Anyone? Bueller??!!

If you hadn’t noticed, I haven’t blogged here in a long time. I’m in the midst of an overly-long transition to the new website, which will encompass all the ventures of the farm, not just Heedley’s Hens. You can find the new website here.

I’m gradually filling in the pages, and I’m still figuring out the blogging functionality in the new template, so please bear with me. Until it’s all finished (and I make no promises as to when that will be), you can catch up on our day-to-day shenanigans on on the Duagwyn Farm Facebook page.

Please join us there, and speak up!

Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back…

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My very farmy birthday.

Thursday was my birthday, and it was a big one. Let us speak no more of that.

Last night was my party with The Man’s family, and I did very well for myself. Everyone, especially The Man’s mother, is into my new farming groove, and the haul was impressive, as usual. Remember this gorgeous number I received for Christmas?

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I flove this girl. Well, she done it again. For my birthday this year, among other things I received this elegant cookie jar:

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And…brace yerself, Bridget…I finally got me a Egg Skelter!

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This ingenious storage device from across the pond (those clever Brits, again; first the Brinsea, now this) has only recently been available in the US. People were ordering them from the UK for a while, via eBay, at elevated prices, as you might imagine.

Even now that they’re available in the US, bidding on eBay puts them out of reach. Well, leave it to The Man’s mater to find a bargain on the unbargainable. Those of you who are interested can leave a comment and I’ll pump her for her source. We have ways to make her talk.

The most amazing birthday presents I received were from my parents. My daddy gave me one of his sculptures, which is now displayed proudly on my family’s baby grand piano, in my living room. I am moved each and every time I see it.

And my mother gave me…

Dragonfly P Gwynderella

Gwynderella, my very first dairy goat, and the foundation of Dúagwyn’s herd.

She’s not in my possession yet, and I haven’t even met her. I am waiting to go out to Dragonfly for a visit when I know the outcome of Snowbird’s kidding. I am hoping hoping hoping to get a baby sister for Gwynderella from Snowbird. Were I to be so lucky, I’d wait for Dragonfly Philosophia to be weaned, and bring home Gwynderella, Sophia, and their governess Andromeda, all at the same time. Gah!! I can’t wait.

So, that was my birthday, and a fine one it was. Thanks to all of you who played with me on the Facebook page.

Snap goes the weasel. The satisfying conclusion.

We got it. (WARNING: graphic photos to follow.)

Which is to say, The Man got it, the damned weasel that killed so many of our girls. My heart is still broken, but I am feeling a sense of victory I wasn’t sure I’d feel.

Weasels are not easy to catch. They are very small, and very clever. They will evade an open trap, and will steal bait from an enclosed trap without setting it off. We saw this night after night, much to our frustration. The Man has spent a lot of time on the internet researching how successful hunters have caught this predator, and I went to Tractor Supply yesterday to get a different kind of trap.

This trap, inside a weasel box, baited with fresh chicken liver, is what caught our chicken killer.

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This trap uses heavy plastic, a brutally-powerful release snap, and a hair trigger to get the job done. Weasels have a great deal of finesse, but this trigger is so sensitive, it goes off at the slightest disturbance. I carried the loaded weasel box to the back of the coop with the respect one would give nuclear waste.

Yes, outside the coop. The weasel was killed outside the coop. Does this mean s/he couldn’t get in? The identical trap inside the coop was untouched. We made two changes yesterday: we removed the poop pit and I filled the inner door track with sand. Did we cut off its method of entry?

Not so fast. The bait to the Havaheart trap inside the coop was gone, and the trap was sprung, but there was nothing inside. Now, on the advice of the internet, The Man set the Havaheart last night with the bait twist-tied to the side of the trap; it’s possible it was eaten from outside the trap. It’s also possible it was eaten by a non-weasel.

We will not be letting down our guard anytime soon. The remaining eight hens will continue to spend the night inside the crate (sorry, girls), and we will continue to set traps, just as we did last night, for at least a week. I will not lose more hens. I won’t.

Contrary to threats made earlier this week on the Heedley’s Hens Facebook Page, I will not be feeding the corpse to the chickens. My fury has boiled down to a deep, abiding sadness; tears come easily these days. I feel satisfaction today, and a sense of victory, but my bloodlust is gone. This wass a living creature, doing what nature created it to do.

That said, I do get satisfaction in the knowledge that The Man found it still alive. Oh, I haven’t mentioned that part? Yes, alive. If you ever have the opportunity to test drive one of these snap traps, you will understand my shock. I thought it would take the weasel’s head clean off its body.

But, no; The Man found the weasel will alive and writhing, and dispatched it with his air rifle. So, when I think of Coraline, and Haley, and Trixie, and Abby, and Maisie, and Dorothy, and probably even my darling Buffy, I can know that this creature suffered for hours before it finally died.

Please know, I am the kind of person who rescues worms off the road after a rainy day. I have a very soft heart, but I am glad it suffered. When my mind calls up images of my girls’ chewed necks and lifeless bodies, and I doubt my memory will ever surrender those images, I can now add this one:

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The wound look remarkably similar to those on Buffy and Coraline, and I am feeling an Old Testament satisfaction.

Let us speak of Gwynderella.

Sergeant Major has been here a little more than a week, and is settling in admirably. Is he lonely, without equine companionship for the first time in his life? He is. Is he pacing the fence line looking for a way out and calling out for a friend? He is not. If there are horses more suited to solitude than others, Sergeant seems to be one of them.

That said, we still plan to get him a friend. We’ve been looking, but are in no hurry. It’s more important it be the right horse. Sergeant is only five years old, and what is called “green broke”. To bring in another young horse, and us as green as we are, would be ill advised, to say the very least. Conversely, we don’t want to take on a geriatric horse, either. As much as I admire people who take in horses at the end of their lives, providing them with comfort and dignity (and I admire them tremendously), we lack the expertise and the resources to play that part.

We are seeking a horse from the age of 10-15, mare or gelding, experienced with many riders, preferably including children. And, you know me, I would like him/her to be dúagwýn. Not much to ask, is it?

As it happens, I have a horse in mind.

This whole, crazy horsey adventure began when The Man called me over to look at an online listing for a horse free to a good home. Now, I’d been fighting this tide for some time, knowing that both The Man and Stepdaughter the Younger were chomping at the bit (sorry) to add a horse or two to our home. I knew what all wives/mothers know: the lion’s share of the care would fall to me. So, I dug in my heels, saying things I didn’t mean, like “in five years”, and “when you can prove you’re serious about riding”, hoping the passion would wane.

So, when The Man called me over to look at a listing entitled “horse free to a good home”, my first thought was, “Oh, shit. We’re there.”

Then…I saw her.

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Can you stand it?! Look at her!! As our own misterproperty gushed so pithily, I bet she is a unicorn with a retractable horn and she poops rainbows.

In a split second (I swear this is true), the door flew open to the possibility of a horse. (How the door flew open to the possibility of two is another story…) We sent an email to the address provided, but received no answer. I was crushed.

The thing about doors is, once they’re open, they’re not so easily closed. We looked at other horses and soon heard of Sergeant from a friend. That was pretty much love at first sight, and the rest you know. But, what of Ella (for that is her name)?

They wrote us back about four weeks ago, saying she was to be evaluated by a college for their riding program. Because she has some arthritis in one knee, they would take her for a month to see if she was up to their riding program. If they found it was too much for her, she would be returned.

Hope! Cruel hope!! We wrote them back with pictures of the barn and Sergeant, letting them know we were waiting for her with bated breath, prepared to give her a comfortable, active, yet gentle life. We haven’t heard anything back, but I am holding out hope that we may yet hear, and that she might yet come to live with us. She is very experienced in a number of riding disciplines, and experienced with children. She is ten years of age.

So, where does the post heading come into it? Her name is Ella, and while I’m all for continuity, that name is too similar to a number of family/friend names to be practical. In keeping with our naming of the farm, I thought to name her “Gwyn”, the Welsh word for “white”. I was ruminating in the car one day about what the long form of her name might be, and how she would adapt to a change of name when it came to me in a flash of inspiration.

Gwynderella.

Oh, I was extremely pleased with myself, make no mistake. Surely I am the cleverest creature ever born. Now, of course, we just needed the horse. The cleverest name in the world is useless without the horse to go with it.

The Man is humouring my obsession with Gwynderella; I’m reasonably sure he has given her up for lost. My love for long shots refuses to let her go, however. If, on February 28, the date of their email, the college had not yet come to pick her up for her month-long evaluation, then time has not yet run out, and I refuse to let her go. (Yes, I have parsed that email quite closely. Why do you ask?)

I will keep you apprised of any developments, of course. It will be difficult for me to seriously consider another horse until enough time has passed that she is surely gone, or until we are informed that the college has taken her. Until then…

FREE GWYNDERELLA!!!!

The further adventures of Sergeant and Billie.

Sergeant is trying to gaslight me. I swear, it’s true.

Our set-up here is not typical: our pasture is also our yard. There is no “this is the horse area”, “this is the dog area”, “this is the chicken area”. It’s all one big happy area. In theory.

I didn’t think twice about this as we awaited Sergent’s arrival; all I thought was, “Oh, cool…Sergeant will be able to look right into the lodge windows.”

No one warned us. No one told us that this might be problematic, but I don’t blame them. I blame myself, because…that’s what I do.

I should have seen it coming. I listened as Horse Debbie told me of her cat who has to go all the way around the perimeter of the pasture so Dixie won’t chase her and scare the living daylights out of her. I should have figured that a predator/prey friendship was going to be difficult, even if the predator in question is or own placid, non-barking, world-loving Miss Billie.

But I didn’t.

Consistently, if Sergeant was in the pasture/yard, and I brought out Billie to do her unmentionables, on leash, mind, Sergeant would pursue us, no matter how much distance I attempted to keep. I couldn’t say for certain there was hostile intent, but he would come right up to me. Right up to me. He’d stop at my “whoa!”, then try to go around me to get to Billie. Poor Billie would be cowering behind me, terrified of this new 1,000 pound aggressor who was trying to keep her out of her own damned yard, thank you very much.

Clearly, something had to be done, and I was not doing it. When The Man took Billie out while Sergeant was unstalled, I asked him, eagerly, “Did he do it? Did he pursue and crowd you?” The Man looked at me quizzically, with no idea of what I was talking about. Sergeant had been the perfect gentlehorse.

When I took Billie out yesterday morning, Sergeant followed us right into the barn. I brought Billie through the narrow opening to the chicken coop hallway, thinking she’d surely be safe from harassment while I looked in on the girls. Sergeant came right up to the hallway and stuck his head through the opening, as far as he could. I thought Billie was going to shit herself.

Once back in the house, I ran to The Man “Did you see that? Did you see that?!” He looked at me, bemused. Occupied with other matters, he hadn’t paid attention.

See? Gaslight.

There was one more chance for redemption. Our horsey friend, Melissa, was coming over to spend an hour with me and Sergeant, to show me how to handle him, both physically and psychologically. Not a moment too soon! I prayed I could recreate the behaviour, so she could show me how to change it. We went into the pasture/yard, Billie in tow.

Did Sergeant pursue us? He did not. He did not so much as look up from his hay.

Gaslight.

In the end, it doesn’t matter, because Melissa had a solution for me. When I bring Billie out, on leash at first, I go immediately to the barn to get the longe whip. This is the instrument used to longe the horse, not to whip him, but to be a visual cue. The whip is just a tool, neither good nor bad, and can also be used to desensitise the horse to rapid, close movement, as well as to caress. Fear is not the objective.

The whip is quite long, and is also useful to show the horse the distance he should keep from you. It’s a personal space bubble measurer. Sergeant saw me holding it in one hand, with Billie on leash in the other, and miraculously stayed where he was. It was magic.

After Billie had peed, which, can I say, has been a nerve-wracking activity for the poor girl of late, Melissa told me to let her off leash. Wait, what?! Yup, while Sergeant was in the pasture. Keep myself between Billie and Sergeant, holding the longe whip in the hand closest to Sergeant. Should Billie approach Sergeant (unlikely, as she is now thoroughly terrified…not a bad thing), I could use the command “OFF!!” to get her to steer away.

And it worked.

I plotzed. Plotzed, I tell you!

We worked on other things, as well: putting Sergeant in crossties to groom him, picking up and cleaning his feet, getting him to move to the side, or back, as directed. And then, unexpectedly, Melissa asked me to longe him. This has been The Man’s purview, and I hadn’t thought to do it myself for a while, but it went very, very well. I just need to learn the coordination of the two arms, so that I can relieve pressure when he’s doing what I ask of him. This is called negative reinforcement.

He is such a good boy, everyone thinks so, and he is getting used to us. He is lonely, I’m sure, but not urgently so. He doesn’t pace the fence line or call out or exhibit neurotic behaviours. He has been reluctant to go into his stall, but, now that we’re shaking a red bucket with a very small quantity of sweet grain in it, he comes at a trot, right into the stall.

Why, no, I’m not above bribery. Why do you ask?

But…could I replicate the results on my own?I took Billie out this morning, on leash, went straight to the barn to get the longe whip, then took her out to her favourite area. She peed…and I let her off leash. Not only was it fine, Sergeant didn’t move from where he was eating hay, and Billie even got to do a few zoomies.

Is this the end of the issues? I doubt it. But at least my poor girl can relieve her bladder in relative peace. And, you know what? She was here first.

Sergeant, meet Billie. Billie, meet Sergeant.

We have a lovely peaceable kingdom here at Heedley’s Hens, and I’m determined to keep it that way. Given that we are adding not a new species a year, as originally planned, but a new species a month these days, we have our work cut out for us.

On our way to see Sergeant for the first time, a horsey friend of ours laid it all out for me, in one of those epiphanies where something that had been so mysterious becomes so simple and clear, you can’t imagine why you didn’t figure it out for yourself. Ready?

Eyes in front, predator. Eyes to the side, prey. It’s that simple. Billie might look like a pony to us, a logical playmate for Sergeant, but to him, she’s predator. Eyes in front.

I behooves me, at this point, to tell you a bit about Billie. She is a 2.5-year old black Great Dane, and the sweetest, gentlest dog you can imagine. She doesn’t bark. Ever. She will look on as one of our cats chews on her meaty bone, pushing her aside, her eyes turning to me for assistance. She works out her zoomies in the yard, tearing around in huge loops, studiously avoiding the chickens, which, I think we can all agree, have got to be God’s greatest squeak toy. She is an angel. We are spoiled forever, as no dog will ever again be this easy.

But, still…predator.

And, yet, I am determined that she and Sergeant will be, if not friends, non-combatants. The Man and I devised a plan of action for Sergeant’s homecoming. First, they’d see each other from a distance, both on a lead, in the main pasture. A bit later, once Sergeant was stalled, we’d let them come face to face, Billie still on lead at first, then off, if it went well.

And, it did. I wish I’d had a camera to hand, to catch them checking each other out, Sergeant in his brand-new stall, Billie below him on the other side of the stall door.

This might sound overly ambitious, even foolhardy, but we know something you don’t know. We know that Sergeant had dogs and goats in his former home. This is a huge advantage. Also a huge advantage? Say it with me…Billie doesn’t bark. Ever. Dogs barking is the number one impediment to good dog/horse relations.

It goes without saying that I grew overconfident. What would a story be without a little conflict in the second reel?

I took Billie out in the pasture yesterday morning, still on-lead, while Sergeant was grazing. Billie was trembling with excitement, and there were some raised hackles. It was going well, without too much fuss, although Billie was far too excited to pee. Then, Sergeant came over to us, at a trot, right up to Billie, and reared.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been very, very close to a horse as it rears. It’s an imposing sight. It is damned near a bladder-voiding sight. There was no neighing or screaming, so I believe (but what do I know?!) that this was a gesture of pre-emptive dominance rather than anger or even fear. Sergeant didn’t make physical contact with Billie, I don’t believe (it happened quickly and it’s a bit of a blur), but Billie stumbled over herself shifting into a hasty retreat, and ended up on the ground with a yelp.

We got out of there with alacrity, as one might imagine.

This has made both Billie and me a bit shy, not surprisingly. The new plan is that Billie will continue to be on lead when Sergeant is in the pasture, and only loose when Sergeant is stalled. For now. I have been giving Billie the same training I gave her for the chickens, a year and a half ago: any sign of interest, even just with the eyes, is answered with a sharp “off!”.

This is the first word any Great Dane should be taught, as far as I’m concerned. It is multi purpose, and can mean: off the couch, get your nose off the chicken on the counter, don’t jump up, get your face out of my face, don’t worry your boo-boo, don’t kill your stuffie, don’t touch the cookie, don’t eat the cat…the list goes on and on. It is a word deeply ingrained in Billie, and it taught her not to chase the chickens.

My goal with Sergeant and Billie used to be friendship and companionship; now, it’s…boredom. We want Billie and Sergeant to be so bored with each other that fear and hostility are forgotten. Billie is so good and sweet that this should be attainable. If nothing else, she had a good scare yesterday.

So, that’s how that’s going. In parting, here are some pics of Sergeant taken this morning:

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A stall is born.

(I have been waiting so long to make that joke. I do so love a good pun.)

When we left to pick up Sergeant Major Friday morning, we were far from ready. The fence was not only unfinished in the sense that it required more work to contain chickens, turkeys and goats, it unfinished in the sense that it needed work to contain Great Danes, children and…horses.

And the stall remained unfinished, lacking hardware, bedding and window bars. The Man lugged and assembled the horse mats in the stall before we left at 9am. He had four in there before I helped him with the last one, and helping him with that one just about damn near killed me. He is a marvel.

We left, horse trailer in tow, believing in good faith that JJ would show to complete the stall before our return. This was vitally important, as we were going to need to stall Sergeant while The Man finished the fencing.

Home again, we pulled into the driveway to see JJ hard at work, and Sergeant backed out of the trailer, into his forever home (which, for a 5-year old horse, is saying quite a bit).

The finished stall, closed, looks like this:

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She is nice, yes? In the background, you can see that JJ crafted conduit to make bars for the window. It’s great to have windows in a stall (it cuts down on stall boredom, which can lead to undesirable behaviours), but it’s important to protect the horse from his own nature. Come summer, we will also be able to leave this window open for ventilation. The other stall will have two windows.

The stall has a water bucket in the corner left of the window:

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And a hay rack to the right of the window:

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The hand prints made in silver paint were left there by the children of former owners. There was a family with seven children living here in the 70s; maybe the hand prints are theirs. In any event, we will not be covering over them, as we love that we live in a house with a long history of families.

So, Sergeant is home, and now…the real adventure begins.