Monday, May 31, 2010

Baby Kittens Arriving!

Hunter woke up this morning to find Tiger, our pregnant cat, in his bed giving birth. There was already one orange and one black one already arrived! The kids are so excited!

We'll post pictures when things get further along.

A Day of Chaos

While we are recovering from a family shared sinus infection and fever, hoping to salvage the last day of memorial day weekend, The horses turn to mischief. What follows is a day of one chaotic event after another.

It starts calmly enough. Brenda decides to let Samson (her horse) out of the stall to graze the yard. He has been stalled for almost a week while the mysterious cut above his hoof heals. It seemed healed enough to let him have some walking exercise and some fresh green grass. So, we let him out to graze in the yard.

Maybe an hour later I walked around the side of the house to hear the chickens going absolutely crazy! screeching, yelling, flying, it was like the pen was exploding in frightful action. The first thought that hit me was that some predator had gotten in and was eating our precious chickens. I chose to get there faster than grabbing the shotgun would allow and, who was in the middle of it all? SAMSON! He had ventured into the chicken coop and was trying to eat the chicken food from the hanging feeder, scaring the chickens silly. He could not leave because the half door I left on from the baby chicks was blocking the exit from the inside. (That'll teach me to leave a job undone!). It took a while to convince him to leave the chicken feed and walk out the door as I held it open, but finally all was calm.

Then I walked around the shop to see where he was headed next, and saw his girlfriend, Callie (my daughter's horse) happily eating the grass I was planning on mowing INSIDE the garden gate. She had pushed down about a hundred feet of 6 foot fence so she could reach inside. If she wanted to, it was no hassle at all to walk right in next. Again a job left undone as I had neglected to re-string the electric wire above the fence when we reworked the garden fence. Fearing for our freshly planted seeds being trampled underfoot, it was apparent now was the time to set up the electric.

I called my sniffling fevering daughter out to help me and we managed to find enough supplies to restring the garden side, and we walked the perimeter to fix any areas where the insulator had pushed off. In the process I found several area that needed serious fencing work! The horses had taken advantage of the lack of power to lean on and bend or break some posts and wires. We did the best we could for today.

While we were working on the fence, Samson decided to check out the metal trash cans by the pig pen, picking them up and dumping them out so he could rummage through the trash, mostly feed bags. Sigh... one more cleanup job for later.

With the power turned on and a couple of leaks on the feed wire patched with electrical tape, Callie was contained in the pasture. The last thing to do was try to raise and attach the part of the wire mesh that she had pushed down. While I was working on that inside the garden my wife yells "SAMSON NO!" I turned around to see that Samson had pushed the garden gate open and as walking across out newly planted garden. I tried to walk him out but he just stared at me. Brenda tried to walk him out but he just stared at her. It took a halter and firmness from her to get him out of the garden.

At this point we decided that he was well enough to go back on pasture. The wound looked closed and there was no mud on pasture to infect it, so we turned him out. That gave me a Chance to almost finish the pushed down fence. I say almost because Samson ran straight across the pasture to where the neighbor's horses were talking to Callie, and had to put on his show of dominance. Just like a guy protecting his woman, Samson made a great show of it through the fence. Unfortunately his foot wasn't ready for all this. Our fears were confirmed when Brenda called him back, and he arrive with veins bulging with blood and adrenalin, and foot bleeding.

So we end the day by cleaning his stall, running to the store for 16 bags of fresh shavings, spreading the shavings in his stall, and put him right back where he started.
We were all tired, still sniffling, and unfortunately had accomplished nothing except for chasing these horses around and fixing after their mischief.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Seems like the Spring Oregon winds go the best of the turkey coop today.  No damage done fortunately, but it does take time to keep fixing things. Whats that old saying about doing it right the first time? Good Advice!

Afternoon siesta

Looks like Romeo, April, and Penny are starting this memorial day weekend right!

Where's my hammock?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Louie meets Dusty

Here's one of those moments when you wish there was a video.  While in the pasture searching down the missing turkey, Louie decided to pass through the gate by himself to join me. All the sheep were sitting around between where I was in the pasture and the gate Louie walked through. He saw me and trotted out to be with me.

Dusty, the "in charge mommy sheep" decided that was not something she could tolerate. A dog alone in her pasture... no, not acceptable. She started running up behind him at near full speed. Right when she was a few feet away Louie turned around just in time to see dusty duck her head.


Full on head bunt between Dusty's curved horns and Louie's head. It was just like watching the Discovery channel. Louie was knocked back about 6 inches and shook his head. Then came the low growl. I immediately called him to me to prevent a challenge between them and he happily ran over, still dazed from the hit. As I walked him to the gate, she came after him again but I told Louie to "go, get out", and happily he obeyed, running through the gate.

Dusty was happy, standing in front of her flock "smiling".

Oddly, Rainy the guard llama was comfortable enough with Louie to stand back and watch the entire encounter without flinching. He does a very good job with any dogs he doesn't know, but he chose not to step in between Dusty and Louie!

One more turkey lost

Putting the turkeys to bed tonight, I only counted 27. Recounting and recounting from different angles didn't help. 27 turkeys instead of 28. The only thing to do was start a search and hope for the best.

While searching I started thinking through the day. There were a couple of odd things come to mind. First, I remembered checking on the turkeys about 4:30 and noticing they were already all in the hoop house. That is very odd since they usually don't head to the roost until dark, around 8:30 or so. The other odd thing that came to mind was that I noticed Friedrickson in the pasture earlier, heading towards the house. He is my daughter's orange and white cat. This was the first time I remember seeing him in the pasture.

So.. searched around the orchard, no luck. Past the worm fence, up to the garden, around the lamb shelter, no luck. Just when I was about to give up, in the bottom of the little creek through the pasture was feathers.  A 2 foot circle of feathers with turkey feet laying in the middle. My heart sank.

At first I thought Louie, but he had been with me all day today. So I studied the "crime scene". Sure enough there were several clues to be found. It wasn't just feet, it was boned up to the hip, picked completely clean of meat. The inner organs lay in a pile at the edge of the feathers. This was no dog. Dogs or coyotes do not bother to pick bones clean, they crunch the bones. The only animal I can think of that eats in this manner is a cat. They are careful and neat eaters. And.... today I saw Friedrickson in the pasture for the first time. It also makes sense that after the attack the rest of the birds would retreat scared to the hoop house and roost safely out of reach.  The pieces fall into place.

Honestly, I had not considered the danger from cats to the turkeys. Obviously that was a miscalculation on my part. Now the cats (we have 5) present a real danger that must be dealt with. The safest thing for now is to leave the birds cooped in the hoop house and move it around the orchard a couple times a day. I don't like this idea long term  because I truly feel that  birds need the ability to fly and roam and hunt.  Cooping these beautiful creatures just does not fit with our farm. The question is... how to keep these natural predators away until the birds are big enough to defend themselves.

The day ends with another challenge.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

We are what we eat... so what SHOULD we eat?

Feed is one of the most important resources on a farm. Everyone must eat, and what they eat makes a huge difference in the quality of the finished product. Traditional wisdom points farmers to commercially produced animal feed for each species, containing everything that the particular animal needs to meet nutritional requirements. The problem with this, for me, is that I have no faith that "man" does a good job in understanding the needs of a species. Even with humans, nutritionist are constantly making new discoveries, mostly about the mistakes of previous discoveries. Every decade the nutritional guidelines for humans have shifted dramatically. Why would we assume that this is any easier or better for animals than humans?
So, the question is what to do. Our goal at Little Sprouts is to provide as natural a life as possible for each animal. This includes food. I am therefore on a mission to discover just what these animals eat in nature, and how to provide that at the absolute lowest cost on the farm.  This is a new and exciting problem to solve. Everyone I turn there are conflicting ideas and advice. As usual, I expect to find the best truth hidden across all these extremes.

The animals most critical at this time are the hogs, turkeys, and chickens. The lambs are good with nothing but grass as long as the pasture grows green.  As we explore these issues, I will post findings and ideas here. If any readers have ideas to add, feel free to post comments below. Its never bad to collect more information and views!

Turkey Training !

The whole purpose of the turkey hoop house  in the pasture / orchard is to keep keep the turkeys away from our house and yard. Turkeys, when they are older, can make quite the mess on sidewalks, porches, outdoor furniture, etc. It is very important to the family to keep this flock out of our living areas. So we are working very hard to provide a comfortable, naturally appealing spot away from the house and train them to stay there.

The first time I let the turkeys out of the hoop house it ended in disaster. I watched them for maybe an hour and they happily roamed around the house and worm fence. When I decided things were save enough and left to do other things, they apparently took that opportunity to explore.  Returning a few hours later I counted only 27 birds. Hunter was coming out to help and ran across a roaming turkey behind the wood shop. He carried that one back to the house and we started searching around the shop area for the last missing one. Just then I saw Louie (our springer spaniel) run over to an open area and sit down with something grey in his mouth. That meant either he caught another squirrel or he found the missing turkey. He listened when I told him to "drop it" and my heart sank. Sure enough it was a young turkey. It was too late to save this one, so I did the appropriate discipline and buried the little bird. We are now down to 28 turkeys.

So, I decided to leave the birds locked inside the hoop house to get their "homing instinct" better trained. We have learned that birds will grow to see wherever they are kept as home if they stay long enough.  To keep the ground clean I would pull the hoop house ahead to expose clean ground every day. They birds liked this, as they would devour the new clover immediately on every move.

After another week, I tried again. At first I would let them out for only an hour or two at a time, while i watched. I also brought Louie with me to show him how to respect the turkeys. This served as good training for both the turkeys and Louie.   Louie learned that the turkeys were mine, and he was allowed to watch but not touch.

Every day I extended the time until yesterday they spent the entire day outside! They never went further than halfway across the orchard.  Occasionally a few would roam through the worm fence and check out the pasture, then come back.  I felt comfortable enough to hop on the tractor and mow down the tall grass in the orchard while Louie watched them pecking around. He did need several reminders but he never touched a bird.

Hopefully the birds are "homed in" on the hoop house enough now to allow them to be out almost constantly. For the next week I'll keep Louie with me during the daytime, in the house if we leave the farm, and by my side as I feed and care for them.  Hopefully peace will prevail at Little Sprouts Farm and the turkeys will enjoy the grass and sunshine of the pasture.

UPDATE: Yesterday the turkeys made it to the gate, and a couple went through. We had to herd them back to the worm fence. It's kinda funny that they actually went around the lamb shelter to the gate that I use to enter hte pasture... are they following me? can turkeys follow a scent?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Turkeys happy in their new home

A few days after the turkeys are moved to their new home in teh orchard, they seem happy as can be! Theres is plenty of fresh air, sunshine, shade, and fresh green grass for their daily salad.

It is amazing how these little birds love to eat grass! They will even pass up the commercial bird food if fresh clean grass is available.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Missing chickens

Today we find two piles of feathers in the yard and seem to have two missing chickens of matching color. Sadly that likely means local coyotes are visiting us. Time to take protective measures.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Escape! almost fatal

This morning I found 2 turkeys had escaped from the new hoop house. One was running around trying to get back in, apparently he had just snuck out. But the other, he was laying in the wet grass barely breathing, too weak to lift his head. I picked up the weak one and while holding him chased the other through the door. The weak turkey was very very cold. his little feet felt like ice. So,  I held him under the heat lamp for maybe 30 minutes, slowly moving him further away as he warmed up. At the end of that time he was at least able to look around and sit up by himself. I placed him under the lamp in the shavings and watched from outside the hoiuse for a few minutes to make sure the other birds didnt attack him. (Birds tend to quickly and niscously attack any sick among themselves). Fortunately the others seems much more interested in baking in the sunshine and eating grass or feed.

I chekced on them again in a couple hours and by then it was impossibble to tell which one it was! all 28 turkeys were running around and happily exploring the new space.

That was a close one!

My best guess is that the little turkeys were able to escape through the large opening chicken wire I used on the hoop house first. Since we covered the lower foot or so with small opening chicken wire I thought things were safe, but apparently the birds would fly or jump inside to reach the thick wire of the cattle panel above the small wire piece and walk out. Once outside they had nothing to jump on to get back in and were then trapped outside.  I extended the small wire to a full 3 feet hoping to prevent this.

Sometimes these animals just dont know whats best for them!

3 Weeks Old - The turkeys move to their new home

It has been 3 weeks since the turkeys broke out of their shells and saw the world.  This is the best time to move them to their permenant home where they can learn to forage for food (grass and bugs) and be turkeys! Its also good because the nursery (called a brooder) is getting really small for 28 of these growing guys.

To get ready I spent a few hours here and there last weekend getting the "hoop house" rebuilt. The first design from last year was too heavy and allowed too many opportunities for little birds to squeeze out. This design is much lighter and yet more secure. It also has adjustable "shades" on the sides to block the wind at night but allow ventalitation during the daytime.  There are two perches at different heights for them to learn to fly up to. And it is still moveable since the entire unit is mounted on 2 skids (treated 4x4 posts). The foor is two cattle panels covered with chicken wire.

Here is a view of the back


Front View


Front and Side View


The Interior

In the last pic you can see the turkeys huddled in the corner around the feeder. There is the pile of shavings against the back wall for nesting.

When sundown came we decided to put a heat light inside, becasue they just looked too cold to make it their first night. Even after dropping hte shade on the wind side they were a tight mound of feathers. We strung an extension cord (3 actually) from the shop and hung the light form the roost over the shavings and within minutes there were a few of them baking in the heat.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The new flock Arrived!

Here are a couple pics of our flock of sheep that arrived today. These are the traditional "Jacob Sheep" supposedly decended from the same sheep that Jacob of the bible raised. Genetically they are unaltered for thousands of years. How much more traditional can you get than that!

In the background you can see "peep" the last of our modern sheep. Note the differences in body size, shape, etc.

These guys seem to be adjusting well, today we can walk much closer to them without scaring them. In another day or two we will try our hand at milking the two Ewes. If it works out, we will have enough fresh milk for our needs and perhaps next year we can have some to sell also (within the legal limits of this heavily controlled substance --- raw milk)

Friday, May 7, 2010

The trio

Finally the trio is together again and happy!

Cozy bed!

With a warm cozy shelter awaiting the first night back on pasture

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sheep Shelter

We wanted to provide a place for the sheep to get out of bad weather or too much sun, and a place to give birth next year. Instead of building from scratch, we partially closed in the old horse lean to that was in this pasture. While not really a "barn" it does seem to provide protection from the weather. We will fill the interior with straw thick enough to be a nice soft bed.  The overall size if about 10x16ft, the size of a small bedroom.

Here's the kids checking it out before we cleaned up the tools.

Worm Fence?

Ever hear of a Worm Fence? I hadn't until recently but apparently at one time this was the most popular american fence in existance. During the early settler days there were thousands to millions of miles of this type of fencing snaking across the country. The pros of this fence are: easy to build, no postholes necessary, and reasonably strong yet see through. The cons are: a large supply of material needed. It is basically just logs of any type stacked on each other and laid in a zig zag pattern across the area.

We needed this fence becasue of two reasons.
  1. On the east side of the orchard the ground is very shallow. Hardpan is often only a couple of inches under the surface. That makes for a very difficult time installing TPosts! This fence seemed a natural fit since it requires no posts!
  2. With a traditional TPosts and wire fence, the turkeys housed in the orchard area would have a difficult time getting to the open pasture. I have leanred from experience that adult turkeys can fly, but prefer not to cross woven wire fences unless necessary. We want the turkeys to have free range of the pasture so we wanted an easier way to let turkeys pass but block sheep.  This seemed ideal since the top of the fence is natrually a "perch" in their eyes.
First step was acquiring material at a reasonable price. Unlike early settlers I was not prepared to go into the forest to find, cut, and split 12 trees.  Call me lazy but I much preferred the lumber store. But this much normal lumber is costly! Fortunately we discovered one lumber yard with "seconds" of 4x6 pine posts that were inteded to be treated but didnt pass inspection. We swung a deal on 100 of these that was too good to pass up. As the forklift dropped the two full pallets of these on our flatbed I began to wonder... never had I seen the tires quite so flat! The owner did some quick calcualtions and happily stated "It should'nt be over 4500 lbs." Well, the bad news was my trailer is rated for only 2080 lbs cargo weight! It was a VERY slow ride home at 20mph :)

Building the fence was actually quite easy. Here's some pics:

Unloading the trailer to set the pieces

Cutting some end pieces

The Job Inspector Arrives - How am I doing?

Almost Done!

Checking for Strength

And here is the finished product. In the foreground you can see the woven wire fence that makes up the south end of the orchard.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sheep arriving early!

Due to scheduling conflicts with my day job... we have made arrangements to receive our flock of sheep early. Instead of arriving on the 15th this month they will be here saturday. This has created a bit of extra work to accomodate them.

Last night we started on the orchard fencing, to keep the sheep seperate from the fruit trees. This fence will be creative, with one side being 8ft woven wire on the garden side. 2 sides being 4 ft woven wire and tposts, and the fourth side being a good old fashioned "worm" fence. These are self standing wooden fences without posts. I chose this to prevent the problems trying to sink tposts into this hardpan on the low area. The top soil for about 50 ft is 1-2 inches deep in this area.

We also started on the sheep shelter, closing in one of the old horse sehlters partly to give them a warm, dry place to escape the weather and sunshine. This will be used mostly for birthing next year.

Another project is to use some 18" rebar stakes to stake down the oldest part of the pasture perimeter fence. It is pretty loose and instead of rehanging the whole thing we are going to try to save time by driving these stakes in the hol dhte wire to the ground. That should lessen the chances of predators (stray dogs and coyotes) sneaking in under the fence to attack the young lambs.

Hopefully a few hours each night after work will be enough to finish before saturday!