Family, Fur, Feathers, Fluff and Fuzz, Pets, Where the Heart Is

My Absence and the Beast They Call IMHA

My last post, March 7, 2019… before life got more complicated than we thought it already was in the midst of building a house while living with my parents. In addition, work was progressively getting busier as more people discovered that there was a pediatric walk-in clinic in town, yet I still managed to scrape together some blog posts from time to time.

When Eliott and I decided to take one last trip, one last vacation, before we had full on farm responsibilities, we knew it would be a while before we were able to take week long trips again…if ever. What we didn’t expect was that it would be our last solo outing in general without significant time constraints for the foreseeable future.

While on vacation, my mom informed us that Mac our mini schnauzer had been acting like his back was bothering him and that she had taken him to our vet where he had been prescribed some pain medication after all his labs and X-rays returned normal. No big deal, this was something that had occurred from time to time in the last few years when he landed funny jumping off the bed or couch; at 11 and a half he was not a young pup anymore.

The Calm Before the Storm

A week after we returned home in the beginning of June 2019, we had a fairly normal morning. Eliott had taken care of the chickens, dogs, and horse while I went to work my 5-hour shift at the walk-in clinic. During all that Mac had been running around the yard, barking at the chickens and generally enjoying himself that morning. When I returned from work that was not the case. Mac, who usually met me at the door whooping and hollering that I’d left him ALL. DAY. LONG. was sleeping on the couch when I walked in. Except he wasn’t, I quickly noticed his eyes were open with not a peep or movement to announce my arrival. I quickly called around and got him in with a vet, but my worry deepened when I changed and I put my shoes on in front of him (a sign that signaled “outside” and joy for him), still with no response.

After getting him off the couch, Mac still didn’t want to even lift his head.

At the vet they discovered that he was anemic (nothing life threatening at this time but his levels were low), he had high blood sugar and an enlarged spleen with a possible mass in his abdomen. They had us start insulin and recommended following up the next day with an Ultrasound at an animal hospital in the nearest city. We made the appointment and took our baby home.

Holding him at home after the 1st Vet Appt.

That night Mac continued to get worse, unable to walk steadily or support himself while he urinated and he was seemingly disoriented. Between 2 and 3 am we took him into the Emergency vet where they gave him a short acting insulin to lower his blood sugar (which had spiked) and IV fluids. After returning home, we slept with Mac’s bed between us on our bed for 5 hours as he continued to worsen again. I was unsure if we were even going to make it to our appointment later that morning before we lost him as I prayed and cried and prayed some more, and probably didn’t actually sleep a wink as I repeatedly checked his breathing through the wee hours and on our drive into the city at 9am.

Mac sleeping between us on his bed and a soft bath mat
On our way to the vet in the city for the ultrasound

There the vet diagnosed him with IMHA (Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia) and pancreatitis, in addition to the other issues the prior vet had found, but thankfully no mass. For anyone reading this that isn’t medical, IMHA basically means that his immune system was recognizing his own red blood cells as a foreign invader therefore attacking and killing them off. There are several things that have been known to cause IMHA but we will never know what caused Mac’s because several of these things had been introduced to him in the last 2 months. These include: vaccinations within the last 2 months (he’d had his at the end of April), chemicals (my parents had put a Seresto collar on him while we were gone), and tick-borne illness (he returned positive for this as well when the vet checked him).

By this time Mac was starting to have a hard time breathing. The vet told us that it was a 50/50 chance that he’d make it, but that he was convinced it would be worth the try and that if he made it past 48 hours the odds were more in our favor. The treatment was an oxygen cage, a blood transfusion, immune suppressant medication, steroids and IV fluids. In my medical mind, Mac was suffering and I knew that all those things they were going to try would ease that pain and suffering even if they didn’t work. So, with Nationwide Pet Insurance at our side, we decided to give it a go. It was one of the longest 48 hours in my life up until that point. But we made it. What we didn’t know is that we were far from being home free.

Mac in His Oxygen Cage

Over the next several months we had to make a lot of changes to our household. It was the best of times in that we were able to move into our own newly constructed home, but we were working on this home ourselves as we constantly cared for our newly diabetic and recovering IMHA dog. He was unable to be left at home for more than an hour or two as his high blood sugar induced frequent urination. He was also on steroids which kept his blood sugar elevated. Mac also had to have regularly scheduled low fat meals 12 hours apart with injections of insulin in addition to his daily steroid, immune suppressant medication and blood sugar checks.

Mac’s Weekly Care Sheet

We went along in this manner positive and hopeful as we slowly saw improvement in our boy from June through the end of September when we began to notice that Mac could not see as well at night anymore. He was finding the door to the basement instead of to our bedroom after late night trips outside and running into things outside while he was out in the dark. The blindness progressed rapidly. In a matter of two weeks he was running into things in the house in the daytime. He could no longer follow us from room to room as he desired, and would sit in the middle of the living room barking for us until we came to get him. Mac was sad and depressed, sleeping most of the day and night except when he needed to go outside and generally just not enjoying his life anymore unless he was being snuggled by us; we just couldn’t stand to see him like that.

The Beginning of Vision Loss

At our next scheduled follow up, we discussed the new events with our specialist who diagnosed Mac with diabetic cataracts and recommended a trip to the state university’s veterinary hospital for a consultation with a small animal eye doctor. She felt that if they could remove the cataracts, Mac’s quality of life would improve tremendously and our boy would be happy again.

However, once at the eye doctor, they informed us they wanted us to be followed by their own internal medicine vets in order to get Mac’s blood sugar more regulated prior to attempting any type of surgery. We worked with them for a few months in the hopes that we would be able to work toward vision for Mac.

Sleeping at our first eye doctor appt

Those few months were hard. Though we had changed his medication regimen and started making him prescribed homemade and low-fat meals, Mac continued to progressively worsen. He lost more and more weight, though we increased his feeding amounts weekly to try to bridge the gap. The depression continued to worsen and I had purchased a wearable dog carrier to keep him with me while I was doing chores and housework to keep his stress and anxiety down as he would constantly bark for me if I wasn’t beside him. Then he started getting other acute illnesses. Emphysematous cystitis, another round of pancreatitis, UTIs, diarrhea from unknown cause which progressed into bloody diarrhea and acute hypovolemic shock requiring another hospitalization for Mac.

Mac in his wearable carrier

Mac almost died for the second time in 7 months on our way to the university vet with that last one. It was then that we asked the internalist the hard question for what seemed like the millionth time, but this time we were more specific. “We are worried about his quality of life progressively worsening. At this time do you even see a possibility of getting to the point where we can have his cataracts removed because that is why we agreed to put him through this in the first place.” The internalist responded that he was unsure. That night, we made a difficult promise to ourselves and to him. Mac was sad, Mac was not getting better, and with each illness he recovered less and less to his former self.

Home after his hospitalization from hypovolemic shock
We promised that we wouldn’t let him continue like this. We promised that if he got ill again, we would let him be at peace. It was the hardest decision I’d ever made in my entire life. We were so hopeful when he was almost like a new dog after his hospitalization, but when the antibiotics ran out, he returned to how he’d been right before this last illness, if not worse.

Two weeks after his hospitalization, he began to have diarrhea again. Being late at night we knew there wasn’t anywhere to take him but the Emergency vet, where they could at least help us make him more comfortable. He received IV fluids and some antibiotics, which did the trick for comfort level, and the next morning I made a phone call to one of my high school friends who’d become a vet and recently moved back home to practice. We had decided that we wanted him to be at home surrounded by us and comfortable when we let him go and my friend was willing to make a house call for us. My friend also agreed that it was probably time to let him rest and that since he did well while he was on antibiotics, we could spend the next few days loving on him and making his last few days with us the best we could.

Unless he got too hot, Mac slept with us at night.

Those last days we did nothing but cuddle, love, dote on him, and give him his favorite foods and treats. When it was time for him to go he was so tired and ready that he remained relaxed through the entire process, not even flinching for the injections. He went peacefully, falling asleep in my arms.

I let go of my first baby on January 27, 2020 at approximately 5:30pm. It was without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do thus far in my life. I have cried more tears since June 11, 2019, than I think I’ve ever cried before, maybe even cumulatively up to that point. In fact, I’m weeping as I write and edit this almost exactly 12 months later. Most people who don’t have animals won’t understand, some even with animals may not. I lost a piece of me that day.

The point of my sharing this with you all is:

1. Maybe other people out there who are going through this know they aren’t alone
2. It is a rare illness from what I gather, and perhaps I can make you aware of the signs and symptoms so that maybe you can ask “Could it be IMHA” before it progresses to the point it did for us.
3. It is apparently even rarer for a dog to develop diabetes concurrently with IMHA, which makes the entire treatment process more complicated and more difficult to recover from. So, I share so that you may be better able to make quality of life decision for your dog earlier on in the process if you know the possible outcome.
4. Life has been complicated and sad the last several months. It happens, that’s what life on this world is. Though I may not have been posting, life was still happening here. The house was still getting worked on, the farm animals were still being cared for and learning was happening.
5. Though I missed blogging, taking care of Mac and loving him was our top priority. I wouldn’t trade any of the time we spent loving him, caring for him or snuggling with him for the most successful blog in the entire world. Don’t take your furbabies and other loved ones for granted ya’ll. Their time with us on this earth is FAR too short.

In Loving Memory of my Soulmate Dog

Mac Johnson

October 2007 – January 27, 2020

Mac as a Puppy
He ALWAYS looked at me like this ❤️
My Cuddle Bug
My Handsome Boy
Fur, Feathers, Fluff and Fuzz, Poultry

For the Love of Chickens

Chickens are probably the most novice-friendly livestock out there. Granted my husband and I both grew up on farms as children with various types of livestock, but when we decided to start growing our homestead we decided to grow slowly. We did not want to be overwhelmed by getting everything at once, and instead chose to add livestock one at a time until we feel we are at capacity. So the first thing we got… chickens.

Obviously you already know my love for Fluffy Chickens (which have their own advantages) but we needed something that would be good for meat production as well as egg production. I have read several books, websites and articles over the past two years that had information regarding chicken breeds. These include Cackle Hatchery, Backyard Homestead and Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Animals. I also used the Livestock Conservancy website, as I believe it is important to help grow the breeds that are struggling.

The breed I finally settled on was the Delaware. Delawares are a fantastic breed if you are looking for a dual purpose bird. They grow rapidly with weights from 5.5-6.5 lbs for pullets and hens and 7.5-8.5 lbs for cockerels and roosters. Their lovely white feathers also makes the plucking job look much cleaner on a meat bird.

As far as egg production, each hen will lay an average of 3-5 eggs per week. After the “new layer” phase, these eggs will range from large to jumbo in size. Furthermore, I don’t know about you, but there’s just something about a brown egg that makes it feel more “home grown.”

Personality is also HUGE for me when picking out animals; I don’t like creatures that I’m going to have to tussle with. Delaware chickens are known to not only be calm and friendly, but the word “docile” has also been thrown around to describe them. They are also decent setters, which means they will make fairly good mamas if you want to raise your own chicks.

Delaware chickens do well in all weather climates, but the Rooster’s do have a large comb that needs to be monitored for frostbite in the cold. I also found that they are pretty good at foraging for their own food. Even as chicks, mine would go into a tizzy when let out to free range. Hello decreased food costs!

If you do choose to raise your own chicks, the recommended mating ration is 10 hens to 1 rooster. Although I will say that I have currently been rocking 2 roosters with 12 hens in one coop and 4 roosters with 5 hens in another since I got them as chicks 7 months ago. Please don’t judge, they were a gift and I don’t have the heart to “off” them. We haven’t had any vicious battles or injuries to date.

The Delaware also happens to be on the Livestock Conservancy list of “endangered” livestock, if you will. It is considered to be a sustainable heritage breed, yet prior to the 90’s the breed had almost died out. Still lingering between the categories of “watched” and “critical,” and given all the traits mentioned above, I believe Delaware chickens should be top consideration for anyone looking to keep chickens.



Fur, Feathers, Fluff and Fuzz, Poultry, Saving Money, The Piggy Bank

Ferment All the Things!

I’ve already written about fermented tea, and I’m sure you’ll hear about some of my other ferments in posts to come. But… did you know that you could ferment things for your animals as well? Ferment all the things!

After reading Welcome to the Farm, by Shaye Elliot, we began a 3 day fermentation on our grain. To do this, we fill a 1 gallon bucket with grain and then fill the bucket with water until we can see it just below the surface of the grain. I loose fitting lid, or towel is placed over the top of the bucket and the bucket is set at room temperature for 3 days.

We start a new fermentation every day so that we always have freshly fermented food for our hens. We currently have 12 hens and they make their way through most of this feed each day. I would adjust it accordingly for your chickens as after 3 days the ferment can begin to turn.

Moldy food is never good for any of your animals and can make them very sick, so it is also necessary to make sure that you clean out the feeder well each day. The fermented food can easily become stuck in the corners and edges of the trough and mold and turn sour to the point that it is no longer good for your chickens to eat.

The advantage of fermented grain? Well, as mentioned with fermented tea, good bacteria grow in the fermented grain and are great for chicken’s digestive health. Additionally, the fermented grain expands and sometimes will start to sprout, providing more nutritional value to your hens.

In providing more nutritional value, the shells of your eggs will increase in thickness. Added bonus? Bigger yolks. I may not like hard boiled yolks, but when it comes to bigger yolks in my poached or over-easy eggs… yes please!

This is also more economical. Since the nutritional value increases and the grain expands with fermentation, your chickens are full faster. Thus, you spend less money on chicken feed for your chickens that are not solely free range.

For now, we just purchase the grain from our local MFA feed supplier. However, at some point we would love to grow our own grains to make our own scratch to ferment for our chickens. However you choose to do it, I think the advantages definitely outweigh the draw backs.

Fur, Feathers, Fluff and Fuzz, Poultry, Saving Money, The Piggy Bank

Two Birds… One Stone

Living on a homestead or farm… you’re pretty much always trying to find ways to kill two birds with one stone. Efficiency is key on the farm and we do our best to work smarter, not harder. We work hard enough as it is and we are always about trying to find things that work in multiple ways, things that serve multiple purposes or things that can do multiple jobs.

Chickens… for instance.

We recently built a movable chicken coop to allow our chickens to “free range” in a contained manner and save us some money on feed. Initially, my father was concerned by the devastation the chickens were leaving in their wake; they like to peck and scratch until they’ve almost cleared the grass and have made some dust baths for themselves at each location.

Then we started to notice something happening at the oldest coop locations. Thick, green, beautiful grass trailed along behind the chicken coop. Healthier grass than the rest of the yard had! It was literally repairing the yard, one 12′ x 5′ section at a time. When we get a fenced in yard… I’m all about letting those ladies free range wherever they like.

So we started strategically moving the chicken coop about the yard to make a more consistent pattern of thick, fresh grass. It is working like a charm folks!  But why stop there? There are SO many more things they could be helping with… like the garden. So we tried it.

We had weeds popping up in our freshly tilled garden left and right, the perfect fodder for our chickens. They LOVED making a dust bowl out of the garden and taking care of our weed problem so we could plant our corn and squash. We killed not one, not two, but three stones that week as we fed the chickens, allowed them to weed for us AND fertilized our garden.

So technically…

Three Birds… One Stone.

Fur, Feathers, Fluff and Fuzz, Pets, Saving Money, The Piggy Bank

It’s a Ruff Life

It’s a ruff life for a long haired, adventurous pup on a farm ya’ll. I didn’t realize quite how bad it was until we’d lived inside Colorado Springs limits for 2 years and then moved back to the farm. Poor Mac, our mini schnauzer, literally gets everything his fur.

Mac needed a trip to the groomers about every 2-3 months in Colorado still, and those winter snow drifts could really mat up his fur, but it’s nothing like life on the farm. Here he needs grooming at least once a month and a bath every week to every other week. the cost really adds up.

To save money, we decided to start grooming him ourselves. My dad bought some Oster Clippers made for pet grooming, some hair shears, and a mini clipper and we got to work.  Yes, it is slightly expensive, but in 3 months it paid for itself. The bigger investment is the time it takes.

It takes anywhere from an hour and a half to 3 hours to groom Mac. He hates it. I mean he loves getting toweled off at the end, but everything else is a definite hate. So it really depends on how well he cooperates with us. Additionally, about once a year Mac’s beard just gets too long, is easily matted and needs either a serious trimming or to be completely started fresh.

This last time we had to start fresh.  And that takes more time.

I generally start with the Oster Clippers on Mac’s back and neck clipping against the direction his fur grows. I also hit his tail and legs with it as well as the tops of his ears. It is important to be careful not to catch any of the edges or the thin skin flaps of the ear and around the upper leg where the thin skin membrane attaches from the leg to the belly.  Ask me how I know.

Next I use the shears to trim the hair on the edge of his ear as I firmly hold the edge between my fingers to ensure I do not clip him. I trim his eyebrows with these as well, clamping my fingers together firmly at the base of them to protect his eye. The rest of Mac’s face is trimmed with the mini clippers that are blunt and much safer around his eyes.

When we are finished trimming and clipping and cutting, Mac gets his bath. In case you wondered… he also hates this part. He shivers in the warm water with his ears pinned back, standing stiff legged and unmoving while I douse him under the water spout and lather him up with Citrus and Sea Salt wash.

I use this soap because there has been so much controversy over the name brands available at our local stores. I figure it’s less dangerous for him and the label even says it is versatile enough for pets. After I rinse Mac off, we finally get to his favorite part; he LOVES being toweled off. He will charge the towel over and over like a Spanish bull, tail wagging the whole way.