Saturday, December 31, 2011

Puberty comes to the Chicken Coop

Cock a doodle errrrrr. Ahh pubescent roosters in their first crow.  Like human boys when their voices crack, the roosters just don't get it right at the beginning.  It sounds like someone decided to choke them half way through a crow.  That is what we heard when we first entered the barn this morning.  Cock a doodle errr. 

We purchased day old Partridge Chantecler chickens at the end of September and they finally have moulted into their adult plumage.  The five hens are a beautiful liver chestnut with black partridge marking on their feathers; the roosters have a glossy chestnut head and mane and irredescent black/green tail and wing feathers - stunning birds and Canadian winter hardy.

I am teaching them to come to a foil pan with cooled oatmeal, a trick I learned over 20 years ago with my first flock of layers.  I teach them to come to the banging on the bottom of a pie plate full of oatmeal and then entice them into the coop for the night.  They love the oatmeal and come running.  Once the spring comes and they are outside I will post a video. Actually somewhere in the archives of CBC television is a video of my first flock doing just that. Thankfully the footage of me crowing at my rooster to get him to crow for the camera ended up on the cutting room floor.

During the transition to laying eggs in the spring you often get very odd sized eggs from tiny to huge.  When I got one of the huge eggs (probably a triple or quadruple yolker) I entered it in the Rural Delivery Great Canadian Big Egg Contest.  The egg won and was shipped to the World competition (or more accurately the eastern seaboard of North America) where it came second.  As a result of that success I was on television once, the radio at least three times and in the press a couple of times.  I figured that I deserved a seat in the Senate after that (seems to be all the qualifications required).   By the way, the chicken died.

Now I have to enter the strange and wonderful world of poultry fanciers to find a Chantecler rooster from an unrelated line.  Then in the summer I will start breeding and hatching chicks for sale.

It's cock a doodle dooo  Stupid rooster, get it right!


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mamma - The story of a little cat and a love story

The year was 1992 and after 10 years of marriage, I was on my own again.  My sister came down down from her home in the Arctic and asked me what I wanted to do.  My reply: 1 hire a lawyer, 2 buy a stereo and 3 get a dog.  That week we did all three. 
 The dog was an 18 month old Bearded Collie called Dixie who really should have been called Houdini.  She was able to escape anything that she was put in leaving behind a pile of chewed door, window etc.  Just change the noun and she went through it.  The solution was a chain link dog run connected into another run in the garage.  When I was home from work, she had free run of the farm.
It was heading into the winter when I first noticed that Dixie might have "company" while I was at work.  Her kennel often had rodent parts scattered about: leg of mouse, tail of rat.  About one month later I noticed a black streak dashing from her kennel when I pulled in the driveway. Finally I saw her companion, a diminuative jet black cat. Over the winter, the cat had kittens in the kennel, leaving Dixie to babysit while she would go hunting.  She would return sharing her spoils.  She had a second litter but lost most but Shadow who went to my sister's house.
By spring I realized the cat was there to stay so, unless I wanted to be continuously finding homes for kittens, she would need to be spayed. She needed a name. A discussion over coffee break resulted in Mamma.  Not original but appropriate as she became the grand dam of every farm since.  She stayed in the house for a week after her surgery, one of only two times she came in to stay over a period of close to 20 years.
Mamma and Dixie were inseparable and often you would see the two curled up together.  
In 1995, enter a new man in my life, a whirlwind romance, marriage and move to another farm. Mamma tolerated the new extended family of cats and dogs.  We were not sure that Mamma would stay at the new farm but home was where her Dixie was.  She would cry outside the door until Dixie went out in the morning. 
In 1997, we moved to Hawk Hill.  Again Mamma came with us and was the constant companion with Dixie.  If we left the car windows open, Dixie would soon crawl in the car to sleep and Mamma would join her.
A new dog joined our flock - Haley, a exuberant Golden Retreiver who was about the same age as Dix when I first got her.  She was suitably ignored by Mamma.
When Dixie was about 13 years old, she became quite lethargic one night and by the morning had died.  It was almost as it her time was up and that was it.  We buried her by the boulder behind the house.  Mamma was devastated crying at the door for her Dixie to come out.  She was still not interested in human comfort. But slowly over time she adopted Haley as her dog.  You would see the two in the same way you saw Dixie and her. And she cried for Haley in the morning to come out of the house.
More years passed and last year Haley developed a rapidly progressive spinal tumor and need to be euthanized in February.  Mamma was a very old cat by now spending most of her time in an insulated box house in the garage only coming out to bask in the sun.  She again missed her dog and had to turn her attenion to us as we no longer had a house dog.  She tolerated the occassional scratch but no more.  
This week age finally caught up with Mamma.  She spent her last day in the house beside the wood stove (the second time in her life).  She is buried by the boulder behind the house.  She and Dixie are together again.  And now it is me crying outside the door for Mamma.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

COPD in Sheep

While sheep have been used as a model for asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) in humans there is very little written about the condition in sheep itself except for anecdotal evidence that sheep grazing on kelp on the Scottish Islands are less susceptible to respiratory coughing etc. Something to do with the iodine levels.

We have one lamb (possible two) and one ewe that have what I am starting to believe is COPD. When they are housed inside, especially if the ammonia levels increase or dust levels are higher than desirable, they have upper respiratory tract congestion, coarse breathing and coughing. These conditions do not really respond to antibiotic treatment but respond better to improvements in air quality.

I know that the one lamb had a very difficult time during birth, was a backwards presentation and had problems for the first few days. I am guessing that the lamb may have aspirated some fluid during birth and have some lung damage. I think that has left this animal more vulnerable to air quality issues. He spent the majority of the summer housed outside with access to airy shelters. His breathing difficulty only arrived once he was brought back into the barn.

This morning the lamb's breathing was very rough. I treated him with a wind aid treatment with potassium iodide, eucalyptus oild and pepperment oil. I then put down a heavy layer of fresh bedding. Within minutes his breathing was back to normal. He will be moved into a clean stall with better ventilation.

A second lamb that has mild respiratory problems also underwent a difficult birth.

I have a mature ewe with a similar condition: fine when housed outside but chronic breathing problems that does not respond to antibiotic treatment when housed inside. The condition improves with improved air quality.
We bought the ewe as a mature animal so I am not sure if she was the result of a difficult birth but I would not be surprised.

More than even I am convinced that animals are healthier when housed outside. While our barn structure does not allow for huge improvements in air movement (low ceiling bank barn), we are going to do what we can to move more air through the builing and minimize the time the animals are inside.

I am also convinced that difficult deliveries, especially backwards presentations predispose the lambs to chronic respiratory vulnerabilities. Unless a lamb is extremely valuable those that underwent a difficult delivery will be slated as market lambs. Ewes that have chronic lambing problems will be culled.

I would love to hear from others that think they may have seen COPD in their sheep.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Go with your gut and don't believe everything you see

We had a sick lamb the last few days and I was at a loss as to what to do to help her. Sure I could treat the symptoms but I wanted to know the cause.

This was a 5 month old market lamb. She was lethargic, obviously constipated, not urinating, uncomfortable, very slight elevation of temperature, not eating or drinking. All really serious signs. We treated her with bloat ease and when that did not work mineral oil. Even though she had just been dewormed, I went with my instinct and retreated her with a product for tapeworms. I also did a fecal test and there was nothing present.

Yesterday morning she still had not passed anything so I brought in the vet. He diagnosed a slight respiratory noise put her on LA tetracycline and vitamin supplement.

Fifteen minutes after the vet left she pooped and peed (obviously too soon to have anything to do with his treatment). She immediately started to eat and drink. And then that afternoon she started to pass huge numbers of tapeworms. She was obviously blocked with these parasites.

By evening she was bright, eating voraciously, drinking and very vocal in her protests of injustice of isolation.

If I had just gone with what I saw (ie nothing in the fecal test) or treating the symptoms, I might have a dead lamb on my hands.

Lesson for others. Tapeworms are not inoccuous. This is the second lamb in two years we have had blocked by this parasite. It is not just barberpole worms that can kill.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Getting better before we get bigger

I just gave a talk at the Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency with the 10 lessons learned as a beginning shepherd. One of the lessons was to get better before we get bigger .... and we better practice what we preach.

Bob just did a summary of the feed costs for the lambs. Despite higher grain costs we have been able to cut our grain costs per lamb by $10 and by keeping the lambs on pasture for a month longer than last year we were able to cut our hay costs by a significant amount as well ($11 per lamb if we sold the hay on the open market). That was all accomplished by improving the quality of our pasture and our pasture rotation. Those cost savings are huge in one year for an operation as small as ours. What was also good is we were able to do this without losing anything in our average daily gain.

We still have room for improvement but sure good to see some progress in efficiency.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Tunis wins again

It is hard to believe that the summer is gone, fall is quickly passing and we are heading into winter. Yikes, I haven't even stacked my wood yet.

The first of our lambs has been shipped and we have two more batches to go at the beginning of November and December respectively.

Unfortunately the formal lamb tasting that we had scheduled for October 23rd had to be cancelled because we could not find a chef that was able or willing to take it on. So we hosted a smaller lamb tasting here at the farm: 16 people; and three breeds of lamb. Well the results were interesting. Our Tunis took last place for smell, not sure about the reason for that because it overwhelmingly took first place for both taste and texture. There is so much correlation between aroma and taste I am surprised that they disconnected. While I certainly would not turn up my nose at any of the lamb cooked up yesterday, I am glad that we have chosen to raise Tunis and so do our clients.

I am heading to Guelph at the end of the week and making a presentation at the Ontario Sheep Marketing Agency Annual General Meeting. It should be interested trying to make something new for long time shepherds with tons more experience than me.


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Yoda grows up

We would like to introduce Yoda. He is a North Country Cheviot/Hampshire cross ram that was born on this farm May 15th, 2011. Yoda was one of a set of twins along with his sister "Little Girl" and is the son of Winston, our purebred Hampshire ram and Rough, our purebred North Country Cheviot. (btw - this shot is courtesy of Sandra Croft)

Yoda was a last ditch effort to save some of Winston's genetics. Winston had a respiratory problem last winter that was really resistant to treatment and despite all our efforts we lost him in the middle of January. Necropsy results showed that he had a massive lung abcess that was resistant to all the antibiotic treatment because it effectively was sealed off. Fortunately it was not communicable but unfortunately it occurred right at breeding season. Winston was able to breed one ewe before he died, Rough. We despirately waited to see what she would have and thankfully she had a stunning ram lamb who weighed 16 lbs at birth.

Rough and her two daughters have routinely produced wonderful lambs that grow rapidly and dress out well. The stats from the mother's side and superb stats from the sire's side were enough for us to decide to keep Yoda as a terminal sire replacement... at least for a few years.

Yoda has continued to thrive, tipping the scale at 70 lbs at 50 days of age with an average daily gain of over a pound a day. Gotta love those genetics.

Why Yoda...first it is a 'Y' year for registrations of purebreds. No Yoda is not purebred but we use the same numbering for all our flock regardless if they are pure or not; second, with those ears could it be anything other than Yoda.

Keep posted in the future for Yoda babies... probably not next year but the year following.


Friday, July 8, 2011

New Hawks at Hawk Hill

When we first moved to this farm we took some time to decide on at name for the farm. However several walks to the back of the farm gave us the obvious name for the farm.

First we live on a hill and in this area there are not too many of them. From the very top of our hill we can see the hills of Quebec to the north and those of New York to the south. We really are wedged into that top eastern corner of Ontario.

Second, there was at least one pair of red tailed hawks nesting on our property; one at the top of the hill and one in the woodlot partway down to the back. Over the years those birds have moved on but we have had marsh hawks, sharp shinned hawks and others for the summer.

This year we saw a Kestrel for the first time in years... and she has taken up residence at th
e end of our barn, nesting in a pocket between the ceiling of the stable and the floor of the hay loft. We have 4 very determined chicks staring at us out of the hole between the boards.

We used to have starlings nesting in the same area but I think they became "Take out".

We have deer in the backyard, turkeys in the pasture and the occasional skunk chowing down on the cat food in the garage.

Check out the babes and their next door neighbours, a nest crammed with barn swallows.

As an aside we just took our 50 day weights on our lambs. They ranged from 32 lbs for a ewe lamb in a set of triplets to a 70 lb ram lamb (one of a set of twins). Our daily average gain is 0.83 lbs.



Monday, June 6, 2011

Moms and Babes are out on pasture

Summer finally appears to be here though it seems like just a short time ago I was bundled in my winter gear. OK so it was just a short time ago I was bundled in my winter gear. There were a few nights in the barn during lambing when I had a few layers on to keep warm.

Our ewes had their lambs between May 6th and May 23rd. We have 24 healthy lambs who are growing like weeds. Lesson learned this year; don't feed the ewes as much protein before lambing. Some of our lambs were huge... like 14 lb twins and a 17 lb single. All arrived safely save one but I spent much more time with my arm up the back end of a ewe than I would like either for my sake and for the sake of the ewes.

We had our first set of triplets this year and while the mom is handling them well, I am just as happy with a set of healthy twins. I am not interested in sheep that produce litters since I figure that bottle feeding just about kills my profit on a lamb, plus it is hard not to get attached to the little lambs if you are hand feeding them three to four times a day.

We are bottle feeding a single ewe lamb.... Little Girl. She is still with her mom but because of past problems with mastitis, the ewe does not produce enough milk for the two lambs. She knows her name and will come running out of the flock for her bottle.

We are heading into haying season and somewhere in between I need to plant my veggy garden. WHAT HAPPENED TO SPRING?


Friday, April 8, 2011

Scent of a ....ram

Well the robins and red wing blackbirds are here, the geese are overhead and the sap is getting close to the end (8 litres of syrup and counting). It was time for the sheep to get naked. Our shearer was here on Monday and 2 huge bags later everyone is shorn. It is amazing what is hidden under those fleeces. Our mature ram was half the size I thought he was and our junior ram needs a few pounds.

The sheep will be heading back outside for another couple of weeks and then coming in for lambing. It is hard to imagine how quickly the time has passed. We bred 15 ewes last fall so I am hoping all of them caught. Most are very obviously pregnant but some of them that were bred at the end of the season are not so obviously pregnant.

A couple of days after shearing our mature ram came up lame in his back right foot. This is one case where I really had to dig deep for information. We do not and never have had foot rot on the farm... thank goodness. His hooves looked good, maybe a touch long so I trimmed him but it looked like the scent gland in between the cloves of his hoof was plugged. I scrubbed out his feet, trimmed them and cleaned out what appeared to be a blockage in the scent gland and 24 hours later he seems to be fine. NONE of the sheep vet manuals mention the scent gland. It was just a fluke that I found out that they exist and if they plug you will end up with and " unexplained" lameness. Fortunately I knew about the scent gland a couple of years ago and knew what to do.

We have a few lambing jugs to build. And so it begins.



Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Sap is running

Ever since we have moved to Hawk Hill Farm ...getting to be 14 years now... I have wanted to make maple syrup. We have several large maples around the house so it seemed an obvious thing to try. This year we were in the hardware store and supplies were on sale. Bob suggested maybe next year but he turned his back and I bought enough to set up three buckets. Well that got us started and we now have a grand total of 6 collection buckets and are boiling down sap. After less than a week we have 2 and a bit litres of amber syrup made and the sap is running really well. We just want to make enough for ourselves so about 5 litres in all will be more than enough. Because we can collect the sap on the way back from the barn, it is a very painless way to make syrup. And we are doing a big " no no" in everyone's opinion. We are boiling it off on the woodstove in the house but in our defense it will be this year only.

We have a refractometer that we use for testing the brix (sugar) level of grasses for making hay. We are using this to test the brix level of both the sap and the syrup as it is being boiled off. Surprisingly the sap from one sugar maple is testing at about 6°Brix coming out of the tree compared to the normal 2°brix. That makes it a whole lot better for boiling off since we have about a 20 to 1 ratio of sap to syrup rather than the typical 40 to 1 ratio. The other two trees are testing at about 3° brix. We are partially freezing the sap to concentrate the sugars before we start boiling so the maximum ratio we are dealing with is 20 litres sap to 1 litre syrup. We remove the frozen (for the most part) water from the container and the remaining sap has a higher concentration of sugars than before freezing. It is the same principle that works for production of ice wine. It saves us a lot of time and fuel for boiling off the sap.

With the weather forecast for this week ie cold nights and bright sunny days we should be finished making our syrup for this year by the end of the week. Dream number 534 accomplished.


Monday, February 28, 2011

Time for mid-winter update

We are in the midst of a mid-winter, heading out of winter snow storm - half rain, freezing rain and now heavy snow. A great big yuck. The horses are in the barn for the day as are the rams and after finally mucking out what was several tons of packed bedding out of the log barn, the ewes and guard dogs can go back in there for the day though they seem more interested in being at the round bale.

This time of year which is between breeding the ewes and lambing is mainly devoted to education. Both Bob and I end up enrolled in courses, attending workshops, viewing webinars etc on sheep and equine care, forages, soils and crops, farm management, and marketing. What has impressed us is how well these courses are attended by other farmers. It is my impression that farmers are very proactive with respect to professional development. It is really good to see.

In between we have managed to sneak in fun courses like cooking, wine tasting and tours. It all helps to keep the brain cells going and getting through the winter without a major case of cabin fever.

Keep warm folk,