One Knee and Thirty-Two Baby Chicks

The caller I.D. read “U.S. government” which would bring out a cold sweat on most citizens. It was our local post office. He said “We’ve got a package here for you, take a listen.” Hundreds of tiny little peeps came over the phone. My day-old chicks had arrived from a hatchery in Ohio. The hatchery was supposed to have alerted me as to when they were going to be shipped. I suppose they didn’t remember. Unfortunately, I had just had knee surgery 3 days earlier and was barely ambulatory (not to mention that I was concerned that maybe I was bleeding to death…but that’s another story). Anyhow. All the equipment I needed was here at the house and my son set it up on the back porch: a 200 gallon stock water tub, heat lamp, electrolytes for their water to strengthen their little immune systems, and chick starter feed.

Said son wasn’t available to chauffeur me to pick them up. So, bloody knee and all I drove to fetch them home to their new habitat. It is extremely important that the chicks be freed from the box as soon as possible. They are so fragile and need food and, most especially, water immediately. At the Post Office the box was sitting on the counter peeping like crazy. I felt like a new mother; slightly teary. All the way home I talked soothingly to the box and the peeping got softer.

Once back home on the porch I opened the box. There were 32 mini-chicks. They are so small and vulnerable. One chick was dead and that’s not unusual. It happens but still it is sad. We had to dip their tiny beaks into the water to accustom them to drinking. Try that with a one- ounce speedy little fluff ball. That’s exercise! I turned on the heat lamp and covered the tank with two window screens weighted down with bricks – ( I have two curious cats), had a glass or two of wine and went to bed. Next morning one more chick had died, but I had not bled to death. Sometimes when chicks huddle for the night a weaker one can be suffocated. They were warm enough (92 degrees) so it wasn’t the cold that caused them to pack together. Their little chicken brains were probably telling them that there is safety in numbers. Again, a death can occur when they’re so young and delicate.

I chose four different breeds: 6 blue Splash Marans, 9 Barred Rocks, 10 Amerucanas, 1 Delaware White and 6 Pearl keets (that’s what you call baby guineas) who will grow up to be black and white, speckled guinea hens. In this case “pearl” does not mean white. The hens were chosen for being sturdy, brown egg layers and the Amerucanas for laying blue, green and dusty pink eggs. The keets will lay brown eggs with extremely hard shells when they mature, but their eggs taste the same as the hens’. They’ll begin to lay in about 6 months.

Now they are 5 weeks old and living in a large bunny hutch on my friend’s farm in the hens’ enclosure. My son is building a “chicken tractor” for the young ladies to live in. Next week will be move-in day and I’m really excited to see how they adapt to the real world of bugs and grass, sunshine and rain.

Later that month: The “chicken tractor” is finished. Imagine a Quonset hut the size of a VW Beetle with plastic pipe ribs and covered with chicken wire. There is a door at one end. The bottom is also covered with chicken wire so predators can’t dig under and up. There are also wheels so that it can be easily moved; either with a real tractor or 2 strong humans. The idea is to move it around the property daily. The chicks devour everything under the bottom wire, clean out weeds and crab grass and then move on to “greener pastures.” It’s a wonderful invention and makes a lawnmower obsolete.

I have wondered how mothers with 20 children remember all their names and if they love all of them equally. With my chicks I know the answer is “Yes”!


My Girl, Pearl

We had guinea hens when I was a child on the farm. They were so funny-looking and did such silly things as lay eggs when they were roosting in a tree. Back on the ground the hens would sometimes have a common nest with as many as 20 eggs, and they hid them well. As for maternal instinct, many times they simply abandoned the eggs and went off to find bugs or worms. The eggs made particularly good ammunition for bored children, and the older the eggs the better. I understand their meat is very tasty, but eating a guinea hen, I think, would be akin to eating a frog. And frogs aren’t in my diet.

Pearl was my rescued white guinea hen. A friend offered her to me. Her mates were bullying her and she needed a new home before she was picked naked. She got one with my hens who eyed her as an undesirable and left her alone. She was a force to be reckoned with. An extremely pushy gal she was. She looked like an antediluvian species of fowl, with a large white, puffy-speckled body and a tiny pointed head and red wattles. She didn’t cluck like a hen either, she made a high-pitched “peet-peet-peet!”.

At feeding time she’d be the first to burst out of the hen house to see if there were any leftover veggies, spaghetti or fruit. I liked to think I was special to her, but knew in my heart that I was merely a food source.

One day I arrived at feeding time and there wasn’t the usual wild rush and the frantic greeting of “peet-peet-peet.” Pearl had disappeared during the night. How she did it is a mystery, because her wing was clipped and aerodynamically it would have been impossible for her to fly. It would be like a plane flying with one and one-half wings. There were no sad piles of white feathers, no evidence of a break-in by any four-footed critters.

I’ve since learned that mature guinea fowl, if transplanted, will depart if left to their own devices. If they’re hatched in one place they’ll stay there. Also, if keets, (what baby guineas are called), are raised with baby chicks, they will learn to go into the hen house and roost there instead of looking for a perch in a tree or on top of a gate or fence.

In about another month a box will arrive at the Post Office emitting tiny peeps. The Post Office will call me and I’ll go pick up my peeps, bring them home, and begin to raise them in an old watering trough. There will be 6 Delaware Whites, 6 Blue Copper Marans, 7 Araucanas and 6 Barred Rocks. And as the icing on the cake, 4 white keets!

By Lynn Wait

Is it Possible to Train Deaf Dogs?

There are a few challenges and differences in training techniques and tools, but yes, by using hand signals instead of verbal cues, you can train a deaf dog to do almost anything a hearing dog can do. In fact, all dogs learn and respond to hand signals more easily than to verbal cues, so much so that most trainers recommend teaching dogs to respond consistently to hand signals before introducing verbal cues.

In addition to the standard hand signals for things like Sit and Stay, hand signals from American Sign Language, such as clapping to indicate “good job!” can be useful in communicating with a deaf dog. One of the challenges in training a deaf dog is getting their attention without startling and scaring them, when they are nearby as well as at a distance. For that reason, attention exercises are an important foundation and ongoing necessity for deaf dogs.

A vibrating, (not shock), collar can be a useful tool for getting a deaf dog’s attention at a distance. At night you can use a flashlight or laser light, or flick the lights on and off. Getting a deaf dog’s attention may not be as difficult as imagined because most are reluctant to lose sight of their owner and may even panic and frantically search for their owner when they do. Having a fenced yard and training him to walk well on a leash are both critical, as there are few places where he can be safe off leash. A bell attached to the dog’s collar is helpful in cases where you may lose sight of him. Should he become lost, an ID tag stating that he is deaf will help whoever finds him understand his needs. If you have a deaf dog or are considering adopting one, here are some helpful resources:

The website has a wealth of information on training, vibrating collars, and more.
The book Living With a Deaf Dog: A Book of Advice, Facts and Experiences About Canine Deafness by Susan Cope Becker, is packed with useful tips and information.

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Do Dogs Ever Feel Guilty ?

Is it true that dogs do things out of spite and feel guilty when they do something wrong?

It is unlikely that dogs are spiteful, feel guilt, or know right from wrong. I’ve heard people say, “Even though he knew it was wrong, my dog got into the trash to get back at me for leaving him home. He knew it was wrong because he looked guilty when I came home.” For this to be true, your dog would have to think about what you have done to him in the past, (left him home), and the ramifications of what he will do now, (get into trash.)

To feel guilt, your dog must understand the abstract moral concepts of right and wrong, categorize behaviors as right or wrong, and connect what he did hours ago with your reaction to trash on the floor. All of this complex, abstract, past and future thinking occurs in a part of the brain called the Frontal Lobes. The Frontal Lobes comprise 29% of a human brain versus 7% of a dog’s brain. From studying the effects of brain damage, scientists know how the size of the Frontal Lobe affects abstract thinking and planning. Given the small size of their Frontal Lobes, dogs have minimal capacity for complex, abstract thinking or planning.

If your dog gets into the trash, it is most likely because he was bored and the trash was tempting and accessible. Dogs live very much in the moment and their behavior is guided by learning connections between events that happen within moments of each other. If you catch him in the act of getting into the trash and punish him, he will connect being punished with getting into the trash. If you find the spilled trash hours later and then punish him, he will learn that people seeing trash on the floor means punishment. He will not learn that getting into the trash caused punishment. The “guilty look” simply means that he has learned to be afraid of you when you see trash on the floor.

If you want to test the idea of your dog feeling guilty for getting into the trash, try this. Take your dog out of the kitchen and spill some trash on the floor. Then let your dog back into the kitchen. Act like you think he spilled the trash. Your dog will do a classic “guilty” look even though he had nothing to do with spilling the trash. Understanding the limitations of your dog’s thinking and learning will help you do a better job of training your dog and help you have more reasonable expectations.

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