Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Those Who Went Before

If you live in an old house, people invariably ask you if it's haunted.

I neither believe nor disbelieve in ghosts, but I love ghost stories. I'm open to the existence of things we can't explain, but so far I've never witnessed anything that made me suspect that Ingleside is haunted.

Even so, Halloween is a time to remember the dead. In that spirit, I'd like to introduce you to Those Who Went Before: the residents of Ingleside's very own family cemetery.

When we purchased Ingleside, the cemetery was so densely overgrown with thorn bushes, vines, and poison ivy, we would never even have known it was there if the realtor hadn't told us. You could not even SEE into it, much less enter.

About a year and a half ago, our friends Randy and Nyxana spent a strenuous and rather hazardous day with us, clearing out as much of thorny, toxic growth as we could. We were not able to get rid of it all, but we opened it up enough that since that time our sheep and horses have cleared out most of the rest.

(Yeah, I know... I felt a little bad about letting animals roam over the graves, but the cemetery IS located in our back pasture. Besides, I figure a few animals wandering through is better than being completely covered in poison ivy.)

If time and finances ever allow, I'd eventually like to tear down the old, broken fence and erect a new fence around the cemetery to keep the animals out, and restore the area inside to a more pleasant, garden-like setting. They're not my relatives, but they were our "ancestors" as far as owning the farm. So I'd like their graves to have a little more dignity than they've been allowed over the past few decades.

Front row, right to left:

Charles D. Agee
1861 - 1940

Charles Davis Agee purchased Ingleside from Parke Poindexter Perkins Bentley for the sum of $800. The purchase date is unknown, but my guess is that it was probably between 1887 (when Parke's father Thomas Fearn Perkins, who originally owned Ingleside, died and presumably left the farm to her) and 1894 (which is the date of the first "Agee" burial in the cemetery).

You can read more about Charles Agee and Ingleside's history here.

Hattie V. Agee
1872 - 1956

Hattie Virginia Garrett Agee (known as "Virgie") was Charles Agee's wife.

You can read more about their life at Ingleside here.

Alma E. Agee
(birth date illegible due to broken stone) 1895
June 19, 1944
Her memory is blessed.

Across the top of the stone, it says:

Alma was the daughter of Charles and Hattie ("Virgie"). I presume the "Adjutant" refers to her rank during her extensive work with the Salvation Army.

You can read more about her life at Ingleside here.

Mary L. Agee
1903 - 1966

Mary was another daughter of Charles and "Virgie."

Middle row, right to left:

James F. Garrett
1846 - 1895

James Garrett was Virgie's father.

James D. Agee
Nov 15, 1893
June 18, 1894

above name, it says:
Gone to be an angel

I haven't found any record of who this infant was, but given the name and dates, I'm guessing he was the son of Charles and Virgie.

Minnie E. Agee
July 31, 1901
Sept 10, 1901

Above name it says something that is illegible due to the broken stone.
It starts with "As" and ends with "Jesus"

Again, I don't have any records of her, but considering the dates, I'm guessing she was another daughter of Charles and Virgie.

Judith A. Garrett
1847 - 1935

Judith A. Davidson Garrett was James Garrett's wife and Virgie's mother.

Far back, right corner:

Sarah J. Lewis
1838 - 1924

Sarah Jane Davidson Lewis was Judith Garrett's sister, and Virgie's aunt.

Far back, left corner:

Agnes R. Garrett
1898 - 1904
Nettie B. Garrett
1902 - 1904

I don't know who these little girls belong to, or what sickness or tragedy took them at the same time at so young an age. Presumably, they must be cousins to the Agee family, related through James Garrett.

If you enjoyed the historical accounts of some of the residents listed above, here are a few more accounts about the lives of family members who are NOT buried in our cemetery:

If anyone who reads this has any additional information about any of Ingleside's former residents, I would love to hear more about them!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Last Chance to Vote!

Okay folks, this is your last chance to vote in the Dating Game for Sheep. Who will father Moriah's lambs this year? It's up to you!

We have a clear front-runner right now, but there's still time to cast your vote and influence the outcome.

So far, the majority of you seem to be voting in favor of "true love." You want Moriah to have a chance to be with the ram she seems to prefer. She's the only ewe I have who expresses any preference at all. Does she know something we don't? Nicholai is an awesome ram, but his conformation may not complement hers as well as some of the other rams' might.

I can tell you that if this wasn't going by vote, Moriah would once again be deprived of being with Nicholai during breeding season. If I were choosing a ram for her, I would choose Tutankhamen, because his exceptional shoulders would complement her coarse ones, and her wide horns would offset his slightly narrower ones.

But this time the decision isn't mine. It's all up to you. So cast your vote in the upper-right corner of this screen before the end of the day tomorrow.

And stay tuned... when the lambs are born in the spring, I may let you name them for me!

Monday, October 29, 2007

First Frost

Summer is really, truly over now.

Yesterday, Ken turned on the heat in the house for the first time this fall. Last night, I put the electric mattress-pad on the bed. That has to be one of my favorite all-time inventions. There's nothing like a toasty warm bed to lull me to sleep better than anything else.

We had our first frost last night, so it was pretty chilly out. When the nights are cold, the first thing the horses do in the morning is pick a patch of sun and lie down to take a nap and absorb all the warm rays.

As you can see by the photo, I guess Shane and Libby decided it would be even warmer if they snuggled up together!

My cat Sterling has been rather persistently bringing me "gifts" lately. Two mice in the space of half an hour yesterday. This morning, before dawn, he brought in a live bird and released it to flap around my office. I had to toss him out of the room and then open all the windows and chase the bird around for 20 minutes before it finally went out.

I do have some good news today: Libby has found a buyer! She's not going to leave right away, as the person is going to pay for her over the next three months, but it's great to know that she'll be going to a good home with someone who appreciates her excellent potential.

I'm not sure what's going on with the other potential buyers at the moment. I've been having a lot of problems with some of my email not getting through lately, so I'm never sure if someone (1) never got my original message, (2) replied and I didn't receive their message, or (3) dropped of the face of the planet.

I guess I'll have to wait and see.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Many Perils

Well. That was an interesting afternoon! A classic example of the many perils of living the farming life.

First, as I was feeding the fillies tonight, Torchsong---who now thinks she is queen of the paddock---had her head buried in the hay feeder I'd just filled and mistook me for one of the other fillies crowding behind her. She let fly with one hind hoof, and before I knew what hit me, I was sprawled in the mud behind her.

Sorry girl, but that "Whoops, I didn't know it was you," kick-first-and-ask-questions-later excuse is not good enough! I spanked her with the hay strings I was carrying and did the dominant-mare thing of driving her away from the herd and away from the feed until she had time to think about her crime.

In horse-herd dynamics, it is the less-dominant horse's responsibility to be aware of the lead horse at all times, and to show respect by yielding position when the lead horse approaches. Kicking the boss mare, even accidentally, is likely to earn the offender a serious trouncing.

As it was, I drove her away from the feed two more times, until she stood still submissively, out in the pasture. Then I went out, spoke to her kindly, and made a point of leading her back to the feed. When we were almost there, I made her stop and wait until I gave her permission to continue.

Lesson learned: I am the boss mare. I say who eats and when. When I want you to move, you move, and you don't just kick at random when I'm in the vicinity.

By nature, I'm not a very domineering person. But working with all these animals as I do, I've had to come to terms with the importance of establishing a clear leadership role at all times, for my safety as well as the animals.

For example, shortly after we bought our stallion, Senter, Ken was helping me do some chores, and he tied Senter to a post for me, but---not knowing any better---he used too long a rope. With nobody there attending him at the moment, Senter got one of his forelegs over the rope, jerked his head up, and ended up tripping himself. His feet slipped out from under him, and he ended up lying on his back with one foreleg wrapped in his rope and one hind hoof tangled in the fence beside him.

This was a recipe for a HUGE disaster. If he panicked, he could easily have done permanent, possibly fatal damage to himself.

From three paddocks away, I heard him go down. As I rushed through the intervening gates, trying to get to him as quickly as possible without panicking him more, I put on my Voice of Authority: "Whoa, Senter. WHOA!"

Miraculously, he heard me, and even though we hadn't had very long to bond yet, he obeyed the Voice. Still trapped upside down, he froze exactly in place and didn't move until I got there. He held still while I released the rope from his halter and unwrapped his leg. He continued to hold still while I (quite dangerously... but what choice did I have?) leaned over him and worked his hind hoof free from where it was caught in the mesh fence panel.

He didn't move until I pushed his feet down, rolled him onto his side, and told him, "Okay." When he got up, he was shaken, but uninjured except for a minor scratch on his leg.

Such is the power---and importance---of maintaining a clear chain of command among the animals. It keeps you safer, and it allows you to keep them safer.

Along those same lines... the second thing that happened this afternoon was that Ken and I put up an additional sheep pen in one corner of the back pasture. This is because we have only two permanent sheep paddocks, and we'll have three breeding groups this year, so we needed a third paddock.

When the paddock was finished, we released the two new rams from their little quarantine pen into the new paddock. They had been treated very kindly at the farm where they grew up, so they have friendly temperaments, which in a ram is both good and bad. It makes them easy to catch and handle, but when rutting season comes along, it can also encourage them to be aggressive towards you.

Ram attacks are no joking matter. At their worse, rams are 200+ lbs. of testosterone-driven muscle and horn. One good hit could very easily put you in the hospital or worse.

Almost universally, the advice experienced shepherds will give you is: Don't tame your rams. They must stay a little bit afraid of you. If they have no fear at all, they have no respect. Under the influence of heightened testosterone during breeding season, a lack of respect can lead to attacks.

My philosophy with my rams is not quite so absolute. I'm friendly with them. I speak kindly to them and will give them a quick scratch under the chin from time to time. But as with the horses, I insist that they show respect and be willing to promptly back off at any moment that I make myself "look big" and stomp in their direction.

If a ram does not back off promptly, I get big and loud and chase him until he thinks twice about hanging around. As soon as he scampers away, I let him go. With repetition, all my rams usually stay quite respectful. They know the rules.

But as soon as these two friendly new boys were released into their larger paddock, they started feeling all manly and butting each other, with a big crashing of horns. Very typical of this time of year, nearly breeding season.

They also crowded around my legs with absolutely no regard for my "back off" signals. Time for a little training session.

I made myself big and roared ferociously. The rams didn't care at all. I bonked one of them in the nose with the flexible rubber feed dish I was holding. Still no retreat. Yikes! Rams that unafraid could very easily become quite dangerous in the future!

ROOOOAAARRRR! Bonk, bonk, BONK, BONK! I chased the poor, bewildered rams around, bopping them with the rubber dish, until they scampered away. Then I released the pressure on them and walked away.

Did they learn? As one approached me again, I stomped in his direction, and he quickly backed off. Good boy! Quick learner.

I'll have to keep testing that we have an understanding now, but with repetition, I think they will remember their manners. That way I can avoid broken bones, and they can avoid becoming lamb chops!

Sheesh. It's been a hard transition learning that the dominance/respect issue is absolutely crucial in dealing with my animals. I would rather just be sweet and loving towards them all. But that's not how it works in real life, so I've really had to work on my leadership role, which is not one that has come natural to me.

I think I'm doing okay though. That's one thing about animals, they'll always give you honest feedback about how you're doing. And for the most part, my animals love and respect me, and are not afraid of me. So I guess I'm managing to keep the interactions between us balanced and fair, which is all the animals ever really ask of us.

Anyhow, the third peril of the afternoon came when I was moving the water trough into place in the new sheep paddock. As I lifted one edge of it, my fingers curled under the lip at the edge and encountered the unmistakable fuzzy texture of a spider's nest.

Since I've already encountered several black widow spiders in that same part of the property this summer, I immediately dropped the trough, then lifted it from a different place and peeked underneath.

Sure enough, I'd stuck my finger directly into a black widow nest, and there was the widow herself, right where my finger had been! Luckily for me, she was already dead.

I don't know much about spiders, but don't they die after they've laid their eggs? At least, that's what happened in Charlotte's Web, wasn't it? So, I lucked out and didn't get bitten today, but it looks like I'm going to have to be on the lookout for her many descendants in the future.

Just more of the many perils of farm life!

Now I think I'll go lie down on the couch and watch TV. I didn't think I was hurt when Torchsong kicked me into the mud, but now my back is stiffening up, so I guess I took more of a jarring than I realized.

A few stretches and a good night's sleep, and I'll be fine. Ready for tomorrow's perils, whatever they may be!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Three Bags Full

Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.

Make that more like fifty-three bags full!

I'm cleaning out my fiber stash today. For those of you who don't know, a fiber stash is the collection of wool and other fibers---often accumulated over the course of years---that a hand spinner collects with the intention of spinning them into yarn "someday." Such stashes are notorious for expanding to fill any available space, and are rarely depleted by any one human's spinning efforts.

Over the years, as I was teaching myself to spin, I collected every different kind of fiber I could find, so I could feel the different textures and practice the different techniques needed to create a smooth, even yarn with them. Since I'm entirely self-taught, my results have been mixed. I'm no expert, but I can spin an adequate yarn, in most cases. My fiber-acquiring skills were somewhat more successful!

Now that I have a farm and a sheep flock of my own, I never have time to spin anymore, so I've decided to inventory my fiber stash, and sell it off. So far today, I've dragged all the boxes and bags out of the closet and out from under the bed and set them in a pile in the middle of my office where I can marvel at the magnitude of "Fiber Mountain."

There are several colors of Icelandic wool, purchased before I ever had a sheep of my own. There's Merino, Blue-faced Leicester, Wensleydale, and who knows what other types of sheep wool. Then there's cashmere, alpaca, angora, mohair, silk, cotton, flax... even dog and cat fluff! All in all, there's enough fiber here to fill the back of a small pickup truck. And that's not even counting the mountain of fleeces I have stored downstairs in the library, which came from my own sheep.

Since shearing time is fast approaching, when I'll suddenly have another 25 fresh fleeces to store and sell, I figured that now is the time to clear out as much of my current fiber as possible.

So, if any of you readers are spinners---or want to buy holiday gifts for people who are spinners---let me know. I'll be selling this stuff at bargain prices. And then you can start a fiber stash of your own!

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Farmer's Prerogative

Sorry, but I'm going to have to invoke one of the unwritten prerogatives to which all farmers are officially entitled:

I'm going to grumble about the weather.

I know, I know, three days of rain is exactly what we've all been yearning for around here as our fields shriveled to a crisp and our topsoil turned to talcum powder and blew away on every breeze.

Three days of rain is exactly what the land needed. That doesn't make it any less of a pain in the butt to deal with. In other words, I'm really, REALLY glad it's here, but I'm exercising my right to whine about it anyway.

As I write this, rain is still falling. Water is standing in pools all over the yard. Paddocks are turning to soup. All the animals are wet and dejected. The sheep's feed dishes have been brimming full of rain each of the past two days, which means that at least 8 inches of rain has fallen in that amount of time.

The horses are muddy. The sheep are bedraggled. The cats keep going outside, getting drenched and filthy, and then coming back in, dragging wet leaves and grass behind them, leaving muddy pawprints everywhere, and expecting to be allowed to sit on my lap until they are warm and dry again. At which point, they go back outside and begin the cycle again.

I wish this could have fallen a month ago, when there still would have been some hay crops to save.

I'm glad it's here. I really am. If only it didn't have to be so darned WET!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Pet-Lovers Diet

It seems like everyone nowadays is worried about their weight. And capitalizing on that, everyone else is making a fortune selling diet plans and books specialized according to everything from your body shape to blood type to astrological sign.

I figured hey, I could stand to lose some weight---AND earn some money---why not come up with a diet plan for people like me?

So here's why my diet plan is the best plan ever:

You don't need to change what you eat. You don't need to change how you exercise. It's all about portion control---and you don't even need your own willpower to take care of that.

You just need to enlist the help of my highly trained four-legged diet consultants, available to you for a reasonable monthly fee. For best results, you need approximately one cat or dog per 10 lbs. you need to lose. If more than one family member needs to lose weight, they need to hire their own additional diet consultants.

Here's how it goes:

You sit down in front of the TV with a big, heaping plate of fried chicken or lasagna or prime rib, or whatever other high-fat, caloric nightmare is responsible for inflating your waistline. You turn on the TV. You pick up your fork.

But before you can take your first, delicious, calorie-laden bite, your four-legged coaches appear as if by magic to remind you about the importance of portion control.

A fluffy red Pomeranian hops up beside you, puts her paws on your leg, and tilts her head in an adorable, heart-melting pose. You can't help yourself. You give her a bite of your food. SNARF! It vanishes, never to add a single point to your BMI.

You pick up your fork again. A large, gray Maine Coon cat appears on the arm of the couch, purring loudly. As you lift your food toward your mouth, he reaches out one large, fuzzy paw and pats you gently on the shoulder.

You can't disappoint a creature full of such pleased self-confidence, so you hand over another bite of your food. As positive reinforcement for your good behavior, the purring in your ear increases by a few decibels.

Determined to finally taste some of your own dinner, you pick up that fork one more time. Just as the food is about to enter your open mouth, a brown tabby cat perched on the couch back bats at your hand. With five razor-sharp claws.

While you're examining your hand to determine whether you need stitches, your team of four-legged coaches spring into action to ensure your continued dedication to portion control.

The tabby cat leaps down beside you and parades back and forth, dragging his generously furred, plume-like tail across your plate. You push him away just as the gray cat sneezes in your direction. You can feel the spray on your hand---who knows where else it's landed?

Fed up (and yet underfed!), you chase the cats out of the room, only to return and discover the Pomeranian energetically licking your plate. Sure, they say a dog's saliva is actually cleaner than a human's, but her breath smells suspiciously like horse manure.

See how easy it is to lose (er---I mean, "control") your appetite, when you have the right team of highly trained diet coaches? It doesn't take any willpower at all.

Before long, you'll be abandoning the high-cholesterol evils of fried chicken and filling your plate with waistline-friendly broccoli, celery, and lettuce, just to be able to eat something that is not immediately confiscated by your pests (umm, I mean, "consultants").

Of course, there is a catch.

Scientific study (by which I mean, several months of testing by Ken and myself) has proven that---like most of the other diet gurus' plans---the Pet Lover's Diet doesn't really work in the long run.

Sad to say, but the inborn human desire for greasy, unhealthy foods outweighs (pun intended) the ingenuity of the cleverest diet guru. Pet Lovers find it easy to stick to this diet, but gradually compensate for the calories confiscated by the "coaches" by simply over-inflating the serving sizes at the beginning of the meal and learning to joke about the health benefits of a little extra "fiber" added to each meal in the form of cat hair.

Then again, the fact that their plans don't actually work never stopped any of the other diet gurus from making a fortune. All it would take would be for my plan to become trendy, and I could be rich and famous. Face it, if you're going to be overweight either way, at least my plan is more fun than theirs!

Now I just have to come up with a diet plan for overweight, overfed PETS!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling!

Yes, that's right: We are getting RAIN here. It's been so long, we've almost forgotten what it looks like. It's a lovely, gentle, intermittent rain that is supposed to continue for another 2 or 3 days.

It's far too late to help with the hay situation this year, of course, but at least there's some hope that all the pastures, hayfields, and lawns around here will actually come back to life next year. And at least we're not at such a risk for fire now that everything is a little damp.

Reading about all those wildfires in California right now is pretty scary. Before, when I was just a regular person, I would have thought, "If such a thing happened here, I would just pack up a few necessities and evacuate." But now that I have a farm with all this livestock... what would I do? There's nothing I could do, really, other than lose everything I've worked for.

So I'm grateful for the rain, and my heart goes out to the people in California whose homes have been destroyed by the fires.

I had to drive into town yesterday to get horse grain and to get shipping materials to ship my Ebay sales. While at the feed store, I had a disturbing conversation with the guy we buy our grain from. Apparently, hay is in such short supply, some of his other customers are reporting paying $9 to $10 per small square bale for hay that isn't even very good quality.

This is pretty terrifying news. When we started this farming venture a couple of years ago, we were getting hay for $4 a bale. That's what we budgeted for, in our long-term plans. Now we're paying about $6.75 a bale. Our livestock eat about 14 bales a day. If we end up having to pay $10 a bale, there is no way we will be able to feed our animals.

We still do have several people interested in horse purchases, though, so at least we may be making progress towards at least reducing our herd a bit.

The sad part is, the horse market is so bad, I've been reduced to selling foals for less than it cost to feed their mothers while they were pregnant with them, and bred mares for the price of the foals they carry.

My hope is that if I can hold on long enough, and keep my very best breeding stock, I'll be able to regain some of the lost ground in future years once the horse market recovers (assuming it ever does).

Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Keeping My Fingers Crossed

As of today, I have potential buyers interested in FOUR of the remaining seven horses I have left to sell. Of course, interested doesn't mean definite, so I'm not counting my chicks (or in this case, my checks) until they hatch. But still, it does give a person reason to hope.

While Ken and I were filling the broodmares' big hay feeder tonight, we made up a song.

The mares sing:

We are so hungry!
We are so hungry!
We wish you'd give us
Some grain as well.

Then we sing:

We have no money!
We have no money!
We wish that some of
You mares would sell!

Yes, okay. I'm way too easily amused, I admit it. :-)

I spent the morning answering email and dealing with EBay stuff, answering questions from buyers and such.

Then I had to rearrange all the animals in the paddocks so that Bob could finally come with his tractor and scrape out the last paddock for us. Then I had to put all the animals back into their original paddock.

This afternoon, I gave Libby a bath and took some video of her for the person who might be interested in buying her. If you want to see it, here it is.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Top News: Farmer Takes Day Off!

Yes, that's right. Shocking as it may seem, I took the day off today.

Which, when you run a farm, "taking the day off" just means that Ken and I did the chores quickly first thing in the morning, and then drove into Charlottesville for a late breakfast.

After that, we went to a movie. Would you believe that the last movie I saw in the theater was Lord of the Rings? When you're a farmer, you don't get out much!

After the movie, we did my favorite "day off" activity: wandered around in the bookstore. There were oh-so-many new books I would love to have brought home, but I was good: despite the temptation, I didn't buy anything.

The good news is, while we were out, several of my items sold on EBay, and a new potential buyer started inquiring about my filly Libby.

Oh yes: and the cats caught two bats and brought them in the house tonight. They killed one in the bathroom, and released the other to fly around the front hallway, until we managed to open a door and shoo it back outside.

The adventures never end!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Reasons For Bad Housekeeping

After the farrier left today, I spent some time catching up on some long-neglected housework. This got me thinking about how some people always have spotless houses, while the rest of us seem to accumulate more than our share of clutter and filth.

While washing the kitchen counters and sweeping up dust bunnies the size of subcompact cars off my floor, I got to wondering why that is. Before long, I came up with a set of theories.

1. People who have jobs that leave them exhausted at the end of the day do less housework than other people because when you've spent the day lugging hay bales, cleaning hooves, mucking paddocks, and wrestling unruly horses, all you want to do when you're finished is collapse on the couch and eat cold pizza straight from the box.

2. People who have jobs that expose them to dirty or gross conditions on a regular basis do less housework than other people because they've acquired a higher tolerance to filth. Face it, after you've had your hand inside a sheep to reposition a lamb so it can be born, a little spilled jam on the counter just doesn't have the same "ick" factor it once did.

3. People who don't get a lot of visitors do less housework because, frankly, who's going to know? So, if you're ever planning to come visit me, call first, okay? Trust me, you don't want to see what the place would look like otherwise! :-)

4. People with open-minded, or off-beat personalities do less housework because they're used to not caring as much what other people think of them. That's right. I'm not a slob, I'm a rugged individualist!

5. People with 8 cats, 3 dogs, 15 horses, a flock of sheep, and a husband do less housework because with the amount of grime that gets tracked in on a daily basis, it's a hopeless task. You may as well surrender!

Having conclusively proven to myself that it's a miracle I ever do any housework at all, I decided to postpone scrubbing the toilet, and go collapse on the couch.

Now where's that cold pizza?

A Visit From the Farrier

The farrier came today to trim the horses' hooves. It's a big job when there are this many horses who need trims. Even though our farrier does the job efficiently and quickly, it still took a few hours to get through everybody.

It's always a challenge to the horses, who are pretty much handled only by me every day, to suddenly have a stranger come and do things to their feet. Some take it calmly, others fidget, jump around, or try to pull away.

Some that normally behave well for me (Senter, Shane) were not very nice with the farrier. Others, who sometimes are uncomfortable having their feet handled (Maggie, Torchsong, Callista) did quite well.

Libby even had her very first hoof trim today. Her hooves are so tiny compared to, say, Boo's enormous feet. She did pretty well for her first time. I didn't try to have the other three weanlings trimmed, as I just didn't think they were ready for that step yet. I'll work with them more to prepare them before next time.

Here's our farrier, Stan Rudacil, using a hoof knife on Bonnie's hoof to trim away some of the excess:

Next, he uses the nippers to trim the wall of the hoof, especially where her toe had grown long.

Finally, he smooths out the edges with a rasp:

Repeat with all four hooves. And then the pedicure is done!

Want to see it in more detail? Here's a video clip of Char getting her hooves trimmed.

Friday, October 19, 2007

See How They Grow!

I was putting together some baby pictures of Shane last night, to send to the lady who is buying him, and it got me thinking that it would be fun to post some photos off all my horses that I have baby pictures for, so you can see how fast they grow and change:


Gray and white tobiano filly. Spotted Draft (Paint/Percheron cross).
Pictured as a foal and as a yearling.


Bay and white tobiano filly. Spotted Draft (Paint/Belgian cross).
Pictured as a foal and as a yearling.


Outlaw's Torchsong
Buckskin and white tobiano filly. Saddlebred/Paint cross.
Pictured as a foal and as a yearling


Black and white tobiano gelding. Spotted Draft.
Son of my mare Scylla.
Pictured as a newborn and as a yearling


Chestnut and white tobiano colt. Paint/Oldenburg cross.
Not technically mine, he belongs to my sister. But he's my stallion Senter's firstborn foal.
Pictured as a newborn and as a weanling


Selibration ("Libby")
Bay and white tobiano filly. Spotted Draft/Oldenburg cross.
My stallion Senter's second foal, out of my mare Sugar Magnolia ("Maggie").
Pictured as a newborn and as a weanling


Gloria In Excelsis Deco ("Glory")
Black and white tobiano filly. Spotted Draft/Oldenburg cross.
Daughter of the legendary Art Deco, out of my mare Benedict Bonnie.
Pictured as a newborn and as a weanling


Deco Gratias ("Grace")
Black and white tobiano filly. Spotted Draft/Oldenburg cross.
Daughter of the legendary Art Deco, out of my mare Charybdis.
Pictured as a newborn and as a weanling


See A Penny ("Penny")
Chestnut and white tobiano filly. Spotted Draft/Oldenburg cross.
My stallion Senter's fourth foal, out of my mare Boudicca ("Boo").
Pictured as a newborn and as a weanling

Incidentally, many of these youngsters (and a few of their mothers) are for sale, so if you know anyone who's looking, send them to my website: It's a little out of date right now, but I'll be updating it this weekend so that it has the most current sales list and prices.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Just a Tease?

All afternoon, the air felt cool and moist. The weather reports were predicting the possibility of rain for the first time in recent memory.

I don't remember a time when I've seen the land so dry. You can't even go outside without coming back coated with a thin film of dust. What little foliage and plants are still left alive are gray with dust too. We are desperate for some rain!

While I was doing evening chores, a few cool droplets fell from the sky. I looked up and waited hopefully, but the clouds above were thin and had nearly passed by already. To the west, where our weather comes from, the sky was clear as could be.

Was the weather report just a tease, then, or could we still get that 60% chance of rain they're predicting for tomorrow? We'll take what moisture we can get at this point, that's for sure. The soil is blowing away with every passing breeze.

We did get a nice rainbow tonight. Kind of ironic, in a way, given the story of how the rainbow was made to reassure mankind that the great flood would never happen again. Not exactly the reassurance we're looking for right now, thanks!

As I was heading back to the house, the light was falling on the (oh-so-neglected) hammock in the back yard. I thought it was pretty, so I took a picture.

Something about living up here on this hill, at the time of day just before sunset the light slants down in a way that makes every little ordinary thing glow with gilded edges.

Just one of the small daily joys of living in this beautiful place.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Today's improvements

Today our neighbor Bob finished scraping out the front pasture, the sheep paddock, and Senter's paddock with his tractor for us. Tomorrow, he's going to scrape out the ram paddock.

This leaves much, much less mucking out I'll have to do by hand, and makes the place look much better.

Then I helped Ken install the new feed rack we bought for Senter. He's been wasting too much of his hay by turning over his big plastic trough, spilling his hay, then treading it into the ground. The new feed rack doesn't hold nearly as much hay, but if it keeps him from wasting so much it will be worth the trouble of having to fill it for him much more often.

We also discussed possible plans for building new shelters for Senter and for the sheep. All the plans we've talked about before this have ended up being either too elaborate and therefore more expensive than we can afford right now, or else too flimsy to be safe against the wear and tear a horse would put on it. But we may have an idea that is simple yet sturdy enough that won't cost too much. We'll see how that turns out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Horse Training

I worked with the young horses a little bit today, just informally. Penny leads now when I pull on her halter. I haven't had a chunk of time to do a real training session with her, so I've just been doing it a few seconds at a time every day as I pass through their paddock:

  • Day 1: Hold onto her halter and make her stand still for a moment. Let go and pet her.
  • Day 2: Tug on the halter, go with her---maintaining pressure---as she backs up in alarm. Release and pet her when she stops and steps forward.
  • Day 3: Tug on the halter, coax her to take two steps forward. Release and pet her.
  • Day 4: Lead her several yards away from the other foals. Release and pet her.
  • Day 5: Lead her in a circle around the paddock, independent of what other foals are doing. Release and pet her.
Because the sessions were all so brief and informal, she never really thought anything unusual was going on. She never thought she had any cause to get stressed and upset, so we never even passed through the normal tantrum that each foal usually has to have at the beginning of halter breaking.

Of course, that may still await me in the future, but for now she at least understands what pressure on the halter means, and being a fairly agreeable girl, she mostly is willing to go along with it.

I also wormed everyone in the foal paddock except Grace. Grace is still getting over being head shy because of the injury to her face. So that's her only job right now: becoming comfortable with me touching her all over her face, a little bit more each day. I'm not putting a halter on her, asking her to learn to lead, or shoving any worm medication into her mouth, because that would be pushing her comfort zone. Instead I want her to do nothing but gain confidence in me for as long as she needs to.

My philosophy of horse training is: Don't push them beyond what they're ready for. If you gain their confidence and trust first, you'll have much less trouble later.

A couple of months ago, a man came to look at some of my horses for sale. He had worked previously as a trainer in a Thoroughbred racing stable. I was telling him about how I had just introduced one of my horses to wearing tack: I put the saddle and bridle on her, led her around, ground drove her.

"All on the same day?" the man asked, astonished. "What did she do?"

I shrugged. "Nothing. Just stood there."

He shook his head in amazement. "With our Thoroughbreds, it would take us two weeks to even get near them with a saddle, and they'd be crashing all over the place!"

Now, I'm not saying I'm the best trainer ever. I'm really not very experienced. And part of the difference in our two experiences is the breeds we're talking about. A Thoroughbred race horse has a totally different temperament from a draft cross.

Not to mention, Thoroughbreds are usually confined in a stable most of the time and fed large quantities of high-energy feeds, while my horses are loose on pasture with lots of equine companionship to keep them calm and happy.

But another thing that may be a factor is that I spend far more time socializing with my horses than I do trying to make them do anything. They see me as the lady who brings food when they're hungry, fills the water troughs when they're thirsty, opens the gates when they want to go out, and scratches their itchy spots whenever I pass by.

They get used to thinking that if I'm around, that means something good is going to happen. Once they get that ingrained in their minds, it's much easier for me to convince them that anything new I ask them to do for me is just some little game I want to play. Whatever it is, they usually want to try it, because they trust me to make it fun or at least not too scary.

Basically, it all boils down to the fact that I'm a LAZY horse trainer. I want to do the training in the way that makes it the easiest on me and the horses.

Take Torchsong, for instance. When she first arrived here several months ago, she was a terrified yearling who had never been away from home before. But she didn't want anyone to know she was scared, so she acted aggressive.

Within the first 10 minutes of her being here, she had already attempted to bite, kick, rear up, and run over me. I did what I needed to do with her right that minute (run her in the round pen until she settled down and focused on me enough that I could lead her where I wanted her to be). Then I released her into the pasture with her sister.

I fed and tended her, but I didn't ask anything of her for weeks. Then, all I did was enough round pen work that she learned not to evade me when I tried to catch her. This took only two sessions.

After that, I kept tending her as usual and would frequently walk up to her in the pasture, pet her, and then walk away. Teaching her that me coming up to her was no big deal.

After several months of this treatment, now she adores me. If I'm anywhere in the yard, she's standing by the fence gazing at me. If I'm in the pasture with her, I can't get her away from me. She tags along after me like a big dog, begging for affection. She leads, ties, bathes, lifts her feet. And I didn't have to do anything except give her time to trust me.

That's what I mean by being a lazy horse trainer!

Up Before Dawn

For some reason, I woke up at 3:00 this morning and could not for the life of me go back to sleep.

The farrier was supposed to come first thing this morning to trim all the horses' hooves. So since I was awake anyway, I decided to get up before dawn to get everything ready: ate breakfast while waiting for the sun to come up, then went out to feed and water the animals early, put halters on the horses that didn't have them on, and started cleaning hooves.

Then the farrier called to say he'd hurt his back and could he reschedule for Saturday? Of course we're not going to say "No" to that. But I was grumbly to have gotten up so early for no real reason, just the same.

I managed to do a photo shoot yesterday and got good photos of most of the rest of the dolls I'm selling on EBay to raise money for hay.

Then I spent part of today packing up and mailing several that I sold in the past few days and writing up descriptions for the new ones that I'll be posting for sale on Friday (I wait until Friday, because sales are much more brisk over the weekend). I've included a few photos here, because I think they turned out pretty well.

It's tricky, because there's one specific place that has a nice background for taking photos, and it only gets decent lighting for a couple hours a day. So I always have to be ready for that time, and hurry through the photos before the light fades away.

Out of curiosity, I just added it up: so far, in the past three months, my EBay sales have brought in nearly $5000 to pay for hay and bills!

That's not bad for just selling stuff that we already had lying around not being used... mostly my Franklin Mint dolls and a few other valuables, plus Ken's old Sentra.

Of course, our animals eat more than $2000 worth of hay per month, so the Ebay sales are just kind of helping us tread water until some of the horses sell. But it's way better than NOT having that extra money!

Our neighbor Bob finally had a chance today to come by with his tractor and scrape the manure out of the main part of the front paddock for us. With so many horses living there, it accumulates too quickly for me to clean out by hand, so every now and then we hire Bob to remove it with his tractor.

He didn't quite have time to finish yesterday, because he had somewhere else to go, so he'll be back tomorrow. We may have him scrape out the sheep paddocks too while he's right here.

I do have to clean the weanling paddock and Senter's paddock out by hand soon though. It's been accumulating too long. The weather is mild enough now that I'm not going to be risking heat stroke to be outside working, and the fact that it hasn't rained in forever means everything I need to muck out is dry and (relatively) light.

Actually, things are beyond simply "dry" now. Our fields and lawns are scorched and dead. Any little breeze or an animal walking by stirs up clouds of dust that hang in the air like mist.

We are so lucky that our well is good. We've had no shortage of water to fill the horse and sheep troughs.

And we are so lucky not to have had any fire problems in our area. The whole county is so dry, there'd be no stopping a fire if it got started. So I'm very thankful it hasn't been an issue.

Monday, October 15, 2007

New Bones and No Bones

I got a call from our butcher first thing this morning to come get our lamb meat right away because his freezer broke during the night. So I rushed right out and brought the meat back. It just barely fit into our freezer.

In the rush I forgot to ask about the bones he was supposed to save for me. I have a person who specifically wanted some of our sheep bones for a craft project, and I was going to use the rest for a project of my own (It's a secret for now, but I'll post pictures here if I ever get around to trying it).

When we checked back with the butcher, he said he forgot to save the bones for us, even though I specifically asked him to. This makes me a bit grouchy. Last year, he forgot that we wanted to save the pelts from the sheep we sent, and he ruined several beautiful hides by removing them carelessly and cutting them full of holes.

He's a nice guy, very chatty and friendly, but he's used to dealing with plain old livestock that are commodities, not high-value niche markets. So it seems that he doesn't exactly take sufficient care to preserve the special items I ask him to save.

However, he is very conveniently located, just a few miles away, so our choice is really to try to work with him and educate him better on our needs, rather than seeking a different butcher.

He did offer us any other bones we might want, including lots of deer bones (since this is hunting season, he's getting lots of deer in right now). That will work okay for my project, but the other buyer specifically wanted the Icelandic sheep bones because she's making a historical reenactment (SCA) project for which the Icelandic sheep would be most appropriate.

Oh well, we have one more lamb we may slaughter later, once we have more room in the freezer again. Perhaps he'll remember to save the bones for us then.

The other "bone" news for the day is

(1) Leeloo, our Pomeranian, finally got her leg brace taken off today. Her broken leg is all better! and

(2) Our ewe Peri is starting to use her rattlesnake-damaged leg a little bit, now that I've put a brace on her ankle. I don't think the leg will ever completely heal, but with the brace she regains a little more mobility and can live a more normal life.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sleeping With Cats

Fall is truly here now. Days are pleasantly mild, some nights are getting downright chilly. My basic daily attire has switched from tank tops and shorts to sweat jackets and "where the heck did I pack my jeans away last May anyway?"

And the cats have started wanting to sleep on the bed again. I can judge how cold it is outside by how many of our eight cats try to sleep with me at once.

Last night, there were only two, and they only stayed part of the night before heading off to prowl outside again. Later in the winter, when it's truly cold outside, there'll be mornings when I wake up with five of them piled all around me.

They all have different personalities on the bed. My oldest cat, Eoghan, prefers to sleep on the upper corner of the bed, next to my pillow. Sterling likes to pounce on any toes that wiggle under the blankets. Echo, if you let her, would literally drape herself across your face to sleep, that's how close she wants to be.

The funniest cat of all is Aspen, our long haired calico. She is very dainty and polite, but she really, REALLY likes a warm place to sleep. On cold nights, she'll climb up on the bed and walk around, trying to get me to open up the covers so she can crawl under the blankets with me. If I happen to be asleep and don't get her hint immediately, she climbs up by my head, grabs a mouthful of my hair in her teeth, and pulls on it---hard!---until I wake up and let her in where she wants to be.

Many years ago when we lived in Illinois, we had another cat, an orange Maine Coon named Aesun, who was a wonderful pet, but kind of high strung. He liked to lie on the bed with us, but he would never relax enough to actually sleep there.

Except one night, he must have accidentally dozed off at the foot of the bed, because sometime in the middle of the night, I twitched my foot a little bit and it bumped into Aesun. Startled awake, and clearly thinking he was under attack, he fled the rooms so fast, I think his paws barely touched the floor.

Ken and I woke to hear him crash into a bedpost, hit the bedroom door, and ricochet---twice---off the walls of the hallway before coming to a halt in the living room. A single thought filled both of our surprised, drowsy minds:

"Oh no. The cat's exploded!"

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I Suppose This Should Be Bad News

The fellow who was interested in buying my mares Char and Scylla for himself and his son, is still interested in possibly buying Scylla at a later date, but is now no longer interested in Char, because his son was intimidated by her size.

Since we need so badly to sell some horses soon, I suppose I should be disappointed by this, but instead I'm happy and relieved. I don't want to sell Char. I have never wanted to sell Char. She is my absolute favorite horse, and I want to keep her forever.

I was only offering her for sale because we need to sell a certain number of horses, and I had it stuck in my brain that I had to keep Char and Scylla together, because they are a matched team of sisters.

Scylla is a gorgeous animal, perhaps with slightly better conformation than Char, but I just never bonded to her quite as strongly. Although I think she is magnificent, I would not be heartbroken to have to part with her. And actually, she and the guy who might want to buy her looked REALLY good together when he tried her out. So I think they may be a great match. He's just not ready to make a commitment yet due to some personal stuff he's dealing with at the moment.

If he does decide to buy her, what will probably happen is that we will keep her through foaling and weaning, and he will get her after that. So most likely, she'll be here for a while, unless our finances get really desperate, and I have to sell her to someone else before that.

So the plan is now that we will keep Senter, Char, Glory, Grace, Callista, and Torchsong. All the other horses will be for sale.

I'm looking forward to a time when the horses will be a source of pleasure again, and not only a source of worry about how we are going to afford hay. To that end, even though I love them all, I guess I'll be glad to see them go.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Everybody Wants Bonnie (But Nobody Can Buy)

ARGGGHH! It happened again!

For the second time in less than 3 months, I had someone who REALLY wanted to buy my mare Bonnie, someone who would have given her a great home.

And just when I thought the sale might really happen, the buyer suffered an unexpected financial setback and was no longer able to pursue the sale.

So, for the record, can I just say to all of you employers in the world: Stop laying off people who are trying to buy horses from me! Stop stiffing them for their full expected pay! In fact, if a person is thinking of buying a horse from me, I think it would be a terrific idea if you gave them a big fat raise! Okay?

Thanks, I feel better now.

On the bright side (I do always try to find one of those whenever possible!), as of this morning, I do have potential buyers interested in two of my other horses, Boudicca and Callisto.

Boo has been very popular all summer, I've gotten tons of inquiries about her. Maybe this time it will translate into a new home for her.

Callisto is not even officially listed for sale yet. I've been putting off listing her, because I hadn't ever intended to sell her. She was supposed to be my personal horse, but with hay prices continuing to go up, I have to reduce the herd however I can.

The fellow contacted me this morning asking about Shane (who is already sold), and I suggested Callisto as a better alternative for someone looking for a young Sport Horse prospect. He was looking for something tall, with good movement and substantial bone, which fits Callisto to a T.

Out of curiosity, I measured her today. At 2 1/2 years old, she measures 15.3+ hands! I knew she was going to be over 16 hands when she was grown, but now it's looking like she may end up closer to 17 hands. What an impressive girl she's going to be. With the proper training and experience, she could be worth a bundle in a few years.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Oh, My Aching Back

My day started out with unloading 1,000 lbs. of sheep grain (with Ken's help) into the barn, then loading another 1,000 lbs. of hay into the truck and unloading it again to distribute it to the animals. Then I distributed about 75 lbs. of grain to the various critters, and filled about 500 gallons worth of water troughs.

I also had to drive to the slaughter house and pick up the hides from the sheep we sent yesterday. The first time I ever did this, I (foolishly) assumed that I would be getting back nicely skinned and relatively clean hides, ready for salting, much like the deer hides I used to help my dad with during hunting seasons back when I was a kid.

What I get back from the butcher is something quite different: a heavy, bloody garbage bag, with all four hides lumped inside. Because I salvage the horns and skulls to sell to people who want them for craft projects, I tell the butcher to give me the heads back. They're in the bag too, still attached to the hides. When I open the bag, the stench of dead meat is overpowering.

Originally, the first time we sent lambs to slaughter, I felt a little guilty for not having to face the animals' deaths directly---after all, I order their deaths, but my part consists of delivering them to the slaughter house and picking up neat white packages several days later. I felt a little bit like I was getting off easy, because I didn't have to participate more directly.

But now that I know what it's like to deal with the hides, I know that I do face their deaths directly. I reach my hands into the bloody bag and haul out a hide. I cut the head from the rest of the hide, then turn the pelt upside down and bit by bit cut off the leftover bits of fat and meat still attached to the skin. When the first one is done, I hand it to Ken to carry into the shed to be salted, and I start on the next one.

It's a disgusting, smelly job. By the time all four hides are salted, the scent of dead flesh has soaked into my hands. It'll take many washings to remove it completely.

On the bright side, at least the pelts, heads, and horns won't go to waste. I even have a new idea in the works for an interesting use of the sheep bones.

And of course, the ones I don't use, our dogs will eat. They're eating a big pile of beef bones right now. The butcher had a huge box of them he was about to dispose of, and he offered them to me for our big dogs. Even Leeloo got a little one.

After that, I did some cleanup around the house, and packed up some of my recent Ebay sales---although unfortunately, I missed getting them to the post office before closing by just a few minutes.

Now, my back is aching from all the lifting this morning. It doesn't bother me until after I sit down for a while. It'll be fine by morning, but now I'm going to go to bed early and get a good night's sleep.

I tried to go to bed early last night, but for some reason the horses were all going crazy in their pastures, galloping around like wild things, neighing at the top of their voices, setting the dogs to barking.

I got up out of bed to go check on them, and they all seemed fine. I think it must have been a bunch of deer crossing the field that spooked them, and since the weather has finally gotten seasonably cool, they were just having a good time exaggerating their fear to give themselves an excuse to run.

Oh... and here's a neat thing: my stallion Senter has developed a helpful new habit. First, a little explanation: Senter gets his hay and grain in a big plastic trough. When he runs out of hay, he tips the trough over, so he can eat any wisps that have fallen behind it. Every day, the trough ends up knocked over.

This is annoying because when his trough is upright, I can drop Senter's feed directly out the back window of the feed room into the trough. But when it's tipped over, I have to walk all the way around the barn, through three paddocks to set it upright again, then walk all the way back and toss the food in.

Well, for the past week, Senter has been knocking his trough over as usual. But when he hears me in the feed room getting ready to feed him, he knocks it back upright and (most days) shoves it back into place under the window!

He's done it almost every day this week. Every time it happens, I'm just floored. That's pretty advanced reasoning skills for a horse to figure that out all on his own, and then care enough to do it.

Now if I could just teach him to muck out his own paddock, I'd be all set!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Like Lambs to the Slaughter

Now is the time of year when I have to step down from my role as Nurturing Farm Mom, and become the steely and implacable Grim Reaper.

It's the time of year when we send the lambs to slaughter---and I have to be the one who chooses who lives and who dies.

I feel very fortunate that our breeding stock lambs tend to sell very well, because all of our best lambs are usually gone by October anyway. I hate to have to send a really high-quality ram to slaughter just because we had more rams than we needed!

Today we sent three ram lambs: one that was a runt, one that just wasn't built wide enough to meet my criteria for a breeding ram, and one that actually had an excellent build. I was reluctant to send him, but we just didn't need another ram.

I also sent a yearling ewe, Sally. She was the only living offspring of my favorite ewe, Portia, that died last year after she got her horns caught in our hammock ropes and hanged herself overnight.

Portia had horrible heat and parasite susceptibility, so losing her was probably a good thing for my flock genetics. Sally, though more resistant than her mother, still ended up having a very hard time with heat and parasites this summer, so I made the decision to cull that line completely.

We do have one more "extra" ram lamb that may end up going to the butcher eventually, but for now we don't have any more room in our freezer, so he gets to stick around for a while longer.

The one bright side to all these death decisions is that as soon as slaughter season is done, breeding season begins, and I can turn my attention toward the new life we'll be creating for next spring.

Listen! Can You Hear That?

It's RAINING here! Ever so softly, ever so gently... but it's real, genuine rain!

Our poor dry fields have almost forgotten what moisture felt like.

The crickets are singing hallelujah, and the whole farm is giving a big, thirsty sigh of relief: AHHHHHH.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Hermaphrodite Stew

Guess what we're having for supper?

Yes, that's right: Hermaphrodite Stew.

You see, last fall we bought a group of ewe lambs from a breeder. Over the winter they grew and matured as lambs will do. Except, as time went on, it became obvious that one of them, a black mouflon ewe named Sonnet, was maturing a little differently from the others.

Our first hint that something wasn't right was the confusion that happened at breeding time. Sonnet seemed to go into heat like the other ewes. She allowed the ram to breed her one day, just like normal. But then, for the rest of breeding season, SHE acted like a ram, doing all the typical courtship behavior: sniffing, pawing, and following the other ewes around. She even started fighting to defend "her" ewes from the ram!

She never did have a lamb from that one breeding. By late spring, she was bigger than the other ewes her age. Her horns were two or three times the size of her sisters' horns. She developed a prominent hump on the bridge of her nose. And her genitals, while basically female in outline, were shaped a little funny.

When shearing time came and all her thick wool was removed, we were able to get our first proof that Sonnet really was not "all girl." Her udder was completely undeveloped, to the point of being practically nonexistent. And beneath the skin near where the udder should have been, there was the small but obvious shape of a partially developed, undescended testicle!

We're not sure exactly how it happened, but Sonnet was a triplet. My guess is that maybe she was supposed to be a quad, but she ended up absorbing the fetus of her brother in utero, and ended up with a few of his "parts" mixed in with hers.

Since you already read the title to this post, there's no need to draw out the suspense about her ultimate fate. This is a breeding farm, and Sonnet was never going to be a breeding animal. So around midsummer, she went to the butcher. He was amazed---in all his years, he said he'd never seen a hermaphrodite before.

In the end, Sonnet made her contribution to the farm. Her meat went into the freezer, her hide is salted and waiting to be tanned into a pelt, and her horns were sold to someone for a craft project.

Oh... and you may be interested to know that Sonnet's breeder gave me a replacement lamb this year, to make up for the problem. Guess who that was? That's right: the famous Trouble the Runaway Lamb, whom I've written so many posts about.

What a bizarre chain of events this has been!

So, just in case you ever want to make a really tasty lamb stew, here's my recipe, which I've named in honor of Sonnet.

It's extremely flavorful, rich, and slightly sweet. It makes a very large batch---I like to make a lot at once, and freeze some for later---so you may want to cut the amounts in half.

Hermaphrodite Stew

  • 6-8 lbs. of Icelandic lamb shanks and/or necks (bones included)
  • Water enough to cover the meat (about 4 quarts)
Put the meat in a large pot with enough water to cover the pieces. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the meat is tender and falling from the bones (about 2 hours).

Remove from heat. When cool enough to handle, scoop out all the lamb chunks and remove the meat from the bones. Break up any large chunks of meat into bite-sized pieces. Return the meat to the broth. Give the bones to your dogs!

Cut up into bite-sized pieces:
  • 3 large potatoes
  • 2 large onions
  • 6 large stalks of celery
  • 1 lb. carrots
Add the vegetables to the pot of meat and broth. Return to a simmer.

As the vegetables are cooking, add:

  • 6-8 bay leaves
  • 2 x 6-oz cans tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sherry
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 TB crushed dried rosemary
  • 1 TB ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1.5 TB minced fresh garlic
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
Cook until vegetables are tender (about 1 hour).


Monday, October 8, 2007

A Shift in Power

After giving them last night to adjust to each other over the fence, today I opened the gate to let the yearling horses (Torchsong and Shane) in with the weanling fillies.

I'm putting them together because the yearlings are getting a bit thinner than I want them to be. Partially because at their age they need to put a lot of energy into growing, and partially because at their age, they were at the very bottom of the herd pecking order, which means the older, bigger horses would take more than their share of the food.

So by moving the yearlings in with the weanlings, I am able to give them more feed and make sure that no one drives them away from it.

Both yearlings---most especially Torchsong---have been too mild mannered for their own good amongst the adult mares. But today, finding themselves suddenly the oldest and biggest members of their new little herd, they were quick to assert themselves.

There were fierce looks, bared teeth, ears laid back, even some charging and kicking... all with a great, dramatic flurry of dust in the dry paddock. When the scuffling was over, Torchsong and Shane were happily in possession of the hay feeder, and the weanlings were standing bewildered at the other end of the paddock.

I moved a second hay feeder in, and soon everybody was eating happily.

The new hay we just got from our hay guy was super expensive---because of the drought, prices have gone up yet again. But at least this new hay is better quality, so we may be able to feed less with more nutrition and less waste. With luck, it will even out to be about the same as what we were paying before.

Everything is so painfully dry here. The soil has turned completely to dust, and what little grass there is has turned crunchy under foot. It was 90 degrees here today---scarcely normal for October!---and no rain in sight. The poor sheep were just miserable all day. They can't wait for real fall weather to finally arrive.

It was so hot that when I was filling the water trough, Libby and the other weanling fillies came up and wanted to be sprayed with the hose. Libby loves that! She turns herself around and around to make sure you get the spray all over her.

Then, once they were all clean and wet, they immediately went and dried off by rolling in the dirt, leaving themselves completely coated with grit, like chicken cutlets breaded for frying. It was pretty funny!

Thanks to my recent Ebay sales, we were finally able to pay our neighbor Bob for the last of the alfalfa he gave us on credit two months ago. That's a relief, since I know the drought is really hurting his farm's finances too. I felt really bad about making him wait for his money!