Friday, December 14, 2007

Continuing my reverse chronology of our year, we come to March, which was a very busy month. After liquidating some jewelry I'd inherited, I began remodeling my poor animal barn. It was in such bad shape, I was afraid for the critters who tried to take shelter under its rotted and sagging walls and roof. Our friend Glen (remember Glen from the home remodeling posts?) came out and almost totally rebuilt the barn, nearly doubling the square footage and incorporating a chicken coop and feed room. In tall cotton, we are!

Here's the "after" shot. Better, huh? The animals think so, too, especially when it rains and blows. I sleep much better with them in this nice cozy barn. I can store a little more hay and my different feeds in metal cans in the feed room area. Click on the photo to enlarge it. Behind the chicken coop (where it says "Fresh Eggs" is the feed room, and a door out the back of the barn toward the house.

Of course, with all this new space, we needed a couple of new animals. While attending an alpaca show in Fort Worth, I happened upon a couple of fiber boys going for a very reasonable price. I talked my friend Barbara into getting one and I got the other. Of course, she pays me to take care of and play with her alpaca every day. Excellent gig. Her new boy is brown and white (he looks like he has brown pants on) and named Pinto, and mine is a young black 'paca that I call Solomon. Solly is very sweet and is the most tolerant of unsolicited human contact.

In this photo, the boys had just been sheared and looked kind of goofy - sort of like pipecleaner toys. Here in December, on the other hand, they are really filling out with fiber for the winter and are so fluffy and soft!

OK. I mentioned chickens. About this time we also added a couple of laying chickens I bought from my friends down the road. We got a barred rock hen we named Mary, and a Rhode Island Red we named Martha. Martha was the heavy lifter in the egg department. They had the whole coop to themselves and l
oved it. I had found a two holer nest box at a roadside antique place the previous spring and had been just itching to put it to work. It is installed inside the coop and MOST of the eggs end up there every day. Occasionally, I find the odd egg behind the muck pan or outside the feedroom door in a pile of dry leaves. It's Easter every day! ("Where are those eggs?") But I'm getting ahead of myself.

It's almost Christmas! 2007! Looks like I let this year get past me without posting to the blog. Well, it's not because I didn't have anything to write about. In fact, I have so much to share about this year, and I want to get All Caught Up over the Christmas holiday as a part of my gift for my family and friends.

Bookmark my blog, and check back, as I relate the Adventure in Agriculture that was 2007.

Tonight, we'll start with the addition of Aaron, the mini donkey. Seems Mr. Moses was not satisfied by the companionship of sheep and alpacas. In fact, he was a bit grouchy to them -- not the protector I had envisioned. So, by a quirky happenstance, the family accidentally stumbled upon a breeder not too far from us who raises, trains and shows both miniatures and mammoths.

We fell in love with a rolypoly little guy named Bandit, who we would later re-Christen "Aaron." Here he is (above, right) with his new playmate, Emma. He's not really that tall--he's standing on a railroad tie. (Short man complex.) The picture on the left is of the two donks bonding nicely. They spent a day with a fence between them, and when I let them out together, they did several fast laps around the pasture with Aaron kicking the snot out of Moses, who didn't even notice. They have been inseparable since. When the donkeys are happy, everybody's happy!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"In the Bleak Midwinter...

...frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone..."

So goes a verse of one of my favorite Christmas hymns. Today I was living that verse. For the third or fourth day, I've been going out to the pasture 2-3 times a day to break ice in the critters' water buckets, and make sure they were as comfy as they can be when it's 25 degrees out. My friends have had to hold my hand during my first winter as a shepherd and farmer, because it's hard to believe that donkey doesn't need a coat! The alpacas are loving this cold, and the sheep hardly notice, but the donkey looks downright despondent. But I am assured that he is fine and that donkeys are well suited to life OUTDOORS in all weather, especially with a shed for protection from wind and wet. OK, fine. If you say so.

I told Ted the other day that the only thing more fun than scooping buckets and buckets of poop, was scooping FROZEN poop. I think I understand the term "horse hockey" much more fully now. I'm getting to be a pretty good shot with my rake and poop pan. Ahhhh, this is the life. And I sort of mean it! When the wind is still, I really enjoy going out in the cold and spending quiet time in the field. And I try to appreciate it, knowing the long Texas summer is closer than I think. Blistering summer lasts from April to November around here, so I'm not going to wish away the cold. No sir. I'll take the bundle-up-I-mean-it cold weather over the hot any day! For several days it was squishy slick mud on top of being cold. Then the mud froze and the ground was rock hard. Easier to scoop poop. It was a good day.

When I kick the ice out of the top of the bucket, I lay it aside, and it doesn't melt. The accumulating disks of ice become kind of a visual history of my trips out in the cold. Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone...

New Shed Going Up

With the new pasture addition (hee-haw!!!) we need more shelter. So Ted is building a two stall shed with huge logs he cut from a tree that fell down on our property. He got some help from church friends, Jeremy and Walt, and supervision from the critters. It's still not done due to weather problems this past weekend, but hopefully it will be done soon and the sheep and donkey can have their own spaces at night. ("Whew," say the sheep, who have a healthy respect for their new long-earred pasturemate.)
(Top: Moonstruck supervises the building, below: Moses watches for that pesky cat who might be thinking about coming in the gate.)

Four Fiber Guys

Here's a shot of the four fiber guys, enjoying a crisp fall day, grazing contentedly... that's before HE came... the donkey with attitude! Once Moses came, the pasture politics changed. (Dum-dum-dum!!!) Gizmo the Alpaca was no longer pasture king, but he was demoted to pasture prince. Moses keeps everybody in their place by occasionally running them around the pasture--sheep AND alpacas. At least he doesn't bite wool off of the sheep's butts like Moonstruck has been known to do. Actually, at the bottom of the pasture totem pole is the cat, Smokey. She sometimes accompanies me out to the field while I clean up all the poop. But if she strays too far from me, the donkey escorts her to the fence with nose down and ears pinned! Good guard donkey! Of course, we never let Robbie the Wonder Dog in the pasture. That would really be asking for trouble!

Change in the Weather, Part II

Again with the sleet! We've been weather-bound for about 5 days now, and that has given me time to work on fun fiber projects and now, catch up on my blogging. I'll try to keep this chronological, knowing you will see the last thing posted first. So think backwards.

Just before Christmas, a friend alerted me that a donkey was going up for auction at the county animal shelter, and that I could probably have him for $25 if I got there in time. We had just been talking about the possibility of getting a donk, as a guardian animal, so the next morning, Emma and I drove up to McKinney, TX to meet our friend who took us to the shelter. There, waiting for us, was a darling donkey who seemed to meet all my requirements: gelded, small, relatively friendly, assumed healthy, and cheap. As no one else showed up to bid against me, I got him for the aforementioned $25. Several people did end up coming for the auction, but they were late, and the deputy told them so. An employee of the shelter offered to deliver our new equine to us the next morning for a very small fee. Here's a picture of "Moses" enjoying his new digs at Jacob's Reward Farm.