Sunday, January 31, 2010

News from the Unfarm

Minna is under the weather. I noticed her limping when she came in for dinner this evening and - although concerned - I wasn't overly worried. It is not the first time I have seen one or the other of the ducks limping and while I keep an eye on them, it has always gone away after a bit. Ducks are a fairly hardy animal, not too prone, for the most part, to getting sick. And although I am a bit of a worrier as mothers go, I was not letting my fears get the best of me when the ducks came in this evening. They ate dinner as usual: Maggie has a few bites and Minna finishes off the rest of the bowl, and came in to play in the water bowl as they always do, then headed off to bed.

But it is now, what?, 12:01, and I am in the midst of a full blown panic. Since settling down for bed this evening Minna has now deteriorated into laying a bit on her side and not moving. She is alert and awake, but she isn't moving. Not even to get water, and Minna rarely passes up a chance to play in the water bowl in the evening. I am praying that it is only a very sore leg that has her so low, and that she will be better in the morning. If, by then, she hasn't laid an egg yet I might set her up in the bathroom with a heater to see if perhaps she's become egg bound. (Egg binding is a relatively common affliction in the bird world and it has the potential to become serious - if they can't pass the egg it will need to be massaged out, if possible, and if it breaks while still inside it can lead to dangerous infections.) Being somewhere warm is supposed to help them pass the egg. If she is not egg bound, and continues to deteriorate, I may have to get her in to see the vet. We have three different vets: one for the dogs and cats, one for the rabbits, and another one for the chickens and ducks. All told, I'm sure that over the years we have shelled out enough to each clinic to pay for a new addition to be named after us.

For the moment, because it is midnight, there is not much I can do - the emergency vet has very little experience working with ducks and/or chickens, as we have discovered over the years - so I am hoping that keeping her calm and quiet and letting her rest on a soft towel will help her to feel better. I am trying my best to be a decent nursemaid to Minna but I have discovered that Maggie, while very attached to Minna, is never destined to join the medical profession. At the moment she is sleeping on the majority of the towel I put in for Minna but I don't dare move her off of it - Maggie sitting is a vast improvement over Maggie standing. Before she settled down she was walking around near the gate, hoping I would let her out again, and the fact that Minna was in the way did not bother her in the least. She stepped all over Minna as she walked back and forth, and Minna looked decidedly uncomfortable - understandable considering she is only half the size of Maggie. Maggie did not look remorseful in the slightest. But then, I don't think ducks are all that familiar with remorse, as a rule.

In other Unfarm news, Aspen has been turning his nose up at his usual favorite for the last three nights. Evaporated milk has always been his drink of choice, so when he walked away from the bowl of milk again tonight - and it was the regular stuff, not the skim milk that he has never liked - I finally figured out what it was he was after. The whipped cream. Ever since I made the mistake of giving him some one night, he has decided that when we have it in the fridge he is entitled to that in place of his milk. Or on top of his milk. Whichever we choose - he is, after all, a very accommodating cat.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A thought or two on fire

I started a fire this evening - in the fireplace, of course. (I do not recommend starting fires anywhere else in your house. I imagine it is not conducive to keeping a roof over your head.) I was supposed to be reading the latest scintillating chapter in my Financial Accounting textbook but it was - as usual - more boring than watching paint dry. (On the plus side, I no longer have any trouble falling asleep at night - a page or two of accounting and I'm out like a light.) Sitting in front of the fireplace, not reading my accounting homework, I started to stare at the fire. And the more I watched it, the more I came to the conclusion that fire is like a house cat. Both are things you want to curl up near. Both are interesting to watch. Both are enjoyed best when they are somewhat tamed. And finally, house cats and fires are both safest when small. You wouldn't want a tiger roaming your kitchen any more than you want a raging fire burning through your bedroom.

With that said, I am off to work on my homework. I was finally able to finish my chapter of assigned accounting reading, and have moved on to the even more awful Introduction to the Practice of Sadistics. Or Statistics. Whatever. Same thing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

5:00 and all's dark

It is, as the title of this post suggests, 5:00. Or 5:21, to be exact, and the house is dark. I have a mountain of homework still to do but it will have to wait. The chickens have taken to roosting near the house when it gets dark, as opposed to going into their coop as they usually do.

The last time the chickens avoided their coop like this it was because a rat had taken up residence in the gap between the top of the nest box and the roof. Our rats, it seems, are somewhat wimpy and had decided that there was no reason to spend the winter in a muddy tunnel under the shed when they could luxuriate in the warmth of the heated coop. This was fine for the rat but it made the chickens understandably nervous to be shut up in their house with it all night long.

So when the ladies started hanging out near the house again I went out and checked the coop: no rat above the nest boxes and no rat in the straw underneath the nest boxes either. Why the chickens are choosing to roost on the deck, then, I do not know. Maybe they see the ducks getting to come inside every night and have decided that having a coop all to themselves isn't all it's cracked up to be. This would be fine if it weren't for the coyotes, opossums (North America's only marsupial!) and raccoons who would love a chicken dinner. So the ladies have to spend their nights in the safety of the armored coop (so named because it was built with at least 100 bolts and all ventilation windows are covered with 1/2 inch hardware cloth, to keep raccoon paws out), no exceptions.

How then do you get three chickens to go into their coop when the don't want to? Strategy number one, the strategy currently being employed, is to turn on the light in the chicken coop (we keep a light in the coop when it's cold to heat it up at night for them) and turn off all the lights in the house and hope that the girls make their way to the coop on their own - they seem to be attracted to light when it gets dark out. Strategy two, assuming strategy one has failed, is to go out with the flashlight, find the chickens wherever they've decided to curl up for the night, pick them up and carry them to the coop. "That doesn't seem that bad," you may now be thinking. After all, how hard is it to put a chicken in a coop. Ah, you don't have chickens, yourself, then. If you did, you would realize that this is easier said than done.

First, you must find three relatively small birds in a fairly large yard, and chickens rarely come when called - especially at night. Then you have to catch them. I can carry three chickens at once, but actually catching all three at the same time almost never happens. What usually occurs ends up looking something like this: approach chickens with flashlight. Chickens see you and take off running in three different directions. Follow chickens, leaving flashlight behind in order to have hands free to catch birds. Chickens run under bushes and trees. Human crawls under said bush or tree only to see the chicken's tail feathers running out the other side. Human crawls out from under the bush and chases another chicken. Second chicken runs under deck and comes out on the other side of the yard. Human follows and chicken runs under a tree on this side of the yard. Human yells and trips over a bucket in the dark. Human finally catches a chicken and deposits it in the coop, then leaves the chicken run to retrieve another bird. Chicken in the coop hops out the front door, which was left open in the hopes of one of the remaining loose chickens going in voluntarily. Human wonders what possessed them to buy chickens in the first place. 15 minutes later all three chickens are in the coop and human is thoroughly ticked off. Process repeats the next night, and the next, and the next....

It's now completely dark outside and from where my computer is I can see into the coop. And it's empty. So off I go on the Great Chicken Chase. Again.