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When we first moved out here in 2002, I truly thought that I only needed to look to memories of my grandparent's farm to know what to do. And my grandparents had a chicken house. When I discovered that chicken houses in Illinois had dual-pitched roofs and were faced towards the south to keep naturally warmer in winter, I decided to design just such a chicken house for our homestead.
In no time, the beautiful grass carpet in front of the chicken house was gone. It was replaced by a mud slick most of the year and an ice slick the rest of the time. What would you expect with 50 or 60 chickens running in and out all day long? Of course, grass can't grow there.
The other thing I didn't like was that the chicken house was so close to the barn that many of the chickens decided that they would just as soon find a cozy spot in the barn to lay their eggs. So, we were going on egg hunts daily.
But every summer there would be at least a couple of hens that would do such a good job of hiding their eggs that we didn't find them ... until they got rotten and exploded at some point during the summer heat.
What's a homesteader to do? Build a portable hen house, of course!
After a bit of searching on Craigslist, we found an old construction site trailer that we purchased. It was basically a wooden box built on a flatbed trailer. We had to replace one and a half walls that were rotten, which was fine because we added roll-out nest boxes to the new wall.
The back wall, where the door was located, also needed to be replaced, and that's where we put a new drop down door, which doubles as a ramp.
On the evening of July 6, we moved all of the chickens into the henmobile after the sun went down and they were all roosting. (It's easier to catch chickens in the dark because they're mostly blind in the darkness.) The next morning, we moved the henmobile out to the former hayfield.
We set up poultry netting around the mobile henhouse and opened the door.
The idea is to move the henmobile regularly so that we don't wind up with areas where all of the grass is killed. The chickens follow the sheep in a rotational grazing pattern. The sheep eat down the grass, then the chickens come in and eat fly larvae and other insects while continuing to fertilize the pasture.
When we went to do evening chores on May 31, we were greeted by this lovely little fellow. Beauty, our Jersey milk cow, gave birth sometime in the afternoon.
I immediately started to worry about the little guy because he didn't seem to know much about nursing. Beauty's udder was really full, and his tummy was really sunken. When I squeezed each of her teats, milk easily squirted out of three of them, meaning that he had at least nursed enough to get the milk plug out. The fourth one, however, still had the plug in it.
Since the pasture is huge, and the grass was so tall, we were worried he might get separated from Beauty and not be able to nurse enough. Plus, there was rain in the forecast, and we were worried about him not following her to the shelter -- if she even decided to go into the shelter when it started to rain -- so we took them into the barn for a few days of bonding. We also kept trying to show him the teat and get him to nurse. Gardener Sarah and I quickly agreed this was a big advantage of goats -- they are much easier to handle when you want to get them nursing.
I kept reminding myself that most calves get this thing figured out easily on their own, but still I was worried. Thankfully we did see him nurse a few times before we went to bed that night. And the next morning, we noticed he had a full tummy!
He is doing great, and we castrated him a week ago. Since Beauty's last calf Beau got so obnoxious when the testosterone kicked in, we decided that we should castrate this one so that he won't be so scary when he gets bigger. Yes, his ultimate destiny is the freezer, so I named him Chuck Roast, and we're just calling him Chuck for short.
Since Beauty is making way more milk than Chuck and us humans need, we are hoping to get a bottle calf to also raise for meat. Plus Chuck will have a playmate.
|Falling TPO antibodies show my Hashimoto's is in remission
More than two years ago I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease, and since then I've done what most doctors would call impossible -- I've put it into remission. When I've talked about it on Facebook or on this blog, a lot of people have told me I should write a book about it. However, a lot of other people have already written books, and in fact, I read those books to figure out how to heal myself. I started a health blog a few months ago so that I could share information about books and authors who've helped me along my journey, although I've not been very good about posting.
I was really excited to learn that there will be a Healing Hashimoto's online summit from June 13 to 20. Like most online summits, you can listen to the talks online FREE during the event. Each one will be available for 24 hours, and if you'd like to be able to listen to them again and again, you can purchase lifetime online access or a flash drive
with the talks on them.
Some of my favorite authors will be presenting the following sessions ...
It's tough for me to tell people what I did to put my Hashimoto's into remission because there isn't a magic bullet, and triggers can vary from person to person. For me, it was a combination of things like discovering food sensitivities, changing my diet, starting to take a few specific supplements (such as selenium), eating more fermented foods, meditating daily, and going to bed earlier. But it's been totally worth it because I'm now healthier than ever -- and thinner too!
The summit provides a great opportunity for people to get enough information to get started on the path to healing. Click here to register
now so you can attend online for FREE starting Monday.
This is what 70 chicks looks like. What? You are only counting seven chicks? Well, yes, this is what 70 chicks looks like after 47 get eaten by rats and 16 get eaten by raccoons. It's been years since we had predator problems this bad, and we have actually never had any problems losing chickens prior to last fall.
Last fall, raccoons got almost all of our laying hens. Earlier this spring, rats got into the stall that we use as a brooder, and before we realized what was happening, they had eaten all but three. Not to be dissuaded, we got more chicks. We put them in a large water trough with an old window screen over the top, and one day, we discovered a hole in the screen, and some of the chicks were missing.
Ultimately only three of the original chicks went out to the front yard into a chicken tractor. They were doing great until one morning when we walked out there to find feathers everywhere. The raccoon had been able to pull two of the chickens through the 2" by 4" welded wire, but the third one was laying in the chicken tractor decapitated. Chickens have terrible night vision, which is why a raccoon was able to grab them and kill them through the wire.
The second group of chicks went out a few weeks ago, and yesterday we realized that of the 13 Silkies (the white ones with blue beaks and faces) that went into the chicken tractor, only 9 were left. We set up two live traps for raccoons and baited them with cat food. Around 10:00 last night as I was brushing my teeth, we heard what sounded like a chorus of Alvin and the chipmunks on high speed. Mike grabbed a gun and ran outside but before he got there, the raccoon had escaped from the trap and was nowhere to be seen. Our English shepherd Porter went running around the pond in the dark, but he didn't find the raccoon either. We hoped that the coon had been so scared by being trapped that maybe he wouldn't come back. Then again, I silently thought that maybe he had simply learned to not go into a trap again.
This morning, my fear was realized as we found four more Silkies missing, as well as a white rock. We had put a board and a cinderblock in front of the hole that we found yesterday, and it had been moved. Raccoons are stronger and smarter than we thought. To add insult to injury, a chicken was in the trap. Apparently she was trying to escape and ran into the trap that was just outside the chicken tractor. Yes, that means the raccoon totally ignored the cat food in the trap and instead went for the live chickens.
Five chickens of this size is a lot of chicken meat for a raccoon, so we are wondering if there is a whole family that's feeding off of our young chickens. So far we have only ever seen one raccoon. Mike saw one walking out of the barn one night as he was finishing up chores, and our new intern saw one walk out of the chicken house at dusk one night. Oddly, he didn't have a chicken. Perhaps he was just in the mood for some chicken grain or eggs at the moment and figured he'd come back for a chicken entree later? But the chicken house is locked up tight every night, so we haven't lost any from there.
We have another batch of 33 chicks in the barn, and so far we've managed to keep them safe. They are in a water trough that is standing on top of another upside-down water trough, and it's surrounded by rat traps, which catch rats regularly. When we first realized we had a problem with rats in April, we caught 13 rats in the first two days! We do have a cat out there who is also a great mouser, and he has caught several rats, as well. I don't understand why we never had a problem with rats in all these years until now. My only thought is that the huge fox snake that lived in the barn for years probably died. He was at least six feet long, and the ones we've seen so far this year have only been about three feet long, which is perhaps not big enough to eat rats yet. Or maybe Patches the 12-year-old cat that is now retired in the house was a better mouser than we realized.
As for the raccoons, I'm not sure what we'll do, but we have to have a plan for tonight, or we probably won't have any chicks left by tomorrow morning. We will definitely put Lucy the Great Pyrenees in the front yard, but I feel like we also need to do something else to keep the chicks safe. Perhaps we can put a rabbit cage inside the chicken tractor just for tonight, so that there will be two barriers between the chicks and the coons, and maybe as the coons are trying to figure out how to get the chicks, Lucy will take care of them.
Now that we've been on the homestead for 14 years, every now and then someone will ask what we do with does that are too old to give birth. Some assume they're butchered, which is what eventually happens to all dairy animals in large commercial operations. But with only a couple dozen does, all of our goats have names rather than ID numbers, and we know the individual personality of each one.
In general, the last time that a goat gives birth on our farm is when she's ten years old. After her final kidding, we continue to milk her as long as she'll produce, which has been somewhere between a year and eighteen months for various goats. Then they are simply left to enjoy their remaining years in the pasture. My first goat died at the age of 14. The retired does now consist of Sherri at age 13, Carmen at age 12, Lizzie at age 11 (Carmen's daughter), and Giselle at age 9. And then there's Lil, who is 7 years old and never been bred because she never grew up. She's the size of a 6-month-old, and I never sold her because I was worried that someone would get the hair-brained idea to try to develop teacup goats. So Lil lives here. I should do a blog post about her someday, as she does have a special place.
Giselle was retired after her c-section at age seven. Although goats can give birth again after having a c-section, it was the fourth time that Giselle had had kidding problems. Normally I have a two strikes rule, meaning that the second time a doe needs help during kidding, she's retired. I made excuse after excuse for Giselle through the years because she has long teats and was wonderfully easy to milk. But I'd be a fool to get her pregnant again.
The photo above was taken a few days ago when we moved them to new pasture across the farm where they can enjoy plenty of green grass this summer.