There’s not much to report here. When you have animals, that’s a good thing.
The weather has been mild. Still, it is winter and the pond has a growing sheet of ice.
The fish are in suspended animation, but the grass remains green, and the goats and hens are still able to have outings. The goats are wearing their heavy winter coats. These Nigerian Dwarf goats do seem impervious to weather. In the summer they handle hot temperatures with ease, and in the winter they don’t seem to notice it when the thermometer is in the single digits. It’s this between seasons time that I worry. So far, though, they don’t seem to mind being overdressed for the weather.
The hens have settled into one cohesive and peaceful flock. I don’t see any conflicts or dominance posturing beyond an occasional wing flap when treats are tossed.
Phoebe is ever so happy to have the Little Barn to herself. She has frequent hop-arounds with the goats.
Lily is showing her age. She’s developed a bit of a hearing loss and doesn’t always notice when I come home. For the first time in 12 years, she’s not always there to greet me at the door. But she’s still letting me know when the UPS truck drives by.
And Scooter? He does what he always does.
So, “not much to report” is good news, indeed. Wishing you a “not much to report” end of 2015 and a very Happy New Year!
The weather has been unseasonably warm. The air is damp from rain. You might think I’m happy that winter hasn’t hit yet, but I’m not. I worry about the animals. This is the time of year when respiratory disease decimates backyard flocks. To understand why, it helps to know a bit about bird anatomy. A chicken’s lungs are different from ours. Avian lungs are small and fixed to the rib cage. Air is pushed in and out not with a diaphragm, but with air sacs that act like bellows. (As an aside, this is one reason why fat hens, and those with tumors and ascites, die – their lungs can’t function when crowded and wet.) For an excellent explanation of a chicken’s respiratory system, read this piece put out by eXtension. To see an animation of how birds breathe, watch this. The entire film is fascinating, but start at 6:19 to learn about the avian lungs.
So, why do I think that early winter is a danger zone for your flock’s respiratory health? People tend to slack off on coop cleaning during the winter. It’s not fun when the mornings are frosty, and besides, the stuff doesn’t smell as bad in the cold. So manure gets left in the shavings, gets shred up by the hens’ big feet, and becomes dust that hangs in the air. In the winter, even early on when the days get above freezing, coops are closed up more tightly than the summer. Windows are shut. Ventilation is reduced. There are fewer hours of daylight so the flock stays indoors more, defecating, and breathing in air that’s filled with dust and damp particles. That’s enough to weaken a hen’s respiratory system. Add a few wayward germs and you have a recipe for a full-out disease outbreak in your flock.
I counter this by being hyper-conscientious about manure management. Each morning, when I let the Girls out, I take my fine-tined basket pitchfork and remove the piles from under the roosts. On a day like today, when there’s little wind, I open the barn. The big doors are left open all day.
Fresh air is the first line of defense against respiratory diseases. In the winter, it’s more important than ever.
George is one of my clients. He’s developed a skin condition on his legs. It’s very itchy.
George thanks me for my care.
Animals do express gratitude, but we humans are often dull to what they are telling us. One reason that my animals talk to me is that I stay focused on them. I often see people at the barn talking with their friends while grooming their horses. I prefer to socialize only with my horse. (Later I’ll chat with my human friends.) Maybe it comes from those years of not being able to hear very well. I had to listen hard to the one being that I was trying to communicate with. Horses are not verbal, they’re all about touch and nuances of movement. I could “hear” them. Pay close attention. There’s a lot they’re telling you by a shift in weight and the flick of an ear.
The inside of George’s legs itch. I rub with a sisal mitt and I can feel him slightly press against my hand. His head drops. His lip relaxes. He looks at me with a soft eye. He’s told me Yes, there. He reaches around and blows on me, eyes relaxed, ears to the sides. George says Thank you.
Many people believe that you create a relationship via training. I agree that you can open lines of communication and build trust, especially if you train using a marker and food rewards. (Often called clicker training.) But, if you don’t listen, even that training can be stressful, ineffective or anxiety-provoking. Don’t even begin until you know how your horse says thank you.
The Beast, my old koi, lives year round in a large water feature with her minions (goldfish and goldfish/koi crosses.) The pond has a pump designed to circulate water in all seasons. Even when the surface freezes, below the ice there’s fresh, oxygenated water for the fish. However, as we head into winter, there are adjustments to make. Koi shouldn’t eat when the water gets too cold because their metabolism slows down and they can’t digest food. If their stomachs are full of food when it’s cold in the pond, they’ll burst from the activity of microbes in their guts. So, when we see frost on the ground, we start to monitor the temperature of the water. When it gets below 50°F we switch to a fall feed. When it gets below 39°F we stop feeding altogether.
The Beast continues to swim around the pond, but we’re no longer tossing her fish food.
However, others continue to want to eat in the pond. This time of year we see transient migratory Great Blue Herons.
This one got in as deep as it could.
The Beast knows what to do. Do you see her peering out from her cave? She’s survived for the last dozen years. Savvy fish.
I made lemon pie. I squeezed out the juice with this tool (if you use citrus in cooking, it’s a must-have.) I was left with a bowl full of rinds. The chickens don’t like them. Citrus peels don’t compost easily – after six months they’re still visible, lumpy in the bin. But I have two boys who can’t get enough of them.
Pip is the goat that eats things he shouldn’t (let’s hope he never tries rhododendrons again!) so just because he’s enthusiastic about them, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for him to help clean up the peels.
Caper is the cautious, smart goat. He doesn’t eats what he shouldn’t. He loves lemon peels, too.
I would never have thought of giving the goats citrus, but a friend who’s an experienced dairy goat keeper told me that it’s a treat that they wag their tails for. She was right.