Oh, how I wish I could un-see that

Despite being a chicken farmer for over a year now, I realized today that I’m not wholly familiar with their diet. Insects, grains, and plants, yes. Cute little field mice? Really? And was it necessary to kill it, gut it, then swallow it like an anaconda eating a goat right in front of me? I had flashbacks to that horrible day when the duck ate the frog. At least the field mouse didn’t get a chance to wave good bye to me while hanging out of Nikki’s beak… he went quick. To make up for the horror of watching the food chain in gory, stomach-wrenching action, I decided to see if the critters would like pumpkin. Gene had prepared one to be carved, and I saved the innards. The ducks went absolutely nuts for it, as did the chickens. I finally found the one treat the rabbits won’t eat, though. They put up such a fuss about not having a palatable snack that I made Gene go to the feed store and get them their favorite granola honey sticks.

Harvey and Claire are not destined to be roommates for much longer; Harvey has finally figured out which is Claire’s “business end”, as it were, so we need to separate them. Although Claire is capable of reproducing now, the literature I’ve consulted (okay, I looked online), recommended separating them at four to five months, then allowing them to date at eight months. Of course, the upshot of all my Internet research means more work for Gene, as he now needs to build Harvey a suitable bachelor pad. My grand plan is to allow them each access to the ground level of the Bunny Ranch on alternating days. I’m sure they won’t mind, because their separate areas have more than enough room to frolic and run around. I’m even pondering the merits of procuring another male and female, just so they don’t get lonely, but the thought of that many baby bunnies is a little daunting. Cute, but daunting.

Christmas is coming early this year…

Today was absolutely beautiful. Every where I looked there were animals peacefully basking in the sunshine. All except one. Christmas spent most of her day parked in front of the kennel, staring hungrily at Sean Paul and Marley, the little roosters. If she was capable of it, she would have been drooling. She’s rapidly convincing me that she will be first to nestle amongst the mashed potatoes and gravy. I heard a ruckus yesterday, and ran outside to find Christmas and King Julian having another row through the fence. Christmas was chittering like a demonic wind up toy, and King Julian’s feathers were standing straight out from his neck. He would stick his neck through the holes and hang from Christmas’s head. It was horrible. It was hard to decide which one I was less scared of, but I finally opted for shoving Christmas back with my boot. She would immediately run back to the fence though, so I changed tactics and booted King Julian. That distracted him from Christmas, but then he decided to go after me. I ran away from the fence, and I’m faster than him, so crisis averted.

Unfortunately it took King Julian a few fights to realize Christmas is not a turkey  accustomed to losing. I went outside to find poor King Julian’s long fancy tail spread all over the yard, right in front of the fence. On the plus side, he now completely ignores Christmas, but he sure does look ridiculous. I hope his feathers grow back soon, because aesthetically he’s quite lopsided. Christmas, on the other hand, is walking around congratulating herself on how tough she is. She has started parking her butt right inside the kennel door at night when I go to feed them, so poor Thanksgiving can’t get to his food. He is far too uncoordinated to maneuver around her – he’s so fat forward is really his only option. He just bumps up against her, then stares at his food bowl looking confused by the fact he’s not eating yet. Since I’m still one-handed, I can’t just pick her up and move her, and truthfully I’m a bit afraid to bend down within eye-pecking level anyway. I don’t have the heart to kick her, even though she totally deserves it, so I usually just climb over Thanksgiving, put my boot up against her and slide her across the floor. Which is quite the workout, given her girth. 
Oddly enough she isn’t a complete pig when I dispense treats; I really think she knows her name because if I say, “Here, Christmas”, she’ll eat that treat, and not chase after everyone else’s morsels. The all around favorite is apple and grape slices. All the critters, even the ducks, recognize what the white bowls mean, and the minute I step off the deck with one there’s a stampede to the pasture gate. Literally, a stampede. I need to take a video of it, because few people have witnessed the spectacle of 6 ducks, 2 goats, 2 turkeys, and 11 chickens rampaging toward them. Treat dispensing isn’t something to be done lightly, however. Thanks to Christmas, you can’t let your hands dangle down within her reach, because she’ll mistake your fingers for grape slices. Or she just likes to bite. Either way, you’ll need a Band-Aid.

Harvey and Claire also get excited whenever I walk into the Bunny Ranch with a bowl. They will both zoom around the perimeter, then barrel up the ladder to see what I brought them. They are also partial to grapes and apples. Gene says I have to figure out something we can grow here to give them as treats; apparently he doesn’t agree with me that the whole reason for earning a paycheck is to buy nutritious critter snacks. Really, how can you deprive something that cute of fresh apple slices?

October Sun

We had two straight days of sunshine, which is rare for this time of year. All the critters were loving it; the ducks spent all day in the pond, and the goats found a sunny spot perfect for napping. Since it wasn’t raining, we decided to let the two Polish roosters out for a romp in the pasture. They weren’t too sure about their new found freedom, especially when King Julian noticed them through the fence. They also needed a dedicated Christmas-minder, because for some reason the female turkey is not terribly friendly. Right before Gene put the metal grate across the A-frame, I heard a loud fuss and ran into the kennel to find the white Silkie hanging from Christmas’s beak. Now that they’ve been separated, she’s taken to hungrily staring through the kennel door. And don’t worry, the Silkie is fine. Although you can see him shudder whenever Christmas squawks.

We also let Harvey and Claire out for a spin around the yard. Claire got about half a foot outside, looked around, then went back to her food bowl. Harvey, on the other hand, cruised all over the place. He can really move for such a roly-poly thing. He also required constant minding, since we didn’t want to have to fish him out from under the deck, or out of the brambles. At least we didn’t have to worry about predators with him, I don’t think even an eagle could carry him off.

I know they’re big bunnies (Harvey is about ten pounds at only three months), but the amount of food they eat still amazes me. I can put half a bowl of cut grapes or mini carrots down, and by the time I get the door shut it’s pretty much devoured.  I’m going to have to grow a lot of veggies in the greenhouse this winter, because they are quite accustomed to being presented with an array of fresh produce every day. Gene says I spoil them, but he says that about all the critters.

Speaking of critters to spoil, exciting news! We got three new ducks! We (and by ‘we’, I mean ‘I’) decided that what the farm desperately needed was more ducks. I found three drakes for sale, which matches up perfectly with our three girls. We brought them home in apple crates. The Bedonkaduck, Paris, and Nikki were immediately intrigued, especially after I yelled, “Look! I have boxes full of boys!” The drakes, named Bear (because he survived a bear attack when he was three months old), Smudge, and Daffy, absolutely love their new home. They spent two solid days playing in the pond. When I went to check on them shortly after their arrival, a pool party was in full swing. All six of them were happily paddling around, and bikini tops were flying everywhere.

Let’s not bite mama…

Feeding time here at the zoo has become a well-orchestrated task. Since everybody prefers everyone else’s particular type of food, when I open the gate armed with my pink food scoops hilarity ensues. Followed quickly by howling, pecking, and head-butting. I feed the goats first; they get a large scoop of goat chow sprinkled with poultry pellets. The pellets, which the goats love, distract them long enough for me to open the door to the turkey kennel and fill their bowl. Now that the fancy chickens are living in the A-frame, I have to quickly put the metal grate over their door to keep the turkeys out. Sometimes Fiona will abandon her bowl to the ducks and come charging over to try and steal the turkey food, so I have to slam the kennel door, then usher the turkeys in one at a time. Tonight I slammed the door, and Fiona went back to battling the ducks for a spot at the trough. I went back to securing the fancy chickens, and when I turned around Thanksgiving was standing in front of the door, staring at his food dish disconsolately. He looked like a fat kid that got to the candy store five minutes after they closed. I opened the door for him, and of course he waddled to the wrong side, getting himself stuck between the open door and the kennel fence. Because A) he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed and B) he’s so fat moving any way but forward is difficult for him, he was stuck having to make what turned into a 39-point turn. Keep in mind that by now it’s dark, it’s raining, and I have a new cast which makes my right arm totally unusable,  so by now mama’s a little on the cranky side. I tried to help Thanksgiving by turning him to face the right direction, and he rewarded me by taking a huge chomp out of my leg. Lucky for him I’m still on pain meds, or a particular holiday might have been celebrated tonight.

It seems like all the animals know I’m not bringing my A-game right now, as it were, because they’ve been respecting my authority even less than usual. I feel like the slow, medicated, sporting-a-cast wildebeest being singled out by hyenas. Even Harvey bit me the other day! I think that’s because he was racing to beat Claire to a carrot though, and not spurred by any viciousness on his part. I hope. Because they’re going to get too big to be all bitey like that.

Speaking of viciousness, I noticed two of the ducks, Paris and Nikki, fighting over some delicious tidbit Paris found. Nikki won, and when she ran past me, I was horrified to see it was a frog. I love frogs. I’ve gone out of my way to make our property frog friendly, and I had no idea ducks ate them. It was like a train wreck though – I watched her swing it around in her bill till she finally crammed it all in, except for one frantically waving webbed hand. It was disconcerting to see one cute thing eat another cute thing, like if a puppy suddenly ate a kitty.

Other than that little bit of horror, things have been peaceful here on the farm. Since I’m off work for a bit and can’t do much, I sit outside on nice days and watch all the critters. When Gene’s home I supervise his work on various projects from my comfy chair. He finished the winter enclosure for the chickens, which has a distinctly red neck vibe to it. It works well, though, and the chickens go in it when it starts to rain. It even has a grow light in it.

The only one who doesn’t use it is Condi – she’s still broody. I had the brilliant idea of giving her two of Christmas’s eggs to hatch, so we can get an early start on next year’s turkeys. I will know in about 28 days if that will work. In other chicken news, Gene got me five new Americauna chickens! They are about a year old, and will lay dark green eggs. I’m very excited. There are four hens and a rooster, whom I’ve named King Julian. So far they are getting along well with our girls. King Julian and the fancy roosters get into the occasional crow off, so between all the roosters and the turkeys our yard is very cheerful sounding.

Nature Sucks

Tonight was dark and stormy, and true to the cliche I found myself walking alone down the dirt road to bring my friend a blackberry crisp I had just baked. She agreed to help me pick blackberries this afternoon in exchange for my turning them into something tasty and delicious to share with her family. Normally my vivid imagination prevents me from walking alone at night, but I figured I was brave enough to walk four houses down, no matter how dark and creepy our road was. Naturally my mind drifted to all the horrors that can befall a lone traveler, and I found myself pondering what my “Missing – Have You Seen Me?” poster would look like. The realization that my description would read something along the lines of “last seen wearing red plaid flannel pants, pink Crocs, and a ‘Swamp People’ T-shirt” makes me think perhaps I should try harder in the wardrobe department.

In addition to baking – I also made muffins – I spent most of the day helping Gene build a PVC pipe winter enclosure for the chickens. We just lost Mary Kate to a sneak attack in broad daylight, so I want to curtail their free range activities when they’re unsupervised. Several neighbors have reported seeing a huge coyote that is brave enough to chill on people’s porches; apparently Gene and I are the only ones who walk around armed, because people keep seeing it. I only need to see it once. To keep the chickens safe, Gene designed a huge framework that he’s going to wrap in chicken wire, then I’ll design various play areas inside so they don’t get bored. He has put his foot down in response to my request for a water feature, but that won’t stop me from asking again. And again.

We also winterized the turkey pen and the Bunny Ranch by wrapping three sides in plastic to keep the rain out. The plan was to do the same to the goat’s covered area, but Fiona nixed that idea by eating the plastic from the turkey pen. We had to build frames, staple the plastic inside, then slide them into the turkey kennel. I was really of no help at all, since once again I’ve got my right arm in a cast. Plus I’m still on pain meds, so not only does Gene have to put up with my lack of coordination, but he also gets to work around me staring into space for periods of time. Which actually isn’t much different than usual.

Since I can’t pick up the bunnies safely one handed, Gene built them a ladder so they can come and go as they please during the day. At first they were scared of it, but now they race up and down it chasing each other. Clearly they need a jungle gym. The exercise wouldn’t hurt them – they are sporting huge beer guts now. Pound for pound they’re catching up with Thing 1, which makes sense for 40-lb bunnies. They are still very social, and will hop right up to me. They seem to like being held now, especially if you bribe them with grapes first. I have yet to hear them make any noise (apart from chewing), but apparently they can make some sort of skittering or humming noise.

At least I can grab the chickens easily one-handed. Condi is still broody, so the best part of being home from work is I can boot her outside every few hours. I also moved the fancy chickens outside, figuring they can benefit from fresh air. They are living in the A-frame inside the turkey kennel, since they’re too young to be outside quite yet. I didn’t think Christmas could still fit inside, so I didn’t think them sharing the kennel at night would be an issue. I went to check on them just after dark, though, and found Christmas standing under the heat lamp with four cowering chicks trying to be invisible. It was truly reminiscent of Godzilla stomping Tokyo. It took me half an hour to shoo her out, then I put up a barricade so she can’t get back in. She could easily have killed all four of them, so I’m glad I’m obsessive enough to check on everyone at least once after dark.

I’m trolling Craig’s list for replacement chickens, because I’d like our flock to be at least 12 strong. I would also like for the whole predator/prey relationship to stop illustrating itself in our backyard. I’m temped to dust all the chickens with cayenne powder.