Vale Purple Comb

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The first very hot day here always poses a bit of a danger for the older chooks we have and Purple Comb one of our much loved girls had to be euthanized today.

Yesterday the girls were perfectly fine though it was a hot day – I let them out around 10am and all 5 of them spent the day happily roaming the new grassy areas they had access to. Like the princesses they are, they received their blueberry treats gracefully. When a thunderstorm blew in The Other Half herded them all back into their enclosure.

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First thing this morning when I took the girls their ice water she was hiding in their special nest spot – which apparently we have not managed to stop them getting into. I figured she was broody and there was probably eggs there, so I left her be. Broodies know when they need to get off the nest to eat, drink and poop.

Around 3pm I noticed Purple Comb standing at the back of the enclosure, near the special nest spot. I’ll take her some blueberries, the other girls had already had theirs. As I got closer I could see she did not look like a well chook, and when I gave her the blueberry she could not manage to eat it, though she did try. Then she pooped and I will not tell you more about that, but I knew from what I saw, this was not going to be a good outcome even if we did try the spa treatment.

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The 3 English Game Hens together when we first got them.Purple Comb is on the right

Owning chooks is a big responsibility sometimes, and days where you have to make that big end of life decision are the worst days. When I know for sure it is time I get the chook to the vet as quick as possible.

The girls will usually hide their illness as long as they can, then they will tell you very clearly in various ways, how they are standing, the fact that they do not move away when you approach, not wanting their favourite treats and finally that they do not even try to run off when you go to pick them up. You can rarely pick up a healthy chook, they’ll be gone before you can blink. If we want to dose them with medicine or dust them with poultry dust we have to take them off the roost at night.

So into the house I went, collected a pet carrier, collected her and put her in it, then I took her inside to sit in the cool airconditioning while I called the vet and told them I was on my way.

The Other Half is usually the person who holds the chook but he was at work, so I had to do it today. Oh, I could have easily just handed the carrier to the vets and let them do the needful, but I want my girls to have someone in the room they know. She is now buried in the garden just under one of her favourite dust baths, near Red Comb.

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The two remaining English Game Hens together after Red Comb went to Rainbow Bridge. Purple Comb is on the left. How can I tell, you ask? I just can. Dark Comb is on the right. Her comb used to be darker but over time it has become more purple and you really could have got confused if you did not know them like I do. :) It is more about the feathers on their breast plate and how they sit.

On Sunday after we completed the chicken fence, I let the girls out to free range. Purple Comb found a HUGE spider by the fence, she killed it quickly and then was trying to eat it while all the other girls tried to steal it. She clucked joyously as she did it and it took her a good 5 minutes to eat. Once she finished eating it, she trumpeted the story of how delicious it was to the other girls, who were not at all impressed by her story. That will be my strongest memory of her, though there are so many other great memories.

As I always post when this happens – there are 4 other chickens in the yard for whom life continues. They live minute by minute, sucking the most joy out of each and every moment, whether it is a dirt bath, finding a bug, eating a treat from the humans.. all we can do is love them while they’re here, protect them the best we can from predators, know when it is time to let them go, and remember them when they are gone.

May there be as many blueberries as you can eat at the Rainbow Bridge where you now rejoin your beloved sister Red Comb – she has been waiting for you! Plus White Sussex, Ancona, Mary, Twiggy and Big Kitty. You will be greatly missed here.

Vale Pets

Vale Red Comb

The post yesterday was written on the 13th of November. Red Comb had a whole month of blueberries and happy chook time since then. Late yesterday, about 6pm, I noticed that she was still sitting down after the heat of the day had passed. The sight of me at the back door with blueberries was not enough to raise her. I knew right then something was wrong.

Although her comb was still perfectly red, when I got down to hand feed the blueberries, she did not even try to walk over. Normally she would have run to me and had a blueberry in her beak before you could blink. I threw some over her way, and she did move towards them, but then she wobbled and nearly fell down. After that she seemed to perk up a little and did manage to eat some blueberries, but I knew this was bad news.

She then managed to climb up the chook stairs, and she managed to get onto the roost. We let her settle a little. Because the vet was already closed, we tried the spa treatment. That is when we discovered she either had an egg or some kind of growth in her abdomen. If you pick up a chook at regular times, you can often feel the egg inside – they feel quite soft and not like an egg at all. This felt harder than an egg.

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We talked about it – well, The Other Half talked, I sobbed mostly. We agreed she would have to go to the vet first thing this morning. I knew within myself the most likely outcome was that she would be euthanased. Even so, I had a tiny amount of hope that it was just an egg stuck, and that maybe our spa treatment would work and like all the other times before, she would get another chicken life. That maybe this morning I would find her egg in the nesting box and she would be out roaming with the other girls.

You see, Red Comb was not just a normal chook. She was my favourite chook. I fell in love with her the moment I saw her, because the first moment I saw her, she was sticking her head and neck out of her enclosure at the chook auction, trying to see her sisters who were in the pen below her. Rows of pens with chooks in them, she was the only one sticking her head out.

There she is. That photo gives you an idea of her personality however I could post every photo I ever took of her and you would still not quite understand, because her true awesomeness could never be photographed.

I went to take a closer look, and the look she gave me, I will never forget it. If I were to try and put it into words, it would be HI!!!!!!! Her personality shone through like a bright light right in your face. I hoped I would be able to afford her. I can’t remember how much I paid for her, but I managed to buy both her and her two sisters in the pen below, plus White Sussex. My budget for the day was $120 and I think all four together cost me somewhere between $100-120. Here was the first post I wrote about them.

While waiting to bid on them, I met the man who bred her and her sisters the next day at the chook auction. He breeds them to show them, and these girls were not show chicken quality, so he was hoping they would find a great home. We had a good long chat. I showed him photos of the place they would live if I won the bidding for them. He was very happy to see the three girls reunited into the carrying case and going to a good home.

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So she and her sisters made my backyard their home and in the process they made my backyard something I never expected – a place I wanted to hang out and spend time just watching them *be*. The life of Red Comb and her sisters was treat filled and happy. She got all kinds of treats, from mealworms to yoghurt. She had broody times occasionally, not as often as the other chooks.

Being my favourite was not good news for her, it just meant if something was going to happen to a chook, it was going to happen to her. I remember one time after we first began to allow them to free range, she disappeared overnight. She could not be found anywhere. But the next day, she returned.

Then there was the hawk incident in 2013. I wrote about that here, and I officially un-favourited her at that time. After the hawk incident she was never the same chook physically, but she survived and went on to eat many more treats.

I knew this terrible day would arrive eventually. No matter how well I knew that or how much I tried to prepare for it, that does not change the fact that the past 17 hours or so have been awful. I had a lot of trouble going to sleep last night because every time I closed my eyes, I could see that happy chook running towards me for her blueberry medals and I knew it was very unlikely I would ever see that happen again.

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When I got up this morning I went right to the back door and I saw her standing on the roost. Girls are never on the roost at that time of day – everyone else was under the chook pen dust bathing. We had our showers and went out to put her in the carrier. I took some blueberries and though I had them in my hand and she was the only chook there, she would not get down off the roost for them.

Eventually after a lot of convincing by me, she did get down, and wandered over to eat her last blueberries. I called the other half over and he put her in the carrier. I went inside and called the vet, keeping it together for the time it took to book an appointment in 15 minutes and telling them it was likely for euthanasia, then I lost it. The whole way there, as much as I tried not to cry, salt water ran from my eyes.

Luckily our normal vet was working today, after a short wait she took us in, and told us what I already knew to be true. It was a mass, not an egg. I asked her if The Other Half could go with her while she did the euthanasia – he is a farm boy plus he is amazing with the animals, they are so calm around him. She gave Red Comb some anesthetic gas and she went off to sleep, she never even knew about the needle.

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In the photo above she was mid-moult – each moult brought her closer to show chicken quality and she was in such beautiful condition, even today her feathers were stunningly gorgeous. We brought her home and trimmed off some of those beautiful feathers as a keep sake, and now she rests under the lemon tree, with Mary. Her two sisters are behaving very strangely this morning – they know.

As I always post when this happens – there are 5 other chickens in the yard for whom life continues. They live minute by minute, sucking the most joy out of each and every moment, whether it is a dirt bath, finding a bug, eating a treat from the humans.. all we can do is love them while they’re here, protect them the best we can from predators, know when it is time to let them go, and remember them when they are gone.

It will be a very long time before I can go into the yard without expecting Red Comb to run up to me, looking for her blueberries. I take huge comfort in the fact that she who was so concerned for her sisters at the chook auction got to arrive here with them and live many happy and treat-filled days with her two most favourite chooks in the world.

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I am officially favourite-ing her again. There will never be another favourite. We loved you, Red Comb. May there be as many blueberries as you can eat at the Rainbow Bridge where you now rejoin White Sussex, Ancona, Mary, Twiggy and Big Kitty. You will be greatly missed here.

I’ll be taking a few days off, you might not see me in your comments sections this week. Posts are scheduled as always, so the blog will continue as usual.

Chickens, Vale Pets

Vale White Sussex

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White Sussex was taken to the vet this morning and the difficult decision to euthanize her was made.

For a long time, White Sussex has been the queen of the chook pen. Top of the pecking order, and she was the girl who made a lot of BagerK-ing whenever one of the girls was laying an egg. Her Bagerk-ing could raise the dead, even me when I’d been on night shift and was dead to the world sleeping during the day.

She was also an excellent broody chook and when the time came to kick the broody out, she took it like a good chicken, not trying to remove your hands with her beak, just meekly accepting that you were going to pick her up and kick her out and take the eggs from under her.

She was the most enthusiastic bug eater and loved the white curl bugs I would dig out of the garden and throw to her. She was a wonderful chook, and she will be greatly missed. Even her Bagerk-ing!

As I always post when this happens – there are 6 other chickens in the yard for whom life continues. They live minute by minute, sucking the most joy out of each and every moment, whether it is a dirt bath, finding a bug, eating a treat from the humans.. all we can do is love them while they’re here, protect them the best we can from predators, know when it is time to let them go, and remember them when they are gone.

Chickens, country life, Vale Pets

Vale Mary

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Mary was found dead in a corner of the chook pen this morning. She was in a place the girls hang out in the morning, where the early rays of the sun meets one of their favourite dust bathing patches.

We could not find anything wrong with her visible to the naked eye, but back when Twiggy was euthanased and sent off to be necropsied, we discovered that Twiggy had some serious nutritional deficiencies which I wrote about here – Chicken Merge & Vale Twiggy – and seeing as all 4 chooks came from the same breeder, the vet suspected that the other 3 girls would have the same problem.

Lizzy and Kitty seem like they have thrived in their new conditions, but Mary was always that little bit smaller than they were. She has always had a bit of a sneeze though the vet could not find any specific reason for it and was sure it was nothing to be concerned about, especially as it did not come with any other symptoms.

She has now been buried under the lemon tree in the garden the chooks love to free range in whenever they get a chance. She will be missed, especially by Lizzy and Kitty with whom she was most close..

Kitty, Lizzy and Mary

Good nutrition for chooks is quite an involved process. Just yesterday Terry from Henblog wrote a post about how laying hen pellets are made. Our scratch mix includes hen pellets and I never see any pellets left behind, but we are now considering changing it up with more pellets and giving the grain as a less often treat. Especially as there is a seed in the scratch mix which the girls do not seem to eat.

As I posted when Ancona was euthanased in Vale Ancona – there are 7 other chickens in the yard for whom life continues. They live minute by minute, sucking the most joy out of each and every moment, whether it is a dirt bath, finding a bug, eating a treat from the humans.. all we can do is love them while they’re here, protect them the best we can from predators, know when it is time to let them go, and remember them when they are gone.

Given this experience with Twiggy and Mary, the chicken auctions will be unlikely to be a place we source chickens from again. We would be more likely to try and find a reliable breeder in future..

Chickens, Sad Snoskred, Vale Pets

Chicken Merge & Vale Twiggy

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The Great Chicken Merge has occurred.. Sort of. You can put chickens together in an enclosure, but you cannot make them a flock or tell them what the pecking order is – they have to do that themselves, and it takes time. When your girls have so much space that they could pass days without running into each other if they so desire, integrating themselves into one flock will be slow going, and mostly takes place around food, and where chickens roost at bedtime.

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So, how does one merge chickens together? With great difficulty, a lot of interesting chicken food, and plenty of time and attention.

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Large trays of chicken interesting food – namely greens chopped up nice, tomatoes, strawberries, and tuna – were put together. I made 3 large trays, so that there would be plenty of places for the girls to eat and get to know each other.

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There was much eyeballing. New chooks and old chooks alike, eyeballing and sizing up their chicken foes. There were one or two kerfuffles – the beginnings of a fight, which mostly ended with girls going their separate ways without the fight really starting.

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Battle lines were being drawn – the five old girls VS the 3 new girls. And yet none of the girls really seemed like they wanted to push things to an actual battle. Lizzy, the black and gold Pekin, is the only one who tends to push the boundaries.

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In the photo above, there she is, pushing. And here she is, at it again –

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I’m writing this a couple of days later, and no actual battle has yet taken place – things are still in a wait and see mode, with the older girls clumping together and sticking together –

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– and the new girls exploring the enclosure and not fighting much for position.

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There have been a couple of interesting moments – mainly at bedtime. On the first night, Lizzy, who is perfectly named for her behaviour – she is *exactly* like her Pride and Prejudice name sake – decided she wanted to roost with the older girls.

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This is Lizzy – she is the black and gold Pekin.

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Well, what a to-do there was! Never did you hear so much squawking and tut tutting and general chicken noise at bedtime., but Lizzy carried her point and got a spot on the indoor roost, on one end, next to Rosie who is the lowest chicken on the pecking order and not one to cause trouble, not even with a new girl.

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The two grey and gold Pekins – Kitty and Mary – decided Lizzy was welcome to all that kerfuffle, and they chose to sleep happily out in the enclosure area, where there are two roosts to choose from and zero old girls to fight with in order to get on them.

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The next night, Lizzy was either too tired, or had been convinced by Mary and Kitty to avoid all the drama, and all 3 girls slept on the roost out in the run area. There’s nothing wrong with that, it is just as safe as the roost inside the coop. I don’t have a decent shot of Mary at this time, she is a bit camera shy but here is a shot of Kitty –

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Below is an old photo of the run and you can see the two roosts there, from when the coop and run were first mated together.

The day the merge took place I was out in the enclosure with the girls for an extended amount of time. I had some work to do out in the chook pen, namely, taking out some of the large amount of leaf litter which appeared during December. I also intended to sit and watch them a little, so I took out a stool and a glass of water with a cover, because raking can be dusty even after all the rain we’ve had.

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I cannot speak for all chickens in the world but I can speak for our chickens. Our girls LOVE leaf litter. For the most part and I have blogged about this before, we rake it all into one corner and leave it be, and the girls scratch and peck and time and weather generally composts it into soil.

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There you can see piles starting to form. The plastic green thing on one side is the end of the hose which runs into the pen allowing us to water the garden bed if we need to.

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In early December, it rained for 14 days in a row, and we had the highest rainfall for a December since 1888. Seriously, no joke. I looked it up. 249mm was the December total. We usually get 77mm average in any December and in some cases as little as 10mm for the whole month. They had 216mm in 1888, so we beat that in 2014, making this the highest rainfall in a December since they started keeping totals.

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You make that pile, we’ll destroy this pile you made, kthx human!

We had a thunderstorm every afternoon for the first 7 days. The stormy weather blew a lot of extra leaf litter into the enclosure. This is no bad thing and normally I’d just rake it up all neat like and then let the chickens pick it apart again. You can see in this picture below that the chicken wire roof has plenty of leaf and branch litter on top of it, as well.

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However, on closer inspection, I noticed that some non leaf rubbish – chip packets, lolly wrappers, plastic bags, that kind of thing – had blown in as well. And I’m not happy to leave that in there. A decluttering was required, the litter needed to be raked up and any rubbish removed, and then much of the litter could remain, to be picked apart and enjoyed. During my raking of this litter, I discovered many of the reasons why the chooks spend good portions of their day picking through it – I found many crickets, spiders, slugs, and other insect goodies which the girls love to eat.

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You may have noticed that our white leghorn bantam “Twiggy” is missing – she had to be euthanased, unfortunately, not long after we got her. She was suffering very badly, to the point her comb and wattles were turning purple, a sure sign of respiratory and circulatory issues. Due to these worrying symptoms we sent her to be necropsied and make certain we were not dealing with any truly serious nasties.

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The news eventually came back and while no evil respiratory illnesses were present she did have laryngitis, bronchitis, a chest infection along the lines of pneumonia, plus a kidney issue which would have become very unpleasant for her down the track. The vet said it is unlikely she would have survived the stress of having to be treated with antibiotics as she did not much enjoy being handled by humans, and unfortunately the kidney issue would have killed her within 6 months in any case.

They also found that she had serious nutritional deficiencies and seeing as all 4 of our new girls turned out to come from the same breeder, the vet suspects that the other 3 girls may have the same nutritional deficiencies. We will have to keep a close eye on them. Sometimes these things can be fixed by a balanced diet, but sometimes much damage is already done, especially if these crucial vitamins and minerals are missing when the girls are growing up and need them the most.

It is always difficult to make that decision to euthanase, and I know we’ll have to experience this again before too long, with 5 girls who are getting on in chicken years. If we make it to the end of 2015 with the 5 older girls, I’ll be very happy if that happens, but I’d also be quite surprised.

Chickens are here for a good time, but not always a long time.

Chickens, country life, Vale Pets

Vale Ancona

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Ancona was humanely euthanised by our lovely local chicken vet yesterday.

I have dreaded this day for some years now, always knowing it would arrive, and always hoping when it did, I would be able to do what needed to be done. The other half was willing to do it himself, and more than likely he would have been fine with that, growing up as a farm child he has euthanased chickens before, but I wanted to be certain there was nothing more we could do for her and it made sense to me to take her to the vet.

Ancona started to look a little off colour on Saturday. She couldn’t make it onto the roost on Saturday night which is a bad sign. I initially thought this was a result of us treating the chickens feet with olive oil for scaly leg mite late last week – Ancona hates being handled by humans and when we do have to handle her, she is resentful and reserved for several days afterwards. We hoped she might improve.

On Sunday she was eating and looked to be on the mend, at least we hoped so, but by Sunday night she was no longer able to climb the stairs into the coop. The fact she did not even protest when we picked her up told me pretty much everything I needed to know, it was not her personality at all.. :(

We took her and gave her a warm salt bath, checked to see she was not egg bound, and brought her inside for a warm night in a box by the gas heater. She was no better this morning, so first thing it was off to the vet. I knew before we left home that it was unlikely she would be coming home with me. :(

I am deeply comforted by the fact that she has had an amazing and wonderful and very full of treats life. She has laid us many eggs over the past few years and each one has been enjoyed to the maximum by us. She was not a fan of humans – her breed, Ancona, is known to be flighty – and we have respected her dislike of us, only handling her when absolutely necessary. We have loved her from a distance, as was her desire.

We loved you, Ancona. Thanks for being a great chook.

With all that said, there are 5 other chickens in the yard for whom life continues. They live minute by minute, sucking the most joy out of each and every moment, whether it is a dirt bath, finding a bug, eating a treat from the humans.. all we can do is love them while they’re here, protect them the best we can from predators, know when it is time to let them go, and remember them when they are gone.

Will we add to our flock? More than likely. Ancona was our most reliable layer and we’ll miss her eggs. The girls have huge amounts of space out there and sometimes when you bring in younger girls it perks the older girls up. I’ve sent an email off to a local chicken breeder whose chickens I have admired for some years now, and the next chicken auction is a month away if that doesn’t work out..

Chickens, Vale Pets

So, it has been a while.

Almost a year. Is anyone still out there?

You can thank Jocelyn from Mama’s Style for my return. :)

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Our Big Kitty
Lots to update – our big kitty went to Rainbow Bridge in December 2013 – she is greatly missed. Vale Big Kitty.

We nearly lost the other kitty as well to kidney failure but after a long time at the vet she returned home to us. She’s not the same kitty as she was. She’s super grumpy. We thought this would fade with time but it has been over 6 months so this seems like a permanent new thing. So her name here on the blog is now officially Grumpy.

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Grumpy
We got a new small kitty who is probably the sweetest disposition cat I have ever met – Lets call her Happy.

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Happy
You see how there are little nubs in the rug she is lying on? She thinks these are teats and will slobber all over them when she is doing her kneading and purring you are my mother love me routine. Loopy just like her owner, lol.

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More Happy
Previously small kitty but now middle aged Grumpy kitty is not a fan of the new kitty *at all* but Happy is not giving up. There have been many times when the grumpy kitty would be fast asleep and the little kitty would sneak up, creep up, and all she wants is to lick her. But the minute she puts her nose close enough the long hair furs of Grumpy alert her to the presence of Happy, and the jig is up, there will be hissing, perhaps a paw swipe.

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She is a regular domestic short hair but she has some secret tabby hidden within her.

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Your request to use the internet is DENIED.
Happy has taken on some of the habits of Big Kitty – I’ve had cats do this before – Big Kitty took on aspects of my childhood kitty when we got her. It almost feels like Big Kitty is being channeled through the new kitty. The most hilarious channelment has been this –

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Big Kitty had a penguin which she would always bring us at night, with plenty of miaowing. Happy has this mouse on a stick. She picks up the mouse in her mouth and the string and stick trail along dragging on the ground making this somewhat terrifying yet always funny sound.

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Synchronised Eating.

Anyway, I’m sort of back – in a place where I have a bit more free time than I used to, some bad stuff going on I can’t type about but looks like I will be jobless very shortly – while this sounds like a bad thing the bullying and harassment going on is a lot worse than being jobless so it is actually a good thing even though it sounds bad and wow what a run on sentence that one was, lol.

I’ve scheduled a couple of posts for this week, and we’ll see how it goes from there.

So what happens with you?

kitties, Vale Pets, work