Fella and goaties

There is so much about this picture that I love.

It’s a picture of the Fella, in his little car, with two goats. I took it as we caravanned out to the breeder’s house, for another try at getting our Nigerian Dwarfs bred. And the reason the picture makes me swoon is not just because there are goats riding in the passenger compartment of the car, although that’s a big part of it.

The other big reason is this: ‘Round these parts, as with a lot of America, there are a lot of men who feel the need to drive around in enormous trucks. In this relatively affluent but rural community, it sometimes feels like every other vehicle on the road is a $60,000 full-size diesel 4 x 4 with a lift kit and offroad lights. . . and not a speck of dirt on it, ever.  They may look like work trucks, but 9 times out of 10 they are driven from a garage in a gated community to a garage somewhere else.  These yahoos love to intimidate people on the highway, belch exhaust at little old ladies in Priuses, and generally act like the schoolyard bullies they most likely were. Without getting too explicit, I’ll tell you that the Fella has more than once made the observation that the size of the shiny new truck has an inverse relationship to the size of a man’s other, er,  equipment.

The Fella himself is pretty darn manly. He’s a welder by trade, and though he’s smart enough to geek out on theoretical physics, he’s barely got a high school education. He’s got a giant cave-man beard, broad shoulders, and is over 6 feet tall. He only wears ratty sneakers and his pants always have holes in them. He is rough-around-the-edges to the point where we have to psychologically prepare him weeks in advance when he is going to have to clean up for a wedding or a funeral. And, he is both defiant and practical enough to drive a teeny, tiny Honda Fit, usually full of tools, and today full of goats. The looks of surprise and amusement on the faces of the brewery owners when the Fella shows up for a welding gig (yes, he specializes in welding the equipment for making beer) and pulls everything he needs for the job out of the back of his little 41-mpg commuter car, well, you can just imagine.

The Fella also understands the importance of goats. And chickens. And even of a little orange dog and a big foolish horse. He understands the environmental impact of fossil fuels and also that a little dirt never hurt anyone. He understands me.

So this picture pretty much has it all, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s the kind of image that puts little pink hearts in my eyes. That’s my fella there, and those are my goats.


Good Big Horse


My farrier came out today to trim Jasper’s feet. She’s a barefoot trimmer, and I’m so glad I found her. One of Jasper’s more notable qualities are his big, heavy, hairy feet. Another quality of his is a strong dislike for being bullied by men. Just a whiff of dominant energy from a male human animal, and that horse turns from eager puppy dog to angry and defensive beast. He needs a firm hand, but positive feedback and a kind voice go a long way with him. This is all to say that a macho male farrier used to shoeing little quarterhorses is just not a good match for my boy.

So what is and why use a barefoot farrier? Well, first off, you know what an iron horse shoe is, right? People use them on their horses the way we use shoes on our own feet. The idea is to protect the horse from stepping on something ouchie. But because horses’ hooves grow, just like our fingernails do, your horse will need a trim and a new set of shoes every couple of months. Many equestrian folks will tell you that it’s just part of the cost and hassle of being a horse owner and any attempt to shirk this responsibility is tantamount to animal abuse. But, if you’re like me, after you’ve written a hefty handful of checks to your horse shoer for his services, and watched your horse stress out every time a hot metal shoe is nailed onto his foot, you might find yourself asking the sacreligious question: Is this really necessary?

I mean, think about it. Horse shoes evolved over millions of years to achieve this foot design. And horses the world over, from the Mongolian steppes to the Scottish Highlands, to the Nevada Desert are galloping hither and thither without bent iron bars nailed to their feet. When did horses’ feet become such fragile and delicate things? Or…could it be that horseshoes are a people-made solution to a people-made problem?

Well, dear readers, once you questioning the status quo in this way, you’ve gone rogue and there’s no saving you. You might as well see where this madness will lead.

Getting free of the vicious cycle of iron shoes for a draft horse has really been a relief for my bank account. They cost a fortune! But it’s not just about foregoing shoes.  You can’t just tell your regular average horse-shoer to give your horse a barefoot trim. Probably nine times out of ten that well-meaning bloke is just going to trim those hooves like he always does, and simply skip the part where he nails shoes onto them. That’s what happened to me. Then all you have is a sore, unshod horse.

If you’re going to try and wean your riding horse off metal shoes, you need to find someone who understands what a horse’s hoof should look like in its natural state, and how best to gradually get your horse’s feet there after probably years and years of being shaped for shoes. It’s a whole different ballgame. While shoers tend to carve away a lot of sole and frog and shape the hoof wall to conform to metal shoes, the barefoot farrier tries to build up the sole and frog, the horse’s natural shock absorbers, and shorten the toe so the horse’s step will come down on the heel, where he can bear his weight the best.

My farrier, Lenora, has been working on Jasper’s feet for about a year now, and I am thrilled to say he is in great shape. We can ride down a gravel road without issue, and even when he spooked and bolted right into a field of sharp rocks that would have bruised and battered the hooves of a horse wearing shoes, he came away unharmed.

He also behaves so well for her. When she first started working with him, he treated her like he treated the macho shoer who came before. That is to say, not well. He fidgeted and fought, fussed and fretted. But her approach is so much like mine, in that she is firm but not mean, and ready to praise good behavior, than he has grown to be totally comfortable with her. He offers his feet up willingly and stands still like a good, big horse. Well, mostly. Anyway, going barefoot has been a wildly successful bit of rule-breaking for us, and we’re never going back.




One of Those Days

Life on the Domestead is definitely not all days like the dreamy one last week. Nope. And yesterday was one of the other kind. Every step of the way.

It’s been raining like crazy here, which is good for lots of reasons, but it’s been hard on my animals.  For one, we’d hoped to move the Freedom Rangers into the tractor this past weekend.  They’re young still, but mostly feathered out.  Our tractor has a roof and enclosed walls at one end and can be equipped with a heat lamp, so they can still be warm but also starting roaming around and get access to a lot more real estate. But we didn’t feel great about putting them out right before we were supposed to get a week-plus of torrential rain. So they’re still in the brooder, which is getting pretty darn cramped. Not ideal.

Also, poor Jasper is stuck in a pipe stall that is flooded on two sides, and even the part that doesn’t have water running through it is getting very swampy. I feel awful. I’ve talked about needing pasture for him before, and this is a big reason why. It’s really not good for horses to be standing in wet mud all day, especially horses with feathers around their feet that can trap bacteria and get infected. So when I went to feed the horses yesterday morning, I ended up spending an hour trying to redirect water and shovel out the wettest mud. It felt futile, but I had to do something. It also meant that I went about the remainder of my chores very sweaty and damp and imbued with the powerful aroma of horse pee. Hardly a catastrophe in and of itself, but just unpleasant enough to send a person’s mood downhill.

Then we had a vet appointment for the goats to see who was pregnant. This is ascertained by ultrasound. It’s an expense that many goat breeders elect not to incur, but being bred or not will affect the price of the does we want to sell, so it’s worth it for us. Except it turned out that, even after spending several weeks with the buck, only one out of our five does was actually bred. So frustrating! It’s a long drive to the breeder and I have to borrow a truck to do it, so it’s not something I’m looking forward to doing all over again. And I’m really disappointed because we were hoping to have three does in milk and two does sold by June. Now that whole plan has to change. Grumble grumble.

And to top it all off, I discovered that one of our new hens has gone droopy. Droopiness in chickens can mean a million different things, from the mild to the fatal.  She’s currently camped out in the kitchen for observation, electrolytes, and some warmth and we’ll just have to see how it goes.

kitchen chicken

Right now it’s lightly snowing outside my office window. Winter in Northern California is not over yet, and a life of milk and honey is feeling a long way off.


A Proper Wet

I wake to the song of a soft rain patting against the panes of the skylight. The huge pentagonal window crowning the top of the dome is filled with dove gray light. I wonder if it is leaking again. A little orange dog sighs deeper into the covers next to me, and the Fella snores on like a man who’d worked hard until midnight, because he did.

Despite the coziness, it isn’t hard to pull myself from the bed. There is no chill in the room, as there has been every morning for many weeks. I put on the old clothes I’ve been wearing all week, a pair of once-fashionable jeans, now too big for anything but humiliation by chicken poop and horse muck. An Americorps sweatshirt (earned by my sister, inherited by me). A pair of thick socks that perfectly fill the inside of a pair of work boots, such that feet don’t dare to slip. Lola watches from the blankets.

First things first, a pot of coffee is set to motion by muscle memory while my mind wanders. I wonder if I should bring the horses in? Then a vivid image of my hand, buried in the thick, red and white fur of Jasper’s neck. But he’ll be wet, of course, having spent the night in the big outdoor arena where he can stretch his legs. I smile at the thought of his legs, tree trunks with fluffy boots. Then I think of fresh, dry hay falling down onto the inevitable mud accumulated around the manger in the arena and I frown. I’ll bring the horses in.

However, before that, there are 40 hungry chicks waiting for their next infusion of protein. With a quick sip of strong coffee to clear the mist from my eyes, I head for the mud room to pull on my muckboots. Right now the mud room is full of heavy bags of organic chicken feed. There is a better place for them to be than here, emptied into the large metal barrels outside the garden gate, they just haven’t quite made it there yet. Another important, but not quite important enough, task awaiting completion. Boots on, I head to the greenhouse.

The cheap sliding door on the cheap (actually free) little greenhouse opens with much resistance and objection. It wants me to smash it, but then what would I do? More hassle. Best not to take the defiance of inanimate objects personally, I remind myself.

The voracious chicks swarm the newly filled feeders exactly like insects. They’ve successfully cleared the cute stage and entered into the awkward, ratty, stinky stage. I’m glad. They’ve all survived babyhood, and there’s nothing about them that would make a person feel bad about tucking into a chicken dinner. Everything, therefore, is going according to plan.

Next I head around the house and up the back path to the goat barn and henhouse. I take in the new crop of buttercups cresting the hill and I happily think, Welcome. In February, the blooming flowers and the already-drying ground were just signs of a broken winter. But since then there’s been snow on the ground, ice-cold nights, and a respectable amount of rain. The world has righted itself, for the most part, and I can enjoy the proper wet of this warm spring rain in March, buttercups included.

The hens are up, but not too sure about coming outside yet. They discuss it among themselves, in their worried, judgmental voices. I move on to the goats. They’ve heard my footsteps, and I can hear Lily and Hank the wether stirring themselves from their soft bed of straw in the upper stone barn. But before I let them out, I let myself into the lower section of the paddock, where Lucy and Willow are snuggled into the small wooden barn. “Good morning girls,” I coo, as I peek at them through the window. I am pleased to see they don’t even get up, because only a few weeks ago these does acted as wild and ungentled as a couple of mustangs. I couldn’t touch them, which was not a favorable condition for a couple of hopefully-bred dairy goats. Even less favorable for does about to be sold to a new home.

But goats are wicked smart, and a few weeks of routine good mornings and tender scritches on their shoulders and these two girls now take my presence as something approaching comfort. Enough so that when I open the door, instead of bolting past me they simply look up from their piles of straw and wait for me to come in and pet them. Hallelujah!

Once Lucy and Willow are fed and watered I close the gate behind me and go back to the stone barn where Hank and Lily are now quite ready for their breakfast, thankyouverymuch. I can’t help but love these two goofy ruminants more than all the others. No problem with skittishness here, they will crawl into your lap if you let them. Which, given that Hank weighs close to 100 pounds, and Lily still smells a little like buck piss from her romantic vacation, I don’t recommend. I give them both scrubs and fill the manger and that’s good enough for now.

Time to head back to the house for another gulp of coffee before the half-mile (round trip) walk to the horses. A couple of red shouldered hawks are making a racket above me and I look up to the magical sight of the pair mating in a branch right over the top of the house! That explains all the fannying about in the treetops over the last few days.

Lola is excited now, because racing off ahead of me along the dirt road to my uncle’s house is by far her favorite part of the day. We will be having a 14th birthday party for her in just a few weeks, but she bounces like a puppy through the wet grass before skidding to a stop to investigate a pile of coyote poop or leave a message at a well established canine pee signpost along the road.

The air almost feels steamy now. The rain has stopped and the gray-blue clouds tumble through the pale-blue sky. There’s a magic moment along this road when the civilization of my house and the civilization of my uncle’s house are both entirely out of view, and it’s nothing but the road, the meadows, and the oak trees. To have a moment like that in my daily routine is such an incredible blessing, and even without deliberate mindfulness to remember to appreciate the simple things, it never ceases to take my breath away.

There are five horses to feed. My own oversized beast, who looks like a Shetland pony with a glandular disorder or a flame-eyed medieval warhorse, depending on the angle, is always at the rail with an eager look. My best friend’s gray mare, Shasta, is always close by, usually employing her refined and elegant face to scowl at me for never being fast enough with her breakfast. Then there’s the near toothless old racehorse, who is surprisingly feisty for a horse on the far side of 30, and gets a special mash to gum on. Also, my uncle’s incredibly beautiful and incredibly intimidating Andalusian stallion, with whom I have almost no connection, despite having brought him his breakfast every single day for the last two years. I am simply a serving girl to him, and he makes sure I know it. Lastly, a dainty little mare, almost kitten-like, in her curious sweetness. She’s doesn’t really have a name, so everyone just calls her ‘baby.’

After all are tended to, Lola and I head home, to finally have our own breakfasts. The  sky continues to gently churn. More rain on the way. Bluebirds and towhees dive from the trees and a breeze catches the water drops from the leaves and sends them showering down to earth.

Poo Chapeaux

The new hens have a roosting arrangement in our little coop that was causing some unfortunate befoulment (befowlment?) of their food and water feeders. Et voila!


A new use for 99 cent turkey roasters!

And while I was tending to the ladies’ toilette, I decided to try a new, and quite lovely, method of deterring mites and other pests from the next boxes. In addition to the usual pine shavings and diatomaceous earth, I added some of this:


It’s a mixture of lavender, rose petals, chamomile, mint, and eucalyptus. Who knows if it will work, but the coop smells heavenly, which is reason enough to use it. Just spiffing things up for the girls. Pourquois pas?