We say goodbye to Chiko

Even though spring on a farm is all about new life, our 13-year-old old Australian terrier Chiko chose that time to pass away, thus closing an era. He gave us notice, however, and our youngest son, who was Chiko’s main human, was able to make it to the farm from Colorado to say goodbye to his dog.

Chiko, we will miss you.

filly nuzzles dog

Asta the filly says hello to the canine senior statesman, Chiko.

kitten and dog

Young and old: Chiko and kitten Fiona cuddle for a nap.

From an earlier time: Bear, rear, and Chiko were road trip troopers.

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Two sweethearts–one horse, one tiny human–out for a stroll

A dear friend and her granddaughter visited the farm one day in September, and with my friend’s encouragement, the little girl took a very attentive Isabella for a walk.

The way that mare walks so very carefully with her small charge remains one of the sweetest horse things I’ve ever seen.

How Spooking the Horses on Purpose Helped Keep Them Safe When It Mattered

It’s my mission in life to scare our horses.

I don’t do this to be cruel; on the contrary, I try to induce their heart attacks from the safety of their home on our farm, so that when we take them out into the big, unpredictable world, they are more likely to remain calm no matter what they encounter.

balloon in barn yard

I had high hopes for Waving Man. They got over him way too quickly.

I never expected the practice to help save their lives.

In October, Matt and I took Yukon and Isabella to a Jonathan Field clinic in British Columbia, where we had a wonderful time riding and learning for three days.

mare and rider

Isabella was 6 1/2 months pregnant at the clinic, which was our last riding hurrah until she foals. Look at that belly!

After the clinic, we were driving to the border with Yukon and Isabella in our 3-horse trailer when we were suddenly struck by an SUV. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but our truck was inoperable, and as the hours ticked away and we waited for help, it became apparent we were going to have to unload the horses in the dark, in the middle of the intersection, with traffic rushing past in an adjacent lane and the lights from the fire trucks and flares blazing away.

Some Good Samaritans gathered to help, including Jonathan Field, who drove his own truck and trailer to the scene in order to transport our horses back to his farm. While fire rescue officials helped block traffic, and Matt and another man stood at the ready to grab a panicking horse, Jonathan unloaded first Isabella, who he handed to me, and then Yukon. Both horses calmly walked off our trailer, sauntered across the intersection and loaded right up into Jonathan’s trailer without any hesitation, not so much as glancing at any of the flashing lights or intimidating fire trucks.

Jonathan shook his head and said, “I’ve never seen anything like it–I can’t believe how calm they were! What a foundation!”

To all the humans there, it was indeed amazing, and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. But I think that if we could have read our horse’s minds, they would have been thinking something like this:

“Interesting. All this must be another one of our Human’s stupid stunts that always turn out to be nothing to get excited over. Ha. Good try, Human.”

truck and horse trailer

Yikes. Our truck and trailer, shortly after The Wreck. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and we learned that it really is next to impossible to spook the horses.

A New Broodmare Joins the Brood!

mare in pasture

Life moves fast on a farm.

And if there’s one thing that horses and farming both teach you, it’s how to be flexible. That sometimes, despite your best laid plans, things don’t always turn out the way you wanted…and sometimes there’s a big fat lining of silver in that rain cloud.

For me, that was realizing that Quill was not meant to be a farm horse, and not a good fit for me. He was miserable doing arena work and bored meandering around the island, and the big colt let me know it in no uncertain terms. So we sold Quill to an amazing horseman and trainer in British Columbia, Danny Virtue, who trains horses for Hollywood. They took to each other immediately. I expect to see Quill in all his magnificence on the big screen in the next few years, a lifestyle better suited to his larger-than-life personality.

Quill’s absence begged the question, What would I do for a riding horse?

Enter Isabella.

mare in stall

Look at that face! This was one of the photos from the ad the seller posted. It totally worked.

My bestie, Bernadette (known as B), was helping me search, and I had already come across and then stupidly dismissed the ad for the mare because she was in foal, and I wanted a horse I could ride right away. B convinced me to take a second look. The mare was only three months along, which meant I would be able to ride her for at least the next few months. She is in foal to an amazing stud (more on him in a minute). Best of all, she was the sweetest, most agreeable horse I had ever met, and she soothed the aching part of my heart that missed Quill.

I love her a ridiculous amount.

mares and flly

Asta checks out her new auntie grazing nonchalantly in the pasture as Neela watches carefully.

two mares

The two mares meet safely over the fence. Neela ultimately established her dominance, but it took a while for Isabella to give in.

stallion racing barrels

The Baby Daddy: He’s also a Quarter Horse, a famous barrel racer called Slick By Design.

stallion

We are thinking that the foal may be solid black like its sire. Emma has named the baby Batman (or, if it’s a filly, Batgirl).

mares and riders

My best friend B is on Mocha and I’m on Isabella, at a scenic view we rode to that’s just down the road from our farm.

mare and rider

Ah, summer! This mare is so gentle, I have yet to ride her in a bridle.

Beware the Moody Broodmare

In her final months before foaling, as her belly expands and her gaits get slower, our broodmare Neela’s sweet disposition vanishes and she becomes a Kraken.

mare eats hay

Neela partakes of her favorite pastime. The up side to being the lead mare: You don’t have to share.

In her defense, I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it must be to have the equivalent of a German Shepherd inside you, turning this way and that, trying to get comfortable despite increasingly cramped quarters.

It starts with Neela playing the Mine! game. Convinced that the hay at the other end of the paddock is tastier–despite coming from the same bale–she will lumber aaaaaaall the way across to Yukon and Mocha’s hay shed, and with one glare, take over a hay net.

Neela weighed in at 1300 pounds before pregnancy…so whatever Neela wants, Neela gets.

mare in paddock

Should I stay or should I go? Neela ponders her options while beind her in their shed, Mocha and Yukon try to be unobtrusive.

filly and gelding eat hay

Mocha pauses for a picture while Yukon hides next to her. See the white stuff on her right hind leg? That’s antibiotic cream for the scrape. Thanks, Neela.

Until it displeases her. Then she turns and lumbers aaaaaaall the way back, and woe unto the horse that gets in her way along this journey, for they shall feel her wrath.

Apparently this happened to Mocha, because she’s now sporting a large Neela-size hoof scrape down one hind leg. Even so, the closer Neela gets to foaling, the more she seems to crave Mocha’s company, in a We-Mares-Gotta-Stick-Together way. She knows what’s ahead, and two years ago, Mocha was a terrific auntie to Neela’s filly.

fillies nuzzling

“You’re cute, but don’t get fresh with me, kid.”

mare and gelding

One look says it all: As Neela pins her ears and gives him the stinkeye, Yukon hustles to vacate the premises.

gelding at water

Yukon finds relief in neutral territory: the water trough.

Poor Yukon is the odd horse out. I try to give him extra neck rubs and tell him, “Hang in there, big guy, Quill will be back before you know it.”

Come to think of it, the big colt returns from Horse College right about the same time Neela is due, which is May 22.  But there will be no reunion–Quill and Yukon play too rough, so we’ll put the girls on one side of the farm and the boys on the other. Like an equine Catholic school.

Well, this is tasty after all! If it weren't for the stupid net, I could hoover it better.

“Well, this is tasty after all! If it weren’t for the stupid net, I could hoover it better.”

mare on alert

“Wait, what’s that sound?” The downside of eating alone is that there’s nobody else to let you know if danger is lurking.

dogs playing

Turns out the ruckus is just the dogs at play. Bear is on a tear while Chiko, who is  a sedate 12 this year, watches.

(Long Overdue) Farm Update: Death, Life, and a Feud with a Fox

Even in paradise, winter can be cruel.

snow on farm

Oh, no, snow!

The weather was mild during our first two winters here, but this winter, it has snowed and at times been bitterly cold. Our resident equine geriatric, Silver, made it to his 35th year, but despite a protected stall, heated water tanks, feed soaked in warm water and blanketing, the old gray gelding apparently tired of it all and died this winter. His loyal companion, Lola the goat, passed away shortly afterward. They are buried side by side in the woods behind the shed barn, and we all shed more than one tear over it.

horses mutual grooming

Mocha, our Quarter Horse filly, enjoys some mutual grooming with Silver this past summer, his final one. Lola rests nearby.

I had been hoping Silver would last one more spring, because we were hoping to have a new gray foal out of Neela, our broodmare, who we dropped off in Eastern Washington to spend some quality time with a Quarter Horse stallion in early summer. The stallion only did “live cover” breeding, i.e., the old-fashioned, no-tech way. That is, until the breeder called us and said, “Come get your mare before these two kill each other.”

It seems that when said stallion approached Neela for some romance, she pinned her ears, bared her teeth and did her best to kick his lights out. I had to call the buyer of the potential foal, who had chosen the stallion, and since the breeding season was nearing its end, tell her to hurry and find a Plan B, and to be sure to pick a stallion whose breeder would collect the semen and ship it.

“Apparently Neela likes her encounters to be online only and anonymous,” I told the buyer after Matt and I swooped in and rescued the offended mare from the hooves of the QH stallion. We drove Neela straight to Mount Vernon Veterinary Hospital and dropped her off to be prepped for artificial insemination.

The buyer came through with an excellent next choice, a lovely Morgan stallion in…New York state. A few days later, Neela obligingly began to develop an egg in her fallopian tube, and the vet called the breeder to say, Send the stuff! And she did.

But it didn’t ship well. The glum report from the vet was that upon arrival, the sperm looked to be only 20 percent viable–much too low for a successful breeding. The second day, it had dropped to 5 percent, and on the third day, Neela ovulated.

“Well, all it takes is one,” the vet said cheerfully before asking me if I still wanted to try it. Sure, I told him, go ahead.

The following day I got another call, this time with more grim news: Shortly after being inseminated, Neela had an adverse reaction to the “extender”-a solution used to extend the life of the shipped semen–and her uterus would need to be flushed. We figured that breeding was literally a wash, and made plans to give it one more try.

Except…while scanning Neela two weeks later to check her cycle for the next AI attempt, the vet found, much to his surprise, she was two week’s pregnant! Somehow, despite it all, one of those little determined sperm had made it through. Amazing! We decided its nickname should be Michael Phelps.

mare

There’s a baby in there! Back at home, Neela relaxes. Her foal is due May 22.

While all this drama was going on, we were getting ready for the San Juan County Fair. For the first time, we decided to enter a few farming contest categories: Eggs, rhubarb and compost. Yes, compost. Believe it or not, there is a lot of science and sweat that goes into cooking compost, not just horse poop.

How did we do? We took home three blue ribbons, that’s how we did! And one red. Not that I’m competitive or anything.

eggs at county fair

Red Roof Acres eggs took home blue ribbons!

rhubarb at county fairA few weeks after that, we loaded up our colt Quill, who turned 3 in June, and drove him to Colorado to go to “horse college” with noted horseman Larry Fleming, who has trained all our horses over the years. Like any doting mother, I have missed Quill terribly, but I know he’s in the best of hands, and I can’t wait to get him back this spring, ready to ride.

colt and man

Quill peers through his fly mask to look out the door of the indoor arena of the ranch that will be home for the next few months while Matt prepares to say goodbye.

colt

All grown up and away at school! Quill learns one of his first lessons from Larry: to soften and drop his head when asked.

Meanwhile, Matt and I took advantage of having a smaller herd and left the farm with a sitter in January in order to enjoy our first beach vacation in years. Suffice to say it was fabulous. But after a week away I was glad to be back home, where the farm sitter, Emma, told me about an encounter with a very aggressive fox. This fox, a very large, healthy, black one, was accompanying a red fox one morning across the paddock while Emma did chores, and when she attempted to shoo it away, the fox stood its ground. Emma threw rocks. The fox simply stared. Emma fetched the pellet gun that we keep near the chicken coop for just such purposes, and shot it into the air, and STILL the fox was unfazed. Undaunted, it dawdled a while longer before trotting arrogantly away. After that, afraid for their safety, Emma put the chickens on house arrest.

I had never heard of a fox being so aggressive. And then I met the fox.

Early one morning the dogs and I were returning to the house after chores, when Levi, Matt’s black lab, gave a low growl while staring at the driveway. Thinking a neighbor had dropped by, I told Levi, “Leave it,” so he obediently sat. And then I saw what he’d been growling at: Two foxes, one red, one black, lurking beside the driveway, where my beloved cat, Vincent, likes to lounge! Oh, no!

I immediately said “OK!” to Levi, who bounded off after the foxes, who turned fluffy tails and ran across the front yard and then to the road. I called Levi back and he obediently abandoned the chase. As he trotted back, I couldn’t believe my eyes: The black fox had also done a 180 and was now running after Levi, straight at him, straight at me. Levi, who turned one in August, whirled and stood stock still, clearly confused over this development.

And that’s when I said something to Levi I never have before. And even though it was the first time I ever uttered those words, he understood what I meant completely.

“GET HIM, LEVI!” I yelled, pointing at the fox, and the husky lab paused just long enough to give me what I can only describe as a joyous look before launching himself at the black fox, who abandoned all pompous attitude and began running for its life.

Black Fox fled to the east pasture, slipping swiftly under the fence and spiriting away across the field. Levi, who had put on a few pounds while we were on vacation, lost some momentum while squeezing himself under the fence but soon began gaining ground.

It was like watching an episode of Wild Kingdom.

Halfway across the pasture, Levi kicked into another gear and suddenly, BOOM, he launched his 70-pound frame at that fox, knocking it off its legs and sending it tumbling through the air.

That had to hurt.

Desperate now, the fox scrambled back to its feet and in the next blink had made it to the woods that border the pasture. Of course Levi ran into the woods after him, with Bear and Chiko, the two terries, trailing behind, and me hollering for all three to come back.

They did, and I heaped tons of praise upon them all but especially Levi, who grinned and panted.

That was several days ago, and we haven’t seen the fox since. Still, if it shows back up, Levi’s ready.

black Lab near woods

Levi, posting sentry duty.

The Horses Spring Into Action

Yes, there’s a play on words with that headline. We are full swing into spring and the horses are thrilled to be turned out onto the farm’s lush grass. But that rich grass can be too rich all at once, so we have to work them up to it, starting with just 15 minutes in the morning and adding more time every few days, then adding afternoon grazing time (pastures have more sugar in the afternoon because the sun’s been on it all day).

So this video is of Matt bringing three of the horses back in: Yukon, Mocha, and finally, Quill.

Whee!!

 

We Plow Through the Second (Very Wet!) Winter on the Farm

farm morning

Here’s the view of the farm from my desk. This was taken in winter after a heavy rain. There’s also a reflection of a portrait of a horse that hangs on the wall in the upper right of the picture, like a horse head in the clouds.

It’s been so long since I’ve written that you may have wondered if the Zombie Apocalypse happened here.

And while we did lose a couple of chickens, it appears the cause was more bad luck and a very clever, quick fox than the undead.

chickens and dog

Ah, the life of a chicken. They go wherever they want, and Chiko patrols when he can.

The truth is that between my day job and our busy life on the farm there’s not been any spare time to write. So I finally vowed to carve some out so we could get caught up! Ready?

  • We sold Wilhelmina (to a really great home, more on that in a moment)
  • Matt bought a tractor
  • We lost two chickens
  • We discovered that our multi-colored chickens are not Astralorps, they are Americanas!
  • Matt got a black Lab puppy and named him Levi
  • We added an arena for the horses
  • We added a new shelter for the horses
  • We added two new critters, and finally
  • We put a roof on the compost bin (which is actually exciting news if you know anything about composting).
  • For those of you who rolled their eyes at the news of the compost roof, I will use this little anecdote to explain why it’s so important:
compost bin

Look at the lovely roof on those bins! It makes all the difference in the world for decomposition–too much moisture prevents the manure from heating up and turning into compost.

Imagine it’s night in the middle of a wind-blown rainy Pacific Northwest winter. The rain is drumming on the metal roof of our farm house, a sound that makes me smile as I envision the horses all dry and happy in their new big shelter; the chickens snoozing comfortably on their perches, safely tucked away in their coop; and the dogs snoring and twitching on the floor as they dream about boldly chasing deer out of the back yard.

With these peaceful thoughts, I drift off to sleep.

Not so for Matt.

He hears rain and his thoughts run like this:

I wonder if the septic system is flooding out?

I wonder if that leak in the roof is going to come back?

I wonder if the fields will dry up enough to not be destroyed when Amy wants to turn the horses out?

I wonder if the plastic cover on the compost bin is staying fastened or if it’s blown away?

That last one is why we had a top installed on the compost bin. And of course, made sure it was a red roof.

So, back to Wilhelmina, our 3/4 Friesian cross filly out of Neela, our Friesian/Quarter Horse mare, and Litrik, a STER Friesian stallion. She caught the eye of two of our riding friends from Colorado, Mary and Michael Ellenberger, who decided the filly would make a perfect addition to their herd of two: a Welsh cross mare and an Arabian gelding. Both Mary and Michael are active members of the Weld County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse, so I knew Wilhelmina was going to a caring home where she could not only show off her gorgeous looks but also have a job. And since she has her dam’s very sensible nature, Wilhelmina has a strong sense of purpose. She would not have been happy simply being another pretty face. Although, what a face!

filly and geldings

Our friend Sus is in the background as Wilhelmina the supermodel says hello to her half brother Quill and to Yukon, Matt’s gelding. This is what winter looks like in the Pacific Northwest!

filly in snow

Black horse, white snow! Wilhelmina seems to love her new life in Colorado.

filly and mare

Wilhelmina, right, is now bonded with Miss Tia, Mary’s mare who closely resembles the filly’s first “aunt,” my Quarter Horse filly, Mocha.

Of course I cried when she left.

goat and horse

What does a goat eat? Pretty much anything she wants. Here Lola the goat takes over one of the hay bins as Mocha tries to sneaks mouthfuls without getting head butted.

After the departure of our first farm baby, we got our first farm geriatric: A sweet old (very old – 34!) gelding named Silver, and his devoted sidekick, Lola the goat. Silver came to us as a boarder (his previous board situation dissolved when the farm he was at sold) and since Lola was part of the package, she came, too. I held my breath when they arrived–introducing new members to a herd can be a dicey thing, and one that ends with someone being injured–but we took it slow and kept them separated by a fence, putting each horse in with Silver one by one so they would not overwhelm him, and it went fine.

old horse scratching

Silver really, really loves to rub, so much so that Matt installed several panels of Scratch n All so the old guy could scratch safely.

But wait, I’m out of order! The tractor? A brand new, bright orange Kubota. I dropped Matt off at the ferry and he later drove home on it, grinning the whole way. He smiles every time he sees it. It’s a tractor thing.  And a back thing–cleaning out the compost bins is now a job that has been reduced from a back-breaking four hours to an easy 30 minutes!

tractor on ferry

How do you get a tractor to an island? You drive it onto the ferry, of course!

horse lot and shelter

Matt puts the new tractor to work dragging the horses’ dry lot. That’s our lovely new horse shelter in the background (and yes, that’s a red roof on top).

The chickens? Well, one somehow just died in the barn–we don’t know what happened as there were no obvious signs of trauma. The chickens like to wander into the barn and lay eggs and one day we had one less chicken,and a few days after that, Matt found her body.

The other chicken was snatched by a ^%$@#! fox, judging from the feathers left behind near the coop and also that Matt found in the woods. We both took it very hard; I had no idea chickens were such cheerful animals, and losing one that way was tragic.

Since then, we have tried to be more vigilant and more random with our appearances to check on the chickens, and it seems to be working. I do a head count every night as they toddle into the chicken coop: Three red, two white, four black-n-white and one rooster–all present and accounted for!

horse and chicken

Chickens are fun! One of the Americanas takes a jaunt in the winter rain to say hello to Silver.

The lack of presence of Mr. Fox could also be the result of the presence of a new, yet very large puppy: Levi.

black lab puppy

Levi at two months–ridiculously adorable.

Levi is pure black Lab, solid muscle and boundless energy. At seven months, he weighs 55 pounds, and that’s with a lean build. He has a throaty bark that makes him sound like a Doberman, but his nature is all Lab–he’s happy to see everyone.  He loves “Wilson” – if you’ve seen the movie ‘Castaway’, then you know who that is.  Wilson makes Levi very happy.   Matt is also doing some basic search training with Levi who seems to have a knack for it – he trails the footprints of anyone who has recently walked on the farm.

black lab

Levi at seven months. Don’t let the that calm exterior fool you–Levi’s “on” switch can be flipped in two seconds and last a long, long time.

A Colt, a Holiday and a Whole Lotta Paint

What do you get when you start with a blue roan colt and add a little (O.K., a LOT) of red and white Crayola paint for the 4th of July?

A living American flag, that’s what. Have you ever painted a horse? It’s a fun challenge.

colt

Emma walks Quill at the farm before we load him onto the trailer. That’s Mocha on the right, waiting to load up, as well. Photo by Matt

Emma Billington, a wonderful horsewoman and horse trainer who lives on San Juan Island, agreed to walk Quill in the local Friday Harbor 4th of July parade, as I would be riding Mocha. Handling Quill, who turned 2 in June, is something I would trust only a handful of people to do. I’ve raised him since birth and often refer to him as “the love of my life” so you get the idea. While he’s still only a colt, Quill stands at nearly 17 hands. Physically, he’s a big boy, but mentally, he’s still a youngster. Like most youngsters, he’s curious and awkward and a little unsure of himself. What better exposure than a parade?

To get him ready for said parade, Emma also generously agreed to help me decorate him. We painted him at home on the farm–using non-toxic, washable paint, of course. It took us a little more than an hour–and he was very good. We held our collective breaths that he wouldn’t smudge it on the way in the trailer but he emerged from it unsullied.

Emma kept Quill near Mocha during the parade because the filly kept him calm.

Emma kept Quill near his “Auntie Mocha” during the parade because the filly’s no-nonsense nature kept him calm. Photos by Josephine and Charlotte Crosby.

horses in parade

We’re part of the San Juan County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse, so posse members rode together as a group.

Quill-2

 

Quill-Emma

What a handsome pair!

What a handsome pair! Matt and Yukon before the parade (with Quill in the background).

Matt went as Zorro (as the theme of the parade was Hollywood), and Yukon was his typical magnificent self.

matt-parade

Matt-parade-2

Little Miss Mocha was a trooper and patiently carried me throughout the entire crazy parade. She was very calm. Not bad for a filly who just turned 3.

filly greets girl

Mocha says hello to Charlotte Crosby, one of the members of our ground support team.

Now, to plan for next year…

Amy on Mocha, who didn't spook once during the entire parade.  Brave little girl!

Me on Mocha, who didn’t spook once during the entire parade. Brave little girl!

more mocha