Saturday, August 30, 2008

Our Reality Free Press

I know you're all dying to hear the latest on the guineas.  Once again though, the headlines are driving me crazy, and you'll just have to suffer with me.

The big buzz, as the entire world knows, is that George McCain has chosen a woman as his Vice Presidential running mate.  Hot diggety!  Can we ever talk about that!

What is totally- and I meant totally missing from the world wide gossip orgy is WHY.

No, I don't mean all the crap and carp about what she's done and hasn't, who she is, what she professes... I mean the political reality.  Why did McBush choose a woman running mate?

There is a real, obvious, true answer- and I have yet to see it anywhere.

You can see the answer by looking at any news source, right now.  And stepping back just a tiny bit, to see the context.  The details of what they are talking about are unimportant- pretty much as usual.

Here's the critical- and obvious- question: "What is everybody talking about?"

The answer is "Not Obama."

And that's why.

McBush's choice, and timing, were indeed masterful.  Who Palin is matters not a whit- any chick would have served the purpose.

The presidential campaign was just about to be completely over; Obama was on the verge of wrapping up the election, right there.  100% of the press, 3 layers deep, was zooming around the Obama world, and 95% of it was "wow, this guy is hot! He's the real thing!  wow!"

And- at around 8 o'clock in the morning, the very day after Obama's recordbreaking tv speech (38 million people watched his speech- a big record- more than the Olympics...), when all the world was in a category 4 hurricane of analysis - and Obama's poll numbers were rising steadily -  McCain masterfully, totally, utterly extinguished the Obama "convention bounce".  

Within one hour of the announcement, Obama was off all headlines- all substantive discussions were over, and 100% of the buzz was McCain/Palin etc, and ooh, what does this mean?


If you're human- right now, you're thinking all kinds of rational thoughts, arguments, analyses- discussions- to rebut me, or answer me, or amplify me-

And your rational discussions and vehement answers have nothing whatever to do with the politics.

Exactly as the people over at TAE state, repeatedly- this has to do only with the very predictable behavior of herds.

After the convention- all us sheeple were mooving in the direction of Obamaville.  It was starting to be a stampede.  Really good job, Obama.

George McCain got in the way of the herd; shouted one magic herd word- (the equivalent of "Hooo-aaaahhh!") and the entire world herd changed direction.

All conversation, all thought, shifted from Obama directions, into McCain directions.  Stampede- averted.


That- 100% - is why McCain chose Palin.  Nothing, zero, nada, to do with her being female, conservative, young, etc, etc etc.  She was very simply the most effective "Hoooo-aaaahh!" he had available.

And demonstrably- he was soo, so right.  None of even the mainstream "liberal" press types have picked up on that, or made any effort to avoid being so blatantly manipulated.  They could have made the front page half Palin; half continuing the Obama streams.  Think a second- was Obama still worthy of being considered news?  I sure think so.  (in a rational world... wild maniacal laughter...)

Nope.  It's...  THE MCBUSH CHANNEL!!!! --- All McCain- All The Time!

Your nicely reasoned arguments- are completely irrelevant at this juncture.  And McCain's advisors proved they know it.

Very nicely done, George.  You clearly understand how it works.

But apparently- nobody - nobody at all I can see - in the press - does.


Back to my harvest, and herding teenage guineas.  They're slightly less predictable than this; more entertaining.

(don't worry, no more politics here- at least until the next time I just CAN'T STAND IT.)


UPDATE 9/2.  For anyone still tracking this nonsense; this article in the NYT today is a better than average compendium, and contains this statement: "Perhaps more important, several Republicans said, Mr. McCain was getting advice that if he did not do something to shake up the race, his campaign would be stuck on a potentially losing trajectory."

Which is what I said- he was just about to lose it all; and had to do something noisy.  Validation!  Hah!  :-)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

CIT claims to outsmart flies..

No, I'm not going to turn this into an animal behavior blog, though it's tempting.  But this one is irresistible to me.

Big headline in the BBC Science section: 

Researchers in the US say they have solved the mystery of why flies are so hard to swat.

Be still, my heart!  lol!!

If you'll read the brief article, you'll be amazed to learn that scientists at the world renowned California Institute of Technology have discovered- finally- that - who could have ever imagined- flies are AWARE of fly swatters!  

Flies actually- hard as it is to believe!- SEE them, and plan how to jump out of their way!!

Crikey.  Another huge international headline I could have had for myself- but failed to- because it's just so totally freaking obvious.

Anybody who has actually spent time trying to swat a pesky problem fly learns this- unequivocally- in the first 2 minutes of human-fly warfare.

There is a REAL problem here, and this is a perfect illustration of it.  There is a class of scientist out there who claim, and believe, that we know nothing - if it has not been brought into a laboratory, and been proven in careful controlled experiments.

Thereby discarding tens of thousands of years of totally accurate and intelligent observations.

And - setting us back, in fact making us dumber than we were.  This is a growing trend in academia - find something really obvious and prove it.  Then publish.  Instant acclaim!

The upshot of this article is: 

"We've found that when the fly makes planning movements prior to take-off, it takes into account its body position at the time it first sees the threat," he explained.
"Our experiments showed that the fly somehow 'knows' whether it needs to make large or small postural changes.
"This means the fly must integrate visual information from its eyes which tell it where the threat is approaching from, with mechano-sensory information from its legs, which tells it how to move to reach the proper pre-flight pose."
So can this data make us more efficient swatters? Possibly. It is best to creep up on a fly with stealth, as they are unable to register slow movements.
When it comes to striking the blow, Professor Dickinson said it was a good idea not to aim at the fly's starting position.
"It's best to aim a bit forward of its location and try and anticipate where the fly will jump when it first sees your swatter," he explained.

If you can stop laughing- (gosh!  a fly is a functioning integrated organism??  no!!) - Professor Dickinson's advice shows that he actually has NOT experimented with fly swatting techniques.

My own advice on swatting flies?  Simple.  And based on years of vast swatting experience and experimentation.  And no, they are NOT  "unable" to register small movement- they just see it as not imminently threatening.  Watch the flies- it's obvious.

A fly "on the alert" for a potential swat is basically - frozen.  It's not moving- it's watching.  You move the swatter a millimeter- and it moves its body a millimeter-  but it can't keep doing that forever, can it?  Hard to find food if you're always on alert.

A really scared fly may stay on alert for a very long time (from the human perspective) - up to 30 seconds, or even longer.  That's too long for most fly-hunting humans' attention span- but it's not too long for the fly- whose life and entire existence depend on making the right response here.

Move your swatter slowly into a good position, without spooking the fly into flying.  Hold it there, without moving it.  Wait.  

At some point-always- the frozen fly will start to walk- or clean its face.  Whack it instantly, with no backswing.  Because just at that point- it is NOT on guard; it has decided that hovering threat is not a threat, and cannot - cannot- jump quickly out of the way.  The instant of change from "on high alert" to "not" - is a vulnerable point.  As the professor notes- later, while the fly is walking, grooming, etc, it is again more difficult to catch.

Earthshaking information!  Aren't you thrilled!  The apocalypse has been averted!  

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Smart birds-

More torture here for you, RC- this is not much about guineas...  :-)

The NYT has a good article on the growing awareness of scientists that animals are "smart", etc. - Crows remember faces.

Good article; for two reasons- it tells a good story about a nice experiment on crows learning specific human faces- and teaching other crows- and remembering for years-

And it also fully illustrates the stunning current "scientific" bias against this kind of understanding.  Later in the article it talks about how that silly guy Konrad Lorenz had inklings...

Though Dr. Marzluff’s is the first formal study of human face recognition in wild birds, his preliminary findings confirm the suspicions of many other researchers who have observed similar abilities in crows, ravens, gulls and other species. The pioneering animal behaviorist Konrad Lorenz was so convinced of the perceptive capacities of crows and their relatives that he wore a devil costume when handling jackdaws. Stacia Backensto, a master’s student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who studies ravens in the oil fields on Alaska’s North Slope, has assembled an elaborate costume — including a fake beard and a potbelly made of pillows — because she believes her face and body are familiar to previously captured birds.

Puuuleeeeze!  "Suspicions??"  Lorenz wasn't "so convinced" - he KNEW.  Backensto doesn't "believe" - she KNOWS.  Many others knew, and have for many decades.  One of my heroes is Ernest Thompson Seton- who wrote an extensive, multi volume set of fully academic studies on the life histories of game animals- and also wrote popularized versions for general consumption- from around 1905 to 1940.  His work is full of hard scientific observations- showing all kinds of animal intelligence and individuality- and many other workers followed.  But somehow, Marzluff thinks his study is the first.  Far, far from it.  But the Times buys it- and to my dismay even journals like Science use this kind of hyper-conservative language- which actually obscures a huge amount of knowledge.

Argh.  Don't get me started on the sad state of "science"; I really don't have time.  And it really ticks me off- science is a fabulously powerful and useful tool- but it's mostly very poorly used, and only superficially understood; particularly by those with PhD's.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dog crime and punishment

Reader "e" made this comment on the last post; I started to answer there, and it kind of grew... so it's here: 

Hi, I wonder if you could explain your thinking on this: "Bruce- was on the chain all day....Punishment."
My understanding is that you can teach dogs that what they are doing "now" is wrong but that the concept of getting tied up the day after doing something is too abstract/far removed for them to understand.

This is why punishing them when you come home for peeing/chewing in the house if you've left them alone doesn't work. They only learn to associate your return with punishment.

e - you're totally right, that's the standard advice. I really disagree with it, though the reasons are complex. 

Very quickly- SOME dogs are much much smarter than others- and Bruce is one; he's very smart indeed. I don't think he's got ANY trouble understanding cause and effect even when disassociated. 

I'll point out here- I've got tons of formal training in animal behavior, from the academic side- actually both of the papers I presented for my MS degree were behavioral.  And I train my cats.  I can't tell you how many visitors we've had who have been astonished at our cats; who I do train to have reasonably good behavior.  Most folks consider cats essentially "untrainable"- living with one is a matter of mutual adaptation and tolerance.

A good chunk of my approach is to recognize that animals are very much individuals- what is true for this one, is not necessarily true for that one.  Our current cat, for example, is allowed to meow at the door to go out; the previous cat was not.  For this cat, it's an actual request based on need; for the previous cat, it was mostly a bid for endless attention.  No cat is allowed to meow to come in.

In the specific case with Bruce, he was not just stuck on the chain, and left to suffer.  The chain is right by the door of the Little House- he sees us coming and going.  And he's quiet and resigned about it, when we are in the house.  What he hates is when we all go somewhere, and he isn't allowed to go too.  

When we were leaving to work in the fields- he can tell what we're doing- I took the remains of the chewed up surveyors tape; and the shredded gorp bag- both carefully preserved for this purpose; and presented them to him, yet again.  And talked- "Bruce.  THIS is why you have to STAY -  at HOME.  THIS.  Bad dog.  You know you're not supposed to chew just anything."  

And some more talking.  And petting.  He knew immediately when I showed him the evidence of his bad behavior that - it was bad; he'd been naughty; and his gaze dropped, his stance changed to submissive- he was clearly embarrassed.  There is no question in my mind that dogs, and cats, are totally capable of real embarrassment.

Then I'd put the evidence back out of sight; and we'd go; leaving him behind.  He would cry.  "No.  Not today.  You were bad.  I can't trust you.  You stay home.  No chewing."  He knew.  That whole scenario was repeated all day, every time we came and went.

At the end of the day, I let him off, and of course he was delighted.  Next day- as we set out to work, he came along, but in a much quieter, more reserved way; unless specifically encouraged to play, which he's wildly enthusiastic about.

The books, mostly, stem from days when animals were newly regarded as black-box machines- that concept was considered a major "advance" in our understanding of animals.  They're all the same; input this; and you get this output; totally predictable.  Everybody likes simple rules.

Today, there is, finally, growing scientific acceptance that animals are NOT machines; they can be individuals; and they are both far more "intelligent", and have much greater "self awareness" than previously believed.

Lots of pet owners and lovers, and farmers, and hunters, have known that for a long time, of course.  Guess what?  It's true.  One possible excuse for the scientists' failure to see this- many pure-bred dogs and cats are -genuinely- mentally retarded; white mice and rats definitely are.  They've been bred for docility, and inbred out the wazoo- and lots of them are really just - dumb.  Mutts, mongrels, and alley cats- have their mental functions intact, and are far far smarter than science has allowed.   They can easily remember events and causes from past days.

So far, Bruce has been well behaved now regarding tapes.  

A previous similar episode- he had a propensity for chewing electrical extension cords; not something we approved of.  A couple weeks ago, he chewed up an important one- carrying current to the brooder light for the chicks.  He's never managed to shock himself, I think, or trip the circuit breakers, but it was just dumb luck; the cord was really trashed.

The actual chewing took place the day before we found it.  I took the chewed cord, and confronted him with it; slapped him with it (he's really sensitive about that- he knows it's punishment even though there's not enough force in the slap to hurt; he cries like a baby from the humiliation) and explained repeatedly that I was SO not happy, and he was not to do this ever again.  He knew I was angry, at him- and the chewed cord was why.  He hates that.

He hasn't ever done it again- though the replacement cord is just as vulnerable to him, and he has 100 opportunities a day.  It makes a huge difference that he WANTS to do "the right thing" - and make me happy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Strike One-

There's definitely something strange about focusing on poultry, while the entire world seems to more and more each day be turning into a giant mudslide...

All the huge problems remain, of course.  But particularly in the midst of the galaxy-sized noise about the Olympics, and the US elections- very little listening is going on just now.

So, guinea fowl it is.  We lost one, yesterday.  They were at 5.8 weeks from hatching- and really seemed ready ready to start learning to go out and become free-range critters.  Susan, your info came just a tad late for us.  I had seen that site, and read much of it, but somehow missed the strong statement about 6 weeks.  She does mostly seem to be talking about the training them to come back each night part, too, not just survival.  I thought.

What happened was- I let one out in the early morning.  He/she was not enthusiastic about going out without the flock; and by noon, had done virtually nothing but butt constantly at the wire, trying to get back into the pen.  I did see it peck at the nice lush grass once or twice- but then it would go right back to running around the pen, trying to get in.  Much of the time, the flock inside was following it, too.

Obviously it was not in any danger of wandering off.  And thinking that perhaps two birds outside would bolster their courage, at noon I bullied another bird into going outside.

Very little effect- now there were two birds desperately trying to get back in.

At 5:30, heading in from the field, they were slightly calmer- sometimes sitting down- but only right next to the pen.

At 7; near sundown, when we feed them (following all the advice that this is the way to get them to come to the pen for the night...) - there was only one bird left outside.  Very little sign of anything having happened- no big pile of down or feathers anywhere indicating a struggle.

Bruce- was on the chain all day; not available for guard duty.  Punishment- for having chewed an expensive 200' surveyor's tape into trash while he was accompanying us during harvest chores.  He also swiped the bag of gorp- which he did not eat, but merely hid, and chewed into trash.  All in fun- he thought.

My guess- a coyote or fox zipped in and grabbed a bird, towards evening.  The birds' response, when chased a tad around the pen (I was trying to get them to move out, forage, maybe fly up into a tree, etc.) was - to butt the pen harder- not really to try to escape.

Easy pickings.

I think I will wait another week before trying again.  Then release 4 at once- and make sure they do fly up into the apple tree over the pen, one way or another.  Catch them, and put them there, if necessary.  And we'll make sure we do it when Bruce is not on the chain.

One of my rules:  Education is never free.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kansas in August

I'm likely to be a little longer between posts here for a while.  We're not in Kansas, and we don't grow corn- but we are moving into the critical harvest time for the crops we do grow.  Oldest son Beelar has temporarily dropped his PhD work to come home for the next 2 months and help out.  It's that urgent.  First stuff is picked already; and more is coming.  

You'll notice I'm not saying what we're growing/picking.  Old timers here at the Little Blog know that's the way it is; for the newer folks- if I told you what we're growing, it would be too big a hint as to my "real" identity; which I would rather keep separate from the blogosphere for the moment.

The guineas are fine- but we're not quite at Part 3 yet; that will be when we start releasing them into the free range world.  Another week, I think.  Meanwhile; Part 2.4:

Trying to get information about when to release off the web has been very frustrating.  I tried every variation of "when do you set them loose" I could think of; and basically got no numbers, anywhere.  My guess is because for most established poultry operations, it's kind of a non-issue; if you have juveniles, and adults, and multiple opportunities for experimentation, it just kind of happens when it happens, and things are fine.

But we have no other poultry on the place; no adults to show them the ropes.  I'm hesitant to dump silly teenage guineas out into the hawk/owl/cat/weasel world.  They're quite adept at flying already, but there's more to escape than just the ability to fly.  

The guineas, and the evil temporary pen are working out so well (of course it has shade, RC!  Always did; actually 4 different kinds- heavy apple shade after noon; and there's a nice leaky tarp you can't see in the video providing good morning shade-) that we went ahead and ordered some chickens.  10 each, straight run; Buff Orpington, Black Brahma, and Dominique.  The concept- we'll wind up with 15 or so good "setting" hens, who we will put to sitting on guinea eggs, mostly; and we'll let the hens take over the work of raising the keets next year.  We hope.

The chicks will be here Friday; more fun and cutesy pics.

We have to squeeze the photo sessions in with harvest, though, and it's not easy.  And the other bits of life off the grid do not stop either, just because of harvest and teenage guinea fowl.

Last night we got home from an urgent trip to town for harvest materials to find the electric system in the house was down- no AC power, only DC.  Computers and DSL modem need AC, at the moment- they could be done DC, but it's considerably more tricky than just plugging them into the 12V battery - since the computers need 18VDC.

Also the answering machine.  So all my plans for this morning (hyper urgent plant chores) got put on hold, while I ripped the battery bank and inverter connections apart, looking for the problem.  Answer, as I suspected, just time and corrosion in the connections; clean them up, reconnect tightly, and everything works again.  But it still took 2 hours and way more personal energy than it sounds like.  I find working on the house batteries exhausting- probably because of the constant potential for burning the house down if I drop a wrench in the wrong place, or finding the knife I'm using to scrape connections welded on between two hot battery posts, with big sparks and melting steel dripping all over...


No, I've never done that.  And yes, RC, all my tools have insulated handles, so theoretically, none of this is possible.  :-) But the images kind of stick in your head; the power to do it is there, right in those batteries- it's just one of those jobs with zero tolerance for any "oops" experiences.

Exhausting, for me.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Guinea Saga; part 2

So, we were at the point where 1 of 11 birds had just escaped into the outer world.

This was a white bird- and I have little hope for them in the long run.  Seen any white squirrels recently?  There's a reason albinos are rare in the wild- basically, they have a big "EAT ME" sign taped on their back.  (Yes, I know there are populations of white squirrels in several cities- no hawks.)

Spice ordered the guineas, and she was focused on price.  The cheapest way to buy them is if you let the hatchery fill out your order with whatever they have on hand; the hatchery we bought from sells about 10 different breeds of guinea- almost all selected purely for ornamental differences in plumage- and of course it's very common for them to have some hatch out today- with no buyer waiting.  So they sell "we choose" batches, for a discount.  We wound up with about 1/3 white, 1/3 pearl, and 1/3 some kind of brown.  I think next time we order, we won't go the discount route- I really have no hope the white ones will survive in the long run as free range birds.  Not here.

When we first moved here, one of the most common questions (besides the ones about phones, when we were going to get electricity and running water...) was "why don't you have chickens?"  Obviously, if you live in the woods in a cabin, you should have chickens.  :-)

My answer was always this:  "Let's see.  Red foxes.  Gray foxes.  Raccoons.  Mink.  Badgers.  Skunks- 2 species.  Feral cats.  Feral dogs. Weasels- 3 species. Great Horned Owls.  Barred Owls.  Cooper's Hawks.  Sharpshin Hawks.  And I'm sure I'm forgetting some."  The universal answer was.  "Ah."  We really really do live in the woods; it ain't suburbia.  If we wanted chickens, we were going to have to build a fortress of some kind, and we just didn't need or want them that much.

Today I'd add coyotes, and bald eagles- neither were here in 1976, but they're abundant now.  We now have increasing reports of bobcats, too.  You don't usually think of bald eagles as chasing chickens- but the eagles are fantastic opportunists, and they recognize a lazy chicken as easy food immediately.  The coyotes nearly eradicated both fox species when they moved in; but the foxes are adapting now, and coming back- Spice badly twisted her ankle in a well hidden Red Fox hole a couple years ago.

The idea with the guineas is; once established as a population; with adults; they will be able to avoid the ground based predators very effectively, by roosting in trees and being such strong flyers.   But a single white bird up in a tree- is just a target.

I tried to watch where the escapee went, anyway- it wasn't really afraid of me, and let me get quite close, though it never offered to let me catch it.  But the third time I went looking to see where it was now- I couldn't find it, anywhere.  I blocked all the possible escape spots on the pen with heavy sods from the adjacent construction site.

Later that evening, I took Bruce out for a little work with the birds.  He had, of course, been very playful/bouncy when he first met them in the new pen- scaring the heck out of them, and not stopping until I'd yelled at him several times- something that's almost never necessary, and left him pretty embarrassed.  So I took him out, on a leash (also very rare) and walked around the pen with him, requiring him to be calm about it, and not chase.  I swear he speaks English.  He got the idea very quickly.  As part of the work, I walked him over where I'd last seen the escapee- he'd likely sense and flush any hiding bird.  Nothing.  Either hiding very well, or already cat chow, I expected.

We added Bruce to the farm for a very specific reason- protection.  For Smidgen, the farm in general, and- future livestock.  Hence my selection of a dog with a substantial component from a herding breed- collie.  After working Bruce on the leash for only 15 minutes, he was so calm and well behaved I took him off the leash, right next to the guinea pen; and he did not disappoint me; he continued to behave perfectly.  The video shows the pen, half under an apple tree; the almost 4 week old birds, and Bruce, being blasé, looking for mice -

The pen is 12 feet x 8 feet x 4 feet high; the guineas are zooming to eat some fresh greens I just tossed in for them- something else the easily available information does not mention; they eat lots of grass at this point; clover, etc.

That first night, I went to bed with 10 birds in the pen, and Bruce outside, loose, all night; on guard (he's around 60 lbs now- very few coyotes would think of challenging him).

He was fine with being outside on his own; didn't fuss about wanting to come in, when I just explained to him that he was going to stay out.  Did I mention I think he speaks English?

In the morning - ah, here the drama comes in.

I went out immediately, Bruce calmly accompanying, to see how the 10 birds fared in their first night- and immediately found- only 2 birds still inside the pen.

They were huddled together, right against the wire- and huddled against them on the outside of the wire- were the other - 9 birds.  I counted 3 times- because I would really have expected unprotected chicks to turn into predator fodder, very quickly- 9.  +2=11.

Yeah- RC and Nancy M- you were right, the escapee came back and re-joined the flock.

So, that was nice; and encouraging- it looked like the guineas were indeed good at surviving, and staying in their flock; both things I really wanted.  It also looked like they were going to be escape artists- not quite so nice.  

Carefully moving around the pen, so as not to spook the guys on the outside and scare them off, I started looking for how the heck they got out- I have a lot of experience with pens for difficult animals- and was feeling pretty miffed-

Ah- here we are.  Something had, in the night, dug two lovely holes under the fence... leaving loads of room for the birds to duck under.  Bruce digs.  Quite  lot.  I was starting to mumble bad things to Bruce, who was right there- when it finally struck me that the odor of skunk was really really strong, right here...

In fact, I'd been waked up in the middle of the night by the powerful smell of a fresh skunk discharge drifting in the open windows.  But that's not all that uncommon; happens a couple times a year-and it didn't really wake me fully.  No noise accompanying the smell.  Next morning, the whole world smells a bit skunky- it's normal.

Bit by bit- detective deductions at work- what happened became clear.

Sure as heck; my constant predictions for predators immediately moving to chow down on any poultry had come true- on the very first night, a skunk had found the pen, and instantly started digging its way in.

Then, my preparations and plans kicked in, too- and worked.  Guineas are renowned for making a racket when frightened.  Bruce, on patrol, heard the noise; went out, and instantly tackled the skunk- all on his own.  Judging from where the skunk hit back- the spray mostly hit Bruce on the belly and side, we found- Bruce had the skunk down and struggling to get away when the skunk fired.  Given any chance, a skunk will spray a dog in the eyes- not an accident, and they're good at it.  This skunk didn't have that chance.  Apparently the spray did surprise Bruce into letting the skunk go, and the skunk lit out- because we didn't find any skunk corpse.

The skunk was apparently permanently educated; because in the following week, there have been no more attempts to dig into the guinea pen.  Bruce is out, and on guard, all night.  Occasionally he'll wake us; with a burst of serious barking, nearby.  That took a little getting used to- but now, it feels very good.  He's on the job.  Most likely a coon, or coyote, that is now not poking into our world; and we have, in the past gone through all kinds of gyrations trying to keep stuff stored outside safe from raccoons.  That's a crazy hard job- and usually whatever you come up with, they'll eventually find a way around.  But there's probably no way around Bruce.

Incidentally, the remedy for skunk on your dog is not tomato juice- my god, what a mess.  A perfect example of what I'm starting to call Green iManure; cutesy-poo clueless, "back to the land!" malinformation.   

The application of a little basic chemistry will explain what you need.  What is "skunk" juice?  The core chemicals are mercaptans; the sulfur based equivalent of an alcohol; also found in tear gas, and "perms".  What do you need to break down a mercaptan?  Any mild acid; it's a highly reactive chemical bond, easily broken down.  It's precisely that high reactivity that makes it an effective weapon.  Tomato works- because it's acid.  Another household acid- vinegar- works about 1,000x better- and with 1,000th of the mess.  Chem 101.

Put either undiluted vinegar (any kind, stronger is better), or 1:4 diluted vinegar for working around the eyes, in any household spray bottle; and spray it on your skunky dog.  Outside, for heaven's sakes.  Then comb the vinegar through the fur.  Rinse off with a little water.  Repeat, until the skunk is gone, or you can at least stand to have the dog around, or the dog won't put up with it any more (in which case you can do more later.)  If you don't have a spare spray bottle, just get a sponge or rag soaked with the vinegar, and wipe it on, then comb it through.

Bruce put up with the vinegar treatment- cheerfully applied by Spice, who came home just in time for this whole show- with great patience.  It's hard to get it all.  Maybe impossible, even.  But at this point, he only smells a little skunky; just enough to remind us of the whole event; which in fact; feels very good.

Plans, preparations, protections- that worked!  Darned nice, once in a while.

Next step for the guineas will be turning them into free range birds.  According to our information, it's best to wait until they're 6 weeks old before turning them out.  Then do it gradually; a few birds only, on the first day, then a few more the next day.  Working to keep them anchored to this place, as home.

There are more tricks to that.  Coming up soon.  Meanwhile- the birds are growing fast; have been through several rainstorms in the new pen, with no problem, and no further attacks from predators.  And no lost birds.  It's actually encouraging!

Why is all this a "post-peak parable"?  That gets to be a long post in itself.

Let me just ask this question- what was the basis of "civilization" - meaning; cities, etc.?

The usual answer is "agriculture" - but the real answer is - domestic animals.  Oxen, donkeys, camels, and horses for power- the power we now get from oil.  We owe our culture to our animal symbiont/partners- they're fantastic solar energy concentrators and converters.  My guess is- they are about to play a larger role in the world, again.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Guinea Saga; A Post-Peak Parable; part 1

The bumps in the road-

I sometimes think half my life is spent delivering one form or another of "sorry this is late, but..."

After that last post, I was intending to zoom off and write the brilliant story of the guineas, so far- and, as happens so consistently around here, zoomed instead into a bump in my road; requiring me to spend all my energy elsewhere for several days.

The biggest problem with bumps, for me, is that they put you behinder than you were, on your previous plans.  More catch-up to play.  I have to keep raising the limit on my National Chores Debt- but what the hay, if an extra trillion here and there doesn't bother Congress, I should be able to do it too, right?

At the moment, I'm chasing the urgent chores that desperately needed to be done 4 days ago, and alas, writing about the guineas isn't right up at the top of the hyper-urgent list.

So although I'd rather write this as one piece, I guess we'll do it in short chunks, as I can get it done.  Here's the first bit of the Guinea Saga; A Post-Peak Parable-

Building the Chicken Dungeon (otherwise known as the part-earth sheltered, part sod, poultry house) has been taking a loooong time.  As good solid permanent structures are apt to.  Meanwhile- the year progresses, and the ticks do not abate- so we ordered the guinea keets anyway.  Maybe, we thought, that will make us build the Chicken Dungeon faster.

See, now I need to explain why we're calling a guinea housing facility a Chicken Dungeon.  

Adding guineas to our operation here is not a whim, nor a single -purpose project.  Yes, we need to do something about the tick explosion.  (The geese, incidentally, didn't stick- they both appear to have been "homing geese" - and when they got the opportunity; they went home.  Someplace else.)  But; far far beyond the ticks; we really need to have animals- of a variety of kinds, become a part of our crop operations.  We have bugs that need to be eaten- in the apples and other crops; and we have way way too much grass- which we cannot afford to just mow forever.  The guineas are intended to be the start of all that- chosen because they are more able than most to take care of themselves; and they have the reputation of being excellent "watchdogs" - alerting everything else on the farm to the presence of predators; four-legged, two-legged, or winged.  And they eat ticks, and weevils, of course.

We quickly discovered, though, that our real farmer neighbors do not take guineas seriously.  Many have a few- as pets, for amusement.  The idea that we're contemplating a future with maybe 300- 500 guineas on the place- just freaks them out too much.  But somehow, the fact that we're building a sod poultry house- is mildly amusing, but not as threatening.  And, we do intend to add chickens- as foster parents for the guineas, at least- pretty soon, so it's not a prevarication, much.

Back to the guineas.  The keets (chicks) are cute little devils.  They came in the mail; 33 of them; and at 2 days old, were avidly chasing the laser spot from the infrared thermometer we used to make sure they were at the right temperature- a hopeful sign for our fantasies about them becoming real tick controllers.  Somehow this video came out soundless; they peep, at this stage, just like chickens.

They are closer to wild than chickens, though they were kept as domestic fowl by the ancient Egyptians.  Which means, among other things; they fly; strongly.  And, it turns out; very very soon.  We discovered (no, the web information did not really point this out!) that guinea keets grow full wing feathers, and start flying, at the ripe old age of 3 weeks.  Which meant they really needed to get out of their brooder box- now.  And the Chicken Dungeon was far from ready.

Ah- temporary construction.  

Basic advice- don't ever, ever, ever build something temporary.  For one thing, you're wasting resources and time that should go into the real, permanent solution for your need.  For another- the overwhelming tendency is for temporary structures to slide, sneak, and lapse into permanency.  Because they're "good enough"- at the moment- and something else is now more urgent.  So you are stuck with what is an admittedly inferior, inadequate structure- for all eternity.  Temporary structures never die- you just add wire, and duct tape.

Knowing that fully, I set out to build a temporary guinea pen.  It was a matter of life or death for the guineas, literally, and here I was on the farm, all alone- Spice off gallivanting- allein, und abgetrennt, von aller freude.  (holy smokes, my spell checker speaks German, I had no idea.)  Anyway- I was stuck; no choice; temporary is necessary in this case, and I hate it.

The bloody thing consumed about 4 days of my life, and should have taken about 4 hours.  First I had to clear some ground for it- and the mower wouldn't start.  So I had to fix the mower.  Then I went in to town and bought chicken wire- only to have Bruce present me with a big weasel the next morning (not an Ermine, as I first thought, but a Long-Tailed weasel; a significantly more powerful predator, but still slender enough to maybe just walk through the mesh in chicken wire).  So- back to town- a different town, a farther town with a bigger farm store... which still did not have the "right" wire...  

Another reason not to build this way;  if I hadn't been under such pressure to build something now, I could have ordered the right wire, through my nearby store.  Now I'm stuck forever with 50' of half inch/half inch hardware cloth that is not, and will never be, exactly what we need.

Then spend a morning gathering the steel T posts (pulling old ones by hand, buried in sod...) then an hour searching for the post driver- which is missing in action...  All of this in deep Equatorial African Jungle sweat conditions; hot, windless (all these damn trees I planted cut all the wind) and 290% humidity; blink, and you sweat- and the sweat drips onto and over and fogs your glasses- incessantly.  Drive a post in that, please.  Wrangle tightly wrapped 4' wide x 50' long rolls of wire onto the posts, and stretch it, alone... then chicken wire over the top, so the little bastards can't just fly out and turn into Instant Owl Chow-

Heroic work, I assure you.

Finally, the bloody thing is functional- I hope.  Time to put birds in.  At this point, we have, I think, 28 keets, after a few "failed to thrive" and passed on.  They need, really need to be out of the brooder, but- does the new pen really work?  Will it be safe?  Will it actually keep the birds in?  Don't put all your eggs in one basket, right?

So I moved 10, I thought- and put them into the pen.  Except, when I let them out of the transfer box- there were actually 11.  You cannot count more than 10 guineas while they're moving around, I guarantee; impossible to be sure if you've counted that one, or that one- or twice.  Just counting 10 usually requires 4 tries, to be sure.  And when you're stuffing them into a little box, some of them squirm back out again.  (Once in, and the box is closed, they're actually very quiet and comfy.)

Sure enough- there was one little place where the wire didn't sit right tight on the ground- and one of the keets immediately ducked under the fence- and was out.  Who knew they were half mouse?  It doesn't mention this anywhere in the references I could find.  Immediately- zip- up in the apple tree, way up in the top (my apple trees are not dwarfed).  No way I'm getting that bird back.  Sigh.  This is why you start with 30ish- they're not all going to make it, no matter what.

Tune in tomorrow (I hope) - for the next episode- it gets more exciting, I guarantee-


Yay!  Faith in Blogger is mostly restored; there were some humans in the loop after all, and though I've not received any other notices from them at this point, the blog is unblocked and apparently functional again.

And a good thing, too!  We've got guinea and dog news out the gazoo!  

Working on it.  Need some video to go along with it, I think... haven't shot it yet.