Got Milk?

In our last post about our cows With A Moo, Moo Here And A Moo, Moo There, we said, and i quote, “We hope to start milking Angelica in the next week or so (you have to wait until all of the Colostrum has come through) and we will let you know how that goes. Homemade butter, yoghurt, cheese and ice-cream here we come!!!” That was dated 9 January 2014. What’s that saying again? ‘Good intentions mean nothing without action’. Yeah, that one. Well we had all of the good intentions and none of the action so we didn’t start milking Angelica until Saturday 31st May. Why that date? Well we had some friends from Sydney staying with us that weekend who are really interested in our lifestyle and we thought what better activity to do than to milk a cow!

So we sterilised our equipment and off we went!

Generally when you’re milking small time like this, you have to separate the calf at night from the mother so her udder fills up and doesn’t get emptied. You then milk her early in the morning, leaving enough for the calf to have a small drink and then the calf gets the udder for the rest of the day. However we had learned previously when Angelica had Chuck, that she had an overabundance of milk – more than Chuck could drink. She would be wandering around the paddock with milk just dripping out of her teats. An ideal cow to milk!

Also when you’re milking a cow, they generally won’t stand still in a paddock so you have to halter them and tie them up with feed in front of them to keep them happy while you milk. Again, not so with Angelica. Ideally it would be easiest to milk her that way however standing in the middle of a paddock milking her isn’t all that hard. You just need two people. One to scratch her and give her pats and the other to milk. At first she’s a bit funny but then she gets used to it and enjoys the attention.

So we entered the paddock and set ourselves up. Kel’s Mum came with us as it was her job to keep Angelica happy. What’s that other saying? ‘Better late than never’. Well that didn’t apply to our situation. It was too late. It had been around six months since Angelica had given birth and she wasn’t producing much milk anymore as her calf was eating grass as well. We may have had a chance if we separated her the night before however really we should have started a few weeks after she’d given birth. We managed maybe a quarter of a cup.

It was a huge let down, not just because we had friends there but because we had once again, missed our chance.

What’s that you say? Missed our chance again?

Yes, that’s right. Again. The small handheld electronic milker we bought, we actually bought when Chuck was born, two years ago when we realised how much milk Angelica had. So it took us one a and a half years to actually milk her and when we did we got nothing because we’d been putting it off and we were too late. We’re such slackers.

Anyway we’re pretty sure Angelica is pregnant again so third time lucky, huh?

Handheld Milker 00This is our handheld electronic milker. From left to right: suction cups for teats, glass food safe milk jar, rechargeable battery powered vacuum pump

If you’re interested in the milker, you can visit the manufacturer’s website: http://danshafarms.com/main.sc

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Chick Recap: Take 4

If you haven’t read our chick updates, I advise that you read Chick Recap: Take 1, Chick Recap: Take 2 and Chick Recap: Take 3 before reading this post.

After awhile we found that we yet again, needed another level in our system. The eldest chicks that were in the wired tunnel were getting bigger and becoming a bit too big for it. However they were still slightly too small to be out in the open. We realised that we didn’t really have the room for anything more in our backyard either. What to do?

When we got our first lot of chickens, Betty and Martha, we had a moveable coop or “Chicken Tractor” that Kel’s Dad had built a number of years ago. It’s basically a steel framed box with a corrugated iron roof and covered with either chicken mesh, corrugated iron panels or wooden panels. There is a moveable wheel on either side at one end that you lock down into place when moving the coop, and then you lock up into place when the coop is stationary to keep it firmly on the ground to prevent predators from being able to sneak under. Obviously there is a lockable door.

As our flock grew, Kel renovated the coop and added bits to it so as to create more room. It became permanently stationary due to the positions it was put in and the add ons. At one point it was standing on its end with an aviary attached to it. However as it was purpose built perfectly the way it was, even with tweaks and add ons, it was tiresome to clean and get in and out of. Kel decided it was time to build a purpose built chicken coop and then we would have the “Chicken Tractor” back for the older chicks. The purpose built chicken coop is nothing majorly special and isn’t quite finished – it’s completely usable and comfortable for the chickens however there are some finishing touches Kel wants to make before he posts about it 🙂

Anyway Kel fixed up the Chicken Tractor so that it was usable again as it was originally purposed for. The plan was to put it on his parents land and that it would follow the cows. Once the cows had finished in a paddock, the Chicken Tractor would be put in that paddock and every day Kel would move it onto fresh pasture and as the chickens made their way around the paddock, they would scratch up the cow paddies plus add their own manure, which would in turn improve the pasture. When they were old enough, from there the hens would be moved in with the pigs on the land we agist and the roosters would be culled and into the freezer.

 Chicken TractorThis is off my Instagram – when Kel’s Dad first gave the Chicken Tractor to us we painted it in camouflage so the foxes wouldn’t be able to see it 😉 This is only one angle obviously and doesn’t show the wheels nor the door

From Piglets to Weaners

This is the edited version of the post that was meant to go up last week instead of A Sad Day.

Obviously our nine little piglets have grown since we last posted about them. Unfortunately as we were away, we don’t have any progress photos of them over those two months.

Here they are now at 17 weeks old:

WeanersThe photo is a bit blurry because they wouldn’t stay still!

They were weaned off Miss Piggy at around 11 weeks old, which was probably a little too long as Miss Piggy had lost quite a bit of condition by the time we got back. We’ve obviously separated them now though and she’s starting to recover. There’s a tip for all of you women right there wanting to lose baby weight 😉

There’s always a runt of the litter and until last week ours had survived and seemed that she would turn out okay. She used to struggle occasionally, losing her balance and falling over, she was also smaller than the rest. She showed that she was made of strong stuff though. When feeding at the trough, all the piglets like to shove into each other to assert their authority (there is actually enough room for them to all eat side by side). She held her ground and shoved right back just as hard as all the others! Our hearts still hurt when we think about her 😦

Unfortunately one of the other piglets isn’t so great…we’re not sure what happened, we think Miss Piggy may have bit her on the back in a moment of frustration but basically one of the piglets seems to have nerve damage and can’t balance properly. At first we thought she was paralysed as she was just lying there all the time and dragging herself around however when we place her on her feet and steady her with our hands around her middle the whole time, she can run as fast as all of the other piglets! We decided to separate her as we didn’t want the other piglets to bully or trample her and to see if she improved. At first she was in our backyard in a raised garden bed that we moved around daily (our backyard was a jungle from being away for almost two months so she was cleaning it up for us!) so she had fresh grass everyday. Solomon was very curious about her however he became very motherly of her making sure she was okay and crying when she was upset or frustrated. We’ve now moved her into a small garden paddock at Kel’s parents where a small flock of chickens live so she can move around a larger space and have some company as well. She can eat and drink okay and doesn’t seem to be in pain. She does get frustrated sometimes when her body won’t do what she wants it to do however most of the time she’s quite content so we could never justify putting her down.

Here’s a video of her running with us balancing her – you can see her legs have no problem!

And here’s a video of her having a good scratch.

A Sad Day

Originally today’s post was going to be about our ten little piglets and how they are doing. However as of last Sunday we now only have nine 😦

On Saturday we noticed that the runt of the litter was lying around listlessly. We thought she was dehydrated because it was so hot however she refused to drink any water. We noticed her stomach was enlarged so we figured that she must have had “bloat”. It’s uncommon in pigs however the day before Kel had fed the piglets two huge bags of baby carrots with their green carrot tops still attached so it was highly probable that is what it was.

We figured that she must have absolutely gorged herself hence why she was in this condition. Kel massaged, burped and farted her for hours and hours. She pooed regularly, letting it all out and by the evening she had started to improve. She slept well and the next morning she had a big drink. Except that she was wheezing. Did she have pneumonia? Kel’s mum felt her throat and found a lump. Then she blew up like a balloon again and was worse than the day before. We realised then that maybe she hadn’t been suffering from just bloat. She had something stuck in her throat and she was wheezing and sucking in air because she couldn’t breathe properly. We rang the vet however because it was the weekend they only have an on call emergency vet. And he didn’t answer his phone. We left a message and tried again. Still no luck. By this time Kel was trying everything he could think of however she soon died in his arms having choked to death.

It breaks our heart that she left this world that way however we know she had a happy life in the time that she lived – no concrete floors or cages here.

Dead RuntGoodbye little piggy

Chick Recap: Take 3

If you haven’t read our chick updates, I advise that you read Chick Recap: Take 1 and Chick Recap: Take 2 before reading this post.

As we recapped in Chick Recap: Take 2, chicks that were big enough to leave the fibreglass brooder had the steel brooder to sleep in at night and a grassed area to eat and run around in during the day. However one day when I counted them as usual, two were missing. I had a look around the yard and much to my horror, i found two piles of feathers and some intestines. I ran in to tell Kel and he came out to investigate. He thinks it was a Kookaburra as there was a feather from one lying next to the remains. We think it may have happened early in the morning as the chicks can just exit the brooder into the yard when they wake up and that morning Solomon (our Blue Heeler) happened to have slept the whole night inside so consequently wasn’t in his kennel, which is right next to the chick’s yard to protect them.

It was a sad day for us and even though we already had lost a few chicks due to various different things, it was a cruel reminder of how defenceless they are out in the open. Having them completely free range wasn’t an option anymore until they were big enough not be picked off by birds of prey. We didn’t want to keep them locked up either and netting the entire area would be expensive and annoying when checking water and feed etc.

After abandoning the wired tunnel, it had promptly sat in the garden not being used. At this point it was crying, ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ so we decided to put all the chicks in there. However instead of letting them out each day like we had done before when we were using the wired tunnel, instead we would just move it around onto fresh grass each day. The chicks were still able to run around, feel the sun and eat fresh grass at the same time as being protected from flying predators. Also by this time it was Summer so only the very young chicks were in need of a heat source so it was okay that the older chicks were now without one.

This also meant that the steel brooder was now out of action. So we decided that instead of having the younger chicks in the fibreglass brooder, which was in the shed on the other side of our backyard, we would move all of the chicks into the steel brooder. The newborn box still remained in the shed.

At our house almost nothing goes to waste so even though the fibreglass showers were no longer being used as brooders, Kel re-purposed them. I’ll let him post about that 😉

Chick Recap: Take 2

If you haven’t read our chick updates, I advise that you read Chick Recap: Take 1 before reading this post.

Even with our three step brooder system we found that the chicks weren’t going onto pasture quick enough for our liking. They were getting bigger and more active yet they were still in need of a heating source, more so at night than during the day.

We decided to abandon the wired tunnel and swap the brooders – the steel brooder would be for the older chicks and the fibreglass brooder would be for the younger chicks. We then moved the steel brooder outside into the fenced area where we had been moving the wired tunnel around. Kel cut a small flap out of the steel brooder and attached a ramp for the chicks to enter and exit. He ran a heavy duty extension cord to the steel brooder for the heat mats and Voila! Obviously the chicks had to get used to entering and exiting the brooder via the ramp – they quickly learnt how to exit but not so much enter, so at dusk we had to go out and round them up the ramp until they had the hang of it.

We were also finding that the newborns needed a few days by themselves before they were ready to join the fray. We obviously weren’t putting them with large chicks however chicks who are newborn compared to chicks who are a week old aren’t that much difference in size however the week old chicks are a lot more active and sure of themselves. Placing newborns with one and two week olds found them scared, sometimes trampled and quite overwhelmed. Giving them a few extra days to get used to the world in a safe environment made a huge difference and when placing them with the rest they quickly adapted and were able to join the group without too much fuss.

The newborn box consisted of a large plastic tub with a thick layer of wood shavings on the bottom and a heat mat buried in it, and a thick foam lid with a heat mat attached to the underside of it. Then there was a small gap at the front for air circulation and where the water and feed was placed and easily accessible for us to refill. Fancy, huh? In the long run, this was just a temporary solution – Kel was going to build a proper box for them.

We were much happier with this setup as it meant that the chicks were going out to pasture a lot quicker than before and they could satisfy their natural behaviours of scratching and pecking the ground.

Piglet Update!

As promised here is an update on our ten little piglets (And Miss Piggy). They are now 18 days old (yikes!).

Piglets 03

Piglets 08

Piglets 07

Piglets 06

Piglets 04

As you can see, they have grown however are still very small and cute.

Piglets 05Watching this made me cringe majorly as i was imagining having to breastfeed ten babies!!!

The paddock has been shredded quite a bit, which is to be expected because Miss Piggy has been in there for around three weeks now! Usually the pigs get moved into a new paddock each week however Miss Piggy and her piglets will stay in the one paddock while they are small and she is still feeding. Also this is the only paddock that not only has electric fencing however mesh fencing as well. This is to keep the piglets in and to train them with the electric fencing. When we get back from Europe they will be ready to move into electric fencing only paddocks, which will be moved each week onto fresh pasture.

Here is a video so you can see them exploring with their Mum. They are so funny!

 

Cute, Little Piglets – Need I Say More?

As promised here are the photos of our piglets!!!

Piglets 00Having a suckle

Piglets 01Move over!

Piglets 02This is my favourite photo. Miss Piggy has her head buried in the straw – too funny

Miss Piggy gave birth to eleven piglets in total. Sadly one was not alive when we arrived – it looks as though it may have died from being squashed. Unfortunately this is the reality of raising pigs. She squashed a couple more while we were there however luckily we were able to rescue them. They seem to have recovered okay however it was awful at the time! We think we may have arrived almost straight after she had given birth so she was still getting her head around things (understandably – can you imagine the first time you gave birth, that it was to eleven babies?). She has since really settled into being a mother and is a lot more careful (although Kel said she trod on one of the piglets feet and it squealed no end!)

So there you have it. We’ll be sure to post regular updates as they grow so fast!

If you’re not up to date and you’re wondering how all of a sudden we had piglets, be sure to read And Then There Was A Bun In The Oven…Well More Than One Actually

And Then There Was A Bun In The Oven…Well More Than One Actually

So Miss Piggy is pregnant. And she is ready to pop. And we didn’t realise. And we’re going to Europe in a month. Yep.

The thing is she’s been appearing to come into season every three weeks. It’s only when her middle started dropping and her teats started developing that Kel was like hang on a sec…I was adamant that she couldn’t be. After all. They’ve been separated since the end of May when we knew we were going to Europe in September/October (immaculate conception anyone?). She must have fallen pregnant before they were separated. Yet like clockwork she came into season three weeks later. Well appeared to.

Kel rang the bloke we bought them off to come and have a look to make sure. And he was like yep, she’s ready to pop. Probably a week or two.

That was a week ago.

So we are expecting piglets. Soon.

We’re really excited!

So much for sharing the pregnancy journey though!

Miss Piggy Pregnant 00That’s one pregnant pig

Miss Piggy Pregnant 01Check out those teats!

UPDATE: I wrote this post in the morning and she had piglets this evening!!! Will post again tomorrow with photos.

Château de Chicken

One of the goals for our farming venture was to build up a small flock of laying hens to supply eggs to our shop. We currently buy eggs in and although they are of fairly good quality and free range, they come from Sydney, which is 6 hours away. Also we all know that free range according to large scale egg producers is not the same as free range according to small holders, who really just want the best possible life for their animals.

The first thing we needed was a chicken coop. After browsing online i came across a few that were exactly what we needed. Unfortunately with a space ship like design and features which included a hand crank conveyer belt egg collection system and light activated nesting box gates, the price tag being of many thousands of dollars, was well out of our reach. However taking a few basic design elements from it, i was fairly confident that i could make a low tech version out of recycled parts.

I started with an old farm trailer (which i was able to swap for the promise of a few chickens once they were ready for the plate).

IMG_1329

IMG_1330

After stripping it i increased the floor space of the trailer by bolting a large steel roof rack cargo carrier to the old frame.

IMG_1333

I attached two pieces of scaffolding frame to either end then using some scrap timber and corrugated iron sheets, i finished the frame and then put a roof and one side on. I still needed a ramp and a set of nesting boxes so i hit up a few of our local tips and found an old laundry cupboard that when turned on its side was a set of five nesting boxes. We then filled the nesting boxes with easy to clean Astro turf, this is instead of constantly having to replace straw or other similar nesting material. I also found another steel roof rack cargo carrier – this one being much lighter and perfect for a ramp. I went home and mounted what i had found and then enclosed the whole thing in chicken wire. And Voila! Mobile chicken coop. Obviously there were quite a few frustrating moments when things that were not made to fit together didn’t and therefore needed some alteration but that’s half the fun of using recycled materials – it’s like a giant 3D puzzle.

IMG_1864Corrugated roof and side plus ramp

IMG_1865Ramp and nesting boxes

IMG_1869Inside view of the nesting boxes and perches

IMG_1873Open nesting boxes

IMG_1874Astro turf in nesting box