Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Welcome to Willow and Springfield

I promised to blog about the new donkeys, and here they are.

We were utterly delighted to adopt Willow, and her son Springfield, on Monday evening. Springfield is gelded. They have been on a foster farm since they were seized from a neglect situation, and have been gaining weight and improving their condition. After some months of recovery, they were ready for adoption, and here they will have their forever home.

When I lived in Canada, I used to volunteer at the Canadian Donkey Sanctuary. I cleaned stables and socialized with the donkeys and always enjoyed my interactions with them. I have also visited the enormous donkey sanctuary in Devon, England, which is a delightful sanctuary to visit, even though it is sad to think that so many donkeys need a loving home. I think donkeys tend to be left out in fields with other livestock and are often ignored. They need loving care just like other animals, and have distinct, individual personalities.


So far, Willow and Springfield have settled in well with our llamas and Nubian goats. They seem to spend much of their time near the llamas. Perhaps because they all have long ears?!
Willow has a habit of braying, very loudly, in the morning when she first sees us come outside. Well, I say its a habit - it's only been 2 days, but she did it both days!

They are Sicilian donkeys, which means they are small in stature. Some people call them miniature donkeys. Here's a picture of Kelly with Springfield, so you can get a sense of their size.
When we were picking up our donkey pair, the Animal Rescue League also had, to our delight, a pigeon! We decided that he also needed a good home with us, so we adopted him at the same time. I named him Tarquin. He is very sweet natured and tolerates handling very well. He even sits on my shoulder! He was picked up in downtown Des Moines because he was approaching humans and seemed very tame. The possibility of animal cruelty was a concern, since he was so comfortable with people. Therefore, he was taken to the shelter to await our arrival and of course, we could not pass him up!
So, we welcome Tarquin, Willow, and Springfield, with open arms and open hearts. May they have long and happy lives here on our farm.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sometimes, there are no "right words"

Today has been a difficult day. A deeply sad and heart wrenching day.

Last night, we finished driving home from Nova Scotia. It was late when we came home, about 1 am. We knew that our farm help had been around to close up at about 6 pm, so we decided not to go see the animals. I also knew, from my farm help, that we had lost some chickens. I didn't want to go face that at 1 am. Selfishly, I wanted to go to bed, because 1 am Iowa time was 3 am Nova Scotia time and we had been driving for about 18 hours.

This morning, I went out to the chicken coops, sadly, to face more lost friends. Then I went inside the barn to check on the brooder. We left with about 60 or so chicks of various ages in the brooder. We had come home to 8 remaining. I lost penedesencas, light brahmas, bantam Sicilian buttercups, cuckoo marans, nankins, mille fleurs, porcelain millies, silkies, mottled javas, ameraucanas, frizzles, cochins, orpingtons, australorps...the list goes on and on.

Worst of all of this, was the loss of my dear, sweet Rosie. My rescued chicken, who followed me like a pup and always wanted to be with me when I was outside. She was gone, along with so many other adult hens. I was devastated at the losses. I did not count, but it was at least 30 hens, at least 6 roosters, and so many chicks I could not even begin to contemplate the losses. Rosie will be missed most of all. She was a treasure.

I suspect a number of factors combined to cause this sad result. Most likely the bitter cold combined with IB. I fear that our coop is not sufficiently insulated, even with the heat lamps in it. And meanwhile, I was at home in Nova Scotia, loving every minute of it, soaking up hugs and love from my parents, wonderful home cooked meals, the joys of the holiday. All the while, my chickens were dying and I was oblivious to the gravity of the situation. Our farm help did their best, but the conditions were bad. I cannot begin to express the guilt and shame I feel for having abandoned my flock in their time of need. It just makes my soul shrivel.

Then, I went into the goat barn. Two perfect, beautiful, babies -- pale grey and pale brown -- borne by dear Muffin, were lying dead in the corner of the barn. Frozen. I wept. When we bought her, we had been told her due date was November 27. I believe a mistake was made, and that in fact, it was December 27. We would never have gone if we had known. We thought she was just looking pudgy because we'd been giving her the extra grain, expecting babies in November. But no, she bore beautiful twins, most likely last night, while I selfishly trudged off to bed. Our farm help assured me he was in the barn around 6 pm and no babies were there at that time. Our sweet Muffin gave us our first baby goats, and all we cared about was falling asleep. We did not check on her before we went to bed, assuming she was well and warm, in with the other goats and the llamas.

So now, I try to face tomorrow, and the fact that life will go on on our farm, but the horror of this morning will live long in my memory, and the guilt that I feel will be hard to overcome.

The one saving moment today - we went to the Animal Rescue League and adopted two Sicilian donkeys. They are very small - smaller than our largest Nubians. There is a mother donkey, maybe 4 or 5 years old they estimated, and her son, about a year old. He is gelded. She is grey-brown with the classic donkey cross on her back. He is all dark brown and smaller than her. They are lovely. I will do my best to give them the home they deserve. We have named them Willow and Springfield. Springfield was a famous racehorse in England and has special significance in our family. Willow is named after the beautiful, graceful tree of the same name. I will blog about them more in the near future.

Today, I pray to Mother Earth to gently hold the souls of those animals that I have loved, and those that I never had a chance to know. May they rest at peace in her arms.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The things I manage to do when on vacation!

I had said that for my Christmas holiday, my goal was to learn to knit and/or crochet. I tried knitting first, and did a bit, but then turned to crochet. After some consternation and frustration with crochet, I finally embarked on an actual small project. Lo and behold, I crocheted a scarf! I never thought I could do it! Actually, if I was at home, busy, I probably would have taken months to do it. I admit, the sides are not perfect and there were a couple of times I started the shrinking row problem and had to add a stitch to regain the width, but overall, I'm rather pleased, if I may say so, with my first project. I do love the colours of the wool, so that goes a long way towards my positive impression! It is a smallish scarf, but a good one for keeping my neck cozy when I go out to the barn. The picture below makes it look worse than it is on the ends because the ends are curling. They are not as varied in width as they look!
Speaking of keeping cozy, we went out to Peggy's Cove today. It is a lovely spot to visit in Nova Scotia, even when it's cold outside. Kelly and I stayed warm and cozy in many layers.
The lighthouse stands tall and ready for the bad weather. It makes a spectacular view with the clear blue sky and the rolling ocean waves.
The rocks are very weathered and smooth in some places and every year or so, somebody ventures too close to the water and has an accident, quite often a fatal one. People tend to ignore the warning signs posted everywhere, just to get a better picture or look at the water. They do not anticipate the height of the swells, especially if they are not used to the ocean.
Best to admire from a distance, or use the zoom on your camera, like I did! There is even frosted spray on the rocks that you can see on the left side. Brrrr.... Cold and windy, but lovely to be home.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

What is Needle Felting?

Joanna asked me to do a blog post about needle felting, which I am delighted to do. I bought a couple of kits from a couple of Etsy shops and also bought a book. The technique is quite simple. I started with the owl, which was a kit, and then moved on to the rabbit and sheep, based on designs I saw in the book. Today, as my "demo" item, I did a hedgehog from a kit that is from Wool Pets on Etsy.

First, felting is normally done using water (like when you wash a wool sweater by mistake in hot water and it comes out teddy-bear sized...) but this is done using a barbed needle that makes the fibers of the wool lock together in a similar way. You can probably just see the tiny barbs on the end of the needle -about the last 3/4 inch is barbed on all 3 sides. It is a triangular needle.
Here, I began with a strip of wool "roving" that is cleaned and carded wool. You can see it is very loose fiber.
I rolled the wool into a bit of a sausage shape.
Then, I began to poke at it with the needle. You do so using a foam block, so as not to puncture yourself, which I have done a couple of times in any case, but not seriously. You start with deep punches and then progress toward the outside with shallower punches.
The wool "sausage" becomes more and more compact and dense. Eventually, it forms a fairly firm little lump. That is the hedgehog body.
Next, I started with a new smaller piece of roving, for the head.
Once the head was formed, I used the needle to poke it against the body, which meshes the fibers and makes it "attach" to the body quite firmly.
Then, to make the hedgehog's "prickles" there was a different kind of wool in the kit that was very curly and crimped. I separated small parts of the wool for use on the hedgehog's back.
Each lock of curly wool was gently needled into its back, so that parts were locked into the body, but some parts were still sticking up and being loopy or curly.
Eventually, the whole body was covered.
Then, I used a little tiny ball of black wool that I had made from long fibers that I rolled between my fingers. That became the nose, and then similar tiny balls for the eyes.
And that's it! Easy squeezy! The hedgehog was done, and now he's sitting on the tree.
Now, just for Mare, my silly shrinking crochet.
And Lola, I would be delighted to trade a sheep for a hen! Let's do it! What color sheep would you like? Do you want a brown one? Or I could do white or grey or even black!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I think I like felting!

Well, after my experience with the owl, I decided to make another owl. After that, I felt a bit braver. I thought it might even be time to branch out into new animal species! So, I made a rabbit. And then, I made a sheep! It's a brown sheep because I have limited amounts of roving right now. I'm quite pleased with how they turned out. I think they will make good gifts or tree ornaments.
The things I get into when there aren't any chores to be done! Hopefully I can keep up with the felting after I get back to the farm because I enjoy it. I'd like to make a llama! It's fun to do crafts because with work and school, I don't usually have much opportunity. Felting is something I can pick up and put down and then pick it up later.
I am doing reasonably well with the knitting. I am having some trouble with tension. On the crocheting, somehow I miss a stitch on the end of every row and what started out as a 15 stitch wide piece ends up as a 5 stitch wide piece. I shall try to figure out what I am doing wrong. I could post a picture of it and maybe some of you crochet experts can tell me!

Off to eat some fudge...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I made an owl!

Well, I couldn't blog about it before, because it was a surprise to my parents (who read the blog!) but I decided to surprise them for Christmas. I drove home to Nova Scotia starting on Thursday around 5:30 pm Iowa time. Usually, it's a 33 hour drive. This time, it was a 47 hour drive. The first 14 hours were freezing rain, the whole time. Every half hour we had to stop to clean the windshield and headlights. It was simply dreadful. Then, we had snow, more freezing rain, and sleet, right through into Maine, when finally the precipitation stopped. We didn't sleep on Thursday night, driving right through the night, and finally stopping at 8:30 pm on Friday in a small town outside of Albany, NY called Herkimer. We stayed there in a hotel and got on the road again at 6 am. We arrived at my parents home at half past midnight on Saturday, exhausted, but safe and happy.
We have enjoyed our first couple of days immensely. We're working on the annual huge crossword from the Globe and Mail newspaper, eating lots of mother-made treats that are just so special to me, and just sharing time with my parents, whom I see so rarely. It is indeed precious time. We have farm help taking care of the animals back home, although the weather has been extremely cold there and we have lost a few chickens as a result. Very sad, but nothing we can do from here.

In the meantime, I am learning three things. First, I bought books on how to knit and crochet. I have tried both and find them somewhat challenging but I'm learning. Secondly, I am learning how to do needle felting. This is my first ever needle felting project - it's an owl. It is a tree ornament of course. I am rather pleased with it for being my first try. We are hoping to have lots of our own wool in the near future from the llamas and sheep, as well as the angora goats, so this will be a craft I can use for gifts, etc. I shall be dreaming up new designs for other ornaments. This one was a little kit I purchased on Etsy and so it isn't my design, but of course each one comes out with its own personality!

I'm not online much here at my parents' home, but will have a lot of blog posts to catch up with when I am back in Iowa! Happy Holidays to all!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Second Secret Meeting of the Llama Minds

Called to Order: Second Meeting of SLICE (Secret Llama Intelligence Collection Enterprise).
Time: Tuesday Dec. 16, snowing, windy, 9 am.
Previous Minutes: here

Present: Cabernet, Hazel, Lilly, Rosco, also Guest Speaker Mr. Xander N. Goat
Also the presence of a two-legged creature with the same small black box was noted. We feigned a lack of interest at its presence. The creature points the small black box at us and it makes a small beep noise. Sometimes it emits a flash of light. We are truly baffled.

SLICE was honoured today to welcome Mr. Xander Nubian Goat to the meeting, hereinafter Xander. He provided an interesting exposé on some of the goings on at the farm. Having reviewed a copy of our last minutes, he felt there were some things he could impart to our organization, and we thank him for his valuable time and information.

First, Xander advised us of a grave error in our thinking. The two legged creatures with feathers are not guinea pigs. No indeed, they are called "chickens" and we are grateful to have learned this valuable information. This explains why the two-legged creatures call "chick-chick-chick" in the morning while holding a small scoop of seeds. We find it most unfair that the chickens are given all the seeds. Occasionally, the two-leggers seem to enjoy letting us have a few seeds. This is usually a ploy to allow them to touch our valuable fur so that they can conduct research on how to grow their own fur. We think the seeds and cracked corn are very yummy and should be our primary diet. We think the chickens may not be deserving. They are very silly creatures but the sheep seem well acquainted with them.

Second, Xander advised us that we may learn more from the two-leggers by pretending to be "lovable." This involves coming up to the fence when they approach and pretending to enjoy having our fur rubbed. It also involves sniffing at them and emulating what Xander calls "kisses" in order to ingratiate the two-leggers. We are not at all sure about this. We think we are above such behaviours and will consider how to incorporate other means of monitoring the two-leggers.

Finally, Xander advised us that they, the goats, do not really need to be herded by us, but they let us do it so that the two-leggers are amused and call them "cute" and give them extra feed. These goats are very wily and clever. We can learn much from their example.

Cabernet, Lilly and Hazel all welcomed Rosco to SLICE.
There was some consternation among the lady llamas, because Rosco is a male llama, and all the lady llamas were batting their eyelashes and carrying on during Rosco's introduction, such that it was hard to get a word in edgewise. Rosco appears unfazed by the attention. He reported on the outside world and the same white box with wheels that Lilly had arrived in. Xander advised that this is a "truck" and it is used for transporting us, as well as our hay. We have agreed that the truck is OK since it is used to bring hay. We remain somewhat suspicious of it, but have determined that we should not continue with our planning to crush it. Rosco reports having lived at a place called a "horse shelter" but he is not a horse, and is quite sure of that, because the horses smell entirely different and have big heads and very short fleece and he has no idea how they stay warm. He also reported a conversation when he was about to be transported that he was a "good deal for fifty bucks" and that the two-leggers were "glad to give him a good home." Rosco reports that he did not see any bucks at all, nor did he see any does, or even fawns, so he has no idea where the bucks are or why anyone would want 50 of them.

Lilly wanted to say how pleased she is with her new llama friends and how much she enjoys the camaraderie with the goats. Cabernet and Hazel are thrilled that she is with them and that she is enjoying her new home. Rosco said he was very excited to be here also. Lilly also reported the arrival of four new small creatures, who appear to be somewhat goat like, but she also thinks they might be sheep.
Lilly advised that she saw them arrive and that they were very grey and smelled terrible. She reports that over a short time, they suddenly smelled much better and were transformed into white creatures. This is very interesting and needs investigation. We will have a sheep guest speaker at our next meeting to comment.

Meeting adjourned due to snow starting to get heavy. Lady llamas jostling for best snuggling position beside Rosco. Xander returned to the goat herd. All is well.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bottoms up!

I was gently amused by a blog post on Frolic n' Fibers a couple of weeks ago, which noted that llamas have very graceful bottoms. It's not very often that I specifically look at my animals' bottoms, but that post made me think about it. So today, I'm celebrating with bottoms up on the farm! Let's take a tour around the back side of the menagerie...

I'm starting with the llamas, since that is where the idea came from. Lilly wouldn't cooperate with turning away from me - she likes to keep an eye on what I'm doing. Cabernet and Hazel nonchalantly munched away while I photographed their shaggy side. Zak the goat just couldn't resist getting in the photo, so we have his spotty contribution on the right hand side. Cabernet has a slightly shaggier and wider posterior than Hazel, but both are very fluffy. I'm sure they stay nice and warm that way. Not that I wish to personally have a shaggy backside, of course.
Moving on to the goats, I got a good view of Savannah. I think it's neat the way her black tail color is repeated in the back of her legs. And she's so modest with the way she holds her tail down too. A delightful bottom indeed.
I then moved along to my roosters. And let me just say, there is a great deal of variation in the backsides of roosters. On the left, there is a lovely crele rooster. He's got the lovely curly dark tail feathers that make a fountain shape and when he walks, they sort of stream out behind him. In the middle, a Canadian chantecler rooster (one of my favorites!) and he looks like he's wearing enormous pantaloons. He's got a definite roll to his walk, and from behind, he looks a bit like a wind up toy. Then on the right, an Appenzeller Spitzhaben rooster, who is a very slim and streamlined rooster. He holds his tail very upright and you can see the distinct upside down V shape of it. No ruffles or pantaloons for that boy! We won't talk about his hairstyle today.
My gold laced cochin rooster is like a bowling ball on fluffy legs. He has the fountain tailed look of the crele, but even more pronounced. A handsome fellow indeed. The golden green sheen of those feathers is just gorgeous in the sunlight. And a very modest way to cover the nether regions.
It would be wrong to only consider the roosters, so I looked at some hens as well. They have a generally fluffier underside, which is often on fine display as they root around in the straw.
This hen has a lovely color variation in her bottom feathers. I love the way she gradually goes from the pale gold at the base up to the black of her tail. Feathers are a fabulous way to have a good looking rear view.
Our little Nigerian dwarf goat, Lotus, has just about the most dainty bottom on the farm. She has a very nice stance, with her little feet together like a model, and a perfectly groomed and fluffy behind, with the dark stripe down her back, into her poufy tail, and coordinating black furry booties on her ankles and feet. I do believe that she posed deliberately for this photograph!
On the other hand, dear Poppy wasn't at all sure about having her rear view photographed. She saw the hay coming over to the manger and was off in a flash to get her dinner. I think she might have the best tail on the farm, because it's lovely and long and fluffy and gives her such character. So with this slightly blurry view of her tail, we round out the tour of the animals.
Now please, I don't want this post to become the "butt" of any jokes!

How to give a goat a bath

Well, I haven't posted for a few days now because I've been busy with a number of things, including studying for final exams, and more importantly, giving goat baths! Early in the week I saw that the Animal Rescue League of Iowa had 4 angora goats on their "barnyard buddies" section of the adoptable pets. I check there quite regularly in case they ever have hens who need a good home, but angora goats were new to me. I called Kelly and he was excited about it - what lovely fleece they would have if we could adopt them!

So, off we went to see the great folks at the ARL. They do such good things for our community, and have a lovely new facility that is second to none. I used to volunteer at the ARL when I had more time, and then I did some fostering for them as well. Also, Rosie came from the ARL - you can see the post about her back in September 2008. Well anyway, one look at those goats and I was smitten.
There are 3 baby girls, maybe 3-4 months old, and one older adult female, maybe 3 or 4 years old. She might be their mom, or maybe not. It's a bit hard to tell because they were confiscated from a farm where they were kept in terrible conditions. Their little hooves are very soft and curled under from lack of care. They have bad lice and are a bit underweight. And, to be blunt, when we first got them....they stank to high heaven! To top it off, they looked pretty dirty. It just makes me so upset that people can do that to animals, but fortunately, there are shelters who will take them and people like us who adopt them and give them good homes. I have to console myself with those thoughts.
Anyway, since they smelled so bad, we decided to give them a bath. Since it's very cold out, it was necessary to give them a bath indoors, in our tub, of course. So, last night, we began with the first little goat. Here she is in the nice clean warm water....ready to begin!
And here she is about 5 minutes later, after one short shampoo and rinse episode. As you can see, she is not terribly pleased about this whole experience. First, she decided it would be best to add her own "bubbles" to the bath. Then, she began bleating quite regularly, and generally being very slippery and hard to hold! However, lo and behold, you can see that she is starting to change colour! (so is the bath water).
After being rinsed, it is always best to leave your mark, to show people where you've been.
The ARL gave us some great shampoo that is helping with the lice, and they lent us a super-strong blow drying unit that they use on the shelter animals when they give them a bath. This has been a tremendous help. She kept giving me little goaty kisses when I was drying her belly. She would reach up with her head and touch her nose to my chin. It was very endearing!
Here she is being fluffed up!
After being mostly dry, she got to wear our greyhound's coat for the night, and she was in our spare dog kennel in the basement, to ensure that she dried out completely before going back out to meet her siblings. I swear they didn't recognize her!
So tonight, we did the same for the potential mom goat. She was a lot worse than the babies because she had been in those conditions for much longer. She had a lot of very matted fleece and her hooves needed a lot of trimming. We will have to keep working on that to get them to a point where they are approaching "normal" hoof shape. Here is momma goat in the tub!
Unlike the kid, she decided that she preferred to lay down in the tub. That actually made it a little easier, except when it came to rinsing, because she really didn't want to stand up at all!
She had the same spa treatment with the blow dryer, and she was very calm and well behaved for the whole procedure. We had to trim a lot of the matted fur and removed a lot of burr type weed seeds and other assorted bits of grass, hay and vegetation from her fleece. She will have a beautiful fleece grow in after the spring shearing when it can start fresh. Her fleece is very fine and soft - just beautiful!
Finally, she got to wear the dog's coat and she'll be in the kennel for tonight, drying out completely. She'll go out with the young ones tomorrow morning. I'll try to take some pictures of that reunion as well. Good night goat!