Friday, October 30, 2009

Chicken Update

What do you do when you're waiting and waiting for that first egg? Everything I'd researched indicated that my Americaunas at least would start to lay mid-October, the Hamburgs take longer to mature. I check the nesting boxes at least 3 times a day, looking for more than the plastic Easter egg I left there for inspiration. I've shown them the calendar, nagged them to earn their keep, etc. But no eggs yet. I know that with the days getting shorter, hens typically slow down their egg production, but I hope I don't have to wait until spring. I just purchased a solar shed light to install in the coop to give them more daylight, so maybe that'll help.

The Americauna pullets - no Easter eggs yet

Meanwhile, I ordered more chicks! Read on for more about them. Just two this time, but I wanted to get some that were a little older. My thought process is that with impending winter, I think it'd be easier to get new birds outside sooner than in January. I'm trying to put off more new chicks until spring as you have to wait until the new ones are fully feathered and are the same approximate size of the existing flock in order to integrate them successfully. Chickens don't naturally get along with strange birds, so one must be careful.

Silver Spangled Hamburg pullet and our crowing cockeral "Shanaynay"
When Shanaynay first started to crow, it was cute. Not even a full "cockadoodledoo", but more of a sarcastic "cockadoo", once a day. He crows more often now, but I try to keep it in perspective. We don't have neighbors close by and even if they did complain, we put up with the incessant barking of their standard poodles for years (the dogs finally died). There are neighbors a little further away who also have a rooster, so who's to know where the crowing is coming from? Compared to the larger breeds of roosters, Shanaynay's crow is not deafening. And since Hamburgs are such shy, flighty birds, he's not aggressive at all. Roosters are commonly known to flog or attack anything they deem as a threat to their flock. If Shanaynay feels we are a threat, such as when we hold one of the hens or are standing too close, he crows. And we do appreciate the fact that Shanaynay is one handsome little dude.

I mentioned the two new chicks. One of the other advantages to getting older chicks is that you can be more certain that they are in fact girls. These two are 6-week-old Jersey Giants from breeder Maria Hall in Indiana (chickens are shipped through the good old US Post Office).

Once I discovered the Jersey Giant breed to be the largest of the chickens, I knew I had to have one, rationalizing that if I have big cats, I'm supposed to have big chickens too. A fully mature Giant hen can get to be 12 pounds, although they take longer to reach their full size than normal sized hens. My two are considered to be blue. They also come in black and splash. Their color looks alot like the new blue smoke tortie kitten I have, Gargoyle. I named the new girls Thelma and Louise. Louise is shown here

Now I have two new chicks to distract me while I continue to wait for the first egg.

Feline twin, Gargoyle, a blue smoke tortie
Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 23, 2009

Off Track

I first moved to Connecticut from North Carolina in the summer of 2000. Since I used to run for exercise (before my knees protested too loudly), I found a track to continue the practice. The track at Pequonnock Plains Park in Groton is a half-mile lap with a large open field in the middle, kept alive all year with organized soccer, lacrosse and football games and random Frisbee throwers, touch footballers, personal trainers, dog walkers and kite fliers in between the games. A restroom is open during the warmer months and a play scape was added this past year. The town does a wonderful job of maintaining the park.

I have used the track on a fairly regular basis during the warmer months to run and now walk. During these 9 years, I have observed the other "regulars" who frequent the track. Some no longer walk there, but have left their images in my memory.

I have a tendency to assign names to those whose names I don't know, particularly if they have a distinctive look. For instance, when I first started going to the track, there was a large man with his head shaved bald who lived near the park. He walked his Shitzu and talked to everyone. When his garden grew, he gave me tomatoes. I assigned him the name of Mr. Clean Shitzu. I actually asked him his name at one point, but only remember the moniker I gave him.

There were also couples who stood out. An older couple who dressed with frumpy hats and always walked around the track in the opposite direction of everyone else. The unwritten rule is to walk counter-clockwise, but the Wrong Way Wootens went their own way, forcing you to acknowledge them every time you passed on the track. Another couple was two very large and rotund men. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. They almost looked like brothers with very similar builds, easily over 300 pounds each. They were very friendly to any other walkers but after a while I started to wonder about them. You know what I mean. Were they friends or domestic partners? I was passing them one day while they were walking and talking to a woman and I realized I wasn't the only one with that question. I overheard them laughing and explaining to the woman that no, they were both married, one had 3 children, etc. Funny how we rarely question two women who walk together, but the men are regarded differently.

Most of the people are walkers, some are runners. Then there are the Stroller Derby Moms. Sometimes it's just a group of friends who chat happily while walking with their babies in strollers. Occasionally I see the paid personal trainer stroller derby leader with her jogging stroller and the determined mothers gamely trying to keep up with the super mom ideal of looking like they've never given birth. They nearly run me over with their over sized wheels and long strides, almost mocking me to try to keep up. Some of these new mothers with their flat stomachs and firm bodies just make me want to.....well, I'm jealous, what can I say? I'm still trying to get rid of my baby fat too, but my baby is 14-years-old so the excuse has faded.

Then there are the others, the stroke survivors who can take a full hour to make one lap and I feel guilty for passing them so many times while they face more struggles than I could imagine. I wonder if they watch the others pass by and resent us for having our health in the same way that I resent the fit new moms. Back to earth.

Like I mentioned before, the town does a wonderful job of keeping the park in good shape. There's a regular employee who makes the rounds of the bathrooms and the trash, a tall slender man I've named Jerry Captooth. He just looks like a Jerry to me and the fake teeth really stand out when he smiles. They resurface the track and treat the field in-between sports to get it ready for the sport of the season with lawn fertilizer, white lines and goal posts or nets.

One such time a large piece of machinery that looked like major farm equipment was slowly going back and forth across the field. It had arms extended on either side that appeared to be plugging the soil with holes or fertilizer or something beneficial. This machine was intimidating to me, but apparently not to everyone. As I walked the track, a stray yellow lab mix wandered across the field in front of me. This was the first (and last) time I've ever seen a loose dog at the park with no owner in sight. As I watched, the monstrous machine slowly made its way over. It was large and loud. At the same time time, the dog trotted up and squatted in the path of the machine to poop. About 6 feet away from the dog was a sign which read "Keep off the grass." The dog was totally oblivious to the sign and the oncoming machine, taking his time to make sure he was completely relieved. I looked at the driver of the machine who threw up his arms in frustration, yelling, "Come ON!" Just as the machine closed in on the pooping pooch, he finished his business and trotted off, never even looking at the monstrous machine headed toward his pile of fresh excrement. This would've been a perfect Kodak moment.

Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 19, 2009

Into the Woods

We live on 3 plus acres which are secluded in the woods. Our property backs onto a Ledyard park which provides us with more isolation and a nice trail for hiking. Once the colder weather moves in (which it did in force recently; there was snow in northwestern parts of the state) and the horseflies and mosquitoes are gone, it's a good 45-minute hike through the woods with Chardonnay, our dog. Chardonnay is enthusiastic about these hikes, running ahead then checking back with us, chasing scents and the occasional deer or turkey. Since most of my shoes are slip-ons and I never wear shoes in the house, Chardonnay knows that if I sit down to actually tie a shoe, a hike is forthcoming and she starts her Scooby Doo bark in anticipation.

My favorite times to hike are in the fall when the leaves are still up and in the winter right after a good snowfall. The spring gets iffy when the mud is bad as it then becomes a challenge to keep Chardonnay from wallowing in the black stuff. Failing to keep her out of the mud results in the next challenge of bathing a dog with water from the hose that's so cold it hurts. Doesn't seem to bother Chardonnay as her motivation in life is to be cold and wet (and stinky), but not so much for us humans. The other challenge is to get the ticks that she's collected off of her before she comes back in the house. I often joke that we're going out tick collecting when we hike. Don't forget we live in Connecticut, the origin of Lyme disease (the disease was identified in Lyme, CT). Chardonnay has tested positive for Lyme disease twice, but her human family has so far escaped. Don't worry, she's also on Frontline year round to combat the little parasites.

Do you know what's it called when the wind blows and a swirl of leaves come down like snow?....Leaving (my word, thank you very much).

A few weeks ago a mountain lion was spotted on the park property next to us. My initial response was "Cool!" Then I thought, uh not a good predator to have around chickens. We have electric netting around the chickens, but big cats are probably better jumpers than coyotes and foxes. Nevertheless, Chardonnay and I set out in the woods to look for signs of a mountain lion, armed with the knowledge that big cats are much shyer than other large predators and tend to be afraid of dogs. I don't think I'd go by myself without Chardonnay. She's a Golden wimp, but the wildlife doesn't know that. To them, she's a 75-pound challenge with a big bark who smells like she has a human companion. To date, we have never had a problem with coyotes coming into our yard and I have to believe it's because they smell Chardonnay.

The hike through the park property is one large circle which has a couple of historic landmarks. One is a well and the other is the remains of a cellar foundation. The New England states have stone walls which were built by settlers trying to clear the stones off the fields so they made stone walls to divide property, hold the livestock in, etc. It looks very similar to the stone walls dividing up the sheep farms in England, hence the reason we are "New"….really original guys. When you see the magnitude of what they accomplished hundreds of years ago with no machinery to lift and stack the stones, it's very humbling.

It's part of our routine to look down the well to see if Timmy is down there (Lassie reference) and for Chardonnay to jump on "her rock" and pose for a moment. She'll go for 6 months without going on this trail, but she always remembers we expect her to jump on the rock when we come back to the woods in the fall.

I had played all the what if's in my mind in the event we actually came across a mountain lion. Would Chardonnay chase it up a tree so I could take pictures with my cell phone? My story would be in the newspaper and I could be a local celebrity for a day. Or would it run away so fast that Chardonnay wouldn't even see it (she has missed turkeys, pheasants and deer running ahead on the trail). Or would the lion sneak up behind me, Chardonnay obliviously up ahead chasing a squirrel, and jump me? Would she come to my rescue at the sound of the commotion or keep chasing the squirrel? Would the lion really be intimidated by a human with a large dog or take us both down? Would I have time to dial 911? And if I did, would there be a signal?

Nothing so exciting happened. No signs of a mountain lion were seen by my untrained eye. No kitty paw prints in the mud, no large litter boxes or big cat poop and no reaction to a new scent by the Golden Hunter. Maybe the big cat wondered off to new territory, but it'd still be kind of neat to see it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Apple Picking

Kelsey at Apple Picking Last Year
Recently Jay and I took his grandchildren Amanda and Benjamin to Holmberg Orchards for our annual apple picking day. Tyler and Kelsey used to go, but now they seemed to have "aged out" on the tradition. When Kelsey stated that she didn't want to go because she hated apple picking, I recalled that all the pictures I have of her last year were of her texting. So I agreed it would be grandchildren only.
Jay and Ben on the tractor ride up the hill
Ben (age 4) and Amanda (age 7) have been asking to go for months so the anticipation is great. I finally had a weekend where I wasn't away at a cat show. Apple picking entails a tractor ride to the top of the orchard and conducting a taste test on the fruit.
Try Before You Buy
One of us tastes an apple and declares whether or not that type was worth picking. If not, the apple is tossed to the ground with a yuck. Although it seemed none of the apples were determined to be a clear winner, we still managed to fill up three bags with apples and one with pears.

Loaded up with fruit, we hiked back down the hill and picked out pumpkins. This is a big deal as Ben is emotionally attached to pumpkins and even slept with last year's choice in his bed. It took two trips to the car to get all our apples, pears and pumpkins loaded up.
Amanda demonstrates the Apple-Corer-Pealer-Slicer
Headed home with 4 bags of fruit and a pumpkin and small gourd for each child, I realized we had a lot of apples to eat. Luckily, this year I was prepared with my new Apple, Corer, Peeler, Slicer tool bought online (thank you Diana for the suggestion). In previous years, I either got stuck preparing all the apples to cook myself or the apples rotted in the fridge before they could all be eaten.

With my toy, everyone wanted to help and we even got two large baggies complete with apple pie ingredients to freeze for later. Apple picking itself took about an hour and we spent about 2 hours slicing our harvest. The kids declared the whole day to be a winner.

The resulting Apple Slinky

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Color Me Beautiful

Most of my Maine Coons have the tabby pattern. Some people, including those in charge of documentaries on Animal Planet, are under the mistaken impression that all tabbies are Maine Coons. The characteric "M" on the forehead is indeed part of the tabby pattern, but it alone does not stand for "Maine Coon Cat". Maine Coons come in most colors and patterns, all except for pointed like you'd see in a Siamese or a Himalayan.

But the Maine Coon absolutely doesn't own the tabby pattern, which is simply the striped pattern over an assortment of colors. A tabby can be a domestic short or long hair (the average, non-pedigreed cat), or it can adorn many other purebred cats. For instance, the cat shown above left is a silver mackeral tabby Oriental.

The kittens shown to the right are American Curls, in blue and brown tabby patterns. For more information on colors and patterns of cats, check out the site What Color is My Cat? by Beth Hicks.

So although the majority of Maine Coons have the tabby pattern, it's kind of nice to be able to get one that's different looking. I have a tortoiseshell female named Amy. A tortie is a solid black cat with red splotches. Each time Amy has been bred, it was always to her favorite beau, Bugger, a traditional brown tabby male. Bugger does not carry the gene for solid, so their offspring will never be solid black or tortie. Their kittens are always tabbies, usually brown and usually just one as Amy (shown to the right) is queen of the singleton litters.

When I finally got the oportunity to breed Amy to a male who carried the gene for solid, I was really excited about the color possibilities. She was bred to Jack, my friends' silver tabby and white stud who carries the gene for solid and dilute. Once you learn how the Punette Square works on color genetics, it's easy to predict. The color for a cat is carried on the X chromosome (remember those from science?). Females have two X's, males have XY. Therefore, only the females can have two colors shown together. Male kitten colors are determined by the mother as they inherit her X. Female kitten colors come from mom and dad combined (her X and his X).

I don't expect everyone to follow or want to follow this, but suffice it to say that Amy and Jack have the potential of having together boys who are brown, silver, blue (blue is the dilute version of brown), blue-silver, red, red-silver, cream (dilute color of red), cream-silver....and those are just the tabbies. The solids could be black, blue, red, black smoke, blue smoke, red smoke, cream and cream smoke.

In the girls, we could get all of the above with the exception of the reds and creams, plus the combination of colors such as the black tortie (like Amy), blue tortie, smoke tortie, blue smoke tortie and all of those colors but with stripes, called torbies (tortie and tabby together). Statistically, half of the kittens should be with white since Jack has white.

Since Amy has a history of having just one kitten per litter, I was happy when she started carrying larger than normal. I was hoping she'd have a silver torbie with white or a tortie and white....something really flashy to keep. We breeders love to think of all the wonderful colors we can get. Then we try to cut and paste the best of each parent to create the perfect cat; his ears, her muzzle, his personality and never works out that way, but we can't stop fantasizing.

What did Amy end up having? Well, at least she didn't have a brown tabby. Instead she had a red boy, a blue tabby girl, and a blue torbie girl. No white, no solids, no flashy girl. Luckily Amy's litter of 3 arrived one day after Ally's litter of 7. Amy was happy to help Ally out when I put the two litters together. Of course, the most important thing about this is not the lack of color I desired, but that the kittens were a good birth weight and healthy. All ten are thriving, squeaking, squirming little miniature cats and that is a beautiful thing.

Ally and Amy with their rainbow of ten