Sunday, March 23, 2008

Gathering Eggs

I don't know what it is about gathering the eggs everyday, but I love it. Every evening I look forward to going to the barn. I love spending time with all the animals but it is the gathering of the eggs that I get a kick out of. We don't eat that many eggs (actually we give away far more than we eat) but I almost obsess about how many eggs we get.

When the chicks first came I couldn't wait to get that first egg. Hens start laying eggs when they are 5-6 months old. There is a lot of care that goes into raising a chick to egg laying age. When I found that first egg I was so excited. It might sound crazy but I still have that first egg. (It is in a very safe place) Everyday after finding that first egg was like an adventure. Would there be any eggs? How many? I was always hoping to get just one more egg than the day before until the day came where every hen had laid an egg. So we were getting 4-6 eggs a day in the beginning.

Every year we add to the flock and we add breeds of chickens that we don't have always picking ones that are interesting and lay anything but white eggs. Right from the beginning we had the Araucanas that lay very pretty eggs in shades from green to blue, for which they are best known, to pinks and peach colors. Last year we got our first Marans, Cuckoo Marans, which lay very dark brown eggs.

Now I'm hooked on getting even darker egg layers. I couldn't find any of the kind I wanted as day old chicks so I'm doing something new for me. I've ordered eggs for hatching in an incubator. I've incubated eggs before and I've let a broody hen hatch eggs for me and both times I ended up with twice as many roosters as hens. Not at all what I want. But it will be interesting to see what I end up with.

Right now we are averaging 10 eggs a day. The most we ever had was 17 in one day. That was in the summer when the days are longer. In the winter when there are less daylight hours the egg number go way down. In some of the commercial hatcheries the hens are subjected to 24 hours of light to get the most eggs out of them. I like knowing that my eggs come from chickens living in a natural environment free to roam around and eat bugs and grass.

Kirby and the Yummy Ball

In nature a pig would have to root around covering a good bit of area to dig up food. We wanted Kirby to work for her meals so I found a ball that was meant for dogs. It is called a tricky treat ball. It has compartments inside so when you fill it with food it has to be rolled around to get the food out.

Every morning and every evening I tell Kirby "go to your room", and she runs into her pen. I have found that trying to fill her ball while she is out is too much of a challenge and toes tend to be bruised. So I fill up the ball and drop it into her pen where she pushes it around until it is empty. She knows when it is empty and the only time that she pushes an empty ball around is when she is trying to get us to give her food.

On rainy or super cold days when Kirby can't spend time outside I will put low calorie treats (Kirby's favorite are Gerber fruit puffs) and raisins and she pushes it around the house. This is a great way to get pent up energy out and bring on a nap.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hoover just doesn't get the whole "fetch" thing

Hoover has a lot of energy. I thought that playing fetch would be a great way to both spend time with him and help him burn off some energy.

My sister has a dog, Gryff, who has played fetch from puppy hood. Gryff is a little obsessed with balls and playing fetch. He will chase a ball and bring it back to you and let you throw it until he is exhausted. He will rest for a bit and then start right up again.

I didn't know if Hoover would "get" the concept of fetch right away. He's seen Gryff play fetch so I didn't think it would take much for him pick up the game. Hoover loves toys so I bought him a ball and he liked it. I gave it to him and then called him and took it from him and threw it. He ran off after it and I called him back and took it from him and threw it again. He looked at me like I was crazy. He walked to get the ball, looking back at me the whole way. He got the ball and I told him to come. He did, but there was no way he was giving me the ball again. He ran off and hid the ball.

He basically doesn't trust me with his toys now. I brought home a new stuffed toy (stuffed toys are his favorites) he took it from me and ran up the stairs with it then came back down without it. He gave me a look that said "Hey, crazy human, no more throwing my toys." I think I may have really offended him.

I have tried to play fetch with him a few more times but after the first throw he won't bring any toy back to me. So in his own way he does "get" the fetch thing but he doesn't "believe" in fetch.

Animals as Antidepressants

I know that homes for the elderly and even children's wards in hospitals will bring in animals to brighten patients days. In an airport I recently met a woman who had a small dog that was traveling with her as a companion animal for a medical condition. This dog, by a doctors prescription, was to ride with the woman on her lap as a calming device. I think this is brilliant.

I know when I'm stressed, if I can pet or even just watch some of the animals I start to relax. There are times when I'm petting Hoover or Kirby that I can reach a meditative kind of state. It would be interesting to see what contact like that can do for blood pressure.

Can you imagine if instead of prescribing drugs doctors tell people to go get a pet? Bad day at work? Go home and rub your cats ears for 15 minutes. Have a fight with your mom? Half an hour of puppy snuggling should take care of that.

No chemicals, no dependency, no adverse side effects. Instead of being bombarded by commercials for Zoloft, and Prozac there will be reminders from The Humane Society and the ASPCA that having a pet is good for your over all health and well being.

I'm not saying that all medical conditions can be cured by having animals but wouldn't it be nice if a lot of them could?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Morning conversations with Poppy

In the morning we get both the birds out for breakfast. They each have their own stand and every morning (unless there is some good reason not to) Popppy and Beaker get on their stands for a yummy breakfast of special things that they never get in their cages. Their favorite thing is hard boiled egg yolk. They have no interest in the egg white, just the yolk. Another favorite is sugar snap peas. They don't eat the pods, just the peas, but not the outer shell of the individual pea. They are somewhat picky eaters. They love grapes, but not the skins. The skins they throw on the floor where Kirby takes care of them.

Beaker almost never speaks when she is outside of her cage. Poppy is a little chatterbox. Poppy basic vocabulary consists of: Poppy, Beaker, bird and kiss. She makes kissing noises and tons of chirps and sounds, like the microwave and telephone. She likes to make the first half of the wolf whistle and then I make the second half. That is probably her favorite thing and she will do it over and over until I stop. She likes me to repeat what she says and if I don't she will get louder until I do.

Poppy will say "kiss, kiss" and I make kissing noises then I say "kiss, kiss" and she makes kissing noises. She makes what I call R2D2 sounds and I try to imitate them. She has one of my ringtones down so perfect it makes me reach for my phone.

Friday, March 14, 2008

So sad to see the snow melt

I know that most people don't like winter. Winter is my favorite season. I love the snow and the cold. Winter is not the best time for the animals. For the goats snow means no fresh grass to eat. For the chickens, guineas, ducks and turkeys there are no bugs and worms to eat.

We adjust the food quantities to make up for what they can't find on their own in the winter and we have heated water bowls so they always have water to drink. The stalls need cleaned out more often because they spend more time inside in the winter.

Even if the animals are more work in the winter I don't mind it a bit. They get their winter coats which make them look so fluffy. With Spring approaching I know the animals are anticipating longer, warmer days but I want Winter to stick around longer.

Cat prints in the

Emu prints in the snow

I almost forgot the ducks

I don't know how I could have forgotten them because they should have been in with all the other fowl. We have two ducks. They're not your typical quacking sort of ducks. They're Muscovy ducks and they make a hissing noise which is much quieter than a quack. Not that quacking is bad. I like ducks that quack and can totally see adding some quackers in the future

Muscovy ducks are large solid ducks that don't necessarily need a body of water. We have two large, low, water troughs for them to bathe in when they feel the need. They are supposed to be a better eating duck (not that we'll ever test that). They have webbed feet with strong claws that they can use to perch in trees.

Our ducks are named Cosmo and Peony. Peony was supposed to be a girl, but, surprise, they're both boys which means that sometimes there is some scuffling between them. They are comical and entertaining to watch.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Hoover is a puppy with spots

I found Hoover on After Mishca died the house was sooooo quiet it was depressing. Not being greeting by a happy wagging furry tail and sloppy wet kisses was just sad. I hated opening the door to nothing. So while I was getting the Kirby deal going I was also looking for a puppy. I do not recommend getting a piglet and a puppy at the same time. Luckily for me we had Kirby for eight days before Hoover arrived.

Really folks don't try this at home. A true test of sanity is house breaking one animal. Trying to teach two animals of completely different species not to potty in the house at the same time is a total nightmare. Well it could be but Kirby was basically trained and by some amazing force of nature Hoover was instantly house broken. He only had a few accidents and then (wave a magic wand) he was trained. When I think of how bad things could have been I kiss them both. But really I don't recommend getting two young pets at the same time.

Now about Hoover, his mother was found on the street. She is probably a lab mixed with some terrier if one were to guess. Hoover's daddy is a total mystery. I'm guessing dad was a Dalmation.

The first picture of Hoover I saw he was a white puppy with one black ear, I couldn't see his tail in the picture, but it turned out his tail came out of a black patch on his bum and then had a white tip. The rest of him was white. Over time black spots broke out all over him. He is cute, cute, cute, cute, cute. The cute saves him when he is rotten. He has more personality then most humans I know. He is tied with Kirby as the best thing that ever came into my world. I absolutely love him.

Hoover is the kind of dog that little kids can climb on and hug and tug and he just loves it. He likes to chase squirrels and chipmunks. He likes to sit where he has a good view of things and just watch. He keeps the deer out of the orchard. He is just and all around good dog. Some one once said to me that if they could be gaurenteed a dog would turn out like Hoover they would get a dog. He has that effect on people.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Kirby is a pot bellied pig

Pigs have always fascinated me and the more I learned about them the more I wanted one. Let me make very clear that before getting Kirby I did a lot of research. I spoke with breeders for hours wanting to be sure that not only was a pig right for us but that we would be right for a pig. I feel very strongly that once a pet is part of the family it is here forever.

We had lots of time to prepare the house for Kirby. We built a small pen in one corner of the family room with nonslip floor and a potty box. The first few weeks after Kirby arrived we spent a lot of time in that little pen letting her climb all over us getting to know us and trust us. She was so tiny and so smart. She used her potty box right from the start and there were only a few accidents and those were really my fault.

We would never have added a pig to the family while Mishca was alive. Mishca was a special dog who had a very low tolerance for other animals. It wouldn't have been fair to throw a pig into her life. She barely tolerate Mallomar when he lived in the house for a winter. She loved the parrots because they constantly dropped food (still do but now Kirby cleans up after them).

Kirby is now ten times the size she was when she arrived. The growth rate is a bit shocking. She is just more pig to love. Pigs grow for the first three years and Kirby will be one one March 17th. We're looking into stronger furniture.

Every night after Kirby has her dinner it is cuddle on the couch time. It used to be that Kirby could fit all on my lap bot now it is just the front legs and head and those front legs are about all I can take. But I wouldn't give up cuddle time even if she just lays next to me it is my favorite time.

We don't want Kirby to get overweight, not because we want her to be small but because overweight pigs can develop many health issues. It would be so easy to let Kirby over eat. She thinks she is hungry all the time 24/7. She gets a special pot bellied pig food morning and evening. We put her food in a ball that she has to roll around to get the food out. If she were wild she would have to forage for food and root around so we make her work for it too. If there isn't grass (winter) she gets a salad, lettuce, carrots, celery and other veggies if we have them. She also cleans up food that the parrots throw which is basically a few grapes and snap peas. Then Kirby has a rooting box with rocks in it that we will sprinkle bird seed for her to root around and eat. From the look of her poo all the seeds just pass right through and it keeps her busy for hours.