Small successes 

The incubator didn’t pan out (but I’ve got some ideas on that) but the Bielefelder eggs aren’t a total wash. After hatching the turkey eggs, chipmunk took some Bielefelder eggs. Some losses, not her fault. But we did get four cherps!

Had I thought the nest boxes out better, she would be raising the chicks. But it’s a tall wall and along way down so they went in the brooder with the turklets. 

Three cockerels of the four eggs. Not thrilled about that, but it’s three chicken dinners this winter! Note the overall light coloration and the yellow spot on his head?

One of the great things about this breed is the auto sexing. The females look quite different!

So, I’ve got a few little projects. Add nest boxes that are more conducive to hen reared chicks (front entry, ramp, not too high) and upgrade the incubator. It’s a still air, and that’s not ideal because the temperature isn’t consistent. But a small computer fan will help with that. 

We are going to try for another clutch of Bielefelder eggs, but that’s probably it for this year. Got a lot going on what with the human baby on the way and whatnot! In the meantime, check out this vogue chick!

What a lovely skirt…

So, rats found out they could dig und r the coop. My bad. I had hardware cloth under it, but it seems that during the building process, it got into a position of poor contact and the little monsters can slip right past it. 

So, skirt it is. The first step is to dig a shallow trench that slopes away from the coop. Some will tell you to bury the wire one foot down. These people have no real experience with rodents. Rats are smart. They’ll just keep going down. But if the barrier goes down and out, it’s very confusing. To figure out that they need to move away from the barrier before digging requires abstract thinking that is ever so slightly past the average rat. 

So you dig your trench and set the hardware cloth in it. It should contact the wood of the coop enough for staples, but extend about a foot down and away. The more the better. 

Staple it into position and start to bury it. It’s ok if it’s not perfectly flush to the ground, but it should be flush to the coop. 

When you’re burying it, periodically give it a shake or step on it to ensure good soil contact, but also to make sure it doesn’t bend and create gaps where a rodent could slip through. Be sure to overlap at the corners!

When you’re all done, the wire should be barely visible, and just where it connects to the wood. 

I did this about a week and a half ago and there has been no indication that the rats have figured it out. In the meantime, we are setting traps to try to encourage them to vacate the premises. 

We tried a live trap and caught one, but since then they seem to have figured it out. Either that or most of them are too small to trip it. As such, I bought modern snap traps that are supposed to work well. Two sizes, one for rats and one for mice. I know where the little ones come out so I’ll set the small ones there and the big one near the coop. 

To avoid any bird or cat accidents, I got a few milk crates. Turned upside down, they’ll keep larger animals out but let the rodents in. I set the traps next to known burrow entrances with the crates covering the whole thing. 

Disclaimer. I like rodents. They’re smart and make wonderful pets. But when they’re under the house and in the coop, they gotta go. The Snap E Mouse Trap, under an upturned milk crate is incredibly effective. I set three traps about three hours ago. I’ve caught eight so far. 

I think the crate makes them feel more secure taking the bait. Anyway, it’s important to check the traps frequently, as they’ll learn to avoid them if they see their comrades dead in them. 

I don’t like killing, but these are fast, humane, and very effective. 

Watching my corn pop up in rows. 

The corn, wheat, and sunflowers are doing quite nicely. I’ll probably remove the bird netting this weekend. 

While the corn is partly for us (popcorn) and partly for chicken food, the wheat is mainly for the birds. 

The sunflowers, well this batch anyway, will be a bit of an experiment. We should be able to make our own sunflower oil, but it’ll also be good for the birds. 

We also have some other sunflowers, I just need to clear a place to plant them. Those are mainly for snacking and decoration. 

But in other news, Vasi definitely did her duty last night. The two older turkey poults are roughly seven weeks old (judging by the bird pattern baldness) and have been spending a few days and nights outside. Last night got chilly and they decided to sleep on the coop floor instead of a roost. Unfortunately, that meant that when a rat got in looking for chicken food, it found vulnerable birds. 

Vasi went ballistic and while she couldn’t get to them, she did alert Lady McFarmFace so fast that the rat wasn’t able to do too much damage. We think the turkey will pull through. In the meantime, I’ve got some work to do figuring out how to keep rodents out, and we have to make sure they don’t sleep on the ground again. They’re back inside until the bird heals up. 

Good dog!

DIY livestock gate! Or the fence thing part two. 

While I had the materials to build the gate last weekend, what I did not have was the time. So the yard sat almost ready for the dog for a week. Poor Vasi. If she knew what I was doing back there, she might have been less of a pill. 

Anywho, the ground between the two gate posts was not level because I didn’t think ahead enough so some minor earthwork was in order. Once I had a relatively level area between them, it was time to build the gate itself. 

So, measure between the two posts and accounts for the hinges. The latch will be on the outside so not a big deal. I wanted a different style latch, but it seems most gate latches assume either square posts or chain link. Oh well. 

The gate is constructed out of 2×4, which makes it pretty heavy. Over time, it will sag. To counter this, the diagonal brace takes the weight from the top of the gate opposite the hinge and distributes it to the bottom right next to a hinge. Also, I placed a brick below the gate that it can rest on. Let’s hope that’s enough!

Obviously, two triangles with a nine foot span won’t keep the dog in, so the woven wire fencing was stapled to it.

 It’s tied to itself on the sides much like with the wooden fence posts. All in all, I think it blends with the fence quite nicely!

It’s stapled once up top and twice on the bottom, which stretches the wire down, then up, then down again. So it’s pretty tight. 

Basic gate hinges. Held down by gravity. You do want to make sure they’re plumb to each other, and measure very carefully, as the pilot holes make it very difficult to adjust the huge placement!

A little tidying up and it was time to let the puppy lose! She definitely enjoys the space! But until I can be sure the garden is completely secured, she only gets supervised time outside. 

Upcoming: using the fenceline as support for peas and grapes, planting the areas just outside the fence with grain crops among other things, and using pumpkins as weed control!

Basics of woven wire fences part 1

Well, it’s been in the works for several consecutive weekends now, but I have a fence! Normally I keep this blog pretty lighthearted and joking, and today won’t be any different! Except maybe more useful. Tutorial time!

I used redbrand 47″ field fence. It’s highly rated and probably overkill, but it’s actually an incredibly economical way to fence in a large space. 

For corners, rough terrain, gates, and (if the area is large enough) every 50 feet, I used 8 foot long 4″ pressure treated wooden posts set in concrete. 

The corners are braced. Unless you’re exceptionally concerned about strength, I wouldn’t bother cementing in the brace posts, but I did notch the vertical post to make sure it was very firmly seated. I set the base of the brace posts about a foot down against a brick. I put gravel around them for drainage before covering with soil. 

At roughly ten foot intervals (if the length of the run is 53 feet, I went roughly 10 foot 2 inches. Sue me.) the T posts went in. A post pounding cap makes this a helluva lot easier. Notice the string?

Don’t eyeball it. Use a line and level to keep those posts going in exactly where and how you want them. The T posts went on the outside of the fence, with the wooden posts on the inside. I just felt it would give the greatest strength if pushed from either side. 

To start the fence, it’s easier to unroll the fence along the line first. However, the terrain made that impractical where I was starting. All I really want to say about that experience is that there was a lot of panting, grunting, and swearing. And not even in a sexy way. Also, have someone help you if you can! Anyway, you remove the vertical wire from the edge of the fence, giving you a nice row of wires poking out. You’ll essentially tie the fence around the first pole, to itself. Don’t start your fence 1/4″ from a shed. Just saying. 

Once you’re unrolled and on the right side of the posts (easier after unrolling!) you can start pulling it into place. 

Now here’s where it gets tricky. You really ought to have a fence stretcher. I do not. But I do have random bits of lumber. So I stuck one in the fence (weave it through over one and under the next, all the way from top to bottom) and tied a rope to it. Attach that to a come along (hand cranked winch) to get the fence tight. 

Now, you don’t need it to be taut. I’d wager that’s actually probably a bad idea. But tight is good. Word of caution. As you crank it down, periodically go make sure it’s not caught on anything and the bottom wire is where you want it. The bottom wore had ridden up on my corner post and I had to uncrank the come along to get it down. I just didn’t feel like my fence should start four inches off the ground. 

If you find it’s caught a T post and that post is now being pulled towards you, do as I say and not as I do. Release tension on the come along before attempting to unhook the post. I was not injured. If I wasn’t paying attention, I could have been. 

Anywho, fence is standing up all nice and straight like, it’s where and how you want it. Awesome. You can either leave the come along there forever or you can finish the fence. Le sigh. I used some pretty heavy duty staples because overkill is better than a weak fence. Also, the barbs are sharp. Ask me how I know. Most of them are bowed out like the one pictured on the left. Use pliers to straighten them like the one on the right. They go in way easier. Giggity. 

Now, I’m no expert, but I do know that the vertical wires can slip along the horizontal, so a staple across either of those may not hold it forever. But a staple across the point where they are tied together? I’ll need a chainsaw to get that out. I’d say use a minimum of three per post. Top, bottom, and middle. 

Now the T posts I’ve done before, I just bent my own wire to tie them together. But this is a much heavier duty fence so I got clips. I highly recommend the clips. The clips are awesome. Also, you might stare at it for a minute thinking “now how is this supposed to work?”

Start by hooking the shorter end onto the wire and slipping the clip around the post. You want the wire over that bump on the post, but if it’s stubborn like this one was, you can finagle it after you’ve got the clip almost in place. You’ll see what I mean. 

But wait! That long end doesn’t quite slip onto the fence wire! But the wire is over the notch now, you’ll notice! 

But the long end is a very convenient size and shape to grab with pliers! Needle nose actually work really well here because you can grip the clip and then twist using the fence wire as a pivot point. This pulls the clip nice and tight. 

A few more twists on both ends and boom. Clip on. Please note that the ground makes this more annoying a task for the bottom wire. 

I got all the fencing for the yard done, but the last bit required supplemental lighting. I’m afraid that’s it for this weekend. Next weekend I’ll dog proof the perimeter, tidy up anything I don’t want her chewing, and build the gate. Until then, the bunnies are enjoying their new space! Pics of that when I’ve got time!

On the bright side…

Sad day for America, but more locally, we found out what was going on with the chickens!

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you. Only one egg yesterday! Sad face. 

And only one in the nest boxes today. Also sad face. But then I happened to glance inside the dog house…

Silly birds. Well, I don’t want to hear any complaints from the dog that it’s too small, because I had to go in there and get them!

We’ve got a really pretty egg basket now. Can’t wait till the cherps start laying. Those should be blue!

Happy Holidays from Huckleberry Hills!

As I finish my coffee and my wonderful girlfriend finishes some treats for our family party, I look around at this place I now get to call home and I am incredibly happy. The Christmas music is playing and the bunnies are running around like they’ve never been outside before. ​

​​

​The birds are being adorable and one of the cats has realized she can chase the dog away instead of being chased. 

We’ve had some ups and downs, but we keep moving forward. Even though 2016 has been a tough year in many ways, for us it’s been phenomenal. 

We hope that everyone out there has someone to be with this weekend, and if you don’t, find someone. Whatever your beliefs or background, we wish you the best!

Wrecking the curve

I read up on the topic of livestock guardian dogs in general for a couple months, and Anatolian shepherds for weeks before we finally settled on our Dawg. One thing that has been very consistent in nearly all accounts is when they start acting like livestock guardians, and that is between ten and twelve months old. 

Our Vasi is about three and a half months old. She’s just a puppy. She walks loose leash, and is calm with the birds almost all the time, but she’s still a puppy. That’s what made tonight so astounding. 

I was at work but on the phone with the girlfriend so I heard all this. We got bells for the doorknob because this year Christmas needs to come early. Vasi figured out she could ring it to get us to let her out to tinkle in about five minutes. But a few hours later, she got really restless and was jingling the front door bell for everything she had. 

So I suggested just letting her out and watching her (the fence needs a little work before she can be left out there unattended). She went to the coop and circled it slowly, sniffing the ground, then walked one length of the yard still sniffing. Then she came back in and was chill again. 

So what’s the big deal? Anatolian shepherds patrol the perimeter of their territory periodically to ensure all is well and their animals are safe. But they don’t start doing that until nearly a year old. Talk about wrecking the curve!

It’s pretty clear to us that she comes from a very good line of working dogs and will keep our animals safe. It’s really shocking. She has figured out much of the behavior of an adult dog at a very young age. Now, she still gets puppy excited and forgets things, but having her guardian instincts kick in this early is really unusual from what I’ve read. 

She got an extra special treat for that!

Is there no sun in this cursed country?

But I can point out East!

Seriously though, the constant rain is really slowing things down. I got this weird 70’s style closet rail replaced with a bar, and bought the materials for the rabbit cages, but other than that it’s been pretty slow. 

Lady McFarmFace hasn’t been feeling well today, so mainly I’ve been trying to help out indoors. But the rain should slack up enough for me to get at least stared on the rabbit cages. 

Standard wisdom for breeding meat rabbits says they need a few square feet each and the cages are often hung for easy cleaning. But that’s not how we roll here. Each adult rabbit will have a 6.5′ by 4′ run with a nest box. 

The entire top will be hinged in the middle. One half will be 2×4 fence wire and the other half painted wood for shelter and shade. The sides will be 1/2″ hardware cloth to keep the babies in and protect from raccoons. 

Now, I’m well aware that the top half that is a larger spaced wire will be wide enough for a raccoon to reach in, but at 2 feet tall and with only half the top wire, I figure the bunnies shouldn’t have too much trouble evading them IF they are even willing to brave the yard and dog smell. 

Here’s the best part though. The bottoms will be the same widely spaced wire. These bunnies will be on the next best thing to bare ground. I figure that instead of a lawnmower, I’ll just move the cages every few days as they clip the grass and weeds short. 

We usually very carefully select livestock breeds here, but it seems like a meat rabbit is a meat rabbit. Californian, New Zealand white, Cornish cross, Flemish cross, it seems as though the biggest difference is the coat. 

I’m told the white coats are commercially more useful as they can be died, but the grey and brown ones are prettier and probably more useful to hobbyists. So maybe we will get both and see what works best. Eventually we may switch to a colony setting, but only if we find the meat to be easy to move. 

I am really not looking forward to killing rabbits. Chickens are hard enough for me. But if I’m going to be a McFarmFace, I need to develop the stomach for it. 

Meanwhile, Vasi is coming along really well. I figure some minor repairs and changes to the fence in the front yard and she can be turned loose with the birds soon. We have an aerial run for her and she does really well with them. She’s very gentle. 


A tad lazy, perhaps. I’ll be building her a dog house soon, with a covered spot for her food dish. 

So that’s kind of where we are right now. The ferocious guard dog naps with the birds, and we will have our first four legged livestock as soon as I build the enclosures. Fencing the pasture is next after that. 

If anyone has recommendations for one rabbit breed over another, feel free to share!

Growing up fast

I tell you, for having bought this place sans livestock just a few short months ago, it’s getting very busy here!

The turklets are transitioning outside this week. Basically as soon as the adult birds stop trying to peck through the bars, they will go in the coop at sundown. 

Vasi Custard Dawg has been spending more time outside, just on the deck for now. Once I’ve got more fencing up, she will have her own yard and just come inside when we want her inside. She will probably sleep indoors for several more months, but other than that will be a largely outdoor dog living next to the birds. 

The fuzzballs of cherp have been upgraded to cherps. They’ll start the transition outdoors as soon as the turklets are finished with the rabbit hutch. 

And then that’s it for new animals until spring! But we’ve got fences and shelters to build, pasture to clear, and some indoor projects too. And let’s not forget the garden gets started soon! Busy busy like bees. Oh right. Gotta get hives set up too.