Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Icelandic sheep enjoy the sunny side of the machine shed at Litengård

Whenever it blows on a Wednesday I can't help but recall a favorite tune from the Pooh albums we grew up with, called A Rather Blustery Day.

There is a line in the song that goes Oh I know today is Windsday and this is how I know.. it is always on a Windsday that the winds begin to blow...

Wednesday was one of those blustery days.

Last weekend we replaced/repaired the roof on the Turkey Townhouse, finishing up just after dark Sunday night.

So it was with utter disappointment when I stepped outside to do afternoon chores a mere three days later, on Windsday, that I noticed a piece of the new corrugated plastic roofing flapping in the wind, still attached to the structure but ripped in two.

Brand new roof panel ripped in two by the blustery wind

After sighing a big sigh I headed down to check and see how bad it was and see if I could salvage any of the roofing pieces.  Some of the panels are meant as skylights and do not have any wood underlayment.  If those panels blew off, there would be a gaping hole in the turkey roof open to the sky.

As I neared the structure I noticed two of my turkeys were out of the paddock.  The noise and flapping roof panels must have scared them enough to fly out.  One hen, Selma, had flown out of her paddock, across the field road and into the boys/chickens/rabbit paddock.

Tom was just outside of his paddock, wandering up and down the field road right next to the other hens who had not flown out.

I made a mental note to fetch Selma and Tom once I had inspected the roof.

Selma, a heritage Sweetgrass turkey hen at Litengård

And then I spotted my two ewe lambs in the open area just beyond the turkey paddock.

Rats, they must have busted out of their little shelter somehow.  Two more escapees to add to my list of things to do - or rather, critters to catch.

And then I noticed Ty, our ram lamb, with his head stuck in the net fence trying to get to my ewe lambs who no doubt are now of breeding age and rather enticing to a boy who has already bred his three girls and is no longer getting much action.

Triple rats!

A quick triage of the situation told me this would be the order of events:

Turn off the fence charger to take the electric pulse out of the net fence that Ty was trying to break through.

Get Ty out of the fence.

Get Ty and the girls into the haymow (treats come in mighty handy here) and lock them in for awhile while I inspect any damage to the fence and repair it.

Repair the fence. The net fencing was still secure, thank goodness.  But Ty did end up breaking two plastic step-in posts that I had placed between each of the fiberglass posts of the net fence.  I needed to replace them both, as they were helping hold up the corner of the fence.

Getting the old post bottom out of the frozen ground proved to be tricky.  Eventually I succeeded, after retrieving a hammer and other tools to pry it out of the ground.  I was able to use the same hole it came out of to place a new post back into.

Turn the power back on.

Catch the lambs and return them to their shelter.  This turned out to be much easier than I had thought it would be.  These lambs were wild wild wild when I took them from the main paddock and put them into their own shelter in early December for the duration of Ty's visit.  I didn't want him breeding them.

One of the two lambs, Daisy, had been escaping right before all the sheep went into their winter paddock, and it had been a royal PITA (pain in the arse) to catch her.  Picture a rodeo involving a herding dog, ropes, halters, and a lamb that refused to stand upright on our trip to the barn for a few days of "time-out" while we readied the winter paddock.

But it seems my weeks and weeks of going into their shelter every day with a few treats to eat from hand has tamed them up to the point where they actually followed me of their own free will back over to their shelter and right inside.

'Lil Liza safely back in her shelter.

They got extra treats for that stellar behavior.

After all the sheep were secured I let the ewes and Ty out of the haymow. Ty immediately ran over to the edge of his paddock nearest to the little lambs shelter and stayed there, bleating, begging for a date. But not sticking his head through.

Sorry Ty, no dates tonight.

Now to catch the turkeys.  Not too big of a deal.  My permanent flock will normally let me come within arms reach, even if they don't particularly enjoy being touched.  In less than 5 minutes both turkeys were safely back in their own space.

Tom, our Sweegrass tom turkey, back in his paddock

Two roof panels had blown off.  One managed to come off in one piece without breaking, but one had a jagged tear across the middle.  Luckily neither one was covering the open area so there was no problem with a chance of precipitation falling into the shelter.

I tucked the turkeys into their shelter, which left only the normal evening chores to finish.

My 30 minute routine took 90 minutes, but at the end of the day, everyone was where they were supposed to be, and all was quiet on the farm again.

And I was off to celebrate New Year's Eve with family and friends.

Happy New Year Y'all!
Gypsy Farmgirl spends New Year's Eve catching loose livestock


Monday, December 29, 2014

Front left to right: Selma, Sarafina;  Back: Tom, Serena, Snow White

I finally named all of my Sweegrass hens.

Last winter we still had a variety of breeds from our "mixed bag" order from Porter's, and I knew we wouldn't be keeping them all, so I didn't name them.

But this winter we are down to our permanent breeding flock of three Sweetgrass and one white Tiger Bronze hen, so the ladies now have "real" names.

This is Sarafina, the biggest of my Sweetgrass hens.  She also has the darkest red neck feathers of all of my hens.

Sarafina, our Sweetgrass heritage turkey hen

The name "Sarafina" (and it's many derivatives) derived from the biblical word "seraphim," meaning "fiery ones," an order of angels.  I think it's fitting.  She's definitely one of my fiery angels.

Pretty little Sarafina!

I love everything about her including the tiny tuft of feathers on the top of her tiny snood.  I just want to reach out and touch her sweet little feathery head.  But she doesn't care for petting.  So I don't.

Serena is the middle-sized Sweetgrass hen.  She's a bit camera shy, and I realized when I sat down to write this post that she had eluded any close-ups.

Camera-shy Serena

So I donned my 20 pounds of insulated barn clothes and trudged outside to snap some more photos in the 7° F sunshine, bare hands freezing to the camera.  The sacrifices I make for this blog, I tell 'ya.

Serena, Sweetgrass heritage turkey hen

Serena looks an awful lot like Sarafina, but slightly smaller and minus the reddish neck feathers. If I don't see her side-by-side with Sarafina however, I often get them confused.  Here she is on the right, with Sarafina on the left.

Sarafina left, Serena right

The name Serena is derived from the Latin word serēnus, meaning "clear, tranquil, serene".  She is definitely my serenest hen, whereas Sarafina and Selma are my most inquisitive and playful.

And then there is sweet little Selma. If she wasn't already the smallest of the three Sweetgrass, she would still be easy to identify by her lighter neck and upper back feathers, and the tiny black feathers coming out of her snood.

sweet little Selma, a Sweetgrass heritage turkey hen

By far the smallest hen in the flock, but one of the most gregarious personalities, she is the first to come up and take treats right out of my hand, or investigate my clothing and give my snaps and buttons a good peck.

Her name is of German origin and means "Helmet of God," or "Protected by God" and may also be related to the name Solomon, which means "Peace."  

Selma's coloring is lighter than my other two Sweetgrass hens

No matter what her name means, I am smitten by her and happy to have her here.

And then there is Snow White.  She is not a Sweetgrass, she is a white-variant Tiger Bronze.

Snow White, a white-variant Tiger Bronze heritage turkey hen

She was actually named over a year ago, when it became evident that she would not be bronze like most of her breed, and the name just came up one day and stuck.

When I asked Porter's about her coloring (to see if perhaps they sent the wrong breed), they said this variant white color pops up occasionally and they recommended culling her as it was not standard Tiger Bronze coloration.

But I didn't want to cull her - for many reasons.

Snow White, a white-variant Tiger Bronze heritage turkey hen

Last summer she was accidentally but severely injured during the breeding season (it is not uncommon for the heavy toms to cause damage to a hens back when they mount or dismount).

Her wound was so severe I actually considered putting her down.

I'm so glad I didn't.  After moving her to the barn where I could administer daily treatments of colloidal silver and coconut oil, she healed quickly.  During the treatment process, I bonded more deeply with her.

We hatched all of our own eggs last year, and it was easy to see which ones were from her, with their mostly white coloration.  All of her babies grew up big and strong and healthy.

There was no way I would cull this hen.

And so here she is today, the only non-Sweetgrass turkey I currently own.  She has earned her place in this flock.

And of course we still have our tom, Tom.

Tom, our Sweetgrass heritage tom turkey

We had two Sweetgrass toms, which I referred to collectively as "Tom-Tom," but sadly we lost one to a raccoon this summer.  And so we have only one now.

But somehow he seems quite happy to be on his own with his little flock of hens.

I have never had to worry about this guy, so far he has been nothing but respectful towards me and all of our farm visitors.

Tom struts near Serena

And so I enjoy his magnificent display which goes on pretty much all day long, whenever there are females present - either turkeys OR humans.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl names her Sweetgrass hens

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Up on the turkey townhouse roof

When you live on a farm with an endless supply of "to do" lists, even in the winter you have to take every possible advantage of breaks in the weather to tackle those jobs.

One of the jobs on our list was to finish renovating the turkey townhouse, which still had some major gaps in the roof and walls which left me worried about both raccoons and cold weather.

why yes, I think a raccoon could fit through those holes...

The cold weather broke around Christmas so the weekend following found us up on the turkey roof ripping off rotten shingles and the sheeting boards underneath them and replacing them with new plywood and plastic corrugated roofing.

Papa pokes his head through the turkey townhouse roof

Papa even left some gaps in the sheeting underneath so that the clear plastic corrugated panels would make a skylight up the middle of the roof, brightening the interior of the shelter.

putting in a skylight for the turkey townhouse

New skylight panels in the turkey townhouse

Additional renovations included enlarging the pop-hole door to "turkey-size"...

Selma uses the new pop-hole door

which came in quite handy a few days later when I went inside the shelter to check their feed and the top outer door latch flipped shut on the outside, locking me inside.

fixing the roof on the turkey townhouse

Forcing me to use the escape hatch, i.e. turkey-sized pop-hole door.

turkey-sized pop-hole door renovation

See the lighter colored pieces of wood on the window frames?  Papa built those to hold the greenhouse panels in the windows.  They flip out of the way so during the warmer months we can easily remove the greenhouse windows and allow fresh air to blow into the shelter.

Papa is so clever, isn't he?

{Don't tell anyone, but he saw that was how the original windows were held in place and borrowed the idea...}

We even found a bullet lodged in one of the ceiling struts.

a bullet in the ceiling strut of the turkey townhouse!

If these walls could talk!

Of course we had help, or rather, company, in the form of Gypsy and Karma.

Gypsy waits

Somehow Karma figured out how to get into the turkey paddock without getting shocked by the fence.

Which troubles me a bit, to be honest.  I don't need any small predators breaching the fence, like anything in the mink family.

Karma oversees progress on the turkey townhouse

But she poses no threat to our livestock, not even the little rabbits in the barn, which she visits often, under my supervision.

It seems she is just incredibly curious and has to be in the "thick of things" at all times.

Karma peeks from the roof of the turkey townhouse

"Curiosity killed the cat... but satisfaction brought (her) back."

That is her motto.

Which is true - she's been delivered to death's door at least once in her short life, and lived to tell the tale.

leap of faith

Despite all of these distractions, Papa kept his focus on the task at hand, working until past sunset and into the dark to finish the roof.

Papa fixing the roof of the turkey townhouse

That Papa, I tell ya, he's something.  I am so grateful for his handy-man skills.

New roof on the turkey townhouse

So now, let the snows fall and the winds blow and let varmints try to breach our fences.

I know my turkeys are safe, sound, and at least semi-warm.

Cheers -

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ty checks out the Icelandic ewes at Litengård - Little Farm

There's a new guy in town - a black ram lamb by the name of Ty that we're leasing for the breeding season. 

Last year our three Icelandic ewes were accidentally bred by an overwintering castrated ram.  

{Yes indeed, castrated.  If you've ever seen an intact ram with his fuzzy boys hanging down nearly to his ankles, you would not mistake an intact ram for a castrated ram lamb.  The boys we had last year were definitely castrated. Apparently someone had something retained that was still functioning despite the lack of physical evidence}

The flock was so surreptitious about the whole thing that I never did see anyone breeding or suspect any of my girls were pregnant. 

Until late April when we sheared them and realized with a shock they were all imminently due

This year we were going to be a lot more intentional about the whole thing. 

Unfortunately, we don't own an Icelandic ram yet.  So finding one was the biggest challenge. 

Icelandic ewes checking out a new ram

I contacted all of the local Icelandic breeders that I could find and nobody was interested in leasing us a ram.  This struck me as odd, since in the alpaca world that I am much more familiar with, leasing a herdsire is a very easy task.  

I was about to give up in frustration when I located an Icelandic group on Facebook and less than a day after posting my request, Papa Bear and I were meeting some very nice folks in the parking lot of a hotel in DeForest, WI and moving Ty from their dog kennel to ours. 

On Sunday we put him in with our girls, after first removing all of the ewe lambs from the paddock. 

two sheep, one dog kennel

Our biggest two lambs went to market {if you're anywhere between Madison, WI and Minneapolis, WI, we will gladly deliver your order for a whole lamb! Contact us on our Facebook page} and two went into a temporary holding pen until all the breeding is done.  

Li'l Liza

These ewe lambs are so small we don't want them bred by the ram. I'm also hoping that by separating them and holding them in a smaller pen, I will be able to tame them up a bit.  

These lambs are wild, wild wild!  I can't even get near them to give them the treats that the older ewes enjoy.  In a smaller space, I can give them good things to eat and sit with them until they learn not to be so terribly skittish.  I can also give them extra hay that they won't have to compete for against the bigger animals. 

But back to Ty and the ewes. 

Since our ewes bred in secret last year, I was curious to see what this sheep dating business would entail.  

There was a lot of sniffing and licking (not licking each other, just a lot of tongue flicking out of the mouth), lots of tail wagging, and occasionally Ty would lift one stiff front leg up in front of his body at a ewe. 

He also displayed the upper lip curl, a behavior known as "flehmen response," which is one of his ways to check for a ewes receptivity. 

Ty displays the Flehmen response

I saw him attempt to breed a couple of times, but it seemed he was too short compared to the height of the ewe to, um, reach the goal...  

I've been assured by an experienced breeder that the ewes will assist him in "Tying one on" when they are ready. 

{snort}

So I left them to their little huddle and went on with my chores.  

Icelandic ewes huddle with a new ram

I've learned that in sheep their estrus cycle is approximately 17 days, and she will be receptive to the ram for only about 24-36 hours during the peak of her estrus cycle.  So she should come until heat every 16-17 days until she is bred.  British long wool breeds tend to be short-day, seasonal breeders, coming into heat in Oct./Nov.  

Unlike alpacas, which are induced ovulators and can become pregnant any time of the year (which is why you must run your males separately unless you are trying to have your females bred). 

alpacas are unconcerned with the sheepnanigans going on around them

The alpacas were not one wit concerned about what the sheep were doing, either.  

Which I find fascinating.  The ewes knew Ty was a sheep and was a ram and were extremely interested in him, whereas the alpacas knew he was not an alpaca and could not care less what he was doing.  How do they know?  Sight? Smell?  Sound?  Pheremones? 

I suppose I will never know.  

But what I do know is that next spring when we shear the ewes in late April, if we see filling udders and wide bellies, we will rejoice in the knowledge that they did indeed successfully "Ty" one on and soon we'll have Icelandic lambs bounding across the green pastures.

Cheers - 
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about sheepish dating routines

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Amil's Inn B&B, Wilton, WI

"What do you want for your birthday?" I asked Papa over and over in the months leading up to his turn-of-the-decade celebration.

Finally I got an answer - "I want to sit somewhere quiet and read a book."

Relaxing at Amil's Inn B&B

Arrangements were made for our daughter and a friend to come to the farm for a visit and they graciously agreed to do morning farm chores so that we could stay each night at a local B&B.

I didn't even have to think twice about where I wanted to stay.

Decorated for the holidays at Amil's Inn B&B, Wilton, WI

It was a warm summer day the day I walked into the laundromat in a small town down the road (our town is so small it does not even have a laundromat!).

To my great surprise the door was opened even before I arrived with my arms full of laundry.  A pleasant grandmotherly woman greeted me warmly and ushered me inside.

Entryway at Amil's Inn B&B, Wilton, WI

After loading my machines, I sat down near her.  She seemed eager to talk.

For the next 45 minutes she told me about her life growing up on a farm, about all the chickens she raised and the eggs she sold, about her wonderful daughter who runs the B&B just out of town, Amil's Inn B&B.

celebrating a big birthday at a little inn

I knew of the inn, I had driven past it on countless occasions on my trips back and forth to the Big Farm during the summer of 2011.

I had admired it's many, large gardens and ached to sit on the front porch with the quilts hanging over the rails.

relaxing in the sitting room at Amil's B&B

She told me I would soon meet her daughter who was coming to pick her and their laundry up, and not too long after I was introduced to the innkeeper, Anita.

It was like meeting an old friend I had known forever.

Relaxing in the sitting room at Amil's Inn B&B

Anita immediately invited me over to take a tour of the inn, and I jumped at the chance.

The inn was delightful, the rooms decorated in a country-style I wished I had the talents to emulate.

Country-style decor at Amil's Inn B&B

We parted as new friends and promised to keep in touch.

Since that time we have had tea parties at my farm under the pear tree, laughing as the young chickens raced back and forth from the rose bush to us to beg for treats.

country-style decor at Amil's Inn B&B

I have toured their gorgeous gardens, eaten their scrumptious veggies and sat on their front porch with the quilts.

We have celebrated my birthday and New Year's Eve together.  I have put my folks up for a stay here.

Christmas is coming at Amil's Inn B&B

And now we would celebrate Papa's birthday.

We were put in the room, In The Beginning. a lovely room with windows facing south and west, with lots of natural light, my favorite!

Guest room "In The Beginning" at Amil's Inn B&B

Despite our familiarity with the innkeepers, we were still given the grand welcome tour and were settled in in no time.

It was truly one of the most relaxed we have felt in a very long time, as keeping up with the pace of things on a farm is typically anything but relaxing.

Guest room "In The Beginning" at Amil's Inn B&B

For two nights we slept like babies on Comphy Sheets, the most luxurious sheets I have ever had the pleasure of sleeping on, and dined like kings at breakfast (all homemade, often with local ingredients!).

After a leisurely breakfast, we would meander home (only 10 minutes away) and find all the morning chores done, with plenty of time to hang out with our daughter and friend.

Relaxing at Amil's Inn B&B

On one of the days we picked up the kids and went over to O'Gara's Christmas Tree Farm and picked out our Christmas tree, then spent the afternoon and evening trimming it.

The entire weekend was just lovely, all of it.

So I will say, if you ever find yourself needing lodging between La Crosse and Madison and are looking for a restful night's stay, wonderful food, and great company, I recommend you stop for a night (or three) at Amil's Inn B&B.

thank you for staying at Amil's Inn B&B

You'll be happy you did.  Tell Anita that Gypsy Farmgirl sent you!

Cheers -

Gypsy Farmgirl enjoys at stay at Amil's Inn B&B





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