Friday, August 31, 2007

Passion in the Dirt

Passion Flowers

New-mown field surprise:
Passion flowers growing wild.

Love notes from the land.

By Nancy Chase

In my life, I've had a lot of different jobs.

Summer camp housekeeper, apple picker, stable girl, beauty consultant, political activist, inventory taker, t-shirt screen printer, pet shop cashier, artist's model, hotel banquet manager, secretary for a university department head, magazine editor, writing coach.

Entry level jobs, most of them, because at the end of the day, when work was done, I wanted the freedom to put the job aside and not think about it. And when it came time to move on to a new job, I never had any regrets.

Those jobs were like casual relationships that never got too serious.

But farming is like true love, like marriage. Farming is the first job I've ever had that I break my heart over, sometimes on a daily basis, and yet I don't want to quit.

Farming awakens both the tenderest and fiercest corners of my heart. I have found my place, and I think this time it's for keeps.

Hallelujah---Forty-one years old, and I've finally found my career! I'm going broke doing it, but at least I've found it.

I like to think that my passion is reciprocated.

Although run down and suffering from generations of neglect, the land here has moments of aching beauty. And what is beauty, after all, but one of love's many facets, expressed in a physical form?

When I unexpectedly find an exotic purple passion flower blooming wild in a barren patch of pasture that the horses have grazed down to bare, dry dirt...

When I find an perfect, iridescent blue jay's feather shining like a sapphire on the ground at my feet...

When the sunset paints the sky in colors that take my breath away...

I stop what I'm doing and think:

This land loves me too.

Wow! We're Global!

I just got done checking the stats for this blog's activity today, and I must say I'm very impressed!

Even though I only started spreading the word about the blog a few days ago, it's doing really well. Not only did it have twice the number of visitors today as it did yesterday, those visitors are incredibly widely distributed. In the past 12 hours, it's had visitors from about 30 states, plus 7 foreign countries on 5 continents.

Wowza! Thank you all so much for reading. Please keep coming back. It's so encouraging to me to know that there are people out there listening. Feel free to send your comments, too. I love hearing from all of you.

And hey, while you're at it... Please tell your friends about me, and maybe put a link to this blog on your own site.

Let's see if we can double the numbers again tomorrow! :-)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

If You Don't Bother Them...

The wasps are coming into the house again.

I know, I know. It's part of the price of living in an old house. They leak your expensive heat and air-conditioning dollars OUT while leaking bugs, rodents, and the occasional reptile IN.

I didn't mind opening the hall closet a few weeks ago and finding that a snake had crawled down inside the wall and fallen out into the closet where the wall isn't finished. It had probably been living inside the walls for weeks, eating mice and such.

It was just a harmless black rat snake, a breed that I'm told will keep other types of (poisonous) snakes off your property. So I'm all for the black snakes! If they're going to keep the copperheads away, I'm happy to host as many of them on my property as possible. However, I'd rather they didn't live in the house, so this one did need to be relocated outside.

I DO mind our annual winter infestation of ladybugs. They come by the thousands to hibernate in the crevices of the house walls, and invariably a lot of them will meander through the walls and find a way to get into the house.

All winter long, and particularly in the spring when they are starting to wake up and become active again, our windows will be swarming with ladybugs. We vacuum them up, but more just keep appearing. They fly around and crash into your head, they crawl into the bed when you're trying to sleep, they crunch under foot, and they STINK if you touch them.

But worst of all, there are the wasps.

All summer long, I've had a reprieve from them. Earlier this year, Ken had plugged up the hole where we thought they were getting in, and I thought I was done with them for good. Then last week, one appeared in my office. Then another. Now there have been three in the past 24 hours. Uh-oh.


It's always my office where they appear first and most frequently. Occasionally, they'll also show up in my bedroom, which is the next room over.

Now, I tend to be your basic tree-hugging animal lover at heart, so whenever possible, I try to adopt a live-and-let-live policy toward the critters and creepy-crawlies I encounter. When the wasps first started showing up in my office shortly after I moved here, that's how I tried to treat them. With caution and respect.

Unfortunately, the feeling was not mutual.

Once the adventurous wasps had crawled through the labyrinth of the house walls and emerged into my office, they would crash around for a while, apparently looking for the Great Wasp Mecca they'd been told was just inside. When they didn't find it, they'd get really cranky and set out looking for someone to blame.

Since I'm the one who spends many hours of each day in this room, clearly I must be the one at fault. I'd be sitting quietly at my desk, typing an email, and they would make their way across the floor, crawl up my pant leg and sting me!

Not satisfied with this, at night they would pilgrimage all the way into the next room, climb into my bed, and sting me in my sleep!

Believe me when I say that after this happened a few times, I became a little jumpy and suffered from frequent bouts of insomnia!

The worst thing that happened was when I got stung two times just about a week apart. You know how when you get a vaccine, you sometimes need a second booster shot a week or two later, to make your immune system really kick in? Well, it works for wasp stings too.

The first sting was the normal "OWWW! I've just been stabbed with a fiery, poison-tipped needle" kind of sting. I yelled, slapped myself, and did a vigorous anti-wasp dance.

The next time, my immune system recognized the invading wasp-venom, and immediately went to war. For the next 24 hours, I was feverish, nauseated, and covered with an itchy red rash. Restless and uncomfortable, I couldn't eat, sleep, formulate a coherent thought, or hold a real conversation. I was very, very lucky in that I did not go into anaphylactic shock and have my airways shut down.

That was the end of my pacifist policy toward the wasps. No more ignoring them, no more opening the window to help them escape. Now it's prompt, pure, first-strike aggression. There's a heavy-duty flyswatter beside my desk, and I'm not afraid to use it!

When I was little, my mother always told me not to be afraid of bees and wasps. Like most parents, her adage was, "If you don't bother them, they won't bother you."

As an adult, I've learned that this is not entirely accurate.

The real truth is, "If you don't bother them, sometimes they'll come sting the crap out of you anyway, just for the fun of it."

Then you are perfectly justified in seeking revenge!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Peri's Progress and Other Photos

Remember how awful Peri's leg looked when I wrote about it before?

Here it is three weeks later. No maggots, no necropsied flesh, no giant hole that lets you see down in between the leg bones. Just a lot of pink new flesh.

The leg is still weak and floppy in that area (presumably from nerve and tendon damage) and Peri still lies down most of the time, or hops around on three legs.

But her attitude is cheerful, her appetite is good, and she has learned to lie still and let us do the daily cleaning and rebandaging of the wound, so it looks like she's going to make it through this adventure after all.

(See Peri's Reprieve if you missed reading her story the first time around).

While I'm on the subject of legs: Leeloo went back to the vet again today for another checkup and bandage change on her broken leg.

(See Life Plays Us Like a Game of Jenga and The Dogleg in the Dog Leg, if you missed what happened to her).

She's making such good progress that she doesn't have to go back again for a month now.

Unfortunately, having the vet change the bandage again alerted Leeloo to the fact that bandages can come OFF, so when she got home, she immediately chewed the new bandage off, and we had to put it back on ourselves.

But in the meantime, I took a picture of her "Bionic Puppy" leg, showing all the pins and braces holding it together.

It's been a bad summer for legs here. Besides Peri and Leeloo, our cat Henry and our mares Char and Scylla each were briefly lame in one front leg, for unknown reasons. Fortunately, they recovered without expensive vet care!

I narrowly avoided a potential medical emergency of my own tonight. When reaching down to turn off the outside faucet after watering the animals, my hand passed within six inches of this lovely and sinister looking Black Widow Spider.

Normally I don't kill spiders. I figure they're mostly going to eat bugs that are more annoying than they are, so I like to let them alone to do their job.

But, sorry, I just couldn't leave this one to live and reproduce right next to my back steps where Ken and I and all our cats hang out regularly. We do not need any more medical emergencies here, either of the animal or human variety.

On a brighter note, I had to take a picture of the hay in our hay feeder after we filled it up tonight.

I thought it looked pretty, the way we arranged the alfalfa and orchard grass bales in an alternating checkerboard so that each horse will be able to reach some of each kind of hay when they come in to eat.

Naturally, they'll all crowd in and rush to gobble up all the alfalfa first, so it's important to make sure each horse gets her fair share.

Here are the horses waiting for us to open the gate so they can come in and eat that alfalfa.

Here's what happened when the gate was opened.

That's Torchsong, our yearling Paint/Saddlebred cross filly at the end of the video. Quite the firecracker today, wasn't she?

Poor thing, she's at the bottom of the herd's pecking order, so she knows there's not much point in hurrying in to be fed, since the other horses make her wait until last anyhow.

Carnage in the Bathroom, Carnage in the Hall

Don't you just love it when you come downstairs in the morning and are welcomed by the sight of a baseball-sized pile of rabbit guts in the front hallway?

Or when you step into the bathroom first thing after you wake up, and see blood and feathers spattered all over the white tiles and woodwork?

That's what's happened to me these past two mornings. Just one of the many joys of living in the country and owning eight cats!

Actually, I'm pretty sure I know who the culprit is. The other cats will catch an occasional cicada, moth, or vole. But when it comes to the "big game" of rabbits and birds, it's almost always the work of our Maine Coon cat Lugh.

He's an active, athletic cat, and I don't mind the fact that he hunts. I just wish he didn't feel the need to drag his kills in through the cat door and disassemble them in the middle of the floor.

Ken says if either of us ever disappears under mysterious circumstances, the other one is going to be in big trouble, because when the police come to search the place, their Luminol is going to show traces of blood EVERYWHERE.

Yeah, just try to explain to the nice policeman that all that blood came from 487 different mice, birds, rabbits, and voles our cats brought in over the course of years!

Three Down, One to Go

Just when I think I'm doomed to an endless string of bad luck, something finally goes easily.

Because of how difficult Glory has been when I've worked with her in the past, I've been putting off doing more halter breaking training with her until a time when I could have Ken there with me, just in case she got too panicky and I ended up needing help.

Ken had time to come out and help me this evening, so that was my chance. We went out to the weaning pen. I snapped a lead rope onto Libby first and led her up and down the paddock with no problem. Then I snapped the lead rope onto Glory.

I was expecting a fight. I thought she'd crash around, rear up, try to spin away... all the typical tricks foals tend to play when they are first learning to lead. But no. With only a very little resistance, she led up and down the paddock almost as well as Libby did. My main difficulty was that Libby kept crowding in, trying to get attention, and kept getting in the way.

Well! Since the training session went so much easier than I'd expected, I figured I might as well get Ken to help me move Boo's filly, Penny, into the weaning pen with the other two. Ken led Boo into the paddock, and with only a little hesitation, Penny followed. Then we led Boo back out the other gate and returned her to the pasture with the other broodmares.

Penny fussed, of course. After all, it's her first time being separated from her mother. But she didn't throw nearly as big a fit as the other two did their first times. She didn't crash the fence, and she didn't whinny much. She just trotted ad cantered back and forth a lot. If you want to see, here's a video of her first few minutes in the weaning paddock.

Now the only foal left to be weaned is Grace. I've been in no hurry to wean her, since her mother Char has a tendency to get fat in the summer. Nursing the foal has helped her stay a little slimmer than she was last year.

Besides, Grace is so huge and growing so fast---she's easily a hand or more taller than any of the other foals---that I figure she can use the extra nutrition of her mother's milk for a little longer than the others.

Also, Grace has always been a little more dependent on her mother, emotionally, than the other foals.

Not like Penny, who spent the first hour of her life wandering all over the pasture in every direction EXCEPT towards her mother. We had to keep going after her and pushing her back to her mother, and she'd immediately toddle off again in some other direction. Independent little thing!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Reaching Out

Like a woman who has given birth and whose life suddenly narrows to a devoted, single-minded spotlight upon her newborn baby, I have let this farm become my all-consuming focus over the past two years.

Immersed in this enormous lifestyle change, I've let many of my friendships slide into neglect, even while lamenting the isolation and loneliness of living on the farm day after day.

It's stupid, really. With the internet so handy, it's ridiculous that people I genuinely love should have to wait a year or more between emails from me. No wonder I feel isolated... I've been a terrible friend!

I plan to remedy that in the coming days. I want to make my way through my address book, to send email messages saying "Hi," to all those folks I've been missing. At least now that I have this blog, catching people up on what I've been doing lately will be easy!

I envy the people to whom reaching out to others comes naturally. I can imagine what it would be like to be that kind of person, because I'll reach out just that easily to any cat, dog, horse, or other critter I meet. But with people, it's harder. It takes conscious effort, and a bit of psyching myself up. I guess that's what this post is about.

I love my farm, but I don't want it to be the ONLY thing in my life any more. It's time to reach out!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Are You a Synesthete?

Inspired by talking about my synesthesia last night, this morning I looked at some websites and found one that offers free online tests for different kinds of synesthesia.

On the "Grapheme Color Picker Test," a score below 1.0 is ranked as synesthetic. Non-synethetes typically score in the range of a 2.0. I scored 0.5.

On the "Speed-Congruency Test," a score above 85% indicates synesthesia. I scored 95.31%.

It was fun to take the tests and fun to see that my results do confirm my own self-diagnosis.

If you'd like to see if you're a synesthete too, you can take the tests here.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Blame It On The Moon

Every month, during the week of the full moon, I get insomnia. I don't know why, but it affects me like caffeine, and I lie awake all night with jittery, excess energy fizzing through me. I always say the moon is too "loud" during those times.

Of course, it doesn't actually make a sound that I can hear, but it does leave me with the same strained, jittery, exhausted feeling that I get when I've been stuck in a loud, crowded place for too long. It makes me long for the "quieter" phases of the moon.

I do have a bit of synesthesia, so sometimes things affect me a little differently than most people. The moon can feel "loud" to me. Numbers and letters have colors in my mind. When I have my eyes closed and I hear a sudden sound, I see geometric patterns flash on the insides of my eyelids. Different sounds make different patterns.

It's an interesting trait to have. It does influence my life, but only in minor ways. For example, if I got a white cat, I could never give it a name that began with "O" because to me, O is always black. One time, in an art museum, I was fascinated by one particular group of abstract paintings that did seem to give off a faint, audible wave of sound that only I could hear.

Anyway, the moon is waxing gibbous, nearly full, so last night, I lay awake until after 4:00 a.m. I spent the time worrying about the guy who was coming to look at horses today. What else am I going to do at 4:00 a.m. but worry?

I thought I'd be exhausted, but I was up again by 8:30, doing housework and farm chores. Our goof-off day yesterday must have helped, because we got a lot done.

After Ken and I cleaned the messy kitchen and bathroom, I went out and rebandaged Peri's leg. The hole is now nearly filled in with pink flesh, but it still smells bad. I have to wash my hands so many times after I come in, to get the stink off me that Ken is starting to call me Lady MacBeth!

One of our smallest lambs died during the night. Yesterday's unbearable heat and humidity was apparently the last straw for her. I feel bad, because she was really cute, but realistically she was too small to breed this fall with the other sheep, so she was not one of our more valuable sheep.

Naturally, I try to keep all my sheep alive if I can, but when they do sometimes die, I try to look at it as natural culling of the ones that could not adapt quite as well to the specific environment on my farm. In truth, it's easier on the flock for one susceptible animal to die than for it to be saved and allowed to produce lots of equally susceptible babies who will each require extra care in the future.

Does that outlook mean I'm hard-hearted? Or just practical?

After Ken disposed of the lamb for me down in the compost heap by the woods, I scrubbed the slimy blackish-green algae out of all the horse and sheep water troughs, while Ken got started mucking out the weaning paddock. It felt good to get so much done that had been put off for too long.

Late in the afternoon, the fellow came to look at the horses. First he came into the pasture with the herd and visited them all. They all seemed to like him, and crowded around to visit.

We took first Char and then Scylla out to the round pen and let him tack them up and ride each of them a little. Char was pretty good, except when the gigantic horse flies were biting her---then she bucked! But as soon as we swatted the flies for her, she was good again. She was a little distracted, since it was the first time she'd really been separated from her baby for any length of time, but for the most part she tried to obey. I felt kind of envious watching someone else ride her, because I enjoy her so much myself, but I get so few opportunities to ride.

Scylla was a little more antsy, but she really seemed to fit the fellow nicely. He looked good on her, and he said she felt good too. The only problem was that he smokes, and she seemed to dislike his cigarette smoke. She'd turn her head away from the smell of it, just like a typical nonsmoker would!

After the man was done riding, we talked for a while. I had originally offered him a free lease agreement, but we are in such desperate need for money, I told him I was willing to consider an outright sale. His budget matched perfectly the price I was thinking of asking, so that's a positive thing.

He's going to think about it. And I need to think about it too. I don't have a problem selling Scylla, but I really don't want to sell Char. I would hate to split them up. But on the other hand, why should I have to sell the one horse that I'm most attached to?

The man was also mildly considering Boo, who is so gentle, she would probably make a safer mount for his 10-year-old son, even if she does have less riding experience. If he would buy Scylla and Boo instead of Scylla and Char, that would make me really, really happy. I guess I should tell him that.

It's late now, and I'm really really tired, after a busy day and only 4 hours of sleep. I hope that I'm exhausted enough that I will actually sleep through the moon tonight.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Drowning in Air

Crossing the yard was like walking underwater through a tropical fish tank. Every breath felt like drowning, like I was sucking murky, overheated water into my lungs. I had to fight the instinct to try to raise my head upward, trying to find where the AIR was, instead of this heavy, almost-liquid stuff I was breathing.

The sheep lay in their pen panting like dogs, miserable in their heavy wool coats. The horses were cranky and damp, with white streaks of salt from the day's sweat striping their backs and rumps. In no mood for loving small talk from me tonight, they laid back their ears, swished their tails, and snapped at each other, waiting for their evening feed.

It had been over 100 degrees all day, with humidity levels through the roof. I had a million things I should have been doing. The sheep need worming and another vitamin drench, the paddocks need mucking out, the housework has been too long neglected, I should have been posting more items for sale on EBay and updating my horse for sale ads.

But just as I couldn't catch my breath in the thick air outside, today I couldn't seem to get my head above my overwhelming "To Do" list enough to make any progress.

I hate that the house is a mess, that the farm is a mess, that the animals are cranky, that our finances are crumbling. But just for today, I couldn't force myself to dive in and tackle the tasks that rise up so obviously to my attention whenever I look around.

When you run a farm, there is never a day off. So every now and then, my inherent laziness rises up in protest and demands that I waste an entire day doing something completely meaningless. I guess that's my way of catching my breath when the responsibilities start getting too thick.

So, today was one of those meaningless days. Ken and I ate junk food and lounged around in the living room, playing with the puppy and watching old episodes of Friends on DVD. Light, frivolous, and cheerful, all around.

The chores will still be there tomorrow. By then I hope to be able to breathe easier again.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Our Website is Up At Last!

I've been working on our web site, off and on, for a few weeks now. Today, I finally got it online!

It's not "finished" exactly---is any web site ever finished?---but I did add quite a bit of content, including photos, slideshows, and historical accounts about the farm in previous generations.

I'll be adding lots more as I get the chance. Meanwhile, stop in and look around!

Five Minor Triumphs

Yesterday was a day of minor triumphs for me.

Triumph #1. I have a buyer who may be interested in Bonnie. So I got Ken to take some video clips of me working with her, to send to the lady. I even saddled Bonnie up for the first time since October, and rode her a little in the round pen. Considering that she's still so young and inexperienced, and hadn't been ridden in nearly a year, she did really well.

(Incidentally, I hadn't ridden in nearly a year either, and I did okay too!)

Here's a
short video clip of the ride. Nothing too exciting. Since it was her first workout in such a long time, we kept the session short and simple.

Triumph #2. I finally managed to get a halter onto Glory. I'd been dreading it, sinceI figured it would require either another strenuous 5-hour round pen session like last time, or I would have to get a rope onto her head and let her fight it out until she gave in. Either way, we'd both end up tired and anxious.

Instead, I decided to try a different method. Glory is extremely smart, and if I can convince
her that she wants to work WITH me instead of against me, life will be a lot easier on both of us. So I removed her weaning buddy and left her alone in the paddock, so she wouldn't have any distractions from paying attention to me.

Then I got a chair and sat in her paddock with a bucket of grain between my feet and Glory's halter in my hand. I let Glory take a taste of the grain to whet her appetite. Once I had her interest, I just sat there, holding her halter in such a position that she had to put her face into the halter to reach the grain in the bucket.

She snorted and bugged her eyes out a little at first, because she knew where this was going. But the lure of the grain was too strong. She dipped her nose into the halter and grabbed a taste of grain, then jumped away, chewing. I let her do this several times without moving the halter at all.

Once she got used to that, whenever she put her nose in, I'd move the halter strap up near her ears. That made her jump away at first, but gradually I could fold the strap across the top of her head without a reaction. At that point, all I had to do was slide the strap into the buckle and fasten it. All the while, she was happily munching grain.

The first time she lifted her head from the bucket and discovered that the halter was still on her head, she got a little nervous again. But after a few more bites of grain, she forgot all about it.

Total training time: 15 minutes, and nobody got panicked or out of breath at all. THAT'S what I call a successful session!

A few more times like that, and soon Glory will start to associate the halter with feeding time, and once the happy memories are established, she shouldn't ever be difficult to halter again.

Triumph #3. While I was doing evening chores, Maggie's filly Libby was being her usual friendly self. I decided to test her to see if she remembered her halter breaking lesson from a couple of weeks ago.

Like Glory, Libby is extremely smart, but unlike Glory, she is also extremely amenable to doing whatever you ask her to do. To my delight, she led perfectly, even when I asked her to follow me away from the herd.

So I decided to take the next step and start her weaning process. I led her out of the pasture, across the yard, and into the pen with Glory without any problems. She stopped a couple of times and got nervous about going to a new place, but after a couple of seconds, she'd follow me willingly.

Fortunately, her mom, Maggie, had her head buried in the hay feeder and didn't notice this was going on until after Libby was in the weaning paddock, because as soon as Maggie looked up and saw that her baby was gone, she started bellowing. Which, of course, set Libby off. She cried back to her mom and trotted back and forth around the paddock for quite awhile.

Unlike Bonnie, who just seemed relieved to be rid of Glory when she was weaned, Maggie really loves being a mom. She hollered for her baby all night long, and is still at it this morning.

Triumph #4. Peri's leg is making noticeable healing progress. The giant hole where the flesh had rotted away is starting to fill in with new flesh. She is getting to be an old pro at the bandaging sessions too, and for the most part lies still willingly while we change the bandages. She's still very thin, so we always give her grain afterwards, which makes her extremely cheerful.

Triumph #5. In an effort to reduce our huge hay expenses, a couple of weeks ago I reluctantly decided to offer Char and Scylla to an online horse-enthusiast acquaintance on a free lease. He would keep them mostof the year, and they'd just come back here to have their foals and be rebred. I'd continue to get the foals from them for three years, and after that, if we were both still agreed, I would give the mares to him for free.

Last night the fellow called and is going to come see the mares this Sunday. If he likes them, they may go to their new home very soon. I'm so torn up about this. I can't stand the idea of parting with Char. She is my favorite of all my horses, by a mile. I love everything about her, and can't imagine my herd without its wise lead mare.

But we really, seriously don't have the money to care for this many horses the way I want to care for them. So if the "for sale" ones aren't selling, I still need to downsize the herd somehow. If Char and Scylla could have a new loving home where they would still be able to be together (they're sisters, and very attached to each other), then I have to put my emotions aside and do what has to be done.

Of course, it seems that no day of triumphs is complete without a little failure as well.

Before I left on my sheep delivery trip, I checked all the foal's halters to make sure they weren't growing out of them yet. Grace's seemed a little bit tight, but I thought it would be fine until I got back.

Apparently I underestimated Grace's growth rate (she's gigantic: 10.3 hands at birth, and over 13 hands at 4 months). In the week I was gone, she grew enough that the halter started cutting into her face. I readjusted it yesterday when I saw what was happening, but I feel like a terrible foal "mom" for letting her pretty face be hurt.

In addition to that, sometime while I was gone, she gouged a wound in the tip of her nose. Ken didn't notice it to treat it or anything. Now that I'm back, it's mostly healed, but I think it may make an ugly blemish---sort of a fleshy lump the size of the tip of your thumb, sticking out of the tip of her nose. It's not serious, but I hate to see her pretty face marred.

Oh well. I guess I can't be everywhere, keeping every animal safe every second of the day. I just do what I can each day, and move on from there!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Looking for Trouble

For the few brief hours that I had the missing black lamb in my possession, my friend Nyxana and I tried to come up with a name for her. Because I follow certain naming traditions with my sheep, the name had to begin with a "T."

We thought of a lot of possibilities, but it was only during my frustrated drive home to Virginia, after the lamb escaped, that I came up with the right one: Trouble.

The irony was, of course, that at that point the name didn't matter, because I never expected to see the lamb again.

But tonight I got a call from Nyx, saying that the lamb was back in her yard, and did I have any suggestions of how to catch her. Frankly, I don't know if they'll ever be able to. But at least all hope is not yet lost.

Apparently, even if you're not looking for Trouble, sometimes Trouble will find you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Dogleg in the Dog Leg

For those of you who might be wondering, Leeloo's surgery went fine. When I took her in to the vet's the day she broke her leg, I saw her "before" x-rays. Her left front leg had a 90-degree angle in it just above the ankle.

When Ken picked her up after her surgery, he saw the "after" x-rays. He said it looked just like a normal leg, except for all the pins and braces holding it together. So, luckily for Leeloo, there's no more dogleg in the dog's leg. After about 12 weeks of healing and rehabilitation time, she's expected to be good as new.

Here she is a few days after her surgery, with her big bandage covering her leg brace, and about 1/4 of her hair shaved off:

When I got home last night from my somewhat less than successful trip (see Can't Catch a Break... Or a Sheep!), I decided that it was one of those rare nights when I really wanted a drink. A brief search of our liquor cupboard turned up just the thing to lighten my mood: a tiny trial-sized bottle of watermelon schnapps. Mmmm... tasty!

Leeloo had also had a rough day, since she had had to go back to the vets for the first checkup on her leg. They changed her bandage to a slightly smaller one that left her foot bare so she could start learning to walk on that leg again.

So, when the schnapps bottle was empty, I let her play with it. Even though there was nothing in the bottle, she still did a creditable impression of someone getting totally drunk after a hard day:

After this, she continued her imitation of a wild drinking binge by vomiting on the rug. Twice!

She's on the mend though, and is in good spirits, if a little subdued since her accident. Now our job is to work with her several times a day to make her begin to use the leg a little bit more each day, so that it keeps getting stronger.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Can't Catch a Break.. Or a Sheep!

I could tell right away that she was going to be trouble. I just didn't suspect how MUCH. After all, how big a headache can an adorable 40-lb. lamb cause, right?

It was the very last phase of my sheep delivery trip. All had gone relatively well up until that point.

My drive to Tennessee with four sheep in the back of the Outback had been fairly uneventful. I stayed with my friends Randy and Nyxana in Pegram, outside of Nashville. They had set aside a spot in their yard for me to set up my temporary sheep pen (four 8-foot rigid metal goat panels, clipped together at the corners with carabiners), so my lambs had a shady place to stay during the sweltering 100 degree weather.

The day after I arrived, I met my friend Monica of Small Meadow Farm, who was my partner in this great sheep-delivery scheme, and gave her the lamb that she was going to deliver to his new owner who would take him home to Wisconsin.

While I waited, spending a few days visiting Randy and Nyx, Monica continued on to the Michigan Fiber Festival. There she picked up the lamb I was getting from a breeder there as a replacement for the one I'd gotten from them last year that turned out to be a hermaphrodite.

When the festival was over, Monica met me again in Tennessee. I gave her one lamb she'd purchased for herself plus the other two that she was delivering to another buyer in Georgia, and she gave me my lamb from Michigan.

Because it was already early evening when Monica arrived, I'd planned to spend one more night with Randy and Nyx before setting out on my 9-hour drive home to Virginia. So, with my new black lamb in the back of the car, I drove back to Pegram.

That's when I started to realize that this sheep was going to be a problem. She was an adorable little thing, with thick chocolate-black wool, pointy horns, and a delicate, sensitive face. Sheep are flock animals, so she was naturally upset to suddenly be separated from the others, and hauled off alone by strangers. I was not surprised that she bleated a lot on the way. But I was surprised by how loudly and persistently she bleated. By the end of the half-hour drive my ears were ringing and I had a headache from the constant decibels of "BAAAAAA!!! BAAAAAAA!!!"

It wasn't just the noise, either. Her eyes were bugging out of her head, and with each bleat, she jerked her head up and down in tight, nervous, mechanical gestures. She was more wound up than any sheep I'd seen.

I was worried that she'd swelter in the car if I left her in there overnight. So when I got back to Pegram, I put her in the little temporary pen, gave her food and water, and left her alone to calm down.

She didn't.

She bleated constantly, all night long. If I even went out next to the pen to look at her, she crashed around in terror, trying to find a way to jump over the 4-foot fence panels.

When it came time to leave the next morning, I loaded my belongings in the car and went to catch the wild lamb. "Clip the gate closed behind me," I told Randy as I stepped into the pen. "She's going to try and bolt."

As I approached, the lamb scrambled frantically around the pen. She crashed into one corner of the fence, then another, then tried unsuccessfully to leap out over the panel that towered over her head. Finally, she dove toward another corner, shoved her nose into the 4 by 12 inch gap at the bottom where the panels were clipped together, heaved the panels up over her head and squirmed out the hole before I could grab her.

She paused for about three seconds, surveying her newfound freedom. Then off she went.

We chased her briefly, but ultimately there was no hope. All around were miles of brushy, wooded mountains and creeks on every side, a sheepy paradise where no human could possibly hope to catch or corner her. $650 worth of sheep vanished into the bushes and was simply GONE.

Lately it just seems like one piece of bizarre bad luck after another. The sheep with the rattlesnake bite, the puppy with the broken leg, and now this. The farm is teetering on the brink with money problems, and somehow I managed to lose an expensive breeding ewe. I might as well have just flushed $650 down the toilet. I didn't know whether to curse or cry.

In the end, there was nothing I could do but go home without her. Those woods are full of coyotes and bobcats, so it's possible that she never even made it through her first night of freedom. Randy called his neighbors and animal control, putting out the word if anyone sees her.

But even if someone catches her and returns her, I'm not sure I would be able to take her back. My farm is in the federal Scrapie Certification Program, which requires precise tracking of where each sheep comes from and where it goes. I am two years into the five-year certification process. If I brought a sheep onto the farm that had been in contact with any other sheep that were not at least that far along in the process, my own status would be degraded. I'm not willing to lose two years of progress towards certification over one runaway sheep.

I doubt she'll ever be caught, but if she is, I think I'll just try to sell her cheap to someone in Tennessee, without ever bringing her home.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Life Plays Us Like a Game of Jenga

Life plays us like a game of Jenga. One by one, it pulls away our supports and adds to our burdens, just to see how long we can stand. --Nancy Chase, August 14, 2007.


Tomorrow I'm leaving on my sheep-delivery trip. So I had a lot to get done today.

I got up early so I could give the 4 traveling lambs their pre-trip worm medicine and vitamins while it was still cool out. I was in the kitchen mixing up the vitamin drench and our Pomeranian Leeloo was racing up and down the hallway, romping with the cats.

All of a sudden there was an ear-splitting burst of yelping from Leeloo. I thought the cat had gotten annoyed at last, and scratched her. But the yelping didn't stop. I put down what I was doing and went to find her.

She was lying at the foot of the front stairs, shrieking like a fire alarm. I literally had to put my fingers in my ears before I could approach her. After a minute, seeing that help had arrived, she quieted to small, sad, quavering whimpers.

As soon as she stood up on three legs, I could see that her left front leg was broken. Just above the ankle, it was bent upward at a 90-degree angle where there shouldn't be a joint. When I lightly touched it with one finger, it flopped loosely as if not even connected.

No wonder she'd been shrieking so loudly. That had to be unimaginably painful and frightening to her. She'd probably tried to chase the cat up the stairs and had fallen.

Damn! A puppy in severe pain, another vet bill added to our already overburdened expenses, my busy morning schedule suddenly tossed out the window... none of this was good.

Ken is away on a business trip, and Leeloo is mostly his puppy. They are so attached to each other, we joke that she's his new girlfriend. He loves this dog more than anything. I looked at the clock: 7:30 a.m. He'd be up by now, but not yet occupied with his business day. I grabbed my cell phone and called him.

"Hi, what's up?"

"I think Leeloo just fell down the stairs and broke her leg."

He asked if she had any other internal injuries, and I assured him that I thought it was just her leg. She was still whimpering softly in the background. Ken heard her, and softhearted guy that he is, started getting choked up.

"Take good care of her," he managed to say. "I can't listen to this anymore."

And HUNG UP on me!

I stared at the phone in disbelief. Umm. Yeah. Thanks honey. No problem. I'll take care of everything.

Have I mentioned that sweet and kind hearted as Ken is, he's not really great at dealing with emergencies?

To his credit, he called me back a minute later and helped me quickly locate the vet's phone number. But, good grief! What would have happened if I'd phoned him while she was still shrieking? My ears were still ringing from that an hour later.

The 45 minute drive to the vet seemed really, really long. Poor Leeloo whimpered the whole way. I know she was in a lot of pain.

I dropped her off with the receptionist just after the vet hospital opened, before the vet had even arrived. I drove back home and waited for the vet's phone call.

When it came, it wasn't good. Leeloo had definitely broken her leg, but in a place that requires surgery rather than casting or splinting. And our vet doesn't do that kind of surgery. She'd have to refer us to a vet in Charlottesville. Surgery would cost around $2,500. The exam and x-rays from the vet who couldn't do anything cost $273.

Damn! We simply don't have that kind of money right now. I called Ken back to see what he wanted to do. When I told him the price estimate, he said, "I don't think we could do that even if we wanted to."

"Okay," I said, "but what do you want to do instead? Do you want to put her to sleep?"

I don't know what he thought our other options might be, but this suggestion hit him like a bomb. I heard him fighting back tears. "No," he said. "We have to do the surgery. We have to." Poor guy, he was at a business conference, surrounded by coworkers and customers, and having to deal with this at the same time.

I still needed to tend the sheep before the day got too hot. Not only did the traveling lambs need attention, a couple of my own sheep were showing symptoms of heat related stress, so I wanted to dose them with vitamins too, before I left for my trip.

Worm medicine, vitamin drench, and for my own stressed sheep, a couple of vitamin shots. It's not easy to hold a 100-lb. sheep still by yourself while you're the person poking it with needles! They thrash around and fight to escape, and it takes both brute strength and a steady hand to get the job done.

One sheep, Sally, thrashed so hard, she ripped the needle right off the syringe. When I felt around in her wool to see if it was still stuck in her, I discovered that in ripping the needle free, she had also ripped a big hole in her skin.

Great. Another animal disaster was all I needed for the day!

I felt around and around in her wool and could not find the needle. I assume it got flung onto the ground somewhere, but I couldn't find it.

Then I had to go back to the house and find my can of Blue Kote to spray on the wound, to disinfect it and keep the flies away while I'm gone.

After all the sheep were finally taken care of, I drove back to the vet's, picked up Leeloo and drove her to the doggie orthopedic surgery specialist in Charlottesville. I think if this had happened to any other animal on the farm, we would have had to bow to our depleted finances and have the animal put to sleep. But I can't ask Ken to give up this dog that he loves with all his heart.

So I went in, filled out the forms, looked at the scary x-rays of the puppy leg with the extra joint where there shouldn't be a joint, and listened to the vet describe the bone pins, clamps, braces, pain killers, and physical therapy he has planned for Leeloo. He's very nice--a friendly man who takes the time to explain everything in detail.

But all the while, I'm thinking, "How are we going to pay for this? We have to do it. We have to do it for Leeloo and for Ken. But how are we going to pay?"

By 2:30 p.m., seven hours after I started, I finally got back home again. I hadn't had anything to eat or drink since the night before, and I'd used up most of tank of gas driving back and forth.

I was tired, emotionally wrecked, and starving. For the rest of the afternoon, I made a bunch of phone calls and wrote a flurry of emails, getting directions, confirming meeting times, and finishing up last minute details for tomorrow's travels. Then it was time for evening chores, feeding the animals and filling the water troughs.

Now it's almost 9 p.m., and I still have to pack for my trip!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Three A.M. at Old McDonald's Farm

During the day, the animals are quiet. Sheep, horses, dogs... mostly they relax in the shade, reluctant to move much in the heat. But lately, during the night it's a different story.

I'm already behind on my sleep because I've been lying awake worrying about our finances a lot. Now, apparently, the animals have decided not to sleep at night either.

All night long, it's a "neigh-neigh here and a baa-baa there. Here a bark, there a bark, everywhere a bark-bark." A regular Old McDonald's Farm animal sing-along. And since to me every one of those animal noises could herald a possible emergency that might need my attention, I am getting no sleep.

Of course, none of the sounds actually DO herald an emergency. It's just animals being animals.

It starts with the horses. Glory in her weaning pen cries for her mother. In the paddock behind the barn, our stallion Senter--ever hopeful that some mare might be calling for his services--screams back.

The broodmares decide that now would be a good time to make their hourly commute from stuffing their bellies at the hay feeder in the front pasture to brushing the flies off their backs and bellies among the close-growing cedar branches down at the bottom edge of the big pasture.

It doesn't matter that it's 3 a.m. and pitch black outside, this commute always takes place at a gallop, 12 sets of thundering hooves shaking the earth. This sets the farm dogs barking. The sheep, hearing that everyone else seems to be active, wake up and decide to do a roll call to see where each of their flock mates is.

Yesterday, I was so tired from being wakened so many times through the night by the animals, I ended up having to nap on the couch for most of the afternoon. I had a million things I should have been doing, but I was just too drained and incoherent from sleeplessness, I knew I needed to catch up on the sleep first. I hate being so tired that I forget stuff and can't form a logical train of thought!

It was another active night last night, but I can't spend today napping. I have to load up four lambs into the back of the Outback and haul them off to the vets (an hour away, each direction) to get their health certificates for interstate shipping.

It's only two more days until I head out on my sheep delivery trip!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Mare's Milk

I tend to be a creature of habit. When traveling from Point A to Point B, I tend to follow the same route every time. I like to plan ahead, and sudden changes of plans are unsettling to me.

So every now and then, to shake myself out of my self-imposed routines and broaden my mind to new possibilities, I like to pick some random thing that I would never have thought of doing, and just DO IT, for the sake of change.

So today, I decided to try drinking mare's milk!

Glory is doing fine in her weaning paddock. And Bonnie doesn't seem to be missing her baby at all. But of course, this being the first full day of weaning, her udders got pretty full and this afternoon she was dripping milk.

So I got a washcloth to wash her udder, and a cup for the milk, and went out to try something entirely new!

The tight udder was pretty uncomfortable for her, and she didn't really enjoy me handling it, so I only milked out a few spoonfuls. Just enough so I could see what it tasted like.

I was prepared for it to taste really strange. Goat's milk, for instance, tastes really different from cow's milk. But to me, the mare's milk tasted exactly the same as cow's milk. No detailed, creative description required. It tasted exactly the same.

For some reason, to me, that was the strangest part of the whole experiment!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Weaning Glory

All of our 2007 fillies are over 4 months old now, which means that it's weaning time.

Glory is the finest quality foal we produced this year. Her full name is "Gloria In Excelsis Deco." She was born exactly at sunrise on Easter morning, the daughter of the world-famous Dutch Warmblood Art Deco and my excellent Spotted Draft mare, Benedict Bonnie.

She has floating gaits that'll take your breath away. I had been planning to sell her until I saw her extended trot for the first time. Then I knew she was too good to sell! She'll stay here and be bred to our stallion, Senter, when she's old enough.

But she is also my "problem child"--willful and too smart for my own good. It took me five hours working her in the round pen to get a halter on her, and she managed to get it off again within an hour. It's not that she's head shy. I can handle her face and head all I want, grab her nose, pull on her ears. She lets me lift all of her feet without having to be restrained. But she knows what that halter is and does not want it on her face.

I should have worked on this with her ages ago, but I got busy with other tasks and never got around to another five-hour session in the round pen. It's better to halter train foals when they are young, since when they are smaller they are easier to control. But since Glory's staying here on our farm and not being sold, the only one who's going to suffer from the delay is me.

So I decided that Glory would be weaned first, and I would take that time to work with her daily to complete her halter training. The first step, so I thought, was to get her out to the round pen so I could get the halter on her.

I brought Glory's mom Bonnie out of the pasture, and Glory followed. I led Bonnie toward the round pen, letting her graze on the grass along the way. Glory arched her neck and started doing her amazing extended trot back and forth around the yard, but when she saw where we were heading, she abandoned her mother and flew back toward the pasture where the other horses were.

Fine. Clearly she remembered our previous round pen session and didn't want a repeat. I'd just put her and Bonnie into the front paddock. It's small enough that I can use some round pen techniques in there, even though it isn't round.

Glory was deeply suspicious of this new direction. It took leading her mom into the paddock two steps at a time, and feeding Glory a mouthful of grain every step she followed, to get her in there. Even then she nearly changed her mind and bolted at the last minute before I got the gate shut.

When she and Bonnie were safe in the paddock, I just let them alone for a couple of hours to get used to the area. Then I put Callisto, who will be Glory's weaning buddy, into the paddock and took Bonnie away.

A weaning buddy is an adult horse (not the foal's mother) who stays with the youngster to set a good example and keep her calm during the scary coming-of-age time while the foal learns to be without her mother.

I chose Callisto for this job because she had been so kind to our colt Shane when he was weaned last year, and because she has such an unflappable temperament I knew she would discourage the baby from charging around like an idiot and possibly hurting herself.

Predictably, Glory trotted around with her head in the air, fussing and whinnying. Bonnie, back in the front pasture with the rest of the herd, could not have cared less that her baby was gone. If anything, she seemed relieved.

Callisto, surprisingly, fussed a little bit at being removed from the herd to play babysitter, but as soon as we put food in front of her, she decided all was well.

When Glory was charging nervously around and crowded too vigorously close, Callisto lifted one hind leg and rather than KICKING the youngster, just placed the hoof against her and PUSHED. A firm but painless shove to tell the baby, "Knock it off. You're acting like a fool."

Now they have had their supper and are spending the night in the paddock together. Glory's first night away from mom. It's official. She's a big girl now.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Getting Used to the Maggots

Another sweltering near-100 degree day here on the farm. The sheep lie around in the shade all day, and the horses take shelter down in the woods.

I shipped off one of my EBay sales this afternoon--a one-of-a-kind porcelain gypsy doll who is going to Puerto Rico.

We got a small load of hay today, courtesy of my EBay sales. We still don't have the money to pay Bob for his alfalfa, but the animals have to eat.

After feeding the animals, we cleaned Peri's leg again. There were maggots, but not quite as many as last time. After my close encounter with them yesterday, they've lost a lot of their shock value. I realized at one point I had started picking them out of the wound with my fingers--Look at me, voluntarily touching a maggot! EWW!--and I brushed one off my face without getting too grossed out.

It's just another one of the many up close and personal experiences you get with the stinky, slimy, and squirmy things of the world when you run a farm. Manure, urine, vomit, placentas, meconium, blood, pus, snot, maggots... if an animal can excrete it onto you, at some point it probably will.

Don't you all want to go out and become farmers now? :-)

On the bright side, I ordered some screw worm spray and SWAT paste to kill the maggots and keep the flies off Peri's wound (also courtesy of my EBay money). I can't wait until they get here.

I may be getting used to the maggots. That doesn't mean I enjoy them!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Not for the Faint of Heart

Before I say anything else, I should warn you: Unless you have a strong stomach, you probably don't want to click on the photo at right to see the full-sized version. It's not for the faint of heart!

It's a photo of what Peri's leg looked like when I took the bandage off tonight to clean and redress the wound.

Ken held Peri down while I snipped off the tape and unwrapped the bandage. Either I hadn't gotten all the maggots out when I cleaned the wound last night, or else flies had gotten underneath the bandage somehow to lay more eggs since yesterday, because before I could finish, maggots came bursting, pouring, tumbling out in every direction, with some sort of grotesque explosive force.

Big maggots, little maggots, tiny almost microscopic maggots everywhere! Not only on the wound and the ground but all over my arms and legs, squirming with their horrible little tickly movements on my bare skin. I can't even think of a word to describe how gross it was.

Worse, I really needed to tend to Peri, so after quickly trying to brush most of my maggots off, I had to just ignore the few stragglers until after I took care of Peri's leg.

I tried hard to clean the wound well tonight, but it was really hurting Peri, and she struggled every time I tried. Still, I did my best, then put on more antibiotic ointment and rewrapped the leg with fresh bandages.

The good news is, as gross as the maggots were, they had really done their job. The wound didn't stink anymore, and the flesh inside was pinks, reds, and whites, instead of the rotting blackish brownish necrosis that had been there yesterday. Maggots only eat dead or dying flesh, so they actually help clean a wound. Which doesn't make them any less disgusting!

So why did I take such a gross, disgusting photo?

I took it as a vote of confidence for Peri. I took it as the optimistic "before" shot of what I'm hoping will be a triumphant recovery story. In a few weeks or months, I hope to take another photo of her walking around fully healed.

If she gets through this, I don't think that we will ever cull her, even if she does have her flaws. With her courage and stamina, she's earned her right to stay here, no matter what.

So, if she gets through this, it will have been the snakebite that saved her life.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Peri's reprieve

Ken literally had the whetted knife in hand, ready to put her out of her suffering. The wheelbarrow was standing by to cart her body to the compost heap down by the woods. I was already starting to cry for the loss of my favorite ewe.

But Peri was not finished yet.


The leg that had been mysteriously lame for some time now had--instead of getting better--suddenly started to swell and fester. Today, the swelling burst, leaving a horrible gaping hole that stank and already swarmed with maggots.

When I smelled the stink and saw the hole that went all the way down in between the leg bones, I went to get Ken. "I think we have to kill Peri," I said. "I don't think we can save her now."

For more than a week, I had not been able to find any cause for her sudden severe lameness. The leg did not appear to be broken, and had no obvious sign of injury. It was not until today that a fellow shepherd suggested that perhaps she'd been snakebit. As soon as I heard that, I was sure that's what had happened. It made more sense than any of my other guesses.

It's a hard fact of running a farm: No matter how much I love my sheep, they are not pets. They don't get the kind of extreme measures of veterinary care that someone's favorite cat or dog might get. Particularly right now, when the farm is hurting so for money, we have to weigh very carefully the costs vs. benefits of how far we will go to keep an animal alive that may not ever give any value back to the farm.

That's a hard, hard reality for an animal lover like myself to cope with, but my commitment to the farm as a whole has to come before my commitment to any one animal.

In Peri's case, she was already teetering on the borderline. You see, Peri may have an excellent build, superb bloodlines, and be one of the prettiest sheep I own, but she has one fatal flaw. She has very poor heat tolerance.

Icelandic sheep prefer cool weather. After all, they've lived in chilly Iceland for 1,100 years and were only imported to this continent two decades ago. So it's no big surprise that Virginia summers, with months of sweltering 90-degree, high-humidity weather can be a challenge for this otherwise hardy breed.

Some strains of Icelandic sheep do very well in the heat. I have started selectively breeding some of those bloodlines to build my flock's heat tolerance. But poor Peri is not one of those strains. Every year when the worst of the heat hits, she develops all the symptoms of what I call "the summer syndrome"--weakness, weight loss, parasite overload, anemia. Each year, I treat the problem and Peri recovers. But each year it gets harder and requires more intervention. At some point, I had to consider whether I wanted to continue propagating this bloodline in my flock.

Watching Peri struggle with her "summer syndrome" this past month, I came to the difficult decision that, if she recovered, I would keep her for one more year, breed her one more time to one of my very heat-resistant rams in hopes of getting a couple of replacement lambs from her that would have better heat tolerance. After that, Peri would be culled for the good of the flock as a whole.

That was when, overnight, she suddenly came up lame. We put her in a pen by herself where she wouldn't get jostled by other sheep and wouldn't have to walk very far to get feed. But as her heat-stress symptoms abated, her leg got worse... all the way up until today.

We were planning to cull her next year anyway. So when I saw how bad her leg looked today, it seemed like the kindest thing to do would be to move up the execution date so she wouldn't have to keep suffering.

But Peri had other ideas.

Literally, Ken had the knife in his hand. The wheelbarrow was there by the fence. Tears were streaming down my cheeks as we opened the gate. "Is this the right thing to do?" I asked Ken. "I mean, we can't save her, can we? Her leg is so bad!"

At that moment, Peri hopped up on her three good legs, hobbled over to her pile of feed, and started eating. In her manner was nothing of a sheep that has given up the will to live. Normally a fairly shy and skittish sheep, now she looked at us cheerfully, as if to say, "So, you've come to fix this little problem at last, eh? And about time, too."

I couldn't bear to do it. Ken, equally soft-hearted, said, "Let's try to clean it out and bandage it. The worst thing that can come of it is she'll die. But she doesn't look like she's in that much pain yet."

So Ken put down the knife, and I went to fetch bandages. Ken held her in place while I cleaned the wound as best I could, applied antibiotic ointment and bandages, and gave her shots of antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory. Times like this are the reason that our pantry has ended up being more of a veterinary supply depot.

I don't know if Peri will survive this. What I do know is that her courage, grit, and will to live are the epitome of everything I admire so much about this breed.

Any human in this situation would be prostrated and in shock from the pain and fear. When I left Peri for the evening, she was hungrily eating her bowl of grain as if nothing at all was wrong.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Magic Beans

This is a story about a boy named Will and a sheep named Rio.

(Oddly enough, it's also a story about EBay. Be patient--I am going somewhere with all of this. Really!)

Rio came to live on my farm when she was just a little lamb. Inky black with white socks, cap, and bib, she was just about the cutest thing I'd ever seen.

As she grew up, even though both her parents were horned, Rio's horns never grew. All she had were a couple of little nubs (called "scurs") about the size of the tip of your finger.

Icelandic sheep come in both horned and polled (naturally hornless) varieties, but I specialize in just the horned type. So, cute as she was, Rio was no use to me. I put her up for sale.

Before long, I had a buyer. A woman contacted me, interested in buying Rio for her son Will who had fallen in love with her from the pictures on my website. We were ironing out the details when personal circumstances came up that forced them to withdraw their offer. Within a few months, Rio was purchased by someone else. It seemed that young Will had lost his sheep.

The man who bought Rio was in the process of buying a farm and moving to Virginia. He wanted me to hold onto Rio for him until he was able to move to his new farm. Time passed and again circumstances intervened. The man decided he couldn't take Rio either. So once again, I put her "for sale" ad back up on my website.

Almost immediately, Will's mom contacted me. Will still wanted Rio, and his parents decided to buy her for him as a birthday present. I was so happy to hear that he was finally going to get his sheep, that when his mom started asking about breeding Rio, I offered her one of our nicest proven breeding rams for half price, so Will could start his flock right.

Today, 8 months after their first inquiry about her, Will and his mom came to my farm and Will finally got to meet his new sheep. As I write this, Rio and the ram are riding in the back of the family's van, all the way home to New York.

That's the first part of the story.

The second part is that I have just recently started selling things on EBay. Encouraged by my first sale (I sold my long-neglected Argent Fox harp for $700), I spent yesterday afternoon posting a few more items to my auctions.

One of these items was something I had received as a wedding gift many years ago but had always secretly hated. I knew how much the thing was worth, but similar kinds of items listed on EBay seemed to be selling for less than 1/10 that. Still, I figured I didn't have much to lose, since I didn't like the item anyway.

I posted it with a "Buy It Now or Best Offer" price of $100, figuring that was a good midway point between what it was actually worth and what I could probably get for it.

To my astonishment, less than 8 hours later, it was bought (and paid for--thank you PayPal!) for my full asking price by the 7th person to look at my ad. Far from hating the item, this person was quite excited to get it.

That got me thinking. (See, I told you I had a point... Here it comes now!)

After the EBay sale, I was counting up how much more money I have to make to finish paying for the two new rams I'm importing from Frelsi Farm in Maine this fall.

For some reason this got me thinking about Jack and the Beanstalk. Like Jack in the story, I'm trading conventionally "valuable" items for something a bit riskier, because I believe the trade will improve my prosperity. The two new rams will improve the quality and saleability of my flock. Those two new rams are my "magic beans."

Then I got to thinking how much my EBay buyer wanted that item I disliked, and how much young Will wanted the hornless sheep that was no use to me.

And I started thinking, maybe the magic isn't in the items at all. Maybe it's in the love. Maybe in anyone else's hands but Jack's, those magic beans would have been just BEANS. Maybe that cow he traded, in the hands of it's new owner, became a magic cow who gave chocolate milk and gave birth to golden calves.

Maybe the wedding present I hated will bring years of joy to its new buyer. Maybe Rio will be young Will's "magic bean."


After the sheep were loaded in the van, just before they pulled out of the driveway, young Will reached onto the dashboard and handed me a present. "Here," he said. "This is for you."

It was a tiny velvet pouch he'd gotten on a previous day's trip to Skyline Caverns. I tugged the drawstring and peeked inside. It was full of shiny, polished stones: green, blue, red, orange, pink, and speckled.

They were about the size and shape of beans.