Tuesday, January 31, 2017

When the Sun Shines

We've had a brief respite from the rain.  Clouds are moving back in, and the wet stuff will return tomorrow afternoon.  But, we had a wonderful weekend of sunshine.  All of the animals were doing this:

Brett and I did the morning chores in our heavy coats and warm hats, ate our breakfast, and then headed back outside.  By 10 am we didn't need jackets or hats anymore.  I worked in the garden and groomed the horses in a sweatshirt.  Brett finished up the chicken run reinforcement.

I think we hit 53F.

Brett's next project is rebuilding the bridge that crosses our largest stream, giving us access to the girls' pasture and the compost piles.  Brett needs to be able to get his tractor and truck over there to work on cutting up the tree that fell into the girls' pasture.  So, the bridge has become priority one.  Yesterday, he was busy buying supplies. He was telling me about his bridge plans last night -- as is typical, the bridge will be strong, sturdy and plenty large.  I'm thinking a semi will be able to rumble across when he's done.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

January Birds

I'm going to post, at the end of each month, the birds that I have seen on the property.  Unless otherwise stated, the photos are from the Audubon website.  I don't have a fancy camera with a nice zoom lens (and I'm okay with that) so I can't get good bird pictures for you.  Brett says that I look like the admiral of a ship, standing at the window with my binoculars, and looking out into the garden.
We have many California Quail here on the property but we don't see them as often anymore as we did when we first moved in.  Quail are shy birds and they primarily live in the blackberry bushes surrounding the property.  When the big tree fell, we started seeing lots of quail as they took up residence in the twigs and twisted limbs covering the ground.

This is a picture of Canada geese in our pasture.  Last winter, they took up permanent residence there.  This year, they only land sporadically.  

But I hear them honking overhead, every morning.

Eurasian-Collared dove -- these doves are frequent visitors to the garden.  Before chicken wire covered the chicken run, there were almost always a couple in there helping themselves to the chicken scratch on the ground.

After I set up the bird feeder in the garden, these guys took over.  They are constantly scratching and hopping around in the leaves and bark underneath the feeder.  Yellow crowned sparrow.

I put a couple bird feeders in the garden.  This one is for sparrows and other similar sized birds.  I filled it with black sunflower seeds.

House sparrow -- not as numerous as the Golden Crowned sparrows but so pretty with their streak of reddish brown on their neck.

Mourning Dove: we have a few of these in the garden as well as the Euroasian collared doves.  

Purple Finch: This was a new bird for me.  I was so excited when I saw one at the feeder -- grabbed my binoculars and my field book and went to town.  They are very similar to a house finch so it took a lot of back and forth with the binoculars and book before I was sure.  Thank goodness, it was a hungry bird and stayed a while.

Spotted Towhee: We have lots of these, throughout the year.  They are stunning with their black heads, red bodies and spotted backs.  They are one of my favorite birds up here.  
Dark-eyed Junco.  The black head is a great contrast with the buff body (not really shown here).  

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Pistol Fought the Mud and the Mud Won

Friday night I drove up our driveway at dusk.  Brett was standing in the pasture with Pistol, in the twisted limbs of the fallen tree.  I thought, how sweet.

Then I noticed that Pistol was wearing her halter, and Brett was holding the lead line.  Odd.  I rolled down my window and Brett called over, "She's stuck and I need help."

I parked the car, walked quickly (but carefully) over the frozen porch, in the back door, dropped my computer bag, trotted up the stairs, and started to change into jeans.  I glanced out the window, and saw Pistol walking to the hay feeder, with Brett following and carrying the halter.  I slid our bedroom window open and called down to him,

"You got her out?"
"Yes.  It wasn't easy."

I switched gears, put on my sweats, and got to work on dinner.  I took a nice bottle of wine from the cellar (the closet under the stairs).  It was open when Brett stomped into the house.

Steak au poivre, roasted potatoes and a bottle of chateneauf de pape.  His mood improved.

He said that Pistol was climbing around in the tree limbs, as she often does, and sunk in the mud.  Brett found her, up to her knees in mud, and unable to back out because she was also straddling a good sized limb.  Brett somehow found the strength to lift and move the limb out of the way.  Pistol leaned back onto her haunches and took a few steps backwards.  She was able to release her front legs.

Brett wondered if he should put yellow caution tape around the tree.  We agreed it wouldn't stop her.  And I said, "Pistol is a smart horse.  She won't do that again."
Most of the mud was gone this morning, but you can see some of it still clinging to her legs.

I was wrong.  She did it again this evening.  We are going to a crab feed tonight -- I may have to drive so Brett can drink more wine.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Hazards of Winter

During our first winter here in the Sierra Nevada mountain foothills, we experienced an unusually cold winter with record snow.  Lucky us.  In addition to pipes bursting through their cold protection wrapping, I slipped on the ice and fell.  I wasn't hurt but I was sore for a few days afterward and, ever since, I've had a healthy respect of ice.

Yesterday, it was Brett's turn.  On his way down the driveway to get the newspaper, he slipped on ice that had formed in an area where water flows over a dip in the driveway.  Normally, the ice is thin and his boots crunch-slosh through.  I typically avoid that area all together, stepping onto the frozen grass and hopping over the stream.  Yesterday, the ice was not particularly thin so instead of breaking through, Brett's boots slid from under him, flying forward, and he landed smack on his back.  When he fell, the ice did break and all that icy water flowed under his pants and jacket.  He wasn't hurt; but he was sore and he was not happy.

To all of my readers who live in icy winter climates, please be careful out there.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Poor Kersey

As I mentioned in a previous post, Kersey really missed Brett last weekend.

And then there was the minor issue of me forgetting to feed her.  It was Saturday evening, and I was busy feeding the horses, and cleaning the stalls.  I topped of the horses' water, closed up the barn and headed back to the house.  I was wet and cold and thinking about a nice hot shower.

I wasn't thinking about Kersey.  Normally, Brett feeds her (I can blame him, right?) and I just got into my normal groove and forgot all about her.  When I got to the porch, I took off my rubber rain boots, slipped on my clogs and turned to go inside.  Kersey, was sitting in front of the closed barn doors, looking forlorn.

I called her.  "C'mon," I said, "its time to go inside and get warm."  She didn't budge.  I called again.  And then it hit me.  She was still waiting for dinner.  ...she gets dinner first, before the horses, so she can do her business afterwards, while we are doing everything else.

I clomped out to the barn in my clogs and fed her.  She thumped her tail and wolfed her dinner.  The nice thing about labs is that they finish their dinner in under a minute.  And, they don't hold a grudge.  If someone forgot to feed me, I would be pretty pissy.  Not Kersey.  Maybe there's a lesson there.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Snow Day

Guess what we woke up to this morning -- Snow!  Lots of snow.

It was soft, and dry, and fluffy.  It's kind of melty slushy now but it was sure gorgeous this first thing this morning.

At noon, we moved the horses back to their pastures.  We may get a bit more snow tonight and then we have sunshine on tap into the weekend.  Lucy walked very carefully through the snow.  She doesn't trust it.  Tex couldn't wait to roll and then play:

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Faces in the Barn

Last night the wind howled and screeched around the house.  The sound alternately jolted me awake and crept into my dreams; dreams of trying to finish a project at work but unable to get there due to roads being closed.  I'm blaming the lack of sleep and worry on Brett.  He's been gone this weekend.  He wavered, unsure whether he should leave me with a storm coming in but I assured him I would be fine.  He set up hay bales, topped of the horses' water, and checked on the chickens before climbing into his truck Friday and driving to Southern California.
Flash looks pretty clean here, right?

Wrong.  His entire body was caked in mud.

And, I've been fine.  Really.  I'm a solitude loving person so the prospect of a quiet weekend suited me just fine.  Kersey kept me company, when she wasn't laying on her bed by Brett's chair looking depressed.  Kersey thumps her tail for me and rolls over for belly rubs, she enthusiastically greets all visitors, but her heart belongs to Brett.  They spend all day, every day, together and it shows.
Oh, hey there, Pistol.  You're looking nice and clean this morning.
"Quit with the sweet talk and bring me some hay."

The thing is, when Brett is here I don't worry about locking doors or the wind howling.  I drop off to sleep quickly and the sounds of the wind barely register.  I certainly don't worry.  But, with Brett gone, I keep the doors locked, toss and turn before finally falling asleep and hear every little stupid noise.
"You could always give me a cookie, in the mean time."

The wind was still blowing when I went to the barn to feed this morning.  Lucy was rather impatient with me; first she started bucking in her stall, and then she raced outside.  When I set her bucket of supplements in her stall she came cantering in and then did a sliding stop in her shavings.

While I was getting their breakfast together, and loading the hay cart, she was busy glaring at me.  Clearly, I don't move fast enough for her.

I started something new with Tex yesterday, and continued it today.  He's a bit shy and unsure about approaching me so he stands just outside my personal bubble, and then stretches his neck to get a cookie.  On the one hand, I appreciate that he is respectful of my space.  On the other, I want him be comfortable and come to me, all the way, when he's at liberty.  Now, he has to touch me with his nose before he gets a cookie.  He's getting it. This morning he walked up to me and touched his nose to the sleeve of my jacket.  The first time was an accident; the second time he realized there might be a connection; and the third time he deliberately touched me and then twitched his lips in anticipation.  I love how smart he is.
"If I stand here and stretch, I can maybe reach a cookie."
Brett's on his way home.  It's a long drive from here to Glendora where he attended a retirement dinner last night.  Its also raining (did I mention that?) and windy, so he will take it slow and easy.  He left at 7:30 this morning and I'm expecting him by 4pm.  -- just in time to help with the evening chores.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Horse With Many Names

Jackson's registered name is Twistin' Turbo.  It's the only name he has that we never use.

Most of the time he goes by Jackson -- or a derivative of it: Jacksy or Jacksonian are the ones I use most.
That's his covered round pen I am walking towards; you can see a hint of his head looking out.

Earlier this winter, when his thick winter coat was fluffy and white, I started calling him Snowball.

And, every once in a while, he gets a burst of energy.  When that happens, he bucks and snakes his neck and I call him Thunder.

He snakes his neck and head at feeding time; he bangs on his gate; and he tries to herd Brett and the hay cart.  But, he doesn't normally get more animated than that.  Thunder is his least used name.
This is his view today.  I'm looking to the left, out of his window.  The goats and the boys' pasture to the right.

This morning, he was covered in mud.  You may wonder how a horse living in a covered round pen, that is cleaned twice a day, gets covered in mud.  Jackson likes to roll in the mud created by his pee puddles.  Gross, I know.  This morning, I called him Pigpen.
I took this picture at lunch time and he was cleaner than this morning; most of the mud is gone leaving a lovely yellowish tinge to his normally white hair.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Rat Stories

When we had a nice big flock of happy and healthy chickens, we didn't have rats living in the hen house.  The 15 hens roosted on their ladders or slept in their nesting boxes.  Lord Byron stood watch on the ladder while Calvin roosted on the edge of one of the laying boxes, with his hens.  There wasn't room for rats.

Now, we have two shell-shocked hens and Calvin.  They all roost on the ladder, huddled together for safety and warmth.  The Araucana, who was one of Lord Byron's hens, sits next to Calvin and leans into him at night.  The Lagenvelder (who is very independently minded, thank you very much) roosts one rung over.  None of them use the nesting boxes.

So, the rats have moved in and built themselves a cozy nest of chicken feathers and shavings.  I've poked the nest a few times.  When I do, three or four rats come racing out; scurrying up the walls to the rafters; past my feet and out the hole they chewed in the door; or past my feet and into their hole that goes under the hen house.  It gives me the creeps.
cartoon by RA Studio

I'm afraid one will drop from the ceiling and land at my feet or, worse, on my head.  One dropped from the rain gutter on the garage last summer and landed a few inches from me, before scurrying behind my garden shed.  I still shudder when I think about that.

Did you see the movie Willard?  I saw trailers when it came out and that was enough to scare me to death.

I've been researching and learning about rat traps.  I have a few low-tech, but supposedly effective, methods I'm going to try.

In the meantime, we are letting the chickens out of the hen house and into their run on sunny days when we are outside working.  Brett has more than half the run covered in chicken wire but it is a slow, tedious process.  Meanwhile, we are in the midst of three wild, windy and wet storms so he hasn't been able to work outside at all.  This morning, he opened the hen house door during a break in the storm.  The chickens came running outside -- followed by the rats.  He said that the chickens immediately chased the rats.


But, I wonder why they chase them when outside but tolerate them in the hen house.  We need to be rat free before our new baby chicks arrive in May, and before the two remaining chickens start laying eggs again.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Time with Tex

Last Monday was a holiday so I was home when Greg, our farrier, came to trim and shoe the horses.  Fortunately, it wasn't raining that day.  Greg worked outside on the east side of the barn, where the weak sun was soaked up by the black stall mats in front of the tie rails.

Tex is not a fan of the stall mats.  When I groom him and tack him up, I ground tie him next to the mats and he is able to relax.  Greg was fine with working with Tex off of the mats as well so trimming and shoeing went smoothly.  Greg is very patient with Tex, being careful not to touch him on the right side of his neck.  I had a pocket full of cookies, and I gave one to Tex each time that Greg worked on his right side.

Afterwards, I asked Brett to bring out Flash next so I could spend more time with Tex.  I stood with Tex on the grass, working all the dreadlocks out of his mane and giving him a thorough grooming.  Tex didn't flinch while I curried and brushed him, both sides, top and bottom, front and back.  He stood quietly, nodding his head at me and, seemingly, enjoying the attention.

Cold rain has returned, with a chance of snow next week, so it will be awhile before I am able to work with Tex on a regular basis.  But, I am happy that we have not lost any ground.

After the horses were finished, Greg trimmed Finessa.  Brett asked me to halter her because the donkeys run away when they see him coming with a halter.  I walked into their pasture and stood quietly.  They looked up from the grass under the far oak and took in the halter on my shoulder, and my stance.  Then they both walked over.  I gave them back and belly rubs before slipping the halter onto Finessa.  I offered her a cookie, which she took daintily in her lips, and then held in her mouth for a few minutes before chewing.  When Greg came into the pasture with his chaps and his file, she moved closer to me.  She leaned into me for all she was worth while he worked on her feet.  This is exactly how my foot was crushed back in May.  She leaned into me and then stood on my foot.  I was so focused on keeping her quiet, for the trimming, that I didn't push her off my foot initially.  This time, I was very careful that her little hooves stayed away from my foot.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The List is Growing

The list of projects around the ranch was overwhelming when we moved in.  We methodically got to work, starting with the most pressing issues and working our way down.  We had finally reached the point of "would be nice" projects; instead of "urgent" such as water leaking through the ceiling.

And then the storm hit.  Although, our property held up pretty well with the streams filling, but not rising above their banks, we did sustain some damage.

And, of course, there was already the issue of having to do something about predators getting into the chicken pen.  Here is our little flock of three: two hens (you can see the tip of the tail of one behind the back post) and Calvin, the rooster.

And, then there is the family of rats that built a nest under the hen house and have now moved inside -- making a big nest in one of the nesting boxes.  I poked the nest with a stick and three rats ran out, up the walls, and into the rafters -- where they watched me destroy the nest.

We finally got a break in the rain -- four days of cold sunshine.  Brett has been busy putting chicken wire over the entire chicken run.  Saturday we worked outside all day -- I was busy pruning the orchard and my roses while Brett wrestled with chicken wire.

Of course, there is the matter of the fallen oak tree.  Brett put up new fence rails and we moved the girls back into their pasture.  Pistol has been picking her way through the twigs and brambles to get to the big limbs, where she nibbles on the moss that covered much of the tree.  Lucy followed her in but didn't like the feeling of all the branches around her legs -- and didn't seem to like the taste of moss as much as Pistol.  Mostly, they have been enjoying the sun.  All the animals are doing a lot of this.

The rain also made a mess of our driveway, which was on the "list" but under "would be nice" and not urgent.  It isn't urgent now, but its definitely made its way up the list.  The driveway is paved with asphalt and is full of dips and mended holes.  It looked... shall we say, rustic.  Now, it is missing a chunk, the sides have eroded and there are pot holes.  So, this summer we will have to have that fixed.

The biggest damage, other than losing the trees (the oak took out two trees when it fell, plus pushed another partway over), is our bridge.  The bridge crosses the stream and connects the house and barn side of the stream to the girls pasture and compost piles.  We cross the bridge with the horses, going back and forth to the barn.  Brett crosses the bridge with his tractor when he moves compost.  And, there are times when he needs to take his truck across as well.  The bridge has always been narrow, with room for the tractor but not really wide enough for his truck.  Now, the sides have eroded -- on both sides of the retaining wood sides and there is a deep hole dead center.

Brett spent most of last night, awake, thinking of the best way to re-build the bridge. He is hoping to finish up the chicken coop before the next storm hits on Wednesday.  The next dry spell after that will be dedicated to the bridge.

Project Priority List:
1. Chicken coop
2. Bridge
3. Upstairs bathroom (already gutted, we decided to remodel it before the big storm hit)
4. Tree removal (this will take years)
5. Driveway

Lucy is interested, as always, in our activities.  Nosy thing that she is.