Posts filed under ‘minnesota’

Excuse me, I was just leaving

I snapped a picture of this large fox snake a few minutes after I stepped over him on my way into the garage.

Even though (or maybe largely because) I’ve spent much of my life working outdoors in areas where poisonous snakes were fairly common, I like snakes. And the wooded bluffs of our property are ideal fox snake habitat (they’re also ideal habitat for ratsnakes and the rare massasauga rattler). So my reaction to unexpectedly stepping over a largish snake was to reach for a camera, not a shovel.

The fox snake is one of Minnesota’s largest snakes.  They eat small animals, birds, eggs, frogs, and lizards. Fox snakes belong to the rat snake group and kill their prey by constriction.

When fox snakes are harassed, they vibrate their tails and strike. Because of this and their superficial resemblance to rattlesnakes, they’re commonly killed by humans who don’t realize their importance in controlling rodent populations.

The largest fox snake on record was observed in the county where we live.

Because this snake is big enough to eat the chicks that should hatch out here in about a week, if I keep seeing him around I’ll catch him and relocate him to a chicken free coulee in the area.

July 5, 2011 at 11:42 pm 16 comments

Chuck’s day off

Yesterday was Meet Your Meat  day.

Chucky, Mark and I visited the farm where most of the meat we’ll eat next year is being raised. When your food is raised by close friends on a small farm, socializing with the creatures that will go into your freezer is considered proper etiquette.

The chickens were only vaguely interesting to the boys. Chuck runs loose with our little flock every day and after two years of living with chickens in his back yard my husband takes them for granted now too. Chuck did get a small chance to show off his chicken herding skills because it was time to move the tractor the rangers were in and considering the fact that these chickens had never seen a dog before, he did a pretty good job.

The pigs were a much more interesting experience. Chuck’s initial reaction to them was a very practical and deliberate cautiousness. The boy’s come a long way from the dog who went bug-eyed and pancaked himself into the ground every time he encountered something new. Because these Berkshire hogs are omnivores who are at least eight times his size, I thought that his reaction to them demonstrated an excellent degree of common sense.

Chuck at left, is sitting quietly and politely avoiding direct eye contact. The pig, on the other hand, was whoring for attention. (Pet me! Brush me! Feed me! MAKE MORE MUD FOR ME TO WALLOW IN!) And really, since there is a one in three chance that I will eat this specific pig, I kinda felt obliged to give it up for him.

After pigs and chickens we went on to meet the steers. Chip and Dale are British White cattle, a beautiful, docile, ancient breed that fattens up well on pasture. The boys stood calmly and politely as we walked up to greet them.

I kept Chuck on a leash at first, he’d never met any cattle and I wasn’t sure how the steers would react.

As you can see, the first meeting went well.

And so did the second. Still on leash, but with his handler at a distance. Note the relaxed, happy smile.

It wasn’t long ’till we progressed to dropping the leash and letting everybody hang out together.

From the cow pasture we moved on to the creek. Chuck’s never been swimming. He loves playing in a spray of water and he’s been very good about baths, but between his orthopedic problems and mine, I haven’t had a chance to take the boy to a swimming hole.

Deep water can be intimidating to a dog, but as it turned it, Chuck didn’t need much encouragement to go in. I walked across the creek and called him. After a bit of hesitation the boy launched himself across. And once he figured out that it was wonderfully wet and it wasn’t going to kill him — the boy absolutely adored being in the water.

Chuck’s first foray into the creek. Note the panicked leap and wild eyes.

Shortly after, a relaxed, happy boy calmly and repeatedly swims out to fetch sticks.  And then just swims around on his own for the hell of it.

He had an excellent day off.

July 5, 2011 at 1:29 pm 4 comments

How I spent my spring

This is my latest project.  Building a series of giant self watering planters.

If these function as planned, plants will draw water up from a reservoir below the growing medium through capillary action. This means that the roots can draw up water as they need it and the plants will have nice, moist soil most of the time. Subsurface irrigation not only requires less water than standard gardening methods, it can also help reduce the risk of fungal disease.

We started by selecting a location with lots of sun, removing the grass and leveling the ground under each tank.

A clean, empty tank was set on each pad.

The bottom of each tank was filled with 8 to 10 inches of 3/4″ washed river rock. We conveniently had a lot of this laying around leftover from another landscape project. This coarse, well-sorted gravel has lots of large pore spaces and creates a reservoir at the base of the planter. A gravel like this can have a porosity of up to 50%!

I installed a section of 1 1/4 inch galvanized pipe at one end of each tank. The pipe has a 8 inch elbow at the bottom and a screw cap on top. I made sure that the gravel at the discharge end of the pipe consisted of pieces that were much bigger than the inside diameter of the pipe to keep it from being blocked. The pipe will deliver water to the gravel reservoir at the bottom of the bed.

The gravel was covered with a layer of landscape fabric. The fabric will allow water to wick up to the soil while keeping the soil out of the gravel below.

I drilled a half dozen drain holes at the top of the gravel layer at the end of each tank opposite the intake pipe. This will encourage the water to flow across and fill the entire reservoir before it hits the overflow.

I filled the section above the fabric with good topsoil. Audie supervised.

I read in several places around the web that “wicking bed wizards all agree that water cannot be wicked further than 300mm (or about 12 inches) in soil”. The wizards didn’t provide any kind of calculations for their magical prognostications and their numbers didn’t make any sense to me. So, since I did rather large amount of hydrogeologic consulting work in my previous career I looked up some general data on capillary rise and then went ahead and put a foot or more of soil over the rock in each of my beds.

For those who may be interested, capillary action pulls water upward in materials against the force of gravity. The empty spaces between soil particles are called soil pores. Below the water table the pores are filled with water and above the water table they’re filled with a variable combination of air and water. Adjacent pores are connected to each other somewhat analogously to pipes in a water system. The sizes of these ‘pipes’ and the degree to which they are connected can vary over several orders of magnitude.

Capillary rise occurs when water migrates upward through soil pore spaces against the pull of gravity. Capillary action involves two types of attractive forces — adhesion and cohesion. Adhesion is the attraction of water to the solid surfaces of the pore walls. Cohesive forces attract water molecules to each other. Adhesion pulls a mass of water upward along the pore walls and cohesion pulls more water upward with that mass.

Capillary rise occurs when the upward pull of adhesion and cohesion is equal to or exceeds the downward pull of gravity.

Anyway, I was comfortable enough with my off-the-top-of-a-former-hydrogeologist’s-head calculations to put 16-18 inches of soil on top of my gravel reservoir. I will update you on how this works.

The beds operate very simply. The male end of the garden hose conveniently fits snugly into the intake pipe, so when I want to fill the reservoir I just pop the hose in, turn the water on and let it run until I see Chucky attack the spray of water discharging from the drain holes.

So far, so good. This is a bed I completed about three weeks ago. Radishes, turnips, beans, kale, chard and a bush-type summer squash (I’ll let it cascade over the side) are already up!

I’ve completed three beds and may put a fourth one in later on. They look pretty good and planting and weeding chores are much easier in these 24 inch tall beds than the ground level beds.

June 20, 2011 at 9:13 pm 8 comments

Spring at last?

It’s been a long, cold, snowy, dreary, crabby, gimpy winter.

And sometimes it seemed like it would never end.

This morning, despite the cold and threat of sleet – the first hints that spring is here!

A few brave, hardy snowdrops peek out from a very dormant herb garden.

The peeps make one of their first field trips of the year. With no bugs or fresh greens to be found, they’ll end up back in the chicken solarium where they can bask and dream of spring too.

April 1, 2011 at 1:07 pm 3 comments

Foiling urban coyotes

This week local KARE 11 reported that a Maltese in St. Louis Park died from injuries related to a coyote attack.

Jerry Stamm of St. Louis Park let his dog, Cici, outside on St. Patrick’s Day evening, then noticed a coyote in his fenceless backyard.

It’s a sad story that keeps getting repeated with different players. Brilliantly adaptive coyotes are becoming increasingly common in urban and suburban areas around the world. They’ve been a problem here in Red Wing for years and now, following trends of human urbanization, large numbers of the wily tricksters are relocating closer to the city.

“It’s a blessing and a curse to live in a place like Minnesota,” Peggy Callahan said, from the Wildlife Science Center.

Callahan says there are more coyotes than black bear in the state — well over 25,000. They extended east of the Mississippi after 1915, spreading to 48 states. Residents in St. Louis Park, Minnetonka, and Golden Valley have reported coyote sightings.

How should pet owners respond to the threat of sharing their environment with coyotes? The smartest course of action is to deal with it much like you would face a problem with your dog’s behavior — in a proactive way with smart action instead of reactively in fear.

If coyotes live in your area follow these rules to avoid conflicts.

  • Make sure all pets (cats, dogs, rabbits, chickens) are protected by a sturdy, coyote-proof enclosure when they aren’t under your direct supervision. This includes potty breaks, as Mr. Stamm discovered.
  • Keep dogs and cats up to date on vaccinations. Coyotes can carry diseases that are transmissible to pets.
  • Don’t put out food for deer or other ground-dwelling wildlife near your home. Keep areas under bird feeders clean to discourage rodents that may attract coyotes.
  • Don’t feed your pets outside.
  • Keep garbage, compost and other waste in well secured containers.
  • Keep your dog on a leash on all walks unless he has solid off-leash obedience skills. And even if your dog is brilliantly well trained – it is still important to keep him in your sight.
  • If you see coyotes near your home yell, wave your arms, flash bright lights, bang things together and otherwise act like a dangerously mad threat. Don’t let them feel comfortable near your home.

Men have lived side by side with coyotes since we left the trees. Significant problems with the arrangement are more common now because there are few human-free areas left for coyotes to live in. Reduced hunting pressure from humans, and an increasing number of humans who actively or inadvertently encourage coyotes to acclimate to their presence has also created a near perfect environment to increase conflicts between our species.

Coyotes aren’t evil or malevolent, they’re just smart and opportunistic and you don’t need help from the Acme Corporation to foil them. If you put one tenth as much effort into discouraging coyotes as they do into looking for ways to take advantage of you – you’ll come out ahead in the game.

March 31, 2011 at 10:48 am 7 comments

Best. Gundog Retrieve. Ever.

Today, in celebration of the opening day of the Minnesota gun deer hunting season we bring you this gem via Outdoor Life:

Displaying the kind of obsessive focus and drive that can turn this popular breed into the Pet From Hell – a labrador retriever named Ramsay successfully retrieved his 14-year old owner’s first antlered deer. Across a lake. In January. Read the whole thing here.

Unfortunately it’s illegal to use a dog to track deer (even injured deer) in Minnesota. Dog owners can be fined up to $500 if their dog kills an animal – and a dog can be shot by police or conservation officers if it is caught chasing deer.

November 6, 2010 at 7:15 am 4 comments

I want a dog license

Dog licenses have been required in the United States since settlements were large enough to breed conflicts between neighbors. 

In his book “Pre-1900 Dog License Tags,” William J. Bone, D.V.M. wrote that dog licensing was first addressed in the U.S. during the 1700’s when several states passed laws desinged to control dogs and collect taxes to reimburse livestock owners for dog depredation. Dog licensing was first instituted in England at about the same time.

Of course dog catchers and dog pounds followed right on the heels of dog licenses, (though the first animal protection societies weren’t created until about a century later) and licensing provided revenue that helped support dog catching.

Back in the day, dog licenses cost money but they also sometimes offered certain priveleges and protections. According to Diane Bandy in Indiana Dog License History:

A dog who was licensed in Indiana, had certain privileges of running at large and escaping a death sentence imposed by officials. A dog who ran at large, licensed and not bothering livestock was also protected legally. If someone shot a licensed, non provoking dog, they could be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined anywhere from $5-$50 along with liabilities to the owner for injury or death.

Sadly, the idea of combining certain priveleges (running politely at large) with specified responsibilities  (staying out of trouble and wearing a tag that identifies you) did not gain much popularity. Over time, dog licenses became little more than a way to collect revenue and keep track of canine populations. And because license laws are notoriously difficult to enforce, scofflaws became the norm rather than the exception.

So much so that the national dog licensing system in Great Britain was abolished in 1987. According to a House of Commons Research Paper published in January of 1998:

The national dog licensing system, which was abolished in 1987, did nothing to contain the problems caused by irresponsible dog ownership since it had long ceased to command any public respect. Less than 50% of owners bothered to register. As a result, there is no evidence that the number of strays is higher since the abolition of dog licensing.

According to this article in today’s Star Tribune, thirteen years later some cities in Minnesota are following suit:

Are city dog licenses going the way of VCRs and film cameras? In an age when dogs sport name tags and personalized collars and have microchips injected between their shoulder blades, Golden Valley Police Chief Stacy Altonen thinks the answer is “yes.”

Next month the Golden Valley City Council is expected to drop a requirement that residents license their dogs, joining Plymouth, Minnetonka, Brooklyn Center, New Brighton, Falcon Heights and Northfield in the no-license category.

Altonen said the city is simply dropping an ordinance that wasn’t effective and that cost the city in staff time. Only about 600 dogs — a fraction of the canines residing in Golden Valley — were licensed each year.

A significant lack of compliance combined with the difficulty of enforcing license laws mean that dog licenses are becoming a net drain on finances in many areas. Advocates of licensing point out that license tags can provide a way to return lost pets to their owners but Altonen is quoted as saying that:

“In 17 years here, I can count on one hand the dogs we returned because of city tags. We return more dogs with microchips … or because people call right away when they lose their dogs so when we find them we know who lost them.”

Dog owners have historically been required to do little more than pay a fee and show proof of vaccination to license their pets. In exchange they’re received a shiny tag and a spot in the city database. Given the pathetic number of people who comply with license laws, most of us obviously see little value in that.

Why don’t dog licenses allow dog owners to do anything with their dogs?

A driver’s license gives you access to public roads. A concealed carry permit gives you the right to carry a handgun. But — someone who wants to drive a car or carry a concealed weapon has to pass a test to demonstrate at least a basic level of competence to earn that license.

Before you get your hackles up, I’ll say that I think that dropping the generic dog license requirement is a good thing. I don’t need a license to own a car, just to drive one on public roads. And I think that if municipalities want to institute revenue-generating programs that truly serve dog owners they need to reconsider what a dog license represents.

According to Merriam-Webster a license is:

1. the approval by someone in authority for the doing of something
2. the granting of power to perform various acts or duties
3. the right to act or move freely

Note that in all three cases a license is defined as granting the holder permission to do something. The problem with dog licenses is that they don’t function as “licenses” at all, they’re just an annual tax on dog ownership.

Dog licensing has become a way to collect revenue; a convenient tool to track data on pet ownership; and in some areas, a hammer to try to force compliance with vaccination, spay-neuter, breed-specific and other dog-related legislation. Since most people don’t license their dogs, I would assume that (despite what many try to tell us) these are not things most dog owers put a high value on. 

I don’t think I should need a license to own a dog. But I’d like to have the option of getting a dog license that functioned a lot like a driver’s license. To get it I’d take a written test to demonstrate basic knowledge of dog safety and dog-related laws and then my dog and I would take a skills test to demonstrate our ability to navigate the community in a safe and sane manner. If I demonstrated my ability and willingness to accept specific responsibilities and passed the test, I’d get a license that gave my dog and I certain privileges (such as on and off leash access to specified areas) that unlicensed dog owners do not have.

I want a dog license – but I want it to be license that says my dog and I have demonstrated that we’ve earned the right to hold it.

October 19, 2010 at 2:38 pm 21 comments

Trouble right here in River City!

For local readers an important bulletin just in from Fox 9 News:

Police in Red Wing, Minnesota are warning dog owners and residents of an outbreak of canine distemper.

Red Wing Police Chief Tim Sletten said the department has had to kill several fox and raccoons reported to be sick. A local veterinarian told police they are almost positive the sickness was caused by canine distemper.

Fox and raccoon are regular visitors to homes in the area. Stay smart, keep trash, pet food and other things that may attract the attention of wildlife secured from their attention. Keep your dog on leash, in your fenced yard or under your supervision – and make sure that his vaccinations are up to date. Be especially careful with puppies who are more susceptible to the disease.

If you see a wild animal that’s behaving oddly – STAY THE HECK AWAY FROM IT. And don’t let your pets harass or get near it. Or eat its feces. Don’t let dogs feed on carrion and if you find a dead animal, especially a coon or fox, wrap it securely in trash bags then throw it in the trash or bury it deeply where it’s not likely to be dug up and eaten or rolled in. Be sure to wear glovesnever touch a dead animal with your bare hands.

Because of the outbreak, the city is currently allowing citizens to dispose of animal carcasses at the incinerator at no cost.

Video (including shots of a city park where I sometimes walk the dogs) at the link.

July 7, 2010 at 9:45 pm Leave a comment

Small Wonders

On Sunday a small group of people and dogs gathered at our place. This is not an unusual thing, many dozens of similar groups have met at our place in the five short years we’ve been here.

This may look like a typical group of happy dogs and dog owners –  but it’s not. All the dogs in this picture are alumni or current fosters with National English Shepherd Rescue and all but two of them are members of the infamous Montana English Shepherds.

Less than a year ago, these dogs were still be held as evidence in an animal cruelty case. Today they’re all living in homes in and around the Twin Cities area. And while most of them still have a few issues to work on (don’t we all!), these dogs and their owners have accomplished incredible things.

I had a marvelous time meeting and working with everyone, but the part of the experience that will stick with me will be Stanley (the handsome blond boy on the far left). Stanley crawled in flat on his belly and shaking like a leaf – but based, I’m sure, on months of patient loving help from his foster mom Nancy – he recovered and found the courage to not just to sit up tall and straight in a room full of strange people and dogs, but to smile for the camera.

We worked a bit. We talked a lot. We made new friends and we plan to do it again.

Of course I couldn’t resist the chance to fit in a bit of training. Here I am trying to get Louie to work for a treat:

Louie is being very polite, but (like nearly all the Montana dogs) he’s telling me he just simply can’t take treats from a stranger. That’s okay. There are a lot of tools in my training bag.

Here I am introducing Louie to the e-collar.  Note how even with my assistant’s nose up his butt, Louie’s more engaged with me in this picture. I’m using very soft pressure with the collar combined with subtle body language and verbal encouragement to communicate with Louie. I was able to show his owner how to accomplish this in just a matter of minutes.

Louie lives on a farm near us and his owner would like to be comfortable giving him more off leash freedom. I suspect that more e-collar training will be in his future.

Chuckie, who earned a reputation as a Horrid Little Dog in Montana shows he’s not so horrid any more. Chuckie *hearts* his e-collar.
———————————————————–
Many thanks to Miare Connolly for the wonderful pictures. And thanks to every one (two- and four-legged) who joined us. We had a wonderful time!

May 17, 2010 at 10:55 pm 7 comments

Hakuna matata

I thought things were exciting here when Audie went after a woodchuck in our front yard. And while a churlish chuck may put a few holes in my boy’s dog suit, it isn’t likely to carry him off and eat him for dinner.

It could have been worse. In fact, it could have been a lot worse. On Saturday KSAX reported:

Jessica Dahl saw the lions out her front window after she heard her dog barking.

“I looked out and he was lunging at something.  I looked out the front door and then I saw the lions,” Dahl explained.

Lions? In Bemidji, Minnesota? It’s not unusual for wolves to prey on dogs in Minnesota, but lions are quite rare here. Especially African lions.

Two 6-month-old lion cubs were brought back to Paul Bunyan Animal Land in Bemidji Thursday afternoon after they escaped from their pen and were found reportedly wrestling with a dog in a yard in southern Beltrami County Thursday around 10:30 a.m.

Marjan and Aslan escaped from a temporary pen during spring cleaning. The lion cubs, who are described as being quite tame, played with the dog without hurting it. When staff from Paul Bunyan Animal Land responded with sheriff’s deputies, the lions came when they were called and followed the ‘rescuer’s back to their cage.

This isn’t the first time animals have escaped from the facility, and the Beltrami Sheriff’s will be working with Minnesota DNR to investigate.

I’m not sure what I’d do if I discovered a couple of lions (African or otherwise) playing with my dogs. Fortunately there aren’t any wild animal parks nearby and it’s illegal to own or keep wild animals as pets in Goodhue County.

African lions in Bemidji, MN

April 20, 2010 at 8:34 pm 4 comments

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