Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A rafter of turkeys

We had a rare treat the other morning - We looked out in the horse field and there was a large flock (sometimes known as a rafter) of wild turkeys walking across to the woods. The weather has been very wet and, although I’m not 100 percent sure, I believe that they, like some other birds, enjoy the rain and wet soil to bring out insects and worms. We counted 36, four times the most we’ve ever seen on once.

A flock of wild turkeys. Photo by Bruce Spencer

I've written about wild turkeys on our farm before, but it was especially mesmerizing to watch this rafter … they walked calmly across the field for the most part, looking around, picking at the ground, but occasionally one would get excited and run ahead, then several others would join in. I felt like I was seeing something very old … almost as if I were looking at a group of dinosaurs instead of birds.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Rout of Coyotes (Canis latrans)

Coyote in our field. Photo by Bruce Spencer We usually only hear them at night. One howls out in the darkness and for a moment you think that a child is laughing or screaming, then several more add their yips, yelps, and barks and their calls fill the night, somehow eerie and lonely at the same time.

This morning three coyotes came trotting across our horse field, they were not going to down a horse, but they may have been eying our sheep. These animals are omnivores eating small mammals (mice, voles, rabbits, squirrels, and domestic pets) birds, snakes, deer, livestock, insects, and fruit and vegetables. The part about livestock is why we have a Great Pyrenees – a dog bred to protect sheep and goats from such predators.

There are 19 subspecies of coyote ranging in various sizes, the ones in our area tend to be small, going around 50 pounds. They roam in small single-sexed groups called a band, a pack, or a rout. Since they are primarily nocturnal, it is a rare gift to see one during daylight hours.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Highwayman's moon

Moon over the back field. Photo by Bruce SpencerThe wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon the cloudy seas,

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,

And the highwayman came riding, riding, riding,

The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

From The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Billy Bob

Billy Bob. Photo by Maureen SpencerOur farm is full of animals: two horses, five sheep, a couple of cats, and two rabbits. And not just our animals, nooo..., we seem to be a repository. This Christmas I found myself taking care of three extra dogs ... we’ve come to be known as the doggy spa – they love the walks on the farm. We also have a pet cemetery - dogs, cats, rabbits – our friends and family come to us and say “can we bury Spot on your farm?” How could we say no.

Lots of animals, living and dead, but to me there is no more curious character than the bunny Billy Bob. He is an indoor rabbit; a little velveteen bunny that my wife dearly loves ... but I call him “the little monster.” She takes him out of his cage in the morning and the evening and lets him hop around the house. He is - in part - very good, never leaving droppings or making a mess anywhere. Typically, he hops around; bothers the cats, sometimes does sideways jumps and flips when he feels good. But he is a monster ... he likes to bite things, like ankles, rugs (which he digs on first) electrical wires, and baseboards. I guess I should count myself lucky – considering how enthusiastic my wife is about animals - that he is not a miniature pony or a pot-bellied pig!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Jaeger's Jean

To live on a farm is to know the lives, and deaths, of many small souls.

Jaeger's Jean grazing. Photo by Bruce Spencer.
Today Jaeger’s Jean, our old Morgan horse, died of colic. She was a descendent of Justin Morgan’s horse and a brood mare that birthed eleven foals. After Jean stopped baring the lady that owned her couldn't really afford to keep her, so we adopted her.

The colic that killed her was indirectly brought on by her weight problem. Jean always put on weight in the spring, and sometime in the fall, which made her tend to founder. It’s a painful condition of the hoof (usually the front) that is most often caused by diet (too much grain or an over lush pasture). Jean only had one bad bout of founder – in that case she often simply lay down most of the day. The answer to this condition was to use a muzzle to cut her back on grazing – she hated it. The change in her eating routine very likely caused the colic.

Jaeger's Jean in a muzzle. Photo by Bruce Spencer.When Jean first came to live with us she was alone, she lived on our farm for over a year without seeing another horse. Horses are herd animals and they hate to be alone. She could hear other horses in the distance, and would call to them from time to time, but could never see them.

I didn’t realize the depth of her loneliness until Moses came to live with us. The horse trailer he arrived in wouldn’t fit around the hairpin turn on our hill, so we had to unload and walk him down to the farm. The moment Jean saw Moses she went wild. She was calling to him and running around the field as if she were 10 instead of 25. Moses, an old school horse, didn’t care; he was sizing up the menu – our field.

Jean and Moses. Photo by Bruce SpencerWhen we got Moses to the field gate, Jean was so worked up that we were hesitant to put them together. We gave them a few minutes and then let Moses in. He slowly trotted to the center of the field. Jean, on the other hand, was so excited that she ran wildly after him, slipped on a patch of wet grass and actually fell on her face – the only time I’ve ever seen a horse do that. Moses started eating and she calmed down right away. They were fast friends for many years.
Jaeger's Jean's Brass plate. Photo by Bruce Spencer.