Archive of ‘The Farm’ category

No Egg Shortage at Our Farm!

If you live in Texas and have watched the news lately you’ve likely heard the TERRIBLE news that Whataburger has shortened the hours they serve eggs because of an egg shortage. Well I’m here to tell you that we don’t have an egg shortage at the farm! Right now we get a little over two dozen eggs per day out of our 50’ish hens. Hens lay about an egg per day at the height of their egg laying years. We have quite a few hens who are past their prime, but since we have no interest in eating them they get to stick around. Every year in about August we get 30-40 chicks to replace the hens we lose to coyotes/bobcats/hawks/owls and illness and it’s about time to place our order so we are able to get the exact breeds we want.

The timing for when we get our chicks is very purposeful. It is best to get chicks when they days are getting shorter. This assures that we will have laying hens during the dark winter days when the more mature hens slow down or stop laying entirely. Plus, Texas summers are so hot that we don’t need to put them under a heat lamp if they arrive in August or September. Chicks need to be kept at 90-95 degrees for the first week of their life. After the first week the temp can be lowered by 5 degrees each week until they are fully feathered and can regulate their own temperature. Running a a heat lamp to keep chicks warm in December is a huge pain-in-the-neck, especially after you realise how much easier and better it is to get them in August!

Peaches the foxhound LOVES babies of all kinds. She really wanted to pick these chicks up and take them to the house to snuggle with her, however that wasn't the best option for their survival.

Peaches the foxhound LOVES babies of all kinds. She really wanted to pick these chicks up and take them to the house to snuggle with her, however that wasn’t the best option for their survival.

We try to mix up the breeds of chicks we get each summer, but we always get at least 10 Aracauna chicks. These are hens that lay blue/green eggs and they have the cutest little tufts of feathers on their cheeks. We have had good luck with them in terms of heat tolerance and surviving predators. Generally darker coloured chickens are harder for predators to see so they tend to live longer. Aracaunas can be all kinds of colors, including white, but we’ve had nearly all brown ones.

This year we are also going to order Lakenvelder chicks. We had some a few years ago, but they were victims of a pointless raccoon crime. A raccoon went into our outdoor chicken coop and killed 30 pullets that were within a few weeks of laying eggs. Killed every last pullet and didn’t eat a single one of them. Just broke their necks and went on it’s merry way. Raccoons are NOT popular at our house. Lakenvelders are white with black heads, which kind of goes against our no-white rule, but they are small and active, which are good characteristics for free-range birds. We avoid the more portly breeds because then tend to do poorly in hot Texas summers.

We haven’t settled yet on the third breed we want to get. We have had great luck with the Egyptian Fayoumi chickens. They are wily little chickens and nearly all of the Fayoumi chickens we got 7 years ago are still around! I also like the Dominiques. Another breed we had that were victims of the raccoon attack. The last option we are considering are Blue Andalusians. We got some 2 years ago and love love love them. They are very hardy in the heat, intelligently avoid predators, and they are nice to be around. Some of the better free-range breeds can be pretty darn wild! The Fayoumis, for instance, are pretty unhappy about being caught and they sure let you know so with their beaks.

We have to place our order soon to assure our breeds of choice are available and are all female. Until then I’ll leave you with a pic of some of our existing flock enjoying a chicken spa day in the dirt. They were sure happy when the ground finally dried up enough for their dirt baths!

Chicken spa day. In this pic are an Aracauna, Leghorn, Cuckoo Maran (dark brown eggs), White Leghorn, Rhode Island Red and a mixed breed hen that one of our hens hatched a few years ago.

Chicken spa day. In this pic are an Aracauna, Leghorn, Cuckoo Maran (dark brown eggs), White Leghorn, Rhode Island Red and a mixed breed hen that one of our hens hatched a few years ago.

What’s Happening on the Farm?!

I feel like I’ve woefully neglected the farm critters lately, so here is a pictorial update of some of the creatures.

Goat babies! Lots of goat babies! This is the only set of triplets this time around (thank goodness!)

Goat babies! Lots of goat babies! This is the only set of triplets this time around (thank goodness!)

 

Penelope, one that we bottle fed as a baby because her poor mum couldn't feed all three of her triplets, with her baby Periwinkle. Twinsies!

Penelope, one that we bottle fed as a baby because her poor mum couldn’t feed all three of her triplets, with her baby Periwinkle. Twinsies!

 

Baby goat napping. They love them some tire time. Sadly they are starting to get too big to fit in the tire these days.

Baby goat napping. They love them some tire time. Sadly they are starting to get too big to fit in the tire these days.

 

Kittens! All four are adorable yellow tabbies. Two are fluffy and two are short coated. Who wants a kitten?!

Kittens! All four are adorable yellow tabbies. Two are fluffy and two are short coated. Who wants a kitten?!

 

Pablo a few weeks ago when he was snuggly. Now I can't get near him. I blame having sprayed him with fly spray recently. Poor fella.

Pablo a few weeks ago when he was snuggly. Now I can’t get near him. I blame having sprayed him with fly spray recently. Poor fella.

 

This is our crazy juniper tree that is growing out the side of a hill. The kids like to play on it when they get let into the front pasture. That and we've had lots of glorious rain lately so have seen some beautiful skies.

This is our crazy juniper tree that is growing out the side of a hill. The kids like to play on it when they get let into the front pasture. That and we’ve had lots of glorious rain lately so have seen some beautiful skies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Thursday!

A “River” Runs Through It

Boot City and I live on top of a hill. A very large and rocky hill. Our friends like to tell us how delightful they find our driveway. Truly delightful. The primary reason that our driveway is so very delightful is due to laws of gravity: what goes up, must come down. This is true not only for our driveway, but for other parts of our property as well. All farmers and ranchers are constantly battling erosion of some sort. We aren’t actual farmers or ranchers, but we do have an ongoing battle with erosion. When the rain comes down, it has to go somewhere and so down the hill it goes. Generally after a hard rain most any loose dirt and rocks from our driveway have found their way to the highway by our house. I’m confident the county road crew loves us the most.

For the past nine years we have lived on our happy 10 acres we have been working towards improving the land and increasing the amount of grass that grows. Improving the soil is all about adding organic matter and nitrogen. The combined efforts of the chickens pooping, the goats pooping and the horses pooping have done wonders to increase the amount of organic matter. We try to compost as much as we can, but sometimes that sh$% just has to get spread around. Boot City has also gotten to justify his schmancy new 65 horsepower John Deere all in the name of grass and soil improvement. This allows him to dig up the soil, plant seeds and fertilise when necessary. And this spring has shown the fruits of our (mostly his) labor better than any other.

So much so that after an especially hard rain this past weekend there was a great deal of evidence that we really need to work on creating our very own mini-creek for the water to go down after such hard rains. As it is now, the water running down the hill just takes all the organic matter we’ve worked so hard to accumulate with it!

The top of the hill on the back of the property. You can see how fast the water moved down the hill and created it's very own path through all the beautiful grass. We have the beginnings of some rocks set down to prevent all the dirt from eroding with the water.

The top of the hill on the back of the property. You can see how fast the water moved down the hill and created it’s very own path through all the beautiful grass. We have the beginnings of some rocks set down to prevent all the dirt from eroding with the water.

Further down the hill there isn't any grass growing in this part of the water flow for a couple reasons. The first is that there are a lot of trees so very little sunlight gets in and the second being that every hard rain just washes away any grass that has started to grow.

Further down the hill there isn’t any grass growing in this part of the water flow for a couple reasons. The first is that there are a lot of trees so very little sunlight gets in and the second being that every hard rain just washes away any grass that has started to grow.

Towards the bottom of the back hill the grass had gotten to be about 12″ – 14″ tall. When I walked the property the morning after the rain I was somewhat surprised to find how it had been completely flattened by the water runoff. This was a prime opportunity for us to identify the low spots and plan for adding rocks and other solid barriers to slow down the water and to prevent the topsoil from being eroded.

Flat grass! Boot City has already moved some dirt to change the layout of the hill and alter the pathway of the water. Now, to add more big rocks.

Flat grass! Boot City has already moved some dirt to change the layout of the hill and alter the pathway of the water. Now, to add more big rocks.

In the back, right before and at the largest back pasture (about 5 acres) the grass is thick, tall and lush. It’s that perfect spring green that makes anyone associated with agriculture and animal husbandry smile and take a deep breath. Along the path of the water runoff it had gotten completely flattened and looked like a big green walkway. Again, indicative of where to plant more large rocks!

You can see the water path towards the back of the pasture.

You can see the water path towards the back of the pasture.

Last, but not least, this is where the water collects and runs to lower ground on the neighbor’s property. Last year, in the fall, there was a similar large storm and the water runoff collected so much debris that by the time it got to this spot it took down the fence!

The endpoint of the "River"

The endpoint of the “River”

Now we mow, mow and mow some more (and by we I mean Boot City mows) and collect rocks from other parts of the property to add to the future “creek”. Maybe by fall we will have a genuine little waterfall to share!

Hay!

First off, I’m sorry for the inadvertent blogging hiatus! For a girl with 10 planners, my time management isn’t the best. Hopefully I’m back on track to post here regularly.

Summertime for horse owners (and keeping them at home) means hauling hay. It is one of the least glamorous aspects of horse ownership. There is nothing quite like being hot and sweaty with hay in your socks, in your shoes, in your mouth, in your shirt, well, you get the point.

When planning how much hay to buy every year, I usually get one bale for every day, so around 365 bales. They are about 50lb bales and most every year I run out of hay at least 3 months before the next harvest. Cold winters put a bigger dent in the hay supply, too. Horses stay warm by eating hay, it gets their internal furnace burning. My hope is that with one less horse and improved math skills I will get enough hay this year! It costs twice as much to buy hay from the feed store than to buy it directly from the supplier so is MUCH nicer on the feed budget!

All ready to unload. Who needs boot camp with this workout!

All ready to unload. Who needs boot camp with this workout!

The supplier I buy from is gracious enough to let us drop off our trailer and load it for us. This way all we have to do is take it home and stack it in our barn. When we built the new horse barn we started using the old barn exclusively for feed storage and as the chicken coop. This lowers the fire danger in the new barn and reduces the amount of dust.

This first load of the summer was few bales short of 150. We will get another similarly sized load later this summer and then hopefully one final small load before the hay is gone.

We have lots of helpers to inspect the hay  as we unload and load.

We have lots of helpers to inspect the hay as we unload and load.

We clean out the hay room before refilling it with hay. This requires taking out all the pallets and lots of sweeping. We probably should wear breathing masks because of the dust, but we didn’t plan for that this year. It gets REALLY dusty! You’ll see the dust in quite a few of the pictures. It makes me feel like sneezing just looking at the photos!

All cleaned out and ready for pallets and HAY!

All cleaned out and ready for pallets and HAY!

I learned at a very young age how to properly stack hay. You want to create a stable base for the stack and fit as many bales in a small space as possible.

The base layer, again with helpful inspectors

The base layer, again with helpful inspectors

After the base layer is down, you stack the next layer flat on and perpendicular the base bales. Each additional layer goes on the same way. Only the base bales are laid on the narrow side. The rest of the layers are laid on their widest side.

Two more layers in.

Two more layers in.

It usually takes a couple hours to stack 150 bales. I do most of the stacking and get Boot City to help with the top two layers. He’s taller and has more arm strength than I have to get the bales up that high. It feels SO good to be done stacking the hay and be prepared for the upcoming fall and winter with lots of hay for hungry horses (and sometimes goats).

All in!

All in!

Catching Up

How is it already June?! And mid-June at that! I have travelled for work, family or fun every week for about eight weeks. I know lots of people who travel much more than that, but it has been a lot for me. I’ve always been a bit of a homebody so I have to recoup in between trips and this week hasn’t been any different.

Tonight I wandered around the property enjoying the AMAZING weather and snapped some cute and funny animal pics.

Cute mother and kitten post scratching

Cute mother and kitten post scratching

Until the chicken ran up and scared everyone!

Until the chicken ran up and scared everyone!

New buddies; Sterling and Coco

New buddies; Sterling and Coco

Babies first lizard

Baby’s first lizard

Pretty sunset

Pretty sunset

Annie meets kitten

Annie meets kitten

Everybody loves Pablo

Everybody loves Pablo

Unplanned Pregnancies

Our ranchette seems to be afflicted with a rash of unplanned pregnancies. I pestered Boot City a few days ago to get the eggs away from our broody bantam hen. The last time she was broody she hatched 6 or 7 chicks. They were adorable. Until they grew up and pecked one of their brothers nearly to death and then had to be separated. Too many roosters in a small space makes for a lot of drama. So now we have 3 random bantam rooster habitats that are a pain in the neck to take care of and they don’t lay any eggs!

I went to check on said broody hen tonight and guess what I found?

This!

Baby bantam

Baby bantam

We won’t know for a few weeks of it is a hen or a rooster. I really hope it’s a hen. When I asked Boot City about this little bundle of joy he told me he had found it yesterday. Why he wouldn’t share this delightful news immediately is beyond me. Actually, it doesn’t surprise me at all. He’s always irritated by people who act like any birth is a glorious event (human or animal, in his eyes they aren’t all glorious events) regardless of circumstances.

Do you see how it has fuzzy legs? When it grows up it’ll have feathers down it’s feet. It’ll be cute. Bantams are miniature chickens and when the roosters with the feathered feet fight with each other we call it tickle fighting because they look so cute jumping around. Until there’s blood. Then it isn’t very cute anymore and they have to be separated.

Can you see the chick here with it’s mum?

Happy hen mom

Happy hen mom

The baby snuggles up under it’s Mom to stay warm. They can’t regulate their own temperature until they have feathers. They generally are fully feathered at about 6 weeks. They won’t lay eggs until at least 14 weeks, but with bantams it is more like 26 weeks before they lay eggs. The purpose of bantams are to be cute. They don’t really lay many eggs and their eggs are teeny tiny. They are like Italian Greyhounds, no real purpose in life other than to be cute.

This is the whole fam-damily. Three hens and two roosters live in this little chicken house. These roosters actually get along quite well. I don’t think we’ve ever had an issue with them fighting.

Bantam chicken family

Bantam chicken family

Everyone should think happy thoughts/pray/meditate whatever it takes for this chick to be a hen. Her life would be much better (and probably longer) than if she’s a he.

The Secret Life of Kittens

Do you know what the world needs more of? I’ll tell you; cute baby animals. After a super busy week at work, one of the rougher weeks for Boot City with the weather man (I’ll explain that in a later post, but it’s a pain issue) and a somewhat sickly horse it was pretty fun to be able to pop into the ratty old barn and get a glimpse of these cutey patooteys.

Already sneaking out. They didn't learn that from me!

Already sneaking out. They didn’t learn that from me!

They are a few days older than 5 weeks and mama cat had hidden them for the first 4. So not nice of her to hide them. Boot City found them after they were a few days old, but she had them in the ceiling of the barn so they weren’t exactly easy to get to. I, of course, reached into the insulation where they were hidden to see how many there were and snuggle them. Mama cat promptly moved them to where I couldn’t reach. Rude.

She seems to be fine with sharing them now. When I go into the room where they live she talks to them and they all come out to see her, then see me and freak out hissing. It is quite adorable and funny.

The babes are already learning to eat big kitty food.

The babes are already learning to eat big kitty food.

The harsh truth out here in the country is that we go through a lot of cats. I think we’ve had about 15 since we’ve lived here. It is difficult to get them to stick around. Even the ones we’ve spayed and neutered found a reason to go out and either find a new home or become coyote bait. Two of the ones we loved most got hit by cars on the road in front of our house. Our sweet neighbor got them off the highway before they were a gooey icky mess so we were able to bury them properly. Now that is a good neighbor.

A couple of these munchkins are spoken for. One goes to a new home next week. And it ‘s a good thing because it appears that our other female cat is going to pop in the next week or two with her own batch of kittens. I’m not going to lie; I love having little kittens around to play with. Seriously, how can you resist this face?!

Sweet, furry kitten.

Sweet, furry kitten.

I know the more responsible thing to do is to get them all spayed and neutered and that is the plan for the mama cats once the kittens are no longer nursing. Hopefully we can get a group discount at the vet.

Kitten snuggled on a tractor implement.

Kitten snuggled on a tractor implement.

Eggstravaganza

We have about 60 laying hens right now. Some are older chickens who don’t lay prolifically others are young hens who have only been laying for a few months. It works out to about 40 eggs per day we collect right now. That is a lot of eggs! We have quite a few friends who get eggs from us, but there are still plenty leftover. My thought was there would be no better way to use up some eggs than to have our friends’ kids over to dye Easter eggs!

Busy Easter egg creators.

Busy Easter egg creators.

I hard boiled about 5 dozen eggs in hopes the kids would have plenty to dye. Our chickens are a variety of breeds so our eggs vary in color from white to tan to brown to blue and green. This made it even more fun to see how the egg colors would turn out. About 15 kids made it to the party so they had plenty to dye. Some of the kids had dyed eggs before, others had not. Dyeing and decorating eggs is one of my fondest memories of Easter from my childhood so I love creating this memory for our friends’ kids.

Lots of colors to choose from!

Lots of colors to choose from!

Along with dyeing eggs some of the little ones had better ideas of what to do ith the eggs. This little guy, barely a year old, was far more interested in partaking in farm fresh hard boiled eggs!

Egg Snack

Egg Snack

And this future farmer was enamored with the John Deere tractor. A little man after Boot City’s own heart! Every time we have kids out to the ranchette there is a crowd of them on the tractor at some point.

The littlest biggest John Deere fan!

The littlest biggest John Deere fan!

We treasure these times with the kiddos before they are too cool for us. I never tire of watching them running after chickens, trying to catch baby goats, getting their food stolen by the hound dogs, and generally still discovering their surroundings. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t worry sometimes that our friendships would grow distance as our friends have families and their activities and interests diverge from what we did together when we were in our 20’s. Gatherings like this just confirm that true friendships don’t go away, they just change and mature like we do.

April Showers Bring May Flowers

Growing up in Montana I never really understood the saying “April showers bring May flowers”. As I write this it is 39 in my hometown with a forecasted low of 19. April meant snow showers a lot more often than rain!

Texas spring weather is a lot more true to the saying! When I left work today it was pouring rain. By the time I got home it was sunny and lovely and clearly hadn’t rained at the house. My trusty iCellular weather app made no indication of rain in the near future so I rushed to feed the ponies so I could ride Sterling (gotta give him 30 minutes for his food to settle, its like swimming when you were a kid). I had barely scarfed down my leftover pizza and it was thundering and lightening then raining and hailing. I mean it was RAINING! The water coming off the roof of the house looked like a well planned waterfall.

So, I missed my ride. I did however get some fun pics of the farm after the rain. We were too busy holding Guzzi during the thunder to get any pics of the actual rain and hail. Hopefully my car doesn’t have any dents…..

I hope you enjoy the photos. The light after evening spring rains is the best. And even though my photography skills are still lacking I got a few good ones.

Early to bed……

My favorite times of the day at home are in the early morning just before the sun rises and at night just as the sun sets. I had errands to run after work today (and to stop and see a dear friend whose house I left THE camera at over the weekend) so got home just in time for dusk. Animals are always pretty active just before the sun sets.

The chickens are busy just before the sun sets as this is one of their more vulnerable times. Coyotes are pretty active at sunrise and sunset and the chickens show a more keen sense of awareness at those times. That and they are gathering up to go to bed.

The rooster gathering up his lady friends.

The rooster gathering up his lady friends.

People often ask us how we train the chickens to go to their coop and the truth is we don’t train them to do anything. It is amazing how hard wired they are to do what they do. They have a 6th sense (it’s called survival) to go to where they perceive to be the safest place at night. When we first got chickens we were worried they would roost in trees or other various places where we didn’t want them to roost. Never ever have they roosted anywhere but in the barn. Often in places in the barn we didn’t intend them to roost, but safe nonetheless. There is even one who sleeps on a spotlight in the new barn by herself every night.

Do you see the white hen landing on her roost for the night?

Do you see the white hen landing on her roost for the night?

Pablo was exceptionally helpful with chores tonight.

This is Pablo. He's famous.

This is Pablo. He’s famous.

I couldn’t resist photos of the horses. I know I’m biased, but they are beautiful!

Jaguar and Coco

Jaguar and Coco

Sterling and Noelle

Sterling and Noelle

And, of course, the sunset. This view never gets old.

Pink sky at night, sailor's delight!

Pink sky at night, sailor’s delight!

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