Season of Gray

 

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The woods are lovely dark and deep

December 27th, and it’s gray.  The Midwest has a way of graying out during the month of November and staying gray until February.  Days like today, it looks mostly the same outside at 8:00 am that it does at 4:00 in the afternoon.

I’ve been feeling as gray as today’s sky.  I think we all have times like this, times when each day is just a push from morning to night, an effort to get from the start of your day to the finish in one piece.   If I’m being completely honest, 2015 has been one of the most difficult years on record for me.  I’ve felt in chaos more than I’ve felt safe, and more days have proved a struggle than I care to admit.   It’s easy to get lost in that, forget that everything with a beginning eventually has an end.

But, right now, I’m just in the middle of my chaos, and I’m feeling a little lost. Continue reading “Season of Gray”

Introducing the critters – Mystic’s Minnett Mann

A post by a fellow blogger reminded me of the days when we used to use the llamas as therapy animals. I wrote about it a long time ago and posted it when I had just a handful of followers. Here it is again. I hope you enjoy.

Almost Farmgirl

Some of you have expressed interest in learning about the critters, so I decided to start with the one who, for me, really started all of this crazy.  Minnett Mann, my first gelding, is, and always has been, my sweet boy.  I wrote the following during graduate school, about five years ago.

Minnett-Man cutie

Just a Minnett

I’ve never been good at goodbyes, and, in August of 2005, when I stood at the gate of the Illinois State Fair cattle ring, waiting to show my favorite llama for what was supposed to be the last time, it felt far too much like a goodbye. He was four, considered an “adult male,” and was misbehaving. I was nineteen, barely an adult myself, and trying very hard not to cry. I knew that I would never walk into the show ring with Minnett again. I was going away for three months, and he would…

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The Strangest Wake-Up Call.

You know that moment just between waking and sleeping? The one where your head is heavy on your pillow and you’re tucked under a pile of blankets that have just become the perfect amount of warm? Out at the ranch, that moment is usually accompanied by perfect silence. No city noises. No cars. Maybe the occasional owl.

A few days ago, that moment came to me in all its glory around 12:40pm. We had gone to bed later than usual already, and so when that moment was spoiled by the cats beating their furious little paws against the bedroom door, I was more than a little irritated. I got up and walked towards the hallway. Opening the door, I expected one or more cats to be standing on the other side looking guilty. I found nothing. Perfect silence. Perfect stillness.

So I went back to bed, but, upon laying back down I heard it again, a rhythmic sound I couldn’t quite place. Maybe the hedgehogs in their wheel? No. That wasn’t it. But the sound was something familiar and out of context. I sat up in bed, trying to isolate the noise. Trying to place it.

Outside the window, a horse screamed in the distance, a panicked whinny that cut through the cold air like a knife.

I froze. Maybe I heard wrong?

But then I heard the whinny again only a moment later.

And suddenly, it clicked. Hoof beats.

Oh God.

Jeremiah sat up in bed.

“What’s wrong?”

“Hoof beats. The horses are screaming.”

And with that, he climbed out of bed and pulled on his barn clothes as quick as a whip. I watched him grab his Glock–God forbid he need it, but you never can tell on a farm–before heading outside to check things out.

For a very brief moment, I considered staying inside. Most of the time, when something is awry, he checks it out on his own, proclaims an all clear, and crawls back under the covers. He usually didn’t need me.

And a horse screamed again. This wasn’t most of the time.

I threw off the covers and, faster than I would have thought possible, I pulled on a sweatshirt and jeans. Boots came on on the way out the door.

Worst case scenarios flashed through my mind rapid fire.  Barn fires. Predators. Oh my God, what if the Mountain Lion we saw earlier this year was back? What if one of the horses was caught in a fence or had broken a limb?

I wanted to run out the door and towards the back barn–the alpacas weren’t alarming, so I knew the problem, whatever it was, was likely isolated to the horses—but our snow had melted that day and refroze with the sunset. The driveway and lane were solid sheets of ice, as smooth as glass in many places. I would be no good sprawled out on the ice with a concussion, so I opened the breezeway door and resigned myself to walking…quickly.

As I rounded the garden beside the house, I heard yet another unexpected sound. A nicker.

Glancing left, I saw the a most glorious sight. Horses.

Three of our horses starred back at me. They looked surprised, but uninjured. A year ago, I might have tried to walk over to them, but I have learned. The last thing I wanted was for them to spook and run off again, this time down the road. I would come back with food. Halters. Besides, I could only account for three of the four full-sized horses on property. Anything could have happened to their companion.

I started walking down the lane, feeling less panicked than before but still uneasy. It was hard to walk with out slipping, but I made it to the horse barn in one piece.

Jeremiah was inside gathering a bucket of corn and a halter.

“Where’s Candi?” I asked.

“In the field being distracted with food.”

“Is she ok?”

“She’s fine. She was standing at the edge of the field screaming. Apparently everyone else jumped the pile of wood at the edge of the barn to take off, and she was afraid to follow.”

I let out a breath that I didn’t realize I had been holding.

“We are so lucky.” I responded.

Jeremiah stopped mid-stride and looked at me, perplexed.

“No. We’re really not. We’re missing all the others.”

It was my turn to be confused.

“They’re all in the front yard…”

“You didn’t think to lead with that?”

“There’s nearly four thousand pounds of horse standing in the front yard. I didn’t think you could have missed them.”

Apparently, he had been about to call the cops and alert them that three horses were loose within a half a mile of a major highway. (Guys, this could have been so bad.) Still, our crisis wasn’t completely over. We still needed to get them back in their field without spooking them and without anyone, human or equine, injuring themselves on the ice.

We walked down the slick lane towards the llama barn. Jeremiah opened the doors and turned on the lights. Then he and I stood in the lane, and he shook his bucket of corn.

Apparently, this was what they had been waiting for.

Hoof beats like thunder roared out of the front yard. Jeremiah, content that they would come, walked into the open barn and began pouring piles of grain onto the floor.

I stood in the lane, thinking that I would make sure they went where they were supposed to. I watched three horses, with a combined weight of around 3500 lbs and one of them a retired racing thoroughbred, careen down an ice covered driveway with all the unbridled power of tornado. I swear to you, in that moment time slowed down.

I watched, standing in the lane, initially worried that one of them would fall and hurt themselves.  I considered my powerlessness, and they picked up more speed.

Then I realized that I had three half-spooked horses coming directly towards me. I was standing on an ice slick. They were running on an ice slick. They weren’t slowing down.

I stepped to the side of the lane. No good. I was still right in their path. I really didn’t want to end this adventure by being body-slammed by my warmblood, but I had no where to go but down a hill to my left. If I leapt sideways down that hill, which I considered, I would tumble directly into a hedge of thorn bushes. I would be briar rabbit; that would hurt, but probably not as much as being trampled.

For about one millisecond, I debated crossing the lane. The barn side of the lane was clearer. I could get out of the way of the horses without being bramble fodder. I almost ran across. Almost. Suddenly I understood how a squirrel feels in their last moments.

Fortunately, as my thundering herd ran past, I found I was just far enough out of the way to avoid the crashing hooves.

I continued to watch as all three horses turned and ran into the barn. I shut the doors behind them, nearly walking in before remembering that we were two halters short. I turned walked down to the horse barn to fetched halters for my geldings.

Here’s what happened when I left:

Vinny and Cinco immediately noticed the large bale of alfalfa and the piles of corn.

Morana, a former bottle-fed foal with an oral fixation, noticed something else.

Jeremiah turned toward the horses, ready to halter Morana and lead her back to her barn.

She was where he had left her, only now his Glock, which he had placed on the hay bale, was held in her mouth, gansta style and pointed right at him.

In those moments, he was apparently thinking that being shot by his own horse with his own gun would be an exceptionally stupid way to die, but that he would more or less be ok with an end that epic. Also, he wondered if Morana had noticed the limp he was sporting after a particularly nasty horse kick, more pronounced since he fell on the ice on his way out, and planned to put him down. (”It’s been a good run buddy, but you’ve been too lame for too long.”)

And my husband, cool in the face of every crisis he has ever faced, including, apparently, being held at gunpoint by his mare, simply shook the bucket of corn again.

She dropped the gun on the bale and nosed into the bucket. Calmly, he haltered her and led her out of the barn. She placidly followed, content with her corn and completely forgetting her recent homicidal episode.

For my part, I watched him walk out of the barn with Morana, and I haltered Cinco. When he came back, he grabbed Vinny, and we walked down to the horse barn with our last two escapees.

We released them into their field, secured the gate, and shuffled down the icy lane back to the house.

I spoke first as we walked back.

“I’m so glad everyone is ok. We are so lucky.”

“Yeah.” He paused, almost unsure of what to say next…

I waited.

”That could have been so much worse.” Another pause. “Also, Morana just tried to shoot me with my own gun.”

So…what was your strangest wake-up call?

The good with the bad and into the New Year

The sky is blue fading black. Snow blankets the ground. Not deep snow, but enough to cover the mud and the muck and the browned out remnants of fall and summer. It’s unmolested, still a perfect shimmering white reflecting the brightest stars, the ones that manage to shine out between the wispy clouds. The light of the moon is mirrored by the snow covered earth, giving the entire outdoors an other-earthly feel. It’s stunning beyond the ability of pictures to capture.

… And it’s so damn cold your boogers will freeze right on your face.

Weather in the Midwest is notoriously unstable. Lately, we’ve had swings of 40 degrees or so several times a week. Most of the animals are handling it fairly well, but the older among them are having some difficultly with the extremes. Couple that with a string of bad luck, and it’s been a weird couple of weeks seemingly living in reaction to the realities of the ranch.

Since just before Christmas, I’ve had three sick llamas (two with infections and one with an upset tummy), one lame llama (who stood up when her foot was asleep and pulled a muscle), two lame horses (stone bruising due to the quick deep freeze), two lame cats, a lacerated dog requiring stitches, and an injured husband.  I just came inside from the barn a few moments ago, sick myself with a nasty cough, after dealing with a llama who somehow managed to choke on crumbled grain…(Don’t ask; I have no idea.)

It was while I was walking toward the barn, mostly preoccupied with helping the choking animal Jeremiah had called to report, that I noticed the wild and untamable winter beauty of the place. It was on the way back from the other barn, with thirty mile an hour winds and a temperature of seven degrees, that I realized, pretty or not, the cold will cut through you like a knife and freeze exposed skin with a chill that somehow burns. (And your boogers, as mentioned, it will also freeze your boogers.)

This ranch is a lot like the cold, beautiful and harsh, sometimes in almost equal measure.

Llamas are usually a pretty hearty bunch, but our herd is aging. Nearly all of them are north of ten years old; several are flirting with twenty. In the past couple of weeks, mostly right around the holidays, we’ve had three vet visits to deal with the issues of various critters (one cat, one dog, one llama).

We sometimes jokingly refer to the ranch as the llama nursing home. It’s one of those jokes that’s only funny because it’s true. This summer, we had a bout of strange behavior that led both Jeremiah and I to believe that several animals were heading downhill, that they wouldn’t be with us much longer. We watched them closely and changed their diet. We put in a superbly expensive water filtration system (that eliminated the heavy metals that were disturbingly prevalent in the well). And they bounced back, but we continue to watch.

I don’t think it’s the trials themselves that make ranch life harsh, or the work. I am no stranger to hard work, nor is my husband. I think it’s the knowledge that whatever you do, out here you will eventually lose the fight. After all, as often as not, the fight is against time itself.

It’s a common saying amongst ranch people: “If you’re gunna have livestock, you’re gunna have deadstock.” My cousin and uncle who run a dairy farm and have lost far too many calves this year have muttered that adage the same way I do when one of our critters gets sick, the way I did last year when we lost two alpacas to the cold and the damp. I’ve been saying it since I was fourteen years old.

But the saying is just a saying when you watch animals you care about get sick. Last week, the three sick llamas were three of my favorites. Even though I know I will lose animals, that these creatures won’t be around forever, I was ready to raze hell for those three. Fortunately, all but one has fully recovered, and I think the last will be all better in a few days. Still, for a little while there, I felt like Molly Weasley taking on Bellatrix Lastrange in the last Harry Potter book, screaming “Not my daughter, you bitch!” Except in my case I wasn’t facing a Death Eater, just time and illness, screaming “Not my pets, you bitch!”

I know for a lot of you it probably seems strange to be so attached to such creatures; even I would have found myself less upset by everything if it had only been one, but three of my favorite animals in as many days was rough even by my standards.

However, for now, all is well. The llamas and alpacas and ponies are tucked in snug in their stalls with blankets and heat lamps as necessary. The barn doors and stall doors are shut tight against the wind and the chill. They have more hay to munch than they probably need for the night. The chickens are likewise warm in their coop, the barn cats in their tack room, even the feral kitty is tucked into the hayloft. The big horses in the back field are fluffed up with their winter coats (all four of them resembling equine Yetis). Jeremiah and I are in the house with the house pets, the dogs curled up in front of the hearth. Most everyone is well, or on the way to being well.

I know that this place with always have the bitter mixed with the sweet, that it will likely always be beautiful and harsh in equal measure, but I also know that it’s worth it. The land is worth it, the house is worth it, and, more than anything else, the animals are worth every bit of heartbreak that I will ever feel on their behalf.

So it is with that thought that I look forward, into next year, into the next stage of things.

In a place like this, in a life like mine, you must learn to take the bad with the good. But guys? There is so much good to go around.

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The bitty babies!
The bitty babies!

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And…this is winter.

The snow falling outside my office window in the Heights probably means many things to many people.  For me, it’s a gently falling reminder that old man winter beat us back to the ranch.  We still aren’t moved back out there.

Just a few days ago, temperatures hovered between 55-60 degrees in our little corner of the planet.  Now we’re in the 20s, complete with two days of snow.  Illinois is like that, almost specializing in drastic weather changes that come in the night.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been expecting the cold.  Our winter supply of hay–minus one flatbed load that we still need to pick up–is safely tucked away, either in barns or under tarps.  Our grain room, likewise, is nearly full.

And, yet, the cold hit yesterday, and I found myself running around like mad trying to tie up loose ends.

I ran from store to store. At the first, I picked up a heated base for my chicken water, a sinking heater for my horse trough (the one from last year is toast), and cracked corn.

The cart that served as evidence of how woefully underprepared we were.  I wonder how many carts like this went through check out yesterday.
The cart that served as evidence of how woefully underprepared we were. I wonder how many carts like this went through check out yesterday

Then to another store for winter gloves that stand a chance against ranch life.

Back at the ranch, I noticed a shivering alpaca, just one, so I dug the winter coats out of the feed room

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This one was too big…and pink.
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Midnight Idol is probably our oldest alpaca, and the tiniest. This coat fit him very well, and it probably wouldn’t fit anyone else.

Eventually, several of our animals will be in coats, but I prefer to wait to put them on until they act cold.  The more they regulate their own temperatures without help, the better.

We also dug out heat lamps, and, before leaving for the night, we shut our old men into their stall with their very own heat lamp.

Today, we will head out again, buying posts at Lowe’s for a pony shelter that needs to go in yesterday and winter clothes for Jeremiah.  (Do you believe he went through all of last winter without a heavy winter coat?  Said that if he bought one, winter won.)

And so begins another season out at the ranch.  Hopefully, the big snows hold off for just a bit longer, and we can get moved back out before the roads get icy.  We shall see.

Also, since I’m new at this one, does anyone want to share some friendly advice for keeping chickens nice and cozy?  I have two that have bald(ish) backs from getting picked on, and I’m afraid of frostbite.

Amelia’s Misadventure.

When you have as many animals to care for as we do, it seems like there is always something.  Usually, that something is fairly little: horses need worming, llamas need toenails trimmed, one of the barn cats has an owie, and by the way did I notice that one of the chickens was walking funny?

It can get overwhelming at times, and I’m not always as on top of it as I should be, but generally, we keep up pretty well and nothing too catastrophic happens.  Until…well…

Meet Amelia

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Amelia is one of my two dogs.  A rescue of mostly unknown origins–we were told a lab/shepherd mix, but there is more going on there than that–she is my “puppy,” only a few years old.  She came home with me as an itty bitty baby from a local animal shelter.  Since then, she has grown taller than our full-blooded German Shepherd.  I have seldom met a dog with a sweeter disposition or higher energy; I have never met a dog with less natural grace.  She is a big, bumbling oaf, but everyone who meets her loves her for it.

Amelia when shortly after she came home with us.  Itty bitty baby dog.
Amelia when shortly after she came home with us. Itty bitty baby dog.
For half a second, her ears thought they might stand up like a shepherd.
For half a second, her ears thought they might stand up like a shepherd.

Tuesday night of last week, however, something was very, very wrong.  Amelia was slow to stand up and generally looked miserable.  When she and our other dog, Piper, came in from outside, she stumbled into the bedroom and parked at the foot of the bed (see below).  Then she gave me a puppy dog look that can only be translated as “Mom, I don’t feel good!”

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Amelia with her poor, pitiful, sick puppy face.

I assumed that she had a stomach ache–she is known for eating things she shouldn’t–so I gave her a bit of Pepto and hoped she would feel better.  She didn’t like that and went to her kennel for the rest of the night.  She refused to eat (which is not at all like her).  I briefly considered taking her to the emergency vet, but she didn’t seem in dire pain, so I decided to wait to see how she was in the morning.  (After all, if I had a stomach ache, there is no way I would immediately run to the ER to treat it…)

The next day, Wednesday, she was worse.  Not only was she moving even slower, her face was majorly swollen and pained.   I called the vet as soon as they opened, making the first available appointment.  About an hour later, I loaded Amelia into the car and drove her to see her doctor.

It’s remarkable, if you think about it, how much dogs trust their people.  Amelia felt horrible, and she hopped into the car, followed me into a strange place, and let a strange man with latex gloves poke and prod her all over, all because I said it was ok.

But anyway, the man with the latex gloves started exploring around her face; it was obvious at that point that she had a mass infection in her face and throat, one that hadn’t really been there the day before.  When he lifted her tongue, he saw a pretty good cut.  From there he began feeling around for foreign material stuck in her mouth.  (Apparently, the tongue is pretty good at cutting open, then sealing back behind, foreign material.)  He didn’t feel anything to suggest that anything was stuck inside her mouth; rather, it seemed that something had cut it pretty deeply (chewing on a stick maybe???) then it had become infected by some of the bacteria that is already pretty pervasive inside a pup’s mouth.  Let me tell you, it smelled miserable (and I am no stranger to questionable smells).  I felt terrible for my puppy, but I was happy that it was something that was easy to treat.

They sent me home with antibiotics and pain killers for her, with an appointment to check in again on Friday.

For the next day and a half she seemed to be improving very slowly.  The swelling in her face went down as the antibiotics did their work.  She still wouldn’t eat–even though the vet had prescribed a diet of cooked chicken and rice–but she was slightly more active.  She hated getting her medicine though.  I couldn’t coax her to eat it in pill pockets, or peanut butter, or cheese, so I had to manually open her mouth and stick them down her throat.  She looked at me like I had kicked her and started running away whenever my hands reached up to the cabinet where we kept her medicine.   That was vaguely weird, as I had given Amelia sea-sickness meds as a puppy anytime we went on a car ride, and she had always been pretty good about it. (She had a habit of vomiting in the car if we went too far, but didn’t want to be left at home).

When Friday morning and her appointment came around, I decided to forgo medicating her, hoping that the vet would be willing to give her fluids and an injection of medicine instead.

We waited our turn in the “dog” waiting room (to be distinguished from the cats’ waiting room on the other side of the building), heading in to see the vet once they called her name.

When the doctor came in, he and I spoke about Amelia’s progress for a  few moments.

“How’s Amelia doing?”

“She seems better, but she still won’t eat or drink.  I was hoping you could give her some fluids again?”

“That shouldn’t be a problem.  Let’s take a look.”

And, with that, he opened Amelia’s mouth, just like I had done the night before, just like he had done two days earlier.

Guys…there are no words…

Right there, in the center of her tongue, something was sticking straight out, something that definitely shouldn’t have been there.

“Holy cow.” The vet looked about as shocked as I felt.

“That wasn’t there last night!  I would have noticed.”

I kind of felt the need to jump to my own defense; I had been medicating that dog twice a day…if that had been there, I would have seen it.

“I looked for something last time…there was no indication…but either way, we’ll need to keep her for a while.  I’ll have to sedate her and remove this, then take an x-ray to make sure everything is out.

The vet tech scooted Amelia away in a flurry of paperwork and consent forms.  I arranged pick up for her, as I had plans to head out of town for the afternoon with Jeremiah.  She was in exceptionally good hands.

Later, in the car as we drove along the interstate, I got a phone call from the vet.

“Amelia is in recovery.  She will be fine.  We ummm…well it was the strangest thing, but that little bit you saw was really just the tip of the iceberg.  We pulled a chunk of wood out of her tongue that was about three and a half inches long.  It just kept coming.”  Then he added, “I thought my vet tech was going to pass out.”

Yup.  Best we can figure, she had been running around the yard with a stick pointed straight out, and she hit something.  That impact drove the stick under her tongue and it broke off.  And the  tongue, being remarkably resilient, closed back up behind it in a matter of hours.

They photographed the surgery, which I considered having them email to me so I could share it with you, but then I realized that many of my readers haven’t been around livestock for twenty years and that many of you probably wouldn’t appreciate how cool it was.

But they saved the stick to show me.  And I saved it to show you…

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That was inside her tongue.  Ouch.  No wonder she didn’t want me to open her mouth to give her medicine.

Given the depth of the foreign object, and the surgery required to remove it, the vet suggested we leave her with them overnight.

The next morning, I picked her up, paid one of the bigger vet bills I’ve ever seen, and she came home.  Since then, she’s recovered nicely, enthusiastically eating her antibiotic laced peanut butter and charging around the yard as though nothing had happened.

The vet confided that it was the strangest thing he had seen in all his years of practice, but Amelia has always been an overachiever.

So, for all of that, we have a happy ending and a healthy pup.  If the stick had gone in at a different angle, it might well have killed her immediately.  If I had waited to take her to the vet, the infection or dehydration might well have killed her.

But neither of those things happened.  She is lucky, and I am grateful.

 

No…I’m not going to eat them. (On keeping chickens that aren’t going to end up on your table.)

I didn’t go with Jeremiah to the farm this morning.  Partly, that’s because as he readily points out, I don’t do mornings.  (That’s not entirely true, I just don’t do mornings as early or as well as he does.)  Also, we were expecting Mr. Raccoon to be trapped in the live trap we set, and, while I know exactly what has to be done and why, I didn’t really want to be there to see it.

I suppose I’m something of a “bleeding heart.”  The other day, I found three baby mice and their mama in a feed bin…and I carried the bin across the property and out to the woods to let them go.  Last fall, when a baby raccoon was living in the horse barn (and regularly messing with Jeremiah’s stuff), I disallowed shooting it.  It was, after all, only a baby.   (Now I’m vaguely concerned that my kindness directly translated to the later killing of my chickens, but luckily, I can never actually know.)

Recently, a friend was incredulous upon learning that I have no plans to eat my chickens.

“So, you’re not going to raise and slaughter your own meat!?!?”

He seemed almost annoyed by this…

…I’m still not sure why.

Don’t get me wrong, I have IMMENSE respect for ranchers who humanely raise livestock, fighting against the factory farming trend that is almost exclusive these days.  Such people should be applauded and supported!  However, I am not one of them.  (If you’re interested in reading updates from such ranchers, check out a girl and her chickens or Full Circle Farm.  I really enjoy reading both of their blogs.)

Why am I not one of them?  For one thing, adding meat animals to my current menagerie would take up even more time.  Time, for me, is at a premium.  Also, they would take up space, also at a premium.  The farm is not my job, it’s my home.  I really don’t want to change that.

Additionally, if it’s not clear already, I get attached to my animals.  I’m not sure why I’d want to take on MORE WORK to raise slaughter animals when I know for a fact that it isn’t something I’d enjoy.

Finally, while we’re by no means vegetarians, we really don’t eat much meat.  To accommodate the meat-eating that we do, I have no problem paying a premium for local or independently certified humane meat.  I buy my beef from family, and I’m still trying to work through the beef quarter I bought last fall!

All of this said, I’m still not sure why it’s a problem or, even worse, why people are annoyed that my chickens might actually die of old age…

Just to clear things up, I thought I’d write a post about why I have chickens, even though I don’t plan to eat them.

Some of my chickens have names.  This one, for example, is Lucy.
Some of my chickens have names. This one, for example, is Lucy.

I thought about writing this as a list, but as I tried to start, I found that the reasons are fairly holistic.

I began to consider keeping chickens when I realized that we were, for sure, buying Eagle Ridge.  Part of the reason I do not eat very much meat, and part of the reason I am so intentional about the meat I do buy, is that I know way, way too much about factory farming.  It’s horrifying when you look into where most of our meat comes from.  And this knowledge comes with implications; for me, I had to rethink what I eat.  (For example, I do not eat pork products.  I gave that up when I realized what hog confinements really were.  I also don’t eat veal due to the usual conditions they’re raised in.)

And, I realized, laying hens are not immune to the implications of factory farming.  Not enough space, unhealthy conditions, and drastically shortened lives are the rule, not the exception.

I knew I didn’t want to raise my own meat, but I knew I could handle raising my own laying hens.

I now know EXACTLY where my eggs come from, and that’s rather lovely.

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Unexpected bonuses?

Chickens are freaking hilarious!  I love watching their antics, and I have found that I generally enjoy keeping them.  (Plus, compared to my other critters, they are remarkably low maintenance in the day-to-day.)

–AND–

They thoroughly enjoy the leftovers that would otherwise go to waste.  (Less wasted food!  Yeah!)

Can anyone explain why it is people would take issue with all of this?

The great chicken massacre of 2014 and the buttressing of Cluckingham…

Alas, there is sad news to report from the Palace of Cluckingham in the Kingdom of Eagle Ridge.  We have known since the loss of our most treasured subject that a foul marauder was afoot in our territory, but we naively believed it to reside solely outside of the fortress walls (barn…).  Alas, nigh three days ago, we were proven wrong when two more subjects were found dead, this time within our fortress walls.  They had been cruelly snatched from their home, drug out from among their kin, and devoured.

Their temporary home deemed unsafe, we doubled down on our efforts to complete their permanent residence.  By the setting of the sun, Cluckingham Palace was deemed secure, though still unfinished.  One by one, our remaining subjects were carried across the Aisle of Barn and into their new home.  They rejoiced and set about their regular tasks of eating, scratching in the dirt, and making noise.  And we, their devoted leaders, slept soundly that night, believing our chickeny subjects to be safe from harm.

We should not have slept so soundly.

The dastardly fiend who had so cruelly murdered her kin struck again, this time killing our second to last speckled sussex.  He was more clever in his ill intent that we had believed, and he had pulled our temporary defenses (wire stretched across where the door will go) away from the rest of the Palace.

This time he left tracks and fur.  We then knew our enemy.

Sadly, the King of Eagle Ridge (Jeremiah) was away, leaving me, the almostfarmgirl Queen of Cluckingham home alone to discover the aftermath of the slaying and to defend my defenseless subjects.

My defenseless subjects
My defenseless subjects
More defenseless subjects
More defenseless subjects

With no King in sight, I did what any Queen under siege should do.  I reinforced the defenses of my subjects, and I called for my Allies to aid me in their protection.

Lady Gabriella was the first to come to my aid.  Using zipties, we tightened the temporary wire down, leaving no gaps through which our dastardly predator (a raccoon, in case you were wondering…) could enter to terrorize our subjects.

Lady Gabriella at work
Lady Gabriella at work
Zipties reinforcing our defenses.
Zipties reinforcing our defenses.

Then, Sir Hezekiah, the user of power tools, screwed in boards along the bottom, for we could not allow the enemy to dig into the Palace.

Finally, I called upon my Sir Kent (my dad – who by the way grew up on a HUGE working farm…erm…I mean kingdom…) to walk the perimeter of the Palace to look for weaknesses in our defenses.

Securing a window that he identified as a fatal flaw in the safety features of the coop.
Securing a window that he identified as a fatal flaw in the safety features of the coop.
Read: Stop taking pictures for your blog and hand me a washer...
Read: Stop taking pictures for your blog and hand me a washer…

We baited a trap for the foul beast who has claimed the lives of four of our dear subjects but have not caught the villain.  However, since the buttressing of Cluckingham Palace, our subjects have been safe from harm.

And, I assure you, loyal readers, the days of the dastardly raccoon are numbered.

 

Cats and Dog. Llamas and Alpacas. Horses and Chickens. (…Oh my???)

Over the past week or two, Jeremiah’s little sister has been busy at the ranch with her camera, and she’s gotten some extremely impressive photos.  She gave me permission to share them with you.  Enjoy!

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Piper with her favorite Frisbee.
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Amelia with a bone
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Vin
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Morana

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Having a frolic
Having a frolic

DSC_0576 DSC_0577 Edie

July 4th-July 12th: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Between my husband’s insane shoeing schedule, and a week-long church conference that he attends every year, I’ve been on my own a lot lately.  (I start a lot of posts kind of like this, don’t I?)  This is fairly normal for us.  Summers stay very busy in a farrier’s world, and most of his clientele are between 3 and 7 hours away.  And when Jeremiah is away, I am called up to bat.

The ranch–especially right now, running it from a half an hour away–usually takes up most of both of our time.  Our lives are a juggling act, split between maintenance and renovations…and the other things that make the money to pay for the former.  When it’s only one of us, for more than a day or so, it starts to take up all of your time.   (I am so behind at work…this week, while Jeremiah is home for a few days, I play catch up.)

He was gone for several days last week, back for part of the fourth, gone again, home for half a day on the 6th, left for his conference on the 7th, and just got back into town yesterday.  In that time, I’ve been running ragged.  Bookended by two emergency vet visits, this has been a week (+) that I won’t soon forget, and there are parts of it I kind of wish I could…

July 4th:
This year I celebrated our nation’s independence waiting on the vet.  The littlest alpaca (that should be the name of a children’s book) caught her eyelid on something unsavory…and ripped it.  I’ll be honest, I have a photo of what that looked like, but I’ll spare you.

I call the vet; the vet put us on a list of emergency calls and said he’d text when he got to the farm.  I went to the house to wait.  He came and treated the alpaca by himself, forgetting to text, and left.  I proceed to wait on him for most of the rest of the afternoon, with Jeremiah taking over for me that evening when I head out to get ready for the cookout we were planning with my family.  Jeremiah waits until I text the vet to ask about his progress…and he tells me that he had finished hours earlier.  My busy husband was thrilled to have waited around all evening for nothing.

July 8th:
Day two of my week alone.  I named my favorite chicken.  Sweet and Cute and Beautiful, it took me longer for her than the others.

Salmon Faverolle named Renegade for her tendency to sneak out of the chicken stall.
Salmon Faverolle named Renegade for her tendency to sneak out of the chicken stall.

July 9th:

The day starts with a little headache that slowly progresses into a migraine.   I am completely useless by the end of the day and very thankful that Jeremiah’s little sister is so capable of taking care of things at the ranch.  (I’m not sure how well things would have fared out there without her help this week.)

Migraine selfie...because there isn't much to do when you really can't stand up without feeling like you're going to throw up.
Migraine selfie…because there isn’t much to do when you really can’t stand up without feeling like you’re going to throw up.

July 10th:

Jeremiah’s little sister takes morning chores to help me out (still headachy, but way better than the night before).  I get a phone call that one of my chickens is missing.  Little miss Renegade got out the night before.  Coon.  Dead.

I never in a million years thought I would get teary-eyed over the death of a chicken, but, when I found her feathers (etc) in the woods, I had to work very hard to not cry.  I spent the rest of the afternoon securing the chicken stall more thoroughly, all the while kicking myself for not being more careful earlier.

Came home to these:

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Because I’m married to a guy who understands that his wife WILL cry over a dead chicken.

The evening was salvaged.  Gabby and Katie did chores for me.  I had dinner with colleagues from the University.  (And discovered that I really like croquet.)  After dinner and drinks and good conversation, I was feeling far better.

(Also, I brought them fresh eggs…because apparently I’m that person now.)

July 11th:
Spent 40 minutes chasing this little bugger around when she got out.  (Stall is, in fact, more secure, but she was a tricksy hobbitses.)

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Possibly my least favorite chicken, she is the least friendly and, of course, the most difficult bird to catch that I own.  Gabby and I eventually got her.  She has a very impolite name now…

July 12th:
Morning goes off with out a hitch.  My guy comes home.  We head out for an easy evening of chores before relaxing…

I head off to feed the horses, separating Vin, who gets picked on by the others.

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And he slices himself open on the gate.

One emergency vet visit–different vet this time, who was there right away and very helpful–and twenty stitches later…

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We finally make it off the farm at 8:30.

Last night, I had bad dreams about injured horses and dead chickens.

 

So there’s the latest in the tales of Eagle Ridge Ranch.  (My husband has taken to calling it calamity acres…)  The bad and the ugly are evident…

The good?
1. The injured alpaca is doing very well.  She got her eyelid, but not her eye.  No compromised vision.

2.  I’m married to someone who sends me flowers from several states away because my chicken died.

3.  I found a horse vet yesterday who came right away and was exceedingly helpful.

4.  Despite the injury, Vin, who is an off-the-track rescue, proved to me just how far he’s come since moving in with us last October.  When Jeremiah first went to bring him home, he reared and threw fits just walking down the lane.  He didn’t want to load.  For several months, he ran away every time we walked into the pasture, scared of almost everyone and everything.  Last night, he let me catch him despite the gaping wound in his side.  He stood calmly away from his herd.  He left the pasture without a second thought.  I was nearly in tears (happy ones this time) at how far he has come since he came home.  It reinforced my belief that he and I might just have a future together.

Watch out lower level show world!  Vinny and I will be coming for you!
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(Yes, he’s a little underweight yet; we’re working on it.)