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Farm Fresh Blog
Thursday, 31 May 2012
Life in the country comes with perks, like wildflowers, stars, and silence. But the flip side of those perks of living in the country is the mud, mosquitos and lumps. Yes, lumps.
People who live in the county understand the generic term "lump." A lump is an unidentified 'something' on the landscape that wasn't there earlier.
Let me give you an example: Years ago, I came home from work one afternoon to find an excited dog greeting me at the gate. Katy was given to wild affection, but her mood seemed particularly crazed that day. (It had been a good day for Katy.) That's when I saw the lump. There, in the back yard, was a red lump. Hmmmm. . .
I narrowed my eyes and noticed another lump. And another. In the country, lumps are usually not good things. In this case there turned out to be ten red lumps in the yard. Katy had managed to break into the hen house. There was nothing left of my rooster but feet and a comb. Does this better define the word 'lump' for you?
Which brings us to this morning.
"Yes, please, get to the point."
This morning I was walking the dogs when I noted Lily slow her trot to a cautious walk and raise her eyebrow. Something nasty was afoot. Ever watchful of snakes, I snapped to attention. There, in front of Lily, was "a lump."
Dillon hustled over to examine the lump too. Since no one leaped back, I assumed the lump was not a coiled snake. That's a plus. It was gray. Now this is the part of living in the country where one talks to God. Living in the city, one prays for good parking spaces, living in the country, the prayers run a bit more like this:
"Dear God, please don't let that be another one of the neighbor's chickens."
As I got closer I couldn't see any feathers on the ground, but still couldn't identify it. It was small and gray.
"Dear God, please, please, please don't let that be one of the neighbor's cats!"
When I got over the lump I could see that my prayers were answered. No chicken. No cat. But Briar had indeed murdered someone.
(I didn't take pictures. It was gross.)
Briar had murdered a possum.
"I 'terminated' a possum."
And then, in true Briar fashion, she had licked it all night. Who knows if the poor thing was dead before she started licking it, or after hours of being used as an all-day (night) sucker. Much of its fur was gone. Briar was immensely pleased with herself. She is now three years old and a definite threat to anything not on hooves.
Other Half, who doesn't like Briar (big goofy, often wet dog) will be pleased that she killed a possum. The neighbor with the chickens will probably be pleased that Briar killed the possum. Briar is most certainly pleased that she killed the possum. But I feel just a little sorry for the possum and hope his end came quickly rather than spending a night of torture.
"Mmmm. . . a possum-flavored sucker! Mmmm . . . "
Wednesday, 30 May 2012
I committed murder Friday night. To be more specific, it was a mercy killing; Other Half committed the murder. I merely put the victim out of his misery. Still, I feel bad.
Friday night we were driving around the ranch in the mule and happened upon a copperhead. I grew up in rural North Carolina in a place crazy thick with rattlesnakes and copperheads. I've seen a lot of rattlesnakes but ironically, I'd never seen a real live copperhead until then. Still, there was no mistaking it.
There he was, minding his own little snake business, crawling across the red dirt road, illuminated by the lights of the mule. Other Half leaped out with a gun. I leaped out to hold Trace who is no fan of guns. Given the choice, Trace would choose to take his chances with a poisonous snake than a 'thunderstick.'
A few shots later and Other Half came back to the mule in search of a shovel. I went over to examine the poor victim.
He had been fatally injured, but was still alive. His little snakey head was up and moving, trying to figure out how to remove himself from the situation. I felt sorry for him. It wasn't his fault that he happened to be in an area frequented by my dogs. I'm a 'live and let live' kind of person in most situations. (Other Half is not.) I felt sorry for the snake. Then I remembered the bird dog I knew who died from a snake bite. So I reached in my back pocket pulled out a .380, and shot him in the back of the head. No more suffering for the snake. (But I still felt bad.)
Over the next four days, I kept the dogs close to camp. They all know how to ride in the mule, so when we explored the wilder part of the ranch, they stayed in the safe confines of their mule. It is their ticket to adventure. It keeps them safe, and just as important, it keeps the snakes safe from them. An unseen snake is a safe snake.
This morning, back at the cowhouse, I was beebopping around the corner of the house and ran smackdab into a large black yellow-belly water snake:
Despite the fact that I ALWAYS looks for snakes IN THAT VERY SPOT, the sight of the snake momentarily scares the crap out of me. I see the snake, utter a profanity while leaping sideways, and run smack into a tree. The snake giggles but otherwise doesn't move. Even though it is big, I recognize that it's non-poisonous. I am feeding dogs. One does not stop in the middle of feeding 8 dogs. That act alone causes chaos.
Ranger, who has just finished his own breakfast, bounces over to beg for Oli's bowl, which is in my hand. He is standing a foot away from the snake - oblivious. I point it out.
"Ranger, look out."
He glances at it. "Yeah, it's a snake. Since you're too scared to walk past the snake, can I have Oli's breakfast?"
At this point, Trace has finished eating and comes racing around the corner to put dibs on Oli's bowl too. He runs right over the poor snake. Having experienced Trace bouncing all over me in bed, I know this is not a pleasant experience. The snake flips upside down, writhing and twisting in his haste to get away from the Border Collie toenails. Like a victim of a drive-by shooting, the confused snake rights himself and escapes under the propane tank.
Trace never even notices him. Clearly snakes don't even cause a blip on his radar.
I continue down the path to feed Oli. Dillon comes beebopping down path. Gets to spot where snake WAS and slams on brakes. He doesn't even see snake, but is fascinated by the scent. Rut Roh! That is a VERY BAD THING! Scream at him and inform him that scent is "Nasty!"
He looks up. "No it's not."
"Yes it is! That's NASTY! Leave it alone."
He shrugs. "Whatever."
As much as I hate to do it, Mr. Dillon is going to need a de-snaking clinic with a shock collar. Dillon's interest in snake scent and a ranch populated with pit vipers is a bad combination. We spoke with a man this weekend who told us about the daughter of a friend who was playing hide and seek last weekend. She hid in the pumphouse. A rattlesnake bit her three times before she could get out. Holy shit.
I will only carry "live and let live" so far.
Tuesday, 29 May 2012
I love Texas. I love the wildflowers of Texas. Wildflowers are proof that God loves Texas too!
The ranch is now covered in black-eyed susans.
And these things blanket the front gate. I don't know what they are.
I 'think' this is called "plains horsemint."
At a distance it looks like lavender. Imagine my shock to discover all this "lavender" at the front gate! Trust me, the lavender I planted does not look like this! Actually, it's a little sick now.
The baby lavender is dying. The bigger lavender plants are sickly. I think they need more attention than I can give them until I'm there full-time. Texas is a brutal climate. I was hoping to get them established before the summer drought hit. Too late! A Texas summer is tough on everything. Ironically, the wildflowers are thriving.
Real lavender planted by me:
Make-believe Lavender planted by God:
Perhaps God is saying I should wait until I'm up at the ranch full-time before I plant my lavender fields of Provence.
There is a lot to be said for native wildflowers. No water. No fertilizer. No worry. Just drive through the gate and see this. It doesn't suck.
Monday, 21 May 2012
Today, on my day off, I was in court talking to an officer that I worked a case with five years ago. We met briefly on a murder and hadn't seen each other since. Since she had been working patrol in a particularly active part of the city at that time, I asked if she was still there.
"Oh no! I needed a rest. I got tired. I'm in a desk job now and I love it. It's so relaxing. I don't miss the action one bit!"
I chewed on that for a minute. Mulled it over in my head. Before I became a crime scene investigator, I had been working in a particularly active unit, running narcotics and felony warrants. The crime scene unit was a rest for me too, so I understood where she was coming from. Then I thought about my yesterday, my - day off.
It went like this:
Other Half works Saturday night from 6:00 PM to 6 AM Sunday morning. He gets to bed at 6:30 AM.
At 7:30 AM my mother calls to inform me that a water pipe on her well has burst and now water is spewing from the pump house like a geyser. A neighbor has turned the well off. My day begins.
Get up and do ranch chores. Allow Other Half to sleep.
Wake Other Half up at 9:30 AM so he can throw some clothes on and come to paint store with me to pick up 16 gallons of paint for Mom's house. He is grumpy. Well DUH! Drive into Paint Store Parking Lot just as employee is unlocking door. Give him order for 16 gallons of paint. He informs us that he does not have the requested paint. Point out that he assured us LAST weekend when we tried to buy it that he would have it THIS weekend when he told us the paint would go on sale for 30% off and we should wait. Since we were the first customers of the 30% sale, and we ordered it LAST weekend, surely they had the paint. They did not. Make another selection. OKAY! Nervously note Other Half making coffee in store. He is fiddling with coffee pot. Quiet. Too quiet.
Wait for him to go Batshit Crazy on Employee. He does not. He is that tired. Okay then. Make another selection.
Employee mixes paint. We load it and take it to the painters who are already working on Mom's house.
Unload paint. Trek to pump house to examine damage. Yep. Pipe is broken. (Had a pinprick leak for a long time anyway. We knew it was inevitable.) Trek to Home Depot, aka Man Mecca. Other Half is too tired to enjoy it. Get another pipe and fresh glue. Return to Mom's house. Fix pipe.
Take Other Half by Kentucky Fried Chicken to pick up a bucket for lunch before he heads back to bed. Arrive at home.
While giving dogs a potty break, note that our water well pump keeps kicking on and off. Rut Roh! Since no one is doing laundry, that is a bad sign. (In my business, we call this a "clue.")
Trot out to pasture. Yessir! My horse, Montoya, has taken the automatic float value waterer out of the water trough again. Water is spewing everywhere. He has been watering the pasture while we were gone. Lovely. Turn off water to pasture and decide to deal with that tomorrow.
Trot back to house. Other Half has food on plates and is settling in front of the television to watch the Preakness horse race which he has taped on television. He has fried chicken in one hand and a remote in the other. That's a man with a Do Not Disturb sign if I ever saw one. Get my food and settle on couch to watch horse race.
Note Cowboy the Slightly Deranged Border Collie racing back and forth along the fence in the back yard.
He is running after horses that are not only not moving, they don't even know (or care) that he is there. Go back to horse race on television.
Pretty horses. Pretty colors. Note that outside Deranged Border Collie is continuing to move back and forth past window. Go back to pre-race show. Pretty horses/pretty colors. Happen to note Deranged Border Collie hasn't passed window in a while. Hmmmm... should I even care?
Something, some niggling something in the back of my mind, moved me off the couch. I peeked out the window.
What I saw was a scene from some absurd Disney movie.
Cowboy had apparently run up and down the fence line and smacked right into the water spigot - and snapped the PVC pipe in two. Yes, water was spewing and cowboy was playing like a city child in a fire hydrant.
Oh. My. Gosh.
I looked at Other Half, happy with his remote and his fried chicken. And then something completely insane crossed my mind.
"Dear God, Thank you that it was his dog, and not one of mine. Thank you that it was his dog and not my horse. Thankyouthankyouthankyou."
And then I called Other Half to the window. He stood there, mouth slack, watching his dog play in the spray. At this point I should advise you that Cowboy is lucky Other Half was holding a remote control and not a gun. I'm just sayin', that's all.
It took almost two hours to repair the TWO pipes that Cowboy had snapped off. One pipe was above ground and the other was under a foot and a half of soppy mud. It was ugly. Other Half and I almost killed each other. I think we both deserve gold stars for not beating the crap out of each other with shovels. It says something about our self control, don'tcha think?
But the day didn't end there! No! Now Other Half, who has had only a few hours of sleep, must GO TO WORK! Yes! He must take a shower and GO TO WORK a 12 hour shift.
But it doesn't end there! (this is like surreal info-mercial!) He gets ready to go to work and cannot find his truck keys! We spend almost an hour looking for his keys. He is not a happy man. He finally goes to work, undoubtedly relieved to leave the house. I get animals fed and settled and head to bed. After all, I have to get up early (on my day off!) and testify in court.
So this morning I sat across the table from a police woman who told me about how life was soooo much less stressful now that she had a desk job. I pondered that for a moment, reflected on yesterday, and decided that a desk job probably wouldn't do much for the stress in my life.
And I still want a gold star for not smacking him in the head with a shovel for throwing mud at the horse. I'm just sayin'.
Friday, 18 May 2012
I've trained dogs most of my adult life and each dog teaches me something new. Ironically, the most 'complicated' dogs teach me the most.
Enter Blue Heeler:
Describing Ranger as "complicated" is an understatement. He is a fiercely devoted little dog who is convinced the world is trying to kill him. Clever, he is held back only by his own insecurities.
I am a lazy dog trainer. I like dogs who fetch because the fetch is the skeletal framework for almost everything else I teach. I don't like having to 'teach' a fetch. I want a natural fetcher. (Yeah, yeah, we can't always get what we want in life.) That said, Ranger taught me that a natural fetch isn't necessary to end up with a fanatical retriever.
As a puppy, Ranger was always underfoot as we ate supper. Naturally, he wanted some. Since he had absolutely no interest in retrieving a kong for the mere thrill of retrieving, I offered to "pay" him for bringing me the kong. He watched me toss the kong. Watched it land. Watched it roll. Rolled his eyes. Nada. Nothing.
Now here is the key. I didn't care. I didn't care one whit. At that point I didn't even LIKE Ranger, much less worry about whether or not he fetched. I had absolutely no aspirations of making Ranger into anything. He was a cow dog, nothing else, so I didn't burden Ranger with my expectations. His inability to fetch didn't let me down in any way. And guess what?
After a few nights of begging with no results, Ranger went over and picked up the kong. Surprised, I gave him an academy award and a bite of steak. Voila. Ranger had an epiphany. He didn't learn how to fetch. He learned how to exchange a kong for a piece of food. The concept of MONEY was born!
Again, because I didn't care, I didn't burden Ranger with any expectations. In very short time, he was a kong pest at meals and soon earned my interest. I would toss the kong, he would happily retrieve it for payment. Soon the bug bit him, and he no longer needed payment. Ranger had become a fanatical retriever of kongs and everything else thrown.
Hmmmmm . . . Mom had an epiphany.
The old school methods for teaching a reliable fetch are often brutal and over the years, I abandoned them. They simply didn't fit into my relationship with my dogs. My dogs are partners. I don't choke or ear pinch my partner. I taught a play retrieve and never had it bite me in the butt. (But I had natural retrievers!) Ranger taught me another way to get a retrieve with a dog who was not a natural retriever. It took a while, but the key was not putting unrealistic expectations on the dog or myself.
Trace is a Border Collie. He should retrieve. Wrong. We're making assumptions again. Trace has no natural retrieve. Trace has been bred to herd cattle, not retrieve dumbbells, flyballs, or anything else. Still, I like a dog to retrieve. Fortunately I had learned from my experience with Ranger. The world will not stop turning if Trace doesn't retrieve. In August, Trace will be two. Guess what Trace discovered this week?
For some reason, a light bulb went off in his little head, and he discovered the joy of having a human throw a toy for him. In the past he had always enjoyed chasing the other dogs when they ran for a toy, but now Mr Trace has decided that a one-on-one game of fetch is an awesome way to pass the time.
And again, I learned something. Trace reinforced the idea that things don't have to be rushed. Everything happens in its own good time. When Trace was ready to retrieve, he would retrieve. I'm still taking my time with Trace. His herding skills aren't reliable. The raw talent is there. The control is not. I can bang it out of him, but I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Instead we'll let him grow up some more, get more obedience, get more maturity. In time, he'll be better than Lily. The talent is there. The important thing is not to get my ego wrapped up in a dog. If I play it wrong, I can ruin the dog, or get him killed by a cow.
I'm sure I could have forced the fetch issue with Trace and Ranger, but I would have had an awful time myself, and possibly ruined my relationship with my dogs. I think the biggest lesson I have learned over these years is DON'T LET YOUR EGO GET CAUGHT UP IN THE DOG. I have seen too many people stomp off the agility field, the obedience field, the tracking field, the schutzhund field, etc, because they let their sense of worth get caught up in a dog's performance.
You are not your dog. The sun will not fail to rise because your dog missed a contact zone in agility. The tide will not fail to come in because your dog blew an obedience pattern. And if the sheep scatter on the field, God won't love you any less.
This lesson took me years to learn. With each dog, I get less worked up over learning skills on a schedule. Other Half was doing some reading and proudly proclaimed that Dillon was "ahead of schedule" in his bird dog training. He is a clever boy, and it's tempting to start pushing him, but why? He'll be ready for dove season and duck season, but if he's not, so what? Training can be slow and fun for everyone, or we can push him and maybe make a star, or maybe we'll just take all the fun out of it for him and for us.
My first show dog taught me a most valuable lesson. Navarre was a star.
To this day, people may not remember me, but they remember him. They remember me as "Navarre's Mommy." He had more titles behind his name than I could count. He had so many awards that I couldn't keep them all. But most importantly, he was my partner, my Soul Dog. And I remember the first night I came home after he died. I distinctly recall that I would have given up every award, every title, everything that dog had won, if I could have had him greet me at the back gate just one more time.
And THAT is the gift Navarre gave to every dog I will ever own.
Monday, 14 May 2012
The recent running of the Kentucky Derby got me to thinking about speed.
Who is the fastest, and why? What does it take to be a winner?
Is is Scout,
full of fire like a Mustang off the plains?
Or perhaps Montoya,
The Horse of Kings for the Sport of Kings
Or maybe Musket would edge them both out . . .
because there's a lot to be said for calm and steady.
But I'm inclined to think that the real winner would be . . .
. . . someone who trains hard daily . . .
. . . someone who has the stamina . . .
. . . and drive . . .
. . . to win . . .
. . . no matter what the cost . . .
Dancing Cow (yes, that's her name! Cuz she dances at dinnertime!) likes to eat. No matter where she is in the pasture when the dinner bell rings, Dancing Cow WILL lead the charge to the troughs. If you open up a new pasture of green grass, Dancing Cow WILL lead the herd, bucking and kicking. With her pendulous udder swinging from side to side like an upside-down jockey, we call this cow the 'Secretariat' of cattle. And that is why she should be honored with other esteemed Derby winners. For Dancing Cow has what matters most - the WILL to win!
Cue Chariots of Fire theme song: http://youtu.be/9myoXFk-O4U
Monday, 07 May 2012
I live with a troll. He is a small, nasty beast with a disagreeable character. Meet the Mule Troll.
He may look innocent, but make no mistake, this creature guards the mule as well as any troll under a bridge.
Trace sleeps in the mule at night. In the morning, he races to greet me on the porch, and then runs to leap into the floorboard of the mule. As we drive around, the Mule Troll snaps and snarls at any dog who dares to come too close to his beloved, his Precious. (muttering like Gollum in the swamp)
And yet, despite the fact that he is such a resource-guarding beast over food, humans, toys, and the mule, with the exception of Dillon, Trace is at the bottom of the food chain in our pack. Lily, Ranger, and Cowboy regularly grab him by the nose and throw him to the ground, thus the poor fellow constantly lives with a scrapes and scars on his face. Poor guy! To add insult to injuy, it has come to my attention that poor little Trace, with the pink nose, also gets sunburned.
So . . . like every other little kid who plays in the sun, Mr. Trace the Mule Troll must now wear Banana Boat Sunscreen for Kids (SPF 50+). It's tear-free and sting-free. Trace has worn it for several days now and I have noticed a marked improvement in the appearance of his little nose at night.
So if you have a Mule Troll with a pink nose, I heartily recommend Banana Boat Kids sunscreen lotion!
And . . .
It's Very Water Resistant!
Sunday, 06 May 2012
Guess why Briar didn't get supper last night!
The picture should say enough.
See these cute little roosters? See these cute little roosters that belong to the NEIGHBOR?!!!
Apparently one of these little boogers flew into Briar's yard yesterday. Yes . . .
I found her EATING it. Yes . . . EATING a bird that she KILLED!
Unlike her chicken catching adventures of the past, which included guarding and licking her victim, but otherwise leaving a wet unharmed chicken, for some reason, she took it in her head to begin a raw diet - with chicken.
And so it was that I was forced to call the rancher next door and apologize for the murder and dismemberment of his bird. He laughed.
"Don't worry about it. Those chickens spend more time at your place than mine anyway. Not a problem!"
(Thank God for understanding neighbors!)
I felt awful, and assured him that at least she killed a rooster and not a hen. Fortunately despite the fact that Briar barks all night, I think he kinda likes her, and since he has six more little roosters, the loss of one didn't bother him a bit.
Still, when the kibble was dished up last night, the vision of Briar eating everything but legs and a head, was still stuck in my head, so she just got a few bits of kibble to make her think she had dinner. And she promptly threw it up. Everything. Kibble, feathers, raw chicken, everything.
I watched five cute little roosters marching across the neighbor's pasture and didn't feel one bit sorry for Briar and her upset tummy.
Wednesday, 02 May 2012
Our journey to the ranch last week was fraught with adventure. On our way up there, it started to rain. Bad luck? Nope. Good luck. Unbeknownst to us, the cap had come off the bearings on one of the trailer tires. All the grease spun out and guess what? When we found it the tire was all cockeyed and about to wobble off. Bad news? Well, not really.
Turns out we had stopped at our well digger's shop when we found it. He just so happened to have the know-how and tools to fix that trailer. So, bless his heart, the man dropped what he was doing, and spent the next two hours fixing our trailer. Then he drove Other Half to town to buy another tire. The rain that we had cursed earlier had kept the bearing cool enough to prevent major damage. This little adventure reminded me that what seems like a set-back can actually be a set-up for something good.
So off we went. We arrived at the camper to find that we had much less water than we had believed, and thus needed to get more water for our week's stay. Add to that, our water pump had gone out. Okay. . .
And so it was that we found ourselves in the local Tractor Supply for a new water pump. While there, I happened to overhear some poor man asking the salesman about antibiotics for sick cattle. It was apparent that the salesman didn't have a lot of cow knowledge. Now I don't know diddly squat about fixing water pumps, but I know how to doctor sick cattle - ask Other Half.
So . . . I interrupted OH in his search for water pumps and demanded that he help this poor man. He was only too happy to help. Most excellent. So as OH went back to finding a water pump, I asked the rancher where was the best place to get my blue barrel filled with fresh water for our stay. He offered his own water hose. Sure!
We talked about his sick cows while we waited on OH and it soon became apparent that our rancher was trying to doctor cattle by himself. This is a frustrating and dangerous adventure, so I signed Other Half up to help out the rancher.
And that's how we started out going to Tractor Supply for a water pump and ended up working cattle with our new friend, Ray.
Ray had purchased these cows sight unseen. When he got them, they were a bit sickly. He was also struggling with a new headgate. It took the three of us less than an hour to do what would have taken a man alone hours to accomplish.
The cows cooperated by cramming themselves into the headgate in a pair. Not pretty, but that'll work too.
And so, we were able to pay it forward. Someone spent some time helping us, and we were able to pay it forward and spend some time helping a total stranger. And now we have a new friend.
Tuesday, 01 May 2012
Clairesmum asked about chicken eggs at the ranch to go with the bacon from free range hogs. THIS is why we won't have chickens until the dogs are at the ranch full time.
We have so many bobcats that Son even saw one during the day. I won't shoot them on sight, but knowing we have so many certainly changes my plans for building chicken coops.
Until Briar is there full time, there will be no small livestock or chickens at the ranch. Even then, we'll build the pens so the dogs COMPLETELY surround the chicken pen. (like a moat filled with canines!) When the sun goes down out there, the predators come out like the flying monkeys in Oz.
"Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty!"