Thursday, May 10, 2018

Cannibals, Golf Balls, and Mustard Eggs

We were naive when it came to keeping animals, almost as naive as we were about having children. This didn't mean we thought it would be easy, we just knew we'd be up to the challenge. It would be fun.

Nobody told warned us that chickens are cannibals. We learned it quickly enough, as soon as one hen cut herself on a sharp bit of fencing. We rescued her in time, but just. A feeding frenzy had begun to form around her.

Nobody warned us that chickens sometimes eat the eggs, too. Once they start, it's a hard habit to break, and ours started this summer. Finding an eaten egg now and then is frustrating enough, but to find only one whole egg in a nest of egg shells and sticky remains is maddening. It's not like we're not feeding them enough already!

It became a crisis the other day when I watched one hen pull another one off her nest so she could peck open the egg. I swore. Loudly. I chased all the chickens out of the chicken house and went in and swore some more. My husband decided it was time to consult the experts and get some advice. He googled it. These suggestions are supposed to work because, as everyone knows, chickens are really stupid.

We tried putting golf balls in the nesting boxes. The idea is, if they peck at the golf balls, they don't get anywhere and don't get the reward of eating an egg. It didn't work. Seems our hens figured out the difference between an egg and a golf ball and started their own golf tournament in the chicken yard. Smart asses.

We then blew out a few eggs and filled them with mustard. We let the hens peck them open. Supposedly, hens do not like mustard and this would clearly teach them to avoid eating eggs. However, the hens quickly figured out which eggs were stuffed with mustard, ate the other ones, and offered the mustard eggs for sale on Craig's list as a delicacy.

It was suggested that the hens might need more protein in their diet. I was wondering why they wanted to read the back of the chicken food bag. The advice given on the internet was to feed them some cat food. This will give them the protein they are lacking and they will not need to eat their eggs. They love the cat food. They like it even more with eggs.

The last suggestion was to eat the chicken who are eating the eggs. This would be hard to do. Literally. Ever butcher and clean a chicken and get it ready to eat? It's gross, smelly, and makes you want to become a vegetarian or at least continue buying chicken already packaged and ready to cook. Besides, we have chickens so we can get eggs. If we eat the chickens, we wouldn't get eggs.

We have one more thing to try. A YouTube video shows how to make nesting boxes with painting trays - you know, the trays where you pour the paint when you're using a roller. A 5" wide board was placed on the back side of the tray and this was further blocked off by a wall. The idea is:

Chicken lays an egg. Egg rolls down the tray and through a slot just big enough for eggs and into the deep end of the paint tray where they are kept out of beak's reach. Theoretically, this should work. It means spending the next few weeks trying to figure out how to build the new nesting boxes, but if it works, it'll be worth it.

Maybe. I won't count my eggs yet.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Puppy Family Reunion

Family Reunion! Two of Bennie's three brothers came to play yesterday and the pups had a marvelous time. They knew each other almost immediately, played, wrestled, came back and checked in with us every few minutes. They remembered us, too. I got very enthusiastic greetings from both Cooper and Simon!

These pups came to us in April of 2016 when they were 5 days old. They had been left as newborns in a cardboard box under a dumpster. This is the first time these three have been together since Cooper was adopted in July of 2016.

Thank you to Emma Reinhart for permission to post her photos.

What's a puppy reunion without the ritual butt sniff? 

Bennie gives Cooper some love.

Cooper sitting with Emma.

Bennie and Leroy wandering off while Cooper does a great photo bomb

Leroy still wears the same size collar as he did at 3 mos. He weighs 8 lbs, which is what Bennie weighed at age 3 mos. Bennie is now 16.5 lbs and Cooper is 12 lbs. I love Cooper's grin on this one! You can see Leroy's cleft paw on this one. It certainly hasn't slowed him down at all.

Greeting their human mama!

Cooper is a beautiful dog.

Cooper here, too.

Leroy giving me some love.

Chris and Leroy

The pups, age 2

They still sat very well and waited for their treat!

What good pups!

Cooper and Leroy

From our first week with the pups. Eyes and ears were still closed.

From this pile of puppies to those active smiling dogs.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

My Shadow Pup

The wee beastie needed a foster home. Something about his photo made me email and say we'd take him. He's tiny. He's cute. He had hair that was begging for either some hair gel or a collar with spikes. He had short hair all over except for a long Mohawk which extended from the top of his head all the way down his back. It was a totally different texture, too, kind of like a horse's mane. We're almost positive he's part Chinese Crested. 

Clyde won our hearts by asserting himself and letting us know he was going to win us over. What could be more lovable than a pooch who comes to get you to show you he pooped in the hallway. "See, foster mama? There it is. If you don't want to clean it up, I'll happily eat it."

Thankfully, pooping in the house was one of his few bad habits. He followed me or Chris around all the time, sometimes leaping up so high, I could catch him in mid air. Occasionally he would get really excited as he followed me and he'd leap up and nip my bum. He was trying to be affectionate. 

Yeah, sometimes he could be a wee bit annoying, but then he'd curl up next to one of us and be so calm and so sweet. He was also easy to forgive. He and Bennie got along beautifully. 

I'm glad Clyde was with us for awhile as we were able to work with him on house training, sitting on command, staying when we opened the front door, and "you can't come in until you pee and poop. No, I didn't mean eat the poop!" I think it was my tone of voice which caused him to drop what he was planning on having for snack. By the time he was adopted, the bad habits were starting to fade away. With some work and a lot of love and attention, he'll be a fantastic wee pet. I already miss him.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Christmas Puppies

Bert and Ernie joined us right after Halloween. Ernie went to his forever home just before Christmas and Bert, just after Christmas. They came to the rescue with mange, something I wasn't prepared to deal with, so they stayed at the care center for the first couple of weeks. Our last pups had just left and we had been puppy free since the middle of August. I wasn't ready for more

Then the email came. Three dogs needed foster homes. A tiny six year old chihuahua and two twelve week old Maltese mix puppies. After checking with the powers that be in the house (my husband, who said, "it's up to you" and my daughter who said, "when?!"), I wrote back and said we could take either the chihuahua or the puppies. I was kind of hoping for the chihuahua.

We got the puppies. At about 2 and 3 lbs, they were tiny fluffy white and cuter than cute. There is something unreal about Maltese puppies. The way they cock their head, the way they bounce around the house, the way they curl up on our laps; they look like stuffed animal toys come to life.

They had finished the medication for their mange, though they were still on antibiotics for secondary infections. Their fur was thin and Ernie had bare spots and scabs. They smelled awful. They needed regular baths with medicated shampoo, We bathed them daily for the first month. Ernie needed to wear a sweater or jacket to protect his delicate skin, And they both needed to play.

Ernie decided he liked to help me with my knitting. It made it a challenge to finish those slippers, but he looked awfully cute. It's amazing what you can get away with when you're a cute puppy.

Bennie didn't quite know what to make of the puppies at first, but he eventually warmed up to them and took on the task of keeping them busy. Or was it the puppies keeping Bennie busy? 

The pups were guests of honor at the Santa Speedo Dash in northwest Denver. Emma is holding Ernie here because Bert met his forever mom and they spent the whole time getting to know each other. Bert came back with us and spent the holidays at our house.

Our grandchildren gave Bert a bath on his going home day. He was one clean puppy!

We're without puppies now and Bennie is an only dog again. It's nice to not have to worry about trying to house break wee ones and nice to sleep in. I think we'll be taking a break from having fosters for awhile.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Dog Who Didn't Want To Be Adopted

We are used to getting attached to the puppies we foster. It's inevitable, especially as we often have them for 3 months or morel We tell ourselves we can't keep all the puppies we fall in love with or we'd have dozens of them and we can't keep fostering newborns if we have too many of our own. So we plod along, taking care of the wee beasties, falling in love, and saying goodbye.

Sometimes one of the beasties snuggles their way into our hearts in a special way. Sometimes they are the ones who get attached to us. We tell ourselves, it's the breed; certain breeds will bond quickly and be very loyal to their humans. We know this.

We think we have everything under control, then one little pup jumped on my lap and rested his head on my chest, looking up at me as if to say, "I love you Mommy". He followed me everywhere and, when visitors came, made it clear he wanted nothing to do with them. 

It was charming, but we were concerned, too. We knew we couldn't keep him, so what was going to happen when it came time for him to be adopted?

The first attempt failed. The adoptive family came to meet him and we handed him over. He fought to get away until they finally put him down and he ran straight to Emma's lap. Not completely satisfied, he even barked at them.

It's the breed, we tell ourselves. Don't fall for it. It's just a loyal breed. He'll get attached to his adoptive family, too. But how will he ever be adopted if he won't go to anyone else?
At the big adoption event, we were sure a cute little Min Pin like him would be adopted. Instead, there were so many people and so many dogs, he was overwhelmed. He seemed to melt into us so he wouldn't be seen. When others tried to pick him up, he cried and fought to get away. I fought back tears. What were we doing here? It felt like we were abandoning our baby!  

This was dangerous thinking. What happens if a dog doesn't want to be adopted? Do they stay a foster dog forever? I'd never heard of that happening, not with our group. On the other hand, he did get along so well with all of us and Bennie.... and... and... 

Finally, Emma and I needed to leave. It was a pre-arranged family gathering, but it was the excuse we needed to leave the little pup there at the adoption event. There was one staff member who seemed to understand the pup's needs and we entrusted the wee beastie into his care.

Half an hour after we left, little pup was adopted. So much for loyalty. Without us there, he went to other people just fine. I wasn't too offended. The rescue group (Life is Better Rescue) took a photo of him with his new "Mom". He looks happy. We're sure he'll bond with her very, very quickly. 

It's the breed.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dog Fireworks

We had seven dogs in our house on the 4th of July. Bennie, our own lovable chiweenie pup; Grover, the last of the last litter of orphaned pups we raised by hand; and Kaylee, the Mama poodle mix with her four 4 week old puppies, more fosters.

What could go wrong?


When I offered to help foster Kaylee and pups (Mal, Wash, Inara, and River), I knew it would be a bit of a challenge to get Kaylee to accept Bennie's presence. She's a good mama dog and doesn't let strange dogs near her pups. She's not aggressive towards people, just other dogs. That said, the first day and night went well. Kaylee and Bennie politely sniffed each other's butts, and kept a careful distance from each other, observing each other furtively.

The next night, which was the 4th of July, we had plenty of fireworks indoors. Bennie started getting curious about the puppies. Kaylee was not pleased and decided to attack Bennie whenever he came close to her offspring. They didn't hurt each other and I mistakenly thought the first incident would solve their argument and Bennie would keep far away from her wee ones. Nope. Outside, Bennie deliberately started a fight with Miss Kaylee. I scolded him and told him                                                        he should be much more welcoming to our guests. He looked at me suspiciously
                                                   and curled his lip at Kaylee.

As soon as we came back inside, Bennie decided to go visit the pups. Kaylee objected rather strongly and attacked. Again, neither were hurt, but it sounded like they were tearing each other apart. This startled my husband and, though he rarely swears, he made up for it that night. It put Grover on alert, meaning he had to join in with nonstop barking. It startled me because, well, any sudden loud noises startle me and this was a combination of dog snarls, swearing, barking, and puppy yips.

We decided quickly that Kaylee and her pups would stay across the street at our neighbor's house. Deb was Kaylee's primary foster mama and we were filling in while Deb was out of town. Kaylee was immediately more relaxed at Deb's house. What had gone wrong?

Bennie and his pups
Mama Kaylee
I hadn't figured in Bennie's status as favorite Uncle. In his short life, he has spent 10 out of his 15 months in the company of tiny puppies; his brothers and all our foster pups. We had included Bennie every step of the way with the wee fosters and he had taken his job as Uncle Bennie very seriously. Kaylee's pups were just more wee ones for him to care for. He just couldn't understand why this ... dog... got in his way. He  thought they were his puppies.

We finally got everyone calmed down that night and I tried to convince Bennie the pups belonged to Kaylee. He wasn't totally convinced, but he agreed to drop the custody fight as long as he got visitation rights.

(ps.. who knows where the names come from?)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Why is the Hen Crowing?

We bought chicks in the spring of 2010. We bought 14 chicks. They were all hens. Though we had a rooster for awhile, Napoleon, the bantam Mille fleur who ruled the roost with an iron claw met his Waterloo years ago.

The six hens who are still with us, 7 years later, are still laying about 6 eggs per week. It's unusual to get any eggs from them at this age, but we never forced them to lay through the winter. Hens have a finite number of eggs and forcing them to lay all year will shorten the number of years they will lay.

A month of so ago, we noticed one of the hens seemed to have gotten bigger. Was this just our imagination? It had always been a large bird. Then one day, we heard a strange noise coming from the back yard. It sounded like... crowing? Okay, it sounded more like an attempt to crow, but definitely not a sound our hens have ever made.

So we kept watch on the big one. Gradually it developed a larger comb and a really large wattle. The wattle is the red bit that hangs right below their beak. The comb and wattle are also bright red. It was strutting, yes, strutting across the yard. No self respecting hen would ever strut. Now it's starting to grow those lovely tail feathers in a darker color with a distinct pattern on them. Not much to see yet, but the potential is there.

Here you can easily see the difference between our hen and our new rooster. I've started using "he" instead of "she".

It's nice to have a rooster in the flock. They will stand guard while the hens eat and they are more alert and watchful for predators. Napoleon had a specific crow for times when he wanted the hens to get in the hen house immediately, with no arguments. We'll see what this rooster will do.

There is an explanation for all this. Nature has provided hens with two gonads, only one of which develops into an ovary. The other remains an ovotestis... in other words, a gonad with the potential to be either an ovary or testis, but won't develop unless the working ovary becomes damaged. The estrogen level will go down when the ovary stops working and then the testosterone level goes up, and the hen starts to look and act like a rooster. It's called Spontaneous Sex Reversal and is explained well in the link I just gave you. 

I wonder if this is more common with older birds? If so, might we see more of our old ones transition to a different gender? I wonder what would happen if all six did this? They've lived together too long to start cock fighting now, so I suppose they'd just roost around in the evening, drinking beer and smoking cigars...

...and practicing their crowing.