Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Still Kicking

Just wanted to let you all know that I am alive and well  and back home where I belong.  Thanks for all the well wishes and support.  I will be back when the drugs wear off.  A redhead on drugs is not a pretty sight.

Monday, June 27, 2016

State of the Farmer Address - part two

You've probably noticed that it has been kind of dull around here this year.  While everything else has been chugging along - the donkeys getting fat, birds, bees, fish - there has been one seriously weak link.

That would be me.

A few years ago, after a lifetime of odd health issues, being diagnosed with several autoimmune diseases and dozens of different doctors (all of whom were utterly useless), I finally successfully badgered a doctor into ordering a GI scope.  She actually patted my hand and said, "there, there, we'll order it if it will make you feel better", followed by an eye roll that nearly made her fall off her little stool.

(There is still a part of me that wishes I had knocked that woman right off her little stool).

What the biopsy showed was that I also have Celiac Disease and since I was 41 years old by the time this happened, the damage to my GI tract was very extensive. I went gluten free right away and felt better for a while.  The past year though....not so much.

The thing about autoimmune diseases is that once the immune system gets fired up, it is difficult to shut off.  This is generally a good thing as it is what keeps us all healthy.  However, when the immune system gets all geared up and attacks its own body, it stops being such a good thing.  One of the things that I have had to learn the hard way is that the Celiac immune response often gets worse before it gets better.

After more badgering, I had another GI scope a few weeks ago and found that in 4 years, there has been no improvement.  There are only a couple of possibilities as to why this is.  The first is that, despite my obsessive efforts at being gluten free, I am still getting exposed to gluten.  I am so hyper sensitive that it takes only microscopic amounts to make me sick for months.  The other possibility is that my immune system is so out of control that the next step is chemotherapy to get it to calm down.
Time for drastic measures.

After more research, I came up with three possible sources of continued gluten poisoning:

  1. Inadvertent poisoning by friends when we get together for dinners.  Solution:  I now eat ONLY whole foods that I have purchased and prepared myself.  This includes eliminating all grains and all dairy, which I am also reacting to.  The irony of this is that my friends all LOVE to cook and I HATE to cook.  Life can be so unfair.
  2. Tea bags.  Yep, goddammedmotherf***ing TEA BAGS.  Some of them are glued together with gluten.  (I confess to having a slight major meltdown when I read about this and verified it.)   
  3. All that lovely, low sugar, low starch wheat straw that I have been feeding to my donkeys in a (failed) attempt to keep their weight in check.  I had actually thought of the straw a few years ago and asked a doctor about it.  She told me I had to eat the gluten so using the straw for my donkeys was perfectly safe for me.  WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!! I have to ingest the gluten to get sick from it.  That includes breathing it in.  So, I have stripped the barn of all straw and won't be buying anymore.  How I completely remove all traces of gluten from a barn though, I have no clue.

A few of the things that Celiac does for me is cause relentless joint, bone and muscle pain along with brain fog that makes it hard to spell my own name and a crushing fatigue that makes me wonder how I am going to brush my teeth in the morning, let alone get through the day.  

Added to all this fun, I am having problems with my neck and shoulders that is partially work related and partially related to a bad shoulder injury I suffered about 15 years ago getting bucked off a horse.  
This past year, things have really come to a head for me.  I knew things could not continue as they were and I decided that this had to be the time that I take care of myself, which never comes easy to me.  If I were to choose a word for 2016 like some people do, it would have to be Self.  

I think (hope) that I will get the Celiac under control with the changes that I have made.  I am still trying to work with my employer to deal with the ergonomic disaster area my work place is.  I know they would like to just blame everything on the Celiac and dodge responsibility, but that is not true and I'm not letting them off the hook that easy.  I am not the only one having major problems with repetitive motion injuries and they need to address the problems in the lab for all of us, not just me.  

And, tomorrow morning, probably while most of you are reading this, I am gong to be having surgery that will, hopefully, alleviate some of the neck and shoulder problems.  

I am not sure when I will be back to the blog.  It could be a few days or a few weeks.  I will try to check in now and then.  In the meantime, if you need some reading material, I highly recommend the book Jennifer's Way.  I am making all my friends read this and all of you are my friends so you should too:)  

Speaking of....I could use some reading materiel as well so, if you've made it this far, tell me what you are reading and I will leave you with some gratuitous farm photos.

A fish sighting!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

State of the Farm(er) Address - part one

Farming, even on a small scale, is always such an endless mix of life and death.  Chaos and order.  A farm is perpetually striving for balance, but balance is never more than a fleeting moment.

After moving the chicken coop away from the stone wall and up close to the barn, I added 2 strands of electric fence.  I know there are other security measures I should be taking, but this is the best I can do for the moment.

So far, no more casualties - except for the flowers that the chickens have killed.


This is the third(?) year that I have been leaving the main portion of my pastures un-mowed until the end of July.  I do this so that there will be grass stockpiled for winter grazing.  I also wait to mow till  late July so that the grassland can double as a sanctuary for ground-nesting birds.  After spending the past 7 years rehabilitating these fields and the last three years managing them for winter grazing and wildlife, I have seen a huge increase in the bird populations this year.  

The first year I was here, I saw very few birds.  This year, there are several dozen tree swallows, a growing population of barn swallows, blackbirds, bobolinks, a bunch of things I can't identify and even a pair of bluebirds.

Earlier, I was standing, drinking my morning tea and watching all the swallows swoop and dive over the fields.  I love watching swallows.  Then, the caffeine finally caught up with my foggy brain and I realized that the swallows were so beautifully and gracefully swooping and diving directly over my new beehives.

Hopefully, those queens are laying a lot of eggs and the hives can find their moment of balance before the birds eat them all.


Every day, Connor swims in the pond and every day, I look for the fish I set loose.  So far, I have seen no sign.  Today, of course, I forgot to look for the fish.  It was as Connor's stick was just about to fly from my fingers that I looked up and saw all six carp having a meeting in the center of the pond.  The stick landed right in the middle of them and the Border Collie was not far behind.  In the brief look I got of them, they seemed to be doing well.  I think they may even have grown.

Still no sign of the catfish, but I'm not sure that is a bad thing.  they should be hanging out on the bottom of the pond, doing their thing.  I think i would only see them if there is something wrong.


The equines are all doing well, although both Emma and Tessa have gained an alarming amount of weight.  They did very well over the winter, everyone even lost a few pounds and they all looked good this Spring.  I wanted to maintain that so I actually gave them less access to grass than I have in previous years and took them off the main pasture a month earlier.  However, the grass came in super strong this year and, before I knew it, the pounds were adding up even on their limited access.  Everyone is on a strict diet now and for the foreseeable future.

I was lucky to get really low sugar hay last year, which is what helped with the weight lose, but I think the low sugar was because of the freakish amount of rain we had.  This year, we have had a freakish amount of sun and I am very worried about the sugar content of the feed this year.  It is especially worrisome because I can no longer feed straw for reasons I will get to in a minute.  I am trying to figure out how to lower the calories and still keep the herd happy.  It is a struggle.

Ramsey will be turning 4 in a few days, which is amazing.  He sure has come a long way.  His bad foot is doing well.  It has its issues, as it always will, but Ramsey is growing into a very solid, strong donkey.  He is almost an adult.

Hard to believe isn't it?

To be continued.....

Friday, June 24, 2016

One Down

There was a murder last night.

I got home from work at about 2:45 am and Connor went on high alert as soon as he got out of the car.  The neighbor's dog was barking like mad and Connor joined in then took off to clear the area of invaders.  I went out to check on everyone and they were all fine and I saw nothing but deer and the full moon for the dogs to be barking at so I shrugged and went to bed.  

I couldn't sleep though and Connor kept yelling at something.  Finally, he gave up and came to bed just before 4:00.  At five after, I heard the chickens squaking and rushed out the door to check.  One of the red star hens was gone.

Something had tunneled under the wall and stolen a hen.  I think they would all be dead if I had not arrived, half naked, in slippers, mad as hell and ready to take on all monsters.  

This is why I question the sanity of trying to keep poultry here.  

Something is going to have to be done.  For today, I moved the coop next to the barn and reinforced the perimeter.  It will be hotter for them, but maybe safer.  It was all I could do for today.  If they make it to tomorrow, I will figure something else out.  What ever the murderer is, it is not deterred by two large, angry dogs.  Given how small the tunnel space was under the wall, I suspect a Fisher.  They are not easily deterred. 

Don't. Get. Attached.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Donkey treats come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes.

The hens are doing well.

They settled right in and are busy trying to take over the farm in their little clucky way.  Chickens are like that.

I'm generally getting 3-5 eggs a day from five hens, which is more than I can eat, but eggs are never hard to find homes for.

I've been giving them treats to train them to go in their coop each evening.  Now they follow me all over trying to "help" with everything.  Donkeys yelling at me on one side of the fence, chickens clucking on the other - the best laid plans....

It was too hot to do anything useful outside on Sunday so I finally did something with the huge bag a rhubarb I had cut the week before - wild blueberry/rhubarb jam.  Best jam ever.  Although, this batch did suffer through several last minute changes of plan and maybe has a bit more rhubarb than blueberries.  Still, pretty darn good.

This is what happens when mice get into a bee hive.  It generally only happens when a hive is weak or it is too cold for the bees to defend themselves.  Mice can just destroy a hive.  Lots of things can destroy a hive.

Several people wondered about the big rock with the iris' and dratted cat.  This was one of the "little" stones that we dug up when I had the excavation work done for my house.  The clean out for the septic tank is directly under the pale colored flowers next to the rock.  Unglamorous, but necessary.

The contractor told me not to let anyone drive over it so I told him to put the rock just next to it.  Like I'd ever remember where it is without a marker, right?

The rock is right in the center of my backyard and I had envisioned a small flower and rock garden with a bird feeding station and the bird bath.  I've planted umpteen flowers around it, but the iris' are the only thing that has ever survived.  As for the bird feeding....

....best laid plans and all that.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Beeing There

In between all the hay drama and the heat wave, it also ended up being the weekend for the new honeybees to arrive.  They were supposed to be ready by the first of June, but the late cold spells we had delayed everything.  It is late to be installing nucs, but that is beekeeping for ya.

There are a couple of ways to start a new hive.  You can order "package" bees in the spring from a large apiary in the south.  They put a newly hatched queen in a cage and add either 3 or 5 pounds of bees (yes, they weigh them), depending on what you pay for.  The whole package is then shipped to you in the mail.

The post office loves that:)

The other way is to pull several frames of bees, including eggs, larva, honey and mature nurse bees, out of an existing hive and give them a new queen.  This is referred to as nucleus hive or"nuc".  This is by far a better method than starting with a package, but they are harder to find and must be purchased from a fairly local source.  If none is available than packages are the only way to go.

I have not had much success with package bees in the past.  They tend to do very well at first, but none of them ever survived a winter here.  A few months ago, when I was thinking about getting bees again, I got in touch with a young beekeeper who has just started an apiary a few miles from here.  He was offering nucs and was very local so I ordered two of them.  I picked them up yesterday.

I went through my old equipment and pieced together the makings of two hives.

Just barely made it past the inspectors....

...and then picked up the nucs last evening.  The nucs are the small, white boxes, which are temporary housing.  The entrance holes are covered with tape to keep the bees inside during transit.  You really don't want a whole bunch of pissed of bees flying around inside the car with you after you pick them up.

It is not good weather for working bees as it is in the 90's and the sun is intense.  However, I really needed to get these bees transferred into a real hive today as I won't have time to do it this week.  I waited until evening, which is usually a bad idea, but it all went fine.

Each box of a hive holds 10 frames, although I generally use 9 in my hives.

This is a lovely frame of bees.  All of the solid tan portions are capped cells, each holding a baby bee.  These will be hatching withing the next few days, giving this hive a large boost in population.

One of the things I like about keeping bees is the way the world calms and focuses when I am working in the hive.  It is a sort of meditation.  You cannot approach a beehive with any type of negative emotion.  Honeybees respond nearly instantly to emotion and sudden changes in emotion will elicit sudden changes in the bees as well, generally not for the good.  If you come to them with calm and appreciation, they stay calm.  Lose your temper or get in a hurry and you better close up that hive and get out of there fast or you will pay for it.  Honeybees know our souls better than we do.

I found the queen in both hives and they were both very busy laying eggs.  Can you find her?  She is the very large bee, center left.

Just left of center again...notice that there is always at least one bee touching the queen with her antennae, the bees gather the queen's scent this way and pass it among the rest of the hive.

This is blurry, but she is easy to see here, just backing down into a cell to lay an egg with her ring of attendants all around her.  The queen always has attendants.

At the end of the day, both nucs are tucked into their hives with an extra box to provide room for all those new bees about to hatch.  It is late in the year for nucs - they have a lot of work ahead of them.

I have my doubts about how the bees will do up here on Hellwind Hill, but I can't help but hope.

Hope, but Don't. Get. Attached.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

That Time of Year

When the weather looks like this for five days in a row in the middle of June....

Every farmer in the area is doing some version of this.

Make hay while the sun shines.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Hay Comes First

I thought I'd actually write a blog post today, but then I finaly got a call back from the guy I have been hoping to buy hay from this year.  He will have hay for me and surprised me when he said he could bring some over this afternoon.  There went today's plans, but filling the hay sheds trumps all but life and death emergencies.  So, enjoy a sunny day on the farm instead.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Company of Others

I had a question a couple of weeks ago that I have been meaning to answer:

"Is Tessa the only horse on your property living with the donkeys? If so, maybe she misses being around other horses. I say this because when I had my miniature horse and would bring him over to a friend's place when we went on vacation, he would be out with her miniature donkeys and though they got along, he preferred to stand by the fence next to the other horses on the other side of the fence. Just wondering if horses prefer other horses as opposed to donkeys. Though, they do look like they really love each other and happy to see each other."

Tessa is the only horse here now, but that was not always the case.  In general, I think most animals do prefer the company of their own kind.  However, like most generalities, this one is subject to individual circumstance.  

I bought Tessa as a two year old.  She was born on a farm in the south where there was a lot of human activity, but little interaction between horses was allowed.  Tessa was turned out with her mother, but never any other horses.  As a weanling she was sold to a show barn where she also saw few other horses.  Then, the economy went to hell and her owner gave her away to a friend who raised Friesians and cross breds and Tessa was turned out with a large herd - who generally beat the crap out of her.

When Tessa came here, I still had my old mare and a friend's mare who were both very dominant.  The hooves were flying so bad I ended up taking my old mare over to FBs place in the hopes of calming things down.  That worked for a while until the other mare went after Tessa and nearly killed her.  At that point, both the older mares went to live up north, where they are still living the life all horses wish they could have.  

That left me with a badly injured Tessa and some tough decisions to make.  Her future was very uncertain and nearly everybody thought I should put her down.  Instead, I bought a donkey out of a bad situation to keep her company and give her a chance to heal.  

It worked.  With a few unexpected (Ramsey!!) twists along the way.

Up until that point, I had always found Tessa to be a bit of an enigma.  In the barn and around the farm, she was always nervous, never relaxed and her constant jitters drove me nuts.  She was calm and easy to work with though.  I had intended to sell her because no amount of ground work or patience ever seemed to make a dent in her flighty barn behavior.  Then I sent her out for saddle training and she proved, at three years old, to be the steadiest, most unflappable horse I have ever ridden.  It was a conundrum.  

Once I took the other horses out of the picture and gave Tessa a safe quiet companion who was no threat, her whole demeanor changed.  She relaxed in a way that I had never seen before and she tought me an amazing lesson about recognizing stress in horses and just how often we misinterpret it.  

So, to answer the original question, does Tessa miss the company of horses? 

I think she might miss the idea of horses, if that makes any sense at all.  She likes to visit other horses, especially Hawkeye, in an environment where she feels safe.  Such as, over a fence line, through a window or under saddle.  She does NOT like being turned out with other horses.  She loves the donkeys and she feels safe with them. With ten and without other horses, she radiates calm and contentment that is very rare to see.  If she lived with Hawkeye, they would be fine together and Tessa would eventually be happy because Hawkeye is a gentleman and she looooves him.  Would she be so relaxed and content? That, I am not so sure about.

As for the donkeys.....that will have to be a whole other post as I am out of time right now.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Some days, it's better to stay in bed.

Some days, it's better to just tune out the world.

Block out the horror and misery that you can't control and can't do anything about.

Focus on the things that you can get right.

Be grateful for the good things and the quiet places where the biggest danger is waking up with straw in your hair.

The Middle Child

Farm Buddy was nagging me the other day to make sure I wrote a suitable birthday post for Miss Kelsey, who turned seven today.  I told her she should do that, but did she?


Poor Kelsey, its not easy being the middle child.

I, at least, can empathize as I too am a middle child.  So, since FB just couldn't be bothered, here ya go Kelsey.

Happy Birthday!