Lucy in the Sky With…I Need More Cow Bell

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The cows came home! Lucy our Dexter cow and Louise her Dexter-Angus calf have finally arrived. I am so very excited! Louise is actually my brothers but she gets to live with us. A huge thank you to Kip for Lucy, to Uncle Greg for the use of his truck and cattle trailer for hauling, and of course dad and Mike for bringing them home!!

Dexter cows are a dual purpose cow that’s lineage can be traced back thousands of years; another heritage breed, just the way we like ’em. They are native to the southern parts if Ireland and were first imported to the US between 1905 and 1915. They have always been a great “farmhouse” cow; providing a family with fresh dairy and beef. Pound for pound they are much more cost efficient from birth to steak. They are a very hearty breed and can thrive in all climates. In the cold winters they only need a wind break to stay comfortable outside. Birthing is usually done without complications with the breed as well.

wildflowerfarm.orgLucy (pictured on the left) gave birth to Louise in, I believe, November this past winter. It was a record winter of constant -50 temps around here. Both mom and baby were in the pasture all winter, through the birth and all. That’s a tough little cow! Now I have a very hard time knowing they are out in the rain with no option for shelter so knowing they are out in a cold Minnesota winter will be harder on me than them and for that reason they will have a nice home in the barn on those extra cold days.

When I say little cow, I’m serious. A full gown cow ( cow, meaning a lady cow that has had a baby) is only 36-42 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs less than 750 pounds!. That’s pint size compared to an Angus that is 54-58 inches tall and can weigh anywhere from 1200-2000 pounds! That’s a lot of cow (and hay)!

Dual purpose in the cow world means one that can be used as a dairy or beef cow (or both). We are planning for both. And this time when I say “we” I mean me. I’m pretty sure my husband is not interested in milking a cow. Me, I can’t wait for fresh milk to make yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, butter, oh boy! the options are endless!

The average Dexter cow will give 1-2 gallons of milk a day which is much more manageable than the 8-12 gallons an average full size modern dairy cow puts out. The modern dairy cows have been breed over time to be milk machines, which I personally have a bit of an issue with. It’s just not natural. No calf drinks that much milk so the cow should not be producing that much. That’s just me though.

Of course it’s going to take some time before I can start milking. Lucy was at one time halter broke and shown for 4-H, but it’s been quite a while since then. Before I can halter her we need to make friends. She will need to get comfortable with me being around and then handling her. Then we can work with the halter. It will take some time after that to get her used to being led, tied and finally begin milking. I could just jump right in. It would probably scare the crap out of her and would then take even more time to get her ok with the idea again.

wildflowerfarm.orgOnce Louise (pictured on the left) is weaned I will begin the process of halter breaking her. I’m not milking her though. For now Lucy is still too protective of her; between a new place, new people and her baby I’m sure she will be on the offense for a while.

Lucy is coming around though. I can call her and she will come to the fence, rub her wet nose on my hand but won’t take the cracked corn treat yet. We will get there though.

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The Story of One-Winged Wilma and a Guinea

 

chickenAbout 6:30 this morning our phone rang, it was my husband.

“Can you come out here the chickens are out. Something got into them last night.”

I put on my bathrobe and slipped on so shoes and hurried out to the coop as he needed to get to work and any chickens left out would be breakfast for the dogs. I got out there and help him herd the flock back to what we thought was safety.

Then he states ” there’s two chickens in there with their heads missing and one dead turkey.”

My heart sank. I hate losing animals, especially like this. It was probably the result of a raccoon, weasel or something of the sort. So there I am in my pink bathrobe hunched over walking into the temporary chicken run to pick up the pieces. I gave everyone a quick look-over and went out. You could tell something traumatic had happened because none of the birds were acting as usual.

We patched up the hole in the fence, Mike went to work and I gave the birds (or what was left) their final blessing.

A couple hours later I went out to do the actual “chicken chores” only to discover a guinea hen looking very odd and the other birds were pecking at her. This could only mean one thing, blood. So back into the pen I went. Squeezing through the fence, hunched over I cornered the mangled bird and took her out. Any bird with blood must be removed from the flock until they heal. If they are not removed the other birds will peck the to death. Another horrible way to lose an animal.

I gave her a brief examination to find her wing bones were snapped in two, hanging there only by a little bit of skin. The skin on one breast was gone. I felt so sick. Not because of the gore but because of what that poor bird went through and will have to go through to heal.

At this point I had no idea what to do about the bird. Maybe remove the portion of the wing that wouldn’t make it anyway but after that, how do I care for this?! I have dealt with a few animal trauma events. I’m far from a vet but I can “mother” an animal with the best of them. Chicken first aid is new to me though.

Thank God our mailman knows everything there is to know about poultry and was kind enough to stop and check out the broken bird. Yes, that’s right our mailman not only delivers the mail in rain, wind, sleet and snow but is capable of fixing birds too!

After Vern gave the bird a look over it was decided I needed to remove the part of the wing and put peroxide on the open wounds everyday until she’s healed. Apparently not only is there the usual bad bacteria and germs to worry about but this time of year they can end up with maggots in the wound! Yuck!! I can handle quite a bit but I’m not sure I want to test the limits either.

With Vern back on his route I gathered what I needed to do the amputation. The bird was placed back in solitary confinement, otherwise known as an extra dog kennel. Now that I had a plan I set her up a little place in the kennel. She will be safe in there. There is not enough room to flap her wings and hurt herself any further, but its tall enough for her to walk around. I gave her a good coating of peroxide and let her rest. This procedure will take two. One to hold and one to cut.

Giving her time to rest. I went back to the house and continued with the day.

Then round three began. Because today wasn’t filled with heartbreaking news already. I was headed to work, just stopped to close the barn door and I heard one of the chickens chirping. It wasn’t a normal chirp, nor a squawk. So of course, to the coop I go to see what’s going on. There is one of our layers, standing in the middle of a crowd getting pecked. After this morning events and by the way she was not trying to get away I knew this wouldn’t be good either.

Back into the pen I go. The flock scatters and Wilma just stood there. Eyes closed, head down. As I walked towards her she began to walk to the opening in the fence. She got to the end and stopped as if to say “I’m ready. Please help.” It was one of the saddest sights I’ve seen in a long time.

I picked up the little bird, her left wing was gone. The bone was exposed just below the shoulder. I fixed up another kennel (thank goodness we have extras), gave a dose of peroxide and put her in to rest and made my way to work.

The whole time at work all I could think about was those poor birds and what they must have went through, and if I missed Wilma did I missed any more? The whole thing just makes me sick and to think just before the storm rolled through last night we were out getting ready for high winds and possible hail. I thought about closing the chicken door and didn’t. All of this could have been prevented if I would have just shut the door.

For now Wilma and the guinea are resting comfortably in their own spaces. Once the make a full recovery they will rejoin the flock and all will be well again… I hope.

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More Than the Heart Could Handle

wildflowerfarm.orgA couple days ago I was looking for something to do outside with the little man that didn’t include weeding. We decided to let about half of the birds out into the pen in front of the house. We spent the next hour or so watching the birds catch worms and run around the pen looking for a secluded place to eat the worm with out sharing. And of course trying to keep the little guy from eating the grass.

When it was time we put the birds into one of the extra dog carriers and brought them back to their pen with the rest of the flock. One of the guinea hens had other ideas though and the chase was on.

There I am, in the small chicken pen in the yard trying to grab the hen and there is Stinks (our dog) on the outside of the pen chasing the hen the other direction. These birds are now old enough to have their “big bird” feathers and can fly.

Yay!

And fly she did. Right out of the pen and landed in front of Stinks. Tripping over myself and the chicken wire, I made it out of the pen on my feet. There I am, running after the dog, the dog with her ears pinned back determined to eat that bird and the bird running and flying for it’s dear life.  The parade went on. Me hollering, Stinks barking, bird squawking, all over the front yard.

Finally the bird found a spot under a half rotted railroad ties by a flower bed. This quick break in the chase was enough to stop the dog in her tracks and gave me just enough time grab the hen and carry her safely back to the safety of the flock.

After all this I thought I were in the clear. The following morning the poor dear was dead in the pen. I don’t know for sure what happened but I can only guess that it was too much excitement the day before.

Another quick and sad little bird service was held in her honor.

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The Little Red Hen

wildflowerfarm.orgI remember reading Golden Books growing up and when I found a “springtime” set I had to pick it up for my little guy. One of the books was titled “The Little Red Hen”. Short story shorter, the little red hen couldn’t get any help growing wheat and baking bread. Everyone wanted to help eat it but she decided she made it herself so she’d eat it herself. Now, me telling you this has really no meaning other than I liked the story growing up, our chickens have arrived and our laying hens are red!

Cherry Eggers are not a commercial breed but I don’t know that they are considered a heritage breed either. This is the first breed of chickens I owned. I brought home two in school and asked my dad to help me build a coop. He said he wasn’t going to build a coop for two, go back to the store and get a few more. I wasn’t going to argue with that! That is how chickens came to be at my parents house. But this breed was a very easy going flock of birds and as their name suggests good egg layers; a medium to large brown egg. This is what we ordered for our laying hens. They are proving to be a pretty hearty chick as well. We almost lost one but I managed to save her, our meat birds on the other hand aren’t fairing as well.

For meat birds we ordered Gold-Laced Wyandotte’s. These are a dual purpose heritage breed bird. And proving to be rather temperamental to keep alive. Out of 75 we have lost 6 so far and number 7, Josephine, is teetering .

Caring for chicks is, I think, the easiest of all poultry to handle. You may not believe me after hearing the previous statement but they really are. Their care is basic, clean bedding, high protein food and water that they can’t sit in. They need to be kept warm as discussed in talking about the guinea hens. In fact I have them all living together and eating the same food. The turkey’s too!

The nice thing about chickens, aside from, bug control, lawn mowing, good fertilizer makers, eggs and meat is they go into the coop at night on their own! This may not sound like a big deal but you chase guinea hens around the yard in  mud boots and your bath robe for a while and then tell me it’s no big deal! Guinea hens must be trained to go in at night and one night left out can undo all your hard work. Chickens on the other hand, if one does get left out for a night and survive any chicken eating wild critter, will go in the next night without too much fuss.

You can bet there will be more on chickens to come.

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Saving Penny

wildflowerfarm.orgThe chicks arrived about a week ago now and what a week it has been. The first night home we lost a turkey. The following day two chicks and another during the next night. I am ok with animals dying of old age, however the world will stop when my dogs go but that’s another story. I’m also ok with animals being butchered to feed the family. I have a hard time losing animals for no apparent reason especially baby ones. By the way, each of the birds that have past on have been buried six inches under, with a quick blessing in the raspberry patch.

As I was laying in bed the next night it was killing me that there seemed to be nothing I could do I keep the little birds alive. Then it dawned on me, sugar water my give them a little energy to get up and eat at least and honey has some healing powers. The next morning the first of our layers looked like she was going to be the next casualty. I decided to try my theory, it couldn’t hurt anyway.

I made her a box of her own and began feeding her honey water, rough guess a tablespoon of honey to 3/4 cup water. You can’t just set the dish of water new to the bird and expect it to drink in this state. She wouldn’t open her eyes and couldn’t lift her head, let alone stand up to drink. So to get her to take the water, I held her in one hand and lightly dipped the bottom of her beak in the water. Doing this I gave her a few sips every few minutes, gradually spacing the sips out. This process started early in the morning and by the end of the day she was up and doing better. I put a couple of the calmer chicks in with her to get her used to the company again before sending her back to the rest of the flock.

Since then we lost a few more meat birds during the night. I did catch one this morning that was going down and began Josephine on the same deal. It’s still alive this afternoon but not bouncing back as fast a Penny did. So far all of the chicks we have lost have been our meat birds which are a heritage breed Gold-Laced Wyandotte. I would expect casualties from a modern, GMO, market bird but not this many from a heritage breed. But in talking with others losing six out of a hundred is still pretty good.

“As for us, our life is like grass. We grow and flourish like a wild flower; then the wind blows on it and it is gone- no one sees it again.” Psalms 103: 15-16

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