Sunday, June 29, 2008

Meat birds

Meat birds. The name says it all.

These unfortunate critters were bred for one--and only one-- purpose. We thought it'd be easier to make the transition to raising and eating our own meat if we started with birds like this. No names. No distinguishing characteristics. They grow quick and big and "The Meat Chickens" is about all we ever call them.

That said, we were warned by farmers far more experienced than we that meat birds were "Gross" critters.

Oh, sure, we thought, gross. Maybe that'll make the whole process a little easier on the psyche....

I'm not sure that's been the case. Our"Cornish Rocks" are gross; they waddle a few feet and flop down, exhausted from the effort. They lie in their food and eat 'til it's gone. They poop lying down! Not a pretty sight, I'll tell ya. And their feet... at 7 weeks, their feet are looking a little worse for wear. Tough job supporting a big ol' hunk o' bird. What's worse, "meat birds" appear to have little in the way of a social life. They sleep, lie down, and eat (Often all in the same place). They lack that indescribable poultry charisma that we so love and appreciate.

There's no helping them, either. I endeavored to open the door and let them wander the barnyard but realized pretty quickly that, however gentle the incline, the poor things couldn't climb the ramp back into their coop!

Now, I understand the basic tenets of farming, chief among these being the selection of desired traits through careful breeding. But there is something kind of ugly about a result like this. Yes, they gain weight like nobody's business and waste no energy on frivolous endeavors such as um, anything. But what sort of life is that?

When these chickens reach full size and are slaughtered, will I be able to say that I provided them with "a good life"? I'm not sure it's even possible! And, as one of the reasons we are raising our own meat this year is to assure ourselves that we are humane in our omnivorousness, these behemoths don't quite fit the program. A breed that so cleaves to its purpose that it has no other qualities... well, that's an ugly thing. Not humane at all.

It makes me wonder about the role our own genes play in, well, everything, because for sure we are all bound to some degree by our genetics, perhaps not as obviously as a bunch of meat birds lying face down in their food dishes, but bound nonetheless. How can you tell a critter like this to "Rise above it, Bud. Get your act together and live a little"? Well, you simply can't. That said, we are a great deal more self aware than a Cornish Rock (Perhaps not quite as self aware as we believe we are...)

Okay. I'm ranging (free ranging?) a little far from chickens here, so, back to the birds:

We have a few "Dark Cornish" chicks as well. Dark Cornish are "meat birds", but not exclusively or obviously so. They are lively and healthy and chicken-like. And although they grow much more slowly and never reach the crazy, leg deforming weight of these "meat birds", they seem a possible alternative. Next year, perhaps we'll stick with dark cornish.

Or, if we have sufficiently developed our farming calluses (Not farming callousness...) we'll go with "dual purpose" breeds, birds meant to lay eggs AND produce meat. Many heritage breeds are dual purpose, and we have quite a few hens that would qualify.

But I'm not so sure about starting dual purpose chicks for the freezer. After all, we've named all our dual purpose hens and chicks along with the layers. This year's batch are "Gabe, Alyssa, Amidge, Amelia, Melissa, Spotty, Lulu, Blackie, Golda, etc.
Here they are, happy chicks doing happy chick things:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tag, You're It!

No, this isn't a meme, it's what Dan and I did this weekend: We tagged all eleven lambs and also gave them their CDT vaccinations, checked their general health and wormed those who needed it. It was quite the scene, I tell you! Lots and lots of sweat, fleece and scrambling.

Here the sheep wait their turn. (While they wait, they're not above a little nosh.)

We'd expected that after a few weeks out on the pasture, our flock would be impossible to catch. Lately, they've skittered away as we approach. This is a big change from the docile, needy ewes of late pregnancy and young lambhood. Nowadays, "the girls" don't need us and they know it. We thought we might have to bring in the big guns... or big DOGS at least... to chase the flock back to the barn, but Dan was able to lure the entire flock into the barn with a bucket of grain. (Suckers!)

I just recently watched an episode of 30 Days in which an avid hunter goes to live with a family of PETA activists and was troubled by the scene where livestock handlers grabbed terrified calves by tails and legs and whatever and shoved them into the back of a truck. This is exactly the thing that we hope to avoid contributing to, the reason we are raising our own meat and buying from local farmers. That said, someone watching Dan and I catch and vaccinate our flock might have felt we were as cruel as the folks on the video. There is-- far as I can tell-- no pretty way to catch a sheep. We were mindful of the sheep, as caring and non-terrifying as a couple of humans with syringes and wormers can be. Does intent count?

This is six year old Anna's view of the proceedings:

Not so pretty, eh?

At any rate, it was good to get a close up of the lambs. Cedar, Cora and Caroline really impressed us-- they are growing like gangbusters! And Chance (AKA "Clowny boy") was a real sweetie. Unperturbed by the hubbub, he sucked up his Selenium E gel as if it was a bottle. We really like this boy!

Sadly, we discovered that Acorn's beautiful little guy, Cole, has definite scurs. (Scurs are underdeveloped horns that can break off grow in all sorts of directions, and become infected) We're going to keep an eye on their severity as he grows. Such a shame as he is a gorgeous, shiny, shiny black lamb. Louise's Connor has little patches that may also grow into scurs (Durn it!) This is our first season breeding polled animals and so, though this is "par for the course" as far as polled sheep go, we are bummed out about it.

Overall though, the flock is looking nice and healthy. Here's Champ:

Monday, June 23, 2008

What Sound Does a Hummingbird Make?

Now, the correct answer to this question in "buzzzzz" or some variation, the little birds wings beating so fast they vibrate the air around them.

Ever since we've hung this feeder outside the kitchen window we've been blessed with many, many, MANY hummingbirds. (Either that or it is one very busy little guy, slurping down boatloads of sugar water all on his or her own! )

We love watching the glimmering birds dart from "flower" to "flower", their invisibly fast winds beating, sharp little tail shifting.

Whenever Joe catches sight of a hummingbird, be it breakfast, lunch, dinner or some kitchen-related in between, he announces the arrival at the top of his lungs.

So, here on Maggie's Farm we have a different answer to the question: The sound a hummingbird makes is most definitely a raucous "HUMMINGBIRD!"

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Counting Our Chickens

I counted the chickens today (The ones that have indeed hatched!) and we have something like 48. FORTY EIGHT! Now, some-- eleven-- are meat chickens, destined for the freezer.
But still. Perhaps we've gone overboard on the poultry this year?
There are chickens everywhere: the grown flock free ranging, the adorable broody hatched chicks (Diego, Little Jaguar and Annamarie) peeping around with their co-mamas (This seems to be the arrangement Chicklee and Super-Psycho Java have worked out), an additional chick, hatched out for Seaport's Science class awaiting delivery, a gaggle of adolescents in the barn... not to mention the 13 turkey poults and 5 guineas. Oy!
Dan will be building an extension onto the coop. But even then, something will have to change before winter sets in.
At any rate, we are awash in eggs. We think they are the coolest eggs going. We'll be selling them once we can get the details straight.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Profiles in Cuteness: Coraline

This is Cora, one of Daisy's big beautiful twins. She has that really wide, chunky Icelandic build. Cora is calm as the day is long, with the "serious" personality of her line. She has adorable patches of phaeomelanin around her neck and on her back leg. These will fade over time, but they are pretty special nonetheless and her fleece is particularly nice. Cora likely carries the genes moorit or black under her white pattern. She is linebred from Jager farm Solee stock and also has AI sires has Bambi and Rektor in her lineage. Here she is with her sister Caroline:

Coraline is for sale on our farm page, if you're interested.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Lost and Found Poultry

Well, I somehow managed to lose one of our slate blue turkey poults.

You see, It was so hot, the worst of our four-day heat wave, and the poults were so miserable, gasping and gaping and lying as prone as a turkey can get. We are talking about 101 degrees here... crazy for early June. Crazy for anytime! I thought I'd try to move our turkey flock into the cooler air of the barn. So, taking a tip from Sugar Mountain Farm, I built a sort of "turkey chute" of green garden netting, a sheep crate, a wooden pallet and various other farmy brick-a-brac to funnel the critters into the barn. This went pretty well for the most part. The giant white turkeys and broad breasted bronze turkeys were as calm (though not nearly as cool) as cucumbers, and I herded them along the chute and into the barn where there was a nice new waterer waiting for them full of cool water. They were happy, as happy as turkeys can be in 101 degree heat anyway.

Now, the slate blue heritage turkeys were a cagier bunch. They did not want to be herded or lured. They did not want to leave their oven of a coop at all. No problem. I caught one at a time and carried them to safety.... all except one little poult who panicked and flew over the chute into the grass as soon as I scooped up one of his brethren. As I had an armful of turkey at the time, I made note of his location and finished the transport. This took about half a minute. When I returned, the little poult was gone, seriously gone. Maggie and I hunted around in the weeds and the sheep barn and everywhere else but the little guy had simply vanished.

All that hot, hot, hot day, I returned to search. Nothing. It was really pretty sad. Did the little fella light out for the deep woods? Was it picked off by a crow or hawk? Did it jam itself into a brush pile and hunker down only to die of heat stroke? Or perhaps, Maggie found it on her own later that day and thought she'd have herself an early Thanksgiving. (She has a slight problem with guinea chicks after all...) We'll never know.

I've been told by more experienced farmers than I that "Where there's livestock, there's deadstock." But that doesn't really help much. We try to do our best by all our animals and when we lose one-- not euphemistically but actually LOSE one-- well.... I'm a little blue about this little blue poult.

And Super-psycho hen, Java, seems to have lost her chick as well! I hunted for THAT ONE too, when I came home from work yesterday and found it missing. Not a sign. Java doesn't seem to "get" that her chick is gone, she's fluffing up and calling and hanging close to Chicklee and her hardy brood. Maybe she aims to steal herself a replacement.

AND, lastly, we've GAINED a guinea somehow. A fifth guinea appeared on the farm yesterday. I thought I was seeing things or miscounting but, no! There is indeed an extra guinea hanging around the place.

Lost a poult and a chick. Gained a guinea. Perhaps this is some sort of wacko poultry equilibrium?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

....And Now a Word from Our Chickens

You may recall the story of Chicklee and her new family, stranded four feet off the ground in their nestbox. It seemed like a genuine dilemma to me, but to Super-psycho hen, Chicklee, it was just another day at the office. After two relaxing days atop her nest of 3 chicks and 8 duds, she hopped down to the ground, leaving the chicks to make their own death-defying leaps after her. Well, they did, with no ill effects. And THEN "Java the Hutt" our broody Java hen also managed to hatch out a chick and they, too, made the leap!

Now these mamas (both "strong" personalities as far as chickens go) are scrabbling and dueling and mixing up their chicks left and right. Yet they can simple move away from each other.. it's not like they have the whole farm to spread out in or anything..... Nooo, they have to be side by side and miserable about it. They have to peck each others' chicks and get in each others' faces....

I almost confiscated Java's chick after it repeatedly became lodged behind the feed barrels shreiking as only a terrified chick can. Talk about Mama Drama!

Pied Peeper

This weekend, we discovered Charlie Bucket, our yearling ram, had an eye issue. His eye was weepy, blinky and quite red when we spotted him. Likely he scratched it on something in the big new pasture.

This was a new one for us. But, luckily, I got some terrific advice from the folks at ISBONA (They are awesome!) and was able to call the vet and get him to give us the ointment needed without an expensive visit. I just picked it up and brought it home.

But this left us with another little hurdle: How to catch Charlie when he had a whole gigantic pasture to take off into? In the smaller pasture, the sheep were pretty well trained to come runninng at the sight of grain... a bucket a cup, a handful. Didn't matter to them. But now, with their bellies full of lush green grass, the grain ain't quite so tempting... Heck, they can go all day without having to lay eyes on us and I suspect they like it that way.

We called and shook the grain bucket, but only Daisy (The kids don't call her "Pigsheep" for nothin') and her two humongous lambs showed up. So Dan ranged around, trolling for sheep, his enticing bucket of grain shimmying like a maraca. After some time (in which I took a zillion somewhat comical pictures) most of the flock appeared and Dan led them towards the barn like a modern day pied piper.

Once we got them into the "down barn" it was no sweat to wrestle Charlie Bucket still and goop up his eye. The next day, we repeated the procedure and viola(!) The eye is just fine!

BUT-- We will need to catch the flock this weekend to administer CDT boosters to our eleven lambs and check condition and THAT should be another thing entirely.
We're hoping our dogs-- our sheepdogs-- will prove useful. I'll certainly keep you posted.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

One Chick, Two Chick

Chicklee has finally done it! After a futile 6 month vigil last spring/summer/fall, our demonically broody buff rock hen hatched out a couple of chicks. Joe and I discovered them on a visit to the coop yesterday. And then today, another brand-new little peep! (If you look closely at the picture above you can see both day old chicks)

Last year, Chicklee and the equally dedicated but not so demonic Star Belly Sneech brooded side by side, with the prize—one little chick we named Stella who went on to become Stellar our second-tier rooster—going to Star Belly and a big old zilch for Chicklee. Oh we had chicks alright: Half hatched chicks, chicks that pipped futilely but never emerged, chicks that hatched and died promptly thereafter. It was a miserable situation.

And through it all, Chicklee sat, stoic and pissed off, threatening all who entered her smelly coop sanctuary and pecking the brave few who thought they might check out what the heck might be going on under there. Evidently, she got the broody instinct in spades without a smidgen of the egg turning instinct, hence the stuck chicks. Or, possibly it could have been that the humidity of her prodigious underbelly was off by a few dew points. Whatever the case, poor Chicklee managed nada.

So we were feeling quite gleeful when we discovered teeny cuties in the nest box with her. Joe named them “Diego” and “Little Jaguar” (Yes, from the Diego show on Noggin…. Sigh)

But we are not out of the woods yet. Ya see, Chicklee and her brood are FOUR FEET off the ground and she utterly refuses to leave the ginormous pile of eggs she continues to brood. Yesterday, we fed and watered the little family where they sat. Tomorrow, we might have to take action. And, unfortunately, I have very (very!) little experience with successful brooding.

So… do I …..

1) Confiscate the chicks and break olChicklee’s heart (I know I’m being anthropomorphic here...)

2) Transfer Chicklee and her brood to the brooder box in the garage and let chicklee come and go as she wants while providing the chicks with the essential “chick things” such as heat, feed and water.


3) Dump the whole little lot on the ground and hope she comes to her senses and forsakes the merely possible clutch for the truly actual chicks.

What do you think?