Poppy George’s Farm Advice: Start a Flock of Sheep, Fertile Eggs in Laying Hens, Treating Bumblefoot and More

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Buy some Hampshire sheep to get your flock off to a good start.

“Poppy George” Plitt graduated from college with a degree in agriculture in 1932. During the years that followed he made a good many friends and a name for himself (as a gentleman, inventor and executive) in the field of bird and animal husbandry and care. At various points in his career, Plitt served as Director of Nutritional Research and Field Services for two of the East’s larger grain mills. He is also the originator of Pride of the Valley Wild Bird Food and Kleen Kitty cat litter. Plitt now raises and trains standard-bred horses and keeps a wide variety of other birds and animals on a New York farm. 

“Poppy George” is now sharing his experience by giving MOTHER’s readers down-to-earth advice on the care and feeding of homestead livestock.  

Question: I have a few dollars and want to start a flock of sheep. Should I buy registered stock or just plain woollies? 

Spend your “few dollars” on 12 to 15 — more if you can afford them — young crossbred ewes (not registered). That way, you’ll get extra vigor for your money. Then buy a male of the Suffolk or Hampshire sheep variety, not necessarily registered, and you’re off to a good start. (One ambitious ram can serve 40 females.) Be sure, though, to look at the mouths and teeth of the sheep you plan to purchase. If they’re too old, pass them by and find young, healthy stock elsewhere.

Sheep combine the profitable elements of cattle and swine without the high investment. You must like these animals, however, to make raising them a profitable enterprise.

How long will laying hens continue to produce fertile eggs after the rooster has been removed from a flock? 

If the rooster was doing his job properly, your hens’ eggs will continue to be fertile for 10 days to two weeks after he’s gone. The pattern follows the laying cycle of each bird: That is, if a hen produces daily for seven days, stops for a day or two and then lays for another week, the first batch of eggs should be fertile.

I have a stallion and a nice mare with a spring foal. There are little orange “somethings” attached to the hairs of the horses’ legs. What are they, and what if anything should I do about them?  

The objects are the eggs of the botfly, which fastens them to the leg hairs of horses. The animals are annoyed by these attachments and try to remove them, but ingest them in the process . . . and the life cycle of the insect is underway. The botfly eggs hatch in the stomach and the larvae attach themselves like barnacles to the digestive tract, causing their hosts pain and loss of weight. To help prevent such an infestation, keep your horses’ leg hair clipped short and — after the first killing frost in your area — worm the animals for this pest. One worm treatment is usually enough to do the job.

What future do you predict for small poultrymen like me over the next ten years? 

A profitable future exists for you small-but-efficient egg producers because your labor costs are negligible and you’re likely to do a more conscientious job of management . . . thereby reducing production expenses. Equally important is the marketing factor. Usually a small-scale poultryman can retail his products at a premium . . . so aim for success on the basis of personal service and quality, and you’ll retain the loyalty of your customers.

I know you’re into animals rather than plants, Poppy, but do you happen to know anything about the berries of the jujube tree . . . if there is such a species? 

Yes, my field is animal husbandry, but I try to keep alert to new findings in the related area of nutrition . . . and I learned recently that jujube berries (genus Ziziphus) are used to treat hypertension. A series of experiments by a Soviet scientist has confirmed the natural medicinal value of the fruit, which contains eight times as much vitamin P as lemon peel, five to six times as much vitamin C as oranges and many trace elements as well. The tree is hardy and easily withstands temperatures as low as below 22 degrees and as high as 104 degrees.

A neighbor told me it was dangerous to let my cow and goats eat pasture grass after frost has hit our area. Poppy, I’m trying to stretch the hay I have in the barn and wonder whether he’s correct. 

I don’t agree with your neighbor. Before the advent of man and farming as we know it, cattle, sheep, deer, goats, etc., were already here . . . staying healthy and multiplying without prepared foods, just by eating whatever was available year-round.

(I agree about native grasses eaten free-choice, Poppy, but I also know — from sad firsthand experience-that imported and “developed” forage crops are a different story. In short, newly frosted ladino, sudax, bromegrass — even the frosted green stalks of some hybrid corn — can kill a cow deader than the proverbial doornail. A lush stand of clover or alfalfa drenched in dew can also cause cows to bloat so fast that half your herd can be down and dead before you know anything’s wrong. . . if you foolishly let formerly penned animals suddenly eat their fill of such pasture.

The secret is to start your cows, goats, etc., on fresh pasture — a little bit at a time — very early in the spring and then gradually increase the amount of such forage everyday. Never suddenly turn the stock into a fresh pasture (especially if it’s dew-soaked) for the first time and allow them to eat their fill. Ladino, brome and sudaxeven alfalfa and clover — should never be planted in pure or nearly pure stands . . . but only in mixes that contain plenty of orchard and native blade grasses. Beware of early frosts and keep your stock from eating frosted “developed” forage. It’s generally OK for the animals to consume such food once it’s thawed out and dried off, however . . . especially if they always have some cured hay — or even straw — in the barn or barnlot to eat free-choice so that they can balance out their diet as they see fit. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS.)

How old must my heifer be before I can have her bred? 

The heifer — if properly fed and of good size — can be bred at 13 or 14 months. She’ll then calve at 24 months, the ideal time.

Several of my hens have large swellings on their feet, around the toes and on the heels. My neighbors and a vet say that this condition is contagious and the birds must be destroyed. Is this necessary, Poppy George? 

Your hens undoubtedly have “bumblefoot,” which is not contagious but is caused by bruising. Either your roosts or perches are too high off the ground, or you’ve spread insufficient litter (straw, sawdust, shavings, Staz-Dry, etc.) on the floor of the coop. The layer should be three to four inches deep to act as a cushion.

Here’s how to treat bumblefoot and help the affected birds: On the bottom of the sore foot will be a scab or core. Pick this out (you’ll find a cheesy material in the swelling) and pour iodine into the wound. In a week or so, if the condition of the henhouse is corrected, your flock will be healthy and happy..