Saturday, November 20, 2010

Moving into Winter

This fall is so different than last year, which was our first in Texas.  In 2009, it rained constantly and I wondered about the huge mistake we had apparently made moving here.  I hate rain and gray skies; Tucson was the perfect place for me.

The fall of 2010 has been delightful.  Perfect fall weather - sunny, blue skies during the day and cool temps at night.  The weather report says that we're supposed to get a hard freeze around Thanksgiving, so I went out and took photos of the tomatoes that are still growing that will, no doubt, not make it through the week.  Wonder if these are what could be used for fried green tomatoes?

Garlic gets planted in the fall and Chet put down hundreds of cloves in about 8 different varieties.  We'll be selling garlic in the spring.

Garlic as far as the eye can see

The chicks are getting bigger and I hope they have enough feathers now to keep them warm during our upcoming cold spell. 

Chet is working on an addition to the existing coop so we can keep more birds comfortably.  We're calling it the "West Wing".  It's got a big picture window to let as much daylight in as possible.  More daylight....more eggs. 

We're also at the point that we're considering culling the girls that aren't laying anymore. It's just not feasible to feed animals that don't produce. They're not pets anymore. I couldn't have said that 2 years ago!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chicks and Kitties

Our baby chicks are almost 7 weeks old.  We started with 6 that hatched - 2 black ones and 4 yellows.  They moved out of my bathroom after about 3 weeks, growing out of the large aquarium pretty quickly.  As a transition phase, they are living in the big chicken coop in a large wire dog crate.  This keeps them safe from predators, including our Anatolians, who we would probably eat them in a single bite.

The crate is portable enough to move outside while we're home to allow them some time with grass under their feet and  to learn to start finding bugs.  It was during one of these outdoor times that we found one black one dead, with her head missing.  She must have stuck her neck out and got nailed.  Predator; but we're not sure what - cat, hawk?

The 5 remaining chicks are doing well and now have some free range time since they are getting bigger.  They are about half the size of our adult hens.  The big girls peck on them if they get out of line.

The yellow ones have all changed colors.  Three of them are mostly white and one developed pretty brown wings.  The black one is marked like a Barred Rock.  They are good layers, so I'm hoping it's a hen.

We've had a couple other new additions around the farm.  A few weeks ago, there was a litter of kittens roaming the neighborhood, pretty close to starving.   We couldn't help but give them food and a couple of the boys have hung around.  Hopefully they'll be good mousers.

Mr. Kitty

Yesterday Mr. Kitty got brave enough to wander up to the barn and meet the alpacas and llama.  Everyone was curious.

Friday, October 15, 2010

All Grown Up

Luke and Leia, our Anatolian Shepherd livestock guardian dogs turned a year old in July.  It's been a rough year with lots of growing pains.  We've had a few major challenges with the dogs; 2 of them we're still dealing with and 1 that's been fixed.  Leia is no longer chasing the alpacas or attempting to play with them.  If you've read the older posts, you know that we tied a log to her to slow down her ability to run in the pasture.  We didn't have to do that for very long before that issue was resolved.

Probably our biggest issue that remains is with the Anatolians and the chickens.  They still can't be trusted around the birds.  As long as the birds are all calming pecking around in the same area, the dogs are fine.  However, if one bird strays away or starts to run, all bets are off and the dogs go into a predatory mode.  They chase, grab and would likely kill the bird if not interrupted.  That means we can't leave the dogs loose in the full pasture during the day while the chickens are out roaming around.  The dogs have access to the barn and a fenced-in yard all day while we're gone.  They mostly sleep all day since they go out on patrol at night, so it's really not a big deal, but it would be nice to know that they would be available during the day if a big cat or stray dog did get into our pasture. 

Our other issue is barking at night.  Livestock guardian dogs bark - a lot.  That's the first line of defense in interrupting a potential attack by an intruder.  And usually, that's all that's needed.  A coyote will always try the path of least resistance and a couple of big barking dogs is enough to send him on his way.  However, Leia barks at everything and nothing (at least nothing we can see).  She barks at the aircraft going over our house at night, too.  She's the dog who cried wolf.  Luke, on the other hand, barks very little.  When you hear Luke bark, you know there's something going on and it better be checked out.

So, I'm missing my sleep some nights, but at least our alpacas are safe from the scary things that roam outside in the dark.  We can't be sure how many predators the Anatolians have chased away, but we have seen a coyote in the neighbor's yard.  He didn't hang around long.  They've also chased away skunks (and paid the price) and killed a possum. 

They are probably still not completely at their full adult weight yet. Leia is 102 pounds and Luke is 118 pounds. 

They are definitely Chet's dogs!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Chicks at 2 Weeks

They're getting their feathers and wings now.  Two of them have very defined tail feathers already and we're assuming those will be our roosters.  They're spending their first day outside on the grass and getting some sunshine (which they do their best to avoid).   Notice the longer tail on the bird in front as compared to the other two.

If 2 out of the 6 turn out to be boys, then we've beat the odds and we'll be happy.  We'll try and sell them once we're certain of their sex and they're old enough to go.   We have one rooster and that's enough.

I have them in a secure box right outside my office window so I can be on the lookout for the neighborhood cats.  Pip (my 7 month old Border Collie) was fascinated watching them.

"Don't bother me now, mom, I gotta watch in case they need herded."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Just a couple more new baby pics

They're just so darn cute.  Three days old now.

Black and gold - Steeler chicks!!

This one has black stripes down its back. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

One Day Old

We ended the day yesterday with 6 chicks - 4 yellow and 2 black.  Three other eggs had pipped and I could see that one bird was breathing and trying to get out, but nothing yet.  I'm afraid it won't make it.  You can't help the bird while it's trying to get out.  If it's not strong enough to break through the shell, it won't be strong enough to survive outside.  There's no NICU for chickens.

These babies have moved from the incubator to their first home in an aquarium.  They'll live in our guest bathroom for a couple of months or until my house smells too much like the barn.  Then it's moving day!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

New Baby Chicks

We finally have some new baby chickens.  Our first 2 attempts using a broody hen failed.  Our first attempt with an incubator failed - thanks to TXU for a 6 hour power outage.

Three weeks ago today, we put 17 eggs in the incubator.  We candled them at 10 days and removed 5 that we could see weren't developing.  This morning at around 8:00, 2 were showing the "pip" - the place where the beak first breaks through the shell.  By 11:00, we had our first chick - a black one.  We watched it break through and emerge from the egg.  Amazing!  It's exhausting work being born.

Seven hours later, we have 2 black and 3 yellow peeps.  They're all still wet and will stay in the incubator until sometime tomorrow.  I'm hoping we have at least 3 more before then.  There are pip holes in at least 2 other eggs that I can see.

We're hoping these chicks (assuming some of them ARE hens) will start laying eggs this winter when production from the rest of the flock goes way down.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Farm Business Cards

We got our new business cards today and I really like them.   Thanks to Ellen at Top-Dog Marketing for helping with the design.  Ellen did my Distinctive Dog Training business cards as well and I've been really pleased with her creativity and prompt handling of my orders.  Next thing - getting a web site up and running!

Friday, September 17, 2010

New Digs

I knew it would happen sooner or later....Chet wants me out of the house.  Or rather, he wants all my dog training and fiber stuff out of the house.  Over the winter we had some construction work done on an open shed on our property to make it into a real building. 

This is what it looked like then:

And thanks to my wonderfully motivated hubby, this is what it looks like now:

These photos are from half the room which will be dedicated to my fiber work and sales.  I'll bring my spinning wheel and carder up here along with the fleeces I'm working on.  Nice big windows and lots of natural light on this side.  The other half of the building, not finished yet, will be for dog training equipment and an area I can work with clients who want to come to me with their dogs.

Our house is small, about 1600 square feet, and having this extra space is going to help clean out a lot of clutter there.  Working out here will also get me out of the house, which may be Chet's ultimate ulterior motive :-)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Growing and Dying

It's been a hot, humid spring and summer here - my first in Texas.  After living 9 years in Tucson with little to no humidity for 10 months out of the year, I've been extremely uncomfortable since around May.  It's only started to let up in the last few days and actually been nice to be outside.

The alpacas had been enduring the heat as well.  They got their bellies squirted every afternoon and played in the sprinkler in the pasture.  Their fleece actually acts as an insulator from the extreme heat, but they enjoy the coolness of the water on their bare undersides.

Two of the boys we got from the LSU vet school in March, Excalibur and Durango, were extremely thin and never gained much weight over the summer.  These guys were part of a research study looking at the effects of anesthesia on alpacas.  They were put under anesthesia every couple days for about 6 months.  They were kept in stalls and not allowed to graze at all.  I'm sure the stress level was pretty high.  We lost them both in the last 2 days.  Durango was our oldest boy - 12 years old - and a real sweetie.  He loved to eat and wasn't shy about trying to get whatever you had in your hand.  He was a fun personality.  Excalibur was a little more shy.  He never really warmed up to us, but would take food if you offered it.  He was 5 years old and a cute little boy.


We're not certain what caused both of these boys to die within a day of each other, but we're keeping a close eye on the rest of the herd.  All the others are a much better weight and aren't showing any signs of illness. 

We only lost one chicken this summer, but the heat has caused them all to slow down on the egg production.  We're trying again to hatch some eggs, but this time in an incubator.  Our last couple attempts using the broody hen didn't go well.  We're hoping to have some nice young laying hens for the winter.

Chet's garden grew really well this year.  We're getting peppers galore right now and beans are starting to come up again.  The surprise crop of the year is cotton.  Chet planted it for fun to see what would happen and he got a bumper crop.  He's been picking it and pulling out the seeds so I can prep it to spin.  Spinning cotton is pretty tricky, I guess, so I'll be learning something new.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My First Commissioned Piece

I only started spinning last summer just after we got our alpacas and picked up knitting not long after that.  My Grandma Stacey taught me to knit when I was young and I never really forgot, but hadn't done it for many years.  I was determined that if we were going to have alpacas I would learn to do something with their wonderfully soft fleece.

A friend asked me to make a couple of scarves for Christmas presents and I've been thrilled to be able to do this.  We have one gray alpaca - Dude.  He's not the cutest boy in the herd, but I love his coloring.

I finished the first scarf yesterday.  It's the "Misti Chunky Ribs & Ruffles Scarf" pattern.  You can find it free on the internet.  It's a very feminine scarf with pretty ruffles at the edges.  I used size 9 needles and made it according the pattern otherwise.  It came out 3" wide and 81" long.  There's so many cool things you can do with long skinny scarves.  I need to find a mannequin, cause I'm sure not modeling anything!

I'm taking more orders for Christmas, so if you're interested, let me know:  The gray is all gone now, but I can make any other color or blending of colors that we have in the pasture.  Or if you'd like to do it  yourself, I can provide the yarn.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Baron and The Rose

I've been busy spinning dog hair again - this time from my nephew dog, Baron.  Baron is a handsome German Shepherd Dog (or a German Shedder, as his mom refers to him).  He's getting up in age and I wanted to give Mary Ann something that she could always have to remember him.  Mary Ann is a crocheter and I believe she's going to make a keepsake pillow with a Shepherd design once she gets enough yarn. 

She sent me about 2 ounces of fur to start with.  I washed it, let it air dry, then ran it through the dryer on the air cycle in a netted laundry bag to remove some of the guard hair.  The more of the prickly guard hair that can be separated from the fluffy fur, the better yarn it will make.  I ran it through my Fancicard to straighten the fibers and remove more guard hair, then started to spin it into yarn.  I was amazed at how nicely it spun up.   Just from looking at it, you wouldn't know it came from a dog.  It has no odor, except maybe a little lavendar scent from the soap I used to clean it.   It's not the softest yarn and you wouldn't want to wear it around your neck, but I think it's a great way to honor a special pet.

The big excitement of my day was the acquisition of a new spinning wheel.  I started to spin last summer on a Majacraft Pioneer.  It's a starter wheel, fairly inexpensive but spins nicely.  My only issue was that it couldn't handle a lot of yarn on the bobbin at one time.  The wheel would quit turning after I got a couple of ounces of yarn plying on it.

I got a Majacraft Rose today from Leef Bloomenstiel at Apple Leef Farm in Van Alstyne TX.  The fluidity of the motion of the wheel is so nice!   And it's a very pretty spinning wheel, too.  The accessories from the Pioneer will work on the Rose and vice versa.  I'll keep the Pioneer for my travel wheel and for demonstrations where people might want to give spinning a try.  Spinning is a great relaxation activity for me and the Rose is going to make it all the better.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

How Our Garden Grows

This was our first full year having a garden here in Texas.  Chet had a small raised garden in Arizona, but nothing planted in the ground.  We had a fairly large area here so he planted a variety of things there to see what would grow. 

The zucchini grew to incredible sizes.  The peppers were perfectly sized for stuffing; tomatoes were nice, but probably not enough of them for Chet.  I asked for lots of onions, which I got - Texas sweet onions, green onions and some Vidalias, too, I think.  He didn't label them, so we're not sure what was planted where. 

The sweet corn and potatoes were disappointments.  The corn was very tasty, but only grew in very small ears.  Too little water, too many bugs??  The potatoes were extremely small - most no bigger than my thumb.  Not sure what happened there.  I know they didn't get in the ground on time because of the snowstorm in February.

We also got some nice green beans and shallots; some great head lettuce that got eaten quickly.  Had to get that harvested before the giant rabbit got it all.

We got lots of garlic, too, which is great because I use it a lot in cooking. We haven't seen any vampires here either, so I know it's working.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Critter Update

Our second attempt to hatch eggs under a hen failed as well.  We tried with a different brooding hen, a small Silkie-x, who was a fierce protector of her clutch.  She went for days without getting off the nest to eat or drink.  The problem came when she pooped on the eggs.  They were all covered with poo and were disgusting; too nasty to even try to clean up.  So, no baby chicks this year.

We had 2 of our 3 Silkie girls brooding and when they brood, they don't lay eggs, so aren't contributing to their room and board costs.  We put them on Craig's list and they went home with a guy looking for female companionship for his Silkie rooster.  We went and got 6 new Americaunas (Easter eggers) who lay the green and blue eggs.  They've been great layers so far.  So, the henhouse is full again, but it's been so hot production is down from everyone else.

We also sold 2 of our alpacas to a great lady who does Pyrenees rescue and trains them for livestock guardian work.  We're at 14 alpacas and the llama now.

Our own livestock guardians, Luke and Leia, have been quite a challenge in the last few months.  Between the 2 of them, they've been in trouble for barking at the alpacas, chasing the alpacas, escaping from the yard, and barking at nothing during the night.  Teenagers!!  They'll be a year old on July 1, so I'm hoping they'll settle down soon.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

No Chicks This Time

Our first natural hatch didn't turn out well.  Days 21 and 22 came with no peeps or pips from inside the eggs.  We were down to 8 eggs from the original dozen on hatch day.  Lola had either eaten them or they had exploded and covered the remaining eggs in goo.  A few of the 8 that were left had developed to a certain point, but didn't make it for the duration.

I took Lola out of the brooding box this morning.  She was all wet underneath and the nest was yucky.  Once she got outside, she seemed happy to be relieved of her duties and went around the yard looking for bugs.  She came back later in the day and looked for her nest, but so far no signs of brooding again.  Hopefully she'll get back to laying eggs soon.

Since Lola started brooding a couple months ago, 3 more hens have decided they want to hatch eggs, too.  We're going to try again with another 10 eggs under a little silkie girl tonight.  We're going to move the brooding box inside the barn to be able to keep it completely dry.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Wait for Chicks

We tried to candle the dozen eggs that Lola is trying hatch a couple nights ago.  Having never done it before and not wanting to have the eggs away from her for very long, we didn't get a real good idea of how many eggs looked viable.  I could definitely see formations in some of them, but couldn't see anything in the green eggs. 

This morning when I went out to the brooding box to be sure she had food and water, I found one egg outside the nest and it was covered with goo - like she had deliberately removed it from the nest.  (Would a hen do that??)

I lifted Lola up to check on the others and she only had 10 eggs left.  It looks like one of them broke or exploded (which can sometimes happen when the egg isn't fertilized and it's being heated constantly from the hen sitting on it).  It also appears that she ate most of it after it opened up.  There was some pieces of shell leftover. 

The 10 remaining eggs are messy now with whatever came out of the broken egg and I don't know whether they'll be able to survive.  Not sure whether I should try to clean them up or just let nature take its course.  Research time!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Making Chickens the Old Fashioned Way

One of our pretty Buff Orpington hens, Lola, has a tendency to brood.  A couple times of year, she decides she wants to be a mama and sits on the nesting box for weeks at a time.   We've discouraged that in the past for a number of reasons - we didn't have a reliable rooster around for any length of time, we didn't really want to mess with baby chicks, and we were afraid of getting more roosters.

So, when Lola went broody, we took all the eggs out from under her and encouraged her to get up and move around.  The trouble is that broody hens only have one thing in mind - hatch the eggs to make the babies.  Basically you just have to wait until she gives up and gets over the fact that she's not going to be a mother hen.

This spring, we're in our new place in Texas with more land, lots of pasture and a healthy young rooster, Rocky, who (how can I put this) is very active with the ladies.  It doesn't take long to catch him in the act.  Sorry for the graphic nature of the following photo. 

This poor girl below is one of his favorites.  You can tell by the lack of feathers on her back and shoulders.  I'm thinking about getting her an apron to where so she can heal up.

When Lola went broody again last week, Chet talked me into letting her try and hatch some eggs.   I told him he'd have to build her a brooder box so that she can be separated from the others and have a safe place for the chicks to hatch.  He went to work!

He made it up as he went along, but I think it's an excellent design.   He covered it with chicken wire and we put it on the floor of the coop.  I chose 12 eggs for Lola to try and hatch.  From my internet research, I found that you should have as many eggs as the bird can safely keep under her and keep warm.   The eggs should also be well formed and clean.  Since Rocky has been doing his job, I'm hoping most of them will be fertile.  (We'll know more when we candle them in about 10 days.)

We waited until dusk and we put the brooder box in the coop.  I put the eggs in the new hatching nest. 

Lola, of course, was still on the laying nest.  We took her out of there and put her in the brooder box on top of the eggs.   Everything fit very nicely.  Happily, this morning when I went out to check on her and opened the box to give her food and water, she was sitting on all the eggs and didn't even try to get up!  I think that's a good sign that she's going to be OK with the move.

Stay tuned for her progress!  If all goes well, we'll have baby chicks in 21 days.