The first day of Spring brought nearly 5 inches of wet snow. An early morning walk after opening up the goats and chickens revealed many beautiful sights.

Pond with Ducks and Geese

Pond with Ducks and Geese

Reflections in Pond

Reflections in Pond at Sunrise

A large group of Snow Geese passed over head, possibly on their way to Merrill Creek reservoir.  The sun lit up their white bodies and wings so that they glowed. The picture does not do the scene justice.  Their calls echoed off the hills as group after group streamed past.

Snow Geese at Sunrise

Snow Geese at Sunrise

Because of the snow there was evidence of numerous visitor’s over night.  There were opossum tracks out front, running between the hay feeders and the compost pile, and many others that could not be identified because the snow was so wet it didn’t capture crisp clear prints. Near the house where an initial pass at shoveling had been done there were very clear and awesome prints of a black bear!  A ruler is shown to fully appreciate the size of this bear.  The back prints measured 12 inches!  Just look at those toenails – wow!

Black Bear Prints in Snow

Black Bear Prints in Snow

Black Bear Prints in Snow

Black Bear Prints in Snow









Following the tracks revealed that the bear had come down our western neighbor’s driveway, over the fence into our marshy area (where he looked around for awhile), to within 20 feet of the fenced area in front of the barn where the does are locked in at night, over the fence directly behind the house (fence bent!), up to the garage, and then over to the eastern creek and through to the next property. Luckily he did not decide to sample goats or chickens on his trip through the farm!




Spring Happenings

Spring is in full swing and I’ve been feverishly planting seeds before it turns hot and dry. Since it was a cold, wet Spring the plants are off “normal” schedules and bloom times are compressed. All the daffodils bloomed at the same time vs over a month as they usually do. The lilacs were only open during a torrential rainy period so their odor never perfumed the air. The iris have just opened and the peonies are poised to open any day, they just need a bit more moisture. Don’t think we’ll get it soon, and it has been nearly 90 degrees for a few days so all the plants are looking for a nice drink of water.  This is the new weather pattern – all or nothing, without moderation. We get no rain or 5 inches of rain and it is 15 degrees below “normal” or 15 degrees above “normal”.  Both extremes being tough for living things to handle.

Taking Over the Deck

Bleeding Hearts and Ferns Taking Over the Deck

Lavender and White Iris

Lavender and White Iris

My two surviving strawberry plants are blooming.  The only way to keep them alive it to completely enclose them with hardware cloth.  Otherwise the chipmunks destroy both the berries and the plants themselves.  I had not realized how much damage these cute little rascals cause until I caught them climbing the (deer prevention) cages around my roses to reach through and eat fully bloomed roses!  There is a pair roaming around on the back porch so it looks like a population increase is in the making.

Only Way to Grow Strawberries in the Wilds of Central NJ

Only Way to Grow Strawberries in the Wilds of Central NJ

There is a baby bunny running around in the chicken area, but much fewer rabbits overall then last year.  Surprising, since last year was the year the coyotes took out two of my adult goats and there was also a bumper crop of bunnies!  You would have thought the coyotes would have been eating bunnies versus a 100+ pound goat.  Coyote choices are fewer this year (fingers crossed!) since the goats and sheep are now locked into overnight corrals.  More work for me, but hopefully creating less domestic livestock options for coyote meals.

The new chicks are 4 weeks old as of Monday.  They are nearly fully feathered and really beautiful!  The transformation is always amazing.  Since I’m trying two new breeds this year I’ve been trying to pictorially document their change into adult plumage.   Not an easy task as they move around like bullets, trying out their wings and exploring.  Yesterday I got them outside in their permanent “teenage” area instead of in the smaller cage I’ve been using and moving around on the grass up near the house.

Australorp Hen  Meets Salmon Favorelle Chick 4 Weeks Old

Australorp Hen Meets Salmon Favorelle Chick 4 Weeks Old

They are still too small (not fully feathered so unable to fully regulate their temperature) to stay out overnight or in cold, wet weather so they move back and forth to their cage in the basement in a cat carrier.  They are amazingly smart.  They learned to go into the carrier when I go out late in the day, all crowding in so I can take them inside.  It only took them a few days to figure this out!  It is their natural inclination to seek shelter when it starts to get dark which I’m sure helps, but often I’m moving them well before dusk due to the cool temperature or rainy weather.  Chicks feather out more quickly when the temperature is low versus when they are raised in warmer ambient temperatures.  They have a light in their cage that allows them to warm up if they get cold, but the basement ambient temperature is about 60-65 degrees.  That’s why they are almost fully feathered at 4 weeks instead of the more typical 6 weeks.

The difference in their personalities is obvious even at a very young age.  The Salmon Favorelles are much calmer and peaceful than the Chanteclers which are calmer than the Ameraucanas in general.  There is one Chantecler that gets upset about being handled as well as two of the Ameraucana chicks.  They are all getting better with the twice daily routine of being lifted in and out of their cage and being taken outside.  Nothing like a little treat of white bread once they are out to make it an overall positive experience!  I also try to pick them up slowly and respectfully, trying to get them to come to me so I can pick them up versus grabbing at them.

Baby Chicks 3 Weeks Old

Baby Chicks 3 Weeks Old

Above is a group picture at 3 weeks of age showing a Salmon Favorelle in the front, Ameraucanas on each side and a Chantecler in the far back.  They love to crowd into a box and peck at the box sides which makes an interesting noise (to a chicken!) .

April Showers

30 something degrees and 6 inches of rain the last Wed. in April!  However, nothing like the 22 inches of rain in FL nor the tornadoes in the South so no complaints here.  The poor geese were watching their island nearly disappear as the pond could not discharge water fast enough to stay within it’s banks.  6 goslings had hatched out just earlier in the week, all survived the flood but one seems to be missing this week.


Flooding on Mulhokaway Tributary Bordering East Side of the Farm

Geese on island in flooded pond

Geese on Island in Flooded Pond

Bad week for adult chickens.  Chocolate (an Ameraucana hen) was found dead one morning under the perches.  A necropsy revealed internal tumors and 4 fully formed eggs without shells in her intestinal cavity!  Several days later at dusk, Placido (the lone rooster, also an Ameraucana) was found face down in the drainage ditch near the hen house.  He had been seen walking the territory and crowing very shortly before he was found dead.  Had seemed in good health, was a good weight and had not a mark on him.  Best guess is that he had a heart attack or an aneurysm to go so suddenly.  It’s much quieter on the Farm without his cheerful crowing.  On the positive side, this year’s chicks arrived in good health!

Amerauncas, Chanteclers, Salmon Favorelles Chicks

Ameraucanas, Chanteclers, Salmon Faverolles Chicks

I’m trying some new varieties this year, Chanteclers and Salmon Faverolles.  Both were bred to lay well in the winter, and are very cold hardy.  The Chantecler was developed in Canada and the Favorelle has 4 toes (vs the “normal” three) and their toes are more flattened (vs completely round) with some feathers but not completely feathered.  I’m trying to get pictures of their legs but it’s not easy as they are not too fond of posing for the camera while held in the air (easiest way to see the legs clearly).

Both are rare breeds.  The Chantecler is listed on the Livestock Conservancy Conservation Priority Poultry Breeds 2014 Critical list and the Faverolle is listed on the Threatened list.  They join the Dominiques ((Watch) and Delawares (Threatened) that I’ve raised for over 15 years.  I always have Ameraucanas too as many of my customers love the green eggs they lay.  Last year I added 3 Australorp hens as they are great egg layers.   One was a runt (although she is doing well, just tiny) and another, sadly, has developed a neck twitch which means she won’t last long.  They are friendly and productive but have big combs which make them susceptible to frostbite.  I’ll post notes comparing the breeds as they get older.

I’ve finished another Inkle and like the pattern so much I think I’ll do another using some of my dyed yarn.


Black and White Inkle with Warping Pattern

The picture above shows the warping pattern as well as the pattern as it is woven, and the finished Inkle is shown below.  I really love weaving Inkles as they provide a great sense of accomplishment very quickly!  I’ve been putting off starting on a set of tapestries I have designed and warped since I know it will take a long time to compete them.  It’s time to start washing fleeces since the Spring shearing was successfully done in between major rain storms!

Finished Black and White Inkle

Finished Black and White Inkle

Early Spring Fiber Projects

I’ve managed a few fiber projects in recent weeks around all the spring time farm work.  I’ve been making inkles over the winter and this week did two from 100% Dancing Waters Farm yarn (70% mohair and 30% wool).  The draft is the same for both as they were both done with the same threading, but I used white for the weft of one and black for the weft of the other.  The difference is only in the edge, as the last two threads are black.  I prefer the solid black edge, but the white ticking version along the edge is pretty too and the difference in appearance between the two is not huge.  Using a tweed for the center section gives it a gentler look. Will go for greater contrast on my next project for comparison.


DWF Yarn Inkles

DWF Yarn Inkles


Another project was spinning a variegated fleece purchased at the 2013 Garden State Sheep Breeders Fleece Show and Sale.  It is a black and white fleece, and the color of some of the locks change from white to black along the lock.  According to the sheep’s owner, the color change along the lock reverses from year to year.  I thought this would be perfect for hand spinning from the lock as the beautiful natural variegation would end up a uniform grey if it were carded into roving.

Kiss's Variegated Fleece (Cheviot)

Kiss’s Variegated Fleece (Cheviot)

Unfortunately the white sections of the locks where too short (~0.25-0.33 inches) to give me as much color separation as I had hoped.  Also many of the locks had a fair amount of weather damage on the ends (tippy).   This meant pre-drafting before I spun the locks versus spinning right from the locks after washing.  Since there was less color separation than I had hoped, the fiber was not consistently even and there was some VM in the fiber, I went for a thinner single and then plied it versus going with a fat singles or  a Navajo ply (ie- versus preserving the color changes in the single)

Kiss's Variegated Fleece Handspun 2 Ply

Kiss’s Variegated Fleece Handspun Into 2 Ply Yarn

So…it did not turn out as I had imagined but it is still a pretty skein.  Most of the rest of the fleece is a gorgeous pale steel grey and I look forward to spinning the rest of it.  My plan is to use this skein in a tapestry rug, thinking it has perfect color variations for a cat outline but it would be good for a sheep too!

Another fun project was making coasters out of DWF roving.  I did a needle felted sheep coaster (70% mohair, 30% wool):


Sheep Coaster From DWF Roving

Sheep Coaster From DWF Roving

As well as hand braiding three colors of roving, then stitching them together.  Next I needle felted one, wet felted another for comparison.  I much preferred the needle felted version.

Coaster from DWF Roving

Coaster from DWF Roving


I’ve gotten my tapestry loom warped and my drawings taped up behind the warps, ready to go.  Now to select my background colors and get started!

Adding Heddles to Tapestry Loom

Adding Heddles to Tapestry Loom

Mixed Bag

Spring is trying to make a return.  Still some hard frosts at night but the days are reaching the 60’s some days which is a welcome change.  Boot removing mud is everywhere as is typical for Spring. The wetness makes it impossible to do much of the cleanup needed as just walking makes huge ruts in what one hopes will someday return to grass.  This is my eternal battle, trying to keep grass growing and yet continually losing it a section at a time.  Around here pasture once lost is almost never regained due to traffic, preferential eating of the newly emerging plant life or the mysterious compunction to sleep on bare or newly seeded ground.   As I do every year, I am contemplating installing french drains near the barn and more permanent paving than gravel for the path up the hill to the chicken yard and barn.  Maybe this will be the year!  Spring is so beautiful and yet there is always a period in which I am over whelmed thinking about all the work needed to cleanup from the winter.  Maybe that’s why so many people move south!

Roberto Wonders What I'm Up To

Roberto Wonders What I’m Up To

One of my one year old laying hens prolapsed and I decided to put her down.  I could have pushed her insides back in and tried to tie it up to see if it would hold until it had repaired itself, but thought it unlikely since a chicken is programmed to push eggs out every day.   Several days later I lost a very old hen to reproductive system tumors, so the farm is down 4 laying hens in 2014.  However, new chicks are coming in several weeks!  This year I’m trying several new (to me) varieties that are bred to hatch well during the winter: Faverolles (French) and Chanteclers (Canadian).   Tried to get Faverolles last year but they didn’t hatch at the right time for the rest of my order.  The Australorps from last year are doing well despite the cold winter and their huge combs.  I was afraid they might get badly frost bitten (knowing from personal experience how painful frostbite is) but they have only a few very small spots of damage and they seem happy and are laying well.  I love the way they run to me when I call them – just like groupies at a rock concert, running with their wings outstretched and screaming (“wait I’m coming too!!!!) if one gets too far behind the rest of the group.

On April Fool’s Day I rescued a middle age cat that had been trapped by animal control and was being held by a vet I often use.  No one had showed up to claim her in 4 weeks and I thought an older cat would be hard for the vet to place so I took her home.  After a few days my current cat Ozzie was getting used to her and found her very intriguing, and she was settling in but still unnerved by his fixed stare and the way he would pounce up to the fence that separated them if she started eating.  On day four the vet calls and tells me the owner has shown up and is looking for the cat!  I take her back of course, glad that she could be returned to her original home but it was sad too.  She was very sweet and well behaved, and think she would have made a nice playmate for Ozzie. He had a great evening checking out all the toys she had used during her visit.

Foxes are showing up on the game camera almost every night the last several weeks after no signs of them most of the winter.  Racoons have returned to view as well.  A neighboring farm has seen tracks of a pack of 5 coyotes and has been finding deer they took down.  Last April I lost 2 of my oldest goats (>100 pounds each) to coyotes, the first time in almost 20 years here at the farm that I had ever lost a goat/sheep to a four legged predator.  Since then I’ve been locking them into corrals at night which is a bit of a challenge with goats as they are programmed to whack things with their heads/horns and need a fair amount of space or they beat each other up as part of their social hierarchy maintenance.  After several months of putting up the corrals and making adjustments the arrangement is working well, other than the extra work it entails (letting them out, locking them in and daily cleanup).  A bit of extra works certainly beats finding mostly eaten carcasses in the pasture!

Had to reschedule shearing due to rain, but since it has been so much colder than normal think overall it was a good thing.  Will try again on Good Friday.   Poor egan stepped on something and really messed up her foot.  Have been cleaning and re-bandaging it for about 3 weeks now as of course the barn area is 4 inches deep in mud.  I’ve perfected the art of duct tape booties through the years and hers goes all the way to her knee.  It keeps her foot clean and dry over the bandage and it’s loose enough to allow some air to enter from around the top.  She is finally walking normally so I’m hoping to stop bandaging her next week.  She’ll be happy as she is tired of my cornering her in the barn to con her into eating Ibuprofen for the pain and changing the bandages!

Megan Looking for a Treat

Megan Looking for a Treat


Waiting for Spring

This will likely be a year where there is no Spring at all.  Instead Winter will move right into Summer.  19 degrees this morning, but at least the wind has dropped from the howling all day yesterday and last night.  Lucked out and didn’t get any of the snow predicted.  Already past the normal time of year to plant peas, but wouldn’t think of putting them in yet this year.  Shearing is scheduled for tomorrow but the weather forecasts are saying rain and it won’t be a bad thing to postpone since it will be continuing to be below average temperatures for a few more weeks yet.  The goats can generally handle temperatures down to about 32 degrees after a new haircut.  I can put t-shirts on any that are cold for a few weeks until their hair grows out.  Angora goats are hair growing machines with fiber growth of about an inch a month.  They need about an inch of fiber to tolerate very cold temperatures.

Finally got the large evergreen trees in front of the house taken down.  They had been on my to do list since Hurricane Sandy took one of them down, luckily falling away from the house although not as good for the fence it hit.  The trees had gotten too big to be so close to the house.  It made an enormous difference to the look of the farmstead and now there is room for a big garden close to the house.  I’ll have to put a tall fence up to keep out the deer with chicken wire around the bottom to keep out the rabbits and woodchucks.  It’s a relentless battle where the fencing seems to keep me out better than the wildlife!  This year it will be a compost pile for the barn so that the soil can be built up.  Right now it is too wet and low with large tree stumps to readily grow much.  I will probably plant pumpkins on top though to keep the compost neatly covered while it does it’s job.    A side benefit of the tree removal project is that the goats are having a feast on the branches.  This will get them through until it warms up and the pastures come back to life.  The sheep like the evergreen branches too, a nice change from hay I guess.  Now I need to get out there and chop off the smaller branches so I can use the long branches for fence poles.  Never a dull moment!


Goat Heaven

Goat Heaven

Welfare for All

According to Merriam Webster welfare is “the state of doing well especially in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity”.  I think most people would take no exception to this definition.  The more difficult question is which living beings are allowed to experience welfare, how is this decided and by whom?  As a society we’re still struggling to resolve this for our own species, much less for other animal species.  Regarding our own species I think that people generally feel that all humans should be able to experience welfare, but differ in their approach as to how this should occur (food stamps and other social programs for example).

When it comes to domestic animals or wildlife there are additional barriers to coming to a consensus on this issue.  These include the lack of a common language or  communication medium with other animals, differences of opinion as to the relative value of non-human animals, and preservation instincts to name a few.  Recently I was reading news highlights on the 2008 California Proposition 2 concerning standards for raising poultry.  A good overview which also presents the case for and against the law is available on BallotPedia:

California Standards for Confining Poultry (2008)

The short version: “Proposition 2 created a new state statute that prohibits the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. The law is set to go into full effect on January 1, 2015.” (Source: BallotPedia link above).

Why would anyone not want farm animals to be able to move about?  It comes down to trading farm animal’s welfare for people’s welfare.  The change is disadvantageous for large commercial farmers, better for small family farmers.  Less money for large corporations potentially means job losses.  The price of eggs are also estimated to increase 20-25% which means fewer eggs sold and some people will no longer be able to afford them.  There is also the argument that it pushes the egg industry across country borders so that we potentially get food that is less safe because of differing regulations in other countries.  Moving farm industries across country borders is a topic for another day.

Food in the US has gotten amazingly cheap based on what is required to create it.  In 1901 the hourly wage was $0.17-$0.28 ( higher in financial and real estate industries) and a dozen eggs cost $0.22 or about an hour’s worth of wages.  In 2002 wages were $15.24-$18.87 hourly and a dozen eggs cost $1.24 (2003) or nearly 14 dozen eggs could be purchased for an hours worth of work.  In 1901 American families spent 42.5% of their income on food, 19.3% in 1972-1973 and 13.1% in 2002-2003  [Source: 100 Years of US Consumer Spending US Bureau of Labor Statistics Report 991.]  This is what industrialization did for farming beginning in the 1950’s.  It was claimed as a breakthrough because food became available to even the poorest people due to the sharp decease in the cost of food.  The resultant efficiencies of mechanization and scale are such that small farmers struggle to survive among large corporate farms.  More on this will have to wait for another blog entry as well.  But what is the real price?  The total price is far more than monetary cost alone.

There are still way too many people living in poverty without access to nutritionally sound food and by making food so cheap we’ve also made our society over weight with serious health consequences and associated health care costs.   Humans don’t need to eat as much meat as we do, but we do so because it has become so cheap and readily available.  Not to mention that the consumer has no idea what goes into getting that steak or chicken to the grocery store.  Most consumers don’t want to know either.  In summary, there are environmental costs, animal welfare costs, ethical and long term health consequences to the eater by producing and eating cheap food.

Here at my farm I break even on out of pocket costs at about $3/dozen (excludes insurance, property taxes, labor but accounts for seasonal laying habits ie- fewer eggs in the winter, more in the warmer seasons).  I could trim costs by selling chicken meat (ie- culling hens after their first laying season) but prefer the satisfaction of keeping them for the 10 years or more they will live with retirement status as pay back for the eggs they provided over time.  My hens all lay eggs up until they die, just not as many as when they were young; so they continue to be productive their entire life.  They also eat a lot of bugs out of my orchard and provide me with entertainment when I have the time to watch them.  They interact with me, they know who I am versus other humans, I can recognize the meaning of a number of their vocalizations, they have learned a small human vocabulary and thus they are sentient beings that can be communicated with at some level.  Because my hens are allowed to roam in a large electric fence protected pasture they do not get sick or carry diseases and they live and lay eggs for many years without my feeding them antibiotics or even worming them.  I believe it makes the eggs better for the people who are eating them as well.

Dominique Hens in Wildflowers

But the fundamental consideration is that as intelligent, highly versatile and capable beings we should be able to choose a course of action that protects the welfare of all living things rather than only looking out for humans.  Sometimes it takes more effort or creativity but I don’t believe that decisions impacting the welfare of humans can be approached in a vacuum as if what happens to us can be isolated or separated from all other life.