Thursday, December 06, 2007

Hay! Snow!

Sorry for the bad pun. I couldn't resist.

It snowed most of yesterday, and it looks like we got maybe six inches. This is a lot different from last year, where it rained through most of December and the few snow showers did not stick. I had hoped to put off feeding any hay until the end of December or early January, but with the forage under so much snow I figured I had better break it out, at least for a few days.

I constructed the hay feeder by attaching a sixteen-foot cattle panel to about a ten foot length of the fence. That caused it to bow out far enough to put hay in it, but it was narrow enough that the goats could reach hay that was pretty much anywhere in the holder. I plan to attach a tarp on the top to keep the hay dry, but for now I'm just only putting about a day's worth of hay in there at a time. I'll probably also put some branches in the bottom to help keep the hay off the ground.

In reading around a bit, I found a source stating that adult meat goats eat 3-4 lbs of hay per day, not the five that I had found before. So refiguring at eight adults and two babies, that means I need approximately 38 pounds of hay per day, not 50 as I had thought. The only full months that they should need the full ration of hay are January and February. They should only need supplemental hay in December, and new growth should start showing up near the end of March, so I figure I need about 90 days worth of hay. I'll bump it to 100 to allow for unusually bad weather or other circumstances. So 3800 pounds of hay for the winter. There's about 1800 pounds in the haystack that I cut myself, so I need to buy about a ton. We'll be using the money from selling the lawn mower to pay for all that hay. Next year's goal: produce all needed hay on-farm!

Oh, yes. Paul is not getting deployed because of medical issues with his shoulder and neck. It will be good to have him here, but it means that we probably won't be able to complete many, if any, of the big projects next year. Still, we're trusting the Lord to provide for what we really need, and we'll work with that.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Chicken Pictures

It's hard to get good pictures of chickens, especially when they are being periodically attacked by other chickens twice their size. However, here are some photos of the new girls.

These are the first three. The one in the back has tufts of feathers over her ears, which might get more pronounced as she gets older.

Here are the second three. I'm a sucker for white birds, so I really like the white one in the back. Her neck feathers are lightly barred and are very pretty.

I was trying to get a good picture of the ear-tufted one, but she's even more flighty than the others, so this was the best I could do.

A close-up of multicolored feathers.

If anyone has any ideas what breeds might be in these chickens, let me know. I'm pretty certain that a significant portion of their background is bantam breeds, because they fly very well.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Laying Hens: Generation 1.5

We sold our riding lawnmower to a couple in town today, and while I was talking with them I mentioned that I kept a flock of chickens. They immediately wanted to know if I wanted to have any more, because they were reducing their flock. Since they were free, I agreed to look at them.

I guess that several months ago they were given a hen with about ten chicks, all of unknown ancestry. Now that the chicks are a few months old, they wanted to get rid of most of them. I only wanted the pullets, since I don't feel like slaughtering a batch of roosters this winter (and I especially don't want to deal with them if they start crowing before they reach a good slaughter weight). I have no idea what breed(s) they are, but I ended up with six nice-looking little birds. One possibility was Americauna, but their "mother" lays brown eggs, not blue and green. She also looks a lot like them, so she's probably related even if not the actual mother of all of them. It will be interesting to see how they turn out. They seem to have finer frames than I remember the Rhode Island Reds having at that age, so they might end up being some combination of bantam breeds. It was getting dark when I put them in the chicken house, so I'll have to get pictures later.

My flock didn't quite know what to make of these newcomers. They all grew up together, so their social structure was established very easily. It was definitely a vivid demonstration of the "pecking order," as each of the hens seemed to have a goal of eating at least one feather from every new pullet. Hopefully the new girls won't be bald by morning.

With extra chickens in the house, they may not be able to keep the bedding as scratched up as before, so I'll have to watch out for capping. That's the nice thing about starting out with a large amount of space/bird: there's room to take advantage of these sorts of opportunities. Even with adding half again as many birds, they still have 3.5 square feet each. Once I build the new external nest box, it will make things even more roomy.

Since the new pullets are at most three months old, we'll probably start getting eggs from them in early March. This will give us a nice boost in next year's production.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Dairy Goat Deferred

I had said previously that I wanted to get a dairy goat this fall for spring milk (either already bred, or she could be bred to Bubba). It's been so difficult to find dairy goats around here that I would pretty much accept any breed, even though I would prefer a Nubian.

There was a lead at a farm about an hour away. They had goats, and wanted to sell a couple of Nubian/Toggenberg crosses (that were bred to a Boer cross buck). The does were four years old and had never been milked, and were due in February (yikes!). Still, the asking price of $125 each wasn't bad so we went out to take a look.

Well, it turned out that the buck had gotten out a few times, so the does were possibly due to kid at any time. They weren't in bad condition as far as their weight was concerned, but their feet were a mess. One of them had a hoof that was so long that it had turned under and she was walking on the sidewall. I've never had to correct a hoof that long, but my experience with bad hooves is that it takes a long period of frequent trimming to get them anywhere even approaching normal. That doe also had a mismatched udder, and the larger half was nearly dragging on the ground. Oh, and she had at least one extra teat sticking out of the side of the udder. She was such a mess that I wouldn't have taken her even if she had been free (you have to figure that each goat will add at least 500 lbs to your winter hay needs).

The other doe wasn't anywhere near as bad. Her hooves were overgrown, but they looked like they would take less than six months to correct. I think her udder was reasonably high, balanced, and without extra teats, but she was so skittish it was hard to get a good look. Because of the skittishness, hoof neglect, lack of a milk record, and lack of breeding record (as well as her age and crossbredness), I offered $100 for her. I actually think that was even a bit high, but I didn't expect them to go any lower. They hemmed and hawed a bit, but when it was clear that I was serious in my offer, they declined it, saying they could get that much for her kids. It was just as well, because I would rather spend $200-$300 on a decent, non-show purebred from proven milking lines. I just need to keep working the connections to find something like that.

At this point, it's probably too late to get a dairy goat for this year. I would want to keep her in quarantine for two weeks, and with the weather getting bad that would be difficult to manage. Time to start contacting all the goat breeders in the area, to see if I can get a freshened doe in the spring.