Thursday, January 30, 2014

Princess Mudball Gets A Bath

So yeah, had to bathe Burger the light Brahma hen to get all that damned mud off.  I was afraid with feathers that soiled they wouldn't insulate properly and that she would suffer in our coming colder temperatures--25 degrees tonight, 10 to 12 degrees tomorrow night and the next 3-4 nights after.

Princess Mudball is brought into the house and invited into the bathroom.
'What...?  Me...?  OK...'

"Hum dee dum dee dum..."

 'Hmmm, what's this?'


Sadly for Princess Mudball, she's is ganged up upon by three humans and has no choice.  The rubber ducky doesn't even intrigue her.

The water got darker and darker the more I doused & scrubbed her.  Burger has a dark undercoat of gray feathers, so some of that darkness is natural under all that dirt.  And it took some determined scrubbing, too--this wasn't your basic 'get a chicken ready for a poultry show' bath, this was hard-core decontamination.


Achievement Unlocked:  Mad As A Wet Hen, 100000 Gamer Points

The sludge she left behind had it's own alluvial fan.  Burger really returned some topsoil to the Earth here.

Time for rinsies!

I swear, Burger really IS a big hen, she just looks small right now.

Even rubber duckies can't help poor sad wet chicken.

Princess Mudball struggles to regain some dignity...OK, this towel is kinda nice...

But then it is removed along with the last shreds of dignity.

Just to be sure the chicken humiliation is well-rounded, the next step is the hair dryer. Get the wingpits...

Both sides, everything has to get dried...


Especially those Brahma pantaloons.

Starting to look more like a proper Brahma again, the Brahmabrow is reemerging.  After this Burger is released from the bathroom and allowed to hang about in the house for about an hour to finish drying out and arrange her feathers.
Which she does, slowly but surely.

As it started to get dark, she got up on the couch to hang with the kid and watch her play video games.

...and finally, back to being a light Brahma again, yay!

Jack's Pighouse

OK...well, I have a confession to make, and I decided that I may as well do it here.
Unfortunately, I have been misleading you all for many years now.

I don't really have chickens. Chickam is a total lie, and although we will continue to broadcast, I feel that we should really rename it to reflect it's true identity and content. Because what I DO have, isn't chickens.

 When I saw her this afternoon after shoveling a walkway through the snow to the coop, I actually yelled, 'Jesus Christ, Burger!' No doubt my neighbors think I'm nuts. She was so thoroughly muddy that at first I had trouble IDing which hen this was. I don't know WHAT the Hell she'd been doing, rolling in mud I guess. None of the other chickens had a speck of dirt on them.

Burger more than made up for them. My husband came out and stared doubtfully at her. "Has she been fighting...?" Nope, I checked her, no blood or feathers out of place, no one else looks this disgraceful.
Smug in her supreme muddiness. 

Even Sora the white Leghorn stared in disbelief.

In Which Mother Nature And Fate Get Drunk And Prank Us

Around 3AM the snow started coming down, and by 10:30AM it looked like this.

It was beautifully fluffy, pretty and stuck well, the kid is probably sitting in school going insane.

Our starlings are after the dog food that is on that table under 7 inches of snow, snowplowing around on the lawn.  It's hilarious.  They do pose nicely in the tree across the street, though.

I lean out the back door and yell, 'HI CHICKENS!' and am rewarded with loud, plaintive, get-us-outta-here 'Bawk!  Bawk!  Bawk!' noises from everyone.  They clearly ain't diggin' the snow.

After I take this picture I wander back out to the kitchen to get some coffee.  We're looking out the back door, enjoying the scene.  Suddenly my husband comments on how the top of the small run--which we repaired *just* the other day--is sagging dangerously under the weight of the snow, something it wasn't doing less than 5 minutes ago.  I look.  Uh oh.  'We'd better get out there and knock that snow off--'


Ahhh...too late, haha.

So husband trucks himself out there, armed with a 2x4 to knock the snow down before something worse happens.

*BAWK BAWK BAWK* as he passes the coop.

He remembers not to stand under it.
It at least takes the weight off of the wire, even though it needs repair...again.  He says that actually the repair just done held, it ripped in the section next to it.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

OK, So We're Easily Entertained...

So today for Chickam we got the flock a watermelon, carved with the requisite happy face.

And added to it a new fun food item to entertain the chickens, a cabbage-on-a-string!
Same idea as the previously offered apple-on-a-string, only amped up.

Now they've had cabbage before...but not hanging swinging from a string.  But both items were welcomed and they dived right in...

...except for Rose on the far left, who for whatever reason decided instead to noodle around playing with molted feathers.

Everyone on Chickam decided that the melon looked a little bit TOO creepily happy to be eaten.  The girls stuck their heads right in, many ended up with a pink streak down the back of the heads & necks.

The more energetically they pecked, the more the cabbage swung around wildly, which of course only made it more fun as they tried to track it's motion and time their pecks.  They had a great time chasing it to and fro.

I don't know what the heck is going on here.  It looks like a Dadaist photo shoot.  Weedcat sneaking in on the right to photobomb, while Cam in the back looks for all the world like he's wearing a cabbage on his head.

In the end, after many hours the cabbage was reduced to it's core.  The watermelon is about half-eaten and will no doubt be enjoyed again tomorrow, although by morning it'll be frozen, which should make for some fine chicken confusion when we let them out of the coop first thing in the morning.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Fun With Raptors!

And not the ones in my own yard, for a change!

Fair warning:  I love birds of prey so there is a TON of pictures incoming.
After reading a quick blurb in the local paper online today, we discovered that the California Hawking Club http://www.calhawkingclub.org/ and the North American Falconer Association http://www.n-a-f-a.com/ were having a regional meet nearby.  So we grabbed the camera, threw ourselves into the car and off we went!

The meet was being held at a local lodge/casino that had a large, grassy picnic/BBQ/playground area, perfect for fencing off for the birds.

Holy cow, the place was littered with birds of prey!
The big hawks were in one section, the smaller falcons in another, a third held medium-sized birds.  The birds each had a little stand, usually metal wrapped with heavy rope for traction.  Each bird was secured to it's stand by it's jesses, and ample water and security was provided.  Here is a Red Tailed hawk demonstrating his.

Becoming a falconer takes time--two years as an apprentice under a master, seven to become a master.  As an apprentice you can only keep a couple types of birds.  Early in the morning, a lot of the handlers and their birds were away taking part in the sky trials--a demonstration and competition among falconers of their bird's hunting abilities.  We missed seeing that, but did get a chance to view & meet some other birds and their handlers.  Sadly, many of these birds were rescues/rehabs that had become injured in the wild and were no longer able to survive in the wild or fly.  They now work as educational ambassadors, and were universally calm birds.  Other than their disability, each was clearly glowingly healthy, and the handlers were friendly people who knew their stuff and took excellent care of their birds.  We and a bunch of other people got to stand around and talk some of the handlers while they had a bird on their fist.
Explaining the visual acuity of a Harris hawk--how if a penny was placed about 75-100 feet away, the bird would be able to read the date on it.

One of the birds returning from it's sky trials gets a spray bath to it's feet and does a Ninny Dance.

A male Great Horned owl--the males are much smaller than the females--who is in captivity because he was found tangled in a barbed wire fence.  He only has 40% wing movement in one of his wings.

He was a very chill dude.
  Even when someone asked, all freaked out, 'Is that his TONGUE?!'

He was not amused.

A perfectly lovely little hybrid Gyr/Prairie.  All falconers wear the heavy leather gauntlets since they like their hands and arms and want to keep them.

Since it was still early and chilly, a lot of the birds still on the stands were spreading their wings and tails to warm them up.

Like this Red Tailed hawk, obligingly showing off his red tail.  We have tons of Red Tails around here, and they are the biggest worry for our chickens.

He even turned around so I could take a picture of him from the front!

The Peregrines and Prairie falcons got into it, too.


These birds were just unbelievably chill

I don't know what this very pretty little thing was.

A Sharpshin.

A Harris hawk.

I don't know what he was, possibly a goshawk...but he looked like he wanted to bite my face off so I didn't ask him.
When it comes to the leg bands that all of these birds wear to ID them, captive-bred birds have metal ones, wild-caught birds have plastic.  Incredibly, with the wild-caught birds any time you want to you can simply cut off the leg band and allow them to go back to the wild--even years later.  Completely legal and perfectly safe for the bird, they have no trouble reassimilating back into the wild.  Most of these birds also had bells on their legs--and not just to look cool.  The bells help their handlers find them when they are out flying them--the birds blend really well when in a tree or on the ground so they are hard to see. 

We went and had lunch at the lodge and by the time we got out the sky trials birds were back!  You know what ELSE hawks & falcons like to do?


The handlers would hold the meat in their gauntleted fist and let the bird rip out mouthfuls.

Afterwards the bird would allow the handler to gently wipe it's beak with his other hand to clean it.  The complete trust the birds had in their owners and the total love for their birds the owners had was amazing.

The birds knew it was lunchtime and there was all kinds of plaintive 'Feed me' noises going on, it was hilarious.  Spoiled babies know no species bounds.

This gentleman had three Harris hawks--two females and a male--who he'd just brought back in his truck.  He was kind enough to let me take pictures of all three birds being fed.  There is one bird behind each little door,and they are hooded while riding in the car.  The white PVC stand is where he places the bird while he clips off the radio tranmitter they wore for the trials and prepares their food.  When ready, he puts on his gauntlet,  places the food between his fingers in that hand, removes their hood and lets them eat.

The hawk is patient, she knows the routine and sits calmly--although she ALSO knows the sound of the ziploc bag of meat and tracks it.


Everything gets eaten--bones, meat, fur, feet--'everything except guts, because they can carry an infection', the handler said.  Rabbit is good meat, although jackrabbit meat can feed the bird for 3-4 days, cottontail not as long.
The first bird's beak is gently wiped and she is taken out to the enclosure to a stand.

Female #2 comes out for her feeding.

She ducked her head a bit, allowing a better look at the straps holding her hood on.  Since when it is removed, the bird is on his left fist, the handler uses his right hand and his teeth to pull the straps and pop the hood off.  Talk about ultimate trust!

She also eats with enthusiasm.  None of these birds gave a rat's ass about the crowds of people milling around, cars driving past 4 feet away, the highway noise, dogs--nothing.  She got some liver...

And a baby chick...yes, that's a leg!  Baby chicks are OK for a single day's feeding, but don't have the same stick-to-your-ribs quality for hawks as rabbit does.

Two of the ornate hoods.  The little thingy on top, as far as I know, is a handle and also traditional.

The last bird was the male.

He also got something small and furry.


I've rarely seen a more satisfied 'YUM' expression.

Afterwards he got a beak wash.

Then his owner rather sheepishly said, 'He likes to drink from the bottle...'

If he expected me to find catering to birds in ridiculously embarassing ways odd, he was mistaken.

Once in the pen, the male got a bath as well.

Which he really dug, although he still wanted drinkies from his bottle.

There was also this very cool litle kestrel...she hopped onto this photographer's lens, everybody got a picture of it but him, poor guy.

Now, I've always wanted a kestrel, so visiting with this bird only fanned the flames of that desire.

She was hyperfriendly.  No need for a gauntlet with kestrels, although this lady had plenty of tiny punctures on her hands from her bird's talons.

Once I got close she started targeting me & bobbing her head in that way birds do, she was about half a second away from jumping onto my shoulder.  I was gonna let her.

Back at the enclosure, we got a kick out of the sign.
 'Unless it's something small, furry and tasty, in which case send it right over!'

The caution tape was a hoot.  It didn't stop people from asking the eternal question though: 'Can I pet it?'  Sure, we snarked to ourselves--choose the finger you like the least and use that one.

The hawk at the base of the tree lunged for this dauchsund like he was this week's meal, flapping like mad and screaming.  Clearly that dog was firmly on the menu.

This bird was brought in from the trials hooded and remained so, obviously to keep it calm.  I suspect it was in training and still getting accustomed to events like this.

Where all the cool kids hang out.

Although this Harris hawk decided to forgo looking cool in favor of a bath.

He had a butt-splashing good time.

...and back to looking cool, especially when you are this guy and have your own custom-made wood hawk stand.

We had a great time, it was awesome to see so many of these birds in one place at one time!