Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Of New and Old - Dogs and Chooks and Cats

Yesterday pft finished planting Chili Dog's memorial chinese pistache tree - and it looks wonderful. Admittedly, Chili left us nearly a year ago, but things take time in our house. The pistache tree will glow in the fall and I'll be able to sit on my bed and put my socks on while zoning out, looking at it (I can already sit on my bed and put on my socks while zoning out, but don't have anything specific to look at so this will be a better excuse).

pft was appropriately abetted by Chili's successor, Finn Dog, who is always willing to help in any way he can. Other than his tendency to pick things up and take them off to his lair, Finn Dog has very little in common with Chili. He is pft's dog, for sure, is small enough to fit on the bed (albeit heavily when he lies on your legs or hogs the covers)(come to think of it, he always hogs the covers), and fluffy to hug and pat and scritchel. He is also blessed with an air dog nature - can leap and bounce without any interference from gravity. And he's a very happy dog. I still miss my Chili Dog all the time, but Finn is a good #2 option.

Our current chook quota (up until last weekend) was 8 - a flock of rooster + three free-roaming outdoor hens; and a flock of four closed-up, non-roaming hens. 

Two of the indoor hens are from the ill-fated attack last year, resulting in mother and hatching-eggs/chicks being decimated down to one healthy chick and its unhealthy, twisted-leg sibling. These two, Willy and Wonky were destined never to live a life of freedom - not least because Wonky moves around by slithering (although she does a fine job), can't perch and can't fly. 

I figured that if I had to keep "indoor chooks" (they live in the large chicken house next to the horse paddocks), I might as well also get some of the type of chooks that I love but can't usually keep because they get eaten rather quickly - cochins, frizzles, etc. To avoid predators, any outdoor free-roaming chooks need to rely on their quick-wits and flying ability to get up into the trees/up on the barn roof, etc. Predators visit with dismaying regularity once they realise there are two-legged snacks shuffling around in our yard - and large, bad-at-flying, non-jungle fowl-type chickens tend to not do well in this situation and become coyote meals within a matter of weeks. So Willy and Wonky have two cochins for friends. The biggest cochin is like a large fluffy basketball who is fun to pick up and carry around. Frizzles (aka chooks that look like feather dusters) are slated for future arrival, but all in good time.

The good thing about captive chooks is they only have limited places to lay eggs - and in a chook house I can actually find them. So for once we're getting a regular supply of about three eggs a day. The egg mountain is growing in the fridge - currently five dozen in there.

Lynn, who was surrogate mother to Willy and Wonky when we were on vacation last September, was terribly worried that Wonky would get picked on by the other chooks. As it turns out, Wonky's fine (if you ignore her tendency to get wrapped up in baling string, thereby hog-tying herself to parts of her enclosure), but I realised the other day that the aforementioned biggest cochin is pecking on Willy and so her current living situation isn't working. Currently I let her out every morning so that she can gradually integrate with the outdoor flock. She is sufficiently jungle-fowl alike that this should work out. This morning the rooster sidled up to her, amorously. She flew up on the fence, so has figured out escape tactics. It shouldn't be too long before she can live outdoor full-time.

Sebright hen, three peepers, and their new
in-the-process-of-hatching sibling 
The outdoor chooks, as mentioned, consist of the twins (identical chooks), a golden sebright hen, and an old english silver duckwing bantie rooster.  The rooster is a good guy - looks after his flocklet and has only committed one indiscretion attacking pft when we think he felt threatened by a sudden quick movement. Otherwise, he's very benign.

The outdoor chooks sleep up in a tree at night and for the last year or so, the three hens have been laying "somewhere" but I had never figured out where, so despite having chooks, we never got any eggs. And then about three weeks ago the golden sebright hen disappeared. We figured she'd come to a bad end - until we found her up in the hanging bucket (scene of the crime of Willy and Wonky's birth) sitting on 14 eggs. Excellent!

This last weekend, the first three peepers hatched out. Mother, peepers, and remaining eggs were moved to the chook crĂȘche (cage approx 24" W  x 24" H x 50" L). This keeps them safe while allowing the babbies to run about and commune with the outdoor flock. Which in turn means flock integration goes smoothly when the time comes for them to be let out into the world because they've been looking at each other through the wire for the last couple of months. 

This morning a fourth peeper was
hatching as I left for work. Too cool.

In the meantime, one of the twin hens decided she wanted to sit too. Unfortunately, she chose to do so on the hay trailer - on top of the continually diminishing hay bales. Last weekend she got moved to a small cage to keep her safe (the raccoon or skunk that patrols the barn would surely find her on the hay trailer sooner or later). Since she was only sitting on two eggs, I even had the bright idea to add a couple of cochin eggs to her pile - if she was going to spend the time sitting, she might as well do it for more than two and I'd get more cochins. Yay.

Apparently my "bright" idea wasn't... since the cochins never come anywhere near the rooster, unless they're blessed with immaculate conception, I doubt we'll be getting any cochin babies out of those unfertilized eggs. Not bright, me. So I gave them to Finn to eat this morning (after having spent two weeks under a warm chicken, it seemed the best place for them to go. He was pleased). I'm hoping her remaining two* eggs hurry up - think they have another week or so to cook - so I can just stuff them under the sebright and they can all be brought up together. 

(* Have a sneaking suspicion that one of these eggs might be a decoy that I also stole from the indoor chooks to encourage the outdoor chooks to continue laying in that location. As such, this hen might actually just be sitting on one viable egg. What a waste of time.)


All good things come to an end, and my favorite bed cat, Mumma Cat, is finally winding down and won't be with us too much longer. By our calculations, she's about 18-19 years old and up until last month was pretty sprightly. This last week she's really taken a downward turn so now all we can do is let her lie on us in bed and make her last few days as comfy as possible. I am very sad.

This morning she took a curious stroll outside. I'm not sure exactly what she had in mind, since she's mostly an indoor cat (bad hips) so seldom goes outside. She was wandering down the driveway and then looked like she was considering going in the culvert under the driveway (the culvert where the resident skunk hangs out). Bad idea. I blocked the entrance with a piece of wood and she sat there for a while. pft tells me that she finally came back inside the house in the afternoon. She's earned her right to do whatever she wants at this point (except for disappearing into the culvert... it's just a bad idea on so many levels).

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