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.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Smarty pants pup

  I swear Rialey gets smarter every day.

  One of the ways she helps us during chores is to pick up, carry, and deliver things like feed scopes and hoses. She is trained to only pick up the hoses near the nozzle as I have no use for the middle of the hose. Usually I will ask her to pick it up by standing near the end of the hose and pointing so it's a simple task of picking up and handing it to me.

  Tonight I stood about 30 feet from the end of the hose which was buried in tall grass in the dark. I said to Rialey, "Can you get me the hose?" Just once, then said nothing else to her.

  I watched as she followed the length of the hose from beside me, around the corner of the pens, and into the tall grass. She located and picked up the end then wrestled and dragged the heavy thing as it got caught on clumps of grass along the way. She brought it right to me and placed it onto my hand.

  It may seem like a simple thing, but I was very impressed that she'd figured out how to follow the length of the hose to locate the end out of sight. I know she learns from watching us. It is common trait for English Shepherds, and the way they learn to help on on their farms. It was just so fun to watch her make this mental leap.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Fishing for Crabbes

Every week we gather up the sheep to do a health check on everyone. We check the color of their mucus membranes and check for loose stool to see if they need a dose of dewormer. This has helped us reduce our lamb losses pretty dramatically and keep up with the health of our mommas.

This week we decided to do health checks in the evening rather than the morning so that meant gathering the flock from the back pasture. I sent Rialey out to move the sheep up and after a couple of false starts, she got the entire flock moving in the right direction at a moderate speed. 

Once we'd moved them up through the second pasture and over the bridge, Luna and Big Onion took over and herded the group unto the alleyway behind the poultry pens that we use as a holding area while doing our checks.

We gathered supplies, and quickly went to work. We were trucking along, me taking notes and Big Onion comparing mucus membrane color to a FAMCHA card when we realized we were one sheep short. Little Crabbe was missing. 

Since we have been at this sheep rearing thing for a few years now, it has become pretty easy to tell which lambs are going to thrive and which lambs will mostly likely succumb to parasites. Crabbe was puny from the start. It seems like every week we were having to pump him full of dewormer and B vitamins, probiotics and iron shots. All our efforts seem to be barely maintaining him. Finding him missing from the group both Big Onion and I knew there was about a 50/50 chance that we'd find him alive. 

As I was headed out to begin the search, Crabbe's mother, Apple, started calling. In the distance, we heard the lamb answer back. At least he was alive! When I came around the corner, I could see him there on the bridge at the gate. This would be a simple matter of opening the gate and letting the little guy run to join the group...or so I thought.

I dropped Rialey in a down stay in the tall grass and walked slowly and quietly to the gate. Unfortunately, Crabbe is the spookiest of our lambs so despite my best efforts not to scare him, he took off the minute he caught sight of me. I sighed and called Rialey to my side.

We crossed the bridge and before I could send Rialey around, the little guy took off! Rialey was after him like a flash. I was hoping he would just lay down as young and unhealthy sheep are want to do when stressed, but instead he headed down the fence line toward the opening to the creek. Rialey was hot on his heels! I was still hoping she would get him turned around when both dog and sheep disappeared from my view down the creek bank. I broke into a run, loudly calling Rialey off, but it was too late. She'd caught up with the lamb, and he had finally done his stupid lamb move of laying down to play dead. Only playing dead doesn't work so well on a steep incline. I caught up just in time to see the little guy do a perfect barrel roll and go head over hooves down the embankment and splash right into the creek!

Luckily, we've been short on rain lately, and right when I was certain he would go under and drown, Crabbe popped right back up and looked back at me in complete shock! I don't think he was expecting that to happen!

Rialey was happy to follow the errant lamb down into the water and did her best to try and get him back to me. She tried herding him. She tried barking at him. She even tried grabbing and dragging him back to shore to no avail. Crabbe just stood there not moving. Finally, he decided to lay down and die again because sheep are really just that dumb and down he went under the water.

At that point there was nothing else for me to do, but to slog down into the boot topping creek and retrieve the stupid creature. By the time I had crawled/fallen down the steep embankment and slashed into the water, he had once again popped back up, only this time he started heading away from Rialey and me and in the direction of the neighbor's. Luckily Rialey was on him again. She grabbed a mouthful of wool and held him there until I could slog my way over to the two and retrieve the soggy little guy.

I gathered up the dripping creature, climbed back up the other side of the creek bank, and handed him over the fence to Big Onion. Crabbe was none the worse for his little adventure and with the heat index topping three figures, there was no fear of him catching a chill.

For my part, I emptied out my boots, wrung out my socks, and finished the evening chores with soggy feet. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fencing off the creek

   Sometimes it seems like having goats means being doomed to constantly putting up new and better fences. Our sweet twins Francesca and Lucia seem to be especially good at finding and exploiting the weak point in any fence we put up. As a result, the girls were making forays into the neighbor's yard, munching on his vegetable garden and nibbling his fruit trees. While our neighbor's love all the animals, especially the goats, there is a limit to their hospitality, understandably. 

  Our other problem was the ducks getting into the creek. We have been told that they were making their way up to the road and beyond. Not good. With goats going over and ducks going under, the old fencing we had up around the creek just wasn't doing the job.

  We decided to take down the old fencing and put up something that SHOULD hold in both the goats and the ducks, and hopefully keep out predators. Without a lot of funds for the project, we invested in several 4 foot tall rolls of welded wire and some 7 and 8 foot T-posts. The farm dogs inspected our purchases for quality.

 The first step was taking down the old fencing. Several bouts of heavy rain and flooding had buried the bottom of the fencing in deep layers of mud and dead leaves. 

    In some areas we actually had to use the winch on the front of the four wheeler to pull the old fencing out of the ground.

 Once the fence was down, Gwen decided to take advantage of access to the previously blocked off area and fill her belly with some overgrown forage. She was a very happy goat.

   Since flooding was an issue, we decided to put up the new fence well above the flood line. Here Big Onion is driving in the new post while Luna supervises and Rialey has a chat with her bunnies.

  While Big Onion was doing the manly job of driving in the posts, I decided to move one of the rolls of fencing into place near the bride so we could start securing it to the first post. Well, those rolls are heavier than they look. First, let me assure you that I am no wilting flower in the strength department. I can sling around 50lb feed sacks and wrestle full sized goats with the best of them, but for some reason those rolls were just a little more than I could handle.

  Well, my motto is work smarter, not harder so I thought I'd do the smart thing and start rolling the fencing where it needed to go. I was happily walking along, kicking the roll ahead of me, not paying very close attention to the fact that me and that heavy roll were getting closer and closer to the embankment of the creek. Suddenly the fencing seemed to take on a life of its own and started rolling slowly then with alarmingly increasing speed diagonally down the bank of the creek. I started yelling, "no no No No NONONONONONO!!!" as if the damned roll was going to listen to me and stop its swift descent into the moving water below. Just as I was about to hurl myself forward and onto the roll to save it from a watery, muddy demise, one corner caught the edge of one of the fence posts we hadn't yet removed. The post turned the fencing just enough that it swung around sideways and stopped rolling long enough for me to grab hold of the post in one hand and the fencing in another. A couple seconds more and both me and fencing would have ended up a big soggy, muddy mess.

  Once I had recovered from my ordeal, we started putting up the fencing. Once again the four wheeler was key in getting this job done. Big Onion built a fence puller using a 2x4 and some hardware. Once it was hooked up the winch on the bike, we were able to stretch some pretty tight fencing. Before we moved to the farm, I had no idea that tension is the key to good fencing. A loose fence is a saggy fence and nobody wants that (except maybe the goat who will happily pull it down and hop right over).

  Big Onion and Rialey holding a length of unrolled fencing.

  Once the fencing was in place and properly stretched, we secured it to the T-posts and the job was done! About halfway through the job, Big Onion finally broke down and purchased a clip bender and that little dojobby was well worth the cost. It saved us a lot of time and busted knuckles.

  The final product. It's been several weeks and the goats have not managed to knock it down or figure a way through so we consider that a success. The next fencing project will be replacing the 3 strand electric line that's running in the second and third pastures with real fencing. Hopefully we can wait until the weather cools a bit before tackling the next area. Whew!

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.