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Monday, January 19, 2015

Saying goodbye to Donk and Gracie

Occasionally when you live on a farm things become abundantly clear. This is going to be tough for me, and the Farmer as well. There will be a few tears – and there have been already, at least at my end. It’s time to say goodbye to Donkey, Gracie, Misty and Chelsea.
No, they don’t have to leave in one fell swoop. This isn’t an emergency; we’ve been considering it for months, since we sold all our sheep. But there is a natural order in which some things should be done. That’s why it has taken us so long to come to this conclusion. I’ve been having trouble getting my head around it.
I didn’t grow up on a farm – I’ve only been on one for seven years so it’s a different way of thinking that I have had to adapt to. In my world growing up, animals were pets but they were also part of the family. You committed to them, you did your best for them, and you didn’t re-home them unless it was absolutely necessary.
But on a farm, things are different. Every animal has a purpose. We are definitely downsizing, the Farmer and I. We sold all our sheep last year because I was finding it too exhausting, both physically and emotionally. So we really don’t need a sheepdog or a Donkey anymore. I kept my favourite sheep Gracie because she is more of a dog than a sheep – but without Donkey to protect her she will have to go too. I don’t want to look out the window someday and see that she has been picked off by a coyote.
If Donkey leaves, Misty has to go too. Since her sister died, Donkey has been her best friend. I’m sure if left alone she would cope – maybe join up with Mocha or one of the more agreeable cows – but she really belongs with other horses. At 12 years she is middle-aged so I don’t know how much training she will accept but she is a beautiful animal if someone is looking for a companion for their horses.
The sheepdog, as I have written before, has taken up barking as a new occupation, with no sheep to herd. She is also getting on in years but would be far happier working on a sheep farm to the end of her days. It’s her most favourite thing to do in the whole world. She’ll even herd people if you linger around in her space. That’s why I think a working sheep farm would be the best place for her, with someone who understands high-strung Border Collies.
I don’t want them to just go anywhere. I need to know who will be caring for them after me.
So I woke up the other morning and realized, a friend a few concessions over has recently started into the lambing business, and she has had a few struggles. I think a donkey would solve her coyote problems, and he would also help bring the sheep up to the barn at night. Gracie would blend right in, and probably have another lamb or two before she retires as well.
If you’ve never had a Donkey you haven’t witnessed their ability to communicate. They are keen surveyors of their kingdom, watching for anything that is amiss. When the Farmer has changed the landscape even slightly, by bringing something large and colourful out to the burn barrel, or setting up targets in the middle of the field for practice, Donkey always has to comment. He brays loudly, then slowly approaches the inanimate intruder to ensure everyone is safe. He is the perfect guardian of the farm.
On the other hand, he can get himself into some trouble, because of his horse-like tendency to get bored and mischievous.
So Donkey and Gracie will be heading to the sheep farm down the road, where I can visit them – and hopefully hear about them often, in the writings of their new owner. I know they will be happy there, and a welcome addition to another working sheep farm. That is their happy place. I can’t wait to see Gracie when she notices the other sheep.
Now to find a home for my big blonde girl, and my yappy little sheepdog. Any takers?
If you know of someone, please contact me. I’ll be the one over here looking dazed and confused, missing my pets.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Winter descends on the farm


It occurs to me that my sheep may be cold. I went out to the barnyard to check on the pregnant brood of cattle when I heard a faint bleating from the barn. I followed the well-beaten path into the room where the heated water is available for the beasts to have a good, long drink. There was Gracie, curled up between two mounds of frozen dirt. This is her first winter without friends for body heat.
Gracie spends her days with Donkey and Misty, the big Belgian horse. Her comrades are also her protectors, but I don’t know if they would curl up with her to sleep. And this time of year, when the horse and donkey come into the stable at night, Gracie is left alone in the barn.
At night the cows come in and huddle together, and that should warm things up considerably. It’s just the bitter midday cold that has me worried about her. She has a good fleece coat but I’m sure she would like to cuddle up to someone for that extra bit of warmth on a windy, cold winter day. Just one more reason why sheep shouldn’t be kept as solitary animals, the Farmer will say.
On my way back to the house I pass through the stable. It wasn’t yet time to put the horse and donkey in, as we like to keep them outside as long as possible – less mess to clean up in the stable, I suppose. Donkey thought otherwise, however, and started tailgating me, very closely. He fairly skipped over the last few piles of frozen dung to catch up with me as I opened the stable door. I would have had to slam it in his face to keep him out, so I didn’t. I ushered him into the warm stable, with the horse close behind.
Once the animals were inside their stalls, I loaded up the feeders with hay, filled the buckets with warm water and measured out portions of sweet feed. That’s where the trouble started. I put Misty’s sweet feed bowl in front of her, but before I had even put Donkey’s snack in front of him, the big horse reached over the partition that separated them and nipped him on the neck. I guess this is her way of reminding him that it is only out of her generosity that he is getting a snack at all. I gave her a scolding, firmly clasped the tie on her halter, and moved Donkey’s treat just out of her reach so she could neither steal it nor bite him. Still, it took some coaxing before Donkey would turn back around from where he hung his head in the corner. I think his pride was hurt. The politics of farm animals.
The bald spots on Donkey’s back are getting some hair regrowth. The sulfur lotion I have been applying to his bare patches seems to be working really well and that’s a good thing because I think it stings. I don’t want to have to put any more on him. The last time he sensed I was trying to dribble some of the stuff on his back he didn’t kick at me but he did do a double-legged donkey hop-kick sort of a thing to discourage me from further treatment. That kind of freaked me out. I was in the horse stall with him at the time. If he decided to line up and kick me, I wouldn’t stand a chance. And I’ve heard his hooves hit the wall. It sounds like a gunshot. So, the treatment has ended.
The cows are due to give birth any day now. We aren’t exactly sure when they are due, because it wasn’t a case of getting a bull and letting them dance together. A mature bull sets about his business right away. You can pretty much mark the date on the calendar and expect the calves nine months later. The little bull we got in the fall of 2013 was probably old enough to perform in the spring of 2014 but we aren’t exactly sure about that. He was pretty tiny. Our cows, however, appear to be massively pregnant.
Every morning and afternoon we have to walk the perimeter of the barnyard looking for calves. Particularly this week, when it’s expected to be bitter cold, we don’t want any calves born outside in the snow. We will have to make room inside the barn for the mamas as soon as they show signs of labour, so we don’t lose any young to winter.

email: dianafisher1@gmail.com