Victoria and Hannah

Victoria and Hannah

To make watering and feeding the animals easier in the winter we have moved them all close to and into the barn. This helps on those freezing days when water buckets turn to ice and snow piles up. My son, Michael, built a manger with a roof for the hay as a feeding station for the sheep and goats.

The goats are happily sporting new goat coats Michael created out of some wool blankets. They are living in the greenhouse this winter. Fingers crossed three of our does are pregnant and due in March. The chill of winter is too much for them.

The chicken coop is nestled against the greenhouse as a wind block and the sheep shed is under a tree next to the stone wall. All of the animals share a paddock.

Recently, we have observed one of our chickens, a black hen, wandering about. She walks directly away from the coop into the wind, perches on the stone wall in snow, ends up far afield from the flock and seems uninterested in returning to the coop at dusk with the other chickens. Each night one of us treks around locates her and carries her to the coop. The black hen is approaching 5 year of age we assume her time at the farm is coming to an end.

To cull or not to cull that is the question. Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind or not…we at Liberty Farm are unable to perform this farmer’s task. To cull – to send (an inferior or surplus animal on a farm) to be slaughtered. We have had injured animals in the past and have worked hard to nurse them back to health; some successfully and some not but we tried none the less.

The sheep have taken an interest in the chickens, watching them and follow them around. One ewe, Victoria, is especially taken with the old black hen. She is very attentive to the hen and stands near her all the time. This morning while sipping my tea and watching the animals out the window I noticed Victoria having a stare down contest with the rooster. Victoria won and the rooster walked away. Then Victoria turned revealing the black hen on the stone wall. She walked over to the hen and started nuzzling her. The black hen stayed still as Victoria nuzzled under her wing and around her beak. It was so sweet. I decided that even if the black hen was on her way out she needed a name and so she became Hannah.

Sometime around 4:30 pm we close up the animals for the night. I found Hannah under the manger in the discarded hay. I picked her up and carried her into the green house. Bill thought she would be more comfortable there sharing the warmth with the goats.

I put her in a wooden box with some straw, food and water. She began pecking for the food but missed it more often then she found it. I am not an animal behaviorist. I have learned what I know about our farm animals from books and observation. Hannah was having trouble locating the food in the little dish which I had placed directly in front of her. I noticed she didn’t flinch when I returned with a watering dish. I put it near the food but she didn’t drink. When I moved it under her head as she was lowering it for more food she started to drink. She turned her head to one side seemingly looking for the food and peaked at the side of the box. It was then that I had my “ah ha” moment. Hannah is visually impaired.

I called Michael and Bill down to the greenhouse and showed them. Poor girl was eating and drinking greedily. We tried moving our hands near her eyes to see if she would react. No reaction she just continued eating and drinking, when she could locate the food and water. Granted this was not as scientific as Jane Goodall or Dian Fossey would demonstrate but it was enough for us novices.

Hannah is bedded down in her wooden box, with food and water in the greenhouse. She seems contented at last having her needs met. I wonder if Victoria will look for her tomorrow. We will leave the green house door open during the day so they can visit. I am hopeful their friendship with continue.

Based in science or not I believe in animal friendships. If you are feeling cabin fever or just need a smile to warm your heart I recommend this book.

Friends, True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships, by Catherine Thimmesh

Victor, Eve & Ethel

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Petey and Advantage

“Hawks and coyotes and bears oh my!”

We have moveable electric fencing for all of our farm animals. This fencing allows them to roam and lets us frequently rotate sheep, goats, chickens, and pigs to fresh pastures. Sadly, the fencing alone has not always protected them. Because our animals, farm and domestic, have been attacked by predators we needed to investigate other options of protection. I read that Llamas are used as guardians of herds and decided to learn more.

Llamas are naturally aggressive towards foxes, coyotes and dogs, as well as some other predators. Guard llamas usually respond to a predator by watching it intently and posturing, sounding a shrill alarm call, spitting, or herding their flock mates away from the threat. Most guard llamas will also move towards the predator and attempt to chase or strike out at it; however, very few guard llamas actively attempt to kill a predator.

http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/guardian-llamas-zbcz1309.aspx#axzz3FHC1nWDc

I learned that llama and alpacas both, camelids, choose one spot in which to poop. This makes mucking up a breeze. I would later collect this poop to make Poo Brew. By filling 5 gallon containers with 2/3 poo and 1/3 water, leaving it to cure covered in the sun a concentrated and wonderful fertilizer is created. This Poo Brew diluted 4 to 1 and applied to my gardens works wonders! Their fleece would be wonderful for my winter knitting.

We are very fortunate to have a wonderful breeder of llamas and alpacas here in Antrim. She and her brother are some of the most knowledgeable and helpful people I have encountered. I called asking to visit and was welcomed. All of my novice questions were patiently answered. Petey, a llama and his life-long buddy Advantage, an alpaca were available. Petey was a handsome llama, tri-colored, and statuesque, with deep brown eyes and long lashes. Advantage, a Huascaran alpaca, had a soft pure white fleece. He was timid while Petey was a bit more outgoing.

Bill and I bartered with the breeders. Bill volunteered 8 hours of hands-on shearing wrangling in exchange for me spending a month working with the breeders and Petey. There were over 70 animals to shear. Each had to be hobbled, muzzled and sheared. The Sheppard had two stations running at all times. He sheared and the helpers wrangled. It is hot, back braking work. Bill came home dragging! I in turn went to spent time with Petey to learn some ins and outs of haltering, leading, feeding and grooming.

I read everything I could find including a book by a famous llama whisperer, The
Camelid Companion: Handling and Training Your Alpacas & Llamas by Marty McGee
Bennet. These are the largest animals we would have at the farm and I wanted to be sure I was as informed as I could be before bringing them home.

I accompanied our New Zealand Sheppard friend one day to help him with shearing, hoping his knowledge would rub off on me. Day’s end found me exhausted, covered in regurgitated cud and still unsure.

Petey and Advantage came for a preview of the farm. Their breeders felt it was a good match and the deal was made. We set up fencing and within a month our newest members of Liberty Farm had arrived. My son Mark was here to help that first day. He and I held their leads as Bill secured a stronger temporary fence around their shelter. We felt that they should be in a more contained area for a few days to acclimate to their new home, complete with fresh bedding, grain, water and a lovely view.

The opening between fence and roof was less than three feet, Petey eye to eye with my 6’3” son; amazingly leapt through with Mark still holding the lead. It took a moment register. How could he possibly have done that? Advantage, then, demonstrated spitting covering Mark in green slime, to which Mark said through clenched teeth, “We will have to burn this shirt!” The aroma of regurgitated camelid cud is truly unforgettable. Bill finished a bit taller fence, Mark disposed of his shirt and we retired.

I went out the next morning to find them both peacefully kushed, (lying down), chewing their cud, in the morning mist. I felt happy we had them.

Llamas are part of the camel family. They are approximately 36-47 inches wide at the shoulder and measured from the head they are 4 feet tall at the shoulders. They can weigh up to 400 pounds when they are full-grown.

One day I took a chair up to their pasture, opened a book and began reading out loud. I thought this would be a non-threatening way to share their space, have them hear my voice and have me be with them as they grazed. Petey occasionally looked at me while batting his long lashes, pushed up against me and made a chortling throaty sound. I learned this was his way of making a pass. Yikes!

But, try as I might I could not get comfortable around these two majestic creatures. They were not approachable and followed my leading only because it was the direction they intended, not because they were obeying me. This was unsettling.

I called Bill at work, I with a stressed shaky voice I said, “I just can’t do it they scare me. We have to do something. It isn’t going to work!” Bill asked, “Who is this and what did you do with my wife who doesn’t fear any animals?” I told him was sorry about it but I just couldn’t do it.

The breeders visited and offered suggestions for assimilating. For some reason with all of the animals both large and small that I have had over my lifetime these were two that I feared. The breeders took Petey and Advantage back with open arms. They have since both been placed in new homes. They never once made me feel badly about it but I still to this day am troubled by my reaction.

With us for only two weeks, they rolled in the grasses, chewed their cud, pooped politely in one spot and returned home. They were beautiful animals, doing what came naturally. Life on the farm is full of self-discovery and I am fortunate to be here learning more about myself each day.

 

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Cold Saturday Morning

It was pretty cold this morning here on the farm. Only about 4 degrees but at least there isn’t any snow to plow or shovel.

Today is going to be an inside day for most of the day. Lots of crafts need to be made for Christmas which is only a little over 3 weeks away. Hard to believe we enjoyed our Thanksgiving only 2 days ago!

We had some visitors this morning who came to see the goats. After they left, I decided to let everyone out to enjoy the sunshine. Everyone seems to be happily climbing and jumping on everything in sight. The sheep don’t mind the cold or snow at all.

Enjoy the rest of your long weekend and here are a couple of pictures of the sheep just posing for the camera.

IMG_4246

Victor, Eve & Ethel

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Baby Lakin

Lakin

This is our newest baby Lakin. He’s cute and fluffy and for sale.

 

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Busy & Bushed

Today was a very busy day here at Liberty Farm. Most importantly, today was the day that people picked up their share of their pig that we’ve been raising for the past 6 months. The meat looked wonderful and hopefully everyone will be enjoying it over the next year.

We also have a lot of our goats for sale and people were showing up and buying goats left and right. Check out our Goats For Sale page for more info.

Of course with the threat of snow coming the next few days, I spent a lot of time with my son Stephen, working on the winter goat house /slash/ greenhouse. The walls and rafters are now secured in place and the plastic will hopefully be in place next week. But just in case the snow gets here before the plastic, I have a new large tarp, courtesy of my lovely wife Sheila, that I can secure over the top to keep most of the snow out.

This structure (for you Rich) will allow the goats a place to stay warm during the day, without being trapped in their house all day. Once spring arrives, we’ll move the goat house away from the structure and put them on pasture and then the structure will become the greenhouse.

Phew! I’m bushed and we still have to go to the Turkey Raffle tonight.

Good night everyone!

 

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That was then …running the numbers at Liberty Farm

That was then …running the numbers at Liberty Farm

Attendance taking is required skill for teachers. After 25 years of teaching I haven’t lost anyone yet! Farming is a whole other story.

Twenty chickens initially filled our coop. Each evening before closing the coop we carefully counted if one was missing we tracked her down.

          That was then…Some have lived to an old age some have gone to predators. But it is their responsibility to return to the coop each night.

Four ducks were a Mother’s Day gift, nothing cuter than newly hatched ducklings toddling along behind momma.

          That was then…the flock has swelled and receded with sales and predators. We have three stately males left patrolling the grounds.

Four Shetland sheep arrived at the farm last year, all fluffy and cute. Their job being to keep the grass mowed so Bill doesn’t have to spend hours on the mower.

          That was then… now the males are in the freezer. They fathered three lambs. Vera’s Victor and Victoria arrived in the middle of the night last spring. Ethel’s Eve followed, not an easy birth. Bill and I assisted her delivery.

Six piglets came to the farm in the spring. They averaged thirty pounds each and some would say were cute little guys.

          That was then… now three hundred plus pounds each; the time arrived for their final field trip to Westminster Meats in VT. After much convincing, struggling and annoyances that tried our patience they were loaded into a trailer.

Four goats joined us 5 years ago in time they became six. Then six became nine when Lilly birthed Lucy, Lydia and Leonardo. After D’Artanian’s summer visit, Blondie gave birth to Belle and Beau, Maxine welcomed Marty Jr., and Luna delivered Lars and Lacy. All babes and moms are in the nursery stall under heat lamps.

          That was then … While letting the older goats out yesterday I heard a wee sound. A peek inside the shed was rewarded with the discovery of a minutes old adorable black and white fluffy kid. Lilly had just given birth. We named him Lakin; it is an African name meaning found treasure.

Two kittens Apollo and Athena are brother and sister. They were so tiny and snuggly one simply wouldn’t do.

          That was then …they keep our mouse and chipmunk population down. They often bring the chipmunks inside and chase them all over the house. Stepping on a dead chipmunk or mouse in the middle of the night is not my favorite thing, such thoughtful and sharing cats.

Two dogs, Jenny and Lincoln stood guard together for years. Fia joined them two years ago. Jenny patiently taught Fia all a black lab should know.

          That was then… Jenny passed away and Thor, God of Thunder, a Yorkshire terrier, and an atypical farm dog burst into our lives in July, his personality overshadowing that year’s fireworks. Tragically, Thor died accidentally after only one year.

It amazes me how that seven pound dog filled our hearts and what a gaping hole his death created. I was devastated. All I could think of was the pain. We buried him next to the shady stonewall that had captivated his attention on tireless chipmunk hunts.

I was scared anticipating the enviable things would happen to our other animals I just didn’t feel my heart could withstand another loss. My knee jerk reaction was to find homes for them all. The thought of something happening to one of them was unbearable.

My son, Mark, wisely, encouraged me to wait. “Mom, you love your animals. Give it a bit of time before you do anything like that.”

My favorite aunt, Olga, a Yorkie owner said, “Get a new puppy now that will help your heartsickness. Thor will be happy knowing you have someone to love.”

My husband Bill said that I have too much love in me to give up the animals. Then he added, “As much as Thor’s barking drove me nuts at times this silence is deafening. We need to get a puppy.”

          That was then… time to find a puppy. I wanted another Yorkie because what I missed about Thor was his cuddly snuggles and charismatic soul.  I called the breeder my Aunt Olga had used and found that she had puppies that would be ready in August.

Bill and I traveled to Raynham MA to meet our newest family member. He was one pound and perfect. We made the trip a few more times at the breeder’s encouragement allowing the puppies and families time to bond. Finally, on August 17th I drove down to pick him up.

One puppy, three pounds at four months old, Atticus Hayden Nichols is everything that our hearts needed. Bill and I are very thoughtful when naming our animals. Atticus Finch is a wise, thoughtful person who values family and doing what is right. It is our hope that our Atticus will grow into this moniker and make smart decisions about staying safe.  Hayden means of the hills and fields.

Farm life is the hardest job I have ever had. The hours are endless. The gardens may or may not produce. The chickens may or may not lay eggs. The routine vet bills are sometimes shocking. The sadness is fathomless when an animal is lost.

To know love you have to feel pain. How else can you measure the difference? As I write this I see the sheep in the pasture, hear the rooster crowing, watch momma goats nursing their kids, smile as the ducks pass by on their morning promenade, feel the warmth of Atticus sleeping in my lap and sip the tea my sweet husband just brought to me. I feel contentment.

Taking attendance at the farm is more than just the number of animals we have at any given time. It is about the value of each and every one of them. They add up to something far greater then the sum of their numbers.

Atticus Hayden Nichols, Age  5months

Atticus Hayden Nichols, Age 5 months

This story appeared in the December 2013 issue of The Limrik, A Quarterly Journal

Written by Sheila Nichols – Antrim, New Hampshire

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