Category Archives: Horses

Image

R is for Riding Ringo

R is for Riding Ringo

Look past the fuzzy winter coat and you’ll find a cute pony in there! C. from Austria is an exchange student staying with our neighbours for a semester. She’s been helping get the horses back in shape after a long, wet winter off… It’s great to see that grass growing and the sun coming out a little more often!

O is for Oh, Oh Ornery Olivia

And so another fitful night passes in the truck and still no piglets. This waiting around reminds me of my mare’s gestation. Horses are notorious for being flexible in their due dates and, apparently, though nature more or less decides what day the foal will arrive, the mare can control the hour.

Bonny and Brio

Bonny and Con Brio, about 3 weeks old

Given this was our first foal (come to think of it, our first birth) on the farm, we wanted to be well prepared. We built a new foaling shed and fenced a new paddock so mare and foal could have some privacy. I readied a garden lounge chair, sleeping bag, and flashlight. We took Bonny’s temperature twice a day and dutifully kept a chart, watching for the telltale temperature drop that would indicate the imminent arrival of the foal. Dad and I went on a now legendary shopping expedition to the drug store to beef up our equine medical kit. The list of purchases was a bizarre one – everything from balls of string to latex gloves to baby bottles to half a dozen giant tubes of personal lubricant. I cannot imagine what the other shoppers or the sales clerk were imagining when they saw the two of us and this unlikely assortment of goodies. We fondled Bonny’s udder for days and when it seemed she was about to pop, I started camping.

brio-and-mitch-for-web

Brio has always been quite the character. Here she is smooching with her farrier, Mitch.

Bonny was always a roller and even though she was hugely pregnant at this point, this did not stop her for indulging in one of her favourite activities. Each time she rolled that first night I slept in the lawn chair (it seemed like six hundred times, but was probably more like every hour) I leaped out of the sleeping bag convinced she was in labour or colicking or something dire… Nope. Just rolling in the grass, snacking a bit while she was down there, heaving herself to her feet, looking curiously at me and my flashlight.

Another night passed and another and another. TWO WEEKS passed and still no foal!! By this time, Bonny was the size of an elephant and I was exhausted. She was still rolling around on a regular basis (though by this point she couldn’t get all the way over any more and had to roll on one side, lumber to her feet, turn over, and roll on the other side), her temperature was dipping and rising, her udder was the size of a cow’s, and it didn’t seem possible she could hang on to that foal any longer.

Conventional wisdom says that mares are most likely to foal in the wee hours of the morning, so I wasn’t so concerned when I left Dad on mare watch while I went off to do a short shift at the bookstore where I worked at the time, I had no sooner arrived late in the afternoon when Dad called the store in a panic. “What do I do? It’s happening!”

“Call the vet! What’s she doing now?”

There were strangled cries from the other end of the line, grunting and then Dad came back and shouted into the phone, “It’s here! It just plopped out on the grass! It’s trying to stand up! Oh no!”

Then there were fumbling sounds, more grunting and a bit of swearing, and Dad came back on the line, panting – “It’s trying to stand up but it’s going to fall on the electric fence!! Come back! Drive fast! I’m holding it up!”

The line went dead and I sprinted out of the store and raced for home. That was the longest 20 minutes of my life and by the time I got back home, it was all over. The cutest little foal in the world was standing up in the wobbly way of foals. The vet was there, scratching the filly’s backside. Bonny was completely unperturbed. Within another half an hour Con Brio was nursing and an hour after that was cantering around the field before collapsing in the grass for a short nap.

I could not believe I missed the big event after my lengthy stakeout!

dcf brio plowing

Brio’s most recent lesson in being a horse… here, being introduced to the spike harrow.

 

K is for Kindle… Kinda

20140412-222408.jpg

For some reason, it took me a while to figure out that even though I don’t own a Kindle per se, I can still take full advantage of being able to download and read all sorts of great titles using my Ipad and Iphone. Because, of course, there’s an app for that.

Having discovered this Kindle app, I have been delighted to find I can read some of my favourite magazines at a fraction of the price and without having to worry about adding to all the stacks and stacks of old paper magazines I really should be recycling (but can’t bear to part with because, you know, I might just need that article about the benefits of mason bees or the best way to use kale in a casserole…).

20140412-222848.jpg

Not only was I delighted to be able to browse through virtual magazines to my heart’s content, when I was desperate to find something decent to read about the nuts and bolts of farming with horses, I was able to shop at some crazily late hour and download a couple of good reference books. These were not only delivered to the Ipad instantly (so I could read in bed), but I’ve been able to schlepp them around with me ever since so I could bone up on stuff like drag harrows when I’m standing in the lineup at the bank (now that I’m the proud owner of some awesome farming devices, I need a crash course on how to use them), I didn’t even need to have the Ipad with me as everything syncs automatically to my phone.

photo (16)

I have both a spike-tooth harrow and a spring-tooth harrow, a fact I am still finding hard to believe…

For those of you who are shaking your heads in disbelief that I somehow missed this memo, I’m curious what books you are carting around in your phone/Ipad/Kindle/other e-reader. For those of you who, like me, took a while to warm up to the idea of virtual books, what’s holding you back?

 

I is for Irresistible Implements

I’ve had a very, very long day and do not have the strength for a proper post. But there is something terribly compelling about these post-a-day challenges, so here’s a teaser…

Image

Not long ago I FINALLY (after several years of looking) found several very cool horse-drawn farm implements for sale at an irresistible price. This spike harrow was the first one we asked Brio to drag around… [Much] more on this topic to come, but for now, let it be known we are on a rather steep learning curve as we try to get horse/harness and implements sorted out!

Hogs and Horses

DCF Horses and Hogs

I’ve been backing up photos through google+ (an option now available if you happen to use Picasa) and it struck me how many of the farm photos show groups of animals hanging out and getting along. Ducks and chickens, turkeys and Bantams, ducks and sheep, turkeys and hogs… The cat, Iago, and anybody who will stand still long enough for her to snuggle.

I’ve had horses for many years and one of the things I heard people say with an air of total authority was that horses and pigs do not get along.

DCF Ringo and PhilipI beg to differ! Ringo in particular is happy to befriend creatures of all stripes – he loves the cat, follows chickens around, and chats through the fence with the hogs (this is our old boar, Philip). When a particularly adventurous group of piglets got out, where did they head? Straight for Ringo! They tugged on his tail and chased each other through and around his feet and he just stood there, head down, curious and gentle.

The oddest bond he has ever formed was with a wild rabbit. The rabbit regularly sought him out and would sprawl in a sunny spot in the horse paddock. Ringo would amble over and proceed to give the rabbit a massage, which the rabbit appeared to thoroughly enjoy. How on earth this peculiar relationship ever began is beyond me. Why would a wild rabbit sit still long enough to allow a HUGE animal like a horse to walk over and give it a back rub that first time? Mysterious, but kind of cool.

Unfortunately, hawk, owl, or eagle likely got the rabbit because after several months of the rabbit hanging out with Ringo it suddenly disappeared.

Perhaps in the course of the Great Photo Sort Project I’ll come across a photo of the bunny and post it…

Day 18 – The Moon Coffined in Clouds

“We love the night and its quiet; and there is no night that we love so well as that on which the moon is coffined in clouds.”  ― Fitz-James O'Brien

“We love the night and its quiet; and there is no night that we love so well as that on which the moon is coffined in clouds.”
― Fitz-James O’Brien

When we first moved the horses here a dozen or so years ago it was a very strange sensation to make my way down to the barn in the pitch darkness. There were dips in the land I had never noticed in daylight and the short trip seemed to take three times as long after the lights were out. Strange crackles and sighs came from the trees and, particularlywhen the weather was awful, I thought of farmers in prairie blizzards who had to tie a rope from the house to the barn so they wouldn’t get blown off course and disappear forever.

Deer, who had not yet figured out that their regular highway was about to be interrupted by fences and horses and outbuildings and dogs and strange activities at all hours of the day and night would occasionally crash away through the brush, panicked by the sudden appearance of a human. I rushed, nervous at being out there in the dark all alone. I remembered childhood stories of wolves and bears and shapeless creatures who sucked souls and left young girls for dead and thought more than once of the statistic that Vancouver Island boasts the greatest number of cougar attacks in the world.

I always carried a flashlight, which morphed into a headlamp (much better to have one’s hands free while dealing with hay and gates and feeding the cat) and was happy to reach the barn where I could turn on the light.

These days, the tree spirits feel more like they are protecting me, rather than trying to eat me.

These days, the tree spirits feel more like they are protecting me, rather than trying to eat me.

Gradually, things changed. Over time the batteries in the headlamp faded and I forgot to replace them. I found myself in the dark, strolling down the hill as if I could see. Which, it turned out I could do perfectly well when the moon was high and the skies clear. I found I knew where we were in the moon phase without referring to a calendar. And somewhere along the way the nervousness completely disappeared.

Instead, the nightly walk down the hill became one of highlights of my daily routine. One night I reached up to stroke the cat on the gatepost only to discover it was a cat-sized barn owl. His heart-shaped face looked into mine as if to ask, “Were you seriously just about to touch me?” We stood like that for several long seconds before he lifted off and floated up to the roof of the goat barn, where he resumed his silent observation of my comings and goings.

I have sat in the orchard at midnight and sunk my teeth into a ripe pear sending a sticky sweet dribble of juice down my chin. With my back against a hay bale, I have listened to the patter of rain on the roof while the cat hopped into my lap for a snuggle. To my amazement, I discovered I could identify which of my three bay horses was which, even on a moonless night when I could barely make out my hand as it reached for the chain on the gate. I have paused to listen to the owls calling back and forth, the first frogs in spring, the goats munching their hay. The night is a different place for me now, one of calm and quiet where I don’t see all the many jobs that need to be done but instead savour a few moments of simple satisfaction as I find myself still here at the end of another day.

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days agriculture blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!

Day 12 – Where there is a Plus, there is a Minus

Morning follows night, spring follows winter, things are born, they die - then it's lunch time. It all makes some kind of cosmic sense, down on the farm.

Morning follows night, spring follows winter, things are born, they die. It all makes some kind of cosmic sense, down on the farm.

There are a lot of things to love about life on a small farm. The list (and, because I am a list-maker, it could be a very long one, but I’ll restrain myself) includes:

-being outside a lot
-knowing where my food comes from, esp. meat and eggs
-being part of the farming community – total bonus and a conversation worthy of an entire post all its own
-being surrounded by animals – living, growing, just being
-having a flexible work day – if I need to grab a tea before putting together the new wheelbarrow, that’s fine
-making customers happy – there’s nothing quite so satisfying as hearing that the turkey someone enjoyed over the holidays was the best they have ever tasted
-every day is different – seasons change, animals are bred, incubated, hatched, delivered, nurtured – it’s never boring!
-I love the food! I know I sort of already mentioned the food, but wow, we really do eat well around here and for that I am very grateful. 
A basic white cheddar made with our goat milk. Oh. So. Good.

A basic white cheddar made with our goat milk. Oh. So. Good.

For every good point, though, there’s a corresponding down side.

It sucks to have to be outside in the pouring rain just this side of freezing, slopping around the hog pen trying to figure out where the electric fence is shorting out before the boar takes off and starts terrorizing the neighbor’s kids.

While it’s great to know exactly where my food comes from, I take no pleasure whatsoever in loading pigs I’ve watched grow from day one into the back of the truck for their one-way trip to freezer camp. Contrary to popular belief, I think it’s a good thing to name the animals, even those destined to be dinner guests. If hog pen 53B is low on water, maybe it wouldn’t get topped up quite so quickly as when Olivia stands and stares into her water tub after Gizmo and Oreo (two big Muscovy drakes) have had such violent baths in there they have basically emptied the water out and made what remains undrinkable.

Can't beat ducklings when it comes to cuteness...

Can’t beat ducklings when it comes to cuteness…

Being part of the farming community is a challenge on days when I feel like I know nothing and am and always will be a ‘newcomer’ (there are farm families around here who have been around for multiple generations and I can tell you that a five minute conversation with one of the seasoned elders is a fast reminder that nothing takes the place of decades of having your hands deep in the same bit of dirt…)

Being surrounded by animals certainly lends itself to many ‘awww, how cute’ moments, but it is also a sure fire way to have your heart broken and your bank account emptied on a regular basis. Raise enough livestock and it doesn’t take long before you are dealing with deadstock, one way or another. Turkey poults trip and drown in their shallow water dispensers (seriously, 1/4″ of water is enough to do in a poult who is clumsy enough), sows sit on their piglets or, during the stress of labour, pick the closest one up by the scruff of the neck and slam it against the wall of the farrowing hut, turkeys within days of a major holiday go on a mushroom-eating binge and keel over, ducks become fancy dinners for raccoons, old horses must be put down (double-whammy there – the cost of dispatching a horse is insane…), old goats get ovarian cancer, and any chick or poult foolish enough to somehow escape the safety of the nursery pen may fall victim to raven, eagle, hawk, cat, or even dog attack. Gads. There are days when I long for the simple predictability of a cat and a basement suite.

Oops... horse sat on the fence! A quick 'for now' repair job in sad need of repair!

Oops… horse sat on the fence! A quick ‘for now’ patch job in sad need of repair!

Being flexible during the work day only applies when it doesn’t involve being ten minutes late to feed everyone (ever heard a chorus of squealing pigs who believe they have been forgotten?). Broken gates and fences can’t wait to be repaired until the gale force winds subside because by then the horses will be charging across the highway causing who knows how many horrible accidents. The feed store trip can’t wait until you have a bit more time or a little extra cash – all those mouths need to get fed every day, regardless of whether there’s some health scare that has put people off pork and the bottom suddenly drops out of the bacon market. Electric fence walks are not a ‘I’ll get to that soon’ kind of job. All the animals are experts at testing the fence and know exactly the moment when something shorts out. See ya!

Making customers happy is great – and a good reason to go to Farmers’ Markets so you can chat to all kinds of people interested in food. Except, as anyone who has ever worked in retail can tell you, sometimes customers are… well, a pain in the donkey. Except, no matter how wrong they are or how misinformed or how obnoxious, they are also always right. Sigh.

Every day is certainly different, sometimes for logical reasons (seasons change, something is born, something dies), and this perpetual state of flux makes planning tricky. You don’t always know what lies ahead and all the best laid plans can go right off the rails when the day was meant to be spent hauling the new boar to the farm but the truck breaks down on the way to the ferry. When help fails to show up when planned (and, when it’s bucketing down some creepy mixture of sleet and slush and mud, it’s amazing how many headaches and backaches and visiting inlaws suddenly prevent farm help from materializing) that can really mess up a day that was meant to be spent in town running errands that really can’t wait another day but will have to wait another day because you know what will happen if those hogs don’t get fed on time… The day you have planned rarely matches the day that actually shows up because that is the nature of the business. Farming is always a bit of crap shoot. What happens when your seeds don’t germinate? Or, after germination and planting out get devoured by cut worms? Or slugs? Or rabbits? Or deer? What if the sow you thought was pregnant eats her way through almost four months of expensive organic feed, shows all the signs of impending labour right down to producing milk but not a single piglet ever shows up? False pregnancies don’t happen often, but when they do… that can really mess up the planning process. Ditto for lower than expected fertility rates on poultry eggs, higher than expected mortality rates for young birds, feed prices that shoot through the roof due to drought on the other side of the world, or feed orders that don’t make it onto the truck coming to the island meaning your whole week of feeding livestock turns into a crazy juggling act of scrounging, begging, borrowing, and substituting.

What else to do when it all freezes over except think of all the stuff that's going on underground in preparation for spring?

What else to do when it all freezes over except think of all the stuff that’s going on underground in preparation for spring?

There are certainly moments when I am ready to throw in the towel and give up. But I am, at heart, an optimist. In the depths of winter when everything (including me) freezes solid I imagine garlic sending down deep roots in beds prepared in the fall, roots that will fuel the plants’ amazing growth in the spring. Because there is always another spring coming, more seeds to start, another litter to farrow, another crop of apples to pick. And with each cycle, I learn a little more and feel just a tiny bit more confident that maybe I am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing. Which would explain why, even on the very worst days when everything seems to be going wrong, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. And besides, the food really is pretty good.