Thursday, October 30, 2008

Blast from the Past

When I was in my mid-teens I worked as the stable hand at Camp Arowhon in Algonquin Park, Ontario. It was my responsibility to care for a well-used school string of 15 horses seven days per week, 10 weeks per year. This included feeding, mucking, grooming, tacking (the campers were not expected to do this for themselves), turning out, medicating, etc. I got paid $500/summer. The barn was well beyond the main part of the camp, and I lived alone there in a small cabin with mostly just the horses for company. Memories of this period are mixed. There is nothing quite like being greeted by the misty nickers of 15 horses (and the occasional moose) on a chilly July morning. There is also nothing quite like being a naturally-reserved teenager amongst dozens of naturally-gregarious teenagers. Especially when most of them only see you at meal times and you always smell like a horse.

But my favorite memory has nothing to do with horses or with people. Feed and hay were brought in twice over the course of the summer, so our feed bin was huge -- probably 3 cubic yards. One morning I noticed a small dip in the surface of the feed at the back of the bin. By the time evening rolled around the volume of the dip had doubled. The next morning the volume had increased 10-fold and several new dips had appeared. After finishing my chores I staked out the back of the barn. Sure enough a steady stream of empty-cheeked chipmunks was running under the floor boards and reappearing full-cheeked minutes later. My colleague Sean followed them back to their hiding place while I set to emptying the bin so that we could line it with sheet metal. The next day Sean and I went to see how much grain we could recover from the chipmunks and we were surprised to find 21 liters stockpiled in a hollow tree. We left them liter to acknowledge their hard work.

Over the past several days some creature (probably a rat) has been working hard to get into the Rubbermaid containing our black sunflower meats. The edges have been systematically shredded and sometime last night a hole into the main chamber was successfully chewed. There are bits of blue plastic everywhere. Depletion of the supply is not yet obvious, but I will switch the contents over to a metal tub or a chew-proof barrel whenever I find the right vessel. I will probably leave a salutatory supply available for this perpetrator too.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sex and the Country

One of the many unglamerous tasks associated with horse ownership is genital hygiene. Both boys and girls as their natural secretions mix with dirt and stick to the surrounding skin. In the wild I assume that stallions stay clean by breeding and that mares stay clean by birthing and nursing, but domestic animals need some (ideally semiannual) assistance.

A few days ago I saw Raven enthusiastically rubbing her rump against the fence, which is often a sign of uncomfortable girl parts (she is up-to-date on her worming). Mares get dirtiest between their udders, but fluid from the vulva also pools and sticks between their hind legs. When I last cleaned Raven in May she was VERY unreceptive and I was forced to do a cursory job (while dodging blows). Today was a different story -- she looked totally content and relaxed throughout the half hour of fussing and scrubbing and picking and rinsing required to get her squeaky clean. Another testament to how much she is starting to trust me.

Tonka, on the other hand, would probably trust anyone to clean his sheath because he is a giant horn dog. He looked a bit uncomfortable when I removed a small "bean" (a hard ball of dirt and smegma that collects in the tip of the urethra), but otherwise he made a lot of sexy faces and some silly grunting noises. His eyes did bug out a little when I put the cold hose right up there to give him a final rinse. A good job to get done on a sunny day.

Some of Her Lip

When I scratch Raven in a satisfying spot (whithers, elbows) she bends her neck around so that she can put her upper lip against my arm or shoulder or chest and then she wiggles said lip back and forth like crazy. If someone else is scratching her when I am nearby she will stretch her head out to me to do the same thing. Raven is not a horse who bonds easily with people, and I find this sweet quirk heartening and endearing. After eight months at Farcical Farm we are finally getting the impression that she feels comfortable and content here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rational Rations

In horse lingo Tonka is an "easy keeper" and Raven is a "hard keeper" (they would be a "good doer" and a "poor doer" in the UK where, apparently, grammar is more flexible). Easy keepers (like me) put on weight easily and are prone to getting fat. Hard keepers (like some friends I hate) have a hard time keeping weight on, and they are prone to getting thin. Yet housing Tonka and Raven together in a paddock with an all-you-can-eat buffet has produced two ideally fleshed horses. Locking me and Kate Moss in a room with an endless supply of raw fruits, veggies, seeds and nuts would probably have a similar outcome (assuming that I didn't eat Kate Moss). The devil, of course, is in the desserts.

High octane grass and legume hays are prized by many horse people, but I'm convinced that they make easy keepers fat and hard keepers frenetic. Based on my experience with Tonka and Raven a quality low-sugar mid-protein hay is suitable for both metabolic types, especially when fed free-choice. Providing unlimited nutritious-but-undelicious forage allows horses to eat instinctively so that they moderate their own intake. We go through anywhere between 50 to 75 lbs of hay daily at Farcical Farm, and I would guess that it's split 55% to Raven and 45% to Tonka (who outweighs her by 200 lbs).

Of course I do regulate other aspects of their diet. Raven grazes freely while Tonka is muzzled, and Raven's twice daily feeds pack more punch thank Tonka's. She gets:

  • 2 cups of dry beet pulp pellets soaked in a colander to leach off any residual sugar
  • 1 cup of high fat pellets
  • 1/2 cup ground flax seed
  • 1/4 cup black sunflower meats
  • 1/4 cup corn oil
  • 1/3 cup of Hoffman's Horse Mineral
  • 1 tablespoon of salt

The only real difference between them lies in the beet pulp and the corn oil. Tonka gets:

  • 1 cup of Raven's soaked beet pulp, just to hold everything together
  • 1 cup of whole oat
  • 1/2 cup of ground flax seed
  • 1/4 cup of sunflower meats
  • 1/3 cup of of Hoffman's
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 1 big handful of alfalfa cubes

These mixes are flexible if I find Tonka looking cresty or Raven looking ribby, but they have kept both horses looking great for the past three months. Raven actually looks overplump right now, but that is exactly how you want a high-strung thoroughbred to head into winter.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Domo Arigato, Mister Giotto

Tomorrow I want to talk about horse feed, but tonight I want to talk about human feed of the caffeinated variety. A recent exchange with BJC made me realize that the most important personage at Farcical Farm didn't make the cast of characters.

David and I are both coffee snobs, and we bought ourselves a very nice espresso machine when it became clear that we were moving to the boonies (away from our beloved Our Town Cafe in Vancouver). The thought of a mocha or a latte gets me through my morning chores.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cat Tastrophies

The bowl of cat kibble I left in the garage last week is disappearing slowly. With rat-like speed more than a cat-like speed, I'm afraid. I have not seen our little feral and nor have our neighbors. They are currently siding the shed under which she seemed to be living, and David hopes that she has simply moved to quieter grounds. I am less optimistic.

Hazel has been hopping around the house on three legs, rarely taking weight on the front right. I think it might be a problem with a claw as she keeps scratching at things, but she is not one to allow close examination of her paws without fierce retribution. She is otherwise her usual self doing all of her usual things, and seems better this morning. We may be off to the vet after Christina comes to trim the horses this afternoon.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Picture Perfect

The meteorologists keep calling for rain and we keep getting sun, which is almost unheard of on the west coast. After last October this feels like a real treat, so I took David's camera (Nikon D50, compared to my Canon PowerShot) to document the day.

The Ruddy Beast with some fall colours in the background. Most trees on the BC coast are coniferous, meaning that we get pockets of spectacular fall colour instead of vast expanses.

One such pocket is right outside our neighbor's front door. Poor old Don died in the spring, but his daughter is doing a great job keeping his property neat and tidy, just the way he liked it.

Closer inspection of Don's property revealed a mama deer and her youngster grazing on his lawn. They both spronged off once noticed. Most folks around here have multiple dogs, so it is rare (and lovely) to see deer in these parts.

Turning eastward I see a fat horse bum and some mountains. Sometimes I wonder if Tonka and Raven appreciate the view from our plateau.

Turning southward I see my shiny black beauty and her dull black shadow grazing under sunny skies. The cut on her leg is 90% healed now, so I will take her for a ride if this weather lasts through the weekend (they are calling for sun, so it probably won't).

Titan and his shadow are keeping watch over the horse paddock. These pictures were taken before noon, so that should provide some indication of how short our daylight hours are getting. Under the old regime we would have dropped out of Daylight Savings Time by now (meaning this picture would have been taken just before 1pm), but under the new rules we don't fall back until the beginning of November.

The three stooges on their almost-daily trek from the goat paddock to the horse paddock. Herding three bad pygmy goats is akin to herding cats, mostly because they like to snack en route.

I am very fond of this picture. It captures the essence of bad pygmy goats perfectly.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Necessary Evil

Deworming agents are, by definition, poisonous and poisons are, by definition, not something I feel completely comfortable feeding to Tonka and Raven. Most dewormers are neurotoxins that paralyze and/or kill their intended targets so that they can be absorbed by the body or shed out in the waste products. Worming is widely accepted to be safe and beneficial, but part of me feels that it shouldn't be necessary for healthy horses in a closed herd. The other part of me has heard too many Worms Gone Wrong horror stories to abandon the practice all together, so I use the following regular-but-minimal rotation:

  • February 15th - Single dose of Safe-Guard (fenbendazole) effective against redworms, pinworms, roundworms, stomach hair worms, large mouth stomach worms
  • April 15th - Single dose of Quest Plus Gel (moxidectin & praziquantel) effective against roundworms, tapeworms, small strongyle larvae, bot fly larvae
  • June 15th - Single dose of Exodus (pyrantel pamoate) effective against redworms, pinworms, roundworms, threadworms, tapeworms
  • August 15th - Single dose of Bimectin (ivermectin) effective against redworms, pinworms, roundworms, lungworms, stomach hair worms, large mouth stomach worms, neck and intestinal threadworms, bots
  • October 15th - Single dose of Quest Plus Gel
  • December 15th - Single dose of Exodus

There is a lot of overlap between the products, but it's best to rotate active ingredients to minimize the chance of developing resistant strains. A couple of weeks ago one year's worth of wormer (about $230) for both horses arrived from Greenhawk, but I didn't want to steal Daun's thunder by posting about it right away. Too much talk of worming might excite y'all right off the intertubes.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Accidents Happen

And today one happened to me. David and I were struggling to get the west side of the shelter in place when the 4" fence rail we were using to take pressure off the corner post slipped. It fell forward into the shelter and the top caught me (completely unaware) on the spine, just above my right buttock. I screamed like a little girl, partly out of surprise, partly out of pain and partly out of fear.

Fear because my right leg stopped working briefly. It wouldn't hold me up, and I couldn't make it move after I went down. It lasted for less than a minute, and then the whole thing just went cold and numb. Our kind neighbors came by with a big bag of ice, and David hobbled me into the house where I lay iced, drugged and dazed for a couple of hours. Now that I'm up and about both legs feel as though they are made of lead, but they are holding me up and moving when I will them to move. A lucky outcome and a lesson learned.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Calling for Frost

Grass photosynthesizes during the day while the sun is out and the nutrients it produces are used to drive nighttime growth. It's generally safest to graze founder-prone horses in the morning because the plants have depleted their sugars through the night. One exception to this rule is frosty mornings -- cold nighttime temperatures can slow or halt the use of sugars such that the grass is dangerously sweet by the time morning rolls around. It is cold and clear in Deroche this evening, so Raven and Tonka will be confined to the paddock tomorrow. Maybe they will help David and I finish their shelter.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Penguin in the City

Cat Power put it best in Colors and the Kids, which is one of my favorite songs of all time.

it's so hard to go into the city
because you wanna say hey i love you to everybody

Some days I can slide through the city in a bubble of busy purpose, but some days I am so affected by the density of the human condition around me that I can barely contain myself.

Between the first and second stop on the 07:27 train I could hear a lady having a quiet phone conversation with the vet about her old dog. She had stopped eating and had fallen down the stairs a couple of times when the kids forgot to close the gate. She didn't cry as she arranged an appointment for tomorrow morning, but my window reflected the way she bit her lip and rested her chin on hand after flipping the phone closed.

Later on the bus I sat across from a girl who was talking too loudly with an acquaintance about her wild life. She loves it when her friend Chris gets high on cocaine because he gets physically affectionate with everyone. Three stops after the acquaintance got off Chris' girlfriend got on and the girl talked too loudy about how drunk and high they would all get this weekend. Chris' girlfriend spoke carefully, at a normal volume.

Walking to a seminar this afternoon I noticed a man in the distance shuffling along on wonky legs, crippled either from birth or by some disease. As I was contemplating the challenges of his day-to-day reality another student tripped on a curb and splayed onto the sidewalk, books and papers flying out of his arms and onto the wet ground. Several folks walked right past before the fellow with the wonky legs arrived and bent down to help.

On the bus this evening an older Asian man sat beside me with a letter hand-written in English, ink smeared in spots by drops of rain. When he finished reading it he opened his knapsack and tucked it into a stack of air mail envelopes. Then he removed one of several paperback books and underlined some words in red pen as he read. Some of the pages had black and white pictures of old-time hockey heroes.

Ever since I was a little kid I have wanted to live a rural life. Two years ago today David and I offered to buy Farcical Farm in all of The roof leaked, the deck was falling off, the little barn that had housed one horse was dangerously akimbo. Decades of cigarette smoke clung to the outdated walls and there were empty bottles of hard alcohol in the bathroom cabinets. It was not a happy home, but we believed that we could revive it with time, inspiration and money. David would be closer to work on a route devoid of urban traffic, and I was willing to make a much longer commute in exchange for quiet.

And this is where it gets tricky. The voluable quiet of rural living is very pleasant, but the mental quiet is what I really love. As someone who thinks quickly and feels deeply I find city living to be so overstimulating that I get stuck on a perpetual pendulum between numbness and hypersensitivity. The daily routine of a small life in Deroche allows me to better appreciate the whole of the world around me and I have never been happier. Not your typical FFF post, but some insight into how we got here.

Sad News

Elizabeth emailed yesterday to say that our little flicker died. She had been recovering well and was flying across her aviary (15 feet), so this came as a shock to everyone. A sad ending, and further impetus to find something that really keeps birds from flying into our windows.

On a related note (because we suspect that she's removed at least one injured bird from our deck -- big bang, no body) , I have not seen our little feral cat in a few days. She has been stalking our garage and living under our neighbor's shed for the past few months and I have been intending to trap her (or him, I guess) to have her spayed (or neutered, I guess). Most mornings I see her surreptitiously licking Raven's feed tub clean, and I often catch a glimpse of her eyes at night. I really hope that she is OK.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Coyote Pretty

Tonight's full moon made it possible for me to do my evening chores without a headlamp. Our local pack of coyotes usually howls together on nights like this (perhaps the light leads to hunting success?), and they went off about 10 minutes ago. We very rarely see these sly neighbors, but I always love to hear them sing.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Food Over Fear

It really started to pour around 16:00 and I couldn't let the horses stand under the tree any longer knowing they had a perfectly good, dry shelter ready and waiting. David helped me to spread several scoops of alfalfa cubes along the back, followed by flakes of hay. I stood gonging the bucket against the metal walls while they ate and, after some more bucking and farting ('tis the season, as AHS points out) they settled in. This is not a great picture, but it feels like a great achievement.

Steel Breadbox of Doom

That's pretty much how the horses feel about their new shelter. Sometime last night we traded clear skies for a persistent, dreary rain. This morning both horses were huddled under a tree about 30 feet from the shelter entrance, looking damp and dejected.

Of course it will take some time for them get comfortable with this new addition, but I'll do my best to speed the process along. They had to put two feet into the shelter to get breakfast today, which turned out to be a challenge.

I sat toasty and dry with their feed buckets while they made two or three skeptical approaches followed by bucking and farting departures. Tonka (by far the greedier of the two) finally made the first move.

The whole structure makes a hollow gonging sound whenever a hoof strikes the front skid, and this resulted in several more episodes of bucking and farting down to the other end of the paddock. Eventually breakfast got eaten by both horses, and I am happy to report that no horses got eaten by the shelter.

After ensuring that the buckets were clean Tonka relaxed with a mud bath, and then I put their rain sheets on. It continues to drizzle and they guessed it...standing under the tree. Later this week I will build an 8-foot one-sided feeder into the back of the shelter and I will start stocking it and it alone when it is raining. I have no doubt that their stomachs will soon motivate them to forget their fears.

Standing With Scissors

Most horses stand with their front legs scissored apart when they are eating off the ground. Raven alternates between legs, but Tonka always stands with his right leg back and his left leg forward, probably because the heels of his right hoof are quite high. When Tonka first arrived his scissor stance was very wide and he often had to shuffle his legs back and forth to get into it. Over the past two months his stance has been getting narrower, and in recent weeks I have actually seen him graze with his legs straight under him (I think of this as the equine equivalent of being about to touch your toes without bending your knees). I'm not sure what it means, but I think it's a good sign.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Giving Thanks

Tomorrow is Canadian Thanksgiving, but we held our festivities yesterday evening in joint celebration of Roger's upcoming birthday. Mark cooked the turkey (and made some seriously intense passion fruit sorbet), Peter and Cydney made Brussels sprouts, Mike made a delicious salad and some green beans while little Martina wondered why he wasn't taking her to visit the goats. Tom and his daughter Linnaea were unexpectedly present given that they are leaving for two years in New Zealand on Tuesday. Janet baked a pumpkin cheesecake, and I made sweet potato pie while David kept the wine flowing. Those who couldn't make it due to spatial and/or temporal restrictions were sorely missed, but the full house was much appreciated.

We have a lot to be thankful for at Farcical Farm, especially in times. Good jobs, loving families and wonderful friends (who help to build horse shelters). We want for nothing, and I feel privileged beyond words.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Waiting for Dunno

The horses usually get 2-3 hours on the pasture sometime between 08:00 and 13:00. This morning I was out by 06:00 to help load our hay, and it was 11:00 by the time we got it unloaded and stacked. The storage bay is filled to the brim, and another 25 bales are piled at the back of Henry's spot -- isn't it beautiful?

Being largely selfish I chose to take a hot shower before turning the horses out. From the bathroom window I saw Bernice jogging past -- Tonka and Raven are usually grazing when she goes by, much to her disappointment. Today she was able to ply them both with alfalfa cubes (we have a box of these attached to our fence with a sign asking people not to feed Tonka anything else), and David reports that she stayed through most of my shower (i.e. a long time).

I eventually turned the horses out, and when they came back in this afternoon Raven headed straight for top part of the paddock and waited patiently under the cedars, hanging her head over the fence now and then to look down the road. She stood there the whole time David and I performed our lawn care ritual (i.e. a long time) and finally headed down to join Tonka at the feeder around dusk. It could be that she's starting another heat cycle (they make her weird), but I think that she was waiting for someone to come along with more tasties.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Not to be confused with "escape goat" which, knock on wood, has not been a required topic to date.

Hay consumption was back to normal as of yesterday, but water consumption remained abnormally low until today. I assume that the horses (in their typical horsey way) blame the water source and/or that particular region of the paddock for Saturday's incident. Tonka approaches the water with uncharacteristic wariness, and Raven takes a couple of wide passes before mustering enough confidence to drink. Moving the supply isn't feasible, but I have been adding salt to their feed and waiting patiently for them to come to their senses (how long do horses live again?).

Although the garbage can has been a good stop-gap measure, it is difficult for the goats (albeit entertaining for the humans) to drink from when they are turned in with the horses. Today I bought a Tuff Stuff oval tub that is (1) shorter than the bathtub and (2) more flexible. I feel confident that Raven will have a much harder time falling into it. While a heated automatic waterer remains my goal, fiscal prudence will prevail through times.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Two weeks ago I found the remains of some corn cobs in the horse paddock. Tonka and Raven cannot reach the neighbor's garden, but we think one of the local bears broke the stalks and pushed them close enough to be thieved. Last week Wayne brought us four cobs while I was mucking, so I hung the bag over the fence to collect when I was finished. The thieves struck again. Today Wayne said that he was going to start tearing out his garden, and I said that he could feed any unwanted cobs to the goats. The moment the horses heard the sound of corn snapping they came begging. Both got a couple of cobs (they eat them whole and unshucked, just as greedily as they would eat apples or carrots) and Raven got my index finger by the first knuckle when I wasn't paying attention (until I got her by a nostril and twisted). She obviously doesn't remember who came to her rescue the other day...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

'Tis the Season to Wear Orange

It never gets bitterly cold on the south coast of BC, so unclipped horses really don't need insulated turnout blankets. They do, however, need protection from the incessant rain. Both horses have been wearing 840 denier rain sheets with a mesh lining since last spring, but Tonka had torn most of one shoulder out of his. A few weeks ago I got a good deal on two nice 1200 ripstop denier shells with nylon lying for this winter. They are longer with a higher neck and a better tail flap, and I had been saving them for the really bad weather. After Saturday's incident I didn't want to put the same sheet back on Raven, so we busted out the new ones. They look like giant jack-o-lanterns (and I look like I'm dressed in farm clothes yet again).

The weather was typically Octoberish this weekend with high winds, fast-moving clouds and periods of heavy rain. The horses are starting to get hairy in earnest, and I just love smelling those long tufts where the jaw meets the neck. They don't seem to mind much.

David and I did manage to get some more work done on the shelter, and now that we have a system the remander should go up in another afternoon. Hard work for two iffy backs (David's started to hurt the day after mine -- mysterious!), but I am pleased with the result.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Most Terrifying Moment of My Life

No picture today, folks. The mental image is bad enough.

I called my sister this afternoon to catch up and to wish my 10-year-old nephew a happy birthday. Usually I would sit in the living room or the kitchen, but I was on the couch in our mud room so as not to disturb David (napping) or our friend Roger (working). About 20 minutes into the conversation David came bursting out of our bedroom and shouted "SARAH! There's something wrong with Raven. She fell down." I was off the phone, into boots and out the mudroom door like a shot.

What I saw was my beautiful girl almost upside down in the old bathtub we use as a water trough. Her eyes were closed, her legs out straight, blood running out of her mouth, my heart stopped. As I got closer she opened her eyes and I could see that her lower jaw was caught behind the upper chest strap on her rain sheet. She was perfectly still and she gave a low nicker when she saw me. I thought you'd never come.

Those moments are crystal clear but the rest is a bit of a blur. Our neighbor from across the street was just running over as I shouted "I need scissors", which came flying out the bedroom window. All the dogs started to bark and Raven, previously so calm and patient in her predicament, seemed to decide that it was safe to resume her struggle. She gave a mighty heave, tipped herself and the trough sideways, got enough slack to get her jaw free, and came to her feet in a shambles.

She is better than can be expected. A few gashes but nothing that should be stitched. All ribs seem to be intact and her breathing looks easy. My biggest concern is her cut up gums, but a warm mash went down with ease. She has nibbled at some grass, but any hay she takes up just drops out followed by funny faces. They are obviously sore, but I am hoping that a steady diet of soaked beet pulp will allow her to heal up over the next few days. She will be one miserable horse tomorrow I imagine.

Once Raven was taken care of I got that tub out. of. my. paddock. Not good for the back, but good for the soul. Never again will I use a water vessel that could potentially contain a horse. An old garbage can will have to suffice for now, but I think that an automatic waterer will be on its way.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Health Updates

Flicker: As of this morning she couldn't make a vertical takeoff so I brought her to a wildlife rescue center along with a $30 donation. She wikwikwiked and pecked at the box like mad throughout our drive -- she will be OK if moxie has anything to do with it. They will keep me posted on her progress.

Tonka: Over the past two weeks Tonka's body has made some kind of breakthrough. He is walking loosely and his standing posture is consistently upright, comfortable and relaxed. He is regularly cantering in the pasture, and I saw him take a short, sound-looking trot on the crusher dust yesterday. What's more interesting is that Raven's attitude towards him has changed. At feeding time she used to be content with flattening her ears and swinging her head (yes, she is a marish mare) in his general direction, but now she is more assertive -- as if she senses he is more capable of challenging her. I am cautiously optimistic that we are over the hump.

Penguin (not currently dangerous): Early this morning I climbed into the Red Menace to go pay for our 400 bales of hay. Forty five minutes later I climbed out and I could barely walk. It's one thing to hurt your back while doing hard work, but it's another thing entirely to hurt it while doing nothing at all. I'm hoping that Aunt Flo is to blame and that Robax will get me through the evening chores.