Mo Bloggin'

A little o' this, a little o' that

It’s a jungle out there

Solstice sky.

Solstice sky.

And it’s a recurring theme for me, the shock and awe I have for this riot of growth. I know it isn’t unique—anywhere that experiences four distinct seasons, and especially long winters, is just as resurrected each spring.  Our daylight hours are running close to peak right now, with the sun rising at 5:11 a.m. and setting at 9:08 for nearly 16 hours of daylight, so it’s no wonder the plants are going wild.  We’re closing in on solstice, so gaining less than a minute more each day until the 21st, when it will begin going in the wrong direction again (shorter days). [I started this draft two weeks ago.] And the riotous growth will begin to taper so maybe I can get ahead of it some. Ha!

These long, long days are wonderful…and wreak havoc on my schedule.  I find it hard to come inside much before 10 p.m. The house is a mess, the garden is half planted (the other half is covered-carpeted really-with volunteers (a.k.a. weeds)), and the green keeps getting greener.  The driveway needs bushwhacking from the road to the gate (it looks like an abandoned property).

Coming home on a recent rainy afternoon.

Coming home on a recent rainy afternoon.

The sheep are doing a decent job of keeping the grass around the house from growing a foot high, and are also sampling some landscape plantings along the way.  They’ve decimated the comfrey and the valerian, and the wisteria (that

Lawn mowing.

Lawn mowing.

last is just fine – the vine is in a poor location and I hacked it back to a stump earlier this year), and have so far left the garden alone, though I saw Minnie nosing the fence the other day (it’s a light netting that can be easily pushed down).  They were nibbling on the hops vine earlier in the year, but now that there’s so much else to eat, they seem to be less interested.  Even so, I have to get the weed whacker out to take down the grass seed heads and the Canada thistle patch – no matter how much I kill off every year it comes back stronger every year.  The bull thistle is nearly as bad, but doesn’t seem to have the same traveling root system (not a typical rhizome, but not just a taproot either), so a well-placed shovel or hoe action a few times a year seems to keep it minimized around the property.

Another recurring theme for me is this constant feeling of not having enough time to do everything, even with these deliciously long days (sleep being one of many things that’s compromised because of it).  I have so much I want to do, so many interests, and so many of things I am already doing.  Just keeping up with the full time job would be plenty, and then I add the second job of maintaining (or trying to) a small farm with livestock, pets, garden (growing my own food) and general upkeep on acreage. Add in an obsession like Nosework, or carting, or the desire to work with Daisy in herding. Her instincts are fabulous and she is SO good, and can be really helpful at times, but when she doesn’t know exactly what I want, and when I’m not sure how to tell her what I want/how to work with her, it can

A recent cart trip to a local park.  On the Snoqualmie River.

A recent cart trip to a local park. On the Snoqualmie River.

become chaotic quickly.  I still want to do Nosework with Farley, since he has such an affinity for it, but have taken a break for a few months (file it under the “something’s gotta give” heading).  Daisy’s work with the sheep is ongoing by necessity and her keen interest. I also get her out with her cart as time allows. Pal seems to be missing from the equation – he’s not bad at Nosework, but his forte is hunting for real.  He never stops hunting, and the only time he stops when he’s outside is when he’s on point (usually a songbird in a tree) or stalking varmints.  I watched him in the pasture the other day, holding a 3-legged point on something in the grass, slowly, slowly, putting the fourth paw down as he crept forward in ultra slow motion stalk. He’s really amazing to watch, though it’s like living with a 47 pound cat at times.  I know he gets shrews nearly as regularly as the cats, and just tonight I found a dead mole in the sheep pen.  I have no idea when he got in there to get that.  Last night when I was wrapping up for the night, filling the hay nets before it got full dark, and Farley and Daisy were still busy with their outside tasks (Farley waiting for me to throw the ball again, Daisy rounding up the chickens), I noticed Pal on the porch, lying on the doormat.  I smiled, thinking he was finally growing up and slowing down a bit (he’ll be 5 years old in October).  By the time I got done with the tasks it was pretty dark, and as I walked up to the porch he got up, happy to see the three of us coming to go inside.  I noticed a rather large object in his mouth.  He’s not much into toys, so I knew it wasn’t one of Farley’s many stuffies scattered around the yard.  A bone dug up?  Or a…rat?  (large rat!)

Pal, my canine cat.

Pal, my canine cat.

Was it a squirrel?  No tail.  What the…?  I was amazed and dismayed to find it was a small (half grown) rabbit.  Quite dead of course, and he was all happy, ready to go inside with his prize.  No. Way.  I was amazed partly because in 4.5 years here I’ve seen a rabbit only once on this property.  I have no idea where he got it (what part of the property).  It was of course adorable, as a juvenile, though I didn’t turn the porch light on to get a good look.  I tossed it into the grass and he jumped down the steps to get it – I heard a bony crunch as he grabbed it and I thought he was going to eat it (a good thing!) but he left it and came inside. Sigh. It was gone this morning, which means that most likely Farley took it off to bury it on one of their late night potty trips.  Farley’s my buryer, in an arcane save-it-for-later mentality.  Fortunately none of the bodies he’s buried have been dug up for later dining (to my knowledge), but there have been plenty of bones (I generally confine him to the house when I feed them raw bones, as he will take every one I give him and bury it, if given the opportunity.  And usually moving it several times before he’s finally satisfied it’s safe from marauders (his housemates).  An hour, a day, or a month later, one of them will bring a blackened gross thing up to the house and it takes me a moment to figure out what it is.

Eloise, a.k.a. Pudge (or sometimes 'weesa).

Eloise, a.k.a. Pudge (or sometimes ‘weesa).

This evening the one of the hens grabbed an odd looking object from the front lawn (lawn being optional, since Daisy has made a large ugly scrape of dirt in front). The chickens regularly glean the mice and shrew leavings from the cats (and the common ancestry of birds and reptiles becomes acutely apparent at these times, as the hen generally chokes down the whole thing, like a snake), but this looked different.  I’d noticed Daisy sniffing something this morning, but when I toed it, I thought it was a clump of manure.  I chased after the hen, realizing from the angles sticking out of her mouth, that what she had looked like a…gulp, bat.  By the time I got to her she had the thing half swallowed, but I grabbed it by the—yup, it was a bat – wing and pulled it out.  Ugh!  I love bats, and was truly bummed that one was killed.  It was tiny—like a small shrew with wings—and had obviously been dead for a couple of days.  Of course I get all heebie jeebie about rabies but when I thought about it, and remembered having observed not only super low flying by bats (only a few feet off the ground at times) and also wild leaps up by the cats to get them, I can only assume it was bad luck for the bat.  I’ve seen them do the same thing with dragonflies – another critter I love and have rescued dragonflies from the cats (and not gotten there in time for others).  Life with carnivores can be hard to take sometimes.

My cute little Pal.

My cute little Pal.

Merry month of May

Here there be faeries. May abundance in the woods out back.

Or, as Edwin Way Teale puts it:

“The world’s favorite season is the spring.
All things seem possible in May.”

While Mr. Teal was obviously referring to the Northern Hemisphere in this sentiment, he’ll get no argument from me.  May is the bomb, to use a dated slang phrase. I adore May, more with each passing year, it seems. It catches me by surprise in a way, even though I look forward to it, anticipating its lush explosion of growth, where the world comes alive beyond all expectations. I think I write about it every year, in my awe: the many shades of green (who knew there were so many?), the green jungle of understory growth, the explosive greening of the trees, the grass growing so quickly, the weeds! I love it all, though I have to admit I also, always, feel a little bit like the White Rabbit of Alice in Wonderland, late, late, late and in a bit of a dither about it as I work to get the garden prepped and planted with my future food. Last year I didn’t get things planted until late June and it showed, with some plants not having a chance to fully mature, others that didn’t produce much since there was little time between maturity and frost. I’m determined to get things done before the end of May this year (less than two weeks away – gulp!).  I have the first third planted, the second third just needs some hoeing and smoothing with a rake and should be ready for planting.  The last third is in pretty rough shape, with weeds (plants I didn’t select, that is) taking over aggressively. But at least it’s all fenced now, so the sheep and chickens are staying out, and the cats too, for the most part. The cats seem to think it’s a giant litter box and recently dug around in my just-starting-to-sprout green beans, making a mess, squared. More watering needed (keeping the soil soggy and less appealing keeps them in the dryer duff under the cedar trees).

So the month is zooming by, as the season tends to when I have much to do. Sunset is at 8:45 now (in my latitude), still a month before solstice, which means I don’t usually get in the house until 9:30 every evening, which puts a bit of a crimp on housework.  (heehee)  The garden and outdoor tasks, and, if I’m being frank, the soaking up, the stop-and-smell-the-roses delight of it all, absorbs much of my time.

The lambs are growing fast. I banded (castrated) most of the ram lambs a couple of days ago (I did Cinnamon’s boy a week or so prior, since he’s 10 days older than the rest). I wasn’t going to do Minnie’s ram, nor Lorna’s, since they’re both small yet, but they had the goods and I was able to grab ‘em. (they can be a bit like watermelon seeds – ram lambs are born with huge scrotum, but the testes take a little while to grow to where you can grab them adequately for banding).  Banding is the easiest for me, but it does leave the lambs uncomfortable for a half day. When I checked on them the next morning they were fine, but you still worry.

Lorna and her babies.

Lorna and her babies.

Lorna’s doing okay, considering her condition. As I alluded in my last post, she’s had a tough time of it. What I thought was a bad carry when she was pregnant (her mother also had triplets, and looked like a pack horse, with the bulge evenly distributed compared to Lorna’s uncomfortable bowling ball on her left look) turned out to be a ruptured pubic tendon—basically the ligament that holds everything in place on either side and Lorna’s left side somehow became torn. My description to the vet and other sheep people didn’t ring any bells, and I wish I’d have sent a photo to the vet – it’s immediately obvious to anyone who’s seen it, like a vet. If I’d known how serious it was going in, I wouldn’t have been so ignorant when it came to pulling her babies. There was basically no way they were going to come out without help.

At any rate, Lorna and I managed to get all the babies out—she was trying so hard, and I know was in some pain as I groped around inside her (as gently as I could, but so ignorantly, too), trying to turn the first guy (all I felt was his back when I first went in – majorly bad presentation) I had to pinch his skin to pull him around, and hope I got the right end pulled around. I got the legs forward, then wasn’t sure if both of the legs belonged to the same lamb. Then his head was nowhere to be found (tucked down between his legs). When he finally got out I didn’t think he’d be alive, but he shook his little head and I immediately started toweling him off.  I put him in front of Lorna and she was interested, licking him so aggressively that I actually pulled him away (she was biting at him with every lick).  With Lamb #2, only one leg was back, so it was a little easier.  I could feel her little mouth moving on my finger, so I knew she was alive. I got her out and went back in to find a third lamb in there, with the water bag in front of him. I waited for Lorna, thinking she could do this on her own (again, ignorance of her condition, as well as learning that once you’re in there you should pull all the lambs). The water bag appeared but she wasn’t making much progress.  I went in again to find his head there, but both front legs back. I was getting tired by then, and I know Lorna was too. I managed to get him out, though without finesse and it wasn’t easy on Lorna. He wasn’t responding when he got out; I rubbed aggressively and even tried swinging him, but nothing. It was too late—I’d waited too long.  While I don’t think she could have handled three babies in her condition, it was still disappointing that I’d failed her. In retrospect, it’s amazing that she survived at all. Not only with the ruptured tendon, but this traumatic birth. I think her devotion to her babies—she adores them and is so attentive to them, always knows where they are and calls to them if she doesn’t—is what pulled her through.

Mother and daughter, each carrying triplets.

Mother and daughter, each carrying triplets.

I looked back at photos and saw she was normal as recently as three weeks prior to lambing. This condition is uncommon, especially in young healthy, first time mothers (tends to happen when a ewe is older and has had many lambs – worn out, so to speak).  It’s not genetic/hereditary, according to my research, so that left me with trauma, and the likelihood that one of the other sheep rammed her. I had my suspicions – the Black Welsh Mountain wethers have been jerks for a long time now.  They bully the smaller Shetlands away from the feeders, hogging the food, and the two horned guys get quite aggressive about it when the mood strikes.  My guess is that Bo or Curly rammed Lorna at the hay feeder and caused this injury. I could be completely off base, and it could all be just bad luck or poor nutrition (not enough supplemental grain for calcium, etc.) but for this probability and a myriad of other reasons, I was done with them. I could list all the reasons, and bore you to tears, but suffice it to say, they just didn’t fit my situation any more. I will list one, and that is they ate, and wasted, hay at prodigious rates.  And yes, by now you’re seeing the past tense on my verbs.

The BWM boys

The BWM boys

My brand new freezer, just a little chest freezer, now chock full.

They’d dodged the bullet for four years (remember, it was “you or the freezer” that got them to my property back in 2010).  A “should be sainted” fellow shepherd friend came over (the same friend who owns Colin the ram, in fact), with her incredibly focused Border collie, Shay, to help me with getting them loaded and off to the butcher.  I picked them up today – 86 pounds of ground, and 8 or 10 bags of bones (some with huge rinds of fat attached) that the dogs will enjoy in the coming month or two.  I always told them, Farley especially (they’d rammed him aggressively, and unprovoked, more than once, and he remains very careful to avoid the sheep when they’re out, though he’s a little less nervous around the Shetlands, who don’t attack for fun), that they’d have the last laugh.  Daisy, of course, had no problem with their propensity to ram, and played them like a matador with his bull.  But they’d gotten their licks into her, too, when they got the chance.  It feels only a little weird to be feeding them to the dogs now.  I sort of miss Bo, the biggest jerk, and the biggest, boldest personality.  But not enough to regret my decision.  Sheep are born expecting to be your next meal (it can be exasperating at times, this ingrained distrust of humans); the three of them were way past pull date in that regard (two of them were 6 years old, one was 5 years old). And, I hate to say it, but it’s reduced the herd stress and me-stress by huge amounts – hay waste has gone to near-zero, and the ewes and lambs are enjoying the freedom of the entire pen, as well as getting out every day for 3- 6 hours – first to mow my lawn and prune back the encroaching forest – then onto the pasture until dark, when I move them back to the shed for the night.  A good routine for me, and they seem to be digging it too. All is well.

Lambs!

Cleaned and fresh straw spread - ready for lambing!

Cleaned and fresh straw spread – ready for lambing!

April was a bit of a blur” said a blogger I follow. I concur, wholeheartedly. She goes on to say “I thought I’d dig through my photos and figure out what I’ve been doing for the last month that so profoundly curbed my writing activity.” I could add March into that, but it wasn’t the blur that April was. And going through a few photos quickly reveals what created the blur. And here were a few nights where the red wine was getting a workout.

In my post of December 17, I mentioned taking Colin the ram home, and hoping he was able to connect in a meaningful way with all my ewes. Shearing day for everyone was March 1, and tipping the girls to shear them it looked like at least three were expecting (based on udder development). As the days of March progressed it was obvious Cinnamon and her daughter Lorna would be first. Both were huge, and I joked that it looked like Cinnamon was expecting triplets.

Mother and daughter, each carrying triplets.

Mother and daughter, each carrying triplets.

Late in the month I could see udder development on Pebbles and Nona too. Minnie seemed to be the only holdout, though a decent view (she was somewhat coy) like a probably with her too.

On April 7 I came home from work on a mild afternoon to find the bees quite active and when I let the girls out to browse,

Cinnamon immediately separated herself out and went to the far corner of the pasture, under the maple and cedar cover, an area I’ve dubbed coyote corner, as it’s where I’ve seen the critters trotting by the property. Great. My feral ewe is loose and ready to lamb. I kept an eye on her into the evening, using the MacArthurs (my name for my giant antique binoculars that look like they may have been in use on the USS Missouri) to watch her from the pasture gate. Behind me the bees buzzed though the hive activity was decreased from when I first got home.  Then I noticed a cluster of bees in the grass. When I peered closer, I could see it was eight or ten workers with a queen. Aha! The hive had obviously swarmed that day and this was the new baby queen. I looked up and around nearby to see if I could spot a swarm cluster anywhere but didn’t see anything. It was likely this queen was a young virgin who’d come out for her maiden flight and hadn’t gone back into the hive yet. Something else to watch over as the dusk gathered.

Just an hour old and strong and healthy.

Just an hour old and strong and healthy.

When it got too dark to see Cinnamon from the gate–pawing the ground, then lying down, then getting up and pawing the ground some more–I put the other ewes back in the shed, brought the dogs inside and fed them, and then went out with a flashlight to check on her. Her eyes glowed in the flashlight beam. And then another pair of eyes glowed below her. I heard a tiny baa and as I got closer I saw not one, not two, but three brand new lambs, still wet and just barely on their feet. Wee! I ran back up the hill to get a laundry basket and some towels. I got back to them and put the lambs in the basket to Cinnamon’s head butting protest, and walked back up to the sheep shed, babies crying and trying to clamber out of the basket, mama baaing and following close behind. Lambing season had begun with a bang!  Two ewes and a ram lamb, all good healthy weights and strong. It was chilly that night and I turned the heat lamp on for them in the shed. Cinnamon is an amazing mother and cares for all three like the champ she is. They’re a month old now and growing fast.

It turns out Pebbles was next, with twin boys presented on a Wednesday morning, nine days after Cinnamon’s triplets. She was in labor when I went out to check on them before work that morning and I was in a bit of a panic. I HAD to be at the office that morning, with a hard copy edit I’d done overnight due that morning. I felt pretty confident that Pebbles would be okay, but it was still hard to leave her and head into the office.  I dropped off my edit, loaded some documents onto my computer desktop at work and headed back home to work on them from home. When I got home Pebbles was fine, and her two boys where half dry already.

Then the real drama began. I checked on all the girls (and new babies) at about midnight that night, as I always do, and it looked

Lorna and her babies.

Lorna and her babies.

like Lorna was revving up for birth (pawing at ground, making “nests”). A side note here – about three weeks prior, Lorna suddenly looked like she’d swallowed a bowling ball. She was still huge, but her belly had dropped on the left, and gotten so huge that movement of her rear leg was impinged. She looked uncomfortable, but not suffering. I posted a note to my sheep group, and called the vet too. My description didn’t raise any red flags (though a couple people asked about bloat, since the rumen is on the left). The vet said to be sure and feed her grain, since they need the extra energy and calcium. I kept an eye on her, and since she seemed okay, I just figured it was a spectacularly bad carry. It wasn’t. I’ll save the entire story for another post, but Lorna also had triplets. I had to pull each one, and unfortunately waited too long in my ignorance and lost the third one, a nice looking ram lamb. Dang. Given Lorna’s condition it’s probably for the best that she only has two to care for (a ewe and a ram lamb).  She’s a fantastic mother, though, just like her own mother (Cinnamon).

After the drama of Lorna’s all night delivery I was spent. It took me two days to recover. It took poor Lorna a few days longer, but she’s doing okay now. It was touch and go for a bit, and most of my recovery was from stress (not a sleepless night) from worrying about her. I called the vet and picked up some injections (antibiotics and B vitamins) and then called again on Saturday to make an appointment for the vet to come out and check her.

Nona and her brand new twins.

Nona and her brand new twins.

I left for dog class on that Saturday morning (Nosework training for the first time in 4 months for Daisy and Farley), having checked on everyone and all was well. Lorna was still not 100%, but she’d at least eaten the fresh browse I’d harvested for her the day before. When I got home 4 hours later the herd had increased by two. Nona, Lorna’s twin sister, had twins! They were still wet, probably about 30 minutes old, and are a black ram and ewe.  That left only Minnie, Pebbles’ daughter, to go. Though I knew she was carrying (udder development), due to her small size I figured she just had one lamb in there. She’s a petite ewe; I don’t want to say it’s her only redeeming value, but she’s not my favorite ewe. Nor is she anyone else’s favorite. I’d put her in the maternity pen with the other ewes and the butt-fests ensued.  Lorna was sequestered in the side pen, but it had been a week and she had recovered enough, and her lambs were big enough for them to go in with the others.  So I pulled Minnie into the side pen and let Lorna go into the maternity ward with her herdmates (not to self: before you breed again, you MUST get more stalls built). Minnie’s small stature is a big plus for me, but personality-wise she’s been a pill (and I’m not so keen on her wool either, black and almost no crimp). If she was going to lamb anytime soon it was definitely only one, but keeping her in the side pen was best, since she seems to cause such rancor with the other ewes. There was a window of two weeks, so she could get bigger.

Five days later I was up and getting ready for work when Daisy got very excited, leaping on

Minnie and her twins.  Lambing season comes to an end.

Minnie and her twins. Lambing season comes to an end.

the sofa to look outside. The Setter boys weren’t on board, so I knew it wasn’t anyone visiting the property, but Daisy was definitely worked up. I let her out and saw her run right to the sheep pen. Ruh-roh. Then I heard the loud baaaaaing. I put on my jacket and went out to find Minnie flat on her side bawling for all she was worth. Shit! I could see something poking out of her, but had no idea if it was the right thing (front legs and nose, like a diver).  I ran back in the house and changed into my jeans, got a few exam gloves (figured I’d have to pull the lamb). I went back out, gloved up and lubed up, and didn’t have to go too far to realize the lamb was in perfect position. Still she bellowed. When he was a little further out I pulled, to assist her in expelling him. A little black ram lamb (he seemed large at the time). I toweled him off as she licked his little face. There was junk hanging from her rear that didn’t look like afterbirth, and OMG, after a short time, number two was out. So it really is true – black is slimming.  No WAY did she look like she had been carrying two lambs.  The second one was a ewe lamb, vigorous and healthy, and a miniature of her sire, like so many of her half siblings. Colin is of a color pattern called gulmoget by the Shetlanders that NASSA says is uncommon, and Colin seems to be on a one ram mission to change that statistic.

Pebbles and her twin ram lambs.

Pebbles and her twin ram lambs.

So here are the final stats: out of 5 ewes I got 12 lambs (more than I expected in my “5 sets of twins” dreams of last December).  Out of those 12 lambs 7 were ram lambs (with 6 surviving) and 5 ewe lambs.  And of those 7 ram lambs, 3 are solid black, one is moorit (brown), one is black gulmoget with a white flecked face (called smirslet), and one is…gulmoget for now, but has blaget markings and will likely lighten to a gray or cream color as he ages. Of the 5 ewes, 2 are black, 2 are black gulmoget (one is kind of a tricolor), and one is moorit gulmoget.  This last one (actually the first one – she’s Cinnamon’s baby) is a definite keeper, and already has a name, suggested by a friend that came to visit: Nutmeg. A perfect name for her color, pattern, and family.

So what I have here, even with the stress and not entirely positive outcome, is an embarrassment of riches. Especially as I watch them now, racing around in a pack of lambs, circling the house at a full gallop once, twice, three times, sweeping by as their mothers graze greedily on the fresh spring grass. The first few times I let them all out I was glad that a) I live in a rural area (and barnyard noises aren’t something to complain about) and b) I don’t have neighbors that live that close. The constant baaing by the mothers trying to locate their babies, and the babies crying to locate their mothers after they’d strayed too far –was a cacophony of sheepy bleating. Not quite music to my ears (to be honest, the cries of the babies – any babies – upsets me nearly as much as it does their mothers). Now that they’re all a little older, the routine is more relaxed and the babies get to know the property, it’s not nearly as noisy.

So my little herd is up to 20 now. I can hardly believe I have 20 head of sheep here. So fulfilling yet it makes me yearn for more (land!). I’ll be deciding who stays and who goes in the coming weeks and months, since I really can’t keep more than a dozen head on this property, but for now I’m just enjoying these little bouncing embodiments of spring, just as Mother Nature overflows with the riches of green growth and renewal that flood the senses in this most wonderful of seasons.

My poor, neglected blog

I have no excuse, other than being my usual busy self. But I look at other farm bloggers – some of people I know, others I’ve gotten to know through their blogs – and wonder how they do it. My fellow shepherd friend, Donna, posts at least three times a week on farm and her other interests; Celi in the Midwest posts EVERY DAY, delightful daily updates on her farm (and of her travels, when she’s able to get away for vacations).  I am in awe of both of them, as I know how hard they work, and how many animals they tend.  But I’ve also noticed they manage to keep their posts a lot shorter than my novellas.  You’d think as an editor, I’d be able to edit my own stuff better.  I could, I suppose, if I posted more frequently like they do, instead of trying to play catch up each time I post.  But since posting this blog tonight took the better part of 90 minutes (not writing it, just trying to log in and get it posted), I remember the other reason this has defeated me before. WordPress doesn’t like Firefox, and it seemed none too happy with Google Chrome tonight either (nor my geriatric XP operating system).  My connection speed was glacial tonight, with every page taking several minutes to load…so who has time for this?  I guess I need to move to my laptop (Win 7) for posting from now on.

The pile.

I can’t tell you how many blogs I write, though, that never make it beyond the grey matter.  I wax poetic as I’m doing whatever it is that keeps me from my blog, composing in my head as I, say, move 12 yards of hog fuel (shredded bark and wood used as mud management/footing in animal pens) delivered one recent Saturday into the sheep pen. It didn’t have to go far (so close, yet so far…), but it was uphill and it was a lot. I was doing the calculations and figured it took about six wheelbarrow loads to move each yard.  I moved over 50 wheelbarrow loads (at 6 cubic feet each) but there’s still some left in the pile (27 cubic feet in a cubic yard). So either they gave me some extra, or the fluffy aspect came into play (it was nice and dry and light, freshly dumped and no rain, so no settling. Or maybe I just have the wrong calculations. 

This is going to take a while.

This is going to take a while.

At any rate, I was darn proud of myself and ended up surprisingly un-sore. I thought that I’d be sore on Sunday, after I’d filled and moved 20 loads on Saturday. But I got up that morning without any real soreness or stiffness. I moved another 33 loads on Sunday afternoon, running out of daylight and moving the last half dozen loads by garage and barn light. For sure I’d be sore on Monday.  But not really.  Tuesday then, in that way that exertion waits a day before the muscles really bind up. Tuesday came and went and nothing much. A little tightness in my calves, and my arms were a little sore, but considering how I felt on Sunday night as I moved the last load, and weakly raked it out (running out of steam), I felt great. 

I felt much better, in fact, than normal activity (not much at this time of year). It won’t surprise anyone that I’m no gym rat, and my activity is usually centered around doing stuff around the property.  My day job is sitting all day in front of a computer, so by the end of a day (especially after the commute home) I’m actually much less limber than I was after moving all that hog fuel, without a few hours of daylight to putter around outside after work.  And the other thing, maybe the bigger thing (from a mental affects the physical standpoint) is the sense of accomplishment I felt, that I rarely/never feel at work, pushing papers (usually virtually) all day long.  This was physical and totally visual – starting with a pile taller than me, and wider/longer than my car, and getting it all moved into the pen over the course of two days.  And

Making progress

Making progress

the best part is seeing how the sheep appreciate it. The hog fuel helps with drainage and once it was in the sheep were using the entire pen in a way they hadn’t been, and sleeping in little beds they scuffed up in the footing, and not having to squish through mud to get to their feeder.  There is the little problem of the stuff becoming wound up in their wool, but considering how the hay has already thrashed their fleeces, I’m not too worried about a little wood chip or three.

Mud free, happy sheep

Mud free, happy sheep

So after that we had a week of frozen weather – I loved it!  No mud is always the best.  At the end of the week, though, the pipes froze – at the well or at the tank – and the pins and needles all week, hoping it wouldn’t, then when it did, takes some of the enjoyment out of the weather.  It was only out about 48 hours, so in addition to thawing water buckets for the sheep and chicken waterers, I was buying jugs of water to keep us all hydrated.  I find I really miss being able to wash my hands properly.  That and it’s awfully cold outside when you have to drop trou to answer the call of nature in subfreezing weather.

Something new

Frosty fleece

Frosty fleece

I’ve been experimenting with different blog themes lately, getting tired of the same old thing.  But it seems like I keep ending up back at the same version I originally started with (revised and updated, but essentially the same layout).  I’m not sure what this says about me.  I could pick that one apart for a while, but will spare us both.  Suffice it to say, I like a clean, easy to read blog, not too austere but not too cluttered looking either.  I like a font I can read, with enough density and size that it doesn’t require a trip to the eye doctor to be able to read a post.  Some of the theme fonts would need a 200 zoom to read easily, others look like they’re ready to fade away.  One them I liked had a font that was a little too large, which was disappointing.

I also like to be able to customize a bit.  A little photo header and background that I can change as the need or whim arises.  Nothing too crazy, yet…  I can’t tell you how many themes I looked at, nor for how long.  I’ve spent a crazy amount of time perusing, previewing, reading theme details, liking one part but disliking another.  After a brief stint recently with an industrial-looking theme, I came back to this one, the updated version of the one I’ve used pretty much since starting this blog in 2009.  And for now I’m going to stick with it [maybe; I just noticed that once posted, all the photos are washed out a notch, until you run your cursor over them...aaargh!].  And instead of perusing the themes for hours after I log in, I’m going to write a blog post.  What a concept!

On the farm front, Colin the ram went home this past weekend. He stayed with us for 35 days, more than enough time to take care of business with the girls.  Ewes cycle every 17 days, so if for some reason he didn’t make it on the first go around he had another chance to find the right rock to stand on.  The past week or so before he left everyone seemed more settled than they had been.  He was more relaxed and the girls just seemed calmer somehow.  I find that they get a little skittery in the fall, as they cycle.  Less friendly,

Minnie looking for chin scritches; she hasn't been this friendly since she was a lamb.

Minnie looking for chin scritches; she hasn’t been this friendly since she was a lamb.

more wary and not as relaxed about every day things.  It’s very subtle, and in the past week or so, the changes I’m seeing are just as subtle.  Oh, Cinnamon and Nona would still rather go through a fence than let me get within 30 feet of them, but even they seem a little more settled somehow.  I’m holding this up as a good sign they’re all percolating.

Colin rode in my car like a champ.  He was a little reluctant to get in the car, but that’s yet another reason to love his small size.  I have 100 pounds on him and lifted his

Colin rode better than any of my dogs ride. A nice calm little guy.

Colin rode better than any of my dogs ride. A nice calm little guy.

front legs and placed them in the car, then picked up his back end and pushed him in (Daisy was beside herself, inside the house at the front window–she has such a thing for Colin).  After a minute or so he settled down for the ride and didn’t even get up when I stopped to get gas, preferring to munch on hay while I filled the car.  When we got to Sally’s he didn’t want to get out!  He’s a nice little guy I’ll kind of miss having around.

Words not needed here.  Daisy hoping Blackcap will run, Blackcap cursing Daisy and all her ancestors.

Not that this eloquence even needs a caption, but really, it’s just Daisy hoping Blackcap will run, and Blackcap cursing Daisy and all her ancestors. Let the games begin.

Heading in

 

 

Sunshine!

Sunshine!

It’s another three weeks until Solstice, and a couple days past that, Christmas. It’s time to get the ball rolling for all the holiday shopping, and the end of year wrap up and new year goals. I didn’t accomplish as much as I’d have liked this year. I think that’s probably something most of us can say, most years. I’m just rolling off a week at home—I took a couple days of PTO and combined it with the Thanksgiving holiday for a much needed break. I have a list of tasks I wanted to accomplish, and made it through a couple of them, but I also spent a lot of time just taking it easy. I read a couple of books and watched a couple of movies, and spent time puttering around outside with the

Beets and kale, and some carrots.

Beets and kale, and some carrots.

dogs, raking a few leaves and doing a little garden clean up. The weather was very cold, with heavy frosts every night, but mostly clear until Thanksgiving day, so it was an extra treat to be home in the sunshine, without constant rain and mud.

Of course with the Thanksgiving holiday I had a nice visit with family, and some yummy food, too. My nephew and niece-in-law (and their adorable almost-one-year-old son) hosted dinner and did the bulk of the cooking. I made a yummy quinoa and roasted Brussels sprouts side dish, plus a beet/walnut salad, using my own beets and onions. It was a lovely afternoon and a delicious meal. And of course I forgot to take a single picture.

Colin's with his girls.  He's the little guy in the center.

Colin with his girls. He’s the little guy in the center.

Colin the sheep is still here. He’s been enjoying himself, I think, and the girls have all settled down. I noticed he and Minnie were hanging out together yesterday and the day before, so I marked it on the calendar. I’ve not seen any other noticeable attention with any of the other ewes (other than Cinnamon on the first day he came here). Another couple of weeks and we can send him on his way, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed until shearing time that they’re all incubating. 

It was especially lovely to have time to spend with the critters. The dogs, the cats, the sheep and the chickens. Feeding the sheep before dark every day is something I’ll miss next week. The hen that the bobcat tried to take last month is doing well; it was a little dicey for about a week, but she’s been out with the flock for a while now and seems to be back to normal. She didn’t molt like she should have; the shock and healing seems to have derailed the molting process, so she’s a dingy brown-gray compared to her sister’s smart grey feathers.  The cats were able to get outside regularly, something

Eloise enjoying some fresh air and sunshine.

Eloise enjoying some fresh air and sunshine.

they love. They don’t spend much time out there when it’s cold or wet, but at least gets a little of Eloise and Madeleine’s kitten energy expended. I had a little nose work practice session the other afternoon with the dogs which they enjoyed immensely. We’re between classes at the moment—next session starts up soon, and a NW1 trial next month—so they’ve had a couple weeks without it. They all did well, and I did one of Daisy’s rounds unpaired (three hides).  She did beautifully, and gave me the boost in confidence I needed. She’s so good at this; I just need to get good at reading her.  

Photo bomb by Daisy!

Photo bomb by Daisy!

 

Fall back to spring planning

Lower pasture leavesThe pasture is covered with leaves; the maples are leafless.  The mud is here (to stay) and with one frost down, and more to come, the garden is mostly done.  It was a big day on the farm, and I spent most of the day outside, after being gone almost all day yesterday.  Damn, but weekends are short!  I did more carrot harvesting in the garden, expecting to find the mondo cutworms again, but oddly only found one.  They must be moving on to some other part of their life cycle and/or the cold and wet has them doing something different.  Since I picked off all the monsters from the cabbage a few weeks ago, I have some tiny heads of cabbage developing.  It’s Savoy cabbage, and I’m hoping to have enough to make a meal at some point.  Tonight I had a baked Delicata squash – a little salt and pepper and butter (everything’sbetterwithbutter) and I’m full and happy.  

Yesterday was Daisy’s last nose work class for a few weeks.  She was just “meh” for some reason.  She and Pal were racing around the woods that morning, so maybe she used up too much energy?  Or maybe the search area (on a footbridge over a tributary of the Skykomish river where salmon were spawning) was too much?  She’s done brilliantly there before, though, and just seemed off in general.  Especially compared to last week, where even her handicap (her handler (me)) couldn’t slow her down.  She was so rockin’ on, even through a wild wind/rainstorm, as we hunted outside the local Lowe’s hardware store (in racks and storage area, also in a storage container).  I was drop-jawed in awe, and giddy with her mad skillz!  My crazy Daisy is my Amazing Daisy.

The next day I volunteered at a nose work trial being held about 40 miles south.  There were a few dozen dogs competing for NW1, and I assisted in the afternoon, along with my instructor Marilyn, and classmates Pat and Suzette. I was assigned videographer for the interior searches.  I was a little worried (do they realize I’m lousy with a camera?) but it turned out to be a breeze.  The judge, Teresa Zurberg from Canada, was great, and very instructive/helpful to the handlers competing.

I learned a TON, and got to hang with Dorothy Turley and Karen Eby, whom I met when I attended the Amy Herot seminar they hosted back in September.  Fun!  Dorothy hosted an ORT the weekend prior, too, so I’d just

My copilot, Farley, on the way home from getting his ORT.

My copilot, Farley, on the way home from getting his ORT.

seen her.  I entered Farley and Pal in the ORT, and drove down to Lacey that Sunday morning.  I wasn’t as nervous as I was with Daisy’s ORT, but still nervous.  Farley went first, and nailed it in 7 seconds.  It was a good lesson for me, as I called it as soon as he stopped and double-sniffed the hide box.  As I did so, and the judge said “yes!” he moved on to the next box in the group, looking for odor that also had some TREATS!  I treated at source and he was happy.  As was I!  My old guy, my heart dog, my amazing ‘there are no coincidences’ dog, made me proud.  As usual he got all kinds of compliments on his handsomeness, and even a comment on our search word “Feathers” (I found that at the trial most people use “find it,” “seek,” “search,” or some variation of same; because I have three dogs in training, it’s much easier to use a unique word that has nothing to do with the meaning “search”).  He did me proud, and I wished I had more than just liver treats and heaps of praise to tell him how wonderful he was/is.

Pal’s turn came up quickly and I went in feeling excited.  As we waited our turn I could tell Pal was in his “bird dog” mode – sniffing the wind, all senses open, not really focused on me or anything as he took it all in.  Hmm.  We went in and I could see that he was firing on all cylinders but not settling into it.  I gave his search word and he

Cute little Pal and his winsome eyes

Cute little Pal and his winsome eyes

began to search, sniffing the first two boxes.  He quickly went off target and began to hyper up, sniffing but not focusing.  I gave his search word again (and again) and he briefly dialed in, but was pinging all over the place.  It was ADHD behavior; not bad, but definitely not able to focus.  I brought him back to the boxes (he was at the end of the lead, looking all around the room) and he seemed to pay attention to one of them.  I called it, kind of knowing it was a shot in the dark, and nope, it wasn’t it.  The hide turned out to be an entryway hide (first box) and though he sniffed that box as we’d started, he didn’t react at all.  Oh well.  All he needs is more time to get consistent.  He’s awesome when he’s on (as he was in class this past week – A-mazing), but he’s not consistent yet.  I love him to bits and look forward to getting his ORT next time!

Colin with Pebbles

Colin with Pebbles

As I mentioned, today was a big day on the farm.  Colin the ram came to visit, and got right to business.  He’s owned by my friend Sally, and is a puny little guy with a butter-soft fleece.  Being a bantam weight ram didn’t slow him down; he entered the pasture with the confidence of a ram twice his size.  He looks like a mini-sheep next to the Black Welsh Mountain boys (not huge themselves) and definitely less threatening to the girls (one hopes).  The youngsters – Minnie, Lorna, and Nona – are all in a nervous dither, keeping their distance (especially Lorna and Nona).  Pebbles stood her ground and lowered her head “you little runt, I’ll show you!” and Colin quickly set her straight.  “Um, hello, ewe, I’m here at your service and by the way, I have horns and know how to use them.”  She quickly realized her mistake and retreated.  He wasn’t a jerk about it, but neither was he going to take any guff.  Cinnamon, my shy, feral moorit ewe, was the only one who put out the welcome mat for Colin.  Timing is everything of course, and she was obviously glad to see a ram.  You could almost see the thought bubble over her: “Finally!  Where have you been for the past two months?!”  Though the mechanics were off (he’s really short and needs to find a rock to stand on…) he’ll be here for the next five or six weeks and I have faith they’ll all figure it out.  There’s plenty of hillside here to facilitate height differences.

Sally stayed for a half an hour or so and we enjoyed a good chat while watching the flock to make sure everyone was settling in.  After she left with her cute little Border

Colin with Bo

Colin with Bo

Collie pup, Gemma (squeee!), I let the dogs out.  They were inside to keep things quiet outside (and because the driveway gate was open), and were very excited to see/smell things after Sally left.  The boys settled down after the obligatory perimeter search, but Daisy…well, Daisy was her wild self.  She, of course, couldn’t leave well enough alone.  While I’m sure all three dogs registered the fact that there was a new sheep on the pasture (ram smell!), Daisy IMMEDIATELY zeroed in on that fact, and him, and spent the next two or three hours running the fence line, bark/yipping at him incessantly.  Thankfully Colin was nonplussed.  He knew Daisy was there (how couldn’t you?) of course, but didn’t freak out or change behavior.  He was much too interested in his new ewes.  Meanwhile Daisy barked and barked and barked and barked, working herself into a lather.  While it didn’t bother me all that much (not sure why?), I’m sure the neighbors were enjoying her high pitched yapping (not!) as she ran up and down the hill along the fenceline.  By the time she began to slow down a bit (no exaggeration, it was at least three hours of running up and down),

Coming in April, I hope!

Coming in April, I hope!

there was a muddy rut worn into the grass along the fence.  The barking diminished after the first hour or so, but she was still focused on this new sheep.

It kind of surprised me that she noticed there was a new sheep—out of 10 sheep (can she count, too?) she was completely focused on Colin—and that she got hyped up to the degree she did.  Maybe it was his diminutive size that had her so excited?  He’s smaller than she is, no exaggeration there, and maybe she felt he was one she could take on?  On the plus side, it gave me a chance to play ball with Farley without her normal interference, and we took full advantage of it.  When she finally gave it up and calmed down it was almost dusk, and I fed and watered the chickens and sheep, and prepared to head inside.  She’s been sleeping ever since.  Ahhh.

Bobcat! Or, mystery solved

I have been ridiculously excited about the pumpkins.

I have been ridiculously excited about the pumpkins.

It was an overcast weekend, kind of misty slash foggy, and decidedly chilly without the sun in attendance.  Though there was no rain to speak of (a little overnight on Saturday/Sunday) it was damp and nippy all weekend.  I’m thankful for the no active mud part but am already tired of the cold, dreary grayness and chill.  I don’t know if it’s an age factor or just timing—this year marks my 40th year living in the greater Seattle area—but damn, it’s only October 20, and there are easily six more months of this…

The weekend was short, as the majority of them are.  Since I’m nose work obsessed these days, my Saturdays are dominated by nose work classes.  Daisy did well at the outside location our instructor chose—Harmony Animal Wellness Center—and was her amazing self for the first search or two.  We had lots of interruptions with clients coming and going, so it was hard to stay focused.  “You named a Rottweiler ‘DAISY’?” one woman said with a smile.  I loved that she ‘got’ it.  I pulled Daisy off that search—there was just too much going on and we restarted after things settled a bit.  MY focus was off, never mind hers, and I never regained it.  Still we got in some good searches, then again with the boys in their class later in the day.

After class with Daisy I headed over to the Monroe fairgrounds (a mile or two away) for the 2013 Fiber Fusion show, a trade show and fiber extravaganza for those who grow and work with animal fibers.  Today was the third year for FF and the best yet, I think.  It had more vendor booths than ever this year and I had a great time looking at the wares (getting ideas) and talking with the vendors.  I had one woman VERY interested in my Shetland fleeces (have her name/number and need to call) and really enjoyed talking with several who are doing things with wool that I’m still hoping to (time!).  I went over to the other building where the wool show was being held, just in time to see the Shetland fleece judging (if I’d known in time I would have entered a fleece or two).  I was pleased to meet up with two fellow Shetland friends—Sally, who has the lamb-daddy, Colin, who’s coming to visit my ewes next month, and Franna, the person I first talked to about Shetlands, and who graciously invited me out to her farm and talked sheep with me before I’d purchased my girls.  It was nice to “talk sheep,” and especially Shetlands, with them for a bit, and also to watch the fleece judging with them.

And the good times continued when I won a spindle in one of the raffle drawings I’d entered.  I was also hoping for the carders, but the spindle is wonderful, since I’ve been wanting to get one for a while.  Now to get on Youtube and start spinning some wool!

Delicata squash-yum!

 

Sunday was just as chilly and damp, and I indulged with a couple hours in bed reading before I got up for the day.  I went out to do some work outside mid-afternoon.  The leaves are falling in earnest now, and the pasture is covered with them.  It bums me out in that the guy I talked to back in March about harvesting trees for firewood never called me (though to be fair, I never followed up with him, either) after he took my riding mower (a pre-trade for the tree work we discussed).  I need to call him and see if he’s still interested.  If not, I’m going to place an ad on craigslist and see if I can get someone decent to take down some of these maples this winter.  It still sucks to have all the leaves to rake—part of the reason I want to take the trees down is to reduce fall leaves (and decrease canopy/shade on this north-facing hillside) and I was hoping to have less to rake this fall.  Ah well.

So after I filled the yard waste bin (96 gallons; all of 15 minutes of raking) I went up to work in the garden.  I let the sheep and the chickens out and began to clean up and harvest.  Bo was on the other side of the garden fence waiting  for all the discards I tossed over (lots of cabbage and kale leaves) as I went through and got rid of the dead and dying squash plants (and harvesting the delicata, pumpkins, and daisy gourds).  I found a TON of cutworms all over the kale and cabbage plants.  The frass on the cabbage has been huge but I haven’t been able to find the culprit

The onions (foreground) were disappointing--none of them got bigger than a medium-sized plum, and most were smaller than a golf ball.

The onions (foreground) were disappointing–none of them got bigger than a medium-sized plum, and most were smaller than a golf ball.

until today.  The cutworms I found living on them—with a little poking and searching—were so huge they gave me the heebie jeebies.  Most of the pest control I do is of the pick it off and squish it variety, or, in the case of slugs, pick it up and toss it a dozen yards away into the sinkhole behind the beehives.  So picking the giant cutworms out of the pocket of leaves had me a little jumpy (they were MASSIVE).  I then ground them under the heel of my boot, along with several of those gross slimy slugs that don’t grow big enough to toss (but who wreak havoc with the leaf munching they do).  I squished a couple dozen cabbage worms (picked off the kale) with the end of a stick.  Lots of protein fertilizer going into the soil today!  Normally I like to toss these critters to the chickens, but I so wanted them dead that I didn’t trust the chickens to get them all, plus the fact that the cutworms were so huge I think even the chickens would have been intimidated.

Then it happened.  The squawk and kerfuffle that told me something was after the chickens.  The dogs had been quiet; Farley was nearby, waiting for me to toss the toy he’d selected; Pal was off along the fence line somewhere, and Daisy was munching on sheep dung since the pasture gate was open.  I looked over to see what the chickens were alarmed about and was shocked to see a shape moving off toward the understory with a purloined hen.  It took me two beats to realize what I was seeing.  A fat bobcat was making off with one of my hens.  I processed several things at once.  First, where the heck were the dogs?  Second, this is the reason for the mysterious kerfuffle last month.

Part of the feather trail from last month.

It was the same weird scenario last month—high alert, attack calls from the other birds, but with little fuss otherwise.  A hawk would have them squawking and running for cover; the dogs or a coyote would be the same—lots of noise and running.  This was weird, though, a high alert situation but short-lived and eerily quiet.  Last time I didn’t pay much attention, figuring a hawk flew by (though they really weren’t acting like that) or perhaps the dogs.  A couple days later I did a head count in the coop at dusk and realized I was missing a hen.  I found several piles of feathers in the grass—an obvious attack of some sort—and blamed the dogs.  Specifically, Daisy, the one most likely do go after a hen.  Yet it still didn’t jive—not enough noise and though I was able to follow the trail of feathers for a while, I never found a dead hen (it was one of my two Welsummer hens, older and not a huge loss, but nice layer of a dark brown egg).  Now it all came together, including the flock’s generalized but not over-the-top response.  As a wild cat, the attack was swift and stealthy–none of the woohoo fun of a domestic animal.  And they would have made much more fuss over a coyote.  As it was, this cat probably looked much the same as the two housecats (Eloise and Madeleine) they see out there (and who don’t bother them).

The bobcat was about the size of a Cocker spaniel – fat and sleek, and as I yelled and began to run after it, moved into the understory and brush piles out in the CAO designated area of my property.  I hollered for the dogs as I ran after it; surely one of them could help me intercept the cat before it made it over the fence with the hen.  Farley heard me and loped over, but didn’t really engage much, and certainly not like when I was chasing the bear a couple of years ago.  I kept bushwhacking through the understory (normally I follow the paths established by the dogs) and yelling but by the time I got to the fence I had pretty much given up.  I didn’t see the cat and couldn’t see any kind of feather trail.  (Last month, and also this past spring (also blamed on the dogs/Daisy) I was able to follow the feather trail to almost the fence line.)  Damn.  Pal finally showed up about then and seemed to hone in on a section of fence, obviously noting some sort of “other” passing, but too late to do much.  A woodpecker began calling an alarm in the woods an acre or so over; the bobcat was long gone.

Then, miracle of miracles, I heard a tentative cluck-clucking.  Farley did too, and showed me where the hen was hiding.  The bobcat must have dropped her in his escape.  I ran over and caught

Injured hen

Injured hen

her—it was one of my Dark Brahma hens.  She’s older (3 ½) but one of my favorites.  The two Dark Brahma girls are huge, stately and sedate, and are regular layers of a jumbo, light brown egg.  She was dinged up – bite marks around her head (why do they scream like I’m killing them when I pick them up but when the bobcat had her not a peep) and two inch-plus gashes on her breast in the crop area.  I put some hydrogen peroxide on the bites, and did a “farm suture” on the two incisions, though they might have been fine without…  She seemed a little shocky, but probably more from my handling than from the bobcat attack.  I put her with the flock and watched her.  Sometimes they do better with normal routine and flock buddies.  At dusk she was on the floor over by the nest boxes – still shocky but not too bad off.  Still, I took her and put her in the infirmary (garage with heat lamp) until she’s feeling better.  Fingers crossed she recovers.

After "surgery" and a little shocky yet.

After “surgery” and a little shocky yet.

Meanwhile, good to know I have a brazen bobcat about!  I saw Madeleine a short time after I’d caught the hen (was checking the hen’s wounds) – her tail looked like a bottle brush, so it was obvious she was aware of the bobcat’s presence.  The dogs had little reaction to the cat; my guess is that a) it’s probably a scent they smell every day and b) it smells like a…cat.  Nothing new.  There are domestic cats that I’ve seen in other areas of the property, and with their own four, nothing too new and certainly nothing to alert on.  The bobcat was sleek and beautiful and looked quite fat and healthy.  I saw one when I first moved in here—before I even had the property fenced—but haven’t seen one since, until today.  Now I know better and while it’s a thrill to know I have a healthy bobcat in the vicinity, I will take more care, especially with lambing this coming spring (the Shetland lambs are smaller than housecats).  And though I never blamed, and certainly never punished Daisy or any of the dogs for the two previous disappearances, it’s also good to know that they’re definitely not the culprits.

The Chicken Infirmary.

The Chicken Infirmary.

Nosing into Fall (or, my latest obsession)

The garden, soaking up the last rays of summer.

The garden, soaking up the last rays of summer.

Though it wasn’t planned, I essentially took the entire summer off from blogging (and writing of any sort, to be frank).  Here I sit, on the last day of summer (for the northern hemisphere) and thankful it turned out to be a beautiful day.  The weather forecast was for rain all weekend, and it started pretty much on schedule (per forecast) last night at dusk.  Let the mud begin, sigh.  Then this morning I saw a few peeks of blue sky through the clot of clouds.  Farley and Pal had their last nose work class for their beginning odor session and we headed out to the park with our liver treats, leaving an unhappy Daisy behind.  By the time class was over at 11:45 it was downright hot, the sun having been out in force for two hours.  Yay!

The boys did well in class, though the hides on the pedestrian bridge were extra hard, with lots of breezy air movement and the salmon swimming upstream in the creek below us (spawning season; we were working over a small tributary of the Skykomish River, which was a few hundred yards away). Pal especially gets distracted; his search word is “birdy” because he is.  And with his bird dog brain, it’s hard for him to concentrate on one task.  By nature (instinct/breeding), he’s hardwired to hunt, to have all his senses open and processing at once.  He’s filtering so much at once that adding birch odor (paired with liver treats I make using the excellent Squaw Creek Cattle Company beef) isn’t necessarily the primary target in his bird brain.  He’s a hunter, and once he’s locked onto a target bird he can and does hold point (and focus) for many minutes at a time.  Or, in the case of his most

Pal with his eye on something

Pal with his eye on something

recent target, hours – he’s playing some version of predator/prey footsie with an obliging Douglas squirrel in a maple tree on the other side of the fence.  He sits or stands in the same spot for what seems like hours (I can see him from where I type, he’s easily been there for half an hour now) fixed on his target and nearly unmoving (not at point, but definitely hunting).  The squirrel will chirrup at him on occasion, but mostly Pal’s just there watching stealthily (methinks Mr. Squirrel has Pal’s number).  So yeah, nose work for Pal can be a challenge.  But make no mistake, Pal is an AMAZING nose work dog, and when he’s focused he’s as good as they come.

Farley on a tennis ball search

Farley on a tennis ball search

Farley is also very good.  He’s old enough now that he can focus more easily.  Plus he’s more of a chow hound than Pal.  Pal likes his groceries, and eats like a champ, but Farley is more motivated by food.  When he gets close to the hide he will usually start drooling, and I often wonder if the slobber he leaves makes it easier for the next dog searching.  Far is very methodical, and also a little more bonded to me, so will often look at me when he doesn’t find the odor readily, expecting me to point to it as I do when he loses his ball in the grass or brush.  He’s obsessed by his ball, so has a lot of nose work practice built up in his many years of searching for missing balls.  He’s very thorough, and learned a long time ago to use and depend on his nose rather than his eyes (a dirty green ball in the grass is pretty much invisible to both of us).  This too, is where he has an advantage over Pal, who is still very visual in his hunting (birdy, indeed).  It’s an absolute pleasure to watch him work.

Miss Daisy, whose class is on break until October, is my best nose work dog, but she’s also two classes ahead of the boys.  She’s done container searches, interior searches, exterior searches, and vehicle searches.  Sometimes she’s a little distracted – she’s a very social girl and nose work isn’t necessarily her preference when there are people to meet and greet, and new best friends to win over.  We recently entered an Odor Recognition Test (ORT) for birch (through the National Association of Canine Scent Work or NACSW) and I’m happy to say she passed, though it was a little dicey for a moment.  Daisy is odor obedient, no question, and has been ready to pass her ORT for a few months now.  When this girl hunts for odor (“giddyup!”) she is freaking awesome and it’s a sight to behold when she’s on task.

Daisy at home with her sheep

Daisy at home with her sheep

For a dog of her skill level, an ORT is ridiculously easy.  In theory.  Besides her handicap at the other end of the leash, there’s also her Achilles heel of sociability.  At the ORT location, a dog training center about an hour’s drive south, we were led into the room where the ORT boxes were set up.  All the humans were looking at her but not saying anything, and not coming over to say hello.  She was a little puzzled at the quiet atmosphere.  I held her for a few seconds at the starting line, just like we do in training, then gave her search word.  She tugged me down between the row of flat boxes, one of which held a swab containing birch odor.  She gave a cursory sniff (I’m guessing) as we went swiftly past the boxes, not even lowering her head.  We got to the end and I stopped.  She continued pulling – the NACSW videographer was a few yards away, and sitting (an easy target!)– surely this was Daisy’s new best friend!  She then looked over at the judge, steward, and timer, pulling towards them.  She could win them over, for sure.  I held my ground.  She was losing focus fast.  I looked at the woman I’d mistaken for the judge and asked if I could say Daisy’s search word again (to get her back on track).  I was too nervous to remember that I could say it as needed (no permission needed).  Yes, came the reply.  “Daisy, giddyup.”  Nothing (the people spoke! (to answer me) Progress!).  “Daisy,

All tuckered out after her ORT trip

All tuckered out after her ORT trip

giddyup!”  She turned and sniffed one box in a cursory manner.  Then another.  We went down the row again 

At this point I was thinking “oh, well, not every dog passes, and it’s only $25…”  This about a dog who has found hides in places that left me gawping in amazement at her ability.  I gave her word again when, as we headed back, she seemed to have a different agenda.  At this, she lowered her head and sniffed, then nudged, one of the boxes nearest to us.  She nudged it again, nosing it across the floor.  With all her shenanigans, and the fact that this was only the third box she’d actually (noticeably) sniffed, I hesitated.  Was she just goofing around?  A paw slap and mouth crunch would be next.  Oh well.  I turned and looked at the judge and stewards.  “…Alert?”  YES! came the immediate and relieved-sounding reply.  This was music to Daisy’s ears and as the steward came over to me with her scorebook and time*, she was sure it was her chance to win over another Daisy fan.  Normally you treat your dog at source (the hide) when they find it.  Daisy had no interest in any liver when her new bestie was on her way over.  I kept her from jumping up on the woman and tugged her back to the source box for a treat.  I don’t remember if we ever connected treat to source, but we headed out the door with only one more obstacle, the steward at the door – “HiHiHi I’m Daisy!What’s your name?Don’t you LOOOOVE me?!”  Whew!  Now on to our NW1.  Gulp.

I’m going to take Farley and Pal for their ORT at the end of next month, but don’t anticipate this social rodeo with them.  Farley’s not a hugely social dog, and Pal is polite and demure.  Fingers crossed.

*You get three minutes to complete an ORT; Daisy did it in 46 seconds (that felt like three minutes), when it usually takes her less than 10 seconds.

Heat wave!

Eloise with a shrew.

Eloise with a shrew in the grass.

It was a sweltering hot day here in the PNW, our third in a row (with another week to come) and a total treat!  At midday today pretty much everything (except humans, judging by the road noise) was down for an afternoon siesta.  The cats ran out the door the first chance they got this morning; I try to keep them in, but they are enamored of the out-of-doors, and Madeline and Eloise seem to be dedicated to slowly working their way through the shrew population.  I’ve discovered shrews are a little dopey when it comes to self-preservation, and when trapped they tend to roll over and kick instead of squirming and running away.  It’s kind of cute, as they are fat and covered with a plush mole-like fur, but it’s not going to improve the population count, seeing as they aren’t much bigger than a quarter (25 cent piece).  But even the cats are quiet now, all of them finding a shady spot to snooze the day away.  Blackcap sleeps in the pot of thyme on the deck, underneath the now-full canopy of wisteria.  The half of the pot that’s not completely shaded by the wisteria vine is overflowing with blooming thyme, and though I planted chives in the other half, they either failed to sprout or Blackcap’s habits crushed them as they sprouted.  I’ll have to look for another spot for chives (front garden, after I fence it off from all the critters).

I made an omelette for breakfast this morning, though it turned into a frittata by the time I got done chopping vegetables.  It was delicious and

I didn't share, though Farley lobbied hard.

I didn’t share, though Farley lobbied hard.

filling and was basically all I ate all day.  It’s too hot to cook, anyway, so it worked out fine.  A lot of the veggies were locally grown, as the produce is coming in fast and thick now at the farmers market.  It makes me feel bad that I’m so behind in my gardening.  My pathetic, half planted garden is just sprouting, and I still haven’t planted my dozen or so squash plants in my squash patch (mostly pumpkin, but also zucchini, delicata (I get so tired of Word auto-correcting that word to ‘delicate’), some gourds and butternut).  I planted some more potatoes late this evening, once the sun dipped behind the trees, and also repaired the damage from the @#!%&*ing! sheep.  Pebbles and her goaty children (there was a time when I seriously wondered if Pebbles was a pygora goat and if I’d been duped by the person who sold her to me), Minnie and Fergus, leaped over the fence while I was inside the house for a short time and managed to prune two rows of bean seedlings and a bunch of my onion transplants, not to mention all the volunteer borage plants.  They

Pebbles (on right) with Fergus as a lamb.

Pebbles (on right) with Fergus as a lamb.

trampled my beet spouts and ran through my sprouting lettuce patch too.  And of course did a number on the fencing as they ran to get out (who knows how they got in, whether jumping or scrambling over).  It frustrates the heck out of me as now all free-roam privileges are on hold.  If they are out I will literally have to sit guard at the garden patch, and I don’t really have time for that.

If I were a morning person I could have gotten a lot more done out there if  I’d started before 10:00 a.m. today, before the sun got high enough to create serious heat.  But I’m not.  Instead I brewed some tea and read a novel on the deck.  It was a perfect morning for it and I was able to finish the book – The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle.  It would probably be called ‘women’s fiction’ (but not chick lit or romance) if you wanted to fit it with a label or genre, and I enjoyed it immensely.  It’s not often you read a novel that really gets the animals right (behaviors), and rarer still that the animals play a meaningful role in the lives of the humans (unless the book is about this issue precisely).  This was a novel about human characters and their sometimes messy lives and relationships, and, without saying it, how the animals make our lives better.  The title is the most overt, and pretty much the only, declaration of this throughout the book.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It’s the second novel I’ve read recently that has a female veterinarian as the lead character.  The previous book, while enjoyable, was more of a chick lit book than this one.

At any rate, it was a lovely way to spend a sunny summer Sunday morning.  My eyeballs hurt afterward, though.  It’s the same kind of ache I used to get as a kid, when me and my little brother would wake up early on Saturday mornings to watch Saturday morning cartoons for a few hours.  Our eyes would be fixed on the screen for so long that rotating them to look to the side or up would hurt, as the little eye muscles cramped in place.  Evidently reading isn’t much exercise for the eye muscles either.  Ow.

(Baby?) Queen with attendants outside the hive.

Bee mystery: (Baby?) Queen with attendants outside the hive.

The bees were wild in the sun and heat, flying out in great spirals all day, and somehow not colliding even though there are so many that they look like they could use a tiny air traffic controller out there.  An inspection would be a good idea, but that makes me wilt just thinking about it.  It was way too hot to suit up in a bee jacket and veil, and to put on a full pair of pants instead of shorts.  Since the Warre hive is the one that I really need to figure out, it’s all a moot point anyway, because I can’t get in there without totally destroying things (comb is attached to sides of hive, so there’s no way to lift out a bar of comb to inspect it without breaking everything apart).  As I left for a grocery store run this afternoon I noticed a little cluster of bees on the back corner of the hive.  I went out to look and it was a queen, kind of plump, with a dozen or so attendants.  By the time I got home from the grocery an hour or so later, they were all gone.  Into the hive, hopefully!  She was just sitting there; I thought for a minute that maybe she came out because it was so hot in the hive (haha!), but the most likely scenario is that the hive swarmed at some point in the past few days when I wasn’t home, and this was perhaps a young queen readying for a maiden flight.  The only reason I think this is most likely is because of that plumpness – most adult queens I’ve seen are sleeker, more slender than this one looked, so I’m guessing she was newly hatched.  Also, there have been a ton of drones in the hive (peeking in the observation windows) recently as well as hundreds dead and dying drones around the hive.  The hive was very testy today, so I wasn’t able to look in the window at all.  We’ll see what the coming days tell us.

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