Thursday, November 3, 2011

Birthday Week Gone Bad

When you have a birthday on Halloween, as I do, I suppose you should expect scary things to happen. They certainly have this year.

The plan was to hike to a mountain lake not far from us, but one we haven't hiked to for several years. I went out early Halloween Monday morning to feed horses and milk goats. My beloved Mr. Smith was not feeling well. He has had several episodes of mild colic over the last year or more. This was another. So I spent my birthday morning walking my horse and worrying.

By the time he was better, I was hiked out. Plus we needed to repair fence. Shirley Puppy, a neighbor told us, had been out on the road chasing cars again. I'd hoped she had learned her lesson when hit by a pickup a year ago. She had for a time, but the lesson wore off. So Johnny and I surveyed the fence line around the llama/sheep/Shirley field and determined the easiest temporary fixes to make. The whole fence needs replacing sometime, but for now, we put up stock panels over the worst areas.

While doing that, I noticed a black ewe on her side, not getting up. I hiked into the field and righted her. She was very bloated and breathing hard. But she, like Mr. Smith, seemed better later in the day. I made myself a chocolate cake and some goat milk ice cream. This birthday was not going to be a total bust.

That evening, Mr. Smith was "off" again, so it was more walking, in the dark, for another hour until he produced manure. Johnny came out at one point to see what was happening. Always one to find the bright side of things, he said, "You got to do a lot of hiking on your birthday plus spend time with your horses. A good day, huh?"

I was not amused. I was too worried about Mr. Smith. He has had some funny white things in his manure for quite some time and I began to wonder if he was loaded with some strange sort of worms. I gathered the fresh manure, when it finally arrived, into a pail and sent it off with Johnny the next morning to the vet. I was scheduled to do my first raptor run of the winter the day after my birthday and intended to do just that if Mr. Smith was okay. He was and I did. The vet called while I was on the road with friend Marilyn driving. Mr. Smith was loaded with tapeworms. That's what those funny white things in his manure were: tapeworm segments. The vet told me what de-wormer to buy. (I have and all 4 horses are now de-tapewormed.)

That day after my birthday was a much better day, being spent looking for birds. We did not see many raptors... most of the wintering raptors do not arrive for another month... but we did find a pair of White-tailed Kites and one juvenile kite at a place where we knew they must have nested but from which they had disappeared for several months. Kites do that every year. It's always exciting (to birdaholics) when these beautiful hawks reappear.

Happily, the usual scary things at the Oregon Wildlife grounds where we survey were safely locked away: the white rhinos. They have been causing too much trouble and are banished from areas where people might roam. Instead, we saw several raptors, two lovely Western Bluebirds, some of the usual endangered antelope and several not-at-all endangered native deer. This handsome fellow was taking a nap as we drove by.

Things were looking up. But not for long.

That night we had the hardest frost thus far of the year. I had forgotten to cover the tomatoes. So I picked green tomatoes Wednesday morning. And noticed that a bear came very close to the house during the night, leaving scratch marks on the apple tree right outside our back door and a pile of partly digested apples in the back yard.

I thought briefly that perhaps we should start moving the dog food dispenser inside at night, as we did last year after the bear dismantled it, and perhaps we should erect the bearicade over the chicken house door. But I decided to leave the big white goat guardian dog, McCoy, out instead, hoping his barking would scare the bear away. That proved to be a bad decision.

Sometime during the night, I woke up to hear Shirley Puppy barking. "Shirley is barking", I told Johnny, who was also awake.

"Yeah, she's been barking for about ten minutes."

"And you didn't get up to see what's going on??" I jumped out of bed and headed for the back door, turning on the kitchen light and back room light as I went, grabbing the flashlight, opening the back door, and shining it at the apple tree, then the back yard. McCoy barked briefly, then both dogs were quiet. The motion sensor light was not on in the back yard so I didn't think the bear had been there. It was cold outside and I wasn't dressed. I went back to bed. Another bad decision.

It was dark when I went out to feed horses the next (this) morning. I did not notice the destruction in the back yard until later, when I came in from milking goats. The bear had, just as last year, ripped the dog food dispenser off the fence and over to his side. However, he had apparently dropped it in the water trough before getting it over the fence. The water trough was full of floating dog food. The pipe I leave at the bottom of the trough for the goldfish to hide in was out on the ground. The bear must have scooped it out while trying to get the dog food container out of the water. I had been leaving very little food in the dispenser in case the bear did come. (Finally, one good decision.) It looked like all of it was in the water. Apparently bears don't like soggy dog food.

At some distance from the fence, against the grapes by the woodshed, was the metal barrel with securely fastened lid that we have kept dog food in ever since last year when the bear destroyed the hard plastic dog food barrel. (See... ) Last night the bear tried and failed to get it open.

Failing at his dog food raid, the bear turned his attention to the unprotected chicken house and tore open a sack of grain. He had not eaten much so maybe bears don't like grain. Tonight, Johnny will erect his bearicade and we'll move the dog food dispenser into the house.

There are "bear piles" all over the yard this Thursday morning, most full of pieces of yellow and green apples, probably from our Golden Delicious tree in the front yard. It seems bears like yellow apples best.

This bear seems to like raspberry leaves, as my raspberry plants were stripped of leaves this morning. Deer would have eaten the nearby blueberry leaves and rose leaves and those are untouched. Maybe the bear had a tummy ache after all those apples and needed raspberry leaves to ease it.

McCoy, the dog I left out to chase the bear away, was sound asleep when I went out early this morning to do chores. I will say that there was no sign the bear had entered the goat barn where there is a full bag of dog food in an unsecured plastic barrel. Maybe McCoy was guarding that.

Last year when we were having bear trouble, niece Melissa suggested we buy a toy alarm that "when someone or something gets near it, some siren goes off and makes you pee your pants." I think it's time to take that suggestion. At least it should get us out of bed.


  1. Sounds like another bad decision in the making. I doubt if the bear would be too scared if/when he trips the alarm----he doesn't even wear pants! If the alarm is close enough to us to hear it when the bear trips it (in the middle of the night), neither of us sleeps in our trousers. And I imagine that over the last 100 years, bears have found out that if they appear menacing enough, it doesn't take much more than a grunt, or grimace, or just standing upright to make people pee their pants (or worse). This bear would probably tell all the others to come to our farm to see the show the people put on when they get scared.
    A better solution than us having drippy pants or a soggy bed would be to "stake out our territories" by peeing on all the apple trees, dog food barrels, etc. And to do so as high as possible...that's where the term "top dog" comes from.

  2. I want to comment - but you have both left me speechless (almost). Happy late b'day, in any case.