Tara and Easter

Tara and Easter
"Aw, mom"

Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse behavior of our farm animals 8/21/17

On the days leading up to the eclipse, I noted the normal afternoon behavior of our farm animals (horses, cows, sheep, chickens, bees) as well as our local wildlife (sandhill cranes and cattle egrets).  I will record today's observations for comparison.  Any unusual behaviors will be in red.  The blog will be updated throughout the day.


-All animals sleeping in typical locations except for the cattle.  They normally bed down in the pine trees at the back of the pasture.  Early this morning, they are laying down right by the main gate.  


-Horses are resting in the shade, as usual for this time of the morning.
-Chickens are scratching and foraging normally.
-Sheep are waiting for morning hay.
-Bees gathering water and foraging as usual.
-Cattle are grazing mid-pasture, with one strange behavior.  Fiona, while nursing her four month old calf, Joel, calls to me continually until I am out of her sight.  She usually doesn't call unless it's near feeding time and she rarely ever calls while nursing (oxytocin usually has a calming effect).
-Cattle egrets not in the pasture.  
-Sandhill cranes not in the pasture.


-Crows cawing.  Large group calling and circling.  Unusual this time of day.
-Chickens not foraging, but still relatively active.
-Sheep standing and quiet.  Need reassurance (petting).
-Bees are fetching water normally.


-Cattle by the gate again.  Need reassurance.
-Horses standing in shade, calm.
-Songbirds are quieter. 
-Cattle egrets not in the pasture.  
-Sandhill cranes not in the pasture.


-Horses grazing calmly.
-Bees active.
-Dogs normal (making the rounds with us).
-Cats oblivious.


-Cattle grazing after more reassurance.


-Songbird calls are those normally heard at dusk.  All regular songbirds quiet, including mocking birds.  
-Cattle are clustered and restless, but foraging.
-Horses are grazing.
-Chickens are in the yard but clumped together and not foraging. Starting to look like a predator reaction.

1435-  (Appears to be peak darkness).

-Chickens are very still.  definitely reacting as if to a predator.  No noises, alert, and all heads up.  Still clumped together under a tree in their yard.  
-Cattle are restless.  Fiona calling again.
-Horses are fine.
-Birds are quiet.
-Bees foraging as normal.
-Dogs fine.
-Sheep standing in stall begging for food.


Appears to be past darkest point.  The eclipse boxes we made worked well.  Some clouds cover, but we had good views of the shadow cast on the sun by the moon through our boxes.  We thought it might get darker than it did, but the animals reacted in interesting ways, nonetheless.


Came inside to darkened house.  Had to turn on lights to type up observations.

A few notes regarding observations:

*Our animals are normally fed around dusk.  I think the sheep looking for feed was based on level of light and association with feeding.

*Cattle were needy.  This was unexpected.  How could I tell?  Our cows come to the gate and moo during feeding times.  They jostle for position as we enter with the feed.  However, if something is bothering them, they come to the gate and look for us (strange dog, for example).  They are tense and still.  Their heads are higher than normal.  There is no jostling for position.  When we go into the pasture and move among them, petting and talking to them, they relax and move off to graze.  That is how they were, rather than expectant behaviors associated with feeding times.  The fact that they came back to the gate several times and limited their grazing to the areas closest to the gate (which are not prime grazing spots) are other indications of the cattle seeking reassurance.

*The sheep weren't as bothered by the eclipse as the cattle.  Perhaps because they spent most of the day in their stall eating hay from a feeder.

*Horses didn't seem disturbed at all.  This was also unexpected.

*Chickens did not go to roost, like I expected, but had a predator reaction instead.  They sought shelter from a tree, held very still and quiet.  This is what they do when they detect shadows from flying predators (ground predators cause them to go higher; flying predators cause them to seek shelter from above).  Their reaction was a logical one to a change in shadows.

*No cattle egrets or sandhill cranes.  These two species spend their days in our pastures.  The usual count is 2-4 egrets and 13 cranes.  I expect them to return tomorrow.  Since they did not appear at all today, how could they have detected the change?  Does it have to do with their unique brain structures used to help them migrate?

*Songbirds reacted as has been widely reported during eclipses throughout the world.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Perfect Repellant

I'll bet you saw the title of this blog entry and decided it would be about bugs.  Why would I think that?  Because my state is famous for bugs.  Large bugs, small bugs, bugs as big as your face.  Brown bugs, blue bugs, bugs that like to chase.  Sad bugs, happy bugs, bugs with attitude.  Shiny bugs, dull bugs, bugs that are quite rude.

However, this is not about bugs.  In fact, if there was a perfect bug repellant, we would have chased the bugs somewhere else.  Like Georgia.  Alas, our bugs are still with us, happily gearing up for their best season of the year.  

So, no, not bugs, but our other famous inhabitants.  "Aha!", you say, "I know!  This is about alligators.".  Again, a mistake.  Alligators are also enjoying the waning days of spring and looking forward to a long summer of feasting on birds, fish, small mammals, and inattentive tourists, (they are trying to cut back on native Floridians that wander within their reach because of the alcohol content).  Indeed, nothing repels an alligator, except heavy layers of clothing (which isn't usually a problem down here).  I suspect many even have flip-flop and Speedo collections to recall their favorite dining experiences.  

So, our other most famous resident, that is not normally covered in either scaly skin or an exoskeleton, is the human kind.  A unique breed of human, common in all states, predominantly male, and goes by his scientific name: homo crackerien.  Now, why, do you ask, would this rather common species act as any sort of repellant?  To understand this is understand the nature of Floridians.  From the time of the first inhabitants, there has been a pattern of behavior that involves hours of standing in shady spots communicating with each other.  This was likely  brought on by the heat making it too uncomfortable to work for long hours during the day.  Some would call this gossiping, but it may have actually developed as a survival technique to stay out of the worst of the heat.  When one among many did something that resulted in pain, loss of limb, disfigurement, or death, everyone discussed it in cool spots with cool drinks in hand.  As our society became more public, Floridians kept widening the circle until sharing the antics of the weirdest among us is too hard a habit to break.  Thus, while most states are clever enough to hide the daily lives of their residents who attempt the odd, the strange, the weird, or the drunken dare;  we in Florida put ours on display for public discussion.  Every Floridian mother's nightmare is to see their son described in any article that begins with the words: "Florida man....".  

Now, we get to the repellant part.  This article is what I call the latest in a long campaign to slow growth in Florida.  The perfect repellant.  Perhaps there is a bit of genius behind these antics.


Or, was it, perhaps, not the Florida man at all, but the serpent that should be held accountable?  

It was not enough that the snake was handled.  No, dear reader, that snake desired a closer relationship with his unwary handler.  This, my friends, is how Eve was tempted.  That snake seduced the poor man into kissing it.  And, our hero could have had beer or money on the line as well, which would have been hard to resist.  (Please know that this young man is expected to recover with a painful memory and an interesting story.  God bless his poor mother).  

Florida is experiencing too much growth, as of late, so please pass these and all similar stories around to help discourage anyone else from coming here.  Stories like this are meant to be shared in a long tradition that began when the first two people met the first large reptile and one of them uttered that famous phrase heard throughout the land, "Hold my beer and watch this..."

Monday, March 6, 2017


Our farm has animals that come and go, for various reasons.  Weanling calves go on to new homes.  Steers go to slaughter.  Sometimes, however, somebody gets a new home.  This time, it was Gus and his beloved donkey friend, Xavier.  They are inseparable, so, when we needed to cut back on our herd, they had to go together.  

Gus was always the extra pony.  We took him in because he was feral and about to go to slaughter.  He didn't even have a name when we brought him home.  It took him a week before I could pet him, but he came around slowly.  We've had him for four years and during that time, he was not asked to work very often.  After all, John has Maggie to ride.  He rode Gus a little, but he and Maggie had a stronger bond.  

This year, we worked with Gus to get him ready for the Scottish Games (he is, after all, a Shetland Pony).  Maggie has been many times, but this was his first time.  He did very well.  There were huge crowds and lots of people visiting his pen.  The were bagpipes and balloons.  Drums and little kids with sticky fingers.  He became quite sociable.  The ultimate test was when we took him in the parade.  There was a huge crowd in the bleachers around the arena and Gus took it very well.  

After the Games were over, we decided he was tame enough to have a little kid of his own.  We found a very nice lady, not too far away, with a two year old girl.  She has plenty of horse experience and there is time before that little girl will be old enough to ride.  

But, what to do with Xavier?  He never fit in with the horses, but loves to play with Gus.  They chase each other and play fight.  Xavier will even pick up a bucket and rattle it while chasing Gus.  They are so much fun to watch.  Before the Games, we separated them.  Maggie and Gus were together to get ready and Xavier was by himself.  Xavier pouted and pined for his friend.  

When the lady came to meet Gus, we told her about Xavier and she loved him.  Xavier was who helped us recover from the loss of Donkeyotee.  He came to us secondhand from an auction covered in lice and scared.  Now, he loves hugs and scratches.  He can be ridden by children and will give you hugs with his head.  He also was wonderful with kids of all ages at John's school when he was the Nativity donkey, two years in a row.  It was a difficult decision, but he belonged with Gus.  

They left Saturday morning for their new home.  

Among the equines, we have Phoenix, who is a 25 year old AQHA gelding.  He is retired due to navicular.  We also have my sweet Libby, a 26 yer old Morgan, who is still spunky and going strong.  And, we have Maggie, John's adorable Shetland Pony mare.  My husband does not have a horse to ride at the moment, but we will not be getting him another riding horse until the fall.  

Now, once again, we are without a donkey.  This is not acceptable after one has had a donkey.  They are the most dog-like of equines because of their friendliness.  They will even leave food for attention.  Once you have a donkey on your farm, it just isn't the same without one.

We talked as a family last night and came up with a new plan.  We will mail an application in for a BLM burro.  There will be an auction in our area of wild mustangs and burros in a few months.  The burros come from Arizona.  We have the facilities to train and house one and, we believe, we have the experience to gentle one.  The only concern we have is if we will ever get the burro to relax when they hear a helicopter.  If not, we will just have to make sure they are in a safe place when one goes overhead.  Helicopters aren't that common around here, but they do fly over occasionally.  Helicopters are used to round up mustangs and burros, so it's a common fear among them.  We would like a young jenny because she would fit in with our herd best.  Adopting from the BLM has become less popular lately because of the economy.  There are many animals stuck in holding pens out west because interest in them is too low.  There isn't enough forage for them on public lands and not enough people willing to give them a home.  If we get just one, we have done our part to help and the new burro can make the farm right again with her brays and unique donkey personality.  I will keep a log of the burro's training and, perhaps, it won't seem too daunting a task for someone else to try.  

Here is Gus at the Scottish Games (Feargus, actually).

This is Xavier as a Nativity donkey.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

My Name is Harold

....And I am the oldest calf at Moonlit Oaks Ranch.  The other calf, Ian, is a pest.  He always wants to see what I'm doing.  Anyway, I need to complain about my really bad day on Saturday.  In fact, I will call it that:

Harold's Really Bad Day


Saturday began normally.  It was cool and refreshing in the morning, but it warmed up quickly.  I made a couple trips to the milk bar (Mama Cow) and then chased Ian a little.  Grumpy old Auntie April told me to keep it down and Buttercup gave me a sneer.   I'm almost as tall as she is, so, whatever.  Holly Cow used to be fun to play with, but she's pregnant now and all grown up (so she says).  She also brags because she belongs to the Church, rather than the farmers, as if I care.  So, yeah, no fun to play with anymore.  The big steers (they spook me with scary stories sometimes) were telling me something about 'my turn' is coming.  Spare me.  Anyway, it was a completely normal day in the pasture.  

Then, the farmers were carrying a green bag and played with the chute thingy.  I didn't think anything of it because they had GRAIN.  Oh, sweet, lovely grain!  They pulled the feeders into a weird spot and we followed.  Then, they pulled them into the bull pen.  I've never been in the bull pen.  So cool!  I wanted to see where daddy spent some of his time before he left for Texas.  So, in we went.  Of course, they closed the gate behind us.  Then, the lady farmer shooed me into a spot in the bull pen where there was an extra fence.  I like her, so I went there without complaining.  Mama Cow yelled out to 'be good'.  Huh?  Well, into that chute thingy I ran and it stopped me.  I was stuck.  "Um, excuse me?", I said to the farmers that were there with their little farmer kid.  The kid (he's my favorite) petted me and I figured the farmers knew I was there and would help me out soon.  Then, the torture began.  Cold wet stuff in one ear and then PINCH!  Ow! Ow! Ow!  "I'll talk!  I'll talk!  I have no idea what you want to know, but I'll talk!", I told them.  Then, they stabbed my other ear and it felt heavier.  Oh man, now I had one of those silly yellow earring things the big cows have.  No one asked me if I wanted one.  That would have been more polite.  Then, the nasty bee sting things (must be the shots the steers warned me about).  And, yuck!  Gooey stuff down my back (it's supposed to get rid of worms.  I don't have any worms, seriously.  I would know!).  Then, as if that wasn't enough, they ripped some hair off of my tail for 'genetic testing'.  Dude, seriously?  The final evil was this heavy thing they strapped onto my head.  It felt weird and was itchy in, oh, about two seconds.  Finally, the chute thingy opened and I was on the wrong side of the fence.   I complained to the farmers, but they didn't seem concerned.  Everybody else was back in the pasture and I was stuck in daddy's pen, all by myself.  While I complained, loudly (sounded a bit more like daddy, actually.  I think my voice is changing), everyone just stared at me from the other side of the fence.  Mama Cow got all teared up with those weird happy tears mamas get.  "What?!" I said.  The steers were impressed with me.  They were the ones that told me the news. "Relax, Harold", they said (they never called me by my name; always twerp, goober, etc..  what a moment).  "You made it!  You're going to be a herd sire, like daddy.".  "Really?" I said.  "What does that mean?".  They both snorted, called me a twerp, and walked off.  Big help they were.  Anyway, all the cows, including mama said they were proud of me.  They told me I would be going to my own herd soon to grow up with strange cows, and then they wandered off to eat.  Okay, so I guess I'm going to be pretty awesome, like daddy.  But it was still a Really Bad Day!

That's my complaint.  Thanks for letting me vent.  I gotta go.  Gotta practice being awesome and doing, you know, bull things, like pawing up dirt and rubbing my horns on stuff.  I have horns, really.  They're short now, but they're growing.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Live Nativity and Xavier's kiss

Xavier is our resident donkey.  He is talkative, affectionate, and sweet.  He is very popular among visitors to our farm.  I was asked by the principal of our son's Catholic school, if Xavier would be willing to be kissed on the nose.  The deal was that if the students at our son's school raised enough money, their principal had to kiss a farm animal.  She preferred a donkey to say, a pig.  Considering how far Xavier has come in his training, and how much he seeks attention from people, it sounded like a trip to the school would be fine.  In addition, this was to be done before Christmas Break, so the children would also be doing a nativity scene outside.  I arranged to bring Xavier, Fiona the Dexter cow, and our two tame sheep for the Nativity.  The animals were perfectly behaved as our priest, Father Andy, sat down on a bale of hay between some kids in costumes and the animals gathered around, and read the Nativity story to the pre-school children.  Due to privacy concerns, I cannot show you any pictures of the children in costumes.  This picture was taken before the event.  Fiona, having some experience at schools with children, was the star.  She enjoyed lots of treats and scratches from the children, and our priests.  

The sheep were also perfect.  They enjoyed pets and scratches from the littlest children.  Father Pervaiz even helped me feed them.

After the Nativity, the promised kiss was to be done in front of the entire school.  The children formed a horseshoe around the principal and I led Xavier in for his kiss.  He did quite well.  Here is a picture from the local paper.

Tara and Tina are coming home

In 1993, I began working with cattle while in college at Colorado State University after being inspired by my advisor, Dr. Temple Grandin.  I worked as a calf feeder at a dairy, wrangled on a bison ranch, and worked extensively with CSU's herd during calving season. These were large operations and the learning curve was high. At times, it was like taking a drink from a fire hose. I was hooked. I also worked with a local mobile vet. Of all the client's herds we cared for, my favorite were the little Dexter cattle at one ranch.  After reading up on their history, I learned about their origins in Ireland.  After college, I joined the US Navy.  I did a little research about Dexters from time to time while I was serving in the military and dreamed of a farm of my own.

In 2003, while I was still serving as a Surface Warfare Officer in the US Navy, I bought my own farm in Virginia near where my ship was home-ported. I raised some commercial cattle at first to get a feel for the land. It was much different than raising cattle out west. Finally, one year before I was to be stationed on shore duty, I contacted a Dexter cattle breeder in Missouri. They had some very nice looking animals.  I arranged to drive out to their farm in September 2005 and pick up three 6 month old Dexter heifers, Tina, Tara, and Trudi. I would be returning from the war in August 2005 so I had enough time to prepare for my new arrivals.

A week before the trip, tragedy struck as Hurricane Katrina smashed the gulf coast. I looked at my big, empty, stock trailer that I would be hauling halfway across the country and formulated a plan. I dropped the trailer off on base in a prominent location and sent a message out inviting people to fill it full of school kits and personal hygiene kits. One week later, I left Norfolk, Virginia for Missouri with my two dogs in the cab of my truck, bedding, hay, camping equipment, and buckets in the pick-up bed, and a trailer crammed full of goodies for Hurricane victims.  I delivered the goods to the Salvation Army in Tennessee. They would be loading an 18 wheeler immediately to take supplies to one of the locations for displaced victims.

I left very early in the morning and pushed through all the way to Tennessee that first night to ensure the donations were delivered ASAP. The dogs and I found a hotel in Tennessee and then headed towards Arkansas the next morning.  We reached the Ozarks after dark and had to feel our way through strange mountain towns. Finally, at about 10:00 pm, we arrived at the cattle ranch in Missouri. The rancher was also a military veteran and had already insisted that I stay with his family instead of finding a hotel.

The next morning, we caught up my new heifers, haltered, vaccinated, and loaded them up for their trip home. They had the run of the big three-horse trailer. Shaving provided thick bedding, hay was piled on the sides, and a large tub of water was secured in the corner. I entered twice a day to play with them and feed them grain in their individual buckets (Tara has the green bucket and Tina has the blue).

We hauled out early the next morning and made it to an RV campground just over the border into Kentucky. The park owners were amused at the calves in my trailer. The dogs and I slept in the little tack-room area. We awoke early to the thumping of calves playing in the trailer. They had enough room to romp and took full advantage of it.

At a gas station the next day, a cattle truck, crammed full of steers, pulled in to refuel next to us. My girls were strangely quiet as they watched the random flashes of crowded cattle move behind the round holes in the sides of the huge double-decker trailer. A big, brown, eye peered out to the calves and some mooing was exchanged. It was a strange moment.

That night, I talked my way into staying at the Kentucky Horse Park's campground. The manager said I'd have to leave if the calves mooed too much. I only wanted a few hours sleep, so I promised that we'd be gone before the sun came up. My cows were quiet all night. 

A year later, I was married and out of the Navy. My husband and I took two trips with the stock trailer to haul, first the Dexter cows, then, our two horses and donkey, down to our new farm in Florida.

Florida was a whole new challenge to raising cattle. We are high and dry on our new farm in northern Florida, so it is similar to the west but the porous sandy soil means that their hooves must be trimmed because they don't wear naturally as they would on hard ground. 

Tara and Tina gave us Easter and April the following spring.  We sold Trudi because of some temperament issues.  

Over the next several years, Tina, Tara, and Tina's daughter, April, helped us grow our herd into a nice size.  

In 2011, we signed up to take ten cows to the local fair.  We had to dehorn Tina and Tara because of the fair rules.  They are at the far end in this picture from the Clay County Fair.

Our herd was too big at this point, so we sold Tina and Tara to a gentleman just starting out in Dexters.  This is one of the last pictures I have before he picked them up.  Tina is the black cow in the middle and Tara is the bigger dun cow behind her.

They had been bred to our bull, so this was a perfect "Dexter starting kit".  It seemed like a good home.  In 2013, however, I received a call from a lady in central Florida telling me a sad tale.  Tina and Tara had been left to starve in someone's pasture (not the person we sold them to).  This nice lady had picked them up cheap and brought them back to health.  She used them for milking for several years. 

This year, just before Easter, she asked us if we wanted to buy them back.  Since we are a small farm and bit light on cows at the moment, it seems like good timing.  There is also, of course, the emotional attachment one experiences when working with animals.  Tina and Tara were always easy to handle and nice to work with.  We are looking forward to bringing them home.  Cattle remember each other, even after several years.  In our herd, we have two daughters of Tina.  It will be fun to see how they interact when they are reunited.  

In addition, our bull was new when we sold them, so we never saw any calves from breeding Tina and Tara to our bull, Armstrong.  Hopefully, we will finally get that chance next year.  

I will post a picture of them, or maybe even a video of their reunion with their herd, this weekend.  :)

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Feeling Sheepish, Adventures with Sheep Chapter Two

As stated in a previous post, my first attempt at being a shepherdess failed.  The sheep were as independent as a teen with a car and a credit card.  In fact, after that experience, I had sworn off all wool bearing creatures.

One fine day, however, I came upon an ad for friendly, older ewe in need of a home.  She was a St. Augustine sheep, which is a Florida breed that sheds their wool instead of requiring shearing (YES!).  I loaded up our son and headed off to meet Lippy.  The sheep farm had friendly, bright-eyed, sheep that actually enjoyed being with humans.  Lippy was a mostly white ewe with big dark spots on her.  One spot was over her eye and one on her lip, (hence her name).  She gazed up at me as I pet her and leaned on me slightly.  These are REAL sheep, I thought.  These sheep were as cuddly as a muddy Golden Retriever.  Our son was entranced.  The owner offered to sell us Lippy and a young ewe, named Marmalade, for company (sheep prefer to be with at least one other sheep).  We brought our new flock home and they settled right in.  The first thing I noticed was how dependent these sheep were compared to our first sheep.  These sheep not only liked us, but actually acted as if they needed us.  With the howling coyotes at night, they were absolutely right.  At first, they wouldn't even venture into their paddock without us with them to guard them.  We often let them out to explore the yard and nibble to their heart's desire (the dogs are locked up for these excursions).  They stay close to us and run after us as we walk around the yard doing chores.  These are the most endearing, sweet, creatures.  They look at us as bearers of all good things and protectors.  It's quite flattering.  I wish they sold bumper stickers that said "I hope to someday be the person my sheep think I am".