What do you do with a handful of empty calf hutches? Fill them up! We have a pair of lambs using one hutch for a shelter, a pair of pigs residing in one of the super hutches and a hen and chick who use another calf hutch for their evening quarters. Plus, since we've had such a nice run of bull calves, I have a group of bull calves living in the other super hutch. We considered using a calf hutch for a dog house for our new puppy, but thanks to the cold snap right after we got her, Suzy now gets to spend her nights in our entryway.
The only critters we planned to be housing in calf hutches this summer, besides the bull calves, were the pigs. We raised two pairs of pigs while we were farming up north and thoroughly enjoyed both raising them and then filling our freezer. So when the idea came up this winter about raising pigs again, it was only a matter of finding a pair of feeder pigs.
We were referred to a farm family near St. Francis, Minn. that farrows year-round (and also milks cows). Monika and I picked up our pigs three weeks ago, while Dan was at school. After Dan got home, he and Monika spent the rest of the day in the pig pen befriending the pigs. All I can say is, I know how mean pigs can be and I will be eternally grateful that Max and Ruby are incredibly nice pigs.
The day after the pigs arrived, we went to pick out our lambs and bring them home. I've wanted lambs for several years now to mow the lawn behind the barn where it's too dangerous to drive the lawnmower. We were discussing our plans for pigs with Glen's cousin at Easter dinner when he offered, "Well, we've got lambs, if you're interested."
I looked over at Glen and I could see the wheels already turning in his head. We told his cousin we'd give it some thought. It really didn't take much thought. By the time we got home that day, we had finished our plans for housing the lambs.
It turned out one of our neighbors wanted a couple of lambs, too, so the kids and I piled into our neighbors' truck and the five of us drove to Foley, Minn., to pick out lambs. The night before, Glen had asked me, "Do you know how to check a lamb's mouth?"
We had pigs on occasion while I was growing up, but we never had sheep. (Maybe it was because we also had timberwolves.) I didn't know the first thing about checking a lamb's mouth. So, Glen gave me a makeshift lesson on lambs' mouths.
After listening to Dan talk for the entire hour there and the entire hour back home, I think our neighbors were ready for some peace and quiet. Other than that, the trip was uneventful. We came home with a nice ewe lamb and a nice wether.
When I checked on the lambs a while later to see how they were adjusting to their new accommodations, I found Dan and Monika in the calf hutch with the lambs and a bag of markers. They were coloring the lambs so they would be able to tell which lamb was which.
More importantly, I saw the lambs were eating grass. Amen. The bottle lamb Glen and I raised while we were farming up north - who was adopted for the purpose of mowing lawn - never ate a single blade of grass. He ran around on his three legs, bucking people and living on calf starter he stole from the calves. He should have died from a copper overdose, but didn't.
To complete baby animal week, I found that our setting hen had a chick underneath her when I was collecting eggs one night. The unfortunate part of the chick's arrival was that Glen had mistakenly told me it takes 28 days for chicks to hatch. I marked the calendar when I put the eggs under the hen. But it only takes 21 days for chicken eggs to hatch. Since I thought I had another week, I didn't have the hutch set up for the hen and her chicks. I didn't think it would be safe to leave them in the nest box overnight, so after chores that night I rigged up a screen door for a calf hutch and moved the new family.
The other unfortunate part about letting a new hen hatch chicks was that only two of the ten fertilized eggs I put under her hatched. A week later, one of the chicks died. Now we have one chick. I figured a mother hen ought to be able to keep an eye on just one chick, so I took the door off the hutch and let them out. They still come back to the hutch at night and, this way, I don't have to feed them.
Our neighbors' children and grandchildren were home for Memorial Day weekend and asked if they could bring the little ones over to see the cows and calves. I told one of the moms that we also had lambs, pigs, a chick and a new puppy.
"Wow, it's like you have your own petting zoo," she said.
Yeah, most days it is definitely a zoo.