Proverbs 27:27 And thou shalt have goats' milk enough for thy food, for the food of thy household, and for the maintenance for thy maidens.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Save the Chicks!

This time of year when we go into the farm stores for our grain or to browse the isles to start to plan our gardens we hear it almost as soon as we walk in the store.  The peep, peep, peep of tiny, cute, fuzzy baby chicks.  I always say I am not going to even look.  I do raise a batch of layer chicks for eggs and roosters for meat every year.  So why look.  I always have plenty of chicks around in spring to raise and get my fix.  But eventually, either one of the kids drags me over  to look at them or I happen by the area and glance down and am hooked to look.  I look at all the kinds they have.  Look at all the differences.  Look into the mixed pen to try to see if I can guess what kinds the different chicks are.  Then there are the easter pens.  Full of fluffy yellow chicks and little yellow ducklings and I hate to say this but many in those pens are doomed to be bought by so many well intentioned people, who buy just one or two chicks or ducklings for their kids for easter and might not know how to care for them. 

             Sound asleep in the chicken feeder after eating its fill.  That is the life!

Most people don’t realize that ducklings are INCREDIBLY messy and the chicks they bought most likely will not be pullets that will be egg layers once grown.   I mean I am just as guilty of impulse buying.  Just happened to me about two weeks ago.  I already had my batch of pullet layer chicks going here on the farm and while at the farm store saw some little Americana pullets.  You know, the ones that look like little chipmunks with the stripes down their backs.  To cute.  Yup, you guessed it.  I bought three to bring home and watch grow up.  I would not have done it though if they were not exactly the same size as the ones I had going.  So there would be no picking on each other.  (And I know most people would think of that as a no-no too.  The germ factor of mixing different hatchings of chicks from different places.)

Anyways, I know anyone at anytime can google chick care or duckling care and get some very good information.  But I thought I would cover it lightly here today in case any one finds themselves trying to raise a few chicks or ducklings for their kids for the easter holiday and have never raised any before.  Or were gifted someone else's purchase because they didn’t understand what it took to raise a duckling or chick.

Now this description is not scientific or exact.  With temperatures and everything.  I mean, I have read some of the how to raise a chick websites and it is… keep them at this certain temperature with this much humidity and lower the temperature so many degrees every week till fledged and such.  I don’t have time for that kind of detail on our farm.  So this is what works for us.  Try it at your own risk.  Praise God I have never lost a batch yet. 

I have a three shelved brooder I built years ago. (above)  But if you have just a few chicks you can brood them in a homemade brooder of four short pieces of plywood screwed together, Some people use corrugated cardboard to keep them corralled in a small portion of a large stall until they are big enough to enjoy the whole stall or even a large rubber maid tote will work well.  I used large totes for years, they work great.  The tote meets several of the requirements they need.  They need a large enough area to move around freely, with a heat lamp on one end.  (Do not use the solid lid that comes with the tote, chicks need good air circulation!)The area needs to be large enough that they can get under the lamp when they get cold or move away from the lamp when they get to warm.  Chicks need to stay dry.  So bedding that is fluffy and easy to change out and keep dry is great like pine shavings.  Not cedar. Also, you might have to keep in mind predators.  So a screen top (hardware mesh, maybe) of some sort if you have cats or what have you.  Housing for brooding is basically a draft proof, predator proof pen with absorbent bedding with a heat lamp at one end.  The pen being big enough that the chicks can move away from the light if they get to hot.  Many people use the red heat lamps as they say it cuts down on them picking on each other.   But they come in white heat lamps as well.  I know this is not the right way to do it.  But the heat lamps have such thin glass if water gets splashed on them they crack.  I use old fashioned flood lights. (not the florescent ones as they give off so little heat) The old fashioned flood lamps last longer, are heavy duty and thick glassed.  Just keep in mind old style flood lights  don’t give off as much heat as an actual heat lamp.  So you might need to use two or hang it a bit lower.  I like to use two lamps if I am raising more than 20 chicks.  As if one blows there is another to keep them kinda warm till I see what happened.

Our 3 1/2 week old chicks are in my grow out pen I made now.  I just block the drafts with something flat.Note the feeders.

Eventually, you will have to move them to a bigger and bigger arrangement to accommodate their growth.  As overcrowding is a huge killer of chicks.  It causes pecking and it is hard to keep them clean and dry. At about four or five weeks old they should have all their feathers and you can start to decide if they need the heat lamp anymore.  Taking into consideration night temps and such.  Just pay attention to how often and when they use the heat source anymore. Often at this stage if we are having warm days and cool nights I keep the lamp on at night and turn it off late morning for the day.
Our three and a half week old chicks.  They are very awkward at this stage.  Half fluff and half new feathers.

Now what to feed them.  I recently had a neighbor raise a batch of chicks his broody hen hatched this winter.  He brooded them for four weeks and had no place to grow them out. So sent them to my house for the time it took to grow them out and I sent them back to his place.  He didn’t want to buy chick starter for them.  So just crushed up layer pellets and fed them out on that the first four weeks.  I had never done this in an experiment or anything but was amazed at the results.  Those chickens, even though they had layer mash for only the first four weeks of their lives were the most unhealthy misshapen chickens.  Bless their hearts.  Once they got to my house I raised them the rest of the time on chick starter but the damage was done.  Layer mash is 16% protein and a lot of research has went into what layers need.  Chick starter is usually 20% protein for their fast growing little bodies.  I guess what I am saying is don’t skimp and forgo the chick starter.  I never realized it but it does make a huge difference.  Out of seven birds only two are left alive now.  And they are not as robust or large as other birds raised correctly their age. 

So you need fresh water for them in a special chick waterer.  So they don’t drown.  And chickstarter crumbles.  Don’t let the food or water run out.  As they sleep and eat and sleep and eat.  They aren’t like a dog you feed just once or twice a day.  If you buy any chicks mail order I usually have to teach them to eat and drink.  As they got shipped the day they hatched.  Out of the shell, into a box and shipped to you and then out of the box at your home.  As I take each chick out of the box I dip each chicks beak in the waterer and set them down next to it.  If they run off that is fine.  At least they know there is water and where it is.  Usually a smart chick will come back and start to drink and lead the others.  To teach them to eat, even though you have a feeder in there,  I take a piece of paper towel and lay it in the bottom of the brooder.  Than take a pinch of chickstarter and slowly drop a little piece here or there on the paper towel.  The instincts that God gave them to go after bugs and movement kicks in and a smart one will run over and peck at and eat up the small crumble that just hit the paper towel and bounced like a bug hopping.  I do this for a short while and spread a little chick starter over the paper towel and leave it there for about 30 minutes for them to learn to eat and peck at the food without it sinking below the fluff of the pen.  I don’t leave the paper towel in there as news paper and paper towels are a bit slippery compared to fluff and raising chicks on it can lead to leg disfigurement called spraddle leg or splayed legs. 

Now when raising a duckling the above is pretty much the same, except for a duckling needs a lot of water to drink.  The food and water need to be close together as they eat and then wash it down with water.  They need a wide rimmed water as they kinda swish their little bills back and forth in the water to clean out their bills and drink.  With ducklings there is just going to be more mess.  More changing fluff because of all the water and wetter droppings.  They do not need a pan of water to swim in!  They can drown easily or get chilled if allowed to swim to young and not get dried off well.  I never let mine play in any water till about two weeks old and not in their pens unsupervised.  If is it a sunny after noon I will take them on a little field trip out side in the sun, let them play in a small low pan of water.... supervised... for a short time and then dry them off really well and get them back to the heat source.  When they don’t need the heat source anymore they are good to go on swimming and playing in water.  But I have still seen people do it to soon and one drown here or there or get chilled. 

Anyways, I covered as much as I can think of and if you have any questions feel free to email them to me.  I don’t know everything and there is great info…professional info.. out there on the web.  But if I can answer any questions I would be glad to. 

Gods blessings and happy farming!

HaySaving Hay Rack! For Goats!

Goats are said to eat anything at all and I have found that NOT to be true.  Well, sort of.  :)   I think that they have gotten this reputation because first of all they are naturally curious creatures that chew on anything and explore their worlds with their mouths.  Secondly, they don’t like new things in their territory and anything new added they will test, rub on and try to destroy.  Thirdly, I think it is because in the world of goat breeding, at least half the goats born are bucks.  Bucks are not usually as wanted and sought after as the does because you can't milk them.  So there is an abundance of cute little bucklings for sale cheap.  People by them all cute and little for pets for their kids. Soon they grow up to be large and stinky when in rut.  Also most people don’t have any kind of adequate fencing to keep a goat in.  Especially, if they bought a goat on a whim.  Goats are by nature escape artists.  So because the goat kept escaping they would get tied to a tree as a pet.  Goats are browsers and very soon everything edible in the area is gone and since they weren't moved around enough were always hungry.  So anything they could get to if they got loose they would at least try to eat.  Like can labels and such.  I don’t know.  But these are just my ideas as to how they got that reputation. 
Our goats are not the above stated kind of goats.  We have a running joke running on the property that if something shows up.  (a stray)  it will soon be over weight.  As we really like to take the best care of our animals here on the farm and tend to over feed or what my intention is….to give the best diet to the animals that we can.  Especially, if the animal is a production animal like my goats.

Our goats will not eat just anything.  As  a matter of fact most people I talk to, after having goats for a while, all have the same issue.  Hay wastage.  I don’t feed alfalfa hay.  I use pellets just for that reason.  Even though I use pelleted alfalfa they still need a lot of roughage in the form of grass in summer and hay in winter. People will pay exorbitant amounts of money for the best alfalfa and hay.  
They all use the standard hay racks available to the public at any farm store…. The goats grab a mouthful and yank it out, eating what they want as they go along.  The rest ends up on the ground,  pee'd on, step on and sleep on.  Expensive bedding I say.  So I prayed about it and thought about it and tried many ways to try to save hay and years ago God showed me a winner that works very well.  It doesn’t totally stop the wastage.  But sure improved everything.  What gave me the idea is, God drew my attention to this.

I noticed that our back fenced areas were always neatly trimmed behind them. Manicured as if I had taken hedge trimmers to it.  The back areas are fenced with hog panels.  

I watched over time as the goat would put their heads carefully through the large, sturdy holes of the hog panels and reach as far as they could to eat the privet and browse that was beyond the fence.  Hmmmm.
                            Two different ones.
 So I took a hog panel and put it across the pen in my barn. I cut it to fit wall to wall.  About 2 feet out from the wall.  And cut a piece of plywood to fit down into it at an angle.  (highest part at the front and almost touching the ground at the back.)  Now don't laugh at my artwork now everyone.  :) 
The goats put their heads in thru the hog panel openings and hang their heads down a bit to eat.  

They are to lazy or it is to much effort to take their head out of the hog panel after every bite.  So they just stand there with their heads thru over the hay eating away.   
 They do pull a little thru, like if they get startled with a mouthful and drop it.  But when I clean the plywood off of stuff they would not eat, about once a month, there is just a lot of shaft and short pieces they didn’t want or could not eat.  The rest almost all went to body condition and milk! 

I have been using this method for years.  It is not patented.  Feel free to try it.  Here is my disclaimer: build and use at your own risk.  I guess anything could happen if done wrong.  Also DO NOT try this with horned goats!    A few tips:  Always use a hog panel with holes big enough for the goats to easily get their heads thru.  If you have many goats a long hog panel works great because their heads are all thru the panel while eating and no fighting or side butting goes on.  The back wall has to be solid and the sides solid or the hay will fall out or goats go in to walk on the hay.  And you might have to play with the plywood a bit to get it cut right, at the right height and angle.  You want the high part toward the goat and about chest level.  And the back lower so the hay slides back toward the solid back wall by gravity.  Anything dropped from their mouths slide back down to the back of the feeder to be picked up again to be eaten.

I also found thru the years that the goats eat Bermuda better than fescue or a mix.  They pick thru it less as usually Bermuda is Bermuda, not much else mixed in, all taste the same I guess.  Also for me Bermuda hay keeps well two years with out getting moldy if kept in the dry hayloft in the barn.  Fescue seems to draw moisture and get moldy if not used up in one year and even if it looked fine after two years the goats won't touch it.  they will Bermuda.

So there you have it.  susan's hay saving, goat hay rack!  Let me know what you think!



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Gigundous Flatsided Hay Bale!

To me this is kind of a funny post today.  It just reminds me that anything can pop up, when farming, at anytime and present a challenge.  Even if it turns out to be rather an enjoyable one for men!

We don’t grow and cut our own hay.  We have tried it in the past.  Cutting, drying and raking by hand because we lacked equipment.  We are getting to old for this route.  We also tried having a local farmer who cuts many people’s fields around here for a percentage of the bales.  He cut it so late that our fields looked bad for so long and he left the hay bales sitting in the field to get rained on.  Not good for goats.  I know, I know…people say that a goat will eat anything from tin cans to laundry.  But anyone who has bred, raised and milked goats knows differently.  They are the most wasteful creatures when it comes to hay…and I am saying that in a loving way.  As I do love having goats but soon had to learn some lessons in feeding them hay.  I buy the best Bermuda  because if I get fescue or a hay mix they pick thru it and what they didn’t want, in that bite, gets dropped on the ground and they won’t eat it once it touches the ground.  (unless I put clean straw in their pen after mucking, then the dummies sort thru that and eat it!)  Also I developed a hay rack that helps tremendously.  (I will write a post on that soon)

I am picky about hay.  I am weird I know.  But I can smell it and tell how good it is.  If it smells so good it makes me hungry, it is good!  See, I told ya, weird.  I have been getting my hay for the last many years from Roland Hay Farm.  Great hay and really nice guy to work with.

I usually order square bales, to stock the barn with, in the fall, to get us thru winter.  He brings it and stacks it.  Then I use round bales for the ponies.  They usually eat one thru out the winter, out in the field (with a hay ring around it) and I put one up in the barn we tear apart and pack their hay racks with for their night munchings.  When we go to pick up a round bale dad and I drive over to their hay barns and they put a round bale on our truck by using a tractor with hay spikes .  When we get home we back the truck to where we want it and roll the bale off.  Dad, William and I, usually, easily roll it to where we want it and we are done.  We have been doing this for years and never had an issue.  Ever.

Well for the first time in 14 years we were blessed with such a large roll with such a flat side it was resting on, the three of us COULD NOT get the thing off the truck.  Could not even budge it.  sigh.  I was frustrated.  But the two men got all excited.  A new challenge!  How can we do it!??  What equipment or tools can we use!??  My idea got shot down.  I said to tie the bale to the barn with a strap and drive the truck away.  I guess that was a girl answer as I got laughed at and great gasps.  I guess it could have pulled the barn down?  Who knew?  Thank God for men.  I just stood back, let them do their thing and took pictures.  After all I just wanted a round bale where I needed it.  

Dad doesn’t have hay spikes on his tractor but went to get it, he put a strap around the bale and pulled it off the truck.  Then we drove the truck off and rolled the bale into the barn to where I wanted it.  It was still a challenge to move from the ground as it had one huge flat area (see above picture!) so once we got it going we needed the  momentum to keep it going to get it where I wanted it. 

After we had the huge hay bale in place the men went off to cut wood very satisfied with what had been accomplished.  

I haven't seen the guys so happy to take a bale off the truck in my life!  Thank you God for keeping us all safe and helping us get it where it needed to go.  


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Weaning the Kids

                 Twinkie and Bluebell as kids                 

I love having baby goats.  They are sweet, bouncy and so much fun.  If you are feeling low you can’t’ watch baby goats for long and not crack a smile.   I rarely keep any baby goats to raise.  I only need a few goats to supply the milk we need here.   I only keep a baby from my best breedings to replace the adult milkers I want to retire every few years.  But with the “great goat experiment” going on I have to keep a generation or two of the next few breeding from all the does on the whole property!  YIKES!  And raise them all up to being milkers to see who stays and who gets sold.   I haven’t had to do this in years. Yes, we will have many extra goats for a while. (year or two)  But the end products will be way worth it.
I always take the babies as soon as they are born and bottle feed them.  It makes for very tame easy to handle milkers if I am keeping any.  Since they are all bottle babies I can sell the ones I don’t want to keep immediately and not have the work of bottle feeding since I am not keeping them anyway.  Also for me bottle feeding is best because I want the extra milk for my family.  I have in the past let goats raise their kids.  I would let the babies nurse all day and separate the babies off the moms at night starting at two weeks old.  Then I would milk out all the milk from the night in the morning and put the babies back with their moms for the day to nurse all day.  They always did fine this way as well.  But being I sell most of my babies I just prefer to have them nursing well on bottles already when they go to their new homes.  That way I don’t worry about them. I make sure they got their colstrum and are nursing well before I sell any.
      Twinkie, Bluebell and the little buckling from their triplet kidding.

As I said I love baby goats but do not like the chore of bottle feeding.  When I do keep them for myself I try to bottle raise the kids at least to 12 weeks old to give them the best growth and health.   Bottle feeding Twinkies babies (Amelia and Mini bell)  is starting to get really old.  Even though Carolyn does it for me (starting at about four weeks old) while I am working in the barn after I milk.  I am so ready for them to stop consuming so much milk so I can start making cheese and such again.  Right now Twinkie has been producing enough milk to feed both the babies and take care of our need of milk.  But we have had nothing extra for cheese or making things from milk.

I realized that Twinkies kids turn 8 weeks old in a few days.  They were born as preemies on January 25th.  They were born 11 days early and I had to tube feed them at first.  But as soon as their suck reflex kicked in they started nursing well.  On full sized babies once they can drink 20 ounces in one nursing I drop them down to two bottles a day.  One in the morning and one at night.    Twinkies two babies have been on two 20 ounce bottles a day for the last five weeks.  As of the last few weeks they are drinking a little water from a bucket, eating grain and hay and growing well.  I decided to cut them back to one bottle a day starting this morning.  So I am just going to give them only a night bottle until I wean them.  They were not happy.  It will take them a few days to adjust.  I am slowly raising their grain intake to compensate. 
 Sad baby goats eating their breakfast of grain after having their morning bottle taken away for the first time.

I guess the main reason to go ahead and try to get them weaned in the next few weeks is because Bluebell is due to kid on April 10th!  Any does she has I am going to keep as it is the first breeding of her and my Nigerian Dwarf buck, Major Coco and Bluebell is my best milker.  Anyways, if she has any does I will be back to bottle feeding several times a day for a while and have those babies to attend to.  So I really want Twinkies kids weaned before all that transpires.  Although one bottle a day for them and working on new kids won’t be to bad if I think they need to keep nursing a bit longer. 
This is how much milk I had this morning not giving any to the babies.  Yipee!  Each jar is a half gallon jar.  And she did have a bit more milk as I slept in a bit today.

The other issue I need to work out is that with Bluebell freshening I will have two very good milkers in milk.  2 gallons (or more) a day to find something to do with.  We really don’t need all that milk.  So I will probably start to milk Twinkie only once a day so as to have less milk.  I might just milk both goats once a day and that will be better for us as far as milk usage in our home.  Slowly backing off on milking and getting a goat down to once a day milking will cut their milk production at least in half.  So a half gallon a day from two goats would be fine.  Actually still a bit much for us.  But we always find yummy uses for it.  From ice cream to cheese, custards to pudding  we will find a use.  :)


Friday, March 22, 2013

Moving Day for baby Chicks

The baby chicks are 2 1/2 weeks old now and were starting to get over crowded with their rapid growth.  So the kids helped me move them out of the brooder cabinet to the next set up I have for them.  
                                                The grow out pen. 
I always put it in the corner of a stall in the barn so as to cut down on drafts on two sides.  Then put up some other temporary boards on the other sides to help with drafts until they are 4 weeks old and have most of their feathers.

                      Doesn't this little Americana chick look like a little chipmunk!

The Lord helped me make the grow out pens by taking PVC (straight and angles joints), cut it and glued it together.  Then zip tied hardware mesh to it. It took me less than an hour to make each one I have.  I have used them for years.  I use these pens all the time.   
They are light weight and easy to store, up on end, out of the way when not in use.   I can easily flip one over and drag it into the barn if I need one.  They are handy for stray animals or sick animals to recover in.   I can use them outside to let some chicks, several chickens, new born baby goats or our rabbit out to get some safe exercise in the grass while I am around doing yard work.(They are definitely not sturdy enough to leave anything in where there are predators outside unsupervised)   I can move the pens easily to get the animals in them more grass as they eat what was under them or if the grass gets soiled.

When I use them for a grow out pen for chicks I put it in a stall.  Keep them in the grow out pen till they out grow that and then just lift up the grow out pen(remove it from the stall) and release them to finish growing up in the stall.  See how lazy I have gotten? 

This movable pen is made from a metal doggie playpen attached to a wood frame bottom.  It has a hardware mesh top with a plastic solid roof covering half.  I have a rope attached at the base to pull/drag it along the ground.  

Here(above and below)  are two other movable pens I made many years ago.  They are heavy and cumbersome to use.  I still use them but they are my last ones to choose.  They are built sturdy enough to leave animals in out side 24/7 as they both are predator proof. 
This pen is the iron maiden.  It is made out of horse panel with chicken wire over it.  Can we say over kill and heavy!   It is part of a chicken tractor I made once years and years ago.  Very predator proof.  VERY hard to move.  :)

The chicks are growing fast and I am enjoying watching them.  So cute!