Dig-Proof Dog Run Done Fast

We built an escape proof 16x4x4 dog run in about 30 minutes.  The trick was to use livestock panels secured by hog rings and pliers.

Since we had only ever had pet dogs, prior to getting the Livestock Guardian puppies, we did a lot of research on this genre of working dogs.  Many of the questions regularly asked on forums were about keeping the dogs contained to their pasture.  “How do I keep him from climbing over the fence?”  “How do I stop her from digging under the fence?”

Initially we looked at commercial dog runs but they are a) expensive b) small and c) generally have no floor so do not solve the digging out problem.  Eventually we figured there had to be a better way, and when planning the layout of the sheep and goat barn, we incorporated the dog run into it, making it the divider between the sheep and goat “stalls”.

We started by laying a panel on the ground.  To that were attached the side walls.


The panels used for the sides have smaller gaps than the cattle panels.  Rather than 4×6 holes, each hole is only 6×2.  This means the puppy couldn’t squeeze through the holes in the panel, even when first brought home.  A regular cattle panel was then placed on top.  The “roof” panel secured the whole thing and turned it into a tube.  Finally a panel was cut to create the ends, each of which is secured in such a way it can swing open to become a gate, so that animals can enter from either end.


The dog run served as a handy place to hang sheep and goat feeders.  More importantly, it allowed the puppies to interact with both sheep and goats safely, and allowed the stock to adjust to the idea of having dogs living among them.  As the ewes and lambs gave birth, the pups were able to see, smell and hear without causing any problems – and without being traumatized by protective new moms.


The pups slept in their dog run every night until they were 6 & 8 months old.  Later it was used to prevent an unwanted pregnancy when Karina had her first heat cycle.  And in between it was used to separate kids at night so we could milk their moms in the morning.

Initially we thought the dog run would be a temporary addition to the barn, but it has been so useful as a separation pen that we have never dismantled it.


Snicker and Hallie

What a week of ups and downs.  It started joyfully, with the birth of a Jersey heifer calf.  Born in the wee hours of Halloween morning, we named her Hallie.  Her entrance to the world was apparently easy, to Snicker, a seasoned cow.  By the time we awoke, she was cleaned off and contentedly sleeping.


Our joy turned to concern the following morning.  One quarter of the cow’s udder was swollen and she moved gingerly.  We expressed the quarter to confirm she had mastitis, and then started her immediately on penicillin – the drug of choice for mastitis, despite many newer antibiotics entering the market since penicillin was discovered.

From both experience and research, an animal with mastitis will often not act sick and will continue to graze and behave normally.  However as the day wore on, it was clear this was not the case with our cow.  By evening she was down – and unable to get back up.

We grew concerned she had milk fever in addition to the mastitis, since the symptoms of one will mask those of the other.  So, when she still wasn’t up next morning, we called a vet out.  He administered a bottle of calcium.  If she had milk fever this would have acted quickly and she’d have been on her feet before he left.  Sadly, all we learned was that she did not have milk fever.  However the vet did tell us she has toxic rather than bacterial mastitis, which is not good.


Turning to Google, we learned that toxic mastitis is often a death sentence.  Determined to do what we could for her, the next few days became a blur.  We treated by stripping the teat every 2 hours around the clock.  We started mammary infusions (shooting penicillin directly into the quarter via the teat) every 6 hours.  We massaged the udder and rubbed essential oils – comfrey, calendula and peppermint – into it.  We injected Dexamethesone, a steroid, and Vitamin B Complex once each day, and Penicillin twice each day.  We held a food bowl containing grain in front of her nose for as long as she would eat (our cows are normally grass-fed so grain is a rare treat we hoped would tempt her).  We hauled buckets of water to put in front of her.  We covered her with blankets at night to keep her warm, and rigged up shade to put over her by day to keep her cool.

In spite of it all, the cow grew weaker.  On day 3 she fell to her side, laying flat out, rather than sitting up.  We were unable to get her back up to a sitting position so sat with her, listening to her breathing become shallower and more irregular.  Periodically her legs paddled – a sign of imminent death.  We bawled.

And what of Hallie?  Bonded to her mom, she sat vigil with us.  We milked our other cow and taught Hallie to drink from a bottle.  She hated the bottle but needed the milk.  Still, as soon as she was done, she ran back to lie with her mom again.  She had occasional bursts of energy and ran around galloping and kicking, providing us the only comic relief and smiles in an otherwise dreary vigil.

After 5 hours lying flat out on her side, Snicker indicated a desire to sit up.  We enlisted the help of a third person, and between the three of us, lifted the cow (whose weight we estimate at 1000 pounds) back up to a sitting position.  We hauled hay bales to prop around her to help her remain sitting.  In spite of the bales, she went back down several more times, and each time it took three people to return her to a sitting position.


At 2am on the morning of day 5, she again went down.  Once again, three people lifted her to sitting.  By now she was very weak.  Most of the time she was unable to hold her head up and let it flop to her flank.  When we offered food and water, she ate and drank from that position.


As dawn broke that morning, we milked the other cow and attempted to feed the milk to Hallie in her bottle.  This time she refused.  Thirty minutes of trying every trick in the book achieved nothing and we finally gave up and left her with her mom.  Feeling miserable, we made a pot of coffee and fretted about this new development.  Losing the cow was tough enough, but to lose her calf as well was unimaginable.  But if she wouldn’t eat, how long could we keep her alive?

Coffee finished, we looked out the window to check on them and saw….a cow walking around grazing.


I don’t believe in miracles but…we got a miracle.  Somehow, the same cow who 7 hours earlier was too weak to sit up by herself, had rallied the strength to stand.  My theory is that the hungry calf gave her the motivation she needed to make that enormous effort.  Amazingly, Hallie was playing nearby, no longer hungry.

I write this 36 hours since our miracle occurred.  Snicker is now out in the pasture, grazing with the other cows.  She is eating, drinking, nursing and playing with her calf, lying down and getting back up again – as though none of this ever happened.


Are we out of the woods yet?  Not necessarily.  The toxic mastitis continues to eat away at the flesh of her udder.  We continue to strip every two hours around the clock.  Yet some of the flesh has turned black and cool indicating it has died and will likely slough off.  The fluid contained in the quarter remains a port wine color with chunks in it from the toxins inside.  It seems greedy to hope for another miracle, so we accept that she will likely lose the use of that quarter.

Incredibly, she appears to be making enough milk to satisfy Hallie, who is full of beans.

I wish I could explain how or why any of this happened but I can’t.  Even the vet – an older gent with decades of experience in dairy animals – is stumped.  Mastitis does not normally take a cow down as fast as this did and does not usually manifest within hours of delivery.  We may never know why.  But we remain thankful that Snicker is still with us and recovering as fast as she went downhill.

A Hard Lesson Learned

Engines like oil.  A lot.

Somehow, in the busyness of life, I forgot that little tidbit, until the riding mower started sounding rough.  It turns out, adding oil after the damage is done, doesn’t undo it.  A piston through the engine casing is an expensive reminder to regularly check the oil in ALL vehicles that require it for smooth operation.  Oops.

The cost of a new engine?  $1600 installed.  Yes, I could get a whole new mower for around $3000 but the body on this mower is sound and with a new engine – especially with oil added occasionally – should last a long, long time.  So we decided not to treat the mower as disposable, and to repair the damage done.


Our 100th post!  Who knew we talked so much?

I blogged recently about the change of direction we are taking with our goats.  Having sold the meat breed goats, we still needed to get our dairy does bred and explored many options.  Not keen on getting another buck – they are stinky and frankly, our last one was a lovable butthead.  (Pronunciation guide: The first three syllables of “lovable butthead” are silent.)  We looked into artificial insemination (AI) but technicians are few and the ridiculously brief period of receptivity( 6-12 hours) ensures that even if you detect the heat, it will be finished before the AI tech can arrive.

I investigated learning how to do the AI myself, but courses are expensive and halfway across the country.  Then would be the challenge of keeping semen onsite ready to be thawed for that narrow window of opportunity – which could occur while we were sleeping!

My does are Oberhasli – a Swiss breed that we have since learned are somewhat rare in this country.  I have two friends each with registered Nubian does – another dairy breed – who were also without bucks.  You see where this is going…. a shared problem becomes a shared venture.  So, we agreed look for a registered, purebred Nubian with good conformation.  After looking for some time, we found the perfect candidate, named “4RS Minima Cooper”, but we instead purchased the large dalmatian dog seen below.


And just in case you don’t think he looks tall in a picture by himself, here he is beside one of the Oberhasli does.


So far he has been a perfect gentleman – gentle with the goats and respectful of people.

Kilo and Karina’s response to the new animal in the herd they guard was interesting and, ultimately satisfying.  Both initially barked and growled at the large, unfamiliar intruder.  Kilo, who is older, bigger, and calmer, rather quickly accepted my assurances that this animal was now one of their own and the two of them experimented a bit to see which of them would yield way to the other, but were amicable soon enough.  Karina, on the other hand, frankly didn’t agree with me; she barked at him intermittently for a couple of days, before grudgingly accepting that he belongs.  Now they both watch and protect him just as they do the other goats and sheep.

We are excited to see the kids born out of this combination!  Per the partnership agreement, Cooper will live at each farm approximately four months each year, servicing 2-3 does at each farm.  He is a lucky buck!

Urinary Calculi

Earn a reputation for being a crazy sheep lady and life gets even more interesting.  Recently I was contacted by a complete stranger, asking me to take a look at her sick sheep.  She thought it might be urinary calculi and, seeing the animal, that was clearly it.  Urinary calculi – aka kidney stones – are a common problem in young, castrated male sheep and goats. If the stone actually causes the urinary bladder or urethra to rupture, this problem is called “water belly” because of the accumulation of urine in the abdomen. Stones can also form in the female but very rarely cause a problem because of the large size of the urethra. Males that are castrated at a very young age have a much smaller penis and urethra, leading to easier blockage of the urethra by small stones. Caught early they can be treated but this poor lamb had been suffering a long, long time – his bladder had already ruptured and formed the classic “water belly”.

The only humane thing was to put him out of his misery, which we did immediately.  The owner just wanted him gone so, rather than have his life go to waste, we brought him home to process.

Between our concern and the coming storm, we forgot to get pictures of him.  However I found an image on the web that is very similar to what we saw:


While skinning, bloody urine leaked, tainting much of the carcass.  The hind legs, which were suspended above the abdomen when hung, were fine, however much of the rest of the meat became dog food.

We can only hope the owner learned from this experience to seek help early, to avoid needless suffering.  Meanwhile, I am thankful none of our sheep or goats have had this problem.

And if you enjoyed this post, you won’t want to miss next week when I describe, in detail, the symptoms, progression, and common complications  of  malignant rectonasal inversitis.

Meishan Pigs

Don’t judge me!  (At least don’t find me clinically insane.)  I’ve always wanted pigs.  But pigs root and dig mud holes so I’ve managed to successfully talk myself out of them for years.  But this week that changed.

A friend attended a sale and saw Meishan piglets – a rare breed from China that has large floppy ears, giving it a unique – and rather appealing – look.  I tried to resist but by the end of the auction, I was the owner of these two boars.


They are unbelievably tiny.  For size reference, here they are next to Dizzy, the cairn terrier (who is himself not a big dog).


Their names are Felix and Oscar, a reference that may be lost on the younger generation.  Felix will walk away from the food bowl to potty while Oscar keeps right on eating as he goes, and is the first to get his front feet in the bowl.  So they are aptly named.

Is bacon in our future?  Time will tell.  Despite starting out small, they will grow to an edible size, so it will all depend on how much they root and how bad the mud holes are.  In the meantime, I’m enjoying watching and playing with them.  I had no idea they will play together like little puppies!  And, if it later turns out that pigs are not a good fit for our homestead, we can always eat our mistakes.

Groceries by the Pallet

We buy groceries by the pallet-load, but we don’t eat them.

Our goal when starting our homestead was to produce more of our own food.  Initially we had eggs and the occasional chicken meat.  We’ve since added animals (for turkey, duck, lamb and goat meat), established the veggie garden, and added dairy animals.  We were also fortunate that the previous residents planted an apple tree that has produced an abundant crop of apples all but one of the years we’ve been here.

Consequently our spend at the local Kroger has reduced tremendously over time.  In September I spent $38.20 at the grocery store, on items like bread, cereal, spices and condiments that we cannot produce here.  It wasn’t an unusual month.

I wish I could truly say that is all we spend on “groceries”.  The reality is, instead of buying human groceries, we now buy animal groceries by the pickup load because, in order to provide us with good quality food, they need to eat good quality food themselves.  In summer, the cows, sheep and goats are able to graze almost 100% of their nutrition (they get a small amount of grain as a treat for standing nicely while being milked).  But, in winter, when they are heavily pregnant or nursing babies, and at the same time the grass is dormant so they have to eat hay instead, they consume more purchased calories.

We tried an experiment this year with the poultry.  Commercial pelleted feed is a relatively new invention; old-timers didn’t feed their chickens – they got by foraging/scavenging everything they ate.  So, this year we reduced their feed substantially, to encourage them to get out and find more bugs and greens of their own.  I expected egg production to reduce, but if it did, I couldn’t tell.  I had just as many broody hens trying to hatch and raise chicks as ever, and was still inundated with eggs at the peak of the season.  Meanwhile, the hens look healthy and our property has very few bugs.  I call that a win-win-win.


However we are approaching the time of year when our grocery bill will increase again.  Maybe not for the people – the freezers and canning jars are full and will take us through the winter easily – but expenditure on groceries for the animals will increase.  Nevertheless, I’d say we are where we hoped one day to be and it is satisfying.