Monday, March 28, 2016

Baby Birds!

Forget what I said about my dismal hatch rate with ducks. I must have figured out the magic formula. In past years, I was only getting about 20% success in hatching. This year, first of all, my drake is hitting high marks for fertility. My fertility rate is well over 95% with my flock. And now my hatch rate is, too!

A few things that are different... the house temperature is more stable. We now have solar hot water heating the floors of the house, keeping internal temps much more stable, which makes the incubator much more efficient and productive. It doesn't have to fight to hard to maintain its internal temp of 101 degrees.

Second, I started a practice last year of lining the hatching tray with damp towels. This raises the local humidity in the hatching tray, but not to the rest of the incubating eggs.

Third, I started to mist the duck eggs daily. I spray a little water on them, just as mama would coming back from a swim on the pond.

Last,but not least, I give them more time to hatch. Chicken eggs invariably hatch on the appropriate date, all at once and with predictability. I have to let the ducks take their sweet time. It can be 36 hours or more from first pip to them coming out of their shell.

I just hatched 23 our of 27 duck eggs. And that was with several hours of the incubator being OFF during that power outage. I think we went 6 hours before we got a generator turned on, and then another 3 hours when the generator had to go back to its home for use for a bit.

We have soooo many ducklings!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Missing our Shirley

It's been almost a week since we said goodbye to Shirley. It hit me in the gut about halfway to the processor that I would never see her again. I took her in, I didn't let Larry do it, I wanted to be with her as long as I could. I said my goodbyes on the farm, I said them again before I left her. What sometimes feels like the final betrayal, dropping them off in a strange place and then leaving them there. Unlike Alice, she wasn't alone. She was with Hercules. She didn't load into the trailer willingly, but she walked out with him with no fuss, no fanfare.

 I have been enjoying the absence of Hercules. The sheer peacefulness and calm of just sitting near my sheep. I love to just be near them. With Shirley's last lambs sitting in my lap and others coming over to sniff my face, or chew on my sleeves. Hercules' exit has made Shirley's a little easier to bear. But I often forget that she is gone.

 I get asked all the time why we didn't just let her die on the farm. Doesn't it seem best to just let an animal live out its life until it dies, peacefully, on its own? Well, our experience with dogs is that often they don't die peacefully. Often, they are sick, or in pain for some time before they go. We have yet to have a dog die peacefully in its sleep. We've had cancer, hip problems, organ failure and bloating. All are ways that cause pain and difficulty before death comes and eases any of it. All of our dogs have been euthanized. All of them have been loved for every minute, including their last breaths. That's no different than Shirley. It was a quick and painless death, that I can guarantee.

 Sure, I have guilt. Just like I do for the dogs I put down, even when I know the alternative is worse. That the alternative means immobility, pain, confusion and worse. I still feel bad making the decision. But after I put my first dog down, I realized that euthanasia is not murder. It's love, grace, selflessness and compassion. Shirley deserved all of that. Not, she was not, as far as I know, in any pain, but how do I really know? She wasn't producing milk for her babies, so something was clearly wrong. She knew it, too. What else was wrong? I'll never know. But I know she won't suffer, not like others before her. Here's a tiny glimpse. The ladies in grey are mamas that are now passed. I will admit, turning Shirley's name grey was really hard for me.

She's immortalized forever in a spreadsheet. Just like all of her predecessors, and all of her ancestors and friends.  But we'll have so many other memories for her. She means so much to me still. I am so glad I have so many of her babies and grandbabies on the farm.

One of the things that helped me, was that Caleb, from Catching Sunshine Snapshots came out on Shirley's last night and let Shannon and I spend some time and get some photos to remember her by. I think that really helped me let go. 

Just for some perspective... here's a look at Shirley when she was 2, when we first brought her home to the farm.

That's Shirley looking right at us, and Laverne looking behind.

Here's our Shirley girl the night before we said goodbye....

So much grey on her face. What a wonderful old girl. Never gave us any problems, always took care of her babies (until these last ones). She's still the bar I hold all the other girls up to. What a lovely mama, what a kind sheepie. There will never be another Shirley.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Chicks and Ducklings

Our first ducklings hatched this week! We named them Paddles (II) and Cutie Pie.  OK, these two are not for sale, they are keepers for us!

But we have a bunch more eggs in the incubator, as well as my first batch of chicks got sent to lock down just yesterday, so we should have tons of chicks soon!

Of course, our first meat chicks are coming in a few weeks, too. so we'll be surrounded by babies of all types!

Here are our first little duckies!

As we go forward with hatching, you can see how things are progressing here. This spreadsheet shows what's in the incubator, what the fertility and hatching rates are and how many chicks we have available and how old they are.

Baby Chicks
Just hatched:  $3/each
1 week old:  $4/each
2 weeks old: $5/each
3 weeks old: $6/each
Just hatched: $5/each
1 week old:  $6/each
2 weeks old: $7/each
3 weeks old: $8/each