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Posts Tagged ‘cats’

When we first moved to the acreage, we got cats.  Well, we had some indoor only cats that came with us from Alberta, but we got some barn cats right away, as there had been a lot of grain storage on this place, which meant there were plenty of mice.  We started out with three barn cats through an SPCA program – Stevie, Bobby, and Molly.

Stevie

Stevie, the (late) Barn Cat

Bobby

Bobby the (former) Barn Cat

Molly

Molly, the (former) Barn Cat (when she was much, much skinnier!)

The cats did a great job of keeping the rodent population in check, and were fun companions while we were doing outside work.

 

Unfortunately, Stevie had to be put down, after we found him, paralyzed, in the hay stack.  We never did figure out what happened, but our best guess is that he tried to jump between bale stacks and missed.  The vets did their best, but were unable to fix him up.  We were pretty cut up about that.  There’s really no such thing as ‘only’ a barn cat around here – they’re all pets.

 

When we sold the goats in late 2015, the barn, which was not heated, got to be pretty cold, and we worried about Molly and Bobby out there.   We had always figured that all three of the barn cats had been somebody’s pets at some point – they were just too tame and friendly to be anything else.  We ended up deciding to try them in the house, to see if it would work out okay with the other house pets.  In the end, it went well enough, and Molly and Bobby moved indoors for good.

 

We ran into some problems in the spring of 2016, though – a couple of skunks started hanging around, and ended up getting into the chicken coop, killing several hens.  We’d never had an issue with skunks before, and were kind of surprised by the whole thing.  Later, though, in speaking to local farmers, we were told that 2015 and 2016 were both crazy years for skunks – one neighbor had shot over a dozen skunks in a one-month period in 2015, and almost as many in the month prior to our chicken incident.

 

We talked it over, and realized that, besides the goats, the only difference between spring, 2015 and spring 2016, for us, was the cats.  So we went back to the SPCA, and brought home a couple more bundles of joy – Oscar and Millie:

Oscar

Oscar the Barn Cat, who thinks he’s a dog!

Milly

Milly the (occasionally psycho) Barn Cat

Our assessment appears to have been right – that barn cats keep skunks away.  We haven’t seen or smelled one since we brought these two home, and this is the time of year we would expect to really start seeing them.  My theory is that cats and skunks occupy the same ecological niche, and that the cats, being territorial, won’t tolerate skunks in their home territory.   Or maybe the skunks don’t like the competition, and stay away.  Regardless, we’re relieved not to have any more skunk problems, and Oscar and Millie are doing a good job of keeping rodents under control, as well.   If you are running into issues with skunks, you might consider a barn cat or two!

 

 

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Well, the cold snap in the US seems to be over, now, and our own month-long run of -30 C temperatures seems to have broken, as well.  I noticed a recent spike in traffic to a few of my posts from the last couple of winters, but didn’t really draw the connection until just now…folks have been searching for information on how to manage livestock in extreme cold, but my poor visitors have mostly gotten anecdotes about me feeling sorry for myself and about frozen-solid chickens.  I thought that even a belated post might be useful to somebody someday, so here are some observations about coping with extreme cold.

 

winter pic

I’m not going to say much about dressing for the cold, since that’s been done to death on the internet.  Dress in layers, and take layers off as you become warm.  Make the outer layer windproof if you can.  Windchill is much more dangerous than just cold, especially if you are only outside for short periods – an hour or two – Hubby routinely goes out to shovel for a couple of hours at a time in -30, as long as there’s no windchill.  Of course, he’s acclimatized to this weather, and appropriately dressed, more or less.  He’s never gotten frostbite, even though he doesn’t make much effort to cover his face; the moustachesicles get pretty impressive sometimes:

 

moustachesicles

The  chickens seem to cope pretty well with the cold, overall.  Our breeds are suited to colder temperatures, but we don’t heat the coop, even when it’s -40.  Our main tactic has been to insulate; our primary coop is an old shed, and we stack old bales of hay and straw around the structure to cut the wind and keep it warm.  We try to get the stacks as high as the heads of the chickens on the top rung of the roost, as someone has used the shed for a target for shotgun practice, so it’s anything but airtight, and we don’t want anyone to get frostbite when they’re sleeping.  You don’t actually want the coop to be totally airtight; you need some airflow to keep it from getting too humid, which will cause problems with frostbite.  The birds also get a deep layer of bedding, and as much feed as they want.  They eat half again as much at -40 C as they do at zero degrees or above, and they need all of that energy to keep warm.   We have had some issues with frostbite in the past; Gallus, our original rooster, had a pretty spectacular comb until he encountered his first major winter freeze.  We’ve since learned to keep the coop shut on really cold days, which keeps the birds inside, and also helps keep the temperature up.  While I’m sure it hurt to lose that comb, it doesn’t seem to have slowed Gallus down too much.

 

Before his first encounter with real cold

Before his first encounter with real cold

 

All healed up, but not much of a comb left

All healed up, but not much of a comb left

 

The frostbite itself makes the combs and wattles turn black in the frozen parts, and eventually peels off.   If you come across this, you will need to monitor that the other chickens aren’t pecking at it and keeping it from healing, as it sometimes bleeds as the damaged tissue sloughs off.

 

One challenge is collecting the eggs before they freeze so solid that they crack, which takes no time at all in -40.  The cracked eggs are okay to eat, as long as the shells are clean; we just thaw them on the kitchen counter overnight.  They need to be used immediately once they’ve thawed, though, as bacteria can get in through the crack.  Whatever we can’t eat ourselves, we feed to the cats and dogs, who really appreciate the extra protein.  Eggs that have frozen but not cracked are fine, and we just put them in the cold room to thaw.  As far as we’ve been able to tell, they keep just as well as unfrozen eggs, and behave the same when you cook with them, so we don’t even check anymore, beyond looking for the cracked ones, of course.

 

When it gets below about -25 C, we tend to leave the barn shut up, and the body heat from the animals adds at least ten degrees in there.  The barn cats are bright enough to stay inside, and we’ve built them a cozy insulated shelter out of hay bales.  So far, they’ve never had any issues with frostbite, even on their ears.  However, the barn cats are outdoor critters, and acclimatized to the cold through the fall and early winter, and they know enough to snuggle up together in the shelter.  Like the chickens, the cats are free-fed – we put out bowls of food, and they can have as much as they want.  They put on several pounds each of fat in the fall, which helps them stay warm, too.

 

If we had a sudden huge drop in temperatures like happened so recently in the US, though, I would consider bringing outdoor cats and dogs inside, or locking them in a garage or barn, as they may not be equipped to deal with the cold.   At the very least, they need some sort of insulated shelter, including insulation between them and the ground, that is windproof, dry, and small enough to warm up with just their body heat.  Stacked bales covered with a tarp would probably do, but remember to insulate the bottom, too, either using a layer of bales, or a thick bed of straw or blankets.

 

The goats and alpacas mostly cope fine, as well, but again, they grow a thick coat in the fall, and we give them extra grain as it gets colder outside – the colder it is, the more hay and supplements they get.   We take out warm water twice a day, and they drink their fill immediately.  The buckets freeze over in a couple of hours, or less when it’s really cold.  We’ve found that the goats drink more when the water is taken out warm, rather than cold, and it probably helps them maintain a good temperature.  Some people say that the buckets freeze slower if you use cold water, which may be true, but for the small difference it makes in freezing time, we go with the warm, especially because the goats drink so much more when we take the warm water out.   I have heard of people putting sweaters on their goats, which is probably a good idea in a sudden cold snap; we’ve never done it because we worry they would lose their winter coats.

 

If you are milking in winter, make sure the udder, and especially the teats, are completely dry when you are done.  We minimize trimming the udder as much as possible, and leave some fur, especially on the back, even when we do trim.  I just brush the furry parts of the udder thoroughly with a soft brush before milking to make sure there’s no crud falling into my milk bucket.  I take a towel out with me to dry everyone off after milking.   However, since I’m not fond of milking -30, we’ve taken to drying the girls off by late November.  While this doesn’t maximize our milk production, it does minimize everyone’s discomfort.   We freeze milk and make (and freeze) lots of cheese in the summer, to tide us over.

 

Our biggest issues with the goats has been with kidding during cold snaps.  Our first year, we were kidding in March, and at least four kids came when the temperatures were below -20.  All of those kids got frozen ears, and two lost part or all of their ears.

 

Poor Luna lost her ears to freezing at birth.

Poor Luna lost her ears to freezing at birth.

 

We’ve since started breeding for kidding in late April or later; this year’s kids will come in mid-May.   I know of breeders with unheated barns who treat kids like day-old chicks; they confine them using straw bales, and hang a heat lamp overtop.  Other breeders keep their kids indoors in playpens for the first couple of weeks.  Either tactic works fairly well if you are bottle feeding, but not if you’re dam-raising your kids.   We’ve learned to keep the pregnant does confined for the last few weeks of their pregnancy, and we do our best to keep the maternity stall well-insulated and draft-free.  The kids are most vulnerable to freezing just after birth when they are wet, so it’s important to make sure they are dried off quickly, which has involved us ‘helping out’ with towels when momma wasn’t working fast enough.   When they are cold, kids tend to stand all hunched up with their back arched, and look really miserable.   If we see that going on for any length of time in cold weather, we bring the kids into the house periodically for ‘warm-up’ sessions, and take them back out to their dams every couple of hours to eat.

 

We’ve had kids collapse from cold before; if you’re quick, they can recover without issue, but you need to get them warm, fast.  We’ve used 2L plastic juice bottles filled with hot water from the tap, wrapped in towels and tucked around the kid.  Remember, too, that kids need extra food when it’s cold, and make sure your does are producing enough, and/or you add a bit extra to the bottles if they’re living in an unheated barn.

 

Cold is not bad if you are prepared for it, but I can imagine it would be awfully miserable if you didn’t have, and couldn’t get, appropriate clothing and supplies.  I know some of my American friends really struggled.  Hopefully everyone has come through okay, and is at least starting to warm up now!

 

Bundled Up

 

 

 

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Other kids get a play pen.  Actually, Baby M has two of those.  One for inside in the living room (which he mostly only sleeps in now), and one for the barn (which got taken over by baby goats, and stinks).  However, they don’t suffice.

 

You see, doing barn chores, or yard work, or really anything at all with an eleven-month-old in tow is basically impossible.  He wants to be held.  If he isn’t being held, he wants to explore.  He “helps”.  Baby M throws down anything you pick up.  He scatters piles.  He screams and scares the goats.  He pinches.  He puts things in his mouth that are not strictly edible.  Or that are just disgusting.  His clothes get filthy.  And so forth.

 

However, the work does not stop just because there’s a baby on the farm.  We managed for the first ten months by trading off – I would supervise Baby M while Hubby shoveled, for instance, then Hubby would parent while I did evening chores.  That was mostly functional for the day-to-day stuff, and my Dad and Step-Mom would occasionally come out and help for the two (or more) person jobs that we couldn’t manage anymore, like vaccination and tattooing.  Occasionally frustrating, but the necessary stuff got accomplished.

 

Then I went back to work.

 

And yard work season hit; spring finally arrived.

 

Now, we still trade off for chores, and for evening-and-weekend stuff like mowing grass and pruning trees.  However, there’s a lot to be done that just won’t fit into my before-and-after-work hours.  And somebody has to do it, baby or no baby.  So we built the Hay Pen.

 

Hay Pen 1

 

The Hay Pen is sort of like a play pen…but completely different.  We made a perimeter of hay bales around a relatively clean bit of ground in the barn, out of the way, but still in sight of the places we would tend to be when we were, say, milking goats or feeding bottle kids.  This has the added advantage of freeing up two adults for dealing with worming, vaccinations, disbudding, and such.  Luckily, Baby M seems to like the Hay Pen, especially when Molly Underfoot the barn cat comes to play.  Baby M does not, however, like the baby goats, who jump on the bales and nip M’s ears.

 

There may eventually be hay pens all over the yard.  There needs to be one behind the barn, where Hubby will be putting the squash this year, and one in the big garden.  Hubby is contemplating one in the back yard, too, so he can prune trees, rake grass, and pick strawberries without having to pay too much attention to Baby M.   We have a big garden wagon hat Baby M could hang out in, but he always wants to stand up, but the sides are too low for that to be safe.  With all the thistles and nettles in the grass, a blanket on the ground isn’t really ideal, either.   In the Hay Pen, Baby M can pull himself up on the hay bales, and cruise around quite quickly; he’s beginning to walk, too, so he’ll have a safe space to practice that as well.  Being made of old bales, we can make the pens as large as we like; even two or three bales to a side, if that’s how much space M needs to be happy.  Meanwhile, Molly Underfoot always seems to gravitate to where the baby is, and seems very tolerant of M’s less-than-gentle attentions, so she will provide hours and hours of entertainment, I’m sure…

 

Hay Pen 2

 

 

 

 

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Trouble At The Henhouse.

Just after hitting “post” for my last blog entry, there was a terrible noise in my front yard.  it sounded like roosters fighting, except our two remaining roos have been physically separated so that they quit damaging each other.  I got up and looked out the front door, and there was a fox savaging one of my hens.  Oh, damn.

 

I ran out to chase the fox off, then ran back in to get gloves and shoes so I could dispose of the carcass.  However, the carcass started trying to run away from me when I went to pick it up – my hen was injured, but not dead, and able to run from me, which I took to be a good sign.  I scooped her up and took her to the back porch, where I installed her in a rubbermaid container to recover.
While I was doing that, the fox made off with four more hens.  Or maybe the fox made off with the other four first, I don’t know.  I do know that when I went out to round everyone up, there was a terrible racket in the bushes – the fox was doing its creepy fox-shriek, and I could see flashes of its fur through the underbrush.

 

I went to chase it off, as it was pretty close to the chicken coop, and there was Bobby the barn cat, standing over a hen, holding her ground against a creature three times her size, calmly swatting at the fox every time it tried to swoop in and make off with its meal.  I don’t know if Bobby was protecting “her” hen, or just wanted to eat it herself, but it was pretty incredible to see her face down the fox as it shrieked and charged her, over and over.  It took me a minute to get to her, as I am ungainly and the scrub was pretty thick, but I did eventually chase the fox off and scoop up cat and hen, one under each arm, to go back to the house and check for damage.

 

Bobby was fine, but the hen, though alive, was in rough shape, with deep puncture wounds under her one wing.  She did not seem to be suffering, so I set her up in her own sick bay next to the other live hen, but she died in the night.   We never found the other three hens.

 

So our flock has gone from 12 to 8 hens, in one fell swoop.  Very disappointing.  We could shoot the fox, I suppose, but I don’t know how much point there is to that, what with the skunks, coyotes, and wolves, not to mention the neighbour’s dogs.  We knew there had occasionally been a fox in the yard, but it hadn’t shown itself much, and we figured the dogs being loose was keeping it from hassling our critters.  Then, of course, the dogs ran off, and have been mostly tied up since, so I guess the fox got bold.  I guess we’ll be looking at building more and better fences…

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Saskatchewan is apparently having a record year for bugs, particularly mosquitoes.  That is pretty impressive in a province where mosquitoes are jokingly referred to as the provincial bird.   It contributes to a high level of general misery here on the Acreage, as every mammal on the place is being mobbed constantly.  The barn cats go, quite literally, crazy, rolling around on the hay pile, trying to scratch the bugs off.  The dogs do their business, and make a beeline back to the house, where they retreat to the living room to scratch at their poor bug-bitten snouts with their front paws.

 

The mosquitoes bother poor Saffron the goat so much that milk production goes substantially down on calm-ish, damp-ish mild days like we have had lately – she is so busy trying to get the mosquitoes off that she hardly touches her grain, and there is the additional challenge of trying to keep her from putting a foot in the milk bucket when I am trying to milk, and she is trying to kick the mosquitoes off her udder.

 

The only critters not bothered by the mosquito invasion are the chickens.  They eat them.  Hubby does not mind the chicken part of the barn chores at all right now…the coop is one of the only respites on this whole place, right at the moment.  He hangs out and watches the birds eat the bugs, while poor Saffron and I get eaten alive at the milking stand.  We need to get those chickens free-ranging, but the fox that keeps trotting across our back lawn has really been discouraging us from letting the birds out without a good, strong fence.

 

Hubby, who is not overly fond of the heat, has been wishing for 30+ degree days, just so that he can get into the garden to do some weeding.  Even dripping with the highest-percentage DEET formulations we can find, we are just moving meals for the plague of bugs around here.  On hot days, they go to ground for awhile, and we can at least move somewhat freely around the mowed parts of the Acreage.

 

Mosquitoes love the bush and tall grass, so even though I can see ripe Saskatoon berries in the forest, we cannot reasonably pick any of them.  I braved the forest for about four minutes a couple of days ago, and despite being mid-day and 30 degrees, and me being quite literally dripping with bug spray, I was chased out before I even got to the berry bush I was trying to pick.  The problem is the thick undergrowth and chest-high grass where the bugs find shelter.   There are so many stray branches and lumps and bumps and occasional rocks on the ground that it is impossible to mow anywhere near the forest, so the grass has really gotten out of hand.

 

After brainstorming for awhile, we decided to buy a scythe.

 

I know, I know, most normal people would get a weed whacker.  Electric is not an option, though, and gas powered anything is a real pain in the butt out here, as we are half an hour from a gas station, and always seem to forget to fill the jerry can when we are in town.  These delicate machines seem to break on me with alarming regularity, and they are expensive!  I reasoned that a scythe, while not exactly cheap, should require only minimal repair over its lifetime, like, say, tightening a bolt on one of the handles, or sharpening the blade.  The input, muscle power, is plentiful around here, unlike gasoline at $1.20 per litre.  I hate the noise of the mower (I can’t stand the vacuum, either), so a weed whacker would just be one more annoyance, whereas the swish-swish of a scythe is actually kind of pleasant.  Once my back heals up, there is a fair chance I will even do some of the grass cutting, a duty that  generally falls to Hubby just because I hate the noise of the lawnmower so much.

 

The other bonus is that the scythe goes through chest high grass quite nicely, and leaves nice, neat piles of greenery that are easy to scoop up and dump in the goat troughs.  The goats love it.  We may even try cutting the back pasture and leaving it to dry for hay…why not, if it’s free?  After just a few minutes’ practice, I can see that Hubby will be able to really motor with that thing – it might even be faster than a lawnmower, at least in the really tall grass.  The big trick will be keeping Molly the barn cat out of swinging range…

 

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There are a bunch of thoughts I have been saving up, nothing big enough for its own post, but ideas I wanted to share.

 

 

Barn Pants:

The barn is…smelly.  In a good way – we clean it pretty regularly, but goats and chickens and cats have…aromas.  Aromas I do not necessarily want to be wearing to work.  Furthermore, chores involve a variety of filth – every morning and evening, we scoop the chicken crap out of the waterers, dole out several kinds of food to the various critters, pet and groom said critters, and milk – my aim is improving, but I still don’t always hit the bucket.  If I were to wear a fresh pair of jeans every day, we would be doing a lot of laundry…and I am pretty sure I’ve made it clear on this blog how we feel about laundry around here.  Therefore, Hubby and I have designated Barn Clothes, that hang in the entryway, ranging from somewhat soiled to totally filthy, and only get washed when it rains and the water is free.  For winter, we will be getting some coveralls, but for summertime, the designated clothing system seems to be working.  Just one more small way to conserve water…

 

 

Emergency Soup:

We have had a lot of storms here, lately, causing several power outages.  No power here means no water (cistern pump is electric) no sewer (ditto the septic pump-out), no lights (for obvious reasons), and no stove (until I get a wood stove, that is).   We have back-up plans for dealing with these things – we keep a couple of jugs of water on hand, for instance, and I have my trusty kerosene lamps.  Back up plans or no, though, these power outages are getting darn inconvenient.   The other night, we came in from chores just in time for a huge crash of lightning and thunder to kill the electricity…again.  We were cold, wet, tired, and hungry.   I had planned to make a quick meal of pasta and white sauce, and a cup of tea.   We waited around for half an hour to see if the power would come back on, but it did not.   We wound up snacking on cheese and crackers, but I was quite put out about it.  I really wanted a hot meal, but I could not justify wasting the time and fuel to dig out the camping stove and put a two- or three- pot meal together, and I was too cold and tired to think up anything easier.

 

Last summer, Hubby and I planned to do a long (week – plus) kayaking trip.  We taste-tested a bunch of freeze-dried / dehydrated camping food, but found most of it over-priced and / or inferior.  So, we bought a bunch of freeze dried and dehydrated ingredients, with the intent of creating our own meals for the trip.   I remembered those ingredients the next day (after the power had come back on, of course), and put together a couple of meals in quart jars – freeze dried green beans and celery, dehydrated carrots and onions, parsley, pepper, and minute rice – all we have to do is add some no-MSG bullion (I can’t tolerate MSG), and some boiling water – voila, instant vegetable soup!  I taste-tested a batch, and it was quite nice.  The next time I want a hot meal during a power outage, all I have to be able to do is boil a pot of water – just one pot, and no thinking necessary.  At the rate the power has been flickering here, though, I may need to come up with a couple more recipes, just for variety.  We are at the end of the road, and not a priority for repairs, I suspect, and it has been a bad year for thunderstorms already…

 

 

The Wayward Cat:

Earlier this week, we opened up all of the barn doors, and finally let the three new cats roam free.  We had been putting it off, due to inclement weather, plus various construction projects we were still completing – Stevie is a bit…tightly wound…and we were afraid the pounding and sawing would scare him off.  Sure enough, even without the pounding and sawing, Stevie immediately disappeared, and did not turn up for supper.  Bobby did not want to come back into the barn to be locked up for the night, but at least she put in an appearance.  We really want to keep everyone in the barn at night, as there are so many predators here – owls, foxes, coyotes, and apparently even bears and wolves, though we’ve never seen either here.   Today was about day four with no sign of Stevie, and we were beginning to give up hope.  We were feeling pretty bad about it, as he was a nice cat, even if he was a little sketchy.  Lo and behold, though, at supper chores tonight, who turned up but Stevie, hungry and a little ragged-looking, but otherwise unharmed.  Sighs of relief all around!

 

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We started planting back before the May Long Weekend (May 23rd), and had started seeds much earlier than that, but our garden did not get off to an auspicious start.  While the May Long boasted gorgeous weather, the following week, and two weeks after, brought killing frosts, and temperatures several degrees below freezing.  Some areas got quite a bit of snow in mid-June, be we had no moisture at all, and only the onion sets and potatoes came up for the longest time.

 

Then it started to rain.  And rain.  And rain.  We began to wonder if we should build an Ark.  The barn sprang a leak right over the Chicken Mahal, and we could not keep up with emptying the buckets.  It rained some more.  The barn cats would not come out of the barn.  It became a challenge to get to work, as sloughs started filling up and threatening to spill over the roads.  The frogs loved it, at least.

 

There have been a couple of sunny days, but not enough to actually dry anything out – just enough to encourage the mosquito population to dramatic new highs.  The sunny days have been hot and muggy, punctuated by thunderstorms that roll in and knock the power out for an hour or two, terrify the dogs, and move on after dumping a couple more inches of rain.   I thought Saskatchewan was supposed to be an arid province, but I digress.

 

Today, after a couple of back-to-back days of sun, we finally got out into the garden to take a look around.  I’m sure it’s been almost two weeks since we were last able to even walk in there.

 

The potatoes are knee high, and the onions are up and looking great.  There are slightly-crooked rows of beans, beets, carrots, radishes, and turnips, all with their baby leaves pushed up through the dirt.  The peas have several leaves each, though the plants are a little smaller than I somehow think they ought to be.  The squash, melon, pepper, and tomato transplants look unhappy with all the mud, but seem to be hanging in there.  No asparagus, though, not one single plant out of fifty, and one of the rhubarb plants is definitely dead.  The corn is not up yet, and I wonder if the seed has rotted.   Hubby may have to re-plant, and hope we still have enough time for it to set any ears.   The sunflowers are…completely overgrown with thistles, lamb’s quarters, and canola.

 

In fact, the most impressive growth of anything in the garden at all, is the weeds.   We have a very lush field of them, 85 by 95 feet, plus another 15 or 20 feet around the edges of the garden where our very kind farmer neighbours were especially careful to not spray the garden with Roundup, or whatever herbicide they are using on the canola they have planted all around our acreage.  We’re going to have to take a lawnmower through there, just to find the garden!

 

Hubby has his work cut out for him, and there’s more rain forecast for tomorrow…

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