Archive for ‘Animal Life’

August 26, 2014

Life as a dog parent

So. Two months later…an update on doggie ownership.

To start things out, I just want to say that whenever I feel really crummy about something that June does, I read thisย post and it never fails to cheer me up. Because Allie gets it – dog ownership. How it’s insane and also rewarding.

As I mentioned, June started out being very shy and submissive. After about two weeks, she warmed up to life with us and started showing more of her sparkling personality.

First, the bad:

  • She doesn’t like the existence of other dogs. At first, I thought this was limited to smaller dogs – she got a bit snippy with a neighbor’s dachshund while I was walking her one night. However, it didn’t bug us too much. She had interacted with bigger dogs and done really well. I don’t know if she was just scared out of her doggie mind for the first few weeks, but suddenly, she was a maniac to deal with in crowds with other dogs. She still retained her hatred of tiny yappers, and she also decided that bigger dogs needed to be sniffed/corralled/bullied. This made for a very embarrassing first trip to the dog park in which she would randomly bark/growl/lunge at any and every other dog and then whine pitifully when we held her back. Yeah. Thankfully, some friends of ours have a lab mix that’s just a bit bigger than her who offered to let June have a sort of “play date” and work out some of her craziness around other canines. There was some growling/snippiness at first, but then eventually June calmed down and they ended up playing with each other for a solid hour. It was reassuring to find out that our dog is not inherently doomed to behave like a mad woman around other pets. Since said play date, she’s been a bit better. Now I think she looks at other dogs as potential playmates and tries to initiate a wrestling match.
  • She looses her mind around critters. We noticed this from the get-go; the abundance of squirrels in our neighborhood had the potential to turn her from a well-behaved pup into a mindless killing machine. It’s only gotten more entertaining. The first real time it became a problem was the Saturday morning that she ran a muck through the neighbor’s backyard, bolted to the front, and proceeded to chase some bunny/squirrel/chipmunk through our entire block with gleeful abandon while I stumbled after her in my pajamas, profoundly grateful that we don’t live on a busy street.ย  She jumps at tree trunks. She pulls on her leash so hard that she ends up standing on her hind legs and hopping like some strange, awkward rabbit. She even tried chasing a deer while I was running with her. A deer. Seriously, what was she thinking she would do if she caught the thing?! Once, while driving on a dirt road on our last vacation, she saw a chipmunk cross in front of the car. She jumped from the backseat onto the dashboard. Good thing we were crawling along at 5mph. ย 
  • She pulls like a sled dog whenever we walk her. Which would be awesome if she was one. But she’s not. And I mean, I get it. She’s 32 pounds of muscle, energy, and independence. Imagine if you were bred to roam the wilds of Australia without much direction and keep unruly cattle at bay. You probably wouldn’t want to heel nicely either. Thankfully, we did discover a method for keeping her in check. Basically, we keep the leash short and take long steps in front of her. This usually calms her down and gets her to stay right alongside of us. Now if only she would do that naturally instead of lunging forward from one tree to the next at six in the morning when I’m trying to stop and pick up her poop…
  • She gets chewy. Nothing terrible. She hasn’t demolished any shoes or valuables or anything. But she does have her days where, for whatever reason, she gets anxious or bored and goes after something. The most willing victims have been the couch pillows. She likes to knock them on the floor when we’re not home and play with them. She ended up tearing up the covers I made for the ones on the white couch. We do our best to leave her with plenty of chew toys, and now we’ve taken to putting the couch pillows out of her reach when we’re gone during the day. For the most part, this works.

So, all of that aside, owning a dog is really, really wonderful. Here are some of the awesome things about it:

  • She loves people. Even if other dogs aren’t her thing, nothing makes her happier than being in a big group and getting lots of attention/pets. She’s very calm, doesn’t jump, doesn’t lick compulsively, and never shows the least bit of aggression.
  • She’s a fantastic running partner. Even though gets easily distracted by any poor rodent in the general vicinity, her endurance amazes us. She never lags or falls behind. On the contrary, she’s usually the one setting the pace. It’s so nice to have a little friend along with me when I go out for a jog.
  • Car rides aren’t an issue for her. On the contrary, she loves them. We took a long road trip around Lake Michigan recently and she did great. If we walk by the car and have a door open, she jumps into the backseat on her own. And she does this while we’re driving, which is highly entertaining:
  • She’s a great camping dog. She sleeps at our feet in the tent and hang out around the campfire without any issues. I think she actually prefers camping – it makes her feel more like a “wild dog” being outside all of the time. She also does this cute thing where she digs a little hole for herself in the dirt and curls up in it:
  • She’s a canoe champion:
  • We know our neighbors better because we’re out walking her all the time. Seriously, if you want to meet the people that live around you, get a dog. I feel like we’ve connected so much more with the folks in our neighborhood because everyone wants to meet our dog. For the most part, I think it breaks down barriers. People view you in a warmer light when you’re out with your pup. The kids all know June by name and come over in our yard to say “Hi” whenever they see her. It’s great.
  • She’s so excited to be with us. Her little tail stump goes crazy whenever we walk in the door, or when we wake up to take her for a walk. It’s such a good feeling, knowing that your pet is always there to greet you and roll around ecstatically no matter what kind of a day you’ve had or what kind of a person you’ve been in that day. She keeps us company if we don’t feel good or if we’re tired or sad. She hangs out in the yard while we work in the gardens. She sleeps at the foot of our bed every night. It gives you a whole multitude of warm feels to have such a sweet little friend hanging out around your house all the time. Totally makes up for any of her craziness.

Thanks for being our friend and putting up with all of our weird antics, June Bug. Hopefully we’ll have many more years of car rides, camping, jogs, and canoe trips.

June 23, 2014

You’re goin’ to Jackson? Go comb your hair!

This post really has nothing to do with hair combing or the city of Jackson…but, to make the title a bit more relevant, here is an interesting factoid about our household: neither human resident brushes their hair on a regular basis. I have dreadlocks and Boo keeps his remaining hair cut short. Once in awhile, I use a boar-bristle brush to distribute oils through my bangs in between washings, but the cat and the newest addition (already born) addition to our family are getting more combing and brushing than the two of us are.

In other words, we finally got a doggie friend for Clarice. At least that’s what we keep telling ourselves; in reality, we got a doggie friend for Boo and I that the cat is only mildly interested in. Meet June Carter:

June Bug #littledoginthebigcity

She’s a one-year-old Australian Cattle Dog, adopted from the Ozaukee County Humane Society Saturday afternoon. As with most endeavors we take on, we’ve (umm, Jason) spent quite a bit of time laying the groundwork for bringing a new resident into the homestead. We read some dog training books. We made sure a neighbor was available to let her out on days where we’re gone longer than the normal working hours. We researched a few different breeds. And then came the fun part – we started looking!

We knew three things: we wanted to adopt from a shelter, we couldn’t do a puppy at this point in our lives, and we wanted a dog that was “mostly” a working dog – shepherds/collies were our top picks. I say mostly because adopting from a shelter means that there’s a very good chance that you’ll get a mixed bag, which we were fine with.

In terms of breed, we felt that working dogs were a good middle-of-the-road way to go. They’re loyal, smart, built for running and endurance, but don’t have the crazy amounts of energy like setters or labs. I am not a drooling/wiggling/constant peeing/general obnoxiousness fan, though Jason might have been a bit more tolerant of that type of behavior.

We stopped by the Milwaukee branch of the Humane Society once a week for about a month and didn’t really see anything that appealed to us. We DID see quite a few pit bulls/pit bull mixes, which is pretty sad. Some of them looked like genuinely sweet dogs. I think that if this hadn’t been our first dog and if we didn’t have a baby on the way, we might have considered adopting one. Maybe somewhere down the road. It’s a shame that they’ve gotten such a bad reputation and been branded as something that they don’t have to be – pit bulls, with the right training and a good household, can be just as good a dog as any other breeds.

Anyway, we didn’t have big plans for the past weekend, so we decided to make the most of our Saturday and visit a few neighboring shelters. The Ozaukee County branch had a whole new batch of puppies, some that were older (10-11 months) and fit out breed preferences. The one that we had our eyes on in particular – an 11-month old Shepherd pup- had just been adopted right before we came. We ended up seeing two dogs to start out with. We had a few more on the list, but basically fell in love with the first one we met, and ended up taking her home, giving her a red bandana, and renaming her June. We’re big fans folk music fans, and June was our first choice for a girl. If we have adopted a boy, we would have called him Woody Guthrie.

Nap time. #littledoginthebigcity

(On a funny note, the second dog was an older puppy who, upon entering the meet-and-greet-area, went insane, peed everywhere, jumped in said pee, rolled in said pee, and sent me to the bathroom with wash off my hands and sandals. Jason liked her energy. I thought she was cute, but the constant peeing was too much.)

I think we initially envisioned ourselves getting a larger dog (more like a German Shepherd size), but while we don’t typically make a quick decision like we did, neither of us regret going with the first dog we met. June is amazing. She was a stray from Kentucky, and came without a tail or much information. However, all she wanted to do when we met was nuzzle up to us. No drooling, no compulsive peeing, no jumping, no general mayhem. She’s actually very, very submissive; we’ve already learned that the best route for training her is lots of positive reinforcement as she ends up cowering and shaking when we speak sternly to her or try to guide her physically. Poor girl, who knows what her life was like as a stray.

Squirrel! #littledoginthebigcity

She was just spayed the day before we adopted her, so we’ve been keeping her exercise down to walks around the neighborhood. BUT – when she’s all healed up in a week or so, we’re both really excited to RUN with her! We’ve jogged a few laps in the yard, and as is her instinct as a herding dog, she stays right by our side like a champ. We don’t even need to leash her at home – she thinks of people as her “herd” and doesn’t let us get more than a few feet away. Of course, we leash her on walks just in case she gets curious and goes too close to the road. Cattle dogs are also said to make very good hiking partners because of their high endurance. We’ve yet to introduce her to water, but we’re also hoping she’ll make a good canoe dog.

She’s met most of our neighbors, including the toddler across the street and their lab/shepherd mix, and so far she gets along really well with everyone. Which makes us feel even better about our choice – we’re hoping that introducing her to the Smithling when it comes along will be a piece of cake. Another “sheep” for the herd, you might say ๐Ÿ˜‰

Of course, she’s not without some flaws. Like I mentioned, she has some shy, cowering behaviors that I think will take some time to get over as she gets more comfortable with us. She wouldn’t eat or drink much for the first day, and it takes her awhile to do her duty outside because she gets anxious. Boo tried roughhousing with her the other afternoon, and it didn’t go well. She got so scared that she piddled a little. She’s done that a few times since then when she’s very nervous, but nothing I’m too concerned about.

Also, she has NO interest whatsoever in toys. We picked up a Kong, a bone, and some tennis balls and even the bone isn’t appealing to her. So, our mission, aside from helping her feel more comfortable with us, is to teach her to fetch. Because working dogs are so intelligent, they need some sort of mental stimulation in addition to physical exercise to keep them happy. Maybe if we fill her Kong with the right kind of treats, she’ll show some interest in it and even chase after it.

And for those of you who were curious about how Clarice took to her new housemate…she’s doing way better than we thought. They’re not friends, by any means, but they’re not enemies. Clarice spends a lot of time in the same room as June, just watching her. On occasion, she’ll creep up to her and take a sniff, as if she’s still trying to figure out what this other creature is. Mostly, she just flops on the ground and looks at us resentfully, as if she can’t believe we brought another animal into HER house.

June couldn’t really care less about the cat, which is a relief. I was a little worried that a herding dog might chase the cat around the house and make her life miserable, but she hasn’t done anything like that yet.

So, to close out this absurdly long post about our new canine, I’ll leave you with two interesting/funny pieces of information:

  1. Australian Cattle Dogs are a result of drovers breeding their herd dogs with dingoes back in the late nineteenth century. The ones with the all grey-and-white coloring are referred to as “Blue Heelers” due to the bluish tinge of their fur. June has a little patch of this on her chest ๐Ÿ™‚
  2. In the absence of having a tail, June shakes her entire rear end when she’s excited about something. It’s so, so cute.


January 17, 2014

Remember when?

I used to actually blog?

The ironic part is that I’ve been editing a novel instead of writing a blog. Yes, the writer doesn’t have time for writing.

I would like to get better about it, especially now that I’m ramping up for the 2014 garden season. Soon, I’ll have to place my seed order and then it really won’t be long before I start my onions.

Suffice to say, this has been a pretty intense winter so far! The snow started back in November:

Guess I should have taken the laundry off of the clothesline. Anyway, it just kept going. At first, we liked it – we were excited to have a white Christmas for once! Usually, the snow doesn’t stick until the lake cools down – about mid-January.

Jason’s probably shoveled more snow in the past two months than he did all of last winter. Suffice to say, it gets old after awhile. Case in point:

This was after a very cold run that we took in Brown Deer Park on Christmas Eve. The moisture from his breath/sweat froze right on him. This just might be the cover of our Christmas card next year…

Along those lines, we had a lovely holiday.

Being a part of a home church is more like having another family to be around. It’s a beautiful mix of being very festive and also very wholesome. We did a Christmas Eve-Eve service at our house on the 23rd, with just a handful of people who could make it. Awkward bumbling through Christmas carols and discussions about the stark contrast of the over-commercialized, over-purified versions of celebrating that time of year vs. the reality of the Messiah being born to an unwed, pregnant teenager ensued.


For our December service project, we gathered together (in a snowstorm) to assemble sandwiches and make cookies for a local men’s shelter. This is what happens when you have graphic designers frosting cookies:

Overall, there was much baking and merry-making to be had.

However, we were both relieved when the holidays were finished. As much as we love our family and friends, as introverts it gets to be really exhausting to run around from house to house and have so much stimulation. If I was at your house at some point over the Christmas/New Year period, please don’t be offended – chances are that I had a wonderful time. But, I have to be real and admit that too much activity wears me out, especially when it’s almost three weeks of it.

Which mostly brings us up to date. We’re now enjoying a fairly quiet January, getting a kick out of the birds that hang out in our Forsythia bush all day and the cat who will stop at nothing to keep tabs on them:

Jason bought me a gallon of safflower seeds for the bird feeders as a Christmas gift because apparently, the squirrels don’t like it. So far, it’s worked! We’ve seen lots of birds at the feeders and no greedy squirrels:

Other than wildlife viewing and editing, I’m drawing silly pictures, working on applications for going back to school (what? Yes. More on that later) and making giant pots of soup. Jason is finally getting comfortable enough with his table saw to use it, and is planning on purchasing the wood for building a workbench this weekend. We have some weekend trips planned to various Wisconsin locales, and at some point we intend to paint the hallway.

And now that we’re all caught up, let’s hope that I blog on a more regular basis and don’t have to bombard you all with these types of posts…

In other words, happy winter from Milwaukee!

Christmas Card-3


August 1, 2013

A Bug’s Life

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m starting to see a lot more insect life in my garden – thankfully, not the pesky kind! I’ve yet to see the dreaded cucumber beetle show it’s face. While the ladybugs are long gone, the aphids seem to have cleared away because there’s not many ants roaming the plants anymore. I do see a fair amount of spiders, and surprisingly I’ve seen a lot of these guys in my edible garden this year:

This is a firefly. Normally, we stop seeing them after about a month but even into August we have hundreds of them in our yard every night. They particularly seem to like my garden! I notice them on all of the plants during the day. I’m thinking we must be doing something to create a good habitat for them – which is fine with me because I’ve heard that fireflies are going extinct. They’re not a harmful insect by any means, and some scientists believe they serve some beneficial roles in the garden by pollinating or preying on harmful bugs. It certainly helps that they put on a nice show every night!

This guy is a cicada. They fascinate me! I’m continually amazed at what a sound they can make with such a little body. Plus, I think they’re neat-looking bugs. This one was (quietly) hanging out by my cucumber vines and let me get up close and personal to take this shot. No doubt I’ll find a few molted exteriors later this year.

July 10, 2013

The Animal Kingdom – chickens and eggs

For awhile, my dad was getting his eggs from a family up the road who were raising chickens. We took home a dozen once or twice. If you’ve never eaten a farm fresh egg, then you can’t begin to imagine the difference in taste/texture from a store-bought egg. I don’t really know how to describe it…the farm eggs just have more to them. The yokes are heartier, the whites actually taste like something.

Since then, I’ve entertained the idea of having some chickens of my own. Milwaukee recently passed an ordinance allowing urban farmers to raise up to four hens (no roosters) at a time, provided you apply for a permit and get permission from your neighbors. We certainly have the backyard for it!

Yet, I hesitate. Not because of the potential concerns that I’ll list below, but because, honestly, I am not a fan of the rampant irresponsibility I’m seeing amongst people like us – white, overly-ambitious punks who spend more time fantasizing about building a cute chicken coop than doing their research about the realities of raising chickens.

“I’ll be sustainable! I’ll have fresh, organic eggs! I’ll provide the chickens with a better lifestyle! I’ll have cruelty-free dairy! And if I’m REALLY lucky, I’ll someday have sweet little chicks!”

Here’s the deal, kids: the average chicken lays eggs for 2.5-3 years. After that, they don’t lay regularly. However…the average chicken’s lifespan can go up to 9 years, provided a predator doesn’t get them or they don’t acquire some disease. So, something has to be done with that chicken for the remaining six years of it’s life. You either keep it as a pet and provide it with free housing and food in exchange for really, well, nothing (except maybe help tilling the garden/eating insects), try to pawn it off to some poor soul on Craigslist by running an ad for “Six 3-year-old chickens, no longer laying regularly, free to a good home, NOT FOR KILLING PLEASE!”, or…or…you toughen up like a real farmer would do and look up some good chicken stew recipes.

Oh, and by the way, those sweet little chicks that might come along someday? Chances are, some of them will be males. Which aren’t allowed in the city. Rarely, some rural hobby farmer will be looking for a rooster to keep the flock in order, but most flocks only can handle one rooster, so this is kind of unusual. You will be responsible for your male chicks. Even organic, free-range chicken farmers have this dilemma. If you can’t give them away, chances are you will have to end their lives before they get too old.

The bottom line is: don’t get chickens if you aren’t willing to kill them. Seriously. You are not doing anyone – yourself, your neighbors, the food industry, even the chickens – a favor if you plow full-speed ahead into dropping a ton of money on a cute coop and a mini-flock without having a very mature understanding of the responsibilities associated with raising them. I’d recommend this article for more information on the subject.

Which brings me to the point of my whole rant: I hesitate to get chickens because I want to be able to say, for sure, that I could kill them myself when the time came. I don’t want to pawn it off on Jason. I want to commit to attending a class and learning how to do it. I want to commit to finding a slaughter facility (because we can’t slaughter them ourselves in Milwaukee) and taking the time out of my schedule to drive there, kill my chickens, and butcher them myself. I want to commit to using the meat – old egg layers are not at all like the broiler chickens you find in the store and therefore need special culinary care.

As of right now, I am about 75% committed to these realities. I’m getting there. I’d like to visit a few friends who are raising urban chickens and see how it plays out. I also think a good next step would be to attend said butchering class and get my hands dirty to see if I can actually handle it or if I’m setting myself up for a miserable cry-fest that may or may not also involve vomiting or dizziness from all of the blood.

Alright, now that I’ve stood up on my soapbox for too long, let me proceed with the facts:

Well, duh, eggs.

But also, chickens make great little mini-tillers in the garden. They pull weeds, eat insects, and turn up the soil. Their manure, once composted, is really good fertilizer.

I can also see chickens as being a really cool, fun experience for kids in the neighborhood. Obviously, I would be up front about it from day one – that someday I will kill these chickens and eat them – but during their time in our yard, I think it would be awesome to share the eggs and the entertainment.

Everything mentioned above. But also, I worry a lot about predators in our neighborhood. I worry about the responsibility of them. I worry about the diseases they can contract. I really worry about the stink, and the potential that it has to irk my neighbors. I would really like to be able to let them roam semi-free range, but I’m not totally a fan of the idea of them pooping all over and digging where they shouldn’t.

I definitely have to look more into the cost. I see layers going anywhere from $10-$15 on Craigslist, and so four of them would cost us around $40-$60. There’s also the equipment, including a coop. Again, I think we could potentially build an awesome coop that would serve it’s purpose well, but even building your own stuff costs some money.

Feed is another cost. As with the rabbits, I’d like to supplement their diets with most scraps and produce and avoid buying pellets as much as possible. I know that it might be inevitable, but the more I can reduce pellets, the better, so I’ve read.

Rhode Island Reds, , and Ameraucanas top my list. I allow myself the luxury of saying that I would really get a kick out of having a basketful of pretty, pastel eggs. That’s about as sentimental as I get about it. If I start thinking of any of them as being “handsome” or “pretty”, it impacts my ability to see them as future stew meat.

Despite my general pessimistic tone about the subject, raising chickens is something that I do sincerely want to try at some point in my life. I don’t know if they would be a permanent fixture in my yard, but I do think it would be worthwhile to have at least one flock and go through the whole process with them.

To leave you with something humorous, check out this cartoon strip.

July 9, 2013

The Animal Kingdom – rascally rabbits

We have lots of wild animals roaming the neighborhood, some of which I’ve mentioned before. While I loath the squirrels, I have a soft spot in my heart for the rabbits, even if they nibble on some of my plants.

As a child, I was obsessed with the animated movie Watership Down. Which, by the way, is NOT a kids movie, but I digress. Rabbits just get me. Their way of moving, their shiny soft fur, their big eyes, the sweet little noises they make…alright, I’ll stop now. I’m not usually this sentimental about any kind of animal!


Aside from being softcuddlyadorablepuffballsoflove, they produce copious amounts of premium fertilizer. The unique thing about their droppings is that they’re considered “cold” fertilizer – it won’t hurt the plants if applied directly. In fact, I’ve heard people say that their waste alone outweighs the cost of keeping them, it’s so nutrient dense and versatile.ย  My garden needs all of the help it can get, so I’d be all about free fertilizer!

Not only that, but a rabbit has the potential to be a really quick method of composting. They can eat some food scraps or bolted greens, and it converts quite speedily into something to put back into the garden.

Some people raise rabbits for meat. Their meat contains almost no cholesterol, and is a white meat very similar to chicken and can be substituted as such in most recipes. Because they are considered domestic pets, most cities don’t pass any restrictions regarding slaughtering rules – it’s all you, Freddy. Certain rabbit breeds are also prized for their fur – angora rabbits are an example of this.

To be honest, I’m not really interested in slaughtering a rabbit for it’s pelt or meat. I’m not a vegetarian, and while it would be a difficult learning process I think I COULD eat a chicken or a duck that I had raised once they had lived out their usefulness as a contributor to the farm. But I’ll be frank, the bun-buns are just too friggin cute. I couldn’t do it. Besides…they never stop pooping, and their poop is the main reason I’m interested in them.

Potential Concerns
My older brothers raised rabbits when I was really young, and for some reason, they always, always died on us. Rabbits can literally be “scared to death” and we assume that a feral cat or other animal was terrorizing them. Because we intend to at least have a dog, and because there are lots of potential scare-the-rabbit-to-death encounters, I am a little hesitant about attempting to raise them.

They need daily care, at least. On hot or cold days, they may need care twice or three times a day. In hot weather, they need to be able to stay cool somehow – their optimal temperature range is between 62F and 72F (so I’ve read).

If we went the route of having an indoor/outdoor bunny, we would have to navigate the murky waters of cat and dog interactions while they were in the house, as well as keep a space free of electrical cords and other things that bunnies shouldn’t chew on.

If we went the route of keeping a strictly outdoor rabbit, I’d ideally like to have some space for the rabbit to roam in the yard from time to time. I don’t think it’s entirely humane to just keep it cooped up in a hutch, even a roomy one. Building a rabbit run isn’t a concern, but keeping the rabbit safe from the neighborhood hawk is.

My final concern would be the infamous smelly urine that rabbits are known for. But hey, my cat’s #1 isn’t exactly perfume quality…I think you can learn to get used to it.

I watch Craigslist for rabbits, and it seems they go for anywhere between $15-$45, depending on breed. I know you can buy generic small animal cages for around $100, but I think Jason could probably build something much sturdier for about the same price, or less. Ideally, I’d like something fairly mobile that could be moved in and outdoors without too much hassle, had a removable waste tray for easy cleaning, and provided shade for the rabbit.

I know there’s also various other small purchases – water bottles and the like. It’s been sometime since I’ve gone to a pet store so I’m not sure what those run for. I’m assuming it’s somewhere in the $10-$20 range.

Like I mentioned, I would like to have a small run for the rabbit to spend time in. I think we could build something similar to our cabbage frame (or maybe even use the cabbage frame itself when we get a proper garden fence). That cost us around $20 to build.

I’m not sure what pellets cost, and frankly, I’m inclined to go more this route with feeding. There would still be the cost of hay and extra produce, but hopefully feeding it a better diet would eliminate the cost of health problems.

I’m a complete sucker for Holland Lops, especially the mini ones. Lionheads are pretty cute too. I think I’d prefer a smaller variety, being that I’m not really interested in raising it for meat. I could sound like a moron about this, but I’m assuming smaller rabbits eat smaller quantities of food…right?

All in all, I’d actually prefer to get a rabbit before trying out chickens. It would require more of my time, similar to chickens, but doesn’t feel quite as overwhelming to me as a flock. I’m planning on going to the State Fair this year (first time!) and really looking forward to visiting the livestock barns to compare breeds and temperaments.

What about you guys? Anyone ever raised rabbits? Were they house rabbits, outdoor rabbits, or both? What tips and tricks would you offer?

July 7, 2013

The Animal Kingdom – give a dog a bone

Jason and I have talked about owning a dog, oh, since even before we got married. I think it was always a given that we would have a canine at some point, likely after we bought a house. We’ve been homeowners for over a year and said dog still hasn’t materialized…and I’ll explain why later on.

Sometime ago, we purchased this book to do some research on dog ownership:

I would highly, highly recommend it. I mean, both of us had dogs growing up but this would be our first dog that we’re solely responsible for. The book is very thorough and leaves room for the inevitable – personality.

Although we have our reasons for not being dog owners yet, aside from a garage cat, a dog is likely going to be the next addition to the menagerie. We’ve started to formulate more specific plans, and although we haven’t actively pursued any of them yet, it’s a common discussion topic for us.

The doggy facts:

We don’t live in an intensely sketchy neighborhood by any means, but I think dogs are always a good safety measure for city dwellers. I wouldn’t mind having a dog watching the house throughout the day, or accompanying me if I take a walk on my own.

Boo and I both run on a regular basis (I’m a morning runner, he likes to go after work), and we’ve often discussed how nice it would be to have a four-footed jogging partner. This would be especially true in the winter, when an early morning or evening run would likely take place after dark.

If we ever raised chickens (or children, ha) a dog with some herding tendencies would come in handy. We had a collie/border collie mix when I was growing up that would circle the perimeter of our yard constantly whenever we were outside. She’d then come back and “check” on her humans before doing another lap. She was a great dog, and I never felt scared of being alone when she was in the yard.

And finally, I think there’s a somewhat intangible aspect of having a dog that appeals to both of us. The cat is great, but dogs are great in a different way. They are more attentive. They tend to stick closer to you. They can go exploring and have adventures with you (ever tried walking a cat on a leash? Yeah. It doesn’t work). They bond with you in a different way. They PLAY!

Potential Concerns
Where do I start…for an animal that we both feel strongly about, I do have quite a few concerns. The smell. The shedding. The piles of poop. Getting a dog with a personality that turns out to be all wrong for us. The cat not being able to handle the dog, or vice-versa. The daily commitment, and what do we do with the dog if we take longer trips (weekend trips seem doable with a pooch). Dogs cost a LOT more than cats. Dogs are much more intense than cats. We want a big dog, but I do worry a little bit about being able to control it (I’m a small person, after all). The noise. Potential training disasters. A dog turning out to need much more energy than we have for it. Friends/relatives not feeling comfortable coming over due to allergies.

(I think that’s it…)

Doggie is doing to require a bit more set-up for us. We would like to be able to find a way for the dog to have outside access throughout the day, especially on days that we’re not around much. One thing we’ve thought of is somehow converting the garage into a shelter for the dog and having a fenced in run. All of this costs money; building fences isn’t cheap!

Typical adoption fees for dogs ranges from $300-$400, and includes shots and spaying/neutering. Yearly vet visits probably run around $200, provided there’s no problems or health issues. I have no idea how much food costs, but in an ideal world I’d like to feed the dog a somewhat-raw diet and I know that can’t be cheap. Heck, I know that even regular old kibble can’t be cheap either. The pooch will be an investment, that’s for sure.

We’ve had many, many discussions about breeds. Like I mentioned, I had a collie mix growing up and I honestly think they’re some of the best dogs you can own. They’re highly intelligent, they’re useful, they’re playful, and they’re not over-the-top hyper. We also had a doberman and a whippet when I was very young; the doberman was very much a “one-person” dog and so I don’t think that will work for us, and the whippet had too much energy!

Jason grew up with labs and retrievers. Way. Too. Hyper. Not a good fit for us right now (and hopefully never, in my opinion!)

It seems the dogs we’re most drawn to are working dogs – huskies, collies, and shepherds. In all reality, we’re likely going to end up adopting from a shelter, which means whatever dog we get will almost certainly be a mix. A strong dog that can run with us, but not a hyper dog that will demolish the house out of boredom. A loyal and protective dog, but not a dog that will attack passerbys on the sidewalk. An affectionate dog, but not a drooling invasive mess.

Sounds like I’m hoping for the “perfect” dog, huh? Well, in some ways I am. I think that these things tend to work themselves out, to be honest. If we’re patient, we’ll end up with a doggie that’s just right for us and our lifestyle. This may mean that we have to spend some time training it, or that some small aspects of said lifestyle will have to adjusted. But I think it’s worth it. We’re excited to make this addition.

Oh, and did I mention that I think two dogs are better than one? A little dog and a big dog? Well, if I had my way, we’d also be on the lookout for a dachshund or a westie. But one thing at a time is probably a better route to go!

July 6, 2013

The Animal Kingdom – crazy cat lady

I figured I would start with the most reasonable animal I’d like to add to the mix – a garage cat. Clarice is a pampered inside cat and likely wouldn’t survive for five minutes outside. Besides, with all of the possible diseases or vermin that an outside cat would come across, I would prefer to have one that lived exclusively outdoors.

This is one animal that I think could quickly become a reality. As I mentioned in my introductory post, cats are fairly low-maintenance – an outside cat wouldn’t even require a litterbox (although it might be a good idea to provide one so they stay out of the garden).

Here is the rundown of my barn cat dreams:

From time to time, I see mice running around in our garage and along the border of our property. I don’t see them much, but the very fact that I see them occasionally tells me that they’re definitely out there. We’ve also chased a chipmunk out of the garage on several occasions who dug up some of my seedlings in the poly house. A garage cat would very likely put a stop to this!

I also enjoy cats as companions – it would be nice to have company if I’m working in the backyard alone. We almost always had outdoor cats growing up, and as long as the population stayed down they were pleasant to have around.

Potential Concerns
Obviously with outdoor cats there is a greater risk than indoor cats. I think it’s safe to say there’s even a greater risk than raising something that you would contain in a coop or a hutch – we wouldn’t be able to necessarily keep track of it or shelter it. It could easily get run over. It could decide to leave the yard. It could have a very unpleasant encounter with any of the wild animals that roam our area – squirrels, hawks, raccoons, feral cats, velociraptors…plus, almost all of our neighbors have dogs and I’m not sure how that would play out with a roaming kitty.

I have a little bit of a concern about it digging in the garden or doing it’s business where it shouldn’t, but one cat is fairly simple to clean up after if that’s the case.

We also have a lot of birds in our neighborhood, with my favorites being several cardinals that sing to each other all day. It’s just part of nature, but I know that a cat has the potential to be deadly for some of my feathered friends.

This wouldn’t be a concern for us, but it’s worth mentioning: you should always spay/neuter your outdoor cats or the population can very quickly get out of control! I for sure wouldn’t keep a garage cat unless it was fixed. They tend to roam less if you do this anyway, so it’s a good practice all around.

Well, we’d need to clean our garage first…ha. No, seriously, our garage would need to be cleared out and organized, for the cat’s sake and for our own peace of mind. We would need to do some tweaking, too – a kitty door for it to go in and out and a warm box for it to sleep in when the weather got bad.

My parents almost always have outdoor kittens available, but they would need to be fixed. This typically costs between $75-$125 per cat. Some vets offer discounted rates for spaying barn cats, but I have yet to find one in Milwaukee that does this.

Other than that, the only other cost would be food. We already buy food in bulk for Clarice, plus a hunting cat wouldn’t eat quite as much food as she does. I would estimate that we’d maybe spend another dollar or two per month (an $11 bag of food lasts Clarice a good 2-3 months).

Like I said, getting an outdoor cat is a pretty real possibility for us in the near future. Maybe if I help Jason clean out the garage I can get him to come around to the idea ๐Ÿ˜‰

July 5, 2013

The Animal Kingdom – A girl can dream!

After Tuesday’s very epic ladybug release, I thought it would be appropriate to do a series on different animals we’re considering sometime in the future. I’ll devote a day to each type of animal; the benefits, the costs, the stuff I’m worried about, and the things we would need to learn or adapt our home to.

As of right now, in addition to 1,500 aphid eaters, we have a cat, Clarice:

I’ve already blogged about her usefulness as a member of the homestead – she really, really keeps pests down in the house. Even with the wet weather we’ve had, I’ve seen very few insects inside this summer.

In my opinion, cats are perfect companions, if you find one with the right temperament. Clarice is extremely low-maintenance; she likes her pets and getting her bowl filled every day, but it’s no stress at all for us to be away from her all day or even all weekend. When we go on trips longer than four days, we arrange for someone to come by and check her food, but that’s nothing compared to the needs of some animals.

Which brings me to a more sobering point when it comes to the animal world – our current lifestyle isn’t exactly conducive to owning anything other than a cat. It’s a hard reality that we’ve struggled with. Both of us are away at work during the week, and sometimes we have evening commitments as well. We also enjoy the freedom of being able to get away some weekends, and we try to take a nice, long vacation once a year. If we owned even half of the animals I’d like to own, every one of those days we’re gone represents the need to coordinate care for them at least once a day, if not more in some cases.

When I try to research what the practicalities are of raising some of these animals, I often run across blogs from some of the more diehard types who gush on and on about the amazingwonderfulglorious benefits and delights in their livestock. Or, I come across some extremely embittered soul who tried raising ducks or goats and had a terrible time with it because they just weren’t prepared for the responsibility. What I would love to find is practical research from someone right smack in the middle of those two lines of thought. Preferably someone who lived in a major city and maybe also held a job outside of the house, even on a part-time basis. And took vacations once in awhile.

This is one of my biggest beefs (haha) when I read homesteading blogs – it seems like some of these modern farmers just aren’t able to have a life outside of their barnyard. Which, please, don’t get me wrong, if that’s what you WANT your life to look like, then that’s fantastic. But that is NOT what Jason and I want our lives to look like, at least not entirely. I’d like to be home more, I’d like to be in the community more, but traveling and having adventures is a big part of who we are also. You can’t just pack up a flock of chickens into your car and drive down the road…

That being said…good things do come to those who wait. The reality is that neither of us want to continue with our current work situations forever. We’re both doing small things to help make these changes happen, and in an ideal world both of us are able to be home more and work less. I won’t get into the specifics just yet, but I have good faith in the idea that within five years one (or hopefully both!) of us will be home throughout most of the day.

Of course, changing our work situation doesn’t exactly solve the problem of animals needing daily care while we’re on vacation. Enter the virtue of patience once again – in our ideal world, we have really solid relationships with a few of the neighbor kids and allow them to earn some cash and some mad skills by hiring them as temporary farm hands. Now, granted, this has the potential to be messy (escapee chickens and runaway pups come to mind) and would require a LOT of trust for both parties involved. Trust that takes time to build up. But how cool would it be to be able to provide eggs for all of our neighbors? Or to show rabbits at the fair that were raised not just by me, but by the community?

When I think of homesteading being done this way, it gives me the freedom to dream bigger dreams. This is how it should happen in the city. This is how someone could learn the art of self-sufficiency – by actually reaching out and saying, “I need help. Let’s do this together”.

So, with all of that in mind, tune in tomorrow for our second installation of the Animal Kingdom (aka Johanna’s delusional dreams about being a crazy pet lady).

July 3, 2013

Release the hounds

Or the ladybugs, to be exact.

You probably haven’t seen many photos of my garden lately because I’ve had an embarrassing problem: something was making most of my plants look like Swiss cheese. It took me awhile to figure out what it was. I was seeing a lot of ants, and by a lot, I mean hordes of them. I assumed that it was them munching away on the corn, squash, and melons, so I wasted a couple of weeks of time and effort sprinkling their nest with cornmeal, dousing them with neem, and trying to drown them with seltzer water.

After nothing really seemed to be working, I actually did some research about ants and crop damage and come to find out…ants don’t really eat plants. In fact, they can be good for the soil because some of them tunnel and help reduce compaction.

However, one thing that I did find out is that ants also do something funny, something that I didn’t know existed in the animal kingdom: they raise livestock for a protein source, and that livestock is aphids. Ants love the sticky sweetness that aphids produce by feeding on plants, and so they’ll actually protect aphid populations in the same way we would protect a herd of cows. Who knew?

Aphids are tiny, and oftentimes difficult to spot. Your garden can also host several kinds of aphids. One day, I turned over the leaf of a sunflower that the ants seemed to particularly be drawn to, and sure enough, I could pick out tiny dark specks on the bottom.

I tried washing the aphids away with water. I tried more neem. And finally, I called in the big guns and decided to play God: I ordered 1,500 ladybugs from Hirts Garden Center.

I’ll admit, there’s a part of me that feels sort of uncomfortable with rushing the process along. In an ideal garden system, the ladybugs would come on their own and take care of the problem. “Jump starting” the population may not be good for native ladybugs. If I had any, that is; which is why I ordered them. I’ve never, ever seen a ladybug in my eight years of living in Milwaukee. I don’t know if the population is just non-existent or if they’re really, really shy.

So, I took a risk and ordered them. Can I just say how funny it is that you can order bugs in the mail? And even funnier that, to calm them down until you release them, you stick them in the fridge?

Anyway, I released them into the garden last night, at dusk. It was a very relaxing thing, I’ll admit. It was neat to see them find the little water droplets on the plants that I’d provided, and to see them head underneath the leaves and hopefully start chowing down on aphids!

Everything I’ve read about this says that maybe 1/5 of the release will stick around, if you’re lucky. Most of them fly on to greener pastures (or aphids, in this case). We’ll see how things shape up over the next few weeks. In the meantime, I’m really enjoying seeing them scamper around the garden. They’re pretty darn cute.