Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Story from July 19, 2008

A Story from Merciful Hearts Farm
Deb Potter, 19 July 2008

This week Katy, our youngest, has been away so I've taken on her morning task of feeding the pasture dogs. Amy & Regina are two lovely Anatolian Shepherds. Rudy is just an adorable old Great Pyrennes. All three of these livestock guardian dogs live in the pastures with the sheep, goats, poultry & cattle.

Often when Katy goes out to feed the dogs in the morning, she is gone for a fairly long time. I think nothing of it as it is not unusual for me to look out the kitchen window & notice her dancing in the pastures. Katy loves to dance & will soon be off to college to pursue that interest so I am used to seeing her practicing her leaps & turns among the creatures.

But I forgot how much of Katy's morning time outside is probably due to the trek one must take to feed Rudy. Rudy is a rescue dog. He ended up deposited at the house of a friend who kept goats & was very familiar with his breed. Because he was already an adult dog, she cautiously began the process of introducing him to livestock to see if he could “work”. Although there are a fair number of working breeds, individual dogs due better or worse with livestock. Some bond to their animals & guard as they are supposed to, others ignore the sheep & goats which is not a good thing when they are threatened, & those that just aren't cut out to work are the ones that will chase or even injure their own charges. It is important that a young or unknown dog be properly supervised in a working situation. Rudy took right to work!

Several months after she'd acquired Rudy, we began to search for another dog to help in our pastures. Because she already had a few different dogs, our friend sold Rudy to us. He has been with us now for about six or seven years. Since he was already an adult when he was found, he is now an elderly fellow. Although we don't exactly count on him for serious protection, we still adore him & he keeps Regina company in her pasture which is our largest.

Rudy spends much of his day asleep which is not uncommon for his breed. A Pyr usually walks his fence line all night, barking on occasion just to warn potential predators that he is on guard. Rudy did this faultlessly as a younger fellow. Those low throaty barks throughout the night reassured us that he was alert. And the incessant barking that alerted us to a problem would also set all the other pasture & house dogs into a terrible racket that didn't cease until Mr. Potter went out to the pasture, ran off a predator & settled all the dogs. The rare stray dog or coyote never injured a single animal here.

So Rudy has earned his leisurely retirement. He loves to be brushed but does not want us to remove the dirty matting along his back that he's worked so hard to perfect by his special rolling-in-manure technique. We've read that this is potential protection from a predator that would bite or claw so we do the best we can to keep Rudy less-than-filthy without ruining his hard work. He is content to let me cut out the biggest messy clumps but merely walks away when I'm doing too much damage. He's never had much of a flea issue so I wonder if there is a connection.

Although it sounds as if his coat is a ratty mess, I want you to know that Rudy has a lovely clean face. It is white with just a bit of gray shading around his big eyes. And he always has one of those smiles on his face that tells me he is very happy with his life.

Rudy has selective hearing now. He will let us walk the entire woods yelling for him but other times seems to hear something as quiet as the latch drop at the gate. Some days he follows us as we work outside but other times just stares at us from a hole he's dug in the woods. His appetite also varies from day to day. He is very food protective but many days it seems he prefers the game of keeping the chickens from his food over actually eating. He prefers that I leave his food in the bucket I feed all the dogs from as he loves to just carry it around with him. I usually don't mind but do have to search the woods every few days to retrieve buckets. We have yet to worry that his weight is declining so he must know what he needs.

His pasture covers a good quarter of the farm & includes a nice creek, woods, a hilly field & access to the edge of the chicken yard & the back of the old barn. I've concluded that in a day he still manages to make all of the rounds simply because he seems to have napping place all over property. These napping sites include a few hollowed out trees, a gully or two where the sand has washed out of the bank of a ditch where water runs during a heavy rain, a Rudy-size hole carefully dug in the sunniest spot of the middle of the pasture & up among the gnarly roots of a huge oak where it is all mossy & cool on even the hottest day. He's also content just to lay up against the back wall of the old barn or in the middle of a hay pile set out for the Dexter cattle. He seems to have a nap site for any type of weather or mood.

Now I mentioned earlier that I've been on a daily trek to find Rudy with his breakfast. And it has become quite a production. I don't dare just leave his food out for him as Regina & even the silly chickens would quickly eat it. So I feed Regina & then begin to wander to look for him. I walk down the pasture hill & into the woods where I make a huge sweep along the creek & begin up the hill on the far side of the woods. I follow the path that the cattle have made to the creek, looking at every lump & shadow along the way. I have learned to make my trip without calling Rudy's name as this alerts Regina to what I am doing & she will soon join me in the hopes I'll put down the food bucket. So I sneak through the woods, hoping Regina is still at the back of the barn enjoying her breakfast or playing her game of defending it from the chickens & goats.

Once this week I mistook a large rock protruding out of the ground for Rudy. I was not surprised that it did not move as I quietly called his name while walking up to it. I was about twenty feet from it when I realized it wasn't breathing so it couldn't be Rudy. One morning I walked up on Rudy curled in a pile of leaves. I watched carefully to see if he was breathing but I couldn't see any movement. I often expect him to just die of old age so as I neared his quiet body, I thought how I'd break the sad news of his death. I was only a few yards away when he opened on eye & stared at me. After the moment that it took for him to realize that I was there, he stiffly stretched his legs, opened his other eye & rose for breakfast.

Well, Wednesday I had things to do. I wanted to get some yarns dyed to take to Market & I also wanted to get some sorting & cleaning done in the house. I got up early & made breakfast for the dogs. (Now here is where I will convince you that I truly am an eccentric lady.... I find that the dogs eat better if I doctor up their dry food. The backyard dogs can have their food just sit in a dish for a while but the pasture dogs will lose theirs to the goats if they don't eat it when they get it. So most mornings I will fry a dozen eggs that are too small to take to Market or I will pull a bit of meat or leftover broth out of the freezer. We have a few cows, goats & sheep in the freezer now so there is always a little something to find. Kidneys seem to be a favorite even though the aroma of a boiling kidney will really linger in a house.) Anyways, I made up the dog food & fed all of the yard dogs along the way. Amy, one of the Anatolians, always eats in a stall in the old barn. I discovered that this was the smart way to feed her after she tried to murder one of the house dogs who was following me when I put down food. Amy now meets me at the corner of the fence to be sure I have her food & then races to the back of the barn where she waits for me to open the door. I have to step back quickly as I open the door as Amy simply leaps in. Regina waits for me at another door of the old barn if she's heard me coming or races quickly up the hill once she hears the door open. I rarely have to call her to eat. And then I start to search for Rudy.

Wednesday I started down the hill, didn't see him in the shadows, walked the creek & spoke to the nine Dexter cattle lounging in the shade. He wasn't behind the fallen tree where I'd found him on Monday. He wasn't napping on the moss at the base of the oak. He wasn't even in the gully where he'd been most of Tuesday afternoon. After half an hour in the woods I decided to take his food back to the house for safekeeping & try to find him later. By then Regina had joined me in my hunt so I carried the food bucket carefully at shoulder height as she danced around me. I crested the hill toward the old barn when I noticed a big white lump curled up near the barn foundation. I had apparently walked right by Rudy as I started down the hill to find him. I cannot imagine that he raced up from the woods & fell sound asleep as I searched for him so it must have been my oversight. I left him with his bucket & held Regina at a distance as he dabbled in his breakfast. And I still found time to get my dyeing done before the day was out.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Story from July 12, 2008

A Story from Merciful Hearts Farm
Deb Potter, 12 July 2008

Sunday evening I asked Mr. Potter to come outside with me to help me measure the tail on one of the oxen. Fortunately, Mr. Potter has a good sense of humor so he grabbed a tape measure & walked to the side pasture with me. He didn't ask why – just measured the tail while I stroked Gates on the head. And Gates' tail is five feet long.

The reason I wanted him to measure the tail is because I thought I wanted to write about tails for you this week. And I wanted to be able to tell you not only that the oxen have long tails but that their tails are a good five feet long! Their long tails are seem long but are the right size for their bodies. As long as we were measuring, we measured across their hips by standing at their backsides & holding the tape from one hip bone to the other. The span of their hips turns out to be almost three feet wide. So a long tail is handy for reaching up to swat flies.

I've also been swatted by an ox tail. I like to brush on Zeb & Gates. If I am standing at their side running the brush down their neck, a tail will often fly up & slap against my arm. It doesn't hurt to be switched by the long hair at the end of the tail but if I am farther back & get caught by the meaty part of their tail I definitely feel a bit of a sting. But I don't take it personally. In the summer when the flies are busy the tails are too. It seems the oxen don't even have to think about it but just continuously & slowly flick their tails from one side to the other. If a small swarm of flies have landed, they take off again as the tail flies over. On occasion a fly will get squished & fall to the ground.

The oxen have another way of dealing with flies that we find rather funny. They can give a little shiver & all of their skin will shake in a ripple down their bodies. This usually causes the little flies or gnats to jump off in a hurry. And if an ox has a fly up near its shoulders where the tail cannot reach, it will fling its head around to scare it off. That is not a good time to be brushing the ox as not only can you get hit with a big pointed horn flying by but chances are good the ox hasn't thought to swallow before slinging its head so you will get splattered with a mouthful of spit. All of that is pretty effective at keeping the flies away but it isn't very nice if you happen to be standing nearby as it happens.

The donkeys also use their tails in the same way but I have also seen the donkeys handle flies just a little bit differently. Occasionally a huge horse fly will decide it wants to eat a donkey. The donkey may also flick its tail or shiver its skin but the funniest thing I've seen is when the horse fly takes off, turns around & prepares to land again. I have seen a donkey use its hind foot to kick the horse fly right out of the air. The first time I saw it happen, I couldn't imagine that Zeke, our male donkey, had actually hit the fly so I walked over for a closer look. There on the ground next to Zeke's rear hoof was a newly dead horse fly almost as big as a quarter. And I've seen it happen more than once!

The donkeys have very good aim when they kick. I can tell you that as I've been a target before. One day I was moving some goats that had slipped into the wrong pasture. I had a bucket of grain & was calling the goats along. As the goats crowded beside me to get the grain as we paraded to the proper pasture, Zeke saw what we were doing. He came running through the still-opened gate & the goats scattered. Zeke approached my bucket. I had my mind on moving the goats so I yanked the bucket away from his nose & told him, “No!”. He tried again & I responded the same way. He was not very happy but looked like he was going to give up. He walked just a few steps ahead of me, lifted his right rear leg & kicked me twice on my left thigh. I was so mad that I flung the bucket down the hill & had to sit down to catch my breath. Of course Zeke & all the goats chased the grain bucket as it rolled down the hill. I finally stood back up & shut the gate on the whole mess of them. The goats were in the proper pasture & as that point I didn't care where Zeke was as I could move him later. Esther, his companion, was still in her original pasture staring at the whole production.

When I got to the house I looked at my leg. There was a very bright red donkey hoof print outlined on my skin. It soon turned black & then over the next few weeks went through the whole bruise-rainbow of purples, blues, greens & finally that sickly yellow before it faded away. The thing that amazed me over the whole episode was the fact that I had just a single perfect hoof print on my leg. Zeke had definitely hit me twice but his aim was so good that he had apparently hit me in the same place twice!

But I started out to tell you about tails, not ornery donkeys.

We have both sheep & goats on the farm. Many of our goats are Angora goats that produce the mohair that I spin so they are covered with long white curls. When people look at my animal pictures, they often call those curly goats sheep. So here is a how-to-tell-a-sheep-from-a-goat tip: A goat carries its tail pointed up, a sheep's tail hangs down. Right now one of our funniest tails on the farm belongs to Thing Two, a little Nubian cross kid that was born this spring. She has a little white tail pointing straight up from the end of her back. It looks like a pretty normal goat hair covered with short white hairs all the way up to the end. But the very tip is also covered with long, fine fly-away hairs pointing in every direction. When she wags it, which goats often do to show you they are happy, it looks like she is shaking a funny little pompom. Her brother, Thing One, has a perfectly normal goat tail so I don't know quite what happened to her.

Speaking of wagging tails, it is important to watch the tails of lambs & kids. When a baby first starts to nurse from its mother, it can be very awkward. Sometimes it doesn't know what it is looking for under it mother so will suck on anything. A baby may end up sucking on a clump of hair that isn't even near its mother's udder full of milk. So it is important to watch little tails. When a lamb or kid is successfully getting milk, its tail wags rapidly from side to side. We have seen this over & over. A baby under a mother with a still tail usually means that one of us has to lay down on our stomach on the barn floor, watch the baby & see what it is trying to nurse. Sometimes a mother will have an udder that is a little plugged up so the baby may be sucking the right place but no milk is coming out. We hand milk the mother for a squirt or two & then the baby can nurse. Other times the baby just needs redirected to the right place. But the instant that baby latches on & gets milk, the tail starts to flutter. It is a sign I've learned to look for whenever I see a baby up under its mother trying to eat.

And I will tell you one more goat-tail thing before I run out of space. It is often hard to tell when a goat is going to have a kid until almost the time it will give birth. They don't always get big in the belly like pregnant ladies & often they don't even get much of an udder until it is almost the end of their five months of pregnancy. But you can often tell if a goat is bred by feeling her tail. Goats have hair along the tops of their tails but on the bottom of the tail right at the base of their spine it feels more like the skin covered bottom of a dog's paw. Even early on when you think a goat is bred, you can feel that part & it feels soft & spongy, chances are very good that the goat will be having a kid or two or three!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Story from June 28, 2008

A Story from Merciful Hearts Farm
Deb Potter, 28 June 2008

I lost my shadow this week.

For the last several years, everywhere I went on the farm I was followed by Mary, a big black Coopworth & Corriedale cross ewe. She had a stately Roman nose, a beautiful topknot of tightly curled wool right between her ears & plenty of attitude to go with her looks. She knew exactly what she intended to do all of the time. She often talked to me when she saw or heard me outside. She sometimes didn't even lift her head from grazing, just maaaaa-ed at me as I walked past. Mary followed me through every gate, usually pushing me up against the fence post so that she'd have enough room. Whenever she was pregnant she would expect me to open the gate an extra arms length as she grew wider with each passing day. She also expected me to wait with the gate held open is she had a new lamb trailing behind her. I would not allow most of the sheep to act like that but Mary just had a way about her so that it was easy for her to get away with things. She'd occasionally follow me right to the door of the house but that is where I drew the line. The few times when her nose went over the door sill, I would gently turn her head away & budge her with my knee until I could get the door closed.

Just a year ago in the spring Mr. Potter & I had traveled to Orlando for a conference. On the second night into the three day meeting, we called home to check on everything. Our children are quite capable of managing the farm so we were enjoying our trip. One of them happened to mention that Mary, who was pregnant at the time, was down but that they had started her on the appropriate medications. After a few questions, we were assured that all was well. As the late afternoon wore on, we continued to fret about Mary. Of course we trusted the children, but it was Mary. At supper time we decided we had to head home & miss the last day of the conference. We explained to the gentleman at the front desk that we had an ill sheep & had to return to South Carolina. He was very compassionate & even voluntarily offered to refund us for the rest of the hotel stay. We were back in the Upstate in about 9 hours after driving through the night. Mary recovered a few days later. And she probably would have recovered without us – but it was Mary.

Mary was probably one of our oldest sheep. Her rich black wool had grayed through the years but was still soft & a joy to work with. She had seemed slower lately, especially since the heat set in a few weeks ago. But she had not been ill or “down”. There was no sign of any struggle or distress so I feel it is fair to say (as my grandfather would have...) that she just woke up dead. As frustrating as it could be to try to carry a bucket of eggs while Mary pushed me through a gate, I already miss her terribly.

Mary & another sheep, Anise, came from West Virginia years ago. Of course, when I made arrangements to buy them from West Virginia I totally forgot that the state of West Virginia goes almost all the way to the suburbs of Washington D.C. I was thinking about the part of West Virginia about 6 hours away that we travel through on our way to Ohio. Instead, my precious & very patient husband took a longer-than-reasonable trip to collect our pretty lambs.

Each year we would delight when we could tell people, “Mary had a little lamb!”. This year she had twins but only one survived. He is a perky little beige fellow with his mother's profile. I found him calmly grazing in the orchard just before I walked around the back of the house to find Mary dead under a pine tree. Mary had pretty much weaned him but he still looked to her to mother him. I left Mary's body for him. I know it sounds weird but I wanted him to adjust to the fact that she had not just wandered off or he would have spent lots of time crying & searching for her. Instead, he would graze a bit & then lay near her under the tree. Every time I saw him curled up a few feet from her body, tears came to my eyes. And each time he maaaa'd then paused to hear his mother's reply, I stopped cold. He did spend some of Wednesday grazing with Jezebelle (a Shetland ewe born in North Carolina, hence the Southern “belle” at the end of her name) & her lamb so I was optimistic that he would take up with them. He also laid down near Lila, one of the Anatolian Shepherds, for a bit.

Wednesday evening Mr. Potter removed Mary's body. I had realized earlier in the day that the little lamb did not have a name, having been referred to simply as “Mary's lamb”. I named him Leo. It seemed to fit as I saw him sitting quietly staring off into nowhere with his little legs folded in front of him. Something about his color & carriage reminded me of a lion.

Although Leo had been one of those lambs who didn't like people-contact much, he let me walk up on him several times through the day. Once I was a few feet from him, he would cautiously walk away. But by the end of the afternoon I was able to walk up to him when he was resting by his tree. I gently spoke to him while I placed my hand on his back & rubbed his neck & ears. Once he even closed his eyes & relaxed his whole body so that I felt he was enjoying the affection.

Thursday morning I went out early to search for Leo. He was not at the pine tree where he'd spent a good deal of Wednesday. Instead, he was grazing a few feet from Jezebelle & her lamb. As Jezebelle called for her lamb to walk on, Leo joined them & crossed the yard. I would not go so far as to say that Leo has bonded to either Jezebelle or to me but I certainly hope that he is sensing that he is not alone.

I am sorry to have to share a sad story with you today. I have so many days filled with plenty of work but rewarded with plenty of joy. Little things make us laugh or simply smile throughout the day. As we've gotten to know the personalities of our animals we can chuckle at them as we watch them act so true to their nature. They have routines & habits just like we do. I can tell what time it is each day by looking out the kitchen window to see who is grazing or playing & who is just laying around chewing cud.

We are fascinated by the tenderness that everything from a feisty little mother hen to an aloof old cow show to their offspring. It is hysterical to watch an old sheep allow someone else's lambs or kids use him as a sliding board as he tries to nap. The babies often jump up on his shoulders, climb toward the top of his head & then turn around to slip down his spine. After a few rounds he gently pulls himself to his feet & ambles off but still allows the babies a few more turns the next time he lays down.

And it seems that so many of the animals are playful no matter what their age. It is so much fun to watch everything kick up heels & gallivant on a chilly morning. Windy days are even funnier with goats chasing leaves & chickens trying to stand into the wind so that their feathers aren't blown inside- out & up over their heads. Duck arguments are hysterical – no injury or bloodshed, just lots of noise!

So Mary died as a dignified old gal. Her lamb will have plenty of love. And, all in all, life on the farm is good. But please keep praying for rain!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Story from June 21, 2008

A Story from Merciful Hearts Farm
Deb Potter, 21 June 2008

This has been another pleasantly busy week. I taught at the Anderson Arts Center every afternoon for their summer camp. The children had to prepare all of their own wool from two of our sheep, Freckles & Abe. They dyed some of the wool & yarns to use in their projects. And then they spent the rest of the week wet felting, needlefelting, weaving & lots of other fun things. We even made paper & added bits of our leftover yarn & wool scraps to decorate it. I loved camp & since I only had to be there in the afternoons I still got plenty done around the farm.

One of the things that I did this week was to dig garlic. Back in the fall I planted lots of different varieties of garlic. It sprouted & began to grow nicely. As the days got cooler going into winter, Mr. Potter raked up lots of leaves & dumped them in about a three inch pile on top of the plants to protect them from the winter cold. When the weather began to warm a little the garlic continued to grow taller. Unfortunately, the goats saw what was going on. One of them found a lower spot where the fencing was bent so invented her own way to climb the fence around the little garlic patch. Others saw what she was doing & joined her. Although they started by simply eating the grass & weeds growing around the bed, before long they were snacking on my garlic as well as some beautiful lilies that were sprouting. I know I've told you before that if a fence won't hold water it won't hold a goat. Well, we just could not keep a few of the trickier goats out of this patch so I resigned myself to the fact that I would never have any garlic to harvest this season.

Katy & I were coming in from the chicken yard when she suggested I try to find the little stubs of stems left by the goats to see if there was any garlic in the ground. Since the trowel was handy, I gave it a try. I found little short brown sticks at about the places I knew the garlic should be. The ground was quite hard because of our drought but I guessed how far away from the stalk I would need to be so as not to split the garlic with the trowel blade & dug around. I found my first fat pink-tinted clove of garlic. I managed to find an entire milk bucket full of garlic. Of course, it no longer has long pretty stems to braid so that the garlic can hang to dry but it is still nice garlic that I can lay out on a paper to dry so all is not lost.

On Thursday morning I ran up to Seneca to our meat processors' to pick up 300 pounds of beef. We had sent a young bull up a few weeks ago so our meat was ready. We raise Dexter cattle & they are a smaller breed. A single cow can fill my freezer nicely with lots of steaks, roasts & ground beef. The first thing I did when I got home was to thaw some of the ground beef to see how tender it was & it was wonderful. So now I have some more good meat to go with all that garlic I brought in!

I did lots of little fiddling-around things that needed to be done. None of them are a big deal but they are still important in their own little ways. I refilled some of the nest boxes with straw. The chickens work their way around in a nest box so that they have a hollowed area they like to sit in. Unfortunately, when they work too much they kick out straw & their hollow area goes right down to the wood at the bottom of the box. They don't mind sitting on the wood but a chicken stands to lay its egg & an egg that lands on the wood is often cracked or squished in on the end. The instant an egg is layed the shell is a bit more soft & flexible but it quickly dries into the hardness you think of for an egg shell. Because it was so hot a week ago, the chickens were not eating as well as usual & their calcium intake dropped so the egg shells were a little more brittle to begin with. Dropping that brittle egg a few inches onto their wooden box floor is not good for the egg or for my supply of eggs to sell at the Market. When the weather was really hot & the shells were quite brittle, the pasture dogs were getting lots of cracked eggs to eat. Now that the past week has been a little cooler & I've refilled nesting boxes the eggs will be coming with me to Market so that the chickens can help pay for their feed!

Our Border Collie, Fern,is petrified of storms. On Monday when I was teaching, a very brief storm came through the area. Sadly, it left us with almost no rain. But it certainly caused Fern to do some damage at the house. I knew something was wrong when I pulled up to the gate at the driveway only to see Madison, our beagle, trotting down the driveway. Madison is supposed to be in the big fenced yard behind the house along with Pearl, our Schipperke, & Fern.

My first thought was that somehow Fern had pushed through the gate in her fear but as I rounded the corner of the garage the gate looked closed. To the left of the gate & down on the ground I saw part of Fern. The part I saw of Fern was way down – in fact, Fern's hips, back legs & tail were sticking out from a muddy hole full of gravel that she had apparently dug under the wooden fence when she realized a storm was coming. I opened the gate to find the other half of Fern on the other side of the fence. She was laying on her side & could not move an inch. She'd dug herself down into a clay spot that was too slick for her to get out of & she was covered with mud. I used my hands to move a little more dirt & then gently tugged her forward in her tunnel. I had to reach back under the fence boards to slip her hips down so that they could clear the fence. After about five minutes I had her free from the hole. I kicked some gravel back into the hole & dropped a big stone into it until I have time to repair it. Fern did not stay around to watch me but ran to her water dish. Although she was quite muddy, she didn't seem injured.

I got my keys back out of my pocket & went to let myself in the downstairs door. That is when I noticed that part of the pretty green wood on that door had been chewed & scratched off. Apparently Fern had tried to get into the house when the storm was coming. We have put her in the garage during a big storm but have never brought her into the house. The garage door would have been right behind her as she attacked the house door but for some reason she felt she had to find us. I was very sorry not to have been home during her scary time; I would have been glad to comfort her & to save the door & the fence in the process.

Liz, the little goat kid who loves Lila, the big Anatolian Shepherd in the front yard, has decided that she is a dog. Just this week Liz has started accompanying Lila on her “bark at the dogs on the other side of the fence” visits. Although Liz can obviously not bark at dogs, she stands right next to Lila. Liz is so excited at it that she is just all wiggly as she holds her nose next to the fence just like Lila. Lila jumps a bit as she & Fern bark at each other. Liz was also springing her back legs up & down. As Lila left the fence to run bark at Mollie & Amanda, Liz was right at her heels. She raced along with Lila & came to a quick stop at the fence, posed herself just like Lila & repeated her little routine for a minute until Lila walked away.

And as I walked in from my day at the Arts Center on Friday, I noticed Sally, Liz's mother, grazing in the front pasture with the donkeys. Lila was curled up in her usual place on the front porch. Curled up next to her was Liz.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Story from June 14, 2008

A Story from Merciful Hearts Farm
Deb Potter, 14 June 2008

This has been a busy week as I taught fiber art for a summer camp. It was a lot of fun because we did weavings, wet felting, needlefelting & learned to draw farm animals. On Friday I brought everyone homemade bread & jam along with honey, real butter & whole milk. We also got to watch yeast rise!
I know that sounds funny but yeast is what makes the bread rise & it is real live little animals – sort of...

So that means my mornings on the farm have had to be a little quicker than usual. I've been going out at 6 a.m. just as it is light enough to see. My only goal first thing in the morning is to feed the chickens & check on all of the new chicks. Katy, my daughter, will take care of the rest of the farm throughout the day.

Lila, our big Anatolian Shepherd dog who stays in the house & front yard loves to go with me. Every morning for years & years she has run around the back of the house as I open the gate & barked at Fern, the Border Collie. Fern barks back & the two dogs run up & down their sides of the fence barking & jumping. If the fence wasn't there it seems they would kill themselves but maybe they just enjoy pretending to fight. Lila is not allowed in the barnyard as the other Anatolians, Amy & Regina, & our Great Pyrennes, Rudy, are in charge of the rest of the farm. So Lila stays behind running up & down the fence with Fern while I move on with my morning.

As I walk to the barnyard gate, I look for Bart, the crippled sheep who needs help getting up. He has a wonderful shallow dip in the yard that he loves to lay in so that is usually where I find him but sometimes he will be under a tree in an orchard. Bart is not hard to find because he begins to talk to me as soon as I call his name. I bend down, put my knee where he can brace himself against it & then gently lift his shoulders. He pushes hard with his back legs, wobbles a little, stand up, shakes off & then trot off to begin his day. He usually starts by walking over to watch Lila & Fern run up & down the fence. That is still big excitement even though they do it several times a day every day.

I go on through the barnyard gate & am usually greeted by a handful of goats & sheep who are hoping I have a few peanuts in my pocket. I often carry peanuts in the shell as they don't mess up my pocket & the animals love them. It is especially handy to be able to throw a few peanuts away from me to distract the animals if I am trying to get through a gate with an armload of something. The animals run away for a second, I can balance my load while unhooking the gate & slip through without a few extra creatures joining me.

I feed the peanuts to the animals with the shells on. They love to crunch them up & eat the whole thing. I guess eating peanut shells is not a lot different than eating all that hay, leaves & briars like they do all day long. One little goat thinks that she doesn't need me to take the peanuts out of my pocket for her to eat. If I stand still for long she is right beside me chewing on the outside of my pocket. The peanut shells crunch but the whole mess stays right in my pocket. She does this as often as she can even though she sure isn't getting anything to eat except maybe a little peanut shell dust drifting though the cloth of my pocket.

One funny little Shetland sheep greets me each morning with a wave. Yes, I said it waves. It picks up its right front leg that looks like a skinny stick attached to a big fuzzball body. Without even bending its knee, it waves that little leg up & down in the air exactly three times. Then it puts its foot back down & waits to see if I will give it a peanut. I do give it one if I have it. Even when I don't reward it with a peanut, it still waves the next day.

As I cross the front of the barnyard I glance in all the water troughs to be sure they are filled. As hot as it has been, we have to check the troughs constantly. I then walk into the old barn where I look for Vincent, our LaMancha goat. He is getting old & likes to sleep up on a board ledge at the edge of the old barn. As he gets older & slower, I pay more & more attention to where he is just to be sure he is not “down”. Goats do not tolerate pain as well as some animals so if they are injured or just sick they will try to hide & then grind their teeth in pain, stop eating & drinking & can soon die if we don't do something for them. We keep special pain medicine here & can also carefully force them to eat & drink so they don't just curl up & die.

As I walk though the front of the old barn, I am greeted by Regina who stands on her hind legs & peeks over the half-door at the back of the barn. Even though she knows Katy won't be feeding her for a while longer, she still likes to be petted as I walk by. I go out through another back door towards the chicken house. I've told you before that our chickens can come & go anywhere they want on the farm but they do most of their sleeping & nesting in just a few places. Fortunately, the chicken house is one of them. And right now there are over 75 little chicks all over the floor in the chicken house too!

After stepping over Sequoia, a giant Navajo Churro sheep or perhaps Kermit, a big black goat with huge horns, I open the chicken house door. Often a few ducks quickly scurry away from me. They like to lay their eggs in special boxes in the first room of the chicken house – but they do not like me to catch them in there laying. They squawk & run. This makes all the little chicks scatter around the floor. If one little chick gets separated from his friend in the scattering, it begins to peep & run around until it finds its gang. I have to walk very carefully as the chicks are no bigger than a toddler's fist & probably squish pretty easily. I haven't stepped on any yet but I've really had to watch my step.

The chickens have already begun their day as it is light out. They are already checking their feed troughs, drinking at the little pond & scratching around just in case a few new bugs moved into their house in the night. There is a small night light in the chicken house & the chickens love to snack on the dead moths that have fallen underneath it.

I haul buckets of feed out of the big feed bins & pour it out in about six different troughs & pans. The chickens eat stuff all over the farm all day long but I always want to be sure they have plenty of grain that is easy to find. Right now we are feeding “crumbles” since we have lots of little chicks & ducklings around. This type of feed is ground into smaller pieces so it is easier for the little ones to eat. It also fills my shoe up better when I accidentally stand too close to the trough I am filling. Twice this week I had to wash my feet before I could go off to teach as one of them was covered in chicken feed bits.

After a quick walk around the chicken yard I have to head back into the house to get ready to teach. I love to teach but on a day when I didn't have to, I would spend almost an hour fiddling around the fields & barnyard. But this week I've left the fiddling & extra checking up to Katy – she does that pretty well also!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Story from June 7, 2008

As an update:
Pete, our precious goose, died quietly last week. Upon reflection, my mother believes that he was one of a few geese that my father brought home to their pond in 1983. He was a sweet old man.

A Story from Merciful Hearts Farm
Deb Potter
7 June 2008

Last week I believe I mentioned that all of the lambs & kids had gotten their shots. In a few weeks they will need a booster shot & then they will be good for the year. The babies are really growing & their mothers are really growing tired of them. Some of the lambs are almost as tall as their mothers. This makes it tricky as a lamb or kid likes to run up under their mother's udder, butt its head up against the udder & then start to nurse. Now that the babies are so big they pop their mothers up off of the ground when trying to let down a little snack. The mothers, in an attempt to get a break from these big babies, are all standing at the gates of their own pastures hoping to escape to another pasture when one of us goes through the gate. I've felt sorry for the mothers so have been letting them into another pasture without babies for an hour or so at a time. I can tell when it is time to let them return because, even though I can ignore the babies who fuss & cry while mama is gone, when I hear mama start to answer back I can tell she is ready to rejoin her young. Sometimes rather than go back to her lamb, a ewe will just lay down on her side of the fence with her lamb right next to her but on its own side of the fence. This seems to make the lamb happy for nap time but doesn't do much if it wanted to nurse. The lambs are almost weaned & eat mostly grain & grass now.

The mothers have figured out that this is a nice arrangement. Unfortunately some have tried pulling the trick at bedtime. One night this week Mr. Potter went out at midnight to try to reunite a mother & lamb who had apparently gotten separated on his last trip around the farm at dark. We'd gone to bed & heard a lamb fussing but that is not unusual. Some of our babies are really “big babies” - they cry if their mother is at the other side of their own pasture. We didn't pay much attention. But as we tried to sleep the fussing got worse & worse. Finally when the mother started to call back we decided it was time for a trip outside. Once Falon & her lamb were back together the rest of the night was quiet.

Sally, one of the triplet goats, has also decided that she is tired of Liz, her kid. Sally has been waiting until Liz is napping to slip between the fence boards of the donkey pasture & go to the far end. When Liz wakes to find herself abandoned she calls for a while as Sally ignores her. Liz has been giving up on Sally & following Lila,our big white Anatolian Shepherd, around the yard. I first noticed this about a week ago. Liz is so taken with Lila that she does tricks for her. Liz jumps up on the woodpile, looks to be sure Lila is looking her way & then jumps off the pile, kicking her heels up as she falls. When she lands on the grass she again looks to Lila or runs over to her. It reminds me of children at the playground who spend as much time saying, “Watch this!” to their parents as they spend playing.

I originally thought that Lila was simply tolerating Liz but yesterday I came around the corner of the house with Lila walking beside me. Liz was sleeping by the door. Lila quietly stopped next to Liz & very tenderly licked her two times across the top of her head. Liz barely opened one eye, saw Lila & then just tipped her head back to be licked again. After one more quick lick, Lila went about her business which at the moment was to lunge at Ben, the one-kidney cat, just to remind him that she is still in charge of the yard. He scurried up a huge weeping cherry tree, stretched out on a fat branch & began to lick the funny spot where his hair is still growing back after his surgery. Lila didn't seem to shake him up too badly; he is just happy to be well enough to get back outside for part of each day.

On Monday 78 new chicks arrived at the post office for us. I was busy as artist-in-residence at a school so Katy ran to the post office at 6:30 in the morning, retrieved the big box that they were packed in, unloaded them into the bathtub & got them fed, watered & under a heat lamp for the day. They were all strong & healthy. I love just-hatched chicks! They have the shape & heft of a big marshmallow with feathery fluff all over. It is amazing that they immediately start scratching & pecking at things. They easily found their chick starter food & had no trouble with the water dish. But they are babies so they will be busy eating, chirping & looking around one minute & will be flat on the ground sound asleep the next. They nap, eat & drink all day long but it seems napping is their favorite thing to do.

On Tuesday morning Katy & I moved all the chicks into big empty water troughs in the chicken house. They have lots of space & a heat lamp just in case but it has been so warm during the day that they haven't needed it. The adult hens can come & go into that room & have decided that they prefer to eat chick starter rather than their regular feed. There are 3 big fat hens that I spend much of the day throwing out of the chicks' home each time I go outside.

This very hot weather has made a few extra chores for us this week. The dogs gradually shed their heavy winter coats in the spring but since they were not done shedding I've brushed & brushed them. That wouldn't be such a bad job except that we are working outside with the warm winds whipping the dirty loose dog fluff up all around me. It sticks all over my clothes & skin so I try to brush dogs at the end of the day & go right in to a shower.

The animals are adjusting to the heat in their own way. They have spots that they like to lay in that are either shady or are at the crest of a hill where a breeze blows through. There are also a few spots in the old barn where, because of the way the doors line up, the air moves all day long. The dirt floor in the old barn stays cool so the goats prefer to lay there. The cows like it down in the woods by the creek. I came down the hill to find all the cows & calves lounging in a big black heap at the edge of the creek. The only movement was a rare tail swish to keep the flies stirred away. Everyone is still just fat & happy – they just have their little heat-beating routine.

Water troughs need to be checked on every trip outside. Because I bring eggs in five or six times a day with hot weather, there are plenty of trips outside. We use automatic waterers in a lot of the troughs but sometimes those hang up & don't work right so we always check water no matter what. And I like to run the water for Pete, the old goose, at least once a day. He has plenty of drinking water but he loves for me to hold the hose & spray him.

Pete has been especially busy lately supervising 4 little ducklings that just hatched. He follows them around as their mother leads them. He loves to sit at the bank of their little pond & just watch as they scurry down the dirt all in a perfect row, hop into the water & glide around a bit. For no reason I understand, the first duckling will suddenly head to the bank with all following. It will slip & climb back up & away they will go to find their mother who has been resting at the side of the pond. She stands up, stretches & marches them off with Pete following a few feet behind. They will go back to the nest box where she tucks them all back under her, apparently for a little rest. Pete simply walks away to check on his regular ducks. It is hard to believe that Pete has been a part of our family for over 25 years now!

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Story from May 31, 2008

This is a current picture of Bart - now three years old!

A Story from Merciful Hearts Farm
Deb Potter, 31 May 2008

It is hard to believe that it has been over a year since Bart, a little Tunis lamb, almost died of grass tetany. We nursed & nursed him for weeks. He first became ill when his mother slipped with him through a hole in the fence & they dined on lots of new lush grass. That caused a magnesium imbalance in his system & he became paralyzed. He couldn't even close his eyes so we would put special eye drops in them & try to close them for him. He had to be fed with a metal tube & syringe. He was so paralyzed that we had to pry his teeth open to insert the tube then squeeze gatorade & lots of medications into him. It was a long process & involved a few months of steady care. Now we understand when we were told that less than two in a hundred sheep survive this. We even had to leave him with a precious friend who is a nurse when we had to travel one weekend. She, her husband & their dog fed, medicated & bathed him constantly.

Well, Bart is still with us. He walks with a very peculiar gait but at least he can walk. He usually needs to be helped to stand up as his back legs don't bend well to help him to standing. Each morning Mr. Potter or I seek him out in his three or four favorite nighttime spots. If we call his name he will “maaaa' back to us which makes him easy to find. We reach down, lift his head & steady his front legs so that he can push himself up. He shakes off, waits to be scratched on the head & then stiffly walks away to start his morning. Bart does not stay in the big pastures with the other sheep but does visit them in the barnyard. Mostly he spends his days at the front of the house with a few goat friends & a few dogs. He also likes to go into the orchard where a handful of sheep like to hang out during the day. Bart runs along with them when they run but he has a funny bouncy gait. His back legs both move the same direction at the same time which really makes him look odd. He looks odd to us but apparently the other sheep don't mind. They play with him just like everyone else. And Bart loves to play by butting heads with the others. You would think that as unsteady as he looks on his feet it wouldn't be wise to be shoving other sheep around but he can hold his own.

Last year when Bart was still in the house being fussed over, we had Australian sheep friends visit. At that time we had a special sling rigged up in the living room so that Bart could practice standing. Those same friends visited just a few weeks ago & one fellow spotted Bart immediately as “that sheep you had in the HOUSE”. I don't think sheep in the house are very common among real Australian sheepmen.....

Now I don't know what Bart is really good for but we didn't have the heart NOT to care for him when he became ill. He seems very happy & has his own little daily routine. He has a sandy spot he's hollowed out in the back yard where he loves to rest each afternoon. He follows us around & talks to me when I work outside. I guess his is content with his life – he certainly doesn't seem to look like he is worried about being different from everyone else.

Now for the duck update. We are up to three ducklings in a box in the bathroom. The latest two to hatch are fluffy yellow ones. There are two hen ducks setting on the nest but when a baby hatches they don't seem to care much. They seem to prefer just to protect the eggs, hissing at us & poking their necks out every time we pass by them. I am thinking by now that the last eight eggs they are setting on probably won't hatch but I will give them a few more days before I clean out the nest.

The thirty ducklings that were hatched from the eggs I gave the school are just really growing. Almost overnight they have gone from being covered with duck fluff to having most of their big-boy feathers! In a few weeks we should be able to tell which are male & which are female. We are considering eating the males simply because we have plenty of ducks & if they are not going to lay eggs we don't need to feed them all. In the meantime, they have broken up into about 3 gangs. Those gangs like to do everything together. When a few squat down in the grass to rest, they all squat down. When one stands, they all stand & move on. They are quite a lot of fun to watch.

Speaking of fun to watch, I let Pete, our old, old goose, have a good bath the other day. He likes to dabble in the water we have out for the birds but I took a large tub, filled it with fresh water & just watched. He started by stretching his long neck out & over the edge of the tub. Ducks & geese love to wash their eyeballs so he did that with open eyes for a while. Then he turned his head so that he could use the side of his face & bill to splash water back over his shoulder. He did this to his left side & then to his right side over & over again. He held his neck up straight so that the water on his face ran down his neck & onto his back, gently lifting his wings as the water ran down his sides.

Once he was done dabbling in the water, he circled the tub a few times until he found a higher spot of ground that he could use to climb into the tub. He hopped in, unfurled his wings & really splashed. He snaked his neck in & out of the water over & over while using his feet to kick the water up all around him. I leaned on the chicken house door & watched him for at least 20 minutes. Some of the ducks gathered around & watched his show but they didn't try to climb in with him. They wisely waited until he climbed out of the tub before they tried to climb in.

By the time Pete was done with his bath he'd splashed most of the water over the sides of the tub. The ducks seemed disappointed so I waited until Pete walked around the corner & then refilled the tub for the ducks. The first duck hopped in & immediately started to swim under water. She is a long, sleek black & white duck who shot around that tub like a fish. Once the others climbed in she had no more swimming space so splashed & carried on with the rest of them. They were thoroughly amused & so was I. Before they'd finished I realized I had to get on with my farm chores. I gathered the rest of the eggs, put some straw in a few nest boxes, unwrapped a piece of baling twine from a goat's horn & just did my usual fiddling around outside. The next time I passed the tub it was almost empty. There was a bit of sandy water at the bottom with a little duck fluff floating on it. It had been a good afternoon.

Monday will also be an exciting bird day here. We are expecting the post office to call early that morning to tell us our 75 newest chickens have arrived. I am going to be artist-in-residence at a school that day so it is Katy's job to go to the post office, knock on the side door, retrieve our noisy little cartons of chicks & set them up in their new house at home. They will need heat lamps, feed & water as soon as they come out of their boxes. They will have had an airline trip all the way from Iowa & will be only 2 days old. This time I have 3 different varieties of chickens coming so they should be a pretty little batch. These birds are to add to our layers but won't be ready to produce eggs for about 6 months. In the meantime we'll keep them safe & healthy so that they can one day contribute to the tasty eggs we bring to Market. As the other hens get older, they lay fewer & fewer eggs. We just let those old girls retire & live here until they die of old age. But we need to always plan ahead to keep up with our demand for eggs! I love selling all my eggs each week but it also makes me sad when I run out & people were hoping to get them.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Story from May 24, 2008

A Story from Merciful Hearts Farm
Deb Potter, 24 May 2008
This week has really flown. We did manage to catch up all of the lambs & kids to vaccinate them. We caught many of the lambs by luring their mothers' into a smaller pasture. It is easy to get sheep to follow us – we simply carry a bucket of grain. If we are not near grain, an empty bucket with a few pine cones in to make a rattling noise will do just as well. If no bucket is handy one of us just starts running & calling for the sheep. As soon as one sheep sees someone running it begins to run & all the rest follow right along. They don't seem to know where they are running to but it doesn't matter as long as they are doing what everyone else is doing.

Once the sheep were penned, the boys grabbed the lambs one at a time & hoisted them over the fence to Mr. Potter & I who took turns carrying them into a stall in the stable. Some of the lambs are a good 35 pounds which wouldn't be a lot to carry except for the kicking & wiggling part. One lamb caught a hoof in the collar of my shirt & tore the back right out of it. But the fellow ended up in the stall so I guess I won in the end.

The vaccinations go very quickly as each lamb only needs a single tetanus shot. They seem much more disturbed at being away from their mothers than actually in pain from the shot. After their shot, each runs out the stable door, flies up under their mother, bangs their head into her udder to let down milk & begins to nurse to reassure itself that all is well. None of the mothers seemed particularly upset over their brief break from the lambs.

I managed to get some dyeing done this week. Notice I spell “dyeing” with the “e” because I was coloring yarns. Although the family always understands when I say I am going out to the stable to dye, I feel I need to clarify that to other folks.

I have a stall in the stable set up with my dyeing equipment. I have to keep everything in big plastic bins with lids as I share this entire stable with just a single animal but she is a stinker. You see, Paige, our fox, has lived in the stable now for the last two years. I might as well tell you about Paige as she is much more interesting than dyeing.

Several years ago Eric, our middle child, came home & mentioned that he met a man with fox kits that needed to get rid of them. It was a sketchy story about the man planning on raising them as pets but that he'd changed his mind. They were still quite small but had been bottle fed & were no longer afraid of people so that they could not just be released again to the wild. Eric was convinced that he had to have one. We had done a fair share of wildlife rehabilitation but always with the intention of returning each animal to the wild. We did not need a “wild” pet but for some reason agreed that Eric could bring a fox home. I do remember somewhere in the story something about the fox would just be killed if Eric couldn't take it.....

Paige was just a tiny little fuzz ball with a scrawny tail when she came to us. She was friendly & inquisitive but far from attractive. She had a narrow pointed nose & shiny beady eyes. She was beyond needing a bottle, preferring to eat canned cat food. And she was beginning to use a litter box. After a brief time in a small kennel, she was turned loose in the house. She fell in love with Bianca, a huge black cat with a bushy tail. Paige would purr & call to Bianca who would look at her in terror as Paige trailed her down the hallway.

The dogs initially treed Paige on a bookcase but once they were properly introduced to her they accepted her as part of the family. Paige & the cats would romp up & down the hallway. She would also curl up with us when we sat down. As she grew, she developed a lovely coat & tail. She also developed a taste for people food. One of her favorite things to do was to sit on the back of the couch with me each morning as I watched the news with my coffee & dry cereal. She would sit on my shoulder & gradually sneak her nose into my bowl to grab a bit.

It didn't really bother us to have a fox in the house but guests were not always as comfortable with her. The children had a friend spending the night. The next morning he told us how he'd awakened in the night because he felt a pressure on his head. When he opened his eyes he saw a little nose & two eyes. Paige was standing on his head staring into his face.

We tried to keep Paige amused with lots of games & toys. She loved to hide cat toys. We would search for them, pile them up in the middle of the living room & then give her the day to hide them all again. She often hid things that we needed like socks or keys. We could live with that but then she developed a really annoying little game that finally got her evicted from the house.

Paige thought it was just her duty to climb to the top of every bookcase & then clean the top shelf by heaving everything onto the floor below. I put everything breakable into cabinets. I tried to have a sense of humor about the thing but I have volumes & volumes of books that I got tired of picking up. We finally decided that something had to be done. After considering a few possibilities & not wanting to have to cage her, we decided that we would put screening in one of the stalls in the stable which would make a huge home for her. We spent lots of time wiring up the screening & building her a lovely habitat that included cut branches to climb & a den to hide in. We moved her to the stable. She remained in the stall for barely a day. She slipped right out between in screening & the wall, climbed the rafters & took over the entire stable. She's remained happily there ever since.

Paige visits us as we come & go. During sheep shearing she hides in one of the tunnels she has dug into the soft dirt of a stall. She loves to hunt rats & leaves the night's catch at the front door so that we find it first thing each morning. We give her treats of chicken eggs as we pass the stable in the evening. And if we are working on a long project, we often feel her staring at us. She loves to perch in the beams above us to watch what we are doing. So as silly as it sounds, we have now dedicated an entire barn to her! And just the other day I read that foxes well cared for in captivity can live up to 15 years. So I guess it is a good thing that we have another barn & a few extra buildings around the property.

But Paige does let me share her space to do my dyeing. She also doesn't seem to mind when I milk a goat in her stable. She will creep up & quietly watch as the goat just stares back. Unfortunately, a chicken or two has slipped in when we've moved sheep or goats in & out of the stable. All of Paige's fox instincts must kick right in as we don't find much chicken left the next day.

So that is Paige's story for now. And we had one little duckling hatch on Tuesday. His mother has sat on a nest of eggs for a month now but he seems to be the only hatchling. Katy found him laying on the ground near the nest. He was cold & a chicken had pecked his little head. She put him on a heating pad & nursed him. He seems to be doing fine now & his mother doesn't miss him. He thinks Katy is his mother so I guess it all works out in the end.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Story from May 17, 2008

A Story from Merciful Hearts Farm
Deb Potter, 17 May 2008

I was about to begin this story by saying that this isn't really a farm story. But if you consider the name of our farm, I guess it becomes a farm story.

Our youngest, Katy, dances weekly at a studio that is on the highway & not near a lot of homes. One Wednesday as I was about to speak for a class at Furman, she called to tell me that she had just arrived at dance & that there was a stray cat at the studio. It had apparently been hanging around & someone had taken a paper cup, torn down the sides, filled it with water & left it for the cat. She described the cat as almost grown & skinny with a mass on its side. I thought she said a mat so I was envisioning a cat with lots of tangled up fur, not a lump. She told me that the cat was friendly & asked if she could bring it home if it was still there two hours later when dance ended. I was trying to find my way around Furman's campus so I believe I simply answered, “We'll see....”. I remember briefly thinking that the cat had better wander off in the next hour or so.

As Katy tells it, when she came out of dance & opened her car door the cat practically jumped right in. I arrived home to find a skinny but sweet black & white tomcat who had a peculiar lump almost the size of my fist on his left hip. I have seen plenty of infected abscesses on cats before, especially the males that fight with each other, get snagged by a claw & then develop a pocket of infection under their skin. This lump was a huge mass & in a very odd place. The cat was not really scratched up or looking “infected”. I poked around at it & it did feel a little watery underneath but also was hard in the center. The fellow obviously needed a trip to the vet.

Katy ran him by the vet the next morning. We left him to be neutered & to get all his shots. She said she would take a look at the lump & see if she could drain it. He came home in two days looking quite peculiar. First of all, he had to wear a plastic collar around his neck so that he couldn't lick or chew where the vet had worked. His left side was shaved, his lump was still huge & he had a big rubbery drain tubing sticking out the top & bottom of the lump. The tube was held by a few little stitches. We were to clean the area around the tube a few times each day, massaging as we did to help the spot drain out & return to a normal size. The vet, however, had mentioned that she was not confident that this was simply an abscess so if it didn't heal she would open the cat up & see what was really going on.

The cat was friendly & very happy to be in our home. After some initial hissing at our other cats, he found his place, was eating well & even sleeping on our bed at night. He did not mind his funny collar but was relieved when I took it off every day as I cleaned his wound.

The lump did not disappear. It drained a bit but the size stayed the same. In a week Katy dropped him back at the vet's office. She went on to a class & then stopped back at the vet's to see what the problem might be. As she walked in, the vet asked Katy if she had a strong stomach. Katy answered that she did so the vet invited her to watch the cat's surgery. It seems they had just started to open the cat's side up so Katy was in time to see the procedure.

It turns out that the “lump” that we were trying to drain & massage away was actually the cat's left kidney. His kidneys are supposed to be inside the muscle wall but had popped out through the muscle & was simply floating under its skin. The kidney was still barely functioning but that did not matter a lot as the right kidney was just fine & apparently where it was supposed to be. The vet removed the kidney, stapled the poor cat up from his shoulder to his hip & told us he could go home in a day. He was to wear his collar for 3 weeks until his return appointment.

Now we don't know much about this cat so it is hard to say why or for how long his kidney had been outside him. He didn't have any other injuries but the vet speculated that he's been hit by a car or squeezed hard by a dog which could have forced out the kidney. It was just so odd that he had no other injuries. Of course, we also don't know how long he's been like this.

I began to feel sorry for the poor cat who was struggling so with his collar on. I would remove his collar & then babysit him to be sure he was not picking at his wound. He was staying so busy playing with the other cats & exploring his new home that he wasn't bothered by all those staples. He never touched a thing so I let him live without that funny collar. We named him Ben because we figured since we already had $500 invested in him he was staying.

Just this week Ben returned to the vet for his booster shots & to have his staples removed. He had gained about a pound & a half & had healed beautifully. We were given a jar of formalin with his kidney floating in it. His hair is growing back in odd little patches but he is a happy fellow. The only real problem that we've found is that when Ben wants to greet a person he does it by walking up & biting their hand. We could say it is a friendly bite but not everyone perceives it quite that way.

And now I'll update you on a few of the farm things.... The ducklings are really growing. They are out with the rest of the poultry now. All 30 of them prefer to do everything together. When they move they all walk together. In the afternoon they all lay down in a big clump to nap. And when they want to go into the pond they all line up & jump one after another into the water, dabble & swim & then climb up together to dry out on the bank.

Sally, Katy's triplet goat from last year, had her first kid. I was sitting at my desk Monday working when I heard a scrape against the door. That is not unusual as the triplets wander all over the farm. I heard another scrape followed by a loud wail & a thump. I opened the door, the goat rolled in & I realized she was in the process of delivering her kid. I scooted her out of the doorway enough to shut the door. Katy came out & we pulled the kid who was a little stuck getting born. It is a lovely little light brown doe.

We've finally named the newest baby. Her mother's name, Sally, is short for Salmonella & Sally's sisters are Annie (Anthrax) & Ruby (Rubella). This was Katy's idea. Together the triplets are SARs. We've decided to name Sally's baby Liz which is short for Botulism. It is hard to explain but Katy also named a stray cat Rabies. I'm just glad she has a sense of humor.

After Market on Saturday we have to vaccinate all the new lambs & kids. They are growing so fast! It is hard to believe that another springtime is almost over!