Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Sad Story with a Happy Ending

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My phone rang early yesterday morning. My mom was calling to tell me that Gypsy, our little Arab-cross mare, was running around the pasture with a new foal at her side. We got over there as quickly as we could (after The Boy’s 3-year well checkup, where he was pronounced healthy and very tall), and found a strong, healthy filly and a mama who seems ready for the job this time.

This is Gypsy’s second foal. The first, Mississippi Mud Pie, was born May 8, 2010 and looked an awful lot like her new little sister. The same dark chocolate coat and the same huge star and snip, but without the strip connecting them.

Gypsy initially nursed her and seemed to be doing fine as a mama, but on the second day, she let the other horses push Missy off the bank into the stream, and then she just walked away. Fortunately, I was watching out the window and saw it happen. I helped Missy out of the water, and we put mama and baby in a temporary paddock together, thinking they just needed to be separated from the others.

But that night, when Missy tried to nurse, Gypsy attacked her. We talked to my former riding teacher and a veterinarian friend of hers, and their opinion was that for whatever reason, the two hadn’t bonded and we would need to raise the foal ourselves. So we did.

Missy absolutely thrived. She spent her first few months in a big chainlink pen beside my parents’ house next door, with daily jaunts out to the upper pasture where she would run in huge, sweeping circles, whinnying with pure joy and kicking up her dainty little heels before coming back to me, ready to go “home” for a snack.

After a while, the pen became too small for her, even though by then she was spending most of the day in the field. She had gotten to know the other horses through the fence dividing the two pastures, so moving her in with them went pretty smoothly. But she was kind of a loner, hanging out with her little half-brother or no one at all. For several months, though, everything worked. In the meantime, Ben and I moved from the guesthouse on my parents’ farm to our new house, seven miles away, where there was no room for horses. I drove over every day to feed them, but we really missed having them right outside.

Then one day last year, just a few weeks after Missy’s first birthday, Mom called to say that Missy had been lying in front of the stable all morning. She walked out there, still on the phone, and said that the horse looked fine, but didn’t seem to be able to get up.

Ben happened to be off that day, and we headed over to see what was wrong. Sure enough, Missy was lying there looking alert and comfortable, but no matter what tricks we tried, we couldn’t get her on her feet. In fact, we could see a trail of torn up ground behind her where she’d clearly been trying for hours to stand. We called the vet, but it was close to three hours before she could get there, so we put up a tent over Missy to get her out of the hot June sun, and then we sat on the ground with her and waited.

When the vet arrived, she looked Missy over and came to the conclusion pretty quickly that the horse had been struck by lightening the night before. What we’d thought was a bruise inside her back leg turned out to be a scorch mark, and although she appeared normal at first glance, her eyes had a milky cast and there was some blood in her mouth. She could move all four legs, but the back ones just didn’t have any strength in them.

On top of all that, in the hours we sat and waited with her, we literally watched colic set in. She went from lying upright to stretched out on her side, her belly distended and every breath a moan. After the vet’s assessment, it didn’t take long to realize that the only way to do right by Missy was to let her go. The one good part of that day was the fact that her last breaths were the first in hours that sounded painless and peaceful.

It was truly horrible, the first in a series of horrible events we went through last summer, and in comparison to the others, it was probably the least important. But it still hurts like crazy to think about that day and our utter helplessness to save that precious, beautiful creature.

So yesterday, we met this new little horse that looks so startlingly similar to Missy, and when the other horses got too close, we saw Gypsy take up the protective maternal stance that she never had before. Lowest in the pasture pecking order, she still laid back her ears and told Admiral and Calypso in no uncertain terms that they could leave her baby alone or they could get their butts kicked. And they believed her.

We saw the baby nurse and play and roll and do all the things that a happy, well-fed foal should do. And it feels like a second chance for Gypsy and for us. It feels like the story that ended so sadly last year might not be over yet, after all.

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Silkies!

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The Silkies arrived two days ago, and they’re unbelievably tiny, fuzzy, and cute. It’s always a shock when you pick up a day-old chick after getting accustomed to half-grown ones. I got to choose my own and tried to get a variety of colors. I’m so excited to see what they’ll grow up to look like!

The chicken tractor is so close to being done. All that’s really left to do is attach the wire, and then I’m hoping Ben and I can get the wheels on when he’s off tomorrow. The BOs are enormous and more than ready to go outside, and I had to combine them with the SLWs yesterday to free up a brooder for the Silkies, so now they really need more space. But we’ve had a few cooler nights again this week, so I guess it’s good that they were still inside. Just a couple more days, girls!

My strawberries out front are growing like crazy, and many have a few berries ripening. I need to put some beer out for the slugs, though, because several berries I picked yesterday were partially eaten. The garden seems happy, too. The lettuce is up, and I’ve been building PVC and string trellises for the beans to climb. They’ll fit over pieces of rebar that will drive into the ground much more easily than the PVC.

After blossoming and leafing out beautifully this spring, one of our pear trees has been badly hit with fireblight. Oddly, it’s a Moonglow, which is supposed to be highly resistant to the bacteria, but it still managed to get sick. I cut all of the affected branches off last week, and it’s a sad-looking little tree now. There’s a spray to use on it, but I’ve read that it has to be done later in the year. Not sure if it will make it that long or not, but I’m hoping our remaining healthy tree doesn’t get infected.

I managed to get a few pictures of the younger bunnies the other day without being eaten by PsychoBunny. It’s clear from her body language that she’s acting out of fear, and it makes me sad. It also confuses me, because she’s never been frightened or mistreated, and her sister is friendly enough. Most sources say we should give her treats so she’ll associate us with good things, pet her (whether she likes it or not at first), and carry her around to relax and gentle her. I will first need some gauntlets, though, or I’m quite sure I’ll come away armless. We joke that she’s like the bunny from Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail — all cute and harmless until someone gets within range and then, Pow! She sure does make cute babies, though.

Two other major developments this past week: The Boy learned to pedal his tricycle, and we got a piano. In fact, he learned to pedal his tricycle while Ben was gone to pick up the piano. It’s a 1950 Wurlitzer in need of a little tuning, but great for what we need. It’s been fun to pull my voice books out this week and remember some of my favorites.

So that’s what’s happening, and here’s hoping that tonight will be the last night I’ll have 27 chickens in my house!

Back to “Normal”

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Well, Ben’s vacation is over, so we’ve returned to real life, which is full of all the laundry I neglected last week, a little boy who wakes up every morning expecting his daddy to be here, and a daddy who wishes he could be.

We enjoyed every minute, though. The Happy Cow tour was cancelled because of the glorious rain we had on Wednesday — an exchange I was willing to make for the garden’s sake! But Ben really does want to visit the Creamery, so we’ll try to reschedule soon. The trip to Riverbanks Zoo, however, was really fun.

Around here, PsychoBunny is still psycho, but her babies are moving around enough now that we can see there are two black ones, two white ones, and one brown one. The other doe’s babies are ready to go, so I have to get them advertised. Ben’s grandparents brought us the “rabbits for sale” signs they used to put out, but I haven’t decided yet if I’m ready for random strangers to start coming up the driveway at any time of day…

Our hens had a few slow days again (8-10 eggs a day), but each of the past two days we’ve gotten fourteen. It always makes me smile when I go outside and the girls rush to crowd against the fence, hoping I’m bringing kitchen scraps. There’s not much they can’t have — raw potato peels, onions, citrus peels, and a few other things– and it’s so great to see them turn our food waste into more eggs. A few days ago, the Comets and Leghorns apparently decided to send out their champions for a little friendly competition, and the result was two eggs that each literally filled my hand.

(The egg in the middle is normal for us, approximately equivalent to an “extra large” from the grocery store.)

As for the babies, the Buff Orps are fully feathered now and ready to go outside as soon as their tractor is done. They’re so sweet and docile, while the EEs are completely crazy, going into full-fledged panic mode every time I reach into the brooder. The Silver Laced Wyandottes are like the Buffs, basically laid-back and more curious than frightened. It’s interesting how those personality traits are preprogrammed into each breed — they’ve all been well-treated and equally handled since coming to our house, and yet they respond completely differently. We’ll have to see if the EEs mellow out as they get older.

Here’s what the 3-week-old SLWs look like:

This little one is pretending to be an SLW, too, but I’m not sure it is. It has much more white on it, and it has a single yellow comb instead of the pea comb the others are beginning to sport. I’ve read that SLW roos sometimes have more white across the shoulders as chicks, so maybe it’s just a boy with a weird comb. Any ideas?


On a different note, I’m seriously craving strawberry-rhubarb pie. I think we might be making a grocery run today for just that purpose. My sister found a great recipe last year that I want to try for myself, and Ben never complains about coming home to baked goods!

But first, more laundry.

We Have a Garden! (or part of one)

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Today was finally planting day! I put in about fifteen tomatoes (mostly a rainbow selection of heirlooms with a couple of hybrid cherries that were part of a salad seed pack), peppers (again, rainbow heirloom mix with a few Big Berthas), eggplant, winter squash, and cucumbers. There are still some tomatoes to plant in an area out front, and I haven’t put in any of the direct-sow stuff yet. Still, it felt good to get some plants in the ground.

Now, normally I wouldn’t plant upwards of twenty tomatoes, which is what I’ll end up with once they’re all in. But since I started these from seed, I have this irrational fear that half of them will just lay down and die tomorrow. They each have several sets of true leaves and they all look like they’re healthy, but they don’t have the same sturdy look as the ones I’ve always gotten at the garden center. When we have tomatoes coming out our ears in July, I’ll probably wish I hadn’t planted so many. At least the chickens will be happy.

Ah, the chickens. It doesn’t look like I’ll be getting my Partridge Rocks this year. The feed and seed says that the hatchery changed their order, and they’re getting a different variety of the Plymouth Rock instead. I looked into ordering them myself, but most places either have a minimum order much larger than what I need or else their shipping costs are more than the birds themselves. So first thing tomorrow morning I’m going to look at some two-week-old Silver Laced Wyandottes. SLWs are gorgeous dual-purpose birds, and I’ll be happy to add them to the flock.

A neighbor we haven’t had much interaction with saw us outside this morning and gave us a bunch of egg cartons, which we always need. He asked why we don’t ever let our hens out in the yard, and I explained that when I had my egg business in my early teens, we had a bad run-in with one of my parents’ neighbors over the free-range hens who were thoughtfully aerating and fertilizing his landscaping. But it’s nice to know that we have such chicken-tolerant neighbors here.

The idea of free-ranging is tempting. A few weeks ago, a White Leghorn escaped when I was collecting eggs, and it took her all of thirty seconds to circle the run and park herself over a big nest of black ants, where she set to work eating every ant she could find. I figure the hens have been watching those ants through the fence for weeks, just waiting for their chance to make a break for it and have a feast. They’re so much smarter than people think they are.

Our weekend has been great — the birthday party went really well, today (the actual birthday) was fun, and in the next few days we have whirlwind adventures planned to Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia and Happy Cow Creamery in Pelzer. It worked out well for Ben to take a week of vacation time, so as far as The Boy is concerned, his birthday won’t end till at least Thursday. And it will include elephants, penguins, giraffes, and very happy cows.

Late Frosts, Party Prep, and “Maybe” Chickens

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Well, a couple of nights ago we had that late frost I’d been afraid might hit. I saw it coming on the five-day forecast, so we hadn’t put anything in the garden yet. This is good and bad, because while nothing got zapped, the seedlings are dying (literally, in some cases) for more space. One more cold night last night, but now hopefully we’re in the clear.

The timing could have been better — our son’s third birthday party is tomorrow, so today was spent making buttermilk poundcake (to be served with some of the fresh strawberries which have come into season a month early!) and coconut-pineapple cupcakes, not to mention all the cleaning and decorating. But at some point soon, we have to get the plants in the ground. Wonder if anyone’s ever had a “let’s plant a garden!” party for a toddler?

The duck has gotten to spend the last couple of days outside in a nice safe enclosure with her own private pool, and she apparently enjoys it so much that she doesn’t even make a mess in her brooder at night! We seem to have struck upon a winning formula, at least until she can go outside for good. (Please note my optimism about her gender.)

The Buff Orps are feathering out really quickly now, and although their heads and necks still have that scraggly look, they’re getting the plump little mother hen body shape that I love about the breed.  The Ameraucana/Easter Eggers, on the other hand, are still mostly fluffy, fuzzy, and cute. I’m hoping I can combine them with the Partridge Rocks in one brooder provided the PRs arrive next week.

I called the feed and seed yesterday to confirm that the chicks would be there in a few days, and hung up completely unsure. There was talk of the order having been cancelled (by them, not me), and lots of confusion over what PRs were, and now I’m just hoping they’ll actually get here. I was also told that our Silkies are supposed to arrive on April 25 instead of in June. So basically I’m completely confused now.

This weekend, though, belongs to my boy. It’s amazing to think how quickly the past three years have flown by, and to be honest, I can’t remember what life was like without him. He lives joyfully, and he shares that joy with us every moment of every day. He also snatches coconut-pineapple cupcakes when he thinks no one is looking. 🙂