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Pecking order and Quail are in the news again today. There is always something new with these little guys. I have so much fun with them. They are very entertaining. However, quail, and all birds and fowl, have a dark side. The “pecking order” occurs in many species of animal. It’s done to establish the dominant animal then the next most dominant, and the next and the next, all the way down to the “low man on the totem pole”. However, the very words “pecking order” have to do with birds pecking each other to establish dominance. Not only the quail, but the cow pecking order is in the podcast today.
Before I get into all of that, I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners. Thank you for joining me. And a hearty welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars. Thank you for stopping by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. Let’s get to it.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
The garden is done. I still have some perennial herbs going strong out there, but everything else is done. We need to do lots of cleanup of old, dead plants. The ground cover we used to keep the weeds down will remain in place through the winter. Yes, weeds will survive through the winter and even grow if not kept in check.
After the cleanup, the next details on the garden will be talking about what we plan for next year.
Scott has made so much progress with the creamery. All of the open cracks between the blocks have been filled. Additionally, he put a beautiful finish on the concrete blocks. As I mentioned in a previous podcast, it looks a bit like stucco now. That took a lot of extra time and effort. Scott is really good at working on these small touches to add beauty to the building. I say small touches. The idea is small, but the work to make it happen was large, really large.
Today Scott is out there making final measurements for roofing materials. He also has a list of odds and ends kinds of tasks to get the building in tip-top shape.
A week or so ago he moved all of the winter hay under the roof of the loafing area. That’s going to save some money on hay. He got it done just before the latest remnant of a hurricane came through and dropped another three or so inches of rain on us.
The donkeys are getting ready for their hoof trimming appointment. I was talking with Scott about this just this morning. He let me know that in a previous podcast I had said that Johnny was getting better about standing still for his trimming – and he did not see that as a true statement. According to Scott, Johnny is just as stubborn today as he has been since the first day he arrived on the homestead. Then he told me a story about a neighbor and friend who as a couple of donkeys. His hoof trimming story made Scott’s dealings with Johnny look like a walk in the park. It seems there is always someone, somewhere who has a bigger problem. These stories can help with perspective on our challenges.
I’ll put in a little bit about pecking order for all of the animals. Daisy is definitely the matriarch ruler of the donkeys. I don’t know the order beyond that. They tend to hang out in pairs. Daisy and Cocoa are one pair. Johnny and Sweet Pea are the other pair. They are in separate pastures right now so they have no choice but to pair that way. However, when they are together, they still pair up that way. I think Sweet Pea rules in the Sweet Pea/Johnny pairing.
There are still two flocks of sheep, but now configured differently. A small flock of five was originally all boys. Now the small flock of five is one boy, Lambert, and his four female companions. The other four boys are with the rest of last year’s lambs and a couple of other ewes that we decided not to breed this year. There are twelve members in that flock. All are doing well, no issues. The sheep have been the easiest of our animals for quite some time now. I don’t know if we have worked out most of the kinks or they are just easier to deal with in general.
Pecking order in the sheep is much harder to see and perhaps they are one of the few animals that do not have one. Sheep hang together as a group better than any of the other animals. They instinctively know that there is power in numbers. If a coyote can get one animal separate, that animal is a goner. So they really huddle together while grazing. The only time I see them jockeying for position is when we have them huddled together. They will butt heads and push each other a little bit there. Watching them move in the field, you can see who the leaders are, the ones that everyone else follows. Again, they tend to stick very close together. One will lead and the rest follow – like sheep. Haha.
The goats are the next easiest animal to deal with on our homestead. We have the internal parasites under control. There is only one real issue with them and that is their hooves needing to be trimmed. They tend to become lame from time to time. I’ve said it before. We are going to gradually phase out our current herd of cashmere goats and replace them with a hardier meat breed. One that is known for low parasite loads and low hoof maintenance.
Kiko goats and Spanish goats are the breeds we are considering. Both of these breeds have closer ties to their original, wild state than some of the most popular breeds of goats which have been bred to bring out specific characteristics. Usually either meat or milk. Just like breeding any animal, as you make your genetic choices, some things improve and others get worse. Animals living in the wild are always going to be hardier. Without humans making genetic selections, wild species develop characteristics around one goal. The goal is to survive. In the case of goats, wild species do not have humans there to trim their hooves and treat internal parasites. They must evolve to be resilient, resourceful and efficient in their genetics.
Among the goat girls, I don’t see much pecking order. If pressed, they will huddle together like the sheep. However, if they feel threatened, one or more of them will break away from the herd in different directions. I think they rely on their speed and agility to get away from predators. Coyotes hunt in packs and work best when they separate one animal from the rest. But the goats are fast enough to get away, I think. Anyway, one or more will break away as I said. Then the rest of the herd scatters. Goats are significantly harder to herd than sheep if they get excited. If you keep them calm and gently move them a little at a time, they are not so hard to move.
So I think the goat girls have a much subtler pecking order. If we were working them closely like we do the cows, we might see it more. We don’t have goat boys anymore, but there was definitely a pecking order there. Appomattox was king and Roanoke was prince. Everybody else was down from there. Sometimes I miss the boys. They were all so regal with their long, curled horns.
The calves are completely weaned from milk. They are out there grazing on grass full time now. The preg checks on the girls are done and we have five of six that are pregnant. It is as we expected. Buttercup is not pregnant. We were pretty sure that was the case but it is nice to know for sure. Our newest heifer, Rosie, is pregnant. She was bred at a very young age so I got some really good advice from the vet about how to help her through the process. The central bit of advice is that she needs to grow.
Rosie will get extra feed all winter. She was getting just a taste to get her trained to put her head in the milking stanchion. However, the vet recommended she gets lots of extra feed with at least 14% protein, as much as she wants without getting fat. We don’t want her to get fat because that would complicate the birth as well, but she needs to grow. She needs to get bigger. The extra feed will help her with that. We give her the best feed available. It is non-soy, non-gmo organic dairy feed, 15% protein.
Scott and I had this long discussion on how to feed Rosie while not feeding the rest of the herd. We are a grass-fed operation for the most part. The big girls get a little supplement while they are producing milk. Other than that, it is grass year-round with supplemental hay in the winter. That’s it.
In order to get Rosie the extra feed she needs a separate pasture area is required. We need to keep her close to be able to get feed to her efficiently. Now who to put with her as a companion? The calves are too small. She has already shown she will bully them so we can’t put Rosie with the calves. The calves will get merged into the big girl herd as soon as those big girls stop producing milk. Moving the calves frees up that pasture area. It’s close. We can easily keep an eye on Rosie.
Should we put the two Jerseys together? Butter is high in the pecking order and Rosie is low man on the totem pole being the youngest and latest addition to the herd. Rosie will not bully Butter. Could Butter be the one to be a companion for Rosie? Naw. Butter would simply bowl her over and grab her feed.
After some little discussion, we decided that Buttercup is the perfect choice as companion for Rosie. Unlike Butter, who will bowl over anyone who gets between her and feed, Buttercup is the opposite and pretty ambivalent towards anything but grass. Oh, she will eat her supplements, but she is not eager. Rosie will get her feed and Buttercup will just keep grazing and may not even notice. Any of the other cows would immediately come up and start competing for that feed. Hopefully, it will work out as we have envisioned it. If not, we will come up with another plan.
One other note on pecking order amongst the cows. Once the calves get added to the main herd, Rosie will no longer be low man. At least until the calves are full grown. If Virginia and Luna get bigger than Rosie – and they will – Rosie may end up back at the bottom again. We shall see. Butter is smaller than Violet and also a fairly recent addition to the herd, but I’m pretty sure Violet is only one step higher than Rosie. Butter pushes Violet around at will. Claire will always be matriarch and Buttercup right behind her, or maybe Cloud. Those two are close in dominance. Violet, Butter and Rosie are down the line. I don’t know all of their criteria for order of dominance, but it is quite educational to watch it all happen.
We have three more days of milking and then we are done for this year. There is always a sigh of relief as the final day of milking is complete. The constant, every day, no breaks schedule of milking is not for the faint of heart. Some people do it year-round. Twice a day, every day, 365 days a year. That’s not for us. We love our cows. And we love our milk and dairy products. But we don’t love it so much that we give up our entire lives for it. Nope. We have a plan for making a living and milking seasonally.
Maybe some time in the far future we will sell our little dairy and someone else will come in and want to a milk a larger herd of cows, every day, 7 day-a-week, 365-days a year. They will have the setup to do that as well. We have created a creamery with lots of flexibility to scale up as needed. We could scale it up if the need arose. Right now, the business plan is seasonal milking. We have three more days of milking and then we are done for this year.
Skim Milk and Yogurt
Over the past couple of weeks, I have been freezing skim milk. Scott will drink it after we run out of fresh whole milk and I now have enough to see him through the winter. The final six gallons went into the freezer this morning. Whole milk does not freeze well. The cream separates and get lumpy. It doesn’t incorporate back into the milk very well. I’ve heard stories of people making it work, but I never have been able to do it. Even thawing it very slowly and shaking it up a lot. The cream is just changed by the freezing process and there is no going back.
I will still be making yogurt for a few more days. There are seven quarts in each batch stored in 14 pint containers with tight lids. The yogurt is an experiment to see how long it will last in the refrigerator. I’m making enough for three or four months. Will it be edible three of four months from now? I don’t know. We’ll keep you up-to-date on that as we progress through the winter. In the end, we will know exactly how long we can keep yogurt and that’s useful information.
Now on to the quail and their pecking order. I don’t know if there is another animal that is as vicious as birds when it comes to pecking order. Sure, they are cute and fun to watch. But turn your back and the next thing you know they are pecking so much they actually injure one another. We had just that scenario recently.
There is only one white bird among all of the other shades of brown birds. A little over a week ago, she got injured. Her head was bleeding just a bit. The next day I went out there and the other birds had severely injured her, literally scalping her. Once they had the taste of blood in their mouth, they just kept going and going. I quickly got her out of there and into private lodging. She is healing up but it is going to take a long time. Especially when there was quite a set-back. One of the birds was obviously in distress with mites. So we were cleaning out all of the cages, disinfecting them and treating the birds and cages for parasites.
We moved all of the birds out of the cages and into the various plastic boxes we use as brooders for young birds. I put the white one back in with her original group just to see how it would go. Not a good idea. After only a couple of hours, she was bloodied again. Naturally, she is back in her private domain once again.
The other bird that was showing signs of parasite infestation has been removed from her group as well. It was a few days before we got the permethrin we needed to treat the birds and cages, so I moved her away from the others. While cleaning the cages, we put her back in with her former cage companions. Same couple of hours and she had a small bit of blood on top of her beak. I decided immediately that she needed to be separated until that healed. The blood is just too tempting for these guys. Again, birds are vicious. And remember, even though you can buy chicken eggs in the grocery store that say “vegetarian fed”, birds are NOT vegetarians. They are very carnivorous, though they will eat veggies as well. You will recall the stories of the early bird getting the worm while you were growing up. That story meant to teach promptness to children. However, it also illustrates that birds like worms. They also like bugs. Birds are not vegetarian.
Anyway, I really love my quail. They are a joy to watch. But they are still animals. They exhibit animalistic tendencies. Make no mistake, they have a pecking order and only the strong survive. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep my one white hen. She may be too different from the others. She may be low man on the totem pole because of her color. I don’t know. I’ll still make the effort to get her healed and back with her group. But if it happens again, I’ll have to make a different choice for her. It would be cruel to continue to let her be pecked so badly. Sometimes the only choices are tough ones.
That’s it for today’s Peaceful Heart Farmcast. As usual, there is a lot going on at the homestead. Always something new, something different. Life is filled with wonder and awe at nature and God’s creation. The hierarchy of the animal kingdom is alive and well. It has worked for thousands of years to bring us and our animal friends to this point in time. We fully expect the pecking order to ensure that life continues to the end of time. Sometimes it’s ugly. Just as our lives can be tough. But we all do the best we can with what we have. We cry and pray and hope to live to see another day.
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Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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