Theo is our African Sulcata Tortoise. He could live to be a 100 years old and get to be 100 pounds. He's absolutely pre-historic and fascinating to watch as he eats and moves around on his retractable legs. We never have any kitchen waste because Theo is our QT Composter! In addition to his Romaine lettuce, carrots and grapes, he loves a variety of all the parts of fruits and veggies you would otherwise cut away and compost. Nothing goes to waste or compost with Theo on the job. While on vacation one year, he managed to escape the property. A month later we found him at a house nearly a mile away. We missed him and his composting role while he was on his own "vacation" adventure.
Theo doesn't hibernate and must have a hot house handy at all times. I came up with the concept for a "Tortoise and Hare House" as a fun clubhouse to interact with the animals where they live. It took a while for my dad to grasp the idea, but I'm glad he finally agreed to build the unique structure. He is the only master carpenter who could make it happen. I learned a lot working with him on the construction, which I'll explain more about this, and other "QT Town" structures, at www.sustainablefiberfarm.com (coming soon)
The girls raise and show Nederland Dwarfs for their 4-H projects. Their menagerie of Precious Jewells includes Tristan, Martin, Daisy and Thumper. We also have several Flemish Giants from Griffiths, but the girls haven't worked with them for showing for 4-H because the smaller bunnies are easier for them to handle. We were away one time and somehow the bunnies got mixed up during feeding or handling. A month later, the Flemish Giant mom gave birth to several babies from a Nederland Dwarf dad. Yep, that's a mix of the largest bunnies with the smallest bunnies. Some babies had small bodies with oversized ears while others had large bodies with small ears - funny bunny mash-up!
CHICKEN, DUCKS AND GEESE
Our hens lay the best-tasting eggs! Ask anyone who's had one and they would agree our girls do a good job. We have many different breeds of chickens, both rare and standard-issue. On the 'About' page we list the different chicken breeds at QT Farm that are considered endangered. Regardless of their heritage or pedigree, they all do an equally-good job of laying multi-colored eggs, eating bugs and larva and also turning the compost piles into black-gold soil. The girls are all free-range and have access to their choice of barns to roost at night. We don't keep a rooster since Lee's Feed sells all the great varieties of breeds to choose from each spring. Spring chix start laying eggs in the fall. The mature hens are prolific layers when the weather is nice, but production cuts down considerably in the colder months. Our daughters deliver eggs to several neighbors and friends for $3 a dozen.
The ducks on the pond include all drakes (males). There are two Rouen's that look like large Mallards, two Swedish Blues, two Khaki Campbell's and a mixed black and white drake. We used to have several female ducks, but they were noisy and there was too much "activity" going on during spring and autumn mating seasons. Now the drakes provide interest to the pond and do a great job of keeping the slugs and snails away.
Of all the animals on the farm, the geese are the most feared and least lovable (now there's a PC description for those pesky geese). Lautrec, the ornery Toulouse Goose, will bite you if you give him the chance. The girls go down armed with sticks to shoo him away. The geese do help with property protection and as livestock guardians. Nothing gets past them unnoticed and they will announce all activity in or out of their pasture. They are as good as car alarms for any predators creeping around at night. In the country, it seems to me that animal noises fade into, or become, the background noise - like car alarms or sirens in the city??? Fortunately the other animals heed the geese alarms, wake up and become alert until the danger moves on and order is restored.
The geese, donkey, llamas and electric fencing help to deter the predators in our area, including coyotes, bobcats, skunks, opossum, raccoons and foxes. Mountain lions have been spotted in the area, but if a hungry cougar wants something from our farm, there is little to stop it. A Livestock Guardian Dog would be effective, but the risk of a lion attack is more remote than the burden of a big and beautiful, but bored and barking, Pyrenees dog. Ultimately, we rely on Our Shepherd for ALL guardian duties.
Click to Enlarge the Photo Gallery of Fowl on the Farm
Horse in the house? Holly came inside once when she was still small enough to carry like a dog. Now she's grown large enough to be ridden by a small child or trained to pull a cart.
'Quicksilver' with 'Holly' above Prancing 'Puck' below
QT 4-H Girls 'Tristan' a NL Dwarf 'Martin' a NL Dwarf 'Daisy' a NL Dwarf 'Thumper' a NL Dwarf dad with 'Beatrix' a Flemish Giant with their babies.
Our first equine purchase was for two miniature horses from a farm in Placerville. We bought a 16-year old sliver-white mare we call 'Quicksilver' and a smaller, younger stallion we call 'Puck' (he's now a gelding). The moment they set hoof in our pasture, their first order of business was to promptly make their foal. She arrived late one night when Bert was in Holland for his father's funeral, so we named her 'Holly'. We intended to use the mini horses as livestock guardians, but it turns out, mini horses are not at all interested in protecting sheep, goats or alpacas. We may have hired them for that job description, but they basically said we'd have to find some other asses to do the guardian job - so we did. The mini horses were pretty to look at and fun to play with, but once Holly became a teenager, we got tired of picking up their sh*t, so we gave them another job of weed eating at our wonderful neighbor's beautifully forested property.
Mini horses are much happier and better suited to weed eating than livestock protecting. In the spring, when all the grass is growing, we can send the mini horses to various properties to graze and browse alongside sheep, goats or alpacas. It's a great neighborhood service that's reciprocal. Our neighbors save on the labor and we save on the feed. One thing we did learn about loaning livestock for weed eating duties, however, is that we can't send the fiber animals out into the fields until after they are shorn. One season we lost our whole alpaca clip of shorn fleeces. We loaned the alpacas out too soon and their fleece was full of stickers and foxtails that we couldn't get out after it was shorn.
Queenie with wool socks on her long ears - toasty! Donkeys and alpacas on the lam - on the lawn. The gate was
accidentally left open so they took advantage of eating some
landscaping before being caught and returned to their pasture.
Donkeys help serve as livestock guardians for our flocks. We have a miniature donkey jenny (female) named Queenie and she is around 25 years old. Until very recently, we also had a standard size jack (male). We think he may have been nearly 40 years old when he died suddenly, and peacefully in the pasture, of old age as there were no other indications.
Both donkeys are/were grey with a black "donkey cross" down their backs and shoulders. Our mini, Queenie is a loyal companion to all. She brays, on behalf of the whole farm, when it's time to eat, or as a hello when we return home. We bought her from a person in Georgetown who claimed she was pregnant so we paid extra. It turns out she was just fat. Queenie also has hoof and seasonal lamenitis issues that were never disclosed to us. She was our first livestock purchase and we love her very much. Her seller saw us coming as the new farmers we were in 2005. Now I know why the day we picked Queenie up, the unscrupulous seller was in the midst of moving after losing her job and boyfriend. She also just lost two dogs to a coyote attack the night before - the Karma Police were already on her case and they mean business in these parts - case closed.
Jack was our standard size donkey and he also meant business in these parts, even though he rarely showed it. Both donkeys are/were very lovable, loyal and happiest when groomed or ridden by the kids. Donkeys are fairly slow moving and docile. I'd imagine they would sound just like Eeyore in the Pooh cartoons if they could talk - slow, low and humble - but not stupid! If you mess with the livestock they protect, they will immediately spring into action to take out the offender. One of our ewes had a lamb and we moved them over to the donkey pasture thinking that would be the safest place for them. We were wrong. Jack knew the ewe, but he didn't know the lamb. When the lamb was running around the momma's legs, and worse "eating" her udders, Jack went ballistic. He must have thought the lamb was a dog attacking his ewe. He started grunting, bucking and kicking. He was running after the ewe and lamb, trying to trample the lamb. We screamed at him to stop, but he was blinded by his duty. Fortunately we caught the lamb before he could get her - whew, there are a lot of lessons to learn down on the farm - always!
Jack was abandoned in a pasture in Somerset when the homeowner moved away. We heard of his plight from a neighbor who worked at a winery near where he was left all alone. We rented a trailer and after several attempts to lure him in, we finally managed to bring him home. His hooves were extremely overgrown and our vet figured he was around 30-35 years old. We, Queenie and the gang loved him and will miss him very much.
When Jack died suddenly, we had an immediate opening for a livestock guardian. There was a full-size cougar spotted in the neighbor's yard behind us the same week, so we needed to fill the position quickly. My colleague was looking to rehome her beautiful llama girls, so we were fortunate to "hire" them right away for the job! There was no training necessary as llamas are instinctively good guardians. In the video, you can see that 'Sunshine' is on guard, checking out the surroundings, while her alpaca charges enjoy grazing the green grass. More about 'Sunshine' and 'Stormy' and their useful fiber on the Llama page.
Our barn is a great home for homeless cats we find through neighbors or friends. Our first barn cat, 'Toby' is a beautiful grey tabby. He was watching the kids trick-or-treating in my parents neighborhood in El Dorado Hills. While the kids got their candy, I commented to the neighbor about their nice cat. The neighbor replied he didn't belong to them. He was abandoned when other neighbors moved away and left him behind. Another case for the Karma Police ... but at least Toby is very happy to be a farm boy now.
Our black cat, 'Midnight,' was feral (wild) and caught at a local school where our neighbor teaches. He was "fixed" and a notch was cut into his ear. We found out the vets do that to feral cats because the notch makes it clear they are altered is case they return to the wild and are re-caught in the future. Our cats are great mousers. They are also good at watching after babies. Bert watched Midnight actually herd a lost baby bunny back to its momma on the other side of the fence. The cats are loyal companions to all the farm animals.
'Theo' as a hatchling Theo at four years old Tortoise and Hare House Nature Lovers Welcome Clubhouse décor Dutch Postcards & Pix