Tara and Easter

Tara and Easter
"Aw, mom"

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fiona Goes To Church

A few years ago, we took ten of our Dexter Cattle to the County Fair.  Little four month old Fiona was tied up closest to where we were camped out during the day and this is what happened:

This last picture shows how cowlicks are really created.

Our son, John, and little Fiona bonded during the Fair.  They have grown up together since then and Fiona actually belongs to our son.  She is now three and a half years old and he is almost five years old.  She adores him.  All of our cows are friendly, but she is the most persistent about checking your pockets when you walk through the pastures and following you around like a big puppy.  She is polite and not at all pushy about her affections, which makes her ideal around children.  She is also our photobomb cow.  If you try to take a picture of the pasture or scenery, she will pop in looking for handouts.  Here is her hopeful look as I was taking pictures just yesterday:

Two weeks ago, I was asked to assist with our church's Vacation Bible School Program.  There were over 100 children, ages 3-10 attending.  I helped teach various subjects through the week.  Friday called for a lesson involving farm animals.  I took Phoenix, our therapy horse, Donkeyotee, our sweet donkey, and Fiona.  Friday morning began early as I haltered and bathed all three in the predawn hours to keep allergens down as well as keep them cool during the long trailer ride into town.  I loaded them into our three horse trailer, with Fiona hopping right up into the last stall.  I set up a portable corral for Fiona in the shade and spent time soothing her with some grooming.  The horse and donkey were set up in another pen next to the trailer.  We had two picnic tables acting like bleachers in front of a grassy area and I walked each animal up to introduce them to the children.  Then, the children were allowed to feed a treat to one of them.  I picked Fiona for the littlest kids because of her size and how easy it is to feed her a molasses horse biscuit (her favorite).  The little ones giggled at her sticky long tongue and "wet, doggy nose".  After the presentation, kids were allowed to walk around and visit with the animals in their pens.  I monitored closely for signs of stress, but, if anything, the animals relaxed more as the day progressed.

Fiona is exactly, not only what a Dexter cow should be, but what a family cow should be.  She's friendly, easy to handle, gentle and intelligent.  She learns quickly and adapts to new routines remarkably.  Everyone was fascinated with Fiona's size and personality and I think there are many new Dexter cattle fans in our area.  One young girl even asked her dad for a cow for her birthday!

Regrettably, I can't show you the happy smiles from the children, for privacy reasons, but here is a picture of Fiona enjoying her day with the kids:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Gus The Feral Shetland Pony

Donkeyotee and Phoenix have been turned out together since Donkey was 7 months old.  In fact, when designing our horse barn, we built an extra big stall at one end so they could share winter quarters.  They love to tussle and play fight, but the vet said 'no more'.  Phoenix is 21 years old this year and was diagnosed with navicular.  He is sound enough for light riding, but has more bad days than good when he roughhouses with Donkey, so our vet recommended that they be separated.  Poor Donkey pouted this winter in his private corral.  We decided he needed a little companion. Fortunately, I heard about a Shetland Pony that lost his donkey companion and was also pouting. Good fit, right?

Well, except that the pony was feral.  He didn't even have a name.  I went to meet him anyway.  The owners had trapped him in a cattle chute, using feed, then wrestled him into a corner and put a halter on him. They told me the last time they did this, he got the halter off by rubbing his head on the ground until it came over his ears and off his head. They had given up on him and were going to send him to a bad auction here in Florida (along with cull cows, if that gives you any idea of the type of auction).  When I met him, he was shaking from fear while the two owners held him with two lead ropes.  I asked if I could try to lead him and used treats to get his attention (it worked).  He did seem to quiet a little as I walked calmly and carefully.  I led him around their yard and he seemed eager to please despite his fear.  I told them that I would take him if he loaded into my trailer. Of course he walked right in!  He is 10.1 hands tall and his previous owners did not know his age because he came from a neighbor.  His height and build mean he is too large for a mini and clearly in the Shetland Pony size range.  He also has the leg feathering and stockiness of a Shetland.  In honor of his Scottish origins, I named him Feargus (Gus for short).  He is a lovely little silver bay colored pony.

Here's Gus that first day:

At home, I carefully unloaded him into our round pen for quarantine since his vaccine history was unknown, his deworming schedule was non-existent, and his feet were in bad shape. Knowing his halter tricks, I took it off.  I started off by just feeding him treats and getting him used to a lead rope moving around him.  Soon enough, he had a relaxed eye around me so we moved on to touching.  He was itchy and this went very well.  I worked with him as often as possible and gained his trust enough to halter him a few times.  I did get a fecal sample checked and it was negative.  After he had been here for a month, I let Donkeyotee in with his new friend.

You can see how much of a pest Donkey is in this video, but he just wanted to play.  By the next morning, it was obvious that Gus was in charge.

Donkeyotee and Gus

Finally, after several more sessions and a formal move into the horse barn with Donkey, Gus was ready for his vet visit.  I arranged for the farrier the same day.  Poor little pony was looked at from head to toe!  He was fully vaccinated, dewormed, trimmed, teeth checked, gelding verified and a Coggins was drawn.  He is 7 years old, his teeth are good, his hooves are much better now, and he is a gelding (YAY!).  All this meant he earned his freedom.  Out to pasture to graze with his new pal, Donkey.  The farm is quieter now.  Donkeyotee is no longer trying to disassemble fences to get in with Phoenix or pouting in that polished donkey way.  Everyone seems content with the new arrangements.  And, best of all, Gus the Feral Shetland Pony is now Gus the Tame Shetland Pony.

All groomed up and dappled: