Guinea Fowl

Over the past few months, we’ve gotten to know a thing or two about farm life with Guinea fowl. They are not our favorite bird on the farm but they are interesting, none the less. They differ from more common poultry species in more ways than one.wp_20161019_13_14_37_pro

  1. Noisy.  Guinea fowl are very loud, vocal birds. We live on 10 acres, with a decent amount of privacy, but I’ve wondered what the neighbors really think about our Guineas. (At times I hope they don’t realize all the racket is emanating from our farm, which I know is futile.)  When we walk across the homestead, the Guineas will begin to sound the alarm, their little hairless necks outstretched, their beady eyes fixed upon us and their beaks repeating the same siren over and over, as if we are a sudden threat they haven’t seen every single day of their lives.  Maybe they’ll eventually grow comfortable with our presence? They are equally watchful of other predators and the chickens respond to their calls, seeking cover when one sounds the warning call.
  2. They fly. Our domestic chickens, turkeys and ducks can’t fly. They can run while flapping their wings, but they don’t make much vertical progress. Guineas can actually transport themselves into trees and on roof tops. They love doing this, too. For some reason, they enjoy scratching and sliding across the top of our metal barn roof. I think they are taunting the chickens. 🙂  Although they can fly, we usually see them on the ground, foraging and dust bathing.  They never attempt to leave our farm.wp_20161022_15_21_42_pro
  3. They learn. Since we raised the Guineas with chicks, our Guineas are a bit less wild than Guineas raised separately. They’ve been chicken-ized, so to speak and each evening they would join the chickens on the roosts in our coop. We knew we had a good thing going as many people can’t get their Guineas to roost in a coop. As long as the Guineas were in our coop at night, they would be safe from nocturnal predators. One evening, the back door to the coop was closed, which happens to be the entrance the Guineas are accustomed to using.  Since they couldn’t get into the coop via the back door, they decided to go rogue and roost in the trees. Once they’re up, there’s no getting them down. All we could do was hope they would use the coop the following night and we made sure the back door was open. No such luck. They continued roosting each evening in the treetop. Alas, they had discovered wild living and we were not going to be able to reign them back in. So be it. We accepted the possibility they were going to get picked off one by one. A few uneventful weeks went by, until one day, unsurprisingly, I stumbled across one beautiful, white polka-dotted Guinea wing lying under a tree. Something had finally killed a Guinea. “One down, thirteen to go,” I thought. However, since that night, our Guineas have returned to roosting in the coop! Could they have been scared enough from the attack to make the decision to seek shelter each night in the coop? I’m very astonished that those little bird brains could put two and two together. Or is it purely coincidental? You be the judge! I’d like to think they learned a lesson about living the wild life and decided to return to the safety of the fold.wp_20161019_13_16_22_pro

There are plenty of ways these birds behave similarly to chickens and turkeys, too. They will establish the pecking order just like chickens do. I’ve read Guineas can be bullies, which we’ve seen on occasion. Every once in a while, a group of Guineas will gang up on a chicken and pull out some feathers. The chicken appears relatively unharmed by these confrontations. They’ve never gone after one of our older chickens nor have they challenged the turkeys, so they seem to know their limits. They are by no means at the top of the pecking order. (That position resides with our turkey, Lucky. She’s the matriarch of the barnyard and she makes sure all new-comers know it.) I’ve also seen the Guineas scuffle a bit amongst themselves, though usually they get along fine.

We are interested to see if we notice a difference in our wood tick presence next spring. Guineas are reputed to be skilled tick hunters, and that alone would be reason to keep them on the farm. Last spring we couldn’t walk through the woods or stray one foot from the mown grass surrounding our homestead without finding wood ticks all over us. We would happily trade our wood tick population for the Guineas’ vocal outbursts. wp_20161019_13_16_09_proWe enjoy watching them forage in tight groups, their bodies resembling soft polka-dotted turtle shells. They add some visual interest to the barnyard and as long as they’re pulling their own weight with tick service, they’ll continue to have a place in our flock.

Becca

 

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Garden Wrap-up: Successes and Failures

My first gardening season on the farm has now come to an end. The end of the growing season brings a mixture of dread and relief. No longer will I be able to harvest the vast majority of our vegetable needs from my own organic beds, where I know the produce I’m serving to my family is safe, fresh and healthy. On the other hand, a garden is high maintenance. The work doesn’t end in the vegetable patch, either. All that produce would get carried in and dumped on my kitchen island, where it sat until I could do something with it, which consisted of freezing, canning and serving it fresh. When it rains it pours, as the old saying goes. There were times when a person sitting on one side of the island could barely see a person sitting on the other side due to the heap of cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, beans or watermelon. All summer long we feasted on our vegetables. It was a liberating experience for me to head to the garden when it was time to prepare lunch and dinner, rather than to the fridge for purchased food. I no longer added lunch and side dish ingredients to my grocery lists as I knew I would prepare whatever happened to be available in the garden at that particular time. We enjoyed a bountiful harvest.wp_20160730_11_15_12_pro

My garden successes made gardening fun.wp_20160808_09_44_16_pro It was incredible to see how much the plants grew and changed over the course of several short months. When I first planted my garden, I got frustrated and questioned whether anything would grow at all, and later I’m peering into a jungle of green leaves, vines, and burgeoning fruit. Our rows disappeared altogether and we had to blaze our own trails through the vegetation. It’s miraculous, isn’t it, that all that can be contained inside a tiny seed?

I was surprised and delighted to see the watermelon beginning to grow this summer. I think we experienced success since we didn’t plant the seeds until June. Watermelon won’t germinate until the soil has been thoroughly warmed, and in Minnesota, that is usually the beginning of June. wp_20160915_17_28_37_proWe’ll continue to plant watermelon in June and hopefully we’ll be rewarded with them again.

Our chicken wire fence perhaps wasn’t the most beautiful, but it functioned well in keeping our chickens, turkeys and whippet (that’s a dog 🙂 ) out of the garden. One failure, however, was the fence didn’t keep out rodents.wp_20160924_09_28_35_pro I experienced great damage to my tomato crop due to some pesky critters taking up residence in my garden. I can’t tell you how irritating it is to reach for a perfectly ripe, plump tomato, only to have your hand clasp around a rotten, squishy hole hidden around the back where something has been dining. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say I threw about 75% of my tomato crop to the chickens and compost pile. It’s also plain creepy while working in the garden to see small animals scurrying around in the plants. I will set traps next year to see if that helps.

Another failure was how I arranged the crops in my garden. My knowledge of crop placement has increased throughout this growing season and I will plan my garden more wisely next year. I also had the chance to become familiar with the shade patterns of my garden and will rearrange my crop placement so the shade-tolerant plants are in the areas with partial shade.

Almost as quickly as this rectangular piece of earth transformed into a buzzing, flourishing, dewy world of green, it began to brown, wilt and fade. wp_20161001_14_51_22_proSoon the summer crops were dwindling and the fall crops needed to be harvested. We spent a few hours on a warm, sunny October afternoon harvesting all the pumpkins and placing them around the house. The jack-o-lanterns will be fed to the sheep, while I plan to use the smaller sugar pumpkins for soup and pie. Ryan pulled up the corn stalks and bound them together for some fall décor.wp_20161019_13_02_59_pro

I like to give the kids opportunities to be active participants on the farm so the following weekend I assigned them the task of harvesting the squash and watermelon.wp_20161009_15_23_02_pro I gave them a wheel barrow with the instructions to pick and haul everything over to the hose, wash it off, then bring it all into the house. The watermelon we finished off in a week or two, while the squash is now piled up in a corner in our bedroom and we expect our store to last us for months. We will enjoy being able to taste fresh homegrown goodness throughout the winter in the form of hearty squash soup and side dishes. wp_20161008_17_50_30_pro I’m grateful for the break in garden chores and to be able to see the surface of my kitchen island again. In January, when the sun feels powerless and it seems all hope of summer is lost, we’ll cuddle under a blanket and begin planning the garden for spring. We’ll order our seeds and sketch a map of where everything will be planted. Then we’ll begin to dream again of working amongst dew-kissed leaves, sun-warmed fruit and sprawling plants.

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Monarch butterfly chrysalis on a corn leaf

Becca

 

Winter Fence Completed

Sunday afternoon we finished putting up our woven wire fence that will winter our grazing animals.wp_20161016_16_56_33_pro Putting up a fence is no small task and we’re happy to have the project behind us. Our project went rather quickly since we were able to utilize a vast majority of posts already in place. The hardest part was getting the woven wire fence taut.wp_20161016_16_54_36_pro  We rotationally graze our animals in tight paddocks with portable electric fencing (Electronet) through our small pasture. We can have about 20 paddocks in our 3 acre pasture. The “flerd” (flock+herd=flerd) has just finished up a full rotation and we think we can run them through the pasture once more this fall, which would allow us to graze them into November, even though the growing season has now ceased. We still have green grass in the pasture where our animals haven’t been in weeks. wp_20161019_16_24_37_proThis benefits our bottom line. The longer the flerd grazes on free, nutrient-rich grass, the less purchased hay they will consume.

This winter fence will not only be utilized in winter, but it will contain our ram during summer when we’d like him separated from the ewes. This year we had no satisfactory way of separating our ram from the rest of our sheep, which gives us no control over when our ewes will lamb. The other problem this creates is that our ram is always with the sheep when we want to interact with our ewes and lambs, who are quite friendly. wp_20161019_16_22_50_proWe enjoy petting the ewes and holding the lambs. Up until last week, interacting with our sheep with the ram present was a non-issue.wp_20161019_16_22_54_pro

We are new farmers, but we have the sense to stay away from a ram when the ewes are in heat. We thought that had already come and gone. However, the past couple weeks, the ram has been a bit bossy around food. Ryan had told me the ram “nudged” him on the arm while he was bringing pumpkins to the sheep. I had also watched the ram head-butt the ewes if he was trying to eat a special treat they wanted. (I much prefer the chivalry of the roosters who serve delicacies to the hens rather than the rude ram who hogs the good stuff for himself.)

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Mac the ram

The warning signs were there and I should have heeded them. I brought some butternut squash that had been bruised or nibbled on by garden critters to the sheep. I usually just throw it in and leave. But that day I decided to enter their paddock and hold one of the squash while the sheep ate. The ram was busy in a different corner eating a squash lying on the grass. Elijah also climbed into the paddock with me. We were having a great time scratching the lambs and ewes behind the ears while they happily nibbled the squash we were holding. We each had a crowd of lambs and ewes surrounding us and we were thoroughly enjoying watching the adorable sheep, their noses and lips turning orange from the squash. After a few minutes, I noticed the ram had left his half-eaten squash and was standing near us, watching. I didn’t trust him, but I also didn’t expect what was about to happen.

 

He came up and quickly nudged me on the arm, similar to what Ryan described with the pumpkin the other day. The nerve of this ram to “bite the hand that feeds” irritated me but then I watched him take a few steps backwards with his gaze fixed upon me. I knew what was coming, but I had no time to react. He ran towards me and rammed me right in the gut. I was on the ground before I even knew what happened. I got up quickly, fearing he would come at me again while I was still on the ground. He didn’t. He walked away and I instructed Elijah we were to leave immediately. I was surprised more than hurt, though my wrist was sore from instinctively catching myself when I hit the ground. It remained stiff through the following day.

wp_20161019_16_26_58_proI now trust the ram less than ever. I used to feel sorry for him when we talked about separating him from the sheep. Sheep are flock animals and are happiest with other sheep. I was concerned he would get lonely and depressed if we separated him.  I may or may not care a whole lot less about the ram’s emotional state since getting knocked over by the small, gutsy beast. 🙂 He needs to be separated when the new lambs are born, as well. I won’t take the chance of one of the kids getting hurt by him while visiting the lambs.

It’s good to have a trusty, permanent fence on the farm for a variety of situations.  Although the fence is complete, Ryan still needs to build a hay feeder for inside the fence.  We also have to begin stocking our hay shed for the winter.  These tasks are next in line on our project list for fall.  .

Becca

Lost and Found Eggs

Sometimes it feels like an Easter egg hunt around the farm.  We have been noticing for the past couple weeks that our egg production has been low.  We assumed it was either because of the reduced hours of daylight (chickens lay the most eggs when the days are long) or because we recently switched our chicken feed, or a combination thereof.

Elijah happened to mention to me that he saw a Dominique hen coming out from under our front porch.  I had blocked the entrance to this space earlier this summer, thinking it would be the perfect spot for our hens to waste a whole bunch of eggs.  Apparently, this Dominique had found a hole I had overlooked.  Now Elijah suspected the hens had a hidden nest under there so he grabbed a flashlight and peered under the porch.  “Yes,” he said, “there are hundreds of eggs under here!”  I quickly texted Ryan, who was on his way home from work, that we had a project to complete after dinner this evening.

wp_20161010_18_23_50_proNo, this is not a cute but elaborate Halloween decoration.  This is Ryan halfway under our front porch trying to gather all the eggs.  He removed the steps so he could get access all the way to the back of the porch.  It took a while, but he raked out all the eggs from under the porch.

wp_20161010_18_54_07_proThat’s a combination of duck and chicken eggs.  Some are clearly very, very old, while others look quite fresh.  We have discovered the mother of all nests.

But, now what?  What do we do with all these eggs?  The eggs that were obviously old and disgusting went right into the trash, along with any that were cracked.  I picked out a few handfuls of eggs that looked clean and fresh.  The others I suspected weren’t rotten, but may be old enough that we don’t want to bring them into the kitchen, so I crushed them up for the chickens to eat.

I brought my select few eggs into the kitchen to do the “float test” to confirm their freshness.  The float test is based on the fact that eggs are porous.  Over time, more air enters the egg, and will cause the egg to float in water if it is old.  If the egg is fresh, it will sink to the bottom of a bowl and lay on its side.

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Fresh egg

An egg that is edible, but not extremely fresh will sink, but it’s broad end will stick up towards the surface.

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Not very fresh, but still suitable to eat

All the eggs I brought in either sank completely or the broad end raised slightly.  The one shown above was the least-fresh of the bunch.

 

I hated to throw the rest of those eggs in the trash and to the chickens.  It is a terrible waste of food and money.  Ryan built an amazing nesting box and these birds take every opportunity to lay elsewhere.  We’ve found much, much smaller nests around the farm and have to continually search the homestead for hidden nests.

The whole time we were gathered around the porch watching Ryan pull handful after handful of eggs from its depths, a Buckeye hen kept coming around the corner to watch us.wp_20161010_18_40_19_pro  Reminds me of a criminal returning to the scene of the crime! wp_20161010_18_40_41_pro Sorry, little red hen, consider yourself busted!

As the sun sank and the sky darkened, Ryan repositioned the porch steps and filled every hole with either pumpkins or cement blocks to prevent the hens and ducks from accessing their not-so-secret-anymore hideaway.  This is a temporary fix, of course, until we have the time and daylight to install a permanent barrier, such as chicken wire, behind those steps to cover any possible entry point.  I sure hope to see an abundance of eggs in our nest boxes once again.

Becca

 

 

Winter Fence Part 2

We finally had time to make a dent in the winter fence this weekend. We bundled up and worked the whole day on Saturday, plus a Sunday afternoon in the cold, fall air. Working outside would have been rather enjoyable, with the leaves of various trees and bushes exhibiting their colorful display, had it not been for the numb sensation in our fingertips and toes and the sleet falling down around us Saturday morning. Nevertheless, we got two gates installed, one on the east side of the fence, facing the house, wp_20161009_15_17_42_proand the other behind the barn on the north side.wp_20161009_16_57_01_pro Of course whenever we do any projects around the barnyard, we get a few helpers.

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A curious Speckled Sussex hen comes to investigate Ryan’s work.

 

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Hmm, maybe it will make better sense from this angle?
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As soon as we removed the gate from its previous position, Lucky, our Bourbon Red turkey, felt a sudden desire to perch on it.

If you haven’t lived with chickens (or turkeys) before, you may not realize how curious they really are.  Wherever we move around the homestead, the chickens tend to gravitate, making soft clucks and eyeing us inquisitively.

 

We also got the two longest sides of the fence complete.wp_20161009_15_18_23_pro

wp_20161009_15_20_52_proLookin’ good, right?

The woven wire fencing went up pretty easily, with two of us working together. Ryan would attach four metal clips on each T-post and wrap each clip around the woven wire, while I pulled the fence as tightly as I could. Like most things, once we got the hang of it, our progress quickened.  The corners of the fence are wood posts and Ryan pounded large metal staples in to secure the fencing on those posts.

We need one more weekend to finish up the winter fence.  We’re really happy with how it’s coming together.  It will be a relief to have it completed and ready to house our sheep and cow for the ever-nearing winter.

Becca