Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A New Way To Haul Groceries

What or what was I going to do? I took several runs at the hill but it would simply slide back down after only making it 15 feet or so. The car that was now full of groceries that included the back seat and trunk. I don't like to go to town and I don't like to shop so I do as much as possible at one time. The weather man lied once more, for the warmer this time and the warmth had melted our snowy drive into our place into a ice skating ring, a steep uphill slide.

No way was I getting in so I tucked the car off to the side of the road where it was flat and glanced with dread into the back seat. How was I going to get a back seat and truck full of groceries up the hill? I'd guess there was 175 to 200 pounds to carry. 30 pounds of chicken I'd found on sale and a rare find of forty pounds of my favorite flour. I wasn't so excited about my purchases now. It would take a lot of trips up and down the hill to carry it all home and I'd missed my noon cortisol pills so my legs were already feeling wobbly. I glanced at the neighbor's homes but they were dark, probably still at work. I knew the tractor was not going to be easy to start, if it did at all, as the temperature was dropping fast. Even if I got down the hill, it was not likely to make it back up so that option was out.

We had just bought the Otter sled two days before and I figured it was my only option. I wasn't about to let my fruit and vegetables freeze. I took a cortisol pill for my adrenals as soon as I walked to the house and squared my shoulders telling myself, "When the gong gets tough; the tough get going." a saying I heard a lot as kid. I dressed in my warmest clothes and in my Artic Mucks I headed out. My adrenal glands were nearly on empty when I started and it takes almost an hour for the pill to kick in so I knew this was not going to be pretty. It wasn't. I'd climb a few feet, dig the sides of my shoes in until I'd found a reasonably firm stance, and then heave on the ropes, pulling the sled up to me. A few times of this and I'd rest a minute, catching my breath, and then do it all over again. I'm a determined old cuss but you've probably figured that out by now and I was motivated as the weather was fast turning into a blizzard.

Home never felt so good. All but the frozen and refrigerator items waited as I rested next to the roaring fire. An hour or maybe an hour and a half later my husband called and said he would be late. The roads were really bad. They had really deteriorated since I had gone through. I was comforted by the fact that he had the 4-wheel drive. By the time he had reached our hill though, there was probably three inches of fluffy snow at least with the ice skating ring underneath. He ran off the hill on his, I don't know how many attempts. Rather than hike up in tennis shoes, (What was he thinking not taking snow boots?) he laid under the truck and put on the chains. With  tire chains and 4-wheel he barely made it.

There was only one way we were going to get the car back up the next day. Kirk rigged a salamander heater under a tarp so the heat from it would blow on the tractor's motor. It worked. The tractor started and with the tires chained up, it had no problem in the all in the deep snow chugging along slowly to the bottom of the hill and back up at a snails pace with the car in tow. Oh the joys of winter - NOT!
I can't tell you how much I LOVE my Otter sled!!!!

Monday, January 9, 2017

My Chore Sled

 I swear this sled saves me an hour doing chores in the morning. It is a back saver. We knew when we moved here, we were going to eventually have to get a heavy duty sled. The snow was deep when we moved in and it kept snowing every few days but that was March. Winter was almost over. Last year the winter was unusually warm -loved it! I did not love the drought filled summer that followed where our water well level went way down. So really we have not needed this sled until this year. The snow is piling high once more.

The place we moved to has a barn with an upper loft. The loft being for Barbies. You know Barbie dolls. The main floor held tools and fire wood. Yes, the older couple was into construction and dolls. That is why on the north side of the house the only source of water is one lone spigot. See what looks like a tiny little stuck straight up in the snow with a short hose draped off to the side? No, well, I can't blame you since it is quite small and a lo...ng ways from the barn. Look again. It is on the left side of the picture almost to the edge. This north side of the property drifts big time. Luckily for us, the snow does not have a tendency to drift all the way up to the side of the house, which leaves a bit of an alley to walk. Just beware that both ends of this alley are capped with drifts.

 Typically one or the other of us (depending if Kirk is off work or not.) heft two four gallon buckets at a time - six in total through this alley way
Now note the distance through the snow to the hay feeder on the right where Sam, the beef is. Look for the two legs and no head figure in the photo, that is Sam.  (I assure you the beef has four legs and a head when you get closer.) Sam and the calves require three buckets a day of water. With my bulky weight carrying two, four gallon buckets at a time, I do not glide over the drifts but sludge through them tipping one way and then another as my feet break through. This makes it a miserable trip as the water sloshes on to my pants and then of course freezes. Not fun!!With the sled, I can place a pitchfork and six bucket and slide to the spigot. In this cold weather you turn it on very, very sparingly. When the spigot turns off, water inside flows back down into the ground. You put gravel at the base of the spigot in the ground near the pipe that runs to the well. This is to help the water flow away from the pipe. If you turn on and off the spigot, then more and more water flows to this area and builds up,. It freezes before it can all flow away and you end up with a spigot that does not work until spring or a long winter thaw. The long winter thaw rarely happens. Our water lines run six feet in the ground because that is just below where the grounds. This is why I take all the buckets at once and fill them.

At the spigot, I load three water buckets onto the sled along with the pitchfork; and haul it to Sam and the three calves. In Wyoming, you water the animals first so they drink before the water in the pan freezes again. If it is really cold, that means it begins to form crystals in just a few minutes. I then slide the sled over and fill it with hay and glide to the hay feeder. This is done a couple times. It saved the falling through the snow over and over during the eight trips. It also saves the fight with the wind to keep the hay on the pitchfork.

I then return to the spigot to load more buckets and head to the barn to feed the goats, rabbits, cats, and chicken. Fewer and easier trips, saves my lungs as I don't breathe so deeply the cold air. Before the sled. that would have been three trips to get all the buckets and pitchfork back to the barn area.

After I water, I then slide the sled to the barn hay yard where I fill it with hay and glide on over to the goat's hay feeder. Pitch fork by pitch fork of hay bucking drifts is not fun either and it takes a lot of hay to fill the feeder. .


On the left side of the picture is the buck pen. The one the two bucks stayed in all last winter. The winter with little snow. It is now packed full, most of it four feet high. For most of the thirty-one years of raising goats, we had no buck, preferring to borrow one for a short time. Now that we have our own, we have learned that one, nice buck will live amicably with the does all winter if the does are already bred. But two bucks will spend all their time competing for the girls' attentions. Someone will get hurt and usually it is  a doe as they desperately try to get out of range. I'm referring to the large dairy goats, not the small breeds of goats that cycle twelve months of the year. As for them I have no idea. They are a totally different can of worms as they say. That is why we sold a buck this year. The goat stalls are much warmer and with four closed in together, they stay pretty cozy even on the coldest nights. It does mean a lot of cleaning stalls and the sled is used for that too. We load up and haul off the manure to the south garden. The north garden is buried under three to four feed of snow.
Only a small area of the goat pen has no snow. On this morning the calves are in the pen as they have been spending the 30 some below zero wind chill nights in the barn. They are not nearly as tough as Sam yet.
This is the sled we bought. It is the smallest of the pro series.
It fits through our smallest gates, holds the limit of what we can pull, and is thicker in construction that the smaller non-pro series. They sell these sleds to snowmobilers and ranchers. They are great to pull behind a four wheeler, a snowmobile, or a horse. A couple years ago, we went sledding in a large sized one pulled behind a snowmobile across the hay meadows. It was a wild ride!! 

 Kirk did this set up and I love it.  The sled just comes with the holes drilled. How do those of you in deep snow country get your livestock chores done? I could use some tips.  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

How Do Chickens Stay Warm?

This young pullet is saying, "Baby it's cold outside!" Note the fluffed up feathers.  She isn't kidding as the temperature was -13 F. when I got out of bed this morning. I wait to do chores in weather like this until it warms a bit for there has been a breeze of late if not a gale wind that plunges the temperature further to a wind chill of 38 below zero. Hubby went to work in a white out this morning. It lasted for four miles. We live in the worst weather spot for 20 some miles either direction. I tell the grandkids that all the lights for our exit off of the interstate, our exit only, is because we are so special but they know better. It's for the cameras that allow people to see the not so lovely weather we have in the winter time. Our spot is often the reason for road closures. Of course that means we have the greenest spot in the summer too because the snow piles so high. Our little beauty spot is nicknamed, hurricane, flats. Not as bad as where we lived before moving here but it does get breezy at times.

 My lungs protest are protesting this polar weather. They are difficult to treat. Found that out two years ago when in January I spent some time in the hospital. The smart thing is to just not get my lungs mad, so I wait until the temperature is above zero, if possible, before going out. It works out best for the animals too as they don't like coming out of their sheds to drink if it is above zero either. The water freezes almost immediately while the animals try to convince me to bring it to them with insistent bellers. Hauling water twice in a row is not my idea of fun. They prefer to eat when it is a bit more toasty too. The chickens usually don't come out at all except on rare occasion to bask in the sun that beats against the side of the barn. They think it is only worth it if the wind is not blowing. Don't blame them really. The minute I opened the door they feel the frigid cold and hustle to the roost, fluff their feathers out, and tuck their legs up under to keep them warm. Those warm cushions of air between the fluffed up feathers are a nice insulator against the cold.

Even the rooster, Sir Gallop, has his hackle spread out wide. He tucks one foot in his feathers and then switches the supporting leg to tuck it up under where it is warm. That is why they like the roost so both legs stay warm.

 The first thing to freeze on a chicken is the comb. Note Sir Gallop's. The black is the part that froze and it is dead now. It will drop off in a few months. Frost bite is not unusual up north where we live. I've had mild cases of it a number of times myself. For roosters in the winter, it is not so big a deal. Don't know if it lowers their sperm count or not but that is not a concern for who wants to hatch chicks now anyway? It is a problem if a hen's comb freezes. They will stop laying eggs until the injury has healed. The remedy is to create a warm insulated coop. With 22 chickens and six rabbits inside, it stays pretty warm. Yes, we brought home three baby bunnies. I'll have to tell you the story. It is rather funny but that is another blog post. None of the other chicken's combs have frozen but then none of them are as large as the roosters.

We've raised chickens for about 28 years and though we've become pretty good chicken herders, sometimes there is just nothing you can do to get one or two back inside. Sometimes you will get one that just wants to be free-range day and night. Usually it is because they are being bullied but not always. Most chickens are smart enough to head for cover. A couple Wyandotte roosters ended up living with the goats or sheep. They rode  on their backs out from the shed to get a drink or eat with them at the hay feeder, then hitched a ride back. Their feet never touched the ground except to get a drink and up they'd go again to the shed once more. They shared warmth in the insulated shed and did fine through the winter. But we had three chickens that paid the price for not finding a good place to weather the storm and their combs froze along with their toes. One froze both feet so badly we had to kill it because it could not walk. Chickens are just not meant to live outside in the winter.

If you look carefully, you can see a tiny black dot on the comb of this Wyandotte hen. It has been an exceptionally cold winter so far. It has not stopped her from laying or I don't think it has. I've now studied two different scientific studies about how to tell if a hen is a good layer or not. I have my suspicions now about her but we'll talk about that later. I have raised Wyandotte chickens for many year but I may end that as I've found the fox and coyotes here seem to really like them.  This girl is the only one left. They are a gentle, sweet breed, even the roosters.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Easter Eggers or Are They?


What went wrong or rather incredibly right? I'm confused. As I began planning the future for my chicken flock, I found out the  chickens who met all my criteria for the perfect flock are not what the breed standard says they are. How could this be? The packing slip clearly states Easter Egger. But look at Pearl here. Does she look like a small 4 or 5 pound chicken? We weighed her and she came in at 10.6 pounds, clearly not in the Easter Egger range.


Granted, the Easter Egger breed is rather a motley crew. They are basically any conglomerate of chickens that retains the colored egg gene. I'm not talking about brown but the ability to lay green, pink, or blue. Not one of my girls do this, just brown, brown, and brown eggs. That's okay because colored does not make the egg any better just different. Easter Eggers are related to Araucanas and Ameraucanas and that is where the colored egg gene originates. Beware some hatcheries are rather unscrupulous in their naming of their flocks calling their chickens by whatever name they please in the colored egg gene pool. 


I don't carec, I just want whatever these awesome chickens are. But what is that? I've no idea. What I can tell you is what they do.


1. They are calm and gentle. Sir Gallop is a sweetheart of a rooster. I'd guess he weighs in at around 13 pounds. That rivals with the largest chicken breeds in America, the Jersey Giants and the Brahma. He is also very protective of his flock of hens and runs to them if they squawk.



 Left to right - 2 hens hatched this past summer, Sir Gallop our rooster who's coming 2 this spring, an Australorp hen born in the spring of 2014. Note how much larger the summer hatched hens are to the older Austrolorp hen.
2. They have a good feed conversion and grow very quickly. These two hens in the picture are about 5 months old. Compare them with the black Australorp chicken coming 2 this spring. The Easter Eggers are far larger and meatier.




3. They mature quite quickly. They lay shortly after the Australorps, which mature very quickly and lay at around 4 months old.


4. They make great mothers and are broody. Their substantial size means they can set on a larger number of eggs.


5. Their egg production is good. I'd say in the Australorp range. I can't be certain as each chicken is not penned separately.


6. They are a wonderful butcher size. Their skin is loose and not attached tight to their backbone. I can name some chickens breeds whose skin is hard to remove and who have feathers attached with super glue or so it seems.


7. They don't range far, which in our area means they aren't easy bait for the fox and coyotes. They remain flocked together in which helps keep predators at bay who tend to remain on the edges of our property since we harass them if they enter our domain.


8. They do well in confinement. I would guess in part due to their quiet nature though they are pretty proud of their egg laying and will let you know about it. Their large size means the number of chickens in an enclosed area is fewer but my coop is plenty big enough for 22 chickens.


9. Their weight means they can't fly over the 7 foot garden fence and dig up the seeds I've just planted. In fact they are terrible fliers.


 So what am I to do? These chickens are clearly not the normal Easter Eggers. I've decided to breed my own motley crew. The mixture of chickens has already begun to make the transition. I started with five breeds in 2014 to try a couple new breeds and see what ones work best in our new location. Predators and I guess I'm in that category, have sorted part of them out. None of the roosters but Sir Gallop has made the cut. They have all been small and rather flighty. I need one like him next year as he turns 2 and his sperm count will drop significantly.


 The chicks who carry the gene for becoming large quickly remained in the flock this year. The ones who have the strong mothering instinct like a 5 month old hen, who I've been fighting for 2 weeks to convince her that she can’t set on eggs in a Siberian like winter, will remain. I leg banded last years hens that will remain and will begin to do so with the new crew. Left leg band is for setters and right for non-setters. With those bans I am going to keep records for each hen rating them on the above categories.


I have some Easter Egger and either Australorp or Asian Blue crosses which have made the first cut. Not so thrilled with the Asian Blue which I are really hard to tell from the Australorps that I've raised before and love. The problem is the Australorp are just a bit small in size. I do want to try some crosses though to see if I can get the early egg laying with the good setters and mother genes, plus the quiet disposition. I had four but the predators ate 2 or is it 3. As I said, I can't tell them from the Asian Blues unless I have them all together in one spot which rarely happens. Then I notice they stand a little differently. I think I will pick up a few more Australorps this next spring and cull most of the older hens. I'm going to keep 3. I think. We shall see come spring.