Traditional Jewish comfort food, with history more ancient and undoubtedly more venerable than the ubiquitous “Jewish penicillin” – chicken soup, …Mushroom Barley Soup
This time of year is so busy for us. It’s calf season! We have a fine bunch of mamas this year. Anyone who has cows knows a couple of things about mama cows. One, they like to hide their babies from us. Two, they are extremely protective of their babies with some mamas becoming outright homicidal when you get too close to their babies. This time of year can be stressful, as we try hard to keep track of who has had their babies and get them tagged while also trying to get eyes on the calves every day.
Seeing the calves every day can sometimes be easier said than done. We do our best, but we currently have the cows in a wooded field. Mamas who like to play hide and seek with their babies will pull their babies off into the wooded area to hide them from us. So far, we have been able to put eyes on each calf at least once per day, and we are checking them twice daily.
Yesterday morning, B went to check cows and found that one of our mamas had twins! She was missing when we checked cows the night before, and he found her yesterday morning with her two babies. Immediately he knew that she was not producing enough milk to support both babies. With the help of a friend, he was able to catch one of the calves and brought her to the house to bottle feed. The mama will produce enough milk for the other calf. We don’t have twins on the farm often. Here are some interesting twin facts for you:
In beef breeds, twins occur about 1% of the time. There is a higher rate of twins in dairy breeds.
In other farm animals (sheep and goats) it is extremely common to have twins. In cows, however, having twins can be a bad thing. Having twins is hard on the body, and a cows body is only made to have one baby at a time. Having twins means a higher rate of abortions (miscarriages in cows are called abortions) both in early pregnancy and in late term pregnancy.
Cows that are carrying twins have problems during delivery more commonly than single calf pregnancies. These mamas will generally need help during delivery. Cows that are carrying twins will more frequently go in to preterm labor, and the calves aren’t mature enough to survive.
It is pretty rare to have identical twin calves. In twin calves, you are 25% likely to have two bull calves, 25% likely to have two heifer calves, and 50% likely to have one bull and one heifer. 90% of the cases where you have one bull and one heifer calf, the heifer is infertile.
An infertile female twin is called a Freemartin. When a female and male calf share a uterus, the male hormones will cross through the blood supply to the female calf and that will cause abnormalities in her reproductive organs, making it nearly impossible for her to have babies. There are ways to check if she will be infertile, including a blood test. Typically a Freemartin cow would be raised for beef.
Twins are genetic. Twin heifers are more likely to have twins.
When we have twins on the farm, we always pull one calf off of the mama in order to ensure that each calf gets his best chance. In twins, it is common for one calf to be a lot stronger. This will mean that the stronger calf will get all the mama’s milk, and the weaker calf will likely starve to death. The alternative is that each calf will get half the milk produced by mama, but it will not be enough for them. Mamas to twins rarely produce enough milk to support two babies.
We look forward to seeing our babies grown this fall and winter. Calf season is tough, and can be stressful, but it is worth it.
I’m sure we’ve had some of our followers wondering where we have been the last few weeks. It has been several weeks without a post. I wish I could say that we had taken a lengthy vacation to somewhere exciting. That has not been the case.
The last few weeks have been quite hectic. One reason we have taken a break from writing is that we have been awaiting the arrival of our first child. She arrived on June 22, and we have spent the time since adjusting to our new role as Mommy and Daddy. Another reason for our hiatus is that we had taken some time to re-evaluate the projects we have going on now, and to see what changes can and should be made.
As you all may know, this year is a growth/trial and error year for us. We are looking for new ways to expand our farm, and to find a niche that works for us and our schedules while adding diversity. When we added chickens, it was only for free ranging, and the option of having our own farm eggs and having our chickens to eat when they reached end of life. That transitioned into trying to hatch and sell babies, going as far as to becoming NPIP certified. After much discussion and evaluation, we have decided that hatching and selling baby chicks was not for us. As a result, we are now back to free ranging our ladies, and all our girls are much happier.
This summer has been busy for hay. With all of the rain, it has been near impossible to get hay cut in a timely manner. This is a source of supplemental income for us, and it has made it difficult not being able to complete the jobs in a timely manner. The weather dictates our ability to cut and bale the hay, as we want to have as little rain on the cut has as possible before baling. This has caused us to lose a couple of jobs as well, as someone else was able to get to a field of hay before we could. That being said, we have managed to have a good year for hay. The majority of the hay we have cut has been good quality hay, and we have excellent hay customers who have been so patient and understanding.
We do have another project up our sleeves, which I will be sharing with you all soon. We are so very appreciative of our followers, and I cannot wait to share the next leg of our journey with you all!
Farming isn’t easy. As I have talked about in a previous blog, there is always work and chores to be done, always animals that need our attention. Over the winter, we have trialed having pigs and we have added chickens to our farm. Ultimately we decided not to keep pigs, and to expand our chicken flock.
After much consideration, B and I recently decided that we needed to add sheep to our farm. There were many factors that we considered when making this decision, and this was not a decision that we made lightly. We are, of course, keeping our cows and chickens. We just added some sheep to keep things interesting… Or something like that…
As mentioned, there were several factors that went into our decision to get sheep. For starters, sheep are a much smaller animal, and therefore they are easier to herd and work than the cattle. Working sheep vs working cattle is a completely different ball game. The cattle are obviously bigger, and it only takes one crazy cow to get the whole bunch worked up. When the cattle get riled up, they are big enough that they can trample you and have potential to seriously harm you. When the sheep get spooked they are much smaller and more skiddish. They are more likely to run away from you. Another factor that we considered when making our decision is the fact that since sheep are smaller, they are much easier in general on the ground and on the fences. This means less wear and tear, and ultimately less repairs on the fences than with the cows. A small downfall of the sheep, however, is that with the babies being smaller we did have to add some materials to our fences to keep the babies from being able to get out. The babies can fit through the smallest gaps in the fencing!
With our sheep, we chose to have what is called hair sheep as opposed to wool sheep. A common misconception is that hair sheep are a cross between goats and wool sheep. This is not true. Hair sheep are their own breeds. The difference between wool sheep and hair sheep is that hair sheep have more hair fibers to wool fibers, and wool sheep have more wool fibers to hair fibers. This mostly makes a difference in their coats. Hair sheep shed, and as a result do not require shearing as the wool sheep do. They will typically keep their coats until mid to late May, and then begin shedding their hair. This will cause a “patchy” appearance in their coats this time of year, as some of the hair has started shedding while some of it lingers. Some hair sheep do not shed as quickly as others, and will still need a little bit of help with that process. This was important to us because this makes the hair sheep more suitable to our climate in SWMO without us having to work them with the shears.
It is believed that there are more sheep breeds in the world than breeds of any other livestock species (with the exception of poultry.) Worldwide there is an estimated 1000+ breeds of sheep, and there are 50 distinct breeds of sheep in the United States alone. There are two breeds of hair sheep that are considered to be the “most common,” although there are several breeds. Two of the most common breeds are Katahdin and Dorper. We chose these two breeds for our herd.
The Katahdin sheep are a mix between several different British meat breeds: Suffolk, African Hair Sheep, St. Croix, and Wiltshire Horn sheep. In the 1950’s, a breeder by the name of Michael Piel worked on developing them, and he named them after Mt. Katahdin, which was near Piel’s Maine farm. The Katahdin are well known for being a low maintenance breed, and they are extremely hardy to climatic extremes. One of the most interesting facts about these sheep is that they are naturally resistant to internal parasites. These sheep are typically raised for meat.
The Dorper sheep is the second largest sheep breed in South Africa, and they were developed there in the 1930’s. These sheep are bred by crossing a Blackheaded Persian ewe with a Dorset horn. These sheep are typically either all white, or they have a black head. The Dorper is well known for their thick skin, which makes them hardy to harsh climatic conditions. The Dorper has the most sought after sheep skin in the world. These sheep do lack the parasite resistance that is common in a lot of other breeds. They do not shed as well as other sheep breeds, but they are considered to be a superior breed in the United States, and they are one of the most popular breeds of registered sheep in the U.S.
Our dorper sheep are actually a cross between dorper and katahdin. Because they are a mix of the two breeds, you get the best characteristics of each breed.
With there being so many different breeds, and factors to consider, this was a big decision for us. However, we are excited to add this adventure onto our plate and see where it takes us.
Good afternoon, and welcome to Part Three of my series: Getting to Know our Chickens. I have really enjoyed writing the posts for this series, as I am learning facts about the chickens that I did not know before as well. It is somewhat overwhelming at times how much information is related to each breed, and just how much information is involved in chickens in general. They are quite interesting creatures!
We add Mottled Orpingtons to our flock sometime around February. We initially saw them when we went to pick up some different chickens from another breeder. When we picked up the other chickens, we purchased some eggs and decided to have these pretty babies on our farm as well.
We love Orpington’s. They are such a good breed of chicken, as far as docility. They are great layers, and will often lay through the winter. The Mottled’s (MO’s) are somewhat a “designer breed.” They are considered a rare breed. They have the fluffier, feathered body style that is well known for Orpingtons, and they have gorgeous black and white feathering.
MO’s are considered a dual purpose breed. I have touched on this before, but dual purpose means they are slow growing, great egg layers, and still good for eating (if you choose to do so) when they stop laying. They do lay a light to medium brown egg.
One thing about the MO’s that is somewhat unique is that a lot of breeders have trouble with fertility in their MO’s. With their fluffy bodies, there are a lot of excess feathers around their vent. This can decrease or completely prevent the amount of semen that makes it to the eggs. Because of this, both hens and roosters must have the feathers around their vent either shaved or plucked.
Another tip that we have found with this particular breed, is that two roosters are better than one. We currently have 6 hens, and one rooster. The fertility rates/hatch rates have varied in our hatchings. We will add another rooster soon to hopefully increase our fertility and hatch rates.
In some parts of the world, MO’s are also called Spangled orpingtons. This can get confusing. We have always called our babies Mottled but many in other countries refer to theirs as Spangled. The MO’s were imported to the United States in 1903. They were originally “created” by William Cook. Mr Cook was a skilled breeder, and is responsible for creating multiple Orpington breeds, including Black, White, Buff, Jubilee (speckled), and Mottled (spangled) Orpingtons.
Overall, we are extremely happy with the chickens that we have added to our farm, and I look forward to showing you our other babies in the near future!