Watch this shocking video warning farmers not to use certain words in front of their ‘holiday’ birds…
Watch this shocking video warning farmers not to use certain words in front of their ‘holiday’ birds…
I was just settling in to write my daily post when an email arrived from C. at Spyder Ranch. Perhaps foolishly, I allowed myself to be distracted and opened the email. It contained this link to a marvelous documentary about Dr. Temple Grandin.
I first came across Dr. Grandin’s work many years ago when my mother said I had to read Thinking in Pictures. I confess I didn’t do every thing my mother told me to do and never did get around to reading the book, but Dr. Grandin’s work has been on my radar ever since. More recently, I was at a meeting of fellow livestock breeders and someone had brought along a copy of Humane Livestock Handling, a fascinating book that gets into the nitty gritty of how to better move livestock from point A to point B. Aimed more at larger operations, it reminded me about her work and how fascinating it was that someone with autism could have had such a huge impact on commercial agriculture.
Then, at the Sypder Ranch Christmas do, C. mentioned she was reading Animals Make Us Human and I knew I needed to get my finger out and get caught up on my way over due reading!
And then, the link to the documentary arrived in my in-box and guess what I’ve been doing during my designated blogging time? Yep. It’s great. I suggest you settle in with a cup of tea (if you haven’t already seen it) and use your designated blog-reading time to watch. The documentary is not only of interest to anyone who works with livestock, it provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of Asperger’s and autism, and the many challenges faced by individuals who must find ways to cope with the mainstream world.
(I love watching documentaries, btw – and am tempted to request your suggestions… except then I know you’d send me your favourites and I might never write another blog post again!! And, a belated thank you to those who suggested some amazing-sounding cookie recipes! Hoping to get back into baking mode soon and will report on my findings…)
…our lives as humans are enriched by getting to know the creatures in our care as the quirky, unique creatures they are.
What a long day yesterday turned out to be! The morning started terribly sadly when I was down at the turkey field and looked over to see the vet standing over the fallen body of Star, a lovely old horse who has been old for as long as we’ve lived in the neighbourhood (since 1996).
Star was a bit of an institution around these parts – owned by the delightful T. S., who has been an honorary guardian of Elk Lake Park for many, many years. Riding his other horse, Marhsall, often T. S. could be seen leading old Star as the three of them set off for long rides through the maze of trails in the park. Star, at the grand old age of 38 had been part of T. S’s life since he was a three year-old just learning the riding ropes. It seemed like Star would just keep on trucking… forever – and, indeed, he remained quite healthy and spritely right up until the end when, at last, his heart just gave out.
Relating this news to a friend, said friend shared a rather sad story about a dog who suffered from seizures and had to be put down. The point of the story was not to out-sad the loss of the horse but rather to say that before the dog was put down R. had never considered it possible that one could be emotionally slayed by the demise of a ‘just a dog.’
And yet, it happens – they worm their way into our hearts and even if we know one is ailing or ancient or beyond treatment and that the kindest thing to do is relieve their suffering, it can be devastating when a beloved pet dies.
This conversation then moved on to talking about the farm animals and how hard it is when you raise animals for meat to bond with them, name them, learn all their quirks and preferences only to have to plan their final one-way trip off the farm. Before I started raising turkeys, you would never have convinced me that turkey departure day would be a tough day, but it is. I totally understand now how some people have a special turkey or two around with pet status. They are funny, mischievous, intelligent birds in their way, and I thoroughly enjoy their interactions with each other, with me, with the other animals, and with visitors to the farm.
Later in the evening at Spyder Ranch the conversation once again turned to critters, this time to a couple of hens. One might think that one chicken is pretty much the same as any other chicken, but that would only be if you haven’t had the pleasure of spending time with hens and getting to know just how unique each personality is.
The conversation went something like this:
C: Did you know one of your hens comes over here every day to visit?
I immediately thought it must be Lucy, the melodramatic red-head who conned me into pulling her out of the specialty laying flock and giving her private accommodations in the hay shelter. A number of weeks ago, Lucy (a fluffy orange buff orpington) refused to come out of the henhouse in the morning. She clung grimly to the perch, wheezing and hacking. She sounded like she was on death’s door, so I picked her up, tucked her under my arm, and took her from the hen pen to a dog kennel in the hay shelter where I could isolate her from the other birds, keep a close eye on her, and pamper her a bit. For as long as I was carrying her she coughed and gagged and wheezed and, to be honest, I didn’t think was likely to make it beyond the end of my morning rounds.
I prepared her some breakfast, gave her a dish of water, and left her alone while I continued with the chores. She got very quiet, hunkered down, and had a nap. That was the last time she ever coughed or wheezed – not because she had crossed the rainbow bridge but because she must have just had something stuck in her craw and that something got unstuck… Either that, or she had figured life might be more interesting if she wasn’t with her same-old, same-old roomies.
I monitored her for a week, just in case there was some sort of respiratory infection going on and then, on the morning when I reached inside the dog kennel to return her to her flock mates she flew the coop. It was like she had planned the whole thing – she burst out of that kennel like she’d been shot out of a cannon. She sprinted for the hog pen and happily chowed down on their breakfast.
She has been free ranging ever since, partnering up with Fritz, the frizzle bantam (a story for another day) and, each evening, putting herself to bed in the dog kennel. Obviously, when C. mentioned that one of my hens was roaming, I assumed it was Lucy.
But no, turns out it is one of my new layers who are still living up near the house. Apparently, each morning she hops the fence that runs along the cedar hedge and saunters over to the Spyder Ranch chicken pen… She snacks all along the way and then pulls faces at C’s hens knowing, I suppose, that they are not currently ranging around and, therefore, can’t catch her.
Then, she meanders back to our place and melts back into the crowd. I had no idea she was missing as each morning the correct number of birds march down the ramp of the chicken coop.
The conversation continued:
Me: Did you know one of your hens comes over to my place every morning?
Rebel, it turns out, is well named. She refuses to lay her egg in the henhouse (she prefers the container of oyster shell) and refuses to stay anywhere near C’s hen pen during the day. Instead, she marches over to my place each morning and straight into the hog pen for breakfast. She and Lucy politely ignore each other and gobble up whatever they can before the hogs chase them away.
At dusk last week, Rebel strode off across the horse paddock heading for home but somehow thought she wasn’t going to get back into the coop at C’s on time because she turned around, jumped up on top of my truck and started grumbling and complaining. Then she started shouting at me, the noise a hen might make if she were able to crow. Thinking she might have been locked out (she had been a bit late heading for home) I popped her into another dog crate beside Lucy and there she stayed until morning.
“The other girls were calling for her like they knew she was missing,” C. said.
Rebel has since moved her departure time up a little to give herself a bit of extra leeway for the commute and has not missed an evening lock-up since.
It’s not like I think of the animals as humans in hog suits or chicken costumes, but you really don’t have to spend a whole lot of time with them to discover just how unique each individual is.
With a relatively small farm it’s possible to respond to those idiosyncrasies and accommodate odd birds like Rebel and Lucy. No matter how much one might like animals, I just can’t see how that could be possible in a large operation with thousands of birds or hogs or whatever housed together. Which is too bad because I don’t think it’s only the animals that miss out: our lives as humans are enriched by getting to know the creatures in our care as the quirky, unique creatures they are.
The hog water troughs have long proved to be a challenge – the pigs love to dump them over, climb into them, fill their mouths with dirt and then rinse and spit into them…
The ducks are the only creatures who are perhaps even worse at fouling (fowling?) containers of water. They blow their beaks under water to clear out the mud and sludge they accumulate while sifting through sludge looking for… whatever they are looking for. Anyway, between that delightful habit, their incessant splashing and dunking, and the liberal amounts of poop they deposit while they are busy floating around in places they don’t belong, they make a mess of the hog water quicker than you can say, “[Duck] Bottoms Up!”
With all that in mind, I decided to try a new watering system for the hogs. Inspired by a similar set-up over at my neighbour’s place, I bought a hog nipple and a couple of threaded bits so I could convert a garbage can into a covered watering system.
Dad and I set about installing what appeared to be a pretty simple set-up. We wrapped all the relevant threads in plumber’s tape, drilled a big hole in the side of the plastic garbage can, and then proceeded to fasten all the bits together. We screwed the hog nipple into Part A, put Part A a on the outside of the garbage can and then threaded Part B onto Part A, but inside the garbage can, sandwiching the wall of the can between the two parts. Sounds ludicrously complicated but was actually very simple.
We put some water in the garbage can so it just covered the new hog nipple installation and went and had dinner.
When we returned to check on the water level, it had dropped to just below the ring. We figured we didn’t have a good enough seal, perhaps due to the ridges on the garbage can, so we dug out our our handy dandy Roof Patch stuff and applied it liberally.
We repeated the water test and… noticed that the water level was dropping even more rapidly. Not only that, there was the distinctive sound of water dribbling… A closer inspection revealed that the problem had nothing to do with the nipple installation but everything to do with a nail-sized puncture wound on the back side of the garbage can!
At this point in the proceedings Dad had a nostalgia attack.
“”What we need here are pot menders.”
This elicited a blank look from me. Pot menders? Who mends pots, anyway? Apparently, during and after WWII, all of England was told to mend their pots by none other than the Queen.This was done using something called pot menders. The following image showed up in my email inbox at 2am that night as Dad thought he was losing his mind and remembering something that never existed.
Sure enough, these double washer-type doohickeys were fastened together on either side of the hole in the kettle or pot, fixing the broken item. It occurred to me that these days if my kettle stops working I run out and buy a new one and toss the old one in the trash bin. I don’t think you could buy anything like this any more, except maybe on E-bay and besides, I don’t think plastic would respond well to this treatment.
Needless to say, our supply of pot menders was non existent, so we cast our minds around to see if we could find another solution. Duct tape? Pond liner patches glued to the inside of the can with Roof Patch goop? Some sort of rubbery plug?
In a flash of inspiration Dad thought of roofing screws which are backed with a built-in rubber washer. We found one, slathered it with Roof Patch goop, and screwed it (gently) into the hole.Roofing screw to the rescue!Our improvised version of a pot mender in position.
The final step was to add water and wait. The can sat overnight and we lost nary a drop of water!
The next big hurdle is installing it in the hog paddock in such a way that the hogs can’t tip it over. Stay tuned… because, yes, there is yet more to come on the subject of water containers…
During the recent cold snap, I was having my usual problems keeping all the animals watered. There are two main issues to deal with. First, all the water on our long, skinny farm-let originates at the top of the hill at the house. Miles of hoses with various junctions and side shoots and connectors and whatnot distribute water from the tap at the top to animal and poultry pens all the way down to the bottom of the hill. It is not practical to coil up all those hoses and drag them inside each night. Leaving them dripping works as long as the temperature doesn’t dip too low, though it does waste water and results in nasty little ice patches all over the place. The other problem is that the hoses zig and zag, go up and over obstacles and around corners and without fail, those bends and kinks are where ice blocks form, shutting down the system downstream from the blockage.
After I win the lottery (or, maybe I should try one of those crowd funding projects) I will install a frost-free in-ground water system with frost free taps all over the place… But until then, when the hoses freeze I am stuck schlepping hot water in containers from the house.
The water needs to be hot because the second problem that develops is the water in the various buckets and tubs freezes. When it isn’t seriously cold, it isn’t hard to smash through the layer of ice on top to get to open water below. When it stays cold for several days or when the temperatures plunge, the layer of ice is too thick to break.
This problem of the top layer freezing was addressed in the current issue of Small Farm Canada (with thanks to regular reader, blogger, and fellow farmer, Sailors Small Farm for pointing this out…). In a short how-to article it was suggested that a piece of closed cell foam insulation cut to fit inside the bucket would keep the water from freezing. The example shown was for a small pail being used by chickens. Holes large enough for the chickens to dip their beaks in had been cut in the foam so the birds could get at the un-frozen water.
As it turned out I had some of this stuff around and thought it might work to stop the goat water container from freezing over.
First I roughly measured the foam – and cut it to size.
I cut a small opening on one side so they could get their muzzles in to drink.
Then, I waited to see what would happen. The goats drank out of the gap just fine and immediately under the foam lid the water did not freeze. But, all around the edges, ice formed the first night. The ice layer grew thicker and it became increasingly difficult to peel off the layer of foam each morning so the goats could get at the ever-smaller water hole in the middle. By the fourth day, the foam was completely frozen into the surface and disintegrated when I tried to peel it back.The opening was the first part to freeze, which wasn’t too surprising…After a few days of being able to peel back the foam, it froze to the surface and came apart when I tried to lift it…It was impossible to remove the last shred of insulation… I went back to the old system of pouring piping hot water into the bucket to thaw a hole and warm up the rest of the water enough that the goats would have a good, long drink.
The article suggests that the system is most useful inside a hen house where the temperature is right around freezing but not seriously cold. I’d have to say that when this is the case it really isn’t that big a deal to chip a hole in the skim of ice anyway. Alas, much as I had hoped this would be a great solution to my bucket-freezing problems, it seems I will have to keep looking for other methods and keep experimenting.
Today’s Blogher/NaBloPoMo prompt:“Tell us about a time when you took the less traveled path.”
Who knew there were actual mountains plunked in the middle of England? [Wikipedia]
When I was fresh out of high school I strapped on a backpack and headed for Europe. First stop was England where a fair few of my relatives lived. Being of an adventurous nature, I thought it would be cool to do a bit of exploring by bicycle.
A couple of problems presented themselves. For one thing, I had no bike and for another, no money. This meant I was crashing on various relatives’ couches, camping, and staying in youth hostels. At one such hostel in the Lake District, a small sign at the entrance stated, “Bicycles for Rent.’ The rate was cheap (or I wouldn’t have proceeded) and I was young (and a tad under-informed, or I wouldn’t have proceeded). My map interpretation skills left something to be desired -when I had a peek at a map of England, I noticed that the Lake District was over on the left and Newcastle (not far from some friendly relatives – with a couch) was over on the right. And it didn’t look like there was a whole lot of distance between the two points.
Which there wasn’t, on the map – but I soon learned that the skinny neck of England is full of some very steep mountains, inclement weather, and vicious beasts.
Having rented a heavy duty, old-fashioned ‘shopping bike,’ I loaded all my belongings (it was early in my trip, I hadn’t learned, yet, about the difference between essentials and excess baggage) into the bike panniers, the handlebar basket, and my backpack. Then I started to pedal, setting off on what I thought would be a pleasant trip across the country. The total distance to the nearest relative’s house was only 97 miles and I figured that being young and fit I could easily make it to the other end before dark.
The hills began immediately and with all my heavy gear strapped to my person and my bicycle and the total lack of gears to choose from on said bicycle, it wasn’t long before I began to sweat. I stopped to peel off a layer or two and the badly loaded bike flipped over into the ditch. I hauled it out and climbed aboard. The hill was soon so steep, I could no longer pedal, but had to resort to pushing my unwieldy load up and up and more up and up.
I ate an apple as I slogged along, not daring to lose more time by stopping. This bit of nourishment soon wore off and, on a downhill section, I ate a scone. This, too, wore off halfway up another massive hill so I ate a hard-boiled egg. I was now out of food until I found some sort of village which, I had been led to believe, were to be found around every corner. Not, apparently, on this route, The road I was on clawed its way through a wild part of England that nobody had ever thought to warn me about. No vehicles passed. Certainly there were no pedestrians to worry about running over. Just miles and miles of hills, leading toward higher mountain-like hills, dotted with sheep and stone walls and, as the road snaked higher, vicious wind and ice pellets.
I put back on my layers, took turns gripping the icy handlebars with one hand and then the other, blew on my frozen digits and then stuffed one hand at a time under my thick sweater.
It was about this point that I spotted a little sign off to the side of the road, a sign placed at the entrance to a picturesque path that led, enticingly, down hill. “This path rejoins the road farther on.” The sign sounded promising as the road was heading up yet another steep incline. I figured some clever engineer had built this gentle path to go around the hill and I would save myself a good deal of time by taking this shortcut.
I veered off the road and down the path less travelled. Almost as soon as I had headed down into a glade of trees just starting to bud (it was early spring when I made this journey) the wind dropped, the evil hail/sleet stopped, and the sun came out. I stopped to peel off my now-soaked layers and for a short few minutes, felt smug.
This feeling ended at about the same time the path disappeared. One moment it was there, the next, I was on some sort of bone-rattling jumble of rocks and gravel scattered willy-nilly over an increasingly steep hillside. And, while I was still headed in a generally downhill direction, it was no longer clear at all where on earth I was supposed to be going.
Run-off from the hills above gurgled and splashed over mossy rocks and when I could no longer thread my way through the chaotic mess, I hopped off and once again pushed the bike. Actually, it was more like I skidded along, trying not to let go of the monstrously heavy beast as it slithered and bucked its way along like a feisty pony determined to be free.
At first I tried to lift the bike over the worst of the rivulets, but soon the trickles of water were more like rivers and I gave up and splashed my way doggedly onward, still convinced that sooner or later I would, indeed, rejoin the road.
The size of the rocks grew as I made my way along until I was in the midst of some wild boulder strewn landscape, moss everywhere, water gushing all around me. I thought of shouting for help, but the water was now so loud and the wind had picked up again and even had there been anybody anywhere nearby I doubt they would have heard me.
I considered turning around and dragging myself and the bike back up the hill, but that seemed too much like giving up and, besides, I was ravenous by this point and I knew there was no food back there anywhere.
So I kept going and would have kept going except I slipped on a particularly slick boulder perched on the side of the hill. My feet flew out from under me and though I tried to stay upright, the weight of the bike, all my unbalanced gear, and the total lack of traction sent me sailing off the top edge of the boulder and onto a thick tangle of brambles below. The bicycle landed on top of and behind me, wedging my backpack between the bike frame and the base of the boulder.
With my arms pinned behind me and entangled in the backpack straps I could not move. I imagined somebody eventually finding my bleached bones in a heap framed by the remains of the rusty bicycle, the tattered orange ribbons formerly known as my backpack caught in my rib cage. They would speculate what on earth this girl with a backpack full of poetry books had been doing in such a desolate place, perhaps the last desolate place in all of England.
This, of course, was long before the days of cell phones. Nobody had any idea where I was or what I was doing. My dropping in on the relatives was supposed to be a jolly nice surprise. Hah!
It took some time and some contortionistic moves but eventually I was able to free myself. I, fortunately, was relatively unharmed – superficial cuts, scrapes, bruises and a raging hunger that had me eyeing the moss for its possible nutritional content. The bike, sadly, was not in such good shape.
The crash had dislodged the chain and the chain was hidden behind a steel plate. I supposed this was to prevent pants cuffs from becoming entangled, but it meant there was no way for me to pop the chain back into position. The bike had no tool kit and though I was travelling with very important items like brass rubbing equipment, a good luck jade elephant, and my John Denver songbook, I did not have a screwdriver.
There was nothing to be done except drag the broken bike downhill. I certainly wasn’t going back up at this point and I figured that this being England and all, surely sooner or later I would have to come across some sign of human habitation.
And, indeed, after half an hour or so of slogging through more streams and around more boulders and over more fallen logs, I came to a fence. Never have I been so thrilled to see a sign of development in a rural area!
I threw the bike, then the backpack, and finally myself over the fence and surveyed the scene before me.
I had emerged into an open meadow. The rich green spring grasses were soaked after the earlier rain. White dots moved about in the field and I realized with glee that I had wound up in a sheep field! This was a great sign, for surely where there were sheep there would be a shepherd. And, where there was a shepherd, surely there would be a screwdriver!
I started dragging the bike across the field and soon spotted a gate way over on the far side. I was making my way toward this promising destination when the sheep spotted me.
I had always been under the impression that sheep are sweet, docile creatures that travel in groups and generally try to stay out of trouble. This might be true of ewes and lambs, but it is most certainly not true of a ram who believes his ladies are in peril.
The ram, who sported a pair of impressive horns, took one look at me dragging my broken bike across his field and decided I was clearly up to no good. He lowered his head, took aim, and charged. I managed to get the bike between me and the charging beast, The impact as he battered the bike was impressive. I staggered backwards, still holding the bike in front of me. I yelled and tried to make myself look fierce while stumbling toward the gate, fending off the crazed ram with kicks and arm waves and strings of expletives not at all appropriate for a young woman.
Somehow I managed to get myself and the bike through the gate where I collapsed in the grass, gasping for breath.
Which is where the farmer found me. He looked completely baffled to see me there, by now leaning up against his gate post.
“Where did you come from, lass?”
“Through your sheep field.”
“But… there’s nothing up that way. And you had to come past Jock?”
“Best you come inside and have a cup of tea with my wife.”
Given I was about to expire with starvation, I agreed. And, while I enjoyed a lovely cup of tea and a warm scone with cream and preserves in the farmhouse, the kind farmer fixed my bike.
Before long, I was back on my way with instructions as to how to get back to the main road. Several hours after I had taken my detour, I spotted a little sign off to the side of the road, “This path rejoins the road farther on.” Doggedly, I pedaled right on past.
Sometimes the road less travelled is less travelled for a reason!