Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Homing Pigeons

Earlier this Summer I decided to start a pigeon loft.  I'm not really sure why . . . at this time in my falconry life I don't plan on flying any falcons, and I would be absolutely insane to think I would take on an Accipiter . . . my work life just doesn't allow for that.  I've never kept pigeons, and it seemed like something fun to do, as an undertaking of its own.  I have an old hawk mew which I decommissioned as a hawk house when I released Hit Girl.  It has seen better days, and has some rot going on in a few places, enough that I don't want to risk a hawk in there.  After all, it has been moved four times!  Last year it was a rat house, where I kept my breeding rats that produce some of the food for the hawk freezer, and provide fresh food during the summer for the molt.  It was easy enough to move the rats into my hawk trailer mew and make the changes to the building to accommodate pigeons.
I was gifted two groups of four "squeakers" from two falconry friends that have already established lofts.  Squeakers are young pigeons that have never fledged from a loft.  Homing pigeons will orient on the location they fledge from and return to it from great distances, once they have flown around the area.  Richard converted my old hawk shack/rat shack, building out a 'pigeon porch', and making some proper perches inside.  The birds have been spending several weeks hanging out on the porch, looking around.  For the last two days I've caught them up, and shown them the 'trap', which is the door they can go back into their loft.  Each bird was individually shown the door and went back into the loft, so they see how it works.  This morning I opened up the door on the pigeon porch, so they could exit.  I stood at a distance and watched their progress.  One by one they came out, flew up on top of the pigeon porch, then on top of the coop, then on up onto the pole barn.  As of right now, seven of them are pecking around on top of the pole barn.
This last bird was the last to fledge. It took a different flight than the others, landing in the grass.  Eventually it flew back to the coop, and went back inside, so didn't seem quite ready to join the others.  I closed up the exit door, and will let this bird try again tomorrow.

Hopefully, the other seven will have a fun day out, avoid Coopers Hawks, and come back by the end of the day.

Side Note:  Later in the afternoon all 8 were inside their coop, having returned for food and water.  Their first day flying free went very well.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Name Change

The kitten has integrated into the household just fine.  She and Monty roughhouse all the time.  Richard re-named her.  "Purza" just wasn't working.  He has started to call her "Clawdette" . . . and it fits!  She's just a ball of fangs and claws.  Monty seems to put up with it.  He gives as good a mauling as he receives.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

And Then There Were Goats

Our home which we purchased almost two years ago at the start of September (can it really have been two years already) has a 2.5 acre pasture attached.  During the summer this pasture can get pretty overgrown with grass and burdock and thistle and buckthorn and such.  I briefly toyed with the idea of putting a couple cows out there (I'm told by my cattle-raising family that you can't get just one cow . . . she would be very unhappy by herself), but cattle are not exactly cheap to buy, and would have to be fed over the winter.  My next option was to get some goats.  They are much smaller, and would not require quite as much feed over the winter.  For a little while we trialed this option by borrowing our friend Laurie's buck (male goat), as well as her two mini-horses, which continue to visit.  The three started in on the grassy field and have done a pretty good job chomping it down, at least the small area we portioned off with electric wire.  The horses respect the hot wire, but the goat walked right through it, so he had to be chained up and moved daily.  He only visited for a week and was sent home when my own goats arrived.  After all, my three new goats are does (females) and I don't want the buck getting them pregnant just yet.
Last year we had a couple of volunteer horses that came to visit and munched down our pasture.  Long story short, a lady who came to my door needed a place to put her horses for a little while, so for the summer they visited.  In the fall, as they had chomped down most of the green (and left a lot of horse poo in the field), and the rest was rather dry, they moved to her mother's home, which has a barn.  When I was visiting her this summer, and told her about my wish for goats, she took me down the street to meet one of her neighbors, who has a lot of goats, and was willing to sell some to me.  He only had one doeling born this year (young female goat) so I selected her and her mother.  I then just picked one of the other goats from among the many he had.  They were delivered to my place in early August.  Looking at the picture above, the black and white goat made me think of the Oreo cookie, so that is now her name.  Keeping with a cookie theme, I named the white goat with pantaloons Macaroon, or Mamma Macaroon when I'm feeling playful, as she is the mother to the doeling, who I named Biscotti. 
Rich and I have agreed from the day we bought this place that we would need to re-do the fencing on the pasture.  It has just been a few strands of barbwire, which works fine to keep in cattle and horses that are not motivated to get outside the field.  The fence was nowhere near adequate to keep goats in.  Thus, the first major project of this summer was to get the field re-fenced.  However, the goats were being delivered before the fencing was ready, so I bought a temporary electric fence, which you can see above.  It was actually moved several times, with the picture above being the third move.  It sections off a portion of yard or pasture (with a little mowing to keep it from grounding much) 160 feet long, which is plenty big to hold a couple goats for a few days.
Mamma Macaroon and her kid are coming to the fence anticipating my giving them a sweet horse mix treat with a bit of corn and molasses.  This is a favorite treat which I should be able to use to train them a little to come to me in the evening if I need to relocate them, or do something with them.
Rich and his brother Brian (Thank You soooo much Brian for coming and helping) began the process of the fencing project.  First they installed a solar electric fence wire around a small portion of the pasture to keep the horses confined.  Then over the next two weeks they installed sturdy corner supports consisting of old railroad ties and steel poles and wire at each of 5 pasture corners (the sixth corner was just fine, and between two corners is an outbuilding where the animals can get out of the weather if they choose).  The last step was to stretch the four foot high mesh fencing and secure to more frequently placed poles.  They finished up yesterday, August 13.  It looks really, really nice, and should confine the goats quite nicely.  It only enclosed half the pasture for now.  Next year we can enclose the other.  Fencing is rather expensive, so needed to be budgeted out over two years.
The final step was taking down the electric mesh fence that held in the goats.  They are now mingling with the horses.  You may not see it below unless you look, but my little flock of 5 chickens moves all around our place, and were in the scene below.  It is a pastoral scene!  The chickens are on bug control, and eventually will be giving us some eggs.  The goats are on weed patrol, and eventually will entertain the buck again so they may have new kids next year.  I won't mind letting my little herd of goats grow a bit.  Females will be allowed to stay and grow up and eat the brushy pasture.  Males will eventually find their way to our dinner table.  I've never tried goat . . . I intend to do so.  Who knows, maybe I'll even try my hand at a little goat milking.  The breed we have are mixed fainting goats, but all goats give milk.  The trick is training one to let you gather it.  I'll probably try with a young doe, on her first kid.  Maybe for Biscotti when she grows up and has her first kid.
For now, they have a pasture to start working on . . . and that is exactly what they have been doing.

As a side note - Rich's sister Debbie also came to visit and she has been helping me (Thank You Debbie) to paint treated wood planks which are needed for the next project . . . . re-doing our porch.  I'm in a bit of a hurry to get that project going, as the planks that are going to be replaced will go to build up a resting platform for my hot-tub which I purchased over the last couple months.  It is sitting in the pole barn waiting to be positioned.  I want that in place before winter comes . . . . this winter we will be enjoying the cold in style!  After a hard day hawking in the cold and snow, we'll come home and soak in wonderful hot water.

As an additional addendum, here is a picture of the buck.  I think he'll be a fine match to my does when the time comes . . . except he has horns, and my does do not (horns can be a feature of both male and female goats who carry the gene for them).  If any kids come out with horns I'll have to decide then what to do.  Goats can be very pushy, especially this guy above, so horns are not something you want to have in addition to their butting you.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


That is the main diagnosis that apparently killed my bird, Wasp.

"Hydro" (excessive water) "pericardium" (lining of the heart cavity). This leads to a condition called tamponade. I learned that in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support). The heart of all animals, including hawks and humans, sits inside a protective sack, called the pericardium. If a disease process causes an increase in fluid inside this protective membrane, the heart cannot beat, cannot refill with blood, and the organism dies. This is what I witnessed myself on the morning of Saturday, July 12. Between the time I noticed there was a problem, and his death, about a half hour transpired. It was quick.

Two days prior to the events of Saturday morning, July 12, he appeared normal, and ate a good sized meal. Because of my work schedule, I did not look in on him on Friday, July 11, opting to feed him the following morning with training. Rich tells me he was heard inside his mew on Friday, squawking as he does. I have been slowly bringing Wasp back down to response weight, with the goal to do some summer hunting with him. Because he is a small hawk, flying at 570 grams, give or take just a little, he did not fly well in the very frigid winter we had this last year. I have held back his molt. I wanted to give him more experience on birds, and then hoped to fly him on young rabbits once the season for them opened.

I felt last year that the response weight of 570 grams seemed rather sharp for him, but that was the weight he had to be at for motivation. I had response from him, and now have been working to build up some muscle and stamina. My efforts have been stymied by the incredible hatchout of black flies and midges we have had this summer. This seems to be significant, for reading the necropsy report, this is highly likely what caused the hydropericardium.

On Saturday morning, as I entered his mew, he was quiet, which is unusual for this bird. Both he and Sassy are rather talkative. That is, Sassy is talkative, and I think she taught Wasp to be so as well. He was on his night roost, hunched over and looking very subdued, lethargic, and unconcerned about his surroundings. He has been particularly spooky as I've been reducing his weight, refusing to stay on my fist, refusing to come to me unless I have food. I cannot know if he has been ill for awhile, or if this was a sudden, acute situation. I couldn't ask him how he has been feeling, and he didn't inform me that he had chest pain, or an inability to breathe . . . which is the sensation tamponade would produce.

Upon lifting him off his perch, his feet went limp, which to my experience is a very bad thing. I had no idea what the problem could be, and questioned whether or not it could be very low condition, as I have been reducing his weight. I brought him into the house, and carefully gave him two droppers of a high sugar solution, making sure to deposit into the crop, and avoid the trachea. I then called the Raptor Center. I received voice mail, and left a message. Someone would call me back shortly, as there is someone in the clinic on weekend mornings, per the voicemail message. He would die on me before they called back. He did manage to free his foot from the towel binding him and grab my hand for one last squeeze. It was a goodly handshake . . . a final handshake. He died shortly after that.

When someone from the Raptor Center called me back I asked them about preserving the body for necropsy. I wanted to know WHY he died, as he had shown no signs prior to this day. I was advised to refrigerate, and not freeze. I wrapped him up in a smaller towel, and placed him in the refrigerator. I would not be able to submit his body for necropsy until Monday, two days away. It was a little weird the next couple days opening the refrigerator, and see those talons sticking out of the towel on the bottom shelf.

We are very fortunate here in Minnesota to have one of the pre-emminent raptor hospitals in the University of Minnesota. I have taken Sassy to the Raptor Center for surgery, as well as she and Hit Girl a couple years ago for health certificates prior to travel to a NAFA meet. Across the street from the Raptor Center is the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. For a fee of $95 they would chop Wasp all up and take a very close look at him to try to determine what agent or infection or condition caused his too premature death. It has taken 10 days, but I now have his report.

The report begins with a rundown of each anatomical system. Most indicated nothing of note. Overall, his mucous membranes were pale, which could mean anemia. His Body Condition Score was 2 out of 5, with 1 = emaciation/ 5= obese. I knew he was thin, but 570 grams had been his flight weight last year. The cardiovascular system indicated severe hydrothorax. His liver was enlarged and redish. His spleen was enlarged and marble in appearance.

Histopathology, or microscopic analysis of tissue biopsies, found evidence of a microorganism suggestive of Leucocytozoon in the liver (more on that later). It was also found in the spleen. There was also evidence of a microorganism called Haemoproteus in the liver. System-wide, he was found to have Escherichia coli, non-haemolytic.

The Diagnosis indicates: Hydropericardium (this is the first and major cause of death); Spleen - Splenitis, lymphoplasmacytic, diffuse, moderate and diffuse reticuloendothelial hyperplasia with splenomegaly; Liver - Hepatitis, lymphocytic and histiocytic, multifocal, moderate, and widely disseminated intrahepatocellular and intraendothelial Apicomplexa microorganism suggestive of Leucocytozoon and bacterial emboli, with hepatomegaly.

The veterinary diagnostician indicates cause of death is unclear. It is his opinion that the presence of the Leucocytozoon should not have caused the bird's death. He noted that the bird was underweight.

So . . . where does that leave me? At least I can know that it was not anything obvious that I had done to him. Yes, he was underweight, but I was using the same techniques that I have used on all of my birds, and none have ever died of starvation. The presence of the microorganism Leucocytozoon and Haemoproteus interested me to look into it. The vector for these parasites are: 1. Black Flies, and 2. Blood-sucking mosquitos and midges, in that order. Go figure!

Both Wasp and Sassy are kept inside a screen mew. I have not been giving them any weathering time due to the current abundance of these biting insects. However, Wasp has been out of his protective mew while getting training, and there is always the possibility some follow inside when I come and go into their mew. How do you protect against something that is ubiquitous? And, was Wasp's underlying condition so compromised that he was unable to deal with these infections, leading to an inflamed liver and spleen, and then hydropericardium.

I am discouraged and dissapointed in his loss, but don't think anything obvious was wrong with his care. I am a bit disgusted after all my efforts last year, and money, to acquire a second Harris Hawk to be a companion to Sassy, that I am left now only with an inconclusive death report.

Sometimes, having responsibility for these magnificent animals can be very painful . . . when your best efforts only result in loss.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


We have a new kitten.  I didn't plan it . . . these things just sometimes happen, especially with kittens.

I have been inside-housecat-free for quite some time, and I've actually been OK with that.  Cat boxes are just not fun to deal with . . . unless you buy a fancy, expensive one that is self scooping.  However, a couple weeks ago Rich and I were visiting his good friend Laurie, who he works with, and who we usually get together with on Wednesday evenings for 'Movie Night'.  She cooks, and she's a really good cook, and Rich brings movies . . . which can range between really good stuff, and some obscure, not so good sometimes.  I think we are getting the better end of this arrangement.

Anyway, Laurie lives in the country, and has a farmette, and too many cats, with more being dumped all the time at her place.  Right now there is an assortment of kittens of all sizes on her porch.  This little monster just struck my fancy, as she is just so goshawful cute!  We agreed to take her once she was old enough.
Upon arriving to our home, at a late 11:30 pm, she was given a bath, for she was not alone, having brought several hundred blood-sucking friends.  Between a bath, a blow dry, a couple nights of manual hand picking and vacuum rigged micro suction O2 tube tips, and dusting with diatomaceous earth, and isolation, and medicated drops on her shoulders, I believe we finally separated her from her uninvited guests.  She was kept isolated upstairs in a kennel until I was certain the fleas were gone.  Also, I needed to slowly introduce her to Monty.

Over the last week she has settled in well, and she is spending more time downstairs mingling with Monty.  For his part, at first, Monty wanted to eat her, and he still has times when he just gets over-excited by her, and a bit too rough when playing.  However she has learned all the small hiding places to evade him, and she has the typical cat savvy, even as young as she is.  Sometimes she just turns and ignores him, and walks away.  The novelty of her presence is also wearing off for Monty, so he doesn't get quite so excited all the time.  I think they are going to make good friends.  When she starts to play rough with me, biting, I just scrape her off at Monty, and he licks her thoroughly.  At this point in her life, she's about as snuggly as curling up with a tumble weed . . . all teeth and claws.  But when she gets tired, then she is a cute, fluffy kitten.
Monty can be a bit possessive of his food sometimes, but he has been a good boy when it comes to this silly little creature which likes to try his dinner sometimes.  I only let her taste his food after he has eaten, and if he leaves some scraps, but not too much as I'm still trying to get her digestion settled on some good food.
Rich has frequently picked up some of the farm cats and placed them up on his shoulder for some attention.  For whatever reason, kitties seem to be comfy there.  Ours settled right in, sensing that many cats have reclined in that location.  Monty frequently leaps up in his lap as well.  Here he is draped with our pets.
She's an adorable beast, that I had some trouble deciding what to name.  I tossed around several possibilities, with none really presenting themselves as perfect.  I've settled on 'Purza', which is taken from a book I read many years ago.  It will do, I guess.  After all, just like the hawks, she probably won't come to her name, so I could really address her as just about anything . . . it won't matter.  BTW, I didn't stage the picture above.  She jumped in the pot herself.  I just saw it and ran for the camera.  Kittens are terribly cute . . . that's how they find a home.