Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Duck Patrol

We thought we would continue on introducing you to some of our farm critters that aid us in taking care of the goats. Today we’re going to talk about our favorite waterfowl: ducks! Tis the season for farm stores to carry chicks and ducklings, and we were among those who brought home babies.
            Beth brought home some Khaki Campbell ducklings to add to our current flock about a month ago. They’re doing really well and growing like weeds. It has been surprising to see how long it takes them to feather out. Especially when compared to chicks, that normally start developing feathers within their first week of life.

            The reason we go with the Khaki Campbell variety of duck is due to the fact that they are flightless. This means they can’t get out of the pasture and fly away! And we don’t have to go through the time and labor of clipping their wings. Ducks are great for anyone with pastured animals because they help control the parasite population. They help to reduce our reliance on chemical wormers to control the health of our herd. Plus, they’re cute!

            We currently have a duck hen sitting on a nest of eggs in one of our chicken coops. Last year they were able to hatch them out on their own, but this year some extra precautions were necessary. We do have some ducks that roam outside the pasture, and the neighbors informed us that either coyotes or dogs had been stealing the eggs from their nests! Thus we had to catch that particular bunch of ducks and put them somewhere safe, at least until the ducklings have hatched out and their mama no longer has to stay in one place.

            Another reason we put our roaming ducks in this coop is that the hens just tend to not sit on their eggs if they do not have a secure place to do so. We were frequently finding lone eggs just lying out in the open! Giving them a safe shelter remedied this problem rather quickly. If you love to watch ducks play in the water, or enjoy their quacking, don’t hesitate to bring them onto your farm, for they will truly do their share!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Our Farm Dogs

            There are many iconic images associated with farming: a big red barn, the farmer on his tractor or plowing with a team of horses, green pastures and quiet springs. But one of the most important associations between farming imagery and reality is that of the farm dog. Most people imagine that would be a Border collie type breed. There is no doubt that the Border collie fills an important role on many farms across the countryside. There are, however, a number of different agricultural jobs that our canine friends take on for the sake of their keepers.
            Here at Mountain Hollow Farm we have two working dogs (brothers) named Hans and Franz. They are a cross between an Anatolian Shepherd and Great Pyrenees, both traditional livestock guardian breeds. Hans and Franz are large, weighing 140 pounds each and have an ideal coat length for both the humid summers and cold winters of southern Appalachia.

And now:

            Their size and deep, resounding bark helps to discourage predators from preying on the herd. In this area the most common threat is from coyotes. But with Hans and Franz on duty this is no problem at all. Ironically, they were not brought here originally to protect the goats, but the ducks. Ducks can be used in pastures to control parasites, but not if predators keep getting them! So long as the ducks remain in the pasture, they are safe thanks to the guardian dogs.     
            Hans and Franz are not the only dogs on the farm, however. We also have three resident rescue dogs, all mixed breeds, by the name of Ellie, Fritz, and Daisy. More than anything they fill the role of companion. But it also helps having them nearby when the goat kids are moved into the yard in the spring. Between the barking of dogs and the activity of people coming and going to the house, predators are discouraged.

and Daisy

            Dogs have been a part of the lives of man for thousands of years, first as hunting partners then as companions. It is a treat to come to a farm like this where you can see dogs filling multiple roles. It is an ideal setting for both the physical and mental health of the dogs. Being in a natural setting, and working alongside the people who care for them. We are so lucky to have these wonderful creatures by our side!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Emergency Goat Surgery

It has been a tough 6 weeks here at Mountain Hollow Farm. If you’ve not read my last blog post, you can catch up here. As we were getting ready to take Grover for cremation last Monday, I noticed that one of our pregnant does, Magic, had something funky hanging out of her back end. We took her to the vet to discover she had a herniated uterus and needed emergency surgery. The left lobe of her uterus had “slipped” through a hole in her abdomen wall. The hole was a about 2.5” in diameter. The left lobe of her uterus was 3.5” to 4” in diameter and 7”-8” long. As you can imagine, the vet had a hard time putting it back in place.
Magic, awaiting surgery
Once she returned Magic’s uterus to its proper place, she opened it up to remove the dead kid. To our surprise, there was no kid. It turns out that she had miscarried it and the placenta is what she was passing. Her uterus was swelled from the trauma of the hernia.
Magic, prepped for surgery
After she was stitched back up, we brought Magic home. She seemed to be doing well that evening and on Tuesday. However, on Wednesday, she refused sweet feed. That is like a kid refusing candy. Hoping that it was just an upset stomach from the antibiotic and painkiller we were giving her, I gave her some probiotics. Sadly, a few hours later I found her dead. Our 3rd dead goat in 1.5 weeks.

The next day, I took her to the vet to be cremated (we don’t have a tractor to dig a hole, and I was not even going to try it by hand in our rocky soil). I did not skin her because she had a huge bald spot from being shaved for surgery so I borrowed our vet’s electric shears to harvest her fleece.

The only “good” thing about all this is that this was my first time using electric shears and it was way easier to shear a dead goat than a live one. Those shears are very sharp and it is easy to cut the skin with them.

Honestly, if this was our first year farming, I’d probably be quitting right now. However, we have done it long enough that I know this is not the norm. We have better days ahead. In fact, we will begin kidding next week or the following one. There is not much that can make you smile more than watching a bunch of energetic goat kids. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Winter Farming Challenges

Tyler digging out the gate.
We usually have fun on the farm, but the last couple weeks have been a challenge.
On February 21st, we had a 10” snowfall. Including the storms a couple days before AND after that storm, we had a total accumulation of 16”. Those of you who live in areas that get that much snow regularly aren’t fazed by that thought. However, we don’t get that much snow on a regular basis and it basically cripples the area. The county doesn’t have enough equipment to clear the roads quickly. Fortunately, we have a 4 wheel drive truck, so we were able to get around for the most part. I got the truck stuck twice.

Feeding the animals is difficult in deep snow. Imagine carrying 40 lb hay bales through 16” of snow and ice… It’s not fun. And the subzero temperatures caused the water troughs to freeze, making watering the animals a special kind of difficult. Oh, and we had to climb gates because the snow blocked them shut.

The water rose another 6" before we started moving stuff.
Finally, the temperature warmed up enough to make the snow melt but it also rained. The combination nearly made our creek flood. There was not anything we could do to further protect the animals, but we did move a lot of stuff from the first floor of the barn to the loft. Coincidentally (and thankfully), the creek crested around the same time we were rearranging the barn.
Our neighbors, Tyler & David, helped us move our things to the loft.
Prior to the warm-up, the low temperatures caused pipes in our house to burst and claimed the lives of two of our goats. They both died overnight. Vanili, our angora buckling, died March 3rd. Grover, our oldest buck, died on March 6th.
We'll miss Grover. He was a gentle giant.

If you cry easily or have a weak stomach, you may want to stop reading here. There are things I
NEVER thought I would do before I started farming and the following are definitely some of those things.

Farming is not a high profit venture; therefore, farmers have to use every part of the animal they can just to stay in business. Sadly, that means I’ve had to learn how to skin goats in order to sell their tanned pelts. Needless to say, it is far from my favorite farm chore but I’ve done it twice in the past week.

But it gets more morbid than that… Grover had very large, very impressive horns that I’d like to have on display for our educational school tours. When I took him to the vet to be cremated, I asked if she could remove his head so we could preserve the skull and horns. Guess what… she didn’t even bat an eye. (They occasionally have to send dogs’ heads to the lab to be tested for rabies.) Suffice to say that it was like something out of a horror film. I imagine taxidermists do that sort of thing all the time. (I’m glad I’m not a taxidermist).  

So, home I go with a goat head. Removing the flesh is as simple as hanging the head in the barn so the flies can clean it off. (I know it’s gross – sorry! I hung it in an inconspicuous place.) Now, I’m not going to go into any more details on this blog, but I’d be willing to discuss it when I see you in person if you are curious about any of this.

To top off everything, as we were getting ready to take Grover for cremation, I noticed that one of our pregnant does, Magic, had something funky hanging out of her back end. We took her to the vet to discover she needed emergency surgery. I’ll write more about that in my next post.

I agree with that saying: Do something you love and you’ll never work another day of your life. At least I agree with it 80% of the time… J

Friday, February 27, 2015

Beavers and Their Dam Activity at the Farm!

Hello out there to our fellow winter weather warriors, we hope that everyone is keeping warm and safe! Curl up with a hot cup of something (tea perhaps?) and read about this exciting discovery here at the farm!

Flora was not the only thing we observed while we were hiking the proposed nature trail recently, there was also sign of fauna in the form of freshly sharpened tree stubs and shaved branches from a skilled whittler. It quickly became apparent that beavers are settling into the creek near the old dam that once powered the mill! We were very excited to discover these fascinating mammals starting to build their home and will be eager to watch the progress. Although beavers are thought to be nuisances by many, their alterations of a habitat is natural and creates diversity and ecosystem enrichment found nowhere else. 

And so it is, beavers are building a dam near the historic man-made dam. Irony? Coincidence? We'll leave it to the beavers!


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Nature and History Collide!

Marble we found near the trail
This week at Mountain Hollow Farm we embraced our inner nature geek and talked trail building with one of the fine educators at Lincoln Memorial University, Dr. Katie Benson. We are very excited to start the process of establishing a nature trail at the farm. Once completed, it will follow the creek to the dam then climb the mountain a bit to an old logging road and loop back to the beginning. It will be a wonderful opportunity for visitors to see rare and beautiful flora that is exclusive to the farm’s ecosystem!

A very interesting gall
Some of the flora we observed (even in winter!) on our hike with Dr. Benson was Walking Fern, Liverwort, Running Cedar, and Climbing Fern. We also observed several galls - an abnormal plant growth caused by insects feeding or laying eggs on a plant - a neat phenomenon that most everyone has probably seen without knowing! But the trail’s most spectacular beauties emerge in the spring, the wildflowers! 

A unique aspect of the trail is that it used to be the mill race that ran from the dam to the old grist mill and sawmill that were once here at the farm. Visitors will be welcome to take photos as they walk along the scenic creek side and will also be able to take part in history as they stand on the trail that was once an operating mill. We are very happy and grateful to continue a partnership with Lincoln Memorial University and look forward to working with Dr. Benson and her students over the coming year to establish our trail system. Check out our Facebook page or sign up for our newsletter to track our progress.
(The leaves look like reptile skin)
Climbing Fern (Lygodium palmatum)

Running Ground Cedar (Diphasiastrum digitatum)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Farm Chore du Jour: Doorknob Repair

This morning I found the doorknob on the store broken. Since Brett was a work, Sarah and I decided to try to fix it ourselves. After all, we needed customers to be able to enter the store.
Peeking through the hole in the door after we removed the doorknob.

You may be thinking that doorknob repair isn’t really a farm chore. That is true. However, when you own a farm, you have to be a handyman (or handywoman in this case) or you’ll go broke hiring people to fix all the things that go wrong on a farm.
The insides of a doorknob

Neither Sarah nor I had ever fixed a doorknob before, so we weren’t aware that the springs inside would cause pieces to fly out when we took it off the door. We nearly lost a couple of critical parts. It was a lot like doing a jigsaw puzzle to get it back together. Then we found the cause of the breakage in the hole that the doorknob fits in… two loose screws.

Between the wacky weather we’ve been having and the fact that the building is 83 years old, I guess they wiggled their way out of their intended places. There was no sign of vandalism.  

Thankfully, we had enough mechanical ability between the two of us to be able to put it all back together before our first customer arrived.