Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Birthday Blizzard

On December 20th not only was it my birthday but we got between 14 and 16 inches of snow; pretty major for our part of Connecticut. My mother has always loved to tell me stories of my birth (each one is special if you're a parent). What I remembered this year was that it snowed the day I was born also. It's not that extraordinary for it to snow in December, but when you're born in New Orleans, it becomes more of an event. So it was only fitting that we got snow, however Tyler did comment as he was shoveling the cars out that I could have asked for a little less.

The snow came all the way up to our dog Chardonnay's belly. Snow was invented for Golden Retrievers; if it's wet and cold, they are in their element. If it smells like crap, well that's a doggie bonus. Chickens are another story. We (read "Jay") shoveled a path around their coop, but it was too much to clear out their whole area. The chickens found that if they dared to fly, they would land in the soft fluffy stuff and stay there, completely immobilized. Ever the opportunist, I took pictures of their plight before rescuing them. The chickens have had to remain confined in their fenced-in area until a few days ago when the snow melted. The chickens celebrated their freedom by scratching up the yard and basically running acluck.

In my last blog, I mentioned how hard it had been to integrate our Jersey pullet, Thelma, into the rest of the flock. The snow did the trick. With the snow surrounding the chickens, they were too freaked out to consider picking on the youngster. Thelma is now one of the girls. They still chase her from time to time, but it's not constant harassment like before. Good thing, because now Thelma is larger than the Hamburg hens. Soon, she'll be bigger than the Americaunas and Shanaynay, our horny little rooster. It'll be interesting the first time Shanaynay tries to breed Thelma; probably similar to when the neutered European Burmese cat tried to breed our 16-pound Maine Coon girl. He couldn't quite reach, but they both enjoyed the attempt.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chicken Update

I've been trying to integrate the new Jersey Girls, Thelma and Louise (modeled by granddaughter Amanda to the right), in with the rest of the flock. They were isolated for at least 30 days in a cage in our basement to make sure they were healthy and to give them a chance to catch up in size with the other hens. Being Jersey Giants, the chicks are much larger than other breeds and even though they were 4 months younger than the others, they were almost as large as the smaller Hamburg hens already. We started gradually, as recommended, by placing the chicks in the fenced-in garden while the older chickens were out free ranging in the yard. Chickens don't accept outsiders very easily and can kill each other. I stood outside with them several times, ready to intervene whenever a hen (usually Fenix) went after the younger chicks. Ideally, you would have two adjoining yards, separated by a fence for a couple of weeks so they could get accustomed to the sight of the new ones but not able to hurt them. We don't have the set up for this, so we did supervised visits. This worked okay and I noticed that although the others may chase the Jersey girls, they didn't pursue them enough to actually hurt them. Chickens have really short attention spans so the thought process demonstrated was along the lines of, "Hey! There's the new chick! Get her! Wait! Where is everyone else going? Is there more food over there? Wait for me!"

After about a week of supervised visits, I moved the youngsters into the coop at night. Chickens are completely blind in the dark and won't move because they can't see where they're going. They also don't have a good sense of smell so introducing new chicks at night when they couldn't be seen made sense.

Normally, I keep the chickens enclosed in their yard surrounded by electric netting to keep the predators out. I let them out in the afternoon so they have a couple of hours of free-range time in the yard before it gets dark. When it starts to get dark, they instinctively go home to roost in the coop so they are positioned in a safe place before night falls and they can't see how to get anywhere. This way, I don't have to try to herd them up to get them back in the coop.

This had been going well with the new girls even though they kept to themselves in the yard so they wouldn't get picked on. You've heard of the term, "pecking order"? They knew to get back in the coop with the others, however last week, only one Jersey girl made it back to the coop. Apparently, a predator (we suspect the fox we saw last month) came upon the Jersey girls off by themselves and picked one off. She never would have voluntarily wandered far from her sister. They were a team, anxious if they became separated. I looked all over; no sign of feathers, nothing. Of all the chickens, why a Jersey girl? The Jersey Giant is my favorite because they are the friendliest of our hens and like to be held. I've had the chickens outside since July, free-ranging most afternoons, sometimes all day. This was my first loss. The whole family feels sorry for the remaining Jersey, Thelma. Getting another one to keep her company isn't that easy as they would have to go through the same introduction period.

We're now overprotective of Thelma, realizing that if losing one was this devastating for us, losing the other would be tragic. Right now, the plan is to add more fencing to expand their area and not add anymore new chicks until spring. With about two hundred neat-looking chicken breeds to choose from, it's hard to not want one of each. Just four more, I promise…..

On a more positive note, the chickens are now laying eggs more regularly. Hitting puberty and having the days get shorter at the same time seemed to adversely affect their egg laying. We got our first green Americauna egg on Halloween and finally got our first white Hamburg egg last week. In November it seemed like only Foster was laying and that was once every 4 days or so. With the Hamburgs now laying, the others are either more inspired or have finally come of age. Yesterday, we got a record 5 eggs, 3 green and 2 white. Last night, we had breakfast for supper; pancakes, turkey bacon, and scrambled eggs.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

“Jane, You Ignorant Slut” - SNL

Okay. I shouldn't have to explain sarcasm or my jokes, even if they aren't that funny, but apparently I do. In my last blog, I referred to the t-shirts sported by many exhibitors at cat shows as "slutty garments". The phrase on the t-shirt states "Sleeps with Cats". The intent of having this stated on a shirt is to get attention (and sell shirts) because of what it insinuates. The human meaning of "sleeping with" is a phrase also commonly used in human relationships. For example: Tiger Woods has reportedly slept with many women. One could say that Tiger is a slut. If I wore a Nike golf shirt, I could now refer to that as a "slutty garment" given the recent news events.

The double meaning to the statement "Sleeps with Cats" is also to give the wearer the chance to proclaim her love of having cats surround her at all times, even in bed. We cat ladies are a diverse group from many walks of life, but have an undeserved public image of being frumpy, frazzled, middle-aged women who hoard cats….not exactly what you'd think of as slutty. Like I said, I shouldn't have to explain it…..maybe I'll be more careful from now on, but probably not.

Monday, December 7, 2009

As some of you know, our black cat, Creole, was diagnosed with kidney disease almost 2 years ago. Yesterday our vet came to the house and humanely put her to rest in my lap, sitting in her favorite rocking chair. Creole was 15 years old and had diminished from a fat 12 pound kitty to less than 5 pounds in the past couple of years. She will always be remembered as the kitten who slept on my very pregnant tummy, who played chase with Tyler when he got old enough to walk, who hung out under Kelsey’s chair in the hopes that she’d “accidentally” drop food for her, who was feisty and defiant when it came to getting her off the counter, who tolerated many moves and transitions in our lives, who answered when you called her, who comforted my mother when she learned Granddaddy had died, who put up with litters of Maine Coon kittens stalking her black snake of a tail, who would still steal food off an unprotected dinner plate up until last week, and who would always get up from her bed in the bay window to sit in whomever’s lap that had just occupied the rocking chair in front of the television. Creole’s passing is like the passing of an era in my life. We have good memories, but will miss her for a long time.