Blog Archives

The kissing and canoodling pigeon

Pigeon’s are such common birds that I have taken them a little bit for granted . . . until earlier this summer. Every evening, they would sit in the same spot, upon a strip of wood above my lounge window. They were so obviously into each other that I couldn’t help but take note.

Aside from the very regular mating, they would spend much of the evening with the necks entwined and the beaks together. They looked like a couple of teenagers on a date, kissing and canoodling. It was very sweet.

I was so fascinated by their behaviour that I decided to learn a bit about them, and discovered that their entwined necks was preening, and the locked beaks was something known as billing, where the female puts her beak into the males beak. It’s all part of the courtship behaviour, and so I surmised, they were ‘in love.’

Given that their behaviour was different to many, very promiscuous, garden birds, I wondered if they were monogamous. I checked online, and discovered I was right; pigeons do mate for life and they have a strong bond. The courtship display is a regular occurrence, reaffirming and reinforcing their relationship.

Unfortunately, I’m sad to say, this story does not have a happy ending. About four weeks ago two pigeons became one. I don’t know what happened, but I fear she (or maybe he) perished. Every night, the lonely male sits in the same spot, and scans his territory, seemingly unhappy, cooing softly and looking for his mate.

Of course, she could be on a nest, but I fear too much time has past without a sighting. I can always hope . . .

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Heartache of Missing Cat

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Bobby, my gorgeous tomcat is missing. It’s been nearly two weeks now, and all hope of him returning is dwindling more rapidly by the day. It’s a horrid feeling, and something I hoped I would never have to experience again after losing Keats three years ago under the same circumstances.

It’s the absence of news that is the most difficult to deal with. If I had found his dead body by the road, at least I would have some closure. Instead, I have to live each day with a permanent ache in my heart, not knowing if he is alive, injured, or dead. Anyone who has experienced this will know exactly how I feel. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

It’s very frustrating. Earlier in the year Bobby came home terrified and with puncture wounds around his head and neck. After some contemplation, I decided he had been attacked by a fox. Could this have happened again, but this time with a different outcome? It’s a very real possibility, especially since, I now suspect Keats was predated by one.

It’s a horrid feeling, and whilst part of me wants to move on and accept he is no longer part of my life, a greater part keeps hoping and wishing for his return. I have even considered getting another cat, or possibly two little kittens, which would undoubtedly ease the burden, but I’m not sure it’s something I want to do. I don’t feel strong enough to risk another heartbreak in the future, nor am I sure I want to put their lives at risk. If Bobby doesn’t return, I will be labeling my land a Fox danger zone.  Not good news for my little cats.

Still, life goes on. We are told what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I don’t feel stronger for the hurt I have suffered in the past, and I don’t feel as though losing Bobby will make me stronger in the future. I feel like one of life’s punch bags.

Signing off . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A wound failing to heal is not always bad news

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If you have ever lost a loved one to cancer you probably understand me saying that you can become a little paranoid and believe everything slightly amiss is potentially that dreaded disease. I lost my beloved dog, Bella, to canine lymphoma almost two years ago, and I still find myself thinking such things. A limp is potentially bone cancer, and a wound without an obvious cause is skin cancer.

Of course, most things have a simple explanation.

Let me go back about 7 years. It was late August, and Bella developed a wound on her foot. It was swollen, there was a small hole between her toes and it was weeping sanguineous substance. It must also have been painful, because she carried her sore foot, refusing, except in extreme circumstances, to put weight on it.

After a few days we realised it wasn’t healing and so took her to the vet. They checked it out, prodding and poking, and prescribed a two weeks supply of antibiotics. There was no improvement, and the vet had no solution, so we had to sort it out ourselves.

Dried garlic came to our aid. We didn’t add it to her food but sprinkled it on her foot. After about 24 hours, healing had commenced and a scab had formed. It seemed like we were beating it … finally.

Wrong! Days later the wound exploded, opening back up and squirting out more sanguineous substance. Only this time it opened in a slightly different position. We were at a loss what to do. The vets were of no help, and poor Bella continued to limp.

One day, 3 months after her problem started, I was examining the hole when something shot out. Once I had cleaned it up, I discovered what it was … a grass seed! Finally, her foot healed, permanently this time.

So don’t forget. After walkies check your dog’s feet. It can save you and your dog a lot of heartache.

An amazing story of survival

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Being a backyard chicken keeper is not for the faint hearted. During the last six years I’ve had all kinds of things to deal with, some of which have been extremely unpleasant, others which are just plain sad. However, I have one amazing story of survival which I would like to share. It involved a hen suffering from flystrike.

It is a horrid, horrid condition. The flies lay their eggs close to a healthy chickens anus, and within hours, they hatch. The maggots immediately get to work, wriggle inside of the hen and have a feast, eating everything and anything in sight. All the time, the bird is still alive!

Even though we found the girl early, the sight of the maggots and the hollow they had created was not something I wish to describe. I am not especially squeamish, but this was horrendous and I could not look for longer than a fraction of a second. It turned my stomach. Doug, being the kind of man he is, began his work.

One by one he plucked out the maggots, until he could reach no more. Unfortunately, there were still some inside of her, so he sat her in a bowl of strong salt water. Dead maggots floated out of her, every last one of them.

I swear, I could hear the hen’s relieved sigh!

We decided to name her Holly – a play on holey.

We still didn’t really believe she had a chance of making a full recovery as during all of this time she had been lifeless. In addition, we didn’t know the extent of her damage. However, to our amazement, within hours she was animated and demanding food.It was just the boost we needed; days earlier our dog, Bella, had lost a nine month fight with cancer.

The following day Holly was flapping her wings and squawking. She hated been kept in a small cage and wanted to return to the flock. We knew there was a risk of infection since she had a hole in her back-end almost the size of a tennis ball, but we still considered it the best place for her. So we took her home.

Guess what! She made a full recovery. Even the hole disappeared.

What a result! Sometimes, a little effort is worth it. You just never know what might happen.

Lesson learned: Wear a bee suit when handling a swarm

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My beehive is bursting at the seams! It has always been a very productive hive, and last year threw out several swarms. In order to limit it, rather than killing the queen bee cells, which is the usual method, we added a second brood box. The bees were very quick to take occupation, but it still wasn’t enough. Yesterday, they threw out their first swarm.

We noticed the bees early afternoon. After spending a few minutes mesmerised by the buzzing and excited fluttering, the numbers in the air diminished. They were settling on a low growing hedge a couple of metres from the hive. Last year the swarm landed high up a tall tree, making it inaccessible, so this was good news.

Since they can depart at any moment time is of the essence. Doug was quick to find a cardboard box and his smoker, and very slowly, the bees crept into the box. This is the first time he’s used this method, so it was a nerve-wracking and exciting experience. Everything seemed to be going to plan, until he hit an unanticipated problem.

The swarm was quite large, probably fifteen to twenty thousand bees, and as they gathered in the box they caused it to topple. Bees were everywhere, and needless to say, they were not too pleased by Doug’s intervention. A few stings later, and now wearing a bee suit, he was back on the job. The bees had settled down; some were still in the box, and the others were on the hedge. He placed those in the box into a newly prepared hive and closed the roof. The others were still on a branch, so he snipped it off and shook them off at the entrance. Since the queen was inside, they all trundled in. Job done.

Today, they are building comb in their new home, and they seem perfectly happy. Rapeseed flowers are in abundance, so far as they were concerned it was a good time to swarm. I do believe they know what they are doing. Good work girls!

A strange obsession . . .

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Hudson, Gina and Stilton have a strange obsession . . . or perhaps it is an identity crisis or a message passed on from Hudson and Gina’s sister, Bella.

Their problem (or maybe it’s just mine) started two years ago after Bella was diagnosed with terminal cancer, T-cell lymphoma to be precise. She did something none of the dogs had ever done before, not in any of their previous 8 years. She started to eat weeds!!!

At first I pulled her away, worried she was doing herself harm. But she was very persistent, forcing me to investigate. I soon learned she was eating mustard plants, and aside to have nutritional benefits such as vitamin A, C,K and folic acid, there’s evidence they’re anti-cancerous, mainly since they are full of anti-oxidants.

Hudson and Gina noticed her habit, and two years on there is no stopping them.

Here’s how a typical walk goes.

I unhook the leashes and stroll along the path by the river. After a few hundred metres, I turn around. The dogs are stationary and munching mustard plants. They haven’t moved an inch! I call and call, my voice growing hoarse and my blood pressure rising. They are so absorbed in the succulent flower heads and leaves that they don’t notice my screechy cries. After several minutes, I finally get their attention and they trot to my side.

I continue on, continuously passing them instructions to remain at my side, but after a few minutes, my mind wanders and I stop paying them any attention. The next thing I know they are several hundred metres back and eating mustard plants . . . again. Damn them!

What is it with my dogs and mustard? I think I’m going to have to find another walk. To make matters worse they have passed this habit onto Stilton, the youngster of the family, and despite his young age and exuberance, he is almost as bad.

It looks like it’s something I am going to have to live with forever. Better that than cancer.

In Memory Of Keats

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As a self-confessed softie, I found losing my grey tabby cat a very traumatic experience, but despite what I went through, even knowing the outcome, I would go through it again. Life is about the enjoying new experiences, whether they are good or bad. I think we should cherish both equally, since one accentuates the other.

I’d had Keats, affectionately known as Keaty Pie, since he was just 7 weeks old. He disappeared a month after his second birthday, on the day it had been announced the world was to end. It was a curious choice on his part.

I acquired him and his brother, Blake, from a rescue centre having suffered the loss of two other cats. Two weeks before, I’d lost Tingle, the love of my life, having brought him back from hell. (His moving story is told in my novel ‘Shackled’) His replacement was Tennyson. Within 5 days of his arrival, he was hit by a car and killed. Despite being inconsolable (as I said I’m a softie) and announcing I didn’t want any more cats, ever, my husband, Doug, knew better. One day, he handed me two delightful and precious bundles of joy.

And so Keats and Blake arrived. They were so tiny that they fed from the same dish; they slept together with their legs entwined, and they played and chased, rolling around and squeaking until they fell into a sleepy heap.

They were beautiful. I appreciated their presence in my life every single day, and watched with amusement their new adventures. They would race around the garden, one chasing the other; they would climb to the top of a tree and cling to a slender branch wondering how on earth they got there; they would observe the chickens, not understanding those strange-looking feathered creatures or their purpose.

They were a pair, and did everything together. Gradually, though, over those two years, Keats became more and more aloof. He needed less attention from his brother and from us. He was growing up, and to our regret, he had become a brilliant hunter. It was May 2011. The swallows had just arrived, having just survived a difficult journey from South Africa, and were perched in the barn on low beams. Exhausted and hungry, they were easy prey.

Keats brought one into the kitchen, still alive but barely. Doug was furious with him, and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and shook him in a rage. You might say Keats was just being a cat. That’s what Keats thought too. He disappeared days later, never to be seen again.

I was devastated and searched the streets and roads for weeks and months. He was never found. I like to think he is living with a nice family somewhere, although I also fear he could have been killed by a fox since I have reason to believe my big ginger moggy recently survived an attack. It’s something I will never have the answer to, and perhaps in this instance, it is the preferred option.

Losing a pet is a fact of life, and despite the hurt he unwittingly caused, I would still go through it again. Without the negative periods in our life, we’ll never learn how to appreciate the positives. And those two years were a positive, amongst the best in my life. I tell myself I shouldn’t be too greedy.

God Bless Keats.

‘I’m not sure I like this new outfit!’

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Finally, after 6 months, Nicky has gotten her feathers! It’s taken a while for her to get used to them; she preferred being naked, and pulled and tugged, causing blood to drip down her skin. Considering she has likely to have spent first first two years of her life naked, it is an understandable reaction.

Nicky joined my flock, her retirement home having been a egg-laying barn hen, last August.  She was in a state, and never allowed at the feeder, having to fight for every mouthful. For the first couple of weeks, I fed her separately, and then, having gained some strength, she developed her own method and ran between the feeders, extending her telescopic neck and grabbing a morsel before running away.

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Look carefully, and you can see her bare back-end at the top of the photo!

Inside a barn with thousands of other hens, all of which were bigger than her, her feathers were nothing more than a hindrance and provided the other hens with a means of holding her down. In order to escape the pecking, she would run. In the process, the feathers would be plucked free of her body.This would have happened over and over again. As a result, they stopped growing – a sensible solution.

It’s taken a while for her brain to realise she is in a new environment. She is a tough little bird. Even on the coldest, wettest of winter days, she would take a walk, unconcerned by the challenging weather reaching her skin. Feathers were for the weak! She did not like them, and even as they started to grow, plucked them free, leaving the downy feathers in piles under the bushes.

Did she like to be different? Did she not like her new outfit? Was it itchy? I really don’t know what her problem was, but regardless, she plucked them out causing blood to drip down her body. But they grew and grew. There was no getting away from the fact she was going through a change.

It has been a confusing time. She hides in the dense shrubbery, staying away from the others and puzzled by her pretty, feathery appearance. She won’t let us pick her up, something she has previously allowed. And what’s even more strange, at least to her, is that she has equal place at the feeder. For days, she would stand on the outskirts, waiting to be bullied. It never happened and it made no sense. Her world had changed.

Finally, Nicky is one of the flock. She is accepted. She is a proper little hen. Her next challenge is the rise through the rankings.

Honey is for the bees. Now we get our reward.

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A couple of years ago this swarm arrived in my garden and since Doug and I both love nature, we decided to buy a hive and give them a home. We called a local beekeeper to collect the swarm and place the colony into a hive. It proved successful.

Our belief is to keep our interference to a minimum; it is a method known as ‘natural beekeeping.’ The bees do know what they are doing. They want to survive, and they have had years of experience! We should listen to them and give them only what they need. They don’t appreciate being interfered with, and they don’t like their winter storage of food stolen!

Honey bees are struggling in the UK due to a variety of reasons. For one thing, we use pesticide and fungicide sprays far too liberally. Given the amount of flying a bee undertakes it is easy to see that before too long the bee will fly into the deadly mist and inject the particles. If it doesn’t kill them, it will harm them. Some chemicals throw off the bee’s navigation system making foraging and returning to the hive difficult. A confused, dysfunctioning bee is not a productive bee.

The second problem I have considered has wider implications than we may first realise. It relates to the amount of honey we take from the hives during autumn.

The honey is there to provide the bees with food during winter. It is quite normal for beekeepers to take a proportion of the honey and replace it with sugar water. I do not believe this is logical, and certainly not when we take excessive amounts. Let’s think about this for a second. Honey is full of goodness. It is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, it is a healing agent and a probiotic, and it has nutritional value, boosting our immune system. What does sugar water provide? Not a lot, aside from a little energy.

If we ate nothing but donuts, we would struggle to fight infection. It is the same for the bee. Spring is a time when bees need to be operating at their peak. They should be energised and ready to make new workers and drones, and potentially new queens; they should be gathering an abundance of pollen and nectar, and stocking up for later in the year when foraging becomes more difficult; they should be fighting fit.

Life is tough enough without our intervention. Bees are amazing little creatures, and it is an operation run by the girls. Let’s help them, not hinder them, and let’s not be greedy. They will pay us back many times over, not only with the pleasure we gain by watching them, but by producing healthy colonies and multiplying.

This time last year we had one hive, and now we have 3. Unfortunately, we did have 4 but one colony died last week. It is sad to see thousands of dead bees, but at least we had given them a chance. The queen was a virgin – in other words, not tried and tested – and so the chances of the colony surviving were slim. Figures crossed for the others.

Girl Power!

Rhoda, the hen that needs a bra!

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Meet Rhoda, a 3 year old Speckled Grey Hybrid laying hen.

She has a little problem. The upshot is, she needs a bra. Let me explain.

Ever few weeks during the last 2 years she has periods when she stops eating, and drinks ridiculous amounts of water. But the water does not go through her crop and it causes it to feel like a water-filled balloon. Basically, she has a propensity to sour crop, or at least something similar, and if we ignore the situation she will die a slow death.

Sour crop is a yeast infection in the birds crop, and aside from having a squishy crop, the bird has awful smelling breath.It will kill birds and it does need to be treated. Since Rhoda only has the squishy crop, and not the infection, she makes a swift recovery, so long as we follow our routine.

Our solution is to open her beak and tip her upside down. We follow this with a couple of crop massages during the course of the next few hours, and then another tipping if necessary. Since this problem occurs regularly, she has grown used to our intervention and is cooperative.

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Today, as soon as I touched her, water spilled out of her beak, and that was when she was the right way up! Yet still she carries on drinking. Now I know why the phrase bird-brain!

The poor girl. As a result of this persistent problem she has rather a saggy crop. Even when it functions properly it hangs down to her legs, and, when she trots, swings from side to side. She needs a bra. Yes, they do exist. Crop Bra’s for Chicken’s! What next?

Would I be humanizing her too much if I put one on her birthday list?