Planning a Hatch

This spring we are planning on hatching chicken eggs. Jenny is actually, I’m mostly observing this project.

In planning a Hatch, there are steps. First, a daddy rooster and a momma hen… What’s that? Ok, you get it.

Because we’re American, modern, and do not have a broody hen, the fertilized eggs go in an incubator for three weeks. It’s like a spa for 22 chicken eggs that doesn’t at all remind me of humans hatching in Huxley’s Brave New World.

Not just for eating

Now there are details to manage and this engineer farm lady is all over it. Adjust this dial to manage humidity, that one to manage temp, this one there to manage turning. Did I mention the turning and the lights? Because this little R2D2 unit is making sure it’s still busy at night on my dresser when sleep is what’s happening.

Seriously, so many lights

Sunday is our big day, although maybe we see some pips coming in Saturday. Who knows?? Or maybe nothing and our rooster is no good with his hen harem!

We are planning for life though and have the brooder pen ready with pine shavings, heat bed, water and feed. Give’m a month and they’ll be ready for outdoor time; just in time for the phase two hatching to commence.

Nice resort waiting to hit capacity with chicks

They come in Triplets?

Scarlett earned the nickname of “The Blimp” because she was getting huuuge in late pregnancy. Then Jenny noticed her milk dropped and the hip tendons loosening up. Delivery is coming soon, maybe, so we isolated The Blimp to her own pen.

Spoiler Alert!

We came home from church and found her laboring and delivering the second kid right after we put our own kids to bed. She is a champ momma and was busy trying to clean up both kids. Then Jenny noticed another tiny hoof coming out a tiny way… But no delivery labor.

Hard to Google the answer for this one

We monitored for ten minutes with no movement. Jenny went and did some gentle checking and adjusting. Very shortly afterwards, another delivery and three good sized healthy goats joined the flock.

We help dry off the kids that Scarlett couldn’t get to and watched until everyone learned to latch on and get milk. Then off to bed, before midnight this time.

The cleaning process
Milk drunk newborns

The next morning one of the boys charges back up to the house. “Mom! Scarlett had 4 baby goats!!”

Turns out she didn’t, a milk marauder found her way to join the fun and nurse off yet another distracted momma. Jenny fixed that and it’s been all cute sleeping and fun games since then.

A warm pillow!

Barnyard Backups and Fluffy Family Drama

We timed our goat kidding season to correspond with the spring bloom this year. That makes the feeding easier and more nutritious for the mothers and the temperatures are friendly to the kids.

One takeaway from last year’s birth season was to have the backup supplies ready on hand. So I packed up this bag with gloves, shop towels, knife, booster drench for momma and a colostrum substitute for a kid. We watched the calendar and buckled in for a season of new life.

The backup bag is ready

Friday night we came home around 1130pm. Ain’t no party scene like the like take-the-kids-to-the-doc-and-24hr-cvs-two-towns-over party scene.

Step one, get the kids in bed. Step two, go figure out what the high pitch hollering down in the barn is all about.

It’s all about one new momma giving birth to twins. She birthed unassisted and took care of the first kid well. She ignored the second born, which is who we heard. Because goats are unintentionally a pain, it was the coldest night in a week and downright nippy for Texas. We had fun drying off the little guy and then convincing momma to nurse him too. Come 230am, we’ve finally accomplished all those objectives and it’s time for bed. One boy, one girl, all good!

Boy and girl, as yet unnamed

Saturday, Sunday and Monday had frequent checks and cuddle sessions. My kids are great at snuggling the kids, and the goats seasoned with human interaction from the start are far easier to handle as they grow.

Kid to Kid

Monday morning, time for another birth! This one’s a single, and nursing was well underway when Jenny checked. Still wet though, not sure about that, so we dry him off. Come back out a few hours later and realize, we got ourselves a problem.

One of the twins muscled the newborn away and drank his milk! Just ran him off! Compounding the problem, momma was happy about it and was talking with the interloper while ignoring her own offspring! Not much else to do except separate them and hope it all works out.

Jenny goes to check a few hours later. Same story, same problem! The enterprising little one snuck through the fencing. He pushed his cousin off the milk and took up his rightful place as the adopted one again.

Jenny issued separation orders and then redid the fencing. A few hours later, same story. Restraining orders reissued and more fence changes. The problem is they are so small, think a Chihuahua, and they go through small holes.

“I see your fence and I raise you many escapes for play time”

So last night the youngest one got a supplement of colostrum for his dinner. The backup bag with backup supplies paid off. We’re optimistic about the future with these kids figuring out their own momma, just needs more time, right?

What’s that Jenny? He was in the wrong pen again this morning?… To be continued…

Winter of Friendship

Spring is coming and we have done a lot of blending livestock with each other to make feeding easier this winter.

Our livestock guardian Anatolian Shepherd, Ashok, has taken to preferring goat feed over dog food. He’s also sleeping with the Kune Kune pigs and playing with the bullcalf Yum.

In his spare time he’s also started fights with his pops and eaten a chicken, so there are some problems.

Let the wash begin

Cattle in herds take care of grooming each other. We see them lick fly ridden areas on each other and rub on areas the tails can’t reach. They also give the piggies a bath. The piggies will come up and roll over for a good solid lick down and then wonder off again. Complete surprise to us.

Let’s play paw-to-hand through the glass

The cats are also friendly with the kids, through the door way. No cats in the house!!

Sweet Potatoes Find a Way

Previously we tried to season our sweet potatoes in the well house. Stays warm with a heat lamp and stays humid with condensation.

I moved the box to collect the sweet potatoes. The box tore apart as I picked it up. I muttered angry imprecations and found a surprise. The sweet potatoes had endured their dark yet tropical hideaway by sending down roots and sprouting new sweet potato plants. In the dark and through the concrete, little sprouts reaching for the dim light of the door frame.

I was less annoyed and somewhat inspired. The sweet potatoes were terrible though, I’m glad the piggies enjoy them.

Sweet Potato Snow

Texas snow is happening. Blink and you’ll miss it. It’s enough to remind us each of the mortality of man every time and then brief enough to be fondly remembered in hindsight. It also makes a challenge for the pasture raised pigs who want to stay in their snug abode until hunger forces them out.

So they get some of the sweet potatoes that went to freeze previously and I don’t want to eat.

Pigs are rewarding creatures to have around. Always excited about gifts and abounding in squeals of thanksgiving.

They are still pigs though, so not strong on manners.

It may not look like much, but it’s a home.

Garden Variety Chicken

We did not do very well with winter crops in the garden. By not very well, I mean life caught us in a series of squalls and nothing was planted for winter. But spring is coming and we’ll start up again. Like baseball, everything works well in the spring.

In the meantime, what if there was a way to reduce the squash bug population, aggressively fertilize the earth, till the surface thoroughly, lower overall operating capital and labor while improving our protein machines?

The mighty hen

Turns out chickens are good for all that. She is the supreme predator of the pestilent squash bug eggs. Hens are rapid and cheerful tillers, turning over the top soils and integrating top level biomass into the soil to accelerate composting. Free fertilizers with strong nitrogen content are deposited all over the garden. They do all this unsupervised while laying improved eggs daily. It’s a great deal and a fun example of integrative ecological systems benefiting each other.


In all of the tilling work they uncovered more troves of sweet potatoes from rogue vines. These are past a freeze date and not good for people to eat. They are also not part of the hen cuisine in our area.

But they are dynamite for happy piggies going through winter. More on that later.

Could You Not?

Managing the hay access has been a challenge. The pallet fences that worked so well to keep the goats and cows out of the hay bales all summer and winter are failing. Given the thousands of pounds of beef weight shoving them around, that only surprises a city boy like me.

But why though?

The bullcalf Yum is taking the cake. He’s small enough to fit in some of the cracks and got stuck on top of the rounds. He even fits through the hay feeder ring openings.

“Have you brought snacks?”

Now, I have a hypothesis. I don’t have a picture of it but the dogs keep getting on top of the hay bale rounds. I think the young one Ashok learned it from the goats this summer. The dogs and the calf have been playing and following one another around lately. So I think the calf learned it from the puppy. The dogs bolt off the hay when I go to take a picture, but I think they got up there and left their beefy buddy high and dry.

Exactly the conversation we had together

Eventually the calf hopped down and I modified the fencing to restrict access. It’s been working, mostly. Keep your hay dry folks!

The Scrappy Winter Hay Feeder

Last winter we spent a lot of time managing goat and cow hay when it got cold. To clarify cold, it’s when I have to change how I manage livestock water. If it’s going to be solid on top through lunchtime, it’s cold. In the barn area we can manage water much easier then out in a pasture.

So, when the weather is right, into the barn they go. Barns do not grow grass well. So we feed hay. Hay on the ground is a waste, hay in a feeder is money well spent.

So we made a feeder that looks like a barrel, if a barrel was made of 4×4 inch mesh panel. Cheap, effective… Annoying because the goats keep smashing it in on itself.

We noticed another problem: the big queen goats kept all the other girls off of ‘her’ hay. The bucks are always welcome to get hay, just none of these other lady goats. With the impression of artificial scarcity, the whole herd suffered.

Canine approved

They make commercial grade feeders and sell them at ag stores, specifically for goats. They bite hard into our profits, so I was reluctant to buy one. But listening to sad lady goats bawling about being cut off from hay convinced me something must be done.

We go to the AG store, braced to pay full price. “What’s that? Oh you don’t have any. “

Off to the next ag store… “What’s that? You don’t have any either?” Hmmm.

“Wait, what’s that? That gnarled and faded piece of gear hanging off your fence back here? Yes, it sure is damaged. Yes it sure would be some work to make it usable. What’s that? You’ll sell it for 80% off? … Yeah I guess we can do that, if you insist.”

So after hammer work on the metal and mounting work on scrap wood (keep it for a reason!) and left over tote lids… We got ourselves a feeder for less then half price.

“Look, human, it is empty”

It works. It works even better then my barrel contraption because they eat the seeds on the tray as well.

Maaaaa-uch better!

Lessons learned are good lessons.

The Calf Among Us

Good news in the pasture. Our Beefmaster cow birthed a bullcalf for the herd.

I think it is good humans don’t walk this soon. The parents wouldn’t be trained yet.

Because it’s nature, there’s always some chaos in the mix. Momma birthed him right by a (dead) electric fence and he tangled himself up in it by the time I noticed the activity.

Being a bullcalf, he promptly tore the fence down and hobbled his way the other direction.

Right into a different fence.

“Don’t touch my calf!” … “Don’t touch my fence!”

I’ve got a pocket knife and knowledge. Momma has snorts and stamps and protective instincts. Bullcalf brings enthusiasm for yanking fence wire tighter.

Together we managed to avoid smashed humans and tangled calves, and I don’t think he’s touched a fence since then.

It doesn’t look like the angles works, but it does

Haven’t cracked the code on naming him… Odysseus and Homer are out, T-Bone and Yum are in the running right now.