Garden Helper

We have a fairly simple division of labor on our farm: I manage the animals, and Mrs Yeoman Farmer manages the plants. MYF is usually very insistent that members of my “team” not intrude on and mess with her garden, and with good reason. Ever seen what happens when a dog discovers how nice it is to dig in freshly-tilled soil? Or when a flock of birds discovers bushes full of beautiful ripe tomatoes? We therefore built a tight fence around the garden, and patrol it diligently.

Then, this morning, MYF observed that our new mother hen was managing to squeeze through a tiny gap near the gate — and her chicks were easily following her. MYF was about to shoo the hen out, but then she thought more about it. There are no more seeds that could be scratched out or uncovered. There is no fruit yet. The green tomatoes are probably unappealing. The potatoes are safely buried underground. Why not let Henny Penny take her brood on a bug-hunting safari?

So we did. She seems especially interested in the potato portion of the garden, which has lots of little insects hopping all over it.

I’m not sure we want to release the rest of the flock into the garden; some plants would be sure to get trampled. But for now, it’s an awful lot of fun watching Henny Penny and her brood do “organic pest control” for us.

Emergency Butchering

Strange things happen when you’re away from a farm for nine or ten days.

We have twin yearling sheep, born late last spring. Neither was of butchering size last fall, so we decided to keep the female as a breeder and to butcher the male this coming fall. The female is as strong and healthy as can be, but the male recently developed a problem: his right horn began growing toward his face.

When we left on vacation early this month, the horn still seemed to have plenty of clearance; it was something to keep tabs on, but it didn’t seem to require immediate action to cut off.

Imagine my dismay when we got home, settled back in, and I got my first good look at him. And discovered that the horn was not just pressing against his face — it was growing straight into his right EYE.

I immediately grabbed some bolt cutters and lopped off the end of his horn, but the damage had unfortunately been done. His eye looked irreparably injured. He didn’t like it, but I did my best to clean the eye socket up with hydrogen peroxide.

We kept close tabs on him in the ensuing days. Despite the mangled eye, he seemed to be getting around just fine. He came in and out, and grazed with the rest of the flock. We continued to plan to butcher him this fall.

Then, especially with the arrival of the recent heat wave, we began having second thoughts. He started going AWOL, hanging out by himself on the ridge (and down by the swampy area) on the far end of the pasture a lot. Last night, he didn’t come in at all. I spent a lot of time searching the pasture with a spotlight, but couldn’t find him anywhere. I worried that the heat had become too much for him, or that he’d gotten dangerously dehydrated, or that a predator had overtaken him. Surviving 95F and humidity is tough enough for us humans; imagine if you’re wearing a wool coat and battling an eye injury on top of it!

This morning, I found him hunkered down along the fence by the swampy area. His coat was a mess, but he jumped to his feet as he saw me approach. When he began trotting away along the ridge, I grew even happier. Being spry enough to run away is a very, very good thing. He ran all the way up the hill to the barn, which really got me feeling optimistic.

And then, once I’d cornered him in the barn and grabbed him, I realized we had a problem. A big one. With the heat, flies had evidently been swarming all over his injury. All around the socket, I could see the quivering of tiny larvae. It turned my stomach, and I knew we had to do something.

Given that the heat would only be making the situation more miserable, and that trying to clean out the injured socket would probably bring only temporary relief, and that we’d been planning to butcher him anyway, and that he was now of a nice butchering size…it was fairly evident what course of action we should take.

The problem is that the local slaughterhouse where we take our animals only does sheep on certain days of the week. I figured I’d have to wait until next Monday or Tuesday to get him in, and a quick call over there confirmed that. I certainly didn’t want to try butchering him myself in 95 degree weather (just imagine the flies!), but I wasn’t sure he’d survive the weekend. And even if he did, he’d be miserable.

I described the situation to the woman who’d answered the phone, and she quickly put the shop owner (Jack) on the line. “How quickly can you get him over here?” Jack asked. They were done slaughtering for the week, but he was just finishing up a cow and said he’d have time to squeeze my sheep in today…if I could get him right over.

This is why I love patronizing Mom and Pop businesses.

Homeschooled Farm Boy and I put a tarp down in the back of our minivan, loaded up the injured animal, and set off for the butcher. Once there, Jack met us around back and helped unload him into a holding pen. We thanked him repeatedly for getting the sheep in on such short notice, and then drove home.

It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to get the sheep through to this fall, but I really don’t think he would’ve put on much more weight between now and then. I’m just very grateful that we identified the seriousness of the injury before it got to be too late, that the sheep will not have to endure the heat and flies this weekend … and that we were able to add 40-50 pounds of excellent meat to our freezer.

New Arrivals

My apologies for the slow posting of late; our family just returned a few days ago from a big vacation in my home town of Seattle. It’s remarkable we were all able to get away from the farm for so many days in the middle of summer, but the trip was a big one and we’d been planning it for nearly a year. What made it possible was finding a friend we could trust to come take care of our animals (including milking three goats) twice a day.

It never ceases to amaze me how much can change on a farm in just nine days. The growth in the garden was dramatic, especially the potatoes. (And the weeds!) But what really struck me was how much larger the ducklings, goslings, and turkey poults are, and how much more feathered they had become. The goslings are still smaller than the mature geese, of course, but are nearly as well feathered:

I’m going to be turning the female ducklings loose in the next couple of days. We’ll keep the drakes in these moveable pens until they reach butchering size in a few weeks.

The biggest surprise, however, was in the deepest and darkest corner of the barn. Back in the kidding pen, a Barred Rock hen had made a nest…and hatched out eight little chicks!

She’s been taking them for walks, and I managed to get a little video. Her deep, reassuring clucks — and the chicks’ eager little peeps — are priceless:

I could watch them for hours. And it’s so blisteringly hot here, I’m not sure I want to do anything more strenuous than watch the poultry grow.