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Wednesday, February 13 2019

I closed one eye, aimed, took a deep breath, prayed my aim was true, and squeezed the trigger. 

Over the years I've come to recognize days like this, when problems dogpile you like a college football game. Some days I
lay sprawled on the turf, waiting for the referee to sort it out even as another problem kicks me in the head, and other
days, I scream, cry, and kick back. Saturday I was kicking back. 

Problems always seem worse when you're sick. I've been in a state of sick and half-sick for a month now. Respiratory
infections tend to hit me hard and like houseguests who won't leave, they linger forever. When you run a farm, you don't
have the luxury of being sick. Animals still have to be fed. Dogs have to be exercised. Eggs have to be collected.
Chickens and sheep must be juggled lest they end up on the menu of a bold Boogey Beast. Livestock Guardian Dogs must be
juggled lest the wrong combination end up together and they leave for an early spring break. And now I'm working a town
job again. Massive medical bills last summer coupled with the drought and rising insurance costs had me looking around for
a part-time job to ease the pinch of rising winter feed bills. I got a part-time job teaching at a local college police
academy and another substitute teaching at the local school. I was a 6th grade Science teacher for ten years before my
police career so going back into the classroom isn't a stretch.  I love teaching. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy teaching.
I love the kids. I hate the germs. Teaching is a lot of fun when you aren't sick. When you're sick, when your muscles ache
and your head feels like a football, you're watching the clock countdown as closely as the kids.  Saturday morning I was
looking forward to spending a day in bed with an electric blanket and a good book. The farm had other plans.

When you're taking cold medicine, multitasking is not your forte. I know this and yet, in my attempt to get the morning
chores done quickly, I forgot that I cannot do chores and watch dogs at the same time. I put Bramble's radio tracker
collar on her and let her out of the barn with Judge and Briar for a potty break. I was in the middle of feeding rams when
I remembered that it was Saturday and the Big Ram was supposed to be two hours away at a sale - in two hours. He'd been
advertised to be there and thus not going wasn't an option. I hustled to get Other Half out of bed and attempt to wake up
my pickup truck. My old Ford hates cold weather. It refused to start. After much cussing, screaming, and crying, it still
refused to start. I made the decision to sell it. Other Half managed to get it started and backed the trailer up to the
ram pen. Bramble kept getting in the way as we tried to load the ram. Fortunately the Big Ram cooperated and easily
loaded. Since I still had a date with a good book and an electric blanket, all was not lost if I sent Other Half to the
auction without me. He agreed to drop off a soap order on his way so I could stay home. I just needed to finish chores and
I was free to get back to bed. That's when I realized there was only one white dog in the barnyard. Judge and Bramble were
gone. I snatched up the tracker to her radio collar. She was over a half mile away. And still moving. 

There was no one to blame but myself. And Judge. Judge had taken his young friend on walkaout. Give him an inch and he'll
take a mile. Or two. This was the straw that broke the camel's back. I was sick. I was tired. I was overwhelmed. And I
couldn't catch a freaking break. Other Half was already heading down the road when I realized he'd forgotten the soap
order. I phoned him. He backed down the road as I stomped down the driveway to meet him with a box of soap. I still had to
finish chores. Bramble's collar showed she was 1.67 miles away and moving. I was livid. I handed Other Half the box of
soap as tears of rage and frustration burst out. I had reached the point where I didn't care any more. If they got shot by
a hunter that was two less dogs to feed. I was that mad. Sick. Working my ass off for animals that either tore things up
or ran away, I was cussing at God, and deep in an emotional meltdown. And that's when I heard Other Half cussing. 

The truck broke down. It was spewing some kind of fluid. Even as I knew I should be grateful he didn't break down on the
highway, I also knew I couldn't afford major truck repairs. The Jenga Blocks of my week came crashing down. Great heaping, heaving sobs of feeling sorry for myself didn't
solve the problem. And the ram still had to be hauled. We put a cage in a pickup and he cooperated once more. Other Half,
his two criminal Border Collies, and the ram left again and I walked back to finish chores. The tracker had lost contact
with Bramble at 1.67 miles away. Everyone has a breaking point. I'd reached mine. I muttered and cussed at God as I fed the ewes.
Even as I swore to God that I was done and didn't care any more, I knew what I would be doing when I finished chores. Mesa
loaded into the big dually pickup with me. I hate driving this truck. It's big. It's filthy.    
Other Half and his Border Collies have trashed it out. I rolled the windows down so I could see past the dog noseprints as
Mesa and I drove off. The radio tracker still showed a lost signal. I drove in the direction of the last known signal. 

Dogs don't follow roadways. They cut across neighboring ranches and go places I can't reach by vehicle. I would have to
drive two miles out of the way to get back to where the signal was lost. The tracker was still working as I drove down the
cold, wet gravel road. We were two miles away when I saw him. He was sitting there, staring at me with a lost vacant
expression. I slowed the truck down to get a closer look. There was no mistaking it. The raccoon was sick. Distemper.
Rabies. Who knows? Probably distempter, but I wouldn't rule out rabies. He stared at me from the bar ditch. He looked like
I felt. I drove off. The tracker showed I had radio contact again and was getting closer to Bramble. A half mile. A
quarter mile. 900 yards. 400 yards. 340 yards. 99 yards. 74 yards. 90 yards. Stop. Back up the truck. 70 yards. I stopped
the truck and cut the engine. Then I stepped out onto the running board and called, 

"BAM! BAM!" 

The bell on her collar immediately answered me as she came bounding through the forest and burst out onto the dirt road. Judge bounded out behind her. They were delighted to see me. I grabbed Bramble and stuffed her into the pickup truck. 

An adventure AND a car ride? Wow! Her day was getting better and better!

I tried to get Judge to climb into the truck. He refused. Both Anatolians are terrified of riding in vehicles. Lovely.
Just freaking lovely. It was gonna be a long trot home. As the crow flies we were probably two miles away. By vehicle we
were at least four miles away. I offered Judge a ride. He declined. So we started rolling back home. Judge settled into an
effortless trot beside me. 

Bramble hung her head out the window and watched Judge trot along. Idiot. He was missing the best part. The open window.
 A truck came up behind us. I stopped and waved him around. I'm sure he thought I was dumping dogs. If only. He shot me an
accusing glare as he passed. I wanted to scream at him. To tell him how these freaking animals rule my life. To tell him
how hard I work to keep them fed. To keep them confined. To tell him that my every waking hour is somehow spent caring for
animals. Ungrateful animals. The crunch of his tires disappeared, taking his accusations with them. I offered Judge a
ride. He declined again. 

As he trotted I gave some serious thought to the sick raccoon. Would he still be there? By some miracle I'd managed to
leave the house without a gun. As I drove down the dirt road I looked through the truck interior. No gun. No freaking gun.
Not one. Not a snake gun. Not a rifle. How can you not have a gun in a ranch truck? I looked up the hill. There he was. 

Judge hadn't seen him yet. The raccoon was walking unsteady, aimless circles in the road. There was absolutely no way I
could drive past that sick raccoon with Judge trotting beside me. Was God laughing at me? I stopped the truck. Judge still
hadn't seen the raccoon. I offered him a ride. He politely declined again. Mesa glared at him. Idiot. Certifiable. Class A
idiot. I searched the back seat for a gun. Wait! What's this?

An extension cord. 

The raccoon was still wobbling circles in the road as I tied the extension cord around Judge's neck. If you've ever tried
to load an unwilling horse into a trailer, you know the drill. I climbed into the back seat and started pulling. Judge
isn't as strong as a horse and so he soon gave in and climbed into the dreaded pickup. He took up the entire back seat.
Bramble moved to the floorboard. I slammed the door in his face and rolled the windows up. By the time we drove past, the
raccoon was back in the bar ditch. Not six feet away, he stared at me vacantly as I stopped. Definitely sick. I would have
to come back. 

By the time I got home, the ewes had finished eating. Hay was still spread all over the barnyard. They weren't eating it
all. They were just stomping on it. Searching for something else. They wanted corn. Or alfalfa. The hay spread all over
the barnyard was $22 a bale. Nice clean gorgeous coastal hay. The best I could afford. I go to work sick so I can afford
to feed them this hay. I cussed the sheep. (It was not my finest hour.) Ranchers all over the country cuss ungrateful farm
animals who waste feed. Wasted food is even more painful when you're sick. That's when you measure every grain of wasted
food and compare it to every minute you go to work sick to provide that food. And I still needed to find a gun. 

I locked up the white dogs, exchanged Mesa for Lily, stuffed a pistol in my back pocket, and then climbed back in the truck. I
drove the two miles back to the raccoon. He was sitting in the ditch wearing a dejected look. I drove past so I could turn
around. He barely noticed me when I pulled back up beside him. Distemper is an ugly disease. It will run like wildfire
through the raccoon population. It was too late for this one, but if I put him out of his misery I may spare other
raccoons a similar fate. So I closed one eye and took aim. Then I took a deep breath and said a prayer that my aim
would be quick and true. It was the first civil word I'd had with God all day. 

The shot rang out. The aim was true. His suffering was over. And so was mine. I had passed that poor raccoon four times.
Had I not been distracted and let the dogs get loose I would never have seen the raccoon. I would never have seen his
suffering. Who knows how long he would have suffered? Who knows how many more animals he would infect? And so it is with
our own suffering. Perhaps God hasn't forsaken you. Perhaps he's merely shuffling pieces on the chess board to force you
into the right place at the right time to help someone else. So perhaps a little less cussing and a little more gratitude
is in order. Just perhaps. 

Because the world's problems aren't solved under an electric blanket with a good book. 

 Click to find the Farm Fresh Forensics book!

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 01:15 pm   |  Permalink   |  3 Comments  |  Email
Saturday, February 02 2019


How Much is She Worth?

This dog has no registration papers. When she was a puppy someone laughed at me because I paid good money for a dog with no papers. No one's laughing now. 

Papers don't work. A dog does. I didn't pay for papers. I don't breed dogs so I don't need registration papers. I paid for the security of knowing the dog would work. She comes from a line of stockdogs.  I had faith that she would work and that faith has been rewarded tenfold. Not only has Mesa become the best sheepdog I have, but she is determined to be the best at everything. Mesa makes it her mission in life to figure out what I need and insert herself into that spot. And sometimes you don't know what you need until Mesa provides it. Take this for instance.

This is a Possum. A MoonPossum. 

Through a twist of fate, Possum came to live with us when she was a pup. Possum is a Double Merle Australian Shepherd. She  was produced when a merle colored dog was bred to a merle colored dog. Puppies like Possum are often deaf and have vision problems. Possum is deaf and has some vision issues. When she was young she wore goggles to protect her eyes from the sun's glare. Now it's a fight to keep them on, so we just limit her time in bright light. Possum does not let her disabilities handicap her. We do not tell Possum she is handicapped, she is treated just like everyone else. She responds to hand signals and at night we blink a flashlight to let her know it's time to come inside. Possum doesn't live her life in a bubble. When Possum was a puppy I lived in fear that she'd squeeze out of the barnyard and get into the big pasture with the cattle or get lost in the forest. This led to many panic-stricken runs around the barnyard screaming, "Where's Possum?" 

You have a problem?

Insert a Mesa. 

Mesa took it upon herself to start finding Possum, bumping her to get her attention and bringing her back to me. Note: MESA TAUGHT HERSELF THIS SKILL. She saw a need and inserted herself. That is work ethic. THAT is what you pay for, not papers. Papers are only worth something when they document dogs with work ethic. If the dogs in the pedigree don't work, there isn't a lot of hope your pup will work either. 

Fast forward two years. Mesa's little trick now allows her friend to enjoy long walks in the forest with the pack. I keep a close eye on Possum and the moment she lets her attention carry her off the trail, I dispatch Mesa. Last week I made the mistake of taking Possum for a walk without Mesa and it ran me ragged. Even with a tracking collar on her, someone still has to actually get off the trail and show her the way back. Mesa does this fifty times a day. We can put her vibration collar on Possum, but someone still needs to make sure she knows exactly where I am. Mesa is that added security. If Possum slides under the barbed wire fence where I can't go, Mesa is dispatched to get her attention and bring her back. From time to time, Mesa notices before I do, and dispatches herself. 

That kind of work ethic isn't something you train, it's inherent in the genetic makeup of the dog. I want to also point out that Mesa did not start inserting herself into roles like this until she was two years old. Then she began to insist upon doing more and more around here. The dog is quite bossy and highly competitive. This has proven to be a great combination since Mesa's bossiness is easily shaped into skills like working sheep, penning chickens and finding Possum. She has appointed herself to be Sergeant-At-Arms on the farm. While you have to be careful not to let this get out of hand (She terrorizes Trace the Troll Dog. On the other hand, most of the time he deserves it.) this mindset makes for a really handy stockdog. 

And in the end, that's all I really wanted. 

 Click to find the Farm Fresh Forensics book!

Posted by: forensicfarmgirl AT 10:48 am   |  Permalink   |  5 Comments  |  Email

Red Feather Ranch, Failte Gate Farm

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