Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Article is Out!!!

The Budget Travel article on Botswana is out - the June issue is on newsstands! Check it out! BT is my favorite magazine and has great travel deals every month. I recommend it to everyone - even before they let me write an article for them!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Animals in Unexpected Places

Lately I have been *very* stressed and busy. One of the nice things about the animals is they provide comic relief. They have been turning up in unexpected places. I was digging an irrigation ditch and looked up to find Arthur on top of the chicken coop. He likes to climb up there and eat the leaves off the tree branch - you can see the one he has stripped already. He is proud of himself for outsmarting the other goats, you can tell!

Lizzie and Oscar love hiding in kitchen cabinets, and if I take out a drawer, when I go to put it back, there is almost a guarantee a kitty will have taken it over. Here is Lizzie helping me as I am trying to start packing for Australia - taking up a space in one of the dressers.

Oscar got himself into one of the new kitchen cabinets but couldn't get out. When I heard a thumpy sound that didn't go away it turned out to be him asking for assistance, not the washer or dishwasher going off kilter.

I am off to Australia on Saturday and will be blogging again as of June 17th, so stay tuned for animal photos and stories from down under! I have tried to plan a wildlife and outdoor centered
trip so we'll see how it goes!

Monday, May 19, 2008

New Chicken Coop!!

I wanted to build a predator proof chicken coop - the Fort Knox of chicken coops, actually. I also wanted them to have a large, fenced and secure run so that they can run around when not allowed to free-range - like on my upcoming trip when they will more or less be in the run three weeks with very limited free range opportunities. I decided to convert an old dog run that was here when I moved in. It's roughly 5' wide and about 20' long, and it had chain link around it and a concrete pad, and a "dog house" built into a shed that is really just a plywood box you can open if you need to from inside the shed. Unfortunately, a tree has grown through the chain link in a couple places, a few metal bars were missing, and there were some holes in it (at one point it appears someone cut a dog sized hole out of the fence, and I would love to know the story on that).

I ended up making a frame over the top of the dog run by laying old PVC pipe every few feet and stretching chicken wire over it. Everything is affixed by cable ties, the goal being that there is a completely secure enclosure and inside that, a completely secure chicken coop.

I wanted the chicken coop door to open and close automatically on a timer, so I don't have to worrywhen out of town that the girls are being tucked in and untucked at a decent hour. Unfortunately, the only door on a timer I could locate was in England. I ordered it, and so far, so good. It does work very nicely. You can get it to operate on solar or a timer. Now, theoretically, I could be gone for a weekend and the chickens could be safe and sound.

The coop has high nest boxes due to making room below for food and water storage, and the door. So far the chickens haven't used it - they didn't want to go in last night. They are creatures of habit and I am hoping this is just a new routine they need to get used to. I manually tucked them in last night (with assistance, as someone has to block the door while I add chickens). This morning the timer opened the door and Samantha peeked out. I gave her and Athena, first ones up, some scratch grains and when I went out later everyone was up. So hopefully they will make it a new home quickly. The food and water is in there so they should go in - and I left the food/water door open today so it isn't dark inside. We used an old ladder to make roosts (very nice!) and they have everything they need. It is insulated with old political campaign signs that are corrugated plastic and trap air. It has a Boston top for ventilation (screened). Overall it is very well built (by a local framer).

I designed the bottom to drop down for easy cleaning, and I lined it with a tarp and cedar shavings. I should be able to drop it, take up the tarp and lay a new one every few months as needed. The nest box part is not insulated, nor is the door, but the rest is. It will have a heat lamp for winter, and I use a dog bowl that's heated to prevent the water from freezing in winter. All in all, it should function if I can just get the ladies to lay in the boxes and to see it as home, not a strange new place. It is also elevated to maximize their roaming area in the pen. They have tons of space - but they clearly love being free best of all.

I had the pastures corrugated Saturday to allow better irrigation and WOW I wish I had done that a long time ago! I get GREAT coverage! The chickens love it and cruise way far into the pasture getting the best bugs. The horses are learning to walk on the top parts and avoid the ditched altogether, which is cool. And the coverage is good enough that in fall or next year I can re-seed and know I can get water - this will allow me to vastly improve my pasture over the next year. While I lose some space corrugating, I more than gain it by watering previously dry areas - plus I spare dust and mud! I'm a tad worried about the existing grass but the corrugator man said it will grow back through the dirt over it now and I have no reason to doubt him.

As I cable tied chicken wire and dug ditches all weekend I marveled that I actually like this stuff. It never seems like work, running the ranchette is just fun and a challenge!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pandas, Tigers, Lions, Chickens and Kangaroos....

These animals are all related only in that they are all in my thoughts right now for different reasons. I have been horribly amiss in blogging of late, as things have been crazily busy. A quick catch-up post is in order.

First, although the quake in China is devastating and the NPR reports heartbreaking, there is a little good news: the pandas are okay so far. There is a panda breeding center in Chengdu. See the story here. Whenever there is a tragedy, we focus on the impacts to people, but there are also impacts to animals and its nice to see them get news coverage. Animals in captivity can be hit the hardest as they can't flee or fend for themselves if their captors don't set them free.

In Burma, I have been wondering how the tigers fared with the cyclone. Burma is home to a small populations of very rare tigers and I have not heard any reports of whether they were impacted. I expect it will be awhile before anyone knows, given the problems of access to that country and the overwhelming loss of human life.

My article on Botswana, Namibia and Zambia should be available soon in the June issue of Budget Travel. When I have time, I'll post photos of the trip on the blog that were not used with the article. I saw many new species and am looking forward to being able to blog about the trip at some point. I miss Africa even though I was there just three months ago. I was picking out some flowers the other day and I noticed some available that I saw growing in the wild in Africa - it's neat to know where they came from.

The pet menagerie is doing well. Gwen is 100% better and other than some lost feathers you would never know she had such a close call. She resumed egg laying after about 10 days. I am having a fenced run and new, larger and secure coop built for them and I will put up details on that in the next few days. The goats, horses, dogs and cats are all doing well too.

As for kangaroos, it's only a week until our Australia trip. I am excited to get to another continent and hope to have some great interactions with wildlife there to report on in June when we get back.

I haven't been blogging as I was too busy finishing the kitchen remodel, taking care of the pet kids, and gearing up for the wedding and the trip. The wedding in particular has been a source of a lot of humor, but not animal related, unfortunately. As it turns out I am horribly ill suited to interacting with the retail wedding world. I had no idea that you have to shop for dresses by appointment only, that a "not white" dress can be interpreted as an off white dress (champagne, ivory, ecru, diamond, etc....not blue, red, green, etc.), that you are expected to order cakes, flowers and clothing six months in advance, etc. The industry is keyed up for people who care far more than I do about all those things. Every time I have shopped I have thought about how much I would rather be home with the goats, or any of the other animals! It will be nice to get past all that stuff and get on to the koalas and kangaroos.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Gwen Beats the Odds!

One week after being attacked and dragged around by a fox, Gwen is nearly 100% better. She had her stitches out thtis morning and took her last dose of antibiotics. She seems to have energy and to be pretty healthy and happy. She is no longer woozy or ataxic, she doesn't spend long periods resting as though in a daze, and she does show strong and normal interest in food and water. She has even laid two eggs this week, though perhaps those were in the queue and it will be awhile before she lays more, I don't know. She has been hanging out all week in a special run I built her with her best friend, Athena. This weekend I started putting her back with Sarah and Samantha under supervision to see how she does and if they'd pick on her. IT went really well and the whole flock is back together again.

I'm working up plans for a new coop in an old dog kennel with a concrete foundation. That would give the four chickens a run of about 6' x 22' plus a coop and they could come and go from the coop and run as desired except for being shut in at night. I'll make a door in the run into the pasture so they can free range too, assuming I am around. I also decided to plant some trees and bushes in the pasture to provide better coverage from hawks and to give the goats more variety in what to eat.

I'm very happy Gwen has pulled through! Twice this week I saw the fox that attacked her, coming by early in the morning. This morning I saw what I believe to be a different fox (see photo). I watched this one hunt gophers and cruise the canal for over an hour. I learned the chicken alarm call for the fox and watched the girls go on alert, Sarah in charge but everyone on alert.