Chickens are unbelievable! If you have never had chickens, and live somewhere where you are able to keep them, my advice is: Get some!! Chickens are popular among all sorts of people everywhere and for all kinds of different reasons.
Ours just started laying eggs! I had counted on them to start at 6 months old, but 4 of them are ahead of schedule and started at 5 months!! What good girls!
You can eat them (and you’re not the only one- I think every predator out there loves chicken dinner), they lay wonderful, healthy eggs, they keep your back yard bugs and slugs and ticks to a minimum while providing your lawn and gardens with “eggcelent” fertilizer! They have different personalities, both within a specific breed of chicken, and then of course there are so many different chicken breeds, colors and sizes to choose from.
Waffles is a Golden Crele (the color) Legbar. The little puff of feathers on her head completely matches her quirky and friendly personality which is typical for the breed!
Many get into the biology and science of colors, mutations etc and start breeding for specific traits. Kids and youth (and adults too!) take their beauties to shows and fairs. There are chicken clubs (not the sandwich) and associations, Facebook groups and of course a never ending supply of chicken books and magazines. They are easy keepers, don’t take much time and the biggest bonus of them all: They make you laugh!
My hens are all very different, and as they grow, they actually get more and more friendly. When I come home, they all come running towards me, wings flapping, running as fast as they can wobbling from side to side. Have you ever seen Jurassic Park? They look like a smaller (and a lot less scary) version of a dinosaur when they run. And they are highly offended when I close the door behind me and leave them outside. I often find them waiting for me, looking in the window panel next to the door.
My chickens are super social and love company. When I walk around the yard they insist on following me around. Lately I have to laugh looking at myself as I’m walking around with 3 dogs, my daughter’s 2 little Potbelly Pigs and the chickens. I feel like Mrs. Doolittle. And although I don’t speak their language, we understand each other perfectly.
My friend Jessica came to visit and we got a few minutes sitting outside watching the kids… naturally with the chickens at our feet!
If you have chickens, you may even end up with the actual answer to the old question of why the chicken crossed the road. Personally I think it’s because they saw something they wanted to eat!! Which brings me to another benefit.. they eat almost everything. Between the pigs and the chickens I have very few things that actually make to it to my Bokashi compost bin! Over winter, I ended up sprouting some of my old stash- expiration date 2015!- of alfalfa seeds. Both the chickens and the pigs loved it! I think I may have to start a fodder system which will provide healthy greens year round, and hopefully cut down on the feed bill!
Your popularity rate is sure to increase as you will find yourself giving away fresh eggs to friends and family! You are bound to end up with more fresh eggs than you can eat yourself, another benefit of owning chickens! With the right set up, owning back yard chickens is not only enjoyable, it’s also a great stress reliever. They force you to take some moments to quite literally smell the flowers and you will notice how the stressors of your day vanish as you relax, walking or sitting surrounded by your feathered friends and their friendly cluck-clucks.
My sheep have been running very hot these days, with temperatures in the almost 60’s. They’ve been panting under the weight of their lovely wool. It’s been, for the most part, a very warm winter and their heavy coats have made them stay out of their shed to try to stay cool. After much deliberations with the shearer, I booked a shearing date and then anxiously started following the weather report. We had to move it once due to rain, but the girls were eventually all shorn yesterday. I now have over 37 lbs of beautiful (and very dirty!) wool that I have big plans for!
Shearing is hard work, you have to balance a 175/200 lbs sheep while shearing their coat off in one piece. One good thing about sheep is that (most of them) once they are off their feet, sitting on their bums or laying on their sides, just comply and stop fighting to get back up. I say most of them, because especially Astrid had not gotten that memo!
And what do you think happened once the sheep were shorn? Yup, you guessed it, it got cold. Freezing actually. And windy. The sheep all seemed to be doing ok for the evening, but in the morning the next day when we went down early, we found the sheep huddled together in their shelter, looking very cold. Scott looked at me and said “See- next year you should listen to me and shear later”. Fitting into the shearer’s schedule “later” would have been too late as it would have been much warmer and our girls would then suffer and risk over heating- while being very pregnant which then puts the baby at risk. (-And they say farming is easy?) So I opted for the early shearing date and crossed my fingers for continued weather in the 50’s. No such luck.
A quick run to Walmart provided the supplies needed for me to construct a very easy tie-on fleece “tube coat”. My girls were not entirely sure they liked it and quite honestly, they did -do- look rather ridiculous. They got over feeling silly very quickly once they realized they were warm again. Tomorrow when the days AND nights are back to being warmer they will go back to looking like “normal” naked sheep again (Pretty similar to the story in the book Scott’s daughter gave him for Christmas – “Farmer Brown Shears his Sheep” so I’m calling jinx)! Scott is determined to be the one shearing them next year! For those of you who know him- please remind him of this!! Or maybe even better- talk him out of it! 🙂 I’m perfectly OK letting some tasks fall to professionals.
They went from looking like this…..
….And lastly to this!!!
And naturally the color choices do represent my wishful thinking. Astrid who didn’t get pregnant is my “black sheep”. Allie, who is due any time now is wearing blue since I have someone interested in her baby if it’s a ram lamb! And lastly Alma and Anna who are due in May are sporting different shades of pink since I’m wishing for sweet little ewe lambs that can take my breeding program to the next level!
So what then are my big plans for all this wool? Well, first it needs to be picked clean from all debris such as hay and poop, washed (and washed again while trying not to end up felting it by mistake) and finally carded prior to me starting to weave with the wool. My goal is to make beautiful rugs! I was lucky to locate and old floor loom that was being sold by the West Chester Art Association. It’s about 70-80 years old and incredibly solid, so solid it will probably outlive me! Since I have never worked on such a loom before, I’m starting weaving classes at the Hand Weaver’s Guild of Philadelphia. Needless to say I’m very excited and full of gratitude for being able to pursue so many new and wonderful things.
“Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.” – Amy Collette
I confess, I’m a “counter”. I take the dogs out and go “1-2-3,” or I will say, “black, brown, blonde, good, I have them all”. It was easier with the kids, since I only had two, it was more a matter of making sure they were still WITH me – Gus, I’m referring to you!! 🙂
I count the pupae as I separated them from the meal worms and the beetles that “hatch” every day as I put them in their drawers and get super excited when I get NINE new beetles in one day!! I know- it’s ridiculous. In the afternoon, prior to the “killing hour” (the hour before dusk when fox, raccoons and other predators are out looking for an easy meal) I round my chickens up and lock them into their coop for the night. And of course I count! I have to make sure I have all 8 of them as one of them, Eagle, has a tendency to wander off by herself. I’m resigned to the fact that I eventually might lose someone to a hawk or predator, but it won’t be for the lack of trying. My hens are all moving targets and not always easy to count- I do go in after closing their door from the outside and “re-count” from inside the garage to make absolutely sure.
Having converted the coal shed that was attached to the garage into the chicken coop has some great advantages! Especially in wet or cold weather. Putting some corn or other treats in their feeder makes them stay temporarily in place for an accurate count.
I am blessed with a view down into the sheep’s pasture from my kitchen and bedroom windows, as well as from my deck and I do the same thing. I count them. A few weeks ago as I routinely glanced out, I found myself counting 1,2,3,4….5,6,7..WHAT??? But I only have 4 sheep?! I recounted.. same number. The silly thoughts that go through your brain in lightning speed.. “Did someone actually drop 3 sheep off into my pasture?” “Did they clone themselves?” “Have mature babies?” LOL. I ran out onto the deck for a clearer view and soon realized that although they were moving around I did not miscount, there were indeed 7 blond woolly four-legged creatures in the pasture.
My pigs- the Mangalitsas who are often called “the pig that look like a sheep and act like a dog” had torn down just enough of the wall between them in their “shig shack” and were having a grand time in the sheep pasture!
The agility and speed and the joy with which a pig moves always astounds me- and it makes me sad since it seems the pig “experts” have missed this fact. While researching the amount of space a pig needs, I turned to the AG extension office where it was written that pigs are pretty docile and don’t need much more that 8 sq feet. Excuse me?? Yes, you can put a child in a crib and keep them there, but they won’t do very well if they never get out. Pigs are smart and sensitive and JUST like a two year old. They farrow (have babies) well together and nurse each other’s piglets. They form bonds with each other and help each other out mothering. The big commercial pig breeders try to make us believe it’s in the pigs best interest to live their life separated by bars from their piglets, with no room to turn around. Living their life standing on slanting concrete slabs that gives them arthritis. They separate mother and piglets after three weeks so that they can breed mom back as soon as possible. They live in a stench that is so bad the pigs need constant antibiotics to stay “healthy”. Not the kind of pork chops I want to eat. And what’s worse- these are NOT happy pigs. If you want to see happy pigs… go to a farm that raises them out in a pasture. THOSE are happy pigs. -Ok- I’m climbing off my soap box now.
In all the commotion dealing with the break out king and queens the sheep who didn’t miss a trick loudly complained about being the only ones not getting an extra treat, so of course they got some extra TLC as well!
The shig-shack has now become just the pig shack and we separated Otto and the girls. The wall between them has been properly reinforced so Otto can’t get in to the girls- no teenage moms here if we can prevent it! The sheep got their own run in- now complete with a lambing jug in time for our pending births.
After all this- I still count sheep. Now eagerly waiting to actually be adding the 5,6 and 7 once the new lambs arrive!!
It all started with me going to rent a trailer to transport the sheep. While waiting for my turn, I looked around the feed mill and store, and there they were, two tiny little pigs in a display cage for guinea-pigs and bunnies. The sign read: “Mini Pigs. Red female, black male”.
Wise to the Mini Pig market, I hardened my heart against them and drove my rented trailer home. (Mini pig facts: Pigs grow until they are 4-5 years old, the smallest healthy mini pig still weighs 75 lbs. “Mini” simply means less then 300 lbs! There are sellers who starve their piglets in order to keep them small. Buyer beware.) However, over the next few visit to the mill they were still there in their tiny little display cage with their noses pressed up against the plexi glass front, wanting attention. They looked so sad. I was told they were only 6 weeks old (had been there for weeks) and that they got fed once daily. I noticed they had no water in their cages- yes pigs root and spill everything, but water is even more important than food for a pig. Scott heard all about my heart ache over these little pigs – via Face Time – as he was in Japan- and told me to go ahead and bring them home. Scott has every bit as soft of a heart as I do!! I do count on him being the voice of reason, so when he says go I run! Annika promised to care and take the whole responsibility for the piglets- since “Mom, I ALWAYS wanted a pig” and was happily exclaiming that she would even bring them with her to college (emotional support pigs??). She promptly threw her self into researching everything she could about how to feed, care for and raise mini/potbelly pigs. She went shopping for supplies and once I was done with work the following day we went to bring our new little piggies home.
Annika called ahead – resulting in the “sold” on their cage!
I would never have thought I would love pigs so much. It’s not exactly the kind of animal I ever dreamed of having as a kid- or an adult!! I’m blown away by how smart they are; the 4th smartest mammal. They are sweet and emotional and funny. They know when it’s time for food- and they let you know! They recognize you and are shy of strangers until they’ve met them. They were litter box trained in one short day -YAY! They are extremely clean animals and smell less than our dogs- and our dogs are pretty clean in spite of living on a farm.
And did I mention piggy kisses? And the little pitter-patter of tiny hooves on your floors? How about piggie-zoomies? Or pillow crashing? Or when they fight each other to climb your lap to reach your face? And when they nestle themselves into the crook of your arm and start falling asleep? Or play with the three dogs as if they grew up with them? Or scream for your attention when you get home? I’m as much in love with them as Annika who keeps pointing out that I’m the grandma. She’s the mommy.
Annika is in the process of leash training them, and actually took them with her to go shopping at Tractor Supply for me! Needless to say- they were a hit! They did better than some of my dogs (Boomer- I’m talking about you.. ) who always goes to the bathroom in a store and needs to be watched like a hawk- but the piggies did it outside. I’m telling you- they are far smarter than dogs.
Piglets jumped from the floor into her lap! Too sweet!
So far I have to say that having an indoor pig (or two) has been far easier and much more enjoyable than I imagined. Everything has not been just roses- they both had mange due to their old living conditions and needed to be treated. And Snuffaluffagus (Snuffles for short) needed to get neutered by around 8-10 weeks so he didn’t start developing unwanted – boarish- behaviors. They do take time as they are extremely social and they do need training, and grandma does get to feed them, a lot, since miss Annika is just so busy with school and work and friends. I asked her last night about how she felt now that the novelty has worn off and she said; “It’s a lot more work than I thought it would be, but it is worth it mom, they are just so sweet and it’s so rewarding to work with them”. My heart likes the fact that my sweet girl is learning how to care for and have responsibility for living things. She gets to finish her growing up by small pigs with BIG attitudes, and that makes me smile.
I love to check off items from a to do list. It gives me such a great feeling, I just love it! I’ve even been known to write a list once I completed something just so I could check it off which probably is a little… oh well it’s who I am! 🙂
In true New Year’s Spirit I wrote down a long list of “To be Accomplished for the Farm in 2020”. Less involved than picking out the qualities in my self that needs improving, but after finishing writing it the farm list seemed endless… so what did I do? I picked the very easiest thing on my list just so I could get that sense of accomplishment and the instant gratification of being able to check it off! Want to guess what it was? It was broken down into several steps (more checks for me!!) 1) Finish finding out how to start a meal worm farm 2) Buy plastic drawers for meal worms. 3) Get organic oat bran (turned out I could get cheap organic Oatmeal at Walmart, so I just ran it through the food processor to make it into a soft flour) 4) Order meal worms.
Four items checked off, I’m off to a good start for the New Year! LOL
And guess what? They just arrived!
I was prepared in the sense that I knew how to take care of them and what the growing process was. I was excited to open the box. I was excited to pull out the brown paper bag and eagerly open it up. A cloth bag. I pulled the cloth bag out and THEN it hits me.. the SOUND. It truly was the sound belonging in an Indiana Jones movie- where you first here the SOUND, and then come the critters. I was NOT prepared for the sound… Why did NO ONE of the YouTube video makers mention the sound they make when you get them? Inside the cloth bag they were packed in brown paper, and they were making a rustling sound, like thousands, no millions of mini snakes with dry rustling scales sliding and crawling (OK; so they don’t actually crawl) over each other….. eeew… my toes curled…. and I could see some of them moving through the fabric of the cloth bag. But they needed food and a home so I slowly opened the bag while telling myself to stop being a wuss, they were slow harmless meal worms, how bad could it be? It took me a while to get all the 1500 worms that I had ordered out of the bag and separated from the paper. During the process of separating them from bag and paper (taking very good care to not accidentally touching any) I couldn’t help to wonder exactly how the providers of my worms knew they were sending me 1500. Is there a person whose job it is to sit and count meal worms? Do they go by weight? Guesstimate? As far as I know I could have gotten 1000 or 2000. I myself was certainly not going to count them, no matter what live guarantee I had on them! Because I could see that some were dead (they will be cleaned up by the living ones), but the greater number by far were alive, wriggling all over burying themselves into the prepared oatmeal. And the best thing… SILENCE. No raspy sound of scaly worms slithering audibly over the dry surface of crinkled up paper. They were quietly enveloped by a blanket of prepared oat meal “flour”. Big sigh of relief on my end. A piece of a carrot and an apple slice were added on top- this is their water source- and I was done- that was it. I studied them a while just for good measure- at this point in a kind of delighted disgust and also to make certain that the information I had was correct- that they can’t crawl up the side of their plastic drawer. Which they can’t. Not even a little bit. Phew.
My daughter just stuck her head in- naturally while Face Timing with her friend Madie and looked at my screen. “They are here?” she says. Madie’s voice comes through her speaker “Your mom has BUGS? IN the house?” ” Hi Madie!!” Annika runs down to look for herself. Her voice is clearly heard to the second floor. “Oh my GOSH!! They are moving and crawling all over, I am OUT of here“. I’m calling behind her- “I figured I put them in your room” “Ha-Ha, very funny” comes the distant answer- followed by the slam of the door as she takes off for work. Now that I’m thinking of it, maybe I should put them in her room… and see how long it takes before she notices. Could be a good incentive for her to clean more often!!
The next phase will be for the worms to become pupae, at which point I will have to separate them from the worms (New item created on my farm list about how to do this without actually touching them). And from there they will turn into the Darkling beetle- who also do not get out of the box (can only hope that is correct as well!) -who then will go on to lay eggs which then completes the circle when they become worms. I better get mentally prepared for the beetles. I’m not much for bugs- thus my rule of “only animals in the house that do not require live food” for the whole time the kids grew up. I knew what I was thinking “better food for my chickens- but what was I THINKING??
Here are some pics from the past weekend of some of the ladies… the inspiration to this craziness. They are all grown up and looking fabulous!
“Looking for the perfect holiday entrée? Something nutritious yet easy on the Earth? Something with a subtle, yet distinctive, je-ne-sais-quoi flavor? Have you considered the humble mealworm?” “Before you click away in disgust, remember that the creeping, shelled, 10-legged crustacean we now so lovingly dip in butter (ahem, lobster) was once considered so repulsive as to be inhumane to feed to prisoners. And in many parts of the world, insects are already a popular—and important—menu item.”
So starts an article by Katherine Harmon in the Scientific American written as far back as December of 2012. And before anyone starts feeling sorry for my husband and kids, I was NOT looking for new and exciting food items to add to our menu and diet. What led me to this article was brought on by a simple quest to try to save some money.
If you have ever walked down the isle of the chicken feed section in a feed store, you will soon realize that mealworms are a very popular item in the chicken world. (Actually, you feed these worms to lizards, fish and other critters as well.) You can buy a small 10 oz bag for $11.99 or you can get a whopping 11 lb bag on black Friday sale for $59.99 (usually $79.99). In all my years of having chickens, I think I have bought maybe two of the small bags. Yes, the chicks absolutely love this dried non moving protein source, but I always thought it was too expensive and used to justify not getting this treat since my girls were foraging outside daily. They are quite capable of catching their own bugs, which they of course did.
However, seeing and talking to numerous “chicken parents” and seeing how truly attached people are to their hens, and how dedicated they are to their health ad well being, I’m starting to feel like I’m the bad chicken mom. During the Black Friday sale, I saw several of the 11 lb bags of meal worms being bought, and that has now led me to question my own chicken keeping. I would not want my girls to feel deprived in any way; there are not many bugs around during the cold winter months. Still not quite prepared to shell out the kind of money dried mealworms fetch, and figuring we are talking about a worm, exactly how hard can it be to “grow” some for my own use? I took to Google, and lo and behold, found several video tutorials on how to set up your own mealworm farm. Looks and sounds easy enough.
I have also learned that live mealworms, although technically having less protein per lb (you simply get more dried than fresh worms per lb) have a lot more nutrients in them since they are “gut loaded”. Gut loaded simply means they have a stomach full of nutrients- which the internet states isn’t true for the ones you buy live at the pet stores. So not only can I save money, but I can offer a more nutritious snack that will keep reproducing itself. And raising them myself, I know they are non GMO organically raised- lol! All I have to do is to take care of wriggly worms and the black Darkling Beetle that lay the eggs that produce these wriggly meal worms!!
The Darkling Beetle, pupae and mealworm
The things you do to keep your animals happy!
I guess there are worse things to eat as a human than mealworms- although worse depends on where you are from… In Sweden where I grew up black pudding ( sausage made out of blood) is a common thing, which sounds awful to many but yummy to me! The Scot eats Haggis ( sheep liver, heart and lungs mixed with spices and cooked inside the stomach), they eat tuna eyeballs in Japan, grasshoppers in Thailand, fried spiders in Cambodia, SPAM in the US hahaha- cause who knows what’s in Spam?!
I am not quite ready to let go of my more traditional food items so I will strictly use the mealworms to keep my chickens happy and healthy. And since I will know where my mealworms come from I can without any hesitation claim to have GMO free and organic eggs!
For the very adventurous, I am including a recipe of Meal Worm Toffee that I found on Bugs4Beginners.com, which they say is a “classy addition to a simple dessert like vanilla ice cream.” The Tequila worm seems like nothing compared to this. “Any roasted or dehydrated mealworms will do the trick, but for an extra pop of flavor, use cinnamon-fed mealworms. “
If anyone would like to give it a try, let me know and I will feed my future worms some cinnamon- if you really feel you need that extra pop to go with the crunch! And please let me know how you liked it!! 🙂
Total 1 hr; Serves 4
1. Prepare Mealworms If you are using ready-to-eat mealworms, skip to step 3; all you have to do is open the bag. If you are using frozen mealworms, follow provider instructions on the package. If you have raised your own mealworms, you will need to euthanize them in the freezer a day ahead of time, then boil for 3-5 minutes to kill any parasites, and drain. The easiest way to boil something tiny, like mealworms, is to bring water in a small pot to a rolling boil, then place mealworms in a fine mesh stainless steel strainer, and lower into boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Then, all you need to do it lift the strainer out of the boiling water, and rinse the mealworms, still in the strainer, with cool water.
2. Roast Mealworms To roast, preheat oven to 320 degrees Fahrenheit (160 Celsius), and spread mealworms over a pan or piece of tin foil. You don’t need any oil, they are fatty enough. Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes until they are fragrant, and lightly crispy and dry to the touch. Be sure to watch carefully, as they can burn very quickly! Remove mealworms from oven, and spread across a new baking sheet, which you have covered in parchment paper. Set aside.
Toffee Warm water in a small pot and stir in sugar. Continue to heat and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove any undissolved sugar crystals with a wet pastry brush or wet paper towel. When sugar has dissolved, increase heat to a boil, without stirring mixture. Continue to boil until toffee has reached a beautiful golden color; approximately 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
4. Pour Immediately pour hot toffee all over mealworms and parchment paper, in the baking sheet. Pick up baking sheet and rotate slowly, so toffee will thin and spread out. Set aside to cool for approximately 10-15 minutes. When completely cooled, break toffee into shards and enjoy, preferably as a topping on ice cream or cake. If you will not be consuming the mealworm toffee immediately, it will keep for 1 day stacked between layers of wax paper.
I don’t think I would ever describe my nature as being murderous, however, recent events have proved me wrong.
Today I walked out in my back yard/budding fruit tree orchard only to discover that I had several damaged trees. I was devastated and heart broken as I every day look at my trees since they make me happy (It really is the small things). I studied the damage with concern; broken branches, scraped up bark and one tree completely broken, before I resolutely walked back inside. I quickly made my self a sign fully intending to post it at the side of the road. It read “HUNTERS WELCOME”.
I think we all have some both good and bad character traits. What it comes down to is a matter of choice; we can give into whatever bad stuff we are feeling (it’s tempting, it’s that immediate gratification) or we can chose to cultivate the things that make us good people (which is a lot harder but with definite longer lasting rewards). Professor Dumbledore told Harry Potter; “It’s your choices Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Often doubting my own abilities, I love this quote since there is never a shortage of choices!!
Our farm goals also came into play; am I farming in harmony with nature if at first trouble I feel like shooting the poor deer who vandalized my trees? The deer undoubtedly thought he was the lucky one to have just discovered the newest restaurant in town. Since I’m raising pigs for meat I obviously don’t have anything against eating meat, but I wanted this particular deer shot in pure revenge even if I told myself it was to prevent any further tree damage. Admittedly not my finest moment. I came to the conclusion that the only place where this sign should get posted was on this blog!
Some quick googling and texting to my hubby provided me a few more humane methods to deter deer. Scott suggested that I should stop by my hairdresser and ask for a bag of hair, he swears that deer don’t get close to it. Personally I’m wondering if that’s just an excuse hunters use when they don’t catch anything…. 🙂 My awesome hairdresser gave me whole bag of hair and I have now draped every tree with a generous amount of long black and brown hair.
Online I found a fellow apple tree grower who swears by his method and that a neighboring apple tree orchard had done this for the past 50 years and NEVER had deer bothering their trees; They hang up suet holders between every 4 trees and add half a bar of Irish Spring soap in each of them. Scott who was equally sad about the trees stopped at Tractor Supply on his way home and bought not only the suet holders but also a big roll of deer net. He put it up immediately since he was leaving for Europe the following day. Kudos for working until the wee hours of the night!
The suet holders are now hanging around my trees, and to be on the sure side I added the whole bar of soap to each. Every time there is a gust of wind, it now carries with it the smell of Irish Spring! I think it smells good, but hopefully the deer don’t.
Only 3 weeks after planting our trees we have one that is completely gone and 3 that are damaged.. if this pace keeps up we’ll have zero trees left come spring so I sincerely hope the deer keep away.
The deer did leave something else behind.. a deer tick I found crawling on my hand (oh ICK). I must have picked it up while wrapping the trees (I figured it couldn’t hurt wrapping the trunks in vet wrap – the stuff that clings to itself- to aid in the healing of the bark). And on that note I’m heading to the shower since I now have the creepy-crawly’s big time.
Normal people get a farm and then animals. We are NOT normal people. We decided to start farming without having barns and fencing and places to store feed, and instead we are building fencing and shelters as the animals are arriving. For the sake of your blood pressure and day to day stress levels I would definitely recommend everyone to do it the “right” way and not our way. I can also warmly recommend that you NOT place your animals and shelters down a steep hill. Unless of course you really like to get in shape and love running up and down every time you forget something!
On the Saturday morning our sheep were arriving from Alabama, I was working like a mad-woman putting up the temporary electric net fence to supplement the permanent fencing while Scott was laying his last hand on the “Shig-shack,” which is what he renamed the the pig shed since they were going to share it with the sheep for a few months. My original time schedule which was tight already had been further accelerated because Heather, from whom I bought my sheep, was traveling North to NY and kindly had offered to put my two Cotswold sheep in her trailer. I naturally said a quick yes as it saved me a 26 hour round trip. I happily announced to my husband that I didn’t have to drive back and forth to Alabama to collect our sheep. He looked a little puzzled and quietly asked where we were going to house the sheep. His next question was “why only two?” Usually I am the one who jumps in with both feet. To have a husband who is actually every bit as crazy as me in this regard is refreshing! We had made a projection of how many sheep we could have on our acres taking into account future lambs etc. and the magic start number was 4. I was wondering if I was overdoing it with the chickens and pigs and now sheep, all within a month and thought it wise to only get two. It didn’t take me long before I quickly texted Heather, and the 2 ewes were now 4!
Heather arrived in her big truck and even longer trailer and after the usual hellos she was wondering where the sheep were going. I pointed down the hill and told her I had halters for them. Her response was priceless, a mix between a laugh and a snort while trying to not do either. In a flash I realized that these sheep were NOT pets, and they were certainly not halter trained, but I was used to alpacas, llamas and horses, so really, how hard could it be? We got halters on two of them and took them off the trailer. These sheep weigh about 150-200 lbs. and look like big fluffy clouds. They did however not act like fluffy, docile sheep. Cotswolds are often called the gentle giants. Gentle? Within 30 seconds, one of the sheep had gotten out of the halter in Heather’s hand but since sheep like to stick together she just followed the one still being led by me. At that point Heather thought it would save us some time just letting the other two out of the trailer so they, too, could peacefully follow the one being led.
Lesson learned: NEVER assume that sheep will do what you think they will do.
The other two decided NOT to join us and ran up on the lawn instead. The sheep that was following me quickly decided that being with TWO sheep was far safer than following just one. Now we had three sheep loose on our lawn. My mom and dad who were here visiting were looking at it all with an increasingly panicked look on their faces. “My” sheep was now in full “I’m NOT staying here all alone” mode, and was doing a very believable impression of a bronc, jumping up, down and sideways while I was hanging on for dear life. Gentle? Ha! Heather mentioned getting a food bucket so Scott approached me saying he would take the “wanna-be-a-rodeo-horse-sheep” while I ran to get the food bucket. I quickly instructed him in how to hold the halter- it was a slip knot-type-halter. I turned to go but paused to take a quick picture while Scott said, “don’t worry honey, I got this”. Famous last words. 3 seconds later we had FOUR sheep on the lose, now setting off towards our neighbor’s backyard. They admittedly have a much nicer and greener lawn.
Food bucket in hand I now followed Scott, Heather, my daughter and our 4 sheep who kept going further and further away. If you chase sheep, they don’t come back to you. I dialed my son’s number and quickly asked him to come out and help us. Within minutes our sheep had decided to get out on our thankfully very quiet country road and were heading towards the village. Luckily, a truck driver saw them coming, and turned his vehicle sideways to block them so Scott could slip in behind them and drive them back towards home. As the sheep came back into view, we heard Scott yelling to block the road so they couldn’t pass our house. Mom, dad and I were positioned, and the sheep took one look at us and darted around us back onto the lawn. We slowly approached them, and they decided that it was time to start grazing in our back yard. I bee-lined in to the garage, brought out my second electric fence/net and together we slowly put the fence up around the sheep where they were. Phew. Caught.
Heather recommended that we let them settle down for a while to not stress them too much, so we left them to work on the lawn and waved good bye to Heather who probably was very happy to get on her way.
After 3 hours of enjoying our greenest grass, the sheep seemed nice and calm; time to get the sheep down to their pasture. Scott thought for sure that if we lead the two dominant ladies, the others would follow. I’m not quite sure why I listened, Scott is NOT well acquainted with livestock of any kind. We haltered the two, and lo and behold, the others followed. Mom and dad were at the top of the drive way, to prevent any mishaps, and my daughter had stationed herself strategically at the line to our neighbor’s green lawn.
By now the sheep in halters had had it. They were even worse than before, and in the midst of leading them a man stopped to ask if he and his daughter could get permission to hunt on our land. LOL- I felt like telling him that if he could help get the sheep into their pasture we’d talk, but my husband kindly said no and to excuse us as as we had our hands full. No sooner did the guy leave and whoops- Scott lost his sheep again. My dad bravely tried to throw himself after the runaway- who naturally was on her way into our neighbor’s again- but it was almost comically slow since he’s 84 years old and a LOT slower than a determined sheep.
My poor sheep was alone again, seeing her friends disappear in the distance, a true horror if you are a sheep. She jumped, she bucked, she gave up and played dead. I was seriously wondering if she had a stroke since she just lay there breathing heavily with her eyes closed. I’m not exactly sure how long it took for the rest of my family to turn around the 3 runaway sheep, who had headed back onto the road towards the village. I was sitting with my possum-playing sheep at the bottom of the hill. Gus (son) and Scott came back and together we managed to pull/push her into the pasture.
This is when I learned that a very nice man trying to help got out of his truck but forgot to put it in park with the result that it drove itself off the road down a hill taking down several smaller trees before being stopped by a large tree. The truck owner managed to drive around the hill and back up on the road after a while, and other than losing the side mirrors, he seemed to be ok which was a miracle in itself. Still, we felt horrible since it really was the fault of our sheep. Once turned around, the three runaways simply walked right into our garage where they stood looking for something to eat.
When Scott again mentioned taking two sheep down and having one follow, Gus and I wisely said no. Not that it did us much good. In spite of wearing not just one, but TWO halters, this Sheepoudini was able to get out and run away, for the third time. Ever had the feeling that no matter what you do it won’t work? I had it. Scott and Gus were on her tail, got her cornered briefly and as she started taking off for the road again, Scott cut her off and tackled her. Gently. Scott waited with her while Gus resolutely drove up the John Deere (lawn tractor, not real tractor). It did have a dump cart attached and at this point I figured it must be less stressful for the poor sheep – and us – to simply put her in the cart. On the cart she played dead for most of the time. Who knew all sheep knew that game? Not until she was laying on the ground with the halter off did she open her eyes and then she simply stood up and walked over to her friend and started grazing. We decided to repeat this process with sheep number 3 and 4. It wasn’t pretty, but took less than 5 minutes per sheep.
7 hours after they arrived, and minutes before the dark, the last sheep was FINALLY in the pasture. They checked out their new home, and seemed quite happy to get their grain, hay and water.
I was a mess. My rib was severely bruised, I had twisted my ankle, ripped a nail and had several bruises on my legs including a set of hoof prints on my forearm. My step counter recorded 17,000+ steps and 64 flights of stairs (counting the elevation of our hill). I was exhausted but I was happy. My sheep were home and all else could wait until morning.
I recently had the pleasure of having the house full of my family! My parents came from Sweden and my son and his sweet girlfriend arrived from Colorado. We had a lovely time with dinners and friends and of course some very unexpected events.
Having already seen the pigs in their pasture from the deck of the house, my parents soon wanted to walk down to see them close up. We took our time walking the path down the hill as it’s rather steep at a few places. My 21 year old son Gus went ahead, but then came bounding up the hill, shouting “Mom, the pigs are GONE”. I quickly joined him assuring him that they most likely just had nestled deep into the straw for a morning nap. These little darlings nap long and often, but usually stick their heads up once they hear my voice since that is equivalent to treats treats and they have taken to protest loudly if I’m too slow in handing out the goodies. Alas, there were no little faces, no happy squeals, and definitely no pigs coming galloping towards us. The pen was empty and very quiet. I looked around the field, up the hill and down towards the pond- not a pig in site.
Just two weeks prior, my daughter had yelled to us that “the pigs are out” but at that time they were on the path steps away from the pen just munching away on fresh grass and were easily lured back into their pen by tempting them with a few apples. After that incident I told my softhearted husband that electric fencing was a must. He had been against it thinking the fence was enough and was quite insistent over the fact that there were no signs of attempted porcine jailbreak. My reply had been that the sign of them “trying to get out” would be that they WERE out. However, I still yielded to his wishes and instead got boards to screw in all around the bottom of the fence line. Their last escape had proved that if their snouts got under the fence while rooting and they noticed that they could lift it up they would be out in a blink! Pigs are said to be as intelligent as dogs. Dogs figure things out, and I’m now wondering if pigs actually are smarter than dogs…. hmmm.
Gus and I split up searching and after 10 very long minutes he called me- he had found the pigs WAY back on our property heading up a hill. He said that he called to them, and Otto, our boar, had turned to look at him but decided to ignore him and instead turned back in the direction he was heading until he heard my voice. Luckily my voice and the sound of a food bucket filled with treats made the difference and all of the sudden he was trotting downhill with the 2 little girls in tow. Otto, being older and BIGGER most definitely is the ringleader. He was immediately rewarded by a piece of apple and then all three of them trotted along the path with me all the way back home, where they got the rest of the apples. They in fact stayed closer to me than our three dogs do when we are out walking.
With the pigs safely returned to their pen we turned our attention to figuring out how they had gotten out. We, that is Scott, was in the process of building them a shelter, or as he called it, the Shig Shack. You see, the shelter would be shared by both sheep and pigs for the winter months until the pigs were bigger and needed more room and we had gotten the sheep shelter in order. He had temporarily sectioned off that part of their enclosure, with emphasis on the word temporarily, and had also removed a fence post behind the structure to be able to get more room to work. He had worked on their shelter long after dark, and then forgotten about how the fence had been compromised at those spots. The pigs must have been thrilled when they the following morning discovered that they were able to go exploring.
When he heard about the escape, Scott stated that an electric fence sounded better and better. I have since read that pigs are every bit as good at getting out of their fenced-in areas as are goats, which are quite notorious escape artists! I guess the difference would be that where goats jump, pigs simply use their weight and snouts to push through!
I am still amazed about how they just followed me back home. I had no idea that pigs were that tame, or that sweet. But I have to admit that I have never looked deeply into a pigs’ eyes before, and never really realized how mindful they are of you. Now that I have, I can tell you that there is a LOT of thinking going on.
I can at this time not decide what I enjoy the most: seeing my pigs come running towards me when they see me or hearing the sheep baaing as I approach while sticking their noses out through fence to sniff me and give me kisses- well that’s what I tell myself- most likely they are looking for treats! I did not know that the pigs play as much as they do. Otto and my little Cockapoo enjoy running back and forth on each side of the fence, chasing each other back and forth, with short stops of coming nose to nose. The two little girls, who I think are growing quickly for being a slow-growing breed, often play with each other as well, pushing and nuzzling each other, running around in circles and throwing themselves down. When rubbed, they all lean into my hand and slowly sink down, laying on their side with their eyes closed. And if you really want to see a pig smile, provide them with a hole filled with water for them to roll around and splash in!!