Sunday, October 30, 2016

Another Wet Weekend

Our friends from Southern California, Heather and Steve visited us this past weekend.  They arrived Friday with more rain.  This storm system was fairly tame, and we even had a bit of a break on Saturday.  They went up the road to the lake and hiked a bit, while I sorted plants for my new perennial bed.

Steve is an amateur nature photographer.  He wandered the property with his camera either in his hand or stashed in his backpack power pack.  Heather is my dressage buddy; we shared the same trainer for many years.  They were very handy with a muck rake and helping us bring the horses into the barn when the rain started.  And back out, when it stopped.  And then back in this morning when it started up again.
The view from Jackson's window

Jackson waiting for breakfast at the round pen door.

Steve said he would share his photos with me and I have permission to share them with you on this blog.  I can't wait!  In the meantime, here are pictures I took of the goats.

Little Bear (back) and Whiskey (front)


We managed to have a great time, despite the rain.  The cool, wet weather was a welcome change, for them, from the hot Southern California fall.

The sun rising and setting in the clouds was beautiful, the stream sang, and the wood stove danced.

Monday, October 24, 2016

My Least Favorite Barn Chore

Every fall, I shovel out all the shavings that have accumulated in the hen house over the past year, and replace it with new.  I shovel the shavings, dirt, chicken poop and feathers into a small trash can and then dump it in a far corner of the pen where it can compost.  I fill the trash can over and over and over again.

Fine dust coats my clothes, my shoes, my hair and I sneeze dirt for hours afterwards.  A number of years ago, when Camille was in high school, she volunteered her boyfriend to help me.  Poor guy.  I sure appreciated his help, though.

It's gross.  Every third or fourth trash can full, I sit on a rock with my back against the tree and catch my breath.

After it is clean down to the plywood floor, I add fresh shavings in the nesting boxes and on the floor.

Throughout the year, I scoop out wet shavings and chicken poop from the nesting boxes and toss it on the floor.  By the following fall, it is quite deep.  Some of the chickens roost on the ladders Brett built, but some of them sleep (and poop and pee) in the nesting boxes.

The chickens are molting right now so we aren't getting many eggs; some days we get one; some days none.  When the chickens molt, they loose all their feathers and grow in new ones.  The floor of the hen house was covered in feathers before I cleaned it out.

While the chickens are molting, all their energy goes into growing new feathers.  They have no energy left over for laying eggs.  The process can take three months.  Our beautiful chickens look pretty ugly during the process; like they got in a fight with a coyote or something.

Fortunately, they don't all start and stop at exactly the same time.  But, they all molt October-ish so that is when the egg production plummets.  We have two hens that hves finished the process and they are gorgeous, with shiny new feathers.  One of them is pictured, snuggled into a nesting box, above.  She layed an egg right after I took her picture.  I'm hoping the other chickens finish up molting soon as well.  We are running mighty low on eggs.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Random Friday

1.  Last weekend, we had rain; a smidge more than 7 inches of the wet stuff in two and a half days.  The first day, the ground just soaked it up, drinking thirstily after the long dry summer.  There were a few heavy downpours, but mostly the rain just fell steady all day and all night.  By Sunday, the streams were running and the pond started to fill.

2.  The rain brought the Canada geese as well.  As we did chores in the morning, I heard them honking overhead and then they landed in the field behind the barn.  I'm hoping for the return of our duck pair as well.  They spent all of last winter in the donkey pasture.
(photo from California Fall Color website)

3.  Saturday, we had a break between rain systems of about an hour.  We took Pistol and Lucy to the fenced arena so they could blow off some steam.  Lucy walked beside me quietly until she saw the arena gate.  Her head went high, her tail lifted, and her feet pranced.  When we went into the arena, she spun away from me, dropped her head, and the second the halter was removed, she was off like a shot.  They rolled in the wet sand, got in a few good bucks and ran. Soon, Pistol was happy to look for stray blades of grass while Lucy continued to gallop, slide, and blow like a steam engine.  After 30 minutes, we put them back in their stalls and gave Flash and Tex a turn.  Tex got Flash going -- and Flash took it from there; herding Tex, bucking, rearing, and squealing like a six year old.   In his younger days, Flash was quite the squealer; sounding more like a pig than a horse.
(photo from California Fall Color website)

4.  Brett was able to take the horses back to the pastures Monday afternoon; when the clouds left and the sun returned.  Jackson remains in the covered round pen attached to the barn.  He seems content, looking out the window at the boys in their pasture and standing at the door for treats.  His feet are dry -- I'm hoping to get through the winter without any abscesses.  There is more rain in the forecast for early next week so I don't see pasture time in his near future.

5.  The road I take to the highway from our house winds through a narrow canyon, following a seasonal stream.  There are flashes of orange and red in the trees along the road, and in one section, bigleaf maples rise on either side and then touch their branches above the road. The leaves are the size of dinner plates and sulfur yellow.  Although the section is in deep shade, I squint my eyes at the brightness of the leaves and reach for my sunglasses.  I want to plant a few by our largest stream; they are my favorite fall tree.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Random Friday

1.  The first storm of the season moved in last night.  We had a wee bit of rain earlier this month, but this is the first storm.  And it is going to be a doozy, with high winds accompanying heavy rain.  Brett has been busy all week cleaning out rain gutters and storm drains, in preparation.  He also stacked another cord of wood.  We are ready.

2.  Brett had a really nice visit with his son's family last weekend.  I was sure happy to have him back home, though.  My foot was really sore after doing all the chores, by myself, for three days.  Kersey was confused; she kept looking for him in the mornings.  Of course, when he walked in the door Monday night she was snoring on her bed and didn't even look up.  I called out, "Are you home?" and when he answered, her tail started thumping like mad.

3.  I expect the blog will be quiet this weekend.  We will be watching the rain -- which will continue through Monday.  I will escape the weather briefly, on Sunday, when I fly down to LA to have lunch with Camille and my ex-mother-in-law.  She is in her 90s now and we haven't seen each other since Camille graduated from high school -- four years ago.  The unfortunate part about divorce is that you lose the family, as well as the spouse.  I hated losing her -- and she hated losing me.  So, Camille decided we should (the three of us) go to lunch.  A brilliant idea, and much better than the messages of greeting and love that she and I send each other through Camille.

4.  I was stuck at the office late last night so Brett had to bring the horses into the barn by himself.  Pistol, Flash and Jackson are always easy.  Lucy is a 50/50 proposition -- if the wind is up, or its cold, (or she's in a "mood"), she can be very prancy, dancy about the whole thing.  Tex, as you know, has a history of being halter shy.  They were both docile as can be last evening for Brett.

5.  Brett found a dead snake just outside the front gate yesterday when he went to get the mail.  He had noticed it the day before, and thought it was napping.  It was a gopher snake, and fairly large, so we are sad.  Gopher snakes are a welcome addition to the ranch.  I almost stepped on a little one in the garden one evening and I, of course, jumped out of my skin.  I stopped, looked at it closely, and then it slid under the lavender.   Its funny how we are hard-wired to jump when we see a snake.  There are rattlesnakes in our area, but they are nocturnal so we don't see them much.  I'm constantly battling gophers in my garden so I'm happy to have snakes help me.  I have to plant everything in little wire cages or the gophers kill them.  One day I have a healthy plant, the next day I have a stem with no roots.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Morning Chores

I'm really getting a workout this weekend.  Brett is in Southern California visiting his son's family.  This means three days of solitude (which I enjoy) (which isn't to say that I don't miss him), and three days of full responsibility for the ranch.  I enjoy the morning chores best, when it is cool and crisp, and I still have lots of energy.  I can knock out the morning chores is under 90 minutes.  Lunch is a piece of cake -- just delivering hay to the three pastures.  Evening chores are pretty much a repeat of the morning, minus the vitamins.

I slept until 7am, when the grey light of morning and the pacing hoofbeats of Lucy and Jackson woke me up.  Brett starts waking up around 5 or 5:30 and is restless thereafter.  We are normally up by 6:30.  So, this morning felt deliciously luxurious.

After giving Kersey her medication and letting her out, I turn on my espresso machine, grab the chicken scraps, and head outside.
All our kitchen scraps and leftovers go in here.  The chickens eat well.

After opening the hen house door, Kersey and I head to the barn.  She's first up for breakfast, and it is devoured before I get the first buckets done.  All the horses get a scoop of vitamin pellets and carrots.  Tex gets magnesium to help him relax, Lucy gets magnesium and a joint supplement, Flash gets his arthritis medication - hidden in a fig newton.
The prep table; carrots in the refrigerator to the left.

We converted a stall into the feed room.

Pistol gets her bucket first.  She leaves puddles of drool all over her pasture, anticipating breakfast.

Tex and Flash get their buckets next, and then I push the hay cart over to Lucy and Jackson's pasture.  Lucy works up an appetite patrolling the fence line and urging me to pick up the pace.  While she and Jackson eat their vitamins, I clean/muck their pasture.  I mix 50% leaves with the manure, from the oaks which have carpeted much of the pasture, and then dump it in the compost bin.  After turning it a few times, I will have amazing compost in the spring.

Next, I let the goats out; Bear, Cowboy and Whiskey head for the area where Tex and Flash dribbled and dropped vitamin pellets; Thistle heads straight for the hay.

While they are sorting that all out, I muck the pasture they share with Tex and Flash.

Then its back to Pistol's pasture to pick up manure there.

Back in the barn, I rinse out the vitamin buckets

and reload the hay cart.

Kersey supervises.

Lastly, I walk down the driveway to the road and pick up the paper before heading into the house for that espresso.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Value of Hanging Out

I was reading this blog post the other day, and it got me thinking.

Hanging out is all I've been able to do with the horses in the past five months, since my foot was crushed by Finessa's attempt to snuggle closer.

At first, I was irritated, annoyed and frustrated.  Six to twelve months before my foot heals?  You've got to be kidding.

I've progressed from a walking cast to heavy work boots; definite progress.  Going up and down stairs, or hills, is still a recipe for severe pain.  My foot his happiest if I walk less than 5,000 steps a day.  This is easy during the week, when I leave for work at dawn and return at dusk.  Brett does most, and some days all, of the chores.  I try to at least clean Lucy and Jackson's pasture after work -- about 2,000 steps.  Yes, I wear a FitBit.

On the weekend, I have to pick and choose my activities.  Even so, I routinely hit 10,000 steps on Saturdays and Sundays -- and that is without riding.  Chores, the farmers market, gardening, cooking... it adds up quickly.  I have managed to ride once or twice in the past few months, but, more often than not, I'm way over my quota of steps before even thinking about riding.

So, I've been hanging out with Tex, Lucy and Jackson.  "Just" hanging out.  At first, I was all about doing Masterson work, or liberty work; I had to be doing something.  Then that all dropped by the wayside.  Instead, I shared apples with Tex and worked my fingers through the tangles in his mane.  I leaned on the fence and watched him try to hold an entire apple in his mouth; unable to open his mouth wide enough to get a bite on it because if he did, he would drop the apple. Ultimately giving up, biting the apple, and dropping half of it on the ground (because he wouldn't let me catch it for him).
This is a typical Tex posture.  He's close, with one ear on me -- but leaning away at the same time in case danger strikes and he needs to escape.

But, actually, I've noticed the biggest change in Lucy; my hyper-sensitive, ambitious mare.  She has always met me at the gate, eager to come out and be groomed and ridden.  I haven't taken her out in over a month.  Instead, we give each other massages, she follows me around the pasture as I muck, often blocking my path and standing, expectantly, for a belly scratch, a rub on the withers, or for me to wrap my arms around her face.  When I do start riding her again, I am sure I will be more relaxed because we've learned how to do that together; how to help the other let go.

Even Jackson is different with me now.  He has always been sweet, but he's not a demonstrative horse.  He likes to know what is going on, what your are doing, and has always tried his best to do what I've asked.  But he also marches to his own drummer, doesn't care one way or the other about grooming or treats (picky is an understatement), and is often standing by himself off under the pine trees.  When I first started spending more time rubbing his neck and chest, he was perplexed.  He didn't walk away, but he didn't lean into it, or wiggle his lips, or heaven forbid, offer to massage me back.  Lately, I've noticed that when he comes up to me to say hello, and check the agenda, he stays with me a lot longer than he used to.  He turns so I can scratch his favorite spots, standing like a statue.  When I was no longer able to ride him, and he became retired, I didn't really know what to "do" with him.  Now, I know we don't have to "do" anything.  We can just have a relationship.  Its enough.
Can you see Jackson in the background?  Watching me as I take a picture of the flower bed (decimated by squirrels)?  "Whatcha doing??  He's so nosy.

Even though these months of healing have been incredibly tedious, they have also been incredibly productive.  I have a bond with Lucy that is stronger than I've ever had with a horse.  I can feel her thoughts and emotions; as she does mine.  I know it is going to transform our relationship under saddle as well.  Tex continues to increase his trust in me.  I'm willing to bet that I'm the fist person he's ever encountered who wanted relationship.  And, Jackson has gone from pasture ornament to friend.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Busy in the Garden

Saturday, Brett and I worked feverishly outside.  The temperature was dropping, with an Alaskan storm on its way, and I wanted to get the garden planted before it hit.

I decided to switch from vegetables to flowers, in the hopes that the ground squirrels would leave them alone.  We walked around the nursery and I loaded our cart with flats of pansies, violas, snap dragons and poppies.  I mentioned that I also needed six bags of bedding mix.  Brett shot me a look.  "We brought the Subaru, not the truck."  He went out to the parking lot, put down the back seat, and we loaded everything in.  He drove home very slowly so the 60 lb bags of soil wouldn't slide down on top of my flowers.

I pulled out the vegetables, topped off the beds with soil, and got to work.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that we also stopped and looked at bulk bark and boulders.  I want to create another bed, with hardy perennials.  So, while I worked in the garden, Brett took the truck and his dump trailer back to the landscape materials place and loaded it up.

Then, he looked at my "new" garden area.
"How big do you want it?" He asked.
"A little bigger than this bare patch and the area where the nectarine tree used to be."
"Like this?" And he drew a big circle with his shovel.  Did I say big?  Huge.
"Um, sure.  I think I'll need to get more plants than I originally planned though."
We thought about it, and then Brett outlined my new big garden bed with the boulders.
And then we realized that a planter that big, was going to require its own sprinkler line.

So, my little garden bed turned into a major project.

In the evening, we went to a fund raiser for the equine therapy center where Brett and Pistol volunteer.  The temperature was dropping and people shivered as they ate dinner.  We stayed through the first set of music and the live auction (our friend Nancy had donated a quilt and we wanted to see how much it went for).  And then we bailed.  I was watching a steady line of cars leave as I paced in the back, to keep warm.

This morning was sunny, but cold.

I lit the first fire of the season to take the chill off the house.  Rain started up mid-day and it has been cold and stormy, with claps of thunder, ever since.

I felt compelled to make an apple strudel.

I love this weather.