Thursday, February 26, 2009

Snow Long, It's Been Good to Snow You

The Fraser Valley got hit by a freak snow storm yesterday, with almost 12 inches accumulating at Farcical Farm. Quite a shock for my poor mother, who was hoping to escape such weather by visiting BC at this time of year. Also quite a shock for the rest of of the residents, all of whom have started to shed out in anticipation of spring. No pictures of the goats or horses today because the camera battery died before I made it that far, but here's some of the dogs (except for Tilley, who was being totally unphotogenic) having fun.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bed Sweet Bed

Getting to bed is at the top of my priority list right now, so that's what I'm posting about. Daun recently mentioned that her pharaoh hound scorns any human who attempts to sleep in the bed whilst she is there, and it made me realize that Tilley, Willow and Watson (plus Pepper) have it pretty rough compared to the dogs of some FFF readers. They have a couch to themselves in our mud room and several dog beds scattered around, but they are not allowed on the furniture or in the human bed. (Or not by me, anyhow...who knows what they get up to when I'm not around.) We used to have a regular bed with dog beds on the floor beside it, but I got tired of tripping on them a couple of years ago and ordered this instead. The dogs get the bottom bunk with a queen-sized futon in a vinyl cover, and we get the top bunk complete with heated mattress pad. Nighty night!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Routine Checkup

Our neighbours claim that the weather was beautiful while David and I were away, and we arrived home in time to enjoy at least one day of sun before the predicted rain begins. We also arrived home with my mother in tow for her first visit to Farcical Farm (which inspired me to dig out some Reno Hell pictures).
It was good to get back to my chores this morning, but surprising to find that my routine was already not-so-routine. I forgot to bring the beet pulp bucket with me when I fed the horses, so I had to go back to the garage to get it. I forgot to collect the manure fork after dumping the wheelbarrow, so I had to go back to the paddock to get it. I forgot Titan's dinner in the laundry room tonight, so I had to go back to the house to get it. A myriad of time-consuming little mistakes that I don't normally make. From my stable hand days I know that most horse caretakers know the fastest, most efficient way to get their chores finished, and I usually follow a careful routine (sometimes more slowly than others). Tomorrow I will be back on my game.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Foggy Memories

Literally, not figuratively. One year ago today I took a float plane over to Salt Spring Island to meet Raven for the first time. It was very foggy around the gulf islands that morning, and I waited around the little airport in Vancouver for a couple of hours hoping that my flight would not be delayed until another day.

I had purchased a new (used) little digital camera before the trip so that I could take pictures of Raven, but I was so smitten with her that I forgot to use it between flights. In retrospect I guess I knew exactly what I was in for with Miss Thing, and part of me knows that I took her on to keep her safe. She is the kind of horse who could get passed around a lot. And even though I didn't get any pictures of her that day, I snapped some nice ones en route back home.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Horse Toys

Tonka and Raven have a pretty good life at Farcical Farm. They are turned out 24/7 on 1/3 of an acre with free-choice hay, ample water, shelter from the weather and five large trees to lounge under, scratch against and chew on. They also get regular access to 2 acres of pasture with room to run and a variety of grasses to eat. Their nutritional needs are met, their hooves are trimmed regularly and the vet is consulted whenever necessary. Although I don't work them as much as I would like to, they get plenty of human attention on a daily basis and they regularly interact with our dogs and goats.

Even so, I sometimes fear that they are bored and I wonder about providing further stimulation for them. At 16 and 20 years old they don't show any interest in empty pop bottles or plain old jolly balls, but they are both food-motivated enough to engage with something that dispenses treats. I recently came across the Nose-It toy, but it will cost $100 to get two to Deroche. Although I am tempted, I wonder if I can make something similar out of materials I can find close to home. Any ideas?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Time on Ice

David and I aren't planning to have children, but we both enjoy the company of the kids in our respective families. My sister's eldest son had just turned one when we first met, and his nieces and nephews were all under the age of ten. David's sister in Ottawa has four kids, now ranging between 12 and 19, and we have been going to their hockey games whenever possible for years. They used to swarm down the ice after the puck, which I referred to as "bowling for 6-year-olds" because one fallen child would inevitably splay along like a starfish, knocking down half of the other players. Tonight we watched 16-year-old boys (called "midgets" despite their size and height) play three full periods of real, hard hockey.

There is nothing that marks the passage of time in my life like watching these children grow into adolescents and onto adulthood. Deadlines come and go, goals are achieved or abandoned, dogs get stiffer through the hips and grayer around the muzzles -- none of these provide the sudden shocks that come with seeing kids only once or twice a year. I never worry much about time and mortality, but sometimes it makes my breath catch in my throat.

After the game the family loaned us some skates so that we can enjoy the Rideau Canal tomorrow morning. I am also looking forward to enjoying a Beaver Tail.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


There are many different kinds of hoof boots available, but Renegades are relative newcomers. Christina Cline tried them on her trail riding vacation this summer and she was very impressed. As a barefoot hoof care professional she has some clout in securing orders of this popular product (I believe that production is several weeks behind demand right now) and has offered to get me a pair for Raven. So far I have been holding off due to the expense (well over $200 CDN) but now that the vet bills are almost paid off I have been considering them more seriously.

Until her injury I had been riding Raven in EasyBoot Epics, but not without hitches like buckles popping open on trails and gators ripping off at a gallop. She is a challenging enough horse to ride without having to worry about her boots, and something more secure would ease my mind in the saddle. The Renegades have a unique design with a rigid, heel-cupping section instead of a soft gator. They look easy to use and they come in colours like "Arizona copper" and "dragon fire red" -- what else is there to know?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Home Again, Home Again

David and I are now in Ontario (aka Onterrible) visiting with family. Next week is reading week, and given that today was my mother's 76th birthday (she swears it's her 66th) we ducked out early. The most excellent Melissa is taking care of Farcical Farm while we're gone, so I will once again be forced to plumb the depths of my imagination for FFF material. Don't get your hopes up, folks -- it's murky in there.

This picture was taken in the summer of 2003, about six months after my dad died. I am at my thinnest, mostly due to grief. My mother is at her palest for much the same reason. Still, we wanted to document the flowers we had planted and tended with the same care he took every previous summer. It gets a little easier every year.

Working for the Man

The "little man" that is. Although Tonka's willy is no longer swollen, it remains itchy and I scratch it for him most evenings to offer a little relief. He really appreciates the attention and follows me around begging for more when I stop. Given that Funder and Sarah have been talking about clicker training recently I was inspired to combine stretching exercises with a verbal marker (I have no clue where my clicker is) and a scratching reward. Within 10 minutes I had him targeting his ribs with his nose and actually taking bites at himself because he couldn't contain his enthusiasm for this new game. Men, eh?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tails of Woe

This post has been a long time brewing, but it has been brought to the forefront by Andrea's recent link to a news story about horse tail theft. We also have tail thieves at Farcical Farm -- their names are Timbit, Morsel and Roland McNugget.

Last month we noticed that Tonka's tail was unmistakably shorter than it had been, and several days later we caught the goats in the act of eating it. Raven's was normal at first, and we thought she was safe because she is so mean to the goats, but once they harvested Tonka's low-hanging fruit they started sneaking up on her from behind. Now both horses look silly at best (thank goodness I don't show), and their ability to protect themselves from insects has been compromised at worst. I guess we should be thankful that the goats are so short.

We could stop turning the goats out with the horses, but that would be boring for all parties. The goats love their big buddies, and Tonka loves the goats right back. He and Timbit spend a lot of time eating and playing together -- you will often see Tonka knocking Timbit with his nose to get a head butting in return. The better solution is to protect the horse's tails when the goats are around, but how?

Last week I put grommets in the tail flaps of all the horse blankets so that we can tie tail bags onto them, but even that doesn't provide Tonka with enough protection. He lets the goats stand with their hooves on his hocks to reach the hairs around his dock (he also lets them chew on his chestnuts, by the way -- we think he lacks some gene for equine dignity). I hope that I can find a full-tail wrap that will withstand Yesterday all three were playing tug-o-war with his tail cover while he had a nap in the sun.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


That stands for International Ice Cream For Breakfast Day, which falls on the first Saturday in February. My boss and his wife host an IICFBC party every year, and I have been attending (usually with David) since 2002. The ambiance is getting more sedate as their kids get older (now 12 and 15), but the novelty hasn't worn off. Last year I sampled the craziest flavours I could find, but this year I stuck to small scoops of chocolate, vanilla and caramel.

After that we saw Coraline with some good friends, followed by lunch, followed by coffee. We all love Neil Gaiman and the movie was pretty great. The company was even better.

When David and I moved out of Vancouver we promised ourselves and our friends in the city that we would make a concerted effort to maintain a healthy social life. We are both deeply introverted people and Farcical Farm could too easily become our hermitage. So far we have honoured that commitment, juggling our schedules and the needs of our animals to make time with friends whenever possible and we never regret it.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Time Keeps on Slipping

There is nothing that stresses me out more than being late, to the point of it being a psychological condition rather than a social habit. Even though I have improved in recent years I am convinced that I will eventually die of a heart attack induced by running late for something. When we travel David obsesses about all the little things like (1) where we're going to sleep, (2) when we're going to eat, and (3) what we're going to do. I only obsess about getting to the airport on time.

I never wear a watch because I am uncomfortable in jewelery and I spend most of my days in front of a computer with my cell phone nearby. Even in the absence of clocks I am uncannily good at estimating the time. But things are different when I am puttering around Farcical Farm -- whole hours slide by in what feels like 15 minutes. If I definitely need to be somewhere I keep my phone in my pocket, but it tends to get dirty and abused (even dirtier and more abused than it gets in everyday life). A big clock somewhere outdoors seems like the practical solution, but the thought of installing one makes me kind of sad.

However, it makes me very happy to let FFF readers know that Black Jack's Carol made it home from the hospital today. Welcome back Carol!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Zip Tying Away

Duct tape gets a lot publicity as the ultimate quick fix, but I think that zip ties deserve an honorable mention. These handy plastic strips are strong, they come in multiple sizes, and they leave no sticky residue. Any visitor to Farcical Farm will find them doing hard service by the dozens. Several are holding the gridded panels into the horse feeders, and I use them backwards through the lid latches to keep the feeders closed. They break easily if a horse gets hung up on them, but they last forever otherwise (until the goats chew them up, anyhow). When Titan learned to escape from the horse paddock through the big gaps at the tops of the tubular gates I zip-tied some wire mesh on to block them. There is small one at the end of the big spoon I used to stir horse feed so that I can hang it from a hook, and there are several large ones anchoring tarps to the back of our manure bins.

I have been closing both garage doors at night to keep Pipsqueak safe, but one of the four hook latches is so tight that I have hurt my hands multiple times trying to close it. Last night I used a zip tie to extend that loop by about half a centimeter and now it closes easily -- still secure, but not too tight.

Monday, February 2, 2009

What Do You Say?

What are the first words that come out of your mouth when asking a horse to settle? For me they are "ho, son" for a gelding or "ho, mum" for a mare. These are the words my coach always used and they have stuck with me over the years. Does everyone say the same thing? If not, does it vary by geographic location? Discipline? Training barn?

When I went out to feed the horses tonight they were standing on the front lawn and I practically ran into Raven as I rounded the corner of the house. Pepper was hot on my heels and understandably startled by this irregularity, so he started to bark. This was not the wild jail break we had last month -- David admits to having left the gate unlatched, and the horses obviously wandered out when it blew open. Not wanting them to panic I issued a general "ho son" while ushering Pep back into the house, then stopped to consider where those words come from. In the meantime David lured Tonka and Raven back into the paddock with the promise of alfalfa cubes. And I definitely latched the gate after my chores were finished. Definitely.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Public Enemy

If you are lucky enough to live somewhere untainted by Himalayan blackberry then do your best to keep it that way. This insidious invader would probably consume Farcical Farm in four or five years if left to its own devices.

On Friday afternoon Black Jack's Carol got tangled in a blackberry cane while she was cycling home from work, resulting in a pretty serious accident. With her in mind I trespassed onto our neighbour's property this afternoon and spent a couple of hours hacking away at one thicket that constantly sends tendrils over our fence. Himalayan blackberry is not your garden variety (punny!) weed. A mature stalk measures about 1 inch in diameter and is covered with thick, sharp thorns that can penetrate denim, leather and even cheap rubber. At risk to life and limb I brought this one inside to photograph for you:

Canes grow upwards out of a central stock, then bend to trail along the ground. These snake-like vines can easily reach 10 meters in length and they are practically invisible in tall grass. If you have horses they are akin to having lengths of barbed wire hidden in the pasture -- not nearly as dangerous, but still a hazard. The vines can put down roots anywhere along their length, and the huge root systems are so resource-greedy that they can survive entire seasons with minimal photosynthetic support from the above-ground plants. The only non-chemical ways to kill this hearty foe are (1) thorough and sustained culling of all above-ground stalks, followed by burning of the material, and (2) complete destruction of the root system. Option #1 generally takes three diligent years, keeping in mind that bears, birds and other wildlife are constantly eating and redistributing the seeds.

Of course Himalayan blackberry does produce blackberries -- big sweet ones by the thousands in the fall. It is the plant's only redeeming quality.