Monday, August 15, 2016

The newest addition to our little hobby farm: Sassafras

It's been quite a while since I posted, but I had a good reason! After having my second son, my world kind of "blew up" and I got very busy.  The saying "With one child you are a parent, with two you are a referee" rings true for me and my husband as our children seem to be best friends, but also their own worst enemies, sometimes in the blink of an eye. 

In all of the hustle and bustle of parenthood, we still have to live, and in "living" we've had several livestock related adventures.  Specifically due to having a 3-year old and a 1-year 5-month year old, who both find great enjoyment in our animals. 

On June 30, 2016 I purchased a 15-month old miniature-midsize jersey and named her Sassafras.

Her lineage is of miniature stock, but she grew to be 1" too tall to suit the prior owner (he was seeking to have an entirely miniature herd), and so chose to sell her to me for $1,600.   She is a dark brown, nearly black color, with lighter colored "socks" on her legs, and lighter colored "stripes" down her spine.  (Photo shows what I mean)

She had horns when I purchased her, so those had to come off immediately, and let me tell you what... I hope I never have to de-horn another cow for as long as I live! 

After spending every day outside in the sunshine on her 50-foot tie-out rope, the jersey color pattern is a little bit more noticeable through her back and legs, but she will never be accepted into some of the more prestigious miniature jersey registries as I had planned.

Some of the registries require immense amounts of information; correct coloring in specific areas, conformation, head shape, etc. and because she is such a dark color, and lacks the prominent white ring around her nose, the woman running the main registry wouldn't accept her.  

The backstory I was given on her and who her sires & dam's are cannot be verified any further than they already have so I can't really "fight" the refusal to allow registry. 

I intend to keep highly detailed records, and to register her calf/calves but without having her full lineage confirming that she is the grandsire of Riverview Bobby (among other names), the lineage records starts with me.  Perhaps if I stick with this, I will end up having a whole herd of miniature jersey's; who knows.  Perhaps some day.

Through a neighbor we purchased some huge bales of straw to use as her bedding.  2 sections of that is more than enough to toss down on the floor of her pen, so I'll be doing well for bedding for a very very long time.   She is so partial to the straw though that she has chosen to keep her "bed" separate from her other activities in the pen such as eating and discharging waste.  This photo is of her laying down on her bed when she got bored of my presence in her pen.   I guess she decided that if I wasn't going to give her anything to eat, and wasn't going to brush her, that I was no longer "useful" and so it was time to tell me to go away by laying down.

When I made the choice to purchase a miniature jersey cow, I was also making the decision to allow the chickens to become less prominent in our livestock ownership ventures for the time being. 

I need the income from the eggs, but one of the main contributing factors on the decision to ease off on the chickens, was concerning my oldest son's fear of the birds because they have pecked his hands a few times thinking that he had food. The second factor was that I had a big old swamp coon that was eating any bird he could get his talons into, and it was just not good business to continue purchasing chicks only to have them eaten by the swamp coon.

When Sassy first came home my son was even a little uneasy around her, because of not knowing if she would hurt him or what she would do when he would come around but he has warmed up to her a lot, and even goes to the barn to scratch her and brush her without me now.  He has been over-heard telling his grandmother that "Mommy's cow is pretty good!  She is my favorite pet!" Which I enjoyed of course because I've been wanting a pet cow for about 8-years now.

One adventure which I was concerned would scare him, was the fact that during "standing heat", I was careless about watching my back, and she mounted me, pinning me against the fence until she was finished humping.  My son watched the whole thing, and even though it hurt (she weighs in around 500lbs) I knew I had to talk to him about what he had just seen otherwise he would be fearful of her.  But how do you explain to a 3-year old, why the cow had just mounted mommy and was humping her?  It was quite comical I suppose, the way I was stumbling around trying to explain it in a way that he could understand, yet wouldn't scare him... yes I pulled it off.  I basically just told him "Mommy is OK.  Sassy is lonely. She wants Mommy to find a daddy cow for her to have a baby with."  He looked at me very solemnly and said "OK Mommy".  Later, he was talking to my sister and he said "Mommy got humped by the cow".  Meg said "What!?"  He repeated it, and she asked "Did you see this happen??"  He nodded and repeated "I saw it!", then when he thought she didn't believe him he told her very emphatically "I'm not lying!  I saw it Aunt Megan!  I saw Mommy get humped by the cow!  Sassy is lonely!  She wants Mommy to find her a bull so she can have a baby!"  My sister's jaw just hit the floor I guess... which kind of made the whole situation all the more hilarious than before because how many other people can say that they got humped by a cow in heat?  And that their 3-year old has given his 20-year old aunt a bovine biology lesson!  lol!

All in all I would say that Sassafras has been a good addition to our little farm.  She has proven herself to be a sweet tempered little girl, and if all goes as planned, I will have her bred to a miniature jersey bull of the Dexter Corners lineage, by the end of the month.  The bull resides in Texas at this point in time, but of course artificial insemination is always an option, and one which we are going to attempt this time around.  DC Ebenezer is supposed to be within the size range I would like to see but is heterozygous polled, which means we have a 50% chance of horns. 

** Sassy is 100% horned, I had her DNA tested during the registry negotiations so I would know exactly how likely we would be to having a horned calf, as well as if she had any DNA issues that I should be concerned with such as having the bull dog gene (a gene malformation in Dexter cattle; some people will cross dexters with jerseys in an effort to accomplish size requirements.  It's a method of cutting corners instead of actually doing the breeding correctly.

Updates on the cattle breeding adventures to follow! 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Butchered 4 roosters; unexpected adventures

So, had some pretty interesting although catastrophic adventures yesterday.

It was a nice day, I thought "OK this one reader person has asked for photos of the butcher process, I'm feeling OK, & I need to stop putting this off... let's get this done."  Got all the stuff around for it, started boiling the water, and headed for the barn to catch the intended "victims".  I think they must have sensed that their time had come because although I was able to catch 2 of the 4, the other 2 evaded me to the very end, even after using my pistol to try to take them out.  Finally, I thought "Fine, I'll just do these two, maybe I can catch the other two later after I've gotten these done...", however in the meantime I handed my dad my pistol (because I got frustrated and fed up chasing birds..) and even my dad got fed up. 

While Dad was chasing down the other two, I got my gloves and went for the kill cage (an old dog crate used to isolate them until they are ready for death) to catch a roo.  There were two in there, both were larger than I normally like to butcher, both with long long spurs, but I thought this would be to my advantage for an easier time cleaning them.  It was not.  These two big roosters ganged up on me and rushed me at the door as I went for them, both flapping their wings, attacking my head and face.  I got spurred in the arms, chest and back as I ducked from their barrage attack.

After that, I was 100% done with messing around on a humane kill business.  And of course by not doing a humane kill it wouldn't be clean either, so I knew I wouldn't be able to get photos.  But regardless, I needed these birds gone, so I turned my husband, dad & brother loose on them.  Told them to take them out however they wanted as long as they were dead.  The three men thought this was an awesome idea, since they all hate my chickens, but specifically my roosters with a passion.

After locating them all, they were successful, but there was one rooster in particular that was very good at evading us, even though we shot at him he would keep running.  Once we finally did take him out and I took all his feathers off I realized that we had all hit him when we were shooting him, he just had like... 9 lives. lol  The other three roosters went down a lot easier.

However, interesting facts (to me anyway) was that when I tried to shoot the escape artist rooster several months ago, I thought I missed him, I did not.  I did indeed hit him, and not only that but I hit him exactly where I was supposed to to take him out.  I had just missed his internal organs by mere millimeters. When I finally opened him up, he had 5 bullet holes, (4, 9mm & 1, .22) plus the healed hole from my original 9mm several months back.  Tough old bird was way too good at staying alive!! 

After all of that, I ended up only getting one bird that was usable out of the 4, mainly because I was just so tired I couldn't finish.  My hands were shaking and I was close to collapsing, ended up nicking the gall bladder on the last one I attempted which means I had to throw it away.  Asked my brother to take care of all of the guts, feathers, carcasses etc. which he did, while I showered, then colapsed.  Mom even texted me that she needed me to help her, with my kids, and I didn't even hear my phone.  THAT showed me this morning just how utterly exhausted I was.  

Saturday, April 16, 2016

As The Egg Turns

Good morning blogger world!

My husband says I need to share a story with you about the personalities my hens have developed. There are a few details necessary to describe the comical behaviors that have transpired.

Sometime during the winter months, I got sick of feeding the birds.  I had just had a baby in April of 2015, & felt like I was running around with my hair on fire trying to get everything done for my children, let alone the birds.  I asked for some help from my sister, who did help for a time but got bored of it, stopped feeding them & didn't tell me.  The chickens went for about a week without food, and as most animals will do when they are being starved, they will try to escape their confinement.  Mine succeeded.

They succeeded so well in fact, that they ripped the chicken wire up from the floor boards in specific areas & created new nesting areas for themselves between the wire & the exterior walls. So even though they escaped, they would return to these areas and lay their eggs behind the wire where humans and most animals couldn't get to them.  I was actually quite impressed, after I got over the irritation of realizing they had ruined the coop and that I couldn't reach their eggs.

Over the last several months I have slowly re-trained them where I want them to lay.  The birds & I have come to a compromise after several go rounds of them vandalizing the chicken coops.  I won't lock them up, as long as they lay their eggs where I want them to.  This compromise works well for us, the birds are able to go forage for themselves & I don't have to feed them on such a concrete schedule.  In exchange for their freedoms, I have trained them to lay their eggs in 1 of 2 places, and of course there is always that 1 bird that must be contrary and still tries to lay her eggs where she wants and not where I would like. 1 out of 14 is not too bad though so I let her slide.

The places I have coached them into laying in are:
  • An old water tank that no longer does it's intended job correctly.  I have filled this tank approximately 1/2 full with hay and "seeded" the nests with fake eggs to guide the birds towards laying there.  
    • The tank is large enough for all of my hens to fit in side without touching while laying at the same time if they chose 
    • The walls of the tank are tall enough that our German shepherd cannot reach the eggs to hand them down to the yellow mutt.
    • I've placed boards over the top of the tank except in key places to discourage scavengers such as raccoons, opossums, skunks & other chickens from raiding the nests.
  • An old white plastic milk house sink, stuffed with hay about half-way up & fake eggs seeding the nest.  This location has been placed inside of the second hen house with the door closed and the walls re-secured on the first hen house that they all destroyed so they had to find new spots to lay. 
Both locations work really well. Both locations are too tall for the yellow mutt to get at the eggs (she is my egg sucker) and although the shepherd could reach the eggs in the 2nd hen house, he doesn't because he and I have had a few "talks" about such behavior, including some not so veiled threads of life on a rope if he doesn't behave.

What I have actually found interestingly enough, is that I have 7 who prefer the white sink, and will lay all of their eggs at the same time.  4 of them will sit down facing each other so their butts are in the corners, and chitter chat at each other.  It's almost like they are sitting there gossiping and talking about each other.  "Oh my GOSH!!! Did you see how ruffled Stella was after Foghorn got done with her?  Oh!  He's such an animal!  I wish Heidi would butcher him and get it over with!  The way he uses those spurs on us while breeding is just INHUMANE!"  bahaha.

Then you have the other half of the flock, who prefers to do their laying in private.  And I mean as private as it gets.  They all lay their eggs separately, under cover of darkness (under the boards) & no one talks to each other.  They will wait in line to use the water tank, but no one jumps up early to watch, and if I happen to walk in during one of them laying, it offends her so much she will not lay her egg that day, or if she does, it isn't until LONG after I've gone.  If someone starts pinching, they will fall back on the 55-gallon trash barrels I have throughout the barn.  Their preferred ones are those with paper feed sacks in the bottom, but really it just comes down to whether they need the extra over-flow nests or not.

When I chose to purchase chickens, I had no idea there would be so many personalities and temperaments involved!!  It's like a tiny soap opera down there in the barn!  A friend of the family laughed and suggested I call the chicken drama "As the egg turns", and it probably isn't a bad idea, but I'm not sure anyone would actually get as much of a kick out of the chicken drama as I do.

Saturday, April 2, 2016


On the Saturday between Easter & Good Friday, I bought my son's 5 peking ducklings from TSC.  I thought "My sons are 2-years 6-months & 1-year; they're old enough to begin learning about animal husbandry & the responsibilities of owning and caring for animals" knowing full well that M, my youngest, wouldn't do anything of any consequence with them other than possibly petting them or something.  I wasn't certain that A would be able to handle it, so it was a small gamble, but I figured that if he couldn't deal with them, they got to be "old hat" or he stopped caring for them, I just butcher them and we have roast duck for supper or some such.  However, my gamble seems to be paying off. Because A is doing very well with his new adventure.  M, thinks the ducks are toys, so I can't let him touch them without supervision, but A has taken his job very seriously.  I told him he must feed them every day, change their water, clean their brooder etc. and every morning so far except yesterday (because he had outpatient surgery yesterday) he has asked when it's time to feed & water the animals (chickens, ducks & horses), & helps me get the eggs from the chickens (both boys have been doing this for quite awhile now).  Both boys are doing very well with all of this.  I couldn't be prouder of them!

I also was recently informed by A that it is "Time to eat the roosters Mommy".  LOL!!  I didn't realize he understood when I was butchering the chickens last year!  My husband & I had been sure to keep him back & away during the killing stage, but I had let him play in his sand box during all the other phases so apparently it sunk in more than I realized, and as he is completely chill about the whole thing I'd say it doesn't bother him all that much. 

When he told me it was time to butcher the roosters, I told him "OK we'll butcher them once Mommy catches them", not realizing just how serious he was about doing it right then and there in that moment... so he proceeded to chase my roosters all over the barn for the next 10 minutes.  I told him he shouldn't chase them, because they could hurt him, but he listens about as well as any normal, active 2.5-year old, so it took a little bit to corral him and get him to stop chasing the roosters.  I did end up catching 2/4 & stuck them in the kill cage (I pen them up overnight so I don't have to worry about having a full crop to work with), but then the weather changed overnight.  It got cooler than I really wanted to deal with for butchering so I let them go again.  Their days are most definitely numbered though because I have chicks from last year which are potentially being bred with their father...

Also, I've been asked by a reader to post photos of my unorthodox way of butchering, so although my husband is squeamish about the thought, I may have to enlist his help in taking photos, because once I begin butchering, I tend to get rather covered in blood and feathers.  Not the sort of thing that you want to be picking up a camera all the time, and perhaps if my husband or someone else helps me take photos, I can get some better ones than if I were to do it myself.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Heritage breed laying problems

When I purchased my flock, I bought pure blood heritage breeds because I had heard that they would live longer, have longer laying cycles etc. but what I didn't know was that they don't lay every single day if something happens!   Sure when it's warm out, have LOTS of water, LOTS of food, and very clean nesting boxes they lay regularly, but if it gets a bit snappy in the air, they run out of water, food or some poo gets into their nests... those girls, they stop laying till they darn well feel like it! 

I thought perhaps if I let them free range 100% that they might improve their laying, and they do, but then we run into the problems of them hiding their eggs!  Ugh!  So I started "baiting" nests around the barn and that helps improve our eggs laid to eggs found ratio.

What I have discovered is that they prefer LOTS of privacy, LOTS of hay, and lots of easter eggs filled with sand to tell them where to lay.  Some of their favorite places to lay are:
  • An old stock tank that has a bunch of old hay in it that is too moldy for the horses to eat.  
  • An old 55-gallon barrel full of old feed sacks, feathers, and other odds and ends.  I've found more than a few clutches laid in that barrel.  
  • An old fruit crate that I stuffed full of old hay and baited, then moved into their chicken coop after removing all other nests. 
  • Random dust bathing holes.  One hen will even go around the barn picking up the feathers that have been shed by the other birds and gather them up in these holes instead of plucking the feathers off her own body.  After she has "feathered the nest" the other hens will follow suit and lay eggs in her nests too.  These random nests are the most difficult to find because she will create them all over the barn. Once I find one, I try to mark it so I know where it is and so no one else in the family will bother it or disturb it. 

One of the most challenging things about them hiding their eggs though, isn't the birds themselves but the other members of my family!  Grrrr!! lol!  I prefer to leave things alone and let the birds rule the barn, another person in the family likes to clean and organize, even though cleaning and organizing the barn really doesn't do much other than moving something from one spot to another and messing up the chickens laying cycles.  

One last challenge to their laying, is if the roosters become a bit too "interested" in propagating their species.  The hens will stop laying regularly if the roosters harass them too much.

So, all in all, would I have bought heritage breeds again?  Yeah probably, but I would have bought more ISA Browns or some other sort of hybrid to balance out their weird laying habits.