Tag Archives: Livestock

So why did the chicken cross the road?

chicken crossing

Why did the chicken cross the road?

I expect to escape from being eaten.

My husband likes to reminisce sometimes about how when he was young, and there wasn’t enough for his ten brothers and sisters and him to eat.  Being determined not to go hungry, he would do some chicken hunting.  Most of the chickens he hunted were from his Tio Tomas (Uncle Tom) and boy did they sure taste good.  He tells this story at least once a month, mostly to impress upon our son the sinfulness of wasting food, especially chicken.  Of course, the story ends with him being caught by Tio Tomas and receiving the whipping of a lifetime.

chicken corral

Our current enclosure for ducks, chickens, and quails

Chickens were one of the first animals we incorporated into our mini-farm. They don’t need fancy housing, they can forage for their own food, lay eggs, and can be eaten.

Most of the chickens were little red hens, just like the story. But one hen of our hens was brown and white speckled, and that made all the difference. We named her Penny, like in Henny Penny and the sky is falling down. Not one of the red hens liked her. They pecked her. They chased her away from the feed and water. They wouldn’t let her sleep on the roost. Just like a bunch of old biddies. So she became a bit of a loner, doing her own thing.

little red hens

Penny is the light colored hen in the back.

This changed when Rocky the rooster came along. He was a spare rooster, as there was already Blackie the rooster to do the morning wake up call and ruffle the hens and make the egg announcements to the world. So Rocky and Penny were put together to keep each other company. Both being outcasts, they joined forces. Penny started laying eggs again. Rocky did his husbandly duties as any good rooster should.

But the day came when Rocky went into the soup pot. A spare rooster, after all, is redundant. Penny went into a deep depression. No kidding. She wouldn’t eat, she stopped laying eggs again, and she took shelter in a hollow pipe and wouldn’t come out. Within a week she was dead. She died of a broken heart. Chickens do have feelings. Love is not unique to humans.

short legs chicks

Another one of our red hens named Jovencita is our pride and joy. She is the best broody hen we have. Last year she hatched groups of chicks four times, although the last bunch died of groopers, minuscule red bugs that swarmed their little lungs. Anyway, her first batch was doing well, when all of a sudden they developed itchy sores. Would you believe it, chicken pox? The feed was fine, the area and water were clean, so how could these poor little things get sick? After doing some research in my backyard farm animal guidebook, I discovered that this type of disease could be transmitted from turkeys. There weren’t any turkeys in our yard, but the neighbor down the road had some. I suppose a wild bird stopped at the turkey guy’s feed spot and had breakfast, then headed to our feed place for lunch, unwittingly carrying the disease. So 4 out of 5 chicks died within two days, awful painful itching deaths.


The color of the chicks seems to be dependent on the color of the rooster. These are Jovencita’s chicks to Blackie, the rooster.

One little rooster managed to survive but was horribly scarred. We named him Feo (Ugly), cuz he sure was ugly with bald patches and bumps. Being the only chick left, he had the run of the joint. Jovencita, having lost her brood, went broody again shortly after that, so Feo was left to his own devices.

Feo was fearless. He snatched food from right under the noses of the dogs. He swerved and ran to avoid pecking from the other chickens. He drank from the cat’s own water dish. We came to admire his pluck and courage. Nothing phased him. We could shoo him back into the wired enclosure, and 2 minutes later he was back out, happily strutting about. I guess having survived chicken pox he thought he was invincible.

At the time, all the chickens were kept in our walled backyard and mostly allowed to forage in the garden. But the grass is always greener they say and Feo got it into his head that there would be more succulent eats outside the fence. As he was undersized as well, he was able to slip between the gate bars into the wide blue yonder. One day, quick as a wink, as he was bravely venturing out to explore new worlds, a long, smooth, silver snake came out from under the sidewalk and gobbled him up. The race does not go to the brave, but to the swift.


Gringa, the hen

Our latest acquisition is a gringa hen, so named because this particular type of chicken does not have feathers on its scrawny neck. It is, therefore, a “redneck” chicken. Get it? Anyway, she isn’t accepted into the established chicken society, being different and all. She waits her turn at the food dish. First, the rooster and his ladies eat. Then the broody hens and her chicks eat. Then Mr. & Mrs. Muscovy eat with their ducklings. Then the codornices (quail) eat. Finally, la gringa gets her chance. Discrimination is not confined to humans.


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Filed under Animal Husbandry

Separating the sheep from the goats


Our goat herd posing for a picture at our mini-ranch

Mini-ranching on a lot that measures a mere 7 x 20 meters requires careful animal selection. Our animals must be sheltered from the torrential downpours of the rainy season and the staggering heat during the dry. So larger animals like cows were not in the plan. Instead, we opted for goats.

There’s a quite a bit of bad hype about goats but managed properly we have found them preferable in every way to sheep. Goats eat more of a variety of the native plants that grow in La Yacata, are hardier, healthier, give more milk and complain less. They stay bunched around the female boss goat and although sometimes like to dar la vuelta (take a walk) do not startle as easily as sheep.

rainy season foreging

Finding something to eat in the rainy season is no problem at all.

Yes, they like to jump. Duchess is a champion jumper. She managed to spring off the wall and hurtle over the 5-foot fence several times a day. My husband then added another 2 feet of wire, and now she stays put.


Almanzo our rent-a-stud

Yes, the macho goats smell. And smell quite a lot during the breeding season. You see, apparently, male pee is like cologne to a female goat, and a macho goat will want to be at his best to entice the ladies, so pees on his own face in the hopes of a little romance. Male goats, if they still have their horns, also have odor areas behind the horns and in a mature male, it does reek! Most of the stud muffins we borrowed or rented for the breeding season (we don’t keep a male goat all year around) have been dehorned and deodorized, so the smell is not quite so bad. Macho goats are a bit territorial when it comes to their flock of beauties too. Once I thought I’d go in the pen to refill the water that had been accidentally spilled while Almanzo was in residence. Well, he didn’t take kindly to my intrusion into his harem, and when I turned to try and scramble out, he gave me a full head-butt on my backside and knocked me 5 feet or so to the wall. Fortunately, he was dehorned, and the only thing damaged was my pride. Nowadays, when there is a macho gigolo in residence, only my husband enters for feeding and watering.

sheep and goats

Goats have hooves that if not worn down by walking or regular filing, grow into enormous curved claws that cripple them. The terrain in La Yacata is well suited for hoof maintenance. Our goats go out several hours a day, jump around on rocks, play king of the mountain and munch vinas (bean-like crunchy seed pods that grow on mesquite trees).


Vinas (seed pods from a mesquite tree) a goat delicacy!

For the most part, my husband’s “uncha, uncha” keeps them together. My son and I apparently do not have the same authority in our voices, and when it has been up to us to care for the herd for the afternoon, it has been a delight for the goats and a frustration for us. Just like at school when a substitute teacher is in, chaos reigns!

Goats provide milk and meat for our family, although we learned early on not to name those destined for the butcher’s knife. It is awfully hard psychologically to eat the pets! Goat destinies are determined at birth. Girl goats will be breeders, and boy goats are either sold or cooked. After a girl goat’s first successful pregnancy and delivery, we can determine if she is a keeper or to be sold. Keeper goats are those that have good milk production, have twins or are excellent caretakers. Tweedledee, for example, adopted King and Queenie (twins that we purchased shortly after their birth) AND our two little twin sheep whose mother did not have any milk, Vaquita and Torito, in addition to her own kid Princess. Unfortunately, good mothering instincts is not a hereditary trait like twinning. Princess had her first kid this year, but continued nursing from her mother refused to nurse or care for her daughter Spring and managed to find a way to drink her own milk. We sold Princess, and Tweedledee adopted her grandkid Spring.


Vaquita the sheep

My husband has tried twice now, unsuccessfully to keep sheep with our goats. Borregos (sheep) are finicky eaters, so aren’t as delighted with foraging as our goats and thus, require additional alfalfa purchases. They also prefer to eat from the ground rather than a trough but since they won’t eat food that has poop pellets in it, waste more food. Sheep startle easily and then run blindly around. One day, my husband and I left the herd with our son and went up the hill, no more than 5 minutes away, to tie the horses. When we got back, my crying son told us that the 2 new sheep had run off and now were at the bottom of a neighbor’s ajibe (dry well). Fortunately, the water was only up to their necks, but it took some doing to haul them out. And talk about bleating! Sheep carry on whether there is food in the trough or not. Once one sounds the alarm, the rest pick up the tune.


Queenie sounds the alarm when food supplies run low!

That’s not to say that goats don’t holler when dinner is late. Queenie is notorious for it! She decided it is her duty to let us know when food supplies are running low, even with a mouthful of food.

Then there is the problem of housing two machos–one goat and one sheep. Of course, each wants to be head macho and butt heads for the title. And according to my husband, a goat that has been serviced by a sheep, even though no offspring results, becomes sterile. I’m not sure if that is true but necessitates keeping the machos in a separate area and tied which then limits their completion of their husbandly duties for their own species.

the tweedles

Tweedledee and Tweedledum

All in all, we’ve decided that sheep are not for us. So far this year, Princess has given us Spring and Duchess (an excellent mother although without much extra milk) has provided us with Winter. And just yesterday, Queenie has presented us with Rey (King) and Royal. With grandmas TweedleDee and TweedleDum, we have a manageable herd, and once the kids are a bit older, we will have more milk that we know what to do with! For awhile, I was making homemade bread with the excess organic goat milk and organic eggs our little mini-ranch produced and had quite a little business going there. However, at this moment, our chickens are in the off-season (when they don’t lay very many eggs due to the number of hours the sun shines) and the goats all have hungry kids, which leaves us just enough milk for our morning coffee and that’s it.


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Filed under Animal Husbandry, Homesteading, Native fauna and flora