I didn’t bottle-raise the two Nigerian Dwarf does born here in February because I didn’t want goats who followed me everywhere. Instead, my plan was to let their mom raise them, taking less milk so she had enough for them. Then I watched as she slowly taught them to eat more on their own and less from her. I think she was getting pretty tired of nursing, to be honest.
The doelings were not afraid of me, by any means. But they really wanted very little to do with me. Looking for that happy medium, on Monday I pulled the two girls and put them in a small pen not far from their mother. This did not go over well:
After a day piteous non-stop sobbing on the part of the doelings and the mother, I switched them, putting mom in the new area and putting the babies back in the are where they were raised. That seemed to work much better for all. Then I started teaching the youngsters to associate me with food, and at the same time started milking the mom while giving her lots of yummy grain.
Five days later, things are going pretty well. Mom is patient and content while I milk her, and although she still cries for her babies, things are winding down on her end. She has been through this before, after all. And the doelings have gone from eating sweet treats near me, to eating out of my hand, to eating while being held in my lap.
We getting there. And I think I’m going to keep both of the doelings. They’re very nice kids.
An ideal equine officer is unfazed by the sound of train whistles, the chaos of large public events, the blasts of boom boxes or the crackle of bullets or fireworks. He must be capable of quickly moving through crowds, creating barriers and pushing criminal suspects into a position of submission when called to do so.
Patrick, tan and white with a blond mane that sparkles in the sunshine, excels on all fronts, [Officer Kate] McLoughlin said.
Patrick’s personality, in particular, “puts a smile on people’s faces,” she said, including one suspect who, as McLoughlin was interviewing him, lost his can of King Cobra malt liquor when Patrick snatched it from his hands to try to drink it.
“He’s got the kind of personality and spirit that you just can’t train into a horse,” McLoughlin said.
True that! But King Cobra? Patrick, really! Here, he drank Guinness.
Two weeks after my pasture flooded, I still have standing water, two pools about 20-30 feet across and couple inches deep. The twice-daily slog to the barn is trying, as the mud sucks at my boots and plays with my balance. The biggest concern of all, though, once I realized I wasn’t losing $3,000 worth of hay to rising water, was the health of the horses. They needed to get out of the mud.
I have picked their hooves and rotated them through the higher and dryer back yard every day, but the problem at night remained: I have two dry stalls and one flooded one, lots of gooey mud — and three horses. One of the horses had to be re-homed, so that meant: Which one was most sellable? Which one did I like riding? Which ones had other options?
All answers pointed to Patrick, my 9-year-old Spotted Saddle Horse, as the horse who was going to leave. He’s the best horse I have, well-trained, smart, good-looking and with great feet, conformation and health. But he’s too much horse for me under saddle, and our relationship as horse and rider had become more strained as I became less and less able to earn and maintain his respect. He was never dangerous or unkind — he’s bright, friendly and playful — but his energy, intelligence and boldness meant I could never relax on the trail.
The quieter, shorter and frankly more boring Rebel was a much better ride for anxious older rider I had, at almost 55, suddenly become. And the third horse, my trashed ex-racer Haggin? Total sweetie, but more of a pet than a ride because of track injuries. And even when sound, he’s also too much horse for me as a rider, although my friend Ann rides him when she can.
As I prepared to sell Patrick to the best possible home, my friend and trainer Alana Henley of Sunfire Equestrian mentioned that she thought the Sacramento Police Department’s mounted unit was looking for a very special horse, and that mine might be perfect. She knows what it takes: She used to be a Sacramento PD mounted police officer. She called, and last Friday, two officers came over to look informally, and two days ago, the unit did, in uniform. The next day Patrick passed the veterinary check at Loomis Basin, and he officially went to the police barn as an officer in training. It will be 60 days before I know if he’ll “stick” or come back, but there’s no downside for me or for him: Two months of great care, dry footing and good training. Being a police horse is a great life for on outgoing, confidant horse, with constant attention from the officers, volunteers and public. If he doesn’t make the grade, he’ll be even more appealing to potential new owners.
It’s the second time I’ve tried to find a new career for him (although it’s the first time the career has meant his leaving me for good) and I think this time, if he passes, he’ll be great at the work. Arena work as a hunter-jumper didn’t suit him (although he loves jumping!) but being out all day seeing the world? It’s perfect for him. The police officers think so, too, and they’re very picky about the horses they try in their program. Today I visited him after his first full day in training, and got a glowing report, very promising.
He’s also had a head start! The place where I boarded him when he first arrived was adjacent to trails that wound through a wooded area notorious for quick sex. The men turn up in cars at the park that caps the trail system, and hook up with each other, or, occasionally, hookers, and head into the brush. Some of them apparently bring in reading material, to judge by what we found on the trail one day. The same area has homeless folks, some of whom behave in very unpredictable ways. We saw a lot of very strange behavior on those trails, and Patrick handled it all with grace and tolerance.
I just couldn’t be happier with this turn of events, and I’ll be holding my breath and keeping my fingers crossed that he gets through the training — it’s high bar! — and becomes Officer Patrick of the Sacramento Police Department. He’s also be a trend-setter, a horse of a different color for the force entirely: All the other police horses are solid-color horses. With his natural bling, he’ll really stand out!
Meanwhile, back at RBF, I have two dry stalls and two horses, plus the help of a young woman who lives around the corner and works as a veterinary technician. She’s 29 and a good horse-trainer, and she helps me a few hours a week with all the heavy lifting and stall cleaning. Winter? We’ll get through it. As long as the levee doesn’t break, that is.
Top image: Patrick, clean, last spring at RBF. Middle image: Patrick at the Sac PD barn, first day in training. Learning to wait is an important part of police horse work: There’s a lot of standing around for these equine officers. Lower image: Leftover porn stash on the trail, ho-hum.
So who’s here? Three dogs: McKenzie (still fighting cancer but running out of time), Faith and NED the puppy. Two cats, Ilario and Mariposa. Two horses, Haggin and Rebel. Two Nigerian dwarf dairy goats, Bayberry (mine) and Blossom (loaner). Two ducks, Bernadette and ABBA. And 13 chickens, none named.
I haven’t written about the goats yet (that’s Bayberry on the left, with my friend Susan Fox, a noted artist) since I wrote about the goat I ended up not getting. The reason? Sugar Maple would have needed milking all winter, twice a day, and I’m just learning. I figured learning to care for goats was enough of a Step 1.
But not long after, Joyful Hearts had a goat I thought would be a perfect fit: Bayberry. She’s older, more experienced at being handled and is easy to milk when the time arrives. She was also being sold as potentially pregnant, due in the spring. Perfect.
Because goats need companions, I asked my friend Xan of Flyway Farm to loan me one of hers for the winter, and she agreed. Which is how I came to have one goat and one loaner goat here at RBF.
Meet Ned, the first Sheltie puppy I have had in my life since 1986, when I brought Andy home from the breeder. (Drew was almost five years old when I adopted him.) I had been researching breeders for months and had planned for a tri-colored boy puppy from an earlier litter, but that didn’t work out. I had hoped for the puppy to overlap with Drew, but that didn’t happen, either: They missed each other by a couple of weeks.
I flew to Minnesota to get him about three weeks ago, and brought him back in a soft-sided carrier stowed by my feet in the first-class cabin. I wouldn’t use my miles to upgrade for me, but for a puppy? You bet! He was a great little traveler and has shown himself to be a marvelous little puppy every day since. He’s smart, bold and learns quickly.
He makes me smile every day.
His name stands for “No Evidence of Disease,” which is abbreviated as NED on my dog McKenzie’s monthly chemotherapy report card. In just the few months since McKenzie was diagnosed with soft-tissue sarcoma, these three letters have been my favorites.
Welcome, little NED.
Image by Eric Christensen
Almost all the fencing has been upgraded now, with safe, secure areas for the chickens and ducks, the two goats who’ll be here soon and, of course, the horses. There’s an escape hatch in the main pasture gate that’s kept open while I’m out, so the dogs (even the little one goes out now) can get out of the way of the horses immediately if they need to. (Picture at above, with Tony.) Tony the Foster Racehorse will be going back to the trainer’s barn, and so will Haggin, my own Off-Track-Thoroughbred. Haggin’s recovery from life-threatening racing injuries has been nothing less than miraculous, and it may well be that he’ll end up as someone else’s horse. (With me retaining return rights to protect him from some awful future fate.)
The fact is, he feels so good these days that I don’t feel safe on him. He’s fine for a confident beginner in the arena, or any intermediate rider on the trail, but I still have such a fear of speed and of falling, and he wants to move those glorious muscles of his, floating over the ground gracefully and beautifully — but a little alarmingly swift for me. I had planned for him to be a pasture pet, given his off-track prognosis, but I think he can do better now. Time will tell what we can arrange for him. I hope he can become some girl’s sweet pet ride, because he is so handsome and personable.
This week will see the addition of a second bomb-proof gaited trail horse to match Patrick. Rebel is a Kentucky Mountain Horse, an easy-going gelding who will make it possible for me to always have company on the trail. My plan is to put together a small riding club of (probably) women who haven’t the time or money for a full-on commitment to a horse, but who’d like to ride every week or so for a modest membership fee. Rebel and Patrick are perfect for this work, since both are comfortable, well-mannered and friendly horses who love attention.
Having two horses here and the third at my trainer’s stable where he’ll get better riders on him should work out just fine.
I have a tendency to get tired. Not tired, like “I’ll have a nap and perk up tired” but bone-tired to the extent that nothing short of an adrenaline burst from a life-threatening experience could get my mind and body moving. And actually, I’m not sure even that would be enough, sometimes. This has been going on all my adult life, at the very least, and I “cope” by crashing. Because this tends to lead to cancellations of planned events I have finally started to plan fewer, or explain my situation when making arrangements. I find that most people are pretty understanding when you tell them up front that chances are decent that you’ll have to reschedule from time to time.
As I get older, I reschedule a lot.
Today would have been my third straight day of planned outdoor activity (my youngest retriever and I were entered in a hunt test), and I should have known that wouldn’t work. And indeed last night I was so bone-tired that the muck cart felt as if it weighed a thousand pounds, and every scoop of manure seemed like a hundred. Feeding, watering, and putting the horses up for the night seemed to take all evening. Sometimes I am light-hearted and light-footed as I work happily — yes, happily — through barn chores, but when I am tired like this it’s only the love of my animals and my concern for their care that keeps me moving.
This morning I canceled hunt test plans for the day and had a much better morning with the chores. Wrote a little, napped a little more and feel a great deal better. But still … winter is coming and I have more animals now. It makes me anxious, worrying about how I’ll be up to their care over the months ahead.
So far, if I have a bad day I just go slowly, and break up the chores into a couple of sessions instead of one. And I have found a hard-working young woman in the neighborhood — a vet tech, no less — who will be helping a couple days a week for $15 an hour, which seems fair.
Everything always seems to work out, if not always on schedule. I just have to keep plodding and trust that will work out in the months ahead.
I still have the garden beds to get in before spring, after all.
As readers could probably tell, I had a very difficult time with the loss of Drew. I’ve actually gotten a little more used to losses over the years, so the depth and breadth of my sadness really surprised me. I still feel really good about having provided hospice care for him, even though it made the loss harder. I think next time I will be better prepared, which will help.
Two weeks ago today, my almost 16-year-old Sheltie, Drew, drew his last breath in my arms, on my bed, with my friend Dr. Kelly Byam helping him cross to whatever’s on the other side.
Drew should have died a year earlier, when his main veterinarian, Dr. Bill Porte (actually, my pets have several veterinarians, all top-notch “primary care” and specialists, plus my livestock veterinarians, of course), diagnosed him with end-stage renal failure, and said I might buy a little more time by giving him sub-cutaneous fluids at home every day. (Aside: Doing so is easy and inexpensive. If your veterinarian ever offers it as an option, please, please consider it.) A little time turned into months, and Drew was happy and pain-free until the last day of his life.
When that stopped being the case, I made sure his life ended, and swiftly. While everyone has to decide what is best on his or her own, I have always thought I’d rather be a week early than an hour too late in timing euthanasia. In reality, I’ve generally been just on time, and that’s OK, too.
Losing Drew was going to be hard, I knew. But I didn’t realized (and have had many others tell me since) that providing hospice care for a pet at home can make the aftermath even more difficult. That’s because the daily care you provide a dying pet makes the bond even stronger, and the routines of care — daily fluids in Drew’s case — become habits that service to remind you of your loss for days and weeks after. In my case, every day around 10 a.m. my mind kicks me to ask: “Have you given Drew his fluids? Don’t forget!”
Now, of course, I’m trying to forget.
But that wasn’t the only thing that made the loss harder than “normal.” Not long before Drew died, the folks at the local public radio station asked me to become a regular on a new segment about pets for their daily interview show, Insight. The first topic: End of life care for pets.
The producer found out that Drew died, and he asked me a couple days after if I wanted to talk about another topic. I thought I was doing pretty well, so I said it wasn’t necessary. And in fact I was doing fine a couple days after Drew died. A week after, on the day of the program, I was not doing well at all.
The result was an interview that I am as proud of as anything I’ve ever done professionally. Because I was (mostly) able to transcend my pain and help other pet-lovers. And because even while I was getting in every point I needed to make — without notes of any kind — the slight warble in my voice that told of the tears I was (mostly) holding back made this a pretty powerful piece.
And while I have always liked Beth Ruyak, for years an anchor at the top-rated TV station in our area before she went national, I was schooled first-hand in the art of the interview, as she skillfully kept me on topic while helping me to keep it together. It was hard for her, too: She’s an animal-lover, and as she was interviewing me, her own eyes were brimming with tears. She’s a consummate professional, and it was a pleasure to be in studio with her. Even under such unexpectedly difficult circumstances.
While I have always wanted horses, I managed to avoid keeping any animal in the “livestock” category until I turned 50 and decided to get a trio of laying hens. Not realizing, of course, that chickens are “gateway livestock.”
Within five years’ time, I went from three slightly used chickens to 15 hard-working young layers. From a single raised-bed planter to plans for more than a dozen of them. From my childhood Breyer horses to three real ones. And, of course, from a quarter-acre suburban lot to Rancho Buena Fe´.
Coming next: Goats.
Nigerian dwarf goats, to be specific. Small, friendly and productive, with milk for cheese, butter and soap.
I mentioned on Facebook that I was getting goats, and publicly and privately I started getting word of goats who need homes. Farm sanctuary goats. Shelter goats. Mixed breed and meat goats. Because everyone assumes I’m looking for pets. Which I’m not, not really.
The only animals on this place who get a pass are the dogs and cats, and honestly, they contribute plenty in the way of emotional support and endless amusement. Everyone else contributes, in one way or another. As for me, I bring in the mortgage money and I handle all the care. The rest of the animals:
The horses get ridden.
The chickens (and sometimes the ducks) give eggs.
The goats (will) give milk.
The gardens provide food for me (and for sale/barter, eventually) with leftovers for the chickens, goats and compost pile. The compost pile gives back to the gardens.
But then, there’s the subject of meat. While I eat less and less meat over time (I’m becoming a “Fork Over Knives” person because I feel healthier when I eat that way, and the meat I do eat is largely raised here or purchased from sources I trust) my dogs and cats are carnivores (and so are yours, by the way), and they’re fed that way. I have two massive freezers in the garage, and I’ll soon be adding another to accommodate my home serving as a drop site for SF Raw Feeders, a spectacular buying co-op that supports humane, sustainable, regional animal agriculture — small family farms and ranches.
When I first got those three chickens, back in suburbia, I mentioned to my very sweet neighbors (two sisters who share a home) that I would have extra eggs, if they wanted them. One of them said, “No, thank you. We’re vegans.” After a little probing whether it was a choice for health or because eating animals was unthinkable, I got that it was the latter. So I said, “You know, these eggs come naturally from chickens who live their lives to the best that any chicken could.”
“Oh no,” said the neighbor. “We could never kill fetal chickens.”
“I don’t have a rooster,” I said. “You’re not killing anything.”
She insisted you didn’t need a rooster to get chicks. At that point, I let the matter drop. I just didn’t have the patience to explain high-school biology to the two of them. And I certainly didn’t have it to explain why feeding the leftovers of industrial animal agriculture to their dogs and cats (in a bad of kibble) negated pretty much everything they believed.
Which brings me back to meat.
I do not need to squeeze every last dime from my animals, which is why those who give a lifetime of eggs (hens), or milk (goats), or service (horses) will live out their lives here even when they no longer contribute those things. Beyond that, only the horses are guaranteed to never be fed to something else here at RBF. One of my dogs has killed a chicken or two, and when that happened, the unlucky hen is eviscerated, plucked and put into the freezer. She later became become dog food, fed back to the same dog who killed her. That wasn’t my plan, but I’m not going to disrespect her death by throwing her body into the trash. (Chickens who are sick I kill swiftly and mercifully, but they are NOT eaten — I won’t feed sick animals to other animals, which is more than you can say about a pet-food company, or even the manufacturers of your child’s school lunch.)
But killing chickens is not that hard to deal with emotionally, at least not for me. I am able to slaughter them so swiftly then don’t know what hit them, and then I able to butcher them. Since I made that leap that enabled me to do both, I stopped naming most of them. The two ducks — Bernadette and ABBA — are pets. The chickens are not, although there is always the possibility that one or two of them might become so, names and all. But as I said, barring accident or illness, the laying hens will live out their natural lives after they are no longer productive. The meats birds I’ll be raising next spring will not be. While they’ll be well-cared-for every day of their lives here, they will be raised to end up in my freezer, a few months after they come here. And I’m OK with that, too. The same goes with cockerels: We eat roosters here.
Pets or meat, humankind has also been allowed to make the choice. That’s why I have a pet duck who I took home after a field-training session — one in which most of the other ducks died. The fact is: I have no problem with death, but I do I have a problem with cruelty. And I really have a problem with people who cringe when I talk about killing poultry for the dogs or the table when they are buying and eating meat someone else killed after the animals were treated with less compassion than shown to your average end table. (I feel the same way about people who whinge about how “cruel” hunters are, also while eating factory-farmed meat.)
With the goatly additions, though, I have to do some more thinking about what I can and can’t do emotionally. That’s because (for those of you unfamiliar with the concept, such as people who believe in immaculate insemination of chickens) to get milk from a goat (or any mammal) you need to breed the animal. The milk, after all, is intended to be given to offspring, not moochers like us.
While industrial cattle dairies would do what industrial chicken hatcheries do with male offspring if they thought they should get away with it (note: if you have a gentle heart, don’t look it up), what to do with males when you’re someone like me is a very big issue indeed. While the female offspring of a productive dairy goat is not problem to sell, there are not many “pet” homes for neutered male goats, known as wethers. Then what? Goat meat is very good, but I know absolutely I couldn’t personally slaughter and butcher a goat I’d seen born and then raised. And I’m only barely able to cope with the idea of having someone else do the dirty work, slaughtering and butchering the goat for my freezer.
Yes, it’s the cute factor, I admit it, which is why I don’t ever plan to have meat rabbits, pigs, cattle (even nifty small ones like Dexters) or sheep. If I can’t find homes for the inevitable wethers or deal with having them butchered for my freezer, next to the chickens I’ve killed myself or the meat I bought from SF Raw … well, I’ll have no milk, just a goat pets: The doe I’m buying, and the wether who’s coming along as a companion.
But pets goats I don’t want, and can’t have more than this “starter pack” of two.
The first wether, the boy goat the doe I’m hoping to buy gave birth to a couple months ago, is staying, because goats can’t be kept as singles. He’ll be a pet to me and a companion for his mother. But that’s all the boy goats there’ll be here, one way or the other.
Image: The dairy goat I’m negotiating to buy now. Well-trained and well-mannered, an excellent producer of top-quality milk. Photo used by permission of Fern at Joyful Hearts Farm.
Last week when I promised to write about Tony, my foster horse, I wasn’t sure I was going to have the promise of a happy ending. Tony was eating well, but the rest of his days were spent in the corner of the pasture, head down and facing away from the other two horses, with whom he did not engage at all. He didn’t ask for affection from me, nor did he seem to enjoy it when I gave it to him. He just seemed like a machine, going through the motions. The real Tony? Shut down, shut off. I had my doubts we’d see that horse again.
But today I am more hopeful.
The afternoon was hot, and I thought I’d treat the three horses to a cool shower. I did the other two first, spraying them down, scraping the extra water off to help them cool faster and then laughing as they immediately rolled in the dirt. Then it was Tony’s turn. He loved getting a shower, and mugged me for the nozzle, happily rolling his lips back and taking in the stream with his tongue. I gave him a very long shower since he was enjoying it so much, then massaged him with a light “jelly” curry, then sprayed him again and scraped off the water.
Like the others, he immediately rolled in the dirt. But then … he surprised me with what he did next.The other two were horsing around, galloping, bucking and kicking in their enjoyment of feeling cool on a hot day. Since Tony has arrived — about three weeks ago — seeing the other horses running would have put into a defensive mode, sticking his head into the corner of the privacy fence that marks two sides of the property.
Not this time. When the other horses galloped past him, Tony was caught up in their joy and joined in. The three of them played rough and fast for a good 15 minutes, then drank water together before grazing in the shade — again, together.
May not seem like a big deal, but those who know Tony understand that it is.
Tony’s a racehorse, original name Purse Luva (as in “luv purse money”). A hard-knocking claimer, he raced 32 times and ended his career with his legs in good shape. Then he made his way through a rescue group to my trainer’s barn, Sunfire Equestrian. My trainer, Alana Courville, has a soft spot for Thoroughbreds, and enough time in her business to know they’re strong, athletic horses who are perfect for many equine sports. (Here’s a nice story on Alana.)
But while Tony seemed physically sound (an impression that didn’t last long, but his soft-tissue injuries and hooves just need time to heal), he turned out very quickly to be damaged mentally. On the ground, he is gentle and willing to do ask you ask … albeit reserved and mentally removed from his surroundings. Tack him up, however, and he shuts down. Whatever happened to him at the end of his career has made him terrified of working under saddle, and he copes with his fear by taking himself mentally out of his body.
I had mentioned to Alana that I was interested in fostering her career-change horses, one at a time. When I finally moved in here, Tony came over, along with my own two horses, Patrick the gaited trail horse, and Haggin (a/k/a Capital Cat) another retired racer.
Tony was so clearly unhappy that I worried I wouldn’t be able to help him. After all, I haven’t spent my life around horses. Even though I’ve contributed to a couple of books on them, that’s just basic reporting: Interview the experts and write what they tell you. But I figured Tony’s best chance was structure, consistency, affection and time. Once I got his routine going, I left him pretty much alone.
It was hard to look out the window and see him standing in the corner for hours at a time, while the other two grazed and enjoyed their lives, accepting carrots at the front gate and happily watching the world go by along the road in front of the house.
Tony’s playfulness today didn’t last long, but it was first sign I’ve seen since he arrived that there’s a real horse in there. Even better: As the day continued, he didn’t retreat to his corner but stayed with the other horses. That was another first.
He’ll be here a few more months. I am optimistic that he’ll be ready for re-training when he goes back to Alana, and that with his gorgeous looks, sweet temperament and sound body he’ll make some lucky girl a wonderful eventer.
In the meantime, we’re pretty sure that in addition to his soft tissue injury Tony has ulcers, which almost all racers do, as do the majority of horses in other competitive areas. Dr. Jason Bravos will be out for a ranch call when I can afford it to give everyone a check-up and husbandry review, and he’ll be discussing Tony’s care going forward. The ulcer treatment costs about $1,500 for the medications (it’s a six-week treatment, I’m told), and if that’s what Tony needs, I’ll be figuring out some kind of fund-raiser to cover it. Check back!
Before I muse over the question posed, some updates. Yes, I’ve been in a month. No, I am not going to write about the place every five weeks (I’m aiming for weekly, which works with my other deadlines). Today is my mother’s 79th birthday, and when I called to convey happy B-day wishes, she asked me, “Are you happy there?”
In a word: Very.
Faith provides perspective sitting on a month's worth of tarped manure. Yes, I shoveled every bit of it.
And I say that on a day when I have spent a good five hours working outside, mostly dealing with manure. The final rough guestimate for June: Two tons shoveled. My plan for it is to rotate among three sites, putting a month’s manure (collected two-three times daily, added to the pile and then the pile is re-tarped) into one location, then capping it with straw and a tarp for two months. I have homes for the free compost at the end of its 60-day cook into compost, and that seems a better plan than sending it to the landfill.
So what else happened?
The barn was reconfigured for the safety and comfort of the horses and me, turning the stalls 90 degrees so they open to pipe paddocks instead of a narrow corridor behind the barn.
Work inside the house temporarily stalled when it was discovered that the owner of the two horses who were on the property when I bought it (and whom I let keep them there for free for four months while the house was being worked on, which already wasn’t going well) was hitting on the married contractor. Said contractor and his wife are friends of mine, and neighbors at my old house. Predictable un-hillarity ensued. The boarder’s leaving was not pleasant, and the fall-out continued for weeks. I finally blocked her nasty text-messages that would not stop after I asked her for help in keeping her horses (moved next-door) from harm on the crappy old fence that could not be replaced until I got her 300-foot manure wall off my property. Fortunately, her “wall-o-poop” is gone, the privacy fence is up where it was and what happens to her and her horses is no longer my problem. The next-door neighbor is very nice woman to take the horses in, and that’s the end of that.
The horses and the poultry arrived. Two of the horses are mine, and the third is a foster, a former racehorse who needs some downtime and TLC before going on to a new career as a hunter-jumper/eventer. More on Tony the foster horse later. The poultry settled in fine, and Bernadette The Weather Duck never got a bite in (though Lord she tried) when I grabbed her, stuffed her in a box and brought her to her new home. Her companion duck, ABBA the Swedish blue, was terrified but not murderous. The chickens moved inside their coop, very slick way to move them all.
About half the new fencing went in, prioritizing the perimeter and what needed to be replaced for safety’s sake. The rest will wait until fall.
The cat hasn’t made a single dash for the outside, and loves the tall, wide windowsills.
The plan for having my friend Dan live on the property in exchange for help with labor went poof when he got a good job that puts him on the road constantly. He’s rarely here, and most days I have his dog. Nice dog, so it’s fine, but I need to find some help with the heavy lifting, and Dan and I will need to figure out a financial arrangement.
The raised garden beds and the goats will wait a few months. I need to settle in to the work I have before taking on any more, plus I can’t yet find the money for the interior fencing and the construction and filling of the beds.
The HVAC and likely the well pump will need to be replaced. I thought I got lucky replacing only the septic tank and the electrical system. Turns out I didn’t. So it goes.
Renovations continue at the old place, and a friend and her mother will be moving in July 21. New paint everywhere, renovated bathroom (dry rot removed), new flooring in the kitchen. Why do we wait to move out to do these things for others to enjoy?
While there was a lot more work, money and drama to the transition, the fact it that it was all worth it. I am incredible happy here.
These would be McKenzie (right) and her daughter Faith a/k/a FayBee. My other dog, Drew, is nearing 16, is deaf and doesn’t see well. He isn’t allowed out of the backyard because it’s not safe for him to be around the horses. So … I’m just talking about these two.
McKenzie has been just about perfect since the day she arrived from Texas as a puppy a little more than seven years ago. She has always been thoughtful, well-mannered, good-natured and easy-going. She finished her championship relatively easily, and almost finished her junior hunter despite my poor record at sticking to a training program or letting her know that coming back without the bird wasn’t an option. I’m a wimp that way.
How perfect is McKenzie? Last spring I took her on a 29-city book tour with my co-author, Dr. Marty Becker, in a custom-wrapped “rock star” bus. In and out of no-pet hotels, in and out of TV studios, at book-signings, in large cities and small, McKenzie never set a paw wrong.
I assumed my darling McKutie would take to life on the mini-ranch the way she had taken to everything else: Easily and gracefully. That hasn’t exactly been the case. Other than posing handsomely on hay in the barn, McKenzie generally appears to prefer the suburban life we left to this one.
She doesn’t care for the horses, and she wants to eat the chickens. She doesn’t like to hang out while I do barn chores, clearly wishing I’d throw the tennis ball instead. She misses her runs with my ultramarathoning friend, Bob.
McKenzie is not unhappy by any means. But she hasn’t taken to the country life the way I thought she would. I’m pretty sure she misses the patio at Whole Foods, too, but I can fix that: There’s one opening not too far away soon enough.
McKenzie’s daughter Faith is the last of the litter born in my bedroom. She was born at the veterinarian’s, however, and have had my suspicion that she may have been a little deprived of oxygen while waiting to join her siblings at the milk bar.
The entire litter is smart, high-drive and occasionally annoying. Faith a/k/a FayBee (as in Faith, Baby) is so off the charts on the annoying that her co-breeder, having kept her in Texas while McKenzie and I were on tour, not-so-jokingly suggested that given her druthers, she’d have traded Faith for a yellow dog then shot the yellow dog. To put it bluntly, she hated Faith.
I don’t. I have loved her from the minute I saw her at the hospital, and knew from that second that she would be the one I kept. It hasn’t been easy, but she surprised me time and time again, including with her love for the sport of canine freestyle (dancing with your dog to music … sounds silly, but it’s really fun!). We tried it at Camp Unleashed! and she loved it from the first. We’ve kept up with classes every since.
The surprise, though, is how content and just plain perfect she is here.
Faith moves effortlessly around the horses, neither scared of them nor overly friendly. She always maintains a safe distance, and also turns out to be a great dog on a trail ride. She doesn’t bother the chickens or ducks, and she loves barn chores. She is always by my side, never in the way, and never a problem. She is even useful: Finding fly masks in the pasture if a horse works one off.
It’s a small sample of two, not valid for anything but a jumping-off point for discussion, but based on the last month, I’d say a ranch dog is born, not made.
Today the first boxes from the old house move to the new. Today we’re moving the kitchen and most of the “non-furniture” items in the entire house except for the office. The movers come Thursday for the big stuff.
Yes, it’s really happening. I am moving onto horse property.
There’s still a lot to be done over there, but it’s OK for now. The two horses who lived there when I bought the place have moved next-door, and my friend’s horse and goat will move soon after. 300 feet of privacy fencing is about two-thirds in. The secure six-foot chain-link yard within the yard area to secure and protect the dogs will go in next, with the added bonus of making sure the dogs aren’t ever in a position to bother anyone else, neighbor or livestock on my property or others. I don’t expect any problems, but I don’t want any problems, either. I always have my dogs behind not one but two lines of locked gates, because I never want any accidental roaming or loss.
The privacy fence, running along the line between the side and back of the property, blocks off my view of my only adjacent neighbors. It’s nothing personal, but I just wanted to feel a little more private than it was before. The neighbor on the other side is on the other side of my big pasture, and he’s building a home in the back of his two acres so it’s not like having a neighbor at all.
The barn still needs work — and I’m reconfiguring the stalls a little — and the pasture will need to be graded and seeded before the rains come back. The house needs a new HVAC system, and that will also happen in the fall. Other than that, it’s all pretty safe and very comfortable for us all, and we’ll be moved by the end of the week.
Then I have to get the contractor in to get my old house ready for the rental market.
By June 1 the dogs, cat, chickens/ducks and horses will be moved in with me (the dogs/cat move with me this week, of course), but there’s one addition I’ve put on hold for a while: two goats.
I want to have a pair of dairy goats, and even went so far as to call on a pair of well-bred yearling Nigerian dwarf does I found for sale. But I think I’m going to have my hands full with the adjustments (and my regular work!) all summer, so the goat expansion is on hold at least until fall.