RISING SUN - I realized the other day, it has been a little while since I wrote an update about how our little hillbilly homestead is coming along.
After we bought our house, Chasca and I jumped in with both feet into farming. We are now two jersey bull calves, six pigs, two puppies, and I’m not even sure how many chickens in deep. The boys eagerly came along for the ride. Thatcher has even taking to introducing himself as Thatcher “Fawmer.” For Waylon’s part, he’s constructed most of his limited vocabulary around the animals. “How-how” For the puppies, “Ma Ma” for the calves, and “Ha-seeeess” for the horses.
For the most part, it has been exciting and fun. But, we’ve also learned rather quickly that a whole lot at once, comes with its own set of challenges.
The first major battle we’ve fought was with our little Jerseys. We had talked about getting calves when we moved to tackle the seven acres of lush pasture. We initially thought we’d get something ready to go on grass immediately, but when the (read inexpensive) opportunity arose for these unwanted little bulls, we (read: Chasca) jumped on it. Initially, I was expecting one little calve but out of the box came two. If you’ve never seen a Jersey calf whose only a few days old, well, you don’t know what cute is. They were about the size of German Shepherds when they came to the farm. Big dopey brown eyes and adorable buckteeth completed the too cute package. So little, Waylon was convinced they were dogs, and woof woofed every time he saw them.
And then came the scours. Being the researching enthusiast I am, I posted the question to a homesteading group I’m in on Facebook, “What is the one thing you wish someone had told you before you got a bottle calf?” Overwhelmingly, the answers were about dealing with scours. And it took less than 24 hours for these little guys to start scouring. Luckily, after rounds of electrolytes and some calf scour pills and lots of advice from the more experienced staff of the BMC in Soldiers Grove, they got through it. I’m happy to report that the pair, Thatcher dubbed ‘Cow Cow Yippee’ and ‘Bammer Cow’ seems no worse for the wear. Still hardly bigger than a pair of German Shepherds though.
The pigs have been their own adventure as well. The first four we managed to get home from Darlington in the back of Chasca’s station wagon. We thought it was going to be rather uneventful picking up the two Idaho Pasture Pigs and two Mangalistas. However, we had to run the gauntlet of the barnyard full of pigs and cattle in the rain. And when that mama sow heard her piglets screaming, she came running. I foolishly wore sandals for the event, not anticipating slogging through ankle deep mud. Definitely not anticipating making a mad dash away from a full sized wooly sheep-pig mama that was awfully mad we were stealing her babies. I managed to get out of there, piglet intact and vowed never to wear sandals on such an adventure again.
Seemingly what I anticipated to be the easiest critter on the complex has turned out to have its own sets of challenges. The good ole chickens, both of the meat and egg variety I might add. We ignored the advice of more seasoned friends to avoid the Cornish Cross-big fat white meat birds at all costs. But, drawn in by the promise of an eight-week commitment I called the feed mill and ordered up 25. They arrived and looked like little body builders compared to our ‘Rainbow Eggers’ on the other side of the box. Big chests and fat thighs on tiny little yellow puffs. They also immediately demonstrated how incredibly fragile they are by dying off within the first 24 hours. In total, we lost around four meaties. Not too bad, but certainly not great.
This week has marked week six of the disgusting dinosaurs. We had to prematurely dispatch one last week that managed to break its leg, despite our efforts to feed and grow them gradually. But these birds are gluttons for feed. Interestingly, they only care about chicken kibble. I thought I’d do them a favor and offer the sweet and delicious strawberry tops leftover from my jam making. They stuck their yellow beaks up at the treat and went on to the trough filled with feed. Their egg-making comrades fought over the reaming spoils.
No chicken discussion would be complete without mention of our first predatory casualty. Shockingly no raccoons, minks, weasels or the like were the predator, but it was the humble gnat. We like everyone else have been in a battle against the buffalo gnats that have been eating up our kids. No sooner did we find out that they can kill a chicken in mere seconds did we discover our first dead egg chicken. A young rooster who was smothered by the evil flying bugs. We immediately took action in the form of a fan and sprinkling the chickens with vanilla daily. It seems to have helped, but we’re keeping a close eye on the already fragile things.Hopefully, we can make it through the rest of the year with less than eventful results. I’m sure I’ll have more to report though, when we enter the next stage of big moves and relocate our piglets from their small enclosure into a larger one controlled by a hotwire. Here’s to hoping I don’t need to perfect the art of pig wrangling anytime soon.