Adventures of LadyButt

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Most of you who follow my Facebook page are familiar with the story of Ladybutt. She’s a feral cat who was adopted from the Humane Society Barn Cat program by a local farm. When that farm closed we took her in. Her name was LadyBug at that time but over the last few years she’s earned her new name. LadyButt is still semi-feral, and some days she is sweet and purrs for attention, some days she attacks without provocation. Her mood depends on the way the wind is blowing, the day of the week and the flip of a coin from what we’ve been able to determine.

Lately, we’ve been having a little problem with LadyButt getting locked in the hay barn. The first time it happened I found her during morning chores and I really gave Hubs some grief about leaving the cat locked in the barn all night. Then he found her in there again that evening and gave me grief for leaving her there after my morning chores. In the marriage game point scale we were tied in a dead heat 1-1 and the pressure was on. The next day we were both super careful  about making sure she was out of the way and no where near the hay area before we closed up the barn, but we still found her inside again. Obviously, the only answer was that she had found a way to magically teleport herself into the barn but couldn’t get back out. Barns are tricky like that. Hubs decided he needed to put in a cat door so that after she did her Houdini trick disappearing into the barn she could just walk out the kitty door in style. Easy peasy, right? Except he hasn’t gotten around to it yet.

Today was the topper. Hubs wasn’t home to do evening chores so I did them when I got home. I was trying to get the horses fed and stuff the hay bags for tomorrow and I heard LadyButt yelling. I yelled back, “the barn door is open, come on out.” but she didn’t. After listening to her yowl in obvious distress I started getting worried that she had fallen in between the bales of hay and gotten wedged in place. I stopped what I was doing and went digging around the hay but couldn’t find her. She was pretty much constantly meowing for help at this time and I was more than concerned. I shut off the farm truck so that I would be able to hear what direction she yelling from. At first it sounded like she was in the woods down below the chicken yard and I started walking that way. As I crossed the driveway I heard her again, but behind me. I turned and looked up and low and behold…..she was on the roof of the barn! She had really outdone herself this time.

Grumbling to myself the whole time about how these things only happen when Hubs isn’t around, I went looking for a ladder. We have a ridiculous number of ladders on the farm but somehow I couldn’t find any of them, save for a rickety old ladder that was in the dump pile. Still grumbling, I climbed the ladder to go rescue the Houdini cat. By the time I got to the second rung from the very top of the ladder it was listing a little bit, causing me to feel like I was trying to balance on a teeter totter. I called out to her and she ran over to see me. She seemed pretty excited to be getting rescued but she was apparently a bit irritated too. As I was trying to figure out how I was going to scoop up and carry a half-wild and more than slightly annoyed cat all the while balancing on a swaying ladder and of course, not fall off, she lost all pretense of patience and took a few swipes at me for keeping her waiting. I jerked back trying to avoid getting scratched and that’s when the ladder gave up even pretending to do the job and started drunkenly swaying side to side, worse than when I try to country line dance. I figure I needed to act quickly (before I could chicken out) so I made a mad grab for the cat and scurried down the ladder before she could freak out and start dismembering me with her razor blade claws. With self preservation high on my priorities, I’m pretty sure we broke the sound barrier in our rush down the ladder. Once on the ground I set her loose…..only to have her to run back into the hay barn and burrow into the hay. So now you know a bit more about LadyButt and can probably understand how she earned her name.  *sigh* Hubs had better get that cat door in ASAP.

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Deep Litter Bedding

A couple of people have asked me about the deep litter method and so I thought I would put my thoughts on paper. I always hesitate to write these types of blogs because it just goes against what I believe. People have approached us about interning on the farm and my response is typically, “dude, seriously? I’m like the farming version of the adult that’s faking it until someone more adult-ish shows up.”

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Truly though, I have an issue with the ‘right way’ to do things. I believe that farming is like making chicken soup. Pick any two families and they will not  have the same recipe. Yes there are similar parts….like most will have chicken and some form of vegetables  in the recipe, but how they cook it and what else they add are really very different. Farming is a lot like that. It depends on your situation, your animals, your soil, your available funds and resources….it really just depends. So I hate to tell someone how to do things, I can only tell them what has worked (or not worked) for me. On that same thread,  I really find I have a problem taking advice from more experienced farmers who approach advice as if there is only one way to do things for the same reason.  of course there are always those that want to argue their point because it seems that some people just really have a difficult time with other’s opinions. With all that being said, I’ve also agreed to share my experiences on the farm with you guys. So with some trepidation, I’m sharing my deep litter experiences, keeping in mind that this is MY experience.

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We’ve used buckets as nesting boxes in this coop. They’re removable and easier to clean.

 

Our first couple of years on the farm I used the deep litter method for the goat barns. For those that aren’t familiar with the term deep litter, it simply means that you only rake and remove the heaviest of poop areas on a regular basis and then add more bedding over the less dirty, used bedding to make sure the animals have a dry, clean area. This goes on over the winter months with the ever growing, thick layers giving more insulation from the cold ground and the dirty bottom layer of  bedding are buried and beginning to break down in compost putting off some natural heat.

There are some definite advantages to this method. If you have limited manpower most of the year this allows your animals to have a clean bedding and a well insulated area with minimal work. Of course there is the once a year (or more) heavy duty cleaning where several feet of used bedding is removed from the barn, but this can usually be done in a day with the help of others. The idea of thicker insulation really appealed to me and made me feel better about our goats being in the drafty barn. Also when my husband was traveling a lot for work and having just moved to a new farm that needed a lot of work, the lack of weekly barn cleanings was also a huge plus in my book.

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With all the dust motes from the straw visible in this picture, it’s no surprise that air quality needs to be a concern in barn care.

 

The other side of the coin is that using the deep litter method works best with a smaller herd in a well ventilated structure. The ammonia emissions from animal waste can build up causing air pollution concerns and resulting health issues. We have one doe that has had a chronic cough and after much testing and work with our vet, we believe it’s allergies. However, I do have to wonder if the winter air quality in the barn is aggravating her lungs making her cough worse.  This year we’ve decided to switch over from the deep litter method to bi-weekly cleanings and see if her cough does better.  Yup, it’s going to be more work, but the herd has grown and the barn has not, so the bedding is building up quicker than previously and the air quality is poorer. We’ve added more vents and cut in a back door to help with the air movement, but we’re still going to try a more traditional method and see if it helps with her cough.

Some things to consider if you’re thinking about going this route include the size of your herd, how good the drainage is in your barn, air movement in the barn and overall health of the herd to start. So in summary, yes the deep litter method worked for us. During a particularly difficult time the simplicity really saved my sanity while allowing my animals a warm and clean shelter. It was a great idea…….for a while. But like I said, times change, herd’s change and whether it’s the right method for you, just depends……