Since I’m one of those people who need sunshine on a daily basis, and tend to be somewhat melancholy when deprived of it, I naturally project those feelings onto the critters. Or at least, that’s how I rationalize buying more exotic, expensive treats during the rainy months – the poor things are depressed! How can I pass up Happy Hen Treats when I walk down the aisle? Harvey and Christmas found themselves particularly uplifted this week after I happened upon presliced, pre-packaged apple slices at QFC. A five-pack was on sale for fifty cents at QFC, so naturally I loaded up. I didn’t even worry about the rapidly approaching expiration date, given the population of our backyard. Christmas has already learned what’s coming when I reach into my pocket and she hears crinkling. It’s a little disconcerting when she tries to get the package while I’m trying to open it, but I figure she’s just extra hungry. I have to confess that while dispensing her apples treats the other day I had one of those blinding flashes of insight when I realized I’ve become a certified crazy bird lady. It hit me as I was biting the apple slices into smaller pieces (to compensate for her beak size) and spitting them into my hand, then dumping them into her bowl. Since I’m basically regurgitating her treats for her, I might as well do the chicken dance around her food bowl while screeching ca-CAW, ca-CAW. But she really does love apples, so you know I’ll keep doing it.
I really need to find a treat the ducks love, because they’re starting to quack jealously when everyone else is grubbing on Wheat Thins and they’re standing around with empty beaks. The only thing I’ve found that they come running for is watermelon, and that’s out of season. Gene won’t even consider having some specially flown in from California, no matter how many times I remind him that I don’t ask for much. I’ve tried frozen peas and carrots, bits of bread, canned corn, and apple bits, but so far they just spit those morsels out and quack sadly. They love Wheat Thins, but I’m worried the sharp edges will hurt their little throats, since they don’t have teeth to chew them. And I don’t care how far I descend into my crazy bird lady persona, I refuse to pre-chew a cracker. That’s just wrong. Maybe I’ll try bran flakes. I’ll have to add that to Gene’s shopping list.
I’ve also added a critter to my personal list of must haves, which if you’ll remember includes quail, peacocks, and pheasants. And this new obsession is Abigail’s fault, because she knows how quickly I fall in love and she’s the one who took me to the Bug Museum in Gorst. While she and her three-year-old daughter looked around at all the critters on display, I spent my time gazing longingly at Cecil the Sulcata Tortoise. After a long chat with the museum curator, I learned that Cecil will live approximately 100 years, he’s a vegetarian, and he’ll grow to about 150 pounds. His demeanor is calm although he loves to pace, and his poo generally takes on a log-shape form. (I ask all the important questions right up front). I’ve already drawn up plans to convert the Bunny Ranch into a duplex, with the new tortoise taking up the fully enclosed, heated, sun-roof equipped lower level, but Gene said he simply insists on getting The Installation – aka Garage Brooding Resort – finished first. I asked him when he planned to get started on it, but he was so focused on thinking about the project that he didn’t answer me. At least I’m the only one who left the Bug Museum empty handed; Abigail bought a fire-bellied frog for her 8-year-old son’s new bedroom. The frog came in a neat aquatic habitat consisting of a clear acrylic lidded box filled with about a half inch of water at the bottom. A little plastic island was floating inside, with a palm tree glued to it. The island was a little disconcerting, both because it is clearly one of those styrofoam trays that small portions of raw hamburger meat come packaged in, and also because it had a fake ceramic frog glued to it. I tried to convince her to get two frogs, but she wanted to do some research first. Mostly to make sure she wasn’t doing the equivalent of putting two Siamese Fighting Fish in the same bowl, I think.
In less exotic news, Fiona and Shy have come to a somewhat uneasy peace, at least during meal times. I’ve mentioned before how this farm seems to have a bad epidemic of grass is greener syndrome, because Shy is now convinced that the goat grain is delicious, and Fiona loves her some alpaca chews. Shy is slowly emerging as the alpha critter, in that he now shoves his head in the goat feeding station and chows down on grain, totally ignoring Fiona’s protests. If she gets too annoying, Shy will take a particularly large mouthful of grain, lower his head to about a foot off the ground while looking up at her, then blow chunks of it all over her face. I’m so gonna try that next time someone gets pushy at the buffet.
I don’t even have a good excuse for not posting in two weeks….mostly my time has been spent looking out the window, sighing heavily, and grinding my teeth as I watch the ducks floating around in the huge puddles forming in the backyard. We’re going to have to move Christmas’s chalet before it floats away; this year’s flooding is much worse than last years. Luckily for her, I elevated her floor last year, so the rubber mat is up on pallets and she stays warm and dry despite her new lake front property. Harvey, on the other hand, returns to the Bunny Ranch every night looking rumpled and fussy. He definitely shares my opinion of the rain, and it’s making him cranky. The other night I brought out his customary treat when he came hopping home, and he glared at me because it wasn’t Wheat Thins. I thought he might appreciate fresh zucchini slices, but apparently not. I braved the rain storm again, swapping out the offending slices for a fresh carrot. He glared at it, then glared at me. After a third trip back to the house, I offered up a freshly dug potato, which earned me a glare and a heavy bunny sigh, but at least he ate it. I guess I need to go stock up on Wheat Thins.
The chickens spend all their time either partying under the winter enclosure or in Harvey’s Bunny Ranch. I love looking out the window and seeing twenty of them crammed in there. Harvey doesn’t seem to mind, and the chickens have gotten used to him. They truly hate the rain, and tend to look pretty miserable when they get caught out in it. Last week, I thought they needed some cheering up, so I splurged on “Happy Hen Treats” at the feed store. Thank god the family-sized container of freeze-dried meal worms sports a huge ‘not for human consumption’ label on the front of it, because they look so tasty I might have been tempted. Not. Definitely worth the $16, though, they come running when I shake the container.
On one of the rain-free days last week, I was helping Gene move the fence line back to enlarge the pasture area. And by helping, I mean I was standing there using my formidable backside to prop up the fence while he pulled it tight. I must have stepped on a slumbering wasp, because I suddenly felt a simultaneous burning and chewing sensation on my upper leg. I’ve never encountered a wasp before, and my initial thought was somehow a spider had crawled up my leg. My very next thought was that I couldn’t see Nugget on her usual perch; my pants have never come off so fast in my life. Fiona tried to help remove the offending garments by grabbing a leg and running off. Not my finest hour, chasing a goat while pantsless in the middle of the afternoon. On the plus side, as I ran past the shed chasing the goat I saw Nugget, which made me feel a bit better. Then Gene checked out the bite mark, and I felt a lot better when he declared it wasp inflicted.
Gene, with Abigail’s assistance, spent his weekend building Shy an alpaca cabana, the latest addition to his unending list of projects. It’s a three sided structure attached to the goat’s shed, and it has a heat lamp and a feed and water station. Shy has yet to go in it, even in the rain, but Christmas and Woolimina love it. Christmas hangs out there during the day, and Wool beds down in it at night. I’m sure once we hire a towel boy, Shy will have no problem hanging out in the cabana. At the rate the yard is filling up, it will be a pool-side cabana in no time.
Other than that, not much is new here on the farm. The chicks are still happy in the garage brooding facility, and I have taken it upon myself to design what I now refer to as The Installation — a state of the art, six-foot tall, fully enclosed brooding resort. The bottom three feet will be plywood, topped by three feet of framed chicken wire. There will be roosting bars all the way up, and a plywood roosting platform at the top of the wall. The front wall will be hinged, and open in the middle for ease of cleaning. I also wanted to put in a live tree with branches for hopping and perching, but Gene squashed that dream by telling me if we put a tree in the box, then the chicks will get used to roosting in trees and not go into the big coop at night once they’re outside. While I had to concede his point and erase the tree from my blueprints, I did remind him to refer to it as The Installation rather than merely ‘the box’. He just stared at me, but I’m used to that. The key feature in my brooding resort is a pond feature that hangs below the floor level, with a removable cover. That way ducks can grow up in that half of it, and when we don’t have ducks we can cover the pond. I thought that particular detail was genius, and probably enough to earn me a scholarship at the architectural school of my choice, should I choose that as my next career.
Have you ever found yourself trying to remember if it’s lamas or alpacas that spit? Turns out, they both do. And alpacas have freakishly good aim. I’ve had a lot of luck convincing Shy that it’s safe to come over and eat grain or hay out of my hand, but somehow he always knows when I’m about to grab his collar and the chase is on. Mostly I’ve had to grab him in order to adjust his blanket, since either he or a pesky, jealous goat keeps chewing the straps in half. Usually he gives up pretty easily, but sometimes I have to enlist Abigail’s help. The two of us then slowly back him into a corner, and then he just gives up and allows us to hold him. If we’ve chased him too long, or bothered him too much, Abigail and I learned the hard way that when Shy starts burbling like an old Mr. Coffee machine he’s about to launch a counterstrike. Now when he starts percolating, we know to duck.
I’m not sure if it’s the changing weather or what, but contrariness seems to be contagious this week on the farm. Last night, I watched Harvey hop back into the Bunny Ranch after a hard evening’s partying, so I went inside and got him his usual bedtime snack. Fearing he might get tired of Wheat Thins, I added a fingerling potato from the garden. There’s a trick to delivering Harvey’s bed times treats, since it’s dark outside and hard to see the spiders who cohabitate with him. If you turn too far to the right after entering the Bunny Ranch, you walk into Horatio’s web, and too far to the left will bring you face to face with Esmeralda, who is about three times Horatio’s size. When I bent down to deliver Harvey’s treats, I took my eyes off the bunny for a split second to make sure my butt wasn’t backing anywhere near Esmeralda’s spacious abode. Either Harvey got tired of waiting for his crackers or he mistook the base of my thumb for his potato treat, but ouch. That bunny can bite. At least he let go right away, unlike Claire, who used to hang on for the ride.
Harvey has also taken it upon himself to excavate various tunnels throughout the greenbelt behind the pasture area. He’s strong enough to actually bend fencing, and has done so in numerous places. If you listen to him in the woods, he makes so much noise if you didn’t know any better you would start wishing you were loaded for bear. He also hollowed out an area underneath the circular composter, which got overrun by blackberries this year. He ate his way underneath it, which caused a sort of vaulted area to form. Not content with just the area underneath it, he excavated all the way back into the brambles. Since the composter was strategically placed next to the compost pile, one of the chicken’s favorite bug hunting areas, guess where they’ve started laying? I haven’t been able to reach the pile of eggs I’m suspecting is back there somewhere, but I did see a chicken crawl out of the tunnel making what Gene and I call “egg screeches”, which is their proclamation to the world that an egg has just entered it. For the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that I haven’t been collecting any tiny sized eggs from the nesting areas. I just figured that the eggs were getting larger, but now I’m worried there’s a huge clutch of them in the bramble tunnel. Gene’s going to have to let me know what he finds in there.
I should have seen this coming, but the weather just had to pick Shy’s makeover date to turn colder. The day after he got sheared, Gene came home in the morning to find him shivering out in the pasture. Obviously that broke my heart just a little bit, so I went out that very afternoon and bought him a designer blanket to wear until his wool grows back. Or until it gets warmer, whichever comes first. Since I couldn’t find a store in our area that carries high fashion alpaca outerwear, I had to settle for a foal blanket. Shy hasn’t quite forgiven us for the whole filing of the teeth without Novocaine thing, so convincing him to get within grabbing distance took a little work. Gene drew on his old skills of breaking horses, and within minutes Shy was happily ensconced in his new coat.
Since then, we’ve corralled him a number of times, just to give him pets, treats, and holds. He’s back to eating out of my hand again, now that he knows I’m not going to inflict fashion on him every time I come near. The only other thing I want to do is add some sort of flap to the butt area of his coat, because his rear view is still disturbing, and in my opinion equipment should always be kept in some sort of tool shed.
Speaking of equipment hanging out in plain view, it’s just about time for little Wesley to go live with the boy goats down at Abigail’s pasture. The first couple times I thought Wesley was just playing with poor innocent little Leia, but no, he’s clearly practicing his more adult skills. Despite being rather indecent at times, Wesley is still the cutest goat ever. He loves to climb in my lap whenever I sit down in the pasture, and he usually falls asleep in my arms. I’ve been letting all the critters graze in the back greenbelt, and Wesley has found a new favorite place to nap back there. During what will probably be one of the last truly sunny days of the season, Wesley took the kind of epic sunshine nap that makes you want to lie down right next to him and take one yourself. I think that’s why I spend so much time out in the back watching the animals; I’ve never been more at peace than when I’m surrounded by napping goats and softly cackling chickens.
But apparently having too much peace in one’s life is a bad thing, because just when I’m enjoying the sight of happily foraging chickens, Marley has to ruin it by playing mind games with me. I’ve been lulled into a false since of security lately, because Marley hasn’t launched himself at the back of my legs in at least a month. Instead, he’s started doing something infinitely more terrifying. He will sneak up behind me, then start twining around my legs like a cat. Then he’ll sit on the toe of my boot and stare at me. It’s like he’s daring me to shake him off. I can’t tell if he’s genuinely trying to be loving and sweet, or if he’s debating whether he should go for my face. So far I just stand there until he moves; being the optimistic type I’m assuming he just wants to cuddle.
Gene has been spending a lot more time in the back yard lately, since he’s got a new hobby. And by hobby, I mean he’s joined me in one of my most epic battles to date, Battle Rat. Winning Battle Mink on behalf of the remaining ducks had one unfortunate downside – by chasing off the minks, who eat the rats, the rats have taken advantage of the void and filled it with more rats. Gene’s not nearly as upset about their presence as I am. In fact, he tends to look forward to dusk with a kind of maniacal glee that makes me glad I’m not a rat. The lengthening shadows of night will find him perched on his backyard blind, pellet gun in one hand (complete with new scope) and beer in the other. He’s invited Abigail’s husband down for a shoot off, but so far it’s been a solo operation. I want to get him a little rat-shaped stencil so he can keep track of his kills on the shed door, but I’m worried he’d run out of space too quickly.