Saturday, June 30, 2012

Trimming hooves
1. Take two pieces of electric netting and make a laneway down the driveway from the sheep paddock towards the new garage. Where the netting crosses the pavement, use vehicles as fence props.
Setting up the netting laneway
2. Set up a catch pen next to the garage, to use as a corral while shearing.

3. Put an eye bolt in the garage wall stud to attach the leg tie-outs to.  Get the let tie-outs ready, and also put down a rubber mat for the sheep to lay down on.

Leg tie-outs for shearing

4. Gather all the needed supplies - shears, combs, cutters, blood-stop, iodine, hoof trimmers, bleach, herbal wormer, alfalfa pellets, a 5-gallong bucket, bathroom scale, Excel spreadsheet page with all the lambs listed and a place to record a variety of information.

Trimming supplies
5. Run power to the new garage from the old garage.
6. Open the paddock to the lane way and start calling the sheep.

Are you talkin' to me?

7. Run down the road to stay ahead of them as they follow you into the catch pen. Shut them all in, then select one to start with.
8. Shear him like an alpaca because you don't know how to shear a sheep by parking it on its butt. But you do know how to shear an alpaca by tying it out.
9. After shearing, pick up the lamb and stand on a bathroom scale.  Scale will error out.  Step off scale and repeat until arms break. Subtract your weight. Record the lamb's weight. 
10. Trim the lamb's hooves, soaking the trimmers in bleach/water solution between each hoof. When you find a bad one, do the basic trim then give it to Papa Bear to finish off, since he's more aggressive in cutting away the icky stuff. 
11. Record condition of each hoof (is hoof rot present?), check his/her eye color, record symptoms of pink eye & spray eyes if pink eye symptoms exist, dip all four feet in iodine (we use an old salsa jar for this), let the lamb have a treat of alfalfa pellets topped with herbal wormer while you clean up the fleeces and feces. 

Treat time!

12. Repeat until your back breaks and you call it a day.

The End

The End.
Boo shakes off some pesky flies

Our two alpacas Monet & Boo have been boarding at a friend's home since November, ever since we farmed out our critters in order to enjoy a winter in Hawaii.

Now with a farm of our own to call home, it was time to bring them home.

We picked them up after the Cameron Park Farmer's Market in La Crosse late Friday night, so unfortunately I don't have any pictures of them loading.

Our friends asked us multiple times, "Are you sure they'll load into your Suburban?"

They arrived at their farm in our 1971 Airstream travel trailer, so we figured we'd save on the gas bill this time and just load them directly into the 'burb for the hour drive home.

They loaded beautifully.

Monet hanging out in the tall grass

They had enough room back there to fit most of our small flock of lambs.  But like two siblings sitting in the backseat, no sooner had we pulled onto Hwy 33 than they started arguing.

And by arguing, I mean spitting.

Spitting isn't just gross, it stinks.  And we could smell it up front.

We yelled at them several times, threatened to stop the car and make them walk, to no avail.  The arguing continued.

"He has more room than me... He won't let me lie down... He's touching me..."

Finally we did stop the vehicle and opened up the back, pushing Boo past Monet so he would have a spot to lie down.

Which just goes to show you, if you want to transport livestock in your vehicle, stick with sheep and chickens.

Cheers -

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Grrrr!  Actually moving this coop is easy-peasy!

We moved our laying flock from the Big Farm to our Little Farm today.  Which went a lot better than when we moved them from the farm where we boarded them over the winter, to the Big Farm.

For that adventure we had to drive 5 hours with the Suburban and 16' flatbed trailer, pick up a load of stuff from storage, then wait until after dark to pick up the chickens because they roost in the rafters of a small barn at our friend's farm.

As we arrived at our friend's place, Papa Bear pulled onto a field road in preparation for turning the flatbed and Suburban around.

Not realizing they had recently received 6" of rain in 24 hours and the field road, although seemingly solid, was a muddy mess.  And we, in our poor old Suburban with broken 4WD and bald tires, pulling a heavy load, were doomed.

{I know mamas - not safe!  Spoiler: We made it home fine.}

1.5 hours later with two of us covered in mud and our trailer ramps bent to crap from using them as traction under the wheels, and the addition of a skid steer with a hitch, we were free of the mud.

Next came a lively scene where our friend's son climbed up into the barn rafters and snatched roosting chickens as they ran and flew away from him - catching them and tossing them down to us, and we hauled them out to the 'Burb and stuffed them into pet crates.

There were a couple of mistakes - "That buff chicken isn't ours - we already loaded our two."  "That squawky rooster DEFINITELY isn't ours...."  "Oh, you're keeping our Rhode Island Reds?  I didn't realize that..."

But finally we were all loaded up and back on the road by 10:00pm for our 5-hour drive home.


No, this adventure was far, far easier than that one.  And no, I don't have pictures.  It was dark.  And I was covered in mud.

This time we only had to move them 6 miles.  We closed them into their new coop the night before, and the next morning all we had to do was catch them in the coop (quite easy) and load them into the kennels.

Pet crates work like a charm for holding chickens.  We happened to acquire a couple of extra ones for free recently that we immediately put into use.

Moving chickens to the Frisky Farm

I especially like the name on label on the left crate (Hunter). How ironic that the bird-dog crate is now holding birds.

When we moved our chicken coop into storage last fall we realized (just a tad too late) that it was too wide to fit on our 8' trailer. We got it to storage anyhow, and by some miracle, it fit into the storage unit.  We stuffed it full of items from the garage then left for our three month trip to Hawaii.

Good lord - chicken coop IN our storage unit!

We figured we'd deal with it when we got back.

We got back to WI in March, and we closed on our new farm June 1st.  That meant we now had to deal with the too-large-to-move-chicken-coop in our storage unit.

On our way into Minneapolis on one of our many trips to haul our belongings home from storage, I hurriedly put together a Craiglist ad as we whizzed down I90, pulling out pictures from my hard drive and connecting to the internet via a Verizon broadband card.

That ad, created while we sped 70mph towards Mayer, generated interest by no fewer than 5 parties. I didn't sell the coop that day, but the next time we came to town we succeeded.

Frisky Farm mobile chicken coop hoop house

Meanwhile, Papa Bear had already whipped up a brand new coop for the girls - this time measuring carefully to ensure the coop would actually fit on the trailer.

Frisky Farm pastured eggs from free-ranging happy chickens

It's a sweet little mobile chicken coop hoop house made of cattle panels and chicken wire, with wheels on one end that flip down and under the coop whenever you want to move it.

It's topped with an old billboard tarp that we purchased from the Amish Wal-mart.  And it's tall enough on the inside to easily clear Papa Bear's head, even when he's wearing his New Zealand sun hat.

PB and Dixie Chick

It has nest boxes made from free buckets we cut in half and a roost made from a tree branch.

Bucket nest boxes and branch roost

We use poultry nipples (less than $2/ea) on another free bucket which holds a week's worth of water and never gets dirty.  (Although the chickens all prefer the rabbit water bottle in the photo above). In the summer we've been known to add frozen water bottles to the bucket to help keep the water a bit cooler for the girls.

Little Miss Sunshine taking a drink

New additions to this coop over our first one are the addition of a pop-hole door in the people door and of course those flip-up wheels (ah-MAZE-ing!).

Pop hole chicken door!

{I am a bit in awe of this man's coop-building skills.}

Have Coop - Will Travel

Papa Bear took an old water bottle and made it into an oyster-shell holder and he'll be making another one soon for kelp.  They have standard metal fonts for feed which we hang pretty high so they can't scratch the feed out onto the ground.

Metal feeders and homemade oyster shell dispenser

Two strands of 100' electric bird netting keeps the girls contained where we want them (and keeps any curious and hungry predators OUT).

Home Safe Home - surrounded by electric netting

The bucket is weather protection for the fence charger, which is supposed to stay inside of a building.

Treat time for the girls

This is our version of "weather-proofing."

Now all the girls have a new place to roam and call "home."  Oh, and we did acquire one rooster from the Big Farm.  I'm sure you'll be hearing more about him in the future.

Cheers - 
Gypsy Farmgirl moves chickens

Aspendance Alpacas, Kendall, WI

I'm still pinching myself.

Papa Bear opened the drapes this morning and the sun hit me right in the eyes, so I rolled my pillow over my face, as I have done most mornings for most of my adult life.

But this time, after fending off all of the signals to get out of bed (my snooze alarm, the cats pouncing on my stomach, PB pulling off my covers) I grudgingly rolled out of bed onto my own floor.

For seven years we've been renting what feels like everywhere from pillar to post - three years here, two years there, one year over there, three months off the mainland, three months in a friend's bunkhouse.

And now, finally, we have a home of our own.

And not just a home, a farm.  40 acres of our own little paradise.

Saying Goodbye, Saying Hello

It's not possible to start something new without leaving something else behind.  Over the past few months, we've done a lot of leaving. 

We left our Little Farm in Minnesota, and I left the Big Farm in Wisconsin where I spent the majority of my time last summer learning how to run a multi-species grazing operation.

We left our families and friends and 3 storage units stuffed full of our possessions from our house and garage and barn, living out of 2 carry-on suitcases for three months.

We spent two months working at a coffee farm in Hawaii, then said Goodbye to our new friends and to the Hawaiian islands.

And now we're leaving the comfortable rituals and daily company of our friends at the Big Farm who have been putting us up (or rather, putting up with us) in their bunkhouse the last three months.

It seems unreal, after 7 years of wandering all over Minneapolis, Hawaii and now Wisconsin, to finally be putting down some solid roots.

Papa Bear getting a tarp ready to clamp to the panels for shade

It seems unreal to get up in the morning and going to check on our lambs, in our own meadow.

This morning I went to let our girls out of their coop and then wandered up the hill to the ridge to watch the morning mist lying low in the valleys below and beyond.

View from the ridge at Aspendance Alpacas

A morning dove cried from a telephone wire, a sound I always associate with my Grandma & Grandpa on the Farm.  A good omen if there ever was one.

I watched a deer making it's way up the hay meadow, unaware of my presence.  When I went in to grab the camera and sneak around behind the large chicken-coop-soon-to-be-sheep-shed to get a better shot, it finally spotted me and waved its white tail flag and scampered deftly up the steep hill into the safety of the treeline.

A deer makes its way up the hillside at Aspendance Alpacas

Or should I say, into the safety of our treeline.

Wild turkeys gobbled somewhere nearby.

It was all so incredible it felt like a movie scene.

I would say it felt like a dream, but I never have dreams this good.

Our farm house is tiny and old and very crooked and the decor smacks of 1930's/1970's, with gold/brown living room carpet and scalloped kitchen cupboards. 

But it's all good, because it's our old, crooked floor. We may have to tear the whole thing down some day and start over.

But until then, I will relish every creaky, crooked thing, grateful to finally be living in a home of our own.

Tonight when we went down to move the lambs again (currently they're getting moved three times/day) the moon was just rising over our eastern treeline, a just-beyond-full-sized glowing orange orb.  It looked close enough to reach out and touch.

The lambs have caught onto the new routine and eagerly await our arrival which to them means a new patch of lush green grass. They bear down shoulder to shoulder like a line of living, wooly lawn mowers, munching their way around the perimeter of their paneled enclosures. 

On our way back from the spring meadow where the lambs are stationed, fireflies started popping out like moving Christmas tree lights. Another thing I only ever saw at my grandparents farm.  Another good omen.

The morning dove cried again, book-ending my day with soulful song.

Kitties on the back porch at Aspendance Alpacas

The stars came out and the cats sat on the back patio with us, relishing freedom after a long winter inside.

My pocketbook may be nearly empty these days, but my heart is full to overflowing.

Blessings -

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Cricket the gimpy chicken

I have a soft spot for baby chickens.

For you two who have been reading this blog for awhile, you'll remember that last year while working at the Big Farm I brought home two injured chickens - Teeter and Raven.

They not only survived but are still thriving, happy members of my own laying flock.

Then this spring, out of a hatch of 50 eggs at the Big Farm, only two survived.  I named them Vim & Vigor, and we were happy to acquire them as new additions to our own laying flock.

Adopting hard-luck peeps seems to be "my thing."

Soon there was another big batch of eggs incubating at the Big Farm.  This time the hatch rate was nearly 50%, and 60+ new peeps were calling the Big Farm "home."

Several small and weak chicks died in the first 24 hours.  Not so surprising.

And then there was Gimpy.

His left wing was terribly stunted and his left leg didn't move.  His right leg was bent at a right angle.  He could only move in circles by kicking his right leg and right wing.

We all expected him to die the first day.  We even tried taking him out of the brooder (the other chicks were picking on him) but he peeped so loudly it seemed he was more distressed by loneliness than by being picked on.

Cricket & Zoey coexisting peacefully

We tried putting him back in the brooder.  Other chicks sat on his head and pecked at his deformed leg.

Another batch of eggs was in the incubator, toasty-warm.  So back he went into the incubator, set closely to a water container and several small milk-jug caps full of chick food.

We expected him to die the first night.  He didn't.

He seemed to accept his fate of being alone, quietly peeping from the incubator, perhaps telling all of his unhatched cousins in the trays above him about all of the wonderful new things they would soon be experiencing in the big, wide world they were about to be hatched into.

Every so often Papa Bear or I would open the incubator and retrieve him from a back corner where he appeared to be stuck.

Eventually he learned to stay up front near the door, so that whenever we opened it, he would literally fall out onto the towel we had placed below it. 

We would take him out and hold him up next to his food and water, which he ate and drank eagerly.

He chattered to us non-stop.  He peeped while he ate.  He peeped while he rested in our hand.  The only time he stopped chattering was when he drank.


We started calling him Cricket, for the chirruping noise he'd make whenever he heard something strange, like the timer alarm on Papa Bear's iPhone.

I don't know what he was trying to tell us with all of that chatter - probably about how lonely and hard his little life was, how unfair it was that he had no use of half of his twisted little body.

But he didn't seem bitter.  He seemed... grateful, dare I say, happy?  Grateful to have a warm hand holding him, a kind spirit offering him water and food. 

We still expected him to die any time.   We weren't sure he was getting much nutrition when we weren't hand-feeding him.  He was still weak and his limbs were still deformed and useless.

But he didn't die.

Three weeks after Cricket hatched, we started making plans to move him to our new farm after the closing.  We could set him up in the same plastic tote that held Teeter during her recovery last summer.

We found a frisbee that we lined with a washcloth.  When we laid Cricket on it, he could move around the frisbee in a circle, the only movement he could make.  We put his two milk-jug caps of chick food in the frisbee, too. And put all of that into the plastic tote.


On Friday, June 1st, after signing the closing papers on our new little farm,we checked on Cricket in his new tote and made sure his food and water were full.  He peeped at us like he always did. We told him we'd be home in a few hours after the market, and that tomorrow was a big day, when we'd all move to our own little farm.  Then Papa Bear and I headed into La Crosse for the Friday farmer's market at Cameron Park.

When we got home late Friday night after the market, Cricket wasn't peeping. He had already moved on to his own Big Farm in the sky.

We had been expecting him to die for so long, why was it still such a terribly sad surprise? 

Saturday morning we took our first load of items over to our new farm.  Several boxes of clothes and garage tools. And a plastic tote holding one tiny lifeless chicken.

We should have felt ecstatic, this brand new beginning in a place longed for for so long. 

When we pulled into our new driveway, we didn't rush into our new house.  Instead, we took out a shovel and the plastic tote and headed over to our one ancient apple tree in the pasture.

We dug a little hole beside the apple tree and put Cricket in it, then we each said a few words and wished that wherever he was now, he was not in any pain and could jump and hop and fly with strong legs and wings.


A small shovel full of dirt and a few tears later, the tiny hole was once again just a part of the pasture.

One small life, gone.  Who would miss it?

Saturday morning we made several trips back and forth from the Big Farm to our Little Farm, moving more of our things.  There was peeping in the incubator again - the new batch of chickens had started hatching.

Chickens take 21 days to hatch.  Cricket lived 21 days.  In my overly-imaginative mind I can only assume he lived that long in order to talk to his cousins while they were growing, to tell them not to be too scared, that the big wide world was bright and loud and sometimes scary, but it was also full of things to explore and good things to eat, and that there were good people waiting for them, people who would take care of them and make sure they lived a good, happy life.

No matter how many or few days that happened to be.

Gypsy Farmgirl writes about little lives

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