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

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

The challenge and healing reward of Marcella

In which The Shepherdess is reminded by a beautiful white creature that all is well and neither of the two are that bad after all.

UPDATE: A magical encounter was taking place far from Apifera while this experience happened at Apifera. Please read my comment below-after you read the post.

Of all the creatures I've ever worked with, I think Marcella has been my biggest challenge. I have worked with terriers and many other dogs in my life-in obedience training and in therapy work with some. I am certainly not an expert, but I know how to train a dog in basic obedience and boundaries, but this is my first guard dog. It is also the first dog I've ever had that lived in the barn since day one and is separate from the household.

But I want to share a really beautiful episode I had with Marcella yesterday. While you won't need a hankie, it will open your heart a notch.

The day began with beautiful weather, and Martyn was home too, it being a Saturday. We had many things to work on, and the cooler weather had me feeling energized. I had plans. But just about everything went a muck early on. None of it was end-of-the-world-stuff, there were just a whole series of occurrences that made the morning frustrating and at some points stressful for woman, man and beast.

At one point, Marcella had found her way into the lower field where I have three young ewes that I recently separated out from the flock. They are being weaned. It is a horrible time for me-and them-the day of weaning. They often cry and cry in these long horrible blah-h-h-h-s sometimes for hours. But these three settled in well, and all seemed fine. But Marcella went down there and must have startled on of them as one of the ewes ended up in an upper field, alone, and like most sheep, she could not figure out how to get back to her two friends.

Now I am pretty darn good at herding sheep. There is this bossy woman up the road a few miles who keeps trying to sell me one of her herding dogs, I always decline. I work with my flock everyday, some are leaders, some followers, some are not real sharp and can drive you mad, but they herd well, and know the routine. So anyway, I'm out there trying to herd this one lone 5 month old ewe. I'd get her close and she'd abandon ship. Then I got Martyn out there, which meant I had to herd him too. We worked 30 minutes and finally got them back in the barnyard. But I wanted them in a stall, to relax them after this stressful bout of running. Well, to make a long story short, it took another 30 minutes, and even after we did it, Marcella kept ending up in paddocks I didn't want her in, doing a bit of chasing.

I lost my temper, but more importantly, I lost my grounding. I felt that this was it, I was done with breeding sheep, I was no good at it, no good at maintaining the tolerance of separating animals out from mothers to wean them. I was tired. I was fooling myself. And, I didn't stop there, I told Marcella I was a loser guard dog worker, and we both had to accept this and make changes.

I had spent the entire morning-it seemed-trying to fix, control, and manage. And it all felt useless. And I hated for my animals to watch me go through this-I'm supposed to be the healing leader, after all. Where was my leader?

I decided to grab my camera and head up to Donkey Hill to get composed. This is an area that Marcella-normally-does not hang out in, although she knows how to go under fences and gates to get there if she really wants to. I certainly didn't want her there at this minute as I needed a break to clear my head and calm my temper. Shepherdesses can flair up you know, at least the redheads of the bunch. So I was sitting on the dusty mound, near a little Willow tree that I have recently named "The Healing Tree". I am hanging a white strip of raggedy cloth every time I hear of a friend or creature needing my prayer or healing thought. I had hung a few prayer rags for some friends, but had also hung one for me-because I felt I needed guidance.

So there I sat, in a dusty heap, legs stretched out, and I began calling the donkeys. They always come to me, but they were nowhere to be seen. I had a long, good cry. Yes, shepherdesses cry too, for many reasons. I needed to cry. It was better than anger. And in between sobs, as pathetic as it sounds, I continued to call my donkeys. But they didn't come. I hung my sad little head and sniffed away. And then I felt a presence behind me and knew it must be Pino.

I turned and there sat a beautiful white creature, without an ounce of resentment in her eyes. She sat upright, right beside me, and we sat that way for a long time together, looking at our Healing Tree. It was such a beautiful, poignant moment. Marcella is a shapeshifter, she appears without sound or fuss. Eventually, I thanked her for not giving up on me, but in reality I didn't need to say any of it to her. She is just total acceptance, without ego. She had moved on hours ago.

I decided to mill about Donkey Hill with her, and took these photos. She is beautiful while working. And I had an epiphany. I am trying too hard to control her. She is bred to guard, not to sit in front of one gate and not enter it, or come on my command. She is doing just fine, it is me that has to let go more, and roll more with her youthful punches.

Later, over a glass of wine, Martyn told me he saw us the moment Marcella came and sat with me and it nearly broke his heart, in a good way. He said it was a Hallmark moment never to be recorded again, but he saw it, and I was part of it along with Marcella. Some things are not meant to be shared in image, but only through the heart and soul, and that is the experience I had yesterday with a very fine guard dog in training-The Head Mistress–the always forgiving, Marcella.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pigletting #2

Doris had her piglets on Tuesday, without fanfare or trouble. I came out to do feedings and she had four piglets. All was well. I got her into the regular pen and checked to make sure there weren't any piglets that had slipped under the paddock. And then I went riding.

Upon returning, I was sitting in with the piglets and kept hearing this squeaking, but nobody was really opening their mouths so I was trying to find where the noise was coming from. I finally found this poor little piglet stuck between two fences, in the heat and full sun. I can only figure out that he was there when I came out in the morning, or was somewhere that I didn't see him and then he tried to find his way back to the litter and got stuck. We tried to pig proof everything but you learn on the first experience. Anyway, poor fellow, he was much thinner than the others and very tired and dusty. But he was fine and went right on milking and is catching up.

Piglets are so different than lambs. I am not sure I am cut out for it over the long haul. We will see. I love my girls, and Earnest, and they are here to stay. But time will tell if we piglet again. It is challenging to keep the pastures viable for everyone. I am keeping my mind open. It is important for me to try new things and challenge myself-it brings in new feelings and sensations and teaches me about new animals and also can touch into things deep inside me I didn't know I needed to tune into.

Paco, oh Paco

A magical moment caught this morning on Donkey Hill. Pino may get all the fame, but Paco will steal your heart too.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

And my horse does it again

I had another verklempt experience in tandem with my noble steed, the always steady and stoic, Boone.

Or as I like to say,


One of the many things I've wanted to do with Boone is take him to the beach. For awhile it wasn't possible-my car at the time wasn't worthy of the 1.5+ hour drive, and I wasn't confidant enough to do it on my own. But after working with Boone for more than three years in lessons and lots of road riding, my confidence took huge leaps starting last year. We started check marking things off The Boone Bucket List last summer-horse shows, learning dressage, long rides alone, a parade...and now, a beach day.

It was everything I had imagined it might be. But mostly, it was just a string of moments where I was so darn happy, and proud, of my horse and our partnership. I knew Boone would be fine at the beach but I had arranged to bring a friend with me-along with her filly and her Arab- because I just felt it was a good idea. The sound of the ocean can freak some animals out, and there are many new sights-hang gliders, waves, runners, etc [although we picked a more remote beach that tends to stay clear of people and we had the place almost to ourselves-only in Oregon!]. It just felt wise to have a riding buddy. I'm so glad for that too, because there were a few things I might not have tried on my first beach ride without company-like testing the incoming waves, or going into some deeper tide pools.

I had this overwhelming feeling of pride and accomplishment, sometimes emotional, through out the day. Even the drive down there, looking in the rear view mirror to see Boone in our little trailer, knowing he too was looking out the window experiencing this all with me for the first time. How many times had I been to the beach and saw people riding, and I thought,

Maybe some day I can do that with Boone...

and here I was doing it, finally.

At one point on a trail head, we came upon a young mother and four little children, all barefoot, making their way down to the beach [slowly, I might add, she had a lot of patience]. The trails are single file, so the people move out of the way if a horse comes. I saw the eyes of those little girls light up as they saw Boone, and I stopped to see if they wanted to pet him, and they did. Long ago, I had the same lit up eyes anytime I saw a horse. Perhaps when that little girl grows up, she too will be inspired to get her own Boone.

I hadn't been to the ocean for some time. I needed to see her. For me, the ocean isn't exactly 'relaxing', in fact, the non relentless sound of the waves, the wind, the salt air– it is overwhelming, almost surreal, for me. But not in a bad way. While I am there, I can only describe it like this–I become the ocean, I enter it. The ocean is like a womb, and after a day of being there, it is like that earth mother pushes me out, nourished, ready to be myself again, on land. That is the only way I can describe it.

Looking down at Boone's mane, watching him see everything with fresh eyes, was wonderful. He did everything I asked of him-including walking in deeper water and squishy wet sand. Long before he came to me, Boone had a bad experience in quicksand like mud, and for the first couple years, he would squeal in squishy mud, once even rearing on me. If he heard a 'squish' he went right back to that scary moment where he went up to his saddle bags in mud. We worked through that over the last couple years, and I haven't heard him squeal about anything for a long time. So when we went through that tide pool, I was beyond proud-I knew he trusted me enough to go in that pool, he knew I wouldn't lead him into danger. It took some time, but we have reached a great place together.

And last night, I had an epiphany about the whole day. I had been thinking, glowing really, about how well Boone had done, how proud I was. But then I realized, none of us ever doubted Boone would do well. Boone did well because he's Boone, but also because he knew I was going to do well with him. We are 'Boone and Me' now when we ride, a pair.

We cantered on the beach–I can't think of a more freeing feeling from the pressure's of daily life. I had many moments where I talked to the sky as if my parents were watching me, smiling,

"Oh good, she got to the beach with her horse..."

I also had moments of thinking how humans had done a lot of destruction to Earth, but at that moment, as we rode along the shore I thought,

But we haven't messed this up yet.

Martyn came along and we parked the trailer and then he went off and fished nearby. I was so happy for him. We deserved this little get away so much. You have no idea the details of just getting away form this place for one full day! And with the new piglets, and another 99 degree day, I had to worry about water and all that to keep everyone safe. Martyn was excited about going fishing as I was about riding. And we hope to do it more often–we have to. I told Martyn last night that is my new goal-that he and I and Boone start adventuring out every month. He can fish and I can ride. For Martyn, his fly fishing pole is his horse. If you ever saw this man fish, it would bring a tear to your eye, and a smile. He is 'in his ocean' when he is casting, and its a beautiful thing to get to experience your mate so content, free and in his zone. I told him I get to ride a lot, he needs to be able to fish more and I have to help that happen. We are such worker bees and we love it, but I have to make more get aways for the three of us. We will all win.

So, the days of summer are waning. And next week, I will be back in the studio percolating, creating and dreaming. I love the first weeks of September for so many reasons. It is a deeply charged time for me, it always has been. It can bring melancholia together with creativity which can bring about very emotive work and thoughts.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

There is no app for living

I am having a real adventure with Boone. But for now I am in the thick of living it, in the real. I will share it with you when I am rested. This is, as I said below, my New Year's week- the week of great expectations and gratitude. That is why I am only talking in short paragraphs, or in horse, or piglet. More soon.

I hope you are also outside, taking in Nature and Earth and relishing it. There is no app for it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The pig bathes as I ponder

I am laying low this week. It is still hot, but the nights are cool by sundown and I am soaking in the breezes and warm air-for fall is coming. I will revel in fall, but these perfect warm nights are delicious.

This week is my week, I don't intend to do much work, just thinking about the farm and all I want to accomplish. It is almost like the week before September is my New Year's–time for dreaming, planning, thinking, percolating...and enjoying the last pig mud baths of summer.

I sense many are doing the same thing. Enjoy.

Friday, August 22, 2014

An old friend that never really left

When we arrived at the farm, Louie Louie was over 14, blind, deaf and entering what would be his final year. Before Pino, The Misfits or the Old One Eyed Pug, there was Louie, my companion in singledom, road trip warrior and daily muse. He faithfully went anywhere with me, and loved the car. He got me through a of of lonely days and as I write about in Donkey Dream, I really think Louie got me to Portland, saw me settle down with Martyn, and the farm, and like a doting parent, he could let go a little bit. Perhaps I have meloncholiad the truth {Note, there appears to be no known word "meloncholiad", but I think it fits and who says one can't create new words?}

When I put Louie down it was just the worst. He had a bad heart, had been having seizures and other issues, and I finally decided it was the best decision. But on the way to the vet, he sat in my lap and looked so happy, he loved the car. I still can be driving and look over at the passenger seat and see that happy expression he always had in the car. He was truly one of a kind. Wire Hairs are very strong personalities. You never leave them, nor them you. I think he would have loved the life on the farm. He might have been working side by side with The Head Troll for all I know, or keeping The Head Mistress in line, hunting vermin and lining them up for the cats.

So today, even though I have photos of him all over, Louie came to me for some reason, in a very strong sensation. This is an older piece, but I felt the need to just sit and look into those eyes.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Nap of the old man

Old Rudy, caught napping. His beard against blue stripes is worth all the gold in the world.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Donkey helps the heart

I had a wave of sadness come over me this week, not sure if it is one thing that triggered it, but the arrival of autumn-and you know of all people I welcome it with open arms-can also bring a certain meloncholy, a wave of nostalgia that can't always be relieved.

I think all the photos online of people sending their kids off to school might have started it. Just took me back to the realm of life that felt so safe-of course, we forget children have anxiety too. We gloss over all that and have a recording in our head and heart of what we want in the picture, not necessarily what was there.

When I was coming home the other day from my ride, I saw the beautiful images of the sheep on the hills, and the foreboding grey clouds above them. A painting, I thought. So yesterday I had that scene on my mind when I sat down to paint. But I couldn't paint what I had seen. I just wanted to bring a donkey and beautiful sunflowers to me. When in need, a donkey seems to come into the picture. There are plenty of little foreboding bits in this piece, if you can see past the pretty colors.

But it is a cheerful piece I think, and I guess it is what I needed to see.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Land of Apifera

I went for a long ride n Boone Friday. It was perfect weather for me. Overcast, a threat of rain even [which would be more than welcome] with a light breeze. Everything is brown and crisp, but there are autumnal signs everywhere–I heard the first geese flocking yesterday morning, and the barn swallows re beginning to gather on overhead power lines.

One of the roads I ride is about 2 miles from here and when you look south you can see the white dots of sheep on our hills, and the roof of our barn. I like that view-as it it could be from 100 years ago when this farm came to be and the barn was young without holes or creaks.

The beautiful browns, umbers and ochres of dead leaves and grasses blend in with the color of our flock.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Eleven years with a Dirt Farmer

It is our anniversary today. We are celebrating in a grand way-working in the pig paddocks putting up better fencing. Actually, Martyn is, I am taking break from the sun.

This continues to be my favorite picture of Martyn. I think the expression on his face is so genuine. It was one of those classic Dirt Farmer moments–I saw him come out of the house in his rubber suit, with red handled clippers, and I said,

"Wait!" Don't move, I have to get my camera!"

No complaining came from his lips. I told him to smile and he did, the same smile I have seen so many times. It's the same gentle smile I saw some 12 years ago, when a knock came upon my door, and their he stood, introducing himself to me after I first moved into my Portland house. Some of you have heard the story over and over, and of course, I celebrated it in the book Donkey Dream, but I never tire of thinking of that day. I didn't put it in the book, as I knew it would sound like I was an unstable desperado, but I knew at first moment I'd marry him. Then I let the thought slip away, as I had just arrived in Portland. But my heart and gut were right that day, and one year later we exchanged vows.

We have had one fight in 11 years. That is due to the fact that Martyn is very patient and I am very forthcoming. That fight lasted two days and I did not speak to him. By day two I could hardly stand it, I missed him so much even though he was right there with me. We worked through the specifics that caused such a blow, and it wasn't pleasant, but we did. There is no passive aggressive stuff going on in this house. It works for us. Except for the issues that often arise when a person first marries-usually boundary issues with extended family, or how to load the dishwasher-we have a wonderful time. We like to work, alone and together. We love our gardens and fields and perhaps the most amazing gift of Martyn, speaking for myself, is he follows along helping me with pigs, crippled goats, needy donkeys and other dreams I keep percolating. There might have been a time when it seemed overwhelming and out of control-all the animals-but I think we've built a life here that not only feeds us physically and emotionally, it brings bounties into our home- through guests we interact with, friends we make due to the farm, and applause we get for our work. The animal work is clearly my baby, but because it fills me, and it is shared with the outside world-it bounces back and enriches Martyn's life.

I married a friend, someone that makes me laugh, someone that works hard, passionately outside of the marriage but comes home with new passion for me and the life here. I remember reading some article for newlyweds guiding that one should let their mate come in the house after work and give them 15 minutes or so before you start unloading any problems of the day. I have a different technique. I wait until Martyn has his beer open, I have my wine, and I list off all the exciting things I'm dying to share:

"Earnest busted down the duck hut door again to get eggs, so we need to fix that, and I saw an elk on my ride today. Did you see they cut that field over by Bansens?"

So tonight we'll celebrate like always. He will cook - grilled chicken with fresh blackberry sauce and our garden delights - we'll drink wine and talk and notice the signs of autumn coming in. I have a lime chess pie made. It's not that much different than any other night here. But that is what I mean–life with the right mate isn't about having fireworks to postmark a birthday or anniversary. The fireworks are internal desires that come to fruition in the work you do together, through the things you share with outsiders and the fact that you make each other laugh as you grow old together.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

More plethora of pigs

They are growing and getting chunky and their activity level is increasing.

I'm hoping they can wait two more days to stay out of trouble-which mainly involves squeezing their little heads into pasture fence and getting stuck-it happened once so far. We have to put up the No Climb on Saturday to ensure nobody plops into an adjoining paddock.

I think I can give a sigh of relief now. With the lambs I always wait about 5 days before getting too enthralled with anyone as things can still go wrong. And I'm happy to say the little male runt is catching up and holding his own. Next week the vet comes to...castrate. It's a quick procedure, but I'm told the first one squeals like crazy, and then every starts squealing like crazy, so my pig friend gave me lots of good advice for preparing the stall right to make things happen more smoothly. I think many people who haven't been around pigs might be intimidated at first by their language. It definitely takes time to understand your pigs. They make lots of noise at dinner time, to the point where a newcomer might be afraid of them. They talk with their noses-as you see in the second photo below. I know you really want this to be a piglet kissing her sister, but it is a piglet nibbling on her sister, telling her to move over.

Meanwhile, Doris is still waiting to piglet. I'm now assuming it might be even another 2 weeks since she must have missed the first cycle I had her with Earnest. Amazing, because she was so attentive and helpful to the poor fellow on his first sex adventure, where as Pearly wanted nothing to do with him!

In a few days, the piglets will be out of control, leaping and running! And I will be spending lot more time tendering them and holding them. Lucky me!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Today I loved a cat for one hour and then said good-bye

This story started yesterday, when I saw a post on Facebook alerting people in the Oregon area that there was a semi feral tomcat in need. The woman posting about it had tried the no-kill shelters, but they turned her down. Now normally I don't get pulled into animal neglect drama on Facebook, and I really didn't know this woman at all, she was one of many of my "friends" that come and go in news feeds [as I come and go in theirs too]. But, I told her if she could bring him to the farm, I'd take him in. It turned out she lived 1.5 hours away. But she was willing to do it. I said he'd have to go to the vet first to be tested, and she was going to do that too.

But in some quick exchanges, she opted to bring him up right away, and the vet wouldn't work out for some reason. Well, then I said she could meet me at my vet's and I'd leave him there the night and he could be tested and then neutered.

I have never brought a cat onto this farm-except for Itty who I found on a highway, and Peach who was dumped at my vet's. I certainly haven't gone looking for one on Facebook, an hour and a half away.

But when the final arrangements were made, I felt there was some reason I needed to do this and help both cat and woman. She said it had taken her 2 years to trap him, and that she had dogs that hated cats so it wouldn't work at her house. And her neighbors had dogs that attacked cats. I listened, but it was something internal that just told me not to question anything.

I got to the vet clinic and the thanked the woman for driving him up. We checked in at the front desk and when asked what his name was, I said, "For now, "Cat"". I didn't want to rush into naming him. We got the large dog crate he was in into an exam room, took him out and placed him into another small crate without any trouble. The woman could be on her way. She had a meeting to get back to at 6 and a long drive. It was good of her to trap the cat and bring him up.

I was told he was semi feral. He sure looked the part. Testicals the size of walnuts, which gave him extremely puffy cheeks and jowls. In our exchanges, the woman had thought he was swollen, but it was all testosterone. I was led to believe he was pretty much going to run off out of the cage, but we got him out and he sat quietly on the exam table. The vet and I first did a blood draw to determine if he had feline AIDS or leukemia. Both would not be good.

So while I waited for blood results, I got to know "Cat". He reminded me of Phinnias T. Barnum in personality, and Bradshaw and BW in looks and posture with his beautiful black and white markings and a jet black nose and chin. He was loaded with lice and had scars and cat bites [or other critters, who knows] all over him. He was thin but had been eating for sure and did weigh in at 12 pounds. His upper front teeth were gone and is incisors were broken off-probably meshed into another cat somewhere. His eye was puffy and full of goop and glassy, like he had a wound there. He definatly had been living the life of a Tom.

But he was a lover. He let me hold him, pick him up, caress him with my face-somewhere along the line he had understood love. He didn't balk at the blood draw. We could open his mouth and check all his body over.

I felt an instant bonding pretty soon after being with him -and when the vet went out to do the blood results, it was just the Cat and me in that room. I liked him. It was that quick with him.

And then the vet came back with results.

Positive. Positive.

There was one choice to make and we knew it. I don't know why all this happened the way it did. I guess someone could have taken him to a vet down where he was trapped and he could have left his realm down there. I really believe for some reason it had to work out like this - that someone would take the time to drive him up, and I somehow knew the only way to handle it was to take him immediately into the vet before landing at Apifera [I figured I could have crated him for another night, but my gut said to meet the woman at the vet].

I'm no hero, none of us were-but it was a very spiritual one hour. I went from my car into the vet clinic to help an unknown cat, and within the hour got to know him, understand the gravity of his condition, understood the fate I would seal for him. While the vet prepared the sedative and cocktail, I spent more time with him and told him all sorts of good stories about his next adventure.

"There will be birds to eat, but they will immediately come back to life. You will be able to do anything in spirit there, anything. There will never be another night of fights, or fear of flight. You'll never be hungry and you won't itch. You are a magnificent cat. I'm so glad I got to have this hour with you. Can you look for me later on?"

He would not die alone, wouldn't infect other cats and he wouldn't suffer in illness or half dead on a roadside. Before we gave him the sedative, I told my vet I wanted to name him.

So there on the table, I christened him "Charles III".

He dosed off, and then he was gone.

It was strange. It was only one hour, but I felt we were meant to be together-even for sixty minutes.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Heat wilts the shepherdess

It was horribly hot yesterday, 100 by day's end. It was all I could do to get morning feeding done, get water supplies ready for everyone and do a bit of work on a pig paddock where we are waiting for expectant pig mother, Doris, to piglet ["farrow" for all you experts].

It has been one of the hottest summers since I moved to Oregon in 2002. I am so challenged in the heat but I can taste the rains. They say we might get some late week with cool weather-but the weather people have been so wrong about every forecast that I've quit relaying on them, they have broken my heart too many times. I try to take the hot days really slowly, and look around and glean the good all around me-even though everything around me is also hot and suffering. Our drought tolerant gardens took a beating this year, with much more leaf wilt than ever before. But they are resilient and don't complain, except with wilted petal. Poor Pearly June can't use her wallow because of the danger to her new piglets, so I hose her down and make cool mud for her and the piglets.

My fuse is so short in this heat. I can see why there can be mass riots in big cities in heat waves. I admire people that seem to go on without suffering in it-Martyn is much more resilient than me. I literally get ill in it. Yesterday I retreated to the house to-God forbid–clean the bathroom! It really needed it, so I can thank the heat.

Martyn went to the river to fill the tanks and came back each time with a pie's worth of blackberries. So the heat does wonders for fruit hanging in bramble. The plums have been through the roof this year-due to the good timing of warm weather when the bees first arrived. We have more plum sauce than we know what to do with-but it goes so wonderfully with many of Martyn's chicken and pork recipes.

But about mid August, the shepherdess gets wilted along with the lettuce crop. I am tired of trying to keep up with water buckets. It is time for the rain. I always welcome it, even though come February the sun is missed. But I never yearn for heat, and of all the seasons, summer is the hardest for me.

So I am with Frank, a young blade of grass I know. We yearn together.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Ernest gets a banana

I heard the recognizable foot steps scurry to the studio's front door. Then a brief knock, rap-rap. It was always two raps, and I was told if it was ever more than two raps I would know it was an imposter. But two raps meant it was The Head Troll.

A note slipped under the door, and it simply stated:

Need a banana for Ernest

Well, since this seemed harmless, I started to the kitchen where it so happened I had just brought home new bananas. I returned with a yellow fruit for The Head Troll and watched her disappear to the barnyard.

I got on with my work, but another two raps came shortly after. Another note slipped under the door:

Can you press Earnest's dress shorts for him?

I peered outside the door and the goat stood holding Earnest's linen shorts.

Of course I knew something was up, so after ironing the shorts, investigated.

I have told the animals there is no smoking of any kind on this land. But a first time father needs something to mark the occasion of his new litter, and if you can't smoke a cigar, may as well hold a banana in your mouth for a bit. All morning, Earnest has been pressed up against the paddock that holds Doris, who is waiting to piglet. Some 15 feet away, he can see the mother of his new children, Pearly June. It is so like him to dress up for the occasion and look his best for the mothers. Earnest is a true gentleman.

An hour later I found a banana peel and Earnest was once again naked, sunning in wet dirt.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Back at the fly ranch

Aldo the Elder shows us how his lip skills come in handy.

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In about three days all heck is going to break loose

When you have your first piglet litter, there suddenly appears a plethora of piglets pics. How many piglet pics can the piglet loving public ponder? I hope I don't over piglet you...but, they grow fast, so I intend to enjoy them. I will repeat that, although the days have been hot, I have had many moments this month of feeling completly in my element, where I should be. I got up again at 7 and rode Boone this morning, stopped over at a friend's with horse in tow, picked up some pig stuff and as I drove home I thought,

I just got to take my horse to a friend's house to pick up a bunch of pig stuff. This is a good life for me.

My pig friend–I just love saying that–came over yesterday to see the new piglets. She was amazed they were the same size as the piglets that come out of her Berkshire sows. Our Guinea Hog breed are about 150-200# full grown, and her sows are about #500 full grown. They do have larger litters, sometimes 12-14, but we were both in awe that Nature made them the same size.

She also told me in about 3 days those piglets are going to be jumping all over the place.

I got a feel for that jumping this morning. Nature was also smart when she devised these little eating systems. Man, piglets are tough, very different than lambs. I'm really enjoying the process of learning their behaviors. Today they were doing a bit of romping, still in the wood hut, but I think by late afternoon or tomorrow they will venture down the ramp to sunshine. They have plenty of escape shade areas near the hut so it will be okay. My friend lent me a waterer they devised out of pipe, so I can get them on drip waterers right away. I made the mistake of not doing that with Doris and June, and they will learn to use them too. If you are wondering why this is a good idea, pigs will try to bathe in anything if they don't have a wallow of water and mud. It is hard to keep the water buckets clean for other animals.

I can already see the gilt [unbred girl] with the white front feet will be the tiger of the litter. The little male runt [shown above]is doing well, he is a fighter for food and gets on that teat and doesn't let go, so I think he will be okay.

And although we didn't get Earnest's colors, all the piglets definitely appear to have his squatter Kune face.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014


The proper term is farrowing, but I always forget how to say it, so I began saying "pigletting", which I think is a much better term.

And as you can see, we have pigletted! I rose at 7 am to beat the heat and went on a ride with Boone, our first in over seven days due to the temperatures. It was a wonderful ride, and stayed cool. Upon arriving back at the farm, it was the usual suspects lying around chewing cud or bathing in mud pools.

I went down to fill water buckets in the lower paddocks, and saw the pigs, Doris and June, lying together in the shade. Nothing strange about that. I got a little closer to check on Pearly June's privates, as they had swollen up a few days ago and I assumed she was close to farrowing time. I'm new at this, remember. And there they were, two little feet coming out.

She hadn't even made a nest to birth in. And she of course was in the paddock, not the pen I had envisioned her in. Now if these were my sheep this wouldn't have happened this way, as I know to the date when they will lamb and they come into lambing stalls at night and then out into the paddock during the day. I have two areas for the pigs for pigletting, but, things are a bit chaotic. Unlike sheep, who give me clearer signs, pigs don't seem to. My pig friend who has been raising pigs for some time said they basically start digging around looking for bedding to make a nest and boom, piglets pop out. So that's about what happened.

Thank goodness she didn't do it in the wallow.

So she popped the piglet out and then she starts casually roaming around, leaving the baby in the dust. Oy. She goes into the duck hut, a perfect place to have pigs I might add, but Stevie has taken it over during the heat wave, and then in came Doris, and Pearly June got very upset. I had brought the piglet over to her, telling her to take care of this baby. At least she showed she didn't want Doris around, good mothering.

After much chaos-I admit here, I was not calm, and I regret this-the last thing any birthing mother needs be it pig, sheep or woman- is someone in a huff trying to get things reordered. But I wanted her to get in this other paddock which had the intended pigletting palace.

Nope. She didn't want that pigletting palace she wanted to be in the hut she first knew when she got here a year ago.

Fair enough. I got the piglet in with her and got a fair amount of hay for bedding, but not too much as the babies can get buried in them. Meanwhile the piglet felt cold, even though it was about 85 degrees. I ran into call my pig friend - I love that I have pig friends - and asked her some more advice. Besides, I wanted to give the Pearly June time on her own, away from ME, the screaming pig tender. Unlike lambs who need mother's milk within two hours, piglets can go quite a long time. She suggested I lay him in a box in the sun, while Pearl got her pigletting going. She had sows that birthed the whole litter and then hours later, they milked.

So about 40 minutes after settling her into her hut, with one piglet, I went out to check on her and she had 5 more. Wow! That was one quick pigletting! In fact the final piglet had jut come out and was a real whopper, with white front feet like her mom. They are all black, which is sort of disappointing as we wondered if we would get some Kune color in there. But that is okay, they are alive. There is one teeny runt, but within time he was up there grabbing teats like anyone else.

Tonight I will hope nobody gets crushed. I've been told to prepare myself for this fact. When Martyn gets home, I might try to move her to the intended stall I had for pigletting, as she needs to be separate from Doris for a few days at least. But I might opt to let her stay in her hut. I will need to put up a temporary wood wall to keep them in at night. I covered the swimming hole but that is a long ways off, they aren't going to be walking over there today anyway.

Monday, August 04, 2014

For Sugee...and me

Last Friday was a day of phone calls to my various vets. Sugee's condition is not really improving and I think it is time to begin to let go. About a week ago, I sat in the pig pen watching Sugee after she'd recovered from yet another seizure. I looked upwards and asked for a clear decision on what I should do. And then I said out loud, while Old Rudy lay beside me napping,

"I know what I have to do."

And I do know what I need to do. I'm just now stepping back from the decision, so I can time it all in the best way for animal and caretaker. It's been horribly hot and it has been hard to get much done around the farm, let alone think about putting Sugee to sleep.

I told my vet today-this should be an easy decision-she's 40, lost drastic amounts of weight almost overnight, her weight is not going back on, she has had 4 seizures in the last couple weeks- and those are the ones I've witnessed-we've done blood work- this should be an easy decision. But we both agreed for some reason this one isn't. To be honest, I'm not even that bonded with Sugee. I guess maybe I am bonded to making sure I do what is best for her, after all she has been through, having her ears chewed off, being neglected for so long {Please do not give me medical advice about seizures. I have three good vets.}

Besides the emotive photos and fun stories about The Misfits, there is part of this place that involves making life and death decisions. People tell me all the time they want to do what I do here at the farm, with old animals- so this is part of it - helping them on their way. Burying or cremating a larger animal is not easy...or cheap. You have to think about details like this. Like getting the animal to the burial hole, or taking the dead animal to be cremated. I prefer the animals that come here to be buried here, but we have to be realistic, we can't bury every large animal. There are natural ways to deal with a body after death-some carry them high up into the hills if they have enough land and within 3 days the body is eaten. I don't disagree with this, but I have sheep and not enough land to make this safe or realistic. And I just don't want to do that with Sugee. Like I said, she already had her ears chewed off by a dog. Though she would be gone, for myself, and the covenant I have with her, cremation or burial feels right for me, not being eaten by a coyote. And besides, you can't do it if you euthenize an animal, as it is poison to those eating the carcass.

It's my responsibility to do what is best for Sugee, not necessarily me, or my wallet.  I found at one place it will be $350-$900, depending on several factors like transport and private or group cremation. Martyn can rent a back hoe for $350 and make a hole for her now, and cover it so it is ready if we need to act quickly- but that is problematic and would require the hole being near by, and then I'd have to cover it so no one gets hurt. We buried Giacomo this way and had to wait 2 days to get the track hoe, while he lay in state. But he was suffering badly and it was clear he had to put down immediately, especially after we saw his blood work.

My vet pointed out we'd helped Sugee for her last year, we gave her back her dignity and she had a year to be with her daughter and get her settled. And she is 40. Her heart rate and murmer don't allow us to float her teeth anymore. It takes her all day to eat 3# of feed, and she still is a bone. If she were in a pasture on her own, she would have died naturally long ago. And she won't make it through winter in this condition. She is not appearing to be putting on weight very well. Blood work shows nothing weird. It could be cancer, brain tumors...who knows. But the seizure that happened last Thursday caused her to fall on her eye and it was  swollen shut for a few days. This is the danger of seizures, the horse can fall or get into all sorts of worse predicaments, break legs, teeth, etc.. If you have ever tried to help a seizuring horse-and Sugee is only about #200- it is not easy, and can be dangerous–it is not pleasant, it is scary.

So Sugee won't be with us much longer. I just need the strength and common sense to get it done. And I will. Like many times when I know death is pending, I turn to art to help me prepare. I did this right after I knew I had to let her go. She'll be safe and out of discomfort. She's been through so much, I want her to have white clouds and green whereever she goes.

The time is coming. I think it will come to a point where I know another week, or day, doesn't matter to her. Getting her on her way before she suffers from a bad fall is what is needed. I know this.

Saturday, August 02, 2014