The Allure of an Open Gate


Gates.  They are essential on a farm to keep animals where you want them to stay, to move them where you want them to be, and to give them some place to hang out when they want to see you.  At least the latter is true of horses, who will let you know when they think you owe them some food or attention.

Gates can be welcoming, such as when we stop to visit a friend unexpectedly and the garden or driveway gate is swung wide, or forbidding, such as when we arrive at a business closed earlier than expected or an area off-limits to those not in hard hats or wearing the right lanyard.

To a horse, and certainly to our mini-horse Buck, an open gate is also an invitation to brattiness.

This morning I went out to give Buck some hay.  The sun today is bright and welcoming, but the air is cold indeed.  By the time the dogs and I headed back from the barn where the hay sits in a 12 foot high pile, protected from wind and wet, Sammy and Tasha were hobbling due to their freezing feet.  Even normally oblivious Stout ended up needing to do a bit of tai chi in a drift.  I got them in the house with Chris and headed over to give Buck his hay.

Usually I close up the gate to his pasture behind me (see above about brattiness), but he was pretty is usually anxious about hay and I figured he was hungry and would be happy about the snack.  Plus, I had a special treat of apple, which he loves.  So, I opened his gate, walked in, clicked my tongue-to-teeth to call him over, and there he went–right past me out of his open gate.

I’ve learned that for a horse, few feelings are more thrilling than escaping the pasture.  A brief “no way!” pause to get his bearings, and then off at a trot Buck went—right down the driveway, toward the road.  This was not good.  This is one of those moments that is real, so real that you cannot stop to capture it on your phone.  You just have to live it, calmly.

I thought: The apple!  Yes, the apple would be my lure to get Buck from stepping into the road.  But, see above about the thrill of the escape and the brattiness…every step I took closer with my purpling bare hand showing Buck the delicious Brants Jonathan apple, he took two steps toward and soon into the road.

Fortunately, we live on a country road.  Cars and trucks are few.  Unfortunately, we live on a country road.  Cars and trucks go way too fast.  Even in snow.

Luckily, no one was coming speeding toward us, so I could take my time to get Buck to see I had something for him.  These moments always seem to take a lot longer than they actually do–these interactions that are stressful but require calm.  Soon enough, Buck saw that apple sliver and took a munch, long enough of a munch for me to get an arm around his neck and my thigh into his shoulder.  Game mostly over.

Sure, Buck could have easily broken away from me since I had no rope or harness on him.  But, despite his brattiness, he also knows when he is pushing it.  Kind of like a smart kid who will see just how much he can get away with before backing off since he knows you are the only one who can reach the Apple Jacks.

We meandered back to the pasture, I gave him his hay and some more apple, all while he stood at the gate, looking at me like Let’s Do that Again!

Winter Morning Chores

On the farm, there are always chores.  But in the winter, the morning chores become heightened in importance since the winter is all about Keeping the Animals Alive, and mostly that means keeping water unfrozen and food accessible.

I was raised up to get chores and other work done before fun, so in the mornings, I get the chores done before coffee, shower, etc. unless it is super dark when I leave for work (then Chris gets the chores).   The first step is to bundle up: long johns, jeans, hoodie, heavy flannel jacket, hat, mittens with fingerless gloves inside.  Super Cary Grant-ish outfit for sure.


After that, it is time to let loose the birds.  The chickens dash about and look for food, heading every which way before they realize how freezing cold it is.  The ducks look for water right away.  They can’t eat without water, and they’d spend their whole day taking baths if they could.  Sometime in the next year or two, we will get a pond dug out, which will be good for all of the animals and the garden.  Plus I want to stock it with fish for when I am old and want to catch some bluegills.


When it is really cold, the ducks will sit down on the ground to keep their feet warm.  We also put a heat lamp in their hut so they can warm up when they need to.  The chickens will hang out in the duck hut too, even staying there overnight for a poultry slumber party.


Buck the mini-horse doesn’t much mind the cold, other than the wind.  It’s critical to have warm water for him to help him maintain his body temperature, so he has a fancy heated bucket.  He also grew in plenty of shaggy hair to keep him warm.  If it is not too windy, he wanders around his pasture looking for things to nibble on all day.  But when I come out with his sweet feed, he comes a-running up to his shed and munches away on the equivalent of equine Fruit Loops.IMG_2333

Of course, the dogs don’t live outside; these were city dogs before we moved to the farm.  They are soft.  They get to hang out all night in the toasty, windless house.  So, when we do go out, it is play time, especially for Stout.  He loves to chase the soccer ball…over and over and over again.  The thing is, this time of year, it feels like kicking a watermelon since it is frozen.  He doesn’t seem to mind though–he is a bundle of anticipation all day.


Before I head in for coffee and breakfast, I gather up the eggs–usually about five a day, even in winter.  They are a beautiful gift for the efforts of the winter chores.