Out of the Nest (Updated)

About five weeks ago, we returned from vacation to a surprise gift: a barred rock hen had hatched out eight chicks in a dark corner of the barn. We’ve enjoyed watching them grow, and the mother hen did an outstanding job leading them all over the property foraging for bugs and seeds. It’s truly entertainment that can’t be purchased, and is part of what makes living on a farm so much fun.

There were a couple of nights that she tried to bed down with the chicks outside, but I forced her to take the brood into the barn each time. Last summer, we lost a couple of mother hens and well over a dozen chicks to predators; I didn’t want a repeat experience this year. To my relief, after a couple of “corrections,” mother hen stopped even trying to stay out for the night. All these weeks, only one of the eight chicks died. We loaned one other to a friend, leaving six to roam with Henny Penny.

In the last week or so, the chicks have gotten so big that they’ve been unable to squeeze through chain link fences. They’re fully feathered, and looking like juvenile birds rather than chicks. Because of their size, they’ve sometimes gotten trapped behind a gate that their mother could fly over. But, up until yesterday, the whole little family managed to reconnect and forage together after each separation.

Then, overnight, something happened. When I came out at about 6:30am, the six chicks were outside, foraging for spilled grain near the duck pens…but mother hen was nowhere in sight. I doubt a predator got her; anything that takes out a big chicken usually takes out any little ones that are with it.

I think that something inside the hen’s hormonal system just “clicked,” and told her it was time to rejoin the flock’s general population. But she looks so much like the other barred rocks, and we have so many of them, I can’t be certain.

And I can’t be certain that all six of the chicks will continue to thrive. Little birds have a way of flying into water tanks and drowning. Or getting lost in high weeds. Or bedding down in the wrong place and getting picked off by a predator. But I like to think that Mother Hen knew what she was doing, and has turned them loose because her instincts confirmed that the little ones were ready.

I’ll keep an eye out for them, but something tells me that they’re going to do just fine. They’ve had the best education a chicken can get.

Update: I went out at 9:30 tonight, to make sure the chicks weren’t trying to bed down outside or in some other dangerous place (yes, we’ve seen young chicks try to roost on the edge of a water trough). Much to my relief, all six of them were back in the general area where they’d been hatched and where their mother had spent each night. Best of all, five of the six had figured out how to roost on top of a cattle panel that separates the main goat area from the kidding pen. Number Six was down on the floor in the kidding pen, back in the corner where they’d been hatched.
Interestingly, mother hen was nowhere to be found. She’s definitely taken her hands off the bike and is letting the little ones pedal away on their own. And, so far, the six of them are sticking together and doing just great.
Kudos to mother hen for a masterful job brooding these guys. Mission accomplished!

Just in Time

We recently had to take a yearling ram to the butcher, after his horn grew into (and gouged out) his right eye. It was a disgusting mess, but we’d intended to butcher him this fall anyway. Fortunately, the butcher was able to take him right away and spare the poor creature a long weekend of agony from the flies. We got the 39# of meat back yesterday afternoon, and will look forward to feasting on it.

Anyway, the yearling ram’s situation spurred me to check our two mature breeding rams. Both have had problems with horns growing too close to their faces, and in the past we’ve had to cut horns short on both of them. Those horns are now growing back, and are getting to the length where they could cause problems. Ram #1 (Dilemma) was just fine; his horns are clearing his face with plenty to spare.

Ram #2 (who, I hate to admit, we have never gotten around to naming) was not so lucky. He’s black, and his horns are black, so from a distance it’d been tough to see where the horns ended and the wool began. But once I caught him and ran my fingers along the horn, it was clear we had trouble. The horn was growing straight into the back of his jaw, on both sides. Left untreated, this was a death sentence.

My options were limited. The horns were already tight against the jaw, so he wouldn’t last until the fall shearing date (when Lisa, our shearer, would be up from Indiana and able to help me cut the horns off). The nearest large animal vet is a long ways away, and would probably charge a lot. Dr. Patterson, the older dog-and-cat vet who looks at farm animals if you bring them to his office, wasn’t an option; this was definitely an on-farm job.

I called Lisa and described the situation. It turned out that she needed to come to Michigan in the next week or so anyway, and would be just an hour or so from our farm. She agreed to make a detour, and to bring what we needed to remove the ram’s horns.

Am I ever grateful she was able to get here so quickly. We did the job on Tuesday afternoon (there is a description of the procedure and some photos in this old post), and we were just in time. The horns were already scraping part of the ram’s face raw, and the flies were having a field day laying their eggs in his flesh. Worse, the flies were migrating and laying eggs all over his neck and upper head. The more wool Lisa trimmed, the more pockets of maggots we found. She decided it’d be best to sacrifice his beautiful fleece and just shear him now, to make sure we uncovered everything.

With his wool out of the way, we easily found and sprayed every pocket of larvae. She then treated the open wounds with salve, and of course bandaged the horns we’d cut. The ram wasn’t happy, and I know he won’t thank us, but I think he will make a full recovery and be just fine.

This incident illustrates something else: the value of having a backup breeding animal. Early on, we tended to keep just one mature male for breeding and to castrate the young rams. Then we discovered that unexpected incidents can come out of the blue and take an animal’s life — leaving you and the flock in a tough situation. This is why we keep two mature rams; had we not discovered this horn problem until too late, and lost Ram #2, we’d still have Dilemma to ensure we have lambs next spring.

Finally, I just want to say again how deeply grateful I am that Lisa was available and willing to come see us on such short notice. I’m not sure what I would’ve done otherwise. Thanks!

Welcome to the Conspiracy!

No, not the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. The unpasteurized dairy conspiracy! That’s what the founder of a raw milk cooperative buyers club in California has been charged with. According to NaturalNews.com:

A multi-agency SWAT-style armed raid was conducted this morning by helmet-wearing, gun-carrying enforcement agents from the LA County Sheriff’s Office, the FDA, the Dept. of Agriculture and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).

Rawesome Foods, a private buying club offering wholesome, natural raw milk and raw cheese products (among other wholesome foods) is founded by James Stewart, a pioneer in bringing wholesome raw foods directly to consumers through a buying club. James was followed from his private residence by law enforcement, and when he entered his store, the raid was launched.

InfoWars has more about the story, and the conspiracy charges. They also have a video of the raid.

Do I ever feel safer knowing that these dangerous conspirators have been taken off the streets. Good thing the Supreme Court recently ordered the State of California to release 46,000 felons early from prison; that’ll ensure there’s room to incarcerate Mr. Stewart and his henchmen.

Seriously, isn’t California supposed to be the world capital of “Keep Your Laws Off My Body”? How about starting by keeping your laws off of what I want to put into my body?

After all, California was one of the first states to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. I’m all in favor of such measures, but tell me: Is raw milk any more dangerous, or any less medically beneficial, than cannabis?