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.