Posts Tagged ‘silkies’

The sad side of things…

Ri-Ri is missing, and we lost the chicks to the cold. Some people would say “they’re only chickens,” and I know that when you involve yourself in any kind of animal husbandry on any scope, you will lose stock. But it just plain makes me sad, and the speculation on what happened to Ri-Ri is killing me. Rob said a minute ago, “I hope he just turns up out of nowhere.” We’ve seen far too many stray dogs in the area.

We are reinforcing the fencing soon.

Damn, I love those chickens.

Between Semesters

So…there hasn’t been much to report lately, kids. I finished finals and am in my week between old and new classes, but I’m working! The antisocial computer nerd chicken farmer is at the reception desk at TSTC. Go figure.

Hubby posted this image, which…well, all I have to say about it is I’m starting to think her pregnancy is a figment of our imagination. I’m waiting for Morpheus to step out and give me the red pill because the Agents have programmed my recent existence around this purportedly pregnant ewe, but have suddenly realized that they don’t know the code to make her give birth.

Ahem. Anyway, you can see how rounded her lower belly is, and Rob says her udders are swelling. That, in human terms, heralds impending doom birth. I guess that means that after months of thinking we’re days away, we’re actually days away?

aboutToPopStupid sheep.

The silkies grow every day. They are big and fluffy now, and in the evenings when they’re cuddled up in a corner of the henhouse, I reach down and pet them. They don’t like it yet, but I need them to know me as the big friendly thing with the food. Right now I’m the big scary thing with the food, and that’s not nearly close enough.

That’s really all I’ve got for now, unless you want to hear me geek out about my GPA or the fact that I was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa. Naw, you don’t need that. This is a chicken blog.

More history, and some current chicken events.

This would be an album cover.

Now that you’ve had the “How the hell does this happen to Hilary the Wonder-Nerd?” story, let’s give you a little idea of the makeup of this geeky farming situation. I went into this under protest, but let me assure you it’s not because I don’t love animals. I do. I adore them. We have…well, I’ll just say a lot of cats, who will be named as they come up in our adventures together. We have three dogs, who are Lucy (because when Rob found her one day wandering the disc golf park, he thought she looked like a Lucy, and she took to it), Blossom (named for a Power Puff Girl when the kids were little), and Dexter (named for the great, hulking, four-armed cook in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, who was probably the best bit of acting we saw in the whole prequel trilogy). We have a pet fish in the house (a betta who is named Mr. Fishy, because…well, I don’t know) and we have several tilapia outside in the storm cellar underneath my husband’s aquaponics system. That, my friends, is a whole ‘nother blog post, but let me tell you what, I am drowning in the biggest mint plants I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen mint take over a garden. Aquaponics is the wave of the future, right up there with Google Glass.

We have four adult Barred Rock hens (those were the ones who came software-bundle style with the sheep) and eight silkie adolescents. I call the hens “the Ladies,” and yes, the “L” is capitalized. I call the silkies “the chicks,” even though technically they’re in between chicks and chickens. I still call our pushing-11-year-old dog Lucy “PUPPY!!” Though the cats, they are cats. I don’t know. You can examine the psychology behind my naming conventions another day, if you want.

Imagine my joy--and skepticism--when I heard "No shearing."

Imagine my joy–and skepticism–when I heard “No shearing.”

I call the sheep the b– well. Not the Ladies.

Why the animosity? Well, I suppose I just can’t quite get over it. I have sheep. I mean, when I sold my last lamb at the county fair and hied myself off to become a soldier, the great thing about it was I’d never have to take care of sheep again. I’d never have to clean chicken coops. I’d never have to haul five-gallon buckets of water, milk a goat, assist the birthing of an animal in the snow in the middle of the night. Yeah. That one was a fun one. But the sheep…I am, and have been for about 25 years, completely over the sheep.

The thing is, the sheep I dealt with were primarily Suffolks (this one you’re looking at, if you clicked on the link, is a HUGE example of a show Suffolk, either some kind of gargantuan spring lamb or a very tall breeder adult) and Hampshires. Suffolks have white wool but their legs and faces are black. Hamps tend to be white (or at least the ones I raised were), but they’re often cross-bred with Suffolks and end up with fuzzy gray faces and legs.

Not unlike the lack of association between chickens and bad smells, there also seems to be a lack of association between sheep and training. Yes. You have to train the creature that, if introduced to something new and tasty, will eat until it dies. This is not what we tend to call a smart animal. Yet this creature must be instructed in the way of the bridle (which really is as it sounds; like a horse, the sheep can wear a kind of harness setup that goes onto its muzzle and around the back of the head), the grooming table (which bridles the sheep’s chin into a device that holds her steady for detail clipping, wool-shaping and things like painting of hooves and coat forshow), walking with the trainer (for showing, whether it’s for display or sale), and positioning (ideally, the sheep must stand with its feet positioned in a perfect rectangle so the judges can adequately discern shape, muscle tone and quality when it comes time to rank the sheep for sale). If you Google “show sheep” or something like it, you will be gifted with many many images of young 4H and FFA members squaring off the stance of their lambs, gripping them under the jaw just right so that the lamb can’t helpbut allow itself to be tugged around the ring, strapping them onto those tables…

Can you believe how huge she is? Nobody's strapping her anywhere.

Can you believe how huge she is? Nobody’s strapping her anywhere.

Really, it’s barbaric. I mean, those poor kids.

Now. It’s not as though I have to do all of these things with the current b– sheep, or even most of them. I want the sheep bridle-trained because that makes them easier to get to the vet if something goes wrong. Otherwise, they’re so skittish that I’d have to hit them with a tranq gun before I could get close enough for an examination. I want the sheep to be comfortable walking beside me. I don’t want to have to grab the white one by the horns and drag her into the truck (as they did the day we brought her home). I certainly don’t want to have to upend the brown one (called Sarsaparilla, because she’s the color of the root beer Rob makes) and two-man carry her by the legs to throw her in the truck (as, yes, they did the day we brought her home).

The reason for the animosity is that when we got them home, I was a little excited. Believe it or not, it’s true. Oh, sure, I was grumbly, but I’m an optimist. I kept telling myself it could be fun. “It’ll be a few days before they warm up,” Terry of Slowpoke Farm warned. “They need to get used to you.” Okay, I thought gamely, I can wait a few days for animal nuzzles, for surely, they will nuzzle.

But they remain skittish, and it’s now been a couple of months. Why won’t they love me?? I go out there, I rattle the food, I make it clear that I’m the one providing the tasties, and the closest I can get is about five feet away. If I move wrong, they’re darting to the back of the yard again.

That’s disappointing for an animal lover, isn’t it? People who love cute things want to pet all the cute things. It’s in our nature to want to snuggle them, a biological imperative. And yet these sheep, they remain unconvinced despite my offerings of food and calm.

I think this is why my guilty pleasure is Farmville 2. Those Katahdins aren’t rude.

And this does concern me a little, because Sarsaparilla is about five feet wide. Seriously, it could be any day now, and I think she must be carrying twins. I don’t want her running off when we try to help her care for the lambs. I don’t want her conveying to the lambs, in whatever slow-witted mindspeak sheep use, that the two-legged food providers with the flat, disgusting eyes-front faces are not okay.

HenInGrass

Bock!

But the chickens…they don’t do that. Not to me, anyway. I say “Good morning, Ladies,” and here they all come, trotting on their little hen feet to see what I’m sprinkling.  They will also eat vegetable scraps, day-old bread, old eggshells (don’t make that face; the calcium is good for them). I love it when I feed a thing my garbage and it feeds me back.

In reading about chickens, I’m discovering that there is an actual psychology behind their actions. Color me stunned, because look at that head-to-body ratio. Their brains are about the size of a peanut.

To my horror, one day I caught two of the hens picking on one of the silkies. They were plucking feathers out of his back, and s/he was making awful, distressed noises (as would I!). I shooed them away and fretted a good while. Why on earth would they do that? How are we going to prevent it? That’s terrible! Is that one male? Are they going to attack all the males? Is it because that one’s the biggest? How horrible!

Well, Rob found a way to separate the hens and the chicks as well as keep the chicks away from the cats. And in my research, I discovered that it is a thing. They do that. Sometimes, on a whim, a hen will just decide she don’t like yo chick face and will come after you. Chickens have been known to harbor these feelings of dislike for years. Is it shade? Gender? Size? Could be none, could be all. Maybe he smells different. But she might never get over the urge to attack him. I’m wondering if it’s some kind of old-lady “Hey, you punk! Get offa my lawn!”

Who couldn't love that face? Rather, those feathers.

Who couldn’t love that face? Rather, those feathers.

There. The dark underbelly of farm life. See? That’s another reason I’m better off programming computers. My keystrokes don’t randomly decide that they hate each other.

But my keystrokes are also not cuddly. Oh, the conundrum.