The Trials of ShepherdPerson

I feel like the motto of sheep keeping in general should be “Well, that didn’t go the way I’d pictured it!”

I don’t usually post four days in a row, but I had my plans changed for me again on a noteworthy scale. Duchess will now be Mom #2 this year, not Mira. I  don’t know exactly how it happened, but apparently no obstacle can stand in the way of total infatuation true love.

While trying to separate Nova and Mira back out of the main flock this morning, I happened to look over and think to myself “Hey, looks like Duchess is in heat. Haha, it’s always the ones not in with the ram that cycle first.” And then suddenly BB is barrelling through the gate and in my head there’s flashing alarm lights, a loudspeaker blaring “CONTAINMENT BREACH,” and Jurassic Park music.

There is no way on earth I’m dumb enough to try to get between BB and Duchess at this point, so I chased everyone else back up to the barn and somehow got Duchess and BB into the pen with the butting board before the T-Rex Duke managed to smash his way out and murder BB. It was a very difficult getting them to move, because Duchess and her new paramour were in a dreamland of hearts and roses, and paid no attention to my pleading, my half-hearted threats, or even my bribe offers.

If your sheep are completely ignoring the sound of a whole bag of crunchies being rattled, you’re in big trouble.

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“ShepherdPerson? What ShepherdPerson? You are like the buzzing of so many flies around our ears!”

Just like that, except on the other side of the fence. I wasn’t about to try taking pictures while actively messing with a ram in rut guarding his lady-love. Especially when his lady-love is Duchess. And Duke and BB (when he can take a moment from flirting) are doing their dead-level best to concuss themselves through the fence. And the main flock is crying because I just let them out, and now I’ve locked them up again, and it’s not fair! Suffice it to say that pictures were at the bottom of the priority list until I got things sorted out.

With much blood sweat and tears, I did eventually get everyone sorted out. Nova, Bran, BB, and (sigh) Duchess are in the ram pen, and Mira is back with the main flock. I could have left Mira with the breeding group and let her be bred anyway, but I was only planning to breed two this year, and last year when an extra ewe got bred I ended up with six lambs instead of the two or three I’d planned for. Mira’s OK with not having a baby, anyway.

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“It’s ok, Mommy, I don’t need a baby! If I had a baby, it would probably want to share my cuddles and crunchies! And I’m just now making progress reminding Nina and Holly who’s boss, I don’t want to be cooped up in that breeding pen again!”

So it seems the whole matter has been settled to the satisfaction of both ewes, even if their ShepherdPerson isn’t totally thrilled. I’m just hoping the third time will be the charm and Duchess will a) have a lamb that doesn’t die, and b) feed and raise said lamb herself.

Once all the re-shuffling was taken care of, I set to work calming down the very upset sheep that had been rudely shut back up in the barn before breakfast, serving breakfast, checking that the fences hadn’t sustained any additional damage, and finishing my morning head-count and visual health check ritual that had been so rudely interrupted by BB’s escape.

On the way back through the ram pen towards the house, I stopped to take a few pictures with my phone. Perfectly safe, I thought, since Duchess and BB were ignoring me anyway. Duchess, predictably, decided this was the perfect time to come out of her romantic haze and come complaining to me that she hadn’t gotten any crunchies. Because rams just love someone else getting their girlfriend’s attention. Because it’s not like I was begging her to follow the bag of crunchies ten minutes earlier or anything.

I guess she hadn’t caused enough trouble for one morning, so she just had to finish it out by sending me scooting out the gate fleeing her jealous boyfriend. Sigh. Duchess is so quiet and shy most of the time, but when she decides to throw a monkey wrench into the works, it’s always a major monkey wrench.

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*Blows raspberries*

I feel like a troublesome sheep sticking her purple tongue out and blowing raspberries should be the logo of sheep keeping in general.

The Trials of Mira

Mira and Nova escaped back to the main flock this morning, much to BB’s displeasure. Bran wasn’t too happy about it either, since he’s still stuck keeping BB company. Nova just came out of heat and Mira isn’t due to cycle until next week, so I just let them stay out for today.

Both ewes were happy to rejoin their friends, but Mira was decidedly unhappy about this whole feed-Holly-and-Nina-crunchies thing. I’m her mommy, not theirs. Therefore, all the crunchies are also hers, not theirs. Nina wisely decided to go join Liam at the hay feeder pretty quickly, but Holly was more persistent.

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“Can I have a crunchy?”

Holly’s definitely gotten the hang of the begging face.

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“No! My mommy! My crunchies! You stay away!”

“Maaamaaa! Mira butted meeeee!”

“She did WHAT?!”

Mira hit poor Holly just as hard as she possibly could. Holly yelled for her mama, which brought Lady running to the rescue. She’s a very protective mother.

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“You hit my BABY!”

“She was begging from my MOMMY!”

“Can I have a crunchy, while they’re busy fighting?”

This made me laugh. Holly is turning into quite the opportunist. Also, it is a fact that even in the midst of pitched battle, sheep can hear the chewing sounds of somebody else getting a crunchy treat. Generally, the combatants call truce and come running for their share.

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“No! No sneaking crunchies behind my back, you cheater!”

“Too late!”

“Holly got a crunchy, that means I should get one too! And my boys, they’ll want crunchies, too!”

Occasionally, some non-combatants also hear the chewing and come running. Will and Neo are no dummies, so instead of running to me directly, they fell in line behind their mother and made a detour around the still irate Miss Mira.

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“You have let this whole flock descend into total anarchy while I was gone, Mommy. Total. Anarchy. I am not happy with you.”

Mira informed me at great length (and with much pitiful pawing at my leg, and sad rubbing her face against me, and woeful pulling on the edge of my coat) that it’s very hard when your mommy is the only mommy who gives out crunchies. Everybody expects you to share the food and attention, just because your mommy is also happens to be ShepherdPerson. Nobody else has to share their mommy’s food and attention with the whole flock. It’s not fair at all.

It is very sad. I feel very sad for her. I am fairly confident, however, that she will not only survive, but also have the rest of the flock firmly reminded of her special status in very short order. Probably just in time for her to have to go back in with BB. Sigh. Her life is so very difficult. I do coddle her more than anybody else in the flock though, and she does usually end up getting more crunchies than are strictly her share, so that should make up for some of it.

The Trials of Holly

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“I just figured out this whole crunchy-eating thing, can I have a crunchy?”

Holly is very proud of herself for being so brave.

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“Babies don’t eat crunchies, mamas eat all the crunchies! And the camera, I’ll take a bite of that, too!”

“But Maamaa!”

Unfortunately, she’ll have to be a little braver and a lot pushier to get past the older ewes.

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“OK, can I have a crunchy now, while Mama’s busy chewing?”

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“No, it’s MY turn! I’m older and taller, I will gobble up all the crunchies first!”

“Gee whiz, Auntie Duchess…”

Being taller wouldn’t hurt her any, either. It’s hard to get a treat to her without one of the bigger ones snatching it before she can reach.

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“Hey, Mama’s going down to check on the group with that new ram, and everybody else is eating hay… can I have a crunchy really fast while no one’s looking?”

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“Pretty pleeeease???”

Who could say no to that pretty face? Holly and I take advantage of all the grown-ups being distracted by the hay so she can eat her treat in peace.

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“OK, I had my crunchy. Now I’m satisfied and can go eat hay with my big brothers.”

I will savor the time before someone tells her that the only correct response to getting one crunchy treat is “can I have another crunchy treat?”

Frosted Mini Sheep

Today is back up in the fifties, but yesterday it was only 21℉ when I let the sheep out. When everyone was lined up at the feeder, it was easy to see which of the boys didn’t sleep in the hoop house.

“Hey, what’s all over Jeb’s back?”

That is unmelted frost, Johnny. Barney also had some frost on his back, but it doesn’t show up that well in phone pictures against his blond wool.

Frost will stay on wool until the sun melts it. Even a solid layer of snow will stay unmelted on their backs for ages. Wool is an excellent insulator.

“Cold? What do you mean, it’s cold? It doesn’t feel cold to me!”

Especially when you have so much wool you become spherical. Nina is turning into a puffball with legs, and in her case I’m almost certain it’s all wool. I’m also certain she won’t be feeling the cold at any temperature it’s likely to drop to in Kentucky.

Nina has embraced the local lifestyle with great enthusiasm, meaning that she spends so much time up against my legs begging for crunchies that it’s becoming increasingly hard to get a picture of her with her whole face in the frame.

“Crunchies, please?”

She’s ahead of Holly on that front, even though Holly was born here. Holly just started accepting crunchies from my hand in the last few days. I’m very happy about that, I was afraid she was going to stay shy forever.

“You thought MY daughter, Neo and Will’s sister, was going to be shy?”

Neo may have been friendly pretty much right from the start, but in my defense, Lady wouldn’t eat from my hand until she was over a year old, and Will was quite determined to hate me for most of his youth.

Of  course, Holly has had the benefit of learning the ropes from an extended network of friends and relatives and her best friend/rival/cool big sister, Mira. Mira taught her all sorts of Splendid Games, like climbing on the hoop houses, and head butting, and most recently, climbing up the stack of hay bales in the barn to steal hay from the bales on top.

“Always eat the highest hay you can reach; Auntie Duchess says the hay on top is always the best!”

Holly has had such a good education, with so many excellent teachers. I can’t wait to see what she has to teach next year’s lambs, when it’s her turn to be the cool big sister.

Winter is Coming

I’ll skip the ubiquitous picture of Sean Bean.You’re welcome.

Last week the weather suddenly went from “how is it this hot in November?” to “oh great, my hand just froze to the gate.” The sheep were thrilled by the cold weather. I was less thrilled.

The forecast for the next week or so is slightly warmer and rainy, but I don’t expect it to be long before winter sets in for good. I am thrilled by finally getting some rain. The sheep are less thrilled.

On this drizzly, dreary fall morning, the sheep devote their attention to one of the most fundamental urges of the season…

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*Munch-munch-munch!*

Stuffing their faces full of food as fast as possible. Granted, this is a pretty strong urge year-round, but there’s an extra frantic note to their munching when they’re all crowded around the same feeder instead of spread across a whole pasture. Seems to me they wouldn’t be so crowded if they didn’t insist on all trying to eat the hay on the right while ignoring the hay on the left. I don’t know why the hay on the right is so much better, since it all came from the same bale at the same time.

And yes, that’s a knocked down feeder they’re standing on. I’ll get around to fixing that. Again. Eventually.

The main flock went over the hill to see if they could find anything still green to eat, leaving only Liam to poach the boys’ hay.

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“Walking over the hill is a long way, I’m just going to stay here and eat. Besides, I’m a boy, so it doesn’t count as poaching!”

I think Liam could use the exercise of a long walk, but I’m not going to argue with him.

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“Ahem, while we’re on the subject of poaching…”

Duke and BB are more preoccupied by the other fundamental fall urges. Duke is Not Impressed by the usurper, and it’s not hard to see his point when the two are standing side by side. No way would BB be able to compete with Duke if they were in the same field.

Fortunately for BB (and the genetic diversity of next year’s lambs) neither ram has been able to get past the butting board on the fence.

Unfortunately for BB, the girls still haven’t cycled, so he’s spending a lot of energy on fruitless declarations of love.

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“Nope, not interested.”

“But I love you!”

“Too bad, so sad.”

Meanwhile, Mira is making progress on her Cunning Escape Plan.

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“Maybe if I pull this stick out, the fence will fall down!”

Her head comes almost to the top of the fence when she stands on her hind legs. When did she get so tall?

Once everyone is sorted into the right field and fed, I am free to devote my attention to one of my fundamental cold weather urges: curl up on the couch with a lap throw, a book or a knitting project, and a nice pot of hot tea.

Like and Dislike

BB very much likes the girls.

The girls do not like BB yet.

The girls very much like crunchies me.

BB, therefore, very much does not like me.

I make a point not to go into the field with Duke when he’s in with the girls for that very reason, but somehow it didn’t occur to me that BB would see me as a rival. I have a lovely bruise on my leg to remind me that Rams In Rut Are Really Dumb. Fortunately, BB is too small to be terribly dangerous.

I give BB points for dedication though; the bruise is at least six inches higher than I thought he could reach, so he must have really put a lot of effort into that flying leap at his perceived Bitter Rival. Now I understand the unflattering nickname his owner gave him.

I put Prince Bran in there with the breeding group a few days ago to keep BB company, (BB can’t behave himself well enough to share a stall with Nova and Mira at night) but he doesn’t seem to think Bran is competition. I’d think a wethered boy sheep would be more of a rival than a female human, but as I mentioned before, Rams In Rut Are Really Dumb.

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“Mom, I’m telling you, this pen is too small and I want out! Right now!”

Mira and Nova managed to escape out the gate when I was filling their hay feeder yesterday, and since neither was in heat I decided to let them stay out rather than opening the gate again and risking the ram getting out, too. That would just be my luck. I sorted them back out when I let everyone out of the barn this morning, but Mira’s got it in her head now that escape is possible, so it’s making her more determined than ever to climb the fence.

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“Hi, ShepherdPerson! I noticed you’re facing this way, so I decided to stand here in front of you so you’ll notice how hungry I am!”

“Pfft, fine, go ahead and pay attention to Lady! Not like you ever pay attention to ME! I’m just going to stomp off and pout somewhere.”

I put my hand out to Lady like I do every morning, but instead of nuzzling my fingers she jumped back like I’d shocked her. I offered her a crunchy treat and she actually started stomping her hoof at me like she thought I was a threat. I was confused and a bit hurt until I realized it wasn’t me she was afraid of, she was spooked by my gloves. Winter accessories always throw the sheep off for some reason the first time I wear them, but it was twenty-three degrees out this morning, so I needed gloves.

Once they get a chance to sniff/chew/stomp on whatever the new ScaryStrangeThing is, they usually dismiss it as just another SillyHumanThing and ignore it after that. I pulled off one of my gloves and tossed it on the ground so they could investigate, but they acted like I’d tossed a snake at them and wouldn’t come within two feet of it. I guess I picked an exceptionally scary pair of gloves to wear.

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“We want crunchies but that ScaryHandEatingThing is in the way!”

They stood there shifting around eyeing it nervously until I picked it back up and put it in my lap. Then Neo was brave enough to come sniff at it.

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“What is this ScaryHandEatingThing?!”

I made the mistake of shifting my weight, which made the glove move, which sent Neo sprinting off back to the rest of the flock. I had to take both gloves off and put them in my pocket before they would come back. Oh well. Hopefully they’ll get used to the gloves eventually.

Unfortunately the aversion to gloves didn’t extend to BB. He was not at all intimidated by the scary gloves and I ended up having to use my stock cane to shoo him away from the gate so I could get back to the house. He wandered off and got into another disagreement with the hay feeder. Definitely understanding that nickname.

Mira was still giving me the cold shoulder, but she followed me down to the gate anyway just to make sure I noticed how much she was ignoring me. At least she found a sympathetic outlet for her woes in Watcher.

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“Mommy’s so mean and she’s keeping me in this tiny pen and won’t let me out and she’s paying attention to OTHER SHEEP! It’s terrible!”

“I know the feeling! She never lets me go into the bathroom and drink out of the toilet, and she’s always petting Echo at the same time she’s playing with me! So mean!”

Spoiled babies are spoiled. That’s what I get for being such an overindulgent mother. Mira had better raise her own lamb(s) by herself, or my grandkid(s) might end up the most spoiled of all.

Disgruntled

I had to shut Mira, Nova, and BB into the ram pen instead of letting them run through both small pens, which has the two girls very grumpy with me. Duke was demolishing the fence in the other pen trying to get at his Bitter Rival, and the ram pen has the butting board that should keep him out. Should.

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“It’s no good hiding behind that hay rack! I know you’re there! I know you’re flirting with my girlfriends!”

I am very grumpy with Duke about that fence. Nobody should be allowed to do that much damage in a single afternoon without a speeding car being involved. Besides, Nova and Mira are both his daughters, I wouldn’t let him breed them even if BB wasn’t here. He already gave me an extra set of ram lambs from Nova last year, he doesn’t need to do it again. Troublesome ram.

Neither of the girls are feeling flirty today, much to BB’s frustration. His persistent attentions are annoying the girls, so nobody involved is terribly happy at the moment. Except the Dukelings, they’re pretty happy to have the boys’ hay all to themselves while everyone else is distracted.

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“Why don’t they like me? I’m handsome, and dashing, and charming!”

Poor BB. Gets dumped at a new farm with ewes that don’t like him and a murderous giant in the next field over who keeps making death threats all the time. Duchess seems to like him pretty well, but she’s not having a baby this year so it doesn’t do him any good.

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“I think I know now why Mama never liked boys. They’re awfully annoying!”

Nova loves her babies, but she’s not so fond of overly flirtatious rams. I’ve told her she can’t have one without the other, but I’m not sure to what extent sheep understand the connection between rams, pregnancy, and lambs. Duchess likes boys more than babies, Lady likes both about the same, and Princess was always disgusted by the whole process start to finish.

Mira so far is torn between feeling flattered by BB’s attention, annoyed by BB’s flirting, and shocked and indignant that I won’t let her out of the ram pen when she asks. I very rarely make her stay anywhere she doesn’t want to, so when I do it takes her by surprise. Once the surprise wears off, she immediately starts trying to figure out how to get out anyway. She’s already thoroughly examined the gate and determined that she can’t squeeze through it, and the latch cannot be opened without thumbs. Or chewed through.

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“You owe me a whole lot of attention and crunchies for this one, Mommy.”

Last time I checked she was making alarmingly good progress figuring out how to use the horizontal wires to climb the fence and get out. She probably remembers using the same technique to climb out of laundry baskets as a baby. She’s always been good at getting in or out of places at will.

At least she’s usually not as destructive about her escape attempts as Duke.

British Boyfriend

The new ram arrived today! He’s a fancy pedigreed RBST registered British Soay, whose owner had him shipped all the way from Oregon. I suppose that makes him just barely good enough for Mira.

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His registered name is Saltmarsh Glanton, which is a) the kind of name that would get a guy beat up a lot, and b) very hard to say at high volume, which is an important consideration for animal names. Especially male animal names.

His owner calls him Bad@$$, but I don’t want to have to cover Mira’s delicate ears every time I call his name, so while he’s here I’m going to refer to him as BB, for British Boyfriend. That might help him impress Mira and Nova, since according to the internet a lot of girls want British actors to be their boyfriends for some reason.

He looks all impressive and tough in the picture, but he is in fact slightly shorter than Mira at the shoulder. It’s very funny. I knew he was smaller than Duke, but I didn’t remember him being that small.

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“I like this guy, he makes me feel tall!”

Mira was just in heat a day or so ago, so she’s not sure if she feels flirty anymore or not. I’m pretty sure it’s a bit too late for her to settle this cycle, but I’ll have to wait and see if she cycles back in three weeks to be sure.

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“OK, first things first, NewBoySheep. My mommy is ShepherdPerson around here, so I am the boss of everybody, ok? Also, I’m taller than you, which is really cool.”

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“She’s joking, right? She is so not the boss of me.”

Nova isn’t impressed at all by BB, but I’m sure she’ll change her mind when she comes in heat. She’s not boy crazy all the time like Duchess. I don’t think she knows what to think about a ram so much smaller than Duke.

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“I’m not that short! I’m just vertically challenged!”

In his defense, it’s not like he’s the only… vertically challenged… sheep around here. All my sheep are pretty short, which is good because if they were any taller, I wouldn’t be able to keep anything away from them. As it is, I can put the box of crunchies on top of the tarp-less hoop house when I need both hands free, and it’ll be safe as long as I pick it up again pretty quickly and don’t give them too much time to think about how to get it down.

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“Hey, why’d you put the crunchies way up there??”

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“Not funny, ShepherdPerson! Not funny at all!”

I’m hoping I get ewe lambs next spring. I told BB he’s only allowed to sire girls, I have way too many boys hanging around as it is.

Oh Noes!

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“Oh noes!” Say the puppies. “She’s gone through the gate without us again! Whatever shall we do?”

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“Oh noes!” Say the boys. “All our hay is gone! We’re going to starve!”

(“Oh noes!” Says the GrumpyShepherdPerson. “I just fixed that rack and you’ve already got it half down again!”)

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“Oh noes!” Say the Soay girls. “ShepherdPerson gave us more hay, but the Shetlands are blocking the boys’ feeder! We’ll have to eat from our own! The horror! The indignity!”

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“Oh noes!” Says Mira. “I was stomping on Mommy’s lap to get her attention, and she grabbed my widdle toesies! That’s cheating!”

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“Oh noes!” Say Duke and Duchess. “This fence is in the way of our True Love!”

“Oh noes!” Says Cedar Prince Charming. “I want to flirt with Duchess, but Daddy’s in the way! And he’s big and scary!”

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“Oh noes!” Says Lady. “I seem to have gotten my offspring mixed up! This is the first one, I’m supposed to be keeping track of the newest one!”

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“Oh noes!” Says Will. “I am the middle child, forgotten and abandoned! I must cry for my mama!”

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“Oh, nose!” Says Mira. “Forget crying, chewing on Mommy’s nose is the best way to get her attention!”

It’s a nice autumn day today, in spite of all the complaints. The weather is beautiful, and nobody is really as upset as they’re pretending to be. Except maybe Will, but he’s always happiest when he has something to dramatically wail about, so he doesn’t count.

First Casualty

“Hey, wasn’t the food hanging on the fence before?”

There goes the first hay feeder of the year. This is Cedar’s first winter, he’s not sure what to make of this development. They’ve only been eating hay for a week or two, I hope they don’t continue knocking the feeders down this fast.

This year’s sire is supposed to come next Tuesday. Probably won’t make much difference to most of the boys, but it will most likely divert Duke’s destructive energies to the fences. Because that’s so much better. Hooray.