Observation

We keep a lot of animals, so our morning and evening chores are quite elaborate. Having two of us do them together feels sort of luxurious. I can’t really carry anything over about 25 pounds right now without my back hurting, so I’m able to do what I call the observation chores. It’s sometimes hard for one person to both do the food and water and also see what’s going on with the animals. When I was doing the chores alone, I made it a point to first feed and water, and then go through a mental checklist of what I needed to observe for each set of critters.

That a pregnant pig For the pigs, we look at milk lines to see who is close to farrowing. We have several sows getting quite close to farrowing right now, so we have to watch for the time to separate her from the herd. If we are missing a big pig, it could very well be that she’s had her babies so we go off to find her. If no one shows up for breakfast, it’s almost guaranteed that someone has had babies and the rest of the herd will often surround her for protection.

Pretty Piggies To get a good look at the piglets, I have to show up down there a few minutes before Frank shows up on the tractor with food and the feeding frenzy starts. I give lots of pets and cuddles, and try to pay attention to what’s going on around me. How many boys and girls are they? Is someone injured? We have a piglet who had a weird injury on his penis that we had the vet repair, and some days he doesn’t seem able to urinate, then he seems fine the next day. We are definitely on alert with him.

Chickens on Parade When I open up the door to the Icelandic chicken coop, I count them as they come out. If we are a few short, I look inside. Yup! There are three on the nest boxes. Fine. All is well! I collect eggs, make a note in my head as to how many. If I see the same hen on a nest for a few days in a row, I’ll know who is going broody. I’ll count the eggs underneath her, and when she gets to about a dozen, I’ll put a basket on top of her, too keep the other hens from laying there. I just have to remember to let her out every day for a potty run, a quick bite and deep drink. When she goes back, I lock her in for the night.

Swimming in the water dish When I bring water to the ducks, I count them. If someone is missing, we know to go looking. It’s only happened twice this year. We lost one duck for some unknown reason, under the deck. No sign of injury. We also lost a drake, but that’s because the geese attacked him. Frank saw it happening and tried to intervene, but it was too late. We now have no spare drakes, sadly.

Marching geese I’ll see the geese go walking by and I can’t help but count them. We should have 11 right now. Twice already we’ve been missing a few, so I go looking for goose eggs. It’s too cold for them to turn into actual goslings, but they sure do make a lovely breakfast! I have to beat the dogs to the feast. They also have a horrible record of picking good places to brood, often right in a path way that’s not being used now but will be soon or someplace where the roof will drip and water will puddle and drown their eggs, so I’m quite firm with taking their eggs and making them move their nest to someplace better. That’s always fun … setting geese are a bit cranky!

Terrifying Turkeys It’s hard for me to count the turkeys. This winter, we kept over 31 hens and 2 toms. They are quite independent and don’t always congregate as a flock unless they are really, really hungry. So on a really cold morning when everyone is STARVING!!!! I can get a good count. We have one right now with an injured leg, so check for her every day and treat as needed. The boys are obviously doing their mating job really well and their entire front sides are looking almost plucked.

Caring for the cows and sheep right now is the least time intensive of all the critters. We put out new bales of baylage every week or so. We make sure they have water and minerals. We count noses. In about a month, though, we’ll start lambing, and suddenly will be spending lots of time with them again. I love lambing season!

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