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.

Leia and the Log

Our Anatolian Shepherd livestock guardian puppies are turning 10 months old.  You'd never know from their size that they are still growing puppies.  Luke is taller than our biggest greyhound now (and Louie's a big boy) and Leia isn't much smaller.  Luke's probably between 90-100 pounds.  He could top out around 120 when he fills outs.

There have been many challenges bringing up puppies with the other farm animals.  The Anatolians live in the barn in their puppy stall with access to an outside secure yard when we're not home.  We've had some brave chickens venture into the puppy area and not all have come out alive.  The pups are definitely getting better as they get older.  They haven't killed a bird in about 4 months.  They can successfully interact gently with the birds now and when we are home, they accompany me to do the chores in the chicken yard. 

Our most recent issue has been Leia chasing the alpacas.  Again, she's never allowed to interact with them unless we're home, but recently she's taken to chasing them (almost like a herding dog would do) and actually tried to wrestle one to the ground in play (like she would with a puppy playmate).  Totally unacceptable behavior for an LGD.  It got to the point where I called the breeder for help in finding a more acceptable home - perhaps with animals with horns that could teach her lesson in polite behavior.  During the conversation, I asked for suggestions and he offered one that I immediately dismissed.  Not sure why at the time - maybe my years as a pet dog trainer focused on positive reinforcement techniques made me think that I'd tried everything possible and that she just wasn't meant to be a livestock guardian.

He recommended attaching a log to her and having her drag it around when she had pasture privileges.  I thought it was a little crazy and possibly even a bit cruel.  But, I saw the point - prevent her from practicing the behavior and teaching her a more acceptable speed at which to move around the alpacas.  I talk to my clients about this all the time - how can you manage the situation so that the dog doesn't rehearse the bad behavior?  We can't keep Leia totally away from the alpacas; she has to learn how to interact and be calm instead of being a pouncing puppy.

Well. the log did the trick.  She wears a front clip harness so that she pulls the weight from her chest, rather than her neck.  The log itself only weighs a few pounds and is attached to the harness with old choke chains that I've been saving for 10 years.  I knew I'd find a good use for them!  She's definitely not entirely happy when it's attached, but if this is the way she has to learn, then so be it.  Otherwise, this is a dog that could be a danger to livestock and might have to be put down.  Here's a photo with her sad "I can't believe you did this to me" face.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The "After" Shots

All the alpacas wanted to pose for photos the day after shearing.  Here's a few shots of some of the same animals from the "Before" post on 3/29.

Here are Choco and Chip and Cosmo.  When we got Cosmo, he looked like a giant Poodle.  We'd never seen him without a lot of fleece.

And here's little Frankie.  You can actually see his pretty blue eyes again.

Some of the new boys we just took in didn't have names, just ID numbers.  We named this guy "Bob".  What an unusual face!

The boys seemed proud to show off their new haircuts.  You don't see a lot of gray alpacas and I was tickled to be able to bring this guy home.

So, I've got lots of new fleece now to work with.  I'll be spinning all summer! I'll also probably be selling some. If you're interested, let me know.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Yesterday was co-op shearing day at Patrick's Pastures in Denton.  We took our 16 alpacas for shearing and stayed the day to help with the peripheral duties involved in shearing - handling and moving animals, laying them out for shearing, gathering and bagging fleece, cleaning up after each cutting, etc.  There were a total of 121 animals to be sheared, but unfortunately, not everyone that brought animals was able (or willing) to help out.   We got there at 7 AM and didn't leave until 9 PM.   It was a very tiring and sometimes frustrating day (too many animals and too few people), but overall a good experience - and very educational.

Getting the animal prepped involves putting on leg ties, laying it on the ground and then stretching it out with ropes attached to pullies.  The actual shearing process takes between 3-4 minutes.  I had a break long enough to take some pictures and video (link below).  The red-haired girl in the video, Emma, was my replacement for a while.  (I did this fleece gathering job  for almost 100 animals and my legs and back are pretty sore today.)  The "blanket" comes off the animal first and it's important that it be kept intact as much as possible.  This is the part of the fleece that spinners use to create yarn.  The blanket is kept apart from the rest of the fleece that comes off the legs and neck. 

Alpaca Shearing Video 4/3/10

I'm hoping to get out today and get some photos of our naked alpacas.  They look SO different than they did with all their fleece.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Crew from LSU

Last fall, we were asked if we'd like to have a few more fiber boys who were involved in a study at the LSU Veterinary School.  These 12 boys needed somewhere to go after the study was done, as the person who donated them didn't want them back afterwards.  If you're not aware, the alpaca industry is in dire straits.  At one time, breeding animals were going for tens of thousands and sometimes even hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Not so anymore.  Farms are shutting down and animals are selling for pennies on the dollar and sometimes even given away.  It's basically a coming to a point where there will be alpaca rescues, just as there are dog rescues.

I was OK with taking a few more animals and agreed to take no more than 5 of the 12 that were involved in the study.  I enjoy having a personal relationship with each of my animals, whether it's dogs, chickens or alpacas; and the more animals you have, the less one-on-one time you get with each of them.   Somehow over the winter, the 5 turned into 12.  They didn't have anyone else willing to take the rest, I guess.

During the study on the effects of anesthesia, 2 of the animals died, so that left 10 for us to bring home.  Chet had to drive to Baton Rouge to pick them up and got home with them on Tuesday of this week.  There are 5 black, one white, one grey and 3 dark brown.  One of the black boys is over 10 years old and I was worried that the stress of the study along with the 8+ hour drive here would be very hard on him.  He seems to be doing well, though.  He's the only one that would take food from my hand today.

They are all thin underneath the fleece and they haven't been outdoors for 5 months.  They were so happy to be on pasture again once they unloaded from the trailer.  They leapt in the air and rolled on the ground like dogs scratching their backs.  It was very cool to watch.

Here's a picture of them meeting the horse next door for the first time.

And meeting the home boys on the right.  They'll be kept separated for a while.

This is Dude, the grey one, enjoying the dirt on his back - getting nice and dirty just in time for shearing.  Sigh.