Saturday, January 29, 2011

Chickens and Snow, Lots of Snow

If you live anywhere in the northeast or have watched the Weather Channel lately, you know that Connecticut has broken all kinds of records for the most snowfall in January.  While it's not much compared to what I used to deal with as a teenager in Ithaca, New York, in a Connecticut chicken's world, the snow is over-whelming.  I figure it will all be melted by the end of May at this rate.

With each new snow deposit, we shovel a path going from the chicken coop to our deck, a safe haven for the chickens now that the resident Hawk with a capital H knows we have a drive-through for raw tenders.  I put an extra supply of food and water under the deck daily to encourage the chickens to remain under the deck during the day.  They have dirt to scratch and protection from the worst of the precipitation and the gusts of wind.  More importantly, they aren't very accessible to a diving hawk or even the ground predators who are kept at bay by the fear of our Golden Retriever.

Mumbles, the Snow Queen

The hens who are laying take excursions to the coop to leave their eggs.  With the shorter days, only about five of the thirteen girls are laying eggs.  As night falls, the chickens go home to roost by following each other single file along the path from the deck to their coop.  With any other places the hens used to like laying now inaccessible, the snow is a good training tool to teach the girls to use the nesting boxes provided.   

Jay feeding old tortilla shells to the girls from the deck
I took some pictures of the chickens walking along their path to demonstrate how high the snow is for them.  I would guess it's like walking through a maze.  They have learned that if they flutter up and off the path, they will certainly sink in the snow and be stuck there until a human comes to the rescue.  Not a safe situation if a human isn't home or doesn't notice before a predator does, although they do look pretty funny.

Chicken's Point of View

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Waste Management Large and Small

One may think that since I spend a good portion of my cat-care time cleaning up after them, I would be pretty sick of scooping poop.  Excrement is a fact.  "Everybody Poops" is a bumper sticker seen on a plumber's truck.  Sung to the tune of Camp Town Ladies, "What's in the bottom of the chicken coop?  Doo Doo!  Doo doo!"  No only do I clean multiple litter boxes, every morning I scoop the chicken caca out of their nesting boxes so their eggs have a clean place to land during the day.  Jay has provided a bucket for dung disposal so he can easily transport the chicken waste to the garden for composting. 

I blogged on April, 29, 2009 about my adventures with waste management and kittens.  Lately, I've been challenging myself to take on even more crap.  I started working as a volunteer a couple of days at week at Beech Brook Farm Equine Rescue, a farm that fosters and rehabilitates horses who would otherwise end up in a Mexican slaughterhouse.  The farm has 10 rescue horses, 4 miniature donkeys, 1 mini-pony, 2 goats, a bunch of chickens and a barn cat named Shadow.  The cause is noble, the work is daunting.

Main Barn with Shadow the Cat as the Resident Greeter
The horse rescue is a non-profit organization that relies on volunteers and monetary contributions.  Most of the volunteers are middle-aged women like myself, looking for way to reconnect with their childhood love of horses.  I suspect the bulk of it is financed personally by the owner, Debra, and her husband.  She told me the other day that she spent $17,000 last year just on hay.  I was attracted to the farm as a way to be around horses again without having to pay for lessons.  As a young girl, I was fortunate enough to have a pony and graduated to a horse as I grew.  Ever since I sold my horse before going to college, I've struggled for a way to stay connected to horses.  Oddly enough, one of my favorite smells is that of a horse barn.  I love the aroma of the hay, horse sweat and manure.  Vegetarian caca doesn't carry nearly the same punch as that from a carnivore, so I don't find it offensive like I do cat and chicken dung.  Well, chickens aren't exactly carnivores, more omnivorous actually, but they leave behind a lot of little stinkers. 

Thus far, my job at the barn is to muck out the stalls and paddock areas of the three barn areas and work with the horses as time and weather allows.  The owners have "real jobs" so although they feed and water, they need help during the week.  Beech Brook doesn't have the best set up I've seen; the property is on a steep, wooded hill, with upper, main and lower barns and paddocks carved out in the trees.  Two of the areas are just three-sided shelters with paddocks. The only area I'd call a pasture is probably about an acre.  The owners' home is nested in the middle of the hill, between the upper and lower barns. 

Upper Walk-in Barn
While I use a plastic pooper scooper to transport kitty waste to the garbage can outside in a plastic bag, at the barn I use a multi-tined pitchfork to rake and shovel horse manure into a wheelbarrow which I then push up the hill to the manure pile.  I try to speed up as I reach the dumping pile to get enough momentum, flip the wheelbarrow up and hope that most of manure falls out.  Then I have to twist the wheelbarrow back and forth on its wheels to shake the rest out.  My asthma usually kicks in during the wheelbarrow part, especially with the cold weather.  When it's wet outside, my jeans get splattered with horse excrement.  When it's freezing, I have to kick the manure piles loose with my boot so I can get the rake under them.  Sometimes the piles are so frozen, I can't break them up without fear of breaking a toe.  Of course, there's always the horse supervision during the process which involves maneuvering through the snow with a wheelbarrow loaded to overflowing with crap, a pitchfork balanced on top and not allowing a pushy beast to escape for a romp through the woods. This is waste management at its best.

The Manure Pile

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bugger's Fame

I was finally able to pick up the January issue of Cat Fancy Magazine a couple of weeks ago.  I don't subscribe to it, but since my 7-year-old stud cat, Woolly Bugger, is pictured on the back cover promoting Arm & Hammer Cat Litter, I've been stalking the magazine racks, flipping through the collection at Borders and any pet supply store.  Bugger's ad has also been reported to appear in other magazines as well; Health, Family Circle, Country Living and People.  Of course, when I showed His Highness the ad, Bugger simply pushed it aside.  I was blocking his food dish and the big boy has his priorities straight.

Bugger's intense glare earned him the name of "Spike" from Arm & Hammer

A couple of questions have come from those who have seen Bugger's portrayal of "Spike", a tough-looking cat who denies that his "stuff" stinks, presumably because Arm & Hammer is that powerful a litter.  First, no we don't use that brand.  I did buy a box after we did the photo shoot in June, just to see if I was missing out on a good product that costs less than World's Best Cat Litter.  Well, guess what?  My cats' stuff still stinks, and the odor of urine became more obvious with Arm & Hammer after a few days and overpowered the deodorizer in the litter.  Not worth it in my multi-cat household.  I went back to World's Best and Agways Pine Pellet Horse Bedding (similar to Feline Pine but less expensive at Agway). 

Another question is whether I really put a collar on my cat.  No, I don't do cat collars, nor do I recommend them for indoor cats.  That was Photoshopped in with the overly full litter box.  Collars aren't a bad thing if it has a quick-release closure, but it damages the fur around the neck of a long-haired cat.  A collar mark would only raise eyebrows at a cat show. 

Bugger at home, answering fan mail

The last question I get was how much money Bugger made.  As I blogged about in Kitty Spotlight originally after we did the photo shoot, the $250 check I finally received was offset by the $115 parking ticket I found on my car that day.  The net profit pays for about two week's worth of cat food and litter at my house.

I have enjoyed my cat's moment of relative fame, of course, but it seems the owners of his many offspring have also.  Bugger has been breeding for over 6 years and has produced 129 kittens.  He gets all the fun and glory, but doesn't have to pay child support.  My kitten buyers have been the ones reporting back to me if Bugger's ad has been spotted in a new magazine.  Nino is a year-and-a-half old daughter of Bugger owned by Lauren and Michael who sent me this response to their cat's famous sire.

I have no idea how long Arm & Hammer will keep "Spike" in  print, but I hope it'll be quite a while because this is kind of fun.  If you happen to see the ad, please let me know which magazine and issue it's in.