Welcome to HighTail Farms, LLC! We're a small farm located in Hammond, Louisiana. We are dedicated to providing people with ethically raised and humanely processed pastured poultry and sheep, fresh eggs, and raw meat for pet food.

Please follow the links in the top bar for more information on our products and their availability. Continue reading below for our blog where we detail the adventures of raisin' animals and whatnot.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Finding our Jane Doe

It was just a normal morning. Big Onion and I had to work so we both dragged ourselves out of bed before dawn, bundled up against the freezing temps, and headed out for morning chores in the frosty dark.

Groggily, I fed each of the rabbits, refilled their hay and water then set to work milking our two new momma goats, Eve and Amelia, while Big Onion busied himself feeding the poultry and the rest of the goat herd.

I was just finishing up feeding Amelia when I heard Big Onion calling to Rialey. She wasn't with me in the milk room which was odd in itself. Even weirder that she wasn't with him either. A few minutes later, he peeked his head in the milk room to tell me that Rialey was running back and forth along the pasture fence while a wild cotton-tailed rabbit was just sort of sitting there looking at her.

I finished up with the girls then followed him around the back of the poultry pens to see Rialey running up and down the fence line and making the whining, yelping sounds of a very upset farmdog. We spent a moment amazed at how calm the rabbit was acting despite the crazed dog and gawking humans standing less than 10 feet away. We tried to explain to Rialey that not all rabbits are hers and called her away to go and quickly check on the sheep before heading in.

On the way back from our visit with the sheep, we saw that same rabbit. This time it was hopping around the goat yard. It only took a second for us to realize that that wild rabbit was looking way too fat and fluffy. Right then it hit me. Jane (Jane Doe, ha ha) had been working on a small hole in the back corner of her pen for a while. When I fed her, I assumed she was just hiding in the small crate we keep in the rabbits' pens to make them feel more like they have a den in which to hide.

One quick glance into the pen, and I confirmed that that "cotton tail" we had been oo'ing and ahh'ing over in the neighbor's field was in fact our very own, very pregnant rabbit on the loose. No wonder Rialey had been throwing such an unholy fit! One of "her" bunnies was out of place!

I quickly put Rialey out of sight so that she wouldn't give chase and stress out the poor mother bunny any more than necessary then grabbed the fishing net we keep on hand for just this occasion. Big Onion and I managed to herd the doe into the milk room where she hid under the shelving there. Rabbits have surprisingly poor vision so I placed the net over one opening while Big Onion shooed Jane in my direction. In just a few minutes, she had hopped her way right into the net where I was able to scoop her up and into my arms.

We got her settled with fresh food, water, and hay in an empty pen until we could repair her escape hole then had a hardy laugh at ourselves as we finally headed back up to the house for not being able to tell the difference between a fat rabbit and a wild hare in the early morning light. Next time maybe we'll actually listen to the dog!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Lambing Season is here!

  Earlier in the evening our big, woolly ewe, Whoopi, had given birth to a ram lamb who we decided to call Degas. When we found him, he was soaking wet and looking chilly so when temps dropped into the thirties, I decided to make a late night check on him and to see if any of our other sheep had decided to lamb. Of course I had my trusty farm dog, Rialey, at my side.

  I shined a flashlight into the darkness and saw the reflection of the eyes of most of the flock standing in a bunch near the poultry pens. Scanning with my light, I caught a gleam halfway across the field near one of the rabbit tractors, then a little sparkle down close to the ground. Someone else had lambed!

  I hurried to the poultry house and flicked on the lights to see it was Bonnie standing off by herself with a little white ball of fluff on the ground at her feet. Bonnie has a history of abandoning her lambs so I knew there was no way I was going to leave her out with that little baby on a cold night.

  Swinging into action, I cleared out the milk room of some indignant lady goats and grabbed our lamb sling, a makeshift leash (half of a tie down strap) and put Rialey in a stay. I slowly tried to approach momma, but she beat hooves and headed for the rest of the flock, baby in tow. I caught up with the little one, scooped it up, and very quickly transferred it to the lamb sling.

  Sheep are funny creatures. For some reason, if you pick up a lamb, momma will have no clue what happened to her baby and start frantically searching as if the little thing had suddenly vanished into thin air. The lamb sling, a simple loop of plastic, lets the sheep see her lamb again. As long as it is held close to the ground, momma will almost always follow the lamb wherever you want. The other advantage of using the swing is lambs tend to go completely limp when carried for any length of time. It's like they are thinking, "Well, the predator has got me. Might as well die now." When you put them down after being carried, it always takes a while for them to come back to themselves. The sling keeps the babies coherent and calling for mom. Like I said, sheep are very odd creatures.

  Anyway, I got the lamb in the sling and eventually caught Bonnie's collar and with one hand secured her with the hook from the strap. With me and little lamby in the front and Rialey bringing up the rear, we were able to get mother and child safely tucked away in a cozy room. I set Bonnie up with water, hay, and a little feed then pinned her to the wall while she ate to make sure both her teats were clear and both sides of her udder were producing. All that done, I gathered baby again and found that Bonnie had had her first little girl. Using the sling and a small fish scale, I found the girl was a very respectable 8.4lbs. Later we decided on the name Dora for the girl.

  With Bonnie and her little eweling all settled in, I started to head back to the house only to realize that I hadn't yet checked on Whoopi and Degas. The little ram lamb was up and spunky. He was warm and dry with a full belly and a clean rear end. Whoopi had passed her placenta in the pen, so I called Rialey in to retrieve it (a rare and much prized treat for the farm dog) while Whoopi did her best to shield her little one from the wolf-beast and stomped for all she was worth. Ry backed her up, grabbed the placenta, and happily brought her prize back up to the house for a late night snack!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Selling Victor and Bruno

Just about a year ago, our big LaMancha doe gave birth to twin bucklings. I decided to name them Victor and Bruno. We let the boys stay with their momma nursing all day and closed them up at night so that we could milk her in the mornings. When they got to be a few months old, we weaned the boys from their mother and started trying to sell them. I listed them all over Craigslist and Facebook. I put out feelers everywhere. No one was interested. I relisted them every couple months, dropping the price and rewording the adds each time. No luck at all. Being intact, having horns, and having grown out of the "cute kid" stage were all strikes against them.

With kidding season just around the corner, I decided to list them one more time about a week ago. I dropped the price once again and listed them everywhere I could think. Within 5 minutes of listing, I had people coming out of the woodwork wanting these boys! In less than 24 hours, I had at least 15 different people contact me (sometimes repeatedly) about buying them. Maybe I dropped the price too much? Maybe it was just timing and luck. Who knows! All I know is that although I am going to miss their sweet faces, at least we have two less mouths to feed!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Rialey practicing her duck herding

  Below is a video I took one night during evening chores. I went into the duck pen to change our their always gross water. I asked Rialey to come in with me to help keep the birds out of my way. Tonight she decided to practice moving the flock while I dumped, rinsed, and refilled the buckets. 

  I will allow this kind of behavior as long as it is under my supervision, and the dog and stock remain calm. I think this kind of doodling with the stock is the way that herding dogs learn how the stock move in response to their pressure and movement. I watched Luna do it many times and every time she would seem to come away with some new knowledge about how to better handle the stock. I also think it is very interesting to watch Rialey create then solve problems, split them apart them put them back together again and move then into and then out of the enclosed area calmly.

**You may want to turn down your speakers for this video. Ducks and geese are loud beasties. Also, please excuse the mud. With rain almost every day, there's not a lot we can do about it until the weather dries a bit, and I assure you that the waterfowl in this pen do not mind a bit. (Plus they spend most of their time free ranging in the somewhat drier pastures.)

Monday, January 4, 2016

Chicken Surgery

  This year has been really bad for us with predators. It seems every time we dispatch one, another shows up. Every time we secure one pen, something finds a way into another. Something is picking off our poultry, and nothing we do seems to stop it. We are not in a place right now to get a livestock guardian animal, but the possibility has been discussed at length. Right now, we believe we are battling a fox who likes to tunnel into the poultry pens and make off with our birds in the night. It even made off with our beloved little Cynthia.

  One morning a few weeks ago, Rialey was keying in on one chicken, a little silver laced wyandotte hen. She seemed to have a number of loose feathers on her chest, but she was running around with the rest of the birds and eating normally so I didn't think much of it. That evening again Rialey pointed out this hen and tried to make it clear to me that she had a problem that needed my attention.

  When I finally got my hands on the girl after she gave me quite the run for my money, I took a good look at her chest. It was bad. Way worse than I expected considering how normal she was acting. Something had ripped away the skin on her neck and chest and part of her crop was torn open. The crop (sometimes called the croop or craw) is a small, muscular sac that connects the esophagus to the rest of the bird's digestive track. It is where chickens store food that is waiting to be digested. I could actually see part of the corn that this hen had for breakfast through the hole in her chest.

Not having it in me to put down such an active, seemingly normal bird, I set her up in a pen inside the poultry house with her own food and water. I was hoping that perhaps she could heal enough to close up the hole and be ok. The next morning we noticed that she had drunk her entire waterer and when we refilled it, she started chugging down the water again. After watching her for a few minutes we realized that while feed seemed to be staying in, all the water this poor hen tried to drink would just dribble out the hole in her neck. Despite this, our girl was still full of life. I mixed up some vitamin water and syringed it directly into her crop then Big Onion held her upright for a while so that the liquid would be absorbed.

That night since the hen was still seemed bright and active we decided it was time to take action. Again we didn't want to put down a bird who was obviously so full of the will to live. We decided the best solution would be to try and close that hole. If they can avoid infection, chickens can heal from a surprising amount of surface tissue damage, but this girl would certainly dehydrate and die if she couldn't keep in the fluids. We did a little research and gathered supplies and prepared to do some at home surgery.

Big Onion wrapped the hen in a towel and settled down on the bathroom floor. I started by cleaning the whole area as best I could of the crusted blood and food then scrubbed it with a surgical solution. There was a lot of excess tissue so first I trimmed away anything that looked like it was already dying. This caused a bit of bleeding, but we applied pressure and she clotted nicely. Since the torn edge of the crop had already started healing, I trimmed away a little bit of tissue to encourage it to close back on itself. Luckily I had some old suture material squirreled away for just such an occasion so I set to work stitching the hole closed with small, close together stitches. Working for the vet, I had some experience assisting with sutures, but this was my first time really trying to close something so big.

Here are a couple pictures before and after the surgery. WARNING: These are pretty graphic!

Through all this, our patient never flinched, moved, or made a sound. In fact at one point she fell asleep. We had to rouse her to make sure she was still with us, but she woke alert and clear eyed. Once the wound was totally closed, I cleaned up the area and trimmed away a bit more of the dead tissue. We gave the girl an antibiotic shot to hopefully stave off infection and brought her back out to her pen. Once back outside she started immediately eating and drinking, and to our delight she did not spring a leak! The final job wasn't pretty, and she was still missing a lot of skin on her neck and chest, but if this girl wanted to fight, we might as well give her a fighting chance.

Chickens can be amazingly resilient creatures so we are keeping our finders crossed for this gal's smooth recovery. We don't often name our poultry, but we decided that our brave patient deserved a name. We decided to call her Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas character with all the stitches. Tis the season and all that.

So far Sally has been healing nicely with no signs of infection setting in. She's eating and drinking and patiently letting us inspect the wound twice a day. We'll probably give her one more shot of antibiotics and keep her contained until that area does a lot more healing.  Hopefully some day in the not too far off future, we'll be putting her back out with the flock to do her chicken-y thing!


Update: I wrote this post shortly after we did the surgery on Sally but never got around to uploading the pictures or posting it. It's been a couple weeks, and I'm happy to report that Sally is doing wonderfully. As I said above, chickens can sometimes heal from surprising amounts of damage and Sally is certainly proving this to be true. We still have her caged, but we've moved her to a bigger enclosure with perch bars and a good view of her friends outside. The wound is almost completely gone with just one spot of scar tissue still sticking out the hole. We've been reluctant to put the girl back out with the group as chickens will pick at anything out of the ordinary on another bird. Plus it is still ridiculously muddy out there. Right now, Sally's biggest problem is that she's mad at being cooped up for so long. For a chicken who literally had her neck ripped open, this is pretty good problem to have!

Here is a picture of the almost totally healed area. What a difference!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Our not so lucky Clover

  Right now we are keeping the boy and girl goats separated so we alternate who gets access to the big pastures in the back. This morning it was the girls' turn so I grabbed scoop of corn and called the girls and Rialey to follow me across the bridge. Once Rialey and I had all the lady goats, I closed the gate and tossed the corn. Rialey knows the drill by now and was ready when the sheep came flooding over the hill to try and steal the goat ladies' breakfast. She chased them back over the hill, across the second pasture, then up and through the gate to the third pasture then headed back to my side.

  On a whim I decided to take a walk out to the third pasture to check on things. Rialey did her usual happy lap around the second pasture then bounded through the gate and into the third ahead of me. She was running and sniffing and generally enjoying being a farm dog. She ran over to the ponds. On hot days she likes to take a plunge and cool off, but this morning the frost had just melted from the grass so I was surprised when she dove out of site down to the water in the first pond. Oh well, she's never been bothered by the cold so I let her do her thing while I continued my walk.

  Pretty quickly I realized something wasn't quite right. I could see the big, poofy fluff of her curled tail sticking up above the brush, and it was vibrating like she was trying to catch something. Concerned that maybe she'd tried to take on a snake or other vermin, I headed over to find Rialey trying her best to grab and pull something up and out of the water. On closer inspection I realized it was Clover, one of our lambs. Clover was one of a set of twins born on Saint Patrick's day. She and her sister, Coleen, never did get very big and seemed always to need deworming. I guess when the flock rounded the corner by the edge of the pond little Clover got knocked in.

I told Rialey to back up then pulled the lamb out of the water. She was a soggy, muddy mess! She felt very warm and was breathing heavily like she had been running so I knew she hadn't been in the water very long.

 Rialey immediately set to work licking the sodden, pathetic creature and pulling the debris from her coat. The she started trying to get Clover up by grabbing big mouthfuls of her wool and attempting to pull her to her feet. I knew that Rialey's attentions weren't go to work so I called her off and put her in a down stay a few feet away. Once a lamb goes down, they will just lay there and seemingly wait for death. No amount of poking, prodding, or pulling will get them to their feet. The best thing to do is back off and usually the little one will get up on her own once she thinks the danger has passed.

The rest of the flock were not to far away so Rialey and I left Clover to warm up and dry in a sunny spot while we went back to finish chores.

  Halfway thru morning chores I decided it might be a good idea to give the weakened, stressed out, lamb a little energy boost so I mixed up some molasses and vitamins and headed back out. I was encouraged to see that Clover was no longer in the spot where we left her, but when I called over the flock she was not with the group.

  We backtracked to where we left the lamb, and I asked Rialey to 'hunt it up.' She took off like a shot following a scent trail! I was so excited that she seemed to be on the right track until Ry dropped face first to the ground and started rolling in some god-know-what smelly patch that she was delighted to have found.

  Eventually we made our way to where the flock was grazing and again I asked Rialey to search for the lamb. Don't ya know, she actually found the little one laying down in a tall stand of grass not far away!

  I gave her a couple syringe fulls of my mixture and moved her into a more accessible and sunny location. We left her again to recover and hopefully get back on her feet.

  I had Rialey move the flock back to the pasture near where we left the little one to encourage her to rejoin the group then we headed back up front to finish chores. We let the boy goats out of their pen, fed the rabbits, and released the poultry to free range for the day. Once everyone was taken care of, we headed back one more time to check on miss Clover.

  Once again she had moved from where we left her. This time Rialey knew just what to do. I asked her to find the lamb, and she dropped her nose and started very obviously following her tracks. Though the tall grass, across the pasture and back up again, Rialey never lost her trail. Every once in a while she would throw a glance back in my direction like. "Well? Are you coming?!" When I saw her fluff of a tail stop in the tall grass and her head pop up to look back at me, I knew she'd found Clover for me again!

 The lamb was looking a little more alert, so we decided to leave her for the day to warm up and get her strength back. Obviously she was able to get up and move around so I suspected that she would be fine.

  This afternoon we went out for one more check on our errant lamb. I put Rialey in a down stay and called over the flock. Unfortunately, little Clover was not with the group. I called my trusty farm dog and we once again set to work finding the lamb. Rialey dutifully checked every place we'd found Clover this morning before dropping her nose and starting to search. I was about to give up hope when I saw the pup give two giant leaps into the chest high grass then I heard her give a loud "WOOF!"

  I bounded through the grass to find that sure enough she'd once again found that lamb! I gave Rialey tons of praise and a handful of treats. Clover was just laying there while Rialey did her damnedest to get her up. At least at this point she was mostly dry and holding her head up and looking around. I called Rialey off and stood there trying to decide what to do now. Was she so weak that she could only get up and stumble around then fall again? Should I bring her up front so that we could watch her more closely? She was way too heavy for me to carry all the way back up front. On the way out I'd noticed that some evil animal had disconnected the fuel line from the four wheeler...again so that wasn't an option. While I stood there contemplating dragging the garden cart all the way back there and looking out over the field, wouldn't you know that lamb popped up and took off at a run across the pasture!

  Guess she wasn't that weak after all! Rialey and I kept our distance, but I let the dog gently herd the lamb back up to where I knew we'd left the rest of the flock. She is that tiny dot in the above picture rejoining the group. Hopefully she is finally recovered from her ordeal of the day, and we won't have to do any more lamb tracking.

  I am thankful every day that I have an awesome farm dog at my side whenever I step foot on out the farm. Without this dog, that lamb would surely have died in that pond and there was no way I would have found her over and over again hiding in the brush. Today Rialey showed the skills that make English Shepherds such indispensable farm assistants. She went from herding sheep, to caring for a lamb in danger, to tracking her when she was missing. That's my good girl!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Princess Gwendolyn

  Our little Gwendolyn will always hold a special place in our hearts. She was the first goat born here on the farm. We knew her mother Josie had CAE, a nasty goat virus that is spread from mother to kid by nursing, so we made sure to be there when Gwen was born and diligently raised her on a bottle while carefully heat treating her mother's milk to kill the virus. After a few weeks, we decided to find a nanny for Gwen to act as a companion and so that Gwen could get fresh milk. We found Thea, our big Saanen doe, who would allow Gwen to nurse while on the stand and was happy to act as a companion to our growing girl.

When we bought Thea, we were given every assurance that she was CAE negative so we did not test her. When we finally decided to test Thea and Gwen months later just to be sure, we were devastated to find that both does were positive with virus. In our efforts to avoid spreading the virus, we went from one goat with the disease to three. Several years later, we have learned how to deal with CAE for the most part. We test every new goat that comes on the farm, and we test all our does before they give birth. So far, we have never had another transmission here on the farm.

That said, we still have to deal with our three positive girls. We are too attached to them to "cull" them as some people would suggest. Josie seems to just be a carrier with few if any symptoms. Thea has the classic arthritis developing in her front limbs. And Gwen? Well, Gwen is starting to show what we can only assume are signs of the virus. She is thin. She's very skinny, and we've had her repeatedly checked for parasites and dewormed. Now we are doing our best to manage the virus by treating our Gwenny like the princess she is.

At night Gwen has her own bedroom suite. We have a small pen set up with hay, alfalfa, minerals, fresh water, and a bowl of grain every night. This gives our skinny little girl free access to all the calories she wants without her having to compete with the other goats. Being small and in poor health, the other goats tend to push her around.

During the day most days we let Gwen graze in the backyard. There is lots of fresh, mostly untouched grass and a few fruit trees and shrubs that she is welcome to nibble on. Her appetite isn't the greatest these days, so there is little fear of her doing any real damage to the plants.

While in the backyard, she likes to make her way into our closed in porch area to nap in the middle of the day. Gwen spent the first several weeks of her life living in the house, and I swear she still fancies herself an inside goat.

For now all our special attentions seem to be helping our princess of a goat put on a bit of weight. I suspect this winter she will need to be jacketed in the cold weather. The few chilly days we had recently seemed pretty hard on her. CAE is a terrible disease that almost always shortens the life of goats who have been infected. Hopefully all our efforts will keep our Gwenny with us at least a little bit longer.