Monthly Archives: August 2009

The death of Pavarotti

The quintessential Pavarotti as I like to remember him.

The quintessential Pavarotti as I like to remember him.

Pavarotti was part of the group of chickens first born to the farm. He was the head honcho of the chicken coop for the past four and a half years; now he is gone. He died last Friday evening from what I think is a chicken form of laryngitis. He’d had it once before a couple of summers ago and we nearly lost him then. I guess he was just that much younger and stronger and manage to make a comeback from the first go around with this disease but this week, at the ripe old age of 4 1/2 years old, it proved to be too much for him.

I found him hunched over looking perfectly sorry for himself: his tail feathers drooped down behind him, his eyes only half opened, he had lost his voice and will to call and could barely suck in a full breath. He was in dire straits. In case this was contagious, I decided I’d better separate him from the rest of the flock and put him in our ‘long term care facility’ i.e. one of our mobile chicken tractors.

I then looked to the Internet for a good resource page on chicken respiratory illnesses and found the University of Florida’s IFAS Extension Services pages. They had a downloadable document on common poultry diseases which I printed off. I poured over all of the disease options trying to find the culprit for Pavarotti’s dire condition. I surmised that the problem was Infectious Laryngotracheitis which affects chickens and pheasants. According to the report, chickens over fourteen weeks and older are most susceptible and most outbreaks occurring in mature animals. According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension: The clinical sign usually first noticed is watery eyes. Affected birds remain quiet because the breathing is difficult. Coughing, sneezing, and shaking of the head to dislodge exudate plugs in the windpipe follow. Birds extend their head and neck to facilitate breathing (commonly referred to as “pump handle respiration”). Inhalation produces a wheezing and gurgling sound. Blood-tinged exudates and serum clots are expelled from the trachea of affected birds. Many birds die from asphyxiation due to a blockage of the trachea when the tracheal plug is freed, which is exactly what happened in the end this time for Pavarotti.

Pavarotti was the patriarch of the flock. We bought the place in April 2005 and he hatched out in May that same year. He is one of the first livestock to live on the farm; I hatched him myself. My first son, as it were. I always knew how old he was because he was as old as the farm. Now I’ll have to mark the age in some of the first hens that hatched along with him. We still have several of his vintage hens with us and they are still laying and making good mothers.

Pavarotti was a gentleman with his ladies. He spent his time finding food and clucking to his gals when he locates tasty morsels, then lets them eat from his beak; I hardly ever see him eat. He is also a great ‘watch-rooster’. He lets me know if there are foxes about with a particular cluck: fa-Ox, fa-Ox, fa-Ox. The cluck for deer is entirely different: da-da-da-DEER. He has a call for when my neighbour is on her way through the treed fence-line, and another for hawks and overhead danger. I’m not kidding. Chickens have a language, and you can learn it if you are attentive.

Lots of folks tell me that roosters can be stroppy or vicious. Maybe, but not Pav. He was a keeper. Any new young roosters that challenge him get put in the pot. Ones that know who’s king get to stay and add to the gene pool. Now he has lived out his days on the farm. I thought he would die much older and am sad that he’s gone so soon. He is now buried in the garden with some of the other much beloved animals of Howling Duck Ranch. I miss his song.

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Deep fried olives!

Deep fried olivesIMGP3029Take pitted green olives; pipe some mashed seasoned goat cheese into where the pit was; flour them, egg them, crumb them (mix a bit of Parmesan mixed into the breadcrumb mixture); fry them in, yes, olive oil. Let them cool a little while before letting yourself pop one into your mouth to enjoy the burst of warm, wet olive flavor. They go fantasically with goat cheese, crackers or a nice home made crusty bread, and a hearty wine!

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Not Dabbling in Normal today

Zucchini squash blossoms make an interesting base for several unique recipes.

Zucchini squash blossoms make an interesting base for several unique recipes.

I’ll eventually post this up here on my blog, but today it is reserved for Not Dabbling in Normal! I am planning to do a series of recipes using this unique ingredient this summer. It is a great way to keep those pesky overly enthusiastic zucchini’s at bay.

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Filed under Heirloom vegetables, How to..., Recipes

Motherhood-it’s not for everyone

Last week we were lucky enough to find reliable farm-sitters and sneak away to my brother’s wedding near Vancouver. This was not an easy task thanks to the fires in our area. We had planned on driving out but when we got to the bottom of ‘The Hill’ the officials were there just closing the road and bringing the pilot car off the mountain. “I could feel the heat from the fire right through the truck!” exclaimed one of the men, looking thrilled to be out of harm’s way.

Under normal circumstances this would not be a problem. If I lived near a city where there were lots of flights to choose from, and normal sized planes that hold a decent number of people, I would not have begun to panic during the hour long return drive home down the valley. But in Bella Coola getting a last minute seat on a flight is not always guaranteed! Here, when they use the ‘big’ plane it holds 19 passengers. Furthermore, although we have a scheduled flight every day, there is no guarantee the plane will get in. Often it is canceled due to heavy clouds, and in this case, I was worried that the smoke beginning to billow off the mountainsides might make it impossible to land. Nevertheless, I refused to believe that I might not make it to my brother’s wedding.

Thankfully, the stars were aligned, we got seats on the flight to Vancouver and managed to arrive in the nick of time (I was part of the wedding party!). That was the good news. The bad news was I didn’t get to stay long and visit anyone after the wedding: a check-in call to our farm-minders  brought news of evacuation alerts, so we had to get on the plane and come back home right away, thanks to the threat of the fires.

During our three days away our farm-sitters noticed that Shiraz was no longer feeding one of her kids. They were observant enough not only to notice this new behaviour from her but also to take control and hold her while the little one fed–the mark of dependability in a babysitter! Now that we are back, things have gotten worse and she is barely feeding any of them.

Goat breeding: If only I’d read the fine print

While researching the reasons why a doe might reject her kids, I came across this site which describes my experience with Shiraz to a T!

Many new producers do not know what to expect from their stock, and some are very unhappy when they discover that goats are not always the easiest animals to manage.

In light of my experience with her thus far (see Oh what a night), I would say that Shiraz qualifies as having achieved ‘not the easiest to manage’ status. The difference between Shiraz and my other mother Fatty-Fat is extreme, and this is the kind of experience the above article describes. My experience is particularly marked in that I only have the two goats, so I don’t have the 10-15% of my herd with this dysfunctional behaviour as the article suggests may be the case, and what producers should allow for. Instead, I have a 50% problem! Thankfully, this translates to only one goat and three kids to care for–I don’t know what I’d do if it were several goats and a full nursery! Perhaps I should have done some more research before launching into goat breeding! The next paragraph in the article unfolds as if reading my thoughts:

The majority of new producers receive a big reality check when their first kidding season arrives if they have not done their research and adjusted their expectations accordingly.

You don’t say. I’m not really sure what I expected, so I don’t really have many expectation adjustments to work through. I do, however, have to figure out how to get these kids fed! I thought it would be easiest if I could trundle down to the local veterinarian’s office (if I had one, that is!) and get milk replacement and a milker/feeder type thing and take over the job myself. This article doesn’t support my wishful thinking:

Some people bottle feed, but I don’t recommend this… I have also had big problems with the milk replacer actually killing the kids. It causes a high percentage of the kids (over 50% in my experience) to develop ulcers which eventually rupture killing the kid.

As luck would have it the vet was going to come the 458 kilometers into town this weekend and I was considering asking her to bring some milk replacer, but thanks to the fires she’s had to cancel her trip! Now out of options, I’ve taken to holding Shiraz between three and four times per day in order to let the little fellows feed: basically whenever I hear them crying.

The key to maintaining some control over her is to hold her tail, this way she is less likely to sit down to evade her kids.

The key to maintaining some control over her is to hold her tail, this way she is less likely to sit down to evade her kids.

This is not an easy task; as you can see, Shiraz is a strong goat! She is also a smart goat and has all sorts of tricks she pulls in order to evade her milking duties. One of the most effective is to sit down while I’m holding her. This is very effective and difficult for me to oppose. I have found that by grabbing hold of her tail she is far less likely to try this one on. Keeping ahead of her is a monumental task. Not only that; it is taking a huge amount of my time. I hold her for about a 1/2 hour each session in order to let all three feed to their tummies’ contentment.

One satisfied, full bellied kid.

One satisfied, full bellied kid.

I’m hoping she will once again accept her kids, though I’m alarmed at how long the article suggests this may take:

Does that are intent on killing the rejected kid(s) require more drastic measures. I generally put a halter on them a couple of times a day and tie them to the fence so their kids can eat. Usually they will eventually accept the kids, but it may take a month or more before they do. You will have to decide whether the time involved is worth it.

Of course the one kid she is rejecting outright is my favourite, Sinbad. So it’s worth it! Oddly, he is the biggest and was her first born. I have checked her bag to make sure it is soft and pliable and giving milk, and there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with any of the kids which can be a reason the doe will reject one or more. When I do hold her and they feed, they do so willingly and with gusto complete with satisfying sound effects, and until satiated. I thought perhaps she feels she doesn’t have enough milk for three. At first I was alarmed with both her and Fatty as they began to lose weight during the first few days after kidding. Again, I checked with my doctor friend who said that this is certainly normal with nursing women. I upped their feed rations and within days brought their weight loss to a halt. Shiraz seems to be holding condition nicely and has a full, heavy bag.

Performing acu-pressure on Shiraz helps her calm down.

Performing acu-pressure on Shiraz helps her calm down.

One of the many things I’ve learned through working with my horse is about horses stress and how to relieve it through acu-pressure points. While I’m holding Shiraz, I use the acu-pressure point just below her nose in order to help calm her down. In horses, this point is the locus of an endorphin release. I have used it on myself and know that it works for humans, therefore, I presume that it will also work for Shiraz. Much to my relief it seems to have some effect.

After some light acu-pressure Shiraz relaxes enough for me to stand up and take only a light grip on her while her kids continue to feed.

After some light acu-pressure Shiraz relaxes enough for me to stand up and take only a light grip on her while her kids continue to feed.

While contemplating my predicament, I have been considering my next year’s breeding program and my diminutive scale farm, and wondering who I should cull. Sundown didn’t get pregnant at all this year so she is on the list of possibles because she may be sterile, though of course this is not for certain. Thanks to Shiraz’s insistence on maintaining the ‘not the easiest to manage’ status, she too has made the list. There is no way I can do all this again with Shiraz if this is the way she’s going to behave each pregnancy, although, much to my chagrin, according to the article this is not usually the case:

In my own operation 10-15% of the does that kid in a year decide to reject at least one of their kids, and the does that did so this year are not the same does that pulled that stunt last year.

My doctor friend and her doctor husband dropped in yesterday to see the farm and I relayed the story to them. He said that he’d had a dog that ate all her pups many years ago and they found out later that it was due to a vitamin deficiency; he suggested this may be the problem with Shiraz. I too had wondered about this but had dismissed the idea because of the conditions in which I’m raising them: she has sweet feed two or three times per day, access to good hay, a mineral lick, free access to a free-form mineral powder suggested to me by the vet, and all the good clean native forest browse she could ever possibly dream of having. These goats are in fact actually quite spoiled.

Upon hearing this, my other doctor friend said that it may be an absorption problem and/or simply a lack of calcium due to the heavy demand that bringing up three kids has on her body, so she suggested that I get some calcium supplements and see what happens. When I asked if I should get liquid calcium she turned to me and laughed: “Just get Tums and crush it in her morning grain.” This doctor friend really should have been a vet! This morning, following my Goat-Doctor’s advice, I got the peppermint flavoured Tums out. Before I had a chance to crush the tablet into her food dish Shiraz snarfed it out of my hand, scoffed it down in seconds flat and immediately snuffled around for more. Either she really likes peppermint flavour or she realizes this is what she is missing. In light of the fact that none of my goats will touch the mint in my garden, I’m suspecting it is the latter!

My guess is that my doctor friend is correct, that having three kids makes her more susceptible to this deficiency than Fatty-Fat who is happy in her new role as mama-goat to twins. I’ll keep up with the calcium tablets, reinstate the morning molasses tea and see if this makes a difference. If anyone has other suggestions, I would welcome them!

…As I write this I reflect that in this whole process I am measuring my own situation. I sympathise with Shiraz. I never wanted children and chose not to have them. When we husband animals we take away their right to choose. After going through this with her I wonder if she too would have chosen not to have kids if she had her druthers!

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Filed under Animal issues, Educational, Goats, How to..., Learning to Farm, milking goats

Fire update with photos

Well the fire crews seem to be winning today. The wind direction has helped a lot. It changed dramatically from yesterday and has been driving the fire south and down a narrow valley away from the Bella Coola Valley since early this morning. In addition, the Province has sent us in about 20 more fire-fighters, an additional helicopter with the water bucket, and the ‘big gun’–the Air Crane, which is a huge helicopter that can drop about 500 gallons of water each drop. It has been amazing to watch the crews working but the Air Crane at work takes the cake in terms of magnitude. I managed to get right down to the river where he was working and watched him draw the water and head back to the fire several times–man’s inventions are truly remarkable. If we had several of these machines working together we’d be in good shape in no time.

In the shot below, the Air Crane is dropping water on the fire. Although a huge machine, it still looks minuscule in comparison to the task at hand! (He is just above the treeline at the centre of the photo.)

View of the fire with the airport runway in the foreground.

View of the fire with the airport runway in the foreground.

The east side of Nuxalk Mountain ablaze.

The east side of Nuxalk Mountain ablaze; the Air Crain above the airplane hangar on the left hand side of the photo.

The draw that the fire is moving up is also our watershed. Many are worried that it will cross the Snootli river (which hails from this draw) and then threaten more houses on the south side of the valley. Thanks to this morning’s prominent winds, I no longer think this is a big concern at the moment. I won’t go as far as to say everything is fine today, but I am certainly much less worried than the past few days.

One of the things we have going for us is the steep terrain. The fire actually has to work to keep itself going. As you can see in the above photo, the face of the Nuxalk Mountain is mostly granite. Also, because of the many valleys (draws) that run north/south along our east/west valley, there are opportunities for it to move away from us as it seems to be doing today. Unlike say an Australian situation where the lay of the land is much less steep and thus can rage and move with extreme agility and frightening speed, here the fire should have much more difficulty taking hold in the bottom of the valley as it has a tendency to go up the side of a mountain instead of down. Of course, if it did we’d certainly be in a lot of trouble!

Another thing we have going for us is the amount of water around to draw from. In many other areas of the country we tend to rely upon fire retardant and gel, whereas here we can rely on water and draw from the many rivers that populate the province. As you can see from the photos, the river is a very short distance to the fire. The photo below shows the airport runway in the foreground and I am standing at the river edge while taking the photo.

Looking west towards the worst threat in the valley, the west side of the mountian where the wind was pushing the fire yesterday and threatening people's houses and forcing them to evacuate.

Looking west towards the worst threat in the valley, the west side of the mountain where the wind was pushing the fire yesterday and threatening people's houses and forcing them to evacuate. That is our airport runway in the foreground.

Air Crane headed back to drop water.

Air Crane headed back to drop water.

Air Crane coming in to fill up at the river.

Air Crane heading back to fire having just filled up at the river.

Here is a link to more photos of the fire by my friend Mike: Michael Wigle photographs. Here is a link to the Central Coast Regional District fire update page.

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Fire in the hole!

Check out the following links for fire info:

Fires threaten to trap Bella Coola Valley

BC Wild Fires

Note: Highway 20 is the only road in or out of the valley.

We’re busy making provisions in the event we are evacuated. We are on alert. I won’t be posting again until we are all safe and this is over.

Wish us luck!

HDR

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