Tara and Easter

Tara and Easter
"Aw, mom"

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Two New Donkeys

My husband, our son, and I discussed buying a new donkey and we decided on exactly what sort of long eared creature we were looking for.  We focused on finding a standard sized jenny, which would be different enough from the donkey we had, so as not to be an attempt to replace the irreplaceable.

I thought, perhaps, it wouldn't be too difficult to find a young donkey that had at least been vaccinated and had their hooves trimmed once or twice. With exception of the high end miniature donkeys, this was not easy.  We started with rescues, but they were out of donkeys in our desired size range.  If we lived out west, this would be easier because the Bureau of Land Management auction sites are much more accessible.  We searched sale ads regularly and never got further than a phone call with most folks.  I discovered an uncomfortable fact about the donkeys in our area.  Not only are do they tend to be not current on vaccines, but they have typically never had their hooves trimmed or even worn a halter.  What was mostly available were 'guard' type donkeys which, it seems, is a term used as a handy excuse to not provide proper vet and farrier care.  There was another group of donkey owners who turned random animals out together as some sort of pasture decoration or to get an agricultural tax break.  These donkeys were very similar to the guard variety in that they were neither vaccinated or handled.  None of the male donkeys of either type were gelded.  None.  I was shocked.  To make matters worse, almost every female donkey was turned out with intact breeding jacks, or even horse stallions, and assumed to be pregnant.  Our search for a donkey was very discouraging.

Finally, I responded to an ad from someone who turned out to be a horse trader, (not always bad, but in this case, not good).  My family and I had decided, firmly, that we wanted a jenny.  This time, the descriptions of trained donkeys and young donkeys made me hopeful.  They offered to bring the donkey to me, but I declined, preferring to see them where they lived.  I took the horse trailer, our son, and our eager German Shepherd (for safety).  They told me there was a four month old jenny foal that was already weaned.  I asked if she was still with her mother and offered to buy them both, if it went well, and sell the mother back after the appropriate weaning time.  They said we could work something out.  They even had a donkey that was broke to ride.  Quite promising.

I passed their place, hoping it wasn't the right address.  All I could see from the road were thick woods and big gates with 'No Trespassing' signs.  They had good reasons to hide their animals.  There was an overcrowded corral with many horses and donkeys clustered around a rather nasty looking round bale.  Some of the horses were slicked out and in fairly good condition, but the donkeys looked scraggly.  They showed me the jenny with a foal in a makeshift pen.  They explained that they had been separated from the herd for several days and the baby wasn't nursing at all.  They kept calling the foal a 'she' but it clearly had an appendage.  Definitely not a 'she'.  I asked if they were sure it was a 'she' and they confirmed it.  I just let it go at that point.  What was most alarming was how listless the foal was.  The seller picked him up and carried him out of the makeshift pen and there was no reaction from either mama donkey or the baby.  Something was very wrong.  Neither the jenny nor the foal had a name.  Perhaps they mixed up the foals or perhaps the jenny's condition was too poor for her to provide milk.  Either way, this foal was essentially an orphan and needed help.  Maybe it because the baby seemed so weak and I worried about our son being heartbroken if the baby died.  Maybe because I hadn't decided if I was ready to throw my heart into a new donkey after losing Donkeyotee only a month prior.  For whatever reason, I hesitated, so they offered to show me the 6 year old saddle-broke donkey, which was actually a jack (adding more evidence to my hypothesis that there are no gelded donkeys in our area).  This donkey jack was in another pen and was in good condition compared to the other donkeys.  He was the wrong sex, based on our criteria, but he had a gentle demeanor.  He was 12 hands tall, which is big enough for most small adults to ride over a relatively short distance.  They must have bought him from an auction because he still had glue on his back from the auction tag.  One of the seller's children got on the donkey and rode him.  He was very quiet and gentle.  I put our son up on him and knew that we had found our donkey.  I agreed to buy him.  As they loaded him in our trailer, I kept thinking about that foal in trouble.  He was so weak and not at all interested in his surroundings.  He didn't put up a fight when the seller picked him up.  He wasn't going to make it much longer.  I had the cash.  Would I be buying heartbreak and a big vet bill?  Maybe, but I followed my heart.  We had the room and I felt willing to help him.  Summer break had just begun, so we had the time.  I was out of excuses.  The seller picked him up and placed him in the tack room.  He laid down and rode that way all the way home.  I reported the sellers to their local Animal Control agency early the following week.

I texted my husband and told him what I had found.  He teased me gently about leaving with the trailer to get one jenny and somehow coming home with two jacks.  Did I have trouble telling their sex, or was it a counting issue?  Regardless, he liked the big donkey immediately.  With a twinkle in his eye, he marveled at how I had managed to find the most pathetic, needy, baby donkey in the entire region.

They were immediately quarantined on our farm, from our animals, and from each other.  The big one, who was certainly capable of wooing our mares, was placed in the round pen with two fences between him and our horses.  The baby was put in a stall in the barn.  Our family thought up names that evening and finally agreed upon Tobit (Toby) for the baby and Xavier for the big jack.

After making sure Xavier was comfortable, we checked on the baby again.  Tobit was in a nice clean stall with deep shavings, fresh water and a choice of fresh grass hay or alfalfa.  I put some pellets in a bucket for him to try as well.  I did try goat milk replacer, despite the seller's insistence that he was weaned, just in case.  I had no luck, but he did nibble at the alfalfa hay.  He was frighteningly thin and weak.  If I pushed on his back very gently, he gave way.  Tobit was dewormed right away, with a mild dewormer.  He was so weak that he would only take a few steps at a time.  I saw a little poop the next day and he was definitely peeing, but he was still spending a lot of time laying down.  When I was satisfied that he was at least eating and drinking, we left him to settle in.  Both donkeys called to each other during that first night.  It was Wednesday night, June 3rd, and the vet couldn't come out until Friday afternoon.  I was worried about the baby donkey.

In this picture, taken that first night, he looks more like a deer fawn than a baby equine.  Xavier, meanwhile, is at a healthy weight.

I had a right to be worried.  Toby was very sick.  His reactions were very slow.  It was like a failure to thrive.  I noticed he did not poop much at all and I feared he was only eating when we were with him.  We spent as much time as we could with him until the vet came on Friday afternoon.  We hoped he would be cleared to have a companion.  We had a four month old baby goat named Nancy, who really wanted a friend in her paddock with her.  If Toby couldn't be in with one of our mares, I hoped he could at least have a goat companion.  Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with lice.  We assumed Xavier had it as well and both were doused with premethrin.  The lice were species specific, so Nancy the goat could not get them from Toby (nor could we get them).  Both donkeys would need to stay away from the horses and ponies for the next month and we would need to be sure they were clear of lice after three treatments.  The vet gave Toby a body score of 2.5 on a scale where 6-7 is normal.  He gave him a vitamin B-12 shot to stimulate his appetite and the vet drew blood.  Toby was 7 hands 3 inches and weighed about 35 lbs.  He should have weighed about 60 lbs.

Nancy did wonders for Toby.  He started eating and kept eating.  His bloodwork came back the next day and showed that his liver enzymes were very high.  That explained the stupor he was in.  His poor overtaxed liver was trying to process his food and heal at the same time.  The vet suspected he was weaned several weeks before and had no mother to show him what was safe to eat.  He was likely fighting toxins from plants he ingested on the wooded area where the seller had kept his donkeys.  He ate whatever he could because he was starving.  The other possibility was liver damage from internal parasites.  We would know more in two weeks when we repeated his bloodwork.  There was nothing to be done except supportive care.  Either his liver would heal, or he would die.  He pooped somewhat normally on Saturday and even better on Sunday.  His stupor was so severe on Sunday, however, that I called the vet for reassurance that he did not need to be hospitalized.  The vet explained that the stupor was caused by the increase in his intake and should get better as his liver heals and he gets more energy from his diet.  He was walking a little more, but babies should run and play.  Nancy tried very hard to play with him.  By comparison, she was an entirely normal four month old herbivore.

In the meantime, Xavier passed his physical exam nicely that Friday, with the exception of the lice.  Since he had no vaccination history, he received all his shots.  He was castrated on Friday and we gave him pain control and an anti-inflammatory through the weekend.

Tobit was the 'extra donkey' and I felt funny about his vet bill.  We had the money and paid the bill right away, but, ironically, a check came the same day as his vet appointment.  It was from Donkeyotee's agent and it more than covered Tobit's vet bill.  We hadn't received any checks from Donkey's video for about a year or so.  What an irony!  Donkeyotee was a rescue, too.  It was like he was paying it forward.

By Monday, June 8th, I began to notice little improvements in Toby.  He was following me around more and seemed brighter and more interested in his surroundings.  His belly looked more full.  He still wasn't walking for very long, but it was a little better every day.  He had his first halter training session because I wanted to let him graze in the yard a little.  I did a very gentle pull and release until his hooves touched the edge of the grass and then I removed the lead rope.  He couldn't get anywhere quickly.  He figured out how to eat, but it was so odd.  He clamped down on the first plant and pulled and pulled until the root came with it.  Then, he chewed on the whole plant for quite awhile.  He dropped it, eventually.  It took several more bites and pulling, before he realized he could just bite off the growing parts of the grass and move on.  It must be how he learned to graze during his ordeal.

That evening, Tobit showed me a tiny donkey attitude when I was trying to take his picture.  He kept coming toward me whenever I stopped to face him.  I finally ran a short distance away from him to get his picture.  By then, he had stopped and was pouting a bit because I wouldn't let him come up to me for scratches.

 This picture was taken Monday.  You can already see an improvement.  The first picture shows his little pout.  In the second, you can see a more full looking belly.

*Tobit did not make it, despite the best care by us, and by our vet.  Xavier, however, is thriving.*

Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Hard Loss: Donkeyotee

All types of equines are uniquely structured to process large amounts of vegetation into energy.  They do this quite well.  Unfortunately, some of those very structures that help them can hurt them.  When an equine is born, whether it's a donkey, a pony, or a horse; things can go wrong.  They can get umbilical hernias, for example.  Sometimes, even years later, the damage caused by those hernias can cause problems.  They can even cause the death of the animal.  That is most likely what happened to Donkeyotee, one tragic morning.  It was very clear that he was in pain when we went to feed him his breakfast.  Through coaxing, I was able to get him loaded in the trailer for a trip to the university vet hospital.  We thought it was a severe case of colic, but something much more complicated was going on.  It wasn't until he was in surgery that the cause was discovered.  There was a loop of intestine that slipped through an existing tear in the intestinal support structures and strangulated.  The tear was as result of adhesions in the intestinal wall. The adhesions most likely go back to the original umbilical hernia that Donkeyotee had when we rescued him.  It was fixed as soon as he was strong enough for surgery, but damage had already been done.  He was not awakened from surgery but allowed to pass peacefully.

I cannot explain what a tragic loss my family suffered when our sweet donkey died.  This was a beloved pet who loved attention and always made us smile.  My husband, our son and I, mourned together.  Donkeyotee was not only our farm mascot, but he was the one animal that all visitors remembered.  His strong personality and playful nature was also very clear to people all over the world through his viral youtube video.  He was a character.  He always seemed to find new ways to make us laugh or get our attention.  He would make silly faces at us, or throw a hanging halter around.  He would walk up to me while I was cleaning his paddock and carefully reach over to one wheelbarrow handle, bite it, and lift it, just enough, to make it tip over and spill the contents.  When he played with Phoenix, he would kneel down and nip at his chest and legs or walk by nonchalantly and then do a sneak attack and nip Phoenix's side before cantering off.  I once caught him picking up a stick in his mouth and swinging it at Phoenix's front legs.  Phoenix had weight and strength behind him, but Donkey was cunning.  Their play sessions were a lot of fun to watch.  His death left a huge hole in all our lives.

We decided, after a week of mourning, that the hole was too big and the farm was too quiet.  We decided, as a family, to seek out another pet donkey.  One that was different, but still a donkey.  We said no brown donkeys, because Donkeyotee was brown.  We like the way donkeys see the world.  Donkeys were one of the first beasts of burden.  Not flashy, like a horse, but they have been there throughout human history, making us laugh and appreciate life.

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".

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Love and Fences

Some calves are born naughty.  Some develop naughty little habits over time.  On our farm, I believe we unwittingly groomed a rebellious group of Dexter calves that sought adventure and excitement beyond the confines of their fields.  Their dreams were as big as the skies above and no silly, aged, barbed wire fence would stop them.  The fence in question is on the leased portion of the farm.  It's rumored that the first Spanish settlers in Florida were patching this same stretch of fence 450 years ago.  Sometimes the patchwork design, such as in a quilt, will create unique patterns of folk art.  Sadly, patchwork fences, with strands of barbed wire from several different manufacturers over many decades, and posts of various shapes and sizes, do not inspire the same sense of awe and charm.

When the naughty calves met the fence, they first showed it proper respect, as one should do to the elderly.  However, it wasn't long before, perhaps by mere accident, a weakness was found and exploited.  Was it a tasty bit on the other side that caused the first tentative push?  Or, maybe a rude shove from an irritated mama cow on a hot day when baby just won't settle down and nap?  Whatever it was, it was a significant moment in the herd's history.  The calves met in secret, while their elders chewed their cud under the oaks trees, and egged each other on, as youths do.  Before long, there were tardy appearances at feeding times as calves wiggled back through the loosened fences to causally stroll back into the herd as if all was normal.  They developed a taste for Spanish moss and stole into the woods to snatch some from the trees before coming back to their bawling mamas.  These short forays still contained the calves because of the perimeter fencing around the woods.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (ha!) we decided to separate a few of the heifers from the herd, to prevent unwanted breeding by our bull.  When the bull realized a few of his herd members were absent, he was certain that we had made a terrible mistake and the only thing he could do to rectify the problem was to climb over the so called "no climb" fence.  We found him, the next morning, in with the heifers and politely asking to return to the main herd.  We reunited the herd and carefully planned our next move.  Meanwhile, the heifers decided to stage another push through the fence and our bull, now sensitive to their absence, pushed HIS way through the fence.  Fence staples popped like popcorn as he leaned his weight in between the second and third strand of the barbed wire until the fence sagged like the back of a sway backed horse.  Luckily, there was a perimeter fence to stop them from leaving the property, but we were spooked enough to build a bull pen for our bull.  He tested the boards for about 30 minutes and then settled down with his favorite cow as his companion.  No one ever wants a bull outside of his fences, no matter how gentle he seems to be.

Meanwhile, I breathed a sigh of relief, we patched up the fence, once again, and everything seemed fine until I got THE CALL.  All farmers know which one I'm talking about.  The dreaded "Your cows are out" call.  For reasons beyond my understanding, several of my cows, along with the aforementioned naughty calves, perhaps feeling the desire for salvation, pushed through the pasture fence, followed by the perimeter fence, and invaded the Baptist church yard next door.  When I showed up, these lovely people had already returned the wandering beasts to their pasture.  An enthusiastic motorist also joined in the fun.  Since we go to the Catholic church, I suppose you could call it a nice, ecumenical, moment of loving one's neighbor.  We put all the cows and calves into the "time out" corral.  Then, the following day, our son and I walked next door with a bucket and manure fork to remove the remains of their visit.  We thanked the church members profusely and assured them that we would prevent any future attempts by our animals to stage an impromptu live nativity scene.

The herd is now locked up until we replace the patchwork, folk art, fencing with something more secure.

The bull pen.

Adventures with Sheep, Chapter One

A few years ago, I came up with the bright idea that Florida native sheep, known for their browsing abilities, would make good weed eaters, and thus remove the thorny blackberry bushes that the cattle and horses ignore.  I dreamed of frolicking in lovely, thorn-free pastures.  In fact, I daydreamed that they would take a liking to other noxious plants, such as hogweed and soda apple.  With these happy thoughts, I approached a sheep breeder.  We worked out a deal and I loaded up a ewe and her two wether (castrated male) lambs.  The first thing I noticed about our new additions was that they were suspicious of my every move and not interested in being friends.  The breeder explained that native sheep are naturally independent and flighty.  That's fine, as long as they run off and independently munch up on yucky, thorny, plants.

To my delight, our new browsers did nibble at a few leaves of the blackberry bush, but they also demanded expensive peanut hay and good feed.  They very soon forgot all about the blackberry bushes and wanted more of the tasty stuff.  Perhaps I spoiled them.

I made no inroads into becoming a shepherdess.  They didn't trust any more than they trusted your average coyote or wolf.  They still regarded me as dangerous, despite the fact that I fed them, smiled at them, called them nice names (to their faces) and never made any offensive jokes (in front of them).

The only slight bit of affection the sheep ever had for me was upon meeting our eager German Shepherd.  The ewe almost leaned on me, but stopped herself and threw a proud, indifferent, look in my direction instead.  Our dog is a lovely creature, with absolute loyalty, devotion, and a sense of duty.  Well, his 'sense of duty' indeed kicked in when he saw the sheep.  His gratitude at what he thought was a gift for him and him alone was apparent in his eyes as he perked his ears so high that they almost touched.  He whined and rubbed against me as if to thank me for his own, life-sized, genuine, sheep flavored, chew toys.  He was absolutely beside himself with a desire to 'help'.  His eyes pleaded for a chance to 'play' with our newest additions.  Never was a dog so disappointed.  Although he had a few lessons in sheep herding, he was far from fully trained.  On the few occasions I did allow him to help me move the sheep, he spent most of the time in a down-stay, panting and whining.

As the temperature increased, I realized that shearing the sheep was necessary.  I thought that surely a $14 pair of sheep shears would do the trick for only three sheep.  I failed to consider that these sheep were originally kept in a crowded pen at the breeder's farm, which meant their wool had many dirty patches, especially the closer I got to their skin.  Four hours later, on that steamy hot day in May, I had one sheared sheep with a new look that would have earned me expulsion from even the lowest rated beautician school, and a grumpy, but cooler sheep.  I managed not to actually nick her, but she did have some pink spots where I came very close.  Meanwhile, I was covered from head to toe with grime, sweat, and lanolin.

This experiment was a failure.  Since they weren't even friendly, we never bonded with our sheep so we decided to sell the ewe and her two nearly full grown lambs.  An ad brought a quick response from a gentleman with a heavy Middle Eastern accent.  I understood that his truck was in the shop, but he would come and get the sheep anyway.

A four door sedan came to our farm later that day.  A large blanket was draped over the back seat and the gentleman (originally from Jordan) told me about his young family and their small flock.  He was pleased with the sheep and didn't even laugh at my shearing job (it had grown out a little).  His plans for the ewe were to breed her to his ram and he told me about how his children gentled all the lambs.  After we shook hands, he grabbed hold of the ewe and slid her into the back seat.  She was in the sitting position and pretty much stayed where he put her, though she did let us know her displeasure (Baa!).  In went the two lambs, one after the other until all three were seated on their butts in the back seat with their front legs up in the air. He shut the door and the nearest sheep fogged up the window slightly with his breath.  "Baa, baa, baa.." went the sheep in the car.  The gentleman had to drive to another town.  I wondered if three sheep in the back of a sedan (which actually looked like his wife's car because of the little knickknacks hanging from the rear view mirror) would cause a significant disruption in traffic.  My fingers twitched at the thought of a picture for prosperity, but it would have been rude.  Plus, the gentleman was in a hurry.  Perhaps to make sure he could return the car to his dearest undefiled and unsheeped before she was the wiser.  He seemed to be a nice man, I do hope his wife didn't make him sleep in the barn that night.

Finding myself suddenly sheepless, I actually missed their pleasant noises, despite their disdain for me.

It would be several years before I tried sheep again.  This time, it would be lovely, affectionate sheep that can live here as long as they like, whether or not they ever nibble a single leaf of a thorny bush.  But that story will have to wait until next time.  :)