Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I'm not crazy

With all the chaos of a farm, living on it can make one forgetful, or at least distracted, as can turning 50. One of my recurring bad habits is to forget I have turned on the hose to the water tub in the cow field. How do I finally remember? Actually, I usually discover this oversight when I want to clean up the kitchen from dinner, or worse still, my husband decides to take a bath, and there is only the hiss of air in the faucets. This means I have de-primed the pump and come close to emptying the spring-fed tank supplying water not only to the barn, but also to the house.

In our home, whoever leaves the hose on gets to go to the distant pump house down by the creek to re-prime the system, no matter the weather or the darkness outside. Over the past several years I have become an expert at crouching in the mud, pressed against the block doorway next to weird bugs frozen on the walls in the beam of my flashlight, to bleed the air from the line. Only then will the pump start. Sometimes I am lucky and it only takes me five minutes; other times I can be at the pump house for half an hour. It’s funny how a 50’ pipeline can fill with air in the time it takes to round up the sheep and horses, feed and secure them for the night, put out hay for the cows, collect the chicken eggs, lock up the hen house, cook dinner, eat it, and then, …oh damn!

So, I was not surprised the first time I found our horses, Tater and Moralecia, happily finishing off a bale of hay left in the barn aisle for future feedings, the gate to one of the stalls wide open. While remembering to turn off the water, I must have forgotten to bolt the stall door. The next morning I was fairly put out to find the horses once again standing in the middle of the barn. This time Tater had managed to lock himself in the large sheep pen, although it was difficult to figure out how he had squeezed past the two ATVs to get into it. He had also managed to fall through the floor in one spot but had obviously cared little as he continued to search the floor for food. Okay, he did look a little sheepish about his predicament. Moralecia was skittish and nervous, knowing this was bad behavior on her part, as she backed away from a torn bag of salt and minerals. The door to the horse stall had swung shut and she didn’t see an easy way back to the other side.

I had proof now - I was obviously losing my mind. I released Moralecia and Tater into the loafing shed behind their stalls and watched them beeline to the water tank as I wondered exactly how much salt they had consumed. That night, while feeding, I checked every latch twice – and the water for good measure. I didn’t have time to be crazy.

As I walked toward the barn the next morning the loafing shed was eerily quiet. What was going on? I opened the door to the barn and came face-to-face with our third horse, Chaco, who in his current state of semi-blindness, had finally decided to follow the other horses into the barn aisle. He had strayed between the stairs to the hayloft and his stall, felt he was wedged, and then wasn’t brave enough to back up. It looked like he had been standing there all night. We negotiated an ungraceful exit together. The other two horses had eaten most of the new bale of hay I had once again left in the barn aisle the night before, confident it was secure because the gates were latched. Their heads hung low. They had had their fill. Thank god it was only grass hay.

And there it was, staring me in the face … or rather, there he was staring me in the face. The horse known to pull a fly mask, a halter, a lead rope or anything he could reach into his stall and tear it to shreds. The horse that loved to be on the outside of any fence, gate, or wall, especially if there was the promise of food. The horse that whiled away the nighttime gnawing on wood railings, running his teeth along metal gates, and, apparently, learning to flip up and slide open stall door latches. Tater, the liberator, the freedom fighter, the big brat was working me for all it was worth. At least I was in the clear. I was not losing my mind.

And the solution to the stall doors? To Tater’s great aggravation, and mine, I now clip caribeeners through the locking slot so that neither of us can get past the doors without a great deal of trouble. Of course, all I need is an opposable thumb. In Tater’s case, he has to wait for me to forget to use the clip. The next time the water runs dry, I may want to check the stall doors...

All rights reserved. Copyright Scottie Jones 2006
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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Freedom Fighter

Two summers ago a young quarter horse joined our herd of two so we could offer friends and family the opportunity to ride together up the logging roads behind our farm. This 5-year old bay was called Obi Wan by his original owners, the natural consequence of letting their teenage son name a colt. He didn't look like an Obi to us and, after a family conference, he was renamed Tater. Tater quickly turned out to be a juvenile delinquent when it came to getting into trouble in the middle of the night. I'm not sure that is how we perceived the name when we chose it, but that's how he has defined it.

Maybe it was the hint of concern and a smile I got from Tater's owners when they first dropped him at our farm that should have had me paying more attention. The wife checked our fencing and our gates and then tied Tater's lead rope around one of the gates that obviously worried her the most. She mentioned, on leaving, we needed to be careful closing things up tight and not leaving anything around we didn't mind losing, such as tack or blankets. As our two older horses had never given us much trouble, chewing didn't really come to mind until I started to find the baling twine I used for added gate security wadded up in chunks inside the paddock.

Next came the Christmas lights we had strung through the barn for a party, apparently within reach of a horse standing on tip-toes at the edge of his stall. They made the place cheery in the dull gloom of winter, but the crunch of glass bulbs was more than a horse could bear to leave alone. Once the lights were torn to pieces, the object of Tater's obsession were the chains used to hold our gates shut. They started to become bent and misshapen and the clips no longer fit together. Tater even took to chewing on them right in front of us, like some orally fixated teenager with a bad habit. Ultimately, there were the mornings I would look out the windows facing the barn and realize the horses and the sheep were on the lawn, the gates wide open. Tater had become the farm's freedom fighter.

Tater-inspired (because loose animals on a farm can be a bad thing) we started to play with a latch to foil Tater's apparently opposable tongue. We now have our latch and we are even to the point of selling it because we know we aren't the only people with "loosey-goosey" animals. Hence the stories to follow from folks, with equally talented animals, who have searched out our latch in the hopes of restoring peace and calm to their farms. They have their own anecdotes they have shared with us, because ... as anyone with livestock knows ... it sure is a drag to reach for that first cup of coffee in the morning and see a horse (or sheep, llama, alpaca, goat - fill in the blank) grazing the vegetable garden and wiping out the strawberries in one pass.

All rights reserved. Copyright Scottie Jones 2006
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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Animals gone wild

I never really thought about the derivation of the word "escapade", but when I needed a name for this blog, and the reason for the blog arose from listening to people talk about their personal experiences with their own escaping animals; well then, 'animal escapades' became clear and all encompassing. "Clear" because while we consider most animals on the wrong side of the fence as escaping, I am sure the animal just considers itself somewhere preferable for the moment...the "grass is always greener..." concept. "All encompassing" because, from my experience, the horse is the animal most likely to be called by its owner a "Houdini"; yet, in the past few weeks, I have been corrected by llama, alpaca, goat and dog owners - horses do not have the market on escapades. Why stop with these animals? I am certain mules and donkeys can be just as nimble. Of course, monkeys and orangutans also come to mind. Thus, the purpose of the blog - to record the affectionate and oftentimes hilarious stories of animals gone wild - because, as owners, I think many of us secretly admire the determination of some animals to get to the other side...
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