Tag Archives: mini-ranching in rural Mexico

Reducing the herds

When last I wrote about our animal kingdom, we were bursting at the seams. (See Old MacDonald’s Farm) Since then we’ve whittled away at our herds. For the most part, our animal conglomeration is more manageable. That’s not to say that expansion won’t happen again in the near future. After all, our goats reproduce every 5 months or so, which doubles the population. But, well, that’s in the future yet.

So the first animal to go was the bull, Toro. He was sold for a good profit to the man who owns the carniceria in town. We didn’t have him long enough to get too attached. The money from his sale went towards the purchase of Nanny goat, her little brown son and two borregas (sheep).

nanny goat

Nanny goat is the largest and darkest pictured.

We sold Stinky Chivo, our macho goat. He was related to nearly all our female goats, and we try to avoid a lot of inbreeding. (See Goat Genetics) Then we traded 2 chivitos (boy goats) for a new macho, Jason Boer. He’s a Boer goat, obviously, known for their heavy build. We hope that his genes will buff up the next generation of kids a bit. He started right in on his husbandly duties even though he is only about 7 months old. We can’t wait to see the results in a few months.

Our herd was still too macho heavy, so we sold 3 more chivitos including Nanny goat’s little brown son. That leaves us with Peanut Butter and Jason Boer for male representation right now.

Jason

Jason Boer, our most recent macho.

Then we sold the 5 borregas (sheep) and Vaquita to the man who makes birria in town. I was delighted to see the borregas go. The backyard barnyard is much quieter now. (See Separating the Sheep from the Goats) We sold Vaquita because somehow or other, her leg had been broken. My son’s story was that he had chucked a rock to scare Queenie back into the field, but the rock hit a boulder, ricocheted up and hit Vaquita’s front leg. Even after we used half of a plastic tube in a makeshift cast, her leg just wasn’t healing. I’m sure she’ll make delicious birria.

One of the twin vaquitas (daughters of Vaquita) also turned up one afternoon with a broken leg. We are still not sure what happened. She wasn’t able to use her back leg for 2 or three weeks, then suddenly she was all better. Now we can’t tell her or her sister apart again. And here we were planning a barbecue…

Our rabbits are no more. During a sudden squall, one of our rabbits drowned. We ate two, stewed with potatoes, onions, and celery. Yummy! The last one died of unknown causes. It had a permanent tilt to its head, it’s ear seemed chewed off, and one morning it suddenly didn’t have an eye. Our best guess is that the chickens pecked it to death.

Mr. and Mrs. Turkey are gone too. The goats trampled Mr. Turkey one day while rushing the gate, but after a few days, he was up and around again. Instead, Mrs. Turkey just up and died the next week. It didn’t seem worth the time and effort to keep turkeys if we weren’t getting any eggs. So we sold Mr. Turkey for someone’s Sunday dinner.

As my husband has decided not to plant this year (See Failing at your own business–sharecropping) Fiona the donkey is also gone. For a time, there was quite a competition going between several old men. One offered to trade his old burro for Fiona. Another offered to buy her outright, but only came to the house when my husband was working, so they never came to an agreement on the price. My husband finally sold her back to her original owner. While the owner lacks something in the personal hygiene department, his animals are well cared for. They ought to be, living in the house as they are.

chokis

Chokis, the dog, went with Fiona. He trotted along behind Fiona all the way to her new/old home. They were best buddies after all. He was gone a week, then came back to us. He was overjoyed to be home.  He apparently tried to orchestrate an escape for Fiona as well.  He chewed through her halter before leaving, much to the annoyance of her new/old owner.

kittens

Available for adoption!

Our engorda de gatos (cat fattening farm) underwent a few changes as well. Devil 2 went in a burlap feed sack to the man who bought the borregas, free of charge. She wasn’t too happy about it though. Miss Licorice Whip delivered three more little kitties, Licky 3, Tiger and Angel. In a few weeks, they will be available for adoption if you’re interested. We plan on keeping only Miss Licorice Whip, Licky 2, and Devil 1, although my son is petitioning for Tiger as well.

chickens

Our hens have hatched 6 pollitos (chicks) so far. Any increase in the chicken population is welcomed. More hens mean more eggs. More roosters mean more chicken soup. It’s all good. (See Why did the chicken cross the road?)

barn swallow nest

The barn swallows made their nest on the beam of our recently finished second floor.

We also have barn swallows nesting on our second floor. While we managed to get the roof on, we haven’t been able to afford the windows or doors yet. As a result, the swallow parents swoop in and out with ease. We will enjoy watching their hatchlings grow like we did with Mrs. Macho the pigeon, at least until we get around to claiming the second floor for ourselves.

shadow grazing

Grazing Shadow.

We still have both Joey and Shadow.  With our decreased herd and increased space, each now has his or her own enclosure to shelter overnight and in inclement weather.  Definitely, an improvement there! (See Beauty’s Babies and Joey el potrillo)

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Beauty’s babies–A horse of a different color

beauty and spirit

After Red disappeared, we were left with an increasingly pregnant Beauty. She couldn’t be ridden, her belly was so wide that it was nearly like doing a split to sit on top. She couldn’t be worked, the plow wouldn’t fit around her middle anymore. So she ate and ate.

I admit, we neglected our animals a bit during the hospitalization and subsequent funeral and novena of my mother-in-law (see on life and libertymass and burial Mexican style, El velorio viewing and wake and la novena). We barely had time to throw some food and water at them and then run up the hill to do the same for my father-in-law’s animals, before we headed back to town to attend to all that was involved. During one of these lapses, Beauty somehow got tangled up in her lead line and fell. We untangled her, and she seemed no worse for wear, but surprised us the next morning with a new potrilla (colt) which we are pretty sure came at least 2 weeks early. She was quite a handful, this little filly and we named her Spirit. She often reared up on her hind legs when approached and even knocked over both my husband and my moto with her frenzies.

holding back spirit

Spirit was quite a handful!

A few months later, my husband decided he couldn’t care for the horses anymore and sold both Beauty and Spirit. Beauty was pregnant again, so the new owner felt like he got quite a bargain. For a time, we were horseless. The new owner sold Spirit but kept Beauty, and as he housed her in La Yacata, we often saw her. She seemed sad and underfed. Then, some months later, hoping to receive his U.S. visa permit, the new owner sold his vehicles and livestock. My husband was all in a lather to get Beauty back.

Again, he made payments and scrimped and saved, and bought Beauty a second time. We were back to one horse, and pregnant.

red rag

A red cloth is tied in a mare’s mane to ward off the chance of miscarriage during eclipses.

My husband immediately made her a better corral next to the house, set about fattening her up on the lush green grass of the rainy season and tied a red rag in her mane. When I asked about that, he told me that the red cloth was to protect the pregnant mare from eclipses. As near as I can figure, it’s a practice meant to guard the fetus against being aborted during certain “dangerous” times of the lunar cycle. Cows are also subject to the changes of the moon, and pregnant heifers are adorned with a red cloth tied to their tails. Goats and donkeys, as their value is less, apparently do not need this extra talisman, since the owner would lose less in case of miscarriage.

Then the waiting began. A mare has a gestation period of 340 days, about 11 months. My husband hadn’t marked the date of the maquila (impregnation) and now was all afire with impatience for the birth. June passed, and Beauty’s belly was enormous, but her udder hadn’t swollen yet. My husband, son and I took bets on whether the colt would arrive the 13th (me) the 14th (my son) or the 15th of July (my husband). Well, the 16th came and went and no caballito. Everybody in the neighborhood had an opinion of when the blessed day would arrive. Some said it depended on the moon. A new moon or full moon would bring on labor. Some said it was exactly 11 months and 2 weeks from time of conception. Some said if it were a boy, it would take a few days longer. There was even some speculation on twins based on the size of Beauty’s belly, although twinning in horses is extremely rare.

My husband had me consult the horse reference book, but it didn’t give the magical day. Every day, he checked her udder for ripeness. But Beauty wasn’t about to be rushed. It wasn’t until July 28th at 10:30 at night that the new colt made her appearance. And my husband wasn’t even home!

shadow

Beauty and Shadow and proud Poppa!

My son and I ran out in our PJs to get the first glimpse. It wasn’t much of a glimpse because the colt was all black, as is Beauty and the sun had already set, but it was enough for us to see that the little one was healthy, alert and well formed. In the morning, we all gathered around and commentated on her size, she seemed smaller than Spirit had been, about her color, all black with a small white marking on her forehead and two little heels of white, and her disposition, she was very friendly and not at all skittish as had been her elder sister. We named her Shadow.

My husband was a bit disappointed she wasn’t a little stallion, but honestly, I think for us it is better to have all females and rent-a-stud when necessary, rather than have a fully hormonal male on premises.

All that next day, my husband, as proud poppa, received visitors, mostly the same men that had gathered to watch the breeding process. They came to look the colt over and make commentary. The previous owner came and nearly cried when he saw Shadow–regretting he had sold his livestock for a visa that was never given. The man who wanted to trade 10 borregas (sheep) for Beauty came to negotiate–but my husband decided he wasn’t interested in selling anymore. Several men who own stallions-to-rent for the maquila (breeding) came to see if my husband was interested in their services (mares will go into season about a week after they give birth, so he had a small window to find a stallion he liked and that was affordable–most maquilas are between $800 and $1500 pesos for 2 visits.) The visitors came from morning until early evening. By then, my husband had gotten over his disappointment and had begun building castles in the air with his future animal kingdom.

shadow front

Just delighted with the new yeguita, Shadow.

My son was also pleased as punch. He stood sentinel by Beauty and Shadow most of the afternoon. He has claimed ownership of Shadow and determined that she shall not be sold. We wonder about her final color. As Beauty is black and the stallion was black, we thought perhaps she would remain dark. However the fur in her ears is a dark chocolate brown, and we think that perhaps when her baby hair falls out, she will be dark brown and not black. Only time will tell.

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A horse is a horse is a horse–or not

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My husband got it into his head awhile ago that he must have a horse. After all, as a youth in Cerano, he was never without his horse. Not long into his search, he found one that the owner was willing to barter for 5 goats and 3000 pesos. Deal done lickety split. Red was a quiet gelding, not much trouble at all at the beginning. He altered his pace to accommodate his rider. For my husband, he did handsprings and danced. For my son, slow and steady up and down the road. And for me, little a pony trot around the block. Everybody was pleased.

However, owning a horse was not without problems. First, there were mounting expenses. A horse needed a bridle, reins, a saddle and new shoes.

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My husband on Red.

Then having acquired a horse, my husband went in search of his lost youth. This caused some problems because he was now a married man with responsibilities, not a charro prancing about for the young ladies to admire. These solitary rides irked my son and I since he left us to do the other chores around the house and we never got a chance to ride.

My husband’s solution to this second problem was to get a second horse. Without ready cash, the problem was how. He heard about herds of wild horses in Los Amoles, and he and my son spent more than a week on daily treks looking for them. They did stumble across a small herd one day, after crossing a lagoon on the motorcycle, water up to their waists, but couldn’t get near enough to catch one, although they felt that the glimpse was well worth the adventure and the dip in the water.

A neighbor heard about my husband’s quest and took him to see an acquaintance who was selling his horse in Salvatierra. My husband was twitterpated with his first sight of Black Beauty. We didn’t have any money, but my husband scrounged and saved and sold his tools and the toolbox to come up with a deposit. That just goes to prove that anything can be bought on layaway. Two weeks later, Beauty was home and in season.

beauty

Our own Black Beauty.

And it couldn’t just be any stallion for Beauty. My husband went hither and yon and found one to his liking that also fit the budget. Stud fees vary on the quality of the stallion and the owner’s whim. But having obtained one, all the men in La Yacata came to watch the maquila (breeding). Then there were the endless discussions on whether the stallion ejaculated and whether Beauty was pregnant afterward. Honestly, not something I spend my afternoons discussing, but hey, whatever floats your boat I suppose.

So then there was the stud service fee, new shoes and, of course, a second saddle and bridle even though we hadn’t finished paying for the set for Red yet. At first, expenses did not include food as it was the rainy season and there was free grass aplenty for fodder. However, it’s a horse of another color during the dry season. Horses eat like, well, horses and now we had two.

But, to our delight, now with two horses, we could go riding as a family. My husband on Beauty, me on Red and my son changing out between us.

Riding about was not without perils. There are the low hanging branches of the thorny mesquite trees to look out for and hidden craters that may have been dug out ages ago for someone’s ajibe (dry well) that may cause a horse to stumble and throw the rider. Then the horse may decide that he or she is a racehorse and that turbo speed is called for to win this imaginary race and the rider (namely me) finds it hard to decelerate while ducking branches and hanging on for dear life.

My husband and son have a natural seat on horseback that I seem to lack. They slouch a bit and sit low in the saddle and actually look like they had been born to it. And I so wanted to look like an elegant English miss, complete with a blue velvet riding habit on the back of the horse. However, the horrible truth was that I looked as elegant as a frog on a log floating downstream. Oh well, I suppose someone had to eat the flies, and it might as well be me.

kids and red

Red and the summer class. He had such a friendly disposition in the beginning.

The word caballero, which is translated as gentleman in English, literally means one who owns a horse. Horses were a status symbol, as only the wealthy could afford their upkeep. Regular folks made do with donkeys or mules. As we hardly qualify as wealthy, Red had to work to earn his keep. My husband worked with my father-in-law and son to till about an acre of land near our house to plant corn, both for our own larder and then later to feed the horses during the winter months when grass is hard to come by.

plowing with red

Red the plow horse.

For a time, this worked out well. Then Red became persnickety. He didn’t want to plow. He reared up when I was on his back. He nearly kicked my son. We couldn’t figure out what got into him. My husband thought that he might have been improperly castrated and a neighboring mare in season was causing his bad behavior. So he had a neighbor sedate Red and check. Nope. That wasn’t the cause.

Then, the second theory was that he was too well fed and, therefore, didn’t want to work. It’s true that he filled out while living with us. His coat was not as shaggy but glowed. So what’s the solution for overfeeding? My husband tried tying Red to a tree in the afternoons so he couldn’t graze, but his ornery disposition didn’t improve.

So he was sold to B, my husband’s brother. B would ride hell bent for leather, up and down the ravined roads in La Yacata, late at night. I was sure he would be thrown and break his neck, but he didn’t. That lasted about 3 months, then Red disappeared. We have many theories, but no trace has been found.

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Donkey races in La Yacata

fiona and shrek

Shrek is on the left and Fiona on the right. Both are still sporting their shaggy baby hair.

Well, even after my husband decided that burros weren’t for us (See On Being a Burro), he went and bought Fiona. She was a lovely gray donkey about a year old. She seemed quite passive, none of the kicking and rearings that prompted us to pass Donquita on to my father-in-law.

Then about a week later, as no burro is complete without a mate, he bought Shrek. He wasn’t nearly as good looking but seemed just as amiable. He was younger than Fiona by several months and still had most of his long shaggy baby fur.

So the first thing to be done was to try them out, to see if they are going to be working burros or were going to refuse to pull the plow. Fiona, as the elder, was given first go. She huffed and puffed, but was too small to draw. Shrek, although younger and a bit smaller, turned out to be the stronger of the two, although he tired easily, which is understandable. My husband was well pleased.

shrek in the fields

Shrek even lent a hand, or hoof, in plowing the field for the summer course I was working at. The kids were thrilled to have such a visitor.

on your mark

On your mark. . .

Two burros now meant Donkey Races!! My son had a general mistrust for Fiona (perhaps because she balked one day and threw him into a pile of pig poop) and preferred to ride Shrek. My husband, although his feet nearly dragged on the ground, rode Fiona.

and the winner is

And the winner is. . .

Up and down they rode with my son and Shrek coming in first. Once Fiona and Shrek get a bit stronger, perhaps we can host some official Donkey Races in La Yacata, charge admission and take bets….hmmm. Future business opportunity??

on shrek

Thinking of going pro!

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