Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chicks for Free

Some of you might recall the plethora of chicks that our broody hens hatched out when the weather was barely springy. Well, apparently that was just the tip of the poultry iceberg. Since then, two more broodies have produced another 10 chicks which brings the total up into the 30's.

That's a serious lot of chicks.

These newly adolescent chicks roam the barn and yard, establishing an extensive pecking order, scrounging worms and beetles, their mothers have long since abandoned them to fend for themselves. (I will digress for a moment to marvel at the abruptness with which mother hens cut the apron springs. One day they are struggling to warm 15 chicks under their wings and the next, they are up high on the roost, the same chicks huddling below in the cold. It's as if a switch goes off in their birdy brains and that's that.) Anyway, these adolescent chicks remind me bit of the Gashleycrumb Tinies. Every happenstance of fate, apparently, happens to them.

Dan chopped down a tree in the back pasture, and where did it fall? On two of chicks. (This was a somewhat traumatic event for my kids and I won't dwell on it much.) The sheep water buckets which have co-existed uneventfully with our poultry for six years now, have spelled doom for two more of the little dudes. I'm guessing this is a numbers game, natural selection (or perhaps just good old fashioned bad luck) even in the unnaturally selected world of the barnyard.

One little fluffy, however, was extra lucky this year. Here's what happened: Our third broody hen hatched out her 5 chicks and left the nest with her brood. The eggs that remain are either unstarted, dead or contain fully formed chicks that were too weak to make it out of the shells. In this case, a few of the eggs had "peepholes" made by once struggling chicks. Although the hens seem rather coldhearted about this, in my kinder, gentler world it always seems a sad thing to give up on an egg. But it was 40 degrees out and the nest had been abandoned for hours. I sighed and went to get a bucket to collect the carnage.

One of these eggs had a large "window" a bit of wet yellow down and beak showing. When I went to toss it into the bucket, the little beak moved. No sound at all, the chick was too weak for that, just a tiny little chomp. The sensible thing would have been to leave this chick to its fate, but that wasn't my first impulse.

I slipped the egg under our last broody hen and the next day, when she proudly strutted around the barnyard with her brood, I was heartened to see this lucky little chick following along behind her.

Well, following a long ways back.... um, acting sort of clueless...

My joy turned to "uh oh". For a few hours, the kids and I watched the little guy. He didn't duck under his foster mother's feathers for warmth or peck vigorously at the chick starter she called out. Eventually, she left him behind.

It was still bitterly cold out and he was on his way (again) to being a goner.

This is when the kids intervened. They set up a plastic tub on the kitchen table, a heat lamp and all the necessary chick accoutrements. Then Anna and I snatched the little guy up and brought him inside. At first, we didn't think he'd make it. He seemed to have trouble eating and drinking, made an odd sort of gasp now and again and did not seem the slightest bit disturbed to find himself sans mama (Most chicks in this situation would cry incessantly and batter themselves against the tub walls trying to return to the flock). We cautioned each other that he had a 50/50 chance. I must have said "Let's not get too attached to him alright?" about a dozen times that first few hours.

But in a day or two, the little guy was as hearty as his outside siblings. Of course, his mother, having forgotten about him completely, is no longer willing to care for him. So he remains on the table inside.

His (or her) name is either "Darth Molly" or "Marshmallow" depending on which kid you ask. Of course, their interest in the little guy dried up a day after he arrived so I'm doing the chick care. He is sort of cute though:

All this poultry drama and we have 4 more broody hens asetting! Apparently, this is "The year of the chick".

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Good Things Come... those who wait.

Sometimes in abundance!

After what seems like a spate of terrible luck, we here at Maggie's Farm can report that the lambs have landed. And they are supercute!

Leela produced a darling little ewe lamb, Emily. She will be horned and, if she's anything like her mama, a really fleecy girl. She is sired by Dodge and this has made her a bit friendlier than Leela's previous lambs. A nice thing in a ewe, for sure.

Then, not long after, Copper, our 9 year old matriarch, who has without fail produced white twins or singles every year of her life, gave us two colorful babes-- Ewok is black, with slight flashing, and Elba is a beautiful moorit. How about that! I couldn't believe it when I saw Ewok's long black leg come easing out the birth canal. Anxious after poor Henny Penny's disastrous lambing, I cut my nails down to nothing and made sure the rest of the lamb was positioned correctly. He was, and I eased him out.

Copper's other lamb, however, was breach. Thankfully, Dan noticed the upward pointing rear hoof while I was still oogling the little ram lamb. Sure enough, further invesigation indicated that the baby was breach. And that the other leg was jammed in the birth canal at the hock. I had a moment of panic (Not an easy thing for a shepherd to admit, but I was flashing on Henny Penny's dead breach lambs) but then, with some moral support from Dan, I managed to grab that little hock in one hand, the back leg in the other and quickly pull the lamb out. What's most amazing here is that IT WORKED. The little ewe did not take her first breath inside Copper's belly and drown, she sneezed and coughed and stood up just fine. Whew! What a happy moment!

Yesterday, Daisy had herself a little ewe lamb unassistend and the little girl looks and acts just like her mama and grandmama-- all coppery fleece serious lungs! Funny how some sheep families are more talkative than others, just like human families.

So that's it for lambs this year. And let me tell you, it feels like enough!

We will be dispersing the flock as the summer progresses. It is heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time. I will miss the sheep but I will not miss worrying about them or trying to scrape a little time out of our busy schedule to try to get the MUST DO chores done while the kids, the paying jobs, the friends, the novel are left wanting.

We will certainly return to shepherding someday (Dan likes to joke that this is our "retirement plan!) and we will continue with the turkeys and chickens and whatever else happens our way (Things, it seems, are always happening our way) but we just can't do farming well with so many other commitments. And farming is not something one can-- or should-- do halfway.