Sunday, June 14, 2009
The turkeys are now big enough to venture out into a day pen to peck around the grass. A day after letting them out, their behavior began to noticeably shift to being much more turkey-like. What must be young toms have even begun to puff up and strut around like adult males. The pecking order in the flock is also being worked out, sometimes with what is for us an uncomfortable violence. But, as always, Ozark is keeping an eye on things.
Also, coming back from Virginia and North Carolina last week, Jen and I stopped by to visit with Ziggy Forester of Sunrise Farm in Columbia, NC. He raises heritage turkeys (as well as cattle, sheep, and pigs) and had a few Blue Slate poults available that derive from the McMurray Hatchery gene pool. Because we're planning to raise our own turkeys next year, we decided it might be good to go ahead and get a few of these to begin expanding our own gene pool. Once we arrived, though, he also had some (very rare) Chocolate and Naragansett poults, which I just couldn't pass up. We got two of each, and will keep them to breed. But when we tried to release them with the rest of the turkeys, the Slates were having none of that. The new additions were just too new - too Other - and they promptly began harrassing them so much that I had to re-separate them. Now they are in a cage within the brooder on the idea that over a few weeks they'll all get used to each other and can live as one happy flock. Only if we could do the same...
On Wednesday June 10th, Jen and I went to Lebanon, TN to pick up the newest members of Ecotone. Cloe and Cletus are a six week old brother-sister Great Pyrenees duo. Great Pyrenees are one of the oldest breeds of dog in the world, and are said to have developed at roughly the same time human beings began herding in central Eurasia. Once fully grown, these large guardian dogs will remain with the flerd at all times to protect them from predators. Right now, though, they're just the definition of cute. While at first we were hesitant about getting two, we now are confident that we made the right choice. Not only do they have one another to play with and keep each other company, but apparently males and females have distinctive guardian practices that, once you think about it, makes both sense and a difference. Especially at night, males roam the perimeter while females tend to remain centrally located. If a predator is detected, both rush to meet the threat directly, usually dispatching the unfortunate critter that ventures too close. And while one of these dogs is typically sufficient for protecting a small flock or herd, a pair is purportedly unstoppable, even capable of dissuading an entire pack of marauding canines. That's the hypothesis at least.
For all the fun on the farm, sometimes you just wish things were how they used to be. Catching balls in the park with Bailey. Walking to campus to chase squirrels. A lady friend, Annie, across town. Frequent visitors, four-legged and two. But you can't go home again. Old habits don't die so much as they take on new form without our noticing. And often yet a residue of rue remains.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
An update on the chickens, which are now almost fully feathered and are getting into and onto everything! Attached to the secondary brooder is a yard for them to graze in that is shaded by several nice big trees. The chicks, especially the Barred Rocks, have taken to the trees, prompting us to give them a new name: Tennessee Tree Chickens. They're all doing very well, and Ozark is increasingly bonding to them through his new job sleeping with them in the barn at night to keep out any unsavory characters.
When we first ordered the chickens, we ordered 75 pullets (female chicks) and 15 cockerels (male chicks) with the thought that a few roosters would make better eggs. When we told Matt and Kim about the roosters, their eyes grew wide anticipating the morning sounds from the new flerd. Upon considering this - as well as the fact that chick sexing claims only 95% accuracy, thus giving us a few males anyway - we contacted the hatchery to see if we could substitute the cockerels for a few geese. Happily, they obliged and sent along four Toulouse Geese, an old breed of goose developed in France and known as an all-around great farm goose.
Unfortunately however, about two weeks into their stay at Ecotone, one of the goslings became ill and died within 8 hours of our noticing its condition. We buried her out by the old apple tree in the pasture, and then there were three. But a few days later,yet another gosling came down ill. We caught this one much sooner and immediately began giving her electrolytes mixed with Brewer's Yeast, first by eyedropper and then just mixing into their larger water container. While she remained weak for a few days, and therefore lost some weight compared to the others, it appears as though she's fully recovered.
After doing some investigation, and consulting our friends Brian and Cindy at Winged Elm Farm, we think that they ate some vegetable matter with something toxic on it. When I was cleaning out the barn I came across several blobs of something unidentifiable, which Jen and I have come to think is some type of motor grease. It actually looks as though several buckets of whatever it was were dumped behind the barn, and we even found one behind the primary brooder. We don't necessarily think they ate the stuff directly, but simply ate some of it on plants they're beginning to graze upon. I've removed as much of the stuff as I can, and we plan to spread some straw and grass seed, as well as add bamboo to block the area entirely, to rehabilitate each area. Until then, though, there are no animals except dogs allowed in the back yard to prevent another intoxication.
But the geese are great! Jen and I each took them on their first field trip to the pond yesterday. They waddled behind us and the dogs as we made the trek to water, and when we arrived they all stopped, looked at the water as though they had seen it all before, and chirrped their way to the edge of the pond to graze on the water grass and bugs. I've been reading Konrad Lorenz's The Foundations of Ethology, and so all of this developmental conditioning is taking on deeper dimensions for the relationships growing up between us and these otherwise very silly birds.