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Farm Fresh Blog
Friday, June 26 2015
Briar is a funny creature - part dog, part sheep. Unlike the goats, who teach their kids that Briar is a nasty, repulsive creature to be avoided, the sheep accept Briar as a member of the flock and don't go into hysterics when Briar sniffs their babies.
Yesterday we moved the new baby into the yard with Briar. Briar amazes me because as soon as I turned her into the area, she dropped her head and began to cast around to find the source of the strange new scent. Her nose led her to this pair.
Flower Pot patiently waited while Briar conducted a rather extensive investigation.
Other lambs zoomed-zoomed around them,
and then blasted right in the middle of things. The look on Briar's face is priceless.
Her face softened when she realized who had interrupted her inventory - 2015 Models #1 and #2.
Then she politely circled around and completed her inventory.
"I love lambing season!"
Thursday, June 25 2015
Other Half's retirement party was last night and a good time was had by all. The kids and grandkids came down to help kick off his new life as a full-time rancher. It was a lovely evening where we took a break from the packing, the getting livestock trailers ready, and constant checks on a pregnant ewe who has been ready to pop.
Other Half has been home all week and has been able to keep a pretty close eye on this first time mother-to-be. Her sister was heavily bagged up for three weeks before giving birth, so even though we have been watching Flower Pot closely, I still didn't expect babies for another week. Yes, her name is Flower Pot. As a lamb she got a flower pot stuck on her head and ran around the yard scaring the beejeebers out of the rest of the flock and herself, thus I dubbed her Flower Pot.
Last night I came home from the party and checked Flower Pot. No babies. Not signs of labor. I went to bed. I had fresh sheets on the bed and was enjoying luxury of sleeping at least one night on sheets without dog hair. It's the little things, folks. It's the little things.
So I stole a night away from the farm by sleeping all night long. I didn't pad outside with a border collie at 2 am and 4 am to check on a pregnant ewe. I stayed in bed and enjoyed clean sheets and air conditioning, without trips into out into the humidity and mosquitos. For one night I relaxed. And it felt good.
This morning at 6 am I went outside to check the sheep. I was greeted by the pregnant ewe with her sister's piebald baby. This raised my eyebrow since even in the low light it looked to me like he was trying to nurse. Then I heard it - baby talk. She uttered the soft nicker a mother uses to call her baby. The baby tottered at her side. I flipped the light on and walked inside.
And that's when I saw her sister's piebald bouncing beside her sister. Hmmmm . . .
Further inspection revealed two piebald babies. Yep. She had given birth to a piebald baby boy who looked just like his cousin.
His front legs were still a little contracted making it a bit harder to manuever but otherwise he looked fine. Whew. Dodged that bullet. Then I saw it. Lying in the corner was the other baby - Baby #2.
Baby #2 was a perfectly marked white dorper with a black head - exactly what I wanted. Baby #2 was dead. Unfortunately the new mother had cleaned ever part except its face. The sack was still stuck on its nose. With a sigh I picked it up - a boy.
Well, I guess there was that. We hadn't lost a ewe lamb, but still, I feel the loss of every life around here. It was particularly annoying because it was so senseless. Had I not been lying in bed, enjoying the luxury of new, clean sheets, and an air conditioner that was finally able to catch up with the heat, this baby would still be alive.
It was a choice I made, and it was a choice I'll have to live with. I don't beat myself up too much. You simply cannot live in the barn. You cannot watch them 24/7. Sometimes you just have to let nature work. On the other hand Natural Selection is cruel, and a life was lost over something as simple as wiping a face clean.
I really enjoyed that one carefree night of not checking livestock every few hours, but the reality is that if you raise livestock there are consequences to your choices. You save some, you lose some. In this case, because he was a ram lamb, I just lost the price of a wether. It wasn't as if he were a ewe and I would have lost not only the ewe lamb, but all the lambs she would give birth to over the years. That would be a significant loss. But life is particularly precious to me and his death could have been prevented if I had just gotten up a few times to check his mother during the night.
We have security cameras that will be set up inside and outside the barn at the new ranch house. That should help eliminate the problem of getting up and walking to the barn to check on sheep and goats at all odd hours of the night. I'm sorry for the loss of this little guy. Some things are just not meant to be. And maybe, like Jelly, he was such a perfect little baby that he was meant for the Master Shepherd anyway. So instead of beating myself up for lambs lost, I will celebrate the ones who arrive here safely.
Welcome, Little Dude.
Wednesday, June 24 2015
For those readers who have been with us long enough to remember goat kids, Raisin Bran & Bailey, who went on to careers in the Houston Children's Zoo, here is an update for you!
Raisin Bran (brown male) and Bailey (white female) are Nubian/Boer crosses that were born here from my nubian doe, Crimson, and my Boer buck, Oscar.
The Houston Zoo was doing a new petting zoo exhibit and approached me about possible candidates. I immediately thought of Raisin Bran because he was such a friendly little guy. His sister, Bailey, was more standoffish, but nothing that more frequent handling wouldn't solve. They were weanlings when they left here and now they're all grown up and featured in this month's children's zoo blog.
Check it out here. Not only do they have baby pictures from my blog, but they have current pictures of what our little babies look like now. Clearly Bailey got over her shyness and Raisin Bran's outgoing personality shines. The zoo has been the perfect home for them.
Monday, June 22 2015
It is human nature to look back and try to make some sense out of loss, yet most of the time, our world unfolds and we see only chaos. Perhaps it is true that we are looking at the back of a tapestry, a jumbled mass of crisscrossed threads which make no sense, while God sees the front of the beautiful tapestry.
Last week was one of complete chaos. Life was a storm where each new event was another wave crashing on an already weakened coastline. We are winding down our time in South Texas, and nothing puts your decisions under the microscope more than the last few weeks before retirement and an impending move.
As you already knew, the last week before retirement Other Half was sent to the border again. This time, because of a paper work issue in retirement dates, he was sent without the German Shepherd who is his eyes and his ears. He was sent to the border as Tropical Storm Bill was coming up the coastline, bringing with it more rain to soak an already wet state. On the morning before he left Other Half pulled two lambs, two beautiful ewe lambs from an old ewe who will see no more lambing. These lambs were to be her last, and they were perfect. One lamb was white and the other was marked exactly like her mother. I named them Jam and Jelly.
On the surface, they both appeared normal, but Jelly was a bit slower learning to nurse, so much so that Other Half commented on it, but she did nurse, so we dismissed it. Other Half left for the border. Tropical Storm Bill didn't so much roar in with a vengeance, as he snuck in like a thief. The rains began so lightly that people began to joke and taunt the storm's power. Since our area had already been hit by heavy rains, my sheep and goat pen was under water. This forced me to move everyone into the barn. The problem was there simply was not enough room to safely jug the new babies with their mother alone. Because she was my most experienced ewe I didn't worry too much about this and thus, a day after the new babies were born, I placed another ewe with babies three days older in the same stall. I watched them closely on Tuesday and saw nothing out of the ordinary. New babies sleep a lot, but it appeared that everyone was nursing properly.
The rains from Tropical Storm Bill came. And came. And I still had to go to work. I had a friend stop by to check the babies and another ewe who was due. Nothing seemed unusual - until I came home. One glance was enough. Something was wrong. Those of us who live with animals daily know that sometimes all you need is a glance. Their posture just isn't right. Their eyes just aren't quite right. Their reactions are just a bit slow. Perhaps some of this can be taught, but I'm convinced that some of us also have a nature, like the wolf, where our predatory senses are a bit more defined and thus our eye detects the weakness before it is obvious to others.
The up side to this skill is that you can catch a problem early. The down side to this skill is that sometimes you still have no idea what the problem is and how to address it. Such was my case. I had a baby standing stiffly in the corner with a vacant expression, staring at the wall. Babies don't normally do this, so I sat on a bucket to observe, while the other babies cavorted around the stall. Her sister bounced close to the other ewe who charged a few feet toward her before abandoning the effort as the baby easily darted out of range. This raised my eyebrow. I watched it happen again. And then I realized the tiny baby who stood with her face in the corner may not have been able to get out of the way. She looked like she could have an injury resulting from being butted too hard. As the rain came down on the tin roof. I sat on the bucket and cried with guilt.
I had been spinning too many plates and this little baby had suffered because of it.
I had put these families together because I didn't have enough dry places to put sheep and goats in a storm, and this perfect, innocent little baby was possibly injured. Thus began the agonizing game of 'what if' and 'could it be' that all sheep and goat ranchers know. Could it be this? Should I give it this drug? What should I do? I am blessed with dear friends who are only a phone call away, and a vet willing to try whatever we want.
But I was still alone. Other Half was at the border. It was still raining. And I still had to go to work. I was milking a goat every few hours to give the sick baby fresh warm milk, and I was encouraged by the fact that she was eagerly taking her bottle. Still. It was apparent something was still wrong. We just couldn't pinpoint the cause. At first I thought she was blind, but soon realized she could see me, she just was stiff and uncoordinated. When given dexomethesone, the stiffness left, and she became more alert and curious about her world.
When the drug wore off, she returned to a state of stiffness, walking like a Frankenstein sheep with an extended neck and half-closed eyes.
I was still wracked with guilt but also couldn't rule out that she had been born with a neurological problem too. Other Half wasn't convinced that she had ever been truly normal since she was the slow one to nurse and the first 24 hours both babies had been uncoordinated and sleepy. Because this is normal for newborns, I didn't notice anything unusual before I left for work on that third day.
After a short while I began to see a pattern. The baby would get a shot of dex and her response was dramatic. She was eating and taking a bottle and I was lulled into a false sense that all would be well, until the drug wore off. Friends stepped up to help shoulder the burden of caring for the baby and still juggling an "away from the farm" job. Other Half returned and decided it was time to bring her into the house, slap some diapers on her and let her be a house lamb.
She was cute, tottering across the carpet with an attentive Labrador in tow, but a cloud still hung over my shoulder. At 9:30 pm I watched her motoring along the living room floor when she suddenly tilted her head to the side and began to spin in a circle and stagger like a plane going down. She collapsed with her neck extended and went limp. I picked her up and helped her to her little dog crate. A few minutes later she was back to standing stiff-legged, staring into the dark corner of the crate.
What was the problem? The cloud over my shoulder darkend. The baby refused her 4 am bottle. I told Other Half, and then I left for work. I had to. On my first break I got a text from Other Half.
"Call me when you get a break."
The darkness filled my stomach. He confirmed it. She was dead. Sadly we will never know the cause. Was she born with a neurological problem? Was she injured? We will probably never know. I will always blame myself, and the rains which forced me to put everyone in the barn, and the schedule which kept pulling me away. There is a frustration that comes with not knowing, for it is human nature to seek closure.
As Dear Friend Sue in Wyoming said, "Some things are too special for this life and they are for the master shepherd."
Yes, little Jelly, my perfect little lamb who looked so much like her mother, is with the Master Shepherd now. I am thankful that I still have Jam, her sister, the last of that line. And so it is with life. It is a puzzle. Jam was the lamb blocking the birth of both lambs. She was the log jam. She was the lamb who had the traumatic birth. Jelly was the second in line. Her sack was still intact. Her birth was easy. The odds were stacked against Jam and yet she is bouncing around the barnyard today, the picture of health. Isn't life a puzzle?
Monday, June 15 2015
This is one of my favorite quotes from a delightful movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. On days like this I have to play that quote over and over again in my head. Let me tell you what stress is:
Stress is a Tropical Depression bearing down on your farm, bringing with it lots and lots and lots of rain you don't need. Stress is trying to move an entire farm during hurricane season. Stress is your husband being deployed to the border one week before he is due to retire. Stress is finding out that they retired his police dog on paper last week so she is not allowed to go to the border with him! Stress is the hot water heater going out. Stress is the air conditioner deciding that it may or may not work if it gets too hot outside. Stress is having to juggle 8 dogs in a hot house during a Tropical Depression that will probably become a Tropical Storm by tomorrow. Stress is also having a murder trial set for tomorrow.
Now that we have set the stage, let me tell you about my day:
Other Half returns home from a 12 hour shift. He has been asleep for about an hour when I go outside to feed the livestock. Release the barn door to allow all female goats, sheep, and babies outside to eat. Everyone races out except Brand New Mother and her Babies, and Maa, one of my oldest and most loved ewes. Note that Maa is in hard labor. Note stringy yucky tissue hanging out of her back end that normally occurs only after the babies have been born. Look around. See no babies. Maa is calling for her babies. She is certain that she has given birth. I look again. Nope. No babies. She considers taking babies which belong to Brand New Mother but decides they are not her missing babies. Brand New Mother shuffles her toddlers outside before Maa changes her mind.
I race back into house. Wake up Other Half and inform him that either something has taken her babies (highly unlikely) or babies are stuck. I do not know how long she has been in labor and am deeply concerned that I will lose her. Call Dear Friend Cathy, veteran of difficult goat and sheep births. After discussing the issue, we decide the best course of action is to pull the babies out ourselves.
Fortunately Other Half has always wanted to be a large animal veterinarian and thus he is equipped for such tasks. (He really does come with a most remarkable set of skills!)
I hold Maa's head while Other Half sticks a gloved hand up there and finds Baby#1. He pulls it out and we are both certain it is dead until an eyelid flutters and it lets out a cry. SCORE! Baby #1 is still alive and it's a girl! While her mother is cleaning her off, Other Half pulls Baby #2, who is also a girl! This baby slides out easily.
Baby#1 was apparently the log jam, thus, her name will be Jam.
Baby #2 looks just like her mother, Maa, therefore today I named her Baa. Not original but when you're in your 50s you just want names that help jog your memory. Five years from now I might need help remembering this baby marked so like her mother is Maa's daughter. Yes, I do write all this stuff down somewhere. That's why I know that in all likelihood I will change both names later so I could name them Peppermint Sassafras Lollipop today and it would be okay. Actually, if her sister's name is Jam, I might just call her Jelly.
We get the babies settled and start filling water troughs in preparation for Tropical Storm complications. My phone rings. I juggle the thing to keep it from falling in the water. That would just be the cherry on the sundae of my day. The district attorney's office is calling to inform me that my murder trial has been re-set. YES!!! (almost as good as having two ewe lambs in one day!)
I am still hoping that all the weather predictions are wrong and this storm hits somewhere else. Anywhere else but here. Actually, that's not true. I really don't want to wish ill will on anyone. So many people in this state have been hit hard by flooding recently. Nowhere in Texas wants 8-10 inches of rain tomorrow.
So keep us in your prayers. More lambs are due. I've already decided that if I have a ram lamb born tomorrow I'm naming that sucker Tropical Storm Bill.
Sunday, June 14 2015
And it begins. There was a reason I named our young ram Orville Reddenbacher. After taking a few years off, I decided it was time to start having lambs pop up in the pasture like popcorn again. What I didn't plan on was lambing during a move across the state. Our retirement plans came together much faster than I had planned. Several of my ewes are heavily pregnant and I don't look forward to that long hot, bouncy journey.
One ewe has had an udder like a basketball for the last three weeks. The last time we were headed to the north ranch I was certain she would have her babies but we returned home to a still-very-pregrant ewe. Although I had my doubts about leaving her this time, if I stayed home for every birth, I wouldn't be able to leave all summer. (And THIS friends and neighbors is why your ram should NOT live with your ewes. Planning lambing is practically impossible.) So with this in mind, I had to harden my heart and tell myself that I must commit to sheep that need little or no assistance with their babies. This sounds good on paper but I know me, and not micromanaging the flock is hard. But I left for the ranch again, secure in the knowledge that even though this is her first birthing, this ewe's mother was a good mother, the neighbor would be checking on her, the rancher next door is a better midwife than I am, and Briar is here.
Sometime late Thursday or early Friday these little rascals were born - a white girl and a piebald boy.
I was happy to get a ewe lamb but not keen on her coat. It's not the normal dorper hair coat.
I've only had one baby with this kinky coat before. He did fine, but since I sold him as a wether for a dog training, I'm not sure if he shed out properly as an adult. We'll see. If she doesn't shed out I won't breed her. In the mean time, she has the adorable personality of an explorer. Ironically the other kinky baby I had was also a fearless explorer thus we named him, Magellan.
Since this new ewe baby is the granddaughter of a ewe named Wrinkle, I decided to name her Madeleine.
(Extra credit for anyone who can find the connection between Wrinkle and Madeleine. Liz in Australia, I bet you get it immediately!)
The boy doesn't have a name, but since I'll keep him as a wether for training Mesa later, I guess I need to find him one. It is easier for me to keep track of individuals and family lines when everyone has a name. Ironically the ewe doesn't even have a name. I've always called her the Shy One because she never tamed up like the other ewes and I wasn't sure I'd keep her, but she is proving to be a wonderful first time mamma and relatively easy to handle. Despite the fact that I never liked her piebald color, her maternal instincts have earned her a permenant spot in the flock.
And so it begins. Popcorn season.
Saturday, June 13 2015
"Both sides of the creek?"
"Both sides" said the realtor.
"So we would own ALL this?"
And with those words, several years ago we bought a park. Well, it's not really a park. We bought a piece of property so wild and beautiful that it could be a park. The only vehicle access is by a long gravel and dirt road, and if the weather doesn't cooperate, even that's iffy. This is the land of 4-wheel drive trucks and flexible schedules.
Don't get in a hurry up here. This land will teach you patience, but it will also reward anyone who will just slow down and look around. A few weeks ago I was checking fences when I spotted a male painted bunting flying low ahead of me. I slowed the 4-Wheeler to a stop as he landed in the middle of the dirt road - and danced. He fluttered and danced his little heart out. A female bunting landed beside him.
"Okay, show me what you've got," she said.
So he got his groove on. And boy could he boogie. He could break dance. He could waltz. He could tap. He was a regular Picasso Fred Astaire.
"Alright. Acceptable." she said.
And they mated. Right in front of me. I sat there with my mouth open. It was sort of a R rated version of Snow White and the forest animals. When they finally flew off, I found my voice.
"Oh wow. Those birds are normally shy but these had absolutely no fear of us."
The Labrador Retriever on the back of the 4-Wheeler shrugged and said,
"We should have eaten them when we had the chance."
Fortunately I don't take a lot of advice from the Labrador. We drove on down the red dirt road as the misty rain fogged up my glasses. Two male painted buntings darted in the air ahead of us locked in an aerial dogfight. I paused to wipe my glasses clear and watch. I'm not a big fight person anyway, but this was much more interesting than the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight.
Eventually one bird gave up and flew away and the other returned to a stand of mesquite trees nearby. As we drove past the grove, a female painted bunting flew out. That explained the winged martial arts.
We are so far off the beaten path that nature has accepted us as just a couple more creatures in the landscape. That is part of the beauty here. It is like living in a state park. It is a blessing, and not one that I take for granted. As the 4wheeler bounced along the trail, I gave it some thought. Just as the family in the movie, "We Bought A Zoo" made some sacrifices and took that leap of faith, so have we. This week as I watched the painted buntings dart ahead of me, and the hawk fly overhead, my heart smiled.
City folk plan their vacations around places like this. Not only is the land itself wild and beautiful, but nature is literally on your doorstep. When nature is a rattlesnake in your driveway, sometimes it seems more like Jurassic Park, than Disney World but nevertheless, I recognize that life in this place is a blessing and I look forward to watching the sun rise on each day here.
** The Painted Bunting photos were taken from the internet. While I would dearly loved to photograph them, I simply haven't had a camera handy when they grace me with their presence, and a camera phone just doesn't cut it.**
Saturday, June 06 2015
I have stood over more dead men than I can remember, and it has changed me. I came to the job of a Crime Scene Investigator from a very active and fairly dangerous position on a Tactical Team where we hunted narcotics and ran felony warrants. The new spot as a CSI was much more cerebral, and a definite drop in the adrenaline rush. As a CSU by the time I arrived on a scene, the dust had settled and they had counted the dead.
Looking back, I see that the bulk of my career as a police officer has been trying not get dead, and playing Twister over people who were already dead. That much time spent both avoiding death, and then staring it right in the face, changes your perspective on life, and I've learned a couple of things.
1) When things don't work out the way you want, don't get discouraged. Just have faith. If that door closed, there's a reason for it. Quit knocking. If you're in a place in life where you don't want to be, quit fighting it. Be patient. Maybe there's a reason you're there. Maybe you need some polishing yourself, or maybe you need to help someone else along their journey. Have patience. When your time is ready, the exit door will open.
2) When things that don't normally work out easily suddenly fall into place like a child's block puzzle, it's time to sit up and take notice. Don't question it. Just have faith.
My last year in the police department has been a very happy one. I love my new job fighting crime behind a computer screen. It's stimulating and enjoyable. The schedule is great and so are the people. That said, I was completely unprepared for the final puzzle pieces of my career to plop into place so quickly.
It's finally happening. After 34 years, Other Half just pulled the plug on his career. We started looking at our finances and realized that it just didn't make sense for us to keep two houses, with two farms, on two different sides of Texas. We started talking about the idea of me retiring early, and selling the farm in South Texas. As soon as the rancher next door got wind that we might be putting the farm up for sale, he swooped in and bought it. Just like that. It was three days from the time Other Half announced that he'd had enough and he was selling the house to the handshake that sealed the deal.
I still didn't believe it until we went to the title company to sign papers. This is really it. The house is selling. He turned in his papers at work. Yesterday I made the phone calls to begin the end of my career and the start of a new chapter. I was talking to one of the guys at the office yesterday and he helped me put things into perspective.
He said, "You seem just a little sad."
"I guess I am just a bit overwhelmed. It's what I wanted, it's just happening so fast."
Then he said the most profound thing.
"But is there really anything else you still want to do in this job? I mean, you've had a pretty interesting career. It'd be hard to top what you've already done. Is there still something you want to do here?"
I gave it just a blink of a thought.
And with that, I was free. I was ready to embrace the new change with no regrets. He was right. If I stayed, it would just be for the money, and I've never been one to follow the money. I never take the safe route. I follow my heart. And now, my heart is leading me down a red dirt road.
Monday, June 01 2015
I glanced out the kitchen window this morning and saw this:
The sight begged for a second look.
I ran for the camera. Other Half was asleep but he definitely needed to see this:
That is not a goat in a bird cage. That's a fire box. You put wood in it and make a nice pretty fire. We don't. Around our house all pretty fires involve either burning feed sacks or grilling meat. At our house this thing is a spot for male dogs to piss. Nevertheless, this is as close as a young goat wants to get to being in a barbecue grill. And since the goats chewed the electrical wires on the cattle trailer, two flat-bed trailers, and the dually truck, they really shouldn't tempt Other Half by climbing into a barbecue pit. Just sayin'.