Archive | July 2018

The Scent of a Human

Foster kittens six weeks old

Many animals are sensitive to airborne chemicals in the environment.  It is a matter of safety to be able to quickly and accurately detect particles that are the product of fire, for instance, or to sense the presence of a predator or the reek of decay.  Smell is used to distinguish edibles and identify friends.  Humans, along with most mammals, have a strong sense of smell.

Some humans abuse that sense through smoking or are unfortunate enough to lose sensitivity due to allergies chronically clogging the nasal passages.  I recently read of a study that determined humans have very sensitive olfactory abilities, nearing those of dogs, that should not be dismissed.  Our reactions to aromatic compounds often occur at a visceral level, escaping our conscious notice.

For our closest domestic companions, dogs and cats, scent is an important means of communication.  We know this because both species have anal glands.  Sniffing under the tail is a social behavior for cats and dogs.  Observe a pet cat or dog as it encounters another member of the household menagerie.  A quick sniff of the nether regions leads to a visible body relaxation for both animals if the newcomer is a known friend.  There is almost a language of the bottom, as it were.

This sensitivity to aromatic organic compounds in cats was markedly demonstrated to me just yesterday.  I am currently fostering two kittens who are living in our home with their very feral mother, Moon.  The kittens are not feral, they adore humans.  Both have a natural affinity for me since I was the first human to become a permanent fixture in their short young lives.  One kitten is a black and white ball of adventure.  I suspect it’s a boy, although it is so dark under the tail I’m still not totally sure.  The other baby cat is a more sedate, pensive little yellow tiger female.  She has always been very snuggly with me.  She was the first to cuddle against my neck with a rattling purr.

This kitten is especially drawn to my lap.  She will run to me when she is frightened or unsure and press for comfort against my inner thighs if I’m seated crossed-legged on the floor.  That is her favorite place on my body.  If I’m standing, she will settle on my foot.  She sleeps contentedly in my lap.  I find this sweet and heartbreakingly endearing since she will soon enough have to leave my foster home for a permanent place and people of her own.  Imagine my despair when yesterday she suddenly wanted nothing to do with me!

It became quickly apparent that little girl kitten did not wish to be near me that morning.  I could think of no reason for the altered behavior.  She would not come close to me on the floor.  If I tried to hold her, she struggled and squirmed mightily to escape my clutches.  The kitten refused my every advance.  Her little “brother,” meanwhile, behaved as usual:  boisterous, reckless and full of antics.  Little sister just sat morosely off to the side with her tail curled around her feet, staring at me.  If I reached tentatively toward her, she fled in horror.  This behavior lasted all day.  By evening I was convinced the sweet lover kitten now hated me.

The look of a morose, disgruntled kitten

Late that night, as I was bathing, I was struck with sudden inspiration when I noticed the scent of my new perfume.  It was the first day I had worn Lancome Hypnose.  Since the kittens arrived, four weeks ago, I’ve only used one scent, a lily-of-the-valley sort of fragrance, JMC, Jessica McClintock.  Could it be the kitten’s response was triggered by the change in fragrance?  This morning I applied JMC again.  The main pulse point I use is the area of the inner thigh that corresponds to the underarm.

Favorite area on human

The change in the kitten’s response was amazing!  From her first whiff of me, everything was alright again.  She cozied up and even rubbed her tiny nose on mine.  When we sat on the floor, she claimed my lap immediately.  Her relief at the return to normal was obvious.  The good human was back.  Not the evil, strange smelling imitation that assaulted her the day before with demands for affection.

Ahhh, the right smell, the good human is back!

This lesson on the sensitivity of the six-week-old kitten nose is not lost on me.  In the future I will swap perfumes slowly, blending the fragrances for a couple days, so the little feline can still recognize me.  I will also vary the scents I use to teach the kittens that the same human may have a different smell and still be safe.  We do not have anal glands (thank goodness!!) but we each do have a particular aroma that is memorized by our furry housemates.  I suspect that our scent, more than any other feature, is what our cat and dog pets rely upon to distinguish their humans.

Advertisements

Russian Knapweed

So this is what I found in my hayfield last week.  There were about a dozen plants in one small area.  This is the first time I’ve seen it in my fields.  Russian knapweed is a pernicious invasive weed.  It is toxic to horses.  A marvelous find in my horse hay field.

The first time I saw this stuff was last year in a mown field on the coast.  It had taken over large portions of the field.  The weed is a perennial that spreads mostly through the roots.  It also produces plenty of seeds.

Knapweed is native to southern Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.  Its roots even grow in the winter.  The weed produces poison that kills other plants so that it forms dense monocultures.

Eradication is difficult.  The roots can cover six square yards in a growing season.  The recommended way to control it is to kill it with herbicide then plant grasses that can survive its poison to out-compete it.  Repeated manual removal to stress the roots, along with encouraging grass growth through irrigation is an organic control method.

My farm is organic.  I pulled all the growth as soon as I found it.  The field will be mowed in the next few weeks.  That will make it easier to spot re-emerging growth.

I plan to stay on top of this weed and stress the heck out of the roots.

Who knows how Russian knapweed got in my field.  I suspect it was brought in on haying equipment used by the farmer who cuts my hay.  That’s how yellow rattle invaded my fields.

By manually removing all the rattle before it can seed, I nearly eliminated it.  Unfortunately, the farmer brings in more each year.  I have to patrol my fields every spring looking for rattle and ripping it out.  I spotted the knapweed while I was looking for rattle.  Patrolling the hayfields has become an essential part of farming for me, it seems.

I hope one day soon to own haying equipment.  Cutting my own hay will make my life easier in many ways, including reduction in the numbers of invasive weeds.

Fancy Blueberry Cheesecake

When you really want to spoil someone, here is a recipe sure to please.  This cheesecake is light and fluffy, the no-bake variety.  It tastes sinfully rich, and it can be if made with full fat cream cheese, butter and whipped cream.  I substitute American neufchatel cheese (found with the cream cheese) or low-fat cream cheese and low-fat whipped topping to cut the calories, but save the flavor.  This is made with blueberries picked from our berry patch.  I think any berry or even cherries could be substituted for the topping and it would be successful with a bit of tinkering to get the sweetening and thickening just right.  I adapted this from an old Dream Whip recipe.

It is made in three steps.  The results of each step must be cooled prior to using and the entire cake should be chilled at least four hours before serving.  You will need a deep dish pie pan to contain all the deliciousness.

Fancy Blueberry Cheesecake

Preheat oven to 350F

Step 1 Crust

3/4 cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup butter

1/4 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 egg slightly beaten

In medium bowl cut butter into flour until well mixed.  Stir in other ingredients, mix well.  Spread evenly in the bottom of an oiled deep dish pie pan.  Bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes until golden brown around the edges.  Cool.

Step 2 Filling

16 oz cream cheese at room temperature

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup whipped cream

Soften cheese at room temperature in large bowl and cream until smooth.  Sift dry ingredients and add to cheese with vanilla and lemon juice.  Mix this well until very smooth.  Gently fold in whipped cream to create a light texture.  Spoon over the cooled crust in the pan, spreading evenly.  Refrigerate.

Step 3 Topping

1 quart fresh or frozen blueberries

1/3 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

5 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Save back one cup whole berries.  If using frozen, save them in the freezer, no not thaw.  In medium sauce pan combine the rest of the berries with water.  Cook over medium heat until boiling, then reduce heat and simmer for five minutes.  Combine sugar and corn starch in small bowl, mixing well.  Add all at once to the berry mixture.  Boil, stirring, until thick and clear.  Remove from heat, cool for 15 minutes.  Stir in lemon juice and reserved whole berries.  Cool in fridge.

When the topping has cooled to lukewarm, spread evenly over the cream cheese layer.  Refrigerate at least four hours prior to serving.  Store refrigerated.  Serve topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream.  Yum!

 

 

 

Foster Cats Update

Yesterday I cut holes in the nest box so the baby foster kittens can start their lives as free feline spirits.  They are about one month old and I’m fairly sure they are both girls.  Within the past few days they developed depth perception so I don’t have to be so worried about their walking off the 7″ step in the bathroom.  I have blocked the step with some boards to help reduce the fall distance and aid in climbing back up.  Mom hides behind the toilet when I’m present, so the babies need to be able to reach her.  Soon they will be navigating the step with ease.

Mother cat Moon remains a feral bundle of nerves.  The frequency of her hissing, spitting charges at me have diminished, and she tolerates being scratched and patted with a long dowel.  She even likes to play when I flip the string on the end of the dowel for her.  Any quick movements elicit growls and hiding.

I have read that kittens take socializing cues from their mother and that it is often necessary to separate the babies from the mother at 6 weeks if you want them to be friendly.  By this age kittens are developing social relationships and over-protective feral mothers can prevent babies from trusting humans.  I have been frequently handling these kittens since the day they arrived 2 weeks ago.  After the initial spitting fit, the babies found they enjoy being held, scratched and patted.When I enter the room and speak, the kittens immediately recognize my voice.  Their ears perk up and they look for me.  Now that they are out of the box, they both come running when I call them.  Mama doesn’t like that, but she doesn’t try to come out from behind the toilet to prevent contact with me.  The babies crawl all over my legs and arms.  They seem to delight in humans.  Last night one crept inside my shirt.  They lick and snuggle, roll over and purr when their bellies are tickled and rub their tiny noses on mine.  So far mama cat has not hindered the kitten socializing.  I’m hoping this continues so the babies can receive their full 8 weeks of milk.

The animal shelter said that once the kittens are weaned, mom can go in to be spayed and socialized.  I can keep the little ones for a few weeks longer without the mom to work on accustoming them to living in a home.  They will meet more humans including children, the other cats and the dogs.  They will learn to find the litterpan in a large area and use cat flaps.  It will be difficult to let these babies go.  That is the hardest part of being a parent.  Like any good parent, I hope to instill the tools young ones need to survive and thrive on their own in the world.