History of a Vermont Sheep Farm
Getting Started: You Can Farm Too!
A Flock of Your Own Icelandic Sheep
A Flock of Your Own Chickens
Growing Your Farm: How the Numbers Work

Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep
by Paula Simmons and Carol Ekarius has an expanded format and newer information on medications. Wonderful pictures of lambing positions and shearing. From the shearing pictures you can easily learn to handle a small flock.

Dreaming Vermont: Relocating and Living in Vermont


The Chickens

It is a mystery of farming, and one of those great truths, that the animal that will choose the creative way of dying young is always the one the kids have chosen as a pet.

Last year it was Oreo the sheep, a black spotted ewe lamb who was both friendly and distinctive, who broke her leg by getting it caught in a gate. I’d have taken a large wager that no animal could injure itself, much less so badly it would have to be put down, on that gate, but Oreo managed it.

This year the chickens, instead of being the feral flighty creatures I raise, are hand-tame. I wouldn’t spend the time to do it, but my neighbor’s daughter did. She painstakingly taught them to fly, lifting them up with their stubby wings and encouraging their little hops. She taught a couple of them to sit on her finger, and as they got bigger to tolerate being carried around. And, naturally, she named them: Abby, Sunflower, Fudge — a half-dozen names for the cutest of the 15 chickens. She prefers the buff and yellow birds. The black-and-white Barred Rocks are all anonymous bundles of feathers.

So it was with a sinking heart that I realized the only birds out in the yard this morning were three Barred Rocks. No Golden Comets, no Buff Orphingtons, no Araucanas — but, more to the point, no Abby, no Sunflower, none of the tame birds to be seen. In the pouring rain, I searched the sheep sheds. I looked in the hay storage. I checked the trees. No birds, and not a sign of a bird.

The only positive thing I can say about whatever got the birds is they were taken cleanly. No mass of feathers to indicate where they were taken. Usually, such a clean kill means a hawk — in this case, several hawks — have found the flock and borne them off. Foxes are messier, leaving a pile of feathers to mark their kills. Ermines leave bodies. Raccoons or domestic dogs leave carnage in their wake.
The remaining three juvenile birds are cowering under a tree, and glad to be chased into the coop. The remaining adult, having survived domestic dogs, foxes and hawks, is already in the coop, hunkered down in a nesting box and looking like nothing will pry her from it.

So I put fresh feed in the coop and barricade what is left of the flock inside before stomping into the house to locate another flock of birds to replace the lost ones. They won’t be hand-tame, but they can be trained to come running for scratch; some birds are better than no birds at all.

This spring, chickens — which have been enjoying something of a resurrection since celebrities (most notably Martha Stewart) started promoting backyard flocks — suddenly exploded in popularity. Area hatcheries, unable to keep up with demand, shipped partial orders. Out-of-state hatcheries stopped taking back orders for popular breeds, and began refusing orders that didn’t accept substitutions as stocks ran low. I took delivery of a short order, and so did everyone else I know. “Call me in the fall,” says one farm. “We might have some older hens available then.”

I decide to start over and start checking hatcheries to see what can be shipped immediately. Breed after breed, hatchery after hatchery, pages are marked “sold out” or simply “unavailable.”

So, sadly, I notify the house above. “Something got the chickens,” I say, and hear a shriek of dismay as this is relayed to the kids. “What about Abby?” I hear, simultaneous with the slamming of the screen door. Abby, the Araucana, is not in the coop, but the sound of little feet pounding down the hill in the driving rain tells me someone isn’t going to take my word on it.

And lo! As we round the corner to the coop, two more survivors! Neither Abby nor Sunflower, nor unfortunately, Fudge, but another Barred Rock and a Buff Orphington. Five survivors are better than three; I’ll take what I can get. But survivors mean hope, and she runs out into the rain, into the field, calling for the flock. “Abby, Abby, where are you?”

And out of nowhere birds come running. Soaking wet, dripping scraggly feathers, but alive. They take one look at me and promptly scatter in 100 different directions (something of an achievement for only a dozen birds), so we chase them. Up the field, into the berries, out of the berries, into the sheep shed, out of the sheep shed — “Be careful,” her brother cautions, as we run across the sheep pen. “It is slippery in here!” Until finally the birds are corralled, stepping and stumbling over each other as they head into the coop.

Abby, as is befitting a tame bird who comes when called, is carried to the coop. “One, two, three — no, wait, one, two, three, four, five — hey.” Chickens are not easy to count, but she at last establishes that all 15 juveniles are safely inside.

Peter and I go shopping. For wood, wire — whatever spooked them will be back — and fly tape. Free-range chickens serve a dual purpose on a small farm: They provide us with eggs and they keep the sheep sheds clean with their voracious appetites for flies.

Chicks: $17.50. Bag of mash: $10.50. Chicken wire: $25. Fly tape: $5. Pet chicken that sits in a girl’s arms and comes when called? Yes, there really are some things that can’t be counted in simple coin. For everything else, there’s a feed store.

Keep an eye on the farm at FarmCam!



Stories From a Vermont Life:

Camilla Blue
Frozen Gifts
Making Wreaths
The Fourth of July

The Farm at Morrison Corner raises Icelandic Sheep on the last hill farm in Mansfield, VT.  Learn about Raising Icelandic Sheep, Raising Chickens, Moving to Vermont and Living in Vermont on this and our other sites.

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