Owning a home means I can have pet ducks. Any neighborhood that doesn’t allow chickens isn’t going to want me, either. I bought a couple used ducks right after I moved into my first little house in Seattle. Hens came soon after. Thirty-five years later I still have a yard full of poultry, but they’re rescues, now. Read the rest of this entry
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.
I suddenly realized I had better write before I totally lose my sense of humor! The disasters are checking in with regularity and when I find time to sit down, you can hear the sigh in the next county.
First, a shout-out to our local grocer. With The Bartender scooting around the house, foot in a post-surgery cast, I am now the Number One Shopper. When I pull into any cashier line with a gigantic box of romaine, a case of organic baby oatmeal, and a bottle of vodka, they simply ask “Animal food or people food first?” They know we buy scads of vegetables on the Funny Farm account. No one asks why we have been ordering baby cereal by the case for EIGHT YEARS, or who eats so much sub-par winter corn on the cob. They know all about Dobby, and ask how he’s doing.
Not so hot, by the looks of it. He has had trouble walking for a couple months, now. I have arthritis and his gait looks like I feel, he struggles more on my bad days, rallies a bit on my good days. His bloodwork was inconclusive, but we may be looking at Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), which compares to osteoporosis. Or maybe he has lymphoma. WE DON’T KNOW. But his original vet is available again, that’s how we got the blood draw without knocking him out. I have an ambulatory x-ray machine coming in tomorrow, and if Dobby cooperates by standing still, we’ll get an inside-out look at his bones. He’s got cabin fever after all of this nasty weather, and he sits comfortably under his new UV lights in the kitchen. Prey animals are more nervous when they are unhealthy, so he is hesitant to go to the front yard which is chock full of jaguars and anacondas. The ground has been frozen for a few weeks, so I’m wary of frostbite, much more deadly than predators.
draft saved 6 days ago
Okay, this is my point. I started this blog post almost a week ago. I would have time to write if there wasn’t so darned much going on around here. There certainly is no lack of material. Since that sorry draft, I have cleaned up the flooded downstairs. Then my prodigal son and his newly arrived girlfriend moved down there. That frees up his sister’s room for her visit in two days. The Bartender has graduated to cast number two in the series and can drive himself around, but still has to butt-sit his way down stairs. The yard is no longer frozen, well, the swimming pool is still totally frozen over. Not even a little thawed edge showing yet. It’s off-limits to capybaras right now anyway.
The veterinarian with the ambulatory x-ray apparatus came and went and I was so busy I didn’t take even one photo! All the busy paid off and The Prince was pleased with his visitors and held very still for his pictures. Unfortunately, they showed an L7 fracture. That’s basically a broken back. Very common with MBD, so we were spot on with the treatment. Unfortunately, there was a recall of Calcionate Syrup, the preferred treatment, so we are literally limping along with Calcium carbonate powder. Dobby is in good spirits, but occasionally spars with his corn, clicking at it when the Metacam doesn’t quite cover the pain. He’s terrifically spoiled, now, after all those cold-night slumber parties, and fresh-picked buckets of bamboo.
So why does Dobby have MBD? Actually, his radiographs don’t seem to indicate it, but the fracture is telling. That wouldn’t happen if his bones were strong. To promote strong bones, his diet needs to be high in calcium- higher than his phosphorus intake. His starchy diet isn’t very good, but it is difficult to provide fresh greens in winter. Horses can get by on hay in winter, but dry hay doesn’t supply vitamin C, which capybaras seem to need in copious quantities. He seems to know this and craves the fresh bamboo foliage slowly taking over my front yard.
He eats his lettuce but turns his nose up at the fancy kale the Guinea pigs snarf down. I tried growing kale at snout level, fenced it off, pretended it was very special, but he still won’t touch it. Collards, are you kidding? Everything he likes is bad for him. I recently discovered fresh dandelion greens at our grocery store, and he’ll deign to eat alfalfa if it’s the fancy Guinea Pig hay in a pretty little bag. He won’t touch the big bale out in the barn.
Back to the calcium, well, it’s is poorly absorbed without Vitamin D. Vitamin D comes from sunshine and everything you have heard about Seattle is true. It’s dark and gloomy all winter. At the winter solstice, the sun rises around 7am and sets around 4pm. That’s well shy of the equatorial day he would enjoy in South America. The only other way to get Vitamin D is in milk, as a supplement. That’s why they supplement milk with Vitamin D, so that our kids can absorb all that calcium in their milk. It’s also why Seattle vegans are encouraged to take a Vitamin D supplement. You can’t get D from vegetables and grain. And that’s why Dobby has tanning bed lights hanging over his bed in the kitchen. I’m tempted to lay under there with him myself.
I’m sick but I’m pretty . . .
So what else? This has been a bitterly cold winter and I have lost 3 doves. Two were treated, responded, but no, didn’t make it. The third didn’t give any warning. The flock and the cats are happy the freezing is gone for now, and resigned to the constant drizzle. The wild mallards have become a problem, so there are no garden party treats when there are more than six mallards lurking. There have been as many as 38 looking for handouts. I’m hoping Norman, my Flock Manager, will learn to drive off the mallards to earn his treats, but that might be asking too much.
I need to write up my Shanghai experiences. It was a fabulous trip, blasting many preconceptions. I came home with answers to questions I didn’t know I had. When you don’t know what you are getting into, every moment is a surprise. Questions pop into your head hours and days after your brain finally processes what your eyes have scanned. I look at my photos in detail and exclaim, “What the heck is THAT?” Much too late for a close-up shot or in-person examination.
Dobby has a birthday coming up, his eighth! Born on Valentine’s Day in 2009, these eight years have brought me a lot of joy. I’m glad I didn’t know how tricky these guys are to raise up. I have been very lucky, and even with this devastating new development, I continue to marvel at my good fortune. I’m not sure what we will be doing to celebrate, but please join Dobby at his facebook alias page next month and we’ll make something good happen!
Since my last post, I have welcomed two incoming farm residents, heard of a surprising demise, racked up expenses for several veterinary visits, and I am considering renaming Carl Sagan the Guinea pig “Methuselah.” The new washer has astonishing capacity, making Dobby’s daily washing a breeze, and his gigantic blankets drop into it like the Enterprise entering a black hole.
Squirrel is my new Guinea pig, and working him into the Dude Ranch is exciting. He came from a nearby rescue and had not found a permanent home. Until his well-pet check, he lived quietly in his own cage. He’s a friendly boar, leaning out of the cage, interested in anything coming in through the door. Digging through his vegetable dish, he runs off with the carrots. Eventually he tastes everything and then the dish is empty and he’s back to begging.
The veterinarian agreed with my age estimate of 2-3 years, well under the 5 years I was quoted. This means he is still young enough to neuter, and that little surgery took place last week. He’s so over it, raring to go again. Because, you see, this one is a maniac. I don’t know where that quiet one went that I adopted, but I don’t think he’s coming back.
Once Squirrel was deemed healthy, I took the next step of partitioning the Dude Ranch in order to introduce him to the herd. Ancient Carl is too fragile to live with anyone new, but eventually, Stevie Ray will appreciate a companion. They can live side-by-side until I am certain they will get along. So I put little Squirrel into his side of the Ranch, and he went wild! He grabbed the partition with his teeth and shook it until all the water sloshed in the bottles and food started to fly from the food bins! Wow! Stevie Ray and Carl both came over to investigate, and I realized how close their tender little ears were to the toothy fury that was their new neighbor! Out Squirrel went, back to his old cage. It was quiet again.
I put a double divider in, a space between them, a demilitarized zone, so to speak. Squirrel went back in, the fury ensued, the cage shook, the boys came to investigate, and Squirrel was airlifted into his old cage. Wow! I continue to maintain that I am smarter than a Guinea pig, smarter than a capybara, even. Because if I’m not, I can’t do this. So I thought about it overnight and the next day I implemented my solution: I lifted the wire cage top off of Squirrel’s cage, plopped it into the dude ranch, thrust him in with his food dish and hay box, and stood back. He calmly walked around his familiar territory and started begging for vegetables.
The Bartender glanced in as he passed by.
“He’s in jail!”
Yes, I suppose so. A couple days later I lifted his wire cage jail out of the Ranch, and Squirrel barely noticed.
I left the demilitarized zone in place, though. Carl is now too fragile for even indirect contact, even though Squirrel has calmed down a bit.
Blur the banty hen came to me as the result of a failed backyard chicken experiment. Her buddy was taken by a raccoon and her owners threw in the towel. She was too noisy: lonely for chicken friends. She is absolutely minuscule, about the size of a pigeon, and I can hardly wait to see her eggs. To tell you the truth, when I saw her I was concerned that my bigger hens might not accept her, or that the cats might take an unhealthy interest in her. I put her in the infirmary with my handicapped hen, Lula, and they have bonded and are nearly inseparable. While Ping (the tiny new duck) was sequestered in the bully pen, they spent their days with her. They shared the safety of the apple tree pen during the afternoon garden parties. Now that Ping has been integrated with the other ducks, Blur and Lula continue their friendship wherever they are. Princess Blur seems to feel she is in charge, and knowing the routine runs over to be picked up when we are changing venues. She can walk, but Lula can’t, so they both have to be carried everywhere.
“Honestly, if ever I was tempted to bring a hen indoors, it would be little Blur.”
The Bartender looked a bit panicky when I said that out loud, so I won’t mention it again and we’ll see what happens.
Ping, the little white duck, has settled in with the flock and follows the drakes everywhere. I’m not sure why they haven’t noticed how cute she is. She and my goose, Cubicle, have long amicable conversations, and I think she is getting some good advice. Or maybe she’s hoping to interest Ping in Shamrock, the relentless drake who shamelessly follows Cubicle everywhere, to the annoyance of her mate, Norman.
Romeo, who went to the most fabulous pond imaginable, had a good month there and then suddenly wasted away before there was time to see the vet and he’s gone. Our ten cent diagnosis is hardware disease, a peril I have lost several Muscovies to. I feel badly that he probably ate some ugly junk here only to die of it at his new home. We will never know, but I guess it’s time to sweep the farm with my magnets again.
Carl Sagan (Methuselah) has again made it to his birthday month of October. Born in 2006, that makes him – YIKES! -ten years old! Sadly, he looks all of his ten years, and he is fading fast, but his appetite is youthful! He is my last goodnight, and the little pet I check on first thing every morning. In Guinea Pig years, he’s about 100. You are a champ, Carl!
In other news, Dobby’s presidential campaign has stalled somewhat. He is bitterly disappointed that he wasn’t invited to the first debate, but is now complaining that he was unable to prepare due to an unexpected
nap computer glitch. Maybe he’ll get off his throne and do some campaigning, maybe not. We’ll see.
Writing a blog is easy when there is so much to write about. Sometimes, though, the material piles up so fast and furious that there is no time to write! Taking a vacation creates a windfall of material, but if taken correctly, induces a predictable and even desirable stupor. The school year aspect of my life (that I don’t write about) creates an artificial deadline which looms like a cliff of doom to rodent aficionados. So while I have a couple blog posts in the works, why not start and finish a third, and really confuse the heck out of everyone?
As a sanctuary (also called a LOFT, Live Out Full Term facility) I see many animals through to their last days. Older pets aren’t as adoptable and often find their way here. Some have just been here a hella long time. Carl Sagan the Guinea pig is one of them.
His brother, Ankhsheshonq, left us long ago, complications due to dementia. Carl will be
NINE* TEN years old in October, but he is having some issues with right rear axle paralysis. He’s perky, doesn’t seem to be in any pain, still interacts positively with Stevie Ray, and races to the treat bowls on cue. Still, he has no strength in his hip and leg, and flops over as soon as he is stationary. Because he isn’t as active, this gets fairly messy, so he has been getting baths, as needed. He likes the extra attention, and the older I get, the more sympathy I have for these old pets. I hope Carl makes it another year, to TEN ELEVEN years old, but in case he doesn’t, I have located an older boar companion for Stevie Ray, who remembers when the Dude Ranch was 5, not 2 dudes. You will be hearing about him in a while.
Fat Bonnie Bunnie seems to be making an effort to overcome her fears, and we have started to let her into the living room for romps. She doesn’t seem as fearful there as she is in the kitchen, such nonsense. Her sister and litter-mate, Helen, was so joyous and playful, I know Fat Bonnie had a nearly identical history. I am reading some of Temple Grandin‘s fine work, and thinking maybe my little fatty has some brain anomalies, but whatever the problem, the treatment is the same: minor adjustments, one at a time, to her daily routine until she responds positively to something.
Dobby continues to be a big help around here. He eats grass from my bucket, apples from the raked up pile, bamboo that sticks through the protective fencing. He marks my tool handles, my jackets, and surprisingly, he now marks Kitty Hawk the tomcat!
He’s back up to 116# but that’s still below his pre-veterinary visit weight of 117.5#, and well below his previous 125#. He has gained weight during apple season before, so we’ll see. His big secret is that he’s writing his memoirs, but I’ve seen it and if he wants my help publishing it, he’d better tone it down a bit.
I can tell you that a capybara that falls off his bed- it’s a pillow on the floor!- during a nap doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room in the dignity department.
In other Dobby News, he has a couple new-from-Florida wind chimes, and a beach ball that he despises!
The wild animals around here are out of control. A mother raccoon and three babies peered in at me while I was feeding the chickens- during the day. I had to pick the bumper crop of grapes, too tart to eat, but rats in the arbor are not as adorable as they sound. These aren’t my cute Wistar rats, no they are the other mangy kind, and they don’t look so hot this year.
And Dobby had 28 visiting mallards yesterday, prompting a brisk recall of the cracked corn appetizer I put out for Happy Hour.
Enough is enough.
At least the hummingbirds are satisfied: my garden blooms for them all summer and I can ignore the feeders for a while.
I was contacted by a Facebook friend of many years, and we made a very satisfactory duck exchange. Her little Ping is small, white, and has angel wing, and probably wouldn’t thrive in the natural environment available to her there. My thuggish Muscovy drake, Romeo, has not mended his ways, and my little hens have been living in fear. Norman the goose isn’t too fond of him either.
Romeo’s hen-directed activities are inappropriate, but he is friendly to people and ducks, and he is a big drake, able to take care of himself. So we traded, and while we are still watching to see how it goes, I think we both came out ahead. Just yesterday I noticed how quiet it is around here. Romeo himself was quiet, but he had a way of stirring things up, and it is nice not to hear Norman honking at 2am!
UPDATE: I stand corrected. After talking to Carl Sagan’s owner (Carl is a foster guinea pig), I am stunned to report that Carl will be 10 years old in October. He’s doing great, and I honestly think he’s going for 11!