Spa Day!

Yesterday was an exciting day here on the farm – Woolimina got sheared! The shearer we hired to come out made the process look deceptively simple – you change into a jumpsuit, grab yourself a sheep, and get to shearing. I’m already picturing the custom made, sparkle-embellished, pink jumpsuit I’ll be rocking when I become a professional shearer. The only snag occurred right after he got all set up inside the pasture, then happened to look around and see what had snuck up behind him. I don’t think Thanksgiving bode him any specific ill will, he was just a curious turkey, but the shearer decided to continue the procedure on the other side of the fence. At any rate, Woolimina behaved well throughout her haircut, and now she looks for all the world like a bobble-head sheep. Who knew they were 75% floof? She’s even smaller than little Buttercup without her wool. I have grand plans to send the fleece off to a processing company, then learn how to spin it into a sweater. Or perhaps a hat. Or a scarf.
Prior to the shearing adventure, I bailed out the duck pond, since the first thing you smell when you walk in the backyard is the duck pond. And that’s saying a lot, seeing as we also have three pigs. The ducks reacted by taking an hour long bath in the clean water, in the process returning it to its pre-bailed state. They had an epic game of tag, and the Indian Runners started swimming under water. I can’t get over how quickly the Pekin ducks grew, they have to weigh at least five pounds each. Since they were still yellow fuzzy ducklings like three weeks ago, that’s pretty impressive. It also explains why we go through duck feed at such an alarming rate.
The piglets are going through their feed at exactly the rate I expected – like the pigs that they are. In fact, if you make the mistake of letting the food bin get low, they’ll start trying to knock over their Igloo house in protest. It makes a huge racket, and watching them lift up the 50-lb house with their heads is extremely disconcerting. Even more troubling is how they’ll line up behind the bin, glaring at me with three sets of angry eyes as I hurry to fill it back up. I’m starting to feel like I’m not as in charge of them as I should be. I halfway expect to look up from my breakfast one morning and see them lined up on the deck, staring with their laser eyes through the glass sliding door, wondering why I’m eating when they clearly aren’t.
The bunnies are doing well, for the most part. Sadly we lost two of them, which left me heartbroken. I kind of expected to lose a few, since they’re being raised on kitten milk because no one manufacturers rabbit milk replacer that I’ve found, but it came as a surprise since they were all doing so well.  At any rate, the six remaining bunnies have been relocated to a bunny box that Gene built – it’s about a foot wide and three feet long, which gives them plenty of room to play. We also put in alfalfa grass, pellets, and water, so they can start supplementing their bottle feeding whenever they’re ready. Since they’re not ready to go outside yet, Gene custom built the bunny box to fit inside the master bathroom. I need to read up on how to litter box train them, since any bunnies we can’t rehome will most assuredly become house bunnies. Despite the fact that guests can often find a chicken in our bathroom or ducks in the tub, we actually do have high cleanliness standards, so litter box training is mandatory.

They grow up so fast….

Photo courtesy of Holly T
The baby bunnies are growing cuter each day, and exponentially hungrier. I pretty much have the bottle feeding down to a routine, though. First each one gets a bath, and then a snack. Six of the eight eat with no problem – they attack the bottle like one of those face hugging creatures from Alien the minute you wave it anywhere near them. The other two are a little more challenging, but they’ll get the idea eventually. They have a ton of energy now, so we must be doing something right. 
They are much more interactive at feeding time and hop around in happy little circles when I reach in to grab one. They also want to explore their surroundings, to the extent that Gene had to add a removable baby gate to the front of the nesting box. Apparently hungry bunnies are impatient bunnies, and they keep trying to hop out. We are going to have to update their sleeping quarters soon; they used to just take up a corner of the box, now they sprawl over half of it when they do their pig-pile napping.

This is what they look like right before
they jump straight at the camera.

Speaking of pigs, Satan has adapted quite well to the Swine Estate, especially now that we got him some company. We learned that a lone pig is a sad pig, and lord knows I don’t want 300 pounds of despondent, lonely pig on my hands. No, I’d much rather have 900 pounds of content piggies. Gene and Abigail came home with two more, from the same farm up the street. They are bright pink (think Wilbur-style), and named Princess and Charlotte. Satan is much happier, but I’m not any less afraid of them. They have the frightening habit of grunting at me when I go in to feed and water them, and the grunts sound suspiciously like they’re saying, “You”. (I mentally add the “going to get” part). The two pink pigs are foster pigs, since Abigail and another friend decided they wanted one butchered as well. Somehow I’m thinking they’re getting the long end of that particular stick, since they don’t get grunted at on a daily basis.

The ducks don’t seem to mind living next door to the Swine Estate, probably because they generate just as much if not more stank. The five new ones have totally integrated with the four rescue ducks, and they are a full-fledged flock now. I can’t believe how fast ducklings grow – you can’t even call them ducklings anymore, since they have their proper feathers. Gene built a feeding trough that’s nine butts wide, so now feeding time passes without anyone getting trampled. Always a good thing.

The Pekin ducks seem to be resistant to mud; their feathers are so brilliantly white they glow in the sunshine. Eventually their beaks and feet are supposed to turn bright orange, so they’re going to be really cool looking. Gene is also going to expand their pasture so that they have a place to get out of the mud, although since their home used to have grass, I’m assuming we’ll have the same mud bog, only larger. I think I’ll get Gene to build a basking deck out of scrap cedar so they can hop up and sunbathe should the mood take them. I’m sure he’ll get right on that. I did add a new swim deck to the pond, which I’m quite proud of since I did it all by myself. It’s basically plastic netting between an open square of wood that floats in the water. I couldn’t use the drill so I stapled the netting to the wood, then added a bunch of rocks so it floats about five inches under the surface of the water. The ducks can stand in it and only their legs are submerged, with their bodies completely out of the water. It’s like one of those sun-tanning swimming pools at the high end resorts. They keep bugging me for a pool boy, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

Finding silver linings

The last few days here on the farm have been like a roller coaster – extremely high points and gut wrenching low points. I came home from work yesterday to find a weasel had chewed its way into the bunny mansion and attacked and killed poor Claire. I won’t tell you how, because it was horrible. There’s so much joy here that sometimes I forget nature has a terrible dark side. I was devasted. Something positive did come of it, though – Abigail, Gene and I have been bottle feeding her eight bunnies. That’s right, eight. Apparently Gene can’t count either. We moved their nesting box into the bathroom, and three times a day we pull it out, put it on the kitchen counter, and feed them kitten formula with eye droppers.
At first it was really hard, but now they’re getting used to be handled and fed, so it’s much easier. We’ve nicknamed them the popcorn bunnies, because they hop all over the place when you reach in the box. Once each one is fed, it goes in a plastic crate until feeding time is over, then everyone goes back in the nesting box. The bunnies range from fist-sized to so tiny they’re difficult to hold. One thing remains constant no matter their size though, they contain an insane amount of pee. Once the flow starts, it doesn’t stop. I’ve gone through more shirts, bras and towels in the last two days than in the entire previous month. Once we get them litter box trained, they’re going to be great house bunnies for someone. They’re totally used to handling, sniffing dogs, and curious cats. It’s going to be really hard to part with them, and signing an “I promise not to eat the fluffy bunny” pact will be a must.
In other momentous farm news, we got a pig! He’s about 25 pounds, and was originally named Baconator. We got him from a farm up the street and we went to pick him up on Friday. Since every other pig I’ve ever purchased came wrapped in cellophane and in bacon form, I was totally unprepared for transporting a live one. My cardboard box full of straw clearly wasn’t up to the task, so we ran back home for Ceri’s dog crate while the seller corralled the piglet. When we got back, he was sitting on a rock in the pasture, smoking a cigar and holding Baconator by his back legs. He then walked the pig to the crate, exactly like a dad playing that “wheelbarrow” game with a child, and swung the pig up into the back of the truck. The pig, while obviously not liking the whole walking on his arms thing, didn’t put up too much of a fuss, so I was looking forward to a peaceful day of watching Baconator frolic happily in the pasture.
We got him home, and Gene put his crate in the front yard while I ran to the store for hog food. I got home to find Gene holding a lasso in one hand, and pointing into the bushes with the other. He said I hadn’t locked the crate door when I put water and treats in it before going to the feed store. He averted the crisis by lassoing Baconator when I spooked him out of the bushes; I was quite impressed because he got him on the first try. Getting Baconator back in the crate was a bit of a challenge, but eventually Gene won. We went back to putting the finishing touches on the Swine Estate, which consists of a strand of electric fencing encircling a pasture area. When Gene went to get the crate, he realized it was empty. The door was locked, but no Baconator. Apparently he’s some sort of Houdini pig. We searched for literally hours, but couldn’t find him. Gene suggested that I start calling the neighbors to see if anyone noticed a piglet running down the road, but my mind fast-forwarded to six months from now, when an 800 pound feral hog is terrorizing the neighborhood, ripping up gardens and snatching small children, and I decided perhaps it’s best if no one knows who lost the piggy.
So three days later, Gene is getting ready to go to work and sees Baconator running through the backyard. I was ecstatic, because I figured we’d basically catered a luau for a coyote family. I got home a few hours later, and saw Baconator rooting through my raspberry patch. I waited until he nosed his way into the chicken coop, attracted by the same yummy feed that the goats love, and then I slammed the door. My euphoria quickly changed to thoughts of, “Oh, crap, there’s a 25 lb pig in the chicken coop and Gene’s at work all night.” I did the next best thing, which was call Abigail. She came down, and made the initial mistake of thinking Baconator was just a cute little piglet. She went in the coop, after telling me to shut the door so he couldn’t escape. I did, and almost immediately the sounds of a championship pig wrestling match filled the coop. I didn’t get to see any of it, since I was too scared to open the door, based on the fact it was all I could do to hold it shut – that 25 lb pig felt like a full grown bull trying to knock the door down, but Abigail said Baconator’s first escape attempt involved jumping up (and hitting!) the glass window three feet off the ground. When that didn’t work, his tactics changed to charging straight for her. She was able to grab his ears and hold him, but we both figured out that I was pretty much useless for pig wrestling. We called her husband and I dragged Ceri’s dog crate outside and put it in front of the door. When her husband got there (after five minutes of Abigail doing all she could to prevent Baconator from taking a chomp out of her legs), they were able to shut him into the crate. Abigail then renamed him Satan, and today Gene, Abigail, and two more friends erected the new and improved Swine Estate, which is two strands of electric fence and chain link fence panels. After testing the perimeter repeatedly, and demonstrating that electrical shocks merely make him hungry, Baconator finally settled down into his new enclosure. He’s the first of the critters to actually sleep in the Igloo style dog kennel, and I’ve been bribing him with apple treats so that he doesn’t turn into an 800 pound feral hog. I’m hoping (and praying) that I turn him into a cuddle pig.

Easter bunnies!!! Like, literally!

So Easter morning when I got up and let everyone out of their respective bedrooms, I noticed Claire wasn’t hopping around as much as she usually does when I walk in the cage. Usually she charges at me like I’m a walking carrot, but this time I barely rated a second glance. Figuring she was just tired, I wasn’t too worried. When I came back in the early evening, she looked remarkably thinner, and when I took a closer look at the front of her nesting box, I saw why. We have baby bunnies!!!!! I initially counted two, but when Gene got back from his trip and took a look today, he counted seven. Seven! When I called him on Easter he was still on his road trip, and he failed to see the humor when I loudly and excitedly announced, “Guess who’s going to be a papa???” Apparently “Harvey” wasn’t his first guess. Claire’s babies, which are actually called kits, are the cutest things ever, aside perhaps from the ducklings. They don’t like to be disturbed, and when Gene held one it hopped around like it was spring loaded, even though its eyes aren’t open yet. I can’t wait till they grow their fluff!
Speaking of growing fluff, the ducklings have morphed from cute bathtub toys into full-fledged gawky adolescence. They’re huge, especially the Pekins. They are half downy fluff, half feathers, and have the appetite of a teenage boy. I have to fill their feeder twice a day, at least, and each time I refill it they eat like they’ve never seen food before. The rescue ducks are the same way – they recognize the pink feed pails, and whenever I walk into their pasture with one, they follow me in a squawking line. As soon as I start walking away from the filled feeder, the quacking shuts off like a switch, and all I hear is gobbling. I am getting between two and four duck eggs a day, which brings the grand total up to almost two dozen so far. I have to admit I haven’t tried one yet… I want to find the perfect recipe for making my first duck egg ever. It’s a momentous occasion.
Puff Daddy is still recuperating, although I decided it gets too warm in the bathroom for him, so I moved his hospital box into the garage. He seems to like it better out there, and I think he is comforted by the sounds emanating from the brooding complex. Abigail built a playpen area for him outside, and when the weather is nice I’ll set him there so he can sit on the grass and eat bugs. He’ll spend all day gazing contentedly through the bars, snapping the occasional fly out of the air. I’m beginning to think his leg is fine, and he just enjoys all the pampering and private buffets. The other chickens occasionally wander over to visit him, which is good because they’ll remember him when it finally comes time to reintroduce him into the flock. Although at the rate we’re going, I think I might just buy him a chicken diaper and pronounce him a house rooster. We all know it’s coming.
In perhaps the most surprising news of the entire decade, Gene said I could get a piglet to raise! Of course, he made it a conditional offer, and said he would only let me get one if I agreed to raise it until it’s big enough to butcher. I told him I agreed with the first part, but objected to the second, so he told me I need to decide if I love pet pigs as much as I love bacon. I’m still pondering. One of the feed stores near us raises pigs for meat, and they get HUGE. And their stank grows proportionately to their size, so I don’t know if I would have a problem with the butchering process. Of course, I said the same thing about the turkeys, and look how that turned out.

I believe I specified the drama should be saved….

Although I have told the universe several times that I don’t need any more proof that things only fall apart when Gene is gone, drama keeps happening. Today was a particularly long day, topped off with an over two-hour commute filled with slow drivers who totally made me break my resolution to not flip off anyone over the age of 65 who drives under the speed limit. (My hand was getting so tired that I had to draw the line somewhere, and I figured respecting my elders was a good place to start, although I stand by my medical opinion that it’s a good, practical form of physical therapy for my broken wrists). At any rate, I was looking forward to my gourmet frozen pizza and an adult beverage. The first thing I noticed when I got home and looked out the window was a goat butt swaying in the door of the chicken coop. As I ran out onto the back deck, I realized there were munching goats as far as the eye could see; butts were everywhere since the heads were stuffed into various feed bags. As soon as they realized I was home, they started to romp and frolic as only prison break goats can. I tried to lure them back into the pasture with treats, but as soon as I slammed the gate shut, they ran out the hole in the back fence they’d created while I was at work, diligently earning the money that pays for the eight tons of feed they gorged on this afternoon. I would chase three goats in, and one goat plus a sheep would barrel back out. There was complete disrespect for my authoritay. I’m pretty sure my friend Abigail is tired of racing to my house to deal with all my drama, but she’s way too nice to say anything. She helped me mend the fence (and by “helped” I mean she fixed it for me), and now all is well again. The critters are lucky they’re so cute. 

Poor Puff Daddy is still in the chicken hospital; he still can’t put any weight at all on his right leg. This morning he started crowing, which I took as a positive sign. Of course, he could have just been annoyed that I woke him up so early, since I get up before dawn. Either way, he seems happy enough in his warm comfy box. I read online that leg fractures, if that’s what it is, can take about a month to heal, so looks like he’ll be inside for awhile. Lucky Gene!

Jack the fuzzy duckling seems fully recovered; I swear they double in size every day. They are starting to enter the gawky adolescent stage where they have feather spines coming in, but no actual feathers yet.  The chicks are also growing at an accelerated rate; poor Gene is going to have to start the coop renovation the minute he gets home, because they’re starting to run out of real estate.

I’m getting two eggs a day from the rescue ducks, so I’m pretty excited about that. I still haven’t tried one, mostly because I want to make Gene a duck egg omelet when he gets back, and see if he notices the difference. I’ve never had a duck egg before, so I’m a little afraid to go out on that particular culinary limb alone. Since they’re white, maybe I’ll hardboil and dye them for Easter.

Speaking of Easter, I’ll close with proof that spring is finally on the way — the hummingbirds are back!

Save the drama for your papa

This week was the first (and the last) time Gene has left the farm for over a week. It didn’t take long for things to fall apart, just a few days. It all started on Thursday night. I got home from work to find the biggest duckling, Jack, tipped over on his back in the brooding box. He had been fine when I checked on him in the morning, so I wasn’t too concerned, although the frantically waving webbed feet was the definition of pitiful. I flipped him over, in the process learning that ducks have claws. (Who knew?) He didn’t seem able to remain upright, though, and immediately fell back over. Since my experience dealing with duck medical emergencies is pretty much limited to recognizing which end should be pointed up, I called my own personal animal 911 – my friend Abigail. She works part time at a vet, so it’s basically the same as calling a doctor.
She came over, and together we made the executive decision to check Jack into the hospital, otherwise known as the bathroom tub. We gave him food and water, and lined the tub with towels, since we didn’t want him to bonk his head if he fell over again. We also brought in one of the little Indian Runner Ducks, named Daniels. I thought it would be easier if he had a buddy, since they like to cuddle so much. After two days in the hospital, Jack recovered to the extent that I could put him back in the brooding box today. My guess as to what happened is that he got turned on his back, then struggled so much he got tired out and dehydrated. He just needed a little vacation, and now he’s back to normal. On a side note, the mess that two ducks can make in one bathtub is unreal. UNREAL. I had to take the 15 towels we used (I really didn’t want them to hit their heads, and most falls occur in the bathroom) outside and hose them off, then run them through the sanitation cycle in the washer with tons of bleach. I used our guest towels, since I figured Gene would be vexed that I used towels at all, but at least I didn’t use his. Still, if any of you come to visit and decide to make it BYOT, I won’t be in the least offended. It took me another hour to disinfect the bathtub.
After I finished Lysoling the tub (Lysolitizing?), I went outside to feed the chickens. I noticed that poor Puff Daddy couldn’t put any weight on his right leg, and the other chickens had knocked him over into the mud. Abigail came back over, and we put him in the kitchen sink and hosed him off. He didn’t seem to mind his day at the spa, although seeing his dark blue body shining through his sodden white feathers was a little creepy. So less than an hour after Jack and Daniels were discharged from the hospital, Puff Daddy took up residence. He at least should be a little cleaner, since he’s in a cardboard box with straw, food, and water. He seems quite happy – he was chowing down at his buffet for one the last time I checked on him.                            
After getting Puff Daddy situated in the hospital box, I went back outside to feed the chickens and change out the waterers. As King Julian went to hop up into the coop, I noticed he was limping. My first thought was entirely selfish – you can’t put two roosters in the same hospital room, so since we only have two bathrooms, that leaves me without a chicken-free shower option. But then I looked more closely at him, and realized he had somehow gotten a string from one of the feed bags wrapped around his feet, like someone had thrown a bolo at him. He actually let me hold him and cut the strings off; I was quite impressed. Once he was roosting contentedly, I resumed my mission to refill everyone’s waterer.
I carefully opened the door to the turkey kennel and successfully snatched the near-empty waterer out before Thanksgiving could decide to chomp on me. I don’t usually let them outside when it’s raining, since their feathers get so muddy, and taking Thanksgiving to the kitchen spa is out of the question. Once I had filled the waterer back up, I was walking up to the kennel when Christmas started furiously flapping. I thought her head was stretched through the gap that rings the door frame so that she could get some spilled food, but no. She was stuck. Like a kid putting his head through a banister. My first thought this time was, OMFG, really? Followed closely by, oh, crap, my wrists are still broken so how am I going to pull the heavy-gauge wire enough for her to get her head back out? Just like Thanksgiving puffs up when he’s fussed, Christmas’s neck was doing the same thing. No matter how I moved her head, it was too swollen to push it back through. I went and got a wooden stick for leverage, and I was finally able to push her head back through. She seemed no worse for the wear – she immediately went to her food bowl and started gobbling down her dinner.  Thanksgiving, on the other hand, seemed to think it was my fault his wife got stuck in the door, and he took a chunk out of my leg when I put the waterer in the kennel. It scares me to no end that he can draw blood through denim. Thankfully I got through the rest of the farm chores with no more drama, although I did have a slight limp.
In non-hospital related news, before he left Gene completed work on the Maisson De’ Duck, which is French for duck hut. It’s absolutely palatial in scope, and just what the rescue ducks had hoped for. They opted for a sloped-roof cedar rambler, waterfront, of course, and even commissioned some one-of-a-kind artwork on the front door and porch. It will be more than enough for the four rescue ducks and the five ducklings, as soon as they’re old enough to join them. The roof is hinged, and flips open for easy cleaning. The floor is covered with a thick rubber mat, so they can spill all the water they want and the straw doesn’t get too damp. They’re so happy I even got my first duck egg yesterday! They are in much better spirits, although they don’t seem to have gotten back their waterproofing yet; rain doesn’t run off their feathers like it would with healthy ducks. They’re getting there, though. I think it will just take some time and spoiling.
Since Gene didn’t want the goats to think the ducks were getting all the preferential treatment, he built them a three-bucket feeding station, and hung it from the fence. Since I’m still boarding Abigail’s goats, Jack and Sam, in the hopes of finding love in the air, feeding time at the zoo gets a bit frenzied. With the new bucket system, I can feed them from the other side of the fence, so they can’t knock the scoops out of my hands anymore. Watching them eat reminds me of a raucous game of goat Twister, with heads and legs sticking out of brightly colored circles in every direction.