30 August 2009

Learning as we go

Well, the hatchlings didn’t make it.

One died in the shell – we think it was stuck to the shell and couldn’t get loose, as the second one was definitely stuck to the shell – we helped him, though.

The second one made it out of the shell (with help – I know, you’re never supposed to help them, but it’d been 24 hours already and he was gonna die if we did nothing, so we figured it was worth a shot) and seemed to take forever to dry off and get going. He was cheeping loudly, though, and seemed very determined to live …

… until he drowned in the water dish.

Duh! We knew that could happen, but he was so slow to get up and moving that we just didn’t register that all of a sudden he *would* be up and moving and the dish was right there. Poor guy.

None of the other eggs show any signs of hatching, so we figure that given how many troubles we had sorting things out in our first run, probably no more will hatch … but we’ll give it until tomorrow to see.

The Reluctant Farmer is already investigating some modifications to the Eggabator to make it more successful next round – and we’ll be sure to take the water dish out at hatching time!

Hmm, maybe a sponge would work …

29 August 2009

One more “gotta be done before winter job” done!

The fenceline feeder is in place and ready for use.

The Boy requested a change in feeding strategies this year, and since he does most of the feeding chores, it only seems reasonable to listen to his requests for infrastructure changes.

We ordered several ‘hog panels’ this year and boy, are they nice to have. A hog panel is about 3.5’ high and 12’ wide, made of moderately heavy but still flexible metal – you can bend a panel into a curve to make a hoop house, for instance, but you have to cut the bars with bolt cutters (and lots of pressure), so it’s fairly sturdy stuff. The squares are very small at the bottom and larger at the top, with the biggest openings about 6” around.

One section of fence along the edge of the winter pasture has hog panels attached to the posts, and the sheep are able to stick their noses through and get to the hay stacked on the other side. The hay is held in place by wooden back panels that are pushed up tight to the fence post at the bottom but suspended out at the top to make a v-shape when you view the whole arrangement from the side. The hay is loaded in from the top, slides down, and is easily reached by the sheep through the holes in the fence.

I loaded the new feeder with some ‘test hay’ today (an old bale from last year) and indeed, the sheep came to eat it, so I suppose it’ll work! It is easy to fill and it seems like we’ll have a bit less waste. I also attached the back plywood panels with rope so that when the feeder gets filled with waste stems and such, it’ll be easy to unhook the panels and drop them flat, sweep off the waste, and then lift the panels back in place. That should be much easier than trying to reach in with a pitchfork and dig out the stuff the sheep don’t want.

Like everything else around here, we’ll just have to give it a try and see how it works!

It does feel good to have that job done, though. It is one of those ‘gotta be done before winter’ things, and we’ve had winter sneak up on us before … so it’s good to be ready well in advance!

Whaddaya know, the eggabator works!

The Reluctant Farmer went to check the temperature on the eggabator just a bit ago, and noticed one of the eggs was tipped on it’s side a little.

“Hmm, it wasn’t like that before…”

A closer look showed a crack in the side and a little beak working it’s way through the shell. A few minutes later, a second egg started the same process.

So, we have two eggs in the process of hatching … very exciting!

08 August 2009

TRF's DIY Eggabator

(The Reluctant Farmer's Do-It-Yourself Chicken Egg Incubator)

The Reluctant Farmer is the Chicken Guy around here: we all enjoy the eggs, we all enjoy having the chickens around, but they are his thing, really.

So, when he took it into his head that we need some more chicks (mostly to replace aging layers, and some to sell, or eat, as well), he also figured that the most cost effective way to go about this was to use an incubator and hatch out some of the fertilized eggs we have here. No need to buy day old chicks when you have a ready supply of hatchable eggs sitting in your hen houses!

However, incubators are expensive devices.

So, the obvious thing to do was to build one!

After much Googling, a trip to Canadian Tire and some digging around in the basement treasure trove of useful stuff, we have a functioning incubator:

It is a styrofoam cooler with a light fixture installed in the lid (from a damaged lamp), a computer fan (from Princess Auto, although I am not sure why it was purchased), a 12 volt adpater (of uncertain provenance), a thermometer (Canadian Tire), and a dish of water (from the Tupperware drawer). Oh, and a CD case.

The light fixture keeps the temperature inside warm enough to allow the eggs to develop: holes poked in the sides of the cooler allow us to adjust up or down - we poke more holes if it's too hot inside, and we stick tape over the holes if it gets too chilly. The water dish keeps the humidity high enough, and the fan circulates the warm air to keep the temperature even. The CD case became a window so we can check on the temperature (and, in 3 weeks, watch for hatching eggs!).

Pretty good for under $15, eh?

Check back in 3 weeks to see if we get hatchlings!

A whole new flock for Apple Jack Creek

We've been thinking about shifting our flock base over to Icelandics for some time now - the Icelandic sheep we have had just seem to be better suited to our shepherding style: they are seasonal breeders, so our inability to keep rams on one side of the fence and ewes on the other isn't a problem; they are very hardy and deal well with cold weather (Iceland ... yeah, lots like Alberta!); they are small, so easier to handle (small is a disadvantage if you're marketing to the auction houses, but we sell direct to customers, so it's not a problem for us); they have gorgeous, colourful, high quality fleece (which should explain itself!).

We had two purebred Icelandics in our starter flock, but culled one a year ago for infertility and discovered this spring that our much loved Natalie (amazing mama and all-around awesome sheep) is suffering from one of the common chronic sheep ailments (OPP for other shepherds out there). It's invariably fatal, but it doesn't condemn the carcass ... it's a chronic lung infection that just makes the sheep sicker and sicker over time. So ... Natalie will be added to this year's butcher list and we will honour her life by making sure her suffering is alleviated and by enjoying the lamb sausage and toasting her memory!

However ... all that left us with no more purebred Icelandics. Some nice cross bred sheep, yes, but what we really needed was some good breeding stock.

Then, an online friend of mine let me know that she was selling her entire flock: they have no pasture where they are located, and bringing in hay all the time was just not working out. Prime breeding stock, lovely sheep, from someone I know, needing a home.

Well, that was an easy decision. :)

Okay, not quite, but it was so clearly the right thing for us to do that we did our thought experiments, checked and double checked the budget, and said "okay, we'll go for it". All but two of our existing flock will be headed off to freezer camp (the Immunity Challenge winners are Jack, the Southdown ram and Cherub, the Columbia/Hamp bottle baby ewe), and our new flock has arrived:

Everyone survived the trailer run from BC quite well, and they are out nibbling on pasture grass very happily with no troubles at all. It's already been grazed down quite a bit, so it's not too lush and we should be able to avoid any digestive troubles with switching from a hay diet to a pasture diet, but we'll be watching closely to be sure.

It's sad to be saying goodbye to some of our existing ewes, we have some real personalities here and letting them go is a tough decision. However, we have found a new butcher who does small runs of sausage, which is an excellent use for older animals, and we have to do what will work best for the farm as a whole. Icelandics fit the bill for us, but we are grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the other breeds first hand as the only way to really learn what works well in your particular circumstances is to experiment.

So, we give our thanks and love to the sheep who have served us well during our apprenticeship, and welcome the new flock as we say farewell to the old.