Introducing Rowan

StockSnap_DYL2LXSRIU.jpgThis is one of the things I remember from when my daughters were newborns – being awake, unwillingly, at 3:00 a.m. and trying to shush a wide-awake and inexplicably crying newborn.  Wishing for all the world that babies were as easy to take care of as puppies.

Now my girls are seven and five, sleep through the night, and tend to their needs by themselves most of the time.  But yet, for the last few nights, there I was again.  Blearily awake in the early hours of the morning with a whining baby.  Bumbling through the darkened house.  Begging her to go potty out here and not in there.  Hoping  and praying that she’ll go right back to sleep when she’s done, so I can grab a few more blessed hours myself.

Granted, this baby is a puppy.  My wish of seven years ago come back to haunt me because, as it turns out, babies and puppies are both essentially the same level of hard at 3:00 in the morning.

RowanRowanberry (Bubblegum) the Brave.

Just plain old Rowan, if we’re feeling casual.

Rowan is the newest addition to our family and our little farm-in-the-making.  She’s a Great Pyrenees/Maremma mix puppy; commonly known and referred to as an LGD or Livestock Guardian Dog.  Like their name implies, these are dogs whose purpose in life is to guard livestock.  It’s what they’ve been bred for and done successfully for thousands of years.

Right now we’re a bit thin in the livestock department (heck, we don’t even live on the farm yet!) but we know that one day we’ll have plenty of critters for her to guard.  More importantly, and the real reason we got her, is that we have a couple of free-range children.  These dogs are naturally protective of young creatures in general, and their family in particular.  Our hope is that with Rowan on guard, we’ll be able to worry less about coyotes and cougars and bears when the girls are out playing in the woods; and I’ll feel safer at night from two-legged intruders when Jasper’s away at work.0713 rowan 2We didn’t make the decision to get Rowan lightly.  In fact, we started talking about it back in January, and put a deposit on her months before she was even born.  I’ve researched the breed voraciously, and read all I can on training these kinds of dogs.  But still I’ve been a bundle of nerves the last week.

It’s been more than a decade since I last had to train a puppy, and I’ve never had this kind of dog.  Una and Juniper are both herding dogs, and thrive on having direction and being told what to do.  Rowan is different.  For thousands of years dogs of Rowan’s breed have been expected to think and act independently.  They have been turned out among their flock and left alone to guard and protect them.

I have to remember to keep that in mind while training her.  She’s a little more like a child that way than a dog.  I’ll teach her my rules and I’ll give her the best foundation I can.  But then the rest is up to her.0713 rowanWe’ve only had her for five days, but Rowan is quickly picking up house-training and last night (despite the opening gambit of this post) she only had to go outside twice, giving me a solid five hours of sleep.  It was heaven.

She’s learned her name, and will come when called if I’m proffering the right treat.  She’s learning not to chase the chickens, and to walk on a leash.  She is not learning not to chase the cats; the cats, likewise, are not learning not to hiss at her every time they see her across the room.  She’s also not a big fan of riding in the car, which makes it hard to bring her to the farm with us.  We’ll keep trying though.

She likes to play tug of war and to nap next to us while we read.  She loves to play in the fields, and burrow under drying cut grass.  Avery and Iris throw the grass up like confetti and Rowan smiles with absolute glee as it rains down on her.

I can already tell she’s going to be a very good dog.

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A very good dog

Una

Portrait of Una by our friend, Robin Loznak

It’s summer, finally. The days are long, the nights are warm and the flowers are blooming.

I always spend a lot of time during this season watering the garden and Una, my 14-year-old border collie/blue heeler mix, likes to be there by my side. I’d like to say it’s purely because she loves me, but I know she has an ulterior motive. What Una’s really after is fresh food. She will stealthily nose among the sugar snap peas searching for plump pods to clip between her teeth and eat. She does the same thing with tomatoes, strawberries, apples, and blackberries. She only takes the ripe ones, and she only does it when she thinks I’m not looking. This isn’t the first summer I’ve gardened with Una by my side, however.  I know exactly what she’s up to, and used to chase her away with stern admonitions. But this summer, more and more, I find myself pretending not to notice.

She has, after all, spent the last ten years being an unfailingly good dog.

We got Una when she was already four years old. We were living in Roseburg at the time with four cats and a rambunctious puppy, and we hadn’t wanted or needed another pet. I don’t know what brought us to the animal shelter that day in late September, but for whatever reason we found ourselves walking down the long row of chain-link and cement-block cages and frantically barking Chihuahuas, pit bulls and lab mixes. She was sitting politely by the door of the very last cage, silent while the other dogs were loudly trying to get my attention. As soon as I laid eyes on her the hairs on my arms stood up and I heard a voice screaming in my head, “That is your dog! Get her out of that cage and bring her home!” I crouched down and stuck my fingers through the fence, and her tail thumped softly while she smelled me. She raised her bright, keen eyes to mine and gently licked me.

Without speaking, my husband and I both knew our family wouldn’t be complete without her. She knew sit, and stay, and heel – she was the most well-mannered and beautiful dog we’d ever seen. As we filled out the paperwork to take her home, we asked the attendants why no one had adopted her yet. They didn’t know. All they did know was that she’d been in the shelter a month already, picked up without a collar along a road dotted by farms and ranches, and was slated to be euthanized in the next day or two. We surmised she must have been waiting just for us, and all three smiled with relief at such a close call as we headed out the doors to home.

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Una’s first official act as our dog was to appoint herself the protector of the family. This has meant, through the years, mostly chasing neighbor cats out of the yard and barking ferociously at the UPS man. I know, however, that in her heart she is a bold, courageous and dutiful dog, and that she would not hesitate to protect us from an actual threat. Just a few months ago Avery, my oldest daughter, went to help a neighbor wash his car while I watched from my porch. Una didn’t know the man, and she was not comfortable with him and Avery being so close together without me there. She flew down the street and positioned herself between them – eyes flashing and snarling menacingly at our poor neighbor – and herded Avery home.

Despite being a good dog, Una isn’t always a perfect dog.  She is sometimes distant and proud.  We refer to her as our “schoolmarm” because she cannot abide it when people or other animals have too much noisy fun. She has garnered a reputation as a connoisseur of kitty litter and dirty diapers. More than once in our many years with her, she has come home from an adventure in the woods caked in mud and swamp sludge, and reeking of something long dead. She is most affectionate after killing and eating rodents and snakes – she’ll climb onto our laps, look deep into our eyes and attempt to French kiss us. And of course she has that sly propensity to pluck and eat the ripe vegetables in the garden before I’ve had a chance to.

I’ve been mad at her more times than I can count, but there have been many more times when I felt like she was the only real friend I had in the world.  When I was a new mother and suffering from post-partum depression, she would unfailingly lick the tears rolling down my cheeks while I cried into her fur in the early hours of the morning. She’s listened patiently as I’ve told her my dreams, my ideas, my fears.  Like all good dogs, she never judges. Sometimes, after rooting in the litterbox or barking excessively for no good reason, I remind her how lucky she is that I decided to go to the shelter that day so many years ago. I say it, even though I know for a fact that I’m the real lucky one.

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This is Una’s fourteenth summer, and more than likely her last good one. Despite the warm temperatures, her arthritis has begun flaring up. She is stiff and her joints creak alarmingly when she gets up from the floor. Opaque clouds are blooming in her eyes and the black spots on her muzzle and ears have suddenly started turning grey. She doesn’t go on long expeditions in the forest anymore, preferring to nap in a sunny spot close by the house.

These days, while picking peas or any of the other fruit Una likes, I always make sure to drop a handful on the ground for her to find. She gobbles them up with gladness, and I am happy to give them. I know that summer and its fruit, like the life of a good dog, won’t last long.

Or at least not nearly long enough.

(Originally published in The Daily Astorian on 06/24/2016)

Another Nest

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Image by Andreas Eichler

“I don’t know if you know this, but somebody else is already living in your house,” our builder said to us.

Eyebrows raised quizzically, I looked at him.

“The barn swallows,” he said, gesturing to the shimmering orange and blue streaks in the air.  “They built a nest overnight!”

And sure enough, there is a little mud-daubed cup near the ceiling in the living room of the new farmhouse.  It is not lost on me that they are building a home to safely raise their children in the same place we are building one to raise our own.  As different as we are, our goals are essentially the same.  Our dreams not that dissimilar.

Still, I know the nest will have to go soon.  Before the swallows lay their eggs, before the windows are installed and the ways in and out are closed to them, I will have to climb up and carefully pry it from the wall.  It’s the kindest thing I can do.  But, for a little while longer anyway, I will stand transfixed and watch the pair dip and swoop through the empty rooms and the unfinished walls.

Energy and graceful half moons in the air; little prayers of hope on the wing.

Notes | 6.27.17

0627 cherry0628 eggsI watched Cherry, our Rhode Island Red, lay her first egg today.  The poor thing looked absolutely bewildered.  She wasn’t even lying down when she laid the egg, she was sort of crouching and grunting (sorry for that bit of imagery, but that is some real-life chicken doings for you).  Wilhelm Von Cocklespurs, on the other hand, was downright jubilant.  He perched on the railing right next to her and crowed and warbled as if he had something to do with it.

Including Cherry’s, I found three eggs today.  They scoff at the nice nest box with the clean and comfortable hay in it that I put up for them.  They prefer cat beds and places unknown.

What’s Up? Chicken Butt!

eggsI’ve got eggs again!

The four Ameraucana pullets started laying!  These pullets were born on January 11th or so, so they aren’t quite five months old yet.

My three older hens – Flower, Coco and Amelia Cordelia – also resumed laying after a bout of coccidiosis.  I noticed that something was wrong about two months ago when these three would spend their afternoons huddled by the back patio door.  At first I thought it was just because the weather was so awful, but it continued even after the weather improved.  Then I began to see that their wattles were pale, they stopped laying, and their backsides were covered in diarrhea.  First, I quarantined them and treated with Pig Swig per the local farm store’s advice.  That seemed to help perk them up a little, but about two weeks later they were back to lethargic and pale.  I decided after that to treat the whole flock with Corid (amprolium) for a week, and that did the trick!  The old gals were back to perfect health!

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But while I’ve got eggs again, I also don’t have eggs.

Confused?  I was, too.

See, with the hens and the oldest pullets laying, we should be getting 7 eggs a day.  Even assuming that not all the hens will lay an egg every day, I should still be getting at least four eggs a day.  But I’m not.  I’m getting maybe two eggs a day, three if I’m lucky.  I wondered if they were laying in the woods or the long grass somewhere and I just wasn’t finding the nests.  But, no.  It’s worse than that.

They’re eating the eggs.

Most of the egg eating is happening in the early morning, inside the coop.  The pullets are laying on the ground, and the shells of the eggs are pretty thin at this point.  I’m going to try getting up earlier (maybe around 5:30?) to let them out and hopefully collect any early-morning eggs and see if that helps; I’m also going to install a new nest box and put out some dummy eggs to try to discourage pecking.  I don’t want to cull any chickens, especially since I suspect they’re ALL doing it, so I’m going to be trying all the tricks I can find to nip this in the bud.

What do you guys think?  Does anyone have any suggestions to stop egg eating?

Nest Watch: Sad and Happy Things

0523 nest.jpgThings are always happening on the farm.  Plants and animals are growing, the house is coming along, the grounds are getting cleared.  Every day there are new things to discover.

Sadly, they’re not always good things.

Nest Watch 2017 is over.  The starling chicks are dead.  I hadn’t checked on them for more than a week for fear of scaring the mother, so I don’t know when it happened.  One of the chicks was tiny, the size of when it hatched, and it was stuffed down through the nest materials clear at the bottom of the box.  The other two were much bigger and starting to feather, their abdomens nice and plump, but dead nonetheless.  I can only guess that something happened to the mother bird, and the two big babies just got too cold.  A sorry end, even if they were starlings.

Happily though, things are not all sad, either.

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We found another nest, this one overflowing with healthy baby robins!

This nest is built in the unfinished doorway of the chicken coop.  It’s a pretty good spot as the coop is empty for now, and the branches of the cedar shade it and keep it from getting rained on.  And I’m thankful that this is a robin’s nest because they make new nests each year instead of reusing old ones.  Now I won’t feel bad when we have to knock it over to finish up the coop.

These sweet babes are fully feathered and ready to fledge, and hopefully all will be well for them.  It’s a tough world out there for little birds.  And for the people who watch them, too.