop lights turn on at five, but as long as the windows on the coop-ward side of the house are closed, I don't think anybody even notices.
  6. Pecking order makes no sense.  Punky manages to be head rooster despite being literally half the size of the other two (and most of the hens).  Perhaps they remember him feeding them when they were babies.  Perhaps they are in awe of his singing voice.  Perhaps he triples in size when no one is watching.  We will never know.
  7. Supposedly, a hen's comb and wattles suddenly grow and turn red (as opposed to pink) right before she starts laying.  Chickens are also jerks, and we have been waiting nearly a month for those "any day now" hens to quit being freeloading slackers.
  8. It is somehow always surprising when the layer pellets run out.  Not the scratch corn, because I have yet to come up with a method of keeping my millions of ducklings from breaking open the bags and throwing crazy scratch corn parties.  But there always seem to be tons of layer pellets until suddenly there are none at all.

In summary, chickens are endlessly entertaining, and I think every household should have at least six hens.  The eggs will be the best thing you ever tasted, and you will get bonus free chicken TV, all for the low low price of every bug they can reach and those magically disappearing layer pellets.

The three pound king of the barnyard.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The 4Farthings chick raising method

So I've got some more chicks.  For some reason.

No but seriously, these are to live in the duck houses and keep the bedding turned, so it doesn't become a packed block glued together with poop.  The white/tan ones are Salmon Faverolles (they're French!), the black/white chipmunk looking ones are Silver Laced Wyandottes (they're American!), and the black/brown/gray ones with the poofy cheeks are Easter Eggers (my husband talked me into them!).  They are very cute and, for the next couple of weeks, very fragile.  Here is my method, honed over many batches of chicks and ducklings, for keeping them alive until they are feathered out and ready for the coop.  This method works equally well for every species and breed I've tried it on.

This is the last batch for this brooder.  They are not easy on it!
  1. If you are getting your peeps from the feed store, they don't require any special treatment when you first get them - that was taken care of by the feed store.  However if you got them in the mail, you will want to introduce them to water SLOWLY.  Let them have the water for five minutes, then take it away for fifteen minutes.  Do this three times, then let them have it full time.  This is particularly important for ducks.  The reason for this is because birds that have been shipped often arrive a little dehydrated.  Being thirsty, they can drink too much water, too quickly, and shock their little systems.  I have never heard of chicks dieing this way, but ducklings, particularly Muscovies, can and will kill themselves this way if you give them water full time right off the bat.  Better safe than sorry!
  2. They need to live inside at first.  I keep my peeps in our insulated shed, which we affectionately call the Man Shed.  It is mostly my husband's workshop, but the deal is he can do anything he wants in there as long as I can also use it for brooding poultry.  Any draft free space will do though - tiny baby birds CANNOT regulate their body temperature, and without a mama to keep them cozy, they chill and die easily.  So inside it is!
  3. Within the Man Shed, they are contained by a brooder.  Mine is made out of cardboard boxes.  I opened up one side of a bunch of medium moving boxes, taped them end to end, and made a ring.  Then I laid a piece of plastic sheeting in the bottom, and put a layer of pine shavings in the bottom as bedding.  A word to bedding: I have tried old hay, all kinds of straw, dry grass clippings, old leaves, and pine shavings.  USE PINE SHAVINGS, particularly for ducklings.  They are just better because they are just more adsorbent.  Dry baby birds are healthy baby birds!
  4. They have a heat lamp.  I use the red kind around the clock, no switching between a white one in the day and a red one at night because I am lazy.  I do NOT use a thermometer.  The first day, I adjust the lamp height until the baby birds are a) not huddled under the lamp and b) not getting as far from the lamp as possible.  After a batch or two in your brooder in your location you will know exactly what height this is.  After that I raise the lamp about four to six inches every four to five days.  This is significantly faster heat decrease than the books tell you to do!  But I find that the birds feather out faster and are just as healthy this way, compared to starting them at 95*F and lowering the temperature five degrees per week until you hit room temperature.  If I did it that way the dang chicks would be in the brooder for six weeks!  I don't have time or energy for that, and by then they can escape from the brooder.  No thank you!  Just keep an eye on them.  They will let you know if they are too cold by huddling under the lamp.
  5. When they are about three weeks old I can usually turn off the heat lamp.  Because my brooding space is insulated, over the next week the temperature will slowly drop.  Once the temperature in the Man Shed is about the same as the temperature in my house (judged by the very scientific "feels about right to me" method), I move them to the coop WITH a heat lamp.  This is purely for insurance, because my coop is drafty.  If they do well, I turn off the lamp after about a week - sooner if the weather is good.
  6. A note for integrating new birds into an existing flock - if you are not careful, the older birds will harass the new birds.  Do not just dump them in together and hope for the best!  I have a piece of fence that I can put inside my coop, making an area for the new ones with their own food and water.  This way the older birds can get to know the new additions while the younger birds can get away from the pecking.  For ducks, a day or two is plenty, but for chickens, you're better off giving them a full week.
Of course there are as many specific methods for raising baby birds as there are people raising baby birds, and if your peeps are active and growing, you are doing just fine.

However, I do have a warning for you all: HEAT LAMPS START FIRES.  You need to make absolutely certain that your heat lamp is SECURE, because if it falls into the bedding, and you do not correct it post haste, it can and will burn the building it's in to the ground.  Of course there is no reason to be afraid of heat lamps, either - but you must be CAREFUL.

Happy spring!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Patience, and how I don't have it

Anybody who knows me in person knows that I basically knit or crochet constantly.  This leads to a great deal of commentary on how incredibly patient I must be, particularly when I am wearing hand made socks, sweater, and shawl, and just spent two hours and now have less than half a sock for it.
The truth is that I am the opposite of patient.  I work with yarn because it can come with me everywhere, and it is something to do that shows visible progress (if only to me) that I can work on while I do basically anything else.  I in fact get fidgety while watching movies if I do not have something to work on, which is a key reason I so rarely watch films in the theater.

So to get back to the point... Muscovy ducks take five weeks to hatch.  That's a full week longer than mallard derived ducks or turkeys.  Two weeks longer than chickens.  So the five Muscovy hens in the run in that I can't even see how many eggs they have because they will bite me and try to beat me to death with their wings if I try are driving me crazy.  They are doing an extremely good job - they've pulled their nests up nice and tight around them and are viciously beeping at anything that comes too close to their precious babies.  But chances of me getting to candle an egg and make sure things are going ok in there are basically nil.

So repeat with me: ducks know how to be ducks better than I do.  Over and over again until it sticks.  Also: the white faced hen is more protective than the others and WILL chase you.

Voted most likely to bite my face off.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Lessons from my first kidding season

First off, website still under construction.  Thanks for being understanding.  :)

Second off, I learned an assortment of random things this year, in no particular order.
  1. Don't worry about catching kids on a feed sack or something.  All the websites say to do this so that there isn't birth goo everywhere, but there is going to be birth goo everywhere ANYWAY and some does will run away from you if you do this with two feet and a nose sticking out, which means MORE birth goo everywhere.  Just let it go.
  2. Have antibiotics on hand.  If you own livestock, YOU are their primary care provider, not the vet.  Just seriously.  Have them.
  3. If you see amniotic fluid, and it's been a long time, just go in and find out what's going on.  Some does do not push if the babies are malpositioned, so you can't use the "she's been pushing for an hour" rule that the websites suggest.
  4. If the babies are floppy and weak and can't get up, put the babies in a stall, and put the doe in the stall next to the babies.  They cannot get out of her way and she is tired and sore.  She can hurt them by accident.  In the stall next door she can see them and smell them and love on them but NOT SQUISH.  Perk: the kids will think you are next to God because when you show up, they get MAMA.
  5. If the babies are not floppy and weak and can get up, don't worry about the doe hurting them by accident.  They can get out of the way.
  6. If the placenta is hanging out and dragging on the ground, tie knots in it.  The internet says to trim it but the chances of any doe I own standing still for that is virtually nil.
I will probably learn more next year, and I don't think I did too bad all things considered.  But if you speak goat, please teach me to say "Sundae I'm afraid if you have quads again it will kill one of us."  Girl is an overachiever.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Page Under Construction

Patience please while I build the rest of the page and upload better pictures of my goat babies.  In the mean time, I can be reached with questions/comments/what have you at marusempai AT gmail DOT com.