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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 75 – The Bathtub

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Daily Drama 75 – The Bathtub

It’s a great big Jacuzzi tub, so enormous that it drains the water heater to fill it. From the moment you turn off the faucet, that water begins to cool. About three minutes after you get in and get comfortable, the water temperature drops to a discernible chill. That’s when you realize that a hot shower would have been more effective. The kids piled a few dozen friends in there when we first moved in, and then it sat empty and unused for years, in my mind, begging for turtles.

 

Dobby’s first day home was full of doubt. “Why am I in the bathtub? Do I have B.O.?”

It was the ideal pen for Baby Dobby. He didn’t even fill a corner when he first came home.

EGGO Waffle box for scale. His potty bowl looks like a swimming pool.

I added a heat lamp and a waffle box cave, a stuffed rabbit, and he stayed in there for a couple of weeks. He nearly died of pneumonia during that first month, and then liver failure.

When I look back on it, I am amazed he didn’t leap out of there on his first day. That should have been my clue that he was sick.

I was still working, and baby Dobby was home with The Bartender when he learned to jump out, and life became much more interesting. A duck or two recuperated in the bathtub, guinea pigs spent “floor time” in there, but nobody “lived” in there until Turkey the duckling came.

From the wild, to a turkey coop, to a suburban bathtub. Turkey the duck settled right in.

Turkey was a little homeless mallard duckling, the last survivor of a jaywalking tragedy out on Hwy 9.

Turkey loved her mirror.

Turkey grew up big and strong and joined the wild flock in the back yard. Sometimes I think I can spot her among the rabble, but honestly, it’s hard to tell mallards apart by sight. Their behavior is much more distinctive, and sometimes one will approach me with confidence, while the others shy away. That’s my Turkey.

Still missing spunky Conchita. She and I had long conversations.

If you are not new to this farm blog, you will know the story of Conchita and her broken leg. She took up residence in the bathtub for a couple weeks, moved out to the infirmary when the cast came off. Then she moved back in for a couple weeks of R&R after her final surgery. It was lots of fun to have her indoors, until she started to molt and feathers went everywhere.

The Inimitable Princess Blur, the Mille Fleur

I have always joked that Princess Blur would make the perfect “House Chicken.” She’s so petite, and anyway, she never really took to living outdoors with (Gasp!) poultry. They are so common.

Who are you looking at?

When I left for Texas in mid-October, Princess was resigned to life outdoors, and roosted high on a perch with Adelita each night. The Bartender phoned me a couple days after I took this photo and said that Princess was not walking around. She was hunkered down on the ground, next to the fence, and not acting her usual prissy self.

Princess owns the bathtub.

The Bartender took her to the vet who diagnosed a heart murmur, and set her up in the bathtub. He gave her a soft blanket, food, water, lots of treats (too many!) and a heated pad.

It isn’t your usual bathroom décor. The theme is “frogs,” though there are several ducks strewn about for comic relief.

At this point, you might think that this is an out-of-the-way bathroom, maybe one that my grown kids don’t use any more. Heavens no, this is MY bathroom. The master bathroom, the one off my bedroom. The one with the frog collection. The one I use all day and all night. I now brush my teeth with a chicken watching.

“Excuse me?”

A while back, I had a hen named Lula who needed pain meds once a day. She endured a syringe of Metacam down her throat each morning. For two years. Conchita took a variety of medications for pain and infection during her convalescence. She tolerated a couple tablets shoved down her throat at intervals throughout the day.

Now I have a teeny tiny hen who needs meds twice a day. When I picked up the prescription, I was perplexed to see “1/3 of a tablet twice a day.” The pharmacist dully calculated the dose without considering the impossibility of splitting a tiny tablet into thirds. After a conference with the veterinarian, they reluctantly agreed to 1/4 of a tablet. Princess is so puny, it isn’t easy to hold her tightly enough to stuff that fractional tablet down her throat, but I managed it. It wasn’t on the floor or on my lap, so it must have gone in. The next time, she was ready to fight me.

“Look at my new toys!” She has a woven wall of toys to peck at, and a “Ball O’ Bugs” in a plastic dispenser to keep her busy.

“Okay, dammit, here!” I held out the tiny pill on the palm of my hand and she pecked it up and swallowed it, turning her head to me afterward as if to say “That’s how it’s done, stupid!” She has pecked every pill from my hand ever since.

Goodnight, Princess!

And so little Princess Blur spends her days in the bathtub. I take her out in the afternoon to participate in Garden Party with the flock. They eat greens, peck at bugs, cluck at each other, and then she comes back in to roost on the perch in the bathtub. It’s working out for both of us, but I am hoping that this medicine will fix her up so she can go back outdoors with the other hens. It’s sweet to have a little hen indoors, but honestly, if I discovered her wandering around the living room, I would be ecstatic!

Farewell Conchita, my Golden Girl

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Farewell Conchita, my Golden Girl

Conchita made a hasty departure. When I went out to feed the chickens that morning, she was still roosting. This was not a good sign, as she was the “jumping-est” hen I’ve ever had. She wasn’t the best at landing though, which is how she broke her leg last year. It cost her weight in gold to repair that leg, but here she was, still on her night perch, half way through the morning. I plucked her off the perch and set her on the ground. She collapsed, then struggled to stand up and hobbled off to sit in a mud puddle. I didn’t like the way things were going, so I set her up in the infirmary with food and water. When I checked on her a little later that afternoon, she had shockingly and suddenly passed.

Welcome to the Funny Farm! Adelita, front, Conchita behind, Bianca out of frame.

Conchita, Bianca, and Adelita were dumped hens found loitering outside a local feed store in December of 2015. A friend contacted me and brought them right over. I was delighted to see that they were Welsummers, and young healthy ones at that. I sequestered them in the infirmary while I set up the bully pen for them. Newcomers usually start out in the bully pen where they can get used to the Funny Farm flock without getting picked on.

Conchita checks out the bully pen. See her, in the back, other side of the fence?

I’m not projecting when I say that Dobby loved his hens. I was trying to take photos of them, but he was very excited about his new girls and posed with them behind him. I didn’t let him into the bully pen for fear of scaring the heck out of them their first day here. I liked to give them a day to learn he was benign, a big gentle doofus.

Not a safe roost, girls!

That night they decided to perch on the bully pen fence. Branches had once been piled loosely on top to discourage my Muscovy drake from jumping out and they were still a menacing barrier. The hens on top were very near the overhead wire roof, near enough for a raccoon to reach down or for an owl to crash into them. Plus they were in pole position to jump down on the not-bully-pen side of the fence at dawn.

Three hens in the infirmary, night watchman on duty.

One by one I snatched them off the wood pile and stashed them safely inside the infirmary. Dobby freshly marked the catch nets for me and then supervised the whole affair.

Primo roosting: Jello, Conchita, and Adelita, L-to-R. Conchita is trying to peek back at me, you can barely make out her beak underneath.

Eventually they got to know Dobby, the other hens, the goofy ducks, and settled in. Conchita selected a roosting perch near the middle of the barn, with Adelita next to her. That’s Jello on the right. In the photo above you can also see dear Lula, the handicapped hen, in the infirmary. Little Princess Blur is glowing back there, too. She kept Lula company and I set up a ramp so that she could come and go as she liked. Lula is the only hen Blur ever liked. Maybe her heart broke when Lula died, because after that she roosted alone, until very recently. She avoided all the other hens and spent her days out in the back yard with Dobby. With Conchita gone, teeny tiny Princess roosts next to Adelita, way at the teeny tiny left end of that roost in the photo above.

Musical Chairs, chicken style.

To mix things up, Conchita occasionally roosted on a different perch. That meant everyone had to move with her, and Bianca had to adjust. The Boss Hen does what she likes, even if it causes a ruckus.

My golden hen

She was a prolific layer, and true to her breed laid big chocolate brown eggs. She and Adelita laid more days than not, most of the year. Even at six years old, they were both contributing most of the eggs around here.

Pouffy about hens. Jello, Dobby, Conchita, Adelita, L-to-R.

When Jello died, Conchita became Dobby’s favorite hen. He loved to share birdseed with his hens who were responsible for most of Dobby’s snacktime pouffiness. He liked Conchita because she was naughty, too. Every morning, when I went out with lettuce and a plastic bag of kitchen scraps, as I struggled with the gate and Dobby and all the excitement of a new day, Conchita would leap at that bag of scraps and rip open the bottom, emptying enough out for an appetizer before I could properly distribute it. I still flinch at the gate though it is an orderly and eminently sober greeting these days.

One lucky hen

Then she broke her leg. That’s when she became golden. She had surgery to set and pin the leg.

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After a month in my bathtub, I could recognize her cluck anywhere.

She moved inside to my big Jacuzzi tub, the indoor infirmary. Pain meds, antibiotics, and a cleanup twice a day. It was kinda fun to have her around and I was reluctant to move her back out.

 

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The infirmary, in its intended use.

After the vet check-up when they took off her cast, I reluctantly moved her out to the infirmary so she could visit her flock. She appreciated the fresh air and conversation.

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You’re not fat, Conchita. Don’t worry about it!

She went back to the vet for a second surgery, this time to take out the pin in her leg. Of course, the pain med and antibiotic routine began again.

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She really liked the IKEA abacus.

This time, though, the surgical area around the stitches had to be cleaned and disinfected daily. Back indoors to the bathtub. This time I set her up with some toys. When she started perching up on the toy support at bedtime I knew she was going to be okay. She had broken her leg on August 19, 2017 and six veterinary visits later (including two surgeries), she finally had the stitches removed on October 12, 2017. She owed me some golden eggs.

 

Racing for the Garden Party treats. Conchita is the hen nearest to the camera. Her leg wasn’t quite straight, even after all that surgery.

She lived another year and regained her position as boss hen, gimpy leg and all. She took back her pole position on the night roosts. She laid another hundred eggs, minimum. And she kept jumping.

Conchita’s dust bowl.

When the swimming pool disappeared and the grass started to grow, she kept her favorite dust bath open for business. The eggs kept coming, but recently I noticed that some of the dark chocolate eggs had a subtle indentation in the shell. The eggs were groovy, but not in a good way. I didn’t even know if they were Adelita’s or Conchita’s until I saw my golden hen emerging from a nest with a newly laid, slightly dented egg.

Conchita’s eggs were dented like when you touch a hot chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven.

The day after I buried her, I noticed this egg in the infirmary. She had laid me one last “Thank You!” chocolate-but-not-golden dented egg before she checked out.

Angel’s fabulous blue egg, some dark brown Adelita eggs, tan eggs from Emmy Lou and Frieda, and a couple big old duck eggs underneath them all.

I have taken in three new hens in the past three months. One quickly became the new boss. Emmy Lou is friendly and smart and her takeover was uncontested. The two newer ones are mostly in the bully pen, gradually emerging. Coffee Bean and Angel are wreaking havoc with the roosting and the cackling at dusk is disconcerting. I need to ignore it and let them all work it out, but in fact I’m out there, dinner on the back burner, checking once or twice after they should all be settled for good. Then there is Samantha, who has been here for a year, died last week, but is recovering nicely. Dead as a doornail, I’m not kidding. Sounds like an upcoming daily drama to me.

In Memoriam: Dobby Winnick (Part 3) | Capybara Madness

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Melanie understands so well.

Source: In Memoriam: Dobby Winnick (Part 3) « Capybara Madness

In Memoriam: Dobby Winnick (Part 2) | Capybara Madness

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Part Two of Melanie’s memorial posts.

Dobby was such a tease. He knew very well that the point is to put all four feet on the scale!

Click on the link to read her post:

Source: In Memoriam: Dobby Winnick (Part 2) « Capybara Madness