Life on the farm

Late start? No problem!

Here in Oklahoma planting starts on April 15th.  Normally, I like to try and squeeze it in before then and just pray for no freezes. However, this year I got busy with life and by the time I wanted to plant it was the end of April. Then day after day we had rain, like a LOT. My garden looked more like a pool than a a place to grow veggies. I didn’t want to lose time by waiting to plant so I decided to start a small indoor garden! It was super easy and worked great. If you find yourself in the same predicament I have an easy solution.

I didn’t have to go buy anything, for me that’s a win!

What I used:

Small left over birthday party cups (not plastic)

Bucket of dirt

Seeds

Cookie sheet

Marker

Yep it’s that simple!

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I did this while watching a movie with the hubby. Having a towel down made for easy clean up!

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 I filled each cup about 1/2 to 3/4 full. Planted my seeds, labeled my cups and watered!

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The storms continued for several weeks, but I’m thankful for the rain. We don’t ever complain about to much water!

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It wasn’t dry enough to plant until the end of May. So me and the little’s got to work.

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I dare say I have as much fun in the dirt as they do.

 

Planting day was super easy! I just split the cup down the side, put them in the ground and covered with fresh dirt.

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I didn’t plant corn in my small cups, but planted them straight in the ground. I don’t know how they would handle being transplanted. We’ll just enjoy corn later in the season!

It’s always fun playing in the dirt, then the clean up. I think we could have planted a garden in the shower. Don’t you just love those little toes??

DSC_0209.JPG– The Clucky Hen

Baby pigs are here!

So by now you all know I’m a little pig crazy. Baby pigs are in my mind the cutest farm animal around! In this post I’ll walk you through the birthing process of a pig. Every time is usually different though so we’ll just focus on our most recent litter, born March 27th.

Lets start at the beginning. We have 2 major show dates we aim for that people are looking to buy pigs. So in order to have pigs the right age to show at our local shows they must be born in a certain window of time. This can be tricky  making sure the heat cycle lines up to breed at the perfect date range. A normal heat cycle for a pig is 21 days, so if you don’t get them bred the first time, 21 days later you get another chance, but at that point you may be out of your window of time.

Below you can see our gilt Merida, she’s in “standing” heat in this picture. I sprayed boar scent in front of her and pressed on her back to see if she’ll stand. She’s standing still and doesn’t move for a few minutes. She’s ready to be bred!

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We don’t live breed, we Artificially Inseminate (AI) our pigs. That means we don’t have a boar with our females to get babies, instead we order semen from boars we hand pick and AI them. This allows us to look at our female and her faults, find a boar that corrects her areas of weakness to have a better quality set of pigs. I could literally talk all day about this but I won’t “boar” you with the details (pun intended). I know I’m hilarious.

A pigs gestation period is 114 days, in the pig world it’s also known as, 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days. They can vary like anything else, but our sow Paisley is usually right on the money! This last litter she didn’t disappoint.

We have our pigs in a farrowing crate when it’s time. Farrowing just means giving birth to baby pigs. The crate we use is designed to keep the babies safe, as well as the humans helping out. There is a lot of negative talk from HSUS and PETA when discussing farrowing crates used for pigs. However, I can promise you for our farm I wouldn’t do it any other way and I’ll tell you why.

Here is a picture of a crate, nicely cleaned and ready for a new tenant.

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Its very common when a sow lays down to nurse her babies that she can smash and kill them. Some sows are better mom’s than others and are more careful, but even so it happens. When they are in the crate the death rate for babies goes way down because they can’t “flop” over and smash their infants.

Another reason we use them is for our safety. As good as Paisley is as normally, as a mom she’s extremely protective. Which I’m glad of, she’s doing her job. However, she’ll also bite your arm off if you get near her in the first 24-48 hours. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a pig growl, but it sounds like a mad grizzly bear and you don’t want to be close! While in the crate, we can assist babies during birth and don’t have to worry about losing a limb. There are also times where sows will eat their own babies, known as going savage. The best way to keep everyone safe and happy is having them in a crate.

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We try and keep watch, and 1-2 even 3 days before we expect birthing to start we load them in the crate. This allows them to relax and get use to their new home, especially for first timers. Before going in the crate they get a nice soapy bath to make sure they are good and clean before birthing. We want everything as sanitary as possible!

This is Paisley after a bath and getting a pregnancy photo shoot!

I check the sow several times a day to look for any changes. This includes swelling in her vulva and mostly looking for milk in her tits. Once I can squirt milk from her, I start checking about every hour. The hard part is those night watches, phew! However, once I get milk squirting its usually just a few hours later we get babies.

Pigs can be born head first or feet first, both ways are normal. I want them to be born without any assistance, but there are times some need to be pulled. This can be because a baby is stuck because it’s too big or just positioned wrong. It can also be because mom has given up and decides to stop pushing. We wait around 10-15 minutes and if we don’t have a pig born I go in to feel whats going on. Sometimes I pull out a dead pig, sometimes it’s alive and huge and just needs a little help. Either way we are prepared. This last litter, she had 10 completely unassisted in about an hour. She was spitting them out no problem. Then I noticed she had stopped but still no afterbirth, so I went in to check and the last baby, #11, was dead. Hate to see it, but it does happen. Overall she did a great job and has 10 healthy babies!

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After each pig is born, we take a towel, wipe off the gunk and set them down. They are aggressive little things and know exactly where to go and what to do to get some milk! The babies can’t regulate their body temperature for the first 3 days, so they huddle under a heat lamp to stay warm.

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When the babies are 2 days old they get a shot of iron, which prevents anemia. Their teeth and tails get clipped. This is so they don’t chew on each other tails, and their sharp needle teeth get clipped so they don’t tear up momma while nursing. They also get special notches in their ears for their identification. They all get the same notch in their right ear to identify they are from the same litter, and they each have a different notch in their left ear to serve as an individual number to identify them by.

My little helper never misses a chance to hang out with the pigs, no matter what is going on. She wears her special head phones to protect her ears from those loud squeals and she’s watching to make sure daddy does it right!

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After 48 hours usually the sow has calmed down and isn’t as aggressive. I let her out to walk around and get some air away from her needy babies. It doesn’t take long though and shes ready to go back to the crate to be with her little squealers. I should also mention, before they even have their babies our pigs are pretty eager to go in the crate on their own. I mean they have food, water, and get pampered, for a pig what’s not to love?

Then usually after a week they are moved out of the crate to a pen and the growing really starts. The pen has plenty of room and a small panel is placed in the middle to allow the babies to get away from mom and start eating feed. If the feed was just out with babies and mom, it wouldn’t last long because the sow would devour it before the babies got a chance, even though she’s on full feed herself. Maybe that’s where the term pigging out comes from, they always want more!

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Once they are 7-10 days old they have the feed figured out, but are still nursing like clockwork. At 21-28 days old they are weaned.  Now separated from mom and placed in pens of just 2-3. This ensures the bigger ones don’t get all the feed!

I hope you learned more about pigs today, and how pork is made from the very beginning! Thanks for hanging in there with me, sometimes I can ramble on and on when it comes to one of my favorite animals. Who doesn’t love little bacon bits?!

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– The Clucky Hen

 

 

A Rooster named Fried Chicken – The Finale

If you haven’t read about our Rooster you can do so here – A Rooster Named Fried Chicken. It gives an overview of the rooster, and why I am so happy to write the post about his Finale.

**I must insert a disclaimer here that there is a picture and information on this post that might disturb some people, there is a picture of a dead bird at the end of this post.**

As mentioned in my first post we don’t keep animals around if they don’t serve a purpose. There are exceptions with a few pets we have, but all of our farm animals are here for a reason. We take good care of them and they take good care of us. Normally if we have one that is mean or has a bad attitude it doesn’t stay around long.

Our animals have human interaction a lot throughout their lifespan, some more than others. It can be during feeding time through the winter, moving them to a different pasture or pen, or if they need assistance during the birthing process. Whatever the case may be, it’s extremely hard to do any of this with an animal that wants to hurt you any chance they get.

Now for the most part I am talking about our large animals, cattle and pigs, but our chickens get daily human interaction. Most of this is by my kids, so having a chicken that’s mean just doesn’t cut it. I can tolerate it a little more by my laying hens because usually the only time they actually get mean is if they are protecting their chicks. It’s the normal Momma bear attitude that comes out with most animals and their babies.

On this one fateful day, it just so happened that Momma bear came out in ME! I have definitely had it out for our rooster from early on when he started getting to big for his britches. However, I tried overlooking it because hey, he’s doing his job by protecting his hens right? Well that only goes so far and when you start biting the hand that feeds you or her children, that’s where you come to an end.

I always tell my kids to just ignore the rooster and let him stay with his girls and he’ll leave you alone. I want my kids to trust what I say when we are in the barn and I want them to know they must listen to what I say. Listening is important but it can be crucial when your around any kind of livestock. Most of the time it’s not a big deal, but if we are working calves and need them to stay back, be quiet, or stand still it is a VERY big deal. Not only for what we are trying to accomplish (loading/unloading, tagging, etc) but more importantly for their safety. I want them to know when I ask them to do something, to trust what I am asking and it will keep them safe. When what I’ve said to them still gets them hurt it makes them not trust what I say and also makes them frightened to go to the barn or be around the animals. See my problem??

We head to the barn to do our morning chores, like every morning. I feed the chickens first so they will be busy eating to leave the kids alone. The middle alley of the barn is the best playing dirt you’ll find. This is where many hours have been spent by my kids and created many dirty bath times. They are dirt magnets wherever they go. So they head to the toys in the dirt while I finish chores.

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After just a few minutes in to my routine I hear a familiar scream. I run to scene of the crime, where I see my sweet baby girl laying on her back in the dirt with the rooster standing at her feet getting ready to flog her again. I try and grab his tail feathers when I reach them but I barely miss. I pick up my now crying toddler and assess the wounds. She’s got cuts all over her right arm that are now starting to bleed. Thankfully they aren’t deep and I’m able to calm her down and help her to regain composure.

At this point I’m ready to put an end to this guy. He’s done it for the last time and there is no way he’s going to draw blood on my child without a consequence. I look around to find him not far from me and take off sprinting towards him. It’s said you can’t out run a chicken, they aren’t only fast they zigzag the entire time and it’s extremely hard to catch them. I try my best though, with adrenaline pumping I chase him for a good 10 minutes all over the barn and pasture (I’m sure looking like an idiot). During my pursuit my two little dirt lovers are just staring at me in amazement. Either they haven’t seen me this mad before to go this crazy or they are extremely curious of what I’m going to do if I ever catch this goofy thing.

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Some people have big fish nets to catch their birds to give vaccinations and what not, I of course don’t have that. So already out of breath I find the next best thing, a plastic pitch fork. I’m hoping with this if I get close enough to him, I can put it on top of him and push him to the ground long enough where I can get my hands on him. Another 10 minutes and several attempts of pinning him down and I end up missing him, tripping over something and falling on my pitchfork which breaks it in two.

My blood is now boiling and I decide it’s time to call in back up. I gather the kids up, throw them on the four wheeler and head to the house. The hubby has been on the tractor the entire time clearing trees. I pull up and he’s giving me a quizzical look, I’m sure he’s been watching my chase this whole time and wondering what on earth I’m doing. I give him the low down in short spurts still trying to catch my breath. We are definitely on the same page when it comes to this rooster, so it’s almost a game at this point who can kill him first.

The hubby has the great idea that we’ll just run him until he gets tired. Yeah, great idea, either he’ll go down or I will! So we take out after him together in the hopes of pushing him in the barn where we can corner him.

Thankfully in the matter of just a few minutes we get him in the barn and I slow to a walk as the hubby and rooster have it out. The kids are still sitting on the 4-wheeler as I see my knight in shining armor walking out holding the rooster by his feet. So he’s caught!! I grab the ax and off with his head!

**Disclaimer, the next picture has some blood and if you don’t like the sight of dead animals don’t scroll further.

 

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Yes we actually cut his head off. Yes my children watched the entire ordeal. Yes I understand that might offend some people. Yes I’m joyful he’s dead, and YES my toddler was thrilled also!

The reality of life is there is death, and it’s all around us. On the farm death happens, it can be with baby animals dying from sickness, babies being born dead, butchering an animal for meat, an animal dying of old age or injuries and the list goes on. It’s part of the farm life and it’s not all glamorous. This is our world and I won’t apologize for the way we live. On the flip side, I don’t ever want my kids to get calloused to the death of animals. That’s why we put such an emphasis on taking good care of everything around us, but regardless death happens.

Immediately after the be-heading, I got out some pots and a sharp knife and skinned him. I’ve butchered my fair share of chickens and we’ve always scalded them in hot water before plucking and then gutting them. After the morning we had there was no way I was going to pluck this dirty dumb thing. So I just skinned him whole and gutted him. During this process the kids squatted next to me and asked 100+ questions, I smiled and attempted to answer their questions before they could ask more. I want to teach my kids about the animals and where their meat comes from. It’s not just bought at a grocery store, it was at one time a living, breathing animal. This all goes back to, we take care of our animals and they take care of us. Ole Fried Chicken just took care of us sooner than he may have hoped for, and he was pretty tasty I might add!

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That night we had a very tasty Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza.  My sweet toddler that had quite an ordeal that morning happily pronounced at the dinner table that the rooster wouldn’t get her anymore because he was in her tummy! With a big smile on my face I once again thank the Lord for the life He has given me!

– The Clucky Hen

Stubborn Hens

Many people affectionately call their laying hens “the girls”. You may think that’s odd, but these little walking egg machines have a mind of their own and their own personality. Some are shy and keep to themselves, others are affectionate and want all the attention. While you also might have a bully or two in the bunch. Regardless of their character, chickens are all gluten’s and love food.

Our barn is home to cats, chickens, pigs and the cows if it’s cold or rainy. So it’s a general rule that everyone gets along in the barn, especially when it’s time to eat! Chickens eat almost anything. I always keep a bowl of scraps by my sink which fills up rather quickly with 3 little kids. When I make my way to the barn the chickens and cats always greet me with a cluck or meow. On the menu for tonight was left over chili, apple slices, orange peels, and a few odd bread pieces. Yum!

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This ole girl is the oldest of the bunch and she is usually the boss. Comes with age I guess.

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One thing I’ve come to learn about chickens, probably more than any other barnyard animal, it’s extremely hard to MAKE them do what you want. There’s probably lots of people out there that raise laying hens that have them walk in a line and follow them while they sing but I haven’t figured that out yet. Raising chickens goes way back in my family, probably further than I even know. The stories I hear the most come from my mom and how her grandpa always loved his hens. In fact the old hen house where his chickens were is still in great condition and was used for a chicken house when I was living at home.

So I knew when I got married and we had our own place, I wanted fresh eggs! While it’s not necessarily hard to raise chickens, you just come to notice they are ornery, stubborn little boogers. The first thing (I thought) I needed was a nesting box for my lovely girls. So my mom brought over the antique nesting box that her grandpa used! It’s so pretty with such great patina on it I almost didn’t want to use it, but I figured great-grandpa would be proud!

Do you see this wonderful piece of living history? You can still see the beautiful turquoise hiding! It’s got the little foot piece still attached for easy access, and each little hole is nice and cozy. I positioned it perfectly to get lots of sun in as well as keeping it well protected. I prepared it well with soft bedding in each hole not knowing who would want to lay their egg where. Boy was I in for a surprise!

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The days went by with no eggs, I couldn’t understand it. I checked my hens, they were all healthy, and after a quick check from their fluffy rump I could tell they were laying eggs. I thought maybe something was snatching them before I could gather them!

So one day I decided to go down when I thought they might be laying. Many hens make loud noises to tell the world they are awesome and just laid an egg for the day, and I can’t say I blame them, it’s pretty cool. On my walk to the barn I hear the loud clucking/screaming and I change my walk into a jog excited to find an egg!

When I get down there I see one of the hens squawking loudly and coming out of a horse stall from the other end of the barn. Weird I thought, what is she doing down there?! I round the corner of the door to the horse stall and this is what I see.

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Just an old horse stall, the rain has washed away the floor and it hasn’t had a horse in it in ages. However, I’m sure you see the green feed pan hanging on the wall. This stall is on the end of the barn that doesn’t get much sunlight and in the winter when the doors are shut it’s extremely dark.

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But here it is, the feed bowl. Also known as the nesting box for 9 hens. I didn’t get a picture on that fateful day when it was piled with eggs. Now it’s winter time and many of my girls aren’t laying, but it’s still the best place to lay an egg I guess! I now keep it cleaned with hay to make it more comfortable since it must accommodate so many tenants.

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Tip for the day: If you decide to get laying hens, don’t invest a lot of money in nesting boxes!

-The Clucky Hen

A rooster named Fried Chicken

If you’ve ever been around chickens you may have noticed one that’s a little bigger, has a big bright red comb on his head and is louder and maybe more obnoxious. I’m not saying all roosters are this way but some are.We have had the delight (insert sarcasm) of having several obnoxious roosters over the last few years.

At our farm, if there is an animal that isn’t serving a purpose or isn’t behaving like they should after a few attempts of making said animal better they usually don’t have the privileged of staying around any more. Now I know that sounds harsh, and I can promise you that doesn’t happen often, but let me explain.

This is a farm, everyone here including our children have a job. Everyone “works” to earn their keep, otherwise we are spending money to feed a mouth that isn’t giving anything back. (No I would never get rid of my children because they weren’t doing their share.)   We take good care of our animals and they take good care of us.

This past Spring we acquired a beautiful Cinnamon Queen rooster, I was trying to find a pretty rooster to go with my hens. I usually hatch out chicks once or twice a year and the more colorful they are the better I like it.

Learning Tip:

You do NOT have to have a rooster to get eggs from your hens. Hens, like women, have a set number of “eggs” in their body, they produce eggs with or without a rooster. However, if you want to hatch out chicks you of course need a rooster to fertilize the eggs. Well and actually then you still don’t have completely “fertilized” eggs until the eggs have been at a certain temperature for a time period, but we’ll save that for another post.

Hatching out chicks is fun for the kids and I enjoy adding to the flock and ensuring eggs for the future. Below you can see the obnoxious, pesty rooster AKA Fried Chicken.

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How did he get the name Fried Chicken you ask? Well my oldest son, who is five gave him this name. He has been the meanest, most vindictive and cruel chicken we have owned, and we’ve had some ornery ones! Every time you walk in the barn or are around the barn he chases you, and he doesn’t stop there. Once he gets you stopped, or cornered, or where he wants you that’s when the flogging begins.

Now I know what your thinking, why not flog him back right? Well, thank you very much I have given him a swift kick before and he no longer chases The Clucky Hen, but my 3 little chicks he chases every chance he gets. Not only that, he scratches, pecks and beats them up! I don’t tolerate such behavior from ANYONE or ANYTHING! The bullying usually ends with me out of breath chasing him off and a few tears from my little’s.

I also might add that not only is he mean to my little chicks, he’s also rough on my hens. Many times roosters will do a little dance and “court” them before jumping on their back and taking care of business, but it’s usually in the most gentle way. Not with Fried Chicken. He pecks the back of their necks, and basically forces them to the ground while having his way with them. This is not something I enjoy watching while doing chores. My girls deserve way better in a man, and I am on a mission to get rid of this low life scum and find their prince charming. It’s what every girl wants right?

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Some day ole Fried Chicken will meet his end, and what a glorious day that will be!

 

-The Clucky Hen