"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Predator Problems Redux (Coyote Edition)

We always lose chickens over the winter. Always. Some years are worse than others, but on average I'd say we have about a 30% chicken attrition situation over any given winter. And some years are just terrible. This year has been a bad one so far. 

We started the fall with eleven hens. Now we have five. It's especially annoying because these hens were youthful and excellent layers. Golden sex-links that I bought in spring as pullets. This was their first laying year, and they provided us with a surfeit of delicious eggs. The second year of a hen's life is generally her most prolific, and the third and fourth years are also excellent. I was looking forward to several seasons of eggy abundance. 

We've known for some time that we have a coyote problem here.  I have seen them, in broad daylight, in the neighbor's field, and we hear them  singing on moonlight summer nights. In general, I appreciate coyotes as a savvy, adaptable animal. They are handsome too, no matter what their detractors say, with their sandy brown coats and their sly, intelligent faces. Losing a chicken here and there is the price we pay for living in this lovely rural area. I'd be sad indeed to never hear coyote song again. 

But I do draw the line at the loss of more than half our flock, and it's barely November yet. And yesterday they took a turkey - a well grown hen, who was already sold at $4/lb. Now I have to call a customer and tell  them their family will be eating store-bought turkey this thanksgiving, and that makes me mad. 

So it was with mixed emotions at best that I regarded the dead coyote that my husband brought me last week. As he was driving home in the dusky evening, he saw a coyote lying on the side of the highway just off our property; the same place that our dog Haku was hit last summer. The coyote was perfect, intact. So much so that Homero approached it cautiously in case it might actually be still alive. It wasn't, but it wasn't long dead either. Still warm. 

Homero dragged it off the verge of the highway and well into our property, for no particularly good reason. "I didn't want it to get run over into mush," he said. "Come look." 

Not having ever been close enough to a coyote to touch one before, I didn't have much of a frame of reference. Local farmers tend to greatly exaggerate the size and menace of coyotes, claiming they are larger than dogs and can drag off full grown sheep. I know that is bull-puckey. Coyotes seldom weigh more than forty pounds, and are quite a bit smaller than your average German Shepherd. This one seemed to weigh about thirty-five pounds, and was female. 

There wasn't a mark on her, apart from a little blood around her muzzle. It's been a cold fall, and her coat was thick and soft. I felt quite sorry for her. I imagined her as one of the pups I'd heard singing earlier, in summer, and that her dan had taught her where to go hunting. She probably knew us as "easy pickings farm." Nice fat chickens, if you can get across the road, look out, it's a bitch. 

Another nice thing about living in a rural area in the age of the internet: it was quite easy to find somebody who wanted to pick her up for her hide. I mean, why not, might as well salvage something beautiful from this disaster. We've lost good poultry and an intelligent animal list her life in her prime, but why shouldn't somebody salvage a nice fur? 

Homero tells me he's absolutely positively guaranteed going to patch up the chicken coop before it gets much colder. I say - as I say every year - that we won't get any more birds of any sort until he does. I know what will happen- the earth will turn and spring will come. Chicks will show up for sale under heat lamps in the farm store. We will look at our sad skinny chickens who survived winter and decide they need an infusion of new blood. We will think we have all summer long to fix the chicken coop. 


Monday, October 16, 2017

Brewing Notes (Cider and Wine)

Mainly just notes for myself so I don't forget when I did what. Today I racked the rhubarb wine into a clean carboy. It's been about a month in the first one, and a week in a fermentation bucket before that. I tasted it as a transferred it and it's AWFUL. But that doesn't mean anything. The plum wine was gross at this stage too, and it turned it pretty good. This is only my second attempt at fruit wine. Last year's plum wine was the first. Having never even tasted rhubarb wine before, let alone made it, I have nothing to compare it to. I just had so much rhubarb I had to do something with it. If it turns out horrible it's no big loss - my plant puts out rhubarb enough for as muchexperimentation as I feel like doing. 

Also racked the cider into a second carboy.  The cider tastes pretty good already. It's very dry, though. I think when I bottle it in a couple weeks I will add a bit of sugar for a little sweetness and fizz. I like my cider frizzante. 

Brewing is fun. It feels like magic. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Beautiful Buck

Fall is the season for making decisions about goat breeding. 
Most goats are seasonal breeders, meaning they only go into heat during certain times of the year. In our climate, the does begin to go into heat as soon as the days grow shorter and the nights become crisp, usually in September. Every doe is different - one of mine, Polly, is an early breeder and goes into heat in late July or early August. If we have a buck on the place, she will get pregnant early and give birth in the depths of winter, which is not good for the survival chances of her babies. 

For that and other reasons, I have not kept a buck in the farm for several years now. It's convienant to have your own buck, for sure. Finding a suitable buck is one of the more time comsuming and annoying tasks of the year. First you have to find a buck you like, of the correct breed, conformation, and vigor. Then you have to talk about testing for communicable diseases and coordinate worming schedules; negotiate a price for multiple does; and decide whether you will transport the does to the buck or the buck to the does, and who will take on that onerous task. Some buck owners want you to pay for feed or to provide specific hay; some charge boarding fees for your does. 

On the other hand, keeping a buck has its drawbacks. They are stinky, in season, and some of them are aggressive. They are generally speaking much harder on fences than does are, and more prone to escape and go marauding around the countryside damaging the neighbor's fruit trees. When breeding season comes around they must be kept separate from the does until such time as you want them bred, and that isn't easy. A healthy young buck will go to amazing lengths to breed an in-heat doe, including jumping a six foot fence. If you are still milking during breeding season, a buck's hormones will taint the milk and give it a rancid, billy-goat odor. 

On balance, I've decided that it's better to rent a buck than it is to keep one year round. For now, anyway. This year it was relatively easy to find a good buck. A friend of the family has a lovely, proven, black and white Nubian that he was willing to lend us for the three weeks it takes to complete a full breeding cycle. He isn't registered, but I don't care because neither are my does. Homero went and got him today. He transported him - crazily - in the backseat of our regular car, which means we will all have to sit on clean towels or smell like a billy goat for the next couple of weeks.  
But I'm happy - the does seem very happy, very welcoming. 

Here's a link to a post from a few years ago about the more historical and spiritual aspects of goat breeding:

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Piggy Piggy (More Pork)

 Paloma and the Pig 

Two new pigs have arrived on the farm. We weren't looking for pigs; we still have plenty of pork left in the freezer from the last pigs. Those pigs were so vicious and unpleasant that I was looking forward to not having any pigs again for
some time to come. 

However. I belong to a local farmer's Facebook group, and that means I just HAVE to see all the animals for sale at any given time. I can't even help it - it just appears on my feed. In the "old days" three years ago, I had to at least go to Craigslist and seek out animals to buy. Boy, that was like, the Jurassic era. 

So, a neighbor farmer friend of ours, from whom we have bought pigs before (but not last year's evil pigs) was advertising well-grown piglets for $125 each. A friend of his had to leave town quickly unexpectedly for a new job and asked our friend to sell off his herd of nine piglets. From the photos he posted, I could see that they were considerably older than  the usual weaners which sell for the same price. After consulting with Homero, I asked our friend to keep two for us. 

When he delivered them, I was surprised and gratified to see how big they are. They were almost the size of barbecue hogs which sell for $250 or so. I asked what breed they were and I got "Berkshire cross." That's good enough for me. 

These pigs are quite shy, and scared of people. I don't mind; I've found that if the pigs aren't scared of me, then I am likely to be scared of them. They spent the first few days in the big barn, but we have since transferred them to the sacrifice area. There, they can be comfortable in the field shelter, and have plenty of space for exercising. If they root up the ground, they will be doing me a favor, since that earth is compacted and gravelly. 

If all goes well, the pigs ought to be harvest sized by Christmas. In the meantime, we have to eat up the pork we still have in the freezer. To that end, I made a delicious pork roast yesterday. I just liberally salted and peppered it, put it in a casserole with a few cloves of garlic, and then poured over two cups of home pressed apple cider that was a week old and fairly well converted into tepache. I covered the casserole with tinfoil and crimped it well, and baked it at 300 for several hours. Absolutely delicious with smashed Prato salad. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Happy (Few Days Late) Mabon!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Happy Apple Cider Day (Neighbors to the Rescue)

A close up of the gear mechanism of the apple press. The girls and I had pressed about three gallons of cider today, and were only about a third of the way through the wheelbarrow full of apples, when the press broke.  It always breaks in the same way - the little rod that goes through the horizontal gear and attaches it to the presser-rod breaks. Last time this happened, after I let some over enthusiastic college boys use the press, Homero fixed it by using a nail to replace the little rod. Today, that nail broke in half. 

The girls and I could not figure out how to fix it. It's simple
enough to see how it works but the presser-rod had slipped down inside the tube and we couldn't get it to come up high enough to thread a new nail through the hole. Nor could we figure out how to remove the vertical gear which we would have to do. Nor could we find any tool hanging around capable of cutting off the excess nail so it wouldn't halt the turning of the horizontal gear halfway through a revolution. I learned that you cannot cut a nail with long-armed garden loppers, and it's dangerous, so don't try. 

Homero is in Seattle, and he wasn't answering his phone. I was about to give up, and frustrated because I had hoped to do all my pressing in one fell swoop his year. The apples which we gathered from a friend's orchard had already been resting for about a week and I didn't think they would last a whole lot longer. And I didn't want to clean up the press and the mess and then just wait for Homero to fix it. 

Then I remembered Mr B. The B's are close neighbors and friends from church. They are an elderly couple, from whom  we buy a side of beef every year that they have one to spare. One year, the B's borrowed the press, and when he returned it, Mr B had cleaned and serviced it, oiled it and sharpened the blades. I knew he could make short work of this simple
mechanical problem, and he might even enjoy himself while he was at it. 

Five minutes after I called, both B's arrived. It took Mr B a few minutes to figure out how to get the presser-rod to come up through the tube (it screws, but the mechanism is hidden), and after that it was smooth sailing. We brought over a collection of nails and he chose one, threaded it through the hole, marked where it needed to be cut, and then took it back to his workshop and cut it with his sawzall. There was some fiddling around with pliers and the cotter-pin on the vertical gear, and then presto! It worked! 

We all cheered. I convinced them to take home a little thank you basket, with a half gallon of cider, a few ham steaks from the freezer, and a jar of blackberry jam. They didn't want to take it but I insisted. 

Then we had to really rock and roll to get the apples pressed before dark. Pressing cider is hard work, even with a motorized press, and there were a whole lot of apples.  But we got it done. Hooray for good neighbors, who are handy and willing to lend a handy hand. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

End of Summer Summer Squash Casserole

Although I did not plant any squash this year, the squash has arrived as usual. My neighbor - he of the Hotel-Sized-House (HSH) - planted enough squash for the both of us. And then some. Every few days, we meet at the fence line and I give him a couple dozen eggs or a half gallon of goat milk and he gives me a box of produce. The last box had some potatoes and onions, twenty or so tomatoes, and eight big yellow crookneck squash. 

I've been putting squash in just about everything lately - chicken soup, Mexican rice, scrambled eggs. Nonetheless, the squash piles up. So I went looking for an application that would use up larger quantities. After perusing my cookbook collection and consulting Epicurious, I decided on a yellow squash casserole. I'd never made anything like it before, but it sounded good and it would use up at least two yellow squash. There were several recipes to choose from, but none of them exactly fitted what I had in mind, so I decided to do an experiment. I wanted something like a soufflé and something like a gratin. 

An aside. One of the nice things about being a lady of a certain age - and lord knows the pleasures are few - is that I have accumulated enough skill at a number of endeavors that I need not follow someone else's instructions, but can imagine what I want to create and be reasonably certain that I can in fact accomplish my vision. Sometimes there are failures - of course there are - but sometimes there are beautiful minor triumphs. 

Today's experiment was a success. Actually, it turned out so good that I might make the same thing even when we are not inundated with squash. I might actually BUY squash to be able to make this dish. Here's a recipe.

-Preheat oven to 350
-Make a simple bechemel sauce (about two cups - from two tablespoons butter, equal volume flour, and about two cups milk. I used fresh goats' milk) seasoned with plenty of garlic and fresh ground pepper
-Grate enough yellow squash on the large holes of a box grater to make 4 cups of grated squash. 
- in a large mixing bowl, mix grated squash, one half of a minced yellow onion, three eggs, and the (cooled) bechemel
- blend in one cup (give or take) grated pepper jack cheese
-scrape mixture into a deep casserole dish. 
- top with a mixture of fresh bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and oregano. 
-bake in a 350 degree oven (covered) for approximately 30 minutes. Uncover and raise heat to 400 to brown the crumbs. 

Serve with a green salad and some sort of starch - pasta or rice. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Beef Abundance (Simple is Good)

Summer is drawing to a close - not that you'd know it by the weather. Today, September first, it was 85 degrees and sunny. This is something like our fiftieth day without measurable rain. The forecast continues dry and hot as far as the weather-people can see into the future.

But the calendar is implacable. School starts this Tuesday, no matter the forecast. It's time and past time to get the kids new school shoes and jackets; to mow the last scraggly weeds; to shake off summer's languor and impose something like a schedule again. 

It's also time, more pleasantly, to eat up the meat in the freezer. Last week Mr. B., my neighbor, asked us if we'd be wanting to buy a side of beef this year again, and I said we sure would. Last fall, due to a silly series of miscommunications, we ended up buying a ridiculous quantity of beef - three quarters of a big fat steer, much more than we needed. Quite a bit of it is still in the freezer and needs to be devoured ASAP to make room. 

Today I thawed a package of rib steaks. A favorite cut of mine, they are heavily marbled and carry a thick rim of fat around the edges. If you aren't used to grass fed beef, you might be thinking "yuck, fat." I assure you that the succulent, yellow, flavorful fat of a grass fed and grass finished beeve is nothing like the pale rubbery fat on a factory farmed animal. 

These steaks don't need much. After thawing, I liberally sprinkled them with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and laid them on a big cast iron griddle slicked with quality olive oil and got out of the way. Flip after six or seven minutes and give the other side a sear. My husband likes his steaks medium well and I like mine medium rare, so I take mine off a few minutes early and let it rest while his continues to cook. 

As an accompaniment I boiled a half dozen yellow potatoes, and smashed them with a couple tablespoons of butter, a teaspoon of whole grain mustard, a spoonful of mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and a generous amount of minced parsley. A cold beer after a hot day's work rounds out the meal. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Preserving Log, 8/29/17

I haven't done as much preserving as I had hoped lately. This late summer season has been incredibly busy - partly for good reasons (family vacations to see once-in-a-lifetime celestial events), and partly for really sucky reasons (my dad has been extremely ill and I've flown to Arizona twice). Plus, this year Hope is entering high school and there are all sorts of orientations and meet-and-greets to attend.

All this means I haven't had time to get to the Gleaner's Pantry as much as I usually do, and therefore haven't had loads and loads of produce to can, totally aside from the question of time. However, I've done a bit here and there. Last week I made four cups of fig jam, and today I've canned three quarts of salsa.

Updated list:

1 Gallon dried apricots
3 gallons kosher dill pickles
1 gallon pickled green beans (lacto-fermented)
9 quarts apple-blackberry sauce
3 pints pickled beets
6 pints blackberry jam
4 cups rosemary-fig jam
11 quarts salsa ranchera

Cheesemaking doesn't count as preserving because we have to eat it fresh, but I've made some chèvre recently too. And soon we will be into apple season and I am planning to press a lot of cider. A new friend of mine lives nearby and has about twenty apple trees - enough that it makes sense to being the press to the apples rather than the apples to the press. We are going to make a day of it. And I think I will brew hard cider again this year, and that definitely counts as preserving.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Vampire Goats

When we got home from our trip to Oregon to see the eclipse (WOW amazing sight and a great family vacation), I noticed that one of our mama goats, Polly, had become skeletally thin. She has always been a slender goat. Some
goats are naturally thin, some are naturally plump, just like
people. However, Polly's condition was in no way normal - her bones were sharp and visible from a distance. 

There are many factors that contribute to weight loss on goats. One of the main ones - insufficient feed- is not an issue at my place because I have three acres of fenced pasture for three does to feed in, more than enough. Probably the most important factor after availabalility of feed is parasite load. 

Goats are particularly prone to parasites. They are a problem in every area of the country. There are a plethora of parasites - stomach worms, lung worms, coccidia. For the most part, parasites will not kill an otherwise healthy goat, but they will seriously depress her ability to produce healthy kids, abundant milk, and keep her own health intact. https://www.famu.edu/cesta/main/assets/File/coop_extension/herds/Practical_Management_Internal_Parasites_in_Goats1_7-23-2007.pdf

I use ivermectin to control parasites, but over the years I think my herd has built up some resistance, because this year ivermectin is not showing much effectiveness. In particular, my best doe, Polly, has lost a tremendous amount of weight while raising her twins. 

The caloric cost of nursing twins is, of course, very high, but a healthy doe with unlimited forage ought to be able to do it without losing condition. Polly has been losing weight, and when we got back from our five day trip to see the eclipse (AWESOME!!) she had suddenly become emaciated. 

I worked her again, with Ivermectin as usual and also with Quess, a different wormer which has a different mode of action. Hopefully that will have an effect, but in the meantime I needed to get those kids off of her. They have been sucking her dry. 

We have three kids left - Polly's twins and a single doe from Christmas. They are all of an age to have been weaned a month ago, at least, but I am softhearted and didn't want to separate them from their  mamas. Well, Polly's condition forced my hand. Two nights ago, I put all the babies into the sacrifice area. Such wailing! Such gnashing of teeth! Anyone would think they were being peeled alive. But no- they are just being weaned.

All three babies are seriously overweight. Obese even. They have "milk glitters" on their throats- signs that they are being over fed. And meanwhile their poor mamas are staggering around at the end of their endurance. I should have separated them a month ago. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Preserving Log Update

Surely one of the very best smells in the world is that of a bubbling vat of apples, enriched with cloves, cinnamon, allspice, and sugar. Doesn't hurt to throw in a quart or so of freshly picked blackberries, either. 

Yesterday I went to a neighbor's house - a person who is becoming a very good friend - and took home two shopping bags full of transparent apples. If you, like my daughter, thinks a transparent apple is an apple you can see through, read and learn. Transparents are yellow apples that ripen early. They are specifically sauce apples, being good for not much else. They are too mushy to eat fresh, and too mushy to juice. But they make wonderful sauce. 

I had invited myself over to pick apples after noticing, as I was driving by, a transparent tree that was dropping it's apples already. I asked if I could come collect some and she said "Please!" Once there, i realized that she actually has a serious apple orchard - about twenty trees of many varieties, and most of them are positively loaded with (as yet unripe) apples. I suggested that I ought to lug over my apple press later in the season and we should devote a day to cidering. That idea was met with enthusiasm. 

Today was given over to making applesauce. Good thing I was recently gifted so many canning jars, or would have had to go buy a dozen quarts. A dozen quarts is what I ended up with - though I actually canned only nine of them, because that's as many as fits in my largest kettle. The other three are in the refrigerator. One will go back to my neighbor as thanks, and the other two we will eat quickly. 

I've made some jam recently too. So the preserving log update is as follows:

9 quarts apple-blackberry sauce
6 pints blackberry jam
1 gallon dried apricots

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Decisions, Decisions

My youngest child, Paloma, says she doesn't like blackberries. Sadly, i see no option but to disown her. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Berries and Smoke

The first blackberries are ripe. I picked enough for a pie today, while I was grazing the goats, though I didn't make the pie. Tomorrow maybe. More likely I'll just whizz them up in the blender with some yogurt and call it breakfast. There's going to be a bumper crop, and if I can get my children to pick enough, I plan to make jam. Haven't made any jam in a few years, and blackberry jam is the best jam. School is starting soon, and we will need sandwiches. Peanut butter sandwiches are exponentially better when they have homemade blackberry jam on them. 

I was picking berries in a haze today. I refer not to my state of mind, but to the smoky air that has drifted in from big wildfires in B.C., across the border. Fires have been raging for weeks, and great swaths of the province have been evacuated. It seems that every summer brings more and larger forest fires than the year before. Two years ago (or was it three?) my mother lost her vacation home in the huge fires that raced across the Okanagon. The fires in B.C. this year are not yet as large or destructive as last year's. And right now there is even a fire burning in the moist hills around Bellingham, where fires have historically been rare. My sister's house is only a few miles from the edge of that fire. 

Myself, I've been freaked out about climate change for longer than anyone I know who isn't actually a climatologist. Maybe Al Gore. Ten years ago, my friends were raising their eyebrows at me and shaking their heads when I regaled them with information about rising seas and failing crops. It's no comfort to me that the general population seems to finally be catching up to me in their level of concern. I worry that it's pretty much too late. This is a case where "better late than never" doesn't really apply. 

Of all the many and varied consequences of climate change, I think the one likely to have the greatest impact in my lifetime and that if my children is the burning of the great northern forests. The past fifteen years or so, there has been a tremendous increase in not just the area of forest fires, but in their heat and destructiveness. 

Many species of trees, of course, evolved in concert with periodic fires, and some can only propagate after a fire. Not googling at this time of night, but some species of evergreens have cones that only open enough to release seeds after a fire. Recent fires, however, fueled by drought and higher temperatures, have been much hotter than those with which the trees evolved; hot enough to totally destroy trees that used to survive a scorching. Around the globe, vast areas of forest are being burned in ragged patches. It's my belief that the next fifty or so years will see the great global belts of taiga literally go up in smoke. 

Now I've thoroughly depressed myself. I can only comfort myself with the thought that from the ashes will certainly spring a host of blackberry vines. Out of the eater comes forth sweetness. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Preserving Journal

High Summer is upon us. Although I have yet to change the altar - it's still dressed with the kids' report cards and end-of-school paraphernalia - the preserving season has begun, and cannot be ignored.

This year, I've decided to try and keep an accurate record of all the preserving I do. So far, I had only posted one entry, and that consisted of:

Four quarts salsa ranchera
four pints pickled jalapeños
three pints pickled beets (all from a single beet bigger than baby's head)

Today I can add:

four MORE quarts salsa ranchera
three gallons kosher dills

for a running total of eight quarts salsa; 4 pints jalapeños; three pints beets; and three gallons dill pickles.

This is not counting cheese, since I still haven't figured out how to "preserve" cheese for longer than a few weeks. We either eat it fresh, or it molds.

Pickles make me happy. I love real lacto-fermentation, and I love real kosher dills. Last year, I made a ridiculous quantity of pickles; far more than we could eat, but luckily I found a neighbor who owns a dairy and cheesemaking operation who traded me pickles for cheese. Cheese that can, unlike my own, be stored and aged. Hopefully she is still interested in pickles this year, because three gallons of pickles is a lot.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The End of an Equine Era

It's been a hard week on the farm for animals. Aside from Haku's accident on the highway (not fatal, thank God), we have had to put down two other animals. My daughter's pet ferret, Commodore, who was seven years old and full of tumors, and Rosie Pony.

Rosie Pony was a shetland pony that I rescued nine years ago. On a whim, I stopped in at a neighbor's farm who had a sign outside saying "horse sale TODAY." She is a breeder of fancy Arabians, and I wanted to see some pretty fancy Arabians, just for fun, so I stopped. And there were plenty of beautiful, fancy Arabians. And in amongst them, this dumpy little grey pony, wth twin yearling foals at her side. When I asked about her, I was told that she was "from a big free-running herd in eastern washington" and that they didn't have much information about her, but that she was going to the auction (read: dog food factory) if nobody wanted her today. 

So, I took her home for fifty bucks. Nobody told me, because I assume nobody knew, that she was pregnant. Months later she gave birth to a lovely chestnut filly, who we named Poppy. 

Whatever sort of equine Rosie had been crossed with, it wasn't a shetland pony. Poppy quickly grew to be larger than her dam. And kept growing. Eventually, she grew into a sturdy 12 1/2 hands. Rosie was an excellent mama. For years I tried to interest my children in riding. They showed a few fits and starts of interest, but neither of them showed the kind of sustained interest that would justify putting large amounts of money into professional training for Poppy. So eventually, a couple of years ago, I decided to give her away to a family who would invest the time and money into her her that we couldn't. It was very sad, but I don't doubt it was the right decision. The family I chose, after much deliberation, has three little girls of just the right ages to grow up with a pony, and a next door neighbor and family friend who is a horse trainer. They promised to let me visit Poppy sometimes.

After Poppy left the farm, Rosie went downhill. She still had companions in the form of goats and the heifer cow, but she never really bonded with any of them. In fact, the cow started to bully her by leaping on her as though she were breeding. Poor Rosie staggered under the cow's weight. She had a chronic eye condition, which was mild when I got her but which got worse and worse with every passing winter until she was constantly plagued by inflammation and pain. The vet said he didn't know what it was but thought it was incurable, and gave me steroid creams and antibacterial medicines. They helped a little, but overall, her eyes kept getting worse. 

Then, this past spring, she foundered on the new grass. She was clearly in some pain, walking stiffly and bobbling her head. And then in the past few weeks, she began to move around very little, and to stay lying down even on bright warm mornings. One day I went out to the barn for morning chores and found her lying on her side in the muck, and she wouldn't get up. 

I don't know how old Rosie is. The vet thought she was probably about sixteen or eighteen when I brought her home, which would mean she would be twenty-five to twenty-seven this year. Not crazy old for a shetland pony, but well into retirement age. Considering the pain she was in, and after consulting with my farrier, who has cared for her the entire time we have had her, I decided to ask the vet to put her down. 

It was the right decision, but it makes me sad nonetheless. Not just for Rosie herself, but because I know I will never have a horse again - unless, perhaps, some yet unborn grandchild convinces her mom to get her a pony by saying "they can live on grandma's farm," in which case, I will totally take that child's part and completely override the reasonable objections of her mother.  

Our ponies were entirely impractical, but they were beautiful and affectionate and I loved them. Having a baby pony born on the farm fulfilled a childhood dream of mine, and was absolutely as lovely and unique an experience as I dreamed it would be. My girls will always have the memory of having a pony as a friend and a pet. I enjoyed them the entire time they were here, and I don't regret a single dollar spent on farriers, vets, alfalfa, or fencing!