Thursday, August 30, 2007

Building organically

Not too many years ago, but a lifetime or two ago, when I was an agricultural newspaper editor, I interviewed a rancher/ranch developer.

This gentleman owned and had built ranches from Florida to Wyoming. While it is terribly impolite to ask a man the size of his spread, the total acreage of the lands he had title to is larger than most New England states. We visited and talked as we walked over his newly acquired land in Colorado. This piece of land was several thousand acres of sage, pinon, arroyos, mountains, lakes and meadows. I asked him how he went about developing a working ranch from raw land.

He explained that he had learned to let it grow in a natural fashion. For the first two years, he doesn't put anything permanent on any ranch, except perimeter fencing. The interior fencing is all electric wire and stake. The bunkhouses are on skids. The mess hall is a big canvas tent.

For two years, the ranch manager and the cowboys move things as needed and settle in. The cattle find their wallows, the horses graze the meadows and the critters and humans make paths and roads just with their natural movement. Two years gives the people a chance to see where the water pools and drains, where the wind howls and where the snow builds up.

He explained that after two years, you could start to finish the roads, build corrals in logical places and build houses for the people in places that worked.

It made sense to me when I did the interview. Now, as we are in the process of developing Foxbriar into a sustainable, comfortable home for a widely diverse group of people and flora and fauna, it makes as much sense as ever.

So, Robin and Summer are bringing out their yurt, Summer's sisters are going to come and play and get a feel for the land. Shawn, Lena and I are pushing our campers around and moving the fencing to meet the critters needs.

It is a growth process, and growth takes time. Maybe lifetimes.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Re-arranging the arrangements

The decision - based on finances and practicalities - has been made to relocate the house site and the barns and the milk shed and the pastures.

Of course, this is not to scale or accurate in any real sense of the word, but it gives the general impression of what we're after. This will put the houses, barns, gardens and water within relatively easy reach of the electric and water. Our original plan - which was much nicer, I think - had the houses and studios scattered to the four corners and gone. we would have had better views, but the cost and time in running water lines and power lines to those locations would have been astronomical!

Sometimes, common sense and comfort (and finances) have to take center stage and tell your fantasies to take a hike.

That's the big picture though. In the meantime, we're moving "The Dinosaur " (a large tent whose legs and top look like a giant fossilized skeleton when the tarp isn't on it) to the front of Midas (do you remember Midas, the RV?). We're going to cat-proof the dinosaur so 'Lena can move out there. Jen and I will be moving into the camper trailer. This will free up a lot of room in the shop and with any luck that'll make us a little more productive!

To prepare for this smaller undertaking - Woo Hoo! A task that looks doable in a short period of time - we disassembled the kid pen and moved it over to the end of the barn, constructed a milk goat corral, and moved the milk stand between last night and this morning. not related, but we also reinvented a section of the horse's pasture to prevent them from escaping or injuring themselves - some of the fencing we had put in didn't stand up to the horse's scratching themselves on the poles.

Tonight, we'll likely construct the rest of the milk shed - a series of slab-based panels for short walls / gates and a tarp for a roof, move the grain storage shed (our old reliable Transporter that hasn't worked the same since we got out here), move the dinosaur, and start on the cat-proof fencing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Meri cares

Sheep are very caring and sensitive creatures. I am not being anthropomorphic here, there are scientific studies showing this. A British study found that sheep feel emotion for each other and their shepherd. According to a study done at Cornell University, (quoted here from an article in Nature magazine), "...and with a glance at its face, a sheep can assign another sheep to its place in the family tree and assess its emotional state."
This morning, the sheep decided to wander into the neighbor's cattle pasture. The grass is much nicer there than in our meadow. I went off over the mountain looking for them. They were down in a hollow, happily munching. But they are good sheep and when I called them (and shook the grain bucket that I had been smart enough to carry) they came running.

We strolled back through the field, sheep munching on the way. Marj, Poppy and Meri came up and begged bites of grain, wanting to make sure the treat was real.

Meri is a dear sheep. We call her our "hobbit sheep", in part from her name, but also because of her personality. She believes that she should be fed breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, lunch, dinner, tea, supper and midnight snack. She knows she is cute and has learned to beg treats from humans with a tilt of her head.
She tends to get herself into situations - as a lamb she loved skating on the ice and more than once fell through into the water trough. I was always sure she was going to loose a leg to frost bite, but she never did.

Meri was following right at my side when I set the bucket down on the far side of the barbed wire fence and lifted my leg to climb over the fence. My clog fell off my foot and plopped down on the ground next to Meri. She looked at the shoe, sniffed my foot, and looked at my face with an expression of deep concern. She nudged the shoe and looked back up a me. She was so worried!

I couldn't help but laugh. "Silly Meri, just hand it to me," I said. But of course, she doesn't understand English. As soon as she saw I was ok, and that it wasn't a terrible tragedy that my foot had fallen off - she ducked under the fence and stuck her nose in the grain bucket. I recovered my shoe and we all drifted back to the barn.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Drummmmm roll, please!

With much loud clucking and cackling, the chickens have announced their newest amazing ability.
They lay eggs!
Pictured is the first ever Foxbriar Farm fresh, free-range wild chicken egg. This one was found by Lena in the hay stack. I suspect from the noises that there may be a few more in the forest.

Chores have been uneventful this weekend, while I took a break from the computer, with one exception.

Jude, the softest kitty in the Universe, met with tragedy in the forest friday night. Her grave is now next to little Meese's. We are talking about planting a herb and flower garden in the meadow that seems to be a resting place here on Foxbriar.

On a much happier note, Kermit, the orphan baby llama is doing better and is now getting his beet pulp and grain mash, as well as hay and about 10 oz milk morning and night.

The sheep and goats are really putting on the pounds now that they have adapted to their new feed. We may be able to back them off a bit. That will really help the budget.

Friday, August 24, 2007


At 6:24 a.m. this morning, it rained chickens on Foxbriar Farm.

It is getting light later, and I was awake but didn't want to get out of bed yet. I was watching the trees and listening to the morning sounds, including all the neighborhood roosters. Suddenly, large bright colored objects plummeted past the window.

It was raining chickens!

Well, that's what it seemed like. Our clever chickens roost about 20 feet up in the trees. They are sleeping in later, too, as the days get shorter and so, I got to witness their morning debarkation. It was a pretty cool sight.

Now if we could just get it to rain water...

The sheep spent about 2 hours out to pasture this morning. They enjoyed it greatly and were well behaved. The llamas however went roaming since they were all out together. Can't let that happen. Nilly-bit just stayed in the sheep pen and waited for everybody to come back for breakfast. She seems to realize that it is scary out in the forest for a blind sheep.

Lena is home. She got back about 10:30 and says everybody is looking better on the new feed. She said even Thyme, who I've been most worried about, has filled in in the three weeks she's been gone. The new feed must be working.

Kermit was much better this morning, even chewing cud and running off with his sibs. I did give him a bottle of Pedialyte to make sure he stayed hydrated. But tonight he was hunched and had that tummy ache look again, even though he now has normal llama beans. So we dosed him with Peptobismol and left him out with his sis and the sheep.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sheeps and bees and cherries

As always, lots happened today.
Isn't it funny, how a day seems uneventful until you sit down and try to chronicle it.

We wormed Thyme with Strongid and gave her a dose of Polyvisol. She is thin and her fleece looks scruffy. I think part of it is that she is so high lanolin and in this heat the sweat pushes it to the end.

Kermit is doing better. We gave him a bottle of Pedialyte this morning, a dose syringe of Peptobismol, a pan of beet pulp and stock 12 mash and grass hay. When we were at the farm this afternoon, he seemed very active but was crying constantly. So, Shawn lifted him over the fence in with the sheep and Pequena. He spent a lot of time licking the sulfur/salt block. We didn't give him anything special for dinner, just the hay and grain that the sheep get and we left him in with his sis.

Lynn and Sonny came and checked out the beesies and took home Clyde the Super Collider. The biggest of the bottle babies, Clyde was Salvia's black lamb by Homer. She rejected him at birth and kept her solid white lamb. Clyde has been on a bottle all his life, but he is big! Lynn will give him a good home and maybe now we'll have enough milk that a human might get to drink some?

Sonny said the bees are fine and he gave us some good tips. He showed us that they are two different breeds, the bees on the left are Italian and make more honey, faster. The bees on the right are either Russian or Buckfast bees. They are much darker than the little Italians. It is fascinating to see the differences - so close together!
We stole a frame of honey - just couldn't resist.

Lynn was looking at our trees while the guys were looking at bees. Of course, she was the only one who got stung!
She said the red sumac berries are edible if bitter and they make a great pink lemonade. She commented that the wild cherry leaves are toxic to the goats when their color starts to turn. We said, "Good thing we don't have any," and she showed us where we were wrong - we have lots of wild cherry. I wonder if the wild cherry is like tart cherry? It has the stripey silver bark and the leave are just starting to turn red. It is everywhere, so I guess we'll just have to hope the goats stay away from it.

She said in a normal year there would be wild cherries on the trees, but this year, because of the late killing freeze there are really no tree fruits in the area. Even the oaks did not set acorns. The deer and the squirrels are going to be very hungry this winter.

We put Bramble in with Cremepouf for a bit tonight. They fought, but not too seriously. He does have the idea that he is something special and he is developing a buck attitude, so I think he'll do fine breeding everybody this year.

Well, poop!

Who would have thought that seeing an animal get scours would be a cause for celebration? That was the case this yesterday, though.

It started with losing Rosemary, our momma llama. Her cria for this year was orphaned by that tragedy and we have tried since that day to take care of him, but he seemed to be slipping. At first, he'd run from us playfully. Then, he'd just stand there. Then he was laying down and would get up as we approached. Then he would just lay there.

That was the same progression that Rosemary suffered and we began to fear we were going to lose Kermit, too.

So afraid was I that when I approached him and he refused to stand I reached down and hoisted him up in my arms. That's when I noticed that his belly was quite distended.

Part of the problem in performing a successful diagnosis of a critter comes from not being able to observe enough. Had we been watching all the time we might have noticed that he had not been making his trips to the little llama room. Seems he was plugged up.

We administered an enema, lots of fluids, grains and beet pulp mash, and yogurt. Then we waited.

We were rewarded last night by a display that can only be described as revolting!

We can't be sure that the problems Kermit was having are completely over, but he does appear to be recovering. He's up and about, has a lot more energy, and what goes in one end comes out the other after a while. Now, he's getting some Pepto (which he hates and shows us by spraying - shaking his head not spitting - us with what he doesn't get swallowed) and lots of fluids and no milk.

Meanwhile, I developed a case of bee hypochondria after attending the Ozark Foothills Beekeeping Associations monthly meeting. When I went to check on the bees I saw a pile of 'em under the hive. I was worried. I thought varroa mite or tracheal mite or hive beetle or one of apparently a billion other pests or diseases that can wreak havoc with a hive. I called Sonny from the Lost Creek Apiary (in the Spring he moonlights as a bee inspector for the Arkansas Plant Board) to come out and check my hives.

He did and says they're fine healthy hives and that the bees under the hives are just hanging out in the 'basement' while there's not enough work for them to do and it's too hot in the hive... sort of like the guys hanging out at the pub shooting pool.

As you know I only want to keep my critters happy... anyone know where I can get a bee sized billiards table?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A brand new concept

Well, it's kinda new... sorta...

I wrote in the Laffing Horse Diary the other day that my blog was my website. Seems people were getting confused looking for us and finding my daily (or sometimes not-so-daily) ramblings.

People stayed confused. Bummer.

They wanted to find out about Laffing Horse Woodworks, or Foxbriar Farm, or Common Threads. I wanted to tell 'em about my neighbor.

Since we - Jeanette and I - cannot count ourselves as a majority of two (well, we could, but what good would that do us... or our readers), we decided to turn all of our websites back on and desegregate them.

Now you'll find the following:

  • Laffing Horse Diary
    • This is where I'll write about the woodshop and all the wonderful goodies I build and design. Crochet hooks, square crochet hooks, afghan crochet hooks, Tunisian crochet hooks, flexible crochet hooks, knitting needles, circular knitting needles, double-point knitting needles, square knitting needles of all types, drop spindles, Navajo spindles, TriLooms and more can be found right here.
  • Foxbriar Farm
    • Daily trials, tribulations, and celebrations of life in the Ozarks. Here there be critters! Llamas, Jacob Sheep, Lamancha Dairy Goats, Angora Goats, Dogs, Cats, Chickens, Bees and Nugget and 'Fria - the two old token ponies and hay disposal units - will wander side by side with half lunatic ravings about how to best build a house out of scrap lumber and baling twine.
  • Sustainable Reality
    • Where High Tech meets the Homestead. We're homesteaders, sure, but that doesn't mean we're not civilized. We've got DSL run right to the barn. We'll blather on about new green technologies, how to use your computer and Internet connection to support the farm, and the like right here. I might even tuck in a few personal musings.
  • Spinning Dreams and Weaving Yarns
    • Jeanette's personal musings. I'm sure she has a more defined idea of what will go here, but she's not told me quite what it is yet.
  • Sis
    • 'Lena spends a lot of time on the farm. She has a very good eye for photos and a gentle, healing hand with the animals. She can tell you about it - or show it to you - in her own way.
  • Road Dogs
    • Jeanette decided that our dogs should have a voice. You'll hear from Aniken the white German Shepherd, Quigley UpOver the Aussie in America, and Scraps the Chihuahua crossed with a bat crossed with a potbellied pig crossed with a pug.
  • There's another, but Jeanette says I can't tell you about it yet... don't worry, though, as soon as it's ready you'll hear about it in a BIG way. Gosh, I hope it's ready soon!
That about wraps it up, I think, for now anyways. I'm sure there will come a point somewhere down the road a piece when we'll add to or subtract from the list. Until then, enjoy the ride!

Resistance - wormers and antibiotics

Twenty years or so ago, Ivermectin was introduced. This new wormer was going to revolutionize the horse world. It was effective against almost every parasite except tape worms. We were even told that there was no reason to rotate wormers any more, "just use something else once a year to get the tapes."

Now, in 2007, ivermectin is listed as one of the wormers with the lowest efficacy, at least in sheep and goats.

When penicillin was introduced, it was truly a miracle. Now, most bacteria blow metaphorical raspberries at penicillin.

So, what is a livestock producer to do?

I used to think I was a healer. I knew which drugs to give for which types of infection and which natural support therapies to use for which imbalance. Now, I feel adrift. Even with the internet to research, I am having trouble figuring out how to treat my animals.

So, it's time to go back to the beginning. I learned about livestock by working with vets and professors and extension agents, as well as spending lots of time with the animals themselves. So, the critters are in place and Oct 12 there is a sheep and goat workshop in Booneville, AR. I'll let you know what I find out.

Foxbriar daily update:

  • Wormed Fria (24 yr old reg. Arabian mare) w/Strongid
  • Treated Kermit (3.5 mo old orphaned llama cria) w/bloat guard. liquid vitamins and Pedialyte
  • Garden is gone! Must be bugs - something even ate the jalapenos and tomato plants!
  • Giving Muppet (free-roaming guardian llama) 1/2 can Stock 12 morning and night trying to get some weight on him.
  • Milking three does - Yampa (Oberhasli/Lamancha cross), Erie (Nubian/Lamancha cross) and Beth (yearling Lamancha) twice a day
  • Bottle feeding - Mouse, Clyde (CVM/Jacob ram lambs), Crip and Squeak (both have moms but need supplemental feeding) and Kermit.
  • Put Cricket and Constance in with Cappucino ( current nickname "Creampouf"), Constance jumped right out, Capp is boss over Crickey.
  • Rams are doing well on two flakes of hay a day for both of them.
  • Ewes seem to be gaining a little weight on 5 flakes hay and 2 cans Stock 12 morning and night. They have been very restless since we sold the 6 ewes and their lambs.

Monday, August 20, 2007

What's the buzz?

And, speaking of bees, shouldn’t we take notes when dealing with bees?

They’ve got it made! They’re captains of industry and orderly and structured…

My new spacesuit… beam me up Scotty!
That’s a pith helmet under the netting, so with just a quick costume change, I can be exploring the deepest darkest… Dr. Livingstone I presume…

Nope, not a phaser… We’re told that the smoke doesn’t really calm them, although that’s the end result. The smoke makes ‘em think that there’s a fire (duh!) and they go grabbing honey to make good their escape. So, they’re fat on honey and focussed on getting out and that makes ‘em slow down. Or so we’re told…

“What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a happenin’…”

And there they are. They seem pretty healthy, but not as prolific as I’d like to see. however, I’m an inexperienced beekeeper and these are still relatively new hives.

Inexperienced? yep, but lucky, too… checked most every frame in both hives and not one bite… from a bee…

It seems to me that if we would just accept our role in life and acknowledge that Jen is the queen and do what we’re told (or know needs to be done instinctively) we’d all get along so much better. I mean, who needs ambition or creativity or… ah, forget I said anything…

Cool, rainy, new Angora Buck

This morning it is cool (about 85 degrees) and raining off and on.
The new little angora buckling is doing well, eating lots and flirting with the sheep. We settled on Caramel Cappucino for a name. He is such a poof. I think we'll move the doelings in with him this afternoon.

We only have 3 angora does right now. Their names are Acacia, Beige and Bramble. But we'll have Cappucino freshen the milk does for us and perhaps, if he's still got the energy, he can stand to a few outside does this year.

We wormed all three llamas with Strongid yesterday. Kermit is still not doing well, his belly is distended, we gave him an enema last night.

The horses are doing great, their hooves look good. They are getting 3 flakes bermuda grass hay am and pm and 1/2 can Stock 12 morning and night. We'll worm them with Strongid this week.

Sheep seem to be gaining, since we sold the 6 ewes and 6 lambs to Mona and we started them on the new grain. We'll worm them and the goats with the garlic prep this week.