It’s been hot around here (David Bowie is panting). So this is how we keep our girls cool. A kiddie pool filled with muddy water. The trick is the mud. They refused to stand in it when it was just water. All of them loiter around the pool during the hottest part of the day taking turns dipping their toes in the cooling mud.
Raising livestock can be very rewarding. You get to build this very intimate relationship with the creatures that provide your food. You take a great deal of care in their raising because you want them to be healthy and happy. The healthier and happier they are the better the food they produce for you will be.
But on the other side of the coin, sometimes, no matter how great the care is for them they don’t always make it. For whatever reason, they give up before you do and once they do there really is nothing you can do to save them. Mindy was my biggest heartbreak. I still get teary-eyed when I think about her. For those that are new to reading the blog, 2 years ago we got to help Bella kid Mork and Mindy. It was the first kidding we’d ever had here, or even attended for that matter. When they were born Mork was up and at ‘em immediately. His sister, however, was not. She nursed right away laying down next to Bella, but other than that she was very slow to stand. From then on she was never quite right. The kidding coincided with a huge storm and what ended up being one of the wettest, longest winters I can remember. Very quickly she got coccidiosis, which we treated only for it to come back again soon after. When we finally knocked it down all the way she got in a good week of normalcy. It just so happened that was the week we had a photographer here for a book and there were some amazingly cute photos of her playing. But the healthy week was short lived. She started to show signs of goat polio and off to the vet she went. The vet had us give her vitamin B1 shots for three days but when that was up we didn’t see any improvement and she was now wheezing. Pneumonia is particularly dangerous in goats. The vet put her on some strong antibiotics and at first she seemed to be improving. But then she crashed. Really fast. She was fine in the morning and then that afternoon we came home to find her unable to keep her balance, heavy wheezing and her eyes were bulging. We were sent to UC Davis where they confirmed that she had not only pneumonia but also encephalitis of unknown origin. She wasn’t going to improve so we had to let her go.
It’s amazing how such a small little creature can get into your heart so quickly. Since she was from our very first kidding it made me really nervous. In the back of my mind I had this fear that doelings were just too fragile. Mork and Daisy’s buckling, Mongo, were big, strapping kids that were incredibly healthy. But Mindy, our one and only doeling, couldn’t make it past a few weeks. Bailey proved me wrong and she’s definitely eased my fears, however irrational they may be.
Sometimes, though, they continue to fight and don’t give up. As many of you know, Hank, my tom turkey, is one of my favorites around here. I came home from work one afternoon a couple of months ago to find him stumbling and completely off balance. He also appeared to have lost sight in one of his eyes. I was completely freaked out. We don’t have any poultry vets around here so the first thing I did was email Clare at Curbstone Valley Farm to get some advice. She really helped and I can’t thank her enough. Unfortunately it was unclear what was causing the issue. Looking up various poultry sites it seemed that maybe he had a mineral or vitamin deficiency. Fortunately he was eating and drinking fine (as long as he could stay standing upright) so I was able to give him some extra supplements. But after a few days and no improvement I had to look elsewhere. In the meantime he seemed to be getting worse. His vision in the other eye was questionable and Tom was feeling like it might be time to put Hank down. The photo of him was taken just a couple of days before he fell ill and I was scared that it would be the last one I would have of him. I stood there in the yard, holding him up crying. I just wasn’t ready to let him go yet.
I finally decided to use antibiotics. I’m not one to like to use them on a whim so it took a lot of thought to decide to go this route. Clare gave me some advice on the length of treatment and so I put him on the patio (it seemed to offer him better footing) in his own pen and makeshift coop and started him on antibiotics. Within a few days the improvement was noticeable. After 10 days he gobbled at me. By the end of the round he was strutting and calling for his ladies. He’s now back with everyone and soon to be a dad again. I’m glad we fought for him since he was still willing to fight.
It takes just about a week to grow and increases your feed by up to 6x* by weight. It’s highly nutritious and provides 20% protein by dry weight. You can feed it to poultry, rabbits, ruminants, horses, just about any grass-loving livestock animal around.
When my friend, Brande, first told me about it I wasn’t so sure. I had heard great things about it but had only seen these huge, incredibly expensive setups for large livestock operations. I hadn’t even thought that it was possible to do fodder without one of these setups.
What in the hell was I thinking? Nowadays everything can be done DIY so why couldn’t making fodder? It would just require a bit more labor on my part.
There are really only about 3 things you absolutely have to have: seed, water and planting trays with drainage holes. There’s no need for soil or fertilizer. Because we have a mild climate I’m just growing mine outside on a table. The best seed to use is barley as it has the highest nutrition and protein of all the other grain seeds. I can get an 80lb bag of barley for just over $18. You can try to find hulled barley but I find that unhulled seems to work fine. When watering, I recapture the water that drains to reuse.
You only want to put about a 1/2″ of barley in your tray. It really does swell up and I found that with 3lbs of barley the tray was busting out at the walls. Before you start with making fodder you need to soak the barley for 6-8 hours in water. This degrades germination inhibitors in the seeds (this is why you should also soak peas and legumes before planting). You want to cover the barley with enough water so that when it expands it remains covered.
Once your soaking is over pour the seed and water into your tray and then rinse the seed. Cover your tray so that it remains dark to help encourage germination. Above is the day after soaking. Small root tips begin to show up at the ends of the seed.
Water your seed 2-3 times a day. You want to keep it from drying out too much. By the second day after soaking you’ll start to see more of the roots.
The following day small bits of green will poke their heads out of the layer of seeds and roots. It will soon be growing so fast you can almost watch it. By now you can take the cover off because you want the grass blades to develop chlorophyll and energy.
On the fourth day after soaking you’ll be seeing the beginning of a nice little green carpet. It’s not much yet but the following day you’ll be amazed.
Day 5 and it’s starting to look like turf. Keep watering at least twice a day.
By day 6 you’re almost ready to feed it. Supposedly this is when the nutrition of the grass begins to peak.
On day 7 it’s time to feed the fodder. You can see here the awesome layer of roots, seeds and grass. Poultry and ruminants will consume all these parts. Rabbits generally only like the greens. I started with 3lbs of seed and produced nearly 15lbs of fodder. It took my hens a couple of days to eat one tray’s worth of fodder. If you start a new tray ever day or every couple of days you’ll have a constant supply of fodder to feed.
*I’ve only seen about a 5x increase but I’ve heard that 6x is also possible.
We’ve now been milking Sedona for 7 months. For the first couple of months, she was the only one we were milking and she gave a good deal more milk, about 50-75% more than the Ghetto Goats individually had when we were milking them. In all fairness, Daisy was a first freshener* and Bella was a second freshener, while Sedona is a third freshener. Even though she is only ahead of Bella by one freshening, it was clear that she was a better producer than the Ghetto Goats. That’s to be expected though since Sedona is a Nigerian Dwarf, a dairy breed, and the Ghetto Goats are, well, not a dairy breed. I usually just call the Ghetto Goats “Old World Pygmies” because they don’t look at all like the breed standard. They’re just not cobby (though Bella could fool you this year with her super fluffy winter coat) like pedigreed/registered pygmy goats.
We’ll be breeding Bella again soon. She’ll then be a third freshener so we can see how well she does compared to Sedona. I’m also interested in seeing how long Sedona will produce. The Ghetto Goats went strong for 15 months until we decided to dry them off because we bred them again (Bella didn’t settle though). Surprisingly Bella still had enough milk left when Panda was just a few days old that we could use her to feed Panda when Daisy was suffering from milk fever and didn’t have enough milk to feed her.
The real difference though is in the milk. While Sedona’s milk is OK, it’s a bit bland compared to the Ghetto Goats’ milk. I would almost say the flavor is flat comparatively It also turns goaty before the Ghetto Goat milk does. The Ghetto Goat milk is much richer and sweeter than Sedona’s milk because it has a higher fat content. The cream rises in the Ghetto Goat milk after just a day. For those of you that milk goats you know what a big deal that can be since goat milk is naturally homogenized and the general rule of thumb is not to expect much cream. For those that don’t milk, it’s one of the reasons it’s so difficult to find goat butter.
Milk stand attitude goes to Sedona. She calmly stands still and lets me adjust her legs while milking. Daisy, on the other hand, likes to get pissy on the milk stand. She likes to hold her legs together blocking me from reaching her teats, and sometimes, if I try to move her legs she’ll throw a little kick my way. Her other preferred milking stance is the squat, hoping I can’t reach her teats. She really likes to do this when it’s time to dip her teats after milking. Fortunately she stopped laying down. In addition, Daisy has to also wear a special collar made from a 1 gallon plant pot to keep her from self-sucking (more on that later). Bella, is less of an issue with the milking but isn’t as calm as Sedona and she does have a tendency to throw the occasional temper tantrum.
The process of milking, other than attitude, has to go to the Ghetto Goats. They have super-sized teats which makes for less hand cramping and faster milking – a good thing with uncooperative goats. Sedona has small teats (though large orifices) so it takes longer to milk her. In addition, because of their size, I’m the only one that can milk her since Tom’s hands are too large. Sedona also has a tendency to hold back a lot of milk.
Milk Wars Score Card
- Quantity: Sedona
- Lactation Length: No Clear Winner Yet
- Quality: The Ghetto Goats
- Attitude: Sedona
- Ease of Milking: The Ghetto Goats
So far it’s a tie. We’ll have to see how long Sedona can produce milk before we call this one.
*Freshening is the goat-term that refers to how many times they’ve kidded. With each kidding their milk production increases.
Turkeys. They aren’t nearly as popular as chickens so info on them can be difficult to find. Heritage turkey info is even harder to find because even fewer people raise them and there are differences in raising them compared to the Broad Breasted breeds. Fortunately Backyardchickens.com has a forum for turkeys, which helps immensely. I also have a book called Not Just for Christmas that has some info, though I find it rather lacking. A Storey Guide might be better but I haven’t reviewed the one for turkeys. For us, turkeys have basically been a “learn as you go” experience. What I have learned is the following(this applies to heritage breeds which is what I have experience with):
8.Turkeys fly pretty well. If you don’t keep them in a completely enclosed run you must keep their wings clipped. When they are younger this means clipping once a week as their wing feathers grow pretty fast.
I woke up early this morning thinking we must be getting a downpour. I looked out the window to realize it wasn’t raining yet. What I was hearing was the large tamarack tree across the street getting pummeled by 50mph winds. In my mind a did a quick inventory and when I realized that we don’t have any trees within damage distance to our house I went back to sleep for another hour.
All last week they were warning us that there was this big storm coming in on Thursday that was supposed to drop 12″ of rain between Friday and Sunday with a small break on Saturday. The last time they predicted this it ended up being overly dramatic and it barely showered. As Friday came along the rains and high winds they said were coming never really showed. I guess you could say we let down our guard and it was business as usual. Tom even left to go pig hunting this morning.
I eventually woke up at 6am to the same sounds as before but it was louder. The tree was still being abused by the wind but now it was raining forcefully. It was time to get up anyways, so I got dressed and headed out to milk the goats. The barn was still nice a dry since earlier this week we decided to get sandbags which we then placed around the goat barn. So far, so good. I got the goats milked and let the chickens and turkeys out and headed back to the safety of the house.
By 7am it was raining even harder. I couldn’t believe it. Our gutters and downspouts couldn’t keep up with the water. Unfortunately we had left our large 75 gallon recycle bin open and the water from the gutters was just pouring into it. In less than 45 minutes the bin was overflowing. Damn! We should have gotten rain barrels. The torrential downpour only lasted about an hour and eased off to a steady hard rain.
At 8am I threw on a jacket, my muck boots, and headed out the door to see what the damage was. The chickens and turkeys got off light. There is some pooling of water in their yard, but their coops are both dry. Not that the birds seem to care. They were out in the rain eating worms. The rabbits were nice a cozy. The large Coast Live Oak tree that their hutch is under took the wind like a champ and didn’t even drop a small limb.
I knew when I saw the newly formed 6″ deep creeks running down what used to be walkways between our garden beds that I was going to be in trouble. The sandbags did what they could but they just weren’t quite high enough and there was water pooling in one corner of the goat barn. We’ve got about 12″ of deep litter in the barn, so the water was pretty high to create a pool. The goat yard was even worse. The creeks running down the yard were met with another new creek coming from our neighbor’s property and they were emptying out in the goat yard. After about an hour of moving mud I was finally able to get positive drainage again to get water away from the goats. Did I mention goats HATE water? The sandbags were back to working when I walked away soaked and muddy just hoping that the water continues to move.
When we were throwing down sandbags this past week we brought up the idea of moving the goat barn. Not an easy task as we’ll have to tear it down and rebuild it. As I was moving mud I looked over the yard and saw that the place we’re planning to move it to was the only spot in the goat yard that wasn’t flooded. I foresee another project happening within the next couple of weeks.
Meet Big Red. She’s a two year old Buckeye. She’s also one of my favorite hens. The Buckeye is a threatened breed of chicken according the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. They were originally developed during the turn of the century by Mrs. Nettie Metcalf of Warren, Ohio – the only chicken breed developed completely by a woman. Buff Cochins, Barred Rocks and Black-Breasted Red Game were used in their development. Their pea combs and wattles are incredibly small – nearly non-existent – which makes them very cold tolerant birds. I always recommend them for people that live in cold areas because of their tolerance to frigid conditions. Even though we live in a milder climate than most of the country, our Buckeyes consistently lay medium, brown eggs through the winter unlike our younger hens.
From the ALBC’s Buckeye page:
The Buckeye should not be confused with the Rhode Island Red, even though they share some history. Buckeyes are unique in their body shape: slanted, short but broad back, very meaty thighs, powerful wings and breast. They appear very close to the Cornish, as bred in 1905, in body shape. (It should be noted that the originator indicated that she did not use Cornish in their breeding; the Cornish body shape was simply her goal.) In color the Buckeye is also unique. The color of the Buckeye is darker than that of the original Rhode Island Red (later, the Rhode Island Red was bred for a shade of color even darker than the Buckeye). The Buckeye also has a slate colored bar in the undercolor (fluff) of its back; the Rhode Island Red’s feathers should be red to the skin. Both breeds share the trait of tight feathering – unique in the American Class of poultry.
They also have a unique personality. If you can get past the fact that they always look angry they are actually very friendly, though quite active. We have a batch of 4 week old chicks right now, including 3 Buckeyes. They are the only ones out of the group that actually allow us to pick them up and carry them around perched on our fingers. Big Red is our “event chicken” because she’s so friendly and doesn’t shy away from large groups of people. They are great foragers, however, and don’t do well in confinement. They have a reputation for hunting rodents rivaling the hunting ability of cats. The roosters can make a huge range of sounds including a dinosaur-type roar.
The Buckeye is a dual purpose bird with hens weighing 6-7 lbs and roosters weighing 9lbs. Readers of Mother Earth News rated Buckeyes as the best for meat and flavor. Back in early 2011 we raised some Buckeyes for meat and they were definitely tasty and grew out relatively fast for a heritage, dual purpose breed at 16 weeks.
Of all the breeds we’ve raised so far, if I had to choose just one it would be the Buckeye. Now if only I can find a dinosaur-roaring rooster….
If you missed the chicken class last night you’ve got another chance! Well, it will be an abridged version but I’ll be discussing chickens with Sylvia at the 21st Century Homekeeper on Saturday at 5pm central (3pm for us Pacific time people). Best part is that it’s free!
In other news, the chicken class preparation has taken pretty much all my time for the last week (extensive Powerpoint presentation) so I haven’t written much. Hopefully this coming week I can post some more stuff.
Own chickens but want to know more? I’ll be teaching and advanced chicken keeping class on October 10th in Berkeley from 6pm to 8pm. I’ll go over introducing new birds to your flock, health care from prevention to diagnosing problems, holistic and traditional care and when a vet should be contacted, nutrition and mixing your own feed and feed supplements and the life cycle of chickens including hatching your own. We’ll also discuss dealing with predators, bio-security and behavioral issues and answer your most pressing chicken questions. The class is through Biofuel Oasis and will be held at Sticky Art Lab in Berkeley. Check out Biofuel Oasis’ page on classes to register.
I’m in charge of a bunch of events for the East Bay Urban Agriculture Alliance throughout the year. Most of these events involve having a sizable booth that we need to fill and a table and handouts just don’t bring the people in. That’s where chickens come in! Bring some livestock (or animals in general) and the people flock to you. The Maker Faire (photo above) was the event debut for three of our hens – Big Red, David Bowie Chicken and Lefty. Their housing was just a pet pen with a tarp and hay on the ground and netting over the top. The number one question we got from most people was whether that was what we always kept them in. So we came up with a brilliant idea for events.
The collapsible chicken tractor! It folds up nice and flat for easy transport and storage. It comes apart and goes up really quickly with just a few bolts.This is perfect for events but then I was thinking about what a great idea it is to have a temporary chicken tractor that is easy to put away when not in use in the garden. We have a primary coop that our chickens live in but I’ve been wanting a tractor to use on the fallow beds. At the same time I didn’t want to have to try and store a tractor when we didn’t need it. This is the perfect solution for that.
It’s not quite done yet and since ours is mostly for show it’s not predator proof (hoping to upgrade it eventually so it is) but soon I’ll be posting the instructions on how to make your own that is predator proof.