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Tuesday, July 30 2019

This little dude is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t trash a “late bloomer.”

He’s finally got his head in the game and now he’s becoming handy. Handy is good, but the real question is “When it’s crunch time, will you reach for that dog?”

This evening was crunch time. And yes, I did. And he hit it out of the park.

We siphoned off some weanlings to keep at the house for Wyatt to work. I don’t believe in training pups on pairs. On our ranch, a cow will try to kill a dog who doesn’t bring his A game. Better to learn the skills on calves. They still kick and charge though. They still have to be dogbroke.

Today I was returning from town and discovered that one of our unweaned calves had somehow managed to get out of the pasture and onto the dirt road near the house. Figures. One of the rare times I didn’t have a Border Collie with me. Since both sides of that road are fenced, it wasn’t that big a deal to push the calf into the barnyard by myself. The problem was that the barnyard is over three acres and I wanted the calf to move away from the pasture containing his mother and into the pasture containing Wyatt’s weaned calves.

I tried Mesa at first, but the calf went ballistic. Frantic to get to his mother on the other side of the fence he was working himself into a foaming wreck whenever Mesa got near him. Mesa isn’t really a cowdog, she’s my go-to sheepdog. She was chosen because she has bells and whistles that Wyatt doesn’t have yet. But she doesn’t know cows.... and this little snot was kicking to beat the band. I opted to leave him in the barnyard until it cooled off some and he calmed down.

By evening it was cooler but it was crunch time. The calf HAD to be removed from the barnyard. He was ready to be weaned anyway so he might as well go in with the closest group by the house.

Enter Wyatt. I opened the gate that led to the weaned calves and whistled Wyatt to pick up that calf. And held my breath.

This calf was not one of the sane ones. No such luck. He flipped his tail over his back and ran straight into the trees on the other side of the pond. With his back to the fence the calf had a pretty good fortress in there. But he didn’t count on Wyatt to go THROUGH the pond to reach him. Wyatt never hesitated. He went straight across the pond and eased into the brush like a thief in the night.

Wyatt was calm and controlled but firm. It took that dog less time to pen that nut-job calf than it took me to walk out there. I was beyond elated. He’s beginning to understand his power and use it without getting into a scuffle or a rush. Although Mesa is tremendously talented, she doesn’t have the power in her eye and the confidence to handle something that much bigger than a sheep. Wyatt does.

I caught a glimpse of the dog he will become today. And I liked what I saw.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 06:05 pm   |  Permalink   |  1 Comment  |  Email
Tuesday, July 23 2019


I stared at the chicken wing on the ground, its feathers waving in the breeze. Maybe the joke was on me. That chicken had
been alive an hour ago. Perhaps the fuzzy bobtailed butt I saw running in the dark a few nights earlier hadn't been a
stray cat, but was instead a young bobcat. Maybe. I chewed on that thought as the dog and I pieced together what was left
of the chicken.

The dogs had announced his presence under the tractor mower deck that night. Since it was the dead of winter and I wasn't 
worried about rattlesnakes, I leaned down for a peek. The dogs crammed in beside me. The cat shot out the other end. In
the dark he appeared to be tabby and white, with no tail. I was dumbfounded. How did a cat find his way to our ranch? He'd
have had to brave coyotes and Anatolian Shepherds to even get close enough to find a bowl of catfood. But as his
bobtailed butt disappeared beneath the cabin, I had to grudgingly give him credit for making the journey. And I filled the
catfood bowl. 

So days later, I stared at the chicken wing waving in the winter wind and questioned both my eyesight and my judgement.
Did I see a domestic cat? Or juvenile bobcat? The catfood bowl and the chicken coop were a mere twenty feet from each
other. 

A few days later all hell broke loose in the haybarn. I rounded the corner to see my black barn cat in a knock-down-
scratch-his-eyes-out with a large tabby and white bobtailed cat. On the one hand, it was nice to know that my eyesight
wasn't failing, on the other hand I was not happy to see a strange tomcat beating up the rightful inhabitant of my
haybarn. I slung a shovel at them and the tomcat ran off behind the tractor. The black cat spat out a few cuss words and
left. And thus Stage One of Bob's plan for Occupation was complete. 

He started in the haybarn. It was winter. He was hungry. We made no effort to evict him. Instead we left a bowl of food  
near the tractor and bid him good hunting. Because he had no tail and we had no imagination, we named him Bob. For a few
months he was a tabby and white shadow, skulking around corners. Then one day, one curious day, Bob appeared in the feed
room. Unbeknownst to us, Stage Two of his Occupation plan was unfolding.

We live in a barndominium. A house in a barn. With the animals. My living room door opens up into a paved barn aisle with
three stalls and feed room. The feed room is simply a stall with a metal gate. It contains several feed bins, a saddle
rack, a woodburning stove, and a shelf that is filled with items which should be tossed but that Other Half has declared
that he cannot live without. They are covered in dust and he has no clue what is on any of the shelves but he squeals like
a kindergartener at the mere mention of tossing them in the trash, so there they sit. Collecting dust. And bobtailed cats.
Bob took up residence in the feed room.

The first few weeks, much like Alice's Cheshire Cat, he was just a pair of eyes floating in space. Sometimes on the dusty
shelf. Sometimes behind the stove. Sometimes behind a bag of feed. We got used to Bob being there and enjoyed our glimpses
of him. The other four barn cats keep the rodent population under control, so we didn't need Bob, but we admired his
pluck. He had somehow managed to avoid being killed by coyotes and Livestock Guardian Dogs to end up in the barn. Home
base. Tag. You can't kill me here. 

And he was right. They couldn't kill him here. There is a strict NO KILLING CATS policy in the barnyard and this extends
to stray cats too. Bob basked in the glow of his newfound safe base. He had everything a cat would need here. Food. Water.
Shelter. The humans even gave him a real bed. Stuffed. Like from a Pet Store. It was a hand-me-down dog bed that the other
cat had peed in and the chickens laid eggs in, but Bob wasn't choosy. A bed was a bed. A bed was a home. Stage Two of
Occupation was complete. 

The beginning of Stage Three was heralded in with a yowl. A demanding, mournful yowl. The kind of yowl that announces to
the world that a cat is ever so hungry, and in fact his belly must surely be rubbing his backbone despite the full bowl of
catfood not three feet away. It was that kind of yowl. Bob began talking to us. Humans are easily trained and so each time
he yowled, we talked back to him. We made sure his little bowl was full. Humans are clever that way. Soon Bob became
bolder. He spent more and more time in plain view. No longer content to eat from his little bowl behind the stove, Bob
wanted to eat on top of the feed bin with the other cats. In plain view. When he caught you watching him, Bob froze, and
hissed soundlessly, then slunk back behind the stove. After a couple of months of this, something changed. Bob changed his
mind. It was so sudden that it caught me by surprise. Like a summer thunderstorm. Or a plant sale at Tractor Supply.

Bob wanted to be a pet. A pet. Like, me touching him. Petting him. This cat, who for months hissed and spat at everyone
who noticed him, suddenly flipped a switch and announced that he wanted to be a housepet. Well, not in the house. In the
barn. He "wanted" in the house. He started lurking at the back door. Demanding attention. The very cat who slunk in the
shadows for months made every effort to convince us that he was a most friendly chap who was quite deserving of a head rub
and yes, please, a back scratching. He arched his back and rubbed against my leg. I wasn't buying it. 

I like cats. I do. I like cats that I have raised from kittens. Cats who have had their shots. Tame cats. Cats who do not
ask to be petted and suddenly change their mind and bite you. Forgive me if I'm leery of a feral cat who swam through a
moat filled with raccoons with distemper to get to my back door. So I refused to pet Bob even when he rubbed against my
leg repeatedly. Other Half gave in quickly. He's friendlier than I am. He hasn't shot a raccoon with distemper yet. Soon Bob
and Other Half were friends. But Bob was not satisfied. Bob wanted the complete conquest. Bob wanted in the house. 

I assured him that was not going to happen. And even as I made this promise, I wondered. How did that cat get here? I
reached out to neighbors. Nobody was missing a tabby and white bobtailed cat. From his behavior, it was clear that Bob had a
home at some point. He loved. He was loved. My first clue came when he shed out for the summer. 

Being quite pushy, it was hard to see the back view of Bob's butt because his head was always in your face, demanding
attention. But as he got friendlier, Bob moved his homebase from the feed room to the top of the dog kennels at the back
door. (Just in case you changed your mind about letting him in the house.) This put Bob's butt at the right height to view
his tail. Bob did not appear to be a natural bobtailed cat. In fact, he appeared to have an anal prolapse. (No, I'm not
taking him to the vet for it. He has functioned quite well since last winter, it hasn't killed him yet. His next trip to
the vet will be to have those balls cut off.) After Bob shed out it was easy to see that he had two scars on either side
of his body. I had a cat with scars like that once. He'd been caught in the fan belt of a truck. Perhaps Bob had been
caught up in a fan belt thus resulting in scars and an anal prolapse. It is possible that Bob was either dumped
on the main gravel road a mile away or he rode in the truck until it stopped or he jumped out. No matter what happened,
Bob managed to survive his injuries and ended up in our barn. 

The true tale of Bob's journey to us may never be known. We were not looking for another cat but it appears we have been
conquered. I have given in and am now scratching his head and giving him back rubs. I realized that Stage Four of Bob's
Occupation was complete when I took pictures of him and posted them on Facebook to see if anyone could provide more clues. 

"If you don't want, we'll take him," a neighbor friend answered.

Oh dear. Getting rid of Bob hadn't quite crossed my mind. After all, he'd worked so hard to fit in here. My neighbor was not more than two miles away, so Bob would probably end up back in our barn anyway. Besides, he was annoying, but Stage Four of his Occupation was complete. Bob already had a home. 

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 06:18 pm   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, July 10 2019

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”

Alice Walker, The Color Purple

A sea of purple ripples in waves as we pass. With the humble name of Plains Horsemint, a single flower grabs attention but a carpet of purple glory is nothing short of spectacular. Majestic purple wildflowers clamor for their place in the sun. Their place in the spotlight. It’s their time. They line the roadway between my home and the nearby town. Shouldering in beside the Black-eyed Susans.

First came the Indian Paintbrushes, the welcome color of spring. Orange spikes filled pastures and lined the highways. They gave way to the warm goldens and reds of Indian Blankets, followed by the Black-eyed Susans and Plains Horsemint. City and country folk alike took the time to drive the highway, stop for pictures, and admire the show.

For months these wildflowers have put on a performance to rival any fireworks display, but rather than the pop and roar of the following wave, there is merely a quiet costume change for the next scene along the highway. The change is seamless. It’s hard to define when the last Indian Paintbrush faded to seed and when the first Plains Horsemint burst into bloom.  It is a well-choreographed Broadway show. Each flower blooming in its own time.

And perhaps there’s the lesson. In its own time.

I watch the lanky pup race across the pasture to pick up the calves. It’s not pretty but he’s getting the job done. In his time. He’s a late bloomer. Silly. Playful. Soft. His work ethic was as thin as a butterfly’s wing. He had flashes of brilliance surrounded by acres of mediocrity. But then something changed. The bud began to open. Slowly. The bud split open and a working dog bloomed. The pup got more serious. His brain began to catch up with his body. Now I still catch glimpses of that silly teenager but more and more I see the hardened glare of a stockdog at work. He is blooming. In his time.

“He’s my slow child.”

The words seared through me as the boy’s mother spoke them. Embarrassed, her son’s eyes darted away from mine. My heart cried for him. Perhaps like the pup, and like the wildflowers, it simply isn’t yet his time to bloom. How many of us are so hard on our children and ourselves because we haven’t learned the lesson in the wildflowers?

From the first cardinal that soared over the first Indian Paintbrush of spring to grasshoppers that play hopscotch over fading Black-eyed Susans on this hot July day, each scene has been choreographed to seamlessly shift into the next, providing months of glory. But what if?

What if they all bloomed at the same time?

There would be a brief riot of color that would explode and cascade to fading emptiness. And that would be it. Pollinators would work overtime like UPS deliverymen at Christmas but after a quick, glorious opening of packages we would be left with nothing but faded colored ribbons on the floor and a faint longing.  

Timing. It’s all about timing. Time those blooms. Everything isn’t meant to blossom at the same time. Slow down. Relax. Sit back and enjoy the show.  And so it is with pups and people and purple flowers.

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 03:43 pm   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email

Red Feather Ranch, Failte Gate Farm
Email:   sheri@sheridanrowelangford.com  failte@farmfreshforensics.com

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