Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

In and Out.

Posted on | February 9, 2012 | 4 Comments

I like to think this blog has universal appeal.  Even if you are a city dweller or a suburbanite, as long as you have kids, pets or, on occasion, really really bad horrific days, you can probably relate.  Perhaps the most significant similarity between us and normal other people is the propensity for all things to want in as soon as they are out.  Or out as soon as they are in.  It’s a law of nature.  Right up there with the rule that an object in motion remains in motion until it smashes through the picture window.  Or for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, otherwise known as As-soon-as-you-make-a-committment-to-eat-healthy-your-daughter-starts-selling-Girl-Scout-cookies-and-there-are-50-boxes-of-Thin-Mints-in-your-dining-room.  That’s just the way it is, folks.

Dogs, of course, are particularly susceptible to this instinctive and inexorable force.

Out! Squirrel! Out! Squirrel! HURRY! SQUIRREL!

Hello? I need to come in and lay on the couch. Hello?

But children are victims of this compulsion, too.

Oh, is it time for school already? Thank God, I mean,...I love you. See you later.

Mom? I forgot something. Mom? Why is the door locked? Mom? Mom?!

However, here on the farm the desire to be in when you are out and out when you are in takes on entirely new meaning.  We are, in essence, a free range farm.  By free range I mean that the animals are allowed to run loose.  Until they get into trouble.  Then they are quickly confined and I shake my head and shrug my shoulders in bewilderment in front of the neighbors as if I had no idea how they got out in the first place.  It’s a tricky schtick, but I like to think that in this country we can get away with being careless and stupid until proven otherwise.  Taking inspiration from some of the greats, I have been known to say:

I do not recall if the chickens were allowed to roam onto your property and dig holes under you azalea bushes for dirt baths.

I would like to state for the record that I was unaware of any wrongdoing on the part of the ducks.  If I had known they were crossing the road in defiance of vehicles with the clear right of way I would have acted immediately.  I will be speaking with those members of my staff responsible for waterfowl behavior and requesting that their actions be reviewed and reported with full transparency.

Failing to secure the gate to the pig pen was a serious error in judgment which I deeply regret.  I take full responsibility for my actions and I ask for privacy for my family as we deal with this difficult incident.

Read my lips—-there will be no more baby goats escaping through cattle panels in order to climb on the hood of your vehicle.

Of course, even when the neighbors are not being plagued by rogue farm animals, there is often a need for various forms of confinement.  The chickens were the latest to find themselves suddenly locked away.

Even though the days have been steadily lengthening, the nest boxes remained empty.  I was convinced the hens were hiding eggs in the hay rolls and every day hoisted a child into the hay for an egg hunt.

Then to make the nest boxes more appealing, I raided the kids’ Easter baskets from last year and filled the nest boxes with a plethora of colored eggs to tempt the hens into laying there.

I’m really not sure how people farm without children.

Despite these methods, the chickens continued to produce a measly 1 or 2 eggs per day.  Out of 31 hens.  I actually didn’t know I had 31 hens.  I was mad when I thought I had 25 hens and was only getting 1 or 2 eggs a day.  But I spent several nights pulling chickens off their roosts and locking them into the coop, which gave me an accurate headcount.  And, boy, was I furious when I found out there were 31 lazy, overfed hens wandering around the property and giving nothing in return except for poop splatters on the deck rail.

So I didn’t even feel bad for them and their pathetic faces behind the bars.

Click...Clack...We would like to file a grievance...

“Hah!  How do you like that?!”  I exclaimed gleefully as I peered into their coop each morning and watched them milling around restlessly as I hauled 5 gallon water containers back and forth to be emptied and refilled.

The penalty box.

“That’ll teach ‘ya!” I yelled as I carried scraps out to the coop each afternoon instead of casually throwing them over the deck into the front yard like usual.

“Serves you right!” I declared as I carried in another 50lb bag of layer pellets to accommodate the increased feed needed now that the chickens weren’t free ranging.

They watched.  They waited.  They gave 1 or 2 eggs each day.

They rushed out in glee when, 6 days later, exhausted from schlepping food, water, and scraps to the coop, I let them all out.  There was a lot of clucking, crowing, and bawking.  It kind of sounded like:  Hah.  How do you like that.  That’ll teach ‘ya.  Serves you right.

But  Pretty and I gave them a nice little haircut as they exited.

A little snip here and a little snip there.

Without their flight feathers, they’re forced to stay in the pasture surrounding the coop.  Lots of bugs and forage.  Close enough to throw the bigger scraps like apple cores and broccoli stems.  Within reach of the water hose.  But nowhere to hide eggs except the nest boxes.  A nice compromise for everyone involved.

Although it isn’t working as well for the guineas and the ducks.  They’ve been kicked out of the pasture.  So they want in.  Of course.

Meanwhile, Magenta’s babies were freed from the kidding barn.  They proved to be healthy and vigorous, even the tiny buckling.  So they were given rambunctious names to go with their rowdy nature.  Behold Ralphie, Rita, and Rosie, in that order:

OK, on the count of 3...

Although, like all young ‘uns, when they were finished jumping on things, knocking things over, and putting everything in their mouths, they headed right back inside their barn and under their heat lamp for a snooze.

The Three Snoozers.

But while the newest goats were testing their freedom, others were finding out that their privileges were revoked.   Coca and Vixen were now restricted to the kidding barn in anticipation of their due dates.

You're kidding, right?

They are due to kid on,…um,…well,..let’s just say…sometime after Magenta.  I’d tell you the specific date but apparently I made a note of it without actually writing it down.  So we are back to the old fashioned method of peeking at udders and looking for birthing discharge.  Yep, as Sir Walter Raleigh has pointed out, being a back-to-the-lander isn’t always a bed of roses and although joys sometimes have a date, we never really know what that date is.  I think that’s what he said.  Probably.  Maybe.

And since I have the honor of being involved in both the beginning and the end of my goats’s sex lives, I had to lock Carmen in the back breeding pen with Jack.

Carmen had the audacity to go back into heat 2 months after she was last placed with a buck.  Which means she didn’t actually get bred back in November.  Or she absorbed her pregnancy.  Or she’s in false heat.  Or, really, who the heck knows?

Since Jack and Carmen were heating things up in the back pen, it was an opportunity for Papa Noel to be let out to explore.  He’s become a sturdy little guy but it didn’t seem smart to confine him with a horny buck and his doe.  So he went from pastured pork:

to free range fatback.  Which caused an uproar both among the standard free rangers and any casual visitors.

“Is that a pig?  Out there loose with the children?  Don’t pigs bite?  Is he eating the pony poop?” they asked.

“What?” I replied.  “Jeez.  Is the pig loose?” (See how that works.)

But, with a bit of time and some initial supervision, order was reestablished.  Or what passes for order.  (Notice I did not say things went back to normal.  What is normal?  I don’t think we do normal.)  One of the benefits of biodiversity in agriculture is that the animals here have never known specialization or species domination.  Around here you might sleep with the goats one night and snuggle up to the livestock guardian dog for a nap the next afternoon.  You might have chickens laying eggs in your hay rack or ducklings in your water trough.  In the scheme of things, what’s the big deal about a loose pig?

Sharing grain.

Taking a tour, escorted by security.

Testing the waters.

A girl and her bacon.

It’s hard to say who’ll be going in and who’ll be going out next week.  Or even tomorrow.  You don’t get into farming for the predictability.  But I did notice there were some bugs eating my spinach in the garden.

And the brussel sprouts do such a great job of holding dew all day that they almost make an automatic waterer.

Might be time for me to put some guineas down in the garden.

Fasten your seat belts, everybody!


4 Responses to “In and Out.”

  1. Diane Cayton-Hakey
    February 9th, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

    The titles you place under your photos leave me in stitches. Love your sense of humor.

  2. Jill
    February 10th, 2012 @ 3:59 am

    Ahhhhh, the kids are so cute!! Papa Noel looks mighty spunky!! Nice writing, Stevie!

  3. Linda Kerlin
    February 10th, 2012 @ 4:46 am

    I have been a subscriber to your post for a bit now and more often than not a good laugh can be had—I was rolling today about the chickens for I can feel your pain for I too have only receive 2-3 eggs a day this winter–and I like you get furious when you feed and pamper, in my case 14 hens,and receive so few eggs– so thanks for the good laugh—I love the pictures of the goat babies for my gals are all grown and no more babies here so thanks for the memories. Many Belssings

  4. Lynda
    February 12th, 2012 @ 4:01 pm

    Between the killer dogs and cranky neighbors, who hitherto told me they didn’t mind at all if my chickens roamed their two and 1/2 acre pasture when I asked ahead of time (!!!), I have been reduced to parking the chickens in the chicken yard. I much preferred it when they were allowed to go out in the pasture. That said, there was a bonus to keeping them corralled this winter. I didn’t lose any to the hawks. Life is good! Oh, and I love your piglet and goats! ~ Lynda

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