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“Xena the Warrior Princess”

This is the tale of how we met  Xena, the Warrior Princess.

One day I visited a friend’s farm.  As evening approached, it began pouring rain, so I helped her wrap up farm chores by going out to the back of the property to look for chicken and duck eggs.  Mili the Dog was with me, as usual.  I’m rushing through a literal forest of yellow dock taller than I am, pulling back massive basal leaves, looking for secret nests, when I hear the strangest sound.  It was almost a growl.  But then, almost a hiss.  Yet it was also a whining yowl of some kind.  My first thought was “oh no, SKUNK.”

I follow the sound and hear thrashing and rustling ahead in the sopping wet dock forest.  It was now getting dark and visibility was poor.  By the sound of it, Mili was obviously engaged with the enraged mystery creature.  I braced for the smell of skunk but it never hit me.  

After a brief search I find the action scene.  

Mili is sitting in a somewhat strange manner with a giant smile from ear to ear.  She looks at me, laughing, and says “Haha, hey, Jen.  I’m sitting on it.  It can’t do anything cause I’m sitting on it.”

But what?  What are you sitting on?!  
The screaming, yowling, spitting ball of fur starts to pry itself out from under her butt now and again, and Mili giggles, shifts her weight, and keeps it pinned beneath her bum.  I tell Mili to get up, and to my comedic surprise, what I thought to be a baby skunk was an absolutely tiny little kitten.  It couldn’t have been more than weaning age, just a sopping wet little hairball (with teeth and claws).  Mili didn’t want to hurt it, but this feral spitfire was determined to fight her, so she disabled it in the safest way possible and just sat on it.  She was quite proud of herself.

It’s fairly common for folks to drop off unwanted cats and kittens on this farm, for whatever reason.  My friend takes them all in, vets them, and gives them a home.  This cold, wet kitten was either going to succumb to the elements or get snatched by a hawk the next day if I didn’t do something.

Without proper regard for what I was trying to handle, I palm-tackled the very soggy, very angry kitten and scruffed it tightly.  Regardless, the feral little monster managed to swing its head around and fill my thumb full of tooth holes.  So I scruffed it’s butt-end, too, and held it out-stretched and at arm’s length, away from my face. 

What a little fighter!

 I took the warrior-kitten up to the farm house (having forgotten about eggs at this point) and called out for my friend to come open the door for me.  I greeted her, holding the thoroughly scruffed, dripping wet calico kitten as far away from my body as I could keep it, like I had ahold of a rattlesnake or something.  The kitten moaned and yowled and continued to threaten me and Mili.

“This attacked Mili, so she sat on it.  I need a bandage, it chewed my thumb up.” (my presentation was intentional  to add to the humour)
My friend found the situation hysterical (so did I!).  We got the kitten safely contained and patched my hand up.  I suggested the appropriate name ‘Xena’.  My friend tried out a few other names at first, but eventually Xena the Warrior Princess stuck.

She tamed up to be a fabulous, affectionate farm cat!  Xena’s still alive as I write this, happily hunting mice on my friend’s farm.

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“That Wasn’t a Squirrel”

One day Mili the Dog was out barking up a storm.  I assumed she was after a squirrel.  Then the barking changed tone- she had something cornered or trapped.  Curious, I look out the window.  She was running from end to end on a ten-foot length of six inch irrigation pipe, barking excitedly.

Ah ha!  She’s got a squirrel in the pipe!

Hunting rodents is her life passion, I’m not opposed to indulging her hunting instincts, especially when the squirrels eat all the fruit and nuts off my trees every year.  I’m also quite fond of deep-fried squirrel nuggets.
So I dash out there and peak into the pipe.  Indeed, a bushy tail twitches on the far end in the dim light.  Silly squirrel, it should’ve gone up a tree, not into a pipe!  I lift one end of the pipe and proceed to walk the pipe upright, Mili waiting eagerly on the other end, braced for the fluffy critter to plop out.

And it did.

A gigantic skunk came tumbling out of the pipe.

I was still processing what I was seeing when Mili pounced on it, not five feet from me, still hoisting the pipe aloft.  She did her signature rib-chomp-and-toss skunk move, but the skunk was too big to take out with a single chomp.  It sprayed her in the mouth, and by extension… me.
Still holding the pipe up and not realizing it, I watch the skunk amble toward me, stamping his feet.

Me:  “Mili!  GET IT! GET IT!  C’MON, GET IT!
Mili:  “I just got sprayed in the mouth, yo.  You get it while I eat dirt and drink the entire irrigation ditch.
The skunk stomps past me threateningly, now sporting a pronounced hobbling limp.  I finally put the pipe down.  I ran inside for the .22 but by the time I came back outside the skunk was long gone and Mili was still raking dirt through her teeth to remove the oils from her palate.
And so he got away.  And I stunk.  And my dog stunk.  And the de-skunking commenced.
But the next day I smell fresh skunk spray next to the house.  I dash outside with the .22, but I see no skunk.  And again this happened several days in a row.  Finally one day I bump into my neighbor.  She complained about this darn skunk that’s holed up under her shed for some reason.  Apparently every time it heard a dog bark it sprayed, right there in the hole under the shed.  Everything in her shed wreaked.
She had attempted to starve it by blocking the exit hole.  It retaliated by tunneling out the other side, but there was asphalt pavement on the front side of the shed, and now the asphalt was crumbling inward into the skunk’s filed escape tunnel.  At her wit’s end, she stuffed moth balls and anything that might be poisonous into the hole and re-sealed it.

The skunk smell slowly faded.  We assumed her success and rejoiced an end to the daily respiratory assaults.
A few weeks later I visit a neighboring goat farm for some idle banter.  We discussed chickens for a bit and she said, “Yeah the egg farm next door has been having a rough go of it.  Apparently they have a big skunk stealing all of their eggs.”
I paused.  “A big skunk?  When did it show up?
Her: “Oh, a couple weeks ago.  I saw it out here just the other day in broad daylight!
Me: “Does walk like this with a funny limp?”  I proceeded to mimic the rhythmic, rolling limp of my giant pipe skunk.
Her: “Yeah.  Why?
Me: “That’s our skunk.  We thought it was dead…”  I proceeded to fill her in on the skunk drama of the previous weeks and wished her the best of luck with the new, stinky neighbor.
A note on skunks:
I have no ill will towards skunks.  Frankly I hate having to kill them and I rarely utilize their carcasses due to their smell, which makes killing them even worse.  Skunks make terrible neighbors.  We can coexist with coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and all manner of predators.  But skunks are impossible.  There will be no end to the skunk spray on the dogs, on the cats, on the cars, in the barn, under the porch, in the chicken coop, in your home, and on your clothes.  It’s miserable.
Skunks have also been the biggest predator of my birds, hands-down.  I have lost hundreds of young birds (who still roost on the ground) to skunks, amounting to thousands of dollars in losses.  It’s awful waking up to find a pile of 10-20 dead birds, each one headless.  They are also chronic egg thieves if they can reach your eggs.
So of all the predators I’ve shared my space with, skunks are the one animal that cause me to instantly reach for the .22.  They are relatively fearless; they will not move along if you try to scare them.  They will come to your front porch or your barnyard and move right in, even if they have to spray you and the dogs every single day to try and claim their new home.  They will confidently browse your barnyard in a way other predators won’t, because other predators have healthy fears of you and your dogs.  A skunk will just walk past you in broad daylight, “Hey, don’t mind me, just gonna go eat some more birds.  Come any closer and I’ll shoot.”
It’s just not worth living with!
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“Aspen’s Story: Broken Turkey Legs”

Aspen was a black Spanish turkey I purchased.  She was an adult and had grown up semi-wild.  She had very little trust in me.
As turkey hens do, Aspen went broody in her first spring with me.  She chose a large wooden cupboard for her nest.  And as turkey toms do, Pip the tom started to get restless after all of the hens disappeared to sit nests.  To my dismay, he found Aspen in her cupboard and attempted to pull her out off the nest to breed (I talk more in-depth about tom breeding behavior problems like this in my publication “Re-think: Small Livestock”, which is very near completion at the time of writing this story).  Aspen refused to budge from her nest, so instead Pip tried to get in the cupboard with her.
The next morning I checked on Aspen, as I did daily, and found her cupboard spattered with crushed egg goo.  She looked very ragged.  Disappointed, I let her be.  But the next day she didn’t leave the cupboard, even though her nest had been destroyed.  So I extracted her, much to her distress and protest, only to discover that he femur had been snapped by the tom.
The poor lady!  This was the first broken bone I’d ever had to deal with in livestock.  Not entirely certain what to do, and after some contemplation, I splinted her leg with some wood and vet-wrapped the leg from the thigh down to her ‘drumstick’ so the joint was stuck totally straight, she couldn’t bend her leg at the knee.  Vet-wrap is the strange word we use for that self-sticking-but-not-adhesive medical wrap tape that is used to  cover plaster casts, in case you’re not familiar with the word.
Hoping I did the right thing for her, I isolated Aspen in a small pen where she couldn’t move much.  I checked her daily and delivered food and water to her.  She mostly sat uncomfortably on the ground and cowered when I came too close.
It took about 5 days, but she started standing and walking again.  Her cast came undone on its own with this movement.  I hesitantly released her back into the flock.  She recovered rapidly as though nothing had happened, laid a new clutch of eggs and went back to sitting.  She had no apparent lasting damage from the break.  The ordeal had also taught her to trust me on a deep level.  She was a very sweet and personable hen after that.
Birds, like many animals, produce allantoin in their body under oxidative stress.  This chemical is found in high concentration in comfrey family plants.  Humans do not produce allantoin, so it takes our bodies exponentially longer to heal wounds than it might take an animal to heal the same wound.  Allantoin stimulates tissue repair and may dramatically speed healing of skin, tissue, and bone alike.  This is why comfrey and its relatives have been given common names such as “woundwort” and “bonemend”.
It’s important to set a broken leg in a bird as soon as you discover it.  I have cared for multiple hens who suffered broken legs from aggressive toms during the breeding season.  All of them recovered rapidly and wonderfully.  However I once had a mean, half-wild turkey tom that broke his leg fighting.  I couldn’t handle or catch him, and he was MEAN.  I left him alone hoping the leg would heal naturally without my intervention.  It healed alright!  But it healed backward!  His leg healed twisted, leaving his knee joint facing backward and crippling him.  It was a grim scenario, but that violent tom was destined for butcher as it was, so I my guilt was limited.  It was a valuable lesson learned.
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“Stitches the Chicken”

Before moving to an area with frigidly cold winters and an extended cold season, I kept turkens.  Turkens are a breed of chicken that lack feathering on their head and necks.  I love turkens, they’re fantastic, and I wish I could raise them here on the mountain but that would be cruel to the half-naked birds.
So one day I head out into my bird yard to put the birds up for the night and I notice something amiss with one of my turken cockerels.  Upon inspection I find a large L-shaped slice on his neck.  His skin was totally peeled back, leaving a one-inch patch of exposed neck muscle.  This was probably the first gnarly livestock injury I’d encountered.
Horrified, I called a friend who was far more seasoned in chickens than I was.  I brought the cockerel to her home.  She calmly procured a needle and thread, and with me holding the bird she artfully stitched the neck skin back into place.  The cockerel hardly flinched. I was impressed by both of them and their relative level of tranquility about the situation.  I was a nervous wreck!
My friend sent me off with a small glob of an herbal healing salve (which was probably the first salve I ever used on anything, actually) to apply to Stitches’ (as he was now called) neck each day.   After just 3 or 4 days, Stitches’ wound healed wonderfully.  With some dainty nippers I snipped his stitches and pulled the threads free of his skin.  I continued to apply the salve until it looked like he was well healed.
I have since stitched several chickens back up.  Most of them turkens.  It seems having a nude neck isn’t the most adventitious thing when you’re a paper-skinned chicken.  One bird I stitched up was mauled by a skunk and had the skin around his wings torn badly in several places.  I think the skunk had attempted to drag the young bird by the wing.  In each case the birds healed up rapidly and without complication.