20 August 2006

Wood for winter

Winter is indeed coming on, and we've started preparations.

Last evening, Union Guy built a small wood holder for up near the front patio door, so that we can keep a supply of split wood handy for the woodstove during the winter. We actually burn the fire on cool summer evenings, too: it's wonderful to have it going on a rainy night.

Today, we decided to find something useful to do with the big 'crate' that the windows and doors came packed in. It's nice and sturdy, very well built, and would be quite unpleasant to knock apart. Besides, we must need some kind of building this shape....

As we were discussing our options, we realized that we need a wood shed to store and dry a large quantity of firewood. Solar Neighbour down the way has offered us all the wood we can cut (and the use of his chainsaw to cut it with!) from the deadfall he cleared to put his house up, and we intend to take advantage of the offer. Further pondering led to the idea of creating a cat shelter at one end, since wood sheds are notorious for housing a large population of rodents, and the cats were in need of larger accommodations anyway as they are rapidly getting too large for the small box they hide out in now.

The old cat shelter is the upper wooden box. It's part of some old office furniture, I assume - it's just a cube of brown melamine we found at Habitat for Humanity. We lined the inside with styrofoam insulation and it has served quite well for most of a year. The new shelter is the rectangular box below that. There is a door on the far right (which you can't see), as that faces away from the prevailing winds. The door on this end is removeable for cleaning and access - the cube is filled with straw. It should be nice and warm, it has styrofoam insulation under the floor and will have wood stacked all along one side for additional thermal mass in the winter time.

We still have to figure out what we'll be cladding the structure with, and create some doors for the front ... and then use Solar Neighbour's chainsaw an awful lot in order to fill up the shed with the raw materials for a warm winter.

The new bunny

Ahh, finally time to sit down for a few minutes and write about life at Apple Jack Creek.

My parents have been here for the past week, they departed this morning for a month at a cottage where they will rest and recover from all the hard work they've been doing lately. Their new house is 30 minutes from Apple Jack Creek, and they will be taking over the last bit of construction from the contractor in late September, then moving in. It was nice to have them here - and they brought The Boy back with them! He thoroughly enjoyed his summer on the Island with his grandparents, but it's good to have everyone back in their usual places.

Yesterday was the county fair, which we really enjoyed. There was a parade with fire trucks and floats and kids on decorated bikes and people on horseback, and they threw candy at the spectators! Union Guy brought his kids out for the morning and they thought this was tremendous ... city parades don't toss candy any more, apparently it's a liability risk. Ah well, you can do things differently in the country! We had a free pancake breakfast, watched team penning, checked out all the sheep and pets, and found our new bunny and kitten. All in all, it was a very exciting day!

The bunny is still very small and shy, which is to be expected for such a young one. She (he?) spends her time snuggled into a safe corner of the large rabbit hutch that Cappuccino lived in. We closed off the door to the outside for now, so that the rabbit has a chance to get used to her surroundings and get more comfortable (and bigger) before venturing out into the wider yard of the chicken pen.

We're still not certain of a name, but here is a picture: got any suggestions?

19 August 2006

A day at the fair

This weekend is the local county fair.

We have been very busy and had a great time! The Boy was going to show his bunny Cappuccino, but of course, that didn't work out. :( He took an understudy in her place: Mikan the cat took third place in the long haired cat group ... out of three contestants, but hey, it was fun anyway.

The other fun for today was the acquisition of two new animals: a new kitten, named Diesel and a new bunny, who as yet has no name.

Here's The Boy with Diesel (and Gram on the phone in the background!)

Those of you who have been paying attention will remember that we had a calico cat named Diesel when we lived in the shed ... we've decided that we'll stick with a core set of cat names, and reuse them as we feel appropriate. Orange cats will be called Mikan, calico cats will be Diesel, gray ones Moke ... but hopefully only one of each at a time, or we'll have to get creative and come up with some more!

18 August 2006

Poor Cappuccino

Cappuccino, The Boy's pet bunny, died today under somewhat mysterious circumstances.

She was found across the pasture, without a mark on her. Bob the Dog was guarding the body.

We assume something frightened her while she was out of the pen (sometimes she sneaks a little ways out to get a bite of grass, but she never goes far and always comes right back in) ... probably a hawk, owl or eagle.

Poor Cappuccino. She was a great little bunny.

The Boy is making a list of Ten Good Things about Cappuccino - I will post them here when the list is finished.

13 August 2006

Junior Staff Member: introducing McKenzie

When Bob went MIA, we were seriously worried that he would not be found. As I do risk management for a living, we now have a succession plan in place. :)

A junior staff member has joined us as Bob's apprentice sheep guardian - meet McKenzie:

McKenzie is a purebred Great Pyrenees, a very common sheep guardian dog. They grow to be absolutely huge - he will be bigger than my Akita was, but since he will always live outside with his sheep, I won't have to worry about him putting his nose on the dining room table!

Bob, as senior guardian dog, is doing a good job of training the new recruit. Actually, McKenzie shows a very strong instinctive need to be near the sheep - which is exactly what we hope for! He was born in the pasture to sheep guardian parents, and spent the first six weeks of life with no contact from humans at all. When the pups were six weeks old, the people went and took them from their momma (who apparently did not object), and housed them in a sheep barn where they learned that people are the nice big creatures who bring you food! As humans we spend very little time with the dogs, so that they will bond closely to the sheep. The hardest part of raising a puppy like this is resisting the urge to pick them up and cuddle them!

Union Guy purchased McKenzie for me as a present. :) What a wonderful gift! It's so great to watch this little ball of fur following the sheep around the pasture on his tiny little legs, or sleeping as close to the sheep as they will allow, or trying to convince Bob that playing would be lots of fun (Bob just ignores him when he gets like this).

So far, things are working out well: Bob tends to look after the bigger picture, sneaking out under the perimiter fences to check the area near the house and occassionaly the neighbours' land as well, and he barks when he sees or hears anything potentially threatening ... McKenzie just patters along after the sheep, staying close to them and looking like an adoring cherub. As he grows, he will start 'guarding behaviours', like marking territory and learning to bark at specific things. By Christmas time he should be starting to show a lot of these behaviours, and he'll be much, much larger!

It's true that at night it is sometimes noisy around here ... but the deep woof of Bob's bark is very comforting, and I'm learning to sleep through it. It's much nicer than the yip and howl of the coyotes, which wakes me and used to leave me worried that the sheep or chickens were in danger of imminent attack. With the dogs on duty, I just listen for their bark and know all is taken care of!

More progress on the floor!

The flooring is now down in the kitchen, under both the stove and the fridge. I put foil bubble insulation between the subfloor and the hardwood underneath the fridge, to block the in floor heating in that area (no point making the fridge work any harder than it has to).

I stained the boards under fridge and stove, just so that when it comes time to sand and stain I don't have to move those appliances (I'll still have to move them when it's time to put the sealant on, but one less move is a good thing).

This is what the floor/walls/countertop/cabinet colour combo looks like! You'll get a better view if you click the picture to expand it.

A chick hatched!

After two unsuccessful attempts, we finally had a hatching!

Okay, so there are still about 15 eggs sitting in the nestbox, and none of them have pipped or made any noise, so our success rate is still pretty darn low.

However, we do have one live chick, hopping around following it's mama.

Of course I have no idea how to tell if it is male or female, other than to wait and see if it starts to crow or to lay eggs!

With our luck with animals lately, I'm not overly hopeful that this chick will live long enough for us to find out ... but we can hope! I've set up a few 'hiding spots' that the chick can get into but nobody else can, and he (she? it?) has run in and out and seems to be checking things out. Mama Hen gets VERY irritable if you get close to the chick - she fluffs up so big she looks like a turkey!

In the heat of the day today, they were in the shade, with the little chick nestled under mama's wing.

Psalm 91:4

He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.

08 August 2006

Miracle of the Week: Bob is found!

Today I followed up on Neighbour's sighting of Bob, I stopped at a few houses and left my number hoping someone would see him and call.

It worked!

The lady at one of the houses I stopped at was heading out and saw him sitting in the ditch. Her husband caught him, they called me, and Bob was tied up when I got there - looking very bedraggled and skinny but no injuries.

He wagged his tail with relief when he saw his sheep and the home pen. He sniffed at everything and lay down in a heap of exhaustion. He hasn't even had a drink or anything to eat - I'm sure he'll decide to do that in a bit.

Oh, what a huge relief to have him back. St Francis, patron saint of animals, must have been watching out for Apple Jack Creek this week!

Flooring Step by Step

I thought it might be neat to show how the flooring is installed, step by step. For those just tuning in, this is wide plank flooring from Whiskey Flats Lumber.

The very first step is to cover the floor with roofing felt. This provides a vapor barrier to help keep the wood from expanding and contracting too much.

Next you lay down the boards: each board is labelled with a room and row letter combination, and these codes match up with a floor plan map which Whiskey Flats provides with the flooring. This map tells you which width of boards you are using for the next row and ensures that you don't run out of wide boards partway across the living room. The hardest part of the job is sometimes finding the board you need in the pile!

When you are ready to put a row down, you leave a gap between the first and last boards and the wall to allow for expansion. When you are partway down the row, you butt each board right up against the previous one. The ends are all cut perfectly straight at the factory (well, I hit one board today out of the whole batch that wasn't, and I just used it as a row starter instead). The last board in a row will have to be trimmed to fit.

Using a carpenter's square you mark the places you'll put the screws in, evenly spaced across the board. On narrow boards you only need 2 screws, wider ones need 3, and the very wide boards (like this one) need four. You work your way down the board, marking at evenly spaced intervals (about 12-18" apart). Doing the math to figure out the spacing of the screws is the most time consuming aspect of this job!

Once you have it all marked, you predrill the holes using a drill bit with a countersink attachment. This makes small craters where the screw heads will go. I use two drills: one with the drill bit and one with a screwdriver head. It's easier to switch drills than to constantly be changing bits.

Once the holes are in place, you push the board up tight against it's neighbour and put black drywall screws in each hole - the black screw heads look a lot like nails when you are done, so it adds to the 'heritage' look.

Once it is all laid, you rent a big floor sander and sand it mostly smooth (not totally smooth, or it'll look boring - we want to preserve those small grooves between the boards, but we need to remove any surface dings that may have been inflicted).

Clean it up, stain it, seal it.

Voila, a floor!

Here's an image of the work in progress:

Two Bob sightings!

A neighbour was just here (looking for missing cattle) and told me that Bob was sighted yesterday and today, near his house.

He lives a LONG way from here - our best guess is that Bob was out patrolling, found the highway, and followed it.

I went down to the place he'd been seen, but could not find him. I did leave my number with some people, though, so there is hope.

He was headed in the right direction, anyway - he's west of here, and had made it a bit closer east when he was seen today. Neighbour had tried to get Bob to come close enough to read a tag (which he hasn't got anyway, haven't gotten to that yet!) but Bob was shy. At least now he knows whose dog he is and will call if he sees him again.

Come on, Bob, you can do it ... keep heading east!

Bob: MIA

Bob the Dog disappeared sometime Saturday night.

At bedtime, I let the beagle inside from his last run of the evening, and Bob was there by the door, looking interested in the house. "Get with your sheep," I said, and he trotted off towards them. I closed the door, and all was quiet for the night.

In the morning, there was no Bob.

We waited, thinking maybe he'd gone out on patrol and would be back. By lunchtime, I was getting worried. By evening, I was very worried. We went out looking twice during the day and asked at several neighbours' houses, and nobody had seen him. We left contact information in case anyone does see him, but it is very odd for a guardian to disappear for such a long time - and when have you known a dog to miss two meals?

As of today, Tuesday, he still has not appeared. :(

I am heartbroken - again. I feel like everything I try with the animals works out badly ... I lost so many cats ... then the wether lamb ... then Bob. This time, though, I really don't think I did anything wrong - I mean, he was doing very well here. He stayed with the sheep, patrolled the area, and Saturday during the day I even walked over to the neighbour's land to tell them Bob was here (in case he frightened their little dogs), and Bob stayed nicely on his own side of the fence, just watching me, and occasionally looking back over his shoulder to check on the sheep. He had figured out his boundaries, and I was very pleased.

He had his supper Saturday night, was out doing his evening patrol ... and vanished into thin air.

With the long weekend, the road's been busier than usual, so it is possible he wandered down to the highway and got hurt (but we did check the ditches). We also heard from the man baling the hay down the road that there are wolves in the area (!) and Union Guy has seen a bear not far from here. Perhaps Bob was killed in the line of duty. I suppose he could have just decided he didn't like it here any more ... We hadn't known him long, but I don't think he'd just disappear for no reason.

I suppose we will have to list his official status as Missing in Action.