Playing catch-up

It's been a while since I've had that magical combination of inspiration, energy and time to write anything much. But in the past few months, I've had both the 

 The tally for the last 90 day stretch includes:

  • Leaving my job
  • Throwing a farewell blow-out backyard pig roast 
  • Growing 'unemployment beard'
  • Stacking rocks & masterminding several clambakes on the northern shores of Maine
  • Hosting an intimate starlit dinner of homemade charcuterie & home grown victuals
  • Starting both kids in new schools
  • Starting a new job
  • Transporting 3 live pigs a hundred miles to their new home
  • Selling our house in Massachusetts
  • Buying a house in Maine
  • Moving a shit-ton of household goods onto a truck
  • Unpacking a half-shit-ton of things into a new house. And realizing we have too much stuff. 
  • (the other half are still in their boxes. And will likely stay that way for another 6 months)
  • Putting a dog down
  • Burying one pig in the new backyard after a Death Of Mysterious Cause
  • Shipping a new puppy up from Atlanta
  • Starting renovation of our new house

  The above list is more or less in order. Note that we moved the pigs to Maine BEFORE we had bought a new house. 

I will write more about a few of these over the coming days. We're well settled into our new adventure up in the great white north (there was snow yesterday. Seriously. Snow. Holy shit.) 

But for now, this is me, stacking rocks.  

I have mad skilz. ovinm

Osteo sarcoma is Latin for "This sucks"

A few weeks ago, I was traveling out west. I got a call from home. 

That part isn't really all that surprising. My Bride and I usually speak two or three times a day, even when I'm not traveling. Some of our friends are surprised. I'm not sure why. This lady is my best friend. We check in. Sometimes just for a few minutes. And sometimes just to shoot the breeze in some down time. Or to laugh about something one of the kids just did. Or just to laugh at the kids. Because that's one of the perks of being a parent. 

This wasn't one of those calls. 

Our sweet, slobbery, six year old giant of a dog, Maggie, had come up lame. 

For a 140 pounds dog on permanent medication for a variety of ailments, Maggie's always been surprisingly healthy. Oh, sure. She's incontinent. ("Just a little bit," said the vet. She's 140 pounds. nothing this dog does is little). So she takes a twice-a-day dose of a minor amphetamine that was banned for human consumption as it occasionally caused strokes in young women. But - if taken every day at morning and evening meals with their kibble - it also cures incontinence in dogs! So, woo hoo for the drugs! 


She also has a rotten nose. Or proliferative arteritis. Which is a genetic condition that apparently only affects a minority of St. Bernards, Newfoundlands and Giant Schnauzers.  Her nose has a deep crack that splits, bleeds, scabs, and then repeats. Even though her nose has been rotting from the center out for years now,  it doesn't seem to cause her much discomfort, and only occasionally is the bleeding more than a little seepage. But when it is, she looks like she just turned our neighbor's cockapoo into a light, bloody snack. 

She was on medication for this for a couple of years - some combination of fish-oil and steroids. It didn't actually do anything to heal the issue, it being genetic and all. So eventually, we more or less gave up the steroids part, and just settled on the cheaper fish oil pills. If nothing else, it kept her coat shiny. 


When my Bride called to tell me the dog was limping, I wasn't too worried. She hurts herself occasionally. A couple of years ago, she struggled to stand, and when she did, she couldn't turn to the left without whining. She had pinched a nerve or pulled a muscle in her neck, playing with the Boy. The vet gave her muscle relaxers, and for a couple of days, she was one very mellow dog.  Then she was fine. 

So my Bride helped her limp into the car, and took her in for an x-ray. 


There's a spot on the leg, right above the joint there that's swollen and a little brighter. That spot is a very bad sign. 

One biopsy later, and the vet told us: It's osteo sarcoma. A bone cancer that advances rapidly, and metastasizes readily into the lungs and other parts of the body. Left untreated, that swelling will increase, and soon weaken the bone to the point where a very painful fracture is likely. And that's if the cancer doesn't spread to other areas faster than the bone weakens. 


"You're going to want to amputate and put her on chemotherapy." 

And that cures things?

"Well. No. But it takes away the most painful spot, and will give her a few more months."

Hmm. I love this dog. But a treatment of ten thousand dollars or more, a long recovery, and we're only buying a few months of slow decline? What else do you have on that list? 

The vet clearly had some pause that we weren't ready to sign on for the most aggressive treatment.  

Look. I love this dog. This is, by far and away, the best dog I have ever had in my life. This dog is easier to train, more loyal, and more integrated into our family and daily lives than any animal we've ever owned.

But she's a dog. If we were talking a treatment option that would give us a couple more years with her, I might consider it. Maybe. But I can't get behind radical surgery & treatment that will cause her more misery, cost 5x the cost of the dog, and give us a handful more months of sad, sickly companionship. 

Besides which, it's because I like this dog so much that I don't want to put her through that.


The alternative options are either: B) targeted, palliative radiation to ease the discomfort and some accompanying drugs to slow the breakdown of the bone, or C) just pain killers to help mitigate the discomfort. 

With the first, we get 3-6 months. With the second, maybe a couple of months. 

These choices all pretty much suck. 

We weren't ready to take her leg and do the full on chemo, but we did opt for the palliative radiation. It's a course of three doses, and we're two treatments in. 

Some days are better than others for her, and there's hardly a limp. Her appetite is down, but she's still eating and drinking. And she still wags her tell and comes trotting over to see me when I get home. The kids are extra gentle with her, and give her all the attention she can stand.  We're teaching her terrible habits at this point - to make sure she takes the medicine at each meal, we're slipping it into a little peanut butter sandwich, or drenching her food with the gravy from dinner. That goes against what we've done most of her life, but at this point, what the hell. 

Sometimes, I can tell that she's feeling it - she follows me around the house so closely that her cheek rests on my thigh at every step, just wanting to be near. She's lost 10 pounds since the treatment began, despite the extra peanut butter medicine time. And sometimes, I catch her with her leg up in the air, or in a limp down the stairs. But she's still game, and still enjoying life. 

At some point in the very near future, we're going to have to make a decision about when her pain outweighs her enjoyment. She can't speak to tell us when that point comes. But I'm pretty sure she'll be able to tell me in her own way. 


They're getting bigger and multiplying

Chorizo & Honeydew - our two Gloucester Old Spot piglets - are not such piglets any more. They're three months old, and on a diet of grain, peanuts and forage. 

They've been with us a couple of weeks now, and I swear you can almost watch them grow. They arrived weighing maybe a bit over 35 pounds apiece, and have got to be approaching 50 now. 



It took a little bit of work, and a couple of escapes, but I think I figured out the electric fence. Fortunately for me, 1) the pigs will follow me anywhere if I'm carrying a bucket of raw peanuts, and 2) the electric fence hurts like hell, but doesn't seem to do any permanent damage when I shock myself. 

(The secret is in having sufficient ground. The first ground rod I put in was a 4 ft length of re-bar that I happened to have plenty of from our annual pig roast set-up. That was not nearly enough to produce more than a little tingle. So I went and bought an 8 ft. copper ground rod to pound into the soil.  

There's a story my step-father, the Carpenter, told me once, about working with his father to build some fishing cabins up in the woodsy wilderness of Northwest Ontario. His father produced a similar giant copper cylinder, and pointed up a ladder. "Beat this into the ground, boy."  And my step-father climbed up to the upper rungs with a sledge hammer to beat the thing down far enough to get sufficient ground for the circuit. 

Eventually it dawned on him. The rules don't say it has to be vertical. 

I laughed when I pulled my own giant rod of copper out of the bed of my truck and went hunting for my hammer. If it hadn't been for him telling me that story, I would have been on the roof of my barn, trying to get sufficient leverage to pound that thing down far enough to wrap my ground wire around it. Instead, I stood safely on the dirt, angled the rod low enough to get a good whack at it, and knocked it in diagonally, and perfectly adequate to provide the ground connection I needed). 

Chorizo and Honeydew learned pretty quickly that the fence was no longer just a mild tingle, and was to be avoided.  I admit that I learned the hard way to avoid accidental brushes with the fence as well. 



Ever since we did battle with the neighborhood weasel, I had been thinking that we needed to bring in a few new pullets.  I had been hopeful that we wouldn't have to get more chicks this year - we had 24 birds, most of which were still in their 2nd or early 3rd year, and productive enough. But the weasel had cut the population in half in the weeks before we trapped and killed him.  But with the pigs, I just hadn't felt like dealing with the additional effort that baby chicks requires. Brooder. Hardening off. Integrating with an existing flock. Meh.  I just wasn't really looking forward to telling my daughter (the Critter, as we still call her around here), that she was going to be a little low on eggs to sell this year. 

So I had sort of half-heartedly begun thinking about pullets. A couple of times, I've been able to find somone who had young pre-lay hens in the area. The biggest drawback being that you usually end up with a very limited breed selection. But that's how I got our first batch of Araucanas (which lay the easter-egg pale blue or green eggs).

Then, by a stroke of luck, our good friend and nearby neighbor, Terry (of was ready to sell a dozen of her new young pullets. She had been engaged to find and ready a few hens for an area nursing home, and added on some other hens both to supplement her own flock, and ensure she got a good variety to choose from. That left her with an extra dozen - which was truly serendipitous. 

Terry and her husband were the just about the first peopple I met when I moved to the area, and I knew that she chose birds for variety, health and interest, and that she takes terrific care of all of her animals. 

And as you can see - these young lady hens are gentle and curious, and have settled in to their new homes quite well. 



At this point, we've got the flock integration routine down to a pretty good routine, with a segregated run and temporary shelters. Over the next ten days or so, the two flocks of older and younger birds will live side by side, and get used to interacting through the fence.  I'll keep the older hens active and interested with cabbage, bugs and lawn clippings, to give them plenty of reason to be content despite these new young interlopers in their space. 

And by the end of summer, we'll be back up to the regular production levels to keep the Critter's egg business going.