29 April 2009

Last and Least

Our final ewe, Enigma, delivered today. It was just a single male, but he was up and on his feet quickly. This ends the lambing season!
Given all the activity with the sheep, and the number of other lambs, it was remarkable how well he was getting around and holding his own with the flock. However, given that he is completely in-bred (his sire produced him by breeding his own mother), there is no question that we'll be butchering him this fall.
Scooter, our Border Collie, is doing his part to bond with the new member of the flock:
This makes a total of 14 lambs from 8 ewes...for a lambing percentage of 175%. This is outstanding, and we could not have asked for better --- especially since we have not had a single death yet this year.

Authorities and Outbreaks

Remember the concerns I expressed last month about the N.A.I.S. (National Animal Identification System)?

When news like the following breaks, it's hard not to imagine some authority in our own country getting a similar sort of hare-brained idea the next time a disease breaks out:

CAIRO (AP) - Egypt began slaughtering the roughly 300,000 pigs in the country Wednesday as a precautionary measure against the spread of swine flu even though no cases have been reported here yet, the Health Ministry said.

The move immediately provoked resistance from pig farmers. At one large pig farming center just north of Cairo, farmers refused to cooperate with Health Ministry workers who came to slaughter the animals and the workers left without carrying out the government order.

"It has been decided [TYF: gotta love that use of the passive, bureaucratic voice] to immediately start slaughtering all the pigs in Egypt using the full capacity of the country's slaughterhouses," Health Minister Hatem el-Gabaly told reporters after a Cabinet meeting with President Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt's overwhelmingly Muslim population does not eat pork due to religious restrictions. But the animals are raised and consumed by the Christian minority, which some estimates put at 10 percent of the population.

Health Ministry spokesman Abdel Rahman estimated there were between 300,000-350,000 pigs in Egypt.

Agriculture Minister Amin Abaza told reporters that farmers would be allowed to sell the pork meat so there would be no need for compensation.

Bravo to the Egyptian farmers who have stood up to the authorities and refused to allow the slaughter of their healthy animals. And be thankful that there is no N.A.I.S. in your country that would allow those authorities to more efficiently locate and target the smaller farmers who might be less able to fight back.

27 April 2009

Getting the Garden Ready

We've been working intensely over the last week or two, getting the garden ready for planting; that is one big reason why blog posting has been so sparse of late.

Before I forget --- for those of you thinking about putting in a garden for the first time, Mrs Yeoman Farmer strongly recommends a book called Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times. If you buy only one gardening book, she says this is definitely the one to get.

But back to our own garden. You may remember that we left several garden beds fallow last year, and ran portable poultry pens full of turkeys up and down them. That proved to be an excellent system. We began preparing those beds on Friday and Saturday, getting ready to plant potatoes in them. There were very few weeds to remove, as the turkeys had wiped them completely out. And the layer of fertilizer the turkeys left behind had broken down over the winter into a nice, rich soil that was easy to work. A severe late-afternoon thunderstorm (of the kind so common here in the upper Midwest in the spring) interrupted our planting, but we did manage to get a trench dug and about half a bed of seed potatoes into the ground.

Mrs Yeoman Farmer plans to use every one of the garden beds this year, which means we need to get some fertilizer onto the ones we used last year. As we don't want to use synthetic fertilizers, and we don't yet have a good compost heap, our "quick and dirty" solution involves putting more birds to work. For the last week, I've had a pen of 15 or so older laying hens moving down a bed that had tomatoes planted on it last year. I'd suspected that these hens had reached the end of their productive laying life, but they have surprisingly been holding their own in the egg department; we've gotten several eggs out of the pen each day, and I'm glad I didn't simply butcher them. So, in addition to wiping out the weeds and getting some fresh fertilizer onto the garden, the pasture pen has proven itself useful in yet another way: letting us test the productivity of suspect hens.

Just this morning, we got a second "tractor" pen moving on another garden bed. This one contains the seventy young chicks (30 broilers and 40 pullets) that we got a few weeks ago; they'd been indoors, in a brooder, until now. We actually could have gotten them outside several days ago, but we've been too busy building pens and taking care of more urgent tasks. Anyhow, this photo gives a good look at the pullet pen (foreground), with the mature hen pen in the background. Because the manure from both of these pens is so fresh, we will need to wait a few weeks before planting them --- and we will need to work the manure into the soil thoroughly. Otherwise, the nitrogen-rich chicken droppings will be too "hot" for newly-planted seedlings.
Mrs Yeoman Farmer wants to add a few more beds to the garden, which will involve the tedious task of "busting sod." Regrettably, she didn't realize we'd need the new beds until after we'd butchered the turkeys last fall; otherwise, we could have used the turkey tractors to clear the sod for us. As it is, I've put the new baby waterfowl (ducklings and goslings) into a pasture pen to at least get the process started. (Given the enormous appetite that goslings in particular have for grass, I figured this would be an excellent job to put them in charge of.) Here is what they've managed to do in just a day and a half:
Given all the work that remains to be done, I can't promise frequent postings over the next few weeks. But I do plan to put more details up about gardening; I really wanted to publish something about it before the planting season, when the information would be more useful for my readers. Stay tuned.

25 April 2009

Turkey Season

Our turkey poults will be arriving in about a week and a half. In the meantime, the wild turkeys in our area have really been out and about. Nearly every morning, we see them strutting around in the neighboring field (35 acres, behind our fenced pasture), their tail feathers fanned majestically.

This afternoon, for the first time, a couple of big toms flew into our pasture --- but then they couldn't find a way out. One was on the sheep side of the pasture and the other was on the goat side; the two of them strutted confusedly up and down the dividing fence, stopping now and then to press themselves into it, not seeming to understand why they couldn't go through it and be together. (Even in the wild, it appears that turkeys are pretty dim-witted.)

Anyway, this had been going on for the better part of an hour before ten-year-old Homeschooled Farm Girl happened to look out and notice it. She came running to find me, and announced, "Daddy, there's a wild turkey on our property! Too bad you can't hunt it."

"I know," I replied, "but it's not hunting season."

HFG thought for a moment, and then asked, "Why don't we chase it into the barn, and then keep it there until turkey season?"

Smart girl. But, as I explained to her, that's not exactly legal. Or sporting.

And the best way to get delicious turkey is to raise it yourself. Which we will be doing, starting in less than two weeks.

20 April 2009

Good Out of Evil

Mrs Yeoman Farmer came across the following story the other day and asked me to share it:

NAIROBI (Reuters) – A Kenyan man bit a python who wrapped him in its coils and hauled him up a tree in a struggle that lasted hours, local media said Wednesday.

Farm manager Ben Nyaumbe was working at the weekend when the serpent, apparently hunting for livestock, struck in the Malindi area of Kenya's Indian Ocean coast.

"I stepped on a spongy thing on the ground and suddenly my leg was entangled with the body of a huge python," he told the Daily Nation newspaper.

When the snake coiled itself round his upper body, Nyaumbe resorted to desperate measures: "I had to bite it."

The python dragged him up a tree, but when it eased its grip, Nyaumbe said he was able to take a mobile phone out of his pocket and phone for help.

When his supervisor came with a policeman, Nyaumbe smothered the snake's head with his shirt, while the rescuers tied it with a rope and pulled.

"We both came down, landing with a thud," said Nyaumbe, who survived with damaged lips and bruising.

The snake escaped from the three sacks it was bundled into.

MYF's comment: "Thank God my ancestors came here on boats 300 years ago, so my kids and I don't have to live some place where giant snakes drag people into trees!"

When I finished laughing, she added: "I'm serious! You can quote me on that. Put it in your blog!"

Slavery, particularly the way it was practiced in the Americas, was a horrendous affront to human dignity; MYF and I would be the last people in the world to wish it on anyone. But it's interesting the way such tremendous good can be drawn even from such a tremendous evil. Beyond freedom from giant serpents, MYF and other descendants of African slaves enjoy liberties and opportunities that are unthinkable on the African continent today --- and we are deeply grateful for that.

With everything in the news these days, it's easy to forget how blessed we are to live in this country --- no matter how our ancestors got here. Sometimes it takes a truly odd news story ("man bites snake") to remind us of that. And to remind us of all the ways in which God can draw good out of the evil that men commit.

I fully expect that, ten years from now, we will all be marveling at the unexpected goods that emerge from these present social and economic difficulties.

12 April 2009

Abundance of Lambs

What a blessed Easter!

I got up this morning and put a leg of lamb in the crock pot, and then headed out to the barn to tend to animals. It was chilly, but sunny and beautiful.

In the barn, we had another beautiful sight: Nera had delivered THREE lambs overnight. This makes two years in a row she's had triplets.

With these two males and one female, we are now up to a total of 13 lambs from seven ewes --- an outstanding lambing percentage of 186% (Licorice's stillborn triplet is the only thing holding us back from 200%). Only one ewe, Enigma, has yet to deliver.

Here's hoping that your Easter is as blessed as ours...

10 April 2009

Unfortunate Footnote

I must add a sad footnote to this morning's post.

I reported that Licorice had a set of twins, because that's what I observed at chore time. Then, after returning from the Good Friday liturgy at our parish this afternoon, I was able to make a more thorough examination the sheep pen. In the far corner was an object that appeared at first glance to be afterbirth...but something about it didn't appear quite right. It was darker than usual.

Looking more closely, I recognized the shape of a black lamb's body. It was much smaller than Nera's two surviving lambs, and its limbs were crumpled into odd angles. The umbilical cord was still attached. Given all of the evidence, I'm almost certain this lamb was stillborn and never took a breath.

It is terribly sad, and the first time we have ever had a stillbirth, but I suppose it makes for a timely Good Friday reflection. Particularly because this is a death from which good will flow almost immediately: triplet lambs don't get as large as twins or singletons --- a third sibling must share the same limited amount of milk (unless we bottle-feed one of them, which is a huge and time-consuming hassle).

So, at least the two survivors will now have a better shot at reaching their full growth potential. Life ends, life goes on.

Farm life is wonderful, even when it's sad.

Lambs Keep Coming

The lambing season continues at full tilt; this morning, Licorice gave us the surprise of two beautiful black twins (one male and one female).
Notice that one of the twins has a white spot on the top of his head. It's more clearly visible in this photo:

Licorice's sire, Buddy, had the same little white spot. Buddy was by far our most dangerous ram, and tried on several occasions to kill me. Whenever I was out in the pasture alone, and particularly if I was downhill from him or working with one of the other members of the flock, he'd run right at me at full speed. If I didn't get out of the way, he'd lower his head and launch himself into my body. A couple of times, I didn't see him coming and he managed to slam into me at full force; had the impact been slightly different, he easily could've broken my leg. He was the only animal I was tempted to personally kill with my own hands, right there in the pasture --- but I managed to summon the self-control that Buddy himself lacked. Taking him to the butcher, and then enjoying those fifty pounds of ground mutton, was a deeply satisfying experience.

After one of Buddy's male progeny, Coco Puff, proved equally destructive (and also had to be butchered), we concluded once and for all that we wouldn't keep any other males from his line. We now joke that the white spot on a ram lamb's head is the "Mark of Buddy," analogous to the "Mark of Cain." All ram lambs start out and sweet and innocent as the one Licorice delivered this morning, and we enjoy them while they remain so. But given our history with his particular genetic line, he will eventually do much better service to us in the freezer than as a breeder.

Hard to believe that it's April 10th and we've already had six ewes deliver ten lambs. Just two more ewes to go! (And one of them, Licorice's sister, Nera, is acting like she's preparing for labor --- so stay tuned.)

09 April 2009

Dilemma Was Busy

How else to explain what happened yesterday? After putting up last evening's blog post, putting things away in my office and the house, and getting ready for bed...I couldn't fight the sense that I should put my boots back on and take one last look at all the new animals in the barn. Being a farmer is oftentimes not unlike being a parent: you feel many of the same anxieties and worries that accompany being entrusted with new little lives that are utterly dependant and unable to fend for themselves.

My first stop was the upstairs portion of the barn, where the chicks and goslings are being brooded. My primary anxiety about them concerned the heat lamps; it was going to be a chilly night, and if anything happened to one of the big 250W infrared bulbs we could easily lose a large number of birds by morning. (Don't ask me how I know.) But everything was perfect with the birds: they were spread out like a solid blanket under the heat lamps, twittering softly as they slept. The waterer was almost empty, so I made a mental note to fill it first thing in the morning. In the meantime, I didn't want to disturb their sleep.

From there, I lifted the trap door and made my way down the stairs to the sheep area. It was pitch black, so I shone a flashlight all around. Much to my surprise, I spotted two more brand new little lambs, still dripping wet. They were standing unevenly on their feet, near Bianca, who still had afterbirth coming out of her rear end. Scooter, for his part, was standing just on the other side of the fence and watching them protectively.

I'll have to check, but I'm almost certain that three ewes delivering five lambs on a single day is a new record for us --- and especially impressive given that we had only one breeding ram in with the flock. I've long thought Dilemma was a beautiful animal, but this new feat has proven his stud abilities definitively.

Given all the new little lambs underfoot, I thought it prudent to leave the lights on in the downstairs portion of the barn overnight. This morning, I managed to get some pictures of Bianca's new arrivals (which are one male and one female):
Ever wonder how the mother ewes can tell which lambs are their own, when so many lambs of roughly the same size and color are running around? Especially at night? The answer is smell. Each lamb produces a distinctive scent near its hindquarters, and the ewes identify their own lambs that way. Bianca demonstrates the correct technique here:
And as a lamb latches on to nurse, you'll often see the ewe sniffing the lamb's rear end to make sure this is one of her own. If it isn't, she'll twist away and then butt the lamb with her head.

I could sit on the barn steps and watch these animals for hours. But now it's time to wrap this up and get back to work.

08 April 2009

Lots of New Arrivals

It was a busy day on the farm, with new animals arriving left and right.

The first batch was planned long in advance: our new baby poultry. The local feed store pooled orders from many customers, and placed a bulk order with a nearby hatchery. Today, all the newly-hatched birds arrived, so Homeschooled Farm Girl (HFG) and I drove into town to pick them up.

We bought 10 White Embden goslings, 40 Buff Orpington pullet chicks, and 30 mixed-gender broad breasted meat bird chicks. Actually, ten of the pullets and ten of the meat birds are for another family; they recently moved to the country, but don't have a brooder facility set up yet. Since we'd have to run the same heat lamps no matter how many chicks we were brooding, we offered to take care of the other family's chicks until they're old enough to go outside. They'll reimburse us something for the feed, and everyone will be happy.

Speaking of feed, the feed store had a terrific deal: for every bag of chick starter feed you buy, you can have ten free meat bird chicks. Since I knew we'd need at least three bags anyway, this deal was a total no-brainer. We got all thirty of our meat bird chicks free; these things cost at least $1.20 at the feed store that sells them, and even more than that when ordered by mail. The three bags of feed cost us $28.65, so we're definitely coming out ahead.

Remember those pastured poultry pens that we had the turkeys in last year? Once all the turkeys were butchered, Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I moved the pens into the barn for the winter. Looking at them, I realized they would make ideal brooders this Spring. We spread a tarp under them, to protect the wooden floor from chicken droppings, and then added some loose straw for bedding. Last night, I hooked up two heat lamps in one pen (for the 70 chicks) and one lamp (for the goslings) in the other. I then set up some waterers, turned on the heat lamps, and made sure they were generating enough warmth for the babies. When HFG and I got home with our boxes of birds, everything was set to go. She helped me unload them from the boxes, and made each bird got a drink of water before releasing it. (She also cuddled quite a few of them before handing them over, but that's another story.)

Anyway, here are the chicks:

And the goslings:

Our barn cats have been stalking the pens (think Sylvester and Tweetie Bird); looking at all the small birds, a couple of the cats have facial expressions like they've died and gone to feline heaven. As a result, we're taking extra special care to ensure there are no gaps in the lids or other ways for cats to get in.

As if all these new birds weren't enough, Dot (our leader ewe, and matriarch of the flock) delivered twins for us. She turns ten years old this Spring, and isn't showing any signs of slowing down. She did an expert job, as always, and both lambs were quickly up and nursing like pros.
It was a mixed-gender set of twins. As this is Spy Wednesday, my first inclination was to name them Julius and Ethel --- but I figured that would be way too esoteric. And MYF would probably veto it.

I thought that would be it for new animals. Then, late this afternoon, HFG came running in excitedly from the barn with news that yet another ewe was in labor. HFG had been eagerly anticipating actually watching a lamb's birth, so she immediately turned around and ran back to the barn --- and then stayed there with the ewe for quite some time. Eventually, she returned with news of the latest happy arrival in the lambing pen: one beautiful male lamb.
With four ewes delivered, and six lambs on the ground, we are exactly at our historical lambing percentage of 150%. If the four remaining ewes can keep this up, we'll hopfully be blessed with twelve lambs. Given Dot's age, we will probably keep a couple of the best females --- including the one born today --- as replacement breeders. But if all goes well, we should still have lots of delicious lamb for the freezer this winter.

06 April 2009

Two Down, Six to Go

Saturday morning brought a pleasant surprise at chore time: Conundrum, one of our seasoned mother ewes, had delivered a little white ram lamb. He'd already been thoroughly licked-off, and was on his feet, so he must have arrived early in the morning. It's really remarkable the way mother and lamb are able to pull this off, even in the pitch darkness of a barn in the middle of the night; as always, I'm in awe of the instincts that God has given these animals...and thankful to be privileged enough to observe and help them along.

This makes the second ewe to deliver; Maybelle's twins are thriving. With the six remaining ewes looking uncomfortably pregnant, I won't be surprised if lambs start arriving left and right.

02 April 2009

Got Coon?

This yeoman "urban hunter" is managing to take advantage of the City of Detroit's regression to the wild. I'm just hoping that the City eventually decides to allow "urban farming" within the city limits. There are so many empty lots in Detroit, it's not even funny. (Kick up Google Earth some time and take a look yourself --- you'll see vast swaths of "city" that more closely resemble countryside.)

The only problem with farming in Detroit, of course, is that you'd need to erect a ten foot high concrete wall, topped with razor wire, to protect your livestock from drive-by shootings. So, for now, Glemie Dean Beasley seems to have the right idea:

Beasley, a 69-year-old retired truck driver who modestly refers to himself as the Coon Man, supplements his Social Security check with the sale of raccoon carcasses that go for as much $12 and can serve up to four. The pelts, too, are good for coats and hats and fetch up to $10 a hide.

While economic times are tough across Michigan as its people slog through a difficult and protracted deindustrialization, Beasley remains upbeat.

Where one man sees a vacant lot, Beasley sees a buffet.

"Starvation is cheap," he says as he prepares an afternoon lunch of barbecue coon and red pop at his west side home.

His little Cape Cod is an urban Appalachia of coon dogs and funny smells. The interior paint has the faded sepia tones of an old man's teeth; the wallpaper is as flaky and dry as an old woman's hand.

Beasley peers out his living room window. A sushi cooking show plays on the television. The neighborhood outside is a wreck of ruined houses and weedy lots.

"Today people got no skill and things is getting worse," he laments. "What people gonna do? They gonna eat each other up is what they gonna do."

A licensed hunter and furrier, Beasley says he hunts coons and rabbit and squirrel for a clientele who hail mainly from the South, where the wild critters are considered something of a delicacy.

Go read the whole thing. It's fun.

H/T: Anthony G.