Sunday, December 29, 2013

Searching for the Christmas Miracle

We arrived home at midnight Christmas Eve. After slipping into my barn coat and boots, I rushed to the barn. Would our sheep, horses, llama and cat be kneeling in the barn like the animals of the Thomas Hardy poem?

Instead of kneeling, I found the sheep and horses standing and restless as the coyotes' yips rolled from the riverbanks up to the barn. The yipping continued, even as I yelled, "Enough."

On this Christmas Eve, there would be no kneeling in my barn.

And yet, I wasn't disappointed. Miracles don't just happen on Christmas Eve. If we look, we can see them everyday -- in the birth of a lamb, in the flight of a bird, in the silent communication between a ewe and me.

On this Christmas Eve, I was looking for the animals kneeling into the night. But as I listened to the haunting yips and calls of the coyotes, I realized that hearing them doesn't happen everyday. Even rarer was the long chorus they performed that night.

For a few seconds, as the animals stirred, I just listened to the calls and was thankful to live where I can listen to cud-chewing and whinnies and yips on Christmas Eve.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Survey Says....

The snow has melted. It's now 55 degrees and raining, with more rain -- up to 4 inches -- predicted in the next 24 hours.

At feeding time this morning, I conducted a survey about the unusual December weather. The responses were:

Horses: Hooves Down -- We're stuck in the paddock... and our meager rations of hay are even more meager.

My little mountain ponies prefer standing outside in the rain and snow... unless it's feeding time.

Sheep: Hooves Up -- Alfalfa! Because the farmer can't stand to waste hay, she's not feeding us that boring first-cutting hay that we'll eat when it's freezing outside. Yeah, we can't go wander the pastures, but we get alfalfa!

These lambs can really pack it into their mouths.

I'm not sure if the brown lamb was in the feeder because it smelled of alfalfa... or if she was hoping to be first in line at feeding time.

Chickens -- Feet Up -- Who wants to scratch in the snow? Besides we might find some bugs in the mud.

Dogs -- Paws Down, Sort of -- We are Border collies -- and love to run and play in any kind of weather. But we definitely prefer the snow walks when we can go anywhere. A waterway filled with water means no walks near it. Hunting mice is also so much more fun in the snow!

Dewey Kitty -- Paws Sideways -- I can go outside for a longer time without getting cold... but there is no fire to snuggle up to when I come inside.

Louie (the indoor kitty) -- Paws Sideways -- It's raining?

Humans -- Thumbs Down. Yeah, the critters eat more when it's cold, and we use more fuel to heat the house... but all the critters are cleaner and the house is cleaner when the outside is snow-covered and freezing... and I love skiing.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Looking for the Ideal Snow for Skiing

It turns out that the perfect snow for snowman-making is not the perfect snow for skiing.

On Saturday morning, the snow was falling in big, heavy flakes. So, I called Tag and Caeli, and we set off for the farm and pond across the road. But, when I skied up a slight incline, I ground to a halt.

The wet snow clumped under the scales of my skis. So, I stopped frequently to remove the clumps.Skied. Removed clumps. Skied.

Eventually, I returned home with two tired dogs.

But, it was a pretty morning, and the snow was falling in big, heavy flakes. So, I called Mickey and Ben, and we skied the harvested corn and bean fields. It was flatter ground, so I stopped less frequently.

We returned home, wet and covered in snow.

It rained Saturday afternoon. Then the temperatures dropped and the wind picked up speed overnight.

On Sunday morning, the snow was crunchy on top and granular beneath the surface. But it was snow -- and a chance to ski.

The wind and rain had coaxed the remaining leaves from the trees, making for a pretty pattern.

Except for a few birds in the fence rows, I saw no wildlife. I'm sure the crunchy sound I made scared them away.

And the wind rushing across the fields made the last quarter-mile feel like a mile.

But I'm grateful that when it snows, I can step outside, clip on skis and go. That always makes up for the less-than-perfect snow.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Walking in Snowlight

As a child, I learned that sunset doesn't always mean darkness -- especially when snow covers the ground. The reflection from the snow and stars and a touch of moon provided enough light for ice skating on a creek near the house. I remember grabbing my skates and stealing away from the house in that semi-darkness.

As an adult, I still treasure winter excursions after sunset.

Christmas came early for me this year. For more than a week now, I've been able to take night walks on snow-covered ground. After dinner, I put on my hat, gloves, boots and coat and call the Border collies, who are oh-so-happy to join me as I trek across hay fields in the dark.

But, it's not quite dark. I can see the white carpet of snow stretching for miles, and the barn lights from the farms in the distance. And, I see the silhouettes of dogs as they hunt mice, run, and make snow angels.

It's this silent world of silhouettes and blacks and greys and whites that I treasure.

For at this time of year, I see few cars. In the winter cold, people come home from work and stay home.

As I walk, it seems like it is just me and the dogs, and the occasional coyote call.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Thanksgiving Heron

I saw him before the dogs. In the early light, he was a grey mass nestled near the briars.

Though the dogs hadn't spotted him, he decided it was best to take flight. The great blue heron has to make that decision faster than most birds. His big body, with the gangling legs, long neck and pointed beak, just doesn't lift airborne as quickly as other fowl.

The Border collies, busy in their mouse hunting game, didn't notice until he was 20 feet in the air. They showed little interest in the great bird as he circled the area. Clearly, he didn't want to leave his pond.

I don't recall seeing the great herons when I was growing up in the 1970s. But, when horseback riding in the 1990s with my birder friend, I began to notice these prehistoric-looking birds.

"They bring good luck," she said, and we always delighted in spotting one on the way to endurance riding competitions. That would certainly mean we'd have a good horseback ride.

The great blue heron is no longer rare in Ohio. Though, my breath still catches when I spot one. I've seen this guy a lot this year, as he enjoys fishing in the pond that I pass when walking the dogs.

On this Thanksgiving morning, the pond already had patches of ice from the first cold spell of the season. Soon, this heron would be moving on in search of unfrozen water.

And so I lingered, watching the bird, reflecting on the joys I've associated with the heron over the years, and treasuring the joy of spotting him on Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Optimist and the Realist in the Chicken House

This photo was taken  months ago, back when the hens were laying eggs.

They aren't doing that these days. The half-dozen pullets aren't quite old enough for egg production. The older hens' egg production usually tapers when the daylight hours dwindle.

This year they decided to call it quits in late October.

But I am the optimist. Each day I check the nesting boxes for an egg. Not finding one, I search other places in the chicken house and yard.

I have yet to find an egg. But I keep searching.

I am also a realist. When egg production waned in October, I began rationing eggs. I have not bought eggs in a store since we began raising chickens about 15 years ago. So, I'm determined to make those eggs in the refrigerator last until the hens begin laying again -- hopefully in January.

I've stopped giving away eggs. I've stopped eating eggs for breakfast.

Now, I find myself making cooking decisions based on egg requirements. So it's pancakes (1 egg) instead of waffles (2 eggs), and snickerdoodles (2 eggs) instead of brownies (4 eggs).

As for Christmas baking, I haven't decided how I'm going to approach that. This may be the year that I make caramel and fudge.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Pie Pumpkin from Kentucky

Mickey, the Border collie, won a pie pumpkin at the sheepdog trial in Kentucky last weekend.

It looked pretty sitting in the basket, but the grower promised the pumpkins were quite tasty. I don't know what I'll make, but I've promised Mickey a taste.

Today, I cut the pumpkin in half and separated the seeds and the pulp. While roasting the seeds, I went to the hen house and offered the pulp to the chickens.

They were delighted to have something so colorful and fresh and tasty in November.

Then, I returned to the house and discovered that Dewey Kitty didn't care much for the pumpkin. But that basket.....

You Don't Know...

Ian, the shepherd's son, was sitting in class when the teacher gave him a math story problem.

"If you have 20 sheep in the pasture and five find a hole in the fence and go through it, how many sheep are left in the pasture?"

"None," he answered.

"Fifteen," the teacher said, adding, "You don't understand math."

"You don't understand sheep," he said.

I thought of this story this week when a herd of horses got out of their pasture, resulting in numerous traffic accidents and several horses being killed on the road.

As an animal owner, this is one of my biggest fears. While I take steps to have secure fencing, it's never a guarantee. A gate could be left open, a fence could be cut, a spooked animal could go through or over it.

The comments that I heard about the loose horses story this week were almost as distressing.

The news reporter called them "these things" (they are animals) and commented that these "are full-grown horses, not ponies. They could do some damage." Ponies which can weigh 600-1,000 pounds -- considerably more than deer -- could also do some damage.

Then I heard comments like:
Why would all 39 horses leave the pasture?
They must have been abused.
They must have been starving.
Why did they run so many miles from home?

I felt like Ian, the boy in the story, trying to explain herd dynamics and flight response. And I was again reminded how far most of the population is from agriculture and understanding livestock.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Chicken Bling

The young pullets are sporting blue leg bands now. The bands are thin and stylish and sparkle in the morning light.

I identify each flock year by the leg band color. The 2012 hens wear green; the 2011 hens wear red; and two sneaky 2010 hens sport yellow. When I merge flocks in the winter, I use the leg bands to help me identify the hen's age. When culling the flock in late summer, I select the older ones for market.

In the past, I've used the thicker, heavier numbered bands.

The numbers also help me identify individual chickens. So instead of just being named, The Escape Artist or the Broody Hen, I can call a hen Escape Artist Yellow 58 or Red Broody Girl 23.

But those leg bands now cost almost a dollar each -- too much to spend on chicken bling.

So I ordered the thin, non-numbered bands.

The young hens love them.

In the morning, they are the first ones out of the hen house, strutting and showing off their bands.

The old hens choose to sleep for another half hour or so. They are in no hurry to show off their chunky bracelets, faded and dirty after years of wear.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Found Horse

While taking our early dawn walk around the farm fields, I saw Tag's white-tipped tail zip away from me.

"Lie down!" I yelled. I didn't want my dog chasing deer.

Then I saw that it wasn't a deer he'd found.

It was a pony, a miniature horse, actually. For the sake of this story, we'll call it a pony.

After rounding up the Border collies, I grabbed a lead rope and went to inspect Tag's find. The pony was naked, so I made a makeshift halter from my lead rope and led the little guy to the extra horse stall in the barn.

Then I called the sheriff's department.

"I found a pony," I told the dispatcher.

"Good for you!" she said.

No one had reported a pony missing. After giving her my name, address and phone number, I went about the morning chores. Surely there would be a message on the answering machine when I finished chores.

There was not.

I took a shower. I ate breakfast.

Still, no phone calls.

The procedure when finding a horse is about the same as when losing a horse -- begin knocking on doors.

Unlike horses, ponies can be tucked into little paddocks and sheds on people's properties and often go unnoticed.

I drove down the road and stopped when I found a place that looked like it could house a pony.

When I knocked on the door, a child answered.

"Do you have a pony?"

"Yes," the child answered.

Looking behind the child, I saw no adult.

"Could you check and see if your pony is here?"

The child returned with news that I expected: his pony was missing.

"Where are your parents?"


I told the child to wake one of them and let them know that I had their pony. An hour or so later, they drive up the driveway to retrieve their pony and walk the little guy home.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Lost Horse

While sitting at the sheepdog trial this past weekend, talk turned to stray chickens.

I was amazed at the number of people who'd had chickens wander onto, or more likely, left on their farms. In my decade-plus of country living, I have neither lost or found a chicken.

Horses, though, are another story. I have both lost one and found one.

Shortly after buying our farm, I bought Scuba. Because we'd just bought the farm, we couldn't afford a horse companion for her. So, a week after she arrived, we bought a goat companion.

Tanner was a fine goat, a Nubian wether, who was quite friendly. His only problem was that he'd been living with billy goats, so he was quite smelly.

Apparently, Scuba didn't find that so endearing.

When I arrived home from work on a chilly Monday evening in early November, there was a note on the back door.

"Your horse was in our bean field and last seen running east."

You would think that a 900-pound grey horse would be easy to find, but it was dusk. Though the crops were harvested, trees, brush and valleys provided hiding spots not visible from the road. A scared horse can cover lots of ground.

After a call to the sheriff's department netted no reports of found horses, the husband and I began our search. We went door-to-door, introducing ourselves to people and asking if they'd seen a big gray horse. They hadn't.

Then he got out his spotlight, drove the country roads, and spotlighted the countryside. That resulted in being stopped by a man in a truck.

"You're not looking for coons, are you?" the stranger asked.

"No," the husband said.

"Looking for a horse?"

Turns out, this stranger had returned home from work and found a grey mare shacked up with his blind Appaloosa gelding. The man lived about two miles from our farm.

Now we had to figure out how to get Scuba home. There was a storm and cold front approaching, and we didn't want to leave her at the stranger's house for the night. Since we'd just bought the farm, we didn't have a trailer or tow vehicle. Because I was young and foolish, I grabbed her saddle and bridle.

So, on that Monday night in November, in the dark, I rode my mare two miles home. The very kind husband (did I mention that he likes football more than horses) drove behind me, hazard lights on.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

My Ten Percent

A farmer once told me that 10 percent of the animals cause 90 percent of the work.

It could be the dog that must be walked separately because she "works" the other dogs; the ewe that has trouble birthing; the bottle lamb; the horse who is an escape artist; or the horse that requires a special diet.

A solution to the problem could be culling the offending animals. But then, another steps up to cause woes.

This week, the aggravation comes from this pretty little pullet. A week ago, she discovered that she could fly over the fence and get into the yard which has better grass and more space.

It also has a chicken-herding dog.

So, before letting the dogs out, I must make sure the hen is not in the yard. If she is, I must get some scratch grain, feed the other chickens, and open the gate so she will join her friends.

I usually have about ten minutes before she flies back into the yard.

"I'm trying to watch out for you," I tell her.

She ruffles her feathers.

I look at her. I look at the remaining nine chickens in the chicken pen. I consider if her offenses are worse than something one of those might do.

Shaking my head, I walk away.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My Little Lambs

It's been months since the orphan twin lambs have had a bottle. But that doesn't mean they've forgotten me.

When I go into the pasture, they still come up to me.

Which can be cute and endearing, unless I'm trying to move them. A foot stomp moves most sheep away from me. With these two, it takes a shove.

And, I've got to watch my back. Sometimes, the twins forget that they are adults now, and that pawing me with front hooves hurts.

But when they approach, I'll still scratch their faces and behind their ears. On cold mornings, I'll still bury my fingers in their woolly coats. In these moments, they still are my little lambs.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It's Not the Coats, Girls

While I've been fussing over and watching the market lambs, the ewes have been contentedly grazing in the far pasture. Last week, I brought the flock in and made my selections for breeding season.

By October, the sheep have thick winters coats that can often hide their body condition.

As I was sorting and moving the ewes around, I realized that it wasn't just their coats that were thick. The ewes have packed on the pounds in the past few months.

The breeding ewes will spend the next three weeks in the pasture with the ram. Hopefully, in five months, we'll have fuzzy, fat little lambs.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Chicken Chasing on a Friday Night

When I removed eight of the ten cockerels from the flock, I thought the seven pullets would be happy. The hen house had become more of a frat house with all of the crowing and chest bumping.

Instead, the pullets and remaining two cockerels boycotted going into the chicken house at night.

So, instead of the 15-second chore of closing the hen house, I had a 15-minute chore of catching seven pullets and two cockerels and putting them in the hen house.

"Let me know and I'll help," the husband says after I come inside the house after Night Two of chicken chasing.

I take him up on Night Three, which happens to be after we return from a Friday night out.

My husband is a flashlight man (the subject of a future blog), while I'm more of a feel-my-way-in-the-dark type of gal. So, we have two people and a flashlight trying to catch nine chickens... who are no longer docile and sleeping.

At one point, after being blinded by a flashlight, and regaining my vision in time to see a hen racing past, I burst out laughing.

"I bet a lot of couples don't get to spend their Friday nights this way," I say.

He failed to see the humor.

But soon, the chickens were caught and tucked into their hen house.

As for Saturday night? The hens went into the house, no fuss, no questions asked.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Training the Eye

When cleaning out the barn, the husband found his deer target and planted it near the barn.

The Border collies, hackles raised, approached cautiously. One barked. Another sniffed. Within 24 hours they accepted it as part of the landscape.

I have not.

Living in the country, my eyes are trained to scan the landscape and notice things amiss -- a lamb on the wrong side of the fence, a coyote in the field, deer in the driveway.

This stuffed deer continues to catch my attention when I pull up to the garage, when I take the dogs for walks at night. After a week, I'm slowly becoming used to it. But sometimes, I still find it stopping me like a deer in the headlights.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Law of Averages

When you learn that in a population, 50 percent of the births will be male and 50 percent will be female, you must remind yourself that that doesn't apply to a specific farm during a specific year.

We're having a roosterfest on the farm this year. Sixty-three percent of the birds are cockerels. If you think that 13 percent doesn't make a difference, come visit the farm and listen to the crowing and watch the chest-bumping. In a few weeks, most of the boys will got to the butcher and we'll have a more manageable population of 10 percent males.

Meanwhile, over in the sheep barn, the lamb population is just 30 percent males. The boys have been separated from the flock, so we don't have a lot of head-butting and strutting. Away from the girls, these boys are content to eat alfalfa in a stall on a rainy day.

Rarely do we get a 50-50 ratio. Over time, though, it may even out to about 50 percent.

In the meantime, we're going to be eating a lot of chicken.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

One Potato, Two Potato

Red potato, blue potato. Little potato, ginormous potato.

Grow your own vegetables, and you'll soon discover that they don't always look and taste like what's on the the grocery store shelves.

This year, I grew blue potatoes. While delicious and colorful, none were bigger than a tennis ball.

My sweet potatoes, on the other hand, grew to ginormous proportions.

I began digging them up yesterday and was surprised to find that some were six, eight, ten inches long, and had girths to match. As for taste? Oh so sweet.

They were such a nice complement to red tomato, black tomato, green tomato, striped tomato.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

She Gets Knocked Down

When working Raven about a month ago, a five-month-old ewe lamb stopped and looked at my 2-year-old Border collie.

Then, being a ewe lamb from a long line of stompers, the red ewe lamb approached Raven and stomped.

I cringed.

Raven turned her head.

The ewe lamb advanced and stomped. Emboldened, she head-butted Raven and knocked her over.

I went, "Oh no."

I should have told Raven to get in there and snap at that ewe lamb.

The following day, I had a dog that turned away when the sheep turned and looked at her.

Ewes being ewes, they spread the word about this fearful dog.

I wasn't sure how to handle the situation, so I called my mentors and received a packed pen lesson.

Raven had worked a packed pen -- but not with me.

So, for two weeks, I put 15 ewe lambs in a horse stall and told Raven to move those sheep. With 15 sheep, one human and one dog, there was not much room. Raven had to grip and nip to get the job done. I had to tell her to get in there and move them. When she didn't, I had to physically put her behind or even on top of the sheep.

When we emerged from the packed pen, I had changed as a handler, and she had changed as a dog.

I was more forceful in letting her know what I wanted. She had more confidence in herself and me.

When we went to our next herding clinic, it was obvious that we'd taken a giant leap forward.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Catching the Coyotes' Calls

Over the weekend, the coyotes' nighttime yips and howls woke me numerous times.

Sometimes they sounded so close, I wondered if I should go out and check on the sheep. I didn't, but the sheep were fine.

The coyotes carried on so much that dogs across the countryside -- and even one or two of my own -- responded their barks that were no match for full-throttle coyote call.

On the third night, I decided that if the coyotes were going to keep me awake, I'd record them. I left my iPad underneath the open bedroom window.

On the third night, the only coyote sound was so distant, I was sure the cricket chirp would drown it out.

On the fourth night, the coyotes yipped and howled, but it was so short-lived that by the time I got out of bed and to the window, it had stopped.

I will keep trying.

But I know that my nights are numbered. Soon, we will be entering the time when we close the windows at night, and I no longer will fall asleep to crickets and the coyotes.

I wonder if they know that too and will wait me out.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Ram: Counting the Days

A fellow sheep farmer was commenting about his ram.

"He is so lazy. All is does is lie around and eat," he said. "I had to trim his hooves because he wasn't moving enough to wear them down."

I can't say that about our ram.

He likes to ram.

A pipe gate was his victim this week.

Apparently, he was quite offended that I'd put ram lambs nearby. So he began banging the gate, until I moved the lambs.

He is happy now.

And, he'll be happier in a few weeks when I let him out to pasture with some ewes.

And in a few months, I'll be happier when he is delivered to the butcher shop where he will become sausage.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Those Little Moments

Sometimes when I get home from work, I want to kick off my shoes, open a book and read.

But the meows, barks, neighs, clucks, and baas beckon me.

Then today, while sitting in the barn on the mounting block,
listening to the rain fall on the metal roof outside,
and to Simon and Garfunkel croon about Kodachrome inside,
and petting my twin orphan lambs,
who at 60-plus pounds are no longer little,
but still, very much mine,
and while watching the Good Mom and her two lambs eat grain,
and promising her that when this bag is gone,
she goes back to grass like everyone else,
I found the chores didn't seem so bad.

Standing, I opened the gate and let Good Mom and her lambs rejoin the flock,
and steered, pushed and cajoled the bottle lambs back to the pen.
Then I resumed carrying buckets of water, chicken food and hay,
and smiled as the radio played and the rain fell,
and the Border collies raced outside,
oblivious to those little moments.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

To Understand Hen-Pecked

When the 55-pound foster dog entered the barn, he encountered a hen who had flown over the gate and into the aisle.

The Border collie gave her a stare.

The Buckeye hen ruffled her feathers, marched toward him, and pecked, pecked, pecked his nose.

He cowered.

Peck, peck, peck.

He cowered more when he realized that she stood between him and his escape -- an open door leading out of the barn.

I intervened, allowing the dog to escape.

Shaking her feathers back into place, the hen resumed scratching and pecking.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Biceps by Buckets and Bales

When the grass stopped growing, I stopped lawnacizing. But, it turns out that I don't need to worry about losing muscle mass.

Our little corner of Ohio is in drought. That means, I've pulled the horses and sheep off of the remaining pastures and am feeding hay... which means I'm moving a lot of hay.

And, when horses and sheep eat hay, instead of grass, their water consumption goes up.

That means I'm carrying buckets of water.

Since it is September, the horses and sheep are growing winter coats.

Lily, the pony, is diligently growing hair to protect her precious asset.

The temperature is expected to exceed 90 degrees again today.

And that means the horses and sheep are going to need even more water.

I am trying to recruit others to my newest exercise program: Beth's Biceps by Buckets and Bales. Join me for workouts morning and evenings... and I'll even offer a special lunchtime session for the fitness diehards.

Monday, September 9, 2013

I now get why people freak out at our curtainless windows

When the Gentlemen of the Road Tour landed in Troy in late August, we packed up the Border collies and moved into a house near the music festival.

And I was reminded of the move from the country to the city that happened when I was 11. My mother told me and my siblings frequently that we now had neighbors.

Now, as an adult, when I made the temporary move from country to city, I was again reminded of the neighbors. Houses were just yards away. Instead of seeing fields and trees, chickens, a cat, I saw buildings, people walking by, cars zooming past.

My peripheral vision, tuned to catch any movement, went into overload. My auditory senses, tuned to hear a vehicle sound, a human voice, did too.

The Border collies, though well-traveled, had an adjustment to make. So many people, noises, movements, in a 48-hour period.

When they returned home, they sought at their favorite spot and took much needed naps.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Chore Time: Rising with the Temperatures

As the water from the bucket splashes and runs down my leg,
as sweat runs down my face and back,
as I swat flies,
as I try to remove the hay chaff that is sticking, clinging, to my skin,
I realize that chores time, in late August, when it is 90 degrees,
takes longer than chore time in December,
when the ground is frozen and the temperatures are in the 20s.

Water consumption soars with the temperatures.

At 70 degrees, the sheep, the horses, the chickens, sip. At 90, they gulp. So I must provide more water.

And in late August, when they are growing their winter coats, the sheep and horses need more water to stay cool. So I carry more water.

In August, the forage growth slows, so, in order to save pastures, I pull the sheep and horses off of them and feed hay. So I carry hay -- a hot task made hotter at 90 degrees.

Hay has little moisture, so the animals need more water.

Hay also takes less time to consume, leaving grazing animals with time on their hooves. So, I try to give them an hour or two to graze and move around -- which means moving them on and off pastures, closing and opening gates.

Which all takes time, time, time.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Where's Trick?

When I pull the wheelbarrow out from under the tarp and find him sleeping there, I wish Trick the Cat was black or white or yellow -- any color other than the browns, tans and blacks of a raccoon or groundhog.

After all these years, you'd think I'd become accustomed to the barn cat showing up almost anywhere. But he still startles me when I find him curled among the feed bags I'm about to move or among the tomato plants I'm about to pick.

By now, I should always assume he'll be in the middle of farm life, wherever that may be.

He often spends the night on the hay and straw bales.

Not only are they soft, warm and dry, but they provide a prime view of the horses and sheep in the barn.

In the dawn's light, he surveys his kingdom.

Telling the chickens and sheep to look at him. And they do because they've been ambushed by him on numerous occasions.

He likes to groom himself atop the fence -- and usually plays a game of chase-my-tail where he wraps himself around the top board.

If I'm working the dogs on sheep, he waits in the tall grass and pounces the Border collie (something I have yet to get on film).

Lunging the horses? No problem, he'll roll near their path. They'll move for him.

Then, he's on to torment the chickens.

A few cockerels notice the intruder, but when Trick doesn't react to them, they go back to eating tomatoes -- which don't challenge them.

 I never know if he likes to torment the chickens or if he is hoping a sparrow will land nearby.

When the sun heats the day, he retreats to the garden where he sleeps among the parsnips....

awaiting a human to torment and rub against.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Second Sin of Summer

The plastic tag said Black Pearl.

But instead of sweet, little cherry tomatoes like these (a volunteer):

 I got this:

These are the worst type of tomatoes -- too big for popping in my mouth and too small for slicing or canning.

But the plant is prolific.

And, so every day, I pick up dozens of tomatoes,

 and offer them to the chickens.

Who are hoping for corn cobs, apple peels and melon rinds.

Most are still eating the tomatoes. But a few are glaring at me.

And I am glaring at the tomato plant that is producing tomatoes that I don't like.

So I do the unthinkable.

I pull up a tomato plant that is in its prime, and offer it to the ram.

I'm sure that sin ranks right up there with killing a mockingbird.

Monday, August 26, 2013

What Every Dog Should Know

Cute can only get a dog so far in this world.

I recently received a request to foster a Border collie for an owner who is having surgery, and I was reminded how situations change and how often dog owners must find a permanent or temporary home for their dog.

Before I will consider fostering a dog, it must pass two tests: it must get along with other dogs (because I have a pack) and it must get along with cats (because I have come to realize that cats rule my world).

But then I got to thinking. As a dog owner, what skills should I teach my dog? Below is my list.

1. How to get along with other dogs (and cats).
2. Housebroken.
3. How to settle in a crate.
4. How to walk nicely on leash.
5. How to greet people properly.
6. How to come when called.
7. How to take food gently from my fingers.
Bonus: At least one trick.

What would make your Top 7 list?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Unicorn Ram Lamb

I now have a not-so-rare unicorn ram.

A few days ago, I came into the barn and found a ram lamb with a red blaze down the center of his face. He also had blood running over his eyelid and down his neck.

And, after years of living with animals who have found all kinds of ways to injure themselves, I just sighed.

He'd probably hooked the horn in the fence and panicked.

When a sheep looses a horn, there is a lot of blood. But there's not a lot that I can do, other than wash the area and apply some fly repellent ointment. Then I try to keep him quiet and calm for a few days while it heals.

And heal it does.

I just hope he's not bothered by being lopsided.

NOTE TO READERS: If you would like to see the photo of the bloody-faced ram lamb, email me.