Mr. Ed and the bees

I saw a picture on Facebook today that reminded me of a honey of a story. I’ll call it “Mr. Ed and the bees.” I have had a lifelong fascination with honey bees. When I was kid we would go visit my uncle Art and Aunt Christine. They lived in a cool place in Brainerd near the Mississippi River. Uncle Art had a two story workshop, heated by a wood barrel stove. He collected model T cars. He restored and rebuilt wagon wheels. He made dog sleds and kids wagons. Coolest of all, he was a bee keeper.

I fondly remember having golden honey on fresh bread at their house. I was fascinated by the white boxes he kept in his workshop in the winter. I’ll never forget when he carefully lifted the lid to show us the bees. Sluggish in their semi-dormant state, they emitted a low hum. Scary and exciting at the same time.

My maternal grandparents lived about a mile from us. In the upstairs of Grandpa’s granary under a thick layer dust there were several of these white boxes. According to my Uncle Raymond, Grandpa used to have many hives of bees which he kept under the stand of plum trees. Grandpa had retired, the boxes tucked away and forgotten.

One summer, mid July I think, something happened in our granary where we stored oats. Threshing season was only a week or two away when the bees moved in. I know, because it was my job to sweep out the bins. Unfortunately the bees noticed me before I saw them and they made their presence known by giving me a good stinging. “Put some mud on the stings,” Dad advised. I did, the pain subsided, I went back to investigate, from a safe distance.

About that time my Uncle Raymond stopped over. “They’re honey bees, Italians, I’d say. Must be a swarm that moved in.” He was always good at explaining things and told me how colonies of bees split in two when they get too full of bees.

“What can I do?” I asked.

“If I were you, I’d catch them and put them in a hive and raise honey.”

“I don’t have a hive to put them in.” He left and soon returned with a dusty old box.

“Put them in here. Make sure you get the queen. She’s the big bee.”

The thought of having jars of golden honey to put on fresh baked bread slathered with butter helped me overcome my fear of the little stingers. The first thing I had to do was fashion a bee hat. I got an old straw hat and some screen-door screen. I put on a pair of dad’s coveralls and yellow chore gloves and I was ready to go in. The bees saw me coming.

I remembered something else Uncle Raymond said: “Calm people work bees with their bare hands. Bees can smell fear.” The way they acted, I was really stinking. The first action required a claw hammer and a pry bar to open the wall. Trust me, that really ticked them off. Buckets of fear laden sweat poured off my brow and ran down my back. Did I mention it was about 90 degrees?

Wall open, I discovered a huge mass of angry bees. “Gotta find the queen. Look for a bigger bee.” His words ran through my mind. I’ll admit I looked, but I didn’t study the mass. By this time, the bees had located a small hole in the coveralls just above the right knee. I could feel them crawling on my leg. “Bees sense fear. Remain calm” I told myself. I sensed that my time and luck were running out, so I did the next best thing. I started scooping bees and putting them in the hive hoping the queen bee was in there somewhere. When I had several gobs in the hive I slammed the lid. He didn’t tell me slamming the lid is a sign of fear. I quickly confirmed this when the squadron of Italian honey bees launched their attack inside my coveralls.

My escape was made with lightning speed. Anyone watching out the picture window of the house must have wondered what the heck was going on when I flung off the makeshift hat and coveralls and headed for the muddy barnyard. For the next few hours the angry confused bees flew around the yard, chasing off everyone including the dog.

“Bees don’t fly at night” Uncle Raymond said. I waited until way after dark before cautiously approaching the hive. It was quiet, except for the internal hum. “YES! I got-um.” I moved the hive under the plum tree. By fall it would be full of honey. Remember that part about the queen? No queen, no honey. I’m pretty sure it’s true.

A few years ago, bee fever hit me again. This time I got it from my buddy Mike. He had several hives.

“Can I buy one” I asked “Sure.” I picked it up after dark and brought it home and put it under the plum tree. Visions of honey danced in my head.

“Any tips?” I asked. “Just make sure you divide the hive before they swarm.” “How do you know when they will swarm?” “When they make another queen. Look in the hive and check. She is the big bee.”

I am at work. It is mid afternoon, mid July. Phone rings. It is Matt. He is old enough to be home alone. “Dad, there are bees all over the yard. What do I do?”

“If it were me, I’d stay in the house, the bees are swarming.” By the time I got home, the bees were gone. I guess they couldn’t decide what queen should leave so they both left. Foiled again.

Years passed, Matt grew up and left in search of his future. Last spring my brother Ron called. “Mann Lake is taking orders for bees. Want some?” Without thinking too much, I said, “Sure.” I readied the hive and waited. The day came to pick up the bees. I drove down to Brainerd. The bees came in a six-by-six wooden cage. They buzzed menacingly in the back seat of the car. I got home and waited for dusk to release them in the hive.

For some reason I couldn’t locate my bee helmet. No problem. I had a helmet that came with my sandblaster. It fit down to my shoulders and had a glass plate to see through. I found a pair of coveralls and a roll of duct tape. I taped up all the holes in my Carharts and wrapped my ankles to keep the bees out of my boots. Somehow I managed to tape the sleeves to my leather gloves. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

I retrieved the box of bees. They hummed louder, anticipating their impending freedom, possibly catching a scent of fear. I slid the hive cover open and removed two combs. I felt sweat starting to drip down my back. I fumbled with the little pry bar I had brought to open the cage. It slipped, clattering on the metal hive cover. The buzzing increased by a couple decibels. I recovered the bar and lodged it between the cover and the box. The nails yielded. The top fell free. Bees began to realize freedom was now in their grasp. The scouts began to investigate the masked figure that exuded fear.

About now, my head, covered by a bee proof and nearly air tight canvas helmet began to sweat profusely. My moisture-laden breath began to condense on the glass. My vision began to cloud. I fumbled with the box, tipping it upside down shaking bees into the hive. Hands shaking, I still had to remove the queen from her capsule. By this time, the glass had completely fogged over. I was working blind and running out of time. In my haste, the duct tape sealing the helmet to the coveralls, began to fail. Driven by the scent of fear emanating from a neck line crack, a squadron (sound familiar?) of angry bees launched an attack.

Did I mention Mrs. Ed and DJ. were observing this from a safe distance? By the time I ripped the helmet from my head, they were both laughing. I thought they were going to fall over when I started slapping myself and tried to undo the duct tape holding the gloves on. He’s got bees in his pants. Ha Ha Ha. “Can somebody please get me some mud?”

I had high hopes as I watched the bees work the plum and apple trees. As the summer wore on, I noticed the hive never really grew. I surmised something happened to the queen. No sweet golden honey this year. In the meantime I ordered a real bee suit. Now I am just waiting for the new Mann Lake catalog.

Uncle Raymond, a fountain of information


There is a blizzard coming…..

There’s a blizzard coming! These are words that can send shivers of fear through the hearts of some, and embers of hope through others. DJ, the neighbor girl stopped by last night. An approaching blizzard meant the possibility of a snow day. Even as a kid, you learn about weighing the risks. Do you really have to do your homework? Can I stay up late like a Friday night when I can sleep in? I think schools hold off announcing school closings just to help kids develop those risk assessment skills. They come in handy later in life.

When I was a kid I read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I imagined myself caught in those horrific blizzards, struggling to get from the house to the barn and back clinging to a rope. Of being caught while trying to get home from town with a wagon load of feed and having to sacrifice the poor oxen in order to make it through the night. Of hearing the wind and the wolves howling just outside the cabin door waiting for Pa to get home.

Like a lot of things that happened when you were a kid, winters seemed much worse than they are today. Our farm was on a dirt road. The nearest blacktop road was a mile away. My brother Leo remembered when my brother William was born. It was late February. It had been a winter of deep snow. Sometimes it took days for the township plow to get the roads open. The road to the west was open to the north and wooded to the south. Drifts twice as high as a car were expected on “the second hill”. The only chance to get out was to go east. The time came for William to be born. Mom got ready. Dad went to harness the horses. They had a crank phone and called someone to meet them on the highway. Leo recalled the snow being so deep the planks on the sled kept slipping off. The horses busted through the drifts, the car was waiting and mom made it to the hospital in time. Maybe that is why I was born in June.

Winters were tougher back when we moved to the Iron Range. By year two we were putting down roots, giving up a rental house and purchasing a used 14 by 70 trailer house. Home ownership is a big step. With achievement comes new responsibility. With new responsibility comes new challenges. Owning a trailer house in a northern climate can test one’s mettle. I figured out how to put up skirting to enclose the crawl space under the house. I read about applying heat tape to water pipes. I even heard about leaving the water running a little when it is really cold to keep them from freezing up.

As par for the course, I had to learn a few of these things the hard way. When it says in fine print, “Be careful you don’t overlap the heat tape”, they really mean it. Of course I waited to tape and insulate the water lines until it got cold. Maybe I thought winter would spare us, maybe I just liked crawling around under a trailer in the dirt and spider webs while the cold seeped into my bones. NOT!

I bought my heat tape at L&M Supply. They had a couple of brands. Cheap and expensive. Why buy expensive when you can buy cheap? There’s a lesson there too. I bought rolls of fiberglass insulation. You know the kind that suggests you wear gloves, cover exposed skin and don’t breath in the fibers. It was cold so no problem there.

Another lesson, it is dark under a trailer, especially if you start a project late in the afternoon. Wrapping and taping under the faint glow of a weak flashlight increases the intensity of the experience. Lesson: be sure to keep plenty of fresh batteries on hand. The directions said “Don’t overlap the tape” Making sure the heat tape doesn’t overlap using the Braille method is a learning experience in itself. Tape on, insulation applied and wrapped with ample amounts of duct tape, I finally slithered out the crawl space trap door pulling the extension cord behind me. After fumbling with the cord with my semi-functioning half frozen hands, I plugged her in.

I went inside. Mrs Ed, God bless her, had run me a hot bath and brewed me some hot tea. All appeared to be well as I slipped into the bubbles. “Do you smell something”? She asked. “No, but I think my nose is still full of spider webs” . “I think it smells like smoke”. “No way. ” “Really, it smells like something’s burning”. I got out of the heavenly bath. Hum…maybe a little bit. Reluctantly I got dressed, pulled on my dirty coveralls from which I had just escaped. I grabbed the flashlight, gave it a couple of wacks. The bulb, having warmed a bit, came on. I headed out. No smell out here. I was hoping the neighbors were burning garbage in their wood stove. I tapped the latch on the trap door and pulled it aside. The sickening sweet smell of melted plastic seared my nostrils. Back peddling I raced to the hot water heater door, opening it, I yanked the extension cord from the outlet.

About that time Mrs. Ed poked her head out the door. “Is everything OK”. Trying to remain calm. I said “I think so. Do you know where the fire extinguisher is and maybe you should find the number for the fire department”. To make a long story shorter, I was able to extinguish the smoldering insulation before the fire trucks got there. “First time putting on heat tape?” “Yup”. “Bought the cheap stuff?” “Yup”. “Make sure you don’t overlap it”. “Got it, thanks”.

Lesson whatever, never start a project if you can’t finish and test it before L & M Supply closes. That night the temperature plummeted. OK, let the water drip. It will keep the water lines from freezing. Next lesson. Sewer lines can freeze too! Boy, I don’t miss those days!

Leo, Iris and William

Chub and Tony busted through the snow drifts

Mondays, best left for reflection

Mondays, maybe it would be best to skip them altogether. Go right to Tuesday. Since it’s the beginning of the week , it’s a good time to start a plan. I will admit I am not too good with plans. I am a free spirit, a liberal arts major. That’s why I am not too good at carpentry.

Okay. I realize that needs some explanation. This morning started with a plan. My buddy Duane and I were supposed to get back to our logging job. We were supposed to go to the woods. We took a break in mid December to do sleigh rides. During the holidays one must make hay while the sun shines. Then came the cold spells in January. It’s not fun to log when the high for the day is 5 below. Besides it is down right dangerous to cut trees when the wind is 20 mph, not to mention the wind chill is 30 below. The truth is, it is a pretty rough blowdown salvage job. It’s hard work and we are feeling our ages. We will get it done. We are just being reasonable and becoming very good at rationalizing. Besides we are both retired. There is a storm on its way. We can do it next week. No problem.

The last minute plan change left me with a whole day. Time to regroup, look for a meaningful plan. I mentally fumbled through my list of undone projects. It is a long one. Spontaneity struck when I went to feed the rabbits. They came in small cages. The rabbits of my youth had big cages. My list had ” build new rabbit cages ” on it. Today I would build a new rabbit cage!

This led me to recall that January 28th is my brother Duane’s birthday. There are 8 kids in my family. I am fourth from the oldest. Duane is third from the youngest. I connected the rabbit cage with Duane because he was the rabbit raiser in the family. In fact he carried this skill into his professional life, diversified dairy farmer. He builds a pretty good cage. I don’t.

When I was seven or eight years old, I got a rabbit. A brown and white buck. I named him Bosco. My younger sister Roseanne got a white doe named Ice Cream. This was my first venture into carpentry. I found some old chicken wire. I recovered some old boards from the wood pile. I found a coffee can of nails in the tools house. I found a ball been hammer and set to work.

Now there are differences between carpenters and farmers. My uncle Art was a carpenter. He did beautiful works of art with wood. Dad was a farmer. Farmers do carpentry out of necessity. Get it done and move on. I took after the farmer side of the family. Real carpenters actually measure things and use tools like squares. My buddy Duane is a pretty good carpenter. He actually plans things out so they are square. I hammer things together and hope for the best. I use a lot of nails, trim and paint.

Anyway, I built a cage for Bosco and Ice Cream. They escaped. I added boards over the holes where they had wriggled out. They found new exits. Winter came. I remodeled the old outhouse for a shelter for the rabbits. We had indoor plumbing by that time so it was not being used. My lack of carpentry skills showed when Bosco escaped. It’s a good thing (maybe) that I was a skinny little kid when I had to dive in for the rescue.

When I was five years old my parents were in an automobile accident on New Years Eve. Mom was in the hospital for six months. My brother Duane and sister Rosanne and I went to stay with my dad’s sister, Lila. When your five, you don’t remember much. I do remember my little brother and my aunt Lila. Birthdays were always special in our family. When it was your birthday, you were the center of attention. January 28th was Duane’s first birthday. My dad and older brothers and sisters came to visit. It was a special day.

Being one year old, Duane had just got his legs and boy could that kid could move. Lila had a set of Lincoln Logs that I loved to play with. Just about the time I would be ready to put the chimney on, here came Duane. At first I was very upset until Lila turned it into a game. She nicknamed Duane the “Tornado”. I’d build something and in would come the “tornado”, smashing my structure to pieces.

Today, Duane is a successful dairy farmer, carrying on the family tradition. He is a proud grandfather and runs marathons for cancer research. I hope he has a good birthday and I hope my new cage holds the rabbits.

The “tornado,” at age one.

You can’t kill-em all

Living on a farm has its pros and cons. Sometimes people who don’t have farm roots ask me “Doesn’t farming tie you down? Do you ever get a vacation? What do you do with the animals when you have to go away?”

I grew up on a dairy farm. The cows needed milking twice a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year. The Fourth of July was the closest thing we had to a day off. We would usually go to a parade and a party at a neighbor’ s place. Picnic food, soft ball, pony rides and fire crackers rounded out the afternoon and evening. About five thirty a couple of the older kids would slip away to do the milking. We would rush home, change clothes, get the dog and go round up the cows. If we were a little late they would be waiting at the barn door. We would hurry through the chores so we could get back for more fireworks.

So when people ask me if I feel tied down with the sheep and horses I chuckle to myself. There is a lot more latitude with them with the exception of lambing season. This is mid winter so we don’t really have any place to go anyway. During the summer the animals are out on grass so a simple check and see caretaker arrangement works fine.

Over the years we have had a number of different people who have volunteered to do chores. Neighbors with farm experience are the first choice. They understand that when you are dealing with animals anything can happen. That is probably why they sold their animals years ago. They are also close by in case the horses go for a stroll around the neighborhood. They have probably chased them out of their yards before.

Giving clear directions is very important. One time I arranged for a fellow sheep farmer who lived about 25 miles away to feed the horses hay. I carefully counted out the number of bales required for the time we were going to be gone. In fact, I added a few extra bales as over-fed horses are much more content to stay in the fence than hungry ones. I told my friend “Feed the horses enough hay to keep them happy”. Not being familiar with the appetites of draft horses and estimating the number of bales required to keep them happy based on what it takes to keep sheep happy, he fed frugally. Six hungry draft horses separated from a pile of hay bales by a strand or two of electric fence wire, soon overcame their fear of electricity.

We arrived home to find the horses standing in the pile of hay bales. In the meantime they had made the rounds of the neighborhood. It was in the spring of the year. Their hoof prints, left in the dark of the night, led to and from our place. Fortunately they had only escaped the night before. We had hoped for the best until we listened to the message on our answering machine. Had to do some apologizing on that one.

Another time we arranged for a friend with no farm experience to feed the sheep grain. It was spring and the sheep were out on pasture. They had a pretty big area to graze, part of it wooded. He came out and I showed him where to put the grain. Pretty simple. He was nervous and even wrote everything down. In an effort to ease his worries, I jokingly said “Don’t worry you can’t kill them all”.
In hindsight I probably should not have planted this seed in his head.

Day one. Morning feeding went well. The sheep had been grazing all night and were at rest in the yard. All seventy plus sheep present and accounted for. Evening came. Follow directions #1 Fill two pails with grain. #2. Open gate. #3 dump feed in feeders 4. Shut gate. Easy right? Only one problem.THE SHEEP WERE GONE! Does kill them all equate to losing them all?

As a person who has been faced with similar situations, had I been there, I would have offered this advice. 1. Don’t panic. 2. Don’t take the buckets of feed with you when you go look for the sheep 3. When you holler ” here sheepie, here sheepie, “. Don’t turn your back to the woods.

From what I gather he went from the panic of thinking he had lost a whole flock of sheep to “What’s that sound? Is there a thunder storm brewing”? By the time he realized why the earth was shaking, the feed crazed sheep had busted out of the woods and were bearing down on him.

I can imagine the scene. A panic stricken man carrying two pails sprinting for his life to get to the feeders. Sheep, seeing their feed getting away from them, kick it into second gear. I speculate the flock leader was first on the scene, sticking her head into the pail, delaying the getaway just enough so a lieutenant could get a head into the other pail. By then, the rest of the flock would do the envelop maneuver. A life or death decision must be made in a fraction of a second. An experienced farm seasoned chore doer would know when to throw them (the pails). An amateur might try to hold-em.

The sheep won the day. Nobody died. Funny though, he never volunteered to do chores again. If fact I think he gave up wearing sweaters too.

“Here sheepie, “

Do your sheep have ticks?

Shearing went well today. I am a little tired from counting sheep. Brian, our shearer, sleeps very well. It’s a perk of the profession. My buddy Duane called and wanted to know why sheep don’t shrink when they get wet. I told him they do, dry sheep are as big as cows. That’s why the cattle and sheep ranchers never got along. The sheep herders blamed the cattlemen for shrinking their livestock whenever it rained. The cattlemen blamed the sheep men for their sheep eating as much as a cow. He said he thought it was because wool on sheep is live. Only dead wool shrinks. I said there are times when it is OK to say, “I don’t know”. Duane feels people deserve answers and if you don’t have one, it is your duty to provide something. I feel truth is what you make it to be. I guess it’s figuring out what it is people want to hear and providing it. It’s all about the fine line of plausibility. Done correctly, everyone is happy.

Something happened today that reminded me of a story. A true story, honest. After reading all the How-To books on sheep raising I became a paranoid shepherd. The books are filled with chapter after chapter of sheep diseases, things you must vaccinate for, put your veterinarian on speed dial stuff. I was so bad I once had the vet do an autopsy on a dead sheep. $87.00 bucks later, I learned the most important lesson a sheep farmer can learn. A sheep is just an animal looking for an excuse to die. The secret is to sell them before they find a reason. If not, be sure to remove the body before the rest of the sheep decide to follow.

This story is about the time I discovered my flock was infected with The dreaded SHEEP TICK! Here is my advice. When buying sheep there are two questions you should ask. If the seller hesitates for even an instance, walk away. If you are tempted to buy some cheap sheep at a sales barn and the owner is nowhere to be found, don’t raise your hand unless you are very cheap and 100 percent lucky.

The first question is: Do you have foot root in your flock? I have never experienced this on my farm but I do remember it on the dairy farm. All I know is it’s not good, it stinks, and once you get it in your soil, you will have a problem for years.

The second is, “Do your sheep have ticks”? Maybe this isn’t important to most people. It is to me because I hate eight legged insects I.e., spiders and wood ticks. I know sheep ticks don’t suck human blood but they still look like wood ticks and give me the willies. Getting the sheep tick willies is like getting slapped in the face with an eelpout. I know, I got slapped!

It happened on a very cold winter day. The shearer came at the crack of dawn. I had sixty seven ewes on high alert. The first ewe had hardly been tipped when the shearer slapped me with devastating news. “Ed, do you know your sheep have ticks?” “Ahhhh ” I screamed, “how could that be possible? ” “Did you buy any sheep this year? Yes I bought a couple ewes from a guy… “Did you ask him if he had ticks”? “No”. He shook his head and muttered what I thought sounded like “amateurs”.

The next few hours were excruciating. Each sheep revealed more ticks. I was so embarrassed. To add insult to injury I had to retrieve each fleece and carry it to the sack. I had ticks next to my coveralls. Hungry blood sucking insects that look just like wood ticks. Sensing my horror, the shearer tried to calm my nerves. “It’s OK,”He said, “sheep ticks only live on sheep”.
“Then they are OK” I asked. He didn’t need to say it. No respectable sheep farmer would have sheep ticks.

I swallowed my pride. “What should I do”? “Well most people use WARBEX. It’s nasty stuff, you need to dip the sheep in it or use the concentrate and pour it on their backs”. I remembered my dad talking about “sheep dip”. I vaguely remembered it from my youth. The smell came back to me like a chicken coop in August. The shearer continued.”WARBEX will kill them for sure. It’s nasty stuff. Make sure you wear gloves, maybe a mask”.

The thought of pouring caustic chemicals on my poor sheep and risking horrific side effects on myself just to get rid of some little insects that I might be able to get used to, ravaged my brain. That’s when fate intervened.

As the shearer relieved sheep after sheep from its wool and returned it to the flock, I noticed something interesting (besides that the sheep were shivering in the sub zero temperatures). I had a flock of wild bantam chickens that roamed the farm and roosted in the rafters at night. This band of feathered marauders fluttered down from their rafter sanctuary and landed amongst the naked beasts. Heads cocked, they moved in and began attacking the sheep with their beaks. At first the sheep recoiled, perhaps from the close proximity of the fowl, perhaps from the sharp pokes to their sides. Then a strange thing happened.

The sheep, newly liberated from their itchy tick invested coats realized they could now scratch those itches. “I imagined them thinking “Oh that feels so good”. The chickens, seeing the tasty looking ticks exposed to the light of day, seized the moment. They moved in with the cunning of a hungry wolf pack. I swear the chickens and the sheep were one that day as they waged war on the sheep ticks. Exposed and separated from their warm and secure environment, these nasty little buggers were annihilated in a matter of minutes.

Needless to say, because of my unwillingness to use dangerous, smelly and did I mention expensive chemicals, I didn’t get around to dip the sheep. Shearing day came sooner than latter as always. I held my breath as the shearer peeled back the first strips of wool. I waited. And waited. Finally I asked the question. “Do I have ticks?” “No, I don’t see any.”

Inside, I leapt for joy! My management strategy of letting nature do the work actually worked. My reluctance to charge off down the slippery slope of chemical application and expensive treatments were not necessary after all. I was vindicated. Procrastination can pay!

That was the day “Mr Ed’s Chicken Tick Picken natural pest control process” was born.
Due to my continued subscription to the basic belief in the benefits of procrastination, I never got around to patent this process.

I am happy to report there were no ticks discovered today. However, as you can see from this picture, the chicken tick Picken squad was ready for action.

Tick Picken chicken scout surveying the situation and ready to sound the alarm.

Peace and harmony on the farmony

Woke up this morning. As I did chores, sun shining on new fallen snow, puppies at my side, I felt the poet in me take over my soul. I said to myself, “This is a good time, for Mr. Ed to make up a rhyme. So here goes:

Someone said
Let’s go to Mr. Ed’s Farm
Another said
That couldn’t do any harm.

There’s a lot of things
To do and see
And most of them are
Darn near free

There’s sheep and horses
And a goat or two
Be sure to watch your step
And check your shoe.

The chickens are up
At the crack of dawn
You know when a hen lays an egg
When she sings her song

Watch out for the rooster
His name is Red Green
He looks pretty mellow
But he could be mean

Then there is Otis
The guard llama
Any intruder
Is an excuse for drama

You can visit with Gladys
And her friend Lucile
Just don’t tell them any secrets
Because they will squeal

Joe is from Jersey
Vinnie is too
If they see you coming
They will give you a big moo.

Watch out for the barn cats
They are very wary
Sticking your hand in a hole
Can be quite scary

Marshmallow and brownie
Are goats that are pigmy
They will run up to you
And say “Don’t you dig me?”

The puppies love
to run and play
They keep it up
All through the day

Poor mother Rosie
And father Winston too
Are besides themselves
And don’t know what to do

The puppies
Love to bark and bite
They grab Winston by the tail
And pull with all their might

Winston whirls around
He is quite quick
He tells the boys
Go get me a stick

Rosie looks after the puppies
She thinks they are so sweet
She makes sure
They get enough to eat

The horses
There are eight
Love to eat hay
And stand by the gate

There’s Cody and Harley
And Sam and Sue
They will pull anything
Mr. Ed wants them too

Lazy Luke likes to sleep in
Sweetie is an early riser
Mick is pretty smart
But Bud is wiser

There are two ducks
Named Cheese and Quackers
Check out their bills
They are worth a lot of smackers

The rabbits
Brown and white
Live in separate cages
so they don’t fight

Two girls and a boy
Apart they remain
That is so the number of rabbits
remains the same

There’s sparrows, starlings
and chickadees too
And lots of other wild birds
That add to the zoo.

The deer like to nibble
And they love to chew
Jumping into the garden
Is their favorite thing to do

One animal not welcome
Is the stinky old skunk
Last time he met Winston
That dog really stunk

Mr Ed gets up in the morning
To do all his chores
When he takes his nap
Mrs Ed says he snores

Mrs Ed likes to garden
And look after her flowers
She seems to possess
Magical growing powers

She planted pole beans
Along side the shed
Up up they grew
Way over her head.

The beans grew up
Almost out of sight
She jumped to reach them
With all of her might.

Not being able to reach the beans
Made her feel sadder
Not being able to jump
Made her even madder

Watching her jump
And sensing her plight
Mr Ed disappeared
Clean out of sight

Not wishing to see
His lovely wife get madder and sadder
Good old Mr Ed
Came back with the step ladder

All is well
You can see
On Mr Ed’ Farm
Peace and harmony are still free.

I am a Pygmy, do you dig me?

Don’t let him pull the wool over your eyes….

When I was in 9th grade I joined the Future Farmers Of America. Mom and Dad helped me buy some sheep for my project. My uncle Art came out and gave me some pointers on how to shear. Back in his youth, he, dad and their brothers had a flock of sheep. I think they used hand shears, a spring loaded scissor- like snipper and later a hand crank machine with a clipper head attachment. Being one of the younger ones, it was dad’s job to catch sheep and sit them for the shearer. I think he said he got 25 cents a day. The wool was sold as a cash crop. I don’t think it brought much during the depression years.

Back then I never really mastered the art of sheep shearing. I was a pretty good cow clipper, not as good as my brother Duane who won several FFA cow clipping contests, but good enough not to do any serious damage. My problem was, after being shown several times, I was never able to quite master sheep tipping. It sounds easy, but it AIN’T.

Never having a large flock, I managed to remove the wool cow clip style. I’d tie up their heads and clip them from the top down. I’ll admit, they didn’t look quite as good as the ones you see at the fair. I don’t know for sure if sheep really care how they look. I do know my sheep hid out in the woods for a couple of weeks until some wool grew back. My sister Iris gave me a hair cut one time so I kind of knew what they felt like.

I sold the sheep the summer of 1972 and used the money to buy a black, 1965 Dodge Coronet so I could go off to college. The future Mrs Ed, whom I met at U of M Morris, liked the car so I guess it worked out ok.

I went sheep-less until 1985 when we bought the farm. That fall I bought 7 Hampshire ewes. I raised some lambs, sold the wethers, and kept the ewe lambs. I didn’t have to worry about shearing until spring. I believe there were 12 when that fateful day arrived.

I was ready, so I thought. I had ordered an Oyster Clipmaster from Nasco. It came in a heavy box for it’s size. I unwrapped it like a kid at Christmas. I loved the feel of the shiny new chrome and black clippers. I carefully unwrapped the dangerously looking, razor sharp blades from their oily wrapper. I even looked at the directions to see how they were to be mounted. I remember Uncle Art telling me to have some kerosene on hand to dip them in, to keep them from getting gummed up with lanolin. (the sticky, waxy stuff that makes your skin soft and makes you smell like a sheep).

I got out my newly purchased sheep books. The ones that tell you all about the diseases that your sheep can die from. I skipped over that part and went right to the chapter on shearing. I studied the diagrams. “Set the sheep on its back. Position it’s head between your knee and something else. Make your first cut …… etc, etc. Be careful not to nick the skin, the sharp clipper blades can …. Avoid making second cuts as it degrades the wool and you will be docked at time of sale”.

About now I’m starting to get second thoughts. My first second thought was what Mrs Ed had said when I was about to order the $100 plus Clipmaster. “Are you sure you need that?”. “Are you sure you know how to shear a sheep?” And finally, “Maybe you should hire someone to shear them for you”.

Over this many years of marriage, I have almost learned to listen and pay attention when she says something like that. The young Mr. Ed, ego bruised, did the only thing he could do, sent the order in.

The day of reckoning came. I pulled on the old bibs, knowing they would be coated with greasy lanolin and smelling like sheep by the time I finished. I figured I’d just hang them on the line when I was done. Pretty thoughtful I thought.

Clipmaster in one hand, coffee can with kerosene in the other, sheep book with dog eared chapter tucked under my arm, I headed out to the barn. Upon entering the door, the sheep instinctively inched to the far side of the pen. I had fed them earlier that morning so they knew I was up to something. How come sheep always expect the worst?

I ran an extension cord from the light socket. I strategically placed my coffee can where I could reach it when the blades got gummed up. I was ready to tackle my first sheep …and they knew it.
Seven 200 lb ewes intermixed with half grown lambs, launched the “melee” maneuver. That’s when the flock moves first in a clockwise motion and then shifts instantly into a counterclockwise swirl depending on which way the catcher is approaching. It was obvious no one wanted to be first.

I grabbed a leg and pulled, hoping to separate at least one from the crowd. The momentum pulled me in to the middle of this dense mass. I was forced to let go. My next move was to grab one around the neck. Better leverage I thought. I wrestled her to the edge. It was Edith!

In those days I made the mistake of naming all the sheep. I thought I could declare them as dependents on my taxes. I didn’t. Mrs.Ed said the IRS might get a little suspicious with 12 dependents under age three.

Edith was no ordinary sheep. She was big and strong and could hold her own amongst the flock. I guess she figured it was her duty to put this bibbed intruder in his place. I grabbed Edith just like it said to in the book, around the neck, bending her head sideways. The book said this causes the sheep to lose its balance and tip onto its butt. I should have let Edith read the book. Next thing I know I am on my back with Edith stomping at my head. Not to be deterred or stomped, I sprang to my feet and grabbed her again. The adrenlin must have kicked in because I soon had Edith on her butt. The other sheep stared in amazement.

Time to reach for my the Clipmaster. When something is out of reach, six inches is still six inches. I struggled, trying to keep her feet from touching the ground where she could get some traction. I wiggled her towards the machine until I could finally catch the cord with my foot. I paused for a moment to regain my composure and gather my thoughts. I rehearsed the directions in my mind. “Start your first cut behind the ear and proceed down along the flank. Ear, flank, I had a mental picture. I flicked the slide switch on the clippers. BZZZZ. Edith freaked. Somehow she managed to get her back leg firmly lodged on my ankle. I learned then why there are no one legged sheep shearers. Down I went, Edith was back on top.

More second thoughts crept into my mind. “I can do this” I said to myself. “I have to do this”. Brushing off the straw and some other sticky brown stuff from my overalls, I gave Edith the look of a determined crazy man. She stepped away from the flock and soon we were back to where we were before, “Start at the ear…..”

Clippers powered up, blades flashing, I began my first cut. The wool peeled away, just like the book said it would. I felt the lanolin on my fingers, the smell of a freshly shorn sheep filled my nostrils. A feeling of joy began to well up in my inner soul. I was doing it! I was shearing a sheep the way it was meant to be!

I probably should have stopped there. If only there were clear indisputable signals to let a person know exactly when to quit when one is ahead. The second cut went ok, even the third one wasn’t bad. Then I did it. I had the clippers too far away from the sheep. This left a patch of wool that was too long. “Darn, I got to make a second cut. Hopefully they won’t notice when I take it in to sell”.

Now there is a fine line when it comes to positioning a clipper next to a sheep’s body. And there is a fine line when it comes to adjusting clipper blades. Too loose, they won’t cut, too tight, they get hot. I sure didn’t want them to be too loose so…. Needless to say, friction creates heat. Heat, next to bare skin … You get the picture. In order to avoid the dreaded second cut, I guided the clippers in tight. I didn’t notice right away, but Edith did.

I’m not sure what happened in the next few seconds but I can tell you what I surmised from the results. Remember the part about being careful not to nick the sheep’s skin … Suddenly the meaning of that caution became crystal clear. Not only was Edith smoking, she was bleeding. They should have included another caution “If you do knick a sheep, don’t panic and nip your fingers cause it hurts”.

So, what does one do with a half shorn crazy sheep with a significant cut on her side, not to mention a slightly nipped finger? A reasonable person may have done something different. Did I mention lanolin is pretty good at slowing down bleeding? Besides, I sure didn’t want to get docked for having blood stained wool.

My sheep book suggested putting together a shepherd’s first aid kit. It advised things like iodine, bandages, string, sutures, needles and thread. Finally I had done something right. I rushed to my special cabinet where I kept my sheep supplies. I dusted off the first aid kit which I had assembled in a piece of Mrs Ed’s Tupperware. I retrieved needle and thread. I took a part of a minute to glance at the chapter on stitching up a wounded sheep. ” Not as bad as a c-section” I thought, “This should be easy”.

“Edith, oh Edith” I called. She was having none of it. She was perfectly willing to run around half naked and wounded than to have me anywhere her. Desperate times call for drastic action. My dairy farmer instincts took over. Quick, make a stanchion to hold her head. Upon locating two stout two by fours, I fashioned a makeshift head stall. I secured it to a gate. I grabbed Edith by the ears and forced her head between the boards. I secured the top with a pretty good twine string. “Cleanse the wound” the book said. I did. “Apply iodine or other disinfectant”. No problem. “Gently and carefully pull the edges of the skin together and sew using small (some kind of surgical) stitches.

It became abundantly clear, Edith would rather risk dying. Having been drug around, wrestled on her back, scorched and slashed with a Clipmaster, she wasn’t even considering letting me practice my sewing skills.

Time to regroup. “Ok” I thought to myself “she is secure and the bleeding has subsided. I was a pretty good cow clipper in my day. It will take a little longer, but I can get the wool off”. So I did. Now there still was the matter of the gash on her side. Fortunately the lanolin and iodine had curtailed the bleeding but it looked pretty bad. Wanting to spare Mrs Ed the shock of seeing a wounded sheep, I figured I’d better cover it up. Unfortunately the book didn’t specify how many and how big of bandages one should have on hand. Needless to say, I was a little short.

You know how sometimes fate intervenes just when you need it too? It was just at that moment when I looked up and saw that roll of duct tape I had left hanging in the barn the last time I fixed the water tank. It was a real “Red Green” moment. I grabbed the tape and the bandages, squeezed the skin flaps as best I could and started wrapping. A couple dozen times around the middle, Edith was ready to go.

I finished shearing the rest of the flock cow clip style without incident. Mrs Ed seemed pleasantly surprised to see the newly shorn sheep. It was probably good that Edith hadn’t quite forgiven me and was staying way back in the flock.

Shearing time is like birthdays. Once you reach a certain age, they seem to come faster. Through the course of that year, I acquired more sheep. As shearing time neared Mrs Ed asked me when I was going to shear the sheep. “You know,” I said “We have so many sheep now that it might be time to hire a professional. Besides my time is needed to work on those other projects”. She reluctantly agreed. “You are so good at it, maybe you can take the Clipmaster and give him some pointers” “Yup” I thought to myself, “you can never learn enough about the versatility of duct tape”.


A horse loggers tale

As I sit here today looking out the window at the snow swirling around in the gusting winds, I am reminded of a similar January day several years ago. It was in the early days of Wood EN Horse Logging. My logging partner at that time, Mike and I were honing our logging and horsemanship skills.

Wood EN Horse Logging is an enterprise established to utilize draft horses in custom logging ventures. Or, something useful for the horses to do in the winter time.

The logging industry is driven by technology and economics. The goal is to produce as much wood at the least possible cost. Horse logging predates the highly mechanized logging of modern times. For one hundred years, beginning with the first commercial logging in Minnesota in the 1830’s, animals provided the necessary power. Early on, oxen skidded the big pine to nearby rivers. Oxen were common on farms and more affordable than horses. Oxen can live quite well on hay, even if it is poor quality.

Horses, on the other hand, moved faster than the ponderous ox but required more expensive grain. By 1900, draft horses, had supplanted the ox. Highball logging, being able to move large loads of
over greater distances with horses, was a major technological and economic advance for the industry. As what happened in agriculture, the day of the horse began to wane in the 1920’s . By the end of WW II, farming and logging had become much more mechanized. Tractors pulled the plows. Cats and cable skidders moved the wood.

The numbers of horses in rural America dropped dramatically in the 20th century. The ones that survived lived much different lives. Where there once hundreds of thousands of “good broke teams”, modern draft horses could be classified as “hitch” horses, nostalgic farm teams, or pasture pets. Agriculture and logging evolved and changed in ways that worked against the resurgence of the draft horse. Farms became larger. Logging production based. To be economically viable, farmers and loggers needed to produce more with less. Horses where too slow and inefficient.

Wood EN Horse Logging set out to change all that. Mike and I were determined to show people horses still had a place in the woods. Horse logging, we said, is “light on the land, low impact, precision forest management”. We were providing a service to improve the forest environment,. Volume of production was secondary. We were very proud of the fact that the plantations we thinned looked much better after we did our work.

My entry into the horse logging business began with a foray into Mike’s world. Mike had been logging with his horse Spunk. Spunk was a big Belgian mare. Mike had raised and broke her to log. She lived up to her name. There wasn’t anything she didn’t think she could pull and she did it with the speed and zest of a bronco.

Rollie Miller and I went up to help Mike with a pine plantation thinning. It was a winter of big snow. Mike had spent a few weeks felling trees before the first blizzard hit. By the time we got there the second and third snows had completely submerged the downed logs, Mike and his mighty mare were exhausted. I brought Patsy and Kate, my mares to the rescue.

“So how many trees are there”? Rollie asked. “About twenty”, replied Mike. We shuffled through the drifts, we shoveled down to the stumps, chained up the trees and skidded them to the landing. Twenty trees later we took a break. “So Mike, how many tress are left?” Rollie asked “About twenty” Mike replied. This was repeated about four more times. We laughed about that for many years to come.

Back to my memory prompted by today’s swirling snow. A few years later, Mike and I were logging poplar here. We were using Mike’s horse and one of mine. Unfortunately Spunk was gone, having died giving birth. We were using her son who had been broke that summer by the Amish in Iowa. Mike raised Dumb Ass, yes, that was the horses name as a bottle fed orphan. DA lived up to his name.

Orphan horses often have personality issues later in their lives. Foals that grow up under their mother’s tutelage learn to respect other horses and their place in the pecking order. Orphans get their identity from their handler. Humans are able to exhibit kindness much better than brood mares. Unfortunately this can backfire as the youngster grows to adulthood. Full grown orphans, accustomed to getting their own way, are difficult to break to work. They are more likely to challenge the teamster and to throw temper tantrums if they don’t get their way.

The morning went ok. I worked DA single, skidding trees from the woods to the landing in a nearby field. Unfortunately from this vantage point, DA could see the other horses up by the barn. By 11 a.m. DA grew restless. Each time I came out of the woods, he got a little more biligerant, fighting me to go back in the woods. Frustrated, I went to Mike. “DA is starting to irritate me” (I was a little more direct). Mike took the lines. I am not sure what happened next but DA, lines flying out behind him, made a beeline to the barn.

By this time the weather had deteriorated. The wind had come up, blowing snow in all directions. Mike and I looked at each other. “We can’t end like this” we agreed, “if we do DA will have won”. Between the two of us we decided on the “running w”. The running w is a rope restraint system that trains a run away horse to stop on command. We figured if we could drop DA to his knees a couple times, he’d quit trying to get away. There was a lot of snow so we weren’t concerned about hurting him.

I went to get the rope. Mike caught DA. By the time we got back to the field the blizzard was in full force. Mike and I had to shout to each other as we rigged up the ropes. DA stood quietly. In hindsight, I think he was crafting his plan.

I took the lines, Mike the trip rope. Mike nodded. “Get up” I shouted to the horse as the blizzard’s intensity increased. As expected, DA turned and headed toward the barn. I laid on the lines and shouted “WHOA!” Mike braced himself. DA, in the spirit of his mother, powered ahead. I hollered at Mike “I can”t hold him”? Mike shouted back “What”? It was clear verbal communication was not going to work. I saw Mike struggling, about to be tipped from a backward brace to a front face slide. I threw the lines and bolted to Mike’s side. I grabbed the rope. For a second or two, the scales seemed to be tipping in our favor. We could feel the the horse stumble. “I think we got him” I shouted” “What”? Mike shouted back.

The struggle continued, the advantage first to the horse, then to two, slightly out of shape, horse loggers. Back and forth, back and forth. The wind whipped with an unforgiving fury. I looked at Mike’s snow crusted face. His jaw set in a “win at all cost ” poise. His gloved hands clutching the rope with a grip of steel. At that point we both looked in the direction of our adversary. The weather had turned to a whiteout.

“I think he’s out there someplace” Mike shouted. At that point we knew we couldn’t hold it anymore. Falling over laughing, we watched as the rope and the horse it was attached to disappeared into the whiteness. DA’s lesson for the day would have to wait.

Mike, a horse logging legend in his own mind, and a good friend

I gotta tell mom!

I learn stuff the hard way. Like the time I lost an ox. Yes, a 2000 pound ox, bought with investors money, gone, vanished overnight.

This is the beginning of the “Saga of Norman, the Wonder Ox”. Norman began life as a small crossbred calf, caught between the world of dairy and beef. He was half Jersey and half black angus. He probably never knew his sire and dam, at least he never talked about them. Did I mention he was a talking ox? Just kidding, although he had a pretty distinct moo.

Norman was purchased at a sales barn by Rollie and Mary Miller about the time the movie City Slickers came out. If you have never seen it you probably don’t know what “IT” is. Billy Crystal figures it out in the movie. It has something to do with “bringing in the herd”. Pretty deep stuff. Norman is a major character.

Anyway Norman got a ride to his Floodwood farm in the back of a station wagon. During the next two years or so, Norman grew large on a ration of grain and hay. He learned to lead and pull logs with a makeshift harness. Oxen that work in teams, also known as spans, generally wear yokes made from wood. Norman was a solitary beast. Rollie was an improviser. He rigged a harness using an upside down horse collar. Norman never complained. His vanity never surfaced.

Sometime between his second and third birthday, Norman made his public debut. Rollie was a lumberjack interpreter at the Forest History Center. When the time was right, Norman headed for camp, this time in an old rusty, two horse stock trailer. Rollie told me later that Norman rode better in the back of the station wagon as he “rocked the trailer” all the way to town.

Norman became the star of “Real Horse and a Little Ox Power Day”. People came for miles and waited patiently just to see him perform the dangerous and dramatic cross haul. Bill ,the blacksmith, used to marvel at Norman’s speed. “You gotta put a line on the ground just to make sure you can see he’s moving”. Norman didn’t mind, he figured Bill to be a big steak eater anyway.

One spring cancer took our friend Rollie and it looked like Norman’s days were numbered. With the help of young budding author and occasional FHC volunteer, Matt Nelson, we came up with a plan to save Norman. Mary was willing to sell him for market price and there were a lot of Oxburgers. Matt created the Norman Newsletter to rally the Normanites, a group of investors who could “own a piece of Norman” for only $50. Norman certificates were printed and the money poured in. A few people wanted their share in steaks and roasts so we had to explain that it didn’t work that way. The best Norman could do was make them a pie. Most declined.

In a short period of time, an envelope of almost enough cash was assembled. Mr’s Ed and I were able to complete the financing. It was time to close the deal and pick up Norman.

I’ll never forget the pickup. It was fly season. Norman was hiding in the back of a loafing shed with the horses and another, “someday to be ” ox. I don’t remember his name, what I do remember was that Mary said Rollie bought him to team up with Norman but never got around to train him or even make him a steer. I was just a little reluctant to go into a small shed with three, fly stomping draft horses and a two year old bull to look for a black ox. Did I mention it was dark in there?

Somehow I managed to find him, slip a halter on and coax him to the door. He wasn’t exactly happy. You see in the world of horse flies, the color black says “lunch”. Something as big and black as Norman screams out BUFFET! With me on the halter rope and Mary on the business end of a stick, we managed to get Norman over to the trailer. Suddenly the “Hey, this is a trailer” bulb turns on and he proceeds to drag me back to the shed. Did I mention it was about 90 degrees and getting hotter by the minute? Bullwackers, as the men who drove oxen were called, had reputations for cussing. Perhaps my mutterings stirred something in Norman’s ancestral psyche, because the next time we worked our way back to the trailer he put both front feet in and stood there. From what happened next, I suspected Mary and Rollie had performed this ritual before. Details aside, Norman stepped into the trailer.

The ride home was eventful. For a ponderous ox, that boy could rock a trailer. Whenever I’d stop at a stop sign, he’d Beller for help. Needless to say, I “kept her moving” as I didn’t want to answer any questions.

No problem unloading the “car sick” beast. Don’t ask me why I knew he was car sick. Thank goodness for pressure washers. I led him to a corral behind the barn. One side had metal corral panels, the other side, a four foot high wolven wire fence. “Welcome to your new home, Norman, I’ll see you in the morning”.

Morning came. I went out to see how the old boy was doing. He wasn’t. Not that he wasn’t doing anything, he wasn’t there. The pen is fifty feet square, pretty hard for anything to hide, particularly a 2000 pound ox. On closer inspection, I noticed a hole about the size of an ox in the wolven wire. “That wasn’t there yesterday” I thought to myself. I followed the tracks. They led me to the driveway and down Foss Road. Norman was heading home! Floodwood is 48 miles from my house. “I wonder how much of a head start he got”? I thought to myself. “Better get some help”.

To back track a little bit, did I mention that Mrs. Ed wasn’t exactly thrilled about adding an ox to the already in excess herd of horses? Also she was a little uneasy about a financed ox. “What are you going to tell people if he dies”? ” “He’s a young ox, he isn’t going to die” I assured her. I never considered that he might run away.

Thinking it was best not to worry her when she was still sleeping, I crept into Matt’s room. “Hey Matt”, I whispered, “want to go on an adventure?” Sure Dad” (that was during his unquestioning period. He got dressed and we headed outside. “What’s up?” he asked. ” Normans’ gone. We got to go find him”. Fortunately I was able to get my hand over his mouth in time to muffle his response, “I’m going to tell mom”.

We headed down the driveway. “See here are his tracks” I pointed out. “Dad,, you just stepped in a cow pie”. As we rounded the mailbox, the kid came up with another one of his prodigious ideas. “I think we had better bring Snuffy along”. Snuffy was our old veteran Border Collie. He didn’t get too excited except in emergency situations. I agreed and whistled for him. He reluctantly emerged from his dog house and wondered down the driveway towards us. “Snuffy, Normans’ run away. We got to find him!”
Snuffy came alive, like a bloodhound at a prison escape. Nose to the ground, he headed down Foss Road. “Come on Snuffy, get him” Matt yelled as we picked up the pace. It is only one half mile to highway 5. Number 5 is a blacktop road. I worried we might lose the track. Halfway there Snuffy stopped. Had he lost the trail? He stared into the woods.

It is no ordinary woods on the south side of Foss Road. It is swamp, alder brush and thick dark spruce. It’s where the big bucks hang out during deer season. We know because we never go in there to look for them. Impossible to fight through. Snuffy looked at us, looked back at the swamp, back at us, shook his head and dove in. Matt and I ran the last 50 yards. No. No way. No ordinary animal would enter that swamp.

We stopped and stared at the hole in the brush. Yup, about the size of an ox. I looked at the ground. The tracks too had stopped as if the ox had been lifted into the sky by a gigantic eagle. “I think he’s in there dad” “I think your right” I replied. “I’d better go tell mom”. I pleaded with him, “We can do this son”. “If we don’t make it, then you can tell mom”.

Fortunately big oxen make big trails. We followed, climbing over trees, fighting the brush, mosquitoes as big as horseflies and horse flies as big as humming birds. “Listen” Matt whispered “I think I hear Snuffy”. I listened. A muffled bark sounded like it was coming from a distant stand of spruce.” Matt plunged ahead. Being much smaller than me he could slide under the bigger brush. As long as It kept slapping me in the face, I figured I wouldn’t lose him.

The barks grew sharper. Snuffy had something. I hoped he had not been sidetracked by a squirrel, porcupine or worse yet, a skunk. Before I could say, slow down, Matt stopped, hunched over and peered into the dense spruce. “I think I see him” Matt said, pointing to a really dark spot. About that time, probably annoyed by a yapping border collie, Norman let out a bellow. It was music to my ears!

Now the way I figure it, Norman was on his way home. At his pace it took him half the night to traverse the first half mile. When the sun came up so did the horse flies. BUFFET” they buzzed to each other as they dive bombed the black beast. Norman had simply headed for cover, to lay low until nightfall. Fortunately for us, Snuffy got his man!

Getting Norman home was a bit of a challenge. I told Matt, “Let’s play the Rollie and Mary game.”What’s that” he asked?. “”Here, take this stick and act like you mean business”. It worked. Assisted by a flock of hungry horse flies and a fired up border collie, we got Norman to the barn in record time. Just as I turned to shut the barn door, I saw Matt streaking towards the house. “Matt” I called. Too late. ” Not now dad, I gotta tell mom!”


Young Matt Nelson and Norman the Wonder Ox

Eating like a horse

Pretty quiet Sunday on Mr Ed’s Farm. Too cold to do much more than the usual chores. The animals are adjusting just fine. The new chicken coop is holding around 40 degrees, a big improvement over the old one. It’s pretty amazing how much heat the feathered fowl can give off.

The horses have been, well “eating like horses”, consuming large amounts of hay. Horses have a rather simple digestive system with one stomach as compared to the calves who have four. Horses need to eat a lot of roughage as they heat from the inside out. The hay, mixed with saliva, ferments in the horse’s intestines and generates heat. In the old days, farmers turned the horses into the straw pile during the winter. Straw has less nutritional value than hay but provided the needed roughage

Horses like to move around in really cold weather. It facilitates circulation, especially in their legs. A horse that goes down for even a short period of time when it is real cold, can get in trouble in a hurry.

Logging horses, that worked every day, required a daily ration of grain to provide energy in addition to generous amounts of hay. The rule of thumb was a quart of oats for every 100 pounds of horse. Generally the teams got grain three times a day with the largest portion given in the morning.

Logging camp barns were not heated. In fact old photos show spaces left between the logs in the walls with vents built into the ceilings. The heat generated by the horses rose up and out. The cracks in the walls brought in the fresh air the horses needed to stay healthy. Horses kept in moist, unventilated barns are more likely to suffer from respiratory problems.

Logging camp barns had wood planking on the floors. The horses had corked shoes that would have become clogged with frozen mud if they had to stand in dirt. The horses stood in tie stalls, not in corrals or loose housing to minimize the risk of injury from kicks and stepping on each other.

The majority of horses used in the camps were rented from farmers. They were only needed for the winter so it was more economical to rent them by the month rather than feed them all year. Farmers could rent out their extra horses during the winter for cash when they would have otherwise been idle. The teams came home in time for spring planting. Most camp horses were geldings between 6-12 years old.

Chet Mann once told me the best color of horse was fat. I think he was talking about retail appeal. If your looking to sell a horse, fatten and shine them up. If your buying one, look for horses that are muscled up from working. You can almost always fatten them up if your concerned about “color”.

A team of grade grey percheron logging horses.