Saying Goodbye…

This is a hard post to write.  It talks about failure, of a sort and just not being prepared for certain kinds of livestock.  Thankfully, it has a great ending and a new beginning and that makes it for a good story.

We said goodbye to the goats today.  They have a new lovely home, and a JOB!  They are going to work as  mobile petting zoo companions with a really nice family, with kids and adequate fencing!  You see…  it all began about 6 weeks ago.

When we offered to take in a pair of goat wethers from our friends up north, we were so excited.  After all, I’ve heard stories of their pygmy goats and babies for years and just were excited to have a pair come to our little farm.  I thought they would be a great addition to the collection and no bother at all.  I learned livestock acquisition rule #1…  always ask how big an animal is, especially when you see a few pictures without any standard size gauges in the pictures!  (gg)   When these boys hopped outta the truck, I was floored!  They were bigger than a pony!  (In fact, Timmy is taller than Cody!)  But, we were determined to give them a great home and they seemed to settle in just fine for the first couple days.  Got along with everyone, even the sheep.  My friends thought they would be fine.

Well, after the first couple days, they began to get a feel for the place and the first thing they really figured out was that our fencing was totally inadequate.  Especially for 150 pound goats.  It wasn’t long before they were busting down fences and getting loose.  They taught me hard lesson #2.  No fence is totally foolproof and safe for livestock.  And lesson #3…  don’t use the cheap t-posts from TSC.  The goats would stand on my fence and just bend those things over at the ground, occasionally snapping them!!!   Always use the super iron reinforced posts that cost only 50 or 75 cents more.  Man, I wish I had known that in the beginning.  I probably bought 50 of the substandard t-posts at a nice $4 each, when for $4.79 I could have had the WAY WAY stronger and better posts!!!

Well, being on a very busy road, I was terrified that they would get out, get hit, or cause a major accident.  Not to mention it was slightly embarrassing to have folks knocking at my door all the time…. “Your goats are out”.  One time Bryce was standing on the hood of our car!!!  Oh my…

Well, then the mischeif began.  Being comfortable, they began to find lots of things to get into and test.   They got into the garage and found the bird seed containers, emptying them.   They were jumping up on the workbenches, knocking stuff over.  It was a 3-ring circus.

They put hoof holes in the siding on the house, by their constant search for getting leaves and such.

They broke down the fence in the back so many times, we just could not get it stable and standing for more than a day.  (It was back where there is a old barn foundation, and thus inadequately posted.  Hard Lesson #4.  Don’t put fencing where there is a concrete foundation.  You need no less than 10 feet between posts and trees just don’t count.

We tried to keep them contained at night, in the paddock that we had made for the sheepies.  It would work for a night, maybe two, but by the second day, they would be loose.  No matter what we did, they just kept figuring out how to thwart it.  Very talented escape artists for sure.   Of course, being only 6 month old farmers, we were easy to bust.  We FINALLY got the paddock to the point that it would hold them, and we christened it Goatcatraz!  I believe that truly… you need solid stainless steel panels, about 8 feet tall, greased and with an inward tilt of 20 degrees to safely contain large goats!  Haha…  For awhile, our only way to keep them safe at night was to kick Cody out of the pony barn and baracade them in by moving the giant wire spools in front of the door!

Now, sure, if I had $500 to spend on new fencing, or to try and install electrical fencing, I might have been able to contain them better.  But, we tried to test them out at a friends, who had electric fence and they bust that within an hour.  They learned very quickly how to work around difficult situations.  They learned that simply bristling up their back hair, would allow them to limbo under the lowest strand and off to freedom!    Silly boys!

Now, the very hardest and painful lesson was $5.  Loosing my sheep.  You might have wondered about the lack of sheep pictures and mentions on the blog.  It was because I was really heartbroken and deeply embarrassed over this very very hard lesson.  It happened the day we brought Cody pony home.  What a wonderful and yet awful day.  We had brought Cody home and were enjoying his pony-ness in our little farm yard.  The sheep were excited over this new hoof pal as were the goats.  When I left a few hours after, to go and get my car from Bills, I got a panicked phone call from Jessy.  The sheep were out, the goats had pushed down the garden fence and they had gotten out.  The goats came back after Jessy yelled at them, but the sheep panicked and ran for the busy road.  She ran out there to herd them away from the traffic and did so just by herself!  She called our neighbors and they rushed down with a whole carload of help.  I hurried home as fast as I could.  Maggie locked the goats up in the pony barn.  The hunt was on.

Unfortunately, the sheep decided to go down this farmer access road that runs right along the side of our property.  Problem is, in their excited state, they hit the woods at the end and disappeared.  The searchers stopped, not wanting to keep pushing them, and hopefully giving them a chance to calm down while we gathered more forces.  I arrived and we brought the grain bucket and some halters and leads, hoping that we would be able to calm entice them back to the fold. They had called our farming neighbor, Mr. K. and he was ready to help and would keep an eye out for them.  The fields were all planted in tall corn and a few in soybeans.  Of course, they had to go into the corn fields and that made it so hard to track and find them.   We searched for hours.  No sign of them.  If you knew where I live, the county is broken up into one square mile blocks, roughly.  And many of the farmers have huge wooded windblocks in the middle.  Right near us there are 3 such woods.  And a very busy elevated bed train track that runs diagonally through the block.  I was fairly certain that they would avoid the train tracks.  The huge ditch and then the double tracks, traffic and just rough scrabble bed, just didn’t point to easy sheep crossing.  So that left 3/4 of the square mile for them to ramble.

When it started to get dark and it was apparent that we were making NO headway, we gave up for the night.  I came home and made flyers for the morning, we would start to litter my poor neighbors with the news and to keep an eye out.  I called the county sheriff that evening and they were super nice and helpful.  Posted the news to all their deputies and would stay in touch over the next two weeks.  I suppose some might have thought that weird, but in essence, the sheriff is our go to information source around here.  I thought, if they wandered onto someone property, they might call them in.  Or if, God forbid, they caused an accident, the sheriff would be involved.  And it just didn’t hurt to have more eyes aware of them.

In the morning, we circulated tons of flyers.  Called the vets in the area and the feed store.  Left flyers at the post office.  Of course, went out at daylight with the bucket, calling them, walking miles and searching.  Nothing.  We went to each and every one of our neighbors in the block, talked with them, left flyers, and no one had seen them!  It was like they just disappeared.  I was so heartbroken.  I just felt awful, stupid and upset.  Every day, I was out there, walking the property, calling them, out walking the woods, driving around the block over and over.  We called the livestock auction to alert them in case someone had found them and were going to turn over a fast buck.

But one of the most helpful and yet sad things, were all the stories of novice livestock handling that came out of it.  Everyone seemed to have a story of escaped stock.  Or mistakes made early on.  The learning curve for large animals is a hefty one for some.  All the book learning in the world is nothing compared to experience first hand.  Books make it sound so easy, that if you do this and that, everything will fall into place.  I never read anything about how to find missing livestock!  Nothing.  Yet, everyone I talked to had some sort of sad tale about their first livestock disaster.  Oh my…

I won’t even retell them, because most are heartbreaking.  Just dreadful hard lessons learned at the expense of animals lives.

Well, about a week after they disappeared, Miss Julia and I did find some fairly fresh tracks in the mud, out near a little water hole.  It was such a hopeful sign.  Mr. K, my big operation farmer neighbor said he would probably flush them from the woods when he started to harvest the corn and beans.  He has a bunch of hands and they were all on the lookout.  He would let me know, even if they found them dead, he would let me know.   He has been super nice and neighborly, not mad or upset.  A couple sheep won’t hurt his bottom line for a zillion acres, but still, it was nice that he was understanding.  So we waited and hoped that they might be sighted and recovered!

Well, the harvest is done, no sign, no hide nor hair of them.  It’s been almost a month now.  No one has seen anything of them and to be honest, this place is too small, a flock of black sheep on the loose would have gotten front page news attention.  Nothing.  Sheriff believes that someone probably found them, started to see the flyers and attention and then either slaughtered them, sold them or moved them to less noticeable surroundings.  Unfortunately, that is what I have to believe as well.  I still have some hope, I still go out to the woods, and I scan the fields every single time I drive away from the homestead.  I take the long route home around the block and I search.  My neighbors are watchful, and their menfolk go out on the bikes and scout for tracks, anything.  Nothing.

So it was with a very heavy heart that I finally called my friends and asked if they would mind if I found new homes for the goats.  We are just not goat people.  There was a growing resentment at their antics and escape skills, and how pushy they were at feeding time and such.  Even Cody was developing a dislike for them, and would kick and snort at them.  They taught him how to push under a weak fence and get out.  It was clear, they needed new homes.

I debated over it in my mind for a good week.  I tried to figure out how I might be able to reenforce my fencing, how I could find the cash to build a big enclosure.  How could I make good on my urge to give these silly boys a forever home.  But in the end, I thought, it’s really just not good.  We would be resentful of them, even if they were finally contained safely.  Like our friends said, goats are for smiles and happy encounters.  They needed new homes in safe goat environments.

We’ve been friends for years and years and I knew that I just had to be upfront, admit defeat and see what we could do to make it all work out.  Thank goodness, they were understanding, and I knew that they were going to be fine, but still, I just felt awful.  They said it would be fine if we could see about getting them a good home.  And if that didn’t work out, they would take them back.  It’s a long drive and I knew they were already overcrowded, so I decided to do whatever I could to find them good safe homes.

I went through my farmy friends and we made connections and had visits and all that.  But finally, it was an ad in our local Craig’s List that brought out the best candidates.  I immediately refused anyone that just wanted to know the weight.  Not happening on my watch.  These were good boys, well,  fun boys and bottle babies, very friendly and endearing little nobheads.  They needed GOAT people…  people with kids, 4H people, people with goat experience.  And good fences.  We had a few good intentions but they didn’t work out.

And then finally, I found them.  The perfect match, the perfect family.  Owners of a lovely mobile petting zoo.  Animal lovers extreme.  Family with kids… and already had goats!!!!  And a farm and acreage and everything ready.  We talked via email and then the phone at lengths.  I really wanted to make sure that they were moving on to a really good situation.  That was SOOOOO important to me.  When they finally came out, I could tell instantly that their smiles and delight at these boys was so genuine and heartfelt, I knew that was going to be good.  Their 8 year son was delighted with them, and the goats were really accepting and happy with them.  In fact, they happily walked off to the truck and hopped right in.  Not even a backward glance of fore longing.  They had new jobs and new adventures and they were ready to embrace that new destiny!  I was happy, but yet a little sad.  I would miss their good points and there were many…  the playful antics, their little mock headbutting duels…  their goatness.

However, when I heard the little boy howl… “Dad!!!!  Common, they’re eating the plastic off the windows!!!!”  I knew I had made the right decision.

We’re still hoping the sheep come home.  I pray about it, and wish and watch.  Your good wishes will help, I’m sure.  I miss them so badly, you can not know.  I just still feel teary thinking about it too much.  I hope that wherever they are, they are doing well, and are loved.  At least, the last we saw of them, they were healthy and happy and scampering off into the sunset.  I guess that is one nice thing, that there is hope that they are somewhere.  I just hope they are happy and being well cared for.  It’s the best I can do in this painful situation.

And I’m really happy for the goat boys.  It sounds like they are going to have some great homes and great jobs.  It’s what they were raised for!  To be friendly happy pets.  Our friends felt good about the placement too, agreeing this sounded awesome for them.  A lovely farm and pasturage… with some fun stimulating outings and a chance to interact with kids and adults in a great way.  They could earn their keep and this family seemed just awesome and wonderful.  I’m happy.  Really, I am.  The girls are relieved… they liked them as well, but always were just overwhelmed a bit with their care and escape antics.

We just need to retrain Cody to stay away from pushing under fences.  Our pallet fence will be done tomorrow.  I think that will stop him…  it’s only one weak spot by the old foundation that he can get loose from.  And we will be fencing in more of the homestead as soon as we can.  I just don’t want to repeat this scenario ever again!!!

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Down 14, Up 4…

This morning was not our crowning glory of organized small holding farming techniques.

We went out at the early time of 7:30 a.m. to get out 14 meat chickens that we had isolated the night before to take in for finishing.  We had intended to use one of the dog crates, but silly us, we had left it outside, with water in it, taken apart as we had been cleaning it out.  So in the frosty morning, it was full of ice, and brittle and did not want to go together to save our souls!  We fought with it for at least a half hour and it was not pleasant.  Finally, we just decided to transport them in the back of the wagon, loose.  So we began the long trek back and forth from the barn to the wagon, oh, 7 times.  Maggie and I.  At one point our trusty little wagon broke, so we couldn’t even use it and a cardboard box to make it a little easier. The birds were cool with sitting in the back of the wagon, it was kinda humorous.  When you raise your own birds, and interact with them their whole lives, they are much easier to pick up and handle.

But about half the way through our trips, we hear Ratchet and Evee barking their fool heads off in the dog yard.  Of course, at first, didn’t think too much of it, figured it was a dog across the road or someone walking on the side of the road.   But then I checked and it was a RACOON in the dog yard and they were keeping it from getting up a tree.  Oh my gosh…  so we get them in the house, only to find that it’s really not doing well, and not from too much trama from the dogs, it just looks old and like it’s having a heart attack or something odd.  Thank goodness, both dogs are up to date on any rabies and such,  and we haven’t had any rabies in the tri county area for years, but still, it was clearly something odd up.  It might have gotten hit on the road and just not killed and wandered into the dog yard, I don’t know.  But I got a big stick and it grabbed hold of it.  So I carefully lifted it up and over the fence and laid it under a pine tree to see if maybe it would recover and scamper off, or die quietly and hidden away.  I’m sad to report that it passed away, and we will be burying it within a few more hours.

Well, we were 5 minutes late for our appointment at the finishing school, but thankfully, they were behind and very nice about it.  Just hate to be late to things that are run on a tight schedule.  This family processes chickens on Fridays and you need an appointment and all, because they fill up fast!  They had some cages and we were able to easily transfer our birds to their holding cages.  Before we do this again, I am going to invest in a couple chicken crates for certain.  They work good and are just for transporting birds.  This morning was chaos and I just hate chaos in our day!

Now, taking the 14 meat hens out of the little coop left our black copper Maran new roo, Dammartin, with only his BCM hen, Amanda and our 5 little Bucka Roo pullets that we hatched out in the summer.  I was a little concerned that he might be a little rough on the pullets, without all the 14 nuggets in there to keep things busy.  So I had considered either going to the auction tomorrow, or seeing about a Craig’s List seller that was just 3 miles up the road from the processor!

We decided to go to the Craig’s List fella, because his ad said he had a mixture of heritage breed birds and all for 7 to 8 dollars a bird.  That fit our budget fine and we like getting birds that we know more about, then at auction.  Auctions are fun, but you just don’t always get a nice range of young birds.

This fella had a nice group of at least 50 to 60 birds, in a electric net fence and a big trailer coop!  Reminded me of the Joel Salatin setup, where they could move that rig around and keep their pasture from getting all nasty.  And the birds were all beautiful, nicely grown and well kept.  We wanted to get just a couple hens to help teach the pullets to lay, and give Dammartin some mature birds to fool around with, and also take a little heat off the few hens in there.  And we knew we wanted to get some unique ones, some that we didn’t already have, to just make our collection of layers neat to look at and easy to name!!!

So we got a nice little golden Comet girl, we call Goldy.  (Yeah, we are very creative namers in the early morning!  Haha…)  And we got a English Susex that we named Elizabeth.  And a Jersy Giant in the blue and white splash color that Maggie named Bionca…  which she thought was a good Jersy mafia wife name!  Haha…  More on Bionca in a moment.  The last girl, which we have no picture of, because she won’t come out of the coop yet… is a Amerucana blond and white hen that looks a bit like our free range girl, Mildred!  We love Mildred and her coloring and so we named the new girl Irene, since that was my grandma Mildred’s middle name!  We’ll get a picture of her soon enough, when she gets a little more comfy.

We originally were going to get Bionca and see if our neighbors wanted her, since they are trying to establish a good Jersey Giant flock.  But we couldn’t get Bionca into the crate with the others, there was just not any room for a hen of her size!  So she just rode in the back of the wagon, happy as could be.  We stopped at McDonalds for lunch, since around here, that’s a treat… the closest one is nearly 15 miles away or more.  And Maggie was delighted as Bionca was sitting on the back of the seat and eating some of her breakfast sandwich with her!   And then she named her and it was just so perfect.   We fell in love with her gentle nature!  I had to call and ask Miss Julia if she minded if we kept her, as a fun addition to our flock!  Of course, she didn’t mind, and I told her that they had two other Giants… a blue and another splash, so I hope maybe they go and get them over the weekend!  They would be nice additions to their flock for sure!

Dammartin approves of the new harem members and he was pretty quick to welcome them to the flock.  He was a bit intimidated by Bionca, however, as she is as tall as he is and much fluffier.  He did his little dance and crow for them, but they were not as impressed.  He’ll have to work a little harder to gain their admiration.  As a diversion we brought out some stale taco chips and everyone set to getting those goodies.

Goldy was the first to intergrate with the others, because I think she really likes chips.  She braved the BCM hen Amanda and one of the bossy pullets, Emerald, to get her share of the goodies being given out.  Being that the new girls are all mature hens, I didn’t seem much in the way of squabbling.  Just a few little staredowns and a bit of ninja kicks to establish who was who.

Now that the freakishly huge meat chickens are out of the equation, little Miss Amanda here is the queen of the coop.  She came with Dammartin and she was, until now, the largest mature hen, so she was pretty quick to hassle the new girls a bit and put them in their place.  She is a beautiful feather shanked black copper Marans hen and I do hope she’ll start laying soon!  Her eggs are going straight into the incubator!

This is Silver, one of the Bucka 5 that we hatched out in summer.   She is just beautiful!  We think she might be a he, but there are no spurs yet, no crowing.  However, she/he and Copper, are both starting to grow out lovely long tail feathers and also beautiful neck mantles.  The other three are definitely hens, with the proper body shape and all that.  We always suspected that Copper was a boy… but now, we’re just waiting to see what comes of it.  Since they are both young, they might get along just fine with Dammartin, since he is a mature one year old and dominate rooster.  We’ll have to see!  We don’t have a good idea of what to do with extra roosters…  however, if they are as gorgeous as Silver is?  We’ll be selling them off as prized Marans crossbreds with wonderful temperaments!

These ladies are from the free range flock and Jessy just caught a nice picture of them drinking and visiting.  A lot of chicken goings’ on and they had a lot to gossip about, I’m sure!

We picked up some more pallets to finish our pallet fence and another nice shipping box to make another nest box out of…  and then went and picked up our 14 finished birds.  Wow, they look awesome.  Just the right little bit of fat, and heavy!  These 14 birds averaged 5.5 pounds each!  One was six and a half pounds!  Just amazing.  And the lady said they were beautiful birds!  That is now, the third processor to remark on our birds.   I asked her if she said that to everyone and she laughed but then added, no… these are very nice birds!  And she knows her meat chickens.

That makes me happy to hear.  Yes, maybe it is a little bit of customer appreciation, but I do say, our birds did look clean and plump and healthy compared to some of the birds in the waiting area.  I’m proud that they had fantastic chicken lives, even if they were short.  These birds ended up being 4 months old.  About 16 weeks to be exact.  We took in all the roosters at 12 weeks and they were good sized and great eating.  These girls we let get a little bigger and older, and I think it turned out just fine.  They were all still very active and ran and played outside, coming to the fence if you called them and had treats.  None seemed to develop any leg trouble and seemed very nice and healthy.  One of these birds makes us 3 meals… we roast one and have a nice sliced roast chicken meal once… and then the leftovers go into 2 more meals with rice or casseroles, that sort of thing.  So at one a week, we’ll be fine into the first of the year!  We have decided that we don’t want all the chicks and work during the winter, so we will probably order a batch in the early spring.  And I suspect we will do 50 this time, since so many of our friends enjoyed their gift birds from our first batch!  And we have been enjoying them as well!  I do think we will make a chicken tractor for 50, however, and move them around the yard and such.

But that’s an adventure for the spring!!!

So the Windhaven total of chickens is now…   44 birds and one turkey!  A nice collection.  Since most of our free range, egg flock is molting, we’re only getting an egg or two a day!  Oh no!  And of our 44 birds, 16 are pullets and not yet laying.   Pullets are young hens.  Only 24 are laying hens.   We hope to add a few more Marans to the flocks, preferably black copper Marans, since we only have one girl at the moment.  But around here, it’s been hard to locate them!  I will be haunting Craigslist to keep an eye out for them!  And we also want a nice Buff Orphingham hen..  but that’s it for now!  50 does sound like a nice number, eh?  Once our girls start laying again, hopefully within a few weeks, we are going to start hatching out as many as we can, so we can have spring sales of our homebred crossbreeds!  And some purebreds too!  It’s all part of our 5 year plan for the homestead!!!

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Just Silly Kittens…

Duke and Baron sitting in a chair… s-l-e-e-ping…. They all love the little chair! Haha…. Great prop idea! Thanks a bunch, Miss Julia!!!!

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