Sunday, June 19, 2011

A bird in hand is worth two in the coop?

Despite the cold rainy weather, the chickens have been doing really well. I put them outside in the coop earlier than I did last year. They were younger but bigger. Last year they didn't eat grass or chase bugs or anything. They just sat there. This group is much better and eat a lot of grass and run around like they just discovered gold when they find a slug. (It's so funny to watch that I'll even pick up a slug just to see them run around.) But last year we were lucky. No predators gave us any trouble. I didn't knock on wood loud enough apparently. This year we weren't so lucky.

I like ravens. They are an interesting bird. Smart. I like the different vocalizations they have. The families they keep. But they took one of my chickens last weekend. 

Such an odd thing to have happen that the more I talked about it, the more I questioned what I believed happened. The chickens are kept in a portable coop so they can enjoy the benefits of being free range without running all over our property, pooping everywhere and getting eaten by numerous predators. Shady would probably kill every one just for fun if given the chance. She sees them as her play things and runs around the coop scaring them, just to see them scatter. She is a bird dog, I can't blame her, but I also won't give her the chance to actually kill one.

Last weekend we went to my parent's house for the night. When we got home I noticed 3 ravens fly up from beside the coop. This was odd. Not something I would normally see. So I went to check on the chicks. The chicks have all their feathers and weigh about a pound. They're a good handful.  When I counted I could only find 9 chickens. One missing. The ground around the coop was all scratched up. A three foot section was mainly focused on and I could see where they had dug under the wall of the coop.  The hole looked too small for anything to go under let alone a raven with a chick in it's maw, but there were only nine left. It obviously happened. By raven or not.

Everyone I've told this story to have been stunned. A raven taking a small chick, sure. A family of ravens digging under a coop to steal a chicken, unheard of. That's when I started to question what I saw. Maybe I was placing the blame on the last one seen at the scene of the crime. Maybe they didn't commit it. Maybe it was a mink or weasel. I would think another predator would dig a neat little hole and be in and out, killing every single chick. Not wasting time digging the length of the wall just to take one. I was sure of one thing though, whoever took the chick would be back. There were nine meals left.

I devised the only barrier I could around the coop by lying tall buckets on their side. It looks like the coop is on pontoons. If the culprit was a raven the chicks should be safe. (Ravens may be smart but I dare them to dig under buckets that could roll on them and under the coop.) If it was something else, they were doomed.  When I got home from work that evening I was sure my story was accurate. On the fence sat 3 perturbed ravens. In the coop, nine happy chicks. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Welcoming Royalty

It's June so of course a lot of things are going on right now. We made a million different plans in the aftermath of Toodles' death. We ended up following through with none of them, instead coming up with another altogether.

What the loss of Toodles cost us, other than the loss of her as an individual, was a producing cow and her calf. Her keep is earned through her calves. Our source of farm income. By losing her, we not only lost our investment in her, but her calf (which would have earned income next year) and all of her future calves as well.

At first I thought we'd keep Xanadu and buy a calf to replace her as meat this fall. This made sense as she has great genetics and good confirmation. I'm sure she'd produce excellent calves. The plan didn't make sense because I would then have two cows that were genetically related.  It also didn't make sense because Xanadu wouldn't calve until next spring and that calf wouldn't earn income until the year after that. That means keeping Xanadu would cost us 2 years of expenses with no income. Plus we'd have to buy an animal this year and next, to meet our meat orders. So it would cost us double. This plan was scrapped.

The plan we thought made most sense was to buy a cow who just calved this spring. More money up front, but it would cost us less in the long run. The hardest part was which cow, from who, for how much. As much as farming, beef farming, is a predominantly male industry, my mom has nice cattle and my mom's best friend Barb also has nice cattle. She has nice quiet cattle too that are accustomed to living in a small herd.  So three women farmers sat around on the phone and through emails and discussed who had what animals and what genetics and who would fit best in my herd that they no longer needed in their own. Fun. Better than talking about men or shopping for clothes.

Last week the decision was made and last night a cow and her calf were delivered from Barb's farm. Royalty is her name and Owen named her sweet little heifer calf Yummy. Royalty is 5 years old I believe and an older style cow with a long neck, blocky head and a long solid frame. A long neck on a cow is said to indicate a good milker and she is.  Royalty is friendly and used to being handled. I think she'll fit in really well here.  We have a bull on his way that will breed her and she'll produce another calf next year too. She'll put us right back on track. Smokey and Xanadu were excited to see another cow when she arrived. I know they've missed Toodles.  This morning, Royalty was still tentative in her new surroundings but grazing with the herd that has suddenly doubled.

When raising livestock, you are bound to have deadstock. That's how farming goes. But you just keep on keeping on. It's a happy ending or a happy beginning, depending on how you look at it.