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Friday, April 19, 2013

Life and love with a very bad dog

Last week started off mild, so I took Cody the Wonderdog for a walk in the back pasture field. I put him on his leash and walked him past the burn barrel, and as soon as we got out to the stone fence I let him go. He ran and ran, more like a pup than a 14-year-old senior dog. These runs are good for him, and he is usually tired enough to let me put the leash back on him for our return walk past the barn.
If Cody gets away on me on these walks it isn't a big deal, because our property is contained by fencing and there is plenty to occupy his interest on the inside of the barriers. This time as we passed the cedars and he disappeared, however, I wondered if he had jumped the rail fence to chase a turkey in the neighbour's cornfield. I couldn't find him anywhere.
Just then I heard a horse snort. I looked back up toward the house and there was Misty the Belgian, standing beside the burn barrel and looking at me. Cody was at her feet, chowing down on a ripped-open bag of garbage.
As I stomped back up the field toward the idiot, I yelled and whistled and clapped my hands. At first he pretended he couldn't hear me. He had obviously found something really yummy in the garbage and that had all his attention. Then he finally looked up, as if to gauge my distance, and then turned back down to his snack.

When I caught up with the little opportunistic garburator he made a feeble attempt to fake-snap at me. I eventually caught him and put the leash back on. He made me drag him back to his doghouse, as he licked the sour cream or cheese or whatever he had found off his muzzle.

"You are going to have a bellyache now, and you can just drink your water and lie out here until it passes," I told him.
Later in the week, Cody was lounging on his fleece blanket in front of the fire after convincing Paulina that he was cold outside. When she opened the door to bring him back out to his leash he bolted and took off down the driveway. He knew it was garbage day, and was off to check out the neighbours' offerings. Does anyone want a slightly used, geriatric pooch? He's getting on my last nerve.

Cody is supposed to be a Gordon Setter, but he isn't black and tan, he's just all black. I'm also not convinced he's disciplined enough to be a bird-dog, as it says on the Gordon Setter Wikipedia page. He does fit most of the rest of the description, however. His bearing is intelligent, noble and dignified. He never once has tried to lick anyone's face, and doesn't display any other disgusting dog habits in public. Gordons are sensitive so you have to be careful how you speak to them. They also require firm training. Cody failed obedience school. He knows how to sit and that's about it.

Our dog isn't a big talker, as his page suggests, but he does announce the arrival of a new car in the lane and he responds when the neighbour's dogs go on 'ad infinitum' about one thing or another. If the black Afghan hound from next door comes prancing into our yard, her long hair blowing around her face, Cody has been known to wail plaintively, the song of unrequited love.

Older Gordons can suffer from gastric problems. Cody has had more than his share and must be on his third or fourth chance at life by now. His life expectancy is 10 to 12 years, but he obviously hasn't read that page because he is at least 14 (the Farmer can't remember exactly how old he was when he got him from the shelter).

Cody resists training, he eats garbage, and he isn't housebroken, but we love him. In his book "Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog," author John Grogan says "Dogs are great. Bad dogs, if you can really call them that, are perhaps the greatest of them all." Cody has personality, and character, and mischief in his veins. He can't help it. And I wouldn't want him to be any other way.



Friday, April 12, 2013

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The danger of falling in love


I fell in love with a lamb once. She was one of the first to ‘imprint’ on me, following close at my heel, because I had been bottle feeding her since birth. She thought I was her mama. Her cry was a little different than the other lambs, probably because mine sounded pretty weird compared to a sheep and I wasn’t able to teach her very well. I named her Lily, because she was a lot whiter than the others. Out of 80 lambs, she was the only one I named.

We had winter lambed that year and the lambs were big enough to go outside at the end of March. That made it easier on the girls, who were taking care of the farm so we could go away for a ski weekend in Montreal. In hindsight, I wish we had stayed home. Anastasia had to deliver a lamb, with my mom’s help. It was stuck and she had to help it along. Not a very nice experience for the uninitiated but Annie is a natural with animals and didn’t seem at all bothered.

With new lambs running and springing all over the barnyard, Donkey and Misty, the horse, were very entertained. They stood and watched the lambs for hours, approaching slowly to sniff them and moving their feet carefully so as not to trample them. Donkey and the horse had seen the lambs the year before but they have a short memory. After a few days the huge Belgian horse and the donkey grew tired of just watching the lambs, which were more quiet and settled now, bonded to their mothers and comfortable outside. Donkey wanted to make the lambs bleat again. He liked that noise. So he picked out the loudest, funniest-sounding lamb, and chased her to make her cry. That lamb was Lily.

When I came home from skiing I asked how everything went and Annie told me about the lamb that she helped to deliver. My mother had taken photos of Anastasia helping the ewe, and we looked at them for a while. Then I pulled on my barn coat and boots and went out in search of Lily, my favourite lamb.

I found her, lying on her side just outside the barn. She didn’t have a mark on her. She hadn’t been trampled or kicked or bitten. She had just died. I don’t know for sure what happened, because no one saw it and the other sheep can’t tell me. But by the way Donkey was acting, all skitterish and guilty, I think he chased her around the barnyard, enjoying the sound of her funny bleat, until her little heart gave out. I had a good cry, then decided I wouldn’t get attached to another lamb.

So I got attached to a ewe instead.

It’s normal for expectant ewes to be a little friendlier than usual once they are in the confines of the lambing room. After all, they are dependent on you for their food and water. But Gracie was different. My sister first noticed that if you patted Gracie on the head, she just seemed to lap up the attention like a dog. If you rested your arms on the pen railing, she would come over and nudge your hand with her nose. She loves to be petted. Breaking my own rule, I gave her a name.

Once the ewes have had their lambs and bonded with them for a few weeks, we turn them out to the barnyard. That’s when they usually go back to being quite nervous around humans. Not Gracie. She still comes over to me every time I call. She is so tame, I even brought her along with me when I walked in the Christmas parade. Gracie rode in the back of the truck, posed for photos and knickered at people when they called to her, like a good little fleecy celebrity.

Gracie is in the lambing room again. I have lost track of how old she is; I suppose I could look up her ear tag number to find out. It’s probably her third lambing season. I hope she has an easy birth and I don’t lose her anytime soon. I love my Gracie girl.





This one's an Ace.

Another ritual of spring on the farm is breeding the cows. Dennis the drover could be heard before he was seen with his rattling, banging trailer and as he rounded the bend the cows were drawn out of the barn. They knew that noise. But would someone be coming or going?


It was just past 7am on a crisp Saturday morning and I hadn’t done the farm thing in so long, I was dressed all wrong for the occasion. Waiting at the end of the driveway for our ride, I realized a lumberjack coat, thin jeans and spring boots just weren’t going to cut it. Oh, well. Once again, the ‘real’ farmwife at our destination would no doubt think me foolish.

He wasn’t expecting a second passenger, but Dennis graciously made room for me in the backseat of his truck. I was quite comfortable in my nest of winter coats and there was even a little stash of chocolate bars back there if I got hungry.

The drive to Ashton was scenic and as we wound our way down the back roads through Burritts Rapids toward Richmond I listened in on the men. Every ten minutes or so Dennis would ask if I was comfortable. I don’t think he’s used to having anyone but his wife and kids riding along on these trips.

After about 45 minutes we arrived at our destination on Glenashton Road: home of the Donovandale Simmentals. We will be back here in the fall to pick up our new Black Simmental bull calf. He was just born and isn’t ready to leave his mother yet.

This spring we are renting a Black Angus from the Donovans. His name is Black Ace, he is a year old and his mother was a Grand Champion at Victoriaville, named Donovandale Zania.

Trained for showing, you just have to scratch Ace’s belly with a show stick and he stands so you can fit him with a halter and lead. Unlike the usual rodeo act I get to watch as the men load animals onto the trailer, this time Ace gently stepped up onto the trailer and stood quietly as he was tied in the stall. He nibbled on some hay and after the door was closed he put his ringed nose up to the window to see his owner. I wonder what he was thinking. He probably thought he was going to another show, and was wondering why his humans weren’t coming with him.

Dennis took it easy on the curves of Dwyer Hill Road, and the sun nearly put me to sleep in my cozy backseat nest. No noise from the trailer at all. When we got home, the ‘girls’ were waiting in a sunny corner of the barnyard to see what the trailer would bring. Ace put his nose out the window and sniffed the air. He stepped down with a hop, then looked back at the Farmer and Dennis.

“Well go on, then,” the Farmer said, tapping Ace on the rump with a branch. The bull hesitated for a moment and then decided confidence was the way to go. He strutted into the barnyard and stopped when he saw the girls. He looked back at us. Then he smelled the fragrant silage in the feeder and got distracted. The girls could wait. He sniffed and snuffed and snorted, as it wasn’t the dry hay he was used to eating. The Farmer had already put a nice bale up in the shelter for the new bull (and that’s what the girls had been happily chowing down on all night).

Julie was the first to approach the new addition. All black herself, she probably thought “he’s just my type.” Startled, Ace put his head down as if to challenge her approach. Then he caught wind of her perfume and decided to be a gentleman. They danced around each other a bit, then he decided to continue on to meet the rest of the herd. When we left the yard, he was sniffing each animal one by one, making introductions.

Ace will be with us until late May, when his work here will be done. He is for sale, so if you know anyone who would be interested in a beautiful bull of prize-winning lineage, let me know and I will connect you with his owner.



Email: dianafisher1@gmail.com.