Thursday, September 27, 2007

Family comes to visit!

Neil, the kids and I drove the hour to the RDU Airport to pick up my mother and grandmother this afternoon. They flew down from Maine to spend five days here at the farm. They are the first of my family to make it down here and I am excited for their visit.

After we picked them up we stopped and had dinner in Durham, NC. When we finally got home it was after dark so unfortunately they didn't get a chance to see the place in daylight. Still, mom came down to the barn as I did my night feedings. Meanwhile, Neil figured out the sleeping araingments inside.

I am looking forward to spending time with them... I just wish their visit could be longer.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


I realized that I don't mention the kids too much here on the blog. Mostly that is because at this point in their lives they are helping me around the farm, playing and exploring. There are many times that I see them do something that I wish I could instantly document that moment but I don't happen to have my camera with me and by the time I sit down to blog the specific memory has faded.
So when the kids and I were creating new crayons with our crayon maker today I grabbed the camera and snapped a few shots.

The kids love using the crayon maker... sometimes I think they break their crayons just so they can create new ones! We have several crayon molds... the standard round, trucks and animals. It is fun to create new color combinations and to see how they look and color after they are ready.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Chicken Butchering

First thing we did this morning (after chores and breakfast that is) was to hook up the trailer and head down to the feed store to pick up the 25 bales of hay that I pre-paid for on Tuesday. I would have liked to get more but at $8.75 a bale 25 was all that we could mange right now. That will bring our hay numbers up to 52 bales for the winter. To be on the safe side I would love to have twice that number put up. All this means is that I need to be conservative with the hay and not use any until we really need to. As long there is green grass in the pastures the livestock is just going to have to make do. Being a small farmer on a tight budget can be a struggle at times.

After getting the hay we did a bit of shopping in town since we were there. Got some food to stock the pantry and some new shoes, two pair of jeans and couple of shirts for Evan. He is growing so fast and with cooler weather coming on I can't get away with just putting him in shorts and sandals all the time.

Then this afternoon it was time for me to butcher the three roosters I had separated out from the flock last night. This was the first time I had butchered chickens all by myself (I had learned to do it in college). First I had to decide between the chopping block or using a "killing cone". I opted for the killing cone as the part I hate the most about the butchering process is having them flap around after they are dead (or dieing). The cone holds their wings against their body and prevents any of the flapping around. My "cone" was just a plastic gallon jug with the bottom cut off and the spout cut off to allow the head and neck to pass through. The jug was installed bottom up on the backside of the tool shed with a 5-gallon bucket on the ground to catch the blood.

One at a time the chickens were placed upside down into the cone. Chickens become very calm when held upside down which makes is very easy to put the chicken into the cone. So, with my first chicken in the cone I firmly held his head, took a deep breath, and using a sharp knife slit the jugular vein on one side of his neck. I continued to hold his head to keep him from shaking it, and blood, all over. I repeated that with the other two birds. Once that was done (which is by far the hardest part) I scalded the birds in a big pot of water I had sitting on the side burner of our outdoor grill. Time of scalding varies with the temp of the water and the age of the bird. My water was at 125 degrees and I swished them around (one at a time) for about 45 seconds to a minute. Once scalded the feathers come off by hand pretty easy. I then took the three birds into the kitchen to finish the remainder of the cleaning process. I would say it took 7-10 minutes per bird to remove the heads and feet and eviscerate them. This time should get closer to 5 minutes as I get more practice. Once they were all cleaned they went into a cold water brine (just water and salt) and placed into the fridge to age for 2-3 days. Once they age they can be cooked or frozen for later.

All in all the butchering process was not as bad as one might think it would be. Now I only have 15 more birds to go!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Cookie update.

Just a quick update on my Hill Roamer chicken, Cookie. She has been in the brooder all week recovering from her run in with our LGD, Berk on Monday. Yesterday she was up and pacing the side of the pen near the rest of the flock and I could tell that she was becoming stressed from being seperated. It didn't want to rush things so I gave her one more night in the brooder by herself. So, this morning I went into the brooder and gave her a good look over. The hole under her right wing has sealed over with no signs of infection or drainage. I would be surprised if she grew feathers there again but it will never show once it is healed. Her tail feathers will take awhile before they grow back in to be the beautiful tail she had before the incident. I proclaimed her healthy enough to join the rest of the flock which she was very thankful for. This evening when I went into the coop to secure it for the night she was up on the highest perch with some other hens so I guess she is feeling better.

While in the coop tonight I seperated out three of the young roos into brooder pens with some water only. If I have time I am going to try to get them processed tomorrow! I have about 20 roosters that are ready to be processed. These unlucky fellows just happened to be the three plumpest ones that were easy to catch. They consist of one of the turkens and two of the mystery white birds that are turning buff/brown in color. I don't think I will ever order a mixed lot of chicks again... it has really bothered me not knowing the actual breeds of some of the birds! Neil says it is just my OCD surfacing. :)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Farm visitors.

In the almost five months that we have been living here at the farm fulltime we have had our share of driveby farm visitors. People see the alpacas from the road and are curious about them so they stop. Some just stop at the top of the driveway and watch for a few minutes, other visitors want to see them up close and personal. I don't mind at all... I like having visitors and showing off the alpacas.

This afternoon I had a lovely woman named Robin knock on the door and introduced herself as a "spinner" and ask if those were alpaca. She was very excited to see them and I was more then happy to give her a tour. It turns out she only lives about 20 miles North of here in Virginia. She owns a rug hooking studio called Robin's Nest where she offers traditional rug hooking supplies and rug hooking retreats. Oh, in a world where I had more free time I would like to learn to hook rugs. Robin and I had several interests in common and it was nice to chat with her while she was here. I hope she feels free to stop in anytime for an extended visit, maybe even help me learn to spin!

Robin has a wonderful blog as well. Reading it has inspired me to make more time to work on my knitting. I have at least 4-5 projects on needles right now! I really need to get some done and maybe start working on some gifts for the hoidays.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

First time in all my years!

The kids and I were at the feed store this morning stocking up on a bunch of feed; alpaca, dairy cow, chicken crumbles, and some waterfowl. The stock guys always pull the orders from out back in their storage area and bring it up your vehicle and load it for you. Something I greatly appreciate when getting several hundred pounds of feed at once. Normally there is no problem and I am in and out in five minutes. Not today though! They couldn't find the alpaca feed I normally get or the waterfowl feed. The computer system said it was there so several guys and about twenty minutes later they finally found what I needed.

Meanwhile, McKayla had fallen asleep in the Suburban and Evan had climbed out the back onto the loading dock to see what he could see. He spotted something and called over to me to come see... it was a cat. Actually, a kitten probably about 4-5 months old. A little female. She was very friendly and came right up to Evan and I and rubbed all over us.

Now, in my whole adult life, twelve years of which I worked as a veterinary technician (eight of which was in an all feline practice), have I ever seen a cat or kitten out and about and felt the need to take it home with me. I like cats and respect them highly but I would never classify myself as a cat person. So why then did I find myself asking the folks inside the store who owned the little cat out on the loading dock? It simply was an issue of color. This little friendly cat was solid steel grey, my favorite cat color. And there was something about this little kitten that spoke to me.

Two of the most special cats in my life have been that same solid grey color, Gris and Billy. Neither of these two wonderful boys is still in my life. Gris, the more recent of the two, left a huge hole in my life when he was gone about a year ago.

The clerks in the store said the kitten was from a litter this spring out of a stray cat. This kitten was the last of the litter to still be around. It was a nice little kitten they said but that if I wanted it to please take it home with me. And just like that she ended up coming home with us.
The kids fell in love with her instantly. McKayla hoisted her up and carried her around for quite a while. We showed her where the food bowl was up on the deck and she ate until her little belly was full. After about 45 minutes of handling from the kids she had enough (who can blame her) and she ran off into the woods behind the house. I know if she is truly meant to be ours that she will stick around... I hope anyway!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Berk strikes again!

Sigh... there is another chicken in the sick ward.

Earlier I was standing on the porch looking out over the pasture as the alpaca girls were grazing over on the shady end of the pasture. One of the girls, Celtie, went loping off to the barn to get some water. As she neared the barn, Berk, our male Anatolian Shepard, jumped at her and growled! Something that is very bad for him to do and that I have not seen him do before. It stopped Celtie in her tracks as she had not known Berk to act this way either. I quickly slid my boots on and went down to the barn.

What I found was my little Hill Roamer hen (yes the mate to the stuck chicken a few days ago) lying down near the barn with her backside all wet and feathers missing. Obviously Berk was playing with her earlier but when Celtie had come down to the barn I could clearly see Berk laying near the barn and he had not been chewing on anything. So, was Berk now protecting his snack from Celtie OR was he protecting the hurt chicken from Celtie? I may never know for sure at this point.

Anyway, I scooped up "Cookie", the name I have given the little hen, and gave her a quick once over before heading to the chicken coop with her. I could see right away that she had a good-sized wound on her back behind her right wing. The feathers were missing and there was a hole through the skin so I could see the breast meat clearly. Otherwise she looked alert just a bit scruffy. I put her in the brooder pen with some medicated water and food. I also treated her wound with a topical antibiotic. When I left her she lay right where I placed her.

We will have to see how she does over night. Meanwhile... what do to about Berk?

Doing the bunny hop.

Our two American Chinchilla rabbits are about 9 months old now. They have been ready to breed for a few months but I felt that it has been too darn hot here for that this summer. Now that the temps have dropped I figured it was time to let them have their fun! The hutches I have them in were here when we moved in. I believe they were actually built for poultry breeding not rabbits but they are working out ok. The doors into the hutches are small which means I can only reach in with one arm at a time and there are still areas of the hutch I can't reach. Luckily, the hutches have pass through doors in them from one to the other. I just opened up that door and let them mingle. Although this would be the first time for both of them it didn't take Sasaparilla long before he was interested in dancing with Parslane. I left them together for about an hour or so. If they managed to do things correctly Parslane should kindle her kits on October 18th. Only time will tell...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Good day on the farm.

Today was a good day. Weather was beautiful at high 70's with the changing leaves all around us. Today just had a good feel to it from the start.

Both Neil and I were up early and motivated to get some things done. First off I needed to do chores but I also wanted to shear some of the fiber off of our llama, Neffi, and I knew that would be easiest to do in the cool morning while she was eating. So, I told Neil my plan and we both headed out to the barn before breakfast.

The first thing I do now in my chores is getting Cherry Blossom up on the milking stanchion and she has come to expect this already so she was waiting for me. Once on the stanchion I gave her a quick brush over. Then this morning I took our milking training to the next step and washed and massaged her udder with a hot wet towel. This not only cleans the udder and teats but it causes her to "let down" her milk. I had also brought the milking pail with me this morning just to introduce the pail to the equation. Well, the hot towel did the trick. Cherry Blossom was much easier to express milk from the morning! I got about 1/4 cup in the pail. What I learned was that I need to work on my aim again! But I am encouraged that I might get a little milk soon to supplement the store bought. We go through 1-2 gallons a day here so it will be a while before we work up to that amount... even after Riona calves this fall.

After the cows were feed and sent out to the pasture I took a moment to give the donkeys their morning cookies. I always give them two cookies each in the morning and in the evening since they don't get anything else but pasture to eat. It is a bonding time too and on most mornings I spend a few minutes to give them scratches all over.... but not this morning. It was off to feed the alpacas next.

I got the grain ready for Gigi (our new mom as of two days ago) as she is in her own paddock with her new cria. Then I got the grain for the rest of the alpacas, Neffi and the food for the LGDs. As the dogs and the alpacas were eating we rounded Neffi up into the catch pen and got her tied up the post. Yesterday we went and borrowed shears from our closest neighboring alpaca farmer at This was my first time shearing a camelid of any type but it was very similar to sheep, which I have some experience with. Neffi wasn't into the shearing thing at all at first and it was surprising how strong she was. But after a few minutes she cushed down and I was able to give her a descent "barrel cut" in about ten minutes. It is getting cooler at night now so I didn't want to give her a complete cut but just wanted to get some of the heavy fiber off her blanket area. I didn't turn out half bad considering it was my first attempt.
Once we cleaned up after Neffi's shearing I finished up the chores by feeding the goats and then the rabbits and then all the poultry.

Once back inside I made homemade banana pancakes for breakfast... yummy!

After breakfast, Neil started on his major project of the day... cleaning out part of the porch which included moving the old wood cook stove out. Once everything was cleaned off Neil took the tractor down to the tractor-trailer out back and picked up our refrigerator that we brought with us. It doesn't fit inside the kitchen right now so it will live out on the porch as an additional fridge while we continue to use the old fridge that was left here as our main refrigerator.
After that task was done we did a few other odds and ends about the place and then relaxed the rest of the afternoon. It was a good day and we got lots done to boot!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

What an honor!

About six months ago while searching for more information on self-sufficiency I discovered the website of Patti Moreno, aka The GardenGirl. Her website,, is about Urban Sustainable Living. Patti lives with her family in Boston, MA where on her urban farmette she gardens, raises rabbits, chickens and fish. Patti is one of my inspirations! I love how she so intensively uses her urban land and hope to include some of her ideas here on the farm during our next growing season. The world needs more like her!

I encourage you to visit The GardenGirl site (which is in the process of being updated now... just wait and see what is to come). While you are there make sure you sign up for her e-newsletter to keep tabs on what Patti is doing now.

Speaking of her e-newsletter, this is where I became honored today! I received the latest issue in my e-mail box this morning and eager to see what it contained I opened it immediately. Patti is almost ready to launch some new videos and had several previews available to watch. After watching those and reading the rest of the contents I got to the bottom of the e-newsletter where Patti always lists a few links for her readers to check out that have inspired her. This time she had four listed. And guess what one of those links was too? That's right, our little patch of heaven here at Thane's Neck Farm! I was so shocked, excited and thrilled that I had goose bumps on my arms! Here is what Patti had to say about our farm, "In my fantasy world I live in the country on Thane's Neck Farm. The spinner in me is so jealous of all that Alpaca {fiber}! I am always looking at Sustainable Farms, a bit jealously, I admit and this is one of my favorites." Wow!

Friday, September 14, 2007

It's a girl!

I am thrilled to announce today's arrival of the first cria born here at Thane's Neck Farm!

A perfect medium fawn female that we are planning on naming Aberdeen. Abby is out of our older experienced dam Touch O' Gold and the legendary Kilimanjaro!

Her birth was wonderfully uneventful. Both Abby and her mom are doing great!

Abby is the fifth cria born under our farm name, only the second female and tragically only the third surviving. We are hopeful that all will continue to go smoothly as Aberdeen grows.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Farmyard comedy.

I enjoy the farm so much. I especially enjoy just leaning against the fence watching the animals.

This morning I was in the poultry run, which shares a fenceline with the cow pasture up to the barn. As I stood there filling the duck pool with fresh water I was laughing to myself over the antics of our little male goat "Little Joe". Little Joe is one of our almost 5 month old Nigerian Dwarf goat kids. He might weigh 25lbs tops. He was head butting and wrestling with our 5 month old Irish Dexter bull calf! The calf must weigh close to 200lbs! It was a very Mutt & Jeff wrestling match. Once the calf got bored of the game Little Joe moved on to our heifer, Riona, who head pressed with him a bit before she just started giving him a good head licking that all but knocked him over. Still, not done with his desire to play he went over to the donkeys and tried to get them to play with him. The donkeys don't play by head butting or pressing so they didn't have much interest in Little Joe's advances but he tried real hard.

How funny animals can be!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Stuck Chicken

I had just finished up my morning chores (which almost always ends in the chicken coop/run) when I noticed that the tarp over the outside hoop house poultry pen had come loose on one end and it was blowing in the wind a bit. I went back in the barn to grab some zip-ties to anchor the tarp back down. I had finished putting the zip-ties in and was about to turn to go back to the house when I noticed that my Hill Roamer rooster, "Chip", was lying along the other edge of the hoop house. Chip tends to be on the flighty side and thinks he is a big guy (which he is not really) so I thought it was odd that he was laying so still. As I walked around the back of the hoop house it quickly became clear that he was not resting inside the hoop house but had wedged himself between the hoop house and the no-climb fence of the chicken run. I tried to reach in to shoe him out but I could not reach him and he didn't even flinch, which due to his flightly nature was again odd.

So, I walked outside the chicken run along the fence until I got to him. He was stuck for sure! He was lying almost on his side with both wings stuck through the 2x4 no-climb fence. I had to straighten his wings out and the push them back through the fence to free him up. I gave him a little nudge to get him closer to the back of the hoop house so I could reach him from inside the fence. So, I walked back around inside the run to get him and picked him up without even a little complaint.

I put him into one of the brooder pens which I often use for isolation pens when needed. He looked pretty depressed, was limping on one leg and just looked sore all over. I put some food and water down for him and he went right for it. I figure he must have been stuck all night and continued to struggle until he lost his spirit totally. After he ate he tried to hop up onto the roost but fell back down to the ground again. As I left the coop I could see that he had finally settled down in a corner of the pen.

I figure a quiet 24 to 48 hours and he should be ready to go back out with the rest of the chickens again.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Going on a goose chase.

Neil got out of work a little early today and I was waiting for him when he got home. I needed him to help me catch our female goose, who I have named Gertie. I had noticed a few days ago that she had a bit of black plastic tubing(?) that had gotten lodged over the edge of her upper bill. It didn't seem to be bothering her too much and I have seen her eating and drinking fine but I wanted to get it off if I could.

So, Neil and I headed out into the pasture where the geese were grazing and walked them back up to the barn. The plan was to get them into the cow stall so I could get my hands on her. Everything went smoothly and I had her in my arms in no time. With me restaining Gertie, Neil easily pulled the offending bit of plastic off her bill.

Gertie didn't seem to appreciate our good deed very much and was quick to be free of me and get back to Gossie, our gander.

Photo taken of the geese yesterday. Gertie is in the back water trough and you can just make out the black plastic bit on her upper bill.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Report on Cherry Blossom

So, it has been a few days now that I have been working with our Irish Dexter cow, Cherry Blossom, so she will get used to getting up on our new milking stantion and hopefully to start being milked.

Cherry Blossom, although not overly friendly, is very food motivated. On tuesday (day 1), I simply opened the gate inside the barn that opens into the area in the barn that has the stantion, shook her feed bowl and Blossom walked right up onto the stantion (which is about 10 inches off the floor). She put her head right through the head gate and ate her grain. That is all I did the first day. I didn't even lock the head gate.

On day 2 Blossom was more hesitent then the day before for some reason but in the end still couldn't pass up the grain. Once in the stantion I brushed her and rubbed my hand over her udder a few times. So far so good.

On day 3 I closed the head gate there by locking her into the stantion. Blossom did not like this and struggled a bit before calming down to eat her hay. Brushed her agian and this morning I actually expressed milk from one quarter! Yeah!

On day 4 Blossom was better about the head gate but when I tried to milk her she kicked at me.

Today is day 5 and Blossom did not come up to the barn this morning. Riona, our other Irish Dexter who is due with her first calf sometime this fall has been watching Blossom over the past few days and was more then happy to hop up on the stantion to eat her grain this morning! Riona is quite friendly and enjoyed being brushed while eating her breakfast.

Well, I was hoping to be getting some milk by now but I guess I should except small steps. I will just hope that Blossom decides to come back up to the barn tomorrow.

Friday, September 07, 2007

To be or not to be... that is the cria question.

Our oldest alpaca, Touch of Gold (aka Gigi) is due to have her cria out of superstud Kilimanjaro on Sept 14th but it is normal for alpacas to deliver 10 days before or after their "official due date". This would be the first alpaca delivery that I have seen in person (although not the first livestock delivery) and am very excited about it. This morning during chores I noticed that Gigi was cushed but slightly on her side. Her peritoneum area was distended and her vulva was dilated about 2cc. She appeared to be in labor as every few minutes she would hum, push and her peritoneum would distend out even more. I called Neil, who was in town running errands, that if he wanted to see the birth he had better get home.

Meanwhile, I moved Gigi into the pen next to where she currently was with the rest of the female alpacas. I didn't really want to separate her from the other females as I feel it is more natural to have "pasture births" but I felt it was in her and her crias best interest to not be with our 8 month old LGDs. This will be their first birth too and they are still young and playful and may hurt the cria without meaning too. Also, birth can be a messy bloody event and all that blood may entice the dogs to do something they would not normally do to a clean dry cria. So, Gigi got moved into her own pen with hay and water.

I spent most of the rest of the day down at the barn watching her and waiting... and nothing else happened! She seemed to have stopped her labor (or what I thought was early labor). I decided she was close enough to her due date that I would just keep her separated from the dogs until she had the cria. Hopefully it will be soon!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Milking Stantion complete.

Well, Neil got the milking stantion done. It took most of the weekend working on it since Neil had to scavange all the materials from the used lumber pile. It looks great and very sturdy since it is made out of solid oak timbers and boards.

Now I just have to see if Cherry Blossom will get up on it. I will try that in the morning.