Monday, April 30, 2007

No goslings or ducklings this year

I can't believe I haven't posted for two weeks. I frequently think about what I want to write, but I am so busy with the farm and grad school that I can't seem to find the time. Plus, I frequently think that I'll wait until I have pictures to go with the post, and I never get around to the pictures, so nothing gets posted.

There is really no picture that needs to be posted with this sad news though. A couple days ago, Katherine called me on my cell phone to tell me that the buff goose was walking around looking very beaten up, and her nest had only one egg left in it. She started setting on Friday, April 6, so her eggs would have hatched at the end of this week. She had 17. As "they" say, don't count your chickens before they hatch. The same obviously goes for goslings. We are, of course, very sad. We were looking forward to seeing our first buff goslings. They are very rare, and we were hoping to add to their numbers.

As it turns out, we have four ganders and one goose. We really need to butcher some of these ganders, because they are now driving the poor girl crazy. She was swimming and screaming like crazy yesterday. The poor girl just lost her whole nest on Friday, and by Sunday, the ganders are chasing her like a bunch of gigolos. Considering how rare these geese are, you would think they would sell them in sexed pairs, rather than just letting you play the odds. Somewhere out there, someone got more girls than boys. Hopefully they at least got one boy to go with their girls. I know how sad that is -- our goose Lucy sat on infertile eggs that we knew would never hatch after Ricky the gander died.

To make matters even worse, we are now down to only one duck. We had four, but something happened to them. I think that somewhere in the woods is a coyote who is getting very fat! A couple weeks ago, when I first got out of bed, I was looking out the window. I had only been awake for a few minutes, and I didn't think my eyes were working right, but I saw something moving behind the pond -- too small to be a deer and too large to be a raccoon. Finally, I realized it was a coyote, and he had one of our chickens. Mike shot at him, but missed, of course. The coyote dropped the chicken and ran into the woods. Katherine went running out there and picked up the poor hen that was still alive. He hadn't quite killed her yet, but Katherine said it looked like he was plucking her feathers off. The hen died in Katherine's arms before she had walked very far.

Monday, April 16, 2007


We've been having babies for the past few days! This is what the inside of the incubator looked like this morning. I think we're up to ~30 chicks now. Ten are fluffy and eating; the other 20 are still wet and wobbly. There's another 40 eggs left to hatch, but as they say -- don't count your chickens before they hatch. Who knows how many we will have.

Yesterday, Anne freshened with a single buckling. He is tri-color spotted and has blue eyes! If they gave points for flashiness, he'd be a champ! She gave birth in the pasture, and by the time we found the little guy, he was fluffy and nursing. It looks like Anne might be following in her mama's hoofprints -- Sherri is a very easy kidder, and she usually kids so fast that no one is there when the first one is born, even if we have a baby monitor on.

Two days ago, Snow White kidded. This is her little buckling, Prince Charming. Snow White will be officially retired now. She will be 9 years old this summer. We've had her for three years, and this is the second time she has kidded with us. She had trouble last time, and she had trouble again this time. It looked like her labor had stopped after she had two kids, so we thought she was done. An hour later, she started pushing again. After several minutes of serious pushing with her ears laid back, I told Margaret to get a pair of gloves and the iodine. When I reached inside Snow White, I felt a joint, either a knee or a hock. I said, "Oh, shit!" grabbed tightly and pulled like crazy, knowing that it was unlikely that I was pulling on a live kid. I wasn't. Turns out I had hold of his hind leg. We rubbed and rubbed, but there was no sign of life. Margaret convinced me to check Snow White again to be sure there were no more kids, and my finger bumped against a water balloon. "There's another one." Imagine trying to grab a water balloon in a bucket of water. It kept slipping from my fingers. Finally I was able to get a grip on it, and I pulled out an intact bag of water with another dead kid. I looked at Snow White and said, "You are retired!"

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Cold snap

Spring was lovely -- while it lasted. We had a few weeks of really nice temperatures in the 50s, 60s, and even a couple days in the 70s. I knew it wouldn't last because it was March, and we've had snow in April in years past. Still, it is so hard to adjust back to freezing temperatures! I feel like I've been plunged into ice water the minute I go outside. It's interesting to watch the animals. Our livestock guardian always gets feisty when the weather turns cool. He was bouncing around like a puppy the first day of the cold snap. The pigs clearly prefer the warmer weather. They are back to spending all their time in their shelter unless they're eating.

We put 80 eggs in the incubators almost two weeks ago, so they'll start hatching around the 16th or 17th. We haven't had incubator chicks in four years, so this should be fun.

Speaking of spring babies, I think we'll have a lovely parade of new wild babies this year. A pair of wild ducks have been visiting the pond daily, and a pair of Canada geese have also showed up and become very protective of the pond. There was a pair of geese visiting daily before the flood. We think they had a nest behind the pond, which would have been washed away in the flood. It looks like they might be contemplating a nest on the banks of the pond now, which would be very exciting! Usually the geese bring their babies to visit at a fairly young age, but it would really be special if we were able to see them from Day 1.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Plants vs. animals

Once again (or twice or thrice), we are facing a challenge in balancing free-range animals with production of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. When we first moved out here, we had no idea why our tomato plants never produced any ripe tomatoes. We'd see some little green tomatoes on the plants, but there were never any big ripe tomatoes. After two complete growing seasons, we realized the chickens were eating them all!

The following year, we fenced in our garden and discovered the benefit of having chickens in your garden -- they love tomato worms. So, season three's tomato crop was cut short when the tomato worms completely defoliated the plants. The next year we learned that DE (looks like white powder, but it's crushed skeletons of microscopic sea creatures that will cut the outer skin of soft-skinned insects) kills tomato worms. Woo hoo!

If you've been reading for a month or so, you know that the goats have pretty much wiped out the apple orchard. We learned our first year that the goats loved nice new little saplings after they almost killed a pear tree, so we realized they would have to stay contained in the pasture. However, these past couple years, we've had a few little goats who do not respect the electric fence, and they walk right through it.

Now, I have four baby grape vines sitting in my living room, and when my husband asked me where we were going to plant them, I suddenly recalled hearing that turkeys love grapes. I can also tell you from experience that turkeys love peaches, which is why we ate no peaches the first year our peach trees produced fruit. The trees were small, and the peaches were at "turkey buffet" level. I'm wondering if grape will always be at turkey buffet level. We have to plant these grape vines somewhere -- and six more vines will be arriving in the mail soon!

I've also realized that many of my daylilies are sheared off at the ground. It finally occurred to me that it must be the work of the geese. We've had daylilies for five years, and no one has ever done this before. The geese are new, and I find them guilty due to circumstantial evidence. Executing five geese is out of the question, so I'm going to put floating row covers over the daylilies until they get started. Hopefully, by then, the geese will be too busy feasting on grass to notice the daylilies.

Finally, remember those 144 tomato seeds I planted in little pots? (It was more like 300 seeds in 144 pots, but I don't want to sound too picky.) Anyway, we have these wonderful shelves with fluorescent lights in the pump room. I went in there yesterday to find the tops of many of the tomato plants snipped off! After some discussion and deductive thinking, we've come to the conclusion that there is a rat in there who is eating them. Ugh! We put two of the barn cats in there last night, since we don't have a rat trap; but we didn't see any evidence that the rat was executed last night. I don't think any additional tomato plants were injured though, so maybe the cats just forced him into hiding?

I can't recall ever having this many problems in past years. Yes, we've had an occasional issue with the needs of plants and animals clashing, but in addition to the very real problem of my tomato seedlings and daylilies being attacked, there is also the future issue of the grape vines to consider! I know chickens and sheep don't bother grapes, because there are vineyards in California that use chickens for natural pest control in their vineyards and sheep for natural grass cutting. I am considering putting the grape vines out by the hayfield. But I am wondering, do deer like grapes?


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