Posted in Animals/Chickens

The Sparrow Lofts

Amongst the branches of the miniature dome, they sing.  I watch them flitting in and out of their hogan happily, busily.  Some groups fly en masse to the bowl of bird seed in the front yard, another group will chat and catch up on the fence line, and yet another seem to be busy within the home, perhaps preparing for new babies or maybe they just got out of a town meeting.

I can hear them clearly through the thick, glass paned windows, and as the dawn breaks they begin to chant and chirp the loveliest, loudest songs to the sun.  As I approach them on my way to the hen house, they fly up in a tornado of song and air.  Exhilarating.

I shake my head when I see giant black trash bags of branches and yard clipping sitting in militant lines by garbage cans waiting to go to the dump.  Such a waste.  There they will never decompose.  Here on our urban farm, we throw them into a pile.  A large, haphazard pile (away from the eyes of the zoning lady down the street) behind a six foot fence.  An eyesore?  They are branches, for gods sake.  Make use of them.  They can be used for kindling or firewood or you can just let them be.  We thought we would get a wood chipper and attend to them but the sparrows had another idea.  As we threw the neatly clipped branches and larger weeds over the fence, blindly knocking leaves and clots of dirt into our eyes, they all landed in a great pile.  The sparrows dive in and out perfect holes.  A housekeeper I had said I ought to get rid of the mounds of wood because they invite mice.  So we dubbed it the “Mouse House.”  Haven’t seen any mice in there.  They are too busy in the chicken coop.  The mound gently settles each year and begins to decompose and we add more on.  Nature makes use of all things, they do not throw things blindly into a landfill to suffocate the land.

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Look at all the birds on the fence line and in the branches! Hundreds of voices come from this back yard pile!

The birds have created such a lovely haven out of those branches, carefully shaping them into lofts for hundreds of sparrows.  And their uplifting songs and antics please me as I watch them.  They make me laugh and smile.  Such a gift to be amongst nature and all of its inhabitants.

(Tip: create a place next to your compost piles for items that break down slowly.)

Posted in Animals/Chickens

Moving Chicks to the Coop and Safe Introductions

All seven of our rescued factory farm chicks are doing great.  Little Dixie is still half the size of everyone else and the others take turns keeping her under their wing (literally) to keep her warm and comfort her.  She sings all the time and is very happy.  One of the chickens that we deemed Burn Victim Barbie, because of how messed up her neck was, looks a bit more like a Ken.  His comb is larger than the others.  Still too early to tell sexes though.  Their feathers are mostly in, even though most of their stomachs are still bare from being plucked and sleeping on deep layers of waste before their rescue.

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My farmhouse is beginning to smell like a barn and I decided that two weeks in the guest room was long enough.  The chicks are no longer sick and they are growing well.  They moved out to the coop with the big girls yesterday.

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Every year different acquaintances on social media show off their cute baby chicks.  When they move them to the coop with the other chickens, the same devastating tale is told.  One story in particular stays with me.  A gal I know put the chicks out into the chicken yard and when she returned they were all dead.  One was almost decapitated.  Bloody, little bodies strewn about.  What happened? she thought.

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One would not bring home a shelter dog and just throw him into a room with the present house dog and leave, would they?  Or cats that don’t know each other?  Chickens are smart, they have hierarchy, and protect their own spaces just the same as any animal.  They need a getting-to-know-each-other stage.

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In the past we would have gotten our chicks in the spring so that at six weeks old it would already be fairly warm outside.  These chicks are ten weeks old today but outdoors they still need a heat lamp.  It’s just too cold, particularly at night.

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Note: to know what temperature your chicks can handle, count backwards 5 degrees from 95 degrees per week.  So my chickens can handle 45 degrees.

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I set up the portable fencing that was in the guest room (a portable fence is invaluable on a farmstead) and set up a folding table inside as a top to keep the big girls out.  I put their food and water inside the square.  We attached the heat lamp and kept it low over the fence.  Nothing touches the lamp!  I am a little fearful of fire.  I used an old piece of pallet, some wood, and this and that to cover holes and make the space secure.  If it is too hot, they will move to the other side of the sectioned off area, if they are huddled under the lamp, they are cold.  You want them comfortably wandering.  I can remove the pallet to reach in and water and feed.

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Eloise checking out the new tenants.

In one or two weeks as the weather warms and the other chickens get used to the babies, I will let them out, keeping the pen up so they have a safe space to run to.  Eloise can be quite a bitc….ahem…difficult.

It won’t be long though before they are all scratching and bathing in the dirt, soaking up the sun, and scrambling for treats all together.  Just use precautions and slowly introduce for a happy chicken household.  Now…to get the smell out of the guest room…

Posted in Animals/Chickens, Herbal Remedies

How to Treat Parasites and Infections in Chickens (and other animals)

The chicks that we brought home were rescued by brave volunteers that worked parallel to the killing crew that came in and snapped thousands of necks by hand.  It is amazing that these chickens have lived this long.  And it might be amazing if all of them make it another month.  Some are stronger than others.  One of our girls has beautiful, sleek outer feathers and a sweet filled-in face while another is smaller than the others with a deformed shoulder and a terrible cold.

The easiest way to treat chickens is with tea in their water.  They all love their water and don’t mind the taste of the herbs.  The infusion works quickly, so I expect whoever is going to survive is going to be well by the end of the week.  No more parasites, E coli, viruses, or infections.  You can use this same technique to treat other animals as well.

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In a saucepan combine 1 Tablespoon of each loose herb-

pine needles

mint

rosemary

eucalyptus

goldenseal and

3 cloves of garlic

You could also use/sub in:

Walnut shells

Oregon grape root

echinacea

mugwort

juniper berries

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We are using a blend of herbs that are anti-parasitic and antibacterial.  Bring to a boil with 4 cups of water and simmer (decoct) for 20 minutes.  Turn off heat and let continue to infuse.  Pour 1/2 cup of infusion into small water bowl if chicks are in your guest room or the whole thing (herbs and all) into a large waterer if you are treating a whole flock.

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I cut up a pumpkin and placed it in their little pen.  They also get a tablespoon of cinnamon mixed into their feed twice a day.

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Right now we have seven chickens taking up the guest room.  I don’t want them to freeze, nor do I want them to get the other chickens sick.  In their infirmary, they are snuggled together, eating, drinking, or singing.  We take turns holding each one each day so that they get used to contact.  My cat, Frankie, loves to snuggle on my lap when I am holding the chicks.  We have a fun, little farm here.

Posted in Animals/Chickens, Field Trips

Field Trip to an Animal Sanctuary (and saving chicks)

We loaded up the cat kennel in the Fiat (our urban farm vehicle) and headed hours north.  Through our old county, our old town, past our old farmhouse, and down the Kiowa-Bennett road.  The prairie is breathtaking even in winter.  Golden strands peek through layers of snow as the sun glistens across the vast expanse of country.  The western sky a watery blue stretching far and wide.  Singing to country music on the radio and a good feeling in our hearts, we drove towards Danzig’s Roost, a rooster and animal Sanctuary in Bennett, Colorado.

 

Sometimes the carefully protected public get glimpses inside factory farms.  What we consider family, humane, free range, and all the other marketing words that help sell meat is all a façade of chicken houses crammed with suffering birds and sometimes people are able to get a peek at those and the whole operation is exposed.  The huge chick rescue in northern Colorado this month made the news and raised thousands for resourceful sanctuaries.  But then so often apathy returns and people continue their habits.  Sad that animals are suffering, but unwilling to omit them from their plate.

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We were on our way to take home some of those rescued birds.  Chickens are snuggly, sweet, and have all different personalities.  One of the chicks we brought home is tiny, fluffy, and sings day and night like she is singing her songs of thanks to the heavens.  She doesn’t like to be put down.  As it happens, we went to get between four and six birds and ended up with seven, soft, white babies.  They are in the guest room.  They have every disease you can think of from parasites, E coli, to upper respiratory infections.  That is what is in meat.  I am treating them with my herbs.  So far they are thriving.  These lucky few were saved and will live their life here on Pumpkin Hollow Farm dust bathing, getting treats, and sitting in the sun or on our laps.

We are only allowed poultry in Pueblo but one day we will have land where we can take in more animals, save more lives, do what we can.  But every life counts.

Jewel Straightedge runs the sanctuary that we picked the chicks up from.  She has, what looks to be, hundreds of roosters that she has rescued.  Two calves with big, heartbreaking eyes are from the dairy down the road.  The little girl fights to live.  Darling sheep and goats and geese that clearly know the friend that rescued them all add to the raucous singing of the farm.  Turkeys strut about.  The wind picks up and turns cold and we hasten our tour.

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Jewel and her team rescued over six hundred chicks from the thousands and thousands that were being inhumanely killed and dying without food and water.  With the swift turn in weather, we help her chase hundreds of chicks trying to get them back into their warm enclosure.  It is every bit as hilarious as it sounds.  We are happy as we head back towards home.

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(Note: the chickens we rescued ended up dying anyway because they are meat chickens. We still had a bit to learn about that breed! This experience reinforced in us the desire to buy from friends who have small farms or raise our own.)

Posted in Animals/Chickens

Before You Get a Great Pyrenees (or any dog)

He just settled back down to sleep.  7:20, the school bus comes.  He jumps up, the futon shaking, and barks loudly at the small, hooded figures with backpacks, their parents shadily waiting in their cars, probably planning on breaking into our house.  They all disburse, the bus drives away, and Gandalf sleepily settles back down on his bright pink futon and begins to snore.

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We did our research on the Great Pyrenees.  I like to thoroughly read everything possible.  They can be pretty vicious.  Like, you may want to put signs up warning people.  If they aren’t socialized, they can be impossible to have around people and animals.  We laughed as we watched a video before getting Gandalf about how this gentle giant breed will guard you against predators, strangers, lawn chairs, birds, the wind….yea, we didn’t really get it.  They bark.  “Good!” I said, I want a guard dog.  They shed.  “Ha!  I have had nine cats at one point, he can’t shed more than them!”  Ha ha…yea, he can.  We will train him!  You don’t train this breed.  They do what they want.  Dogs are how you raise them, right?  But there are definite breed traits that one must know before committing to the lifetime of a dog.  You cannot train hundreds of thousands of years out of any particular breed.

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There are growing populations of Great Pyrenees in shelters.  These adorable fluff balls of polar bear proportions are just about too much cuteness not to fall in love with.  They grow quickly.  Comparing Gandalf to dogs at the dog park, he is probably over 180 pounds.  He’s still growing.  We have socialized him.  I have a lot of clients, students, and friends over and he has been fawned over and given treats for over a year now.  But he is very sensitive and even a benign person with too much energy makes him very wary and, let’s be honest, scary.  I keep him in the back yard if people are coming over.  At the dog park, he is fine.  Off duty, he plays and has a great time, turning into a puppy again.  At home, he is on guard.

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When people say they bark, it is not like a heeler or lab.  His bark is deep and bellowing and can be heard blocks away.  Intended to keep predators from flocks of sheep, the bark of a Great Pyrenees is meant to frighten away any dangers before confrontation.  In the city that means that anyone walking a quarter a mile away gets barked at.  He barks nearly all the time.  Loudly.  All.  The.  Time.  Now, that may sound great if you are concerned about security, but your neighbors may not think that is a great way to wake up Sunday morning.  His bark doesn’t change much.  Could be a burglar, could be a neighborhood cat.

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He sheds.  No, no…he sheds!  The interior of my car was black when I bought it.  I will bring dog hair with me on my clothes, find it in my coffee at the coffee shop, the couch is plastered in it, the floors have tumbleweeds of dog fur flying about every time the furnace kicks in.

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He did snap at a child that he didn’t know who took food from him.  That is any dog.  With Maryjane, he is the gentlest, sweetest, most attentive companion and I do not worry about her playing outside by herself with him by her side.  Even at the dog park, children will hang off of him.  He does live up to his Gentle Giant status.

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When we take walks, he pulls Doug.  If we are walking with someone who has their dog off leash, he pulls.  I was nervous the other day to take him by myself around the lake.  He has a different mindset with just me.  If Doug is not there, he feels his entire job is to watch after me.  The leash stayed slack, he kept looking up to me.  My beautiful, great leader.  He has a beautiful spirit.  He is playful, and adorable, and a great companion.  I love my loud, shedding polar bear.

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He loves the ladies at the bank!

He matches his breed.  There are so many huskies, heelers, and other beautiful dogs in shelters because they are amazingly cute puppies but someone didn’t take the time to understand their innate breed traits.  Gandalf is a lot to handle, but I don’t regret adopting him.  He is part of our family.  He spends most of his day outdoors by choice, but right now he is happily snoring on the couch.

Posted in Animals/Chickens

The Unusual Rooster (or crowing hen)

I heard crowing at dawn.  I stretched and smiled, hearing that beautiful familiar sound.  My eyes shot open and I jumped out of bed.  I searched with sleepy eyes through the window trying to catch sight of who was actually a rooster.  Then…nothing.  No crowing for days.  None of the hens looked like a rooster and I have had six out of seven of them for a year and a half.

Twice now I have pulled my car into the driveway and heard crowing coming from my own backyard.  I throw open the gate and stand there as the hens chirp and ask to be let out of their yard.  Suspicious.  No rooster.

Last week I ran in to see who was crowing and one of the Jersey Giants was pulled up tall just like a rooster.  Ah ha!  But she lays eggs.  Addie came over and we looked at all the chickens.  No spurs, no crazy feathers, no prettier than other chickens chicken.  And they all lay eggs.

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I decided to look into this phenomenon. Addie has a few hen crowers.  The internet is filled with tales of crowing hens.  It seem that without a rooster to rule the roost a hen will become the queen.  She will crow to scare predators or to announce her dissatisfaction, or to let me it’s time to wake up and give them feed.  So this really is the best of both worlds, I get my beloved, familiar farm sound (just not every ten minutes throughout the day) without any of the testosterone jerkiness and she lays eggs.  How lovely.

Posted in Animals/Chickens

Backyard Chicken Tips and Homesteading School

20180605_085348Gandalf the Great Pyrenees had a new toy.  The story goes (according to him anyway) that Buttercup the chicken got out of the pen and he was simply attempting to corral her back in.  Three quarters of her was stuck in his mouth as I screamed at him.

Forget hawks, eagles, raccoons, skunks, bears, coyotes, or any other predator you may have heard about.  Dogs are the most common predator chickens face.

20180710_161045My friend, Addie- aka Superwoman…if war breaks out, we are heading to her house- brought us three chickens to make up for Buttercup.  Buttercup, was of course, our best layer.  These three have some work to do.  They were in a large coop hanging out in the front yard when we got home.  A lovely surprise!  We quietly put them in the coop in the night so that the chickens would all be fooled and think that they were always there come morning and there would be no blood baths.  It always works.  Except when it doesn’t.

We used the portable coop she loaned us that the chickens had been delivered in to lock up the chickens.  “Should I put the three new girls in the pen?”

“No,” she replied, “you lock up the bullies!”

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This is Hei hei because she acts like the leghorn in the movie Moana.

She further explained (if y’all knew how many homesteading lessons I have had from this gal over the years you would think she should have written a book!) that if you put the new girls in the pen it only tells the old girls that they are indeed below them.  If you lock up the mean girls then they come to understand that they are not the bosses.  It worked like a charm.

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Then the egg eating started.  Oh, those three rascals.  One of them was eating eggs like she was sitting in an IHOP.  Addie suggested we raise their protein intake in their food because they were all molting and they needed more nutrients to get through it.  We also laid golf balls around the coop so the culprit would peck those once and would stop pecking eggs.  That worked but no one is laying eggs right now!

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I have been a subscriber since I was twelve years old to a magazine about country living.  I am afraid its gotten a little high falutin and ridiculous.  Very pretty pictures but really geared for rich people who have no idea what farming is about.  Photographs of chicken coops with pea gravel and curtains with lush, landscaped yards and chickens crossing the kitchen without any poo in sight.  I love it, but it is a little deceiving.

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We have a noxious tree that I love called Tree of Heaven here, or Chinese Sumac.  It’s poisonous so the chickens don’t eat it.  It has popped up all over the chicken yard creating a jungle atmosphere and shade.  When they first moved in they had two foot high grasses to jump through.  They will eat any plant that is edible, y’all.  Do not landscape your chicken yard!

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We looked around this place and saw the chickens, the infant orchard, the vegetables growing tall, and the pumpkins jumping out of their beds, and we have realized that we live on a perfect urban farm.  A lot of people cannot afford to live out in the country and I have decided to reopen my Homesteading School.  I will be teaching canning, preserving, baking, cooking, gardening, and much more as our little-farm-that-could gets more organized and utilized.

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Check out my Facebook page for events here! I will also be putting a link on this blog.  Happy Homesteading!

Posted in Animals/Chickens

The Motley Crew of Pumpkin Hollow

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I need this sign!

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Gandalf is over a hundred pounds now at seven months old.  He is adorable.  His crazy brother, Merlin is eight months old and thinks he is a jaguar.  Or a dog.  That boy is a little special.  Each morning my husband emails me from work and asks, “How are you and zoo?”

DSC_6169My three old kitties, that we had hand raised almost thirteen years ago, came home after being at the shop for over two years.  Let’s just say they don’t love Merlin.  Gandalf is loud and furry and naughty too.  I didn’t get chicks this year.  I think eight cats, a giant polar bear, and seven chickens will do me just fine for now.  But I tell you what, this zoo makes me laugh. Every. Single. Day.  It’s a motley crew over here on Pumpkin Hollow Farm!

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Posted in Animals/Chickens

The Hens of Pumpkin Hollow

20180214_152811They, too, wait for spring when fresh greenery pushes through to be pecked at and enjoyed by the hens of Pumpkin Hollow Farm.  I love chickens.  And the thing we missed most when we were away from a farm was having chickens.  They make a farm a home anywhere you can keep them.  Their colorful feathers, changing in the sun, their strut through high weeds and the way they tilt their head to look at you with one eye.  They are hilarious in demeanor and each one is as different as my cats.

Yogi and Hindi are Jersey Giants and we refer to them as the Jersey girls.  They tend to stick together.  Their large black feathers sparkle emerald in the sunlight.  They lay large brown eggs.  They were late bloomers but seem to be catching up with others.

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Eloise was supposed to be a Marans but she lacks speckles and I think she is actually an Australorpe.  She lays small tan eggs wherever she pleases; outside the coop door, near the chicken food-as if the egg popping out surprises her.  She wants to be pet but then changes her mind.  She sleeps by herself and is a little…um…special.  But she is very sweet.

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Buttercup is the tiny queen here.  A clean, white egg can be found each day.  Her breed is Buttercup which is what led to her name.  She looks like a miniature leopard with a rose shaped crown.  She wants nothing to do with us.  Unless we have a bit of cracked corn.

Owlette is an Auracana.  This lovely breed looks like an owl and lays blue-green eggs.  I would like a few more of these ladies.  They are sassy and good layers.

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We have fallen for Salmon Favorelles.  These girls are beautiful in their French finest and petticoats.  They lay pink eggs regularly and are very friendly.  Bubba is especially sweet.  Our granddaughter named our chickens.  Bubba and Chichi are cute names indeed.

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We feed organic layer feed and organic scratch.  They eat scraps from the kitchen as well.  They have a large fenced in area that was likely a dog run in the past with seven foot fencing.  They live in an adobe house with trumpet vine that climbs prettily up the side in the summer.  We are all ready for a little color and for winter to pass!  They are able to wander the yard on the days the puppy goes to the shop with me.  I don’t trust his puppyness quite yet.  Chickens are very easy to keep.  They require little more than a straw strewn shed or chicken coop, fresh water, scratch, oyster shells, scraps, and feed.  They love dirt baths and bugs and sunlight.  They put themselves to bed in the evening at last light.  All you have to do is open the door in the morning and close the door at night.

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We are vegan but we do eat the eggs from our own chickens.  Our chickens lead a very nice life with pets, treats, and lots of wandering adventures.  They will live here their entire life and so in that way they are lucky.  No factory farms, cages, enclosed barns, or slaughter for them.

So now as spring approaches we have the question to answer; do we “adopt” five more chicks even though the hatcheries are horrific and provide five chickens with a beautiful future or do we wait and see if we are sent five chickens that need rescuing?  There are many moral decisions to be made on a small hobby farm.  We do know that chickens make this mini-farm a happier place to live.  A farm without chickens is not quite a home.

Posted in Animals/Chickens

The Great, Great Pyrenees (traits and fun facts)

Message_1514674093077I love the individual traits of dogs.  I am fascinated that certain characteristics could be bred into a dog over thousands of years.  I enjoy watching those traits emerge.  The little souls and personalities may be different but there are definitely set patterns.  We decided to get a Great Pyrenees.

We have long looked at that breed when we had our “real” farms but never ended up adopting one.  I wondered about getting one that would live in the city, would he be happy?

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The Great Pyrenees was a mountain dog in the Pyrenees mountains between Portugal and France.  They were bred to cross mountains and guard sheep.  Their double dew claws on their back feet are attached with bone and make them able to stretch out their feet and easily climb rocks.  We have not a huge expanse for them to wander, nor sheep.  We do live in an area, lovingly described to us by a fellow who was out mountain biking while we were hiking, as Colorado’s unknown playground.  It is gloriously spring-like all the time here and we have thousands of trails.  I happen to be extremely energetic and really needed a pup to walk me!  Gandalf and I walk three to four miles a day, usually just around the lake at the end of the block but we also head to the Riverwalk and hopefully this weekend we can take him the short drive to the mountains and ramble around the trails there.  Great Pyrenees do not have as much energy as a husky or a heeler or me.  A few miles walking or a few minutes throwing the ball are perfect for these gentle giants.

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Great Pyrenees are bred to protect.  That is what they do.  My favorite quote is, “The Great Pyrenees dog breed‘s goal in life is to protect sheep, goats, livestock, people, children, grass, flowers, the moon, the lawn furniture, bird feeders, and any real or imaginary predators that may intrude on your personal space.” Their size alone could do that, but their deep, bellowing bark will make you jump out of your skin.  They are quite intelligent.  Gandalf enjoys being around other dogs and he loves, loves, loves kids.  If he is in the yard, anyone that walks by is suspect and he will bark whether it is an old lady, seven year old child, or shady looking character.  While we are out, he carefully sizes everyone up that walks near us.  As is the case of the world, the vast majority of people are good folk and he is happy to greet them.  Only a few times did he bark and refuse to walk until they were out of sight.  He will be great protection for me.

Great Pyrenees have a double coat.  They are fabulously cuddly and snuggly and polar bear-like.  I love a great big fluffy dog.  We were warned that Great Pyrenees shed.  We laughed.  We go nowhere without cat hair on us as it is!  There is a great talk about how, because of these mega coats, that the Great Pyrenees prefer to be outdoors in the cold, even in freezing temperatures.  I am sure that they were bred for that and can withstand that but my Great Pyrenees has no problem being in the house, even with the wood stove burning.  He will lay by the door where it is a little cooler.  He sleeps next to my side of the bed.  He doesn’t mind being an indoor dog.

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He saw his first rainfall and had a great time running around the yard trying to catch the invading water.  He also learned to turn on the spigot after watching me fill buckets to water trees.  He had a great time until I wondered where the sound of water was coming from!  A simple shake and all of the moisture was off of his fur.  He pounds through the thin ice near the lake and streams by our house and plays adorably splashing in the water.

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The Great Pyrenees are distantly related to the other breeds, Bernese Mountain dogs, St. Bernards, and Newfoundlands.  Their adorable faces confuse a lot of people.  The city people here have rarely seen a Great Pyr, so they search their memories for what he could be.  St. Bernard is the first guess.  Since mine is French, I joke that he should have a barrel attached to his neck with a spigot for wine.

The bones of Great Pyrenees dogs have been found fossilized from 1000 BCE.  That is an old breed!  They were also used to guard French castles in the 1700’s.  They have been beloved for so long that I am surprised more people do not know about them.  The Great Pyrenees dogs will range from 85 pounds (female) to upwards of 160 pounds.  Gandalf seems to be heading in that spectrum.  At 4 1/2 months old he is already 78 pounds.  He is goofy and lovey, and a really, really good puppy.

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So if you have been thinking of getting a Great Pyrenees, I hope this helps you decide for yourself whether a polar bear would be a good fit.  I sure love this pup.  He is perfect for our little urban farmstead.  He is good with the chickens and the cats and I can see where they earned the nickname, “Gentle Giant.”