Monday, August 29, 2016

Minto-kun's new roof, and how useless it is in a typhoon

It seems that Minto-kun will stay on our farm for a little longer (a few more years). This is great news, but it also means that Minto-kun needs a permanent shelter.

Ideally Minto-kun would stay with other goats in their Grand Goat Shed:

Grand Goat Shed
Grand Goat Shed interior

But Natchan, the senior goat, doesn't like Minto-kun, and Minto-kun always makes his "I'm going to cry" face when Natchan is around. Conclusion: Minto-kun needs his own place.

So we started building one right next to the tool shed. It already has a roof!

Minto-kun's freshly built roof, occupied by Natchan and Momo-chan.
Minto-kun (left) is waiting gloomily on the side.

Our masterpiece of two pillars and a two sheets of plywood was completed despite the goats' best efforts to help.

Goats being helpful.

Goats being more helpful. 

Roof is ready! Minto-kun (left) is sipping water while waiting
for Natchan and Momo-chan to leave.

... still waiting...

If this was a fairy tale, Minto-kun would be Cinderella, suffering from all kinds of injustice but finally winning it all. And there would be a happy end, Cinderella moving to the castle.

Happy end!

But this is not a fairy tale and the happy end was in fact just an intermission.

The tale continued and a typhoon came, last week, and the roof was absolutely useless in protecting its dweller against the wind and the rain. 

Dramatic typhoon twist

Fortunately, the dramatic twist had a happy end too: Minto-kun was evacuated to the chicken coop, all complete with a temporary goat bed and a heap of fresh grass, and he and the chickens spent the typhoon in safety. The most rain-soaked character from this adventure was me. 

Typhoon from chickens' perspective. Please note the pool outside. 

MInto-kun and the chickens

The storm passed and everyone and everything survived - including Minto-kun's new roof! That was a second happy end in a row. Maybe it was a double fairy tale after all. 

... and they lived happily ever after.

... and after.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Minto-kun (new goat on the farm)

Our farm has a new resident: Minto-kun.


Minto-kun is a frail, sickly and utterly adorable baby goat that came to our farm about a week ago.  
Before coming here, Minto-kun lived with a group of goats in another place.

Minto-kun's previous home.
Minto-kun's previous home was not bad, but it wasn't suited for an orphaned baby goat weakened by sickness.

Goats, like chickens, dogs, humans and many other animals, have hierarchical society with little compassion for weaker members. The rule is simple - big and strong individuals get most of the food by pushing away the weaker ones. If food is scarce, goats at the social bottom have to survive on leftovers. Minto-kun, after losing his mum and getting sick himself, turned out to be the smallest and weakest in the group. This meant that even if he had the will to recover and the appetite to eat, he had no chance to get enough nutrition among goats that would (literally) kick him away to get more for themselves. So he would just sit and breathe, with his sleepy eyes and dreamy smile, waiting for the end to come. But when you gave him some fresh clover (making sure other goats were busy eating elsewhere), he would eat with surprising appetite.
It was clear that if only Minto-kun was in better care, he would get well. With the owner's consent, Minto-kun came to our farm to recover in a stress-free environment with unlimited access to pasture and no bossy goats around.

As expected, Minto-kun is doing great. He's already put on weight, his hair is whiter and he eats more.

Minto-kun spends his days with chickens.

Goats and chickens don't talk much but they get along well.

Minto-kun is also quite fond of people and keeps us company whenever we are at the farm, mostly by eating clover nearby or napping in safe places.

Minto-kun apparently trusts humans more than goats. After the bitter experiences with his previous herdmates - no wonder.

The goats on our farm (Natchan and her kids) rejected him, too. They chase him away whenever he happens to be around. So it seems that Minto-kun had no choice but to befriend people.
With his gentle manners and irresistible smile, Minto-kun is now a candidate for a new weed-eater position on our farm

Minto-kun's absolute favorite is clover. 

But he also switches to other weeds of his choice.

Some people say, you should leave it to nature. If an animal is not strong enough to survive on its own, you shouldn't help it survive artificially.
This objection would count if it was 'real' wilderness, but it isn't. Minto-kun's mum died because of human error. Goats in Minto-kun's previous home live in a fenced area which is quite big as a pasture, but it's not exactly a hundred-square-kilometer patch of national park with unlimited food options (and with natural predators that would swiftly take care of unfit members).  These goats live in conditions set by humans, so they should be taken care of by humans - not only when they are well but also when they get sick.

"You're absolutely right."

Sunday, July 24, 2016

1. New chicken enemy, 2. State of the grass report

1. New chicken enemy

Spotting a snake, on a pitch dark night, inside the coop right next to the sleeping chickens, just as it's trying to swallow a sparrow, still alive and screaming, is not the kind of experience you want to have very often.

Of course you can't leave the snake there and go home. You have to get rid of it, which means a lot of direct, prolonged engagement.

A snake of this size would not dare to attack a chicken, but it would scare her and it would go after eggs. And it would make the whole farm a traumatic place for humans, frightened to walk or enter the coop because there might be a monster lurking in the grass or under the roof.

Snake in the daytime. Pretending to be invisible.
But we are not that naive.
Snake was evicted and weeds around the coop were cut short short very short,
to make the snake comeback harder.

I will skip the details of our first, second and third encounter with this huge, menacing, sparrow-eating creature. No amount of harrowing detail would convey the subjective psychic force of this near-death experience. (I just paraphrased Tim Kreider in "We learn nothing." One of the most relatable books I've ever read.)

I've always considered myself a nature-lover. I used to complain about lack of nature in my everyday life. I will never complain again. The lesson learned in the past few months is that sometimes there can be too much nature around. I admit to my own hypocrisy. When I thought I was a nature-lover, I was just being picky about what kind of 'nature' I preferred: the mountain views and sunlit forests and thundering waterfalls. I'm less enthusiastic about too many and oversized snakes, centipedes, spiders, mosquitoes, egg-stealing crows and dead sparrows. But they are all part of the same set. You can't have one without the other.
So I realized that although I do like nature, I also appreciate the benefits of snake-free lifestyle. And no more dead sparrows, please.

2. State of the grass report

To end on a more positive note, here's an update on the state of the grass. Weeds inside the chickens' run have wildly surpassed our expectations. The farm basically turned into a jungle.

Chicken Jungle

Chickens' playground, July 2016.

For comparison, this is the same place four months ago:

Chickens' playground, March 2016.

Back to now:
Inside (right) and outside (left) of chickens' area.
The weed-trees on the right are 2 m high
(Chenopodium album. Edible weed, by the way.)

You have to look very well to find the chickens. 

If you find any, they will probably be busy dust bathing in the shade. 

Sometimes the rooster would be around.

There are also savannah-like areas, so chickens can choose what kind of terrain they prefer.

Chickens never had this much privacy before. (Nor did the snakes.)
I'm happy for them all.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Rest in peace, Donald (the rooster)

Donald the Rooster, born on April 28, 2015, died an almost nonviolent death on June 18, 2016.
He was a respected cock who fearlessly protected his flock from many imagined enemies and bit countless human legs in his lifetime. For this, he will be remembered forever. Some hens may miss him. Rest in peace, Donald.

Donald's remains were eaten the following day, June 19, 2016.

Donald's killing was done under the guidance of our chicken adviser Mr. Kojima.

Not unexpectedly, as a vegetarian I feel ambiguous about being complicit in a chicken killing. I also know that I will have to be complicit in at least 30 more such killings, because our chickens will only be here as long as they produce enough eggs of sellable quality. That's the harsh reality of animal farming, even the most animal-friendly one. Taking responsibility for the chickens until the very end - killing them ourselves rather than dumping them to a poultry slaughterhouse - has always been part of the plan when we started all this.

The first victim was Donald because of the following reasons:

1. Crowing, LOUD. Crowing from about 3:30 a.m. until late afternoon, day after day, was fine in winter, but not in summer when people start spending their days and nights with their windows open. We reached the conclusion that crowing had to be at least cut by half. When deciding which of the two roosters should go, the aggressive one was a natural choice.

2. Attacking people. Protecting the flock is a rooster's job, I know, but Donald just always got it wrong when assessing who was the ally and who the enemy. It was even simpler than that - everyone was the enemy. I hope his successor, Rooster No. 2 who was just named Justin (any resemblance to the Canadian politician is coincidental), will be smarter and more charismatic than Donald was.

3. Hens' backs are going bald. I didn't know this before, but if roosters were people, they would be diagnosed with sexual addiction. When they feel the urge, they jump violently on a nearby hen and relieve themselves. It's over in a few seconds, but some hens' backs and wings suffer considerable feather loss from being jumped on too much. The more popular the hen, the worse her back looks. Lesson learned: Two straight roosters are too many partners for 29 hens.

None of these reasons would be strong enough on its own, but all of them combined made for a strong case against poor Donald :(

Here's Donald's last journey. Some pictures may be labeled "graphic content" by some people's standards.

Donald was not to be given any food 24 hours prior to killing. (He had access to water.)
This seems to be a common practice to ensure that intestines are clean when butchering.
So Donald spent his last day in the old coop, chatting with hens over the wire net. 
Step 1: Catch the rooster.

Step 2: Put rooster in an old rice bag with a hole cut out in the corner.
The bag was a substitute for a "killing cone" - a tool we don't have.
Pull rooster's head through the hole.

Step 3: Cut the throat with very sharp knife. If done properly, rooster should be unconscious in a few seconds.
Let bleed. (This picture was taken before cutting.)

Donald died. 

Scalding carcass in hot water.


Removing the remaining hair and feathers with a gas burner.


How a rooster turned into food.


We didn't invite friends for this 'event'. The reason was that this was the first time for us to take life of a living creature bigger than a mosquito, and we wanted to do it right, that is, quick and painless for the rooster. We wanted to focus on the process, not to be distracted by guests.

If some people had participated, though, I believe they would have had some thoughts about the experience, and those thoughts would be different for each person. I'm curious what those thoughts would have been, but as no one was there, all I can do is to share mine:

Wow, I'm capable of killing a chicken without emotional breakdown.
But I also realized that being a vegetarian, albeit a compromised one, is still the best choice for me.

I felt bad about taking Donald's life, because he obviously wanted to live. From his viewpoint, our unilateral decision was not fair at all. What made me feel a bit better was knowing that Donald lived in what was pretty close to a chicken paradise. He had a whole kingdom to reign, he was never confined to a small cage, he always had plenty of food to satisfy his hunger, unlimited access to hens to satisfy his other appetites, and fairly good access to human legs to bite. He was a happy (and spoiled) rooster. He did not wish to die, that's for sure, but he died quickly and almost painlessly. Millions of chickens killed all over the world every day have far less enjoyable life and face more gruesome death. So I want to believe that what we did was not so cruel.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Another uneventful day.

I just realized that I didn't post a single picture of our chickens (and half-our goats) this month, so here's a quick update.


Chickens are happy as usual. As the fowl proverb goes, No events are the best events, so today's uneventful morning was the best morning ever, just like yesterday's ...

Free range chickens out in the run. Solar sharing farm.
"I'm so thrilled! This morning is so uneventful!"
(May 31, 2016)

Free range chickens in Japan, Tsukuba. Solar sharing.
Morning thrill from another angle.
(May 31, 2016)

I think we need a reminder that these chickens actually work, and full time! Here is a papparazzi snapshot from a few weeks ago.

Free range eggs, Tsukuba, Japan. Solar sharing
"Just ended my shift, see ya tomorrow!"

And here's today's harvest!

Freshly laid free range eggs. Solar sharing farm in Tsukuba, Japan.
Hello, we're future sunnysideups and omelettes. (May 31, 2016)

That's it about work.

Our chickens rarely have direct interaction with goats, but when they do, it's very exciting. For the goats, especially.

Baby goats attacking a chicken coop.

Goats and chickens under solar panels.

A baby goat and a chicken inside a chicken coop.

Three baby goats having fun destroying a chicken coop.
And so the baby goats messed up everything and then went home
for a good night sleep.


Goats are, well, happy as usual!

Natchan on a sunny morning two days ago.

More Natchan on a sunny morning. 


And here are the triplets.

The triplets are now over two months old and have switched to grass diet, although they still crave for mum's milk, which the mum is rarely willing to give them.
Last time, of the three siblings only the girl had a name, Momo-chan. Now the two boys have names too! Aito-kun (the one with horns) and Akio-kun (without horns).

And finally, a fail-proof way how to become a goat's best friend.

(Hint: Repeat action in the video at least once a day. 
ALWAYS have the right leaves or grass.
After two weeks, goats will be emotionally bonded to you.)

***** The end of quick update *****