Sunday, October 31, 2010

An October Treat

The red apples are a bright contrast to the dormant grass, dirt, twigs and withered sunflower heads in the chicken yard.
A while back, a friend commented that she had so many "seconds" from her apple tree and was wondering aloud what to do with them.
"My chickens would love them," I said. "The horses too."
I was delighted when she gave me a box of wormy apples. The chickens, more so.
The unusually dry fall meant the vegetation dried up months ago. The young birds, confined to the chicken yard, must rely on humans for the occasional vegetable and fruit scraps for variety in their diet.
I counted out twenty apples -- enough for each bird, plus an extra, and tossed them into the yard.
Those beaks punctured the apple peel in no time, and I stood and watched and delighted in the pluck, pluck, pluck, and chicken purrs coming from the chicken yard.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

We're Going to Keep Her

After a year-long search, we finally added a second horse to the family.
Her barn name is Jet, and, like Lily, she's an 8-year-old registered Haflinger mare.
Like Lily, she likes to eat; she's very sociable and curious; and she's very neat in her stall -- a horse keeper's dream.
The two have their differences.
While Lily, who stands at 14.1 1/4 hands, is a pony, Jet, at 14.2 3/4 hands, is a horse.
Jet is the athlete. She trots everywhere. Lily ambles.
Jet has more of a workman-like attitude, and Lily, well, Lily will always be the princess.
Both make me smile.
The two are already buddies, and I often find them standing in a stall together, or both lying down and snoozing in the paddock.
In the photos, Lily is the one with the blaze and Jet has the star on her forehead.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hazards on the Herding Field

Caeli and I moved the sheep into the pasture where I planned to practice penning. When hearing the “Away” command, she circled counter-clockwise. But in mid-circle, she saw one of three hens that were roaming the pasture. Her path and mind wandered from the sheep to the chickens. “Lie down,” I commanded, imagining flying chickens and feathers if she tried to herd them. "Away," I said again. Again she focused on the sheep. But, before I could breathe easily, Trick the Cat, sauntered out to the field. As she passed, he pounced her and bit her back leg. She ignored him. She was focusing on sheep, sheep, sheep. Until she saw those chickens again. “That’ll do,” I said, wondering if the herding book had advice for practicing with meddling chickens and cats in the field.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When the Music Doesn't Fit the Setting

Hiking in the Italian Alps, we stopped at a home/cafe to refill our water bottles and heard Bruce Springsteen belting out "Glory Days." Layered in a sweatshirt, jacket and gloves and doing farm chores on the pre-dawn fall morning, I had trouble delighting in the Beach Boys "Surfin' U.S.A." On my way home from the Y, I stop at the gas station/convenience store that sits among the poultry barns and corn fields at the village's edge. Standing behind the man in Carhartts, I smile when I hear the Grateful Dead singing "Touch of Grey."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Horse Shopping 301: The Trial Period

We brought the mare home for a trial period in September. During my two test rides, I liked her gaits, her training, her conformation, her temperament. But the true test would come when I brought her home. How would she could along with Lily? Were her ground manners as good as they seemed? Both of these could be deal-breakers. While I like to think that I'll spend every day riding, I know that much of my interactions with horses is on the ground -- there is feeding, grooming, regular caretaking to do. A horse that could live harmoniously with the herd and with me was a must. Lily was an easy sell. Within hours, she was hanging her head over the new horse's stall door and rubbing her withers. I, too, was an easy sell. The mare respected my space and stood quietly when tied. The added bonus: She came when called. And often, she threw in a nicker. Now, a horse that treats its human as a rock star is hard to resist.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Retiring the Gloves

The cold weather reminded me that it’s time to retire the once-white work gloves. The middle finger tip blew out last spring. While I enjoyed the air conditioning this summer, I don’t enjoy it on mornings when temperatures drop into the 30s. But I feel a sadness with letting them go. Those gloves carry the dirt from the garden, the manure from the barns, the sweat from me. Red and green livestock grease pencil marks dot their backsides. When I wear them and see the slits made with the hoof trimmers, I’m reminded of that chore, and the gratitude I felt that I was wearing gloves. Those gloves are bathed in the blood of horses, sheep, dogs, and my own. Their fingers curl just like mine. The new gloves feel stiff, not a part of me. But I wear them on Sunday when I’m moving hay so they can start carrying the story of me and the farm.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fall Cleaning

When I went to hook the manure spreader to the tractor, I had to wait my turn in the barnyard. The farmer and his helper were moving hay wagons out of the barn for baling later in the day. Another was moving the combine from the just-harvested field. Temperatures hits 70 degrees yesterday, and we were scurrying around to do last-minute tasks before cold weather set in and snow or rain (I'd take either) fell from the sky. I tackled the horse barn and paddock. Before we move hay into the barn, I rake out the old. I also cleaned the aisleways and sheep stall. Then, I headed outside to the paddock. The Haflinger mares are neat. Unless closed in their stalls, they won't poop in them. Instead, they've created four "bathroom areas" on the perimeter of the paddock. I cleaned those up and deposited the deposits into the manure spreader. Once the spreader was filled, my husband spread the old hay and manure onto a harvested field. With daylight and warmth left, I tackled other tasks -- disinfected the horse waterers and sheep tank. Then, clippers in hand, I turned to the horses. Their bridlepaths could use a little tidying before winter set in.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Horse Shopping 202: First Impressions

The mare was running around the round pen, bucking and calling to her pasture mate. I wasn't impressed. My friend and I had driven 2.5-hours to see this horse who had sounded promising over the phone. She was trained to ride and drive, had show experience, great bloodlines and conformation. I'd seen a few photos of her, but no video. While the horse running around the round pen was well put together and a great mover, I wasn't sure I wanted to climb on top of her and give her a spin. I was no longer a teen-ager, and, over the years, I've learned that falls hurt more than they used to. They also can break bones. When her rider arrived at the barn, she led the mare from the round pen, put her in cross ties and tacked her up. The mare began settling. The rider swung into the saddle, and the mare went to work. The horse was responsive and obedient and a nice mover. I went to my car and retrieved my saddle.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Horse Shopping 201: Getting my Feet Wet

Horse shopping is so much different than a decade ago. Because of economic conditions, more horses are for sale. The Internet makes it easy to market your horse. With a click of the mouse, I can find horses for sale on farm websites, registries, and general horse classifieds. People can email photos and videoes of the horses.

But in the end, I still had to make the phone calls, ask the questions, and finally, get in the car and drive to see the horses.

I just looked at fewer horses this time around.

Coming tomorrow: First Impressions

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Horse Shopping 104: Temperament

Years ago I read an article by a horse conformation expert. Her first recommendation for horse shopping was finding a horse whose temperament you liked. Before buying Scuba in the 1990s, I talked with people who'd cared and ridden her. The first thing they said about her were -- what a lovely mare, what a sweet mare, what a fun mare. She had her physical limitations and, as she grew older, her health ailments. But it was still a joy to have a horse with a fun personality in the barn. My Haflinger Lily is a curious, personable mare who has her nose into everything and often scares herself. She, too, has her physical limitations. She's always had difficult with the right canter lead. So, this time around, I was looking for a horse with a great temperament, but also with physical ability.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Horse Shopping 103: Mares vs. Geldings

Some horse people want nothing to do with mares. They say they're temperamental, moody, unreliable. I don't have that attitude. Most of my riding horses have been mares. Over my lifetime, I've ridden or owned some wonderful mares and geldings, and I've experienced my share of temperamental mares and geldings too. My experience with horses and dogs has taught me to look at the temperament first, and worry about the plumbing later. With that attitude, I began my search. I wanted a Haflinger -- between the ages of 4 to 10, trained to ride and drive. How hard could that be? Little did I know that the search would take nearly a year.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Horse Shopping 102: Mare Economics

When I bought Lily, the Haflinger, six years ago, Haflingers were harder to find -- especially mares and fillies. "Unless you're breeding, don't get a mare. Get a gelding," a breeder told me. The Haflinger horse market was so hot that people were buying Haflingers in utero. I found a different market when I began shopping late last year. A year into the Great Recession, many breeders no longer believed an economic recovery was around the corner and were selling their mares. Quality mares were selling for less than geldings with the same training.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Horse Shopping 101

A year ago, I dipped my toes into horse shopping. Scuba died last October, and Dundee died in December. That left Lily, the Haflinger, as an only horse. I thought finding another horse would be easy. Afterall, the economic collapse of 2008 created a buyers' market. I narrowed my search to Haflingers. Because Lily gets fat on a few hours of pasture, she spends most of the day in a dry lot. It would be easiest if the other horse could be on that schedule too. I also had fallen in love with the Haflinger breed. They're a great size -- usually falling into the large pony or small horse category. They also are very personable horses. Most want to be with humans and are very curious. Plus, with that golden color and their white manes and tails, they're just cute, cute, cute. There were lots of Haflingers for sale, I soon discovered. However, finding the right one was going to take time.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Inspection Day

Today is USDA inspection day.
Because our sheep are enrolled in a voluntary scrapies inspection program, the USDA vet visits our farm annually to check our records and the health of the flock. This means each animal is caught and each ear tag is verified.
This morning, I brought all of the sheep in from pastures and put them into stalls so that the process will go faster.
First, I brought the Five Virgins (the five yearling ewes I've used for dog herding practice) in from the pasture.
Then I had to catch the llama that stays with the the main flock. Because he is a guard animal, he must be removed from the flock before we handle the sheep. I don't want him kicking at or spitting on me when I'm trying to catch sheep.
Llambert the Llama is not fond of being caught. Lucky for me, he is fond of eating and usually eats inside with several lambs. Once confined to a stall, he is easier to catch and halter.
After moving him to a stall, I next worked on the bringing the main flock into the barn. With Caeli, the Border collie, helping, we accomplished that task in a minute or two.
The horses are giving me dirty looks, as they aren't used to having that many sheep in the barn at this time of year.
Pictured are several of the ewes and lambs -- who insist on crowding into one stall instead of spreading out into two stalls.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Great Blue Heron

A college friend once told me that seeing a Great Blue Heron brought luck. That belief may have stemmed from a time when the heron numbers were low. Or, maybe, it was because the Great Blue is such a prehistoric looking bird. When I saw one this evening, I caught my breath and found myself wondering what luck it would bring. The bird flew alone in an evening sky emptied by migrating and roosting birds. His long legs stretched behind him as he moved over the harvested field and toward the sliver of moon. His magic floated into the darkening sky.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Between Golden Ears

Sometimes, when I'm riding Lily in the pastures, I stop and take in the farm.
In the big pasture, I see the farm from a view that I can't see from any roadside. How can I capture the open fields and grazing sheep?
Today, I clipped my camera to the saddle and attempted to photograph the farm through her golden ears.
It wasn't as easy as I thought.
First, I had to move back in the saddle so I could capture the sheep and her ears. Then I had to move her head and neck into a straight position. Finally, because I wanted to photograph the sheep, I had to do this when the sheep weren't moving.
Maybe, one just has to experience seeing the world through golden ears.

Monday, October 4, 2010

My Construction Project

I cannot post a photo of my latest project. My husband would be mortified. Significant amounts of baling twine were killed in its construction. Had I been able to find the duct tape, I'm sure I would have used that too. I entered Caeli in a herding trial later this year. Thus, I must practice moving sheep into a pen set up in a field. "I can build a practice pen," I assured the husband. He was concerned that it wouldn't be square, that it wouldn't look nice. I told him it would be in the far pasture, and that the sheep wouldn't critique my construction if there was a dog staring at them.