I have been spending all of my 'blog-related time and effort working on Breed Standards Part III. That is the most important one by far, because it is our breed standard for Howling Hill Farm. Thus, it's taking awhile.
In the meantime, here's a picture of an appaloosa alpaca starting to yawn. It's kind of a spooky picture, which fits, because today is Halloween. Also, there are some cute geese.
What? New geese, you say?
Yes, it's true. Despite the large number of alpaca posts on this 'blog (commensurate with the large number of alpacas on the farm, har) we do, in fact, have other species here, and geese are one of them. This particular breed of geese is one that I had attempted to obtain waaay back in the spring of 2013, before the farm even had a name, or even a 'blog! My first attempt did not go so well -- out of ten hatching eggs, only two were fertile, and both died before hatching -- and I spent the next two and a half years looking for adults or goslings. There weren't any for sale.
These are exhibition Toulouse, you see, and they are reeeeeally hard to get babies out of. They are big and fat and boggy and have a hard time with the ... Um ... "Mechanics" of reproduction. Thus, they are rare.
What's the point, you ask? Well, exhibition. They look neat. (Don't worry; despite the difficulty it causes with regards to their reproduction, being big and fat and showy does not seem to affect their health.)
These are baby exhibition Toulouse geese -- just a few months old -- so they aren't yet displaying the dramatic dewlap that they are known for. I am very excited to point out that the second goose is a buff -- a relatively rare color for exhibition Toulouse.
Exhibition Toulouse are at their most fertile their first breeding season, so I'm going to try really, really hard to hatch those eggs next spring.
So, young alpacas sometimes chase chickens. Don't ask me why. It's adorable, so, like, don't question it, man. Today, Silver Surfer decided to chase one of the Red Raptors (our term for those red cross-bred egg layers). She has seen them lots of times, but today they were just Way Too Interesting not to chase. Silver Surfer has a very intense "play drive." (She also likes to body slam the other alpacas, and wrestle like a boy 'paca.)
... If you're going to alliterate, you might as well mis-spell!
I have found that the 'blog lags behind the Facebook page just a tad, but I'm trying to keep up with both.
I plan to use some of these photos on the main site eventually, but for now, here they are on the 'blog!
First off is a portrait of Kubota, our newest up-and-coming young stud. 'Bota was the first alpaca that we ever had hauled in -- he came to us all the way from New Mexico!
This, of course, is Gus -- AKA Lord Gustafson -- our silver dun bull calf.
"Hey! Who you callin' cute?"
Logan, our harlequin grey cria. He looks as though he almost wants to become that rarest of the rare -- a brindle patterned alpaca! I will be MORE THAN happy if he shears out solid grey, though. This photo is one of the ones that I'd like to put on the main site.
This one is kind of cheating. It wasn't taken in the fall. I never did upload it, though, so here it is. These gals represent two different genotypes of grey alpaca. The one in the back -- Silverado -- is a tuxedo (classic) silver grey. The one in the front -- Western Sunrise -- is a harlequin grey. Both are alpha females, by the way. That's why they're hanging out together in the barn.
Cochin gals, hangin' in the yard ... The chicken yard. From left to right, we have a blue cochin, a splash, a laced, and another splash.
Aaaaand, one more of Logan. This guy is so photogenic. The camera is always there for HIM.
I wanted to get more while the fall leaves were on the trees, but I only got in a couple of photography sessions before several days of wind and hard rain dumped all them all down, leaving the trees barren. Ohhhh wellll .... There's always next year. (Next year, we'll have our very own farm-born cria!!)
The chickies are growing up, and have ventured into the great outside world. They aren't entirely digging it right now, but they'll learn to love it eventually.
I am thrilled to report that many of these chicks are the offspring of Explodie. Explodie is my most favorite chicken ever. She is a black Sizzle (a new breed combining the frizzle Cochin and the Silkie).
This is Explodie.
I had been hoping that Explodie gave me at least one or two offspring, but it looks like at least three, probably more like four or five, are hers. Better yet, it looks as though one of them is a roo who looks to be breeder quality.
He looks like he is wearing a feather boa, to me, so he has been glamorously named Priscilla, Queen of the Chickens.
Priscilla is technically a mutt chicken (as are all of these goofy kids) -- he is a Cochin x Sizzle, which makes him mostly Cochin, with a touch of Silkie (as evidenced by patches of black on his skin, and multiple toes). No wonder he looks so confused.
Here are the two other definite 'Splodie kids -- both hens!
I think that this one is a 'Splodie kid as well, just not frizzle-feathered. Its (not sure of sex yet on this one) skin is very dark, so it's definitely got a Silkie or Showgirl parent, but it looks too big to be sired by one of the Showgirl roosters, so the pigment must have come from mom. It looks particularly evil in this picture ... The dark chicken, Sauron. (The blue 'Splodie daughter is in the back.)
The sire of all of these is Penguin, our blue Cochin roo shown in this post.
... Speaking of which, in case you were wondering what Pumpkin Chicken looks like all grown up, she looks like this:
Happy Halloween from Pumpkin Chicken!
We have not had the best year for poultry ... Until now!
I came to accept that I am abysmally awful at artificial incubation of chicken eggs, and decided to let the broodies have a go at it. (Next year, I'll get it down ...)
They have done an exemplary job -- sixteen at last count, and still more to come!
We've got a mixed bag in here: Cochins, Showgirls, and Cochin/Showgirl crosses. These are gonna be a riot when they grow up.
So, we have not had the best year for poultry hatching. Chicken eggs are, as it turns out, quite a bit different from reptile eggs, which are very simple to hatch, and the learning curve has not been kind. While I realize that hatching eggs should be easy enough that a chicken can do it, the specifics seem to have somehow evaded me.
Thus, we have produced, so far, a grand total of one chicken. Luckily, it's an interesting one.
Most of our chickens are Cochins -- the round, puffy chickens with leg feathers that make them look like they are wearing bell-bottoms. I love Cochins. They are poofy and cute enough to be good eye candy, as well as being super friendly, but they are also hardy and do well outside in a farmyard situation. (Some fancy breeds are so specialized that they don't do so well in a farmyard -- they're better off indoors.) They also lay plenty of big, brown eggs. My Cochins aren't show quality, but they at least look like Cochins, and they lay well.
Since I am not aiming for show quality, I haven't cared about the color. Most of our Cochins are blue or splash, but there is a buff hen in there. Most people apparently don't breed blue to buff, or mix the colors at all, but apparently you can get some funky results doing that.
This is the mama hen -- she's a buff.
This is the rooster. His name is Penguin. He is a blue Cochin.
... And this is the baby. I was expecting that a buff blue would be a pale bird -- both genes appear to dilute pigment, after all.
WRONG! This is totally not what I was expecting. Buff chest, (bright orange, actually); orange back with black lacing. The blue is nowhere to be found. I am calling it Pumpkin Chick.
Now, I know that Penguin is heterozygous blue (otherwise, he'd be a splash), so maybe Pumpkin Chick didn't get a copy of the blue gene. If that were the case, though, I would expect her to be solid buff.
Chicken color genetics -- what the heck?
I am of the opinion that the primary purpose of a farm 'blog is to impart cuteness to the Internet. This 'blog has been seriously shirking in that duty.
Today's bit of alpaca cuteness involves another species. In this particular photograph, the other species happens to be a chicken, but this has also happened with baby bunnies when my camera was inaccessible. Now, the alpacas have all seen chickens before, but this was no ordinary chicken; this was a young Polish chicken, a breed that has a giant, poofy ball of feathers atop its head. I have come to appreciate that alpacas are an extremely visual species, and this chicken looked VERY different from any other chicken they had previously seen.
Alpacas are also very curious -- remarkably so for an herbivore. Rather than fleeing from this new creature, they were drawn to it. I looked out the window to see the whole female herd gathered around this tiny, ridiculous chicken that was bopping casually through their pasture.
I didn't ready my camera in time to capture the whole herd assembly, but I did catch a few of the most curious.
Millie had to investigate her first.
Silverado came to investigate next. (These are two of the three alpha females of the herd -- I call the three of them the Big Girls' Club.)
They were eventually joined by Valencia. She is a shy maiden female, but she was particularly curious about the Polish.
One of these days, I'll manage to capture a photo of the whole herd investigating a New Thing. It's pretty remarkable. It's also brain-shatteringly adorable, so I have to capture it -- for the good of the Internet, you understand.
So, I have a 'blog now, and that means that I get to write about stuff that happens in real life -- particularly stuff that relates to our farm, since this is, after all, the Howling Hill Farm 'blog. Thus, it is time to officially, once and for all, write out the Goose Story.
The Goose Story actually happened a couple of weeks ago. It started with the Northeast Poultry Congress, which is held at the Big E fairgrounds in Springfield MA. I was told about Northeast Poultry Congress by David Touchette, who breeds some of the best Call ducks in the USA and got me started with exhibition poultry. I'd been excited about it for months. More than anything, I wanted to find some exhibition African geese, or some exhibition Toulouse geese -- something big, and with a dewlap, that I could consider crossing with my American Lavenders down the road to make something new. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to afford them if there were any there -- exhibition geese can be pretty pricey -- but I was excited just to look.
On the day of Congress it was snowing lightly, but I've driven in lots of snowstorms and this wasn't so bad. It was less than an hour and a half drive, and once there, I discovered poultry paradise. (It is a seriously awesome event -- highly, highly recommended if you are even remotely interested in poultry, exhibition or otherwise.) There weren't too many geese for sale there, but lo and behold, there was a pair of really excellent Africans, and another pair of dewlap "somethings" that I didn't quite recognize. As it turns out, there was a good reason for that; they were hybrids of exhibition African and exhibition Toulouse, something I had never seen before, and they were really cool. The most amazing part was that they were all way more affordable than I'd been expecting, so you bet I bought both pairs, and man was I ever stoked. I also picked up a beautiful trio of lavender Muscovies from Mark Langerman.
After the breeder -- Bob Bartholomew, whose African from the same flock won Best Heavy Goose; not too shabby for the APA Nationals -- helped me load the geese into the back of my truck. The Muscovies went into one of the cages I had brought for that express purpose, but the geese would never have fit, so we just put them loose in the back with the cap on. I made sure to thoroughly latch the modified truck cap, and I even commented how awful it would be if the cap flew open on the highway. Bob told me a story about having a trailer come open while he was driving and spilling 75 ducks into the road. He said he caught them all, but it wasn't a good day.
It was still snowing as I drove home. On the highway, I missed my usual exit for the "back way" home, but figured that would be fine, perhaps even better; the other route had more highway, and was thus probably safer in a snowstorm. I forgot about a local hill on that route that is known for being abysmally bad in a snowstorm. Driving up the hill, I got behind a line of slow cars. I debated passing them, but decided against it -- too risky in a storm. Suddenly my rear end began to slide, and I thought, "Hey, wow, guess it is pretty bad -- good thing I didn't pass those guys." Then the truck was sliding into the embankment, and I was just starting to think that it would suck to get towed with all those geese in the back when the truck began to flip over.
Yes, after all of that -- coveting the geese, acquiring the geese, and carefully latching my truck cap so as not to lose the geese, I managed to flip my truck while transporting my precious poultry home. You guessed it: the geese escaped (the cap flew clean off). Some amazing men stopped to free my from my truck, which I was trapped in for awhile, but before they could free me, another truck smashed into my truck (this is all true) and crushed the cage that the Muscovy trio was in. My glasses were trapped in the truck, so I couldn't see anything much, but I could see that the geese were wandering all over the highway. Another amazing man stopped and caught one of them for me. I called my husband, and he helped to corral a 2nd goose, but there were still two missing by the end of the night.
That night, I posted an ad on Craigslist about the accident and asking if anyone who saw the geese could please contact me. Remarkably, a number of people did report seeing them on Sunday, the day after the accident. I spoke to one couple on the phone, and they gave me a fairly exact location on a back road off of the highway. My husband and I went to that road and spent about an hour and a half looking for them. We drove up and down the road, got out several times, scoured the curb for tracks in the snow, and then finally stopped and gave one house our information in case they saw something, figuring that the geese had gone into the woods, or into the swampy area that was off of that road, and were probably not going to be found that day. As we drove home, I stared out at the side of the highway. There were tracks in the snow, and I had been looking for tracks for the past hour or two, but I figured these could not possibly be goose tracks -- they went on for over a mile. Then, just before town, bathing in a creek by the side of the road, what do you think I saw? Yes, indeed: a big, fat, dewlap-y goose. I yelled, and yelled, and my husband pulled over, and off we went to collect him.
The goose had just been in a car accident the night before, and had been at a poultry show before that. It had probably eaten nothing for >24 hours now, and had clearly traveled well over a mile. It was also big and heavy and cumbersome. How difficult could it be to catch? I approached it with my poultry net, and managed to get no less than 100 feet from it when the goose looked at me and began to casually walk away. No problem, I figured; it's fat and slow. Then it sped up. It crossed the highway, stopping traffic, and ran down an embankment and into the woods.
We followed it. I was ready to give up -- I was just in a fairly major car accident less than 24 hours prior, it was exceedingly cold, the goose had taken to a stream, and I figured it was pointless. My husband did not think it was pointless. He tracked the goose in the snow for about 20 minutes, then chased it, full tilt, for another ten. That goose did not want to be caught, but by golly, he caught it, and I am so very glad he did: it was one of the cross-bred geese, one of only two I've ever seen.
So, that is the goose story. Given that I had ten animals in the vehicle (four geese, three ducks, two Modena pigeons and one truly awesome French Lop rabbit whose name is now Luther), flipped the truck over onto its side, and then got smashed very hard by a 2nd truck, I think I got off extremely lucky. I lost one goose, and the Muscovy drake broke his wing (though he is very much on the mend), and my truck is totaled. However, I am not dead, or brain-damaged, and 9/10 animals are still alive. Also, I learned that there are a whole lot of absolutely amazing, truly selfless people in New Hampshire. Between the men who risked their lives on the side of a snowy road to pull me out, the multiple people who stopped to make sure I was okay, and the outpouring of support I received in response to my ad looking for my geese -- there are some really really great people out there.
By the way, here are the geese:
Exhibition African x Exhibition Toulouse cross. I have never seen another goose like these guys, either in pictures or in person, and I don't know if anyone other than Bob really ever produces them. Exhibition ("Dewlap") Toulouse geese are very difficult to breed, and don't reproduce for many years of their lives, so I don't think most Toulouse breeders ever do this cross.
K writes this stuff, for some reason that has yet to become apparent.