Monday, April 25, 2011

The Power of Positive Reinforcement

I have the greatest news ever! Over the last two and a half years, every time a chicken has escaped, Reckless has killed it. Sometimes before I even know there is a chicken out there. It was always a quick death, however. He is a very skilled predator! He has probably killed about 10 or 15 chickens during that time.

I have been working with him using positive reinforcement techniques. The more I use these techniques, the more I see the value in them. Anytime we were out in the yard and a chicken got loose, I would call Reckless to me, and give him a yummy treat reward (of which I pretty much always have in my pocket!). It gradually got easier and easier to do. This actually gives the dog a CHOICE of whether to go kill the chicken, or come to mommy. A couple of weeks ago, I had not one, not two, but THREE chickens escape all at the same time. Reckless saw them before I did. He stood there, and shook like a leaf. He wanted to go get that chicken so bad! He turned to look at me for direction, and I told him he was such a good boy, and gave him a jackpot reward (about 5 treats in a row). That was it! He then and there decided that killing chickens wasn't so worth it after all, and I can now let him in the field with all the ducks and other fowl, and he just sniffs around. I am so proud of my boy! For those of you who know Reckless, you will probably get what an accomplishment this is. He is a high-drive dog made up of whippet, border collie, and 3 separate terriers. All high prey-drive breeds.

Which brings me to the farming part of the story.

Over the last few weeks, I have had ravens coming in and stealing my eggs in the field. Then, my neighbour called me and told me he saw a raven come down and kill a chicken! I expected that of a hawk or osprey, but not a raven! Then, that week, ravens (or something) killed about 7 of my chickens, and ate ALL my eggs. This kind of thing can be really devastating. It makes you wonder why you ever wanted to be a farmer in the first place. It is so hard and harsh sometimes!
So, both Reckless and Kybosh observed me screaming and yelling and chasing a raven each time I saw one. They very, very quickly learned what I was upset about, and now all I have to do is say 'RAVEN', and off they go, zooming towards the bird of prey, and chasing it off! It is really cool and fun to watch, actually. And the best part, now that Reckless is no longer a chicken killer, I can open the gate to the field, they will go chase off the offending bird, not harm any of my livestock, and come zooming back to me. I now have four fully-fledged farm dogs, who are helping me make my living now. Gives me goosebumps, it is so wonderous!!

There was an osprey in my field also the other day. It was friggin' HUGE. It was down, harrassing my muscovy ducks. Another minute or two, and I'm sure he would have had one dead. So, I called my two awesome doggies, yelled 'RAVEN', and off they went chasing that osprey off. Then, I freaked out a bit, as Reckless is about the size of a duck, and that osprey could really drag him off, too, if it wanted. Luckily, nothing bad happened, but the bird sat in a tree, and watched me for hours, seeing if we would leave the scene so he could get one of my fowl. Bad bird! My only real defense is to be outside every minute possible, so I can send the dogs after the birds. Harder if I have to go out anywhere. Those birds are sneaky. So, I've been keeping my field chickens in their coop in the morning, as this is when they lay most of their eggs, and letting them out to forage in the afternoon and evening. Turns out they have been laying way more eggs than I have been giving them credit for. They were just laying them all over the field, and the ravens were picking them off. So with this new routine, I have been getting between two and a half and 3 doz eggs each day. Which is what I should have been getting all along! Maybe they will actually pay for themselves now.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Naughty Little Goats

Oh, dear. What did I get myself into this time??!!
The little goats are very, very proficient at escaping. First, the naughty pony let them out. I was able to herd them back in without too much trouble. That was their first day.
The second day, they escaped two times. The first time, I couldn't figure out how... then I discovered they could fit in behind their shelter... there is about 6" between the shelter and the fence. The little buggers were squeezing out there. So, I quickly piled a bunch of branches in there, thinking that would stop 'em.

Nope! They got out again. So, the next time I found an old pallet and shoved that in the gap. That stopped them!
Then, the next day, they pushed their door back open... I kind of have it blocked off, so they could run in their little play area. I guess they think their play area isn't good enough, so they just pushed the block open and ran willy-nilly around the field, bleating and kicking up their heels.

Two days later...

Ok, I think I have those babies licked now! It's been two whole days since they have escaped. Yay! They are becoming friendlier and friendlier. I make everyone who comes over visit the goats. Doesn't matter if they WANT to see the goats... it's kind of a rite of visiting the farm;-)
The girls, Lily and Star are by far the friendlest. They learned very quickly that I often have a bit of grain with me, and they come running when they see me. Trouble is getting there, too. I am slowly beginning to pet them when they are eating out of my hand, so they get used to touch. Larry is STILL the only one who hasn't eaten out of my hand.

Two days even later....

Had a GREAT goat day today! They haven't escaped in quite a while, and even Larry has eaten out of my hand today. I couldn't get down to flyball practice today due to a road closure, so I decided it was time to start leash training the goats.
I put a leash on both Lily and Star, and got a little dish of grain, and led them out and into the yard. The boys just followed leashless. As soon as they were out, I just dropped the leashes and let them go to it. They were so happy! They ate lots of grass, and a few leaves and brambles. I only kept them out for about 20 minutes, but I was very surprised at how much they could chow down during that time! I thought it would take me a while to get them back in, but all I had to do was grab the dish of grain and call 'Here, little goats', and they just followed me back into their house. I gave them a grain treat, so they would enjoy coming back in. It honestly took me less than a minute to get them back inside. Whoohoo!
They are so funny... they are being good and quiet out in their pen, and the second they see me anywhere in the yard, they start bleating and calling out. We are starving! Pay attention to us! I am actually starting to enjoy the little guys. I know I have a big learning curve ahead of me, but I think it's mostly going to be a fun learning curve!

Saturday, April 9, 2011


We finally had three... count 'em... THREE days in a row without rain. What a treat! It is supposed to start raining again tonight, so I made certain the last few days counted. I got as much gardening in as I could. I carted load after load of compost and soil, and finished my big bed down by my storage unit. I lost count after about 20 or so loads. I was so exhausted yesterday morning when I got up, I could barely move. Not used to working so hard! I finished the bed completely today, including planting it with mesculin and kale. Then I put slug bait around EVERYTHING. Later when it warms up, I am going to also plant lots of sunflowers and pumpkins back there, too. Nice and hot, and out of the wind. Should be perfect!

New garden by storage/farmgate trailer

Hard to see, but there are the little mesculins and lancinato kale that I started in the greenhouse planted here
Since that wasn't quite enough, I carted more compost and soil and started working on my other beds, too. I had to make these nice days count! Mainly the ones that I'll be planting my hot weather stuff in... tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons, cuc's, etc. I need to get on it, as I just planted all these crops in the greenhouse earlier this week. I will be doing more next week, too. I need to make sure I have enough space for everything!
Today was easier, though. Even though I was tired and sore, it wasn't near as bad as it was yesterday, so I am hopeful that I am getting back into gardening shape.

New Arrivals!

The long awaited day finally arrived. Jody delivered my little Boer goats today! I had started off by wanting two little female goats to help me eat all the grass and weeds around here. I ended up by getting four... oops! How the hek did that happen? I couldn't resist the little buck, Trouble. Then, Burley died, so I needed to get a wether to keep Trouble company when I had to separate him from the girls when they are having their babies next year.

I am going to have little goat babies next year!!!!!!! The thought of this makes me so excited! These little goats are my first non-avian livestock. I feel like a real farm now! The little kids already had their first adventure. I had put them in their little house I made for them so they will learn that it is their 'home' and it is a safe place. Not long after, Kybosh, who was sitting on the front porch (surveying her world) started barking her fool head off. Ky doesn't bark very much, so I usually pay attention when she does. What do I see, but all four of the little goats crunched up by the gate in the field! The pony had gotten the door open somehow, (to steal the hay, the little piggie!) and the goats bolted. Thankfully, they were relatively easy to gently herd back into the house, safe and sound. I put a big 2x4 jammed up against the door. Not certain if it will keep the naughty pony out, but it was the only thing I could think of. I also strung some electrical fencing across. This will keep the horse out, but I don't think the naughty pony has any respect for it. Plus, it's not charged, so that probably won't help much!
Tomorrow, I will lead the little kids into the mini field I have ready for them, so they can get some fresh air and play a little.
Boer goats - first herd arrives April 9, 2011

Larry - the little wether



Trouble - little breeding buck. Doesn't he just LOOK like Trouble??!!
It was funny when I was visiting them, though. The two flightiest ones at Jody's were Trouble and Star. Yet here, those were the two that came right up to me and ate grain out of my hand. Lily tried, but she was too nervous, and Larry, the wether - who was by far the friendliest one at Jody's - wouldn't come anywhere near me! I will spend more time with them tomorrow, and see if we can make better friends. I want to get these ones super friendly, so I can handle them easily.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My Old Enemy....

For those of you who followed me on my adventures last year, you may remember my nemesis the Slug. The Slug is back, in force. I planted 96 gorgeous little lettuces last week. I have 4 left. They got devoured within a day or so of being planted. BASTARDS. Oops, sorry! What language! If you heard what I was saying in my head, you would probably drop dead from shock;-)

I started hand picking the little buggers again, with the plan of feeding them to my Muscovy ducks. The naughty Muscovys rejected them! Muscovys are supposed to love slugs! I was very disappointed in that. So, I filled a bucket with water and a bit of dish soap, and started drowning them again. Makes for good compost, if nothing else. I also went and bought Safer's slug bait. Lots of it. About $120 worth so far. I hate doing it, even if it supposed to be dog and eco-friendly, but I have to, or I will lose every crop I plant. I have sold 12 CSA shares (YAY!!) and I need to make certain I have lots of yummy crops for them.

I am off to the greenhouse today to plant more lettuces and mesculin, plus start on my warm weather crops - squash, zucchini, cuc's, melons, etc. It is hailing right now, but I have been promised that spring will be here any time now....

Flooded Driveway

Flooded Driveway
Too much RAIN!