Jason has been on holidays since last Wednesday. Originally, we had been planning on taking a trip out to Abbotsford for a wedding, then down to Seattle to see my brother for Thanksgiving. We weren't the only ones who were disappointed when we had to cancel due to budgetary constraints. However, Jason had been saving up his time off, and we had several fall projects that needed doing, so he took the holidays anyway.
For the most part, I have continued to do school with the kids during his holiday, as he has been outside cutting and splitting wood most days. He has also helped teach the kids at times, which has been fun for them and for him. Today, as I napped to try and kick the final vestiges of a cold that just won't die combined with the monthly cyclical low that leaves me drained of energy, Jason took over the morning subjects completely.
By afternoon, bolstered by my nap, I was able to teach the kids science so Jason could take advantage of the gorgeous weather and get back outside. As part of a lesson on evaporation, the kids did a watercolour painting. Two of the three made pictures for me that said "I love you."
"And this is me hugging and kissing you," explained Jabin.
I am so blessed by my family.
So, last Tuesday, Jude got to bring home a little miniature male version of the kitten's mother, which he named "Tigger".
Tigger has been in the house, except for a few brief forays into the outside world, so we can make sure he is good and used to us. We have two other cats, both males: one is Simba, one of our original two kittens from 2009 that spent the winter inside (and contributed to Jason's contracting pneumonia the following spring), the other Samson, Simba's nephew.
Samson and his siblings were born in October of 2010, going into a particularly cold winter, and did not get handled much. As a result, he is feral--but he sticks around and keeps the mice population under control.
Still, it's a shame he won't let us near him. Because of that, Jason agreed to keeping Tigger inside for a limited time (ending today or tomorrow, methinks) to make sure he is good and tame--and also to ease him and the Great White Dork (aka "Thunder") into some kind of understanding with one another. Even if the understanding is just that Tigger learns not to let Thunder anywhere near him...
After we were certain that Koda was gone for good, Jason started looking for another dog. With bears as next-door-neighbours, having two dogs isn't a bad idea in the Peace Country, even if they are both good guard dogs.
Jason did all kinds of research on what breed would be the best fit for our current situation. As much as I didn't want to start with a puppy, I knew from experience that we were likely to get a better dog in the end if we did so. You can get great dogs from rescues, and we have had several, but you have to be willing to invest a lot of time to get them there--which we don't have right now.
After much debate, and upon discovery that Koda's sweet temper was typical of the Malamute side of his cross (the other being German Shepherd), Jason decided upon a Malamute. The new puppies in that breed are astronomically expensive, though. (Koda had been a gift from someone Jason knew when he worked at UFA--the owner of a European Malamute whose neighbour's dog jumped the fence at just the wrong time.)
We found a breeder by Edson who had a six-month-old pure-white Alaskan Malamute male for sale at a price we could afford--there was nothing wrong with him, he just hadn't sold when the rest of his litter-mates had. The owner had lowered the price to try and recoup the cost of dog feed, and not have to keep feeding him! He had more puppies on the way, after all.
We picked him up in early April. We were somewhat relieved that he was not really responding to the name the breeder had been using, as we didn't much care for it. On the drive home, after the typical "name debate," we decided upon "Thunder". (Thought we'd keep the meteorological theme going that Sunshine had started.)
|Thunder at 6 1/2 months.|
Only weeks after Thunder had joined the homestead, Noah went out to feed the chickens and gather eggs. The run door wasn't latching properly, needing some adjustment after the winter. In about five minutes, Thunder managed to kill one of my two roosters and fifteen of my eighteen laying hens. A couple weeks later, he got one more hen through a similar circumstance.
I wasn't happy, needless to say. Mostly with Noah's carelessness. However, I must be becoming calloused, because it was not as devastating as it once would have been. Things like this are just part of having puppies, and kids, and chickens. (Sigh.) He wasn't after blood, anyway--he just wanted to play. As soon as a dog that size starts playing with a chicken, though, it "breaks." Then he had to go on to the next wonderfully-jumpy feathery squawking ball, but I'm sure it broke disappointingly early, too.
Other than the normal puppyish predicaments, Thunder has been a joy. He has proven to be just as sweet-tempered as Koda was, just as eager to please, although much, much bigger.
This was his size compared to Sunshine at 6 1/2 months:
This is the difference now, at nine months:
For Sunshine's part, although she and Koda had an on-again, off-again relationship, she and Thunder bonded right away. There was no struggle for dominance, probably due in part to the fact that Thunder was already bigger than her when we got him. He just got to be top dog from the start--something that she was never quite willing to let Koda be. Also, I think she was pretty lonely after nearly a winter without a buddy.
It took a few weeks, but Thunder even managed to teach Sunshine how to play. Now they wrestle with glee and abandon on a regular basis.
|Taking a break in the shade of the coop after a wrestling match, Mother's Day.|
Unfortunately for him, and for me, many of my started and potted plants are in plastic pots, conveniently near the front door. It wasn't long before his chain was shortened so he couldn't reach them when tied. And we keep a pretty close eye on him when he's not!
We've also had to remove the plastic knobs from the barbecue. Once in a while, he tries to get at the wheels and the plastic lock for them.
Despite the late age we got him at, he has proven smart and trainable, but with a good dose of the stubbornness that is typically present in the more intelligent breeds. All in all, he's worked his way into our hearts and family pretty solidly--and I have hopes that by next year, the "DestructoBeast" moniker can be dropped.
For now, we'll try to endure, and retrain, his teenagerish ways.
Welcome to the family, Thunder.
So negligent, in fact, that he is not really "new" any more. But first of all, a memorial.
Anyone who has read this blog for a while may note the high turnover of dogs we have had. Some of them were because they just didn't work out for whatever reason--especially when we lived in town. However, some of it is just a hazard of country living in the North, where wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, bears, and other kinds of truly wild and dangerous animals can skirt your property on a nightly basis, and you may not even be aware of it--that is, until your favourite pet doesn't come home one night.
Such was the case with Koda. Koda, whom we loved, was the sweetest, gentlest-tempered dog we'd ever had, with only one fatal flaw: he liked to wander.
We didn't get him fixed at an early enough age, and naively let him stay loose one weekend in September 2010 when we took a trip, because he had never wandered before. Such could not be said by the time we returned.
He found a couple of German Shepherd-cross pups about 3/4 mile away, mostly cross-country, to whom he bonded like they were soul mates. The owners didn't do much to discourage his presence there (as far as we can tell, they did nothing--even petting him, telling us on multiple occasions how much they loved him. Grrr.) Soon, they had a pack going, and there was nothing we could do to break it. If we wanted him to stay home, he had to be leashed or kennelled at all times. Even if we were out in the yard, he would often disappear silently into the trees if he thought our activity was too boring.
We finally gave up. "If the neighbours want to feed him, they can have him," we said. This rankled deeply in Jason's spirit, because he really loved that dog. Especially on the occasion when he would see "the pack" out in the field on his way by. If he stopped and called, Koda would come, of course. He would seem happy to see us, most of the time. But then he'd leave as soon as he got a chance.
So, this past winter, we didn't bother bringing him home anymore. (He would never come home of his own accord when he was out with his buddies--the pack always returned to our neighbour's yard. We were constantly running over there to check for him, and bring him home if the dogs were there.)
Finally, after being gone for over a month, Koda trotted home one time. He stayed overnight. Then left. A few weeks later, he came home and stayed for about five days, then left. We didn't know what to make of him, and didn't want to encourage him in thinking he could just come and go from here as he pleased, either.
In March, we made one last attempt to encourage him to stay home. We tied him up at night after he had come home for the day, during which we had spent as much time with him as possible. The next day he stayed home for most of the day, then wandered off in the evening. Jason had to go to town that night, and on his way happened to spy him in the field, so he quickly brought him home, but didn't tie him up.
And that was the last we ever saw of Koda.
We wouldn't have realized what happened so soon if the neighbour who owned the rest of the "pack" hadn't stopped by only two days later, asking if his dog had come to our place. (One of his dogs had already disappeared several weeks earlier.) His dogs had never come to our place, we explained. It didn't take long to realize that his dog, which usually came home when his owner got home from work, hadn't been seen since the night Koda had last left.
That week, we searched throughout the neighbourhood. We checked at the SPCA. We searched the ditches.
We never saw another sign of either dog.
But the week that they disappeared, the coyotes had been rather loud and active in the area for several nights in a row.
As frustrating as that dog was, it was still a sad thing to say goodbye to sweet Koda.
|One of our last photos of Koda, taken last October with Jason and Sunshine, our Golden Retriever.|
Didn't say much. Didn't stay long, either.
Koda wanted to give them a warm welcome. Fortunately, he was tied up, or we wouldn't have seen them for the rest of the night. Momma Moose didn't seem to want to stick around to figure out whether the dog was loose or not. (Sunshine was too chicken to go investigate.)
I love living in the country!
... even when your buddy's on detention.
An invitation to play!
I know you were thinking it...
As soon as our friend Cheryl read my Desperate Measures post, she and her husband volunteered their holiday trailer for us to live in, as opposed to tenting throughout our transition. Thank you, Steve and Cheryl! What a blessing, especially as this has now turned into a very wet spring... tenting would not have been pleasant in the least!
Also, the trailer that we looked at and liked is the one we ended up buying. It had renters in it, so we needed to wait until the owner could give notice before arranging the move. Now we are waiting until the house mover has time to work it into his schedule.
The new trailer is twelve feet longer than this one, with a 12'x24' addition and a deck. It is in very nice condition, so the only thing we will do to it before we move in is paint it, something I hope to have finished in a week or less. (Any volunteer help with the painting would be gladly accepted!)
Our plan is to move our current trailer off a ways into the yard, gut it for anything usable, and burn it in the depths of winter. The local scrap yard will take the metal frame when all that is done.
We are partially moving into the holiday trailer for a few weeks, so some of our stuff is currently travelling around the yard. As far as the house, the plan is to only really pack up and move out the stuff that may break or fall down in the jostling that comes with moving the house. That pile will partially fit into our SeaCan, but mostly spend a week or so on pallettes under a tarp in the yard, is my guess. Then, once the painting is done, we will be moving into our new home, which will be sitting in the exact same location as our current one. (We like the view from here, and the amount of protection we get. Not to mention, all of our utilities are already laid in right to this spot.)
This is a weird move for me.We are halfway between several places, which is weird, but it is strange to only be packing some of our stuff, and figuring out where to tuck it out of the way in the meantime. Also, the expected moving date keeps changing--right now, it looks like the 29th, but it may have to be pushed later. Then, there is the need to coordinate when our gas, power, water, septic, and internet will all be disconnected--and then reconnected a few days later. Also, figuring out the logistics of moving the addition and the deck, which the house mover is not equipped to do. And finding a hitch for moving the trailers. Eep. No wonder I've been trying not to think about it. (I know that strategy won't work for much longer.)
The kids and I were sleeping in the holiday trailer starting on Sunday night--the same night that Jason left for a week-long business trip. And the same night, it so happens, that it started getting fairly chilly and wet. I am not experienced with holiday trailers, never having used one, but by Wednesday I decided I needed to turn on the furnace. I followed the instructions, but no heat resulted. Are we out of propane in there, or is it just not on? Not sure, but Jason will be home tonight, so he can help us figure it out.
Between the chill and the damp, the kids and I have all ended up with wicked colds, so by Thursday night, I decided that the mould inside and a good night's sleep was probably more desirable than the cold outside on hard, uncomfortable mattresses. Jason can help us haul out our own mattresses to use tomorrow--something I was not willing to attempt on my own, due to the mud and the wet everywhere.
So, half in, half out. Within the next week, we will likely be living exclusively out of the holiday trailer, so I can pack up in the house with less interference. Some dry weather for a few days later in the week would be good--if it is too wet, we can't move the trailers anywhere. Our driveway is pretty mushy with just the van travelling up and down it right now, let alone a truck and mobile home!
So, there you go... all you wanted to know, and way more than you needed to, about our moving adventure. I feel like we are in the Twilight Zone--halfway between houses, not really in either one. Also, the overcast skies have made it feel like twilight for most of the day lately--and the fact that we are only three days away from when the sun only sets for a few hours means that it is twilight for most of the night, too. (It would be, anyway, if it weren't so cloudy.)
And you know I can't leave the chickens out entirely, not with the ongoing saga-of-the-moment. Last night, I confirmed that it is, indeed, coyotes that have been molesting my livestock. I confess to staying up extremely late, worrying and listening to what was going on outside through the open window. Around 1:30 a.m., a pack of coyotes surrounded our yard, their eerie cries echoing from the trees in several places. Koda barked valiantly, and after a few minutes, the howls faded into silence. (He even howled back at them a few times. Maybe he secretly wants to be a coyote.)
This morning I was relieved to see that there were no further molestations of either dogs or chickens, so I guess the strategy worked. Yay! Those dogs are more than a money drain, after all! (I know they are cute, too, but that only counts for so much.)
Photos taken this afternoon:
Like here--a natural vignette by our walkway that reminds me of an overgrown garden.
So, here is the spring roll call in comparison to last fall:
Dogs: Koda (original) plus Sunshine (Surprise!) = 2
Cats: 3 given away, 3 dead, 3 remaining
Chickens: 2 dead (by Sunshine's paws--or rather, teeth)
People: No change. (Well, we gained a little--but not in numbers of heads! ;-D)
I was very sad when Nala, my sweet sucky female cat, disappeared without a trace a few weeks ago. However, we still have one of her female kittens, a pretty long-haired calico named Patches. Unfortunately, Patches is not keen on being picked up, petted--or even touched. At least her brother Samson seems to be a little more friendly. That's what happens with barn cats, I guess. (Or, in our case, "shed cats.")
|Uncle Simba soaking up the Spring Sun.|
|Samson and Patches enjoy the warmth, but stick a little closer to shelter.|
|Sunshine the "Surprise Dog". Yes, she is a cat-chaser. Thus, the kittens' reason for staying "close to home" (see above).|
|Cat-chaser, chicken-killer, but people-lover. This is one sweet, loyal dog. AND! She stays home!!!|
"Oh? What kind of dog is it?" she said, helping me to choose a dish of the appropriate size.
"She's a Golden Retreiver--about two. I need a toy for her, too, like a rope toy. Where do you keep them?"
She pointed me in the right direction.
"I need to have something I can train her that she is allowed to chase--unlike the chicken she killed this morning," I explained, then immediately corrected myself. "Alright, not killed, mutilated--then I had to kill it. Not what I was planning on doing in -20C and eighteen feet of snow on a Friday morning."
She had been raised on a farm, so she sympathized with me as she rang up my dog dish and dog toys.
Apparently, my husband does crazy things when he is left alone for prolonged periods of time--like drive four hours (one way!) to pick up a dog. He had his reasons, but I was definitely surprised when he told me about it on the phone last Sunday!
Sunshine is pretty sweet, but as a retriever, her chasing instinct is strong, and she hasn't been worked with a lot to channel that properly--a fact that became painfully obvious this morning when she barged into the barely-open coop door, chased chickens around for awhile and seriously maimed one of my laying hens. I am hoping that this particular flaw is workable, since she seemed more interested in chasing than killing (although much longer and the bird would have been dead by her paws--and teeth--anyway.)
All that aside, she has some definite positive characteristics--she seems to do great with the kids, and she hasn't attempted to leave our yard (yet--and I'm hoping it stays that way). She needs training, but she seems to be smart, and there is evidence that she might be a quick learner. However, it is too soon to say whether the evidence is a "lesson learned" or "mere coincidence" at this point.
Jason got Sunshine in an attempt to keep Koda, our 17-month-old European Malamute/German Shepherd cross, from wandering over to play with the neighbour's Shepherd pups (almost a year old, now) at every opportunity. Sadly, that has only partially worked out. He seems to be content to play with Sunshine during the day, but if we leave the dogs loose at night, he'll wander off anyway. It's very frustrating. He has been spending a lot of time tied up because of that, which isn't good for a dog, and he has started to get nippy with the kids. Jason finally bought a kennel last weekend (about 9'x10') but that is only nominally better--especially since it is now being occupied by two dogs! However, as long as he stays around during the day, at least he can wear off energy all day long with another dog and not be tied up for most of each 24-hour period.
After regaling (notice my clever euphemism for "whining"?) my friend L today about the emergency chicken butchering (I also needed to call her for advice, since she has been my "chicken butchering mentor" so far, and I have now only actually done it on four birds), she gave me a great idea to work with Sunshine that I actually started doing this afternoon.
After catching Sunshine in the act of mauling one of my best Ameracauna laying hens, I knew two things immediately: I was going to have to butcher a chicken today (a thrilling thing to note when you are still in your pajamas under your winter coat) and I had a serious training issue or three to deal with in our new dog. As I tried to drag Sunshine back to the kennel so I could deal with the injured bird, I noticed that she did not seem to be submitting to me at all, pulling back stubbornly against me or jumping up on me. Not wanting to let the chicken (whom I had instructed Noah to take into the house and put in the bathtub) suffer too long, but not wanting to let this unacceptable behaviour on Sunshine's part slide, either, I had Jude bring me a leash so I would have a little more control than when just using the collar, and worked with her on the "Down" command (a huge one for submission) for about five minutes, requiring her to obey it several times on the way back to the kennel. Then she got shut up until I could do triage on the most urgent situation--putting Emily out of her misery. (Jude named the chicken last fall--and yes, I think it was after his longtime "crush" on my friend Amanda's daughter! When he first came in to tell me about the fiasco that was ensuing with the dog and chickens, he was in tears because Sunshine had "killed Emily." Poor guy.)
Anyway, L suggested spending some time training Sunshine while the chicken chores were being done, which I began doing today. When Jude went out to feed the chickens at lunch, I went with him, putting Sunshine on the leash and making her heel/sit outside the straw-bale windbreak we have at the front of the coop, watching the proceedings. Her entire body was quivering--I could tell that she was wanting desperately to get in there and have some more "fun". However, after only a couple of reminders for her to sit, she complied pretty well. After that, we spent a little bit of time doing some "don't chase the cats" training, since Simba was taking advantage of the afternoon sun for a siesta on the front step. I am planning on working with her every time the chores are being done (so, twice a day) for the next several days, or as long as it takes, for her to figure out that chasing the chickens and cats is not acceptable. That's also the reason for buying her toys--to give her something she's allowed to chase. (I probably would have just used sticks, except they are all a little inaccessible under the mountains of white stuff currently. I am SO ready for spring!)
I think the real reason my husband decided to get a second dog is to give me less time to think about wanting to adopt a kid--if the dog gives me enough trouble, maybe I won't want another kid, is that it, Honey? *wink, nudge* Good luck with that! :-)
(Sorry, no photos of Sunshine, yet--she was too busy trying to get at the cats under the shed on Wednesday when I attempted to photograph her--and my computer is also currently undergoing renovations. I am waiting for my new photo editing software, since my old one is incompatible with Windows 7!
Kittens are really really hard to photograph. They are worse than kids, because they are faster. And they don't know how to sit and pose for you! At least a kid, by the time they are mobile, has seen a camera enough times that they will occasionally humour you when you whip it out. Not so with three- and four-week-old kittens.
There are seven of the little furballs--five male, two female. Congrats to those of you who deciphered it correctly! The winner of the draw for the Amazon.com gift certificate is....
Now for some pictures, so that you can enjoy all that kitty cuteness vicariously.
I have four kittens spoken for. That means THREE are still available to you, oh Cuddly Kitten-Lover! I have labelled the kittens in several pictures, so that those of you wanting one can let me know which ones to set aside for you. The names were made up for labelling only, and are NOT actual names of the kittens! You are welcome to name them whatever you wish!
"Shadow" and "Patches" are the two females. (Shadow is not in the first group shot.)
"Fluffy" seems to be the feistiest little boy. Here he is, hissing at the nerve of me:
These photos taken today, at 5 weeks old. The kittens are definitely feeling more comfortable around us, and were starting to play while they were in the house today. Here is Shadow, checking out the situation from the safety of the box we transport them in:
Fluffy: Even fluffier than before!
Patches: "Are you finished, yet?! This is only fun for one of us, I'm sure!"
Also in the realm of "sevens", this is my 700th blog post. I'm not sure what kind of a landmark that is, but it just seems like such a nice celebratory number. So, Happy Something, Winters' Day In!
"Well, you're going to pretty much do that, now," I commented back, relating the change in schedule. "Why?"
"I want to get it over with," he replied. I choked back a guffaw of laughter at this unexpected response.
"Only nine more years, buddy... And that's just high school."
He didn't seem that phased by the number. Maybe, since that is longer than he has currently been alive, a scope of time that long has no meaning for him. Kind of like I can't grasp the scope when I say "a billion dollars."
It's just too much! Well, in Jude's case, it might be best to keep it that way for a while. No need to overwhelm the little guy.
"I wonder if Nala's pregnant?" I pondered aloud to Jason. I was doing evening chores, and he was outside building a compost bin. Nala was being very affectionate and hinting that she would like to go indoors. (She hints at that frequently. She hasn't yet figured out that she is now an outside cat.) I picked her up and noticed that she was starting to get rather thick in the middle--considering that she is normally a little raily, this is worth noticing. I flipped her over and felt around some more--swollen pink nipples, round abdomen. A quick Google search confirmed it. Pregnant.
I have no idea when she is due, but I'm guessing not for another month. So, uh... anyone want a kitten in November?
My 12 three-and-a-half-month-old chicks (10 Red Rocks, and 2 Ameraucanas that I just bought) all went into "The Big Coop" tonight with my older birds. It is just getting to be too much to move them and feed them as much as they require, and I am fairly confident that Koda will leave them alone, now. (Well, as long as he is tied up while they are out, as is his usual state in the afternoon.)
One of them has a gimpy leg as a result of getting it hurt during a move of the chicken tractor when she was 10 weeks old, and she limps around on the top of her foot on that side. I'm just glad she survived, but needless to say, she is at the bottom of the pecking order. I hope that she and the smallest Ameraucana (also low in the social order) are still alive in the morning.
I am thinking of moving two of my teenage "boys" into "the small coop" by themselves until I get to butchering them, so that my young and adult "ladies" aren't kept quite so busy (if you know what I mean), but that would mean they wouldn't be able to free range--which equals more work for me. And more chicken food that I have to pay for. I'm just excited that as of tomorrow, I will have twenty-two free-range birds, instead of only ten. And none to move around!
Also exciting on the chicken front (at least to me!), we are now up to six hens of laying age, averaging about four eggs a day. Considering our family usually consumes between four and six dozen eggs a week, it is pretty thrilling that these birds are finally starting to "earn their keep!"
Well, that's about it for today, folks. Y'all come back now.
I was planning on telling you about the fabulous day I had in Grande Prairie, choosing curriculum for next year, which I had an amazing brainwave about last night--it could be my most prepared (and fun) school year yet.
But that plan all changed when I drove into the yard and saw little chicken carcasses strewn hither and yon, and an almost-empty coop, relaying the sad tale of mayhem so recently enacted there.
There was a hole in the chicken wire on the side of my small chicken tractor--the one housing nearly 50 almost-two-month old chicks--most of which were destined for the freezer, but there were still five remaining dark brown leghorns which were to be our laying stock for this winter and beyond--a prolific laying breed, and an endangered species, to boot. None of the leghorns survived. In all, we only found nine live chicks, four of which were females which are now going to have to be saved for laying hens. That means that, between the five remaining meat stock and the two older roosters from my first batch that were heading for the table, we will have a total of seven birds in our freezer this winter--assuming these remaining birds survive that long.
I am still so upset I can barely type this. Such a waste of time, and money, and energy.
At this rate, Koda will be lucky if HE survives until winter.