Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Worst of Both Worlds

Prior to my departure we had three solid weeks of sunny summer weather in the Fraser Valley while Toronto was halfway through its wettest July on record. The rain must have followed me home because it has been wet and cold for the past few days. Tonka and Raven are in their winter rain sheets being munched by summer mosquitoes.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Catch in the Rye

Since their arrival Tonka and Raven have been eating hay that is a mix of orchard grass, tall fescue and Italian rye grass. The rye was quite mature when the hay was cut and the horses tend to avoid its distinctively yellow and woody strands. We picked up the last 45 bales from this 2007 cutting a few weeks ago, and Martin suggested that we also take a few bales of straight Italian rye grass from his first cut of 2008. Based on prior performance I doubted that our spoiled brats would eat it, but the hay did have a nice look and smell. We have been mixing it in with their regular fare whenever a bale comes to the surface, and they tend to eat it out of the feeders before they move onto the older stock. I guess rye is more palatable when harvested early?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Things that Go Bump in the Night

David picked me up from the Vancouver airport and we arrived back at Farcical Farm just as dusk was turning to dark. There was enough light for me to admire the Ruddy Beast and to reacquaint myself with the outdoor animals before turning in for the night. I've spend the past hour lying in bed, catching up on the day's email and enjoying the sounds of home. About 5 minutes ago there was a crash out in the horse paddock and the scramble of eight panicked hooves followed by some huffing and snorting followed by silence. Titan remained quiet through the whole episode (i.e. no monsters), so I think that Raven got her fly sheet temporarily tangled on one of the feeders. I know for sure that it's good to be home.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

One Shade of Gray

Last night I stumbled across another contender in the debate between traditional horse shoes and barefoot hooves -- these rubber shoes might be a happy medium. Unlike metal shoes they allow hooves to expand and contract naturally, but unlike the absence of shoes they protect the hoof, sole and frog from the rigors of demanding work. Boots will always suit us fine at Farcical Farm, but I wonder why these are not more popular amongst those who feel their horses MUST be shod.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rise of the Ruddy Beast

While I wish that I was in Deroche to help David manage the contracting madness, I like the idea of walking into such a vastly altered landscape. Here's how the Blue Beast looked yesterday afternoon:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Shock Therapy

Before Titan arrived we bought a comprehensive guide to raising and training livestock guardian dogs. It's important that LGD pups bond with their stock rather than becoming dependent on human or canine companionship, so we limit the time we spend cuddling and playing with Titan (who is very cuddly and playful). We also control his interactions with Tilley, Willow and Watson quite carefully. He spends 90% of his time with his goats for company, and he now greets them like long-lost pack mates if he's been separated from them for more than 10 minutes.

One problem with this largely hands-off approach is that we cannot supervise Titan as closely as a regular pup, which gives him plenty of opportunity to get into trouble. So far it's been limited to digging and and a few escapes, but every time he breaches the paddock fencing some dangerous lessons are reinforced. Climbing and digging will become easier as he gets older, stronger and more motivated, and finding him will get harder as it gets darker. Yesterday we bought a radio fencing system to install around the horse paddock. He is a soft pup and we hope that a few sharp lessons at this tender age will teach him to respect fences for the rest of his life.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Until Death Do Us Part

This post has been brewing for a long time, and I hope that it doesn't offend anyone. Rest assured that it has not been precipitated by any particular event (beyond me being in Toronto without more tangible material).

If I am ever forced to give up the horses I will have Tonka euthanized without debate, and I will have Raven euthanized if I cannot find her a perfect free lease. According to my own moral code I am responsible for these two in perpetuity, and I would rather subject them to certain death than to uncertain life. Without conditions similar to those at Farcical Farm Tonka would probably founder, fail and be sold for slaughter. Without an experienced, level-headed rider Raven could easily be shuffled from inappropriate home to inappropriate home, probably making babies along the way (another reason I would like to have her spayed). Euthanasia may sound extreme to you, but the alternative sounds terrifying to me.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Paint the Town Red

And the goats.

David and I looked at dozens of properties over the course of the year preceding our purchase of Farcical Farm. The balanced combination of (1) nice property, (2) decent house and (3) reasonable price simply eluded us. Farcical farm had (1) and (3), with obvious potential in the (2) department. It also had a detached garage measuring 25 X 50 feet on a full concrete foundation. This is where we store our hay (up to 200 bales), our workshop, Henry and our ancient Miata (amongst many other things). The north end of the garage forms the south side of our goat paddock (shown above), and you can probably guess the rest. John painted the whole thing dark red today, and our gray goats decided to become redheads (Roland McNugget obviously thought that it would clash with his underlying orange tones and Titan elected to remain pure as the driven snow).

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Danger Zone

Contractors have descended upon David in my absence. Martin and his crew swept into the Blue Beast early this morning to shove us into Phase II of Reno Hell. Floors were ripped up, ceilings were torn down and walls were obliterated. At the same time John was outside, turning the Blue Beast into the Ruddy Beast.

While David was answering questions and giving opinions, Titan was digging his way under the fence to visit with the neighbors. And while David was reprimanding Titan the horses were busy escaping through the gate he accidentally left open. All this comes to me via email and curtailed phone conversations, and the whole scene seems very far removed from the delightful latte I enjoyed on a Toronto patio this afternoon.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Pin Firing

Raven's hind cannon bones are heavily criss-crossed in fine scars where her solid black coat has regrown in thin white lines. Several people have asked whether these are the result of pin firing, for which I don't have a good answer. Pin firing is a common "therapy" for race horses who develop swollen shins, often due to concussive forces. Red-hot probes are used to burn the skin along the cannons, and then an aggravating agent is applied to maximize the inflammatory response. The quasi-scientific explanation is that the minor inflation is drawn out when the body heals the major inflation -- pure quackery in my opinion, but it's still widely practiced. Scars from "professional" pin firing would appear clean and even, but do-it-yourselfers have been known to use soldering irons. Most pin fired injuries occur around the front cannons so it could be that Raven simply got tangled up in something along the way, but these scars could also be a clue to why she never raced. I'm with Fugly on wishing that racing breeders would stand by their product if/when they cannot compete.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Leggo My Eglu

Given my current intermission from Farcical Farm I will be forced to plumb the depths of my imagination for material over the coming week -- I apologize in advance.

The chicken coops shown above are called Eglus and they are produced by the British company Omlet. Forget corporate philosophies on blah blah environment and blah blah sustainability -- all I need to know is that they make pink plastic chicken coops*. Eglus were first brought to my attention by Roger -- a longtime friend and roommate who kept three layers in our (tiny!) Vancouver back yard for years without a single complaint from neighbors**. Last year I made several inquiries to the US and UK distributors about getting an Eglu Cube for Deroche, but the shipping made it prohibitively expensive. This obsession had been forgotten until I read that the Homespun Heretic wants to raise rabbits, and now I can blame her for rekindling the covet. While I love being Canadian, our tiny market often has to pay a premium for awesome products like this.

*Some of you (six or seven) FFF readers may not know that I am an engineer -- partially by education, but mostly by hard wiring. My undergraduate research thesis was entitled "Design and Preference Testing of an Enhanced Caging Environment for Laboratory Rats" so this is nerd porn for me.

**We lived on the wrong side of the tracks, and we figure the neighbors were preoccupied by the rampant drug activity on our block.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Big Smoke

I grew up in an urbane Toronto family that finds great amusement in my defection to rural life. While I love visiting said family, the pace of my Toronto days is vastly different from that of my Deroche days. Without a menagerie (David included) to feed, water, clean and exercise my sense of self begins to warp and slide. Although academic pursuits are enough to keep my mind engaged, I quickly go stir crazy without the physical reality of life on Farcical Farm. Long walks and lunches with friends are helpful, but down time here is completely (and maddeningly) unhindered by that never-ending list of things I should be doing. I wonder if real farmers go through similar withdrawal when spending time away from their farms.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pygmy Goats and Garden Shears

The combination is just as dangerous as it sounds. A few days ago I noticed that all goat hooves were in need of a trim, which I assumed would be a two-person activity. I am headed to Toronto for a while tomorrow morning, so David and I tackled this task tonight along with our two-horse and two-goat cheerleaders.

Morsel and Timbit were bottle-fed as babies, and they are sociable to a fault. They are not, however, keen on being pinned upside-down atop the hay feeder while I stab at their feet with a dull pair of pruning shears. Timbit went first and his unholy bellowing attracted Tonka and Raven to the scene, both of whom proceeded to help by (1) scratching themselves on our mostly-incapacitated bodies and (2) bickering over the hay in the feeder. Totally unconcerned by the fate of their herd mate, Morsel and Roland proceeded to help by (1) eating the hoof-trimming instructions and (2) jumping up and down off the feeder. Once Timbit was upright all was instantly forgiven, and he had a little chew on the instructions too.

Roland McNugget was not bottle-fed as a baby. This makes him harder to catch when he's suspicious of your motives, but I guess it also left his survival instincts more intact. Once flipped upside down he played dead and surprised both of us by being the easiest goat to trim. And by "easiest" I mean "still really challenging" mostly because I don't know what I'm doing and we need a sharper pair of shears for me to do it with.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hay Day

The dairy farmer who sold us 150 bales of low-carb hay (an orchard grass/tall fescue/rye grass mix) in February still has 50 bales left. We are down to 18 bales in our garage, so I have agreed to buy his surplus. I have not, however, managed to find someone willing to move said surplus for a reasonable price. David and I are planning to re-decapitate the Red Menace tomorrow morning so that we can do it ourselves in three short runs. This is not an efficient use of our time, and I will look for sources that deliver from herein (or at least until we get a truck/trailer rig, which might be LONG after I graduate).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Railing Against Railing

David and I spent most of the past three days installing railing around our deck. Good for us and our visitors, but pretty boring for FFF readers (all five of you), especially considering that I have yet to take pictures of the finished product. I promise to add one to this sequence tomorrow:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Spay Ray?

Other than David and I, Raven is the only resident of Farcical Farm who remains reproductively intact. I don't consider her to be of breeding quality (despite a reasonable pedigree) and I have no interest in contributing to North America's glut of unwanted horses. Furthermore, Miss Thing can be a real wench when she's in heat -- our neighbors report that she beat the crap out of Tonka today for no particular reason.

Spaying mares is uncommon, mostly because traditional methods are invasive, expensive, time-consuming and prone to disastrous complications. One procedure involves removing the ovaries through the belly under a general anesthetic. The recovery period is about 12 weeks. Another procedure involves removing the ovaries through the flanks, which can be done under the influence of a tranquilizer in standing stocks. The recovery period is about 6 weeks.

The more modern procedures involve severing or tying off the ovaries by way of the vaginal cavity. If her care-givers are careful during the first 48 hours (to ensure that no intestinal material herniates through the incisions) the mare can be back at work within two weeks. At this stage it's just a question to ask Kerstin the next time I see her. I have no idea whether spaying Raven is financially practical or physically feasible, but until yesterday I didn't even know that it was possible.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Away From Here

David and I both love to travel, and we usually spend five or six weeks away from home each year. It is cheaper and easier to pay a live-in petsitter than it is to board everyone in our absence, and such folks were relatively easy to find before we brought the horses home. In August we are headed to Ontario for a couple of weeks for David's triennial family reunion, and today we met with a lady named Melissa who always looks after our neighbor Wendy's place when they travel. She has lots of experience, she comes highly recommended and she can always call Wendy for help if things get hairy. It makes for a much more relaxing vacation when I know that everything is in capable hands back home.

The Hip Bone's Connected to the Hurt Bone

Christina Cline came by last night to trim both horses and she likes what she sees. The laminitic rings in Tonka's hooves are about 50% grown out and both white lines are nice and tight. Now the the weather has dried out Raven's little feet are really starting to toughen up, and the frogs on her pancaked hind soles are becoming more defined by the day.

Christina did confirm my observation that Tonka's current discomfort stems from his stifle or hip. She notes that he hikes the right hip higher than the left when he walks, and that his back muscles are sensitive on the left hand side. Several people have suggested that I have him evaluated by an equine chiropractor, and I am getting closer to biting that bullet. As a highly skeptical scientist I am leery of human chiropractors based on several published findings, but as a worried horse owner I want to do whatever I can to make Tonka more comfortable. Is it ironic that science will pay the bill?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Red Light, Green Light

Today I took Raven out for the first time since the rearing incident. We both needed a positive experience this time around, so we never broke a walk and we practiced lots of whoas. She was uptight for the first 20 minutes, but she relaxed after we got over the railroad tracks. When Raven's enjoying herself she has the very endearing habit of swinging her nose from side to side as she walks (with her neck and poll straight), much like a bobble-head doll. She walked along nicely without trying to race and she held lots of long whoas, one of which allowed me to have a 5-minute chat with a neighbor.

Rick, his wife Susan and their two mares (pictured above) live down the hill from us in a lovely home they are converting to a B&B. They and their friends often ride by our place to access a trail off the old dairy farm at the end of our road. I mentioned that I have no clue where the good trails are around here, and Rick seemed appalled by my ignorance. He said they will get my number next time they ride by so they can arrange to show us around. Oh happy day!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Say Goodbye

I dropped Titan at the vet this morning to be neutered. Most clinics won't do this for a pup younger than 6 months, but studies suggest that the only "negative" side effect of the pediatric procedure is that dogs tend to grow up leggy. At TDBCR we've had a firm policy of sterilizing all foster pups at 8 weeks for several years without any complications, so I feel confident in this decision. As a working dog Titan (a) needs to keep his mind on his job and (b) cannot be allowed to see goats as an outlet for his sexual energy. The sooner those hormones are out of his system, the better.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Clothes Horse

That's what my dad called me during my fashion-conscious teenage years, and that's what I'm calling Raven now. Her new fly sheet arrived today, complete with a hood (more like a scarf in human terms) and a belly band. I have officially spent more money on horse accessories than on human clothing (or shoes...I miss shoes) in the past six months, but I will admit that WeatherBeeta products are probably more fashionable and functional than anything I would have bought for myself. Deep down I think that dressing horses up is silly, but at the surface I hate watching Raven fret and pace. Let's hope this makes her more comfortable when the bugs are biting.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Tuck It Up

Tonka's progress continues at steady pace of two steps forward and one step back. For the past three weeks he has been short-striding on his hind left with no evidence of heat or swelling in the leg. The pain seems to come from his stifle or back and, to be honest, I haven't really worried about it. My theory is that Tonka has been moving awkwardly to accommodate founder pain for years, so he's bound to get gimped up now and then as he starts to move more freely. So far all of his stiffnesses and sorenesses have resolved themselves over time, and he has looked more comfortable for the past two days.

Above is one of the first pictures I ever saw of Tonka. At the time I remarked to a friend that his hind legs were tucked far under his belly, but I didn't know this was typical of foundered horses trying to unweight their painful toes. Live and learn! The position of his hind legs is one of the best markers I have for Tonka's improvement. He now stands with one or both hocks directly under the points of his buttocks most of the time. I think my back would be sore too if I changed my posture that drastically.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Oh Henry!

I forgot to mention an important Farcical Farm personality in the cast of characters -- Henry, our 1952 Ford 8N tractor. We provide him with an excellent retirement home, including a dry garage and the attention of several men (David, friends, neighbors) who like to fuss over his geriatric engine. In return he does odd chores around the place and doesn't complain when I drape horse blankets over his tires to dry.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Tall Tails

Despite the serious way in which Titan already approaches his job, he is still just a pup. He has moments when he tries to engage the goats in play (not allowed) and other moments when he succumbs to the classic bum-tuck and GO zoomies. Like many pups he loves to tug on things -- the mats under the hay feeders, suckers growing out of the poplar trees, a piece of rope I have tied to the fence for him. And he would really like to try tugging those oh-so-swishy horse tails. Raven gave him a sharp warning yesterday for standing too close, but Tonka is more patient. I'll let him learn the hard way if it comes down to that.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Room With a View

Farcical Farm measures 2.92 acres. The back two are in pasture, and the Blue Beast sits on the acre closest to the road with the horse paddock along side and the goat paddock out front. Our bedroom is the only room from which it's possible to see both paddocks, and I have spent a lot of time in here over the past couple of days to keep an eye on Titan and his interactions with the stock. At this point I'm sure he's convinced that Alpha is always watching over him.

We got some rain today for the first time in a couple of weeks. Nice for the horses to have a cool day, but hard on Raven as the mosquitoes simply never retreated. Tonka enjoyed his many rolls in the mud.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

You Get What You Pay For

As a lifelong advocate of pet rescue I have always scoffed at the idea of buying a dog from a breeder. But working livestock guardians are scarce at the local SPCA, and the risk of our goats being munched is inversely proportional to the now-dwindling daylight hours. So we're out more than $1000, but it seems that we got exactly what we paid for.

Titan (aka Ty) is a nice pup by my exacting standards. He is sensitive to correction, but not shattered by it. He barks at things he finds suspicious or unfair, but he doesn't join our neighbor's dog in her non-stop conversation with nothing. He's pretty happy to see me when I'm around, but he's also pretty happy to relax alone with the goats. What makes Ty VERY unhappy is being kept separate from his goats, which is a good sign. So far he has learned (1) to follow me on a lead; (2) the "sit" command; (3) that complaining gets him nowhere; (4) who the neighbors are and not to bark at them; and (5) a healthy respect for the horses.

He still needs to learn that (1) playing with the goats is unacceptable; (2) jumping on me is unacceptable (3) meals last for 10 minutes -- hoover it or lose it; (4) Tilley and/or Willow will not play with him; and (5) I am serious when I say "unacceptable".

What's most remarkable is the fierceness with which this 13-week-old pup meets perceived threats to his small flock. His voice and body language clearly communicate that it would be best for such threats to move along, though I suspect his bark is worse than his milk-toothed bite. Still, it's always a treat to watch a carefully bred dog fill its niche.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Not long after I met David we spent several days traveling around Vancouver looking for a car to replace his old Subaru wagon. He settled on a 1990 periwinkle blue Honda Civic hatchback, which became known as The Blue Meanie. By the time that car became too unreliable for commuting we had three permanent dogs and (usually) a temporary foster, such that dog hair/smell was an inescapable part of the driving experience. In September of 2004 we decided to splurge on a small pickup truck so that the dogs (and their hair/smell) could be confined to the back, safely protected by a cap.

That cap has not been removed since the day we had it installed. The Red Menace has done hard service, but all of its loads have been persuaded under the cap -- until today. Titan (or Ty most of the time) arrived this morning, and the XL Dogloo Indigo we bought for him is so EXTRA large that it required us to decapitate the truck to get it home. (?) guy seems to be settling in just fine. He's learned that needless barking makes me angry, and he is already keeping a sharp eye out for suspicious happenings. Photos to follow.