Sunday, November 24, 2013

Houston, we have a little problem

Three stalls, four ponies.

I had planned to move the large ponies -- Josie, Annie, and Shadow -- into the three stalls at the back of the barn on the new property. These are the stalls immediately adjacent to the big pasture where they can go out to graze. This would save me a lot of time walking them back and forth and since they are the only ponies I am comfortable putting out on grass for any length of time, it seemed ideal. The rest of the little ponies would stay in the big barn with the drylot paddocks. That was the plan anyhow.

Then Zeus and Sammy arrived. (Maybe at some point, I'll explain why we have all these,  some other day.) Anyway, Zeus is also a large pony. After the additional quarantine of the two newbies in the back barn, I started putting the four big guys out in the pastures together. It's gone alright. Zeus loves Josie and plays hard with Shadow, though he doesn't like Annie much. The feeling seems to be mutual. They're both a little possessive of Josie.

Personally, I think that Annie has earned her ownership. All but a few of our ponies went through the auction system, a very unpleasant kill lot and quarantine, before landing with us. Annie and Josie went through it together. Even after coming to us, Annie and Josie went through several additional boarding situations together before coming to our property. So, like I said they are tight.

I've puzzled about how to squeeze one extra stall into the back barn, but it's just not going to happen this season. So I had resigned myself to moving Zeus into the big barn and walking him back and forth every day. I was going to make the move yesterday, when it was time to come in.

The best laid plans...

I forgot to prep the old guys for the move. Doh. This is ironic considering how much effort I generally put into managing these guys, including exactly this sort of thing. Sigh. But I did forget, and when it came time to bring everybody in last night, as the sun was setting, and the clock was ticking, and I had to go get the 12-year-old at a friend's house, Josie did not want to stay in her new stall. Shadow did not want to stay in his new stall. Shadow did not want to be separated from Josie. Zeus would not be separated from Josie. Annie did not want Zeus anywhere near either Annie or Josie.

Zeus has had little to no handling experience as far as I can tell, so this became a serious issue very quickly. Among other things, the stall area in the back barn has giant stalls, but a tiny aisle (maybe 8 feet wide) and I nearly got trampled by Zeus several times before I started making on-the-fly executive changes.

1) Zeus stays where he's been.
2) Josie stays.
3) Shadow stays.
4) Annie goes back to the big barn.

Poor Annie. She got split off for one reason only -- because she is the most easily handled horse.

So, back to the big barn she went. She called. She paced. Some hay and some grain in her familiar stall helped settle her down. Sammy, the new mini, went into Josie's old stall next to Annie, so at least she didn't have to contend with Zeus.

This morning as soon as I finished feeding the big barn, I walked Annie back out to the big pasture. She knew exactly where she was going. When I let her loose, she headed straight around to the back of the barn and she didn't stop until she found Josie's window. Not sure what the solution here is.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Shadowfax's new friend

Shadowfax played halter tag all afternoon with recent arrival and new bff - Zeus. We're exhausted. 

I caught both of these scenes with my cell phone, just minutes apart.  It was that kind of day. Windy, cold, snowy, and just a little bit melodramatic. 


Friday, November 22, 2013

Goats in coats

Marthajones and Rosetyler are ready for tomorrow's cold front. How cute is that? 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cat vs. Goat

One of the things I do like about the new house is its size. For all the charm of the old farmhouse, it was tiny. The new house is much bigger. It has less character, but there are a couple of badly needed extra rooms for keeping things out of the reach of critters and children.

For instance, Charlie.

Charlie is one of our California cats. Born on the streets of San Francisco, he lives indoors now and spends his days harassing his sister and sleeping in the sun. He's never met a goat, but boy would he like too. I left a baggie of Riversong's fleece on the kitchen counter the other day after her spinal tap and he went nuts. It was better than catnip.

So I keep the fleeces and the fiber stuff locked up in their own room, unless I'm actively working on something and carrying it around with me -- like the yarn I spun up from Donnanoble's first fleece this week. I haven't gotten very far with it, but I'm pretty impatient, so I decided to knit up the tiny bit I'd done, just to see, you know?

I put it down on the kitchen counter next to me this morning while I had my coffee. Just for a second.

Charlie's pretty fast for a couch potato. I really should know better.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Spa day

I thought I had figured out the shearing thing. Back in September I contacted a shearer from a local family well-known for their skills and experience. He agreed to do my little flock (2 sheep plus the 6 goats) the next time he was in the neighborhood. He said he'd call. I said I'd wait. And wait I did. And waited and waited and waited.

Last week I decided my wait muscles were plum wore out. Winter's practically here and my little flock is going to freeze their naked tushes right off if we delay any longer. So, I went to TSC and bought a pair of clippers. Holy moly those suckers are expensive. But then, so is my time and my peace of mind. All the other Pygora owners I know shear their own flocks, so why shouldn't I, right? It'll save me some money, plus I won't have to chase around for a shearer every time the need arises.

The good news is, I have successfully sheared four of the six goats. This is definitely doable.

The bad news is that now my back muscles are plum wore out, right along with my wait muscles. Oy vey. Shearing is Hard.Frickin.Work.

The other good news is that the fleeces, 5 months post the last shearing, are gorgeous and, woohoo, clean. Of the four so far, only one has had any matting, and even that was pretty minimal.  

The other bad news is that, no surprise, I am a lousy shearer. Lots of second cuts. But I still got some spectacular useable fiber, and traversed a good sizeable chunk of the learning curve, so I'm not complaining.

Surprisingly, Rosetyler didn't complain too much either.

Rose: Just a little off the sides please.

Me: Like this Rose? 

Rose: I can't bear to look.

Rose: Just pass me a robe. 

Their winter blankets are in the mail.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A new game

Boomerang's favorite pastime in the new house is to retrieve clothes from the laundry hamper. 
Self-taught, of course. Thanks Boom. I'll take that now. How do I teach him to wash and fold?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Updates from the farm

In the spirit of journaling, and so I don't have to keep relearning the same things over and over, here are some updates and lessons from the past year. This is gonna be long.

Coaxed to come down
Thing 1 and Thing 2 in their tree
1. Thing 1 and Thing 2. Our first home-grown chicks. Offspring of our first flock. Hatched in late May. Raised entirely by Whitney. Picked on mercilessly by aunties Shasta and Santa Cruz. These two are huge. As of the first of November, they were about twice as big as any other hen in their flock, yet very clearly at the bottom of the pecking order. They also continued to refuse to go into their coop at night. Every evening, for five full months, after the other chickens of Flock One had retired for the evening I went out to the chicken yard and pulled these two out of the big chicken tree and carried, chased, or otherwise encouraged them to go in the coop.  No more. With winter knocking on the door, I called time on these two. No more climbing the chicken tree to bring them in (I know, I know, I'm slow to adapt.) As of a few days ago, they are now officially members of Flock Two. I locked them in with the second flock for three days. I'm hoping they'll get the message and forego the tree. We'll see. It may take more than three days.

Toaster and his free range hens
2. Flock Two. This is the flock that came from the Amish hatchery this past spring. Five orpingtons, two brahmas, a jersey giant, a copper marans and two blue marans (including 1 rooster). This flock, led by the infamous Paris, is now free range -- by demand. Flock 1 pretty much stays in the chicken yard all day. Flock 2 sneaks out first thing in the morning and roams freely all day. They do come home at night, so I don't try to block the ranging. The vintage nesting box goes mostly unused. I find their eggs all over the barn -- in the haycart, in the goat pen, everywhere. The blue copper marans rooster -- Toaster by name, Chuckie by association -- has grown up to be beautiful, but much reviled. The sound of his footsteps over my shoulder haunt my dreams. If I could train him to attack only intruders, I'd leave him out 24/7 and call him an LGD. Sadly, he considers me an intruder. He's the first and only animal I've ever owned that I truly dislike. Because of Toaster, I will probably not let any hens go broody again, so as to avoid more roosters. Chicken birth control is the lesson here.

3. The thorns from hell.  No one had a good solution for dealing with thorny honey locust trees. In fact, I got the distinct impression that no one who knew anything about farming or homesteading or livestock or well, life in general, would ever be daft enough to buy a property filled with honey locusts. Yep, I get that now. Over the past year, I have tried two different solutions to this problem. One was to simply cut a locust down. Um, yep, unequivocal mistake. It is very hard to clean up a downed tree with killer thorns. A lot of it is still on the ground and blocking prime paddock area for the little mares.  The second solution, tried on the two big trees in the big mares' paddock was to simply break all the thorns off that I could reach, up to about 7 feet off the ground. It was a boatload of thorns to remove, but only a couple of hours of easy work and in the end, I had two large, smooth-barked shade trees out in the paddock that kept the girls cool and breezy during the summer and caused no harm. A few thorns tried to grow back, especially on the younger of the two trees, but they were soft, pliable, and easily plucked off as I passed by doing other things. The back fields on the old farm property are filled with old locusts trees. They will all get the shearing treatment when the time comes. I call this learning experience a success.

Wild grapes
4.  Wild grapes.  Well, I've gone around and around about this one. First I mistook them for kudzu (which apparently doesn't yet, but may soon, grow this far north). Then I recognized their grapeness and rejoiced. Then they matured into something only the birds would eat - nasty, bitter, little pips of grapes -  and I shook my head and sighed. Like the honey locusts, grapes, too, are all over the old farm property and will have to go eventually. The best cases are the locust trees entirely shrouded in heavy ropes of grape vines. Talk about  no-go zones.

Do orchids go to seed?
5. The little flower that resembled an orange tiger lily turned out to be a wild orchid. I know this because I carefully walked, mowed, and worked around it all summer, waiting to see what it would do. Definitely an orchid. Orchids apparently grow wild around these parts, like the grapes. I am enchanted by the idea of orchids growing wild on my property, though I brace myself for whatever lesson comes next. What exactly -- poisonous? Invasive? Turn into locust trees their second year? We'll see.

Clem and Johnny Blue
enjoying the new pasture.
6. Clementine. Clem's the little ewe lamb we got in the spring. She nearly died when we first brought her home. The stress of weaning and  moving, combined with too much grain and not enough forage, led to an explosion of worms and ulcers. Her groans were pitiful, but the vets took good care of her and she recovered. She does love her grain though and will refuse forage in its favor. Late in the summer she started groaning again, so I wormed her, gave her antacids again for a couple of weeks, backed her off to only a few pellets of grain a day and added probiotics to her diet. This seems to help. Lesson here? Taking care of sheep can be tricky.

If you squint you can see where River is missing fleece
on her back from the spinal tap.
7. Riversong. We nearly lost Riversong to meningeal worms recently. It started out as a little weakness in her hind end. I treated with copper and selenium. I dewormed. Nothing seemed to help. When I came home from work one afternoon and found her down, I raced her to the emergency clinic at the vet school, where the vet gathered all the students around and walked them through the diagnostics, including blood, fecals, urinalysis and a spinal tap. She suspected meningeal worms all along. All the vets were very sober. "What a cute goat -- oh, no, not the worm." Like Clem, Riversong nearly died. Fortunately, the worms had not ascended to her brain yet (ugh) and with some super strong dewormer and anti-inflammatory meds, she made a come back. She is now pretty much recovered and as beautiful as ever. Meningeal worms, I now know, are spread in deer feces and there is nothing you can do about it, except deworm prophylactically. This is confusing to me, because in the case of Clem, the ewe lamb, the same vet clinic told me NOT to worm prophylactically because of worm resistance. Lesson here? Taking care of goats can be tricky. Also, I really shouldn't wait until an animal is down to take them in. Thankfully, River is still with us.

Ameliapond all cleaned up
8. Fleeces. In the spring, I had the goats' fleeces sheared for the first time. Some alpaca shearers came to do it. It was not a pretty scene. The goats were dirty and matted. The shearers were befuddled by their goatness and very slow. Time being as short as it has been this year, I've only just started cleaning the fleeces up. What's not matted is beautiful. My weaving teacher has helped out, by showing me how to wash and spin the locks without having to card everything. She is a long time wool person and was skeptical that these goat hybrids would be anything other than itchy mohair. Well, 10 minutes with Donnanoble's fleece seemed to change her mind. More like long staple cashmere than mohair. Sweeeeet.

My first weaving project
9. Weaving. Woohoo! What else can I say? I see some spectacular Pygora/wool scarves in my future, but that update will have to wait. When I finish my first and current project (which has evolved into a scarf of 5% intent, 95% exploration) I'll post it, but I only get to work on it 3 hrs a week, so it could be a while.

Friday, November 8, 2013

And then the lights went out

Wednesday evening the 12-year-old and I were across the road at the stables. The child was riding, I was just hanging around shooting the breeze. At this point, everyone had heard the story of our presumed lurker and our spooky night checks. One of the other boarders brought my friend a wildlife camera with a motion detector to capture any late night visitors. We hooked it up, but nobody really expected to see anything interesting.

The barn was busy. Lots of people. Lots of talk. Lots of good vibes. There had been no mysterious events for at least three or four days, so my friend decided she was no longer spooked. She said she'd come over with me if I wanted, but she was ok alone. Even though I'd spent the afternoon replacing burnt out bulbs around the outside of my property and was feeling more optimistic, inside I'm thinking, 'Sure you're ok -- you have a barn full of people who will likely still be here at night check time. I, on the other hand, will return across the road to brave the dark alone and will certainly be snared, tortured and left for dead by our creepy intruder.'

Still, pride is a powerful thing. I'm tough, right? I turned her offer down.

So I dragged the 12-year-old along to keep me company for an early night check.

(The child, who, by the way, is strangely unmoved by any of the goings on.)

We startled a deer in the backyard on our way out to the back barn. An actual deer, lurking perhaps, but not sinister. Nothing untoward happened in our rounds and we were back in the house by 8:30. By 9:00, the 12-year-old headed to bed, and with all my barn chores done, I was looking forward to a couple of  uninterrupted hours of work online. Not bad, really.

It had, I should mention, been another blustery sort of day. The wind blew strong all day. Outdoor pots and lose debris got knocked over and blown around. There was no sun, and later, no moon or stars. More chilly, damp, windy fall weather. A perfect night to stay in and get some stuff done.

And then the lights went out.


All the lights that I so painstakingly found, replaced, left on, or added over the past few days, darkened in an instant.

I'm telling you, I could not make this stuff up if I tried.

I would be lying if I said my first thought wasn't that someone had cut the power. Thank you, Hollywood, for planting those seeds in my poor head. At least, back in the pioneer days, nobody had to contend with images of Norman Bates in their head when they headed out to the barn at night.

I called my friend. Our house sits on a little rise above the road. I can see 5 or 6 properties up and down the road from my front door. I could tell that the whole street was out. Her property, on the other hand, sits at the bottom of the hill and faces back into the woods. She can't see anybody else on the road. Turned out most of the crowd had long since gone home. She was there with just two other people when the lights went out. They were freaked out. (Ah, payback.) She was relieved to hear it wasn't just her place.

There wasn't much we could do for each other. My flashlight was missing. My stockpile of candles and matches was still in the other house.

I was enormously relieved that I had already done night check. Cause let me just admit right now -- if I hadn't already done the chores, I can't say for sure that those ponies would not have had a long, hungry night.

Nothing left to do, so I went to bed.

Sometime during the night, the lights came back on.

Now all is good here in the Midwest, no thanks to Hollywood.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Of Hitchcock and Halloween

If life sometimes imitates art, this week has been a bad remake of a Hitchcock movie. Gloomy, blustering days. Rain and wind and rotting leaves. Halloween. And a prowler in the neighborhood. Ugh.

About a week ago, I set out for the back barn to do night check on the two ponies living there. The back barn, which is the barn in the pastures of the new property, is set far off from the house. Way out. In the dark. Nestled up against the overgrown brush at the rear of our old property next door. The last owners didn't use this barn for anything but their lawnmower, so it didn't matter to them that the security light on the front doesn't work.

Anyway, I came around the corner of the house in the dark with my flashlight swinging in my hand. The light caught something tall and white in the brush. Just for a second. I moved the light back and it was gone. It happened so fast, I couldn't really see what it was, so I told myself it was a deer. Afterall, what else could it have been back there? Yeah, that's what I told myself. But I was sufficiently creeped out that I couldn't approach the barn.

This was a predicament -- I had to feed the ponies. I couldn't just wait for morning. So, I did what any good American would do. I went back to the house, got in my car, and drove the few hundred feet to the barn. With the car lights burning and the keys pinging in the ignition, I ran into the barn, threw the ponies some hay, slopped some water into their buckets and scrammed. The next day, same thing. My reaction to a deer in the trees seemed extreme, even to me. Within a couple of days, I was telling friends the story of my silly reaction to a deer and feeling a bit more settled.

Halloween came. The wind blew and rain poured down. I raced to dig out years of dirt and muck around the back barn just so I could close the barn's doors against that tropical storm that barreled through the Midwest last week. A pack of coyotes caught something in the back pasture at 4 in the morning and I found myself fully dressed and yelling into the gloom off the patio before I was even completely awake. The wind blew some more. The sun hid.

Still, every night I went out to the back barn to check the two ponies there and then circled around to the new barn to finish up the rest of the ponies, the sheep, the goats, the cats. To get to the new barn  (the one I built myself last fall) from the new house (the one we just bought and moved into) I have two choices. I can cut through the 20 foot deep wooded boundary between the two properties -- I removed a 10 foot section of the old wire fence and carved out a small footpath leading to the back door of the new barn. Or I can drive. Down the new driveway, out to the road, 400 ft down the road, up the old driveway to the front door of the barn. Mostly I chose the car.

Then four nights ago, I was just lying down to sleep, when my phone rang. It was my friend across the street with the horse stable. Her voice was weird. It took me a few minutes to really tune in. It was late. She was alone. She was going down to do her own night check when she caught sight of someone entering her barn. Yet there were no cars in the driveway. We don't live anywhere that people could legitimately arrive on foot. She was terrified and she couldn't bring herself to go in the barn. Like me though, she had to feed the horses. So I got dressed and went over to help. We searched her barn. We found no one hiding. Nothing amiss. We finished up without a problem and convinced ourselves that whatever she thought she'd seen, it was just the wind playing tricks.

One of her staff arrived first thing the next morning. The staffer heard someone come in and leave the barn while she was busy in the feed room. The staffer called out, but no one answered. She assumed it was my friend. But it wasn't. Again, no car in the driveway. Then they found a horse blanket spread out in the middle of the tack room floor, as though someone had slept there. We had just searched that tack room at night check the night before. There was no horse blanket on the floor.

That was the first night we traded night check support. She came and helped me with my last feedings, then I followed her back across the road and helped her with hers.

Nothing has happened since then. No strange figures in the shadows. No bumps in the attic. But, the wind keeps blowing and the nights are d.a.r.k. We're seriously spooked. Last night was the third night of shared night checks with no end in sight. It takes twice as long to do night checks this way, but it's infinitely easier to navigate the dark with another soul for company.

Hitchcock is looking down on us chuckling, I'm sure.