Charlie and Hamish are Shetland sheep. Shetlands are a heritage breed and shed their wool. Unless they don’t. Then you have to have them sheared. Never a dull moment around here. Don’t miss the exciting video at the end! 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!
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.
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
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.