When All You Can Do Is Laugh

When All You Can Do Is Laugh

At the end of August we put a downpayment down on a ridiculous number of pigs (57 to be exact.) Several of them were pregnant and for some reason we thought this was a good idea. The plan was to pick them up at the end of September/beginning of October. Then we would try to sell off the ones we didn’t want to keep for breeding and separate the ones for meat.

Since we also decided to turn our rental house into an Airbnb, and have two kids, the pig pens were coming along slower than we hoped. But no worries, the Airbnb was finally up and running and we could spend the next week finishing everything up.

Then the baby gets sick, then I get sick, then Vince and Isaac get sick, we were struck down by a nasty stomach bug.

So here I am nursing the baby, who still doesn’t feel great, while Isaac and Vince try to get some rest after being up sick all night. Then the phone rings, Vince answers, Vince makes a confused face, “Well as I told the lady, I would pick them up at the end of September or the first week or October. We aren’t set up for them right this minute.”

Turns out the lady is in the hospital, the pigs keep getting loose, she told the sheriff’s department we had paid in full and they were ours, so we get a call from the sheriff’s department about “our” pigs getting loose and “destroying” neighbors property.

Vince gets himself up and dressed to go over there and try to figure something out, two of her neighbors help him, and in the end he comes home with three scared pigs, and a somewhat plan to get the last of the fencing done tonight and start bringing the rest of the pigs home tomorrow.

This is clearly some kind of test and all I can do is laugh and give it to God.

The best part is as I sit here and write this I glance over the tabs to see I have a Facebook notification, my mom commented on the photo of the pigs… She laughed… I mean what else to you do in this situation.

We will see how tomorrow goes, and for now I’ll be the crazy person in the corner laughing.

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End of Chick Season

End of Chick Season

Our last batch of chicks just hatched, and since Mama Hens (two hens are Co-parenting) will raise them it’s time to start focusing on the next farm project.

Over the past 6 months we have hatched over 100 chicks and bought 28. To some that sounds like nothing and to others it sounds like way too many!

I expected we would loose more chicks than we did, they lived. It evened out in the end because a good portion of the chicks were roosters. To give you perspective of how many roosters, out of the first 85 chicks, we only got 22 hens. Since most of our chickens are slow maturing breeds it will be a few more months before we get a final hen count.

I’ve learned a few things this chick season. The most important lesson: Mama hens are the way to go!

Give them eggs, wait 21 days, check to see cute babies, and walk away.

Mama hens have a much better hatch rate than incubators, since God, you know, made them perfect for that job. They also feed, water, and heat the chicks perfectly.

The Chicken Lady, who I’ve bought eggs from, said she gave up on incubators and just lets mama hens do their thing. Here’s to hoping we get some good mama hens!

Thankfully I’m done with the hard work of chick care and get to enjoy the fruits, or should I say eggs, of our labors. The new layers are showing off and we are getting lots of colorful eggs.

So since the chickens are settled, what’s the next farm project? Pigs, more pigs.

We learned a lot with the last group, so we felt we knew enough to purchase breeding sows and boars… did you hear the sarcasm in my voice.

For now we are putting up lots and lots of fencing for the ridiculous number of pigs, who will be joining our farm in just a few short weeks.

Goodbye, last bit of sanity I had left, fare thee well.

Just a few thoughts

Just a few thoughts

When I was little, I wanted to be a vet.

I loved animals and wanted them all.

Then I volunteered at a vet’s office for a morning and a dog died. I realized then I didn’t want to be a vet.

It wasn’t really the dog dying that made me realize it, but it was the way the staff handled it. I remember sitting there as they made jokes and laughed. Someone then jokingly said, “we should be more respectful, this was someone’s pet.” My thought was, ‘YES YOU SHOULD!”

Years later when it came time to make the hard decision about my sweet Girl dog that I’d grown up with, the decision was easy. She was in pain and she was ready.

In the past few years I have spent more money and time taking animals to vets when most people would have given up. Yes, I’ve taken a chicken to the vet for a sprain. Yes, I’ve driven to multiple vets in a desperate attempt to save a goat. Yes,  I had spinal surgery, and months of rehab on a dog with only the hope of her maybe walking with assistance (guess what… she now runs around the fields like she is a puppy.)

What is my point with all this?

Well this was our first year raising our own pigs for meat, and this was our first time to butcher roosters, and it made me realize how it all fit, despite seeming contrary to my love of animals.

It goes back to that thing about being respectful.

If I am going to eat meat, which I am because I physically need meat in my diet, I want to know they were well cared for and lived the best life they could.

Our pigs were happy and got lots of yummy food most pigs never get to taste, in fact they got exotic and organic foods I’ve never eaten thanks to a local grocery store. When it came time to find a butcher we made sure they would do it as humanely as possible.

We had hoped not to have many roosters this year, so we could keep a few. Then someone messed up and we ended up with 25 roosters instead of pullets. Vince suggested we sell them, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that again. Last year we ended up with 7 Lavender Orpington roosters, I tried for weeks to sell them. They ended up all being sold for $10 , and the way they were handled and transported saddened me.

Nope, if I put as much care into these roosters as we did, I wanted that same care and respect all the way to the end.

So when it came time to dispatch the roosters, we gave thanks for their sacrifice, we asked for the strength to do this right, and we did one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do.

It is never easy to say goodbye to a life, even one so small as a chicken. I am so thankful to know the quality of life they had.

I may sound sentimental, but these are the same chicks that happily cheeped in the background when Vivienne was born, so I am a bit sentimental towards them.

Home Processing

Home Processing

This Saturday, we set about the hard task of processing, aka butchering, all our extra roosters.

This was our first time and it was certainly a learning experience.

We had hoped to get it finished quickly, but 26 roosters took us about 8 hours. (If TSC hadn’t given us roosters instead of the pullets I bought, we would have been done after the first 6.)

Our only knowledge going in was a few vague memories from family and the internet. Thankfully there are numerous blog posts and YouTube videos to walk you through the process if you are new to this.

Most people pluck the feathers to leave the skin on, which is what you get when you buy whole chickens at the store. Without a plucking machine this is a very laborious task. My mother-in-law said her mom always just skinned them, since it was faster. So that was the method we went with. It sounded much easier than it really was. It requires muscles that I don’t really have, and those muscles let me know it the next day!

Since we had never done this before, and we weren’t sure if we could physically/emotional handle this, we started with two roosters that had to go for their own good. One of them had a beak deformity that made it harder and harder for him to eat and the other was crippled and was not eating either. They were so small and skinny that it helped to know they were out of misery.

After those we found our strengths and weaknesses. Vince took over the actual dispatching of the birds and removing heads, wings, and feet. I took over the skinning and gutting. As the day wore on his mom came to help me skin, and things went a lot faster.

Vince’s sister was tasked with the hardest task of all, watching Isaac and Vivienne.

After all the crying, screaming, and general craziness, I would completely understand if she never wanted to watch them again!

Twenty-six was a bold number to start with, but we wanted to get it over with. The only way I’m doing that many at once again is if there is a plucking machine involved.

One of the biggest issues was one I didn’t foresee. The overly long day took its toll on the tiny people and they let us know by having foul moods Sunday (Happy Father’s Day) and Monday. We are all still trying to recover!

Because of the nature of the day I don’t have any photos to share, so I leave you with a photo of our spoiled rooster Perceval. He is a jerk , but he was the first chick we ever hatched… and he’s beautiful!

(He has his own house, since he doesn’t play well with others)

Today is Hatch Day… again…

Today is Hatch Day… again…

While the awe of watching a tiny little chick break into the world all on its own, the reality of having more chicks to care for is slightly overwhelming.

We have never had this many chickens at so many different stages of life, and lets just say it is maddening. We have layers, breeders, older chicks on grass, and younger chicks in brooders. It means different types of feed and multiple different groups to feed, so feeding them takes so much longer. We can’t wait till all the chicks are grown and together eating the same feed!

Not to mention that I didn’t like the brooders we built as much as I had hoped (great design for a few chicks, not for a few dozen). Then we found out we hated the coop we built for the older chicks, it is just too hard to move, which was the point of the coop.

But we learned, and are adjusting the rest of the coops to be more moveable.

Our goal this year was to increase our flock of layers from 17 to about 100.  We planned to to hatch well over a hundred, since we knew some would be roosters and we would probably loose some along the way.

We have quite a few roosters, so now we are trying to decide their fate. I know what most of their fates will be, we just need to decide if we will be the ones sending them to that fate. While I have no issues sending animals to butcher, I haven’t been able to worked up the courage to do it myself.

Yesterday I was setting up the brooder for these new hatchlings and wondering why we chose to do this. I mean really, what were we thinking?!

Then we woke up to chicks cheeping away and I saw the look on Isaac’s face and I remembered that we are doing this for them.

And so we welcome more chicks into this madness and count them among our many blessings.

Vivienne’s Birth Story

Vivienne’s Birth Story

Three weeks ago we welcomed our sweet little girl, Vivienne Grace, to the farm.

I begin by saying she was born at home…on purpose.

She was born surrounded by her dad, her brother, her grandmother, her great-grandmother, the same midwives who caught her brother, and the same doula who assisted me during her brother’s birth.

People always say every pregnancy is different, and Vivienne’s last weeks of pregnancy and delivery could not be more different from Isaac’s.

With Isaac I had no “practice” contractions and when we went into labor, we went into strong labor than lasted 52 hours. Thankfully he was born after only a few pushes. He was also a home-birth with no pain-relief, so obviously it wasn’t bad enough to stop me from doing it again.

This time “practice” contractions started weeks before Vivienne’s guess-date. I was optimistic that this was a good thing and her labor would be shorter and smoother. About a week before her guess-date steady/strong contractions started, they were consistent enough to start timing and strong enough to lead us to question if they would turn into true labor. As the day wore on it became clear they weren’t going anywhere.

Fun fact, contractions can be triggered by changes in barometric pressure, so the terrible storms we were having caused all that.

Unfortunately, once the storms started the contractions, they continued to come and go for the next week. It was a fun week.

Easter came and we went to my mom’s for lunch and Easter Bunny. We get home to a couple missing chicks so we hunted them down, put the animals up, got the toddler ready for bed and we crashed. Being extremely pregnant takes its toll.

Monday was our guess-date and I was exhausted. After resting/ doing laundry most of the day, Isaac and I went outside to play while Vince worked. It was supposed to start storming the next day and we needed as much outdoor time as possible. Not to long into playing contractions started again and I cursed the stupid weather. We kept playing.

I walked down to check on a chicken and on the way back had to stop for a contraction. I cursed the super steep hill and trudged back up.

I tried to stand up and had to stop for another contraction. This time I texted the midwife to ask her if it was real this time. She told me probably and to go get some rest.

Well it was real and I tried unsuccessfully to get rest that night. My doula showed up about 9:30 Tuesday morning and we talked chickens, she is a fellow chicken owner, and laughed about the 46 chicks in the entrance hall.

The Midwife showed up about 10/10:30 to check and see how things were going. Things were going well enough that she stayed.

Baby girl was like her brother and turned a bit wonky, so we did exercises to turn her, then tied up my belly so she was forced to stay in a good position.

One by one the apprentices showed up and by mid-afternoon things were progressing but we were still waiting.

Around this time we decided I did want to try the birth pool so we set it up on the landing and my mom made a last minute trip to the store to get hoses to fill the pool. The pool was wonderful, and the view from the landing made me wish my bathtub was on the landing.

The rain had held off and the weather was beautiful and we had the doors open. We got to listen to the very proud crowing of the rooster right below.

In order to get things moving a bit more my doula decided we were going to take a walk. We went outside, I made Vince rescue the giant turtle stuck in the fence, Isaac showed off his goats, Vince put away the animals for the night, and we laughed about the stereotypes we were representing at the moment.

My kind doula then made me do lunges up the stairs, they worked. I finally told her I had to go back upstairs now or I’d never make it back up.

After That I never left the birth-tub. The storm finally arrived and we got to enjoy a bit of it until the wind started blowing rain into the house.

It was getting late and Isaac was getting tired and upset, and labor was getting much more intense than his ever had been.

Isaac was confused by all the people still being there, and didn’t understand why his nightly routine was so messed up. He knew something big was happening but he didn’t understand what. In the end Vince just held him so he could be close to both of us.

My water finally broke and things get a little bit more manageable, just as I began to push. I remember this part with Isaac and I thought it couldn’t get worse… little girl showed me how wrong I had been. She took quite a few more pushes than Isaac, and she decided to get her shoulder a bit stuck. The odd thing is that for as painful as it was the recovery after her was much easier than with Isaac. And even she hasn’t scared me away from any future home-births.

Vivienne finally joined us at 10:54pm Tuesday night, after only 28 hours of labor.

As with Isaac I bled more than was normal, this time enough to make me a bit light headed when I sat up, but after the midwives got it to stop and I ate a bit I felt much better.

Isaac stayed up way past his bed time, but was able to see his sister born, and even “helped” Vince cut her cord.

Her labor and delivery may be different, but she had her similarities. She was exactly the same length as Isaac (21 inches) and 2 ounces smaller (8 lbs 4oz) than him.

We are all absolutely in love with her, especially Isaac.

Incubating Eggs, part 4: The Hatch!

Incubating Eggs, part 4: The Hatch!

Hatch Day is officially over!

Everyone who is going to hatch is hatched.

We have 18 more baby chicks!

*Of the eggs we had left at day 18, only one didn’t hatch. It never broke the shell, so I candled it and there was no movement at all. It pipped into the air sack, but never made it to the shell.*

I noticed the first little pips in the shells Wednesday afternoon and by 11:45pm that night we had our first little chick.

We had 3 chicks when we woke up Thursday, and I frantically checked on them and hovered all day watching the rest hatch.

When we went to bed Thursday, we had 12 little fluffs nestled in their brooder and 7 eggs left in the incubator. I told Vince I would be utterly amazed if any of those 7 hatched. One had broken a dime size hole in the shell by lunch time, but hadn’t done any more in hours.

Well, we woke up to 4 more chicks in the incubator!

So there were only three eggs left: the non-pipped one, the dime hole one, and another that was hatching.

We had to go to town for a playdate, and I told Vince if the one with the hole was still alive when we got back, I might break down and “help” it a bit.

Sure enough it was still alive and the other one still hadn’t finished hatching.

The membrane around the hole was dried and hard, so I broke off a few small pieces of shell to see if it could do the rest. Sure enough it started to work at hatching once those pieces were loose. I had told myself I wouldn’t help them at all, I figured it was natures way of culling the weak, but this little chick was still fighting. It did the hard work itself and while weak seems to be okay. I am still a bit hesitant to make any future plans for that chick, but now it at least has a chance.

As soon as that chick was free and cheeping around the incubator, the other chick still hatching perked up and hatched. It was like it was waiting for a friend to encourage it.

I would have been happy if any of the chicks hatched, so I am overjoyed we have so many little fluffy chicks pecking around.

Now for the next batch! Since we will not be using the Minorca eggs and we sold the Rhode Island Red/Barred Rock hens, we had to by eggs to fill the incubator. Hopefully they will do as well as these and we can get a better hatch rate.

Below are our numbers from this first hatch:

Ameraucana: 11 placed in incubator, 10 fertile, 9 hatched = 82% hatch rate

Minorca: 19 placed in incubator, 1 fertile, 1 hatched = 5% hatch rate

RIR/Barred Rock: 11 placed in incubator, 10 fertile, 2 lost to cracks, so 8 viable, 8 hatched = 73% hatch rate

Thanks to the 18 Minorca eggs that weren’t fertile it looks like we have a terrible hatch rate:18/41 or about 44%.

Brooders and Chicks!

Brooders and Chicks!

It has been a long time since we have had baby chicks around.

The last time was the summer before last and they were raised by a mama hen, so we didn’t get to experience the joys of baby chicks in brooders.

The last time I actually took care of baby chicks was the Spring of 2014!

With eggs about to hatch, hopefully, I have had to refresh my memory on baby chick care and get the brooder all set up.

The first two times I had chicks went extremely well, as in I didn’t loose any chicks, but i still wanted to improve.

The first time, I had four chicks in a baby pool in my garage. While there was nothing technically wrong with the setup, it wasn’t the easiest as they got bigger. Since I had bought them in the fall, they spent a long time in the garage and it got annoying quickly.

The second time, I had four chicks in a big plastic bin in the kitchen and then on the screen porch. Thankfully I bought these in spring so they moved outside into the coop in a reasonable time frame.

The one thing I learned was I hated heat lamps. They left the brooder with hot spots and cold spots and I was always scared it would catch fire. Then one day when I was cleaning the plastic bin, I moved the lamp close enough it melted the plastic! I had heard of the Brinsea EcoGlow Brooder, so as soon as those chicks were in the coop, I threw that scary thing away.

The chicks can walk under and get warm and then walk out when they get to hot. Since they mimic a mother hen, this seemed like a better option to me.

A couple of weeks ago I ordered two similar heating plates from Premier1 to set up in the brooders, each could accommodate 30 chicks. Which means I could warm 60 chicks… anyone see this being an issue? Nope, me neither!

After I candled the eggs last Thursday, and i knew they were all still viable I got to work setting up the first brooder. It still get cold at night so I put a big cardboard box in the weird alcove under the stairs. This way we pass it multiple times a day and we can check on the chicks.

I went ahead and tested the heating plate to make sure it worked. It did! Everything was ready!

Except I needed shavings to go on the bottom, so after lunch on Sunday we stopped at Tractor Supply to get some. Remember the 60 chick capacity and how I already had a brooder ready to go?

I left Tractor Supply with 12 Rhode Island Red chicks. That place is dangerous this time of year!

But its good to know the brooder works!

Incubating Eggs, Part 3

Incubating Eggs, Part 3

We made it to day 18!

The day 10 candling confirmed that the all those Minorca, and two other eggs, did not develop. While I am disappointed, it might have been a good thing. While the Minorcas are supposed to do great in our climate, they are extremely flighty and annoying. So we decided we aren’t going to bother breeding them, at least for now.

I candled the eggs again on day 14 and all the remaining eggs had happy little chicks moving about.

It is amazing to see!

On the outside it looks like any ordinary egg, but on the inside there is a tiny chick, growing and moving.

Now for the most stressful part, at least for me, day 18.

I candled them to double check the air sack was about the right size. I am hoping with more experience this wont be so much of a guess. A few of the sacks looked a bit smaller than they should, which makes me nervous, but hopefully I just saw it wrong.

I also removed the automatic turner, and bumped up the humidity. Everything I read said bump the humidity up to 60%-70%.

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Those first few days I struggled to get the humidity lower, well as would be my luck, I am now having trouble keeping the humidity high enough. They say not to open the incubator these last few days, but make sure to keep the humidity up so you don’t end up with “shrink-wrapped” chicks. So I am sitting here trying to decide which is more important keeping the humidity up or not opening the incubator.

I am a huge control freak and this whole process is a huge test of my patience and a lesson in letting go.

Just a few more days, and we will all know how this went.

I stopped at Tractor Supply Sunday to pick up bedding for the brooder to make sure everything was ready for any chicks that do hatch… and I left with 12 Rhode Island Red chicks. This is what some might call a problem.

Incubating Eggs, part 2

Incubating Eggs, part 2

Today is day 7!

This is a big day because we get to see how the eggs are doing, and because I have patiently waited this long. Yay, me!

So far, so good.

Most of the eggs are showing veins and a tiny baby chick, and the air sack looks about the right size.

The eggs that aren’t developing are all from the Minorcas, and it makes me wonder if it is more of a fertility issue than an incubating issue. Out of 19 Minorca eggs only 1 showed any signs of development. All the eggs have been handled the same since collection, so something is off.

From the Ameraucanas, 10 out of 11 eggs are showing development. From the Rhode Island Red/ Barred Rock crosses all the eggs showed development, but two of them were somehow cracked, so we pulled them from the incubator.

I left all the non-developed eggs in the incubator for now and plan to recheck those in a couple days, just incase they are extremely late bloomers.

A few of the eggs were light enough you could see the baby chick squirming around, which was super exciting.

I am a bit frustrated about the two cracked eggs because I thought I made sure none of the eggs were cracked. But we did use them as a learning experience. Instead of just tossing the eggs, we opened them to see how they looked at this stage of development. It is truly amazing how quickly they develop.

***Below is a photo if you are curious, or if it’s too much, stop reading here.***

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Below you can see all the veins connecting embryo to the yoke (its food source) and the giant eye in the tiny embryo.