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Forty Years with Birds and Dogs 

Two Ducklings Arrive, With Help

First swim

Ms. Khaki and Mr. Campbell announce the arrival of their first ducklings, Mudsy and Puddles, on Saturday August 4 and early Sunday morning August 5.

Success came after 28 days of careful setting by Ms. Khaki, with two short breaks each day for grabbing a quick bite of mud and a quick dip in the horse trough, during which I managed to sneak a hand into the nest box to mist and turn the eggs. We both experienced one day of panic August 4, when Mudsy's small hole in her (think her, not him) shell failed to grow larger. The duckling was not going to make it out of the shell. Late in the day I decided to peel the egg. Sure enough, the membrane was tough, and drying out fast. I eased the shell off the weak, damp rag inside--and it wiggled! Carefully--oh so carefully, so as not to cause more blood to appear--I freed the damp rag from most of its shell before Ms. Khaki returned to the nest.

The next morning, fearing the worst, I opened the access door to the nest  Read More 

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Waiting for Ms.Khaki's eggs to hatch out

Mama Khaki

So far so good, except I think there are more chicken eggs in the lot. I fixed the fence so Gwendolyn couldn't get in and steal the nest, but chickens are remarkable gymnasts. Five feet mean nothing to their pogo stick legs. Someone should start a chicken polevault event at the next state fair. I still haven't figured out how Gwen gets into Ms. Ritz and Kiebler's pen. She can't get out after she lays her egg in Ms. Ritz's nest.

Another good jumping chicken was Peeky, who sat on twelve eggs, not just eight, for the allotted 4 weeks. Read More 

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Conversations with Ms. Khaki

Ms. Khaki and Mr. Campbell are expecting August 5. She has a beautiful nest, a perfect circle of straw and eight handsome green eggs in the nest box, where they are safe from everyone but my daily spraying with a fine mist from the outside-pen access door. (The humidity in the southwest has been very low lately, so the inner membrane on the eggs can be too tough for a chick or duckling to break through.)

I've had to pen up Gwendolyn the hen, for she is determined to contribute to the nest and can hop a four foot chicken wire divider. Ms. Khaki moves over without a struggle to let the hen lay, but she stays a bit longer than the duck would like, so she's happy when I remove her friend, who also lays eggs of green. (Good thing they're smaller and a different shade, since Ms. Khaki supplies eggs for a young girl allergic to chicken eggs.)

We don't have many insects here in this dry country, but somehow the red worms find the spilled water under the water dishes, which become an occasional treat for Ms. Khaki. When she hears me doing the morning chores, she comes out of the nest box and heads directly for the chicken wire divider to look me in the eye and ask for some red worms, please. It's a quiet but insistent series of eighth-note quacks. "Okay," I say, and I lift off the water dish to see if any worms have dug themselves into the wet soil. Sure enough, if a few days have gone by, there they are, so I dig some up and toss them to the waiting mother-to-be. (This is her first brood.) She and Mr. Campbell gobble them up, and she comes back to the divider asking for more. I look. "No more today," I say, holding my hands open to confirm the English, and Ms. Khaki turns around, takes another drink of water and heads back to the nest for the day--until she hears me again in the afternoon, when she comes to the fence to ask politely for a snack of her favorite treat, iceberg lettuce. (She was raised on it, but I've convinced her that Honey Dew melon rinds are nearly as good.)

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Depression and Treats

Little Bear Turkey

How do you restore a hen lost in depression--not eating, not getting enough calcium to lay an egg, not returning to the pen with the others for the afternoon treat? Expensive mealy worms are not working. Maybe melon rind laced with crushed calcium pills or dripped onto fresh corn husks?

No worries. There seems to be relief in routine--finding the surrogate hen mother's socks to peck, up there on the porch, where she's typing out some ideas for a book trailer. For sure there is lots of relief in the daily excursion out of the pen to explore the half acre, scratching for goodies with endless optimism--a lesson for us all. Turkey doesn't do depression; she gets territorial for no good reason, but only with me, never with Don, over which she moons whenever he goes outside.

Turkey's favorite treats, bar none, are the seeds from Honey Dew melon and apple cores. Lucy Goose won't touch fruit, but turkey will try a little. Ms. Kahki the duck was raised on lettuce treats, so nothing else will do. The chickens will do anything, except onion, banana peels and citrus.

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No shell--Big Trouble

Red and Gwendolyn

"Americia," aka "Red," didn't hop into my lap yesterday. Something was wrong. She sat most of the day in a lovely deep nest in the straw bale. I thought she had gone broody. She hadn't been laying eggs lately, just one, without much of a shell. I added crushed calcium to the treat bucket, but when I picked her up to put her on a more protected nest, I saw half a weak shell fall from her behind. I checked and extracted something else, then looked around in the straw and the nests. The other half shell must be still inside of her--an emergency situation.

Thanks be to those who contribute to Wikihow.com!! It was all there and it worked--first a quiet time separate from the other birds, then a soak in warm water. I had to talk her into sitting down into the water, but she trusted my insistent push and seemed to relax when she felt the warmth. I checked her vent and applied a sterile lubricating gel, then gently massaged between her legs for several minutes, several times.

Red survived the night and is doing well today. After her treatment, she settled down on a towel in a box set on its side , and in the morning I found the second half of the shell in the towel. She's going on a diet of calcium, shrimp tails or dried mealy worms, kale and broccoli, and no corn mixed in her lay pellets. I suspect she's been overdosing on the 10% prescribed cracked corn and ignoring the oyster shell the other birds devour every day.

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Oops! Dogs Can Taste That Stuff

Will DeeDee defend her dish if I leave it outside?

I have tasted a little dog food. It's pretty bland. But DeeDee and Scooter have always snarfed it down as if they'd never see food again. Once, when I wanted to see if they would self-limit, I kept giving them cups to woof down, until they started heaving at cup number 8. Okay--you can't self-limit. You probably survived on your own for a week or more at age 2-3 months by eating whatever--or whenever a kind person responded to your big eyes and smudgy black and white spots.
Recently, I made the mistake of forgetting to remind the housesitter what the dogs were supposed to eat. Instead she gave them a special treat food with venison in it plus their "cookies"--dessert of three oral care knobules. Now, they won't eat their normal diet fare. Only if I leave it around all day. No matter. They are 12 years old now. They have a touch of arthritis and still do a good job "watching" the birds--turkey, Lucy the goose and all. They can eat or not, as they will, but now I know. Dogs can taste, or maybe it's just smell. Whatever. They can be as finicky as cats, if they get the chance.

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Sympathy in Birds?

They crowded around the stock tank as I lifted Toffee out, a patch of feathers missing from her neck. All of them were there--Turkey; Lucy and Bobbi, the geese; DeeDee and Scooter, the dogs; the fours ducks; and the two remaining chickens. They seemed to be responding to my cries of protest. Another hawkattack, probably, and Toffee was too heavy for the predator to carry off the prey. Would she have survived if she hadn't fallen into the stock tank?

I'll never know, but I know sympathy when I get it. The dogs offered it with nudges and licks, and Lucy honked quietly as she watched me lift the old chicken from the water. Gwendolyn and Red, the young chickens, were more interested in the treat bucket that I had set down when I discovered the tragedy. Maybe sympathy goes with a slightly larger brain. Read More 

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Birds in the Sun--The Treat Bucket

It's been beautiful lately here in New Mexico. The skies are their usual deep blue, and the sun is warm. Lucy, Bobbi and the gang hang out with the dogs near the south fence, where the sun rides over the yard all day.

Yesterday Lucy goose was asleep on the back porch when I came out to give the birds their afternoon treat of Honey Dew melon rinds. I'm afraid the door rudely bumped her awake, but she followed the treat bucket down to the pen anyway. Khaki and Mr. Campbell led the way, and Kiebler and Ms. Ritz (the little quackers) followed behind Little Bear the turkey and the two hens, Gwendolyn and Americia, whom I call Red. It works, you see--the white bucket full of goodies from the kitchen. It often includes the ducks' favorite, marginally healthy iceberg lettuce, and turkey's favorite, old bread. I highly recommend it as an easy way to get domestic birds back into the pen before dusk, or whenever you, not they, choose. The problem--no wet garbage to make compost, and no lawn that needs mowing in the xeriscaped lot.

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A Memorial and A Reminder

The reminder--Chickens are very hard to defend against chicken hawks. Cooper Hawks they are called, and their eyes are bigger than their stomachs. The whole hawk isn't much bigger than a chicken, but chickens are delicious, so hawks kill them anyway, especially when the chickens are enjoying their free range, open to the sky. Read More 

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Turkey Is Rude, Every Morning

You'd think turkey would know me by now. I've had her nearly ten years, raised her from a chick--at least I watchd the White Silkie, Ms. Fluff, raise her after the second bear attack. I've been bringing her lay pellets and no more than 10% cracked corn for a long time. I let her raise a couple chicken chicks after she set for four weeks. I bring her apple cores and give her a bite of sandwich when we have lunch on the back porch. So why does she get all huffy and trill at me every morning now. Has she gone wild or something. Or is it my new brown winter hat with the puff ball on top? Maybe she'll recognize me when it gets warmer. Temple Grandin reminds us that what animals see is primarily what they get. Don't miss reading her book "Animals in Translation." http://www.amazon.com/Animals-Translation-Mysteries-Autism-Behavior/dp/0156031442/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1328901854&sr=8-4

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