June: the month when the Pacific Northwest impatiently waits for summer. If the sun comes out, everyone runs to the window to look at it. Read the rest of this entry
Nothing changes much around here, including the fundraising, to my surprise. Give Big 2020 was as successful this year as it was last year! It’s especially gratifying to have so many repeat donors. Once again, we had a number of totally anonymous donors, so if you mystery guys are reading this, thanks! Or maybe it should be thanks again! Read the rest of this entry
Yes, in fact Princess Blur is still living in my bathroom. She gets two different heart meds, three times a day, so it’s nice to have her conveniently located. At night we can hear the wheezing that is a symptom of her heart murmur. She hops up to her roost with ease, but has never in five months hopped out of the bathtub. The loose feathers redistribute when she flaps and I noticed recently that The Bartender has moved his toothbrush into another bathroom. She is well into her slumber when I go in to brush my teeth in the dark. I don’t want to disturb herby flipping on the lights.
When I first brought her in, I toyed with the idea of making some chicken diapers, but I wasn’t that optimistic about her diagnosis. She hangs out with me as I work at my desk, but I am getting tired of washing unspeakably soiled fleece blankets. I guess diapers are my next project.
The latest hurdle was beak trimming. When you spend your days on fleece blankets instead of dirt, your beak will grow long and interfere with your bite so that it’s hard to take your meds. Trimming her beak was even less fun than it sounds, so the goal is not to ever have to do that again. Online, I learned that the common solution was to give her a brick. The Princess was almost as insulted by that brick as she was for the beak trimming itself! I took a walk around the house looking for a suitable brick substitute. If you have seen my house, it will come as no surprise to you that the perfect object was sitting on the same shelf where I put it in 2008 after I bought it in Mexico City. My pig-faced metate makes a perfect seed dish for Princess, and with any luck it will wear down her beak as she digs through for the sunflower seeds.
And yes, Samantha, my Little Dead Hen, is still out in the infirmary, getting meds once every five days. An impossible regimen but it’s on my calendar and I usually remember. The lymphoma is ever-so-slowly taking her down, and she is painfully thin. She wants to be out with the flock, but she is so frail she falls over at the slightest breeze. And then can’t get up. In the infirmary, her food and water is efficiently located, she has a heated pad, and she can see and hear everyone, day and night.
She cries for me in the morning when I deliver her breakfast: a little dish of rice, pancakes, or her new favorite: corn muffins. She also gets yogurt, cottage cheese, scrambled or hard boiled egg sprinkled with probiotic powder. Topped off with frozen corn or peas, maybe some fruit. She eats less and less of it, to the delight of my hen Angel, who hops up for first dibs on yesterday’s leftovers. Still, Samantha looks forward to her breakfast every morning, and digs right in.
Suddenly, our late-season snow melted, the ice thawed, and the sun came out. When the flock invades the back yard for the afternoon Garden Party, Samantha takes over a small corner of Dobby’s old pen. She has a heat lamp, food and water, and nobody can bump into her. When it warms up nicely, I even bring out Princess. They are both lonely but essentially bedridden and they have fun chatting and sitting in their rocking chairs together. We’re still going to have wet and chilly spring weather, and I will have to decide every day whether it is worth the risk to put them out. I will be rearranging the furniture out there so they have access to a larger covered area, and I can add another heat lamp if they use it.
I also have a little dove who commutes. It seems like every winter there is one who has a tough time and ends up on the ground. They came in as an established flock in 2008, so none are younger than eleven years old, and most are much older. Anyway, this little bird went into a heated cage in the barn before the snow, but she still isn’t flying much. Putting her straight back out with the flock was not successful, so I have fixed up a transitional cage out there for her. She first spent days there, returning to the barn at night. When it warmed up, she spent the nights in the outside cage. Finally, I have started letting her out during the day, and the flock is more accepting, though she still can’t fly very high. She’s trying harder now, so even though I am still caging her at night, I think she’ll soon be flying back up to the high perches.
So now I have two hens going out to the backyard every afternoon, and a dove commuting between her flock and a night cage every day. Who else has cabin fever?
How about Fat Bonnie? She used to join the Garden Party every afternoon. After she picked up three botfly larvae that had to be $urgically removed, I swore she would never see the outdoors again. That was several years ago, when the rat situation had reached epic proportions. The risk is much smaller now. So out she goes.
The Graveyard used to be her favorite place in the yard, and now it is conveniently fenced. This means that when it is time to take her indoors, I need only chase her around The Graveyard instead of the entire yard and aviary. Lucky me.
At dusk, send your thoughts and prayers to me as I herd the flock back into the aviary (and flush out the freeloading wild mallards), carry Samantha back to the infirmary, return the dove to her night cage, lift old Coffee Bean up to her favorite roost (Didn’t I mention that spoiled hen earlier?), bring Princess indoors, take a breath, and chase Bonnie until she allows me to lift her up and
toss transfer her back into the kitchen. Then Princess gets her meds, and I am grateful to have a bartender on staff.
Gratuitous Dobby photo:
This invasion took place during a Garden Party, long ago. This is the rabbit palace, but they are out in the yard. A couple of hens and a marauding capybara have taken up residence.
I took a little trip to Canada in February to witness my son’s marriage. The big news is this fabulous Guinea Pig coffee cup that his bride bought me!
We also went to Costco (they have poutine at the snack bar!) where I saw this nice Mason Bee house. My store has them, too, so I got one when I returned from Toronto.
Mason bees have been using the frames on this window screen. They lay their eggs in there, daubing with mud between, and then they seal it up. when the bees emerge, they come screaming out straight at my shoulder if I’m sitting on the chair right there. It’s annoying for both of us.
They also have a couple mudded-up areas on the siding, above the door and windows. They are all under a wide overhang on the East side of the house.
Do you think the bees will use the new house? I have it mounted deep under the wide overhang, high on the East side of the house, within walking distance of local shops and schools. I’ll let you know.
Meanwhile, we were talking about ducks, right? The afternoon Garden Party is when all the poultry explode from the aviary to eat snacks with Dobby and destroy the back yard. They usually return to roost, but I often have to herd them in to the aviary at dusk. I do a head count to make certain nobody gets locked out. It’s harder than it sounds, and I am always surprised to discover a duck pacing outside the aviary as I lock up. The last time it happened, it was a suspicious drake, notably without his lady friend. A third sweep of the garden revealed Bev, one of my two Muscovy hens, snug on Princess’s tiny nest in Dobby’s pen. One more hiding place to check on this season.
We have the opposite problem, too. About a million local mallards now know about the afternoon garden party, and it isn’t uncommon to see thirty of them on the roof, waiting for the Happy Hour snacks to be put out. Lately, to discourage them, I have varied the snack time, or offered nothing at all. Not to be deterred, they all parade into the aviary to help themselves to the layer pellets in the barn. Setting out the Happy Hour treats inside the aviary backfires for the same reason. The herding happens later, and I call this game Brown Duck at Dusk. My own flock is in the aviary/barn, and I could close the gate and call it a day, except for the mallards who can’t find their way back out. They panic when they see me, hitting the top wire, crashing into the fence, pacing at the gate itself, but not at the gate opening. This is a skilled herding: keeping their attention, quelling the panic, easing them toward the gate, using “eye” and body language like a Border Collie. Dobby likes to help, and because they are wary of him, I can use his presence to drive them to the gate. Unless he is sitting at the gate. Oh, Dobby!
Currently, there is a third herding. Twice a day for fourteen days, eye drops for Sal. Tony, Vinny, & Sal are a tight sub-flock who came in to sanctuary together about five years ago. The aviary is big, but it is set up with a barn and a bully pen that I use to sequester the flock for various reasons. The trick is to herd as few animals as possible (but including Sal) into a “corner” so I can nab him. Again with the Border Collie skills, I move them gradually into the barn or bully pen, without spooking anybody. The herd thins until I have Tony, Vinny and Sal separated out. Moving Sal (who looks remarkably like Vinny) onto the bench (Get out of here, Kitty Hawk!) I can finally administer one eye drop to his left eye. I’m halfway through the treatment, fourteen more round-ups to go.
This is why I try not to move quickly or make the flock scatter. There’s always a smart-aleck who jumps up, down, or performs a risky evasion technique. I wasn’t a witness to Conchita’s Folly (when she broke her leg) but now that she’s healed and rejoined the flock, I have noticed she is always flying up to a high point. Let’s not repeat the broken leg, okay?
Dobby’s limping is worse during cold weather. The calcification that occurred during the healing of his fractured vertebra pinches a nerve, causing a sciatica-like pain. I know it well, and he walks like me. He can still hop up to his pool, though it is too cold to swim. He prefers a hot tub this time of year.
Dobby is eating my bamboo hedge, one bucketful at a time. He also has an Instant Pasture in the back yard. After eight winters of lousy winter front yard grazing, it finally occurred to me that he might “graze” on scattered hay. Sure enough, strewn-about rain-soaked hay has been a big hit. With a bit of luck, some of the seeds will sprout in spring.
Gentrification of the kitchen continues unabated. Fat Bonnie, who moved into the kitchen four years ago, has finally overcome her terror of wide open spaces. Every night, after Dobby went out to bed in his night pen, The Bartender cleaned his area, and we spent the next hour cajoling the rabbit into running around the corner to play in the area he set up for her.
Enter Phoenix the pigeon. Now that we wheel his cage in there, too, Fat Bonnie races around to claim the ground plane before he gets out. She lets us pet her, she begs for treats, she hauls out verboten birdseed, rips wallpaper off the wall, exactly like a regular pet rabbit. So, we traded Good Bonnie for Bad Bonnie, but she seems a lot happier.
Blogging is not a priority for me this month. Dobby is participating in NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. The Prince has decided to write his autobiography. You might think this has nothing to do with me, but it has resulted in a lot of encouragement, research, consultation, and plain old butt-kicking from ye olde Farm Manager. He wants to do this very much, but he hasn’t the discipline or skills to go it alone.
Fortunately, my illustrator, Sonya Reasor has stepped in to help Dobby on this worthy project. It’s inspiring to see Dobby come to life on someone else’s sketch pad for a change.
My mornings are busy, and in addition to the usual chores, leaves are falling onto the wire netting that secures the roof of the aviary. If I don’t pick those before it snows, the weight of snow+leaves=broken roof. We had temperatures down to freezing night before last, so I will soon be winterizing the swimming pool pump and packing away all of the freeze-sensitive accoutrements around here. Time to switch Dobby to his heavier blankets, ratchet up his heater, increase his corn ration.
The three new four-year-old Golden Laced Wyandotte hens have already moved from the bully pen out to the general population. I guess they have never had a roosting perch, because they roost in a huddled pile-up next to the cat food dishes. Not a big hit with the cats, but they are sweet old traditional hens. They remind me of the hens in Chicken Run. (One of the best movies ever made, BTW.) Frieda, in particular is a friendly old gal, curious about everything I do.
Princess Blur is one of a kind, and I have known quite a few chickens. She befriended my old handicapped hen, Lula, and I have to carry them everywhere together. Blur is the only hen who doesn’t go home to roost, unlike the old adage. Oh, no, she flies up into the apple tree at dusk. Fortunately she prefers a low branch where I can pluck her down and carry her to her Official, if not preferred, roost in the safe and dry barn, near her beloved Lula.
Princess Blur is so funny and tiny. My other hens don’t know what to make of her.
Dobby is waiting patiently for me to take him to the front yard. The grass is nearly gone, but he still finds greens here and there. The bamboo is spreading like wildfire, but he eats it all winter long.
We walk through this storage area when we go to the front yard. We have had record rainfall and the ground is saturated. My entire yard is a mudhole, and there is an inch of standing water over most of the front lawn.
Dobby wants everyone to see his feet.
Dobby’s preference is to have his grazing catered so that he can enjoy a snack with his friends. I used to provide a cracked corn snack in the afternoons, but a gang of mallards keep crashing the party. Seriously, 30-40 mallards fly over, land in Dobby’s pool, and present vouchers for drinks and bar snacks as if they were entitled. I have been weaning them of this indulgence, but there is still a core group of half a dozen mallards who know their way around here and go into the aviary where the real duck food is available. Scoundrels.
For some reason, I cannot take a decent photograph of my silly little white duck, Ping. Today she sat and gave me the stinkeye while I administered medication to a dove. Yesterday, Norman and the flock was antsy at the end of the day. Turns out Ping forgot how to come around the apple tree fence, and was left behind, frantically pacing when Norman brought everyone else into the aviary for the night.
It isn’t much different indoors. Rats, it turns out, are little beggars. Fortunately, they are eternally grateful even for stale graham crackers.
We are all devastated at the death of our little old guinea pig, Carl Sagan. No one felt the loss more than Stevie Ray, who kept vigil in his special observation post long beyond necessity. He gazed longingly at the former location of Carl’s cuddle cup, and rather ignored snack time unless I handed him the treats. Fortunately, Squirrel was ready to be introduced into Stevie Ray’s spacious cage, and after nightly floor time on neutral territory, the big day arrived.
During the Monday Mayhem otherwise known as Guinea Pig Cage Cleaning Day, Squirrel moved in. He was so, well, squirrely, that I wasn’t convinced it would work, but poor Stevie Ray was so despondent, that even rambunctious Squirrel was a welcome respite. The two boars are getting along nicely. Stevie Ray is eating normally again and as long as the carrots keep coming, Squirrel will be happy!
Dobby goes out to sleep in his night pen every night. Fat Bonnie takes advantage of this and hops around to his side of the wall where we set up toys and treats for her. She would like it better if we didn’t also let the birds out for an evening flight. They like to land on her blanket and tease her. It’s not nice to tease dummies, but she is smarter than I thought! Not only does she “stand up for a cookie” but she also “turns around for a blueberry!” I never thought I’d see the day when Bonnie could do a trick!