Monday, December 31, 2007


I don't know what's up with my cats lately. Just as Henry's latest mysterious leg wound was finally healed up, he came inside yesterday with a huge bite mark on his face and one side of his head all swollen up. I put some antibiotic ointment on it, and within minutes the wound started draining. Of course, he felt that he needed to be sitting on my lap for this process, so... yuck!

Today the swelling is gone, but there's still a big hole through the skin in the side of his face. I keep putting ointment on it twice a day, and he has cheered up and no longer seems to be in a lot of pain, so I guess now it's just a matter of waiting for it to heal and hoping he doesn't get some new wound before that.

Aspen has been getting into deathly fights with Maddy, hunting her down in the yard or in the barn, chasing her across the yard and viciously attacking her whenever she tries to come in the house to eat.

Twice today the two of them had big screechy cat fights with Aspen attacking and poor Maddy running for her life. Of course, now Maddy is so used to being attacked that now whenever another cat even looks at her she puffs up and starts growling, which of course only offends the other cats and starts more fights.

To top it all off, Aspen is still peeing on stuff in the house every now and then. Tonight she came in from outside, came into the living room where we were sitting, and deliberately peed on Ken's canvas bag. Either she's really mad at us for scolding her when she tries to kill Maddy, or she's got a urinary tract infection, we're not sure which. I have to order her some medicine in case her bad behavior is actually a medical symptom. I've just been so busy I haven't gotten around to it yet. Guess it needs to become a priority now!

Sterling was out walking around under the horses' feet tonight while I was filling water troughs. I was worried that he was going to get stepped on, so I picked him up. Then I thought it would be fun to put him on one of the horses' backs.

He absolutely refused to be put on Callisto's back, but when I put him on Boo's very wide back, Sterling got really happy, turned upside down and started rubbing on her back and knitting her side with his claws. Lucky for him, Boo is very gentle and just turned her head to investigate what was going on back there.

He was quite at home on her back until Callisto, all curiosity, came up and started sniffing him with nostrils almost as big as his head. He grabbed at her nose with his claws and she ducked away. I finally had to take him off Boo so that he wouldn't end up jumping in the wrong direction and getting squooshed.

It was cute in the meantime, though.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Counting Our Chickens

It was a rainy day today, so instead of disassembling the big sheep shelter to move it to the main ewe paddock, as we had planned, Ken and I instead spent some time today discussing our plans for getting chickens in the spring.

The farm has good sized old chicken house, but it's very dilapidated. Plus it's old enough that I'm not sure that the old paint that's chipping off it might not be lead-based paint. So, we decided we don't really want to try to fix up the old chicken house.

It would be really nice to tear down that house and build a nice replacement one in the same spot, but that would be a pretty significant project, and building a new house might make getting the chickens more of an investment than we want to make right now.

So we've been looking at lots and lots of other chicken shelter plans: hoop houses, range shelters, straw bale shelters, you name it. We're weighing the pros and cons of a permanent chicken house in a safe, convenient place vs. a portable shelter in the pasture where the chickens get fresh ground more often but we have to take the time to move them frequently---while also preventing rampaging horses from crushing the chicken shelter to pieces just for the fun of it.

We also have to consider that we get very strong winds here quite often, so a lot of the portable shelters that are light enough to move frequently would also be prone to blowing away on our windy days.

I think for now we're leaning towards a compromise design: A sheltered, semi-permanent location, convenient to the house, which has lots of shade and about 1/3 of an acre already fenced in poultry-appropriate fencing. We'd make a permanent-type wooden floor, just as if we were going to build a wooden house, and then top it with a roof of arched cattle panels and tarps (sealed in with 1" mesh to keep predators out).

Later, if we wanted to finish building a wooden chicken house on top of it, we could take the mesh-and-tarp roof off and use the same floor. And meanwhile, the current house plan would be both easy and inexpensive to build.

Of course, it'll be several months before it's time to get the baby chicks, so we have lots of time to think and rethink the plan before we make our final choice.

In case anyone's wondering, I've had my breed of chicken picked out for years now. I'll be getting Buff Orpingtons. I like them for several reasons: They are a dual-purpose breed, good for both eggs and meat. They are known to set their own eggs, so I can raise baby chicks naturally, without messing around with incubators. They're docile, don't fly much, don't make a lot of noise, and when they do make noise their voices are deeper and more melodious---not like the shrill, ear-splitting shrieks of some of the other breeds.

We've gotten so we do like to have the big "farm-type" breakfasts with eggs pretty often, so it will be great to be able to supply all of our own eggs and have chickens for the freezer as well.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Titan's Big Chance

Now that a week has passed since the main part of sheep breeding season, it's Titan's turn to be let loose with the ewes. As this year's cleanup ram, his job is to breed any of the ewes that didn't get bred by the other rams. Unfortunately for him, I don't think they've left much of a job for him to do.

Still, he's happy to be able to roam free with the rest of the flock for a little while. In a few weeks, he'll be put back in the paddock with the other rams, and the ewes will be a "boy-free" zone until after the lambs are born.

Not much else to write about today. Ken and I drove into Charlottesville so I could buy a new halter for Penny. She's the only one of the fillies still in a weanling size, and she's almost outgrown it. So now I bought her an adult "small." Grace is so large that she skipped the "small" size altogether, and went straight to "medium"---and she's only 8 months old!

While we were in town, we splurged and went to a matinee of the movie The Golden Compass. I really liked it: good storyline, excellent special effects, strong characters, and just an overall beautiful movie to watch.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Surrounded by Flowers

I spent the middle part of today surrounded by flowers. Well, virtual flowers, that is.

I've been working on the website design for the fine folks at Bloomin Acres Farm, and a major part of that design is putting up photos and descriptions of all the plants in their plant nursery so that people can buy them online.

Today I worked on the Clematis section. Lots of beautiful, colorful photos to insert, position, resize, etc. It's pretty repetitive, detailed work, but on a gray, damp, cold day like today, it was really cheerful to spend several hours looking at lots and lots of flowers.

I also sold three more fleeces---payment arrived today, I'll send out the box tomorrow.

And I got a few more horse inquiries today as well, so I spent some time replying and answering questions. It would be so great if I could sell another few horses really soon!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Load Off My Mind (And Out of My Closet)

Back around the end of October, I decided that I would sell my large personal stash of spinning fibers that I'd collected over the years, since I needed the money and I never have time to do any spinning anyway.

A few people bought individual items from the stash, but recently a lovely woman who runs a shop at a Renaissance Faire bought the entire remaining stash for $500. Tonight I just finished packing up these two gigantic boxes, crammed full of just about every kind of spinning fiber there is. Tomorrow, we'll ship them off to Washington state, and in the summer, she'll sell them in her shop. I like to think of all my fibers and fleeces going to a Ren Faire---surely someone will have fun with them!

The money, of course, like all our other money, is already spent buying hay for the horses. But it arrived on a week when we didn't have any other money to buy hay for the horses, so the timing was perfect.

Now, I'm reveling in the enormous amount of empty space I now have in the closet and under the bed in the guest room where I've been keeping all this fiber. With that gone, I may be able to reorganize the room to hold my loom and spinning wheel, plus all the fleeces from my own sheep that are waiting to sell, which will then clear out a lot of free space in our library where the fleeces have been stored. Maybe in time, we'll be well organized all over the house!

Now I'm on to my next big project, which is designing a website for a fellow Icelandic breeder. That's work I enjoy, so it should be fun.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Little by Little

It was a dreary, sleety day today. Despite having his nice shelter to stand under, Senter was shivering when I went out to check on him, so I went back inside and got his "coat" (horse blanket) to put on him. He used to get all spooky about it when I tried to put it on him, but now I think he understands that it keeps him warm, because he didn't budge at all when I put it on him today.

We spent a quiet holiday here at home. Ken went to our neighbor's Xmas dinner party, which she always invites us to, but I wasn't feeling well, so I stayed home. I've just been so tired lately, it was good to spend a day mostly just resting.

Even though unwarranted exhaustion was my only symptom, I think that it really may have been some kind of sickness, like a mild flu or something, because although today I felt better, tonight Ken was experiencing exactly the same thing, and went to bed early.

I have a bunch of loose ends to tie up, business-wise, so I worked on some of those today. I did a manuscript critique for a former client whom I worked with before when I used to do freelance editing. I packaged up and sent one box of fleeces that someone bought, and started organizing a few others. I'll finish packing those tomorrow. The fleeces are selling very well, considering I haven't even advertised them yet.

The payment check for my mare Bonnie did arrive at last, and tomorrow I'll be able to deposit the next payment check for my mare Boudicca who is being paid off on a monthly basis. So, for the moment at least, we have money to buy hay and pay some bills. It's going to vanish fast, though, so I have to still keep working on selling more of the horses.

Surprisingly, I have gotten a few inquiries lately. I thought everyone would be too busy with Xmas to be horse shopping, but apparently a few people were still looking. Plus I have a few previous people who inquired that I haven't heard back from during the holidays, so I need to contact them again soon to see if they've made any kind of decision.

Little by little, I'm getting things done.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Studly Boys of Testosterone Row

Yesterday, the main sheep breeding season ended, and we separated the ewes from the rams. The ewes got let loose in the yard to graze on the lawn---where they proceeded to stampede gleefully up and down the driveway, leaping in the air like Lipizzans---and the rams got put together in the back paddock, next to Senter's paddock.

Because the rams and stallion have adjoining paddocks behind the barn, we fondly call that part of the farm "Testosterone Row."

It's always interesting putting the rams back together at the end of breeding season. There is the potential that they may fight with each other, and they could possibly do harm to each other, so I always stay and watch to make sure they're going to get along okay.

Here's a video of their first few minutes together yesterday, as they all got acquainted and established the flock pecking order.

The tongue-flicking and pawing with the foreleg you can see early in the video are typical courtship behavior. Being typical males, when meeting someone new they are always hopeful that it's someone they'll be able to mate with, so they do some of their courtship routines while they figure out that the newcomers are not ewes.

Nicholai takes charge right off, making sure they youngsters know that he's boss. He chases them and shoves them around a little bit. Notice that while all three of the rams can use their horns in a forward butting motion, Nicholai also takes advantage of his larger horns by swinging them sideways to poke the others with the pointy ends. Very effective!

Sometimes rams can get very aggressive with each other and need to be separated, but fortunately we've never had much problem with that on our farm.

Nicholai defuses a lot of the fighting, first because he's so much bigger than the young rams that they don't dare fight him, and second because he often acts as peacemaker. Near the end of the video, when the two younger rams start scuffling with each other, you can see Nicholai charge in between them and break it up.

You can also briefly see Senter in the next paddock over, taking interest in all the action.

The rams only scuffled for a very short time. When I gave them their afternoon feeding, Nicholai guarded both piles of hay and wouldn't let the younger rams eat without his permission.

By today, having firmly established himself as King of the Flock, Nicholai is now good buddies with the younger boys, and will continue to be kind and friendly to them throughout the rest of the year.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

No Sale

Sad to say, the prospective buyer called this morning and decided not to buy Penny. She liked her and thought she was sweet and beautiful, but wanted something that was going to be a little taller.

It's a common trend, among people who are interested in Warmblood breeds of horses, to consider a horse that is going to be a mere 16 hands to be "short." I think it's the perfect size, myself, but the trend is for taller and taller horses.

I'm disappointed, of course, but you can't blame a person for liking what they like and wanting what they want. Horse shopping is like dating---it can take a lot of tries before you find the right one for you!

Anyway, I naturally started worrying about money again, since I didn't expect anyone else to be doing any horse shopping now, with the holidays almost upon us. But to my surprise, after a week of silence, I got inquiries from three brand new potential buyers today! That lifted my spirits quite a bit, to have more hope for maybe selling a few more horses soon.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Sleeping On It

The prospective buyer came today to see Penny, but she didn't make her decision yet. She decided to sleep on it and let us know tomorrow.

Of course, Penny chose today of all days to be just about the most ill-behaved she's ever been. She was balky, spooky, and all wound up the entire time the lady was looking at her. I think it was because she knew the other horses were all back in the pasture eating, and she was missing out.

So I don't know if she made a bad impression for being so naughty, or if the prospective buyer will understand that she's just a baby horse, and days like this happen. It's not as if Penny was really acting wild or dangerous, she was just more wound up than usual.

On the bright side, because she was feeling excitable, she did a very good job of showing off what a lovely big warmblood trot she inherited from her father. She usually doesn't show it off all that often, but when she wants to she has some beautiful extension and suspension.

I feel bad that the farm was such a mess while the buyer was here. The truck still isn't fixed yet, so we haven't continued our project of mucking out the paddocks. And the horses were all dirty, because it's too cold to bathe them, even if I'd had the time to do it.

Oh well. I guess I have to trust that real horse people understand that horses get dirty and fuzzy and don't look like polished show horses in the winter, especially if only one person is in charge of taking care of 15 horses.

I look forward to the day we've reduced the herd to just half a dozen or fewer, so that I'll have more time to keep them looking clean and pretty.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Horse on the Porch

Tomorrow, a prospective buyer is coming from Georgia to see Penny, and she's bringing her trailer with her. So, if the woman likes her, Penny will go home with her tomorrow.

This means it's possible Penny will have her first trailer ride tomorrow. We don't own a horse trailer (first we'd have to buy a new pickup truck that was big enough to PULL a horse trailer, then buy the trailer, and we won't be able to afford either of those things any time soon), so our horses don't get an opportunity to practice loading into a trailer.

As a substitute, I decided to teach Penny to walk up onto the front porch of the old country store building that is on our property. I did this with the colt Sully that I sold last year, and when the time came, he loaded up in a trailer just fine.

Mostly it's not so much a matter of getting them in a trailer. It's getting them used to stepping up onto a platform that sounds and feels funny under their feet, and it's getting them used to being willing to follow you into places that seem strange to them. The front porch of the store works for both those criteria.

Sully would go anywhere I asked him, so he went up on the porch no problem. Penny, being a baby with much less experience, took a few minutes to do it, but she was only confused and worried about HOW to do it. She didn't panic or pull away more than a step or two at a time.

You could see that she was concerned that the strange platform would collapse under her if she stepped up on it. That's just sensible to be concerned about that. But she tested it with her hooves and stepped up with trembling legs.

Then I let her immediately explore how to get back down again. It's very important to horses to know that they aren't trapped. If you let them retreat and try again several times, they get calmer because when they know that retreat is possible, they stop feeling quite so much like it's necessary.

So I let her get back off the porch and come back up on again, from a few different angles, until finally she came right up, completely on the porch and stood there, eating the grain I gave her for a reward. Then I turned her around and she came back off again, easy as anything.

Because she'd done such a good job and been so willing, I let that be the end of the lesson. She was so proud of herself and full of happy confidence that she trotted beside me all the way back up the driveway and back to her paddock.

Considering the whole lesson took place at the very edge of our property where she had never gone before in her whole life, AND she was out of sight of all the other horses from there, AND I was asking her to do something fairly complicated for a baby horse, she did incredibly well.

I was so proud of her!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Swarm of Complications

I'm learning that sometimes it's not the really big problems that bring you down. Sometimes its the multitudes of insignificant complications and disappointments that swarm around you like biting insects that end up being the things that break through your composure and sap your fortitude.

The past couple of days, that swarm has been hard at work here.

My computer still isn't fixed, so I'm still using Ken's computer, while Ken is stuck doing his work sitting on the living room couch with his laptop.

Now our truck has broken down again too---the same problem it's had a dozen or more times before: it's fine one day, and then the next day you go to start it and nothing happens. Sometimes it cures itself the following day without our doing anything to it. Sometimes Ken fixes it by jiggling some of the fuses. Sometimes we tow it to the repair shop, only to have it start up fine for the mechanic. Sometimes the mechanic replaces something that seems to solve the problem, only to have the problem reappear the next day or the next month. Most recently, we replaced the ignition, which seemed to solve the whole problem, until yesterday, when the issue reappeared just as it always has.

So now, without any immediate funds to fix the truck (not that anything ever seems to fix it permanently), we can't continue our project of mucking out all the horse paddocks. So, when potential horse buyers come to look at horses, the place literally looks like crap. Plus, we have to move each day's supply of hay up the hill in several wheelbarrow loads instead of one truckload. And we no longer have the option of going to pick up a couple of days' worth of hay ourselves if our hay supplier can't deliver on time. In other words, many of our farm tasks are crippled.

Although we got the vet out here in plenty of time to do the Coggin's tests on the various sales horses, one of the vials of blood broke in transit to the lab, so now the vet has to come back out again on Friday and take the blood again. We don't have to pay for this second trip, but it still delays the paperwork for that particular horse. Lucky for us, it's one of the horses that isn't leaving until next month, or we'd be in trouble!

Ken got paid yesterday, including his Xmas bonus, which was a relief. I had been getting stir crazy here, since I had not even left the farm for the past month. So we decided to drive into Charlottesville and do a bit of minor shopping. We have no money for real Xmas shopping this year, but we thought we'd get a few things we needed at the pet supplies store and it would at least give me the chance to get out for a few hours.

Because we were mainly going to the pet supply store, we thought it would be fun to take our Pomeranian Leeloo with us. And it would have been fun, except that on the way there in the car, she got carsick all over me!

After driving to three stores and still not finding the item I was looking for, we gave up, picked up dinner at the Burger King drive through and headed home.

When we got back, we found that our electricity had been shut off. Ken knew it was overdue, but his paycheck had arrived and he knew we had money to pay it now. Unfortunately, he didn't think to call the electric company to pay it before we left for the afternoon. So when we got home, Ken phoned in our payment---plus a hefty fine---and we had to sit around by candlelight waiting for the guy to come reconnect the power. Kind of put a damper on my "big" afternoon on the town!

While we were waiting for the guy to come turn the power back on, we moved my big, room-divider sized candle stand downstairs next to the couch. Because it holds 39 candles inside individual glass cups, it produces quite a lot of light, so we could see while we waited.

But this morning, our Pomeranian Leeloo and one of our cats, Echo, got scuffling in the living room and upset a couple of our other cats, who crashed into the candle stand and knocked it over, breaking two of the glass cups and scattering shards all over the floor.

Another cat peed on Senter's horse blanket that was lying in the laundry room, waiting to be washed. This is only about ten feet from the cat door through which the cat could have gone, to pee outside, but apparently that would have been too much trouble.

Then, what was supposed to be good news today turned out to be another series of complications. The payment check arrived from the person who is buying our mare Bonnie. Only the person made the check out to our farm name instead of my name. Since our bank account is in Ken's name and mine, we can't deposit a check made out to the farm.

At first we thought we would just go to the bank and change our bank account to include the farm name too, so if this kind of thing happens again in the future, it won't be a problem. But it turns out we can't add the farm name to a personal account, so we would have to open a business account, and we can't open an account in the business's name unless we go to the county office to fill out a "doing business as" form.

So we went to the county office. They gave us a form, but said that we had to fill it out online. So we went back home to fill it out. I don't know what happened to the "doing business as" form since last time I filled it out, but what I remember as being a very simple, one page form that took only a couple minutes to fill out, today was this endless, convoluted array of contradictory web pages that asked for the same information over and over in slightly different ways until I had no idea whether I was even answering any of the questions correctly.

Finally, some of the definitions on the questionnaire were so vague and confusing that Ken called the "help" number for clarification. Of course, there was no one there. He left a message, but no one ever called us back.

By this time the day was pretty much over, so we just gave up on the whole stupid process, and I emailed Bonnie's buyer to ask her to send another check, this time made out correctly. So it'll probably be another week before we can get this much needed money.

Oh... and here's another irritating complication: What the heck happened to my blog header? For months it has been perfect, showing the full photo of my horses in the field, with the pale sky over their backs being the backdrop for the blog title. But suddenly a few days ago, with no editing from me, the whole header is a different size, the photo no longer fits, and the blog title is illegibly squished down onto the horses' backs.

I suppose I'll have to figure out how to fix it eventually, but sheesh, it took me long enough to get it right in the first place. What's the point if Blogger is just going to randomly rearrange stuff without my permission?

All these stupid problems are not so overwhelming individually, but when they all just keep piling up like this, it saps my drive and energy. I get so frustrated and tired. I'm just trying to do a simple, decent job. I'm not asking for the world. But some days it just seems like it's impossible for anything to go right.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Stopping the Draft

Yesterday the wind roared across the farm all day like a river in flood---a constant, turbulent force pouring over us, straight from the Blue Ridge Mountains. Branches fell from trees, fallen leaves rushed in swarms to the southern side of all the paddocks, anything left unattended outside tended to take flight and blow away.

Unfortunately, our cat door faces directly north, where the wind comes from. The house was freezing all day, with a terrible draft, until we noticed that the wind was blowing so hard that it was blowing the flap of the cat door open, and letting a stream of cold air blow directly up the house's long central hallway.

We closed it right away, to stop the draft, and the house warmed up again, somewhat. Unfortunately, it had been so many months since the cat door had been closed, our cats had apparently forgotten what litterboxes are for.

They also were not observant enough to notice that we opened the cat door again after the wind died down.

We didn't realize that the cats were trying to be polite and hold in the call of nature until around bedtime, when Echo came upstairs into the bedroom where we were, scratched around in the corner where we used to keep a litterbox (but don't anymore), and finally peed a HUGE puddle of urine onto the floor.

I grabbed her and carried her downstairs and shoved her out the cat door, so she could see that it was open again. Then I came back up to mop up the accident. While doing so, I noticed that Oliver was slinking around the room, looking anxious and guilty, so I grabbed him too. As I carried him to the cat door as well, I could tell that his bladder was VERY full. I think I averted a second accident by mere moments.

Poor kitties, they didn't remember that we do have litterboxes, and once they saw that the cat door was shut, it didn't occur to them to check whether it might have been opened again.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Mucking Out

We've been so busy trying to keep the farm afloat lately that we haven't been able to keep up with some of the lower-level chores as well as I'd like to. For instance, we haven't mucked out the horse paddocks in way too long.

So Ken and I got started with that this afternoon. We managed to haul out 3 pickup truckloads of manure before we got exhausted and before it started raining. There's still a lot more to do, but it was good to make a start.

Of course, now that it's raining all night, all the manure is going to be waterlogged, soupy, and extra-heavy tomorrow, which will make further progress more difficult. But it's got to be done.

While we were mucking out, we spent some time talking about the statistic I read, that says that a horse produces 50 lbs. of manure per day. With our 15 horses, that means they produce 750 lbs. of manure per day, 22,500 lbs. per month, or 273,750 lbs. (137 tons) per year. No wonder my back aches tonight!

It drizzled a little bit while we were working, but it only started really raining hard a few minutes ago, so I went outside with a flashlight and umbrella to open the pasture gate for the broodmares.

Senter has his new shelter, and the baby horses have their run-in bay of the barn. But the broodmares have no shelter. We had our neighbor come prepare a spot this summer with his backhoe so we could build them a new shelter, but then the money for building the shelter itself ended up having to all go to pay for the rising hay costs due to the drought.

So now, whenever it rains or snows, I let the mares out into the big pasture so they can go take shelter in the thick trees. Of course they usually DON'T take shelter, preferring instead to roam around nibbling grass. But at least I can sleep, knowing they have the option of shelter if they want it.

Anyway, when I went out tonight it was pitch black out, and I was this scary shape in the darkness with my flashlight and umbrella. So I didn't know if the mares would come when I whistled to them to let them know I was opening the gate.

I needn't have worried!

As soon as they heard my whistle, there was a tremendous thundering of hoofbeats in the darkness as they all galloped toward the gate. It's a little scary, hearing a herd of horses you can't see galloping straight at you in the dark!

But I waved the flashlight to make sure they knew where I was, and they poured around me and raced out into the big pasture. Despite the darkness, they galloped a full circuit of the pasture before settling down to graze.

Apparently they have no intention of sheltering under the trees tonight while there are still a few green blades of grass to eat. They may be wet, but at least I know they're happy.

Friday, December 14, 2007

It's Official!

Dr. Shane came to do Bonnie's vet check today, and it's official: she's definitely pregnant. That means her sale will go through, and we'll finally have some money to pay off most of our most urgent bills. Hurray!

Dr. Shane gave shots to the horses that are already sold, and did Coggin's tests for all our other sale horses too, so that will be already taken care of when the time comes to sell them.

The only downside to all that is just those few relatively simple shots and tests added up to a vet bill that was close to $700. Yikes! Yet another reason why raising horses is not profitable.

I did get $500 in the mail today from fleece and fiber sales, so that will pay for our next load of hay, which should (hopefully) last us until the check for Bonnie arrives.

Just a few more horse sales and we may almost manage to dig out of this financial hole.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Siberian Bacon

A short while ago, my sister Donna sent me a care package from her farm in Siberia, Maine: beef steaks, ham steaks, and bacon, all from naturally raised animals on her farm.

We ate the beef steaks for dinner that very night, and they were some of the tenderest, most perfect steaks we'd ever cooked.

But this morning we tried the bacon for the first time. In all honesty, I think that may have been the finest thing I've ever put in my mouth!

Home-grown bacon---with a meatier, more substantial texture than store-bought bacon---smoked with apple wood, injected with maple syrup from Donna's friend's trees, and rubbed with spices. An absolutely magical combination. I can't even describe how good it was.

We also are spoiled to have a freezer full of lamb from our own sheep. And next year, we hope to start a flock of chickens, so we'll have eggs and meat from our own chickens.

There's something both wholesome and luxurious about eating natural foods that you raised yourself. It makes me sad that so few people in our country nowadays have that privilege.

Grocery stores are convenient, but nothing in any grocery store can compete with Siberian bacon!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Scrapie Inspection Day

We had our annual Scrapie inspection today. We're in the voluntary Scrapie Free Flock Certification Program, which means that once a year, a state vet comes and inspects both our flock and our records. We have to keep track of every sheep that comes and goes from the farm. We've been in the program two years now. After five years, we'll be certified Scrapie free. (Obviously, our flock IS scrapie free, but it takes five years to become certified.)

It sounds like a big hassle, but it's actually not that hard. The vet that comes here to do the inspections is very nice. He speaks kindly to the animals, does the inspection quickly and efficiently, and chats about life in general as we walk from paddock to paddock. So, I don't mind doing it. Before he left, he said he wished everybody kept as good records as I do, so that made me feel good.

We originally got into the program because it was a requirement if I wanted to own any sheep that were the result of AI breedings from Iceland, but I've heard that that rule is about to change. I guess I'll still stay in the program, since we've come this far. In a few more years, we'll be certified.

I also took Penny out and worked with her again this afternoon. She's actually eager to come with me and do the lessons now, because I use the "attitude adjuster" which is a Gladware container full of grain I keep in my pocket. Whenever she succeeds at doing something new without losing her cool, I give her a bite of grain. This answers her basic underlying question, "What's in it for me?"

I don't use the grain exactly as positive reinforcement. I use pressure and release of pressure as my signals and rewards. The grain is just something I use in between sections of the lesson to help keep the foal's mind open to the idea that working through the lesson is a fun thing, not a stressful, anxious thing.

It's amazing how quickly it works. I mean, I did it a couple of days ago when I last worked with Penny, and ever since then, she's been asking me to take her out and work with her again, every time I go in the paddock. So today I did. Far from being worried about having me work with her, she was eager for it.

She led right out of the paddock away from the other horses, followed me calmly even when the other fillies were running along the fence line whinnying to her. I tied her to a post and made her stand quietly---that was a first, I'd never made her stand tied before. She fussed only a little, and then calmed down.

I lifted her feet, which she does very easily, but then I also slapped them gently on the soles, mimicking some of the weird feelings she may get when the farrier works with her. She hopped around when I did it to the first hoof, but after that, she stood still as if nothing at all was happening.

Then I took her out to the round pen. She was excited to be outside of the yard for the first time in months, and she spooked at a bush. But the great thing was, even in mid-spook, she yielded completely when she got to the end of the lead rope. Rather than pull hard on the lead rope, she yielded and turned around so suddenly she sat right down on her butt---never yanking on the rope at all.

Senter is extremely good about yielding to pressure on his halter too, so it's great that Penny is like her dad in that way.

I let her loose in the round pen and let her trot and canter around for a few minutes. I was just basically giving her a chance to experience a new location, a new scenario, rather than trying to get any specific action from her there.

Then I led her back, tied her to the post again, and repeated the lesson of lifting and tapping on her feet.

She did so well! I just can't believe how easy Senter's foals are to work with, how willing they are, and how quickly they learn. Even though today was her first time ever being tied, she was very well behaved---even when one of the sheep came up (interested in the grain I'd been handing out) and started nibbling on her tail!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Springtime in December

We've been having warm, damp weather in the mid-70s this week, very balmy and pleasant. Outside, some of the birds have been singing their spring songs, and some of the ewes, when I let them out to graze in the yard, started bouncing around like April lambs, stampeding up and down the driveway, hopping straight up in the air like Mexican Jumping Beans, and clashing their horns together in big, dramatic, mock-battles.

It's fun to see them so happy and frisky, enjoying the weather. By the time the weather gets this warm again, they'll be heavy with lambs, and won't feel much like bouncing, so it's nice they get the chance to play while they can.

I again spent most of the day at the computer, doing horse, sheep, and fleece related emails, and putting the finishing touches on my Sheep Inventory paperwork I need to have prepared for our Scrapie Inspection tomorrow.

I had most of the Inventory done two months ago, but then we sold another sheep and this year's lambs registrations numbers are in now, so I updated that info and then checked the whole thing over for errors or omissions. It feels good to have it all organized---and I'm really relieved that Ken saved all my files when my computer died, so I didn't have to redo the whole 14-page Sheep Inventory list from scratch!

A couple of fleece buyers who have been thinking about fairly large orders contacted me today to finalize their orders. If their checks arrive soon, we might have enough money to buy the next batch of hay, and possibly pay the electric bill.

With luck, it will be just enough to tide us over until I can finalize a few of the horse sales that are pending!

I also found out today that a friend of mine has had a wonderful new opportunity come up in her life that means she will be dispersing her flock of Icelandic sheep. She has given me first dibs on purchasing a group of her best ewes next summer, which I'm very excited about.

Not only will it give me a chance to expand my flock (which I've been wanting to do as soon as we have sufficiently reduced our horse numbers) and add several excellent unrelated bloodlines to my flock, but these sheep are also pre-selected for good heat and parasite resistance, which is one of my top breeding priorities here. So, now I have until next summer to save my money to buy those six ewes.

She's also offered me her trained Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog. We're seriously thinking about it. There are coyotes, foxes, and occasionally bears in our area, so a guardian dog really would be a good idea. But I know that they are not like other kinds of dogs, so I'm doing more research before I say yes, to make sure I'm prepared to do it right, if I take him.

If we get him, we'll probably try to find a good home for our other two large dogs, Ruby and Jesse, which is something we've been thinking about anyway. They are great dogs, but now that we live on a farm, they get very little attention and serve no useful purpose. I really think they'd be better off with someone who would play with them and enjoy them more.

But all that can be decided later. Now I just have to print out my Sheep Inventory and get ready for bed!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Busy, Busy

My days are filled with emails and phone calls about potential horse sales. This is a very good thing, because we desperately need the money. But at the end of the day, it does leave me wondering, "Where did the day go? Did I actually accomplish anything?" because it's hard for me to believe that that's how my WHOLE day was spent.

I have several good possibilities of people who may buy horses, and the vet is scheduled to come out to do Coggins tests, shots, Bonnie's pregnancy check, and health certificates.

Yesterday, I spent a little time working with Penny, who has not been handled much lately. Usually in the paddock at feeding time or out in the pasture with the other fillies, she's pretty matter-of-fact and doesn't put on much of a show. But when I took her out into the yard by herself, I got to see her put that tail in the air and do a beautiful, big, powerful trot with tons of gorgeous suspension. Even Ken, who is not an experienced horse person, said, "Wow, I'd never noticed how beautiful she was before!"

She was a very good girl, though, and was very polite about yielding to pressure even when she was excited to be off by herself. All of Senter's foals seem to be extremely easy to work with (especially compared to the Art Deco fillies, who are much more challenging).

I did a second session with her later in the day, and she was just as calm and peaceful as she could be. What a good girl!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Recipe for Me

My friend River occasionally posts links to entertaining quizzes on his blog, and sometimes if I have a minute, I take the quiz. This one, "What is your personality recipe?" from Quiz Galaxy came out particularly appropriate for my personality, so I thought I'd post it here, just for fun.


- 1/4 cup of crazy
- a heaping teaspoon of intelligence
- 1/4 cup of honesty

Mix on high, and serve immediately.
'What is your personality recipe?' at

Silly, I know, but it's refreshing not to be serious all the time.

What's YOUR personality recipe?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Callisto's First Ride

There was a lot of activity today in Taj's "Sheep Mahal" sheep shelter that Ken built. Two of Taj's ewes (which represent a full 1/3 of his breeding group) were in heat today, so he was busy all day making sure they got as pregnant as possible.

Later, I went out to take some measurements of Bonnie (saddle, blanket, and halter sizes) for the people who are buying her, and I ended up spending a while out in the pasture just visiting all the mares.

I especially spent time cuddling with Callisto. She has turned out so nice, I really don't want to sell her. For two years, I've been looking forward to riding her, and now she's almost old enough. I really want the chance to be the one to teach her. But with our finances the way they are, if she sells, I have to let her go.

So, just to avoid missing my chance entirely, while I was standing out there with her, I tipped the water trough upside down to use as a mounting block, had Ken hold her halter for me, and got on her back for the first time.

She knows me, and she's calm about everything anyway, so she didn't much care. She was a little surprised, and looked around to touch her nose to my toes on each side of her back. But she was happy enough to have me there.

She's a nice size for me, I think, although she's not as wide as Char. Char is so broad and well-cushioned, riding her is like sitting on a big, comfy, rocket-powered couch. I didn't ride Callisto around at all today, just sat there for a minute and then got off.

I could start her under-saddle training now, but I'm not the lightest rider in the world, so I'd rather wait until her third birthday, just to give her joints a few more months to mature before I make her carry me around very much.

Still, it was fun to be up there on her back for the first time, if only for a couple of minutes!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Sold One!

The people who were thinking about buying Bonnie decided today that they would definitely buy her, as long as I get her vet checked to verify that she's pregnant. I've seen Bonnie's belly changing shape these past couple of months, so I have no doubt that's a test she can pass, no problem. So it looks like Bonnie will be going to live in Massachusetts pretty soon.

I also spent a very pleasant couple of hours this afternoon talking with a lovely woman from Charlottesville who has fallen in love with Icelandic sheep, and wanted to come visit the farm. She doesn't own a farm yet, so she wasn't actually sheep shopping, just coming to see the sheep in person and getting to ask lots of questions.

I had a lot of fun talking with her. It's strange to think that I was pretty much in her shoes only a few years ago, and now I have a farm and sheep and horses (and all the attendant bills and worries) and am the "expert" who can answer all her questions. I've learned so much in such a short time, it makes me proud of myself. And I really enjoyed encouraging someone who is just in the very beginning stages of thinking about starting a farm someday.

(I did tell her not to invest in horses though!)

I have at least two other people who sound like they're pretty seriously considering purchasing horses, plus a lot of others who have made initial inquiries. Gotta keep that momentum going, sell some more horses soon!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Turning Point

I was lying awake last night, as I often do, when all of a sudden I got the feeling that our farm's financial crisis has reached a turning point. I have no logical reason to think that yet, but the feeling came all the same.

I feel certain that some of the dozen or so people who have inquired about horses in the past few days will turn out to be the right future owners for some of the horses on my sales list. I feel certain that we will pay our bills, rebalance our farm plans into a more sustainable scale, and by spring perhaps be in a position to actually start enjoying owning the farm again, instead of just worrying all the time about how we're going to keep it.

Like I said, I have no logical reason to think this yet. And maybe I won't feel that way tomorrow. But it sure is a relief to feel that way today.

I got a few more new horse inquiries today. The people who made an offer on Bonnie are now considering my counter-offer. And I got to meet a couple of very nice local horse women who came out to meet the herd this afternoon. It was a busy day, but all in all, I feel pretty good.

For that, I'm very thankful.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Horse-Shopping Feeding Frenzy

So apparently I've discovered the secret to writing horse ads is to sound really, really desperate.

When I updated my ads recently, I didn't really change much of anything in the descriptions except to add an "Emergency Herd Reduction" statement at the top of each one.

I did this two days ago. Since then I have TEN different people interested in horses, including four who say they want to schedule a farm visit and one who has made an offer on Bonnie. Bonnie has become very popular. I have FIVE people interested in her.

This is so weird. I mean, I'm happy about it, of course, but where were all these people all spring, all summer, all fall, when they could have gotten a horse in time to do something with it while the weather was still good (and saved me from feeding them all for all these months)?

I've had more inquiries in the past two days than in the past 4 months combined.


Still, it's good news, so I'm not going to complain. What I'm going to do is answer a lot of inquiry emails and phone calls and schedule a lot of farm visits. Which, with luck, will lead to selling a lot of horses and stopping some of the money that has been hemorrhaging out of this farm in the form of hay bills.

It will be nice to be able to pay all the people we owe money to. It will be nice to be able to sleep at night without having to lie awake wondering how to afford the next shipment of hay. It will be nice to have a shipment of hay last more than a week!

I just hope I am able to make the right judgments and find the RIGHT home for each of the sales horses. They're good girls, every last one of them, and they deserve good homes where they'll be loved and appreciated.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Few Steps Forward

After so many depressing posts in a row, I finally have three good things to announce today:

1. After that sheep shelter ripped itself to shreds in the wind yesterday, Ken went out today and built the Sheep Mahal---a big, sturdy shelter that (we hope) will withstand the rest of our winter winds. Just in time, too, since we're supposed to get our first snow of the year tomorrow. Poor sheepies---I feel bad for them being sheared a whole month later than usual. Usually by this time of year they would have a nice little coat of warm wool started already. But this year they're still nearly bare. BRRRRR!

2. Sheep breeding season is progressing. So far, the sheep that I know for sure got bred (because I saw it happen) are Trouble, Paris, Poppy, Tansy, and Salem. Lots of lambs in the making. I can't wait for spring!

3. Now that my horse website is updated, and I spent the past two days adding or renewing my online horse-for-sale ads, FINALLY the inquiries are starting to come in again. Just today alone, I got inquiries from 5 new people. Obviously, inquiries are not the same as buyers (Heck, based on the last person, even "Yes I want to buy her, I'm putting the check in the mail today" people are not necessarily buyers!). Still, it does give me reason to hope!

Keep your fingers crossed for me, that some of these horses will find great homes, I'll earn enough money to buy hay for the rest of them, and we'll all live happily ever after!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Against the Wind

Senter's new house withstood the rain all night and---even more important---the tremendous onslaught of gusty wind all day today. It's getting to be the time of year when I don't appreciate living up here on the hill. The wind rips and rattles and crashes everything.

Our wind chimes, so soothing all summer, batter themselves to shreds. Anything we leave on the porch---lawn chairs, cat carriers, charcoal grills, you name it---get lifted, tossed, and sometimes tumbled to the other side of the yard. And unfortunately, the largest (and least sturdy) of the sheep shelters we built disassembled itself.

I knew it was going to happen, watching the way the wind was lifting it. I told Ken we needed to reinforce it before it tore itself to pieces. But by the time he finished Senter's shelter, it was getting dark and he was tired. And during the night the wind came.

So now, tomorrow we have to make a new shelter with a somewhat more permanent design, to withstand the wind.

I worked until midnight last night getting my horse website updated, and finally managed to post it online this morning. Today I've begun updating my online horse for sale ads, which ends up being ridiculously time consuming for how simple a task it is.

There's always something more to be done. It just seems weird that being a farmer ends up meaning I spend 90% of my time trying to market my items or livestock, and only 10% of my time actually working with them. And considering how much time I spend on marketing, you'd think I'd have a few more sales to show for it.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Senter's New House (Part 3)

There's a cold, cold rain coming in tonight, and Ken got Senter's house finished just in time!

Poor Senter, he doesn't grow a thick, fuzzy coat like all the other horses, so he needs some shelter from the elements even in our mild Virginia winters. But, being a stallion, he also likes to be able to see everything that's going on everywhere. So this shelter is perfect---it protects him from the wind and rain, but doesn't block his view.

Ken did a great job with building this, even though he's not super experienced at carpentry. I had a lot of input on the design, but Ken pretty much did all the building himself. It's just a simple frame of pressure-treated lumber with a heavy-duty tarp roof. All told, the whole thing cost us less than $300.

Senter already appreciates his new house. Here he is supervising while Ken gets ready to put the roof on:

And here he is enjoying his first meal in the newly completed digs:

Home, sweet home:

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Insomnia Again

This whole insomnia thing is getting out of control. Last night I went to bed at 11:00 p.m., didn't fall asleep until after 4:00 a.m., and woke up again at 8:00 a.m. That's been happening a lot lately. Four hours of sleep a night is not enough for me, but a lot of nights, that's the best I can do.

The trouble is the wheels of my brain go into overdrive as soon as I try to go to sleep. I'll lie on the couch watching a video and find myself getting sleepy, so I'll head up to bed. I've never been one to just drop right off the instant my head touches the pillow, so I'll crack a book and read for half an hour or so, until I can't keep my eyes open any more.

I'll put away the book, turn off the light, and roll over to sleep. But at that moment, my busy, busy brain, freed at last from the distraction of work and videos and books, starts whirring faster and faster.

What can I do to earn more money? How are we going to pay our bills? How can I sell these horses faster? I didn't get as much accomplished on the computer today as I'd hoped. I forgot to make that phone call again. When will so-and-so finally respond to my emails? Is it raining outside? We didn't finish Senter's shelter yet. I hope he's not getting cold and wet. Are the hay people going to deliver more hay tomorrow?

My busy, busy brain goes on like this, literally for hours without slowing down. Sometimes I turn the light back on and read some more in my book, which lulls me into being sleepy once more, but as soon as I stop and turn out the light, my worrying starts up again.

It's not totally without merit. For instance, I was able to figure out some decisions I needed to make regarding the horses. But what gets me is the waste of time and energy. Every night, I'm too sleepy to keep actually working and getting anything useful done, but too wound up to get any actual rest. Then, with only four hours of sleep a night, I'm not worth much during the day either.

Ultimately, of course, the solution for this problem is the same as the solution for the majority of our other problems. I need to sell the horses. If I can reduce the herd enough, our money problems will subside and I won't have to worry as much.

Easier said than done, of course.