Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Who flew the coop

Last week we managed to get a cover of sorts over our chicken run, which when combined with closing the hen gate, blocks the chickens into the run. And by "cover" I mean we took plastic garden fencing and screen door material and stapled it from the run fence to the trees inside the run, which leaves a large hole in the center of the run uncovered but it is too far from the fences for Gretchen to fly over, and the hens don't go over the fence, just through it using the hen gate. Because the run is roughly circular this was not an easy task to do and to say that it looks "DIY" would be putting it nicely. It's a hot mess. But at least it was doing the job. Until Easter. 

As Easter is the holiday for chicks and ducks and all things cute and fluffy, Mom decided that the ladies deserved to be out in the yard, free ranging it until the evening when we were expecting a guest for dinner and we wanted to put the dogs outside for the occasion. (Scout is not known for his manners as he is still young and exuberant and would happily eat a roast of lamb if you let him.) This is not a problem for Axel (because he was raised around chickens and can behave himself properly) or Molly (because she is twelve pounds and Gretchen the rooster is her size or larger so she won't take them on by herself.) Scout is another matter. He is young and while he was raised around the chickens they are the only animals on the Unfarm that he can't behave himself around. They run and flap and make noise, after all. What dog could resist chasing them? Certainly not Scout. 

Dinner approached and our guest was due to arrive within the hour so Mom and I decided it was time to round up the chickens and put them back in the run. Penny, Lucy, and Gretchen went calmly into the run but this was not the case with Bridget and Georgia. These two are affectionately (and sometimes with a tinge of exasperation) called Dumb and Dumber. For the life of them they could not figure out how to get back into the run, despite the fact that they do it daily, and our efforts to coax them in the right direction only served to convince them that we were about to pop them into the stew pot and so they had better avoid us at all costs. Chickens are harder to catch than they look and while we were chasing them around the yard they were cackling the whole time, screaming for help in their little chicken voices. 

This was too much to bear for Gretchen, who decided he needed to come to the aid of his mistresses so he found a way out of the run, flying to the top of the coop and from there to the run fence and over. At this point, with three chickens now on the loose, we gave up and kept the dogs in the house during dinner, plying them with trachea (yuck) and rawhide treats to get them to behave properly, which they did for the most part. The chickens went into the coop for the night and we blocked up the hen door so that the next morning all five chickens would be blocked into the run again. Problem solved. 

The next day, however, we looked out into the yard to discover Lucy and Gretchen wandering around the garden, side by side while the other three remained stranded in the run. Penny looked relieved to be anywhere that Gretchen was not but Bridget and Georgia simply ran back and forth in the run trying to figure out where the hole was that allowed this escape. Lucy, being the smart little cookie that she is, had watched Gretchen escape the day before and now followed suit, vaulting off of the coop to reach the run fence and the yard beyond, and wherever Lucy goes Gretchen follows as she is his favorite hen. So now we are back to square one, with deck construction looming in the near future and no way to keep the ladies confined. We have a new run planned, in an area of the yard not filled with giant trees so it will be easier to cover but that's likely not coming until the summer. Who knows? Maybe we'll just have to diaper all the chickens and bring everyone inside during the construction - wouldn't that be an adventure?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wild weather and a mason bee update

What do you get when you combine high winds with wet soil, large trees, and old fencing? You guessed it: a mess. During the high winds a week or so back there were trees and fences down everywhere and the Unfarm was not immune - we lost power for 19 hours and three sections of fence came down but it could have been worse considering we have over ten mature trees on our property, mostly redwoods and firs. House smashers, is what they are. Fortunately our house is intact and none of the animals were harmed in the wind. It started up fairly early in the morning and the chickens were not yet out of the coop so we just kept them inside until it was over, lest we have chickens hurled about the yard, and not of their own accord. 

When we finally did get our power back on it was time to clean up the mess left behind which means we have been working on the fences for the past week. You need to dig out the old post before you can even begin to work on putting the panels back up. There was a period of time when Dad was using two bags of cement per post hole in a misguided effort to prevent the post from falling down. What resulted was a post that rotted off at ground level, leaving behind a heavy cement "mushroom" that then has to be hauled out of the hole somehow. And because I am too impatient to dig the whole thing out I employed the following technique: dig out the hole enough to jam the 4x4 post under the lip of the mushroom and then jump up and down on the 4x4 until the mushroom wiggles itself loose. It may not be the best technique, but it works for me. 

The chickens, meanwhile, were locked in the coop all day for two days straight while we worked on the fences until we could find a way to cover their run so they could be let out of the coop without the worry that they would simply fly over the top of the run and go gallivanting about the neighborhood when a bobcat is on the loose. (See previous post for more on this, if you so choose.)

At any rate, we eventually got the run covered sufficiently to keep them safe inside it and we have almost finished with all of the fencing - we have one last post to replace before it falls down on its own when we are most unprepared to deal with it, in all likelihood. 

And now, for the bees, there is some good news to report. A few of the bees have found their way back to the tubes and have taken up occupancy. I noticed some activity around the house during the week and when I checked one evening with a flashlight I saw five little faces staring back at me from within the tubes so perhaps this year won't be a total loss after all. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Mason Bee Mystery... and Bobcats

We raise mason bees. Or at least we used to. Mason bees are an easy way to get your feet wet with bees without all the expensive gear or the risk of getting stung. This year we watched all of our little mason bees hatch out of their cocoons and bask in the sun on their top of the line mason bee house with reusable plastic trays (which we switched to after the squirrels discovered our more basic mason bee houses filled with cardboard tubes where the bees live and lay their eggs - the squirrels started eating all the baby bees and pollen out of the tubes like they were pixie sticks.) After basking for a few hours the bees flew off in search of pollen and mud (which they use to plug up the holes they lay their eggs in.) We waited calmly for them to come back and start filling up their tubes. And we waited. And waited. And waited. It has been several weeks now with no sign of our bees. Usually we will see them coming and going from the house and the tubes will begin to plug up with mud but not this year. I don't know if they all flew off in search of greener pastures, so to speak, or if they were killed off by the pesticides the neighbors used on their homes this spring. At any rate, we have no bees and no clue as to why. For now, it remains a mystery. We were concerned that we would have to expand our operation this year and add a second house but now we will be lucky to have any bees at all next year. 

In other news, a bobcat has been spotted in our neighborhood. This has us concerned, as you would expect, for the safety of our chickens and ducks which currently roam freely throughout our backyard. A six foot wooden fence probably isn't much of a deterrent when there is an easy meal on the other side of it. We are trying now to find a way to cover the chicken run so that the chickens stay confined inside of it. I am as yet unsure what we will do to protect Minna and Maggie because they need access to their pool during the day. The makeshift catio under the deck will not work for long because in a couple of weeks we will no longer have a deck. It needs to be redone from the ground up but that is a headache for another day. In the meantime, let us hope that the bobcat stays occupied with rats and other small creatures further down the street and leaves our yard alone.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Cuddle time

Most of the animals here on the Unfarm are fairly self sufficient when it comes to going to sleep. The chickens put themselves away in their coop each night - even Lucy, who has stopped going into the Little Coop at night as abruptly, and mysteriously, as she started it. The ducks start nodding off as almost as soon as they get inside for the night and the mice curl themselves away in their little castle to sleep the day away. The rabbits sleep quite lightly but they do doze several times throughout the day and night. Cats are notorious for being good sleepers and ours are no exception, napping most of the day so that Maximus can spend the whole night upstairs playing while the dogs are out of the way in the bedrooms. And speaking of dogs, Molly and Axel can go to sleep whenever they feel like it - mostly when I am gone from the house and there is nothing else to hold their attention. Scout is another story. 

Scout is many things. He is high energy. He is fast. He is a ball thief at the dog park (because he is fast.) He is playful. And cute. And also really, really annoying when he is sleepy. Apparently he can't just go to sleep like everyone else. He must have someone there with him to cuddle up to. He is insistent. Very insistent. When he gets tired he finds someone and proceeds to make a pest of himself. If I am watching TV in the bunny room, Scout will try to crawl up onto the TV stand. Or my desk. Via my chair. If you are working at the dining room table he will try to crawl up onto the table, pushing your laptop out of the way until you give in and sit with him. On occasion, Scout has even tried to crawl onto me, putting his paws up on my shoulders and crawling into my lap. 

There is little else you can do but go and sit with him. And sometimes that is not even enough. In his quest to get close to you he will often sit not just next to you but actually on you. I got a text message the other day that said "look at your dog." Going out into the living room I found my brother on the couch with a 50 pound Scout sitting on his chest. If you are lying down he will try to sit on your head. 

This annoying behavior has been given the innocuous name of "cuddle time" and someone always draws the short straw and has to cuddle with Scout. If you choose not to you have to go into a room and close the door behind you, then listen to Scout as he scratches up the other side of the door trying to get in. Each scratch on the door is another one of your nerves being shredded until you just can't stand it anymore and you give in. Probably not the best way of dealing with him but the only way we have discovered so far. We keep wondering if perhaps he will outgrow this puppy-like behavior but at two and a half years old it isn't looking good as of yet.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Starting the new year off with a fizzle, and wintery weather

Every year I make New Years resolutions. Lose weight, get in shape, blog more, etc, etc. This year I have managed to avoid inevitably breaking my resolutions by not even getting around to making any. So, like I said, I'm starting the new year off with a fizzle. I may eventually get around to making some resolutions but likely not any time before the end of this month and possibly not even by the end of March. We'll see how it goes. At any rate there is some news from the Unfarm to catch you up on. I finished four of my needlepoint stockings just in time for Christmas, we finally got some winter weather and Molly managed to come down with a case of giardia, probably from drinking out of puddles on her walks.

But now: snow. We finally got some, though not as much as I would have liked and it didn't stick around long enough either. We ended up with about ten inches of it here on the Unfarm, which I realize isn't much compared with some parts of the country but it is a fair amount for around here and considering global warming and all. The animals were of mixed opinions about the weather. The dogs thought it was great, even Molly who is barely above the snow when standing in it. We bundled Molly and Scout up in their coats and took them out for walks in the snow. They tended to stick to the pathways where the snow was already packed down while Axel, with his thick fur, simply plowed through wherever he felt like it and was often found lying in it on the back deck.

The ducks and the chickens were decidedly less enthused about the wintery weather. The ducks were forced to stay inside the whole week the snow stuck around as their pond was frozen over and I didn't want them sitting on the ice and sticking to it or getting frostbite on their feet as they have not the sense to stay off of the snow and under the covered areas of the yard. They are frequently to be found sitting out in the middle of whatever bad weather we are having at the time and did I feel like carrying two wiggling, squirming ducks furiously paddling their feet and/or flapping their wings inside each day while trying to keep my balance in the slick, packed down snow? No. I did not. (Why would I have to carry them inside, you ask? Because Maggie has developed a bad habit of stepping on his own feet when he walks, causing him to fall down at which point he often just sits there waiting for you to come retrieve him.) 

The chickens were quite put out by all the snow. On the first day we opened their coop and they poked their heads out like they always do but instead of jumping out enthusiastically they made a collective decision to stay in the coop. For the whole day. And the next day. And the day after that. Finally, feeling sorry for the poor birds, we put out some old fence boards on top of the snow so that they could have somewhere to stand that wasn't covered in ten inches of the wretched white stuff they were so dismayed to awake to each morning. After that they would hang out on the boards or underneath the coop - the only place the ground was still visible - until the snow melted sufficiently (about a week later) for them to begin venturing out into the yard again. Needless to say that the chickens much prefer the warmer months when the ground is soft and they can once again become the terrors of all small plants in the yard.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Countdown to Christmas

Christmas is nearly here and I am, as usual, nowhere near ready. We have the tree set up and the house is - for the most part - decorated but that's about it. I am still frantically working on the fourth needlepoint Christmas stocking and am optimistic (if not realistic) that I will finish it in time for Christmas. 

Unfortunately I cannot devote all of my time to working on it because there are the usual Christmas tasks to take care of as well: make the candy, bake and decorate the cookies, shop for gifts and wrap them, deep clean the house, make the Christmas treats for the dogs, deliver food gifts to the neighbors, etc, etc. And then there is the daily life that goes on here on the Unfarm. The animals still need to be fed, watered and cared for, the dogs need to be walked, the chickens need to be let in and out of the coop each day, the eggs gathered from the nest boxes and the surprise nest at the back of the shed that we discovered the other day, the duck pools need to be cleaned and the duck diapers washed and dried, the rabbits let out daily and supervised so that they don't get into too much trouble, and the mouse cage cleaned out regularly to name a few. 

On top of all of that we have a winter storm warning for the area which could bring snow but will likely only bring freezing temperatures with my luck. Snow is one thing: it makes everything so fresh and white and quiet (and the dogs love to play in it) but ice or freezing temperatures is quite another - all that does is make life of the Unfarm more difficult. Walking the dogs becomes a hazard with the ice and the duck ponds freeze over which means Minna decides that she and Maggie will be staying in the house until the ponds thaw out, and the rabbit litter boxes start accumulating on the back deck because there is no way to clean them out with the hose frozen solid. In my humble opinion, if you are going to have the inconvenience of freezing temperatures you should at least have the fun of snow, but then the weather never asks for my opinion.

A few updates from the Unfarm, in case you are interested: Lucy is still insisting on sleeping in the little coop by herself. We are beginning to think that maybe she just gets stuck out in the yard after dark and heads to the nearest shelter instead of trying to fly over the fence to get to the regular coop. And Ginger shows no signs of being willing to bond with Sprout, and her weight loss is - much like my own - slow going. Sigh.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Ginger

I took Ginger to the vet the other day to confirm what I had been told, which is that she was spayed. It appears that I was misinformed, possibly so that I would take her off the previous owner's hands. So now I am stuck with a $200+ surgery that I have to pay for in order to get her spayed to prevent any risk of her getting uterine cancer. The surgery will have to wait, however, because the vet also informed me of something I already suspected - that she is overweight and by about two pounds - and needs to lose some of the weight before she can have the surgery.

The reason I wanted to confirm Ginger's spay in the first place was because we recently added another member to the Unfarm - an energetic young male rabbit found as a stray who had only just been neutered - and I didn't want to risk introducing them if there was any possibility that Ginger was not spayed and could therefore still get pregnant as males remain fertile for up to a month after surgery. The last thing we need on the Unfarm is twenty some rabbits hopping around. 


Sprout, as we named our new addition, seems to have potential as a possible mate for Ginger - he is easy going, adventurous, and friendly. Ginger, on the other hand, has been something of a lone wolf or several years now and may not think of the addition of another rabbit as a good thing. She is territorial to say the least. I have tried bonding her several times over the years without much success. And by "much" I mean "any." I would love for her to bond but I am beginning to grow discouraged. Sprout will sit beside Ginger's cage during his time out of his house and wait for her to groom him. Ginger, for her part, will sit beside Sprout and try to bite him through the cage bars. It isn't looking good so far. My only hope at this point is that somehow spaying Ginger will reduce her propensity for territorial behavior. Should I try to bond them I will keep you posted as to how it goes. Or doesn't go. 

By the way, Lucy is still daily to be found in the little coop when bedtime rolls around. We still have not figured out why she is choosing to sleep there. We take her out of the little coop and put her into the regular coop each evening so that she doesn't get too cold by herself. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The mice of the Unfarm: a recap, and whether or not decorating is my calling

We have had several mice here on the Unfarm going, in chronological order, from Bernadette to Caroline, then Daphne, and then Evangeline, Francine, Gemima, and (since it was bugging me that I had missed the "a") Angela. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that Gemima appeared to be losing weight so I made an appointment with the vet for her. It was quite timely because the morning of the vet appointment Gemima was sitting in her cage, hunched and moving very little with a discharge coming from her nose. I had her in the backseat of the car and was ready to leave for the vet's office when I got a phone call from them. An emergency case had just come in and the vet had rushed into emergency surgery with a ferret with a life threatening condition and as a result Gemima's appointment got bumped. Now I faced a dilemma: wait it out with Gemima at home and hope she pulled through until the vet could see her or take her in to the vet's office anyway and leave her there for the vet to check once he got out of surgery. I chose the latter. The next morning I got the call that she had unfortunately passed away sometime during the night, probably due to a failure of some sort in some internal organ. So my little quartet became a trio: Angela, Evangeline, and Francine are left still and are, for the most part, doing well. (Evangeline has a bit of a respiratory illness that she is not quite suppressing as well as she should but it is nothing that requires medication as of yet. Fingers crossed that she beats it on her own.)

Switching gears: apparently I am a horrible decorator. As soon as I set a litter box down in the rabbit cages the rabbits start tossing them about, moving them from one side of the cage to the other. Ginger was quite fond of tossing her litter box off the second floor of her cage and scattering her litter, box, and bunny berries all over the floor until I thwarted her by keeping her box on the first floor of her cage. Dog beds and blankets neatly laid out get scrunched and rearranged and dragged down the hallway until the dogs are satisfied with the new arrangement. The chickens and ducks are not much better - the chickens scratch about in their straw convinced that there is invisible food buried somewhere in the coop until they have made a proper mess and Minna is fond of pulling up any loose material around her to create little nests. I am no more successful with the mice. I cleaned their cage the other day and put in more bedding than I usually do - too much, as it turns out. I saw Francine at the cage bars yesterday, busily pushing bedding out of the cage between the bars and onto the table below. Maybe the feng shui was off somehow. Or maybe the cage wasn't "open concept" enough anymore. Or maybe I simply am a horrible decorator.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Banana bread, and why Scout doesn't like it

Banana bread

The original recipe was found in the Pillsbury complete cook book and included 1/2 cup chopped nuts that I usually leave out.

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 eggs
2 medium bananas, ripe (if frozen, let thaw)
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottom of a 9x5 or 8x4 inch loaf pan. Mix sugar and margarine in a large bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat well. Add the bananas, milk and vanilla and blend well. In a smaller bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt and stir well. Add the dry mixture to the banana mixture and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened, then pour into your greased loaf pan. Bake for 55-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once cooled, wrap tightly and store in the refrigerator.

Our freezer is full of, among other things, a large collection of over ripe bananas. No longer suitable for eating plain they get tossed into the freezer until someone - usually me - decides to thin them out by making a batch or two (or three or four) of banana bread. That was the case a few days ago when I managed to fit a triple batch of banana bread into our mixer - just barely - and made up three loaves of banana bread that I left to cool on the counter. Naturally I took precautions - I pulled out the bread boards effectively pushing the banana bread to the back of the counter where Scout can't reach it. Unfortunately, Scout figured out that he could push the bread boards back in. Now we practice basic math: if you made three loaves of banana bread and you only see two sitting on the counter, how many loaves did your mischievious dog make off with? 

Yep, Scout got a whole loaf of banana bread and had eaten at least a third of it before he was caught red handed, and he had slobbered all over the rest of it so the whole loaf was ruined. It wasn't a total loss though - the chickens had a field day with the other half of the loaf. I have yet to discover who might be the mastermind of these kitchen raids - the chickens benefit nearly as often as Scout does. Whoever was behind it, the plan backfired for Scout. It seems that a large portion of banana bread consumed all at once does not do the digestive system any favors as Scout was gassy for days afterwards. The next day he was offered a small piece of banana bread as a treat but would not touch it, having apparently grown sick of it. But as Scout is a slow learner I'm sure it will only be a matter of time before the process repeats itself with some other treat from the kitchen - he has already gotten a third of a jar of peanut butter a couple of months ago. Until then we can at least pretend that he is a good boy. Right?

Monday, November 7, 2016

Pillow fight and a mystery

The chicken coop is a mess of late. There is the usual straw and chicken poop but in addition to that there is an abundance of feathers. It looks like the ladies had a rowdy slumber party complete with a pillow fight one night. I think all five of the chickens are molting simultaneously which results in a coop full of feathers and a bunch of rather pathetic looking chickens wandering around the backyard. Gretchen has lost his beautiful tail feathers and the hens are in various states of nakedness. Lucy is by far the worst off, looking something closer to a hedgehog than a chicken, with all her old feathers fallen out and her new ones growing in still. 

In addition to being challenged in the plumage department, Lucy has recently developed a mysterious new habit. She has taken sleeping in the Little Coop - the name we gave the second coop we made in case it was needed when raising new chicks. Normally all the chickens sleep in the regular coop - Villa di L'uccelli or [very] roughly translated: house of the birds - also known as the armored coop because something around 150 bolts were used in its construction and it was designed to be impervious to raccoons and other predators. The Little Coop is not nearly so fortified and has never found favor with any of the chickens until now. 

Every evening when the coop is closed up for the night we do a head count just to make sure everyone is in for the night and of late Lucy is always missing and can be found in the Little Coop all by herself. We don't know if she has grown tired of the company of the other ladies and Gretchen or if she simply finds herself out in the yard after dark and heads for the nearest coop or if she has some other mysterious reason for wanting to branch out on her own and go solo. So now every evening we have to fish Lucy out of the Little Coop and put her in the armored coop with the rest of the ladies because until we know otherwise, that is the safest place for her - safe from predators and safe from getting too cold without the other ladies to huddle up next to should the temperature drop.