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Posts Tagged ‘dogs’

Yesterday was the first day that really felt like spring.  There have been several warm-ish days recently, but most of them were really gloomy and overcast, or even raining.  Yesterday, there was sun, and it was lovely.  We all spent the afternoon puttering outside, in our shirtsleeves, finally!

Splashing in Shirtsleeves!

M enjoying the warm weather and puddles.

 

Spring is the dingiest time here on the acreage, though.  Between the mud on the kids and the mud on the dogs, the house is never clean.  Melting snow reveals all sorts of garbage that has somehow collected over the winter, as well as all the fallen and broken branches taken down by wind and snow.  Things need picking up and organizing.

Spring!

The sandbox, and a lot of leaves that need cleaning up!

 

I dug out my pruning shears and cut back several shrubs, while the kids picked up garbage, and Trevor (Hubby) cleaned up old leaves that had collected in the strawberry beds and strung fence around the grapes to keep the dogs from digging them up.   Cherry the mastiff passed away last spring, and we got another rescue mastiff about a month later; Brutus is a great pet, but it turns out he likes to dig, especially around the foundation of the house, which is a bit of a pain, and we need to figure out ways to discourage that.

Brutus

Our ‘new’ mastiff

Dog holes

Brutus’ digging is a bit of a problem.

On the bright side, my chives are up already!  In the south bed, they are up several inches, and very green; in the east bed, they are shorter and yellow-er, but they are up there, too.  We got these plants from my Mom, when she was dividing her own clumps; all three of them have thrived, which is great, because there’s something special about fresh chives in your scrambled eggs, and with the increased daylight, the hens will be kicking it into high gear soon, and we’ll be eating egg everything shortly.

Chives

The chives on the east side of the house – less growth, but more photogenic, out of the afternoon sun!

It’s kind of exciting to be thinking about planting things again.  I spent my evening planting my seed starts – we’ll plant them out in the garden in the last week of May and first week of June.  I am trying something new this year – I desperately want to grow melons, but in zone 2, it has proven difficult (impossible, so far).  I know some people here are growing cantaloupes in high tunnels, but I haven’t had any luck with any melon so far.  Part of the issue is the short season, and melons don’t appreciate transplanting; it is not generally recommended to start the seeds at all, and especially not more than a couple of weeks before planting out.  However, I don’t think that gives them enough hot days to set and ripen fruit.  This year, I’ve planted half a dozen melons in 2 liter (2 quart) pots, in the hopes that they won’t get root bound in the 6-8 weeks before our last frost date.   We’ll see if it works or not!

 

Meanwhile, we’ve got tons more pruning to do.

Valiant grape in need of pruning

This Valiant grape (still dormant) is desperately in need of pruning!

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Well, the cold snap in the US seems to be over, now, and our own month-long run of -30 C temperatures seems to have broken, as well.  I noticed a recent spike in traffic to a few of my posts from the last couple of winters, but didn’t really draw the connection until just now…folks have been searching for information on how to manage livestock in extreme cold, but my poor visitors have mostly gotten anecdotes about me feeling sorry for myself and about frozen-solid chickens.  I thought that even a belated post might be useful to somebody someday, so here are some observations about coping with extreme cold.

 

winter pic

I’m not going to say much about dressing for the cold, since that’s been done to death on the internet.  Dress in layers, and take layers off as you become warm.  Make the outer layer windproof if you can.  Windchill is much more dangerous than just cold, especially if you are only outside for short periods – an hour or two – Hubby routinely goes out to shovel for a couple of hours at a time in -30, as long as there’s no windchill.  Of course, he’s acclimatized to this weather, and appropriately dressed, more or less.  He’s never gotten frostbite, even though he doesn’t make much effort to cover his face; the moustachesicles get pretty impressive sometimes:

 

moustachesicles

The  chickens seem to cope pretty well with the cold, overall.  Our breeds are suited to colder temperatures, but we don’t heat the coop, even when it’s -40.  Our main tactic has been to insulate; our primary coop is an old shed, and we stack old bales of hay and straw around the structure to cut the wind and keep it warm.  We try to get the stacks as high as the heads of the chickens on the top rung of the roost, as someone has used the shed for a target for shotgun practice, so it’s anything but airtight, and we don’t want anyone to get frostbite when they’re sleeping.  You don’t actually want the coop to be totally airtight; you need some airflow to keep it from getting too humid, which will cause problems with frostbite.  The birds also get a deep layer of bedding, and as much feed as they want.  They eat half again as much at -40 C as they do at zero degrees or above, and they need all of that energy to keep warm.   We have had some issues with frostbite in the past; Gallus, our original rooster, had a pretty spectacular comb until he encountered his first major winter freeze.  We’ve since learned to keep the coop shut on really cold days, which keeps the birds inside, and also helps keep the temperature up.  While I’m sure it hurt to lose that comb, it doesn’t seem to have slowed Gallus down too much.

 

Before his first encounter with real cold

Before his first encounter with real cold

 

All healed up, but not much of a comb left

All healed up, but not much of a comb left

 

The frostbite itself makes the combs and wattles turn black in the frozen parts, and eventually peels off.   If you come across this, you will need to monitor that the other chickens aren’t pecking at it and keeping it from healing, as it sometimes bleeds as the damaged tissue sloughs off.

 

One challenge is collecting the eggs before they freeze so solid that they crack, which takes no time at all in -40.  The cracked eggs are okay to eat, as long as the shells are clean; we just thaw them on the kitchen counter overnight.  They need to be used immediately once they’ve thawed, though, as bacteria can get in through the crack.  Whatever we can’t eat ourselves, we feed to the cats and dogs, who really appreciate the extra protein.  Eggs that have frozen but not cracked are fine, and we just put them in the cold room to thaw.  As far as we’ve been able to tell, they keep just as well as unfrozen eggs, and behave the same when you cook with them, so we don’t even check anymore, beyond looking for the cracked ones, of course.

 

When it gets below about -25 C, we tend to leave the barn shut up, and the body heat from the animals adds at least ten degrees in there.  The barn cats are bright enough to stay inside, and we’ve built them a cozy insulated shelter out of hay bales.  So far, they’ve never had any issues with frostbite, even on their ears.  However, the barn cats are outdoor critters, and acclimatized to the cold through the fall and early winter, and they know enough to snuggle up together in the shelter.  Like the chickens, the cats are free-fed – we put out bowls of food, and they can have as much as they want.  They put on several pounds each of fat in the fall, which helps them stay warm, too.

 

If we had a sudden huge drop in temperatures like happened so recently in the US, though, I would consider bringing outdoor cats and dogs inside, or locking them in a garage or barn, as they may not be equipped to deal with the cold.   At the very least, they need some sort of insulated shelter, including insulation between them and the ground, that is windproof, dry, and small enough to warm up with just their body heat.  Stacked bales covered with a tarp would probably do, but remember to insulate the bottom, too, either using a layer of bales, or a thick bed of straw or blankets.

 

The goats and alpacas mostly cope fine, as well, but again, they grow a thick coat in the fall, and we give them extra grain as it gets colder outside – the colder it is, the more hay and supplements they get.   We take out warm water twice a day, and they drink their fill immediately.  The buckets freeze over in a couple of hours, or less when it’s really cold.  We’ve found that the goats drink more when the water is taken out warm, rather than cold, and it probably helps them maintain a good temperature.  Some people say that the buckets freeze slower if you use cold water, which may be true, but for the small difference it makes in freezing time, we go with the warm, especially because the goats drink so much more when we take the warm water out.   I have heard of people putting sweaters on their goats, which is probably a good idea in a sudden cold snap; we’ve never done it because we worry they would lose their winter coats.

 

If you are milking in winter, make sure the udder, and especially the teats, are completely dry when you are done.  We minimize trimming the udder as much as possible, and leave some fur, especially on the back, even when we do trim.  I just brush the furry parts of the udder thoroughly with a soft brush before milking to make sure there’s no crud falling into my milk bucket.  I take a towel out with me to dry everyone off after milking.   However, since I’m not fond of milking -30, we’ve taken to drying the girls off by late November.  While this doesn’t maximize our milk production, it does minimize everyone’s discomfort.   We freeze milk and make (and freeze) lots of cheese in the summer, to tide us over.

 

Our biggest issues with the goats has been with kidding during cold snaps.  Our first year, we were kidding in March, and at least four kids came when the temperatures were below -20.  All of those kids got frozen ears, and two lost part or all of their ears.

 

Poor Luna lost her ears to freezing at birth.

Poor Luna lost her ears to freezing at birth.

 

We’ve since started breeding for kidding in late April or later; this year’s kids will come in mid-May.   I know of breeders with unheated barns who treat kids like day-old chicks; they confine them using straw bales, and hang a heat lamp overtop.  Other breeders keep their kids indoors in playpens for the first couple of weeks.  Either tactic works fairly well if you are bottle feeding, but not if you’re dam-raising your kids.   We’ve learned to keep the pregnant does confined for the last few weeks of their pregnancy, and we do our best to keep the maternity stall well-insulated and draft-free.  The kids are most vulnerable to freezing just after birth when they are wet, so it’s important to make sure they are dried off quickly, which has involved us ‘helping out’ with towels when momma wasn’t working fast enough.   When they are cold, kids tend to stand all hunched up with their back arched, and look really miserable.   If we see that going on for any length of time in cold weather, we bring the kids into the house periodically for ‘warm-up’ sessions, and take them back out to their dams every couple of hours to eat.

 

We’ve had kids collapse from cold before; if you’re quick, they can recover without issue, but you need to get them warm, fast.  We’ve used 2L plastic juice bottles filled with hot water from the tap, wrapped in towels and tucked around the kid.  Remember, too, that kids need extra food when it’s cold, and make sure your does are producing enough, and/or you add a bit extra to the bottles if they’re living in an unheated barn.

 

Cold is not bad if you are prepared for it, but I can imagine it would be awfully miserable if you didn’t have, and couldn’t get, appropriate clothing and supplies.  I know some of my American friends really struggled.  Hopefully everyone has come through okay, and is at least starting to warm up now!

 

Bundled Up

 

 

 

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The Downside of a Submissive Dog

Poppy the puppy is a submissive dog.  She is so submissive that she tends to piddle on the floor if I yell too loud.

 

I am not used to having a submissive dog.  Fox the husky mutt is anything but submissive – if you give her a command like, say, “sit”, she’ll look at you for a bit while she decides if she’s going to do it or not.  Mostly she does, but she lets you know it’s her choice.   Cherry the bull mastiff is pretty dominant, too, though not as bright as Fox.  Cherry will sit…eventually.  After you get her attention, and maybe remind her a couple of times.  Poppy, however, will hit the floor instantly, tail wagging, hoping to get some praise or a treat.  In fact, she’ll sit before she’s told to, in the hopes of getting a little attention.

 

This tendency has made Poppy a treat to train – she tries really really hard to figure out what it is you want, and, once she’s got it, she is quick to respond to commands.  She is eager to please, whether you have a treat in your hand or not.  Just praise makes her ecstatic…unlike the other two, who need a bit more…tangible…motivation.

 

Last night, as I was going out to milk the goat, I could hear a fox yapping, fairly close to the house.  Poppy routinely wakes us up by growling and making little half-barks when the foxes start yipping at night, and last night was no exception.  I looked at Hubby and asked if he thought she’d come back when I called if I let her out to chase off the fox.  I know Fox the dog would be gone like a shot, and would spend the night trying to dig the foxes out of their den, and there’s no way she’d come back when called.  Even Cherry would probably take off chasing them, and be unlikely to come back until she had been thoroughly stymied.  Hubby wasn’t sure what Poppy would do, but we decided to try letting her loose.

 

So, as I went out to the barn, I let Poppy out.  Just as we were going down the back step, a fox yipped and rustled the bushes just north of the house.  Poppy gave a little bark, and then…looked at me.  Expectantly.  She looked at me as if to say ‘well, what are you going to do about this?‘.

 

It hit me then that Poppy is not protective of us, because to her, we are the tough guys.  She has been letting us know all along that we have a problem with foxes close to the house, but she seems to think it’s the humans’ job to do something about it.  Bleh.

 

Unfortunately, the dogs who will do something about it, won’t stay close to home like they’re supposed to…

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The dogs ran away yesterday morning.  Probably chasing a deer, or possibly a flock of geese (the geese are starting to come back, now), but regardless, they took off.

 

Our neighbour to the south, the one who is a little odd, called in the afternoon to tell Hubby that he’d seen them at the end of his driveway that morning.  Given that he’s terrified by the mastiff, Cherry, I’m shocked that he did not immediately call to demand that we do something; as it was, his less-than-timely call meant that we had no idea that the dogs were even missing until enough time had elapsed that they could be anywhere.

 

When I got home from work, Hubby broke the news – Fox and Cherry were gone.  Poppy the puppy had actually stuck around the yard, which is pretty amazing, but the other two were AWOL.  We got back in the car and drove up and down all the grid roads within several miles of our place, hollering out the rolled-down windows, but to no avail.  We consoled ourselves by saying that they’d probably show up at the house by dark, but they didn’t.

 

We didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.

 

This morning, our helpful neighbour called to tell us they’d been spotted a mile south and one east from their place…at suppertime the night before.  Helpful.  However, he did spend an hour giving me the names, phone numbers, and approximate locations of every neighbour within a five mile radius, so that we could start calling around.  Instead, we got in the car and did another little tour of the neighbourhood, starting from where the dogs had last been seen.

 

Driving up the road, we saw a yellow dog – we sped up to catch it, only to find another neighbour walking her retriever.  We explained our situation, and she was sympathetic, but had not seen our strays.  Back on the road we went, stopping every mile or so to holler both dogs’ names.   We went as far as we thought the dogs were likely to have roamed, but turned around to drive home, empty handed.

 

Then a truck came barreling out of a laneway, flashing its lights.  We stopped to talk to the driver, who asked us if we were looking for a couple of dogs.  Upon hearing that, indeed, we were, he told us that they’d been spotted just up the road, but we needed to hurry and catch them, as they had been near a herd of cows just about to calve, and the farmer who owned the cattle was as like as not to shoot them if they harassed the cows at all.  He also mentioned that they had gone into at least one yard, and scared the owner enough that they just about got shot then and there.

 

Ohboy…

 

The fellow told us he’d help us find them, and waved us into his yard.  He turned to Hubby and asked if he’d ever ridden a quad before; Hubby had not.  Buddy kind of laughed and said it was easy.

 

Well, Hubby learned quick.  He and the kind neighbour were out on the quads for about three hours, driving through muddy fields and snow, looking for tracks, and stopping at all of the neighbours’ houses to see if anyone had seen the wayward mutts.  Lots of folks had seen them…and chased them out of their yards.  Nobody had thought to grab them and check their collars for a phone number; I guess that’s just not done here, or maybe they were just too intimidating.  Quite a way to meet the neighbours – having to apologize for our dogs scaring them or harassing their livestock…not exactly the way to make a good name for yourself!

 

By suppertime, the dogs still hadn’t turned up, and the guys had to give up.  I followed them up the road in the car, back to the kind neighbour’s house.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement at the top of a hill, maybe a quarter or half a mile off the road.  I pulled over, hoping…

 

…And sure enough, there was Cherry.  Barking.  But not coming towards me at all, despite my calling, pleading, and offering treats.  Dumb dog made me slog through a quarter mile of slightly-more-than-boot-deep snow, pregnant and puffing, to go collect her.  She sure was happy to see me, though.  I stood and hollered for Fox for a couple of minutes, but did not get any response, so I took Cherry back to the car and headed out to catch up with the boys.   We all went back to where I’d found Cherry, and after a few minutes’ walking and calling, Fox came out of the bushes, too, though she was also pretty wary of approaching us.

 

Having missed supper, and spent a cold night on the loose, you can imagine how happy they are to have full bellies and a warm mat to sleep on – Cherry hasn’t moved in a few hours, not even a twitch.  We’re pretty relieved, too, but sheesh, what a way to meet the neighbours…

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Well, it’s truly autumn now, and the leaves are turning and falling all at once.  The garden is mostly put to bed, and we’re starting to pick up lawn furniture and garden tools to put away for the winter – snow could come in a matter of weeks, and it always seems to be a surprise.  Little projects are being finished in anticipation of winter.  Autumn leaves never seem to last long, here – they turn, then the winds come and they’re gone.  Yesterday, I went out and took some pictures before we lose the pretty gold accents around the Acreage…

 

 

 

 

We think we may have finally found a suitable truck, though it needs a bit of brake work before we can bring it home.  A good friend has promised to do it for us, hopefully in the next couple of weeks, so we hope to be able to get the materials to finally finish the buck yard…with luck, before it snows.  We still need to evict the badger, however.

 

We got a puppy.  She was kind of an accident.  We won’t go into details, but here’s a picture:

 

 

Pretty cute, huh?  We are calling her Poppy.

 

We have a couple of little boys coming to stay with us next week, which should keep Poppy plenty busy.  She really likes people and attention, and I am expecting she will get plenty.  I’m sure they will keep us plenty busy, too!  Still, the country is a good place for little boys, I think, and we’ll give their caregivers a bit of a break.  Of course, there is more story here, but it will have to wait for another day.

 

Autumn feels like a good time for changes…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our Big Dog, Cherry, will eat almost anything.  That includes normal stuff like meat, eggs, carrots, and the like, but she does not hesitate at oranges, mints, lemons, and other things that dogs are not supposed to like at all.   This also includes all sorts of things not normally classed as food, such as tin can lids, plastic cucumber wrappers, used kitty litter, and, most recently, half a box of tampons.

 

When we came home, discovered the remains, and finally figured out what all she had eaten, we briefly considered taking Cherry to the vet.  However, from a colleague’s recent experience, we know that abdominal surgery on a large dog costs more than our car did, so we discarded that idea pretty quickly, deciding instead to monitor her condition and see what passed (or, put bluntly, got crapped out) in the next day or two.   Based on all the other stuff she has eaten that has passed with shockingly little fuss, we felt that it was a reasonable decision.

 

By day three, she had only passed one tampon…we think.  It is difficult to tell, and, given what everything was embedded in, we weren’t really keen to do a whole lot of poking around.  She was throwing up almost every day, and seemed a little droopy overall, but did not seem to be in any pain, and was still perky enough to bugger off chasing squirrels in the bush, so we held our ground and did not take her to the vet.

 

By day five, she had passed a couple more, but nowhere near as many as we figured she’d eaten.  Still droopy, and still puking a lot, but still not in pain, and not so miserable that she quit being an annoyance in the kitchen when I was trying to get some canning done.  We continued to wait.

 

On day seven, we were again out of the house…this time, having carefully blocked off the garbage cans, kitty litter, and the like with baby gates.  We normally do this, as if it’s not one dog, it’s the other, but last week we just plain forgot.

 

When we got home, we discovered that Cherry had finally found a way to get all of the remaining tampons out.  They must have been sitting in her stomach, too expanded and tangled together to pass through the rest of her system.  There was puke from one end of the livingroom to the other, little piles of tampon all over the place.  It was disgusting.  We need to clean our carpets.

 

On the bright side, our Big Dog is back to being a Big Nuisance, and I have to admit, we were more worried than we were admitting, so both Hubby and I are feeling quite relieved.

 

You know, though, any life event that includes a dog eating tampons should be funnier than that in the end…

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Saskatchewan is apparently having a record year for bugs, particularly mosquitoes.  That is pretty impressive in a province where mosquitoes are jokingly referred to as the provincial bird.   It contributes to a high level of general misery here on the Acreage, as every mammal on the place is being mobbed constantly.  The barn cats go, quite literally, crazy, rolling around on the hay pile, trying to scratch the bugs off.  The dogs do their business, and make a beeline back to the house, where they retreat to the living room to scratch at their poor bug-bitten snouts with their front paws.

 

The mosquitoes bother poor Saffron the goat so much that milk production goes substantially down on calm-ish, damp-ish mild days like we have had lately – she is so busy trying to get the mosquitoes off that she hardly touches her grain, and there is the additional challenge of trying to keep her from putting a foot in the milk bucket when I am trying to milk, and she is trying to kick the mosquitoes off her udder.

 

The only critters not bothered by the mosquito invasion are the chickens.  They eat them.  Hubby does not mind the chicken part of the barn chores at all right now…the coop is one of the only respites on this whole place, right at the moment.  He hangs out and watches the birds eat the bugs, while poor Saffron and I get eaten alive at the milking stand.  We need to get those chickens free-ranging, but the fox that keeps trotting across our back lawn has really been discouraging us from letting the birds out without a good, strong fence.

 

Hubby, who is not overly fond of the heat, has been wishing for 30+ degree days, just so that he can get into the garden to do some weeding.  Even dripping with the highest-percentage DEET formulations we can find, we are just moving meals for the plague of bugs around here.  On hot days, they go to ground for awhile, and we can at least move somewhat freely around the mowed parts of the Acreage.

 

Mosquitoes love the bush and tall grass, so even though I can see ripe Saskatoon berries in the forest, we cannot reasonably pick any of them.  I braved the forest for about four minutes a couple of days ago, and despite being mid-day and 30 degrees, and me being quite literally dripping with bug spray, I was chased out before I even got to the berry bush I was trying to pick.  The problem is the thick undergrowth and chest-high grass where the bugs find shelter.   There are so many stray branches and lumps and bumps and occasional rocks on the ground that it is impossible to mow anywhere near the forest, so the grass has really gotten out of hand.

 

After brainstorming for awhile, we decided to buy a scythe.

 

I know, I know, most normal people would get a weed whacker.  Electric is not an option, though, and gas powered anything is a real pain in the butt out here, as we are half an hour from a gas station, and always seem to forget to fill the jerry can when we are in town.  These delicate machines seem to break on me with alarming regularity, and they are expensive!  I reasoned that a scythe, while not exactly cheap, should require only minimal repair over its lifetime, like, say, tightening a bolt on one of the handles, or sharpening the blade.  The input, muscle power, is plentiful around here, unlike gasoline at $1.20 per litre.  I hate the noise of the mower (I can’t stand the vacuum, either), so a weed whacker would just be one more annoyance, whereas the swish-swish of a scythe is actually kind of pleasant.  Once my back heals up, there is a fair chance I will even do some of the grass cutting, a duty that  generally falls to Hubby just because I hate the noise of the lawnmower so much.

 

The other bonus is that the scythe goes through chest high grass quite nicely, and leaves nice, neat piles of greenery that are easy to scoop up and dump in the goat troughs.  The goats love it.  We may even try cutting the back pasture and leaving it to dry for hay…why not, if it’s free?  After just a few minutes’ practice, I can see that Hubby will be able to really motor with that thing – it might even be faster than a lawnmower, at least in the really tall grass.  The big trick will be keeping Molly the barn cat out of swinging range…

 

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