Friday, November 22, 2013

Fix-it Friday: Better than a Snowball

Somewhere along the line we knew someone who knew someone who said that any hay, no matter how rough or old or rained on, it was "Better'n a snowball." Meaning of course, if the cows or other animals in question were hungry enough come winter they'd eat it and be glad they had it.

Anyway, I'd been wanting to post something but the past week just didn't seem like homestead blog material. We did butcher quail and chickens over the weekend, but I didn't want to start this blog off with a bunch of "graphic" pictures about how to butcher chickens. Everything else had been rather bland and "normal" until yesterday I realized we needed a solution for the goats' hay.

We used to only have 2 goats, Oreo and Drama Queen. (Well, Drama's name is actually Sunny, but Drama Queen reflects her personality.) They are Nigerian Dwarf goats, which are essentially miniature dairy goats. The plan was that they could help eat the grass and weeds in the yard around the chicken pens and the garden, and eventually we'd breed and possibly milk them.

Until a couple weeks ago, when I was browsing Craigslist looking for a gate and came across a ridiculously good deal on 5 Nigerian does (females, for the uninitiated.) Well, I love a good deal, and I knew I could always resell some or all of them. I told J and he said I "should totally jump on it!"

The one really stupid thing around here is we dont have a truck. We have a SUV and a trailer, and that combination works for most of our hauling needs. But I wasn't sure that would work for this trip, and it seemed like having a companion to go with me on a Craiglist trip was a better idea. Since J was at work and this was the best time to go get them (and she has a truck) I got my mom to go with me.

She has a (much better) blog too... here is her post about the goats:

So anyway, long story short, we have 7 goats for now. Since several of them are bred, it may be more before its fewer, and going into winter with its lack of sales and green grass is sorta stressing me out.

They've eaten most of the grass and fallen leaves in the yard, so hay is in order. But where to put it? If you just put hay on the ground, they throw it everywhere and trample it, making a huge mess and wasting your work and money. Last year with 2 goats, a little rack that was supposed to hold trashbags under the sink worked. But there was no way that would work with this many.

I contemplated building something, but nothing seemed right and it DID seem too complicated for a mid-week project. Then I got to looking at the "green pen."

The "green pen" is whats left of a really cool chicken pen my dad and I built. It did a great job for my chickens back in the day, but its had a long hard life. It used to look like this:

But almost 8 years of the elements and housing a lot of assorted animals had taken its toll, and when the goats kept jumping on the runs and busted all the lids, J and I cut the runs off and left the houses for possible future use for broody hens or something. (You always need an extra pen!) So now it looks like this:
Kinda sad, huh?

The roof lifts up to provide access inside, and it still stays dry. I started thinking if I just cut holes in the sides, we could put hay inside and the goats could pull it through the holes. So when I got home from work, I went and got one of the jigsaws and started cutting.

(I say one of the jigsaws because J inherited all of his grandfather's tools, and since his grandfather was a woodworker and a flea market junkie, we now have about 2 of everything. And about 800 drill bits.)

This is how you tell around here who did the work on a project. If J does it, its perfect, square, everything is measured 2 and 3 times to be sure its exact... if I did it, it involves lots of zip ties and electrical tape, probably some fence wire and possibly a feed bag, and "looks about right" is a measurement. I can do very nice work, but a lot of what I do is on the fly problem solving so if it works who gives a crap what it looks like. So, that being said, this is what the green pen looks like now!

Brenda, Drama, and Oreo testing the new hay feeder
The holes aren't perfect and they aren't spaced evenly and now the green pen looks like a chicken house and a coon dog box had a baby, but hey, it works! 

And Im thinking, come springtime, I'll figure out a way to tack up some hardware cloth inside and block the holes and it can be a pen again.

Now, we just need to go buy more hay... its always somethin'!

BY THE WAY... if you are interested in building a "green pen" of your own, I sell plans that show how to do just that! (And it doesn't have to be green. I had one customer paint theirs in University of Tennessee orange.) Check this out!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ewww... You're Gonna Get Bird FLU!

I have heard this line so many times. My response?

"if I was gonna get bird flu, I woulda had it a LONG time ago!"

Its probably true. My parents got their first chickens about 19 years ago, and Ive been playing with chickens (and ducks, turkeys, quail, parakeets, finches, pigeons, pheasants, chukkars, parrots, you name it) ever since. 

Which makes me a little weird. (How many 18 year old girls have you met who have 10 cage birds in their bedroom, 2 incubators in their closet and around 70 chickens and other fowl outside? Well, that was me.) Heck, the vet just called me his "favorite crazy chicken lady".

But the point of this wasn't about how weird I am. You'll figure that out soon enough. Its that I really don't have to worry about getting bird flu.

For one thing, there have been no human cases of the notorious H5N1 avian ("bird") flu in the United States.  For another, we have a LOT of protocol ensuring our safety. 

All birds brought into this country have to be quarantined and tested before they can go on to wherever they are going. But thats not all! The reason the vet (and not "just" the local vet, this is a vet from the state Dept of Agriculture) was here today is that we are going to attend an out of state show next week and to cross state lines, our birds have to be tested for Avian Flu and Pullorum/Typhoid. This is the case for all poultry, even the big semi loads that come into the state to be processed.

Positive cases are extremely rare, especially in small flocks like ours, presumably because they are under less stress and we see each bird more so we would catch a problem early. But testing helps too because positive birds are tested further to confirm and then culled, thus cutting down on the spread of the disease. Pullorum/Typhoid, two forms of Salmonella, have been almost eliminated through the National Poultry Improvement Plan, or the NPIP. 

The people who test for P/T are frequently Field Testers, people, like me, who have gone to a class and gotten certified to test for the disease for the state. You take a very small sample of blood by pricking the big vein that runs along the underside of the wing, (which is harder than it sounds) and mix a drop of blood with a drop of a special kind of antigen on a tile. If the bird was to have P/T, spots would show up in the mixture. (You would then have to contact the state vet and they would quarantine the birds and do more testing - I haven't had this happen.) Then you fill out the paperwork and the bird owner can show or ship their birds.

For Avian Flu, in Virginia, a veterinarian has to test. They simply open the bird's beak (again, sometimes easier said than done!) and swab the bird's throat with a cotton swab. The swabs are then put into a solution and when they get back to the lab the solution is tested. After all the samples are tested and found negative they print off the results and they mail you a form to take with you to the show.

Granted, birds still slip through the system. A lot of birds wind up untested at swaps, although the vets have done a good job of coming to test at least a sample of the birds being sold. There's a lot of people who don't like their birds being tested, because I suppose they feel its an invasion of privacy. But its a good thing to get your birds tested, because eventually, hopefully, it will make this all a lot safer for all of us.

And all my friends who think chickens are weird (which is a lot, and you know who you are) will quit saying

"You're gonna get BIRD FLU!"

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Well, here goes...

I've been meaning to start a blog for actually years now. I tried one other time several years ago, and then my life got turned upside down and I couldn't do it for awhile, and then I went into a long period of soul searching and "self re-discovery" if that's even a thing. I wrote during that time and posted some stuff on Facebook and everyone told me I could write and I should write more, even though all that was really just a release in order to survive. Oddly enough, the events I thought were so earth shattering and world changing ultimately just proved that I'm the same person I always was, just with a renewed sense of determination. (I promise I will tell more of the story in future posts.) So here I am, in a way, back to the same place I was 4 years ago - trying to make a go of this little 1/2 acre homestead with my awesome hubby and waaayy too many animals, fitting it all in around our jobs and other "normal" commitments. Maybe this will be a good place to regroup and start again on my dream of having a blog.

The reason I was inspired to start a blog in the first place is that there seems to be very few "20-somethings" who are interested in and actually pursuing living off the land. (Living off the land, to me, includes everyone from me with my critters and garden in the backyard to my friend who has 450 dairy cows, and everyone in between.) When I was a kid you either lived on a farm or wished you did, and now that we're "grown-up" the number of us actually following through on those childhood aspirations seems to be getting smaller and smaller. Not dissing those who chose not to, of course, and sometimes other things come up in life preventing us from doing what we once thought was important. But of all those "farm kids" I knew, only about one-third are even living in the country. Those of us who are farming or homesteading spend most of our social time with people our parents' or grandparents' age. Which can be a very good thing, it just leaves us feeling like the "kids" forever.

So maybe we're few and far between, but here we are and we know that this is where we're meant to be! Hopefully this blog will be a way for some of us to connect and learn from each other. Maybe you didn't grow up reading Countryside and the Tightwad Gazette and you'd like some pointers - I hope to be able to pass along some ideas that go beyond the usual "brown-bag your lunch and don't watch cable!" kind of money saving tips. Maybe you're my age or younger or older - doesn't matter, because I think age is all in your head anyway.

Anyhow, stick around and we'll see what we get into along the way!