Tuesday, September 26, 2017

When All Around You Are Holding Their Noses


Here I am with the pup Elliott before the dreadful deed.  I never thought he would be involved in such terrible treatment of two innocent dogs.

My day began as usual.  I woke next to Cleo on the laundry floor (my most favourite place in the whole world) and wandered out for a nice breakfast of kibble and a big drink of water.  Cleo went for a morning run around the yard and stopped to say hello to the chooks, who replied very rudely as usual.  I can't be bothered with all that running and investigating.  Lying in the sun, or preferably on my bed in the laundry is my idea of the way to spend my day so I watched Cleo exercise and wagged my tail in encouragement.  Cleo likes encouragement.  Cleo likes attention of almost any sort.

Justin, Savannah and their pup Elliott arrived during the morning.  I'm always glad to see them.  They have three different dog smells on them and I like to catch up on the news of these unknown dogs.  I imagine they are just as interested in Cleo's and my news when the family returns home.  Cleo tends to lose control when we have visitors.  She's very anxious that they love her and her efforts to make sure they know she loves them often results in muddy paw marks on the humans or a lot of drool.  For some reason a lot of humans object to drool  I don't understand why, drool is a fact of life after all.  I have to admit to leaving drool on humans too (as well as on the porch, on the path and anywhere else it happens to drop) but I consider a reasonable amount of drool on a person a sign of affection.  Cleo, I'm afraid to say, goes overboard drool-wise. 

Justin has what it takes to make a dog sit up and listen and he can get Cleo's enthusiasm under control with just a word or two.  Cleo always looks rather startled to find she's obeying him but when Justin says sit, Cleo sits.  I must admit I'm very grateful for this.  I tend to find Cleo's over the top energy tiring.  After I've greeted the visitors I usually need a long rest to recover from her exertions.  Today, after my welcome to Elliott and his parents and a bit of drool depositing I was preparing to retire to my laundry when Mum came out and called Cleo and me over to the clothes line.  This was unusual enough to get my attention.  It looked like she had a treat bag in her hand so I wandered over to see what she wanted.  Yep, sure enough, there was a treat bag involved.  I love treats and Mum is usually generous handing them out.  Today was no different and while Cleo and I munched on the tasty morsels things went downhill.  As well as the treats there was also a chain - not a walking lead mind you, a chain!  Well that just never happens to me.  Sometimes Cleo ends up on the chain for bad behaviour, but as I find bad behaviour just too exhausting I have never been put on the chain for such a thing.  It's been a long time and I can't remember why the chain was involved before, but I do get a feeling that it was another lovely warm day like today.

Then the buckets of water arrived along with bottles of smelly stuff.  Justin got a very business like look on his face and his pup sat down beside me and offered comfort (see the photo above).  Now why did I need comfort?  Cleo, also on the chain, said no good could come of this but I pointed out this was our beloved family and Mum was there too and she'd never do anything horrible to us.

I was right.  Mum stood back and watched the whole horrible process.  She didn't get involved at all except to tell us we were good dogs.  Elliott told us we were good dogs too.  Well, I already knew that, what I wanted to know, and vague memories were stirring, was what all this was about?

Cleo was the first to find out.  I heard Mum tell Justin that if Cleo saw me get washed first (washed?) she'd be harder to wash later.  Mum said I was too laid back to get worked up about anything so I'd be fine to wait until Cleo was clean.  I lay on the ground and watched to proceedings trying not to laugh at Cleo's drowned rat look and her new aroma.  Cleo tried to remind Justin and Elliott that they loved her and no-one who loved her would do such dreadful things to her body.  Justin just kept washing until Cleo was as clean and fluffy as a smooth coat Saint Bernard could be (not a patch on we rough coated ones - we take fluffy to a whole new level).  We were on concrete so she couldn't find something smelly to fix the clean smell and she had to sit or console herself with shaking bath water all over Justin and the pup.

Then their attention turned to me.  Uh,oh. I smiled and told them I was fine.  I liked my aged dirt and other interesting smells.  I'd worked all winter on it and it was nearly perfect.  One more dead sheep to roll in and I thought I would achieve perfection.  Justin ignored my logic, and my months of dedicated work and began wetting me down.  The little Elliott got involved too and behaved as if he thought he was giving me a treat.  Speaking of which, it was a while since Mum had dished out the treats when we were tied up so I looked over at her with my most hopeful expression.  She misinterpreted my "where's the treat?" look as she often does and told me it would be alright and I'd be a much more socially acceptable puppy when this was over.  Socially acceptable!  Smelling like flowers and sporting a clean, fluffy coat?  I don't know what social circles she moves in but I felt embarrassed at what Savannah's and Justin's dogs would think of Cleo and me when they sniffed the news this afternoon.  It's a good thing we've never met socially.  I could imagine the jeers should we ever meet.

I didn't struggle of course.  I find struggling exhausting.  You may have noticed from what I've already said that I don't get myself worked up about much.  As a matter of fact I can't think of something that would get me worked up.  It's OK.  I have Cleo for that anyway.  Mum always says thank God I'm bullet proof because she doesn't  think she would survive two Cleos.  Cleo says that I can be boring at times but I don't mind.  I'm happy resting up on my bed or in a sunny or shady spot depending on the weather.   Boring is good. 

Once Justin and Elliott thought they'd removed enough of my beautiful smells a thing called conditioner was applied to my long fur and any hope I had of preserving even a tiny bit of my previous aroma vanished.  I was rinsed off again and began to plan just where in the yard I could roll to repair some of the damage.  Sadly Cleo and I were taken to the laundry to dry off so we couldn't find dirt patches to "ruin all our hard work" as Justin and Mum put it.

Cleo and I stayed in the laundry for quite a while.  It takes a long time for Saint Bernard fur to dry it seems.  While we were there we planned the rest of the day.  Most of it involved rolling in dirt and looking forward to walks off the lead when we could find a dead sheep carcass or two. 

Until then we will smell of flowers and soap.  We won't be able to hold our heads high until we find those carcasses.

Note my stoic, brave demeanour while the indignities continue.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Meanwhile, Back At The Chook Pen ...

I'm not sure if I've given you an updated roll call of the feathered inhabitants at Spring Rock. There are the galahs, Hedwig and Hermes (both roadside accident refugees) of whom we'll here very little in this post. And the chooks:

Eros, our old black rooster who arrived here when he outlived his welcome at a friend's home.  Eros and his brother Helios were thrown over my friend's fence when they were young.  My friend owns a brood of bantam hens and once Eros and Helios grew to their full potential and started trying to chat up the girls it became clear that something had to give. With visions of little bantam hens squashed flat in the boys pursuit of love my friend offered me the pair of boys.  At that time I was in need of a rooster to protect my hens from hawks and Currawongs and I was thrilled to welcome the boys.  Both settled in and life in the chookpen was happy and simple.  Eventually Helios died leaving Eros in command.  Eros has always been a gentle rooster, preferring peace to war so luckily the sheer size of him made predatory wildlife think twice before attacking anything in the chook pen.


Eros.





















Then came Phoenix, an affectionate (when not with his harem) pet rooster who believes the world is better off without Eros.  He came to us because he got too big for his boots in Savannah's mother's back yard.  Phoenix, who was raised from an egg, was confused about pecking orders, being a rooster not a human and what constituted a threat to his ruling the harem.  He began running at the children when they came outside and soon the poor kids were hunkered down inside, scared to brave the stroppy rooster in order to play on their swing or enjoy the outdoors.  They still loved him and wanted a good home for Phoenix so the first name on their lips was Rosemary!  I said yes, little realising how complicated life would get.  I love Phoenix to pieces so despite his complicating the order of the chook yard I'd still say yes.  Phoenix entered the pen and, with the impression that it would be a better world with less black roosters in it, he immediately tried to put an end to Eros.  Eros refused to fight back but usually ended up cornered somewhere with Phoenix beating the daylights out of him.  The only solution was for Graeme to build an inner yard in the chook pen and Phoenix was forced to reluctantly retire from the lists and take up residence in his new quarters.  Eros once again reigned supreme in the chook yard and Phoenix enjoyed daily visits from me where he sat on my lap and enjoyed wattle and comb rubs.  All was peace and quiet once more, but not for long of course. 


Phoenix amongst the gardening pots strewn about by Aslan and Cleo.
Around the same time our Muscovy duck Quacker died leaving her partner Christmas to roam the yards trying to seduce hens half his size.  This resulted in flat, dead hens so Christmas was quickly shuffled into the bachelor quarters too.

The last of my Isa Brown hens were on the aged and infirm list, meaning eggs were few and far between so I decided to venture into pretty breeds of laying hens.  I chose point of lay (not yet laying eggs - but any time soon ...) Hamburgs for a few reasons, not least of which was that there were some for sale in our nearby town.  I purchased six hens - three silver spangled and three gold spangled, and the breeder threw in an Easter Egger/Hamburg cross because there were doubts that one of the girls might be a boy.  Yes, I'd never heard of an Easter Egger either but they are in fact a breed.  They lay blue/green eggs.  Mine doesn't though, she leans towards her Hamburg ancestry and lays a creamy white egg.  I was told I could bring the chook back if it did in fact turn out to be a boy but as the breeder sold her roosters to a meat producer, I knew that I'd never hand an innocent rooster back for that fate and just accepted I may have yet another rooster to cater for.

That night the first gold hamburg left the yard never to be seen again.  Wings were duly snipped to prevent further escapes, but a silver hen took off the next night. Thankfully that was the end of the escapes and the Hamburg population settled down to two gold and two silver hamburgs and the Easter Egger.  Names were duly bestowed and the chook pen now housed: Henrietta, and Hendricka the golden spangles, Pain in the Neck 1 and Pain in the Neck 2 known and PIN 1&2 (because the two remaining silver spangles turned out to be roosters and nasty roosters at that) and Bunny, the Easter Egger. 

PINs 1 & 2 were duly ensconced in the bachelor quarters after they reached puberty and began attacking Eros. War broke out when they came face to face with Phoenix who, though severely outnumbered wasn't about to tolerate the introduction of two supposedly alpha males when he was the alphaest male there was.  I tried putting them in the aviary but they attacked Hedwig and Hermes who were just so affronted by the invasion that they started attacking anything that moved.  I arrived at the brilliant solution of putting Eros, Aunty Brown our little brown Silkie and Bunny in the aviary.  These two little hens had had a hard life while PINs 1 & 2  were growing up and feeling their oats so I declared all three refugees and granted them Aviary Asylum.  Phoenix moved into the main yard with the girls, making him a very happy little red rooster, and once again life settled down in the chook pen.

I had also introduced a gold laced Wyandotte I named Winona and a light Sussex I named Serena.  These two girls settled in quietly and caused no fuss at all.  Very unusual for my feathered inhabitants.  Winona though did have one peculiar episode in her life.

Winona, becomes a bit confused at times.  I think she is a hen of very little brain.  She has a problem in forgetting she's no longer broody for example.  She'll go through her broody phase, leave the nest, and then days later she'll come back and have another broody day or two, leave the nest again, only to repeat her broody days every now and then for a few weeks after she's over her genuine broodiness.  This wouldn't be a problem except that Winona defends her nest with gusto.  She has a nasty peck which leaves blood blisters or breaks the skin.  I've developed a system whereby I wave my left hand in front of her (out of pecking range) to get her attention then, with my right hand, tip her up and quickly collect the day's eggs while she's righting herself.  Trouble is she is sneaky too.  More often than not she keeps an egg clutched in her claws and getting that egg is a bit more of a challenge.


The trouble started when, as I believe, Winona decided that she'd hatched a world record sized chicken.  Henrietta is a gold spangled Hamburg and Winona is a gold laced Wyandotte so apart from size they look quiet similar.  During one of Winona's broody phases, while she was sitting on the nest trying to protect the eggs from my daily assaults, Henrietta too became broody and joined her.  We have two nesting boxes but all the hens ignore the newer, larger box in favour of our old, much smaller box.  

I tried fake eggs to encourage them to lay there but that was during the summer when we had a bearded dragon (we assume - it was definitely a lizard and I think they are the only local lizards large enough) stealing eggs.  When Winona went broody the lizard thief couldn't get at those eggs (not with that beak aimed at delicate, scaly spots) so it stole the fake eggs instead. Funnily enough, it actually brought two of the three stolen fake eggs back weeks later! I still wonder what it did with the last stolen fake egg. They were made of plaster and I would imagine, not very tasty. Did it keep one of the fake eggs as an example of the type of egg not to steal in the future?  As a den decoration? Buried it in the hopes it would soften up and become edible?  

I got sidetracked there didn't I?  Anyway Winona was well into her broody phase and Henrietta joined her in the smaller nesting box.  They sat  side by side for a while then Winona started sitting on Henrietta.  At first Henrietta objected, but Hamburgs being a small breed and Wyandottes being a very large breed Henrietta gave up, resigning herself to endure the rest of Winona's broody period under cover of fluffy feathers.


Gold Laced Wyandotte  Raising Happy Chickens   http://www.raising-happy-chickens.com

Gold Spangled Hamburg  www.backyardchickens.com
When Henrietta finally finished her broody cycle she hopped off the nest and immediately regretted her decision to re-join the big, wide world.  Winona was waiting for her and while Winona couldn't train Henrietta to follow her, Winona is an adaptable hen - she followed Henrietta around all day fussing over every decision Henrietta made.  If Henrietta chose to eat a particularly  tasty scrap Winona was there checking its quality and advising Henrietta on the correct way to eat it.  Woe and betide any other hen who might peck at Henrietta while she was foraging.  Winona proved a formidable, if confused mother and she rushed to protect her prized chicken.  When Henrietta settled down for the night Winona fluffed her feathers and sat on top of her to keep her warm.  Henrietta developed that hunted look of those who know their stalker is close by.  There was little I could do.  Winona was stalking with love.  All she wanted to do was teach her huge chicken the ropes and fit her for life as a grown chook - when she finally decided to grow that is.  This lasted a couple of weeks until Winona considered Henrietta big enough to tackle the dangers of the chook pen and back yard on her own.  


I think Henrietta might reconsider spending her next broody time in that unused nesting box next time.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

When You Have A Wonky Neck Spring Rock Is The Place To Be

George with just a slight case of Wry Neck
It's been a while since I've posted a story and I'm sorry to have neglected my documenting of Spring Rock happenings.  I've just been busy with other things for a while. You mustn't imagine that in the time I've been silent the menagerie has finally decided to behave itself. That just never happens.  Our latest addition is a case in point.

Isis, our little brown duck started it all when she hatched two eggs and left a third egg with the duckling inside, making a little hole in the shell and then stopping because the egg was left to go cold.  I helped him out of the shell and while he was alive, there wasn't much to go before he wasn't.  I did what I usually do with cold, limp, baby poultry - I popped him down my bra and carried on with my day.  

This system of reviving almost dead or very weak chickens and ducklings is tried and true in my case. When Justin was in high school one of his Agriculture assignments was to incubate and raise a clutch of eggs.  He came home with two dozen eggs and a school incubator and set to work, documenting each day in a diary.  For a long while entries were very boring - Monday - turned eggs, checked temperature. Tuesday -  turned eggs, checked temperature.  Wednesday -  turned eggs, checked temperature and so on.  Then one day things got interesting as the chickens began to make their way out of the shells and scrambled to the heat lamp set up for their enjoyment.  In the end all the eggs hatched and 24 chickens could be seen basking under the lamp when not eating their little heads off. One little late comer was weaker than the rest and kept being pushed out from under the heat into the cold, dark badlands of the brooding box.  I was in charge of chicken care while Justin was at school and I kept popping the chicken back under the heat, while giving the rest of the brood a good talking to about kindness to weaker siblings.  Then Justin brought the little, limp scrap to me and said he though he was going to have one failure in his brood. I took the ball of limp fluff and scrabbled around inside my shirt for a little while until I had the fluff ball firmly ensconced in my bra cup.  Justin gave me a shocked look and said, "Well I'm not writing that up in my diary!"  How he explained the survival of the fluff ball I don't know but survive it did and after two days of inhabiting my bra was ready to go back to less crowded accommodation with its siblings.  We won't even go into the problems that occurred when most of the brood turned out to be roosters and the school blithely told Justin they were his now.

Anyway back to the ducklings - quickly so I don't dwell on trying to re-home 20 roosters who all hated each other.  I tried re-introducing The Scrap as I named the duckling to its mother but she vowed and declared that she only hatched two ducklings and no-one was going to foist a third responsibility on her thank you very much. She was a first time mother and people should be hustling around to support her and nurture her, not foisting questionable ducklings on her and upsetting the order of things just as she was getting the hang of this mothering business.  So I had a duckling.  A lonely duckling.  I put out the call to Justin, who is now married to a beautiful young woman named Savannah.  Justin and/or Savannah seem to be able to source lots of weird and wonderful things when I need them.  This time Savannah's mum came to my aid with two little Silkie chickens.  She had a backyard full of chickens at the time due to lots of broody hens and great hiding places for clutches of eggs. I belong to a poultry Facebook group where someone had mentioned the wing method of sexing very young chickens.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzGdqgRq31k  if you are interested in the process. I sent Justin the same link and left him to identify two girls for me.

Two chickens arrived just before our big family camping trip.  All three of our children, their spouses, our eight grandchildren and Graeme and I went away for a weekend camping trip. I camp in a caravan with an en-suite, but I still call it camping despite what my more rugged children call it.  Of course the duckling and chickens had to come along as well because who was going to look after their needs if they stayed home.  We packed baby poultry, cat litter for the bottom of their box, their heat lamp and enough food to last them a month and set off.  Graeme and I drove to the camping site with the sounds of little peeps coming from the back seat.  The little group was a resounding success with all my grandchildren and the children camping in a spot near us.  First thing in the morning or at various times during the day when we were in camp, one or other of my grandchildren would wander in to the caravan to say good morning, or ostensibly to pass the time of day with me.  Said grandchild pretended it was to visit with me but after the greeting his or her eyes would start to wander around the van.  I'd point towards the en-suite and say, "They're down there."  And that was the last I saw of that grandchild for a while, unless I too headed for the en-suite.

The Gang of Three as I named them ended up being named by my four granddaughters - my three older grandsons arrived too late to have a say in the matter and Elliott being two wasn't sure what naming chickens and duckling was all about.  They ended up Cupcake, Georgina (known as George) and Daisy (the duckling).  George had an out of control top knot of feathers and my daughter in law Frances said that she looked like she was wearing an ushanka, (one of those Russian fur hats) and wanted to name her Kiev, but I vetoed that very quickly.  I wasn't having any chicken of mine named after a tasty chicken dish.  I mentioned the fact that we didn't know if the duckling was a girl, and if it was a boy the drake would have to live with the embarrassment of being named Daisy.  The girls didn't care so Daisy it had to be.  I think the Gang of Three enjoyed the camping trip as much as all the family.  It was declared a big success and everyone wanted to repeat the event sometime soon in the future.  I pointed out that I couldn't guarantee any livestock on the next trip and while there were moans of disappointment from those under the age of 15 it was decided we'd still camp together again.

Sadly Daisy didn't make it.  Once we got home she started to fail and no amount of tender care worked.  George and Cupcake kept on thriving, enjoying the heat from the desk lamp, learning to fly out of their box and sit on my bed (well flap madly while they climbed the side of the box anyway - they weren't very aerodynamic).  We kept them in the bedroom away from the cats you see.  I'd go into the room to check their feed or water or whatever only to find them wandering around the top of our bed, trying to peck the design off the top.  Steps were taken to reduce their free range time and life went on.  

One morning Cupcake's head began to head south.  At first she just had a quizzical look with her head slightly listing to the right.  As each day passed her head moved further and further down until her neck was bent and an unbelievable angle.  I tried massaging her neck, but the slightest thing seemed to panic her and make the spasms worse.  It was obvious she was suffering and the only thing I could think of was that she had a brain tumour.  I asked Graeme to dispatch her (because I'm a coward and can't do those sorts of deeds myself).  

Two days after Graeme accomplished the terrible deed George's head started to list to the right.  I decided that two brain tumours within a couple of days was very unlikely and did what I should have done in the first place.  I Googled the problem.  The answer came back emphatically.  George had Wry Neck Syndrome.  Wry Neck results in the poor little chicken's neck twisting around until its head is upside down, almost between its legs.  It's caused by one of her parents having a Vitamin E deficiency and despite the fact that the chicken pellets I was giving them was supposed to supply all the vitamins and minerals the chickens need it seemed George lacked this one important vitamin.  The recommendation was to dose her with Selenium and Vitamin E three times daily.   It took a bit more research to find out the actual doses of each but once we had those we got to work.  The Selenium helps the chicken absorb the maximum amount of the Vitamin E in case you were wondering.

George, by the way, was now an only chicken.  We've been here before haven't we? Thankfully Savannah's mum came to the rescue once again with three Silkie cross chickens this time.  Justin performed the wing check once again but the chickens were slightly older and it's harder to tell as they age.  We ended up with two hens and a ring in rooster (making five roosters in residence at the moment!).

Back to where we left George and her wonky neck.  I was just about to go to hospital for an overnight stay to have my toe operated on.  It was then two weeks of keeping my foot up, walking on it as little as possible and three weeks on crutches (not to mention three months so far in a walking cast, but that's just me grizzling here).  So for a few days Graeme was in charge of getting George's neck straight up and where it belonged.  Hand feeding and watering were also involved because George couldn't manage to feed herself with her head upside down. I was a bit worried because as I've mentioned in previous posts, Graeme is not an animal person.  I imagine neck rubs were few and far between but George and Graeme soldiered on.  Graeme struggled through and actually bonded with George during these early days of medicating her while I was laid up.  

We dosed George up as per internet instructions and after nearly three weeks of twice daily dribbles of Vitamin E oil down her little beak and the addition of B1 once I found a few articles recommending that as well, she came good.  I was once again able to pick on her top knot and make such comments as she looked like she was wearing a pom pom up there without feeling like I was picking on a poor defenceless, sick little chicken.   

According to all recorded data that I can find George should have gone on to have a neck in the upright and controllable position from then on, but George hasn't read the data.  If she doesn't get her daily dose of Vitamin E (one capsule worth of oil these days thankfully) and a neck rub, her neck begins to head in a southerly direction.  

George in the full trows of Wry Neck

Graeme is aghast at the thought of a chook that will need to be given Vitamin E every day for possibly the rest of her life, but in his usual stoic manner has accepted that being married to me means owning and caring for weird pets.  I've tried feeding George the food types that are rich in Vitamin E, and while she enjoys her treats of spinach, avocado and sunflower seeds (the health food ones - her beak is too little to deal with the outer husk of bird seed quality), hand-ground-by-me almonds and such, she still needs the capsule or we're back to having to turn our own heads upside down to talk to her.  Thankfully she's very tame and sits on my lap during the medicating and enjoys a neck rub afterwards.  I have a photo taken a while back when she was slightly smaller.  She fell asleep on my lap during the neck rub and I was stuck sitting on the lounge chair until she work up.  George would raise her head for a second, look around groggily and then go back to sleep, just to get my hopes up that I'd be able to get up and go about my business.  I know I could have got up at any stage, but she looked so comfortable and soft and fluffy lying there dreaming chooky dreams.  I couldn't disturb her could I?

One thing's for sure, George has made sure she's secured a place in any future camping expeditions, along with a large supply of Vitamin E capsules. 


George taking a little nap after a neck rub.