Horse Lessons Begin Again

Last year I started horse lessons with my niece, Aurora who was 7 at the time. By the end of the summer she was wielding the lunge whip, building muscles, cleaning hooves herself, and improving her balance while riding bareback while I led Jack around.

This year we started a little later, because of weather and schedules but now lessons are back on. It’s funny how much you forget over the course of winter.

Our first lesson was mostly getting re-acquainted with how to behave around a horse and to not be shy.

A few items we worked on:

  1. Don’t be timid. A horse is a thousand pound animal who likes to be scratched hard to make it feel good. If you’re not putting a little muscle behind a scratch it feels ticklish, like a fly landing on them. Horses don’t appreciate that.
  2. How to pick up a horse hoof. Run a hand all the way down his leg, grasp his ankle, and lean into him. Be ready when he takes the weight of his foot and be fast to pick it up. Put some muscle into the lift! Some horses will do it for you but Jack makes you work for everything.
  3. Behavior while lunging. While lunging a horse your job is to watch him and his job is to watch you. This is an exercise in maintaining pace, establishing dominance, and honing skills in observation. Horses are experts in body language and you need to be too.
  4. How to lead a horse. Aurora has short arms so I fed a piece of rope through a 2 1/2 foot length of PVC pipe so she can keep him off her heels. Jack has a bad habit of walking close to you and has been known to heel step if you’re not paying attention to him. We reviewed where he should be and how to keep him in his space and out of hers.
  5. Brushing etiquette. Most children love to brush horses so we mostly went over how to walk behind a horse and his ticklish spots.
  6. Opening and closing gates. It’s hard to work with an animal if you’re afraid of the fence to take him in or out. I had Aurora opening the electric fence to get used to it. When she is more adept at leading I will have her practice leading him in and out.

Overall it was a great first lesson and soon she will remember all of these items from last year.

The three main skills to remember around a horse or any animal are:

  1. Be Bold!
  2. Pay Attention!
  3. Put Some Muscle Into It!

zhorse2I’m going to start a few lessons with Fiona, my daughter, who is 2. She needs to remember that he is bigger than her. She loves Jack and has even ridden him bareback without support while I led him around. She clings to him like a tick and loves every second of it! The girl has a lot of attitude and forgets that she is only pint-sized.

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Into Summer

Finally it looks like summer is coming to the north woods. Suddenly the leaves are green, the grass is green, and little green silk worms are appearing in the trees. June is green and I love it.

For the first time we have had a hen successfully brood a small flock of chicks. I’m excited about it. Every year we have had one or two hens try but when they set  in the chicken coop the other hens want to lay eggs where they are. Eventually we take the eggs away but it turns into a smelly mess. If you have never heard a rotten egg explode and sniffed the corresponding odor count yourself lucky. The smell fills the entire barn and lingers. Yuck! This setting hen (its always the Buff Orpingtons) found a nice quiet spot in the big goat stall. zhenThere is an old dog house in there for the goat kids and because they like to climb on it. Mamma hen set on her eggs in there and has hatched out 3 chicks. It works perfectly to have them in the dog house because I can put food in there for them and they are safe from the cats.

We had a fox stealing chickens so I am glad for the replacements. We lost about 6 hens and all 4 of our ducks. I really hope these chicks are hens!

Lucian and I also decided that Franky, our buck, needed a toy. He likes to ram his head into the side of the barn. I get a little tired of hearing him. Dong, Dong, DONG! He does it mostly when he wants his hay, but I know he was also bored. We found him a great toy. Lucian rolled a wooden spool used for electrical wire all the way through the barn and when Trenton got home he tossed it in for Franky. He has been having a blast with it ever since.

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Let the Gardens Grow

The gardens are finally planted!

Sometimes I wonder if having a garden is worth all the work that goes into it, but when the vegetables start ripening I remember. Until then I keep thinking of how much work it is to start a garden. There are many different steps that go into creating a garden and each requires a fair amount of physical effort.

Step 1: Fertilizingzgarden

The better the soil the less fertilizer you will need on a garden to feed the plants that will feed you. Our soil is sandy so we need to fertilize it every year. There are different types of fertilizer that can be put on your garden. While there are chemical fertilizers that will help your garden grow most gardens do better with organic material to improve the soil. The preferred fertilizer is cow manure but we don’t own any cows so our garden gets filled with horse manure. This year I looked after Penelope while Trenton, Lucian, and even Fiona hauled countless wheelbarrows full of horse manure onto the various gardens.

Step 2: Breaking It In

If you do not already have an established garden plot this would be your Step 1. This step requires a nice rototiller or a tractor with a tiller to breakup the sod and get the soil ready to plant. For us we complete this step after the garden has a layer of horse manure on it then Trenton runs the rototiller to mix the manure into the soil. This year some of my perennial herbs died out of my herb garden which opened up considerable space. I decided to take advantage of this and fertilized it well before Trenton maneuvered the tiller into the little space. The herb garden has not been tilled with the big rototiller for 5 years so it was nice to turn the soil.

Step 3: Plant

Now its time to mark out your rows to plant. Trenton measured his rototiller and built a row marker so there is room to run it between the rows. After your rows are marked it is time to put your seed in. If you have time to complete this all in one day, great! If not start with potatoes and onions which take a little longer to grow. Like crop farmers we rotate the location of our plants each year so the soil is not drained of nutrients in specific areas. Make sure to at least rotate your corn which depletes nitrogen from the soil. This year the corn is where the squash was and the pumpkins and squash are in a side garden so they have room to spread. Plant all of your seeds before putting any starter plants in the ground. Lucian, who is 5 this year, is very excited because he has his own row in the garden and Fiona, at a rowdy 2, had fun putting the seed into rows and tried really hard to keep the seed in the lines and not too close to each other.

Step 4: Weed

Weed, wait, weed, wait, and WEED AGAIN! Its a never ending battle with gardens. Mulching helps unless you have chickens roaming around then don’t bother because they will spread the mulch all over and ruin your hard work in 5 seconds. I know this from experience. While waiting for your crop to ripen it is nice to have pre-measured rows that you can run your rototiller down once or twice. It will

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cut down on the amount of hand weeding tremendously.

Step 5: Grow Garden Grow!

When the first vegetables ripen and taste so much better than the produce bought in stores I remember why I put so much time and effort into growing a garden.

After a hard day we all look a little dirty. Fiona’s grubby little face just shows how hard she worked and played today!

Springtime Extras

The coming of spring is a hopeful time when the sun shining and the grass greening up lightens the spirit. More sun exposure means more vitamin D which helps you to feel better. While you are feeling better there is also so much work to do in the spring and a short time to do it in. Not only is there work to do in the yard and garden it is also time to clean out the barns and barnyards. It is also the time to remove parasites and vaccinate animals.

The goats need to be dewormed on a regular basis or they will develop Coccidiosis which is a parasitic infection which sometimes occurs when there are too many intestinal parasites in their systems. Like most conditions it is easier and cheaper to practice preventative care. Our goats developed Coccidia three years ago. IMG_0047Nora started to have diarrhea and soon she looked a little thin, then Fauna started to have diarrhea so we called the vet out. She explained Coccidiosis to me and prescribed Sulfamethoxazole Trimethoprim Oral Suspension to treat it. I was surprised that Coccidia was caused by an over abundance of parasites considering I had wormed them not a month ago. She recommended a stronger wormer, Injectable Ivermectin, which is used for cattle and swine. According to her, small ruminants in our area were having problems with intestinal parasites that year. We give them 2 1/2 mL of Ivomec orally about every 8 to 12 weeks and no longer have a problem with Coccidia.

Unfortunately this dewormer is expensive but I have discovered that pumpkin seeds and pulp are a natural dewormer. Not only do the pumpkins provide food for the goats but they clear their system of parasites and give their bodies a break from harsh chemical wormers. It’s too bad pumpkins are only readily available in the fall because they work great for keeping my goats healthy.

Another spring project is getting my horse Jack all ready to go for the nicer weather. That means deworming, vaccinating, and hoof trimming. I vaccinated and wormed Jack without any problems, he’s a real champ when it comes to needles. The vet was out to complete his checkup which was perfect timing because he had developed some kind of skin problem that became infected. Between his front legs he developed swelling and oozing spots. It looked like a hot spot on a dog. She took blood to check that his liver and kidneys were functioning properly. Last spring he had a different skin problem so she wanted to be sure his organs were filtering enzymes properly, which they are. She also gave him an injection of a long lasting antibiotic that cleared the infection overnight. KIMG0254[1]When the infection was all clear the farrier came out to trim his hooves. He has been a little sore in the front for the last year so it took a while longer than it should have. He no longer likes to stand on one front leg for very long.

He is 22 now and starting to get a bit touchy with his health. We have been together for 21 years now and he has traveled with me to each of my homes. I know I can’t stop his aging but it makes me a little sad and apprehensive of the future.

Lucian has been working on putting horse manure on the garden so we can get it planted. He is very excited that he is getting his own corner to plant this year. He wants to plant strawberries, blueberries, corn, and tomatoes. This list changes every time I ask him though.

A Sad Mystery

By definition a farm is land used for cultivating crops or raising animals for food. I believe a farm is also a special setting where a family can grow together and learn simple life lessons. Some lessons are happy such as, how do chicks hatch? While some lessons are sad, why did our baby goat die?

Why did our baby goat die? This is the question that has been troubling our little farm over the week. One of our does, Fauna, kidded the week before Easter. She had one buck and one doe. The doe was smaller and Fauna ignored it for a while so we brought it inside to warm up and feed it a little milk until she was strong enough to go back outside with her mother.  A week or so passed and both were healthy so we burned their little horn buds off. By the next morning they were jumping around as if nothing had happened.

A few days later we decided it was time to let them outside for the whole day. They had been outside before but only for a few short hours at a time. Long enough for Fauna to get some fresh air and the babies to play around outside. We put them outside in our winter pasture with our other doe, Nora. Nora and Fauna butted heads a bit but they usually do especially when they are separated for a while. Nora didn’t seem bothered by the kids, she sniffed them then ignored them. When we brought them in that night they were still happily jumping around but when it was chore time the next morning the little buck was dead.

Not once since we started raising goats have we had a kid die at three weeks old. We have had a few die a day or two after being born but never have any died in the night halfway to weaning age. It is a sad mystery as to what happened.

My son Lucian helped my husband bury the little goat and he was sad also. He said, “It died before it had a  name.”  Granted we don’t always name the goats we intend to sell but it is a little sad that the little fella didn’t have a name before he passed.

As the farmer I have to look at the cold reality of monetary loss. The sale of the kids usually pays for all or most of the hay the goats will eat over winter. I’m going to have to make up for the loss of the kid with milk sales, hopefully.

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The kids (my human ones) learned a little lesson about life on a farm. A farm is a place where animals are born and where they die.

Eventually Spring Overcomes Winter

As each season has it’s own unique challenges there are aspects of spring that are not seen any other time of the year. With warming days the itch to work outdoors is ever present but not always attainable. For instance, a few beautiful days in March melted the snow to such an extent that there was a lake between my house and barn. This lovely pond later half froze making trips to the barn treacherous at best. This slippery path blocking situation made doing chores difficult for a few weeks especially with baby Penelope. It wasn’t safe to carry her with me so Lucian kept an eye on her while she slept and I listened on the baby monitor. Mostly he made sure Fiona left her alone. Fiona is two and she loves her baby sister but she is not the gentlest when showing the love.

heidi1As the pond dried up we have been able to get out and about better. The rains have been coming at least once or twice a week now which keeps us inside but overall the temperature is much warmer. The ducks love it when it rains and the kids and I enjoy watching them splash around in the puddles. The goats however do not enjoy the rain. I watch Nora in the doorway of her shelter voicing her displeasure over the wet weather. However, Nora loves to complain about every little thing so I tune out her vociferous appeals for drier days.

Besides the warmer temperature and wetter days the animals are showing me signs that winter is at an end. The chickens and ducks are laying eggs again. They are laying between 10 to 20 eggs a day right now, so if anyone wants farm fresh eggs I am up to my eyeballs in eggs. We were getting 2 duck eggs a day from our two hens but one of the hens went missing last week. I’m not sure if a predator found her when they were splashing in the creek or if she is nesting somewhere and she’ll waddle back in a month with a trail of ducklings.

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Another sign of spring is Fauna our Nubian/Oberhasli cross had her kids a week before Easter. She had 1 doeling and 1 buckling. Unfortunately she is not the best mother of our two goats. She has a habit of ignoring the weaker of her babies until they are lethargic from cold and lack of food. Every year we have to warm one up in the house and bottle feed it until it is strong enough to go back outside. Usually it takes a few hours until the kid is ready to go. This year she ignored the little girl so we brought her in where she was subjected to Fiona’s loving care for a few hours until she was strong enough to go back to mom. When I put her back out I made sure Fauna let her eat for a while. She is now just as rambunctious as her bigger brother.

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The chicks are hatching out at Northwood School with the 4th grade class like they do every year. As of yesterday there were a dozen healthily hatched chicks but the incubator will be running until tomorrow so we may have a few more. Last year we hit our best hatch out record. Of the 41 eggs in the incubator 26 hatched. I hope this year does just as well. The school kids love this project and I am happy I can help broaden their agricultural horizons. This year the chicks will be going to my sister Sondra who lost all her chickens last year to a persistent fox or two.

I am ready for spring to fully bloom so we can get started on the garden. Lucian is going to have his own corner of the garden to take care of this year and I am planning to improve my herb garden. Trenton is going to be working on aerating, liming, and reseeding the pastures this week so they are more productive. The window of spring is small but there is so much work to be done. Better get cracking!

2019 Farm Goals

As I look back on previous posts I realized it was time to lay out our goals for this upcoming year. Technically speaking we are already 3 months into the new year but for farming most of the yearly goals happen after the snow melts. Since there is still 2 feet of snow on the ground and the temperature is still in the single digits there is a little time to contemplate what we want to accomplish this year on the farm.

KIMG0154[2]First a look at last year’s goals:

  1. Remodel the bathroom: This goal is still in progress, I would say 1/3 of the way done. We have learned that bathrooms are harder and more expensive to remodel than any other room in the house except the kitchen.
  2. Roof the barn: Unfortunately the steel for the barn is still in the shed rather than on the barn.
  3. Cut trees, burn brush, and plant orchard: We cut the trees out of the orchard plot but the brush still needs to be gathered and burned before we plant trees.
  4. Build a movable duck coop: Goal accomplished!
  5. Repair chicken coop: The door to the coop has been repaired but the bottom board along the foundation of the barn still needs replacing.
  6. Mulch vegetable garden, flower beds, and herb garden: All the flower beds were happily mulched this year. We mulched a good portion of the garden but a few escaping chickens destroyed that handy work so we may not repeat it next year. The herb garden still awaits mulching day.

Recap of last year is finished. Many of these goals will be on the list for this year but I hope we have better luck accomplishing them. We have a new baby this year so it is hard to say how many goals I will be able to tick off the list.

Top Priority:

  1. Put new steel on barn roof.
  2. Finish bathroom remodel.

Smaller Goals:

  1. Burn brush from orchard
  2. Mulch herb garden
  3. Make new nesting boxes for chicken coop and repair outside.
  4. Fix foundation crack in pig pen.

IMG_1080Most of my goals are fix-it goals this year but buying an old farmstead requires a lot of fix-it work. New babies also have low stamina for hanging out in strollers or bouncy seats outside while mom and dad work on projects so attainable goals are what I’m after this year.

 

Chores in Winter

Everyday chores get a little harder to do in the winter time. Especially when the winter starts to seem like the never ending winter from Narnia. For example today is nice and sunny at 21 degrees and we have accumulated about 24″ of snow so far this season in northwestern Wisconsin. I know it is not the harshest winter we have had but we are running out of places to put all the snow.

The critters have hunkered down for the cold season. The goats have been snuggling together to keep warm in the barn. The girls even huddled up with the smelly buck during the 3 day super freeze in January when the high was -17 not including the wind. We put them all together for those days so he wouldn’t freeze to death and not one animal left the barn while it was that cold with the wind as nasty as it was. Now that it is above zero and not snowing (today) the goats are back outside during the day. Even though it is still cold I believe they do better outside than cooped in their stalls in the barn. The girls and the buck each have a shelter outside to get out of the wind.

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The ducks have settled in with the chickens, although I don’t think the chickens or the ducks appreciate it. I may have to rethink their housing situation for next year. Right now they are creating a big icy hump in the coop under the water dish because they like to splash around. Trenton built them a beautiful duck house when they were small but they quickly grew out of it. As we learned more about the habits and behaviors of ducks we realized that the house he built was not appropriate for them. It will however make a great contained chicken coop with a run for any broody hens we have in the spring. We usually have one or two but they have never been successful hatching chicks. Hopefully with a pen to themselves the hens will have better luck.

The barn kitties spend half their day huddled under the heat lamp in our pump house. We have never had a heat source for them before and they have done fine in the barn during the cold months but after our house cat was spayed she decided to start spraying in the house. That’s a deal breaker for a house cat so she became a barn cat but it would have been too harsh a temperature change going from the heated house to the unheated barn so we put a heat lamp out there for her. The rest of the barn cats are loving it too. I think we are going to insulate the pump house this year and keep it lightly heated for next winter.

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Morning chores are not as fun in the winter. I spend half my time pounding ice out of water buckets and trudging through snow to put animals out. I also no longer have my little helpers out there with me. It is too cold for them and they only have a 15 minute tolerance to being outside when it is this cold. With all that and the fact that I am 9 months pregnant right now, winter chores just stink.

As we step into March I can look forward to three things:

  1. Warmer Temperatures (Usually)
  2. Highest Snowfall Month (Always)
  3. New Baby (Anytime Now)

As a farmer I have to be out there to take care of my animals because I know they depend on me to survive the winter and stay healthy. I may complain about it a little but secretly I like it. It makes me go outside which keeps me healthy and gives me a little better endurance for the elements. It also gives me the drive to finish what I start and I want my kids to have that also. Even though I know I am getting frostbite on my face and hands I need to finish feeding the animals because while I am only in the cold for a short time they are out there all day and they need the food to keep warm.

Hope everyone is enjoying the winter. Technically only 20 days to go until spring, but actually it will be in another 2 months. Which is why we have books, coffee, play-dough, and hot cocoa in between our bouts out in the weather. And why mommy knits scarves, hats, and slippers for little tikes.

 

Goodbye and Hello

This is a very belated post that I started in October! I have no idea where the last two months went. I thought about scrapping it and moving on to current events but I decided since it was half done I would post it anyway as a catch up from fall.

Fall is a time when the garden is harvested but it is also time for the spring chickens to be processed.

Every year I hatch chicks with a local school. This year we kept 14 of the 26 chicks that hatched. Usually I only keep a few or I sell them but this year I kept almost half of them. Unfortunately 10 of them were roosters. What do you do with 10 extra roosters in a coop full of laying hens?

This year we also experimented with ducks. We were able to successfully hatch out 11 ducklings from 20 eggs. Unfortunately there were two little ones that were the last to hatch and we helped them along with the hatching process a little. It proved to be a reminder for me that although I want to help them, in the end it didn’t really help them at all. One died a few weeks later and the other after a few months. Out of the 9 surviving ducks 7 of them were drakes. Again what do you do with a surplus of drakes?

It was time to thin the flock. We borrowed my Uncle Loni’s chicken plucker and set the date which turned out to be very cold. As we butchered 9 roosters (we kept one, he is too pretty to eat) and 4 ducks I discovered a few differences in butchering chickens and ducks.

Ducks are not the same to butcher as chickens:

  1. Using the chicken plucker did not work well for ducks. The feathers did not come off easily.
  2. Dunking them in boiling water did not make the feathers easy to remove.
  3. They have a lot more fat than chickens.
  4. Their physical structure made cleaning them a little trickier.

Overall butchering ducks is not an experiment I will be repeating. We kept two hens and two drakes and I am looking forward to eggs in the spring. If they are able to hatch out any ducklings they will be for sale in the spring because I will not be butchering anymore ducks.

Goodbye to extra roosters and ducks.

Hello to kittens.

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Our house kitty managed to escape into the great outdoors before we were able to spay her so we have kittens. The kids are loving them. Trying to keep Fiona, who is two now, from loving them too much is a bit of a challenge.

 

 

Horse Lessons

For the last three weeks I have been giving my niece, Aurora, lessons in horsemanship. It is fun for the both of us to see where each lesson will go. The first lesson I had fairly planned out but each lesson after that has depended on what skills I believe need reinforcing.

Lesson 1: Groundwork

When working with horses groundwork is more important than the actual riding so she did not ride on her first lesson. She was a bit bummed but she understood how important it is to know the groundwork first.

  1. Haltering – She has to be able to catch the horse before she can do anything with it.
  2. Leading –  Aurora has to be able to lead him from place to place safely without him stepping on her feet because she is only 7 and has short arms I ran a lead rope through a 1 1/2 section of plastic pipe so she can hold it at the bottom of the pipe to give her room to maneuver him without him walking on her.
  3. Brushing – This is fun for the both of them!
  4. Hooves – I have been teaching her to pick up his feet and clean them to be sure he has no rocks in his hooves. She has a hard time with this because Jack does not always pick his feet up nicely and it can be an awkward position until you get used to it.
  5. Lunging – She has been learning how to lunge Jack on a lunge line. This is an important skill because it teachers Jack that he needs to listen to her and it teaches her how to get his attention. They learn to listen to each other.

Lesson 2: Balance

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During our second session she completed all the skills she learned in the first lesson while I gave her a little more responsibility of them.

  1. Bridling – The bridle is what you put on the horse when you ride. The bit gives you control over direction and speed. Aurora learned how to put the bridle on over a small rope halter so I could lead him while she learned how to work the reins.
  2. Bareback riding – Riding bareback can be a little trickier than riding with a saddle because you need to have better balance and there is nothing to hang onto but the horse itself so I started with this. She could feel how Jack moved better and learned how to sit up to keep herself centered.

Lesson 3: Saddling

We went through all the groundwork from lesson 1 before we moved onto new skills.

  1. Saddling – The saddle gives you more stability while riding. I taught her how to put the saddle on although she is not tall enough to put it onto his back. I may find a stool for next time so she can do it all on her own. 🙂
  2. Reining – After Jack was saddled and bridled I hooked the lunge line to a small rope halter that fits under the bridle. Arora worked on keeping him in the circle space and away from me (he kept wanting to see me and complain of his troubles). She had a bit of a hard time with this. I think I am going to try different reins that are tied together so she doesn’t have to keep adjusting length. It’s second nature to me so I didn’t think about it before.
  3. Pace – She also worked at keeping him at a walk. Jack’s a bit lazy and would rather stand there and eat grass so she had to keep him moving.
  4. Unsaddling – What goes on must come off.

When he was unsaddled she wanted to ride bareback again so we finished with that.

We’ve been having a great time and I’m glad she’s sticking with it.