Tuesday, November 30, 2010

When the South Wind Blows

I find myself testing my flexibility. Strong south winds blew the door to the chicken house shut this morning while I was inside, trading out the old water for the new when it happened. The door has no interior handle. So, I found myself squatting as I crawled out through the chicken entrance. A few chickens looked up when they saw me coming. The rest continued eating.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Good Dog

Sometimes I call my dogs the wild things. Sometimes I call them much worse. But, sometimes I look at them and think, "What good dogs." Last night, Tag won the honors when we had guests over. He sat, instead of jumping. He was gentle with the kids. He was the greeter. He laid quietly during the meal, never begging or being obnoxious. Caeli won good dog honors tonight. Dark had hit, and I realized we were going to have storms and lots of rain overnight. The ram and ewes have windbreaks in the pasture but little shelter when the weather turns nasty. So, I rushed to bring them into a horse stall for overnight. The ram, who is hopeful to find an interested ewe anywhere, walked into the stall, but the ewes didn't follow. Rather than chase them around the paddock, I locked the ram in a stall, and went to get Caeli. "Away," I told her. She circled the sheep and then laid down to watch the ewes walk single file into the stall, as easy as that. By myself, it would have taken minutes or hours of mind games and cajoling and foot stomping to get those ewes into a stall. "You are a good dog," I told her.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Natural Christmas Tree

Dewey Kitty has us rethinking th eChristmas tree. Last year, he was an 8-10 week old kitten, and we enclosed the tree in a large dog x-pen. That -- why aesthetically not pleasing -- kept the little guy out. While he is a little less agile, he is more crafty this year. In the past few weeks, he's made a sport out of opening the vanity drawer in the bathroom to get to the hidden toilet paper roll. I don't want to think of how he'd maim and kill the Christmas tree ornaments. So, we're considering a tree decorated with just lights and pine cones. I collected and washed the pine cones today. Tomorrow, they go for a slow roast in the oven to kill any lingering insects. Then it's decorating time. I'd love to add popcorn strings to the tree -- but I know how Dewey Kitty loves popcorn. The tree is to be admired, not eaten.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On This Rainy Thanksgiving Morning, I am Thankful for

A cat that snuggles, and a fire in the woodstove. A dog that is always by my side, and one that herds sheep. An old farmhouse, and a solid barn. Two ponies who call to me every morning, and sheep who demand their food. Chickens who come running, and warm, just laid eggs. Food in the freezer, and a plot of land that produces vegetables. A friend that makes me smile. A friend that encourages. A friend that expects more. Siblings who share a common childhood, and are a phone call away. Parents who are ready to dust us, should we fall. A husband who will journey with me, and tolerates it all. Dewey Kitty is thankful for Pull tabs on milk cartons Slow flies Toilet paper Ladders A cat buddy who'll play and snuggle with him. Tag is thankful for: Me. The hundreds who pet him, and think he's cute. A Frisbee, long walks, an adventure. A treat, a pet, a warm bed. Caeli is thankful for: Sheep. An owner who works her on sheep, and tolerates her eccentricities. Tag who plays and wrestles, and provides a crutch in social settings. A crate and a routine that offers the security she needs. Lily the Pony is thankful for: An equine buddy Pasture and hay An owner who tolerates her princess attitude. The hens are thankful for: Bits of vegetation A potato, a tomato, a seed, that I left in the garden Scratch grain and apple cores A place that is dry and free from predators. Trick the Barn Cat is thankful for: Slow sparrows Hay that is stacked six bales high Rafters A barn full of critters to amuse him Border collies to torment Cat food.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Ram is No Gentleman

After overnight rain, I go to the pasture to feed the ram and three ewes. The ram is sleeping underneath the shelter. The three ewes are standing outside. The weather forecast calls for three inches of rain in the coming days, and I don't want my ewes standing out in it. This afternoon, we again did the sheep shuffle. I moved Megan and the Fat Four from the ram pen and out to a pasture for their daily exercise (dog herding practice). Afterwards, they happily joined the rest of the flock. This left the ram shelter and run open, so I moved the ram and three ewes to it. When I threw a flake of hay in the feeder, the ram ate it while the three ewes stood outside under the overhang. You aren't a sheep, you are a pig, I told him.

A Consequence of Cheap Meat

I watch a farmer spread liquid hog manure from a factory farm on his fields. The weather forecasts calls for up to three inches of rain in the next few days. It doesn't take a scientist to figure out where most of that manure will go.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The End of Egg Season

When I enter the chicken coops in the evenings, I sometimes find empty egg boxes. The pullets, deciding to extend their youth, are not laying eggs yet. The older hens say this is the season of hibernation, not productivity. The hens' egg productivity has been dropping for months. As the daylight hours get shorter, they lay fewer eggs. Who, after all, wants chicks in December? A few months ago, we stopped having extra eggs to sell. Now, I've stopped giving the dogs their customary fresh egg every day. Instead, they are getting eggs that I froze when we had a surplus in the spring. They are dogs, and they don't complain. And, I am a human, so I take delight in those eggs when I find one, maybe two, in the nesting boxes. They are gifts on late fall afternoons.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Megan and the Fat Four

The Five Virgins have been replaced.
I'm now using Megan and the Fat Four as the practice sheep for herding.
In herd feeding situations, the leaders usually get the most and best food. When I looked over our flock, I saw some fat ewes. The obvious solution was to separate them, feed them lower quality hay, and use them for herding practice.
The Fat Four all come from the same foundation ewe: ChocoButt, a big brown ewe who was always the first at the feeder and always the fattest. Her daughters and granddaughters inherited her leadership and eating skills.
The Fat Four include: Hershey, Godiva, Mounds, and Reese's.
I used them for practice for the first time this morning.
I don't think they like their new job.
But I don't think they'll go on a hunger strike in protest.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Softer Ground

The horses celebrated the 1.3-inches of rain by rolling in the paddock. When I let them out into the big pasture, they celebrated softer ground by running, bucking and kicking. Their enthusiasm caused the dust and dirt in their coats to poof out in dust clouds around them. For the first time in months, the dust clouds were swirling their bodies instead of their feet.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Her Comfort Zone

More than one person has called her socially-backwards.
We just call her an odd duck.
We suspect that Caeli, our Border collie, wasn't socialized as a young dog. She was rescued from a shelter when she was a young adult.
When she arrived at our house, it was clear she didn't know how to act around dogs, cats and people.
She wanted to play with cats, but they wanted nothing to do with her wiggling, pawing and nose poking. She'd sidle up to me for attention. Again, she wiggled and pawed and was unsure how to act. She postured and growled when other dogs approached, and then, they kicked her butt.
New places stressed her. Car rides stressed her. A person watching her drink water stressed her.
The one thing that didn't stress her were sheep.
With sheep, that herding instinct overtook her fears and worries.
Caeli went to her first herding trial over the weekend. We didn't know how she'd react. Some dogs shut down when at a new place and with new sheep. Some become overzealous, chasing the sheep and ignoring their handlers.
Caeli wasn't fond of the new dogs and the new place. The hotel room and traffic stressed her. But on the trial field, she was quite at home. She worked, and listened, and was quite happy.
That instinct, bred into her generation after generation, won out.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Unexpected Sight

The sight in the hallway stopped me. I turned on the lights to see better. There, on the laminate floor were things I haven't seen in months -- muddy pawprints. We've had litle rain since mid-July. What has fallen has been one-tenth of an inch here and there. That's just enough to settle the dust for a few hours, maybe a day. That's not enough to green the grass and make it grow, to fill in the cracks in the earth, to refill groundwater supplies, to give me hope that there will be enough moisture in the ground come spring. But yesterday, it rained for several hours. When walking and driving in it, I was struck by how odd it seemed. How, I had started to get used to it not raining. That I had to think about putting on rain gear. When the rain stopped overnight, the rain gauge read 1.3 inches. That was enough to moisten the ground, to create a little mud, to make pawprints on the floor in the hallway.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Re-calculating Hay Needs

The farmer asked if I wanted another wagonload of hay for the winter. Four months ago, I would have said no, that I had plenty of hay. However, the dry weather makes me re-calculate. Even in the snowy, cold months of December, January and February, the horses and sheep find forage in the pastures to supplement the hay that I feed them. But, with no late summer and fall growth, that isn't the case this year. So, I'm calculating their feed needs as if they have no other food source -- something I haven't done before. If the winter is unusually cold, their food requirements also increase. I asked for another wagonload of hay. There's a good chance I'll need another load come early spring.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fall Hooves

The staccato pop, pop, pop fills the warm afternoon air. The farrier is trimming the horses' hooves and I'm glad he's operating the nippers, not I. Our rainfall has totaled less than four inches since mid-July, leaving the ground dry, the grass parched, and the hooves hard and difficult to trim. My horses spend several hours each day grazing the pastures. During most years, this helps keep their hooves moist and strong. Their hooves move over dew-covered grass, soaking in some of the moisture. Since mid-summer, the dew covered mornings have diminished. When the farrier arrives, he finds horses with cosmetic chipping and little growth. Over the years, I've noticed that the hooves grow fastest in the spring when the pastures are growing and coming on fast. They slow as fall approaches, and slow more over winter when they're eating mostly hay. The farrier says that trimming requires a little more muscle power these days. I know what he means. Over the weekend, I helped a friend trim sheep hooves. The advantage of doing this during a dry spell is no mud. The disadvantage is harder hooves that take more muscle to cut. Because of the dry ground, we won't be trimming our sheep this fall. They've worn them down on their daily treks over the hard clay soil to the alfalfa field.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Nuzzling the Muzzles

My horses' muzzles are ready for the snow.
Instead of the shiny, smooth black look of summer, the muzzles are covered in light-colored hair -- that protects against the cold and catches the ice balls of winter.
On cold mornings, I run my hands over the soft fuzz and let my hands stop at the nostrils where I catch the puffs of warmth.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Stopping the Action

As I prepare for my first herding trial, my instructor gives me this advice. If things seem out of control, have the dog lie down. That pause in the action should allow me to regroup and, if needed, redirect. That seems like good advice for life. When life seems out of control and chaotic, lie down, think about the options, and then go on.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Leaves in our Yard

Most people have red and golden leaves underneath their trees. We have corn husks and leaves. A dry fall means the corn husks and leaves are particularly flighty this year. Days of westerly winds blew the corn husks and debris from the neighboring field. I wonder if I should rake them, mow them, or just enjoy them.