Saturday, January 28, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 174

 The farm has been a muddy mess the past two weeks, not quite getting the time it needs to dry out before the next rain arrives. It’s also really hit that time of year when I feel like the ground is just destroyed in terms of any chance it can grow anything green again. Thankfully after a few years of our farm helper getting up most/all of the leaves, this year we left them all. That’s mostly what I did prior to having our farm helper and going into this winter without him, I knew we were going back to that. 

I learned during the years he got up the leaves that while it looked better during the sunnier parts of winter, when we had any kind of precipitation it was a disaster. The leaf cover helps with run off, it helps with mud, it helps the insects whose life cycles depend on having places to pupate. So this year I felt good about not only leaving the leaves, but not having that extra work to do.

What happens is that, gradually through the winter when we muck pastures and paddocks, a few of the leaves at a time get picked up along with the manure and composted. By spring most of the leaves are in compost piles or have broken down on their own. In the grassy paddock, where we only allow the herd to have limited and select times of turn-out, the winter grass is as thick as ever and the leaves are gradually displaced as the grass grows. I’ll mow that in the early spring to get rid of some weeds, but even that does not need raking. It seems obvious that out in natural areas, no one is out there removing leaf fall. I’m back to my original plan: let the leaves fall, let them stay, let them do their thing in the ecosystem. It’s best in that way, but for us, it’s also best for the horsekeeping part too.

I noticed yesterday that the daffodils are about 7 inches tall. I confess I actually love this early growth better than the flowers. The straight stems shooting up in bigger clusters than the year before make me happy this time of year. Proof that in spite of how the landscape looks, life is happening and things are alive and well.

I just ordered heirloom seeds for the potager. My son, daughter-in-law, and grandson are going to partner with us this spring to have our potager here and a similar space at their house, where we will attempt to grow the bulk of our produce. Today we have a 60-degree day, and I’m going to spend a chunk of it working in the potager to get the beds composted and ready for planting in the next few weeks. I have a roll of no-climb fencing that was accidentally purchased at the wrong height for side fence line, so I’m going to install it inside the board fencing of the potager to at least cut down on the bunnies entering willy-nilly to snack on new/young plantings. I also have some wire bell cages I can use.

I’ve done a small amount of clearing stalks in a couple of the pollinator beds, mostly along the edges where they were hanging down and getting in the way. I made a couple of small “edges” with the stems so the insects can still have them and the birds can continue to forage and shelter. 

I need to get ready and set up an extra bee hive, which will clear some stuff out of my beekeeping supply closet. Swarm season will be here before we know it and I wouldn’t mind getting one more colony going. So far all five are making it through this winter, even the one I thought had died out, but if we lose any I can replace them by splitting the early swarmers.

The herd is hanging in there through the muddy season. Dogs and cats are all doing their things too. Keil Bay’s chiropractic vet convinced me he could go back to every third month for adjustments, and we’ve spread his acupuncture and Legend injections to every other month. The birthday season has come - Baloo turned 6 and Clem turned 4 this month, Redford and Cody are up next month, and we’ll get to Keil Bay and Apache in April. I’m leaving out the humans but some of us will have our birthdays too!

One thing I’ll announce is that in the next month I’ll be starting a Substack, not to replace this blog, but to add a new weekly “column.” It will have some free contact and some paid content, and its focus will be the psychotherapy strategies I offer (and have offered) to my clients for the past 32 years. When I jumped back in full-time in July I found that the strategies are as needed now as they ever have been, and in ways more so. I’m happy to be able to share some of them in this new forum. I’ll post the link here when it’s active and rolling, in case anyone who reads here wants to also read there.

I hope everyone is making it through this winter with moments and times of joy and also hope. There are things happening that are upsetting and that inspire anger and frustration, and I’m not going to go into them in detail here. But I want to say this: we all deserve the chance to live our lives in safety, peace, and the ability to be with family and friends. We deserve to move through the world without being at risk of human-caused injury or death. And we deserve leadership that focuses on making this world all of those things. I do not know how we get to that from where we are, but I am holding the space for that to happen and doing the things I can to contribute in small ways to that way of life. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

November Hill farm journal, 173

 It’s been a rough start to 2023 after we had a lovely Christmas eve and day, and then a pretty nice new year’s. The first week in the new year I came down with what I think was influenza. I tested negative for Covid and it seemed more like the flu than anything else. Sudden, fever, intense aches/pains, and a racking cough. I was out for the count for a solid week! Daughter then husband both got it a few days after I did, so we were definitely a household of achy, grumpy people. Mostly better now, with a slowly fading but much better cough.

All the outdoor chores are piled up and I suspect we’ll be playing catch up for the next couple of weeks. Thankfully this week we’ve had warmer weather and it’s easier to be out than it was last week. 

I’m glad to be done with this!

I do have a couple of omen day moments to share. On new year’s day, my husband and I did hoof trims and a little while later I was inside and looked out the kitchen window to see Cody and Keil Bay doing the most beautiful trotting and cantering in the arena together. Keil looked 100% the way he did when he was 15 and newly mine, elegant and floating, with suspension and total schwung in his movement. Cody was doing his amazing collected trot and their cantering was just dream-like. I was so happy to see them moving so well, especially Keil Bay. At almost 34 this wasn’t something I expected, but it was an amazing gift and if it portends anything for the coming year, I welcome it! 

The last night of the final omen day I was driving down the lane after dark when my headlights landed on a huge owl divebombing a rabbit. The owl had just taken hold of the rabbit when my lights illuminated the scene, and it dropped the rabbit, and flew away. The rabbit bounded to safety. I love owls and I love rabbits so it was an amazing sight. I’m glad the bunny got away, though I know owls need to eat too. 

Thankfully the flu came after the omen days ended so my plan is that it portends nothing about this year and simply means my immune system is now officially updated!

Right now it’s a fairly quiet time here on the farm. Most of the plants and trees are dormant. The paddocks look like no grass or other living thing will ever grow there again. But I know I think that every year and each spring I’m shocked when there ends up being so much grass we have to consider grazing muzzles. 

The winter sky has been beautiful almost every night. I miss the Christmas trees lights in the corner of the dining room, but it was time this past weekend to take them down. In the past few days I resumed my yoga practice and have been making efforts to get back to my daily reading time. I have plenty of painting to do - finishing up the bathroom, moving downstairs to bedroom and guest bath. I have projects going, but they’re all slow and easy. 

I don’t at all mind the thought of another month of winter but I am secretly hoping for an early spring. 

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Important research on horsekeeping practices


A recent study has found that horses moved from group housing to individual stabling showed changes in their white blood cell counts and plasma cortisol levels. These changes could mean they are at a higher risk of infectious disease.
Equine scientist Sonja Schmucker and her colleagues at the University of Hohenheim in Germany studied 12 warmblood geldings aged 2-3 years old during several management changes, monitoring their behaviour and immune response.
The horses used were all living in a group, turned out at pasture. For the first part of the study the group was then split into two, each kept in a separate paddock so that the horses in one group could not see the others. After a trial period of eight days all the horses were returned to their original group, living together. They were then were left out at pasture for eight weeks.
For the second part of the study the horses were all moved into individual stables, where they could see and touch their neighbours through bars. During the first week of being stabled, the horses were given 30 minutes of turnout in an indoor area. From the second week onwards, the horses were lunged.
Throughout the study the research team collected blood samples from the horses to analyse their immune cell numbers and cortisol concentrations.
The results showed that moving the horses to individual stabling led to acute stress-induced immune changes. However, dividing the larger group into two smaller groups at pasture did not.
“The number of eosinophils, monocytes and T cells declined, whereas the number of neutrophils increased resulting in an increased N:L ratio. This pattern of change resembles the well-known picture of an immunomodulation induced by acute social stress.”
The plasma cortisol concentrations didn’t change after dividing the group into the two smaller groups at pasture. However, there was an increase in cortisol concentrations one day after stabling which then returned to the previous levels eight days later. However, the researchers said “Although cortisol concentrations returned to baseline level after 8 days, the alterations in most immune cell numbers persisted, pointing to a longer-lasting effect on the immune system of the horses."
The team also found, unsurprisingly, that some of the horses started to perform stereotypical behaviours as soon as one week after stabling.
The team reported that the results “strongly indicate that social isolation is a chronic stressor with negative impact on welfare and health of horses and highlight the advantage of group housing systems in view of immunocompetence."
The researchers concluded that “relocation to individual stabling represented an intense stressor for the horses of the present study, leading to acute and lasting alterations in blood counts of various leukocyte types. In contrast, fission of the stable group did not result in behavioural, endocrine or immunological stress responses by the horses."
So we have yet more evidence that stabling horses individually is stressful and detrimental to their physical and psychological wellbeing. The majority of the horses I see are stabled for the bulk of the day. I do wonder how much evidence is needed before horse owners and professionals act on this information and change their management to increase turnout and group living...
The research is free to access and is a very interesting read: Schmucker S, Preisler V, Marr I, Kr├╝ger K, Stefanski V (2022) Single housing but not changes in group composition causes stress-related immunomodulations in horses. PLoS ONE 17(8): e0272445.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Happy New Year 2023

 Last night around 11:45 I went out to the barn with my husband with sliced apples and mare pheromone gel. We gave the apples out, I smeared some calming gel along the edges of nostrils, and we gave hay in the stalls. It was so warm here and slightly damp from yesterday’s rain, I turned on the barn fans to create some drying air and some white noise. Keil went in and out a few times to listen to the noises, but mostly they all munched their hay.

We stayed with them until the fireworks and gun shots ended. It occurred to me yet again that I spend every July 4th and every New Year’s Eve in the barn, listening to sounds that mimic a war zone. Not the way I want to celebrate freedom, democracy, or a new year, but I do love being with the herd and helping them remain calm. 

A half hour or so after midnight people got tired of being out in the damp, foggy night shooting their guns and for me the real new year emerged. Horses eating hay, calm and peaceful in the finally still night. I hope calm and peace wrap around all of us in 2023. 

I did not take any photos, but the night was billowy with fog and the lights on our Christmas tree twinkled like stars as we walked back into the house. 

Today I’ll change out the gate wreaths and work on painting the bathroom upstairs, which I did yesterday and it made me happy. An audio book, my paint brushes, and working on trim with a color called White Dove in a pearl finish - it was a calm and peaceful couple of hours and will be again today. The Benjamin Moore paints are a joy and very forgiving. I brush it on and think, okay, I’m not a professional, and then it dries and looks terrific. 

Maybe in 2023 we can all applaud our own efforts this year, the things we do that maybe we aren’t perfect at doing, but the results are nonetheless good enough, and, sometimes, spectacular. 

Happy New Year!