Archive for Livestock

Natural Eggs

A woman called me the other day. She told me that her husband only wanted them to eat “natural” eggs, so she would like to buy some from me, since she heard that I had free-range chickens. “You don’t confine them to layer houses, do you?” she asked suspiciously.

“No, no I don’t. Layer houses can cost millions to put in. Many of our hens are free range. Those are either bantam crosses or too old to keep as layers and I don’t particularly want to eat them. Our layers are confined to pastured pens so that they aren’t consumed by foxes, possums, coyotes, raccoons, and all the other predators that like a chicken dinner.”

“Do they get organic feed?”

“Well, partly. They eat weeds which are unfertilized except by manure. They eat bugs which are organic, I suppose. They get scratch feed and oyster shells. The grain is not organic.”

“Are the eggs high in Omega 3 fatty acids?”

“I have no idea.”

“Very well. I’ll try three dozen.”

“Ma’am, my hens are not in a climate-controlled henhouse.”

“Yes, I know. That’s what we want.”

“They do not get artificial lighting.

“Yes, we like sustainable operations.”

“Hens do not like to lay eggs when the days are short, cloudy, and cold.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means I won’t have eggs for sale until the days are longer and warmer.”

“When will that be?”

“Spring.” Because that is when you get natural eggs.

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Farm Fun

There were seven kids here yesterday, aged almost 12 to 2, running about like little feral children raised by wolves. Some of them amused themselves by chasing the sheep until I told them that from now on, all sheep chasers would be required to don heavy winter jackets, hats, and gloves so that they would know how the sheep felt having to run around in their wool jackets in the summer heat. Surprisingly, there were no takers.

I know, I’m a party pooper.

They watched a duck egg hatch right in front of them. They threw some old eggs against trees that I gave them for that purpose.

Then the kids discovered the (currently) unused rusty hay ring and noted its resemblance to a hamster wheel. For those of you who do not know what a hay ring is, it looks similar to this one here, only ours is not all pretty and shiny and painted. They turned it on end, and with kids pushing on one side and pulling on the other, kid or kids took turns riding up one side, hanging from the middle, and climbing down the other as it rolled. Six-year-old Dylan was especially athletic, pulling himself from bar to bar 8 feet in the air while the ring was rolling as calmly as if he were traversing the monkey bars on the playground.

Naturally, my thoughts immediately turned to broken legs and arms. I was tempted to put a stop to this at once before somebody got killed, but they were having so much fun. “Maybe that’s what’s wrong with us today”, I thought. “Maybe we, as adults, are obsessed with taking the risks and danger out of too many things for children, which, after all, is part of the fun.” I remembered my childhood of climbing high in trees and swinging from vines while doing the Tarzan yell. The vines usually held almost long enough for us to safely reach the ground. We counted that as a success.

Well, the kids were all strong and compassionate (in the sense that they wouldn’t purposely do anything mean to cause somebody to fall and get hurt) so I just bit my tongue really, really hard and watched. My son, who used to rappel off the barn roof, went over to help them roll it and kept a close eye on them. His daughter, granddaughter #1, was on there, of course.

Nobody fell off and all the kids did something that was dangerous quite successfully. They had fun, gained new skills, and I have some new gray hair and a sore jaw from clenching my mouth shut.

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Lamb Journey From Quadriplegic to Quadriped

As some of you may recall, I had a lamb that became very ill on July 16. He ran a high fever and had almost constant seizures. I would put green food (such as one grape leaf) into his mouth. He would mechanically chew, swallow, and immediately have another seizure. I had to hold his head and dip his muzzle into water for him to drink. Sometimes he was able to take one or two sips before seizing. Sometimes he couldn’t manage even that. I administered high doses of antibiotics in case this was a bacterial infection. When there was no change in 24 hours, I administered high doses of two different kinds of anthelmintics in case there were parasites migrating through the spine (such as deer worm). I spoonfed him yogurt. I placed various yummy plants and leaves that sheep like in his mouth. I gave him probiotics and minerals. He got syrup or molasses in his water.

“Well, why didn’t you just call a vet?” you are probably wondering. Well, there really aren’t a lot of vets with sheep experience around here. There aren’t many vets that make farm calls, either, and they’re really busy. The last time I called a vet with a farm animal emergency, I was called back three days later to let me know they could be here in two days. Unfortunately, the animal that I called about had already expired. When it comes to veterinary medicine, we farm folk are often on our own.

Three weeks ago, he was able to hold up his head to eat for the first time since he became ill. He was unable to stand unassisted.

Two weeks ago, we started “standing” which means I would stand him up, and he would be able to hold himself for about 20 seconds before his legs would crumple. The legs on the left side, particularly the left foreleg, wanted to curl under and not bear any weight. I stopped bringing him forage, and he had to graze for *most* of his feed (I still picked his favorite leaves for overnight). I would pick him up, he would stand for 20 seconds and collapse. I would pick him up again. At first, I grabbed him by his wool and eased him gently to the ground, but I snapped a finger that way. When I snapped another one, I decided that he was just going to have to hit the ground. After impacting the ground a few times, he made more of an effort to stand. I also corrected his stance frequently (separated his legs so that he would have a wider than usual stance which gave him more stability). By the end of the week, he was standing for five minutes at a time to graze and, indeed, refused to eat unless he was standing.

That all sounds pretty good in theory. In practice, what this meant was that I was pretty much confined outside most of the day except when I came inside to start a load of laundry, bring in a basket of laundry, and to check the internet (grin). I would stand the lamb up, turn to walk away to feed the chickens, and WHOMP! “Baaaaaaaa”. Turn around, walk back, stand up sheep, correct his leg placement, fill up a bucket with chicken feed and WHOMP! “Baaaaaaa”. Turn around, stand up sheep, correct leg placement, and WHOMP! “Baaaaaaaaa.”

My neighbor walked up to the gate while I was out with recovering sheep last weekend, and said “Sweet baby Jesus, what IS that thang?” I could understand her confusion. Instead of the usual fluffy, well-rounded sheep, there was this mutant skeletal thing lying there quietly chewing his cud after another fall. The high fever and lack of eating had made a weak place in the wool, and it was sloughing off by the handfuls, leaving his neck, shoulders and part of his back bare (where I grabbed him to try to save him from falls) while other areas were still wooled. His spinal bones were evident. He had prominent hips. His head still bobs a bit. I would shear the rest of the wool off but, frankly, he needs the padding for the falls.

“Oh, that’s one of my lambs. He’s recovering from an encephalitis-like illness.”

“Well, is he ever going to get better?”

“Oh, he’s well on his way to recovery. He is 100% better than he was just last week!”

She was quite skeptical. “The only way that thing could have been worse is if it were dead!” she stated.

This week, too, I have been completely tied to the house. I have been trying to teach the sheep how to walk again. “But Swampie!” you may say. “Aren’t sheep BORN knowing how to talk?” Yes, yes, they are! Unfortunately, he’s had neurological/spinal cord damage, and I’m not sure why things aren’t working, just that they aren’t. At the beginning of the week, this is how I took him out to graze: I’d pick up and move the strong right foreleg one step, then the weak left hind leg, then the weak left foreleg, then the strong right hind leg. To move great distances, though, I was still putting him on a tarp and dragging him.

At the end of the seventh week since he became ill, he is able to stand and graze for 15 minutes to an hour at a time before falling. He cannot get to his feet by himself due to the weak left side, but I’m hoping that improves by the end of next week. When I pick up and move forward his weak left foreleg, he now moves the rest of his feet by himself. That left foreleg still gives him problems and buckles occasionally, tumbling him to the ground. He can take one, sometimes two steps with it before losing his balance. I bought a dog harness for him so that I could support him when we have to walk long distances or hurry. He does well with it. Couldn’t use it before because he just wasn’t strong enough.

Next week will probably be more of the same. Now that he’s kinda sorta ambulatory, he’s in even more danger than he was previously. For example, one day this week I left him in the shade to go inside to get dinner started. I went back outside to find him lying in the sun panting frantically with his tongue hanging out. Yikes! Great time to take a few steps out into the sun and fall down. I didn’t put all that work into him just to have him succumb to heat stroke! I quickly moved him back into the shade and brought water (which I can’t leave within his reach lest he fall into it and drown). He has also fallen over onto a fire ant bed. THAT was fun. We’ve been practicing getting up all this week, but he’ll have to put on more weight/muscle first, I fear.

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Quadriplegic Sheep is Now a Hemiplegic.

Quadriplegic ram lamb is now more of a hemiplegic ram lamb. His right side is much, much weaker than the left. His front legs are much weaker than the back. His physical therapy involves “walking” from place to place now. I get him up in the morning and, with my hands in his wool over his shoulders and hips, hold him steadyish as he “walks”. His walk is more of a drunken-appearing stumble with frequent falls and face plants if I didn’t have his back (literally). He has only been capable of moving his legs in a synchronized walking motion, no matter how weak the legs, for the first time today. Prior to today, the legs moved randomly in kicking motions with one front leg ominously not moving at all.

He spent several hours foraging his own food today (from his chest-lying position), something he hasn’t done since before he got sick. He would lay passively flopped over until today and wait for me to bring him something, stuff it in his mouth, and prop him back up. Today, he ate grass with his side supported by a log instead of holding out for the choicest honeysuckle vines, grape leaves, pecan leaves, and the leaves of all my other trees and plants that I normally gather for him. Thank goodness! He will baaaaa at me when he’s out of food within neck stretch and I need to move him to a new location. (Yes, I am aware that I have been trained by a sheep. Sad, isn’t it?) His twin usually grazes pretty close to where he’s lying.

His physical therapy plan includes time spent suspended in the sling with his food placed on his weak side so that he MUST put weight on the weak legs in order to hold himself up so that he can eat. The food has to be something he really likes or he’ll just sag in the sling, refuse to stand, and give me evil looks. I’ve reintroduced pellets (alfalfa) to his diet in the last two weeks, a scant handful in the morning for a week, and this week I’ve added an afternoon feeding when he showed no ill effects. He has been eagerly licking the sheep mineral that was sprinkled on his leaves. I probably need to taper that now.

Since his forage intake has gone up, he’s taking in less water. He’s drinking @ a quart to a quart and a half a day as opposed to his previous two quarts plus. He’s urinating well (on my SHOE today) and his manure is shiny and well formed, not dull, dry, and hard.

Goodness, just writing this is boring me to sleep. I might have to sell it on Kindle as a soporific. The purpose in writing this isn’t to bore the normal reader to tears; it is more of a journal to the sheep folk out there who may be contemplating saving their deer-worm afflicted sheep with varying neurologic symptoms. Run away, run away if you have full-time employment off the farm! You will be putting more anthelminthic into the critter than you would receive from selling him or her if/when it recovers. You will be putting hours and hours into its recovery and, even if you value your hours at minimum wage, well, the value of your hours are going to exceed the value of your sheep within a week unless it’s a multi-thousand-dollar show animal. The older the sheep, probably the more difficult the recovery.

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Quadriplegic Lamb

A few weeks ago, one of my ram lambs didn’t “look” right. He ignored his feed, a sure sign that something was wrong. I didn’t know what the problem was. By morning, the lamb was down. He was seizing almost continuously, and appeared to have a high fever. Well, crap.

There were a lot of different things that could be causing this. He could have pneumonia. He could have blue tongue virus. I gave him a high dose of antibiotics in case he had pneumonia. Twenty four hours later, no response. Damn. On to the next plan. Could be blue tongue virus, but the neurologic symptoms were really troubling. Sheesh. He was unaware as far as I could tell. I put tender green forage into his mouth. He would mechanically chew a bite or two, swallow, and seize again. I could only get him to drink a mouthful of water at at time. It was too hot for not taking in any water. Research showed that one of the differential diagnoses was rabies. Well, then. Nothing I could do for that. Another potential diagnosis was deer worms migrating through the spine. A sheep will eat a snail infected with deer worms. Sheep are not the host for these parasites, and they migrate into the spine, causing great damage if massive doses of two different kinds of wormer aren’t given immediately and, even then, it may not work.

So, I gave massive doses of two kinds of wormer for several days. The temperature and seizures seemed to go down but he could not eat. He could barely drink. He was semiconscious at best. For another two weeks I fed him one mouthful of tender green weeds and leaves at a time. I held up his head several times a day so that he could take a sip of water at a time. I put him in a sling, as often as I could, so that he was in an anatomically correct position. I changed his position as often as I could. His integumentary system was starting to break down from urine and pressure, and he started getting pressure sores. I put him in a sling more often. He started getting some control of his neck and could hold his neck up for a few seconds at a time. His legs don’t work together. A front leg doesn’t move at all.

This week, he got his appetite back. He’s wasted away to about half his previous weight, and is eating constantly. I’m putting feed far enough away that he has to s-t-r-e-t-c-h waaaaaay out to reach it. He can hold himself up better, but still requires propping on one side. I picked him up today, steadied him by the wool on his back, and he stood on his legs by himself for about ten seconds before collapsing.

So, he’s getting slowly better. But he may never get any better than this. He may still die of pneumonia, he may choke on his cud, or I may accidentally put him in shade that turns into sun and he suffers a heatstroke. He may drown in a sudden rainstorm.

If you have a sheep with those type of symptoms, I’d think long and hard about the value of the sheep before you try to save it.

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Rooster Surgery

I heard over the radio this afternoon about the new education bill that was signed by Governor Scott. I was folding laundry at the time and, interested in what sort of bill had been signed and what it might mean for SwampMan, I decided to look it up.

I was sitting at the computer when BAM! The door flew open and hit the bookcase. I jumped in alarm. SwampMan was standing in the doorway breathing heavily. “Tell me”, he said, enunciating very clearly, “that that is not YOUR blood all over the porch!”

Hunh. I thought I’d gotten it all cleaned up.

“Oh, uh, no. Not all of it! Just some of it!” I said cheerfully.

“What. Happened?” said SwampMan through his teeth, voice still carefully modulated and controlled.

“Just a rooster with string wrapped around his leg!”

“Okay then.” SwampMan relaxed and came into the house and sat down. “So you’re not hurt?”

“Nah. I just sliced my thumb when the dang rooster started flapping and squawking when I was trying to cut the string off his leg. That string was cutting pretty deeply into his leg, and his leg started bleeding, too. We were dripping blood everywhere.”

The feed bags are sewn shut with string through a paper tab. The string will unravel, opening the feed bag, if pulled at just the right place. After putting the feed in the cans, I toss the string inside the bag and put the bags in a large open garbage can. When it gets full, I burn the bags or take ’em off the landfill, depending on whether we’re under a burn ban or not. In the meantime, the roosters will jump into the garbage can looking for stray pieces of grain. They’ll knock over the can and scratch the bags around. Somehow they’ll get the string wrapped around their legs. If I can’t catch them to get it off in time, they’ll lose a leg.

This morning I noted a lil’ banty rooster and a standard rooster limping with string wrapped around their legs. The lil’ bantam was worst off, so I decided to catch him first. I grabbed a net and set off in hot pursuit.

Do you know how embarrassing it is when a lil’ rooster using only one leg can outrun you? Yeah, pretty damn embarrassing. He circled the side yard several times and just as I was about to net him each time, he put on a sudden burst of speed and evaded the net. We had a big rainstorm last night, and I was slipping and sliding through slick spots. I hit one particularly bad spot and was sliding through the mud on one leg, the other leg in the air, arms and net windmilling, while screaming “EEeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” I think that rooster was trying to kill me because he led me through that same spot THREE TIMES and each time I nearly fell. After about 37 times around the yard, he was getting mighty droopy, just barely staying ahead. I put on a burst of speed and netted him.

He commenced to flapping and squawking, and I put his feet against my thigh to hold him steady while I worked. Ooops. Forgot about the spurs. That’s where the streaks of blood on my pants came from. Then I had his body under my arm while I worked on his leg. He jerked real hard when I cut part of the string in his wound. That’s where the cut on the thumb came from (grin). I finally got it all loose. His leg bled pretty severely, too. Whether his leg will recover or not I couldn’t say, but he seemed to be using it while roosting tonight.

I’ll have to try to catch the other rooster tomorrow. Maybe I better buy more Band-Aids first.

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And Then There Were Ten

A duck built a nest on top of the aluminum cover that extends over one of the porches. (So, you might ask, how many porches do you have? Several. This is Florida.) This particular aluminum cover, which SwampMan has been grousing about tearing out since we’ve lived here, is flat. Yep, it is adjacent to the flat roof room addition whose roof my brother and I have attempted to repair with some degree of success. Several generations of ducks and one chicken have decided, for various reasons, that hatching their brood out on a roof was a very nice idea. I think it’s a gawddamn poor idea, but you know who listens to me! Yeah, nobody.

When my brother and I were up on the roof, we often startled the poor mother duck as we walked past. We couldn’t see her nestled beneath the roof overhang on the patio cover but she could hear us, and we must have sounded awfully menacing. We’d be walking to fetch tools, plywood, nails, beer for my brother, sweet tea for me, unplug the saw, plug in the blower, unplug the blower, plug in the radio for heavy metal music to hammer by, etc. and she would explode off the nest in a sudden startling “WHOOSH!” leaving little downy feather bits drifting down on us. It happened several times per hour. I did not think that any of those eggs had the slightest chance of hatching, but I was wrong.

About two weeks ago, I could hear frantic peeping coming from somewhere outside. I went out to locate the disturbance and found the momma duck on the ground with two ducklings sheltered underneath her, and a nearby duckling whose head had been bitten off and presumably eaten for it (the head) was nowhere near the scene. I do not believe it would have wandered away on its own. Ewwwww. What a horrifying sight for the new hatchlings! Puppy, who patrols all night and sleeps all day, heard me on the porch and came ambling from his bed amongst the hay bales. He sniffed curiously at the dead duckling, gave me a reproachful look as though I were the duckling killer, turned his back on me, then went back to bed.

The poor mother duck didn’t know what to do. She was a young duck, and this was probably her first clutch of eggs. She wanted to attack me and drive me from her ducklings, but she was too fearful. She settled for hissing at me furiously from behind the ducklings. I backed away from the two remaining ducklings so that she would shelter them and went to the porch and got the long-handled heavy-duty fish net. I netted her and the ducklings without much difficulty or any injuries (to them).

Now, where to put them where she and the ducklings would be safe? This is a question most people would have asked themselves BEFORE they were standing holding a furiously flapping and hissing duck by her legs in one hand and two little peeping fluff balls in the other hand that were furiously struggling to escape to Mommy. Most people are smarter than I am. I put her in a small pen with a recuperating injured rooster. He might even be happy for the company, right? So into the pen she went along with her two ducklings. I kept a close eye on them and the rooster for awhile until he started calling the ducklings to the food, then went away.

A couple of days later, two more ducks in the sheep barn hatched out ducklings. They took them out to the little pond/low spot in the former horse pasture that is under the tree where the red-shouldered hawks nest. Not a good move on their part. There were two little laggards peeping frantically about being left behind so I scooped them up and brought them to the penned mother’s nest. Her ducklings were the same size, so I thought she would take them. She hissed at me and bit my fingers as I put the peeping ducklings in the pen, then gently called them to her. How dare I be walking around with her ducklings? I’m sorry to say that I never saw the other 12 ducklings again, so I’m glad that a couple representatives of that generation are still alive. Or maybe I shouldn’t be. Stupid is generally ruthlessly stamped out in the wild, and I’ve allowed those genes to have a chance to perpetuate.

Two weeks later, I was doing my morning feeding and heard frantic peeping again. There was a tiny little newly hatched duckling all by itself being ignored by the rest of the fowl. I picked it up. No indignant duck (or hen) attacked me. Well, this wouldn’t do at all. It wouldn’t survive much longer on its own for it was shivering furiously now. Where could it have come from? It could be the lone survivor of an attack on a nesting duck in the night. It could have hatched out first from a nest and gone off looking for food while Mom stayed with the eggs. I took it to the duck with the two-week-old ducklings to see if she would take it, even though her ducklings were twice the size.

It wasn’t the mother duck accepting it that I needed to worry about! The rooster in the pen decided that this wasn’t ‘his’ baby, so he started picking it to drive it away from the others which were ‘his’. Hmmmm. I opened the pen, removed him, and put him in a pen with a lil’ banty hen and her three half-grown daughters. She accepted him into the family immediately for they’d been neighbors for some time, and she was tired of the single mother life. (She’s started laying eggs again since his introduction to raise another family. Bantams are prolific.) She is the hen half of the duck/hen nest duo, and I haven’t released either her or the duck (and her 11 half-grown ducklings) yet for spring is a perilous time for the young.

The new duckling got on well with its new siblings and mother, who seemed to enjoy having five ducklings. That was the end of that, or so I thought. Two days later, I go outside and there’s a mother duck with 12 little ones running about in the front yard. She gathers them up and heads to water, leaving one behind, who frantically follows hens, roosters, and drakes. Ducks can’t count. Ducklings follow anything with feathers. I pick it up and put it in with the caged momma, who takes it immediately. Now she has a family of six.

I go outside again, and front yard momma duck now has 18 ducklings. Say WHAT? It is supposed get cold again and NO WAY can she keep 18 warm. She wanders away and leaves two more behind. Mother duck in the pen now has a family of eight.

By evening, I’ve picked up two more stray ducklings and mother in cage is now a mother of ten. The ducklings in the front yard have self-sorted into ducklings with the tri-color muscovy mother (11) and a black and white mother (4) that kept getting driven away and having her ducklings stolen by the tri-color mother. I imagine the five ducklings gathered from the previous day probably belong to her but if she manages to raise the four, she’ll be doing well. The front yard is prime hunting ground for the barred owls, you see, and soon the ducklings will be too big to huddle under the mommy duck for protection and warmth at night.

I checked (and fed) all the duck families this morning. The newly hatched ducklings in the front yard made it through the night. I dropped food at the feet of the mother ducks so the ducklings could venture out and feed when I left.

I was a bit concerned about the mother duck’s family in the cage. The temperature dropped into the 30s last night, and “her” four ducklings were older and didn’t need brooding. The six latest adoptees, though, would require the mother duck to stand over them all night, her wings dropped around her to keep body warmth over the ducklings. I needn’t have been concerned. She was protectively brooding the newly-hatched ducklings, but giving me a look that said “What are you, the freakin’ STORK? GO AWAY!”

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