Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Trading for a Deer Leg

When Niki arrived as an 8-week-old pup, I taught her the "trade me" game.

She wanted to chew on shoes, socks, remote controls, towels, tissues, hats, gloves, anything. I wanted her to give up her prizes without a fight and without engaging in the "chase me" game.

So, I offered her balls, toys and treats as trades.

Slowly, she learned what was appropriate to chew--and  gave up her prizes without a fight.

The game came in handy this past weekend when she found a prize -- my leather work glove. She ran around the yard and tossed it in the air.

I took photos and dug in my pocket for a treat.

And, we traded.

But the real test came yesterday during our walk at dusk.

She came trotting in from the waterway with a grand prize -- a deer leg.

What would a 5-month-old puppy trade for a deer leg?

I went to the refrigerator and pulled out a small piece of chicken.

Stepping outside, I called, "Niki,"

Deer leg in mouth, she trotted toward me and eyed me warily.

When I showed her the chicken, she dropped the leg, came to me and sat. I fed her another piece and put her in the crate.

I was now the proud owner of a deer leg.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Shortest Day

The sun came out to celebrate the shortest day.

I reveled in sunshine as I moved hay.

Dewey Kitty and Trick enjoyed watching from above.

Meanwhile, Nik the pup, played in the mulch pile.

And the hay.

When she found my glove, she snatched it and ran around the yard.

She finally surrendered it for a treat.

On the shortest day, the hen supervised from her perch on the stall door, while the horses looked on.

Raven, the Border Collie, herded sheep -- but had no photos taken because I can't direct and shoot at the same time.

Meanwhile, Caeli and Tag wrestled and played and rolled in the grass. Their paws reached for the sun.

And the chickens, they searched for bugs and grass, and settled for scratch grain.

A Christmas Request

The phone call came six days before Christmas.

A friend of a friend of a friend was looking for a lamb for a live nativity scene during Christmas Eve services.

"Do you  have any lambs?"

I've sold all of this year's lambs except one. She is 9 months old and a good 100 pounds. I'm pretty sure she'd object to leaving her flock and playing the part of meek and mild during church services.

The lamb is the one in the center. Like how the spotted-nose ewe on the left obliged to my "down in front" command.

Sheep are flock animals and they don't like to be separated.

"Do you think you can get any lamb to be still during services?" I ask.

"Maybe if it's a day old," she said. "Know of anyone that lambs at this time of year?"

"Not on purpose," I said.

We discussed other animals that could stand in for lambs. A kid goat? Again,  no one has young kids at this time of year.

We settled on a Maltese dog. It is white, small and would sit quietly through church services.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Invader

When I unload the chicken food from my car, I note with irritation that all the bags have rodent chew holes in them.

Next time, I'll have to get out of the car, inspect the bags and load the grain myself.

I'd bought the 50-lb. bags at the local grain drive-thru. Yes, in rural western Ohio, we have a grain drive-thru that operates much like the beer and wine drive-thrus, which we also have. From the comfort of your car or truck, you place your order and watch as an employee loads the grain into your vehicle.

I thought no more of the rodent holes until a few days later when I got into the car and found a chewed Reese's Cup wrapper on the driver's seat. The mouse had also deposited his calling cards.

"Get out the traps. There is a mouse in my car and he likes chocolate!" I emailed my husband who was at work.

When I saw my husband later that evening, I recalled the incident with much hand-shaking and drama.

"I can't believe you'd get upset over a mouse."

In 16 years of living on the farm, I've dealt with a groundhog in the basement, raccoons in the barn, snow in the living room, snow blocking our driveway for days, days without electricity, mice, and, in the early days, rats.

But this mouse is flustering me.

"It's in my car," I say. "It's like finding a mouse in your purse."

I don't carry a purse. I drive a car, stocked with sunscreen, insect repellent, tissues, towels, jackets, rain gear, dog leashes, stock stick, Advil, hand and toe warmers, gloves, tools, water, the occasional snack -- and now, a mouse.

The husband sets a trap. He catches a mouse. He is not convinced there was only one.

Each night, he puts a loaded trap in my car.

Each morning, before opening the car door, I announce my presence. I bang on windows.

I find no more evidence of mouse.

When I get in the car on Saturday morning, snap! I'd forgotten about the mouse trap.

It's going to be some time before I forget about that mouse.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Blame Dewey

When the temperatures dropped, Dewey parked himself indoors by the fire and spent less time playing with Trick the Outdoor Cat.

And Trick is bored.

The young chicks have grown weary of his antics and no longer ruffle their feathers when he walks by.

And the lambs would rather hang with the older ewes now, instead of playing the Follow-the-Trick-Game.

But Trick still has Niki, the Border Collie pup.

I thought he would tire of her when she outweighed him.

But he takes great joy in stalking her until she engages in play.

I worry sometimes that she plays too rough with him.

He yowls and makes the most pitiful sounds.

And then he comes back for more.

While they're having a grand time entertaining themselves, I'm noticing that walks are taking longer and longer.

And the temperatures keep dropping.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Conversation in the Hen House

At dusk, the hens retreat to the hen house and murmur as they settle in for the night.

I'm not sure what they're saying, but this fall, I suspect the conversation is going something like this.

Old Hen 1: Did you see what that young one did today? She went and laid an egg.

Old Hen 2: Drat! That means no eight-week holiday from egg laying for us.

Old Hen 1: Guess we'll have to produce a few eggs each day... It'll save us from the stew pot.

And a few weeks later...

Old Hen 1: Those young ones keep laying eggs.

Old Hen 2: Yeah, but they're itty-bitty eggs.

Old Hen 1: We could do better.

Old Hen 2: Yeah, we'll show them.

Yesterday, on the first day of December, this is what we collected from the hen house.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Controlling the Wind

We live in areas where flat fields stretch for miles, with few fence rows and trees.

The wind can really get rolling, picking up speed, as it rushes across those fields.

Years ago, we planted trees on the west side of the house. As they grew they provided shade and slowed the wind.

They also provided an extra helping of snow in the driveway.

The west winds hit the trees and fence, drop their snow and carry on, leaving car-stopping drifts.

The husband has grown tired of digging through drifts. So, he bought the ugly orange snow fence, drove posts in the ground, and installed a line of fence 100 feet from the driveway.

Between that and new skis, it should guarantee a gray winter with little snow.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Disturbing the Hunters

The three adult Border collies and I left on our walk at daybreak, when the wind was calm, the sky clear, and frost covering the ground.

We encountered the coyote hunting in the recently harvested soybean.

He looked surprised to see us.

Had he not noticed the time? The lightening sky? Or, did he know in his bones that snow was coming and he needed to eat well?

He trotted toward the woods, then turned and looked at us, deciding whether he wanted to leave his prime hunting spot.

Because we'd just crossed a road, my dogs were on leashes and anxiously awaiting me to release them so that they could hunt the fields for mice.

"Go on, coyote," I said.

Reluctantly he retreated to the woods.

And my three dogs happily ran and chased and hunted until they encountered the raccoon who wisely climbed a tree.

Caeli jumped and whined and jumped some more at the base of the tree.

"That'll do," I said, summoning the dogs to begin walking toward home.

As we walked down the lane, we eyed a pair of red-tailed hawks, circling the hay fields, hunting for mice, perturbed to be giving up their hunting grounds to dogs.

Unlike the night creatures, they'd continue to hunt and screech throughout the day.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Can I Hold Her?

My almost-4-month-old pup and I were visiting co-workers in the garden outlet store.

It was a cold, gray afternoon and there were few customers, just a handful of retirees.

Niki was having a grand time sniffing out the dog lovers, sitting in front of them and getting pats and rubs.

"Can I pick her up?" a gray-haired woman asked.

Niki weighs nearly 20 pounds now and much prefers her faster four legs to my slower two.

"She's kind of heavy," I said.

"Oh, she doesn't weight much more than my cat," said the woman as she sat down her chunky purse and picked up Niki.

The pup didn't squirm. Her alligator mouth didn't explore. Instead, she rested her head in the crook of the woman's arm.

"Do you have a dog?" I asked.

"My dog died this summer. She was 11 years old," the woman said.

Monday, November 10, 2014

I say no to puppy kisses, but...

I see what the puppy finds when she hunts in the grass and fields, and I know what she licks off of boots after I've been to the barn.

So when she offers a kiss, I turn my head. No puppy kisses for me.

But horses kisses are completely acceptable.

Their noses are furry and soft and smell of sweet grass.

And their warm breath warms my neck on cold winter days.

And best of all is the view.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

If I always carried my camera...

I could capture those moments that make me pause and shake my head and smile.

I could post daily photos, asking, "How did this come about?"

And giggle at the answers.

But, if I did, would the cats, dogs, horses, chickens and sheep try too hard to get photos of themselves on the web?

Would the photos look staged?

And would the farm seem less magical if I shared it all?

Readers: I'll let you guess the story behind the photo.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Another Experiment (or I Now Have 3 Flocks)

It began with a question.

What if?

Every breed has its strengths. Our Katahdins are low-maintenance, parasite resistant, self-shedding -- and flighty. Will crossing them with a Dorper settle them down and improve their carcass quality?

We'll find out next year.

Meet our newest addition.

 Hint: He's the one that doesn't look like the others.

He's hanging out with several stout ewes in the front pasture.

Meanwhile, in the back pasture, we have the Katahdin ram hanging out with his group of ewes.

Hint: He's the one keeping a distance from the ewes.

Residing in the middle pasture are a group of ewes that I'm using to work the dog and some lambs that are going to market next month, and the llama.

They didn't get their photo taken because I was running out of light.

But they'll be photos next spring when the results of the new experiment land on the ground.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Last Day of Indian Summer

During my lunchtime walk, I saw more squirrels than cars.

The bushy-tailed critters scampered from yard to yard, tree to tree, a flurry of motion.

Did they know it was the last 70 degree day of the year? The last Monday before the end of Daylight Savings Time?

The farmers knew. Soothing hums of diesel and the rhythmic chunk-a-chunk-a-chunk came from the fields around our farm.

In several fields combines munched through soybeans, and in our front field, two farmers baled hay -- green, loose bales that'll smell like summer all winter long.

The husband hurried to the woods to cut wood for winters to come.

I, tired of cleaning out the garden, turned to cleaning out horse stalls and paddock, clearing manure so that doors will open easily when the ground freezes and heaves.

 When sunlight faded, my husband and I came indoors.

But the combines didn't take our cue. Their headlights came on and they rumbled through the fields into the night, gobbling up beans before the rains came.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dear Cat

While I'm quite happy that you're catching mice and the occasional sparrow, could you please refrain from leaving them on the back porch?

We have a pup now, and unlike the adult dogs, she can not swoop up and swallow those finger-sized mice before I notice.

The pup picks up her prize and wants to bring it indoors.

So I am left on the back porch playing the trading game with a pup. And, let me tell you, she wants more than a few dry treats for a bloody, squishy mouse. Or, I must do the finger sweep to extract the mouse.

And, I am more squeamish than you.

Your cooperation would be appreciated (and surprising),

The Home Owner

Photo of 13-week-old Niki chewing on a corn cob. Photo by Patti Sumner.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Finally, Some Respect

We hope that Niki grows from a hoarder to a herder.

For Niki, a cat is not a cat.

The 12-week-old Border collie pup knows that Trick the Cat will play, but he has claws and teeth, and she'd better approach him butt-end first.

Leslie the Cat has claws and doesn't want to play. Niki may give her a chase, but she keeps her distance.

Louie the Indoor Cat and Niki have come to an understanding: they'll ignore each other.

Dewey Kitty made the mistake of running when he first met Niki, and now Niki wants to give chase.

Until last night.

I heard a yip and Niki came running from the entrance hallway.

Apparently she'd cornered Dewey Kitty and he fought back.

The telltale sign was the claw stuck in her forehead.

This morning, she was keeping her distance and approaching Dewey Kitty butt-end first.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

October Sweetness

The older man with the elderly poodle said, "Get those strawberries. They're the best."

It was May and I was perusing the garden store during my lunch break.

I hadn't heard of the Gasana strawberry, but bought the plants anyway. I'm a  haphazard gardener and when I get plants at a huge discount, I'm likely to stick them in the ground and see what happens.

The plant gave me pretty purple blooms, which I plucked. I wanted the plants' energy to go into the plant, not making berries.

But they just kept blooming and blooming, and I got lazy or busy or both and just stopped plucking blooms sometime in July.

When the berries appeared, I started picking and eating them on my morning stroll around the yard.

As the daylight hours shrunk, the strolls around the yard stopped on weekdays.

But yesterday was sunny and bright, and I stopped to look at the strawberry bed, and found four ripe berries.

I didn't stop to take a photo. I just picked them, ate them and enjoyed a rare October treat.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When Cats Train a Puppy...

When it comes to puppy training, my cats are the model of inconsistency.

Leslie rubs up against the puppy and tilts her head so the puppy can lick her ears.

Dewey Kitty runs, enticing Niki, the pup, to chase.

Louie parades in front of the pup, then jumps to a counter, a chest of drawers, a table where he can stare at the pup, who stares back at him.

Trick gives all kind of mixed signals.

He says, "Come hither," then grabs a back leg and gnaws on it.

The only thing the cats do consistently is bring the pup gifts. Each morning, when she goes outside to potty, Niki finds a half-eaten bird or mouse, left by the cats.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

I'm Going to Miss Them

The toads spent the warmer months startling me.

When I reached to pull a weed, I caught sight of a toad eyeballing me.

One staked out the geranium as his home and hunkered under the leaves as I watered the plants in the morning.

Others liked the gravel and bugs in the barn. One insisted on sitting in the doorway, and I learned to look for it before entering the barn.

Others lived under trees and hopped into the air when I approached with the mower.

I've never seen so many toads as I have this year.

And now, on this first day of all, they're still surprising me. When I went to fill the outdoor pets' water bowl, this guy glared at me. Had I interrupted his bath or swim?

When do you hibernate for winter? And where do you go?

And, will you come back next spring?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

And Now for a Name...

Meet the new pup!

She came into this world the day before our sweet Mickey left it.

For the past few years, I've been admiring her mama work sheep. What this little girl will do on sheep won't be known for a while.

In the meantime, she learn about manners and farm life.

But first, we have to come up with a name.

She came with the name of Nickie... and I go back and forth about whether to keep it.

I'm up for suggestions...

(I think Raven is happy to have some young blood on the farm, but is looking forward to her growing up a little so they can play).

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A New Addition

Sixteen years ago, my husband planted these pine trees by our house.

As he planted, Rambles, our first dog -- a Border collie puppy, followed behind him, pulling up each seedling.

He eventually planted and re-planted the trees. And, they grew and grew.

Rambles eventually grew up too and turned into a fun dog and great companion.

And, I learned a little about Border collies and puppies.

The Border collies that followed -- Jack (deceased), Tag, Caeli, Mickey (deceased) and Raven -- all came to our household as adults dogs.

That changes this weekend when I bring a Border collie pup home. I hope I've learned a little about dog training and Border collies in the past 16 years.

I'm not planting trees this fall.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chicken, anyone?

I took a moment to admire the flock of 14-week-old chickens the other day.

The cockerels are growing black, iridescent tail feathers; their gold-mahogany neck feathers shimmer in the sunlight.

That's going to be a handsome rooster, I think as I look at one.

And that's going to be another handsome one.

And there's another good-looking one.... and another ... and another.

I take a moment to count the cockerels. Eleven cockerels. Six pullets.

Rarely do we have a 50-50 ratio of males to females. This year we have lots more cockerels than pullets, and more ewe lambs than ram lambs.

In the fall, after selecting two cockerels to keep, we'll be eating a lot of chicken.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

I am the Dog

For the past few weeks, I've been without a working Border collie.

My young working dog is recovering from surgery.

My old working dog died.

Tag's afraid of sheep.

I'm afraid to work Caeli on sheep.

Let's just say that it's a lot less stressful for me and the sheep if I trek through the pastures, round the sheep up and bring them back to the barn.

So, for the past few weeks, when I've had to move sheep, I've been the dog.

When you're the dog, you see a lot more tails than heads.

You learn that ewes are easier to move than ram lambs.

The ram lambs often want to look around, to buck and play.

I tell myself I'm learning more about sheep behavior and pressure points and livestock handling.

But I'm really missing my dog.