Reluctant Cowgirl


Winter Water Woes No More

The winter of 2016-2017 was brutal here in northeast Oregon. From late November to early March the temperature got above 32 degrees F maybe as many times as I can count on one hand. Probably fewer. I did not keep accurate records. But it was cold. The average temperature for December and January was probably about 10 F. I could be exaggerating but probably not. I take being cold very seriously.

We had just moved to the little off-grid ranch we now own, and at the time had no idea what we were in for. The only frost-free hydrant near the barn was busted from cows itching themselves on it for the few years that this place sat unoccupied by humans. The other frost-free was far enough away that if you walked a 5 gallon bucket from there to the barn the water might freeze in the time it took you. We wound up hoisting buckets of warm water from the kitchen sink. I’ve complained about this before, probably on this blog, so I apologize if it’s getting repetitive but believe me it was terrible and I can’t forget about it.

Enter winter 2017-2018. “Winter” here is a thing that starts in November definitely, maybe sometimes as early as September so it’s best to be ready by August. We didn’t close on the place until mid-September, and then because we had shoveled so much money into the actual home-buying process it took me a month or two to dig deep and buy the non-electric horse waterer of my off-grid dreams. Then it took a few more weeks to find the free time (and more money) to rent a little mini excavator and buy the other supplies needed to install said dream waterer. We were cutting it close, folks.

BUT! I am happy to report that on the second weekend of November we still had cooperative weather and capable human hands and enough money in the bank to rent that digging machine and make dreams a reality.

This is how we did it.
Step 1. Get to know your excavator.

2017-12-13 17_30_51
Step 2. Employ a very serious supervisor (or two).


Supervisor No. 1


Supervisor No. 2

Step 3. A bunch of technical stuff that I didn’t pay much attention to because plumbing is scary and I am not qualified.


Toward the end of the technical stuff

Step 4. Demonstrate and hope your animals are smart/thirsty enough to figure it out.


Ta da! (Please also note all the chew marks on his face from play fighting with his brother)

The old horse is persistent/belligerent and has very little fear of anything and therefore was the first to learn. The mustang is probably the most intelligent, but a little more wary, so he was next. The mule, who is supposed to be very smart, was also very nervous about the New Thing in his paddock and therefore waited a couple weeks to catch on completely. I saw him drinking from puddles and generally acting very put-out until he finally decided that since the others were doing it the thing must be safe enough to approach. We don’t have the greatest water pressure so if it’s not filling fast enough he tries to put his hoof in there to show us all how frustrated he is. The waterer was available with an optional chew-guard which we did not elect to purchase. I may suggest they also offer a hoof-guard.

We’ve had some wicked cold nights already, and the waterer is reliably providing above-freezing (taking the temperature of the water coming up is on my to-do list) water on demand to our three equines. When the snow really flies we’ll have to make sure it stays cleared, but otherwise it’s pretty low-maintenance. I was a little worried about the cold metal paddle being brutal to touch with a muzzle in frigid temperatures, but so far no one seems to care. I only have to water the chickens and ducks each day now, and I could not be happier about that. Bring it on, winter.

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Hello, December (Goodbye, Donkey)

I took November off.

I did not write in this blog and I didn’t spend any time on Instagram. I didn’t know what to say.

The donkey was put down early in the month. I’ve spent a lot of the intervening days thinking about what happened and beating myself up about not being a good enough horse owner. I was afraid to tell people that she died and worried that I’d face more judgement than what I was already heaping on myself. As if the actual heartbreak of losing her wasn’t bad enough.

After two expensive farm calls we realized we’d exhausted the local vet’s knowledge (one of them anyway, the other was inconveniently at hunting camp during this entire episode) and took her to Idaho Equine Hospital. They ran blood tests and took x-rays. Her coffin bones were not rotated. Her pulse was high and so was her glucose. She was behaving more normal than she had been recently, even hamming it up a bit with the technicians as they held her by the computer and she looked over their shoulders at the screen. I held her head in my hands and was completely sure it was adrenaline but tried to convince myself that she was feeling better. We decided to admit her at what would be great expense to let them try her on IV fluids and blue boards for her sore feet. It did not feel entirely dire when we got in the truck and headed two and a half hours back home.

I’ve had my iPhone on Do Not Disturb mode in the nighttime ever since the feature was released. I always worried if a call would come through when I needed it to but never enough to remember to turn it off when there was a chance for that. Who is that prepared for disaster? We’re not morning people and so the Do Not Disturb doesn’t turn off til after 7. When I looked at my phone there were multiple calls and texts and voicemails from a Boise number and I immediately knew it couldn’t be good.

After the adrenaline of the trip wore off things went sideways. They gave her fluids and morphine but she stopped responding. They tubed her and fluid came up. I tried to buy some time to get more blood tests back but the vet called again and said it wasn’t worth it; she was in too much pain. We made the decision to put her down from two and a half hours away, sitting on our couch, stunned.

I’m not good with the hard stuff. I backed away and went into a hole. I want to learn from the experience but still don’t entirely understand what happened. She was overweight. She was possibly laminitic, though like I mentioned, x-rays didn’t show rotation. We’ve had her since March, and were given no indication of previous history with founder or colic. She wasn’t that old. She ate grass this summer, but our pastures are not the green, sugary easy keeper nightmares known to cause such problems, and I still have a hard time believing my husbandry in the eight months since we got her is responsible for her death. But nevertheless, she’s gone.

She was a terrible companion for the old horse we got her to keep company with. She was full of attitude and drama and mischief. She was humorless when you needed to laugh and outrageous when you needed something serious from her. She was a fucking outstanding donkey and I’m sorry we didn’t get to spend more time together.

RIP, Muffin/Sassafras. I hope donkey heaven is full of cake and candy and you get to eat it all, with no consequences.