Friday, May 30, 2014

In Memory of our Butter Kitty

I'm so behind on these posts, but some are just hard to write.  Pets become so much a part of our lives.  This is the story of Butter, our cat.

Ellie and I were playing on her swing-set in August of 2001, when the neighbor ladies from either side of our house were visiting with each other.  The neighbor lady to the south of us told us (well, probably really me, because Ellie was not quite a year old yet) that two kittens had been abandoned at the tennis courts in town, and she thought they were de-clawed.  Being de-clawed did not thrill me, and thankfully, they were not de-clawed.  I didn't want to have a cat indoors, and really couldn't, because Thomas is allergic (turns out, I am the only one in the family that is not allergic).  The lady to the north of us pointed out that we were the only family in the neighborhood that did not have cats.  That really didn't bother me with a toddler to take care of, and a part-time job, and a husband, and a dog that was just barely a year old.  I grew up having a cat, from age 5 to age 21, so the thought was tempting.  The neighbors urged me on, and Thomas was at the tennis courts playing tennis.  So, Ellie and I loaded up to go see kittens.

The kittens were friendly and playful.  The orange one looked just like my cat, Muffin, when he was a kitten.  Oh, I wanted to take him home and love him.  Thomas was fine with that, as long as we took both kittens.  That surprised me!  I really thought he would say "no, cats".  What he said was, "We can take both home, or neither one home."  Well, I couldn't leave that little orange ball of sweetness.  Ellie thought they were wonderful, too.  Thomas said something about the white and gray one, I thought he said he was going to call it Spider.  I completely heard him wrong, but the name stuck.  I named the orange one Butter.  

Ellie learned how to pet them the right direction, and be gentle with them.  She was so young, I know she doesn't remember being taught, but she learned well.  The kittens never scratched her, or got upset with her.

This picture is of the kittens in our garage, shortly after we brought them home, with a makeshift litter box (cardboard box and oil dry), and I don't know where we got the wet cat food and plastic bowl.  The kittens later had their own food bowls, a real litter box, and dry kitten chow.

August 13, 2001
Having kittens and a toddler (baby, really still) was challenging.  I really had no idea how to have outdoor kitties and make them realize where their home was.  We kept them in the garage for a bit, in our white shed for a short time, but mostly they were outside.  Our dog, at first, thought they were something to destroy.  We found her shaking them.  She would chase them up a tree.  We were forever running outside to rescue them from our own dog!

They also roamed to the neighbors.  The same ones who told us we needed cats apparently had many visits from our kitties.  We didn't find out until years later, but the neighbors to the north of us had a cat door, and our cats liked to use the door and follow their cats in the house.  I would not have a cat door, living out in the country like we do.  I would be afraid of what might walk in someday... like a skunk, or something!  The neighbor to the south of us said her husband would always chase them off.  She didn't mind them hanging in the yard, or garage with their cat, but I was glad her husband chased them off.  Seriously!  Send them home, or let us know to come and get them.

A couple of our neighbors admired Spider.  She was super friendly, cuddly, and you can see her long hair.  She had bright blue eyes.  She was gorgeous!  One day she never came home.  I have a strong feeling she became a house cat.  We took the cats to the vet and had them fixed and given their shots.
Ellie, just over a year and a half old, with Butter.  June 28, 2002
So, we still had a Butter kitty.  He was friendly, but mostly liked to sit in Thomas's lap (the one who is allergic).  He was a great mouser!  And we needed one of those.  I can't stand mice.  They creep me out.  And out here in the country, there are plenty of mice, looking for a meal and a bed.  Butter loved to leave us presents of his kills on the deck, in the garage, on the porch... oh, how he loved us.

Once, Wyatt accidentally shut the cat's tail in my car door. The cat was on the roof of the car, and Wyatt didn't know his tail was in the door.  The cat clawed Wyatt's head, because he was trying to grab onto something... he was hanging by his tail.  Butter was fine, his tail was fine.  Wyatt was scared, and I was worried about what might be on the cat's claws that dug into the skin on Wyatt's head.  Wyatt turned out to be fine, too.

Eventually, the neighbors told us about our cat coming in their house.  The husband said our cat was feral , because he fought with their cats.  The wife said that the cat wants to be a house cat, because they would come home and find him curled up on one of their beds.  Butter was obviously not feral, he was super friendly to people (he even put up with little children petting him when he was old).  We couldn't make him a house cat because of allergies, and he loved the outdoors.  To smooth things over with the neighbors, for a while we kept Butter in the garage during the day and only let him out in the evening.  Their cats were out during the day, and put up at night, because they were de-clawed.  Butter really learned where his home was while he was "stuck" in the garage.  I don't think he ever spent too much time at the neighbors after that, though I know he still wandered the neighborhood and hunted in the fields.

I loved to drive home and see his green eyes shining in the dark.  He would crouch down in the grass, like he was going to stalk the car.  He made me smile.  Then, he would run and follow us home to get in the garage for the night.

Butter was a tough cat.  He did get into fights.  He killed snakes, salamanders, birds, rats, rabbits, and mice. He even killed a possum once.  You can see one of his ears is floppy.  He got hurt, and that is the way it healed.

As I said in the post in Memory of our Libby dog, the dog and cat became best friends after a few years.  The hung out together, cuddled together, and the cat would even "massage" (with claws!) the dog's back.  Butter even taught Libby to clean her paws with her tongue like a cat.  They were totally best friends.

He looks like a tough character, doesn't he?  But he had a soft heart for Libby and his family.  He knew just when you needed a leg rub, or time to pet him and relax.

I made this bench for Ellie's room many years ago. Eventually, the best place for the bench was in the garage as a place to store rubber boots, and sit to put them on and off.  Butter decided the bench was his bed.  He slept there nearly every night after I put the bench there.  He was funny, too.  He kind of adapted to our schedule in later years.  He would hunt and run around during the day.  Many times in the last few years, he would want in and out all day long.  He learned that if he snuck in the door to the kitchen and waited by the patio door, we would let him out there.  Also, if he meowed outside the patio door (or snuck in there), we would let him through the kitchen out into the garage.  He was a smart kitty.

I think Butter was lonesome after Libby died.  I know my childhood cat, Muffin, didn't last too many years after our dog, Duke, died.  Butter seemed to be looking for Libby, and had a questioning, almost mournful meow at times.

Butter appeared to decide that he needed to take over the job of dog, as well as his role of cat.  He would follow us out to the barn when we did chores, or put the animals up at night.  He was right on your heels, just like a dog would be.  You can see in the picture below that he took on the job of babysitter/guard.

I don't know if age, a broken heart, or being overworked took it's toll on our cat, but I went through the garage to the basement on Monday night, January 13th, and Butter was there on the bench.  He lifted up his head to look at me.  I usually apologized for turning on the light and interrupting him.  The next morning, Thomas woke me up to tell me that our cat died.  Thomas found the cat on the floor, near the front of my Envoy.  Wyatt and I buried him that day.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Little Gang and Guardian Guineas (written with Wyatt)

Mid-September of 2013, we got one Rhode Island Red, two (Plymouth) Barred Rocks, one Pearl Grey Guinea, and one Lavendar Guinea, all chicks from Orscheln Farm and Home.  The Rhode Island Red is named Pippi.  The Barred Rocks were named Rudy and Litter Box.  The Lavendar Guinea is named Laverne, and the Pearl Grey Guinea is Shirley (shemezel, shimzel, hasenfeffer incorporated).
This is Pippi, our Rhode Island Red.

This is Rudy, one of the Barred Rocks (or Plymouth Barred Rock).

This is Litter Box, who was supposed to be the Dark Knght, but was the name Litter Box stuck, after this one found his way into the cat's litter box in the garage multiple times. 

This is Laverne. She is a Lavendar Guinea Fowl.

This is Shirley ( of Laverne and Shirley, Wyatt wanted a special name for the Guineas and Misty suggested).  Shirley is a Pearl Gray Guinea.
When they were little babies, they lived in the garage.  When they got bigger, we moved them into the A-frame chicken coop.  When the weather got cold, we introduced them to the big coop with the rest of our chickens.  We called them "the little gang", because they were always running around together.  You never saw one without the others nearby.  They were SO cute!

This is the Guinea Girls holding claws. See the two claws on top are intertwined.

The Barred Rocks grew fast and large.  We began to suspect that one, if not both of them, were roosters.  Once they started crowing (and they sounded like a wolf howling compared to our little bantam rooster!), we knew they were both roosters, and they couldn't stick around the homestead.  They were chasing hens, and upsetting Rotisserie (our resident rooster). Which was making Rotisserie aggressive, and he had been pretty tame.

This is Rudy.  Mr. Homesteader behind him.  And to the far, back, left is Toy Pony.

Here you can see Rudy, Laverne, Pippi, and Litter Box is behind Laverne and Pippi.

This is how they were usually seen, if not closer in a group.  Litter Box is in front of Rudy.  The Guineas are right next to each other, and Pippi to the far left.  The chicken farmer is up on the stairs to the back garage door.
The Guineas were loud as everyone said they would be.  We tried to take the roosters somewhere to be butchered (like we did with some of our meat birds, and the two previous accidental red roosters), but no one was butchering chickens around us anymore.  So, Thomas called on his friend, and they were going to butcher the roosters, and we (Thomas and Misty) decided the Guineas had been a long enough experiment, so they were going to be meat birds, too.  Only, the week that we were going to butcher them, the Guineas earned a pardon.  They alerted the kids and I to a coyote in our back acreage.  We had to scare the coyote off multiple times, and keep watch the rest of the day until the chickens went into the coop for the night.  The Guineas squawk was different than normal and alerted Wyatt.  When he looked outside, he thought it was a fox, or a dog.  Ellie thought it looked more like a wolf, or coyote.  I recognized the animal as a coyote.  The kids didn't want the Guineas to die anyway, but now I had a reason to like them, too.  I promised the kids, I would petition their Dad for the Guineas to live.  He didn't have much problem with that idea, when I told him how they saved our flock.

Here are our feathered watch dogs, Laverne on the left, Shirley on the right.

Wyatt is currently reading a book called Guinea Fowl that we purchased at Cackle Hatchery.  He is always researching and learning about his birds.  Guinea Fowl are called the feathered watch dogs of the barnyard.  We certainly agree with that!  They make a sound like "buck-wheat, buck-wheat", but the girls also make the "chi-chi-chi" sound that the male guineas make.  The males only make the "chi" sound. The "buck-wheat" sound is unique to the female guinea fowl.  If you are a brave homesteader, the meat of the guinea is supposed to be superior to any barnyard fowl or game bird (excluding the Royal Purple Guinea).  You could easily raise them for meat.  They don't require much feeding.  They love bugs!  Our chickens love bugs, too. We have had the least amount of bugs ever since having chickens and guineas.  Besides having a plethora of fresh eggs, the best part of having chickens (for Misty) is the lack of bugs!

Pippi, Shirley and Laverne; all that is left of the Little Gang.

Thomas and his friend, Michael, ended up butchering the Barred Rock Roosters.  The Guineas and Pippi were adopted by Rotisserie (our Black Cochin Bantam Rooster).  Rotisserie and the Guineas remind Thomas of Darth Vader and the Storm Troopers from Star Wars, because the Guineas look like the helmeted storm troopers and are frequently "guarding" the black clad Darth Rooster.