Tuesday, December 19, 2017

New Chicks Continued

Since my last blog in September about our home-hatched chicks, we've had a few changes to our backyard flock. None of these are really good changes.

A few weeks ago, Rihanna, foster mom who hatched and raised the chicks, died. I'm not sure why, especially considering she'd finally regrown her feathers and was looking a lot more healthy and less like a turkey vulture. I've learned over the years that even though we protect them from predators and try to keep their environment healthy, chickens are still vulnerable to unknown illnesses. If I notice a chicken has slowed down, I prepare myself for losing her.

Then just this week, Beeker died. I was not surprised as Beeker was now one of our oldest hens at 7 years. Although she willingly helped Rihanna raise the chicks, Beeker did not lay any eggs in the past year, a sign that her body was post-henapausal. Still, Beeker's adorable little pure-white Silkie presence will be missed.

Beeker and Rihanna in happier days
It's hard to mix the bantam (miniature) breeds of chickens with the standard sized ones as the smaller ones get picked on. Our rooster, Ed Sheeran, is technically a bantam also being half Silkie and half Frizzle, but as a male, he's larger and dominates. So in essence, I have to worry less now about making sure the little ones get their fair share of food and roosting space.

In addition to the deaths of our remaining bantam hens, we have gradually come to accept that our two Frizzle/Welsummer chicks are the wrong gender for egg laying; we have two cockerels. I'm not often wrong (just ask my husband and kids...not), but I was way off on these chicks. Or call it believing what you want to be true. Originally named Charlotte and Cindy, I now just call the little rascals Frick and Frack.

Frick (middle) and Frack (left)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

New Chicks!

My husband and I have a backyard chicken flock of varying ages and now we have new home-hatched chicks.
We tend to add a few new chicks almost every year, partly because if we see a breed that looks interesting we want it and partly because the egg production slows down dramatically in hens after the age of two years. Many of the older chickens have died off. The average life span of a chicken, assuming no predation, is 4-5 years. The last hen from our very first chicks, an Americauna named Flo, died during the summer at the age of eight years. Since our chickens have a guaranteed retirement here with us and we try hard to protect them from all the creatures of land and air, our oldest hens are now seven-years-old and our youngest turned a year old in May. Sixteen chickens, ten or so different breeds, one of which is a rooster.
Last May we got two Frizzle-Silkie cross chicks and two Welsummer chicks. One of the Frizzles is a red rooster we named Ed Sheeran, after the singer with similar hair (red with a comb-forward to cover your receding hairline). He’s a handsome roo with his wild feathers that look like they were caught in a tornado.
Ed Sheeran, red Frizzle rooster
Our other Frizzle is named Rihanna, also after the singer. Our Rihanna, however, is probably the ugliest chicken we’ve ever had. She is tiny, black, about one pound, smaller than our other female Bantam (miniature) breed Silkie hen, Beaker. Rihanna has been hen and rooster pecked so that she is missing a lot of her curly feathers, her head and neck almost completely bald giving her the appearance of a turkey vulture. Bantam hens are slower to mature, often not starting to lay eggs until they are 8 months old. Rihanna didn’t start laying until she was about a year old. I often said Rihanna was a sorry excuse for a chicken; not attractive, very poor layer and skittish.
When Rihanna became broody in August, I ignored it at first. Being half Silkie, her breed is known for going broody, which means they will just sit on a nest for three weeks or so, whether or not there are eggs under her. During the broody time, a hen will not lay eggs, getting off the nest only a few times a day for short periods to eat, drink and poop. This characteristic has been bred out of most other breeds of chickens, but not the Silkie. Therefore, Silkie hens are infamous for hatching and raising chicks the old fashioned way. We have used Beaker, our white Silkie, a few times to hatch the eggs of others and raise chicks.
A couple of weeks into her broodiness, Rihanna remained steadfast on her nest, and I decided we should go for a few new chicks. With our only rooster being a Frizzle, any chicks that hatched would have a fifty percent chance of having the curly feathers of a Frizzle, yet the size and coloration of the mother. Rihanna and her foster mother, Beaker, were moved into our old coop with six eggs; two cream, one green, two chocolate brown and one with dark spots. I wanted Beaker there for moral support and as a back-up in case Rihanna’s hormones suddenly changed her broodiness mid-gestation. I hoped that Beaker would take over if necessary. I put in more eggs than we actually wanted because our luck has only hatched one live chick out of every four eggs any time we’ve tried to hatch eggs in the past. Plus, with Ed being a smaller breed of rooster than the rest of the flock, I didn’t know how many of the hens he’d successfully bred. Some of the girls had no trouble out running Ed.
Biological Mom - Welsummer Hen - Either Dear Abby or Ann Landers (they're twins)
On Day 21, the first egg hatched! It was from one of the dark brown Welsummer eggs, either Ann Landers’ or Dear Abby’s. The next day, another egg hatched! Also a Welsummer. The other eggs either weren’t fertile or didn’t survive. So we have two new chicks, and by the coloration, both appear to be little pullets (young hens). One has the curly Frizzle feathers. Daughter Kelsey has named them Charlotte and Cindy.
Grandma Beaker with Foster Mom, Rihanna, and chick
Cute chicks, being raised by a not-so-cute yet very attentive mother. It is fun to watch how Rihanna scratches the dirt and clucks to her babies or how she lets them snuggle under her if they are cold. Grandma Beaker seems to enjoy being around to help out yet she doesn’t try to steal the chicks away from Rihanna. And so, the miracle of life in the world of backyard chickens continues.  
Rihanna with her brood


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Mice Beware!

I am a breeder and owner of the Maine Coon cat. It is a large breed, sought after originally because of its usefulness as a hearty barn cat who could survive the harsh winters in Maine and keep the rodent population under control. Throughout history, a cat’s main job for humankind has been that of mouse exterminator. Since its acceptance as a breed in the 70’s and growing popularity as a pet and show cat, many have speculated that the Maine Coon’s killer instincts have been bred out of it.
River snuggles with Tina
When I noticed that two of our younger female Maine Coons were focused on whatever was under our upright piano, I assumed a toy or perhaps a bug was under there. When I later heard our dog, Coraline, sniffing loudly around the base of the piano, I became suspicious and pulled the piano out away from the wall. An adorable little field mouse looked back at me.

Getting a live mouse out of the house when one has several predators around is a daunting task. I have witnessed our dogs brutally killing mice and song birds with one bite. I rolled the piano back in place to protect the mouse, put Cory in her crate and called my husband for assistance.
I was and am not concerned about finding a den of rodents as I’m pretty sure I know how it got in. We have an enclosed outdoor cat run connected to the house. The cats have access to the run via a cat door installed in the basement window. I occasionally find a rodent victim (vole or mouse) dead in the cat run.  While it is very unlikely a mouse could push the door open to gain entry, it could be carried inside via the mouth of a cat. A live mouse makes for some major feline entertainment. Before the cat and mouse games could get too far, the mouse likely escaped. All was well and good for the mouse until it realized it had fallen into mouse hell…a whole city of Maine Coon cats.

Back to the piano mouse. After my repeated calling, Jay showed up and I explained our dilemma. Once I reminded him that we were NOT to kill it, he suggested I get a towel to throw over the mouse when he moved the piano back. I got ready with my towel. From the other side of the piano, Jay moved it away from the wall. Simultaneously, one of my pottery vases fell from the top of the piano as I tossed the towel. The vase broke into a million pieces and the mouse jumped over the towel, running into the kitchen. Many expletives followed, including the declaration that I do not make a good exterminator.
It was determined that Mr. Mouse had crawled under the stove after I pulled the bottom drawer out and saw him back there. Now he had many opportunities to go behind the cabinets and hide indefinitely. This could take a while if he didn’t venture out. However, I wasn’t too worried as Tina, River, Valentine and Boom Boom were standing guard. I reminded Jay that if we heard a commotion in the middle of the night we had to get up so we could try to save the mouse before my feline forum did too much damage. Major eye roll from my husband.

“Hey, if I said, ‘let’s set traps and kill the mouse’, you’d suddenly wonder who you’d married,” I retorted. I am also the person who puts the errant moth and spider outside unharmed, so of course mice deserve the same protection in my animal-loving mind.
Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long. After watching the Olympics for a while, Jay went to the bathroom and I came into the kitchen to put my wine glass in the dishwasher. All the cats were gathered around the step stool in the kitchen. River, our 10-month-old brown tabby lay on the floor, casually watching as Valentine, Tina and Boom Boom crouched attentively beside the stool. Hmmm. Wonder what you guys are up to. I called repeatedly for Jay, but Lord knows he can’t hear me in an emergency.

I grabbed a large plastic cup and carefully lifted one side of the stool. Sure enough, Mr. Mouse ran out but right into River’s arms. She surprised me by not jumping up, but instead she welcomed the little guy as her new playmate, letting him hide between her front legs. With my cup positioned on the floor, I let the mouse choose between me or a bunch of cats. He ran into the cup and I had him. Fortunately for the mouse, he seemed unharmed. Before I let Mr. Mouse outside, I took a picture and warned him about not going too close to the chickens’ yard. Our chickens are major rodent killers.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Still Cute

I realize that my siblings and I are not the first people to experience the decline of a parent, but lately the reality of how life ends is forced in front of me. The geographic distance between all of us makes the logistics of care difficult. North Carolina is where our mother resides with our step-father, but we, her three children, live in Connecticut, Minnesota and Arizona. Our step-father is not capable of providing the kind of continuous care his wife needs now. We want to honor her wish to die at home. Not knowing how to plan and for how long is inconvenient, but shouldn't be my main concern. Now that Mom is under hospice care, I have taken on the role of primary caregiver. Thank goodness my sister can arrange her work schedule so we can take turns.

With all this, I try to take heart with a few positives:
Mom isn’t in pain.

Her dementia has kept her from worrying as much about her liver cancer as a more cognizant sufferer might.

She still knows who we are and accepts our care without embarrassment or resistance.

She has flashes of humor, reminding us that she’s beautiful inside and out.

Mom is so weak, she requires assistance to stand, to turn over, to move her legs out of the bed. She barely eats and drinks only when the offer is in front of her. She has no bowel control or awareness of having gone. She’s so emaciated, her bare torso shows every rib.

Her norm over the past few weeks has become communication with a look, a nod or shake of the head, especially when she’s sleepy. Sleep is her life right now. When she does speak, it startles me. When she spoke in full sentences to a former colleague who called her the other day, I was amazed. Then she became tired and I had to take the phone.

Our mother took care of herself throughout her 77 years, making her cancer seem that much more unfair. She was active, never over-weight, regular doctor visits, no smoking or drinking, brushed and flossed…all those things you’re supposed to do. She always been a positive person and looked amazing for her age; never even had to color her hair. At this late stage, she has gray roots for the first time. Her signature heavy eyebrows and dark lashes are barely visible with their light color, making her look dramatically different.

So we focus on moments and try to freeze those in our memories. I was on the phone with her hospice case manager, a wonderful woman named Joy who had called to check on her before the weekend started. As I spoke to Joy, I walked into Mom’s bedroom where she lay and she opened her eyes, wondering who I was talking to about her. I told her, “Joy wants to know how you’re doing, Mom.”

“Tell her I’m cute.”

Post Note: My mother passed away peacefully on August 2, 2016.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Fifteen Golden Years

Fifteen years ago today, a litter of Golden Retrievers was born. Seven weeks later we chose a blond female from that litter and brought her home to join our family. Chardonnay is my first pedigreed dog and our oldest pet.
2-month-old cuteness
I blogged about our dog Chardonnay on her tenth and fourteenth birthdays and realize how fortunate we are to still have her in our lives on her fifteenth. Cancer is very prevalent in Golden Retrievers, so much so that Chardonnay participated in a study being done on her breed and cancer. It is hoped that her blood contribution from a non-cancer patient will help scientists figure what she has that the other Goldens do not.
However, this past year has been even more challenging for the old girl; mostly because her hind legs are so stiff they barely bend. Falling down is common and getting up takes time and effort. We started having laser therapy done on her a couple of months ago to make her feel better and that has helped her mobility some. The walks in the woods are less frequent, but she enjoys them at her own pace. Her hearing is almost gone, she has cataracts and seems to have dementia as well. She has had three seizures although they are spaced over a couple of years and not our major concern right now.
The one sense that still works with incredible accuracy is her sense of smell. Chardonnay still trolls for chicken droppings and poop left behind by herself or our other dog, Cory. Cory chooses to poop in the woods, however Chardonnay manages to sniff it out, even if she didn’t witness where Cory went in the midst of all the leaves on the ground. So the coprophagia instinct is still alive and well with her. Great. Chardonnay’s nicknames are Chardy, The Golden Goof, Blondie and Shithead.
Yesterday we had both kids, Tyler and Kelsey, and their significant others over for Easter dinner so we took advantage of the family gathering to celebrate Chardonnay’s birthday. I went a little bit over the top. When you realize you’re on borrowed time, you have an excuse to make the most of it. Last year, I took Chardonnay shopping at Pet Supplies Plus for her fourteenth. This year, I had picked up a small cake (about 6 inches in diameter) at Stop n’ Shop and had them write “Happy Birthday Chardonnay” with matching icing on it. I got numbered candles. And to honor Chardonnay’s true dining habits, I arranged three Tootsie Rolls in the shape of her favorite food on top. And before anyone criticizes me for feeding my dog junk food or chocolate, I'll defend myself; it takes an exorbitant amount of chocolate to hurt a dog, Tootsie Rolls have very little actual cocoa in them, and at her age Chardonnay has earned the right to eat cake. She eats crap, for Pete's sake.
Her very special cake, complete with Tootsie Roll turds

We all sang and presented Chardonnay with her very own birthday cake, candles unlit. I expected her to try to wolf the entire cake down, but she surprised us by licking the icing, unamused at the fake turds. Sorry, Old Girl, real ones were not an option.
Chardonnay enjoys her birthday cake

Monday, February 15, 2016

Fat Cat Saga - After One Week

This is Part Two of a continuing series on Boom Boom's weight-loss journey. Click here to read Part One first.

Yesterday, February 14th, marked one week. Boom Boom has been living in our bedroom, eating half a 5.5 ounce can of Merrick canned food twice daily. When I serve it to her, it has about a teaspoon of Miralax powder mixed into it. Jay normally does the breakfast feeding and I'm pretty sure he "forgets" to add the extra fiber.

Since she stopped taking the Amitriptyline, Boom Boom is more affectionate and energetic; not surprising since it's an antihistamine. Unfortunately, she's also been scratching more, but not terribly so. Perhaps Boom Boom's allergies are seasonal.

After her second day on the new diet, Boom Boom had lost six ounces. The goal is seven ounces in one week, so I figured we were going too fast. Rapid weight loss in cats can cause fatty liver disease so I adjusted her rations. I also started giving her a handful of dry food in her dish twice daily, just enough to cover the bottom of the bowl. I've been keeping a full bowl of dry food in the bath tub for the other, more mobile cats who need the extra calories. Until today, Boom Boom lacked the motivation to heft her body over and into the tub to help herself to more crunchies. Now that I've witnessed her chowing down in the tub, I need to find a better way to keep the extra food out of her reach.

I weigh the big girl every two days on the baby scale and document it on the spreadsheet I have on my dresser. I weigh myself then too, but so far the cat is more successful than I have been at losing weight. I'm blaming Valentine's and those damn addicting conversation hearts and chocolate.

So at the end of one week, Boom Boom has lost six ounces, one ounce short of her goal. The exact recipe is still in the works as you can tell by the spreadsheet. If you go by what I weighed her at yesterday, Boom Boom had lost one pound, 4.5 ounces. That seemed a bit drastic considering the day before, she was four ounces away from her goal. This morning, she was back to a more logical 22 pounds and one ounce so we'll go with that and rack up yesterday's weight loss to technical error. Boom Boom doesn't always enjoy standing on the scale and tends to wobble a bit.

Since I began this, I received a note from one of my kitten buyers, Christine, who relayed her experience with trying to get her previous cat to lose weight. I haven't tried her technique yet, but it seems like a good idea. It's also a reminder that the so-called "diet foods" are ineffective. The fiber in canned pumpkin is good for treating diarrhea and constipation in cats, plus most cats like it.

Hi Sharon!  I just read your blog and wanted to share what worked for us.  I adopted a cat about 11 years ago.  He was 2 yrs old and almost 24 pounds.  The vet beat me up every time and wanted me to buy the expensive vet diet food, which Oscar hated.  I moved and went to a new vet and got the best advice ever.  Oscar is now 13 pounds, which is right for his size.  The advice was canned pumpkin!  She said to start cutting it into the canned food until it was about half pumpkin and half canned food.  Oscar felt full, but since it's veggie, it passed through him.  Just be careful and don't buy pumpkin pie filling!

To be continued...

Top view of Boom Boom

Monday, February 8, 2016

Fat Cat - Starting a Diet

For the first time, I have an obese cat. Yes, being a Maine Coon breeder, we have large cats. We have pregnant cats. We have had the occasional "beefy" spayed or neutered cat. Now having an obese cat bothers me because I have preached to my kitten buyers to keep their cats at a healthy weight. Just because you have a Maine Coon doesn't mean you should have a 30-pound cat.

I am not a feline nutritionist, but I've learned a bit over the years of being a breeder. I advise my kitten buyers that if their cat starts to become too chubby, cut back on the dry food and increase the canned. Always feed canned food, no matter how inconvenient it is for you, because cats need the extra water in their diets. Drinking water is not enough. Canned food is more meat whereas dry food is closer to cat cereal and has way more carbohydrates. Male cats in particular need the extra water content that canned food provides to prevent urinary tract blockages.

I won't get into the raw diet because I have chosen not to feed raw. I have a fear of too much familiarity with the original food source and salmonella to go there. I refuse to even strip the Thanksgiving turkey to salvage the meat; that's what husbands are for. Even though I don't feed raw, I recommend that all cat owners read Dr. Lisa Pierson's site, Cat Info.org on feline diets. She offers ways to feed your cat a healthy diet, raw or not.

My readers may remember my blog last August about Dracoonfly Cosseboom "Boom Boom" and how I had to reclaim her from my mother whose own health is failing. When I brought Boom Boom back, she was on the thin side at 15-plus pounds, covered in flea bites, missing hair from all the scratching, and needed dental work. Her diet was changed (no more Meow Mix), she had many teeth pulled, and she was put on Amitriptyline to help with her allergies and anxiety. Once her mouth healed, Boom Boom starting eating with a vengeance. She stopped scratching and her coat grew back.

Even though Boom Boom was born in my house, had a very successful show career and made some beautiful babies for her first five years, at the age of 11 she is not thrilled living with a bunch of cats and two dogs. She growls defensively at any cat she deems a threat. Hence, I hoped the Amitriptyline would have the added benefit of helping her to deal with the chaos. However, Boom Boom seemed happiest to live with Bear, one of my two breeding males, in my son's old bedroom. It seemed to be a perfect arrangement. However, Boom Boom, went from thin-ish to fat. When I weighed her about a month ago on my baby scale, it confirmed what my eyes saw; she was now 20 pounds. With her large frame, Boom Boom's ideal weight is about 17 pounds.

At 20 pounds, Boom Boom was the heaviest cat in the house. As I mentioned, I have large cats, not fat ones. Most of my cats eat canned food together twice daily and free feed on dry food. Instead of feeding her separately, my first plan of action to get her weight down was to force Boom Boom out of her Bear cave and to travel the stairs to eat. She wasn't happy with having to deal with other cats, but Boom Boom hung out mostly on our kitchen counter, arguing with Bugger occasionally over who owns that space. But rather than losing, she actually looked like she was putting on more weight.

Out came my scale again. Yikes! About a month after my tough-love-get-out-and-use-the-stairs-diet plan, Boom Boom was now 22 pounds, a two-pound gain. I guess it goes to show you how important a scale can be to keep things in perspective.

Time to get serious. Time to try out the advice I frequently gave my kitten buyers if their cat starts to get fat; cut out the dry food and increase the canned. I refreshed my memory on feline weight loss with the Cat Info.org site and put Boom Boom on a canned food only diet. I add about a teaspoon of powdered Metamucil to her food. Cats that lose weight too quickly can develop life-threatening Hepatic Lipidosis (fatty liver disease) so it's important to monitor weight loss accurately. The recommendation is have the cat lose no more than 2% of her body weight per week. At 22 pounds, that would be 7 ounces, adjusting the goal as her weight declines. I put the scale in my bathroom and made a spreadsheet to track Boom Boom's weight and remind me to weigh her every 2-3 days.

Since I do currently have two other cats who like to sleep in our room with us, I put their dry food in the bath tub. Boom Boom currently doesn't have the mobility or motivation to jump into the tub for food. She's also lost the ability to jump onto our bed.

On a hunch, I Googled side effects of Amitriptyline. Sure enough, weight gain is a side effect. I'll have to get with my vet for something else to tackle the skin allergies as the meds stop today. Amitriptyline probably isn't the sole cause of creating an obese cat in 6 months, but there must be a correlation.

So stayed tuned for the continuing saga of my big girl. If your own cat is on the plump side, take a look at his or her diet and follow along.

"I'm not fat. I can still fit in the kitchen sink."