Sunday, January 31, 2010

My heart has joined The Thousand

...for my friend stopped running today.

As some of you know, my roommates are more than just cavies and environmental canvassers. The yellow house is the home of rabbits, fish, and at times, a select few of the neighborhood cats.

My dear friend Newman recently came down with an Upper Respiratory Infection. It went downhill very quickly. Last night around midnight, I was falling asleep when I had a sudden thought that maybe Newman needed another dose of sub-cutaneous fluids. When I got him downstairs and was preparing to stick him with the needle, he went slightly limp and took a deep breath. I rushed him upstairs to my room. I cradled him and rocked him. I begged him not to leave. After two more heavy sighs he stopped breathing and went completely limp. My friend was gone.

I laid down on my back with Newman's body on my stomach. I cried for a very long time.

I adopted Newman and his brother, Benner, on Earth Day of 2007. Newman was the sweetest rabbit I have ever known. He always had a look about him that was so very knowing and wise. Everyone who met him instantly fell in love with him. My mother's daycare kids talk about him all the time. They loved visiting him when I lived in Westcott Nation.

When I rescued Bella in November of 2007, She too fell in love with Newman. But not so much with Benner. The year that followed was rough on the three of them, trying to make a bond work between them proved to be darn near impossible. Benner passed away suddenly in November of 2008. I had the same reaction. I was jerked awake at 6:18 AM. I had plans to go for a morning walk with my mom, so I thought my body was just anticipating that. I went. When I came home, I found Ben lying
underneath my bed, stiff. I now know the real reason that I was awoken was because he was leaving me.

Newman was one of my very dearest friends. He was five years old when he died. He was a pretty sickly bun. His mama, Marshmallow, and two of his five sisters, Hyacinth and Edelweiss, are still in foster care.

Bella and I have never been close, she was rescued from a cruelty/neglect situation as a young bun and had never trusted or liked people very much, despite how much I worked with her after I rescued her. I toned down her cage aggression but she still has a lot of mental trouble. I know that I will probably have to get her another friend eventually but for now, it's just going to be her and I. And the cavies and the fish. And when he gets back from Florida, my roomie, Scott.

This is the last photo I took of him.

Goodnight, sweet bun. Thank you for sharing your life with me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Introductions: Natasha

Natasha, for whom this blog is named, would be my favorite guinea pig if I had favorites. She was born in March of 2009 as part of an accidental litter. I adopted her and Maybel, her sister, in April '09. Since then she has practically been my sidekick.

In the summer of '09, I ran into a fair bit of housing trouble. I had to move my herd of 4, and all of my other animals, in with my mother for a while. I traveled to Dallas, TX, where I canvassed for Texas Campaign for the Environment for three weeks, as a training exercise for my job as a Field Manager with Citizens Campaign for the Environment. When I returned, I noticed that three of my guinea pigs were very, very fat. And the fourth had a look of guilty pleasure about him. That's right, Maybel was a boy. He developed very late and I was not around to notice it.

Natasha spent the next two weeks getting all the special treatment she wanted from me. She got all the good treats, I took the bus at 5am from my apartment across town to see her, she got all the lap time a girl could want (Tasha is quite the lap pig, especially when she was preggers). A few days before I had to leave for Columbus, OH, Tasha gave birth to three beautiful pups: Laika and Ferdinand [female] and Winston [male]. All were happy, healthy and tiny; baby guinea pigs may be the cutest things on the planet. There is nothing like holding a two-hour-old cavy in your hand. The weight of a creme puff, I tell you.

Since becoming a mother, Natasha went from being the shy, quiet pig who faded into the background to the cornerstone of my sow herd. She is the one pig whom everyone likes.
She has been known to restore peace, protect Sophie--who is at the bottom of the pecking order--from Laika--the boss--and she is always the first one to start wheeking when it is mealtime.
As for Tasha's markings, they are quite unique among guinea pigs. I have yet to see another pig quite like her. When I adopted her, she'd been called "Snickers", which does fit her coloring quite well. But the moment I saw her, I knew she was my little Natasha.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cutting Back, episode 2: pellets.

Pellets, like hay, are very costly to ship. In this post I am going to compare the three highest-quality pellet-makers for guinea pigs: KM's Hayloft, Sweet Meadow Farm, and Oxbow Hay Company. Since Oxbow no longer sells directly from their site, I am also comparing the top three sites they sell from, Leith Petwerks, PetFoodDirect and Dr. Fosters and Smith. Here we go.

Storing bulk pellets
50lbs of pellets showing up at your doorstep can be a little intimidating. But storing it is easier than you may think. First, calculate how much you will need in the next three months. I have found that my 7 guinea pigs [fed 1/8 cup each per day] go through 5lbs every 19 days. So they would need about 24-25lbs. Store these pellets separately from the remaining pellets.
Take your remaining pellets and clear some freezer space for them. We have an extra fridge/freezer. Put them in a plastic bag and let them shiver in the freezer for the next few months. This is so that the vitamins and minerals in the pellets don't break down.
As for the pellets you're going to use in the next three months, you have many options. You can use a plastic bag, a metal "trash can", a plastic storage bin, or any combination you wish, as long as the pellets are kept in an airtight container out of direct sunlight so they don't go stale or lose their vitamin C content.
Moving on to the exciting part.

Keep in mind that many of these sites offer sizes other than 50lbs, but not all do, so I used the one bulk size that all of them offer.
Also keep in mind that the estimated shipping is using the respective websites' shipping calculators, using my Syracuse, NY address. Their locations are noted so you can find the provider nearest you.

Expense Overview.

+KM's Pellets: 50lbs+shipping = $105.28
KM's Hayloft ships from Washington State.
+Sweet Meadow's Pellets: 50lbs+shipping = $42.43
Sweet Meadow ships from Massachusetts.
+Leith Petwerks [Oxbow Pellets]: 50lbs+shipping = $98.54
Leith Petwerks Ships from Oregon.
+PetFoodDirect [Oxbow Pellets]: 50lbs+shipping = $84.28
***location to be added.
+Dr. Fosters and Smith [Oxbow Pellets]: 50lbs+shipping = $80.98
Dr. Fosters and Smith ships from Wisconsin.

And lastly, comparing to the old way...
50lbs of pellets at PetsMart or my local vet = $140 + tax.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cutting Back, episode 1: hay.

The first post! Oooh what fun.
This blog is intended to be informative, helpful and fun. I thought I'd start with the basics.
Having leased a house and then almost immediately lost
my job back in late November and eaten up almost all of my savings in the past couple of months, I was recently forced to cut way back on my expenses. I'm sure the story is similar for many pig owners across the country. Here's what I'm doing.

#1 expense: Hay.
Yes, yes. I admit it. I didn't even bother ordering it online. I bought it in those 48-96oz. plastic bags at the pet store. It cost me a fortune. To those of you who think you're getting a great deal paying $60 for 25lbs. of hay, I say, GO LOCAL!
Get your hay from a feed mill or a local farmer. It took me less than half an hour to find decent hay around here. $4 for 40lbs. of it. The guy I got it from even offered to deliver it since he works right near my house. So in three or four months when I run out all I have to do is haul it from his truckbed to my basement.
How to find local hay by the bale:
My first and best suggestion is Craigslist. Some sections of Craigslist are sketchy and should be avoided, but the farm+garden section is not one of them. do a search for 'hay' and you will most likely be overloaded with ads. You can narrow it down based on what quality of hay you want. If your pigs are picky, search for 'horse hay' or '2nd cutting hay'. depending on how good the season was, some places may have 3rd cutting, but it's not something I've found in the past few years.
My second suggestion is to try your local feed mill. They likely have hay by the bale, and while this is sometimes not the best stuff, the same terms apply. Ask for horse hay, or 2nd cutting, or be straightforward and tell them "I want the greenest bale of hay in your loft"
How to store a bale:
There are many solutions to the storage-space pickle that 40lbs of hay puts you in. The way I do it is I got a cardboard box from Sears, zip-tied that together, cut a hole in the [broadside] top and throw it in the basement.
Our basement is leak-free and has a dehumidifier. This is by far the easiest and cheapest way to do it.
You can also use several plastic storage bins, though this can be messy and is typically more space-consuming, some people find it easier because they can keep one of the the bins in their pigs' room/near their enclosure and just swap them out.
if you want something sturdier or more waterproof/raised up/prettier than these options, you can use a found object. I know someone who found an old chest with two doors that opened at the front. She removed the legs and repositioned them so that the doors opened upwards, not outwards. I also know that when my mother gets rid of her old clawfoot tub, that's going straight into my basement to store my hay in style.
You can store hay any way you want, really, so long as it's not in a moist environment and so long as its out of direct sunlight, all will be well.

Expense Overview.

I have seven guinea pigs, which go through a bale [40lbs] about every 3 months. That's 4 bales a year, at a cost of $5/bale [the extra dollar is for delivery], =$20 per year.
If I were to order through KMs Hayloft, I would need 160lbs per year, which would end up being approx. $240.52 per year.
And If I were to order through SweetMeadow, it would run me around $173 per year.