Thursday, April 26, 2012

What's in the box?

      Wednesday morning shortly after the eight the expected phone call from the post office came. We had a box of chicks arrive.  Our postmistress must really be an animal lover (or she doesn't like peeping packages) as she always wants to make sure we get them as soon as possible. It may seem strange that chicks come through the United States Postal Service but they typically arrive safe and sound.

     Today's arrivals were a new batch pullets. These female chicks will grow and add to our laying flock or be sold to others to join their flocks after we brood them. This smaller batch of 25 (we will have 250 arrive when the meat chick order comes in a month) will spend the next month sheltered in the barn. The boys did not set up the big brooder Mike built a couple of years ago but found on the second floor of the barn the small brooder I made from an old folding, louvered closet door. Our new barn kitten, Shadow, watched intently as the chicks where taken from the box and shown the food and water in the brooder.  Soon after the chicks were safely in the brooder the laying hens came over loudly clucking to check things out.

     Life for these chicks certainly is different than for the broods one of our hens hatch.  For a day or two after hatching a hen will keep the chicks on or near the nest as they do not yet need food or water.  Just prior to hatching all chicks consume the egg yolk.  The fat and water in the yolks allows them to not eat or drink for the first days of life.  Not only does this allow for them to be mailed from a hatchery but it also allows the hen to safely get the chicks out of where she has sat on the eggs.

     Our hens have brooded eggs in some pretty unusual places.  There is a metal ceiling in the first floor of the barn, this creates a space because of the depth of the beams.  A hen layed a clutch of eggs between the ceiling of the first level and the floor of the second.  One day when walking into the barn I could hear scratching in the ceiling.  The boys climbed with a flashlight to look into this dark layer and sure enough a Speckled Sussex had a dozen babies.  We placed some food and water there for a couple of days but she soon encouraged them to follow her out.

     A hen with a brood of chicks is great fun to watch not only will she expand her feathers to tuck each safely and warmly underneath but she manages to protect them from the interested dogs and barn cats.  I am always amazed when a hen will take her chicks out and about any time of day no matter the temperature.  When you order chicks we are told to keep chicks in a brooder at 95 degrees the first week and 5 degrees less the next week.  A mama creates the perfect conditions without a heat lamp or thermometer.  For the last couple of years we have relied on hens to provide us with additional pullets but to maintain diversity it was time to bring in new blood.

Together for warmth
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These are another eclectic mix... Buff Orpingtons, Speckled Sussex, Barred Rocks, Samon Faverolle, Rhode Island Rd and Black Australorp.  Their wing feather begin to pop out a couple of days after their arrival.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Roller Coaster

It is a challenge not to check email often to see if there are new pledges.  When there is a message from Kickstarter it is like Christmas morning.  Woohoo someone sees the potential of the project.

Throughout this barn saga we have approached it with a positive perspective...if it is meant to happen everything will fall into place. The perspective may sound fatalistic but it does not mean we are sitting back and letting the pieces simply fall where they may.   We are actively working to save the barn.  Some may not have thought to see if insurance would cover damage to the building but our perspective was it does not hurt to ask.  When we submitted the barn grant at the beginning of November we were uncertain what would result from the discussions of the timber framers and the insurance company but the grant was written, a budget put together and 20 pictures of the barn were selected to tell the story.

When we were awarded the barn grant at the end of February we saw that as a positive sign even though we did not know how the rest of it would work out.  I discovered Kickstarter at about the same time the grant letter came and thought maybe this really is supposed to happen.

While working outside this week it was been a roller coaster of emotions.  I look at the barn with it's incredible size and know it's potential but I also know that it's a looong way from actually being ready to happen.  As I climb over the pig pens that expanded from Sparkler's first pen to be an area then now incorporates the dirt filled concrete gutters to be large enough for the all the sows and piglets I can imagine a neat row of adjoining pens built along the back wall.

As I planted in the garden I wondered if the weeds would overtake the garden as summer would be spent working on the barn.  Every time I walk into the upper level I think of what will stay and what will go and where will it go while the barn is down for repairs.  There are still so many questions to find answers to but the first one is "Does the community at large believe saving the barn is a worthwhile endeavor?". Only time will tell....

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Richmond Place

After I shared a picture on Facebook this week of Penny's piglets my Aunt Mary Jane comment on the pride my grandpa would have to see me raising pigs.  My paternal grandparents were farmers.  My dad is the youngest of eight children raised on a diverse family farm on Chelsea's Bobbinshop Road.  When my dad was growing up life revolved around caring for the milking herd of Jerseys, laying hens, pigs, and the horses.

As a child I remember visiting the main farm were my uncles then milked a couple of hundred Holsteins and the "Richmond Place" in Tunbridge where my grandparents moved when the Bobbinshop farmhouse burned in the late 1960's.  My grandparents "retirement" farm was a magical place.  Grandpa always had lots of ponies and gigantic workhorses.  He leased them out each summer as riding horses.   When I was five Grammie and Grandpa gave my sister and I a pony foal.  She evidently had followed my sister and I around the barnyard whenever we would visit and my grandparents believed all grandchildren needed a horse.  Although my dad sometimes was stuck with caring for my horse it certainly taught me responsibility at an early age.

I have vivid memories of the pigs at the Richmond Place.  There was a barn where sows were keep in farrowing crates when they had babies and the piglets would scurry everywhere.  I remember Grandpa giving a sow grain so we could pass through the pen into the creep area and play with the older piglets out of moms reach.  One day Grandpa caught a runt piglet for us and we brought it into the house.  Grammie shook her head, but when you are one of the youngest grandchildren you can get away with a lot.  I know we wanted to keep that piglet but we were told it was a pig and needed to be in the barn with the other pigs.  I also remember the piglet getting loose in the house and how difficult it was to catch it.  I think Grammie was the one to catch it and then it went back to the barn.

As an adult I have brought a piglet into the house just briefly and only a couple of times.  Once or twice we have found a chilled, weak piglet who managed to get out of the nest the first night and figured it could possibly be save by warming in the house.  

The Facebook picture not only led to my reflection upon my grandparents it also led to a visit by a neighbors four year old daughter to play with the piglets.  I love showing young children around the farm... Who knows maybe one of them will decide to farm someday.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Life's Cycle

Penny graced our farm this weekend with a beautiful litter of Tamworth piglets.  As Boris spends all winter with the herd I was not entirely clear when to expect her to farrow.  Pigs are amazingly accurate at three months, three weeks, three days gestation but without knowing when exactly the deed was done the 3,3,3, means nothing.  When I arrived home on Friday evening Trenton announced "Penny is nesting, she is carrying around wood."  He tossed her some additional bedding and soon after the first two piglets arrived.  As this is her third litter she tended to business and start to finish delivered 10 healthy piglets in about 3 hours time.  After the challenge with Sparklers litter where we lost half of them the first night I was a little apprehensive Saturday morning when I went to check on them.  Penny is a great sow and had 10 nursing piglets cuddled close to her big warm body.

We experienced the other end of the life cycle on the farm this weekend as well.  We started our laying hen flock with a half dozen chicks 5 or 6 years ago.  Our original laying hens were an eclectic mix including a Buff Orpington, Barred Rock, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Americanas.  The boys did not officially name each chicken but the orpington and rock quickly became Buffy and Rocky.  These hens welcome new pullets to the flock each summer and managed to avoid predators as they enjoy the free ranging life.  Buffy and Rocky have sat next to each other on the roost in front of the window each night, the prime spot as the most mature members of the flock.  Rocky has looked a little rough this winter but I figured if we had not culled chickens as they went into the first molt there was no reason to cull her now.  Saturday morning when I went into the coop Rocky was standing on the floor with her head down and eyes closed.  She stirred a little but quickly closed her eyes again.  I figured she was dying so I brought water close to her incase she wanted a drink.  I debated about what was the reasonable thing to do for a dying chicken.  Should I let her be, move her off the floor into a nesting box, cull her?  I decided to let her be for a while and went on with Easter prep.  Saturday evening the boys did the chores so I did not see if she made it up onto the roost near Buffy or not.  Sunday morning when doing chores I found that she had died.  My uncertainty about how to treat the aged laying hen was answered by nature.  She went quickly and in the coop she had returned to each evening.  What more could one ask for?