This winter has been harsh. We’ve already dipped below -20C a handful of times before the start of the new year.
Its Sunday, January 5, 2014 at 530 pm and I just brought the horse into the barn because it started to rain. Not just rain, freezing rain. The weather for the next three days is suppose to be cold and windy. Dangerously windy and that makes me worry about the animals. I probably worry too much, says my Alberta friends who deal with sub zero temperatures all the time.
There are a few keys to keeping livestock healthy durning the winter. The first is plenty of hay. Horses have an internal furnace and when stocked well it will keep them warm as long as they have water too. The second important thing is shelter. They need to be out of the bitter wind. If these things aren’t achieved they will lose weight and freeze to death. I hate to think of my horses even mildly uncomfortable, yet along struggling for their lives against the weather.
There is nothing worse than being wet and cold, so my horses have an extensive wardrobe to keep them dry and warm. Our little blind pony Splash is struggling with the cold this year and we found her shivering at a mere -4C on a dry night, so her wardrobe has been greatly expanded thanks to the donations from friends.
Horses love to be outside, wandering and forging for food. They are nomadic animals and I hate to curb this natural urge when the weather is so uncooperative. I know being cold really bothers our blind pony Splash. She is often excluded from the shelter by the sighted horses. I believe she’s afraid to be caught in a small space with her equine friends, so she sports her turnout winter coat with great purpose.
Over the next few days the horses will be in their stalls most of the time which makes them unhappy and is an incredible increase in our work load. I always make sure my horses are housed in clean stalls with fresh bedding, so the next few days are going to be challenging. Thankfully, I was able to purchase heated buckets to make sure the horses don’t get sick from colic, as many do when without water during the deep freeze.
Tonight I can relax with the horses, goat, pigs and duck tucked safely into the barn with heated water buckets and plenty of hay. Gus is napping in the kitchen and the puppies are playing with toys and sneaking snacks, so I feel good. For tonight. As long as the Green Bay Packers with the wild card playoff game.
It’s been nearly three weeks since Splash underwent surgery to have both of her eyes removed. The first few days she was home were difficult for several reasons:
1. Splash was clearly uncomfortable and adjusting to having been in the Equine Hospital for three days.
2. Splash had serious separation anxiety and we couldn’t leave her alone in the barn without her equine pals, so all three horses were on stall rest for five days. We would turn them out for an hour to clean stalls and bring them back inside. It was a great deal of extra work for the humans.
3. Splash was on a severely limited post surgery diet to re-introduce food into her system slowly to prevent colic. She was hungry and restless.
4. Splash needed her face massaged to reduce swelling at least four times a day and we had to check on her frequently to make sure her mask was secure.
It was a stressful time from the moment we found out she needed surgery, but the end result has been wonderful. Two weeks post surgery we started to notice that Splash was having more fun and her head tilt was less prominent. We noticed she was playfully throwing her head and trotting around the field.
Splash was eager to interact with people and her horse friends. She sought us out with happy nickers and we gave her apples, carrots and peppermints.
We heard from other local horse people who did not agree with our decision to go ahead with the surgery and they believed we should have followed the only other option of euthanasia. Brent and I had a many discussion and couldn’t believe that it was in Splash’s best interest to destroy her because of a pair of bad eyes. She had been blind for a long time prior to coming to live with us and her adjustment was to living her life pain free.
A few weeks after surgery one of the biggest skeptic came to visit us at the farm and watched Splash happily wander the paddock. He suggested that perhaps he was wrong and we did the right thing by saving Splash’s life.
Brent and I had no idea we had created such a controversy. We had gone with our hearts and with the firm belief that Splash still had many contributions that would enrich her life as well as others.
Post-surgery she had to wear a mask all the time. http://www.guardianmask.com/ donated a mask to Splash! Great people and a wonderful product if you are looking to protect eyes from just about anything. The mask is fantastic. She’s still wearing it for another few weeks. It was great to protect against bumping and flies The last thing we needed was flies laying eggs in her incision.
We had the vet out to remove stitches. We were able to remove the left side, but the right side got hung up on some scabs and the vet needed to sedate her and pick it out. Another nerve racking moment. The incision is nearly all healed up and looks healthy. The swelling has gone down and her eye sockets are sunken. We did not do anything cosmetic due to the increased risk of infection and we love her just the way she is!
No more drops or gels or goo! Hurrah! No eye balls, so nothing to get full of pressure, infection or inflammation. The way she gets around you’d think she was a sighted horse. She seems to sense the fence lines and usually knows exactly where she’s going. Splash had a very noticeable head tilt prior to surgery and now you can hardly tell. She still doesn’t turn to the right very well but that’s probably from the previous head injury. The vet believes she has lesions on her brain from trauma. We won’t even speculate.
After a few weeks we decided to get Splash used to leaving the farm and started walking her along side Turtle down the side road. I rode Turtle and lead Splash while Brent rode Autumn in the lead. We did this several times and Splash seemed to enjoy the gentle walk surrounded by her friends.
After a week and three strolls Splash came down with a hoof abscess. I wonder if it anything to do with our walks down the side road? She came up “three legged lame” one morning. It was heartbreak for us and very painful for Splash.
After surviving a severe head injury, going blind and bilateral enucleation she was still in pain because of a small and simple stone. I immediately called my good friend and blacksmith Dave for advice and to formulate a treatment plan.
A major part of the problem is Splash has a fear of having her legs touched. We’ve had her for months and have only just begun to pick up her hooves. Most horses have their hooves cleaned out daily, but Splash needed some time to build some trust.
Push came to shove and since we needed to examine her hoof. She was clearly in pain and easily let me look at her hoof which was quite a surprise. When Dave showed up to examine the affected hoof we were surprised that she let him pick up the foot with barely a kick.
Dave determined she has an abscess in her hoof and treatment came down to soaking in epsom salts and then poulticing with animalintex 24 hours a day until the abscess breaks. For five days we soaked and wrapped and hoped it would break. On the morning of day six I unwrapped the poultice and found stinky pus breaking from her heel and celebrated. Never had I been so happy to see pus.
The abscess is still draining, so her hoof is a stinky gooey mess, but she is walking much better and is back to stealing apples off the apple tree in the paddock.
We bought her a pair of cavallo boots and she’s very comfortable in those, so we can turn her out with the other horses while still protecting her healing hoof. She has the guardian mask on her face and boots on her hooves. She looks ready for the catwalk. LOL!
Wow. It’s been over a month since I’ve had a chance to write. It’s been a whirlwind here on the farm. We’ve bought two trailers – one travel and one horse. We’re planning on two big trips for 2013, our usual Florida February getaway and another long drive to visit our out West friends and get a good look at the West Coast and the Rockies.
You think I would have been prepared to handle the first big snow fall of the season, especially since it didn’t happen until the second week of December, but when it happened I was still a bit surprised.
I was working nights at the tail end of the snow fall that only hit Stevensville. Throughout the night I felt the subzero cold blow into the region. It was -6 C on my drive home and I was worried. I was worried about puppies, pumps, water and livestock.
I got home from work at 6am and immediately did a quick check of everyone. All the animals were fine, but the water was frozen. Solid as a rock and I still hadn’t gotten the last pump put away.
After feeding and watering everyone I had a short nap knowing I had to go back into work for 6pm.
I woke at noon and after a cup of tea I braved the biting wind on a quest to save my pump, but first I set up the tank de-icer in the horse trough burning my hand in the process. It was foreshadowing.
I thought the dogs could run around the big pen while I was setting up the horse water, but this idea was immediately squashed as I looked over and saw Jackson standing in the middle of the partially frozen pond.
With my heart pounding I ran through the frozen muddy horse paddock into the dog pen trying not to scream. I was nearly hysterical as I called Jackson over to the edge of the pond. My leg was wet and my voice was higher than normal, but the word cookie was understood and he scampered over to the edge and bolted for the house. I started to consider moving at this point.
I locked the dogs in the safe dog pen area and returned to the pump where I struggled to get the hose disconnected. Obviously the other tenants of the pump house/garden tool storage were unhappy and the rakes started falling off the walls as I struggled. A shovel fell on my wet frozen hand sending needling pain up my arm. Yet, the hose remained stubbornly connected.
To give myself a break from the pump frustration I carried three buckets of water out to the pigs and ducks. In return Mr Smith bit me sharply on my upper thigh. I have a lovely beak shaped bruise on my leg and Brent is out of town. Will he believe I was bit by a duck? Of course he will.
I returned to the angry pump holding it between my legs while pulling on the three inch piece of PVC that goes ten feet into the sulpherous well. This was not the best position to avoid the fountain of water that sprayed up soaking my pants and coat, but I managed to severe the connection between PVC and pump.
The hose remained firmly stuck, so I sprayed it with some industrial lubricant and went looking for an extension cord needing another break.
I had to steal a cord from the christmas lights because unfrozen water for the pigs and ducks is more important than pretty lights. I strung the cord through the door into the make-shift pig water trough and plugged it in – it worked, but I really need to get a big rubber water pan.
Back to the pump. Using a third adjustable wrench I gave into my frustration and started striking the connection between the hose and pump. I smashed it with the side of the rusty wrench until my arm ached and then I hit it one more time.
The blows loosened the mineral build up on the threads and to my shear delight the hose head began to turn. A few spins and it was off and the pump was free. I dragged it into the house and down to the basement where I gave it a good kick of triumph.
During my happy dance in the driveway I slipped on the black ice and bruised my hip.
Would anyone like to trade a 23 acre hobby farm for a nice cozy condo?
It’s late November and there is a thick layer of ice on the horse water, frost on the ground, naked trees and yellow grass. The ducks look fluffy, the pigs look blacker and the horse is starting to look like the Abominable Snowman from Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer. These are signals for winter meaning its time to get the hay in storage and the farm ready to survive the icy onslaught of the deep freeze.
Over the year the hay storage areas turns into various other storage areas for: plywood, insulation, four wheelers, motorcycles, truck, welders and various other tools. When it comes time for the hay storage area to be converted back to the “hay storage area” it often takes us days to re-organize and decide what’s going out into the snow.
We use two outbuildings to store all the round bales that we’ll need till spring when the grass starts to grow and the horse prefers all things green after a harsh winter. Spring seems so far away.
Brent and I started last week loading the truck and trailer full of plywood and insulation to be transported to covered storage in Wainfleet. We moved a few things around, put my tractor under a big silver tarp outside and made room for hay.
Hay must be stored inside or it rots as soon as it gets wet, so we empty one bay of the back garage and use half the horse lean-to for storage. We currently have fifteen round bales in storage with each weighing over five hundred and fifty pounds. One round bale generally lasts Autumn two weeks in the dead of winter with nothing natural to consume.
I buy my hay from Farmer Steve who lives about a kilometer up the road. Steve’s grandfather used to have a pair of Belgian horses he would hook up to a sleigh and take me for rides in the winter. He was one of those cool old farmers. I’m happy that his grandson has taken over the farm. Steve is kind enough to deliver my hay and help me put it away.
This is usually a job that takes three people: one to drive the tractor unloading the round bales from the wagon and two people to push the round bales deeper into the storage where the tractor can’t reach. The leanto storage area has a low ceiling. Brent was working when Steve brought the round bales, so he was on the tractor and I was the sole pusher of bales.
What a work out! I huffed and pushed and groaned as I rolled and flipped the over five hundred pound bales into place. Some bales weight a little more due to moisture content and some a little less. Either way, they’re incredibly heavy. Steven had to help me move one of the heavy round bales and he said after I’d moved two by myself, ” you know, these are really heavy”. I was huffing and puffing so hard I couldn’t get out a response, but I swear I heard him giggle as he walked away.
There was a beautiful day at the beginning of October and all my animals were in a less than one acre paddock together. Two pigs, two ducks, two goats and one horse all pleasantly sharing a small space. They all got along. They were happy together and it made me smile. This is when I first saw a picture of Jax.
There are so many articles stating you can’t house pigs with anything, especially horses. If all these different animals can get along… why can’t we? Watching all the struggles of the human world I wonder how these guys can make it work, but the rest of the world can’t manage to find a peaceful solution?
There was a brief adjustment period when I brought Jax home, but after a few growls and some chasing within a day they had it worked out. Jax is the baby, while Taz and Poco are more mature and own all the toys. However, they let Jax play with the toys anytime he wants and he often takes the toys right out of their mouth. Okay… maybe the toys belong to the baby too.
I managed to capture this moment on video. I am delighted with my four legged family.
When I woke up this morning at the farm it was overcast and raining. There was a brief reprieve where I went out and cared for all the farm animals. The mud is getting thick in some places and I’m glad I had my rubber boots on:
Taz and Poco were inside trying to find ways to blow off some steam. Wouldn’t you know that the smallest dog chose the biggest stuffed toy to beat up. Do you think she had big dog syndrome? Poco chose a smaller toy with no stuffing and lots of squeakers that he could easily thrash around.
Taz vs Reindeer
Poco vs bunny
Taz tried to go outside on cat patrol, but was quickly deterred by a chill bout of rain. The cats ran for cover and Taz ran for the house. The cat in the video below is from the feral cat society of Toronto and has been at the farm for about three years now. He is a ragdoll who was discovered at a cat colony in downtown Toronto and made his way to the farm. I wormed him this year by putting wormer in a pile of tuna and leaving it for him in the field. I hid around the side of the barn and watched him eat it and gave myself a high five.
By now I’d had enough of the chilly rain and decided to head to the beach and see if the weather was any different. Was I in for a shock! The dogs were delighted as they ran down the beach
Taz even got so warm she took a dip and lay down in the lake. Who knew the beach would be so hot in October. In Canada!
Meanwhile, across the street Brent is doing a little leveling with his favorite toy.
Later on we had a fire on the beach.
This is my first video blog and I hope it’s enjoyable! Now, the dogs are climbing my leg for another beach walk, so I’ve got to go and you should too. Get out there and take your pup for a walk before it snows. Remember this from Winter 2010??
We’re missing our chickens. I went out to feed the ducks and chickens, but there were only ducks and a handful of chicken feathers.
This is not a good summer for the farm. So much death. So much sadness. So much grief.
Coyotes? Fox? Both take the bodies with them and there were no bodies, just feathers, but coyotes will continue to come after and kill all the cats, while fox will stick to easy prey. Like the ducks.
I could hear the coyotes howling tonight and it gave me the serious creeps.
Having the coyotes in the barn means they’re one step closer to the farm. One step closer to the puppies. Once step closer to us, but there are three things coyotes don’t like: pigs, lamas and donkeys. I don’t mind doing a little farm investing, but it would be nice to find one that needed a home too.
Brent and I decided we needed to take back the barn, so we moved the pigs back into the barn paddock. We didn’t lose a single bird while they were on guard duty, so perhaps we can prevent further coyote killing by protecting the ducks with over two hundred pounds of pig.
The pigs and ducks seem happy living together and I think once the cold weather hits they’ll learn to cuddle. I really hoping they keep each other safe. It feels right to have them in that space. It feels good to hear the pig squeals and the duck hiss when I get my car out of the barn in the morning.
An empty barn is just the playroom for a raccoons and wildlife which brings danger closer to my doorstep and my puppies.
I send out a special cheer to Elvis, our rooster and Missy, our hen. A speedy trip to heaven, save a place for us in the barn and give Gizmo a big hug an kiss from his family who miss him very much.
Chicken Nugget came to us as one of our first farm animals and our first chicken. Nugget was found by a friend wandering around a sub-division and had been clearly used as a chew toy by the neighbourhood dogs. I was working when Nugget was “delivered” and was very concerned by her appearance.
All her tail feathers were gone and her bottom was a bit of a mess, but it didn’t look infected. Nugget got along well with the pigs, so we depended on food, water, clean living and a little farm love to help heal.
Within a week we had farm fresh eggs. I learned so much about eggs from sweet Nugget. I had some of the most delightful breakfast eggs thanks to this lovely chicken.
Nugget was not just the only producer on the farm, but she was friendly and had a lot of personality, for a chicken. She would squat down when I came close, so I could pet her silky feathers.
In late July we found Nugget lifeless on the floor of the chicken pen. She did not appear wounded or injured in any way. She was just gone. We don’t know how old Nugget was, but we like to think she died of old age.
We’ll miss you little Nugget. Especially, your best hen buddy Missy.