Strutting Roosters and Ryans

My little manchild has gotten rather serious about his chickens. First of all, we woke up yesterday morning to this March Madness. There was cursing. Mine. In fairness to me, it was pre-coffee and I am not ever responsible for what comes out of my face before the coffee goes in it. 20160304_073551.jpg

Heavy, wet snow, coming down in great white clumps. It was a teacher inservice day at school anyway, so there was no closing or delay announcement to wait for. Most eight year old boys would immediately want to get out and play in it. Ryan stared out the window and declared “Naaah. I’m actually kind of tired of snow.” He asked me if his new incubator would come today, and I guessed probably not. We’re waiting on a small incubator I ordered for Ry at a ridiculous discount because it’s going to take forever to get here from the bowels of some overseas shipping system. I really don’t want to fire up and tend our huge cabinet style one for just a few eggs, so I ordered Ryan a personal one. It’s a little seven egg number so he can hatch his personal birds, and be solely responsible. (Without risking that he whacks 300 fertile eggs with an “I forgot” because he’s, well, an 8 year old boy.) But it’s shiny and new and digital and has a fancy schmancy automatic egg turner so he’s a little excited.

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Ryan at 3 or 4, checking “The Beast”…our homemade incubator.

So, since we didn’t have to post up in the front window and watch for the mail lady, we suited up and went off to the Southern States in the next town over. We have new birds from the auction, I was out of chicken meds and running low on feed.  Before we left, I sent Tony up to the attic in search of one of the ancient Little Giant styrofoam incubators we retired a couple of years ago, because patience and shipping through customs are not big with small boys. We set it up to test it and off we went.

Ry and I cruised the “chicken section” and lusted after all sorts of things that had my internal “No” recording working overtime, but I relented and sprung for a 14$ egg candler for him. Mostly because I don’t want my child goofing around with the current system of candling eggs here, which involves  drilling a hole in a metal soup can and using the highest wattage kazillion degree bare lightbulb as a redneck engineered projector.

We came home and trudged across the “frozen tundra” to medicate our quarantined auction chickens, feed, and check for eggs. Ryan has big dreams for this season’s egg and peep sales. He’s going to buy a go-kart with a Jeep body and headlights for his four wheeler and maybe a car, you see. 🙂20160304_080810.jpg

So yesterday was a banner day here. Tony left for work with goods from the farm. Certainly not the first time for that. I’ve seen him sell roosters out of the back of the old Subaru station wagon to the built-in ethnic market that comprises a good portion of his employer’s rental tenants.

But yesterday was new in that, for the first time, the “goods” in question were the first ever batch of eggs from Ryan’s personal birds. They were packed carefully and shipped off to a tenant who pre-ordered them.

T came home from work and presented Ryan with $3.50 and an order for two dozen more for Sunday.

 

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We may have created a monster.

 

Ryan and I spent most of the rest of the day indoors yesterday shopping online for hatching eggs. The go kart Jeep has been all but forgotten. He’s focused on his egg empire now.  I think I’m in trouble.

 

 

Attending a Livestock Auction, Part One

So we went to our local livestock auction last night. And it occurred to me that some folks might be complete livestock auction virgins and that possibly I could be of some assistance in that area. However, it needs to be noted that the advice you’re going to get here (as you’ve been warned previously)  is usually of the “Here are some things we’ve done that did NOT end well” sort. Ours is experience normally born of making every possible mistake and living to tell the tale.

I wanted photos. However, that didn’t work out well as:  A. We were late B. I am short. C. My view mostly consisted of a sea of shoulder blades, I wasn’t sure anyone would find that interesting. In the interest of authenticity, here is a link to an article by Joya Parsons from several years ago that includes some photos of our local auction. The remainder are not from there, but for illustrative purposes.

Joya Parsons Cooking Up a Story Dill’s

Alrighty then. So here’s a Fun E Farm tutorial on attending a livestock auction for the first time as a buyer. As in, all the random tidbits I really wish I had known or thought of before my first few years ago. It wasn’t pretty.

Before I even begin, let me say this. If you are the type of person that has an extremely tender heart for animals, DON’T GO. Just don’t. Livestock auctions are not a place for vegans or card-carrying, protest attending  PETA members. This will not be a pet store. It’s not the Humane Society or an animal rescue. The stock being sold are not pets. They are food animals, working animals, and producing or breeding animals. They are property here, not family. It is not likely to be a cushy environment by your standards. It will be crowded pens, noisy, likely your idea of filthy and it will smell.  You may observe the use of cattle prods and shock poles and things that may shock you to your very core. You may see sick animals or those who have obviously received less than stellar care. You may see those who were injured in transport and no one will appear to care because they’re going to be purchased by a meat packer within the hour. Just. Don’t. Go. If you do not heed my advice, leave your feelings at the door because you WILL NOT likely find anyone in attendance who will sympathize with your position. And you will be in a place where “When in Rome” is your smartest course of action. I’m not saying you’re right or wrong, don’t light up my inbox with animal rights propaganda please, I’m just trying to be real and save you some angst here. Moving on. 12003296_1183904088302834_7421315606153525312_n

1. Wear appropriate attire.   For Pete’s sake, people. This means BOOTS, jeans, workwear of some sort. This is not Storage Wars. Men, dressing like an inner city pimp or his attorney will not impress or intimidate anyone. It will get you lots of attention, though. Ladies, this is NOT the place for your favorite flats or sandals. Same goes for your 400$ Tony Lama suede boots.  You’re going to get dirty. And muddy. You will likely, at some point, step in crap of some sort. You’re going to be on your feet for most of the time. Sale barns are also notorious for being unheated and uncooled. If it’s 24 degrees outside, it won’t be much more indoors. If its 97 outside, it will be 112 inside.

2. DO YOUR RESEARCH.   This could be an article all its own. I highly recommend that before you purchase ANY livestock animal at ANY auction, you attend at least one time prior with no money and observe. First, go early. Find the office and ask questions. Before the auction, not during, when the staff is trying to properly record 11,764 separate transactions. Here are some examples. Must I register before I can bid? What forms of payment are accepted? How do I bid? Where, when, and how, do I claim stock after the auction? Get a schedule, if one is available. There is infallibly a certain order in which items / pens / areas are auctioned off. Sometimes, multiple pens or areas will be auctioned simultaneously. Bring a friend or family member, make a plan and split up. Also, if sale record sheets (market reports) are available online or at the office, look at a couple auctions worth. It will give you a feel for average prices so you don’t overbid. There are no stupid questions, unless you ask them during an active auction. That’s kinda stupid and should be avoided. Stay for the entire auction. People watch. Note the way things are done.

3. Bring cash. At smaller auctions, small stock (rabbits, poultry, fowl, eggs, etc.) is generally sold for cash. On the spot. As in, before the next item is auctioned. You will hold up the works if you are not prepared to provide a bidder number, and immediate CASH payment. Again, this will get you lots of undesired attention. Seriously, everything will come to a screeching halt and all eyes will be on you. Larger stock (hoofstock) is generally sold in a ring, by bidder number from the seating area, and you will pay for all of the hoofstock you’ve purchased in one lump sum at the office after the sale. Checks may have to be pre approved, and a large number of auctions do not take plastic.westminster-livestock-auction

4.  Go Early.  Way early. Some auctions have “preview hours” and some smaller ones will just allow you to “walk the pens” in the hoofstock area before the auction. This gives you a chance to look over what’s been brought in. Bring pen and paper. Note the numbers of anything you think you’d like to bid on. This is also the time for (don’t laugh because I am dead serious) what I call “poop checking”. Check the hindquarters of the animal(s) you’re interested in. Bonus for you if they actually have “exhaust” as you’re observing. All joking aside, poop is a great indicator to hoofstock health. If it doesn’t look as it should, this can indicate a health problem in your intended purchase. Also eye up coats, eyes, noses, teeth and hooves whenever possible. You will learn that these are great indicators of health, age, and the level of care the animal has likely received. This is important. Bring home one goat with coccidiosis, treat your entire herd for a loooonggg time… That’ll learn you, pumpkin. Trust me on this. An entire herd of goats with flying diarrhea is not a good time. If you have even the slightest warning bells, mind them. There will be another auction, and goats will not ever stop making more goats.

5. Set a budget. Stick to it. This is hard, I know, believe me I know. If you are anything like me, this is the killer. If you are going for six hens, don’t buy twelve. If you’ve decided your limit on a goat is 75 dollars, don’t get caught up in the moment and bid 175. Don’t bid on something you aren’t wild about simply because you got shut out on the last one. On a related note, do not buy something you are not prepared to care for or know nothing about. Impulse buying here is not your friend. (Ask me about pheasant, pigeons, or guinea pigs sometime.) And don’t, for the love of all things holy, buy stuff you can’t haul. Our auction doesn’t deliver, most don’t, and those that do charge ridiculous prices for delivery. And you do not, I repeat, DO NOT, want to ride home in a folding lawn chair in a cargo van with a 200 pound horned beef steer breathing on the back of your neck. Voice of experience here, people. True story. Also, do not be this idiot below. It’s likely I (or someone like me) might walk up and hit you, (another true story)  and I really just don’t heart jail coffee.  (Photo below depicting a similar circumstance) Yes, that’s three, possibly four goats in a trunk, and what is almost certainly a feed sack full of poultry which may or may not be alive.

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6. Prep at home before you go. See above. Prep your vehicle for transporting whatever you intend to buy. Have crates and cages or boxes in your truck or trailer. Water, especially in the summer, is advised.  Some animals may come into the auction barn in the early morning hours and have little access to food or water through the auction.  If you aim to buy bottle babies of any sort, have bottles and milk replacer on hand already. I take full bottles with me. Our closest auction happens at 6 pm on a Wednesday, over an hour from home. There is NOTHING worse than getting home worn slam out at 11 pm, with a truck or trailer full of stock you are not prepared for. Make sure you have a “landing area” prepped for anything you intend to buy. Brooder bins and lights for peeps, pens, food and water. You’re likely going to be exhausted. The stock is going to be stressed. Having wire nippers available at home for removal of ear tags now is much easier than having to catch an animal later or treat ripped ears after a tag has been stuck in a fence. Having a plan and areas prepped will make things go so much easier.

7. Quarantine. I cannot stress this enough. Be prepared to quarantine any stock purchased at an auction for an appropriate time before integrating it with any existing herd or flock on your farm. Separate quarters, separate feed and water containers, everything. If you’re trying to be all organic and un-medicated, understand that auctions are probably not a good buying platform for you. Even if what you bought looks and seems perfectly healthy, understand it was just exposed to the critter equivalent of an auditorium full of snotty, sneezy, kindergartners and all their respective pathogens, germs, and nasties. Every single critter brought onto this farm from an auction is quarantined and medicated. Every one. Every time. They will ALL be given appropriate wormers and vaccinations and preventatives and those will be given time to work before they are integrated.  Once they are, it’s a closed flock or herd and only then, any unnecessary meds are discontinued. No exceptions, unless they are intended for immediate sale or slaughter. These may not be the hens you bought, but they may have been their neighbors in the next cage.  Once you’re home, handwashing and being mindful of tracking parasites or nasties from one pen to another should be observed. A dishpan of bleach solution to dip the old boots in between enclosures is advisable and will save you plenty of grief later.

 

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8. Type of sale. Ok, so typically, small stock on the barn floor is sold by the piece and without the cage. What this means is that if there is a cage with six hens and a rooster in it and you only want the hens, tough noogies. You’re bidding on and buying ALL of them. You are buying on them as a lot, but bidding on them by the piece. If the winning bid is , say 10$…the winning bidder now owes 70$, as there are 7 birds in the cage. Same goes for rabbits, peeps, most fowl, etc. BY THE PIECE. Box of 25 chicks? 3$ bid? 75$.   In the sale ring, smaller hoofstock (like sheep, goats or young pigs) may be brought into the ring in large lots, in which case the winning bidder can opt to take one, all, or any combination. The sold ones will be ushered out, remaining ones will be sold with a new round of bidding. If you’ve picked one goat kid you simply must own, and it’s brought into the ring as part of a lot, this is an important time to pay attention and exercise self control. The people you will be bidding against at this point are likely meat buyers for packing houses. They want them all, they want them cheap. If the price is low enough, they will take them all. Bid for first choice, up to your limit, and if they go over, then quit. Live to bid another day. Larger stock is sold BY THE POUND. That 123 you’re hearing is not a $123 feeder beef steer. It’s $1.23 per pound. All 800 pounds of him. That’s 984 dollars, kids.  If you do not know if you’re bidding on something by the piece or pound, don’t bid until you’ve confirmed which. There is typically a scale somewhere above the auction ring which will give an accurate weight and the auctioneer will have announced it prior.

9. Learn your terminology. This is a picture of a sale sheet, or market report. 12398_1272027286157180_5368147733148679890_n.jpg

By familiarizing yourself with the terms on it, you’ve prepped for how things are sold, and if you don’t already know the difference between a boar, sow, steer, bull, cow, calf, ewe, ram, doe, nanny, billy, kid, wether, etc…please educate yourself on those terms before you go. (Hey, I don’t judge, I see it all the time.)

10. Don’t bid against the Amish kids. Well, ok, you can bid…but there are only two possible outcomes here. You’re going to lose or get soaked. Understand that kid probably has more cash in the wallet tucked in his homespun trousers than you do. Know that he’s probably here every time the doors are open. He likely has far more working knowledge than you.  He knows what he’s bidding on, knows exactly what he’s willing to pay for it, and he will not stop up to that point. The other conceivable scenario (and I see it a LOT) is he brought it in, and he will bid you up to the price he wants for it or buy it himself to bring back next week rather than see it go for half market price. They’re smart and savvy. You can learn a lot from these young fellows. blog6.jpg

11. Keep track of your purchases. Seriously, write it down. Cage number, sticker number, price paid, amount owed, # of heads, etc. You will likely be unable to collect any of your stock until after a particular area or group has finished selling and been recorded in the office. You can and will forget. When you get home, this is also good information for your own records. You’ll thank me later, trust me on this. Bite the bullet and be the nerd writing your stuff down. It also comes in handy when you have to defend your hens from being snatched up later by a non-writer who may mistakenly think he bought them.

So, as this has gone on far longer than I planned, I hope some of these tips are helpful if you’re planning your first trip to auction. If you have any questions, feel free to ask and I will address other items in a future post to come.

~Lisa

 

Beauty is in the eye of the determined.

10485366_1187124057981123_2848459601193225218_nA photo I took over our pasture this fall.

Sometimes it’s easy for me to find beauty. Sometimes it seems overwhelmingly, ridiculously impossible. We’re surrounded daily by so much ugliness and evil and hatred and contention on a daily basis that it becomes the norm. Immersed in it. Drowning in a media borne sea of 50 foot waves of awfulness and despair, clinging to nothing but a photo or memory of a baby or a sunset for hope of survival.    Don’t believe me? Watch the newscast. Scroll through your local news station’s Facebook feed. Just for the sake of this exercise, grab a piece of scratch paper and a pen. Make two columns. One for positive, hopeful or uplifting, and one for “stuff that angers, horrifies, scares, nauseates, saddens, or in generally makes me feel like crap.” Go ahead, I’ll wait. Here’s mine. For the first 46 items on my local news station’s feed. (Discounting sports articles)20160227_191635 (1).jpg

 

43 to 3.  Really? See my conveniently labeled columns entitled “Crap” and “Yay!” (I’m a simple gal.) Forty flipping three craptastic articles featuring (in no particular order at all) murder, mayhem, car crashes, rape, ridiculousness,  bomb threats, fires, abuse, arson, assault, suicide, burglary, drug use, overdoses, death, destruction, natural disasters, embezzlement, and dissent. One puff piece about a local teacher of the year, one about the future of Punkin Chunkin that really could go either way (but my right column was lonely), and one about the upcoming local fishing season. I skipped over sports articles.

It even surprised me, actually. I’ve literally stopped watching the news for this very reason.  I’ve made jokes for years to my family that if I ever hit the lottery, I was going to buy a mountain, encircle it with an electrified razor wire topped ten foot fence and cloister my entire family there, and any other sane friends who would like to come along. A place to secede from the world’s ever growing insanity. It’s only half a joke. Like this right here.

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Or maybe a “tiny house” village. Like this one, only located on said imaginary mountain.

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But until then, I just have to boycott the network news media, (because it’s all bad, all the time) and continue my daily search for what’s good and lovely and uplifting in the world. I don’t think of it as willful ignorance, I think of it as sanity preservation.

I still have to send my remaining minor child off to school every day without lurking fear based imagining of an elementary school bathroom heroin overdose or a psycho school shooter.  And without using any sort of “happy pills” because I’m in recovery and my program and my sponsor both tell me that’s to be avoided.

So for now…these are my ” happy pills.” Here are some photos over the years that we’ve taken. These are some of our happiest moments. The most beautiful ones. Where the world is not a cesspool of crazy, and we’re consciously looking for and finding the beauty. Because beauty is in the eye of the determined, not the beholder. Some things are just ugly, and you can’t make them feel any different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Child Labor, Tom Sawyer style

 

It’s a beautiful day. It’s still early and cold enough to freeze eggs in the un-henned nest box, but it’s a beautiful day. And I am assembling an arsenal of  boycritter bait. An opportunist Mama, I am. See this right here?20160227_082701.jpgThis, my friends, is boycritter bait, a la Mark Twain.  Ryan also has a friend over for the weekend. Add in some healthy competition, mini mob mentality, and the fact that I am smart enough to fuel the work force with junk food and the promise of homemade brownies and I should have scored myself a whirling dervish workforce times TWO. And Ryan’s poultry pleasure palace should have a pristine coat of Barn Red.

It took approximately 14.6 seconds after I began assembling the tools for Mom’s outdoor sweatshop for THIS to happen:

“Ooooooh…is that paint? Are you painting today”

“Erm…maybe. Why do you ask, boys?”

“Can we help? Pleeeassse?”

It’s at this point the prudent person looking for cheap labor should resist. Just the tiniest bit. This makes the potential drudgery seem an even more attractive way to spend a Saturday.

“Well, I don’t know. It’s kind of a big job over there. And you guys would get paint on yourselves, it’s pretty cold too. Do you think you can do it and follow directions, so it gets done the right way? It’s pretty important for me to get this done today and I just don’t know if ya’ll can do it.”

“Oh, we can, we promise…C’mon Ma, puh-leeeeeze? Pretty please? We’ll be really good and we’ll listen and do a great job. Honest!”

Reverse psychology is now your friend.

“Well, I guess it would give me some spare time to do other stuff. Like maybe make brownies.”

They’re jumping and whooping now. And hunting for paint clothes. Well played, Mom. Well played.

 

 

Normal is Just a Setting on the Dryer.

12745434_1253932904633571_6178377214742722833_nThis is my 8 year old’s normal.

It’s probably not your normal. That’s ok. It’s certainly NOT a perfect photograph, but it is a perfectly accurate snapshot of our life and the stuff in it that brings me joy. Here’s what I love about this photo.

1. There is not a single electronic device present. This isn’t to say that Ry doesn’t enjoy access to computers and tablets and gaming systems. He does. (Which some days result in EPIC battles of wills.) You’ll notice there are none here.

2. That impish little grin is a completely genuine one. No faking it for the camera…just pure uncontainable, “I’m not too cool for this” joy. I hope he never outgrows not being too cool, but the realist in me is painfully aware of the possibility that these days may be numbered. I’ll take them while I can get them.

Here are the things you may not see.

That after working all day, at 7:30 p.m., my honey drove nearly an hour away (Still finishing up work calls on his earpiece the entire time) to pick up a bottle lamb and back and didn’t complain.  Literally, pulled in the drive, sucked down a only marginally decent cup of coffee and loaded right back up to leave again. We were both so over the day that we elected to not clear the tools out of the truck to make room for a crate (they will just have to be put back tomorrow anyway) so that lamb rode 48 miles on my lap. That my kid had gas station convenience store deli fried chicken for dinner without a vegetable in sight and didn’t get to bed until well after 10. On a school night.

You also don’t see that he did three days worth of homework without complaint or battle pre-embarking on our mission because Monday’s never gets done on Monday (Cub Scouts) and Wednesday’s doesn’t get done on Wednesday if it’s an auction week, and it is. So it’s a Tuesday triple, which happens more often than I should probably admit to.

That pink topped Playtex bottle you see there has been so well used, it’s  nearly lost it’s pre-printed design and seen countless orphan goat kids and lambs AND three dishwashers come and go. (And the occasional human grandchild, don’t judge me, the aforementioned dishwashers have a sterilize setting) The man-child holding it may pretend to be incapable of independently constructing his own chocolate milk, but he can rattle off a recipe from memory for homemade milk replacer like nobody’s business.

You don’t see the 10 miles of giggles after I was presented with figuring out if that was lamb “happy tail” or pelletized poo striking the leg of my jeans…(poo, of course). Or the 20 miles of uncontrollable laughter from everyone after our wooly charge expertly unleashed a stream of something warm and wet that ran directly down the leg of my jeans and into my shoe. (Because nothing is EVER funnier than Mom getting peed on. Except Crap, and that was a done deal already)

You don’t see him staying up to make sure the new baby is comfortably settled in the mud room, pulling and hauling on stuff way too heavy for his tiny body, all the while extracting promises that only he gets to do the morning feeding.

You don’t see him counting the contents of his piggy bank before bed in preparation for Wednesday’s auction because he knows that sheep and goats are herd animals and he fears his new charge might be lonely, and it’s no more work but more profit to raise multiples. And you have never seen him raise a bidder number at that auction (and get taken seriously, the auctioneers all know him by name and that he means business) then plunk down his very own money for something he needs or wants, with no wires, bells, whistles or graphics but instead, something with yet another chore attached.

Or that he knows it’s ok to name this one, because as an intact male, he won’t be gracing our dinner table, but not to get attached because when he reaches an age that bowling for children becomes a sheep sport, he’ll be off to auction.

And most importantly, what you really don’t see is my terror that life like this is vanishing. Someday, (in some places even now) this is not ok…that someone has decided it’s not normal, or even legal. Sobering thought, isn’t it?

Well, until that day comes…and if it ever does in my lifetime it will be met with kicking and screaming of epic proportions, this IS our normal. There’s a loose baby lamb in my truck. My kid didn’t eat a balanced meal, is out way past bedtime on a school night, and there’s animal crap in my pant cuffs and urine in my shoe. Child labor is alive and well here, but it’s not forced, it’s called work ethic and I’m grateful my kid is learning some.  Our family vehicle smells like lamb ass, and there’s livestock living in the entry to our home. And we’re all smiling.

Normal is just a setting on the dryer around here. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

*** For reference purposes, I’m attaching a link to another blog where I originally found a recipe for homemade milk replacer for lambs. We have been using it ever since, I have not bought a bag of commercial type since finding this recipe, and have not lost a single lamb. So it’s worked famously for us. 

Thank you, Collie Farm!