When starting out with a few animals on our hobby farm, we learned how fragile life can be. New life is born from our animals at an alarming rate, but we lose several young creatures along the way. Country life can be very violent and harsh out here. Despite the harshness in saying: “Livestock equals deadstock”, we have found the phrase oddly comforting. It has given us freedom to take risks and feel less of a failure when tragedy strikes.
Here are a few lessons learned the hard way. I promise my children weren’t scarred along the way.
I provide almost no medical attention for my farm cats. We feel strongly about vaccinating them against rabies and give them some occasional ear drops for ear mites. But with a hefty price-tag to surgically correct their reproductive efforts, our family has embraced the model: survival of the fittest.
Our vet has been blissfully accepting about this irresponsible act. Bob Barker, who ended every Price Is Right with this public service announcement, was a South Dakota native after all! But as previously mentioned, life has been tough on these animals. Somehow in the last 5 years, cats and kittens come and go without a logarithmic growth in the population.
That is until this year.
Our random assortment of cats widdled down to 4 females with neighborhood males perusing from far and wide. To my kids delight (and my horror), we discovered 11 kittens within 3 weeks. Facebook lit up with requests for the little ones after we posted a calendar-worthy photo of them. Saddly, 6 of them have already met their demise. Hopefully our weaned survivors will still find homes among my Facebook friends. The girls are going first!
Burbon Red Turkeys are expensive chicks. $15/chick plus the cost of food, water, bedding and a heat lamp adds up. They arrived in a brown box, specially ordered at Ace Hardware in Brandon, SD. Every night we’d fall asleep to the chicks peeping, eager to watch them grow. We invested in 10.
Two died within 24 hours. Maybe the stress of traveling without food and water killed them?
Three more died the following day. I posted on Chicken Tenders FB page with a plea for help and received an intelligent response. These guys need electrolytes in their water! By the time I purchased Turkey Gatorade (not trademarked but should be!) and returned home, only three remained.
Now all three look fabulous and are easily twice their birth weight. No idea if I have girls or boys but hopefully they will reproduce like… well…cats.
Chickens have been the cheapest, most rewarding of all our flock to grow. Great for meat and eggs, consumers of mosquitos and relaxing to watch, chickens might be my new favorite.
My girlfriend noticed a broody hen among her flock and taught me how to protect her the 20 days necessary for incubation. 13 of the 15 eggs hatched!
The sad ending to this story is all chicks and several of my chickens were attacked the same evening by a mink. I respect wild animals as much as anyone, but I’d proudly wear a mink coat, mink hat and mink lined boots from December to March if I could. They have wasted more of my efforts than any other predator, not even bothering to eat the animals they kill.
I will try hen-raised chickens again with a more appropriate pen. I’m so eager to see how others are successful in raising a flock!
Last, but not least, is our beloved peahen. She was purchased by my mother-in-law as a gift to my daughter. Its first act in our new home went like this: leapt from the cage, ran through the field, never returned.
Several weeks later, our local newspaper tweeted @argus911 that a peacock was hit by a car in our area. I’m sure most assumed she escaped from the zoo or migrated here due to climate change. Saddly, no. We were able to purchase another peahen from the same source and we hope to be more successful with the eggs she lays this year.
Teach your children how to love and protect the life you’re given. Learn from your mistakes. And PLEASE, don’t count your chickens before they hatch!