Greatest Chase

For an avid cyclist, country life beats city life hands down. The roads are wide open, have little traffic, and there are virtually no stop signs or lights. The few times I’ve visited big cities and rented bikes, I’ve come home with an even greater appreciation for country roads.

However, there is one downside to riding in the country: dogs. We tend to have a lot more of them running loose, and even those “invisible fences” don’t always work. We’ve gotten a pretty good idea of where every loose dog lives along our favorite routes, and are usually prepared for the inevitable chases. It’s usually not a big deal at all. The dog gallops along, barking, making a big show of ensuring you exit his personal territory as quickly as possible. As soon as you reach his invisible border line, he breaks off the chase and trots home. It’s virtually always more theater than genuine threat.

Last night, we had a very different experience. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this one.

My seven-year-old son and I were out for a nice, easy, evening ride on our tandem. Just pedaling along, enjoying a wonderful rural road, canopy of trees overhead. I was somewhat familiar with this road, but hadn’t ridden it in a long time. I chose it for our tandem ride in part because it was especially isolated and low-traffic.

About a half-mile down this particular rode, we came upon a run-down house, with four State Police vehicles parked in front of it. Cops everywhere. My first thought was “meth lab,” but there was no hazmat team. More likely, they’d tracked a fugitive to the house. I commented to my son that there sure were a lot of police cars there, and somebody dangerous was probably inside. We smiled and nodded at a young state trooper, and kept cruising along at about 15 MPH.

We pedaled on for a bit, everything seemingly normal. I heard and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Still, I got an uneasy feeling. Something told me to look over my shoulder; in retrospect, I’m sure it was my guardian angel (and my son’s). Lo and behold, a huge dog was closing in on us like a heat-seeking missile. He immediately struck me as different from the typical “country dog” who’s just making a show of escorting us through his territory. For starters, he wasn’t barking. He was just running, and doing so with a sense of singular purpose. The way he was looking at us, and the intensity of the way he carried himself, he appeared to be a deadly serious professional. He wasn’t going to quit until he’d taken us down.

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Stock photo. No, I didn’t take this picture from the bike.

I noticed something else that was different from the typical country dog: he was dragging a leash. That’s when I put two and two together, and realized this must’ve been an escaped police dog. He’d somehow confused me for the fugitive, and broken away. This dog actually had the skills and training to take me (and my seven year old) down hard. And that really scared the hell out of me.

Behind the dog, I could see a blue police car already joining the chase, but I doubted the cop could call the dog off in time. My son and I were on our own. I stomped on the pedals, and cranked like our lives depended on it. Problem is, it’s not easy accelerating a tandem with a young kid on the back; his power-to-weight ratio just hasn’t developed enough to be of much help. Still, thanks to a crazy adrenaline rush, I managed to get up to about 29 MPH, all the while glancing back. The dog closed to just behind our rear wheel, and was in the middle of the street, looking like he was trying to find a way to strike.

Fortunately, the police car was closing in as well. He was blowing his horn wildly over the PA speakers, doing everything he could to get the dog to break off the chase. As the dog got a bit winded, I was eventually able to pull away a little, and it looked like the cop pulled his car in front of the dog to cut him off.

I glanced back a couple of times, to make sure everything was contained, but otherwise hightailed it out of there and went straight home.

We never did find out what all the police activity was about. Coincidentally, just as we reached our driveway (several miles away, along a more major feeder route), the first couple of state police vehicles came cruising past. I thought about flagging one of them down, and asking if they’d caught whoever they’d been trying to catch — and, more importantly, how in the world they’d let that dog get loose.

But I supposed it didn’t matter, and it wasn’t worth raising a ruckus about. We’d made it home safely, and my son and I got some excitement we’ll never forget. This was definitely a dog chase for the books.

Easter Sunday Surprise

Hope all of you had as nice of an Easter as our family did. We enjoyed spectacular 68-degree weather over at my father in law’s house; Homeschooled Farm Girl and I took full advantage of it and got out on our bikes for a 26-mile ride. Most of all, we had a great time hanging out with family and soaking in the sunshine.

We got home around 7:30pm or so, and I went more or less straight to the barn. Several of our sheep have been looking painfully pregnant and wanting to deliver, as was one of our goats. There were still no lambs, but the goat (Thistle) was lying down like she was in labor. She wasn’t yet actively pushing, so I did the rest of my chores and made a mental note to check her again later.

“Later” didn’t take long. After about 30 minutes of trying to relax with an NCAA tournament basketball game, I was interrupted with news from HFG: Thistle had the head of a goat kid sticking out of her, and the delivery wasn’t making any progress.

I hustled to the barn. HFG and I took a closer look at Thistle’s rear end, and quickly discovered the problem. In a normal delivery, the kid’s forefeet come out with the head. This kid’s little hooves were nowhere to be found. It was just his head. I tried gently tugging on his head, but he was clearly stuck. With his feet not leading the way, his shoulders were too big to make it into the birth canal. Fortunately, the kid was moving his head, so we knew he was still alive.

There’s only one way to fix this problem: reach in and find his front feet. I rolled up my sleeve, slipped my hand into the birth canal, and worked my way down the kid’s chest. Thistle was extremely unhappy, but I told her she could thank me later. Finally, I found what I was feeling around for: a leg. I pulled it up, and worked the hoof into the birth canal with the head. Then I put my hand back in and did the same with his other leg. HFG and I tugged on this package of head-and-feet, and an instant later the whole kid was out. While I was at it, I pulled the afterbirth out as well.

Thankfully, the kid was alive. I put him near Thistle’s head, but she wasn’t interested in licking him off. Way too tired. HFG and I took him in the house, and washed off all the barn gunk (and slimy amniotic residue) that we could. He was still kind of slimy, but reasonably clean. I wrapped him up in a raggedy old bath towel, and started drying him off.

We took him out to my office building, still wrapped in the towel. As we watched more NCAA basketball, I continued drying him off. He was pretty tired, but seemed healthy. No broken or twisted limbs. Good size. Responsive.

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The yellowish amniotic gunk was proving to be pretty stubborn, and wouldn’t come off with a simple toweling. Normally, the mother goat would do this job. Figuring that “a tongue is a tongue,” I set him down on my office floor to see what the dogs would do. Floyd, the border collie, immediately sprang into action (the livestock care / herding instincts these dogs have is unbelievable). Floyd began licking the little kid all over. Aggressively. From every angle.

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After a while, I was able to stand the kid up. His legs were steady enough so he could remain standing for Floyd’s clean-job:

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Floyd was especially interested in getting at the bloody umbilical cord stump:

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While Floyd continued working, HFG and I went back to the barn to check on Thistle. She hadn’t gotten up, so we helped her to her feet. She stood just fine, but didn’t seem interested in walking around or eating. I brought a bucket of clean water to her. She drank some, but not much. From her size and lethargy, it was pretty clear there was another goat kid still to come — but she wasn’t acting like she was in a hurry to push it out. I gave her 10cc of Bovi Sera, and 12cc of B-complex. I then went back to the office, and gave a couple of cc’s of Bovi Sera to the kid. (Bovi Sera is an OTC, injectable immune system booster that we keep on hand for these kinds of situations. It’s a cheaper alternative to goat serum.)

HFG milked as much colostrum as she could out of Thistle. We ended up getting about a cup, which wasn’t bad. I found an old 2.75oz feeding bottle and nipple that Little Miss Sweetness had used as an infant. We filled it with colostrum, I wrapped the kid in a fresh towel, and then I got comfortable on the couch in my office. He sucked down the whole bottle in short order. I refilled it, and he took some more — about 4oz, or half a cup, altogether. I was very pleased.

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As a brief aside: I bought that sweatshirt in December of 1986, the day I got my acceptance letter from Northwestern. It was the only one I could find in Seattle. If you’d told me then that, nearly 30 years later, I would (1) still own that sweatshirt, (2) live on a farm, and (3) be wearing that sweatshirt while I bottle-fed a goat … I’m sure I would’ve laughed until I passed out.

Okay, back to the story. Floyd eventually finished with the goat kid, and the kid got sleepy. I made him comfortable in a large box in my office. Sometime after 11pm, I checked on Thistle again. Still no sign of another kid, and she still wasn’t getting up and standing on her own. I tried leading her to a separating pen, but she refused to go. I was concerned about her, but there wasn’t much else I could do. I couldn’t sit in the barn with her all night. I made her comfortable in a corner of the main goat area, and then called it a night.

Early this morning, when I came out to do chores, I checked on her first. She’d indeed delivered another kid, but it was stillborn. I helped her up, and she was getting around significantly better. She even went to the closest feeder, and began nibbling on some hay. I disposed of the dead kid, and then took care of the rest of the animals. No lambs yet, but they should start dropping soon. The ewes sure look ready.

Back in my office, I took the kid from the box and stood him up. He urinated, which was a very welcome sign. I then left him alone on the carpet and just watched him for awhile. He struggled several times to get to his feet by himself, and kept toppling over. I resisted the urge to intervene; he had to figure out how to do this. And, eventually, he did. He would try a few tentative steps, and then topple over. He’d cry, struggle, and then get up and try again. All of this was excellent, and very heartening.

What wasn’t heartening was his disinterest in more colostrum. I tried several times to get the nipple in his mouth, but he wouldn’t take more than a swallow or two. I turned him over to Homeschooled Farm Girl. She’d moved Thistle to a separating pen, with her own feed and water. She put the goat kid in with him, making sure to physically latch him on to an nipple. He’s still getting the hang of it. HFG will continue going out until we know he’s got it figured out. In the meantime, she’s also milking some colostrum from Thistle.

There’s nothing quite like Easter on the farm…

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Twice now, within the last week, the following has happened: I went out to the barn early in the morning, flipped on the lights, and a little black mouse has begun running all up and down the chicken area until it can disappear under cover. I then looked over at the eight (or however many…I can’t even keep count of them anymore) barn cats, all of whom are camped out around the old table where Big Little Brother feeds them cheap cat food twice a day. And they look back, bored.

Sheesh, I think. Eight of you guys, and not one can be bothered to nab this mouse?

Seriously, maybe we need to feed them less. Or let Wilbur the dog start sleeping in the barn, so he can give these felines some lessons in mousing.

Our Dog, the Cat

It’s been cold, rainy, windy and generally nasty around here for the last several days, which has given very little to smile about. But who can’t smile at a dog who’s caught more mice in the last week than our barn cats have?

Wilbur has a great nose, and is a great digger. He unearthed and dispatched several moles this summer, and in the last few days has come up with two field mice. Just like a cat, he walks around with the mouse squirming in his mouth. Then he puts it down, watches it flop and stumble around, and plays with it until I approach. Then he picks the squirming, dog-spit-covered rodent back up, retreats a safe distance, and does the whole thing again. Eventually, he finishes the mouse off.

Now, if we could just get him to do his digging somewhere other than Mrs. Yeoman Farmer’s garden…

Pepper Makes It Better

After Scooter’s tragic demise a couple of months ago, we’ve been left without a traditional herding-breed of dog. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve wished I had him around to help, and not just with the sheep. Scooter had an uncanny ability to know exactly where I wanted animals of all kinds (including chickens and ducks and geese) to be, and how to position himself to optimize the chances they’d either get there or stay there. Remarkable that a dog who could be so dumb in so many other ways (including trying to cross an unlighted road in the dead of night with a car coming) had such sharp instincts with the livestock.

Wilbur the puppy has continued to settle in, and he’s growing like a weed. We like him, boundless energy and chewing tendencies and all, but I doubt he’ll ever be more than a guardian and companion.

We’d been waiting for my professional work to slow down, so we could renew our search for a dog with herding genetics. One litter of shepherd puppies came into the local animal shelter, but were snapped up before we could take one. Then, last Friday, the intrepid Mrs. Yeoman Farmer spotted a new listing on the shelter’s website: a beautiful-looking, four year old Australian Shepherd mix female. She’d been a stray, but was totally housebroken and even leash trained. and despite being labeled a “mix,” she looked almost purebred.

MYF drove to the shelter during Yeoman Farm Baby’s next nap, and liked the dog so much she put down a deposit to hold her. The Yeoman Farm Children and I went in on Saturday, and instantly knew this dog was a keeper. She has a wonderful, calm disposition. She was really good with the kids. And she even got along with Wilbur (we took him with us to the shelter, to test their interaction).

We took her home that day, and she’s working out extremely well. She really is housebroken. After a couple of days of stand-offish adjustment, she and Wilbur have even begun playing and rough-housing together in my office.

The only problem was a name. The shelter had named her “Carly,” but that just wasn’t going to work for us. Every time I called her, or even referred to her, I knew I’d think of Carly Simon screaming “You’re so vain!” And MYF had similar associations with the name. After considerable deliberation and negotiation, the whole family managed to settle on “Pepper” as an alternative.

We take her on the leash with us all over the farm, particularly when doing things with livestock. But especially since she was a stray in the past, we don’t want to let her walk freely until we’ve had a solid adjustment period and she’s positive that this is where she belongs. Back in Illinois, we had one shelter stray wander off and disappear because we let her free too early.

It’s unclear so far whether and how well Pepper’s herding instincts will eventually kick in; she’s mostly intimidated by the livestock, and will not enter the barn unless she’s carried through the door. We’re hopeful that this will be temporary. But even if she never matches Scooter’s abilities, we’re none the worse for the deal: she’s an absolutely wonderful companion with me in my office. I’ll take that.

The only other odd thing about her: she doesn’t like cameras. At all. The shelter had the hardest time getting a good picture of her for the website. I tried snapping a few pictures, but she turned and ducked her head every time she saw the camera.

Finally, I had Homeschooled Farm Girl hug Pepper tight and make her face the camera. So…this may be the best photo you get of her for awhile.

Just Another Week

The light at the end of the tunnel is beginning to come into sight, as the busiest season for my professional work winds down. I appreciate your forbearance with the slow posting, and I look forward to posting more frequently going forward this fall.

In between the craziness with work, here is a sampling of what it’s been like living on a farm for the past week or so:

  • Dot’s lamb is thriving, and managing to keep up with her mother all around the pasture. It’s a big pasture, and they occasionally lose sight of each other; we can tell because the lamb begins a piercing high pitched bleat. Dot usually comes and finds her soon thereafter. It’s been a real joy watching Dot mother another lamb; it wouldn’t surprise me if this is the last time she gets to do it.
  • That said, Dot’s instincts sometimes conflict with our own. The first couple of nights with her lamb, she attempted to bed down in the wooded ridge on the far end of the pasture. I’m sure she was seeking privacy and shelter, but the lamb would’ve been easy pickings for any number of predators — from raccoons to owls. When I did my head count at the barn the first evening, Dot was noticeably absent. Having gotten to know her pretty well over these years, I had a good idea as to where she’d be hiding out. I grabbed the spotlight and crossed the pasture to the ridge; sure enough, that’s where she’d bedded down. Much to Dot’s chagrin, I grabbed the lamb and began jogging across the pasture to the barn. The lamb bleated, and Dot came running. It was actually kind of amusing listening to her continual protest “Meeah” sounds as we jogged.
  • Dot tried the same trick the next night, and I again didn’t catch on until it was pitch dark. The third night, I dispatched the Yeoman Farm Children to the ridge just before dusk, and they did the honors. In the meantime, I spotted an older lamb which had gotten its horns stuck in the pasture fence farther down the ridge. I freed it, and it ran across the pasture to rejoin the rest of the flock. In the days since, Dot has begun coming into the barn on her own with the rest of the flock at dusk.
  • We’ve been taking Wilbur the puppy along whenever we do chores or work with the livestock. When we went to retrieve Dot and her lamb, for example, I took Wilbur with me on a leash. He’s no help with herding yet, but I want him to experience as many different aspects of farm life as possible. For the more routine tasks, he’s beginning to follow me even without a leash. Each morning, he accompanies me as I let the sheep out, fill water tanks, feed chickens, get hay for goats, and feed turkeys. And then he does it again in the evening. Puppies have such boundless energy, it’s nice giving him a chance to work some of it off.
  • Wilbur hangs out in my office with me much of the rest of the day, and he’s about 70% of the way toward being housebroken. He hits the paper most of the time, but the biggest frustration is getting him to relieve himself outside. Often after running around the farm with me, he’ll wait until he’s returned to my office to relieve himself on the paper.
  • We had a litter of kittens born in the barn over the weekend. They were very much unwanted and unplanned (we didn’t get the cat fixed in time), but the cat fortunately only had two of them. Unfortunately, though, the mother cat has been doing a poor job caring for them. I was inclined to let nature take its course, but Cat Girl is having none of it. She and her brothers have taken it upon themselves to bottle feed the things. As of this morning, the prognosis for one kitten wasn’t good. But Cat Girl is working hard to save the other one.
  • Speaking of the Yeoman Farm Children, Yeoman Farm Baby contracted the chicken pox a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t a big deal, and Mrs. Yeoman Farmer treated it effectively with homeopathic remedies. YFB got over it toward the end of last week. Now, you guessed it, the others have begun coming down with it. Homeschooled Farm Boy wasn’t feeling well last night, and began breaking out with pox this morning. Little Big Brother began breaking out this afternoon. We figure Homeschooled Farm Girl isn’t far behind.
  • Pears have begin falling off our tree in the front yard, and I’ve enjoyed tossing the blemished ones over the fence. The sheep see them, and the word spreads quickly through the whole flock. Within minutes, they’re all happily munching as many as I can throw. Then the geese come honking in to join the feast. It’s better than television. Really.
  • On a sad note, we lost one of our oldest roosters this afternoon. Sardine had been the Alpha Rooster for a long time, but got deposed in a cockfight earlier this year. He went into exile, sleeping in a far corner of the barn each night for months. For awhile it looked like he was plotting a Rocky-like comeback, and he did roost with the flock for a time, but in the last few days he’d begun sleeping out in the pasture at night. Annoying me to no end, he would begin crowing at 4am near the house. Always the widest-ranging of the flock, he would regularly cross our road during the day to forage in the neighboring fields. This afternoon, he met the same fate that Scooter met a couple of weeks ago; I found his crumpled body along the side of the road. I won’t miss his pre-dawn crowing, but Sardine had been “one of the gang” and a fixture on our farm for years. He’s one of the few remaining birds that came with us in the “Noah’s Ark on Wheels” from Illinois. So…it’s sad to lose him, but I’m glad he had a long and happy life.
    • Just another week of farm life. What’s ahead? Our first harvest of honey from the bee hive. About a dozen old laying hens need butchering. Potatoes need to be dug. And who knows what other surprises we may find in the pasture…

      Some Puppy!

      After our recent loss of Tabasco and Scooter, our farm was left without a canine. Dogs are essential to a working farm, whether for protection of the property or for herding livestock. Scooter’s loss, in particular, hit us hard in both departments. Suddenly, we had no dog watching the property while we were away from home. Suddenly, if the sheep or goats got out, we were on our own in trying to round them back up. Suddenly, there was no deterrent to predators which might visit our property by night.

      Replacing a dog like Scooter isn’t easy, and I’m not confident we’ll find his equal. But we learned an important lesson with him: it’s best to start with a young puppy. Scooter was only about eight weeks old when we got him, and he was acclimated from that very early age to the whole environment and expectations of our farm. Ideally, we could find a border collie puppy to take his place…and we will continue looking for one. But, in the meantime, we need a dog of some sort to get to work.

      Our solution was to scout the local humane society’s animal shelter. Fortunately, about a week ago, we found a promising prospect: a litter of German Shepherd mix puppies was available. They went fast, and we managed to get the last one. His name is Wilbur, and his is indeed…Some Puppy!

      I’d almost forgotten how much fun little puppies can be; it’s been nearly four years since we got Scooter. He’s bright, inquisitive, and a quick learner. He enjoys tagging along as I do chores, and is eager to please. Best of all, he’s small enough so the other livestock (even the barn cats) are able to teach him his place and ensure he doesn’t turn predator. He may have some bird or hunting dog in his mongrel mix, but at this early age I think we can break him of any inclination he may have to attack the chickens or ducks.
      I’d also forgotten how much trouble little puppies can be, especially before they’re housebroken. And how much they chew on everything. And get into everything. He spends his days in my office with me (and his nights in a crate in my office), and the building is unfortunately starting to smell like it. Hopefully we’ll get him big enough soon to be able to spend his nights in the barn, and by next spring to be patrolling the property at night.
      And we’ll make sure we get the front of the property fenced tightly enough so he doesn’t meet the same fate that Scooter did.