Drastic Times Call For Drastic Measures

electric-fenceEvery year we have our neighbors put their horses on our pasture for a little while.   It has been a good set up for us as their horses have preference for cheatgrass, that is encroaching on our property from neighboring property.   With proper grazing I have really managed to minimize the seeding of this nasty grass.

This year, for the first time, one of the horses has taken to eating my young trees and shrubs. Trees and shrubs on our property are a precious commodity.   Wind and lack of moisture make our land inhospitable to most things except for bunch grasses, sage and nasty invasive plants from Eurasia.  Browsing is not an option.

In all my years with this arrangement the horses have been good visitors.  They have not cause any problems.  Darn “Two Socks” a new addition has proven to be a pill this spring.   Drastic times call for drastic measures.   We have put up a string ribbon  electric fence above the top wire on the fence.   It is perfect height to get a nose zap.   No more leaning across the fence to have at my precious trees and shrubs.

I am thrilled to report that “Two Socks” is unhappy.   He clearly understands the meaning of the white ribbon.  The other three will come up and say “Hi” to visits, but “Two Socks” has now decided that humans are the root of all evil, and stands away and watches, when Mr. Ranger Sir goes out and talks with them.

Chickens are like Cowboys – most of what you think isn’t true

Chickens are sort of like cowboys.  There is a lot urban beliefs on what is based on TV shows and Hollywood movies.  If you live in true cowboy country you know many westerns are just plain crazy with things that are preposterous.    I am a transplant to Montana, and though I grew up in rural Illinois, my cowboy IQ before moving west was shameful.   After living here for a number of years I  have friends who own ranches, are married to true cowboys,  help out during branding, love to help bring  herds down in the fall, lady friends who have barrel raced for years, and  neighbors who have arenas on their property so they can practice their team roping skills.   I know so much more, but my cowboy IQ is still pretty low.    Some of favorite urban legends about the west are: horses whinny and talk all the time,  you can get off your horse and if you don’t tie it up it will be there when you come back twenty minutes later, all cowboys are sexy except the old chuck wagon cook, and none of them chew.

On the other hand I have had my own flock chickens for quite awhile and my chicken IQ is pretty high.      Here are some of my favorite chicken fallacies.

Rooster Farm_CottageArts

You need a rooster.  A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, and a chicken needs a rooster about as much.   Unless you planning hatching chicks, there is no need for a rooster.   A rooster like a man is need to make babies, without it the female gender will produce eggs and slough them off.

Brown eggs are better, more nutritious, better flavor, you pick.   Brown eggs are a genetic egg shell color period.  Nothing more exotic than that.

Chickens scratch and wander around the “barnyard.”  Some chickens are great forager, meaning the scratch around looking for good food..   Others have no interest in moving around beyond going to the feeder. I pick my birds for their forage quality and I can tell you some are rock stars going out and finding the first green grass of the spring and others well they will get there, but if they miss out on a tasty morsel or grasshopper they don’t care.

Chickens are fed hormones or steroids to make them big faster.   The poultry industry doesn’t need to do this.   After years of selective breeding they have developed a bird that will “naturally” grow from egg to maturity in just about 6 weeks.   This breed is extremely efficient turning everything they eat into body weight.  They sit in cages and have food available to them non-stop.  They grow so big so fast, their legs often can’t hold them, and can get congestive heart failure.

sdrum_kitschykitchen_eggBASKETCage free or Free-range means something when buying eggs.

  • Technically yes cage free means exactly that the chicken that laid your egg was not in a cage.   It doesn’t mean it had a lot of space or could wander around the chicken coop, it just means it wasn’t in a pen. I am not sure if that is any better, chickens have a pecking order and can be quite mean to one another when allowed to be free, and in crowded conditions things always get worse.  Cage free generally  is just a bunch of free chickens crowded in a coop.
  • Free-range is a term that means the chickens had the opportunity to go outside.   It doesn’t mean they have a wonderful green lawn with bugs, slugs and seeds for them to eat.   It just means there is a door in case they want to use it.   There is no standard that says each free range bird must have at least two square inches of outdoor space.   It doesn’t mean they ever have to be so uncrowded in the coop that they could make their way to the sunshine.   Keeping chickens myself I can tell you it takes no time for them to denude green space, so odds are this free-range space has long since been picked free of any green material they might eat.

Organic or vegetarian eggs are better.   Organic just means they at organic food, it does not speak to how they were treated or raised.    The only advantage of organic in my mind is they are not fed food that was not raise with pesticides, but probably more importantly to me no vaccines or antibiotics.   Vegetarian eggs on the other hand is plain insanity.   Chickens are omnivores, like us they eat meat and veggies.   Vegetarian and free range are mutually exclusive.   You can’t let them egg bugs like they naturally do and call them vegetarian.

There are many more, but these are some of my favorites fallacies about chickens and cowboys.

Pasture Pets, aka Horses

Our Neighbor’s Horses

I write this as a non-horse owner so reader beware.  I barter with my horse-owning neighbors each year swapping several weeks grazing  on our pasture in exchange for something they can help us out with.  I horse sit for a couple neighbors when they are gone.   My husband rides a little in his line of work, so I don’t write this from a completely detached point-of-view.   But I do not claim to be an expert or even very familiar with horses.

Most horses are really just pasture pets.   Meaning that they don’t work regularly as a stock animal, be it riding or driving.   This isn’t bad by any means.  What it means is that like our dogs and cats we have them because of the relationship they give us, humans.   We enjoy their company and the pleasure we find being with them.    I had not really thought much about it until one of my friends aged horses started the decline of their twilight years.  It was only then that I realized what a relationship horse people have with their pets.

Warrior was a horse they had gotten from a school for the blind. I don’t think that there was a horse more gentle.   He was the favorite of a mentally challenged child who rode him each summer.  That little boy considered Warrior to be his horse.     Warrior  could be depended on to understand his precious cargo and handle him with care.    He came down with colic earlier this year , and my neighbor walked with him for hours around the pasture while measures were taken to try to save him.  I watched her cry and beg Wrangler to get up when  laid down, knowing that laying down was a certain death sentence.  Wrangler with the huge heart he had got up and though in pain he still wanted to please.   My friend visited him daily when he was at the vet  in those last days to pet and talk to him so he would not think he had been abandoned.  Like so often for horses with colic Warrior loss the battle.  They brought him home to be buried, and there is a rock showing were he rests, just like they had done with their dog two years before.

Warrior’s buddy, Oz,  began to show signs of deterioration shortly their after.   Though they did  not come from the same place they came into my neighbor’s little herd together.    Oz’s  lost his long time partner, though he still has other horses to hang out with, seems to have taken away  some of his zest for life.   Each time my friend’s  husbands  heads up or down the road he stops his truck and talks to them, often getting out and crawling through the fence running his hands over his aged friend.   Warrior and Oz were “his” two horses and I think he realizes he may have to say goodbye to another soon.  Oz is beginning to have weight-loss issues, though the vet can find nothing wrong with him.   My friend, with her quirky sense of humor, tells me if she was eating cheese cake (what she calls the special diet Oz is on) twice a day, she be be packing on the pounds.  Instead Oz struggles to maintain, needing more attention each day.

Each year the neighbor’s horse go to what I call summer camp.  It is when they leave their little pasture and go to a friend’s family place.  They become part of a larger herd that they see each year.   It has bigger pastures and more places to run and carry on as horses.   It also means that the horses get more up close and personal time as the family place is fully of kids who love to be around the horses.   They get lots of unconditional love and attention that only kids can give.   They get rode, groomed, patted down and shared secrets with.  The horses get more attention than they can get belonging to a working family.   I like to think it is a nice break for the horses each year.

This year only three of the neighbor’s horses got to go to summer camp.   Oz and one buddy stayed behind.  It wasn’t that they could not go, but the neighbor’s just wanted to keep a closer eye on Oz.   Horses don’t like to be without their heard and so the split up this summer.   Oz looks better than earlier, but his days are likely numbered.   Like when a family dog or cat time may be limited, the family knows it.  The family  looks to spend a little extra time with them, pet them a little more, sneak them a little treat and let them know how special they are.   It is a time that the pet and the owner work on saying good bye.     Though these horses live outside they are clearly pets just the same, pasture pets.

Overcoming Fear

Our Neighbor’s Horses

I am afraid of horses.  I have a childhood memory of being hoisted up onto a very large horse.   I have to assume it was a draft horse up on Aunt Evelyn’s farm. I don’t remember any details but fear.  That fear clouds my judgement to this day.

To learn to groom a horse , saddle one including reaching under it to tighten its belt and sit on one as it walks around the pen is on my personal life list.  I  am not anywhere close to crossing it off my list. I am working on my fear this year with the horses that we run on our pasture in the early summer each year.  They will be here for about a month or so.   They are very  friendly and tame.  When they leave here they go and  spend the summer ridden by family friends and children.   They are smart about people and have learned how to be gentle with those who are less experienced.   They are a prefect learning experience for me.

During the time there are here I am working on petting them.  Once I master that my next goal is to be in the pasture with them and not pray that they stay in the far corner and will not notice me.  One step at a time.

As I write this it sounds nothing short of pure foolishness that I let this childhood fear still drive me 50 years later but it does.   Remember this all you parents when you put your scream with fear child on Santa’s lap.

By Diana who is Playing Without Limits. Posted in Animals Tagged

Horses…

I am not a horsewoman.  I am not comfortable around horses in any way.    They are big, very big and I am intiminated by their size.  In spite of this, I somehow have ended up caring for horses for my friends when they go on vacation.   My friends have left me in charge of feeding and watering their horses knowing full well that  I am afraid of the critters.   My quality of dependability overrides my lack of experience and skill.  Some have been family pasture pets, others rodeo favorites  and even a  fancy horse with insurance.   These many years of experience horse sitting have honed my observation skills by default.  Lucky for the neighbor’s horses.

Just this week I looked out and noticed that one of my neighbor’s  horses was clearly walking with a problem.   I quickly walked up the road to take a peak at the critter, through the fence, allowing  me to observe bleeding and a cut on his hind leg.   I called the neighbor at work to report that 3 socks was injured, that is not his name mind you,  but the number of white feet allows me to tell the horses apart.  Lucky for 3-socks my neighbor came home and hustled him off to the vet who was able to save him.  This injury was quite a bit more serious than I thought, and it was touch and go.   The horse is now confined to the stall while he gets care for his long-term recovery.

Yesterday at 7 am we looked out the kitchen window to see to Socks (4-socks) walking down the road.  My husband who rides a bit for work, headed out to head the horse back home.   We needed a rope and horse face-mask, neither of which we have to do the job properly.   The horses owner’s had left for the day, and I knew that the saddles and other tack were locked up.   I placed to a call to my neighbor’s cell, which of course was out of service, to ask about getting the required tack to lead him back to his winter pen/pasture.  Getting no help, I then called another neighbor who is a retired  cowboy, to ask to borrow the required tack.   He quickly showed up with the necessary equipment and some grain.   Together he and my husband returned the horse to his place.   We walked the fence, found one loose spot we tacked back up.

My life list includes getting on a horse and riding without fear.   It isn’t very high on my list, but is one of those things I figure a girl who has lived in cattle country in Colorado and Montana should have at least done that.   Both my neighbor’s horses are quite friendly, and I have gotten to the point I can give them an alfalfa cube in my bare hand and pet them.  Of course this is all done with a fence between me and them.  It sounds silly as I write this but this has been a big step for me.   There may be a possibility that I can cross rising a horse off my list if I live to 150, though the fear part may never go away.

By Diana who is Playing Without Limits. Posted in Animals Tagged