Harbinger of Spring

Spring on a farm can vary – weather isn’t always predictable, sometimes there will be new animals but lately most often not – but the one constant is the need to replenish dwindling hay supplies. A few years back I would have been buying 3 to 4 times the amount of hay I now need. Fitting that much hay into the barn meant stacking hay up to the rafters. Now I can get by with only stacking three layers which means I no longer have to clamber up a stack to throw off bales to feed through a week.

Sunday morning I moved my few remaining bales of alfalfa over to the side with the grass hay to clear room for a new delivery of alfalfa. I had about 2/3 of the number of bales I expect to need delivered and thankfully help in stacking as well. I’ll get the remainder of alfalfa from another cutting and I will pick up the grass hay I need myself but I always feel better when I know I have hay in the barn.

Ready for the 2020 Hay Delivery





























First Delivery of Alfalfa

Deer, deer and more deer

I realized after watching 13 deer jump the fence in the pasture in front of the house that I had neglected to close up the barn after feeding this morning, so I ran out to make sure the deer – which were heading in the direction of the barn – did not decide hay was more palatable than the grasses and leaves.

(The new phone definitely does not have as good a camera as the old phone.)

Just Passing Through

Bring on the New

A dog is a lifetime (often 12 to 15 year) commitment and should be given at least the same amount of thought and consideration most people invest into researching a new vehicle which they are unlikely to keep as long.

When I ran a training business I encountered dog owners almost daily who were unhappy with their pets. While this was often due to a behavior problem or training issue, I also saw perceived problems that were not “fixable.” In other words, the match between dog and owner was not a good fit. When this occurred it was often due to the impulse purchase syndrome. The owner had been caught up in the all too frequent adoptathons where rescue groups are more concerned with the numbers of dogs adopted out than the compatibility of home and dog or the owner had fallen victim to the cute puppy syndrome where the owner knew that the breed didn’t match his/her requirements but wanted a puppy now rather than wait for the right dog.

While my household has often included dogs I’ve fostered that have never left, every puppy I have brought home has been the culmination of a great deal of research. While nothing in life comes with a guarantee, given that I always hope to have a dog for 15 years it is imperative that my choice is heavily weighted to result in a dog that fits well into my lifestyle, needs and home.

I have been looking for another English Shepherd since my best working dog died unexpectedly in June of 2018. I thought I might have found a potential pup in early 2019 but it didn’t work out. After several more months of searching, I finally conceded that another English Shepherd was probably not in my future.

A friend of mine breeds the very occasional litter of Australian Shepherds and in fact she sent me a lovely pup (Jet) back in 2002 who spent several years as my demo dog when I was still offering obedience classes. My friend had a litter on New Year’s Eve where the sire is a nephew of Jet and so I have purchased a ticket to fly back and spend some time in Vermont towards the end of February. With a litter of 8 puppies to choose from, I fully expect I will return with a pup.

As I know the breeder, I am in daily touch and know how the puppies are being raised. I’ve met both the sire and dam in the past, and this is a repeat litter, so I have a good expectation of how the puppies will mature. The sire and dam have both been health tested, as well as many related dogs on both sides. The maternal grand-dam of the litter is very close to Hall of Fame status and a woman back east who is highly competitive in agility has dogs from this breeder. (And on the plus side, for me, is that the tails have not been docked.) I am expecting the puppies to be moderate to high drive, biddable and athletic. The breeder is taking reservations now so if you are interested, contact me and I will forward the breeder’s information. (While there are reds, blues and blacks in this litter, the breeder will not reserve based on color.)

Thanksgiving 2019

Most of the county lost power late Wednesday/early Thursday so I am thankful for the linemen who worked during a snowstorm to restore power.

Over five inches of snow was on the ground and it was still snowing when I finally dragged myself out of the covers yesterday to face the day in a house where the heat had been off for about six hours.

My power finally was restored approximately 3:25 pm on Thanksgiving.

I am very thankful for a friend who sold me a very nice truck at less than Blue Book value when my farm truck engine blew. (I would not have gotten off my property yesterday without the 4-wheel drive.)

I am thankful for friends who invited me for turkey yesterday.

Overall, despite the major economic and emotional disasters of 2019, there really is a lot to be thankful for in the scheme of things.

The Deer are Back

I used to see deer frequently in the pasture directly in front of the house but after the fire, the deer moved on. Just within the past few weeks, I started observing deer again. When the dogs started barking the other day I looked out the window and didn’t see anything so I stepped out onto the deck. With the area behind the house now cleared, the deer are now coming up behind the house as well.

I counted five does but by the time I got my phone camera ready, one was out of sight.

The deer seem particularly fond of cottonwood leaves – both fresh and dry.

Really ready for 2020

I have been trying to clear behind the house to extend the fire break for the past few years. It has been a very slow process and so when a bulldozer operator who was working for a neighbor gave me a quote to clear a firebreak, I decided to go ahead and tap the savings account out and get it done. It turned out to be one of those good/bad decisions.

I wanted the fire break cleared to about 20 feet behind the house. I got a little (ok, a lot) more than I had asked for and the barn can now be seen from the back of the house for the first time.

I will have to deal with the slash piles but at least the piles are far enough from the house to not pose a significant fire risk.

The problem started towards the end of the day when the operator hit a water hydrant and literally pulled it out of the ground. I shut off the water (not the house well thankfully) and called a friend to see if he could repair it. After he came out the next day and fixed the hydrant I turned the water back on and went to water the chickens only to find that the water hydrant next to the chicken coop was no longer working. I then checked the hydrant next to the barn and found it also wasn’t working. I called my friend up again and asked what he thought the problem was. His best guess was that either when the bulldozer hit the first hydrant it caused a fracture somewhere in the lines underground where it connected to the line to the chicken coop or when the operator parked the bulldozer off the driveway next to the chicken coop to use the water hydrant to spray the radiator the weight of the bulldozer cracked the water line underneath it. He came back out today and found a barely discernible crack in the line a few inches from the first hydrant – which he repaired – but despite digging a couple of holes near the chicken coop where we thought the joint would be, he was unsuccessful in finding the broken water line. So now I have the added expense of having to hire a plumber to come out and dig a trench to locate the water pipe. In the meantime I am running a hose from the now repaired hydrant out to the chicken coop. Since I tapped out my savings for the bulldozer, getting the water line repaired is going to have to wait. Since this entire year has been nothing but unexpected expenses and disasters I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about this one.

I really, really hope 2020 is a less costly year.

The Desolation of Smaug

While dragons are known for their fondness for gold and jewels, they are also known for the destruction they leave in their wake. My dragon was no exception.

This photo is from a news source taken shortly after I reported the fire. (One of the fire crew later told me he was heading north to Albuquerque when he was notified and that he could see the fire in his rear view mirror from about 30 miles away.)

Within a very short time after I called 911, the first crews started responding. All told, in addition to the local volunteer fire department (I can’t emphasize enough how wonderful these people are — they train on their own time, take time off from jobs to respond to fires and pay for almost all, if not all, of their personal equipment out of their own pocket. Please support your local fire crews!!!) there were boots on the ground from both federal and state agencies.

From another news agency:

On the south east side of my property (you can see my neighbor’s house after their fence burned)

The acreage on my property that fronted the road was heavily treed with primarily tamarisk (salt cedar) and a few other tree species. Over the years I had been having it thinned out but even after several years of fairly steady cutting, it was still very thick with trees. I did have grasses and other vegetation that had gotten started where the trees had been thinned out which, because of the dry conditions, just served as tinder to the fire.

Despite the devastation, no one was injured and while my neighbor to the north lost a couple of outbuildings and the one to the south lost a privacy fence, no one lost a house. All of my animals survived.

After the fire crews left on Friday, my concern was not having a way to secure the property as the gate posts had burned and the gates could not be closed and locked. Since I live in a great community with lots of support, an acquaintance came through and located a couple of men to come out and rebuild the H-braces holding the gates. So on Saturday morning while my neighbor and I did some quick and dirty fence repair  in a couple of places on the south side of the property, two great gentlemen came out and spent a miserable day in the sun, digging out the remnants of the buried railroad ties and dropping new ties in and otherwise doing all the hard work required in building H-braces. They were quick, efficient and did a wonderful job. My stress levels dropped enormously once I could secure the property again.

The photo I had put up a couple of days ago showed the burnt post from the other side of the gate. The H-braces on both sides were replaced/repaired and the gates rehung.

Since I ran two different vehicles off my property on Friday while the gates were not functional I decided that sadly it was probably time for me to post the property. So they even kindly hung my new fence sign.

Fix Standing Guard Duty

Again, I can’t express how appreciative I am that they came out on a Saturday (and holiday weekend to boot) to help me out. (Notice the surviving tree in the background – fire is a strange beast.) At some point in the next week I will do a final blog post on the fire and will include some tips for dealing with a fire. (After two fires in the immediate area in three years I think I can offer some useful advice so hopefully it will help someone in the future.)

Feeding the Dragon – Part Four

Thursday (05/23): Tomorrow the remaining fire crews hope to be finished and plan to depart. I cannot stress enough how amazing the fire crews have been.

I interrupted the lunch of one of the fire personnel and he very kindly escorted me around the burnt areas so that I could assess the damage myself. I know that the front gate posts and connecting fencing need to be repaired / replaced and that all of the braces need to be replaced but needed to know the extent of the other fence repairs needed. While the trees and vegetation are virtually gone, the damage to the wire fence and T-posts is not nearly as bad as I had feared. It appears that most will be salvageable. The biggest problem now is actually finding someone that can do a competent job of repair and/or rebuilding the fence (and whether my insurance will cover the cost.)

I am finishing the day more optimistic than I have been since Monday evening.

I will leave everyone with two final photos:

Fall 2007

This is what the entrance to the property looked like when I first bought the property and before I did any fencing.

May 23, 2019

This photo was taken this morning from approximately the same spot.

Feeding the Dragon – Part Three

Wednesday (05/22): The days have sort of run together. It is hard to keep to a normal work schedule with the frequent breaks to talk to various fire personnel.

The residual smoke has given me a wicked headache and I can’t imagine a job where breathing in smoke is normal. Actually I can’t imagine a job fighting fires. I never considered myself particularly afraid of fire until the Escondida fire of 2016, but the sight of those flames on Monday really scared me. I have always respected the job firefighters did but my respect jumped several levels during the 2016 fire. Happily (if that is a suitable word) the fire crews this week did not disappoint. The initial responders were my local volunteer fire department and I am, again, very thankful for their dedication to the community. Fire crews from BLM and the Forestry Department also responded and everyone worked together to do a wonderful job of containment. Three days later I still have crews on the ground ensuring that the hot spots don’t flare up again in our high winds.

The fire investigators have come and gone and a report on the fire’s cause will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. I’ve been told crews will be on the property through Friday finishing up. The few trees that didn’t fall but which are obviously dead are being cut down and ash piles are being raked.

Bulldozers are still at work (this is where one of the fire breaks was bulldozed) and the fire crews will be on the ground through Friday.

The gates to the driveway are intact but unable to be used at this point. The railroad tie used as a gate post on the north gate burned and I’m not sure how the gate is still standing. (Oddly, on the south gate, the railroad tie holding the gate did not burn but the corresponding tie in the brace, probably 18 inches apart, also burned to the ground.)

And yet, the signs on the gate appear untouched.

You may notice that while some of the baling twine is still intact, other pieces melted and small bits are stuck to the metal.

Feeding the Dragon – Part Two

The fire crew called me after I left the property about bulldozing a fire break. I gave permission for them to do whatever they felt necessary and reiterated the statement that I had made when I left — I took everything necessary from the house (the dogs, my laptop and my box of paperwork) and there was nothing in the house that was worth anyone getting hurt or killed. My neighbor informed me later Monday night that the house was still standing and since I didn’t hear anything further I figured that remained the status quo. Tuesday morning (05/21) I left the dogs at my friend’s and drove back. I don’t have words to describe the devastation at the east end of the property but once I got past the last bend in the driveway and saw the house, everything was back to normal (except for the brightly colored surveyor’s tape attached to the gate posts). The bulldozed areas of the north central pasture weren’t visible unless you knew to look and the house, animal pens, etc. were all unscathed.

The power was still off so I couldn’t water livestock, but I fed and milked (I had left before milking Monday night so was expecting the two does to be full – I got a fraction of Nutmeg’s usual production and Spice, my best milker, gave me so little it wasn’t worth weighing.) After checking on things, I spoke with the electric co-op about the status of the power being restored and spoke with some of the fire crew. I then headed back to my friend’s to try and get some paying work done. By 1:30 pm the power had been restored and I packed up my laptop and the dogs and came home.

I saw many more fire crew as I drove down towards the house and stopped to speak to one who was taking extraordinary care to preserve the fence as he tried to cut out the still burning railroad tie that was part of the brace for the pasture gate.

Still burning

With the railroad tie removed. I am assuming the surveyor’s tape is to increase visibility for the fire crew so they can see the posts or other possible impediments

Fire is an odd beast – it is hard to understand why, in the midst of destruction, there are still some trees unburned or areas of ground vegetation still green.