Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Good, The Bad and The Handsome

The good: In some ways Tonka is doing really well.  His feet are rock solid, his teeth are good, and his winter coat is remarkably plush.  His weight is good (he could maybe lose 50lbs), his attitude is cheerful and his eyes are full of sparkle.

The bad: Despite all of The Good, I’m forced to admit that Tonka is becoming an old horse.  He’ll only be 23 in March, but it seems like a hard life is catching up with him.  First of all, he is stiff.  Kerstin had me try a month of 1 gram of bute per day, and that helped a little.  One scoop of Recovery per day didn’t help at all.  There is some risk of metabolic catastrophe for anything I add to his diet, so I haven’t tried other options.  To be honest, I don’t feel like I need to try anything else at this stage.  He appears perfectly happy, but he’s slow to get moving and less likely to kick up his heels than he used to be.  Sometimes he still goes for a lovely big trot around the pasture, though, or comes galloping back into the paddock.  A pasture-sound pasture pet suits us just fine, so it’s not a big deal.   Second of all, we continue to battle the itchy sheath.  Kerstin came up with the theory that it might be a severe contact allergy to something I often have on my hands (perfume? dish soap?) and I switched latex gloves for all netherworld interactions about 4 months ago.  It seems to help a little.  I read something on the Internetz about geldings getting yeast infections, so I treated him with Monostat 7 for an entire month.  It seemed to help a little.  I got a huge tub of hydrocortisone cream.  Sometimes it helps a little.  The guy has a seriously itchy sheath, and there’s not much I can do about it.  Third of all, there are funny little lumps and bumps popping up all over his body.  This is only to be expected with a grey, but my deepest fear is that he’s riddled with internal melanomas.  The ever-practical Kerstin is kind enough to tell me that it’s quite likely.  If true, he doesn’t seem much bothered in the here and now and that’s what is most important.

The handsome: This photo comes courtesy of our friend Natalie, and features our friend Mike’s daughter Martina.  Fizz is about to muscle Tonka out of the way, but he managed to get his treat.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A First Time for Everything

A couple of weeks ago something new happened: we had goat-related veterinary expense. For the last 3.5 years our pygmy goats (Timbit, Morsel and Roland McNugget) have been the least expensive farm denizens – they don’t each much (a flake of alfalfa between them daily, a bit of grain, and time on the pasture) and they have been in perfect health. So I was alarmed one Thursday morning (a day I work from home, thankfully) to hear Morsel bleating plaintively from the goat van while the other two tucked into their breakfast. When I arrived on the scene he didn’t want to get up, and I thought he had hurt a leg. It turns out that 50lbs of uncooperative goat weights more than 50lbs, but I managed to wrestle him out to the paddock and onto his feet. He stood there for a moment, then headed backwards at high speed, perfectly sound. So I stuck him on a leash and brought him into the yard to observe. His sides were heaving and he seemed to prefer going in reverse over going forwards, but he mostly preferred standing still and crying pathetically. At this point I called Daun, my dear friend and caprine encyclopaedia. She listened while I managed to take his temperature, and told me a bunch of things that it could be off the top of her head, all of which made it clear that I needed to call a vet.

hike 042

I kept my eye on Morsel while doing the chores, and intermittently used my iPhone to look up the stuff that Daun had told me about. Urinary calculi sounded most likely, given that Morsel (1) is a whether, (2) was whethered before maturity of the urethra, and (3) gets some grain in his diet. Once the chores were finished I resolved to watch him until he tried to pee or he actually peed. About half an hour went by before he took a really weird stance, bleated once quite loudly, and passed some urine. When the vet arrived he agreed that it had probably been a blockage and (on Daun’s advice) gave me several days worth of Banamine to help keep any swelling down. Total veterinary expense for goats thus far = $150. Morsel has been fine ever since, and seems totally unaware that we are watching him like hawks. At the same time we have made some changes to our goat husbandry – they will not get grain anymore, and I will always pay closer attention to the level of water in their paddock. Last week I installed their heated bucket, which I normally wouldn’t do until the nights were sub-zero. Let’s hope this was the first and last time!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fork it Over

I hear your pleas for an update on Tonka, and I promise that it’s coming.  But first I want to wax pragmatic about manure forks.  Yes, manure forks.  When Tonka first came to Farcical Farm we bought two standard-issue Duraforks with wooden handles, and both are still going strong.  Today we bought a *third* manure fork with an aluminum handle, because I have taken to leaving a wheelbarrow in the paddock full-time and the wooden handles get slimy in the rain.


I digress.  What I really wanted to say is that I pity people who don’t know about manure forks because they are one of the most versatile garden tools on the market.  Raking  leaves?  Check.  Scooping up leaves and dumping them into a wheelbarrow/paper bag? Raking grass? Ditto.  Shovelling dirt? That too.  Sifting rocks out of dirt? The list goes on.  For what non-manure activities do you use your manure fork?  

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Frog Dog

Luna lies like this quite a lot, but she also leaps to her feet when she thinks something exciting might happen so I have never been able to retrieve a camera to get a picture before.  Today she stretched out beside me and I just happened to have my phone in my hand. 


Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Devil Inside

Oregon Sunshine asked about the influence of Luna’s JRT half, and the answer deserves a whole post.  I’d describe Luna as a personality perfectly split by her genetics.  From the Aussie side she is smart, driven, clownish, sometimes moody and a little pig-headed.  From the JRT side she is tenacious, driven, agile, potentially dangerous and a little pig-headed. 

Potentially dangerous?!? Let me explain. I know lots of JRTs and mixes through flyball, and one trait that I consider to be typical of the breed is a no-shades-of-gray reactivity.  When something triggers this response the dog basically becomes possessed by their alter ego – a Mr. Hyde over which the dog’s normal Dr. Jeckyl simply has no control.  My friend Fiona has a border jack (border collie / JRT) who is an extreme example.  Tempus is a perfectly nice dog when his life is managed in such a way that his triggers are controlled, but he is downright scary when something gets the better of him.  Probably 99.9% of dog owners wouldn’t be able to cope with a challenge like Tempus, he was lucky enough to find Fiona through That’ll Do Border Collie Rescue.

Luna is not such an extreme case, but it is getting easier for me to understand how she originally ended up homeless.  In a recent post The Food Lady made a great comment about benign neglect – most dogs who end up in shelters or rescues haven’t been abused per se, but no one has invested anything in them.  That was not the case for Luna, who has all the hallmarks of a dog who was raised with care and purpose: she looks to humans for leadership and companionship; she offers behaviours with hope of reward; she knows all basic obedience commands and a few tricks; she wants to please and is mindful when you tell her that she’s displeasing.  My theory is that Luna has been the victim of inflexible good intentions.  Not abuse per se, but a failure to recognize a particular training doctrine (i.e. Cesar Millan’s) simply wasn’t going to work. The humans wouldn’t move on to something different, so they moved Luna on instead.

The thing about Luna is that she is quick to perceive a bodily threat from humans and quick to defend herself against it.  David gave her a playful tap with a shoe the other day, to which she raised her rough and gave him an distinctly unplayful growl*.  I grabbed both of her front paws too quickly when she was lying beside me this morning, and she told me in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t copacetic.  I have no doubt that anyone foolish enough to engage in a battle of wills would get themselves bitten, but anyone sensitive enough to back off and apologize for the misunderstanding will get themselves kisses.  We at Farcical Farm are quickly learning how to be the latter -- Luna is making us better dog handlers, better people. 


*Luna *did* bite David the other day when he tried to disentangle her from a mole she caught.  I blame this entirely on her JRT parent and not at all on followers of Cesar Millan.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Red Rober

Yesterday we got about 12cm of rain at Farcical Farm.  It poured for 24 hours straight, and I got to wear my new red robe for the first time this season.


When David’s folks were in Tasmania they sprung for a family speedboat tour of Bruny Island.  Everyone on the tour got a long, waterproof cape to wear as protection against soaking by sea water.  As we were zooming around I realized that such a cape would be perfect for rainy day farm chores, since my knees always get wet in my long jacket.  After the tour I asked the company’s owner if I could buy one, and he sold me this for $85.  It would have been a bargain at any price.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Switcheroo

Vehicles are an important part of life on a hobby farm.  For many of us they serve double-duty, doing farm chores and transporting us back and forth to our paying jobs.  Until recently David and I had a nice four-seater (marginally) pickup truck and a geriatric two-seater car.  The Tacoma used more gas than necessary (I don’t like to be a single person driving that much vehicle around – my own preference) and the Miata was ready for retirement to summer-only driving, so we pulled a switcheroo last week.  David and I are now the proud owners of a nice four-seater car and a geriatric two-seater pickup.  



Nothing gets away without a name around here, so please welcome Darth Ru and Darth Ranger to the Farcical Farm team.  David has the longer commute, and he’s enjoying the luxury of Darth Ru relative to that of the old Miata.  For my part, I am still adapting to life without power steering. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Zuke Nukem

If you’re a vegetable gardener chances are that you’ve got some zucchini on your hands right now.  We try to pick them small at Farcical Farm, but sometimes they get away from us.  On Saturday we found a giant lurking under the leaves, and tonight I decided to use it for something other than chocolate zucchini cake (that link is for the best. recipe. ever.).  Some Googling brought me to this zucchini and basil soup recipe, both of which are plentiful in our garden.  It’s delightful.


Monday, September 6, 2010

How Slow Can You Go?

Anyone who has been following FFF knows that I'm an advocate of slow feeding for horses. This means that long stem forage (i.e. hay) is offered by such means that it takes the horse a long time to get through a couple of flakes, thereby better simulating the act of natural grazing in semi-arid landscapes. Not only do I believe that it is healthier for the gut of the horse, but healthier for the mind as well. When a meal takes a couple of hours to eat the horses don't get bored and they don't start looking around for trouble.

We've been through several slow-feeding iterations over the past three years, and I've finally found the ultimate solution. Feeder 3.0 was a Behlan Country galvanized feeder lined with grid wire panels from an exercise pen.  I was pretty happy with it, but there was still more wastage than I wanted.  When we got back from Tasmania I pulled out the panels in both feeders and replaced them with hockey nets (how Canadian, eh?).  Bingo.  The 1.25" openings make the horses work hard for their hay, and also reduce wastage to a record minimum.  Without further ado, I present Feeder 4.0:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Luna is Short for Lunatic

Tilley's space-occupying tumour left a space in need of occupation at Farcical Farm. I thought it would be months before I could consider the addition of another dog, but it turned out that I was wrong. Sometime at the beginning of August That'll Do Border Collie Rescue (an organization for which David and I have done a lot of volunteering) helped an Australian Shepherd / Jack Russell Terrier mix out of an unhappy situation. Not a border collie, to be sure, but just the dog for me. Reserved around strangers? Check.* Good with cats? Check. Protective of her place and people? Check. High toy drive? Check. Merley girlie? Check.

On top of all that Luna turns out to be incredibly smart and surprisingly eager-to-please, given that both Aussies and JRTs are known for their independent personalities. She has slipped into the routine of Farcical Farm with minimal difficulty, and she's totally captivated us with big personality. Welcome home, little one.



* I know it’s weird, but I prefer dogs who are reserved with strangers to those who are friendly with everyone.  I think it’s probably because I relate to them, being quite reserved with strangers myself.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Space-Occupying Tumour

That’s what the vet called it, which struck me as triumph of technical communications.  Even through the sadness I could appreciate how those three words evoked a powerfully descriptive and explanatory image. No further words needed, which was good because there was no time to lose.

beautiful tilley

“She is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog.  You are her life, her love, her leader.  She will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of her heart.  You owe it to her to be worthy of such devotion.”    

I like to think that I was, Tilley Bear. 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Under Pressure

We live about 300 kilometers to the north of the swamplands so fondly described by AareneX…it is even wetter here, with fewer annual hours of sunshine.  It is a simple fact of life that outdoor surfaces get covered in moss…houses, fences, trees, sidewalks, decks…anything left to its own devices will eventually succumb to the stuff,.  When we got home from Australia I took one look at the deck and decided to buy a pressure washer.  A really good one.  Take that, moss!


Just after we got the thing I bet David that someone, somewhere had tried pressure washing his/her horse and had posted about it on the intertoobs.  

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Phantom Menace

One final piece of sad news: about a week before David and I left for Tasmania the Red Menace died an unexpected death while travelling southbound on the I5 .  The weather was bad and we were in a hurry to see some friends in Seattle.  When the traffic ahead came screeching to a halt we played along, but the driver behind us wasn’t paying attention – he plowed into us and, in turn, plowed us into the car in front of us to make a Red Menace sandwich. 

It wasn’t immediately obvious that the Red Menace was a write-off, but it was clear to us that we couldn’t leave Tess at Farcical Farm without a utility vehicle.  We rented a car (spent the rest of the weekend having fun in Seattle) and bought a grey 2001 Tacoma 4X4 three days later.  When ICBC finally gave the Red Menace the nix we rescued the canopy, our WALL-E mascot and the Nazi teapot* and transferred them to this new, pale shadow. 


Some six months later we still haven’t agreed on a name for this newcomer.  To be honest, my heart’s not really in it yet.  I’ve been driving it a lot over the past week so I feel like we’re beginning to develop more of a rapport, but there have been no waves of inspiration.  We’ll let you know when something settles.

*Several years ago one of David’s students gave him a decoration for the rear view mirror featuring (1) a jade teapot and (2) a jade swastika.  The latter is an ancient symbol for peace, which was inverted and demonized forever by the Nazi party.  We call this ornament the Nazi teapot simply because it sounds ludicrous.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Titanic Sadness

The other piece of news that FFF readers need to be up-to-date on the status of Farcical Farm isn’t nearly as cheerful as that about the addition of Fizz.  Two weeks ago Tess came home to find Titan lethargic and in obvious pain.  It was three days before David and I were scheduled to leave Australia, and my last day of work at the Menzies Research Institute.  Tess called around 1:00pm our time (8:00pm PDT) to see what we could suggest.  My friend Cheryl’s dog Zack died of bloat not long after I met her, so I knew the symptoms all too well.  We asked Tess to rush Titan to the emergency after-hours vet about an hour away, and he was going into shock by the time they arrived.  X-rays showed that the situation was dire, and the vet felt it was likely that they would have to euthanize him on the table if we opted for surgery.  We made the hard decision to simply euthanize him, given scenario 1 (euthanasia during surgery, at a cost $3500) versus scenario 2 (surviving surgery to face a long and uncertain convalescence, at a cost of $3500+).  Farcical Farm is much quieter (both figuratively and literally) without him.

Kudos to Tess for her professional handling of this poorly-timed stinker of a situation.  Chances are that Titan was destined bloat sooner or later (huge male dog with quirky eating habits and an anxious temperament), but three days before we got home?  That’s just adding insult to injury.  The Ty guy was truly a great dog, and he is sorely missed by all of us FF.




Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Getting Fizzical

We're home. There are so many stories to tell, but no clear place to start. Perhaps the news of most interest to FFF readers is that I currently see three horses out of our bedroom window: Tonka, Justin and Fizz. The latter is a 24-year-old mystery mare, formerly owned by Tess. When she came up for sale a few months back Tess wanted to ensure her safety, but couldn't afford a second horse without dangerously stretching her wallet. I offered to buy Fizz and to keep her as a denizen of Farcical Farm until such time that Tess wants to buy her from me, but I already hope that day never comes. She is a love, and you'll be hearing lots about her over the coming posts. Without further ado...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Google Maps Fail

Today we are taking my mother, David's parents and our friend Roger to Strahan, on the wild west coast of Tassie. Last night I tried to double-check the driving time using Google Maps and got this:


It’s a little hard to read, but the basic route is from Hobart, Indiana through the US to Seattle, over to Hawaii, then Japan, then Indonesia, Australia and finally Strahan, Tasmania.  Estimated driving time = 56 days.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Devil Take the Hindmost

On Saturday David and I drove my mother down to the Port Arthur penal colony for some historical education, and we stopped at the Tasmania devil conservation park en route.

TAZWhen I first told friends about our impending Tasmanian adventure, there were lot of jokes about watching out for rabid cartoon characters.  Most of you probably know Taz, the giant, slobbering whirlwind of a Tasmanian devil imagined into popular culture by Looney Tunes.  In reality, devils are quite shy little animals, about the same size as the average cat.  They sleep their days away, and go foraging for carrion at night.  Their name comes from the absolutely terrifying noises they make when they find carrion and start to fight amongst themselves for the privilege of eating it.  And they eat it with a set of jaws about the same size as those on your average dog.  As such, your average Tasmanian devil is about 60% body and 40% head.



Unfortunately for the little devils, their constant squabbling over food is rapidly leading to their demise.  The Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) is endemic in the wild population – one of only three known contagious cancers.  The conservation park is currently breeding a disease-free population while working on a cure, so we were happy to pay their relatively steep admission fees.  Poor little devils, indeed.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Spectacular Show

Hobart entered 2010 with incredible style. The day was, apparently, the hottest ever recorded in December (about 37 degrees Celcius, which is quite reasonable by the standards of most other Australian cities) and big storm clouds started to gather around 9pm. The lightening started around 10pm, and it lasted right through the midnight celebrations. David got some video from our living room window, but these pictures were assembled from various photographers by the husband of a colleague at work. I don’t know who to credit, but they were being emailed around as part of a slideshow so I think it’s OK to post them here as well. Enjoy!













For the record, David and I live in a waterfront apartment about 1/2 kilometre from the well-lit tower on the left (the Wrest Point casino), so we had pretty good seats for the show.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Wineglass Bay

Wineglass Bay in Freycinet National Park is another of Tasmania’s most-visited places. After a stunning lightening show on New Year’s Eve (another post to follow) David and I packed up our gear and headed up island to see what all the fuss is about. Here is the best picture I was able to take from the viewing platform versus a picture that someone else appears to have taken from an airplane.


I confess that it’s quite pretty, but must admit that I found Mt. Field National Park more to my tastes. I prefer trees and mountains to beaches, but am lucky to always find myself living in places where I have easy access to both. Perhaps the highlight of the day in Freycinet was running into the kooky customer at the tail end of our 12km hike.


This is a grass tree. I had never seen one before (they are native to Australia, like many other weird and wonderful flora and fauna), and was pleased to meet one that had a haircut similar to those inflicted on me by my mother when I was a child.