Sarah and I have time together each day milking. The grandchildren and I spend time each week working with the chickens. Today’s story comes out of all that time together.
What goes around comes around. Maybe a year or so ago, someone decided that we needed a calico kitten, and so one appeared unbidden at the barn. With great inspiration we named her, ‘Calle’. Then she had a two kittens, and we decided to keep them because Calle is an excellent mouser. She likes to catch mice and give them to the kittens. The larger kitten, ‘Boots’, likes to prance around with a mouse like she is something special. The gray kitten with the soft, silky fur has yet to display a name and so remains nameless. She is less assertive and more likely to wait and then clean up after the other two have had their fill of the food.
At milking time, they are waiting for us by the stanchion with a cacophony of off-key meows, demanding their milk. When we milk, the first squirts from each teat go into a little container that we then give to the kittens. This clears the teat of any hidden debris. The cats know this and so anticipate the milking. In turn, they have each learned to avoid the cow’s feet and that the tail is not a toy. As a youth, when I was learning to milk, we had barn cats that would sit just out of the cow’s reach and wait for us to squirt them with milk. Then they would take turns licking each other clean. After Boots and the nameless kitten finish their milk they dart back and forth and, at times, Sarah and I practice our aim on moving targets. One night, grandson Caleb, of the kitten baptism fame (if you click through – scroll down to see the story), was watching us from his perch on the corral panel. After perfecting our aim on the kittens, both of which were now enjoying a second snack, I turned my attention to Caleb. The fine stream of highly nutritious, creamy, warm liquid could almost reach him. About half the time, the cow’s tail blocked the shot. ‘Missed me, Papa’, ‘Missed me again’. Now the kittens were back in range, and so a quick squirt proved that it was not the aim, but the target that was out of range. As I opened my mouth to explain this to Caleb, a hairy wet tail slapped me across the open mouth. Caleb let out a squeal, ‘Cow got Papa’.
Conflicting views. “Where are those wire cutters?” None of the chickens answered, none of the kittens answered, and Eppie the Border Collie just wagged her tail. I needed the wire cutters to clip the baling wire on the bale of hay that I was taking out to feed the cows. After poking around where it normally resides, I remembered that I had actually put them up in the tool box in the other room where they belong. I had been reading about being more efficient on the farm, and one bit of advice was to put things like tools up as soon as you are done with them. I now remembered that I had put this misplaced piece of advice into practice and had now efficiently lost about 10 minutes. I’ve discovered another view that says, “Have the tools positioned where they will be used.” So now the wire cutters are safely stored near the hay bales, and I don’t loose time looking for them. I did make a place to hang the brooms and dust pans, and that has helped a lot at clean up time.
Homesteading Class. Several weeks ago I taught the poultry session of the Ploughshare Homesteading class, and some of those people are getting this newsletter for the first time. I think the class was well received, but in the post class critique, I felt like I had not done a clear presentation on the housing area. Next time I’ll follow this outline
1. Chicken housing does not need to be complicated, it does need to provide protection from
- Rain , snow, hail storms and heavy wet dew
2. Chickens must have plenty of fresh air. Many recommend an open air structure that has three sides and is open to the south if you are in the Northern hemisphere.
3. If stationary, it is going to need to be cleaned, so think about cleaning the coop while designing it.
4. If mobile, will it be easy to move?
After covering those four points, I’m going to show 3 or 4 chicken housing structures, and we are going to score them based on the above.
Winter? Today was wet and cold. Last night I moved a group of 8-week-old Red Stars out of a mobile coop back into the barn. Our mobile coops don’t provide enough protection from a cold wet wind, and I was concerned that the young birds would get wet and then cold, a recipe for a cough. Our Bell-matic waterers are great when the temperatures are above freezing but not so good when the water freezes. I keep hand waterers ready for those situations. Looks like it’s about time to get them ready.
Winter feeding. Consider giving your birds more calories in the winter as they are burning extra energy to stay warm. A little cracked corn about an hour before bed time will fill them up before they roost. By little I mean about 1/8 cup per bird.
Molting. My Delawares are in full molt. Their coop looks like it snowed. I’m down to 1 or 2 eggs a day from them. They all started to molt about the same week, so the next selection will be for fast molters. Non-soy,
Non-gmo, pastured birds. I’m raising up a group of Rangers for meat. They grow to processing size in 11-12 week and are now 1 week old. I’m feeding them exclusively on Texas Natural Non-Soy, Non-GMO Elite feed. They should be ready in 10-11 weeks. I’ll have them processed at Cobb Creek in Hillsboro and then will be selling them as whole chickens for $5.00 a pound. If you’d like to get on the list for some of them, send me an email with how many birds you want and I’ll add you to the list. I have 50 chicks and about 10 are already spoken for.
Homestead Craft Fair. Matthew and I will both be speaking on Poultry topics at the Homestead Craft Fair the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. When not speaking, I’ll be in the Poultry Booth. Come by and see me.