Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Critter Care

12:48 AM
The barn has been quite a busy place lately with some 30+ chickens, 16 ducks, 4 geese, 2 quail, 1 llama and 2 horses.  Most of the older chickens are going through molt, which means they don't lay eggs while they do it (too stressful) and the younger ones haven't started laying yet (but several should).  The only productive hens are the Barnevelders, and there are only four of them.  They each lay maybe 3 eggs a week if I'm lucky, so I maybe get a dozen or so.  I have two older hens who are still laying every other day or every two or three days.  Today, I got an extra green egg which shows that one of the other Easter Eggers have started laying again.  That's good, because I've actually resorted to some storebought eggs.

Out of the first seven chicks hatched in July, five are pullets and two are cockerels.  The batch of four  after have at least one cockerel.  The last batch is two cockerels and two pullets.  The lone Olive Egger is too young to tell, but I'm hoping for a pullet.  Most of the cockerels will go to freezer camp, but there is one out of the third batch I'm keeping because he's so beautiful.  I'll keep the Olive Egger too, regardless of sex.

Ducks lay seasonally, so there aren't any duck eggs currently.  Come spring and summer, I have a feeling I'll be inundated with duck eggs.  I have at least 9 female ducks, which means plenty of eggs, but duck eggs are highly seasonal.  I'm right now trying to decide who stays and who goes to freezer camp.  I have 2 Rouen or Mallard drakes, 2 Cayuga Drakes and 2 or 3 mixed drakes.  I love the mixed drakes because one is a Blue Swedish/Khaki Campbell cross and is blue.  The other one is a Cayuga mix.  So, I'm really tempted to put one of the Rouens and one of the Cayugas into freezer camp, and then make a decision after that. 

The geese also lay seasonally.  My Toulouse and African pair, Louise and Eequa, are marginal parents at best, so when they lay, I'll gather the eggs and probably incubate them myself.  The two Chinese Brown geese are too alike to determine if they're a male and female pair, but I have a hunch they might be.

Lately, the weather has been warm enough (above freezing) to keep the water liquid in the waterers.  It's tough to keep them all in water when it dips below freezing.  What I usually have to do is use heaters to heat the horses' trough, the llama's and ducks' water, and I have an outdoor heating pad that I put the Barnevelders' water on.  I end up moving frozen waterers onto the Barnevelders' pad and refilling the waterers with water from the horses' trough.  Those that don't have heat end up getting the ice chipped out of them.  It takes quite a bit, but they're all glad when they have water

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Recycling, Freecycling and Hard Times

12:50 AM
The most amazing thing about Montana is the overwhelming lack of greed here.  I say that in all sincerity because most people around here are not rich.  More often than not, if someone has something you can use, they'll give it to you rather than bother with putting it up for sale to squeeze every last dime out of it.

Yard sales and garage sales still exist, sure, but often if they can't sell it, they put it in a bin and mark it "free."  Freecycle and Craigslist are very popular areas.  I've been able to get things like an entertainment center, animal cages, scales for making soap, and other useful items there.  At the same time, I've been able to give away stuff, too, like an older refrigerator, and a non-working freezer (they used the freezer for animal food). 

The latest stuff I gave away was a metal chest (not that sturdy, but intact), a coffee table, and some old phones.  The first couple who took the metal chest were from just outside my town and they felt they could do something with it.  The coffee table and the phones went to a family nearby who had moved into the area a couple of years ago and needed more furniture. 

The man was butchering an elk leg when I brought the furniture by.  It seems his buddy got and elk and he didn't (getting elk was rare this year) and his buddy gave him an haunch.   We chatted about the problems with the low elk population and also the problems with pine beetle and another bug that feeds on the spruce needles, stressing the trees (he does aerial observations for the forest service).  Unfortunately, we've had a share of pine beetles.

Today I checked out some animal cages at a store that after being in business for more than 35 years is closing due to the economy.  I will most likely use the cages for the quail once they have babies.  It's sad seeing an independent store close because times are tough.  The owner and I talked awhile and I saw that she had one of the books I wrote, so I signed it.  She wanted to keep it but was honest in the fact that she might have to sell it and so didn't want it inscribed.  Yep, hard times.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Blue Scale Quail, Bored Horses and Freezing Temperatures

9:04 PM
Ducks and Geese around the watering hole
Well, it was going to happen.  We got our first real cold snap of the season and all the water froze with the birds except those under heat lamps and on top of the heat mat.  Sid the llama's water is fine as is the duck's water because those are heated buckets.  The horses' water is fine too because we have a heater.

Well, not fine exactly.  The horses decided to break the water trough.  (Second broken one).  We had one more spare and then, if they bust that we've got to buy a steel one.  Someone told us to use the plastic troughs and that has been a huge mistake.  A friend of mine told me I had bored horses, and given the size of the pen, not a huge surprise.  We're going to have to figure out how to expand in the spring.  How, I don't know. 

My friend recommended a horse ball and hanging plastic bottles so the horses can nudge them.  I got them a Jolly Ball and they seem indifferent.  Today, I hung two plastic bottle so they can nudge them.  I may have to put out a treat ball so they can whack those around too.

Lastly, I've been playing with the idea of getting quail.  There are a number of good reasons for this: 1.  Quail takes a short time to mature and within less than 2 months, you have a bird that lays eggs.  2.  Their eggs are expensive and quite a delicacy.  3.  They taste good.  And 4.  They don't need a lot of room.

The problem with purchasing quail is that you either have to order them by the dozens and pay a lot for the birds and shipping, or you get eggs mailorder and hope they hatch.  I don't mind hatching eggs, but my little incubator can only do about 12 or so at a time.  When someone is offering more than 50 eggs, it gets silly.  So, when I saw someone in Missoula selling pheasants that might have blue scale quail, I decided to check them out.

Blue Scale Quail
Blue scale quail are native to the American Southwest, going north as far as Colorado and as south as Mexico.  The fellow who had them had exotic pheasants that were amazing and impressive.  But the quail-- oh my.  I bought a breeding pair for a lot less than I would to buy one online and have them shipped. 

They're skittish little things.  Right now, I'm keeping them in a crate, but I will probably figure out a nice pen for them.