The Big Apple Circus

The Big Apple Circus is my happy place. Every April, it sets up it’s big top in Boston. The clown is gentle and funny, the acts are astounding, there’s a live band, and there are performing animals – done right. The species used – rabbits, dogs, goats – can be properly cared for in the traveling circus environment. In fact, they seem to thrive on the close contact and relationship with their people.

These were the most relaxed and content camels I’ve ever seen. Granted, I’m not a camel expert, but I’ve seen surly camels. These two plodded along, their lips relaxed. They didn’t have to do any spectacular tricks to impress the audience. Padding along on their big soft feet was enough.




The goats, though, did have a few tricks to do.

Goat trick



Perhaps Pip and Caper need a couple of mini horses to ride on?

goats on ponies



(Note Jenny Vidbel’s costume. Very clever. Multiple pockets were hidden in the folds, each filled with appropriated treats for each species.)

This circus is a rarity. I don’t like seeing big cat acts, or side-shows with rare and “dangerous” animals. But, how nice that the children (and we adults) in the audience could get a whiff of camel, hear the snort of a horse, and see a couple of silly goats.

Uncovering the Damage

It is Spring. We are a few days away from April.

This is what my backyard looks like:

snow in yard


There will be no cool-weather crops for me. No lettuce, kale and spinach planted in the raised beds. Possibly no peas. I still can’t open the gate to the vegetable garden.

vegetable garden


It’s official. Not only has this been the snowiest winter on record (the measurements have been kept since the mid-1800s) but we’ve also had the most snow pack. There were no thaws between the storms. The snow kept piling up.

Recently, though, the temps have risen and rain has fallen. The snow is receding. This allows me to assess the damage.

The vintage children’s Adirondack chair is broken beyond repair.



The 1970s laboratory sink that is outside of the Big Barn filled with snow, and then ice, and cracked into pieces.



The hawk netting above the Little Barn’s pen has sagged and ripped and will need repair and possibly replacement. The fence around that run has buckled.

coop fence


This fence will need to be rebuilt. That can’t happen until the ground is totally free of snow. Unfortunately, this is the fence that keeps stray dogs off the property, and our own dogs (as well as free-ranging chickens and goats) in.

downed fence


All of these things can be replaced and repaired. What I’m grateful for is that all of my animals have come through the winter. The hens have been doing social feather-picking, but that’s not causing any real harm. Even Opal, who was poorly for awhile, is back to her robust self.



Now, if only the sun would shine. But this is Monday. It’s snowing, of course.

The Beast Emerges!

This is a good news post.

All winter, the Beast, the humungous 12-year old koi that lives in the water feature, has lived in a state of suspended animation. Late in the fall, when the water temperature drops to around 40° F, she slows down and stops eating. As the pond freezes over, she stations herself in her cave and waits out the winter. She swims just enough to stay upright.

The pond has a pump that moves water through the gravel on the far side, up through the hole in the 17-ton rock, and down into the pool where the fish swim. Then the water is pulled into the pump and is circulated again. This keeps the water under the top layer of ice from freezing and adds oxygen to the mix.

There were times, this winter, when Steve had to go out and break the ice from the top of the rock in order to keep the water flowing. There were times when we couldn’t even see the top of the rock! (It’s there, to the right of my son.)

pond under snow


At one point during this winter’s deep freeze, the pump broke. Removing the broken part and replacing it was difficult. It took Steve a couple of days. We worried.

The snow finally began to recede. The surface of the pond became visible. I looked through the ice and could see the smaller goldfish – I call them the Beast’s minions. But no Beast. I worried. Had she grown so large that the cave was now too small for her to safely wait out the winter? Predators can take a slow moving fish, but there were no tracks in the snow around the pond. Neither was there a dead body visible (a terrible thought, but one that of course comes to mind.)

It rained yesterday and is raining today. Rain. Not snow, not sleet. This morning the ice was gone from the pond. And there she was.

pond with beast


The Beast has emerged from her winter slumber, with her minions at her side.



This remains a white springtime, but there’s a hint of gold and peach in my backyard. Beautiful.


Not A Good Sign Of Spring

There is still two feet of snow on the ground, and more in piles shoved by plows and blown by wind. But, we’re also seeing patches of bare ground. Dead leaves are visible under the wood pile. Grass is visible circling tree trunks. These hints of springtime are welcome. But, the warmth awakens things that have rested protected under the snow cover.

On Sunday night, Lily’s face swelled up. Her lips thickened to three times their normal size. Her eyelids drooped. Her chin sagged. This came on suddenly. She did what she always does when she doesn’t feel well – she hid under my desk and blamed me. Pointing a camera at her stresses her out, and so I took this quick one, which doesn’t clearly show the extent of the swelling, but you can see how she feels about it!




Lily could still breathe and eat. There was no sign of injury. Her teeth looked fine. It was 11 pm. I gave her a Benadryl and we went to bed. In the morning her muzzle was turning black. We went to the vet.

discolored muzzle


Dr. Sarah is the rare medical practitioner who is both practical and intuitive. She looked Lily over. Lily’s temperature and breathing were fine. This wasn’t an old dog illness as I had feared. The issue was localized to the muzzle. Dr. Sarah knows Lily, she knows that my dog is a hunter and a protector. The best guess was that Lily surprised an emerging spider. A shot of steroids and another of Benadryl were administered. No invasive and expensive testing was done. If Lily didn’t recover by that evening, then Dr. Sarah would investigate further. But we didn’t have to return to the vet’s office. By Tuesday morning, Lily was back on the job.



Lily will be twelve years old on April 1. Such a good farm dog, even if she does sometimes stir up trouble.

Nesting Box Bedding

For the last twenty years, I’ve used the same material in my chickens’ nesting boxes – pine shavings. They’re inexpensive, soft, absorbent and easily cleaned. The chickens can move them about to create the sort of depression that they like to settle down on. I once tried paper from my office shredding machine, but it stuck to the damp eggs. I don’t like straw because a) I don’t want to have to buy a bale and store it, and b) chicken manure gets stuck to it, and then the eggs get dirty. The same with hay.

However, just because I’ve done something for two decades, doesn’t mean that I’m not open to doing things differently when my animals tell me that a change is necessary.

Phoebe’s den is underneath the nesting boxes in the Little Barn. It’s where she sleeps at night and naps during the day. It’s her haven away from the antics of the chickens and their big feet. Her rabbit pellets are there, and her hay, which she fashions into a soft cushion, and nibbles on as well (yes, she eats in bed!) There are granite blocks that allow her access, but keep the chickens  out. This set-up has worked perfectly for three years.



During this winter of the deep snow and the deep freeze, I provided Phoebe with extra hay. The hens noticed. Come February, when laying resumed, I found Phoebe in a corner of the coop, and Nancy Drew busily rearranging the rabbit’s den and turning it into her nesting box. I extracted the chicken and rearranged the blocks, thinking that I could keep a large, fat hen out of Phoebe’s place. Not so. Nancy squeezed back in.

I thought this through. What did the hen want? I guessed that it was the hay. I put some in one of the nesting boxes. Nancy, delighted not to have to deal with Phoebe, or wiggle her way into that den, hopped up and proceeded to lay where I wanted her to. Phoebe, with relief, had her place back.

Do you see Phoebe ensconced underneath? All is right with her world again.

eggs in hay



So I tried an experiment in the Big Barn. There are five nesting boxes. I put hay in one. This is what I found the next day. Obviously, hens prefer hay.

shavings hay


I still believe in using pine shavings, and if I didn’t have a rabbit’s den of hay to protect, I wouldn’t use hay for the chickens. But, if you have difficulty getting your hens to lay in your nesting boxes, (perhaps you have one that lays on the floor, or hides her eggs in the run) try hay. Let me know how your girls like the change.