Friday, May 31, 2013

Chicken Lessons -- Part 1, The Broody Hen

The hen decided to sit on her nine eggs.

I'll mark the day on the calendar and go about my business.

She'll sit and wait. Twenty-one days of nest rest, no television, limited visits, little food and water.

She'll get up four times a day -- twice to eat and drink, twice to turn the eggs.

Since she won't be entertaining for the next three weeks, I'll blog about chicken facts.

Today's topic: The Broody Hen

Most hens have no desire to make nests and sit on their eggs. That trait, broodiness, has been mostly bred out of many breeds. When hens are sitting on their nests, they aren't laying eggs. When they are raising chicks, they aren't laying eggs.

Once man learned how to incubate chicken eggs, then a broody hen was no longer necessary.

But that trait still lingers in some breeds, including the Buckeyes. Usually we have a few broody hens every year, and, if there nest is in a good location, we let them sit and wait.


Have a chicken question? Ask and I'll try to answer it while waiting for chicks.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Counting Sheep

Last evening, while mowing a pasture, I counted sheep.

I didn't find it restful.

The grass in the five-acre pasture where the sheep are grazing is now taller than the sheep. I scan the field looking for bits of white.

A lamb could get lost out there.

At this time of year, when the lambs are 60-90 days old and quite self-sufficient, I usually only check the flock once a day. As the lambs and ewes walk to pasture in the morning, I look for any signs of lameness, swollen udders, green butts.

With the lambs racing around the pasture, I don't do a morning head count.

But as the ewes and lambs come in from pasture in the evening, they are quieter. Sitting atop a tractor, it's easier to do a head count.

So I count lambs.

Seventeen lambs.

Uh-oh. I am missing six lambs. Scanning the flock, I see that Good Mom and her triplets aren't there. Looking back, I see them ambling in from the field.

But still three lambs unaccounted for.

I count again -- not an easy thing when the lambs are moving about. Twenty.

Then I hear a bellow and two more ewes and three lambs come in.

All sheep are in the paddock for the evening.

I am wide awake.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Border Collie Quirks

Rather than try to figure them out, it's sometimes just best to live with Border collies.

On a recent walk, Caeli found some animal poo and did her best to cover up her black and white spots.

"You're getting the hose," I told her, even though it wasn't quite warm enough for outdoor baths.

But she stood, stoically, not moving, as I hosed her off, lathered her coat, and rinsed her off. If only the horses stood so still at bath time.

Because she was wet, I thought it best to let her dry off in the outdoor kennel.

She thought it best to dig. When dirt met wet hair, it became mud.

So, I rinsed her off again.

Not to be outdone, a day  later, Raven, the two-year-old, was making a racket in her crate while I was working in my office.

When I came downstairs, I found this:

I didn't ask why she'd draped the towel over her back. I just opened the crate door and took photos.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Squawk, A Glare, A Surprise

Rather than clean the barn, I engaged in a chicken photo session.

The nesting hen was not amused.

The other hens and roosters were more than happy to oblige... if I gave them food.

As always, the rooster was willing to strut around the barnyard and show off his shimmering feathers.

But finally, I said enough, and turned back to the task for the morning: cleaning the barn.

I cleaned around the counter and feed area, then turned my attention to the hay and straw. I planned to rake up the loose hay and straw and move the remaining bales into the corner.

However, the chickens changed my plans.

Apparently a hen has decided to make a nest. I'll give her a week or so and see if she decides to sit on the eggs.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Fiber Weavers

Our fences are easy to spot in May when the Katahdin sheep are shedding.

Because we have no trees in the pastures, the sheep choose the fences for a good rub.

The wire bracing is ideal for loosening the hair on their backs. As for the hair on their sides, there is nothing like a long run of woven wire that they can lean against as they walk. They've created white fiber-wrapped fence that stands out in the fields of green.

But I can't help but wonder if we could up the ante on the sheep artistry. What would happen if we painted the sheep before shedding season?

Monday, May 20, 2013

My 33-pound Teacher

At age 11, Mickey's arthritic and stiff at times. She might not hear as well as she once did. She's missing some teeth, graying in the muzzle, and certainly not as fast as she once was. But I find her amazing.

For the past 18 months, she's been the world's best teacher. For years, Mickey traveled around the country and accumulated ribbons and prizes for her very experienced sheepdog handler. On the farm, she worked sheep and helped with the sheepdog clinics.

When she arrived on our farm, she had to wonder what had gone wrong. I had yet to master a sheepdog whistle, and my commands were always late, and sometimes wrong. Many dogs would become frustrated with an inexperienced handler. Not Mickey. She gamely worked with what she had.

Maybe it was because I worked her on sheep, had her tag along on chores, let her sleep on the couch. Oh, and the popcorn nights probably helped. But she willingly and enthusiastically worked for me.

Eventually I got better. I learned my whistle commands. I became more fluid in my commands. I started watching the sheep instead of the dog.

This weekend, we competed at the Bluegrass Classic Stockdog Trial. It was my third outing there... and probably Mickey's ninth trip there.

As I watched every level of Border collie and handler compete, I realized how much progress I'd made. I didn't shake at the post. I didn't have to think about my next command. Mickey and I just worked the sheep, and finally, I didn't feel like a novice handler.

I can thank my human trainers who've helped along the way, but I also have to thank a wise, old dog.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Trying to Avoid the Stink

That's one goal of those early dawn walks with Border collies.

The walks give me an opportunity to greet the sunrise and plan the day -- and they give the dogs a chance to sprint, to hunt, to sniff, to roll in the grass, to just be dogs.

We have our routines. Early in the walks, I scan the fields, looking for a raccoon or rabbit trying to steal a few more minutes of nighttime. I don't want the dogs giving chase.

Caeli surveys the fields, hoping to find something to chase before I stop her.

Tag watches Caeli, waiting to give chase.

Mickey races to the pond, looking for geese making a stopover visit.

As the walk goes on, the dogs run less and sniff more.

I look for four paws in the air for just a little too long. That usually means a dog is rolling in stink.

After circling the pond and nearing a wooded patch, I always put Caeli on leash. For that's when she likes to bathe in stink.

We never made it that far this morning.

For as we circled the pond, I saw a dark object in the grass about 10 yards from the dogs.

"Lie down," I told Caeli.

"Come here," I told Tag.

Sensing an opportunity for affection, Mickey sidled next to me.

As I snapped leashes on all three, the dark object moved.

As the stinky black and white kitty ambled toward the pine trees, I realized how close I came to a black-and-white dog meets black-and-white skunk encounter.

I forego the asparagus-picking part of the walk.

Avoiding the stink trumps fresh asparagus on any morning.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Vaccinating Lambs

Years ago, when I first vaccinated lambs, I thought about the needles.

I sweated, tried not to shake or think about it too much as I pierced their skin with the needle.

After administering hundreds of vaccines, I'm over that.

Now, I think about the fat.

The ram lambs are vaccinated with the CDT (enterotoxemia types C and D and tetanus) vaccine when they become wethers at about 10 days old. They are given a booster vaccine about 3-4 weeks later. We usually give the ewe lambs their first vaccines at this time.

To administer the vaccine, I pinch the skin behind the elbow and inject the needle under the skin. It's easy to do on the plump, 60-day-old lambs.

It's harder on the 60-day-old bottle lambs, like the one below.

While she's healthy and thriving, she doesn't have the extra layer of fat that her nursing pasture mates have. The other difficult ones were Good Mom's triplets.

A month younger than most of the other lambs, they haven't filled out yet.

When we give boosters to the ewe lambs in 3-4 weeks, I again will be focusing on the fat and their size, as most will have outgrown human laps by then.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Meet Raven, aka New Dog

No, she's not a Lab.

She's a Border collie.

Unlike many other dog breeds, Border collies were bred for a work standard -- not a confirmation or looks standard. A Border collie was bred to work sheep.

So they could be 25 pounds or 50.

They could have long hair or short.

They could have prick ears, like Caeli.

Or semi-prick ears, like Tag.

Or one of each, like Mickey.

What makes a Border collie a Border collie is not its looks.

So, even though the spouse said, "Nice Lab" when he saw her play ball.

And, I expressed surprise when she did this.

I knew she was a Border collie when I saw her work sheep. (Sorry no photos of this yet).

She has a nice, quiet manner about her, which makes it easy to move the sheep into the pen. And, yes, she has the Border collie eye that she uses to gather them and convince them to move. So, it doesn't matter that she's a mostly black dog, with short hair.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Blogging takes a backseat

I haven't been blogging lately.

Instead, my attention has gone to:
Planting garden
Introducing a new dog
Herding clinics

But sometimes, you need to take a break and enjoy your surroundings.

So instead of mowing, I watched Llambert and the lambs.

The evening is playtime for the lambs, and they love nothing better than climbing hills, leaping and chasing, and I like nothing better than watching.

As for Llambert, he never comments on the evening antics.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Mowing Surprise

I don't understand what goes on under my feet.

In the fall of 2011, I placed some Buckeyes in the ground, covered them with dirt and straw, and waited for a spring surprise.

The seedlings came up.

But then, in the summer heat and drought, they wilted and died.

So, when mowing an overgrown yard for the first time this spring, I was surprised to find a dozen or so Buckeye seedlings fighting for space among the grass.

I'm not sure how it happened.

I only know they are giving me a second chance.