Mo Bloggin'

A little o' this, a little o' that

Archive for the tag “Shetland sheep”

Unprecedented

It was holding at 97 until the sun hit.

June 27, 2021
Before I go much further (and I promise I won’t go on and on about it), I just want to tell you how much I am sick of hearing this word (the post title). For the past 18 months it’s all you hear, because, well, unprecedented was kind of the theme for the pandemic. I was surprised when it wasn’t the word of the year for 2020. But all that aside, there really aren’t adequate synonyms for unprecedented, so it’s really the only word for things that are so outside of the norm – way beyond extraordinary or exceptional – that they’re, well, unprecedented.  So here I am, using it for my blog post title, because we are having an unprecedented weekend of extreme hot weather. Temperature records held for decades are dropping like flies, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better (at least one more day to go, according to forecasts, and it will be the worst). Still, that old Linda Ronstadt song has been going through my head (for the chorus) – heat wave!

Western Washington historically gets maybe one or two days in the high 90s per year, during our short, two-month summers, and usually this heat isn’t until late July or early August. So this is, uh, unprecedented not only because of the extreme temps, but the earliness of it. And to think just 10 days ago we were dealing with pouring rain and 60 degree temps, more normal for us for sure. The biggest issue with this heat, though, is the fact that we’re not cooling off at night. We are lucky in this climate that even on our hottest days, it generally cools to the 60s or even 50s. But with this heat wave it’s not dipping below 70 at night, and that’s the biggest problem. Because there’s no way to cool the house down (central AC isn’t a thing here, because we so rarely need it). We’re managing, and drinking gallons of water, but I will be glad for Monday night, when it’s supposed to break.

Me and Farley, and the fuchsia basket I forgot to water, cooling off. Both Farley and the plant were noticeably revived by the soak.

Of all the critters here, the sheep seem to be handling it the best. I had contacted a shearer about 3 weeks ago and we were scheduled, fortuitously it turns out, for Wednesday (June 23) – one of the coolest days of the past 10. (A shoutout to Moonrise Shearing – Gina and crew did a fantastic job!) So they are all shorn and cute, and right now seem to be channeling their ancient desert ancestors, not their more recent Shetland Island predecessors. I have plenty of shade here (which I’ve lamented in past posts, but am grateful for now), but even with that, I just went out to check on them and Jackson is resting in the hot sun (head up, alert) like it’s only 60 degrees out. The rest are mostly in the shade, aside from the few out grazing.

Oh, and this is excellent for the turtles – it’s perfect turtle weather, and good for Haley especially. She’s been dealing with an upper respiratory infection recently, so I’m hoping this heat and sunshine will help (the soonest vet appointment I could get is July 5th!). Don’t mind Mary Shelley. I caught her doing her gymnastics the other day, or tryna to make a break for it, I’m not sure which. 😉

The manroot has made it almost all the way across the gate this year!

June 20, 2021
I started this post almost a month ago now, on a beautiful sunny morning much like the one I’m enjoying now, although we’ve had a hella lotta rain in between, with downpours where I’m sure more than one bird nest was lost – I hate when it comes down in buckets (cloudburst style) any time of year, but especially during nesting season. {Now, with this extreme heat, the risk is again great, especially for swallows nesting in eaves/roof areas.}

I’m in a funky place right now – a little stressed/depressed, and unfortunately my “go to” for this is always inertia rather than the action (any action, really) that would help me move through it. Work in progress there, for sure. A number of things are stressing me and my anxious second nature, but the main thing is of course, the dogs. Farley’s fading, and while he’s not ready to go, there is always a lot of stress around those last few months, especially if you’re lucky enough to have a dog reach Methuselah-age like him (16 at least!). Some days aren’t as good as others, and I tell myself that if he’s not better by the next day I’ll make the call. And he’s always better, and I’m always thankful, but there’s no question that there’s stress around this. He’s watching me now, giving his little high pitched woof-barks (so adorbs, trust me).  Attention barks – although I don’t always know what he wants. And I find that much of the time, neither does he. A treat? A pet? Go outside (we’re outside now).  He’s a little bit senile – at 16 you’re allowed that – and there’s a little bit of the “automaton” to many of the things he does: old habits, so deeply ingrained, that it seems he doesn’t even know why he’s doing them (mostly related to his wanderings around the yard). But he’s still mostly enjoying life. Like an old man of course, not like the sprite that came to me over 15 years ago – blasting a metaphorical hole into the dreariness that my life was at the time, mostly surrounding Cutter’s epilepsy (speaking of anxiety!). I took to him like glue, and he to me, and I remember feeling overwhelmed with how much I adored him, and more than a little guilty  – I love all my dogs deeply, and individually and for who they are, but there’s no denying that sometimes you love one “more than” another. He was so alive and vibrant and so full of spirited bird-dog exuberance that it was impossible not to fall trulymadlydeeply. {lump in throat, blinking rapidly} I’m grateful for every day.

June 1, 2021
One thing I have to say for the pandemic – I got really good at using a laptop keyboard! Working from home (and feeling so fortunate in that) for the past 15 months has given me a lot of insight and lessons. Most of it I already knew, or intuited (how much I would love it was a slam dunk), but the keyboard thing – a wee bonus. (Usually I get a regular keyboard to plug in.) Even the touch pad skills are better, although I still prefer a mouse, and am much more adept with a mouse.

We’re just coming off a 3-day weekend here (which I expanded on either side to a 5-day weekend – so. nice.) and the weather has been lovely – not a cloud in the sky today, and really warm. I’ve been slowly working on some gardening stuff, getting my herbs planted (medicinal and culinary). I decided to utilize the bed next to the porch, and had some reclaiming to do there. It was overgrown with grass, so I peeled out the sod, put a thin layer of sheep shed gleanings (soiled straw and “pellets”), then covered with some “compost” I purchased. Compost is in quotes because I bought a big bag of it and when I opened it looked like nothing more than finely ground wood chips. Oh well. It looks nice and thankfully most all of the herbs aren’t divas. I selected these herbs (medicinal) at a sale I attended with a friend last March, and I had a list of what I wanted (based on the list of items they had available) and wasn’t paying much attention to what these plants preferred with regard to full sun, shade, etc. With all the trees on the property, finding a truly sunny spot (like “full sun” all day long) is next to impossible. When I looked up details on each of the plants, it turned out all of them like…exactly what my little front garden bed can provide. Sun/part shade. Imagine that. So welcome elecampane, wood betony, licorice, and skullcap (so much skullcap!). I’m still working on a spot for the serviceberry, and I managed to overwater the bergamot corms and killed them, so will have to start again there.

Note, this little patch is one of Daisy’s favorite places to dig a day bed on warm days, so I’ll be watching it. And during the winter, in bad weather, she’s prone to taking a big steamy one in there, rather than venturing too far into the wet, yucky weather to do her business. I’m looking at cute garden fences to keep her out, and will have to watch the sheep when they’re out too, since they’re good at gobbling up anything I plant (there used to be a large patch of day lilies there, which evidently were very delicious).

**June 20th update – all of these things have happened. I came out one day to find the licorice plant lying in the heat, wilted and half-dead. Daisy had been out earlier in the day while I was at work inside and stealthily dug a nest. She dug up a few of the skullcap herbs too. Sigh. I replanted the licorice and watered heavily. The licorice perked back up, and we had some cool, wet weather after, so it is mostly recovered. The skullcap, like all members of the mint family, were like, thanks, mate – and the bent/broken stems just took it as an opportunity to spread.  A couple were completely broken off, lying wilted and dead, but I brought them inside and put them in a glass of water. They revived completely and are now covered with hairlike roots, ready to be planted.

A few days after the nest digging, I found a big ol’ Daisy log in there. Sigh again. It had been raining hard, and she doesn’t like to get wet, so a quick trip out the door for potty time is just that when it’s raining out.  And the sheep have tasted all of the new occupants, although they don’t seem interested in the betony, and the elecampane isn’t much of a draw either. They have, however, pulled out the stock plants several times. As a flowering annual I purchased, the stocks hadn’t had enough time to dig in any roots. I’ve replanted, but between being ripped up and dined on multiple times, I’m not expecting much more from them. Which is sad, because the scent is divine. I don’t grow a lot of froo-froo plants here – flowers must either be bee food and/or a good smeller, or part of a plant I’m growing for other reasons (e.g., my herbs) – but stock and phlox will always have a place. I was at the store recently and bought a nice healthy phlox plant, and since it was a two-fer deal, I also got a pot of carnations too, for the fragrance. I know they’re kind of an old lady scent, but I’ve always loved the spicy clove smell of carnations.

It’s cherry season here, and the cherry tree is again laden with fruit for the birds. The robins are fortified, and then there are the black headed grosbeak, cedar waxwings, and western tanagers it brings in. The red huckleberries, on the old growth stumps on either side of the cherry, are also a big draw, especially for the Swainson’s thrush. A northern flicker was in the cherry this morning filling up. Unfortunately a couple of gray squirrels have also been up in there. Rats with cuter outfits, these fat non-natives are destructive and wasteful, and scare off the birds as well. Daisy and Pal keep them treed up there when we’re outside.

Advertisement

Oy! {hi!} Didja miss me?

20181028_135231

We had a gloriously dry October – the fall color was stunning.

And oy! for the other meaning {face palm}! Again I’ve let my blog slide. And again I can say “the longest gap ever.” It speaks volumes, I know. But really, it’s been busy. I’ve had a full summer, and have spent a lot of time wrestling with “stuff.” Time slips by quickly, and even though I’ve written a half dozen blog posts since June, I’m obviously not getting all the way to WordPress with them. No promises this time about getting back on schedule (I don’t want to embarrass myself again), but fingers are crossed, wood is being touched/knocked, and, well, here’s hoping.

Rio with ball

Foster dog Rio – I had to tether him for the first few days, until he got used to the sheep and property.  He stayed here two weeks until the absolute perfect home for him came along.

The biggest issue, and one of my favorite things over the past 4 months, has been Rottweiler rescue, but it also took over my life. Again. It is one of the more rewarding and fulfilling things I’ve done in a long while (reliving my 20s – ha!), and when I realized I was forsaking all other tasks (including the most important one of all—re-engineering my future income!), I realized–with the help and wise council of a dear friend, who is also an amazing life coach–that I had to let it go. Again. At least for now. There were some lovely dogs that came through, and a few homes I could only dream about (I’m talking about you, Max), but ultimately it came down to the same thing it came down to in 1995–too many Rottweilers and not enough qualified homes. A lot of the recent dogs have “issues” too, that will take a special home and hand to rehabilitate the dogs (resource guarding, anxiety, fears, and other behavioral challenges), making them very, very hard to place (if anyone is interested in them—and not many are—then they need to be very experienced dog people, preferably Rottweiler experience). I hope to take up rescue again in six months or so, once I get the biz launched and a steady income flowing in. By then I will have quit the life-draining day job (and attendant soul-sucking commute) and will not only have more time (fingers crossed) but be in a much better place emotionally.

IMG_20181102_184440_140I’m excited about the future plans, and (still) terrified at the same time. I know I can do this, but the overwhelm can be a little intense at times. I’ve been keeping busy with a couple of side jobs, including writing for Rover.com (see a couple of my articles here: https://www.rover.com/blog/is-my-dog-fighting-or-playing-how-to-tell-the-difference/ and https://www.rover.com/blog/dog-wheezing-when-to-worry/; I have my business cards, am still working on revisions to/refining my website, and working on updating my LinkedIn page as well. I am taking classes and trainings (online) and trying to get back on track with focusing on this (vs. the tug of Rottweiler rescue). There’s a lot going on as I ramp up for this, not the least of which are the “head games” with myself. When I stop and settle myself, I am confident, and know I’ll have success and prosperity in this new chapter in my life, where I leave everything I have known (with regards to earning income) behind, and strike out into the territory ahead. I want to say it’s unknown territory, but hundreds of thousands have done or are doing the same, so it’s not like there isn’t a path to follow. Still, with little effort I can terrify myself into inertia, hiding under the proverbial covers, or watching TV to zone out and escape my fears. I’m not very productive at times, yet that still small voice inside keeps me on track.

20181111_142249

Farley with Blackcap. So cute! The dogs routinely squeeze Blackcap off of the chair, but the Setter boys will usually share. Daisy just lays on top of her.

Meanwhile, my own beasts–canine, feline, and ovine, not to mention apinae (the bees)– keep me happy and comforted. The dogs are doing their daily heavy lifting, keeping me joyful and grounded. Just stepping over the threshold every evening, after a long day and commute, lifts my heart and my step. The cats are each paragons of supreme feline energy, and each affectionate in her own, inimitable way. And my little flock of sheep make me happy as well. (My #julyphotoproject, Faces of MacFinn Farm, on Instagram has photos of every single resident here.)

I recently had a farm tour here (a group of fiber enthusiasts touring Shetland sheep farms) and realized, again, how much I love keeping sheep, and my wee flock. Yes, I still need to whittle down the numbers, but I really like the flock size too. Selling 3 or 5 would help ease pressure on the pasture, reduce the hay bill, and result in lighter work with regard to clean up, but when they run around as a group (as they did for the tour – a fellow blogger on the tour described it as “performed like a drill team”) and provide me with their bucolic sheepy energy, chewing cud on the hillside on a sunny fall day, well, it doesn’t get much better than this.

And, exciting news, I found a new MacFinn resident back in October (after the #julyphotoproject). As I was feeding the sheep after work one evening, I saw this guy, right in the middle of the opening to the pasture. He was about 8 inches long, and I scooped him (or her) up and took photos, thinking this had to be some kind of escaped pet lizard, although given where I found him and my proximity to neighbors, and the relatively cold weather (for a reptile) I couldn’t figure out how to make sense of that scenario/premise. I brought him inside and put him under a light, offered mealworms, and he basically told me he wasn’t a tame creature (didn’t like the light, shunned the mealworms). I turned off the light and he calmed down, and by the time I did some google research, I realized he was probably a native. Specifically a Northern Alligator Lizard. Knock me over with a feather! I’ve been roaming the Cascade foothills pretty much my whole life and have never, ever seen one, or even knew that they existed. I released him the next morning (a foggy, cold morning – I felt bad putting a reptile outside in this weather, but…), letting him loose in the exact place I found him the night before. He scurried off into the sheep pasture (too close to cloven hooves for my comfort, but hey) and I was chuffed to know that I had this new-to-me, very cool resident here at MacFinn. I’ve seen amphibians (frogs and salamanders) and plenty of birds and mammals, but this is the first reptile. So Nature continues to provide awe and inspiration and wonder. That’s why I remain in love with her.

As I come up to my annual solar return tomorrow, I am even more appreciative of my friends and family, connections and relationships that, over time, have become deeper and more meaningful. Two “pre-func” events, a long luncheon with longtime, dear friends on Saturday and then dinner with other longtime, dear friends on Sunday, made my weekend a special one, realizing how lucky I am.

IMG_20181028_140018_129

That’s a wrap

20171225_014941

The little homestead. MacFinn Farm.

Here we are again, at the end of another trip around the sun, the holiday season winding up, the days growing longer (even if we can’t tell yet). The year ended with mixed reviews for me. Mostly it’s just another year, with highs and lows in equal measure (although I’m not keeping score there), but so much going on in my country politically is upsetting, with nearly every day bringing a new outrage from the nation’s capitol. It’s too much to take in some days, and my blog, as I’ve designed it (at least this one), isn’t a place for that discussion. I have faith our ship will right itself, but it’s going to require all hands on deck to do so.

20171125_133424

I cry nearly every time I think of him. He was truly exceptional. I am lucky to have had him even for just two months.

A personal loss hit me hard a couple weeks ago – I’m still too raw to write about it here, and may never, but a friend called it a tragedy, for that is what it felt like. Because I dislike (intensely) when people are cryptic about these things, for now I can only say, in a nutshell, that I lost my darling Braider—after only two months with me—to a sudden onset, acute autoimmune condition. More information, for now, is here. It has left me devastated, but I simply cannot end the year with this as the marker. So I am going to focus on some really good, even great things that happened in the past few months.

20171217_115918

I took three ewe lambs to their new home on Whidbey Island a couple of weeks ago. Minnie’s black ewe lamb, Trixie’s white ewe lamb, and Cinnamon’s girl, Ginger.

One thing, which maybe isn’t a big deal to others, but is kinda awesome for me, is I finally got my new kitchen faucet installed. New kitchen faucet, you say? Yes! For an embarrassingly long time (like, over a year) I’ve been dealing with a faucet that had almost no flow. Water trickled out in a leisurely way, with a gallon jug taking several minutes to fill. It was getting worse and worse. I checked the water hoses under the sink, but my water filter’s faucet had/has great pressure, and though tiny in comparison, filled at 4 times the rate of the main faucet. I looked at it from underneath, thinking I could take it apart and remove grit (the likely culprit) but when I looked, I could see there’d be no accessing anything there. So, I planned to replace it. I was looking forward to getting a single handle with a pull down sprayer. I shopped and shopped, but never pulled the trigger. Finally, last August, I settled on a design by Moen that also had good reviews. I bought it at the local box store so, if I had to, it would be easier it return. It sat in the box for weeks, then months. I was waiting until my water filter tanks needed replacing (a major operation and I figured it would be a good time to install the faucet).  In early November, at long last, the water filter needed replacing. I put it off, and put it off, intimidated by the faucet job. I watched YouTube videos on replacing kitchen faucets. I read the instruction manual. I procrastinated. I contemplated, a few dozen times, calling a plumber. Then, Thanksgiving week, while I had some extra days off, I did it. I pulled everything out from under the sink, got the water filter tanks moved out and grabbed a couple old rugs and some towels for support for my back. I got the wrenches and pliers and whatever else I could think of. Then, after almost chickening out, I started in. And three hours later (and only one run to the hardware store and one phone a friend (the two fellas I called weren’t around, so I had to soldier on without advice)), it was in!

And it looks FABULOUS, if I do say so myself. The water comes out at a normal flow, the pull down sprayer is awesome (I had eliminated the side sprayer that was here when I installed the water filter faucet back in 2011) and, who knew, the sink itself stays a million times cleaner than it did with the trickle faucet.  It’s nice to rinse a dishrag or kitchen sponge and have it really rinse clean, and the whole kitchen stays cleaner because of it.  I ROCK!

Another great thing is my job got cooler. A couple months ago I wrote about my deep unhappiness with things in that department, mostly due to my own yearning for something more, but also because of some “challenging dynamics.” The dynamics have changed, although the work load is still crazy at times, and best of all, my location has changed. My company moved to a new office (only a couple blocks away from the old one) and the new workplace is wonderful. It’s in a brand new building, and the office interior design is open and clean and bright. No more rat maze of gray, six-foot high cubicle walls. My desk, while still essentially a cubicle, is open and airy and is a corner office. Seriously, it’s one of the nicest locations in the entire office, IMO, and I’m still pinching myself, wondering what I did to deserve it (well, other than hard work and dedication). I have a stand desk, too – a real one. My old one was one of those desktop lift jobs, clunky and heavy and hard to get just right. This one moves up and down at the touch of a button. I find I stand a lot more now because it’s so ergonomically comfortable. The view of little ol’ downtown Bellevue is wonderful, with a peek-a-boo view of Lake Washington and the I-90 floating bridge. In our first or second week here a pair of bald eagles were wheeling around over a nearby building. The evening lights are really pretty, and I just realized as I wrote this that I look down (over) at the location where I bought my first car, many, many years ago, before Bellevue had a single high-rise. The Pontiac dealer was on the corner of NE 8th and 108th, and my bus went by it every day on the way home from my first job. I used to stare at the shiny new cars as we waited at the stoplight, and locked in on one of the models on the lot, and bought my little Sunbird – a hatchback, so I had a car for my first dog, Mikey, to ride in. Times change; priorities, not so much.

20171225_015008Last on the list here, we wound up the year with a fabulous white Christmas, the best one ever in all my years here (I’ve lived here most of my life, but spent some early years in New Jersey, where white Christmases were common). It snowed all Christmas Eve, and by the morning there were about 6 inches of white covering the world. It’s Puget Sound snow, so not light and fluffy, but we’d been cold and dry for the week prior to the snow (versus the typical rainy and wet), so it wasn’t the usual half-slush we get. I spent a quiet day at home with the dogs (recovering from a cold virus that was kicking my butt), alternately playing outside with them (Daisy LOVES the snow) and then coming inside to curl up with a hot mug of tea and watching Christmas movies while eating way too much Christmas chocolate. It was perfect.

20171225_110930

Daisy, looking fine with her herd of wee Shetlands.

Still no rain, still hot, and still wonderful

20170826_194006

These crazy maples.

The summer is slowly waning and I am trying to soak up every moment that I can. The days are already over 2 hours shorter than they were in June, but we still have plenty of sunshine and heat during the days. I am in awe of the beauty, day after day. I look at the baked-dry hard ground and wonder how it will ever become wet again, just as I wonder in January if it will ever, ever become dry again.  I need to plant a couple things, but the ground is so rock hard and dry, I’m waiting.

 

The beasts are enjoying the weather as well. The sheep maybe not as much, since forage has been scarce for weeks now. They’ve eaten everything they can reach that’s edible (to their palates), and without rain, nothing’s growing back yet. After my leaky pipe escapade last spring, I’m reluctant to tap the well any more than I need to, so haven’t been watering as much as I’ve done in the past. Regardless, the well can’t keep up with that kind of volume (irrigation-levels) anyway. The grass is mostly brown and dry so I’ve been feeding them hay for months now, as I usually do (we’re done with grazing by July, most years – a two-month season at best). I bought a couple of tons of hay a month ago. It was a good price, but there is a prodigious amount of waste as it’s sneakily stemmy stuff.  A third-cutting orchard grass, it’s green and fairly soft, unlike the spiky handle of first cutting (which is a waste of money, with this crew).  They like this stuff and eat it well enough, but there are wheelbarrows-worth of what is essentially straw to haul out of the pen each week, after they’ve eaten all the green. It’s really nice not to have to run to the feed store every weekend, and that’s a plus, but the savings ratio to the increased waste (and extra work) ratio – it’s a wash, really.  And at least the straw is light and easy to load up/haul.

20170719_204314

One of these is not like the others.  And she doesn’t eat hay, either.  The sheep loved the delivery of hay.

The lambs are growing at a good pace, with a couple of them nearly as big as an adult (or so it seems – there’s a lot of fluff with the lambswool coats they’re wearing). I’ve placed a couple of ads on FB groups I belong to, but though there’s some interest, no one’s that interested. Craigslist is the next step, and I’ve girded my loins and placed an ad there. My goal is to get the flock down to winter numbers (10 or 11) by November 1. I have a couple favorites out of the new lambs who are definitely staying, and wish I had room for just a couple more. I really like Meg’s white wether.  He’s a confident little guy (stands up to Daisy!), with curlicue horns and great conformation, plus what looks to be a very nice fleece. I am wavering on him still. Part of what makes me hesitate is his friendliness. I am ridiculously swayed by this anymore. I am sorely tired of freak-out sheep and am slowly weeding out those that are too spooky. I was going to sell Rudy, but the little guy has just grown on me. I hopehopehope his fleece will be nice, so my sentimentality will be rewarded. At this point his lamb fleece is soft but fairly open, so it’s hard to say.

Right now the termites are hatching, providing the annual feast for spiders, bats, and all manner of insectivores, including dragonflies – I’ve seen them nab a termite in midflight and it is so cool! Sadly, my chickens aren’t here to enjoy the bounty. I remember how they’d stay up late this time of year, long past their bedtime, as the new termites flew out from the rotted stump near the coop, hopping up to catch the hapless termites, new to flying and clumsy with their long wings. I miss the chooks, but it’s getting less and less sharp. Knowing it was necessary for my health didn’t make it any easier but so far it seems like it made a difference. A lot of people have asked me about my health, how the ol’ lungs are doing, etc. I feel good – better than I have in, well, years (since 2014, at any rate). The lung thing slammed into my life in November of that year. For the first time in two years I’ve been meeting my Fitbit goal nearly every day, and my weekly reports from Fitbit are no longer something I’d rather delete. And I do this without even trying—just everyday activity. On work days, most of my steps are between 5 pm and midnight, and it’s so great to be able to do things without thinking, and even if I get out of breath, it’s only a moment and I’m okay, where before I would have to stand huffing and puffing for a long time before I caught my breath. I wear my respirator mask any time I am working a lot with the hay. I have to say that I’ve occasionally been less strict with it (because, frankly, it’s a pain in the arse in the heat) but every time I do this I kick myself.

20170808_191950

Pal, looking like a Saluki mix.  The dog can run, and he does!  It’s hard to keep weight on him this time of year.  I wish I were half as fit as he is.

Another beautiful evening is winding down. It’s shortly after 8 p.m. as I write this and dark is coming on fast. The sun set at 7:43 tonight, and we’re down to a little over 13 hours of daylight now, compared with nearly 16 daylight hours in June. I need to put the sheep in their pen for the night, but am stretching out the quiet, the twilight magic, for as long as I can.

IMG_20170720_214112_032

Gratuitous cuteness: The old guy, Farley, with his new toy.  Heart this dog to bits!

What the hay?

20170625_132136

It may look gentle and green, but it’s a SCORCHER out there.

After a cool and very wet spring (that followed an especially wet and waterlogged winter), summer hit us this weekend with a blast of tropical heat. My phone’s weather app is schizophrenic – 99 one minute and 97 the next. Next time I looked it was 102, and then updated to 94. ?! Suffice it to say it’s hot out there. I feel especially bad for the half dozen sheep I haven’t sheared yet. I started one last weekend and she was just too fractious – for her safety and mine. I haven’t had time since and it was way too hot this morning to try, but they are all doing okay by staying quiet and in the shade most of the day. I move them to the pen at night and fill the hay feeder – they ate a LOT of hay last night in the cool of darkness. And about that hay…

20170625_162802

You can’t see the nice, if warm, breeze blowing.  They are keeping cool as they graze down to the nubbins. (My King Conservation District agent would admonish me for this.)

I’ve lamented here before about my many trees and shade (grateful for them right now, of course) and the shade being in opposition with my pasture grass growth. My pasture grass could use a lot of other help too (still need to do a soil test, but I’m 100% sure it could use a paycheck’s worth of liming), but I also have too many sheep grazing on it, especially given its overall weakness. Ideally I wouldn’t have more than 4 Shetlands on it in its current conditions of too much shade, lime deficiency, etc., for it to keep up and provide fodder for more than a month or so. My goal is to keep the flock number to 10 or below, and I’ve not always been completely successful at this. With the lambs this year, I’m currently at 22 (!!) sheep. While I love the sound of that – I would love to keep 22 sheep full time – and 12 of them only weigh 30- 40 pounds each right now, it’s just not feasible here. So even with 10 sheep, I feed hay roughly 10 or 11 months a year. They graze and browse a LOT during May through June, but hay is the primary food source once the May/June jungle growth stops at solstice.

So I buy the best hay I can find, on a weekly quest to find the greenest, leafiest second cutting orchard grass that I can. Every weekend two hay bales go into the back of my long-suffering old CRV. I’ve tried to buy a ton at a time and have it delivered, but that’s not worked out well. One year I bought a locally grown second cutting which looked great when I bought a couple sample bales, but when it was delivered, only about 10% was that nice. The rest was stemmy crap that the sheep wasted with abandon. That was $750 well spent – NOT. Another time I got some “nice” green stuff grown in eastern Oregon…that was loaded with mold and dust/dirt, and, frankly, was probably one of the triggers for my lung thing. So now I range out every weekend, finding a consistently good product at a feed store about 15 miles and a 30-minute drive away. Not the one 5 minutes away (generally a good product, but for a lot more money), or the one 20 minutes away (not consistently good). But any way you slice it, hay from eastern Washington is pretty much the gold standard here for quality/value. And it’s grown in an area with soils notably deficient in the trace mineral selenium. And that, I believe, is at the crux of the problems I had lambing this year.

Like all shepherds, I give my sheep free choice minerals (loose minerals are best for sheep, not a block to lick). This includes salt, of course, but also other trace minerals, including selenium but NOT including a lot of copper (some is important, but not at the rates of other livestock like goats and cattle, as too much copper is toxic to sheep). The sheep have a mineral feeder that is kept full at all times. About 18 months ago I needed more and purchased a bag of a well-known brand that I hadn’t used before. I poured it in the feeder and they nibbled at it. It’s red in color, and more than once I had a fright going out to check on the flock and had a sheep turn to look at me with “bloody” lips. They nibbled at it, but never seemed to nibble much. That’s all right, you don’t want them chowing down on it, but it wasn’t until I had these issues that I realized that that bag I purchased 18 months ago lasted much, much longer than it should have (and I still have some!). So they weren’t eating it as much as they should have, or needed to, and with their selenium-free hay, probably weren’t getting nearly enough of this important trace mineral. When I worked with the vet (and got the recommendation from other, more experienced Shetland shepherds) the first thing mentioned was that a selenium injection be given to my weak babies. And when I saw the dramatic results, it was a face palm moment. While it wasn’t outright White Muscle disease (at least not the acute symptoms) I believe the overall weakness I saw in several of the lambs, and even the birthing issues (C-Kerry’s weak, premature lambs, Pebbles’ very weak ewe lamb, and even the almost 4-hour delay between Duna’s twins’ birth, and her ultimate rejection of the second one), are likely due to this deficiency.

Once I figured this out, I purchased a new bag—and a different brand—of sheep mineral mix. Right away I knew it was a better product. It had the texture and odor I was used to, and, more important, the sheep love it. I cleaned out what was left of the red stuff from their feeder, and poured in about 3 or 4 cups of the new stuff. And had to replace the EMPTY feeder within a couple days!  They were on it like white on rice, as the saying goes. After that first week the consumption has decreased to a normal level, but they love it and are actually using it as it is intended. More telling, the lambs are in it (before they were at weaning stage), and the one I see most frequently in it is C-Kerry’s ewe lamb, who was so weak for her first week that I was afraid I would lose her. She loves it more than any of the other lambs, but the other ones I see most frequently eating it are also the ones I was most worried about as newborns. Go figure and Nature knows best. And, of course, lesson learned.

20170625_173710

Growing fast.  N-Kerry and her white ewe lamb, and C-Kerry’s black ram lamb being obnoxious.  (Need to get the boys all banded soon!)  And Rudy in the back.  He’s adorable.

As a Shetland shepherd, I know my sheep are thrifty, easy keepers. They are hardy and tough, and can survive and produce good wool without being coddled with daily grain or a fancy barn. My sturdy little flock is no exception, and survived even my ignorance in this vital nutrient. I had a lot of firsts with this lambing season – first premies, first time tube feeding, first full-on rejection (likely also due to the mineral deficiency) and first bottle baby. I knew they weren’t eating a lot of their minerals, but didn’t know that could be such an issue. I didn’t know any better. But now I do. They say shepherds never stop learning, and after 7 years of shepherding these amazing little woolies, I can say that’s definitely true. Thankfully, my resilient wee beasts survived my ignorance.

20170625_163917

Despite the heat, Trixie was all cuddles and snuggles today, all but climbing into my lap. We posed for a selfie.

Lambing Season 2017 – Part 2

IMG_20170504_191740

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.

IMG_20170524_193758_546

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.

20170504_220930

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.

20170505_001944

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.

20170505_082344

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.

20170508_184803

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).

20170508_192030

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.

20170509_165743

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

Lambs @ MacFinn Farm 2017!

20170427_182826

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!)

img_20161218_142412

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.

20170502_190403

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.

20170505_204828

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.”

20170502_155427

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).

20170502_183335

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…

20170528_185745

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

To be continued…

Health update on the lung thing {zzzzzzz}

20160722_190306

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.

20160717_172214

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.

20160729_191448

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.

20160716_165931

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.

20160711_201107

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.

20160616_191131

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!

20160717_134744

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~

20160722_215156

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!

A good grass year

20160710_154007

Everything is still green and juicy.  Can you see the bird dog on point?

It rained again last night.  We’ve been having an unusually wet July so far, and though I’d normally be complaining, I’m totally good with it this year.  After last year’s drought, and the year before not much wetter, not to mention our freaky, end-of-times heat wave this past April, it feels good, even soothing, to have what is essentially a normal weather year. And yes, it’s great for grass growing on my shade-challenged little hillside. Last year the grass was done by the end of June. Once solstice passes, the whole growth thing shifts. Everything seeds out and if there’s no water the grasses just go dormant. I don’t have the well capacity (or hose capacity!) to do much more than spot watering so these rains are welcome. The sheep are still getting plenty of graze considering the time of year and the flock size. To that end, I’m managing the sheep differently than in previous years, partly because of the number – I just don’t have the grazing capacity, given the aforementioned shade challenges, to run much more than 5-head. And until two days ago, I’ve been running 11. Now it’s down to 9 (my freezer will be full in a week) and that will ease the pressure. So I feed hay pretty much year round, just less of it when the grass is growing. I’m still making decisions with the flock, and hope to breed this fall – it’s been a few years since my last lambs – and I’m culling for both fleece quality and temperament. After Minnie’s twins turned out to be as friendly as two puppies (and have remained so, two years later, bringing their mother along), I discovered how delightful it can be to have easy, approachable sheep. And seriously, on this small setup it’s crazy to do otherwise. So the wild, untamable ones are slowly being weeded out. I still have a couple more out there, but one will likely stay until her natural end (sentimental, plus she’s an excellent mother who produces babies that are not as wild as her) and the other one, well, we’ll see.  After she lambs she may be easier, plus I culled her dam, and I’m hoping without that freak-out influence from her mother she’ll follow the lead of the rest of the flock and at least get close enough to nose-touch my outstretched hand.

The songbird season has also shifted since solstice, with babies seemingly everywhere. And the song is changing. The Swainson’s daytime song has decreased as nesting goes into full swing. It’s one thing to mark your territory with song, it’s another to attract potential predators with them, and setting females and then the hatchlings and nestlings are very vulnerable. Plus the territories are well established now as everyone’s nesting.  The evening song is still magical, though I’ll miss it when it ceases altogether in another few weeks. I can guess where certain species are in their nest cycles by their song: the black-headed grosbeak had been insistent and melodic the last week, so are probably on  nest/brood number two now); the robins are still melodic but slowing down, with probable nesting number three underway, for the last of the season before it’s time to bulk up for winter migrations. The tanagers and western wood peewees are intermittent as well. Everyone is too busy to sing, with all those mouths to feed. And here the rain is helpful too, as it keeps the insect populations bountiful as well, so feeding the babies is easier. The drought last year was hard on everyone, from grass to invertebrates to feathered and woolly residents.

20160704_204847

Still filled with song in the evenings.

I saw a fat baby robin fly after its parent down the driveway as I was leaving for work one morning. And the other day I came home to a juvenile crow hopping and poking around the driveway as my car followed it slowly up to the gate. It finally flew up to the gate rail, then up to a low cedar branch when I got out of the car. There weren’t any screaming parents around, or any other crows at all, which was odd, because although it was fully feathered, it shouldn’t have been alone. I wondered if maybe it got bonked by a car as it flew too low across the road, and maybe lay stunned long enough that the parents left it for dead. Even that would be odd – crows are excellent parents and don’t give up easily. I was bringing the yard waste and garbage bins up from the road, and he watched me nervously from his branch. I picked some thimble berries from along the driveway, and pulled a little bit of meat off the rotisserie chicken I’d just purchased at the grocery on the way home, and put these on top of the yard waste bin, close to where he was perched, and left him there to go up to the house and unload the groceries. An hour or so later I went down to check. He was gone, and the meat and berries still on the top of the bin (Farley was right there for the meat). I hope he found his way back to his crow family.

A brown creeper nested in the loose bark of a cedar tree along the driveway.  I couldn’t get a good shot of the parent bird coming in or out, but coming out the view was akin to someone trying to get into their skinny jeans, as she squeezed out of this impossibly small space to go get more insects for the babies.

And then there are my dark-eyed juncos, a.k.a. Oregon juncos. In early June I was trimming some overgrown salmonberry branches I’d cut from behind the fence line, walking over to dump them into the pasture for the sheep, when a bird suddenly flitted from underneath my feet. I looked to see a junco on the fence, tsking madly at me. I turned to where I’d just walked. Juncos are ground nesters, usually tucking their perfect little nest beneath a fern or hidden in a bit of weedy overgrowth.  But there was nothing nearby…or was there?  It was all grass, but I saw a larger tuft of grass and walked back and…sure enough. This seemed extreme, even for a junco. But really, what better camouflage then  “in plain sight.” The only problem with this, aside from the fact that I’d nearly flattened it walking to the fence, is it was perilously close to Pal’s flight path – he runs down the driveway multiple times a day at breakneck speed (Farley too, though he’s not as fast as he once was), in the grass just to the right of the driveway tracks. If he didn’t find the nest with his mad bird dog skillz, then surely he would trample it by accident. And the sheep run down there too, grazing on the grass and sometimes galloping and leaping and tossing their heads in sheepy exuberance, sometimes being rounded up by an exuberant Daisy. No one would see this nest in time. So I added this bit of attractiveness to the landscape – the junco kiddie corral. (click on the photos for captions)

Judging by their size and feathering, I figured them to be a few days old when I first found them. They fledge (leave the nest) in 14 days, so it wasn’t too long before they were gone, off with mom and dad to the safety of the pasture and woods, with their little calls a zippery sound that’s hard to describe; it almost sounds like tiny chains being dropped. The male kept watch, flying and singing his song, helping feed the kids and warning them of any dangers.

A week or so later another pair were up by the house, the male trilling loudly from the corner of the roof, boisterous and animated, and, with a little anthropomorphism thrown in, one could say proudly. And the female was nearby, letting me get remarkably close as she hopped around the driveway, picking up bits of dried grass and dog hair so she looked like she was sporting a bushy, 1880s-style mustache. She’d fly off furtively and disappear with her beakful of nesting material, but I knew it had to be close. I finally was able discover its location by watching from inside the house. The pair would land on the railing of the back porch frequently, setting the cats to chittering at the window in feline excitement. So I hid in the door of the closet to watch them and saw the female duck behind a tuft of grass at the bottom of my retaining wall. Voila!  I checked it for several days in a row – the sheep ate a large fern leaf that was providing much of the cover – dang. First it was just the nest, looking completed, but no sign of the pair, no scolding. Maybe they abandoned the site? The next day there was one single egg there. The following day, a second egg, and a day later, egg number three and then she was setting on them. Time to put up the Junco kiddie corral again. This one would have to protect against the chickens too. The first nest was further down the driveway than they usually wander this time of year (plenty to eat up by the house), but this nest is within a few feet of my back door and if the chickens found it the eggs, or hatchlings, would be quite the delicacy (the chickens love stuff like this and regularly eat the cats’ abandoned hunting trophies: shrews, mice, small voles).

The fence against the wall would deter all but the cats. I could add some netting over the top, to prevent the most obvious access (the wall is about 4 feet tall here), but the cats can squeeze through the bottom openings of the woven wire fence too. I could put up chicken wire around the bottom (and with all this construction, I worry about disturbing the juncos enough that they abandon the nest). So the solution is total cat confinement for the next few weeks. The female began setting on June 29, which means the babies will hatch around July 10th (nothing so far) or 11th, and they’ll be fledged by July 25 at the latest. Then the cats can start going out at night again. Maybe. In the meantime it’s a bit of a circus keeping them from darting out the door every time I open it. They begin to get stir crazy after a while. All my area rugs are bunched up in the mornings, as they attack them and chase each other around at night, batting found objects around (something clicky/draggy last night – have no idea what it was). I found their cat carrier pushed across the floor of the loft one morning – not sure who was doing what up there, but sometimes living with cats is like living with monkeys – they get into everything and everywhere, sometimes literally climbing the walls, but certainly the window screens and clawing up the furniture.

20160612_121221

One of my favorite field guides.  My ex-mother-in-law gave it to me many years ago, and I reference it often this time of year.

 

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.

Post Navigation

Shepherds Extravaganza

Fiber Event, sheep, goats, wool, mohair, spinning, weaving and more!

Saying Hello to Goodbye

Lessons of loving and losing an animal companion

eileenanddogs

What my dogs teach me

awesomedogs

Dog News and Views for Pets and their People: From Pet Columnist Yvette Van Veen www.awesomedogs.ca

The Science Dog

By Linda P. Case

The Tangled Nest

creative wild life

john pavlovitz

Stuff That Needs To Be Said

bookish

looking at the world through book-colored glasses

Ultimate Guide To Needle Felting In The Felt Hub

Make your creative dreams come to life with free needle felting tutorials, downloads, tips, ideas, and inspiration. Start your needle felting journey today!

Anna Blake

Horse Advocate, Trainer, Clinician, & Author

The First Ten Words by Rich Larson

Because a guy has to keep his chops sharp

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

Citizens for Duvall

A grass roots group that gives a voice to its citizens outside of city council meetings.

camino times two

walking together on the way of saint james

KURT★BRINDLEY

novels. poetry. screenplays. filmmaking. endless musings...

Hen Corner

A little bit of country life in West London...

morrisbrookfarm

Going back...a return to rural life

Relaena's Travels

Eternal Journeys of a Curious Mind

The Global Warmers

8 dogs, 2 elderly adults and an aging RV

KDD & Co

Award-winning Scottish publishing and design

Fiber Trek

Calling the wild back to craft

Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey Blog

musings on bees, life, & nature near Mt. Baker Washington

An American Editor

Commentary on Books, eBooks, and Editorial Matters

ella gordon

textile maker

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

Squash Practice

A Growing Concern

Food, Farming and Faith in Snohomish County

Icelandic Fiber Farming in Cascadia

Carol Lea Benjamin on Dogs

Understanding dogs and the many roles they play in our lives

Mo Bloggin'

A little o' this, a little o' that

Living Your Sacred Livelihood

Weaving the Wisdom in Nature with Possibility Practices

Chris Morgan's Wildnotes

A BLOG of pictures and thoughts from the field

Denise Fenzi

a professional dog trainer specializing in relationship-building in competitive dog sport teams

Black Sheep Creamery

Artisan Sheep Cheese, Wool and Lambs

Woolyadventures's Blog

Just another WordPress.com site

flippity felts

Curious and Quirky needle felts

Single Life, With Puppy

Suddenly single at 55; what to do but get a puppy?

Eat, Play, Love

making memories through food, wine and travel

Pam Grout

#1 New York Times best-selling author

Karen Maezen Miller

A little o' this, a little o' that