Welcome!

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, 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.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

It's Turkey Time!


It's that time of year again. Time for turkey! This year we decided not to buy any birds from the commercial hatcheries, but to just raise birds hatched here on the farm from our breeding flock of Bourbon Reds.

We had the incubator cooking all spring and summer and basically hatched out every egg our small flock produced. I couldn't tell you exactly how many little poults we produced, but we had hatchings every few weeks. We sold many of the little birds locally then at some point stopped selling them and started growing them out for Thanksgiving. We started out with at least 60 birds. Unfortunately, we had a terrible year for predators. We had the dog attack, but before and after we had hawks, possums, and foxes all wreaking havoc on our flocks. At this point we have about 30 birds that will be going off to the processors tomorrow.

 

We really like raising the Bourbon Reds. They seem to be very hardy birds who enjoy ranging and foraging in our pastures. They are a little more standoffish than the broad breasted whites, who will mob you and knock you down for food, but friendly enough to be easy to handle and put away at night.



  Rialey has progressed so much in her herding training this year and does a great job of keeping the birds from being underfoot or getting too pushy with us...though she could probably stand to move them with a little less...enthusiasm.




Tomorrow morning we will be loading the birds up and transporting them to the USDA processor who just so happens to be in the next town over. This makes us very happy as less travel time means less stress for the birds.


At this time, we still have a few birds available if anyone local is looking to add a locally, ethically raised bird to their Thanksgiving table. Email us at orders@hightailfarms.com if you would like to get on the list!


Hope everyone has a happy turkey day!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Losing a hen

This morning I had to put down a chicken.

I'd seen this big white rock hen slowing down the last few days. There was just something not right about her. She was moving a little slow. Her backside was a bit dirty. I decided to wait it out. Everyone feels under the weather now and then.

This morning I found her laying on the floor of the pen. She was laying in the hot sun with her beak in the dirt. I thought she was dead, but when I went to collect the body, she blinked. Not dead, but close and probably suffering. I gathered her up and put her in the shade and coolness of the poultry house until I finished caring for everyone else.


When I went back to her, she had not moved. It was obvious what had to be done. I took her out to the corner of the pasture away from the other birds. We went up on the hill in the shade of a couple chinese tallow trees. The dogs stayed nearby, watching. I ended her suffering as quickly as possible.

Once she was gone, I did a quick necropsy in the field to confirm what I had suspected. Another internal layer. When chickens who have been bred for heavy egg production get older, they sometimes stop laying eggs, but instead start building up egg material in their oviducts. It is almost impossible to tell that this is happening until it is too late.

We've seen this a few times with our hens and every time I try to find a cause. Something we can do to prevent this from happening to our other girls, but all I read is that this is just something that happens with older hens.

Many places will replace their laying hens yearly since after the first year a hen's egg production will drop a great deal. Maybe this is something we will eventually have to do. Right now we have some hens out there from over 3 years ago when we first bought the farm. I like to think that the older ladies are living out their retirement here. Maybe that will have to change if this is the way we lose them. At least if we process them ourselves they can become food for people and the dogs.

I put that white rock hen's body out by the creek for the turtles and the possums to have. At least she didn't go to waste completely.

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.

"Hi!"

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.