(Grand Isle, Vermont)
3 Sheeps to the Wind farm
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When is the Ark floating by???

Tilling, rowing, planting, shearing, raising, fencing and a bit of barn repair. No rest for the weary as my Mom would say.  Even with the dreadful weather, we have been busy building the farm stock and facilities.  A few new additions to the farm: a guard llama named buddy, 30 turkey poults and some baby chicks and ducks.  
I thought of renaming buddy to "Rudolph" because the sheep won't let him play in any reindeer games......Ol' Buddy just loves the sheep, but they don't quite like him.  They have negotiated an armistice and tend to at-least tolerate him lately.  They even share the sheep shed with him - joy!  But  all are now a bit shy and sheepish (pun intended) as the flock was sheared 2 weeks ago without too much trouble.  Then we got to Ol' Bud.  Several surprises here: 1) llamas are very strong animals and can easily drag one farmer around yard by halter rope 2) now better understand the need to essentially hogtie llamas to shear them 3) llamas can make the most god awful LOUD noise when they want to 4) said strong llama is not all that big under the billowing hair that gets shear off 5) llamas can spilt the most vile green globs of goop when distressed 6) after 2-3 days of sulking llamas are back to old fun loving self!  We now have 13 sets of fleece to process and turn into yarn.  My daughter is interested in "spinning and hooking" with the local ladies.  Yes, I did a double take on that phrase also.  
New birds on the farm.  We switched to heritage breed turkeys this year as most folks don't want a 42 lb Mongo bird over flowing their oven.....  30 Narragansett and Midget Whites arrived as day old poults.  We lost 2 to sickness, one to drowning (in sheep tank) and gave two to a friend to raise.  There are several BIG differences with the older breed turkeys vs new mutant whites: 1) Narrs look alot like wild turks 2) at 10 days old they can fly WELL, Very Well (story later) 3)heritage turks just love grass 4) they eat a lot less than mutants.  OK, Story on the flying at 10 days - I moved the turks out of my basement into the "ark" (mobile poultry house I built) as they were getting too big for their boxes.  Everyone was doing great - growing, healthy, feathering out.  So, I open the door for a short while to allow them to get out side.......  BAD IDEA!  My 5' high fenced in area did not have a caged in roof !  I had turkey poults everywhere!  Took me 45 minutes to get all but one back into the ark.  That one adventurer took off for the tall grass.  I spent the next 2 hours combing the area looking for it.  I get a call the next morning from my neighbor that a small white turkey is in her back yard.  I run over and when I approach the little bugger, it FLIES 300 yards down the field about 4' in the air.  All the while with me running behind!  When it finally tires and crash lands into the grass, I nab it and place back with the others.  I now have a chicken wire roof over my turk area.  I am considering cutting their flight feathers until they are older.  I want to release them into the big pen, but I need to keep them in.  It is a conundrum and a dilemma.....  We also picked up 3 new baby ducks and 10 new baby chickens (Arakanas and Buff Orpingtons).  The Arakanas lay a teal blue egg and the Buffs are just pretty birds....  Got them in a dog crate in the hen house under a heat lamp.  I hate to see my electric bill!!!  
The gardens are in good, so-so and sad conditions.  Corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and the vines plants are doing well.  Onions, beans and peppers are doing OK and my squash just plain won't grow!  Must be the wet weather rotting the seeds, but everyone else loves the rain.
Forgot to mention, 7 of my girls are pregnant and expecting in late July to mid August.  My wife is terrified I won't be in town when they lamb, but I have faith in the timing of a female.  Even sheep know the most inopportune time to go into labor.....grin.  Why so late?  The previous Sheppard did not turn the ram in with the ewes and forgot to tell me.....  So, when I got them back to my farm, I wasn't thinking that I had to keep them separated.....  Nature has a way of taking care of business on it's own!  I can only hope that the births are as hands off.....  On the plus side the lambs will be ready for Easter.  Sorry if you object, but we cannot keep male sheep and stay in business.  A farm is a business not a zoo.  We must make the hard and unpleasant decisions to keep this enterprise going.  One the fun decisions to make: we will need to focus on one breed of sheep.  Instead of Romneys, Shetlands, Icelandics, Jacobs, Tunis, etc.  But we can wait to make that one.....
Have a great summer everyone;
John and Penny

Spring fever!

Spring, spring, spring - Woo-Hoo!!!!

We all survived the winter - did not lose one animal, just my sanity.  Old man winter just did not want to leave - it seemed to NEVER end!  This last weekend, we were able to get out into the gardens.  We planted 210' of Red, White and Blue (please stand and say the pledge....grin) potatoes (and yes, you can spell it with an "e" Mr. V.P.), 180' of onions/scallions, a bit of lettuce and 60' of peas.  Starting several other plants on flats inside.  Rained last night, that was good. 

I have been feverishly building fence to keep the blasted sheep IN !!  I thought heifers were escape artists, sheep are Houdini in wool!  I am now up to 6 lines of wire with one electrified.  Buddy the llama just loves the sheep, the problem is that the sheep do NOT love him.  Interesting dance going on out there.  Looking to add two beef calves soon and "geld" buddy.  Might calm him down a bit.  I know it would me - OUCH! 

 Chickens never really slowed up on the laying.  Still popping out 28 ish eggs for 30 birds a day.  Good girls!  We have a few of the "blue egg layers" on order - Araucanas - just to add spice to the egg orders....grin. 

Still have the blasted geese.  I tossed them out of the chicken coop as they we making an absolute mess out of the water and litter!!!  Took way to long each week to clean up.  Now they are pooping all over my lawn.  Must find way to convince wife/daughter they are evil and need to be eliminated.....not evil - just tasty.  The ducks are still a hoot.  People are buying 1/2 dozen at the stand.  I prefer them to chicken as they have a nice flavor.  Unlike the Goose egg that over-powers your senses....  We ordered 3 more females and a male duck to see if we can brood a few for the pot. 

My heritage turkeys are on order (since Dec 08) and am eagerly awaiting shipment.  I have the "ark" powered and pens waiting for them.  Might put the ducks (adult and "lings") in with them.  Would be a social barn dance in there.  I will have to check to see if ducks (like chickens) cannot mingle with the turks.  Thanks be to the all knowing internet search engine.  Knowledge is just a few clicks away.

Well, Coffee is awaiting.

Have a great spring;

John and Penny



After the Turkeys are processed.......

The turkeys were processed on Tuesday -  WOW!  I am not sure we could have done this by ourselves.  The money paid to the local mobile poultry processor (ie a guy with a trailer and all the equipment) was well worth it!  The key to processing a bird is definitely the hot water scalder and plucker - neither we have access to.  Our broad breasted white (BBW) hens ranged from 24-26 lbs and the BBW toms from 32-43 lbs.  We have found the BBW to be just too big for most families today. We are moving to Heritage breeds next year - Narragansett and Holland Whites.  These birds range around 10 lb hens and 18 lb toms.  This seems to be the desired size for families today.  But heritage breed turkeys grow slower than BBWs.  To make up for this "disadvantage", heritage breeds taste better, free range for food better, will breed naturally and have lots of various color varieties.  If you are a small turkey grower, we would strongly recommend that you look into these birds.  We will be purchasing a breeding pair next week to be the "Mom and Dad" for our new poults in the spring.  We are looking to buy and hatch our poults next year and beyond. 
All of the time, effort, money and work paid off when I hand delivered our first hen to our neighbor minutes after coming out of the ice bath and bagged.  Her family was having Thanksgiving dinner a few days early.  We are glad we were able to work out an early delivery to her frig.  Our birds are now in our frig awaiting other neighbors that have birds reserved.  We actually over sold our birds a bit and chipped into the birds reserved for our table....!  But, at the end of the season we were able to provide fresh, local turkeys for the people we care about - our neighbors.  Next year as we grow, I guess we will expand our definition of a neighbor....grin.

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone.

John & Penny


nearing the end of the first year "on the farm"

November 13, 2008. 

The mobile turkey processor is coming next Tuesday and so goes the end of the year......so to speak.  When we started this little adventure, we had NO IDEA what to do or how to do it.  Having grown up and worked in a farming family (uncles & cousins) I had lots of experience with raising, milking or processing cows, horses, pigs chickens, and large gardens, but NEVER turkeys!  In spite of all that I have read, researched and spoke to folks, you have to experience turkeys to understand them.  The good news is that we have buyers for all but one of our birds.  Ol' one eye is going on my table for Thanksgiving!!!  He was injured as a poult just after we got them in early June.  You would have thought having only one eye would have slowed him down.  Hardly!  He is my biggest tom!  Walks around with his head tilted to one side and eats/drinks kind of strange, bit other than that he is normal.  For a turkey, what is that? 

This adventure all started last winter when a bachelor "farmer" friend of ours came over for dinner.  Somehow the topic of raising poultry came up.  He mentioned that he was ordering his yearly flock of chickens and ducks - what the fox doesn't get, he puts in the freezer.  So we spoke to the people at the local hardware store in Franklin County about ordering poultry for our farm.  We knew we wanted chickens (still needed to finish refurbishing the old coop) to sell the eggs on our farm stand.  We spoke about ducks and geese, but never turkeys.  When the time came to order, I stopped by the store alone - mistake #1 for my wife.  When I left, we had on order chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys!   How do you know what you like if you never try......or that was my logic.  Well, let the learning curve go into over-drive.  Baby chicks need a brooder, so I built two from plans on a website that used 40 gallon plastic tubs from Wal-Mart.  When they out grew these, I built one out of plywood from a book called "Success with baby chicks" by Robert Plamondon.  I moved the not-so-small baby chicks out to the newly renovated coop.  I raised the building and installed a new foundation sill, repaired the concrete floor and installed fenced windows covered in plastic to keep out the wind.  Success!  We did not lose a single bird and the chicks were turning into chickens!  Then the ducks and geese came.  I was able to use the tub brooders for a while, but geese grow very fast!  Lesson learned..  So I fenced off a section of the coop for the ducks and geese.  That went well, except ducks and geese make a royal mess with their water..... Lesson learned.  Then the turkeys came.  By this time, my wife was getting a bit frazzled.  But I was still optimistic we could pull it all off.  Having read that turkeys and chickens should not be mixed, I kept the turkeys in a large plywood box in the coop feed section.  And I thought geese grew fast..... Lesson learned again - be prepared.  I am an Eagle Scout so you would have thought I would be, but I was not.  Off to the local lumber box store with plans that I drew up for a mobile duck/geese/turkey shed on sledges.  My plan was to move the "Ark" around with my tractor as the birds grew......  You guessed it, it was in the same spot all summer and fall.  I found it easier to just let the ducks and geese out in the morning and back in at night.  The turkeys I did not trust out on their own.  Why?  Well, we raised Broad-Breasted Whites.  When we started I did not know a BBW from a Bourbon Red or Narragansett or Midget Holland or the other breeds.  And what was a Heritage breed?  Lesson learned.  So the mobile processer is coming next Tuesday and my turkeys are going into the fridge.  Customers are contacted, ice is made (to cool the birds after processing), feed is almost gone and the farm bank account needs an infusion of funds!!! 

What lesson were learned?

* Hauling water is a joyful drudgery
* Chickens do NOT like to be inside buildings even in bad weather, at night or in the cold.
* Ganders (male goose) are sneak attack experts and only attempt the ambush when you aren't looking.
* Hawks do kill chickens!  I heard a squawk and ran to the coop to find a small hawk tearing into one of my prize layers.  I have since found a great use for old software CDs.  Seems the light flashes scare the hawks and owls away.
* Ducks disappear.  No trace, no feathers, nothing!  Think it was a fox or something big enough to cart it off.  Looking for animal box traps, but how do I keep my cats out of them?????  Or do I????? Hummmm.....
* Raccoons will eat a goose through the fence.  We rescued a blind goose from a neighboring farm.  She was 90% blind and would not stay in the barn and tended to hang out in the corner of the 5' fence.  Sad but inevitable ending. 
* BBW Turkeys eat and poop A LOT!  Just think what a 50 lb dog will do daily and then multiply by how many turkeys you have !
* Get smarter turkeys next year and let them roam free for food in my meadows during the day.  We are picking up a breeding pair of Narragansetts next week  and ordering 25 Narr poults & 15 Holland Whites next April.  Hope my new Mom and Dad take to the kids...
* Convince my wife to let me process the Chinese goose Gander and Embden geese.  Then pick up some African geese to keep my lone African goose company.  I give myself a 20% chance of getting the OK.....  But my college daughter counts the ducks and geese everytime she comes home.  Drat!
* Need fencing before sheep, Llama and beef cows.
* Need access to hay.
* Need better more joyful watering method.
* All of this costs money, takes time every day-morning-night, smells, noisey, soils good shoes and is a joyful experience that keeps us sane and balanced !!!

So the processer comes next week and the cycle begins yet again.  Not bad a bad year.  Learned a lot, worked a lot and now know enough to grow it a bit more each year.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone;

John and Penny




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