Twiggy Switches Flocks

Twiggy is a classic White Leghorn. She’s energetic and restless, and she lays eggs day in and day out. Her huge floppy comb is like a bulls eye for the other hens – when she gets too close, they peck at it, but she’s been too fast and wary to get caught.

That changed recently. I noticed that she was keeping apart from the flock.

Twiggy

 

There’s always chasing and resource guarding in a group of hens. That’s the pecking order. What shouldn’t happen is aggressive behavior that causes injury. Twiggy has fit in fine for three years. Last week that all changed. Both Black Star hens, Beulah and Nancy Drew, went after her. I’d seen the skittering around and thought it would settle down. It didn’t. A couple of days into this heightened banning of Twiggy from their space, they went after her. The Black Stars pinned Twiggy to the ground and pecked at her comb. They meant to kill. Luckily for Twiggy, I was outside, saw this happen, and intervened.

Behavior never “happens out of the blue.” There’s always an antecedent and a trigger, however in this case I had no idea of what it was. Twiggy looked the same to me, but chickens see tiny details that I can’t. I isolated Twiggy in this rabbit hutch, in the Big Barn, both to keep her safe and to observe her.

in crate

 

Her manure alternated between runny and normal, which might have been due to stress and heat, or could indicate and underlying issue. She did lay an egg, which let me know that some of her systems were still working properly. However, she hasn’t laid an egg in several days since then. I’m hopeful that Twiggy is finally going into a molt and will take a break from laying. Maybe that’s what the Ladies noticed different about her.

egg

 

For two days, Twiggy slept in the hutch and spent the days in the goat paddock. I monitored her input and outputs. All looked normal enough. Whatever the Black Stars Death Stars noticed about Twiggy, I couldn’t see it. Perhaps the Gems In the Big Barn wouldn’t either.

I let the Gems out on the lawn, and put Twiggy into their enclosure to explore and learn where the food, water and roosts are. This is the procedure that I use whenever I introduce a new hen to a flock (see my FAQ.)

in pen

 

Then out Twiggy went to free-range with the Gems. Most of the hens ignored Twiggy. Amber stayed companionably nearby. This was good!

on lawn

 

As I had expected, the only hen to object to Twiggy’s presence was Misty, who was sent to live with the Gems last year when she proved too aggressive to live peacefully with the Ladies (the flock in the Little Barn.)

MIsty objecting

 

But, Misty chased, she didn’t jump on Twiggy’s back and pummel her like the Black Stars had. I thought that it would settle out, and it has. There are two areas of outside roosts, and Twiggy has used both of them. Soon enough, the other hens were up there with her.

twiggy_big_barn

 

Also, the compost bin is circular, so when a hen chases after another they go around and around but can’t catch each other. Twiggy did some laps around that bin, but within a day, she was also inside of it, scratching the ground with her new flock.

twiggy_compost

 

Not everything is perfect. That big red comb of Twiggy’s is like a red flag to a bull, and it’s easy to grab with an outstretched beak. It was bloody this morning. Someone, likely Misty, had gotten a chunk of it. But by the time I saw it, Twiggy was acting normally and the hens were spread out. No one seemed perturbed. It’s better for Twiggy to be out with a flock than confined, alone. Twiggy has joined the Gems.

Orchard Pest Control

Peaches are my favorite fruit. Possibly my favorite food. But they’re only good when they are ripe from the tree. If you’ve never had a homegrown peach, soft to the touch, so juicy that you have to eat it over the sink, it will be a revelation to you. About ten years ago I planted one peach tree, a Red Haven, which I chose because it is a free-stone (meaning the flesh comes away from the pit, making it easy to cut the fruit up for pies.) I also like that it is yellow on the inside, not white, which I like best.

Fruit trees are notoriously difficult to maintain. They require yearly pruning. Mice girdle the trunks. Pests eat the sap and worms destroy the fruit. Some years, due to a ill-timed frost, there is no fruit. My lone tree has had all of these issues. Most orchards rely heavily on chemicals. I use none. Three years ago, the peaches were so wormy that I gave all of them to the chickens. The next year the tree was bare. Last year, the peaches were small and hard, and most soft bits were claimed by worms.

I read up on the life-cycle of the plum curculio, the insect that causes the most damage to the fruit. The adults are beetles that overwinter in the soil under the tree. In the summer, eggs are laid in the fruit and then the developing larvae return to the ground via dropped peaches.

I have chickens that eat both beetles and larvae, and they love digging around in dirt. I put the girls to work. Last fall, I enticed the Gems over to the peach tree with some cracked corn. They soon found the other good things (the bugs!) under the soil.

This summer, the blossoms on the tree held, the sun shone, the rain was just right, and the peach tree filled with fruit, so much so that the weighed-down branches touch the ground.

peach tree

 

Not only are the peaches large and juicy – they are worm-free!

perfect peaches

 

I’ve been harvesting buckets. There are imperfections. I don’t mind. These peaches are astoundingly delicious.

bucket of peaches

 

They’re ripening at different rates, so each day I go out and collect some more.

peaches in colander

 

I’m looking forward to pies this winter! I’ve been quartering the fruit, putting it on sheet pans, and freezing it solid. Then, the fruit is bagged using a

. It’s such an easy way to put aside the harvest for later.

cut peaches

 

I haven’t seen them yet, but I’m sure that the plum curculios are trying to return. Who could resist such peaches? And so I have brought back my orchard staff.

Amber is on the job.

Amber working

 

(The sticky tape on the peach tree trunk prevents crawling insects from reaching the fruit. It’s surprisingly effective.)

Note: I planted this tree before I got goats. It was a test to see if the property was well-situated for fruit trees. It is, but, I haven’t gotten more trees because stone fruit trees (including cherries and plums) are a danger to Pip and Caper. During that brief few weeks in the fall when the leaves wilt, the greenery is toxic to goats. Fresh leaves are fine. Dried leaves are fine. They can eat the fruit. The toxicity happens in the fall as the leaves die. Every year I give the tree a pruning so that the goats, from their pen, can’t reach any of the leaves. This year it’s getting cut back by a third. In the fall, we rake and rake. I can keep the goat boys safe from this one tree, and the fruit is worth it, but I’m not going to put more stone fruit trees on the property.

Slow Cooker Tomato Sauce

It’s a sweltering day. The last thing that I want to do is to work in a hot kitchen over a steaming pot. But my tomatoes can’t wait.

DSC_9117

Fresh tomatoes don’t store well. If put into the refrigerator they turn mealy and their flavor deteriorates. Right now I have a bag of garlic grown by a neighbor, oregano and basil bursting from pots, and a six sturdy tomato plants that are all producing record numbers of healthy fruit. I have to make sauce. Thank goodness for my slow cooker

Prep for this tomato sauce is super easy. All I have to do is cut off the cores and bad bits from the tomatoes (which I feed to the chickens, of course) and put the big pieces of tomato (or even simply whole, cored, tomatoes) into the slow cooker. (Crockpot is a trade name. Like “kleenex” and “tissues” the terms are interchangeable for all but the manufacturers.) I have two slow cookers. Neither are fancy. As long as it keeps the sauce simmering at a low temp, it’s the right appliance.

I add a bulb of garlic, peeled, and skinned and halved onions (also a gift from my neighbor, who happily went off to his vacation home with a carton of eggs.) I snip several branches of oregano and basil. If I have it, I’ll use parsley, too (but this year, the goats got to eat all of it as part of the frothy bloat remedy, which made it well worth not having parsley for the sauce!) I add a splash of olive oil and a good amount of coarse salt. Because I use a mixture of tomatoes, some of which are quite juicy, no additional liquid is required. In fact, if you want a thick sauce, use a good proportion of paste tomatoes. Otherwise, you might want to drain off some of the naturally occurring tomato water before the last step of milling.

in pot

 

The slow cooker then gets covered and ignored.

After six or more hours the tomatoes will have turned to a soft mush and it will all be simmering along nicely.

simmered tomatoes

 

Turn off the pot and let it cool down so that you can work with it – and so that you don’t have to stand over steam – that’s the whole point of this method!

Note that I don’t worry about stems, peels or seeds. That’s because the next step uses a food mill. This tool pushes the sauce through a  sieve. (Once again, those inedible bits go to the chickens.)

After twenty years of using the same awkward and difficult to clean food mill, I bought a new one. What a difference! The right tool does matter.

food mill

 

This is the end product.

tomato sauce

 

I ladled it into plastic containers, and put those into the freezer. This winter, my pizza will taste like summer.

Horse Behavior Sleuth

Longtime readers of my blog know that I believe that the foundation of good care for one’s flock is to know them, and you do this by observation. It’s true of horses, too. Before the training, before the riding, you need to know each other.

I have two clients, a married couple, who each own a Lusitano gelding. One is a skilled rider, the other is a novice; both are realistic about their limited experience in horse care. They’re also extremely busy professionals. I was called in to find them a better boarding situation, and then to do a baseline observation of their horses’ behavior and body conditions. I keep tabs on the horses’ progress. When the owners travel, I do well horse checkups and pamper the horses with grooming sessions and walks.

This is what “G” (name initialized to protect his privacy) was like when we first met. He has a lovely intelligent eye.

G

 

“S” has a more wary and nervous temperament. He’s also an elderly horse, who has been used hard in his past. This photo captures what he was like when I first met him.

s

 

I put S on a tummy-settling supplement and a protein additive for his feed. I bathed him and stood quietly with him. I doctored some mysterious sores on the outsides of his legs.

bloody fetlock

 

The wounds weren’t a one-time occurrence. He continued to open up the scabs and get new ones. How was he injuring himself? I had to do some sleuthing, which, of course, involved quiet observation.

Half of the day, the horses are in dirt paddocks. The other half they are turned out into grassy fields. I walked through both areas. There was nothing dangerous in them. The area that S likes to dust bathe in is sand, and there aren’t any obvious rocks to rub him raw.

These sores appeared in mid-summer when the grass inside of the fence was eaten down so far that there was nothing left to nibble. But, on the outside was glorious, tall green growth. The fence line’s bottom rails of S’s enclosures were rather high in places. High enough for a determined horse to reach under.

G, in the lefthand paddock couldn’t reach the grass. You can see how high it is by his fence. But S has those high rails, and he’s willing to get down. He was doing the limbo, and in the process was rubbing himself raw. No matter that both horses have slow feed hay boxes, S wanted that grass!

over under

 

I’m 99% sure that this is how S got those sores. I didn’t catch him in the act, although I did see him in a stretch that looked like a bow. Look at how far over the grass is eaten down. There’s no way that he can reach that by just stretching his neck. In pushing himself back up, he would have rubbed the outsides of his legs. The horse that alternates turnout in these paddocks also has sores in exactly the same places, though not quite as raw. S has very sensitive skin.

head under

 

I talked to the farm manager about this. The fence line has been mowed. The sores are healing.

S and I have gotten to know each other. Look at his expression now.

S head shot

 

If you need horse behavior sleuthing, email me. I’m also available to do well horse checks, and grooming sessions for bonding and health. (I’m based 30 miles west of Boston, MA) Contact me, too, if you’d like to learn how to handle and groom your horse so that she gives you that soft, welcoming eye. There’s nothing like having a gleaming, healthy horse give you that look.

Ice Water for Chickens

The weather forecasters are predicting that this will be the hottest week of the year.

Even Twiggy, my White Leghorn, is panting.

twiggy

 

(She’s also desperately in need of going into the molt and replacing those worn out feathers.)

Excessive heat causes stress in the flock. It can kill. Your hens will seek relief in the shade. Mine get low in soft, damp, cool soil. Shade helps, but it’s also essential that they drink. They won’t if their waterer is across the sweltering pen in the stifling coop. If the waterer is outside, but is in a metal dispenser set out in the sun, it can be near-boiling hot. They won’t drink that either.

I prefer the

 for their ease in filling, large capacity and sturdy construction. But, when the heat gets excessive, I pull out inexpensive plastic waterers. They’ll need a cleaning after a year in storage.

waterers

 

 

I fill them halfway with water, then put into the freezer for a day.

in freezer

 

Then I take them out and top off with cool water. I set them on a raised platform (bricks work well – anything to keep them up off the dirt to keep the water clean.) I find a place in the shade for them.

ice water

 

You can see here how the hens choose the ice-cold water over what’s in the metal dispenser. That metal waterer, however, is far preferred to the one in the coop. It’s all relative.

Of course, at some point the ice will melt and the water will warm. That’s okay. At least you’ll be reassured that they’ve been hydrated.

I have more tips on how to care of your flock of hens in the heat in this FAQ.

Pip Update:

He’s fine! Once I let my veterinarian know that the toxins didn’t get him, she had a plan for encouraging him to eat with a yogurt drench, but it wasn’t necessary. By the next morning, Pip was eating with his usual gusto and walking about with a serene I’m no trouble at all smile on his face.

Pip

 

By the way, I forgot to mention one thing in the report of how I handled frothy bloat. Here’s a bit of advice: When your goat is vomiting and you think that he might be choking, do NOT put your fingers in his mouth to pull out the green masses. Goat teeth are sharp and jagged and the wound you’ll get from being serrated by them will not be pretty  I now have a scar on my index finger to illustrate what not to do.