Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year’s Resolutions…for the Cats

As we get ready to start writing the year 2012 instead of 2011, I, like many people, ponder what changes I’d like to make in my life with the New Year. Losing weight is my usual resolve. But life is not all about me; it’s really about the cats. But I realize that if we cat lovers were to ask our cats to promise to do a few things differently, we should probably compromise and give them something in return.

• If you’ll promise to aim your hairballs where I don’t walk, I’ll promise to comb you more often and take care of any mats before they become uncomfortable for your skin.

• I will feed you food without cornmeal listed in the ingredients so you will vomit less to being with.

• You will all try to get along with each other. If you can’t stand the other cat, just leave the area. Don’t have a hissy fit just because Bubba looked at you “that way he does”.

• When using the bathroom, please think INSIDE the box. Knowing how you don’t like to use dirty toilets, in return I’ll try harder to keep your litter box clean on a regular basis.

• I promise to spend more quality time with you, playing with cat toys or laser pointers so you can have fun and exercise too. In return, stop pretending that human feet under covers are critters that need to be tamed at 3 a.m.

• If you will cooperate better with claw clipping, I will try to trim your nails every 3-4 weeks so they don’t get hung up on furniture and bedding. If the process makes you nervous, I’ll give you treats to nibble on while I do it so the clippers don’t seem so scary. Read my blog on claw clipping for more advice.

• Stop teasing the dog for your own amusement. We all know you have superior intellect (and smell better too). There’s no need to make her look like a fool all the time.

• As I care about your health, I will monitor your diet carefully to make sure you don’t become too heavy, feeding you a quality, high protein dry food and canned food twice daily. Being a Maine Coon doesn’t automatically mean you are supposed to weigh 25 pounds if the weight doesn’t fit your stature.

• Speaking of diet, I don’t put food out on the counter just for you. Kindly refrain from licking the butter or stealing food as if I won’t notice. I don’t eat your food so don’t eat mine.

Wishing my readers and their feline companions a healthy, happy New Year!


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Trying to Get Crafty for Christmas

Christmas is coming, the kids are getting restless....let's make Christmas ornaments!  I went online to research what opportunities there were for a teenager and two grandkids, ages 6 and 9.  I found a few possibilities I liked and printed out the instructions.  We spent about $75 at AC Moore and the next couple of days creating personal masterpieces.  Some worked out better than others.  I put links to the detailed instructions of the ones we liked which also shows you what they're supposed to look like compared to our reality.

Ben, Kelsey and Amanda

Peppermint Candy Ornaments - Not worth the aggravation - Will likely drop on the way to the tree

The individual candies are arranged onto a wax paper-covered cookie sheet and heated in the oven so the candies melt together to form a shape.  The candies often didn't hold together unless they were over-melted.  They tended to break, but Ben says they taste the same either way.

Amanda adds sprinkle decorations to the soft peppermints right after they come out of the oven

The candy cane on the right is a remelt after it broke the first time

Duck Tape Ornaments - Interesting

I didn't get any pictures of the finished product, but we bought clear ornament balls (I think we got the last of the plastic ones at the Waterford store) and Duck Tape with Christmas print.  We improvised on the instructions, but essentially cut the tape into narrow strips and covered the balls.  I found that a razor blade works infinitely better than scissors for cutting so that task fell to me.  Since Kelsey already had a collection of different colors and patterns of tape she'd done little with, she taught Amanda how to make a wallet and the girls got off on a wallet-making tangent.  Amanda made a wallet for me and one for her mother.  I found out more than I wanted to know about Duck Tape creations as AC Moore has an area with instructional books and sells paper-sized sheets of Duck Tape for the serious taper.  My phone book now has a protective cover of multi-colored Duck Tape.

Kelsey's shows off her Duck Tape Wallet

Marbeled ornamentsPretty - Will actually hang on the tree

I chose three colors of small bottles of enamel paint; red, gold and green.  Taking a clear glass ornament ball, I squirted each color into the ball and let it run down the sides, four lines of each color.  Gold worked great, but the red and green globbed up and fell to the bottom.  I gave up on green and did the other three balls in just red and gold.  The balls are rotated every ten minutes so that the paint slowly merges and covers the entire inside of the ball, creating a marbeled look.  They take days to dry completely, but so far I like them.   This was my project as I thought it'd take too long for the kids to get their finished product.

Kelsey's ornament filled with glitter and snow, my marbeled ornaments

Filling Clear Balls with Stuff - Pretty - Will also hang on our tree

We didn't follow any of the instructions provided on the website for these, but borrowed the general idea and the kids came up with their own things.  They used glitter and fake snow.  This would have been less messy if I had a funnel that hadn't been mangled at the tip as it was hard to get material that sticks to everything to go down.  I ended up making a funnel out of paper so the snow would flow better.  Raised paint was used to put designs on the outside of the ornament.  I expect we'll be haunted by glitter and snow until summer.

I really liked all the things you could do with the clear ornament balls.  They're much more professional-looking than the reindeer made out of brown pipe cleaners from last year which ended up as cat toys.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Talking Chicken

A few weeks ago, we suffered a chicken casualty with our backyard flock; a hawk killed our best Americauna hen, Billie. I had driven home after spending the morning at the horse barn where I volunteer and spied the hawk perched about 30 feet up in the trees. It flew off when I got out of the car so I felt better. It wasn’t a large hawk as birds of prey go so I rationalized that if it isn’t big enough to carry its prey away in its talons, most of my chickens would be safe. The chickens were huddled up under our deck, as close to the house as they could get and making a nervous growling sound.

Later, I let the dogs out and noticed their interest in something on the ground. I knew it couldn’t be good. I found Billie, beheaded and partially eaten. Na├»ve perhaps, but I’d not considered that the hawk would kill its prey and eat it on the ground. The rest of the chickens had undoubtedly seen the whole thing and although chickens aren’t the brightest birds, they were badly shaken. It was days before the girls would venture out from cover without first looking skyward and then running to the next safe place. We buried Billie next to Frodo, the red Silkie we lost last year to a hawk on almost the exact same date. Although I miss Billie and the perfect pale green eggs she laid, I realize we’ve been lucky with predators. We have lost one chicken annually to a hawk. We live in a rural area surrounded by woods and populated by coyotes, foxes, raccoons and fisher cats. Unlike our cats, chickens must live outside. We have since added coverage with a tarp to their chicken yard and limit their free-ranging on our property to their enclosure surrounded by electrified net fencing. The girls seem to like the extra overhead and it will also help to maintain a larger snow-free scratching space for them in the winter.  The perfect set-up would be an 8-foot high fence with poultry netting over the top, but we’re still resisting the commitment of money and effort it would take to make that happen.

Chicken Coop Addition

Meanwhile, we had been kinda-sorta looking for a couple of older chicks to add to the flock. Daughter Kelsey wanted another Silkie and I fell in love with the Mille Fleur colors some of the other breeds come in. Mille Fleur is French for “many flowers”; the coloration of mottled gold, black and white. I found out about the Boston Poultry Show in North Oxford, Massachusetts a couple of weeks ago so we planned a family outing to go chicken shopping. I contacted the person in charge of the show to make sure that there would be chickens available for purchase in addition to those being shown. One of the false assumptions people make who come to cat shows is that all the cats there are for sale (most are not), so I didn’t want to make the same assumption and go to a poultry show for nothing.

The show was being held in an open barn area on a cold Saturday, something a teenage girl doesn’t take preparing for seriously.  Kelsey’s Converse-covered frozen feet cut our visit short, but not before we had a chance to admire ginormous chickens who were there for the competition under the category of Large Fowl.  "Ginormous" is the only way to describe these birds.  We have a Jersey Giant hen who is supposed to reach 10 pounds, but she is a light weight compared to the large fowl breeds at the show who were the height of a hawk and much broader; probably four times as large as my standard breed chickens.  The first thought was that a gargantuous rooster like this would be incredible flock protection against the birds of prey.  Then again, if he sees people as a threat as many roosters do, that could be a major problem.  I don’t want to risk being flogged by a feathered pterodactyl roo. 

However, we came to look at bantam (miniature) breeds. We ended up buying a white Silkie for Kelsey and a Mille Fleur Cochin for me, both females, and named them Beaker and Millie respectively. Our backyard flock is now at 14 hens.

We really enjoyed talking chicken to others at the poultry show. They told us about the next show which will be held indoors at the Big E the weekend of January 14-15. For more information, check the website of the Northeastern Poultry Congress. I think a couple of big girls are in our chicken cards next.

Millie, my Millie Fleur Cochin

Beaker, Kelsey's white Silkie

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Autumn Greetings from Sadie

Baby Duncan

Dear Reader,

Several years ago when I first started breeding Maine Coons, I was fortunate to sell a female brown patched and white kitten to a wonderful couple, Kristin and Russ.  They named her Sadie.  The following year, Kristin and Russ got a red & white male kitten from me whom they named Duncan.  Sadie and Duncan, like many pets, are loved like human children.  Kristin is a very creative cat-mom and occasionally touches base with me through Sadie's eyes.  The following is an email I recently received from Sadie that still has me smiling:

Baby Sadie

Hello, Sharon - and howdy to all of our friends at Dracoonfly,

Miss Sadie May here. It's that time of year again...the humidity's gone, Duncan and I have more spring in our step, we leave more hair on the floor and rug and furniture, and with the holidays approaching, we begin contemplating the many things our humans have to be grateful for (namely, us).

There's lots of activity in the yard during the day - squirrels, chipmunks, birds, falling leaves - to help keep our sentry skills sharp. Though we weren't much help to Mom when she came nearly nose to nose with a black bear in the driveway a few weeks back. He came walking across the driveway toward the front porch like he was about to ring the bell, just as Mom was about to head inside after getting something out of the car. Not sure who was more scared - but he didn't stick around long, and when Mom came back in, she said a prayer for all the felines whose owners don't keep them inside, followed by a few rather colorful words of judgement.

Health-wise, we're doing great. Mom wrote a while back about Duncan's back leg, which has been fine ever since the naturopathic vet treated it homeopathically. Oh, the miracles of ancient science and the natural world. I think he's even dropped a few pounds since he's become more active.

Mom thinks I'm oblivious to the fact that she's been fawning over pictures of Ophelia on your website, but I'm laying down the gauntlet. If she contacts you on the sly, the answer is unequivocally NO. My patience is tried daily by you-know-who; I certainly don't need the added strain of a spunky little upstart trying to take over the joint, no matter how cute she is. I do like her name a lot, but let's keep that 'tween us girls.

Anyway, sometimes at night, Mom will read your blogs to all of us like a bedtime story. You've got quite a knack for story telling, that's for sure.

Duncan asked me to pass along his best regards to you... we both wish you, Jay, Kelsey, Tyler and all the four-leggeds a great Fall season.


 Miss Sadie May

Mister Duncan MacBeth

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cat, Meet Kitten

So you’ve decided to bring home a new kitten. Great! Of course you realize that if you already have pets, there is the possibility that introducing new cuteness will temporarily disrupt the peace in your house. While most new kitten inaugurations have the desired results of adorable pictures of newfound friendships, some relationships take a while.

I won’t dwell on how to introduce kittens to dogs as the canine species usually feels less threatened than a cat does. My Maine Coon kittens are exposed to our dogs by around eight weeks of age; most will become very comfortable with our 10-year-old Golden Retriever by the time they leave at 12 weeks. Our puppy, on the other hand, has too much energy and plays too roughly for our cats so they maintain a safe distance from her.

Chardonnay gets a massage from Pipsqueak

Most potential kitten buyers I meet take the personality and needs of their current cats seriously when making the decision to get a new kitten, as they should. General considerations for people who have existing older cats at home and want to get a kitten are these: younger cats (under the age of three years) adapt better and should accept a new kitten more easily. If the existing cat has an outgoing personality and greets strangers who come in the house, that cat is a prime candidate for making new friends with a kitten, regardless of age. Geriatric or very shy cats will have the hardest time adjusting. In this case, bringing home two kittens is recommended. Two kittens will stick together and are less likely to annoy the resident cat as they will play with each other. A geriatric cat often prefers to watch kittens play rather than get involved.

There is a method to successfully acclimate your new kitten to your home if you already have a cat. Yes, you could just open the carrier and let the little guy out and watch what happens. Sometimes that does work, but not without additional stress for both parties. Since stress can lead to fighting or litter box avoidance, let’s see what can be done to make it easier for everyone.

Experts recommend you try to minimize the stress by setting up a safe room for the new guy. The safe room should have all the basic necessities your kitten will need; litter box, food, water, scratching post and toys. A bedroom where someone in the family sleeps at night works well. A guest room that’s completely isolated does not. The purpose of the safe room has many benefits; it provides the kitten a place to get accustomed to the smells and sounds of your home and learn important things like where the litter box is kept. After you let your kitten out of the safe room, it will become the place the kitten will seek if frightened. It also keeps your other cat from seeing the kitten just yet. Your adult cat will smell the kitten (and vice versa) under the door. The cat needs time to get used to the new scent in the house so the baby is not seen as a threat. While in the safe room, the kitten will gradually absorb the smell of your house, replacing that of the previous home. You won’t notice, but your older cat will.

As your kitten becomes accustomed to all the changes in its room, this is the time to acclimate your other cat to the idea that the intruder you brought home is not so bad. One method is to exchange scents by wiping the kitten with a towel, then taking that same towel and wiping it over the cat. Repeat. Swapping blankets or cat beds helps too. You want the cat to smell more like a kitten and vice versa.

Another tip is to bathe both kitten and cat so they smell more neutral to each other. Can’t handle the idea of putting Fluffy in the kitchen sink and risking your skin? Corn starch or baby powder sprinkled liberally and rubbed in helps not only to re-scent your cat and kitten, but it also absorbs any excess grease in your cat’s coat. Powder is safe; we use it all the time at cat shows for grooming. Just comb out the excess so you don’t have powder puffs everywhere your cat sits afterwards.

It may take a few days, but when your kitten is running to greet you at the door or trying to get out of the safe room, it’s time to open the door. Let the kitten explore the house at first without the other pets around. Perhaps let the kitten out and put the other cat in the kitten’s safe room for another scent exposure. Once the kitten seems comfortable and the claws are clipped on all parties to minimize injury, allow it to meet one pet at a time. If you have multiple pets, space out the introductions and do not let your kitten become surrounded by everyone at once. With the first face-to-face, be prepared to throw a blanket just in case the older cat charges the new kitten with the intention of inflicting harm.

A new kitten to cat introduction generally follows this scenario: sniff each other, hissing from older cat, hiss reply from kitten. Kitten backs up and gets distracted by all the new areas to explore. Older cat follows, curious, but cautious. Kitten starts playing, older cat is intrigued. Kitten tries to play with cat, but is rebuffed by a hiss and a swat. Kitten backs up and continues playing. If the kitten leaves to check out the rest of the house, the cat won’t be able to let the little one out its sight and will follow, obsessed by the mini intruder. After a while, the hissing diminishes. The kitten should continue to stay primarily in the safe room unless supervised to not only give the older cat a break, but to ingrain the location of the litter box in the geographic section of its immature feline brain.

As you don’t want to reinforce your resident cat’s natural defensive behavior, make sure you don’t coddle or punish hissing and growling. Reassuring anxious behavior by petting only tells your cat or dog that you approve of it. Pet and praise your cat only when it is behaving the way you want it to. As long as there is no fur flying, it is best to let them work it out on their own. In the feline world, older cats establish their place and teach kittens theirs by swatting. Don’t worry; kittens are blessed with short attention spans that enable them to forgive and forget easily.

Male Bonding

If your older cat is still having a hard time after the above-mentioned scent exchanges, try putting the kitten in a carrier in the middle of a central room. The other cat can see, hear and smell the kitten and still feel safe. For the very fearful and defensive resident cat, the above methods may have to be repeated for a week or two.

After the introductions have been made, your resident cat may seem to be okay with the newcomer, but not really comfortable. He’s curious, will follow the kitten around, but still hisses if the fur ball of cuteness comes too close. You’re getting there. To further facilitate their friendship, take out a cat teaser or laser to encourage them to play together. By focusing on their natural desire to play with a neutral object instead of each other, the cat and kitten often form a bond more easily.

I’ve heard of many first introductions in which instant friendships were formed. “You brought me a baby sister! Thanks Mom!” Of course, there are others in which the best the cats could manage was to coexist peacefully. Cats are individuals and friendships can’t be forced. The goal is to give them time to accept the change to the best of their abilities. With patience, planning and a little luck, you’ll have some really cute photos to share.

Our Short-haired Alliance of Remy, the Domestic Short-hair and Bubba, the European Burmese

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Not Exactly Spring Chickens Anymore

Over two years ago, ten baby chicks arrived at the Ledyard Post Office in a box addressed to me and we became backyard chicken hobbyists. I still have seven of those chicks and have since added more. Along the way, the rooster and two hens were sold, we lost a couple of hens to predators, hatched a couple of chicks and gave them back when they turned into little roos; now we have a flock of 13 hens. To those who may still wonder, yes, hens lay quite well without a rooster. We have a diverse flock of four Americaunas, two Silver Spangled Hamburgs, a Silkie, Jersey Giant, Light Brahma, Rhode Island Red, Red Star (a mixed breed), Plymouth Barred Rock and our favorite, Buffy the Buff Orpington.

Foster, one of our Americaunas as a baby chick
Last spring as the days became longer and the snow finally melted, egg production got up to nine eggs daily. Now we’re averaging four eggs per day. My original hens are reaching the age of less egg production, chicken menopause if you will. Chicken farmers often routinely cull the flock every two to three years and replace them with new pullets. That way their egg production keeps up with demand and they don’t end up with hundreds of less productive hens. We, however, have chickens as pets so although Foster hasn’t laid an egg in weeks, there are no plans to “off” her.

The Americaunas - Flo, Foster and Billie, Faye in back
I was aware that hens’ egg production slacks off considerably after a few years, but was curious as to other causes of fewer eggs. I turned to the Back Yard Chickens website and found an article written by J.C. Hermes which goes into more detail. In general, egg production is affected by age, temperature (hot or cold), breed, light, nutrition, stress, broodiness and molting. The article is written about the White Leghorn chicken, an excellent egg laying breed normally used for commercial production. The author states that the young hen starts laying at 35 weeks old, lays 265 eggs annually, her peak production lasting 10 weeks after which the eggs gradually come less frequently.

The egg production from my girls has slacked off more than normal even taking the shorter days into consideration so I’m leaning toward age as a cause. A couple of hens are molting so they are excused from laying for a few months. A molting chicken has to put all her energy into growing new feathers, not making eggs. Pilgrim, my Plymouth Barred Rock hen, is currently broody. Pilgrim prefers to sit on the nest than lay eggs, so she’s excused for now also. Once Pilgrim gets past this hormonal phase, she’ll go back to laying again.

Kelsey with the Peeps
As for other possible causes, I don’t regard my hens as stressed birds. They range freely in our yard and have continuous access to layer pellets, oyster shells for calcium and water. They come running to us in the yard, a behavior reinforced by the receipt of our leftovers. They don’t peck each other’s feathers out until bald spots show, a sign of overcrowding or an active rooster. I did notice that after Hurricane Irene came through, egg production dropped markedly for days afterward. The storm followed by the constant noise of my neighbor’s generator probably caused them more stress than it did my family.

I have a heater in the chicken coop for the cold winter nights which keeps the temperature above 35 degrees. I do this not for egg production, but to prevent my girls from getting frost bite on their combs and wattles. This year I may add a light. Egg production is definitely influenced by the amount of light exposure with the normal recommendation being at least 12 hours daily for maximum egg laying. I’ve noticed that if the weather is overcast and rainy, the following day’s egg production will be smaller. Likewise, sunny days yield more eggs.

Backyard breeds like mine are not expected to be major egg layers. My hens all look different and their eggs reflect their diversity; they can be small, large, white, blue-green, brown or freckled. I usually know each egg’s creator by name. I got the chickens for several reasons; pets, pest control, garden fertilizer and the most delicious, beautiful eggs. We don’t need a bunch of eggs, but it’s kind of special when your breakfast has been produced by someone you know personally.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It's a Good Thing They Have Nine Lives

I hate to admit it, but there has been more than one occasion when I could be considered an animal abuser. I don’t mean I’m likely to be on Animal Cops or Hoarders; I get just as upset as the next person when I see cases of severe neglect. It’s just that I’ve experienced a few instances where the result made me feel extremely guilty, and lucky that the situation wasn’t worse.

Anyone who’s read my previous blogs about Cassie knows that she is my favorite Maine Coon cat. But even I, major Cassie fan that I am, have unintentionally caused this sweet brown ticked torbie with no trace of torbietude, bodily harm. For the uninformed, “torbietude” is cat terminology which means “tabby with patches of red, aka “torbie”, calico or tortoiseshell with an attitude.”  Many otherwise educated cat fanciers falsely label a cat’s personality by its color combination as if it were fact. I can easily dispute that claim by demonstrating my non-torbie’s (male or female) moodiness and my sweet torbies without a care in the world as examples. To me, the label is akin to saying all red-headed women have fiery tempers and all blonds are dumb…ever notice how hair labels don’t apply to men? But I digress….

My more recent cases of Cassie abuse have centered on her pregnancies. Being a breeder of long-haired cats, I’ve found that Maine Coon queens have an easier time if I trim their coats along the vital areas. In anticipation of the inherent messiness of kitten birth, I’ll cut the hair around her backside. A shorter coat makes clean up less tedious for a cat who’s just delivered kittens. Most cats are so fastidious, they will clean not only their kittens, but eat the placentas, tend to their own backsides and tails which become matted down with amniotic fluid and also lick the bedding in their attempt to make the nursery clean for their new family. The instinct comes from the need to destroy any odors which would attract predators.

In addition to trimming the area where the kittens arrive, I trim a swath all along the mother’s belly to make it easier for the kittens to find the teats. Kittens actually learn that when they are blindly searching for the milk bar nozzle to stay in the short hair section. If they climb up to the region where the hair is long, they’ve gone too far and will change direction. The long hair becomes a marker that lets the kittens know where they should look.

Some pregnant queens don’t like to lie still while I’m trimming their bellies, so I’ve found it easier to do it while they are in labor (if it’s taking a long time) or shortly after they finish delivering. Once kittens start arriving, the new mom won’t go anywhere. I just ease over with my rounded scissors and clip a path while she’s distracted with a new kitten or contractions. I was performing this kind of barbering on Cassie, when I cut off the tip of her nipple. This is when the reader should be clutching his/her chest and grimacing. I was horrified! Cassie, however, was fine. She didn’t flinch, didn’t notice the blood, nothing. I got a wet paper towel and applied pressure to stop the bleeding. Cassie kept purring. Once the bleeding finally stopped, there was the nice straight, flat angle on her little nipple. She didn’t even seem to mind if a kitten nursed on it. Since then, Cassie has fully recovered, the flesh grew back and I can’t even tell which teat I hacked now.

When Cassie was younger, more of a teenager, she fell out of my second-story bedroom window. I was downstairs when the dog suddenly jumped up and looked out the back door. I saw a cat. Wow, I thought, that cat looks just like….Cassie! The fallen window screen and the toppled lamp on my nightstand in front of the open window told the rest of the story; Cassie and another cat must have been running around in the bedroom chasing one another when Cassie jumped a little too vigorously into the window, knocking the screen out and following it down to the wooden deck below. Cassie was none the worse after her flight; she was only about eight pounds then and a lot of fluff. I remarked how lucky I was that it wasn’t one of the twenty-pound cats who flew out.

Recently, Cassie challenged my windows again. I was upstairs napping. Cassie was sequestered in our bedroom because she was very pregnant and due in a few days. During the warmer months, we have a tall, oscillating fan in our bedroom. It keeps the room comfortable and creates a white noise which makes it easier to sleep. I had just drifted off to sleep when I heard a noise. I looked up and saw nothing, heard nothing more, so I went back to sleep. Unbeknownst to me, Cassie, who had been lounging in the open window, apparently caused too much stress on the screen locks with her larger size and fell out of the window. Jay was outside and witnessed the exit. He called me, but I heard nothing with the fan going. Left to catch the cat himself, I had no idea what was going on outside until he came in the bedroom with a window screen and Cassie.

Once again, Cassie seemed unaffected by her escapades and I still felt the unborn kittens moving around. Since she was so pregnant and off-balance, there was a lot more concern about potential damage. As Cassie was delivering her kittens a few days later, I anxiously waited to see how they would look. Would the kittens be flat like pancakes, have broken limbs or just have smashed-in Persian faces? Fortunately, Cassie's kittens, like their mother, bounce well.

Cassie's Recent Litter - Quinn, Puck and Rachael

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reflections on Hurricane Irene - Like Camping with Comfortable Beds

My husband Jay was living in Charleston, South Carolina when Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989.  I believe I was living in City Island, New York at the time (we hadn't met yet).  Jay has experience with hurricanes, losing power, floods, downed trees, rescue operations (he was in charge of logistics and recovery at General Dynamics and led the restorations efforts after Hugo.  He was also a fire fighter during college).  I grew up as a tomboy in a rural area, rode horses and occasionally have had to "rough it" by peeing outdoors. 

Jay is one of those people who can watch the Weather Channel for hours.  If a storm is brewing, he's glued to the TV and gets excited about the possibilities.  I call him the Drama King.  I've lived in Connecticut for eleven years now.  During that time, our basement has flooded on three occasions (we now have a sump pump), but never due to a hurricane.  Every time there's a hurricane or tropical storm warning, Jay prepares the yard, securing objects that may fly into the windows, extending the gutter drain with god-awful ugly PVC pipe, filling up buckets with water, cleaning the gutters so the expected deluge of water has a place to go, checking the flashlights, filling the propane tank for the get the picture.

We've all seen the drama kings on the Weather Channel smile as they predict the impending gloom and doom from the sky, smiling because this is when their ratings go up, when they are worshiped and revered, when they are no longer the geeky kid with the barometer but the Great Wise and Powerful Meteorologists.  Then the storm comes and it's not nearly so bad as the predictions.  What's a little rain or snow in New England really?  To save face, the media will still caution people to stay off the roads, batten down the hatches, stock up on milk and bread, because it could get worse than it appears.  It's sickening, but it's television.

Call me a cynic, but every time my husband gets all nervous and the Weather Channel's ratings go up with their grandiose weather predictions, I laugh.  Wait and see, I say.  Hurricane Irene is already projected to just be a mere Tropical Storm by the time it reaches us.  It'll just be windy and rainy.  We've had wind and rain here before.  Remember the floods in March of '09 when we got 14 inches of rain?  Why are you so worked up about a possible 6 inches? 

Still, we had planned to visit our friends Jo-Ann and Chris in upstate New York that weekend.  I would've gone anyway since I was still poo-pooing the notion that Irene was a major threat, but Jay was afraid of driving back home on Sunday in the wind and rain.  My friend Jo-Ann, a fellow Maine Coon breeder, had delivered a litter of nine kittens that Friday night.  Her cat Maya, had looked big, but no one expected such a large litter.  My cat Cassie was nursing a litter of four 6-day-old kittens and had room for more.  So Jo-Ann and I rendezvoused in Springfield on Saturday morning to beat the storm and I took three of her kittens to foster.  Her cat Maya was nervous and seemed to be overwhelmed by the large number of mouths to feed.  Cassie readily accepted her new babies. 

Cassie and Her Brood
The storm came during Saturday night while we slept.  In the morning it continued and the power went off at 5 am.  Big deal.  We've lost power before, but never for more than a few hours.  It'll be back.  I took a picture of our fallen 10-foot sunflowers, our big tragedy of Irene.  After a while, I realized the real tragedy of a loss of power when a household lives on well water.  Electricity is needed to power the pump which brings us water.  No running water, no flushing toilets.  My cell phone indicated that the winds in our area were gusting at 45 mph.  Not that big a deal really, but several trees fell on power lines and across roads. 

Sunflower Tragedy After Irene

We were lucky.  Debris in the yard, toppled sunflowers, but no flooding in our area.  The inconvenience of living without power or running water began to wear on me pretty soon though and I had to admit that for once my dramatic husband was right.  I was not a happy camper and this was like camping but with comfortable beds.  Sixteen-year-old daughter Kelsey had a hard time accepting that it could be days before she'd have the Internet back and another week before she could start school (Kelsey loves school).  Everyday we drove past the three large trees which were still leaning on the power lines down our road, the anger toward Connecticut Light and Power grew.  Most of our community was without power and suffering the same inconvenience and resentment.  We were promised that we'd have power back by Saturday, six days after joining the dark side, but we hoped for action sooner. 

So we learned to flush the toilets when necessary with buckets of water from our full bathtub.  We texted more to preserve our cell phone batteries.  We learned to keep a flashlight nearby at night and take advantage of daylight hours.  I drove to four different places in search of ice for the coolers then stockpiled ten bags for fear of not being able to find ice again.  Most of the ice melted before we could use it.  Finding D batteries in the toy department at Target was a major accomplishment. We visited Jay's niece and her 6-month-old baby girl, Rori, at their home in New London where they still had power.  We used her shower and dishwasher, grateful for cleanliness every other day.  Jay started taking showers at work.  We used the dogs' large water jug to bring water home from New London.  We learned that boiling water on the grill and trying to wash dishes was more effort than it was worth.  Jay learned that puncturing a Keuring cup and straining it for a cup of coffee could be a little crunchy.  We bought a new game to play by candlelight, "Hedbanz".  Kelsey, who normally spends most of her time in her room on her laptop pretending to be annoyed with all things parental, learned to come in our room after family game time and keep us up late with conversation and flatulent humor.

Kelsey with Baby Rori

Our neighbor ran a generator which came to symbolize our suffering.  We did not have a generator and therefore lost most of our food even with our iced coolers.  We rationalized that even if we could find a generator to purchase, the cost of buying something that we'd only use once every ten years or so wasn't worth it.  Most generator owners run them for a few select hours to keep the food preserved, take a shower or have light at night.  Our neighbor ran his generator constantly.  Non-stop.  At first it hummed.  Our houses are far enough away from one another that when the trees are in full foliage, we can't see each other.  We can't hear each other either, but can hear loud noises like a barking dog.  It's normally very quiet and secluded at our house nestled in the woods.  Every day, I'd drive around to the nearby towns with power, charging my phone, in search of batteries, ice or some other survival tool and hope to come home to a house with all the lights on.  Instead, as I pulled up to our house and opened my car door, I heard the roar of the neighbor's generator indicating that we were still doing without.  I curse you generator.

Fortunately, the weather was perfect.  Not too hot, not too cold, no humidity, no rain.  Temperatures were in the high 70's during the day, mid-60's at night.  With our windows open, it was good sleeping weather.  That is, it would have been if it weren't for the incessant throttle of the generator pounding in our ears.  That damn generator teased us, "Nyah nyah!  We have power and you don't!  We can flush our toilets and and take showers and you can't!  We don't have bags of ice melting all over our freezer and you do!"  By Day Five, the noise was deafening. 

My Nemesis
In between all this, I was bottle-feeding newborn kittens four times a day, weighing them twice daily by flashlight, mixing up Kitten Milk Replacer with bottled water and trying to clean the bottles the best I could.  Cassie's milk supply took a few days to catch up with the demand of three additional kittens and the newborns weren't gaining well.  Two of the kittens faded and died.  I don't blame Cassie or myself as three of Jo-Ann's six kittens died also.  Sometimes there occurs an awful thing called Fading Kitten Syndrome.  It could be due to an underlying uterine infection that was transmitted to the kittens, but took a while to take effect.  Or it could be due to the large litter size and the mother not having enough natural immunity to pass around to everyone.  No one is completely sure of the cause.  Either way, the results were depressing. 

On the fifth day, the trees leaning on the power lines had been cut for two days, but still no power.  The newspaper had a headline: "CL&P: We're Working as Fast as We Can".  89% of Ledyard was still powerless.  I got an automated call from the school superintendent telling the community that our town would be distributing free bottled water and meals from the Town Hall.  Showers were set up across the street at the elementary school.  I despaired that it had gotten this bad.  Did this mean we were going to have to wait even longer as the rumors suggested?

That afternoon, an orange Asplundh tree truck drove up our driveway to check the lines.  We spilled out of the house like hillbillies, cheering it on.  Kelsey yelled to the men in the truck, "We love you!"  Hey, if a 16-year-old girl telling you she loves you doesn't inspire a flip of the switch, what will?  A few hours later, while were playing Hedbanz again by candlelight, it came back.  We cheered so loudly the cats scattered at our outburst.  Kelsey took off to her room to go on her laptop.  As she left to go upstairs, I told her it'd been nice talking to her the past few day and not to be a stranger.  Before I shut the windows to turn on the air conditioning, I yelled at the top of my lungs out the window toward our neighbors, "You can turn off your damn generator now!"

Friday, August 19, 2011

Camp Stegall - Yes, We Have Our Own Camp

My family doesn't really have its own camp named after us, it's just a name that was suggested when we first started our summer annual get-togethers at a beach house in Garden City, South Carolina six years ago and it stuck.  Each year is designated with Roman numerals and abbreviated; this was CSVI.  Being that my family is spread out all over the country (brothers in Arizona and Georgia, sister in Minnesota, parents in North Carolina and I'm in Connecticut), reunions are usually the only time we are able to visit in person.  By the end of the week, the emotions are a mix between "I feel so normal compared to the rest of my family" to "I have the best family ever". 

We headed toward this year's vacation by finding out a few weeks before that we would not be meeting my step-brother's new girlfriend.  We had all been excited to meet her, but she had recently broken up with Jeff, he was moving out of their apartment and trying to pull himself together.  Knowing Jeff, his mood was expected to be less than his normal level of a guy who loves to do things and have fun. 

On top of Jeff's break-up, my mother received word that her only sibling, David, had died a couple of days before the vacation was to begin.  She and my step-dad had to drive to Washington, D.C. where David lived and take care of identifying his body and arranging things with the funeral home.  Please note, when you hear about checking in on the elderly during extreme weather, take it seriously.  A malfunctioning air conditioning unit in his apartment and the record-breaking heat led to his death. 

The first part of the week seemed to be dominated by my uncle's death.  My husband Jay, who was celebrating his completion of law school and having just sat for the bar exam, stepped in to help Mom with the legalities of being appointed administrator of her brother's estate.  We held a small service in David's honor in the spacious living room of the beach house.  My step-dad John led the service while Mom played the keyboard she'd brought, my sister and I read passages, my brother Paul sang a solo, we all sang a couple of hymns and talked about David.  The event brought closure to David's life and my mother had a much-needed cry afterwards with her three children holding her in group hug. 

David's service behind us, things lightened up.  Jay and I got into our normal beach routine of a morning walk along the beach, followed by a swim in the private pool.  We would be so sweaty with the South Carolina heat and humidity after the walk that I just took off my socks and sneakers and swam with my walking clothes on.  It was a relaxing routine with no animals to clean up after or feed, no hair on the bed (except what we brought with us), no dogs or chickens to let out or lock up.  My bill for my pet-sitter was going to be high, but she was keeping the dogs with her at her doggy day care and sending me pictures of Chardonnay and Coraline with their new buddies.  The dogs were at camp.  The cats, chickens, tortoise and hamster were all taken care of twice daily.  It wasn't just a beach vacation for us, it was an animal-free vacation.

My son Tyler rented a moped to try out for a couple of days to see how he liked it.  He wasn't able to make enough money to buy himself a car to take back to college with him, but he figured a moped would be okay.  He goes to USC (South Carolina, not Southern California) where winter isn't a big deterrant, parking would be easier, gas mileage is incredible, etc.  Of course, I had to try it out and ride the scooter around the block.  Tyler initially expressed doubt as to my abilities, nervous that his old lady of a mother might break a hip.  After his grandfather rode the moped, Tyler admitted, "Now that I've seen Granddaddy Joel try to ride it, I guess you're not so bad."  I hinted at my biker chick past, but I don't think my son believed me. 

Tyler with his new wheels
Each year, Dad and June offer to keep the four grandchildren while Generation II goes out to dinner.  The kids don't really need to be watched anymore since they now range in age from 13 to 19, but they've accepted their status and agree to hang with the Grands at a restaurant.  Generation II consists of my older brother Paul, his wife Denise, younger sister Diana and her husband Rick, younger brother Jeff, Jay and me.  Normally we just go out to dinner.  This year, we followed dinner with a small comedy club.  By small I mean a crowd of about 25.  We had to navigate from dinner to the club during one of those torrential southern thunderstorms.  Paul and Jeff had been volunteered to fetch the cars around so they were drenched while the rest of us were merely spotted with rain. 

The seven of us took the front row at the comedy club, all tables for two with a space allowed for the comedians to walk on the platform stage.  Because of the spacing, Jeff sat away from our group and refused to move his chair over and join us.  Denise told her husband Paul to sit with Jeff so he wouldn't be alone.  She joked that since they were both sporting wet shirts, they looked like a couple anyway.  The warm up comedian was painfully long, but the front liner, Jeff Bodart, was awesome.  My two brothers, who did nothing to dispell the image they projected as a gay couple, gave the comedian a lot of material to inject about their preferences (nothing mean or hateful though).  Our howling laughter just egged him on, my sides and face hurt by the time the show was over.  As we left the club, we spoke to the comedian and filled him in on Jeff and Paul's true relationship.  He apologized and said we should have told him.  Sorry, it was more funny to listen to the jokes and know the truth.

Paul and Jeff Play the Part

We've been back in Connecticut a couple of weeks now.  Reality hit as soon as we walked in the door and I made the rounds to check on the animals.  Back to the messes, cans to open, boxes to scoop, hair on my clothes, chicken poop on my shoes.  No more king size bed and a shower with five heads.  No huge house that the maid service cleaned.  No more beach walks or private swimming pool.  Mostly, I miss my family.

All of Us

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Peace and Harmony Gotta Go

In a May blog, Baby Chicks Part 2, I wrote about how two of the fertilized eggs a friend gave me had hatched.  Thelma, our Jersey Giant hen, raised them, giving us wonderful images of a mother hen and her two chicks clucking and peeping around the yard.  Since all our existing chickens were kept caged inside the first five weeks with heat lamps until their "big girl" feathers came in, it was nice to see the little fluffy peeps living as nature intended.
Mother Thelma with Fuzzy Peace and Harmony
The blond chick became white and as it learned to fly, would roost in a nearby tree instead of in the coop with the rest of the hens.  Last Christmas, I'd thrown out the white dove ornaments, deciding they were too chewed by cats to make it another year.  My husband Jay thought it'd be funny to decorate the small maple tree by the chicken coop with the doves (which have suspicious-looking hummingbird beaks; who ever heard of a Christmas hummingbird?).  This tactful display remained until the leaves came in this spring and the ornaments finally made it to their intended destination.  When the white chick started roosting in the same maple tree, the first thought was that she looked like a dove.  Every evening we looked in the tree where she perched about six feet up, got her down and put her safely in the coop with the rest of the flock.

Without names for the chicks and still hopeful that they were both girls, I thought of the name Peace for the white one.  I used to have a cat named Peace as a child, so named because I had a pony called Love.  I contemplated naming the dark chick Love, but then tried to come up with other names.  War, perhaps.  War and Peace.  Peace and Hope (hoping they were pullets or young hens).  Kelsey vetoed those ideas, suggesting instead that I call the other one Harmony.  Fine, Peace and Harmony it is. 

As Peace and Harmony developed I studied their combs and wattles.  If one had a redder or more pronounced head coloration, that one was likely male.  They looked the same.   With no young roos to compare them to, I declared they were either both pullets or both cockerals.  Ever optimistic, I still referred to them as "she". 

Chicks grow rapidly and the pullets (technically a hen under the age of one year is considered a pullet) can start laying as early as five months.  I couldn't remember how old our one former rooster, Shanaynay, was when he started crowing.  A crowing half-grown chick is a sure sign that you don't have a pullet.  Thelma decided she was done with child-rearing and began chasing her brood away, somewhat like a mother cat who's trying to wean her kittens.  Peace and Harmony hung out with one another, peeping at the bottom of the pecking order of the flock.

The other day Jay was outside when he heard a chicken commotion.  Peace and Harmony were fighting.  Down South, we'd say they were "rassling".  Previously, they would bump chests and play fight, but this time they were out for blood.   The other chickens circled around to watch, chanting, "Fight! Fight! Fight!"  Buffy, our most outgoing hen decided she'd apparently seen enough and barged in-between the two, breaking the fight up.  Peace had a cut on his head and was bleeding.  If we'd had any doubt that we had two little cockerals, the fight and Harmony's subsequent response cast all that doubt aside.  He crowed. 

Two-months-old and fighting already.  When we had Shanaynay, he didn't become aggressive until he was about a year old.  No way was I keeping Peace and Harmony when they were the exact opposite of their names already.  It may just be fighting each other now, but I could easily envision my legs becoming the next target.  I caged Harmony, made sure Peace's cuts were just superficial and immediately contacted my friend Lorraine who had given me the eggs.  I arranged to give the chicks back the next day where they could live out their lives on her farm.  If not in peace and harmony, at least where I don't have to deal with any little cockeral fights.

Harmony and Peace - a Major Misnomer

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Educating the Educators

As someone who breeds and shows Maine Coon cats, I usually enjoy the opportunity to talk about my cats and enlighten fellow cat fanciers. The hard part with having Maine Coons in the northeastern part of the country is that everybody and their brother thinks they have one too. True, the breed is naturally derived and has a common ancestry with many of the large domestic long-haired cats around here. When the veterinarians tell a pet owner that their cat could be a Maine Coon, people love that. After all, vets know cat breeds right? Animal shelters often list any long-haired adoptable cat as a Maine Coon mix; not because they know, but because labeling the cat with a breed makes it more desirable. Such is the curse of having one of the most popular breeds of cats that don’t look as breed-distinctive as some of the others like the Sphynx or the Scottish Fold.

I was recently contacted by a vocational high school principal, Suzanne Green, who was looking for someone to speak on the Maine Coon Cat. The Assabet Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School in Marlborough, Massachusetts was holding a conference for the teachers and apparently there were several requests to have a presenter on Maine Coons. The job paid $100, a little more than the cost of my gas to drive to Marlborough and back; Suzanne pointed out that this was more of public service job. Granted, I would have done it for nothing, but gas money was good. Since I do like to promote and educate, I agreed to prepare a Powerpoint presentation on color genetics and bring three cats of various ages, genders and colors. I was told the audience would consist mainly of animal science teachers, so a Punnett Square wouldn’t be too foreign to them.

Getting ready, I had more than my share of technical set-backs; learning to use Powerpoint and a major malware infection on my PC, but it all came together after about ten hours of work and more countless hours working with technical support people to get my computer working right. Although I’ve spoken to small groups about cats and have done large employee presentations in my former life as a Human Resources Manager, this was to be my first Powerpoint presentation. I went to Jay’s office and did a dry run-through for timing and to get a look at it on the big screen. Wanting to counteract the false information about my chosen breed, I started the slide show with a series of Mythbuster true or false questions. Questions like, “If your cat as a stripe in the shape of the letter ‘M’ on its forehead, it must be a Maine Coon” and “The Maine Coon gets to be 35 pounds”, true or false?

I saved my presentation on a flash drive, intending to use the school’s equipment once I got there. I even emailed the presentation ahead of time so they could make sure my version of Powerpoint was compatible. I planned on bringing three cats; my eight-year-old brown classic male, Bugger, a two-year-old blue torbie and white female, Trifle, and an eight-month-old solid black female, Lulu. Trifle’s coat is naturally low maintenance, but Bugger and Lulu required baths the day before we were to leave. I loaded up the minivan with a large traveling cage with enough room for 3 cats and a litter box. I also packed my grooming bag, a collapsible show cage to display with the cats in the auditorium, and a cart to carry everything in. It was almost like preparing to go to a cat show, but with more emphasis on me. I had printed out the slide show so I flipped through that on the drive up, rehearsing my lines and forcing myself to slow my speech down.

Once I arrived at the high school, the first thing I noticed was that there were cars parked everywhere; in the grass, on the sidewalk, in non-spaces…basically the place was overwhelmed with people. Fortunately, there was one empty space; someone must have left for lunch. I planned on getting there one hour early to set up, clean up any cat messes and make sure the presentation would work.

Towing my cart loaded with cats, I asked at the registration table where I should go. “Oh! Are those the Maine Coon cats?” the lady asked when she saw my carriers. “We’ve been waiting for you.” I was told to go down the hall to room 401D to check in. I got an even more enthusiastic greeting at 401D. The woman there squealed with excitement when I told her my name and instructed a man to call the phone number written on the black board as Principal Suzanne Green wanted to be notified the minute I arrived. Really? I started to get nervous. Everyone surrounded me and my cats; I felt like a celebrity but hoped I wouldn’t disappoint. Suzanne showed up within seconds, personally escorted me to the auditorium and helped me set up. I have never met a school administrator who was so personally involved instead of delegating. There was a sign on an easel outside the entrance to the auditorium with my name and a blurb about my presentation. I felt so important.

A few teachers were staked out in the auditorium before I got there, waiting on my arrival.  It would be almost an hour before I was scheduled to begin.  The intimidation of the school’s high expectations was mounting. Suzanne told me there were over 700 teachers there for the conference. Many were attending for continuing education credits for their field. 700? They won’t all be in here will they? I was assured that although some were so excited I was there that they were skipping their scheduled workshops, there would also be about 22 other presentations/workshops going on simultaneously with mine so it wasn’t really all about Maine Coons. Minor sigh of relief.

Although the small auditorium looked liked it could hold about 60 people, there were closer to 27 there when I got started. They seemed to like the Mythbuster questions, but I started losing some of them on the Punnett Squares. The educational part of my presentation was to explain color genetics; like how you can get a blue or a solid black kitten from two brown tabby parents. I had pictures of the variety of colors that Maine Coons come in, mostly my own cats.

Of course they just wanted to see the cats. After the slides were finished, I pulled each cat out of the show cage one at a time and talked about it. For another 30 minutes, I answered general questions about kittens, showing, genetic testing, personalities and behaviors while I had a cat on the table. Bugger elicited the same responses he used to get at cat shows. “Oh my God, look at that cat! He only weighs 17 pounds? I would have guessed he was more like 30. He’s huge!” The audience members who were the most enthralled circled around me and my cats, taking pictures with their cell phones like paparazzi.

When my 50 minutes of allotted time was up, Suzanne helped me pack everything back on my cart, proclaiming that my cats were a success. As I left, wheeling my Cart O’ Cats down the school’s hallway, I continued to receive attention and was asked more questions. Of course, after all my efforts to educate the audience about how only 4% of all cats are purebred, not all tabbies are Maine Coons, blah, blah, blah, I came away with the impression that I failed. I must have gotten at least five comments from people after the presentation about their own Maine Coon they had found or gotten for free. One man very proudly told me about the feral female cat he had adopted a year ago and how a stray Maine Coon cat had sired the litter she just had. I resisted the urge to scream at him, “Didn’t you listen to anything I said in there? It’s NOT a Maine Coon! It’s just a long-haired cat.” I politely bit my lip and didn’t even lecture him on why he should have his cat spayed and keep her inside. Instead I just wished him luck in finding homes for the kittens and walked away.




Saturday, June 4, 2011

Shave and a Hair Cut

This year I decided to give our Golden Retriever, Chardonnay, her annual haircut myself.  I purchased professional clippers last year and have used them on a couple of the cats who became matted.  Finally, it'd gotten so hot last week and Chardonnay looked so pathetic with her tongue hanging out, I decided to go for it.  I ended up covered in dog hair, hot and sweaty, with a sore back.  Our new puppy, Coraline, savored her naturally short and cool doo and made my job more challenging.  She eventually became so obnoxious  that she had to be banned from the barber area. 

This would have been so much easier on me if we had a dog grooming table

Let go!

Good thing they make puppies cute

"Chardonnay, let me get that hair off your tongue for you."

"You're not going to try to turn me into a Golden Retriever with all that hair are you?"

Bad hair day, but it's okay as long as we don't show Chardonnay a mirror

I got tired and let Chardonnay keep the mohawk for a few days before finishing the job.  She looks slightly better than in the above photo.  I know it doesn't look professional, but at least I saved $70 and Chardonnay feels much cooler now.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Baby Chicks Part Two

In my blog Counting My Eggs, I promised to keep my readers informed when the fertilized chicken eggs my hens were sitting on hatched.   Although I started out with eleven eggs shared by Mumbles and Thelma, Mumbles decided she'd been sitting long enough and threw in the towel.  Then Buffy, the Buff Orpington, thought she'd wax maternal and sit on the eggs.  In between all this, there were times when the eggs weren't covered.  One by one, they rotted and cracked.  They were literally half-cooked, maybe fertile, maybe not.  I'm sure the phrase, "last one's a rotten egg" comes from the situation where chicks start hatching and the
egg(s) that never hatches is rotten.  The stench is unmistakeable. 

Thelma prepares for motherhood
In the end, we have two viable chicks, a blond and a reddish-brown one.  Since the person who gave the eggs to me doesn't know the breeds of her chickens or her roosters, this is a guessing game.  The brown one has feathering on her legs so it'll be interesting to see how he/she/it develops.  I'm automatically referring to the chicks as girls, but I honestly don't know the gender.  Chickens, unlike puppies, are very difficult to sex at this age.  I'm thinking of naming them adrogenous names like "Pat", "Chris" or "Terry".  Any suggestions are welcome.

I felt guilty at taking the pheasant chicks away from Thelma after all her dedication to hatching them and want to give her a chance to enjoy motherhood.  If she never becomes broody again, then perhaps she will have learned that children are too much work.  Since I'm trying to let these chicks grow up with their adopted mother Thelma (Buffy proved too aggressive to be allowed this privilege), I have a new set of challenges.  Normally I would raise the chicks in a cage with a heat lamp in my basement until fully feathered at five weeks.  At five weeks they are adolescents and ready to move outside.  The nesting box the chicks were hatched in is about two feet off the ground so it would be difficult for fuzzy peeps to navigate that height, even with a ramp.  Plus, the other hens are not maternal toward the chicks and could present a danger to anything in their nesting boxes. 

Thelma demonstrates how to scratch out a snack to her peeps

Luckily our garden has an eight-foot fence around it, part of which is sectioned off for the chickens to keep them out of the planted veggies.  During the winter, we strung fishing line every three feet across the top of it to deter the hawks so the chickens would have another safe place to hang out.  Since our compost pile is in the corner of the garden, this provides a lot of enjoyment for the girls to rifle through our leftovers, spread the compost around and pick out worms and grubs. 

I decided the hens' fenced in garden area would become the nursery.  I turned the bottom half of a large doghouse over and placed a cat carrier on top of that.  Chickens need to roost off the ground, thus the doghouse base.  The cat carrier can be locked up at night.  I drape a sheet of plastic over the carrier at night for further warmth and rain protection.  Probably not as warm as the nesting box in the coop, but I keep in mind that Thelma's underside had to be about 95 degrees in order to have been able to incubate the eggs.   I put food and a waterer in the carrier with them, which the chicks quickly learned to use.  The garden is closed off to the other hens, something they resent, but have to accept.  The idea is that as the chicks grow, the rest of the flock will get used to them behind the safety of the fence so that the new members will be able to acclimate seamlessly. 

Our contraption we're calling the nursery

Thelma is a big girl and a wonderful mom.  I have to lift her up to see the chicks.  When it's warm, they come out from under their mother.  Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed that we can keep them safe until they are grown and that both are hens.

Thelma and her brood in their nest

As a sidenote, I am now a blogger on the Ledyard Patch, a local online newspaper.  I will be blogging about the same types of subjects as I do here, perhaps revamping some of my old stuff.  If my followers could please comment or click the Recommend button on the Ledyard Patch blog to indicate their support, I'd give them each a Maine Coon kitten.  Not really, but still, I'd be grateful.