Tim is a cat, but he can talk.  He talks often to us.  I don’t know why I don’t blog about him more often except that he’s a rather private person – er, cat, and doesn’t enjoy having details about his personal habits splayed about the internet.  He has hinted that he doesn’t approve of my blogging on the the grounds that it isn’t respectable, but I persist.  I’m not going to allow myself to be unduly influenced by a mere pet.

Tim has been with us for over 11 years, longer than most of our children.  He came to us as a scraggly young cat, half-grown and sadly unsocialized.  No, he was not homeschooled.  That’s a myth.  Homeschoolers tend to be far better socialized than kittens raised in institutional settings.  He was just shy and unused to human attention and company, and to be quite frank we only allowed him to live with us out of pity at first.  We were pressured into the arrangement, and I’m sure it made him feel awkward about being in our home.

He was too shy to tell us his name, so we took to calling him Tim after a redheaded friend whom he resembled.  I was great with child at the time and if our child turned out to be a redheaded daughter, our redheaded friend Tim was jokingly pressuring us to name the poor babe after him.  We thought the cat was a girl, so it all made sense at the time.  Friend Tim had the newest redheaded Coghlan female named after him, just like he wanted.  Cats like to keep their gender traits hidden, you know.  Most young human males have been mistaken for a female when they answer the phone, and they are quietly affronted.  Cats are quietly triumphant because they have kept you guessing.  It’s all part of the game.

Now that he is more comfortable in his skin, Tim tries to convince us that he’s just a dumb animal, but we know better.  “Just ignore me,” he purrs at us as we prepare to shower.  “I’m only a dumb animal.  Why would I care how you look without your fur?”  But then he winks, and we snatch the towel up higher as we show him the door.

He shows himself in my own bedroom at the most inopportune moments.  If I let him see how self-conscious he makes me, he grins carelessly.  “I’m only a beast, and neutered, at that.  Why should I care how you humans carry on?”  But is it just my imagination, or does he leer as he says it?  I don’t quite trust him.

He’s choosy, like most cats.  When it comes to food, he only eats dry cat chow.  He often expresses interest in our food, but when we offer a taste of meat or milk or other such goods, he is politely disgusted.  “Egads!  I was only curious about what it was you were putting in your mouth.  I didn’t say I wanted to eat the nasty stuff myself!”

The dogs are content – nay, thrilled to drink from the toilet.  The water is cool and clear and plentiful.  Tim, in contrast, prefers glass over porcelain or plastic if he is forced to drink still water.  That is something he will only deign to do late at night, when no one is available to turn on the faucet for him, if we happen to leave a glass of water on the coffee table.  Has has asked for white wine glasses, since a red wine glass hardly seems fit for serving water.

He much prefers running water, and isn’t shy about making demands.  “Water, please,” he says as we pass his perch on the bathroom vanity.  If we don’t hear, he reaches out with claws barely unsheathed and gives a tap.  “Pardon me, old chap.  Would you be so kind as to turn on the cold tap?  A little more – no, too much now.  There, that’s good.  Just leave it on for me.  For heaven’s sake, I’m not going to watch as you do your business.  Get on with it and let me drink in peace.”

Tim is a cat, and we like him in spite of it, perhaps because we often fail to notice that he is a cat.  I think he forgets too, sometimes.

That’s why they call it chicken

You know the game Chicken, right?  Whoever swerves first is the loser.  I always assumed the game was named because the loser was lacking in courage, but maybe not.  Yesterday I found myself playing chicken…with a chicken…and my 4,000 lb. van swerved before she did.  Maybe the game is named Chicken because they’re good at it.

Or maybe I just have some very special chickens.  They’re determined – I’ll grant them that.  They do their chicken thing with zest.  While others complain that chickens don’t lay in the winter, ours never seem to notice sub-freezing weather.  [Light is the key: keep a fluorescent bulb burning in the coop all night.]

The books say that chickens may quit laying for up to 10 weeks while they molt, but ours never even put in a request for vacation time.  They kept right on laying while they molted.  [Plenty of protein: provide high protein lay pellets or mash on demand for quick molts with little or no disruption in laying.]

They do get a little pushy when it comes to food.  Leghorns are good layers and light eaters, but there’s a downside.  I had read that Leghorns are flighty, skittish and difficult to tame.  But now that we finally added Leghorns to our flock, we have more visitors than ever on the deck.  They politely squeeze past me on their way up the steps, and peek inside the front door to inquire if we’ve forgotten to send out the leftovers.  I think they’re even friendlier than the other breeds.  Maybe it’s because they know they’re not good eating.  Like the goose that lays the golden egg, if you kill a Leghorn you’ve got nuthin’.

I have learned one hard lesson.  Next time I’m getting the brown leghorns.  If you have hawks, foxes or dogs with insatiable instincts to chase livestock and/or carry birds (whose idea was it to own an Aussie and a Golden Retriever?!), a little natural camouflage is a good thing.  A white leghorn may as well have a bull’s eye painted on its back.

My chickies

by Becca

My favorite animal out of all our animals which is dogs,cats,gerbils, chickens, snakes and tarantulas is the baby chicks.
They are only 3-4 days old. I like to go down to them whenever I can. They are still covered in fuzz, but the oldest one has little tiny bits of feathers on the tip of its wings.
Here are some pictures of them.  I cropped them in Photoshop and Mom showed me how to Save For Web so they wouldn’t take too long to load.

Meet Gypsi!!

I think I have talked about this a little. I have been wanting a Border Collie for some time, but Australian Shepherds are better family dogs. So after searching the web for a while I found one up in Waco. That’s a long drive from here, so my uncle and aunt who live up there brought her down for me!

She is a black tri-color, 3 1/2 months old, so she likes to chew on things. She’s really curious, so she’s learning fast. Kaitlyn, Mom and I have been teaching her some basic commands like, sit, come stay, and heel.  She adjusted to our large family rather fast, but I think Bess liked her better when she wasn’t so rowdy. 😉
Her full AKC registered name is going to be Gypsi Rover (like the song). I chose between three of my favorite dog names, Ida (we met a family with a really sweet Border Collie with this name), Mona, and Gypsi.

Isn’t she sweet?!?

Babies, babies everywhere; Pregnancy update 37 weeks

No, not my baby.  That particular baby is still right where it belongs at 37 weeks and 3 days.  See?

You think I look small?  You aren’t getting the full perspective!

But we do have lots of other babies underfoot.  We have 8 Golden Retriever pups that turned 6 weeks old over the weekend.  They’re ready to start going to new homes, and I really need to get some cute pics and start listing them for sale at Next Day Pets.

Who wants one?  They are AKC registered, super-socialized, and will be $400 each for boys, $450 for the girls, but we give discounts to our blog friends.  Shipping anywhere in the continental US is about $300 extra.

Aren’t they precious?  Who wouldn’t want one?  Or two, maybe?

And then we have 6 tiny chickie babies, all between 1 and 2 weeks old.  We’re thinking of letting the momma hen loose soon and just keeping the babies in the cage until they’re old enough to fend for themselves.

We could use some advice: If you have brood hens, how and when do you integrate the mother and/or babies into the main flock?

We also have another aspiring mother.  She moved into the other side of the double cage today with 10 marked eggs.  We plan to remove any additional eggs that she lays so that all the eggs she incubates will hatch around the same time, unlike our first mother hen.  Her babies are due just after mine.

And finally, we have a new pet.  After some extensive research, Lydia and Kaitlyn used their savings to buy a 3.5 month old registered Australian Shepherd.

Isn’t she adorable?  This is not just a pet, but an entrepreneurial enterprise.  Gypsi’s grandsire was a champion and her mother is a working dog, so she should be good for breeding.  Lydia will be the primary owner, while Kaitlyn is a silent partner.  Gypsi seems to understand the arrangement, as she already shadows Lydia tirelessly.  We’re excited about training her to help protect our chickens and our future goats, and we’re already delighted by her sweet intelligent disposition.

If you have Aussies, we would love to hear any tips you’re willing to share.

Oops.  I almost forgot that our swallows are back again this year.  We’re always thankful to have their help keeping the mosquitoes under control, and they work even harder when they have 5 babies!

PS. Don’t forget our upcoming Baby Giveaway!  No, we’re not giving away a baby – just having a huge multi-sponsor giveaway to celebrate the arrival of our baby.  Sponsors include:

Details will be posted soon!

Eggs: a lesson in life and death

We have some broody chickens in our hen house.  The Buff Orpingtons in particular think they are ready to be mothers, but they invariably let others have turns in their chosen nesting box, and the result is 18-24 eggs under one hen in the course of 2 days, far more than she can hope to hatch out.

We’ve wasted a lot of eggs this way, mostly when the girls decide without telling me to leave the eggs under one hen.  Usually I catch on within a day or two, when our egg production drops to half of normal because half of the hens are laying in the one box where the eggs aren’t being gathered.

This morning I found 16 eggs under a cranky buff.  I brought them in and not knowing just how old they were, I decided to make custard right away.  I would crack them one by one into a coffee mug and any eggs that showed signs of germination would go right to the dogs.

I cracked 9 warm eggs, one by one.  Six were fit for custard and 3 with small spots of blood went to the dogs.

The next egg held a lot of blood and a tiny chick embryo.  Disgusting, but fascinating.  We fished it out with a fork and examined it.  There were the beginnings of tiny eyes, and what we thought looked like a spinal cord.  We all looked, then tossed it in the dog dish.

A few more eggs went into the custard bowl, and then it happened.

I cracked open an egg and as the yolk slid into the mug I found another embryo nestled in the bottom of the shell – but this one was slightly more developed.  There was one other difference: this one was quite obviously alive.  This one had a beating heart.

I watched for a moment, trapped somewhere between fascination and horror, then called the girls over to see.  The heart kept beating.  The little curled-up baby chick was smaller than a dime, with dark eyes the size of matchheads and tiny buds where his legs and wings would be, but his heart beat clear and strong.  We watched the minutes tick by.  It kept beating, and beating, and beating.  He lay in a puddle of egg white in half of his egg shell, curling occasionally, and his tiny heart beat on.  The Boy asked me why we couldn’t just give him back to his mom.  Eventually, the children moved on to other activities.  After 2 hours, the tiny heart was still beating, and finally somebody ended it.

We eat eggs every day, and we eat meat.  We all know and understand that animals die for us, but this was different somehow.  We wanted to eat the egg before the chick began growing or let it hatch and grow into a chicken.  It hurt and horrified us to waste the life and death of one of God’s creatures, even such a tiny one.  The girls blamed each other for not gathering the eggs soon enough, and some rushed to put the broody hen into a separate cage with her own nesting box where she could work on hatching out the remaining eggs.

Chick embryo development, day by day

Chicken wars

Ever since our VPR – that’s code for Violent Poutry Reduction, from one of our readers.  Cindy, maybe, or Kelly?  Feel free to speak up.  Google and my memory both failed me.

As I was saying, ever since our VPR in which we lost 7 of our 16 hens in one fell swoop, we’ve been forced to ration our eggs carefully.  We haven’t gone back to store-bought, but the 7 daily eggs produced by our 9 remaining hens was just enough for baking and maybe a once-a-week egg breakfast for the family.

That’s why it was such a blessing to learn that our friends were feeling pressed to liquidate most of their flock of laying hens.  Yesterday we welcomed about 9 new hens.  They are of the very breeds that we know and love – Plymouth Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red, and Buff Orpington – along with a couple of White Leghorns, which I was planning to try this year.

We also welcomed one new Barred Rock Rooster.  Perry thought he seemed crankier than our friendly Buff Orpington rooster, but we were willing to wait and see.

Since we had newcomers, we planned to keep all the chickens in the coop for a day or two to make sure they understood it was home.  Unfortunately we failed to communicate this to all the children, and somebody helpfully let them out very early this morning.

When I noticed an hour later that the flock was loose, I went to feed them and check on the newcomers.  I wasn’t too worried about the deviation from our plan.  I didn’t really expect them to wander too far if we made sure they knew the best food source was right there by the coop.  We did wonder if the new hens would recognize the purpose of our nesting boxes, since their previous facilities might have looked different.

As I hoped, the chickens were all hanging near the waterer and the nearly empty feeder, and we even had a few eggs in the laying boxes.  But I did find something unexpected.

This is our Buff Orpington Rooster.  I found him hanging out surrounded by all the girls, old and new.  See anything unusual?  Click through and take a closer look at his head.  It looks like he had a rough morning.

But you should see the other guy.  He was off in the woods with one loyal hen, watching from a distance as the others ate.  We didn’t get a photo until much of the blood had dried, but he’s still looking pretty downtrodden.

For now, they seem to be avoiding each other.  Golden Boy stays around the house, while the battered loser is camped out at the bottom of the driveway with any hens who choose to consort with him.  I wonder what will happen when it’s time to head to the coop tonight?

Why we were late to church

We left the house for church right on time yesterday morning, but I nearly hit a tarantula.

He was right in the center of the narrow country road, and as I passed him I heard myself yell, “Whoa!  That was a tarantula!  Did I hit him?!”  Lydia looked out the back window and assured me that he was still crossing the road (why did the tarantula cross the road?), so I hit the brakes.  We need a male tarantula, you know.  Kaitlyn’s pet Shelob is lonely.

There were 2 cars coming behind us, so I had to keep going until I found a driveway to turn around.  As I headed back, we rummaged around the van for a plan: styrofoam cup, no lid.  Hmmm.  No coffee can for carsick kids…empty Burger King bag?  We had a plan.

We reached the tarantula again, half-expecting to find him squished by the cars that had followed us but he was still standing in the middle of the road, deep in thought.  Maybe he forgot why he wanted to cross and was reconsidering his plan.

I set the styro cup over him and gently slid a notepad under.  He obligingly stepped up onto it.  I felt myself cringe.  He moved!  Ugh!  He moved! A car slowed and swerved to avoid me and the girls noted the grinning driver and his laughing passenger.  I wondered briefly if they guessed what I had gathered in the cup as I held it at arms’ length on my way back to the van.

I felt the cup vibrate gently in my hand.  He moved again!  eeeek! I calmly climbed into the van.

The empty Burger King bag was behind my seat so I twisted around awkwardly to deposit my new pet, a little unsure how to do it.  No kids were volunteering to help.  I lowered the cup and notepad into the bag.  First, I just slid the notepad out from under the cup, expecting him to drop the short distance to the bottom of the bag.  I didn’t feel any movement, so I was suddenly struck by the possibility that he was standing on the notepad in my other hand, which I couldn’t see from my angle.  Maybe he was even crawling up toward my hand.  I held the cup aside and let the notepad drop into the bag.  I peeked in and didn’t see him standing on the notepad.  Uh oh.  Maybe he had dropped in at first, and I just squished him with the notepad.  Nope.  Where was he?

IN THE CUP.  The one that I was carelessly holding upside down off to the side.  I tipped it up and looked inside.  Yup.  Tarantula.  Eeek!

Once I actually knew where he was, it was easy to get him into the bag.  We fastened the top with a hair pony and were back on the road.  The whole event didn’t take more than 5 minutes.

We were 4 minutes late to church.

Oh, did you want to know the answer to the question?  “Why did the tarantula cross the road?”

Female tarantulas live a very long sedentary life, hidden in burrows.  Male tarantulas spend their very short adult life tirelessly searching for females.  This guy was out hunting for a woman.  He met Shelob last night, and they will probably get together again several times over the coming weeks.  Maybe we’ll have 50-200 cute little baby tarantulas in a few months.  Who wants one?

Chicken update

I mentioned in a recent post that our 18 hens were only laying 1-2 eggs/days, and I blamed the lack of daylight.  I had read that hens need 14-17 hours of light for optimum laying.

Well, less than a week after I finally installed a light in the chicken house, their egg production more than doubled to a whopping 4 eggs per day! Maybe it’s not quite that exciting, but it’s definitely an improvement and it costs us very little since I used a fluorescent bulb .  If we tried, we could probably get by on that without buying eggs from the store, though I don’t think we’ll want to do that.  We do tend to eat a lot of eggs and even store-bought ones are an inexpensive source of protein.

We’re hoping production will continue to rise a bit, but we don’t have mature hens (they’re less than a year old) and we don’t have the very best laying varieties either.  We did get a new sort of egg yesterday – brown with tiny green specks all over it – and it was the 5th egg of the day!  We don’t expect to get more than 6/day until the spring.

That’s fine, because after the initial investment they’re costing us very little.  They live on our scraps, our land, and a bag of laying pellets every 3 or 4 weeks – that’s all they want, because there are so many scraps.  And some of the breeds we chose do tend to be broody, so we’re hoping they will hatch out future generations for us, which means little to no investment in new stock for years to come.

Now if we could just convince them to hang out somewhere other than right under the house.   The cooler weather has discouraged the flies now but they were awful during the summer!  That’s the downside to our friendly hens.  They want to be near us.  Some even come up on the deck to join us, but we shoo them away.  One used to jump into the van whenever the children got in.  Silly chickens.

Just one puppy boy left…

…and he’s the sweetest guy ever!

I’ve heard that pups left with their mothers longer than the standard 6-8 weeks learn better manners and are more gentle than those that go to new homes sooner.  The theory says that their mother schools them in doggie manners, teaching them not to play too roughly, where to relieve themselves, etc.

I was a little skeptical the first time I heard it, but you have to meet our last pup.  At 12 weeks, he has none of the crazy wildness one expects from a high-energy breed like Golden Retrievers.  He is gentle enough to trust with the baby, and has been almost completely housebroken by his own mother – though he’s not entirely averse to using a back corner of the bedroom if we miss his signals.  Ahem.

But here’s the best part:  we accidentally left him alone in the house for 10 hours over the weekend, and came home to…no surprises.  He didn’t chew anything.  Didn’t get into the trash, even though he was desperately hungry by the time we got home.  We found a couple of accidents, but he could hardly help that.  The only surprise was that there were no surprises.

We had a couple of inquiries about his ad yesterday, so I took him out on the deck for a photo shoot.  The hardest part was narrowing down the results.  Isn’t he handsome?

PS. Just in case you might be interested, Duke is AKC registered and for sale for $400, though we’ll give readers a special $50 discount.  He can be shipped to any major airport in the continental US for an add’l $300.