Archive for July, 2012

Day in the Life

The one thing you can count on when working with animals is a lot of weird surprises.  These last two weeks have been characterized by a steady trickle of the strange and unexpected, non-stop distraction from my regularly scheduled programming.

I’d just started prioritizing my intimidating to-do list Monday morning when I got word that the trap had somehow simultaneously detained three baby raccoons.  I put down my list and loaded the gun, but, once face to face with the three little fellows, my not-so-steely rancher resolve failed me. There was no way I could pop an absurdly cute baby animal, with those huge beguiling eyes and clever little hands, reaching through the cage bars with such hope. Even if they weren’t adorable,  I couldn’t shoot one while it’s siblings watched in horror, anticipating their own violent ends. I hauled them into the truck and chauffeured them to up national forest land, driving forty minutes until I found an appropriately scenic stand of aspens next to a burbling brook. The next morning, to my utter disbelief, I found the second half of the litter awaiting me, having all piled into the trap before anyone set off the latch release. I really wish I’d staked to trap out to witness their staggering feat of gullibility!

Every month or so a coon (or a family of them) figures out that we have a pen full of helpless, mentally disabled free lunches, well worth a few zaps from the electric fence or the persistence to stick around until someone forgets to turn the fence on. Trapping the coons who develop a habit really cuts down poultry fatalities, and I don’t have an issue disposing of them as they’re invasive and disrupt the ecosystem. I would have thought releasing coons into the forest is illegal, but learned on the DOW website that hunting, “taking,” and relocating is allowed for almost every species of wildlife around here including coons, weasels, and bobcats.  Interestingly enough, you’re also quite within your rights to kill a bear or lion without a tag if they’re threatening a person, a motor vehicle, or livestock with “injury or death.” Oddly enough, the regulation clearly specifies that you are not allowed to harm these predators to save a pet, so make sure to tell the officers the lion/bear was putting your Vespa in mortal danger and Fluffly just happened to get in the way.

I was next sidetracked by a rash of pasty-butt amongst the 4 day old laying hen chicks, a typical reaction to stress. Due to a felon-on-the-loose high-speed car chase, the highway was closed the same day their mail truck was passing through, and our box of chicks ended up bypassing the Valley altogether and spending an extra night in Junction (felons are nothing but trouble). Pasty butt ensued three days later, likely caused by probiotic die off from the prolonged GI dormancy of travel. Up there on the top 783 Reasons I’m Glad I’m Not a Chicken is the fact that gluey fecal matter can kill a chick in 48 hours simply by barricading their feathery poop chutes.

Some of the 2nd grade campers were unexpectedly enthusiastic to assist with the emergency bum soaking, and swirled the chicks’ bottoms in warm water as best they could with 2nd grade motor skills. Some of the chicks got a little damper than strictly necessary, but no one drowned or suffered adverse affects from all the squeezing. They may have giggle-induced hearing damage, but will survive another day with happily poop-free vents! After treating 35 chicks from the last batch myself one fun friday night, it was actually very helpful to have all the extra hands, and certainly nice to have all that excitement and satisfaction surrounding such a disgusting chore. Important lessons about the sanctity of life, the value of persistance, and how to gently extract shit from feathers were learned by all.

I supplemented the chicks diet with a little plain greek yogurt, lots of dirt, and some Braggs ACV, and they’ve had nice clean tushes ever since.

Just as I was finally getting some momentum on cleaning my feed bins, some camp kids reported a chicken with an eye issue. Sure enough, one of the 10 month old Whiting blue egg layers had an eye that was swollen shut, pus leaking out from the angry red lids, and was obviously in a lot of pain. In another glaring lapse of ranching rationality, I took her in to the vet to see if anything could be done. In the mean time, the kids made her a hideous get well sign and decorated her temporary hospital cage.  She was christened Barbara, and I have treated her with two or three medications four times a day for the last two weeks, cleaned her cage twice a day, and all in all invested far more time and money into this rather ugly chicken than she will ever make us in eggs, provided she even regains enough vitality to lay and isn’t picked off by a coon in the mean time.

The swelling finally resided after a frustratingly slow response to all the medications, and we could get a better look at what was going on in there. The eye had been destroyed by an abcess and I opted for…surgery. Surgery for a chicken. Dear lord. The vet put her under with some ROMP and a tiny gas mask over her crooked little beak, scooped everything out of the orbit, and stitched it shut. Nothing left in the socket by the time of the operation remotely resembled an eye ball, and she should heal up quickly now that all those funky chuncks of tissue are removed.

Chicken surgery wasn’t my only exciting first time experience this week.  I also learned a lot about lice. And mites. And fleas. Because Barbara gave me a selection of hers.  Thankfully, though they’re itchy and really freaked me out, poultry parasites can’t survive on humans, so they were just temporary guests.  Barbara is not so lucky and is undergoing powder treatments and ivermectin injections for her avanced infestation. I’m sure she feels completely shitty, poor girl.  In retrospect, should I have just chopped her head off? Yes, without a question.  We spent $119 on her even with our HUGE discount from our wonderful vet (John Kuck at Willits Vet Hosp, who I can’t recommend highly enough), and she’s endured a lot of pain and discomfort.

On the other hand, on a non-profit, educational farm, there is no small value in unique animals with memorable life stories. We have George Washington Jr, a tiny hen who battled a weasel and survived despite her horrific injuries. King Louie the 9 year old turkey lost three toes to frostbite one winter long ago. DiVinci, the three-legged turtle was found dragging himself across a road, a pet released into the wrong ecosystem to die a slow death. LouAnn, the bitchy goat who should have died from a bone infection in her fractured tibia, but miraculously went from dead lame to completely sound the moment her three gorgeous kids were born. Big Willie, who almost died of obesity but now cuts a fine figure trotting around his pasture and intimidating his daughters’ boyfriend.  Sheena, who lost her family of wild turkeys and adopted our eclectic mix of heritage poultry as her flock.  And now One Eyed Barbara, a story of persistance and fortitude. Some of the children have told me they believe her eye got infected because she was scratched by a mountain lion. Barbara has shown so much bravery in all her trips to the vet, needle sticks, stinging eye drops, and medical procedures surrounded by noisy strangers, that their tale just might not be too far from the truth.

One Eyed Barbara, Yarrr