Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘horses

Early Light

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While the intense winter storm that moved out of Texas is pummeling the Carolinas and Virginia this morning, our region is bathed in calm. The air was so quiet this morning, I felt compelled to open the gate in the paddock by delicately palming the chains to avoid the usual clatter of metal on metal, while I was whispering greetings of love to the horses.

It was a perfectly brisk winter morning, but not biting cold. The chickens put in extra energy to balance on one foot, picking up the other and tucking it in their feathers to protect from the frozen tundra. The horses had frost on their whiskers, but otherwise look completely acclimated to the season of long nights.

They are contentedly munching on morning rations in that image, while the first rays of sunshine begin to paint their sides with a promise of warmth to come.

Hello, sun!

Our day will be filled with holiday projects, Cyndie in the kitchen, baking so many varieties of Christmas cookies it makes me dizzy with visions of sugar. I will be in the shop, putting sandpaper to wood, between making appearances in the house to be sociable with our kids and other family and friends who have expressed intention of showing up to be present for the great holiday bake-athon.

Every cookie I can convince them to take home with them will be one less for me to avoid.

The fire is radiating in the fireplace and the colored lights are on the tree.

Bring on the day!

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Written by johnwhays

December 9, 2018 at 10:41 am

Lone Straggler

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Apparently, a pattern is developing with one of our Buff Orpingtons, that she lags behind the group when it comes time to return to the coop for the night. Cyndie describes a funny scene that happened the other night when she was feeding and cleaning up after the horses.

The chickens tend to congregate under the overhang at times, but we don’t want them in the barn, so it becomes an added hassle to navigate the door while going in and out during chores when they are present. Cyndie had shooshed them out, but one Buff stayed after the others wandered off toward the coop.

After the sun had disappeared below the horizon, that Buff showed signs of wanting to return to the coop, but acted rather timid about trekking through the snow to get there. She would get only so far and turn and run back to the preferred confines with the horses under the overhang… several times.

Cyndie finally made the trip herself, and had to coax the hen to follow her the whole way.

Silly bird.

Last night, I went down to shut the chicken door for the evening, and when I got there in the dim light of dusk, it was all quiet, but for occasional sleepy cooing from inside. I spent an extra minute or two clearing the track for the door so it would slide all the way, and that was enough time to give me the feeling all was settled in there for the night.

It was a pleasantly quiet time and the fading gradient of orange glow transitioning to blue-black of night on the horizon was gorgeous. I was just about to head back to the house when my conscience urged me to truly confirm all were present and accounted for before leaving.

Thank goodness for that.

I opened the big door to peek in and counted eight bundles of feathers. Luckily, in the low light remaining, I could tell it was a Buff that was missing. Not thinking of Cyndie’s recent tale, I feared the worst. I had already lingered long enough to know she wasn’t anywhere near the coop. 

Where would I look for her body, I wondered.

I stepped away from the coop, toward the barn, and what do I find?

That lone straggler timidly trying to decide if she wanted to walk all the way back to the coop all by herself. Silly bird.

I can’t help thinking how sad it would have been for her to finally make it all the way, only to find the door sealed for the night, if I had dashed back to the house without looking inside to count them first.

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Written by johnwhays

December 8, 2018 at 9:40 am

Confused Snake

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I forgot to mention last weekend, after we finished raking the front yard and playing with the chickens, I was about to go inside when I spotted this unlikely sight:

Sure, it was above freezing enough that we were able to rake up the leaves, but was it really warm enough to entice a snake to slither out and lay on the cold pavement? Not in the world I was familiar with, but apparently this little critter is just fine with temperatures hovering around the freezing point. The snake was moving a little slow, but luckily the chickens didn’t seem to notice its existence, so I didn’t have to witness any crazy unsettling nature scene play out.

Heck, there was also that fat, green caterpillar that one of the hens picked up right in front of me that day, so maybe the ground isn’t as cold yet as we thought it was. The air sure feels cold this time of year. With the slightest breeze, and air temperatures in the 30s(F), we have been feeling chilled to the bone because we haven’t fully acclimated yet for winter.

That’s frustrating, because the natural response to the start of cold weather is to bundle up excessively, but by the time we have walked Delilah around the perimeter and started doing horse chores, we get too hot. Then we have to wrestle out of all the extra layers.

The horses seem to be adjusting well enough. I think it helps to avoid putting blankets on them when cold temperatures first arrive, if that can be achieved with minimal stress, because then their bodies naturally respond with a thicker growth of winter hair. They are doing their part by finally becoming (after only 5-years {sarcasm}) comfortable enough with the sounds under the overhanging metal roof to stay under its protection from wind and wet.

I understand any auditory aversion they have with it. I was shocked at first by how much the sound of the slightest amount of precipitation is amplified to levels evoking high drama. It seems like it must really be coming down with intensity, but then stepping out into the open proves just the opposite.

It’s all relative, of course!

The forecast for the next week is currently offering more of the same variety of early winter. Some snow tonight, warmth near 40°(F) on Friday, and teens/twenties over the nights.

Maybe this will just confuse the snake further.

If I had my way, the legless masters of surprise would be long into their dormancy by now. I’m not a fan of the involuntary adrenaline jolt when suddenly startled by their presence just as I’m about to set foot where they happen to be hiding/sliding/sunning.

Heebeejeebees.

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Written by johnwhays

November 28, 2018 at 7:00 am

Savoring Days

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It’s hard for me to do, savoring time. The minutes tend to blend, one into another, and days seem to keep passing faster than ones before. It’s a luxury problem to have, I expect. In the face of suffering, perception of time is entirely different.

The U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving 2018 is now history. A perceived few minutes ago, I was looking forward to the extra day off from the day-job and gathering with family in the presence of unending food choices.

In my quest to tightly manage my sugar intake, the day of feasting becomes an extra challenge. This year, circumstance worked in my favor to give me an assist on controlling temptation to over-indulge. I was in charge of taking care of our animals at home, while the Thanksgiving feast was being held an hour away in Edina, MN., at Cyndie’s parents’ house.

The hardest part of the whole adventure for me was, making the choice to slip out surreptitiously while most everyone was still at the table(s), finishing first and second servings, and boisterously sharing stories of various adventures.

It went against my every sensibility to not say goodbye, but I didn’t want to cause a fuss and disturb the best part of the day for everyone else. I enjoyed every delectable bite of my sensibly chosen portions of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, giblet gravy, sweet potato, vegetables, cranberry sauce, fruit salad, and Cyndie’s masterful version of my mom’s home-baked buns.

A glance at the time brought me to the fateful moment of planned departure. I had an hour-long drive to factor in, and a time of sunset that was firmly determining the end of my equation. I got up from the table with my plate, just as several others before me had done on their quest for seconds, and I disappeared to the bathroom near the front door.

Amid the sound of many conversations and occasional laughter, I decided to rely on Cyndie to explain my absence, and I stepped out the front door without a word. In my effort to avoid interrupting the festivities for everyone else, I totally disrupted my sensibilities.

Cyndie knew I was leaving as soon as I finished eating, but I had neglected to say anything to others, including my own children. It was a very disconcerting feeling for me to so abruptly depart, but it did save me from facing the decision of how I would avoid eating too much pie for dessert.

Happily, the drive was efficient, despite a surprisingly heavy amount of traffic on the interstate, and the animals were all safe and content when I arrived home. One of the horses was lounging on its side in the paddock while the other two stood watch right beside.

I counted the chickens as soon as I could, because Cyndie reported seeing a badger walking toward their direction from the corn field north of us on Wednesday, as she was leaving to spend the night in Edina. She said it turned around when she stopped and opened her door.

It’s a privilege to have these animals to care for and I want to savor the pleasure they bring, despite the complications of added responsibility. I’m framing the way they altered my Thanksgiving holiday as a feature, not a flaw, since it helped to limit my calorie intake to a lower level than I imagined possible.

It’s certainly not something I would have accomplished left to my own control, if I’d been given a full day’s access to all the flavors available to savor.

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Written by johnwhays

November 23, 2018 at 7:42 am

Getting Nipped

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It wasn’t clear at first, but after repeated scrapes of similar appearance and orientation, Cyndie and I have come to the conclusion that Dezirea is getting bitten. Most likely, as a function of hierarchy “negotiations” within the tiny herd of three horses.

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A pattern of bite-sized scrapes is showing up on both sides of her rump with an unfortunate regularity of late. We haven’t caught anyone in the act, but I have seen Hunter pinning his ears back and moving her around enough to suspect that it’s him taking things to the next level when we’re not around.

I take some solace in remembering the time I was standing right next to them when Dezirea leaned forward and let loose a kick with two back hooves, landing them with such impact on Hunters chest that even I felt the energy. She knows how to dish out her own discipline when the situation calls for it.

If the evidence of biting continues, we may cover Dezirea with a blanket to give her hide a break, but for now we have chosen to see if they can work this out as nature would have it.

Cyndie already saw some interaction during yesterday afternoon’s mealtime that revealed Dezirea is not simply playing the victim. The elder mare moved the other two off each of their food, showing she can exert some control of her own.

Heck, it could be such behavior is why she is getting bitten in the first place.

This all tugs at our ongoing ache of missing Legacy, seeing them without the strong leadership he always commanded.

There were plenty of times when the three chestnuts would test things between each other, but it never went on for more than a brief time before Legacy would pass judgement and direct them all to knock it off.

In two months, it will have been a year since Legacy died, and the three are still searching for a new normal of life without him.

In plenty of ways, we are, too.

Reality bites.

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Written by johnwhays

November 20, 2018 at 7:00 am

Feeling Wintery

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We did not get much of a chance to ease our way into winter this month. This morning’s single-digit low temperature is the second time already in November that we have faced such surprisingly cold air. The average high and low for this area in November is 40°/25°(F).

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My favorite weather blog is predicting a brown Thanksgiving next week, so we are looking forward to a return to more normal high temperatures in the days ahead, to melt away the remnants of last week’s snowfall.

The horses have been quick to develop their thicker winter coats and appear to be adapting to the cold without difficulty. Delilah loves the snow and romps with visible excitement, frequently burying her snout in the powder and coming up with a wonderfully frosty nose.

The chickens are already over most of their apprehension about walking in the snow, so we aren’t too concerned about them. I noticed recently that the size of one roost (there are actually two) seems to best accommodate 8 hens, based on how our current brood situate themselves.

Unfortunately, we currently have 9 birds.

Last one in tends to set off a chain reaction of chickens wrangling for position, with one dropping down when a 9th barges in line. Occasionally, a Wyandotte will choose to hurdle them all and perch against the wall on a stud above the window.

Last winter, we only had three hens and they didn’t have any problem fitting. You’d think they would split up and use both roosts, but I haven’t seen that yet.

For the first time in the two years we’ve had chickens, we think we may have a sick hen. Her change in behavior started about the same time the snow arrived, so it wasn’t clear at first that there was any issue beyond not wanting to walk in the snow. Now that the other eight have returned to normal behavior, the malaise of the ninth has become more conspicuous.

She doesn’t want to leave the coop. It is hard to track her eating and drinking, so we are not sure if this is a serious illness or something minor that will resolve itself over time. We’ll start observing her with increased scrutiny to see if we learn anything more.

We have been so intent on tracking the potential predators that threaten the hens, it would be a shame to instead lose one to illness. We hope to do everything we can to prevent that from happening.

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Written by johnwhays

November 13, 2018 at 7:00 am

Totally Busted

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My ruse of relying on snow cover to distract Cyndie from noticing the grass was still carpeted by leaves when she returned home from Guatemala has already been dispelled.

On Saturday, the sun came out for a little while and began to shrink the 3-to-4 inches of snow we received, down to about half that depth. Yesterday, she and Delilah were playing a little leashed version of “fetch the stick” out front and the truth was sadly revealed.

It was interesting. The leaves so thoroughly covered the ground that the grass and soil beneath look unaffected by the snow. I think, if we raked up the leaves today, we’d have an amazing visual of a completely snow-free green lawn, while everywhere else would be snowy.

The chickens would sure appreciate that. This was the first significant snowfall in their lives and they were not at all interested in venturing out from the coop Saturday morning to walk in it.

By yesterday, they were already overcoming their hesitancy to tread on the white stuff and revisiting some of their usual favorite spaces. They do so at their own risk.

While we were out walking Delilah in the afternoon, I spotted an unidentified bird of prey circling the tree tops around the coop. It didn’t have the classic white tail of the previous eagle that swooped through our trees, but it could simply have been a youngster or even a golden, let alone any other variety of larger hawk.

We split up and Cyndie circled back to directly check on the chickens, while I continued around the perimeter with Delilah. The hunting predator glided up and away almost immediately.

I’m so pleased to have remembered to tell Cyndie that I had turned the electric fence back on while she was away. The horses were growing too comfortable with nibbling on parts of the wire insulation and nearby wood. If the fence had still been off, Cyndie would have ducked between wires and been able to walk straight toward the coop.

While I was cleaning up under the overhang a day or two after turning the electricity back on again, Cayenne took a startling snap to the nose. Mission accomplished. The horses were lolling around idly while I worked and she stretched toward one of the very spots I wanted to stop them from biting.

The horses generally notice from a distance that the fence is energized, so they very rarely get shocked. Maybe we left it off for too much of the summer, and they had grown complacent. I’m willing to bet they have already re-learned the necessary respect that will break any habit of chewing on the wires.

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Written by johnwhays

November 12, 2018 at 7:00 am