While They Sleep

In the early morning hours, while the house is quiet and my four children are still snoring, I get up and pull on thick long underwear. Hearing my feet on the floor, the dogs start making soft whining noises in their crates. They know what’s coming.

The sun is not up yet. Sometimes we can hardly see where we are going. The sky is dusty and the ground is crunchy with frost. The goats are sleeping in the barn, the chickens are still in the coop, and the sparrows are just beginning to chirp. In these moments, I can feel the pulse of the Earth. I can feel how we are all connected.

Image

The dogs race to the field, then look at me expectantly. They’ve been waiting all night for this. It’s time to play fetch!

Image

They would chase the ball all day, if I let them. Most mornings I’ll throw for 15 minutes or so, and then we take our walk.

We cross the field to say hello & good morning to the old oak trees. At this time of year, the leaves carpet the ground and make a delightful swooshing sound as we walk through them. I often wonder about these trees. If they could talk, what stories would they tell? What have they been witness to all these years? How has the landscape changed?

Image

Image

We walk the perimeter of the field closest to the house. The dogs race ahead, then race back to me at full speed. They tumble over each other, wrestle, and come back for pats and belly rubs. When we’ve finished our walk, they’re all panting and thirsty. They have a good, long drink while I take care of the farm chores.

The goats are awake now and have come out of the barn. They’re pacing by the gate, waiting for their breakfast. With this year’s shortage of hay, I was very lucky to find some bales from a nearby woman who had more than her horses needed.

Image

(See that handsome buck on the left? That’s Boots, our springtime babe, now full grown!)

The chickens have heard the goats’ happy bleats and have come running for their share.  They swarm around me, clucking and hopping, eager for their morning crumble & kitchen scraps.

ImageImage

When everyone is fed and happy, I gather some eggs and head for the house. By now the sun hangs just above the horizon, and my kids are stirring in the family bed. The dogs and I make our way inside to welcome the children into the day. We snuggle and I listen to the kids tell me about their dreams, with sleepy eyes and creaky voices. They start their day softly, totally oblivious to the life I live while they sleep.

Juno’s Quest

About a week ago, I was wasting time on the internet when I came across a contest for dogs – a “casting call” for Fido (the mobile phone company) – in which the winner is selected through votes.

On a whim, I entered our sweet Border Collie pup, Juno. I don’t know WHY I entered, as it’s totally out of character for me, but I did. And when Juno started steadily moving forward in the contest, I got the crazy notion that we might actually win.

Right now there are over 5,000 dogs in the Fido Casting Call, and of those Juno is sitting at 418th place (at the time of this writing). Last night she was in 523rd place, and a few days ago she was in 1278th place. She’s gaining ground, pushing ahead by the day.

Image

So, our family is going all out for “Team Juno” and having a lot of fun with this. Out of character, yes, but we are loving it! Juno has a fan page on Facebook, which you can join for updates and photos, and where you can post words of encouragement. And if you want to vote for Juno (which I know you do!!), all it takes is less than a minute out of your day. CLICK HERE, and once you’re on the contest page, click the big yellow button that says “VOTE”. It’s so simple, takes no effort on your part, and can mean all the difference for Team Juno! Best yet, you can vote once per day until Sept 10!

 

Poky Little Puppy

Last year, we had a beautiful Border Collie in our lives named Miss Molly. She was wonderful in so many ways – smart, fun, loyal, affectionate – but there were also some problems with her behaviour as well that made her incompatiable with life on our farm. I trained with her for months, went to private training sessions and group classes, saw three different trainers for help & advice, and when I felt like we were making great progress, Miss Molly started killing our chickens and ducks. We found her a new home, a GREAT new home with three other Border Collies, but I was devastated at saying goodbye (and my kids were pretty upset, too!).

For many months following Miss Molly’s departure, I wondered if I had done the right thing. I missed her terribly (and I still do). Oddler and Echo helped to fill the void, but still I wanted a Border Collie, a dog to work with me on the farm.

Spring came and my birthday rolled around. On the morning of my birthday, Jae surprised me by telling me I should go ahead and start looking for another Border Collie to bring into our family – his birthday present to me. I applied for a few rescue dogs, but each time I was denied for one reason or another: no fenced yard (we’re a farm!!), two other dogs, small children in the home. I gave up and began looking for a puppy, a wee little bundle to start fresh with.

At the beginning of June, Juno came home. She was 10 weeks old when I picked her up from the breeder, and pretty nervous about leaving her mom and siblings. The poor pup got carsick several times on the way home, but once she got out of the van, recovery followed quickly and she began settling into her new life on our farm.

Juno at 10 Weeks. Photo by my friend Jeanette.

I still miss sweet Molly, but my oh my, has Juno ever filled that aching spot in my heart! She’s been a complete and utter delight to have around. Every morning at 6am we get up and start the day while the children snore. Juno comes outside with me and accompanies me while I do the farm chores. We work on some simple obedience commands and go for a brisk walk with the other two dogs on the Greenway Trail.

Juno at 12 weeks, with Lynden

Juno’s been coming everywhere with us for socialisation and training – to the splash pad and the beach, to market, to the homes of friends and family, to various parks and trails – and we’ve been going to a puppy obedience class. So far, so good! She is fitting into our family beautifully and is becoming a very well-behaved, well-socialised, eager-to-please little pup. We’re so delighted to have her here!

Juno at 16 weeks, enjoying the park

I felt a little crazy when I brought home a third dog, but it’s worked out pretty wonderfully so far. I’m really excited to see what Juno’s future brings!

Swinging into Summer

“Swinging” into Summer is hardly accurate. It feels more like we’re on a speeding train and Summer is a brick wall directly ahead of us! The days are passing way faster than I care for (but isn’t that always how it goes?). Life is bursting forth everywhere I turn, the baby is growing way too quickly, and my older children are more incredible with each passing day.

Summer on the farm is such a busy, hectic time. There are so many demands! At the end of the day, though, it’s all worth it, and there are an abundance of little rewards.

The chicks, who one month ago looked like this –

- now reside outside and look like this -
How quickly they change!

The rabbits are thriving on grass. They’ve escaped a couple of times, and so we’ve been playing around with various modifications to the rabbit tractor to prevent escape but still allow for grass-eating. (Stay tuned for an update on our rabbits!)

The farmers’ market opened on June 9th, and I was so happy to be back! We had a fabulous opening day, with way more sales than we anticipated and lots of folks from last year stopping by to say hello. The feelings of community and camaraderie that come out at the farmers’ market are so uplifting.

Here’s my market partner – her name is Juno. She’s a 12-week-old Border Collie, and absolutely fabulous!

We’ve also had a few births around this little farm over the past month -


Dinosaur finally birthed her kid, a beautiful little buckling whose name is Boots.


Platypus the duck went broody and sat on a rather large nest of eggs. Eight of them hatched last week, much to the delight of my children.

Yes, Summer is a busy time on this farm: chicks, bunnies, goat kids, ducklings, puppies, gardens, children…….. I feel as though I’m busy and working my butt off nearly every moment of the day. It’s good work, though, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Saying Goodbye

Today we said goodbye to our beloved Border Collie, Miss Molly.  It was apparent to us that our farm is not the right place for her.  Our first indicator was an attack on a goat that happened in early Autumn.  We did some work with her, met a new trainer, upped the daily exercise, added a daily hour-long game of fetch, switched to a homemade diet and continued to strengthen her obedience work. All seemed to be going very well, and we were happy, until…

Over the past week, Molly decided it would be grand to kill a chicken.  Then, two days later, she decided it would be even grander to kill another one. The next day, under supervision, a third. And then, in one evening, right under my nose, she killed our two best laying ducks when I turned my back to see why our toddler was crying.

Now, our hens and ducks are free-ranging and it wasn’t often that Miss Molly was outside unsupervised.  Most days, her time outdoors was spent with us, walking on the trail or exploring the woods, playing fetch in the fields, etc. She spent much of her days at our sides. But let’s be realistic here – there are three small children living on this farm. There are times when a dog needs to pee and there are too many other demands for me to be hovering & supervising. Around here, we need our dogs to be trustworthy, to be able to go outside for a potty break without having to worry that our livestock are being harmed if we have other tasks pulling our attention away. Could we have gotten Molly to that point? Yes, I’m sure, with a lot more work. But how much work can I put into a dog before saying enough is enough?

Oh, I was heartbroken when Molly took that first beautiful white duck. Heartbroken for the duck, and heartbroken for Molly.  I read over homesteading websites, Border Collie websites, and any other resources I could find, absorbing all the information out there on how to break a dog of a chicken-killing habit. When I realised how much more work I would have to put forth, I cried.  I have been working with Molly since the end of June, when we first officially started obedience classes.  Every day we practiced for a minimum of a half-hour, usually closer to an hour. Every day we reviewed all the commands we had learned, until we had all the basics down pat. When the goat attack happened, I worked with Molly more than ever.  I got her working for everything – earning each bowl of food, earning her game of fetch, earning her raw meaty bones. It was getting to the point where Lynden would sometimes say with an exasperated sigh, “Mama! You spend all of your time with that dog!”

Life is busy around here. There are sheep and goats to tend to, a large flock of hens, the ducks, the children, the household chores, crafts and games and other things the kids need help with. And the dogs. My beloved, wonderful dogs. My dogs, who get a huge amount of my attention, but need to be able to function well without it sometimes. My dogs, who need to be able to pee without supervision sometimes.

So, the choice was made.  Miss Molly went on this afternoon to a new home, with a wonderful man who knows and loves Border Collies, who will be able to give to her what I can’t, and who lives only ten minutes away.  It was so hard to say goodbye.  The kids were upset with me for letting our beloved dog go. I shed many tears. But in the end, I’m certain that things will be better for everyone.

Wild Wonders

It was a crazy and busy weekend, with the kids away for sleepovers with their grandparents and the toddler & I in the big city.  So when things finally calmed a bit this afternoon and we were all together again, it seemed only fitting to take to the woods.


There’s nothing better than a day in the woods.

Thoughts on Dog Diet

A little while ago, I posted about replacing commercial dog food with homemade meals for our dogs, and included the recipe that I started out with.  After receiving some great advice from readers and friends, reading up a bit more about canine nutrition, and paying close attention to my dogs, I’ve made a few changes to that first recipe of mine.

To begin with, now I use more sweet potato and less potato, more carrots and less apple, and more raw meats/fish.  I cut out tuna due to concerns about mercury, and have replaced that with salmon, sardines, sole and herring.  I was feeling that fish alone wasn’t enough animal protein, so I checked out the meat aisle in the grocery store (I have never in my life shopped in the meat section of the store! It was a strange experience…).  There is a section of the cooler that is full of deals, 30% off and so forth, so I stocked up on some chicken legs and ham.  Now, in the morning the dogs will get a raw chicken leg with bone or a chunk of raw ham.  In the evening they get their rice mix (with the tweaks I mentioned above), topped with fish, flax oil, and a scoop of cottage cheese.  I still throw a raw egg in there from time to time, as well, and mix in the broken shells for added calcium.

On their new diet, the dogs have shown some awesome changes.  They have more focused energy (as opposed to hyperactive, unfocused wildness), seem better able to follow through on commands, and have brighter eyes.  Their fur is shining and so soft.  Oddler, 11 years old next month, had been suffering from a bad arthritic limp that has now completely disappeared (he had been nearly unable to walk some days, before the diet change). They sleep better and poop less – and, speaking of poop, their stools are smaller than they’ve ever been, not much bigger than our cat’s poop!  This tells me they are absorbing most of the nutrition from their food, instead of taking in lots of fillers that pass right through them and come out as large stools.

So, I think it’s safe to say that the dogs are thriving on their new diet.  They exude health.  It’s easier on our wallets and life is just all-around better for everyone!

It’s a Dog’s Life

Before Jae stopped working his office job, we purchased middle-of-the-line dry food for our dogs.  With two medium-large dogs who really know how to run all day, middle-of-the-line food could become a fairly significant portion of our grocery bill.  When Jae left the office behind and our income became casual, we downgraded to bottom-of-the-line dry food for the dogs.  Yes, the nasty, full of filler, no name kibble. We couldn’t justify spending so much money on dog food.  I justified the crappy food by including a raw egg on top every morning, but every time I glanced at the ingredients list on the bag, I felt a wave of guilt.  Mainly grains, full of fillers, plenty of preservatives, chicken meal by-product (I’m guessing ground feet & beaks? Yuck!), chemicals and unpronounceable additives.  I don’t feed my kids such poor food, or my livestock, or my poultry.  WHY was I feeding garbage to my beloved furry friends?

Soon enough, Molly started showing typical behaviour changes, mainly hyperactivity.  I’ve known for a long time that poor-quality food can negatively affect a dog’s behaviour, but the changes in Molly still caught me by surprise.  She needed to poop more often and had a couple of accidents in the house.  I knew within a week of the diet change that the crap food was just not cutting it.

This morning that first bag of crappy food finally ran out.  I knew it wasn’t in the budget to switch back to the decent food we used to buy, but I was not about to buy more low-grade junk.  So, I looked up the ingredients on the premium food (the kind that sells for $75 per bag – yikes!), read a few dog nutrition websites, and decided I’d make good food for my dogs at home.

After costing it out, homemade dog food works out to less than the cheapo crap food, and about 10000x healthier!

Here’s what I did tonight for my dogs:

1 sweet potato
2 potatoes
2 apples (simply because both dogs LOVE apples and go nuts for them)
2 cups of brown rice cooked in chicken broth
2 Tbsp flax oil
1 can of tuna
Handful of chopped carrots and broccoli

I cooked the sweet potato and the potatoes, stirred in the rice, apples, carrots and broccoli.  There seemed to be enough for at least a few days, so I doled out each dog’s serving, and added the tuna and flax oil on top. (I also poured the water from the tuna can into the bowls.)

The dogs devoured it. I have never seen them so eager to eat their dinner before.

Each morning they will still get their raw egg (with crushed shell), and on Sundays when we have our chicken dinner the dogs get all the scrapings.  I’m also going to experiment a bit with higher ratio of meat to veggies/rice (always raw meat), and try including things like cottage cheese or kefir.

All in all, it took me hardly any time to prepare the dogs’ food tonight, and I won’t have to do it again for at least three days – there is plenty still in the fridge.  The cost can’t be beat, my feelings of guilt were taken care of, and Oddler & Molly loved their first homemade meal.  I think we’re on the right path!

A Visitor in the Dark

Well, I knew it was inevitable. I knew our luck was too good to be true. I knew, sooner or later, we’d be visited by a creature of the wild wanting to make a meal of our hens. We can only tempt fate for so long, out here on the farm. I’m amazed we’ve made it this long (15 months!) without any sneaky predators taking our ladies in the night.

Over the past several months, a pack of coyotes have taken to wandering our area in the night. Throughout August and September, we heard them yipping in the fields across the street, beside us, and behind us, night after night. My dogs heard them, too, and good old Oddler, the noble and valiant hound, went bounding through the fields each and every night, bawling his hound dog bawl, chasing them far off into the bush and returning hours later.

Lately, I haven’t heard the coyotes. I’m not sure what they’ve done with themselves, but in their place has come another menace.  For many nights, Oddler and Miss Molly have gotten themselves worked into a tizzy, running the perimeter of our farm, barking and yapping and bawling. They keep it up for hours some nights, and other nights they settle down quickly, only to resume their protective vocalising a short while later.

Last night the dogs were mostly silent. Then, at 4am, I was awoken by the shrill yip-yapping of Miss Molly in the field just out my bedroom window.  A moment later, Oddler joined with his deep bawl. They kept it up for ten minutes before racing off through the field, chasing something away from our farm, their yaps and bawls fading in the distance.  I laid there in the dark, listening for their return. Forty-five minutes later, they finally came running up our 1/2km driveway, still very worked up. They circled the farm again and again, barking, until I felt like I was going to go crazy and brought them into the house. They paced by the door for a while, and only settled down to sleep when the sky was becoming ashy, pre-dawn.

Of course the dogs’ nighttime escape was on my mind a great deal today. I had a morning appointment, and when I returned I put on my boots, fed the chickens, and went out in the field. Within minutes I found a whole chicken’s worth of feathers puffing out of a thorny bush along the edge of the field. A few steps to the east, and there was another huge tuft of feathers, blowing gently in the breeze.  Something (or a few somethings!) had taken off with our hens. I only wonder if the theft happened before the dogs went chasing through the field, or after I brought them in the house? Had the dogs prevented more birds from being taken in the night, or had I allowed the hens to be taken by bringing the dogs inside? This is troubling me, and weighing heavily on my mind.

So, now we’re at a crossroads. Do we tie the dogs to the chicken tractors at night for protection? Or do we bring them in at night to keep them safe? I am not comfortable with my dogs racing through the fields at night after some unknown prowler. Anything could happen to them, and I’d never forgive myself. I also don’t like chaining the dogs if there is a prowler around – they are much less able to defend themselves if they are tied. For tonight the dogs are curled up on their blankets in the house, warm and safe, and I am worrying myself silly about the hens left outside unprotected.