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.
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.
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.
Last month, a local county agricultural council sponsored their annual farm fest, where a number of local farms are open on a weekend day for free tours / open house. It just so happens that one of the farms open for tours was only ~3 miles away so we decided to stop by.
Although only a few miles away, the farm isn’t directly visible from the road, so we had no idea that they raise… yaks!
Here is a picture of one of their yaks:
An adult female yak.
We learned that yaks are a triple threat – they are raised for milk, meat and fiber. The farm was selling yak sliders and yak yarn and fiber products during the open house.
According to the farmer, yaks are smaller than typical beef and dairy cows – the adult females are typically only 500 to 600 pounds. Adult male yaks (domesticated) can weigh in at 900 – 1,200 pounds. For reference, typical beef cattle bulls can reach closer to 2,000-3,000 pounds (but are often slaughtered younger so are usually seen at lower than full weight).
Here is a close-up shot so you can see their shaggy fur coat. Their fiber is used to make yarn and then into whatever product from there. The farm was selling knit yak products such as winter hats.
An imperial yak (I think).
Yaks come in a variety of color patterns. A black yak is called an imperial yak. A yak that is white and black is called a royal yak. There are also somewhat rare golden yaks that are all light brownish in color.
With the expanded flock, we needed to make sure all of the goats (especially the kids) could get out of the weather all summer, no matter which pasture they were in. While we already have the barn in one of the large pastures, the other large pasture only had a single run-in shed.
While the goats could all fit in our original run-in shed if they stood fairly close together, in practice they would fight a bit and push some of the goats out of the shed at least some of the time, even before we added Treat and her 2 kids to the flock.
So, we decided to add a second run-in shed so they could all be under cover at the same time without pushing each other around.
We wanted to put it relatively close to the current shed so all of the goats could be near each other. We ordered a custom built shed from a local Amish building group.
First, we had to clear a patch of grass where the shed would go. I used the loader bucket on the tractor to clear out a dirt patch slightly bigger than the base of the shed.
Clearing the grass for a spot for the new shed.
After clearing a spot, we had a load of gravel delivered to create a good base for the shed that would allow good drainage. With the gravel leveled and compacted, we were ready for delivery.