Thursday, March 31, 2011

I'm Not A Flower

My dear sweet fireman was early down to the barns this morning, and as he stood greeting the donkeys he saw a large black cat dash by with it's fluffy tail at full mast.

He chided the cats for allowing a Tom cat into the barn. Peering around the hay bale, he tried to catch a glimpse of our visitor.


"Here puss puss! Here puss puss!", he called for the big fat Tom.

Our three barn cats sat lazily watching him searching the hay bales.

He climbed up a stack of square bales, and peered down inside the hidey hole where the barn cats like to sleep.

Peering up at him was a very large skunk.

He slowly backed down the hay bales, and retreated from the barn.

Seems our barn cats have allowed a visitor to share their cozy hay pile. Now the question to get the skunk out of the barn? We can't trap him - imagine how he will spray us! Skunks can spray their musk up to 15 feet. We don't want to poison him. So we are not sure what options are available.

A quick search tells us that:
  1. We may have to remove the self feeder for the cats, and start feeding them twice a day. The skunk thinks this is a buffet and we don't want the whole family moving in.
  2. Place cat food up high. Skunks are terrible climbers and won't be able to climb up to the shelf. Apparently they have no issues climbing hay bales though.
  3. My guess is since it is April, she is looking for a place to have her young. So we need to vacate her before that happens!
  4. A loud radio can deter them, they don't like lights and noise as it doesn't feel safe. (apparently our quiet dark barn was perfect)
  5. Coffee cans with holes poked in the sides full of mothballs. Tight fitting lid will keep cats from eating it.
  6. Human urine. Yup - my better half is going to love that one. Apparently it is a deterrent. I don't blame them. It would deter me too.
  7. Our grain is going to have to find a new home in a sealed bin, as right now it is a tasty skunk treat.
I suppose if we try all of this, we may be successful. The tricky part will be doing so without the dogs getting sprayed! For now, I will continue to open the barn door with caution.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Country Fashionista

As time goes on, I find myself caring less and less about the brand of purse I carry - and more and more about the price of corn and the practicality of something.

It seems that most days, my bogs are the footwear of choice as they are both dry and warm - a combination that none of my designer pumps seem to offer.  My coveralls, while not highly fashionable and several sizes to big, do a much better job of keeping dirt out and warmth in. I have become familiar with such fashion houses as Carhartt, Dickies, FarmGirl, and Rosies. I am constantly amazed that I manage to "clean up so well" for my off farm day job!

So was it little wonder that I would invest in a Fleece Union Suit?   I reasoned that they were popular in Vermont, an area known for it's celebrity sightings. So surely it can't be too unfashionable - can it? Our drafty old farmhouse is simply not suited for the skimpy choices available today for women's loungewear.  Flannel or fleece is more than just a choice, it's a neccessity.

I did notice that it is surprisingly similar to some of the baby sleepers I see for small children, but I am trying to ignore that.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I am winning the battle! Sort of...

Like any great battle, there comes a point where you manage to turn the corner and realize that victory may be yours.

Today I did a chicken inspection, and I am pleased to report that I didn't see any creepy crawlies on the hens. Regardless, I dusted their bottoms once more with the lice powder, just in an act of "good measure". 

They certainly seem happier - clucking away and acting more like their usual selves again.

The wee chick who has clung to deaths door for the last few weeks also seems to be turning a corner. I have sat on the fence when it comes to this chick.  I am still undecided if I am battling a case of infectious sinusitis - also known as Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG) - or if she simply had Infectious Bronchitis (IB).  Regardless, I just didn't have the heart to cull her. She was still eating and drinking, and seemed to be fighting whatever it was. I separated her from the others, and gave her Superbooster (an antibiotic, vitamin treatment).  It seems to help, and she does seem to be recovering.

The difficult part about both viruses is that so many backyard flocks seem to have them if they are free ranging. Wild birds carry the virus in their stool and when backyard chickens roam they often pick it up.  

My choices became:
1) Cull the chicks as they have all been exposed. If it's just a "cold" then I may be culling them in vain, but if it's Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG) I will hopefully prevent my other hens from being infected.

2) I allow them to live, knowing that they "may" have Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG), and that they will have a stronger immunity to it. Some of my other hens may get sick when exposed, but again - if they recover they will have an immunity to it. Much like we develop an immunity to colds.

This website had some great info to help identify illnesses in poultry. Further reading shows me that many backyard chicken owners disagree on the subject. I guess it's somewhat like the decision to vaccinate your animals, or inoculate your children. There are always to opinions!

For now, she is still hanging in there and I just don't have the heart to "cull" her. Time will tell.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Gobble Gobble

Without meaning to, we have become proud owners of a large flock of wild turkeys. It began last fall when they wandered into the front field. At the time, we thought they were simply passing through.

Then they discovered the feeders.

I have several feeders out for squirrels, chipmunks, deer - and the feathered folk too. I suppose it was simply natural that the turkeys would choose to move in.

They took up residence in the forest, and while turkey's may have wings they are not excellent at roosting. It's quite a frightening sound to hear them crashing through the branches at two am.

We began with about 12 turkeys, and somewhere over the winter that number seems to have doubled. Today they were wandering in the back pasture, oblivious to the dogs barking up a frenzy at these "intruders".

So I did what any farm girl would do, I put out more chicken scratch for them.

I need them to stick around until Thanksgiving!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Creepy Crawlies and the Chicken Peepers

When I was a small child, I had a complete disdain for insects that could crawl on you. A flea for example, would skeeve me out completely. It seems I have not completely lost this disdain for creepy crawlies!

My dear sweet fireman and I ventured into the hen house tonight to resolve this mite issue once and for all. We were armed with the Ivermectin, more Blue-Kote, some Anti-picking lotion, rubber gloves, and the chicken glasses.  He was still not convinced about the chicken glasses, and thought that his friends would chuckle at the idea of him "painting his chickens and putting glasses on them."

Still, we were ready.

So into the hen house we went. I selected the first hen, one of my favorite barred rocks. Her rump was so hen pecked that the skin had been torn off. I cringed inwardly and held her as he applied the Blue-Kote, and then the Anti-pick lotion the surrounding area.  A few drops of Ivermectin at her neck and it was then time for the glasses.

He sat there, poised over her head.

"I don't think I can do this" he said, "my hands are too large".

So I handed the hen to him, and took the small plastic glasses and the tiny plastic pin. He held her head still, and I slowly positioned them over her bead. I gently began to align the pin, and I was doing so I felt the poor hen cringe. Her eyes closed, and she literally braced herself.

I couldn't do it.

I didn't feel so bad, because neither could he. So instead, we picked up the next hen intending to treat her in the same way. As I pulled back her feathers for the Blue-Kote, my dear sweet fireman reeled back in disgust. She was crawling with what appeared to be small white insects.

Feather lice.  Now fortunately for both of us, feather lice are species specific, which means they have no interest in mammals and only like a host with feathers which they can eat. Poultry mites and lice are not dangerous to people. They can and may bite you, causing irritation but they are not a blood sucking lice, they would rather eat the feathers and feather dust on the bird.

Still, my skin began to crawl.

We continued to treat each hen, until all 15 were done.

Now I knew why they were so itchy! It also meant a change in tactics. So tomorrow I will apply something with a pyrethrin in it to kill existing lice dead. Pyrethrins are derived from certain chrysanthemum flowers - but are lethal to insects. I am also going to take a large pan and fill it with the DEarth in order for them to dust themselves with it. All of this is going to have to be followed by a complete overhaul of the coop, a full cleaning and disinfecting with bleach, and a good dose of a pyrethrin into all of the nooks and crannies.

Hopefully, I can do all of that without running for the hills. My skin is crawling just thinking about it.

Our hens have been spared this fate as we were too chicken to apply them


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chicken Peepers

I decided I needed more arsenal. So I went to the Feedmill for help. I love the Feedmill, it's like stepping back in time. I swear that the place looks the same as it must have 50 years ago.

After discussing my issues with them, they came up with some solutions. They agreed a dose of Ivermectin would help, as would dusting with the Diatomaceous earth. However - they had an even better idea.

They explained that once chickens become cannablistic, it is often their nature to continue. Some hens begin to like the taste of blood, and won't stop attacking one another.  I assured them that my hens were very sweet, and had not become the zombie's they were describing. Regardless, I listened to their solution.

Chicken Glasses.

I was astounded. They had such a thing. Tiny plastic glasses that would prevent my hens from seeing straight ahead - causing them to stop pecking at each other. My only objection was that to apply them I would have to slip a small plastic pin through the hens nostrils, to afix the glasses in place. At fifty cents a piece I figured it can't hurt to try. She assured me I don't have to leave them on permanently, simply until the warm weather comes and I can allow them to free range.

The urbanite in me was horrified at the idea, but the farm girl in me knows that the welfare of the hens is what's important, and this will stop them from hurting each other.

Still..chicken peepers?

seems it's not a new idea!

The Battle Begins

Day one of the battle went great, up until the part where I realized that the Blue-Kote antiseptic that I was putting on the hens was also getting all over my hands. Not a problem, I would just wash it off afterwards, right?

This is yet another reason why it is important to READ THE LABEL before using. "May permanently stain skin and clothing". Yes, I see that.

Not to worry, I had a mission. I continued to dose each hen with Blue-Kote and soon realized that this was not a job for one person. Holding a squirming hen while trying to daub them with lotion is a challenge at the best of times, trying not to get any more of the damn stuff on skin or clothing was near impossible.

So I decided to wait one more day until my dear sweet fireman could help.

Sorry girls, you will have to squirm for one more day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tiny Strangers in the Hen House

There is an unwelcome visitor in my coop.

All of this picking and pecking led me to do a deeper investigation this evening, and what I discovered horrified me.

I have mites in the coop.

As a new chicken owner, I couldn't fathom how they got there, but I have been assured by the friendly folks at the feed co-op that wild birds (yes, those lovely cardinals and bluebirds I adore) share them with the hens.

So I am now preparing to fight the battle.

It will begin tomorrow night with diatomaceous earth. Taking each hen, I will encase her in a pillow case filled with diatomaceous earth and in the words of the fellow at the feed co-op "Shake and Bake them".  Coating each hen with this fine powder, which will hopefully begin the process of killing off the mites.

Step two will be to remove all of the existing wood chips, and spray the hen house down with ivermectin spray. Ensuring it gets into all of the nooks and crannies. (Ivermectin is a broad range antiparasitic medicine.) Each hen will also get a drop of Ivermectin on the back of her neck. Then, I will re-fill the hen house with new wood chips and another liberal dose of diatomaceous earth.

Diatomaceous earth is food grade and safe. In fact it is probably the most effective naturally occurring protective powder on earth. It is taken from a geological deposit made up of the fossilized skeletons of marine and fresh water organisms, particularly diatoms and other algae. These skeletons are made of hydrated amorphous silica or opal. When crushed, they break up into tiny pieces of "glass'' (so tiny and fine that the diatomaceous earth feels like talcum powder). This is easily picked up by the hairy bodies of most Insects - whereupon it scratches through their protective wax layers; and they also absorb some of this material. The result being that the insects lose water rapidly and dry up to die.

It's the Ivermectin spray I worry about. So for 7 days we will not be selling eggs from the coop. I can't in good conscience sell eggs that I wouldn't want to eat myself! My customers will be very disappointed - but I am quite certain that they too would want the hens restored to their former happy selves.

Wish me luck with this battle!


Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring Fever

We need spring to arrive. It seems that spring fever is hitting the farm hard this last week! I will share with you some of the ups and downs of the last 7 days.

The chickens are plucking themselves out of boredom, I have now taken to giving them entire heads of lettuce and cauliflower to chase around the coop. It seems to help, for a short while. I sadly had to re-home one Golden Laced Wyandotte as the rest of the flock seemed to think she was a head of lettuce, and would chase her around pecking her poor bleeding backside.  She has now joined a new flock where she can recover peacefully.

The new chicks were doing marvellously well, peeping away in the laundry room. But alas, two days ago they began to sneeze. What followed was a full scale epidemic, and armed with Superbooster I have been dosing them in an effort to combat the cold. Three have recovered quite nicely, but the fourth is still in critical care. I feel terribly responsible for the life of this tiny chick, and so I diligently ensured she got her share of antibiotics via an eyedropper. It remains to be seen if she will pull through.

I certainly did not need any more chaos added to the mix, but our Livestock Guardian dog (LGD) decided to scuffle with our wee mutt. An initial vet visit was made, and all seemed fine. Some antibiotics and a clean up of superficial wounds. But over the weekend the wee dog didn't fare to well. What followed was a trip to the emergency vets (why is it that these things always happen after hours?) where he was treated for infected lymph nodes. He now has a shunt to drain the large abscess in his neck and is sporting a cone to keep him from scratching at it.  Our other dogs feel that this cone is simply a unique handle by which to grab him as he runs by. We have resorted to crating him, where he sits miserably wondering why he is being given a time out.

Our female LGD has just this week been hit hard with spring fever, and has found all sorts of unique ways to scramble under the electric fencing. She discovered that if she ran quite quickly, and flattened herself at the last minute, she could slide on the ice under the bottom wire with a whoosh! and land on the other side untouched.  What followed was hours of us wandering our 50 acre property trying to listen for the sound of her cow bell. Thankfully she wears a cowbell, or we would not have found her on the neighbours front lawn.

With all of this excitement, it was kind of touching to watch our wee bullock frolicking in the sun. And he does frolic. As the air warmed today, you could see his excitement - he began kicking his heels up like a wee elf in delight, knowing that warmer weather is coming.

I hesitated for a moment as I watched, and then thought "why not?" and I too did a little leprechaun jump. It can't hurt, can it?

Taken just before the frolicking began

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Food facination

It is interesting how connected I am to food these days, and I don't mean that simply because I look my chickens in the eye each day and ponder how they would taste with a side of sweet potato, but more in how I approach food in general.

I think living on a farm forces you to think more about where food comes from. You are faced each day with the food chain, whether it's watching a hawk swoop down into the frozen field to scoop up a mouse who wasn't fast enough to scamper away, or seeing an egg as it's laid from the backside of a chicken. (Trust me when I say the death of the mouse was far less icky.)

I have begun to think about what's in our food, where it comes from, and whether or not I should be consuming it.  For years we have been told that margarine is healthier than butter, and that eggs are bad for you. I always thought this was odd, as I eat two eggs a day - including the yolk - and have eggs-sellent cholesterol. Pardon the pun.

Well new research shows that natural is better.   It`s like I thought, consuming massive amounts of man made chemicals simply can`t be good for your insides.

I also find it funny that farmers routinely fatten their hogs, cattle and chickens with corn, and corn based products. The best way to increase marbling in your beef is to finish the cow on corn and grain.  Is it any wonder that as we fry everything we eat in corn oil, and consume hydrogenated corn products that we continue to be a nation that increases in obesity?

Let me be clear. I am not a doctor, I hold no medical degree, and I haven't been to any fancy pants school to learn about the biochemistry of the body.  I just find it odd that I wouldn't dream of feeding my beef cattle anything with man made oils, sugars or chemicals...and yet I have put it in my own body in the past.

Something to think about.

Our bull Monty, who loves to have corn only as a treat!