Cast and Crew: Gentlemen of an Oinky Disposition

How many roads must a guinea pig walk down before you can call it a farm animal? 

Let me make one thing clear: I don’t eat guinea pigs. Eating a rodent is a little beyond the extent of even my relatively non-selective palate. I don’t judge the folks that enjoy cuy, it’s just a case of to-each-their-own.

This being the case, here is a common question I get from friends and family who know my quasi-obsession with having a job for every resident of Douchebaggery Ranch:

“Why in the name of all creation do you keep guinea pigs??”

Souffle behind his house, with his former buddy hiding indoors after a particularly hearty bickering.

Allow me to explain in a list, because I like making lists.

1) Guinea pigs are essentially instant composters. You feed fruit and vegetable scraps in one end, and get fertilizer out the other end. No waiting for weeks for organic matter to break down, or for the worms to slowly eat their way through your garbage. You can pretty much watch it happen- it’s like magic.

2) Guinea pig manure, like rabbit manure, doesn’t require aging. It can go directly into the garden. Better yet, used guinea pig bedding (which in our case is a bit of wood shavings covered with a lot of hay) makes fantastic mulch, with the fertilizer already worked in. You don’t have to pick through it, dilute it, or process it in any way. The bottom of the cage is upturned onto a suitable patch of earth, and that’s that.

3) Guinea pigs cost practically nothing to keep. Hay is dirt cheap when bought by the bale, and makes up most of their diet. Vegetable and fruit scraps are exactly that- scraps. Wood shavings are also dirt cheap if bought by the horse-sized block, and you don’t need much anyway. (They are too rough a substrate for the guinea pigs’ feet, hence why I cover the shavings with tons of hay. This provides food, bedding and entertainment all at once.) Pellets are no longer considered an essential part of a guinea pig’s diet by most veterinarians, though I still give them a little bit as a treat. Like a tablespoon per day per pig. This, likewise, won’t break the bank.

4) Guinea pigs are wonderfully entertaining. They greet you with oinks when you enter the premises (mostly as a demand for food). They do the “hay dance” every time you give them a wad of fresh hay, rumbling and circling around the hay in unison. They chitter, purr, wiggle their butts (this is called “rumble-strutting” in guinea pig circles) in a hilarious way, and bicker like old couples. When they play, they popcorn (this is a motion that looks exactly the way it sounds). They have politics, for Heaven’s sake. You can watch the drama unfold every time there is the slightest suspicion as to who may be dominant over whom. It’s better than a soap opera.

5) Guinea pigs are snuggly. They will actually sit on your lap and make contented guinea pig sounds for a good twenty minutes before they pee on you.

6) The domestic cavy is a cheap and natural anti-depressant. It is the third-most ridiculous looking creature on Earth, ranking shortly behind the blue-footed boobie and the ezo momonga. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please pray to St.Google, the patron saint of the lazy and the ignorant.) You can’t stare one in the face and not laugh.

Pecorino, the guinea sheep.

Current guinea pig population of Douchebaggery Ranch consists of Souffle, Mr.T and Pecorino. Souffle is the longest-standing member of DR, predating even the dogs and the cats. He is pushing 7, which is ancient by guinea pig standards. Mr.T is named as such due to his mohawk, which is magnificent enough to make it worthwhile to break the tradition of naming household pets after food. Pecorino is the latest addition to DR and the only purebred cavy (and also one of the few non-second-hand animals on the premises), being a Texel- he is a curly pig, and resembles a sheep crossed with a toilet brush.

Mr.T reminding Pecorino who’s da boss.

The three gentlemen live together, though Souffle currently has his own “apartment” partitioned off- Mr.T likes to bully the old fellow, which I presume is karma, given the years of testosterone-driven harassment Souffle has provided for his previous buddy. Eventually, I might try to re-integrate him with the other two, if this can be accomplished without nipped ears and bloody noses. (Soap opera, I’m telling you.)

Why do I have guinea pigs? Because life would be a lot less colorful without them, that’s why. (Besides, I don’t have a TV and you can’t watch chickens in the winter.)

   

Cast and Crew: Independent Tailwaggers Association

Farm dogs are what you make of them.

The classic picture of the farm dog is the big shaggy mutt that trots around without a collar, generally as a guardian of livestock, property or people. Occasionally the stereotype is replaced by a purebred livestock guardian dog (LGD) whose breed is impossible to pronounce let alone spell- these are often giant, aloof and intelligent animals who wish to have everything to do with sheep and little to do with humans.

At Douchebaggery Ranch, you find neither the easy-going mutt nor the duty-driven LGD. The canine residents of the homestead are Oscar Mayer Wiener and Bonibon, working dogs in their own right. I don’t like to call them “rescues”, as I have not removed them personally from some awful situation. They are, however, both second-hand, like most everything here at DR.

Oscar is a Cairn Terrier that I found in the local SPCA’s proverbial bargain bin. He came with allergies, and stank to high heaven with a yeast infection when I brought him home, despite weeks of treatment at the shelter. He is still an avid nail-biter thanks to chronically itchy feet, but has cleaned up nicely aside from that. Oscar is total chicken shit when it comes to noises like fireworks, thunder, the clothes dryer (I ended up having to rig up an indoor clothesline for fear of giving the poor bugger a heart attack every time I do laundry) and the crowing of the cock quail (who, much to Oscar’s dismay, has to live indoors with his harem during winter months). This year, Oscar spent New Year’s Eve drugged out of his wits, compliments of my neighbors at the adjacent trailer park where the fireworks began at 4pm. He is also known as the Piddlestick due to his habit of pissing in the house when he’s scared- or when it’s too cold or wet for him to want to go outside. Aside from his various working positions at the farm, Oscar’s official title is the Best Thing In the World. That’s because he is.

Oscar and Bonibon getting ready for work.
Bonibon came from a family that didn’t want her any more- it’s a long and stupid story that I won’t get into, because all it would accomplish is to get me mad all over again. She is the archetype of a fufu dog, and I place her pedigree somewhere around a toy poodle crossed with a dish rag. She is elderly, has cataracts in one eye, and is in general a pathetic excuse for a dog. She is also absolutely adorable.

The Fufu being a fufu.
The Fufu and the Piddlestick are full-time bedwarmers. They crawl under the covers with me every night and serve as four-legged hot water bottles. They work night shift year round, with no weekends, holidays or sick days. It’s a hard life, but someone’s gotta do it.

All jokes aside, the dogs probably save me a lot of money in the winter, since I no longer need to heat the house at night. In other words, like everyone else at DR, they Earn Their Keep. They also work part-time as doorbells, and Oscar has the additional job of janitorial services. He waits patiently beside me any time I’m cooking or eating, and dutifully vacuums up any food particles that fall on the floor.

Some day, if Douchebaggery Ranch ever moves to a larger piece of land or a more remote spot where predators become a bigger concern, I might get a LGD (second-hand, of course). Until then, my principle is to not keep any dogs that are large enough for me to ride. (This, mind you, is not difficult, since I’m a tiny person.) Still, I insist that there is room for small dogs in the homesteading life. From the lost art of ratting to the indoor positions of personal space heater or intruder alarm, fuzzy little shits like Boni and Oscar can easily transition from their modern role of “canine babies” to real assets. Not that there’s anything wrong with canine babies, but I have the odd belief that animals who have a job feel more appreciated than simple companions. This is total hogwash, of course- all a dog needs to feel appreciated is a bowl of food, the occasional romp in the woods and belly rubs on demand.

Cast and Crew: Masked Marvels

Douchebaggery Ranch is proud to have its very own superheroes. (And no, I’m not one of them- I’m just the pitiful Human who is trying to keep up with everyone else day after day.) Ladies and gentlemen and everyone else in between, allow me to present Daisy and Daisy, the muscovy ducks.

Named according to the DR tradition (which declares that animals I can’t tell apart get the same collective name), Daisy and Daisy share the title of Chief Asshole of the Coop with the rooster. They are mean to the chickens, and outright nasty to the three not-so-small chocolate muscovy ducklings I acquired earlier this summer (one of which is Donald, their prospective husband). The ducklings are just in the process of growing their primary wing feathers, and after finding them covered in blood from their savaged pinfeathers two mornings in a row, the poor buggers had to move in with the quail who reside in the other, sectioned-off half of the coop. Speaking of husbands, Daisy and Daisy have buried two. (Well, one died from severe bumblefoot that he had when he came, and the other disappeared. No suspects have been apprehended.) I rather hope that the third time is the charm, for Donald’s sake. (And my own. Self-propagation is considered a virtue on Douchebaggery Ranch, as my freezer stock mainly consists of the excess second generation males of various species.)

Daisy & Daisy at work


Then why, you might ask, are these douchebags dubbed the Masked Marvels? Let me tell you a story. My garden is in its 3rd season this year, and peas, beans and brassicas are just making their debut. The previous two crops were utterly decimated by slugs. My options were to put down slug bait (strychnine, a particularly awful toxin, various “safe” products that still come with toxicity warnings, or actually safe products that happen to be completely ineffective), set up beer traps (which require a lot of maintenance, and waste perfectly good beer) or find something that eats them. Enter the Daisies. I soon found out that along with the slugs, they cheerfully gobble up all sorts of insect vermin, including catching flies straight out of the air. Right now, the relevant equation is as follows: slugs + flies + food scraps = eggs + meat. How is this not a superpower?!
For the records, duck eggs taste “earthy” (ie. gross) when fried or scrambled, but they are AMAZING when used in baking. There’s some information out there about the fat content of the yolks and what have you, along with all sorts of stories about French chefs using duck eggs for baking, but all that aside, seriously, they make damn good waffles and absolutely divine coffee cakes in comparison to chicken or quail eggs. As for meat, that is a discovery I made last year, when I actually had a previous  flock of muscovies- one got mauled by a dog, one got ran over (conveniently on a sub-zero day) and two took off one day and never came back. The first two mentioned thus made their way into Freezerland, and were much appreciated on cold winter days in the form of soup and stew. Muscovy meat is nothing like the utility ducks (usually Pekins) I used to roast for Christmas. No fat-filled breast for the muscovy, much to my dismay. However, the meat is dark, and makes a much better substitute for beef than chicken. Duck and barley soup? Duck stroganoff? You name it.

These days Daisy is busy molting and the other Daisy seems to have stopped laying in moral support, so there are no duck eggs in the kitchen. However, two Donaldas are growing up along with Donald, and since they are directly related to the flock-husband-to-be, their fate is yet to be decided. As much as I hate to eat females, selling them is not the favorable option at this point, as most people prefer not to buy livestock just before the winter. It looks like, once again, douchebaggery will prevail. Such is life, and such is the world…

Donald, the prospective patriarch

Cast and Crew: Purrmetic Order of the Golden Prawn

I was hoping to make this one an entry about the spring… You know, planting season, all the work that needs to be done, the hope, the anticipation, yada yada. Not gonna happen. In true Douchebaggery Ranch fashion, the first day of spring arrived with snow, freezing rain and general disgustingness. Not gonna talk about the effing spring, not until it actually decides to arrive.

Instead, allow me to introduce some of the DR residents. We are no democracy here, but everyone has a job to do and species-based unionization is allowed. The Purrmetic Order of the Golden Prawn thus consists of Lemon, Lasagna and Mouser, the DR pest control team.

Lasagna, also known as the Floofy One, is an orange bundle of fluff that has a cat in it somewhere. Acquired as a bottle baby from the local kitten rescue, she thinks her mother is a human. Perhaps as a result of this, I can count her brain cells on the fingers of one hand, and she has no survival instinct to speak of. She walks up to any and every creature (including my father the cat-hater and a quasi-rabid neighborhood dog that was barking insanely on the end of its leash while actively trying to eat her) and asks for affection. She is best buddies with my next door neighbor’s six-year-old daughter, who can be seen following Lasagna in the bushes, on all-fours and meowing loudly. And wonder of wonders, Lasagna can actually mouse. I even saw her eat a mole once, it made my eyes water with pride.

image
Lasagna and Lemon in their preferred lazing spot

Lemon, who may well be the most intelligent creature in the household, is my familiar. She owns me, every inch of my human ass, and heaven help anyone who thinks otherwise. I got suckered into adopting her two weeks before I was scheduled to move across the country, when she was an eight-week-old kitten slightly smaller than the guinea pigs. She was being fostered at the vet clinic I was working at, along with her mother. Thanks to a birth defect in her back leg (that has a squiggly little femur between no knee or hip joints to speak of), she walked with a lurch that would put a zombie to shame. If she had been a male, I would have named him Igor. And though she runs and jumps on that leg now (don’t ask me how), she continues to be a lemon to this day, throwing a new health problem at me every couple of months, and perpetuating the local douchebaggery.

Mouser is the barn cat and the latest member of the Order, a reject of the local kitten rescue as too-feral-to-be-adopted. Fair enough. I didn’t even see the bugger for the first 3 months I had him. Every day the food bowl got empty, the litterbox got full, and if I shone a flashlight into the den he had built himself in the haystack I got a pair of glowing eyes and a hearty hiss. Giving him his final vaccine took two people, half a dozen towels and more scratches than I’ve acquired cumulatively in 6 years of working in vet clinics. (I should also add that Mouser is well endowed in the weapons department: as a true Nova Scotia Mitten Paw, he has 7+ toes –and claws- on each paw.) Then, one morning when I went to feed the goats, Mouser emerged from his den, started purring like a diesel engine and proceeded to rub himself all over my legs. He has been like that ever since. I suspect alien abduction or head trauma.

I’ll be honest, apart from the odd time I have watched Lasagna torment some poor rodent in the backyard, I’ve never seen the Order At Work. That being said, I have also never seen a single mouse in the house or the barn (which has more holes in its structure than a sieve) since I moved in, so it appears they at least work as deterrents. Thus I pronounce the cats to be Earning Their Keep. Good enough for me.