Monday, February 29, 2016

Friends farm...

My friend let me come to her farm today to photograph her sheep. They are due to lamb in the next few days. These girls are epically pregnant. Huge, and unwieldy.  They look like this every year. In seasons past I have gotten better photographs of how enormous they really look. This year they were not cooperative with me. Each time I framed them up in my viewfinder, with their bellies captured to show the enormity of it all, they pivoted and moved.  But I enjoyed seeing them, even if I was not able to capture a photograph that would show exactly how impressive they look.  Beach balls on toothpicks.

They spend their day in the winter pasture, eating their fill of good hay, and snoozing in the sun.  At night they are moved to the barn, and soon they will stay there until they lamb.  Today was unseasonably warm, and the sheep, heavy with lambs, stayed outside, quiet and close to the food.

They were curious about me.

This girl approached, sniffed, made firm eye contact, and "baaahhhhed" at me.
Then she smiled.  She knows things that I do not know.  Soon life will emerge from her body, and she will turn the spring grass into milk to feed that life. And her lamb will grow to become a sheep.  Hopefully next year that lamb will be ripe and heavy with new life.  And I will come on a fine early spring day and take her picture.  Then I will share it with you. The circle of blog. And of life. And of sheep. 

The signs of spring are showing.  Daffodil sprouts in the garden, round, heavy, ewes, and longer days.  Life on and around farms is where one can see the seasons send the tendrils of change.  It is all good.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Morning in the pasture...

I took my camera outside with me this morning while I was doing chores.
An enormous Raven swooped in, calling, "Cronk!  Cronk!" and dined on some treasure near where Jane Doe and her mama, Celeste, were lounging. 

All the girls gathered around the hay pile for a friendly, communal breakfast.

I am very pleased with the chickens I raised last spring. They are Light Brahmas, and I find them to be particularly attractive. They have been laying eggs all winter, which delights me. I love the look of them, with their big, fluffy feet.  They are very large birds, notice how big the rooster is compared to the 150 pound goat in this picture below.

I am not sure exactly what they are finding to eat on the barren looking winter pasture. They take very little of the chicken food I provide for them, yet still roost at night with their crops bulging full of whatever it is they dine on.  I love to watch them ranging around, scratching and pecking, then moving on, all in a group, to explore some other area that might have tasty tidbits. They cover a lot of ground during the course of a day, and I imagine they rest well when they finally tuck themselves up at night. 

It is 29 degrees outside this morning, so the puddles around the pasture are frozen.  The ducks are happy to find warm water in a pan, and will play in it until the temperature rises and the puddles thaw.  Then they will spend their time exploring each wet spot with apparent glee.  They appear to be the happiest of birds, and it makes me smile to watch them enjoying life to the waddling fullest.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Flirt's story...

It occurs to me that I have never written up the story of Flirt.
Flirt is a Toy Poodle, and my constant companion. She is a happy little dog, but never happier than when she is near me. If we have been apart, even for a short time, she throws herself, sobbing, into my arms, as if she feared we would never meet again.

If I am on one side of the door, and she on the other, she wants nothing more than to be reunited.

 Ever since I was a tiny child, I have loved dogs, dreamed of dogs, planned what sort of dogs I would like to share my life with.  I have a list of breeds that I desire to own someday much longer than I will ever be able to have, even if I live to be 100.   But a Toy Poodle was never on that list.

One winter evening six years ago my good friend Debi, who lives in Georgia, and I were happily messaging each other on our computers. She mentioned that she had a new litter of toy poodle puppies.  I asked about the litter and she told me she had a black female, a phantom male and a cream female.  I had a sudden and overwhelming feeling that I wanted to own that cream female.  "Mail me the cream female?" I quipped.  She said no, but that she would be happy to meet me with her at the upcoming Atlanta Pet Fair in March.  The puppy would be 12 weeks old then.  I asked my patient husband, "Can I have a toy poodle puppy?"  He looked at me quizzically, "You don't want a toy poodle."  I said, "I think I do." Then I waffled for a few weeks, polling friends and co-workers, "Do I want a toy poodle?"  I had just about talked myself out of adding her to the family when Debi sent me this picture and said, "Her paw is smaller than my thumbnail."  For some reason that thought captivated me.
True to her word, even in the midst of a terrible family crisis, Debi brought the pup to me in March. To be honest, I didn't think she was very cute when I first saw her. She was 2.5 pounds of soft, creamy fluff, with a wiggly little body and a licky little tongue. I first met her in lobby of the hotel I was staying in.  I carried her up to my room, and set her on the bed my room mate Kim was lounging on.  Quick as a wink, the puppy crawled up to Kim's face, smothering her in kisses.  "Well aren't YOU a little Flirt!" Kim said.  Flirt flipped on her back, showing her ridiculous tiny belly, hoping for a tickle.  She was beginning to grow on me. And that word, "Flirt." Wouldn't that be a fun name?

That weekend, surrounded by dog crazy groomers, the hapless puppy was passed from person to person, held and kissed and adored.  She took it all in stride.  At night she curled up next to my neck and slept peacefully, and in the morning let strangers coo at her.  Her temperament was certainly sound and pleasant, I thought, even if she wasn't all that attractive. The day I flew home I had her in a tiny carry bag, and she was perfectly contented there.  At some point I took her out, walking through the huge airport, and tucked her under my left forearm. Her back was pressed against my stomach, her rear legs dangling. Bright eyed and inquisitive, she watched the masses of people passing by. She was perfectly relaxed, delighted to be held, observing the new world she was experiencing.  She never made a peep on the plane, and when we had a layover in New Jersey, she promptly took care of business on the puppy pad I placed on the ladies room floor.  She was a pleasant little travel companion, I thought, as I tucked her back into her bag and headed for the flight to Maine.

I brought her to work at the grooming shop every day.  She was so tiny we had to watch where our feet were so as to not flatten her.  She had a pile of toys, a cozy bed, and spent her days playing, being petted, and napping happily.  Customers loved her, and she loved them. She soon became our "shop dog," a friendly ambassador, welcoming everyone with joy.

Because I am a groomer, I got a little creative with her as she grew...

People reacted strongly to these decorative grooms. Most loved them, some were horrified.  Flirt didn't care, as long as they were paying attention to her.

She had three litters of puppies, and is a wonderful mama.

Like many small dogs, she has no concept of her size. She races around the farm like a big dog, barks at strangers with a vengeance, tells the other dogs who is boss, and is quite fearless around the 150 pound goats and 900 pound horse.

But really, she is very small.
And very sweet. I don't know what strange force urged me to ask for this wee spirit to join my life those years ago, but I am daily grateful.  My little Flirty friend is a gift in my life.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Guest blog..!

This story was written by my cousin, Karen Waters Trainor. She lives in Australia and is an accomplished writer.  I was so taken by this tale I asked her permission to reprint it here, and she kindly agreed. I hope you will find this as entertaining as I did!

“…And sat down beside her…”
Things you don't want to see while driving at 100 kilometres per hour down a major highway in Tasmania: a humongous Huntsman spider running around the dashboard of your car.
You may recall my previous story about adventures with these spiders when I was living in Western Australia.  I try not to kill them, because they are useful beasts that eat bugs, and besides, if you whack them they leave blobs of spider nougat all over the place—they really are big; many would cover a salad plate from toe to toe.  They are interesting creatures—in the right place.
So there I am beetling along on a downhill slope when the spider comes from nowhere, leaps over the passenger headrest and lands on the dashboard.  She stops to get her breath in her primitive book lungs, then starts towards my side of the car.  What to do?
Tap brakes, put on signals, pull into breakdown lane, lower all the windows, and slide out carefully onto the road. Traffic whizzes by.  Run around to the passenger door. Spider scuttles up onto ceiling of car, I use a shopping bag to chivvy it out the window. Run back to driver's side, slide into seat, hit 'close' buttons on windows. Drive away happily thinking spider will blow off soon.
Get to Hobart, slow down to drive through city to reach appointment. Stop at red light, spider runs across windscreen--fortunately outside. Get to a parking space and sit in hot car for a long time before daring to leap out and feed the meter. Check for spider. No spider.
Have meeting, return to car, check for spider. No spider.
Drive to Kingston, do shopping, come out to stash bags in back of car, open hatch: Argh! Spider folded up in the flange of the door.  Ill-advisedly try to move spider; spider moves INTO the car and inserts itself in the slot that holds the seat belt. (Get strange looks from man in next parking bay who hears me muttering "Get away you bastard!") Stuff rags into slot of seatbelt and drive home looking in rearview mirror constantly.
Reach home after a nervous 40 minute drive; pull out seat belt, no spider. Spray seatbelt with bug spray, let it snap back, shut door and cross fingers.
Check next morning and find dead spider in back deck of car, belly up. Sorry, spider, but it was you or me--or both of us if I'd driven into a bridge abutment when taken by surprise some day. 
Somebody has probably crunched the numbers to determine what size a spider in your car has to be before you panic at the sight of it.  I could have tolerated one of those little striped grass spiders, or a tiny jumping spider—but the gigantic Huntsman with its velcro feet?—no, sorry: I’ve got a bowl of curds and whey to protect.

Monday, February 8, 2016

One more bunny tale...

I don't mean to be redundant, writing about nothing but my animals, but this little tale yearns to be told.  See the open space there, to the right of Mr. Abbott?  It is an opening, with a long ramp, that leads an adventurous bunny down to a lovely 4'x8' area where a little rabbit can run and hop and really stretch out a bit.  We moved Mr. Abbott into this luxury condo on January 2, and though he has looked longingly down the ramp, he never once left the "upstairs" to venture out.

The morning after his new friend, Costello, came to stay (see previous post) I found both rabbits down on the ground level. They had made the brave walk down the ramp to explore the rest of their dwelling.  I may have been imagining things, but they looked rather cold and unhappy.  I wondered if they knew how to get back UP the ramp.  I put fresh apples, carrots and greens in the upstairs "food room," and left them to their own devices for a few hours while we ran some errands.  When we got home, the food was untouched, and the rabbits were still on the ground.  I caught them with a net and put them back upstairs, where they ate and drank like bunnies who had been a long time without sustenance.  I checked often during the rest of the day, and they were hanging tight upstairs, avoiding the snowy under level.

Today I saw Mr. Abbott run down the ramp.  He hopped, and jumped, and did wild leaping twists in the air, zooming from one end of the enclosure to the other.  Then he zipped back up; an intrepid pioneer, exploring with aplomb.  I have not seen Costello come back down, but I imagine he will when he is ready.

Meanwhile, it is fun to look out my window and see little Mr. Abbott having a party and stretching his hoppy parts.  Who knows what the team will be up to next?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Mr. Abbot finds a friend...

Go ahead and roll your eyes if you feel so inclined, but ever since I brought little Mr. Abbott (say it fast) to live here at FairWinds, I've had a feeling he was lonely.  I was a little afraid that if I got him some company, they would fight.

Recently a friend mentioned that she had multiple rabbits, and I asked if she thought I could introduce a pal to live with Mr. Abbott. She thought a moment and said, "I have a neutered male that I think would get along with him just fine."  We made plans for her to bring him over.  She suggested that I introduce them in a neutral place, so the new guy would not be invading Mr. Abbott's territory.  I cleaned out a big dog crate and fixed it up with clean shavings, hay, food and water.

When I knew my friend was on her way, I went and gathered Mr. Abbott up from his house.

Isn't he cute?  And his fur is so soft. He smells like clean hay when I kiss him.  Yeah, I kiss him, I admit it.

The new rabbit arrived in a handsome blue cat carrier.  He looked a little worried.
I scooped him up. He is irresistibly adorable. He is a Lionhead rabbit, which means he has long, sumptuous, hair on his head.  And he has lovely blue eyes.

 We carried the two of them out and put them in the crate I had readied. They sniffed. They explored their space. My friend had said they would probably fight a little, then rest, then fight some more.  She said we could expect some scratches, bites and pulled hair.  I watched. It was a little anticlimactic.  They snuggled. Mr. Abbott seemed so happy.

We left them alone for a few hours. When we came back, they were still cuddling. So, we moved them back to the bunny palace.

We named the new guy Costello.  As in Abbott and Costello. Costello explored his new digs. He found the snug sleeping room filled with hay, and seemed to approve. He found the room with food and water, and sampled a spinach leaf.  Mr. Abbott looked on. I swear he seemed happy.

I hope tonight they will snuggle under the hay, together. It makes me feel good to think that Mr. Abbott won't be lonely any more. I hope Costello will enjoy his new friend, and his new bunny palace.  As for me, I am so happy he is here.  Welcome to FairWinds, little guy. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Great American Dog Swap....

I've been wanting to write this story for a while, but it's a very emotional topic and I've been afraid I would tell it wrong.  But my wonderful sister-in-love Brenda recently said she'd like to hear about it, so I'm going to give it a try.

For most of our married life, Chris and I have had dogs that were medium to large in size and had some watch dog tendencies.  Three years ago the last of our "big" dogs, Dazzle the Standard Poodle, was nearing the end of her long and happy life.  This left us with 3 small dogs, two Pugs, and one wee Toy Poodle.  Nothing that would give a burglar or a coyote any pause.  Chris was putting the pressure on for me to find another dog that would at least appear to be a bit fierce.

My excellent friend Marion has a pair of Cur's.  Wonderful dogs, good at guarding the property, helpful with the livestock, trustworthy even with baby chicks, and all around good fun.  I told her I was beginning to look for a dog that would be good at keeping an eye on things around our place.  Thirty minutes later a man called me and said he had two 6 month old Cur puppies, and would happily bring them to me so we could see how they acted around my horse, goats and poultry.  He did just that, and when he left he only had one dog with him.  We added Ziva to the house.  I loved the look of her, and wow!  She was paws down the smartest dog I have ever had.

As she matured, she showed her excellent qualities.  She would help mama goats clean off newborn kids, and play with those kids when they were older.  She was totally gentle with the chickens and ducks.  However, as she got older, she very much wanted to kill Flirt and Smooch, the small dogs in residence. And, after I opened a grooming studio here at home, she took it upon herself to want to dispatch every dog and cat that came here.  Soon I had gates up and doors shut, keeping small dogs and Ziva apart.  It was not a restful atmosphere. In fact, things were very tense.

This went on for three years.  Then late last summer Marion and I, with her two Curs and my one, went kayaking.  The dogs alternated between swimming along with us down the lovely river, and running along the bank.  At one point, Marion said, "I've toyed with the idea of getting another Cur."  I said, "You should take Ziva."  Surprised, she said, "You LOVE Ziva."  I did. I still do, but living with her, my small dogs and my grooming business was a juggling act.  And let's be clear, I'm just not a very good dog trainer. I mean well. I try, but it is not my best thing. And to live with a strong willed, very smart dog, one should be a good trainer. Marion said no more.

A few days later she and her husband came over for supper.  She took me aside.  "I don't want to have 4 dogs," she said.  "But if you take Dutchess, I'll take Ziva."  Dutchess is an older Golden Retriever.  Perfectly trained, and as sweet a dog as any I have ever met.  Ziva had just completed a pretty good week... she hadn't attacked anyone!  I was grateful for my friends offer, but giving up my beautiful, precious, smart dog and taking in an older Golden seemed an unlikely plan. I had high hopes for Ziva, and a deep love for her, too.  I thanked my friend for her kindness, and told her I'd think about it.  I wasn't serious.  I couldn't imagine giving up my dog, really.  My history shows that dogs I take on live with me until they die of old age.

The next morning I woke up with a jolt.  "YOU are an IDIOT!" is the thought that ran though my brain, in bold print.  Because, in reality, it was only a matter of time before a gate came down or a door was left open, and Ziva killed one of my little dogs, or, heaven forbid, a customers pet. Marion is a marvelous dog trainer and owner, and Ziva would have friends to play with at her place. She'd also have a job, because Marion has cattle and sheep and poultry to guard, and lots of land for big dogs to run and play.  And Dutchess, the Golden,, would rather enjoy pleasant sessions of fetch in the meadow and a soft bed by the wood stove. It would be a sort of retirement home for her.

So, I asked Marion if we could try a weekend swap.  Since she had taken care of Ziva any time we traveled over the last 3 years, it was an easy transition for my Cur to be dropped off for a fun filled visit.  Dutchess, however, was rather confused at first.  But she soon claimed the comfiest,squishiest beds in the house, and was overjoyed to discover I keep dog biscuits in my pockets, doling them out with little provocation.  The weekend swap has extended for months.

When Marion visits, Dutch is delighted to see her. When I go there, Ziva leaps and twists and kisses me on the lips, hard. (This makes my eyes leak a little. I miss her. However, I see that she is fine and happy and well cared for and in a place more suited to her personality than our house is.)   Both dogs seem perfectly contented to stay where they are.  Ziva is fit and happy, running with dogs her size, being a watch dog.  Dutch seems contented, going from soft bed to soft bed, and cadging cookies. She may or may not have gained a little weight.  We play lively games of fetch and she happily snuggles the little dogs. It would never occur to her to bite a dog here to be groomed.  On the flip side, if robbers came, she'd show them where we keep the stuff we like the most.  But we have an open door policy, and no gates up.  Life is peaceful.

The great American dog swap was hard on my heart, and my ego. I feel I failed Ziva. I wasn't able to train her to be the best dog she could be here.  But in the end, she is fine, living a full Cur life with kind people who take good care of her. And Dutch is here, getting her belly rubbed, eating too much and soaking up the heat from the wood stove to the best of her capacity. Sometimes things don't work out as planned. But they do work out.

And every day, I am grateful to share our home with this sweet, gentle dog. And grateful that my beloved Ziva is safe and happy and cared for.  I had wished for something different, but am so happy for what I have.

Feeding in the snow...

 Despite my admonition to myself to "Think Spring," (see the chalkboard on the center shelf) today dawned with snow-filled skies.

No matter the weather, Chanel waits by the fence for me at breakfast time.
She polishes off her small ration of grain and supplements with gusto.
The goats are fond of breakfast, too.
After they have had their fill, one by one, they file to the heated water tub for a deep drink...
after that it was off to the to the shed. Goats do not love wet weather, but they did spend a fair amount of time looking out at the snow coming down. 

There was much activity at the bird feeders today. Morning doves, which some think are quite plain...
are truly lovely up close.  Their eye lids are an enchanting shade of blue, and in the right light their neck feathers are iridescent.

This little red breasted nuthatch donned a snowflake cap to celebrate the day...
Then tossed it off like yesterdays news.

As always, the chickadees were on hand to delight me with their antics and happy voices.
I spent much of the day feeding animals.  Part of it working.  The rest of it admiring the whirling white outside my window.  And now I will go rustle up some food for the humans who are coming in out of the storm. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Most of the snow on our property has melted. During the day, there are puddles for the ducks to dabble in, and they are happy.  The chickens have left the immediate confines of their coop and yard, and flow in a flock all over the pasture, pecking and scratching.  I don't know exactly what it is they find to eat, but their crops are bulging full when they go to roost at the end of the day, yet the level of pellets in their feeder does not seem to move.
When it is warm like it was today, the goats and horse seem to relish the sunshine. Watching them makes me realize that I should learn from them this lesson: embrace the moment.

This scene made me happy today.  Seeing the hoof stock all piled up together, enjoying the gift of the mild day and warm sun.

I love that they rest all piled up together, touching one another and sharing the bliss of the moment.
It is a joy to me to see how the animals here on this farmlett relate to one another.  If anyone thinks that animals don't have liaison's, I would tell them otherwise.  Even the chickens have preferences for which birds they roost with, which they explore with, which they eat with.

 The goats all cuddle up, too, when they rest.  It is easy to see how they relate as a herd.  Luna is the queen, and is always deferred to. When they play or rest, it is plain that there is a connection between them, and order to their relationships.

I love it when they all cuddle together to rest. And when the horse joins in, soaking up the sun, it just melts me.