Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I had read how some chicken farmers keep track of which chickens are the best layers so they can cull the flock of the non-productive hens. While I have no intentions of culling anything and don't consider myself a farmer if I'm only giving away a dozen extra eggs a week, I wondered how one would determine who's laying and how often. Now that I only have two Silver Spangled Hambug hens (read here why), telling them apart has become alot easier. The four Americaunas have always been easy to distinquish as they have varying colors.
The Hamburgs lay small, white or lightly tinted eggs, the Americaunas lay the famous blue-green "Easter eggs". When the Jersey Giant starts laying (hopefully soon), her eggs will be brown. So identifying the breed of chicken the egg came from is easy. I started visiting the nesting box where the hens go to lay at various times during the day, making note of which hen was in there and the resulting egg. I suspected that each hen had her own unique egg size, shade and texture as I'd noticed the eggs are not uniform within their breed.

I've labeled the eggs with the hen's name and you can see the differences in the photo. Foster, the mostly white Americauna, lays a smooth, almost shiny, paler egg. Fenix, the bigger, golden Americauna, lays the perfect egg; large, great color. Flo's are somewhat mottled or freckled and Faye's (with the darker head) are long and narrower. Of the Hamburg's, Righty is the hen whose tail cocks to the right and reminds me of a sail. Her eggs are the smallest. The other Hamburg is called Tighty by default. The Hamburgs used to have other names, but since I couldn't tell the 4 apart very easily, those names didn't stick.

I am very excited about the new chicks arriving Easter week. I've ordered one of each breed, six of them in all, from the Meyer Hatchery. In case you want to look them up on the Meyer website, my chosen breeds this time are the White Sultan, Red Silkie, Mille Fleur, Light Brahma, Buff Orpington and Black Frizzle. The new girls (and I hope they're all girls, the 3 bantam breeds are too small to be sexed) should start production in October.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Early Spay/Neuter

I've been doing early spay/neuter “speuter” on my kittens sold as pets since the fall of 2005 and have no regrets. This means that I have my vet spay the female kittens and neuter the males before they leave my home at around 12 weeks old. I researched the pros and cons for a couple of years and before finding the right vet. I utilize Dr. Pamela Mills of Meadowhill Veterinary Shoppe in Lebanon, CT who was recommended by a breeder of Turkish Vans and Persians who did early spay/neuter on her kittens. I figured if Dr. Mills could handle the small, flat-nosed Persian kittens, my big kittens with their “real noses” would be easy.

Early spay/neuter is defined as surgically altering before the age of sexual maturity. That occurs later in life for the Maine Coon, normally after 9 months old for my cats. Most breeders and veterinarians on the east coast recommend having it done between 6 and 8 months of age, depending upon the gender of the animal. So in essence, if you get your cat speutered by 8 months, it has been “early altered” according to the strict definition. As of the date of this post, I estimate I've had over 80 kittens surgically altered by the age of 11 weeks and have had 100% success. No complications, no deaths, and no related health issues later in life. Dr. Mills requires them to weigh over 2 lbs for the surgery which isn't normally a problem for a Maine Coon kitten. Breeders of the smaller types of cats will wait about a month longer before have their kittens speutered, holding onto them later before letting them go to their new homes.

I take the litter to the vet in the morning and pick them all up in the afternoon/evening. My vet uses glue on the girls so there are no stitches to remove. The girls sometimes develop a bulge at the site due to fluid. It goes away after a couple of weeks. The female kittens do SOOOO much better with s/n than an older cat. My older girls that I retire don't want to move for a couple of days after a spay because they are so sore that I sometimes give them a prescribed pain killer. The kittens are jumping around like monkeys the same day or by the next day at the latest. Since my vet is so reasonable with the cost, it usually saves the kitten buyer money.

Our job as breeders is to preserve and protect the Maine Coon cat. When I first started breeding, I did what many cat breeders did regarding the spay/neuter of the kittens sold as pets; I had an agreement signed by the kitten buyer which stipulated that after I received notification from their vet that the surgery had been performed, I would send in their kitten’s registration paperwork. This works out in most cases, however, I have met several people who claimed they got their pedigreed cat from someone who wasn’t supposed to breed, but did anyway. In short, people don’t always tell the truth about their intentions.

Most good breeders are very conscientious about not contributing to the overpopulation of cats. We also want to protect our cats from being bred to other cats which have not had any health screening done. I don’t want a kitten I sold associated with a Backyard Breeder (BYB) who would breed it to a non-Maine Coon or a Maine Coon that has a history of heart disease in its lineage. Before I did early spay/neuter, I always worried most about the girl kittens being bred and had a few cases where I had to hound the kitten buyer to get it done. People generally are better at making sure their male kitten is neutered out of fear that he’ll start spraying. Little do they know that the girls can be worse! Now, I normally have the kitten's registration pre-paid and printed out when the kitten is picked up. Then the kitten buyer fills in their part and I mail all the registration forms in together. This way I KNOW all of my kittens have been speutered and registered and I don't have to track people down later.

Another argument supporting the surgery being done by my vet is that I feel the kitten is less likely to be subjected to declawing when in its new home.  Although more people understand these days that declawing is considered inhumane because the toes are amputated up to the first knuckle as well as the claws, some veterinarians will offer to declaw at the same time the cat is being spayed or neutered.  My contract forbids declawing, but I think the owner is less likely to go against my requirements and have a separate surgery done if their pet has already been speutered. 

I have had some kitten buyers question the safety of early speutering and will refer them to the study on the CFA/Winn Feline sites link on my website Links page. The study followed 3 groups of kittens spayed/neutered at different ages, comparing and contrasting the effects of the surgery.

In sum, my arguments for doing early spay/neuter are:
  • The kitten recovers much faster
  • The surgery is relatively simple; the boys are under for 5 minutes, girls for 10
  • The buyer saves money and if there were any problems, it'd happen on my watch
  • I have had NO problems with any of my kittens that can be attributed to early s/n. None have died on the  table from complications later; no blocked urinary tracts; no stunted growth
  • The kitten will be at least as big or bigger than if they waited
  • I don't have to worry about BYB's. Those people don't contact me
  • I don't have to do follow up and track people down to make sure they have it done
  • I can go ahead and process all the paperwork in the beginning so I'm less likely to forget later
  • Reduces the likelihood of the kitten buyer having the cat declawed

It also helps a lot that my vet is reasonably priced and willing to do it. In my opinion, that's what really keeps most breeders from doing it even though they may give other excuses. Many vets (esp. in NYC and NJ) charge $200 plus to neuter a male cat and $400 to spay a female so it's just too cost prohibitive to speuter a whole litter. I originally started early spay/neuter on a trial basis and can't imagine going back to the old way. It may not work for every breeder, but it works for me.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Your Face

My husband Jay is one of those people who truly never forgets a face. It helps him that he grew up in New London, worked for Electric Boat where almost everyone around here has worked at some point in their life, and is a Human Resources Director. I, on the other hand, have moved a lot and divided the first half of my childhood in Weaverville, NC and my teenage years in Ithaca, NY. I meet new people all the time, but I am not good at recalling faces.

Jay has run into acquaintances as far away as Cancun, Mexico. He even insisted that he recognized the family resemblance in our server at a local restaurant. I told him to drop it, the poor girl probably thought he was hitting on her. Turned out he knew her father as a child.

When Jay tried to excuse himself from attending my high school reunion a few years ago, I countered with, "Everyday with you is like going to your high school reunion."

Last weekend, I left for a cat show and gave Jay the task of dealing with a lady who was interested in buying our rooster and a hen for breeding. Good ol' Shanaynay had gotten too aggressive in the past couple of months, sneaking up and biting my legs and refusing to back down if I ran or kicked at him. I had taken up carrying a child's leaf rake with me around the chickens as that was the only thing Shanaynay respected. I didn't get chickens thinking I might be someday be afraid of them. I listed a breeding pair of Silver Spangled Hamburgs on Craigslist, figuring someone might be more likely to take two to breed than just a rooster to roast. Everyone has a rooster to get rid of. Mother Nature hatches 50% boys whereas humans really only need about 10% to keep flock harmony and proper procreation going. I had several inquiries from my ad, most just wanting the hen, but one person wanted a pair.

Jay was outside working in the yard with grandson Ben, when two ladies drove up in a pick-up truck. Michelle was interested in the chickens and she'd brought her friend Linda along for the ride. When Jay was introduced, he told Linda she looked familiar, did he know her from somewhere? Linda didn't recognize Jay so he dropped it. Then Linda saw Chardonnay, our Golden Retriever, looking out the window from inside the house. According to Jay, Linda didn't take her eyes off the dog, remarking, "You have a Golden Retriever. I breed Goldens." Jay said, "I know. You live in Windham Center and we got Chardonnay from you almost 9 years ago."

Chardonnay's breeder had never been one to try to keep in touch after we got her, but Linda was obviously thrilled to see her, tearing up when she came bounding outside. Chardonnay looks like her father, Tonka, who had died last year. Once again, Jay proved that he doesn't ever forget a face, even one that he only saw for about an hour, 9 years ago.

Jay ended up selling Shanaynay and two of the Hamburg hens. Even better since I've ordered 6 more chicks, each one a different breed, and we have more room for them now. They're expected to arrive at the post office next month.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mother and Child Reunion

As a breeder of Maine Coon cats, I have the opportunity to witness first-hand the family relationships between my cats. Like human families, many get along, some love each other, and others irritate the hell out of each other. If I keep a female kitten to use in my breeding program, the mother cat may not be happy when her daughter starts to mature and will bully the younger cat. On the kitty totem pole, mothers are at the top, pregnant cats next, and maiden queens are like dirty litter boxes.

When a previous kitten buyer who owns "Dexter", a kitten I sold her in the summer of 2008 out of Amy and Bugger, called me a couple of months ago to ask if I could board her cat for a few months, I hesitated. Bringing an adult cat back into the fold when I really don't have the room to keep him isolated from the others, presents conflicts and stress among the newcomer and the existing cats. The owner, Tasmin, was desperate and didn't have anyone else to turn to she could trust. Her husband is a military doctor and is being transferred to New Zealand. The family, which also includes 3 incredible children, is being uprooted this month. Although originally from the UK and prepared to someday move back (which they planned on doing all along with their cat), New Zealand presented other challenges as they didn't have much notice.

The big islands like Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Hawaii that don't have any rabies have extremely strict rules about importing animals in order to maintain their rabies-free status. A titer measuring the level of resistance to rabies from his vaccination has to be done six months prior to the move and again within a month of leaving the US. Once in New Zealand, the cat has to be kept in their quarantine facility for an additional 30 days before being allowed to live with his owners. It's tough and very expensive to move with your pet.

Dexter's family is determined to bring him even though it costs thousands of dollars. They contracted with Jet-a-Pet, a company that specializes in transporting animals to Australia and New Zealand to take care of the paperwork and delivering Dexter from my door all the way to his new home. I agreed to keep him until the end of June and have all his tests done so that he can join his family later.

I started Dexter out in my kitten/computer room, where I am right now. I wanted to keep him isolated until he felt comfortable and then gradually introduce him to the rest of household. Dexter is very adaptable, immediately looking out the windows, purring and rubbing up against legs. I wondered if he remembered this room where he used to live almost 2 years ago. My other cats didn't understand why they suddenly couldn't go into the computer room and kept rushing the door everytime it was opened. A couple of cats slipped in and both my cat and Dexter reacted predictably, hissing and growling at the unknown cat. I put my cats back out repeatedly. Dexter needed more time before taking them on.

Then Amy slipped in the room. Amy is Dexter's mother, his "mum" I guess since he probably speaks with a British accent now. I held my breath and watched. Instead of growling, Dexter approached his mother and started trilling and chirping to her. He remembered! To Amy, Dexter looks and smells very different from how she would remember him as a kitten, but to Dexter, his mother hasn't changed. Amy licked her son's forehead. She wasn't as excited to see him as he was to see her, but she accepted him. I wish I had videotaped the reaction. If it were a movie, it would be shown in slow motion. The recognition, Dexter's obvious happiness at seeing his mother; I still get goosebumps. After that, it became a lot easier on Dexter. He knows where he is now and is gradually learning to fit in. He has a lot more transitions to make in the next several months, but for now, Dexter is home.


Dexter's mum, Amy.