Tuesday, September 29, 2015


...to the men and women who understand the gravity of keeping the wool market strong and the cultural heritage of shepherding alive, who truly understand what it means to owe it all to ewe I present
Sock Summit Flash Mob

Monday, September 28, 2015

October batch

All my August kittens graduated to the adoption center at Denver Dumb Friends' League. One of the young women who runs the foster department had this batch in a carrier waiting for me to "trade down"-- replacing my 2 pounders with 10-ounce fluffballs someone found two days ago. An employee had been taking them home for two days so they didn't have to be exposed to shelter germs.  Bottles and mushy food, mushy food and bottles. They need to more than double in size.

Teenage kid behind me heard me say that and, as I went out the door, says "...aaand they're off to fat camp!"

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Get "ultra mega" kittens with GNC!

I simply had no idea GNC did stuff for pets. And along side the nursing bottle is "Ultra Mega" performance milk replacer! Now kittens can really kick-the-ass of those feather toys!

The Creation of Monsters

I used to feed the tiny foster kittens from a shallow sandwich plate, one from a set of four with leaves and berries radiating from the center in a conspicuous pattern.  Now, if I sit down anywhere, with absolutely anything on that plate, I am immediately accosted by little cats. Something similar happened when I purchased a popular cat food brand's"catmilk" from the store in affordable, shelf-stable boxes.  One of the kittens needed formula supplement during her weaning process to gain appropriately and still spent time with a bottle into her fifth and sixth week.
After she tasted the catmilk for the first time a ravenous gleam entered her eyes and she began following me, vocalizing, curling around my ankles in a cumbersome, shackling way.  It reminded me of opening the gate on a flock of sheep and, while the rest scatter, one full-fleeced adult comes running up to you, nosing all around, butting your thigh or even your tush is you turn your back. That's a bummer lamb, a bottler, an orphan.
In this case, with this kitten, she'll simply turn into that adult cat who gets right into your cereal bowl as soon as you look away.

I'm longing to re-enter the world of fiction, or at least cross the bridge from clever narrative to "artsy fartsy".  I've done this before, with mild success, but I'm actually a less functional human being when I hang out in that space. Perhaps it will be different this time. On a walk yesterday I cast the searchlight along the path of has-been stories in my mind, coming up either overwhelmed or dismissive. Then I realized yer doin it wrong... you start writing and then see what comes out. 

Meanwhile, the island-like clusters of farming stories, blog posts, non-fiction publications in magazines named SHEEP! beckon as well. While looking through old pictures I found my still shot from New Zealand (left). At first I was thrilled at the idea of making it the cover shot for the farm stories. WARNING: low resolution image. I tried a few tricks to modify it, then got tired. I woke up this morning understanding what was really wrong. Though a pleasing image, it is a picture of illness. How? Those hills of tropical forest on the North Island were deforested with slash-and-burn techniques more than a hundred years ago. Soil erosion is of utmost concern, with the concurrent scramble to funnel funding towards planting trees. That green color comes from the aerial fertilizer... I had to stay indoors more than once to make time for the fly-overs on different farms.  If the temperature dips below forty/fifty degrees those sheep die. The drought in the preceding years left farmers telling equally heart-breaking stories. That grass is actually about 1/8 inches in height.  Unfortunately, as with most environmental stories, we can't find a single evil, one perpetrator towards whom we trigger our index finger and direct vitriolic essays. And, from my experience, it's certainly not the third-generation family farmers locked into this situation.
The other picture is of Icelandic sheep. Diverse. Hardy.  In the picture the girls are getting some barley as form of "flushing" before turning the ram in. Not unlike the human mating ritual of a fancy meal before having sex for the first time, grain for girl sheep, before having sex with boy sheep, increases the odds of twinning and tripling at lambing time.

The question I leave with is... what about the picture from New Zealand makes us react to it as "beautiful"?  How do we cultivate the sight to see beyond?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

How dogs dream

Ever had the privilege to watch a dog while he's asleep? Did you see him twitch, make running motions and vocalize... as if chasing a tennis ball or a rabbit?

Have you ever seen a dog wake himself with his own bark?

At 4 a.m. I woke myself up from deep sleep by yelling "THE CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT OF 1882"

The joys of teaching run deep.

Monday, September 21, 2015


Without a struggle, there can be no progress.

I'm going to put this on the board today for my students. We have to practice more convoluted quotes to get them through the 2014 GED; it's a very sophisticated test these days. I tell them that they'll be asked to analyze "any quotes from the dead white guys on the money".  No one quotes
Sacagawea, that I know of. But feel free to correct me.

Let's say that, because this quote applies to life, it can apply to veterinary medicine. Our culture seems to celebrate prodigies, grab-n-go meals, being busy as a sign of virtue, instant everything, and an extensive marketing industry that promises ugly experiences and feelings no longer should be part of our lives. Yet moral (meritorious) qualities aren't handed out at birth or on demand. We have a chance to develop them every time we are handed something that sends us struggling. We may even suffer. I'm not talking about martyrdom, which delivers something to its audience, but the brick-by-brick hanging on when you can't visualize where the mess is taking you. When considering teaching and learning, I'd say this is doubly true. Your brain cells are literally reaching to make new neural pathways to other brain cells. It's why medical school is way too much at the beginning, but by the end you are OK.  You are changing the pathway of your mind. That is bold, brave work and it takes great encouragement.

And Frederick Douglass just rocks.

Next Up: A rehash of that first vet tech job I left out of the storybook.
After taking the VTNE in Olympia WA January 9, 1998 I got into my car and just kept driving. I went to the edge of the continent-- Sequim WA.  I found an empty, 19th century post-office I rented for $350/ month.  The boat launch was within sight. Every morning I'd have the window open in the small shower stall and flocks of seagulls would dive and cry, their voices coming in through the steam sounding like a litter of scrambling, infant pups.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Kitten Farming

I had a flock of sheep once, and I've worked with a variety of ruminants (as well as camels, horses, swine and poultry).  Fostering kittens for a large, metro animal shelter is strikingly similar.

The first thing to consider in kitty farming is your stocking rate. To avoid environmental degradation it's generally accepted the best plan is to have no more than four kitties/100 CUBIC feet (Kitties will make use of their vertical as well as horizontal pasture. In rare instances, if you have a ceiling fan, hanging plants or mobiles, kitties will use their antipodean pasture as well). This means that in an 800-square foot condo a farmer could technically stock 32 kitties. I, however, use a rotational crazing system where bedroom, bathroom, and most closets are fenced off for the moment. Before you invest in your farming start-up remember that kitties have a very low feed conversion ratio; it can take up to five pounds of canned giblets to add a quarter pound to each of your kitties. Somewhere on your farm you need to have a food storage system safe from other scavenging animals.

It's important to let kitties out to pasture at least once daily. This gives you some time to muck out the barn and expose kitties to healthy air and sunlight. DO NOT leave kitties out on pasture full time unless you have a guard animal-- typically a human between the ages of 8 and 16.  Left alone kitties are extremely vulnerable to predators and natural hazards-- getting stepped on, rolled over with the desk chair, stuck in cabinets or the refrigerator.  While you are checking on the herd, if you hear a kitty voice that sounds very, very far away, check under the sink.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The joys of curriculum design

I got to channel my creative energy into composing a unit on diaspora/ human migration using a variety of texts, the story of Navajo-Churro sheep, and this video http://www.cultureunplugged.com/play/6413/A-Gift-From-Talking-God
The stories of our animals are the stories of our cultures.  I was able to attend this past summer's "Sheep is Life" event.