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.