August 26th, 2012 §
I never finished the story begun in early June, in which broody Iris got her wish to sit upon a clutch of eggs.
That they were guinea eggs was no matter. She settled herself into her cardboard nestbox inside Tucker’s old puppy crate and hardly moved for almost a month. I’d lift her off the nest to get her to eat a few seeds. She’d take an occasional drink. Her comb and wattles grew pale from dehydration and lack of food. She sat tight.
And then on June 23 I went into the garage and saw this:
A wee little guinea keet, still wet from the egg! And there were more!
And one was still hatching. I set up vigil in the garage along with Tucker and my mom and we waited for hours, watching this keet being born.
Neither my mom nor I had ever watched a bird hatch, and it was one of the neatest things I’ve ever seen. Iris and even the sibling keets pecked at the shell, helping to free the baby. And did you know that birds have umbilical cords? They do—little tiny dark threads that look like a piece of hair.
It soon became clear that the keets were too small to be contained in the dog crate. I placed an emergency call to Dad, and he delivered a couple of wonderful ready-made coops from Tractor Supply. Thanks, Dad! I am very grateful that this event happened on a Saturday when I was home. Otherwise I would have missed the show but more importantly the baby keets would have fled the dog crate and no doubt met an unfortunate end in the garage.
Here you can see the egg tooth on the upper beak of this keet. The egg tooth helps a baby bird break out of the shell, and it disappears soon after birth.
When it seemed as though all hatching was complete, I moved the family into their new coop, under watchful supervision.
And Mama Iris got to work teaching her babies how to eat and drink.
Ten out of the thirteen eggs I’d placed under Iris hatched. The last keet to hatch had something wrong with it, and it was never able to properly stand. After a day of watching it suffer and slowly starve, I euthanized it. So I had nine baby keets—not bad for rather unscientifically collecting eggs and storing them in my guest room closet for a week! Next, the keets grow up!
August 23rd, 2012 §
Last Saturday Tuck and I climbed a mountain. We hiked ten and a half miles up the north fork of the Moorman’s River in Shenandoah National Park, starting in Sugar Hollow and ending up on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Blackrock Gap trailhead. It’s a hike I’ve done parts of all my life, but I’ve never gone all the way to the top of the mountain and always wanted to. It was a beautiful day, especially for the middle of August in Virginia, and Tuck was a model trail dog, running ahead but always staying within sight and frequently waiting or trotting back to check on me. He nicely greeted the friendly dogs we came across on the hike, and studiously ignored the neurotic yappers that could barely be contained by their owners.
And, he got to swim and chase sticks in the water at every hole we came across. A good day for both dog and me.
August 22nd, 2012 §
Isn’t this scene the start of some fairytale? Or paperback romance about a wayfaring stranger tempted off the trail by the scent of home-baked pie?
I’ll let you know how it turns out!
(the stranger, not the pie, which I already know will be good!)
August 20th, 2012 §
I hope all the maimed chicken photos aren’t turning anyone’s stomach. It’s just that I find it fascinating that a bird that I thought I watched die in front of me not only lived, but has managed to live with no skin covering her skull for almost a month.
Further, after Cora’s injury I did lots of internet searching for “chicken head wound” and other, even more disgustingly descriptive terms. I was trying to gauge her prognosis compared with similar injuries, and just about everything I read reported that her odds weren’t good. The wound was so extensive, it was summer with its increased risk of fly-borne infection, and on and on.
But, I am here to report that Cora is still alive and seems more fit than I would have ever hoped. Here she is last weekend. You can still see what’s still exposed of her skull—it’s that bone seam near the top of her head. At this point her left ear has grown back on to her head as the wound closed.
And here she is today. The wound is filling in from the edges with nice pink new skin. She’s even regrowing feathers, on her head and where her wing was bloodied.
As you can see, her skull is almost completely covered.
I have doctored her every night since the attack with Neosporin, and sometimes in the morning. My gut is telling me that keeping the scabs moist is helping with the healing as well as deterring flies. Guess it must be working…
August 19th, 2012 §
Yesterday my coworker told me two dogs broke in to his goat pen and killed his three pet Nigerian dwarf goats. He came home from work and as he pulled up to the barn wondered why all his goats were lying down in the middle of the day. He’d bottle raised these animals from babies and had them many years, pampering them with home-built playgrounds made from cedar he’d milled himself.
This is a tough old Southern farmboy who walks with the swagger of a man used to being able to outmuscle or outsmart anyone he comes across, a sixty-five year old Vietnam vet, and yet his eyes skittered from mine and his hands busied themselves patting papers on his desk when he said, “They were so tame… They’d follow you around just like puppies.”
He left their bodies lying where they fell hoping to entice the dogs—which were feeding on the carcasses and had run as he’d approached—to return. Because the dogs were wearing collars, he got the county sheriff to set live traps. But he’s also got his gun by the door loaded with, “something that’s not going to just sting their asses,” and the sheriff has agreed to look the other way if he’s called to collect empty traps.
Tucker spent all yesterday evening fussed up over something in the woods. He worried up and down his invisible fence line until it was dark and time to go inside. When I let him out around 11, he ran straight to the woods and barked and barked. After a few minutes of that I called him and he flew in the door, the most keyed up I’ve ever seen him. His tail was sticking straight up and bristly, and he kept nudging aside the kitchen door curtain to look out at the night. When that didn’t get me to open the door, he ran to the front door and stared out the sidelight, running back to bore his eyes into mine with the gravity of this message. He was clearly telling me something was going on Out There that was offending the order of his kingdom.
I know too much about what can happen in the woods in the dark to let him back outside, so I waited until he calmed down and put him to bed.
Then in the middle of the night I awoke to a bark directly under my open bedroom window. As I surfaced to consciousness I heard other canine voices join in chorus, so close to the house that I could follow each distinct animal, and I heard them pacing. These weren’t the neighbor’s dogs, nor the hounds at the hunt club behind my house. The noise and its proximity chilled my spine. It didn’t sound like coyotes, which I frequently hear up on the mountain. These sounded like dogs.
And then as quickly as it began the chorus died and the normal night noises flowed back to fill the space left by the canine sounds.
No harm came from this late-night visit but I couldn’t fall back asleep. As I was attempting to reenter the stream I remembered a conversation I’d had with Tucker’s breeder as I was debating the merits of neutering a male dog. She told me that where she lives, in Ohio, she’s known packs of coyotes to lure unneutered male dogs out of their yards. Then the whole pack gangs up and kills the dog.
It might be time to get that shotgun.
August 6th, 2012 §
Amazingly enough, the scalped pullet has lived for a week past her attack. She looks like hell, but she’s not dead.
She is entirely missing the skin and muscle from the top of her head down to where her neck joins her body. I don’t know how it’s possible that a creature can survive without so much skin, but she is. Each night I squirt her with Bactine spray and coat her entire wound in Neosporin. The first two days were horrible. After disinfecting my hands I packed the cream into the cavity between her remaining neck skin and muscle just like you would stuff herb butter into a chicken you were preparing to roast. For a few days last week I thought her left ear would peel off because it was just sort of flapping in the breeze. I could feel the terrible pain she was in and often doubted my decision to try to save her.
But, she’s eating and drinking and doing chickeny things with her brothers, and her wing and back wounds, which didn’t involve skin loss, have scabbed over and healed. So we’re taking it one day at a time and I’m remaining vigilant for any signs of infection.
Oh, and I have named this little girl Cora, after the heroine in The Last of the Mohicans, a story not short on scalpings.