Sunday, March 4, 2012

We have moved... well, the blog has moved. I'll leave the old blog posts here rather than lugging everything over to the new virtual place... But update your bookmarks and come follow us again over at Dark Creek Farm.

Beth and Phillip - two of the new Large Black Hogs. 
You might also want to become a fan of the Alderley Grange on Facebook. That's where you'll find updates not just from Dark Creek Farm, but also from Woolly Bear Farm and Spyder Ranch, too. The Alderley Grange farm stand will be open for business a bit later this spring - check the Facebook page for hours of operation and what's in season.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Bramble challenges? We have the answer...

Running east-west along our north property line is a spectacular stand of thorny blackberries. While this might be considered the neighbour's problem, in fact, this bramble patch has made my goats very, very happy.
Not so very far from the troublesome bramble patch is the neighbour's ornamental garden, young apple tree, etc., none of which are meant for goat nibbles, so we installed a brilliantly designed portable electrified goat fence.

I had read about fences like these being used by commercial goat-aided-brush-removal services in the USA (apparently there are goat herders down there who have contracts with places like national parks and highway maintenance departments) but had never seen one until one showed up at our local Buckerfield's feed store.

Easily installed, amazingly tangle-free, we hooked the goat barricade into my electric horse fencing and, voila - the goats were contained and happily set to work.

All four goats have been gobbling away at this project. Not only are they steadily removing the pesky blackberries, they are also pruning the row of cedars along the property line and merrily fertilizing the newly revealed grass as they go. Our goats are browsers rather than grazers, so though they might have a taste of grass every now and then, their preference is to munch on the bushes, shrubs, and prickly things that had created a complete wilderness thicket.

Goats are happy. Neighbours are happy. I am happy.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A classic from the archives

I've spent the last couple of hours searching for any photos of mountains in winter that I might have lurking on my hard drive (needed for a project I'm working on)... Because my filing system leaves something to be desired, this means I've been scrolling through about 50,000 or so images - my head is about to explode! But along the way, I've stumbled on a few random photos I'd totally forgotten about including this one of me in a cupcake pink dress and bonnet (!!) reading one of my books to the lovely Miss Emma. Emma is no longer with us, alas, but I have quite a charming set of photos of the pony reading various horsey books...
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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Love My Power Tools!!!

I must say that using a power grinder is much, much easier than filing a hunk of steel by hand! Toryn (a most helpful friend of Dani's) and I modified the brown horse trailer so the dividers from the blue horse trailer would fit. At least, we've accomplished most of what we need to do. The bottom pins are only temporarily anchored. Toryn (I'm not kidding when I say he's helpful) is going to make a pair of mounting brackets into which the lower pins will slip. Meanwhile, though, we can comfortably load three horses and keep them all safely separated while on the road! Most excellent!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

New use for old horseshoes

About a year ago Dani and I visited Bainbridge Island in Washington. Outside a coffee shop we stumbled upon this fabulous dragon made of old horseshoes. I think this fellow would look great lurking somewhere in the garden, maybe tucked into the bamboo forest on the island in our pond... Perhaps I'll have a word with our wonderful farrier, Mitch (seen below making friends with a future client) to see if he can start saving his cast-offs. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Critters in the Snow

I have no idea what my ponies enjoy about standing around outside when the snow starts flying. Even though they have access to shelters, their thick double coats seem to provide enough protection that they often prefer to brave the elements than stay sensibly inside. That's Bonny to the right and Brio closer to the camera. Note that Brio has inherited her mother's glorious broad rump.

Frances, on the other hand, has it all figured out. She burrows into her deep pile of hay, makes a nest, and snoozes until either a) more food arrives or b) the weather improves.

Nosmo and King (the Kashmir goats) have such a thick layer of soft insulation that the snow takes forever to melt even after they come inside the barn. Mind you, the goats are far less likely to venture outside in inclement weather. This afternoon, they saw me coming with the hay and decided to trot out into the blizzard to meet me at the gate.

Pippi is just confused by the snow. She thinks it should be fun to eat, play with, roll in, dive into - and then she's shocked when she winds up chilled to the bone. This, however, leads to a very entertaining reunion with the couch after she gets back to the house. She digs furiously at the blanket, fluffs up the pillows, dives under the pillows, spins around in place six times, wipes her face on the blanket and then repeats the whole process a couple of times before flaking out with a huge sigh.

Friday, January 7, 2011

What Were We Thinking??

And in the 'only fools tread here' department, we bring you the Great Koko Head Stepmaster Marathon in which Dani, Nikki, and Hitomi decide to go for a stroll up the outside of Koko Crater.

Posted by PicasaIt didn't look too bad down at the bottom - wide-ish, flattish 'stairs' which were really railway ties left over from a crazy military installation that ran a supply train up and down the mountain. We were raring to go and feeling frisky down at the bottom...

Then we started to climb....

... and climb. At this point, poor Dani was starting to feel a tad green around the gills. She had a bizarre reaction to something - the heat? not enough water to drink? the endless stairs? We're not sure, but it seemed like she was going to lose her lunch about half way up...

Having come so far, Dani decided to tough it out and keep going... Hitomi and I figure this is a once-is-plenty kind of hike, so we tried our best to enjoy every moment and take lots of photos for evidence...
 One of the good things about the stair configuration of the expedition was that there were always plenty of places to sit and rest. Which we did often.

 One of the not-so-good aspects of the stair configuration was that the steepest part of the climb was at the top, right about at the point where we were seriously wondering whether the huge effort was going to be worth it. The friendly people coming down were so encouraging 'you're nearly there!' and 'one step at a time - you'll make it!' that we had to keep going.

 Whew! We made it! Dani took a little breather at the top of the stairs...
... all 1048 of them... 
Then we set off to explore the rim of Koko Crater. The views from up top were spectacular - and, once we were up there, it didn't seem like such a bad climb after all.
 Looking down on Hanauma Bay.

The rim of Koko Crater. An insanely fit young man and his German shepherd hiked along the narrow lip of the crater rim while we stood around and took photos...

After a pleasant interlude up at the top (during which we spotted whales spouting!) we headed back down. While this was certainly not as gruelling as climbing up, it was harder than you'd think not to trip and fall headlong off the side of the mountain! Knees, hips, and back were all complaining by the time we'd descended halfway and by the bottom, our legs were quivering blobs of jelly.

We were mightily happy to head off to Jamba Juice for well-deserved smoothies after our expedition!   

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sunset #1

We were treated to an amazing sunset upon arrival... (did I mention how handy it is handy having a brother with a place on Oahu?) Though I know the spectacular colours are a result of volcanic ash, the sky was stunning to behold.

The other great thing about being back here in Hawaii (well, another great thing... there are many) is I can sip my morning cuppa java without feeling at all guilty (it's locally grown). Of course, the fact I had to fly a gazillion miles to get to the cup of coffee probably counteracts drinking a cup back home... Sigh.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hunter's Moon

One of the great joys of slipping out after dark to do the night feed is that I always know what the moon is up to. Last night it was so bright I didn't need a flashlight and was able to fully enjoy the experience of moving comfortably through the darkness while maneuvering through gates, tossing hay, and milking the goat.
The current American Life in Poetry seems relevant...  
American Life in Poetry: Column 300 
(Reproduced with permission)
This is our 300th column, and we thank you for continuing to support us. I realized a while back that there have been over 850 moons that have gone through their phases since I arrived on the earth, and I haven’t taken the time to look at nearly enough of them. Here Molly Fisk, a California poet, gives us one of those many moons that you and I may have failed to observe.
Hunter's Moon
Early December, dusk, and the sky
slips down the rungs of its blue ladder
into indigo. A late-quarter moon hangs
in the air above the ridge like a broken plate
and shines on us all, on the new deputy
almost asleep in his four-by-four,
lulled by the crackling song of the dispatcher,
on the bartender, slowly wiping a glass
and racking it, one eye checking the game.
It shines down on the fox’s red and grey life,
as he stills, a shadow beside someone’s gate,
listening to winter. Its pale gaze caresses
the lovers, curled together under a quilt,
dreaming alone, and shines on the scattered
ashes of terrible fires, on the owl’s black flight,
on the whelks, on the murmuring kelp,
on the whale that washed up six weeks ago
at the base of the dunes, and it shines
on the backhoe that buried her.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation,Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2000 by Molly Fisk, whose most recent book of poetry is The More Difficult Beauty, Hip Pocket Press, 2010. Poem reprinted from The Place That Inhabits Us, Sixteen Rivers Press, 2010, by permission of Molly Fisk and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2010 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Poetry Friday

A chilly, chilly ride yesterday, through the winding trails at Elk Lake. Bundled up, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and felt rather smug that even though there are plenty of places in Canada where late November trail rides are beyond impractical, here the worst I had to deal with was a nip in the wind and some big puddles.

Later, my feet toasting in front of a fire, I came across this poem by Denise Levertov and thought how apt her description of willows really is. Her willows might be in Massachusetts, but ours are likewise tenacious - holding onto their colour late and flushing with it early in spring. They are the trees that never really sleep.

The Willows of Massachusetts
Animal willows of November
in pelt of gold enduring when all else
has let go all ornament
and stands naked in the cold.
Cold shine of sun on swamp water,
cold caress of slant beam on bough,
gray light on brown bark.
Willows -- last to relinquish a leaf,
curious, patient, lion-headed, tense
with energy, watching
the serene cold through a curtain
of tarnished strands.
     --by Denise Levertov (From the collection, The Life Around Us: Selected Poems on Nature)

Monday, November 15, 2010

The cheap thrill of stacked wood

There is nothing quite like the pure pleasure of hauling, splitting, and stacking firewood (except maybe the warm, relaxing pleasure of falling asleep on the couch in front of a blazing fire after a day of hard labour). Slowly but surely the random piles of logs from various topped and felled trees are being chopped up and re-purposed. Thanks are due to the ever-helpful Toryn, who is a master with a chainsaw and good company despite the rain and a very grumpy goat. Yes, even though the main task of the day was doing things with firewood, Toryn was very good-natured about wrestling with a reluctant goat (just guess which one...) who needed to have her back feet trimmed. Between the two of us we managed to get the job done, though not without a bit of kicking and complaining (from Poppy) and grunting (from us). Despite the fact she was restrained in her milk stand, she still managed a hearty kick or two before resigning herself to standing sullenly while I snipped off her too-long toenails. Cloven hoofnails. Tips of her cloven hooves...

While we were busy upsetting the animals with routine maintenance, we decided to worm all the horses. All went well until we got to Ringo, who decided he was terrified of Toryn. There followed a bit of stampeding through the mud until we reassured him that all was well and he should just stand still and swallow his meds... After that, it was off to the duck pen where we re-clipped everyone's wings. One of our mature mother ducks has gone missing (Mocha). As there are no feathers, bones, or other misplaced duck bits around, I can only conclude she has flown the proverbial coop. Weirdly enough, it was only the other three old mommas whose replacement flight feathers have come in - the other young females and the two drakes were still snipped and trimmed from the last time around. I'll have to monitor the incoming feather growth more closely so we don't lose anyone else.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Diabolical Human Plan

Here's the highly technical drawing (with careful measurements) with which the marvelous machinist, Toryn, will be working when he builds the ultimate anti-self-milking device certain to stop Poppy once and for all.
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Friday, November 12, 2010

Goat Buucket Shattered

Here's what's left of my goat bucket and chain combo... found unceremoniously dumped in the corner of the goat paddock.

I have now consulted a machinest friend who, based on drawings created by my superior (?) cerebral cortex and opposable thumbs is going to try to manufacture a custom anti-sucking collar device. At the moment it is taking three days to accumulate, dribble by dribble, a liter of milk. I can hear Poppy's slurps and chortles from here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chapter Eight Hundred and Fifty-Seven in the Great Goat Milk Challenge

Poppy - head bucketed and udder spritzed

Undeterred (hey, we are talking human vs goat – surely we know who should win this battle of wits?), I went to the pet store to procure something nasty-tasting to spritz on Poppy’s udder and teats. Turns out there are a number of products that are guaranteed to stop unwanted licking. The Vet’s Best Bitter Cherry spray seemed to be a good bet – herbal, non-toxic, and recommended for use directly on incisions, etc., I coughed up my $12.99 and headed home to the goat pen. Poppy, still with her bucket on her head, waited for me, her strange slanty eyes glinting with excitement at the prospect of the next round in the battle for control over her nether regions.

After the afternoon milking, I spritzed her thoroughly (to her chagrin) and let her go. That night, another bonanza milking – 1.5 liters! A record! Finally – a solution – the combination of bucket and spray seemed to have done the trick. The next morning, another respectable liter and then – the afternoon milk. A few measly drops. Apparently, if a goat drinks enough milk, it washes away the taste of the Vet’s Best Bitter Apple. It occurred to me that it might not actually taste as bad as advertised on the bottle, so I made the foolish mistake of testing the substance by spraying a bit on the back of my hand having a lick. Rest assured, it DOES taste as bad as advertised on the bottle. Spitting in the dirt and repeatedly wiping my tongue on my sleeve did nothing to get rid of the evil, gag-inducing taste of the spray. And persistent? Definitely, yes. I had to race up to the house to flush my mouth before, finally, the nastiness abated sufficiently so I could finish my chores. Poppy watched my retching and fleeing with amusement, no doubt thinking, “A glass of milk would do wonders make you feel better.”

Said bucketed, spritzed, and grumpy goat continues to be completely inconsistent in terms of her self-sucking habits. Sometimes we get a decent amount of milk, sometimes virtually none. I have been reading about collars with spikes that face backwards, poking the goat when she tries to reach back, inflatable Elizabethan collars, and slightly different designs of neck-turning-restriction devices (same basic idea as the ice cream pail but a bit snugger).

There are those that say the best place for a self-milker is in the stew pot. This seems a tad harsh. I am determined to persist until a solution is found.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Score another for the self-milking goat

A while back I blogged about making an Elizabethan collar to try to stop Poppy-the-thirsty-and-determined from milking herself. At the time a reader asked about the possibility of using a similar device for the udder end of a goat. As it turns out, there are various strategies that people use to protect goat teats. There are special ways to wrap each teat using gauze and tape, for example. This approach is sometimes beefed up by soaking the wrapping material in various noxious-tasting substances. Suggestions we’ve received include alum, bitter apple, and mushed up goat manure. One can also purchase an udder sling like this described on the Hoegger Goat Supply website.
Quality-made, adjustable udder support protects udder, prevents milk leakage, eliminates congestion and caking and discourages self-sucking and kid nursing. Heavy-duty canvas straps and durable 1/8" nylon mesh transfer the weight from udder to goat's back. Available in 3 sizes.
3 Sizes:
Small - (Heart Girth 30"-38")
Medium - (Heart Girth 39"-44")
Large - (Heart Girth 45" and up)

Apparently, though, all of these physical barrier techniques are no match for determined goats. Nimble as they are, it seems thirsty goats are able to remove wraps and such like with their stronger-than-they-look prehensile lips.

Searching the net, it seemed the best success was had by restricting the ability of the goat to turn her neck by using one or another design for a goat throat straight-jacket. One of the suggestions was to get a pail from Wallmart’s paint department, cut a hole in the bottom, and fasten put this over the goat’s head and neck. This made me think that one of the large ice cream pails I’ve got kicking around (which I used this year for tomato plants) might work. I measured Poppy’s neck and amazingly enough discovered it to be almost exactly the same length as a large, commercial ice cream pail. With great difficulty (the plastic is tougher than it looks) I cut a series of slits in the bottom, radiating from a small hole in the middle. These I bent back inside the pail so they would, in theory, give Poppy a poke if she tried to reach around back for a slurp.

What I hadn’t figured on was how hard it would be to slip this ice cream pail contraption over a ticked off goat’s head. Even though I had her confined to the milking stand, she was able to fling her head from side to side vigourously enough that I was seriously worried that she was going to poke her eye with a plastic triangle tip. Fortunately, this struggle took place in complete darkness at the time of the night milking, so I peeled off my shirt and put it over Poppy’s head as a kind of protective shield and lubrication system. She was less than impressed with this idea, but it allowed me to push the bucket over her head and into position without causing any damage to delicate (and surprisingly bulgy) eyeballs. Once it had slipped over her head, I secured the bottom of the pail to her plastic chain collar with some ever-so-handy binder twine.
It looks like this goat is heading for an appointment with the hangman. So far, at least, appearances are deceiving. (Having trouble figuring out what you're looking at here? This is Poppy with her head inside my t-shirt. Her ear is poking out over to the left of the picture, sticking out sideways through the sleeve of the shirt. In order to get her 'dressed' like this, I had to secure her in the milking stand, which is the wooden frame you see behind her cloaked head.)

After ensuring she could both eat and drink with the new device on her head, I turned her loose (after first retrieving my shirt). Sure enough, in the morning we had a full load – just over a liter of fresh, delicious goat milk!

The afternoon milking was likewise bountiful. By the night milking, she had figured out how to work around her new headgear and left us with a scant half cup of milk!

Back to the drawing board… Stay tuned for chapter eight hundred and fifty-seven in the great Goat Milk Challenge.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Few Goat Myths - Busted

1. Goats will eat anything. Definitely not. They are, in fact, quite finicky. They don’t like food that’s touched the ground. They pick through their hay, plucking out the leafy soft bits and leaving mountains of stalks and stems. They spurn green grass in favour of stripping the bark from our cedar hedge. A new bag of goat chow with a slightly different taste will result in five noses turned disdainfully to the sky and a dish full of uneaten kibble. Apparently, though, even the foulest tasting anti-chew sprays will not deter a goat who is determined to have a drink of her own milk.

2. Goats smell bad. Not true. Well, billy goats have a distinctive and quite unpleasant odour. But wethers (neutered goats) and nanny goats don’t smell at all. Like any livestock, as long as their pens are kept clean, their living accommodations don’t smell either.

3. Goats are stubborn. This one kind of depends on what it is you are expecting your goat to do. A well-trained goat is actually pretty amenable to all kinds of things – hopping up on the milking stand, pulling a cart, enjoying a belly rub. An unruly goat whose feet you need to trim is nothing short of insane. An annoyed goat is strong and more like a bulldozer than a cute little animal from Old Macdonald’s Farm. A head butt from an angry goat will land you in the dirt faster than you can say ‘Goatee!’ And if you are a small puppy who does not speak the language of goats, look out! Lying on your back, peeing in submission will not protect you from being catapulted through the air and thudding into the barn wall when an angry goat charges and flings you aside. I tried to explain this to Pippi BEFORE she failed to run away from Casey’s determined charge, but puppies don’t do so well with English, either. Fortunately, no ribs were cracked and, even better, Pippi now has a healthy respect for all things caprine.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fast Eddie the Lurcher: Pippi's Distant Cousin

Fast Eddie, originally uploaded by *Richard Cooper *.
So it turns out that my super-fast wunder-puppy is not a random mixed breed at all. Rather, she is a lurcher - who looks like she could be a full sister to this handsome lurcher, Eddie of West Kirby. Lurchers, turns out, are sight hounds (greyound, whippet, etc.) bred to something else (often terriers and shepherds) and used for hunting rabbits and other small game. Sometimes they are used in tandem with ferrets, who are sent down into the rabbit holes to flush out the bunnies, which are then run down by the speedy lurchers.

One source said that the lurchers were originally bred by the Romany and poachers to get around the law that forbade commoners from owning sight hounds (in an effort to control poaching). Well, the joke's on the Queen because these cool dogs could run down pretty well anything! We've just returned from a spectacularly energetic romp at the dog park where Pippi did, indeed, attempt to run down pretty well every dog in the place. She much prefers to chase, but nobody runs fast enough to get away, so she plays a ludicrous game where she settles into first gear and plays keep away, spinning and whirling and twirling and keeping just out of reach of her pursuer until the other dog drops in its tracks, tongue hanging down to its knees. Pippi then sprints off to find some other poor dog to torment.

Extremely entertaining to watch - must try to capture some of her antics on video!