Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ice Fences

Ice fences won't hold in the sheep, but they are a phenomena of nature and beautiful to behold. January was an unusual month for weather on the farm, with bright, sunny days and freezing temperatures. I think we mentioned choosing the Coast Range of Oregon because of its temperate rainforest and mild winters? Hmmm. But, this year we had ice fences every afternoon. So many I had to photograph a few just to remember them when summer comes.

The skies have been clear blue, a welcome change from rainy gray. The stars at night have been so bright in the cold air, it's easy to catch a falling star with only the tip of the head and a minute of time. I have kept the blankets on the horses during the days and the heated electric coils on the outside faucets so the pipes won't freeze at the barn. Sure, we have a creek running through the property for the animals to drink, but the horses seem to prefer the water tank, and it seems good to have two sources of water for the animals, don't know why.

Usually, January is a time of power outages and aggravation. Snow and ice take on a more manageable perspective when the sun is out and it is obvious the ground is probably slippery, not just wet. I bet most folks in other (colder) parts of this country would not agree, but for western Oregon, this, like the ice fences, is a phenomenon to be appreciated for now.

Even if the rains come back, which they will, and the ice fences are replaced with the cedar split rails that have stood sentinel around the orchard since the original homesteaders lived here (sounds dramatic, but the place was only homesteaded in 1895), I have the digital photos to prove this January was like no other we've seen (also not dramatic- we may only be the third owners but we have only been here for 6 years!).

The only animals getting past my fencing at the moment are the chickens, ice fences notwithstanding. I think the rascals are actually scooting under the garden gate leading into the chicken yard. Not satisfied with close to a half acre of bugs in the garden, they are squeezing under our main gate, free now to wander the entire farm in search of even better bugs. I don't half mind as long as they are scarfing up baby slugs and fertilizing my perennial beds hidden under piles of autumn leaves. For this, I can even ignore the leaf litter scratched all over the green lawn. It's a chicken thing.

What's too bad, on reflection, is that I never got a shot of a chicken looking as if it were perched on one of my ice fences. Now, that would have been something to show the grand kids!

Photos: ice fences in January

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

...Click here to read the rest of this post.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Freedom Fighter Rising

Take a young horse that needs a job. Take pastures wet from snow melt and rain, and forage that is waterlogged at best. Take boredom at night and a bale of hay within view. Mix this all together and what do you get? Tater, freedom fighter rising, picking at the stall latches until he has mastered the fine art of opening carabiners, and anything else I try. The horse can be down-right irritating!

This nonsense continued on for most of the week. At first, per usual, I thought I have forgotten to clip the carabiner through the stall door latch. Then, I thought Annie must have forgotten. Each morning I would arrive to a barn scattered in hay and poop, stall forks on the ground, chairs tipped over, and the poor lamb recovering in the sheep stall huddled at the back corner. Exactly how much hay, and whose, did Tater think he needed?

By the end of the week, I had determined that neither our daughter nor myself was being negligent about the clip, because I couldn't even find the clip this last time. Tater had not only opened it, and the stall door, he had gnawed through the rope holding the carabiner onto the latch. There was no sign of the clip anywhere in the loose hay on the floor. Had he eaten it? I hoped not.

Besides the fact that each morning's clean up was now taking me an added 30-45 minutes, the escape factor was not only annoying but also worrying. How was I going to stop this behavior, and what would happen if Tater learned how to open the gate to the feed stall? I decided to look through the racks of Alsea's general store to come up with a solution.

I came home with two. The first snap clip was opened in less than an evening and spit onto the floor. The second was a spring clip requiring a strong thumb to bend the bar back and a wrist twist to pull the clip out. At least, that is what I thought. The next morning, it too was lying on the floor. By this time, I had figured I could cut down my clean-up time if I didn't leave extra hay on the aisle floors. I think this is when Tater started to doubly terrify the lamb by leaning into its stall to reach the hay bucket. So not cool for the big horse!

I finally decided to try an old blanket latch I found in the tack room no longer attached to its blanket. It was smaller than the other clips I had been using and worked in a slightly different fashion. Maybe smaller was better? When I walked into the barn the next morning everything was in its rightful place: the horses were in the loafing shed, the lamb was still huddled in the corner of its stall (I let it out a day later to be with the flock), and nothing was disturbed inside. Glory be! I had a solution for the moment.

I still look out the window of our dining room before heading to the barn in the morning to see if I can catch horses peering over the fence. It's a good sign if I can see some movement. As I have said before, there is something verging on admiration for a horse that tries so diligently to escape. I mean, who would think that Tater could even conceive of the idea, much less spend hours perfecting the technique of opening clips? I have thought to set up a web cam some evening just to record his antics because I can't honestly figure out how he accomplishes this feat with his big horse lips, flat teeth, and a nose too long to see past. If I ever catch him, you can be sure I will post on YouTube!

Photo: Tater and me out in the barn field last summer posing for a story

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

...Click here to read the rest of this post.

Sunday, January 04, 2009


I think the lamb must have sensed my discouragement with his failing condition. That, or it really did have a conversation with Greg when he came out to the barn with his gun.

The lamb had been in the barn for almost two months, trying to recover from a cut foot that had become infected. I had treated it with a dose of antibiotics. The lamb seemed to recover, but then started to lose weight. The wound had begun to bleed again. This morning when I came into the barn, the lamb was lying prone in its stall, sweaty and lethargic. I suspected it was giving up. Damn sheep - I hate it when they do that!

It was time to ask Greg for some compassionate assistance because I had an appointment in town. Could he please put this lamb out of its misery? It seemed the decent thing to do.

But, Greg is a compassionate guy and often gives second chances. He saw something when he went into the barn. He saw a lamb that just might make it if it understood the alternative. When he picked it up and told it to stand, or else, the lamb didn't crumple back onto the floor. Somewhere along the line Greg and the lamb came to an understanding. It could live if it would live.

When I returned home, Greg met me at the door. He looked sheepish (bad pun). It wasn't this lamb's "time". I went out to the barn, wondering what Greg had seen that I had missed. And there was the lamb, standing in the stall looking at me as if to say, "Fooled you! Fooled you! I will survive!!"

We were back on track, at least for today, but what a mess. When the lamb had collapsed the previous night it must have hit its head. There was a big knot above its eye where it had scraped off the wool and skin. I don't think we had ever had a sorrier looking lamb - all skin and bones, and now battered.

I put some feed out and darned if this youngster didn't go straight for the bucket as if I had been depriving it of food all along. Just to be extra nice, and because our daughter made up the first gruel, we started to feed a hot mash of molasses-soaked grain. There is nothing like warm porridge to put a child right, so maybe it would work with this lamb.

It became a simple farm story, really. The lamb started to put on weight; the mash was no longer necessary; and pretty soon I turned the little guy out with his buddies to fend for himself.

What's a little unusual is that the lamb never received a name, especially after spending so much time in the barn in recovery. Maybe this was because I often have our smaller visitors come up with lamb names and we had a dearth of smaller visitors. Maybe it was because the dark of winter makes me lose some of my creative edge. Or maybe, and this is probably the closest to the truth, I know that this lamb's life will be a short one he has no control over because I have healed a locker lamb, a slaughter lamb, a butcher lamb, whatever you wish to call him. As I have mentioned often before, I don't name animals we eat or send to market.

For now, this lamb leads a peaceful life on pasture with his mates. Soon enough the spring grass will begin to grow and he will naturally gain weight. Then, we will see. I may put him on Craigslist as a "lawnmower" since he is no longer an antibiotic-free lamb. If there are takers, he will get a second chance. If not, we shall see. We shall see.

Photo: locker lamb riding it through the winter on our hay so they can put on some weight!

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2009 Scottie Jones

...Click here to read the rest of this post.