Monday, September 30, 2013

Livestock Protection Dog

Looking through the picket fence
A People Petrifying Pup Lingers Laughing at the End of His Line  

A few days ago I noticed an oddity, unknown random kids coming down our street.  Two of these creatures were on bikes and one was pulling another on a street board of some sort while a fourth ran alongside.  

These kids were pushing 20.  Or else they were just really big, jaded 14 year-olds. 

Open windows are a beautiful thing.

Overheard from aforementioned kids,“Whoa (unrepeatable word) did you see that (unrepeatable word) dog in that yard?”

Kids all stop for a look.

Dog wakes up, shakes himself and charges; baying as if he were a demon-hound bent on tearing these roadside gawkers from limb to limb.
Chaos ensues with multiple shrieks of “RUN” and “Faster” being the general theme.

Until the dog reaches the end of his line and stops.  Just at the edge of the road.

Sweet at 3 months old
Let me tell you how we got here, to this place in life where we listened for screaming neighbors on a regular basis.

We got our son a dog who would grow to be a protector.  

We had a bear problem.  No joke, a rat terrier just wouldn’t cut it at our house.  

So, we get a Husky, Great Pyrenees cross.  The mom is 80lbs and the dad is 60.  

He isn’t supposed to top 80lbs with those genetics, right?  

Follow me down this rabbit trail to our 130lb behemoth named Kona.

Super sweet as a little guy.  Probably 30# here.

At one year old he is sweet and gentle, often knocking full grown men over with his tail.  When he stands up, which is often, he tops my husbands 6ft+.  

He has learned to protect and night after night he puts on his big boy bark and stomps the perimeter of our property letting the bears know that KONA is here.  

Our neighbors are relived he’s on the job too.  The bears make a giant detour around all our properties now.  

Hopefully he’s worth the chewed bicycle seats.  The only seat to survive in the entire block was the one stored in the attic of someone’s garage.  He didn’t just nibble either.  He ate the entire seat.   
All of them.
8 months

He also ate a queen size mattress cover from off the clothes line.  We hid the remnants before our neighbor noticed it was gone. Once he brought down remnants of a black negligee.  That was just too much.  We hid that too.

He also stole an entire chocolate cake from off her porch.  She said it stank because she burned it so it was okay.  She misses the Bundt pan though.  I was surprised he could swallow it.  Perhaps he didn’t and future archaeologists will find it buried with his other stash. 

A stash that includes things like outdoor furniture cushions, socks, blankets and miscellaneous tools. 

Even if I HAD a tendency to exaggerate, let me say right now – this is no exaggeration.  His puppy hood was fraught with embarrassment because he literally ate everything and anything. 

Due to feral dog and coyote packs running wild, Kona developed a passionate hate for other dogs.  He will hunt down and kill a coyote.  Our neighbors’ dogs were safe because they were there before him.  He’d run through the yard, doing his protection rounds and the little neighbor dogs would attack, hanging fiercely onto Kona’s belly fur until they were drug out into the woods.  This happened multiple times every day until the old one died of sheer exhaustion.

Walking my husband to work (the snow plow in this instance)
He’s pretty incredible really.  He can run 22 mph while jumping forest brush and stumps, pacing us the entire mile UP to the main road.  He’s partnered with the cat and hunts down wood rats in old brush piles.  He herds the children – this was actually tough for our 6 yr-old.  And best of all protects his people.  When uninvited guests come down our road, he sits in the middle of it and barks.  Most people would generally just back up – not bother to turn around –the entire 500 feet up to the next parking area. 

No one ever breaks into our house.

We became the livestock worth protecting to our genetically coded livestock protection dog (LPD).

At one year and over 6 feet tall, roughly 130 lbs.  Don't mess with this dog.  He's serious about protecting his peeps.
Would classify him in the 'doesn't share well' category.
Enter a major move from the mountains to the valley where he is suddenly a liability.  We had to put him on a run because we didn’t expect our new neighbors to understand the benefits of being adopted by an LPD.  

After all, there were no neighborhood bears threatening the children at dusk.  

Watching the flock.  He likes the Chickens
He does do a good job with our livestock, they all – including the 1.5lb free range rabbit – drink from his water dish, and he protects them from small predator animals like fox, coyote, raccoon and opossums. 

Before you all get wound up about a dog being tied, let me explain that he’s on a 100 foot run with a 20 ft lead.  This means he can go 20ft either direction for the entire length.  Many people with dogs don’t even have back yards 100 x 40 feet.  So he’s not hurting.  And neither are the people he charges.
True Story
An innocent, beyond middle-aged, heavy set woman is plodding down our street, strung behind two stodgy, Corgi looking crosses.  Her head is down, arms swinging as she tackles her constitutional exercise with a determination that shuts out any enjoyment of the outdoors.  Certainly her powers of observation are obstructed by her chuffing and wheezing. 

We are in the garden watching.  Just waiting.

The dog perks up.

Since the bears are scarce he has to settle for anything that crosses his path. 

He charges, baying once again like he’s out for blood, protecting his people from any perceived threat. 

130lbs of white fury is charging full tilt.

The woman throws up her hands, screams and drops her leads.  Not only has she lost her wits but her dogs are loose!

My husband takes off running to catch the dog by his collar before he can tear into one of these poor corgi- looking things which are headed straight for our dog.  They are yipping happily like they want to make friends with him!  They must be a singularly stupid variation of an ordinarily intelligent breed.

I’m moving my (really) late pregnancy body and yelling at the woman “Get your dogs, get your dogs!”

Kona hits the end of his line.
Our people petrifying pup
This dog is vicious.  Everyone wants to pet him.  It's a big mistake.  Don't get near our dog.  If you don't belong to him, he will attack you.  He loves his people and livestock to the point of complete devotion.  This is his genetics.  He's typical for an LPD.  If you have a small urban farm and you want to protect your livestock, an LPD could be the way to go.  Just do your research and realize that should you face such major life change as a move, these devoted creatures are impossible to re-home.  You are theirs, and theirs alone for life.
Taking care of his children even if it means sledding with them. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Re-purposing and Recycling

The Making of a Cackleberry Castle

Cackleberry Castles are not found at Wal-mart® down the lego® aisle.  They can be enormously expensive and much harder than lego's® to put together.  We believe that to be truly sustainable a project cannot cost more than it will be able to repay before natural termination.  Most chickens slow down at laying eggs into their 2nd and 3rd year.  They really need to pay for themselves before the end of year one.  So, that means housing cannot cost an arm and a leg.  We put on our creative caps and came up with a Cackleberry Castle of wonderful dimensions that (only) cost us (LOTS) of time, two 2x4's, equipment fuel, and a roll of chicken wire.  Here's how it worked.

I know there’s a daunting amount of words but the pictures will come.  Promise.  Stick with me for a show and tell involving two tractors.  Yes, we used tractors on our Cackleberry Castle!

One of the most important premises to any successful renewable farming project is re-purposing and recycling.  What is the difference? 

Are you still with me or did you totally lose focus and head for Krispy Kreme?  That's totally sounding good to me too.  Remember, those doughnuts are not good for you.  Avoid making it a habit, okay?

ANYWAY, let's drag ourselves back to the subject at hand,

Definition of repurpose according to Cambridge :  to use something for a different purpose to the one for which it was originally intended:

Google’s definition (because Cambridge reads like a professor) of recycle: convert (waste) into reusable material.

On Cackleberry Farm in Modesto (Find us on Facebook with that title) we do both and are proud of our efforts! 

Example of recycling on our farm:

Jeremy brought home a bundle of old redwood fencing that he had removed for a customer.  He built me a raised bed then he had the children help.  Wow, does that ever take time – letting children help!  They built me three 3 x 12 beds for the garden.  We still have some material left for another project.  

We took trash (unbelievable what people will throw away) and made something wonderful.
Hard at work
How things grow inside my recycled redwood beds.
I’ll admit, now I’m just bragging!

The trouble with chicks is that they grow and lay eggs.  All this requires planning on the part of their humans.  What are they going to live in and where shall they lay their eggs?

For starters, we use an inherited hen house (from my maternal grandfather who never called an egg anything less than a cackleberry his entire life).  It’s our broody house and cannot properly house more than six adult hens.  A broody house, by the way, is not a place for moody birds.  It’s where a structure and people take the place of a broody (momma) hen and raise chicks to a viable age.

Bright idea!  Offer to haul away someone else's unwanted item.  Then re-purpose said item to fill your need.

We asked for an old, unused cherry hut that belonged to my paternal grandparents.  We have repurposed it into a cackleberry castle.  Here is the chronicle of that adventure!

First, the building had to be loaded onto Jeremy’s trailer for hauling.  I wasn’t there for this part.  Then the tractors had to be roaded to our house – via as many canal banks as possible.  Since this was exactly one week before our new baby’s arrival; I wasn’t there for this part either.  

The part I got to see -
At 13'8" this is just 4" inside legal height limits.  Moving an 8 x 12 building intact requires serious ingenuity!

Placing boards for lifting the building.

Our 13 year old helper, Nolan.  He did a super job, many adults can't run a tractor with his finesse!  Yes, his eyebrow is taped shut.  He ran into a semi-trailer with his bike.  The man spent weeks fixing his trailer with a welding torch.

Daddy giving instruction to a very nervous boy!  Afraid he'll do something wrong.

The bucket is using aforementioned boards as leverage.  Daddy is instructing the proper angle of bucket here.

Why we needed our son to help.  Goes better with two tractors -
and I can't do the job he can, even if I could fit inside the cab!

Jeremy hops out of the bobcat, pulls the truck forward and Nolan (see his body language) takes a breather.

This is a trick you don't see every day!

Scooting into place.

And if that doesn't work, have your son haul it into place.  (Joke people, it's a joke!)
Oh, that mess in the background is where new countries are invented.

A load of chickens in a re-purposed ice-chest, being introduced to their new home.  We use this ice-chest for many different animal related chores.  I don't know how many times it has been sterilized and re-used!  It is integral to our project as it's what we use when our chicks are brand new.  It makes a heat lamp super-efficient at keeping babies warm!
I should have gotten a picture of the girls.  They cleaned this building out. It had been empty - except for spiders - for years.  What a dirty job!  But they tackled it beautifully.  Once we had straw on the floor we started moving birds. 

A few weeks after moving in - happy pullets!  No eggs yet
We are in no way done with the cackleberry castle.  It still needs laying boxes.  More on how we re-purpose 5-gallon buckets into a lovely tier of egg boxes - another day!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Getting Chicks

How does one get cackleberries?  First, do any of you need a definition of said berries?  Have you ever heard a hen laying an egg?  Enough said.  So, back to the first question.  Many of you just go to Super-Target or Wal-Mart, maybe even Costco (I bought Costco organic eggs for years!) and that’s how you get cackleberries.  Well I think there is a difference between eggs and cackleberries.  A happy hen chatters; an unhappy one does not.  At least that’s what I’ve been told.  We have no personal experience with unhappy birds.  

Did you know that in commercial egg production they will reduce their feed bill by keeping the birds in the dark until they are old enough to lay full-sized eggs?  This means that for months a bird is kept in the dark where they will eat less and they skip the pullet-sized eggs altogether.  I guess if I was a chicken I’d like to learn on something smaller than a full-sized egg.  Besides, who wouldn’t miss the sunshine?  Wait, I said kept in the dark.  Many chickens just get lights; they never get real sunshine and never see the outdoors.  They get ornery and pecky in that dank environment so their beaks get cut off.  It’s a never ending horror story.  Our birds are happy.  They cackle.  

At the post office.  The chicks came on Jeremy's (my husband) birthday.  

Do I need to explain how excited everybody is?  Really?  This photo needs a caption?

You may not have met my oldest children, our son is Nolan (13).  Next is Elsie (18 months younger than Nolan).  And Aislinn, my 8-yr old chicken whisperer.

Step one to getting cackleberries.  First you buy the chicks.  We mail-ordered ours from this great company in Iowa called McMurray Hatchery. 

We got our email notification at 2 a.m. on the 24th of February, our chicks had hatched!  At 9:30 a.m., the same day, the post office called.  
Please come get your chicks!  

Wow.  Turns out chickens CAN fly! 

Step 2., Increase odds of survival.  We dipped all their beaks in the food and specially treated water.  We use probiotics (organic of course – but more on that later).  This tells them where to find stuff in their new home.

Next year we will be able to skip these steps as our hens should hatch their own brood.  We carefully selected different breeds based on their desire to go broody.  We'll certainly keep you updated to the success of that experiment and whether or not it's worth the roosters!

The chicks above and to the left (looking at you) are both Araucana/Americana's, aka Easter eggers.  We can hardly wait to see what shade of blue/green cackleberries each one lays.  These birds are the only non-heritage breed in our flock. They have puffy cheeks and are easy to identify by the chipmunk face and grey legs.

Step 3 is keeping the feathered pigs alive until they are old enough to leave the heated broody house.  This is pretty consistent monitoring of their food, water and temperature.  Also such lovely things as checking for sticky bottoms.  Really?  Yes, really.  

Since we use probiotics I had to do this less than some people.  However, these little fuzzy butts can get covered in pooh.  If their vents get stopped up they'll die.  So what, you wipe chicken bottoms?  Yup.  You wipe little chicken bottoms.  

If it gets hard you have to drizzle with olive oil and make your mother hold the chick while you pull most of its bottom feathers out cleaning around the vent.  Yeah, I know that story real well.  You (and your mother) survive and so do they!  It's a win-win. Well kinda, you're still stuck with the memory of pulling pooh off of fuzzy butts.  And one poor chick runs around with a bare bottom for weeks.  That poor bird.  He just stayed ugly the longest time!

So we turned on the lamp and proceeded to integrate these birds into our lives.  And you know one just had to die of failure to thrive.  
It was sad.  
We had to have a burial.  
It was a formal affair complete with mourners, kleenex,
 and a concrete birdie headstone.
It was a sweet little Silver-laced Wyandotte.
Just the most precious little thing, dead, all dead.  
Not  a breath of air left.
Just a little sack of feathers.
It was so sad.

A full grown sister of our dear departed chick.
Of course, this happened when the children were home from school and the girls (only the girls?)  were devastated.  Oh, and I was 6 months pregnant.  That may have contributed to the crying jag - maybe.  But we tried so hard with that chick!  I used a dropper and for 3 days around the clock fed it with a honey-vitamin solution.  According to the experts, a certain percentage (less than 3 percent) is considered a normal death rate.  I didn’t know that.  So we ended up burying this tiny little bundle of feathers and having a nice boohoo-orama. 

 It takes a full 20 weeks to get full sized eggs. 

That’s a lot of care and feed for no return.  
Urban farming rule = don’t expect immediate results.  
Your ROI may be LOOOOOONG delayed!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Peek into our Farm

Today was a complete zoo.  I wanted to take pictures and Boone, our Barred Rock rooster, was on the prowl.  He kept giving me the eye and flapping his wings at me.  Whereupon I shined the camera his direction and flashed it.  All while waving my bamboo protection device (politically correct term for big stick) around to give myself some working space.  I really must learn to have my eight-year-old chicken whisperer put him in the hen house when I need uninterrupted time outside.  It's true, he's never charged her.  But me.  Oh yes, he charges me daily now.  Sometimes I yell and flap back and he decides I'm not worth it.  Other times I run for the house screaming "I need a stick! Somebody get me a stick!"  Whereupon no one ever gets me a stick.  But I digress.  I wanted to take pictures.  Something that portrayed the fun and joy of having an urban farm.  So here they are.  

This is my 8-yr old in her way-to-dorky socks and flip-flops leading the flock around with a bunch of grapes.  Who ever heard of herding chickens?  Well she does!   
In the background is Boone.  Checking me out in advance of a charge.

I'm amazed at how she can wrangle these chickens!
 Meet Aislinn.  She is eight and bilingual.  I'm so proud of her ability to speak animalese.  She may not be bothered with details like socks and flip-flops but she knows how to communicate with other species!  Guess the one outranks the other.
Oh, and the dog, Kona.  The dog is not safe for humans.  For either human consumption or companionship.  He's an LPD (Livestock Protection Dog) and if you don't belong to his clan, then you are fair game for an attack. 
 A barred rock hen.  Sad over the empty bowl.

A picture of Ugly, taken by Aislinn.  This is a young rooster.  His name is Ugly and his wife, a mail-order bride, is Uglina.  But that, my friend, is a story for another day! 

Thank you for joining me today.  Come again and see pictures of our journey from just-hatched chicks to a working urban farm that produces organically grown, cage free cackleberries!

A sample of our pullet sized cackleberries.

PS.  No animals, or more importantly to me - humans - were harmed in the photo shooting process.  My husband came home and his testosterone levels outrank the rooster and I got along fine.