Thursday, April 30, 2009

Living Up to the Joneses

It is extremely important to me that my professional colleagues think highly of my work, but the opinions of others don't worry me much in the rest of my life (though I do shower occasionally and dress in clothing that mostly matches). The outside appearance of Farcical Farm is one exception. I grew up in middle class neighborhood where everyone kept their home and property looking neat and tidy because everyone else expected as much. Anyone who didn't keep to the code was quietly tsktsked by the whole neighborhood, bringing shame upon their entire families. That kind of environment is too extreme for my adult tastes, but I do feel compelled to keep Farcical Farm looking acceptable for the sake of neighborhood appearance.*

For the past two summers David and I have been busy with home renovations, promising ourselves that the summer of 2009 would be dedicated to landscaping. We have mowed the lawn and trimmed the hedges, but otherwise ignored the state of the flora around the house. When I mowed the lawn for the first time last week I was appalled (but not surprised) to find the grass/weed mix at about 50/50 and vowed to start correcting it. On Tuesday we had the septic pumped and checked (no point in rehabilitating a lawn if it's only going to get ripped up again) and on Wednesday I purchased my weapons: a weeder, a seed spreader and some turf builder. So far I have manually weeded about 1/10 of the lawn (which also serves to aerate the lawn, considering the density of the dandelions) in six hours. Thank goodness I love mindless, repetitive tasks (I'm not kidding, I really do. Really.) What do you do to keep your place up to snuff?

*With apologies to Funder I will admit that we refer to the least well-kept property in the neighborhood as the "hillbilly house".

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hair Today, Hair Tomorrow

Anyone who lives in a multi-pet household knows the joy of shedding season: hair everywhere. With three double coated dogs and two cats indoors (one long-haired) there seems to be no point in sweeping or vacuuming the Ruddy Beast because you might as well start again by the time you finish. Today was very windy at Farcical Farm, so we opened all the windows and let the tufts accumulate in the corners for easy removal -- thank you mother nature! (And thank goodness for hard floors because methinks the combination of carpets and pets would result in bloody carpets around here.)

Indoor pet hair is a fact of life to which we resigned ourselves long ago, so I find the outdoor pet hair more interesting. The picture above shows what comes out of a pygmy goat (specifically Timbit) at this time of year. It is a soft, downy wool completely unlike their course, bristled overcoats. They love to scratch themselves up and down the fences, so there is a fine coating of this stuff along the lower two feet of wire in the goat and horse paddocks.

And then there's the horses. Raven has fine black hair and her shedding process isn't particularly drastic or noticeable this year (unlike last year when her rough orange coat came out in clumps). Tonka is a woolly beast who leaves his coat wherever he goes. The whole dirt portion of the paddock is covered in white hair, as are any roll-worthy areas of the pasture. I can go at him with the shedding blade for half an hour and the hair never stops coming (the picture is from last year, but would look exactly the same this year except for the blue garage).

The worst culprit by far is Titan. Right now he is the dirtiest, most raggedy-looking creature you could ever imagine (and you're going to have to imagine, because I'm not taking pictures of that mess). Whenever it drives me to the brink I tackle and groom him, but no amount of brushing or plucking seems to make a difference. We expect the SPCA any day now.

Pipsqueak doesn't shed much and neither does David, but I think this picture is really cute. It makes up for the undisplayed hideousness of Titan.

Friday, April 24, 2009

In Which I Encourage You to Read Another Blog

AareneX of Haiku Farm recently wrote about Himalayan blackberry with much more depth and humour than I could ever muster. I was telling David about it last Saturday while we attacked another stand that has been encroaching on Farcical Farm from the neighbor's property. Last time I used a pair of bypass loppers, but this time I pulled out the big guns -- my beloved Husqvarna straight shaft trimmer with its brush blade attached. (Aside to EvenSong: I just realized that even our lawn mower and weed whacker are orange.)

The key to killing blackberries lies in limiting their photosynthesis. If you can keep above-surface leaves to a minimum their below-surface roots will eventually weaken and die. By "eventually" I mean three or four years -- they are very hardy. The Husqy can get the canes right at ground level, making it a useful tool in the blackberry war. I hope that AareneX is reading this, and I hope that you will visit Haiku Farm to urge her on. They just got a new tractor today, and EvenSong will be happy to hear that it's blue.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

One is the Loneliest Number

That's exactly how many bales of hay we have the garage. You may recall that I bought 400 bales of 6% sugar and 15% protein hay in the fall, and that we had 200 bales delivered on October 10th (197 days ago) while Farmer Dave stored the other 200 in his barn.* I have always known that Tonka and Raven eat about a bale a day between them, but the day-to-day fluctuation is huge -- between 2/3 and 4/3 -- so I am surprised to see how accurate that estimate was over such a long period. We use hay to bed down the goat van when it gets mucked, so that probably accounts for the other three bales.

Neat, but it doesn't explain how we are going to feed the horses come Saturday. I cannot get in touch with the young man who did the transport last time so I will go pick up 20 bales Saturday morning and hope that Dan calls back soon.

*Farmer Dave was very glad to hear from me. He knew that he had sold the hay, but had completely forgotten to whom. When I tentatively confirmed that he still had the hay he said "Of course! I knew I sold it to someone!" which epitomizes my experience with farmers so far -- a handshake deal is a done deal.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Scrambler

You got to know when to nose it
Know when to hoof it
Know when to walk around
Know when to trot
You never count your cubes
While they're sitting in the red egg
And who cares about the counting
When the eating's done?

A couple of months ago I posted about horse toys, bemoaning how much it would cost to buy two Nose-It cubes. Since then I been putting a scoop of alfalfa cubes into an old, round water can and letting Tonka and Raven have their way with it, which has worked out fine.

I was at a farm store that I rarely visit the other day buying seeds when The Scrambler caught my eye. It is a new (Canadian-made) dog toy that looks like a giant Easter egg and is made from a tough, rigid plastic. I mused aloud about whether it would stand up to horses if I bored a treat hole in one end, and the retailers thought that it probably would. At $18 it wasn't going to break the bank if it didn't work out, so I bought one.

So far the horses love it (or Raven loves it and Tonka would love to have the opportunity to love it) and shows no sign of breaking under the strain. Its shape is a huge advantage when being pursued by 1200lb animals because it simply skitters off in another direction if they happen to get a hoof on it. I am looking forward to buying another one ASAP before they all get snapped up.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

En Vogue

These are not great pictures (I took them after dusk last night and digitally adjusted the contrast) but I happened to have a camera in-hand when Raven did something I've been wanting to show you -- equine voguing. Over the past week she has started to look more comfortable again, but I have often seen her standing this way. It is hard to see in the photos, but she is resting her hind left on the toe with the heel raised. She does it equally on both sides and I wonder what it means -- any thoughts? Although I know it's a symptom of navicular pain she doesn't show any other symptoms, and her general level of pain is obviously much lower this week than it has been for the past month.

Monday, April 20, 2009

He's My Man

My romantic history is sinfully straightforward. I had one boyfriend between the ages of 15 and 18, another between 18 and 21, and another between 21 and 23 (David and I met a few months before my 24th birthday). I loved each of them like crazy when we were together, and they each had a profound impact on the woman I continue to become. I am thankful to have remained friends with all of them.

My history with celebrity crushes is equally as tame.* Michael Stipe caught my eye when I was 12 and has held it ever since. Patrick Stewart could captain me anywhere any time (I was envious to hear that some friends will be seeing this in London next month), and I would gladly accept Viggo Mortensen as my king. But my deepest, most abiding feelings are for Leonard Cohen. Boyfriend #2 introduced me to Cohen’s work (literature, poetry, music) shortly after his last musical tour and I have loved him ever since. If it is weird for a 33-year-old woman to get worked up about a 75-year-old man, then I don’t want to be normal. And judging by the crowd at last night’s show I am not alone.

For years I thought that I would never get the opportunity to see Cohen live. Although his youth was quite wild he now leads a notoriously quiet life studying Buddhism and releasing the occasional album or book of poetry without much fanfare. Then in 2005 Cohen’s trusted friend and financial adviser stole the millions he had set away for retirement and left him bankrupt. With all of his typical reserve Cohen tried hard to keep the sordid details out of the public realm, but he candidly admitted that he would consider a final tour to secure his financial future.

And oh, what a tour! It started in Europe and Australian where his fan bases are denser than in the US (or his home and native Canada). Shows were sold out, reviews were glowing, and expansion into North America was confirmed some time last year. I bought our tickets the day they went on sale, and was very excited to attend a packed GM Place with David last night. By all appearances Cohen and his crew were excited to be there with us.

The show was fantastic. Carefully produced, perfectly paced and artfully played. Cohen would probably be the first to admit that he was the least talented musician on the stage. His once-mediocre voice has taken a beating over the course of his life, but his music only gets better with time. He managed to cover most of his career in 3+ hours with the older songs beautifully adapted to his present voice and accompaniment. A couple of the newer songs were played so true to their album versions that they could have been faked except that Cohen and crew were right there on stage, working hard for us.

And that might be the most impressive thing about the show. Cohen was, as ever, gracious and modest and wry, but he was also sweetly grateful for our presence. People have come out in droves to see him and to support him on this tour and he is repaid us by making it worth our time, our money and, in cases like mine, our years of rapt attention. On Sunday night Cohen was our man, and I am so thankful to have remained his fan.

*Boyfriend #2 always described himself as “embarrassingly heterosexual” given the progressive crowd in which we ran. I am much the same way, but I would do Clea DuVall if I ever got the chance. She is HOT!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Still Alive

First: Me. My sincere apologies for neglecting FFF so much recently. Things are busy at work and spring is busy at Farcical Farm. Next week will be better.

Second: Goats. Today marks the one-year anniversary of their arrival and survival in our care. Amazing when you think of the odds. This afternoon they busted out of the pasture and made a bee-line for the rhubarb. The picture above is Roland on his first day -- note the van in the background, complete with the ramp that David made so they could get into it. That's how tiny they were.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rise Up

Someone recently contacted me for my opinion on our Twister run-in shelter. She had stumbled across FFF while searching for information and was looking for some first-hand thoughts on the product. The question forced me to recall the whole shelter saga. We ordered it last May and it didn't ship until September due to a problem at the manufacturing plant and the gross incompetency of the broker. Then FedEx Freight refused to deliver it to Farcical Farm because we didn't have front-end loader, so it sat in their yard for almost a month while we negotiated its release. When we finally got the crate and unpacked its contents we found two important pieces missing, thus delaying construction even further. One afternoon when David and I were working on the construction an 8-foot post slipped out of position and caught me on the spine, leaving my right leg feeling heavy and numb for several weeks to follow. After we finished construction Raven and Tonka spent weeks being terrified of their new paddock-mate. And then, following a winter of relative tranquility, the run-in shelter tried to run off.

Two weekends ago David and I made Georange earn his keep by helping us to restore the shelter to its original position. When it got caught by the wind its skids pulled up out of the crusher dust, causing little rock avalanches to fill the trenches where the skids had been. With some serious manual labor we excavated the rock away from the sides of the skids, and then we used the loader to lift the shelter so that we could dig back down to bare dirt under the skids. Once the shelter was on its original foundation we re-graded the gravel with the loader and used the backhoe to dig two huge holes on either side of the structure*. Then we dropped a loop of steel cable into each hole, followed by a very large rock (unearthed last fall when Tom extended the crusher dust footing). With loops of cable around the upper beam of the shelter we created two guy wires anchoring the top of the stucture firmly to the ground. Phew.

All in all it was a successful operation. The kind of experience that leaves us city slickers feeling more confident in our ability to live this rural life without always making utter asses of ourselves. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera out for photodocumenation of this little victory, so you will have to satisfy yourselves with stock footage.

*Although it sounds easy, digging two large holes with a backhoe is pretty challenging unless you know how to use one. David and I agree that it would have been faster and prettier if we had done them by hand.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Aldernative Rock

Two of the trees in the horse paddock are large, sturdy alders. They grow like weeds around here, easily gaining 6-10 feet per year. The ones in the paddock are probably 30+ years old, but they might not last much longer. Tonka and Raven think they make excellent scratching posts and tasty snacks -- both love to chew on the trunks and the roots. My scientific mind is curious to discover how long they can withstand this equine abuse, but my emotional mind hopes they will adapt and survive.

Alders are neither pretty nor ugly in my opinion. They tend to have many branching limbs, which is something I like in a tree, but they have scruffy little leaves. And right now they are dropping their damnable catkins everywhere. Today I spent a couple of hours raking two full wheelbarrows of them out of the paddock, trying my best to take as little of the rock substrate as possible. The males (right) are thin enough to slip through a manure fork if they are not sitting perpendicular to the tines, and the females (left) are almost impossible to get unless they are still attached to their forked stems. Normally when I pick a forkful of hay off the crusher dust I bounce it around a few times to shake out the stones, but such treatment of alder catkins just leaves you with an empty fork. It is a good lesson in "good enough" for a perfectionist like me.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Paend*

David and I spent one lovely month camping all over Newfoundland in the summer of 2002 (before we had a digital camera) and we landed back in St. John's just in time for the annual regatta. This event is held on the first Wednesday in August, and it shuts the town down. If the weather on the appointed date is not cooperative it gets postponed until the next day, and this happens indefinitely until they get some sun. Just one of many things to love about Newfoundland. The regatta (pronounced by Newfoundlanders as "the regitta") is held on Quidi Vidi Lake, alternately known as "the paend" because that's what Newfoundlanders call most bodies of water. Big puddle? A paend. Lake Superior? A paend.

In the original cast of characters I forgot to introduce Fishy, Fishy, Fishy, Fishy and Fishy. And Fishy and Fishy. In fact we have no clue how many fish live in our paend (behind all of the rocks and vegetation in the pictures above), but they seem to thrive under our regime of near-complete neglect. The paend itself, however, has not thrived under the canine regime of leaping in to cool off when the opportunity presents itself. I am quite sure that the liner is punctured in many places, and one task on our long spring/summer list is dredging the pond and probably replacing the soft plastic liner with a large stock tank -- maybe the 180 gallon ovular Tuff Stuff tub. Thank goodness for that backhoe!

*Paend is actually "pond" but misspelled as an attempt to convey the Newfoundland accent.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Indian Bosal

Back when I thought I might be riding Raven over Easter weekend I bought her a new bridle, and it arrived today. Although I was very happy with the Dr. Cook's for her transition from a bit, I do have a few concerns about the product. First, the cross-under straps tend to twist when Raven gets busy with her head, which generally means that I am not in a position to reach forward and untwist them. Second, the nose band is too tight for my liking -- it seems like a source of constant pressure from which the animal cannot escape. And third, I would never use it as a halter as suggested by the manufacturers.

When reading about alternatives I stumbled across the Indian bosal. Instead of using cross-under straps to put pressure on the nose and poll it wraps around the nose and applies pressure under the chin when the reins are taught, but otherwise is hangs loose. And there is a secondary knot under the chin so that it can be used as a regular rope halter without any action from the reins. It is an elegant-looking contraption and I think that it will suit Raven well, but I will have to be satisfied with trying it out on Tonka.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hock Eyes

I am an inveterate M*A*S*H fan, and have been known to ask "what would Alan Alda do?" in tricky situations. About three weeks ago Raven was finally beginning to look comfortable again after the great hock puncture of 2008. She was getting leaner and stronger, and the SmartFlex Repair seemed to be helping -- I was planning to be back on her in early April. Then we got another snap of cold, wet weather and everything went downhill. The joint looks stiff, the problematic suspensory tendons look painful, and the whole horse looks uncomfortable. She is dead lame on the hind right for a couple of minutes after getting up. She prefers to be on the dirt part of the paddock instead of the crusher dust. She is standing in the corner with her nostrils slightly wrinkled instead of joining Tonka at the feeders -- it is like we have reverted to December.

Now that the weather is warmer and drier she looks a little better again, but still very stiff and jilted on the hinds. Christina was here to trim today, and Raven was dead lame for a few strides after having the hind right on the stand for long enough to get her mustang roll (Christina trimmed the hoof with it resting on her boot). It is time for Kerstin to come out for teeth and vaccinations, and it is time to reassess the long-term plan. I think we have to give Adequan a try. It's what Alan Alda would do.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Live Lizards

This post seems very trite in light of Funder's worst day ever, and I'm sorry for that.

Several months ago an anonymous FFF reader suggested that I use Ship Happens when ordering things from the US, and I have been enjoying their services ever since. Every time a package arrives they send me a form email giving my 60 days to retrieve it. Today I got such a message with the text ****LIVE LIZARDS**** added to the subject line. I don't remember ordering any, and I certainly didn't want to find a box of ****DEAD LIZARDS**** waiting for me next time I pick up an order, so I replied to suggest there had been a mix-up.

Indeed, the lizards were for someone just below me in their email database. But it did make me question the feasibility of ordering parastic wasps from the US. A recent article in Horse Illustrated has made me curious about this biological form of fly control, and I would like to try it on Farcical Farm. As with all things, suppliers are limited in Canada and their prices are high. Suppliers are plentiful in the US and their prices are low, but it might be challenging to explain ****LIVE WASPS**** to Canada Customs officials.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

An Honest Mistake

The day Georange arrived I went down to our local gas station to get some diesel (Henry took gasoline). They were out, so I drove to another station about 10km from here, parked the Red Menace and grabbed my gerry can from the back. As I stepped away from the truck the station attendant asked "you want marked?" to which I repled "yup" and he pointed to a pump set off to the side with a green handle (the colour of most diesel pumps in these parts).

I don't know whether this happens in the US, but marked diesel and gasoline are sold in Canada for use in tractors and other agricultural vehicles. The fuel is marked with a dye and several of the road-vehicle taxes are eliminated from the price. Anyone who fills a car or truck with marked fuel risks a hefty fine. I knew nothing about any of this before moving to Deroche.

Having filled my gerry can I walked into the store, habitually expecting them to have a computer showing how much I had pumped. Of course they didn't, so the attendant went outside to check to the volume and price for me. I paid, loaded up and drove home. Georange arrived later that afternoon with half a tank provided by the dealership. As I'm sure you've guessed, all of this culminated in David pouring 20L of marked gasoline into our brand new diesel tractor this afternoon. He realized the mistake as soon as Georange started to sound off, and our neighbors came over to help drain the fuel system. By the time I got home from my flyball tournament Georange was running smartly again, but David and I felt like dunces for not catching the mix-up sooner. We both have plenty of prior experience with diesel, but we obviously need a crash course in its identification.

On my way home I stopped at that gas station to check out the pumps. Sure enough, the one I used simply reads "MARKED" while another in the island grouping more explicitly reads "MARKED DIESEL". Although I love the charm of the old gas stations, it does make you appreciate the hand-holding clarity of the newer pumps.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Skies of Blue

After a week of unseasonably wet and cold weather the meteorologists are calling for a lovely, warm weekend. Yesterday marked Tonka's first muzzled foray into the pasture for spring (he has been unmuzzled all winter) and he was not thrilled about this curbing of his freedom. But anyone with a foundered horse knows this is the time when a year of hard work can be undone in a single day. I secretly believe that Tonka would be fine to graze unmuzzled for a few hours at a time this spring (don't tell him I said that!), but we are all better safe than sorry.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

When we lived in Vancouver we kept our cats Spike and Alley strictly indoors to keep them safe from the dangers of the neighborhood (traffic, other animals, sketchy humans). During our first months at Farcical Farm we let them out during the day but we locked them in after dark. Then Alley didn't come home one night and we never saw her again. David and I adopted her from the SPCA together in April of 2000 and we lost her in April of 2007 -- a failure I still find hard to swallow.

Since then we have kept the house cats (Spike was joined by Hazel in August of 2007) strictly indoors again. Neither seems to mind, but both make the occasional bid for freedom through an unsupervised door or window.

Sometime around 0500 this morning I became aware of Hazel making a fuss in the living room. Spike was not on the bed with us, which was unusual. Sometime around 0600 this morning Hazel started yowling as if someone was peeling her alive. When David went out to investigate he found Spike out on the deck and Hazel giving him hell through the kitchen window. And ever since his return to the fold Hazel has been treating Spike like an unwanted stranger, not like her buddy of the past two years -- low growling whenever she sees him, hissy fits if he looks at her askance, and full-blown warfare should he get too close. We have no idea when or how he got out last night, but alien abduction is our working theory.