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Birds of a Feather

I’m the first person to admit that I’m, maybe, too easily amused. It’s also no secret that our animals crack me up on a regular basis. Our “old” girls and “new” girls are overlapping a bit, so we currently have about 30 birds. (Charlie can count them, but they move around too much for me to keep track.)

Morning feeding time is my favorite time of day. I have a routine, all the animals know the routine, and yet they’re always hoping I’ll feed first, THEN clean instead of making them wait.

Our male hen – ok, yeah, he’s a rooster – is always the first one to start following me. I don’t mind him following me, but if he starts attacking me, he’s going to become dinner like the last rooster. So far, he’s a pretty nice guy.

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He sends up the alert, and the girls start gathering. And gathering. And gathering.Wherever I go, they’re following. When I look down at the whole flock, surrounding me, it occurs to me it’s a good thing I’m not afraid of chickens. And it’s a good thing they know I feed them. Can you imagine if they all got mad at me at once? That would be like a horror movie. “Pecked to Death.”

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Fortunately, they’re willing to play along while I keep them waiting. Once I do start feeding them, I continue to entertain myself. I’ve learned if I scatter their scratch in patterns, the birds will make shapes for me. They all start with the first straight line, but then spread out as more scratch is put down. This day I was trying for a square.

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They almost got it. Maybe I need to shoot for more rounded sides. I’m also thinking of trying to do the whole alphabet, one letter at a time. It would take several weeks. We’ll see how ambitious I get.

The ducks join in with the chicken scratch, but they know they get fed next. Spike knows they get fed next, too. He knows he’s not supposed to eat the duck food, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. He has no shame. He even tries to keep them waiting. Tajo takes full advantage of Spike wanting to be a bird. He gets to eat his grain in peace while everyone else is following me around.

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Eventually Spike backs off and lets me feed the ducks. He’s pretty persistent, though. He acts like he’s given up, until the food is scattered on the ground, then he sneaks in, like maybe I won’t notice he’s not a duck. Or a chicken. I’ve learned to spread the feed thin, so he’s not able to get large amounts.

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People are always shaking their heads at how well our animals get along. They’ve always been like this. Sometimes the ducks and hens gang up on the rooster, but that’s because he’s trying to exhibit his manliness when the hens are trying to eat. Nobody appreciates that. Other than that, they’re like one big, happy family.

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Shearing Day

The day I’ve been looking forward to all year! Spike and Tajo have been with us since their last shearing. They’re so much fun to be around, I always start my day with a smile while I’m out doing my chores. And now, I get to get my fingers into their fleece. Alpacas don’t shed like dogs, so they need to be sheared like sheep. I’ve seen some people who oppose shearing and I have to assume they don’t understand. Imagine wearing a fur coat year-round.  I found this picture online of an alpaca way overdue for shearing. Now, think of all that fleece weight in 90+ degrees.Unshorn_alpaca_grazing (800x600)

Alpacas get sheared once a year and, for the most part, they don’t like it. They’re prey animals with little to no defense, so being captured and handled isn’t their idea of fun. They also have very long necks and legs, which could get hurt if they were allowed to put up too much fight. Because of this, they are restrained for shearing. Once they are restrained they usually relax and go through shearing without incident.

This was our first shearing and we actually started looking at options shortly after we got the boys. We didn’t want to transport them because shearing can be stressful enough without having to travel first. We started looking at the possibility of a shearer coming to us, not knowing if that was even a feasible option for just two alpacas.

We came across The Shearing Monkey at the many fiber events we attended. Jen Armstrong is the shearer and she’s wonderful! Her family owns Alpacas by Armstrong and Evergreen Fleece Processing. Knowing very little about how to select a shearer, we felt that with her background we couldn’t go wrong. And we were right!

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As soon as Jen and her dad Chuck arrived, Spike knew something was up, and he wasn’t happy. Tajo, in true Tajo fashion, was just interested in what was going on.  See how fluffy they are?

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We’ve attended a few different shearings, and the alpacas are usually laid out on the ground. Jen uses a shearing table. We had never seen one in practice and were interested to learn more about it. Once the table is set up, the table top is placed vertically, the alpaca is walked up next to it, and a wide band is strapped around their middle. When the alpaca is secured, the table is returned to horizontal and the legs are strapped down. Again, once they’re strapped down they relax and the shearing goes very smoothly. The table is really nice because they’re now up where they can be reached, instead of everybody crawling around on the ground trying to maneuver them.

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Jen did the shearing, while Chuck, Charlie and I made sure the alpacas stayed put. My job was to control the head and neck, because there is no restraint there and they could hurt themselves if they jerk around. The extra benefit of being behind their head is the decreased chance of being spit on. Luckily, the only thing Spike was interested in spitting at was Tajo.

First, one side was sheared, they got their shots and their nails trimmed, then they were rolled over and the other side was sheared.  The whole process took about 30 minutes per paca. Charlie and I were so appreciative of the job Jen did. She knew we had some experience, but not a lot, and she was very happy to explain what she was doing every step of the way. She was gentle with the animals, checked in with us frequently about how we wanted them trimmed, and took care to make sure everything went smoothly.

While the shearing was going on, Chuck took the time to tell me more about processing. He has all the big, commercial equipment, including a felting machine that I’m very jealous of. I learned a lot from him about how to clean the alpacas before shearing. There is definitely a shop-vac in our future!

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Spike was done first. Tajo didn’t recognize him at first and came sniffing around to check him out. If I didn’t know better I would say Tajo was laughing. Spike repaid him by spitting at him. A lot.

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Tajo was next and they got along a lot better once they looked the same. Yep, that’s really the same two boys.

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Tajo was quite proud of his new haircut and posed for several pictures. Spike is going to pout awhile longer.

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All in all a very enjoyable and successful day. And the best part…

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Field Trip – Rabbit Show

Little known fact: I’m afraid of bunnies. Not the fuzzy part of them, the teeth part of them. Everybody says, “Oh, they don’t bite.” Yeah, until they do. Rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice. Any little critter with teeth designed to puncture skin will, at some point, puncture skin. And yes, I have been bitten by a bunny.

Being in farm country, meat rabbits are a thing. And Charlie wants some. He’s attended a couple of classes on rabbit raising and bunny butchering, and he feels like he’s ready to take it on. When this happens, I made sure he knows, he’s in charge of them. As much as I’m afraid of them, I still don’t think I could care for them, and then be responsible for them being butchered. That really is the main reason. The other reason is I’m afraid they’ll bite me when my hand is in there trying to feed and water them.

I have been making progress over the past year in overcoming my fears. When we go to rabbit shows, I’ll pet them, while their owners hold them. With their faces away from me. I’m seeing that breeder raised bunnies really are quite calm. The good ones breed for a calm temperament, and biters aren’t used for breeding. I’ve also noticed the great big bunnies act a lot more like a dog than a bunny. Little kids are carrying these bunnies around shows, just like a baby. We’ve even seen spinners spinning angora right off the bunny on their lap. That’s my motivation for getting over my fear. I want a giant angora!

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We’ve attended a few rabbit shows, and have learned a few things. There are show, fiber, meat and pet rabbits. You’ll see all of them at a rabbit show. The pet rabbits aren’t judged, but all the others are. They have standards that are very strict. I saw one bunny got disqualified because it had a teensy weensy white spot, that couldn’t even be seen, unless the fur was moved around. Here’s an example of each type:

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Rabbit shows also have a “cavies” category. In general, these are more rodents with sharp, skin-puncturing teeth. In shows, they’re mostly guinea pigs. I saw one that seemed to be supermodel quality, and another that looked like it was having a really bad hair day. Maybe it was supposed to look like that.

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Some of the patterns on the bunnies were stunning.

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And some brought to mind The Velveteen Rabbit. Just because I’m afraid of their teeth, doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate their plushiness.

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The fuzzy ones are my favorite.

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The shows themselves, like any type of show, have their own culture and merchandise. There are grooming tools I would never have thought of. TV tray type tables, topped with carpet, used for making them look gorgeous before judging. Combs, brushes, clippers, blow dryers. Just like a beauty salon, except these clients will poop on you. And maybe bite. (EVERYBODY in the rabbit world swears they don’t bite. I’m still not thoroughly convinced.)

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Some families bring their other pets. See the dog on the ground? See the rabbits in the cages? Those are big rabbits!
0502151132a (800x451)In case anybody is looking at the little cages and noticing how tiny they are, these are not what they live in. The small cages are for containing them at shows, only. At home, that have much roomier accommodations, and some owners even bring play yards so their bunnies can stretch their legs during shows. Many owners have enclosed yards at home, where their rabbits get to play in the sunshine every day.

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Charlie checked out, and bought, a 3-hole rabbit cage. Spring rabbits have been born, and will be ready to go to new homes in a few weeks. By the time they’re ready, we will be, too.0502151131 (450x800)

In case anybody is wondering if any bunnies found their way home with us, meet Tori’s new friend Sir Franklin. And don’t worry, he’s a pet.

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Neighbors Came A-callin’

Such a gorgeous day! It’s 80 and sunny, just a little breeze, the mountains are out. These days are the payoff for making it through the wet winter.

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We’ve been working on the kids’ tree fort. My goal is to see awe and glee when the kids come to play. I headed to town and hit up the dollar store for more goodies. We now have a full on pinwheel garden. It’s so cool when they’re all spinning!

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After I finished playing, and took a nap, I had to be outside. I gathered up my crocheting and headed to one of my favorite spots – out with the animals. So peaceful. The ducks were quacking, the chickens were clucking, the alpacas were humming, everybody was relaxed and happy.0420150946a (500x281)

While I was enjoying the peace and quiet, a big woodpecker, with its bright red head, flew right over me. A little while later a flock of finches flew by, tweeting away. The dogs were hanging out with me, lounging in the sun. Who needs to travel somewhere for vacation, when this is my backyard?

I was thinking about heading inside to get some things done. Just thinking about it. Really, what’s the hurry? All of a sudden, my security detail goes nuts! Tajo starts alerting, in a total panic. Spike runs to the fence to see what’s happening. The chickens and ducks run over to join the surveillance. Cookie starts barking. Peanut comes charging out of the woods, hackles raised. Daisy runs and hides under the tree. What the heck! I haven’t heard anybody come up the driveway. I don’t see anything. Maybe a coyote. Or a bunny. I never know what will set them off, but this is weird. They’re all freaking out. Guess I better check it out.

Oh. Hmm.

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Yep, that’s 4 cows in the front yard. I don’t know a lot about cows, but these guys look young. At the same time, I don’t really care that they look young, because they also look big. And that one is looking at me. We do live on a cattle ranch, but there are fences, and the cows usually stay on their own side. I was right next to the pasture gate earlier, so that’s not where they came from. Think about this. What would you do if you suddenly had cows hanging out in your yard?

I didn’t have a whole lot of time to think about it because now the dogs were trying to chase the cows off. That wouldn’t be so bad, but the cows wanted to check out the dogs. While I totally appreciate Cookie’s bravery, I didn’t want her to get stepped on. I called for the dogs to go into the house, while calling Tori to come out and help. Tori came running because I sounded urgent, and she doesn’t know what’s happening.

The cows weren’t sure who to follow, but I really don’t want them following the dogs into the house. While getting the dogs inside, my crochet bag topples, and all my hooks fly all over the place. Dogs, cows, crochet hooks, GAH!! The cows decide to move on, but that’s the wrong way! I’m not sure exactly what we’re going to do, but we have to get them heading back down the driveway, the direction they came from.0427151526 (640x360)

I’ve said before that cows make me a little nervous. They’re big. If I stomp my foot and yell, will they go the direction I want, or will they decide to chase me. I’ve been around some animals now, so I decide I’m going to take charge. “Go home, cows!” I take one side of the driveway, and Tori comes in from the other side. Flapping our arms and yelling, “Go home” we get them moving in what we hope is the right direction. Tori’s an excellent cow wrangler. She was even wearing her boots!

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They’re getting a little far ahead, and we’re coming to the fork in the driveway. The barn is to the right, so we’re hoping they go that way. Tori suggests hustling to catch up to them, but I don’t want to get them running. The road isn’t too far up ahead, and we won’t be able to stop them if they get going.

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They seemed to know which direction to go, so we just followed, looking for holes in fencing or open gates. As we come around the bend, we see some people up ahead, looking concerned and uncertain. We figure these are probably their cows, and we’re right. Someone had called to let them know their cows were out. They drove right over and had closed the main gate to the road, but didn’t know where to go from there. There were a few different directions the cows could have gone. They were very relieved to see us coming up the drive.

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After quick introductions – Sara and Tori – the four of us got the cows headed in the right direction. These are Sara’s show cows, and they’ve recently been separated from their mothers. Someone left the gate open, and with no parental supervision, the “kids” decided to go exploring. Now we know where they belong, and have Sara’s number in case the little delinquents get out again.0427151533 (568x640)

Out here on the farm, you just never know who is going to stop by.

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Poultry Rotation

Last year, we had chicks in a brooder, then moved them to an enclosed run, then into the big yard. Boom, boom, boom, it was done. After the chickens were in the yard, we got ducks, and started over. This year, we’ve made it a little more complicated. The 3-4 month plan, which started in February, includes laying chickens, laying ducks, meat chickens, and turkeys. In order to get what we want from each of the birds, when we want it, it took a little planning, and quite of bit of rotation. The egg birds are well into their rotation, and we’ll be starting with meat birds this week or next.

The first step was getting pullets, which are female chicks that will be egg-layers. We start with egg-layers because they don’t start laying until about 6 months old. If we wait too long, we’ll be into the shorter winter days, and they’ll only just get started laying when it’s time to stop again. They’re first available in February, when temperatures still drop below freezing. Their first stop is the brooder – a metal tub with bedding and a heat lamp.

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When they’re big enough, the chicks get moved outside to the enclosed run. We keep the run close to the big yard so they get used to seeing the other animals. They stay in the run until they’re big enough to hold their own with the big girls.

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Once the chicks are moved out of the brooder, the ducklings move in.

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The chicks are 8 weeks old now, and big enough to be moved in with the big girls. The ducklings are 3 weeks old, and big enough to move into the run. Ducks grow faster than chickens, and the overnight temperatures also aren’t dropping as low.

When you move chicks, they need to go into lockdown. By closing them into their coop for 3 or 4 days, they learn that this is home and, if all goes well, they will automatically return to the coop each night. Friday, I made sure the coop was ready for them with lots of food and fresh water. I can add food and water while they’re in there, but the longer I can leave them alone the better. Saturday, Charlie and I caught them, and moved them to their new home. I checked on them each day to make sure they were doing OK, and waited until Tuesday to let them out.

I popped open the door and waited. I thought it would take them awhile to decide to come out, but they weren’t shy at all. Within just a few minutes the first chick was venturing out.

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The big girls came over immediately to see what was going on, and soon they were all scratching together. I was afraid there may be some pecking order issues, but nobody had any problems.

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Soon, Spike had to be part of the welcoming committee. He always has to be in the middle of everything! Tajo took advantage of Spike’s curiosity and got an extra helping of grain.

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The chicks made themselves at home in their new yard.

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While everyone was enjoying the beautiful day, I got to work cleaning out the coop. The common advice is to not do a real good cleaning during the winter. The bedding, food and poop which drop on the floor help to insulate the coop and keep it warmer. That’s a WHOLE LOT of crap to clean up off the floor, but with help from the girls I got it done pretty quickly.

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The ducks are now moved to the run, complete with their own private swimming pool.

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I also decided Criss Cross needs some roommates in her condo, so two little bantam chicks have joined the ranks. Raymond and Reta Jean picked them out and named them. The dark one is Cheekle, and the light one is Fif.

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Turkeys take 6 months to mature, so they’ll be next into the brooder. That way, they’ll be ready to go in time for the holidays. When the ducks move into the big yard, the turkeys will move into the run, and it will be time to get meat chickens. Meat chickens only take 4 months to mature, so they’ll be ready to process around September.

Simple, right? It’s a good thing Charlie can keep the timing straight.

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Chick 911

Reta Jean got to pick out her very own chick this year. (Raymond could have picked one out, but he didn’t want to.) She picked out a little light-colored fluffy one, and checked on her and held her every time she came to visit. She’s the little fluff ball on the right.

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It didn’t take long for us to see the little chick had a little problem. She has a condition we learned is called “scissor beak.” Her upper and lower beaks don’t align, making it a little more difficult for her to eat. Her name soon became Criss Cross, and Reta Jean continued to check in on her chick every visit, never noticing there may be a problem.

We were told that Criss Cross’s condition wouldn’t necessarily prevent her from having a long life, but we would have to keep an eye on her. She was a feisty little fuzzball. She would play with the others and drink water regularly. She could eat, but would have to stick her head all the way into the feeder to get it into her mouth. She didn’t seem to mind, she just did what she had to do.

When we moved the chicks outside, they were all about the same size. Criss Cross hung in there with the rest of them for nearly 3 weeks. At feeding time, she usually jumped over the others to get to food first, and was always scampering around and enjoying the outdoors.

We noticed a few days ago that she was noticeably smaller than the others. At feeding time she was more likely to get trampled than get to the food first. Her neck feathers were getting worn off from sticking her head all the way into the feeder. I started spreading the feed out on the ground, hoping to spread out the stampede, and give Criss Cross the opportunity to scoop food up off the ground. It wasn’t working, and Friday she was really not doing well and we thought we would lose her.

We’ve lost chickens to predators, it’s part of farm life. But this is Reta Jean’s chick. We’ve been watching, and one of the others looks an awful lot like Criss Cross, so we could probably just tell her that one is hers and she would never know the difference. She’s only 2, after all. Charlie couldn’t just let that happen.

Friday evening we brought her inside and put her in a box with her own food and water. We weren’t expecting much, but within an hour she had eaten, had some water, and had jumped out of her box. We moved her into a cat carrier for the night, to keep her from escaping. Saturday morning she was at the front of the carrier, cheeping as loudly as she could, demanding food.

Saturday afternoon we moved her into her very own “condo.” We didn’t want her to be lonely or scared, and we had just moved all the other chicks into the big girl coop, so we put the new condo right by the fence. Since the other girls will have buckets for nesting, we gave Criss Cross one of her own.

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It didn’t take long for the others to come see what was going on, and pretty soon everybody was welcoming her to the neighborhood.

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As Criss Cross gets older, she may be able to join the others, but that may never happen. I still worry about her being lonely, so we’ll be getting her a bantam chick for a roommate. As long as she’s feisty and enjoying life, we’ll do what we can to give her a good life.

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Chick Moving Day!

We got our chicks just 5 weeks ago. They were so cute and fuzzy and tiny.

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They grew really fast, and have outgrown their tub. More importantly, they’re able to escape and get into Charlie’s veggies. This is not good for anybody.

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Fortunately, it got warm really fast this year, too. I’ve been watching the weather, on different channels, for several days now. All the weather reports promise me there will be no more freezing. The chicks have almost all their grown-up feathers, and there are 14 of them to create body heat, so they should be fine outside. Time to load ’em up and head ’em out.  By the time I got their food and water dishes set up in the outside run, one of the girls was already waiting for me.

Tori helped me load them into a basket and move them to their new home. I shut them in the coop, with the windows and door shut, for about an hour. There’s a big world out there, and I didn’t want them to freak out too much before they had a chance to calm down from the move. Once I opened their door, it was a matter of waiting for them to emerge. Our hens that are self-created free-rangers hear the chicks and want to know what’s going on. I wonder if they’re talking to them in chickenese, and telling them they’ll love the great outdoors.

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We didn’t have to wait too long for the first brave chicks to cross the threshold, and soon they were all coming out.

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Once they were out, I wanted to make sure they could find their food and water. I should have known that wouldn’t take long.

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The chicks were so excited to be outside, enjoying the sunshine, and eating, they were just cheeping away. This made Spike, Tajo and the hens very curious. They all came to check out the new neighbors.

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So far, everybody seems happy. The chicks will only be in the run for a couple of weeks. Once they’re big enough to hold their own, they’ll be moved in with the big girls. I’m glad they’re already starting to make friends.

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Peanut and Tajo – Partners

The longer we live in the country, the more seriously Peanut takes her responsibility to protect us all. She escorts me out to perform my chores, and will not return to the house without me. The only time she lets me out of her sight is if she’s chasing something down. Usually it’s a bunny or a deer, but she’s chased off her share of coyotes, as well.

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Some of our hens have learned to hop the fence and be truly free-range chickens. They hop back over to eat and go to bed, but the rest of the day they roam the yard. Peanut keeps an eye on them through the windows, and barks for me to let her out if she sees something she needs to tend to. The chickens have gotten so used to her, they don’t even flinch as she circles around them to make sure everyone is safe. Once she’s certain the yard is clear, she returns to me, whether I’m inside or out.

Alpacas, by nature, are fairly gentle and timid. They know they have no defenses against predators, so they count on others to protect them. They have an alert signal that I can hear from anywhere on the property, including inside with the doors closed. It sounds like a shrieky, loose fan belt, over and over and over. Spike doesn’t really care what’s going on, as long as nothing gets too close. Tajo, on the other hand, will alert if he sees anything out of the ordinary, no matter how far away it may be.

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It used to be that Tajo would alert until Charlie or I came out and chased off whatever threat he imagined. Bunnies, birds, deer, or the real threat of coyotes – until the danger was gone, Tajo would let us know it was still there.

Peanut and Tajo have formed a very unlikely, very sweet relationship. Any sound from Tajo, and Peanut is clamoring to get outside. Even if it’s the middle of the night. Especially if it’s the middle of the night. As soon as I open the back door, Tajo runs to the front fence to get Peanut’s attention. Once he knows Peanut sees him, he will then run and face the direction of the threat. Peanut takes the cue, and off she goes to deal with the intruder. Instead of continuing to alert like he used to, now Tajo will relax and return to his peaceful activities, as soon as he sees Peanut on the job.

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When the threat is gone, Peanut circles back around to check on Tajo and make sure everything is OK. She’ll trot back and forth between Tajo and the scary area a few more times before heading back to the house.

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The whole interaction is amazing to me because these two, initially, didn’t trust each other, and now there is a real communication between them.  I’ve watched this same behavior several times, and it’s always the same. Peanut knows Tajo is waiting for her, and Tajo knows she’s going to come and make sure he’s safe. Tajo points Peanut in the right direction, and she doesn’t come back until the threat is gone. If I head outside alone, Tajo will continue to alert until whatever has come around is gone. If Peanut comes out, he quiets down as soon as he sees her. I think that kind of trust, between animals that are typically predator and prey, is pretty special. But then, Peanut and Tajo have always been special!

 

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Picking Up Chicks

It’s chick season! While the rest of the country may think chicks come at Easter, farm folk know they come in February. The internet has been abuzz with people anxiously awaiting chick deliveries. This was the week!

It’s enough of an event here, we even invited the kids to meet us at the feed store. Reta Jean came and picked out her favorite. She told Carly she was excited to pick out chickens. And take them home. And eat them. These chicks are all for eggs, but it shows that Reta Jean is a natural farm girl. Maybe I’ll let her raise the meat birds later on.

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People pick their chicks for any number of reasons. Some people pick out the cutest chicks. Others pick based on which will be the prettiest chickens. People like us pick based on egg color. Yeah, it’s all very scientific. We want the chickens that will lay different color eggs.0206151154a

We don’t want white eggs. We could buy white eggs at the store. No fun there. We like the pretty blue and brown eggs. This year we got Ameraucanas for their blue eggs and Marans for their dark brown eggs. We’re hoping for a variety of blues and browns, but there really is no way to know until they start laying. We’re also hoping for all hens. These are labeled female, but sometimes a rooster sneaks in. At least this year we know if a hen starts crowing, it’s not just a really loud hen. See? We’re getting good at this.

As soon as we got them home, Tori had to make friends with them. It’s pretty impossible to look at new chicks, and not have the overwhelming urge to pick them up. It’s also easier to pick them up and bond with them one at a time. When you have a dozen chicks in one place, they get really loud!

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The dogs are all really good with the animals, but we’re always careful. When new animals come home, the dogs are always introduced. Peanut actually went with us to get them, but Socks was very interested in meeting them.

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We’ll be making a few more chick pickups throughout the season. Charlie wants meat chickens and turkeys, but I think ducks for eggs are next. Reta Jean is already working on picking them out.

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Chicken Killin’ Varmint

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday I woke up to two dead chickens. They had basically been decapitated, and I didn’t know what could have happened. There’s been an outbreak of avian flu locally, but does that make a chicken’s head explode? I had been leaving the small coop door open because the ducks like to go in and out through the night. They’ve all been outside for about a year, and we haven’t had any problems.

I decided to close up the door, and potentially sacrifice our two ducks, in order to save the flock of chickens. Before we had chickens, we had no idea that once they go to sleep, you can do just about anything to them that you want. (Come to think of it, Charlie sleeps that soundly, too.) Ducks will at least wake up and run away if something starts chewing its head off.

Early Saturday, I wake up to the sound of a screaming chicken. And quacking ducks. And barking dogs. This can’t be good. I’ve heard the chickens put up a racket when they’re upset, but this was SCREAMING. I didn’t even know chickens could do that.

I obviously haven’t learned my lesson about running outside to take on predators, because I once again took off in my pajamas. The chickens had been tucked in and locked up for the night. That had to mean that they really were suffering from some brain-exploding virus. Right?

The dogs and I ran out to check things out, and there are two more chickens on the floor. One is dead and headless, but the other one is breathing hard, and weakly squawking. When it’s dark out, and you only have your pajamas, it’s hard to see what’s going on. Back in for the flashlight…with its dead batteries…back in for the flashlight on the phone.

There is nothing I can do for the one chicken, but the other is fighting the good fight. All the other hens are up on the perches, really upset. Then my light catches THIS critter:Mink

It’s a mink! I don’t support killing minks for fur, but I also don’t support minks coming around and killing my chickens. If I get a hold of him, he’s going down!

Knowing this is a predator issue and not a brain-exploding virus issue, I pick up my warrior chicken and put her back up on the perches. Her face is a little beat up, and she’s murmuring softly. I tell her how proud I am of her screaming loudly enough for me to hear her. I tell her I’m proud of her for fighting back. And I tell her she did the right thing. She didn’t answer, but that’s OK. I’m going to take care of her, and I’m going to take care of Black Bart The Chicken Eating Varmint!

When I go back to feed everyone, that damn mink scares the hell out of me again! This time he’s hiding behind the food tub, and when I opened it up, he took off through a hole in the wall. Ah ha! That’s how he got in.

Charlie heads out with his shotgun, and I follow to make sure nobody gets caught in the crossfire. Black Bart is hiding now. Using plywood, Charlie blocks all possible points of entry.

Our hero has made it out to the yard, and she’s pecking around. She’s staying away from the others, which is probably a good thing. I don’t want them picking on her. Right now, she’s looking good, and I’ll keep an eye on her throughout the day. Most of our chickens don’t have names, but I have named my brave girl Xena. Yep, Warrior Princess.

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Xena and Spike at snack time.