I haven’t written much lately … I’ve been quite busy, doing one thing or another, recovering from a cold, struggling to sleep, catching up on sleep, working, all sorts of things.
So I’ll just jump in with a bit of a generic update.
The past couple of days I’ve done a bunch of outside work, because Winter is Coming. There’s almost always snow before Halloween, so I have to get a move on if I want to get these things finished before I have to pull everyone in off pasture! With fewer animals, though, we are able to still have everybody out grazing, which is awesome. Some years I’ve had to start on hay by now, to spare the pasture from overgrazing. We’ve still got lots of grass, so that’s wonderful.
I’ve been making bigger changes, as the remaining four sheep are going to be gone by the end of the month: Cherub, The Boy’s 4H lamb (who is now 7!) will be going to a friend’s house for her retirement, and the remaining three will be turned into sausage. Two are Icelandic, Lambie and Jellybean, and I plan to get their hides back and make sheepskin rugs from them … I know for ‘city folk’ that may seem awful, but they are simply gorgeous pelts and I want to be able to fondly remember them and keep my toes warm at the same time. And we love the sausage our butcher makes, so it is a good way to honour the gift of their lives.
Since we won’t need a separate sheep area this winter, then, I removed some fences from the winter pen, making one larger area. I used the nice tall fence wire to fully enclose the barnyard, removed one gate (which I will need at the Self Serve Cow Buffet), and built the alleyway entrance to the aforementioned Cow Buffet. My Farm Helper will have to come put in the rest of the posts for that feeding area, but it’s almost ready to go, which is good - then I can have my hay delivered and roll the bales in. (We are doing this, if you are curious what I mean by Cow Buffet.)
Basically, we will be able to have the bales dropped in the driveway, roll them into the feeding area by hand (they are easy to roll when they first come off the truck, it’s just impossible once they freeze in place!), remove all the bale string, and run electric wire in front of the front row. The cows eat the bales, then we move the wire backwards when they have cleaned up what they have dropped. No more pitching hay into a feeder, no more trying to get bales up the hill in the winter, just a self-serve Cow Buffet. The space we are using for feeding is what used to be my garden – the quack grass is unconquerable with the energy and resources I have, so this is a better use for the space. Besides, come spring, the area will be trampled down and matted with manure and hay and straw … and I can feed a few pumpkins and zucchini to the animals in there, then close the gate. This spring I fed Sasha a pumpkin in the barnyard, and we got two pumpkin plants in the spot where she’d left some seeds! I can put a few potatoes in as well, because potatoes will grow quite happily in a pile of straw, so I can at least have a few things growing in the nicely fertilized and cow-and-donkey-weeded space.
And donkeys really DO eat thistles! I watched Miss May purposely munching down on thistles in the pasture yesterday, which is just FANTASTIC.
I also tightened a couple of weak/broken spots in the fences, so that I can be sure the winter pen is reasonably snug (come spring everyone wants OUT ON THE GRASS and they will push if the fences are weak). I have also thought some more about my winter watering plans, though I haven’t done anything with that yet, I’m pretty worn out from all the work I did so far!
I took Miss May for a walk down the gravel road today – she did pretty well, stopping a few times to make sure ewerything was safe, and even though a truck came down the other end of the road, everything went well (my neighbours are very good about slowing down around stock!). We both can use the exercise, and it’s good training for both of us as well. I can see that training a donkey will be very good for me: donkeys need a lot of time to ponder things, to be absolutely sure everything is safe before they proceed. They freeze when they aren’t convinced of their safety … a response I completely understand. It’s my job to be empathetic and encouraging, to show Miss May that whatever she is seeing is safe: For instance, she didn’t’ want to walk through the narrow gate by the water trough for some reason. It looked unstable, perhaps, or too skinny. So I tied her to the post and let her look at it for awhile, I walked through several times, and tried to coax her through, and let her stand by the post when she said she wasn’t ready yet. Eventually she decided it was all right and came through. The next day when I took her through, she didn’t even pause. Donkeys have great memories!
I’ve been reading a lot on donkey training – and I measured Miss May again today to confirm her size and weight: she is 48” at the withers (12 hands) and about 700 lbs, which means I can ride her! Only with a very light saddle, and only after we get some solid ground work under our belts, but it is a possibility!
So I spent the day researching, looking at saddles and tack and learning about ground driving and surcingles and lunge lines and bitless bridles.
It’s all very exciting.
Oh, and when we got back from our walk, I put Miss May in the pasture with all the other animals. Everyone was totally calm about it, having been able to get to know one another through the fence for the past couple of days. Then when I went back outside later in the day and called her, Miss May came running right up to me! Yay!
She is such a great animal. She likes to stand there and have me scratch her chin and hug her neck. I’m so happy she came to live here!