Well, I guess we’re awake now! Princess has a new hobby. Having a hen indoors is a challenge, but I never expected her to start crowing every morning. At least it’s not all day long like a bona fide rooster. A crowing rooster will raise your rafters. Read the rest of this entry
In the Pacific Northwest, indoor recess is de rigueur from November to March. At least. The Garden Party at the Funny Farm still happens every afternoon, rain or shine, but enthusiasm ebbs during the winter. Even Princess Blur goes out each afternoon to play chicken for an hour, but she’s eager to return indoors well before dusk. That’s 4:15 PM in December.
When the outdoor hens decide to stay in the barn all afternoon- indoor recess- I don’t take Princess out. If they aren’t going to come out into the garden, it’s probably too cold and wet for a tiny hen with a heart murmur.
I thought that sheep from the Shetland Islands would be okay with rain, but no. We built a nice roof over their pen and they hang out in there when the rain is overwhelming. Bev, a Muscovy duck has been inviting herself in, too.
Have you seen Hamish and Bev’s video? Slightly off-topic, but I’m not sure it didn’t start when Bev went looking for shelter from the weather.
We thought the incessant rain was bad and then it snowed. And then the temperatures plummeted.
We have hummingbirds year round here, so it becomes a nightly game called “Will the hummingbird feeders freeze tonight?” If I take the feeders in at night, I need to take them out at dawn, when the hummers start to feed. When it’s cold out, they pouf out downy feathers over their feet to keep warm, like they are wearing little tiny down slippers. If I manage to get a photo of that, I’ll quit my day job.
I have ten doves outside. They are very tough but they get hungry when it’s cold. Of course, their water freezes overnight. Years of experience have taught me to be careful where I toss the ice. If it doesn’t thaw for a week, I can end up with a treacherous pile of ice shards that make it hard to walk around. Ice maintenance seems like an awfully fussy consideration until that morning when I can’t open the gate past a hasty midden pile of ice.
The heat lamps emerge with the snow. They all love them, but heat lamps are inherently dangerous. That’s how fires start in barns and finding charred wood near a lamp is scary. I have friends who have had the fire department out. So I only bring them out when the animals are cold enough to actively use them. I’ve had two going this year, already.
The sheep love the snow. They eat it, they cavort and gambol, they do everything but roll around in it. They have deep, dense fleece. I can stick my hand up into it nearly to my wrist. It’s warm and dry in there. I look at those skinny velvety legs and marvel at how they stay warm. After poor snow-hating Dobby, and worrying about frostbite, this is a welcome change.
The snow reveals other wonders. Look at the tracks in the snow, above. That’s a cottontail rabbit track in the center. Tiny tracks, solitary: did he drop from the sky? I have only seen one bunny in the front yard, long ago. Dobby loved that bunny, but he only hung out here for about a week. Or so I thought. Is he still out there? I have seen them next door, so I shouldn’t be surprised that I have (at least) one here.
What is going on with my hens? On snowy days they stay in the barn, jockeying for position under the two heat lamps. Rainy days they prefer to cram themselves under this kiddie slide. Five chubby hens must generate enough heat to make it nice and toasty under there. These are the days– barn days and under-slide days– when Princess Blur has a treat in her living room pen and gets marched upstairs to go to bed right after her afternoon meds. They are the days when I hide in my little greenhouse and pretend it is warmer in there.
True indoor recess occurs when I give up and let the sheep rampage through the aviary. I have to put up the chicken food and heat lamp hazards, and the ducks glare at me, but it’s a big treat for the sheep to be able to explore in there. If the weather was good enough for me to be in there taking photos and making videos, there would be evidence of this excitement. Maybe if we ever have a summer storm. Meanwhile, I am afraid to look: they’ve got access to the aviary now. My only hope for getting them out of there at bedtime is that they are fools for saltine crackers. Anything for a saltine!
So, the snow is long gone, but the rain has returned with a vengeance. The sheep are hoping for more snow. I am hoping for summer. Take a look at my poor basement. That’s six inches of water. Sigh.
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Did you know that Prince Dobalob is featured in a book you can read for free? Before you get too excited, the book isn’t finished, yet, but it’s close enough that I am putting it up serially on Dobby’s website. Check it 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.
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.
The rescues keep on comin’.
Today I took in a white hen, and (big sigh) another brown one. She’s much darker brown than my reddish Golden Laced Wyandottes. She’s an old gal and no longer laying. The white hen is an Araucana, and the white ones usually lay blue or turquoise eggs. I forgot to ask, but I’ll let you know. We’ll see an occasional egg once she gets settled in. Like most of the hens that come in, they are the “Last of the Mohicans” and have usually seen the rest of their flock decimated by raccoons and dogs, the main suburban predators.
Bedtime was a bit dicey, with a few hens temporarily displaced in order to accommodate the nervous newcomers. They made such a racket I had to leave the dinner table to check on everyone. It was only Conchita cackling, and her roosting spot was totally available. No problem for the boss hen. I moved a few hens around and went back to the table.
CACKLE! A few minutes later, I was back out there, shuffled a few more hens around, gave them a little pep talk, and all was quiet.
The new girls also came with a nifty chicken coop.
Phoenix the pigeon has taken a dislike to one of the doves he lives with now. He attacked her twice and he’s not getting another chance. I think he’s going to love sharing this nice chicken coop with his darling Cor-ten once I fix it up. The trick will be getting them to nest near the door so I can snatch the eggs before they hatch. I adore Phoenix, but two pigeons are enough.
In other moves, Fat Bonnie totally owns her new home. It’s good to have her so happy there, but it was a bittersweet move. The tumor in her dewlap turned out to be a benign fatty tumor, so, for once, we dodged a major surgery and more veterinary bills.
Meanwhile, the geese, ducks, and hens continue to enjoy their afternoon Garden Party.
They are more wary without their Royal Guard, but Norman keeps an eye on the flock, and they all watch out for each other.
I have been rescuing chickens since 1984. While taking a walk, my companion’s dog flushed out two Rhode Island Reds, obviously dumped at the University of Washington. I brought them home, housed them temporarily with my ducks, and built them their own pen. Indoors I had a couple gerbils, some finches, a parakeet, a cockatiel, some fish. Ten years later I had my own licensed Game Farm, raised dozens of Wood Ducks to trade with the old geezers I knew. But the old hens and 4H rabbits kept coming. A Peacock landed in the yard and stayed so I found him a hen and if you haven’t kept peafowl, you just haven’t lived!
All of those years without Dobby and I was perfectly happy. Now that he is gone, I am perfectly miserable. There will never be another Dobby. The capybara experiment came and went, and losing him broke my heart. I need to retire, and the 49 animals I care for now require less than 10% of the time and commitment that one capybara takes. I’ll never forget him, and you will never stop hearing about him, once I get past this sadness. Until then, the Daily Dramas will continue, and I hope things get funny again soon.
Another big branch fell through the aviary “roof.” The top of a birch tree is dead and rotten and, I guess, on the way down. In the photo below, you can see the apple tree, then the dead top of the birch, then some live birch, and finally, at the right, the remaining half of the maple tree I “trimmed” last spring. I spend a lot of time looking up, now.
Dobby has been enjoying our sunny days.
Dobby didn’t seem too inclined to go to the front yard yesterday.
He went around to the gate, anyway, though.
Then he stalled.
He’s usually pretty efficient about getting his harness on because he likes to go to the front yard.
Fine. We’ll go back and see what the chickens are up to.
Madonna and Jello are un-planting pots. I’ve never caught Jello in those planters before, but now I know it might not be the squirrels who have dug the dirt out of those.
I guess I need to put some protective screens on those planters.
Speaking of protective screens, let’s check on my fancy rattoon. A rattoon is a sprouted root of sugar cane that can grow into a new plant. In Brazil, they grow sugar can to feed the cattle. It looks like gigantic grass. Not surprisingly, capybaras are fond of it, too.
I bought this one to grow for Dobby. However, the squirrels think it is for them. They gnawed off the top leaves and severed the stem.
Might as well feed it to the Dobster!
Here’s a video of Dobby eating his sugar cane. I love the way it goes in magically. He eats like a guinea pig! You can even see his little tongue in this video. It’s the only thing about dobby that is small!