Sunday, March 31, 2013

Walkabout pony style

In all the pony drama this morning, I...


...left a gate open.


Josie and Annie, BFFs in crime, got to take their own little walkabout. Unlike the chickens, the ponies chose to take their spin at high speed.

It was Shadow who clued me in. He was racing in circles around his paddock. Something he normally only does during high winds and thunderstorms. Um, no storm in sight.

Oh, wait.

What's that big hunk of spotted appaloosa butt doing OUTSIDE Shadow's paddock fence?


I didn't have my iphone on me when I spotted the two fugitives, though I doubt I would have stopped to record the highlights anyway. Too busy kicking myself. But I could have gotten some great shots.

Like, their christening foray into the new pasture, sans fence. They've been standing in their bare, muddy paddock watching me clear brush out there in the grass for days. It must have been killing them.

Their visit to Tyche's paddock on the other side of the barn. Josie was a broodmare in her former life. She pines for Tyche across the barn aisle, but never gets to touch.

Josie crashing through the tree line at a canter only to discover the sagging forty-year-old wire fence buried in the undergrowth. Sheesh. Thank you, Josie, for stopping.

The 80 lb 12-year-old single-handedly guarding the bridge over the creek as 1600 lbs of marauding ponies headed out to the road and an even bigger adventure. That is one pony-savvy 12-year-old. :)

Like a lot of ponies, food was their ultimate downfall. Give me liberty or give me grain. Josie took the grain. And where Josie goes, Annie goes. So that was that.

Really, I need some new fences. And a new stall. Oy.

Josie enjoying greener pastures in years past.

Mama P

Mama P arrived last night. She is one glossy little chunk of pony. Her foster family took such good care of her.

Naturally, I didn't get her stall finished. So we had to do some last minute pony shuffling and double-bunking. This caused lots of pony drama. Ponies who should have been fine on the shed porch, banging on the doors, demanding to come in. (You know who you are Tyche.) Ponies nipping their temporary neighbors' bums over the walls. (I'm looking at you Shadow.) Ponies kicking said walls (Tigerlilly, take a pill please). Lots of mare-squealing (Again, Tiger, not necessary.).  Oy. I do love ponies. :)

The best arrangement didn't dawn on me until this morning, so more shuffling, more drama. But I think I found an arrangement that will last indefinitely. At least until the new stall is done.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

New arrival

Been b.u.s.y.

We have a new pony arriving this afternoon. She's a lesson pony retiree (reject?) who belongs to our trainer. She's the first pony the 12-year-old ever cantered on, way back when. :)

Sadly, she's a bit too stubborn to be a reliable lesson pony. The owner of the lesson program dumped her on craigslist a year ago. For $50. Our trainer knew her (and loved her), so she paid the ransom and found the pony a foster home. Now that foster home is leaving the state and the pony's coming here to stay.

I need to finish her new stall.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Sometimes, the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence.

In anticipation of spring, I let the jungle chickens out of their pen to explore before Virgil arrived. 

They had places to go...

Things to do...

 And trouble to find...

After their adventure, they went home for a nice nap in the warm sun and dirt... 

...and finally bed. 

Night night little chickens.

It's a good life. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Batman problem

Batman is back.

This is a long story.

When we moved to the farm a year and a half ago, we had four cats that we'd brought from California. They were all spayed/neutered, vaccinated, pampered indoor cats. Four cats seemed like a lot to me at the time.

Immediately upon taking possession of the farm, our cat population doubled. That was thanks to the Pasta cats, who were left here by the previous owners. Things probably would have been manageable if it had stopped there. Bottom line, as an ex-city dweller, ex-surbanite, I was unprepared for the attitude that many in the country have to cats -- half pet, half wildlife. Pet when it's convenient, wildlife when it's not.

There have been many examples, but the worst was a crazy little cat named Batman.

Batman is a feral tom whose territory covers at least a half-mile radius including our place and two horse stables directly across the road. Both barn owners named him  (though each a different name), both fed him, both tolerated his comings and goings. Neither attempted to trap or neuter him for going on 7 years now. That's bad enough, but one of the barn owners also knowingly allowed a boarder to dump an intact female at that barn. I know this, because, before our barn was built, we kept a couple of the wayward ponies there.

Not surprisingly, this intact female came up pregnant about the time we moved here. The barn owner took the mama indoors to have the kittens, but mama was back in the barn, still unspayed before the kittens were even a month old. The barn owner eventually found homes for two of the kittens, but her solution for the other two was the pound. She was leaving town for Thanksgiving and didn't want to deal with them. Big surprise,  at the 11th hour we brought them home across the street. Also not surprisingly, the mama cat came up pregnant again almost immediately.

I really tried to stay out of it. I tried. I suppose I thought the barn owner would step up and do the right thing. Find the kittens homes, get the mama spayed, etc.. But she showed no inclination to do it. This time the boarders objected. One offered to take the mama to the pound before the kittens were born. The barn owner gave her blessing. When I heard her agree to dump not just the cute, adoptable kittens, but also the plain jane adult mama cat at the pound, I couldn't take it. I volunteered to bring the mama across the street on the spot. At least that way I could be certain that everyone would be safe and fixed.

I brought mama, Tigger, home and set her up in a bathroom, away from the other cats, to await the second litter. Unexpectedly, Batman, the feral daddy, followed us across the road to visit nightly. He'd sit outside the screened porch where the inside cats congregated and howl. I plotted to catch him.

That second litter was born on Groundhog's day. Five healthy kittens, each as cute as could be. We kept them in a bathroom with their mama until they could be weaned, vetted, and fixed.

Things got a little tragic at this point. This part's hard.

One particularly warm night last spring, while Tigger was still nursing the groundhog litter, I left the window of the bathroom opened just a crack, at the top. At least 6 feet off the ground and maybe 2 inches of air. The next morning, when I went in to feed them, mama was gone. Poof. I was so convinced she couldn't have gotten out of the cracked window that I actually searched the house looking for her...twice. Finally, I went outside, just to cover my bases, and found her on the ground just below the bathroom window. Safe, but accompanied by Batman.

That third litter was born in due time. But I'm here to tell you that three back-to-back litters for a young, poorly fed, poorly cared for barn cat is too much. There were ten kittens in the last litter. Two survived the birth. One, Artie, a beautiful , silver-tipped, black long hair sweetheart, had a birth defect that killed him within two months. We named the survivor Solo. He's about 9 or 10 months old now and the spitting image of his plain jane mama. He is the baby of the colony and well-loved by everyone.

Throughout the spring of kitten births, Batman continued to visit the house, but never allowed anyone to approach him. Around the time that I finally got mama spayed, I got proactive with Batman, for fear I'd lose my chance once the river of hormones was turned off.

I baited the screened porch where he loitered. Tuna fish at one end, a trap door at the other, and before he knew what he'd done, Batman was inside the porch and the screens were closed around him. He truly was feral though and I couldn't even step inside the porch without causing panic. He'd climb straight up the screen walls and launch himself across the porch over my head. Once he landed on me, claws fully extended, and that was enough for both of us. I switched to plan B -- wait and see.

He was a mess. Inside the porch, up close, I could see that he was tiny, mostly fur, and in very poor condition. He looked like a Maine Coon, but small. All the kittens and the pasta cats were housed elsewhere at this point, so I just brought the California cats inside and gave the porch over to Batman and Pilgrim -- another neighborhood stray.

Batman lived on the porch for about a month, fattening up with regular meals and ever so slowly getting used to me. I kept saying I'd take him to the vet as soon as I had some time to figure out the haveaheart trap. Blah blah blah.

Then we had a night time visit from some raccoons. This is how I learned that vinyl chicken wire is not worth the nickel you pay for it.

The raccoons used their teeth and in short order let themselves right in to Batman's diner porch. Batman, Pilgrim, and the 12-year-old were all equally aghast at this turn of events. The cats very quickly ceded the food and got out of the raccoons' way. By the time I had chased the raccoons back out the hole they'd come in, and found the zip ties to close the hole back up, Batman was gone.

I asked around at the barn, but nobody there ever saw him again. I thought he'd absconded with the raccoons, until I finally saw him at the other barn around Thanksgiving. Still no attempts to get him neutered. I was happy to see him at the second barn, just to know that he was safe and was no worse for wear after his ordeal in our porch. I was also resigned to letting him be.

Until now. Maybe it's spring. Maybe he's lonely. I don't know what the reason is, but for the past couple of weeks, he's been visiting the porch again and patrolling the yard and checking out the old barns and sheds, just like before. He comes to the porch and howls. I don't know why. There are no intact females here now. There are no hormones of interest. Every cat on the property is fixed. I made sure of that last summer. Yet he comes. I do feed him when he calls. He may remember all the food. He spent most of the day here today, on the porch, in the sheds, in the garage, on the porch again.

I'm happy enough to see him and if I can convince him to move into our barn, I will. But I don't like watching him cross the road  as he patrols his territory and I don't like listening to the coyotes at night, knowing that he's out there. It's easier not to know. If I can catch him, I will.

You've been warned Batman. If I catch you again, I won't mess up this time.

Natural defenses

Storm Virgil may be messing with us now, but Saturday could not have been more beautiful. And Friday wasn't so bad either.

Not to squander the opportunity, I spent the two day winter respite in a marathon of yard work. I felt the pain Sunday, but it felt good to make some progress on the spring to do list.

First up, clearing the downed trees in one of the new pastures. When we built the barn last fall, we probably cut down 15 trees in the near vicinity. One or two, a beautiful mature pine and a nice tulip poplar, had to go because they were smack dab in the way. But the rest were sacrificed for safety reasons -- wild cherries (poisonous), a black walnut (can cause founder), some honey locusts (the thorns from hell). (Not to worry, we still have dozens of each left. Sigh.) We didn't get them all cleared away before winter hit. Three cherries still lay in the new pasture. I managed to clear two completely. One remains.

In addition to clearing the downed trees, I was able to prune an ancient apple tree and two old peach trees. I think the peaches will have to go, there just wasn't much to save on either tree, but the apple tree is huge, healthy, and produced very tasty apples last year. I also took another stab at shearing the thorns of one of the honey locusts out in the pasture. The thorns came off like a dream with my new pruning saw, but created quite the nasty pile on the ground that I haven't cleaned up yet.

Those thorns on the honey locust are just frightening. When I was researching ways to deal with them, I read a theory that the tree evolved the thorns to keep wooly mammoths and other tall prehistoric creatures from eating them.  Apparently the thorns don't appear any higher than 15 feet or so, even on a 40 foot tree. So the theory goes. As I wound up my work, with the evening settling around me, I checked out my trees, trying to decide if I believed that theory. I discovered this.

It's a squirrel's nest, buried in the middle of the thorns about 10 feet off the ground. Truly this has got to be the Fort Knox of squirrels' nests. I would never have recognized it under all the bristle, save for catching the gleam of one small squirrel eye, watching me as I worked. Unfortunately, my iPhone doesn't capture that detail.

The squirrel was frozen in place while I scrabbled around the tree and at first I thought maybe it was some ancient petrified remains like I find every so often around here -- somehow impaled or imprisoned in the tree. How on earth could it have gotten up that scary trunk and into that hidey hole?

I found out soon enough. When I walked away, the poor squirrel, feeling stalked maybe, dashed up the trunk, across the high, thornless branches, into a neighboring tree and down to the ground as fast as he could. I watched him go. He eventually evicted a downey woodpecker from a hole high in a smooth-barked silver maple behind the house.

Apparently Fort Knox wasn't his taste. He preferred a penthouse suite.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Out of whack

Three hours holding ponies for the farrier this morning. In the cold. Can't feel my hands or feet. And it's the end of MARCH!

Eighteen degrees when we woke up, this second day of spring. Water buckets were frozen again  (#*!@^).  The norm here is more like lows of 30-35 degrees this time of year. Overall we are about 5 degrees colder than normal for the month so far. That number is on track to be even bigger, considering the forecast for the next week. More cold, more snow.

Crazy spring cold this year.
Crazy spring heat last year.
Crazy drought last summer.
Crazy rain the year before.
Crazy wind last summer.
What's next?
No jet stream at all?

See, I thought global warming was going to be a gradual, barely perceptible shift a few degrees up the scale. A shift we ordinary folk wouldn't even notice unless a climatologist pointed it out...after the fact.

Instead we're getting these crazy pendulum swings from one extreme to the other, suggesting anything but a gradual shift. More like an equilibrium point shifting into chaos (Um, chaos in the technical sense -- not going for hyperbole here. Hardly seems necessary.) I find it all pretty disconcerting.

Oy. What craziness will summer bring?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I say potato, you say potahto

Not everybody minds the mud....

Presenting ponies after a day outside.

Annie, the fancy little carriage horse. Dirty only up to her dainty little fetlocks.

Thyme, the wild child. Dirty all over.  I think she went swimming in it. 

When a drylot becomes a mud lot

I've been thinking a lot, and none too optimistically, about mud lately. I'm consoled somewhat by The Contrary Farmer's take on the topic today. At least I'm not alone. His solution is to keep livestock small and well-distributed over the land. Small farms, small beasts.

You'd think I'd be well-prepared to handle the problem then. Small ponies, small goats. Four pound chickens for crying out loud -- they hardly generate any mud at all. But there's a catch-22 with equines. Since I have more ponies than horses at the home barn, I can't use grass to hold the dirt. I can't rotate from one grass pasture to another. I can't simply let the horses out to pasture, no matter how small they are. To prevent laminitis and founder, I need a drylot. But, the problem with bare ground is that quite often you end up with something that is anything but dry.

Last year as a rookie pony keeper, I simply let the ponies chew down the winter grass in their large pen and did nothing else. No grass, no risk. Win win right? Well, I had never had to personally manage mud before. At first, when soft spots developed, I just ignored them. Then, if they got too deep or too wide, I put some straw over them. You can see where this is going right? It worked well enough during the summer, when the weather was hot, and because of the drought, oh-so-dry. The straw sopped up the moisture and then dried out. But as the weather cooled into the fall, it stopped drying out.

The line between gravel pad and mud is clear.
By Thanksgiving, the new barn was completed, including a 12-foot perimeter of gravel pad around the whole thing, to prevent mud pits at the stall doors. I moved the ponies into their new space and took down their old pen and was thankful to 'fix' the original mud problem by simply abandoning it.  I, naively, thought I had handled it. Well, spring rolls around and guess what? The ground just past the gravel pad, 12 feet and 1 inch from the new barn, is a mudpit and even the ground where the old pen was is still mushy. I'm not sure it ever even completely froze like the rest of the place, with its deep mixture of straw and mud.

What to do?

I can't just replant with grass, because of the laminitis risk.

I hate to fill an entire yard with gravel or sand, but it looks like I'll have to or l'll have an entire herd of ponies knee-deep in mud.

Does anyone have any suggestions? What's the best and most economical material to use? I fear whatever the solution is, it's going to cost about the price of a used truck. Poo.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Stuck on trucks

I think the time has come to buy a real truck. I've been putting it off for two years, thinking some day, but not yet. We don't really need it...not yet. 

Well, yet has arrived. Yet arrived unexpectedly in the form of a mini-gelding named Minimi, who I am henceforth going to call Truck. You'll see why. Truck lives, for a few more weeks, at the barn where the 11-year-old 12-year-old rides. This barn owner and I have a lot in common, in that strays and other wayward creatures tend to find us and make us their own. Truck, the mini, found the barn owner by running down the road, loose, in front of her property one day several years ago. Nobody claimed Truck, so my barn owner grabbed him, gelded him (She thinks he was 18 at the time. He is one of the ugliest ponies I've ever seen, so not at all sure what his owners were thinking), and stuck him in a stall. He's lived amongst her warmbloods and boarders' ponies ever since.

Recently, she found herself short one stall. She asked if I'd consider taking Truck to our place, to live with all the wayward ponies in our home barn. To sweeten the deal, she will give us half off the board on the 12-year-old's boarded pony. That works out to just about the price of one truck payment every month. Well, a used truck payment maybe.

New truck must be able to haul this relic of a  trailer.
So, I am learning about trucks and trailers. Half-ton, 3/4 ton, load ratings, etc.. Oy. Here in the heartland, everybody drives a Ford. I tried a couple out. They were fine, but didn't really wow me. Then I tried some Chevys. They were fine too, but I still couldn't pull the trigger. I tried a Toyota that I loved, but I don't think it will haul our old steel, 3-slant trailer, so I'll have to pass on that one too.


The problem is, of course, that pickups cost a lot of money, even if they are subsidized by a gelding named Truck. Pulling the trigger is going to be hard, but I do believe it's time. No more hay and lumber deliveries for me. I can haul it home myself, thank you.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Marthajones got her mojo back

After a week of cowering in the corner, eating only leftovers, and generally acting like the herd pariah, I'm pleased to say that Marthajones is back on her game. Here she is joining the others for breakfast. She's the lovely caramel girl -- next to the curious Doc -- with her backside to the camera.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Whoaaaaa, I stand corrected

When we found Maisy at an animal shelter in California five years ago, American Eskimos were the second most common breed of dog listed on Petfinder. They numbered in the thousands. I don't remember what the most common breed was.

After my post yesterday, I was curious where things stood now, so I looked up the numbers. Things have changed! The number of Eskies listed is less than 500 across the whole country. That is great news. I'd like to say the drop is because the breeders of American Eskimos recognized their errant ways. Maybe, but I'm guessing it's the economy driving the numbers, not common sense or compassion.

The total number of dogs looking for homes on Petfinder is now in the six digits and several breeds have tens of thousands of dogs listed. Yes, Pit Bull Terriers is one of those, with a whopping 20+ thousand, but there are also in the neighborhood of 28,000 homeless Labrador Retrievers! And more than 16,000 Chihuahuas. Eight thousand Beagles. Eight thousand Boxers. The list goes on and on.

This is heartbreaking. I'd heard the stories of people giving up their animals (and I have quite a few of those dumped ponies myself), but I hadn't thought to check the dog numbers on Petfinder. It is a shock to see actual numbers.

Monday, March 4, 2013

And wonders never cease

With all the goings on here, the one creature who has had absolutely no special attention at all is Angel. Angel is a rescued Eskie mix who came to live with us nearly three years ago as a middle-aged, passed around, very unhappy dog. The shelter where we found her told us she was shy, but I had no idea how far shy could be taken by a dog.

I have a soft spot for Eskies. Eskies are one of those breeds that people think are sooooo cute when they're puppies, but then get dumped when they grow up because of their simultaneously needy and ornery personalities. I know this because my first dog as an adult was an Eskie rescue. He was D.I.F.F.I.C.U.L.T.. I thought he'd never adjust, never sit down and never shut up barking. His powers of destruction and stubbornness were things I'd only read about in books. But he did eventually bond to me, and I to him. In the end, he was the best dog ever, etc.. You know how people say. Anyway, ever since he died several years ago, I keep an eye out for Eskies in the shelters. They are, sadly, one of the most commonly listed breeds on Petfinder.

Enter Angel. Like I said she's shy. For at least a year, I couldn't look at her without her piddling. She spent 23 1/2 hours a day hiding under the 11-year-old's bed. She wouldn't go outside without a leash. In fact, we usually had to crawl under the bed to put the leash on her before she would even budge. I eventually put the 11-year-old's mattress directly on the floor because it was so tiresome trying to get her out. When we moved to the farm, she took up residence under the sofa in the livingroom. The secrets she and Tortellini must have shared.

I decided early on, not to push her. Her fear is too extreme and there was simply no need. She weighs 20 pounds. I can pick her up if I have to and do anything that needs doing. So, for the most part I've let her take things at her own pace and not worried about it. She's safe, she's healthy, she's well cared for.  That may have to be enough for some animals.

But in the past 6 months or so, and I don't know why, she has started to come out of her shell. She sleeps on my bed, instead of under it. She goes out with the other two dogs, without a special invitation. She has started to PLAY with Boomer. And why not? Boomer is a great big goofball who loves to play with anybody. Even the cats like Boomerang. And just now, which is why I started this post, she jumped up on the sofa next to me to get a cuddle. These are pictures of Angel enjoying a bum-scratching, by her request.

Meet Angel. Wonders never cease.

Marthajones feels poorly

Last night's great escape seems to have upset Marthajones. I found her huddled up in a corner this morning while her buddies ate. I nagged coaxed her til she agreed to stand up and wander around a bit -- just to get away from me probably. A bite of hay here, a lick of minerals there, but her spark was missing. She turned her nose up at bicarbonate. Rosetyler and Donnanoble, the middle of the pack does, were taking turns whacking her for no particular reason. I don't know what the problem is. She stood at the door to the yard for a long while, but it's too muddy to let her out yet.  Maybe she's longing for spring like the rest of us. Can a goat get depressed overnight?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Goings on

What is wrong with this picture?

I will tell you what is wrong with this picture. 

That is the barn aisle. 
That is not the goat pen. 
Yet those are goats. 

Maybe Marigold was right.
The goats are up to something. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Into the abyss

They say bad things come in threes right?

Last night as I doled out the hay before bed, Tigerlilly and Bom Bom were messing with each other over their shared wall. As I stood there watching, Tigerlilly layed down to roll and...just like that, in the blink of an eye, before I could even breathe hold your horses, missy, she pinned herself nice and snug against the wall under Bom Bom's nose. Cast.

She seemed to understand the predicament she was in. She kept her usual diva attitude in check while I worked on getting a rope around her. Fortunately, chunky as she is, she's still small enough that a good strong rope under the armpits (um...armpits? well, you know what I mean) was enough to allow me to pull her free from the wall. No harm no foul.

This morning I left her in her stall while I let Thyme and Tyche, her immediate neighbors on the other side, out into the paddock. The paddock opens directly off the shed porch that runs down the length of the barn on that side. When I came back later to dole out hay (again), I found Thyme and Tyche in Tiger's stall. This is not good because, (a) where the heck was Tiger, (b) ponies aren't suppose to let each other in and out of their stalls, (c) the wall between Tiger and Bom Bom, is waaaayyyyyy too short to keep Thyme out of trouble -- Thyme's too tall and she likes to harrass Bom Bom -- ALOT, and (d) when I found Tiger, she was outside staring into --- and this is the third bit of badness -- an abyss of pony-swallowing dimensions.

That hole may not look large here, but let me assure you, the pictures don't do it justice. It is as big as a house. A friggin' whale of a hole. A VW bug could fit inside with room to spare. China is visible at the bottom. Someone, somehow, turned my nice smooth, mat-covered shed floor, into a pony-eating, leg-snapping, gravel strewn, crater-filled crime scene. This is where the ponies run back and forth like wild mustangs. This is directly outside their stall doors. This is a royal pain in the butt.

Oy. Ponies.

Friday, March 1, 2013


We had a day of sun and loveliness earlier this week. It happily coincided with the day I finally had the cash to pay for a full load of hay, so I got to hang around the barn waiting for the hay guy all morning. I seized the moment to move a pallet of stall mats that had been sitting outside the new barn since Thanksgiving. They were leftover from a batch I bought to finish the stalls in the new barn last fall. They'd been dumped by the delivery guy in an awkward spot to start with and had stayed their all winter. You know, stall mats are h.e.a.v.y and they don't move themselves.

So there they sat all winter. Every time it snowed I noticed tiny tracks going back and forth between the pallet and the barn. At the barn end, they disappeared under the wall by the feed room. One especially dark night in midwinter, I caught a glimpse of a tiny creature sitting on top of the feed bin as I walked into the barn, before it vanished into the shadows. So I've known for a while that we had squatters and that they had set up house under the pallet.

 I was curious to see what was under there after I got the ton of stall mats off the pallet. Mice. Two to be exact. There were no signs of babies. I was happy that I evicted them before they'd had offspring. I know I shouldn't encourage mice, and I won't, but I would have been upset to to have disturbed a nursery. The mouse I got the clearest view of looked very healthy and sleek and their nest looked pretty cozy. It must have been, considering all the down feathers the mice had co-opted for their own use. Not surprising I guess, given their proximity to the chicken coop.

Both mice took off straight for the barn when I exposed them. Now every time I walk into the feed room I expect to see them there and wonder where exactly their new nest is. Somewhere inside the feed room I suppose. Ironically, none of the multitude of unremarkable cats live in the barn at the moment, so I expect the mice will stay. Though, I wouldn't put it past the chickens to eat one if it strayed their way in the light of day.