Monday, December 21, 2009

'Tis the Season

Triskelion Farm in the snow, but only a few inches, and nowhere near as bad as some of our friends along Rte 81 who got 24 inches! We have little to complain about as, apart from the usual frozen hoses, the trough heaters are working, and we haven't had to deploy our new emergency generator connection (thank you Jack Ryan).
The cows were not impressed with the lack of green stuff, but Star strutted his stuff, glad to be outside.
The horses were all pretty pleased to throw off their "cabin fever", and many were the horse "snow angels" as they reveled in the feel of the snow on itchy coats.

The pond has frozen over completely since the photo, I think for the first time since we came here, and looks pretty in the early morning sun.
However, spare thought this Christmas for the family farmer and homesteader.  Animals still have to be fed and watered, milked  and cleaned out.   Farmers rarely complain as it is a way of life, and the  advantages usually outweigh the disadvantages - no commute, you are your own boss, and you get to live in delightful scenery.  At least that is what I tell myself in the milking parlor early in the morning, with a blizzard howling round the door!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Newbies

Leo and Mona

Leo now has a playmate and he and Mona Lisa are getting on fine. She is still a little wobbly and sleeps a lot, but is finding her feet quickly.

Two short pieces of video with the two of them running around apart. The last two days when I didn't have the camera they were jumping around each other - typical!

 They very obviously take after their Dad, Son of Fat Louie, and both are looking like true miniatures.

Rosebud and Leo

Friday, December 11, 2009

Welcome (at last) Mona Lisa

Triskelion's Mona Lisa

Not sure if she is going to have an inscrutable smile but she sure is purty! Triskelion's Mona Lisa duly arrived, well within my 48 hour guestimate, and totally at Bessie's whim. With our past remembrance of the inability of Bessie's Annie to find the teat, I spent a happy hour last night covered in colostrum trying to convince Mona that Bessie's teat was under the udder not under her armpit (equivalent) . Having got her to nurse on two teats, although she still insisted that my thumb was more enjoytable, I called it a night and will, if necessary, resume this morning. Bessie was a real star and did everything in her power to push Mona in the right direction. She even held back on kicking my lights out as I manhandled her teat to get streams of colostrum in the direction of Mona's mouth. These mini Jerseys are such gentle cows, and the frustrations of mud and never ending poop quickly disappear in their company.

We have been lucky with our calving, and from zero experience last year to at least some semblance of knowledge, has been an interesting learning curve. Wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Two lovely Christmas gifts - Leonardo and Mona.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Jaunty Leo

Well here it is, by special request from Chris at TREES - the first authentic video of Leo at play. Ignore the ramblings of the cameraman, comes of not realizing the mic is on!

After more rain than usual, then a cold snap, we now have balmy southern winds and temperatures back up to the 60s. Nice for Leo, but even better for Bessie and her soon-to-be calf.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Leo is in the Building

Rosebud and Leo
Who says you don't give presents at Thanksgiving? Obviously no one told Rosebud as yesterday morning she presented us with a new Triskelion bull calf Leonardo, Leo for short. He duly arrived in mask and flippers ready to do battle with the elements, or at least get to the pasture! Leo is 24 inches tall and 33 inches long and is a real looker, with a good Jersey color. We now await Bessie's pleasure but doubt it will be too long.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Rain it Raineth Every Day

Flooding in Norfolk, Virginia (courtesy Richmond Times Dispatch)

OK, so climate change is inevitable. Been going on for millions of years. May be humankind is helping speed things up a bit, but we won't go there! But does it have to rain quite so much in November? I know we have had a drought the last few years, but this is ridiculous. Our farm is slowly sliding down the hill towards the railway line, and I shall probably be able to step out of our back door straight into the barns by Christmas! I exaggerate, but the continuous leaching of the driveway down the hill is a concern, especially the ability of large rocks to rise up out of the ground. We do feel for our folks in the UK and Ireland who must feel as if they are on sinking islands at the moment - we feel your pain.

The blessed event has yet to occur, but all the signs point to Thanksgiving Dinnertime! At this rate it will be a water birth, with Jorg and I assisting Rosebud and Bessie in scuba gear.

Our small gesture toward helping the bee population (and, incidentally improving our fruit crop) is underway, with negotiations going on to bring in some beehives. Jorg is already immersed in bee-keeping information and her next summer hat will definitely have a veil! We will also be extending our rather meagre orchard to become much more self-sufficient in fruit, with an emphasis on apples. More reading up on cider making, both "hard" and "soft" versions. Come next November the rain can raineth as much as it likes, we'll be knee deep in mulled cider!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Blessed Event

As our only two faithful readers will recall (you know who you are and we love you), Tom, Rhonda and I braved a couple of blustery, cold days in February to introduce Bessie and Rosebud to the soon-to-be father of their calves, Son of Fat Louie. This exercise was performed after a protracted learning curve during which Tom and I learned to spot both the subtle and not-so-subtle signs of bovine heat, which include: fence pacing, mounting, cologne from CVS, and gaudily uncoordinated shades of lip pencil (or lápiz de labios *snicker*).

The girls were bred a week apart, and if you count exactly 282 days, this makes their due dates November 24 and December 1. Of course, we know this is total nonsense. Neophyte cow owners we may be, but we have fully internalized Rule #1. Rule #1 is that all of the other Rules are entirely subject to your cow’s opinion of them. In our experience with Bessie and Rosebud, their opinions on everything are largely tied to the item’s association with food, the availability of brisket scratches, and the degree to which their opinions correlate with our inconvenience. Especially that last one.

If we start with that assumption, we can precisely narrow down their due dates by identifying the two days in the months of November and December on which the most of the following factors apply: night, a week night, or a night before a holiday that involves substantial preparation (extra points for that one); temperatures below freezing; wind chill greater than 20 degrees; following a day of unusual effort or exertion on our part; conflicting with an important event; measurable precipitation (more extra points); one or both of us sick with the flu; house on fire, regional thermonuclear event in progress and one or more horses developing symptoms of colic. The more of these conditions are present, the better the likelihood of the blessed events.

This simple exercise should determine, with complete accuracy, the date of our new arrivals.

We can hardly wait.


This past week, Tom and I were making pretty good progress on the Ark. We’ve easily exceeded the two of every animal requirement (we apparently have enough to populate a second planet) and we were trying to decide which energy efficiency tax credits would apply to the new construction. Sadly, our work was interrupted when our Bank of Ark Card reduced our credit limit. So we are forced to wait out the deluge from the cozy confines of the chicken coop, which is fortunately well-supplied with eggs, resentful chickens, raw milk and 10 lbs of fresh kale (thank you, Keith and Michelle).

Like many other people this past year, we learned pretty quickly that we will need to change a lot of the assumptions we’d made about our place in the world. It’s becoming apparent to us that “survival of the fittest” probably means “survival of those who can get their heads around their new realities the quickest.” Our strategy involves paying off our few remaining credit balances and being conservative in our spending. These two steps will give us the most flexibility should our situation deteriorate. But when the list of things that can no longer be assumed includes employment and retirement, we really have two choices. We can live in a state of perpetual disappointment mourning the loss of our plan. Or, we can recognize that the small gifts we sometimes give ourselves, like an afternoon with a best friend, are now bright and important events to be savored and remembered.

Last night, while the wind was howling and the rain was blowing sideways, we made our first fire of the season. The horses, cows and other animals were tucked up high and dry for the night and we curled up in bed with a glass of wine, a trashy, Spanish magazine (we are learning, or relearning the language, depending, and we can almost say “lápiz de labios” without snickering), and a mandolin that we are attempting to master. My accent has become so bad from lack of exercise that I sound as if I am speaking Spanglish in southwest Arkansas. Neither of us has yet managed to coax the mandolin through an entire tune, but over the pounding of the rain, we thought we could hear some faint but enthusiastic replies from the direction of the pond. For a few hours, the world was smaller and kinder, and defining the long term wasn’t quite so important.

Okay, so this wasn’t exactly the plan we started with. But we left a lot of really important things off the Beta version (and wrote in some real garbage). Hopefully, Tom and Jorg Plan v.2.1 will have better priorities. And maybe a Gantt chart. I always liked those.

Buenas noches, y’all.

(Photo: Noah's Ark, by Edward Hicks, 1846)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Perils of Factory Farming

Jorg and I are vegetarians, at least Jorg is, I do eat fish and only gave up meat entirely a short time ago. However, we don't proselytize and believe it is up to one's own individual conscience whether you eat meat or not. Consequently, we rarely mention the fact, other than in passing references to the likelihood that our farm animals will live out their lives happily eating us out of house and home! But I would like to draw our reader's attention to the link, with the caution to read it carefully, as it is not an opinion piece against meat eating per se, but against the methods that produce that meat. I leave it to you, the reader, to form your own opinion of the validity of his argument.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Norman the Wonder Horse

Tom and Norman in less confrontational mode

So, there I was minding my own business, passing the time of day with Robbie the farrier as he worked on Norman's front right. Next thing I know I am flat on my back unable to move my arms, and being stared down at by both Norman and Robbie with decidedly confused looks. As I reconstruct the event it seems Norman was growing tired of standing on three legs and moved back and upwards. I stopped that little sorte, but leaned forward as he came forward and down. Norman's head then moved with the speed of a striking cobra, and I was taken out with an uppercut to the jaw that Mohamed Ali would have been proud of. Lifted off my feet I performed a backward swallow dive (and probably one and half twists, a reverse pike, a double lutz and sundry other contortions!) landing on my shoulders and, ultimately, my head. Now I swear by the good old British working class cloth cap - goes with the whippets, and fish and chips. Mine is actually Donegal tweed, and as good a protection from a hard, earth floor as you can want. My paralysis of the arms was momentary, and as I had no visual or auditory impairment, staggered to my feet in a jiffy. I did, however, have a continuous tingling down both arms, and extremely sensitive upper arms. Needless to say trimming was suspended, and Jorg on hearing the news proscribed immediate rest, and a visit to the ER as soon as she got home.

Well I don't know about anyone else but I don't like to leave jobs unfinished, even if I should be resting, so I put out the horses waiting for trimming, milked the cow and took the muck spreader out to empty! All ready for when our volunteer Becky arrived. Of course Jorg didn't quite see my valiant efforts at normalcy in quite the same light, especially as I didn't answer my phone (loud mower!). After a short reminder that blows to the head, even with a miniscule brain like mine, are dangerous, and blows to the butt painful if not terminal, we set out for the ER.

With all the discussion going on at the moment about the healthcare system and its failings, it was quite impressive to see the triage system up close and personal. Whenever I have gone to the ER in the past, there has always been that 20 minute period after being seen that is devoted to examining the contents of your wallet to ensure payment can be expected. Not this time. I'm sure I wasn't in any real danger from the blow to the head, but they didn't take any chances, and I was seen by a doctor within 10 minutes of being admitted and had had a CT scan, all before the inevitable discussion about my healthcare provider. Top marks to Centra Southside Community Hospital, with treatment every bit as good as you would expect from a big city outfit.

So back to Norman the wonder horse. What he succeeded in doing was to show that I had some arthritis of the upper vertebra, with a bone spur that pinched a nerve and caused the arms problem. I'm now due an MRI to check this out, and have the indignity of a "soft" collar to keep my head straight (fat chance!). So, thank you Norman, and I will remember next time not to lead with my chin!

Basil the Chick

At last some photos of the youngest member of the farm menagerie. Basil and his Dad and Mum Merlin and Saffron.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Busy Times

Alison (left) and Pebbles

The last four weeks have been non-stop down on the farm. In the Rescue we have taken in two horses and a blind pony. This puts us at full strength based on our current accommodation and funding rules. More on our new arrivals will be found on the rescue web site.
To ensure that we have stalls for everyone, should we need them, the milking parlor has taken over the connex hut adjacent to the red barn, so that the sheep can return to their old stall in the red barn. This frees up a stall in the 10-stall barn and allows both Star and Wonder to return to that barn. Change is always useful as it wakes me up from my strict routine and makes me aware of any other jobs that need to be done. So easy to fall into a daily round that ignores potential problems.

Our two silkies became proud parents (no photo yet) and we are hoping that the unseasonal weather will not be too cold for the chick. Mum is keeping a good watch on him/her, and Merlin appears to be shaping up as a good Dad.

Last week we played host to a group from Charlotte Crossing in Charlotte Court House. CC is a psychosocial rehabilitation day support center, offering individuals an opportunity to work on Crisis stabilization, appropriate social interaction and daily living skills. The corner stone of the organization is that: "through Dignity and Respect, each individual can rise above, and over come, adversity in their daily lives as a result of positive interaction. Virginia has had a poor record with regard to mental health support and the farm and the rescue are pleased to join with Charlotte Crossing in providing an outreach capability to the group. We welcomed:

Chris, George, Henry, Larry, Linda, Quang, Stanley and Viola, along with Mr. John Deem and Ms. Owens.
After a short presentation by Tom and Jorg, the group took a tour of the farm, which included seeing Priscilla milked. Despite a cold, damp day a good time was had by all, and the farm and rescue animals were on their best behaviors. Refreshments and a bagged lunch were taken in the tack room, giving everyone a chance to warm up. On a sad note, we learned that Stanley had had a heart attack and died a day or so after the visit. Our condolences were offered to the group and the family.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lily 1979 - 2009

Tom and Lily

Lily, the sweetest riding horse you could ever want, was euthanized this morning after breaking her right rear hock in her stall. She probably slipped on getting up, and at 30 years old her bones were possibly brittle. Lily had had a miserable few years at riding camp, where she was bottom of the pecking order and last in the chow line. Sent to New Holland auction at the end of camp season, thin and permanently anxious, she was rescued by Susan Churico at Humble Hearts Haven. Knowing that we were looking for a riding horse for me, she got in touch and asked if we would like to adopt Lily. Our first meeting was hardly auspicious. It was a blustery day and Lily was extra anxious, so riding her was out. However, I felt moved toward her and we decided to try again. Now this was my first time riding for many years, and I rode English and Lily knew Western! Ever a patient horse, and apart from the occasional quizzical look over her shoulder, we slowly bonded.

Lily already showed the symptoms of uveitus, more obvious in her left eye, but also in her right eye, and her sight rapidly reduced to mainly shapes. Ever anxious in the company of more than one horse (and now more so due to her blindness) and also fiercely clingy to particular horses, finding her a comfortable partner was always difficult. However, in Bear we had a horse who liked people and mares but not geldings, and we had been looking for a buddy for him for some time. It was a match made in heaven and the pair were inseparable for 3 years. Lily wanted nothing more than a nice stall, a good friend and an occasional grooming. She had the sweetest temperament, and always pricked up her ears when I walked into the barn or past her paddock. As my first ride for so many years she was perfect and I only wish we could have ridden together more. She will always be in my heart. RIP Lily and enjoy the sweet grass over the rainbow bridge.
Bear and Lily

Monday, September 7, 2009

Elvis Has Left the Building

In the blur that was summer, somehow, Elvis reached weaning age. I don't know how that happened. One minute, he resembled a dark, timid satellite, revolving around the bovine planets of the pasture galaxy. From the house, we could see him streaking around the field in the evenings like a small bat. The next minute, he was a chunky little Ferdinand with an emerging interest in older women. Actually, it isn't just the ladies that he is fond of. Elvis loves everyone. Despite our best efforts not to overhandle him, this is the most personable calf we have produced to date. Anyone within smooching distance who isn't quick enough gets two layers of skin removed by that sandpaper tongue. He was a favorite of the rescue volunteers, several of whom sat for hours to keep him company during the lonely weaning process.

Jersey bulls have a reputation as some of the fiercest creatures in cowdom. The Miniature Jerseys seem to be losing this tendency and many stay gentle for life. However: until they reach maturity and all those hormones kick in, it will be difficult to tell. So we have tried to keep him respectful of people and to teach him good manners. Elvis has been a stellar student. He is polite, cautious and tries to please. As long as you are not a cat, you are the boss.

Elvis has a wonderful new home with this new best girls Violet and Daisy. The girls were fascinated with him and one even lept a 4-foot fence to go meet the new guy. We were impressed with her talent and think she may have a career in the hunter-jumper circuit if that milk thing doesn't pan out. But we congratulate Nancy and Gary on their new arrival. We will certainly miss him.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Chicken and Two Veg *

Not in the cooking sense, you understand. Our chickens will live out their senior years in the chicken assisted living facility known as Triskelion Farm. Having had mixed success with chicks this year, trying to widen our range of both colored eggs and exotic chickens, our ratio of cocks to hens managed to come out too high. Consequently, we have been playing catchup in the hope that the new coop occupants would both play nicely together and not start a "who is cock of the coop" war! Thanks to Heather we have some pretty Marans with a boatload of creative names, and the photos really don't do them justice. "Little", who spent the first few weeks of his life on everything except life-support, has now caught up with the others and is a very colorful and robust young man. Having tried to save money by designing our own coop (back of envelope design shown below) and getting the ever-handy Todd to build it, we have had to give in and add another coop in the small run, to accommodate the growing (literally) number of chickens. Thus a small village is growing up at the back of the arena, much to the puzzlement of the cows who spend hours gazing into the runs.

As you can see the vegetable choice is much wider than just two, and our color chart for nutrition is well covered. We aren't really self-sufficient but we do have enough produce to last the winter, supplemented with regular eggs and dairy products.

What is more pertinent, we know where they came from, and what went into the ground and onto the leaves. Also thanks to Keith and Michelle, and the "poop barter", we also have a much wider choice of veggies than we could ever grow ourselves. Jorg and I count ourselves lucky in these troubled times that we have the means and the health to use the beautiful space that we have in this way.

*"Meat and two veg" was the traditional British meal post-WW2. Much lampooned by the rest of the world - under or over-done meat, soggy cabbage, burnt potatoes, we've heard it all.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Musical Interlude

Blue Grass music has a great tradition in Virginia, with bands and events all over the State. Originating in Kentucky in the early '40's with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, a whole new musical genre was spawned. Folk, Country and Western, Mountain and Hill Billy music (particularly from the Appalachians, and hence the Virginia link), Jazz sets and even Rock and Roll have all influenced bands over the years. With a traditional line-up of fiddle, banjo, guitar/ukulele/mandolin, and base, in varying numbers and often augmented with other acoustic stringed instruments.

The reason for this minor piece of musicology is an article in the Guardian I ran across on Steve Martin ( - a man of many parts, and undoubtedly all of them done to the highest level. In my ignorance, not having been in the US all my life, I had failed to take in the fact that he is a very accomplished banjo player. That is until I happened to hear him on "The Prairie Home Companion" playing two pieces from his CD The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo, brought out this year. Now I, in a fit of enthusiasm, and being egged on by my lovely wife (who is no mean performer on the guitar - even on 3 strings after a long evening in an Irish pub, but I digress) and who bought me a handsome, vintage 5-string banjo, once took lessons. And if anyone thinks that producing that melodic "plunk plunk" is easy, you obviously haven't tried. As my kids can tell you I have about as much musical talent as a bullfrog, and in the end I decided it was better to listen to someone who could play, than make the sort of noises guaranteed to have the neighbors calling the local noise abatement society.

So in that spirit, and because the blog has not had any music before, the link below should take you to the "Tin Roof" track from Steve Martin's CD. For me it is a sublime piece of banjo playing, and totally unfair that one man should have so much talent!

Post Posting Note: An old friend of mine has reminded me that "a gentleman is someone who knows how to play the banjo but doesn't........." Thank you Tara, I rest my case.

Friday, July 31, 2009

"Sumer Is Icumen In"

That tree again
"Summer is a coming in," as the old English round has it, and an English summer at that! Well it must be, because we have had copious amounts of rain in June and July. However: the offsetting temperatures (and, of course, the humidity) have been much higher than we are used to in the UK. There, it crept into the 90's a couple of times this year and the whole nation went into shock!

Life at Triskelion Farm usually has that seasonal rhythm of farms everywhere. Gray and brown turn to green, and then to the pinks, purples and reds of the summer plants and trees. This year has been a little different. Normally by now, our metabolically-challenged horses can be let out without their muzzles as the grass begins to die back and lose some of its carbs. This year the paddocks and fields are still bright green and, much to their occupants disgust, muzzles are still de rigeur. Our first hay cutting was a good one, and with a half decent second cut we will have our year's supply. With El Nino arriving, we might even get a small third cut.

On the vegetable front, the consistent rainfall has resulted in an unusually good year, though we have had some early blight in the tomatoes and the Squash bugs marched through the zucchini like an invading army. Now,we have the anticipated surplus when everything ripens at once and our evenings are spent boiling jars and chopping veggies. The small amount of working surface in our miniscule kitchen is covered in tomatoes, beans, squash and the best looking egg plants (aubergines) I have seen anywhere. Jorg makes a mean meal chopping them into thin slices, salting them, soaking in beaten egg and frying them. Yummy, and extremely moreish!

We did some experimenting this year with new veggies and learned a few things. What did really well: white squash, kale, kohlrabi, beets, eggplants - both ichiban and black beauty, peppers, black-eyed peas, cow peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes. More trouble than they were worth: radishes, onions, zucchini (succumbed to marauding insects). Jury still out: parsnips, turnips. Things we'll try this fall: spinach, cabbage, more beets (these were better than we thought they would be).

Elvis and "Auntie" Bessie
Elvis is now 3 months old and has grown into a good looking, if very macho, young man. His debudding went well, he is hale and hearty and so is about to be weaned. This will, of course, entail much plaintive bellowing and crying (and that's just Jorg and I) until Priscilla realizes she is no longer a milk-giving punchbag for a rough calf and settles down to my gentle ministrations on the daily milking. This year, Priscilla has given us our first case of mastitis and a real doozie, at that. We tried the natural methods like Masto-blast and Mint Cream without much success so we went to a more aggressive treatment, a penicillin infusion. I don't know how many of you have contemplated shoving a plastic nozzle up a cow's teat, but I can tell you I wasn't looking forward to it. Any male who has had a urological examination will understand the problem. Luckily for me the treatment is actually a painless procedure and easily accomplished, especially with a patient cow like Priscilla. For all her sensitivity to activities around her head, she is patience personified when it comes to milking. We pleased to report that the mastitis has finally cleared and her udder has returned its normal shape.

Bessie and Rosebud are officially pregnant and will freshen in November. Somewhere in Ohio, a bull is stocking up on cigars. But that means we will not get a break from milking until we dry them out next year, during the last two months of their next pregnancies when their bodies need a break before nursing another calf. We intend to get all three girls on the same cycle in order to give us a vacation during this period and a chance to get some time away.

Our new White Bird web site is finally up and running (thank you, Jones!) with its own blog, so expect to see rescue news over there, we will continue to post highlights on here.

Picture courtesy of GETTY IMAGES
A final note, under the "proud to be Manx" heading. As early readers of the blog know we chose the name of the farm and our logo, Triskelion, for my Manx heritage. For all you cyclists out there, the winner of the last stage of the Tour de France, in Paris (and his 6th stage win of the Tour) was Mark Cavendish from the Isle of Man. Not bad for an island of 81,000 inhabitants. Urrmagh ries Mark.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Shandy 2002 - 2009

In 2002, my husband and I were animal rescue volunteers who often helped drive rescue transports. These are relay trains of volunteers who drive segments of longer trips, in order to remove animals from kill shelters and deliver them to rescues, often many hundreds of miles away.. One of our other volunteer activities was to scan on-line photos of shelter dogs and alert breed rescues to the presence of "their" breed, especially in high kill shelters. One day, I was scanning photos for the Memphis Shelter and happened upon the picture below.
She was no special breed and at an awkward age, but the look on this young dog's face absolutely haunted me. After a brief (God love him) discussion with my husband, we decided to have her "pulled" from the shelter. We worked with Responsible Animal Owners of TN to have her removed from the shelter and spayed, and then with a transport group to arrange the logistics of getting her home, which was then to Northern VA. We met the last driver in Roanoke and drove the last two legs to bring her home. She is the middle dog in the photo, shown at the pickup point in Roanoke and was about 5 months old.
Shandy had a rough start. She'd contracted kennel cough in TN that quickly turned into pneumonia. It took us nearly a week to even get her to eat. We discovered that she was terrified of lots of things and was a nervous wetter, wetting in dozens of spots around the house in an effort to avoid detection. She had been badly handled and it took us about 6 months to truly housebreak her. But this ungainly, anxious little dog turned into an epic beauty. She matured into a dog that people oohed and ahhhed over because of her exotic good looks. She was gentle enough to be trustworthy around bunnies, small children and chicks. Though still a little timid, she was the official family greeter, and whenever I came in the door, she went into a pyrotechnic spin of jubilation. In our back yard she was "jungle dog", exploring the long grass but always returning for reassurance. And she retained her terror of thunderstorms and loud noises, and some other strange things like cameras. This was ultimately her undoing.

Shandy was a beloved member of our family. For seven years, she repaid us every day for having spotted her in that shelter, where she certainly would have died. Our household is a lot emptier and her best dog friend, Jack (rescued when he was out of time at the Westmoreland Shelter), still misses her.

In all of my calls and visits to shelters over the week, I have looked at these animals and asked the same questions: Where are their people? Is someone looking for them? And if the answer to the last question is "no," doesn't anyone see how special they are?

We want to sincerely thank the many people who helped us in our search, the folks who sent us messages, and those who simply wished us well. We have learned a lot of things in the last two weeks and one of them is how giving and gracious the people of Southside are. I do want to ask everyone one favor, though. The next time you see a loose dog standing by the side of the road who is looking lost and confused, please stop. You may be what they need in their lives at that moment, more than anything or anyone else in the world. If you are right, and you stopped because you read this, Shandy will have accomplished one last good thing.

Thank you for all for caring, and for allowing us to share.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Elvis has entered the building!

Actually, he's entered the "L-barn," to be more precise. Somewhere around midnight, Priscilla's long-awaited calf made the decision to join us.

Priscilla had been taking her time with this one, which concerned us because she is a very small cow and she had been bred to a larger bull when we bought her. She was also late for the vet's estimated due date. We have had several false alarms in the past two weeks and, though we have been watching her carefully, she seemed determined to keep her freshening a secret. Last night, she calmly ate her dinner and showed no early signs of labor. But when Tom checked on her in the wee hours, Elvis was here, dry and on his feet.

Priscilla is a careful momma and is very protective of her baby. But she bribes easily and we are certain that we will be able to handle Elvis with a minimum of concern on her part. For now, we are just giving them a little quiet time to get to know each other.

Welcome, Elvis!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Our Peeps

Our garden is now in full vegetative bloom, complete with kale, beets, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, melons, lettuce, onions, radishes and sunchokes. And in the very near future, we will have an abundant crop of insects that eat kale, beets, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, melons, lettuce, onions and radishes. Last year, we discovered that no living creature will eat Jerusalem artichokes. They are tasty and nutritious, no doubt about it. But they also require a major realignment of your digestive track to process. All animals seem to know this. Still, if the big one hits Burkeville, they are a likely path to survival. The plants, members of the sunflower family, take enthusiastic hold anywhere you plant them. We have been told that the only way to get rid of them is to move.

This spring, we have decided to add to our little flock of chickens. We already have hens that lay brown, white and blue eggs. So to keep our refrigerator interesting (that is, if you don’t consider what’s in there now interesting enough), we opted for two more groups that will lay green and dark brown eggs. I say “groups” because the first four pullets are a cross between the lovely Buff Orpington and the tailless Araucuana. We purchased these as started birds at six weeks old. They are gentle and attractive and will probably lay eggs that are either green or pink.

We brought the second little troupe home yesterday. They are six little Marans of several color varieties: Birchen, Blue Copper and Black Copper and they are about three days old, not a lot bigger than our dust bunnies. We won’t go there. But Tom and I spent the first few hours of their arrival watching them investigate their little enclosure, peeping and rolling over in little fluff balls when their large, unfamiliar feet wouldn’t get out of the way. We had some concern over the little black one, who was suffering from stress and seemed unusually subdued. This morning, however, he was considerably brighter and we think he is on the road to recovery.

Watching these tiny creatures taking their little stumbling steps into the world reduces it in size a little. We don’t know what the national economy will look like tomorrow. They don’t yet know whether we will eat them. They are, after all, nature’s little snacks. Their concerns seem bigger than mine. But when I reached my hand in yesterday to give them food, one of these tiny, half-ounce birds puffed himself up and with all the deadly intensity of a pit viper, lunged and pecked me. I was impressed. Of course, one of these days, about half of these birds will be 12-lb roosters with spurs. At that point, I will be even more impressed. But for the time being, watching these fragile chicks bravely facing an unknown world makes me want to buck up and stand tall. Sometimes, problems are just a matter of your perspective. For example, a bumper crop of ravenous bugs will look entirely different to me than it will to these little guys. To them, it will look like a crawling smorgasbord. Who knows? Maybe we can all learn to eat Jerusalem artichokes.

Welcome Home: Speckled Jim, Willow, Bob, Amber, Tattoo, Sasha, Little, China, Carrie and Brighteyes.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Winter has Gone!

April Snow Showers!
Now it's gone (the winter) and the weather has finally turned warm, I can look back at winter's last kick in the teeth and laugh! So the cold and wet weather has given way to warm and wet, and our ground water level is probably at a pretty healthy level after this winter. In the self-sufficiency stakes that is a big whoop, as getting a good first hay cutting depends on a decent initial soaking. And while it is nice to have a good second, or even third cut, getting the majority of our hay in the first one is a great relief. Although the pastures are coming in nicely, we now have a number of muzzled horses (Cushings and insulin resistant) who can't be on grass and need, therefore, to be fed hay through the summer. Luckily we did well last year, and will actually have some bales to spare by the time we come to cut.
I now only need a summer photo to complete the "Four Seasons" photos of the dogwood.

So what of the farm life here at Triskelion. Well Priscilla seems to have gone into reverse, but may still be on time for an end of April, beginning of May delivery. She is looking much better than when we first had her, shiny hair and much improved shape, though milk production hasn't started yet. Bessie and Rosebud have shown few signs of pregnancy but, equally, don't appear to be going into heat either, so we hope that the AI has taken. That will put us around November, not the best time to freshen, but they should be well established before the really cold weather starts.

Priscilla and Bessie
We have four new pullets, Americana/Buff Orpington crosses, which should provide us with green eggs to go with our current blue ones from one of the Araucanas. Next Easter we won't have to paint eggs to be festive!
For ease of maintenance, we have moved the vegetable garden plots nearer to the house and will have a wide variety of veggies to show for our labors! More on the outcome as the growing season progresses - what works, or doesn't and what gets shared with the critturs. In addition we have had a general tidying up around the front of the house, removing old bushes and the ever present ivy, plus new beds and walkways, which will make for a more picturesque garden, with some of the features of our much loved yard at the farmhouse in Orlean.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Chamara 1972 - 2009

On Wednesday night, Arabian "Princess" Chamara joined her friend Rudy over the rainbow bridge - to range free and sighted once more. In a manner becoming a Princess, she passed away quietly, asleep in her stall; a fitting end to a long and valued life. For most of that life she had been with just one owner, who has been a regular visitor to see her at the rescue. On her last visit just recently, she spent time grooming Cham and enjoying her obvious pleasure over all the attention. There was nothing to alert us that anything was wrong last Wednesday evening, and although Cham had given us some concerns over the previous year, she seemed as strong as ever.

Chamara and her son, Star, came to us in April 2007. Chamara quickly established herself as a strong personality with an unflinching certainty in her royal ancestry and exalted position on the farm. However, her obvious belief in herself as a "Princess", was somewhat undermined by a strange whinny that sounded more like one of our cows in the throes of ovulation. Chamara was afflicted with severe vision problems that included a cataract, uveitis and at one stage, a corneal ulcer. With the loss of her sight, she became more and more distant with people and other horses, but had a like/dislike (love/hate would be way too deep) relationship with Bear and Lily. However, her real affection was for Rudy, the blind Appy in the next paddock. After he died last year she could still be seen at the fence listening for him, and we believe that a part of her went with him.

Chamara had been as fit a 37-year old as one could expect. Apart from being a somewhat hard keeper (she had a senior horse's penchant for turning her nose up at feed she had happily eaten for weeks) and one incidence of gas colic, she was in good, general health. Wednesday evening, she came in, ate a good dinner, and then quietly passed . We believe the cause to be heart failure.

We will miss Chamara’s strange whinnies, her regal attitude and the obvious fine Arab breeding that could still be seen under the grey hair. Adieus then, Chamara, enjoy the rolling fields and lush grass, and the reunion with Rudy that are your due. We are happy to have enabled you to live out your days in safety and dignity, and are glad that your passing was comfortable.

Folly and Chamara

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Heat of the Moment

She waited expectantly, her heart fluttering with anticipation. Somewhere, he was out there. Flowers bobbed gently in the warm breeze and their intoxicating aroma filled the night air. She could think of nothing but him. His strength, his smell, the sound of his footsteps. She knew she shouldn’t, and yet…. Excitement ran through her like a current of electricity and the waiting became excruciating. An eternity passed.

And then, suddenly, he emerged from the darkness. She could think of nothing at all to say, as she gazed into his warm, brown eyes. His strong body glowed in the moonlight and in a moment, she was swept away. Somewhere in the night, a bird trilled a love song to an invisible mate.

Nah. I made all that stuff up. And this should illustrate exactly why engineers should not write romance novels. Really, after observing Priscilla’s increasing interest in her best friend, we finally witnessed the mounting that clearly signaled Bessie’s “standing heat.” A quick call to our AI tech brought Rhonda to our farm within minutes. The wind was gusting and it was bloody cold out. But armed with her trusty nitrogen tank, electric water bath and a semen straw from Son of Fat Louie, she expertly performed the insemination procedure and confirmed for us that Bessie was in heat. Bessie was far more interested in eating sweet feed (that’s our girl) than in anything else going on, and within minutes, was on her way back to her buddies with a belly full of feed and a soon-to-be fertilized egg. Rosebud went through this procedure exactly one week ago, and we are hoping that both inseminations result in pregnancies. We will know in about 3 weeks.

While the procedure does not sound all that romantic, Tom and I felt that it justified celebrating with a really nice Bourgogne. Of course, we feel that way about a lot of things- like cleaning up the basement, getting all the stalls picked and finishing the taxes. Because, despite the depressing news and worrisome economy, there is much to celebrate in our lives. There are catkins on the Elm trees, a hint of green in the grass and 24 wheels of goddawful smelling brie in the cooler. For all its complications, life is still, generally good.

(Photo courtesy of

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Horses First Domesticated 5,000 Years Ago

This item appeared a few days ago courtesy of AP on PeoplePC's news page, and I thought it worth reprinting in full.

Medieval knights, the warriors of Saladin, Roy Rogers and fans lining racetracks around the world all owe a debt to the Botai culture, residents of Central Asia who domesticated horses more than 5,000 years ago. New evidence corralled in Kazakhstan indicates the Botai culture used horses as beasts of burden - and as a source of meat and milk - about 1,000 years earlier than had been widely believed, according to the team led by Alan Outram of England's University of Exeter. "This is significant because it changes our understanding of how these early societies developed," Outram said.

Domestication of the horse was an immense breakthrough - bringing horsepower to communications, transportation, farming and warfare. The research, reported in Friday's edition of the journal Science, also shows the development of animal domestication and a fully pastoral economy may well be independent of famous centers of domestication, such as the Near East and China, Outram added. Compared to dogs, domesticated as long as 15,000 years ago, and such food animals as sheep, goats and pigs, horses are relatively late arrivals in the human relationship. "It is not so much the domestication of the horse that is important, but the invention of horseback riding," commented anthropologist David W. Anthony of Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. "When people began to ride, it revolutionized human transport. For the first time the Eurasian steppes, formerly a hostile ecological barrier to humans, became a corridor of communication across Eurasia linking China to Europe and the Near East. Riding also forever changed warfare. Boundaries were changed, new trading partners were acquired, new alliances became possible, and resources that had been beyond reach became reachable," observed Anthony, who was not part of Outram's research team.

"Some researchers believe this new mobility may have led to the spread of Indo-European languages and many other common aspects of human culture," Outram said. In addition to carrying people and their goods, horses provided meat and even milk, which some cultures still ferment into a mildly alcoholic beverage. The date and place of horse domestication has long been subject to research, and the steppes of Central Asia and the Botai culture have previously been suggested as possibilities. But the new report adds extensive detail to the tale.

Outram's team developed a troika of evidence the Botai domesticated horses:
  • Studies of the jaws of horses from the site show tooth wear similar to that caused by bits in modern horses, an indication of riding. A 1998 paper by Anthony raised the possibility of such findings, but the new report is much more extensive and detailed.
  • The leg bones of the Botai horses are more slender than those of wild horses, indicating breeding for different qualities. The new way of measuring and analyzing horse leg bones "shows here for the first time that the Botai culture horses were closer in leg conformation to domestic horses than to wild horses. That is another first," Anthony said.
  • And complex studies of ancient ceramic pots from the location showed evidence they once contained mare's milk. "This is, apart from being fascinating, something of a smoking gun for domestication - would you milk a wild horse?" said Outram. Anthony agreed: "If you're milking horses, they are not wild! The invention of a method to identify the fat residues left by horse milk in ceramic pots is a spectacular and brilliant advance," he said of Outram's paper. "It is really important to be able to identify the fats in the clay pots as not just from horse tissue, but precisely from horse milk."
Still today mares are milked in Kazakhstan and Mongolia. "The Kazakhs ferment it into a sour tasting and slightly alcoholic drink called 'koumiss.' It is clear that dated back at least hundreds of years, but beyond that no one knew. Who would have thought it was a practice that went back 5,500 years, at least," Outram said.
"The new research was funded by Britain's Natural Environment Research Council, the British Academy and the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bringing Back Chesapeake

In 2003, the White Bird Appaloosa Horse Rescue was still in its first year of operation as a non-profit organization. We were an enthusiastic bunch of rescuers (many fresh from the ranks of companion animal rescues) who were undaunted by distance, finances or complicated logistics, and who were still becoming familiar with the many issues and ethical minefields in the horse industry.

One day, I happened upon a post from another rescue, which was forwarding information about the upcoming auction of horses by the Colorado State University. Horses have traditionally been used in the school’s veterinary program labs, and at the end of their tenure, the horses had just as traditionally been auctioned off to the highest bidder. These usually turned out to be buyers for the slaughter market. Without opposing bidders, the horses would certainly enter the slaughter chain. The more we thought about it, the less fair it seemed. These horses had already come from owners that they had served, then been used by the University in their embryo transfer program. Now, they’d be sold for meat. It seemed to us that these horses had already done their service to humanity and deserved a better end.

A handful of members of our Yahoo! group pooled their resources to form an ad hoc team they called “ARC (Animal Rescue Corps), with the intention of buying one of the horses through the on-line auction. We selected several likely candidates from the list of auction horses and when the auction opened, we bid. Our bidding methodology was simple: we assumed that the least expensive horse would be in the greatest danger of being sold for meat. We altered our bids accordingly and remained watchful.

When the bidding ended, we were shocked. Every single horse had had their bids topped and their high bidders had been outbid. We were equally shocked to receive an email shortly after the auction, advising us that “our” horse would be available at our previously bid price. We have been told that there were some shady dealings at the end of the auction, though we cannot verify what happened. We only know that we had “our” horse, an overweight, sullen-looking chestnut mare with a large scar on her neck and the number “1830” tattooed on her butt. ARC named her Chesapeake Hope, a compromise between the ARC members who favored “Chesapeake” and those who favored “Hope.

The following weeks involved a flurry of negotiations with a rescuer in Colorado, who picked her up at the vet school for us, kept her for several weeks, and helped us to locate a reliable hauler to bring her home. The horse that rolled out of the trailer was far different from the one in the photo. She was bright, lively and in better condition than in her photo (thanks to Shirley, in Colorado). What a bundle of energy! From the quarantine paddock where she desperately wanted to get to the other horses, to the love and discipline she doled out as “Momma” to our nurse mare foals, she took immediate control of the herd and remained its matriarch. Did I mention she is bossy?

Among the volunteers we have had at the rescue was a young woman who came out a couple of times a week to help feed and clean stalls. The chemistry between these two grew quickly and we received the surprise request one day for Chessie’s adoption. We were ecstatic. Chessie went home with our best wishes for a bright future.

But predicting the future is impossible. We never know what hooks and turns our lives will throw at us, and so it was with Chessie’s adopter. Several weeks ago, we were advised that Chessie would need to return to us, for reasons beyond anyone’s control. So six years after Chessie arrived from Colorado, we brought her back to White Bird, to a new farm she hadn’t yet seen and to some old friends, both horse and human, that she still recognized.

Chessie has been very well cared for by her adopter. But it is apparent that Chessie’s life prior to her rescue had not been an easy one. We are now seeing the results of what appears to be a series of old injuries that are emerging as various arthritis and joint problems, in addition to the navicular syndrome that is so common in Quarter horses. It is not unusual for old injuries to start causing problems a long time after they seem to have healed. But for a 14-year old horse (a baby by our standards!) she has a surprising number of health issues. Chessie will never be completely sound and will always require a little extra care to keep her comfortable. But she is still our bright-eyed, bouncing girl and still “large and in charge.”

We are sorry that Chessie lost her home and the person who loved her. But we are glad that she had somewhere safe to go, especially in this difficult economy and terrible horse market. People are not exactly standing in line for busted up mares with bad feet, no matter how personable they are. But one of the best reasons to adopt horses from rescues is that, if something unforeseen happens, your horse has an insurance policy. Bringing back Chesapeake was possible because her adopter opened her home to a rescued horse, ensuring that in an emergency, her horse had a safe haven. But we are also grateful to her adopter, for taking such good care of our girl and for making sure she was safe when she could no longer care for her.

Top photo: Auction picture taken at CSU, 2003
Middle photo: Despooking exercise, taken at White Bird's Stillwater Farm in 2004
Bottom photo: Chessie at White Bird, taken this morning, Valentine's Day 2009