Tag Archives: animals

They’re Here!

Our Cornish-cross chicks arrived on Thursday morning, fresh from the hatchery in California.  There are about 600 in all and they are all healthy!  We didn’t lose any even though the shipment spent two days in the postal system.  Those chicks are amazingly hardy for being so small.  They can survive for at least a day on the nutrition they received from the yolk sac in the egg, without needing any additional food or water.

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The chicks are shipped in cardboard boxes with holes in the sides and lids.  Each box is divided into sections with about 25 chicks in each partition to prevent them from piling up and smothering each other during transport.  In the middle of summer, the hatchery usually puts fewer chicks in each box so they don’t get too hot.

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Our day begins when the local post office calls to let me know the chicks have arrived.  The call usually comes at 5:30 or 6 a.m.  We head straight to the post office, where the poor postal workers are enduring the incessant cheeping of hundreds of chicks.  I think they’re always glad to see them leave!  We pull up to the back loading dock of the post office and unload all the boxes off the postal carts and into our car.  Then we head straight up to the farm where the heat lamps are already turned on and food and water is set out for the new arrivals.

 

 

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Keith and I each take a stack of boxes into the brooder and work quickly to unload the chicks.  They are so hungry, thirsty and cold at first!  Each chick makes a bee-line straight for the water or feed as soon as its feet hit the ground.  They run everywhere, peeping in a state of panic and you have to be very careful not to step on them.

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After their little bellies get full and they find the heat, their cries of distress fade to a quiet murmur.  They all huddle under the hovers and cozy up next to the heat lamps for warmth.  Their eyes drift closed as they bask in the heat.  Sometimes they fall over, they get so relaxed.  It’s really adorable!

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We will be getting at least 6 more batches of chicks as well as another couple hundred layer chicks for egg production, over the course of the summer.  This kicks off the busy farm season!  We’re looking forward to a good year in 2013!

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Emmie loves the chicks.  She has to stay up on a straw bale so that she doesn’t step on them, but she watches them intently, quivering with delight.  I think the frenzy of little running birds really kicks her herding instincts into full gear – she really wants to get them all bunched up into one spot.  She’s pretty adept at herding chickens, which comes in handy when these birds are bigger and sometimes escape from their pasture pens.

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C’mon Little Chicks!

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The brooder is all set up – shiny new heat lamps are installed, an overhead automatic watering system is in place, mason jars waterers are filled, feeders are set out.

Now where are the chicks?!

My hatchery in California tells me that my 600 Cornish-Cross babies are enroute but transit has been taking two days instead of one.  I’m imagining fluffy yellow chicks standing in long TSA lines at the airport.  It makes me laugh so I don’t worry too much.  I am looking forward to getting them out of their boxes and into their plush new living quarters!

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Working Calves

I have this funny situation occur regularly:  If I come back from a long marathon training run with painful, tight calves and I Google anything to do with “calf muscles” I get lots of results on breeding beef cattle for more musculature.  And when I want to know more about how other ranches “work calves”, I get lots of links for exercise websites.  It’s like my two worlds collide via the power of Google.

All that to say, I’m sitting on the couch drinking my nasty electrolyte sports water and nursing my sore calves from a 23 mile morning run, so I thought I should use my rest time to tell you about the other calf work I’ve been doing up at the Hemphill’s ranch.

I’ll say up front that my pictures are not Pioneer Woman quality.  There’s a couple reasons for that:  (a) the purchase of an SLR camera isn’t really a financial priority in my lil’ farm budget, and (b) I’m actually working, so I don’t have a lot of time to  frame the perfect shot.  Also, who are we kidding?  My siblings got all the photo/video genius in my family.  I’m just a farmer with an iPhone.

So, Friday before last, we rounded up about 50 mama cows and their calves that were born fall of 2012.  Carol breeds a total of about 100 cows a year and times it so that half of them calve in the spring (happening right now!) and half of them have their calves in the fall.  The Fall 2012 calves are now about 4 months old and they’re not quite weaned but it’s time for them to receive their vaccinations and wormer and the bull calves will be castrated.

All the cattle are in sacrifice paddocks right now because the pastures need a rest during the winter.  This particular group of cattle hangs out at the top of a hilly pasture.  We bring them hay every day, but that morning we mixed things up a little.

IMG_3454We brought the hay truck up to their paddock and then opened the gates.  The hungry cattle eagerly swarmed around the “breakfast wagon” and then followed it as James drove towards the corrals where we planned to sort and vaccinate them.

Carol and I walked along behind the herd and she directed her Kelpie/McNab dog Lizzy to keep the cows bunched up and moving behind the truck.  The cattle were pretty excited about the green grass all around them after a winter of hay consumption and they kept getting distracted from following the pickup.

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This is ranching in Western Oregon: green grass and dense forests of Douglas Fir trees.  I find it absolutely beautiful!


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It didn’t take long to get the cattle coaxed into the corral.  We had thrown some flakes of grass hay on the ground to give them a little incentive to move into the enclosure and then we shut the gates behind them.  Carol does her best to make always make the corral and squeeze chute experience as stress-free as possible for her cows.  She says that if we can keep the cows and calves from being frightened in the large corrals and chutes, then they typically associate it with a pleasant experience and are willing to be cooperative in the future.  This is even despite the fact that each one experiences a brief “scary” moment of castration or vaccination while in the squeeze chute.   But that is over very quickly and doesn’t seem to cause the calf a great deal of anxiety.

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We spent a few minutes sorting the cows out of the pen so just the calves remained. The mothers bawled for a bit and then assumed their babies were in daycare and wandered off to enjoy the grass.  Carol had a list of bull calves that she was considering saving to sell as bulls instead of castrating. We circled the pen, looking for the numbers on her list and then analyzing each calf for conformation, vigor, size and weight gain.  She narrowed the list down to about five calves that she wanted to save. She would probably want me to point out that those two brownish calves in the above picture are not an example of the quality of her herd. They were twins and are kind of runty, pot-bellied little things.

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Here’s a better picture of the handsome Angus calves we are working with. It was hard to decide which bull calves to keep.  She had a number of very good options to pick from.

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After writing down the calves we were not going to castrate, we set up our equipment at the squeeze chute.  Well, it used to be a squeeze chute a long time ago, but the contraption seems to be about 100 years old so now it’s just a chute.   James hung the Cydectin pour-on wormer from the rail and then set the syringe gun for the correct dosage for a four-month old calf.

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I was put in charge of loading the latex bands and clips onto the EZE Castrator tool.  The bands are very thick and a little hard to stretch onto the tool, but I got the hang of it after a while.  We would send a calf into the squeeze chute and then call out his or her ear tag number to Carol.  She cross-checked the males against her list and if it wasn’t a bull we were keeping, I’d hand the castrator to James and he quickly applied the band.  It didn’t really seem to phase the calves one bit.  Then each calf got a dose of the purple Cydectin wormer applied to the top of its back.  Finally, Carol gave each calf a couple of vaccinations which protect against a number of diseases including leptospirosis, tetanus, Bovine Viral Diarrhea, respiratory diseases and clostridial diseases.

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The vaccinations are given subcutaneously in the neck area, just in front of the calf’s shoulder blade.  It’s the best spot to do it, because on the off-chance the calf develops a reaction to the vaccine it won’t affect an area that would yield a valuable cut of meat.

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Carol had the trickest job.  It is challenging to keep the needle steady and in the correct spot when the calf is jumping around in the chute.  The calf’s head is locked into the head-gate, but he can still move around enough to make the job difficult.  Carol speaks soothingly to the calf as she works, and the ordeal is over in a matter of seconds.  The calf leaps free when we open the head-gate and promptly joins his buddies in browsing oak leaves and grass sprouts.

It only took a few hours to work through all 50+ calves.  The next day, they were all happily eating hay back up in their winter paddock, looking no worse for wear.  They have another month or two with their mothers and then will be weaned and sent out to enjoy getting fat on the lush spring pastures.

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Em-dizzle

She has learned new tricks.

They are far beneath her dignity.

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Everything is Autumn

Early morning fog, yesterday

We wrapped up broiler season yesterday and now our five chest freezers are stocked full of chicken to supply customers for the rest of the winter.  We raised over 3,000 broiler chickens this year and I think I speak for our entire butcher crew when I say we are happy to take a break for a while.

(Missed the opportunity or want another chance to volunteer?  

We are butchering stewing hens in a couple weeks and  turkeys on November 18 and 19.)

Keith catching broilers

I do love the early morning chores and the chance to watch the sun light up the mist that hangs over the chilly fields.  There is something magical about being out in a pasture, listening to the steady grazing of my heifers and hearing my turkeys gobble as they wake up to sunshine.  Here in western Oregon, though, there is always the knowledge in the back of your mind that these delightful mornings are numbered.  Soon there will be an incessant rain, cold fingers, muddy boots and wet hair that hangs in my eyes.  There are still delights, I just have to look harder to find them.

Sleepy kids on the butcher crew – mirroring the sentiments of the grownups. 

It’s time to slow down for the season, start thinking about putting a pot of homemade chicken noodle soup on the stove and begin making goals for the winter and spring.  I’m looking forward to:

  • Pressing more fresh apple cider
  • Thanksgiving dinner with my beloved family
  • Mad Men season 6.  I don’t know when it will start, but I’m on the edge of my seat!
  • Running more.  Maybe training for something big?
  • Having more time to tackle nagging projects that get put off during summer farm season…like equipment maintenance and fixing fences.
  • Reading the next book club selection which just happens to be written by one of my favorite authors.
  • Our church home group that starts tonight.
  • Going skiing and soaking up some Mt. Bachelor sunshine.

What are you looking forward to as the seasons change?

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Deluge 2012

This is so 2 weeks ago, but I’m still having the occasional nightmares about my house being full of water.  Clearly I have PTSD due to the Great Mary’s River Flood of 2012.   Clearly the only therapy is to deposit a bunch of pictures and video on my blog to make myself feel better.

Here goes.

photo courtesy of Andy Cripe | Corvallis Gazette-Times

The Mary’s River went over its banks on January 18 and began a small diversion through our field that morning.   La-de-da, thought I, and I carried on with my usual Wednesday delivery route to Eugene and Corvallis stores.   Around 2 pm, I began receiving frantic messages from friends saying, “The river is continuing to rise and your chickens are in danger!”   I stopped lolly-gagging around, and went home to discover that the water was so high I couldn’t reach the farm from my house.   A soberness had settled over the neighborhood.  This was big and it was starting to get scary.  I walked around the block the long way only to find a line of pickup trucks and horse trailers pulling up in front of the horse-boarding facility near us.  Folks were evacuating horses through chest-deep water and trying to load the poor, frightened beasts into trailers.  The stress was almost palpable. I watched the scene while I repeatedly dialed my friend Lisa to bring a tractor from the farm and ferry me across the road.  Finally, she picked up and I waited for what seemed an interminable length of time as she carefully drove the tractor through water that was steadily rising on Chapel Drive.

At some point, I called Keith and told him that he’d better come home from work soon, or he wouldn’t be able to navigate the roads.  He left Marvell immediately and we both set to work loading hens into the Eggmobiles.  We had to head for higher ground and to do that, we had to hitch the hen house to the tractor and drive it through rushing water that was over 3 feet deep and rising quickly.   It was dark and cold by the time we carefully towed the last Eggmobile across the water.  The amount of dry land was decreasing before our very eyes and I really didn’t know if our chickens would be safe overnight.

We took the tractor home that night, as 13th Street was now a torrent of river water.  Around 11 pm, we went back to the farm to check on the chickens and could see that the water was now beginning to cover all remaining dry ground.  We put in another hour of work bringing poultry crates for the birds to perch on.  Surely the flooding would stop by morning, right?  Surely this effort would be enough.

By the time morning arrived, we had water lapping up our driveway on 13th Street.  Up and down the street we could see our neighbors standing stunned in their yards.  No one would be going to work that day.  As we fired up the bright orange Kubota, people called out their best wishes and let us know they could come help us at the farm if need be.  I wanted to savor that moment – the disruption of our daily lives meant neighbors noticed one anothers’ faces, not just their make of car or how late they’d left their Christmas lights up.

I usually feel so self-sufficient.  I don’t like asking for help, but when we saw the situation at the farm, I knew we had to waste no time in calling our neighbors.  Our chickens were literally inches away from complete deluge and the water was still rising!  Thank God for Kubota tractors and helping hands.  We had moved 500 hens from the hoophouse to the old stationary hen house in record time, though we had to wade through knee deep water to do it.   Finally we could breathe a sigh of relief – the chickens were crowded but alive.  Water was entering the hen house, but there were roosts that would afford the birds some safety.

Our attention turned on the dairy cows and the 2 week old baby calf, which were standing in 6 inches of water in the barn by that time. With help from some friends, we created a diversion for the water so it reduce the flow to about an inch in the loafing shed.  It was better than nothing and the cows seemed content enough.

We had sandbags brought in via tractor and pickup and began defending Beverly’s antique shop.  Water had already started lapping at the walls and was beginning its steady march across the floors.  Lisa’s quick thinking got most of the valuable antiques up off the floor and onto card tables before any damage was done.

It goes without saying that this day was exceedingly exhausting, mentally and physically.   Not only did we work frantically from dawn til nightfall, but we had so much on our minds.  While the farm was flooding, our home just up the street was also getting inundated.   Fortunately, it was built on a flood plain foundation, so no water entered the house, but we definitely had a river running through the crawlspace!

The funny thing is, just because you have a crisis going on the animals don’t stop laying eggs or producing milk or needing to be fed.  I have this surreal memory of wading into the flooded barn and opening the door to the milk parlor to see Lisa up to her knees in brown water, busily milking the cows.  Our eyes met and we shared a moment of silent disbelief at the strangeness of the  scene, then I closed the door and went back to work.

We had to take the tractor out to the Eggmobiles to do chores.  It’s a little hard to deliver feed and carry full egg baskets in 1+ feet of water.  (Plus, you wouldn’t believe the strength of the current.   I almost got knocked over a few times!)

We decided to stay at the farm that night.  Since our house wasn’t in serious danger, we weren’t exactly evacuating, but it felt like it.  Everything important went in one Nike duffel bag and Keith, Emmie and I left our home in the cab of a tractor.  We didn’t know if we’d be able to make it back up the road if the water got any deeper, so it was necessary to be closer to the animals.

Shortly, night fell and there was no more to be done except wait it out.  My nerves felt like they were on fire, like all the adrenaline from the last 24 hours was still pumping through my body.  We were all worn out, but we couldn’t sit still.  Besides, we were crazy hungry from all that hard work, so we got to work making a huge dinner with our very own grass-fed beef (yes, Keith packed frozen packages of beef in our duffel bag!) and locally grown butternut squash. Lisa brought up a very-much-deserved bottle of wine from Fritz & Beverly’s wine cellar and we dined like Kings and Queens.  That right there is what I love about this farm life I’ve chosen.  We work so very hard but at the end of even the hardest days, we sit down to the very best meals and we are often surrounded by friends.   I really can’t think of anything more satisfying!

Did I mention that Fritz and Beverly (who own the farm) were on vacation in Arizona during all of this?   They were frustratingly unperturbed by our anxious calls about their home and property flooding.  I can’t much blame them…they were soaking up the Arizona sunshine and I probably wouldn’t have cared about a little Oregon rain either.  I guess they knew their place was in capable hands and didn’t begrudge us a couple bottles of wine around their fireplace that night.

I feel a kinship with Noah (of the Ark experience) now, for when I looked out the upstairs window the next morning, there were spots of green where before only water had stood.  I sent out my dog (lacking a dove) to scout around and behold, she returned with her beloved flat basketball! At that point, we knew: it was safe to let the poor, crowded hens out of their house to roam around on dry land.

It wasn’t long before the water had gone down enough for us to begin the clean-up process.  Our perimeter fence along Chapel Drive is almost entirely destroyed, due to the odd assortment of trashcans and wood pallets that were driven through it.  All the outbuildings had thick sediment all over and we had a lot of pressure-washing to do.  But all of that doesn’t really matter too much.  The big things were okay:  houses, animals and us.

I want to sincerely thank everyone who came down to the farm and stacked sandbags, brought food/drinking water, moved chickens, and wielded a pitchfork or pressure-washer gun. The outcome of this story might not have been so good without the support from our many generous friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

More videos can be found on my YouTube channel:  http://www.youtube.com/user/latiguera884/videos

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Peace

The Peace of Wild Things
— Wendell Berry–
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
—-

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