Saturday, September 5, 2009

In which we are given a gift: expected and yet so beautiful

Thank you, Minerva
(whichever of you laid this)
your egg is perfect!

Friday, September 4, 2009

In which one of the Minervas escapes and is (at last!) re-captured

We named all of the chickens Minerva Louise after the intrepid hen featured in a series of picture books by Janet Morgan Stoeke. In the stories, Minerva Louise, a sweet but clueless chicken, explores the world on her own terms, and always returns home safely by page 32. We thought that it would be a good name, with good omens attached.

All twelve chickens are called by the same name because, honestly, we usually can't tell them apart. Besides, when you shake the grain can and call "Minevera", they all show up. So, it works, right?

Recently, however, a chicken I will now call ML XII had a little adventure.
ML XII is a digger-outer. A few days ago, she dug her way out of the chicken tractor for a little walkabout, and injured her head in the process. She now has an ugly, featherless, scabby bald spot behind her comb.

Knowing the chickens will often peck an injured bird in their flock, and possibly peck it to death (chickens are not a compassionate group), we isolated ML XII in the FEMA tractor, which will henceforth be referred to as "Saint Henrietta's Hospital for Hens".

ML XII didn't like the isolation of St Hens, though. She dug herself out, and went walkabout again. Last night when we arrived home after work, St Hens was empty!

There really isn't much point in searching for a black hen in the woods in the dark (the moon was full and bright last night, but not THAT bright) so we went to bed figuring that she'd either show up for breakfast in the morning, or we'd find a pile of feathers indicating an owl kill.

In the morning, I immediately spotted a clue that ML XII wasn't dead.

Fiddle often has little brown birds roosting on her, but that's usually an afternoon phenomenon. These bird-poop streaks hadn't been there the night before when I fed horses.

I couldn't imagine my big bossy mare acting as overnight roost for a runaway chicken, but clearly they spent some time together. Hmmm.

Then I saw ML XII herself!

I rattled the grain can and called "Minerva!" She ran away at first, eager to preserve her newfound freedom, but the grain can is hard to resist.

I caught her.

Back at St Hens, which has upgraded security now (I put boards around the edges to discourage digging out).

Stay there, you silly bird! I mean it this time!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

In which I share an article about Story. Get hankies ready!

I wrote the following article in the fall and winter of 2006, and it was published by Endurance News in February 2007.

Since then, it has been re-printed (with my permission and permission from EN) in newsletters for veterinary hospitals and equine rescue organizations. It was also recently posted at The Mugwump Chronicles blog. The photos were taken by Savannah Rae Kent and Jillian Zemanek.

Feel free to share this article with people and groups who will benefit from reading it--and if you'd like to include it in a newsletter or some other publication, please email me. I'm happy to give permissions.

Choosing the Right Way to Say Good-Bye

It took months for the lady to put her horse down.

The mare wasn’t old, but repeated bouts of painful laminitis gave her that fragile, worried look that is common among very old horses. She wasn’t a small horse, but she seemed to shrink as the pain took more and more of her attention during the day. Daily doses of bute were hurting her gut, and in the final month or two, the mare spent most of the day lying down in the soft shavings, with her eyes half-closed.

We kept trying to talk to the owner, but she wanted to make sure that she tried everything to cure her horse. In the course of a year, I probably saw every vet in the county and most of the farriers too, trying to perform some sort of miracle for the lady’s horse. The lady didn’t want to hear what the stall-cleaners were saying: that her horse was hurting all the time.

I guess it was the lady’s husband who made the decision. We almost never saw him before that, but that last day he met the vet and wrote the check. I never saw the lady again.

While the lady’s horse was waiting to die, everybody suffered. Not only the horse and the lady, but the rest of the people in the barn, and the other horses too. We were so sad, and frustrated, and angry--and powerless to help the mare.

A friend, who has worked with horses for more than 40 years, and worked with people longer than that, gave me the best advice:

“Sometimes,” she said, “the only thing you can do about a bad decision is to try to do better when it’s your turn.”

Years have passed. Now it’s my turn. I think of that lady, and that horse, and I’m determined to do better for my horse.

In May 2006, accumulated fibrosis in my 20-year-old Standardbred mare’s knee obstructed her joint enough to cause permanent lameness. The decision to retire her was a tough one: although never an elite athlete, Story had been a major participant in the riding scene at my barn for years; most of the kids—and many adults—took their first riding lessons on her.

I cried the day we removed her shoes, knowing that her situation was only going to get worse.

With that in mind, I enlisted help from my family, my horse-loving friends, the farrier, and the vet. Together we created a list of parameters that would help us keep track of Story’s level of comfort, so that I could make that difficult decision at the right time—not too soon, but more importantly: not too late. I didn’t want to wait until her only thought would be “pain.”

To monitor Story’s quality of life, we measured the swelling in the bad knee, the ability to bend and straighten the impaired leg, and the amount of stress visible in the foot tissue of her non-impaired legs. We kept track of her enthusiasm for rolling in the mud and getting her belly scratched. We set up some “attitude” measurements: her eagerness to eat, to walk out to the pasture, and to get into and out of the horse trailer. This last was important: I needed to trailer her to the vet hospital for euthanasia, and so I had to know when stepping up into and down from the trailer was beginning to challenge her.

All of this preparation was as much for me as it is for Story. Research done by the American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes that a horse is an important part of the lives of owners. “It is natural to feel you are losing a friend or companion” reads their informational flyer, “because you are.”

I researched euthanasia methods, and talked to my vet about my preferences. I put aside money in my savings account to cover the cost of the procedure. A professional photographer came out on the snowiest day of the year and spent 3 hours taking pictures.

Finally, we reached the parameter edge: the bute wasn’t easing her pain enough anymore.

Making that appointment at the vet hospital was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I think the conversation was held mostly in sign language and hand waving, because I certainly couldn’t talk coherently. I set the appointment two weeks in advance, and then the real work began: calling and emailing all of Story’s friends and students, to tell them that if they wanted to feed her an apple, it had better be soon. Some visited in person, others preferred to remember her happier days. Everyone wanted photos of Story in the snow.
She lived her last two weeks being stuffed full of carrots, apples, and cookies by her friends and fans. We revised an old trick called “fetch the bunny” where she would pick up the stuffed toy and shake it in her teeth in return for a treat. The last time she fetched the bunny was in the parking lot of the vet’s office.

This $500 racetrack-washout taught us all so much. She was my first horse, my first trail horse, and my first endurance horse. For many kids, she was the first to carry them at a trot. For many adults, she taught patience, balance, and courage.

Story lived as she died: a teaching horse. The vet interns used her body to practice administering a mylogram, a painful procedure for a living animal and not administered frivolously. By practicing the technique, our interns might be able to save a horse’s life someday.

I was determined to push Story’s life-lesson one step further: to write this article, and to urge horse owners to look ahead, to avoid waiting too long like that other lady did, and to plan a graceful exit for their beloved friends

I think Story would approve of that.

AFTERWORD: September 1, 2009

Less than a week after Story died, I got a call from Greener Pastures, the Standardbred Horse Adoption Society in Langely, BC.

"We heard about Story," they said, "You did the right thing. You were so brave....." blah blah blah. And then:

"We can't help noticing that you've got an empty stall."

I hadn't planned to get another horse quite so soon...but one of Greener Pastures horses was being returned by an adopter who had been recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. GP didn't have any room in their barn...all their pastures were full...and then they heard about me.

"Take her as a foster for the winter," they said. "If you like her, keep her. If not, bring her back in the spring."

Two and a half years later, Fiddle is still here with me.

Despite being Story's cousin, Fiddle isn't much like my first mare. She's much more challenging, much less patient. She has taught me a lot.

I think Story would approve of that, too.

In which I am given a prestigious award and called "tip-tilted"

This is what Kim Pearson said about the Haiku Farm blog when giving out the Superior Scribbler Award:
Aarene Storms' blog will charm you with its eclectic mixture of storytelling, haiku, horses, goats, dogs, cats, chickens, and a slight tip-tilted attitude.
I've never been called tip-tilted before...what a thrill! Thanks, Kim!
And in answer to a question from a Faithful Reader, this award does not come with a tiara, however there is nothing in the rules to prohibit a Superior Scribbler from wearing a tiara in celebration of the award. Therefore, you must all squint judiciously at my photo from now on, and envision this lovely Water Lily Tiara on my head, wrapped around my reflective-purple-flame-enhanced riding helmet.

For more information about the Superior Scribbler Award, you can visit the Scholastic Scribe page.

Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.

Now, it's my turn to select 5 Deserving Bloggers:

Lytha at the Horse-Crazy American blog writes with delightful wit about her adventures with her horse in Germany. It's not always cream-colored ponies and crisp apple streudels for Lytha and Baasha, but it's always worth reading.

Janet at Mugwump Chronicles gets me thinking--about my horse, about my riding, about the people around me. This blog is where I first encountered the term horsaii, which means the people who follow the way of the horse, and in many cases, those of us born with a genetic pre-disposition to lose all sense of reality when around a horse. Mugs featured an essay of mine this week, which I will re-post on this blog later in the week.

Jared at Moon Over Martinborough is a bit tip-tilted himself in his astute and quirky observations about life on an olive farm in New Zealand. Whether it's the comedy of gourmet escapee bovines, or the poetry of hay bales, I always have a smile on my face when I read this. If you only have time to read one blog post today, I recommend that you read this one!

Lisa-aka-Rapunzle's blog Laughing Orca Ranch is frequently horse-centered, but her inquiring mind wanders away from Things Equine and onto Things Poultry, Things Family, and just Things In General. I love her photographs.

Leah Fry calls herself a "middle-aged Texas crazy." I'm not sure she's crazy (and I'm not sure she's not crazy, either). She shares awesome photography and anecdotes and stories about her family and farm on Barn Door Tagz. Be sure to visit the posts about her Rat Weasels.

Congratulations, Scribblers! And pass it on!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

In which I come home, and it's beginning to look a lot like Harvest!

Hana was very happy to see the truck and trailer pull down the driveway! She was dancing and hollering out in the field, telling Fiddle to unload herself and get back in the pasture where she belongs.

Fee was very quiet until she was off the trailer and walking to the gate. Then she let loose with a very loud whinny. Ow. Remind me to move my head further away next time.

Dobbie and Lupin were also hopping around, flapping those gigantic ears and maaa-ing like crazy, which just confused Fiddle--the goats had only been in the pasture with the horses for a day when I loaded up my mare and took off to Oregon. I don't think she remembered them.

In the days following my homecoming, I've been busy catching up with all the stuff that hadn't been done for a taking pictures of stuff around the farm!

Tomatoes are starting to get ripe.

If you don't already know Guy Clark's "Homegrown Tomatoes" song, I guarantee that you will learn it and sing along at the top of your lungs if you want any Haiku Farm tomatoes!

Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes!

What'd life be without homegrown tomatoes--

There's only two things that money can't buy:

and that's True Love and homegrown tomatoes!

There's other stuff getting ripe, too:

Plums. The tree is loaded with plums. I'm hoping they'll be ripe next week....plum jam, maybe? Plum wine? What else can I do with all these plums?

The pear tree isn't nearly so prolific. I think it only has 5 or 6 pears on it...but they are practically perfect pears. It's hard to criticize a tree that puts so much energy into producing perfect fruit. I plan to pick the pears next week and thank the tree most politely. Maybe next year I can get 6 or 7 pears?

Apple trees are producing lots, but so far not any apples that people are interested in eating. The Yellow Transparents are done, and since they got ripe during the heat wave, nobody was interested in making applesauce out of them--the horses (and the yellowjackets) ate those.

This week we've got some little mealy red apples coming ripe....not very tasty, not even the yellowjackets want them. The goats and horses like them just fine, though, so I pick a small bucketful of them every evening and toss them over the fence.

I throw like a girl, so the apples never go far, which pleases the goats tremendously. Hana seems to enjoy chasing the apples that roll, but Fiddle would be happiest if I'd just hand her the bucket and get these other hungry creatures away from Her Apples.

There are two more apple trees in the orchard with unripe apples. One tree looks like a Gravenstein, which would be wonderful. Not sure about the other--I'll have to break off a branch and take it down to the MasterGardeners table at the hardware store next weekend.

Taking pictures of stuff means I have to look at it, which means I can't ignore it. In the case of the roses, that means I have to deal with them, which I finally knuckled down to do today.

The roses were covered with blown flowers and weird branches--but the former owners clearly took care of these plants, because they are basically in good shape.

I wish I liked roses and lilacs more, because this place has several of each, but honestly I'm more of a lavendar gal--no pruning or insecticides required. Bah. If these roses survive with minimal care, then power to them...and if they die because I neglect them, then that's one more spot in the yard that's available for a nice, sturdy lavendar plant!

Fortunately for the rose bushes, there are some avid rose fans here on the farm: Dobbie and Lupin were delighted to take care of the pruned branches for me!

Thanks, Kids!

I can only stay On Task for a limited time, and when Willy and Jim got home from church today, I'd had enough Virtuous Garden-Working Time for the day.

"Hitch the truck," sez I, "let's go riding!" The goats like to "assist" when we're tacking up the horses.

Willy was happy to be left alone at home for some uninterrupted online gaming time, and Jim and I took the mares out to the Pilchuck Tree Farm for a few hours. The woods are still green in some places....

but clearly, Autumn is coming.

I'm just hoping for a few more warm days to ripen the rest of the tomatoes, the apples, and the plums. Think we'll get 'em?

It's always a race to the harvest finish-line here in the Swamplands. My fingers are crossed.