Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spring Fever

     It is spring on the farm. The gilt remaining from Penny's fall litter is certainly feeling frisky. The morning routine is she is one of the first animals to see me as I leave the house to do chores. She begins to talk to me and the horses also knicker as I walk toward the barn. The morning chore routine is typically pretty quick (especially now that the water has thawed in the barn). I fill the hens dish with layer pellets, feed Boris and the sows, toss a bale to the horses, check all the water levels and then head back outside with a scoop for Penny's gilt and grain for Pica, Flicker and Maysa.

     This morning the gilt certainly did not want to wait for her breakfast. As I was feeding the sows I noticed her running into the barn. Thankfully she went right past Boris' pen and into the chicken coop. With grain it was easy to entice her back into her pen. Due the fact it was early in the day and I had not yet had a cup of coffee I did a quick fix to her pig paneled enclosure and went back inside to prepare for the day. Needless to say before I could dress for the day I noticed her working the soil at the base of the panel. She was out for a second time before I got outside. This time she had great fun. She visited the sows in the barn, ran around the back of the barn into the horse paddock. She is not the first pig to escape from a pen or pasture so I know not to chase or get upset, you simply have to think ahead of her. I decided she should go in with the sows. A little extra grain to lure the sows into the outer pen allowed me to open the door to the inner pen. I put up a couple of simple barriers to direct her toward the open pen once she went back into the barn and presto she walked right in. The sows will take a little time before they accept her but there is plenty of room for her to gradually work her way into the herd. I am sure I will go into the barn later and find her laying in the pig pile.

     Sparkler's piglets are now three weeks old and also feeling frisky. Earlier this morning Mike notice they had wiggled under the lowest strand of polywire into the horse paddock and were chasing the laying hens. Soon they will be big enough to be shocked by the fence and learn to respect the fence but for now it is spring on the farm so why not be frisky and chase chickens.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Spring Yard Work - Chicken Style

     We have just finished a record breaking week.  As spring officially arrived on Wednesday the temperatures soared into the 80's and stayed there until Friday.  The animals have loved the spring weather.  Sparkler and her piglets have joined the other sows with access to the pig paddock as Penny, Brownie and Fuzzy await the arrival of their babes.

     The laying hens have been outside from dawn to dusk each day working diligently to discover edibles or soaking up the sun as they dust themselves in the dirt outside the barn.  The picture above shows the results of their work.  The area in the picture is the hillside between the drive to the back of the barn and the road to the pasture.  Each spring the chickens scratch the fall leaves to the bottom as they eat.  They work quickly one day it is leaf covered the next it is "raked."  This is not the only area they clean up for spring.

      We have always allowed our laying flock to free range.  When Mike first built their coop in the barn he incorporated the old dairy gutter into the coop.  He build a trap door in the wooden floor section covering the gutter that could be opened each morning and closed each evening.  Our flock increased from its original 8 to have about 20 hens and just one Araucana rooster.  The hens are an eclectic mix including Buff Orpingtons, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Barred Rocks, Araucanas, Welsummers, Speckled Sussex and a Rhode Island Red.  This mix comes from the desire to try different breeds and the love of the wide variety of eggs they lay.  (the beautiful dark brown speckled eggs of the Welsummer hens are my favorite.)  There are more Araucanas than any other breed no matter which hen adds to the flock by hatching and raising a brood the pullets are green egg layers.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Summer in March

This weekend completely contradicts what spring is supposed to be.  It is the time of year in Vermont when the sap should be pouring out of the taps and sugar houses should be boiling lots of sweet maple syrup.  Friday night the boys ventured through the mud of Monarch Hill Road to help Mike and Amy boil.  It does not appear this year will even come close to last year's maple syrup production amounts as today is much to warm.

Today it is in the 70's which must be record setting for March in Vermont.  I have used the afternoon to completely clean the horse stall and pig pens.  While I was mucking out the pen Sparkler and her week old piglets are in, I opened the walk through door so they could venture outside.  She immediately took the chance to go out and then came back to encourage her piglets to join her.  It was great to see her babes explore a little bit the outside paddock.  When Sparks had enough fresh air she went to the door talked quietly to the piglets so they would join her near the door.  After she went in, one piglet remained outside.  She went from her "nest" where back to near the door so the little piglet would know where the sounds were coming from and join her inside.  When you watch and listen closely you know exactly what she is telling the piglets.

Now it is time to make dinner and prepare for tomorrows work.