Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Great Llama Drama

Figuring out how to protect the sheep from ongoing coyote predation has been a constant worry this year.  It's a problem that seems to require a multifaceted, layered approach. A local hunter has been employed to try to get the really aggressive, brazen coyotes, but none of us are happy with that.  It is a temporary fix at best and is likely to lead to more problems in the long term.

Bess is becoming a better and better guard every day and saved a lamb from attack just a couple weeks ago.  The trouble is, she is only one dog and she has to sleep sometime.  She also can't be in more than one place at a time.  More dogs are not the answer as there is a limit to the number of dogs the farm can support. The idea of a guard animal keeps coming up.  

Th guard donkey concept has too many flaws.  It has an enormous failure rate and this situation is very unsuited to a donkey's needs, which is just not fair to the donkey.  Which is why llamas keep coming up.  

FB did a ton of research and got in touch with a llama organization who provided a mentor.  All of these agreed that a llama would be a good choice as a guard and set about finding one for her.  It all seemed to be going splendidly right up until the llama actually got here last weekend.  That is when the llama drama began.

The chosen llama was supposed to be friendly, easy to handle, willing to bond with the sheep, accepting of the dogs, good with fences and become happy here.  The llama who arrived, has never seen sheep, cows, chickens or dogs.  She is thirteen years old, has done nothing but raise babies all her life and has never been away from home before.  She barely tolerates being handled and she is desperately missing her friends.  

So, she did what just about any animal would do in such a situation - she bided her time, waited for the right moment, jumped the fence and disappeared.

Thus began the great llama search.

Given the options available for a llama on the loose and the amount of land available to disappear in, there was a great deal of doubt whether she would ever be seen again.

Once again, Bess saved the day.  After two days of searching, it was Bess who found Katerina the llama, hiding out in the woods.  FB and the dogs pushed her back into the pasture and, from there, herded her back into the barn.

Where she is going to stay until she decides she loves it here or returns to her previous home.  At the moment, it is fairly obvious which choice Katerina would make.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Driving Mr. Ben

A friend of mine loaned me a harness and cart for Ben.  The Harness needs to go to the harness maker for some adjustments to make it fit a donkey properly...

If I make the crupper fit, then the britching doesn't.  If I make the britching fit, then the crupper is too short.

I finally took the brow-band off altogether because it was too tight for Ben's wide brow and oh-so-delicate and dainty ears.  We wouldn't want to pinch the ears.

But it is good enough for a little jaunt and I was determined to take my new driving donkey out for a ride before the vet comes on Thursday to work on his foot.  The canker is not yet making him lame and exercise is good for the foot so there is no reason I can think of not to.  I have no idea when or if he will be driving again so I was, by God, gonna take him out.

I know the cart needs a paint job.

I know I forgot to run the lines through the saddle rings.

I know the harness isn't quite right.

And I know that Ben is an awfully nice, well-behaved donkey.  So good that we just went out and down the road and drove into the sunset.

Care to join us for a moment?

Friday, August 26, 2016

God is Laughing At Me

This is the kind of thing that really makes me wonder if there is such a thing as fate, destiny, or karma.  Luck perhaps?  Although that doesn't seem to quite cover the sublime irony of it all.

Maybe it's that greasy little guy in the orange Naugahyde Easy-Chair who is always peering down at us just waiting for the perfect moment to let loose with the cosmic fly swatter?

Yeah, him.  I bet he's laughing his ass off right now.


As anyone who knows me or has read this blog for any amount of time would guess, one of the first things I did with Ben when he got here a couple of weeks ago was carefully inspect his feet.  I had looked at them, of course, and they are mostly in decent shape.  They were in need of a trim and one of them had what appeared to be deep sulcus thrush in the frog.  This can be painful and cause a lot of problems if left untreated, but it is nothing I haven't dealt with before.  It needs to be taken seriously, but it can be fixed and I am not intimidated by it.

I got out my preferred cure and my hoof knife and set to work.  And that is when I heard the first tiny whisper of doubt in the back of my mind.  Being a typical human, I am as good as the next guy at callously ignoring clear evidence that points to an unwanted truth.  We only believe what we want to believe.

When I injected the thrush treatment into the sulcus area, I was met with a nasty, grey ooze creeping back out of the crevice, which is not good and not normal.  It had an odd smell and looked entirely unwholesome.  The whisper got a little louder, but I didn't want to hear it so I stuffed it in a box with a tight lid and shoved it into a dark, unused corner of my mind.  I got out the big guns and packed the foot with my magical Magic Cushion and wrapped it well with an elastikon bandage.

Secure in my denial and faith in Magic Cushion, which has not let me down yet, I left the foot to heal in its medicated wrap.  Last Sunday, I took the wrap off and inspected the results.  The Magic Cushion had worked a little bit of it's magic and the nasty grey ooze was gone, as was the weird smell.  However, what was revealed was the true culprit:  a soft, white, fleshy mound growing where no such thing should be.  It bled profusely with the tiniest scratch and was surrounded by unhealthy, grey tissue.

That mean little whisper I had been working so very hard to ignore, burst out of its box, full grown, loud and screaming at me, "You see?!  I TOLD YOU SO!  Now you're in for it. You should have listened to me."

I knew what I was looking at, even though I never thought to actually see it in real life, and could no longer deny the plain truth of it.  I still find myself shaking my head in stunned disbelief though.  I already have a donkey with a weird, rare hoof problem, how could I end up with another?

And besides that, this is one of those bizarre, odd, rare diseases you read about in a magazine with a combination of horrified fascination and secret gratitude that it won't ever actually happen to you.  It couldn't possibly.  Surely not.  And surely not to someone who already has a donkey with a foot problem.  That shit just doesn't happen right?


It does happen and it's been confirmed by the farrier at Cornell and by my vet, who probably thought I was kidding when I called her and told her I thought Ben has Canker.

But he does.

God is so laughing at me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wind Blown

Have you ever wondered why Tessa has a perpetually tousled, wind-blown look?

There's a good reason for it....

I just read that July 2016 was the hottest ever recorded.

Tessa deals with such things by spending allllll day parked in her favorite corner....

....hogging the fan.

Everyone else takes what breeze passes under - or over.  Good thing they come with large, all-natural air conditioning units installed at birth.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Here's Your Chance

This is Bodie, Ben's teammate.

Is he not beautiful?  Seriously, check out those lovely ear tufts. Who could resist?

He is as sweet and kind on the inside as he is beautiful on the outside.

There is also a bit of the devil hidden under that sweet demeanor.  He loves to instigate mock battles with his playmates and I suspect he knows as much, if not more, about feed room doors as Ben does. There is a clever mind in there dreaming up new schemes so he is not all sweet innocence.  What donkey is?  What fun would that be after all?

He has a lot of driving experience and is very willing to share his knowledge.  Donkeys are very good at telling you how things should be done.
I spent some time with Bodie this weekend, working on his feet and found him to be a sweet, lovable, well-mannered donkey with good feet.  His working days are mostly over though.  He is perfectly sound as a companion and he could do some light driving on level ground.  Bodie has many years of good useful life in him, but he can't do hard work and steep hills.

Still, he is a beautiful soul who has a great deal to offer.  Ramsey will never be a "working" donkey, but he has a very important job nonetheless.  Bodie could easily do the same and much more.  He could help teach othe donkeys how to lead, drive and behave with the manners befitting a gentleman. An ever-so-charmingly rakeish gentleman, but a gentleman still.

Honestly, if I had a bigger barn, bigger hay storage, bigger bank account.....I'd have another big donkey.  There is something very special about these mammoth donkeys.

They have a friendly, Zen-like calm mischievousness that really gets to me.  Truly beautiful inside and out.

But I have given in to temptation too much already.  It is someone else's turn.

If anyone might be interested in Bodie and you can give him the type of life a sweet, kind, gentle mammoth should have, send me an email at and I will pass on your contact info.

Bodie is not available as a guard donkey.  He is not well suited for it and we do not want that for him.  His also will not be "free to a good home".  The right people will understand what I mean.  Bodie is in no danger and his best interests come first.  We want what is right for him, he deserves it.

They all deserve it, but they don't all get it.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Mind Control

It took Ben about twelve seconds to figure where all the good stuff is stored.

He clearly has prior experience with feed rooms.

And he has clearly spent a lot of time honing his mind control skills.

"Open.  Open says-a-me."


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Stable Relations

The new herd dynamics are still sorting themselves out.  As always, I find the study of herd dynamics to be fascinating.  The big difference that I see between introducing new horses and introducing new donkeys is a difference in speed, velocity and drama.  Horses are all about galloping around, flying hooves, blowing, snorting, squealing and posturing.  Hierarchy is paramount and must be established.  There is much drama when introducing new horses.

Things are muuuch slower and more cerebral with donkeys.  They look at each other, maybe get close enough to sniff, then they back off, pretend the other doesn't exist and go their separate ways to think about the situation.  They come back later and repeat, getting a bit closer each time, but still backing off to think things through.

The only place this does not work well is in the barn where things can get crowded.  Emma and Ramsey are still very intimidated by Ben and he is a bit pushy about food.  He is not mean about it, but they get scared and want to escape, which can be problematic in the an enclosed space.

So, I got out the power tools and made some minor changes.

This is what the back of the barn has looked like for the past several years (minus the big donkey).....

That back, left corner is Emma's favorite spot.  It is where she chose to give birth to Ramsey.

Emma and Ramsey can duck under the center board and put a barrier between themselves and Tessa if they want to.  She is good to them, but they hate feeling crowded, especially Emma, and this partial wall gives them a space of their own to feel safe.

It still works great if I lock Ben in that stall, but that is not a viable long-term option.

I took the stall partition down....

...and replaced it with a single long board that little donkeys can pass under easily and big donkeys cannot.

If I have to, I can add another board down the center and create a space that is accessible to little donkeys only.  We will see how this works for now though.  Hopefully, they will all keep thinking about things and eventually decide, in their own donkey way and in their own donkey time, to get along.  For now, I just want everyone to be safe and not feel threatened.

The key to having a happy herd is to make sure that everyone feels safe, well fed, and not crowded.  If any one of those three things is lacking, there will be problems.  Which is true for all animals, including humans.  It is too bad we so often forget, or choose to ignore that.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Peace Talks

Important negotiations always take place over food...

and they do say that the family that breaks bread together, stays together.

Even if there are some disagreements along the way.

As long as the food holds out....

peace talks can continue.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ben There Done That

Ben was half of a team of mammoth driving donkeys - Ben and Bodie.  I may not have all the sequence right, but I believe they were originally from Montana.  They went to Idaho for training and from there to Missouri (I think??  I need to check all that.), then to North Carolina.  They came to New York about two years ago to be a driving team for their latest owner.

This was actually the second team of mammoth donkeys he had bought.  One of the first team contracted EPM shortly after coming to NY.  EPM is a very nasty protozoa disease that attacks the spinal column.  It is one of those cruel, parasitic diseases that are impossible to guard against and is difficult to treat.  It can sometimes be treated and sometimes not, depending on what part of the spine is affected.  Unfortunately, this was a very bad case and the donkey was euthanized when she could no longer stand.

Mary, that gorgeous Catalonian donkey, was to be her teammate, but she is not trained yet.

Not wanting to give up on his dream, the owner then bought Ben and Bodie.  In a cruel twist of fate, Bodie was injured somewhere along the way and he developed a problem with his hip/pelvis/stifle.  It is difficult to pinpoint where the problem is and it is not easy to see unless you are really looking for it, but there is something not quite right in his left hind.  He is still mostly sound and certainly happy in his pasture, but he is not up for driving on the kind of hills we have here.  He would probably do fine if he lived in Kansas, but not on these hills.

After so much heartbreak and trouble, the owner finally gave up on the idea of having a team of mammoths and bought a pair of Standard bred horses instead.  Standard breds are common here as the harness racing industry produces and discards thousands of them every year.  When their racing careers are over, they generally end up going for slaughter or the Amish buy them and use up what is left before shipping them to slaughter.  This lucky pair made it through both the race tracks and the Amish and landed on a small farm where they go out for a pleasure drive a few times a week.

That leaves Ben and Bodie with no job.  The owner needs a team to manage the wagon he has and Ben is the sole donkey up for the job.  Since he can't do the job alone, and the Standard breds are working out well, the owner is looking to consolidate and have a few less mouths to feed.  Bodie is now retired and may be available to the right home as a companion or light duty.  If it is not the right place though, he will stay where he is.  These are VERY nice and much loved donkeys.

Ben and Bodie are in the 11-14 age range.  They are both 60 inches tall and have both riding and driving experience.

Ben's fancy, official name is Ben There Done That and it suits him to a tee.

If I had to choose one word to describe him so far, it would be: phlegmatic.

Phlegmatic with the thread of devilish mischief that lies at the heart of all donkeys:)

Ben does have a been-there-done-that attitude though.

He is also very well mannered, kind, sweet and lovable.

With a booming, sonorous voice that sounds remarkably like a foghorn.