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


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.

Monday, October 10, 2016

On stubbornness, needlepoint, and rabbits

In January of 2015 I ordered five Christmas stocking needlepoint kits and started working on them. I was smart. I planned ahead. I would have all of them ready by Christmas that year. I vastly overestimated my needlepoint abilities. We are coming up on Christmas 2016 and I still have two and a half stockings to go. Not that I'm giving up. No, I am stubbornly working away on the stockings with the misguided faith that by some miracle I will finish them this year. In all reality they won't be completed until Christmas eve of 2017 but my only options are to keep working on them or to give up completely and like I said: I'm stubborn. So that's what I've been doing lately. Needlepoint. Which I think must actually be Latin for "lots of work for very little results."

What does this mean for life on the Unfarm? Not much has changed other than that all this time spent in the bunny room, combined with the loss of Jojo, means that Ginger gets to spend the whole day out of her house hanging out in the room with me. She mostly chills in the duck area during the day and spends the evening exploring the room, collecting dust bunnies on her whiskers from the corners and behind the door.

Ginger hangs out on top of one of the art bins.
Ginger nibbling on my pants.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Rustic pear tarts

Let's lighten the mood a bit. Here's a recipe for pear tarts that are quite good and pretty simple to make. The original recipe came out of Sunset magazine but I've altered it a bit, mostly out of laziness, a lack of some ingredients on hand, and the fact that it grosses me out to brush raw egg on something (hence the milk instead, but feel free to use egg if it doesn't bother you.)

Rustic Pear Tarts

1 sheet (about 10x12 inches) frozen puff pastry, thawed (14 oz package)
2 or 3 firm-ripe pears such as Bosc or Comice; Asian pears will work as well
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1/4 to 1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
Whipped cream, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease two large baking sheets. Flour a work surface and rolling pin and roll the pastry out to about 16x18 inches. Cut the pastry into six rectangles and transfer the pasties to the baking sheets. Core the pears or Asian pears and cut them into thin wedges and arrange them on the pastry rectangles leaving a border of about 1 1/2 inches bare. Warm the marmalade in the microwave and pour some over each pastry, then brush to distribute. Fold the border over the edges of the pears. Stretch slightly and press down to hold. Brush the edges with the milk then sprinkle the sugar over the tarts, especially getting the edges. Bake until the pastries are richly browned, about 25 to 30 minutes. Serve with whipped cream if desired.

Yet another departure

We lost Jojo yesterday. He hadn't been his usual spunky self for quite a while now and he was getting on in years, being already ten years old. I gave him his medicines in the morning and cleaned the urine off of his bum and was holding him when he started to make little gasping motions with his mouth and a minute or two later he went limp and died in my arms. I am comforted only by the knowledge that he didn't die alone but was with his momma when he went. I hope he is feeling well now and comes back to me soon. I'll be sure to be on the lookout for another spunky little netherland at the shelter in the coming months. Stay tuned.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Camping out at the vet...again

It had been a couple of weeks since we've been to the vet's office so naturally it is time to go back. This time it was Axel and Jojo who drew the short straws. It seems no one else wanted to volunteer to go in for some reason.

Axel went in for a bout of diarrhea that lasted three days before we gave up and took him in to see the vet. We brought in a stool sample and he was given some nasty medication to take to help clear up the diarrhea. We had to coat the medication in peanut butter to make sure he would swallow it because it tastes bad and starts to dissolve quickly - I know this from personal experience. I had to take this same medication several years ago and in order to be able to swallow it at all I had to coat each pill in chocolate almond bark so I wouldn't be able to taste it. Gotta give me props for creativity, right? Axel's visit was pretty straight forward: test for parasites and treat for diarrhea.

Jojo's visit was another story. Jojo went into the vet for something that we thought was minor - blocked tear ducts and a disinclination to use his litter box - that turned out to be a bigger problem than we foresaw. His tear ducts are in fact blocked, and he was given eye drops to try and clear that problem up but his reluctance to use the litter box was more than simply wanting to keep me on my toes and make more work for me in an effort to keep his cage clean. It turned out that he had poor control of his hind end which could have been caused by several different things, the first of which was parasitic infection, so we tested for that and it came back positive for E. cuniculi. Enter another medication, stage right. Now, not only is Jojo on eye drops three to four times a day, he is also on oral medication twice a day. 

And they weren't done yet - they wanted x-rays of his back end, so back we went to the vet. The x-rays were taken but the vet advised sending them out to a specialist to look at to see if it could be cancer of the bones that could be causing the rather squabbagy (pronounced skwa-buh-gee, it basically means crooked) look to his spine. It seems the vets are determined to clean out my entire savings account this month. The results are in and they do not think it is cancer (thank goodness), just arthritic changes and an old, healed fracture but they want him on an anti-inflammatory medication and ideally laser treatments twice a week for several weeks at $50 a pop. Someone there must have a child headed off to college that they need me to pay for. We are starting with the anti-inflammatory medication because really, why not add another medication to the already long list of medications the animals need each day? Whoever said that moving to the country and living on a farm was getting back to the simple life was seriously mistaken. Or else I just have rotten luck.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Minestrone soup and mini cornbread

Having grown tired of our usual last minute dinner stand by options of macaroni and cheese, rice and beans, or stir-fry I decided to make something different for dinner the other night and it turned out pretty well so I am passing along the recipe. I am also including a recipe for three mini cornbread. Since my brother has been in Australia and is not around to inhale any bread we bake I decided to split our regular recipe so we wouldn't end up with leftovers that sit around for a week before finally being crumbled up and fed to the chickens. Sorry, ladies.

Minestrone soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups (about 2 small) zucchini, cubed
1 finely chopped onion
2 cups carrots, cubed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15oz can crushed tomatoes, undrained
1 15 oz can white beans, rinsed and drained
1 15 oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 quart vegetable broth
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Parmesan or mozzarella cheese, if desired

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot while you cut up the carrots. Add the carrots and cook several minutes while you cut up the zucchini and onion. Add the zucchini, onion, and garlic to the pan and cook approximately three minutes or until the onion is tender, stirring often. Stir in all the remaining ingredients and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer ten to fifteen minutes or until carrots are tender. Sprinkle servings with Parmesan or mozzarella cheese if desired. 

Mini cornbread (makes 3)

1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 tablespoon baking powder
scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup oil
1/3 cup milk
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Slowly pour in the milk and oil, then add the egg. Stir just enough to blend the ingredients thoroughly. Grease three 4 inch ramekins and divide the dough between the three ramekins and level the dough with a spatula. Bake for approximately 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The nightly routine

It is no secret that dogs like to eat and that their palate is somewhat less sophisticated than ours with a taste for, among other things: cat poop, bunny poop, chicken poop... basically anyone's poop, liver, cat food, and fish oil. Along with their own food they also have a taste for duck food, which leads me to the nightly routine. After the dogs get their dinner the chickens get put away in the coop for the night and the ducks are brought in. Before bringing the ducks inside for the night we feed them dinner on the back deck: a bowl of water and a bowl of Purina duck chow. The dogs know this and wait impatiently at the kitchen door for me to bring the ducks inside. This is not because of some great love for the ducks and a strong desire to see them again after being separated all day. No, this is purely selfish on the part of the dogs. 

After I put the diapers on the ducks I scoop them up while they furiously paddle their little feet and we head to the back door. As soon as I get the door open six inches or so the dogs will force the door open the rest of the way and then I just stay out of the way as all three dogs burst through onto the back deck. They run right past the ducks and I as if we weren't even there and make a beeline for the duck bowls. Were Scout and Axel after the same thing we might have a problem but they complement each other perfectly because Axel heads straight to the water bowl and starts drinking while Scout grabs the food bowl and takes off. Scout picks up the bowl by the rim without tipping anything out and takes it across the deck to eat the water soaked duck chow in peace. Molly is left to clean up the scraps that fall onto the deck boards. Having eaten less than an hour ago I know for a fact that the dogs are not starving, they simply like the taste of watered down duck food. Go figure. I guess there's no accounting for taste.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Tags: check

Check that one off the list - I've been wanting to get the ID tags back onto Scout and Axel's collars for a while now but I couldn't find the right size key rings. I finally just gave up and bought regular sized ones instead of the small ones I was searching unsuccessfully for. But the story here is not about my to do list or the fact that Axel's ID tag had been sitting in my desk drawer for months, but rather how it got there in the first place.

Scout's tag came off innocently enough, likely while he was rough housing with Axel or playing with Molly but Axel's tag came off after repeated abuse. Axel, in case I have not explained before, likes to sleep on the floor in my room at night, wedged between the bed and the wall right next to the air vent cover. Often on top of the air vent cover, actually. And herein lies the problem: his neck and head are often over the air vent, which means so is his collar and, naturally, his ID tag. Several times while lying over the air vent Axel's tag would slip between the slats on the vent cover, become wedged there, and the tag would get pulled on and the ring bent out of shape as Axel repositioned himself. Were this Molly we were talking about she may have remained stuck there, attached to the floor until someone came to rescue her but this is Axel and - being rather more on the large side - he would simply stand up and walk away. The reason I know this is what happened is because it usually occurred in the morning after he had been lying on the vent all night and I would wake up to a clanking sound only to discover Axel walking around my room with the vent cover hanging off of his collar like an oversized pendant. I would then have to twist the tag back around so that it could slip back between the slats and remove the grate from his collar. It seems that after this had happened ten or fifteen times the ring called it quits and gave up trying to keep the tag attached to the collar. I can't say that I blame it. At least it didn't fall down the air vent and get lost. The new ring should be stronger and hopefully the new vent cover will prevent his tag from slipping through it because next time we might not be so lucky and I have no desire to fish around in a forty year old air vent looking for his ID tag.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The best seat in the house

This post is late by, like, a week because we've been hosting my cousin and having a craftapalooza here on the Unfarm. She only gets to come down from Seattle once a year or so since she is usually so busy with school so we like to cram as much arts, crafts, and tax free shopping in as possible which leaves very little time for blogging, checking email, or doing anything remotely responsible aside from taking care of the animals and even that didn't always get done - the dogs missed their walk on Wednesday. At any rate, here comes a post for you, short as it may be.

Scout likes chairs. And couches. And beds. And basically any soft spot. In the bunny room/my art studio/my office there are two chairs. One is a wooden desk chair and the other is an IKEA poang chair that I stole from the living room. Needless to say, the poang chair is by far the more popular one. It is springy and cushioned and comfortable and it was where I happened to be sitting last night when Scout came into the room. He stood around near me for a few minutes before he lost patience and used his muzzle to nudge my elbow a couple times. When I didn't respond he repeated himself, nudging my elbow again. Figuring he wanted something I stood up to find out what it was he needed. He immediately hopped into the chair and made himself comfortable. Turns out what he wanted was my seat. If Scout is in the room I usually have to content myself with the desk chair because Scout will inevitably want to sit in the poang chair. But saying no to those puppy dog eyes is nearly impossible, and Scout is incredibly persistent so I may as well get used to it.

Scout curled up in the poang

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Now it's my turn to limp

I was quite a hit today at the dog park. All the dogs kept coming up to me to sniff and then try to lick my knees. Unfortunately it was not because I had smeared myself with peanut butter but because I had smeared myself with Neosporin after having a run in with the sidewalk last night. In case you are wondering, the sidewalk won. We were walking the dogs in the evening and two things joined forces against me: the uneven sidewalk and gravity, assisted by the hill we were walking down. I tripped and before I could do anything my knees were taking most of the force of the fall. 

After hobbling home with blood dripping down my legs I got to spend the next half hour cleaning the scrapes. A shower didn't do the job sufficiently so I had to endure betadine and hyrogen peroxide washes and then cotton swab scrubbing and poking with tweezers to get all the little bits of gravel out. I can't think of a more enjoyable way to spend an evening. Oh wait, yes I can. 

While yesterday hurt I am sure it is only the beginning because as the wounds heal and scab over it will hurt every time I bend my knees. And knees, as we all know, bend often. It's pretty much all they do. Lucky me.

On a more positive note, Scout finally saw a bone specialist and he said that Scout's limp is nothing to be concerned about. Possibly some elbow dysplasia but it shouldn't stop Scout from going on walks or playing at the dog park, much to Scout's delight. At least one of us is on the mend.

Monday, August 22, 2016

On the migration of stress

I have decided that stress never actually goes away, it simply migrates from one issue to another. Case in point: I used to be stressed that the neighbors were going to eventually complain about Gretchen and his morning "singing." And afternoon singing. And evening singing. Whoever said roosters only crow in the morning to announce the rising sun was either lying or a rooster salesman, trying to saddle some poor sap with a rooster. In fact, roosters crow all day long, whenever and wherever the mood strikes them. Not that we don't love Gretchen - we do - we just don't love the volume with which he announces himself. Enter the crow collar. 

The crow collar is an simple Velcro and fabric device that wraps around the rooster's neck and can be tightened or loosened as needed, to help control the volume of the crowing. I made one and we put it on Gretchen several months ago but over the course of the summer he has gotten progressively louder so we determined it was time to tighten the collar a bit. We did that a couple days ago and it has worked like a charm - his volume is down by at least half and the frequency with which he's crowing is much reduced as well. I can only assume that he is so disheartened with the sad state of his once proud crow that he no longer feels the urge to announce himself so often.

The problem is this: now that the collar is tighter and the stress of the neighbors getting mad is alleviated, I am stressed that the collar is tight enough to prevent Gretchen from eating normally and may be irritating his skin. We have tested his ability to eat and he seems to be doing okay but I may try to get him on a scale somehow and track his weight over the course of several weeks to make sure that he actually is eating acceptably. We will monitor his skin at the same time. If Gretchen maintains his weight and his skin stays normal I can stop worrying about him and get on to worrying about the next issue, which will undoubtedly come up sooner than I would like - such is life on the Unfarm.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Making duckins

We have long known that we attract "special" pets. A chicken that needed a hysterectomy, a cat AND a dog on anti-anxiety medicine, a duck that didn't produce the oil to condition his feathers, a dog with seizures, and so on and so on. So it would only make sense that our rooster would be special, too.

On the plus side, I finally figured out why Gretchen and Maggie were fighting. It happened the other day when I heard the usual frantic flapping of wings that generally means trouble. I ran to the window and looked outside in time to see Minna, pinned down underneath Gretchen who was trying his very best to produce what I can only assume would be called "duckins," a sort of duck-chicken hybrid creature. Maggie generally takes it upon himself to protect Minna and this attack on her was more than he could tolerate. To add insult to injury, Gretchen apparently tried to mate with Maggie as well and you can imagine how well that went over with Maggie. Hint: it ended with much flapping of wings, pulling of feathers, and jabbing of beaks.

When I was at the vet's office with Maggie the other day (yet again - I should probably just set up camp in the parking lot or else buy a horse trailer and just live on the road, hauling all the pets from one vet clinic to the next) I asked the vet if that was a common occurrence, roosters mating with ducks, and she said that she had never heard of it happening so I guess that makes us special. Lucky us.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Nothing but the best

Whipped cream has become a staple in our house, because you never know when the mood might strike to bake a batch of brownies and nothing completes a brownie like a dollop of whipped cream, except for maybe a scoop of ice cream. But let's be honest, ice cream just doesn't last around here so whipped cream is a good back up plan. We usually buy our whipped cream in a three pack from Costco, which carries Land O'Lakes in their distinctive red and yellow spray cans. 

They are so distinctive, in fact, that Maximus can recognize them when he sees them sitting on the shelf in the fridge and he demands his nightly squirt of whipped cream before we go to bed. He does this by waiting until the dogs are in bed (and thus not around to chase him back downstairs) and then coming upstairs and weaving in and out of my legs until I get fed up and give him a tiny squirt of whipped cream on the kitchen counter. And before you say it: yes, I know that cats are lactose intolerant and should not be eating dairy but Max is extremely demanding and it's easier to just give in than to risk breaking a leg tripping over him.

Last month we ran out of our Land O'Lakes whipped cream and had to get some generic brand from Winco in a pinch. It tasted the same to us but apparently was far inferior to the Land O'Lakes brand as Max refused to eat it. That is not to say that he stopped demanding whipped cream - he continued demanding it nightly but each morning we would find a small puddle of de-whipped cream on the counter where he left it the night before after turning up his nose at it. 

And in case you might be thinking that perhaps Max had simply decided that he no longer liked whipped cream - cats are notorious for changing their minds, after all, liking something one day and hating it the next - we discovered that this was not the case as soon as we switched back to the Land O'Lakes whipped cream. He would dive into his little pile of cream with gusto and we no longer found puddles of cream on the counter in the morning. He simply has expensive taste in whipped cream. And treats. And toys, as well, come to think of it. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Limping back to the vet

As always tends to happen here on the Unfarm, no sooner has one pet gotten back from the vet than another one heads in. This time it is Scout, who is limping. Again. Last time it was his right leg and this time it is his left and in both cases the blood work came back with a high eosinophil level while the x-rays came back clean and the anti-inflammatory medication has no effect which means we need to see a specialist. Which means more money. Our vet's office recently remodeled and added another exam room, a project I am sure was funded mostly by the Unfarm; they really should have just named the new wing after us.

In this case there is no end in sight yet to the vet visits for Scout. First up is an expensive test (surprise, surprise) to rule out Addison's disease. Should that come back negative we have to schedule a visit with an orthopedic specialist who may recommend injections for a month that we would have to learn how to give. So in addition to being able to pill a duck and collar a chicken I would be able to add "inject a dog" to my list of accomplishments. The fun never stops around here. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Barnyard brawl

With (at current count) 18 animals, noise is something I am quite familiar with. Dogs bark, cats meow, rabbits thump their feet on the ground when they are annoyed at something, roosters crow, hens cackle, ducks quack, and mice run on their wheel. Animals make noise: this I know and generally pay little attention to. The exception to this rule are the typical noises that signal something is wrong - cats that hiss or growl, a bark with a certain tone, or - around here - a frantic flapping of wings. 

This sound of wing beats is what alerted me to something amiss in the backyard the other day. As this sound never means anything good is happening, I ran outside to discover Maggie and Gretchen in the middle of a whirlwind of wings and feathers. After separating them I was able to look them over and Maggie appeared to have gotten the worst of it, with a gash under his chin (if ducks have chins) that was bleeding. As ducks are equipped with very little weaponry compared to the beaks and spurs of a rooster, Gretchen walked away without so much as a scratch from what I could tell. Maggie's gash was somewhat worrisome, but even more than that was the concern that antibiotics would be required and they would need to be started immediately. 

That this incident happened on the Sunday before the fourth of July was even more unfortunate: it meant that our avian vet would be unavailable until Tuesday at the earliest. Our backup vet was also not in the office. The only option left was the emergency vet (one town over, because our emergency vet didn't have anyone who could treat ducks), which probably meant a big wait and an even bigger bill. (I swear the animals conspire only to get injured when it is the most inconvenient timing and all the regular vets are unavailable.) 

This circumstance is how we found ourselves sitting in the waiting room at the emergency vet surrounded by the usual cats with kidney stones and vomiting dogs. Walking in there with a duck made us something of an emergency vet celebrity. Two hours, one stitch, fourteen pills, and $100 later we walked out of there sufficiently patched up and ready to live to fight another day. And I'm sure it's only a matter of time until they do.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The walking wounded

It is our assertion that Maximus is an indoor cat. It is Max's assertion that he should be allowed to go outside whenever he wants to. We are concerned about Max's safety while Max is primarily concerned with his fun. Needless to say we do not see eye to eye on this particular issue and Max will take any opportunity that he can to escape; which is what he did the other morning when Max sneaked upstairs and pawed open the screen door on the front deck and got out into the front yard. When we discovered his escape, Mom and I ran outside to begin searching for him and he led us on a merry chase through the front yard to underneath the trailer to under the Suburban where we were finally able to corner him. As I lay on the ground, half under the Suburban, I spotted him crawling along the undercarriage of the car and I was able to just reach his tail so I grabbed it, figuring he would follow along with it seeing as how it is attached to him. He did, but he was rather more upset than I figured he would be and he expressed his displeasure by biting my thumb. Hard.

I don't remember who gave in first, but one of us eventually let go and Max ran off, no worse for the wear while I staggered into the house, bleeding from both sides of my thumb. I am not normally a fainting sort of person but the combination of the adrenaline and the sight of my mangled thumb had me sinking to the floor in a bout of extreme dizziness and nausea. I did not pass out completely but I was useless to continue chasing Max so it was fortunate that Mom was able to catch him on her own somehow.

By the afternoon, Max was safely back in the house but my thumb still had not stopped bleeding so off we went to the urgent care. Usually it is me taking the pets to the emergency vet, so being on the receiving end of the care is a switch here on the Unfarm. I figured they would bandage it up and maybe give me some antibiotics but it turns out that the damage was worse than I had initially realized: Max had bitten clear through the nail and pulled out tissue that is supposed to stay inside the skin. (It would not surprise me in the least if it was discovered that Max's teeth actually met inside my thumb.) This meant that they had to take off part of the nail (I know, gross) in order for the wound to heal up at all. After that they were able to bandage it up and gave me a bottle of antibiotics to take for the next five days, with full recovery expected in four to six weeks. Upon learning that my tetanus shot was up to date, gotten several years ago after I was bitten by a squirrel, they gave me twice the number of pills that I actually needed. It seems they sensed a pattern in my interactions with animals and foresaw the possibility of a need for antibiotics in the future.

In the end, Max and I came to an understanding: he forgives me for pulling his tail and I forgive him for biting me. That is not to say that I don't flinch when he gets claws or teeth near me, however.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Arrivals and departures on the Unfarm

As it has been some time since I have posted anything (goodbye, resolutions) there has been some small number of arrivals and departures here on the Unfarm. A change of cast, so to speak.

The first to leave was Daphne, the mouse. This left Caroline (being the other mouse) all alone and precipitated the arrival of Evangeline - a small, grey mouse to keep Caroline company, which would have worked well had Caroline not then died soon afterward, leaving Evangeline alone. It would appear that either my timing is perpetually off when it comes to the mice or my luck is just plain lousy. 

Shortly after Caroline died (and was stored in the freezer beside Daphne until they could be taken to be cremated - a fact which my mom forgot until she went rummaging around in the back of the freezer for cheese and was startled (to say the least) by a frozen, Ziploc-ed mouse) Clover, my sweet little rabbit, took a downward turn. It started out with weight loss that had me concerned enough to make a vet appointment but became something closer to panic when he became lethargic one evening a week before his scheduled appointment. I took him into the vet the next morning on an emergency drop off appointment and he remained there on heat lamps throughout the day and went home with me in the evening in less than stable condition, with poor appetite and low body temperature. I was cuddling with him at home that evening when he stretched out and then went limp. Having held enough dying animals (that is a sad statement of my life, is it not?) to know what that meant I pleaded with him not to go but it was useless: he died in my arms. And so we lost Clover - the malnourished stray I had caught in a live trap and nursed back to health six years ago. Perhaps the only positive thing I can say about losing Clover was that at least he was not bonded to any other rabbits that would be left behind; I was in the process of bonding him with Jojo but they were only at the point of tolerating each other when Clover died. 

The benefit to having so many pets is that when you lose one you can't wallow in your misery for long: you have a dozen or so other animals that need you still. Which brings me back to Evangeline, our lone mouse. As it so happens, I was trolling the humane society website (as I often do, looking for some animal or another who seems to desperately need a home like ours) and happened across the profiles of three female mice who were up for adoption. Here was a perfect opportunity to add roommates for Evangeline while supporting a worthy cause. Needless to say Evangeline now has three new mice to socialize with: Angela, Francine, and Gemima.

And so the tally stands at this: departures - 3, arrivals - 4. But knowing life on the Unfarm, those numbers are sure to change again all too soon.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A healthy respect

It would seem that after Molly's misadventure with the chickens the other day (see previous post: Gretchen - warrior rooster) she has developed a healthy respect for the chickens. Actually it tips the scales closer to fear. Ask her now if she has to go out to go potty and she'll perk up, wagging her tail and heading toward the door to her territory (aka the master bedroom.) But if it is still light out, that's as far as she will go. She has made the connection that daylight means the chickens are out and could ambush her at any moment, and so long as they are out she has determined that she won't be. Put her outside and she cowers on the back deck, tail tucked between her legs. Even if the chickens are not actually visible, she is certain that they lurk somewhere nearby, ready to chase her the minute she starts to pee. As this is a relatively new situation I am not sure what exactly we are going to do to remedy it. In the short term we have been taking her out to the front yard to go to the bathroom but this is far from ideal as she has been known to take off into the neighbor's yard to chase their cat or run after people walking past the house. Maybe some kind of canine-galline desensitization therapy in which we place a chicken in the same room with Molly for longer and longer periods of time. Or is it that you add more and more chickens in the room? Something like that. Or maybe we need to increase her dosage of prozac. Or maybe some kind of dog therapist. To be honest, she probably needs more prozac and a therapist as a matter of course anyway. She is far from well adjusted. Probably the next big project we'll need to tackle here on the Unfarm.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Gretchen - warrior rooster

The routine for letting the dogs - or rather Scout - out in the backyard has become more complicated now that he is full grown and no longer an eight pound puppy who can be bossed around by the chickens. Before we can let Scout out we have to do a head count of the chickens and establish that they are, indeed, all out of the dog run. This is best accomplished by tossing a scoop full of squirrel food off the deck over by the blueberry bushes. The chickens are, by this point, used to the sound of the squirrel food bin opening and know to come running from whatever part of the yard they are in if they want an easy meal. Which they always do. If all five chickens start pecking the ground for bits of sunflower seeds and corn we know that we are in the clear and Scout is free to go out. If one or two chickens have flown into the dog run we have to entice them out with additional scoopfuls of squirrel food before we can let Scout roam freely. 

It happens, though, that on occasion one of us (cough "dad") fails to do a proper head count and just opens the back door and hopes for the best. Sometimes this works out and sometimes it doesn't. When it doesn't, Scout's exit is quickly followed by a barrage of squawking and a great deal of flapping about as whichever chicken attempts to flee from a rather exuberant Scout intent on playing with them. We quickly intercede on behalf of our frazzled chicken and wrangle Scout, hopefully before any damage can be done. 

Axel and Molly do not require such maneuverings before being let out because Axel was raised on a farm with chickens and has learned to ignore them and Molly is about the same size as the chickens and is too fearful to try and take on any of them by herself. This does not mean that she will not join in with Scout if he is chasing a chicken: she will. Safety in numbers, I guess.

99% of the time when the dogs are in the dog run, the chickens know enough to stay out of it until the dogs return to the house. But there is that one percent. This happened a few days ago when Lucy decided to fly into the dog run while Scout and Molly were still in it. The chase was on. Molly and Scout started chasing, Lucy started running and squawking and then in came Gretchen. Bravely coming to the aid of his wife, he flew over the dog run fence and began chasing Molly. Molly, for her part, was completely taken aback by this startling turn of events and did what any sensible ten pound dog would do when being chased by a full sized rooster: she ran up onto the deck and hid between Axel's legs. While this was going on, Lucy seized the opportunity to fly back over the dog run fence and into the safety of the rest of the yard. Gretchen celebrated his victory by strutting back and forth a few times, crowing, and then flying back into the yard with Lucy. Who would have guessed that under all those fancy feathers lurked the heart of a warrior, ready to leap into action to defend his hens whenever the need should arise? I must admit that I have rather a little more respect for our little rooster-cum-warrior.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A wife and a mistress

Our most recent batch of chickens included, much to our dismay, a rooster. The last time we ended up with a rooster we had to re-home him when he started crowing. This time, instead of re-homing him as soon as we realized we had another rooster on our hands, we decided to wait. "Maybe he won't crow and we can keep him," we thought with unwarrented optimism. Several months into Gretchen's adolescence we began hearing the ragged beginnings of a "cockle-doodle-doo." We were able to fix that with a homemade no-crow collar which, while not silencing him completely, does take his crowing volume down several notches, enough to be tolerable for the neighbors. His affinity for the ladies is a problem not so easily fixed. 

While having a rooster around is supposed to be good for egg production, it does tend to annoy the ladies when he's feeling amorous. This is usually first thing in the morning, as soon as the chickens have been let out of the coop. Gretchen is always the first one out of the coop, followed in varying order by Bridget, Lucy, and Georgia. Penny is usually the last one out of the coop, choosing to slip out when she thinks the coast is clear. As soon as the ladies hop out, Gretchen starts looking for his victim, which is usually Bridget. After a short chase, Gretchen manages to pin Bridget down and a few seconds later Bridget runs off and Gretchen goes about his business of looking for something to eat.

For the rest of the day, however, Gretchen appears to faithfully spend his time with Lucy. If Lucy is foraging in the garden, Gretchen is usually found nearby looking for bugs with her and if Gretchen is on the back deck, raiding the squirrel food bin, Lucy is often sitting inside said bin, gorging herself on corn and sunflower seeds. 

Within our little flock, Bridget appears to be the mistress, the hen that Gretchen chooses most often to sleep with and Lucy appears to be the wife, the hen that Gretchen chooses most often to spend his time with. This arrangement seems to please Lucy just fine. Bridget seems decidedly less pleased with the situation. Unfortunately, there is no collar available to fix this problem. The ladies will just have to put up with it, or learn to run faster.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Sand cookie caper

Dogs and cats, I have decided, have extremely opposite opinions when it comes the the issue of the litter box. Cats view this as a place for making deposits, while dogs view this as a place for making withdrawals. "Sand cookies," if I have not explained previously, are what we call the "treats" that the dogs dig out of the litter box to snack on. The dogs know that they are not supposed to be digging through the litter boxes so they tend to do it when we aren't looking, and then run off with their sand cookies to devour them in some corner somewhere where they are less likely to be caught. "Leave the scene of the crime as fast as possible," seems to be their thought process. On the occasions when we do catch the dogs leaving the litter box area looking rather more guilty than usual we can yell "drop it" and they will, if they feel like it, listen once in a while and drop the sand cookie wherever they are standing.

On one occasion I happened to catch Scout sneaking out of the laundry room with a suspicious lump in his mouth. "Drop it....," I warned, and for once Scout obliged, spitting out the sand cookie on the floor in the hallway. I went to the bathroom to grab toilet paper to pick it up and dispose of it and by the time I came back Max had come out of the bedroom and was wandering down the hall. Coming upon the sand cookie Max seemed rather surprised to find it where he did not recall leaving it. He sniffed at it, and then proceeded, as any self respecting feline would, to scratch at the floor around it, trying in vain to cover it up. He obviously did not recall making a deposit in the hallway but tried to be responsible about it nonetheless. I found the sight of Max trying to clean up after Scout rather amusing. Max seemed mainly concerned that he may have gone to the bathroom outside of the litter box without recalling doing so. And Scout, for his part, failed to see any humor in the situation and seemed to focus only on the loss of his snack.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Another one bites the dust

The population of Scout's toy box is steadily declining. Stuffed animals, frisbees, and rope toys have all become endangered species around here. Apparently, the most entertaining part of a toy is not shaking it or chasing after it but actually pulling the stuffing out of it to reach the squeaker inside. Watching the toy box progressively get emptier I grew concerned that our puppy would become bored and move on to the destruction of less appropriate things like, say, the couch. Knowing that if that were to take place Scout himself would become the endangered species I came up with what I thought was a genius solution. I bought a package of tube socks and a bag of stuffing and stuffed each sock with the stuffing and a squeaker and then sewed the top closed. Voila! A bunch of new toys. This should last him a while. Right?

It took Scout all of an hour to figure out that these new toys were perfect for tug of war. As soon as he could convince Axel to play with him the two of them were squared off, each trying to rip the sock away from the other. More than winning the sock, the real appeal of this game appears to be the sound of the sock ripping open and the sight of the stuffing falling all over the living room floor. Now not only is the toy box population still decreasing, but we are cleaning the living room daily of fluff and squeakers and ripped up socks. I think that I am going to have to break down and buy new toys made of tougher stuff or risk finding pieces of the couch strewn about the living room.