Thursday, May 28, 2009

Get In Line

David and I got the harrow untangled without too much trouble and I ran it around the paddock like a mad woman this morning, watching those annoying tufts of grass tremble in Georange's wake. It appears immensely improved after one go round, so I hope that weekly dragging will keep it looking more fresh and tidy. Here's a picture of some lines:

Things are starting to happen in the garden now. Radishes are coming up in earnest, as are salad greens, spinach, potatoes, peas and onions. Although we amended the sandy top soil we bought last summer with lots of composted horse manure, we weren't sure whether it was nutritious enough to sustain such life. These lines are very heartening:

Finally, the Powers That Be are replacing the water line along our street. This involves a lot of heavy equipment (or doozers as David and I refer to them, in honour of Fraggle Rock), much to Titan's distress. On the night they delivered the equipment he was inconsolably afraid, jumping any old fence that got between him and perceived safety in our shed. Given that this work will be ongoing for several days we conceded by cutting a hole in the side of the shed so that he can use it for shelter. He looks very miserable in the following picture, but it is not because of the road is because Raven is holding him hostage inside. He is afraid of her (smart dog) and she enjoys tormenting him. Tonka enjoys eating.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What a Drag

Although we found an old chain harrow in the grass some time ago, it doesn't have little teeth (or VVVVV, as EvenSong put it) and therefore isn't useful for dragging the crusher dust paddock. The substrate is heavily compacted after some serious rain over the past month, but lots of little weeds (YYYYY) are still managing to grow. Today we bought a proper mini harrow, measuring 4 feet wide by 6 feet long, and I'm hoping that one weekly drag around the paddock will keep the footing softer and the vegetation under control. Said harrow is shown here sitting on two stall mats kindly contributed (along with a nice chat and a beer each for David and I) by Jean in exchange for a donation to Hearts on Noses pig sanctuary. Thanks Jean!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Drive Me Crazy

Those of us who live in rural areas do a lot more driving than city dwellers. Putting all environmental concerns aside I will admit that I love to drive. There are few things I find more enjoyable than crusing down an open road with one hand on the wheel and one on the gear shift, listening to music or the radio or my passenger(s) or just the sound of the world whooshing by. My father also loved to drive, and my mother does as well...maybe I come by it genetically. How about you?

This is a picture snapped a couple of years ago as David and I drove into Los Angeles via the Grapevine. Much as we both love driving, we decided it is best done in places other than LA.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Horse Beds

Our dogs are (mostly) not allowed on the human furniture, so we have several dog beds strewn around the house. We used to buy big poly-filled, fleece-covered pet cushions from Costco, but they needed to be replaced every six months. The waste and expense troubled me, so I bought a vinyl cover for one of our old futons, and (voila!) turned it into a large, comfortable, water-proof and easy-to-clean dog bed that is still going strong. We now have three of these (two queens and a twin) and I highly recommend a similar solution for anyone with adequate floor space and multiple dogs.
I would love to make something similar for the horses, but I'm not sure how to implement it on a 1200 pound scale. It has rained a lot here over the past couple of weeks, which makes it difficult for Tonka and Raven to spend time lying down. They either have to lie on the dirt under the trees (both are in rain sheets when conditions are like this) or on the crusher dust in the shelter. I would feel better if they had a more comfortable surface in the shelter, but I don't want to put expensive bedding over the easy-to-maintain rock substrate. I have considered rubber matting the whole protected area but I don't know if they would like on bare mats...have any of you ever seen a horse lie on bare mats? A 4-by-6 mat runs at $60 around here, so I don't want to invest the money unless I know it's likely to work. There is also the possibility of digging the crusher dust out of the shelter and replacing it with course sand...does anyone have experience with this?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Farcical Farming

The exact moment at which Farcical Farm was named eludes me, but I know that it was partially inspired by this picture showing the total haul from our garden in the fall of 2007.

Pretty pathetic, eh? In our defense we did spend much of that summer in Paris (life is rough), and the garden was mostly neglected in our absence. The bigger roadblock was a general lack of interest. We had renovations going on indoors, there were travel plans to make, and food remained available at all of the local grocery stores. During the summer of 2008 we didn't "farm" at all, but we slowly constructed and filled eight 4-by-8 raised beds in preparation for the summer of 2009.

Victoria day weekend is the unofficial opening of garden season in Canada. We should be past the threat of frost (right Carole?), so David and I felt safe enough to take the plunge today. Not only am I a lousy farmer, but I am also a lousy speller.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wear a Hat

Fashion was important to me as a youngster, as I have mentioned before. Protection from the elements was important to my mother, and I was forever being advised to "wear a hat" -- a toque (what Canadians call a knitted hat) in winter or a sunshade in summer. The advise was rarely taken in those days, but now I live by it.

When I wore my hair very short I got in the habit of wearing a toque in the winter to keep my ears warm, and I still wear them religiously despite having long hair again. When I first was getting bad headaches the doctor told me to protect my eyes from the sun, so I started wearing something to shade my eyes in summer -- fashion be damned. A couple of years ago I found a wide-brimmed sun hat with a flap that hangs down over the back of my neck, and I have never looked back. It is featured above on the island of Crete, where it was inaugurated. Now it is doing less exotic service at Farcical Farm, and it was much-needed today when summer dropped in for a visit.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Feeder 3.0

I have been scheming about building a new hay feeder for months now, and it finally came to pass last weekend with the help of David and Georange.

Those who have been reading FFF since the beginning (i.e. David and maybe my mom) may recall that my feeder design has been through many iterations starting with Feeder 1.0, progressing to Feeder 2.0 and then to Feeder 2.5. The last was definitely the best, but it still had some flaws. First, the frame was made out of wood and subject to rot in our environment. Second, the unit was heavy but not fixed to the ground, so the horses could move it around. And third, it sat directly on the ground so that gunk gathered up inside it and around the edges.

This new design solves all of those problems. The frame is a Behlan 5-foot galvanized hay rack with the legs cut off. This is wedged between two treated posts and held in place with hose clamps. The inside is lined with four panels of 30 inch exercise pen, and the top is made from the two 48 inch panels that I salvaged from Feeder 2.5. So far the horses seem to love it, especially the fact that they can eat from the top. And because it sits about 10 inches off the ground Tonka does not need to scissor his legs to eat from it -- I hope that will help to improve the shape of his right food.

This wasn't cheap to make (slightly over $300 in materials) but it should last forever because everything other than the two posts is made out of plastic or steel. Once I have a little more money saved up I will buy a second feed rack so that we can build another at the south end of the paddock. I am also scheming up something new for feeding in the shelter, but that's another story.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Carbon Hoofprint

British Columbians voted (or at least they should have!) in a provincial election today. Our riding is deeply conservative and my left-leaning voice holds no sway, but I threw my vote at the environmental party in hopes of helping them to secure more funding in future. I did the same in our last federal election. Maybe one day the province and the country will adopt electoral reforms that allow my vote to count. The referendum on switching BC from its antiquated first-past-the-post system to a single-transferable-vote system is not going to pass, so I'm not holding my breath.

Earlier today I met Dan at Farmer Dave's to load our second batch of hay. We talked about the election as we worked, focusing on its environmental repercussions. Then we started talking about the environmental impact of owning recreational horses, which is a concern that I have never been able to reconcile. Over the course of one year my two giant pets eat about 8 metric tons of local hay, another ton of alfalfa cubes, 260 kg of oats, 260 kg of beet pulp, 100 kg flax meal, 80 kg of sunflower seeds, and some other incidentals. I would love to know how much fossil fuel goes into growing, harvesting, preparing and transporting all that feed for them. When you multiply that mystery number against all the people with a couple of backyard horses the carbon hoofprint must be huge.

At work I am an avid environmentalist and I have committed my career to working on environmental problems, but the dichotomy between my professional beliefs and my personal lifestyle is uncomfortable. We have made a lot of environmentally conscious decisions at Farcical Farm (recognizing that we have a much larger carbon footprint as rural dwellers than we had as urban dwellers) , but horse ownership was not amongst them. Regardless of how carefully we run the operation, my own carbon footprint is MUCH bigger with Tonka and Raven in tow than it would be without them. It's a hard pill to swallow, so it is still lodged in my throat.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mow Me Down

During our first summer at Farcical Farm David and I had to decide between getting a cheap riding mower plus a cheap push mower, or just a high quality push mower. The latter option was less expensive overall, and quality is something we both appreciate in our equipment. Thus we end up mowing about 2/3 of an acre with a self-propelled 8.75hp Husquvarna. Note the horse power -- almost half of what Georange can muster.
A very powerful lawn mower is part blessing and part curse. Where other mowers might quail at wet 10 inch grass ours plows right through. And where other mowers question the advisability of running over a brick or an errant marrow bone ours seizes any opportunity to test its prowess. Since its purchase we have nearly doubled the cost of our investment in new blades and bent shaft repairs. Although our weeds are plentiful, they are not tall and you could tell that the mower was not sufficiently challenged this weekend. We managed to steer clear of all dangerous obstacles, but who knows what next weekend will bring.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Black Gold

The arrival of Georange has simplified many tasks around Farcical Farm, and turning our compost bins now takes 10 minutes instead of several hours. As a result our manure is composting much faster than it did pre-Georange, and looking better as well. The bins are chock full of worms (how many can you count in the picture below?), which the local robins have noticed and used to their advantage. Yesterday I found a hefty garter snake in one bin...either that or the worms are getting MUCH bigger. And last weekend I was able to supply the neighbours with many loader buckets of rich, black amendment for the soil in their new pumpkin patch. They got fertilized and we got a bin half emptied...that's a win/win situation.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Two Steps Forward, Ten Steps Back

Followed by another eight steps forward. On Sunday morning I woke up to the sight of Raven dragging her hind right leg past our bedroom window. The whole thing was puffed up from hock to fetlock, but without any heat or sign of trauma. If not for the swelling I would have assumed it was bad abscess, but it looked just like the pictures of a bowed hind tendon in my encyclopedia of equine veterinary medicine. I was heart broken...after such a long, slow recovery from that puncture wound (to the same hock) it came as big a blow.

With hosing and bute the swelling went down considerably over the course of the day, and Raven spent most of it lying flat out. She looked better on Monday morning, but continued to limp dramatically. By Tuesday night only the fetlock was puffy, the limp was almost gone. This morning she is totally back to normal. There is no evidence of an abscess so I have no clue what happened here. My best working theory is that the hock may be extra sensitive now and she whacked on something. Kerstin is coming this afternoon to do teeth and x-rays on Tonka, but I fear that she will be as stumped as we are.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dirty Old Man

For the record Tonka turned 20 a couple of weeks ago. This is not a great picture (taken from bed with my iPhone) but it demonstrates one of the reasons we call him a dirty old man. You can barely see him in the shot because he is campflaged by dirt.

Monday, May 4, 2009

King of the Hole

Maybe I haven't mentioned this before, but Titan is a bona fide, card-carrying, capital dee Digger. He knows from long experience that this capital dee Displeases us, but sometimes he just can't resist. From the window I will watch him (1) sidle up to an interesting-looking spot (2) swipe a paw over it (3) check to see if anyone is watching and (4) dive gleefully into action when the coast looks clear. We crack down hard on this activity in the horse paddock because he digs deep, narrow holes that pose a threat to Tonka and the accident-prone Raven. In the goat paddock we let him work on projects that don't compromise the fence and he is pictured here with his masterpiece. It may not look like much, it extends almost two feet back under the grass, and goes about 18" deep. In another week or so he will be able to stash all three goats in there. (Aside to Carol: I guess he's not completely hideous.)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

This is Just a Test

First post from my new iPhone. Nothing to see here (except for a sleeping Spike, and that's not news).

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Summer Rain

We've had beautiful weather at Farcical Farm for the past two weeks...sunny, warm and unseasonably dry. Sometime this afternoon the familiar west coast clouds rolled in (for which we may be able to blame AareneX) and the rain started in earnest while I was doing the evening chores.
When temperatures are mild I don't worry much about the horses in the rain. They have shelter, good coats and enough fat over their ribs to survive without blankets. And when temperatures are mild Tonka doesn't worry much about the rain, either...he will happily stand out in a downpour to munch at one of the feeders (that is not Tonka in the picture -- just a sad shot of a very wet horse). Raven, on the other hand, is a princess. She does not like to get wet and she likes me to acknowledge as much. Tonight she was running circles in her feed stall after dinner so I did the usual routine -- haltered her and made her work for while instead of letting her burst through the gate. When I took off the halter she stood stock still until I said "OK" (the release word I use for horses and dogs), at which point she squealed and bolted for the shelter. Drama queen.