Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Baby Pictures--Then and Now

They grow so fast. 


March 8th

Ducks are funny.  They always look like they're smiling.


March 17th
March 17th


Oliver and Benjamin


Everyone, plus Buster Brown, the duck (real name: Heinz)

Still nosy, though.


Thought I'd leave you with just one more image. 
Maybell, the lap goose.  The reason I get very little done sometimes. 

My sweet girl

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It's Getting Crowded in Here

And there are more coming next week.

Good thing the girls are about ready to go out. 

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Splish, Splash, They Were Taking a Bath

On Thursday night.  Too much cold and snow means no outside swimming for these little ones.  So into the bathtub they go.

Maybell trying out her best punk look.

Now everyone's getting into it.

After the geese were done and dried, the ducks get their turn.

Susie is smart--she knows what's going on.  Here she is waiting patiently for the tub to fill.

Why have them swim at all?  Nope, it's not practice, and no, they really don't need to, but they do love it.  If you've ever raised waterfowl, you know what pigs they are.  They get food on them, they get water on the food, they turn it to glue and they look and smell----not lovely, let's just say that.  So for good hygiene, because they do need to stay clean to stay healthy, it is good to let them bathe.  They will splash and play, but they will groom a lot as well.  They want to stay clean, but in a brooder environment, it's hard to do.

What age do you start in the water?  I don't wait the 2 or 3 weeks I always read about.  As long as you are watching, as long as their feet can touch the ground, as long as you don't leave them in for too long (5 mins for the little ones, maybe 10 for the older ones, on up), and as long as you make sure they are dry and warm when they are done, I have introduced them to water in as little as 4 days of age.  Pretty much when they are no longer wobbly on their legs, in they go.  But use your common sense.  If you don't think they're ready, they probably aren't.  And don't do it everyday.  Without oil in their glands (which comes later), their skin can easily dry out.  Use your best judgement.

There are few things that are more joyful to watch than waterfowl (of any age really) having a good bath.  Try it and find out!
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

All About the Benjamin?

Yesterday, Benjamin (Pilgrim gander #2) arrived.  He's the replacement for the poor little guy who didn't make it with the first shipment last week.  Benjamin arrived healthy, beautiful, and raring to go.  He's gigantic, too.  I am very pleased with him.

With Benjamin came a "companion" duck, though once I saw the size of him, I didn't see how he could have been much help in the body heat department.  He gives the word runt new meaning.  But all lives are precious here, and I never look a gift duck in the mouth.  I am very glad to have him.  I put he and Benjamin in with the other goslings (because, though he is a duck, he is WAY behind the girls and would stand no chance with them) and got a good look at everyone.  Next to the goslings, Mr. Duck looks like a cottonball with a beak.

Maybell in foreground, Caroline slightly out of frame, Benjamin in the back, and I think you can tell which one is the duck.

Benjamin and his duck "friend"
The little guys moved in right away.  Benjamin is wobbly, but he's only a couple of days old.  He is very affectionate and sweet.  The girls put him in his place a bit, but they put Oliver in his place too, so that's not out of the ordinary.  I find it funny that the girls seem more dominant in this breed than others.  With Ferdi and Ginger (American Buffs) he was always the one in charge, though he was mellow about it.  There is a pecking order with geese and ducks just like chickens, but with geese at least, it's not a particularly harsh one.  A little bit of nipping, and everyone knows where they go.  They've not ever drawn blood, and it never gets ugly.  I guess it's equivalent to a slap on the wrist.

The duck was not wobbly at all. In fact, he decided right away to show his "dominance", and proceeded to nip everyone in the beak to prove how manly he was.  It would have been effective, save for the fact that he had to jump up to reach them.  It was the smallest guy on the playground taking on the biggest.  Pugnacious little bugger.

Caroline doesn't trust the camera.  Cottonball boy is thinking about taking her on.
For quite a while, they just let him do what he was doing.  I don't think that the goslings really knew what to make of him.  But like all things, they got really tired of his shenanigans, and started fighting back.  That made the little guy sad.  He stood apart for quite a while and looked depressed.  I let nature take it's course, and today I saw that though the goslings were not including him in their sleepy huddle, they weren't excluding him, either.  He managed to butt in and get to the back of the pile, and no one chased him away.  Could this work after all?  Only time will tell, but I don't see why not.

In the meantime, I am very happy to have the two pairs of Pilgrims.  I have waited a long time for them, and I love them already. The three from last week are growing like weeds and are more than two handfuls a piece in size.  They are sweet and affectionate and not skitzy at all, which is a pleasure.  But see?  I am showing my goose weakness--I can't help it.  I enjoy the ducks, too.  Though they don't love when I come over to pick them up and check them out, they are the nosiest girls imaginable, and I always have to go say hello, or they get hurt feelings. 

Nosy?  Us?
They are all in their awkward teenager phase right now--the same phase all fowl go through.  1/3 feathers, 1/3 down, 1/3 baby fluff.  So odd looking, they're completely adorable.  

Sigh.  It's a good year.   
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Whole Eyeball Full of Nature

This morning, Petunia had a made a pig-mess of her cage, so we had to take her out to clean it.  My son had taken Robert A. out, without us knowing it. 

Know where this is going yet?

Needless to say, Robert found Petunia pretty quickly and he LIKES her.  He REALLY likes her.  Oh my, he liked her all over the place. 

They are rabbits, after all.  Luckily, I don't believe he got anywhere.  Mostly because he was trying the wrong end for quite a while, and secondly, because she wouldn't hold still for him and kept scooting away.  Thirdly, because I would grab him and pull him off almost immediately.  Does that mean anything?  No.  But I can hope.  She is very young, after all.

So, we've confirmed that Robert A. is indeed a boy, that he and Petunia have hit it off, and that Robert A. will have an appointment with the vet before he's ever near Petunia again.

And my daughter learned a little bit about where bunnies come from.  I did spare her the exact details, because she's a little young and was very uncomfortable, but we kind of talked about exactly what Robert A. was doing, skirting the specifics.  Especially since he was waving his flag all over the place.  It was kind of hard to not address.

If she's ever wanting to bring me questions about that sort of thing, I'm readyI'm a straight-forward kind of mom, and I don't want her to be thinking she can't ask her questions.  But I'll let her come to me, when she's ready.  Oy.  This happened much sooner than I thought it would have.

Thanks Robert A., thanks Petunia.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

They Multiplied Like....

Rabbits, of course.

Since my son received Robert A. for his birthday, my daughter has been begging for a rabbit of her own.  She even offered to pay for it with her own money.  So ok, the deal was made.  She gets the money, we will buy the bunny.

She got the money.

I told her that's fine, but no girls, because Robert is a boy. 

And the last thing we need are MORE bunnies.

We came to the agreement, and even shook on it.

 If there were no boys at the Agway, we would come back another day.

 So we went to Agway.......

......................................and I promptly caved in.

                               Meet Petunia Rose.

I'm a sucker for the flop.

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We Give Our Bunnies FULL Names Here

So our friend Robert is doing just fine.  He's been outside a few times to test it out, and he likes the fresh air and the grass.  Reid is taking good care of him, despite the fact that Robert has to eat twice a day.  

But his name isn't Robert anymore.   

Sunday morning, we let Robert out to run in the kitchen for a little while, and when I asked Reid if I could take Robert out for him, this is what happened.

(Me)  "Hey Reid, can I take Robert out to run around a little?"

(Reid) "Yeah, but his name's not Robert."

(Me)  Thinking he changed the bunny's name to Fluffy or Fuzzbottom or Picklepants or something like that  "Oh?"

(Reid) "Yeah, his name is Robert A."

(Me)  "Ok, how come?"

(Reid)  "Because it is.  He's Robert A. Cavataugh."

(Me)  "What's the A stand for?"

(Reid)  "Arthur."

(Me)  "Ok"

So, I present Robert Arthur Cavataugh to you.  We just call him Robert A. around these here parts, but that's because we know him so well.  I think that he must be Robert A. Cavataugh esq., but he and I haven't discussed it yet.  Either way, I'm putting a name plaque on his hutch with his full designation.

Seems only right.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

What Do I Know About Raising Ducks and Geese?

The Duck Girl
Oh boy, where do I start?  Ducks and geese....ducks and geese...well, I would talk about them both because they are nearly the same in raising.  There are differences in the way they act as babies, but they're not major.  They eat the same types of food, and they need the same sorts of brooder temperatures.  If you want a great resource for this type of information, I can recommend David Holderread's books, Storey's Guide to Raising Ducks and The Book of Geese.  They will tell you what to feed when, what sort of shelters you might provide, what can go wrong, etc.  I can also recommend books by Chris Ashton, who writes from Britain, and has great insights as well.  The place I find a lot of these books lacking in is the behavior aspect.  For instance, not one book I've ever so far read mentions that goslings make a sleeping song when they are tired.  They grow out of it in a few weeks, and that growing out of it is a huge signal that they are maturing.  No one tells you this, but they do it.  I spend a lot of time with my animals.  I love them, and I find them fascinating, so maybe I have a little insight that I can share.

So what can I tell you?  Chickens are homebodies and will always go back to the roost.  They don't really mind people, and they are dependant for meals and shelter.  They are easy to handle.  They very much do their own thing, but are always going to be around people and tolerate people, because they are dependent on people.  Waterfowl are totally different in that respect.  They want nothing to do with humans innately.  They can scrounge their own food from grass, weeds, and bugs.  They can roost wherever they choose, as they sleep on the ground and don't need a perch.  They can reproduce themselves on land or water, brood their own eggs (depends on the type of duck or goose--like chickens, not all ducks and geese are mommy-material), raise their own young.  They don't need people for anything.  So how do we change that?  We make them become dependent.

Ducky Discussions
This is not done by force or coersion.  We do this by setting ourselves up as "mommy".  There's a beautiful thing that waterfowl do (geese better than ducks) which ensures that they live, and that is the act of imprinting.  To get the duck or goose to imprint on you, you do the easiest, most pleasant thing in the world--you spend time with them.  You handle them.  You stroke them (they see it as grooming), you talk to them constantly (like mama would--ducks especially have a constant dialog with one another), you pick them up and let them hide in your elbow or in your hair.  You make them safe.  It is crucial during the first few weeks of their lives that this is done, because then you ensure they are tame for the rest of their lives.  Then you will never have a problem with getting them to come feed, you'll never have a problem getting them to sleep in their designated house, and if need be, you'll never have a problem treating them should they become ill or get wounded.

Eating and sharing lunch
In our house, my daughter handles the ducks.  They are small and easy to manage.  They will stay small and probably will not give her much-if any-"attitude" when they grow up.  If they do, she's bigger, and can handle it.  I handle the geese.  They won't give me attitude when they grow because I am bigger than they are, and when I have them imprint on me, they may challenge me, but will NEVER go that far.  For example, Ferdinand is a male American Buff.  He is nearly a year old.  It's mating season, and as geese are wont to do, he's all stupid right now.  All hormones and no brains.  He will hiss at me.  He will flail his neck at me.  He will extend his neck towards me as a challenge.  He will never bite me, and to get him to stop all his macho stupidity, all I have to do is bend down towards him, put my face directly in his (an answering challenge) and say no.  I don't yell.  I don't scream.  I have never hit him.  I use a low toned voice in a normal volume.  He will turn his head away and go yell at someone else.  He will not rechallenge.  Why?  Because I'm the momma, that's why.  That's why it's so worth it to get waterfowl to imprint on you.  Because then you set yourself up like the alpha duck, goose, whatever, and you will always be in charge, no matter how large everyone gets.

So how do you do it?  Here are some easy guidelines:
  1. Always greet the duckling/gosling in the same way.  Use the same phrase and tone of voice.  Then the duckling/gosling will know it's you even if they can't see you (for example, say over the brooder box edge).  They will learn your voice quickly and respond to you. 
  2. Pick them up and handle them.  SLOWLY.  Nothing makes waterfowl more edgy than someone's hand swooping out of "nowhere" to grab them.  Try to come pick them up from underneath and always make sure you've got their legs securely--they are the weakest part of the bird.
  3. Hold them.  I have heard that the less you handle waterfowl the better, and I would agree with that if you were raising show birds or breeders or meat birds and you wanted geese that were geese and ducks that were ducks.  But most people, if they own a duck or goose, want to be able to go near them, manage them, work with them--maybe see them as pets.  On a small farm situation, you're not leaving them to their own devices. You usually need to go in and gather eggs and clean the house, quarters may be tighter, and you don't want them freaking out or trying to peck you to death.  So, hold them.  Let them sleep on you.  You will get pooped on, I guarantee--take it with a grain of salt.  Build up trust.
  4. Play gently with their beaks.  They understand this.  It's a game of sorts. Don't grab it and hold it, but let them nibble you.  It won't hurt (untill they get bigger).  They will nibble, and you can stroke their beaks in return.  Wiggle your fingers around and see if they try to get you.  It's all in fun.  One of the neat things about geese and ducks are that they can judge how much pressure they are putting on you with their beaks.  When they want to hurt you, they will.  When they don't, they will be much lighter in their touch.  They adjust accordingly.  The more you play with their beaks, the more they will realize that it's a game and they will try not to hurt you, even when they get carried away. 
  5. Touch their feet and wings.  This is the ultimate in trust, because waterfowl don't like when you touch their feet and wings.  Start early with this one.  The reason I do this is because when you touch feet and beaks and wings, you break down "barriers" that there may have been.  You're essentially telling the animal, "I can do what I want, you won't argue, and I won't hurt you".  This is key.  When Ginger was injured back in November, her wing was in a bad way.  Had I never been so involved with her upbringing, there would have been no treating her.  But as it was, because I raised her this way, I was able to repeatedly stretch that wing out while she lay on her back, and treat her by cleaning, poking and prodding.  With a goose that wasn't acclimated that way, it would have been impossible.  We worked for months on that wing.  She never gave me a hard time.
  6. Talk to them a lot.  They like constant communication.  When you hold them, talk to them.  When you stop by the brooder on your way to somewhere else, make sure you greet them and talk for a minute.  Let them know that even though you go away, you come back.  Goslings will cry for you when you go.  Ducklings not as much.  Be prepared. Make sure you see them at least once a day, and make sure you can handle them at least once a day.  The more, the better.
  7. Get them to follow you around.  Put them on the ground and take a slow walk outside.  If you're doing this right, they will follow you in a line as goslings, or a little pack as ducklings.  They will peep with worry the entire way.  Talk to insure them, say things like "come on".  Don't yell and WALK SLOWLY--make sure they are all keeping up.  They have little legs.  Have them follow you to a nice spot and then sit with them.  Let them browse and graze.  Pick them up and put them back down a few times.  When they are really little, you can pick them up and let them take a nap between explorations.  When they are 3 or 4 weeks old, they probably won't want that as much (though sometimes you can still get away with it, if the baby is really docile), so they will lie next to you.  One of the nicest things is sitting in the grass on a nice day surrounded by your babies.  They will walk around and nibble and explore, but they should always come back to you to lie right next to your legs or arms or whatever part of you is on the ground.  They will always lie down touching you in some way.  It is reassuring to them.  If they lie down by themselves, don't pick them up, but stroke them and talk to them.  Be assured that if they wander off, they won't go far at all.  I don't think I've ever had one wander more than a few feet.  Once they go off, if they think they've gone to far, they'll come streaking back, I guarantee.  I would recommend moving a couple of times as well.  Get up and walk.  Make sure they see and hear you.  Find another spot near the first.  Make sure they all have to walk to it, and that they follow you.  The big bonus here is that you can get them to go back to the brooder now, and later back to the house you set up for them, over to a new feeding station, wherever. 
Following Duck Girl back to the brooder

The object of all of this is to gain their trust and break down their barriers.  It's a huge thing, so don't abuse it and never be cruel.  It's probably one of my favorite things about raising waterfowl.  Such a pleasant job!  Now get on out there and try it!

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Befores, The Afters, and Some of the In-Betweens

In the process of enlarging our little farm and taking in more animals, we need to build more housing. There are so many projects on the docket for right now, it's a happy, happy day when one is done.  Today my husband and I finished the goose house.  I had constructed the bones of it in the garage last month.  Then I had to wait for a good paycheck to buy the plywood to sheathe it.  It took a little while, but I finally got it, and he and I worked on cladding the thing today. 

The front.  I think it looks like a bunker or a hunter's hiding spot or something

The back.  Missing a couple of blocks, but we'll fix that
It's solid as it comes.  It's not done completely, as the rafters in the front have to be closed in, it needs roofing, and trimming, and a door (always nice).  But the structure is there and the main parts are all done.

However, it was ugly.  And because I am impatient, and I really wanted to see what it would look like when it was painted, I painted it.

With this:

I'm on a turquoise kick lately.
I had "help".
From Ginger

From Ferdi, who attacks paint no matter where I put it because paint is evil, don't you know. Lucky the color looks good on him.

From random chickens
Then everyone checked it out, because if it's in their yard, they own it, and you never know how badly I may have screwed it up.

Ginger looking in, with a long strand of grass in her mouth, like a dinosaur.  So gauche!

In the end, this is what it looks like.... far.  I've got to "pretty it up" a bit more.  Stay tuned!

Tomorrow I have a duck-centric post planned.  For today, here are some random pictures of gosling cuteness!


Caroline and Maybell

All three
Oh the gratuitous cute-osity!!
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