Last Saturday, Dave and I went to a neighboring town to pick out our piglets. We sold 1 pig (2 halfs) and are going to raise one for ourselves, and we decided to start slow, so we only got 2 little piggies this year. I didn't realize how small they would be - for some reason I was picturing lab-sized pigs, but these guys are 2 month old puppy-sized! They're also adorable:
The girl pig is black with white feet - she's a Berkshire mix! The boy pig is black and white - he's a Hampshire mix!
Because they're so tiny, they're living in our barn right now instead of outside - they need to get bigger, and the weather needs to get warmer before they can go out on pasture. They love their little house though:
Their bedding is a layer of pine shavings covered in hay (they eat the hay too, but they also nest in it). There's a trough in one corner with grain and veggie scraps, and another corner has a nipple waterer, which they don't know how to use yet, so there's also a doggie bowl of water there. Piggies are actually very clean, and they chose the empty corner as their toilet - they pee and poop only in that corner, which makes it really easy to clean up after them!
The barn smells like summer now thanks to the fresh hay, and it sounds "real" with the little grunts and snorts from the piggies. I love life :)
Our meat chickens (and this year, our turkeys too) live on pasture in moveable, bottomless pens/coops called chicken tractors. The idea is to move them to fresh grass whenever they've either eaten most of what's underneath them (or covered it in poop!) :) So tractors are supposed to be light/easily moveable, durable because they're outside, predator-proof so nothing gets in there for easy chicken dinners, and easy to work with (feed, water, and catch chickens in). Last year, Dave built 2 tractors that failed pretty miserably at most of those traits!
Our first tractor was made out of an aluminum frame (nice and light) that he welded together and covered in chicken wire (pretty good against predators). Then for shade/rain protection, he put a roof and 3 wooden sides on half the tractor, thereby making it waaaaay too heavy for me to move by myself. Dave couldn't even drag it around by himself because it caught on the ground too. It was also awkward to work with - being on about 3 feet high inside, I had to practically crawl around in there to fill their food and water. It cost about $25 to build because we already had all of the supplies on hand other than the red paint and hinges. It survived the winter well, so we're keeping it as a back-up for now!
To make that tractor better, I'd put hardware cloth around it inside of chicken wire - no predator can rip through hardware cloth (but it's expensive)! And instead of heavy wood, I'd use light plastic panels - then I'd be able to move it around :)
After realizing how heavy the first tractor was, Tractor v2.0 was made out of PVC pipe as a frame (super light), poultry netting to cover it (easily ripped apart by predators), and a tarp for shade/rain protection. The whole thing was really light and easy for me to move around myself. It was still at the awkward 3' height. And it turned out to be *really* flimsy! We had a huge rainstorm, and the tarp gathered about a billion pounds of rain on it, and the whole thing collapsed. Blerg. Because of all the PVC pipe and fittings, plus a big new tarp, this tractor probably cost over $200. *nauseous*
To make that tractor better, I'd do hardware cloth and make the roof at an angle - I think that'd work really well! But it's still not exactly the most cost-effective design.
This year, we're building 2 new tractors - hoop houses! The frame is light 1x4s and 2x4s, and 2 cattle panels made of woven wire are bend to make the hoop. Then it's covered in poultry netting. Each one has cost under $100.
So far, I'm in love! Relatively cheap, attractive, durable, and I can walk right in without bending over! We're going to put a tarp over the top for shade/rain protection, and we'll attach a pull rope to the front so I can pull it around. *love* Only thing that would improve it would (once again) be hardware cloth insead of poultry netting.
For our first year of sugaring, we ended up with just under 1,000 taps, and our woods now look like something out of the Matrix:
It'd be almost creepy if it wasn't so delicious...
In other news, the chickens are pretty pissed about the snow. After such a strangely un-white winter, we got about a foot of snow last week, and the ladies have been refusing to venture outside since. Remember when you were a kid and you pretended something on the ground was hot lava, so you and your friends couldn't step on it or YOU WOULD DIE *arms flailing*?! That is how chickens feel about snow:
Thankfully, part of their run has a roof over it and can protect them from a molten fiery death.
I don't have anything to say about this picture, except that I love the weathervane on our barn:
First, go somewhere pretty (with water):
Then set up your sluice - that's a metal thingy with ridges and a screen and a carpet in it. It apparently catches your gold but lets most of the other crap run through, cause gold is heavy and sinks, but sand and little pebbles are lighter and don't... right?
Then send some manly men to dig up the river dirt, which is completely filled with gold nuggets:
Run a few buckets full of river dirt through the sluice, then roll up the gold-filled carpet and rinse all the gold out into your trusty bucket:
Next, take your bucket full of gold (whose name is Ace) and run it all through your gold pan. Just swirl it all around, and the gold magically appears, through magic. And fairies help too I think:
Don't forget to pay homage to your walking stick, George, who saved your life by keeping you from slipping on the ice, falling into the frozen brook, and being eaten by ice sharks:
After all your hard work:
At the end of the day, you collect your reward:
That nugget has got to be worth PENNIES!
Step 1: Lose all sense of dignity
Step 2: Keep your mouth agape so you can snore as loudly as possible
Step 3: Work with friends to take up as much room as possible in the bed
Step 4: Remember to take up as much room as you can in the car too
Step 5: Sleep like people... because you think you *are* people
Step 6: Sleeping with friends is more fun than sleeping alone
Step 7: The most important thing to remember is: your comfort is more important than anyone else's!
Earlier this summer I bought 4 beautiful young pullets - 2 cuckoo marans and 2 Araucana/Ameraucana mixes (also known as Easter Eggers or EEs). One of the EEs was lost during Hurricane Irene (thankfully the only bit of "damage" we had was her running off into the woods never to be seen again as the storms started). The other 3 colorful egg layers have been taking their sweet time, mooching off us, without laying a single egg :-P Until last week!
Here's Bunny - our Araucana mix/EE:
Yes, she's supposed to be shaped like that, teehee. Araucanas are rumpless, bearded, and tufted, originating from South America. They have giant black eyes and gray legs. Aaaaand... they lay blue eggs:
See it?! Isn't it fabulous?! Yes, yes it is. See its majesty among the boring old white and tinted/brown eggs (and one kinda cool speckled egg)?! Yeah. Awesome.
And here's one of my cuckoo marans (Marans is the breed, Cuckoo is the barred color pattern):
Marans originated in France and are relatively new to the US, still not actually a recognized breed here. They lay "chocolate" colored eggs - kind of the color of an Advil pill, but ideally much darker. The eggs get darker as the chickens get older and are darkest at the end of their laying cycle (just before they molt). So theoretically their first egg is going to be the lightest egg they ever lay... and this was my first ever marans egg:
It got scratched up on the poop board (yes, she laid it on the poop board underneath their roost). The dark color is actually just a coating on a normal brown egg, so if it gets scratched at all, the darkness goes away. But hooray for chocolate eggs! Is it Easter yet? Cause I'm totally ready :)
Last week Dave and I worked on the coop to get it ready for winter. Can you see the light streaming through the spaces between the boards? That's a problem...
So we put battens on the outside, and now the coop is draft-proof... and stripey!
Some people say that coops should be insulated and/or heated so the chickens don't get cold or get frostbite. I'm of the opinion that if the coop is draft-free but also ventilated, then they'll be fine. It also helps to have fluffy, cold-hardy breeds, which I (mostly) do.
I *am* supplementing their daylight though - as the days get shorter, chickens lay less frequently or go into molt and stop laying altogether. Since I sell eggs (and eat them too), I wanted to avoid this, so there's 2 lights in the coop that come on at 5am and go off at 10pm. That might be a bit overkill, but it's keeping their production nice and high, so I'm happy!
I also had one other thing to do for the chickens to get them ready for winter... take a look at Pippi:
Sasquatch and Little Boy Blue are very... amorous. And because Pippi is a hybrid production layer, pretty much all of her energy goes into making eggs instead of taking care of herself. So she's had a really hard time growing her back and wing feathers back. I didn't worry about this during the summer, but I don't want the poor girl to freeze, so I made her a saddle (aka "apron"):
I won't lie - she kept it on for about 2 minutes. But I think if I just make it a little more secure, she won't have a choice - she will have to wear her saddle/apron/sweater :) I'm not crazy... it's entirely for warmth... so I don't lose my best layer... for economic reasons... and um... yeah, I think it's adorable!
Last year I learned that grapes grow at Dave's family's camp, so we picked them and turned them into jelly... mmm! We decided to do it again this year, but I haven't had time to devote an entire day to jelly-making. So instead we spent part of the day on Saturday with Dave's parents, picking the grapes, and turning them into juice that we've now frozen - when I have some more time, I'll take it out and make the jelly... and maybe wine...
Dave helped pick them - you can't see him though, cause he's wearing camo ;-)
Dave's mom helped too!
Dave's dad manned the juicer, turning the grapes into delicious, rich juice, and then we squeezed the pulp through cheesecloth to get the last bit of liquid out. We ended up with 3 gallons of juice! That'll be a lot of jelly... or wine...
The babies are 3 weeks old now and are tired of being cooped up!
"Ma, I can't see! Move your wing!"
So Emmy took her babies outside for their first trip out of the trashcan and into the woods:
They didn't go too far from the coop at first:
But it's hard to herd 14 baby chicks, so she had to keep them moving:
They played on a tree stump:
One of the babeis got left behind - it's much easier to hop up than to jump down:
But Emmy went back for her - she's such a good momma! The babies ended their outing by having some cracked corn with Daddy:
Being that adorable sure is hard work!
Sometimes, when a rooster and hen love each other very much, this happens:
Mama hen, Emmy, hatched some babies in a trash can yesterday! She was sitting on 18 eggs, and I think most of those have turned into chicks through some sort of magic.
About half of them are chipmunk patterns, the other half are blue like their daddy. I'm resisting the urge to smoosh them all with love. Emmy is surprisingly tolerant of me sticking my head in her trash can to play with her babies. Look - the one on the right is still wet from the egg:
Anyhoo... if anyone needs more chickens, I have some extras now...
Jen & Dave Paul, owners & operators of Old Post Farm