Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Answer is Five

Living with Border collies can be a joy -- provided you give them lots of structure and activity.

The structure they get every day. But some days -- if it's too windy or I'm working late -- they don't get their long run or herding.

We've now hit Day Five of windy, rainy and snowy weather. For the most part, I can deal with the heat and cold. The wind, though, just makes walking miserable... and herding less than enjoyable -- especially with the dog that's not trained to whistles.

For the first few days, the dogs were okay with hanging out inside and just going outside for quick trips to the barn or wood pile.

But today, Caeli let it be known she's had enough.

She's growling and showing lip at Mickey. She's pawing at me.

So, I'm putting on the rain gear and walking.

And, just for good measure, I'm giving them Bully Sticks to chew on tonight.

The Cats Get a Job

The husband is not happy with the indoor cats' work ethic.

When the cold weather hit, the field mice went scurrying for shelter. Unfortunately, a few chose our house.

Dewey Kitty alerted us to this by sitting by the cabinet under the sink.

The husband opened the cabinet and let Dewey inside. Kitty emerged with mouse in mouth.

What he did next annoyed the husband.

The kitty ran upstairs where he proceeded to play with the mouse for an hour or so.

"I don't know if he killed the mouse or it got away," the husband grumbled.

I had the answer when I found the partially-eaten carcass.

Not one to let his brother have all the glory, Louie Kitty caught a mouse. Considering the boy is declawed and spent his early life in a household where he was expected to cuddle and look cute, that's quite an achievement.

But he didn't eat the mouse right away.

"These cats are no Blotto," the husband said.

Blotto, one of our first cats, was both a hunter and an eater. He could catch and eat a mouse in under a minute; a rabbit took five minutes from catch to devouring.

Blotto, I pointed out, had a mother who spent months teaching him to hunt. And, then he had to contend with Rambles, the Border collie, who liked to steal his mice and rabbits. Blotto learned to eat fast.

"Maybe you can teach the kitties to eat fast," I say.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sharing or Spreading the Blame

When I brought the horses in from the front field this afternoon, I thought they'd doze in the paddock.

I was wrong.

Was it a butt scratch against the stall door? Or was it an active attempt to dislodge the latch? I don't know.

But when I went out to feed this evening, I found an open door to the extra stall - the one we use to store 30 bales of hay. Both horses were standing outside the stall door. Each had a bale of hay in front of them. Neither looked guilty.

Even though I didn't witness the caper, I blame Lily, the busy body.

Some may say that she pulled two bales out, one for her and one to share with Jet.

Some may say that she was sharing the blame.

I suspect she was systematically going through the hay stall bale by bale until she found that bale with a little extra alfalfa.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Clucking over Leftovers

What falls to the ground, what is missed after the initial picking, what is leftover after harvest, goes to the chickens, who await the fallen tomato, the half-buried potato that I find as I clean the garden.

In the overgrown grass, I find a rotting squash. The lawnmower slices a hiding watermelon. I offer both to the chickens who gobble up the flesh and seeds.

But what those birds really love are the overgrown beets. They eat the greens and peck out the flash, leaving only the tough, sun-burned skin.

Will the evidence of their beet indulgence show up in their eggs? I remind myself to check for pink-tinged eggs in the coming days.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Working Sheep -- All Day Long

With a small farm flock of sheep, a dog is handy, but not necessary.

I'll use the Border collies to bring the sheep into the barn or to move them to a pasture, but for the most part the dog work on sheep is training for competition.

This week, Caeli got to do hours and hours of farm work -- and she's still smiling.

Our task was to sort eight sheep from a flock of 80 ewes, then move them to a spot in the 10-acre field where a dog in training would then fetch them.

Sorting out the eight sheep, I do by myself. Having a Border collie in the pen would stir up the sheep.

Caeli then moved the sheep to a certain spot in the pasture. (The sheep are just to the right of the barn.)
Then Caeli moved a distance from the sheep. But she had to be there in case the sheep tried to run back to the set-out pen.

She also had to stay in a down position as the dog-in-training ran past her to pick up the sheep.

That can be hard. Just like kids have to learn to share, Border collies have to learn that they must give up the their sheep to another dog.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Releasing the Ram Lamb

Rico Suave was anything but suave when we released him with the 10 ewes yesterday.

Imagine a 14-year-old boy trying to woo a group of women in their 20s and 30s.

He chased after the Bob Marley ewe. Round and round the pasture they went until the Bob Marley ewe joined a three or four other ewes.

Next, he chose the Neck Roll ewe. Did he think the chunky girl couldn't run? Run she did.

After a few minutes, he moved onto the Red ewe, who outsprinted him with ease.

"He's got to work on his technique," I said to the spouse.

"He'll figure it out," the spouse replied.

Or else get tired.

Within an hour, he was grazing next to a yearling ewe.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Corn -- It's not just for shooting

The husband and I helped at the local Farm Fest this weekend.

In the morning, I supervised the corn ring toss game. In the afternoon, we worked at the corn shooter.

At both places, lots of kids put ears of corn in their mouths.

Lots of parents said, "Don't put that in your mouth."

I was good, and didn't say, "Oh, they do every day."

Instead, I asked, "Do you know what this kind of corn is used for?"

Most guessed animal feed.

But, I pointed out, that it's also people feed.

It goes in their cornbread, their corn flakes, their vegetable oils, and sweeteners.

Okay, I admit, that I found shooting corn cobs a lot more fun than tossing them through rings...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Naming Sheep

     "Do you name your sheep?" the USDA vet asked during her visit to the farm for the annual inspection. She'd been at a farm earlier this month where every ewe and ram was named.

    "Not any more," I said. For the first few years, we did. Then, the numbers grew.

Then, I went into the stall and began reading ear tag numbers.

And I read the number for:

The Red Ewe

Stomper Mom

The Broken Legged Ewe

The Bob Marley Ewe

The Neck Roll Ewe

The Up-headed Ewe

Good Mom

The Blood Spot Ewe.

The Survivor Ewe.

PHOTOS: The top photo shows Hershey, front and center. She's an older ewe who was named when we still gave the lambs named.

The bottom photo, far right, shows the Bob Marley Ewe, who sheds in dreadlocks.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Retiring a Herding Dog

Mickey, my nearly 11-year-old Border collie, has a stress fracture that may end her competitive herding career.

So, we talk about retirement.

But, she's a working dog. She doesn't want to give up racing around the fields, chasing other dogs, herding sheep. Retirement is not a word she wants to hear.

So, we work on compromises.

The splint must be worn outside. (She won the indoor argument when she very carefully pulled the Velcro tabs and removed the splint).

A leash is not required. (As she spun in circles and hopped around me, I realized the leash was doing more harm than good).

But she and Caeli do not go on treks together. (If she can't herd sheep, she will try and herd Caeli).

When I'm outside working in the garden and cleaning the barn, she can hang out with me.

Inside, too, she can hang out with me, even if that means sleeping on futons and couches.

I will still encourage her puppy-like, goofy behavior.

I will still brush her and pet her and tell her she's beautiful.

And, I will still encourage her to roll in the grass, four paws stretched to the sun.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Alpha Dog vs. the Alpha Cat

Caeli, the Border collie, walks into the living room and sees Dewey Kitty sleeping on her chair.

She trots to the couch.

Upon seeing Caeli on her couch, Mickey, the Border collie, glances at me before jumping next to me in the snuggler.

Tag, the Border collie, gets a worried look in his eyes. Mickey is in his snuggler.

Caeli, seeing Mickey getting attention, jumps from the couch to the snuggler.

Mickey leaps onto the couch and settles in for the evening.

Caeli, never much into snuggling, jumps from the snuggler and walks over to her chair.

Tag jumps on the snuggler.

Caeli noses Dewey Kitty.

The cat refuses to move.

Caeli paces, then jumps into the chair.

Realizing there is not enough room, she steps down from the chair.

She paces some more.

Again, she jumps into the chair, partially sits on Dewey Kitty, then lies down.

She is not comfortable.

Finally, I intercede.

I remove Dewey Kitty from the chair and put him on the arm of the snuggler. Caeli sits in her chair. Tag snuggles in the snuggler. Mickey sleeps on the couch.

Finally, I'm able to read my book.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Evacuating the Garden

When the National Weather Service issued a freeze warning, I must decide what to leave behind, what to cover, what to save.

The eggplants and melons make the cut.

I ponder over the lettuce. Should I cover it and hope it survives? Or should I harvest it all and eat lettuce for the next week? I harvest.

With the basil, I hedge my bets. After harvesting most of it, I cover the remaining plants.

The tomatoes make me feel guilty.

I fill a five-gallon bucket -- and could easily fill two more. But, I have neither the time nor the desire to make tomato sauce or can tomatoes. Nor, do I need to store any more tomatoes. Canned tomatoes have already encroached on the spouse's beer collection.

"I don't even like tomatoes," he says.

My mother-in-law eases the guilt and takes pounds of tomatoes.

I toss some to the chickens who, like me, have lost enthusiasm for tomatoes.

But even after that, there are tomatoes on the ground.

I decide to let them freeze.

Then, I grab a blanket and cover two heirloom tomato plants that are green and still producing.

Who knows. Maybe I'll crave tomatoes in November.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What Dogs Decide

As I cleaned the barn and worked in the garden, I let the dogs outside to do as they please.

Mickey and Tag sniffed and nibbled on manure.

Caeli continued her quest to catch that mole that lives at least two feet underground.

All rolled -- in the grass, manure, sand.

Caeli and Tag played tug and chase, until Tag was so tired, he dozed in the sun.

Mickey found the hole in the horse paddock fence, and wiggled her way into the sheep paddock.

Judging by the squawking and feather hanging from Caeli's mouth, Caeli found the wayward hen and attempted to herd it.

By late afternoon, we all were tired and retreated to the porch where we soaked in the rays and the dogs slept, sighed and smiled.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Chicken Rules -- and The Merge

After years of being around chickens, I know:

- They don't like change.
- They don't like newcomers, as this disrupts their pecking order.
- Roosters create havoc.

So, when it came time to merge the two flocks -- I only have six pullets, so why keep them in a separate hen house for winter -- I kept these truths in mind.

At dark, I moved the pullets to the old hen house and placed them on the roost. In the morning, they'd awake and wonder about their surroundings and the other hens.

The next day, I didn't let the hens outside. After a few nights in one place, the young ones will establish the old hen house as their new home.

Today, I let the chickens outside and hope they return to the old hen house roost.

Then, if all goes well, I'll move the two young roosters in with the flock. I don't worry about them finding their roost, for they are roosters, and roosters follow the hens.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Our barn is ready for Halloween.

Cobwebs cling to the metal sides, the rafters, a recently-cleaned halter.

Maybe I should make a Haunted Barn sign and charge admission.

But I don't.

Instead, I begin the Cobweb Eradication Program.

Each day, I tackle a section of the barn. Grabbing a broom, sometimes two, I climb a ladder and begin at the roof line and work my way down, sweeping and knocking down cobwebs. I remove items from shelves and marvel at the dust and dirt.

And I look behind me... to see if the spiders are building again.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Changing Season, Changing Routine

Darkness comes earlier now, and so I must move my evening reading routine from the back porch to the living room.

The dogs follow: Mickey to the couch, Caeli to the chair, Tag next to me on the recliner. Dewey Kitty perches on the recliner's headrest.

I'm reading more pages now, as there are no lambs, horses, chickens, wrestling dogs, to distract me.

For now, until the weather gets colder, there also is no fire to lull me to sleep.