Tara and Easter

Tara and Easter
"Aw, mom"

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

We made it!

We had some damage, but it could have been a lot worse.  We are in the lucky 50% in our county that have power back already (came on late yesterday), so here I am, typing away before I forget the little nuances of our experience.

Feeding the animals Sunday night was a chore.  It was hard to walk through the wind and soaking rain of Irma's outer bands.  I carried a bale of hay to the cattle, but they were already in a storm circle.  The bigger cattle laid down on high ground with the smaller ones inside.  They were probably not going to eat the hay, but it was there.  Happily, Libby was making full use of her stall.  I think she is a clever horse and she proved it true once again.  I am sorry I ever doubted her.  The wind noise was much better than the driving rain.  The pony, goat, and baby donkey look bright and calm from their stall and the sheep were snuggled in a corner.  Everyone had plenty of hay and clean bedding, because I had a chance to clean their stalls earlier on Sunday.  Everyone received pets and treats.  Two chickens escaped under the gate.  I found one (Thunder) back in the old coop yard and the other running around the farm.  I found the spot where they wiggled under the gate and blocked it.  One more chicken was in the barn, annoying Bagheera, the barn kitty.  I caught Red and returned her to the coop.  At the last minute, I moved the extra large dog crate to the other side of the barn.  It seemed to be a better spot.  The fifteen, half-grown chicks inside protested the move, but I got them settled with fresh bedding, and more feed and water.  The wind and rain fought me all the way to the back door.  I stripped my wet clothes and threw them in the washer.  We still had power.  I hoped we would keep it long enough for the dryer.  We ate dinner using paper plates and plastic utensils, then cleaned and cleared and organized everything.  I had just pulled out the dry clothes when we lost power.  We had been keeping track of what was on throughout the night in anticipation of lost power.  It paid off as we easily transitioned to lanterns and candles.  The hurricane was steadily getting worse by bedtime.  We camped out in one bedroom; my husband and I, our son, three cats and two dogs.  There was no sleep for the grown ups.

The wind was the worst I have ever heard.  I was in Virginia during Hurricane Isabel and the eye went right over my little farm.  The noise during this hurricane was different.  It rose with the same voracious fury, but with a much greater staying power.  During a hurricane, the highest winds have a distinct roar that rises and rises until you think it couldn't possibly rise anymore, then, it begins to abate until the next heavy wind rises.  They are not unlike heavy seas which roll and pass.  However, this hurricane was different.  It's size must have been what made it different.  It rose and rose for much longer and held on much longer, as if the wave would never end.  When it finally fell, it was almost as if whatever was resisting it was exhausted by the fall itself.  At one point, something large fell and leaves from our magnolia tree pressed against the window.  We were not even halfway into the heaviest winds.  We couldn't tell what came down or whether or not it was a tree on the house (our biggest fear).  We found the lantern and evacuated into the living room.  We set up on the floor and couch, with the dogs and cats curled up around us.  I read to our son about the Ingalls on the prairie (we are going through the series) to ease him back to sleep.  Ironically enough, it was the chapter about building a roof on the log cabin.  As I read, I wondered how much of our own roof we would need to build.  He fell asleep after two chapters, but there was no sleep for me.  The wind and rain continued it's assault through the night and early morning.  The hardest hours were those when the worst of the hurricane had passed, but it was too dark to see the damage outside.

We buzzed around inside until I could dare a step out to check on the animals.  It was light enough, but the weather was still violent.  I avoided being close to trees and stayed alert.  The horse barn was fine.  Bewildered, but safe, the animals all talked to me about breakfast.  I checked them over for injuries and fed them all.  They were fine.

My husband got on the roof, as soon as the winds allowed, and found the branches that had fallen.  No tree fell on the house, but we had big branches down all over.  Several big cedar branches were laying on the power lines attached to the house, which made a hazard in case the power came back on.  He threw those off, as well as the magnolia branch that had worried us in the darkness.  His chainsaw buzzed as I assessed the animals.

The hay barn was not fine.  About 40% of the roof had been peeled back from the top of the barn as if with a giant can opener.  The chickens were a little damp, but their part of the roof was intact.  The chicks in the dog crate would have drowned in the original spot, but I had moved their crate at the last moment and that saved them.  They were also under a little intact roof.  Bagheera meowed at me continuously to tell me about all she had been through, but she was safe and dry on top of the small stack of 19 bales of hay under the shelf.  One chicken was missing.  I searched by the old coop and horse barn and found her tracks leading underneath the tack room.  The clever little hen had found a dry spot.  She fluttered across the yard when I called and I finally caught her and returned her home.  I blocked the hole under the gate more securely.

The cattle were hungry and safe by the back gate waiting for me.  I petted heads and scratched favorite spots to calm them as they settled in to breakfast.  All were fine.

The chicken coop roof was ripped up as well.  Moving the chickens had been the right thing to do.

I returned to the house to get breakfast for us.  In addition to camp food, I had baked bread, hard boiled some eggs, and made cookies on Saturday, so we had plenty to last us without power.  After breakfast, the wind was still whipping around, so John and I checked the front pasture fence.  It was fine, so we let the horses out for some freedom.  Little Rosie bucked and snorted her way around her elders, as carefree as our son.  For Rosie and our son, John, it was more adventure than hardship.  For me, there was a little of that sense, but not for my poor husband.  The weight of his worries and the annoyance at sub-par coffee made this not in the least bit fun.

After breakfast, the cleanup began.  Our farm looked like this under every tree:

There was a county wide curfew in effect through Monday night.  We heard through friends that Black Creek in Middleburg had risen to a new record height.  Already, we knew people who had water all the way up to their roof.  Another family we knew was rescued by the Coast Guard.  They lived a half mile from a very narrow section of Black Creek (only canoe wide)!  Our new land was very close to them but further from Black Creek.  We worried about my husband's family, who were near water.  We also worried about our parish family and our son's Catholic school.  

Tuesday morning was bright and sunny.  Not too warm and not yet chilly.  A beautiful day to dry out and enjoy the sunshine.  I fed the animals and dragged the dog crate full of young chickens out into the fenced garden.  I set them up and turned them loose.  The green weeds and plentiful bugs excited the chicks as they preened and ran around in the sun.  The horse, pony, and donkey were still in the pasture enjoying the sunshine and grass, as were the cattle.  The sheep and goat lounged in sunny spots in their paddocks.  The rabbit cages came back out into the barn aisle to enjoy fresh breezes.  The sun soothed us all.  

We drove into town on Tuesday, mostly because my husband had to find a route to work.  We also had to check on the house of an evacuated family member and see if our new property flooded.   Our nearest town, Keystone Heights, had some power late Tuesday, but no fuel.  Middleburg, however, was still partially under water.  Many roads by the creek were flooded.  The main bridge through town was fine, but traffic was diverted around a long stretch that was under water.   The detours were long and winding because Black Creek effectively divides the town in half.  Unfortunately, everything we need to get to is on the far half.  We went home disappointed Tuesday morning,  We were an island of dry in a sea of flooded roads.  By afternoon, however, we heard more roads had opened due to the receding water.   Another venture into town was successful Tuesday afternoon.  We had to be careful with gas because we didn't know how long the power would be out.  We wound around through back roads to another highway and finally reached my husband's office.  We also found a gas station with fuel and checked our new property.  There is a little creek along one side of our new land that we fenced out to leave wild.  There was only one tree down on the fence and the water didn't reach our pastures.  We could see the traces of where our tame little creek (which is not named yet) turned into a raging river and poured over the bridge past our property.  A few boats tied to trees marked how high the water was at it's peak.  Our neighbors down the road had suffered much greater losses than we did.  

We made it through and our damage is really more annoyance than the devastation experienced by some of our neighbors.  Prayers for us all to make it through, not as individuals, but as a community.  There will be plenty of work to do, beyond our own farm, in the coming months.  

After the hurricane pictures.  The sheep, (Dulcie and Marmalade), Libby, Rosie, and Maggie.  

The cows and Bagheera the barn kitty:

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Getting Ready for Hurricane Irma

As of now, we are in the path of Hurricane Irma's ugly side (the stronger, eastern side of the storm).  Many friends and family have asked us what we are going to do about the animals.  The first consideration for everyone in Florida is whether or not to evacuate.  We are on a hill and not even near a flood zone, so we don't have to worry about flooding.  We DO have to worry about wind damage and how long the power will be out.

As many noticed in Houston, it is nearly impossible to evacuate with farm animals.  Just like the zoos, we have to have a plan for the animals and a way to shelter in place with them.  Abandoning them or turning them loose to fend for themselves is not just stupid, but illegal and potentially dangerous for other people.  (The old farmer saying:  black cow, black night = dead cow, dead driver).


So, the plan.  We have water, flashlights, batteries, candles, and supplies for us.  We have camping food, camp stove, non-perishable nuts, granola bars, and other goodies to eat.  We have a tent and sleeping bags, if we need them.  We have a clean bucket to use with a full bathtub so we can flush the toilet.  We have books and games and a battery operated radio.  That's pretty much all we need.  I've spent the last three days cleaning everything both in the house and outside.  I've washed all the clothes in case we cannot do laundry for awhile.  We cannot let dishes stack up, so we have paper plates, bowls, and plastic spoons.

The dogs and cats will be with us in the house.  We have a stack of towels to dry the dogs after their necessary walks and water stored for them in the garage.

The horse (Libby), pony (Maggie), donkey (Rosie), and goat (Nancy) will share stalls in the horse barn.  The stalls have adjoining paddocks, which is where the horse will probably spend most of her time.  The sad truth is that when faced with nasty blowing wind and rain, a horse would still prefer to stand outside because the barn makes scary noises in the wind.  The pony and donkey will probably spend most of their time in the stall.  Goats hate water, so the goat will also be in the stall.  Perhaps the brave goat will inspire the horse to join her.  The horse, donkey, and pony will all get a good grooming today and preventative thrush treatment.  The sheep will be curried and the goat will be brushed down.  We have emergency wound care and medicines available for all the animals.  They all have plenty of fresh hay and grain stored.

The sheep will also have their own stall and paddock in the horse barn.  They will use the stall as they hate getting wet (probably afraid they'll shrink).

The cattle will be in the innermost pasture to protect against blowing debris from neighbors and to keep three fences between them and the road.  They have stands of trees to shelter them but no barn (our new farm will have a shelter in their pasture).  We don't have any calves younger than five months or any cows due to calve any time soon.  That will make things easier.

The chickens are in a perfect Florida laying hen coop.  We used lots of wire in the design because hens tend to overheat and die in Florida during the hot, humid, summer.

However, the sideways rain will soak our poor hens, so we made a temporary coop for them in the hay barn.  We used scraps of fence, hog panels, and zip ties (amazing little invention) to create a dry coop in the hay barn stall.  It should also keep out any potential predators.   As a result, we also blocked off all escape passages for our barn cat, Bagheera.  She didn't seem at all bothered as she meowed from on top of the hay.  She has food, water, and will soon have chicken entertainment.   An old panel gate leaned against one side will serve as a roost.

We also have fifteen Ranger chicks and one little laying hen chick.  They are old enough to not need a heat lamp, but too young to mix with the laying hens.  They will be in an extra large dog crate in the hay barn.  Except for the laying hen chick.  She is smaller than the Rangers and could slip through through the bars.  She will be in an old rat cage in the house.  Since she is our son's chick, he is very happy she will be with us inside.

The two rabbits are normally kept in the aisle of the horse barn to take advantage of breezes that blow through (bunnies need shade in Florida).  Their cages will be moved into the tack room to keep them dry.  Frozen water bottles will help them stay cool.

All water troughs are filled for the livestock.  The cattle have three large troughs in their pasture alone.  We have filled every additional container with water to replenish all the animals.  We have other means of getting water, if we need it for the livestock.

There are a few people that may come to our farm, if they need to evacuate flood areas.  We should find out today.

God bless and keep all in this storm's path.  Already ten souls lost in the Bahamas.  Both interstates, I-75 and I-95 are backing up with evacuees  I don't know how many will still be traveling when this hits us.  Please don't take any chances in a low spot.  Get out of your car and get higher as soon as you can.  Take care of each other.

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.