A Silliness Compendium

It’s been a busy few weeks here at the Abbey. Just when you thought the silliness levels couldn’t get any higher around here, they did!

First, we celebrated Easter:

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“Who on earth laid THOSE?”

Then, we indulged our Walter Mitty-esque daydreams:

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“Here’s the Smilodon waiting to ambush the giant sloth . . .”

We brought camouflage to a level of performance art:

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Which is the ball of yarn, and which is Linus?

We vowed revenge on the stupid human who made us wear this ridiculous piece of protective clothing:

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“I know you’re saying it’s to protect my neck from being pecked, but I know humiliation when I see it.”

*(Yes, that is a hand-knitted neck protector. I have officially made my first piece of chicken clothing. She kept it on for all of 5 minutes.)

We learned how to play tether ball with a head of lettuce:

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“Heads up, Sally!”

We discovered the best seat in the house:

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“Sorry, Shatner. The Starship Enterprise has nothing on this.”

Even the wildlife got in on the act:

 

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Yes, those are deer playing on piles of dirt.

There’s quite a lot to catch you up on: Octopus and other aquarium encounters! Chicken politics! BOBCAT PHOTOS!!!!!! Stay tuned!

 

The Pharaoh’s Bird

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“Move over, Ra. There’s a new sun deity in town.”

Today’s long-overdue profile in silliness is of Nutmeg, our sweet, soft-spoken Golden Laced Wyandotte. Pumpkin’s best buddy and a huge fan of DH, Nutmeg is the type of personality you’d want in any group: friendly,  laid back but not a pushover,  not afraid to speak her mind but does so diplomatically,  and funny. As I write this she is ordering Jenny and Sally around as they all select dust bathing spots, putting herself at the top of the hierarchy (for today, anyway). Before that, she went back inside the barn to fetch Pumpkin, who was nervous about coming out because a hawk had flown through the neighborhood 15 minutes earlier. “Come out into the sunshine! You’re not alone, you’re with me!” said Nutmeg, and the two zipped out of the barn together and joined the rest of us in the sun. Confident and considerate, she’s a cool chick to have around.

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Hard-working girl.

Nutmeg also has one of the sweetest chicken voices I’ve heard, a soft “doot-doot-doot” that varies in inflection depending on whether she’s asking for a treat (“doot-doot-doOOT?”), telling me her feet are cold and could I please warm them for her (won’t transliterate that one, and yes, I have warmed my chickens’ feet when they are cold; doesn’t everyone?), or telling me she needs to lay her egg. As a chick, she was the quietest of our flock and this has remained the case. It’s an interesting contrast with our other brash ladies who have no qualms about saying things loudly and proudly.

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A beautiful chicken like that? She deserves more than one balloon!

Finally, in addition to having all the aforementioned lovely personal qualities,  Nutmeg is drop-dead gorgeous. Her black and gold feathers grace the banner at the top of this blog, but that photo does not do them justice. When the sunlight hits her, the gold lights up like flame and the black reflects iridescent green. Since her comb lies close to her head, she has somewhat of a falconish look to her and resembles Egyptian tomb paintings of beautiful birds from the afterlife. Any pharaoh who met her on the other side would have truly been blessed. Lucky me, I get to go out to the barn and hug her each day. We love you, sweet little golden Nutmeg. You can have as many balloons as you like.

 

 

Indoor Recess

 

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“My good woman, I hope you brought us something especially delectable.”

Here at the Abbey it is really bloody cold today, with the wind chill making things a distinctly uncozy 13 degrees. For the ladies, spending the day in the chicken tractor was definitely out, even with it buttoned down in wind protection mode; once the wind is hitting over 20 mph there’s no point, since the tarp tends to take on a life of its own and threatens to sail the whole thing off to Oz. So they have the run of the barn, which isn’t the most fascinating way to spend the day but it’s better than being cooped up. There are different options for perching — the rafters and the table saw are favorite spots — and spots for dust baths. And, of course, fresh snacks and water are provided every few hours by the helpful human staff.

 

 

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Pumpkin presides over the smorgasbord.

Said staff was invited to relax for a while with them after making the early afternoon snack delivery. Between the weather, illness, and schedules, there haven’t been many chances to just be with them while not doing chores, and I’ve really missed it. After bundling up, and bundling up, and bundling up some more, I parked myself on the tractor seat to enjoy listening to their Zen-inducing chicken sounds: scratching in the shavings, the occasional soft cluck, stretching and flapping wings, feet perching on roosts. It was incredibly peaceful. Chicken Zen is different from cat Zen, although each is soul-centering. Cat Zen is the Zen of being poled up the Nile on the pharaoh’s barge in the late-afternoon sunlight while lounging on a velvet cushion. Chicken Zen is the Zen of quietly but steadily getting things done around the house, with pauses to sit on the porch and drink lemonade. It’s a treat to be able to move between these states in the course of a day.

 

 

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“You mean, this scarf is for you?”

And speaking of coziness, cats, and chickens, the Coop Mistress’s latest knitting project was inspired by the Abbey crew: a pet scarf! I found variegated yarns to approximate the chicken’s feathers, plus black for the cats and deep red to give it a little color. So far it depicts the Faverolles, the Barred Rocks, and the cats. If this weather keeps up I have a feeling there will be requests for scarves coming in from the barn . . .

 

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No one out-Zens Linus Kitty.

I Choo-choo-choose You

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“Yes, your desk will do nicely for my next nap and dictation session for my screenplay. Have you heard back from Shatner yet?”

When spending a lot of time with animals, it gets easy to take for granted a fundamental aspect of the relationship: that they want to be with you as much as you want to be with them. As I write this, Cookies is on the desk next to my laptop (leaving little room for anything else) and Linus is right at the base of my chair (leaving little room for movement to the right). They have a whole house with many comfy spots and sunbeams to relax in. Yet here are they are, each within a few inches of me. Earlier this morning, five busy, chatting hens cheerily followed me out of the barn, around a corner, and across a field to their tractor as soon as I said, “OK, girls!” Yes, there were treats involved, but they also had a wide world of other activity options, including eating snippets of green grass and dustbathing. Yet, they chose to follow me. A neighbor’s cat (Sinbad), who lives about a quarter of a mile away and whom I don’t feed, knows my chicken-keeping schedule and shows up for petting and chatting at exactly the right time, several days a week. I give him lots of rubs, he hangs out while I do my chores, he and the chickens give each other the side eye, and we all have a very chill time. He has a whole territory in which to hunt and explore and other humans to charm, yet he chooses to come up for a visit.

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“A little more to the left — ah, thank you. What are you guys up to today?”

I try not to forget that these daily occurrences at the Abbey are wondrous displays of free will. By living with us humble humans, these animals do receive shelter, safety, comfort, and food (on voluble demand!). These are no small things — just ask Linus and Cookies, who certainly knew life without them. But just because we provide for them doesn’t mean they owe us their companionship.  True company — being together mentally as well as physically — cannot be imposed. It is the most fundamental gift of the self.

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“I choose to be extra fluffy and adorable.”

A review of a book about animal consciousness — specifically, that of octopuses — is forthcoming from our resident staff of critical readers. The Soul of an Octopus, by Sy Montgomery, is an excellent book, but like many other books on animal intelligence/sentience, it falls prey to the gee-whizzery of the idea that — gasp! — beings other than ourselves have the capacity to make decisions too. I think many of the authors of these books understand that everything, from the “lowliest” invertebrate to the best cats on the planet, must make decisions every minute of every day in order to survive, but feel the need to press home the gee-whizzery because of the limitations of their human audience. Unfortunately, this is a real need; most humans are fairly oblivious. Unlike many other books, however, The Soul of an Octopus dwells on the decision to seek out and to give companionship, and how special that is.

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“I choo-choo-choose to be in this house of snuggliness rather than under the porch.”

So stay tuned for the review. And if you happen to be lucky enough to be sharing your space with an animal at the moment, let him or her know how much you appreciate being together.

This Time, We’re Really Back!

Happy 2016, everyone! After way too long of being sick, plus holiday shenanigans, it is back to work here at the Abbey. Here’s a recap of the recent goings-on:

We decorated for the holidays:

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“Ooh! Our humans put up this blinky tree full of cat toys just for us!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

We entertained the neighbors:

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Nutmeg, meet Sinbad. Sinbad, meet Nutmeg.

We gave speeches:

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“If elected, I promise to exclude all humans from public office!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We snuggled:

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Does it get much cuter than a pink tongue and white whiskers?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We molted, and tried hard to hang on to our dignity:

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“I may have just one tail feather left,  but I still have my pride!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And we undecorated after Christmas:

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“You’re not taking away the cat toy tree, are you????”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So there you have it, the update as of early January. Coming soon, book reviews! Lessons learned from taming feral cats! Chicken ridiculousness! And maybe some new species to hear from once Coop Mistress’ lungs cooperate and she can get back in the saddle!

So Grateful

It’s been a pretty excellent Thanksgiving here at the Abbey: a gorgeous day, delicious dinner with family, and starting to feel better after way too long being sick. It’s also the first anniversary of Linus joining our household, going from shy and skittish shadow hiding in the garage to boldly demanding breakfast and cuddles at 4 am with a cheery “Merrow.” We’re grateful for the furry and feathered faces who greet us each day, and for the simple pleasures they help us appreciate: warm, cozy beds;image dustbaths;image

sunbeams; nest boxes with eggs;image

and being loved.image

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone from all of us!

Animal Hospital

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There has been resounding silence from the Abbey these past few weeks because Coop Mistress has pneumonia which, in a word, sucks. In addition to all the wonderful care my human family has been providing, I’ve been fortunate to receive round-the-clock medical care from the world-renowned Dr. Cookies and his resident, Dr. Linus. Dr. Cookies

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has barely left my side since all this started. Except when he needs to recharge himself in a sunbeam, he has been next to or on me, purring and being warm. Dr. Linus does rounds with him, coming over to give head bumps and snuggles, and then busies himself bringing me crickets, patrolling for mice

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in the basement,  and folding laundry. These good doctors recognize that caregivers need care as well and have been making sure DH and DS get their share of kitty love too.

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And, while the saying “No one in the barn cares if you’re sick” may be true generally, the ladies have been doing their part to keep up my morale. The weather has generally been mild here so when I’ve been able to sit outside to rest in the fresh air, I usually have a chicken near me too, checking in and telling me all sorts of important things. Taking care of them can be hard when I feel lousy but seeing their cheery little chicken faces when I open the coop is a serious spirit booster. Their eggs have been some of the few things I’ve had an appetite for. Not only do my pets make me breakfast, but they also make me medicine.

So the Abbey will be back online soon. Meanwhile, here at Veterinarians’ HospitalAnimal Hospital,  I’m in great hands, paws, and wings.

Thank You, Saint Francis!

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A Presbyterian St. Francis loves animals too!

Under the Christian liturgical calendar, October 4 was the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the eponymous order and patron saint of animals. To honor him (in a wonderfully pagan throwback), various churches hold Blessings of the Animals, where pets and/or their proxies can receive a blessing in his name. At some churches (such as the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York), this is a huge deal.
Out here in the ‘burbs, it was a quieter but no less heartfelt affair. Various dogs, cats, and their attendant humans gathered in the garden at our local Presbyterian church, where the pastors had organized a sweet little service. Since none of the Abbey’s denizens wished to attend in person, the Coop Mistress was sent with collars (for the cats) and a hen saddle (for the chickens) to be blessed.

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Blessed items plus commemorative tag and cat treats.

As should be no surprise, the attendees sorted themselves into dog people and cat people automatically, and not just those who had animals with them. Everyone was very friendly, but the immediate formation of dog and cat camps was amusing. Most cats, as is their wont, sent proxies for their blessings; I was honored, however, to have the privilege of meeting a 20-year-old cat named Maisie, who came with no carrier but lounged in her human’s arms, serenely watching the goings on and patiently waiting for the cat treats to be distributed. Just looking into her sweet green eyes was a blessing in and of itself.

When it was my turn for a blessing, I gave the names of the animals on whose behalf I was there. Apparently, not many chickens or their representatives attend this ceremony, so afterwards there was a Q&A. I love blowing people’s minds with how intelligent and kind chickens are. Perhaps next year Jenny will have to put in an appearance as spokeschicken. I know she would have a lot to say to St. Francis.

"You woke me up to pose with this why?"

“You woke me up to pose with this why?”

Back home, no one wanted to wear their newly-blessed items but were willing to pose with them. Oh well, it’s the thought that counts. Perhaps by the feast of St. Anthony the Abbot I’ll be able to wrestle the collars on these two.

"Collar? You mean, cats wear stuff?"

“Collar? You mean, cats wear stuff?”

Hang On, Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Hang On!

"Why does beauty have to be so hard?" Note the pin feathers on her wing. Her whole body is covered with these, underneath the fluff.

“Why does beauty have to be so hard?” Note the pin feathers on her wing. Her whole body is covered with these, underneath the fluff.

Wow. Molting is serious business with poor Pumpkin. In my limited chicken-keeping experience I’ve never seen molting malaise like this. The poor girl has not left the coop for five days except when I’ve brought her out. When the weather was windy and wet I didn’t drag her out since she has no protection with her feathers in this halfway state, but even these past few sunny days she has not wanted to leave the roosts. Luckily, her buddy Alice has been looking after her and has stayed with her; Alice is usually all about going out but she has made it clear

Thank you for being a friend: our two Golden Girls.

Thank you for being a friend: our two Golden Girls.

that her job has been to keep Pumpkin company. So, it’s just been Jenny, Sally, and Nutmeg in the tractor these past few days.

It’s truly lovely today so I scooped Pumpkin up and sat her in the sunshine on my lap, where she snuggled in and did a little sunbathing. She also then slowly wandered off to take a dust bath with everyone else. However, she’s not really eating and I’m concerned. I will be hitting BackYardChickens.com (aka the Library of Alexandria of chicken knowledge) for a molting muffins recipe this afternoon.

Sunlight and snuggles are a good prescription for many maladies.

Sunlight and snuggles are a good prescription for many maladies.

Edited to add: I found a recipe! Thank you, The Chicken Chick! Yes, I bake for my chickens; don’t you?

Fall Fashion Week at the Abbey

What have we here?

What have we here?

Now that the light has changed and we hurtle into fall and winter, it’s time for all style-conscious folks to update their looks.  We here at the Abbey are rocking new haircuts (Coop Mistress and DH), the start of velvety winter coats (Cookies and Linus), and that time-honored style that chickens everywhere absolutely love (not): molting. Like so many things in nature that we pretend don’t apply to humans, light levels affect chickens’ reproductive cycle and how their bodies replenish themselves; as the hours of daylight decrease, the ladies’ egg production slows down and the casting off of old, last-season feathers begins.

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Adult feather on left, juvenile feather on right. How they’ve grown!

Chickens generally have a juvenile molt when they are about 4 months old, and then an annual molt at around 16 months of age and every year after, usually in the fall but this varies. Some chickens molt hard and fast and lose the bulk of their feathers at once; others do it gradually. Typically, molting starts with a buildup of fluffiness as new pin feathers grow in and start to displace the current ones. Jenny models hard-core back feather fluffiness here.

Baby got fluffy back.

Baby got fluffy back.

Sally, meanwhile, shows us leg and rear end fluffiness in extremis.

What are you looking at?

“What are you looking at?”

"Button quail? Really? Want to step closer and tell me that?"

“Button quail? Really? Want to step closer and tell me that?”

As the first of our hens to lay eggs, Alice was the first to go into full molt mode, too. Her molt pattern is slightly different because she was regrowing back feathers that had been pulled out by an overly exuberant rooster. Once those were well under way, she followed one of the typical patterns (though these vary depending on the individual hen): primary wing feathers dropping off one by one, followed by a profusion of fluffy body feathers, and the complete loss of tail feathers. Without her tail feathers, she reminds me of a button quail (sorry, Alice). She also has loads of pin feathers on her head, cheeks and chin, which give her a porcupine-ish look.

"I am so getting you back for publishing this photo."

“I am so getting you back for publishing this photo.”

Pumpkin, our second to lay, is also our second to molt. She is in wing and fluffy body feather shedding mode right now, and her tail feathers look like they’re about to drop any second.

"Yes, I'm about to lose these tail feathers. I feel like hell. Go away."

“Yes, I’m about to lose these tail feathers. I feel like hell. Go away.”

Nutmeg seems to be heading towards losing the tail feathers first, as can be seen in how far they are sticking out. She looks like she’s wearing a shark fin on her rump.

"Shark? I'll show you shark."

“Shark? I’ll show you shark.”

Amusing as it is for onlookers, molting is really uncomfortable for the chicken. Pin feathers have blood vessels in them so if they break for some reason, they bleed. They also are very sensitive to touch. Alice is usually a cuddle bug but she runs from me now, not wanting to be picked up lest I accidentally bump her poor pin feathers. Pumpkin has been sitting in the coop growling and sulking for the past two days. I imagine that between the physical sensation of growing new feathers plus the altered hormonal state that accompanies it and slows down the laying, they must feel pretty miserable. So everyone has been getting extra, protein-rich treats to support feather growth and lots of commiseration.

But like most things having to do with high fashion, all the suffering turns out to be

Dreamer was always the epitome of chicken beauty.

Dreamer was always the epitome of chicken beauty.

worth it. When the new feathers are in, they are shiny, beautiful, and so, so soft. Our old hen Dreamer, who was golden with her first suit of feathers, picked up copper and silver highlights with each molt and got progressively softer. Hang in there, ladies. This too shall pass and you will be strutting your stuff in no time. Meanwhile, I need to come up with some cool craft ideas for all these gorgeous feathers that are all over the place . . .