Updates from the Unfarm

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It has been a while since I’ve checked in so another session of Unfarm Updates is in order. I (barely) survived the school year, managing to pull off A’s and B’s in a soil science class and a computer class. The computer class was especially tedious with lots of little details to memorize and four proctored tests to take. (Really, proctored exams in a 100 level online class? Please.) Needless to say, I was more than happy to cross that class off my list and I will never have to take another computer class for as long as I live. Do you hear angels singing, too, or is it just me?
 
Speaking of angels, we’ve had another loss here on the Unfarm. Poor little Suki-mama passed away about a month ago. She had been suffering from kidney disease for a while and eventually lost about half her body weight. Despite the best vet care we could provide, the disease was too severe and she passed away here at home in the morning. I had checked on her as soon as I woke up and found her sitting in her litter box, not looking great but hanging in there. I returned less than half an hour later, after eating breakfast and preparing her medicine, to find that she had passed away. So far, Jojo – who was her mate – seems to be doing tolerably and is not moping much, so I have hopes that he will not decline as time goes on and I will not be forced to lose another of my children any time soon.
 
Such is the cycle of life, I suppose. No matter how much we may want to, we can’t stop it from turning. The way I handle it, usually, is to bring a new animal to the Unfarm. And so we have found ourselves with a couple new additions: Buttercup, a Chantecler breed chick, and Belle, a Brahma. “We found ourselves with a couple new additions” may imply that they showed up on our doorstep one morning, with their small possessions wrapped up in a bandana, carried over their shoulders on tiny sticks. This is not what happened. What did occur was more along the lines of my mother lamenting the fact that our hens don’t lay eggs nearly as often now that they are more mature, which I took to mean, “perhaps we should get more chickens.” She will, of course, deny this if you ask her, so I took it upon myself to go to the local store and pick up a couple rarey breed chicks. When adding chickens to an existing flock, it is best to add two or more at a time, so that they have a companion while they are young and a partner once they join the flock, to prevent the older hens from picking on them too much. So really, it would have been irresponsible of me to only get one. Once she got over her shock, Mom quickly warmed up to the chicks and now calls them “her girls” or “the littles” (as opposed to our established flock – “the ladies”) and likes to say goodnight to them before going to sleep. So really, I did her a favor.
 
I feel that I should perhaps mention another disclaimer – despite what most of my family thinks, I am not an animal hoarder.  I do not acquire animals willy nilly, so to speak. I never have more animals than I can take care of, or more than we have room for, or more than we can afford to care for.  It is quite possible that, if asked, my parents would argue that last point – they frequently complain that we have surely funded an additional wing or two on our vet’s office by now, but when it comes down to it, we have never euthanized an animal that was not ready to go because of costs.  We pay for laser treatments for arthritis, surgery for kidney stones, specialists in cardiology and hysterectomies on hens.  It has always been my opinion that money can eventually be replaced, but we will never have another Kita, or Emmy, Dandelion the hen, or Patches the guinea pig.

Adding insult to injury

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Aspen got a bath today, which would be bad enough in itself, but the bath was on top of the haircut he got this morning.  A lion cut, which means that he was completely shaved down except for his head, his lower legs, and a poof on his tail.  I can only imagine how humiliated he must feel to now more closely resemble a poodle than the distinguished Norwegian forest cat he is.  

I should perhaps mention, in case I haven’t in the past, that we do not shave him because it amuses us. (It is actually something of an ordeal as he cannot be groomed without sedation and must therefore be taken to the vet and placed under observation while he is under the anesthetic and after he comes out of it.)  We shave him once a year, near the beginning of summer, because he has spent the previous twelve months growing his coat out and nursing an impressive crop of mats and by this point he has at least a good half dozen in various places on his chest and stomach.  Brushing his fur is out of the question unless we develop the desire to experience life as an amputee as he has no qualms about biting (and scratching) the hand that feeds him.

The bath is not something we usually do, but today he messed in his carrier on the way home and by the time we got to the house he stank to high heaven, so it was either subject him to a bath or break out the gas masks and hope the scent cleared.  The bath, however, put an already cranky cat into a foul temper and he crept into a bed under one of the desks and proceeded to mope for the next five hours, looking decidedly angry and shivering even with the heater on.  And so now, to top it all off, if the weather doesn’t warm up soon, we might have to contemplate getting him a sweater of some sort.  If it comes to that, it might be wise to have the Red Cross on standby because I don’t see us getting through that without serious bodily harm.  Let’s all pray for sun.

I Claim This Land in the Name of [insert individual bunny name here]

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At current count, the Unfarm has 4 rabbits. Two single males, and one bonded pair consisting of a male and a female. They are house rabbits who hang out with me in my office/studio. Can’t you just picture it: four cute, cuddly, fluffy rabbits hopping around the room together, munching on veggies and then flopping onto their sides and grooming one another?

I can’t. Oh sure, they are fluffy and cute and they do love to hop around, munching on treats and chewing whatever they can get their teeth on (furniture, power cords, books, etc), but let them all out at once and what you have, far from being a group of contented rabbits, is a rolling, kicking, biting, scratching ball of flying fur. Bunnies are vicious, territorial little animals. Bonding them takes a great deal of time and energy, if it happens at all.

And after a vet bill totaling over $1000, I am scared off of trying to bond the rabbits for the time being. I might clarify that it isn’t just about the money, it has more to do with the damage (physical and emotional) they inflict upon each other before I can break up the fighting. This means that giving the rabbits time out each day necessitates a rather elaborate set up of ramps and gates in an effort to allow the rabbit(s) access to their own cage while simultaneously blocking their access to cords and furniture they will chew on as well as the other rabbit cages, as they have a tendency to pee around them while trying to claim the entire room as their own personal territory. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell them that the room is actually my territory, not theirs – they refuse to believe me. Rabbits are surprisingly stubborn animals.

The ramp is the newest addition to the bunny room – it was required after I put two of the three cages up on tables and left only Clover’s cage on the floor. There were two reasons behind this move; first, I figured that putting the cages up on tables would allow me to position them so that they weren’t sticking out into the center of the room as much and I could store the litter boxes and large bin of hay underneath one of the tables, instead of on top of Suki and Jojo’s cage; and secondly, by raising Suki and Jojo’s cage, as well as Basil’s, up out of sight of rabbits loose on the floor, I hoped that the bunnies would feel less territorial and would therefore mark less while out gallivanting around the room. Clover’s cage was chosen to remain on the floor as he tends to be the neatest, tidiest rabbit with the best litter box manners and he rarely marks while out.

When Suki, Jojo or Basil are allowed out, I open the cage door and put in the ramp (hinged to allow them safe and easy access to the ramp from inside their cages, and carpeted to give them secure footing). After a few minutes spent getting accustomed to it, they now happily hop up and down the ramp and have constant access to their litter boxes while enjoying their time out.

Not that it has helped – the rabbits continue in their efforts to claim the entire room for themselves. any areas not blocked off or protected by plastic hall runner. It seems my only option is to keep a floor cleaner close at hand or squirt the rabbits with water if I happen to catch them in the act.

Not that it has helped – the rabbits are of the opinion that I clearly do not understand whose territory is whose. In an effort to clarify things, Basil tells me that the whole room is his. Suki and Jojo, on the other hand, insist that they own the whole room. Clover doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about – he would rather leave the arguing to the other three bunnies while he focuses on the important things in life: chewing through all of the most expensive electrical cords and art supplies that I have been careless enough to leave unguarded. And by unguarded, I mean those objects that are blocked only by very heavy pieces of furniture and numerous gates. As anyone who lives with rabbits knows, if I really wanted to keep something safe, I would surround it with a five foot high gate of metal mesh, attached to the wall on both ends by no less than 5 bolts and topped with barbed wire.

Tip from the Unfarm

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Sometimes, on occasion, things get dirty around here. Shocked? Understandable. But it is true. With fourteen animals running in and out of the house and the mud pit that the back yard becomes during the long rainy season, it’s a wonder you can tell the inside from the outside at all. Sometimes it seems easier just to throw down some straw in the living room and hose everything down come summer.

Alas, I am outvoted and we are forced to clean. Not only do we have the usual chores – sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, etc – but we also have all the animal related chores which includes (but is not limited to) scrubbing pet dishes; washing duck diapers; keeping all the various dog, cat chicken, duck, rabbit, bird and squirrel foods stocked up; keeping cat and rabbit litter boxes cleaned out and shampooing the carpets when the dogs run in with muddy feet. (You know you have a lot of pets when the purchase of an industrial carpet cleaner is like Christmas morning.)

In addition to keeping the bird feeders full all year, they also need to be cleaned out regularly, which brings me to my tip. Hummingbird feeders are particularly troublesome to clean out, having such a narrow little opening so we here on the Unfarm have come up with a handy, reusable, eco-friendly cleaner.

Grit. We bought a small bag of grit (small rocks) from the feed store that we keep in an old peanut butter jar. When it’s time to clean the feeder, pour in a small handful of grit, add some water and a little soap, plug the hole with your thumb and shake the feeder. You’ll probably have to swirl it around and shake it fairly hard, but the rocks act as little scrubbers inside the jar, getting any dirt or mildew cleaned off. When the feeder is clean simply pour the rocks out into the jar to use next time. Since the rocks sink to the bottom, you can pour out most of the water and then let what’s left evaporate with the lid off. You can buy small amounts of grit from the bulk bins in a feed store, it’s relatively cheap and it’s infinitely reusable. Plus, chemical free!

There you have it: hopefully at least one of your chores will be a little easier. Now if I could only find a way to use gravel to clean the rest of the house…

Single Serve Molten Chocolate Cake

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1 tablespoon butter, plus extra for greasing
1/2 – 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder, flour, OR sugar
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips, plus 1 tablespoon
1 large egg
4 teaspoons sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Thoroughly butter a 3/4 cup ramekin, then coat it with unsweetened cocoa powder, flour OR sugar. (Put in a small amount of the dry ingredient in the ramekin and tilt to get the bottom evenly covered, then tap the ramekin as you turn it, coating the sides as well. Dump out any extra.) Set ramekin aside.

Melt the butter and chocolate chips together and stir well. I used a double boiler but next time I’ll try it in the microwave – one less dish to wash.

Whisk the egg and sugar together in a small bowl, then mix into the chocolate mixture until well incorporated, then stir in salt and flour until just mixed. Pour the batter into the ramekin, place on a baking sheet and put on the middle rack in the oven. Bake for 7-10 minutes for a molten center (a 3/4 inch ring around the edge will look dull) or 10 to 12 minutes for a soft center (cake edge will look slightly puffy.)

Let cool a couple minutes and enjoy.

I’ve made this recipe twice now, and the first time I baked it for somewhere around the 7-10 minute range and it turned out to be almost entirely batter, with baked edges. Much too doughy for my taste, although it made an okay chocolate topping for the ice cream I had it with. Although, I did have 7 ramekins in the oven that time. The second time I made it I stuck to a single ramekin and baked it longer, until the top had puffed up out of the dish about half an inch and it was much better that way. But feel free to experiment on your own.

The original recipe called for a tablespoon of peanut butter instead of the additional tablespoon of chocolate chips, but I’m not that crazy about peanut butter in baking so I swapped it out. I found the recipe in Sunset magazine (my absolute favorite – I highly recommend it if you live on the west coast) and they got it from Joy the Baker Cookbook.

The Very Hungry Bunny

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I tried – I really tried – to get the front deck looking good this past summer. I spent hours scrubbing the deck and the patio furniture to get all the algae and moss off (in the cool, wet climate of the Pacific northwest it is practically a miracle if a deck doesn’t completely biodegrade during the course of the rainy season.) I sadly took apart the extra rabbit cage that was out on the deck – I didn’t have any use for it after TJ died. I even planted some herbs in pots (tall ones) on the deck and arranged all the furniture to take advantage of the view. It looked great…for two days. And then Clover discovered it. Clover apparently decided to follow in the grand tradition of all rabbits that have come before him and create mischief wherever he finds himself.

On Monday, Clover chewed off the leaves that he could reach while sitting on the deck. That evening I put up a gate around the plants. On Tuesday, Clover figured out how to move the gate and continued to graze on the herbs. That evening I zip tied the gate to the deck railing to keep it from moving. On Wednesday, Clover discovered that he could squeeze underneath the railing and bypass the gate. He continued to munch on the herbs. On Thursday, Clover bypassed the gate, hopped up into the planters and ate the plants down to the ground. On Friday, with no plants left, Clover dug himself a trench in the largest pot and happily settled down to survey his handiwork.

I think what we had was a basic communication problem. No matter how many different ways I tried to tell Clover that the plants were decoration and not, in fact, food, all he heard was something along the lines of, “I spent an hour planting this salad bar for you Clover, bon appetit.” I would have moved him into the backyard run under the grape arbor but he has, unfortunately, also demonstrated a propensity for easily clearing the waist high walls of the run and spending the day hopping merrily about the backyard until we discover him and have to spend the next hour chasing him down. Fortunately I no longer have to worry about him running amok on the deck as it is mid October now and well into the rainy season. I figure I’ve got at least 8 more months to ponder the problem and come up with a solution for next year.

Paranoia

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I am uneasy. Scratch that – I am completely paranoid. I am jumping at every shadow and flinching at every real or imagined movement seen at the edge of my vision. And what was it that caused this paranoia? A moth.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned, once or twice, my hatred of moths but in all fairness, this was a big moth. Huge, actually. And before you say I’m exaggerating, I should tell you that this was a one-eyed sphinx. (This thing has a five inch wingspan.) I had never even heard of this moth before and I hope to never have the misfortune of coming across one again. Ever. It was a huge, fat, ugly moth hanging onto the screen door in the kitchen. The outside of the screen door in the kitchen – this key fact was the only thing keeping me from going into a complete screaming panic. Not that I didn’t do at least a little screaming – believe me, I did – but I didn’t abandon the house and file a change of address form with the post office listing a local hotel as my new residence.

So there we were, with a moth perched precariously on the only door that allows the dogs access to the outdoors at night to go to the bathroom. It would take only a second or two for the moth to disengage from the screen and fly through the doorway into the kitchen as one of the dogs came or went. So we did the only thing we could to ensure that the moth would stay out of the house. We trapped it in a peanut butter jar. I should say that I am a proud supporter of PETA, but in this case, I could care less about the rights of moths, so long as I was guaranteed a house free of roaming one-eyed sphinxes. Should the moth have gotten in and then disappeared somewhere in the house we probably would have had to move. No amount of money could induce me to live in a house with that moth hiding in it.

To maintain my peace of mind, the next morning I took the jar – still tightly lidded – and hid it somewhere in the neighborhood. I really can’t be any more specific as to the location of the moth as there is considerable risk my brother would decide to go and liberate it should he ascertain its location. And I really cannot give the moth the chance to either a) return to our house and/or b) mate and reproduce, creating a multitude of huge, ugly, fat moths to torment me. But if it makes you feel any better, I did make sure to put it somewhere very shady so that it at least would not bake to death.

Unfortunately, a little research turned up the fact that this part of the country is part of the native territory of the one-eyed sphinx. Which means, of course, that there could be more out there, just waiting for me to drop my guard before popping out when I least expect it. So for now, I’m jumping at every shadow and flinching at every movement seen at the edge of my vision – real or imagined.

Fourth of July cupcakes

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I am not, by nature, an overly patriotic person. (So sue me – it’s just not my thing.) I don’t decorate for the 4th of July, I don’t cry listening to the Star Spangled Banner, and neither do I dress in red, white and/or blue. Scratch that last one – I am wearing blue shorts right now, but it was not done with the intent to display patriotism, they were simply the first relatively clean shorts I came across this morning. So the reasoning for the following recipe is not patriotism – it is a thinly veiled excuse to make cupcakes. Although, if you want to make these to display your patriotism and love of all things Fourth of July, by all means, enjoy.

White cake cupcake batter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar and then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the vanilla extract. Mix the baking powder and flour in a separate bowl and then add to the butter mixture, mixing well. Add the milk and stir until the batter is smooth. Divide the batter into three different bowls. Leave one batch plain, then add blue food coloring to one bowl and red to the third. Line 12 muffin tins with paper liners and spoon the batter into the tins, filling to between 2/3 and 3/4 full. Put the red batter in first, then the plain/white batter, and top it off with the blue. Try to spoon the batters in even layers so that the finished cupcake will have good color separation. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. The cupcakes are done when the batter is set and the cake springs back to the touch.

Let the cupcakes cool and then frost. I was too lazy to make frosting today (and my mom insisted I use the can of store bought stuff we had in the pantry so that there wouldn’t be any extra frosting around to tempt us) so I just used the white store bought stuff and topped it with sprinkles. If you wanted to be fancier, you could color your frosting blue or red and if you wanted to get really crazy, you could take blue, red and white frosting, spoon them into a piping bag, and pipe on a swirl of the three colors. I tried piping but my piping skills are not as good as I would like so they didn’t turn out quite as pretty as I would have liked. Fortunately their looks have nothing to do with their taste and they were pretty good.

NOTES: If you want, experiment with adding flavor of some kind to the base batter to give the cupcakes whatever flavor you like. Also, to make adding the batter to the muffin tins easier, I put the batters into three different sandwich bags and then snipped the corner off the bag to give more control when adding the batter to the tins. To make getting the batter into the sandwich bags easier, I folded the edges of the bag down over a wide mouth canning jar so that I could keep the bag open while I poured the batter into the bag. Both bag tricks worked out really well and made the job much simpler. I am either very creative, or very lazy. I’m still not sure which.

A loss on the Unfarm

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If you are expecting a lighthearted, somewhat humorous report of life on the Unfarm, I am sorry to disappoint – the news today is neither of those things. We have suffered a loss here on the Unfarm yesterday. My little, tiny, baby bunny boy, TJ, went into shock yesterday morning due to a gut upset. (I am quickly coming to face gut problems in rabbits with a knotted stomach and a cold sweat, after having previously lost both Tajha – TJ’s mate – and Peter – the Netherland dwarf who lived with us before Jojo and Suki arrived, to gut upsets.) I rushed TJ to the vet where he managed to hang on for most of the day but lost the battle in the early evening and slipped away. All losses of my little ones (we have lost somewhere around twenty pets in my lifetime) are painful but losing TJ was particularly tough because we had become so close in the last few months as I nursed him through a stubborn injury he sustained after a run in with Jojo during an attempt at bonding. TJ and I have been together for at least four years now and he was so tame that I could walk right up to him and pick him up wherever he was – whether inside or out running around the garden. We often cuddled up for naps and he is the only rabbit who I could trust to run free throughout the house as he stayed out of trouble and the dogs seemed to accept him as a sort of honorary dog, knowing somehow that he was not to be chased or otherwise bothered.

The evenings now are the hardest. That is when I miss him the most, during that time when the distractions of the day have begun to melt away and all that is left is an ache and the desire to hold him again, cradling him against my right side with my arm, his feet resting against my hip and his head at shoulder height so that all I needed to do was turn my head to be able to kiss the soft, white fur on his forehead. His departure has left a hole in my life and the rest of the animals on the Unfarm have noticed his vacancy as well.

In a somewhat cruel coincidence, Dora, my sister’s hamster, also died yesterday and while Dora was not technically a member of the Unfarm, it is a loss all the same, and deserves to be mentioned to honor her memory.

And now that this loss has been reported, I am signing off. I will try to resume reporting the news from the Unfarm again shortly but I have to be in the right mood and it is not the one I am currently in. Goodnight, all. Love you forever, TJ.

All’s chaotic on the western front

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Question: What is worst than finding a sugar ant* crawling on your kitchen counter? Answer: Finding two hundred and seventy six ants crawling all over your kitchen. Aside from running the Unfarm on my own for the last four days while my parents are staying in an amazing vacation home on lake Coeur D’Alene in Idaho, I have had the added complication of sugar ants. On Thursday they were in the kitchen, coming in through the sliding door on the back deck, as near as I can tell, so on Friday I bought the most eco and animal friendly ant spray I could find and sprayed around the door and along the trail of ants marching along the length of the deck. Ant problem solved.

Saturday morning I woke up to discover ants swarming my desk (and water bottle – gross) in the bunny room. I sprayed them all with an eco cleaner (not wanting to use ant spray in the carpeted bunny room), followed by an orange oil wood polish which seems, for some reason, to keep the ants at bay. I also took a closer look at the suspected entry point – the deck – and discovered that the ants had also found the hummingbird feeder so I made the decision to take it down for the time being – a decision the hummingbird did not appreciate when he came looking for a meal a few minutes later. Penny happened to be on the deck when I was taking the feeder down and she took the opportunity, while I had my back turned, to attack me. She puffs up her neck feathers and somehow manages to jump in the air while simultaneously scratching and pecking me. I don’t know what has gotten into her lately, but she would not leave me alone and I finally had to chase her off with a broom in order to get into the house again. Once free of the attack chicken I sprayed every new ant trail I could find and around the kitchen and bunny room window. I went to bed reveling in the knowledge that I was finally free from the ants.

Sunday morning, after doing all of the various morning pet chores – feed the dogs, let the chickens and ducks out and feed them breakfast, give the Kita his medicine – I discovered… wait for it… ants. This time they were all over the cupboard under the sink which necessitated the removal and cleaning of everything the ants touched or might have touched. I am about ready to throw in the towel and just move. I gave serious thought to the option of going to a hotel for the next couple of days but decided to stay put when I realized there probably isn’t a hotel in existence that would let me move in with three dogs, two cats, two diaper-wearing ducks and four rabbits. So much for that idea.

Monday was pretty much the same: find ants, scream and yell and swear at ants, kill ants and then clean ants. I have everything cleared off of the kitchen counters and put away in drawers or cupboards, partly to keep them safe and partly to make spraying and cleaning the counters easier, but having everything put away is bound to set Mom off when she gets home as she tends to rule the kitchen with an iron fist and is extremely particular about how things are done in there. But honestly, at this point, I couldn’t care less. They’ve been enjoying lakefront views while the only thing I’ve seen has been ants. If the ants are still here by the end of this week I may very well pack up and live out of my tent until I get the all clear. Let Mom and Dad deal with them for a change.

*Author’s note: They may not actually be sugar ants. All I know is that they are small, black, attracted to the hummingbird syrup, and – judging from the amount I’ve discovered and killed – they must have an incredible reproduction rate to be able to continue to invade in such vast numbers.