Monday, March 04 2019
The walk of shame. I'm all too familiar with it. If you run a farm you probably walk that walk too. You are late to
meetings, choir practice, and any other important functions in your life. Despite your best intentions, the farm has once
again forced you to slink into a meeting which has already started. Sometimes you apologize, sometimes you just grab your
choir book and slither to your seat. Others pause briefly to nod a wordless greeting. Late again. They've come to expect
it. Your shame is compounded by the fact that not only are you late, you are also dirty. You often have the stains from
animal bodily fluids smeared on your jeans - even after they leave the washing machine. You have stomped your boots in the
parking lot so hopefully there is no cow shit in the tread. There was no time to change clothes.
And that's really what it comes down to, time. Some people, the non-ranching variety, will point an accusing finger and
say it's really about time management. Poor time management on your part. Irresponsible. You. Yes, you. The person who
rises before the sun to care for animals that cannot care for themselves. You, who have a calf in the kitchen, and chicks
in the laundry room.
I would argue that the root of this kind of irresponsibility is in fact, responsiblity. You are responsible for so much
more than the average nine to fiver. You have lives depending upon you. Animals have to be fed and watered. Outside of the
simple animal welfare part of it, if you run a ranch, it comes down to dollars and cents too. Every young animal that
doesn't survive is money taken from your wallet. Around here cattle pay the mortgage. Each calf eaten by a coyote is a
direct hit to my pocketbook, so it's in my best interest to monitor calving closely. I simply cannot afford to feed
I'm not sure which is worse, being late, or not showing up at all. Sometimes the farm won't allow you to simply be late,
the drama is of such magnitude that your attendance is required more at the tail end of a straining cow than at the tail
end of a meeting. Such was my last Sunday. I sing in the choir. Don't get excited. I'm not any good. I'm the poster child
for the phrase "joyful noise." Nevertheless, when you sing in the choir, even badly, people still count on you to be there
and I hate letting them down. But I had a cow down. A pregnant cow. An expensive pregnant cow that I cannot afford to
The cow appeared to be in labor. Not hard labor. Just thinking about it. The problem was she was "just thinking about it"
the night before too. And she was walking like a foundered horse. We watched her for a while and made the decision that
church would have to wait. We couldn't afford to lose this cow in a bad delivery. So once again I fired off a text
explaining my absence. While I looked through binoculars and pondered why I bother to try to have any kind of life off
the ranch, my Other Half left to feed more cattle in another pasture. Normally he would have done this after church, it
was just a twist of fate that we were skipping church so he fed early that morning.
My cow who was thinking about labor decided that she really just had gas, so after a good fart, she was bellying up to the
hay bar when Other Half rattled into the barnyard and announced that my help was needed in the other pasture. A cow that
we hadn't even been watching had given birth early in the morning and the calf couldn't walk properly on its back hooves.
The tendons were contracted and the hooves were flipped back so the baby was forced to walk on her joint. She had nursed,
but keeping up with the herd was not a possiblity. Thankfully her mother had brought her back into the relative safety of
the big herd and so Other Half found her when he fed them. But she couldn't stay there.
This baby was a Coyote Happy Meal.
So instead of going to church, we were kidnapping a calf and slow-rolling the calf and her
mother from the lease pasture all the way to the cattle working pens below the house.
There we would be able to monitor
her and give her a little bit of physical therapy to help loosen the tendons. She would also be close to the sheep and
would thus enjoy the protection of the Livestock Guardian Dogs.
Each day the tendon loosened and by Wednesday we were able to turn the baby and her mother out with the other cows which
have temporary residence in the lower sheep pasture. My heart smiled as I watched her run for the first time on working
She loped away taking with her any guilt I had about skipping church that Sunday. I doubt God minded anyway. In
fact, I cannot help but wonder if God didn't have a hand in this little drama. The cow who had us convinced she was in
labor on Sunday still hasn't calved, yet if we had not skipped church and fed the main herd early, in all likelihood we
would have missed the lame calf. The herd would have moved on and the baby and her mother would have been left alone. Our
experience in the past has been that a single cow cannot protect her calf from a pack of coyotes. She needs the herd. Or
When I let that calf out to run, I let go of some that guilt too, because when you live on a farm, and farm drama gets in
the way of a 'normal' life, oftentimes the main person pointing the accusing finger of blame at you is really just you. Let that guilt just gallop away.
Wednesday, February 13 2019
I closed one eye, aimed, took a deep breath, prayed my aim was true, and squeezed the trigger.
Over the years I've come to recognize days like this, when problems dogpile you like a college football game. Some days I
lay sprawled on the turf, waiting for the referee to sort it out even as another problem kicks me in the head, and other
days, I scream, cry, and kick back. Saturday I was kicking back.
Problems always seem worse when you're sick. I've been in a state of sick and half-sick for a month now. Respiratory
infections tend to hit me hard and like houseguests who won't leave, they linger forever. When you run a farm, you don't
have the luxury of being sick. Animals still have to be fed. Dogs have to be exercised. Eggs have to be collected.
Chickens and sheep must be juggled lest they end up on the menu of a bold Boogey Beast. Livestock Guardian Dogs must be
juggled lest the wrong combination end up together and they leave for an early spring break. And now I'm working a town
job again. Massive medical bills last summer coupled with the drought and rising insurance costs had me looking around for
a part-time job to ease the pinch of rising winter feed bills. I got a part-time job teaching at a local college police
academy and another substitute teaching at the local school. I was a 6th grade Science teacher for ten years before my
police career so going back into the classroom isn't a stretch. I love teaching. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy teaching.
I love the kids. I hate the germs. Teaching is a lot of fun when you aren't sick. When you're sick, when your muscles ache
and your head feels like a football, you're watching the clock countdown as closely as the kids. Saturday morning I was
looking forward to spending a day in bed with an electric blanket and a good book. The farm had other plans.
When you're taking cold medicine, multitasking is not your forte. I know this and yet, in my attempt to get the morning
chores done quickly, I forgot that I cannot do chores and watch dogs at the same time. I put Bramble's radio tracker
collar on her and let her out of the barn with Judge and Briar for a potty break. I was in the middle of feeding rams when
I remembered that it was Saturday and the Big Ram was supposed to be two hours away at a sale - in two hours. He'd been
advertised to be there and thus not going wasn't an option. I hustled to get Other Half out of bed and attempt to wake up
my pickup truck. My old Ford hates cold weather. It refused to start. After much cussing, screaming, and crying, it still
refused to start. I made the decision to sell it. Other Half managed to get it started and backed the trailer up to the
ram pen. Bramble kept getting in the way as we tried to load the ram. Fortunately the Big Ram cooperated and easily
loaded. Since I still had a date with a good book and an electric blanket, all was not lost if I sent Other Half to the
auction without me. He agreed to drop off a soap order on his way so I could stay home. I just needed to finish chores and
I was free to get back to bed. That's when I realized there was only one white dog in the barnyard. Judge and Bramble were
gone. I snatched up the tracker to her radio collar. She was over a half mile away. And still moving.
There was no one to blame but myself. And Judge. Judge had taken his young friend on walkaout. Give him an inch and he'll
take a mile. Or two. This was the straw that broke the camel's back. I was sick. I was tired. I was overwhelmed. And I
couldn't catch a freaking break. Other Half was already heading down the road when I realized he'd forgotten the soap
order. I phoned him. He backed down the road as I stomped down the driveway to meet him with a box of soap. I still had to
finish chores. Bramble's collar showed she was 1.67 miles away and moving. I was livid. I handed Other Half the box of
soap as tears of rage and frustration burst out. I had reached the point where I didn't care any more. If they got shot by
a hunter that was two less dogs to feed. I was that mad. Sick. Working my ass off for animals that either tore things up
or ran away, I was cussing at God, and deep in an emotional meltdown. And that's when I heard Other Half cussing.
The truck broke down. It was spewing some kind of fluid. Even as I knew I should be grateful he didn't break down on the
highway, I also knew I couldn't afford major truck repairs. The Jenga Blocks of my week came crashing down. Great heaping, heaving sobs of feeling sorry for myself didn't
solve the problem. And the ram still had to be hauled. We put a cage in a pickup and he cooperated once more. Other Half,
his two criminal Border Collies, and the ram left again and I walked back to finish chores. The tracker had lost contact
with Bramble at 1.67 miles away. Everyone has a breaking point. I'd reached mine. I muttered and cussed at God as I fed the ewes.
Even as I swore to God that I was done and didn't care any more, I knew what I would be doing when I finished chores. Mesa
loaded into the big dually pickup with me. I hate driving this truck. It's big. It's filthy.
Other Half and his Border Collies have trashed it out. I rolled the windows down so I could see past the dog noseprints as
Mesa and I drove off. The radio tracker still showed a lost signal. I drove in the direction of the last known signal.
Dogs don't follow roadways. They cut across neighboring ranches and go places I can't reach by vehicle. I would have to
drive two miles out of the way to get back to where the signal was lost. The tracker was still working as I drove down the
cold, wet gravel road. We were two miles away when I saw him. He was sitting there, staring at me with a lost vacant
expression. I slowed the truck down to get a closer look. There was no mistaking it. The raccoon was sick. Distemper.
Rabies. Who knows? Probably distempter, but I wouldn't rule out rabies. He stared at me from the bar ditch. He looked like
I felt. I drove off. The tracker showed I had radio contact again and was getting closer to Bramble. A half mile. A
quarter mile. 900 yards. 400 yards. 340 yards. 99 yards. 74 yards. 90 yards. Stop. Back up the truck. 70 yards. I stopped
the truck and cut the engine. Then I stepped out onto the running board and called,
The bell on her collar immediately answered me as she came bounding through the forest and burst out onto the dirt road. Judge bounded out behind her. They were delighted to see me. I grabbed Bramble and stuffed her into the pickup truck.
An adventure AND a car ride? Wow! Her day was getting better and better!
I tried to get Judge to climb into the truck. He refused. Both Anatolians are terrified of riding in vehicles. Lovely.
Just freaking lovely. It was gonna be a long trot home. As the crow flies we were probably two miles away. By vehicle we
were at least four miles away. I offered Judge a ride. He declined. So we started rolling back home. Judge settled into an
effortless trot beside me.
Bramble hung her head out the window and watched Judge trot along. Idiot. He was missing the best part. The open window.
A truck came up behind us. I stopped and waved him around. I'm sure he thought I was dumping dogs. If only. He shot me an
accusing glare as he passed. I wanted to scream at him. To tell him how these freaking animals rule my life. To tell him
how hard I work to keep them fed. To keep them confined. To tell him that my every waking hour is somehow spent caring for
animals. Ungrateful animals. The crunch of his tires disappeared, taking his accusations with them. I offered Judge a
ride. He declined again.
As he trotted I gave some serious thought to the sick raccoon. Would he still be there? By some miracle I'd managed to
leave the house without a gun. As I drove down the dirt road I looked through the truck interior. No gun. No freaking gun.
Not one. Not a snake gun. Not a rifle. How can you not have a gun in a ranch truck? I looked up the hill. There he was.
Judge hadn't seen him yet. The raccoon was walking unsteady, aimless circles in the road. There was absolutely no way I
could drive past that sick raccoon with Judge trotting beside me. Was God laughing at me? I stopped the truck. Judge still
hadn't seen the raccoon. I offered him a ride. He politely declined again. Mesa glared at him. Idiot. Certifiable. Class A
idiot. I searched the back seat for a gun. Wait! What's this?
An extension cord.
The raccoon was still wobbling circles in the road as I tied the extension cord around Judge's neck. If you've ever tried
to load an unwilling horse into a trailer, you know the drill. I climbed into the back seat and started pulling. Judge
isn't as strong as a horse and so he soon gave in and climbed into the dreaded pickup. He took up the entire back seat.
Bramble moved to the floorboard. I slammed the door in his face and rolled the windows up. By the time we drove past, the
raccoon was back in the bar ditch. Not six feet away, he stared at me vacantly as I stopped. Definitely sick. I would have
to come back.
By the time I got home, the ewes had finished eating. Hay was still spread all over the barnyard. They weren't eating it
all. They were just stomping on it. Searching for something else. They wanted corn. Or alfalfa. The hay spread all over
the barnyard was $22 a bale. Nice clean gorgeous coastal hay. The best I could afford. I go to work sick so I can afford
to feed them this hay. I cussed the sheep. (It was not my finest hour.) Ranchers all over the country cuss ungrateful farm
animals who waste feed. Wasted food is even more painful when you're sick. That's when you measure every grain of wasted
food and compare it to every minute you go to work sick to provide that food. And I still needed to find a gun.
I locked up the white dogs, exchanged Mesa for Lily, stuffed a pistol in my back pocket, and then climbed back in the truck. I
drove the two miles back to the raccoon. He was sitting in the ditch wearing a dejected look. I drove past so I could turn
around. He barely noticed me when I pulled back up beside him. Distemper is an ugly disease. It will run like wildfire
through the raccoon population. It was too late for this one, but if I put him out of his misery I may spare other
raccoons a similar fate. So I closed one eye and took aim. Then I took a deep breath and said a prayer that my aim
would be quick and true. It was the first civil word I'd had with God all day.
The shot rang out. The aim was true. His suffering was over. And so was mine. I had passed that poor raccoon four times.
Had I not been distracted and let the dogs get loose I would never have seen the raccoon. I would never have seen his
suffering. Who knows how long he would have suffered? Who knows how many more animals he would infect? And so it is with
our own suffering. Perhaps God hasn't forsaken you. Perhaps he's merely shuffling pieces on the chess board to force you
into the right place at the right time to help someone else. So perhaps a little less cussing and a little more gratitude
is in order. Just perhaps.
Because the world's problems aren't solved under an electric blanket with a good book.
Click to find the Farm Fresh Forensics book!
Saturday, February 02 2019
How Much is She Worth?
This dog has no registration papers. When she was a puppy someone laughed at me because I paid good money for a dog with no papers. No one's laughing now.
Papers don't work. A dog does. I didn't pay for papers. I don't breed dogs so I don't need registration papers. I paid for the security of knowing the dog would work. She comes from a line of stockdogs. I had faith that she would work and that faith has been rewarded tenfold. Not only has Mesa become the best sheepdog I have, but she is determined to be the best at everything. Mesa makes it her mission in life to figure out what I need and insert herself into that spot. And sometimes you don't know what you need until Mesa provides it. Take this for instance.
This is a Possum. A MoonPossum.
Through a twist of fate, Possum came to live with us when she was a pup. Possum is a Double Merle Australian Shepherd. She was produced when a merle colored dog was bred to a merle colored dog. Puppies like Possum are often deaf and have vision problems. Possum is deaf and has some vision issues. When she was young she wore goggles to protect her eyes from the sun's glare. Now it's a fight to keep them on, so we just limit her time in bright light. Possum does not let her disabilities handicap her. We do not tell Possum she is handicapped, she is treated just like everyone else. She responds to hand signals and at night we blink a flashlight to let her know it's time to come inside. Possum doesn't live her life in a bubble. When Possum was a puppy I lived in fear that she'd squeeze out of the barnyard and get into the big pasture with the cattle or get lost in the forest. This led to many panic-stricken runs around the barnyard screaming, "Where's Possum?"
You have a problem?
Insert a Mesa.
Mesa took it upon herself to start finding Possum, bumping her to get her attention and bringing her back to me. Note: MESA TAUGHT HERSELF THIS SKILL. She saw a need and inserted herself. That is work ethic. THAT is what you pay for, not papers. Papers are only worth something when they document dogs with work ethic. If the dogs in the pedigree don't work, there isn't a lot of hope your pup will work either.
Fast forward two years. Mesa's little trick now allows her friend to enjoy long walks in the forest with the pack. I keep a close eye on Possum and the moment she lets her attention carry her off the trail, I dispatch Mesa. Last week I made the mistake of taking Possum for a walk without Mesa and it ran me ragged. Even with a tracking collar on her, someone still has to actually get off the trail and show her the way back. Mesa does this fifty times a day. We can put her vibration collar on Possum, but someone still needs to make sure she knows exactly where I am. Mesa is that added security. If Possum slides under the barbed wire fence where I can't go, Mesa is dispatched to get her attention and bring her back. From time to time, Mesa notices before I do, and dispatches herself.
That kind of work ethic isn't something you train, it's inherent in the genetic makeup of the dog. I want to also point out that Mesa did not start inserting herself into roles like this until she was two years old. Then she began to insist upon doing more and more around here. The dog is quite bossy and highly competitive. This has proven to be a great combination since Mesa's bossiness is easily shaped into skills like working sheep, penning chickens and finding Possum. She has appointed herself to be Sergeant-At-Arms on the farm. While you have to be careful not to let this get out of hand (She terrorizes Trace the Troll Dog. On the other hand, most of the time he deserves it.) this mindset makes for a really handy stockdog.
And in the end, that's all I really wanted.
Click to find the Farm Fresh Forensics book!
Saturday, January 26 2019
At some time or another most adults have stared in confusion at a child's homework. For every generation there is now a new and improved method for extracting the same answer you got when you were a kid. (And show your work, please.) Although in the classroom we must all agree to accept that there is more than one way to skin a cat, on a farm, math always stays the same. For example,
1 Anatolian + 1 Old Pyrenees cross = 2 Livestock Guardian Dogs
or stack it
= 2 Livestock Guardian Dogs
Here are other equations:
1 Old Pyrenees cross + 1 Pyreness puppy = 2 Livestock Guardian Dogs
= 2 Livestock Guardian Dogs
1 Anatolian + 1 Anatolian = 0 Livestock Guardian Dogs
= Zero Livestock Guardian Dogs
A few weeks ago a raccoon was bold enough to come into the chicken yard at a time when the dogs were under lockdown. No loose dogs to guard the farm resulted in a headless chicken and an enraged farmer. Score one for the Boogey Beast. This also resulted in more farm math. Let us set up the equation. And show our work.
10 chickens + 1 raccoon = 9 chickens
This leads to another equation:
9 chickens + 1 raccoon + 1 Anatolian = 9 chickens + 1 Anatolian + 1 dead raccoon
1 dead chicken = 1 dead raccoon
Are you beginning to see how this works? Let's try another one.
10 chickens + 3 guineas + 1 fox = 10 chickens + 2 guineas
Our next equation is:
10 chickens + 2 guineas + 1 Anatolian + 1 fox = 10 chickens + 2 guineas + 1 Anatolian + 1 dead fox
1 dead guinea = 1 dead fox
I see you're getting the hang of it, so let's set the next one up as a word problem.
A farmer has 20 chickens, 2 guineas and 7 dogs. If that farmer feeds and releases 17 chickens and 2 guineas to free range in the barnyard, and then takes 7 dogs for a walk, how many birds will the farmer have when she returns from a 20 minute walk?
(The answer is actually in the form of a fraction.)
The farmer will have 2 guineas and 16.2 chickens.
A wing. (We will estimate that a wing is .2 percent of a chicken.)
We need to show our work, so let's set it up.
17 chickens + 2 guineas = 19 loose birds
19 loose birds + 7 dogs + X
X = Boogey Beast
subtract 7 dogs
that leaves ....... 19 loose birds + BoogeyBeast X
This results in 18 loose birds and a fraction of the 19th bird
What is missing from this equation?
Yes, the rest of the chicken.
Who can project the next equation?
The next equation is set up as follows:
18 loose birds + 1 Anatolian + 2 Pyrenees + BoogeyBeast X = ?
Undoubtedly this will be the result
1 dead chicken = 1 dead Boogey Beast
It is quite clear from our mathmatics equations that at no point can free range poultry be without Livestock Guardian Dogs for even the shortest amount of time. To hijack the quote by R.J. Childerhose, "There are old Boogey Beasts and there are bold Boogey Beasts. There are no old bold Boogey Beasts."
Click to find the Farm Fresh Forensics book!
Saturday, January 12 2019
Anyone who lives on a farm is familiar with the emotion. You have lovingly raised something. Poured your heart, your soul,
your time and your money into it. And then you stand in the barnyard and wish it dead.
Rubber boots aren't made for running, but I still managed to kick him in the ass like a soccer ball. Roosters. I hate
them. If you only want eggs then you don't even need them. I started with seven Golden-Laced Wyandotte hens. No rooster.
Didn't want one. Didn't need one.
Then my hens started free ranging. They soon left the barnyard area for excursions into the Land Of The Boogey Beast.
That's when I decided I needed a rooster. They do more than just procreate. Roosters are really good at watching for
predators and protecting the hens. Let me be a cautionary tale for you. Don't do this!
Because I'd been wanting to add Blue-Laced Wyandottes, this was the perfect excuse. I
got two beautiful blue roosters and eight lovely blue hens - who unfortunately were all infected with Marek's disease and
were not vacccinated. One by one I lost all but two hens to Marek's. The remaining two hens died of heat stroke last
summer, but not before I was able to save their genes.
They had proven resistant to Marek's disease thus it was really important to me to save those genes. When the first blue
flock started falling dead of Marek's disease I had acquired two more blue roosters and two more blue hens that had been
vaccinated for Marek's. I pulled one blue rooster (Russell Crowe) and bred him to the last Marek's blue hens. The other
blue rooster (Egger Allan Poe) stayed with the new blue hens. Egger appears to be infertile but by all other counts he's
an excellent rooster (if there is such a thing) and thus he gets to stay.
We marked and incubated the fertilized eggs last spring. None of Egger's eggs hatched. Four of Russell's eggs hatched. We
were able to vaccinate three of the four chicks for Marek's disease. This was an unfortunate mix-up with the vaccine. Who
knew you had to use ALL the vaccine within a few hours once the vials had been mixed? Now we know. One chick was well
behind the others in hatching and didn't get his shot, thus this bird will be the experimental bird to see if the Marek's
resistent genes pulled through. It sounds good in theory. The reality is that I may put the little bastard in a stew pot
Three of the four hatched eggs turned out to be roosters. The single hen looks exactly like my favorite hen who died of heat
stroke - Margaret Thatcher, thus I have named her Maggie.
She is an angel. Her brothers are assholes. Well, not really. One
brother is okay. The ugliest one. The brother with no neck. He has a nice temperament. Beautiful plummage. But no neck.
His head kinda sprouts from his shoulders. Thus I named him No Neck.
The other brothers are exquiste. They were exactly what I wanted to reproduce. They were so beautiful I even forgave them
for being roosters, until . . .
Let's do some math. I started out with 7 Golden-Laced Wyandotte hens. I lost one to a predator when she left the barnyard and another got sick and died a few weeks ago. Let's ommit all the Marek's blue hens since they died. I can count the 2 new blue hens, and the one blue hen that I hatched. That's 8 hens. That's really all the chickens I wanted or needed, but then my mom ended up giving
me most of her Speckled Sussex hens - 10 more hens. One hen crawled into a spot to lay an egg and couldn't get out. She died there.
Another was killed by a raccoon. That left me 8 Speckled Sussex hens, 3 Blue-Laced Wyandotte hens, 5 Golden-Laced
Wyandotte hens and 5 Blue-Laced Wyandotte roosters. That's 4 more roosters than any sane person needs. BUT -
My chickens do not stay together. They split themselves into four different flocks, each with its own coop and its own yard which opens into the main barnyard which they all share. (Think of it as apartment complexes which open into the same city.)
Egger Allan Poe has 2 Blue hens, and 5 Sussex hens. Russell Crowe has 5 Golden Girls. Three Sussex hens have opted to roost in a coop
by themselves with no rooster. No surprise there. And until this morning the 3 young roosters, and their sister, had a coop that they share with what guineas remain from Other Half's failed experiment with guineas. I had pulled the young hen, Maggie, out and placed her with another flock but she immediately escaped and joined her brothers again, and since I haven't noticed them harrassing her, I let her
stay. Until yesterday they didn't have real names. Now their names are: Colonel Sanders & Soup Pot.
Russell Crowe and Egger Allan Poe are excellent roosters. They take good care of their tiny flocks, but are being run
ragged by a pair of thugs bent of raping their hens. This recently came to my attention and bothered me greatly. The
little thugs lie in wait for the hens around the feeders and the coops, thus the hens cannot eat and they cannot return to
their coops without fear of being raped.
Their own roosters cannot fight off two thugs because while the rightful husband is busy chasing one
thug, the other thug is free to assault his hens. I complained to Other Half who dismissed it as the natural goings on in
a barnyard. This pissed me off further. Other Half has not counted on a few things.
1) This is NOT the natural order of things because in nature that many birds are not forced by food, fencing, and housing
to co-mingle in the same area. (That is what we call city life.)
2) I am the God governing this little planet that is my barnyard and if I say the behavior pisses me off, then God has
spoken and the roosters are either to be incarcerated, sold, or end up in a soup pot. 'Nuff said.
3) The first little snot who attacks me will be beaten to death with a t-post. He might have Marek's resistant genes but
he doesn't have t-post resistant genes.
And so this morning the sun rose on a new chicken yard - Alcatraz.
It's a 12 x 12 chain-link cell with a dog house in it. If a
raccoon gets past the Livestock Guardian Dogs and climbs inside Alcatraz then hopefully the dog will kill the raccoon on his way out. I'm not
concerned with the safety of prisoners. This pen is kinda like the goat in Jurassic Park. Actually, I did parole No Neck
since his only crime was being a rooster. No Neck was released into the custody of his sister and the guineas while the
Rapist Thugs will remain behind bars until they either go live somewhere else, get eaten by a raccoon, or end up in a stew
pot. The weather is getting colder. And I do love chicken and dumplings.
Click to find the Farm Fresh Forensics book!
Thursday, January 10 2019
Look at this face.
Part Snidley Whiplash, part Eddie Haskell, this dog is Billy Bob Thornton in "Bad Santa." An old geezer now, Cowboy is
probably a fugitive from some Old Folk's home. Scratch that, he's not a fugitive - they threw him out. With his sweet face
and lopsided grin, it's tempting to think of him as an old grandpa, but only if your granddad pees on the couch and
exposes himself. He's crude. He's crass. He doesn't even warn you with a "Pull my finger." This dog swigs whiskey with a
cigar hanging out one side of his mouth. He poops in the other dogs' toy box. If someone else is taking a leak, he sidles up and pisses on them. Cowboy is Bad Santa.
Each year we tell ourselves that this may be his last winter. Son jokes that we've said that for five years now and the
immortal foul-mouthed, cigar-smoking, drunkard is still putzing along. Seniority has its privileges - softer beds, more
unsupervised time out. Unfortunately Bad Santa has burned his bridges where that's concerned. His time must be supervised
or you'll find him outside another male dog's kennel, flashing gang signs in an attempt to start a fight through the
fence. If he's loose with a female dog he's trying to molest her. If he's by himself, he marks the recliner.
His longstanding feud with Ranger, the Blue Heeler, seems to have settled into "Grumpy Old Men" status. One is Jack
Lemmon and the other is Walter Matthau. They despise each other but neither has the energy to do much about it now. Cowboy has
long since retired from actual cow work but still insists on sneaking into the game, hoping to die in a blaze of glory.
More than a few cows around here would happily oblige him. And if it came to pass, I'm not sure if Ranger would cheer, or
silently salute his longtime rival as a worthy adversary who had a good death in battle.
Time has not been kind to him. Years of pulling on the bars of kennels have broken his canine teeth. He had three more
teeth pulled this summer. He lives on pain meds for his bad back, courtesy of a run-in with a donkey - a poor decision
that he lives with daily now. But Bad Santa keeps plugging along. Every day that the sun comes up, Cowboy rises to meet it
like Tim Conway's shuffling old man, waiting for his rimadyl to kick in. He shuffles to the fence where he rallies forth
to charge cows or horses who push too close as they wait for their breakfast. Cowboy stays there as I do chores,
marching along the fence, a grizzled, unshaven soldier, cigar still hanging out, and hung over from the night
before. This old dog does not "go gentle into that good night." He spits a wad of tobacco in Death's eye, and keeps
moving onward. And if Death lingers too closely, that old dog may just hump his leg or pee on his robe. But in the mean
time, Cowboy sleeps in the sun and dreams of working cows and pissing in someone's coffee.
Click to find the Farm Fresh Forensics book!
Wednesday, January 09 2019
I measure the success of the Livestock Guardian Dogs not by the body count of dead predators, but by the body count of live
livestock. It's easy to get lulled into a sense of complacency when all your numbers add up each night. It's easy to start
thinking that Livestock Guardian Dogs aren't as necessary. It's easy to start feeling bad when the Big White Dogs leave
raccoon bodies in their wake like tourists leave litter. Or perhaps feeling that escaping Anatolians aren't worth the trouble of
juggling them daily. But then . . .
Most of the year we live in relative solitude, but Deer Season in Texas is by all measure, the shotgun start of weekends
of activity as city dwellers swarm to the country in search of peace, quiet, beer and Bambi. Because one camp of hunters
is close to our sheep pasture and another group of hunters has a deer blind close to our fence, we try to lock up the
Livestock Guardian Dogs when the hunters are down for the weekend. Just as most hunters don't appreciate a dog barking at
them when they're trying to be stealthy, people seeking peace and solitude also do not appreciate a dog the size of a
small pony wandering into the camp with a curious, "Howdy Neighbor!"
This past weekend was the last weekend of Buck Season and so hunters were down trying to get their last shot at a big
buck. Starting Wednesday night, Judge and Jury, the Anatolians, went on lock-down. They cannot be trusted not to visit the
neighbors. The Pyrenees-bred fluffy, white dogs, Briar and Bramble normally stay closer to home. Bramble will stay with
Briar but can be coaxed to join Judge in a Welcome Wagon expedition to the hunter's camp, so in an effort to nip that
foolishness in the bud, Bramble's new working partner is the tried, true, and trustworthy Briar.
Briar and Bramble are normally loose all day long. In the evening Bramble is locked in the barn with the sheep. Jury
normally is loose all night to guard the barnyard. The chickens free range all day long and return to four
separate coops at night. They are locked safely in these coops when the sun sets. After dark Briar is locked in one pen with chickens and Judge is locked in the chicken pen farthest from the house. This system works
pretty well, but hinges on the fact that one or two Livestock Guardian Dogs are loose in the barnyard at dusk when the
chickens are returning to their coops. And therein lies the problem. The chink in the armor.
Dogs MUST be loose in the barnyard at all times. It's easy to get complacent. Easy to assume. Surely the Boogey Beast
would not be so bold as to launch an attack so close to the house. And "bold" is the word of the day. Read my lips.
We have 12 dogs. Twelve. Two more than ten. Except at night, half of those dogs are either running loose or locked in
outside kennels in a rather large barnyard. Thursday night was The Perfect Storm.
We decided to go out for a pizza. For two days we'd had rain and sleet, thus the outside kennels were a muddy mess. All
non-Livestock Guardian Dogs were either locked in the house or in the barn. Because the hunters were in blinds close to
the fence, we discussed whether or not to lock up Briar and Bramble. They'd been loose all day, but hunters would be more
active now, so we decided the neighborly thing to do would be to lock up the Livestock Guardian Dogs. Because the chickens
were not yet in their coop for the night, I didn't lock Judge in the chicken pen. I normally feed him in there and if
chickens are not locked in the coop they will foolishly try to steal from his bowl. So I opted to wait and lock Judge in
there when I got back. This proved to be more than a small chink in the armor.
We returned home exactly 1 1/2 hours later and as is my habit, I immediately went to lock coops and move Livestock
Guardian Dogs. I was greeted by bloody feathers, a headless chicken, and shellshocked survivors. Rage. Rage doesn't even
begin to describe it. It's bad enough to lose a chicken, but when something just eats the head and nothing else, that adds
insult to injury. We had not interrupted the Boogey Beast's meal. The bird was stone cold. Apparently the Beast struck
shortly after we left.
There are several guarantees in this world - death, taxes, and the return of the Boogey Beast. It is likely this
particularly Beast is a raccoon because they are quite numerous here and are notorius for beheading chickens. I stared down at my headless chicken and thought about the number of times I have stared regretfully at a raccoon carcass baking in the sun after a close encounter with a white dog the night before. I will no longer feel sorry for Rocky Raccoon who cannot outrun an Anatolian. No sympathy whatsoever.
The life span of a chicken is from birth until its first encounter with a raccoon. The life span of a raccoon is from birth until its first encounter with a Big White Dawg. And there you have it. An hour and a half. That's the measure of your security system. It's easy to believe the dogs aren't worth the trouble when they're working and your nightly numbers add up, but how long can you go without the dogs? I cannot go even an hour and a half.
Tuesday, December 25 2018
Merry Christmas Y’all!!!
Monday, December 10 2018
My aging Livestock Guardian Dog, Briar, has reached the point in life where the weather is tough on her bones and she has discovered things the Border Collies already knew, primarily the couch and the wood-burning stove. Sometimes the call of the night is too much however, and when she hears the cry of coyotes, like a veteran rising from a wheelchair to salute, she wobbles up to answer the call. She walks the fence and woofs a warning while younger and meaner soldiers take the fight to the enemy.
And then last night happened.
The Anatolians have proven to be quite effective guard dogs when separated but are less than worthless when together because they run off. To thwart this, Judge is the Dayshift dog while Jury remains locked up and Jury is the Nightshift dog while Judge remains locked in a large chicken run to protect the coops at night. Unfortunately several days ago Jury injured his foot. He limped into the barn bleeding profusely and declared himself "injured on duty." He was then taken off the active duty roster, bandaged up, and given antibiotics and a spot beside the fire. Judge was assigned both shifts. Bramble, Briar's successor, remained at her post with the sheep.
All was well until Day Two of Jury's confinement. The antibiotics were kicking in and his bandage acted much like a tennis shoe on his injured foot. Yesterday I let the house dogs out for a potty break and didn't notice Jury slip away. He did not come back. Apparently he found his brother and the Frat Boyz took a ski vacation. By nightfall neither had returned, thus the farm was left in the care of a Senior Citizen and a Rookie. As I gave the Border Collies a final bathroom break I heard the coyotes yowl in the distance. There was no answering Anatolian bark. Bramble was locked in the barn with the sheep and Briar was lying in a small grove of trees beside the pasture gate. I returned multiple times during the night to check for returning Anatolians. Nothing. Nada.
This morning they had still not returned. I flung open the back door to find a frosty landscape and no Briar. Briar always comes to the back door to give me her work card. There was no Briar. Fearful that her back was out again, I searched the barnyard. No Briar. This led to a quiet panic. Was she down? Had she marched out by herself only to be killed by coyotes? Why did I leave her out alone? Why didn't I bring her inside? Lock her up? I quickly finished chores and began my search for Briar. It was a long and lonely walk.
I took Bramble and Dillon, the Labrador. I hunted Briar. Dillon hunted rabbits. Bramble kept tabs on me. Dillon disappeared. He popped in from time to time but was otherwise useless as a companion in my search for Briar. Bramble and I went to all Briar's favorite resting places in the pasture. Nothing. No Briar. I was beside myself with fear. Was she lying in the cold unable to get up? Had she gone down in a blaze of glory fighting coyotes? I dropped to my knees in prayer, "Dear Lord, please bring my dog safely back to me." There was no answer but a cool breeze whistling through the branches of a cedar tree.
I went back to the house and woke up the Other Half to inform him that I was driving out in the mule to broaden my search for Briar. I last remembered her lying beside the gate. He rolled over in bed and informed me that before I went to bed, I brought Briar inside and left her asleep on the couch near the fire. Before he came to bed he put her in my office because she got too hot. Hope sprang into my heart like a flower blooming in the snow. I ripped open the office door to find a happy Briar sleeping on a sheepskin rug. She announced that she had to pee.
I gave silent thanks for old dogs as I watched the Briar wobble out the door and into the cold. And I was reminded that Briar isn't the only one getting old.
Tuesday, November 27 2018
What a difference a pill makes! The vet put Briar in Rimadyl. We know it’s not without risks, so we monitor her closely and only use it as needed. She is doing quite well on it. Briar went from dragging her rear legs in pain to trotting and playing again. It was such a joy to watch her coax the Labrador into playing. I’m a firm believer in quality of life over quantity of life, and this prescription helps her to live a normal life again. I’m sure that given a vote, Briar would vote to take the risk along with her pill.