Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Myth of the Old Horse

When I was a teenager, it was common knowledge that a 20-year-old horse was old. And we all knew what that meant. The horse would get progressively skinnier and no amount of food would fatten him up. He would cost a fortune to feed. It was only a matter of time before he died.

But things have changed a lot since then. We know a lot more about dental care; we have softer foods for horses that have started to lose their teeth and foods with a better nutritional balance for this group. We know how to keep them properly hydrated so they are less prone to impaction colic and we have better medications to ease the aches and pains of those old guys and gals with arthritis. We have medications that can help treat age-related conditions such as Cushing’s Disease.

The horse in the photo is Bear. Bear was a severely malnourished horse when we obtained him at the ripe age of 27. He had a body condition score of 1 (a weight and condition index that ranges from one to ten). He also had severe rain rot and a rough coat that indicated that he was loaded with parasites. Today, he is 38. Bear has very few teeth and thrives on a diet of soupy senior mix. We put a lot of water in his food because, if it is a mash consistency, he will choke on it. Bear receives regular dental work because, otherwise, the teeth that are opposite of those he is missing (and there are many) will not wear down and will become sharp and uncomfortable. But while all of this is important, none of it is difficult, expensive or time-consuming.

Some horses, like some people, just have good genes when it comes to aging gracefully. But nearly all horses need a little help from their friends to keep them comfortable. Bear loves people, especially children, and his girlfriend Lily. He has a good life and with a little help from us, should have a long one.

For more information about the care of senior horses, please visit our friends at Traveller's Rest Equine Elders Sanctuary at:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Since you’ve asked...

The name of our farm, Triskelion (Tris-kel’-yun), is the symbol of the Manx national flag and the motto is that of the Isle of Man. As many of you know, Tom was born there. The son of a dashing Royal Navy Officer and a vivacious, curly-haired Manx girl, young Tom spent his formative years in Douglas (the capital), sloshing through tide pools, watching pond yachts, getting shot by arrows and losing his shoes in the mud.
Tom later moved to England, where he spent the remainder of his childhood and most of his adulthood, before meeting Jorg and moving to America (for a second childhood, Jorg occasionally swears) .

When it came time to give our Burkeville farm a name, we opted for Triskelion, as the motto reflects our stubborn optimism that no matter what life throws at us, we’ll be okay. It also speaks to the resilience of the White Bird horses, who have been through so much, and who, whichever way they’ve been thrown, still stand.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Udder Relief

Tom and Champagne

So there I was, rookie milker Mayfield, loins girded and ready for anything Bessie could throw at me. Just me and her. Coach Robin Dodson had run through the game plan, but had her own herd to attend to. Lovely wife Jorg was gone, earning the moolah* that keeps this whole show on the road. The milking machine was set up and ready to go, surge tank in place and the bagpipes (aka the "claw") hung on the gate. Empty bucket for milk, soapy water for cleaning, iodine for the teats, and strip cup to let down and test the milk. Stainless steel shining like silver, and the parlor set up for the incoming Bessie. I had considered rushing out and investing in the complete "how to dress like an NFL linebacker for dummies" outfit, and I had my old cricket box (the one with the dent, that still brings tears to my eyes after all these years) but commonsense prevailed, and I entered the fray with strong boots and and an iron will. The game plan suggested by coach Robin was to plug two of the inflations and do two quarters at a time. That not only saved two of the four hands I had been using, but it maintained a good vacuum as well. The drawback to the whole approach was the need to insert myself between the gate post we had erected to keep the cows from moving sideways too far, and the cow. Now Bessie is a mini-Jersey, but even a mini-cow is a cow and perhaps that helmet might have been a good idea after all. Of course the upshot was that Bessie had sussed out that having a dish full of grain, as much hay as you can eat, plenty of water, and with only a minor annoyance around her udder, that life in the parlor was actually OK. Let rookie Mayfield do his best and so would she. Because good readers, Bessie is a Princess. Rosebud is a perfect lady, quiet and reserved, wonderful for the newbie milker. Bessie on the other hand, is unashamedly a people cow. She loves her bumbling owners and likes nothing more than to tell you so. Her reluctance to milk stemmed from that first 24 hours, when Annabelle decided that she preferred the bottle to the teat. Plus, of course, rookie Mayfield's total inability to control a simple milking machine claw. We both came out of the encounter looking good, and Team Mayfield is now ready for the World Milking Championships - well perhaps not, but we are making progress.

*moolah: money; also famous lady wrestler (possibly with bagpipes) Lillian Ellison; and of course first syllable"moo" - I love English word play!

Bessie and Annabelle Lee: Rosebud and Champagne Surprise (like mother, like daughter)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Walk this way

Depending on your frame of reference, this line either conjures up a vision of the wonderful Marty Feldman as Igor in Young Frankenstein, or brings a classic Aerosmith song to mind. If it's the latter, I apologize- you will probably be hearing this song in your head all day. If you are a 4 day old calf living in Burkeville, it may represent a new and frightening experience in your short life.

Learning to walk at the end of a lead rope is necessary for both the safety of the human and the safety of his or her equine or bovine friend. The smart owner will teach this important life skill when calves and foals are very young, before they really get some power when they dig those little hooves in to say "I don't wanna!" The bovine variant on this behavior (demonstrated beautifully in the photograph by Champagne, with accomplice Pamela as Vanna White) is to simply throw yourself on the ground and refuse to move until the bad person stops doing that thing to your head.

Annie, who still refuses to nurse from her mother, has learned a few extra things in her more frequent interactions with people. One of these is that people can generally be trusted, even if things seem a little funny. She is learning to step forward nicely, with just a little encouragement.

Note: No calves harmed themselves while camouflaging themselves as casually tossed hay bales.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fly Away Home

The circle of life at a horse rescue starts when someone surrenders a horse into our care. For any of an infinite number of reasons, the horse that reaches us is unlucky enough to have no one else in his corner at that moment in his (or her) life. But that moment starts him or her on a new life that may end peacefully at White Bird, or be full of promise as they begin a new life with families anxious to welcome them.

Today, we said good-bye to a lovely young mare who came to us about a year ago. We have watched her blossom from a timid, dejected three year-old, to a confident, healthy young mare.

Her adopter found her through one of our ads on Petfinder. Louise is no stranger to rescued horses and knows that there are many out there in need of homes. So when her favorite girl passed away, she knew that there was another horse out there in need of a family. When they met, it was immediately clear that Louise and Flicka had a wonderful chemistry and we know they will become great friends.

Today was hotter than blazes. We stink and we are tired. We filled water buckets to the brim, angled fans and made sure that all of the old codgers stayed out of the heat. Running a rescue is hard work. Why do we do it? This is why.

Wrestling with bagpipes!

The idea of milking your own cow and drinking the milk sounds wonderful. Unfortunately the reality is somewhat different. Our Grandparents, for those of you who are from farming communities, may have had the job of milking down to a fine art. After all, as my cognitive psychologist friends would say, it's only a fine motor skill. Get the basics right and all will fall into place. However, we modern folks have a different set of skills (which includes defly flipping open a milk carton), which does not include wrestling with bagpipes! Now plain old hand milking is something most people can do with a bit of practice. Even I have mastered it now that I have learned not to twist and pull (Bessie, of course, soon appraised me of the penalty for not doing it correctly - a hoof in the ear). The milking machine, however, is a whole new dimension. No one mentioned (funny that, I think we have said that a few times now) that you need four hands and a double jointed backbone to put the inflations in place. Now I'm 6 foot 2 inches tall, and not a young man any more, we don't have a pit in our milking parlor and the "claw" piece has four inflations, which fit over the teats, and a vacuum valve which needs pushing in once the pulsator is working correctly - you'all still with me? All these various bits are joined together by rubber tubing, and which flop all over the place unless held up by (you guessed it) my four hands. Not only that, unless you like the taste of cow poop and sawdust in your milk sundae, you also have to prevent them from lolling all over the floor, with the selfsame hands. Of course this is easy (hah!) with a well behaved cow, but add into the mix our Bessie, still achy from lack of calf interest in her milk bar, and not all that keen on having foreign bodies attached to her teats, and the resulting dance is the title of this post. No one said it would be easy, but they didn't let on to all the undignified and embarrassing things we neophyte cow people can be drawn into.
BTW: it is an extraordinary and humbling experience that Bessie and Rosebud have given us the gift to enjoy this natural product, untainted by process or additives.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 2: Glad that's over!

Some days, you're just glad they're over. Phew, what a Saturday, and only one whole day into being newbie calf parents! After the euphoria of having two heifers born on the same day, came the down to earth bump of actually having to be responsible for these two little ones. The first lesson was: all the book reading in the world isn't going to prepare you for the actuality - as we say in the UK "a penn'orth of experience is worth a pound (sterling) of book learning". We had already learned that getting them to suckle could be hard, but Bessie's calf was not only reluctant, she was downright anti "even touching" the teat. So, after stuffing colostrum covered fingers into her mouth to encourage sucking, trying to push an uncooperative calf under the udder, and pleading and cajoling, came the decision to bottle feed. Well, if we thought the earlier attempts were difficult, trying to bottle feed her was even more so. This little girl was all stubborness, and presumably unexcited by her mother's milk! In the meantime, mom Bessie's udder is starting to resemble a small barrage balloon and we are panicking on another front now as we try to relieve that little problem. Well, all those demos we had, and all that reading did not help one iota when trying to milk a very uncomfortable, ouchy cow by hand. Bessie and Rosebud are sweet cows and very easy to handle under most conditions. This was not one of those conditions. However, we had the solution. Our brand new milking machine would relieve Bessie and feed the calf (by now we had realized that Annabelle Lee's suck was just too little for the bottle and we enlarged the hole, duh!). Ahh, such naive thoughts. Note: the worst time to learn how to use a milking machine is when you are trying to put it on the cow for the first time. So, it is 11pm, we have sheep wandering around the yard as we have taken their stall for the milking parlor, we have just finished the horses, the chickens are still out, we can't get the milker to suction and we have two cows with big, uncomforable udders, but we did manage to get some colostrum into Annabelle.

Triskelion's Champagne Surprise and Triskelion's Annabelle Lee

Day 3 was bound to be better! We have to thank Dr. Rodney Cole for his infinite patience in dealing with two distraught adults at different times of the day and in giving us great advice. He also recommended that we introduce ourselves to Robin and John Dodson (Goats R Us). By "introduce" we assumed that he meant call up and whine. We will be ever grateful to them for taking time out of their valuable Sunday morning to help diagnose the problem with the milking machine and take us through the whole milking process. We now have two contented Moms, two well fed babies, and two nearly back to normal adults. (Jorg's note: we are several years older).

And, we have the most gorgeous tasting milk, still a little full of colostrum but good, nevertheless. Like the shirt?