Grit Blogs > Adventures in Rural Living

Spring Means New Baby Critters on the Farm

Marie James head shotLast week I showed you some new plant life around our farm. Today we’ll put some cute critters on display.

Though our goal with livestock is mostly to produce food for our extended family, we do enjoy the animals while they’re here. We give them a good life and appreciate their contribution to our tables.

Our grandkids know what the livestock is for, but they still like to give the critters names. Some, like the docile chickens, are cuddled, held, and carried about day after day. Others, such as the squirmy piglets, are admired from a distance.

Life on the farm has taught the grandkids a lot about the cycle of life—the wonder of eggs hatching, the sadness of loss, the enjoyment of animal personalities. And the grandkids all relish the eggs and meat they help produce.

Prior to moving here, our livestock experience was limited to beef cattle and horses. Two years ago we started out with hatchery chicks, raising up laying hens and meat birds. Now that we have the chicken raising down pat, we’re adding pork production to the farm.

 piglets hiding in straw

Last month we brought home these two adorable little piglets; next week we’ll pick up four more. We promptly named them Bacon and Sausage so we won’t be distracted by their cuteness and forget their purpose.

We decided to start them out in a brushy area and see if they really are “pigatillers” as some call them. They’ve already made noticeable progress! We have them in portable electric netting, which is great for rotational grazing of any type of livestock. When they’ve chomped up all the plants in this area, we’ll just move them on to the next section.

The vegetation is really just snack food for the piggies--they eat lots of hog feed too. But we’re told that consumption of plants makes the meat taste better. The fresh grass and weeds will increase its nutritional value as well.

Piglets grow quickly—these two are rounder and taller than when they arrived. For shelter we started them out in a chicken tractor that’s just 24” tall, but they’ll need some new digs soon. For the first week or so they were hiding out in the tractor or in tall brush most of the time. But lately they’ve been brave enough to come up and watch us from behind the fence.
 piglets at fence


We really don't have any chicks yet, but three of our mamas are giving us hope! Last year we had our first “farm births” when we hatched chicks in an incubator and a couple of hens did it the old-fashioned way. This year we’re trying both methods again.
two banties brooding together

These two banties are team brooding—snuggled together and jointly covering five eggs. They are hoping to hear some peeping from their nest before long. Hedwig (a white Silkie) and Pigwidgeon (a Dark Brahma) have both sat on eggs independently before, but this is the first time I’ve seen a pair brood together like this! Hedwig hatched one chick last year; Piggy has tried unsuccessfully three times.

The pair started out in the coop nesting box, which is 36” above the floor. That’s fine for setting, but once baby chicks start moving around it could be dangerous. It would be a long fall for a little chick that can’t fly. So as their “due date” approached I moved the hens into a little nest box of their own that sits on the floor of the coop.

We use dog crates of three sizes for chickens—for giving mamas privacy, brooding hatchery chicks, isolating ill or injured birds, and hauling broilers to the processing area. This medium size crate is just right for two mamas “attached at the wing.”

 two hens in dog crate

This trio totally surprised me on a recent visit to the chicken coop.  

 three hens squeezed in nest box

April, the colored broiler hen in the middle, is broody, sitting on a clutch of eggs. Her two Buff Orpington friends, Yolk and Kelly, were just stopping by for their daily visit. The three of them just barely fit in the nest box. After Yolk and Kelly left, April the broody scooped their eggs under her tummy.

Unlike the “team broodies” who were in a nest box used by only a few other hens, April was in a well-frequented community nest. From the start I marked the eggs April is brooding so I can remove the other eggs. Every time I checked she was sitting on a clutch of eggs but some were off to the side. More than once, one or two of her original eggs was in with the newly laid eggs.

April is just one year old, and this is her first brooding experience. I think she was confused about how to handle her eggs when it’s so tempting to add the other hens’ eggs. I thought she’d do better in a private nest so no one else will lay eggs nearby.

So April moved to a dog crate tucked inside a small chicken tractor in one of the outdoor runs. She will have a private nursery when the chicks hatch. For now she can go stretch her legs in the run on her daily break. The other hens are excluded from this run to give April privacy, but they can visit through the fences.

Here you can see the maternity suite as Mama takes her daily stroll. 

 hen on break from nest

So this summer we will be raising both chickens and pigs. Next year? Hopefully some beef cows will grace our pastures. We keep learning and trying new things. It’s good exercise for our minds and our bodies.

And did I mention that we love this rural life? At our family's blog Rural Living Today we encourage others who want to give it a try.