Yesterday was another first for our little farm – shearing the sheep. I tried to shear the cat once a few years ago. I bought heavy duty animal clippers for the job but his fur is so thick they kept getting hot and I’d have to take a break while they cooled. The cat tolerated it remarkably well but his patience has limits, and after an afternoon of on and off shearing, we finished with a cat that was still only partly shorn. So I wasn’t even slightly tempted to try to do the sheep myself.
However finding a shearer these days isn’t easy either, but after putting out a plea on Facebook, I was finally able to find someone willing to do it. He lives 3 hours away – and it cost me to have him drive down for the job – but I was very impressed with the young man who showed up on time yesterday. His knowledge of sheep and goats in general, as well as his skills as a shearer, were unexpected.
I had the sheep corralled into a small pen before he got here:
The first “victim” was our ram:
An impressively large bag of fleece collected, even as he continued shearing. This is one of the ewes almost done (note bag of fleece behind her):
It is a relief to have this done – both for me and for the sheep. They spent the day out grazing after he left – something they haven’t been doing since daytime temperatures started to rise. Summer temperatures here are frequently in the triple digits so shearing was not optional and I’m glad it is one more farm task I can scratch off the to-do list.
Although we’ve had precious little rain this spring (think scary little – DROUGHT), the grass is programmed to grow this time of year and is slowly greening and growing. A few days ago I realized it is almost tall enough to mow. So I turned the mowers out on it.
They had a great day working their way around and around the grassy areas. They even fertilized as they went. Does YOUR mower throw in free fertilizer?
I wanted Coop Knox (construction details here and here) to have an automatic door, for several reasons. One was that the many evenings I’m off property partying with the local elites or receiving honors from officials and academics, the birds are securely locked away before I get home. Second, when I spend longer times away assuring world peace through high-level diplomacy or simply vacationing internationally in my jet or motor yacht, I wanted the flock to be semi self-sufficient in terms of getting in and out of the coop. And one other factor so insignificant it doesn’t really bear mention, is that hot coffee in my slippers while watching the chicken door open from the kitchen window beats wind burn on my cheeks while opening the door myself in muck boots during a blizzard.
I researched every automatic door out there before deciding on the Pullet-Shut (say it aloud) door that swings outward to open, rather than the guillotine (that just sounds bad) style that slides up and down in a track. This door had great reviews and when I called to ask some questions, the inventor/builder/seller was just great.
I chose the solar power kit instead of electricity for a couple of reasons. First, so that in the event of a power outage, the door will still open and close. Second, because although I do have power to my coop, I thought it best to save the outlets for other things I might need plugged in, rather than tie up one outlet permanently. And I liked the light sensor better than the timer, as I don’t have to adjust it year-round as the daylight hours wax and wane. Installation was easy. The abrasive cut-off wheel on the circular saw cut through the metal, then a regular blade cut through the OSB. Four bolts installed the door, and then I had to run the wiring. The battery sits inside the coop above the window. The solar panel and light sensor sit on the south wall of the coop. So far the door has worked flawlessly.
However I had a problem with birds trying to sit on top of the door. The door was NOT cheap so in order to protect my investment I built a “chunnel” (chicken tunnel).
The chunnel is constructed from the last of the four internal doors that were donated to me. I cut it in half, “roofed” it with some scrap pieces of plywood, triangulated the bottom with some more scraps, and sat it in front of the door. Besides keeping the birds from perching on the door, it has the additional benefits of keeping out drafts, blowing rain, and snow, and it protects the (already weatherproof) door mechanism from rain and the stress of occasional tornado-strength winds.
I went to do the final check on the poultry last night and at least four hens stuck their butts up in the air and screeched at me like the little feathered velociraptors they resemble. Yup – it’s broody season. I am sometimes asked what it means when a hen “goes broody” and I explain it as the avian version of pregnancy. Hormonal changes occur in birds that tell them it is time to “sit” on a clutch of eggs and hatch out youngsters to raise. And, once a hen is full-blown broody, it is next to impossible to dissuade her.
This being spring, broody birds are no surprise. From April to July last year I perpetually had broody birds – at one point a dozen or more were sitting on various nests throughout the coop at the same time! Several hens brooded multiple times. One particularly broody hen raised turkeys, ducklings and finally a few chicken chicks for me. She didn’t care what she raised – if it was a baby, she’d call it over, tuck it under her wing, and mother it.
Some of my friends dread having hens go broody because a broody hen doesn’t lay eggs, so production is compromised. As for me – I LOVE me a broody hen. Every year I raise enough chickens, turkeys and ducks to meet our egg and meat consumption needs, but raising them in a brooder is a lot of work. A hen will do it all for me – from keeping them warm and safe, to showing them how to find food and water. She’ll even teach them to forage well, while out free-ranging.
So my plan for this weekend is to collect specific eggs I want incubated, mark them, and tuck 2-3 under each of the newly broody hens. And, in three weeks or so, the new mothers will be introducing their chicks to life at the coop. It is spring on the farm and I couldn’t be happier about it.
This really should have been included when I wrote about Goat and Sheep Maintenance here. But, as happens too often around here, the day we trimmed the sheep and goats I…..forgot to take pictures.
I was given a chance to redeem myself however, after picking up the new doe. Prior to traveling to get her, I had asked the seller if she was up to date on vaccinations, worming and hoof trimming. I was told that no, she had never been vaccinated, no, she had never been wormed (egad!) but that, while the seller does not trim hooves herself, a friend comes regularly to do it, the implication being that yes, this at least, was up to date.
So, after driving an hour to pick up the new doe, I was somewhat shocked to find this:
The seller then cheerfully told me that this doe must have been missed the last time the trimmer did hooves. Finding does this time of year isn’t easy so I paid for her anyway, loaded her up, and brought her home. Before she left her travel crate she had a shot of CD-T, a dose of wormer, and all 4 hooves (8 toes) were trimmed. Unfortunately, despite the assurances that she was simply “missed” last time, I don’t believe the poor gal had ever been trimmed before. The quick had grown out so that I was unable to trim her back to where she really should be, but I hope you’ll agree that she looks far more comfortable now:
My hope is that over time the quick will withdraw so that with subsequent trimmings I will be able to gradually bring her feet back to the shape they should be.
As mentioned here, we returned from vacation to find that our goat doe had died while we were gone. She had a name and we were fond of her, so this was a loss for us, but even more so for our buck. He was lost without her. The first night he slept as close to her dead body as he could get and after it was removed, he followed me around, crying whenever I went out of sight. He “heeled” me far better than any dog I’ve ever had; wherever I went, I felt his chin pressed up against my leg as he kept pace with me, and if I stopped moving, he wanted me to pet him and thrust his face into my hands until I did.
I tend to be pragmatic. The goats are Boers – a meat breed – selected for their ability to feed our family. Without a doe, our plans to raise goat meat were shot, and it turns out that raising sheep and goats together poses a challenge due to their different dietary needs. So I was in favor of sending the buck to butcher – despite having been adopted as his doe.
HWA voted to get a new doe.
Now, finding an adult doe – especially at this time of year – is no easy task. It is kidding season and there are bucklings available in large numbers but most people want to keep their does and doelings for themselves. However I put out some feelers and was able to find a Savanna doe – 15 months old – about an hour away.
Meet “Bianca” (So named because it means “white” in Italian.) She has never kidded but we’re hoping that around 5-6 months from now, she and Smoky, our buck, will have a kid or kids.
She has only been with us a few days so she and Smoky are still in a relatively small pen, while she acclimates herself to her new home. Once she has, they will be turned out to graze the pasture with our sheep.