Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Setting a fox trap

We spent a little time today setting a live trap for the fox that has been stealing eggs, chickens, and turkeys. The kids had fun helping to camouflage the trap with sticks, grass, etc.  Hopefully we will find a well fed grey fox in it  by morning.

For bait I decided to use fish, a can of sardines in fact. The open can should produce a good aroma to draw the fox in. After all, who can resist the smell of sardines?

Kaelyn brings some collected tall grass for camouflage.

Kaelyn and Hunter place grass and sticks over the trap.

The trap is placed against the wall of the chicken coop housing the baby turkeys. Around the trap I placed some old pine logs.

Hunter adds the finishing touches

Grey fox returns

Even though the tracks in the front yard look exactly like bobcat tracks... This morning I awoke to find a grey fox stalking the turkeys. Chickens were safely tucked away in the coop but turkeys were roosting at the pond. I attempted to meet him outside with the shotgun but I was too late. Tomorrow I might try waiting up for him.

UPDATE: Unfortunately I found a young headless turkey inside the coop today. Apparently the fox tore open a corner of the wire mesh and entered the coop, biting the head of a young turkey. I repaired the wire in the corner and reattached some roof panels that had blown off in the wind. That should make things more secure for the birds.

Also, I noticed that all of the duck eggs are gone off the nest, both the good ones and the bad ones. The nest is completely empty and Jill (the mother duck) had abandoned it. The fox must have had eggs for breakfast.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Garden planting

We managed to get most of the garden planted today. It seems late to be planting on memorial day, but the weather this year did not allow earlier planting.

We all worked together and got all of the definitely outdoor plants in the ground (the non-greenhouse friendly ones). So far we have :

Garlic (from last year)
Cucumbers and squash (started in the greenhouse)

We are trying something new this year. Instead of staking the peas and beans, we planted corn in the same row. Hopefully the corn will provide natural poles for the vining plants to hold to. We also tried the same thing in the cucumber row, planting 3 corn plants around each cucumber plant.

It was great fun with the kids. They both love gardening and did an awesome job today!

Bobcat Attack claims some chickens

This morning brought a new surprise. For the last few weeks we have had occasional  occurrences of piles of feathers here and there. We were unsure what was responsible, until today. The first clue that something was amiss was actually waking up to a quiet morning.... no roosters crowing outside our window at 5am. I remember noticing the quiet and thinking "had I locked the chickens in last night?" The farm was just so quiet.

Around 6:30 I headed out to start on the garden, our chosen project for the morning.  That's when I realized that things were truly not right. Between the pond and the garden lay a dead chicken surrounded by a couple of piles of feathers.  As I surveyed the farm, I found a total of 3 dead chickens and 7 areas of scuffles with feathers left behind. All of the chickens were golden sex links.

The chickens had little to no physical damage until you looked closely. On two of them i found 2 puncture wounds at the base of the neck. There were no signs that the predator responsible had tried to eat them.

What had done this nighttime attack? Well at first I wasn't sure. What and why would something kill all these chickens (we think a total of 6 are missing) and not eat them? Why were the bodies fully intact?  I do know it happened in the early morning hours because at 7am the bodies were still warm even though the temp outside was 50 or so. Time to look for tracks!

Sure enough, I found tracks. Fortunately it had rained just the day before yesterday and there were several mud puddles around with lots of soft mud. In one of hte puddles in the front yard I discovered perfect tracks. The tracks match the shape and size of... a bobcat. That explains it!

Here are some track pictures:

So tonight we have locked the chickens safely away, and readied the shotgun just in case. This does accentuate the need to purchase a better farm protection weapon than a shotgun. a shotgun is going to be difficult to use effectively in a case like this, but is better than nothing.  We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Anxious turkeys!

These ladies seem anxious to move into their new but unfinished coop. That is a good sign!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Work continues on turkey roost - Design #3

I managed to get some more time on the new turkey roost today. The pics below give a better idea of where this one is going.

It's actually a hybrid of a roost and a coop. The area on the left end is a mostly enclosed coop that will be enclosed with chicken wire and has a nearly solid top. It will serve as a place to lock some in if necessary (as in when first moving to the roost) and also provide a nesting spot to lay eggs later.

Along the front (the high side) will be a few roost extending across the entire side, a few feet below the slopped roof. This will provide both more area and a higher roost for those birds that prefer height.

The roofing will be solid tin roof panels. After pricing the alternatives and considering the overall weight, tin seemed the best option. Wood would have been cheaper but the weight would be prohibitive. This thing still has to be dragged behind the tractor, so weight is important.

Front View

Back View

(shows the door opening to the coop)

End view (will attach to tractor on this end)

Notice the different spacing of the boards on the coop and roost sides

Friday, May 27, 2011

Building a new Turkey Roost

With the teenagers removed from the brooder due to overcrowding, it is becoming urgent to get the new turkey roost for the pasture finished. Moving the little turkeys out to pasture at around 3 to 4 weeks is the goal. At that time they are fully feathered so they can stand the colder temps, and they need to learn to forage for food. Setting good habits now really does help their development through the summer. It apparently takes practice to catch a grasshopper!

This year I am trying a new approach. You may recall last year we built a "turkey hoop house" which failed miserably at proper containment and egg laying. Then we installed a test "turkey tree roost" built from old lumber and tall poles. That one worked quite well, keeping hte turkeys happy until the hans started laying eggs and wanting to nest. Putting the best of these two ideas together brings me to this year's design. This will be a roost, shelter, nesting area, feeding area, and containment area all built into one.

The overall size is 8 feet wide by 12 feet long on the ground. It has a sharp pitched roof to prevent roosting on top and two internal sections. One will be open area with broad perches and feeders, the other will be combination storage area above and containment area below. Storage area can be used for bags of feed and a large water tank, Along one side (the highest side) will be extra perches along the entire 12 foot length for extra room at night. Once finished, the coop/roost will be easily moveable, built on skids and pullable by tractor or gator.

Today I built the basic frame. Tomorrow we add the roof supports and roosts, then close in the containment section.  Hopefully it wont take too long to do this (not sure if the weather will cooperate).

A couple of pics of the progress

Here you see the three frame units built on the ground and ready to stand up on the skids. On the left of each as pictured here is the tall open end of hte roost.

Here is a shot of hte progress made today. Sorry for hte dark pic, it was after sundown when I hada chance to snap a pic. You can see the 3 frame supports now mounted to the skids, with a partial roof support. (that was an interesting experience to build alone)

At this point I am designing as I go. Hopefully it will turn out good enough to build another just like it. IF I do, I'll post the plans here.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Turkeys moved to chicken coop

We moved 48 Narragansett turkeys to the chicken coop today. The brooder pen in the barn was just getting overcrowded! We started loosing a bird or two every day, apparently due to trampling. It seems that the max # turkey poults in this space (about 12x12) is about 100 birds. Whenever the number climbs above that we start losing a few.

Having the big ones out allowed me to remove the separation in the pen and give full space to the youngest poults again. They will be much happier and safer now! The older birds (the ones that will be ready by thanksgiving) are also doing well in one pen of hte chicken coop. We aren't going to mix the chickens and turkeys, so all the chickens are in one pen and all the turkeys in the other. 

This is only a temporary situation. We purchased the lumber to build a new turkey roost today. It costs about $100 without roofing. This is going to be a new design of shelter / roost that is move able, pasturable, has feeders high enough so the sheep cant reach it has a roof, can contain young birds but lets older birds free range and roost in shelter. It will be very easy to add nest boxes next winter to keep the eggs laid in a contained spot. IF the design works, this will be the best combination coop / roost  we have had yet. The old turkey hoop house will be torn apart tomorrow to reuse some of hte materials.

Stay tuned for pictures of hte build process and  the design!

Grey narangansette turkey

We pulled 9 hatched turkeys from the incubator and found this little one. It is the first Narragansett I have ever seen with these colorings. He is nearly grey with just slightly dark stripes. You can see the difference in this pic with his siblings.

Wonder what he will look like grown up!

Friday, May 20, 2011

No more turkeys lost :)

Since dividing the brooder into two age groups we have not lost a single turkey! Apparently the problem causing one or two to die daily was in fact being trampled by their siblings. The older birds would step on the little ones frequently.

Once again following nature does the trick. Separating the ages is what nature does. Eggs laid at different days will hatch together, usually within a week so all siblings are the same size.

The next step is to move the older birds ( your thanksgiving birds) into the pasture son. Time to design and build that third generation turkey portable turkey roost.

Remember counting beans in a jar?

How many turkeys do you see????

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Turkeys struggling, now resolved.

We had one problem worth mentioning with the new turkey pen in the barn. Having such a wide variety of ages living together is not a good idea. In nature it doesn't work that way, as all eggs hatch within days of each other. Once we have turkeys a couple of weeks old they were large enough to trample the newborns. We lost several to this unfortunate reality.

My first response was to move the larger ones out to the orchard area into an old rabbit hutch for protection from the weather. That fails miserably when a few turkeys didn't make it through the cold night. Too much change in temperature too quickly. So we moved them back into the barn.

The next step was to put a couple of 4x8 sheet of plywood together to build a wall to separate the youngers form the olders. Each side had a heater, food, water. This seems to work well! w have not lost a single little one since this change was made.

Out turkeys numbers are lower than we had hoped but we should still end up between 100 and 150 turkeys for sale later this year. Be sure to reserve yours early!

Family visiting the farm

Just when I committed to get caught up on posting, the week comes when we have family visiting the farm. My mom, all of our adult children, and my grandchildren are all staying for a little family reunion (not so little when you have 8 kids!). So far it has been fabulous spending time together and being able to share both ways where our lives have gone. Very likely there won't be much in the way of farm postings until after next week though :)

Times like these remind us that what is really important is our creator, our family, and our relationships.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hard boiled egg smell

Here is a curious note. We eat eggs, lots of them. Fried, scrambled, omelet, boiled, etc. Our eggs are completely free range, and completely soy free, and mostly corn free, fed only organic grains and food scraps. The majority of their diet is from spending their days roaming the yard and pasture consuming everything that moves.

When we travel and are forced to eat breakfast in restaurants, it becomes obvious how different these farm eggs are from factory eggs. It always amazes the kids that factory eggs have yellow yolks. Chickens eggs do NOT naturally have yellow yolks! Instead they are bright orange. Yellow is a sign of a nutritionally deprived egg. But recently I noticed something else different about the eggs from factories served in restaurants.... they smell bad.

Hard boiled factory eggs have a  distinctive sulfur smell. Careful cooking an lessen it to a great degree (don't overcook) but the aroma is still there. We noticed this more than ever this Easter when we bought some cheap factory eggs for coloring. The "egg smell" was overwhelming. But a few days alter when hard boiling our own natural eggs, there was virtually no smell a all. We have tested this several times with the same results. The conclusion - factory produced eggs smell bad when boiled. True free range soy free eggs do not.

This truly makes me wonder what is chemically different in the factory eggs. I am pretty sure it is from the commercial feed used to produce factory eggs, but cant be sure. Our chickens roam over a couple of acres of grass, bugs, and dirt in the sunshine and fresh air where factory egg chickens spend their life in little confined spaces full of noxious odors that are legally unhealthy for factory workers to breathe, fed commercially produced feed made of the cheapest ingredients available (mostly soy and corn, genetically altered to allow extensive pesticide use).

It could be the soy connection. I do not know the science behind it but I do know that feeding abundance of soy to chickens, even organic soy, produces different eggs than feeding a chicken's natural foods. The soy eggs are much more prone to trigger allergies, so they are obviously chemically different from natural eggs. (chickens do not naturally eat soy).

Bottom line, I don't understand this one, but can conclude that another difference between factory and natural eggs is that factory eggs smell bad when boiled, natural eggs do not.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

April enjoying a spring water fountain

We turned on a hose to soak a corner of the pasture and April took advantage for a cool drink. Hogs just love drinking from a hose !