Farm Animal Notes
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Farm Animal Notes October, 2013


October has finally seen our escape artist, Sophie, meet her match: an underground wire fence.  We had heard good things about these fences, so we bit the bullet and had one installed all around the goat yards.  Sophie wears an electronic collar now and whenever she comes close to an outer fence, she first hears a beep, sort of like a bus backing up, and then if she continues, she gets a shock.  We had tried an  electronic collar before, but that one worked by remote control, so we had to zap her whenever we saw her trying to jump a fence and we had to be within 100 yards of that fence, which turned out to be quite difficult.  She just shook off those charges and then jumped the fence, or sometimes jumped it when we weren’t looking or were farther than 100 feet.  
kissing cousins
The last time she went over the fence with that collar on, she came back without the collar, so the remote version did not seem to help.  This one does.  She jumped it once after it was installed, but our neighbor caught her and brought her right back and then she went into her “angry period” of about two weeks.  She sulked a lot like a little kid who just had her favorite toy taken away.  We have four goat yards that are joined with fences and gates between them and at first she was afraid of all fencing, but gradually when we called her into one yard from the next, she finally figured out the inside gates and fences were OK, but the outside perimeter was not.  She’s now back to playing around with Jeremiah and going to and fro whenever she wants, and still digs out under the gates if one happens to be closed and she wants to go in another yard, but she has avoided all outside perimeters since that first breech.  Hip, hip, hooray!  Jeremiah is still growing and will be coming up on his first birthday in November, and has already surpassed Sophie in size, but he is a just a lovable big baby snowball and not a fence jumper at all.   Our inside dogs are doing fine, though Joey has been testing the counters once again…..too many good smells in the autumn coming from the kitchen, I think.
friends again
While spring is often the time of year for new birth and lots of new life, and fall a time of harvest, on the animal front, fall may also mean slaughtering time for some animals and breeding time for others.  While October has seen the ducks start laying copious amounts of duck eggs (even surpassing the chickens) which we are using for baking and recipes like stuffed peppers and meatloaf, or scrambled as an occasional treat for the dogs, the first weekend in November, the ducks and four of our older chickens will be taken to slaughter and then to our freezer.  
ducks and condo
The slaughtering is done quickly so the animals do not suffer unnecessarily.  This is a working mini-farm, so we do still use some of the chickens and ducks and perhaps a goat for meat here and there.  Ducks are somewhat hard to winter over, since their webbed feet are often susceptible to frostbite, but roast duck for Christmas dinner may also be part of the rhythm of our country life.  
The new chicks from last spring are now full grown chickens and are laying eggs, though with the shortened daylight hours, they are laying less than they will next summer.  Bill moved the larger chicken condo up from the chicken yard (it is on wheels) to near our house for the winter.  Once the leaves are all off the trees, the free-ranging chickens are so exposed to hawks and other predators that are out looking for food.  We moved the eight new layers into one of the green chicken tractors until the condo is ready and once the other chickens and ducks are gone, we will transfer the new chickens to their new house and clean out the green tractors before we set them aside for the winter.  
condo near house
Winter is coming and the larger chicken condo is now set right next to the wood pile and right outside our family room door.  They still have a small attached yard, but once the cold weather sets in for winter, the condo freezes to the ground and cannot be moved until spring.  We fired up the wood stove the other day, since temps are now below freezing in the morning.   The “hunkering down” process has begun.
IMG 2602
The goat sheds will need to be cleaned soon with fresh shavings added, and as long as we can, we try to clean them every few weeks before everything freezes.  The water buckets are plugged in at the fence, so the water does not freeze.  One concern we do have this winter is the buck shed, which is the farthest shed from any outlet.  Their water bucket is indoors, but it will freeze, too, and we cannot run a line down there, because the goats would chew on such a line.  Sophie, too, has had two water sources, one her dish and the other a bucket on an inside fence.  With winter coming, however, that inside bucket is not plugged in and she will not approach a bucket on the outer fence line, since the underground electric fence is also there.  We will have to watch their water supplies more carefully.
 the boysOn the breeding front, we would like to breed the Nubian goats, Gertrude and Bernadette, with Malachi, so that next spring (gestation is five months), we will have some baby Nubian goats and also some fresh Nubian milk.  So far, we have only had Saanen goats giving milk and supposedly the Nubians have higher butterfat content to their milk than the Saanens, so we will see which we prefer.   “Dr. Karen,” our large animal vet was out a few weeks ago, giving those who needed it their rabies shots, but also checking a few abnormalities.  Maggie, our Saanen doeling, who is about a year and a half, has developed a pernicious udder, or a very hard udder which can be a problem for milking, or may go away on its own if and when she becomes pregnant.  Dr. Karen ran a culture on the fluid from her udder and it came back negative, but she still gave Maggie an antibiotic treatment to her teats to try to resolve it.    We may try to see if she can be bred as well this year with Micha so that the udder problem is resolved before it worsens.  Sky and Beatrice and Julian and Sunshine will have a rest, though both Sky and Beatrice have been in heat and have been hanging around the buck shed for a few days.  Good thing we put that double fence around them.  Goats only go into heat a few days a month from about September to January, so we have to watch them closely.  The end of October is a good time to start breeding, since that will bring the babies by the end of March.  Having them much earlier sometimes runs the risk of very cold temperatures and/or snow.
So, as October comes to a close, there are certainly animals tasks to monitor and complete, but once the ducks and older chickens are in the freezer, and the laying hens have their winter home, and the goats are settling into pregnancies, and the inside dogs have marked their spots next to the woodstoves, the quiet rhythm of late fall and winter descends, and we begin that still period of nature’s rest.  Praise God!