Friday, December 26, 2008

Say “Cheese”

Christmas Eve had finally arrived. It was time. Tom gathered up his nerve and bravely ventured down into the dark, scary basement to retrieve the item of so much curiosity and discussion during the past few months. We are talking, of course, about the Blue Stilton cheese that we have been aging in the downstairs refrigerator.

An annual tradition in our household during the holidays is to sit down with a wedge of English Stilton and a glass of port. Stilton is not easy to find in this country, and when you do, it is expensive. It’s a rare treat reserved for the holidays. One year, the entire wedge disappeared from its plate on the coffee table, after an unfortunate lapse in household security. That year, we discovered that Stilton is irresistible to dogs, who will cheerfully fight you for it.

It seemed silly to us to have such an abundant supply of fresh cream and milk and still buy Stilton. So, with the kind assistance of our friend, Pamela, we set out to make our own. The entire process is fairly complicated. But once the whey drains from your freshly created raw cheese, it is placed in a cool area to age and the horror begins. There are really no words to adequately describe the aging process, except to suggest that somewhere in the attic there was probably a portrait of a cheese getting younger. The molding object resembled a cheese corpse. In aging Stilton, you know you are on the right track if it smells like garbage. But you can’t be absolutely positive because garbage smells like garbage, too. Cutting into the cheese and actually eating it requires the suppression of several natural instincts that would otherwise cause you to back away, poke it with a stick or replace your entire refrigerator.

But we persevered. Armed with a knife, a box of Triscuits and a moderate amount of alcohol (for courage), we cut into our cheese and inhaled. We were rewarded with the aroma of a landfill on a hot summer’s day. But the taste was beautiful and we have, in fact, managed to produce a true Stilton. We haven’t perfected it, yet. We did not achieve the deep blue veining that a fully mature cheese should have. It probably would have benefited from aging an extra month, or from slightly higher curing temperatures. But this year, we will be sitting down to enjoy a Stilton produced on our farm, using milk from our own cows and a mold species that we actually invited.

We hope you had a Merry Christmas, too.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Looking Back - Looking Forward

Thank you to everyone who sent us cards and greetings for the holiday season. Our cards are still on the dining room table waiting to be written, addressed and sent. Not that we don't think of our family and friends at this time, on Christmas Day more than ever this year we will be toasting "Absent family and friends" and wishing them health and happiness in the New Year.

At this time of the year it is customary to look back at the events and draw conclusions for the future. Well, not much to write about there - financial world went a sleazy trick too far and the world went to hell in a hand basket! But, you can sigh with relief, that is not the theme of this post. Looking back over two Christmas's to when we first bought the farm, and the ups and downs of farm life for two farming novices since then has been a major eye-opener. Sure, we had come from a small farm and a 100 year-old Virginia farmhouse in northern Virginia, with a few horses, two barns and a pond, but that doesn't prepare you for doubling the acreage and number of horses, adding hens, sheep and, finally, bred cows. Not to mention the sundry cats and dogs, both family and inherited with the farm, the run down barns and windows hanging by a thread! Just an everyday story of homesteading, with a horse rescue thrown in for good measure. Ohh, and Jorg was working full time 2 hours away, and I was still being a hot shot consultant occasionally with my old Company (thank you Sue).
Triskelion Farm was born, and we came to appreciate a lot of the grumbles that farmers have, and the time and energy needed just to keep pace with the daily work. However, nothing worth doing, or having, comes easy, and the value in the healthy life style alone is imeasurable. The quiet, and less costly, elements of rural living were key reasons for moving here. But there are many other benefits, and whatever the uncertain future might bring embracing a farming way of life was a good move. Of course that is not what I said on Monday when the thermometer said 19 degrees (F not C!), the milker wouldn't work, and I had neglected to take the hoses off the standpipes and switch on the trough heaters! Nothing brings you down to earth quicker than 18 buckets and five troughs needing the services of a strong right arm and a hammer to break through the ice. That, and the fact that we were supposed to be going to North Carolina to pick up Priscilla the new mini-Jersey. Bad words were said in abundance, but everything was accomplished, albeit later than expected and Priscilla was duly lodged in her new temporary quarters prior to being introduced to Bessie and Rosebud (more of Priscilla in our next post).

Virginia weather is being particularly contrary this Winter, with more rain than we have had in two years (it seems like) and a range of temperatures from unseasonally high to the current lows. But, and it is a big but, we seem to be a pocket of tranquility compared to large parts of the rest of the US, so we have little to complain about really. Of course if I had been better prepared.........

So we see out another year with a range of new skills, and probably a healthier body than for many a year. It's been interesting and rewarding, and we wouldn't have it any other way. We are looking forward to what 2009 might bring with some trepidation, but also with a lot of hope, and we hope that all of you have a happy, healthy and safe New Year.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Congratulations Jon and Rosie - December 12th, 2008

All is not doom and gloom, there are good things to announce as well. On Friday 12th December my eldest son Jon, marries his long time partner Rosie in Mullingar, Westmeath, Ireland. Jorg and I would love to be there and join in with the celebration (and the craic will be awesome) but raising a glass (or two) here will have to suffice.

As I have said before, our children never really get older than teenagers in our minds, and as I have a hard job identifying the old visage I see in the mirror every morning, imagining Jay (as I still think of him from childhood) as a responsible adult is just as difficult! So Rosie gets our special thoughts today in taking on his hopeless pranks - like climbing out of his bedroom window and escaping to the pub (served him well in his rock climbing years, the wall not the pub - OK, maybe the pub as well!); picking up a bale of hay (from a load that had come off a tractor trailer in the road) and shoving it in the back of a friend's car so that Claudia could play horse games in the garden, and I then had to collect them from the local police station; making Claudia climb the 15 foot sea wall at the end of the Coastguard Cottages gardens if she wanted to play with him and Ben; picking him up after he got the sailing boat "Skipper" pushed into Cork Harbour by the tide (possibly the largest natural harbour in Europe!) trying to impress a girl with his sailing prowess. OK, that's probably enough marriage-day humiliation.

So Jonathan, good father and significant other, congratulations on finding a wonderful partner and wife in Rosie; and Rosie, congratulations on selecting my outstanding eldest son for your husband and life partner. May you have a day to remember and a long and loving marriage.

May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields.
And until we meet again, May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.
(Irish Blessing).

All our love to you both, and to Aoife and Alex (and not forgetting Amy) from Jorg and I.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Annie Goes Home



Today was a big day in the short life of Annabelle Lee. After lots of chin scratches and advice about how to get along in the big old world (from Annie), she went to live with her new Mom, Pamela. Annie, as you remember, was the star of the video taken on July 18, in which she appeared seconds after her birth, and the calf who caused us such consternation when she refused to nurse from her mom.
The girls have been eating solid food for months now, and had been put up at night away from their moms. This past week, amid much bellowing and crying (ours, mostly), we separated them from their moms for good. So, they were fully weaned in preparation for this important step into adolescence. In the photos, Annie steps bravely into the trailer that will take her to her new home. Okay, maybe not too bravely, as step two took about 5 minutes, but she got there in the end.

There is nothing in the world more appealing than these tiny fawn-colored calves, and nothing more lovable than one raised with a bottle. It would be tempting to keep them all. But we know this isn’t feasible, and we also know that Annie’s loving personality will brighten the lives of her new family and everyone else who meets her.

On Monday, our newest canine resident, Cassie, went to visit the nice folks at Ridge Animal Hospital for some reproductive reorganization. As much as we love this little dog, we know that the shelters are overflowing with dogs just as sweet, and that bringing more of them into the world is just irresponsible. Thanks to Dr. Gates, Cassie sailed through her surgery and is now ready to enjoy a life free of heat cycles and aggravation.

And the winner of the contest to find Mr. Right is: “Son of Fat Louie” owned by Fonnie Thoman! Aside from the fact that we just love his name, this good-looking guy is everything we were looking for in a potential dad for our next calves. He is tiny (39 inches), refined, has a good temperament, and most important, is completely unrelated to Bessie and Rosebud. This last attribute isn’t as simple to find as you’d think, as the American Miniature Jersey Association Registry contains only about 700 members. So we have a call into the AI technician, some champagne chilling in the refrigerator and the complete collection of Barry Manilow ready to pop into the CD player.

We are hoping to introduce them (in a sort of clinical sense) in December. In the meantime, we will hang pictures of him in the girls' stalls and tell them stories about his feats of bravery and daring, while emphasizing that he is also very sensitive and a good listener.


Photo of Son of Fat Louie by Fonnie Thoman.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

'Tis the Season


I’m not talking about Thanksgiving, which is known by its other name in the UK: “We Finally Got Rid of Those Troublemakers Day.” I am talking about Charitable Giving Season. So, I am going to take a moment (or maybe longer) to explain why you might want to consider our organization in your seasonal giving.

The White Bird Appaloosa Horse Rescue is a non-profit (501c3) organization that Tom and I founded in 2003. Before then, we had been involved in the rescue of companion animals, serving as rescue transporters. Just before Christmas 2002, a plea for help came across one of the Internet rescue lists we monitored. A family in southwest VA had lost their farm, and their two horses were without a place to go. The mare and gelding had been bred by this family and owned for 23 and 24 years, so this was devastating to them. After a discussion with the owner, we decided that we could take them in. So, the owners drove for four hours to deliver the pair to us the day after Christmas. The family was in tears over having to part with them, but some of those tears were tears of relief. PJ and Heather are shown in the photo above, which also includes our friend Cody Perry.

Up to that point, Tom and I had been fairly oblivious to the problems faced by horses and their owners in this country. Unlike those for companion animals, emergency shelters for horses are few and far between. That’s because horses take space, money, a lot of work and a specialized knowledge of equine behavior and disorders. You can’t just drive them to the SPCA and drop them off (not that we encourage that). So those without a place to go are often neglected by their owners in their own back yards, or worse, passed along until they end up in the hands of kill buyers, who then sell them to slaughterhouses. The White Bird Appaloosa Horse Rescue was created to provide emergency shelter for horses in urgent need, to provide medical, dental and hoof care, and to find them loving homes or permanent sanctuary. We decided to specialize in Appaloosas because we know and love them and because we felt that it was efficient to have a single point of contact between those needing to surrender these horses and the people looking for them. We have taken in many breeds, though, because our real priority is the need of the horse.

This year, like many charities, we are bracing for the fallout from the weak economy. We are receiving many calls from people who have lost their jobs or farms and cannot afford to keep their horses. At the same time, people worried about their finances have been more reluctant to donate money to charitable causes, so donations for the coming year will be less, while operating costs have continued to rise. For us, these are primarily feed, bedding and veterinary care. This rescue would never have managed to accomplish what it has without the support of many people. This past year, we were granted permanent non-profit status by the IRS, which was quite an accomplishment that we owe to many, many individuals. I am asking now for our friends who read this blog or have visited our rescue and met our horses to consider making a tax deductible contribution to help us continue rescuing urgent need horses through these difficult times.

It doesn’t need to be a lot to make a difference. For example:

$13.00 buys one bag of feed.
$15 will medicate a Cushing’s horse for a month
$20 will provide one hoof trim (this needs to be done every 6 weeks)

And its easy to do. Donations can be mailed to:

White Bird Appaloosa Horse Rescue
1688 Burkes Tavern Road, Burkeville, VA 2322

or Sent via Paypal to: wingsofangels57@yahoo.com
A convenient “donate” button is located on our web site at: www.whitebirdapps.com for this purpose.

White Bird is an approved member of the Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign, so state employees can designate donations through their paychecks, tax free. We are Charity #3388.

White Bird is also an approved charity of the Combined Federal Campaign of the National Capitol Area, and the Combined Federal Campaign, Central Region, so federal employees in these areas can donate the same way.

There are so many horses who need our help. But while you are munching on your holiday goodies, you’ll know that a horse in need has a dry stall and a full belly and that you’ve helped to make that possible. On behalf of our horses, we thank you for your kindness and support over the past five years.

Tom and Jorg

(Photo by Tom. When the horses arrived, we discovered that PJ, in addition to partial blindness and arthritis, also had a large squamous cell cancer that needed surgery. This photo was taken at the Middleburg Equine Hospital, where the wonderful Dr. Adams surgically removed it. Heather was there to keep him company). video

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What We've Learned - A Synopsis of the Summer


Having reached the end of our first season of attempting greater self-sufficiency, we have learned a number of useful things. We are passing them along in the hope that others will be encouraged by the knowledge that there are people out there who are even more inept than they are. We hope you find these observations helpful.

Calves are often born with their eyes open. While you can’t help thinking how creepy this is, it’s also helpful to consider that we must look like aliens to them, too. Also, calves that are bottle fed, like Annie, view humans in a very different way than naturally raised calves. As suckers. But in Annie’s case, we were fortunate. Mom Bessie taught her herd manners, so we ended up with the best of both worlds- a friendly calf with a high level of respect for both people and cows. Important lesson: keep a bottle on hand if your cow is due to freshen.

The Stilton cheese that we have been curing for several months is starting to look a little less objectionable. We went into the home cheese-making business with high hopes and low skill levels. Once we got past the idea that the stinky, moldy object in the downstairs refrigerator was not in any way like the similar-looking stinky, moldy objects that we have been routinely throwing out, we settled down into a comfortable routine of reminding each other to turn the cheese daily, while forgetting to do it, ourselves. We are now preparing to drive holes into the cheese, in order to encourage the blue mold to grow deeper into the interior. This is something we normally try to prevent in our food. We’ve discovered that pretty much everything you do with raw milk is counterintuitive. Once the cheese has reached a stage of ripe perfection, one of the dogs will probably find it.

We can, indeed, live without credit card balances. We undertook this step in order to preempt what we are predicting will happen next in this fascinating economy: credit card companies will lower available credit limits, which will raise the balance-to-credit ratio, which will lower credit scores, which will then increase interest rates. Since we don’t want to provide any more corporate reptiles with golden parachutes, we just won’t provide them the opportunity to finance them. My apologies to all actual reptiles, who fill a useful environmental niche, for the comparison to investment company CEOs.

Aged horses might benefit from increased protein levels. We’re kind of proud of this one. Most senior horse feeds contain lower protein levels in order to be kind to the less robust kidneys of senior horses. But horses are individuals and some will need more to keep fit. We increased the protein fed to two horses using soy meal and while the result was inconclusive with one horse, it was startling in the other. We are constantly looking for ways to better care for rescued horses and this is another good tool in the arsenal. The horses are trying to convince us that lots of apples will work even better.

Your loved ones will eat even really bad cookies if you make them.

England losing a Rugby match might cause transient amnesia. We are not sure, though.

A lot of intelligent people are growing their own food. We are not them, but we have met some wonderful people who have graciously shared their knowledge and talent.

A puppy’s breath still smells really sweet even at about six months old.

You have to consider carefully which you love more in your garden: the sight of black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, or dill. You won’t have both.

We wished we’d tried some of our cost-saving measures a long time ago.

Peppers are the easiest vegetables to freeze. Really fresh vegetables are beautiful.

Chickens will eat things that no other creature on earth would eat.

Even sore, grouchy cows will ultimately consent to being milked if you are gentle and patient. Corollary: even neophyte milkers will figure it all out with a patient cow and a good coach- and a milker that works when you turn it on.

We are probably never going to learn how to do everything perfectly, or even well. We will never completely understand everything, either.

There will come a time when you will look back at lost loved ones and smile, even if you think that day will never come. We’ve said a lot of “good-byes” this year.

It never has been about getting everything you want. It’s about valuing what you have.

Detecting when cows are in heat is impossible. Bessie and Rosebud are snickering and making fun of us when we aren’t looking. It's gotten completely humiliating. Bovine husbandry is a humbling pursuit.

Random Jottings


Winter came hard on the heels of a warm wind here. Well I know by US standards freezing is not cold, it's just us wimpy Brits who think more than two days of low temperatures is a new ice age! But still, when a northerly wind cuts like ice and the troughs start freezing over, I am thankful for my all-in-one quilted overall and can (sort of) laugh at the elements. As a Billy Connolly joke goes "........... there's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes"! Our older residents get nice warm blankets as well, and it is time for their "soup" to be served hot. In fact Sunny, Jorg's old riding horse, keeps dipping his nose into his cold mash and raising the horse equivalent of an eyebrow in disgust. Mea culpa, but we still don't have the flash heater I bought a year ago fixed up in the tack room - it is next on the list!

The fall leaves are mostly in the yard now, and it still astonishes me how dead the trees always look in winter over here. Maybe it is because there are so many, or the types of trees, but I never remember my homeland trees looking quite so desolate over the winter. I am always surprised, and very pleased, when they spring back into life again.

Our new puppy, Cassie, is proving to be an absolute gem. Well apart from an ethernet cable, my beard trimmer, the back of my cell phone, and sundry tights and stockings (Jorg's not mine!) that is. I had forgotten what having a small child around the house is like. Move everything four feet above the floor until the difference between chewing toys and personal possessions is learnt! However, this is a bright little dog and anxious to learn. She watches everything that is going on and really only gets into mischief when left to her own devices - silly us! I have always wanted a dog that would be a companion, especially around the farm, and she has every sign of being that dog. Once I can get her to remember that, while the other dogs don't mind her seizing them by the leg, a horse might!

We have been putting up with the "desperate" sounds of mothers and calves separated at night, prior to full weaning. Goodness knows what we will have to put up with when we finally separate them for good. Apart from finding a suitable place on the farm out of sight (although probably not out of sound!) of each other, it will put a strain on our "soft" hearts to hear them missing each other. Talk about the children leaving home, this is way worse! (Sorry kids, only fooling!)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Happy Birthday Alice - Twenty-one

Graduation with Jorg

Wedding with Dad

Alice with Emma

My youngest daughter, Alice, is twenty-one today. Although I had already passed my parental responsibilities on to her husband, Jimmy, two years ago this December, it is still a poignant moment to see one's children pass into formal adulthood. I'm not sure how significant a date it is these days as there is little that Alice has not been able to do before the "key of the door". Married and with her own little responsibility, Emma; taking college courses part-time and working; and making a home with her husband. Great responsibilities at a young age, and with so much of life still to come. My other four children, Alice's half siblings, two boys and two girls are well into adulthood, but I worry for their well being, especially in such troubled times. Of course I find it hard to imagine they can survive without constantly being told what to do, but they all seem to have made their niches in life. Alice, I am sure, will make hers as she, like me, adapts to her country of choice, by bringing to it a British perspective. If I was to give any advice (and I'm not sure I am all that qualified) it is that we pass this particular way only once, so make the most of opportunities, be true to oneself, and treat the world as you would wish to be treated yourself. The following is one of those Hallmark card type of sayings but has always appealed to me:

Dance like there's nobody watching
Love like you'll never get hurt
Sing like there's nobody listening
Live like it's heaven on earth
And speak from the heart to be heard.

Happy Birthday sweetheart, enjoy the day.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A New Dawn?

Relax this is not a political post, and we do not espouse political ideology of any variety on the blog. But it would be a nonsense not to reflect on, regardless of your political color, the momentous occasion that we saw tonight. Here were two adversaries the one, gracious and statesmanlike in defeat, offering the hand of bipartisan support; the other equally statesmanlike, accepting it and offering a path to uniting a troubled country in trying and difficult times. A defining moment in US history, that I am sure struck a chord across a world that has been less than receptive to the America of the last few years.

This is not a time for triumphalism, or sackcloth and ashes. As we have commented in previous posts, life is going to be difficult for a while and whoever had won the Presidency was going to have a rough ride. Being able to put aside differences and work together is going to be the key to success. If that also makes for a successful President,whose political philosophy you disagree with, then so be it. After all Presidents come and go! But to make this great country both strong and respected once again will take the combined efforts of those who are the engine room of the USA - the American people.

We rejoice at the opportunity presenting itself, along with all the millions of citizens who made this night possible, and who represent the wonderful kaleidoscope of ethnic and cultural ancestry that make up the United States of America.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Of Ghoulies and Ghosties!


'Tis the Season!

While there is probably nothing scarier than the current economic crisis, or maybe registering your vote on a touch screen and finding it decided you voted for A.N.Other instead of the way you wanted, I thought we needed some light relief for this post. All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saint's Day, is traditionally the time for tricking and treating and, of course, ghost stories. So I will indulge you with my favorite little campfire story. Turn down the lights, put a blanket over your knees and hug a hot cup of chocolate.

There is a road in Ireland with a reputation for mysterious disappearances. It's said that on Autumn evenings when the sun has set, and the mist rolls in the dark figure of a man with no face patrols the road to catch unwary souls and take them from this life. Oh bosh, I hear you say, but I know it is true. Some years ago I was traveling through Ireland around this time of the year and, as is my wont, stopped at an Inn for lunch. Well, Irish hospitality being what it is, on a cold wintry day and the company being good, it was a good few hours before I was on my way again. Well, it so happened that the quickest way back to my hotel was over a mountain pass on the road with the ghostly reputation. As I was feeling no pain by this time I set off cheerfully enough and was soon heading for the crest of the pass, when a dense mist came down and my car spluttered to a halt. Turning the key nothing happened and it seemed I was stranded. Nothing for it but to start walking and hope someone else might be using the road this night. I had walked (somewhat unsteadily!) for a while and, reaching the top of the hill and in the clear for a moment, I could see the lights of a small town some distance away in the valley below. Well that was a relief, at least I wasn't totally lost, and I smiled at the thought of a hot meal and a nightcap. As the lights faded away once more as I walked down the hill and entered the mist again, I thought about the ghostly legend and a shiver ran down my back. Just then I heard a noise behind me and, turning, saw the lights of a truck coming down the hill. Perhaps my journey to the town will be quicker than I expected, and I waved my thumb in the age old gesture. The truck stopped as it came abreast of me and the passenger door opened. In the darkness I could make out a dark hooded figure staring at the road ahead, and indicating I should hop in. Thankful for the lift i flopped into the seat and gushed away with my thanks as the old truck picked up speed in the mist. The driver said nothing, and I prattled on about my car breaking down and having to walk, and the ghost story of the man with no face at which point the figure turned to me and said "Like mine"..............................!

Enjoy your Halloween and watch out for the ghoulies and ghosties!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gimme' Shelter


Last week, while preparing to leave for work, I happened to look out of our bedroom window and glimpsed a small brown figure next to my truck. In the early light, it was just possible to make out the slight figure of a dog, rooting around for food. It was obvious even from a distance that this dog had missed a few meals.

Stray dogs are a common sight in rural Virginia. Whether for economic reasons, cultural reasons, educational reasons, or all of these, people are less likely to spay or neuter their dogs here than in more urban areas, or to properly care for the dogs they own. Some will simply dump dogs that they no longer want, rather than take them to one of the few overworked shelters. One previous visitor was dropped literally at our doorstep, and this one may have been, too.

As soon as our latest visitor saw us, she retreated in terror under the truck, refusing to come near us. Recognizing her malnourished state, Tom placed a handful of dog food in a bowl and left it near the truck. No movement. So, Tom went inside and we watched, and within a few minutes, our guest was wolfing down the food. Next he took her some water, and again after leaving for a few minutes, she crept out and drank all of it.

We decided that we needed to know more about our guest, in order to determine what to do next. So I walked out slowly, and crouched down about 20 feet from the truck and called out to her in a low voice. The dog was clearly terrified and she let out a warning “woof” that was not quite believable. Her eyes were wide with panic and she trembled with fear. But after a few minutes, she crept, nearly on her belly and shaking every step of the way, up to my outstretched hand. Once she came close enough, I was able to reach under her chin and stroke her face. Her eyes nearly closed and she literally sank with relief that I wasn’t going to hurt her. She curled into me like a long-lost friend. At this point, I could see that this was a young dog, no more than 6 months old (later verified by her teeth). Other than her general ribiness, she appeared to be healthy and not quite her ultimate adult size.

I abandoned any hope of making it to work on time. Tom and have a background in companion animal rescue and we are familiar with the many resources for finding lost dog ads. I called the County Animal Shelter, the local
SPCA, checked Craigslist, the local papers, and several Internet lost pet sites. Apparently, no one was looking for a lost adolescent mixed breed female dog in Burkeville. So, I posted “found” announcements in all these same resources. Within an hour, I had calls from two sad people looking for lost members of their family. There is little more heartbreaking than knowing that your pet may be in harm’s way and being unable to locate him or her. I really felt for them and wished them both luck.

So, now we have Cassie, short for Cassandra (Tom’s name). Cassie has discovered that we are nice, we have food and we can be trusted. It took no more than half an hour for her natural exuberance and joie de vive to outweigh her initial fear. She loves attention and will follow us anywhere. While we are waiting for her owners to come forward (though people aren’t exactly falling all over themselves out here to claim stray dogs), we will make sure that she is treated for parasites, vaccinated, and spayed. We will teach her to sit, lead and behave in the house. If no one claims her, we will try to place her in an adoptive home. If anyone asks, we will tell them that she is an Appaloosa Dog. One of the best things about unregistered dogs is that they can be any breed you want.

But we are realistic about the number of companion animals that are now in harm’s way because of the economy, and the relatively few homes available for them. Household pets were among the earliest casualties of the wave of foreclosures to hit much of the country. In rural areas, where animals are dispensable even in easy times, many are at risk and many more will lose their homes in the impending recessional economy. Cassie was very lucky in finding help when she most needed it and her willingness to trust people even over great fear may have saved her life. After a week, she is back to being a normal, cheerful puppy who just needs affection, regular meals and a few more lessons in housebreaking.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Blind Horses

We recently had an inquiry about an Appy that a private rescue had taken in, and who was being a difficult keeper. They had said that she had "moon blindness" in one eye but it seemed that more was going on to make so difficult to handle, and appear so nervous in the stall. Jorg responded to the rescuer and I thought that it was such an excellent summary of the issues to do with blind horses that I am putting it verbatim on the blog. This is what she wrote:

"What you are describing is a functionally blind horse. Appaloosas are about eight times more likely than other horses to develop equine recurrent uveitis (ERU) at some time in their lives. The disorder is a booger to diagnose because it doesn't impact one organ in the eye, rather it affects a larger area generally called the uvea. The eyes can appear pretty normal on examination, but still have suffered a lot of damage from flare-ups caused by allergies, stress, genetics, etc. So the vet might have difficulty determining the degree of damage - it's fairly subtle and we've had a lot of vets miss it, or more commonly, misjudge the severity.

There are probably several things going on here. First, owners lie :). But in these cases, the owners often don't know the extent of their horse's vision loss because he or she is acting perfectly normal at home. In their own backyards, horses are very adept at memorizing where everything is. But when you move them to a new location, you get the reaction you are describing. All of a sudden, they are anxious, running into things and going ballistic. We have learned that the statement "some vision left" by an owner actually means "probably none." I suspect your girl is at the "shapes and blobs" stage. In other words, in a bright light, she can make out the location of large objects. But in dim light (like a barn or in a stall), she can see virtually nothing. That's why they call this "moon blindness" - in low light, they lose light and dark contrast
, but can still see during the day.

There are some things to look for that will help you evaluate where she is:

1. When walking into a shadow from a bright light, does she try to step "into" the shadow, or look as if she is gingerly walking over the line? If so, the shadow appears black to her and she cannot see anything at that light level.

2. When walking her, does she seem to rely a little heavily on what you are telling her to do, rather than relaxing and being able to see for herself?

3. In dim light, are her movements jerky or hesitant? We know she is running into things, which is another cue.

4. Try turning her on her hind feet. Does she seem a little unbalanced? This
could indicate a more severe vision loss.

5. When walking towards the gate, does she see the gate, or will she just walk into the fence? This is a "shapes and blobs" distinction.

6. Does she have scrapes, cuts or hairless patches? These are all indicators of running into things she can't see
, and hairless strips on the back of her hind legs indicate that she is being bullied and is unable to defend herself.

7. Does she frequently tilt her head, as if she is listening intently? This is a symptom of profound blindness and means she has begun to rely more on her sense of hearing than her vision.

We have several of these horses at the moment and have had many in the past. The vast majority of them will settle down, once they get their bearings. If it is really a vision problem, it's not the stall she is fearful of, it's the inability to see in dim light and the fact that she has no clue where she is. She's just frightened. While sighted horses dislike being left alone, blind horses are even more anxious and they need reassurance that other horses are near. If she is a little high strung to begin with, or the onset of the condition has been sudden or recent (likely, at her age), this will add to her anxiety. Here are some suggestions for handling her:

1. Put her in the brightest light you can find. Outside is, indeed, easier on her than inside, if you can do this. Can you light up her stall with a bright light? Does she calm down when you do?

2. Fences should be solid and easily visible. No barbed wire (not recommended for horse paddocks anyway). Paddocks should be free of tripping hazards, guy wires and especially low hanging branches. Walking the paddock is just (even more) important with a blind horse as with a sighted one).

3. In new paddocks, putting vinegar in the water trough will help her find it until she memorizes the location. Navigating stalls and small paddocks should be learned within a week or two and she should stop running into things so often.

4. ERU can be painful and many horses will show tearing, will squint, or will clench their eyelids. Flare-ups can be controlled or lessened with powdered aspirin (cheap at Valley Vet) added to their food. Severe flare-ups can be treated with steroid ophthalmic ointment or atropine. This also prevents further damage to the eyes. Fly masks will help protect against wind and mUV radiation and will also protect her head if she hits something. Just feeling better will help her attitude.

5. Try to find a gentle pasture buddy. This often takes several trials with different horses, and we've learned to test them over the fence, first. Blind horses are easily picked on and can be brutalized by a bully. Minis usually work really well for this. If she is attached to the other horse she came in with, this is one reason why- she's learned to depend on him and worries when he is not there.

There are a couple of rescues out there that specialize in blind horses.
We have a good setup here, but we can only keep a limited number of these guys at a time because they must be kept separate from the bigger herds. They do far better in groups of two, or at most, three. At the moment, we have three horses at the stage yours is probably at, one more that is blind on one side, and two others that are in earlier stages and can still generally see but need treatment.

Adopting these horses out is difficult. Once they settle down, they are easy to care for. But in the current market, there is little demand for special needs horses. If she can be ridden, and many can be if they trust their riders, that will help. Also, profoundly blind horses often learn to spook in place (they learn that bolting hurts!) and many can be safer lead line or parade horses for this reason. But a lot depends on individual temperament and what she knew and was before the vision loss. Some honest answers from the owner about this would be useful.

I sure hope this helps. Thank you taking her in. I understand about the decision to euthanize - we have to make that call too often, ourselves. But you might want to give her a little time to see what she does. Even high strung horses
generally learn to adjust to stalls if they mean food and shelter. Some just take longer than others. But please don't hesitate to give us a shout if you have any more questions, or if there is something else we can help with."

We intend to talk about quality of life issues in a future post, and taking on a blind horse gets right to the center of this question. The debate has been fierce on whether keeping a blind horse is a good thing or not, and we experienced the best and worst of this question with Rudy (see a previous post).

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."

During the past week, we've been buffeted by news reports about the stock market that we could hardly absorb before we got hit with the next. The presidential election has taken a sort of surreal turn and my inbox has seen a steady influx of emails that start out " I have been quiet long enough..." then wind into some bizarre conspiracy theory regarding the current candidates. A government employee, I have watched with somber understanding as job and budget cuts have been announced. There was a point this past week when I simply stopped and asked myself what has happened to the country I know and love. It seems as if the whole world has suddenly gone nuts.

Of course it does. That's because I grew up in possibly the most privileged generation in American history, in one of the wealthiest nations in the world. At 51, I was not a Depression child, I am the daughter of one. We were frugal when I was growing up, but as an adult, I have never experienced the need for the austerity that my parents had to live with. For Depression children in the Plains states, the Dust Bowl turned green cropland into wasteland and people abandoned their farms by the thousands in search of food. In pursuing my education, college loans and scholarships were readily available to anyone with drive. I believed that, armed with such an education, I would be successful and that has been true. Of course, the previous generation did not have a federal student loan program. I have never been really, truly hungry. I have never been dangerously ill. I was a child during the 1960's, and while I remember the bitterness of the Vietnam War and the struggle for Civil Rights, they were not as important to me at that time as the cute guy who sat two rows behind me in class. I remember the shock and horror of the Kennedy assassination, but was too young to absorb it. But to my parents, it must certainly have seemed, at times, that the world had gone mad.

The world is, in reality, a far more difficult place than I have had to contend with.

The stock market has now officially crashed and the bottom is still an unknown. To the best of my understanding, credit is going to be difficult to get. Many people will lose their jobs and others will have difficulty securing financing for important things like college educations and medical care. This will indeed be a difficult time for many. But this is also no worse than anything that the generation that preceded mine has already gone through. And as my mother said, "We got through it." We are in fact, far more fortunate than they were, in not also having to suffer through the greatest agricultural tragedy in U.S. history at the same time as the Depression.

If you are my age, you were taught not to waste. You were also taught to save money. If you have ignored those lessons in the past (and 'fess up - we all did), this is a great time to start remembering all those things you learned as a child from your parents that you still have filed away somewhere.

This is not the end of the world, just the end of the one we know. We will probably never look at things the same way again. We might realize that it is possible to survive without the newest iPod, the expensive cell phone plan that buys you 1 billion minutes (guilty) and the Direct TV package that gives you access to every channel in the world. For people of my age group, this is possibly a healthy reality check on what is really important. We can live without credit cards, we just need to get used to that idea and act accordingly. After years of stubborn resistance, we are learning to drive only when we need to. From an environmental and resource standpoint, that is a giant step forward, not backwards.


There are things in my life that are really important. There are many more things that are not. It is surprising how many of the important things have nothing to do with money. Last night, I walked back from the barn holding the hand of someone I love. It was a beautiful evening and I could smell autumn in the air. When we got back to the house, Shandy danced her usual jig around the kitchen floor to welcome us and we joked while we made ourselves a small dinner. It may seem like the world has gone crazy. But apparently, periodic craziness is in the nature of things, we have just been living in easy times (see graph) between crazy period troughs.

The picture at the top of this post shows North Dakota in 1934. These people probably thought they were seeing the Apocalypse. The picture below was taken in the same state in 2005. Accepting periodic change is is probably the first step towards dealing with it. We'll get by.

PS: The presidential election is just that. A contest between two parties of differing ideologies and two people who represent them. The person who gets the most votes will win. But no matter who wins, the world will not end. This is not about good and evil, the Antichrist, or the end of Democracy. So ya'll just settle down out there.


Top photo: Dust Bowl "black blizzard" dust storm, taken in South Dakota in 1934. During the ten year drought, over 100 million acres of prime farmland in the plains states were laid bare. Photo courtesy of About.com.

Bottom Photo: South Dakota, 2005. Photo (c) by storm-chaser Dave Chapman.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Risk Management


Whilst I hesitate to return to the rather dismal happenings of a month ago and the current economic forecasts, they do raise the issue of managing a rescue (especially when inextricably bound up in one's own life and finances!) in trying economic circumstances.

Our role as a rescue, to paraphrase our mission statement and tag line, is to: rescue, rehabilitate and (where appropriate - my italics) rehome at-risk horses, and enable them to live in safety and dignity for the rest of their lives. Finding homes (whether as adopters or fosters) that will fulfill that mission is a careful process, not to be taken lightly, hurried or glossed over. And if such a home cannot be found for a horse, then we become that home for life. We cannot, and should not, so extend ourselves that we compromise the care of those we have already rescued. It is tempting, and Lord knows there are enough sad cases out there, to max up to the total capacity of one's space and energy. After all it is much simpler to say "yes" to someone with a genuine need to place their animal than to say "no". This is one of the most difficult decisions in animal rescue. But my premise is that, in the long run, saying" yes" every time does no one any favors if it puts the rescue at risk.

Risk Management has been a particular interest of mine in recent years, and the line between being overly cautious and overextended can be a difficult one to draw. This especially true when dealing with living things. However, there are some basic parameters that we try to consider (and could equally be considered by either a first time buyer or an owner looking to increase their herd). We offer these as suggestions to others in the hope that they may help in deciding whether to take on another animal, and determining whether you are becoming overextended in these difficult times.

First, we try to put our emotional response to a rescue request into some sort of context. One reason for doing this is because there may be other options. We have found that what often sounds like a crisis in an e-mail can be resolved with some ingenuity and thought, or additional time, and without necessarily adding another animal to the rescue. In other cases, the owner has other options that they prefer not to exercise. As we are an urgent need rescue, we must stay focused on the need of the horse as our first priority, rather than the convenience of the owner.

In evaluating our capacity for accepting another horse, we must consider the following:
  1. Open space - do we have the space, acreage, paddocks, and ability to separate incoming horses of unknown temperament or condition? Can we accommodate the horse's special needs?
  2. Shelter - if we have space, do we have adequate shelter against heat, rain, wind, cold and insects?
  3. Stalls - if the weather turns really bad (remember the snowfall of '96!) can we bring everyone safely in? Senior and arthritic horses must always have their own stalls.
  4. Hay - can we store enough hay for at least a few weeks ahead, better still do we have enough hay, either promised, bought, or from our own resources, for the entire winter?
  5. Feed - do we have feed for more than our immediate needs, do we know what we expend in feed costs and can we maintain (increase?) this expenditure for the foreseeable future with the same (more, less?) number of animals?
  6. Water - can we supply water to paddocks and barns under all conditions, what is our fallback for loss of power, frozen pipes, standpipes or hoses?
  7. Medication - do we have meds just enough for immediate needs or for some period ahead, do we know our med costs for a month, do we have a regular supplier at a known cost, are we in regular contact with our vet to maintain continuity of supplies, do we know what we are taking on with a new horse?
  8. Sufficient reserves - do we know how much it costs to keep one animal for a year, what is the likelihood that we can adopt an animal out, and how long will it take, where our funding is likely to come from - donations, us?
This may seem a hard-nosed way of looking at rescuing animals in need, but my whole reasoning is based around not subjecting our rescued horses to further risk by overextending ourselves. Too many rescuers are having to close their doors because at a certain point, their hearts began to override their heads. While compassion is an admirable human trait, it does no good to rescue 20 or 30 or 70 animals, only to have them once again put at risk because the rescue has to shut down. The suggestions above are good ones regardless of the financial climate, but these are particularly hard times. We are all fearful of the fallout from the current economic situation and rescue organizations are reeling from the sheer numbers of requests for help that they are receiving. Most of us will survive, I am sure, but it will require careful management on our part. Our animal charges rely on us to make good decisions on their behalf, and we are duty bound to make those decisions based on the best information we have available. As a consequence, we aim to continue to give the best care we can to all our current and future rescues.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Cow Pedicure

There comes a time in everyone's life when a new hairstyle and a pedicure are essential. Considering the current financial climate now is probably that time! So it is with cows, although their bank balance is probably in better shape than ours. Recently, we've noticed that our momma cows' toes were definitely in need of some filing and buffing. They were beginning to lengthen and we knew it was time to schedule an appointment with a pedicurist, sorry, a cow hoof trimmer. Seriously, cow hoof care is extremely important in cows. Improper or insufficient trimming can put put stress on joints and cause serious lameness. Foot and leg problems are major causes of loss in dairy cattle, mainly because being herbivores their preferred surface is pasture rather than concrete

Unlike horse's hooves, bovine hooves grow slowly, especially if the bulk of their diet is forage. They require trimming only once or twice a year, depending on diet and housing. It has been customary to secure the cows on a tilt table, then tip the cow and table combination slowly over to allow the trimmer to reach the hooves. Good for the trimmer but not so good for the cow as cows generally aren't wild about tipping over on to their sides and normally try to avoid this sort of thing. Fortunately, for our mommas we had heard about a local trimmer with a trimming box that kept them upright, and we scheduled an appointment.
Sunday was the big day and Ray (our new trimmer) arrived in the morning with his box. Looking like something out of H. G. Well's "Time Machine", our first impression of this contraption was that the cows aren't going to like this! Never mind, if the cows were unhappy with it, we'd just take a short vacation to some earlier time when we weren't discussing hundred billion dollar bailouts and people in other countries didn't think we were all profligate nincompoops. We could spend a few minutes dumping our AIG stock, buy up some Google and be back before lunch.

Disappointingly, this Tardis was not able to send us hurtling through time a la Dr. Who, and fortunately our mommas, as always, behaved like perfect ladies. It was just dandy for gently restraining our girls and supporting their weight so that Ray could trim and shape their hooves quickly and with little drama. The cows walked in one end, were placed in safe restraints, the box was lifted hydraulically off the ground, their feet were raised one at a time, they were trimmed and shaped, the box was lowered and the cows were then led out of the exit. The entire process was gentle and efficient.

We considered the white tips so fashionable these days, perhaps with an "Old Glory" motif, but common sense prevailed and we settled for a good filing and cleaning. Now, both girls are sporting new, sexy tootsies. And we are still watching the progress of the bailout on the news. But you can't have everything.

video

Posted by Tom and Jorg

Thursday, September 25, 2008

HMS/M Repulse

Today many of my former shipmates and comrades-in-arms, and their partners, will be getting together to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the commissioning of Her Majesty's Submarine Repulse. This post, and the panel, is dedicated to those men who served in the Port and Starboard Crews throughout her long service, and to all who continue to "go down to the sea in ships". Repulse was built with great skill and care by Vickers Shipbuilders (VSEL) at Barrow-in-Furness on the NW coast of England; veteran submarine designers and builders from the Holland 4 in 1902 up to the latest Astute Class submarines (although now as BAE Systems Submarine Solutions). Launched in November 1967, she became part of the Royal Navy's polaris nuclear deterrent on her commissioning in 1968. I was one of 143 Port Crew members, and a similar number of Starboard Crew (Blue and Gold in the USN) who stood proudly by as the white ensign was raised for the first time.

For the 143 men (sorry, no women as yet allowed on naval submarines!) of each crew she was a happy ship, and remained undetected during all of her 60 patrols. Apart from regular drills life could be pretty monotonous - a daily round of watches, maintenance and the occasional defect to repair. Off-watch activities were devoted to sleep, endless games of uckers (ludo), Risk and cards, cinema and an array of meals that old submariners could only dream of. Other diversions were a daily radio program, the newsheet and, possibly a first for a submarine, on one patrol a pantomime was produced.

For the families it meant the loss of the "man of the house" for weeks on end, with no communication from the boat, and only the once weekly familygram sent from shore. Initially 20 words, it was usually of the order of "Took children to zoo, all OK, weather awful, car broke down, grass needs mowing, missing you, not long to go." Later versions were up to 50 words long, but all were vetted before release and were at the Captain's discretion if really bad news was included.

A strange life, living in a tin box under the sea, and not for everyone I suspect. As young men I don't think we thought too hard about it, although the implication of actually firing our missiles would be that we had no homes to return to. None of us really believed we would ever use our deterrent, and it is fair to say that with them on both sides they did keep the cold war from becoming hot. Lasting friendships were made on those patrols, and for those of us who left the Navy early, previous reunions have reminded us of how close-knit we were once upon a time.

This weekend will, I know, be a time for reminiscing, as well as catching up. The bodies will be a little fuller, the hair a little less, but I have no doubt that the beer and wine will flow freely as always, and so will the tall stories and memories. I wish them all good cheer and hope to meet up with them at the 50th reunion. In the meantime, "Up Spirits" and "Splice the Mainbrace".

"They that go down to the sea in ships
, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven." Psalms, 107:23-30,

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Made in Virginia


According to Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, people should buy food grown in their own backyard. The Richmond Times-Dispatch (September 24) reported that " Kaine made a push for state residents to spend $10 of their weekly grocery bills on Virginia-grown products, saying that would pump an additional $1.65 billion into the state's economy."

We couldn't agree more and we give the Governor a round of applause for recognizing this simple solution to several problems. This past week, we watched in disgust as the number of children affected by melamine contamination in milk reached 53,000. And unless you have been living under a rock (or possibly in the White House), you know that we are in for a mighty rough ride while Wall Street gets itself sorted out- most likely on our dime. Money is going to be tight, and this is on top of already history-making high prices for petroleum and food.

We've been trying to become more self-sufficient for some time, now. We produce our own eggs and dairy products, as well as some vegetables. We buy locally, whenever we can. We trade horse manure for vegetables grown by a local organic farmer. We also know what's in our food, though in the case of the eggs, we'd rather not dwell on that too much.

But you don't need to live on a farm to grow your own food, and whether you do or not, you may need less money to buy the food you can't grow. If everyone were to grow even one tomato plant, you'd save more each year than the $10 Governor Kaine is proposing we spend in Virginia. Of course, by next summer, one tomato will probably cost $10. But if you grow two tomato plants, you can trade some of your tomatoes for your neighbor's zucchinis. Then your neighbor can bring his zucchinis and tomatoes over to our place and trade us for cheese and horse poop, which he can then trade back to you for whatever else you decided to grow in the meantime. If you really don't want to grow anything and you are going to spend that $10 anyway, you can buy something from your local farmer's market or vegetable stand and at least know what you are eating.

Still thinking about buying another horse, despite the rotten economy? Contact your local horse rescue and adopt one. You'll not only save money that you can use to buy tomato plants with, you'll provide a good home for a horse that needs one, you'll open up space for another needy horse at the rescue, you'll generate poop for your tomato plants and you'll support your local feed supplier, who may not have time to grow tomatoes and could buy yours. In an effort to help Virginia's horses find homes, our friends over at Traveller's Rest Equine Elders Sanctuary have developed a web resource site to help you find horses that are seeking homes. The site is located at: http://forums.delphiforums.com/VAhorsesneed. Some owners might even trade for tomatoes.

Below is a picture of our friend Heath, and Tillie, the horse we adopted to him. Heath is demonstrating an additional benefit of adopting a horse, which is having company while you rest after planting all those tomatoes. Seriously, we do not suggest that anyone do this, as horses startle easily and one could end up planting its feet on your head. But the picture tickled us and does show the nice chemistry between Heath and his friend, Tillie.














Photo of Governor Kaine: www.governor.virginia.gov

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Arachnophobia and "Tis the Season"

Now I am not the greatest fan of our eight-legged friends, being a low to medium high arachniphobe depending on the size and and poison potential. I did once stroke the back of a red-kneed tarantula at a zoo exhibition, but there was a keeper with a whip and chair to keep good order. Generally, I prefer them to stay in their place and I'll stay in mine. I have never really got over the shock of discovering that the "Black Widow" spider (Latrodectus mactans is the southern variety) was not only indigenous but prolific. Having heard as a kid in the UK that these mean instant death, I was somewhat dismayed to find one on my bare arm when shifting some stone wall rocks. Thankfully, it seemed more interested in getting back to its cosy damp dark hole than biting me, but my reservations remain. As an aside we only have the one poisonous spider, and one poisonous snake (well more than one of each, but you know what I mean) the Adder (Vipera berus). So again, having heard as a child that to be bitten by one was fatal (we Brits love scaring the pants off our kids!) and not being a great lover of the hissing things, Virginia, and farms in particular, are a constant source of disquiet during the snake mating season. Admittedly we usually only see King Snakes, but as Burns might have a said "a snakes a snake for all that".











Anyway back to arachnids. This year we have been blessed (or not depending on your phobia) with a large number of the black and yellow garden spiders, Argiope aurantia to be exact, and wary as I am of the spider family I cannot help but admire this particular variety. I don't know if they are the largest in this part of the world, but they must be near. I have seen big crickets caught in their webs and wrapped up for later disposal. I am very much a "live and let live" sort of person, so provided they stayed reasonably away from my normal passageways I was happy to have their fly control capabilities on my side. I did draw the line at between the handles of our brushmower, and removed her to a more secluded spot - a long piece of wood since you asked! One by one they have disappeared, presumably as the nights got cooler, until only one remains. Sadly, she does not have the stabilimenta , or zig-zag lines of thread, that characterize the argiope's web, but I did capture her in glorious technicolor. I suspect that in a few more days she too will be gone, leaving her small sack of children behind to hatch out in the Spring.

So the cycle of life goes on, with the seasons still ruling the lives of our animal friends, even if we have given them up in favor of the digital watch and lettuce all year round. The Autumn equinox has come (yesterday) and now the nights get longer than the days. I am sad, as always, to see the long hot days ending, but can look forward with pleasure to mulled wine in front of a real log fire. We have stalls for all the animals, three open fires in the house, milk and eggs every day, and a portable generator (that I might get round to putting somewhere useful) should the big one hit. Crisis!! What crisis? Just remember the Boy Scout motto and "Be Prepared".

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Classified Ad

Today, Annie and Penny are two months old. What a wonderful age for calves! Newborns are sweet, but completely clueless. At one month, they are starting to play, but are still timid and unsure, and still very dependent on their moms. At two months, well heck, they just love everybody.

Annie never did learn to nurse from her mom, though Bessie has been an excellent mother in every other way. So Annie associates people with food and neck rubs, but understands that she must be respectful of adults- people as well as cows. She is lovable, but without the obnoxious behaviors that many orphans (without such good moms) acquire. Penny was very aloof for the first month of her life, hiding behind her mother and initially just tolerating being haltered and led. But lately, she’s really come out of her shell and she is just as affectionate as Annie, She has a strong personality and is very confident, so she sometimes needs a reminder of what constitutes acceptable calf behavior. “Acceptable” does not include romping with humans.

We have discovered that teaching calves is a lot different from teaching horses. Horses are timid, where calves are emotional. Both learn to trust your judgment, but for different reasons. Horses can be convinced early on that you are in charge, and if they are handled well, they may never quite realize that they are stronger than you are. If they are frightened (and this happens easily), their first reflex is to run away. I’ve always thought that you need to flirt with horses, just like you do cats. Cows know from an early age how strong they are, but they are perfectly willing to go along with your program as long as they think you are being fair and reasonable. If they don’t, they will protest and simply refuse to do what you are asking. They aren’t easily frightened, but like horses, if they become concerned over something, they will generally believe you if you tell them things are fine. Calves, especially, need and respond to encouragement. Both cows and horses need to be taught to be respectful of your personal space. We have discovered that horses are easier to intimidate than cows, and if a cow is beginning to walk over the top of you, it will not stop just because you are making a scary noise. Turning them around when they are determined to go somewhere else is like trying to turn your car around by dragging it at the end of a dog leash.

Annie already has a new home waiting for her. She is just busy growing up enough to be weaned, so she won’t be leaving for awhile. She has a new friend waiting there, too, so she won’t be lonely. Penny is still for sale. We have had inquiries on her, but no firm offers, yet. I will miss these calves terribly. But I am sucking it up and gamely trying to market them. So, I have composed the following advertisement for Penny:

“For Sale: Calf. Brown. Missing top teeth. Not broke to ride, drive or milk. Scared of the cat. You probably can’t afford her right now, given the state of the economy. You really should be paying off your credit card.”

After all, I am a scrupulously honest person and would not want to mislead anyone by embellishing her description.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Breeding will out!

Pugs can suffer from severe breathing problems due to close inbreeding.
Photograph: Getty Images

At: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/blog/2008/sep/15/animalwelfare*, the Guardian reported yesterday that in the UK the leading animal humane society, the RSPCA, has announced that it will no longer support the Kennel Club's (KC) premier dog show event, Crufts. This show carries the level of prestige that the Westminster Kennel Club show does in the USA. The RSPCA took this strong stand after a recent BBC documentary showing the horrible genetic diseases caused by years of canine inbreeding. Using the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel as one example, it pointed out that many are suffering from syringomyelia, which is when a dog's brain is too big for its skull. It is the cranial equivalent of stuffing a size 10 foot into a size 6 shoe. Other breeds carry the traits for blindness and deafness, as well as kidney problems and severely shortened life spans (see http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/dogs-that-changed-the-world/selective-breeding-problems/1281/ and http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,163404,00.html for more examples.) It is also possible that the BBC will stop televising Crufts, even though it has been a flagship, calendar fixture for 40 years (they are contracted for two more years).

Dog lovers and veterinarians have been exhorting the KC for many years to consider the health of the dog when focusing on breed characteristics. In the UK the KC sets the standards for breeds and, as a consequence, is largely responsible for the good and bad genetic changes that ensue. In the US the AKC claims that breeders set these standards, but regardless of where the blame lies it is a weak argument when the standards run contrary to veterinary opinion. Someone is accountable and others are complicit, and the animals suffer. The blog goes on to report that the RSPCA wants to see a change in the breed rules to prioritize health, welfare and temperament over appearance. It also wants to see the development of health-focused breeding strategies for individual breeds, including steps to increase their genetic diversity.

Our experience with pure breeds in dogs had been fairly limited. Jorg had a Weimeraner that she raised from a puppy, but apart from being very intelligent, her only extreme characteristic was an overriding passion for food (I still remember the Stilton episode, Sally!). On the other hand, Bridget, French Bulldog and Katrina rescue, had all the worst traits of her breed - breathing difficulties (she was on theophylline daily), spinal problems, bent legs, bone spurs in her back and digestive problems (tendency to bloat). On a good day, her life was probably no better than tolerable. Going up and down the stairs was a problem and allergy season was excruciating. We spent many sleepless nights with her and several emergency trips to the vet's as a result of these problems. In her youth she was a valued show dog, but I doubt that she gained much from the experience, compared to what she suffered through later in life.

Unfortunately, and not to be unfair, this problem is not limited to the canines, as followers of the feline, equine, bovine and avian worlds can attest. It is encouraging that in the mini-Jersey sphere great attempts are being made to ensure general health and genetic diversity, along with the desire for a small size.

My personal feeling is that the RSPCA's (and hopefully the BBC’s) move will encourage the KC to look at its breed regulations and modify those elements that affect a dog's health. It doesn't seem unreasonable to breed healthy, as well as breed-specific, traits. Maybe even the AKC will catch on. One can hope.

*Interestingly, when I went back to the Guardian to find the article today it had been changed from the original. Some additional material arising from responses to the article by KC and the BBC, but also a more toned down comment from the KC's chief Vet! My URL will take you to the original article.

PS From Jorg

The Famous Stilton Episode: One of Tom's greatest pleasures in life is English Stilton cheese, enjoyed over the holidays and preferably with a good Port. It's expensive, here. Really expensive. But it's a luxury that we enjoy during the Christmas season as a tradition in this family, comparing each year's Stilton wedge against previous year's. One year, Tom prepared himself a snack by taking the large wedge of Stilton out of the refrigerator and putting it on a plate with some triscuits and Branston pickle. He set it down on the coffee table, got up to get himself a drink, and returned to (you guessed it), Sally looking very pleased with herself and no Stilton. All things considered, Tom was a good sport about it, though a very disappointed one. A part of our holiday ended a little early that year. I am pleased to report, though, that our cheesemaking friend Pamela is coming over Sunday to start a Stilton for us using the milk from our Mini Jerseys, and which should be ready by the holidays. We'll let you know how it turns out.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Farm Interrupted


After a week away from the farm, it's good to be back. Animal Planet got old pretty quickly. Even very good hotels do not serve fresh eggs and real cream for your coffee. My only entertainment, besides a tour of the lovely Tech campus by one of my colleagues and an evening spent with the Treasurer of our rescue (a veterinary student at the University- Hi Beth!), was TV. In a moment of self-discovery, I realized that my tolerance for television has somewhat diminished over the past few years. I averaged about five minutes of presidential politics before clasping my hands tightly to my ears and singing "lalalalalalala!!!" I needed brain bleach. Time to tune out the media until after the election.

I also deeply missed my animals and my best friend and companion in life. Tom did a great job of keeping everything running. All the animals are fat and happy and we have had no more geriatric losses. We also avoided any impact from the very impressive Hurricane Ike, which did us a huge favor by hitting the Gulf rather than the east coast. Our sympathies go out to the folks in south Texas, though. It appears that Josephine is breaking up into an unorganized storm, the grass is growing from all the rain we got from Hanna, and we may actually get a small second cutting of hay, which would be nice to have this year. The calves are leading like perfect ladies and Rosebud, the mini Jersey cow, appears to be in heat. The Coer di bue, Cream Sausage and Egg Yolk tomatoes are doing really well. The fields have become lush again, so our metabolically challenged horses are muzzled (again).

That last sentence probably needs some explanation. Horses, like people, need to regulate their blood sugar in order to prevent damage to their capillaries and organs. Some horses, like some people (diabetics), have problems doing this. They generally fall into two groups: horses that are insulin-resistant and horses that have Cushing's syndrome, or changes or tumors in their pituitary glands. A very common result of both conditions is laminitis, or the inflammation of the layers of a horse's hoof. Laminitis is very painful and can cause permanent changes that will lame horses for life, or destroy their quality of life. This is the same disorder that Barbaro could not overcome.

One of the ways to combat the problem is to control what a horse eats, the same way you would deal with diabetes in people. Horses eat a lot of carbohydrates in grass and feed. Carbohydrates are easily broken down into sugars by their bodies, so it's important to restrict them. We do that by putting grazing muzzles on our horses. The muzzles allow them to eat some grass without overdoing it. Our metabolically- challenged guys also eat low-carbohydrate feed along with supplements and medication. These measures keep them healthy and happy for years.

In the picture above, Wonder and Star are shown with grazing muzzles. Both of these horses have Cushing's disease (a tumor on the pituitary) and both have suffered hoof and foot damage. Wonder was treated promptly, so his damage was minimal. Star was not so fortunate and has more severe problems. But the continued control of the conditions that landed them at White Bird means that both horses have a high quality of life. They are, incidentally, each others' best friends in the whole world and spend much of the day playing with each other. Ulysses has recently joined them, so they have formed their own little herd of three out of the larger herd in their field.

The masks on these horses, by the way, protect their eyes from insects. These two horses also have an eye disorder called equine recurrent uveitis, so the masks also help to shade their eyes and protect them from wind and dust.

It's been said that "all politics are local" and I truly believe that. We can't control everything in the world or in this country, but there are many things that individuals can do. In our case, we try to make life better for horses that have no other options and we try to make the world slightly better by reducing our dependence on foreign and factory-farmed food. It's good to be back. For now, we'll just keep the TV turned off, try to grow better tomatoes and spend a whole lot of time in the barn cleaning stalls. The latter activity keeps us practiced in the skill of identifying manure, which is especially helpful during election season.