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Lambing Season 2017 – Part 2

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Perfect!  N-Kerry’s ewe lamb

So 3 ewes (out of 8) had lambed, with 4 babies on the ground so far. Next up was N-Kerry, who quietly presented me with a simply beautiful little white ewe. It was 2 days after Duna’s twins had arrived and I came out in the morning to find N-Kerry with the lamb up on her feet and obviously a couple hours old. N-Kerry is enamored of her baby, and has even settled down a bit (she is probably my wildest sheep, taking after her grandma, Cinnamon). She took to motherhood like she’s been waiting her whole life for it and it’s been wonderful to have an easy, attentive mother with a strong healthy baby.

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N-Kerry with her ewe lamb at about 4 weeks.

Later that day we had a storm roll in that all the weathermen were talking about – thunder and lightning and lots of rain expected. I began improvising shelter for the sheep. The shed was a maternity ward of 3 jugs (and 4 ewes and babies – Cinnamon and Nutmeg where sharing the big one with their singletons; Duna and her twins; C-Kerry and her premie twins) and now I needed a fourth for N-Kerry, plus some cover for the other sheep in the general pen. The storm came on like a freight train, with the rain pouring down in buckets while I was still nailing up tarps and plywood cover. I got everyone settled (two sets of clothing later) and went out later in the evening to check on the mamas and feed the premies. I looked over to see Trixie under my new corner shelter. Good girl for using the shelter…er…oh, sh**! She was in labor! It was 9 p.m. or so and the rain was still coming down in buckets. Water was running down the pen in sheets (it is on a slight incline – the corner where Trixie labored was in the lower end) – and the gutters were overflowing. I’d climbed up on a ladder during the afternoon rain to empty the leaves/blockage, only to have the French drain overwhelmed, and with the water flowing like a river, I realized Trixie’s thick straw bed wasn’t going to be thick enough.

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Amid thunder and lightning and torrents of rain, Trixie’s ewe lamb arrived.

At about 10 p.m. she produced a lovely little ewe lamb, and though I would normally prefer twins, on this night, and in this year, the singles are fine – I’ve got enough on my hands! I dug channels into the pen floor so the water would flow away from her and the lamb, and put up a temporary fence to keep her there and under cover, and (mainly) to keep the other sheep out. So at 11 p.m., with the light on in the shed and the pen’s spotlight on, I was out in the pouring rain digging and getting Trixie set up in her makeshift jug with her newborn lamb (hay, warm molasses water, more straw for bedding). Fortunately it was pretty warm, despite the monsoon drenching we were getting. Due to the crazy setup with the multiple jugs and my limited space, I had to be part monkey to move around in there, using the hay feeder to climb over the partitions and into the pen, over and over and over. I was exhausted by midnight, yet still had more to do. And still it rained.

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It wasn’t pretty, but it would do the trick for a day.

It was at this point that my water situation said, ‘hey, what about me?’ and crapped out.  With pouring rain outside, and I came in at one point to get some supplies and wash my hands and WTF, no water from the faucets.  I went outside to see if I’d left the yard hydrant on (I knew I didn’t but couldn’t think what was going on). I waited 10 or 15 minutes and had water again, and figured it was just something to do with the power in the lightning storm (though the house hadn’t lost power…grasping at straws). I still wonder at the timing on this.

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The next morning. A little muddy, but strong and healthy.

At about 3 a.m. I finally got things buttoned up enough so that I could go inside and sleep for a bit, admonishing the two remaining ewes, Pebbles and her daughter Minnie (who is Trixie’s mama), to wait until the weekend, when the weather was supposed to clear up a bit.  Thankfully, they did.

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Pebbles’ newborns.  Big brother watching as mama cleans up his new sister.

On Monday afternoon I came home from work to find Pebbles in labor. Pushing and struggling and half presented. I hadn’t even gone in the house yet (to change clothes, let the dogs out, etc.) and rolled up my sleeve and reached in as Pebbles labored to realize that there was one leg back. I pulled it forward gently and a fine ram lamb was born a few moments later. There was a little more fresh blood than I would have liked, but I watched Pebbles closely; thankfully it slowed and stopped. Within half an hour a ewe lamb was born. Pebbles took care of both of them expertly (this is her third lambing – twins every time) but the little ewe was definitely not as strong as she should have been.  I began tube feeding her as well. Her little ears were floppy and though she got up to nurse, I’m wasn’t sure how much she was getting. It was touch and go for a few days. I spoke with the vet and got some selenium to give her, and also tried to give her some vitamin B (injection). She just languished as her brother got strong and bouncy, and I worried. I made an appointment to bring her in, then spoke to the vet again in the meantime. She okayed another selenium injection and recommended the vitamin B injection, so I tried again. I don’t know how much got into the lamb, but the second selenium injection seemed to do the trick. She started to perk up and her little ears began to stick out straight, like they should. Both of these lambs are especially cute, with their mama’s big eyes and sweet expression. And both are very friendly. The little girl is a definite keeper (it looks like she’ll turn gray, too, just like Pebbles did).

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Minnie watching Pebbles with her new babies.  It won’t be long now.

The day Pebbles had her twins, Minnie was hanging around the activity with a decidedly funny look to her. So I wasn’t surprised when I came home from work the very next day to find her in labor. She was pushing hard with minimal results, and again, I reached in and found a leg back. I pulled it forward gently and in short order a nice little moorit ram lamb was born. Minnie didn’t get up and seemed a little distracted, so I pulled him forward so she could lick him, which she did readily. A few moments later, I realized why she was not fully engaged – a black ewe lamb slipped out of her so easily, and so quickly after the first that they must have been nose to bum in the birth canal.

And lambing season was officially over at MacFinn Farm, just two weeks after it started.

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Twins!  Born nearly simultaneously, and Minnie wasn’t sure who to lick first.

Lambs @ MacFinn Farm 2017!

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Cinnamon, now 8 years old, with her 2017 baby, a single, perfect moorit ewe lamb.  Ginger.

As you may know, I only breed my ewes every other year. And due to my lung thing and overall poor health because of it, I skipped last year too.  So it’s been three years since I had lambs. I could hardly wait. (But then again, more time would have been nice, given the month I just had!)

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Lamb daddy.  Sir Terry, a very handsome ram with great conformation, beautiful fleece, a lovely temperament, and great bloodlines. I was lucky to have him stay with us for 5 months.

Sir Terry, the handsome Shetland ram, came to visit in late November, leaping into the back of my Honda like a golden retriever when I went to pick him up.  The girls acted like brainless ninnies for the first half day – especially all those virgins, who’d never seen a ram before (5 of the 8 ewes I was breeding were maidens at 2 ½ years old), but they eventually settled down, and Terry became part of the flock for five months. (And when it came time to leave he did NOT jump into the back of my Honda – it was a bit of a wrestle to get him away from his girls and into the car.)  I saw some action in those first few days, and charted my due dates accordingly.  But it was a full week after that (and with a ewe I never saw consorting with the ram!) before I saw my first lamb. But true to form, Cinnamon was first to lamb again this year – a beautiful moorit ewe lamb, the image of her mother – and Minnie was last again, with twins that were born nearly simultaneously.  And a rollicking ride in between.  I ended up with 12 lambs again this year (the same as 2014 when I bred only five ewes, compared to this year’s eight ewes).  There were four singletons and four sets of twins, with a total of five ram lambs and seven ewe lambs – a nice ratio.  I got four white lambs, three moorits (brown), and five black (some with white) – a couple of these blacks will end up being gray or another light color.

Meg (Nutmeg), Cinnamon’s daughter, produced a fine white ram lamb a couple of days after her mother, the only one born in the rough (in the pasture, vs. in the pen) and he’s the image of his sire – gorgeous wool and a perfect little fluke tail, just what I am breeding for.

A few days after that, I came home from work one rainy afternoon to find two weak lambs in the general pen, and a very stressed out C-Kerry.  I got her into a separate jug (term for the small, individual pen for mothers with new lambs) and realized I had a problem.  The lambs were very weak – who knew what happened in the time from birth until I found them (guestimating 4-6 hours).  It had been raining, and although they were mostly dry from mama cleaning them up it was still chilly, and they may have been stepped on or worse (the other sheep can be quite aggressive with butting/ramming).  I got a heat lamp on them and quickly realized they needed to be fed – they were too weak to nurse!  C-Kerry was NOT happy about me grabbing her to milk out some colostrum, but I got about 2 ounces down each of them (they were too weak to suckle a bottle so I tube fed them).  The boy seemed a little stronger than the girl, but both were pathetic little things, with floppy ears and weak baas.  The next day I tried milking C-Kerry some more – I would get about a half ounce each time, before she got too fractious.  She was wonderful with the lambs once she settled down, and very attentive and watchful, but was very clear that she didn’t like to be milked by a human.  But they were so weak they couldn’t nurse much (at all?) on their own.  So I made up some milk replacer and kept tube feeding them.  Then I contacted my Shetland shepherds on my chat list for advice and got good instructions on what to do.

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Lambie intensive care.  They were best left with their mama, but so very weak.

On day 3 I called the vet and got them in to see her the next day.  Diagnosis?  They were premies!  It confirmed a suspicion I’d been having, but the vet estimated they were 7-10 days premature, and this was probably the main reason behind the weakness I was seeing.  The vet gave some vitamin D and selenium injections, and the wee ewe got some antibiotic for the pneumonia she seemed to be flirting with, and off we went, back to mama at home.  The boy responded to the injections almost immediately.  His floppy ears started to stick out like they are supposed to, and he definitely had more energy, with a few little lamb bounces that very evening.

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I think we’re going to make it.  They slept under the heat lamp for most of that first week.

The girl took a little longer, but by the weekend (they were born on a Monday), they were both going in the right direction.  I stopped feeding the boy about then, but still gave the girl a few feedings into the next week. C-Kerry has been a stellar mother to them – holding very still and even moving her leg out of the way when they got up to nurse.  They were smaller than the other lambs the same age, and the girl was very hocky – her rear legs meet at the hocks – but they slowly seem to be straightening as she gains strength and grows.  She lost part of her baby coat, and looked quite moth eaten for a while. I am chalking this up to the antibiotic injection she received as well as the overall stress she went through. But with Daisy’s recent diagnosis of ringworm, I watched the her closely (skin is clear, with new wool growing underneath the baby coat coming out).

But what about the 5 other ewes and their lambing, you ask?

The day after C-Kerry had her premies (so 3 ewes lambed, with 4 babies so far), Duna, my least favorite ewe (I’ve kept her for sentimental reasons (loved her mother)) decided to have a nice little white ewe.  I was home to see the birth, and moved Duna and the baby into a jug a short time after the lamb was on her feet. Duna was doing everything just as she should, but a little confused on why the lamb kept trying to go “back there.”

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Some dirt crumbles on her back, but Duna thought she was just perfect.

It was a nice-ish afternoon (we’ve had SUCH rain this year) and I was dinking around outside the pen (picking up sticks for the yard waste bin) when I looked over to see Duna pushing again.  They don’t push like that for afterbirth, but it had been nearly 4 hours since she had her ewe lamb.  Then the “afterbirth” raised up and shook its head.  OMG!  I went into the pen with her – after more than 3 ½ hours, she was already over the moon over the ewe lamb she’d had, but what was this?  She licked at him tentatively, but wasn’t hugely interested and went back to her ewe.  I wiped down the little guy with a towel – he seemed strong and vital, even with all that time between the births (normally twins come within 30 minutes of each other).

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Only minutes old and his mother and sister were ignoring him.

Duna was a little more interested after I cleaned him up some, and licked at him as she should.  But still, she wasn’t that attracted to him compared to her girl.  Then she decided he didn’t get to nurse.  Not a full-on rejection, but darn close.  I watched into the evening and realized I had to intervene. I haltered her and held her still to let him nurse – he latched on pretty well, but she was NOT happy.  So I tube fed him as well, to be sure he was getting something.  The next morning I wrestled her down before going to work so he could get some food.  But I ended up tube feeding him more than he got from her.  That evening, while on the phone with a fellow shepherd (Sir Terry’s owner, in fact), we brainstormed.  I thought about using an essential oil on him, but my friend said to use it on the ewe lamb instead.  It was aniseed oil, and sure enough, with the ewe lamb smelling funny, Duna let the little guy – a moorit – latch on and tank up.  I could see his little sides bulging by the time he was done.  Whew!  Crisis averted.  Or so I thought.  By the weekend it was obvious she wasn’t going to let him nurse.  He was resourceful, and tried some of the other ewes as he could, but again, intervention was needed.  So he – now called Rudy, or little fella – is my first bottle lamb.  I’ve been able to leave him with the flock, which is better for him, but was feeding him at least four times a day, more often as I could (with my work schedule, it’s hard).  He comes running when he sees me, and drinks his bottle like a champ (although I am now weaning him – he’s six weeks old already).  He’s smaller than some of the other lambs, but he’s growing, and is spunky and strong.  He’s going to be a tough one to let go…

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Rudy getting his evening bottle from my sister, who came out to experience MacFinn Farm lambdimonium over Memorial Day weekend.

To be continued…

Into each life…a little luck must fall

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After the wettest winter on record, we are finally starting to see some sunshine. It is very welcome.

So I guess I’ve had a month.  I know, I know, what about the LAST SIX months and my blogging drought?  It’s been an eventful six months, but really, the past six weeks are what I’m going to blog about today.

Everybody has stuff happen here and there.  It’s just been a while since I’ve had things stack up quite like this (outside of the ol’ lung thing of 2014 through 2016 – ha!).  I get that everyone has troubles, that stuff happens, but it’s been a long, long time, maybe never, that I had a Series of Unfortunate Events like I’ve had in the past six weeks.  In that time I’ve seen my car mechanic (twice), a well and pump technician, the veterinarian (twice, for three different animals), a plumber, an electrician, and an appliance repair person. All the while, my work load (the paying gig, that is) was going nuts (busy with deadline after deadline). I also had numerous calls and texts to the well/pump fella, multiple calls to the two vets I’m working with, and, I won’t lie, a few tears here and there.  So, as of this week, I am hopeful, and trust completely, that this mensus horribilus is over!

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Lambie intensive care.

I thought the car problems were bad, starting at the end of April (engine suddenly losing acceleration – not power – as I was driving down the freeway – wee!, and again then on a back road, and then the check engine light coming on) but that was only $700 or so between diagnosis and fix (she’s still not 100%, but at least dependable again).  The well problem, cropping up about a week later, could have been easily 10 or 20 TIME$ that amount to fix.  But with the help of some awesome coaching by the well guy (who came out and inspected for an initial potential diagnosis) I narrowed it down to a serious leak in the pipe from the pump to the house. When I finally discovered it – directly under the bathtub, which resides on an alcove of sorts on the outside of my foundation: who knew? – I thought for sure I had a spring under the house! Enter the call to the plumber. But despite the stress of searching for the source of the problem, crawling under the house to dig up the pipe/s, and then waiting 4 1/2 days without water for the plumber’s schedule to open up, I got lucky. That was hard to keep in mind when I was going outside, ahem, with the dogs, or heating water for an old fashioned wash up in the tub (using bottled water). It was camping at home, and if it weren’t for the animals I would have skipped out and stayed with a friend.

And of course both of these pale in comparison to the animals being unwell, and especially the dogs, my other heart(s).  The lambing issues were unusual and, for me, new.  I’ll detail these in another post – it was a crazy two or three weeks!  Daisy cropped up with a weird fungal infection on her face and it took a little time to figure it out.  The cure was a gnarly antifungal drug the vet prescribed (and I reluctantly agreed to).  But before I could give her more than one dose, she presented with a weird abscess (best guess) in her face/upper jaw.  She was unable to open her mouth all the way, and the area around her left eye was swollen and she was squinting.  Another trip to the vet (we walked the two miles because the car wouldn’t start) and the cure for the abscess was a round of clindamycin.  It took four days before I could definitively say the medication was working, so I asked the vet for a second week of the drug, just to really kick it.  The great side effect benefit was that it cleared up the fungal infection too.  Yay!  No need for the antifungal I didn’t want to give her. How lucky is that?

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Fresh from the vet, after he scraped and took samples – top of her muzzle and on the side, next to her nose.

Along the way with this major stuff is the not so major stuff (concert ticket problems to resolve with Ticketmaster; the cat escaped out the door one rainy evening and killed a hummingbird at my feeder – I cried and cried and cried over that tiny body, whose death I caused;  a couple days later I accidentally stepped on a banana slug and killed it – I didn’t cry, but I felt so bad about that), and of course the good things too.  The concert tickets worked out and the show was FANTASTIC (U2 The Joshua Tree tour) – providing a much needed break (and, amazingly, that night was also a break in the near-constant rain we had before and after).  AND, because of where the lighting and sound tent was located on the floor, they moved us to new seating.  My $90 seats (which I was really pleased with) suddenly became $400 seats. WOW! Add to this the realizations about my own strengths, and then the truly blessed things – gifts you don’t even realize at first.  Like a well/pump guy who generously shared his time and knowledge with me (via text and phone), over two weeks, and never once getting tired of my latest “what dis?” ignorant question, pointing me in the right direction again and again and coaching me through the digging and discovery.  It’s “funny” because I originally called a different well guy (I was running out of water in the house and I didn’t know why) – one that I’d used before – and they were so backed up with work that they referred me to the one I ended up calling.  And, it turns out, truly a blessing in disguise – he was WAY more helpful than the original would have been.  I got really really lucky.  The electrician that I called was the same, coming out on a Friday evening on the start of a holiday weekend.  I was fully prepared to spend the three day weekend without water, but he came out and tested everything.  It turned out (as I discovered the next morning) that this was a false alarm on my part; there was no electrical or mechanical issue, but I was so ramped up with worry about what the well and tank were doing that I thought I was seeing something that wasn’t actually happening – embarrassing but true, and a $176 lesson.

But through all of this, I learned a lot about my little house, about how things work here, and about my own toughness and determination, about my ability to cope (sometimes not so well, frankly; other times, amazingly resilient) and what I can accomplish on my own.  No car? No problem – I’ll walk, or take the bus. No water? No problem, I’ll make do with bottled water and camping at home. Lambing problems? I can handle that with the help of a vet or two (and I have to say, large animal vets are the BEST), a knowledgeable sheep community, who, when I reached out to them, were willing to help me troubleshoot and recommended care for my unwell newborn lambs. Well or pipe problems? Call for expert help, and roll your sleeves up to help yourself along the way. The well guy – Dave is his name, of Ralph’s Pump and Well – told me that I likely saved myself $1,000 by doing all the diagnostic legwork and digging myself. I couldn’t have done it without him, and told him so (and owe him a beer), but it was worth the hard work to save that money and also to learn not only how things work around here, but what I can do, and a little more of what I’m made of.  Plus, it was good to have something to do besides wring my hands and wait for “rescue” by someone else.  Action is always good, just as stillness can be good (I needed the latter when my brain tried to spin worry out of control).

All is well now, my leaking pipe is fixed, my car is running, Daisy’s fungal infection cleared up (and without giving her the $80 worth of gnarly systemic medicine for 12 weeks – I really could have used that $80, but very, very happy I didn’t end up putting her on that drug), the three weak lambs all toughed it out, fighting to live as I fought to save them.  Sheep are such tough critters! And the washer is now “fixed” – no small feat, considering the juxtaposition of the hoses and lack of access thereto (the washer itself was fine, but with all the water problems, grit had filled the hoses to the machine) — so I can do a two-week backlog of laundry. Clean sheets and blankets galore!

And thank my lucky stars, remembering that upon us all little rain must fall.  This one brings back a few memories, too. Take a listen…ahhh.

But let’s talk LAMBS! See next post for lambidmonium! 20170427_182826

Happy New Year Musings

20161209_091400Happy New Year!  When I look at the calendar and see 2017 it seems so surreal.  It’s such a science-fictiony kind of date for those of us born near the middle of the last century.  But here we all are, still grunting along, with the proverbial two steps forward, one step back still in heavy rotation (one might agree that equation is backwards, in light of the year just past).  There were a lot of “good riddance” attitudes as 2016 faded into history, as there are at every New Year.  Each year deals its own challenges as time and life progresses, be it natural disaster, personal losses, or global events. This year it seemed as if there were more of the “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” type sentiments (as if the turn of a calendar page could transform anything), with several high profile celebrity deaths happening to bookend the year, and in the middle as well.  Our celebrity culture tells us that these celebrities’ deaths are “Breaking News” and social media lights up with mournful responses for each one.  Certainly these people do affect our lives with their talents, entertaining us and perhaps changing our outlooks or inspiring us such that our own trajectory is altered.  Of course even in this, our lives, and life courses, are self-generated, with any course change or goal achieved being of our own volition, or any lack thereof being also our own choice. When people are lamenting the loss of one celebrity or another I remember the Walt Whitman poem “Oh Me! Oh Life!” from his Leaves of Grass, which ends with the potent line:
“[Answer] That you are here—that life exists and identity, That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”  And of course the equally powerful natural follow up to that last, magnificent line: What will your verse be? (And yes, I know, I quote a dead celebrity [in a movie] with this line, but there you have it.)

20161205_094623In other powerful revelations, I maintain my long-held belief that the epitome of civilization, the absolute pinnacle of mankind’s achievements—and I’m not kidding when I say this—is: hot running water from a tap.  I am completely serious.  Go without electricity for a week and you’ll find you can cope. If you don’t have modern central heating, a woodstove does an excellent job (and helps with cooking too). There are several make-do substitutions for almost any of modern conveniences, but running water, specifically hot running water, simply cannot be matched.  I learned this many years ago, when a winter storm left me without power for 5 long days. At the time I did have a woodstove, so kept the house toasty-warm that way. And hot running water was maintained with a natural gas hot water heater. So a delicious hot shower by candlelight, with hair dried sitting on a footstool next to the woodstove, kept things civilized.

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Beautiful overnight frost on my windshield.

Here on my little farm though, I not only don’t have a woodstove (the place is so tiny I have no idea where to put it, and the most likely place would require eliminating half of my already paltry living room seating), I’m also on a well, with an electric water heater. So when the power goes out, I immediately begin water rationing, using water sparingly so I don’t run out the tank while I wait for the power to come back on. Or, in the case of this week, when we have long spells of freezing/below freezing weather, the wellhead and/or the pipes at the tank freeze up, and I’m again rationing water until the weather warms up. The temps dipped on Tuesday.  I saw this pattern was coming on Sunday and Monday, so did laundry, filled the sheep’s water trough, and washed my hair in anticipation of water rationing.  We did okay for a couple days, and still the freezing temperatures persisted.  Generally, if it doesn’t get above 32 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and also dips into the low 20s or below at night, the freezing of the water supply is at risk.  We had this all week, with temps in the mid and high teens at night, and barely climbing to 33 or 34 degrees during the day.  By Wednesday I could see the water pressure was waning, as the water coming out of the taps was beginning to slow.  This meant the tank was emptying and not refilling.  Thursday morning as I was readying for work, she gave up the ghost.  No water.  Dang.

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Sir Terry, the handsome ram who’s visiting for a few key months, and his harem.

I stopped at the store on the way home from work that night and bought 5 gallons of water (because of course I haven’t stockpiled water).  I used all but one gallon that night, as I boiled up a gallon to bring out to the sheep (poured into their frozen trough, it melted some of the ice and gave them some water until it froze over again), filled the dogs’ bowls (because of course those had gotten low, too), and used some for washing up.  On Friday I stopped and refilled those four 1-gallon containers.  Saturday I was still without water and bought another 3 gallons of water.  Though the temperature was slowly rising, it really needs to get to at least 35 degrees for 24 hours before things thaw enough.  This little hillside is a cold hillside, with negligible direct sun this time of year and both the wellhead and the tank being in perennially shaded areas.  On Sunday the temps were supposed to rise some more, but I was concerned it wouldn’t be enough to thaw things.  It had now been almost a week without a proper shower, and going outside with the dogs for potty was getting old (and a bit chilly!).

I went down to the well head – a little box at the bottom of the pasture.  I threw a rug, still warm from the clothes dryer, over the pump.  And realized I needed to do more.  So I cobbled together no less than 6 extension cords (that last 9-footer made it!) and put an electric heater in the box, on low, and left it for a 45 minutes or so while I fed the sheep and cleaned up the garage.  After nearly an hour it was nice and toasty in the box, but the tank up by the house wasn’t budging.  So I took the heater, with only one extension cord this time, and put it in the tiny shed that the tank lives in on the side of the house.  I kept checking on it, and moved it closer and closer to the piping.  Finally, an hour into it (two hours if you count the time at the wellhead), I began to get water out of the tap.  Hallelujah and happy dance.  Let there be water!

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Frosty woods out back. The kicker, to be filed in the “it’s always something” folder, is I absolutely LOVE this weather aside from the frozen water aspect.  It’s been mostly clear, so lots of blue sky and winter sun (yes!), and even when it’s mere 24 degrees out there, I find it comfortable (no wind to speak of, so wind chill isn’t a factor).  The ground is frozen solid, so no mud (HUGE), and it’s beautiful to look at the frost-laden landscape. What’s not to love?

I waited a reasonable amount of time to be sure the water was staying on, and then ran the dishwasher (packed full after a week), and a load of laundry (also full).  Then, when it looked like all systems were go there, I got into the shower for the first time since Monday.  Baby wipes and sponge bathing had kept me reasonably clean, but I hadn’t washed my hair since Monday, and it was wonderful.  I was able to wipe the counters clean with a damp cloth for the first time in days, and really clean things in the kitchen.  Sunday’s temps are rising a little but the ground is still frozen solid, so I’m glad I made the effort.

Hot running water.  Seriously.

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Gratuitous cuteness.  My little pack, all tuckered out after romping outside for a few hours.

Letting go

img958I made scrambled eggs for breakfast this morning. A mundane, everyday occurrence. Except when it’s not. You see, I (finally) gave up all my chickens a couple of weeks ago, at the direction of my doctor. After dragging my feet on it for six months, I placed an ad on Craigslist and they were gone in less than 24 hours. It was a good time to do it, just as we head into the winter months. They weren’t laying much (I was getting 1 egg a day from 18 hens) and the winter months are hard on them – they don’t enjoy the 6 months of rain any more than I do. Caring for any livestock during the winter months is more work (thawing frozen waterers when it freezes, replenishing straw regularly to help combat the ever-present mud, etc.), so getting rid of them now was a little easier, in theory.

I got an incredible response to the “Free Chickens” ad–over a dozen people, with half of them in the first three hours after I posted, and more coming in until I pulled the ad about 10 hours later. I had no idea old hens would be such a hot item. I replied to the first person that responded and said he wanted them all. He was close, only one town away, and was able to come after church on Sunday.

I went out mid-morning to shoo the girls into the coop, where they would be easier to catch. I donned my respirator mask, tucked my hair under my cap, and got to work. I moved them to the old chicken tractor I bought when I first moved here and needed a place for the hens I’d moved in with. It went quickly and easier than I expected. Then the tears came. I stuffed them back – I didn’t want to be a mess when the guy got here. But I had to go inside for a while.

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Loaded up and waiting.  Trying not to cry.

The fellow got here and got out of his van with three young boys, stair-step in height from age 6-ish to age 12-ish, each armed with a fishing net. We didn’t need the nets, but it was cute that they were ready for chicken catching. We loaded the hens up–there were 15 of them going—into the assortment of boxes the fellow brought and before I knew it, it was done.  I sent them off with 14 free hens,* plus my 25# feeder, the rest of a bag of feed I had, and three waterers. And it was over. After 34 years—most of my life—with anywhere from 6 to 26 chickens in my backyard, I was now chicken-less.

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So quiet and sad.

So now it’s just the adjustment to life without chickens. I know it sounds ridiculous in many ways, but it’s a huge change for me. They weren’t pets per se, but I loved having them in my life. Their simple pleasures in a good sunbath, a juicy worm, scratching in the garden, and dusting in the dry duff under the cedar trees were my pleasures, too. They are entertaining to watch, and their busy little lives were always an enjoyable way to wind down after a hectic day at work and a lousy commute. Plus, eggs. Delicious, free-range eggs on organic feed. These purchased eggs have a funny taste in comparison, and even though they’re pastured, organic eggs (at $6 a dozen) they’re not as rich or egg-licious as mine were. 20161120_123149I wake up in the morning and look out the bathroom window to the empty coop and run, so silent in the morning gloom, when it should be filled with the waking flock, clucking and pecking and preening. I come home expecting to see them come running to the fence, eager to be let out (I kept them penned when I wasn’t home, to keep them safe from predators). While raking leaves I am struck by the silence of not being surrounded by a happy flock scratching around in the leaf litter and filling up on all the goodies they find. A favorite activity was to dismantle a pile of leaves I’d raked up; they were quick and industrious, and could take down a pile in short order (like, while I briefly went to get a bin for the leaves). I feed the sheep after work and think about checking on the hens for a half beat before I remember they’re no longer out there. The coop is deathly quiet now.  It’s even noticeable at night, when they’d normally be quiet anyway, roosting for the night; my coop full of contented hens is no longer there and it’s almost ghostly.

It’s ridiculous how many tears I’ve cried, not realizing until they were gone how they infiltrated my life so completely. I knew I would miss them, but I didn’t know that virtually everything I did outside would be permeated with their loss, even as it was filled with their presences before. I don’t know why I didn’t expect this; perhaps because I never imagined this scenario. Even now, looking out my office window as I type, the vacant run is still and the emptiness is wrenching. I used to look out at them as I worked here, a moment’s respite from my labors at the computer, reflecting or looking for a word, thought, or sentence in my mind as I watched them being all chickeny, happy in their little chicken lives, providing me with entertainment and solace, de-stressing me with their calming, bucolic presence. Plus, eggs.

I’ve tried to rationalize it every which way, knowing that I had to do this for my health, that it’s for the best, that it will save me money at the feed store, that it be easier to have fewer animals to care for (whatever), but nothing is breaking the desolate void of not having them. Except my heart.

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*I’d withheld three hens for a woman on a local FB group I belong to, who’d expressed interest in them; they went to their new home on Tuesday morning, plus one who’d escaped on Sunday.

Fall maintenance and repairs

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Autumn sky

It’s been busy month here at MacFinn Farm with some preparations for winter. First on the agenda was the garage/sheep shed roof replacement. When I got the sheep in 2010 I had a local fellow build the sheep shed, which was just a carport-sized extension off the garage roof with a confinement pen. It wasn’t perfect (among other things, the gutter always dripped – right onto the sheep eating at the feeder just inside the shed), but it worked. About 18 months ago I noticed some serious water damage to the edges of the plywood, and then, last winter, big dark spots of moldy rot in the middle. It wasn’t actively leaking, but it definitely needed repairing. I called a couple of roofers and got some quotes, both more than I expected or could afford because both recommended reroofing the entire garage (a 20-year comp at the end of its life span), and due to the condition neither would reroof just the shed portion and guarantee their work. Okay.

I picked the one with the better quote (or so I thought) and we got started. When I had the fellow out for the estimate, I’d asked specifically how long it would take. “One day.” He said confidently to my “Really?”  I thought this was a little ambitious, but hey, they did this for a living, and even if it took two days, I was on board. So the scheduled day came up. I’d planned a couple days off work so I could be home for the dogs. Though the garage is detached, and across the driveway, it’s still upsetting for them to have people on the property. The first day the “big noise” came: a trailer for dumping the old roofing material, and a pile of roofing material, three vehicles and three guys. Then everyone left except one fellow, who stripped the small side of the roof, put down some tar paper and left around lunchtime. The next day I was assured they would start earlier and get it done. The one fellow arrived a little after 10:00 (so one hour later than the previous day), stripped the old roofing off the shed side, put down tar paper and left around noon.

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Nice tar paper job, as the typhoon approached. 

I think I am cursed when it comes to roofing jobs. At this point the job was put on hold, as we had warnings of a storm of epic proportions bearing down on us – a real “batten down the hatches” storm, remnants of a typhoon that made its way across the Pacific and hitting our coastline. The weather reports were full of dire predictions. Great. I had a tarpaper garage roof and a major storm coming. We had some rain (goodly amounts at times) and some wind but nothing like the predictions, which, frankly, had a lot of us shaking in our boots. I found myself getting a little panicky at work, as I thought, and worried, about the coming storm. Thankfully most of the storm petered out and/or bypassed my area and we were spared “The Worst Storm Since The 1962 Thanksgiving Day Storm!”  Whew!

The following Monday I was assured the job would be finished that day. It wasn’t. The next day for sure. I came home to find the inside of my garage had gotten rained on. They were replacing some damaged portions of the plywood – a good thing – but evidently it was during a heavy rain. I got towels out and mopped up the floor as best I could, and cleaning and drying off items that had gotten covered with debris and rainwater. Sigh. Finally, a little over a week after they started, it was done. I am happy to say that despite the timing aggravation, they did a good job. The statement came a week later and I about choked. It was nearly double what I expected. I quickly got out the estimate and looked at it. And realized I misread it. “Option A,” about $1,100 more than just the single estimate, was in addition to the original quote (for doing just half the roof). I read it as a combination of the two–the original quoted amount plus the extra work, inclusive. It was misleading as written, but it was also right there in black and white. Time for a short-term loan. But its secure, looks good, and the gutter no longer drips all over the sheep as they eat.

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Soggy tree moss.  October turned out to be the wettest October on record, and the third or fourth wettest month ever (or something like that). All my whinging about rain felt less whiny after I learned this.

Later that week I had a plumber come out to fix my yard hydrant, which had been leaking for nearly a year. I was afraid it would break entirely and I’d have an emergency (would have to shut the water supply down, which means I’d have no water in the house). And I was afraid to tackle it myself. I dug the hole around the hydrant to about where it joins the pipe underground but didn’t know what to do beyond that. YouTube videos are helpful, but I didn’t feel confident. I saw a guy on Angie’s List that had lots of good reviews, contacted him and set it up for 2:00 p.m. I stayed home from work that day – I’ve had too many sweaty drives home trying to make it to meet a service worker, and figured I’d work from home as much as I could. So 2:00 came and went. Nothing. I finally called the guy at ~2:40 p.m. “Hello?” Did I call the right number? “Is this ____the plumber?” I asked. “Oh, I should have called.” He said, after I identified myself. “It’s going to be more like 4:00.”  At 4:20 he called and said it would be another half hour. Shortly after 5:00 he got here. Thankfully it was an easy job (and I had done most of the digging) and he was able to get it done before darkness descended on us at 6:00. So that’s done, and only cost me $135 more than it would if I’d done it myself (not counting the time lost off work).

Then, about 10 days ago I got in my car to go to work and got to the driveway gate (something didn’t feel right as I went down the drive) to find this.

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Poor Keh-li MissBeadle!  I’m a bad car-mom!

I decided I would be working from home that day. I put the spare on and that afternoon I drove to the tire store. New tires have been on my list for the past 4 months, and I really was for sure going to get it handled the coming weekend – Keh-li MissBeadle just got tired of waiting on me. I went to Costco – in my tire research of the past couple months they seemed to have the best deal. I missed the $70 off coupon by a week (they had a new one in place, but for a tire that wasn’t as good as what I wanted) but it was still a good price. It was a weekday, so I figured it wouldn’t be like a Saturday crazy-time. I was wrong. I re-upped my Costco membership, which I’d let lapse a couple years prior. The tire department talked to me about the tires, I made the purchase and learned it would be 3 hours before they were done. It was closer to 4 hours by the time I got out of there. I shopped for the first two hours, then waited inside, then waited outside. I think they gave my older car to the slow guy, who, as I watched, seemed to have no sense of urgency as he dawdled through the job.

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Keh-li waiting for her new shoon, about 3 hours in.  She looks so vulnerable like this.

Finally they were done. A fellow pulled up to where I was waiting and said “Here’re your new tires.” I looked at them. “Really?”  It was dusk by then and hard to see them well, but they looked like they’d already been up and down my driveway a dozen times or more. “That’s the film on them from the factory.” Or something. I think it was the Silverback Syndrome again, and the fact that Keh-li MissBeadle is obviously a farm car of a certain age – so why would I care that the tires looked all scuffed and smudged (and used)?  Ah well. She drives like a champ now with her new tires – they really feel a LOT better than the old tires, and we can zip around again like we like to.

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Gratuitous cuteness.  Daisy and Farley sharing a pillow.  Daisy is a Rottweiler b—- who doesn’t like “stinkyfarley” much – she resents the fact that he holds the spot she thinks she should have (I have him on a pedestal) and for her to share like this is huge! 

Autumn excitement

20161018_084137I can’t believe it’s almost the end of October already. The falling leaves and bare branches, cold temperatures and fall rains all seem premature somehow. Every year I am virtually dragged into fall kicking and screaming, not ready to give up summer. But alas, it is here.  The autumn months are beautiful, no question, with the leaves turning and all the fall harvests and ripenings, but after just a few weeks of rain I’m already dreading the three or four months of rain yet to come. I need to make peace with this.

Earlier this month we had a visitor to the farm. I’d run out on Saturday to do my usual weekend errands. I came back home and pulled up the driveway to the gate. I saw one of the sheep run across my field of vision as I got out of the car to open the gate. They normally get excited when I come home and run up to the upper pasture gate as I drive up the hill. But intuition told me something was up and I immediately worried about loose dogs (not my own, which were inside the house). 20161005_172937

I opened the gate and walked over toward the pasture quickly. The sheep were all bunched together, moving, except for that black one up by the…  OMG. That’s not a sheep! A black bear had come to visit! I clapped my hands loudly and walked toward the bear (in the pasture with the sheep, but not really after the sheep, as far as I could tell). “Go on, bear!” I hollered at it. He moved down the hill away from me, toward the NE corner of the pasture, then sat down to chew on his foot (maybe he stepped on a thistle?). He knew I was there, but wasn’t nearly as concerned about my presence as I would have liked.  He went over the pasture fence and headed up the hill toward the chicken coop – and the beehive. I got in the car and drove up the hill quickly. The car driving up scared him a little, and he moved to the edge of the yard to where the grass meets the woods. I got out and walked towards him, clapping my hands again, and telling him to go on (the dogs heard me from inside the house and started barking). He looked at me for a long moment then moved off into the woods, loping to the fence and off the property. Then I went inside and let the dogs out to reinforce the message.

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Sorry for the blurry exposure – I was a wee bit excited.  The sheep in the foreground (Minnie, I think) is looking at me to fix this situation.

It was pretty exciting to see a bear like that. I’ve had them come through before (though it’s been a few years) and generally at this same time of year August/September, but in those other instances I just heard them (moving through the brush) or, my first year here, seeing the aftermath (tipped over the empty garbage bin, got into my bird feeder, got into my chicken feed – I no longer feed the birds and keep the chicken feed locked in the garage). This was the real deal, and in broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon. Wow!

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A few feathers is all that was left of a good sized rooster.  A stealthy bobcat strike. 

The next day I was out working in the yard and the chickens were out. When I went to check on their feed and water later in the afternoon I saw we were down by one. The rooster obviously got got – a few feathers and a little blood and evidently the work of a bobcat. I found a feather or two by the back fence line, but it was clean and quiet, just like a cat. Dang.

On Monday night I was sitting in my living room, up late and working on an editing job, and heard the chickens squawking. I heard a thump and went to look out the window at the coop. I didn’t see anything in the porch light, but figured maybe it was the bobcat again so I let the dogs out. The barking excitement told me they were doing their job. After a bit Farley and Daisy came in at my call. Pal didn’t. He sometimes will stay out running around for 30 minutes, but considering the activity recently, I started to worry. I called him and got nothing. So I got a flashlight and went out, Daisy and Farley happy to come out for more 2 a.m. fun. I saw a white streak run by in the dark but when I called him he didn’t come, which is unusual for Pal, as he has a pretty good recall. At least he was okay.  The chickens seemed to be fine – a little shaken up and a couple off the roosts, and I shut the coop door and propped it with the fence post (it doesn’t close all the way).  Meanwhile Daisy had taken up barking maniacally at the foot of a maple tree near coop, like a coonhound with a treed coon. I went over and shined the flashlight up the trunk, but I already knew what I’d find, judging by the noise. The bear was back. He looked down on us from a rather flimsy looking branch about 30 feet up, clacking his teeth and bawling every once in a while (the best way to describe the noise – not a growl and not a roar, more like a moaned complaint). I had to physically haul Daisy off to the house. Farley came with us, and Pal now, too. I watched/listened from the bathroom window and after about 20 minutes I could hear branches cracking as the bear lowered himself to the ground and ran off over the fence. I felt bad for the bruin, as he was obviously scared, but hoped that the hazing by the dogs would convince him to move on and that human dwellings weren’t good places to hang out.

There were a couple of hens loose in the morning, so I herded them back into the coop. A quick head count told me we were down one.  I don’t think it was the bear, but more likely the bobcat, come to take advantage of the birds being loose. I left for work. And that afternoon I pulled up the driveway see this.

He was back. He was about 15 yards away and stood watching me. I got out of the car and took few steps in his direction, clapping my hands loudly. (Cue chorus of barking from inside the house.) He thought about it for a few seconds, then turned and left. I kept clapping and yelling. Then, when I was sure he was over the fence, I let the hounds out.  Wee!  So much fun!

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Muddy paw marks on top of the gate.  Smelly fly trap to the upper right, and a tipped over water trough just on the other side of the fence. 

Then I went around the property to see what he’d been up to. I’d left the sheep in their pen that day, and from what I can tell, he was maybe IN the pen with them. Or maybe just climbing the gate (I could see muddy paws had been up on the top of the 5 foot gate) and also the other side of the pen. As near as I could tell he was after the smelly fly trap still hanging out there (smells like a dead thing rotting) from the summer. He’d bitten at it but didn’t take it all the way down. The sheep seemed fine – weren’t even breathing hard by the time I got home. And of course there’s this.

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Nice.  But there was no honey in this hive, and no stinging bees either. 

It’s the dead hive, with the live hive full of (angry) bees…and honey, right next to it, still intact. I wondered if I maybe interrupted him when I pulled up. Other than that it was just the fence that was taking a beating with all these visits.

I decided to stay home the next day to keep an eye on the place. I was able to work remotely from home, and keep watch while I did so. The bear came back around noon, from what I could tell by the chickens and sheep behavior, but I don’t think he came on the property then. (I let the dogs out to reinforce things.) Then, about 2:30 he was back.  I saw the chickens go quiet and bunch up again. I got up to look out the front window to see the sheep in the pasture all looking intently towards the north/east property line. I went out (without the dogs at first) and clapped my hands.  I heard him move off, and went to let the dogs out again.  So. Much. Excitement. And I fixed the crunched fence sections for the fourth time.

Again, I hoped this hazing (especially the two tries without any reward) would make him decide to move on. He didn’t seem to want apples. And thankfully he didn’t seem to want the chickens or sheep. I think he was young and inexperienced at being on his own, but hopefully heading towards the foothills and a safe place to den for the winter. We haven’t seen him since that day, three weeks ago now, and I hope he’s safe.

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Gratuitous cuteness: Pal on his 7th birthday last Friday.  He was worried that this unusual attention (me trying to get a nice photo of him on his birthday) might mean something like a nail trim or a bath. Love this little guy!  (Excuse the fugly tape on the chair – it’s a lost cause, but I try to deter the cats from shredding it more by putting double-sided tape on it.)

 

 

Hypersensitivity pneumonitis – lung thing part 3

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Some mornings it’s just hard to leave for work.  Looking at the NE corner of the property.

So a quick (I promise) recap.  This all started in November 2014 and has been a roller coaster ride of symptoms and medical care ever since.  After my initial diagnosis (now revised) and treatment, I was feeling good by September of 2015.  In late November 2015 some of the symptoms returned (shortness of breath, primarily).  I managed this until late February of 2016 with ibuprofen, until I needed more help.  I saw the specialist in March and began a regimen of prednisone.  A lot of it to start, then tapered down after 10 days, then tapered again after 30 days.  But still a high dose.  I’ve been on this dose since April and have been feeling good, with breathing back to normal and heart rate also returning to normal (since my lungs are working, my heart doesn’t have to hit overdrive to pump more blood in an effort to oxygenize).

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Groot the kiwi vine trying to swallow the front porch.

Allergy testing last year showed I have no allergies – no surprise there – but the specialist, in drilling in on the hypersensitivity pneumonitis rediagnosis, performed antigen testing (IgG vs. IgE), which showed I was reacting to bird feces and proteins, as well as a couple of molds, so my particular brand of hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) points to Bird Fanciers Lung (there are dozens of versions).  I was told I needed to remove chickens from my environment, as well as my two parakeets (cage birds), and clean the house thoroughly.  The molds are likely ones I’ve run into with the hay I feed the sheep.  Antigen reactions are essentially allergies, but manifest differently (in my case there was absolutely no coughing, runny nose or sneezing typical of allergies).

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The days are getting decidedly shorter.  After getting home from work in the evenings I barely have time to do the evening chores before darkness falls.  So sad. 😦

I saw the doctor again in late May, when I repeated my tests and did well (breath tests as well as a walking test to see how well oxygenated my blood stayed with exercise).  The doctor was pleased with my progress, and very happy to hear I had rehomed the parakeets, but because I still had the chickens, and she was concerned I needed more time on the medication, we stayed at the same dose of prednisone.  I told her I would hire help to get the chicken coop thoroughly cleaned out and let the flock “attrition out” – the birds are aging and not worth anything, so not easy to rehome (there are 21 of them right now).  I lost one over the summer, but of course they seem to be feeling spry, even if they’re not laying much on the expensive organic feed I give them.

My next appointment with her was September 1st.  In that 5 month period (April to September) I have gained weight.  A lot of weight.  This, of course, is a common side effect of the prednisone – one of many – and this time around it seems to be the main one for me.  I have an appetite like a lumberjack.  I’m not hungry all the time, but when I get hungry it’s hungry-bear hungry, and it takes a lot to be sated.  Like, half a large pizza. Or an embarrassingly large portion of a whole roast chicken.  I tell myself I’m going to moderate my eating, but when I get hungry and the food is in front of me, well, I don’t have much restraint.  I don’t quite check out mentally, but the thought of moderation is dismissed entirely.  Leftovers are a thing of the past.  I’ve been bursting out of all my clothes, and have had to buy new things—in a size I’ve never worn in my life—so I have something to wear that isn’t embarrassingly tight, not to mention uncomfortable.  I’ve resigned myself to this weight gain for now, knowing the prednisone is necessary for my lungs, but there are moments of shame and self-consciousness at how I look.  Now any breathing problems I have are from inactivity, and trying to increase my exercise has been difficult: I’m assuming it’s because of the extra weight, but my ankle (old injury) has been giving me trouble for the past couple of months, so even a walk with the dogs has been off the docket.  I can’t tell you how frustrating this is, because even with all my whinging I am still grateful for my mostly good health. And on the positive side, we have reduced my prednisone by half in the past two weeks.  Yes!  With the appetite becoming more manageable it’s time for a weight loss diet!  Wee!

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I took down a small maple over the weekend.  The sheep love the leaves and tender bark.

I’ve been slowly coming around to the idea of giving up the chickens.  I haven’t hired anyone to help with cleaning yet, mostly due to financial reasons (keeping up with medical bills, frankly).  So the dry, dusty summer, with the hens happily fluffing their feathers in numerous dusty bowls they create under the cedar trees, then the dogs walking through that, or lying in it, then coming to curl up in bed with me…well, I’ve got my head in the sand on the whole issue.  I let the hens free roam, but probably shouldn’t. In thinking about giving them up, I think about why I keep them; indeed, why I’ve been keeping them for most of my life (since 1982). I want to produce as much of my own food as possible, and have a little more control over this aspect of my life.  But I also know part of the reason I keep them is for the bucolic calm they exude, and coming home after a stressful day at work to watch my little farm at work is soothing to me. And although chicken TV has slowly been supplanted by sheep TV and honeybee TV, I still like having them, and the eggs they give me. With the sheep and the bees it’s a little easier to lie in the grass next to them (the chicken run is too grubby-gross to lie in or even next to).  They are enormously entertaining though, and, as with all my animals, knowing they are happy and enjoying a good chicken life is deeply satisfying, even fulfilling, to me.

After the visit with the pulmonary specialist earlier this month, and discussing the situation in more detail with her, I realize I have to do this.  I’m still very reluctant, and if I think about it too much I get a little teary.  I am simultaneously frustrated by the whole situation.  I have kept chickens for 35 years now, and had the parakeets for the past 15 years.  Why all of a sudden am I having problems?  There is no answer to this, of course, and it’s not unheard of or even uncommon, as a situation.  I guess what goes hand-in-hand with this is frustration is the worry: what if I get rid of the chickens and still have problems? What then? I don’t want this to be a slow elimination of everything I love most in life. I can’t get any traction with my vaccine theory, but I do think this is a factor in the initiation of this whole issue.  While I’m not “anti-vax” I am anti over-vaccination, and the bundling of vaccines.  A tetanus shot I received in early November 2014 came bundled with two unnecessary (to me at the time) vaccines: pertussis and diphtheria.  Within 3 weeks the symptoms of HP began – probably sooner, I just didn’t realize it – and by the end of November I was one very sick puppy.

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The leaves are turning color and beginning to fall.  It seems too soon. I’m not ready.

I still think this is a “perfect storm” situation. And I know it’s done, and there’s no going back (“that ship has sailed, Mo”), but part of me wants to know.  Because maybe, eventually, and maybe it will take moving off this farm to a new location, I will be able to not worry about this anymore.  I believe the combination of the moldy hay I was running into at the time (purchased a ton of hay that year – the guy who delivered it said it came out of Oregon; it was some of the dirtiest/dustiest hay I’ve ever encountered) and the hit to my immune system from these unnecessary vaccines (the tetanus wasn’t really needed either – for the situation nor was I due, but with the animals/farm I know it’s a good one to keep up to date so I consented when I should have refused), added to a little normal life stress and a strenuous (and thoroughly enjoyed) day hike 8 days later, well, it all added up to a baseball bat to my immune system that I’m still recovering from.  I will never, ever (ever!) again allow myself to be vaccinated with three immunizations in one injection.  I will continue to refuse the annual flu vaccine (never had it, never will) even though my pulmonologist recommended it at my recent visit.  No, that’s not one I’ll do, I told her, emphasizing “I am NEVER sick.”  She looked at me with just enough of a pause that I burst out laughing.  She laughed a bit too.  And said she would nevertheless continue to recommend it to me, given my diagnosis.  But really, I don’t get colds – my last cold was in 2012 – and aside from this issue, I’m healthy and strong.  And once I get this thing figured out, I intend to sty that way.img1041Gratuitous cuteness: Eloise, a.k.a. El, ‘weesa, or Pudge.  The only one of the three cats that will regularly brave sleeping in bed with me and the three dogs.  Heart her to bits.

No birdz allowed – lung stuff part deux

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Another glorious Pacific Northwest summer is winding to an end. They are always too short.

Continued from previous post:
So I left the specialist’s office that day in March with a couple prescriptions – one for oxygen at home, and one for steroids (prednisone) – both of which I’d used a year earlier, and both of which I didn’t want to do, although they help immensely. I knew the oxygen use would be short-lived, as once the prednisone kicked in and inflammation was neutralized, I no longer needed it. While its benefit is huge in that 10 – 14 day time frame, I just didn’t want to deal with it (both the admittance that I needed it nor the growling, hissing activity of the oxygen concentrator, not to mention the medical rental of the machine, although this experience/company was MUCH better than last year’s). And, after all was said and done, I spent over $630 on the rental (insurance only covers so much)  for the 10 days of use, because the doctor wouldn’t okay its return until she saw me again…in May. I would have done better to purchase one of my own at that cost!

A few weeks after my visit we got the antigen tests back. And while most everything was in range (they test for a variety of typically encountered organisms) there were a couple of molds that were moderately out of range (high) and two others that I just didn’t expect: pigeon droppings, and pigeon feathers and proteins. Which, of course, means all avian. (I’d tested negative for bird allergies last year.) The doctor knew I had chickens (we’d discussed them with the sheep) and she flatly said I had to get rid of them. I was dismayed, not really understanding if they were outside why I had to get rid of them. I live on acreage. There are birds EVERYwhere. And geez, I’ve been keeping chickens pretty much my whole life (a continuous flock since 1981). But what she didn’t know, and I of course then shared with her, is that I also had a couple of parakeets in the house. And these two, I realized, I would definitely have to place. Dang.

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Of course these results, combined with the review/reassessment of my prior tests and procedures/pathology (done elsewhere) by the UW pathologists, confirmed the rediagnosis from sarcoidosis to hypersensitivity pneumonitis. The doctor was very clear that I had to get the birds out, and once they were out, a deep cleaning of the house (wall washing, floors, furniture, etc.) that I was NOT, under any circumstances (even with my fancy respirator mask) to do myself.  Okay, but… “Have some friends come over to do this for you.”  Um, no. I would hire someone before I asked my friends to do a deep clean on my house.

The first thing I did was take the parakeets, Hugh and Cate, to the vet. I was going to give them away, probably via a Craigslist ad, but wanted to be sure they were healthy before I did so.  Hugh was dealing with some kind of mite or lice infestation – not horrible, but his feathers had looked a little rough for the past 8 months or so (I’d treated with mite control, using the vet’s recommended protocol, to no discernable improvement). Cate looked fine, so maybe there was something else going on with Hugh?  Sure enough, lab work showed he had some elevated kidney values, moving towards gout (who knew?). And here is where my angels helped me out. As the vet relayed the information about Hugh’s bloodwork and recommended treatment (and expense – I’d already spent over $200 for their checkup and lab tests) – fluids once a day for a week, retest blood work and re-evaluate treatment – I was simultaneously trying to digest the information and figure out what to do. She knew of my health situation, as I’d explained it to her/the clinic when I brought Hugh and Cate in for the exam, and then she very kindly and graciously offered me a solution. If I wanted to, I could sign Hugh over to the clinic, releasing ownership and entrusting his care and eventual adoption placement to them. I hesitated, thinking of Hugh – while he wasn’t a bird I’d handled regularly I still felt affection for him and of course responsible for his well-being. I’d had him for 8 years and he was a cheerful, beautiful little guy. But I knew the treatment he needed was outside my ability at that point, and I didn’t want to place him with the hope that whoever adopted him would do the right thing with his care (nor was it fair to place a sick bird with anyone). What was best for him was to sign him over to a place where he could get the care he needed. I brought him in a week or so later. The vet, Dr. Carter, gave me a hug as I signed the papers and said goodbye. I mostly held it together until I got in the car to leave, and then had to dig around in my glove box for a tissue to wipe the tears away so I could see to drive home.

For Cate, now alone, an equally miraculous solution occurred. She and Hugh weren’t bonded, and in separating them she actually seemed happier. They never fought, but they never seemed to hit it off (I’d had her about 3 or 4 years). The weekend after I placed Hugh with the vet, I went to a local spring fair with a friend who also raises Shetland sheep. It was a great chance for her and I to catch up on the drive down, and go see the sheep and fleeces, and booths from sheep farmers and wool vendors, plus chat with other sheep people we both knew. She asked about my health update as we drove back home that day, and I gave her the whole long story of the new doctor and findings all the way to the need to place the parakeets. As I yakked away, she began texting a coworker whose son was an animal lover and had recently said he wanted a parakeet. I didn’t even notice she was texting until she told me about this possible home being available. The coworker texted back that they had already gotten a parakeet, but said they would think about taking Cate too.  From the description, it sounded like a wonderful home, and I sent photos of Cate along with a description of her personality. It turns out the boy, aged 10 or 12, had wanted an all yellow parakeet, and was thrilled to see Cate was exactly what he was looking for. “It’s kismet,” he told his mother, who contacted my friend to let her know they’d take Cate. The boy renamed her Mango, which I just love.

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The badly placed kiwi vine (here when I moved in) once again trying to take over the front porch. I’ve lopped off nearly as much as you see here. I need to transplant him. I call him Groot.

So my house was parakeet-less for the first time in 10 years or more, and it was eerily quiet. But I knew it was for the best and it seemed miraculous that both birds were placed almost effortlessly into situations that were perfect for them. I cleaned up the area they’d been in, vacuuming well and wiping down the wall and windowsill where I’d kept the cage, and of course moving the cage out to the garage (and hosing it down outside first). Next on the agenda was testing my environment for toxins in the form of molds and bacteria.

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The plum tree was laden with its ping pong ball plums this year, the branches groaning under the weight.  The dogs and the sheep have been enjoying them.

I contacted one of the companies on the list the clinic had sent me. The fellow there, Payam Fallah, was a wealth of information, and we discussed my antigen test results and the animals I have here. Like my doctor, he too was a dog lover, which felt good.  Both of them not only understood the dog connection, they both confirmed that dogs/cats rarely are an issue in these cases. Payam also has a tortoise (I’d shared that my menagerie includes a box turtle), and we had a good discussion about our mutual love of animals. Again, this was reassuring – I didn’t want my animals to be automatic targets for removal because of an overall dislike of animals by the professionals I was dealing with.  He sent me sterile swabs/kits for me to take samples in my house. He told me that taking swabs in my detached garage – where I store the sheep’s hay (and the mold inherent therein, which I believe to be one of the major factors in the original manifestation of this health issue) – is pointless, as there are so many molds in the environment/outdoors. Okay…

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My sheep maintenance in my fancy new “deck chair” (sheep restraining tool) wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped.  The Shetlands are squirmy, and Trixie, above, probably the worst of the lot.

So I took four samples: one in the bathroom, one in the bedroom, one in my office, and one in the main room of living room/kitchen/“dining” (my house is tiny; this last area, at roughly 500 square feet, encompasses half of it).  A week later he emailed me the results.  Which basically said my little house was fine.  The highest mold readings were in the bathroom (duh), but a) the mold count wasn’t astronomical and b) the molds were not the ones that showed up on my antigen tests. The bedroom, where I was most concerned (for the crawlspace underneath), had a big fat doughnut for results. Which was good. Despite the fact that I sleep in a pile with the dogs (and a brave feline or two) every night, and the crawlspace was an unknown quantity (can’t access), absolutely nothing showed on the swab I took from a wall sconce above my pillow. Thankyoujesus.

I still want to do a swab in the garage, and maybe I still will (have one left, and spreading out the cost is a good thing too – out of pocket, it’s $40 each swab to see if anything grows). But the house is fine.

Now to figure out the chickens…

Health update on the lung thing {zzzzzzz}

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The ovine greeting crew when I get home from work every day.  From left, Mungo, Minnie, and Trixie.  Mungo and Trixie are Minnie’s twins from 2014.

So it’s been a few months since my last health update. One reason, as you might have guessed, is that I’m doing better, for the most part. No need to kvetch when you’re feeling well.  The second reason is simply that it’s deadly boring to go on about your health issues, and (something I’ve mentioned here before) it feeds the “unwell” and gives it power. Your illness becomes your story, your story is who you are and how you identify yourself, and you get sicker. Then there’s the old “Attention Whore” aspect, as my delightful niece-in-law put it (she’s dealing with her own very serious health condition with grace and dignity, a great attitude and humor!). Enough already, you know? So I’ve blogged about topics that interest me more – the farm, the birds, my bees. But a few of you may have wondered, so I’ll try and be brief (a challenge for me, Verbosity Queen that I am) and update here.

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Daisy reluctantly helping me test out my new sheep “deck chair” after I put it together. It’s  equipment to help me with sheep maintenance like hoof trims, vaccines, and worming.

First and foremost, I am seeing a new doctor. I went to see this doc as a “second opinion” type of thing back in October 2015, when I was doing well. Then,  just off 6 months of prednisone therapy and a dry, sunny summer, I felt fine, even great. Even so, seeing this pulmonary specialist in interstitial lung disease and a sarcoidosis specialist at the University of Washington (at my own request/initiation) seemed prudent. My higher self looking out for me, perhaps. It was a bit of a hassle to get there, which is why I hadn’t gone before, but my interactions with the pulmonologist I’d been working with so far hadn’t been reassuring or inspired trust.

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The bees bearding on a hot summer night. Basically hanging out on the stoop where it’s cooler, just like you or I would. But without the cold beer.

The visit with the specialist went really well. I had a good rapport and she went over my records (illuminating me further on things that hadn’t been shared before). Since I was doing so well at the time, she suggested a recheck in six months (April 2016). Six weeks later, however, the symptoms returned. I wasn’t as bad as the year before, when all this first started (November 2014), but breathing easily was an issue again. So I went back to the original pulmonologist and had the worst appointment ever. I think if I had been hit by a bus on my way out of the clinic she’d have been happy to be rid of me for good. I wrote about it here, with a promise to update but I never did.

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The junco’s nest I was watching in June/July.  Only one egg (of four) hatched, but the chick was gone within a week, likely a meal for a shrew.  The pair tried again in a new nest location, again with four eggs, but none of them hatched, though the female was diligent.  It looked like they weren’t fertile.  The cats invaded the nest (after it had been abandoned) and broke a few of the eggs – there was zero development.

I struggled along, dosing myself regularly with ibuprofen (3 tablets every 22 hours or so seemed to keep the inflammation manageable) and mostly feeling okay. If I didn’t walk fast, and anything physical was done with lots of breaks to stop and catch my breath, I managed okay. The best way to describe this is I feel like I’ve just run a 400-meter dash when all I’ve done is walk across the driveway to the garage. It’s not like asthma or other bronchial constrictions, where I can’t get enough air in physically, it’s more that when I do huff and puff, the oxygen isn’t making it to my bloodstream. Then, in February, everything came to a grinding halt with a ramping up of tasks and responsibilities at work, and accompanying high stress. The ibuprofen dosing wasn’t keeping up, even when I upped the frequency to every 12 hours. I called the specialist’s office. They set me up with a late March appointment, which sounded fine. A week later I was feeling bad enough (and, frankly, a little worried at how badly I was doing) that I called and asked if they could get me in sooner. My appointment was set for early March.

I went in for a 1:00 appointment, thinking I’d be home by 3:00 or so, but it was after 6 p.m. before I got home that night. First the respiratory therapist come in for my walking test. He hooked me up to the oximeter and we began the six minutes of walking at the fastest speed I was comfortable with – I’d aced it back in October.  Within a few dozen steps he stopped me, thinking the oximeter wasn’t hooked up right and needed adjustment. I looked at the number showing and said blithely, “No, that’s right. That’s what it does.” (I monitor my blood oxygen and pulse rate at home.) It was reading low 80s at that point (which wasn’t as bad as it got while I was feeding the sheep or caring for the chickens). He seemed alarmed and said “You need to be on oxygen.” And stopped the test. “No,” I protested, thinking it was no big deal, “I can just walk slower, I don’t need oxygen.” He wasn’t having it and took me back to the exam room to wait for the doctor.

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The male dark-eyed junco singing from the red huckleberry stump last month.  None of the songbirds are singing now – nesting season is over – so my  much loved Swainson’s thrush serenades are over until next May.

A few minutes later she came in and sat down.  After the initial greetings she said “I was thinking about you recently.” (Moi? I was more than a little surprised.) “You weren’t originally scheduled to come in today, were you?”

Well, this was a “You had me at hello” moment for me.  I saw her one time, five months previous, and if she even remembered who I was it would have been enough. This, though, had me glowing with a “you see me” warmth. “No,” I replied, “my appointment wasn’t for another two weeks, but I haven’t been doing well so I called to move it up.”  And off we went. I told her how I’d been doing, my symptoms, how they’d gotten worse, what I thought was going on (job stress), what was (or had been) working, etc. Then she told me how it was.

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The fruit of a manroot vine (Marah oreganus) along the driveway, looking very Dr. Seuss-ian.  A Northwest native, the fruits are about the size of a plum, the “spines” soft and fleshy. It’s a relative to cucumbers and gourds.

First of all, the reason she’d been thinking of me is because she had another patient with symptoms very similar to mine, who was also a referral (i.e., also already diagnosed when she came in). Like mine, the other patient’s symptoms and tests didn’t add up and when they looked into it further they found that, no, this other patient didn’t have sarcoidosis but rather hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP).  Hmm.

So she ordered up all my slides and pathology from my previous doctor/hospital and planned to have the UW pathologists review them. And she recommended more testing. We did a CT scan that day.  The results showed no change from the one done a year ago (meaning no worse, which is a good thing, considering how poorly I felt). And she also ran some antigen tests. An antigen is a substance that your body reacts against, such as molds, dusts, and chemicals. Last year I requested allergy testing – partly to buy time (the previous doc only seemed to really want to do the bronchoscopy) – which is a different thing (IgE vs. IgG).  Everything on those allergy tests last year came back normal, which wasn’t a surprise, but it ruled out things I was worried about (the dogs and cats). I don’t have allergies, and only very rarely react to something I’ve eaten or in my environment.  Antigen testing though is testing to see if I had things I was reacting to via antibodies (proteins that your body creates in response to antigens). This, if you’ll remember, was more what I was thinking was going on back in February 2015. Specifically with moldy hay and a condition called Farmer’s Lung. There are many antigen variances of HP – farmer’s lung, bird fancier’s lung, wine grower’s lung, woodworker’s lung, etc., and I asked the doc about testing in the home (I’ve been very concerned about potential molds in the crawlspace) and she supplied me with a list of companies that tested for home toxins. This felt like real progress, for the first time in a year!

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The flock is down to 10 and the freezer is full. The meat is excellent (from 4-year-old sheep).

And then she had me redo the walking test with oxygen. And I was a-mazed at the difference.  For weeks I hadn’t walked faster than a snail’s pace without running out of breath.  With the oxygen (turned up to twice the normal flow rate) I was almost back to a normal pace.  Wow!  It felt incredible! I guess they’re right {joking} But it unfortunately meant she wanted me to have oxygen at the house again. She was unimpressed with my fancy respiratory mask and the care I take (covering my hair, etc.) when feeding the sheep and insisted I get someone to feed them for me, and to keep my contact minimal. I understand her concern and insistence, but felt that until there was conclusive proof they were an issue, I would continue to take precautions and protect my breathing around the hay feeding.

The bottom line is the doctor feels that I probably don’t have sarcoidosis – even the radiologist’s report of my CT scan last year had zero mention of this as a possible diagnosis. I remember my last pulmonologist discussing the diagnosis after the bronchoscopy procedure (an abbreviated visit, where the doctor was talking fast and was very short with me—because I was 10 minutes late, I guess—and indicating the results weren’t entirely conclusive as sarcoidosis but that’s what they were going with for my diagnosis and treatment. Wait, what? Ookay. (?!) But now, this specialist pulmonologist was taking the time to go the extra mile and do some actual research into my case, and ME.  Again, this felt incredible. (Before this, with the other doctor, I felt like I was the only one doing any research into my case.)  And with this research, plus the further testing , she felt the much more likely diagnosis was HP for me. This was a good thing. I think?

~ To be continued~

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Gratuitous cuteness: Pal, in one of his rare moment of stillness (to be fair, he’s a doll in the house, calm and easy – it’s just outside that he runs and runs).  Note the gash under his eye, where he ran into a lone fencepost during a case of the zoomies.  He’s normally super agile, but it was dusk, and the fencepost is a leftover from fencing my vegetable garden  – ow! Heart this little guy!

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