Saturday, December 31, 2011

Old Animals

The New York Times recently ran an article, "What We Can Learn From Old Animals." In an effort to cope with her mother's Alzheimers, a photographer captured images of old horses, dogs, sheep, hogs and fowl.

Those photographs remind me that animals don't fret about their age, their slowing steps. They live in the moment.

Right now, we don't have any old animals. We went through a rough few years when a few senior horses, dogs, cats, and pet hen died.

The animal closest to being a senior citizen on the farm is our 10-year-old Border collie, Mickey. She might be a step or two slower than she was in her youth, but she still gets the puppy zoomies. She still eagerly goes on the morning and evening walks, and she still herds the sheep.

I'll be spending the weekend with her at a herding trial, where the sheep won't dare utter the word "old" to her. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

I Showered. Really, I Did.

I visited Caeli today.

It's the first time I've seen my Border collie in six weeks. She's been kenneled at the herding trainer's farm where she's advancing her herding skills.

I wanted to see how she was progressing. Because owners can sometimes distract dogs-in-training, I stood at the house -- forty or so yards from the practice field. There, I watched as she walked from the kennel, drove the sheep a few hundred yards away, came back to her handler, then gathered the sheep again.

After several minutes, I walked from the house to the observation area adjacent to the field. There, I hoped to get a better look at her working sheep and to better hear the trainer's commands.

As Caeli moved around the sheep, she glanced at me, paused and took a longer look. The trainer told her to keep moving. Once done with the exercise, he gave the "that'll do" command and Caeli, tail wagging, came running to me.

How did she know that person, bundled and standing still, was her owner? I hadn't said a word or gestured to her. The wind was blowing my scent away from her, not toward her.

These Border collies have long memories. After spending hours working sheep with their handlers, I suspect they know more about us, our stances, our gestures, than we'll ever know about them.

I gave Ms. Caeli several pats and rubs and told her I was happy to see her. Then, she resumed her work for her master of the month.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

While I'm Thinking of Hibernating

The temperatures dropped below freezing and the wind speeds increased overnight.

I dressed in layers for my morning walk around the crusty fields. My thoughts were of finishing chores and returning to the warmth of the wood-burning stove.

Tag's barks interrupted those thoughts.

I looked up to see the Border collie dashing through the soybean stubble and toward the woods.

A raccoon had emerged from the woods and was running across the field.

"That'll do," I called to Tag. I don't encourage dog-raccoon encounters.

Tag returned to me, and I expected the raccoon to return to the woods. It didn't. Instead, another raccoon came ambling into the field.

I mentally calculated dates and gestation periods and birthing seasons, and realized that while we humans are thinking of hibernating, the raccoons are thinking of mating.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

An Early Christmas Present

After weeks of rain and mud, Mother Nature (or was it Santa?) delivered an early Christmas present: sun and frozen ground.

I'm a fan of winter. I welcome snow. I seldom complain of the cold. But this year, we haven't had a typical winter. Temperatures have lingered above freezing. Rain has fallen in amounts measured by whole inches, not tenths. The skies have remained gray.

This morning, though, the sun came out. Temperatures dipped into the 20s -- enough to freeze the ground for a few hours.

I worked the dog on sheep. I removed weeks of horse manure from the barn. I moved hay from the storage barn to the livestock barn.

The horses and sheep went out on pastures. The cat took joy in pouncing the working Border collie. Tag, the non-working Border collie, rolled in the grass. I smiled.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Chicken Treasures

My chickens don't need urging to eat their fruits and vegetables.

The birds delight in clover, dandelion greens, apple cores and potato peelings. At this time of year, foraging produces fewer tasty morsels.

But yesterday, they received a tasty treat.

My mother was cleaning her garden for the year and trimmed the last pieces of chard. She gave me a bag full of the thick, green leaves. I tossed it to the eager chickens.

The chickens munched the leaves, licked their lips, and said, "Bring on the kale."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It Finally Felt Like Christmas

At twilight, as happens often in the in the darkest days of December, I found myself in the barn doing evening chores.

Keeping me company were hungry horses, weary sheep, dogs, cats, a watchful llama and a barn radio that played tinny tunes.

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum

The falling rain softly accompanied the song.

A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum

Outside, smoke from the bonfire hung low to the ground.

Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum

Inside the barn, I swept out the horse stalls.
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,

rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

The two Haflingers, wet and muddy from days of rain, hung their heads over the stall doors, waiting for their evening hay.

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,

When we come.

I carried flakes of hay, green and holding the lingering scent of summer, to the horse stalls.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum

I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum

The horses nickered their approval as I dropped the hay into the stalls and let them in for their evening meal.

I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum

That's fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Next, I turned to the sheep and llama. Heavy rains and mud have kept them confined to the barn area for the past several days.

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,

On my drum?

The sheep and I kept rhythm with puffs of air.

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum

The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum

The temperature dropped. I wished I'd worn gloves, but the barn work kept me warm.

I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum

I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

The Border collies dug through the hay, searching for morsels, and possibly a mouse? The horses, sheep and llama chewed hay.

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum

Me and my drum.

I turned out the barn lights, turned off the radio, and stepped into the December darkness.

("The Little Drummer Boy" - words and music by Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati, and Harry Simeone.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Mud

I've had few blog posts in December.

Don't blame the approaching holidays. Blame the mud.

Late fall brought rain, rain, and more rain. Warm weather meant no frozen ground.

Walking on turf and in the hayfields is like walking on a sponge. If I want dry feet, I must wear my tall Muck boots. So I don't trek the fields often these days.

The horses and sheep are spending very little time in the pastures. Their hooves will churn the ground into mud, leaving no grass for winter time and spring.

But corralling them doesn't save the paddocks. The paddocks are filled with mud that sucks at boots, discourages the sheep, and provides little inspiration for prose.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Pen

This makes me smile.

When working the dog on sheep, I find guiding the sheep into the pen to be one of the hardest tasks.

My sheep do not like to go into the pen. They will bolt, leap and scatter to avoid it.

But Mickey is patient.

She creeps. She tiptoes. She takes her time.

This morning, for the second time this week, we gathered the sheep into the pen.

I stepped away and performed a victory dance and whoop, before returning to the task at hand: documenting that I finally got those squirrelly sheep into a pen.

Mickey, as always, waited patiently for her next task.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Harvesting Under the Christmas Moon

I fell asleep last night to the almost full Christmas moon and the churning sound of a combine harvesting the corn field.

An unusually wet spring meant a late planting for the corn. That delayed harvest. Heavy fall rains kept farmers out of fields. After Thanksgiving, some corn fields were still standing, unharvested.

The ground finally froze over the weekend, and farmers returned to the fields.

Last night, the headlights of the combine twinkled among the Christmas lights. Along with the Christmas carols was the sound of a hungry combine gobbling the corn and spitting out the stalks.

The Christmas moon -- white, cool and distant -- provided a guiding light.