Automation has come to our hobby farm. We installed an automatic chicken coop door earlier this year for extra protection against predators given our prior losses.
The simplest model (which is the one we purchased) provides automatic opening and closing with a daylight sensor or a set time schedule operation. The amount of daylight that triggers opening or closing is fully adjustable. It also includes a freeze protect feature with an adjustable temperature setting so that the door won’t open if it is below the set temperature (we set ours at 17 degrees). Our door requires external power but we already had power outlets in our coop so that wasn’t a big issue for us.
Consistent with past summers (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018), we hosted 3 yearling heifers on our pastures over the summer.
This year they were on the smaller side as they were part of the end of summer births last year so were only ~10 months old whereas the cows we hosted in prior years were closer to 12 months old by the time they arrived here.
Because they were on the smaller side, in addition to all of the grass they could eat, they also received supplemental grain every few days so they would put on extra weight. Feeding the extra grain really made a big difference in how friendly the cows were. With the grain feedings, they would often run across the pastures when they saw anyone coming close to their gate.
When we first adopted Tiny, we were not expecting her to live for much longer as she seemed quite sick at the time. That was way back in November 2017.
We had to have her put to sleep last week. She had progressing kidney failure and was struggling a little to keep on enough weight. Though she was declining physically slowly over time, her mind went first. Her dementia had progressed to such a stage that she wasn’t really Tiny most of the time any more.
We’ll miss her standing right next to us in the kitchen waiting not so patiently for her share of any eggs we were cooking.
Although other than the weasel incident last fall, our chickens have generally been safe while inside the pasture fences. Even so, since the weasel, we have made an extra effort to make sure all of the chickens are locked inside the coop every night.
In addition to the weasel, we had occasionally seen foxes and coyotes in the area. We set out our new game camera (which we used to track down the weasel) to see what other predators might be around the farm at night.
Raccoons are a common chicken predator that can kill an entire flock if they get into the coop at night. We captured a family of raccoons just outside the pastures one night. They don’t appear on camera on multiple nights over a couple month period so hopefully they were just passing through and don’t live in the immediate vicinity.
In addition to the raccoons, we also captured a coyote traveling along the trail one night. It doesn’t appear in multiple shots either so likely isn’t living in the immediate vicinity.
After the weasel attacks last fall, our chicken flock was somewhat depleted. Earlier this spring, we purchased some new chickens to add to our flock – this time we purchased day old chicks.
Although they are sorted by sex shortly after hatching, there is generally an error rate of around 10% so there is always a risk with day old chicks that some might actually turn out to be roosters.
We bought 6 chicks in total – 3 Buttercup hens and 3 Ameraucana hens. The Buttercups are the chicks with the speckled heads in the pictures. We already have other Ameraucana chicks – they are also called Easter Eggers because they can produce a range of egg colors from brown to green to blue to pink (each hen only lays one color its whole life).
While none of the 6 appears to have been a rooster, unfortunately one of the chicks did have a health issue appear after a few weeks.
A couple years ago, we tried to build a small earthen dam to stop debris from the woods from being washed out into the pastures during spring rains / snow melt. That attempt didn’t hold.
Instead of rebuilding the earthen dam to completely block the water by holding it back, I decided to fortify the remaining piece of earthen dam with a water-permeable dam instead. By creating a water-permeable dam, the water would still flow through the dam out into the pastures, but the leaves, rocks and tree limbs would remain in the woods leaving the fences and pastures undamaged after the water subsides and avoiding the need for any time spent on clean up. The dam should slow the flowing water, causing the debris to stop while the water would continue seeping slowly through the dam out into the fields.
But what could we use to make the water-permeable dam? It would need to allow water through yet be sturdy enough to generally hold its shape under pressure from the flowing water without itself washing away.
Our old goat, Harriet, passed away peacefully in early February.
She struggled with arthritis for the last couple of years and despite taking anti-inflammatory and pain medication, the cold during the polar vortex was too much for her to handle and we made the difficult decision to have her euthanized once it was clear she was suffering.
The average life expectancy for an angora goat is believed to be only 8 to 11 years. Harriet was at least 16 years old (ancient in angora goat years). She lost her front teeth, had her horn cut down when it was threatening to grow into her skull, and still kept ticking.
We will miss her gentle nature in the flock and her unique color out in the pastures.
We had her cremated and plan to spread her remains around the pasture once spring arrives.
As noted last time, 3 of our 4 new hens were missing, presumed dead.
We moved another hen from our flock to the chicken tractor so that the silver-spangled hamburg wouldn’t be alone. We also lined the outside of the chicken tractor with paving stones so nothing could dig right next to side and get underneath. This seemed to work as we saw no indications of any predators for several weeks.
After the quarantine period, we moved the silver-spangled hamburg and the other hen into the main barn so they could safely integrate back into the flock. They were inside a portable dog pen that was lined on the outside with chicken wire with a piece wood over the top. The barn has a concrete floor so the assumption was that nothing could dig underneath the pen.
Last fall, consistent with past practice (see here, here and here), we picked up 4 new hens from the NY State Fair.
There were 3 bantam-sized partridge cochins and 1 silver-spangled hamburg. They were all close to fully grown. The silver-spangled hamburg is a small breed, so although she wasn’t a true bantam, she was similar size to the bantam cochins.
As the hens were new to our flock, we quarantined them in the moveable chicken tractor for several weeks. When quarantining the new hens, we placed the chicken tractor outside of the main fences.
The chicken tractor is covered with wire mesh to both keep the chickens inside and keep predators out. As you can see in the above picture, the wire mesh is pretty small and anything that can fit through the mesh is unlikely to threaten an adult chicken.