Monday, September 14, 2009

While the Cat's Away...

It only happens when you're away.

  • Five hundred miles away from the farm. 
  • The first trip that Deb and I have taken together to visit family in Michigan for years.
  • A cadre of friends and neighbors carefully selected and instructed on the care and nurturing of all of our animals and plants.
  • Four days into the trip with three days left before our return.
And the phone rings at my brother's home.
My brother's wife: "Deb, it's Pat for you."

I hear my wife give a cheerful, "Hi! How are you doing? What's up?"

"You're kidding, right?"

"Are the animals safe?"

"I can't believe it. Did they catch him?"

"Do they know who did it?"

"No, tell Jack not to chase any cows."

"No, we'll fix it when we get home."

"No, there's nothing you could have done about it. Sorry that it happened on your watch. Thanks for calling."

By this point, I'm dying. This was not anywhere near as clear as a Bob Newhart telephone monologue. "Deb, what in the world happened?"

"Some time in the night last night, there was a high speed chase down our country road. A vehicle ended up missing the turn, went through our pasture fence, into the field, and ripped out another hole in the fence on its way out. Pat doesn't know who did it or whether they caught the guy.  A neighbor rounded up the horses and llamas, but Jack hasn't seen the cows."

Based on what I had to say, and on what I thought but left unsaid about the situation, if St. Peter really has a log book with him at the Pearly Gates, he wore out a few erasers wiping out any brownie points I may or may not have had accumulated over this long and sordid life.  I was mad. That kind of thing isn't supposed to happen in my little piece of  North Woods Paradise.

When we got home, our neighbor who had rounded up our horses and llamas, had taken photos of the scene and provided them to us on disk.  This is what we had greeting us on our arrival home a few days later. The entry point:

And the exit point.

Upon speaking with the County Deputy Sheriff, we learned that the high speed chase had started miles away when he tried to pull over a pickup truck for speeding. The chase extended into the next county where the driver pulled off into a logging road that the Deputy could not get down. They didn't catch the guy that night.

Fortunately, our trusty fence ripped some pieces from the truck, including the license plate. So the Deputy was able to find the owner, who just happened to have a warrant out for his arrest before the chase for nonpayment of child support,but who naturally claimed that his vehicle had been stolen that night, and who "lawyered up" after having been read his Miranda rights, so we could not find out whether he has any insurance to cover our damages. The state victim assistance program also has no funds for covering property damage.

So we will have to foot the bill for new fencing. It was previously woven wire that got bent and stretched out of shape much beyond the two holes, so now we are replacing at least half the fenceline with cattle panels attached to much more closely spaced posts. The new fence may not stop a speeding truck, but it may do  more damage and slow it down some. Whether we see any compensation will have to await trial and jail time.

At least the animals were uninjured.... by the vehicle at least. The horses, while out broke down a section of the neighbor's fence trying to get to their horses, again without any major injury. The cows were safe and sound in a different pasture on our property.

But in the new paddock where the horses were put, our little Arabian filly decided to investigate a passing porcupine and got a face full of quills:

We were able to extricate two from her face before she decided that she had enough of that. So add in the costs of an emergency vet visit to have the horse tranquilized for the remainder of the process. The vet said that the good thing is that unlike dogs, he has never had to pull quills out of a horse's face more than once.
All in all, I guess it could have been much worse. After I get the fence mended and the bank repaid, all I will have to do is try working on ever so slowly re-accumulating those lost brownie points.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hemingway and Our Cats

Last Spring we had a new addition to our feline family, little miss Polly. She was an extra barn cat from a friend's place. What enamored us to her was the fact that she had seven toes on all of her feet, front and hind. It's not too unusual to have extra toes on either the front or back, but it is rare to have extras on all four feet. The term for extra digits is polydactyly, hence her name: Polly.

Anyway, while in Columbia, Missouri, last Summer, visiting my daughter and her husband, I mentioned the cat and they told me that Ernest Hemingway had polydactyl cats, and that they have since multiplied down at his museum in the Florida Keys.  According to the website:

"The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is home to approximately sixty cats. Normal cats have five front toes and four back toes. About half of the cats at the museum are polydactyl. Ernenst Hemingway was given a six-toed cat by a ship's captain and some of the cats who live on the museum grounds are descendants of that original cat. Key West is a small island and it is possible that many of the cats on the island are related. Our cats are not a partiular breed, but appear to be a combination of various breeds--sort of "Heinz 57" if you will. They are all shapes, sizes, colors and personalities."

A ship's captain, huh? I never tried taking a cat in the boat fishing with me, but I'm willing to give it a try.

Well, those extra toes came in handy. Last winter, Polly flew across the top of the lightest snows with her permanent snow shoes. Some darned old Tomcat must have been hiding behind a snow bank, though. After all of these years of owning cats and faithfully neutering and spaying them, we overlooked spaying Polly. So sure enough, this Spring she gave birth to five kittens.

Some had multiple toes, and others did not.

We had no problem at all finding homes for them, and they were a lot of fun raising to a weaning age, but we definitely were never going to let her have another litter.

In theory, that is. I guess our little celibacy talk went right in one ear and out the other. Before we knew it, Polly, failed our deluxe pregnancy tester. She no longer fit through the cat door to the basement:

And sure enough, we came home one day to find six more little ones piled up in the dog bed.
As an author, Hemingway was prolific...  but it was nothing in comparison to his cats.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Be Careful of What You Wish For

Several years ago, we were told about a horse that was looking for a new home. At the time, we simply had our hands full with our own horses, boarded horses, and all of the other sheep, goats, donkeys, cows, a camel, llamas, chickens, geese, dogs and cats. When you own a barn with about 20 stalls and eight paddocks and plenty of pasture, there is a tendency to overdo yourselves with animals in need of a home. With just the two of us we had our hands full. At the time, we decided against taking the horse in. But I have always wondered what it would have been like to take care of this one. It was the first and only Bashkir Curly I have ever come across.

They are called Bashkir, because they are said to have originated in a region of Asia called Bashkortostan. (That's a new ...stan to me.)

They are called Curly because they have fine, soft ringlets of hair that can get to be several inches long and it can actually be collected, spun and woven. They say that the hair is more closely related to mohair than horse hair. If the Obama girls ever get to a point that they want a pony, these are supposed to be hypoallergenic, too.

Yeah, I know. Curlies are kind of goofy looking, but what they lack in looks, they make up for in personality and durability. They are said to be even tempered, calm, friendly and intelligent. They have short, strong backs, very dense leg bones and very dense, hard hooves. Some Endurance Riders swear by them. When their heart and respiratory rates become high with exercise, those rates recover unusually quickly.

For a long time, I kind of wished that I would run across another one needing a home.

Then look what I got this summer.

Meet Zoey. She looks like a Bashkir Curly, but unfortunately, she's not. Zoey used to live on our farm and has given us some beautiful babies.

Zoey is a mini and was sold to a friend a few years ago when we downsized our livestock operation. Last winter she got into some feed and foundered. Her owner couldn't afford to have her cared for, so we took her back this Spring.

We had the farrier out immediately to try to work on her feet. They had become so long that it will take several months' worth of trimming to get her back to normal again. She is still long and more lame than normal.

We also waited and waited for her to shed out her winter coat. But she never did. This is not normal. Deb recognized it as a possible sign of Cushing's Disease, and the vet has since verified it.

Cushing's Disease is caused by a benign tumor of the pituitary gland. The pituitary regulates the endocrine system, so hormonal, metabolic, and immune problems are symptomatic. Her failure to shed out, and an increased water consumption were the most obvious symptoms. The vet has prescribed a dopamine agonist, Pergolide. She will be on this medicine for the rest of her life.

Aside from her improving lameness, she doesn't appear to be in pain. We keep her isolated and on a restricted diet right now. She is a typical mare and lays back her ears squeals at the other horses through the fence when they get too close. Hopefully, we can give her a few more good years of life on our farm...

And I can pretend she's my little Bashkir Curly.

Monday, August 10, 2009

North Woods Mosquitoes and Bats

Did I ever mention that we have mosquitoes in the North Woods of Wisconsin? Now that we have had some much needed rain, they are out with a vengeance. Actually, during the daytime outside they are not too bad. I attribute that to our farm buildings being pretty open with the West wind blowing over acres of open pasture.

It is in the evenings, when dusk settles over the farm and the winds die down that things turn ugly, especially in our old farm house's upstairs bedroom. Trying to read or blog at night can be a pain in the neck. I don't know how they get in, especially so many of them.

The sounds at my keyboard are something like: Click, click, click, slap, SLAP.... click, click, ..... Zzzzzzzzzz, swish, slap, swish, clink .... "Shoot. That was the last of the coffee. Darn it. Where are the paper towels?"

Did you know that in the early 1800's malaria was not uncommon in Wisconsin? Thankfully, that isn't the case any more. But late summer is the season for West Nile Virus borne by the buzzing hoard. WNV is nothing to mess with for either man or beast. We can vaccinate the horses against it, but us humans are left to fend for ourselves.

So, I've instituted measures to combat the bastions of boudoir bugs. Last year, Deb found a used bug zapper at a garage sale, and we had it hanging out on our back porch for a while. It is the kind with a black light encased in an electrified wire gridwork that electrocutes anything that ventures toward the light. Recently I decided to move it into our bedroom and hang it from a gate pin.

Sure enough, every once in a while, I would hear a very satisfying "Gzhzhwhaack".

To me, at least, it was satisfying. All cats and dogs have now taken leave of the room whenever the thing is plugged in. Deb always wanted the dogs and cats off the bed at night anyway, I guess. (But I kinda miss them.)

Soon I was waking up to a substantial pile of moth wings and other unidentifiable body parts on the bedroom floor under the zapper, which served to add to my daily barn (and now bedroom) cleanup chores.

It didn't take long, though, to conclude that the mosquitoes are more attracted to me than to the light. So I did some further research and found that professional scientists trap mosquitoes with dry ice traps. Mosquitoes are attracted to sources of carbon dioxide more than light. That makes sense. That's why I was zapping more moths than mosquitoes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention use light traps baited with dry ice and claim to catch 65,000 mosquitoes per trap per night in some areas.

Now you'd think that a dairy state that makes lots of ice cream would have plenty of readily available dry ice. Maybe so, but there just aren't any dairies or creameries this far north.

Then I read that you can use CO2 cylinders instead, but when I went down and told Deb about the exciting news, she put the kibosh on the plan. For some reason, she thinks I was planning on asphyxiating us in our sleep.

Well, that left me with a dilemma right back on itchy square one.

Then, I was talking to my retired logging buddy, Jack, and he asked me why my arms and cheeks were so lumpy and bloody. I told him that I was having somewhat of a mosquito problem in our bedroom.

He said, "You know, my grandpa used to work for the logging companies up here, and would tell me that mosquitoes were a problem in the camps at night until Old Sven was hired on as a camp cook. Sven would take his big 20 gallon cast iron pot and hang it from a tripod out in the middle of the barracks at night. Then he would put about a gallon of ox blood inside and paint the inside with it. Then he'd quickly put a lid on it and beat a hasty retreat. After an hour or so, he'd go back out and the pot would be covered with mosquitoes with their beaks stuck through that pot. All he had to do then was take a ball peen hammer and clinch over their beaks on the inside. He swore those mosquitoes couldn't bother his men anymore."

"Jack, I have to admit, there are times that you're more helpful than at others."

Then, last night, while sitting at the computer in our bedroom, I thought that I felt a particularly large mosquito swish by my ear.

Wrong! It was a big brown bat. All right! A bat in the bedroom!

According to the University of Florida Extension Service, "During the summer, when pregnant and nursing female bats have especially high energy requirements, each bat may consume as much as two thirds of its body weight per night. This would be the equivalent of a 150-pound human consuming 100 pounds of food per day!"

I know that some people fear bats, and I know that they can be a big problem if they occupy attics in large numbers. One of my early childhood country life memories was watching my Uncle Orin and Cousin Tom sit out on their back porch with shotguns shooting bats as they emerged from around the chimney.

But I lost all fear of bats from my caving days down in Missouri. A ton of bats would fly past us and never once touch us down in those caves.

Gazing at bats in flight is said to be a pleasant pastime in China: "Older residents of China cherish their childhood memories of summer evenings when neighbors would sit beneath a tree in their common courtyard, enjoying a cool breeze while chatting and drinking tea. Their children ran around chasing bats that swooped and flitted overhead, some of the more mischievous flinging their shoes at the bats in hopes of catching one. The bats actually seemed to enjoy this game of catch-me-if-you-can."

They even dedicated a 1992 stamp to this, entitled "Five Blessings Upon This House".

On that stamp, you see the kids chasing five bats. In Chinese, the word for bat and the word for good luck have the same sound: fu. Wu is the word for five. The five bat Wu Fu symbol appears frequently in Chinese literature and art. Each of the five bats in the symbol represents one of the five elements: earth, air, fire, water, and metal. Or one of the five happinesses: health, wealth, long life, good luck, and tranquility. They even use stylized good luck bats on their postal lottery card.

I didn't have five bats (yet), but at that moment, I was happy accepting any one of the five happinesses from my boudoir bat.

But alas and alack, Deb seemed to be of the school of thought that bats and humans should not cohabitate. "Get rid of it. You're going to get rabies if it bites you. The bat droppings transmit histoplasmosis, you know. If you'd just break down and use my Skin-So-Soft, it would put you out of your misery."

Aargh. There are certain lines I just will NOT cross. I spent a lot of years building up this tough old hide of mine.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Jules and the Acoma Pueblo

We have had two mustangs on our farm. These are wild horses from the Western States that are captured and adopted out by the Bureau of Land Management. They have freeze brands (using cold instead of hot irons) on their necks. To see the brand, one would think that it is some sort of hieroglyphics.

Actually, the brand approximates the year of the horse's birth and gives an assigned registration number. The information is in an "alpha angle code" in which numbers are assigned to different angles, depending on the direction in which they are pointing, a pretty clever way of conveying a lot of information with only one or two different branding irons.

Each State from which the horses are gathered is assigned a range of registration numbers, so you can tell where the horse was captured (for example, 80001-160000 for Arizona, 240001-320000 for Colorado, 0-80000 for Oregon, etc.).

About eight years ago, we took on a rescue mustang mare. She came from someone who was using her as a broodmare, and they had rescued her from a place where she had been living with several cows in a junkyard. She had a history of foundering (where the vascular bed between the hoof wall and the underlying cannon bone becomes tender and inflamed leading to lameness). A horse can founder from being ridden or driven too hard on pavement or hard ground (road founder), but more commonly, it arises from a genetic insensitivity to insulin. When we got this mare, she had been bred and gave birth to a foal after we brought her home. The foal went back to the previous owners, and we never had her bred again.

We named the mare Jules. Before we ventured into mustangs, we spoke with a mustang owner at the Midwest Horse Fair in Madison, Wisconsin, who swore by them. She told us that mustangs are pretty skittish at first, but if you treat them right, they seem almost grateful to have found a new home and become extremely willing and gentle. That seemed to hold true for both of the mustangs that we have had. But then again, all of our horses are as tame as puppies.

Jules was a bay (brown with black mane, tail and socks) with the most beautiful, feminine head and eyes that I have ever seen. What I liked about her was that she had a habit of nickering softly to greet us whenever we came into the barn. She was broken to ride, but we never took her out much because she was tender footed. So she ruled our pastures.

The last two winters her founder returned in full force and she suffered pretty badly in the coldest weather. We religiously have the farrier out every eight weeks to trim all of our horses, and he did his best to correct her feet. This past week for the first time, he told us that he didn't think she would recover this time. Her hoof wall was essentially gone so that she was bearing full weight on her soles.

So yesterday we had the vet come and give his assessment. He concurred that she would probably never recover. So the decision was made to put her to sleep. I don't know whether you have ever witnessed this, but an overdose of barbiturate is injected, and within a matter of seconds, the horse drops and dies. It appears to be rapid and painless, but it is still hard to watch the life flow out of a friend.

I took the tractor out, dug a trench with the front end loader, and buried her out in the back 40 next to the burial site of Roany, Deb's 32 year old gray gelding.

Jules was a good horse and we gave her the best care and life that we could. I am not a spiritual person at all, but every once in a while, life seems to send strangely coincidental omens.

It turns out that we had the opportunity to travel to the Desert Southwest for a week just last month. While there, we visited the mesa-top Sky City Acoma Pueblo.

The Pueblo tribes keep kivas, windowless sacred chambers where religious ceremonies are held. According to most Pueblo legends, the spiritual beings of the world below instructed the people of this world to construct the kiva in the shape of sipapu, the place where humans emerged into the world from their previous existence. Entry to the kiva is from the top, descending a ladder into the kiva, most of which are built into the ground to bring the two worlds closer together.

Because the Acoma Pueblo is built on a mesa top, its only source of water is from the rain. So the kiva ladders were built with pointed skyward ends, and the Acoma three-pole ladder is built with a spacer at the top representing a cloud through which the poles pierce to help bring rain.

I could have sworn that the day we visited Acoma Pueblo, it was a totally cloudless day.
(Is that a horse in the sky?)

The night after I buried Jules, we received a much needed rain.

Rest in Peace, Jules.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Downsized haying

Boy, it's been a rough haying season so far. While the country life and messing with farm animals have their fair share of idyllic moments, the lifestyle also has its share of maddening frustrations. I won't even go into the exceptionally cold spring that was followed by a growth-inhibiting dry spell. The vagaries of nature have to be expected sometimes.

The big problem this year is equipment failures. A few years ago, after I lost an off-the-farm job, we downsized and sold a 75 horsepower tractor and a good John Deere haybine (a glorified mower that conditions the hay by crimping it so that it will dry faster). I also stopped traveling around the countryside with my haying partner who had a decent Gehl round baler, leaving me with no baler at all. The price of gas and diesel last year was making the cost of putting up our own hay in quantities adequate to supply a marketable beef cattle herd along with our horses, llamas and goats through the long North Woods winter simply uneconomical.

Debra and I decided to try to hay off about 25 acres of our own pasture and cut down on the size of our hay-burning livestock herd. With such small acreage to harvest, we decided to buy a good smaller tractor and some very old used haying equipment, including a sickle bar mower, an ancient rusty side-delivery rake, and an old square baler.

When I was growing up, I had heard that you could always tell the successful farmers that were in it for the long haul from those doomed to failure simply by looking at the equipment in their fields. The ones most likely to succeed were said to be those using the oldest equipment on diversified crops. Those taking the plunge into huge acreage monoculture with the most modern expensive equipment were asking for big debt trouble.

So I figured it was about time I put this theory to the test. We got ten bales out of the field while testing the equipment, and too much hay cut and laying down when the equipment started falling apart. That downed hay will be good for nothing but bedding if we can ever get it baled and in the barn.

Boy, am I ever getting a lesson in breaking rusty bolts, knocking out leaking and worn bearings, replacing universal joints, facing the impossibility of buying parts that are obsolete and no longer available, and trying to fabricate parts that will substitute in their stead. So far the sickle bar mower has broken 4 times, and the gear box and drive shaft on the rake are currently in pieces.

Thank goodness Jack, my summer fishing buddy, is around to help. He has spent years in the woods repairing logging equipment, and can pretty much tell how something must be put together before it is even taken apart. He is also much less shy with the hammer and cold chisel than I am, and has been able to convince old, ungreased, oxidation-fused metal to yield to his wishes with much more success. Hopefully, we can get things up and running again before the snow flies.

Time will tell how this noble experiment with restored farm equipment works. Thus far, I am tempted to believe an old billboard that I once saw down in the Ozarks of Missouri. It was advertising recreational boating equipment and read: "Buy the best... and only cry once!"

Oh, well. My new mantra is: "At least I'm not paying interest... not paying interest... no interest... no debt... no interest..."

I just have to prevent this mantra from evolving into "... no interest... no interest... no interest in farming!"

Friday, July 10, 2009

A New Lake, Ospreys and Eagles

My wife and Pat had plans for convening a local conclave of fellow "Goat Ladies" at Pat's place yesterday afternoon to exchange stories and information. So Jack and I decided to go fishing.

Jack took his boat. It's an old 14 foot aluminum v-hull with a 10 horse Evinrude motor that he had salvaged and repaired. He has it rigged with an anchor made of five old double hung window sash weights wired together. That anchor holds us in place in a good stiff breeze. The vessel is just right for two grumpy old men, but would be an insult for those guys with their 200 horsepower engines on their metal-flake fiberglass boats that I call bass bullets with their fully equipped electronic geostationary satellite positioning devices and "you can't hide from me" fish locators.

Anyway, Jack took us to a lake that I had never been to before--- Jungle Lake.

It was a gorgeous setting. Very few homes on the shore. Crystal clear water. Surrounded by forest. And we were the only ones on the water that day. The fish were biting pretty slowly, but steadily enough to keep things interesting. We ended up with our limit of bluegill, perch, sunfish, and rock bass. We also caught a few largemouth bass, but threw them back.

The real highlight of the day, though was the birds. A solo loon serenaded us throughout the day and was diving all around the boat. That loon call is as significant to my northwoods summers as the first robin song is to spring. I love it. For anyone who has never heard the loon's tremolos, wails, yodels and hoots, go here.

There were also two big ospreys out fishing for most of the day. They soar high over the water peering down for fish near the surface that they can swoop down and nab. It's amazing to me that they can not only pick out a fish from so high, especially when there is a good rippling wave on the water, but that they can tell that it is swimming close enough to the surface for them to hit when they stab for it.

At one point, one had come to a hovering stand still about 30 feet over a spot in the water.

Jack said, "Hey, it looks like he's spotted one."

And we both watched as it rocketed down and splashed, only to emerge with its talons full.

"Yup, he nailed it."

But as we watched, it climbed about 15 feet in the air, and the fish dropped back into the water.

Simultaneously we both yelled, "Oooooh! It got away," just like it was one of our fishing buddies right there in the boat with us.

"Hey look. He's still got one though." And, sure enough, he still had one in his talons. He must have caught two at once. Unbelievable.

He circled once, but then started to call out. Normally, they remain pretty quiet when they are fishing.

Soon we saw that a mature bald eagle was headed across the water toward him and the osprey was telling it to get the heck out of there. The eagle seemed to chase the osprey for a while, but then it turned its attention to the dropped fish. Sure enough, that eagle swooped down right where the osprey had dropped his catch and popped it out of the water.

Then the eagle flew low over the water across the lake to perch in its pine, and the osprey went off on its way. I hate to inform you of this, but our national bird is a lazy opportunist.

I looked over at Jack, and said, "Darned eagle is just like a tourist pushing his way into our favorite fishing spot."

To which Jack responded, "Did you ever stop and think that maybe we are the tourists in his fishing spot?"


If you've never seen an osprey fish, it would be worth a couple of minutes to view the following National Geographic clip:

As usual, I failed to bring a camera on this trip. The links to the images used are:

1) Mapquest
2) Loon

3) Osprey in flight

4) Osprey with fish

5) Eagle with fish

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A New Cria and Goat Impossibilities

We had our last baby of the year. It was born to the most famous llama in the country: our Olivia.

My wife named her Olivia. I call her Ollie for short. Famous? Why famous, you ask?

Surely you've heard of the Ollie Llama?

That shadow on the ground is a new cria. It was pretty dry, but it still had membrane clinging to it at this point.

That makes our fifth llama. The stud was our only registered llama. His papers came with the name Joya. We think that it is probably a Spanish name, so we pronounce the J like H. So I gave him his last name: Doin'. So now we walk up to the paddock and call out Joya Doin'.

Two years ago, we had a little boy baby, Ollie's first. It was born with a windswept deformity, so all four legs were bent in the same direction as though they were blowing in the wind, kind of like this: (( Three of the legs straightened out, so we named him OK. That stands for Off Kilter. He is now gelded.

Last year, we had another boy. His name is Llimpopo. Rudyard Kipling wrote a series of children's stories called the Just So Stories. One of them was about how the elephant got its long trunk. A baby elephant was drinking out of a river when a crocodile grabbed its nose, which got stretched in the ensuing struggle. Maybe elephants have strong necks and weak noses, but llamas have strong noses and weak necks. So when an alligator grabbed the cria by the nose, its neck stretched instead. Maybe. That's what I tell the visiting kids, anyway. Oh.... the name of the river: The Great Grey-green Greazy Limpopo.... hence the name Llimpopo.

We've now determined that this year's cria is yet another boy. We've decided to name him for the retired racehorse jockey that lives across the street, who used to own this place: Leonard M. So we'll name this one Lleonard.... Llenny Llama.

As with any birth on the farm, it is always important to check to make certain the placenta hasn't been retained. For those of you who have never seen this, here's a picture. Warning, fly past this photo if you love babies, but not afterbabies.

Now on to this morning's adventure.

We rescued four goats two winters ago. Their owners were an elderly deaf couple who were in a crippling car accident. One of the goats was a huge goat of unknown lineage. It is the biggest goat that I have ever see and it can jump any fence or gate on the farm when it wants to. We have to hide it during antlerless deer season. It is also, I think the world's ugliest goat with a huge underbite and a couple of missing front teeth. He looks like he took one too many punches in the nose, so we named him Bruiser.

In the goat pen, we have a variety of large run-in shelters along with a small Igloo brand plastic dog house that our pygmy goats and geese like to lay in. I went out this morning, and somehow Bruiser had squeezed his huge body into that little bitty dog house and got wedged in. He must have gone in head first and turned around, but based on the size of the goat and the size of the house, that's utterly impossible. The lower lip on the doorway made it so that his legs were pinned in. He was well and truly stuck.

I struggled and pushed and pulled. I got one leg out, but he pulled it back in. (Now I have had my practice session if I ever have to pull a baby goat during labor.) He grunted and pushed and squirmed. No go. I finally decided that I was going to have to take the house apart to get him out. Finally, though, he gave one last heave that buckled the plastic, popped out and immediately emptied his bladder.

BIG STRETCH. Man, it must have felt good to get out of there! Now he seems none the worse for wear and is back to his old happy self again.

Now I'm curious to see where he tries to sleep tonight.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Porcupine Quills and Riding Mowers

Things get a little crazy up here in the North Woods on these big holiday weekends. The population on the roads and waterways explodes. For the local economy, they say it provides a very big boost. It can be tough on the wildlife, though.

On Friday morning, July 3, I got a rescue call from the Northwoods Wildlife Center. Several people had phoned in that there was an injured porcupine on the side of the highway.

Porcupines are one of those animals that seem to thrive up here. It is not uncommon to see dead ones on the shoulders any time of the year. They are nocturnal and pretty slow moving, so it's easy to drive up on one at night and hit it before you can avoid it. Evidently that is what happened to my rescue victim, but this one was reportedly still alive.

Now one of the rules of the rescue driver that is set in stone with zero tolerance for rule abridgment is that there are to be NO pictures taken of the injured animals. The animals are stressed enough without flashes going off and lenses being pointed in their faces. For those of you unfamiliar with a closeup view of a porcupine, I am borrowing a very good photo from Click on the photo for a full-sized view.

Anyway, I loaded up my trusty tote and paraphernalia and headed out to the scene. It was supposedly lying along the north side of the road somewhere in the 20 miles between where I live and Rhinelander. I had my doubts as to whether it would still be alive by the time that I found it, and if it was, it most likely would have wandered off into the woods again.

I passed several that were obviously long dead and decomposing. Then about seven miles east of Rhinelander, I spotted it not a foot off the blacktop. I pulled over, got out and walked up to it. It sure looked dead. I gave it a slight nudge with my toe, and it curled up a bit tighter. So it was alive. I saw a wound on its flank that didn't look too serious, but who knows what internal trauma it may have had.

I then went back, got my tote, a heavy sheet, and my welding gloves. I covered it with the sheet, gently picked it up, put it in the box, and headed on in to headquarters.

I must admit that this porcupine handling was done with a degree of trepidation on my part. Several years ago, on one of the coldest nights of the year and after a very rare overindulgence in social drinking, a friend told me, "Ya know, porkypine quillsh are worth a bundle on the innernet."

I said, "You gotta be kiddin' me. Toothpicks are a lot cheaper and easier on the gums."

"Naw, man. They use 'em fer joolry an' decoratin' and stuff."

"You may be right, by gosh. I have been hearin' a lot about pierced ears and pierced unmentionables. Heck, I know where I can get some right here, right now."

Not long before that, I had been out in our back 40 to show a visitor a junky old hunting shack that the boys of the previous owners had thrown together out in the woods. When we got there, we found that a porcupine had taken up residence in one of the top bunks and seemed to be pretty well ensconced for the winter. It was no big deal to me because I was never going to use the building, and it really didn't matter if the porcupine gnawed it to the ground if he wanted to.

Well when my buddy told me that the quills were like a pot of gold, in my slightly alcohol-addled mind, I decided to go out and offer that porcupine nice warm room and board in our basement in exchange for an occasional quill harvest.

So I donned my Carhartt overalls and hat and gloves, grabbed a feed bag and decided I'd just stuff it in the sack and bring him on home.

You'd be amazed at how strong, belligerent and pig headed an indignant quill pig can be when rousted from its chosen cozy spot. Suffice it to say, that I returned home with an empty bag and hands and wrists that looked like pincushions. And yes the quills did penetrate the fabric in sufficient numbers that my coat and gloves may as well have been stapled to my body with an electric staple gun gone wild. There was no way to take them off without pliers and helping hands.

Ah well, I haven't overindulged since then... and I didn't even find a buyer for the quills.

Nah, nah, what's done is done. That was then, and this is now. Older and wiser.

I got the injured animal into the animal E.R. They got it tranquilized and injected antibiotics and dexamethasone, and we're all hoping for the best.

I do happen to have a sheet of spare quills in case any of you creative souls out there feel some inspiration.

They are hollow and can be dyed and used like you would use Indian beads. Here are a few examples from the Internet of things created with them:

I might be talked into harvesting a few quills from the road shoulders if anyone is interested. There are a lot of creative people out there.

Which brings me to my final holiday find. The summer holiday weekends are also huge times for garage sales. This weekend, on my way to the animal E.R., I spotted a riding mower for sale. Boy, if it weren't for an injured victim in my car, I would have been sorely tempted to buy my wife a "Green Movement" 4th of July gift.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Giant Puffballs

The other day, we were over visiting Pat and Jack's place. They are our friends who decided to adopt little Willie (the goat in the sweater). It didn't take much convincing. All we had to do was let them bottle feed him as a baby one time.

They live in a beautiful isolated log cabin in the woods that Jack made himself after their original home burned down.

Jack said, "Hey do you guys like puffballs?"

I said, "I do, but Deb won't eat 'em."

"Boy there's a dandy one over under that tree."

So we sauntered over through the veil of mosquitoes, and sure enough, there was a giant puffball about the size of a soccer ball just as white and prime for the pickin' as I've ever seen.

"Wow. She's a beauty. Aren't you guys going to eat it?"

"Naw. Pat thinks they're poison."

"Poison? They're only poison if you season them with cyanide in the fryin' pan. Heck. If you don't want it. I'll take it."

"Be my guest. There's another one up in the garden that Pat picked a few days ago and is using it for a decoration. Take it, too."

So, loving to partake of the bounties of nature, as I always do, I picked up both puffballs, gently laid them in the bed of the truck and headed down the drive. As we were departing, I heard Pat shouting after us, "You're gonna die!"

Well, let me tell you. Here's how to prepare them without fear of dying.

Puffballs don't store well fresh, so you should get them cooked as soon as you can. First you peel the rubbery skin off. Brush the loose dirt off, but don't wash them. If water gets inside, they'll get mushy. They should be as white as a marshmallow. You can see that the one that Pat picked earlier was starting to turn yellow on the surface. I discard any part that's not white. Then you slice them and dice them into 3/4 inch cubes.

And saute them in butter and bacon grease. They will shrink down to about half the size, like any fresh mushroom. One giant puffball makes a big batch, so you can freeze the cooked cubes in a freezer bag for use in anything that you would normally use button mushrooms in.

Let me tell you. If you've never eaten puffball mushrooms, you're not missing much. It's about like eating tofu. They'll take on whatever flavor you are cooking them in. But heck. You've gotta do it at least once in your life so you can say you're cool!