Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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©Katherine Dunn.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pie Love: Guarding the pie

Good to know no one can come in and steal one of my pies....especially when I made it with Oregon homegrown strawberries just for the Dirt Farmer, who planted me five more trees today.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Evening of sheep, and one goat

A short journey from artist studio to the barn for night time feedings brings familiar faces, and Frankie lets all the sheep know she is in charge, as usual.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


The wind storms of the last weeks have been consistent, and powerful. We have been lucky, no harm done, but after living through a major straight line wind storm years ago in which my then neighborhood was torn to pieces [I had no damage, but houses and trees everywhere were damaged or ruined], I've always become very agitated in wind storms.

Wind on the farm is just as much a companion as the sun, fog or birds. I love the wind when I am in the barn, and feel protected. But gusty winds that rip barn roofs off are what has been coming through lately. The last one inspired this painting. I had decided to put all the sheep back in the barn an hour early that day, since it was so gusty and rainy, and when I went out, it was like a scene out of Wizard of Oz. I remember thinking of the traveling magician that Dorothy sits with after she and Toto attempt to run away, and as the she leaves to return back home, the storm picks up. As a child, I could just feel how scary that was, and even though I watched that movie every year into my adult years and knew the outcome, that one scene just terrified me each time I saw it.

So I felt that in the wind last week, which is why this painting does seem to have a bit of an Oz feeling, although I didn't set out to do that. This piece is available through my studio, but if it doesn't sell it will go off to a gallery.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Percolating schemes

Stella and Iris have been relaxed about their capers lately. While their schemes can provide much material for stories, I must say, it has been nice not having to out smart them these past couple of months.

Could it be? Could we finally have the fence grounded enough that the Lucy and Viv of the goat world can not escape? I think not. Look at the face of Iris, on the left - that is a goat with a plot, a scheme, a master plan that is written on a blackboard somewhere in the barn, rehearsed deep in the night when the farmers are sleeping, lightly intoxicated so they don't see the flashlights shimmering.

No, I'm sure we haven't heard the end of these two, it's just a lull.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Shepherdly relevations

I used to kiss that guy on the left. And so began my education about sheep...and testosterone...and why a sheep is a sheep, and not a pet.

People see the beautiful faces of the new lambs, many of them, ram lambs, and they see only that moment. Those tiny faces turn into 300# hunks of testosterone with testicles the size of small butternut squash. We started our flock with two ewes, and Joe Pye Weed, the fine gentleman on the left. He was 3 months old and he sired 4 lambs that fall.

I write short stories about my creatures and I merge their real personalities into story, often embellished for my humor, and to make a better story. I remain true to their personalities that only I know well, since I interact with them daily. But I do make them stories.

Rams are creatures with three things on their agenda - eat, procreate and stay alive by maintaining a hierarchy system that keeps them safe, and at the top of the herd. If there are two rams, or three in our case, in one pasture, there is a clear communication between the animals about who has bedded the most ewes, who should bed the most ewes, and who is in charge of banging the shepherd if she comes too close to the ewes during bedding season.

As charming as these faces are in these pictures, these two fellows are not leaning on one another in friendship. They are in fact, jockeying for the best position to show the very female shepherdess which one of them is in charge, and worthy of their attention. Chickweed is out of the picture for a reason, he doesn't bother to try to climb up the ladder at this point.

I have been writing this blog for over five years, and it started as a genuine document for myself, of our experiences on what was then our new farm. It is still a genuine, heartfelt account of what happens here, and what I feel, fear, and love here. It is an account of not only my triumphs, but failures as caretaker to so many creatures.

The blog shows snippets of this life. It carefully edits posts, and pictures are culled from many choices of the day. The din of ATV's in the nearby coast range, the fact I yelled at the dog right before sitting down to write, the fact I look like an aging rag- a-muffin and not at all like a romantic version of me I paint - none of that is shown here.

I feel like I have two lives. The one I think people think I'm living, and the one I live. I have a wonderful life. But it's just like yours - life, death, aging parents, dead parents, bruised knees, thickening middle, imperfect word choice when I'm angry, impatience leading to exhaustion, fear, of being found out for the real me. You just don't see that in these faces, do you?

Would you stop reading if you knew how imperfect I was? If you heard me speak in real life,would my voice not sound at all like you thought it was going to, and it somehow ruined the picture you had of this place?

I think in many ways, I've learned more about myself, and the order of nature from raising livestock than any other thing in my life. I see so many people start small farms and they can't separate their love of animals from the way an animal is instinctively born to act. I work at this every day. A ram is a ram. It starts out all small and cute, but within weeks, it is mounting other lambs. And someday, it is 300#. It is on the same mission each day, and it isn't to sit by and be your friend, but nor is it to be your enemy. But it has to allowed to be seen for what it is, not a romantic notion of what it is. That is one of the best lessons Joe Pye has taught me.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pie Love: Pug and pie

With Pino Pie Day 2010 fast approaching [June 27th, to be exact] I made a pecan pie with Apifera walnuts, and I must say, it was perfect. The One Eyed Pug may be down to one eye, but as he likes to tell everyone, he can "still smell pie".

Pino also has a Facebook Page for this year's events, and it actively posts apron arrivals and pictures.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

More aprons arrive for Pino!

A box arrived for Pino all the way from Texas, from his fans Karen and her donkey Ophelia. Usually packages for Pino arrive via snail mail or Priority, so he was honored to get his first UPS delivery.

The box is full of vintage aprons from Karen, and some from her friends too. How fun they all are. I'll have to get them online as soon as I'm able.

Karen and Ophelia, thank you for making our day brighter! And thank you too to Karen's friends who pitched in for Pino - Lauren, Ruth, Meghan and Linda!

The attached note said, "Pino, you are a fine donkey!"

Muddy returns from Paris

Is it ever okay to lie to your animals? I think it is, if it means keeping a youngster's nerves calm. Say what you will, here at Apifera when a young man needs his cowabungas removed, he doesn't go to the vet, he goes to Paris.

"How was it, Mud?" I asked, as he hopped into the car.

"Je suis Muddy. Pommes frites, s'il vous plait?"

And so it went on like this for most of the day, a 6 month old lab asking me politely for French Fries. Huck stood by with a very empathetic look on his face, his large brown eyes showing he knew exactly how his younger brother felt. For he too had been to Paris back four years ago. He too hopped into the car thinking he was off to Paris for one night, to see poodles, and great art, and then be back at the farm for dinner the next night. He too thought it odd that on the way to Paris he had to stop at the vet, "For your special Passport," we told him. The next thing he knew, he had dozed off, and when he awoke, he somehow felt changed.

"You look good, Muddy, did it all go well, were the accommodations pleasant?" I asked.

"Pommes Frites, s'l vous plait, " Muddy repeated in his best French accent. "The people were nice. It all looked quite American though."

Huck rolled his eyes.

"Mud, mon cherie, you weren't in Paris. They just said that so you wouldn't freak out when you found out they were going to take the old cowabungas off." Huck said, still brotherly.

"What? My cowabungas?!" Muddy shrieked, as he looked down between his legs. "They were just getting somewhere, and now they,re...they're..."

"Gone, deflated, zip, nada, " said Huck.

"Wow...." Muddy pondered. "Does this mean there won't be any pommes frittes for dinner?"

That night we had grilled potatoes.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Shepherdess and sheep calm down

All week I felt a bit like the 50 year old mother who finally got all her kids off to college, and then she has an unexpected surprise, all from one quick indiscretion.

But things are calmer now. Olive Oil is calming too, although she still doesn't totally accept the ram lamb as she should. All week, I've had her take baby steps and it helped. First two nights we separated out the ram lamb so he could be by his sister and mom, but was safe. We got up every 3 hours and had him milk off her, which she tolerates. Now he spends all day, and the night together with his sister and mom, and I think it's going to be fine. So thankful she'll milk him so he's not a bottle baby.

If we can get through the next week without any more unexpected lambs, I'll really relax. I'm a bit paranoid about little Rosalita who is only 1 year, but very small, so I hope she isn't pregnant. Time will tell.

In all the excitement, I haven't mentioned that Muddy went to Paris yesterday. It was a quick trip, he'll be back today. Details to follow.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Shepherdess shock at Apifera!

In which the shepherdess once again is shown that life goes on and on, even after chicken funerals. And Olive Oil will have some stories to tell.

My day was very full yesterday - I focused intently on the children's book I was hired to do, and got a lot done. Every couple hours, I tended to my chicken hospice work. Upon Jane's death, there was a release of sorts, the sky was very blue, and while the energy had shifted in the barnyard, it was a relief.

I had a good, although emotional day. I was ready to kick back, have a glass of wine, watch Muddy chase cats and such. As I went to the field to get the flock in, they were all waiting for me at the gate, as usual, taking their cue from the setting sun. But there was one ewe way down in the field, about 200 feet away.

It was one of those moments that happens fast, yet slowly. I saw the ewe, recognized it as Olive Oil. She seemed distracted. "Why is she down there?" I thought, "It's not like her." And then I saw a smallish dark object, which I first thought was a cat. Cats often hang out in the fields.

But within seconds, I realized it was a newborn lamb.

I walked quickly to it, and it leaped up and ran to me, bleating. My heart was sinking and soaring at the same time. I looked over at Olive Oil, now about 10 feet away, and I'm sure my face looked as surprised as hers, for she was not supposed to be pregnant. All our lambing was done in March. She stood over another newborn, this one a girl. Fortunately, the day was warm and sunny, and they were well dried. They were strong, and I figure they'd been born hours ago.

My mind was racing as I picked them up to get them back to the barn. Olive Oil was very confused and flustered, scattered. She was not concerned about the ram lamb, only the girl. As I made it back to the barn, I think all the other ewes were a bit confused too - "This isn't when we lamb? And why did she do it in the field, we have proper rooms and procedures for that!"

I remembered marking the date December 16th on my lambing schedule. That was the day Mr. T broke through the electric fence to get to the ewes. Martyn and I happened to be there when it happened, thankfully. The whole surprise love fest lasted about 10 minutes and consisted of Martyn running to get grain, and me dashing around yelling at Mr. T. In the confusion, I couldn't quite remember what ewes he might have mounted, but marked it on my calender, so I would watch for unexpected pregnancies from my young virgins. I remembering hoping he hadn't poked Olive Oil, who is a small triplet out of Rosie, and she was a ewe I never planned to breed. Many of you might be familiar with Olive, as she is a steady character in my stories, and also communicates via her puppet persona. She was my baby, my virgin, even though she's three years old. Every flock needs a virgin or two. The only clue I had was she immediately laid down in the field when I put the sheep out yesterday morning, but she got up, and even though she was flagging her tail a bit, I just wasn't thinking about lambing, since we were 2 months done with all our lambing.

Oops. I told her to keep her knicker bottoms on tight!

I wasn't sure if I wanted to laugh or cry. The juxtaposition of a chicken funeral hours before, with unexpected newborn lambs as the sun set, it was a gift of sorts, a shocking gift. The only problem is she is rejecting the ram lamb, and has been so aggressive against him that we had to crate him within the lamb jug all nite, going out to feed him every 3 hours. Fortunately, she is very tame, and I can let him milk off her if I hold her. But we can't leave him alone with her, so I have to haul the crate around so he can be safe in there, and still be near his sister. If you've ever watched a lamb be rejected by it's mother, it's heartbreaking. I'm hoping she will tame up to him in the week, but it seems doubtful right now.

So, there it is. Another day at Apifera. Another creature to care for, and hope for. I will name the little ewe lamb, Jane, it is only fitting. I'm sure Olive Oil will have much to talk about in stories and puppet productions. Accidents do happen, especially when there is a 300 pound love machine just on the other side of the fence.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Three Janes are now two

She put up a good fight, but Jane died after a 4 day struggle with...well, it's still a mystery. Jane had been eating most of the four days, and yesterday afternoon she had even ventured out of the coop on her own, which meant jumping and going down her ladder. Last night, rather than secure her again in a separate pen, I laid her in one of the roosts, on top of some eggs. She prepared to lay down like any hen on eggs, so that too gave me some hope. If she was egg bound, maybe sitting on eggs would help stimulate her tired body one more time.

But this morning I knew she was dying. She was very listless, and her beak opened every now and then, a sign she was suffocating or not breathing well. Her head was still upright, but, I knew her hours were numbered. After I gave her a brief time in fresh grass, and said my good byes, I took her back to the proper place for her death, in her coop, surrounded by her clan. I was sure she'd be dead within the hour, having witnessed the stages so many times now. But she hung on...and on...by 2 pm, she was really out of it, and I opted to bring her in and clean her up in a warm bath. She was on her way, making sounds and motions I now know as death knocks. Rather than taking her back to the coop, I opted to wrap her in warm towels, and have her resting with her head up, hoping any suffocating would be lessened. But she was most likely comatose in that last 30 minutes.

I do not think she was egg bound, which is the only thing I and most chicken friends could logically think of. I did inject a needle into her large egg size growth under and to the left of her vent, but couldn't retract any fluid or material, which made me believe it was not an egg.

I buried her in the hen yard, next to Madelaine Albright, Zuchi, Henny and Gracie. Bamboo shades the resting spot, and hens gathered as I put her to rest. I was thinking as I buried her, with hens clucking away, nature truly was singing to us. "She died the same day as Lena Horne," I said out loud. Strange the thoughts that come to you as you bury a fallen friend, even a chicken.

I told Jane many times in the past 24 hours, that she should go if she had to. I think it's important to let all creatures, - two footed, winged or hooved or pawed- that it's okay to move on. I've also taken pains to look at them as the creatures they are, and understand what makes them comfortable, or not, in caring for them. I fretted about that last bath for her, I knew she was dying, but maybe I was wrong, maybe a bath was the right thing. Did I intervene there? Perhaps a little. Yes, she was a chicken, but you learn a lot about death, and the battle of life, when you care for any living thing, especially when caring turns to hospice. The body takes time to wind down. It always amazes me, even a chicken took what time was required to die.

But the sometimes odd magic of Apifera was at work immediately upon her death. Martyn has a golden rule for me - no new animals until one dies. And as I carried Jane's lifeless body to the hen yard to bury her, I saw a brownish, very scruffy cat. I called out, "Hazel, Hazel", thinking it was one of our barn cats we rescued years ago. The cat stopped not 30 feet from me, looked at me, and I realized it was not Hazel, but a new stray. It looked like a real survivor, a cat that had fought the battle to stay alive, and so far, was winning.

Thank you to the many chicken lovers who wrote and emailed giving advice, and support.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Hang in there, Jane

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Jane is not well, and I am assuming she is egg bound, something I've never dealt with. So the last 24 hours I've spent giving chicken baths, inserting olive oil drenches in various chicken parts, and basically asking the large online chicken network for opinions. Yesterday I took these pictures when she first showed signs - limp wings, eyes closed, dull, not eating...and a large egg shape swelling below her vent.

After hours of studying chicken anatomy, I don't understand how that swelling can be a stuck egg, since it is below the canal that the egg would come out. I'm concerned the swelling is from something going wrong in the canal below her egg tube, the name of which I've forgotten, starts with a c.

Anyway, Jane and I are are bravely forging ahead. She seems to like the warm soakings, and tolerate the finger probes in her vent - sorry, this is a farm emergency so one must talk about probing chickens. I have her separated, in a crate, and she is residing in the Ward room, where the old goats live. Edmonia Lewis has been pecking her, so I will keep her crated excpet for sunning outings. And she is eating eggs and yogurt, slowly, but she is still eating. If any of you have experience with this, feel free to chime in. Many of you already have on Facebook, and thank you for that.

In a nutshell, it's frustrating to not always know what the problem is, but with chickens, even if you did, there is often nothing you can do. In the meantime, she is cared for, and safe, and I'm happy she seemed a bit more alert today, but obviously uncomfortable.

Jane is one of the Three Janes, and I'm very fond of her Barred Rock personality. I'm still hoping, but cringe on each walk to the barn. Hang in there,Janey.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Conversing with Chickens #6

All week I'll be doing short, spur of the moment interviews with the chickens of Apifera. Like I said in the first interview, these chickens are busy, and have little desire for the spotlight, so expect brief, to the point answers. All answers are unrehearsed.

Note: At the time of this posting, I found one of the Three Janes in the coop, very
sick. I worked with her to revive her with water, and I hope she makes it through the day. If she does, it was most likely a passing illness. But once a chicken goes down, I've never seen them really revive. So Jane was on my mind as I interviewed Vivienne, one of our most independent, and very no-nonsense, hens. Vivienne is part Aracuana and has beautiful deep rust-red feathers.

KD: Vivienne, I think Jane is dying.

V: I need to get going....

KD: Vivienne, wait, do you mourn for flock members, when they are ill, do you comfort each other?

V: Our presence in a routine comforts us. The sensations of air, dirt and water are norms. When they are gone, we cease to exist, so there is no need for seeking or giving comfort. We live each moment. Or we die in one moment. There's no need to think of it either way.

KD: I knew you'd give me a direct response.

V: I have to go now.

Still, I am not a chicken. Just a woman with chickens, who sees their individual personalities and colors and revels in the way each one runs slightly differently, or waddles fast or slow. I told Jane as I held her, her eyes not opening, "You can't die, the Three Janes won't be the Three Janes." Even though I revived her somewhat, I'm prepared. An old farmer told me long ago when I first start raising chickens, "Chickens just die."

Conversing with Chickens #5

All week I'll be doing short, spur of the moment interviews with the chickens of Apifera. Like I said in the first interview, these chickens are busy, and have little desire for the spotlight, so expect brief, to the point answers. All answers are unrehearsed.

As I crouched in the sunlight, a shadow appeared.

KD: "Wait a minute, you're not a chicken."
G: "I am most certainly NOT a chicken."
KD: "Move along then, Guin, this is Conversing with Chickens Week, not goats..."

He limped off in his old man side strut, grumbling something about hen overload.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Conversing with Chickens #4

All week I'll be doing short, spur of the moment interviews with the chickens of Apifera. Like I said in the first interview, these chickens are busy, and have little desire for the spotlight, so expect brief, to the point answers. All answers are unrehearsed.

Two of the three Janes, and Mabel Dodge were a fun interview. Actually, it was more of a brief off-off-off Broadway mini musical.

KD: "What things do you guys do for pleasure, when I'm not around, if you can share?"

J/J/MD: "Well," said Mabel Dodge...and she looked over at the Janes, with a glimmer in her eye, "should we?" she asked them. And the Janes clucked in unison, "Yes, Yes".

And they broke into their version of 'She Loves You Yea, Yea, Yea' complete with Beatle mania head bopping.

I'm not sure how they knew about the Beatles, but the chickens have inner and outer lives I'm not privy too, as it should be.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Conversing with Chickens #3

All week I'll be doing short, spur of the moment interviews with the chickens of Apifera. Like I said in the first interview, these chickens are busy, and have little desire for the spotlight, so expect brief, to the point answers. All answers are unrehearsed.

With the sunshine this morning, the hens were up and out of the coop pronto, and I had a hard time getting anyone to pay attention to me. Chicken Named Dog and Henny Penny were rushing by, and I yelled out a question for them:

KD: "Excuse me! Do you have regrets eating worms?"

CND/HP: "None," they said in unison, as they hurried to eat some.

I had hoped to dive into a longer conversation with them about our individual places in the food chain, even those that are vegetarians. But I could see they were much to busy sustaining themselves. I'll leave it for another time, with another chicken.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Conversing with Chickens #2

All week I'll be doing short, spur of the moment interviews with the chickens of Apifera. Like I said in the first interview, these chickens are busy, and have little desire for the spotlight, so expect brief, to the point answers. All answers are unrehearsed.

Papa Roo has been our main rooster from the arrival of the chickens, so he is at least 5 or 6 years old. He's not a cuddly rooster, like my beloved now departed Ward, nor is he that social, like the flashy Lyndon Baines was. Papa Roo and I have a polite, professional relationship. So when I asked him his question, I was not surprised by his brief response.

KD: "Papa Roo, do you ever have dreams or yearnings to be something you are not, like a dog or a horse?"

PR: He shook his had defiantly back and forth and rushed off.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Conversing with Chickens #1

I have declared it "Conversing with Chickens Week" here at Apifera. For those of you who don't live with chickens, I hope that it will expand your understanding of these creatures. I have heard some people boldly state that chickens are stupid. Perhaps these people are just projecting, or perhaps they are so busy texting they haven't taken time to discuss things with chickens, things that might help them learn something from a chicken perspective.

So I will be asking questions of my chickens all this week. These interviews will take place outside, at a moment's notice, because these are very busy chickens, and you have to basically interview them as they work.

Today's interview on the fly was with Clara Barton, one of the Buff Orpingtons:

KD: "Do you look at your eggs as food, or children?"

CB: "I view them as part of me, part of my daily destiny. But I do not label them as child or food, but if I did label them, or chose to label them, it would be my right to do so."

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Sheep of dusk

Each night I bleat for them, and they leave their work in the lavender field behind, and rushing to me in a cluster, in their safety zone of the flock. They each have a place in it and each has a distinct personality, just like any other extended family. I get very cranky when people say sheep are stupid. Not true, they just think like sheep, knowing the safety of the flock is what will keep them alive from predators. I challenge a group of 10 people to spend a week in bobcat-cougar-coyote territory with no tents, no guns, just themselves to ward off predators.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Green rooms

"And she painted her rooms in shades of green, because it made the inside feel like the outside, but safer. The walls of the rooms merged with the landscape patches of the hills outside her window spotted with donkeys and goats. It all blended together like a natural green quilt sprinkled with fresh air and a smattering of floating cat air." ...from the writing of Katherine Dunn of Apifera Farm.

Another elderly lady helped

Another one of the elderly ladies from El Refugio del Burrito is Joanna. Money collected at Pino Pie Day 2010 will help raise funds for this wonderful sanctuaries efforts to help and rescue donkeys. Here is Joanna's story:

Joanna is a pretty little donkey, aged 34, that came to us as part of a group of 18 donkeys from the Canary Islands, where she was living at Los Burros Felices a donkey refuge run by Katrina and Phillip Townsend that, sadly, had to close down. Although she was already "old", she arrived in fine condition after the three day travel from the Islands, escorted by Phillip himself. Having lived all her life in such a tourist area, she's quite an expert at languages. For some reason still unknown to us, when she is about to be fed, she doesn't bray like her paddock mates... She roars! Just like a lion! We suspect she wants the lion's share...Such talented beauty does not go unnoticed and has quite a growing fan base at the farm.

Oh, Joanna, I wish we could hear you roar!