Category Archives: Daily Drama

never a dull moment

Daily Drama 82 Back to School

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Daily Drama 82 Back to School

Once upon a time, my days were simple. Dobby, the ducks and hens, the cats and I had a daily routine. I’d go out to the aviary, check food and water, come back in. I let Dobby decide whether or not to help. In the afternoon, I fed the cats and secured them in their section of the barn. The ducks and hens exited the aviary for their garden party in the back yard. Everyone shared some bird seed, and then Dobby and I went to the front yard. At dusk, everyone went to bed.

Dobby was the best helper, ever. And he knew it, too.

Everything, and I do mean everything, has changed. Dobby is gone. The sheep have arrived. One cat has departed and the other has diabetes. Two new ferals have arrived. One little hen has a heart murmur and lives indoors. We recently went off daylight savings time, blasting our days into darkness before cocktail hour. The Garden Party starts shortly after lunch and there’s never enough time for me to run out during the day to do an errand. There have been enough changes lately to disrupt everything and everyone, and it seems I am constantly training and reorienting the flock.

No no no, Princess! Not on the sink again!

Princess moved indoors a year ago and gets meds 3x a day. She sleeps in the bathroom and spends her days in the living room. In the late afternoon, she goes outdoors for the garden party where she gets to be a chicken for a couple hours. In summer, I give her 4:00 meds and out we go. This time of year, I toss her out the kitchen door, feed the cats, move the sheep to the front, locate Princess for her 4:00 meds, and go back out to supervise the sheep in the front yard. At dusk I can hear her hollering for me to let her into the kitchen, so I go back there to let her in the door. The Bartender hears her cackling in the kitchen and escorts her up to the bathroom. She walks all the way through the kitchen, turns right into the hall, hops up half a flight of stairs to the bedroom, all the way coaxed by The Bartender. She stops where the bathroom tile starts and wipes her beak on the carpet until he gives up and sets her onto the edge of the bathtub. A couple minutes later he goes back in, takes her down from where she has flown up to perch on the edge of the bathroom sink, and sets her back down on the edge of the bathtub, where she sleeps. Until I wake her for her midnight meds. And clean the sink. Those fancy feathered feet pick up and carry in a lot of mud.

She really is a princess. (Photo by Briana Bell)

Princess moved indoors a year ago and gets meds 3x a day. She sleeps in the bathroom and spends her days in the living room. In the late afternoon, she goes outdoors for the garden party where she gets to be a chicken for a couple hours. In summer, I give her 4:00 meds and out we go. This time of year, I toss her out the kitchen door, feed the cats, move the sheep to the front, locate Princess for her 4:00 meds, and go back out to supervise the sheep in the front yard. At dusk I can hear her hollering for me to let her into the kitchen, so I go back there to let her in the door. The Bartender hears her cackling in the kitchen and escorts her up to the bathroom. She walks all the way through the kitchen, turns right into the hall, hops up half a flight of stairs to the bedroom, all the way coaxed by The Bartender. She stops where the bathroom tile starts and wipes her beak on the carpet until he gives up and sets her onto the edge of the bathtub. A couple minutes later he goes back in, takes her down from where she has flown up to perch on the edge of the bathroom sink, and sets her back down on the edge of the bathtub, where she sleeps. Until I wake her for her midnight meds. And clean the sink. Those fancy feathered feet pick up and carry in a lot of mud.

Poor old Kitty Hawk, before he moved into the infirmary. (Photo by Briana Bell)

Princess is fairly well trained, though we still think she can make it up to the bathroom by herself. But here I am trying to write this blog and my alarm for Kitty Hawk’s evening meds just went off. He is at my mercy for his insulin, and no amount of training can make him do it himself. This training is for me. Gone are the leisurely mornings over coffee and current events, checking my email. In order to give him insulin twice a day, evenly spaced, night owl that I am, I have chosen 9:45, AM & PM, for his injections. If I drag myself out of bed early enough, I can still enjoy my coffee and be out there for the morning “stabbing.” No, Kitty Hawk is not curled up on my couch, he’s out in the barn. Jacket on, boots on, cat food, duck lettuce and treats all ready to go. My chores take from half an hour to two hours, depending upon a million variables. It’s the evening stabbing, in the dark, that’s the most fun. That’s the one I just did. Kitty Hawk is doing okay, but lately he had a setback and is locked into the infirmary. He’s so wobbly I am afraid he’ll topple into Swimming Pool #5, currently deteriorating and barely functioning as a duck pond.

So how about the new feral cats? What kind of training do cats get? In addition to my usual chores, I spend about a half hour a day with the new cats. Considered unadoptable by the Alley Cat Project, I took them on. Half-Stache had done well with his foster owner. Before that, he had a dismal but not surprising feral response to adoption and refused to leave his cage. He was shy when he came here, but he’s been very responsive, probably because I am kind of stingy with the cat treats, so he had to beg for them. For this cat, it was an excellent strategy and we are best buddies, now. His partner, a female named Larry, had never warmed up to her previous owner or her foster. She’s so pretty, I think everyone tried to make her into a house cat. She got fat and frightened. Here, she is continuously on the prowl. She climbs trees and races around like a wild thing. I think she wanted to be an outdoor feral again, and she can be that cat here. Every day she approaches closer and closer to me, and I have even been able to pet her– under her terms, only. So there is that training, which is that both cats have trained me to allow them to approach on their own terms. On my side, I have some strict rules: they must allow me to lock them up in the cat barn during the garden party. The gates are open to allow the ducks and hens to return to the barn whenever they want to, but the kitty cats are not allowed to leave the aviary. They have been quick to learn the routine and I find them napping in there, waiting for their food, every afternoon. They have been extremely cooperative.

Hamish & Charlie (Photo by Briana Bell)

So guess who have not been cooperative? Charlie & Hamish, the ridiculous sheep. When I open the gate for Garden Party, the geese, ducks, and hens are supposed to come out into the yard, as they have been doing for almost twenty years. But the sheep are, well, intimidating, and they stand by the door. Nobody comes out. The sheep are not allowed to go in, so of course, in they go! I have some little fence panels* I arrange like chutes to keep out the sheep, but then the ducks can’t come out. So the sheep go in, then the ducks come out. Next, I race to close the barn door, because the sheep like to eat the chicken food. Dobby liked it, too, but his big schnozzola couldn’t really fit in the bin. The delicate narrow sheep noses fit perfectly. And they can eat enough chicken food in about five minutes to make them sick. Or so I have heard, but I don’t want to find out whether it’s four minutes or six.

Jump up and touch your nose, Hamish! (Photo by Briana Bell)

So the sheep are locked out of the barn, but gallivanting about in the aviary. The ducks are in the garden waiting for their birdseed and cracked corn that I have been giving them for almost twenty years. The wild mallards are patiently waiting on the roof of the house. The squirrels and crows are gathering for peanuts. The birdseed and peanuts are stored in galvanized garbage cans on the deck. I ever-so-quietly lift the lid off the can– gallopy gallopy and the sheep run out of the aviary and clatter across the deck and I suddenly have one set of ram horns under each armpit. Mind you, the birdseed and cracked corn can make them sick, too, but I can dole out a safe ration, and anyway this is for the geese, ducks, and chickens, right? I am still working on this, but I think they are training me to escort the sheep all the way to the front yard before I dole out the garden party treats. That means convincing the sheep to follow me through a gate, into the chute, through another gate, and then out another gate (this one stays open) and into the front yard. At which point I have to run back and close the middle gate. then I can open the chute so the ducks can go through. Now I can give the ducks their treats. As I lift the lid off the galvanized garbage can, I hear Baa (Charlie makes the classic sheep sound) and Aaaargh (Hamish sounds like an old man falling backwards off the top of a ladder). They heard the lid and came back from the front yard already, and are waiting for me at the closed gate. We’re still deciding who is training whom on this activity.

Charlie loves visitors. (Photo by Briana Bell)

Target training for the sheep is literally crackers, as in Saltines. They both touch their nose to the target on command, and after the training session they continue to touch their nose to it, “just in case.” Charlie does a very nice “turn around” while Hamish prefers the classic “jump up.” I’d like to weigh them, but getting them to operate independently is problematic. Using the target I can get anywhere from zero to eight feet on the scale, which is perfectly useless. I guess I need to work on “taking turns” first. I’m also working on halter training. They love to stick their mouth through the halter opening to eat crackers and are getting used to the feel of it on their head. Will I eventually be able to take them for walks? Runs, maybe. Sheep like to run and they are speedy!

Hamish thinks he is in charge, but Charlie is more patient and wins out in the end. (Photo by Briana Bell)

So, we’ve made it to the front yard, the sheep have done a few tricks and are settling down to eat the shrubbery (There’s a rumor going around that they eat grass, but so far, no.) I decide to sit down for a few minutes, close my eyes, relax. Quack quack quack! That’s my alarm going off. Time to give Princess her 4pm meds. She’s in the back yard and we are in the front. That means sneaking past the sheep and getting through that gate without them noticing. Even if I sneak in, they are always waiting for me when I head back out. And Princess? Takes her meds like a champ. She’s all trained.

Squirrel is getting a lot of attention these days. (Photo by Briana Bell)

Some events are easy and bedtime is one. Unlike human kids, animals seem to know when bedtime is, and are eager to settle in for the night. How refreshing! But I’m not through yet. Squirrel the guinea pig has toenail fungus, and needs a foot soak. I know, sounds crazy, doesn’t it, but it’s similar to ours. Soak the foot once a day for a month or two, and it might go away. He’s also losing weight for no apparent reason, so he gets a ration of oats, and he’s enthusiastic enough about the oats to sit still for the soaking while he munches away. He still likes to step on the dish and spill the soak solution, so we have a bit more training to do.

So here’s the nutshell version of the training schedule:

  • Morning cat stab
  • New cat orientation
  • New cat feeding and naptime lockup
  • Garden party shifts and treats
  • Sheep target training
  • Princess meds
  • Bedtime for outdoor birds
  • Princess bedtime
  • Squirrel foot soak
  • Evening cat stab

Hey, I’m looking for volunteers! Anyone want to come do the evening cat insulin injection? Pretty please?

*Lately I have observed Charlie calculating the height of the little fence panels and analyzing the length of the runway and landing strip on both sides. I don’t let him rest his chin there any more.

Photo Credits: Many of these photos were taken by my board member, Briana. Thank you!

 

Daily Drama 81 – Everybody Jumps

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Daily Drama 81 – Everybody Jumps

The neighbor’s tree started it. A rotten alder next door leapt across the fence in an attempt to reach my house. It crushed my pigeon loft, a former chicken coop donated by a fellow who dropped off his two elderly hens, Angel and Coffee Bean. The pigeons had moved in, nested, and hatched a baby before I had a chance to remove the egg during a catastrophic snowstorm. They were now loose and Phoenix gleefully greeted me at the gate when I entered the aviary that morning. The tree had rested on the top of a fence post, sparing the fence structure and panels. It touched the dove cage without marking it and reached the roof of my house, sparing the barn beneath by suspending itself neatly between the fence post and roof. Only one rebellious branch poked through the barn roof. It could have been worse, but the strategic placement of the suicidal tree meant that the bulk of the insurance check went toward tree removal. The insurance check that I received within a week of the catastrophe. Thank you. (Most insurance companies do not cover farm buildings. Does yours?)

Repairs kept us hopping. Connor had the tree carefully lifted off the farm buildings and house within a day or so of the disaster. Remik was out here the day I called him and repaired the roof the following day. The Bartender helped me construct a level foundation of concrete pavers for the new chicken coop I am using for a pigeon loft. Meanwhile, in order to discourage the rats living below the dove cage, I spread 17 bags of ready-mix concrete to make a new floor. Icky vermin had discovered that the wire sub-floor was rusted and disintegrating, providing easy access to the scattered seed the doves thoughtfully provided throughout the cage. I have a new handy source of cat poop to drop into the rat holes, and now I see the poor scavenger scurrying hither and yon, possibly homeless. (If I have cat poop, where are the cats and why aren’t they doing their job? Keep reading . . . )

Most of us have seen how goats jump up onto everything, so that’s one reason why I got sheep, instead. I didn’t want goats on the roof of my house. Sheep, as I have discovered, are jumpy, too. I started “target training” by having Charlie and Hamish “turn around.” They immediately caught on and Charlie continued to twirl long after the saltines were gone. A couple days later, I decided to try a new trick, but I was in the front yard and had no “target” handy. Training in the back yard had been so successful that I decided to throw caution to the wind and try it without the target. I asked them to stand up on their hind legs, holding the saltine aloft. They dutifully stood up, one after the other, and then the enthusiasm grew and suddenly they were jumping up for the cracker, and then jumping up on me, and then jumping up on each other, snapping at my hand and then the package of saltines tucked under my arm! The beauty of the target, you see, is that the focus is on the target, and not the hand holding the saltine. We won’t be doing tricks without the target, ever again. Hah! A couple days later, a repairmen was out to the house (a recurring theme around here) and, of course, he wanted to see the sheep. I decided to see if they would do a trick and reached for the saltine package. Before I could grab the target, they were jumping all over the place, all over me, as the repairman slowly backed toward the kitchen door, feeling behind him for the doorknob. He let himself in the door, vaguely mumbling something about how they are certainly well trained when I finally snatched up the target and re-programmed them to turn circles. Next, I’ll try something easy, like getting them onto a scale so I can weigh them.

Shetland Tree-Sheep

Princess, my beautifully behaved House-Hen (she has a heart murmur and receives meds 3x daily) has started jumping, too. She sleeps in the bathroom, but no longer in the bathtub: she jumps up to the edge and perches where she can more easily keep tabs on us during the evening. Earlier this year, we moved her to a day pen in the living room where she is nearer the kitchen flock, though she has never admitted that she is a mere bird. I am not efficient enough for her, so if I am delayed, she will choose a new bedroom for the night. Atop a curtain rod, on the capybara rabbit barrier wall, maybe the kitchen sink. The pet-sitter once found her in the fireplace. Once she is in the bathroom for the night, she generally stays put. Princess hardly ever jumps onto my shoulder when I am brushing my teeth, for instance.

She’s still sick, but stabilized, so I let her out with the other hens for Garden Party in the afternoon. Charlie the sheep quickly discovered that she would shriek and pop into the air if he put his face down at her level and took half a step forward. I had a stern talk with Charlie and he doesn’t tease her any more, though she’s still wary of him. It will be a while before they are sharing birdseed out of the same dish.

Do guinea pigs jump? Of course they do, it’s called “popcorning.” It’s like a miniature Doofus Dance. That’s not really jumping, though, is it? I’m talking about capital J-Jumping, like when one guinea pig catapults herself over a barrier into the other guinea pig cage. Sigh, it’s contagious. I have been working with Daniel Danielle since February, in hopes of moving her in with lonely Squirrel. She was too exuberant for mellow Squirrel, though, and she didn’t really get along with Brutus and Cookie Monster, either. But Danielle was was outgrowing her smaller separate cage. I finally gave up and divided the Dude Ranch into three adjacent pens: Brutus and Cookie Monster kept their section, Squirrel donated a portion of his oversized space to Danielle. My volunteer and I continued to give them floor time in neutral territory, and Cookie Monster’s “Date Nights” with Squirrel became more frequent, and we finally moved Cookie Monster in with Squirrel. I got out my slide rule, calculated the sizes of the spaces, and made adjustments to meet the minimum recommended standards. One big C&C cage divided with more wire grids. It allows them to communicate and eat together without controversy. One day last week, I went in to deliver snacks and discovered Danielle in with Squirrel and Cookie Monster. They were all milling about without concern, but I pulled her out and replaced her to her section and distributed the snacks. In the morning, she was back in with Squirrel and Cookie Monster, snack uneaten. She had jumped back over before I was down the hall. I removed the divider and Squirrel and Cookie Monster quickly investigated their new enlarged territory. I’ll recalculate the areas and fine-tune the divider between Brutus and the Three Musketeers to give Brutus a scosche more space and snug that divider up. Nobody trusts Brutus with other guinea pigs, though she is a sweetheart with people

Dobby lurks.

Grover, in better days. But wait! Who is that lurker? Behind the chair!

My mother always said “You always worry about the wrong thing.” My cat, Grover, passed away a week ago. Not the diabetic cat, Kitty Hawk, but the other one, his good buddy. I had no idea anything was wrong, but then I had him 6 years before he would let me touch his tail, though he finally did a “nose bump” with me most mornings, lately. Apparently, FIV+ ferals often succumb to dental disease, and so went poor Grover. No wonder there was increased rat activity this past couple of months. I jumped right into it, though, and got Kitty Hawk two new feral buddies from the Seattle Alley Cat Project. Larry is a dumb but pretty feral FIV+ female, so skittish she may never tame down, so another Grover-style kitty. Half-Stache has a white spot on half his upper “lip” and he’s feral, but not FIV+. He’s not adoptable due to his distinctly outdoor-only toilet habits. So Kitty Hawk has two new charming kitty friends, caged for introduction purposes. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Daily Drama 78 – The Princess in the Bathtub

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Daily Drama 78 – The Princess in the Bathtub

When I was house hunting and saw the giant Jacuzzi bathtub here, my first thought was “I can have turtles!” In fact, the tub is so big that filling it empties the water heater and the water temperature drops two or three degrees every minute the jets are on. No heater. So the kids had half a dozen friends in there a few times that first summer, but you know the rest.

Not a turtle

Princess flakes out in the bathtub.

My Mille Fleur banty hen has been living there since last October. While I was out of town, The Bartender found her hunkered down in the aviary, looking forlorn. The vet diagnosed her with a heart murmur and prescribed two medications. The heart medicine was originally prescribed for twice a day. We have since increased it to three times daily because she slept all day on twice a day. On three times a day she is walking around and even goes outdoors for a bit in the afternoon. The other medication is for her congestion (and pitiful wheezing), twice a day.

Princess makes a mess. Or two.

I used to pen her near my computer, but she creates quite a minefield.

Princess Blur came in as a young hen named Fleur almost three years ago. Her sister had passed and she was despondent in an annoyingly vocal demonstration of grief. She came here so she would have a flock and maybe not be so sad. It turns out she is just a crazy loud hen with many vocalizations I have yet to catch on video. She’s smart and sassy and has never considered laying an egg. It was about a year ago that she became ill and now she lives indoors and I thought you might be interested in what it’s like to have a hen indoors. Besides messy.

The living room pen

She spends most of her day penned in the living room.

I had surgery a while ago and that means I am in and out of the bathroom at odd hours. When she first moved indoors, Princess used to roost nicely on a dowel I placed across the top of the bathtub. Since my surgery, she has migrated to the edge of the bathtub where she can see The Bartender reading in his chair. She stays there during the night, like a prissy little vulture, waiting for an invalid to scuttle in there to be startled by her unexpected looming presence. Fool that I am, and so as not to disturb the sleeping mini-buzzard, I quietly greet her as I enter, prompting her to stretch, stand and prance along the edge until I escape. One night, half asleep in the bedroom, I heard the tiny thud that meant she had jumped down to the floor. The Bartender found her in the morning, at the doorway threshold, not quite beyond the tile floor, but cautiously short of the bedroom carpet.

Sam and the Princess

This is how you hold a miniature hen.

The early-rising Bartender gives her the morning meds. It’s easy: simply hold the tiny meds out to her on the palm of your hand and she’ll peck them off, one at a time, and Bob’s Your Uncle. Unless she isn’t in the mood and turns her head away. Or she rapidly picks one and sends the other flying (Which one did she take? What am I looking for?) or sometimes she aims between the pills and sends both flying. You have to find them because you don’t want her to find them later, eat them, and overdose.

How tiny are these pills? The 3x a day med is a tiny pale yellow tablet, about 5mm or maybe 1/4″, but then split into quarters. It looks a lot like a small fragment of cracked corn, just like the ones that litter her bathtub floor. The other one is a chewable med, for small dogs. It’s a crumbly chubby oblong chew that tends to shatter when I split it into eighths. The fragment is pale brown like a tiny angular piece of chicken poop. I’m grateful that the pharmacy can now obtain this smaller tablet: it was hellish to split the big ones into sixteenths. Anyway, the eighths are tiny and blend into the debris littering the fleece lining her bathtub floor.

Pill or poop?

Where is that darned pill?

Princess used to be so lethargic that I didn’t feel bad about letting her nap in the bathtub all morning. Once I changed her to 3x day from 2x day, she started standing around, expectantly catching my eye, singing her crazy hen songs all day. Then my post-surgery routine landed me in the living room most of the day, so now Princess has a day pen out there. She’s closer to my motley indoor kitchen flock, she can see the bird feeders outside the window, and she can chortle, squawk, and whirr at us as we walk through “her” living room, scattering feathers.

I made her a Mickey Mouse chicken diaper from a pattern I found online. She’s too little for the fancy ones I can order from them. (I should probably try pigeon diapers, instead.) Well, she hated the diaper, and when she discovered the purple plastic elephant button fasteners, she had that diaper off faster than you can say Jack Robinson. Back to the drawing board. Or back to the ex-pen.

Princess Pedestal

The weather is nice, the deck is repaired, and Princess gets to go outdoors.

For her afternoon pill, I have to lean over, folding my wretched hips and stretching to offer her the tiny yellow fragment. Then she dances and squeals, deciding whether or not to take it. My back starts to ache, my hips protest, and still she contemplates this life changing decision. I wander away to feed the cats and let the outdoor flock out for their afternoon garden party. When I return, she snatches up the pill and lets me carry her to the yard.

Garden Party Time

Princess disappears in the long grass under the apple tree. (Free rotten deck railing available. You haul.)

I don’t know why I bother. She ignores the other hens unless they peck at her, and the ducks and geese don’t exist. The squirrels are annoying and the small wild birds steal “her” food. She has her very own dustbath, though, and there are lots of bugs this summer. By 7pm, with more than two hours of daylight left, Princess is begging to come indoors. I plunk her into the bathtub, she hops up to the roost, and sashays to the side of the tub where she can spy on me as I negotiate the stairs. She’s waiting for her midnight meds.

Hot stuff

Princess basks in the sun.

She stands and greets me every time I enter the bathroom, pass the door, or talk to The Bartender within earshot. Finally, I split her final meds and sit on the edge of the tub with her. Once more, she gobbles both meds, or maybe she sulks and then gobbles, or maybe she blitzes both and sends them flying. I can hear one hit the wall. The other seems to disappear or maybe she launched it into orbit because I never heard it hit the ground. Incredibly, I have almost always found the little rascals, and she does take it when I do. But now it’s time to brush my teeth.

Get off the sink!

The bathtub is to the left, and she likes to roost on the edge these days. Unless she jumps up to the forbidden sink.

Princess Fruitcake has decided that tooth brushing is loads of fun. I once had a budgie who would fly down the hall, make an abrupt turn, and land on my elbow while I was brushing. Pesky even learned to make the sh-sh-sh sound and bob up and down. It was very distracting, but cute. Having a chicken jump onto your elbow or shoulder while you are brushing is not. So, even though she is the center of the universe all day long, while I am brushing my teeth, I turn my back and aggressively ignore her. She prances and coos plaintively. Tonight she fell off the edge of the tub and inexplicably became tangled in my pants leg. I deposited her into the tub where she dramatically dropped onto her side and looked at me with indignation. I reached down and reset her into a more appropriate upright position and she proceeded to strut and cackle as I walked out the door.

Princess Blur

Three years ago, and she hasn’t aged at all.

She was on the edge of the bathtub when I peeked in at bedtime. It would be a good night to sleep through with no nocturnal pit stops. I let The Bartender deal with her in the morning. I was outdoors at the time, but he tells me she was crowing like a rooster. For Pete’s sake, is that why she hasn’t laid any eggs?

 

Daily Drama 77 – Get Out!

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Daily Drama 77 – Get Out!

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.

Princess Blur evaluates the clean blanket prior to strategizing its fall from grace.

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.

Samantha, looking perky at the prospect of an afternoon out of the infirmary.

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.

Samantha and Princess enjoy an afternoon snack together.

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.

Coffee Bean, Windy, and Angel are shocked to discover that Princess has magically reappeared. They hadn’t seen her for months.

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.

Doves in a cage looking at a dove in a cage.

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?

Fat Bonnie is bored.

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. 

Fat Bonnie, eating again, of course.

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:

Peek-a-boo!

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.

Daily Drama 76 – Snow at the Not-So-Funny Farm

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Daily Drama 76 – Snow at the Not-So-Funny Farm

Snow is beautiful, isn’t it? It was so fun to look out the front door and see bountiful snow: fluffy clean snow, looking like Crisco. It’s so quiet. I forgot about that part. You see, Seattle doesn’t get much snow. Not enough to justify snow plows or snow tires, so everybody takes the day off to enjoy the magnificence of it.

This was my front steps.

I got out my snow ruler: nine inches! (23cm) And started to watch the weather forecasts like a fiend. More snow? Freezing temperatures, too? Uh oh. I started to bring in the hummingbird feeders after dusk. Get up at dawn, throw on my flimsy robe, hang them back up, hummers buzzing at the empty hanger, as if to remind me where the feeder belongs.

My official snow ruler

The back yard wild mallards landed in the Crisco snow, rapidly sinking in up to their necks, trudging back up to the surface, flying back up to the roof. Over and over. So funny! I could be mean and toss their ration of cracked corn into the deep snow, but that would be wasteful.

View from the living room. You have to imagine the thunk! thunk! of the ducks landing on the roof.

They quickly learned that the wild bird buffet was being served on the deck, right outside the kitchen door, in dishes. They had the area trampled flat in no time. There are at least forty-two of them, after all. The original pair have been here daily for a dozen years, rain or shine.

Yes, in fact some of them do knock on the door.

Dobby would have been sequestered in the kitchen for two weeks by now. There’s still about six inches of snow on the ground. The bare patches are thawing and we’re supposed to have more rain before the temperatures drop again in a couple days and they start bragging about more snow. The Prince would have been perfectly miserable, cabin fever in spades. This is one of the many reasons why I am not considering getting another capybara. Our mild marine climate is no longer to be trusted.

The Graveyard at Stacy’s Funny Farm

The graveyard‘s colors are muted, and the sun can’t illuminate the gems hanging from the arbor. The snow is so pretty, even the Dove dome is a masterpiece. That snowball in the foreground is a “Dogloo” turned igloo. The pigeon loft is behind it, and this morning I decided to take the eggs away from Phoenix and Cor-ten. Birth control is so easy for birds, imagine if we could lay an egg and simply walk away from it! Today there was a tiny fuzzy face looking out at me. I was too late. So they have a baby and I guess congratulations are in order.

The dove cage has never looked prettier.

When the snow first falls, the cats test it. Curiosity satisfied, Kitty Hawk rejoins his smarter half in the barn. The hens are smart enough to hunker down in the barn until it goes away. The ducks and geese have fancy feet and don’t mind the cold.

Goose and cat. Kitty Hawk is some kind of fool.

Well, they don’t mind it too much. Norman isn’t looking particularly happy here. It complicates his job as flock manager.

Gentle Norman. He didn’t sign up for this.

Even when there is snow, the ducks and geese prefer to sleep under the stars. In the morning, I can see where each one slept by the thawed  dirt ovals they create with their downy blankets. They pull their feet up inside the feathers, tuck in their bills, and they’re good for the night. In the photo below, you can see two ducks sleeping on the ground, and to the left, two thawed ovals where their friends slept the night before.

Tony and Vinny, snoozing midday. They are in the middle of the photo.

In the photo below, you can see the aviary netting is starting to sag under the weight of the snow. Look at the top rail of the fence, straight and true. The roof netting should be uniformly higher than that top rail, but you can see a droop near the center of the photo.

Observing the aviary from the kitchen deck after the first onslaught of snow

From inside the aviary it looked like this. I tried to smack at the snow from below, to get it to drop off the netting, but it was so light and fluffy it wouldn’t fall through the big holes of the 2″ chicken wire. Seattle snow usually falls straight through to the ground. Only deep dry snow falling quickly onto the thin frozen wires will cause significant accumulation. Even so, our usual quick return to 40 degree weather melts it away.

Crisco everywhere: above, below, even on the vertical wire fence

We had deep fry dry snow, frozen temperatures, and frigid nights. Most of the hens sleep in the barn on heated pads. Adelita still prefers her roost, next to where Conchita and Jello used to sleep. The geese and ducks still preferred the frozen ground to the cozy barn.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we got a couple more inches of snow. The net is relaxing under the weight of it. The duck pond is frozen. Beyond the fence, wild mallards gather the troops, ready to beg for cracked corn as I pass by for inspection.

Beyond the pond and fence, wild mallards accumulate with the snow.

The heat lamps come out and the Muscovy ducks come in. They are a South American breed and not as hardy as my other domestics. Their feet and caruncle can get frostbite and they love the heat lamps. The shavings in the barn don’t seem to freeze as long as they are dry, but like a fool, I provide drinking water in the barn during freezing weather and the ducks take care of the “dry” problem. It’s still nicer than the pile-up of snow outside.

新年快樂

The perennial Chinese New Year’s decorations are suddenly timely. Last night the barn lights didn’t come on at dusk. D’oh! They are on a timer and we had a six hour power outage. They have probably been cycling on in the middle of the night for the past week.

Her drinking water never froze.

About a week before the storm, I brought this little dove into the barn. She wasn’t flying up to the perches, and so I fixed her up with a cage that has a perch on the ground. Usually a week or so of R&R perks them up, but I’m also glad she wasn’t in the big dome during the storm. She’s cooing to her buddies in the dome so they all know she’s okay.

After all the snow, everyone was excited to finally see rain. It is Seattle, after all. It rained all night. In the morning, I was surprised to see robins gaily hopping in and out of the aviary. They are too big to get through the aviary netting, so that meant they had found a hole. It turned out to be a hole the size of a Mack truck. Several of them, in fact.

Coffee Bean and Grover learned to share this heated carrier.

Meanwhile, everyone became used to moving into the barn every night. When I gave the signal, Norman would march everyone in. When the netting collapsed, I realized the cats would be able to walk right out, so I locked them into the smaller portion of the barn during the day. Norman’s non-flighted flock would be okay waddling around in the wrecked aviary during the day while we worked on repairs.

Not only did the aviary netting seams rip open, each of the support posts poked a hole. The important central support was a tree that had died and was now rotten enough to splinter into several spongy logs. The central support cables tightly gripped the one remaining sound portion of the tree which was now dangling a few inches above the ground. We removed the other supports so that the netting would be easy to reach and repair.

It’s an eye test: can you see the pink flagging?

I built my first aviary in 1984 out of recycled fishing nets. Holes would rot out of it, unpredictably. The second one, in 1988, was smaller and I used Toprite aviary netting. Squirrels chewed it where it attached to the fence. I used sturdier Toprite for my third aviary, in 1991. It was an effective net, but the small holes clogged with snow quickly, necessitating hourly snow removal during the storms. A fallen fir tree once took the entire net out, ripping it to shreds. This 2001 aviary “roof” has a chew-proof stiff wire mesh edge with a 2″ chicken wire infill. For eighteen years, the snow has fallen through the netting, except where it is covered with twigs and autumn leaves. A yearly cleaning was all it took. Until Snowpocalypse.

No aviary repair kit is complete without a thousand zip ties.

I have a bartender on staff, and his job description is a moving target. I flagged all the holes with bright pink survey flagging. Where I could reach, we worked together to zip tie the holes. Then he went out the next day, like John Henry, and zipped the rest of those suckers right up. They didn’t have a chance.

Eye Test #2: Can you see the zip ties?

We put the supports back up, and Bob’s your uncle! Everything’s back to normal, and Norman can take a break. Sure, there’s still six inches of dirty ice encrusted compact snow on the ground, but I’m fairly certain it will go away. Someday.

Then I walked out to look at the still pretty clean snow in the front yard, and discovered that the core of my multi-trunked Flame Amur Maple had shattered. All of the branches have splayed out and collapsed to the ground as if a malevolent giant stomped on it. Oy vey, how is The Bartender going to fix that?