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.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Turkey Washing

  Since today was my day off from my "real" job at the vet's, I had every intention of sleeping in a bit. Unfortunately, I was awakened quite early by the unmistakable sound of young turkey poults in distress. Baby turkeys, more than any other poultry we raise around here, seem to have a specific set of sounds they make when they are hungry, excited, sad, and happy. From the bedroom through the closed door of the office, I could hear the sounds of the poults upset about something. 

   Usually those sounds meant they were out of food or water, but when we checked on them we found them with plenty of both. Unfortunately though, every single turkey to the last poult was a soaking wet mess! How could this happen? I had just checked on them right before bed, and they were fine.

  Well you see, with this most recent batch of newly hatched turkeys, we had a surprise duckling! We try very hard to keep all our duck, chicken, turkey, guinea, and goose eggs separate. Usually it's very easy to tell them apart, but every once in a while one egg slips past us. So we've been brooding this one surprise duckling in with the turkeys, and you know the old saying, when you go to bed with ducklings, you wake up wet!

  Not only were these turkeys wet, but they were crusted with feed and poop. Yuck! I swear they were fine the night before. I have no idea what kind of party was thrown in that brooder while we slept, but I knew I was going to have to be the one to clean it up!

  With young poultry, temperature is everything. So keeping these little ones warm while I got them cleaned up was my first priority. I brought them into the bathroom and started up the space heat. Then I rinsed each one under warm water until they were nice and clean. 

  Next I wrapped them up in a towel in my lap a few at a time and used the blow dryer on a low, warm setting to get them all warm and fluffy again. 

  Here they are all clean and re-fluffed and none the worse for the ordeal. Just in time too because today they will be moving outside to make space in the brooder for a new batch of freshly hatched chickens!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Hi bunny!

After the last couple sad and negative posts, this little bunny just wanted to say hello to everyone.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Part of the problem

  There is a lot of talk these days about the over use of antibiotics in farm animals and antibiotic resistance. This is certainly the case with poultry. Most poultry is raised on feed that comes impregnated with antibiotics. When we first started farming, we made the decision early on to avoid using antibiotics and other drugs with our animals unless absolutely necessary. It has been an uphill battle to keep to this decision.

  After losing so many birds to the dog attack a few weeks ago, we decided to purchase some young chicken hens from the feed store. Without thinking, I asked for a bag of "start and grow" which is a pretty common food for young chicks. When I got home to unload the car, I realized I had this...

  I didn't ask for medicated feed. This is just what the feed store sells to anyone getting chicks. I had to return this and ask specifically for a non-medicated feed on my next trip.

  The owner has told me before that you "cannot raise turkeys without antibiotics. They will all die." Oddly enough, our turkeys do just fine without them, though I have to drive to the Tractor Supply across town for their feed. Both the local stores carry NOTHING without antibiotics appropriate for young turkeys. In fact, antibiotic laden feed is sold as the default for turkeys, chickens, and goat feed. I know this from personal experience and have to ask for the feed without every single time.

  I realize that whether or not I feed my animals antibiotics on a daily basis is not going to make a whit of difference in the grand scheme of things, but I wonder how many people there are out there just like me that use these feeds every single day without giving it a second thought. It's a sad and frustrating state of affairs.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dog Attack

  It was normal Wednesday for us. Big Onion and I were away from the farm working our "real jobs" when we got a call from the neighbors. They had found a dog, a big white female "chow mix," running along the fence outside the first pasture. She had a small, bloody scratch on her nose, but otherwise seemed normal. The dog was friendly, came over to them when called so they put her in their backyard and called animal control to come and get her. We were a little concerned that there was a dog loose on the property. Big Onion even offered to leave work to make the hour drive home to check on everything then drive back to get me and back home again. I told him not to worry. We'd be heading home in a few hours anyway, and the dog was found outside our fencing. I was sure everything was fine.

  In the meantime, the neighbors went out to lunch. When they came home, they found a second dog, a male, IN the pasture with the poultry. He was "playing with the goats" when they saw him. Again, he was a nice dog who came right to them when they called. They phoned again to let us know what was happening. We finished work and headed home with a little more concern, but the neighbors assured us that there was no blood on the dog and everything seemed fine.

  We arrived home and immediately went out to the pasture to make sure everything was ok. Our dogs, who had been out in the backyard all day, seemed agitated. Looking out over the pasture, we knew right away that everything was not fine. We opened the gate to the pasture and called Rialey to come out with us. She immediately ran to a white mound of feathers about 20 feet from the fence. It was a dead chicken, a white rock hen, just lying there in a pile of feathers. What followed was one of the most horrible experiences I have ever had living here on the farm. We walked around and found body after body of dead and severely injured poultry. Around every turn and in almost every pen there was evidence of the attack that had taken place. We found 7 of our chicken hens dead with varying levels of injury. Not one had had any part of them consumed. We found one of the guineas dead in her pen with her pretty black and white polka dotted feathers just thrown everywhere. Another guinea was altogether missing along with two of our bourbon red turkey hens.

  After we had gathered the bodies of the dead, we started gathering all the injured birds. The neighbors had found our little gosling, who was just barely old enough to be out with the adult birds, huddled in a corner near their fence. When we retrieved her from them, she had a very bad limp and blood on her feathers from a small puncture on her side. There was a little white pekin duck girl who could barely walk. We found 4 more chicken hens who had severe puncture wounds, two of which looked like they had almost been plucked bald. It was then that we realized that Frankie, one of our two wonderful, beloved roosters, wasn't around. We finally found him crouching behind a rabbit pen in the all too familiar pose of an injured bird, wings down, head drooping. We gathered all our injured and placed them gently into a pen.

  Next we checked all our goat ladies from head to toe. Thankfully they seemed to be unharmed. We were so grateful for their spunky attitudes and horned skulls that seemed to have saved them from injury.

  Finally we called the sheep up from the back pastures. They seemed spooked, not as happy to see us and rush us for food as normal. Big Onion noticed that Marcie had some injuries on her backside. We did a head count and came up one short. It was Marcie's daughter, a 5 month old lamb that we name Patty after her beloved and now departed grandmother, Peppermint Patty. Fearing the worst, we headed out to the back pasture to search for the missing lamb. We walked up and down the pasture all the while encouraging Rialey to find the lamb.

  After we'd walked the whole pasture down and back again, Big Onion called out to me from a corner behind the ponds. She was laying there. Long dead and bloated. Probably the victim of that first dog, the female. Rialey ran over and started licking the dead lamb's nose and mouth. She sniffed her from head to two, stopping to point out her various injuries. For me, this was the last straw. I finally broke down. Sitting on the trunk of a small downed tree I bawled for this poor little lamb and her injured mother, for all those dead and dying birds. I cried because I'd left the gate open between the pasture that let that dog get in and kill our birds. I cried because it was all so senseless.

  We've had predation problems before. Foxes and possums and raccoons and hawks have all made meals of our animals over the years. Recently we've lost several birds and have been taking steps to rid our area of these predators who found our pastures a convenient hunting ground, but that's just it. All those animals were just hunting for food. Trying to feed themselves and their young on an easily available, abundant, and slow moving food source. When a predator makes a meal of your animal, you kick yourself for not protecting them better. This. This was different. Not one of our animals had been fed on. Those dogs played with our birds, our sheep. They had a grand old time chasing and catching, shaking and tossing those animals around until they died then moved on to the next.

  It's almost as sad to realize that our dogs had to watch this all happen. With all the chaos and stress of trying to assess the damage, we didn't realize that all three dogs that had been outside that day had had front row seats to the carnage. All three were limping when we finally came back to the house to gather the medical supplies needed to treat the injured. The neighbors still had the male dog in their backyard. They had found him too late for animal control to come out and retrieve. The dog slipped out of their gate and Big Onion watched Barley throw himself at the fence at that dog teeth bared and hackles up in a way that we have never seen that sweet goofus of dog act. No doubt those dogs spent the afternoon doing the same. Trying to protect and defend the animals they think of as their charges. Rialey was shaken and on edge afterward. I took her to work with me the next day and my boss (my vet) confirmed that she had damaged her wrists and elbows the day before trying to get at that dog in her pasture killing her animals.

  We did our best to treat the injured. We cleaned and flushed out deep puncture wounds. We gave penicillin shots and applied ointments and hoped for the best. In the days that followed we were able to put the duck hen back with the group. One of the chickens needed to put down the day after the attack, she was obviously suffering and would not recover. A few days later we found that Frankie's injuries were deeper than we could tell at first. Despite the antibiotics and topical treatments, his wound were infected and not healing. We made the decision to put him down, and I cried for the second time. I knew he had probably sustained those terrible injuries trying to protect his girls just like a good rooster should. He had been our rooster for the past 3 years. He was born here on the farm the son of Fernando, our very first rooster. He was kind and gentle with the ladies and respectful of us and the farm dogs. Those are rare and valued qualities in a rooster, and he will be missed greatly.

  The impacts of that day are still effecting us. All of the birds were off their feed, leaving feed behind in the pens where before they would scarf down every pellet and seed. The ducks and chickens are laying egg with thinner than normal shells. I had many crack while I washed them that first week or two.

  I'm sure things will get back to normal around here eventually. We have a lot of poultry to replace. We've started putting up more fencing to make the property as secure as we possibly can. We are still nervous about letting out the birds when we are not here. The dogs have calmed down and stopped limping. Marcie the sheep has recovered from her injuries. We still have three chickens with wounds and feather loss too great to join the general population. Their recovery will take a long time, and they may never start laying eggs again. Our little gosling still has a limp, but she is holding her own out there with the big birds.

  I've made album of the pictures I took that night and the following days. Be warned that these are photos of dead and injured animals, but if you want to know what a dog attack looks like on poultry and sheep feel free to take a look....Dog Attack Album.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bunnies Lost and Found

  When a rabbit momma kindles (that's rabbit speak for giving birth), we check on those newborn bunnies twice a day for the first few days. We actually pick up each kit and do a quick nose to tail check to make sure everything is ok. No sticky poops on the rear, no wounds, no birth defects. We also keep a count on each litter to make sure none of the little ones have fallen out of the nest box or gotten buried in the hay or stuck in a corner. Since mother rabbits really only feed their young twice a day, a baby bunny can starve to death very quickly by missing just one or two feedings.

  As the bunnies get older we don't need to check on them as frequently. By the time they are fully furred and their eyes start to open, we generally just give them a quick look over at feeding time. Well, Big Onion was feeding Thing 1 this morning when he noticed something small and white crawling on the ground underneath the rabbit cages. It turned out to be one of her bunnies that had somehow come out of the nest box and fallen through a small hole in the side of the cage.

  Thing 1 had in impressive 9 kits in her very first litter was doing a wonderful job of mothering the large group. A couple days after they were born, I did have to put down one bunny who seemed to be paralyzed from the waste down. I noticed the problem on the day they were born, but was hoping it was just a temporary problem. When the little one didn't improve and seemed to be getting thinner and thinner, I decided to do the kind thing and put the little one down before it starved to death. That brought her litter down to 8.

  After recovering the wayward little one off the ground, Big Onion decided to do a head count and came up with just six. Two bunnies were just missing. We assumed that they too had someone made it out this small hole in the cage and starting searching the ground around the poultry house. We looking under things, moved feed bins, and upended buckets. We even called the dogs in to see if they could scent out the missing kits. No luck. We assumed that the little ones had probably crawled too far from home and been eaten by something. Rabbits are basically nature's fast food, being prey to just about anything that eats meat. The dogs had been in and out of that room. There are snake and racoons all around. Heck, even chickens will snatch up a little furry thing crawling by if they get the chance.

  I patched up the hole in the pen and headed back inside with slightly heavier heart that I'd started with that morning.

  We went about out day running errands and cleaning house until it was time to head back out for chores again that evening. We put away birds, called in the goats, and fed all the rabbits. Big Onion headed off to milk the lady goats while I gathered feed for the sheep. These days the sheep are getting a mixture of alfalfa, corn, and sweet feed at night to help keep their weight up, especially with so many nursing mommas out there.

  Once the feed was mixed, I headed out with the full bucket expecting Rialey to be at my heels as usual move and hold the sheep away from me and the feeding area, but she was nowhere to be seen. I called her once, twice, a third time and I finally saw her pop out from between the poultry house and the feed shed. I could tell right away that she excited about something. It took me called her again for her to come over and do her usual job of moving and holding the sheep. As soon as I had dumped the bucket of feed and released her, she jetted back between the buildings.

  I followed and asked her to show me what she'd found. She jumped backwards to reveal a tiny, muddy white fuzz ball toddling around in the mud. I quickly scooped the little one grateful that at least we'd found one of the two missing bunnies. Then Rialey was back between the buildings again clearly indicating that the other bunny was back there. In the dark, I could barely see the little black thing trying to crawl farther away from me and from the dog. Since there was no way I could reach it, I took a deep breath and asked Rialey if she could retrieve that bunny. I knew asking a natural predator and carnivore to take something so little and so full of meat into her mouth could end very badly, but I was trusting that Rialey's nurturing instincts would outweigh her prey drive for just long enough to get that bunny to safety.

  All I could see was Rialey's backside as she followed the bunny farther and farther away from me. I would see her move forward, crouch down, then jump backwards. I could only assume that the bunny was jerking and bouncing away from her as very young bunnies tend to do do when they feel threatened. After what seemed like forever, Rialey backed out without the bunny and looked at me with a clear message that I was going to have to catch that thing myself. Luckily, all Rialey's attentions had driven the little thing far enough that I was able to reach it from the other side.

  Both bunnies safely in hand, I brought them inside to try and clean up some of the mud and dog spit before putting them back with their siblings. The little white one was a bit on the thin side, but neither kit seemed the worse for their adventure. It's truly amazing they survived as long as they did down in mud and dirt, the little things don't even have their eyes fully open yet.

  What's even more amazing is that Rialey not only found those bunnies, but did them no harm whatsoever. She has always had a very strong mothering instinct and a very, very concerned and protective nature when it comes to the rabbits. In this case, those instincts saved the lives of two very lucky little ones.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Never a dull moment...

  It was a pretty typical Saturday here on the farm. Big Onion had driven to the city to make egg deliveries. I was doing some cleaning and laundry around the house. That morning we had put all the lady goats across the bridge to graze in the back pastures. This meant that Gimli and the young bucklings could get out of their enclosure and browse around the first pasture for the day. Something they don't get to do nearly often enough.

  I had just taken out all of the milk we'd stored in the fridge for the last few days with the intention of making another batch of goat cheese dog treats when I noticed it had started to drizzle. Now there is no real rain cover in the back pastures. There are lots of big trees which are great for shade but not so great for keeping water phobic princess goats from a fate worse than death...getting wet!

  It was just drizzling though so I thought maybe the girls would survive. I poured the first gallon of milk into the pot and started the gas fire underneath when I heard a clap of thunder and looked out the window to see the rain was getting much heavier. A couple of guineas were flapping around and squawking like they were certain the sky was falling. Behind them on the bridge I could see the ladies standing at the gate in the rain. I swear they were hopping from foot to foot in an effort to dodge the raindrop and keep their dainty hooves from getting wet.

  I breathed a heavy sigh, turned down the heat on the milk, and threw on my rain jacket and boots. I figured this would be an quick trip. Close up the buck pen where I was sure that all four boys had already taken shelter the moment a cloud appeared in the sky then open the gate and save my poor ladies from melting on the spot.

  I trudged through the rain and mud to the door of the buck pen where Gimli, our adult buck, greeted me with a happy, grunty little hello. Little Bruno was standing behind him munching on some hay, but his brother Victor and half brother Legolas were nowhere to be seen. Crap.

  I knew those little boys had been finding their way through the pasture fence into the neighbor's hay field (the grass is ALWAYS greener in the neighbor's hay fields) so I started calling to the boys and sure enough, I heard Lego's very distinct call from somewhere over the fence.

  Sighing again, I trudged to the back of the first pasture and opened the gate, in the process running face first into the thankfully unplugged line of electric fencing running above the opening. Once on the other side, I had to trudge back up along the fence line calling and following the sound of distressed young boy goats.

  Finally, Lego popped out of the heavy underbrush along the fence and ran straight to me. At that moment, I was so grateful we'd taken all that time to tame this little spooky kid. So much so that the sight of me in a storm was something to run to instead of away from. I scooped up the sad and soggy little guy and tossed him right over the fence and into the buck pen. A few feet down, Victor appeared and ran straight to me just like his brother before him. He got the same treatment.

  OK, problem solved. Time to open the bridge gate for the goat ladies and head back to my cheese making, right? Wrong. When I straightened up after this time successfully ducking that line of electric wire at the gate, I saw that Apple was standing out in the middle of the pasture with her one day old lamb. Both were soaked and the tiny lamb was laying on the wet ground. I made my way through the standing water to them and picked up the baby ram. He was sopping wet and his rear was totally clogged with sticky colostrum poops. Having no other way to clean him and figuring at this point what was the difference, I used my hands to clear his rear and rinsed him clean in a nearby puddle. Having taken care of that, I carried him low to the ground and facing his mother so that she would follow us both back to shelter where she and the lamb could finally get dry. Miraculously, I managed to back my way across the pasture while dangling a lamb and calling his dumb, silly mother without landing on my backside in a puddle. Once mother and son were safely under cover I washed my hands very thoroughly.

  Finally I could go and let the ladies get in out of the storm. I unchained the gate to the most sullen, ungrateful bunch of livestock you can imagine, and the wet goats made their way to shelter at top speed. It was then that I realized that Eve's young daughter Turnip was not with this group. I also noticed that Francesca and Lucia were absent. Having seen them pull this trick once before, I crossed the bridge and sure enough, all three girls were hidden and quite dry under the bridge. I called to her and Turnip came right to me. I sent her back across the bridge to her mother and started to head that way myself when Francesca started calling her fool head off.

  She was calling so loud and sounded so upset, I was sure she was somehow stuck under that bridge. I crawled back down the embankment to find that she was her sister were perfectly fine, just upset that they couldn't come with me AND stay out of the rain at the same time. Such is the life of these poor abused animals around here.

  She was making such a racket that I was afraid she'd upset the neighbors so I pulled both girls out from under the bridge and the three of us and little Turnip finally made our way across the pasture to shelter. Franny and Lucie went into the buck pen with the boy and the rest of the ladies all piled into the milk room where everyone was enjoying cover from the weather and a snack of hay.

  Gwen had made her way around to the other side of the building where the princess has her private suite away from the bigger goats who tend to bully her. I looked over the short wall to her area and realized that she was the only one without access to hay. Already feeling guilty for leaving everyone out in the rain, I sighed one more big sigh and dutifully grabbed a bucket, walked back to where the sheep were hanging out with the round bale, filled that bucket with fresh, dry hay, and walked back to make an offering to the sodden princess who gracefully accepted my peace offering.

  Finally, I could get back to the house. I was now as wet as the goats and covered in mud from all my trudging back and forth. When I opened the door, I smelled a smell I know very well. Cooked milk. My little adventure had taken a lot longer than I had planned. My milk which was only supposed to reach a temperature of 185 was happily boiling away in the pot. Thankfully it hadn't boiled over or burned. I turned off the heat and added a splash of vinegar. Hopefully the cheese will still be ok, but even if not, I'm sure that now that I've saved the ladies from melting in the storm they will happily give us plenty more milk it take its place.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Rialey to the rescue

  Everyday the dogs help around the farm in so many small ways. One morning I was getting ready to feed the birds. Normally I will just sling 4-5 scoops of feed and scratch grains out into the pasture for them to scratch and peck and hunt, but today I had some extra whey from cheese making so I had soaked their normal amount of food in the whey to give the birds a little extra protein and nutrients. Nothing goes to waste around here.

  So I had a full and heavy bucket in my hands, and I was trying to make my way through the throng of hungry, impatient chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys without a lot of success. I glanced over my shoulder where Rialey was standin by the gate well out of the way of the normally flying feed. Without my even staying a word, Rialey read my situation, saw my glance in her direction, and sprung into action. Within seconds she had pushed her way through the crowd of birds and circled around right in front of me. With a few forceful barks, she very easily cleared my path then walked with me out to the pasture keeping all those angry birds out of my way the entire time.

  I never said a word, not even a gesture, but that girl saw a needed help and jumped in without hesitation. It's these little ways that having a good working dog at my side makes living here so much easier!