Moving forward…..

I haven’t blogged much in the past few months, mostly because I found that I had too many stressors to give me the leisure…and I didn’t want to put all my distress out there. No one needs to share another’s angst…we all have our own. And I feel that blogging should be interesting and enjoyable…and uplifting if possible. And for a while, I didn’t have anything to say that was. This post will clear out much of the rubble in my mind (at least, the things that I can talk about), and name the most recent troubles….in 2010, hopefully I can carry on.

I am back in Arizona this week and next, after spending a lovely quiet Christmas with my sweetheart and my dear animals. I talk to Brook each night on a video link (sometimes Apple’s iChat, sometimes Skype); it makes our time apart bearable. He tells me that we had 6″ more inches of snow yesterday and tonight it is snowing heavily….should be up to a couple of feet this week by the time the storm has passed. (THEY mentioned the R-word in the forecast, but I am not believing them).

I had a pleasant surprise when I woke up in Tuba City on Tuesday morning….I was thrilled, but not everyone else here was:

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See the footprints under the tree? Those belonged to a horse who was grazing at the motel last night, and who must have spent the night by my window. He wasn’t too social, but he obviously knew that I loved him.

I am grateful to this lovely young horse for being near; that connection feels so important to me just now. For all the joy I have in being here on the Navaho Reservation, it has been especially hard to leave our horses and in particular, my dear old friend Titan. I think that of all the recent animal crises, his blindness has been the worst.

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Aside from my birth family, ours has been my longest relationship (Titan will be 28 this coming year)…and he is absolutely the one who has been with me on a day to day basis the longest of anyone in my life. Now he has had to be confined away from the pastures and paddocks because he panics when he can’t find the other horses and runs straight into things. Which he did…I will spare you the details.

Perhaps you can see how cloudy his eyes are. Conventional medicine has done nothing to help him (and indeed there may be nothing that will), but we have been consulting with a homeopathic veterinarian who has given remedies that at least keep him comfortable, and more or less calm in his confinement. There is the possibility that his eyes could clear, and that keeps us hanging on.

From time to time, I think that Titan is wretched and doesn’t want to live anymore, but then he rallies and seems almost content. I think that the love and attention, and the treats and yummy things to eat make all the difference to him. We won’t let him suffer…but have to try for as long as HE wants to live.

The last visit to Tuba City was traumatic too, because our Toby-dog, who had to have knee surgery (cruciate ligament repair) while I was away, ripped all his stitches out at 5 days. Brook got him to the vet and had him sewn back up; had to deal with that all alone (although I was ready to bolt and come home on the day after it happened). Brook improvised a neck brace/restraint for the crisis time, but ultimately did manage to find a restraint that worked (Toby destroyed the Elizabethan collar!):

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He is healing now and walking on all 4 legs most of the time. We are relieved!

The last animal angst this year has been fighting rams….this has been the worst fall and winter ever….and I have to believe that it is due to having so many upwardly mobile young lads in the adult ram group. I can’t fathom the problem with the ram-lambs…just too much testosterone. In the big-boy group, there were seemingly never ending battles, and bloody heads, and broken horns. We ultimately had to move a couple of rams in with the young ones to protect them from the bullies.

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Some of the persistently aggressive boys won’t be staying on with us (past next Monday), no matter how nice their fleeces are or how friendly to people. Although I am spared being there, i am filled with sadness at this necessity. But we can’t keep rams who consistently seek fights and intend on ending the lives of their victims.

I should mention that there have been some very good things this year, but sadly it feels as though these got lost in all the troubles. I will try to focus on those in future blogs…they deserve the time. All in all 2009 was a tough year…..on so many levels. I want 2010 to be more than the new year…but a BRAND NEW YEAR. A new beginning that started with the Solstice and continues as more and more light returns each day.

WELCOME 2010…..

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Solstice

The Winter Solstice brought us 5 or 6 inches of pristine new snow; this after days and days of cold rain compacting the snow that had fallen in November. The weather has been grim, uncomfortable and difficult for all of us at Stonehaven Farm. Although the bitter coldness that preceded these rains kept the mud away, feeding areas and pathways have been waterlogged, and our clothes are always wet. It seems that we get so much more chilled in the damp than on any snow day.

This morning when the sun came out, I realized how much I had missed it. Clearer skies do herald another cold spell, but this time just cold, not frigid temperatures…and after all, it IS now officially winter.

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I needed this new beginning, this renewal; and I am praying that with the return of the light, so will hope and joy and balance be restored, in the wide world as well as in my little corner of it.

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Those foolish rams…..

It is THAT time of year, and I was about to post some rammy stories when Kara Mapstone mentioned (on the Shetland List) the document that we created a while ago as a guide to ram management. I will copy the entire document below and attach a pdf that you can print out…the title looks funky but the link works:

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Yes, I am going to blog again….and likely more about rams. It is the season!

ToughLove for Rams

Many people believe that rams are inherently dangerous and shouldn’t be given attention, but some of them can be very affectionate for their whole lives. Congenial, and even close, relationships with the shepherd are very possible as long as the ram understands, and wholeheartedly believes, that the shepherd is the “alpha ram”.

It is our premise that badly behaved rams are made, not born. This is not to say that some rams are not more challenging than others. And it is important to note that rams who have been well-brought up in the flocks of their birth, can still be rendered dangerous by poor choices on the part of the shepherds into whose flocks they move as adults.

The point is to prevent this eventuality; from the time that they are lambs, all rams need to be taught (and reminded) that they are subordinate to the shepherd, and that they must NEVER challenge that fact!

They have to understand (in the core of their being) that there are RULES that cannot be violated. Unfortunately ram-lambs are often the most friendly and charming, and so it is vital not to allow them to ever “demand” attention. To permit this shift in dominance can be life-threatening later on.

Note that the behavior of an adult ram who is already dangerously aggressive to people likely cannot be modified by the techniques we will describe later. Unfortunately, that ram needs to be euthanized.

Here are the RULES we go by:

•Rams (including lambs) must not ever butt or paw for attention, or press their heads against you, or push another sheep out of the way in order to dominate your attention.

•A ram must never approach a human with his head down, and must not “bob” his head. He must never back up, and feint a charge (as young ones do with the older rams).

•Jumping up on people is absolutely forbidden, no matter how cute a little ram-lamb might be at the time.

•A ram should always move away from you when asked to do so.

•Ideally, a ram should not approach his shepherd without being invited. But if he does, he must stand quietly, and wait for a pat or a word.

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GENERAL PRINCIPLES

It is in the genetic nature of every ram to understand the hierarchy of his living situation. Any ram who moves into a new situation needs to know immediately “who is in charge”. In some way or another, depending on his personality, he is going to test the situation to determine his authority. He may challenge other sheep in the new flock, but may also his shepherds.

Unfortunately many rams move to new homes as breeding season approaches, when their hormone levels are rising. Placing the ram with or near ewes, and/or feeding grain, only intensifies their stress and desire to control their environment.

Although most well-brought-up rams will automatically be submissive to humans, in the stress of a new environment, some may test the shepherd. This would not usually be an aggressive attack, but head-bobbing or other warnings may be used to solicit a reaction.

Under any circumstances, it is critically important that the shepherd respond immediately, and confidently, to any threats or displays of dominance toward humans. An inexperienced shepherd may not sense that they are being tested, and may inadvertently jeopardize their authority. For example, showing fear, backing away, avoiding the ram, or trying to ply the ram with treats can send the message to the ram that the human feels subordinate..

Once a ram believes that he is in charge of the shepherd, there is a serious potential for dangerous behavior. When truly aggressive behavior occurs in an adult ram, that ram may never be completely trustworthy again. It is vital to prevent this sort of escalation.

AVOIDING PROBLEMS

•NO RAM SHOULD LIVE ALONE  In the boredom of isolation from other sheep, rams will find ways to take out their frustrations by bashing buildings, butting people or other animals, jumping over or destroying fences, etc. Wethers make excellent companions, but more than one is recommended when keeping a single ram.

•We do not ever give food treats to rams. Once treats are expected, the ram’s eagerness to get them can lead to impatience with the giver…and he may respond with butting behavior.

•NEVER pet a ram on the top of his head….they consider this a challenge and it makes them butty. Rams should always be “chin up”.

•Be aware of  what the ram is doing at all times. When entering the ram’s pen or pasture, it is a good idea to keep him in your field of vision.

• Never use just a single fence to separate rams from ewes, or from other rams in breeding season. For breeding pens, the perimeter should be made of a solid material so that the rams can’t see each other, or be separated by a distance of 50 feet or more. In the off-season, this can be only a few feet, and at this time, see-through fences are fine. Some folks run rams and ewes together for a couple of months in summer, but we never have.

•Never strike a ram…he may consider this a provocation, especially if one hits them on or about the head. They think: “This human is fighting like a ram….and well, it doesn’t hurt THAT much….BRING IT ON!” So the uppity ram becomes even more interested in the confrontation.

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EXPLANATIONS & DISCIPLINE

LAMBS….

who violate “the RULES” (see page 1) can be disciplined more mildly than older rams, but never less definitely! The idea is that they learn immediately that they are not in charge.

For any undesirable behavior, push the lamb away with a firm “No”, even if you are smiling inside.

If “No” doesn’t get the idea across, pick the ram-lamb up in a way that is uncomfortable to him…allow him to dangle until he feels frightened…all the while, saying “no” or giving some other verbal reminder.

Alternatively….or if these methods don’t have an effect….you may move along to more serious dominance demonstrations. We flip the ram-lambs on their backs or sides, shouting “No!”  This is physically easy while they are small, and one such treatment as a youngster often makes a lasting impression; that ram may not ever require another reminder!

ADULTS….

In the case of a major misbehavior, we have chosen a method for teaching rams that they must never question their lesser position to humans, or the requirements of living in a flock situation. These dominance demonstrations can be used for disciplining a ram for threatening a human, and for various other bad behaviors, such as barn or fence bashing.

The goal is the same as that for naughty ram-lambs: to get them on their sides or backs (helpless) with you holding them down. You establish yourself as “alpha ram”.

The techniques:

1) You may use the classic shepherd’s maneuver for placing a sheep on its rump, but then move the ram to his side.

2) In the heat of the moment, you may grab the ram by whatever you can, a horn is easiest for some, but however you do it, be prepared to hold on. The horns can be used as a leverage point to flip the ram, but that is sometimes more difficult to do with the big boys.

3) As a point of interest, there is another way that may be easier on your body. After you have caught the ram, get him sideways to you (right against your thighs) and lean over his back, grab the far front leg and a handful of the skin in front of the far back leg and flip him like you are shaking a rug, stepping back as you do it. He will go right on his back. One wouldn’t ever hold on to the skin or wool of a sheep otherwise, because it hurts them, but this is a lesson and need not be pleasant. This works especially well when one is irritated….adrenaline helps a lot!

After the ram is on his side/back, hold him with his head turned severely around to the side, and use a knee to hold him down, until he gives up struggling. If this is a first offense, the sense of helplessness may be all that is necessary. But if the ram has needed discipline more than once, also hold his nose for several seconds with one hand, with the other hand holding the head or whatever body part necessary.  Don’t hold their noses until they pass out…they lose enough brain cells on their own!

While the ram is down, shout at him! Shout something that you can use as a verbal reminder later. It may take more than one application of this treatment to make an impression, especially if he has decided that he can misbehave and still remain alive!

For the majority of rams, it shouldn’t take many of these lessons, perhaps only one, to establish your “alpha” position. Nevertheless, you are armed with the confidence of your dominance, and can repeat the lesson if needed. Hopefully you and your ram can be friends for life.

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After long absence…

My days have seemed absorbed with simple survival, my thoughts too random, my words inadequate. I will write again eventually, hopefully soon. But for now…one whose words never fail to touch my heart:

XI.
by Wendell Berry

Though he was ill and in pain,
in disobedience to the instruction he
would have received if he had asked,
the old man got up from his bed,
dressed, and went to the barn.
The bare branches of winter had emerged
through the last leaf-colors of fall,
the loveliest of all, browns and yellows
delicate and nameless in the gray light
and the sifting rain. He put feed
in the troughs for eighteen ewe lambs,
sent the dog for them, and she
brought them. They came eager
to their feed, and he who felt
their hunger was by their feeding
eased. From no place in the time
of present places, within no boundary
nameable in human thought,
they had gathered once again,
the shepherd, his sheep, and his dog
with all the known and the unknown
round about to the heavens’ limit.
Was this his stubbornness or bravado?
No. Only an ordinary act
of profoundest intimacy in a day
that might have been better. Still
the world persisted in its beauty,
he in his gratitude, and for this
he had most earnestly prayed.

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The walrus said….

The time has come: I promised sheep for sale would appear here…and so I will begin.

We are making up the sales list and have two ram-lambs on it so far; these are fellows that we have a high level of confidence in…not very good grammar…and whose genetics we have safe in other boys. One of these young ones is now promised, but this handsome lad (Higgins) is waiting for just the right home.

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He is out of Dodge Cascadia (a super-soft horned moorit ewe) by Shady Oaks Spats (a perfectly marked black HST with an equally soft fleece).

Higgins is the ideal ram for those who love single-coatedness and crimp, and he is very balanced in all his qualities…excellent conformation and tail, wide sweeping horns and a uniform fleece carrying the softness of his parents.

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He carries spots and did have quite a lot of white on head and neck as a lamb (click to biggify),
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but all that has faded now to some sparkles on his forehead. His twin is a wildly spotted yuglet. Those two were a real trial for their mother (you may have seen this photo last spring….it still makes me laugh):
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Higgins is cautiously friendly, but very polite and respectful (he has had an iron-clad good beginning). He is only for sale because our ram-flock is much too large…and we are retaining rams from both of his parents.

When anyone asks how many sheep we have, I always answer (truthfully): Too many! This is part of an effort to try to turn that around…

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It’s about time!

Yes, I am still alive….

Between haying time and so many weeks of work away from home this past month, there has been precious little time to catch up on blogging. Haying our fields is finished, with the hard work done by Brook and his dear brother Lewis (who came out from Maryland to help this year).

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Lewis shares Brook’s “oneness” with machines and had a very short learning curve at mowing and baling. He loved it and says that he will do it again next year! What a saint he is….
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Lewis’s friend (and ours) Katherine came out the second week to join us…actually she and I arrived in Boise the same day and drove to Pine Valley together. Katherine and I tackled the garden and weeded, weeded, weeded. When I had to move on to other things, Katherine kept working in the garden….bless her.
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They both live in more urban areas, but have farmer’s hearts….here they are as “American Gothic”:
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Brook ran the balewagon, picking up hay, and moving them to the barns as Lewis baled…and after I got home, I helped him position the balewagon for each stack. He manages on his own, but it is so much more time efficient with me on the ground.
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We came up short on hay this year, as did almost everyone else that we know….an idiosyncrasy of the long cool spring? Our delays in irrigation while getting the wheel-lines set up? Who knows? The result of all this is that we are haying some leased land this week while I am home to give us enough fodder for winter for our (too many) animals.

This field is an alfalfa/grass mix and so will go into the older barn where the bred ewes will overwinter, and be half of their daily hay ration while they are growing next year’s lambs.

Speaking of lambs and too many animals….I will be putting lambs and adult sheep for sale on the blog in the next few days. Hopefully on a brand new “sheep-for-sale” page that (our brilliant and talented) Ben is creating for us. I have hesitated to ask him since he is so busy with paying clients….but he says that it will happen soon. Stay tuned….

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A Chicken in Sheep’s Clothing

This note is for Michelle…and other chicken lovers.
And seeing a few winter photos will be welcome in the hot summer temperatures…

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The comfort is that some independent chickens find ways to be safe away from the coop. Sally decided last summer that she wasn’t a chicken at all; at least she no longer wanted to live with those other birds. For a while, she camped out in the lower sheep barn, where she brooded in a corner of the feed room. She had no rooster for company and no eggs hatched….so eventually she gave up on the project.

When winter came (as you can see from the photos), Sally moved to the upper sheep barn where she slept with the sheep and followed us around whenever we were there. She was (and still is) quite the picture trotting along beside us when we arrive, asking us clearly to give her some breakfast. She has no fear of the dogs and happily they are very polite to her. One day this summer, Sally even came into the horse corral to get me, and led me back to the barn clucking insistently. For her part, she definitely knows her name and comes when she is called.

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When the sheep come out for hay, she goes into the winter pen and nibbles along with them. Here she is about to go around Finn, our youngest Border Collie.
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If she slept outside, I would worry, but she has always sought some sort of cover. These days, Sally perches at night on the wall of the sheep’s sleeping area. But last winter, she slept down with the sheep, buried in wool to stay warm.

Sally stars in the skirting part of this spring’s Shearing Day video (about 3 minutes into it), and if you carefully study the last frame or two, you will see the silhouette of a chicken standing on a sheep’s back in the big open door!

We love Sally and hope that she lives with us for many years….

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Water Magic

Or….More Than You Ever Wanted to Know about Irrigation!

To those who have used wheel-line irrigation, my romance with this system (new to us this year) will seem a little over-enthusiastic. But the magic of water under amazing pressure…just from gravity, just in flowing down from the mountains…has me hooked.

Brook and I worked so hard to assemble the used wheel-lines that we had purchased this year…days and days of work, frustrating complications, and worry over our pastures getting too dry before we could get the wheel-lines functional.

Our fear was allayed by a wetter and cooler than usual (and long) spring. Brook did flood-irrigate two of the fields before he left to join me in OH, but other than that, Mother Nature gave us all the time we so desperately needed.

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The wheel line itself as well as the individual sections appeal to my sense of beauty:
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And when we turned them on, the water was beautiful…and there were rainbows!
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We have 3 of these lines and each of them has to be moved twice a day…we walk up from the bottom of the hay-fields and turn each one off, opening the lower end up so that it can drain. We begin with the 1/4 mile line since that one takes longest. After they are empty of water, we move each of the lines by 60 feet. (we do have to use a little motor to move the center section; the rest of the wheels roll along).

And then we start them sprinkling again…one by one.
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All in all, we walk about 3 to 4 miles a day irrigating the pastures, good exercise in a lovely spot, birds singing, green all around. It doesn’t get much better than this….
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unless you add the camas that was blooming under our feet when we put the lines together…
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How it is with me….

Now that I am home from Ohio, and subsequently from a week’s work in AZ, I find that these photos of our darling cats express my condition better than words could ever do!

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Beauty

My mother always loved an old rose variety called Doctor van Fleet. She grew up smelling its sweet perfume and in her opinion, no other could match it. I remember it covering the side of my grandparents farmhouse….back then, I thought all roses smelled as sweet.

A few years ago, she found a Dr. van Fleet rosebush and planted it outside her front door. It has grown vigorously and bloomed profusely. She even buried the base of a few long shoots in order to root them for my brother and me.

Three days ago, the first bloom of this season opened…..and on that day, my mother left her body behind and reached out for my father’s hand. They are together now, embracing after years of separation.

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She has waged war with ovarian carcinoma for the past year and a half. From the beginning, she made the brave decision to have chemotherapy and sailed through the first courses. Always very conscious of her appearance, she suspended all that thinking and considered the loss of her hair a badge of courage. She looked beautiful and serene….

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She remained strong-willed and determined; and last fall, when Ruth (the friend who stayed with her through her 18 month ordeal) went to the store briefly, Mom (whom everyone had felt too weak to do any work) managed to get herself outside with the iris bulbs she had just received in the mail….and planted them. They have given her many exquisite blooms this spring and today a new one opened:

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Her bright spirit left behind so much beauty….may she now rest in comfort and peace.

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