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Friday, September 25 2015

I apologize in advance for this subject. I'm a retired Crime Scene Investigator and it still grosses me out. But nevertheless, my blog tries to paint a realistic picture of life on the farm, and Friends & Neighbors, this is it.

Today I want to give a shout out in praise of the Ninja Cats. Read my lips: If you have a rodent problem, run, don't walk, to your closest Animal Rescue Organization, and pick up a pair of feral cats.

At the old house we had become overrun with rats and mice. They were not only in the barnyard, they were coming into the house. I'm not a big fan of traps, and I really dislike poison, but the rodent issue was so bad that I gave Other Half free rein to do whatever he had to do to kill those rats. They laughed at his attempts.  Nothing was effective. And that's when fate stepped in and our local rescue friend down the road announced on Facebook that she had feral cats in need of a re-homing after they were spayed. Other Half saw her post and decided that maybe we needed a cat.

Yes, there was a disturbance in The Force. A man who hates cats finally accepted that he needed help from a cat. So being a woman, I grabbed the opportunity and told Dear Friend Michelle that we'd take 3 cats! She sent us 2 black cats and a tabby. And the rats packed up their bags and left!

It was as easy as that. No more rodents. (Really. You should try it.)

So when we moved north, we naturally planned to take them with us. The black cats were easily captured. The tabby cat opted against the trip. I really wanted to take her, but she didn't get along with the black cats and she had no intention of getting anywhere near a cat carrier.  Because we couldn't catch the tabby, we had to leave her behind in the care of the neighbor who used to care for Briar while we were gone.

He and the rancher next door (who bought the place) actually were okay with the cat staying because they knew as soon as she left the rodents would return.  Because I wanted to be sure of her care though, I really wanted Tabby to go back into the custody of the rescuer who would put the cat in her own barn. Although she would probably have been fine where she was at, I knew Tabby was safer with her rescuer, so the neighbor trapped her and called Dear Friend Michelle.

I really didn't think we had a rat problem at the new place. After all, it isn't a problem unless I see a rat. But when the cats moved in something started to happen.

Every morning after the sheep file out to graze, the puppies run with them.

And each morning they find a dead rat, or two. And every morning I have to listen to the crunching of little bones as Judge or Jury happily have rat for breakfast.

It is truly disgusting, but consider this:

It's fresh. It's free range. It's raw. It's more natural than processed dog kibble. And what are my chances of actually wrestling a dead rat from a 35 lb puppy who has access to acres and acres? Even the other dogs can't get a rat away from him, and they put a lot more effort into it than I do.  And no, I cannot patrol the area for dead rats prior to releasing the dogs and sheep.

Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.....  I weigh all the above facts in my head and still don't like the dogs eating rats. Rats are nasty and carry diseases. (and are probably more nutritional than kibble) And so while I still cringe each morning that I hear the crunching of bones, I accept that I cannot stop it and just and chalk up another kill for the Ninja cats. Thank you cats. That's one less rodent around here attracting snakes.

Sometimes the key to happiness is just accepting your limitations.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 07:18 am   |  Permalink   |  3 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, September 22 2015

Those of you who predicted I went back to the southern part of the state for a murder trial were correct. I returned home this afternoon and brought my riding horses, Montoya and Joe, back with me. They had been staying with my mother until we could get them moved up here and I've missed them terribly. Even though neither is trained for cow work, I still hate being surrounded by all this wild beauty and not having my riding horses. I left my little pony with my mother because he is small and cannot safely run with the big horses among cougars and coyotes.

I have had this horse since he was a weanling, knee high to a grasshopper. Montoya is a rascal, but he is my baby.

Little Joe is Mr Reliable, my Steady Eddie horse. Since he has been here many times already, Joe had little interest in exploring. He found the hay and got to business.

Montoya very quickly found Tiny and being the sociable sort, he ambled over to introduce himself.

 That's when I realized he was almost as big as Tiny and remembered why I bought Little Joe. The older I get, the shorter and calmer I like my horses.

Eventually everyone galloped off, leaving poor Tiny alone in his turn-out pen. Tiny was not amused. Other Half sat with him for a while. Since Tiny hasn't been domesticated all that long, we have no intentions of turning a mustang loose with barbed wire and access to thousands of acres if he ran through it. It's gonna be a while before Mr. Tiny runs with the herd. We are keeping them in a pen where he can always see them though.

 We assured Tiny that when the 'other kids' were ready for some shade and some hay, they'll come back. And in the mean time, he can stare wistfully, but safely, toward the mountain.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 02:38 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Sunday, September 20 2015

A farm is a toddler, it runs on a routine. The biggest part of animal husbandry is getting a schedule established and sticking with it. And like toddlers, animals behave better when you stick to a schedule. That's what makes feeding this circus look easy. Trust me, folks, easy is just an illusion.  Get off that schedule and the wheel falls off the clown car, spilling clowns around the arena as the vehicle continues to chug onward in spirals, while you, the confused ringmaster wonder what happened.

After retiring and moving the farm across the state, we are slowly shaping order out of chaos by developing a routine around here. I get up in the morning and shuffle the outside dogs inside where they crawl into bed with Other Half.  I then turn the inside dogs out to play. I toss the livestock some alfalfa and release the Livestock Guardian Dog puppies to hang out with the inside dogs.

We take a short walk and return to change water buckets and milk the goats. The puppies wander around the barn aisle and supervise. After milking I put the pups on the milking stand which doubles as a grooming table for Livestock Guardian Dogs. They enjoyed their private time on the table getting snuggles and scratches.

I'm trying to add a daily grooming for the LGDs as part of the farm routine. These Anatolian dogs will be ginormous and the idea of fighting them over toenails isn't something I want to do. Briar has to be checked each morning for snake bites and sand spurs. No snake bites yet, thank God, but every morning she has sand spurs in her feet which must be removed.

By the time I'm through with the dogs, the sheep and goats are finished and can be released to begin their day of looking for trouble. Some wander off for adventure while others poke around the yard picking up stray alfalfa.

The pups supervise all this like tiny adults. I watch them and see glimmers of what they will become. Coyotes killed another calf north of us. They're bad this year. A friend of mine just lost a full-size horse to coyotes.  The mare had to be euthanized. I'm glad that Briar has some access to Tiny's night pen where she can monitor the big horse since he isn't free to move away from predators like the others.

I don't fool myself into thinking coyotes won't come up to the house for sheep and goats. The only reason they haven't ventured into the yard yet is because Briar barks all night. As winter moves in and the predators get bolder, she will need help.  While still too young to be real assistance, at least the puppies will be bigger and have supersonic thunder barks that can wake us up, and few things are more dangerous than a rancher in his underwear with a Remington.

I blog about schedules and a routine today because tomorrow morning it will all fall apart. Today I return to the Big City for a visit, leaving Other Half in charge of morning chores. He can be told what to do and in what order. He can be given written instructions. But the reality is that he will do things when he wants, how he wants, in the order he wants - because he is the human and he has thumbs. It gives him a false sense of superiority.

The other reality is that the farm will throw a collective fit.

"That's not the way MOMMY does it!"

 The wheel will fall off spilling out goats, sheep, cows, horses, and dogs and no amount of yelling in frustration will put that wheel back on the clown car.  The animals are happier when they have a schedule. And really, aren't we all? Aren't we all just big toddlers who thrive on having a routine?

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 07:42 am   |  Permalink   |  3 Comments  |  Email
Monday, September 14 2015

There are certainties in this life which are as constant as the Laws of Physics, and if you run a ranch, here is one to add right behind the Law of Gravity - Do not ever attend an horse auction after you have just picked up a cattle sale check.

Because something killed a calf last week, we decided to sell off some of the youngest bull calves and a cow/calf pair. The calf was too young to wean, and her mother is a crackhead so whatever killed the first calf, be it the cougar or the coyotes, it would certainly be back for this one. We might as well sell the pair before we lost the calf.

Yes, Paisley fans, say B-Bye to the Crackhead! That's a burr out of my saddlepad. After years of listening to me argue about selling that headache, Other Half finally agreed. I think it had something to do with staring at the carcass of nice heifer calf belonging to the best mother on our place. Paisley's calf didn't stand a chance. She's a nice cow who produces nice babies but she needs to be on a ranch with no water gaps and fewer predators. You may also be as surprised as I was to learn that the buyer saw Paisley riding in the trailer with the calves and followed us right back to unloading dock where he checked her out, asked some questions, then walked right into the building and bought her. Paisley wasn't at the sale barn for 30 minutes before she and her calf were on their way to Oklahoma. Alrightie then. There's another chapter passed.

So back to the horse sale. We took a break from building fence because Dear Friends Kim & Clyde had bought us tickets to the Extreme Mustang Makeover in Fort Worth. We'd always wanted to see this event where top trainers around the country take Bureau of Land Management Mustangs for 100 days of training. After that time there is a competition to show off their new skills, and the horses are auctioned off to adopters.

We almost didn't go. I still have acres and acres of field fence to string, and stalls to put up, but instead we opted to take a break and enjoy the evening with friends. Dear Friend Kim has proudly accepted all blame and accolades for the results.

On the way there we stopped by the post office and lo and behold, the check from the sale of the calves was in. Now ordinary people wouldn't be concerned about this, but in the back of my head, I was watching the dominoes line up. We get settled and watch the event. It is truly amazing that these horses were running wild earlier. Not only is the event a display of the mustang versatility, but it showcases some of the finest trainers in the country. Ordinary people would just sit back and enjoy the evening, but my husband had a pocket full of money and so I was a bit edgy.

Now he doesn't follow this event closely so he was completely unaware that many of these trainers and horses are internet celebrities with a faithful following of fans. Truthfully, even I didn't realize the extent of it until the end of the night. (Welcome Tiny Fans!)

The evening unrolled as expected, long concession lines, crowds of people eager to see the show. The horses were really nice. Although there were some bobbles that can be expected at any horse show, they were well-started and the talents of both the horses and the trainers showed well. Some were cute. A couple of horses I would have taken home except for the fact that I already have two riding horses and have been thinking of stealing Other Half's cow horse. Buying a mustang was tempting, but I don't need another horse.  And then.

The big red horse rode out. Dear Friend Kim had told me about this giant red horse named Tiny. His trainer, Tom Hagwood, is something of a legend, and it didn't take long to figure out why. The other horses were good, but this big red horse was something else. Wow. He wasn't flashy, he was correct. Big long John Wayne strides of correct. I liked him even before he started working the calf. And as soon as the horse saw that calf, he readied himself and got to work. I glanced at Other Half and knew that look. As soon as the horse was finished, he nodded his head and said, "I want that horse."

Dear Friend Kim couldn't point him to a buyer's number fast enough. I was daring to be a bit excited. We needed another cow horse. One cowpony and some border collies just can't do it, and the country is too rough to do everything on 4-wheelers. That big red horse would be a lot of help around here, and Other Half was ready with a pocket full of money and buyer's number. But then, the expected happened - Tiny and Tom Hagwood won 1st place and $20,000.

I was happy for them, but sad for us. We wanted him, we needed him, but I looked at that first place ranking and decided that someone with more calf money was about to outbid us.

Other Half is never one to let the odds get him down, so during the short meet & greet where the trainers ride along the rails and talk to fans and prospective buyers, he talked with Tom about Tiny. After the talk he was even more convinced that Tiny was the horse for our ranch. I was too, but that whole pesky thing about money kept rearing its head. We are just simple ranchers. We don't have big pockets. We have lots of wild country, wild hogs, and constant fence repairs.

The bidding began and Other Half jumped right in. As the bidding climbed, he kept looking at me for approval. Should he keep bidding? Like him, I knew that big horse could be exactly what we needed. A few confused minutes later, it was done. Tiny was ours.

That's when the real confusion began. We had just bought the winner of the Extreme Mustang Makeover and suddenly I had my doubts. We just wanted a cowhorse. This horse and his trainer were celebrities.

We went back to the stalls and I was overwhelmed. Friends and fans crowded in to congratulate Tom and Tiny and I wondered if perhaps this horse was destined for more than a life with us as a simple cowpony. He would be loved but there isn't much flash around here, just beautiful sunrises, beautiful sunsets, and lots of work in between.

We picked him up the next morning and that's when I fully appreciated how big Tiny was. Tiny towers over the other horses. On the way home we stopped by our farrier's to pull off his sliding shoes. Shoes like that aren't useful in heavy brush and can be dangerous. We're missing a band of 6 cows and so, as is typical around here, there is no rest for the weary. Along with our farrier, and Dear Friends Kim & Clyde, Tiny saddled up to hunt for cows. There was no honeymoon for Other Half and Tiny. No easing into a relationship. Off to work they rode. We joined up later in the brush and he was gushing praises about the big red horse. Tiny went anywhere he was pointed and through anything. The John Wayne horse was proving himself to be a honest and willing worker.

As we rode back to the house Other Half turned around in the saddle and said, "I think I finally found my Skip again."

Ahhhh.... the elusive Skip horse. He'd had that Skipper W bred gelding for almost 25 years. There are horses, and then there are partners. Skip was a partner. After his death Skip has been hard to replace. Other Half has looked for the last eight years for a horse that could fill that void.  I watched him work with the big red horse and like Other Half, I thought of Skip too. And I was able to sort out my thoughts about buying a celebrity. Tom Hagwood wanted the horse to go to a working home. Tiny is a working horse. It fits him. He fits us. From the wilds of Oregon, to the BLM pens in Nebraska, to the trainer in Wyoming, and then here to Texas, Tiny's journey has brought him home to us.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 09:35 am   |  Permalink   |  16 Comments  |  Email
Sunday, September 06 2015

Each time we have a close encounter with a copperhead, I'm reminded that even in Paradise, God stuck a snake. I thought about this yesterday as I stood over the scene of our first murder.

I knew she was dead when her mother, Snickers, came up to the house with a full udder for the second time. On Day One we told ourselves the baby had been laid down in the forest, and was waiting for her mother to claim her. This is common with deer and cattle, so we weren't alarmed until the second day. Snickers is the last cow I would expect to lose a baby to predators because she will stomp a dog in an instant and mutates into a Cape Water Buffalo the moment she thinks any calf is threatened.

Snickers is meaner than any donkey, so when this cow showed up without her baby and a full bag, it was time to start scanning for buzzards.

And so began the search. Not only did we search our property, but we had to search the properties to the north and south of us because the fences that cross the creek are nothing more than suggestions of a barrier to a cow. Since one band of cattle came in from the south, we loaded up Trace and Cowboy, drove to the creek, and headed south on foot down the dry creek bed.  And that's when we noticed little Trace was tracking cattle. Hmmmmm . . . didn't know he would do that.

We tracked, and tracked, and tracked. Clearly those cattle had roamed quite a ways. Trace tracked them all the way down the creek and then up through the fields where they looped up behind our house. It was an interesting display of Trace's job skills, but we didn't find the calf. So we loaded up the dogs and drove north. And drove. And drove. And got stuck crossing the creek in dry sugar sand. And cussed. And blamed each other. And cussed some more. And got unstuck. And drove some more.

We ran into some hunters who were happy to help look for a dead calf. They also volunteered to fix fence for beer. Alrightie then. So Other Half exchanged the dogs for fencing tools, and a cooler with ice and beer. I stayed at the house doing chores while they bounced off on 4Wheelers in a cloud of red dust. A couple hours later I got a phone call reporting that they found the calf on our ranch, not far from the house. I loaded up Lily and met the men on the road by the creek.

As I rolled up, one of the hunters cautioned me, " Don't go down there. You don't want to see that. It's bad. It's real bad."

I was puzzled, but then I remembered that he was a stranger and didn't know how I used to pay the bills. I assured him that I was a crime scene investigator and I'd be okay. Lily and I began our hike down the creek bed. It didn't take too long to find the body. Getting to it was another matter.  The calf was on the other side of a set of big boulders.

This area was a death trap for cattle. The banks were steep, funneling the prey into the large rocks where the more nimble predators had the advantage.  The sugar sand around the body made reading tracks difficult, but we saw a few large coyote tracks in a wet area by the bank.

There were long scrapes of hide missing from the calf's legs which suggested a frantic, ill-fated trip across the boulders. If the calf was flushed away from the larger cattle into this area the pack could kill her before an enraged mother could rescue the calf.  It was a good night for coyotes.

We are assuming the calf was killed by coyotes, but I suppose it's also possible the coyote tracks we saw were from secondary predators who happened upon a cougar kill. The calf's body didn't display the tooth marks on her back legs or her nose and ears. In fact, I saw no tooth marks at all on her hide, so I suppose it's possible a cougar dropped down and killed the calf.

Their mode of attack is reportedly to drop down from a tree and suffocate the prey by grabbing it by the neck. Although the calf's injuries seemed more consistent with a cougar attack rather than a pack of coyotes, the placement of the body didn't seem consistent with a cougar attack. It wasn't in or around a tree. It wasn't buried.

We'll never know, but last night a neighbor did report that on the night the calf was killed a cougar was seen by someone else on the gravel road just south of where we found the body. Ironically, the cat was headed north. Regardless of whether or not the calf was killed by the cougar or coyotes, the fact remains that the cougar is dangerously close to my sheep and goats.

Despite Briar's appearance, she is all fluff. Briar only weighs 86 lbs.

That's smaller than the average male cougar, so I won't breathe easier until Judge and Jury reach their full size.

They are growing fast, so if we can just tiptoe through this season, by next year, the small livestock will have a pretty impressive security detail.

Until then we will just have to keep the small stock and the dogs near the house where there is safety in numbers and firearms. Here is my plug for those who so strongly advocate gun control. Hubby and I tracked cattle on foot with two small Border Collies yesterday in the exact same forested area where this was seen:

Excuse me if I feel more comfortable with a gun that fires more than six shots. Out here you have little or no cell phone reception in the forest so if a cougar attacks you, your dog, or your husband, you better be ready to deal with it by yourself because 911 ain't coming.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 07:39 am   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, September 02 2015

These three are fast friends. Mesa enjoys her time with her giant playmates. At 12 weeks old they are almost her size, but not nearly as agile so she exercises this to her advantage.

But eventually agility alone just doesn't cut it when you have numbers and sheer determination working for you. Mesa often ends up on the bottom with a puppy hanging from each ear.

I watch their play and see shades of the budding titans they will become. They're playing now, but given their size and the fact that they have mastered the art of "tag team wrestling" I pity the varmit they latch on to when they're grown.  And for that reason I make sure they are exposed to all members of our pack.

I realized a few days ago that the pups hadn't spent a lot of time with Trace and Cowboy.

This became apparent when, in a search for water, Trace rushed into a pen which normally contained goats. He bulled past Judge and buried his head in the bucket. Trace was so busy drinking that he didn't note the posture of the Junior Security Guard who had taken exception to the invasion of his territory. Judge postured a bit and Trace ignored him while he drank, but I noted it, and put it away in the back of my head. Another few months and Trace won't be a physical match if Judge decides to draw the line in the sand.

They don't have to become friends and playmates, but clearly these toddlers cannot be brushed off for too much longer.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 09:47 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

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