Good Day Bad Day

One of the things I remembered very well when we left the farm  for traveling was that on a farm there are good days and bad days. There are days when everything goes well. There are days when you wake up to half a dozen chicken senselessly slaughtered by the neighbor’s dogs. But somehow I had a harder time remembering the roller coaster days.

I woke up to a call from the post office that our ducklings were ready for pick up. I’m pretty sure there are not many better ways to wake up than hearing that twenty super fuzzy adorable little ducklings just waiting to be brought home and gawked at.

My duckling high was quickly brought down by the discovery that one of the rabbits was missing. Since most of our property is wooded, and there are hundreds of hungry predators just waiting for a tasty white rabbit to come hopping along. So I was pretty shocked and more or less thrilled when a few minutes later, the white rabbit came hopping along.

Only to be noticed by the dogs. The dogs’ training to be calm around the rabbits is certainly progressing, but when the rabbit is outside of the cage, it’s much harder. And when the rabbit is loping along the fence line looking delicious, all bets are off.

There aren’t a whole lot of worse ways to start the day than hearing a rabbit scream. It’s horrible. Really horrible. Not the least because very often that scream is a death scream. It’s the last sound rabbits make.

But the rabbit didn’t die. The dogs pinned it down but stopped short of killing it, and just held it for us. The rabbit managed to avoid dying of fright or having a heart attack. We quickly fixed him a new, quieter cage and he settled in pretty nicely.

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See! He’s fine!

Then we went to get the ducklings. All happy and fluffy and adorable. We got the Hatchery Choice special, which means that there are several breed of duck–whatever the hatchery had extras of.

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A colorful bunch.

My best guess is that there are several Pekins,maybe an Indian Runer or two, a couple domesticated Mallards, some Rouens, and two that are probably Cayugas but possibly Black Indian Runners.  We got the brooder set up and released the ducklings.

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Be free little ducklings.

The joys of seeing the ducklings be all happy was unfortunately dampened when we noticed that one of them didn’t look so hot—I guessed he was a bit cold. Another had a crook neck, which is usually caused by a vitamin e deficiency or an injury. A few minutes later we realized that the little guy who didn’t look so great actually looked horrible. He just wasn’t rallying. He wouldn’t or couldn’t eat or drink and even under the heat lamp he didn’t show any improvement. Upon closer inspection he appeared to have some sort of birth defect, which meant there wasn’t much to be done for him.

It’s fairly common with baby poultry to have at least one that doesn’t make it. They’re surprisingly tough little creatures, but at the same time they are very fragile. But even knowing that losses are a part of raising poultry, it’s still sad when there’s just nothing you can do.

On the other hand, the crook neck duckling was running around, eating and drinking, so we are hopeful that with vitamins he’ll be just fine.

I spent the next several hours obsessively checking on the ducklings. During that time I remembered something else about raising poultry.

Sleeping ducklings are terrifying.

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The yellow duckling was scaring me a little.

At the end of the day, though, I suppose the score was in favor of a good day.

At any rate, our little farm is growing. We are planning to add chickens next, so whatever else happens, there’s no doubt that things are going to stay busy around here.

Play Nice. Please.

A good farm dog is priceless. They help out in ways you didn’t even know you needed help. They’re the friend that’s always there, and always has your back.

A bad farm dog is a nightmare, a catastrophe, and is almost certain to break your heart.

The biggest line between a good farm dog and a bad one is training. Even the best genetics go bad without instruction, and most good farm dogs had their moments of being bad.

For two years my dogs have been allowed to chase rabbits pretty indiscriminately. They’ve dug up nests and chased them out of yard. No matter how cute and fluffy rabbits are, no matter how tame and cuddly they are, rabbits still act like prey when dogs are around. They tense up, they freeze, they dart around in the most tempting manner imaginable. They are just ASKING to be chased and, preferably, eaten.

So we train. We ask the dogs to forego their instincts and not only refrain from chasing and devouring the rabbits, but to actually protect them from other dangers.

My dogs are at a disadvantage because while both come from very good farm dog heritages, and have good instincts, they have not lived on their farm for very long. So they have a lot to learn. They’ll get it, but until then, we train.

The training involves a lot of standing near the animal pens to let everyone get used to each other.

It also involves doing some obedience training near the new animals. It’s really hard to remember that you have to listen when  there is a HOPPING BURRITO hanging out next to you.

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Eventually, as the dogs become calmer and all the animals become accustomed to each other,  the leashes will come off. The rabbits and pigs and the ducklings that are arriving soon will become part of the landscape, to be protected at night, checked on during the day, kept in line, but mostly not bothered. One day, hopefully, that will become the norm, and bad behavior will be only a half forgotten memory.

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But for now we continue with training. We take two steps forward, and try to avoid one step back (but of course we don’t.) 

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Getting Started.

I grew up farming, but nine years ago, I gave up a rural lifestyle in favor of traveling the country with my family. In those nine years we, saw amazing sights, learned a lot and had a blast. From driving across the Golden Gate Bridge to driving the Marias Pass in the dark, in the snow, in a motorhome, to chilling by the ocean in Galveston, for a while we had nearly constant adventures. In 2015, we finally made it to all 48 continental states, finishing the list with a whirlwind tour of New England. And so, having seen many sights, and had many adventures, it feels like it is finally time to come home.

Farming has always been big in my family. My parents were farming organically long before it was popular, primarily because my dad wholeheartedly believes that you cannot grow a really good watermelon with chemical fertilizer. He’s right, of course. The flavor gets tainted. Some of my earliest memories are preparing the garden. In Alabama, weeds are inevitable. They are always going to be there. The goal is the hold them at bay a little, to keep them from taking over, claiming sovereignty over the land, and growing into a forest. To help combat the weeds, my parents would hold competitions to see who could pull up the biggest pile of weeds. I almost always won. It’s only looking back that I realize that that was probably because the “prize” was just being told you won and getting to throw the piles of weeds to the goats. Yeah. I was five.

My Dad’s passion has always been growing things. He was renowned for his watermelons, which grew to unbelievable size. He passed that passion on to one of my brothers, who is endlessly planting and growing things. But for me, the real fun of farming has always been in the animals. So while my dad and brother considered our farming life restarted when the first seed hit the soil, it just wasn’t official to me until we had animals on the ground.

Well, now there are animals on the ground.

Dad went after four weaner pigs yesterday. He came home with four pigs and four rabbits. The pigs are mixed breed, born and raised on pasture. The rabbits are New Zealand Whites, and have also been pastured, and are surprisingly docile. Considering that conventional farming in still very much the norm in this area, I am absolutely delighted to have found animals that have been raised mostly all naturally. And the pigs are cute on top of that!

Thus, I hereby declare, farming life is officially back on.