Thursday, July 21, 2011

One-Legged Rooster

Dan and I gave the eat-your-own-meat thing a good solid try. We've raised and eaten 15 meat chickens, our pigs "the three Daves", the yearly turkey flock and quite a few sheep. And we will try again, I'm sure.

Yet we still manage to get overly attached, we feel sorry, we hesitate. In short we are too soft for farming. Bad, bad farmers.

Case in point: our One-Legged Rooster.

Back when I wrote about our ongoing poultry melodrama, this guy was "Vlad Vladikof, the black-bottomed rooster." Massive and proud, he skulked in the lower barn, crowing constant challenges at the more established Jaguar.

Then came a time the two fought. And fought... It didn't seem all that violent, a few scrabbly flutters and the dogs would come flying down the hill to break it up. (Quick aside: Even small farms have their own unique quirks and rhythms, busybody dogs intervening in the poultry soap opera is one of ours. Hey, it works. Usually...)

However, after one of these fights, Vlad came up lame. Worse than lame. His leg was so messed up he couldn't put any weight on it at all.

Now, there is nothing more pitiful than a one-legged rooster. No longer proud, Vlad hid in the barn, hopping to and from the feeder we set out for him.

We stopped calling him Vlad at all. Instead, he was "that poor guy" or "that poor rooster in the barn" and so on. His gaggle of outsider hens deserted him for the more sturdy roo in the coop.

We knew that we should end his misery. It's what any decent farmer should do. There was no way to make a splint, no way to catch him without bringing on a painful panic.

Clearly we lacked the correct mentality. And the poor one-legged guy in the barn hobbled through June.

Then one day last week, the guy was out in the sunlight. He isn't better, but he is putting weight down. he IS crowing challenges at Jaguar again (questionable rooster judgement is a subject for some other post) and for all our bad farmer technique, it appears he's pulled through.

***Pardon for the repeat picture, our camera is broken.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Farm Update

Well, now that I've thoroughly bummed you all out on the last post (people seemed to down to comment, even) We're due for some cheer.

There's lots of cool new life on the farm this time of year. We have swallows nesting in the barn, a burgeoning garden, growing lambs

Seaport chicks

Coop-hatched chicks

and turkey poults


Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Small Tragedy

There are lots of cool and happy things happening on Maggie's farm these days: new turkey poults in the barn, our 7 adolescent chicks orphaned but thriving, no significant sheep troubles. But we had a bit of a tragedy this week as well.

It all started with the baby raccoons. These two were found wandering around on the dirt road in front of the house.
What to do? They were young, though not infants. Did they still need their mother? Would she be back?

Before long a crowd (well, a rural New England-sized crowd) had gathered, the neighbors and their kids and grandkids, me and my kids. We tried feeding them (dogfood) but they seemed only slightly interested.

We tried capturing the raccoons to give to a wildlife rehabber but the babies were not into that idea, spitting and screaming and quite unexpectedly frightening.

I called the rehabber, and she said to let them be, that the mother was off foraging and would probably be back for them later.

So we did.

We didn't see them the next day or the next or next and so we felt we had made a good decision. The mother raccoon must have indeed returned.

Which brings me to yesterday... when our dog, Luka (Not Maggie who at 14 is quite deaf and somewhat blind, and not Milo who is too goofy and sweet for such things) found these two wandering around the woodpile and killed them.

I can tell you that as a mother and farmer, raccoons are sketchy creatures. They eat chickens and carry rabies and some other neurological diseases. But they are also cute as hell, at least when they are babies. Am I a bad farmer to care so much about this small tragedy? To think about it more or less all day? To be mad at my dog and myself?

With any bad thing, there's the second guessing-- if I had just disregarded the rehabber's advice and gone with my instincts... if I had searched a little harder... if I had kept Luka inside..... No. Some things feel orchestrated like Greek tragedies, everything following from the first all the way to the (miserable) end. This incident was a bit like that.

Wouldn't it be nice, though, to be able to peel back the curtain of the future and see where one simple decision would lead?

Sorry about the sad post, June always sets me to thinking this way. Maybe it's because we've had family losses in past Junes, maybe it's because all the joy of this burgeoning spring comes with a slick black tail of death, orphaned chicks and raccoons, frog eggs laid in disappearing pools, baby birds fallen from nests. June is a raw month.

Next time, we'll be on to something more uplifting.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

So Sweet!

Thanks to Kelly at Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams for this lovely award. Check out her blog-- there's a lot of wisdom there.

So.... quick 7 things about myself:

1) We are having a fox predation problem again this year-- miserable for all of us, except the dogs who LOVE being called upon to patrol the borders in the early mornings.

2) Due to the fox predation, we have 7 orphaned chicks in a brooder on our porch. I took them to work for a few weeks and now they are home-- with cool new student-given names like "Mohawk", "Oreo" and "Hawkeye"

3) I worry about these chicks much more than usual... because they have cool student-given names and I would hate to have to tell the kids that something bad happened.

4) Our 15 turkey poults are arriving on June 15th. I am trying to pony up a little enthusiasm but...

5) I hate to admit this but I am feeling a little done with farming. The responsibility feels more burden and less joy lately. Especially as the kids are involved in all sorts of other activities (baseball, hip hop dance, clarinet, science club, art and writing groups) and I too am deep in novel revisions.

6) Our above ground pool was flattened by heavy snowfall this winter. I am not much of a swimmer (The pool-- which came with the house-- seemed a lot of money and trouble and upkeep to me, but the rest of the family is bummed)

7) I have about 75 singular socks on the laundry room table. Years worth of missing socks. NO idea how this happens. Where do those matches go?

I'm passing this award on to these cool blogs:

Allie at Visualize Industrial Collapse. Allie is an ambitious farmer who many years ago took in our first two lambs. Check out her amazing yarn!

Amateur Yankee. Beautiful photos and thoughtful posts from Vermont

Razzberry Corner: Great and farmy. I don't have much love for our own gunea fowl, but I love reading about the Razzberry Corner crew

Chai Chai at Homestead...From Scratch who has been such a wonderful commenter over the years (yes, years!) and has a terrific farmy blog too

Christy of Whistling Wind Farm who started off with "Farm Dreams" and now has the whole kit n' caboodle

And Lisa who has a fabulous farm up in NH.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My Three Roosters

Winter's big rooster round-up is over and done with. The daffodils are out, the mint is starting to sprout in the garden (and everywhere else it can get to) and the hens are scratching fall's last shriveled leaves to bits.

Also, the three remaining roosters are figuring out the pecking order.

Chickens really do have them. There's always a fat, glossy hen with an evil glint in her eye, not so different from those Housewives of Orange County. (Okay, I confess, I've never SEEN one of those housewives shows so this last part pure guesswork)

Anyway, there's also the timid bottom rung girls

who are lean and rangy and dart more often then they waddle.

Often there are squabbles between them, but these last a few seconds. High ranking hen says "Move it pipsqueak!" and low ranking hen, flutters off clucking apologies, that sort of thing.

But with roosters, this stuff is more like "Lock-Up" or something (Again, haven't actually seen this show, but I don't exactly live in a cave either.)

Our main man rooster, Jaguar is 3 or 4 years old now (He's the khaki fellow on the far left)

Jaguar has been king of this here castle quite a while, and he has all the swagger of John Wayne. He doesn't start fights, but he can end them.


Too bad for Jaguar, our second ranking rooster is two this year, a mature and weighty bird with a magnificent dark green tail.

And plenty swagger of his own.

He used to be "Dionysus" until he beat up his brother Apollo

Since then, he's lived with his own small harem away from Jaguar in the lower barn. We now call this dude "Vlad" or "The Black-Bottomed Rooster" after the vulture in Horton Hears a Who

Vlad had an edge, and he has been angling to displace Jaguar for a while now. Today they had a run in in the no-bird's land between the coop and the barn. But the dogs made such a fuss, they went their separate ways without resolving anything.

It's a waiting game now.

Which brings us to the last of the Maggie's Farm Roos: Blackbeard

This guy is young. He still has that gangly, goofball quality (just look at that face!)

The hens just don't take him seriously, but he hangs around the outskirts of Jaguar's flock, trying to snatch them away (Roosters are not above rape.) Of course, when he starts after one, Jaguar comes barreling to the rescue. So mostly Blackbeard runs, and watches and waits. I don't think he's eating much.

So that's our current triumvirate. But I'll keep you posted.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Acorn had triplets on Thursday-- two ewe lambs and a little ram! Our first ever set, a gaggle of moorit lambs. And she bore them like a pro. Her easiest lambing to date; I only had to help pull the first (nose and one hoof delivery). The second she managed pretty much alone. The third, was a total surprise delivered as Acorn stood among her miniature flock and we helpers rubbed them dry.
Unfortunately, Acorn didn't seem to have enough milk for three. The old mastitis blocked one side at least partially (Dan was able to get a few drops with some serious milking). But the lambs were constantly hungry and small.

So we gave one of the ewes to some lovely farmers in New Hampshire who have a lot of experience with bottle lambs and are already spoiling her rotten. They've named her after her mother.

It was sad to drive her up to New Hampshire, but this was eased by her comfortable calm (she rode all the way on my eldest's lap!) and the immediate love her new "parents" showed for her.

Also, I swear Acorn seemed a little relieved. Three is a lot for a mama (I can attest to that!) especially with milk issues.

One more ewe left to lamb. And Penny appears at least three weeks away. Whew!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spring Flower

Well now. We are STILL waiting for poor Acorn to lamb. This is how she's looking these days:

Poor thing. I mean, how much longer is this going to take????

While we were keeping watch on Acorn, waking early, midnight barn checking, wily old matriarch, Copper, decided to go ahead and get the lambing over with.

In between the frequent checks, she birthed herself a nice little ewe lamb.

The kids have named her Flower.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Watched Sheep...

Take a look at poor Acorn:

She is sooooo totally pregnant. I've been expecting her to lamb for five days now, checking every few hours all daylong, then twice at night and waking up extra early too.

And still, nothing. Except an uncomfortable ewe with a "What are YOU looking at?" expression on her sheepy face.

It appears that the old adage is true: A watched sheep never lambs

Acorn is our friendliest ewe. Also the ewe that has had the most "issues". We had to assist in her first lambing (two lovely twins!) and in her second (one 11 pound ram lamb with enormous horn buds) and then she was cast, developed a case of dry mastitis, a cut that happened at the peak of fly season (luckily she did NOT get flystrike). We gave her a lambing break last year but now here she is: huge and miserable all over again.

Hopefully, this will be an easy spring for the old gal.

As some of you might know, we drastically reduced our flock last year. Well, truth is, we'd planned to quit with sheep altogether. But we're just too attached to these old girls.

Here's current flock:

Matriarch Copper (she's 12 now!), young ram, Ewok, and flighty gal Penny. And of course, our dear Acorn (pictured and pictured and pictured above)

But any day now, this little flock will expand.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sending Off the Roos

I'm all for the new, localvore, non-industrialized, back-to-the-land type of farming. Heck I AM it-- at least on a very small scale.

But it is what it is, which is to say: not pretty.

Farming (even vegetable farming) is, at its most basic level, about manipulating natural things so that they serve you. In other words "using" them. It is not really a quaint, idyllic pastime. It is messy and brutal, beautiful and hard and very, very real.

I have to re-learn this every few months here on Maggie's farm. Yesterday was a case in point.

Y'see, we had five too many roosters. They'd been part of the batches of hen-brooded chicks that blessed last spring. The ones that survived the fox attacks and hawk swoops. And they were now grown up enough to bully each other and stress out the hens and generally act like the feathered bags of testosterone they were.

We knew we should eat them. But Dan wasn't up for it after the last time, and I didn't want to try it alone. (Have I mentioned we are wimpy farmers)

So I put an add in Craigslist knowing that what I was too soft to manage, some other person could do with a quick twist of the neck.

Then I chased down those five roosters, feeling all the while so sad and sorry as only an absolute farming wimp can. In the crate, the cocky birds continued their squabbles, the weaker ones, crouching in the corners, the toughies crowing victory. "Soccerball," who'd turned out to be a beautiful feisty rooster was in there, and the soft ginormous "Mongo Rooster."

(LESSON LEARNED: Never name your rooster chicks.)

And then the guy came to get them and I felt..... awful.

I know. It makes no sense. They were making themselves (and the hens) miserable. They'd kicked our formerly-dominant rooster, Jaguar, out of the coop, they were all fight and fury, but I felt so responsible for their fate. I hoped the guy who bought them would give them a decent life/death, but I had no more control over that.

But I sold them. For $2 each. And washed my hands.

And then I moped about the way farming is not the bucolic wonderland that is sometimes portrayed.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In the Land of Poo

It's February Vacation (I believe this is a special New England Holiday, sort of a President's day/let's-not-bust-the-school-budget-on-heating-oil thing) and the kids and I have been keeping busy.

We have been to the library, done wood crafts, sand art, baking, Ice Skating and a Museum. And we have watched a few DVDs. (I try to limit the kids' "screen time", but this is increasingly like trying to hold back the ocean with a spatula.)

One of the DVDs we watched was Nanny McPhee Returns. In it, a pair of "sophisticated" city cousins are dropped off to stay with their poor, dirty, farming kin.

The cousins' car pulls into the farmyard, which is a typical, if somewhat exaggerated slop of mud and um, waste, and the boy grimaces, turns to his sister and says:

"We are in the land of poo. Duck poo, cow poo, goat poo..."


Well we here on Maggie's farm got a kick out of that.

Farming is inextricably tied to "poo". Poo in infinite variety, Poo that seems barely possible. Poo that has poo.

I often wonder what our suburban and urban visitors think of the free-ranging chicken#**&! strewn about the yard and the barn and (often) the porch

the sheep "fertilizing" away in the fields

the gummy newborn lamb butts that often need wiping (don't ask...). The three dogs alone create quite a stink (well, yes, the pun WAS intended).

I imagine we might indeed seem to be living in the Land of Poo.

But, then, poo is one of the inevitabilities of life. It happens. And on a farm, as I've said, it happens a lot.

I know from experience that you can shield yourself from from much of this poo if you live in cleaner, less animal prone places--especially if you don't have pets or young children. But perhaps moving to the country helped us come to terms with poo as much as it did with meat-eating and winter. We simply had no choice.

Whatever the case, my kids have been quoting Nanny McPhee with glee:

One will say: "Greetings, O covered-in-poo people. Do you speak English? "
And another will add "Yes, poo-man, we have come from far away, from the land of soap and indoor toilets!"

And then, stepping out into the poo-strewn snow of Maggie's farm, they will laugh and laugh and laugh.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Impending Doom in the Orchard?

This is our orchard in deep winter snow:

It breaks my heart, this orchard. It's beautiful and needy and slightly rundown. We can't take care of it the way we should. Blame a lack of equipment, know-how, and will. Yet it hasn't quit on us. Every year, the apples are a little less lovely, but they come.

It used to be that we had a bargain with a large, local orchard. They'd care for the trees and take all the apples we didn't use. But their methods were highly conventional. We here at Maggie's farm are flexible, pragmatic even, but we could not abide by herbicide. Or, frequent drenchings of pesticides. We grit our teeth and allowed the fungicide in the spring and that seemed a fair trade off.

But as our flock of Icelandic Sheep grew, we began to use the orchard as pasture. The sheep nibbled the lower branches. But they kept the grass low without herbicides. We were fine with that, but the fencing made it hard for the orchard folks to work and they got sick of all the limitations and just stopped coming.

That was two years ago. Our noble little orchard continues on, apples scabby and small, but still good.

This year, though, feels like a last gasp. How long before the trees give out altogether?

We've tried to find someone to care for the orchard. But we are just a little too remote, and the care is just a little too intensive, I guess.

Spring is coming (Hard to believe in a snowy month like this one).

Any ideas? What would you do?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Felted Penguin

I made this needle-felted penguin with our own Maggie's Farm wool. And here's the crazy thing: it was easy. Relaxing even.

Basically, you mat dyed fleece by poking it over and over with a small barbed needle until you get the shape and consistency you desire.

Here's a great little how-to video:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Maggie of Maggie's Farm

Maggie and her Sheep

Maggie is 14 now, a little tottery and hard of hearing. Her hips ache and she has trouble swallowing sometimes (due to an old stick-fetching incident) but when she is outside with her sheep, you'd never know. She bounds along before us, pacing the fence line with that infamous border collie "eye", all business as ever. Later, of course, she collapses under the coffee table, barely able to walk. But she wouldn't have it any other way.

She gets confused sometimes. Once, she wandered across the road and forgot where she was. She had such a look of relief when I came to fetch her, gave a sort of "Oh, I'm with you!" jump and ran home.

Old age, as they say,is not for sissies. But we can all learn a bit from the stoic way our Maggie faces her new challenges.

Maggie and Luka