Rest easy Jess

Jess at the vets on her last day

Our oldest dog; Jess died last week. She had been getting gradually sicker and sicker over the last few months and the vet said that her breast cancer had returned. We had her mammary glands removed from her left side two years ago and we hoped that the cancer was all gone, but we were wrong.

Jess at the vet’s when she had her mammary glands removed.

She began having seizures one afternoon last week and continued to have them for a few days. For anyone who hasn’t seen a dog seizure, it is a terrifying experience (for both the dog and the bystanders); her legs went stiff and she arched her back, she dribbled and shook, she looked to be in the worst pain imaginable, then the recovery phase begins and she sat looking blankly at the wall and panting for half an hour or so before returning to normal. I had an appointment at the vet for Melvin and Penny (Melvin’s sister) to get their second immunisations, so I rang up and included Jess in the appointment.

I had to drive to a small local town for Melvin and Penny’s needles, so we made up a bed for Jess in the back, put the travel crate in the front of the car for Melvin and Penny, packed some extra wipes, towels, sheets and food for the journey (standard puppy bag) and away we went. Well…

Melvin got car sick and threw up more than his body weight on his sister after only half an hour of travel. I stopped and cleaned them up and replaced their bedding.

Jess began to fit in the back after another fifteen minutes of travel. I pulled over and comforted her for what seemed like forever. Then changed her bedding and cleaned her up (as she had begun to release her bowels and bladder when she had a fit) and continued on our way.

Melvin and Penny began to have a fight which sounded like the End of Days in miniature. I pulled over again and gave them some time apart by walking them seperately so they could toilet. Time was beginning to blur by now, so I rang the vet and told them I would be late.

I ran into a twenty minute wait at road works and realized I had not bought any water bottle for myself, but I offered all the dogs a drink from the bottle I had packed for them (then I had a drink from it too).

Melvin was sick… again. I pulled over and changed the bedding again and gave Jess a toilet break.

Eventually, after what seemed to be the longest drive in the universe, I made it to the vet. The puppies had their shots (with much crying and patting) and the vet examined Jess, gave her an anti-seizure shot and told me I had to take her to the main office for some blood tests. She also told me that there wasn’t much they could really do for Jess. The vet has a small outpost in one of the local towns (where I was taking everyone), but their office is a two hour drive away.

I drove to the vet’s main office in a kind of daze. It didn’t seem to take long to get there and nobody was sick, had a seizure or needed the toilet for the whole drive. When I got there, Jess had an examination and blood tests and the vet said we could try anti-seizure medication, but it may not work and that he thought that her cancer had made it to her brain and she was now in pain. I rang everyone at home and we made the decision to let her go peacefully. I stayed with her for the end and she ended her life with a sigh of relief.

Jess, just after a seizure.

She has been forgetful for a while now and spent most of her days sleeping and eating in various places throughout the humpy. We let her enjoy her twilight years by feeding her soaked biscuits and special treats (like poached eggs) twice a day and making sure her bed was always clean and waiting for her. She has had a good retirement.

She came to us as an abused dog (read about it here) and we did our best to let her know that she was family and we loved her. Eventually, she came to trust that we had her best interests at heart and relaxed into our family. She gave up being obsessed with random animals and became the true leader of the household. I will miss her calm, steady gaze on everything that goes on in the humpy. I will miss her hoarse bark (single) of greeting when I get home from work. Most of all, I will miss the goodnight pats we shared at bedtime, where the ritual is always to pat everyone goodnight and turn off the lights; now there is one missing.

Her favourite bed is on the lounge.
Sharing the lounge with a chook.

Rest easy Jess, I will try to keep it all in good order for you.

New family member – Melvin

For about three years now I have been trying to tell myself we don’t need a puppy. We have three aging dogs already, and multiple other species. We have jobs and lives and no time to do anything really. We don’t need more bills and vet visits and training and such… oh, who am I kidding. I want to feel the smooth, silky head of a puppy. I want to cuddle the tiny, warm mass of trust while they sleep and I want to get to know a new spirit and watch him/her grow into a confident, happy adult. So, we got a puppy.

I was walking down the street of our local town (on my way to buy some medicinal hot chips after work) when I saw a neighbour sitting on a bench holding a tiny puppy. Of course, I immediately went up and introduced myself to the puppy. She is a mini fox terrier, and so sweet and playful. Of course I fell in love. Upon asking if there were any more in the litter, I was told there was one male left. I asked my neighbour to pass on my desire for a puppy to her mum (the breeder of the litter) and left it at that. I assumed that the last puppy would already have found a home; who can resist that amount of cuteness?

Fast forward to a week later, I was again in town, in the slightly larger regional town waiting for a set of tires to be fitted to my car (that’s another story). I was wasting time looking in shops when I ran into my neighbour’s mother. Of course I asked about the puppy and found out that she still had him. I left her company with the knowledge that we were expecting a new family member.

My neighbour picked up the puppy from her Mum for us and in return we ferried both of the pups to the vet for their first check up and microchipping. The two siblings played well together all day and I managed to get a lot of blankets and toys with their scent on them for when we took our boy home all alone for his first night in a new family. The theory being that the scent of his sister would help him feel more at home in a strange new place.

They both got bills of good health from the vet and I delivered the little girl to her home and took our boy to his new home. We had been busy (mostly my daughter’s work) setting up all the requirements of a new puppy. He has a crate beside my bed for night time sleeping and a playpen in the lounge room for day time play. He has multiple blankets and cloths for cuddling up to at night , he has toys and the all important teething ring. We bought specialised puppy food and milk because he is very young and probably still needs a milk source. He slept in his crate at night from the first night, with frequent trips outside for toilet breaks (no sleep for us at all), our other dogs sleep on the end of our beds and he will be allowed to sleep there too when he is older. For the moment, he is too small to sleep on the bed, because he could fall off or be rolled on in the night. He still has multiple cuddle sessions with us throughout the day, and it is just as addictive as I remember it to be; holding that warm, snuggling little body safely against my side (or neck) while he snoozes with such perfect trust and love.

He follows us around for a large part of the day and we take turns walking him up the driveway with Val (my daughter’s dog) to tire him out throughout the day.

He loves to play (what puppy doesn’t) and will spend hours with his favourite toys.

If I sound besotted, it’s because I am! Although it could be partly sleep deprivation and hysteria bought about by picking up ‘accidents’ and trying to beat the bladder in the trinightly dash outside for toilet breaks. He is a lovable little burden and I am not sorry he is now a part of our family.

Oh… by the way… we called him Melvin (via popular vote). He has already become Smelly Melly to my daughter.

The earthbag chook house- rubble stem wall

I know… I haven’t finished the bathroom walls yet. It has been years since I had any time or energy to attack the building of the bathroom. We have showered outdoors through another two Winter’s of cold wind and frosty toes. However… the chook house needs to be built, and I really want to build some fire resistant animal shelters. Once it is rendered, earthbag walls are fire proof and roof structures can be made fire safe (if not totally fire proof), so I decided to build with earthbags again.

The basic chook house design criteria is as small a building as I can make and still be functional (I only want to keep a few chooks now we are using fewer eggs). I decided on a curved shape (like half an egg) with a high ‘window’ for the chooks to get in and out of, and a small, tight fitting door on the Southern side (facing the humpy) made from thick, solid wood. I will probably make a space in the wall that can be accessed from the outside as nesting boxes (with a solid wood, tight fitting hatch) and include some pipes near the ceiling with wire mesh covers to act as ventilation. This will be a fairly dark, dim space for the chooks to sleep in and lay their eggs, which is what they prefer anyway, there should be enough light to see when dawn comes though.

I decided to use a rubble/rock stem wall, just because I wanted to see how it will perform with earthbags stacked on top. I spent a few days collecting rocks from our property, then my daughter and I dug a shallow trench in the shape we wanted the chook house to be.

The start of the trench
Loads of rocks on the farm ute
Waiting to become a wall
My daughter has a talent for building rock walls it seems
The trench for the rest of the walls was dug slowly
Ready for walls
Nearly there
Stage one complete

Hopefully the earthbags will lay on the top of the wall, this should be high enough to keep the rain water off the earth rendered walls. The gaps between the rocks will allow mice and snakes to get into the chook house (to be avoided if possible), so I am planning on rendering over the rocks with something that will seal the gaps, maybe a cement based render?

The floor of the house will probably be an earth floor, similar to what we will have in the house. It will give me a chance to play with the concept and learn how to make a good, hardwearing floor.

I am planning on a living roof on the chook house, this will hopefully insulate the chooks inside from heat and cold, be more fire proof and will allow me space to plant pumpkins. I will have to find a way to seal the eaves of the roof so they are less likely to burn, but that problem is in the future. For now, I have finished the stem wall, the bags for the wall come next, then I have to think about how to frame a door, an access window and nest boxes.

Aggressive rooster – Pickett

Baby Pickett

Pickett, our current flock rooster, started life as a struggling chick hatched by the school chooks. His mother had abandoned him in the nest and he was in danger of freezing to death. I picked him up and popped him into my pocket for the day while I taught maths and science. He came home with me and was raised by himself in the humpy.

Adult Pickett

He eventually became a beautiful rooster and we decided to make him the flock rooster after Big (our previous rooster) died. He has always been a friendly rooster who takes his job seriously. Recently we have raised two more roosters who have been released into the flock, which seems to have changed the dynamic a little.

Daffy, one of the newer roosters

Now Pickett has begun to be really defensive of his girls, even with me. He has developed some long spurs and is not afraid to use them. He recently attacked my legs while I was feeding the animals outside and did some damage to me.

In response to this, once the blood was cleaned up, we caught him and trimmed the ends of his spurs so he can’t do so much actual damage. I am also trying what my daughter calls ‘cuddle therapy’ with him; essentially, when he approaches me in an aggressive way I simply pick him up and give him a cuddle. He sees this as me asserting my dominance over him (which is nothing but the truth) and it helps me to still see him as the appealing little fuzz ball he was as a chick. We will see if this helps to retrain his brain.

You can see his spurs in this photo

Roosters are naturally protective of the flock (after all, they have to prove their worth to the hens) and this can easily turn to aggressive behaviours towards humans. There is little that can be done to calm an angry rooster, and I have found the best strategy is to try to pick them up and hold them until the storm passes. Running away only makes them worse, as does hitting or kicking them. I have heard some really horrifying stories about roosters; from putting a bucket over them to kicking them to death, and I can’t help but feel sad for both the rooster and the human involved. The rooster is obeying an instict to protect himself and his family and the human is obeying the same instinct. Once a rooster sees you as a threat, it is very hard to win him over again, but we can at least try.

Sadly, the fact that Pickett is aggressive now means that we may not be able to allow him to breed another generation of chicks as aggression tends to run in blood lines. We try to keep only gentle souls here, but we always give everyone plenty of chances to turn their behaviour around.

Local insects and animals – Green tree frog

 
 

The green tree frogs are back!!! We haven’t seen them here for years. First the extended dry period then the massive fire season seem to have knocked the population down so much that spotting a tree frog is cause for excitement.

Green tree frogs were once so common here at the humpy that we had invasions of froglings hopping through the humpy some nights as they left their spawning dam and went out into the world in search of adventure. After finding a tree frog on the pillow at bed time once or twice, we invested in mosquito nets for the beds that were tucked under the mattress to keep them out. In recent years we have missed seeing them around. I am so pleased that we have a few popping back up.

They eat mostly insects, but have also been known to gobble up the odd gecko and sometimes baby mice. In return, a lot of creatures eat them, black snakes love the taste of tree frog, as do brown snakes and pythons. Our ducks will chase them if left to their own devices too (we have rescued more than one big frog from the duck pen). They are mostly seen at night moving from their day beds to the hunting ground, or around the dam when it is raining, looking for love in the karaoke bar.

I love the sound of tree frogs calling from hidden places in the afternoon, it always predicts that a storm or rain is coming. They call in the rain; singing a song of joy and coming fertility until the rain has no choice but to fall on them (and us).

 
Apparently, this poor frog is depressed. She is a brown colour which means her mood is not good. Who knew frogs are like mood rings?

We have plenty of places a tree frog can hide and stay damp in the humpy garden. If you don’t have any place for them to hide outside, they will find a way into your house and look for a place there; they are particularly fond of flush toilets (everyone wants a house with a pool), behind paintings and under pot plants. Outside they like plants that have big leaves, damp pots and piles of rocks or old wood.

This girl is in need of a good meal and a quiet pond to swim in.

I find tree frogs charming and quirky, I know some people are afraid of them and find them ugly, but I can’t help but see the stoic joy they find in settling into the perfect place for the day, the glee they exhibit when they find a huge moth to eat and the self satisfaction of their measured hop…hop…hop on a tin roof at night. Welcome back Australian tree frogs, we missed you.

Egg-bound quail – Finch

This isn’t a photo of Finch. Just a quail of the same species. We can’t find a photo of her.

We have a quail named Finch (don’t ask, we had a lamb named Kitty too), she is a King quail (confirmed with a quick call to my daughter) who lives in our aviary. She lays eggs in the Spring despite not having a partner at all. A few days ago, my daughter discovered that she was egg bound and probably had been for several days (it can be hard to tell with aviary birds).

Egg binding is really serious for birds, it kills a lot of them. Basically, the egg gets stuck in the oviduct and can crack and rot inside the bird. It can be hard to spot in the early stages, the bird might be just a bit slower than usual and off her food a little. Usually, they quickly progress to fluffing up, then death if nothing is done to help them.

Again, not Finch. This Xray shows what egg binding is.

We got Finch out of the aviary and gave her a warm soak in a salty water bath (think Sitz bath, for those of you who have had kids), then dried her off and put her in a quiet cage with a heat lamp and a soft towel. She didn’t manage to pass the egg, so we decided to see what we could do.

We turned her over and saw that the egg was ‘crowning’ and was unusually large (poor girl), so we greased her bottom up with lots of fresh aloe and tried to encourage the egg to pass (very, very gently). Eventually I used a razor blade to cut the part of the membrane that seemed to be over the egg, thinking this would clear the egg and let her retract the prolapse. It took a while, but we were able to work the egg out by greasing her with aloe, soaking in warm salty water and gently moving the egg back and forth to make the dried up membrane let go of the shell. The egg had a crack in it when we eventually got it out. The crack had been there for a while as the egg had started to rot. We immediately got worried; this is usually a death knell for egg bound birds. Another look at her behind showed that the prolapse was still swollen and sore looking. Under the lamp, we could see that she had another egg in there. This is not a good thing, and usually leads to a quick death, but I managed to encourage her to gently push the egg out by massaging her abdomen (the bit behind her hips, but under the wings). The fact that she had two eggs in the tubes, and one of them was cracked mean’t that we fully expected her to die within hours. We had given her a single drop of Meloxicam (a painkiller and anti-inflammatory for birds and other animals) before we began the operation, but we gave her another drop, thinking at least she would die in comfort. We put her in her enclosed cage with heat and water and some chicken crumbles (easy to digest for sick grain eaters) and left her to decide her own fate. Two hours later, she was still alive. She still seemed strong, so we added some oral antibiotic to her water and hoped for the best.

Aloe, cut up and ready to smear
Finch in her heat lamp cage

That was two days ago, and I wish I had taken photos of the operation, because she is a miraculous bird. She has sucked all but a tiny part of the prolapse back inside and is shedding the dead parts of her oviducts. She is eating small amounts of crumble and canary seed with pain killer added to it. We are soaking her bottom in salty water once a day to clean off the gunk and slathering her up with aloe twice a day to keep infection down and help with the inflammation too. She may still die (it’s hard to tell what’s going on inside there), but she has survived beyond all expectation and proven herself one tough little bird.

Finch getting ready for a soak
The prolapse after 2 days, during the soaking process

Afterword; Finch died at day 5. She probably had an infection inside and damage to her oviducts. She hung on longer than I thought possible and has my respect for how tough she was. She is now a part of the funeral forest.

A new home for Finch’s tough spirit

The funeral forest – sort of gardening

In the front yard of the humpy is my funeral forest. This is the place we keep the memories of our lost family members close. When a family member dies, we either bury them directly into a pot with a memory plant in it or we send them off for cremation and bury the ashes into a pot (in the case of large family members). For example; Sid the sheep weighed in at 71kg when he died, too big to put in a pot, so we sent him off to be cremated and when he returned we planted him in a big pot with a dwarf mandarine tree. All our lost family are here in these pots, and I love to sit at my little table, light a fire in the fire pit and visit with them.

This little oasis of green is sanity for me. There is a sprinkler on a pole in the middle of these pots. It is designed to spray water over the walls of the humpy and the garden beds and pots if a fire is close. We have set aside a 24000 litre tank to spray the humpy and animal shelters, which leaves us a little short of water for day to day living, but it may help when the next fire threatens.

As you may have guessed (or possibly hoped), the family members we bury in our funeral forest are our feathered, furred and scaled members. I wish we could include the human members as well (not right now, but in time), but there are rules about where humans can be buried.

In Western Australia there is a new innovation; a memorial forest where you can bury your human family’s ashes under a tree. This seems like a great idea to me; these funeral forests will be considered sacred by just about everyone, the trees will never be cut down for timber or dozed out because they drop limbs or to build a house. They will provide homes for a multitude of native animals and a seed bank for local plant species. Why don’t we have one of these in every council area? I would love to be buried under a tree, to become part of that tree and it’s ecosystem.

Darby the goose update

It has been a while since I did an update on Darby. So I thought I would fill you in on the nature of our life as a goose family.

This photo says it all really.

Adopting animals into our family can be hard work, it can be heart breaking (especially with short-lived species) and it can be the greatest joy… ever. It allows us to get to know a species (or an individual from a species) very well and to be able to communicate with them to a limited degree. Darby is no different.

While growing up, Darby exhibited male characteristics we had seen in the outside geese; chasing the dogs protectively (our poor dogs had a steep learning curve there too), herding family members and honking into the air at odd moments. We began to call Darby ‘him’ based on this. Recently however, my daughter patted him on the back and he immediately squatted and spread his wings; indicating that he is definitely a female. Only a female would squat to mate. It will be hard to change the pronoun, but we are up to the challenge. It also indicates that she may be a little too imprinted on humans.

Darby has traveled around a bit in the car, going to the vet, going to school with me, going into town to get the mail. Geese are social animals and get very distressed when left alone, so we have to take her with us if we are all out. Also the chances of disaster happening when a goose is left unattended with the dogs and all the indoor birds are quite high. Geese are curious and smart birds; they can open gates and find switches and cords that a toddler couldn’t.

Darby lives in the humpy for the most part, walking along with my daughter when she feeds the outside animals, supervising vegetable cutting and cooking in the kitchen, sitting in the sun in the front yard or in front of the fire at night. She sleeps beside my daughter’s bed (or mine when she is away) with her beak resting on the blankets so she can feel the breathing (sleeping) human. Geese love their families and are very protective of the family unit.

Television watching (in the form of streamed movies) is a favorite activity, and we have discovered that geese can laugh (at least it sounds like laughing). She is a fairly vocal family member and is always up for a chat or chiming in with an opinion.

Darby seems to be very happy to continue living in the humpy with us, and we have become used to her being there. In fact we enjoy her company.

Goodbye Prim

This post has been a long time coming. I had to heal a little from the loss first; Prim was a very close family member.

Prim joined us in January 2017. She was a baby then and she grew up in the humpy, she never decided to leave and join the wild lorrikeets, as I think she formed such a close bond with our family.

Her relatively short life (only three years instead of the average 20 years) ended when she contracted a respiratory infection. I believe that the stress of being evacuated due to fires and being exposed to unknown pathogens in many new atmospheres knocked her immune system down and led to her death. I will miss her very much, but the time she spent with us is a time I want to remember.

Prim in her oxygen tent the night she died.

It is hard to express the pain we all felt at losing Prim, it has taken me six months to even write about it. I still shed tears at her memory. I will miss you Prim, I hope your next life is as loving as this one has been.

Goodbye Big rooster

Big in his younger days

It rained last night…we got about 20ml in a storm just after dark. The joy around the humpy was unbelievable, every animal is celebrating this miracle. Except Big the rooster, he has had a very painful leg condition for months now and our attempts to treat him have all failed. Yesterday afternoon we decided that he is in too much pain to keep trying to save him and we called the vet for an appointment to put him to sleep. At least he got to see the rain and hear all the happy chooks one last time.

Big eating his last breakfast

We don’t have many photos of Big; he was always in the crowd but not often on his own. He was about nine years old and had the most amazing nature (just like his dad; Ryan); he would look after babies, not just chicks but ducklings and rabbits too. Hearing Big call over babies and hens to eat was the high point of many days.

He slept inside almost every night of his life, just because he felt the cold and he often had babies to care for. The silence at 4:30am, where Big’s joyous good morning crow used to be, will sound deafening and I would rather hear him crow and know that all is right with the world than have the silence with no happy greeting.

He fathered a lot of babies in his long life, and we are happy to have his grandson as our current flock rooster; Pickett. Big became our retirement cage rooster for the previous few years where he kept the older or disabled hens company. Until this morning he had Delilah (a sussex with a broken hip) and School chook (another sussex with a broken hip) as his girls. Over the rainbow bridge, on the other side of death, there are a multitude of wives waiting patiently for him. I hope he enjoys the reunion.

We will miss him a lot, but at least he is no longer in pain. Goodbye Big, good luck on your new journeys.

We planted him in a big pot with a red paw paw planted in it. He will have a new life as a plant now. He joins Lizard the chook as a lemongrass plant and Sid the sheep as a mandarin tree.