Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Loss of a Good Friend

The only thing I hate about dogs being considered man's best friend is that dogs don't live as long as we humans do.

Dogs have always had a special place in my heart. I'm much more a "dog" person than a cat person, etc. I've had a fondness for dogs since my early childhood. But I also learned early on to not let my heart get too attached; as it is heartbreaking when they go.

We've had scads of dogs on the farm -- up to 13 at a time at the height of it, and never lower than two resident dogs. Some have meant next to nothing to me, but a few hold special places in my memory and my heart. Benny, the old red long-haired retriever who was my best friend growing up; Princess, the german shepherd mama who birthed 11 pups right after showing up bedraggled at our door one day; Sheba, the rescued dog from the shelter, and others. And now written to the pages of my fond dog memories is Rodman, my beloved Great Pyrenees, who died of old age yesterday.

I had been in love with the Great Pyrenees breed ever since a neighbor's Pyr, Cujo, came to visit our farm one morning as my kids were loading onto the school bus. The kids and I adored him right off. The neighbors moved, but I always wanted a Pyr after that. So my eyes lit up in 1997 when I saw an ad in a local homeschooling newsletter saying a family needed to find a new home for their one year old Pyr. I called them up and shortly afterward, Rodman (named by them, not me) arrived on the farm.

I had much to learn about Pyrs. I got on internet mail lists and forums and group discussions. I learned all I could. Rodman, a true livestock guardian dog, loved to patrol -- he just didn't understand where the boundaries of his territory were. So it pained me when he disappeared one day -- and then I felt immeasurable joy when eight days later he came walking back into the front yard. That must have been quite a patrol!

After that we got a fence, so he would know the boundaries, but he still fiercely, yet gently, defended them. He knew friend and foe. The cats were allowed to snuggle up next to his heavy coat in winter; the chickens didn't even make him raise an eyebrow. But if a skunk or a rat got into the yard, he was a fierce bear, and made short work of them.

His low growl could be intimidating to strangers, but he really never harmed anyone, and loved people, and slobbering on them. I would hear his low rumbly bark throughout the night as he warned off the coyotes and anything else his ears picked up.

He hated thunderstorms -- a fear that got more intense as he aged. Whenever a storm was coming, he would be at the front door, pounding on the screen. We would allow him in, where he promptly took over the living room sofa -- all 150+ pounds of him, which stretched out its full length. But there he would happily snore until the storm passed; often making the entire interior of the house smell like wet dog.

I knew that at nearly age 12, Rodman was pushing the edge of the Pyrenees average life span of 10-12 years; although I never thought he would go before our German Shephard, Mickey, who is so very old, frail and can barely walk. On Sunday morning, Rodman refused to eat. Monday he was dead. I'm glad it was after I had arrived back from two weeks away, but I wish I had spent a bit more time with him on Sunday, my only day with him before his death. But he knew I loved him, and that he will always be a special memory. I remind myself he was just a dog; and I know better than to get attached to dogs. But I fail.

Monday, October 27, 2008

First Freeze

Last night was the first freeze of this fall. We scrambled to get the garden ready -- since we had just returned from two weeks away at the Feast (wonderful time!) It is supposed to get even colder tonight, before warming up again for a few days.

Mostly we had a multitude of green bell peppers to pick - of all sizes. Although our peppers were very slow to produce this year, they really took off in the last few weeks, and we've had more than we could imagine from six plants! The photo on this post is the pickings from one day just before we left for Feast. Since returning home, we had multiple times that many!

The turnips are looking wonderful (and the freeze shouldn't hurt them). We also cut our fall crop of leaf lettuce. We still have fall radishes and beets in the ground. We will just allow the green tomatoes on the vine to freeze, and call it a year on them. We still have several other things to do in order to properly "winterize" the garden -- mulch around the asparagus; harvest the horseradish, spread manure and the bedding from the chicken house, etc. There is much work to be done in the garden before the first snow falls.

While we were away camping for nearly two weeks, we took with us some of our crop of potatoes, onions and bell peppers, and that made for several excellent skillet meals over the campfire. It is wonderful to have the produce of your own land to enjoy and share!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ducks vs. Chickens

An interesting, friendly competition has arisen at the farm, between our chickens and our ducks.

Of course, the birds themselves are oblivious to the race -- so perhaps I should say it is a competition between Steven and his grandmother :)

Although the farm animals and workings all belong to Steven, his grandmother (my mother, who is 70) thinks of the chickens as her birds, since she's had a long history of raising chickens. (She raised and showed champion 4-H birds in her youth, showing them in local and state shows, and traveled around giving educational talks on chicken judging). Our chickens do seem to think they belong to her, and follow her everywhere she goes when she is outside -- sometime that is quite a comical thing to watch.

She loves her multiple-times-a-day outing to the chicken house to check for new eggs. Grandma will always come back in announcing how many she finds, and dutifully writes down a new slash mark on the calendar to keep track of laying rates.

Then the ducks started laying. Now, the ducks know they belong to Steven. Their laying habits are much more random -- and can make for some interesting mornings. Since they seem to lay mostly during the night/early morning hours when they are bedded down for the night, that means we sometimes find eggs in the most unusual places. We don't lock the ducks up at night - they bed down in the grass near the south side of the house. Some mornings, as I go out first thing (and it might be still dark), I have to watch my footing, as I might step on a duck egg! We have found them in the center of the driveway, near the garage, in the walking path, and other random places.

Anyway, back to the competition. Most days we were getting 5 or 6 eggs from our chickens, and one or two from the ducks. But suddenly the ducks increased their laying, and it was a tie game for awhile! A few times the ducks offered more eggs a day than our chickens! So now it is an interesting competition between Steven and his grandmother -- who won this day? Did the chickens lay more, or the ducks? I usually hear about it each evening. There are some days Steven thinks the ducks probably would have won, if he could only find where they hid their eggs! :)

Our this-season pullets in the chicken house should stay bearing soon, and that will make the chicken numbers increase again, I'm sure, as we have many more chickens than we do ducks.

But in the meantime, the competition has been great fun!