boys, IV

Back to the series on the farm boys. We’re now up to episode IV [insert Star Wars joke here] about J.R. 2.

Another warning about blunt discussions of animal biology, sociality, and sexuality!

As you might recall, J.R. 1 was jerky rooster #1 who chased lovely and sweet Cleo around the orchard and corn patch. That ended quickly.

J.R. 1 made a delicious roast. It was actually the first time we had roasted a (meaning, our) chicken. Both of us (mostly me, though) have been a bit squeamish about eating livestock that still strongly resembles their living selves. Hence, chicken stew and soup, not roast chicken. But J.R. 1 was jerky–and young–enough that neither of us had any qualms about roasting him. It. Him. And he–it–he was delicious.

Now, what about J.R. 2? He is now in our freezer so you know his eventual fate. How did he get there?

Well, J.R. 1 lost his life because he chased Cleo around the chicken yards. J.R. 2 lost his life because he started mating aggressively with some of the female chickens.

This is extremely common for roosters. In fact, it’s basically the norm. Ron works with a woman, “B,” at our local co-op. She has a rather, er, colorful phrase for this rooster behavior, which definitely crosses the line into so-called sailor’s language so I won’t repeat the apt phrase here.

In doing chicken research, Ron read somewhere that less dominant roosters can actually be more aggressive with the hens than the alpha rooster. They are trying to assert their dominance when and with whom they can. Unfortunately, the hens experience the brunt of this aggression. The roosters can get physical enough that they pull out feathers on the hens’ mid-backs, often leaving a patch of bare skin. Some people will put little apron/saddle thingys on their hens to protect them (!).

Another option is more straightforward: get rid of the aggressive roosters!

J.R. 2 had obviously hit chicken puberty and started mating aggressively with some of the hens for several days. Both Ron and I saw this, and it was reaching the point when we were deciding what to do. Cull the misbehaving roosters? Now? In a few days? Or what? Part of the challenge was that we had three roosters so we wanted to make sure that we targeted the right, um, suspect(s).

Ron decided J.R. 1’s time was up. Then it became J. R. 2’s turn.

But what was probably most fascinating about the whole episode was Tom’s response and behavior. You might recall that Tom, also known as Major Tom (after all, David Bowie died earlier this year), is now the lone rooster.

Ron saw J.R. 2 hop on a poor hen, hanging on. He then saw Tom run over and shoo J.R. 2 away (!). Tom did this several times (!!).

Yes, Tom, a rooster, chased off another rooster, seemingly protecting the hen(s) from J.R. 2’s aggressive amorous intents (!).

And that is how and why Tom became our lone rooster and J.R. 2 ended up in the freezer.

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(failed) experiment

Well, that didn’t work.

I’m putting the series on the farm boys on hold again to write about a (failed) experiment earlier today.

Warning: sheep biology, sociality, and sexuality discussed below!

Shemp the ram suitor got here the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. We think all four ewes are pregnant because Shemp has largely lost interest in all of them. He keeps checking to see if their estrous cycle has started again. And they don’t appear to have. If so, that means they are preggers. If all four ewes are indeed pregnant and bring their lambies to term, that means we’ll have four (or more) lambs running around in early May (!).

Shemp will be moving to another farm (more ewes!?) or return to his home in another week or two. At that point we can reintegrate the flock. The only down side to the current arrangement is that the three wethers are in a smallish pasture by themselves. They have less grass to graze on and there’s a higher concentration of sheep poop per square foot of pasture now.

And then there is the forlorn factor. They tend to stand at the fence closest to the driveway with the best view of the large pasture below with Shemp and the ewes, looking a bit forlorn. They have quit baaing at the rest of the flock for the most part, but they still look a little sad and pathetic.

Given our human guilt over this, the fact that Shemp seems to have completed his job (!), and the sheep have been curious and friendly across the gate separating the two pastures (and flocks), we have gone back and forth about integrating the flock.

I have to say that I was more skeptical about integrating them. For one, Shemp isn’t ours and I would feel terrible if anything happened to him on our watch. In addition, I was skeptical of rocking the boat on the current situation, even if the wethers (and foremost Half Moon) seem a little forlorn.

Ron has spent a lot more time with the sheep over the past month. They have seemed quite friendly and relaxed across the gate. And he’d rather have the pasture more evenly used. The wethers are beating up the upper pasture a bit with tracks and concentrated sheep poop in places, although it’s easy enough to rake and spread it out.

Since we weren’t sure sure when Shemp will be leaving, Ron suggested that we try integrating the flock while I’m still on vacation. If anything happened, it’s a lot easier to deal with it with two humans around.

So, we tried integrating the flocks this morning.

It started well enough.

The wethers were both excited and nervous to cross where the gate normally is. They stood there with the gate wide open, excited to turn the corner but not brave enough to do so. Until they did. Surprisingly, Tatanka went into the ewes’ pasture first.

Shemp and the ewes left their beloved hay feeder for a while to meet the wethers. They were pretty curious, too.

And in an especially sweet moment, both Half Moon and Brownie baaed at each other. Moreover, they were the only ones to do so. Half Moon was 5.5 months old when we separated the two flocks and they’ve been apart for a month now, but they clearly are still bonded.

Sniff.

And then things didn’t go so well.

All the sheep were smelling one another. Not that surprising. There were a few head rubs and walking by one another, rubbing their woolly coats on one another.

Shemp was most curious about Tagine, the biggest and most dominant (if a castrated male can be dominant…) wether. He sniffed Tagine a lot–and then decided to mount him. Several times.

Was this a dominance move over the biggest “foreign” sheep? A specifically male dominance move over the biggest male sheep (in fact, Tagine is actually bigger than Shemp)? Confusion by an in-tact ram? Don’t know.

But Tagine got Fed. Up. And Fast.

Tagine backed up and head butted Shemp. Several times. Shemp has four horns (this is normal for some male Navajo Churro), but he’s a small male. Tagine has two small horns, but he’s big, strong, and at times very stubborn.

They rammed one another (literally…) about a half-dozen times with the other sheep scattering to get out of the way.

Ron and I quickly agreed: this was not going well. We needed to go to Plan B pronto.

We had discussed the broad contours of what we would do if integrating the flocks did not go well, but we hadn’t worked out all of the specifics. Fortunately, Shemp is extremely sweet and comfortable around Ron (any human, really). Consequently, Ron walked between Tagine and Shemp as they were about to head butt again. Both stopped right away. Ron walked over to Shemp who is not at all skittish or shy. He simply straddled him (which is easy because Shemp is a small male) and held his two biggest horns. Shemp did nothing.

Talk about (human) male dominance.

Then we stood there. Now what do we do??? Shemp was secure, but the two flocks were together–and now couldn’t be. Ron stood there holding Shemp while we worked out the details on the fly.

Ron would get Shemp into the corn patch and shut the door. Then we had a little time to think. But I would get the silver tin of corn while Ron got the catch pen set up. I would then get the sheep to come around me (with the corn) and walk them into the catch pen. Ron would shut the door behind us all. And somehow we would get all the girls out of the catch pen, yet keep the wethers in. Once the boys were inside, we would run the ewes back down into the lower pasture, close and secure the gate, and then release the wethers into their pasture. We could also release Shemp from the corn patch back with his ewes.*

*All this makes more sense if you know our property and where everything is.

At that point, everything would be like normal again, before we tried the (failed) integration experiment minutes earlier.

Fortunately, this is exactly what happened. Despite the kerfuffle between Shemp and Tagine, all the sheep ran for the corn and followed me. Brownie and June Bug stayed out of the catch pen, which is pretty typical. But since we wanted the girls out of the catch pen, their skittishness was actually convenient.

So, in something like ten minutes we went from integrating the flock to male sheep fight to separating them again. In the end, having the wethers separate in their pasture is a much better quality of life than having Shemp and Tagine butt heads (literally). They may have worked out their sheepie issues if given a few hours, but we didn’t want to risk anything happening.

We’ve learned our lesson: no integrating of the sheep flocks, no matter how pathetic the looks that Half Moon gives us. Even though the sheep seemed fine across the fence, even curious and friendly, things can rapidly go south if introduced to one another.

For the time being, Shemp and the ewes are back in the big pasture below. The three wethers are in the smaller pasture uphill. And that’s where they will stay until Shemp leaves our farm in another week or two.

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boys, III

To continue the series on male farm critters around here, today’s topic is Jerky Rooster #1, or J.R. 1 for short.

Yes, we do giggle at the reference to “JR” from the tv show “Dallas” many years ago…

When Caroline (finally) successfully raised 6 chicks late this summer–they hatched 1 August–turned out 3 were hens, 3 were roosters. We were pretty sure at least 2, possibly all, of the roosters would have to “go.”

“Go” being a convenient euphemism for being killed and butchered, of course. Remember this every time you eat meat.

And note the passive voice there. Someone (Ron) has to do the killing (again, Ron) and butchering (still Ron).

And yes, I’m a big fat hypocrite because I eat ethically raised meat without doing the killing and butchering.

But back to the roosters and their fate.

The roosters were very pretty and we like having them around. Their crowing is nice. For the most part, the rooster boys were pretty nice–nicer, for instance, than Scruffy at the same age. Perhaps, we thought, we’d keep (a) (the) rooster(s).

Yes and no.

We haven’t been spending a ton of time in the orchard with the chickens because of the onset of winter. However, Ron has been out there more than I have. And he saw some typical rooster behavior.

Starting with J.R. 1. The first jerky rooster started chasing Cleo around, clearly wanting to mate with her. After all, her full name is Cleopatra and she is probably the prettiest hen we have… Can’t really blame J.R. 1 in that sense.

However, he was chasing Cleo around. Repeatedly. Cleo was clearly not happy about the whole thing. So after several days of this silliness, Ron decided it was going to be J.R. 1’s time to go. He thought that he would pull J.R. 1 out of the coop first thing the next morning and dispatch him as quickly and humanely as possible.

Well, after J.R. 1 continued bothering Cleo, Ron decided enough was enough. That was J.R. 1’s last afternoon–no waiting until the following morning.

Because J.R. 1 was only about 4 months old at the time, we decided to have roast chicken. Or rather, roast rooster.

I’ve been especially squeamish about eating roast chicken when it’s so obvious what is what–and who was what–or what was who??? However, when jerky roosters terrorize poor hens, guilt goes out the window rather quickly.

And, I must say, J.R. 1 was absolutely delicious.

You can probably guess the fate of J.R. 2 from his name. Another day.

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boys, II

Back to the farm boys.

Shemp got here at the end of November. The ewes have been pleased with their suitor.

The wethers? Not so much.

We separated Tagine, Tatanka, and Half Moon from the girls earlier that Sunday. Initially, both groups were a bit befuddled by the whole thing. “Why are we over here and they are over there????” After all, they are a single flock and they prefer it that way.

The girls, however, got over the strangeness pretty quickly, especially once Shemp showed up.

The wethers were big whiners. They stood at the part of their pasture where they could generally see the ewes (and Shemp) and baa’ed at them. Half Moon was especially vocal the first day or two.

But it was the first time he had been separated from his mom, Brownie, since he was born. Granted, he was over 6 months old and pretty big, but he clearly didn’t like it.

Tagine and Tatanka really had no excuse, but they whined, too.

After about a week, all three wethers had mostly calmed down, but they have been very, very happy to see us (the humans). They’ve been more interactive, friendly, and generally needy–Tatanka especially (at least around me).

Shemp will be here for a total of about five weeks (or two ewe estrous cycles). It’s been almost two weeks. So a little more than three more to go.

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new layer

I’ll put the series on the farm boys on hold.

Yesterday we got the first egg from a new layer: Mira-or-Lazi.

Why Mira-or-Lazi, not Mira or Lazi?

As you might recall, poor Mira (short for Miracle) and Lazi (short for Lazarus) were the two surviving chicks (Ella’s) from the awful chickatrosphe of June. The poor little things were just four weeks old, somehow ended up in the corn patch, and they managed to survive, unlike the other twelve four or 5.5 week old chicks.

Sniff.

Ella continued to raise Mira and Lazi safely in the mobile coop until they were old enough to run around on their own.

Once they were about eight weeks old, I could tell them apart. At least a little bit. They have different combs. They also have different personalities. One is much shyer than the other.

However, I never put a comb and personality to a hen body with 100% certainty, so as they grew up, they became more of a unit–Mira-and-Lazi–than differentiated individuals. By the time that they were almost full grown, I had no clue which was which. And at that point, it seemed silly to try.

So, Mira and Lazi are Mira-and-Lazi or Mira-or-Lazi depending on the circumstance.

In this case, Mira-or-Lazi laid her first egg yesterday. Ron saw Mira-or-Lazi in one of the nest boxes in the morning and a little later there was a nice but small brown egg in the box. Presumably the other will start laying shortly.

The Australorps are big black birds with some pretty green iridescent coloring on their feathers. They should be good layers and they should lay big brown eggs. But the hens always start a little small and slowly.

Given the slow egg production the past two months or so (more on that another time?), we’re glad to see that Mira-or-Lazi has started laying and we look forward to when Mira and Lazi are both laying.

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boys, I

Too much still going on at work.

Meanwhile, much has been going on at the farm, although I’ve had little time to share.

I’ll start a little series today (we’ll see how long it takes me…) on stories about boys on the farm in recent days:

  • Shemp
  • Tagine, Tatanka, and Half Moon
  • J.R. 1
  • J.R. 2
  • Tom

I just made that list to remind myself. My brain is a complete sieve these days.

So, Shemp! Who is Shemp, you may be asking.

Well, Shemp is the ram suitor we borrowed to breed our four ewes, Brownie, Spot, Cinnamon, and June Bug.

Ron had to do some research, trying to find an unrelated male Navajo Churro within a reasonable driving distance. We could have bred the four ewes with Thor, one of the two breeding rams on the farm where we got the Navajo Churro in July of last year. However, he’s the grandfather of (let’s see if I am getting this right) at least Spot and Cinnamon. Not great in terms of genetic diversity, although better than some breeding practices (yuck).

Long story short, Ron was able to contact someone who had actually bought a Navajo Churro ram and ewe pair off of Craigslist some months ago. Unfortunately, the owner’s dog killed the ewe. 😦 Fortunately, Shemp the ram is a real sweetie.

Shemp’s owner and Ron worked out an arrangement. Because the weather last week was supposed to be colder and rainier than we had initially expected, Ron contacted Shemp’s human last Sunday and asked if he could pick up Shemp early.

He was able to do so, so we spent part of the morning separating our boy sheep from the girl sheep. Tagine, Tatanka, and Half Moon ended up in the pasture next to and above the corn patch, orchard, and garden with the much-beloved sheep shack. The four ewes (and eventually Shemp) got most of our pasture on the south(ish) side of the property, along with the sheepie tipi in the woods.

I’ll share more stories about Tagine, Tatanka, and Half Moon another day, but we were able to get Shemp into the enclosed corn patch. He spent about an hour in there, watching the other sheep (both boys and girls) through the fence. Interestingly, he was more curious about the wethers, although they were often closer. He’s a remarkably friendly and non-aggressive ram. He walked right up to us, wanted pets, acting as if we were old human friends.

After a little time apart, we let Shemp into the large pasture with the ewes. Since then, it’s been a reminder about basic biology lessons, including “the birds and the bees–and the sheep.”

To share with you non-farmer types who do not have domesticated livestock, the ram is interested in female sheep going through estrous. In female sheep, that happens every 16-17 days. It’s pretty clear that he senses when an ewe is about to start her estrous cycle because he follows her around for a day or two. At this point, the ewes aren’t interested in the ram and pretty much annoyed that this pesty boy is following them around a lot. The cartoon bubbles over their heads say, “j u s t   l e a v e   m e   a l o n e . . .”

However, after a day or so, we are reminded, ahem, of biology.

And after about 24 hours, that’s it. The ram checks out the other ewes, trying to figure out if any of them will start their estrous cycle.

Based on, ahem, Shemp and ewe activity around here, it appears that Spot, Cinnamon, and June Bug all went through their estrous cycles the very first week Shemp was here. We are waiting on Brownie–not to mention Shemp!?!? Unless we somehow missed it. That would be easy for me to miss since I’m away from the farm for much of daylight most weekdays. But it would be more surprising if Ron didn’t see something.

At any rate, we’ve marked the calendar with possible ewe impregnation dates (!?). We’re waiting to see what’s going on with Brownie. Meanwhile, Shemp seems to be a bit bored with the girls. He keeps wandering over to the small patch of fence that both sheep pastures have in common. He was even nuzzling faces with all three wethers through the fence. Based on how sweet and gentle he is (plus he’s a pretty small ram), we might be able to have all the sheep together. However, we’re still too nervous about reintegrating the flock in case the males get in a fight.

More on what the wethers thought of all this another day.

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grateful

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. In this era of political uncertainty, hate, and possibly corruption, we are grateful for many things here on the farm.

We are grateful for the sun, which warms the house through its passive solar design and fuels the solar hot water system and solar photovoltaic panels, which have radically reduced our electricity bills and carbon footprint.

We are grateful for ample water–at least most of the time–which allows us to have lush meadow and a big vegetable garden.

We are grateful for the seasonal variability, which means we have pretty falls, snowy winters, refreshing springs, and verdant summers.

We are grateful for compost, which does its miraculous compost thing–making amazing soil out of random piles of weeds, kitchen scraps, leaves, and chicken and sheep straw.

We are grateful for the sheep who are gentle, sweet, friendly, and funny–and they replenish the meadow and expand our compost with their poop.

We are grateful for innovations like electric fencing, which makes shepherding life a lot easier.

We are grateful for the chickens who make delicious eggs (though not so many this time of year), munch on bugs, and poop all over the place.

We are grateful for the vegetable plants that generally grow well from late spring to late fall, although we can’t always count on which species will do best in a given year.

We are grateful for the trees that grow and grow, so we can have ample firewood all winter long.

We are grateful for the native birds who like to eat sunflower seeds and entertain the cats and the humans.

We are grateful for Amable and Biscuit who are sweet kitties who have been with us for a long time, and hopefully they’ll have many more good years with us.

We are grateful that, in this era of craziness and uncertainty, White Pine Farm could probably support us, if we had to rely on it.

 

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