I know, I know, the song is Who But a Fool (Thief into Paradise), not (Sheep into Paradise). But now that I have heard it that way, it will forever be a song about Charlie and Hamish. The joke is, this is hardly paradise right now. 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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‘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.
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.
Well, they don’t mind it too much. Norman isn’t looking particularly happy here. It complicates his job as flock manager.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Editing Dobby’s book has kept me so busy writing that I am neglecting the blog posts. Today, the Funny Farm is sad that my handicapped hen, Lula, has decided to fly up to the big roost in the sky. She came here five years ago, became lame at about 2-1/2 years, and stopped walking altogether two years ago. Daily meloxicam uprighted her, and she hobbled around, avoiding the other hens for a year. I finally moved her to the infirmary about a year ago, leaving the door open so she could come and go on her own.
Last September, a tiny opinionated hen came to live with us. Blur’s sister had died and she couldn’t stop talking about it. Once here, she quickly became PRINCESS Blur, but she did quiet down. The size of a pigeon, she fights the cats, the other hens are afraid of her, and even Dobby is baffled. She has never laid an egg. Princess adored big Lula, though. They spent their days together, and when Lula’s lameness progressed, Princess Blur moved into the infirmary with her. In hindsight, they spent this last month beak-to-beak, neither one venturing into the horrific weather. I should have known Lula was not well. It will be interesting to hear what Princess Blur has to say about her.
The east coast is not alone when it comes to weird winter weather. We have had cold and snow and many Mallards. Many freeloading mallards. My resident pair are somewhat erratic, so Mrs. Mallard must have a nest, but she isn’t sitting yet. Sitting ducks hold their necks differently, as if they have spent too much time in one position. Their voice also changes, and their message is different. We aren’t there yet, but she has a nest, and it is nearby. I think they even spent the night on the swimming pool. I have never seen that before in the ten years since they have been here.
Dobby is making fair progress toward a recovery. He was feeling pretty good when he made these brown footprints. He was leaving the kitchen. Is that better or worse than if he had been coming in? There’s so much medicine in his milk now, that we ought to come up with a better word than “milk” which no longer describes it.
Of course, we had a wind storm, too. A big birch branch crashed right through the wire roof of the aviary. It was a missed opportunity for the raccoons because my good neighbor fixed it that day.
The afternoon Garden Party has been damp. On good days it’s moist. Horrible days it is like living under a waterfall. I’m the one who wanted to live in a wetland, though. It’s groundwater, and it oozes up wherever it wants to. The asphalt out front has giraffe patterned cracks all over it. The cracks spit bubbles and ooze, eventually creating a flow down the street past the ambitious city public works drainage project that failed to take into account the source of the water. MY PROPERTY.
Dobby IS improving, though he had a setback last week. He slipped on the deck when temperatures rose enough to turn the organics and rain into a coating of Deck Slime. There are now anti-skid rugs everywhere, and a bunch of cheap burlap bags as filler between the gaps. The hardware store guys roll their eyes when I tell them the bags have to be from Brazilian coffee, not African or Central American. Then they obligingly dig through the stack, commenting on the origins, and noticing the different bags for the first time.
We lowered Dobby’s bed, so that the step up isn’t as steep. It used to have a standard box spring, but we switched it out for a “bunky board” which is a shallower mattress support. Now he can step out onto a big wide dog bed, and it’s a lot easier for him.
He’s feeling strong enough again to go to the front yard to graze . . . on non-existent winter grass. Prey animals are wary and they won’t leave a safe territory unless they have to. When Dobby is not feeling strong, he stays in the kitchen, playing pinochle and drinking mint juleps. Today he ignored the squealing little girls playing next door and went out to graze, so I know he is feeling pretty good.
Dobby thinks he should be able to go in through the front door. In eight years, I don’t think I have ever let him in through that door. For eight years he has been begging.
Oh, Dobby. He’s not very patient. His “offerings” have been top form, though. In an effort to offset his usual high-starch bad diet, I have been supplementing his vegetables with a bucket of cut bamboo foliage, in addition to what he grazes on his own. The fabulous local grocer, who supplies Dobby’s corn and romaine at a very reasonable markup, has been ordering us dandelion greens, too. The very same greens that I can pick for free from the garden this summer, are now a gourmet Dobby-treat in winter. I dole them out one-at-a-time to make certain Dobby appreciates them.
Little Spitfire is helping me edit Dobby’s book. If my desk was cleared off (or if someone lit a bonfire to it) I could set up her playpen. She would love that. For now she is happy with the cubby holes and a paper clip. She’s a fightin’-bitin’ female, but my farmer’s hands are like leather, so the joke’s on her! She’ll settle down after a while.
This is the working cover for Dobby’s book. We’ve been trying out some jacket copy on his fans, and hope to have a finished rough draft completed in a couple days. (Unless I remember to prepare my taxes.) It will undergo various levels of scrutiny, head off to a publisher, and Bob’s Your Uncle! That’s the plan, and I will keep you posted. It will be ready for summer reading, or bust!
Winter is here and it’s awful. Those of you who live in a cold climate know about hauling water out to the flock in the morning. You know about “ice management.” That’s when you toss the ice out of the frozen waterers strategically, so that the shards of ice don’t create a hazard if they don’t melt within the next couple of days. You know about hoarfrost, and dig out around your gates so it can’t build up and shut you out of your pens. Winter water bowls are re-stacked so they aren’t frozen together when you need them. Food and meds are brought indoors so they don’t freeze. Ugh.
Dobby sleeps indoors, in all his glory, because frozen blankets are a drag. I have to wear my mud boots to walk through his section of the kitchen, because, you know, he’s “living” in there. In his seventh winter, Dobby takes sleeping indoors in stride. He even “goes” outside during the day. Sometimes. He has also learned to tolerate staying indoors, and not go in and out the door all night, leaving it ajar in twenty degree weather. Right next to the bird cages. He did decide to go out at 3AM last night. It was 28 degrees out there, his bedroom heater usually keeps it 10 degrees higher, so 38, and the blankets were probably pliable. I still had to go down and shut the door behind him, bird cages. Go back to bed and fall asleep, fretting. If Dobby wants to go out, there’s no keeping him in. He eats the door jamb trying to get out. Another response to the question “It’s kind of like having a big dog, right?” No. It’s not.
For those of you who continue to ask, “Why capybara?” I offer this cartoon. I learned to walk by dragging a hamster cage around for balance. That means that this little joke is really the story of my life. It doesn’t explain the ducks, though.
Most freezing nights, the ducks keep their water open by swimming in it and dabbling in it. That means there is always drinking water for the hens and cats, too. It was iced over this morning, a thin sheet easily poked, one drinking hole still open, so they are doing a good job.
The doves are captive, though, and can’t get to the “dabble-hole.” I take out gallons of hot water to unfreeze their waterer. They have a bathing dish of
water ice, and hop right into the warm bath water I take out in the morning.
Beverly is in jail, and has to keep her own dabble hole open. She’s brand new, rescued by a human Bev (the name is a coincidence) who befriended her at a nearby park. Muscovy ducks are from South America, not native here, so she’s probably an escaped pet. They aren’t as cold-tolerant as our indigenous ducks. Bev was able to pick her up and bring her to me, verifying her tameness, and I easily nabbed her for wing clipping. Now that she’s safe, we don’t want her flying away.
She spent a few days in quarantine, ye olde bully pen. She was desperate to join the flock, though, and looks very happy today, her first day mingling with the general population. Norman isn’t letting her get too close, but no one else seems to mind her.
There are way too many Mallards, and when I open the gate in the afternoon for the Garden Party, they make a beeline for the feeder.
The photo above should be a video. Norman the flock Manager, is at the back, beyond the gate, a pale blob above and to the right of Dobby’s hanging yellow and green soccer ball. He is marching toward us, honking, and all of these mallards, 17 I think, marched out in front of him. He chased them away from his feeder! Go, Norman! Geese are so cool.
I was so pleased that I gave in and treated them to cracked corn out in the yard. That’s Carmen Miranda facing me, madder than heck at me for giving them HER corn. Note the stool on Dobby’s swimming pool steps, which are falling down in slow motion as they rot. They usually last a year, these were new late last summer.
The mallards left, and my little flock finally enjoyed their treat of cracked corn.
Remember the stool on the swimming pool steps? This is another reason why it is there. Dobby isn’t doing much swimming these days, and he probably can’t mount those raunchy bales, but he won’t climb past the stool. These are the resident Mallards, the ones who have been hanging out here since before Dobby got here. I suspect that the unruly mallard crowd is their offspring.
Eartha, Windy, and Frieda are my newest hens. Frieda follows me around like I’m a busted feed bag.
I hate heat lamps, but this year I’ve got three out there, plus some heated pads for the tomcats, and of course one for Sir Dobbykins. He loves the barn. That’s the infirmary behind him. Lula is in there, but the door is open so that her companion, the inimitable Princess Blur, can come and go as she pleases.
A couple days ago Princess did too much going. She was missing when I went out in the morning. Blaming myself, I figured I had missed her at the nightly lockup. I walked the neighborhood. I put a notice on Next Door. I drove the neighborhood. I knocked on doors. And that afternoon when I went to open the gate to let everyone out for Garden Party, guess who was first to run OUT the gate? Today I discovered she has skritched out a hollow between the barn wall and a bale of straw. She can really hunker down in there. She’s so bad.
This was just before dusk, and the hens were ready for bed. These girls have been here a couple of years.
Here are the three new hens. Hmmm. They are finally settling into the evening routine. Where’s Frieda?
Frieda sleeps with the cats. Whatever. They aren’t as excited about it as she is.
Bedtime for The Dobster. He usually sleeps outside, but when he’s indoors, he likes his bed, his white rabbit rug, and his pink princess blankie. Goodnight, Dobby Boy.
A very wonderful friend created and donated these tiles to the Funny Farm! They are raku fired ceramic tiles, backed with cork so they may be used as coasters. They feature the footprint of Caplin Rous, the World’s Most Famous Capybara! He was also Dobby’s big brother.
The glaze has a coppery iridescent sheen that doesn’t photograph to advantage because it changes from different angles. Right now they are mine, all mine, but I should probably sell them. They are available at Georgia Dee’s Gift Shop.
I will be incommunicado for about a week at the end/beginning of the year. My son is teaching at a high school in Shanghai, China and I can’t pass up the opportunity to visit. Don’t worry, The Bartender is gamely staying behind to care for Prince Dobalob and his subjects!