Old McDavis farm…I’m back! This is long, grab your tissues, you will need them.

You know how when you start something up, you have all these goals and ideas. I had big ideas, huge and I was so ready to do it all right now! 5 years down the road now, I’ve realized that life doesn’t allow you to do it all right now. Sometimes life gets in your way. Sometimes thats just lifes way of saying to you, “Crazy lady if you don’t slow down you are going to burn out and never meet your goals because you will quit.” Well thank you life, I’m Nicole and I burned out. Last year, I had so many plans for the blog, for our farm, for our family and then life beat the hell out of it all. Its really easy to love farming when everything is going so perfect and you are getting eggs, milk and meat all the time, when your neighbors love you and your farm, when all the animals are healthy and happy. But when things are not perfect, its a chore just to go outside and many days you may even find yourself ready to just give it all up. Before you do that, read this update, it may help make your decision easier.

Going into spring season last year, things were looking great. I had 1 pregnant goat, who was confirmed to be carrying triplets, seeds were sprouting, rabbit Stu had a new girlfriend, we planted a new fruit tree orchard, literally everything was going beautifully. I don’t know if I got complacent or if I just wasn’t prepared for what would come. Everyone still to this day tells me its not my fault, but theres nothing anyone can say to dissuade my guilt. Things continued to progress as we moved toward a warmer spring, but in April we went from warm to hot seemingly overnight. Everyone who follows our Facebook page already knows we lost Max our wether goat at the beginning of May so this won’t be a surprise for most, but for me I still look back and ask myself why I didn’t do more and things differently.

Ok back to my story. Max was our 1 year old male goat. We banded him when he was 8 weeks old as most people do with their bucklings to wether them. We continued to feed alfalfa hay while he was growing but i found out later I continued for far too long. Heres a good way to explain hay, Timothy hay is like only eating salad everyday, Orchard Grass hay is like eating salmon everyday, and Alfalfa is like eating cheeseburgers everyday. So we fed him the equivalent of cheeseburgers for almost a year when he didn’t need the extra calories does need. And when the heat increased so dramatically, Max didn’t adjust his water intake fast enough and he developed urinary stones. The alfalfa has increased calcium that he had been on for almost a full year before changing him and all that calcium had built up in his system and caused blockages. Additionally the blockage would have been more manageable had it not been for the large scar tissue from his banding at 8 weeks old making his urethra extremely underdeveloped. On top of all this, his condition wasn’t caught for a couple weeks because he was such a loving and lively goat that his behavior didn’t really change. Until the morning it did.

I found Max hiding behind the goat house, unwilling to come see me or eat even his favorite animal crackers. The vet was my first call, and our vet is amazing, she made time for him right away. We decided to attempt some medications because we didn’t really know how bad it was. He was very unhappy with me for giving him yucky meds. When you are going through all these things you think it will be better to be less invasive and conservative, but looking back not only would my bank account have been better off (not that it matters because I would have spent every dime I had and sold myself if it could have saved his life) but if I had said no lets be super aggressive and get it out of him now from day one, maybe we would have been more successful. Wethers who get urinary stones only have a 50% chance of survival. Knowing the odds, and thinking that I would be able to help him beat this, we went home with the meds and instructions for trying to get things moving. For days we tried and tried, just when we thought things were improving he would slide back again. Back to the vet again, this time for the more aggressive surgery. Writing all this down just makes me cry and want to quit all over again, but i need to share this story to save others. I need people to learn from me and Max, it gives his life and death meaning. So back at the vet, he was opened up and flushed out, he did so great, and we made the decision to leave him open so anything farther up could get out. Things seemed to improve a bit for a few more days. The temps had dropped a bit, he was drinking and eating a bit more. We all thought he was going to recover. About 2 weeks after this all began I went out with breakfast and meds, and found him crashing and unable to get up. I had recently just had surgery and wasn’t suppose to lift anything over 10 lbs, but I didn’t care. I grabbed blankets and called for help, we carried him into the bathroom, added a heat lamp and got a heating pad and more blankets. He was fighting but his body was done. We spent the remaining hours we had comforting him, sitting on the tiny bathroom floor with him, snuggling him, giving him his favorite treats and water from a syringe, the kids loved on him, and I cried with him in my lap until our vet could come help us help him over the rainbow bridge. This was by far the hardest and most heartbreaking experience I had in the last 5 years. Nothing could prepare me for this loss, for the anger that came after at myself and for the emptiness I would feel and his mother Lavender would begin to show quickly. We had Max cremated and his ashes were spread in a big apple orchard to nourish the trees for years to come.

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Our Max, gone but not forgotten

Things I learned that I want to share, urinary stones can be prevented by switching to Orchard grass hay for wethers when they are close to being full grown, soaking pelleted orchard grass hay in water before feeding during warm weather can help with increasing water intake and they view it as a treat, be prepared and have ammonium chloride on hand at all times to help break up blockages at the first sign of trouble, and the thing I would have done had I known, pay for surgical castration if you plan to keep your wethers as pets, the survival rate if stones occur goes up to 80% if I remember correctly. We adopted Lavender and Max 3 weeks after he was born, they were incredibly bonded and did everything together. You would never find them apart, she loved him so much, so naturally the loss of him was very hard on her. She quickly began to show depression, she was always in their hut alone, she wouldn’t join the others for treats, and when I would go to her, she would just lay her head in my lap and when I would leave she would call for him to come back because I was the one who carried him away. More research on my part lead to the conclusion that she needed a friend to help her recover, and if I’m honest I could have also used another friend to help me cope with the big hole left behind by my high spirited shadow.

I looked, and looked, got really discouraged because I needed to find a goat close in age but not older, smaller than her and probably another girl, (having a boy this soon for me would have been too terrifying) so I looked day and night for a week. Late one night I found a listing for an entire herd of goats being rehomed because their owners were divorcing and the property being sold. The listing said they would only be sold in pairs or more, so I wasn’t hopeful but I went ahead and plead my case anyway, hoping the owner would take pity on me and our situation and might have a goat that would fit with what we were looking for. Turned out, she had much empathy for us and had 2 perfect choices, both girls, a year old, half nigerian dwarf half pygmy, but she was 5 hours away from me and she thought one might be pregnant. I had to decide, take a chance and pray that one would work out or wait and hope Lavender would be ok for a bit longer. Seeing how the loss was so fresh and I was still reeling I decided that I had to do something and worst case would be a wasted day of driving. The following weekend I loaded up my road trip companions and giant goat crate and headed over the mountains. When we pulled onto the farm, we found a big pen with a bunch of goats calling to their visitors. I can admit I am a horrible urban farming goat snob, I personally was upset by their conditions and for me it immediately turned from an adoption mission to a rescue mission. If I could have loaded them all up I would have, but I could only bring one home (didn’t stop me from calling on my goat friends to help rescue more of the babies) There was no covered shelter that I could see, no hay out, dirty water and they were very “feral” in my opinion. I went into the pen, was immediately pounced on by all the goats except one. There was a timid girl I recognized from the photos of the 2 potential fits that had been sent to me, I squatted down and waited for her to come to me, she slowly came over and let me pet her, she was under weight by a lot, and way more pregnant than I had been told, her milk bag was already full, she had a fully grown babe in her belly ready to explode. I said yes right away and gently picked her up and put her in my vehicle with hay and water which she began to devour. We still had a 5 hour drive to get her home, we stopped more than really necessary to give her a chance to stretch her legs and also so she could calm herself. We did just remove an extremely pregnant doe from her herd, and she was naturally upset. At one point she began having contractions and I worried I would be delivering a kid without my emergency kit or my delivery kit (bad planning on my part) but she calmed down and took a nap for the last hour of our trip.

Thankfully we got her home without major incident and were able to introduce her to Lavender who immediately perked up. Goats are beautiful animals not just in personality but in spirit. I don’t know if Lavender could sense the pregnancy, or if she was so starved for friendship but she immediately took Lemon under her hoof as her little sister. She became protective overnight, and very sweet. You know how I said she was very pregnant, well Lemon delivered a sweet baby girl exactly 2 weeks later, named Lemon Pepper or Pepper for short aka lil cow. Our vet came to check them out and said that had we not brought her home when we did, Lemon and her baby likely would not have survived. Lemon was so underweight, and us bringing her home gave her the nutrition she needed for the baby and herself, oh and another surprise was that she wasn’t even a year old yet. Based on when she lost her front teeth, she was likely around 9 to 10 months old when she had her baby, a product of careless ownership. So while we did lose Max and losing him was a huge heartbreak, it enabled us to save 2 lives, Lemon and Pepper. Lavender was present for the birth of Pepper, and became Auntie Lavender to her, letting her jump all over her, follow her around, and would even put her in her place when needed.

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Lemon Balm with her newly born Lemon Pepper

So in the span of two months, I had major life changing surgery, Max fell sick and perished, we rescued a very pregnant goat who then birthed a beautiful 1 lb girl. Whew! that was a lot right. I thought that was the end of my woes but it wasn’t. I will get to that but first lets talk about Clover, my other goat who was pregnant and fast approaching her own due date with triplets. Seriously can I just take a moment….life around here is nothing short of interesting.

Ok, lets get back to the story. I had just experienced my first live birth, it was like a high that I never wanted to end, it was beautiful, scary and nothing short of a miracle in my eyes. Two weeks later we were getting ready for it again. Clover had been showing all the signs, she was restless, had been making a nest, laying a lot and sleeping all the time, her ligaments were gone and her milk bag was full. Lets not sit and pretend that since I had just gone through this that I wasn’t freaking out, I was out of my mind with worry, this was one of my first girls, I raised her from 5 days old and there was 3 babies fighting to get out of her! I was checking every hour to two for days thinking it was time. Finally, I put a camera in the little hut and stopped bothering her so often. I checked on her around 4pm June 24th, she was laying down and for the first time in weeks she let me put my hands on her belly to feel her babies kicking, she laid there and let me rub her belly and scratch her neck. I knew it was coming soon. I told her I was going to go take a nap, with the window open so I could hear her if she went into labor. That didn’t happen though. So when I woke up at 8pm a little later than I intended, I went out to check on her because she was not inside her hut where her nest was made. I rounded the corner and could see the pen, she was laying outside the hut, quiet. I walked into the pen and she saw me, she immediately went into labor when I got to her. I called for help and to bring my delivery supplies. Called my on call midwifes and we were off for delivery. Once again another miracle occurred, 15 minutes of contractions and Clover delivered her first baby, a girl just over a pound, 5 minutes later she delivered another baby girl 3 pounds and then with one push and a woosh her 3rd baby was born, a boy 2 pounds. My strong and timid little Clover did the unthinkable that night, and then cleaned, accepted and nursed them all.

Ok, so maybe some background would help give this story the perspective needed to gain a full understanding. Nigerian dwarf goats are great at breeding, they are built for it. Typically they will have 2-4 babies, however the first pregnancy is almost always a single. Clover had 3 her first pregnancy. Thats part of what makes this so incredible, she was my smallest goat, it was her first pregnancy, 3 babies increases the risk for tangling, and bad positioning, and yet despite all of that, she had 3 babies come out front feet first, alive and healthy, and then she actually accepted them all instead of rejecting one or more. Its pretty common for a first time mom to reject one or more babies, which is why I’m always prepared to bottle feed. But with the happiness of babies also comes the knowledge that you can’t keep all the babies and I started looking for their home immediately to prevent getting too attached. I knew I would get them for 7-8 weeks but I made sure to love them with the knowledge i was getting them ready for their forever home. And I did just that, at 7 weeks old they went to live on acreage all together with an amazing family I knew would not only love them but adore them for their entire life.

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Clovers babies, Thing 1 middle, Thing 2 front and Thing 3 the boy in back

You would think that by now things were turning around for us, but they didn’t, not yet. All through spring I had been having issues with my hatch rates for the chicks. More full grown chicks were dying in the egg than I had ever experienced before. I knew it wasn’t the eggs themselves because every egg I sold to others were hatching perfectly. So what was going on here, was I doing something wrong with my eggs? Was I mishandling them, was I not incubating properly. I did so many hatches with only a couple babies being able to get out of the eggs. I’ve been hatching for 5 years now, and I’ve never had that issue before. So that was a very frustrating time as well. Dozens of eggs were set and very few chicks were hatched and survived. I know I’m not perfect, no one is, but I’ve prided myself on my ability to have near perfect hatch rates for years and theres nothing more frustrating for me than working so hard on something to be met with failure after failure. There came a point during the summer where I just gave up all together. I packed up the incubators for the year and said I’m done, I just wouldn’t hatch anymore. And at that point I was done. But that didn’t last very long as you will learn.

Around the same time as I was giving up on hatching, we were hit with another blow. One of our cats, who is more of a barn cat who loves our elderly neighbors and only comes to hunt rats for us, we found injured one day. What we would discover would perhaps be the most disgusting and horrific thing that happened to our farm. Trigger is a big orange rat killing cat. He’s 6 years old now, and for the last several years we only see him in the yard when he is hunting or decides to grace us with his presence. So he’s kind of only our cat in the sense we pay his vet bills and offer him a warm couch during winter if he wants it. Well I got a phone call from the neighbor asking if we had seen Trigger because he didn’t come over for breakfast with the neighbor, and I said, “Of course I haven’t seen him, he rarely hunts over here during the day.” I went looking for him immediately. Trigger must have known it was time, because when i was walking around the street calling his name I heard his meow and he came out from under a bush and laid down. I went to him and he didn’t get up or move. I picked him up and felt this lump that wasn’t there before, he immediately started crying out but wouldn’t move. My neighbor was there with me, I told him I would take him straight to the emergency vet and call him as soon as I knew anything. Let me explain the relationship with our cat, if you can even call him mine anymore. Trigger loves us when we are outside but he comes inside the house and he hisses and growls and turns into a big scary lion, however this is not the case with our neighbor, he is in love with our neighbor, they are best friends and Trigger would rather spend all his days nights and the rest of his life with our neighbor than spend 5 minutes in our house. It really doesn’t matter to either of us though who calls him theirs because we both love and care for him as much as he will allow, he’s a wild beast of a cat who has chosen his own path but we knew that we had to get him care immediately.

However, if you have pets then you know that you want to avoid the emergency vet because you will pay out the nose for a stitch, so if I’m going there then its because I know in my heart if I don’t then this animal will die. The whole way to the vet my heart was in my stomach. Trigger is not a normal outdoor cat, for one thing he’s polydactyl, has extra toes, he has outstanding balance because of this, he has yet to meet a cat he can’t whoop on, he’s a climber, jumper and very aware of whats going on around him always. So he’s like an outdoor cat on steroids basically. So while I’m driving I’m wondering what the hell could have happened to my beautiful wild cat that I love, despite his grumpiness toward me. We got to the vet and they rushed us right to a room, proceeded to check us in and check him out and take him to the back room. I authorized whatever was needed to tell me what was wrong with him. If you love animals at all, I’m warning you now that you will be angry for what I’m about to tell you. The vet came in without Trigger, sat down and asked me what happened. I explained that I had no idea, he didn’t show up for breakfast like he did everyday and I found him hiding under a neighbors bush. She looked angry and prepared me for what she was about to tell me by saying, “I’m going to explain what his injuries are first and then I’m going to tell you what I believe is the only cause for his injuries.” I was already crying because come on, what vet makes a statement like this before hand unless something is extremely serious. So here it is, Trigger had a stab wound from under his armpit all the way to his spine at an angle that was 6″ long but it was only under the skin and he was basically skinned his entire side where the stab wound was. He had 3 broken ribs and a broken sternum with a hematoma already on his chest the size of a golf ball. She said that as far as they could tell he had no internal bleeding but would need internal stitches to reattach his skin as well as close the opening  of the stab wound and leave in a drainage tube. I was speechless and probably white as a ghost, but the vet wasn’t done, she still hadn’t told me what she believed was the cause of his injuries. Thats when she said it and shook my whole world upside down. The vet said and with a level of certainty that the only thing that could do this kind of damage was a human being. She believed he was beaten and then stabbed, possibly while the human was attempting to skin him, but he got away. There it is, the event that unravelled my world and made me want to quit it all. I was done. I paid his bill and collected my boy to bring him home for the 6 weeks of indoor recovery time. You will be relieved to know that Trigger did in fact make a full recovery, it took over 6 weeks and our neighbor came to visit him regularly to keep his spirits up. He didn’t walk away completely whole though, his personality has changed specifically toward me, possibly because I was the medication giver and holding him hostage so he could heal, but its ok with me if it helps him feel more in control again.

That brings us to the end of summer. I was done, I was ready to sell all the chickens, ducks, rabbit and only keep my goats as pets. Part of it was being overwhelmed by the loss and the tragedy and part of it was a pure lack of knowing what was coming next. I didn’t think things could be worse than losing Max, but then to have an attack on our cat at the hands of a human, and not knowing who did it. For all I knew it could have been our neighbor who hated us and continued to harass us at every chance. But that was it, I was ready to give up everything I loved doing because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t know if it was days or weeks, but eventually after many people had attempted to talk me out of quitting that I had this big light bulb moment. If I was to quit now, after everything we had gone through in the 5 years of urban farming I was letting them win. Not them as in any one person, but them as in every person who didn’t like what we did, every person who tried to make us quit, the person who hurt Trigger, if I was to give up something that had become my life and what I was meant to do, I wasn’t just quitting, I was declaring they won. That I couldn’t stand for, I was not going to give anyone a win they didn’t deserve. I have put my blood, sweat, tears and blisters into building this up. Hours, days, weeks worth of work that it took to build everything we have right now, I am not and will not ever give that up for anyone other than for myself! Everything that has happened has taught us something, every loss, every win, every happy moment, every cut, every single thing we have gone through we have learned from. We have more to learn, we have more to build, more to do, more to grow, more to birth, more to hatch, more to raise, more to expand, we have more!

Every single time over the last months I have thought about quitting, I remind myself that the only way quitting is an option is if its whats best for me, and that day is not here yet. And you know what i did with this new found vigor for farming. I set eggs in a freshly sanitized incubator, reviewed my notes to see what I did during all those failures and made adjustments. I set eggs, and tried something new, and guess what happened, all my eggs hatched. It wasn’t just new life for the chicks, it was new life for me and my passion. I’m back and stronger and more ready for whats coming. In case you are wondering whats coming…4 pregnant goats due the first week of April is the first thing on the list of whats coming.

Thanks for reading, it was long but I hope it was worth it, Nicole

Keeping Rabbits…ours are pets!

I can’t even to pretend to be an expert on rabbit keeping, half the time I’m still asking questions myself however we have our second rabbit now and have already learned a lot more this time around and have seen the mistakes we made with our first. Rabbits can be as loving as cats are, but they are still a prey animal making them very skittish at times. Moving slowly, carefully and taking how they feel into consideration is a huge part of having rabbits as a part of the farm. Lots of people eat rabbit, and I don’t judge them for that, heck if Micah had it his way we would always be raising rabbits for meat, but for me personally I just can’t do it. They are cuddly and I always bond with rabbits so for me they are a pet and not a meal. Friends have said, “I thought all your animals had to have a purpose if you were going to keep them, pay their way as you say,” I have a response to that, my rabbit pays his way in fertilizer! Rabbit poo can be added directly to the beds and not composted for healthy nutrients. Basically what I’m getting at is that rabbits can be great as pets, cheap meat if you can stomach it, and always provide lots of fertilizer.

Lets talk about my first Angora rabbit Stu. I did a lot of research before deciding that I wanted an Angora rabbit. When I was younger I had a Rex rabbit who was very nice although not very cuddly. Everything I read told me that Angora rabbits were gentle buns who had wonderfully sweet personalities. Thats what I wanted more than anything. Micah and I argued over if he would be a house bunny or an outdoor bunny, I won and he was a house bunny. First mistake I made was that, he had been raised and lived with his family outdoors for the first 4 months, had little human interaction so he was shocked not only by the change of his environment but also being without his family and suddenly thrust into a family of 4 who just wanted to love on him too much from day one. That was truly a big mistake, again let me say rabbits are prey animals, they are fearful and need to be given time to warm up and do things on their own terms. Not only that but he wasn’t 8 weeks old, he was a bit older so we had already missed the best bonding time when they are growing. Did we eventually bond, yes but he wasn’t a fan of anyone but me. We made the mistake of keeping him inside and only took him outside when we could watch him because my yard wasn’t set up to keep a rabbit from eating everything I loved and the first time out he ate my entire rose down to nothing. So again, my mistake was thinking I could just prepare after we had him. No don’t think like that, get yourself totally ready and have a plan for exactly what you will do and how you will do it. You will be thankful for being prepared. Next mistake we made was his cage, we got him a big cage and put bedding in the whole thing. I read about potty training rabbits and thought oh yeah I will just put the litter box where he pees. Whoops again, he thought the whole cage was a little box because of the bedding. Again, my mistake and he was never fully potty trained. We let him out in the house but he regularly marked his territory, meaning furniture, because we didnt know at the time that he would be territorial toward the male cats and dogs, we also didn’t find out that neutering him would help with those urges until it was too late. I made so many mistakes with Stu that I was very determined not to make with our next rabbit. Sadly at 2.5 years old, Stu had to be put down due to a reoccurring case of the snuffles. The snuffles as cute as it sounds is a very serious respiratory disease for rabbits, they suffer and its really devastating. I hated myself for a long time after Stu’s passing because I blamed myself, if I had done more research, if i had paid better attention, if I let him be an outdoor rabbit and build a better immune system, geez I had so many things to blame myself for I must sound silly. After a while I felt silly, because I couldn’t protect him from getting a disease, that wasn’t my fault. Thats about the time I began looking into getting a new baby. But first heres my first Angora Stu riding in a dump truck.

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I started this article 6 months ago, things have changed so much. In April 2017, we brought home our second Angora rabbit. I sexed all the babies and thought I picked out the female, so at 8 weeks old I brought home a tiny adorable fluff ball and named her Ginger. Whoops I was wrong…someone else got my little girl and I had yet another little man. He looked identical to Stu and I kept accidentally calling him Stu because I couldn’t come up with a name, so eventually I called him Stu 2 or Bun because I’m that creative. I told you about all my mistakes with the first Stu, and I was able to correct many. We did potty train Stu 2 by laying a towel in the bottom of the cage and putting just a litter box in with bedding in only the litter box. Since he was just a baby, potty training him was super easy and within a week he figured it out. We also had him in a quiet room for months with little exposure to the animals, mostly just cuddles from me and the kids. He was very trusting of us all and allowed for brushing, toe nail clipping and belly clipping with no issues at all. When summer time hit, we let him out of the house and set up his own play area and house outside. He enjoyed roaming the yard and living outdoors from June until October. What we didn’t know was that unfixed rabbits will dig, and I mean freaking did trenches and burrows everywhere you don’t want them to, and they make quick work of their burrows too. He even dug under my kiwi planter and into it, killing my kiwi plant. So we had him neutered, which removed that urge to dig, spray, and calms them quite a bit. When the rain started we brought him inside. That was our biggest mistake yet.

Rabbits do better in the cold than the heat, they also don’t really enjoy loud noises. My house is always loud, and I mean always! Plus Stu had already been outside and loving the outdoors for months, why would he want to come back inside when he was perfectly content outside. He did what any normal rabbit would do, he rebelled. He got moody and cranky. Eventually he just never came out of his house, he would sit in there and pout all day and when i cleaned or tried to fill his food, he would attack the hand that feeds him. Just when I was ready to give him up, a friend told me to move him back outside where he enjoyed himself and get him a girlfriend. Micah and I had just agreed to rehome him so he would be happy again and now I was thinking about adding a second. I was so skeptical of if this solution would really be the answer. So I cleaned out an empty chicken house and I moved him outside. His spirits lifted immediately, he stopped attacking my hand and was letting me love on him again. I began looking for a girl for him and after a couple weeks a pretty little lady was ready to come home after weaning her kits from a local rabbit rescue. It was so nerve wrecking to go through this whole process and a lot of pressure was on this to work. I didn’t expect Stu to be aggressive but I also didn’t expect what happened to happen.

The day arrived to bring home a new rabbit, we renamed her Snow because she is snow white and beautiful. We put the two of them in a pen together and just let them be while we watched from a little ways away. I thought maybe he would try to mate her first thing, but nope he just smelled her. Stu followed Snow and around the pen, watching her, smelling her and not doing anything to her. Snow is only 4 lbs, Stu is easily 9-10lbs now. Finally after about a half hour Stu humped her head and then that was that. He wasn’t being a hormone driving freak because he is fixed and he bonded right to her.

So now we are a little urban farm with 2 little rabbits, and I’ve been asked to rescue more. Rabbits make amazing pets if you give them the love and the respect they deserve.

Stu and Snow together during Stu’s grooming session. Stu with a bow when we thought he was a Ginger.

 

Thanks for reading.

Nicole

Our first year of Homeschooling!

A little more than a year ago my husband Micah and I sat down to discuss the possibility of homeschooling our daughter Chloe. She was going to be in the 3rd grade and we thought that since we were building a self sustaining life style as much as possible it would be the natural progression of things that I would enter into the adventures of homeschooling. This had been a topic of conversation for years, pretty much every summer we discussed and decided against homeschooling, until June of 2016 that is. We had more than enough reasons why we wanted to do it, and not so many reasons why we shouldn’t. This was before we learned of my dads skin cancer diagnosis. We had already begun the process when we found out my dad was sick so there was no turning back. Hindsight being 20/20, I would say that maybe life was throwing a little too much my way to start this but we moved ahead.

I began the online homeschooling certification classes, I was loving learning again and completely motivated. I was already 2 weeks into the 6 week class when my dad was admitted into the hospital. I don’t talk about this time in my life much because for me it was excruciating but its all tied into my homeschooling journey. Those last 4 weeks of my classes I completed the majority of my lessons at the hospital and in hospice care with my dad. Skin cancer is a painful and horrible way for your life to end, but during that time with my dad we talked about what I was doing. Most people thought I couldn’t handle teaching my stubborn and independent daughter but one night when I was on dad watching duty he asked me what I was doing. I explained the class I was required to take in order to teach Chloe. He looked at me and said, “If I know anything about you, no matter how hard this will be for you, you can handle this. You are strong enough for the both of you.” I won’t say I didn’t have my doubts during the course of the year but at that moment it was exactly what I needed to hear to know that I was making the right decision. I finished my course right before my dad passed away, but I was able to tell him I met my certification requirements and I got to see the pride in his eyes before he was gone.

The following month was hard, I was consumed with taking care of everyone around me and prepping everything for the upcoming school year and I forgot to take care of me. Due to my mistakes, we had a rough start to the year. I had ordered the entire 3rd grade Bookshark curriculum for Chloe. Thinking that if I could just follow the plan and schedule they made we would be fine. Boy was I wrong! First thing I didn’t see was that Chloe was transitioning from public school with a set structure and time for everything to being at home to do everything. The first two weeks we did good, walk in the park, mostly because we were both so excited to begin that it kept us going. But then things started getting really hard. Everything was a fight, she just wanted to do her own thing, wanted to avoid school work as much as possible. It took me a while to figure out how to proceed. We both wanted to pull our hair out, she probably hated me and I certainly didn’t want to be around her. It took 3 months of us being at each others throats for me to realize we had a problem. Not only was she fighting everything, but my motivation was gone. When my dad died, I slipped into a depression that caused me to come down with a bunch of stressed induced medical issues. I never left home for fear of being judged. My kids told me it was like I was a zombie. I began asking questions of other homeschool moms, what helped them when they began, what should I change, how can I make this work…and they came through. Not only did we need a break to decompress and figure each other out, but I needed to fix me before I could really be there for her. So thats just what we did.

Thanksgiving came and went and December was upon us. I decided that what we needed what some unschooling time. Learning at her pace and what she wanted to learn about. We read together to keep her reading on track and she happily did math, but everything else was all up to her. We watched documentaries, looked up online articles, and just spent time having fun. While she was getting use to the new way of things, I was seeking out new doctors who could give me answers and treatment and counseling to move past my loss. I didn’t know how much my physical condition and emotional upset had been impacting her and her learning. I felt a lot of guilt. So when January came along and it was time to get back down to business we sat down and talked. We talked about everything she was feeling and how we wanted to move forward. Doing it together and with an understanding that we were in this together was exactly what we needed.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say it was all sunshine and rainbows for the rest of the year because no it was not easy. But we worked out a plan and schedule. We finally worked together for the first time since the beginning of the school year. We still had days where she fought me on everything and I still had days when I doubted I was going to survive until June. Its not easy to be with your kids 24/7, never getting a break, always questioning yourself every single day. But what it comes down to was, what is best for my kids? We live in a world thats dangerous right now, everyone has an opinion about everything, not many people are that accepting of people who are different. We never felt like we fit all that well into the liberal run public school system, and while we love the Lord, we also don’t fit into the uber conservative private school ideals either. We are right in the middle, blazing our own way of life and doing something special and unique. So my belief is that yes, I was doing what was best because we are doing what we feel is right for us without casting judgement on others who do things differently.

Will I continue to homeschool next year? Yes but not in the same way. We discovered during the year that Chloe has ADD and what she needs more than having a teacher at home is having her mom at home. Our relationship suffered during the year, I was teacher all day and then mom at night, she never got to have just mom and fun mom because I was always working basically. So for next year we decided to try an online academy, the hope is that she will still get to do her learning at home, have the structure of school to help her be able to focus more, still have the support she needs from me for learning, but also be able to have just me, her mom. At the same time, I will begin to homeschool our son Wade for kindergarten in the more traditional homeschool setting because he is eager to learn and can sit for hours learning, Chloe always struggled with sitting for any amount of time. LOL!

We are blazing our own way, making mistakes and regretting none of it! In case you were wondering, no we did not fail the 3rd grade! We did our end of the year assessment and to my surprise Chloe scored in the 7th and 8th grade level for Language arts and reading, and 4th grade math. Not only did we survive with no casualties but we excelled and I’m incredibly proud of all we accomplished this last year, even with all the craziness and hardships!

Thanks for reading!

Nicole

Raising Quail for meat and eggs!

We’ve been raising Quail for 6 months and the overall consensus is they are delicious to eat, make excellent eggs, are fun to watch and they are incredibly stupid. We still haven’t figured out how they survive in the wild, but they truly are super easy to raise.

Why should you raise quail? Its simple, they don’t take up the space chickens do, they start laying between 6-8 weeks old, the eggs are a super food, roosters are ready for butchering by 8 weeks old, and they are so quiet compared to chickens.

I said they were stupid right, ok good because yeah they are the least intelligent bird I’ve raised. Mostly I think this because I’ve watched them get startled and fly up into the roof of their house not just once, but over and over. They also lay their eggs all over the place, Ive even found one in the water dish. They are pretty wild animals in comparison to ducks and chickens, they don’t seem to understand the concept of person bringing food, water and treats is ok, instead they see us and think “OMG they are here to kill us, run and hide!” Then they proceed to scurry all over the house, running into walls, flying into the roof and hitting the chicken wire at full speed. Seriously they just don’t ever learn!A19059BB-

Quail babies are so tiny! These were our first 4, I really should have gotten more than 4 to start but I didn’t realize just how small they would be and how little they eat. So we added a few more along the way. The cute sleeping in our hands phase only lasted about a week and then they didn’t want to have anything to do with us. But they were pretty funny to watch. They were fast little buggers who jumped and flew around all over. For a brooder it was pretty easy to just set them up in a little rabbit cage, they only used the heater for the first 2 weeks and then they had all their feathers. Thats another perk to quail, they get fully feathered super fast. So they could go outside by 3 weeks.

49D66232-4A80-4D21-9018-68B044CC8931See how big they were at 3 weeks and already had all their feathers. I still had a heater in there but they never used it, they slept on top of it at this point. Feeding is pretty simple, I just got the meat bird feed and threw it into the blender for the first few weeks to make it tiny and they were able to eat it without any issues. Housing them is super simple also, we probably could have kept them in the rabbit cage until they were 6 weeks old but we built them a house outside so we wanted them moved out there. Quail only need 1 sq ft per bird so each level of our house can have up to 12 full size quail. Its pretty amazing to have that many in a small space. For now we just have the 2 levels, top is for the adults and the bottom is for growing out the juveniles. Its very basic and simple, we chose to go with the wood pellets instead of the wire bottom because it keeps them warmer in cold temps, keeps the eggs from cracking and gives them something to dig in. Plus since they are so small, the bedding lasts for at least a month! Heres our 2 story quail house:

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And of course here are a few of our full grown quail. Still adorable even if they are little crazies who I have to make sure they don’t escape because they could fly away.

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If you have the stomach for butchering the extra males, then yay for you! I personally had to have Micah do the butchering and I did the clean up. Compared to chickens, once again way easier. Each bird took me about 10 minutes and that was because it was my first time. We have 10 males right now in our juvie house that we will process in 2 weeks and its the easiest process ever so I will do them all at once and it will only take me maybe an hour. Chickens take me at least 45 min per bird because there is a process to make sure its done correctly and I take my time with them. I won’t get into the details but there are so many videos on you tube to show how simple it really is.

So yeah, Quail are fun and super easy to take care of. They make the perfect addition to any urban farm with limited space. They don’t take much time or effort, I love them! Plus the roosters taste amazing!

Meat Birds…so gross!

We have only been raising meat birds for 4 weeks now and I already wish we were done. There is only 1 way to describe meat birds, GROSS!!!! I guess you can also say they are unnatural and an abomination but thats too heartless for me. We got 10 Red Rangers 4 weeks ago and at first we thought they were so cute! For the first couple days they were like any other chicks, cute and cuddly but a little bigger than normal chicks. After the first couple days, thats when the poop and constant eating started. The poop had the smell of adult chicken poo, so out to the garage they went. They really started growing fast, by 1 week old they were 8oz each. At 1 week we also had our first loss, the smallest of the rangers we believe got suffocated at the bottom of the pile while they were sleeping. Lesson 1, make sure they have enough heat to spread out otherwise they will sleep in a big pile and possibly kill the ones on the bottom. We had been using 1 Brinsea brooder heater but that wasn’t big enough, so we added a second so they could all spread out.

The next week went smoothly so we purchased 6 Cornish Cross that were 4 weeks old. This was were we made the mistake. Cornish Cross are much different than Red Rangers, the Rangers move around more, scratch around and look for food more. Cornish sit around the food and eat all day long. After researching we decided to take food away at night because they would do nothing but eat. So they get 12 hours with food and 12 hours without. We weighed the Cornish when they arrived at 4 weeks old and they were 3.5lbs. Each week they have gained at least a pound. Those 6 birds started with eating about 2lbs of food a day and have increased to over 4lbs everyday. Cornish Cross grow unnaturally fast, you have these 6 week old chickens that look almost full grown, but peep like chicks. They eat so much and poop so much but don’t move around much so they are always dirty. At just 6 weeks, some of the Cornish are already struggling to walk because their legs can barely hold up their weight. Its really sad to watch to be honest. Lastly, they don’t grow feathers like you would expect, at 6 weeks old they are still half naked. I was hoping to have them outside but with our cold temps thats just not possible, basically Cornish Cross really should only be raised in the summer around Washington state. So my thoughts on raising Cornish Cross again is that I would rather raise more Rangers for a longer period of time than go through this bizarre experience of these odd human created breed of chicken thats just wrong.

Back to the little Rangers, they are 4 weeks now and growing about twice as fast as egg laying chickens. They are pretty heavy for 4 weeks and eat a lot of food, but they are still pretty active and will look around for food and eat fodder when provided. So far they seem like a little more natural for raising for meat, they still behave like chickens despite being larger. The only thing with all meat birds is that brooder cleaning is much more frequent with these giant birds, so stock up on shavings.

This weekend we will be processing the Cornish Cross and I will update the blog after its finished with how the whole experience went. We have processed plenty of roosters before, but they have been so small that Ive just breasted them out and removed the legs, so we will hopefully have plenty of roasters for the freezer.

UPDATE!!

Ok so now I can officially say this, I am never going to raise Cornish Cross chickens again. Its not just that it was gross for the 2.5 weeks but it was actually really sad in the end. The Nuggets as well called them could barely walk by 6.5 weeks old, even with all the space and attempts at getting them moving.

First lets talk about the stats because they are exciting. Ok so these Nuggets were 6.5 weeks old, we got them at 4 weeks and during the 2.5 weeks they were here they ate 30lbs of meat bird feed. Live weight totaled 30lb 1oz and post processing weight was 20lb 4oz so with the cost to purchase and the cost of feed we only paid $2.25 per pound of chicken meat! Yay that part is exciting!

Now for the sad reasons I won’t raise Cornish again. As stated before, most of them could hardly walk by the time we were ready to butcher them. Of the 6, 2 of them had a large amount of fluid around the heart which is an indication of Ascites or Congestive Heart Failure, these 2 didn’t have fluid in their bellies yet but it would have happened very soon. One of the hens had a very bad case of Ascites, the belly was filled with fluid, the heart also had a fluid sack. So basically at only 6.5 weeks old half of the Cornish were suffering from congestive heart failure. These 3 were also the smallest of the chickens but based on my experience with Ascites, they wouldn’t have lived much longer so it was best we butchered them now. The biggest Cornish was the top rooster and he weighed 5lbs 11oz, dressed out at 4lbs 11oz. The smallest hen weighed 4lbs 4oz, breasted out and removed just the legs and wings at 2lbs 2oz. So a pretty big difference between the healthiest and the hen suffering from congestive heart failure. Another really upsetting thing we experienced that was all new to us during the actually butchering process was the dislocating of the wings. Typically after Micah chops the head off the chicken, we hang them to bleed out, however the Cornish flap and thrash around so severely that the wings dislocated on 5 of the 6 Cornish. If we had known about this we would have used the cone method. Now the plucking process was very fast but their skin is very thin so it ripped much easier. So be careful!

So we learned a lot so far but we still have more to learn,

Nicole

Healing your animals at home

Many times I’ve been messaged about sick or hurt chickens and ducks, I’m always willing to do anything I can to help with saving animals. When I began keeping chickens, I set up a first aid kit and its ready to go at a moments notice. Since we have so many animals we have had to deal with a wide range of illnesses and a couple injuries. If you are going to keep animals then having a kit ready to go before hand is critical, it can be the difference between life or death.

Here’s my list of must haves:

Electrolytes, Probiotics, Nutri-drench, VetRx, Neosporin, No Pick (Blue Kote), Bandages, Scissors, Tweezers, Vetricyn, Coconut Oil, Vaseline

From Moonlight Mile Herb Farm: First Step Tonic, Worm Balancer, Bumblefoot remedy, Bug eraser spray, Ultimate Garlic Fusion

So those are the things I always have on hand for any emergency. Over the last year we have gotten away from using antibiotics and commercial dewormers in favor for more organic and natural ways of healing. When I began asking questions and doing the research I found Moonlight Mile Herb Farm and their line of poultry products. Since I began using the products I haven’t had to use the commercial products once…knock on wood. Many of the products I used previously now require a vet prescription, so finding a natural alternative wasn’t just something I wanted but it was necessary.

When brining home baby chicks, electrolytes, No pick and Vetricyn are your most critical items. We brought home our first set of chicks, were so excited with these little fluffy butts that we never thought they could hurt a fly. We were so wrong!  The reason I say Vetricyn and No pick is because the chicks will clean and peck at each other and sometimes it causes mini ouchies. Within a day of having our chicks home, one had a boo boo under her eye. But Vetricyn is great because it can be sprayed in the eyes, it can be used on any wounds for any animal and it speeds healing. No pick is smelly and tastes terrible so when a chick tries to pick at a wound it will taste bad so they won’t try to do that again. Its really great for big chickens too because they are really attracted to red, so blood turns them into little sharks when blood is in the water, but a mouth full of No pick will send them running. Electrolytes are needed because the hatching process is so taxing on their little bodies, then depending on where you get them from they could have gone through shipping, then moving into a big pen, then being taken out of pen and going to their new home. Basically the first few days of life is hard, so electrolytes help them get back up to strength faster.

Probiotics are great for gut health, a healthy gut also means hens are able to make eggs more effectively and fight off other problems better too. Nutri-drench has saved many birds over the years, I have found that the high dose vitamins will help to prolong the life of an ailing bird giving me the time needed to diagnose and treat a sick bird. VetRx is a natural remedy for respiratory issues, it can be used in a diffuser or dropped right above the nostrils.

Where I live we have a lot of crows. In some ways crows are beneficial, they are great for chasing away hawks and eagles, but often times they are just menaces to the farm. I suspect the crows have brought scaly leg mites onto my farm so we have had to do many scaly leg treatments. Luckily its very easy to take care of. When I see that a hen needs scaly leg treatment I begin with a nice foot soak in the sink with a little dawn soap, if there are scales that can be easily removed without causing bleeding then I will rub on them till they fall off. After a soak then I dry the legs, cover them in coconut oil to smother the mites and after that I cover the entire leg and toes in vaseline to aid in the healing of the scales. Like I said, its pretty easy to take care the issue but sadly it spreads through the whole flock so you have to treat everyone to fully eliminate them.

I always pray that nothing will happen physically to my birds, but there are always risks when free ranging. I’ve been lucky to not have any major physical injures however I have treated many local friends chickens and ducks. Chickens and ducks are incredibly resilient to injuries, I have seen some miraculous recoveries but the number one rule for me when I see injuries or really bad prolapses is what would be best for the animal. Do they have a real shot at recovery or will they be in too much pain to recover. If i think they will be able to recover and return to a normal life I will do everything in my power to help them. First thing when there is a wound is to clean the wound, usually I wash the wound area and cut away feathers that obstruct the view to ensure that all the dirt is cleaned. Most cases aren’t in need of stitches because chickens and ducks regrow their meat and skin very fast. As long as the wound is only a flesh wound then I will spray with Vetricyn allow to dry and then coat with Neosporin, not only because it aids in fast healing but the Neosporin makes bandages not stick to the wound. Depending on the severity I do always try to cover the wounds because getting sand, dirt and potentially flies laying eggs in the wound which leads to fly strike, so keeping hurt hens clean, covered, indoors and quiet are very important to healing. I repeat the wound treatment daily until new skin has grown, once they have enough feathers to cover the area and no open wounds, they can return to the flock.

Finally lets talk about natural treatments! I found Moonlight Mile Herb Farm about a year ago and have loved every product I’ve ordered. I use the Worm Balancer once a month for a couple days as a preventative treatment and since I began doing this I haven’t had a worm overload, prior to using the preventative I would have to deworm in the spring and fall and throw away eggs for 2 weeks every time and there were always evidence of worm overload in the poo. When I adopted my new silkies a year ago they all were infested with lice, chicken lice is so disgusting but never fear its not the same as human lice so we can’t catch it from them. I gave all 5 of them a bath with dawn, dried them and sprayed them down with the bug eraser every few days for a couple weeks, and guess what, all the lice were gone! I also can spray the coops with the spray and it doesn’t hurt anyone. In our 3 years we have only had 1 hen come down with a bumble foot infection, prior to finding the moonlight bumble foot remedy, I would have had to do surgery on the hens foot and remove the infection, however with the bumble foot remedy all I had to do was put a drop on the infection and then a drop in her mouth everyday, 2 weeks later the infection was gone! Surgery can be very stressful on a hen, plus she will need to be separated from the flock and her foot wrapped and then you have to treat the foot like a wound and it can take several days of wound treatment to make sure that she is healed before going outside again, I don’t know about you but if there is something I can do thats easier and less stressful for the hen then I’m going to do it. The Ultimate Garlic Fusion and the First Step Tonic are immune boosters. I use the Ultimate Garlic Fusion once every couple weeks for an immune boost for the hens and the First Step Tonic I’m using for the first time in all my brooders, its an immune boost, helps keep cocci and other parasites away, assists with healthy nutritional supplement. So far my babies are doing great, healthy and no signs of cocci.

I’ve been working hard at transferring everything over to natural remedies, prevention and healing. I am loving all my new products and believe in them 100%.

All for now, but if you have any specific questions about treatments and healing birds please let me know!

Nicole

Its a new year on the Old McDavis Farm!

Its been a year that I have been away from our blog and a lot has happened, we have changed a lot and been through a lot. My goal moving forward will be to post weekly what we are doing, changing and learning. The 2016 year was a hard year on my family, we didn’t do much growing of our farm, only maintaining because I was going through several medical issues and as a family we were dealing with several difficult losses. But it is a new year and we have started fresh. I will be writing lots of new blogs with some new ideas and how we have changed the way we are doing things. But first I want to thank you for reading my farm blog and update you on all the new things happening.

Up until summer of 2016 we had a dozen or so large fowl chickens, a small flock of ducks, 2 baby goats and a small flock of silkies, along with some cats and dogs. Well, we have grown quite a bit. Our large fowl flock has grown to 19 with more eggs in the incubator now, primarily focusing on Swedish Flower Hens and colorful egg breeds. Our duck flock grew to 12 mostly Ancona as we found a beautiful genetic line to add 2 drakes from and we hatched out 6 new females from our own lines. We still have our 2 domestic mallards for slug control in the front yard, however they may be hatching some more Anconas for us this year. Our goats Sage and Clover are now 14 months old and we are patiently waiting to find out if their mating session last week was successful, and we have a beautiful little girl we are adopting next month after she kids her first babies. Our Silkie flock grew to 10 last summer along with our Swedish Flower hen special needs gal, our colors now include white, buff, porcelain, cuckoo, black and splash. Chloe’s Serama flock recently grew to 5, 3 are frizzled Seramas. Stu the Angora rabbit got the snuffles last summer and we assisted him over the rainbow bridge in September after a long and painful fight to heal his body. We have been without a farm rabbit since then however we are welcoming a new baby girl Angora next month which we are so excited about because she looks so much like Stu, we are accepting name ideas on our Facebook page so check that out.  www.facebook.com/theoldmcdavisfarm  We have entered the world of Quail raising, we thought we would just start with a couple adults however when a friend hatched out a bunch of babies we jumped at the chance to raise some from hatching so instead of the 2 , we actually ended up with 8. Our first order of Red Ranger meat birds arrived a week ago and its already been an all new monster of chicken raising. Indoors we have grown a bit too. We started a Saltwater fish tank in order to adopt my dads 8 and 6 year old Clown fish. We began to rescue unwanted Cockatiels and ended up with 2 girls and 2 boys who keep trying to hatch babies, possibly something for us to consider allowing them to try in the future.

As you can see, things are changing and growing around here. I’m planning to discuss many things on our blog, some of the things you can look forward to me writing about include: our first trial of raising meat birds, raising quail, preparing for our goats kidding and what happens after, building new coops, a more natural way of raising birds, our whole truth about starting a saltwater fish tank, angora rabbits and why they are the most awesome breed ever, building a new glass greenhouse, how we build things out of repurposed materials, growing barley to feed animals, growing our vegetable garden organically, the good bad and ugly of beginning to homeschool and of course all the baby animals we hatch and raise. So thank you for returning after such a long break.

-Nicole