Monday, March 31, 2008

Ingleside Farm Maternity Ward

Two days of cold, constant rain have turned the paddocks into soupy, slippery muck.

Although I don't know her due date, my big white ewe Phoebe is starting to look kind of close to lambing, and I didn't want to take a chance on having her decide to lamb out in a sloshy, cold mud puddle somewhere, so I decided it was time that the Ingleside Farm Maternity Ward was open for business.

It's not fancy, but on a gray, drizzly day, it's kind of snug and pleasant, with the sound of the rain pattering on the roof overhead.

All I had to do was open the barn door, and half the flock poured inside. I just shoved the two I wanted into the pens, and then pushed everybody else back outside. I put two ewes inside because they are more relaxed if they have a companion. The ones I put inside are Phoebe and Mona, because they are the two who are looking closest to lambing.

I don't know if they will really lamb very soon. It could still be a week off, for all I know. But for now they seem happy to have dry, clean, private beds and no competition for their supper, so they're happy to play along.

Here's Phoebe in her pen, with my bed, chair, and my snuggly barn cat, Madrigal, in the foreground:

There are three lambing pens. The middle one is a bit bigger, so I can fit two or three ewes in there to wait, if several are due soon and I'm not sure who will go first. Thanks to my creative configuration of work lights and extension cords, the whole area is well lit, even though the barn itself doesn't have electricity.

Here's Mona in the third pen. Because the pens are so open and airy, with mesh walls, I can see into all three pens from my bed, without having to get up and check on the ewes separately.

And here's the waiting area, where I'll be spending a lot of my nights very soon. The bed is actually very comfortable. It's made from 4 hay bales laid side-by-side. Then an old wool blanket to cover up the prickly hay. Then a camping mattress, two sleeping bags, and an old satin comforter (the satin is good because it repels dirt and hay chaff and can be shaken out easily). I'll bring pillows, books, and snacks with me when I come out to actually sleep here.

Maddy the cat spends most of her time here now. She loves the barn bed! She can get in and out of this room even when the doors are shut, by climbing up the wall and squeezing in the gap next to the ceiling that leads to the 2nd story of the barn. It's surprising to be sitting there, quietly listening to the sheep chewing their hay, only to have a cat suddenly drop from the ceiling!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Step in the Right Direction

Here's a bit of good news: Yesterday we got a new load of hay and were pleasantly surprised to find that for the first time in recent memory, the price had actually gone DOWN a little bit! Of course, the price it had gone down to was $7/bale, which is still very, very high. But at least it's a step in the right direction.

The sheep informed me that this new batch of hay (a grass/alfalfa mix) is positively the most heavenly thing they have ever eaten. When I went out on one of my several daily "Anyone having lambs yet?" visits, to check on them, they could not even be bothered to look up at me, they were so busy eating this delicious new hay.

If you've ever seen 27 pregnant ewes racing to swallow bites of hay as big as their heads, with the most supremely blissful expressions on their faces, you know it's a sight to make you smile!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Turning Over A New Leaf

On Monday, it was snowing with a low in the 20s. On Friday, it was 80 F. Today it got up into the 50s, but felt much colder.

Despite (or maybe because of?) all that confusion, today for the very first time this spring, all the trees in my yard decided to put out their very first, tiny little leaf buds. They're still so small, not even as big as my littlest fingernail, but they've arrived.

No matter what the temperatures do now, spring is truly here!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Another Busy Day

Today was a busy day!

I had a cash offer on Torchsong first thing this morning, from someone who wanted to come pick her up this weekend. However, the offer wasn't high enough, and besides, Torchsong is a complex horse. I would not feel comfortable just selling her in a flash like that, without talking to the buyer a little more first. So anyway, I thanked the person and declined the offer.

I'm still deep in discussions with the other prospective buyer who is considering both Torchsong and Callista. Lots of things for her to consider, lots of choices to make!

The sale of Andromeda is pretty much finalized now. The buyer and I talked over the terms of the sales agreement and he has sent the deposit check. She will be leaving here before the end of April.

It's nice to think of her going to a good home, where she'll be spoiled and appreciated. So many of the people who are looking at my horses are, rightly enough, looking for sport horses who will be great at dressage or eventing or foxhunting. But Andromeda just never fit that body type all that well, and everyone thought she was far too short to be worth considering.

But now she is going to someone who wants her to be an informal driving/draft horse on a small farm, and he thinks that she is just the right height! That's an excellent match for her abilities and body type, so I think she'll do great there.

This afternoon, I got a phone call from someone interested in breeding her mare to Senter. I guess she'd been exchanging emails with Senter's trainer, and had called my number by mistake, thinking I was the person she'd been writing to. It was so odd to hear the words, "Oh, you must have been talking to my trainer. This is Nancy, the owner," come out of my mouth, just like I was some fancy, rich horse lady. It made me laugh.

I am also making huge strides in my filly Grace's handling. She has been a bit of an enigma to me ever since she was born. She is neither timid nor bold, but simply holds herself apart from people and other horses. She keeps to herself. I've had a hard time figuring out an angle by which I can truly bond with her.

But in the past few days of mini-lessons in the pasture, she has started to really respond to me. She has decided that she loves having me scratch all her itchy places, and that I'm pretty fun to hang around with. We did more desensitizing with the rope, some practice with leading, some practice with picking up her feet, and she did every single thing perfectly! Considering how little work I've done with her up to now, I was so proud of her!

I was concerned that she would never open up and connect with me---and I REALLY wanted her to, since she's my mare Char's daughter, my once-in-a-lifetime dream foal that I planned and waited for since before she was even conceived. But tonight, after the training session was done, I stopped by the hay feeder to tell her good night, and she not only walked away from the hay so she could come stand next to me, when she saw Andromeda coming towards me, she even wedged herself between me and Andromeda, so she could have ALL my attention. That was a first!

I can't say as much for my progress with my demon-filly, Glory! She is being a little poop-head, and doing it on purpose simply because she loves to be wild and willful. Pretty soon, she and I are going to have to step aside and do some private sessions in the round pen, where she has to pay attention to me, without the distraction of the other horses getting in the way. No time for that right now, though!

On the sheep side of things, we have no lambs yet, but I did get an email from someone wanting to buy all six of my remaining sheep hides. It's not a lot of money, but at least all the hides will be gone without me having to invest the time and money into sending them to the tannery myself.

And this weekend, I have set aside to do NOTHING but work on that website for the good folks at Bloomin' Acres, who have been waiting ever so patiently for me to finish building their site for them!

(Does me saying that pretty much guarantee that some urgent farm crisis will come up and devour my whole day tomorrow? I hope not. I'm looking forward to getting their site done for them.)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

My Assistant Horse Trainer

I've been stealing a few minutes a day lately to go out in the pasture and do a tiny bit of informal training with the yearlings.

Right now we're working on desensitizing them to my long, fuzzy pink training rope. I drape it all over their faces, necks, and backs, flop it around their bellies and legs, etc. until they don't think it's anything to worry about. (My stallion Senter's foals are fine about this, but the two Art Deco fillies are much more high strung and take more work in this regard.)

Because I don't have time to do real full-blown training sessions lately, all the sessions are done in loose the pasture with the whole herd of horses participating. This creates a bit of a challenge for the trainer, but it's a great test of your skills and sensitivity, since any horse who is overwhelmed by what you're doing can just leave the lesson whenever she wants. It's a classroom without walls.

For the most part, my lessons are very well attended. Usually I'm standing there flopping the rope on one filly, and the other six horses are crowded around me in a circle, "helping." This can be a pain in the butt when the pushier horses get in the way of me trying to work with the shyer ones, but it can also be an advantage.

Yesterday, Glory was horribly suspicious about having me drape the rope around her face and neck, so I just ignored her and made a big deal about how much fun we were all having draping the rope all over every OTHER horse's face and neck. Glory is so smart, curious, and pushy that I knew she couldn't stand missing out on something all the other horses seemed to be enjoying.

Sure enough, today when I went out with the rope, she immediately left the hay feeder to approach me and stick her face out towards the rope! I can tell that she still doesn't really WANT to enjoy having the rope flopped on her. After all, it's much more fun to freak out and pretend that something scary is happening. But her inherent bossy nature wouldn't let her be a scaredy-cat when all the other horses were being brave.

She's such a little character!

While I was doing all this, I had a very diligent assistant horse trainer, in the form of the buckskin filly, Torchsong. She was a tremendous problem child when she arrived here, but has since then developed a VERY strong attachment to me.

If I'm in the pasture, she likes to stand RIGHT up next to me. I mean, literally, if I let her have her way, she will stand directly behind me, put her neck over my right shoulder, and put her eye next to my eye, so close that I can feel her eyelashes brushing my face. Needless to say, it's a little distracting to try to conduct a lesson this way, when this is all I can see:

Or, she will stand on the opposite side of the horse I'm trying to work with, put her head over the other horse's back, and position her nose so it's almost touching my collar bone. Sometimes she grabs onto the rope I'm flopping around and "helps" by flopping it around herself!

Very helpful.
It's a bit unconventional, doing the training sessions right in amidst the herd this way, but I like the way if forces me to really interact with the horses on their own level, as one of them.

I like that I can pick up the babies' feet without having to tie them or hold onto their halters. I like that they all leave the hay feeder and come join the lessons willingly, because I know then that I have their full attention. And I like that they can leave the lesson at any time if they become bored or overwhelmed, because that keeps me on my toes as far as keeping the lessons short, interesting, and appropriately simple for their young attention spans.

One Step Back, Four Steps Forward

That lucky horseshoe I found yesterday must be working.

Since that horse sale fell through two days ago, I have:

  • Received full payment for Selebrity, the colt I sold.
  • Found a buyer for Andromeda, who has been on the market with practically no inquiries for nearly two years now.
  • Gotten a serious inquiry from someone who may be interested in buying either Callista or Torchsong---possibly both!
  • Gotten a new inquiry from someone asking about either Libby or Penny.
If all those sales went through (and I realize that's a HUGE if), I would only have ONE horse left for sale. I would also have brought in about $14,000 and decreased our feed bill by another $1,000 a month, which would certainly ease our financial woes quite a bit!

Come on, horse sales!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

For Want of a Nail...

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of horse shoe nail.
Today while I was walking in the pasture, visiting with the horses, I looked down and there lying in the dirt was a horse shoe. For a millisecond, my thought was, "Oh no, one of my horses has lost a shoe!" and then of course I realized that all my horses go barefoot. So that means this shoe was from some earlier era on the farm.

How much earlier, I wonder? I know there were horses here when this was a working farm in the early 1900s, but I don't know when the last one left. For all I know, before we came, it may have been 70 years since there was last a horse on this farm.

I picked up the old shoe, all rusty and caked with dirt the same color as the rust. It was a good, sturdy shoe, not much worn, of a pleasing size and symmetry. The instant it was in my hand I got a mental flash of a glossy bay horse: tall, rangy, and big-boned, high headed and clean-legged, with the wind ruffling his mane.

Pure imagination? Or could that be what the horse who wore this shoe really looked like? I'll never know. But I think I'll keep the shoe anyway. Perhaps it will bring us luck!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Horse Sale Ups and Downs

Just to warn you ahead of time: Tonight's post will be something in the nature of a rant.

You see, after two months and more than 75 emails exchanged between me and the prospective buyer, the sale of my buckskin filly Torchsong fell through at the last minute.

We had discussed every aspect of the horse's health, temperament, and care. We had done the DNA testing to verify her color genetics. The buyer was starting to give opinions about what kind of handling and feed she'd like the filly to have while waiting to be shipped. She said, "Send me a sales contract, I'll pay you a deposit, and finish paying the rest by early May."

I emailed a sample payment schedule, to get the buyer's okay before writing up the formal contract. And then I didn't hear back for a few days.

When the buyer wrote to me again, she was very sorry and apologetic, but the fact was she had just unexpectedly lost a lot of her hours at work and could no longer afford to buy Torchsong.

Just to be clear: This lady has been extremely nice throughout all of our dealings, and I don't blame her for her sudden reversal of fortunes. She couldn't help what happened, and she did nothing wrong.

But this is the THIRD time in 7 months that a buyer has lost a job or paycheck when she was right on the brink of buying one of my horses. This is not counting the other half dozen "almost" sales during that same time where the buyer suffered a sudden health crisis, had a change of heart, or simply vanished from the face of the earth right before buying. I'm starting to think that the Fates are just waiting around to smite anyone who's thinking about buying a horse from me with a lightning bolt of bad luck!

All this is just making it more and more clear to me how much simpler, easier, more enjoyable, and more profitable it is to sell my sheep than my horses.

My sheep buyers line up months (sometimes even years!) ahead of time, asking to be put on my mailing list to get announcements when the lambs are born. They tell me what qualities are most important to them, and I tell them which sheep I have that best match those criteria. They look at a few photos, check out the bloodlines, and send in a deposit for the ones they like best. When the lambs are old enough, they pick up the ones they have purchased and take them home. They may contact me a few more times to ask for bits of information or advice, but usually, the transaction is as simple as that. And at the end of the year, the money I make from sales is enough to feed the sheep for the year plus make a bit of a profit.

With horse sales, it's a whole different ballgame. Not only is the horse market so depressed right now that you can't possibly sell a horse for the amount that it took you to feed, care for, and train the horse up to that point, but the whole sales process is vastly more complicated, time consuming, and tiresome. It's not the fault of any one or two "problem" buyers. A lot of it is just the norm of how horse sales tend to be done.

It's very common to exchange 5 to 20 emails and/or phone calls with the buyers who DON'T end up buying the horse (And when they decide not to buy, they don't usually take the time to tell you, they usually just vanish). For someone who buys (or nearly buys) a horse, the number of emails/calls is usually closer to the 20 to 50 email range.

Dozens of photos need to be shown, more recent photos and video are often requested. Buyers don't recognize that taking a 3 minute video usually requires a couple HOURS of my day, including catching, grooming, and filming the horse (which takes 2 people--one to handle the horse and one to run the camera), turning the horse back out, uploading the raw film from the camera to the computer, editing it into the proper size and format, then uploading it to YouTube or some similar site, and emailing the buyer to let them know where to look for it.

It is very common to be asked to provide detailed information about every aspect of the horse's health, training, personality, breeding, feeding schedule, and anything else the buyer can think to ask. This is time consuming, but I have no objection to it, because it's obviously an important part of the selection process. But sometimes it's obvious that the buyer is reading from a pre-written list of questions and doesn't even really understand the significance of the answers.

It's very common for buyers to schedule appointments to come out and look at a particular horse and then never show up. I had one guy contact me no less than 5 times to come look at the same horse. Each time, I told him yes he could come out that day. Not once did he ever show up. Not once did he ever contact me ahead of time to tell me he was not going to show up.

It's also common for buyers to call up and say, "I'm in the area and I'm interested in your horses. I can be there in 10 minutes (or half an hour, or two hours)." After which, sometimes they show up and sometimes they don't.

It's common for buyers to make up imaginary flaws in the horses to try to weasle you down to a lower price. I had one buyer start randomly claiming that one after another of my foals had "club feet" to try to convince me to lower my price. My foals' feet are fine, and the woman gave herself away after she criticized one foal's conformation at the beginning of the visit, looked at several other foals, and then started telling me how much she liked the first one's conformation!

It's very common for buyers to ask you to lower your price to compensate them for THEIR shipping expense. As in, "I want to buy your $3,000 horse, but it's going to cost me $1,000 to ship her here. Won't you lower your price to compensate for that?" I mean, honestly, people! If you bought, say, an expensive desk or dining table from a factory on the other side of the country, would you expect them to sell it to you for a fraction of the price just because shipping was going to cost you a lot? No! The shipping cost has nothing to do with the manufacturer's cost. You'd either buck up and pay for the shipping, or you'd shop somewhere closer to home!

As a horse seller, you are expected to show the utmost integrity, because reputation is everything. But buyers can say anything they want and have no consequence whatsoever for failing to follow through.

Just in the past several months of selling, I've found that both "I'm going to go home and think it over, and I'll call you tomorrow to make an offer," and "I'm putting the deposit check in the mail today," mean "You'll never hear from me again."

"I'm showing up next week with my trailer to look at your horse. You pay the $120+ for the vet visit to have her health papers rush-processed so she's ready to go, and I promise to reimburse you even if I decide not to buy her," means "I will decide not to buy the horse because of some detail that I already knew long before my visit. And you will never see a reimbursement check from me."

The most frustrating part of it all is, I know that my experiences are not unique. It's like this for everyone who is trying to sell horses. I regularly read an online horse forum, and all the people on there recount similar experiences. One person told of selling a horse to someone who wanted a trail horse, and TWO YEARS LATER, the person came back demanding that her money be refunded because the horse was not working out as a show jumper! Can you imagine buying a new pickup truck, driving it for two years, and then taking it back to the dealer and demanding a full refund because it wasn't a sports car?

So that's my vent about selling horses. It's bad enough that it's not even remotely profitable. It's even worse facing the heartbreak of having to sell the ones you've really bonded with. But what gets to me the most is how ridiculously, unnecessarily inefficient, messy, and illogical the whole process often becomes.

Of course, that just makes me appreciate all the more when I do find a buyer who really is a good match for the horse and really is ready to buy and really will keep me informed if plans change and really will send the payment when she promises to.

So to all of you GOOD horse shoppers out there: Believe me, the horse sellers of the world THANK YOU. You're rarer than you know!!!

I should also add that having Torchsong's sale fall through inspired me to finally get my horse web site updated and start putting out a few new horse for sale ads. I already got a brand new inquiry on Andromeda, and a nice lady who had inquired about one of my other horses back in December happened to look at my site again and now may be interested in either Callista or Torchsong.

So, like everything, the process has its ups and downs. Mostly I'm just so worn out by the whole process, I wish I could be done with it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Above and Below

Everybody is feeling frisky now that spring is here. One of our Maine Coon cats, Lugh, was showing off this morning, racing up and down trees:

While his buddy, our 13-year old Maine Coon, Eoghan, waited to pounce on him when he came back down:
Spring has sprung!

A Pear Year

In our back pasture, we have a very old pear tree. It would take two people to reach around its trunk, and it's much taller than our two-story house. Middle-aged neighbors who grew up in the area remember having pears from it when they were small children.

As far as we have seen since we've lived here, it only produces fruit every other year. On the no-pear years, it doesn't even produce a blossom.

Last year would have been a pear year, but between the horses damaging the tree by chewing on its bark, and a late frost killing all the blossoms, not a single fruit survived. So we settled in to wait another two years before having pears again.

But the tree had other ideas. This is what it looks like this morning:

So, if we don't have any more hard frosts, it looks like we'll have pears again this year. They're not the best pears ever---the taste is okay, but the texture is mealy and very hard. Which is probably a good thing, since all the fruit-bearing branches are so high out of reach that we don't even bother to try to pick them, we just wait for the wind to blow them down.

Still, they are free, and will probably be quite abundant. Our previous pear year, we could have filled the back of our pickup truck to the brim with pears, if we'd wanted to.

Last time, we just fed all of the hard, mealy fruit to the livestock. But it would be nice to find a way to use some for ourselves.

So, if anybody has any ideas or recipes for using rock-hard pears, let me know!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Lambing Limbo

We have now entered Lambing Limbo.

No, I don't mean that dance where you bend over backwards and try to pass under a stick.

I mean that Never-Never-Land between the date when our first possible lambs COULD be due, and the date where I know for sure some are due. That time when I can't help thinking that the lambs will Never-Never arrive. I call it Lambing Limbo.

Today was the first possible day (based on when the rams were turned in with the ewes last fall) that we could have had lambs born. The first possible date (based on a witnessed mating) that I know for sure lambs are due is April 5.

That's two long weeks of watching and wondering. There are several sheep that I have no idea when their due dates are. There are even more that I only kind of guessed when it might be---for instance, if I saw a ewe acting particularly friendly toward the ram on a certain day, but didn't actually witness the mating, I still wrote it down in my date book as a possible breeding date. Out of all my sheep, I have definite due dates for less than a dozen.

So now is the time when I start being extra watchful. Who is looking particularly far along in her pregnancy? Whose udder is especially full and tight? Are any of them going to lamb today? How about tomorrow?

I actually think it will be a while before the first lambs arrive, probably closer to the 2-week mark than to today. With our unusually hot autumn weather during breeding season, I think the ewes started cycling later than they normally do.

Even so, I have my bed all set up in the lambing area, just in case, and my lambing kit fully assembled and standing by. Whenever our first little ones arrive, I hope to be ready and on hand to welcome them to our farm.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Goodbye Maggie

Yesterday, Maggie left for her new home at my trainer's farm.

The young horses were quite concerned to see her go, since she is the last adult mare we had. Now the youngsters are on their own, like a pack of school children with no teacher around. Who knows what mischief they'll get up to without Maggie's calming influence?

Here, the young horses line up at the fence to say goodbye.

I'm pleased that Maggie has found a good home with an experienced horse person who will know how to handle her little personality quirks. I think she'll be very happy there.

When Maggie arrived at the new stable, my stallion, Senter, recognized her right away, so at least the two of them will have a familiar face at the new place.

Goodbye and best wishes, Maggie!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Three Sales

Yesterday, I wrote up the Sales Agreements for THREE pending horse sales. Still no money for any of them yet, but at least I'm getting closer to having a few sales completed.

First, is Selebrity, my stallion Senter's first-born foal, who lives on my sister's farm in Maine, but who is being sold to a girl who lives in Charlottesville. His sale should be completed in about a week, and he'll be shipped down to Virginia in early April.

Next is Torchsong. She won't be leaving here until May, but she's being purchased on a payment plan. She is going to go become a broodmare for a woman who has a gorgeous Friesian stallion. Torchsong is going to make some spectacular pinto Friesian Sporthorse foals in another couple of years!

Third is Maggie. She's not actually being sold, she's being traded to my trainer in exchange for 3 months of training (each) for my two 3-year-old fillies. Maggie will get a great home, and she'll get to be rebred back to Senter again after she foals, since we already know that she produces terrific foals with him.

Here are the two fillies (Andromeda and Callista) who will get trained as payment for Maggie. They'll also be bred to Senter while they're there. They will remain on my sales list, but I'll raise their prices to reflect the fact that they're being sold in foal and started under saddle.

After all these horses go, that will only leave Libby and Penny still to sell!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sheep Speak

When you live on a farm, you get used to a certain amount of animal noise going on in the background of your life. If you're attentive, you also start to learn the language of your animal charges.

Most of the sheep noises I hear all day are the basic, "I'm here. Where are you?" calls. If the sheep see me carrying a bucket that might have feed in it, they yell, "Food! Food!" and all the other sheep come running. Sometimes, if I've forgotten to feed the ewe who is in the isolation pen, she urgently tells me, "Hey! You forgot me!" and I'll apologize and go back and feed her.

But today I was working at the computer and I heard the sheep in the back yard bleating their curious yet concerned, "Hey, look what I found! Is this good or bad? What shall we do about it?" noises. That's not a normal conversation for them to be having at that time of day, so I looked out the window to see what they were talking about.

Sure enough, the gate to the big pasture had come open, and the sheep were debating whether it was a good idea to all go charging out there. They were just starting to trickle through the gate by the time I got my shoes on and rushed out there to stop them. I'm saving the big pasture as my parasite-free "clean" pasture for them to graze on during the summer when parasite loads tend to be high. So I don't want them out there now.

Fortunately, I've taught the sheep to understand a little bit of my language too. "Sheep! SHEEEEEEEP!" I yelled. The sheep whirled around, and many enthusiastic "BAAAAs" answered me. The flock abandoned the green grass of the open pasture and stampeded after me back to the barn, where I rewarded them by scattering a bucket of feed into their dishes while Ken surreptitiously shut the pasture gate for me so they couldn't escape again.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Today I've been "nesting."

You know, that instinct that drives pregnant women to clean everything in sight, right before the baby is due? Well, that's me today, only I'm not the one who's pregnant.

I've been busily getting the lambing area in the barn ready for the pregnant ewes. The floor is swept, the pens are set up, fresh bedding is put down in the pens. I completely disassembled my lambing kit, scrubbed and replaced everything, and restocked it with anything that was depleted or missing.

I spent time today getting the lighting set up (The barn doesn't have electricity, so this involves a complicated arrangement of work lights and extension cords, all carefully positioned to give the best light without getting in the way).

I also spent a lot of time scrubbing out a bunch of water and feed buckets, so the mothers-in-waiting will have fresh, clean food and water, without stinky buckets.

Now the only thing left to do out there is to get my bed set up, which I will do in the next couple of days.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Senter Stage

We went to visit Senter at the trainer's yesterday. We hadn't had a chance to go see him since his first day there, so it was nice to visit him and see that he is well and happy. With so much to see and do at the new place, he clearly isn't missing us at all!

He was turned out in his pasture when we arrived. He greeted me casually when I went up to him, and was happy to accept a couple of horse cookies from me, but other than that would really rather either eat grass, run and play, or stare at the mares in the nearby pastures than waste time hearing any baby talk from me. My boy's all grown up!

He has had some training sessions so far, but is due to start much more intensive sessions soon, with a new rider. They are planning to take him to a bunch of shows this summer, and are very excited about his prospects, once he gets more education under his belt.

It'll be great to give him a job to work at, since he has a lot of energy and can use a constructive outlet for it. I can't wait to see him under saddle at a show!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lungeing Libby

The weather has been gorgeous the past couple of days, so I've been taking a little time each morning to fit a little bit of horse training into my schedule. Of the yearling fillies, Libby seems most likely to sell first, so I've been concentrating on her for now.

I've been reviewing the basics with her: leading, standing tied, lifting her feet, etc. She knows all this already, but since I haven't handled her much lately it's good to give her a review, to get her back into the mindset of "lessons" with some easy stuff, after a winter of constant "recess" with her friends.

All winter, we were too broke to be able to afford grain, so the horses ate only hay. Now that we've sold a few horses, we can afford to feed grain again. So on top of the normal friskiness of springtime and the adolescent friskiness of becoming yearlings, the youngsters are also having the extra energy of adding grain to their diets---just in time for their spring growth spurts.

Which means that Libby and the other youngsters are a bit feistier than usual. These past two sessions, it has taken Libby a little while to settle down into "lesson" mode. But she's so smart and willing, even her little rebellions are so minor: a little toss of the head, a momentary balking, a little lapse of concentration to whinny for her friends. Things to be corrected, certainly, so that she remembers her proper manners. But pretty minuscule in the grand scheme of horsey bad behaviors.

Yesterday, her first training session this spring, was just review. Today, I added a few new things: Since I don't have a horse trailer to practice loading her onto, I practiced leading her in and out of the barn as a substitute. Bear in mind that our "barn" is not a horse barn, so this is much more challenging than it sounds. It's a narrow door leading into a dark, low-ceilinged room, with a loud, hollow-sounding wooden floor. So really, it is a good substitute for learning to load on a trailer.

The other new thing I tried with her today was the first steps in teaching her to lunge (circle around me on a long rope at various gaits). She has already done a bit of round pen work, learning to move away from pressure, turn, and halt according to my body language. She's just never done it on a lunge line before, and I haven't really asked her to respond to voice commands.

She's a quick learner, though. We did walk, trot, and whoa in both directions. She doesn't have them down perfectly yet, but she's definitely making progress.

Because it's asking a lot of her to concentrate on lessons when she can hear her friends running around playing in the pasture, I try to change up my lessons to be contrary to her expectations, to encourage her to really pay attention to me instead of just assuming she knows what's in store.

For instance, instead of working her in the round pen, I did the lungeing lesson in the back pasture, and then took her out to the round pen to just have a relaxing walk and a bit of grain as a reward. Tomorrow, I'll do something different, to keep the experience fresh for her.

She's such a bright, happy thing, I really enjoy working with her.

The other accomplishment for today was that Ken and I (mostly Ken, but with some help from me) finished building the lambing pens in the barn. They look pretty nice, especially compared to the inconvenient, makeshift setup we had last year.

Once I get them all "accessorized" with bedding, buckets, lights, etc., I'll take photos and post them here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Make Way for Lambing Time

I finished cleaning out the barn today, and we started getting ready to build the new lambing pens in the newly cleaned area.

To get the lumber for the new pens, Ken disassembled the sheep shelter that the wind destroyed last week, while I disassembled some wood-and-wire-mesh fence panels I had built when we first moved here. Those 2x4s plus a couple of extra metal goat panels are all we need for this design.

Once the new pens are built, I'll finish getting the place set up with my sleeping area, lambing kit, lights, etc., plus bedding, hay, and water buckets for the sheep. There's only about a week left until I have to start keeping watch for ewes that are going to go into labor soon. Paris, my milkiest ewe, already has a large udder, even though she's not due until April 9.

To help the sheep start getting used to the idea of being in there, I left the gates and doors open so they could wander in and out while I was cleaning up all the old spilled hay chaff on the floor. A lot of the sheep came right in and started eating the hay. Others peered in the door from outside and bleated, not daring to come in. Still others came in to explore but got nervous and ran back out again every time they heard a noise.

Since I want the sheep to be as relaxed as possible in the lambing pens, it's important for them to be able to see the place and explore a little bit ahead of time, so they don't think they're being dragged off someplace terrible when the time comes for me to put them in there to lamb.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Too Smart for Her Own Good

As a rule, Icelandic sheep tend to be very intelligent animals, but through the centuries certain bloodlines have been treasured and bred specifically for their EXTRA-high levels of smarts and sensitivity, which can allow them to sense danger in advance and lead the other sheep (and sometimes the shepherd) to safety.

These special sheep are called Leadersheep.

I have several sheep in my flock who are from leadersheep bloodlines. Although on my small, 26-acre farm there isn't much danger for them to avoid, it is always entertaining to watch their bright, alert personalities in action.

The most leader-like sheep in my flock is Salem:

If I'm outside in the barnyard, she is everywhere I am. Nothing escapes her notice. In the absence of wolves or avalanches to avoid, her entire concentration is constantly focused on discovering ways to get more tasty things to eat.

During the day, the sheep are free to roam about the yard as they please. Each evening, we bring them into the sheep paddock to feed them, and lock them in there briefly so we can finish feeding the horses without their "help."

Salem, having observed this, decided she would rather avoid being trapped in the paddock, and thus be free to assist with the horse feeding. So every night, all the sheep dutifully come into the paddock, except Salem, who stands just at the gate. She runs in if I shake the grain bucket and runs back out if I start to close the gate.

It's a minor inconvenience that I decided needed to stop. So tonight, carrying the feed buckets, I led all the sheep into the paddock and turned to shut the gate behind me. Salem, thinking she was oh-so-clever, ran out before I could close it. "Okay, good-bye," I said, and shut it anyway. Then I went and poured grain into all the feed dishes in the paddock, and the rest of the flock began eagerly eating their supper.

Whoops! Too late, Salem realized her terrible mistake! Her eyes got huge, and she stood up on her tiptoes against the gate, trying to push it open. "Sorry, no food for you!" I said cheerfully. "All the other sheep get lots of yummy, yummy grain, but you'll just have to starve."

Seeing that the gate was not going to open, Salem raced at full speed down to the other end of the paddock, hoping that the other gate would be open. But that one was closed too. She raced back up to the first gate and stood up against it again, her big eyes pleading.

She was very, very sorry she had done such a foolish thing, and wouldn't I PLEASE forgive her and let her into the paddock?

I held out for a few minutes, making her think that she really would miss out on the entire evening's feeding. Then I relented and let her in.

I bet it won't take too many evenings of doing that before she's a good little girl who promptly goes where she's supposed to at feeding time! :-)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

First Flowers

Yesterday when I stepped outside to do chores, it smelled like spring for the first time. Our neighbors have daffodils blooming by the roadside. We'd probably have daffodils too, except we let the sheep roam the yard all winter, which means all flowers get eaten before they can grow.

However, this afternoon when I went to the mailbox to get the mail, I noticed a clump of Siberian Squill blooming there. So, it's official, we have flowers blooming here!

I sold some of the sheep hides from my website today, and am still waiting for two of the horse sales to finalize. It looks like one more horse may be sold soon too---Libby currently has 3 people interested in her, and one of them just contacted me about scheduling a pre-purchase exam, so it seems like a few of these sales ought to be finalized soon.

It's looking a little late for selling Maggie before she foals, though, since she's due in about 3-4 weeks. That's really too late for me to feel comfortable shipping her very far. So unless I find a local buyer within the next couple of weeks, we'll be having a foal here in early April. That's not such a bad thing, since Maggie is an experienced broodmare and a great mother. But I did hope to finalize most of the horse sales before lambing time started. Looks like it's going to be no such luck.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Web Work

I've been neglecting the blog for the past few days because I've been very busy doing web site design work.

First, I'm doing a very extensive site for lovely Bloomin Acres Farm in Arkansas. It has many pages and is taking a lot of planning and organizing to get it all set up. It's not done yet, but when it is, I'll post a link.

Second, I just updated my sheep website in preparation for spring lambing time. I'm getting lots of inquiries for lamb sales already, and some folks came this past weekend to look at the flock and buy my ENTIRE selection of bargain, salvage, and sale fleeces. Now all I have left for sale are 12 premium fleeces. And I haven't even advertised, that's how well these fleeces sell!

And third, I just redesigned my sister's farm site and gave it its first update in several years. Horses, ponies, Maine Coon cats, chickens, goats, gorgeous mountain scenery... Lots of pretty photos on this one. Everyone should check it out!

I still have my horse website to update too, and horse for sale ads to update. I'm getting a little tired of staring at the computer all day every day---I can't wait for lambing season!

Not much else has been going on, on the farm. We had another big windstorm this weekend, and it completely shattered our sturdiest sheep shelter that Ken built. Fortunately no sheep were hurt when the wreckage flipped over and crashed to the other side of the paddock! But this is all the more reason why we need to build real, solid sheep shelters before next winter. I'm getting tired of all these ugly tarp shelters that can't handle our extreme wind!

Thursday, March 6, 2008


A little over a year ago, my very favorite cat of all time, an orange Maine Coon named Riley, got hit by a car and killed. When we found his body, we brought it home and buried it under a tree not far from our back porch.

Tonight, I was sitting in the house working at the computer, when our dogs kept barking. I opened the back door to see what was wrong and heard a cat howling really mournfully.

I assumed a couple of our cats were having an argument and were about to start fighting, as they sometimes do, so I went to get my shoes and a flashlight to go break it up. Oddly, as I walked through the house, all of my cats seemed to be inside already.

When I got outside, I followed the sound of the awful howling... right to the site of Riley's grave. There, in the dark, were two cats I didn't recognize, sitting on Riley's grave and wailing!

They ran away when I pointed the flashlight at them. Why they were there, I don't know. We don't keep any cat food outside, and all of my own cats were in the house at the time, so the strangers weren't there to fight. All of my cats are neutered, so I know there's no mating going on. And out of the whole farm, the strange cats chose to come sit right on Riley's grave. Creepy!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Peri is Pregnant!

Tis the season for me to be walking around behind my ewes all the time, groping their udders to see if they're pregnant. During the distraction of the evening feeding frenzy tonight, I managed to grope Peri---and sure enough, she has a nice udder developing. She's pregnant!

Normally, this wouldn't be big news, since pretty much all my ewes are expected to be pregnant this time of year. But if you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably remember that Peri was bitten by a rattlesnake last summer, and the resulting necrosis destroyed all of the tendons in one of her front ankles, leaving that foot completely floppy and useless.

(If you missed out on her story the first time around, here are the relevant entries: Peri's Reprieve, Not for the Faint of Heart, Peri's Progress and Other Photos, and A Peg Leg for Peri?)

Anyway, after a couple of failed attempts to stabilize the leg with a brace, I decided to just leave Peri alone and let her figure out her own best course. Even on three legs, she's doing great! She can still outrun me if she wants to. She still shoves other sheep away from the food dishes, just like she always did. And we feed her hay on the ground so that she can lie down and rest her legs while she eats. Overall, she's pretty happy.

I debated whether or not to let her breed this year, wondering if the extra weight of being pregnant would be too much for her on three legs. But when I turned all the other sheep into the breeding pens, she fussed so much at being left out, that I gave in and let her make her own choice.

She gets tired a little faster than usual lately, carrying the extra lamb weight on her three good legs. But the sheep aren't out on pasture now anyway, so it's not as if she has to walk far to reach food, water, or shelter. If she needs any extra help towards the end of her pregnancy, I'll make sure she gets it.

She's not looking particularly huge yet, but here are a couple of photos of her from last year, so you can see how enormous she gets. In the second photo, Ken says she's so fat she looks like a beanbag chair!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

More Gremlins

Well, the gremlins have infested the dishwasher now. I loaded up the dishwasher tonight, started it going, and when I left the room it was working just fine. When I came back a few minutes later, it was dead. I thought it had tripped a circuit, but Ken checked the circuit box, and everything there was fine.

The dishwasher did this once before more than a year ago. Just stopped working. At the time, we went to the store and started reluctantly thinking about spending the money to get a new one. And then, all of a sudden, it started working again, without us doing anything to it, and has worked perfectly ever since. Until now.

The bizarre thing is, this is exactly what our pickup truck does, too. It will work fine for months, then one day it simply won't work. Sometimes, if we do nothing to it for a while (10 minutes, 3 days, the time varies), it will just start working again. When it starts working again on its own, that seems to last just as long as if we actually take it to the shop to be fixed.

It's very frustrating. If we knew what was wrong, we'd fix it. But our mechanic doesn't seem to be able to get those gremlins out of there! :-)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Spring Cleaning

It was a gorgeous warm day today (70 degrees!), so I took advantage of the pleasant weather to spend some time cleaning up the mess in the barn, in preparation for lambing season.

Some time a few months ago, my wobbly set of shelves in the barn finally gave in and fell over, scattering their contents all through the loose hay on the floor and mixing them in with the pile of hay strings next to the door. I was in a rush at the time that it happened, so I just shoved the fallen shelves out of the way and continued with the chores.

You know how it is when you let something like that go: Soon the shelf contents were scattered and lost beneath the hay, more hay strings piled up, and the whole place became a big mess. Since we don't really use that part of the barn for anything but storage in the winter, it didn't matter all that much at the time.

But that's where my lambing pens go in the spring, so now---with just 3 weeks left to go before my first possible lambs could be arriving---it's time to finally get organized again. Knowing how much I hate cold weather, I waited until this gorgeous day to tackle the job, and it turned out not to be as hard as I'd thought. It only took about an hour to do the bulk of the organizing. Ken will take a load of stuff to the dump for me later, and then some other afternoon, I'll finish the real cleanup: sweeping, scrubbing, organizing, and setting up the lambing pens.

I have a new plan for how I'm going to make the lambing pens this year, which I think will be more compact and efficient. Once those are ready, I'll scrub everything in my lambing kit, restock any supplies that are old or have run out, and set up my bed in the barn.

Icelandic sheep really do very well lambing on their own, and don't usually need any help lambing. But I like to be there for all the births anyway, if possible, partly for my own education to learn as much about all aspects of the sheep that I can, and partly to help out on those few occasions when a ewe does have a hard time.

Plus, I admit, waiting for the lambs to arrive is kind of like waiting for Christmas morning as a child. Why would I want to sleep in my own bed and not see the new arrivals until the next day, when I could be there and see them at once?

So for the bulk of lambing season (late March through May), if I have any ewes that are due soon, I'll sleep out in the barn with them. I lay 4 hay bales side-by-side to make a bed, spread a blanket over them to ward off prickles, and then put my camping mattress, pillow, and sleeping bag on top. It's surprisingly comfortable.

Still, I don't get much sleep out there some nights, because some of the ewes make a lot of noise. Even if they are not giving birth, it's amazing how much chewing, sighing, stomping, banging, and groaning a vastly pregnant sheep can do all night long!

I also spent some time in the late afternoon just sitting with the ewes in their paddock. I can tell that lambing time is approaching by their behavior. Some of the ewes (Persia, Salem, and Tansy, for instance), are always friendly. But as lambing time approaches, several of the other, non-tame sheep start getting really cuddly too.

For the other 11 months of the year, Poppy is nearly impossible to catch. She is wary and when it's time for shots or worming, she knows better than to be coaxed with grain. She's always the last one we manage to catch.

But when she's getting close to lambing, she gets really calm, cuddly, and friendly. Today, for the first time this year, she approached me and asked to be petted. As I scratched her under her chin, she wagged her tail like a happy lamb. In a few more days, she'll be so relaxed that if I sit down in the ewe paddock, she'll lie down next to me and fall asleep with her head in my lap.

This, the sheep I can't catch any other time of year!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Another Dream

I had another dream last night about preparing to start an enormous and difficult task.

All winter, I had hiked on foot from Maine across to western Canada with a snow blower, clearing a path in the snow. That was hard and exhausting enough, but after hiking all those thousands of miles through the snow and cold, when I got to my destination, I realized that the real task was yet to begin.

I reached a ranch where I owned a large herd of horses. With some help from people on the ranch, I was now about to start the journey BACK to Maine, in the path I'd cleared, driving my herd of horses with me, so they could all be sold. I would not be on foot this time, but driving a large wagon pulled by a pair of large, not-completely-trained horses.

Before I could even get started, challenges started to arise. While the ranch hands were trying to round up my horses from the various fields, the horses got over-excited and started leaping over the pasture fences and running wild everywhere. The ranch only had barbed wire fences, so every time one of my horses approached a fence, my heart was in my throat, waiting for them to hit the wire, get caught on the barbs, and shred themselves.

Before long, the ranch hands were there helping bandage dozens of cuts and scrapes on my horses legs before I could start my journey, and I was driving my unruly team of wagon horses around, trying to get them to steer in the direction I wanted.

Only a few thousand miles left to go!

I have to admit, I'm a little worried about having two dreams in a row indicating that my subconscious thinks everything I've done up to now has only been preparation and now my REAL difficult task is about to begin.

It's been such a hard year, and I'm exhausted. I've been looking forward to getting all the horse sales completed and having things ease up a little in the coming year. I don't even want to think about what this next big task might be that my subconscious keeps warning about!

But whatever it is, I guess I'll just tackle it when it comes.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Pivotal Moments

In my dream, there was a term for them: those pivotal moments in your life where your actions or inactions can change the course of your life forever. But the phrase was in a foreign language---Japanese, maybe, or Latin---and when I woke up I couldn't remember what it was.

In my dream, I was having one of those pivotal moments. I was about to do a task that was apparently what my subconscious considered the epitome of what I would consider "difficult." I was about to meet a group of Asian dignitaries for the purpose of negotiating something to do with nuclear weapons. The meeting was to take place in my barnyard!

There were also groups of school children running everywhere, watching a troupe of performers who were putting on several short, philosophical plays in different parts of the farm, allegorical works concerning the nature of these pivotal life moments.

In the midst of all the chaos, one of the children asked me if I was nervous about my upcoming negotiation. Suddenly, I realized that I had lived this part of my life before and had somehow traveled back in time, retaining the knowledge of how I had gotten through the situation successfully the first time around.

"No, I'm not nervous," I told the child. "After all, I've done this before."

I felt so calm that, while I waited for the very formally dressed Asian businessmen to gather for our meeting in my muddy sheep paddock, I passed the time by poking around in the mud. I started pulling out chunks of broken glass (this is something I have to do frequently on my real farm in my waking life---the previous generations who lived here were very careless about where they threw their glass bottles, so every time it rains, old broken glass comes up through the mud. I pick it up whenever I see it. My pockets are always full of shards of glass).

But in the dream, as I was poking around pulling up chunks of sharp glass, I also started finding huge slabs of chocolate, buried under the ground too, so I pulled those up as well. (I'm sure this was inspired to the extremely rich, gourmet chocolate bar that my good friend Nyxana slipped into my birthday card when she sent it to me. It was so good, it took me four days to eat the whole thing. Thanks Nyx!)

Anyway, I took this dream to be a message of hope and returning confidence from my subconscious. I have a difficult task ahead of me, but I know I can do it. In the meantime, I may encounter some unpleasant, painful things, but there is also the promise that I will discover unexpected pleasures as well.

Can't ask for more than that!