Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How Much are Those Creatures out the Window?

Sometimes David and I muse about how rich we would be if not for the menagerie at Farcical Farm. The mortgage could be paid down, the vehicles could be upgraded and we could travel wherever and whenever we wanted. It sounds kind of nice in theory, but mostly awful.
I have mentioned before that we can see the both goat and horse paddocks from our northern bedroom window and the rest of the horse paddock from our eastern bedroom window. The satellite image above is very outdated (it was obviously taken long before we bought Farcical Farm) but it gives you an idea of how the northern acre of the property is laid out.

David's office is directly below our bedroom, but without a northern window. My "office" (which is just a big easy chair) faces south, looking over the pasture. But I often end up working in our bedroom (on the bed or on the couch) so that I can watch the animals as our different days pass simultaneously by. You can't put a price on the value of that.

Public Service Annoucement

At this stage FFF gets about 100 readers daily. If this information helps even one of you to protect your computer and yourself it will be worthwhile. It is known that some functionality of the Conficker worm has been disabled until April 1st, 2009 and the world is bracing for tomorrow's impact. Windows users can download a free tool from Enigma Software (bottom right of the page) to test their computer for this intruder and to remove it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Stranger Danger

Animals (much like people) never cease to amaze me with their individual personalities. Within our dog pack Tilley and Titan are always wary of strangers where Willow and Watson greet everyone with guileless enthusiasm. The cats are similar -- Hazel is bold and ubiquitous when new people come into the house, but Spike prefers to disappear until they leave. The horses are similar too -- Tonka wanders over to the fence to investigate passersby on the road, but Raven avoids anyone she deosn't know. Although animals with a history of abuse are more prone to be reserved with strangers, I think that individual response is more a function of nature than of nurture. What do you think?

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Is anyone else a fan of this "great game with a strange name"? It was a favorite of mine as a kid, and I very clearly remember a series of TV advertisements set to the following jingle (I would link to a video for you, but this is the first time that YouTube has failed me):

You take a block from the bottom and you put it on top
You take a block from the middle and you put it on top
That's how you build the tower and you just don't stop
Keep building up that tower putting blocks on top
It weebles and it wobbles but you don't give up
It teeters and it totters but you build it on up
Till someone knocks it over and that's when you stop
But you can start all over putting blocks on top

That's what was running through my mind this morning when I put Georange (pronounced gee-orange) through his first paces by turning the contents of the manure bins. As in "you take some poo from the bottom and you put it on top, you take some poo from the middle...". The exercise went quite well, and I was getting proficient with the loader by the end of the first hour. I only dumped one bucketful of manure backwards onto Georange's hood and I only gave one of the fence posts a solid whump and I only removed two big chunks of earth by misgauging the position of the bucket. So far I am impressed with how easy and intuitive the machine is to use.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rhymes With Orange

The New Tractor and our sales representative arrived yesterday afternoon at 1600, about ten minutes after two straight days of rain came to an end. Brian went over all the BX25 features with us and then walked us through the process of detaching and reattaching the backhoe (the gratuitous picture is for Daun). Unlike some similar models the 3-point hitch does not fold up behind the backhoe -- you have to remove and replace it, which is my only complaint about the machine so far.

The weather stayed dry throughout the demonstration but the wind was chilly, so we forced Brian inside for a coffee to finish the transaction. After he left we moved The New Tractor into the paddock, where it is currently acting as ballast for the wayward horse shelter -- we were too embarrassed to admit that this would be its primary use over the coming days.

Obviously the next step was to decide on a name for The New Tractor. I wanted to call him George in homage to Henry, and to Steinbeck and to the Looney Toons, but David wanted to call him Rhymes With Orange because nothing does. We settled on "Georange" despite Pipsqueak's blatant skepticism.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mister Pepper's Happy Hearts Club

I am simultaneously happy and sad to announce that Pepper left this morning for his new home in Burns Lake, BC.* He will be living on five acres with three horses, five cats, an equally fetch-obsessed younger border collie, and an eldery aussie adopted from TDBCR two years ago. More importantly his new folks are around most of the time. Pepper is very dedicated to his people, and I did not want him to spend his remaining years waiting for someone to come home. Overall it is a dream placement and I am thrilled.

I'm normally just happy to see foster dogs go (no matter how great the dogs are they tend to interrupt the routine around here), but Pepper really got under my skin. Getting to know him and to assist him on his way was a pleasure, and he will be sorely missed.

*Most FFF readers from the US probably don't spend much time thinking about Canada's vastness. Burns Lake is at least 12 hours north of Vancouver at a good speed...about the same distance between our shared border and northern California. Once there Pepper will be in the middle of the province of British Columbia and about 1/4 as far north as Canada reaches. It boggles the mind.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tempus Fugit

Loosely translated from the Latin as "time flies". It is a very appropriate name for the height dog on our flyball team, and a succinct description of my weekend. Today Willow and I played in our first tournament since November and our team placed first in the S2 U-Fli division.

I have been captaining this team for three years now, and I suck at the job in some important ways. Beyond forgetting to set my alarm this morning (unprofessional at worst and embarrassing at best) I have never, ever cared about winning. What makes me happy is seeing our dogs running cleanly and our humans having fun -- end of story. I understand that winning is important to the rest of the team so I force myself to take an interest, but I can't bring myself to believe that it matters if we ran our best and had a good time.

Several horse bloggers have been posting answers to an enormous meme over the past week. In considering my own responses I have been forced to acknowledge how much I have changed since I was riding competitively in my teenage years. Winning was everything back then -- in school, in sports, in social life. I was never an unkind person or driven to cut-throat tactics, but beating others was my quiet motivation right through university. I can't say whether my attitude changed as a function of age, experience or relationships (probably all three), but sometime over the past decade my benchmark became entirely internal. While I love reading eventing and dressage blogs, the thought of doing anything competitive with my horses is completely abhorrent to me now. As with my flyball team, I just want them to be happy, healthy and doing their level best. Given the skinny, neurotic mare who showed up at Farcical Farm one year ago, I'm as happy as a clam.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sail Away

That's what our horse shelter tried to do today. It was sunny and lovely in Vancouver, but David reports that it was apocalyptic in Deroche. He was staring out the window in disbelief when a huge gust caught the shelter and pulled it off its foundation. Thanks to the fence it didn't escape to the road, but the fence and the foundation are pretty wrecked up -- looks like that tractor-loader-backhoe and post-hole digger are going to come in handy! David and our neighbor Dave and the Red Menace managed to wrestle the shelter mostly back into position, and the structure itself is remarkably unscathed. It is anchored to the chassis of the Red Menace for the night, and now we know exactly how we're going to spend our Saturday.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Easy Come, Easy Go

Easy Come #1: My mother has been getting her will sorted out recently. While the cash holdings are easy to divvy up fairly, some of her valuable items are posing more of a challenge. In particular there is a beautiful diamond ring that belonged to my grandmother. We all agree that this treasure should stay in the family and my sister (who believes that diamonds are a girl's best friend) is a willing steward. My mother is adamant that I (who believe that dogs are a girl's best friend) receive an equivalent cash gift, which is typically generous of her and much appreciated by me.

Easy Come #2: Three years ago the Government of Canada decided to stop taxing scholarship money. At the same time the University of British Columbia decided to continue taxing scholarship money at source, presumably because it results in some financial benefit for the institution. Putting modesty aside I will admit that I am an elite student who earns more in scholarship money than most Canadians earn annually. It never bothered me that the government took a chunk away (most of it was theirs to begin with), and it certainly doesn't bother me if they want to cut me a huge cheque every spring.

Easy Go #BX25: Today David and I bought a Kubota BX25 sub-compact tractor complete with front-end loader, a backhoe and a post-hole digger. Between my mother human and my mother country most of the cost will be covered, and a little bit of debt seems like a small price to pay for the huge workload this machine will take on around Farcical Farm. It is scheduled to arrive next Tuesday, so I guess one of us should break the news to Henry over the weekend.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Criminal Minds

Another one of Titan's challenging behaviors has been an obsession with escaping from confined areas. In his few successful attempts we have found him still on the Farcical Farm premises, just not where we left him.

The steel gates on the horse paddock are about four feet tall with three feet of mesh and a one foot gap between the upper tubes (similar to the one shown). A couple of months ago Titan started pacing the perimeter of the horse paddock with purpose (alliteration!) -- nose in the air and eyes scanning for possibilities. When he got out the second time I started pacing the perimeter for evidence, and eventually found tell-tale white hairs in mesh of the gates. Our neighbors confirmed that he had been launching himself through the gaps, so I cut three panels from a 48" exercise pen in half and zip-tied them on such that the spikes (left from cutting the grid down the middle) poked up over the top of the upper tube. Designed to provide a nasty shock to any paws coming over the top of the gate while being no threat to the horses. Titan has not escaped from the horse paddock since.

Yesterday I noticed him doing the same perimeter check around the goat paddock, and ten minutes before I was due to leave (for my first hair cut in 8 months) I watched him try to launch himself over the gate (twice) and over the rail by the garage (once) where the top line of barbed wire has sagged. Before leaving I spiked the top of the gate with a row of thin, half-sunk nails and I draped a roll of barbed wire over the unprotected rail. I stressed the whole time I was out, and when David and I got home we drove a line of half-sunk nails all the way around the top rail. No threat to the goats because they are so short, and no threat to us because they sit directly under the barbed wire. They are only a threat to paws that should not be on the rail in the first place. A hot wire would have accomplished the same thing, but nails are cheaper, easier and fail safe.

I'm aware of how Draconian this solution sounds, but keeping Titan safe is our responsibility and our priority. Maremmas are notorious escape artists at this age (that is not him in the picture, but he is almost that tall compared to our 5 foot fence), and given his current penchant for chasing cars we have to assume that he will be a goner if he gets loose. What will his criminal mind think of next, and how will mine counter it?

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Full Tonky

Ladies, ladies. I have neglected to tell Tonka about your overwhelming interest in his nether regions for fear that it will go to his...er...head?

Thanks for your concern, though. All swelling has subsided around his sheath after another layer of the skin on the inside and outside peeled off -- I'm curious to see what happens the next time I worm him. But Tonka is still walking around with his willy half extended sometimes, and it drips a little. Not urine, but a clear and slightly viscous fluid. I know from his former owner that Tonka was not gelded in his care, which made him at least five before he was cut. Sometimes he gets awfully studly when Raven is in heat, so I am inclined to think this new development is hormonal. Spring has definitely been in the air around here (the dogs are frisky, the goats think they are rutting, the cats are less lazy than usual) and Tonka's willy has been getting a little...er...woody from time to time. He still claims to be very itchy, but I suspect it's a rouse so I have stopped giving his manhood anything but cursory medical attention. Is that enough information for y'all?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What Goes In Must Come Out?

Tonka and Raven eat an average of 60 pounds of grass hay daily. Likewise, they produce an average of 5 cubic feet of manure daily (I know this because I can usually fit it in a single wheelbarrow load). But over the past two weeks they have been producing less manure (I no longer have to play a precarious balancing game with the last three or four piles) while eating just as much. Their daily water consumption has not changed, nor their feed rations, nor their turnout time. Considering all the deworming I have done over the past month I can only assume that parasites are not reducing the output. Maybe parasites have been contributing to the output for the past year? This isn't a major concern for me as both horses seem happy and healthy, but I do love a good scientific quandary. Please feel free to hypothesize.

Astute FFF readers will note that this is an old picture of me with my little wheelbarrow, as evidenced by the presence of the Hungry Boots. My newer Muck Boots are still going strong.

Friday, March 13, 2009

At That Age

Titan will be one year old on March 23rd, which is my least favorite age for a dog. Like human teenagers they are constantly exploring their independence and pushing at the previously-established boundaries. Although Titan remains a sweet and companionable character on Farcical Farm, some of his behaviors over the past month have been more challenging than what we have come to expect. First amongst these is chasing cars.

It's important for you to understand that a livestock guardian dog (LGD) is not a pet dog, and treating one as such can ruin its working ability. Raising a good LGD requires a fine balance between interacting with the dog and just leaving it alone with its stock and its instincts for company. With too much training the dog will start looking to people for leadership, but with too little training the dog will not learn to respect its human handlers. Overall I think we have done a good job with Titan. He is completely independent in his decision-making about threats to Farcical Farm, yet he maintains a biddable attitude with people he knows. He has a nice "sit" command, he waits politely at gates, and he mostly comes when you call him. Tilley, Willow and Watson are absolutely convinced that he gets special treatment (they would never get away with 80% of the shit he can pull), possibly due to his lesser intelligence. He is not, after all, a herding dog.

Sometime over the past two weeks Titan decided that it is fun to charge the fence when he hears certain cars coming down the road. He completely ignores people-only cars, but he recognizes the engines of the ones that sometimes contain dogs from a good 200 meters away. Until now we haven't intervened because he is safely fenced and we aren't around enough to correct him consistently. But last night I just happened to be moving him and the goats back home from the horse paddock when his #1 nemesis pulled around the corner. Titan was off like a shot without a thought in the world for the screaming maniac behind him. Fortunately the driver saw him just in time (it was dusk -- thank goodness of daylight savings time) and we were very lucky. Until we figure out some solution (probably an invisible fence across the driveway) he will have no off-leash privileges in non-fenced areas. I had five or six horrible, bloody dreams about him getting hit last night, and I was probably too hard on him today for two fence-rushing car chase scenes. There was not, however, a third when the #1 nemesis went by this evening.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Il Pleut dans son Coeur

We had to cancel last week's appointment with Christina Cline because of the snow, but Little Miss Sunshine managed to squeeze Tonka and Raven into today's busy schedule. Sure enough, the weather was picture perfect (and downright chilly at -8 °C), but it was raining in Christina's heart. Two weeks ago she lost her young horse Leo to a complete veterinary mystery. She was there when he was born, she raised him, trained him, broke him and generally molded him into a dream horse that she planned to spend the next twenty years enjoying. It all started with a kick in the shoulder that he barely noticed. Christina was able to ride him the day after it happened, but when she returned from a short road trip she found him dead lame. Vets chocked it up to an infection in the tissue and started antibiotics, but he was also having trouble breathing. An autopsy revealed that his heart was grossly enlarged when he died.

I don't want to capitalize on Christina's misery here. I only want to share her story because it is such a potent reminder that our time with loved ones can be too suddenly curtailed. It cannot be an accident that the French verbs "pleurer" (to cry) and "pleuvoir" (to rain) are so similar, can it?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Harrowing Experience

Some time over the winter David told me about a piece of steel cable he had found deeply buried in the grass at the far end of the pasture. The horses never go into that area, so we decided that its extrication could wait until spring. David's brother Gareth appeared last night for a quick visit, and today he volunteered to help David remove this accident waiting to happen (most likely to Raven). They walked down the pasture together and spent five minutes poking around before coming back for two spades. They walked back down the pasture and spent another five minutes digging around before returning for the Red Menace. About twenty minutes later they all came rumbling over the rise with a 10-foot chain harrow in tow. It looks like someone welded it together with leftovers from some big piece of machinery. Who knows how long it has been buried out there for a long time with nothing but its drag cable sticking out? Roger, Gareth and David with the kill:

While the brothers were down the back Roger was working on our burn pile, which has been getting steadily larger for a couple of months now. The stuff was pretty wet, but a little gasoline goes a long way.

And before any of this started Gareth was kind enough to help me finish topping the planter boxes off with composted manure. Nice to have such good company around for a few days, and also nice to have such willing pairs of extra hands.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Hung Like Half a Horse

Yesterday David emailed me at work to let me know that Tonka had left his willie hanging halfway out for most of the afternoon. Same story today, so I have to assume that is the most comfortable position for...er...little Tonka in light of whatever is ailing big Tonka. His sheath is not nearly as swollen as it was in January, and I have decided not to intervene this time around. That extreme reaction may have been caused by the "Special Formula" or by all my poking and prodding, so I am looking but not touching. I cannot shake the suspicion that this has something to do with (1) dewormning or (2) worms or (3) both, but I don't know how to test the theory. Anyhow, thank you all for your concern and your kind thoughts. Tonka would thank you too if he could, especially if they came with some treats.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Beast Without

When I fed the horses tonight I discovered that Titan had relocated Tonka's tub to the other end of the paddock. Raven was already eating in her stall when I went to fetch it, carrying Tonka's feed right past him in a small bucket. The poor, starving horse concluded that he was not getting fed and pitched a panicked fit (food is the only thing that brings out his dark side) that rapidly spread to Miss Thing.

When Raven panics in her stall I normally just stand back, open the gate and let her go. She gets a glazed look in her eyes that tells me she's beyond clear communication, and I don't need to be in a confined space with her under those circumstances. Tonight, however, I was able to talk her down for the first time ever. It helped that Tonka settled once he got his feed, but I just spoke quietly to her from outside the stall until she stopped and put her head over the gait. Then I put a halter on her (I always have one hanging nearby), took her into the paddock of some yielding exercises, and put her back to the stall to finish her dinner. Afterwards she strolled out like nothing had happened, and I feel like this was a breakthrough for both of us.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

This Little Light of Mine

How many of you use a headlamp to do your chores when it is dark outside? At Farcical Farm there is plenty of light around the garage and in the goat paddock, but it is impossible to see anything in the horse paddock on a dark night. We have two Petzl Tikkas hanging by the door, and when the batteries are fresh I can see about 60 feet ahead in the swath of the beam. When the batteries are dying I can barely see my own hands. And tonight I was barely able to see that Tonka's sheath is swelling up again, just like it did in January. Sigh.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Party in the Smartie

When David and I moved to Farcical Farm my mother donated her elderly Mazda Miata to our cause. Our Tacoma is known to us as the Red Menace and the Miata is known as the Smartie. The name comes from my friend Janet who stated many years ago (when the car still belonged to my mother) that "it looks like a Smartie on wheels". As far as I know Americans don't get Smarties, but just imagine a thinner, wider M&M.

Whenever I drive the Smartie anywhere I sing "come on Smartie, let's go party" to myself (often out loud), styled after Aqua's classic Barbie Girl. On Sunday the Smartie ran out of windshield washer fluid, and when I popped the hood for a refill I found that the damnable rats had been having a party of their own while David and I were in Ontario.

The settings must have been screwy on the camera, but that white blob you see on the left-hand side of the engine is an impressive collection of pillow stuffing, dog hair and hay. And what's a party without refreshments? They also chewed through the washer fluid tank (thus explaining why it had run out). I haven't seen any victims of this folly yet, but I haven't seen any survivors either. Pipsqueak seems convinced that they haven't cleared out for good.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Springing into Spring

For the past week Raven has been downright bouncy. She has lost about 50lbs since the beginning of the Five Pillar Plan, and we finally started the SmartFlex Repair last week. On Saturday she threw a hissy fit about something in the paddock and started pronging around like a gazelle followed by a rearing episode worthy of being Black Stallion cover art. Today David reported that she had a similar temper tantrum when he locked her out on the pasture for couple of hours (so that the goats could have some time in the big paddock without getting the chance to chow down on the horse tails). I have always hoped to be back on her in April, and it looks like we are right on schedule.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Host with The Most

Or maybe the hostess. It could be Raven or it could be Tonka, but one of my horses is producing piles of manure that are, in turn, producing piles of tiny red worms. Of course I have them on a regular worming rotation, but it looks like we need some bigger guns this month. Over the past three days I have collected samples from both horses so that Kerstin can give me the go-ahead to hit them both with five days of Panacur (fendendazole). Here's a picture of some encysted red worm larvae just to gross you out.