Friday, November 21, 2008

In Praise of Eggs

In a previous post An Egg! I said there would be time for larger eggs and more colorful eggs. That time has definitely come! Right now, we are averaging between eight and ten eggs a day, and each one is more lovely than the last.

Here's a recent sampling.

The speckled one and the dark, dark brown one are from Cuckoo Marans. The blue, green, and olive green (my favorite) are from the Ameraucanas. Unfortunately, I don't know exactly who is giving us the pale pink eggs.

Most of the eggs weigh in at a standard "medium" weight, but what they lack in size, the certainly make up for in color.

We did go through a short spell of double eggs. These weren't ordinary double yolked eggs, they were completely double--double yolk and double white. Essentially, there were two separate eggs in the one shell. Here's an image of one of the blue doubles.

And for comparison, here's a medium sized speckled one:

The speckled ones are interesting, too. You can feel the little specks, and if you examine them carefully....sheesh...examining eggs...I really need to get off the farm more often, don't I? Anyway, when you examine the specks, you can feel that they are raised. In effect, they are little globs of dark brown stuck all over the egg.

With so many eggs, we have instituted a new rule: All visitors must take eggs. It doesn't matter whether you want them or not--you can't leave without them. The UPS man was a bit taken aback by the new rule, but when I explained how Bessie the Rottweiler felt about the situation, he suddenly developed a craving for fresh eggs.

OK. The truth is the UPS man was thrilled with the eggs, but that doesn't sound half as interesting, does it? And it doesn't give me a chance to include an image of Old Bess.

Here are a few things I've learned from my chickens:

  • Gathering eggs never gets old. From the last day of September when I found the very first egg through to yesterday afternoon when I found the 372nd one, it's always a thrill to find some eggs in the nest boxes.

  • It pays to buy good stock at the beginning. I ordered my flock from Ideal Poultry and couldn't be happier with them. They are big and healthy, and I only lost one a couple of days after they arrived.

  • I can eat quiche for lunch for three weeks in a row. To clarify this isn't the same quiche--same recipe, but not the same quiche.

  • There is no such thing as an ordinary egg. It doesn't matter whether it's tan or brown or blue or green, speckled or solid--every egg is as special and unique as the hen who laid it. The variety of color, texture, size and shape never ceases to amaze me.

  • Chickens are hardy and forgiving. This is my first flock and therefore very much a learning experience. They have suffered through my experiments with feed, lighting schedules, and everything else without a single incident.

  • There are few things that feel as nice in your hand as an egg that's so fresh it's still warm. Not only does it fit neatly into the palm of your hand, there's something about the texture and weight that makes it feel very precious.

  • One of the best things in the morning is to hear the hens singing their Bok-Bok-Ba-Bok laying songs. Like finding eggs, this never gets old. It's a sweet little confirmation that everything's ok.

  • And finally, a rooster can serve many purposes. Not only does Idiot wake up the flock in the mornings, he alerts them to any perceived threats such as hawks and high flying aircraft. He helped a hen who had gotten out of the run find her way back, and in one very unusual situation, he even came to the aid of an egg-bound hen. (As this is a G-rated blog, I'm afraid you'll just have to use your imagination on that last one.)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Smartest Sheep in Grainger County*

*This claim is based on 1) the scarcity of sheep in Grainger County and 2) the assumption that most people have better things to do with their time than clicker train sheep.

Here's little Maa-Maat, my 6 month old Tunis lamb, showing off her tricks.

As you can see, there are no cuts in the video. This was done to show how much she enjoys performing. As a matter of fact, she usually has a little temper fit when it's time to stop.

The most complicated thing she does is the Bang the Drum trick. For this, she has to hit the feed pan with first one foot then the other. Just banging away at it with one foot doesn't work.

As for the Bow Down trick, she can also expand it to crawling along on her knees. This, however, has pretty much been eliminated from her repitroire as it just looks too creepy.

If anyone has any suggestions for additional tricks, I'd really like to hear them. My husband is after me to try to teach her to roll over, but being as she's 1) overweight and 2) a sheep, I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon. Neither is she very well suited to retrieving items as she pretty much tries to eat anything she can fit into her mouth.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

An Egg!

I never knew I could get so much pleasure from admiring an egg. To be fair, this is the first egg from my first chickens so it's extremely special.

It's also extremely small and extremely ordinary in color.

There will be time for larger eggs later.

And time for colored eggs.

But for right now, there is no egg as beautiful as this egg.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Princess Maa-Maat

A few weeks ago, I was in the barn cleaning stalls when it started sprinkling. It was nothing much, just a few spits and spurts to tease us into thinking we would finally get some decent rain. When I went outside to empty the muck bucket, I could hear Maa-Maat crying. The other three lambs were over at the side of the barn grazing and making the most of their time out of the stall, but not Maa-Maat. I looked all over before I finally found her standing standing in the doorway of the arena bawling her little heart out.

Poor thing. Every time she'd stick her head out the door, a rain drop would hit her, and she'd jump back in. I called her, and she came running as fast as she could, shaking her head and doing that little uh-uh-uh she does when she's being a baby. She spent the rest of the morning inside the barn with me and refused to step a foot outside. Even when I'd go out to empty the muck bucket, she'd stand at the door and cry until I'd come back.

By the afternoon, the rain was long gone, but she remembered. When I let the lambs out of the stall, the other three took off outside like they normally do, but not Maa-Maat. She stopped at the door and stood looking up at the sky until she was absolutely convinced she wasn't going to get wet. Then and only then did she tip-toe out.

She may not be the most gorgeous lamb around. And she may not be the smartest. But one thing's for certain, she is the most spoiled.

The Princess Maa-Maat

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Out and About

(Note: I have discovered that if you click on the image, you can see a larger version.)

Wanted to show a few of the animals around here this week. First of all, here's Checkers, a Border Collie-Aussie Sheperd cross. She's a bit over a year old and no bigger than a minute. Although she has no interest in herding the sheep--she'd rather clean their ears--she does help move the horses.

She's a bit annoyed with me at this point because instead of paying attention to her, I've been wasting time taking pictures of....

The Wash Stall Toad Now I don't know for sure if this is the same one that we've had for four summers now, but every year there's a toad that takes up residence in the wash stall and every year she's bigger. I like to think that she's the same.

On the way back up to the house, I stopped at the chicken yard. We have far too many chickens and are going to have to cull them when winter comes. (I have found good homes for the culls that don't involve any stewing pots.

When we decided to get some chickens, we wanted about a dozen or so. My husband said he remembered ordering chicks once when he was about 8 or 9 years old and not many of them survived. With this in mind, we figured there would be an attrition rate of somewhere around 50%. So, we ordered almost 30 chicks--28 to be precise. This was not a very good plan as all but the second little cream Brabanter survived.

On top of that, when they arrived, I was in the tack stall carefully counting them out as I put them in the inflatible wading pool we used for a chick pen. I was about halfway through when one of the cats sneaked in and jumped right in the middle. Pandemonium! The box the chicks were in flipped over and chicks scattered everywhere. I got the cat before she could get any of the chicks, but the counting was definitely over.

As a result, Mr. R or Mr. Roo or The Idiot--he goes by many names--may be a sexing error or he may be a packing peanut. Who is to know? Even he seems to be a bit confused about it all.

He's an Americauna and, like all my chickens, a bit over 4 months old. He doesn't crow much in the mornings, but he really lets it rip in the evenings--hence the name The Idiot. I'm thinking he may be going to a new home when he matures as we aren't planning on having any chicks. We have plenty and then some!

This is one of the two dark Brahma pullets. I really like the pattern on her back. Doesn't it look like silver filigree? Also, check out that raptor look she's got going.

Here is Miss Brooks. She's the only surviving cream Brabanter. She is exactly how she looks she would be. Although she's quite a bit smaller than the others, she's very bossy and into everything. She's always the first to try out anything new. I call her Miss Brooks because she reminds me of a very efficient yet very officious secretary. All she's missing are the reading glasses dangling off a string around her neck.

To end, here's an American Dagger moth caterpillar. It was only about an inch and a half long, but really decked out. Don't those four little feet look like they are tap dancing?

Wait! I forgot someone!

This is Rachael, my Jacob ewe lamb. She's about 5 months old. Unfortunately she has scurs instead of horns. One of them is quite large and insists on curving the wrong way. It's about time to trim it again, but all in all, it's not bad. Gives her a bit of a unicorn look which goes quite nicely with her scatty behavior.

I swear, there is no telling what Rachael is going to do at any given moment. She can be standing beside me getting scratches just as calm as can be then all of a sudden jump in the air and bound away as though scared for her life. As for the scur, being as I'm a bit on the clumsy side, perhaps it's better that she doesn't have horns. It wouldn't be long at all before I managed to put out my eye or worse on one of them.

Hope you enjoyed meeting some of the animals around here. Thanks so much for looking.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How Evil Came to Clinch Mountain

Last winter a friend gave us three Tunis ewes. (Actually it turned out to be two ewes and a wether, but that’s a completely different story.) These were our first sheep, but we had been breeding and raising horses a few years now, so how hard could it be? It's not like we were planning on breeding them or showing them or doing much of anything with them.

The plan was simple. Give them some time to get settled into their pen then start using them for herding. Bessie, our 11 year old Rottie, and I had taken herding lessons about eight years ago and both she and I enjoyed it. We were both quite a bit older now and not nearly as spry, but I thought it would be the perfect way for us to get some exercise and share a little special one-on-one activity.

Over the next couple of weeks, the sheep explored their new territory while I spent the time reading about herding, brushing Bessie up on her commands, and getting to know our new arrivals. It wasn’t long before they had names:

The ewe with the large head and gorgeous, dark face became known as Big Face.

And Dolly was perfect for the sweet looking one. (It was later necessary to re-gender this to Paulie.)

The only problem was the third one, the one with the strange eyes and the narrow face. I tried lots of names, everything from Fluffy to Snitty, but nothing felt right. It was inconvenient having an animal without a name, but I could wait. It's been my experience that if you watch and listen carefully enough, sooner or later animals will tell you their names.

Finally the time came to start herding! I don't know who was more excited, me or Bessie. It was a little chaotic at first, but then Bessie settled down and started working like she should. She’d gather them up, I’ll call her off, they’d move away and I’d send her to gather them again. She was having the time of her life and so was I.

After gathering them for about the third or fourth time, I decided it was time to take it up a notch and have Bessie move the sheep from one end of the paddock to the other. She gathered them up as before, but when she went to move them, only Big Face and Dolly started over to the far fence. Instead of moving off with the others, the ewe with the strange eyes and the narrow face turned toward Bessie, stamped her foot and refused to move. Bessie backed off, and I sent her in again. The ewe bounced forward a few steps, and Bessie again backed off.

Come on, Bessie. You’re a Rottweiler for goodness sake! Move that ewe!

Bessie charged.

The ewe dropped her head and charged.


The next thing I knew, Bessie was down with the breath knocked out of her, and the ewe was backing up to have another go. Armed with nothing but panic and my flimsy plastic rattle-paddle, I ran between Bessie and the ewe. The next few seconds seemed like an eternity as the ewe and I stood our ground and glared at each other. Finally, with a shake of her head and a disdainful little snort, the ewe turned and trotted back to her friends.

The ewe with the strange eyes and narrow face now had a name. Evil she was and Evil she would remain.


Except for a badly bruised pride, Bessie was unhurt and more than willing to have another go, but I felt we had both had enough herding for the time being. The woman who gave Evil to us offered to swap her out for something better-behaved with more dog-respect, but I turned her down. In some strange way, it seemed that this was how it was meant to be.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Happy Jack

A couple of weeks ago, I got the latest and last--at least for now--addition to my little flock of lambs. He's a little four month old Southdown wether, and just as sweet as can be. He was a bit thin when he arrived as he was recovering from a bout of diarrhea due to having recently changed pastures.

He's settled in now and putting on weight. Unfortunately, his introduction to his new home wasn't all that pleasant. It was late when he arrived, so first thing the next morning, I marched him out of the sheep stall and straight into the wash stall. Three hours and a bottle of shampoo later, he had the cleanest rear of any of the sheep. All I can say is that he's a forgiving little fellow as he kept coming back to me to get a treat--I use little bits of grain for treats--and let me dry him a bit more.

Maa-Maat behaved toward him like the spoiled little brat she is. At first, any time he would get close to her, she'd come running and maat'ing to me as though she was afraid he may touch her. Over the last two weeks, she's relented and even lets him follow her around a bit--not much, but anything is an improvement over all that drama.

As for Merlin and Rachael, they aren't all that keen on him, either. The best that can be said is that they tolerate him. They don't seem to mind his eating beside them, but if he gets separated or lost, neither one of them will answer his cries. I usually go find him and show him where they are. The behavior carries over into their stall. Merlin, Rachael, and Maa-Maat all sleep cuddled up together, but every time I look in on them, Happy Jack is over in his corner just smiling to himself.

Personally, I think the world would be a far better place if everyone had a little Southdown. There's just something about that smile. My theory is that no matter how angry or upset or worried you may be, all you have to do is spend a few minutes with a Southdown and all your problems just melt away.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Maa-Maat and the Blackberry Patch

Sheep are not the most intelligent of animals. I love them to pieces, but they are just not very bright. A good example is the trouble Maa-Maat got herself into this week.

The three lambs had been out grazing around the barn for a couple of hours while I did chores in the barn. No problems at all. Everything was just as it should be, but then Maa-Maat started maat-ing very loudly. From the tone, I could tell something was wrong. Well, from the tone and the fact that Merlin and Rachael started screaming also.

When I got around to the side of the barn, I could see that Maa-Maat had managed to get herself caught in a blackberry patch on the side of a steep slope. She was in so deep that I could just barely see her head sticking out.

For any other animal, this wouldn't be such a problem. It may get a few scratches, but it would manage to push out and through the briars. For a sheep it's a bit different because 1) sheep have wool that gets caught up in the briars and 2) a sheep's brain is about the size of a very small, very dry peanut.

I managed to get part of the way down the slope and rattled a grain bucket to try to coax her out. She would struggle against the briars to come to me, then because she's a sheep with only a tiny little sheep brain, she'd get distracted by a berry and stop to eat. I'd rattle the bucket again, she'd struggle some more, then spot another berry and stop to eat. This went on for quite a while. Since I couldn't risk going any further down the slope without falling, I was pretty much at a loss as to what to do. Luckily the woman who was weedeating for us finished up and came by. Her balance was much better and she was able to scramble down the slope to Maa-Maat and help her find a way out of the briars.

It seemed that during this, Maa-Maat's thoughts went something like this: I'm trapped--Panic! Oh, that looks tasty. Help! Help! Wait, is that another blackberry? Yummy. PANIC! PANIC!

She's not unusual. From what I've seen, sheep have incredibly short attention spans. In this day and age when we are told to "live in the moment," sheep have gone all of us one better--They live in the second.

All in all, not a bad thing.....

As long as you stay away from the blackberry patch.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Maa-Maat and Friends

Maa-Maat is a little Tunis ewe. Her mother, Evil, was very sick when she was born and died shortly afterwards. Because of this Maa-Maat has been completely hand-reared. The picture was taken when she was only a few days old. She was born early and had very little wool, hence the sweater.

She's now about three months old and is doing fine. The only problem we have with her is that she is a little more than just slightly overweight. I've been doing some clicker training with her, and so far she knows to jump up on a bale of straw, kneel down and crawl a short distance, and jump through a hoop. Her "jump through a hoop" isn't all that great because...well...she's not all that great a jumper. Did I mention the weight problem?

In addition to Maa-Maat, we have two other lambs, Merlin and Rachael. Merlin is a little black Welsh mountain wether (castrated male) and Rachael is a Jacob ewe. In the mornings and evenings, the three of them line up at their stall door for me to put their collars on. Once they have their collars, they go out to graze or explore or whatever.

Although they don't come when called, they will come if I rattle a grain bucket. They also come running down the center aisle of the barn periodically just to check if I have any treats for them.