Saturday, April 17, 2010

Self Sufficiency is NOT an option: Lessons learned from hurricanes, Lyme Disease and feral cats.

Several of you have asked me to blog an update on the feral cat bite and subsequent comedy of errors that followed as I attempted to get post exposure prophylactic rabies vaccinations. I promise I'll get to it, but what's more important is that I share what I've learned first hand on now several occasions about self sufficiency and being one's own advocate. Because this is vital to all of our well being on any number of levels and in any situation.

Many of you who are good friends have heard Michael and me talk at length about our firm belief in self  sufficiency, survivalism and sustainable living and why it is crucial to be prepared to take care of yourself in case of emergency or disaster rather than rely on a governmental agency to come to the rescue. It has sometimes been the source of amusement and bemusement to some, who occasionally give us a bit of a good natured poke as wacky survivalists. We grin and bear it, but we also keep the seriousness of the issue in the back of our minds even as we poke fun at ourselves. Michael's health care odyssey following an infection of Lyme Disease taught us both the importance of self reliance and trust in our own intelligence and ability to find out for ourselves rather than simply relying on someone with a badge or a piece of paper proclaiming their expertise. Had we not done this, we would have just bought the original diagnosis of ALS and Michael would not be alive today. This is not hyperbole, it is fact. Due to this experience, both of us knew full well how easily complacency and apathy kills.

I'll give you a funny, yet very good example of this. When a newly elected president is about to take office, he/she is given a sort of "grand tour" of the White House including the security features, to familiarize them with their new home and what to do in the event of an emergency. When President Jimmy Carter was receiving his tour, a secret service agent was filling him in on all the details of what to do if he had to be evacuated. The agent in charge was concluding the tour, and wanted to reassure the new president as to the readiness of the secret service to keep him and his family safe.

"Mr. President, you can rest assured that in the unlikely even that you have to be evacuated, Marine One is always on alert, 24/7, and is ready to take you to any of our safe locations at any given time."

"Really?" Carter raised his eyebrows, impressed. "Okay, let's go. Right now."

Now, here's the scary part. They couldn't pull it off.

Though this is an amusing anecdote, it doesn't make it any less illuminating. Obviously the problem was addressed immediately and supposedly now they really are ready, but the question remains. Are they? Has it been put to the test? If the Presidential detail of the Secret Service, whose entire purpose is to protect one family over all others, was unable to perform under pressure, how do you think a mid level government agency is going to prioritize saving your family in the event of a massive emergency?  One word. Katrina.

Just recently I had a debate with a dear friend of mine during the evacuation of Hawaii for fear of an approaching tsunami. Watching the news footage of the massive traffic jam as people tried to get to their designated safety zone, she asserted that the entire evacuation process was ill planned and should have gone more smoothly and quickly. There should have been buses available to take people to safe zones as opposed to everyone in their own private vehicles trying to get onto the same roadways at the same time to get to the same destination. If not buses, then helicopters to ferry people to safety. I pose this question to you, dear reader. If you were in a total evacuation situation and you were told to "sit tight" and wait for a bus or chopper to take you to safety, would you really sit in your living room with your kids and wait for the government to send you the promised ride, or would you get the hell out of dodge any way you knew how? A lot of people in Louisiana waited for buses to get them out of New Orleans. They have a special word for them. Victims. Fatalities. Missing.

How about a closer-to-home example. You are reading this blog right now. Suddenly, your desk shakes. Next thing you know, the building is coming down around you. Earthquake!  Let's say you are fortunate enough to get out of the building before it collapsed. Now what? Where are you kids right now? Remember, you can't call them on your cell because all circuits are busy as other unprepared people frantically try to reach loved ones or EMS (exactly what happened on September 11). Do you have a plan to meet up with your family at a specific location? What about a backup place if you can't get to the first one?  Let's be optimistic and imagine you are all at home, and all are thankfully uninjured. What's for dinner? Electricity's off, obviously. For how long? Hours? Days? Weeks?  How long can you feed your family without electricity? If you are one of those people rushing through the grocery aisle every time they call for snow, I'm guessing not long. What about water? If you can't use the tap and have no electricity to boil water, what then?

I'm being melodramatic to prove my point, but hopefully it's made.

Look, here's the thing. I agree that our government should have agencies and facilities to meet our needs should disaster strike. I agree that as taxpayers, we should be assured a certain degree of safety guarantees from the agencies that we ourselves fund with our tax dollars. These people are paid to be prepared for any eventuality and I agree that they should be. I agree that our government should be better equipped to handle disasters, as should all governments.

But they aren't.  And no matter how loudly you complain about how something should be doesn't magically make it so. So what are you going to do about it? Complain and wait to be the next victim? Or do something about it? Sure, you can contact your Senators and Representatives and insist on transparency in our disaster agencies. You can insist they be better prepared. Fine. But the fact remains that no one can wave a magic wand and make these sweeping changes overnight, and disaster doesn't wait until you are ready. That's why they call them disasters. Until they do come up with the nifty magic wand to fix all our ills, what are you going to do in the meantime to protect yourself and your family? If the unthinkable happens right now, are you ready?

...was that my desk trembling?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I'm blogging out of a sense of helpless frustration and impotent anger today. Throw in a dash in incredulity and a pinch of blind terror while you're at it and you've got the recipe for Claire's emotional state.

I've blogged extensively about my frustrations with the number of feral dogs and cats in our area and it seems that my karma is to deal with the problem more directly than originally thought. A few days ago I was bitten by a feral cat sitting atop our brooder and stressing our chicks out. I grasped it behind the nape of the neck but was unfortunately not centered enough. The animal managed to reach behind and deliver a nasty bite in my right hand, which immediately began to swell. Michael sprang into action, forced the punctures to bleed (not pleasant) and started me on Amoxicillan that night. We attempted several times over the next few days to trap the cat so that we could test it for rabies, but never saw it again.

This morning Michael found the body of the cat that bit me. It has been dead for approximately 72 hours. The incubation period of rabies is 2-6 weeks in cats, but transmission is possible for up to 2 weeks before an animal is symptomatic. Meaning if the cat bit me before showing symptoms and then later became symptomatic and died, it's possible that I was infected.

Just in case you've been raised by rabbits and therefore are unfamiliar with rabies, here's a primer:

Though it is extremely rare in the US with only about 15% of humans exposed to rabies through an animal bite ever contracting the disease, it is considered 100% fatal once symptoms show up. A few have survived, but so few that they are considered statistical outliers. If you start to show symptoms, all they can do is help you make sure your affairs are in order and try to make you comfortable. House is not going to swoop in and save your ass. You are dead. The recommended protocol, or so I thought, is to take a "better safe than sorry" approach when bitten by an animal of unknown health. Sure, the odds are extremely slim that I will contract rabies even if the kitty in question was infected. But let me tell you if you were in my shoes, I can bet you'd be fairly concerned. As far as odds go, rabies is not something you want to be left holding the proverbial short stick with. Because if you are one of those unlucky bastards to come down with the disease, it's a particularly gruesome way to go. Having a strong desire to avoid that outcome I called the Tipton County Health Department. 

Cue circus music.

10 AM: Call TCHD and speak with a nurse. She tells me that a sample must be taken of the cat's brain to determine if it was rabies that killed it. I point out that the cat is dead and has been for a few days. In order to test the brain for rabies, a brain sample must be taken from a live animal and frozen. The virus does not live longer than 24 hours after an animal has died. But rather than take my word for it, she refers me to their wildlife officer/restaurant inspector (I am not kidding). He's out of the office, so I leave voice mail.

1:30 PM: Thinking I might as well just get it over with, I call my doctor to set up an appointment to get prophylactic rabies shots. Better safe than sorry, right? The staff and nurses were very concerned and told me that I should get the shots immediately. Unfortunately rabies shots are administered only through our Health Department due to reporting regulations and whatnot. They recommended that I call the Health Dept back and insist on getting the shots. They remind me that once symptoms start, the disease is 100% fatal. Thanks for the reminder, it had completely slipped my mind.

1:45 PM: I called our vet at Munford Animal Hospital to confirm that there's no need to keep the cat's body because the sample is no longer viable. Veterinarian confirms this, and tells me I should begin treatment for possible rabies infection immediately. They remind me that once symptoms start, the disease is 100 % fatal. Thanks for the reminder, it had completely slipped my mind.

3:00 PM: I call the Tipton County Health Department back and tell them I have still not heard back from their Rabies Officer and would like to go ahead and set up the injections just to be safe. The woman on the phone tells me that the Health Department doesn't give rabies injections, that I have to go to my Primary Care Physician. I tell her through gritted teeth that I was told by my Primary Care Physician that I can only get the shots at the Health Department. The woman (obviously) puts the phone against her chest and calls out "HEY, do we give rabies shots here?" Call is transferred to the nurse I spoke with earlier, who then tells me that they are very selective in who they decide to give the shots to.

"Wha-a-a-a-a-a-???" I stammer out. "But I thought the recommendation was prophylactic treatment anytime someone gets bitten by a wild animal and they cannot locate it for testing."

She actually responds "I know, you'd think that, wouldn't ya?"

We disconnect, I am speechless.

3:30: To get a second opinion (because I'm still incredulous), I call the Shelby County Health Department. I explain that our local health department seems to be a bit less concerned than everyone else I've spoken with concerning my situation. They agree that it is strange that I'm being put aside, and remind me that I should probably start treatment as soon as possible, as a better safe than sorry scenario. They remind me that once symptoms start, the disease is 100 % fatal. Thanks for the reminder, it had completely slipped my mind.

What's most annoying is when health care "professionals" point out that I really should be taking this seriously, yet no one seems to be interested in actually doing anything about it other than reminding me that I should be taking this seriously. Hence my gobsmackedness. So now I have to wait until tomorrow mid day, where they will decide if I should get the shots or not. If I come down with rabies, I am going to go down to the Health Department and BITE EVERY FUCKING ONE OF THEM. No jury would convict me. And besides, even if they did, I'd be dead before it ever went to court. I wonder if any of my victims would be granted a series of prophylactic rabies injections, or if this would be the start of the rabid zombie apocalypse? There's a zombie movie in here somewhere. RABID ZOMBIES!

I can just picture it. As the fluorescent tube lights blink on for the first time of the day, a lone Health Department bureaucrat sits down at her desk, blurry eyed and sipping weak coffee from a mug that reads "Chocolate, men, coffee - some things are better rich." She taps her keyboard, and the screen saver of a desperate kitten hanging from a tree branch with the saying "Hang in there, it's almost Friday" is replaced by her Facebook login screen and the spider solitaire game she's been working on since last week. Today is the day she breaks her losing streak, she just knows it. A strange groaning sound comes from behind her.

"Oh come on, Millie, it's not funny anymore," she rolls her eyes and bends forward, squinting at the line of cards in front of her. 

In a flash, an preternaturally strong arm yanks her chair back, toppling her out of it and into the floor. Looming over her stands a disheveled woman in old Carhartt overalls covered in chicken poop, groaning and foaming at the mouth. The woman wheezes as she reaches down towards the terrified bureaucrat:

"Whyyyy didn't you give me the shhhhhhotsssss...."

Fade to black as the screams of the doomed bureaucrat fill the air.

Don't say I didn't warn you.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

El. Oh. El.

I forgot to put this video up on the blog that our friend T from Oak Hill Farm made from our video of a hatching. So for your viewing pleasure I offer you

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Sky Will Stay Where it Is, Regardless of What My To Do List Looks Like!

After receiving a nasty cat bite from a feral cat that was setting up shop on top of our brooder I had to table my plans for the new chicken yard until I can use my right hand again. It's still going to happen...oh yes, it will...but just not right away.

Which brings me to today's lesson in nonattachment, or as I like to call it, "shit happens." I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about everything going to plan, on time, and perfectly. Reality is somewhat different, however, in that none of those three things ever come to fruition. There's an old saying that applies here: If you want something done, it can be done quickly, cheaply, or well. You can pick any two.

After getting myself completely worked up into a frazzle about all of the projects that I need to get done but for one reason or another are not yet done, I had a bit of a revelation. There's only two of us here on the farm, and on any given day one of us is unable to work on the farm due to illness, other duties or any other of the myriad ways that things can pop up that need our immediate attention. There's enough work out here that we could have a staff on ten and still not get everything done. Yet I berate myself on an almost daily basis for not doing just that. This is illogical and it's not something I can maintain emotionally. Contrary to my neurotic belief, the sky is not going to fall if something doesn't get done absolutely perfectly and immediately. Farm life is not a good life for we list crosser-offer types. Things come up, weather changes, a cat bites the shit out of me. All of these things are out of my control, and getting myself worked up does nothing but make matters worse. So my  new strategy is to try to let go of this psychotic need for perfection, re-prioritize my projects into what's most important and time sensitive, and celebrate the successes I do have.

What I do have is happy chickens who score off the charts according to the laying hen welfare assessment study I've been using as a guide. My priority is to keep it that way. All other projects will just have to be done next year, or partially done as I have time or inclination. It's not easy to walk by a moonscape of a front yard because I don't have time to plant something pretty, but it's just mud and it's not the end of the world to have an ugly yard. It's not easy to walk by the vegetable garden that begs to be planted despite the rows of standing water in it due to heavy rains. But we are not going to starve to death if we don't get veggies in the ground, and seeds can keep until next year.

Will I immediately breathe a sigh of relief and never obsess about my inability to on my own get the work of ten young men done in about ten minutes? Most likely no. But at least maybe now I will have moments of clarity and perspective.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Welded Wire, Thou Hast Twarted Me With Thy Nonstretchiness!

I admit defeat every so often, and this is one of those times. In preparation for our new additions to the flock, I decided to add another chicken pasture so that we could be sure that everyone gets to go out every day rather than be forced to share one yard and therefore alternate their days outside.

Our first pasture was put up last year using welded wire, which is great poultry fencing provided you do not have to cover a sloped area. And guess what? The entire yard is sloped. I pushed, I pulled, I begged, I cursed, I wept, I tantrumed. A mere two months later I had the project finished.

Well not this time, bub. I have too much on my plate to waste days and hours trying to stretch unstretchable wire down a slope and I'm fresh out of frustrated tears thanks to the feral dogs and cats trying to invade us like fuzzy kudzu. I had a brainstorm today and it comes in the form of cattle panels.

Tomorrow I'm going to Tractor Supply to pick up twelve of them $19.95 a pop. True, this pretty much blows my budget until oh, say, the end of time, but at least the yard will be done and be usable in a timely manner which is more than I can say for any of my other current projects! It's time for me to have the pleasure and satisfaction of something being finished, and to me it's worth the expense just to have that brief moment of pleasure.

I have visions of happy chickens frolicking about in their new yard wearing tiny versions of Maria's novice habit from The Sound of Music and clucking out "The Hills are Alive!" I hope I catch it on video. Maybe I could sell it and make up for the dough I'm about to shell out on those panels...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

This. Means. WAR!

Okay, so I know I talk about compassion a lot. I know I kind of go a bit on and on about the sanctity of all sentient life. But there is a caveat. I swear by the Lords of Cobol that if I was suddenly granted the powers of a god complete with endless knowledge of the karma of changing the ecology of the world and knew that to do so would cause no harm to the system, I would rid the world of every stinging wasp that chases me out of the barn. Simultaneously, POOF go the fleas that torture the dogs and the ticks that nearly killed Michael. Everything else can stay, fine. But all you aforementioned creatures from hell consider yourself on notice.

Yesterday I was chased out of the chicken coop yet again by a mad swarm of carpenter bees. If you are unfamiliar with these denizens of evil, they look like bumble bees but lack their docility. Their stings are brutal, Michael is deathly allergic, they attack me and my poor chickens who cannot escape them, and therefore they should all die die DIE!!!

Okay, so maybe I am a tad bit overzealous. I know I need to do a few Avalokitesvara practices over this issue. In the meantime, I've ordered thirty, count them thirty guineas to be shipped ASAP from Cackle Hatchery. Ten will go to our friends at Oak Hill Farm, and the remainder will stay here to join the two lavender guineas I now have, the only two surviving out of our first bunch of 28 we got three years ago (the others fell prey to feral dogs and owls, an unpleasant but natural part of farm life).

Guineas are an excellent natural predator of stinging insects, ticks and other pests. In fact, our guineas have been known to wipe out an entire nest of yellow jackets the very same day they discovered it. They would stand at the exit hole and pounce on each hapless yellow jacket that exited until there were none left. Within one afternoon I had fat guineas and no yellow jackets. Guineas are so voracious in their search for bees that it is recommended that anyone hoping to keep honeybees should avoid guinea fowl like the plague. A few guineas will destroy an entire colony in a matter of hours. Since Michael is so allergic to bees the chances we'd ever keep honeybees is oh, say, the equivalent of me voting as a Conservative Republican.

Plus, guineas are an endless source of amusement and annoyance that is hard to resist. They are loud, ridiculously stupid, and resemble upturned WWI German Picklehaube helmets with legs. Seriously, look at a these two pictures and tell me it's not true: Guinea, and Picklehaube. Now, imagine what it's like to see 15 Picklehaubes screeching and running willy nilly across your pasture. How is that not hilarious?

I have a cute little video of one of our guineas that you can see here as well. They are just...funny. And they eat the insects that are the bane of mine, my husband's and my chickens' existence. SCORE.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Happy Hatch Day!

I was awakened by the strangest sound this morning. In my sleep-fogged brain it took awhile for the sound to register, but sure enough it was peeping! Yes, dear reader, it appears we have our first hatched chick at the Cluck-n-Neigh! Of course only time will tell if our other guys hatch (it could be up to 24 hours), and if any or everyone will survive, but judging from the now incredibly loud peeping we may have at least one. It's going to be a long day of me hovering and compulsively checking the incubator, but in a good way. :)

We now have several videos up on our You Tube channel, and I promise to add more later today. As for now, it's time to disc and add the soil amendments I finally found yesterday. I'm hoping to get at least a row or two planted today.

Update: We couldn't resist putting up our first annual peep show. Take a peek here. Maybe you'll get lucky and see something really exciting.