Animal updates

A week or so before the farm warming, I brought home my last set of animals for the farm, two 3-month old Dorset lambs from a farmer friend of my farmer friend. These are also male culls. Their mothers turned out to have no mothering instinct and rejected them at birth, so they’re bottle fed lambs. They’ve had their selenium shots (yay! no white muscle disease!) and are really healthy and friendly animals. After a few days to settle in with the rest of the crew (4 bantam chickens, 9 Rhode Island Red hens & 2 goats), they fit in very well and are doing a good job of grazing down brushy areas along with the bigger goat, Monty. The littlest goat, Merlin also took well to them as they are more his size and weren’t inclined to bully him.

Some bad news…Merlin died the morning of my birthday. I found him at 5:30 am as I was letting the animals out of their shed before I went to the Keady Market for the day. I definitely shed some tears over the little guy as I had gotten quite attached to him since he required so much babying due to his weakness compared to the other animals. He was a really picky eater, so I always kept him on pasture that he preferred, which seemed to be young dandelions and other tender plants. Otherwise, he just wouldn’t eat, but would stand there, bleating. In general, he always moved like an old man (I never saw him move faster than a slow walk). He had little black lightning markings on his front legs, and really cute ears that folded at the ends. He seemed to really like having people around as he’d always start bleating if a person wasn’t in sight.

This is the latest picture I have of Merlin, taken by Doret 4 days before he died. If anyone has pictures of him from the farm warming, I’d appreciate a copy.

I really wish he could have made it through his early weaning, but I think he never stood a chance of growing to adulthood. I’m just glad that his final days were out on pasture and not enclosed in a dark stall. I also hope that Monty, who still has the same cough he arrived with, has a stronger heart than his companions did. He’s certainly been growing bigger, which is a good sign. Merlin had lost his starved look from grazing but never seemed to start really growing.

Having animals on the farm definitely brings up the emotional level of farming. Even though all the animals on the farm will be slaughtered for meat in November, I really want them to have a good life on pasture over the summer. I don’t worry quite as much about my plants as I do the animals. I hope my remaining 3 ruminants stay healthy and growing. I move them around on leashes each day so they have fresh areas to browse and graze. That does require checking on them every hour or so as they can get quite tangled up with each other!

Monty and one of the lambs are sitting in the shade of the tree while the other lamb continues to graze.

The chickens all seem to be doing well, though I definitely understand where the tradition of egg hunts came from now. The hens did initially lay their eggs in the laying boxes that Robb built, but for whatever reason, now prefer doing so in various spots outside. I think some modifications will need to be made to get them to lay back in the boxes again as I’d rather not have to egg search each day. That said, it’s pretty cool to come upon a pile of eggs in a patch of tall grass! The hens are definitely free ranging now that they’re comfortable with the farm property. I often have one follow me all the way to the house!

One of the bantam hens has started to lay little white eggs. I’m a bit disappointed that they aren’t blue or green, but they’re still super cute!

Bantam chicken eggs, up close

Eggs, further out so you can see their size compared to other things.

Even with the added stress that animals bring to a farm, I’m still glad I have them all. The eggs I get to eat are wonderfully delicious with huge, bright orange yolks. You do have to watch your step around the farm though as you’re liable to have a chicken underfoot ;P And the ruminants are doing a great job of clearing weeds, which they definitely prefer to eat over grass. If I rotate them well, they should do my lawn mowing for me, as well as getting all sorts of good things to eat! Having all the animals here means someone always needs to be at the farm, to let the animals out of their shelter in the morning, put them back in at night (to keep them safe from predators), and make sure they have enough water, or haven’t gotten too tangled up when they’re grazing on long leashes. Hopefully I can find farm sitters for whenever I may need to be away for a few days.

This is the story of my journey into sustainable agriculture. From the streets of downtown Toronto, to the farm land of southern Ontario, I hope to discover the techniques and practices that work for me in both mind and heart.

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