Sunday, 30 October 2016

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Introducing my family part 2

Guinea Pigs

Part 2: Molly and Emmeline

You know how some people dare not go into a particular shop for risk of falling in love with something they really don't need, but really really want. It might be a shoe shop, bakery, electronics store, stationers...mmmmm stationery!...Where was I! 

For me, it's Pets at Home, and in particular, the Adoption section...
I just can't stay away, and a single guinea pig will always pull really hard on my heart strings.

On Thursday 5th November 2015, Mr PB and I were on our way home after a long day; we needed some more Burgess Excel nuggets for Tilly and Phoebe so stopped in at Pets at Home, which is only a few minutes drive from work.

We picked up what we needed and then went to look at the baby piggies, then wandered over to the Adoption section. We looked at the rabbits, the hamsters, the gerbils, and then spotted a guinea pig shaped shadow in a cardboard tunnel.

The sign said "Ana and Elsa" of the assistants was clearly a Disney Frozen fan, or trying to make the piggies really attractive to small children. We looked and looked, but could only see one piggie in the cage, maybe the other one was hiding under the hay. we stayed for quite a while talking the the first piggie, but she was terribly shy.

I decided to go and ask an assistant about her.

It turned out that Elsa and Ana had been breeding sows for Pets at Home's breeding farm (it sounds like a big operation). The breeder had given a quantity of sows to the main supply hub, and they had been distributed to lots of Pets at Home stores across the region. The girls had been in quarantine for several weeks, but on the morning of being ready to re-home, Elsa had sadly passed away.

Now, I doubt very much that Elsa and Ana had been cage mates prior to being delivered to our store, I imagine the sows had all been in individual cages either pregnant or with their litters, and had also not been very used to being handled regularly.

Ana was taken out of the cage by the assistant...and I fell in love!

Rex guinea pig pet family

Imagine if you will a scrubbing brush and a hedgehog having a baby together...that's what she looked like! She is a Rex guinea pig, which means she has a wiry coat that stands on end rather than lying flat, and she has curly whiskers and paw hair. Being an ex-breeding sow, she had squashy saddlebags where her babies had been, her ears looked well-chewed, and she was very nervous.

I took her from the assistant and tucked her under my chin and...Oh my goodness!! "Yes, she's coming home with us!" I exclaimed.

We discussed our set up and experience, and the assistant agreed that as she wasn't a very socialised piggie, she'd be much better with us than with children.

We settled her in a cage on her own, underneath Tilly and Phoebe's cage, so that she could acclimatise. Eventually we hoped that we might be able to put them together as a herd, but after several unsuccessful bonding sessions, it became clear that although Tilly was very happy, Phoebe's 'Alpha Female' traits were too strong, she was all grown up now and didn't want another Mamma thank you :) 

We knew that Ana didn't really suit our new girl as a name, and we tried quite a few options before finally settling on Molly. We do love a name that ends in an 'eee' sound :)

We asked Pets at Home for some information, roughly how old she was, how many litters she'd had, that sort of thing. This is the bit that makes me sad and angry at Pets at Home. When we adopted her, the assistant said she would try to find out these things for us. After a couple of days I still hadn't heard, so rang the branch. I overheard a conversation between a Supervisor/Manager and an Assistant (because the assistant hadn't put me on hold or covered the microphone properly). The assistant was told by the manager that there were too many ex-breeding guinea pigs coming from the breeder in any one shipment to get individual histories. They just got divvied up between that branches by the central hub, and the branch "wouldn't bother trying to get that sort of information from the breeder just for a guinea pig"... Yup.... I seethed on the other end of the phone. When the assistant relayed this information is a slightly edited form, I said that I just wanted to be able to provide my vet with a few basic details. Regardless of how long she had left she would be loved for the rest of her days and it was an honour to be able to give her a happy retirement.

I would have thought that information would be fairly standard. A breeding sow was probably able to have 'x' number of litters, or would be kept for breeding until 'y' years old, after which they would be euthanised or given up for adoption. Surely then the breeder would have a rough idea of the animals age to know whether it could safely have another litter, of it was now unprofitable to keep it.

Anyway, Molly settled in, was doing quite well on her own and enjoyed laptime, but she was still very quiet and timid in the cage. Five months after we got her, a friend at work told us that his daughter's guinea pigs were having difficult times. Tipsy, the mother, had been diagnosed with lymphoma, and her daughter Emmeline (nicknamed 'Bitey') was quite feisty. I popped in one evening to see if I could offer any support or advice from my own experience.

A quick feel of Tipsy revealed lumps all round the lymphatic system, the biggest was under her chin, but she also had them behind her elbows and low down in her abdomen. It didn't look good. I talked to them about signs to look for as she declined, so that they would know when to get her to the vet to have her put her to sleep. I was thinking in terms of weeks, and sadly was proved right.

My friend had decided with his daughter that they didn't want any more guinea pigs, so I said that when the time came, and they were ready, we would give Emmeline a home.

family pets tri-colour guinea pig
The whole family brought Emmeline, her cage, food and all her toys over to our house one Saturday morning, I immediately got her out of her carry cage for a cuddle and took her for a walk round the garden on my shoulder while we (humans) chatted.

Her indoor cage was placed on our kitchen table near the other piggies, and stayed there for a couple of weeks while we began the process of introducing Emmeline to Molly.

family pets guinea pig bonding session
The introductions begin
We used the indoor run as we had with Tilly Phoebe and Poppy, filled with lots of hay, some veggies and water. Initially they were more interested in eating, then they spotted each other, and all hell broke loose! There was rumble strutting, wheeking, teeth bearing, teeth chattering and defensive weeing like I've never seen - Emmeline is more effective than a water pistol!! And where she keeps all that liquid I have no idea.

There were a couple of occasions where they were lunging at each other, but we always sat right next to the cage armed with towels to smother and separate them if needed. Thankfully they never went that far.

Slowly over the course of a couple of weeks, the incidences of fear and dominance reduced in frequency and  ferocity. We were able to leave them together for longer, then leave them unattended while we watched tv in the next room (always listening for signs of trouble). Once they were almost there Mr PB bought and modified a new cage for them to live together in (Molly's one was only really big enough for a single piggie). Once the hutch was complete, they moved in together with still an air of disgruntlement, especially when Molly tried to mother Emmeline and wash her ear. But Emmeline was determined to be dominant.
family pets bonded female guinea pigs
Happy, inseparable girls

When she finally realised that Molly was the Mamma and there was nothing she could do about it, she let Molly wash her ear and the war was over...just like that, and now they are inseparable friends. They smoosh up next to each other, share food and everything, it's adorable and I'm so happy for them, they are both lovely calm confident piggies xx

Next Time...The Hamsters

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Introducing my family - part 1

Welcome back!

Today I thought I'd introduce you to our family of pets and how they found their way into our life. In future posts I'll take you back to look at previous members, all of whom hold special places in our hearts, but let's start here...

Guinea Pigs

We currently have ten pets in our life, 4 guinea pigs, 3 hamsters and 3 hens. Lets start with the piggies...

family pets guinea pig indoor hutchThe girls live in two hutches which have been wonderfully modified by Mr PB to form a 'library' of piggies in our kitchen.

Tilly and Phoebe live in the upstairs half, and Molly and Emmeline in the downstairs.

Each hutch has 3 full levels, and a half level which we call the 'hay lofts'. Ramps access each level, and the girls have places to eat, sleep, stretch and run around.

We'll talk about the hutches properly another time, today is about the piggies themselves.

They all get fed Burgess Excel Tasty Nuggets with Mint, daily, with the majority of their diet being good quality hay, plus a range of vegetables, grass and occasionally fruit. I don't give them supplements, you shouldn't need to with a good balanced diet, and as you can see from the photo (right) they have two bottles of water per pair of piggies. With so many levels, it's important they can find water whenever they need it.

Part 1 - Phoebe and Tilly

family pets guinea pig
family pet guinea pig
Phoebe and Tilly came to us in the summer of 2015. We had just lost one of our previous pair of girls to sarcoma, a particularly invasive type of cancer. That left behind Poppy, who was very down and struggling with health issues herself.

We wanted to try to bond Poppy with a pair of baby guinea pigs to encourage her to enjoy her life again, and so that when she eventually passed away, we would not be left with another single piggie that needed to be bonded with a new friend.

Time was of the essence, and we went to our local Pets at Home to see if they had any youngsters available. We checked the Adoption section first, but there were only rabbits, hamsters and gerbils looking for new homes, so we moved on to the 'new' pet section with fingers crossed and holding our breath.

The boys' half of the enclosure had lots of baby guinea pigs in a multitude of different colours, and a couple of different age groups all in together.

In the girls' half I could only see one baby, which not ideal. She was mostly white with one brown ear and a brown patch coming down over one eye. Her other eye was quite quite blue! As we talked to her, she darted into a nearby pile of hay, out of which sprang a much smaller tri-coloured tortoiseshell baby! Judging by the size difference, they were probably from different litters, but were already used to living together. Two baby girls for Poppy!! Success!!

With MrPB standing guard over them, I went and found an assistant, and after answering lots of questions about our set-up, guinea pig knowledge etc, these two little bundles of fluff came home with us.

We moved the babies into a smallish indoor run on the kitchen floor, with lots of hay, hiding places, water, dried food and some vegetables. After letting them settle in for a couple of days, getting used to the sounds and smells of their new environment, we divided the run in half and put Poppy on the other side of the barrier.

family pets guinea pig bonding session introductions
Poppy and Tilly
Poppy was unsure of the new girls initially, but as she had got older she became a very gentle girl, and quickly we were able to start removing the barrier, allowing them to be in together. Things were going so well, but then poor Poppy took a turn for the worse. We took her took the vets and agreed that the time had come to put her to sleep. It was so sad, and Phoebe and Tilly were left slightly confused.

Now they are approximately 18 months old, both are very well with real personalities, Phoebe thinks she should be in charge but Tilly likes the quiet life and tends to ignore her. In frustration Phoebe starts plays both sides of the argument, being grumpy and rumble strutting one moment, whimpery and oppressed the next. She absolutely ADORES Mr PB! She will fall asleep on his lap, let him fuss her in the cage, speak to him, but merely tolerate me, she's such a daddy's girl! Little Tilly is adorable with both of us, showering me with piggy kisses on my nose, but she seems to have a teeny tiny bladder, as she can only manage to be out for a cuddle for about five minutes before she's asking to go back home again. They are a very special five minutes though.

They both love going out on the grass for a run around, and are very effective lawn mowers. Indoors they interact with us constantly. Phoebe is very feisty and shouts loudly when she thinks it's time for her tea, or she hears the fridge door open, and both have learnt that when we make a double 'kissing' sound or hold our hands above our head saying 'Doodoo!' (like exclaiming 'ta-dah') they have to beg at their bars for a treat (vegetable or forage, not shop-bought), this trick is also known as 'up-pig'. Phoebe like to taste all the fresh food before Tilly gets a look-in, she nibbles all the best bits off and then moves onto the next piece. It's a constant game of trying to out-wit her so Tilly can have something that hasn't been pre-chewed!!

Next time...Molly and Emmeline

Monday, 24 October 2016

Time for a Change - Growing my blog and changing focus

In the blog beginning

Since I started this blog, so many things have changed in my life that I realised the blog no longer fitted it very well. Things that were important to me back then have gone, some have blossomed and grown.

"Pumpkin Becki's Little Allotment and Garden" was a way of recording all my successes and failures as I took on a brand new, never-before-cultivated allotment, in the village where we were also self-building a house on a 0.1 acre of land...yes, 0.1 acres.

Well, it's now 9 years since we poured the foundations, and our self-build project has become our perfect home. We were careful to begin work on the garden as soon as the mucky building site stage was over; we had a 'dream' list of things we wanted from our garden, and I think we've managed to achieve them:

  • A greenhouse - check
  • A Potting Shed - check
  • Chickens in a fox-proof run - check
  • A working kitchen garden - check
  • A hive of honey bees
  • A pretty, ornamental garden - it's a constant work in progress, but who's garden isn't!
Now, that's quite a lot to expect from such a small plot of land, especially when a large chunk of that is taken over by the dwelling. The biggest boon was removing the Leylandii trees, which by doing a deal with our lovely neighbours, gained us a couple more metres on the length of the back garden and so much more light and rainfall. The garden has thrived!

Successes and Failures

The success of the garden has lead to the downfall of the allotment though. I'm sad about that, and I still haven't officially given it back to the landowner, but I know that it has served it's purpose, helping me meet people in our new village, and giving me a wonderful grounding in growing edibles when I didn't have a suitable space at home.

Once the house was complete and the garden well underway, we allowed pets back into our lives. My husband Paul had grown up with cats, but I've always had small animals, especially guinea pigs and hamsters, and they don't mix terribly well with puss cats, neither does the busy main road on the other side of our fence. We also desperately wanted to keep chickens, ever since watching the Channel 4 'Escape to River Cottage' series with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, so cats weren't really an option.

Positive changes

In the space of 9 years, we have had 7 guinea pigs, 4 hamsters, 3 chickens, some tropical fish and thousands of honey bees, and as we stand now, we have 10 pets in total.

So I started thinking about my blog, and why I struggled to keep it up to date. That's when I realised that it's because it doesn't fit our life anymore. We aren't aspiring allotmenteers now, I'm not trying to win tonnes of prizes at Garden Society shows with my flowers, veg and fruit. Huge chunks of time are now taken up caring for and spending time with our family of pets.

What do I do about that?

Well the gardening and allotmenting lessons I've learned are still very important to me, so I didn't want to end this blog, but I thought that with a slight name change, a freshening face-lift and development of subject matter, I could encourage my little blog to grow with me.

So welcome to "Pumpkin Becki - The story of our garden, built from nothing; and the ever growing collection of pets we share our lives with"
Rebecca xxx