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Friday, July 26, 2013

Eating us out of house and home

We have a horse who likes to eat wood. She nibbles on her stall. She eats the rungs off the ladder going up to the loft. She ate the bark off all the trees down the tractor lane and she chewed on the shelves of a cabinet in the barn until it fell apart. Now she’s started working on the beams. If we don’t find a solution soon, she’ll bring the hayloft down.

Most horses like to chew. Sometimes it means they are deficient in some mineral. Other times it is because they are bored.

When I posted my problem on Facebook, I got lots of advice from both horsey and non-horsey people. The most common solutions involved wiping down the wood areas with some sort of lemony soap, Absorbine Jr., chili sauce or hemlock solution. Anything bitter or nasty tasting, I guess. The Farmer has already tried spraying the area with his own icky concoction, and it worked to some extent. But now the biting seems to be getting worse.

Now that all of our girls have moved out and we are realigning our budgets, thinking of retirement and trying to eliminate debt, we have to take a serious look at the farm. On the farm, everything has a purpose. The barn cats are here because they (theoretically) keep the barn free of rodents of any kind. The pheasants, turkeys and chickens will be sold for meat. The male lambs are sold for meat and the females are kept to build up the herd. Same for the cows: the males go and the females stay. We keep the rams and bull(s) to impregnate the females of the species. The sheepdog guards the barn area and helps to herd the sheep. The house dog guards the house. The donkey guards the sheep and wards off coyotes. Have I missed anyone? Oh yeah. The horse. She is pretty much a glorified pet. Which is why the Farmer says she is the first to go.

At first I thought, ok, we had her for a few years but neither one of us is very comfortable around horses, we don’t know how to train her and without being able to trail ride or get her to pull anything, she doesn’t really have a purpose here. Maybe we should let her go to someone who knows what they are doing with horses, and will appreciate her strength, intelligence and beauty.

Halfway through that first night I woke up and thought, I can’t do it. I can’t sell my horse. What if something happens to her? What if she misses Donkey? Yes, she could end up somewhere really great with a lot of other horses and she could be really happy. But what if she isn’t?

I asked the Farmer how much it costs to keep Misty. He said, not counting the clumps of hay she tosses on the ground for a bed, she eats about 10 round bales or about $500 worth of hay per year. That’s when she isn’t on pasture. And her hoof trims and any other miscellaneous items don’t cost much either. I told him I can’t give her up. We bought her and her sister a few years ago, from an elderly farmer who couldn’t look after them anymore. We promised them a forever home. We lost her sister, in a freak situation where she got a fever in a wet week in March, and died within 15 minutes of being given a shot of antibiotic by the vet. Ashley could have been allergic to the penicillin, or she could have died from chewing something toxic. In any case, it was a real blow to all of us. Misty looked for her sister for days. Weeks, even. Finally she turned around and spotted Donkey. And named him her inseparable confidante. Her right-hand man. Her hero and her best friend.

I can’t sell Misty and separate her from Donkey. And so, we will just have to find somewhere else to cut corners. Like maybe the sheep. It could be time to cut down the herd and start concentrating on the cattle, which are considerably easier to raise.

But then Chicken Milkface comes to the fence and bawls at me. And I think, oh, this is going to be hard. I don’t want to say goodbye to my lamb either.


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