Thursday, June 28, 2018

Happy birthday Mr. Darcy

Our golden retriever Mr. Darcy turns one year old today.

We received a charming postcard in the mail from the breeders on this momentous occasion, which I thought was very cute.

Mr. Darcy, as you no doubt recall, filled the hole left in our lives when our Great Pyrenees Lydia unexpectedly passed away. Originally we thought we'd get two puppies, but as it turns out, Mr. Darcy is plenty dog enough for us, so we'll stick with just him.

He still has a lot of puppy energy, but Don has worked hard on his training and he's turned into quite an excellent dog -- though we can't quiiiiite seem to break him of the habit of chasing chickens. Maybe maturity will help.

Stick! Sticks are good!

He's due for his next round of shots in mid-August, and we'll have him neutered then as well.

Altogether he's been a fine addition to our household and keeps us young at heart. Happy birthday Mr. Darcy!

Friday, June 22, 2018

The latest con-artist scam

So my parents -- well into their 80s -- went to a small "spring fair" in their community this past week. My mother wrote me:
So we are walking around and this young man comes up to me and tells me he has a great cream that erases wrinkles. He tells me how good it is and I asked him the price. He said $1250. I said I can't afford that and he said he could drop it to $800. I said no way.

Then he said he could sell it to me if I used my Medicare card plus American Express (which we don't have). I walked away from him. I should have reported him.

Think of it, if I spend $1250, I can have a six month's supply of anti-wrinkle cream. Whee!!
Yeah, handing a Medicare card plus a credit card to a perfect stranger at a street fair -- what could possibly go wrong?

Lots of chutzpah from that fellow. That's all I can say.


Yesterday was a mishmash of clouds and sun, with thundercells darting around us. The weather called for localized small stream flooding in places thunderstorms hit. But at our place -- nothing.

Until evening.

Then a storm cell began building up, the proportions of which we seldom see around here. It grew bigger and more ominous, and Don and I made sure everything was battened down. It approached from the unusual direction of the northwest (our prevailing wind is from the southwest).

As we watched, the lip of the cell moved over a distant hillside and started dumping rain.

The edges of the cell were seriously dramatic. This is looking north:

And this is looking south:

And then the rain hit, pounding so hard it made bubbles in the puddles. Lightning danced all around us, thunder crashed. Surprisingly we didn't lose power, except for a couple of flickers here and there.

The cattle, which had been grazing in the pasture, came dashing up to take shelter under the barn awning.

The cell passed within 45 minutes. Around 11 pm, another cell passed overhead, with bright flashes of lightning and crashing thunder.

Today is calm and clear, but everywhere are little debris dams from where the rain swirled and washed over the ground during the evening before.

The good news is after a pounding like that, I'm off gardening-watering duty for at least two days.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Birds and bronchitis, bits and bobs

For the last week and a half, I've been coughing my guts out with a charming case of bronchitis. I've slowly on the mend -- at least I'm not having to get up in the middle of the night to go sleep in Younger Daughter's bed so I don't keep Don awake -- but it's been a slice.

Since my brain isn't functioning at full capacity, here are just a couple homestead snapshots.

One, the other morning robins started going nuts in the yard -- clucks of alarm -- and Mr. Darcy suddenly seemed interested in whatever the birds saw. I dashed out in the yard and saw a fledgling robin flopping around, with Darcy pouncing after it.

Poor Mr. Darcy didn't understand why I dragged him into the house. After all, he was just trying to play.

So I picked up the fledgling. Instantly his beak flopped open, revealing the bright yellow interior: "Feed me!" (Sadly I couldn't get a photo of this.)

I put him down on the ground well outside the yard, and he instantly flopped away, then paused and gave me a saucy look.

Meanwhile the parent birds fluttered around in agitation. The fledgling portion of their offspring's development must give birds gray hair. Gray feathers. Whatever.

I've also been keeping an eye on the blackbird nest I found the other day. On June 11, it had one egg.

On June 13, they were up to three -- one of which seemed much smaller than the others.

The parent birds, of course, flutter and fuss at me whenever I invade their privacy. Here's the mother:

Here's the father:

On June 17, there were five eggs -- one of which was definitely smaller than the others. I'm assuming it's a dud, though time will tell.

This is probably as many as the female will lay. Hatching takes 12 to 14 days, after which I'll get photos of the developing nestlings.

On another note, while weeding in the garden a few days ago, I came across the iridescent remains of a dragonfly -- namely, the wings.

These wings are really incredible marvels of construction and engineering when viewed close up.

It wasn't until I picked up one of the wing pieces that I realized the wings were slowly being harvested by some tiny, tiny ants, which couldn't have been over a millimeter in size.

When I checked back a couple hours later (hoping to photograph the wings in the sunlight), they were gone -- either they had blown away, or they were buried by the ants.

As a final piece of bits and bobs around the farmstead, behold the busy chipmunk, eating a not-quite-ripe strawberry.

And a cedar waxwing, also harvesting strawberries.

Harvesting strawberries is a very popular activity among the wildlife this time of year.

UPDATE: Readers have pointed out how the "dud" egg in the blackbird nest actually belongs to a cowbird, which nests parasitically (dumping its eggs in other birds' nests). They were absolutely correct -- it's a cowbird egg. However some articles suggested not removing a cowbird egg because cowbirds can actually act vengefully: If they find their egg missing, they'll ransack the nest and destroy the other eggs.

So, I compromised. I removed the cowbird egg...

...and popped it in the freezer overnight. Then I let it come back to room temperature and slipped it back into the blackbird nest. Hopefully this will work to everyone's benefit (except the baby cowbird's, of course).

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Smorgasbord !!

We've had it.

Ever since losing our Jersey cow Polly, as you know, we've been using Amy as a nurse cow to feed Polly's orphaned calf Anna. We kept Anna and Amy's calf Trooper in the corral, and twice a day we brought Amy inside to nurse them (the morning nursing was just a matter of releasing the calves from an inside pen).

Well let me tell you, Amy hated acting as a nurse cow. (Notice her eyes slit into malevolent loathing for the task at hand in the above photo.) She would barely tolerate Anna nursing when her own calf was nursing, and often not even then. She was sulky, she was grumpy, she was disgruntled. Singing to her helped a bit, but it sure didn't help when it came time to fetch Amy up from the woods or field and bring her into the corral. No amount of cajoling, no amount of singing, no amount of grain worked to entice her to return to a hated task. Fetching Amy became a two-person job: I would haul on her lead rope, and Don would follow up from behind to whack her on the backside if she balked.

Then Amy developed a simple and effective new strategy: whenever she saw me coming with the lead rope, she would just walk away. Sometimes she would trot away, or run away. In all instances, the operative word was away. Believe me, you cannot catch a cow that doesn't want to be caught.

So we tried confining her to the feedlot, but somehow she managed to escape (don't ask me how). Bottom line, it was sucking up more and more of our time, energy, creativity, and patience to keep using Amy as a nurse cow. There is also the very real chance of making Amy hate our guts, which would be a shame since she's Matilda's calf and has the potential to be a very good milker. The one thing we didn't want to do was utterly ruin Amy's formerly sweet disposition.

So a few days ago we decided Anna was old enough to spring from the corral. She's a canny little lass, and hopefully would be able to sneak drinks of milk from other less-hostile cows.

So one morning after having Amy nurse the calves, we opened the gate to let Amy out -- and just left it open. Trooper followed his mama without a moment's hesitation.

Anna didn't hesitate either, but she sure as heck wasn't gonna follow Amy -- not if she could help it! Instead she paused and started crunching on grasses. (To those concerned the calves' stomachs couldn't handle so much fresh grass after weeks in the corral, no worries; the corral had enough greenery in it they wouldn't have a dietary shock.)

Trooper followed Amy toward the rest of the herd...

...while Anna continued cropping the grass right by the gate.

When Anna finally raised her head, everyone had disappeared.

But soon enough her wanderings brought her into the midst of the other animals. I followed because I wanted to make sure no one picked on the orphan.

At first, Anna and Trooper stayed together.

But soon the other calves came over to greet them...

...and in no time, all the calves were dashing around having fun.

And that's when I left them.

We kept a distant eye on Anna as the day progressed. In the early afternoon, she was curled up next to Trooper amidst the rest of the herd, looking relaxed in the shade of the barn awning. So far so good.

Amy also looked more relaxed and was able to groom her calf Trooper without the little brat interfering.

By the end of that first day, what was significant is what we weren't hearing rather than what we were hearing. Namely, we weren't hearing Anna bellowing. By this we were assuming she was able to sneak enough milk off other (non-hostile) cows to satisfy her little tummy.

As the days went by, I noticed Anna seemed to have an affinity toward Victoria, a motherly older cow with a sweet disposition. Good.

And then we started seeing solid evidence: Anna, always angled in the back and always waiting until a cow's calf was already nursing, busy filling her belly. Told you she was a canny lass.

In fact, she's getting better fed now than she ever was with just Amy. She has a veritable smorgasbord of choices before her! Three fairly tolerant cows (Pixie, her older sister; Victoria; and Sparky) who (mostly) don't mind a little double-dipping.

So despite the crushing loss of Polly, it looks like Anna will grow up nice and healthy. As an added bonus from her weeks in the corral, she's quite friendly toward us, and someday may turn into just as good a milker as her mama.