Recently we experienced some firsts on our farm adventure. Through these lessons, we learned a lot, met some wonderfully skilled and heart-felt folks, and cried some tears along the way. The farm social media and website have been quiet over the holidays, but also for processing the experiences of the last two weeks.
Our cow, Evie, who was an older mama that we had on the farm for about eight months, was getting close to her due date for the last pregnancy. She came from a loving and knowledgeable farm where she had been a wonderful mama to her offspring. We were very excited to have our second calf born on the farm. Our animals get a good look over from us at least twice a day because of when chores around the farm are done, but also with projects, repairs, and other jobs, we have a chance to see how everyone is doing. We noticed on one of these 'checks' that Evie had seemingly dropped where she was carrying the calf- significantly. We sent pictures to our farm friends, the breeders, we got Evie from to see if this was normal for her pregnancy or not. Through several messages and conversations over distance with a few other farms, we came to the conclusion that she more than likely tore some tendons or muscles even in her belly where she was carrying the calf and was in need of a vet check and possible c-section.
We called up our large animal vet to come out and after even the phone consult, decided a c-section was the best plan for mom and baby. She came out the next afternoon with helpers and prepared for the surgery. In our rustic operating room, the team worked diligently to deliver the beautiful little calf successfully. As one member of the team worked on our new addition to the farm, the others got back to work on Evie. This is the tough part of the story. There was so much damage to her body from the tears that her repairs wouldn't hold as they tried to close the incision. After working for hours, the tough call was made to put her down. It was ultimately the most humane way to respectfully take care of this wonderful cow. Through tears, I said good-bye to this lovely mama and promised to take good care of her new little one. We didn't expect this day to end this way and were heart-broken from the loss.
Quickly, we had to shift our focus to the new calf to make sure she was drinking, got the colostrum she needs the first 24 hours of her life, and warmed up as the temperatures were dropping in our make-shift operating/delivery room barn. The place we decided on for the evening was our house, in the bedroom so we would be able to wake up and have her close for the every two hour feedings she required. The vet and team so kindly sat on the floor with our tired and weak little calf and syringe fed her and kept her warm and awake until her temp came back up to normal and she ate a portion of the colostrum. The life of a large animal/farm vet is not one for everyone. The team was at the farm from about 3:30 until midnight to make sure everything was properly cared for. We have a wonderful vet who is also a farmer who has helped us learn and taken care of our animals as we take them to the clinic. This traveling vet is an extension of our farm family now and travels to the farm as we have situations such as this or other 'emergency' situations. Both are critically important and have their place in our education to continue the best care of our animals. We are forever grateful for these teams and the time they spend caring for ours and so many other animals.
Since this, we have given a special place in the pasture for Evie to be remembered and will be planting a special tree in her memory. We have cared for a newborn calf with little sleep. We learned how to give shots to this calf. We created a stall space in the new office/store for cold nights. We laughed at the first jumps, first encounters with farm cats and chickens, and learning to drink from a bottle, not our shoes. It has been one of the longest week and a half months we have had on the farm, but the outcome is a beautiful new life out of a sad situation. Now, this little one can grow up along side of some other little ones on the farm as we just had our first Kiko goat born on the farm and the next is on the way soon.
Farming is definitely a tough job, shouldn't be done alone, and takes its toll physically and emotionally. BUT, it holds in it rewards beyond measure- there is nothing more rewarding than being able to experience new life.
What a wonderful addition to the chick classroom project with Ms. Vice and her wonderful classrooms full of curious students- Mealworms! In addition to the chick hatching project, this amazing teacher thought through other things to add to the classroom for the students to experience. When brainstorming what it would take for care of the the chicks after they were hatched, the students were listing things they could feed the chickens. I had mentioned to Ms. Vice about our mealworm 'hotels' we sell as kits on the farm for those that would like to raise their own treats for their chickens. This created all sorts of conversation about what could be possible right in their own class. After Ms. Vice visited the farm, we were able to gift the classroom a kit to get them started in learning about the cycle of life for these egg to beetle snacks. Don't worry, none of these mealworms, pupas, and beetles make their way out of the containers we provide, making it a perfect household and classroom learning center. The class will be able to have all the snacks they would like for their chicks as well as see how metamorphosis works in the development of this transforming creature.
Sometimes examining the bedding can reveal the tiny worms that hatch from the beetle eggs. I think there is a future scientist on our hand here!
A long wait, but an exciting adventure with a really cool outcome. Here are some of the students getting to enjoy the chicks that hatched from their classroom project! Ms. Vice was able to have a live stream for others to tune in and watch the hatch. She shared the link with several other teachers she knew would be interested and several other Middle School teachers, at home moms, parents, and students that evening were all tuned into see what they could see of the 4 chicks that hatched. Two chicks were witnessed hatching out during the school day and two others hatched out after- allowing for parents and students to watch and share together! Don't think we all could have planned any of this better!! Even a school district STEM coordinator was able to check out the hatch through this form of streaming. Another district representative visited the classroom after hearing about the project and its wonderful connection to learning to observe the 2 day old chicks, take video and pics, as well as interview students. Sharing the love of this experiential learning, Ms. Vice!! Way to make an impact on so many students' lives and motivate positive, creative projects in the classroom.
Not sure of names, but here are the fabulous four chicks that hatched in a classroom full of caring, learning students.
Update for our amazing teacher, Mrs. Vice and class, who are letting us walk through their classroom and learning about the development process, what it will take to care for them, animal adaptations, and many other things through this project. Our updates are coming very regular from the classroom and to see these young folks enjoying this learning experience has been heartwarming!
Our teacher has been a bit nervous with the development of the chicks and with this, she has been super diligent with checking along the process inside of the egg and candling along the weeks. This is the early part of the process and what the beginning of development of the fertile eggs. They started with a variety of chicken eggs from our farm, seven in total.
It is not an issue to keep an egg in the incubator if you are not sure if you have a blood ring or a still developing chick. But, in this case, we decided that is was probably just a blood ring and would not continue to develop, so our science-minded teacher took it out of the incubation process and see what was going on inside of the egg. The diagnosis through candling was correct, a underdeveloped and stop developing baby chick.
Look closely at this other egg candling image to see the development of an eye for the soon to be chick.
Now for the great news: Of the seven eggs that were started in the incubator, it looks like there are 5 actively developing chicks!! I have to say that is an outstanding rate for the variety that was started. The last candling before hatch is difficult to even see in because the chicks start to take up so much room inside of the egg. This is a picture of one from that time.
To entertain the chicks while they were developing, the students were encouraged to read aloud and what better book to read than chicken books! Here are some of the students spending some of their reading time, sharing with these little eggs. The wait can feel like a long time to those in the shell and in the classroom, but check out our next post to see what we were able to add to this project to help learn even more as the chicks develop.
Several teachers have approached us at the farm this spring asking about getting fertilized eggs they can use to teach about hatching in their classroom. On this, the first day of spring, it is a perfect time to introduce the teacher/classroom that we will be following through their adventure with this hands-on learning experience.
Meet, Ms. Vice who has three different classes at her school who will be taking care of the eggs and learning about chick development as they grow the baby chicks inside. When our family decided to start the farm, we decided to have a dual focus with our building plan to provide great quality farm products for our community and to help in any way with educating about where our food comes from. This dual purpose has been interesting to navigate as the farm grows. This is another opportunity for extension of the farm to so many students, other teachers, parents, school staff, and parents. We will be sharing special moments of this farm to school adventure. Between this farmer and our amazing teacher, Ms. Vice, you will hear the excitement of this adventure through our thoughts and pictures as we not only note the progress, but the incites discovered by those learning along the way.
There was a ton of learning, a visit by Ms. Vice and her wonderful little boys to the farm, and work put forth in helping to fund the equipment for this experiential learning experience. Long before we heard about Ms. Vice's plans for her classroom, she found, applied for, and received help from DonnorsChoose.org to fund the project. She has a full plan for the entire process from start to finish. The educational components will include animal adaptations, life cycles, and facilitate an experiential classroom lesson to stimulate thoughts and dreams of her students that can extent outside of the walls of the school and the limits of the educational material. Through this multi-targeted chick hatching experience, she has already experienced the pride of students to 'protect' the incubator table space from being disturbed, the responsibility of others to make sure access is available to tend to all the needs along the process, and hear/share questions about this new adventure as an open conversation with the students. One conversation she shared involved a student that was so excited about the project, this student shared they hadn't really told anyone before that they were thinking about wanting to be a veterinarian when they grow up. Another shared conversation is that as they talk through how they will track and check on the process of development as the days pass, the students have now started asking Ms. Vice to check with Farmer Abbie to see what the answer might be. (Ok, if that doesn't warm your heart! I love that kids I have never met now really want to hear from our knowledge of incubating chicks-insert super huge country chic smile!) Now, we all know that we have lots of hopes and dreams throughout our young lives about what our adult life will be, but to me this helps extend students' minds to many more options that might not be already in their experienced world. Anytime our horizons can be extended adds value to the creative and diverse world we live in. Thank you to Ms. Vice for allowing this follow along of your classroom lessons and experience.
Here are the eggs set in the incubator, rotating, at the proper humidity and temperature, being protected by excited and responsible students. Come on little chicks- you have a lot of expectant people on the outside, grow well.
Yep, Spring is right around the corner! St. Patrick's Day and Easter are the big holidays all the stores are peddling decorations, toys, candy, themed clothing, decorated pastries, and basket fixings for. If this is the year you are thinking about moving beyond the silly hats and funny wrapped candies to something like a new pet- maybe a bunny or some chicks, there are a few things to consider before making this step. For your consideration of these live animals, remember to plan ahead and to think through the life of the animals you are considering beyond the cute, fluffy, young little life stage. For the sake of our discussion, we will look into 5 different questions to ask before getting chicks this spring, although similar questions can be asked about a bunny or any other pet for that matter.
1) Am I ready to take care of this chick from day one through adulthood?
The first thing to consider when looking to take some little chicks into your care is if you are thinking about not just their immediate care, but also into their young chick stages, the transition to the outside, and ultimately into adulthood. Baby chicks require a safe, warm place for at least the first 6 weeks of their life. Temperatures in their environment need to be 95 degrees the first week and worked down each week from that by 5 degrees until they have all their insulating feathers and can regulate their body temperature on their own and handle the ambient temperature. During this time, they will start to discover their wings and flap inside of their brooder. If the sides of this container are not tall enough, the birds will prove to you that chickens can fly-not far and not high, but far and high enough to make you an instant chicken wrangler. After these fun times, the chicks will need to move to their coop/ run area and get used to being outside, roosting, dust bathing, and foraging. Chickens can live anywhere from 5-8 years on average with the oldest chicken being on record for living 16 years! Be prepared for the long haul and entertainment for years to come.
2) Secondly, you will need to make sure that you have the space requirements for the chicks/chickens and if you are able to have them. Location, location, location is key to where you will have your new flock. Little chicks need that space that keeps them warm and clean for while they are little, but as the birds grow and learn what their wings do for them they will need more space. Although chickens do not tend to 'fly', they like use their wings to leap to perches and some get curious for how high they can get. General rule of thumb says 2-3ft of space for inside of a coop and 8-10ft of space for a run or outdoor space. This will keep a chicken area at the minimum of space requirement, but will need to be maintained well to keep a clean and healthy environment for your birds. Things like the deep litter method or using sand in the coop are all items to investigate to know for sure how you will house and run your flock. In our experience, the bigger the area you can have for your birds, the more time you have between major cleanings and the happier the chickens are to explore. On the other side, two things to consider in free ranging your birds will be aerial predators and the foraging sources for your flock (making sure this is large enough to not be depleted or is renewable). Also, if you live in a neighborhood, check with your HOA or city ordinances to make sure you are allowed to have chickens. If you do not live in an place that limits how many or what you can have, it is still a good idea to let your neighbors know what you are planning. Note, the promise of sharing some of your eggs can go a long way for a neighbor that seems reluctant of your new adventure.
3) Now, what type of bird to actually get. If you head off to your local feed and seed store in spring, you might be overwhelmed by the choices for chicks. Your first instinct could be to pick a color or one that you like the way it looks, but I do want to caution you that this might not be the best way to pick your new responsibility. Instead, I would highly encourage you to think of what the reason you are starting your flock- egg production, entertainment, meat production, pet, garden helpers, or any other reason. Once you determine why you are getting your first birds, it will be easier to decide on type. There are definitely birds that are specific for egg laying production-like the Barred Rock, Leghorns, or Golden Comet. Then, there are bigger growing birds that are also good egg layers that can be considered dual purpose (egg and then meat) like the Black Australorp, Rhode Island Red, or Jersey Giants. Other reasons for choosing a breed can be the playful and silly nature of a Polish, the gentle and broody demeanor of the Silkie, or free ranging and independent nature of a Welsummer or Buckeye. Ultimately, the best start for your flock will be to decide what you want out of the birds and then decide on the breeds based on this and not just how cute they are, cause we can all agree that all the chicks are super cute!
4) Along with choosing the breed, you will need to know the next biggest determination, the sex of the chicken. If you live in a neighborhood, you probably are not allowed to have a rooster. If you plan to free range your birds and have more land to let them do this, you might want a rooster for help in protecting your ladies. Just in case you are wondering (as we did when we first started), you only need to have hens to have eggs- roosters are necessary for fertility, but not for production. After you decide about roosters and hens, you need to know how you can find these that match up with the breed you choose. Many smaller breeds that are the 'fancy' birds are sold as little chicks as 'straight run'. This term means that you purchase the chick, but they are not sexed as either a male or female chicken. The larger breeds are sold from hatcheries as sexed birds within a certain percentage, many times this is 85%. This means that 85% of the time you will have a hen and the other 15% you might have a rooster because they been looked at in the hatchery to be sexed before sent out to you or your local feed and seed store. Lastly, you can purchase a 99% sex-link bird that come from some breeds that hatch as one color for the male and another for female. Examples of these are the red sex link/star, black sex link/star, or Legbar. You will need to determine what you will do if you get a bird that is not the sex you are planning for if it is an undetermined as a chick. Maybe make some farm friends that might be able to take your favorite 'hen' , but crows one morning and turns out to be a rooster.
5) Lastly, you want to plan for the future with your pets/flock and all the eggs you will get. Enjoy the experience, learn everyday and you will probably want to add to your flock as time goes on. Hens lay for a few years and have times they slow down in egg production, so planning to have enough birds to keep up with your desired egg production will be one consideration. As you gain confidence, you might want to add a few 'fancy' breeds that you didn't think was possible when you first started. A good mix of egg layers or dual purpose birds with some silly birds or cuddle-bugs can add to your backyard flock entertainment and fun!
Have a great time preparing your flock's home, deciding on who to bring home, and of course, the entertainment they bring once they are home. Join us for a upcoming chicken raising class to learn more and meet other chicken folks.