Animals

Well, it happened

Remember last month, when I wrote that our sheep are defying the odds by refusing to die? And I added: check next week to see if I jinxed them.

Well, I should have written, “check next month.” Because it happened: I jinxed the sheep.

One in particular.

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From a distance, I half-hoped that she was just dozing like a dog, wedged against the shed. But when I approached and only 4 scattered, there was little doubt.

It was bound to happen. At least three of the ewes were mature when we acquired the herd 8 years ago. (We started with 6; one died in the first year.) Sheep live 10 to 12 years, but one Katahdin sheep site estimates the lifespan at 7 to 12 years.

So she had a good life… aside from being periodically terrorized by Maisie’s high-speed herding style.

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And there was that one experiment with mutton busting in 2012.

But the kid fared far worse than the sheep.

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If anything, life has been too good for our flock; they’re all in the 200 pound range and they do not hesitate to throw their weight around when we try to minister care: deworming and hoof trimming.

I will spare you the unsavory details of moving and disposing of a dead, bloated, 200+ pound sheep. I’ll just say that it was smelly and physically challenging. And Martin and I wanted to burn our clothes afterward.

So if it’s possible to retract a jinx, I’d like that option, please.

The final four are welcome to stick around awhile longer.

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Unicorn wannabes and other equine oddities

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A vet once told me, “Sheep are looking for a place to die.” The meaning: by the time one seems sick, it is probably a goner.

Apparently our sheep’s sludgy, algae-covered water trough is a fountain of youth, because our crew refuse to the kick the bucket. (Check Funny Farm next week, to see if I jinxed them with that statement.)

Setting sheep aside, I can attest to this fact: if you own a horse, he will get hurt or sick. Remember, Benjamin Franklin famously said: “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes, and that your horse will get injured or ill.”

The last part is often omitted.

Fortunately, most ailments are recognizable to owners: colic, hoof injuries, skin lacerations — routine stuff that may or may not need the vet.

But every so often, a horse will throw you a curve ball.

Like Chance, my older Thoroughbred. I rarely ride him so he receives minimal attention — a cursory glance to make sure nothing’s broken or bleeding, and that his 4 legs aren’t sticking straight up in the air.

But earlier this summer, it was impossible to miss the lump protruding from his forehead. It was rock-hard and didn’t appear to be injury related.

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This particular condition has a name… which I’ve presently forgotten. But my vet assured me that it isn’t causing him discomfort and it should go away. So far, it hasn’t receded much. He appears to be sprouting a unicorn horn.

Jazz, my other horse, has his own facial imperfection. It also appeared without provocation: a trail of distended veins on his right cheek.

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This is a permanent development but it is benign. Really, no big deal. (I texted my vet for the medical terminology for this veiny disorder and Chance’s unicorn head, but apparently she’s too busy working — stitching wounds, saving horses and such — to field my random blog questions.)

Not all of our weird equine ailments have been harmless. In my last post I mentioned Rocky’s eye. (And kudos to Brynn for noticing, “something’s wrong with Rocky’s eye.) Ultimately, he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a tumorous growth on his eyelid. The tumor was surgically removed (a more conservative option than taking the entire eye). But with this approach, we decided to follow up with chemotherapy, which may reduce the chance of recurrence. It comes in the form of a topical gel, applied inside the eyelid, three times a day, for several staggered weeks.

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Ironically, on Monday — the same day that Rocky received his first dose of chemo ointment — Brynn also began a new course of meds: a foul-tasting antibiotic, also three times daily. It’s thick and gloppy, and according to Brynn, “tastes like rotten peppermint and salt.”

Brynn isn’t thrilled but accepts her meds as long as we provide strawberry milk or a candy chaser.

Rocky, however, is a noncompliant patient. Very noncompliant.

Treating him is a two-person circus three times a day: Martin physically, forcibly, wrangles Rocky into submission so that the pony’s head is still, while I try to pry open his tightly clasped eye, and deposit a 1/4 inch dab of Mitomycin-C inside the lid.

I’d like to say that it’s getting easier over time, but it ain’t. And safe to say, Rocky hates the sight of us.

If nothing else, these thrice daily episodes enforce the mantra that Rocky and other ponies believe: Kids are generally kind and less troublesome. Those big humans are not to be trusted.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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In the summer months, birds chatter and chirp all day long and mostly, it’s pleasant background music. White sound.

I hardly notice our barn swallows twittering as they commune on the telephone line. (Though they kick up a clamor when a crow swoops into the barn or a cat slinks by.)

And I don’t mind the bird-brained cardinal who head-butts the hallway window for hours at a time. (The kids call him “Crazy Bird.”)

They’re all fine. It’s the mockingbird that I despise.

Because he never shuts up.

You might believe that a mockingbird sounds nice — trilling through his repertoire of tunes.

And it’s ok… in small doses. But our bird sounds off nonstop, nearly 24 hours a day. With my sleep issues, I’ll often wake to hear his shrill songs. His choice perches are the trees that flank the house. He’s raucous at sunrise, midday when the sun is high, and all through the night.

It borders on noise pollution and some mornings I can’t stop myself from yelling, “Shut Up!” as I cross the yard. He doesn’t miss a beat.

“He sounds like he’s imitating different car alarms,” Martin said one evening, as the bird blared from our magnolia tree.

Apparently, this behavior — unfettered singing all night and day — is normal for unmated males. Females also sing, but they are quieter and less vocal.

Mockingbirds also are intelligent, territorial species. One study found that they can recognize and remember individual people whom they perceive are a threat. They can identify a face in a crowd. (I sure as hell couldn’t tell two mockingbirds apart.)

As for their vocalizations, one website notes that they can imitate more than 30 bird songs in succession, but they also branch out to copy cats, dogs, frogs, squirrels, squeaky brakes, and yes… car alarms.

Apparently fruit is a dietary stable and in those rare moments when our bird isn’t belting out his greatest hits, he’s stuffing his beak with our black raspberries.

Once a male mockingbird finds a mate, his simmers down a bit. I wish this guy would hook up already.

Or take song requests… maybe, “The Sound of Silence.”

The latest update: I sat on this material for 7 to 10 days before publishing it, and since then, our mockingbird has found a girl. He’s now just another bird around the barnyard, and is most vocal when he perches on the telephone line and scolds the cats as they saunter near his nest.