Sunday, June 28, 2015

Animals amaze me

This morning I hadn't even finished my first cup of coffee when I heard, faintly, a hen cackling.  Now, it's never a good thing when you hear a chicken cackling before daylight.  Especially since we've had so many problems with varmints lately.  The hen and chicks have their own little house, and I secure them every night, shutting the door.  However, I have gotten lax lately, not wiring the door securely at the top.  This was the day to pay the piper.  

I went running out to the little chicken house and saw Mama Hen frantically running around the pen cackling, with her chicks peeping around her like crazy.  There were feathers scattered around the pen, and one dead, headless chick.

At first only six chicks came out with Mama Hen, and I thought that was what I had left.  Later I got to thinking that if there were only six chicks left, there would have been three corpses, not just one.  So I went back to the little house and peeked into the corners and found two more live chicks, petrified with fear, and shooed them out.

I went on to do the cattle chores, and Mama Hen was still in the driveway cackling when I was done.  She was obviously traumatized, and was still cackling for over an hour after it all happened.  

Finally she acknowledged her babies and foraged around in the yard and garden all day.  Cliff and I had plans to lock the hen and chicks into her little house/pen securely tonight, and then put our varmint trap right in front of that house, baited with the headless chick that was killed last night.  

When we went out at dusk, I heard the chicks peeping loudly and the mom clucking, but they weren't in their little house.  The noises were coming from the big hen house.  Mama Hen was sitting on a nest in there, as it turns out, and the babies were trying, one by one, to fly up and join her.  

I was amazed.  I was speechless, and honestly, almost had tears in my eyes.  Chickens are among the dumbest animals God ever created, but that mommy thing is stronger than any weak mind, and the hen had no intention of letting her babies be killed.  She had moved out of that death-trap of a house.

I shut the chicken house door, knowing no chickens would die tonight.  We did put the trap in front of the now-uninhabited brooder house.  I doubt we catch anything.  But Mama Hen has it under control, and no chickens will die tonight.

There are still eight chicks left, and they know Mommy isn't going to desert them.

God bless mothers everywhere.

Psalm 91:4  He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day

Not all news is good around the farm

I recently blogged about Blackie, a calf belonging to Cliff's brother that I was trying to save.  I had theories about what was ailing him, but was on uncharted territory.  I honestly didn't expect him to live, but he was such a fighter, and developed such a good appetite, that I just couldn't give up on him.  

Yesterday when I got him up to give him a bottle, I noticed a swelling about the size of an orange at his naval.  I felt it, and it was as hard as a rock.  While I've never had experience with naval ill, I had a feeling that's what we were dealing with, so I consulted Dr. Google.  What I found explained everything that had happened with that calf:  Turns out naval ill, if not treated, turns into joint ill.  The disease settles in the joints, causing pain and difficulty walking.  You can read about it HERE.  It can also go to the eyes, liver, heart, and other organs.  I was briefly worried when I read it could be contagious, since we had Blackie in with three of my calves for several days.  Further reading told me that it's only contagious to calves in their first week of life.

Had I paid attention to the calf's naval when Phil first brought him over, he could have been saved.  Cliff and I had noticed his naval looked damp all the time, but we assumed it was because he was laying on damp ground all the time.  Rule number one when dealing with livestock or children:  Never assume.

If you go to the link I shared above, you will see that once naval ill has turned into joint ill, unless you have a very valuable animal and can afford to spend lots of money for an offhand chance you might save the calf, it's time to cut your losses.  

That's what we did.  Cliff called his brother to tell him what was happening, and then he humanely put Blackie down.

Stanley the pig

I have been wanting a pig on the place ever since I found myself with two milk cows.  Even though the calves do the milking for me most of the time, I milk a couple of times a week to get milk for our own use.  I like the cream in my coffee and on our oatmeal, but we don't use all that much milk.  It doesn't take much for our morning cereal and what little baking I do, and it breaks my heart to pour perfectly good milk down the drain, knowing how much a pig would love it.

I had been watching Craigslist for weeks, hoping to buy a pig at a reasonable price.  Cliff was less than enthused about this, since he is the guy that has to figure out how to make pens out of what we have on hand, provide housing, and actually transport the animal to our place.  To his relief, I wasn't finding any pigs close to home, and I didn't want to spend a lot of gas money running up and down the roads for small pig.  That "one small" part was another point of disagreement:  Cliff felt that if we were going to get a pig, we ought to get two of them.  Two pigs just do better, he says, than one by itself.  I only wanted one because the amount of extra milk I would have wouldn't go far with more; it will make a big difference in the diet of one pig, especially while he's small.  I didn't want to be buying any more expensive pig feed than necessary.  Oh, and if you only have one pig, he makes a better pet.

"Oh yeah, that's what we need," my husband grumbled.  "A pet pig."

As a butcher, Cliff learned that there's nothing more aggravating than a pet pig:  They aren't scared, so you can't make them go anywhere; they're impossible to load when it's time to take them to slaughter.

When he finally decided I wasn't going to shut up about a pig, he suggested that we stop looking at Craigslist ads and go buy a pig from the local farmer we've purchased from before.  "We might have to pay more," he said, "but we won't be running up and down the road spending more on gas that we would have to spend on a pig."  

He had a point.  Besides, we know the local guy has good, healthy pigs.  Score one for Cliff.  

I called, and the guy, as always, had pigs available.  I explained to him that I had extra milk, and wanted a pig around to make good use of it.  "The smaller the pig, the better," I said.  

A dollar a pound can make for an expensive porker, but not so much when you are buying an eighteen-pound baby.  We loaded up a dog carrier in the back of the pickup and went to get our pig. We chose a male.

"Oh, isn't he pretty?"  I said to Cliff as the farmer carried our baby out of the barn.  I think I saw the guy try to hide a smile.  Maybe he isn't used to having his pigs called "pretty".

I told the grandson's soon-to-be wife to pick a name for him, and she chose "Stanley".

Temperatures were in the 90's when we brought him home.  Instead of staying in the shade of his house (a calf hutch), he insisted in stretching out in the sun.  Did you know pigs can sunburn?  Since nothing I could do would get him to the shade, I put sunblock on him.

And you know, pigs don't take the heat very well.  They really like a mud wallow, but since he had none, I bought him a cheap wading pool like the one we have for the little girl I babysit.  

Since then, Cliff has fashioned a shade over part of his pen using tarp and tie-down straps.

And here he is at six this morning, eating his breakfast.  

When you have one pig by himself, he becomes a pet very quickly.  If I climb into Stanley's pen, he already comes over to me begging for a belly-scratch.  He has started rooting, tearing up the turf in his pen, so we'll have to put a ring in his nose or he will root his way out of the pen and end up at the neighbors, working on their flowerbeds or something.  We still have some pig-rings from 30 years ago, so no purchase will be required.

Friday, June 26, 2015

This poor, pathetic calf

When Cliff's brother brought his abandoned baby calf to me, I was confident that all he needed was a vigilant eye and proper nourishment.  I figured he would be ready to sell on Craigslist in two or three days.  

That was the plan.  

Oh, I got a bottle of milk down him twice a day, but it was a real chore to get him to stand up at feeding time.  He got a minor case of scours, I doctored it with the usual pills and electrolytes, and he was fine.  But he never once bawled for his supper as new calves do at feeding time, and he had to be coaxed, and even helped, to get up.  He was with three bigger calves who mostly ignored him, as he did them.  He chose a corner in the sheltered area of their pen to spend his days, and there he lay.  

Cliff and I finally figured out that the calf has a problem either with one hind leg, or perhaps with his hindquarters in general, which is why he doesn't like to get up and has difficulty walking.  Phil told us that this calf followed his mother the first couple days of his life, so obviously something happened to him that injured him when he was a couple days old.  

Just about the time I think I should have Cliff put the calf out of his misery, he will show a little more enthusiasm for the bottle or act as though he wants to follow me around the pen once his belly is full, and I think perhaps there is hope.  Maybe my city friends are thinking I should call a vet, but a farm visit is $100, and the vet couldn't do anything for the poor boy except perhaps tell me what the problem is with his hindquarters.  You just can't sink a lot of money into a baby calf, because you'll never get it back.

Last night we had another deluge.  These days deluges are the norm, so we just shake our heads and go on.  At tractor club last night the farmers were discussing the fact that they can't sell their wheat because all the rain has put something, some organism or other, in it that makes it pretty much worthless.  They haven't been able to finish planting their soybeans, either.  I don't know what the latest date is on planting soybeans, but we must be rapidly approaching it.  But I digress.  

I went outside to chore with some trepidation this morning, because there were fierce winds last night, along with five, count 'em, five inches of rain.

First I checked on the baby pig we bought two days ago... more about him in another entry... because he seems to be the stupidist pig I've ever owned.  Anyhow, stupid pig had gathered his wits about him enough to seek shelter in the calf hutch Cliff gave him for a house.  I went to look at Phil's calf.  I've never actually named him, but have taken to calling him Blackie.  He was laid out totally on his side with the older three calves all laying around him.  When I nudged his with the toe of my boot there was no response, but I saw him blink, and thought, "Why don't you just die and put us both out of our misery?"

You don't want to see a cow or calf laying stretched out on its side for very long:  If the animal is old enough to ruminate (chew its cud), it will bloat if it lays there long.  Blackie hasn't progressed to chewing his cud, though.  

Yesterday I had gotten the thought that I was fighting a losing battle, but an old Gospel song came to mind.  You atheists can turn your heads about now, because I'm going to tell you a secret:  God usually speaks to me through the old hymns, and I often get a message that means something for what's happening at the particular time that it comes to me.  So as I was deciding whether or not to stop "beating a dead horse" (or calf), the words that came to me were this:  "It is no secret what God can do."  

So I fed him yesterday morning and evening.  He showed enough enthusiasm to actually wag his tail as he nursed last night, but that's the extent of it.  

After seeing him so nearly dead (I thought) this morning, I skipped his bottle.  As I left the barn, though, I glanced over at him and saw him attempting to get himself upright.  Well great.  Here we go again.  Now I'll have to fix him a bottle and try to get him up.

Going back to the barn with the bottle I had prepared, the song that came to me was "Whispering Hope".  

Soft as the voice of an angel,
Breathing a lesson unheard;
Hope, with a gentle persuasion
Whispers a comforting word.

Wait till the darkness is over
Wait till the tempest is done...
Hope for the sunshine tomorrow
After the darkness is gone.

Whispering hope
Oh how welcome thy voice,
Making my heart
In its sorrow rejoice.

I got Blackie to his feet and gave him the bottle.  He had more trouble than usual walking as I held the bottle in front of him, but he emptied the bottle.  Obviously laying on his side so long hadn't been good for his hindquarters, and the three calves that had been laying all around him may have laid on his back legs... who knows.  I wouldn't give you five dollars for that calf's chances to ever get well, but as long as he can stand up, and as long as some old hymn comes to mind when I'm tending him, I guess I'll keep on trying.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sidelined, Part 2

If you haven't read part one of the story, feel free to read it HERE.

Just before Rocky decided it was time to move on, a lady sat down at my right on the bench I had claimed as my own.  She listened to the latter portion of my conversation with Rocky, which was mostly about various Democratic candidates from the past, but also included a mention of Hillary.  Rocky suddenly realized people were going in and out of the old depot that was creating our shade, and turns out his wife had asked him to keep watch over it and make sure no vandalism was done while she took a break from her station at the door.  I'm sure at least two dozen folks had entered and left the place during our conversation, but he hadn't noticed them during the preceding forty-five minutes.

The lady, whose name I never asked, mentioned how nice it felt in the shade with the breeze and all, and of course I agreed.  Then she said, "I'm just beginning to feel better again.  I've been under the weather for the longest time.  I have congestive heart failure."

"That's too bad," I said.  "I know there isn't any cure for that; all you can do is treat it as best you can."

She went on to explain that she had really been feeling low, but was sent to a different cardiologist who felt she was on too many conflicting medications and had taken her off several of them, at which time her condition began to improve.  I asked her the doctor's name, and it happened to be Cliff's cardiologist.  Anyhow, he seemed to have done her a world of good, and she considers him a very good doctor.

Here we were having a chat in Lathrop, sixty miles from where I live, and I found out she lives in Odessa, just eight miles south of my home; she has a couple of nephews who will be at the Adrian tractor show next weekend.  That's when she told me her last name, so I could watch for the guys at the show.  It was an unusual name, and I really wish I had written it down.  But I didn't.

Then we got on the subject of Medicare insurance.  She asked what insurance I have, and I told her it's Humana this year, but we usually change every January, trying to keep our costs down.

Without sounding like a prophet of doom, she said she didn't care for Humana:  "I'm a nurse," she said, "and I feel like they killed my mother."  She proceeded to tell me a little about her mother's final days.

"They've done OK for us so far this year," I told her.

"Well, you're younger, and don't have anything major wrong with you."

Because of her soft-spoken, mild manner, something rang true in what she said, and I may indeed change insurance next year.

We discussed gardens, and she said she really misses hers.  I asked her if she knows about Harvesters, and she did.  Her brother helps with the Harvester's distribution.  "So much of the food they have is bad, though," she said.  

That's true.  It's food that stores can't sell because it's past the expiration date, or vegetables and fruit that are past their prime.  Still, a lot of the stuff is usable and good.  I know this because Cliff's brother helps hand out the stuff at his church.  

So this was a totally different type of conversation than the one I had with Rocky, much more laid-back and with a lot more input from me.  The reason I wish I had paid attention to her last name is that I would have been glad to take tomatoes and other excess garden stuff (if there is any) to share with her.  She isn't far away, and Cliff and I are occasionally in Odessa.  

As it is, we were no more than ships passing in the night.  But I like to think she may have been an angel, sent to tell me to get on another insurance plan or to assure me that Cliff's cardiologist is a decent doctor.  


And who knows?  Rocky may have been an angel too.  Angels come in all shapes, sizes, and persuasions, and maybe I needed to be reminded that building Cliff's shop was one of our best decisions; otherwise Cliff would be in Rocky's shoes, wishing he had a shop but being afraid to go in debt to build it. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sidelined at a tractor show

Yesterday Cliff and I went to a tractor show at Lathrop.  Cliff opted not to take a tractor for the show.  We left fairly early, since the forecast predicted a high in the mid-nineties.  It doesn't take Cliff long to wander through all the flea markets and then look at the tractors, and we figured we'd get home by the hottest part of the day.

After we arrived and I was getting out of the car I realized I had forgotten a couple of important items:  My cane-chair and my cell phone.  My spirits sank with the realization that I would never be able to cover the grounds without the cane-chair, which gives me a place to sit no matter where I am.  Obviously I'd be looking for benches to sit on while I looked at tractors with Cliff.  Benches are in high demand at these shows, though, considering about 2/3 of the attendees are of retirement age.  

Cliff and I split up to walk through the flea-market area.  I found a couple of cheap items of interest there, visited with my neighbor Diane who lives down the road and is always at that flea market selling things, and then met with Cliff and strolled with him toward the area where there are other vendors selling all sorts of junk valuable stuff like chains, tools, bolts, and the like.  The heat was already getting pretty intense; I left Cliff's side and walked toward a line of International tractors, and that's when the old depot caught my eye.  There were unoccupied benches along the front of it, and the depot was providing an exceptionally inviting shady spot.  I wish I had taken a picture of such a veritable oasis.  I did take a picture of the tractors I was admiring as I sat there, though.

 You can see what a lovely, protective shade was cast by the depot, and to make things perfect, there was a steady cool breeze.  I fired up the IPad and played a couple of games of Sudoku, looking up often at the people strolling down the line of old tractors.  Before long I saw Cliff; I joined him long enough to tell him what a delightful haven I'd found, then told him to enjoy himself and that I'd look him up later.  

I sat down.  I had turned on the IPad and started a new game when a man about my age approached and said, "Is that an IPod?"  

"It's an IPad," I said.  

He started asking a lot of questions about it.  He hates computers and has no desire to own one, but he would like a device on which he could keep names, addresses, and phone numbers, and also keep notes; he wondered whether he would have to have Internet to do such things on an IPad.  I told him he would not, but suggested he find something cheaper than an IPad for his purposes.  No need to spend a lot of money for what he wanted.  

Then somehow the conversation turned, and I now know more than I ever wanted to know about the guy.  Oh, he was a nice person, he just did more talking that I'm used to, and didn't really give me a lot of chances to converse back.  Here are things I learned about him:  He's a Shriner; he's a member of the Lathrop tractor club, but doesn't have a tractor because he doesn't have a garage where he could work on tractors.  He used to work at the Allis Chalmers combine plant in Independence.  I told him our tractor club president retired from there and gave his name.  Oh yeah, he knows him.  I asked his name so I could tell Bill I talked to him, and he said the people he worked with only know him as Rocky.  Let's see, what else?  Oh, he and his wife were married on Main Street in Lathrop in old-fashioned clothes because it was the town's centennial at the time.  He once got autographs from John Kerry, two big fancy framable autographs... one for himself and one for his wife, but she sold hers for $250 and put a new tile floor in her porch and calls it the John Kerry porch.  He also managed to talk to Bill Clinton and get his autograph, but Bill left the room to do it so others wouldn't see him and want the same favor.  Oh, and the evil Bush family is somehow seeing to it that all of the jobs in this country are going to China.

Oh, I'm just getting started.  He got back to the "I wish I had a garage" and I said, "Well, why wouldn't you build one?  I know you could afford it if you worked at Allis Chalmers for thirty years."  And I explained how Cliff and I went in debt to build his shop and it was the best thing we ever did.  So then he had to tell me how he hates debt, but a few years ago he found a deal on the prettiest pickup in the world and got a loan.  He made several payments on it, and one day got a call from the banker.  I won't stretch the story out like this guy did, but turns out somebody who will forever remain anonymous paid off his loan.  The banker was sworn to secrecy, but said it's someone Rocky knows well.  He's tried to figure it out and has asked different people, but nobody will confess to doing it.  He thinks they did it because he has always tried to help people, especially old folks.  Every morning he drives around town (Lathrop isn't a very big town), gets out of his car, picks up the newspapers thrown in older folks' yards, and takes them to their porches, sometimes even placing it inside their screen doors.

"Well then, you should borrow money and build a garage and maybe the person would pay that off for you too."  

I think that's about the time he decided to move on.

Actually, I did enjoy the whole conversation, and I truly believe he's a nice guy, even if he IS a Democrat and talks a lot (those who know me will realize I jest; I'm equally disenchanted with all political parties).  Just before Rocky left me, a lady came over and sat on my bench, and a whole new conversation started.  That will be another entry. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

New calf on the place, and it isn't mine

Cliff's brother called me several days ago.  One of his cows, an aged one, had birthed a calf.  He had seen the calf following the cow the day after it was born, but had never actually seen it nurse, so he wasn't sure if it had gotten colostrum or not.  Anyhow, three or four days after it was born, Phil found it lying off someplace by itself and the mother was showing no interest at all.  So he got it to the barn and called me for advice on bottle-feeding a calf.  The calf wouldn't get up, so he was bottle-feeding it lying down (a big no-no in my book... if I can't get them up, I tube-feed them).  It would take a few sucks, then spit the bottle out.  He'd force the bottle back in its mouth, it would suck a little... but it would not hold the bottle in its mouth without help.

I gave him what advice I could and thought very little about it for a couple of days.  Then I told Cliff, "I think I should have offered to tend that calf for him until it's to a point where he can sell it."  

Cliff called Phil and told him, and he said he would be right over with the calf.  

Phil has COPD and asthma, and he was having to bend over the calf trying to force-feed it the bottle in this hot weather and having an awful time breathing.  So he and his wife were very happy for my offer.  Meanwhile, when it comes to raising calves, I love a challenge!

I have a way of making a calf stand up whether they want to or not, so while Phil and Faye watched, I made him get up.  I straddled him facing forward and poked the bottle in his mouth, and he behaved in the same way Phil described.  The only difference was that I had him on his feet.  He would not, however, hold the bottle in his mouth and suck for any length of time.  With patience, I was able to get a full bottle down him, which was more than Phil had been able to do.  

So now I was milking half a gallon of milk twice a day from Penny before I turned three calves in with her, and pouring it into a calf bottle.  

There are two kinds of calf bottles.
Most people prefer the bottle on the left:  the top screws on easily and the milk flows freely through the nipple so that the calf is done nursing in about 60 seconds.  I have never cared for that one, though.  It lets the calf get too much milk too fast.  I would rather take a little more time and let the calf get his milk at the speed Mother Nature intended.  The bottle on the right has a snap-on nipple, which is difficult for a lot of people to put on.  I've probably put those snap-on nipples on thousands of bottles in my time, so I'm an expert at it.  Now, when you buy a new nipple it does let the milk through very slowlly, so I always cut the opening a little larger.  Still, it never lets the milk come out as fast as the screw-on bottle does.  I'd say it takes a calf at least five minutes to empty it.

I had a hunch Blackie would do better with a snap-on nipple, but I seem to have lost the nipples for that kind of bottle, so I used the other one.  Today, though, I picked up a couple of those nipples.  Tonight, using a bottle with that nipple, the calf sucked eagerly without me straddling him and forcing him to hold the bottle in his mouth.  If I took the nipple out of his mouth, he came forward searching for it and found it with no help at all from me.  

I love it when things work.  

He's a big, strapping bull calf.  We just want to get him healthy and vigorous enough so Phil can sell him.  He does have one flaw:
His right eye is cloudy.  He seems to be blind in that eye.  

However, in today's market, if he has nothing else wrong with him, he'll bring a pretty penny.  He's 100% beef, and that is a big plus compared to the dairy calves I raise for myself.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

I thought they were goners

I don't usually turn any of my chickens out until three or four o'clock in the afternoon, often even later than that, because that's what my grandma did; I think she had figured out there was less chance of chicken hawks snatching her hens late in the day.  But the kid I babysit and I were working in the garden around 10 A.M. and I decided Mama Hen and her babies looked hot.  I knew we had no plans to leave home today after spending several scorching hours at the zoo yesterday, so either Cliff or I would be outside a good part of the day.  I turned them loose and then turned on the garden tiller and began tilling between the rows to get rid of the weed seedlings.  Baby Girl played, sometimes running up and down rows and sometimes stepping over them.  She shoveled dirt into a bucket and, in general, had a great time.  I kept a good eye on her and tilled away, not giving a thought to the chickens.

In fact, it wasn't until almost lunch time when we were back inside that I thought about Mama Hen and her brood:  She is never too far from our yard these days, and I realized I had not seen her since I first turned her out.  I went looking a couple of times, being sure to check in the open part of the barn where she and the chicks eat beetles like crazy every evening.  Not a feather did I see, nor a cluck did I hear.  And Mama Hen NEVER stops her constant clucking when she has babies.

"I have a bad feeling about this," I said to Cliff.  "Something isn't right.  If something got her, the chicks don't have a chance out in the big world."

We ate dinner and I put Baby down for a nap.  While she was still asleep, I went out and looked in all the usual places once more, being sure to check under the big Spruce trees behind Cliff's shop, because she hung out there often with last years' babies.  I had wondered if perhaps a hawk had swooped down and tried to get her, and maybe she felt safe under the close cover of those tree branches.  I really didn't have to look once I got there, because there was no cluck-cluck-clucking.  

I strolled over to look behind the open shed near the hen's little cottage, started to turn toward the house, and suddenly heard the welcome, distant "cluck-cluck-cluck" I had been yearning for!  

She WAS in the shade of some spruce trees, only she had chosen the five- and six-year-old Norway spruce trees just beyond the garden.  I tried to get her to come to me, saying "chick chick chick", but she wasn't budging.  That verified to me that something had scared her, because she always comes when I call: it usually means I have some sort of treat like stale bread and other leftovers, or chicken scratch grains.  The chicks were complaining.  You can always tell by the tone of their peep-peeping whether they are happy or not.  I got the waterer out of their pen and carried it to their safe spot, where the mood of their peeping changed to happy as they quenched their thirst.  I came to the house and grabbed a couple of left-over biscuits for them and counted them as they were eating:  All nine were present and accounted for.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

I just baptized a hen

But let me start at the beginning.  

My mom always kept chickens during the first twelve years of my growing-up, so I soaked up a lot of knowledge about poultry without even trying.  I played with the hens, sometimes taking a cardboard box and cutting "bars" in it to make a cage.  I usually had one or two chickens that were tamer than the rest as a result of my handling them from the time they were one day old.  

Sometimes a hen "goes broody", which means she quits laying eggs and sits on the nest on eggs the other hens are laying, hoping to hatch out some babies.  If you follow this blog, you know that I currently have a hen outside that I allowed to hatch out some babies.  Once a year is all the baby-chick-hatching I want.  I get tired of trying to keep the pesky varmints from eating them, not to mention it's something extra to chore after.  

During this past week, I had yet another hen go broody.  I only have four hens right now, and one of those is out of circulation because she is raising her babies.  I don't need another slacker in the flock.  I got tired of being growled at and pecked every time I reached under the newly broody hen and decided to "break her up" like my mom used to do:  I put her under an upside-down tote (Mother used a wash tub), weighted it down so it didn't get tipped over, and left her.  When my mom used this method, it only took two or three days in isolation and darkness for a hen to repent and re-join the laying population.

However, this morning I tipped up the tote and she growled at me as only a settin' hen growls.  I totally removed the tote and she promptly flew up to the nest and settled down on it, feathers all puffed out, as though she were setting on eggs (there weren't any eggs there).  She was still wanting to hatch some babies!  I don't recall my mom's method of breaking up a settin' hen ever failing, so I took to the Internet to see if I could find out what I had done wrong.  I found my answer in THIS ARTICLE

When you cover the hen up, she shouldn't have any bedding beneath her.  That feels like a nest, and she just goes ahead setting; the chicken-house floor is covered in wood chips.  Well, I hate to put the old gal in isolation for another three days, with no food and water.  The poor idiotic thing might starve to death!  But as I read the article, I came across this:  
Sometimes by taking her off the nest and dunking her lower half (underside) into a bucket of cool water until her feathers are wet can put her off. This could be a distraction for her as her instinct is now to dry herself off and preen her feathers by which time she may head straight back to the nest, or may have forgotten about the nest.

Hey, it couldn't hurt to try!  I got a bucket of cold water and headed to the hen house.  I don't do things halfway, so I not only dipped her underside into the water... I dipped her clear up to her neck, and then tossed her in with the others.  

She was still making settin-hen clucks, but instead of going to the nest, she went to the feeder and started devouring chicken feed.  I came to the house and told Cliff what I had done, then went to check on her again.  By this time she was on the edge of a nest, cackling her head off, but NOT sitting on the nest.  I decided maybe she needed another baptizing, just to convince her.  So once again I dunked her and returned here to write this blog entry.

She was sitting on the nest.  Obviously the double-baptizing didn't take. 

So, per the instructions in the article, she is now in a cage in a shed with NO soft bedding beneath her.  She's bedraggled from her religious experience, but she'll survive.  Let's hope she isn't too traumatized by all of this.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Who knows why?

There's a quote from the movie "A Christmas Story" that I often think of when Cora is here.  Grown-up Ralphie is talking about his little brother, Randy, and says, "Every family has a kid who won't eat.  My kid brother had not eaten voluntarily in over three years."

The toddler I babysit grows like crazy, so she obviously gets some nourishment somewhere, but the amount of food she eats at my house wouldn't sustain a sparrow;  Nevertheless, at mealtime I dutifully give her a tiny portion of whatever we are having and hope for the best, taking satisfaction in the fact that she at least drinks the milk I pasteurize for her.

I keep a plastic toddler plate here for her that's divided into three sections.  The other day we had potato patties, green beans, meat loaf, and applesauce.  I put a couple of bites of each in her plate.  She actually ate about two bites of potato patty and one taste of applesauce.  Then she proceeded to spoon applesauce from one section of her plate to another.  After moving a couple teaspoonfuls of applesauce to a new section, she got a bite of potato on her fork and dipped it into her applesauce:  "Dip!" she said victoriously, and proceeded, again and again, to dip pieces of potato patty into the applesauce, never once taking a bite, but smiling and saying "Dip!" with each bite.  She  was very happy and proud to be dipping!  

Things like this always make me curious about how her little mind is working.  Did she learn to dip some sort of food at Grandma's house in Iowa?  Have her parents been having chips and dip occasionally?  But why would she decide that potato patties need to be dipped in applesauce?  And why wouldn't she at least taste it after dipping?

Kids.  Who knows why they do what they do?

Monday, June 01, 2015

There's a chicken-killer on the loose

This morning when I went out for chores, it was quiet and peaceful, as usual.  When I was done tending to cows and calves, though, and headed out of the barn toward the house, I heard a hen cackling frantically.  At six in the morning, it's never good news when you hear a chicken sounding the alarm.  The three hens and rooster in the main chicken house had to be safe, because ever since we saw signs of something trying to dig into their pen I have shut them up inside the chicken house at night.  So I was pretty sure Mama Hen had to be the source of the noise, and looked toward her little house.  Sure enough, she was frantically walking around her little pen cackling for all she was worth, and the feeder and waterer had been tipped over.  I set the milk bucket down in the driveway and hurried over there to see what had happened.  There wasn't a baby chick in sight; I could see Mama Hen had put up a good fight with whatever had invaded her space, because she lost a lot of feathers in the process.  I opened the side door to the little house they sleep in and at first saw nothing, but then up against the wall I saw a couple of chicks flattened against the floor not moving a muscle.  That's what chicks do when they are frightened:  They flatten against the floor or ground and stay still; later I found the rest of them actually burrowed under their straw bedding.  After I took my milk inside, I went back to see what could have gotten in.  
The critter left some poop behind.  Cliff and I are guessing a raccoon, but could be a possum.  Perhaps we have been falsely accusing that fox we were trying to trap.  Oh well, we've caught three raccoons now, so if perhaps our efforts at trapping haven't been for nothing.  

There were dig marks on all sides of the pen and house.

This is where he tunneled in.  Now, what perplexed us was the fact that this tunnel wasn't really deep enough to let a raccoon in.  Then Cliff pointed out that a big raccoon could start squeezing under and the house would lift up.  That has to be what happened, because all the evidence points to a raccoon or a possum.  I now have nine chicks instead of eleven.  

I knew I had to figure out something to prevent this from happening again, because the varmint has had a taste of fresh chicken and there's no doubt in my mind he will return tonight.  Finally I came up with the idea of putting some wooden pallet-covers underneath the whole outside pen; there's a floor in the house, so it's dig-proof already.   I thought perhaps we could secure the bottom to the wood somehow so that nothing could dig in.  Cliff, though, had a better idea.

He drove a couple of steel posts between the two pallets and put a wire across the top of the pen, tightening it well.  That door you see at the front of the pen will have to be wired shut, because if you are familiar with raccoons, you know that their little "hands" could easily turn that latch and open the door.  The side door you see the toddler fiddling with will also have to be secured, as well as the nest box door on the back of the house; both of those have a simple hook latch that a raccoon could unhook.  If you think I'm giving raccoons too much credit for intelligence, you've never gone camping in a Missouri state park and left your cooler outside overnight.  

Mama Hen loves to scratch on the ground and call her chickens over to eat the bugs she finds, but she's going to have to settle for living on a board for awhile.  I will probably start turning them out in the evenings before too long, and then they can make up for lost time.