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Farm Fresh Blog
Sunday, August 30 2015
Whoever came up with the idea for a Zombie Apocalypse must have been raising goats. When the sun goes down around here, the only thing standing between slumbering livestock and The Walking Dead, is my favorite Nightwalker - Briar.
The coyotes begin to sing shortly before sundown and our sleeping giant awakes to begin her shift. All night long she barks and races off into the dark, the bell around her neck clanging loudly. It is the same bell the goats wear. In time perhaps the predators will come to associate the bell with the big white dog.
Sunup normally finds her lying behind the sheep pens looking up at the mountain. I release the pups from the goat pen, and we take a walk with the rest of the pack. Briar's shift is over, and she can relax. The cool mornings find her playful and sometimes she deigns to interact with her minions. They fall over themselves when she even notices them, so when she plays they are absolutely giddy. Her antics tend to be shortlived, perhaps she is burning off steam from the night before, but like the puppies, I enjoy watching her play. She is an animated carpet, whirling in the red dust, chasing her tail, full of humor.
As quickly as it begins, it's over. Briar shakes the dust off along with all trappings of silliness, and as the sun climbs higher in the sky, she once more becomes the lazy white dog sleeping off the responsibilities of the night.
Thursday, August 27 2015
"Did you see her last night?"
"Oh yeah. I laughed so hard I fell out of the tree."
It started innocently enough. I had just returned from the laundromat with a truckload of clean blankets, sleeping bags, comforters, and clothes - six washer loads! I was walking back outside for the last load when I noticed Judge and Jury trotting across the yard, carrying something black. On closer inspection the object in question was my favorite black bra.
Each pup had an arm strap and they were spinning and slingshotting each other back and forth across the yard like a canine Tilt-A-Whirl. Here's my plug for Champion Sports Bras - it held up for a long time.
I started asking the pups to come show me what they had. Judge dropped his end and trotted up with a toothy grin. Jury ran like a spotted ape with the bra.
He dipped under the barbed wire fence and settled down about twenty feet on the other side to chew his new black slingshot.
So close, and yet, so far.
The fence was tightly strung and the closest gate was 300 yards away. Jury was 'just' on the other side, laughing at me. I called. I pleaded. I heard the sound of fabric tearing. I cussed. I cajoled. He was having a grand time, both enjoying his prize and watching my multiple personalities emerge.
Finally good sense settled in and I opted to call all dogs and take off running for the barn. This proved too enticing for the little beast and he came running in with everyone else - without the bra. No problem. I'd just send Lily to retrieve it.
Retrieving underwear out of the pasture is not exactly in Lily's databanks. (Other Half and I are pretty civilized by those standards.) When given orders to slip under the fence and "bring me that!" Lily shot under the wire and began to trot back and forth across the bra looking for something of greater importance. This gave Jury the time he needed to scoop up his prize and trot down the fence line. Judge joined him and another round of Anatolian Tilt-A-Whirl commenced.
I began to plead with Lily to just march right in there, pull rank, and take the damned bra. Apparently possession really is 9/10's of the law because Lily refused to steal their toy. In desperation I tried the Run-To-The-Barn routine again. It worked. Once more the whole crew ran to barn. This time I had the presence of mind to give the little snots an empty water bottle. I called for Dillon and ordered him to go retrieve the bra. He presented me, instead, with a black rubber feed tub.
"NO! Drop that and go get my bra!" I shouted.
"But wouldn't you rather have a bucket? Buckets are so much more fun. "You can run with them. And carry them on your face."
"And carry things inside them."
"NO!!!!!! Go get my bra!"
Slightly hurt at my tone, he dropped the bucket and stared at me.
Lily assessed the situation. Idiot. He's an idiot with a bucket. She slipped under the fence and searched the area for whatever 'something' was so important to me. As she crossed the bra, I yelled "YES!!"
The dog turned around, inspected the dirty, torn bra lying in the briars, raised an eyebrow and said, "This? Really? All that screaming was about this?"
I was just a little bit ashamed of myself. Yes, shamed by a Border Collie. Trust me. It happens more often than I'd like to admit.
So I got the bra back. Another plug for Champion Sports Bras: Despite rocketing Anatolian pups around the barnyard the only real damage was a few tooth holes, which is not too bad for the abuse it took. Dillon forgave me for screaming at me. Jury doesn't care. And Lily, she's staying close for whatever personality emerges when puppies steal mom's underwear.
Tuesday, August 25 2015
Say goodbye to Orville.
We dropped him off at the sale barn yesterday. I would have preferred to butcher him for us or the dogs, but Other Half refused to eat him and didn't want to go to the trouble to butcher him for the dogs. We will butcher a calf soon and so freezer space will be limited. There was not enough room for a ram who had earned a spot in freezer camp.
The thing about rams and bucks is that they are basically all about sex, or in Orville's case, sex and killing rivals. Orville decided that my high dollar buck, Jethro, was a rival and thus, must be killed. I heard Jethro screaming and ran to help, certain I'd find one of the dogs had him by the ear. I rounded the corner to find Orville bouncing Jethro around the pen like a soccer ball. The buck is much larger than the ram, but Orville is all muscle with a low center of gravity. Poor Jethro wasn't fighting, he could barely defend himself against the attack.
I had my doubts about running into the pen but figured that if I didn't, he'd kill Jethro. Lily was in the house, so I took Briar with me. The presence of the dog temporarily shocked Orville out of his homicidal fog, and bought me the time to shuffle Jethro out of the pen. Then Briar and I beat a hasty retreat while Orville was trotting around with his head on a swivel like a Spanish bull.
I took one long look at that and said, "Orville's got to die."
Other Half was aghast at my decision. He had not seen Orville's assault and really didn't seem to believe I'd sentence him to death for just playing rough. Read my lips: Orville was not playing.
Orville's goal was to kill the ram. Rams who do that also attack people. Not all rams attack people, but all rams that attack people started attacking other animals first.
Had I not been home he would probably have succeeded in killing a Nubian buck twice his size. Orville had been getting cheeky since the girls came home. He had rammed Briar for no reason and threatened the other dogs through the fence. I wouldn't even let the puppies around him. The day before the attack Orville was attempting to rape one of my wethers (neuthered male goat) and I tossed the wethers out of the pen and left him alone with Jethro, naively believely the bigger buck would be safe.
After the attack I contacted a friend who is a longtime sheep breeder and asked for her advice, and recipes. She said she would have butchered him when he first started attacking the dogs. Alrightie then. I'm aware that people have been killed by aggressive rams, so once I decided that Orville had to die, it was just a matter of when and where. I'd have been happy to put him in the freezer for sausage but Other Half would have none of it. With ten dogs, the prospect of dog food also seemed promising. (and won't be ruled out in the future!)
In the end we took him to auction. Over 3000 sheep and goats ran through that sale yesterday. I said goodbye to Orville as he trotted off to the pens and all the other sheep. He didn't look back.
Sunday, August 23 2015
Some deaths are tragic, but other deaths cap off the end of a good life. When I was a crime scene investigator, I recall a man who died in the manner most men would want to go - no, not that way. He was an elderly man who simply dropped dead while piddling in his garage. He had a long, fruitful life, and had spent the morning tinkering on his projects. Because of his age the neighbors kept a pretty close eye on him and so it wasn't long before someone noticed legs sticking out the garage door. His was a good death. So was Ice's.
As those of you on the Failte Gate Farm Facebook page already know, Ice passed away in her sleep this week. She went the way dogs want to go - lying beside her human. Since we re-homed her with my mother, the dog bloomed with new life, as she has had what every dog wants, a special human to guard 24 hours a day. Ice worked for a while as a narcotics dog and later as a cadaver dog, but she didn't really find her niche until she became a full-time companion to a retiree. It was a perfect fit for both of them.
After two wonderful years, Ice died in her crate beside my mother's bed. Everyone who has ever been faced with the angst of wondering when it is time to make the painful decision to euthanize a pet understands the wish that they would simply die in their sleep. I'm almost 52 years old and I've never, ever, had a dog die peacefully in their sleep, until Ice.
She had had her good days and her slow days, but nothing to remotely suggest the time was imminent. Ice went to bed that night and she was breathing heavy. Because storms were rolling into the region even that didn't send off any major alarms. The next morning, she had simply passed away in her crate beside the bed, exactly the way she would have wanted it.
And so while we shed some tears at her passing, I still tip my hat to her, because she had a good life, and a good death.
Wednesday, August 19 2015
Faith is the strong belief that in the midst of chaos, if you just keep moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other, then things will work out. That doesn't mean things will work out the way you want, or the way you expected, but faith is the belief that whatever does happen, was meant to be. And even in the chaos, especially in the chaos, God has not forgotten you.
Faith is also the knowledge that when something comes your way at the worst possible time, there is a reason, so don't question it. That's why I didn't put a whole lot of thought into whether or not we were keeping the little black kitten who flagged me down on my way home from work last June. The odds that I would hear a barking dog, stop my truck for a barking dog, get out of my truck to investigate the barking dog, get back into my truck and hear the plaintive cries of a kitten over the air conditioner and the radio, are so astronomical that when the tiny black kitten ran out of the darkness, I knew that he was in the hands of God and I didn't question it.
We were in the midst of packing and moving to North Texas and the last thing I needed was a tiny kitten with eight dogs. Thankfully my mother agreed to house the little beast until we got settled at the new home. He hit her household like a miniature tornado, leaving a path of destruction and disruption in his wake, and leaving his mark on all the hearts he touched. My mother named him Pavarotti because he sang an opera when locked in his kennel.
Pavi came to live with us the first week of August and his giant personality made quite the splash. Although the barn cats merely tolerate him, the dogs genuinely enjoy his company. In their minds, he is the best toy they've ever had. Since I've seen the way they play with Kongs, I have my concerns. Pavi has no such worries. He doesn't run from dogs, he strolls. He takes the game to them, shocking and confusing their predatory natures. This kitten thinks nothing of doing playful Halloween cat hops sideways and leaping into his opponet's face, landing across their noses with arms and legs outstretched like a feline SpiderMan.
Fortunately for the kitten, no one in the family harbors serial killer tendencies, but I still keep a pretty close eye on SpiderMan because he is tiny, they are easily excited, and accidents happen. He is not allowed outside at night. He is not allowed outside when we're not home. He is not allowed outside when too many dogs are loose. In short, his life is filled with rules and he thinks I'm a real downer because of it. A personality like his cannot be repressed for too long.
I don't know what big plans God has for this little tyke, but I never questioned whether or not he'd fit into our household. I have faith. Sometimes life is just easier if we quit agonizing over the details, and have faith that everything will work out in the end. And if things are not working out, it must not yet be the end!
Tuesday, August 18 2015
Briar's minions, Judge & Jury are promising to be fine Livestock Guardian Dogs. They stay with the dairy goats at night and each morning when the goats and sheep are released in the yard pasture to browse the boys walk with them. They follow the goats for a while, then they find a spot on the top of a hill to watch. Sometimes the sheep and goats split with some browsing uphill and some browsing in the thicket downhill. The puppies actually manage to pay attention to both groups. I pull out a chair and sit with them. As often happens, I get distracted with some chore and then panic when I cannot locate puppies. Invariably I find them either with the goats, or sleeping with Briar.
Briar appears to be a reluctant tutor who reminds me of Tommy Lee Jones in "Men In Black." She is gruff and surly most of the time, but I note that she is actually paying close attention to the puppies. Yesterday one of the ewes took aim on a pup and began to run it down. Briar moved her hulking mass amazingly fast to deflect the ewe's attack on the youngster. The ewe stamped off in a huff and Briar led the pups away,
where they once more set up on a hill to provide security for ungrateful sheep.
Thursday, August 13 2015
This ewe will always hold a special place in my heart. She wasn't a particularly beautiful sheep, but she had a beautiful heart, and I felt her loss deeply. One of the reasons why this little ewe stood out was because of her special friendship with Briar. While the other sheep ignored the giant pup, Roanie was her friend, and that friendship continued as Briar grew up and Roanie grew older.
And so it was that when Roanie died, leaving her little ram lamb an orphan, I never questioned whether or not we'd keep him. Checkers wasn't livestock, Checkers was family.
Roanie died when I was in South Texas and the flock was still with Dear Friends Kim & Clyde. Because Checkers had already been eating solid food, Dear Friend Clyde began pulling Checkers at meal time and feeding him separately to make sure he got his share of the groceries.
He even runs after Clyde and baaaas, and if he hears the 4 Wheeler he starts looking for Clyde. Mister Checkers has been elevated to the highest level of livestock - pet.
Like his mother, Checkers is something special. And like his mother, he has his own dog. Enter Andre.
Andre the Giant is a littermate of Judge & Jury. Dear Friend Kim picked up one puppy at the same time I picked up two puppies. Since little Andre (the Giant) was lonely without his littermates, he found a ready friend in an orphan lamb. Dear Friend Kim reported that these guys are pasture buddies.
Andre needed a friend, and so did Checkers, and they found each other. I soon realized it was in the best interest of both the lamb and the puppy to leave them together. As much as I wanted to keep a part of Roanie, when I see Checkers with Andre, I remember Roanie and Briar, and who am I to break up a friendship like that.
Wednesday, August 12 2015
There are mountains, and then there are The Twin Peaks - Judge & Jury.
Jury has the wide blaze and freckles. Judge has the narrow blaze. Judge is more verbal and protective. Jury hangs tighter with the flock and kicks Judge's butt at meal time. This cute little passive face transmogrifies into a beast toward his brother when food appears. He is so food aggressive the little snot must be fed separately so Judge doesn't get a complex.
They are adjusting quite well to life here, and the farm is slowly absorbing them into the fold. They were raised with goats, and thus, they prefer the goats to the sheep.
The goats are not as impressed.
The Boyz are already stepping up to the plate and making an attempt to protect their goats (whether they need it or not!) A few days ago the pups discovered the Barn Cats. They sent the cats packing a couple of times, but one cat simply refused to stay gone. She would get just outside their 'bubble' and then encroach again on the other side of the water tank, just to spy on them. This simply would not do. Jury was more about staying with the herd, but Judge made it his mission to push that cat away from the goats. Once the cat was outside his 'bubble', Judge would back off and return to the goats.
I thought it was cute, but what happened next really impressed me. Judge had repeatedly chased the cat away from the water tank. At this point the cat was simply lurking in the brush on the back side of the tank when one of the goats wandered too close to the cat for Judge's comfort. (This particular goat is one of the two that have been battling parasites so she's in pretty poor condition right now.)
As soon as the goat got too close to the cat, Judge began to talk and worry that goat until she returned to the rest of the herd. Then he came back with her. It was the cutest thing.
The goat was not impressed. She was quite annoyed, but the important thing was that Judge made a decision, acted on it, and the goat followed his instructions. Today it is a barn cat, but next week it could be a bobcat. I hope not. Judge isn't ready for the Big League yet; he is barely the size of a bobcat now.
Fortunately for Judge & Jury, Briar is on duty too.
Monday, August 10 2015
Some days I feel like we are the Jews making the journey to the Promised Land because it seems we have wandered across Texas for 40 years instead of just the month of July. Moving sucks. Moving a farm is something akin to insane. Add a new kitten and two puppies at the same time and you are certifiable in any state.
No one feels the stress of the move more than the livestock. This makes conditions ripe for disaster. Like the rest of the state, we have battled the parasites. Each day is another battle. We have treated and wormed until the stock are sick of seeing us. Most of the flock is fine, but things are still touch and go with Sparrow. I almost lost her, pulled her back to the Land of the Living where I almost quit worrying, and now she is teetering on the edge again. The vet, the feed store, and the veterinary supply store all share the same tale - it's a bad year. Everyone is losing sheep and goats.
As ranchers we are in a Catch-22. We can worm regularly and run the risk of breeding drug resistant worms, or we can worm only when there is a problem. I have always chosen Door #2, but this year I'm still battling drug resistant worms, and thus I find myself shotgunning the problem - trying everything in hopes that something works. Some animals are amazingly resistant. The worms hit the elderly and the nursing mothers. The young sheep and goats are fine.
Saturday night I finally moved the sheep and goats home. It isn't ready yet, but since I tied up loose ends with the police department last week, we are officially retired now, and thus I have the time to monitor the stock hourly. We have a few small pens, but no stalls inside the barn yet, so we find ourselves juggling dogs and livestock. The property beside the house is fenced and manages to keep cows away from the barn, but needs to have a layer of field fencing attached before I trust goats and sheep loose unattended. Briar has her hands full up here.
Dear Friend Clyde watched her at work one night and remarked on how she impressed him. While he and Other Half worked inside the barn all night long, Briar lay in the driveway beside the goat pen. He said she would jump up and run off barking, then return to plop down in the same spot. Then she would run off barking in a different direction, and return to the same spot. This went on all night. Small wonder why the dog sleeps all day in front of the fan in the barn.
There is a reason why Livestock Guardian Dog breeds are nocturnal. Think about this when you want one as a pet - THEY ARE NOCTURNAL. THEY BARK ALL NIGHT AT THINGS THAT LURK IN THE DARK. While this may be annoying in a subdivision, it is quite comforting when your closest neighbors are the coyotes and bobcats coming up for an All-You-Can-Eat-Sheep-Buffet.
Last Sunday night we added some help for Briar - Judge & Jury.
They are baby Anatolian Shepherds and will some day tower over Briar but for now, they are just two more things under her protection. She pretty much treats them like she treated Mesa as puppy, they are a nuisance.
She either growls at them, or ignores them. I did note however, that Cowboy, in typical Snidley Whiplash fashion, took it upon himself to go over to their pen and posture aggressively. Briar eased herself up and slowly walked up, loomed over him, and said, "Stop that or I will kick your ass."
Snidley Whiplash skulked off and left the puppies alone after that.
Perhaps the biggest issue around here is that we lack a routine. A farm runs smoothly only because the animals have a schedule and expectations. At the moment we are flying by the seat of our pants. Some days flow and others are a train wreck. For instance, Mesa and Lily have managed to easily move The Boyz from their night pen to their day pen and back each day. I moved the Girlz home Saturday night and stupidly assumed the same routine could be adopted Sunday morning. Train wreck! Mesa had sheep bouncing off the walls and a lamb ended up with minor injuries. I was at an emotional breakdown. I wanted to cry but I didn't have time. Animals needed water. Water is precious here and I find myself hauling it by the bucket because it is too precious to allow goats to poop in it. (Has anyone developed a watering device for livestock that can be filled with a water hose but works to fill only a small part of drinking area at a time so when the beasts poop in it you don't waste the entire batch of water!!?)
The thermometer is climbing dangerously high. Even with care, animals in this part of the state are dying from the heat. The dogs and livestock seem fine, but the barn cats were in danger. To help them understand where they live, I still had them in dog crates in the barn. Unfortunately even with a fan on them and ice water, they were panting. I couldn't exactly bring them in the house until cooler weather. They were semi-feral and I have five to seven dogs in the house at any given time. It is Cat Hell. (Except for the Foundling Kitten who lives inside until he's big enough to handle The Great Outdoors.)
Since the Barn Cats would not have enjoyed the same deal, I decided to take the gamble that they'd stay home and turned them loose early. After I got word that two horses died yesterday in the heat, it confirmed my decision. The rest is up to the cats. They know where the groceries are served. I hope they choose to stay.
It is painful to open that crate and turn them loose, not knowing if I'd ever see them again, but at some point, I just have to have faith.
And that's really what it comes down to. When you stress animals and people enough, the bare bones of the situation are seen - who can adapt, and how quickly. We are as stressed as the animals. We do everything we can, but there reaches a point where the animals must also step up.
* Briar must not leave the farm and follow my pickup down the road. She hasn't done this since I threatened to shoot her with Dillon's K9 Kannon at the front gate.
* We must grit our teeth, say a prayer, turn the dogs loose, and hope a copperhead doesn't bite them. And if it does, we have the drugs on hand. Thus far, the dogs haven't left the property, and no one has been bitten. (Knock on wood!)
* We continue to fight the stomach worms in the goats and sheep daily but in the end, it is all still a learning process. What doesn't kill us, makes us stronger.
* The dogs (and the husband) are slowly adjusting to having a fearless kitten in the house. He will be outside soon enough, not soon enough for the kitten, but too soon for me.
* And we will have to adjust to living without the luxury of two nice paychecks. We are retired now. (I remind myself regularly of "the lilies in the field." I have faith. We'll be fine, but Other Half did tell me it was time to start writing that book!
And so there it is. It has been a long, hard journey, but we are finally here.
Saturday, August 01 2015
Those of you on Facebook already know this, but since the bulk of our readers are not on Facebook, I wanted to post it again, and give an update to the Facebook readers:
Sadly, we lost Roanie this week. Longtime readers will remember that years ago Roanie was one of the two ewes who were attacked by Other Half's patrol dog, Oli. The other ewe died following the attack. Roanie gamely hung on and forever earned a place in my heart. She was recovering from the attack when Briar was a puppy and they became good friends.
Roanie regained the use of her back leg and except for a slight limp, showed no evidence of the attack. Her sweet nature and her will to survive earned her a spot in the flock even as I sold off better ewes. Not only was she my favorite, but I was always touched by her friendship with Briar. Despite being almost killed by a dog, she had no hard feelings about dogs and didn't hold it against her big white friend.
With all the rains, this has been a bad year for worms. When you add the stress of a move across Texas, and the additional stress of giving birth, Roanie's immune system was taxed too much. Despite the fact that the flock had been wormed multiple times for strongyles, these nasty barber pole worms got a foothold. We were able to save two anemic dairy goats, but were unable to save Roanie.
This left Roanie's young ram lamb without a mother. Fortunately young Checkers was already eating solid food, but there is more to being a mother than just providing groceries.
Enter Dear Friend Clyde:
The girl goats and sheep are still staying with Dear Friends Kim & Clyde until we are completely up here full time. As you can see from the above picture, they couldn't be in better hands. Young Checkers got wet during a thunderstorm last night, hence he was brought into the house for the evening.
Yes, that's a sheep in a wading pool, in the house.
Just like his mother, Checkers is special.
Many, many thanks to Dear Friends Clyde and Kim for taking care of him and the rest of the flock. This move across Texas has been a tough one and we couldn't have done it without friends on both sides of the state. Remember this when you count your wealth. Friends are worth far more than money in the bank. Dear Friend Kim shared this truism:
"Your time is the most valuable thing you can give someone."
I thank God for our wealth in friends who have given so much of themselves to help us.