Category Archives: The Animals of Foster Farm

To aestivate a dear friend.

Keeping pet frogs is unusual, I am the first to admit. Even within the weirdo laden niche world of “herp enthusiasts” frog people are like the peculiar bachelor uncle that everyone struggles to relate to.  In a way I understand; frog husbandry is certainly not for everyone.  It requires a passion for a creature who seemingly has very little personality, may go unmoving for 12+ hours, eats its own skin on a regular basis and unabashedly poops in it’s water dish. On the other hand when it comes to the phenomenon known as kinderschema or more colloquially as the “cute factor”, the humble frog is the apotheosis. As renowned ethnographer and foremost cuteness-studier-guy Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfedlt reported, humans are hardwired to be attracted to creatures with: “(a) large head relative to body size, rounded head; (b) large, protruding forehead; (c) large eyes relative to face, eyes below midline of head; (d) rounded, protruding cheeks; (e) rounded body shape; and (f) soft, elastic body surfaces.”  So you see where I am going here? Yeah that’s right check this guy out! Human babies ain’t got nothin’ on him.

Whites treefrog

A White’s tree frog doing what it does best: look freaking adorable.

Horned frog 2

This handsome, cheery Argentine horned frog lays in wait for its next victim.

This being said, having your home full of rare and exotic frogs isn’t always the magical Shangri-la so many assume it to be. Sometimes you may find yourself in the position of making some pretty hard decisions. The latest conundrum to have surfaced has to do with my Budgett’s frog, Blob Dylan (Blobby to his friends) and the fateful day date we  noticed the black tubercles that had begun to emerge on his back feet (more on this shortly). For the 99.9% of you who don’t know, Budgett’s frogs are aquatic frogs native to South America, also called Paraguay Horned Frogs. Horned frogs are a subcategory of frogs that are ambush predators,

Blobby

Blobby the Budgett’s frog at his home in Leyden, Massachusetts.

meaning they are basically blobs with giant mouths that sit around on their stumpy limbs waiting for food to fall into their mouths. In addition to a lethargic life style, Blobby’s particular genus has also evolved a very amazing trick to help them survive in their native environment; a little ability called aestivation. Aestivation is like bizarro world hibernation.  Instead of responding to cold temperatures that trigger other animals to go into dens and sleep until the world is less depressing and desolate, animals that aestivate go into dormancy to protect themselves from hot, arid conditions. As temperatures rise and water levels begin to lower, Budgett’s frogs use  tubercles (hard spade like appendages on their back feet) to dig themselves into the mud. Deeper and deeper they go and as they descend

Tubercle

The tubercle of a Couch’s spadefoot toad.

they begin to build up layer upon layer of skin, until finally they are entirely encased in a cocoon of their own mucas. Then they go dormant; their metabolism and heart rate slowing to a state of almost suspended animation. Here they will remain for up to 4 months until the rainy season comes and they are awoken. They then proceed to eat their way out of their skin sack and return to the surface to eat invertebrates and mate.

Although there is some debate in the frog community, it is generally believed that if you do not recreate this yearly cycle you shorten your frog’s life span significantly. However, there is much risk in trying to recreate this natural process at home-one wrong move and you risk being greeted by a desiccated frog husk come spring. Not to mention the fact that you have to accept the prospect of having a beloved friend existing in a

4-water-holding-frog-in-coc

Australian water holding frog during aestivation. These frogs were used for drinking water (think dig up and wring out) by Aborigines during times when water was scarce.

state of suspended animation in a bucket of dirt in the guest room. It’s a lot to handle. This frog Sophie’s Choice weighs heavily on me as Blobby continues to mature into an adult frog and his biological clock (in this case spiky foot appendages) continues ticking. Blobby’s situation serves as a reminder to us of the complexity of keeping animals that have not co-evolved with humans and become domesticated over thousands of years. These considerations will become increasingly common as habitat loss means that more and more species’ survival will depend upon being kept and bred in captivity (Budgett’s Frogs themselves are considered a threatened species due to habitat destruction, but don’t worry Blobby was responsibly attained through a captive breeding program). I haven’t decided what to do yet, taking on the literal role of Mother Nature is a tricky business and not to be entered into lightly. Regardless of what we decide I am honored to get to watch a Budgett’s frog live his life; eating worms with reckless abandon and enjoying the flow of water across his jiggling frog jacket.  Aestivation or not I will enjoy whatever time we have together.

Budgetts Frog

 

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You can take your gluten free brownies and stick them where the sun don’t shine.

So I will admit that I have been having some uncomfortable feelings brewing about the newest fad of weird dietary restrictions, the gluten free diet. Unlike previous dietary fads like the Atkins or Super Foods in which people were in search of painless and dramatic weight loss, the gluten free people seemed to have banned together to form some sort cult. Gluten free is not a means to an end, it is a lifestyle.

The mark of a noglut.

These nogluts, as I have taken to calling them, are not just using their diet for themselves but forcing it upon their children and loved ones. I have seen this happen many times, but have remained silent.   It wasn’t until after having Thanksgiving with a cousin employed by a Whole Foods in Connecticut that I realized this phenomenon was spreading outside the sphere of the Pioneer Valley ( an area with a rich history of bizarre dietary restrictions) and needed addressing. Before anyone gets offended I want to point out that I don’t deny the existence of Celiacs disease, a bona fide gluten intolerance which causes a slew of gastrointestinal maladies, but the fact that  gluten intolerance is suddenly popping up like wild fire among white, liberal arts educated, yuppie types, seems a bit dubious.  I mean humans have been practicing agriculture now for over 10,000 years, a mere blip in the scheme of time yes, but plenty of time for  our ancestors to build up a solid if imperfect relationship with gluten.

Anyone who has ever visited a Whole Foods or say lived in the Pioneer Valley knows that there is nothing worse than getting stuck behind a noglut in the grocery store.

This woman is gluten intolerant and shops at Whole Foods.

They are always scrutinizing packages in a very loud, self important voice calling out to random people as if they are store employees, “excuse me, does this have gluten in it?” Lady it’s pasta, what the hell do you think?  These people have certainly become the pariahs of the grocery store, dinner parties, and pot lucks alike.

Really the thing  that makes these nogluts so intolerable is not their hatred toward gluten, but their desire to proselytize their no gluten life style’s to anyone who will listen. To hear them talk you would have thought that before they cut gluten out of their diets they were roaming the Earth as mere shells of themselves; wretched, gas filled gollums praying for death.

Oh, what could have been if only Gollum had cut gluten out of his diet!

It’s hard to believe that a simple food “sensitivity” could have created such strife, how did all these poor people live pre-2010?  The thing is I do believe the rejuvenation and inner piece people experience from their gluten free diet is real, I just don’t think it has anything to do with gluten. These people are experiencing the high one gets from the knowledge that they are better and more well informed than everybody else, the idea that they are the chosen ones, the people that  have been let in on a cosmic secret that will certainly lead them to eternal life (see veganism, Jehovah’s Witnesses).  This high can be dangerous  as we have seen in instances such as Jonestown and Waco, it’s this kind of twisted group think that leads to real tragedy.

I, for one, am progluten. Being diabetic I sadly have to leave my gluten munching to a minimum (most things with gluten are also loaded with carbs, but I swear carbs really are trying to kill me).  On the rare occasion that I do eat gluten, I want my pasta to have the delicious chewiness and my bread to have the doughy elasticity that only gluten can provide. It’s so much more satisfying than the oft mealy countenance of their gluten free counter parts. In the end what I am really trying to say is  not that we should kill all gluten free advocates (although remember, no one likes the person watching them with a mix of pity and disgust as they eat their sandwich) but that when it comes to food you really should be embracing moderation. If not for your health, than for the sanity of those around you.  We are lucky enough to live in a country where food is  abundant, so abundant in fact that an entire group of people have the luxury of snubbing wheat, the basis of the entire bottom of food pyramid. It’s good to remind ourselves now and again of this tremendous advantage we are given.  Hopefully in doing so we can  avoid taking for granted  the huge variety and bounty that we have to feed our bodies and keep our minds at peace.

Humanure.

I mentioned briefly this summer via Facebook about my renewed appreciation for my toilet and while my statement was in earnest, I wasn’t surprised to see my gratitude struck many  as comical. I can only imagine this is because most of you have never gone an appreciable amount of time without the convenience of a flushing toilet and I’m sure even fewer of you have had the chance to encounter a composting toilet. While I can appreciate the fleeting discomfort of using a squat toilet, a reeking pit toilet, or god forbid having to poop in the woods- all these unusual bathroom experiences are still fundamentally incomparable to the horror of the composting toilet. Although primitive, the aforementioned sanitary methods still symbolically take the waste away where it can be quickly forgotten- fulfilling our innate desire to be as far away from it as possible. It is this violation of this most primal urge that sets the composting toilet apart, and what makes it  a horrible bathroom experience in a category all its own.

Ohhhhh, now I get it. Gee that’s not disgusting at all!!

A composting toilet is quiet simple: it is a giant plastic tub with a seat on it and a chimney vented to the outdoors. Inside there is a rotating drum into which the waste falls and is collected. This inner drum has a handle and must be rotated once a week to jumble it’s content’s together and facilitate even exposure to the aerobic microbes (re: poo eating bacteria) living inside.

This beauty is the Sun Mar “Excel”, the very same model I spent a week fretting over  (among other things)  while on vacation.      

As my own aside I would also like to point out that this tumbling feature is  good to utilize as soon as the contents become too disturbing to look at. It is here inside this drum that your excrement sits day by day undergoing it’s repugnant metamorphosis until it has broken down enough to be dumped into the ” finishing tray” located at the bottom of the unit. Once it has sat for a month “finishing” it is finally ready to be emptied out and placed in the garden as fertilizer. That’s right,  this toilet allows you to use your own poop in your garden, home grown humanure.

Now, even if you can get past the repulsive idea of collecting and cultivating your own waste to use as garden fertilizer, the composting toilet is far from user friendly. Firstly the seat stands a remarkable three feet off the ground making it awkward to mount, especially in case of emergency. And while the company provides a stool attached to the unit, it requires an extreme amount of grace and dexterity to ascend the stool with your pants down and than pivot successfully onto the seat. Once mounted,  it is very hard to relax and take care of business because it feels as though you are quite literally seated upon a thrown, high above the room, high enough that the idea of falling actually seems life threatening . Once  you manage to successful complete a “movement” (here’s hoping you remembered to take the paper up there with you) and safely dismount, the real trouble begins. As part of the composting toilet process one must add “bulker” to the drum to add carbon and expedite break down. The toilet’s directions vaguely implore you to add “two or three scoops of peat after each movement”. Brimming scoops? Conservative ones? Scoops infiltrated with hair? Does the coffee mug provided really qualify as a scoop? I DON’T KNOW! The only thing I do know is that no matter what I choose I will immediately decide it was the wrong choice and have to spend the next 20 minutes taking corrective action.  The composting toilet, more importantly what happens inside of it, becomes an obsession.

Some perverts made their own composting toilet. At least it appears to be located out of doors.

I have never spent so much time researching the breakdown of my own feces on vacation as I did while using the composting toilet this summer.  I visited the Sun Mar website’s trouble shooting link 42 times.  And in my defense the stakes are high-I mean, I don’t want some hippie ingesting a contaminated carrot, especially if it’s my E-Coli that it’s been violated with.  Nobody needs that on their conscience.

In closing I want everyone to know I can appreciate, now more than ever, the need for green, sustainable systems which tread lightly on our planet’s resources. I am personally committed to making lifestyle decisions which mitigate my negative impact on the environment: I recycle, I dabbled in vermiculture, and sometimes I even buy local meat and discuss how you can really “taste the freedom”.  Cultivating my poo, however, is where I have to draw the line.  Sure, I want my children and their children’s children to live in a world where there are still polar bears and fresh drinking water, but if it’s not too much to ask, also a world where you can flush the toilet and simply wave good bye.

Flossie, we are going all the way.

While the journey towards goat ownership draws to a temporary halt, I would like to take the time to discuss another topic that is  near and dear to my heart, the topic of chickens. As many of you already know, Tommy and I are the proud owners of 12 baby chickens. And while I won’t bore you non chicken enthusiasts with a long list of breed names (email me if curious!)  I will say that we are now in possession of several rare and fancy chickens.  We are not entirely new to chicken ownership, we currently have an assortment of chickens living in our backyard coop, including Peter our rehabilitated sociopath rooster (he had a thing for eyeballs), and Egg Drop, our best layer- purchased from a toothless women on the side of the road who had a dilapidated wooden sign advertising “GoOD LayInG Chix”.  This is, however, our first time raising chicks from such a tender age.  I will tell you it is a much different experience. Perhaps it’s an entirely misplaced biological urge, but I cannot help but  feel intensely maternal towards them; I am like a giant, featherless, mother hen carefully nurturing her brood. Honestly, If Tommy wasn’t around to monitor my comings and goings I am sure I would have attempted to insert a few under my bottom by now.  I am told by many parents of multiple children that you do not pick favorites among them, that parental love is an extraordinary devotion bestowed upon each child equally, regardless of the surprising anomalies which occur between siblings who share 99.95%  identical DNA . Despite the odd case of a profound lisp,strangely set eyeballs, kleptomania or an obvious and extreme personality disorder, parents still insist upon a deep and abiding neutrality in their fondness for their offspring. I could only have assumed that I should fall into this same category: I love my cats and dogs equally, and although I find Shelly the turtle’s rollicking antics more entertaining than Yurtle’s timid and some what morose disposition, in the event of a food shortage I really couldn’t tell you with any certainty who I would eat first.  This was my belief system until I met Flossie the chicken.  Flossie was the smallest of the clutch: a fluffy, gray chick with a charmingly peculiar poof of feathers atop her head-a flawless specimen of the already exceptional Silver Laced Polish chicken breed.  And although Flossie was undoubtedly the cutest chicken to ever have existed since the first descendants of the red jungle fowl began to hang around ancient peoples eating  mammoth scraps, it wasn’t just her good looks that attracted me, it was her indomitable spirit.

2 Week old Flossie relaxes in bed.

Flossie is blessed with pure, unadulterated, chicken magnetism. From day one Flossie would jump around and peck inquisitively at my fingers; while her sisters ate their first bite of chick crumbles with a uniform lethargy, Flossie leaped and scratched around the food trough,  joyfully throwing crumbles into the air and ( I swear) catching them gracefully in her tiny beak. Now a days, in the evening when, after a day of lively pecking,  preening and silvery cheeping, she grows weary, Flossie sleeps nestled under my chin, her now teen aged, spiky head lolling about on it’s comically tiny neck.

Teen aged Flossie. Note lanky, gray legs.

Recently while researching chicken shows and previewing entry forms for next year’s fair circuit, the time when Flossie will finally be a hen; fully feathered and crowned, I read the standards for a  “quality” show chicken. I studied the clinical diagram, with it’s arrows pointing to the ideal chickens body part’s. The ideal chicken with: ” a soft pliable abdomen” ,  “pubic bones that are at least three finger widths apart from one another” (how this will be determined brings me some discomfort) and finally a “fully feathered body with supremely glossy plumage”.  I read this and  I felt a profound confidence. I am confident my Flossie”s  abdomen will be the softest and most pliable,  her vent the most perfectly sized and shaped egg delivery apparatus, her plumage the envy of even the most ornate jungle parrot.

What Flossie will look like by next Fall.

More importantly however, I know it’s her spirit that will shine, I know Flossie’s essential nature is so wonderfully infectious that no one can simply pass her by. I can see the judges now: entranced by those captivating eyes of her’s, hidden deep within her marvelous crown of feathers. The judges are still, almost hypnotized by her,  then startled they quickly snap back to reality, each thinking: “this is crazy but I swear I  just saw that chicken wink at me!”.  You see, Flossie was born for this. It is true that I  love all my chickens, from the neurotic Campy to the almost pathologically laid back Guloush.  But Flossie- my exquisite, dynamic, beloved Flossie- stands on a perch high above the rest. And despite all the uncertainties surrounding us,  I have no doubt about it. Together, Flossie and I are going all the way.

Where it all begins

So as seems only appropriate as the first post on my blog, Husband, get me a goat, I am going to discuss some feelings about goats that I have been having lately. Specifically my need to have one.  I mean, I really, really want one. Ever since I sniffed a baby goat at the Hopkinton Fair early this September, I have been infected with some kind of crazy goat craving. Two nights ago I even had a dream I was swimming, well more wading, in a giant tub of baby goats.  Tommy and I had joked  innocently this summer about employing a pack (herd?) of goats for easy lawn maintenance, but what happened after the fair has turned  into something much, much deeper.  Lest you think I am crazy let me give you a brief, but hopefully convincing, rundown on why goats are awesome. Firstly, the are frisky and frolic often, like bonafide frolicking. When any animal is given to frolic, even the iciest of  human hearts must warm, but a goat, a goat was made to frolic. With their springy, mountain climbers muscle’s they fling their rotund middles and strange cloven hooves so high above the grass and wild flowers that they seem to almost alight to heaven as they bound through the fields.

Baby goat demonstrating frolicking. Note hoof placement.

If this wasn’t enough for you, many types of goats have wattles. A mammal with wattles! So absurd, so pleasing! Also called a fleshy dewlap or caruncle, these amazing little flaps hang right under the chin; soft, squishy, neck udders perfect to caress and nuzzle. I cannot recommend any more emphatically that you, as soon as you possibly can, go out there and nuzzle a wattle. I mean it really changed me.

This handsome fellow is modeling his proud set of wattles.

Lastly, as I close this piece about goats, I want you to also consider this: goats have rectangular pupils. And while this phenomenon is not exclusive to goats (consider deer, horses and a few other hooved mammals), their irises are generally paler giving them a deeply, deeply creepy stare. Fantastic. Through this, and several other personal goat experiences ( I almost forgot to mention they also produce milk!) I have come to believe that goats are the next creature for me. “So”, you may say, “you are clearly a goat enthusiast, go forth and procure goats, let them grow fruitful and multiply.”  Alas, there is one problem.  Tommy is terrified of them. Damn.