Escape!

Oh, goats. They are such lovely creatures! Daisy is currently giving us more milk than we know what to do with, and she is quite the sweetie.

However, everyone knows that goats are escape artists. Ours are no exception! I’m getting rather tired of goats in my garden (twice now I’ve had to replant beans and tomatoes!) and I sure don’t feel great about them getting into the neighbouring GMO soy field.

Today we set up a portable electric fencing system so that we could move the goats around various parts of the yard. The idea was that they’d munch down the grass & weeds, and then we’d move them on to the next spot. It was a lovely idea and perfect in theory, until we attempted to put it into practice.

On this wonderful first day of Summer, in blistering heat and searing sun, Jae and I pounded a copper grounding rod 6 feet into the ground – no small feat! We set up all the fence posts, strung the wire, turned on the fully-charged solar fence energizer, and placed the goats inside their new pen.

In less than one minute, they were out. They received a big zap – we saw the sparks – paused for half a moment, and then they barreled right on through as though the wire was not even there.

Goats:1, Solar fence:0

I hollered after the goats and declared that I was sick enough of them in my garden that I’d be happy to get rid of them altogether. Lynden started crying, “Please don’t get rid of my goats, I love those guys, please let me keep them!” and Raina joined in with a high-pitched wail.

So now Jae is returning the expensive solar electric fencing system to the TSC and reinforcing the fence around the goat yard, where those stubborn beasts are supposed to be contained. And the lush, overgrown lawn? Well, I think we’ll finally give in & purchase a lawnmower, and feed the goats the clippings.

Saying Goodbye

Today we said goodbye to our beloved Border Collie, Miss Molly.  It was apparent to us that our farm is not the right place for her.  Our first indicator was an attack on a goat that happened in early Autumn.  We did some work with her, met a new trainer, upped the daily exercise, added a daily hour-long game of fetch, switched to a homemade diet and continued to strengthen her obedience work. All seemed to be going very well, and we were happy, until…

Over the past week, Molly decided it would be grand to kill a chicken.  Then, two days later, she decided it would be even grander to kill another one. The next day, under supervision, a third. And then, in one evening, right under my nose, she killed our two best laying ducks when I turned my back to see why our toddler was crying.

Now, our hens and ducks are free-ranging and it wasn’t often that Miss Molly was outside unsupervised.  Most days, her time outdoors was spent with us, walking on the trail or exploring the woods, playing fetch in the fields, etc. She spent much of her days at our sides. But let’s be realistic here – there are three small children living on this farm. There are times when a dog needs to pee and there are too many other demands for me to be hovering & supervising. Around here, we need our dogs to be trustworthy, to be able to go outside for a potty break without having to worry that our livestock are being harmed if we have other tasks pulling our attention away. Could we have gotten Molly to that point? Yes, I’m sure, with a lot more work. But how much work can I put into a dog before saying enough is enough?

Oh, I was heartbroken when Molly took that first beautiful white duck. Heartbroken for the duck, and heartbroken for Molly.  I read over homesteading websites, Border Collie websites, and any other resources I could find, absorbing all the information out there on how to break a dog of a chicken-killing habit. When I realised how much more work I would have to put forth, I cried.  I have been working with Molly since the end of June, when we first officially started obedience classes.  Every day we practiced for a minimum of a half-hour, usually closer to an hour. Every day we reviewed all the commands we had learned, until we had all the basics down pat. When the goat attack happened, I worked with Molly more than ever.  I got her working for everything – earning each bowl of food, earning her game of fetch, earning her raw meaty bones. It was getting to the point where Lynden would sometimes say with an exasperated sigh, “Mama! You spend all of your time with that dog!”

Life is busy around here. There are sheep and goats to tend to, a large flock of hens, the ducks, the children, the household chores, crafts and games and other things the kids need help with. And the dogs. My beloved, wonderful dogs. My dogs, who get a huge amount of my attention, but need to be able to function well without it sometimes. My dogs, who need to be able to pee without supervision sometimes.

So, the choice was made.  Miss Molly went on this afternoon to a new home, with a wonderful man who knows and loves Border Collies, who will be able to give to her what I can’t, and who lives only ten minutes away.  It was so hard to say goodbye.  The kids were upset with me for letting our beloved dog go. I shed many tears. But in the end, I’m certain that things will be better for everyone.

A Visitor in the Dark

Well, I knew it was inevitable. I knew our luck was too good to be true. I knew, sooner or later, we’d be visited by a creature of the wild wanting to make a meal of our hens. We can only tempt fate for so long, out here on the farm. I’m amazed we’ve made it this long (15 months!) without any sneaky predators taking our ladies in the night.

Over the past several months, a pack of coyotes have taken to wandering our area in the night. Throughout August and September, we heard them yipping in the fields across the street, beside us, and behind us, night after night. My dogs heard them, too, and good old Oddler, the noble and valiant hound, went bounding through the fields each and every night, bawling his hound dog bawl, chasing them far off into the bush and returning hours later.

Lately, I haven’t heard the coyotes. I’m not sure what they’ve done with themselves, but in their place has come another menace.  For many nights, Oddler and Miss Molly have gotten themselves worked into a tizzy, running the perimeter of our farm, barking and yapping and bawling. They keep it up for hours some nights, and other nights they settle down quickly, only to resume their protective vocalising a short while later.

Last night the dogs were mostly silent. Then, at 4am, I was awoken by the shrill yip-yapping of Miss Molly in the field just out my bedroom window.  A moment later, Oddler joined with his deep bawl. They kept it up for ten minutes before racing off through the field, chasing something away from our farm, their yaps and bawls fading in the distance.  I laid there in the dark, listening for their return. Forty-five minutes later, they finally came running up our 1/2km driveway, still very worked up. They circled the farm again and again, barking, until I felt like I was going to go crazy and brought them into the house. They paced by the door for a while, and only settled down to sleep when the sky was becoming ashy, pre-dawn.

Of course the dogs’ nighttime escape was on my mind a great deal today. I had a morning appointment, and when I returned I put on my boots, fed the chickens, and went out in the field. Within minutes I found a whole chicken’s worth of feathers puffing out of a thorny bush along the edge of the field. A few steps to the east, and there was another huge tuft of feathers, blowing gently in the breeze.  Something (or a few somethings!) had taken off with our hens. I only wonder if the theft happened before the dogs went chasing through the field, or after I brought them in the house? Had the dogs prevented more birds from being taken in the night, or had I allowed the hens to be taken by bringing the dogs inside? This is troubling me, and weighing heavily on my mind.

So, now we’re at a crossroads. Do we tie the dogs to the chicken tractors at night for protection? Or do we bring them in at night to keep them safe? I am not comfortable with my dogs racing through the fields at night after some unknown prowler. Anything could happen to them, and I’d never forgive myself. I also don’t like chaining the dogs if there is a prowler around – they are much less able to defend themselves if they are tied. For tonight the dogs are curled up on their blankets in the house, warm and safe, and I am worrying myself silly about the hens left outside unprotected.

Tomato Woe

Remember the other day when I planted out plenty of lovely little things in one of our garden beds?  At the end of that day I felt so accomplished and satisfied.  There was some rain overnight to nourish everything I had put in the ground.  All was well.

And then…

The next morning, several of my chickens hopped the fence and feasted on everything in that fresh, new garden bed.  All that remained were the chives and two scrawny little tomato plants.  The rest, gone.

When I discovered the catastrophe, I sat down right there in the garden and cried.  You see, it had been a feat to get that garden bed planted.  The entire time I worked, I had a 27-lbs baby strapped to my back.  Squatting and standing, squatting and standing, bending over and digging with all of that extra weight on me, was a major workout.  My thigh muscles are still burning.  Spending all that time in the garden meant that my household chores were neglected, and I have some major catching-up to do.  I got only a portion of my laundry mountain chiseled away, and never mind the dishes.

All that work aside, the tomato starters I had planted were the salvaged remains that Henry the rabbit left behind.  The kids had let Henry out of his cage one afternoon (without telling me), and shortly afterward we left the house.  In our absence, Henry took it upon himself to feast on my flats of veggie starters that I had been carefully tending to for two months.  Heirloom tomato starters – 90% gone.  Cucumbers – gone.  Organic squash – gone.  Herbs – gone.  The few plants I was able to save went into the garden bed I planted on Monday, only to be promptly eaten by the chickens.

So, you see, after the work that was put into the garden and the tragedy of losing almost all of my starters to Henry the rabbit, those chickens dealt me a horrible blow.  I couldn’t help myself, the tears had to flow.

Now that I’ve regained my composure and have had some time to cool off a little, I’ve decided that we need to make some major changes to the way we do things around here.  Things are too chaotic, and I need to be able to put the bulk of my farm focus on the gardens.  The chickens can no longer be completely free-ranging – on Sunday I’ll be building a chicken tractor, in which those ladies will be enclosed.  I’ll also be selling most of the goats, keeping only Caprice and Daisy.   The ducks will have their own pen as well, at the ditch, and will no longer be able to hide their eggs from me.

As much as I love the idea of happy creatures roaming free, the reality is that it is just not working.  We don’t have enough space on this little farm, and I have to set some limits and structure things more effectively if I have any hope of making this work.  My ravaged garden held a message and a perfect opportunity to make changes and get things back on track.  Here we go!

Fever Strikes!

Remember when I mentioned in my last post that Lynden had a fever?  He’s now on day five, and Raina & I have come down with it as well.  We are a sorry bunch, curled up in bed together seemingly dead to the world, taking our turns shivering uncontrollably and sweating buckets.  Raina wakes up long enough to plead, “Water…” in a pitiful little voice, take a few sips, and drift back to sleep.  Lynden coughs and hacks.  And I… well, I lay in bed and feel absolutely miserable, grateful only for the company of my little loves.

Robin seems to be untouched by all of this.  Jae took a couple of days off work to lend a helping hand, and he and Robin have been joined at the hip.  They went for a hike this morning and collected more phragmites for the thatched roof on the chicken coop.  They went grocery shopping and brought back refreshing, cold, fizzy tea.  They lounged around the house together while we other three moaned and groaned in bed, fetching water and apple cider for us upon request.

Please, fever, break soon and go on your merry way to some other household!

Ain’t No Time for Coughin’

Guess what?  When you’re the only stay-at-home adult on the farm, there’s no such thing as sick days.  I learned that well enough this morning when I was side-swiped by a wicked head cold and sore throat that was akin to swallowing glass shards.  I had been awake since 2:00am due to the intense pressure in my head, and when the sun began to rise and the dogs started whining to go out and the chickens were clucking away in the coop, I thought I might just cry a little from the overwhelm.

I must say, I am a very fortunate woman.  My loving mama came on over bright and early to walk the dogs and take care of all the birds & rabbits.  She made sure everyone was fed and had fresh water before heading out to start her own work day.

Today I was lucky.  There will be days, I am sure, when my mom won’t be able to come to the rescue.  What happens on sick days when there’s nobody to bail me out?  I suppose those days require pushing on through, no matter how dead one may feel.  Ah, c’est la vie.

Chook Tragedy!!

Tragedy has befallen our wee flock of chickens.  This morning I put them out in the yard and went in to put the baby down for a nap.  Lynden went outside to keep an eye on the chicks, and a few minutes later came racing into the house, hollering.  “There’s a cat chasing the chicks!  There’s a cat chasing the chicks!” he yelled.

I put on my sandals and ran into the yard, where not a chick could I find.  I saw a bunch of black feathers on the ground, and a few feet away discovered Midnight, hiding near the fence.  Poor girl – I brought her in and put her in the brooder, and she’s been acting depressed ever since.

The nextdoor neighbour started helping me look for the remaining chicks, and we found Little Red hiding under a bush near the alley fence.  Hooray!  Into the brooder she went.

My next discovery was not a happy one.  At the back of my house, I spied the cat.  I was determined to give him a good scare, and maybe inflict a little bit of pain, attempts to deter him from returning.  As I approached, I realised that the cat was not alone.  Under his (bloody) front paws, there lay Rusty, dead as a doorknob with her stomach ripped open and the cat mouthing around at her innards.  I screamed and grabbed my daughter to keep her from going nearer, and Lynden & Raina started wailing.  “My chicken, my chicken, my poor little chicken,” Lynden cried.  I shuttled the kids into the house and went back into the yard with my neighbour to clean up the mess.

That damned cat just watched us this whole time, munching away.  We were right up beside him, hitting him with a stick, before he finally decided to forget about the chick and run.  I could hardly stand the sight of my poor little Rusty, and had to look away to keep from vomiting.  My neighbour scooped her up with a shovel and dropped her into the garbage bag I was holding, and Rusty’s story came to an end.

I went inside to console the children, who were hysterically sobbing on the couch.  Once they were calmed down, I went back outside to look for the remaining two chicks.  As I called, “Here chick chick chick,” I heard a rustling in the ferns and looked over to see Star making her way out of hiding, coming towards me.  I scooped her up and put her in the brooder.

The search for Henny Penny continues.  Lynden went out with the neighbour while I tended to Raina and Robin, and spent nearly an hour searching for our last lost bird.  They roamed the alley, sprayed water in the bushes, looked in all the nooks and crannies.  So far, no sign of Henny Penny.  At least we haven’t found a body, so hope remains.

As luck would have it, a huge storm is rolling in.  If Henny Penny is still alive, she’s in for a big shock.  Oh, dearest chickie, please be OK.