Me and You and a Dog Named Boo…

Standard

It began with Rohan stating ‘um… there’s not enough poultry in there’.

When you round up the same flock of 30-odd birds every day you get a sense of how many there should be, even before you employ the head count. Being nine birds short is pretty obvious.

We found one of the missing birds. At least, we found her body. One Pekin duck confirmed dead. Five Silkies, one Hyline, two Pekin ducks and a Muscovy missing, one Muscovy refusing to come off the dam. Ten birds gone in broad daylight. They call it ‘dispersal’, when young foxes leave their family home and go looking for their own territory. Young foxes lack the life experience to be cautious and leave their hunting to night time.

Six days later it came back. Four more birds dead. The boys spotted the geese wandering in the front yard and went to investigate. The geese had flown out of the farmyard to safety, most of the ducks had fled down the paddock, but poor Muscles my beloved tame Muscovy drake, too heavy to fly and still recovering from his fight with the gander, was killed. Also killed was my last Rhode Island Red hen, my evergreen little bantam Australorp and my senior Silkie hen.

I felt completely helpless. In the two and a half years since we moved to the new house, we had only lost a couple of birds, and those were ones who ventured to the far reaches of the property. The foxlight and the night pen kept the majority safe from predators. A killer that struck during the day was a whole new ball game.

We built a pen for the remaining three Silkies and one Hyline layer in the house yard out of an trampoline frame and a 1000lt water container. We planned a new chook yard within the house yard that the dogs could patrol. And then the killing stopped for a while. I moved the chickens back to the farmyard.

When I came home one afternoon to find that not only had the rest of my Pekins been killed, but also my large 6yo gander, I began to despair. A 6yo gander would put up a much bigger fight than a newborn Anglo Nubian kid, and my young does were due to kid in a few weeks. I was desperate to keep not only my birds but also my new kids safe.

We had talked about getting a Maremma before Rufus the barn cat came along, but decided that a large dog was not compatible with the cat. I had more recently asked about Maremmas and cats on a livestock guardian dog discussion group, and been assured that cats and LGDs could and often did live happily together.

I got on Facebook to see if any dogs were available nearby and by pure chance found pups for sale locally. A couple of messages and a phone call and I had bought a Maremma pup. He would come home the next day.

Boo was an unbearably cute white fluffball. He took to the goats straight away. He is not allowed out with them unsupervised yet, but he has the makings of a good livestock guardian. Most importantly, we have not lost a single bird to predators since he arrived.

boo 1

Boo just after he arrived.

Boo 2

Breakfast time, day 2.

Boo is now about six months old, and parks his front paws squarely in my chest when he greets me. He loves to go down the paddock, roll about in the grass, and curl up with his goats. He is also fond of chasing goat kids at times, so he is still kept restrained unless there is someone to watch him and tell him off if he gets too rough. But his guarding instinct is clearly evident in the way he responds to strangers and the way the goats will all seek shelter and huddle together when Boo makes his Big Dog Bark.

Boo 5

Boo at nearly 6 months.

boo 4

#maremmaselfie

Boo 3

He is slightly bonded to his humans too.

I have started to restock my poultry. I was left with four Muscovy hens, one red layer, two buff Silkies, one of my Silver Appleyard ducks and a goose. Down from a mixed flock of 30 birds. I have added a couple of red laying hens, as well as another buff Silkie pullet, and another goose to keep poor lonely Agnes company. I still need another Muscovy drake. My older Silkie hen is currently sat on six eggs, so hopefully we’ll have a few more Silkies before too long.

The cat was originally unimpressed with the big fluffy pup in his farmyard, but he has grown used to Boo and is no longer bothered by him. They are not quite friends, but they have an understanding.

It takes at least 12 months for a Maremma to be settled and reliable around stock, and by the time I raise him on premium large breed puppy food and make sure his parasite treatments are kept up to date, it would probably have been cheaper to build a poultry fortress within the house yard. But I like for my birds to be able to free range, and my goats are beginning to rely on the presence of their protector. He is very different to regular dogs and takes up a lot of my time, but I should be able to rely on him for at least ten years of service once he matures, and I love an organic solution to a problem. Most of all, Boo is a wonderful member of the community, with an important part to play, and we all love having him here.

 

Advertisements

Kids For Days…

Standard

After last year’s cascade of disasters, I was pretty apprehensive about this year’s kidding season. But it seems that this year the wheel of fortune has swung back in our favour.

I intended to kid eight does this year, and bred the first couple before Australia Day. I was all set up to hand-raise kids from my quarantine does, expecting around half a dozen kids from that group. Sienna kidded first, big twin bucks by Toggalong FitzWilliam, and I waited and waited for the other two to kid… but they did not. Meredith had come into season repeatedly and at irregular intervals, but despite being bred about five times, including the time the buck broke the gate open and spent the night with her, she did not get in kid. Maia did not cycle at all, and I suspected that she had been bred when the buck got out, but no such luck. My first round of kidding netted me two buck kids, and a long wait before the next ones were due.

So I was left with five does to kid, three first kidders and two second kidders. Everyone in the main group cycled late this year, and a couple had to be re-bred after missing on the first cycle. Juliet was huge from about halfway through her pregnancy, and we speculated that she might give us our first set of quads, a prospect that was as exciting as it was daunting. Rosanna and Elaine were bred to Buddy, the buck whose kids all died last year. Katie was bred to Tazzy, whose fertility could reasonably be suspected to be waning now that he is eight years old. It took three cycles to get her in kid, on the last cycle she was bred four times over two days, but it worked.

I am very lucky to have a flexible and understanding workplace, as most of those five does kidded at times when I should have been at work. I went out on a Tuesday morning the day before Juliet was due to kid and found her in labour. She looked like she had been at it for a little while, so I kept a close eye on her and set a time limit for her to start birthing kids before I went in to investigate. That time came and went, with Juliet sat on the floor looking quite worn-out, so I soaped up and put my hand in to investigate.

There was a kid clearly quite close to being born, but I couldn’t feel any feet. I thought I had a face but it didn’t feel right, and there was a weird floppy thing coming out first. After a few moments I realised that what I was feeling was a tail, and the kid was trying to come out literally bum first. I had to push it back in to find the hind legs and pull it out. Juliet was still lying down, which helped, and there was plenty of space to manipulate the kid. I went in again, found another pair of legs and pulled out another kid, placing it next to the first on the straw. These were not especially small kids. I reached in again and pulled out another, hoping to have the all the kids out before the first ones started making too much noise and prompted the doe to get up to investigate. Juliet lay there patiently while I reached in again and found a fourth kid. Two legs in my hand and out she came, a bit smaller than the others but otherwise fine. I felt around for any more just in case, but four was it. I got up and stood out of the way while Juliet hoisted her significantly-reduced self up out of the straw and set to work cleaning her four absolutely perfect kids.

I managed to get them all to have a feed before I headed into work for the afternoon. I weighed them first and they ranged from 2.8kg to 3.5kg, adding up to over 12kg of kids between them and beating Sienna’s record of 10.5kg of kids (triplets) in a single kidding. Juliet’s kids are now a month old, and while my plan was to remove the two buck kids and let her raise the does, she insisted on feeding all four and refuses to let her milk down for either myself of the machine. I offer her kids a bottle twice a day, and Juliet was tested last week and found to be producing around 5lt of milk per day.

Rosanna kidded the next night, and since I was concerned that she might have deformed kids I waited until she was ready and then went in after the kids. I found a huge pair of front hooves, and it seemed impossible that the kid attached to them could possibly come out of that little two-year-old doe. It took an awful lot of pulling to get that kid out and I was surprised and very relieved to find a great, strong, and otherwise perfectly normal buck kid. A doe kid followed and I was elated. A pair of perfect healthy kids by my lovely young buck Anara Eclipse. They were up and feeding from their cheerful little first time mother without help by morning and have gone from strength to strength.

Ten days later it was Elaine’s turn. After kidding as a goatling and then having a year off, she had got way too fat and had suffered from laminitis earlier in her pregnancy. I had to keep her penned with only hay for several weeks while I worked on her feet which had started to get deformed. She didn’t develop an udder until the day before she kidded, and I was not certain that she was in kid at all until the last couple of days. She had a nice, medium-sized single doe kid, meaning that all three of Buddy’s kids this year are normal and healthy.

After a couple of weeks it was Delilah’s turn. Being school holidays I left the rest of the family to keep an eye on her and went to work. Around 1pm I was summoned home as the first kid was presenting with only one foot forward and Matt’s hands were too big to be able to offer much assistance. I drove home envisaging a bad malpresentation with a small doe, reminiscent of Elise’s vet-assisted arrival last year, but found a fairly easy fix with the second foot tucked under the kid’s chin. It was a big kid though, and she was meconium-stained and more than ready to come out. Another fairly big kid followed, and when I checked for any more all I could feel was a handful of placentas. The kids were a good size and Delilah looked sufficiently deflated, so I helped the kids get a feed and stood by as the doe lay down presumably to pass the afterbirth.

And out came another kid. Smaller, and looking like she’d been dragged from a stagnant swamp. She was floppy and I had to give her a bit of a rev-up to get her breathing reliably. I parked her in front of the doe, who was happy enough to clean her up while the other two kids lurched around the pen trying to find their feet. The third little doe had no suck reflex and could not stand, so once I was sure she was warm enough I stomach tubed her with some colostrum and left her under the heat lamp.

I tube fed the little doe again before I went to bed, and checked her at 3am after the Barncam revealed that she had wriggled out from under the heat lamp. I expected to find her dead in the morning, but she was able to stand with help and I got her to feed straight from the doe. She gained her strength that day, but did not take up feeding on her own and cuddling up with her mother like the other two kids did. The next morning it was evident that her mother did not want to raise her, and since two kids are plenty for a maiden doe, I took the tiny kid and moved her to a neighbouring pen to hand raise. She has made plenty of progress in the last few days, and is feeding well from a bottle and bopping about like a normal kid.

That left Katie, who was showing signs of kidding on Friday morning. I opted to work from home rather than risk having to make a mad dash from the office later in the day, so predictably she waited all day and kidded at around 5pm when I would have already got home from the office had I gone in. She had a nice pair of twins without any assistance, and apart from needing a bit of coaching to feed them she is doing very well with them.

So at this stage we have fourteen healthy kids – seven does and seven bucks – from six healthy does. And we have plenty of milk for everyone.

So to sum up, we have six kids by Tazzy, my supposedly sub-fertile buck they are:

Chris, Alf, Sophia and Odessa, from Elcarim Juliet, and

Trinity and Neo, from Elcarim Gloria (aka Katie).

By Toggalong FitzWilliam we have five kids:

Romulus and Remus, from Elcarim Sienna, and

Florence, Mac and Devika from Elcarim Delilah.

And finally, by Anara Eclipse we have:

Luna and Cosmo, from Elcarim Rosanna, and

Celeste, from Elcarim Elaine.

We’ll register seven doe kids, including Florence who has already been sold and will go to her new home when she is weaned. Cosmo was sold as a buck, but when we discovered that he has a hernia I wethered him, and he will stay on as a pet. The other six buck kids either have been or will be wethered and also have homes to go to.