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.

0445:

-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.  

0645:

-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.

1350-

-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.

1400-

-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.

1410-

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

1420-

-Cattle grazing after more reassurance.

1424-

-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.

1444-

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.

1450-

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.

http://www.actionnewsjax.com/news/local/florida-man-bitten-on-tongue-by-rattlesnake-in-putnam-county/523267313

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

Changes

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.