Feeling Hopeless


It’s been two weeks. Two weeks since our little beagle Hope went missing on the farm. She hasn’t been found. Since the second day she was gone I knew that something terrible had happened to her, I just didn’t know what. People said we should keep on searching and we did. But there has been nothing.

We’ve had to deal with a lot of loss at Vastrap over the past two years. First, Tumi who had an inoperable tumour in her uterus and then her daughter Paris, who died from a snake bite. Felix and Poepsie cat have also both passed. As much as I loved those animals, they were not mine from the start so I was able to manage the grief. But Hope was different. She was one of Coco’s puppies and I helped raise her from the first moments she was born. She was the smallest of the litter and always looked different to the others, with a very dark black coat and a small white triangle on her neck. She had the biggest, softest ears. She was fiercely independent and from the start ran wild on the farm, jumping off the bakkie at will to chase after things. We should have done more to train her or contain her, but she was so happy being free. I don’t know if it helps to have regrets. The reality is that farm life poses all sorts of dangers for dogs that one can’t completely sanitise. Still, the other dogs had relatively full and long lives, but Hopey was not even two yet.

I don’t have adequate words to describe how sad, empty and heartbroken I am feeling. I will miss her very much and so will Coco, her mother and partner in crime. She was so kind to Livia and never minded being sat on or smothered with love. She would often sneak off to curl up on my pillow and always came to me for special cuddles and hugs. Goodbye little one. Vastrap will never forget you. Rest in peace.

2015-05-27_0007 2015-05-27_0001 2015-05-27_0006 2015-05-27_0002 2015-05-27_0003 2015-05-27_00042015-05-27_0005

Scratching in the maize


On a lazy Sunday afternoon during crop planting season a farmer’s mind is never quite at rest. Will the rain forecast for the week ahead materialise? Have the seeds planted in the last week germinated properly? Should certain contours be replanted? When the mind is busy there’s no better antidote than to pile pregnant wife and dogs into the bakkie to go and walk the fields and scratch in the soil. Simply looking from afar is not good enough you have to actually dig to find the seeds germinating under the soil. So far, it seems that the stuff planted in the past week will be fine because there’s been some sporadic rain, but the contours that were planted early before we had proper rain are not doing so well and are very patchy – one should see a nice solid line of green when you look down the line of a contour. These will probably need to be replanted to maximise yield, but it’s a tough decision involving extra time and cost. The veld has made a remarkable recovery in the past two weeks which is great for cattle, but the dams are still very low so we’re holding thumbs for some generous showers soon.

As usual, the dogs absolutely love a good run and little Hope is integrating so beautifully in the pack. She’s four months old now and has long lanky legs which help her to keep up the pace with Patch and Coco, but she’s still petrified of cows and other dogs, which sometimes gets her into trouble. There’s always the risk that she’ll run off into the mountains with Coco when they catch a scent, but I’ve taken to carrying treats with me to make it more tempting for her to come when we call rather than follow her mother. Beagles will be Beagles though so it’s not a guaranteed strategy and we’re still keeping a very close eye on her to make sure she’s safe.


Happiness is…


We had one of those fabulous farm weekends where the laughter of playing children permeates every inch of the house from early until late. We had a house full of visitors for half-term weekend, including Ashley who we hadn’t seen since September. The weekends always fly by far too quickly, but it’s magical to see how much the kids enjoy their freedom and all the activities the farm has to offer – riding on tractors and combine harvesters, feeding cattle, stroking calves, endless games in the garden, sundowners and more! Of course the parents can have fun too, and we indulged in good food and wine while the conversation flowed seamlessly and people joined in and sneaked off for naps as they pleased. We made a special effort this weekend because it’s probably the last big group of friends we’ll have at Vastrap for a while. Quentin’s busy season on the crop farming side is about to start and I’m planning to take it easy as my expected due date early in the new year approaches. Apart from family visits, I’m hoping to wind down the year quietly.

Our little puppy, Hope was a big hit with all the kids and we exposed her to some new experiences on the farm. She was 12 weeks on Saturday so it’s time for her to toughen up and become a farm dog. She wasn’t so sure about her first ride on the back of the bakkie, but it’s only a matter of time before she’s clamouring to go for a ride, just like her mother! We’ve been waiting for Ashley to visit before doing a proper memorial for our Boerboel Tumi, who passed away unexpectedly a month ago (see Endings and beginnings). We bought a beautiful sandstone angel from Living Life and placed it under a newly planted purple Pride of India that is encircled with a heart. This morning we all got teary eyed as we remembered Tumi and all the things we miss about her. I can see the angel from my kitchen window so it will be a constant reminder of her gentle, loving spirit.

Happily, we’ve had a bit more rain and this afternoon there was a huge hail storm. The veld still needs time to recover and our dams are still low, but it’s been a great start. The garden is looking so colourful and I’m loving the luxury of walking out and picking buckets full of gorgeous flowers. All of these things are a constant reminder of how incredibly lucky and blessed we are.


R.I.P. Tumi.

Hope with her two mothers.

Little Hope at 12 weeks with her two mothers.


The gang!

The gang!

29 weeks - counting down to 2 January!

29 weeks – counting down to 2 January 2014!

Goodbye Poppy!

1 Comment

Today we say goodbye to the last little puppy, Poppy Reid. She is flying back to Cape Town with her new parents Penny and Mark who have been visiting us for the past two days. All of us have become very attached to little Poppy, especially Hope and Coco who spend hours playing together in the garden. Coco is still very attached to her little ones so it must be hard for her when they don’t come home, but at least little Hope is staying with her. We’re going to have our hands full with two beagles, because they really do like chasing after scents and it’s impossible to stop them running off once they’re on a trail. In fact, Coco has been taking puppies on expeditions up the mountain whenever she gets a gap, which usually ends in some kind of rescue mission to retrieve a crying distressed puppy! They are simply not big enough or brave enough to keep up with their mother so it’s been quite stressful keeping them safe. We’ve had an incredible 10 weeks with Coco’s litter, but all good things must come to an end and it’s time for life to return to normal. I am so grateful that all four little ones have gone to amazing people who will take good care of them and keep us updated on their progress. What a rewarding and joyful experience this has been and a little insight to what’s in store when our real deal baby arrives in January! Goodbye little Poppy. Thank you for your love. Be well, be safe and be happy with your new family. We will miss you little one.



Endings and beginnings


We had a sad time at Vastrap last week, saying goodbye to our first puppy, Shiloh and our beautiful 8-year old Boerboel, Tumi on the same day. Shiloh went off to his new home in the Eastern Cape and by all accounts has settled in beautifully. Tumi sadly passed onto a higher place. Somewhere I hope she is getting all the rubs and cuddles and love she demanded in her time here on earth. She was a gentle giant, the matriarch of our pack and was incredibly patient with the puppies in her last days. She had ovarian cancer, which spread aggressively and could not be treated once we realised she was sick. Her spirit lives on in her blind daughter Paris, who still seems a bit confused by what has happened (see “How Paris ‘sees’ the world“).


The puppies have thrown our whole routine off course so we will have to slowly establish a new equilibrium once we settle back to ‘normal’. The second puppy, Rosebud was collected by her new owners today. She has gone off to Johannesburg with a very chuffed little girl who is going to take good care of her and their other Beagle Josh. The last two, Spike and Poppy will stay with us for another week. Our puppy Hope, is turning into a very spirited little thing. She seems to have no fear and leads the pack in most things mischief! It is so cute seeing the world through their little eyes as they discover things for the first time, like coming face to face with chickens in the garden and the delights of sheep and cow dung… ugh! Hope is yet to integrate herself into the bigger Vastrap pack, but over time I have no doubt she will fill a little corner of the gaping space left by Tumi. A sad ending followed by a new beginning, such is the cycle of life.

2013-09-30_0002 2013-09-30_0003

Happy Days!


This past long weekend was a treat. Having visitors to stay always presents an opportunity to enjoy things that farm life has to offer, like the space, outdoors, instant activities for the kids and of course long lazy breakfasts, lunches and dinners! The cherry on top was that Ashley was also here. She has lost both her front teeth and I just love her new toothless smile! The kids had a ball riding their bikes, skate boarding, playing tennis, riding on the back of the bakkie, feeding cows and horses, herding sheep, collecting chicken eggs, riding horses, making lemonade with a pile of lemons they picked from the tree, playing on the swings at Living Life while the adults enjoyed a lazy lunch and digging holes in the excavator with Quentin. The celebration of Heritage Day in South Africa coincides with Braai Day on 24 September, which makes some kind of braai or barbecue an absolute must. We enjoyed delicious farm lamb chops, boerewors and steak with charred grilled sweetcorn. The farm is still extremely dry, but spring is alive and well in the garden with the wisteria almost past its prime and purple orchids in full bloom. Sadly, outside the areas we water the grass is still dead and brown desperately waiting for the first summer rain.

Our troop of five Beagle puppies are a constant source of entertainment and they have become extremely playful at 7 weeks of age. Their little ears are hilariously long! The first little one, Shiloh, is leaving for his new home in a few days’ time so we are making the absolute most of their last days together. I had a big scare this morning when Shiloh went missing… until  now they’ve never wandered off and have tended to stick in their pack. After looking in all his favourite hiding spots I heard a puppy barking in the mountain above our house. It sounded too far away to be true, but there was no mistaking that it was him. I ran as fast as I could up the rough path behind the house and eventually also heard Coco barking. Low and behold, he had got himself stuck on a rocky outcrop on the lower slope of the mountain! I was so relieved to see them both, but couldn’t believe that he had wandered so far! The poor little thing was quite shattered and cried all the way home, while Coco looked relieved that her baby had not been harmed. After a good sleep he was back in fine form bouncing around the garden. I’ll have to keep a much closer eye on them now that they’re becoming more adventurous so that they can all make it to their new homes safe and sound.



Puppy Party!

Leave a comment

We just can’t get enough of these puppies! It’s a full time job taking care of this lot, but I’ve had some wonderful help over the past few days while my sister and my nieces Sibella and Sophia have been visiting. The minute Ashley arrived for her visit last week she insisted that we had to have a puppy party for our cute new babies. I didn’t really know what she had in mind, but I needn’t have worried because the planning began as soon as her cousins were here. The kids awoke with much excitement on Wednesday morning and started to blow up balloons and decorate the TV room. They even drew special cards for each puppy, but unfortunately I didn’t manage to take any photos of them. While I baked some chocolate-chip biscuits, Sibella attended to the girls’ make-up. As soon as the puppies woke from their mid-morning nap they joined in the fun. Clueless as to what was going on, the rest of us had a great time watching them explore and play. They have completely come to life over the past week and are now fully engaged in boisterous play, which often involves biting each other as hard as possible ending in shrieks of pain! Coco is keeping a wary distance, but reluctantly lies down for a feed every now and again even though she is suffering more and more abuse from their sharp little teeth! Meanwhile I am trying my best to entice them with solid food to help with the weaning process. So far so good. They are looking gorgeous and we love them all to bits. It’s going to be very hard to say goodbye when they leave for their new homes at the end of September.


Puppy Love: Week 3


The puppies have gone from strength to strength over the past week and are an absolute joy to have in the house! They weigh 1.5kg and are walking around more confidently, but only for short periods of time before they all collapse in a heap and sleep the sleep of babies. Their teeth are sharp and Coco is becoming more and more uncomfortable feeding them. I’ve started to introduce some solid food into their diet, but it will take a few weeks for them to be totally weaned. Ashley is with us for the holidays and she just loves them even though they are still a little bit small for rough and tumble play. What a joy to see these little beasts grow and thrive, each with their own little personality! Our little Hope is still the smallest of the bunch, but she is very feisty and was the first to figure out how to lap water and food. She has also developed a little growl and something that could pass as a first tentative bark!


Puppy Love: Week 2


We’ve had a hectic time over the past week, but now we can breathe a sigh of relief that our auction is over and that everything went off well. I will do a separate post on the auction, but first an update on the puppies! They have grown in leaps and bounds. Coco was not too well at the start of last week so I bundled them all off to the vet for a night of treatment. Thankfully, she is looking much more perky so hopefully it will be smooth sailing from here. The puppies have thrived throughout and had many admirers during auction week. One little female and one male are still looking for homes, but many people have expressed interest so we’ll just have to wait and see who the lucky families are that get them. We are keeping one little female and she will be called “Hope”, in memory of the beautiful cow that achieved the top price at our auction (see Hanging with Hope). She is the smallest of the litter and has a white spot on her bum, just like her mother. My sister, Beatrice was with us for a few days and she helped with the juggling of cooking and puppy-loving duties. Keeping Coco well fed is quite a business because she’s not at all interested in eating puppy pellets. I have resorted to boiling chickens and blending up a calcium-rich mixture of meat, bones, stock and pellets.

We took these photos on Saturday, but they really do seem to grow and change every day. Back then they weighed about 1kg and couldn’t support their bodies on their little legs, but this morning some of them are quite mobile. They have also outgrown their nursing tub. Coco was getting very uncomfortable squashed in with them so we’ve moved them to a more spacious bed where they can stretch their legs more. I will have to “cage” them in somehow to stop them from wandering about too much though, because they’re not quite clever enough to make it back to the bed when they stray. This morning I was woken by the cries of one of the males who went wandering about and couldn’t get back to his mama!


On puppies and babies…


My goodness, was that an interesting weekend! A real baptism of fire, much harder than I ever expected. After 59 days of pregnancy, Coco went into labour on Friday night. I hardly slept a wink worrying about her and at about 4am I heard the yelps of the first puppy! The first two were out before I could get to her and the third appeared while I was with her. She seemed to know exactly what to do and cleaned them while she carried on with labour. I couldn’t imagine that there could be more… they are each about the size of my hand and she is not such a big dog so where did they all fit in?! An hour or two later another appeared and by mid-day another… then there were five! I thought surely that should be it. I made sure that they were all suckling and put them in a nice warm spot on the front veranda. She was so attentive and loving towards them that it made my heart burst with pride at my baby who has grown up to be a mommy! There are three girls and two boys. Perfect little tricolour Beagles – definitely Roger’s progeny!

2013-08-05_0001 2013-08-05_0002 2013-08-05_0003 2013-08-05_0004 2013-08-05_0005 2013-08-05_0006If that were the end of it, it would have been a breeze, but unfortunately there were some complications. Later in the day I realised that Coco was still in discomfort. I thought it might just be her uterus contracting or problems with the afterbirth coming out. I was alone at home and totally inexperienced so didn’t know what to do. On the whole she was not in bad spirits so I gave it more time. By the time I realised she needed help, it was already late and we could only see the vet the next morning. So she struggled through the night experiencing ongoing contractions and desperately trying to tend to the puppies. I was up with her the whole time and made puppy formula to help her keep the babies fed. By now she was severely dehydrated and not eating. My heart broke. First thing on Sunday morning we rushed to the vet who helped immediately to clear the blockage. Instant relief, but alas, we lost the 6th. We went home with a bag full of medicine and lots of advice on how to keep Coco healthy and producing optimal milk. I spent the rest of Sunday hand feeding her to get her strength back up. She didn’t leave the puppies once, except reluctantly to go outside to relieve herself. I also continued to supplementary feed the puppies their homemade formula to make sure they were getting enough food. By the evening she was eating greedily from my hands. I made her a special “super smoothie” packed full of goodness to disguise the dry puppy pellets that she didn’t want to eat.  We all had a peaceful night with mother and babies set warmly in front of the Aga. This morning the puppies don’t seem interested in the formula I offered them so that hopefully means she is producing enough. From now on my job is to make sure that Coco is healthy and happy so that she can get on with the business of looking after her extremely cute and adorable babies. I am so incredibly proud of her!

So, it’s been a weekend of intense bonding for me and Coco. Bonding on many levels, because I will be having my own baby in January 2014 and this just seemed like such a foretaste of what’s to come. Yes, that is correct, I am four months pregnant with a baby girl and finally able to share the news! It has been so hard not telling for such a long time, but we had to make sure that everything was fine. In February I wrote about the trouble we were having conceiving and our prayers were answered much sooner than we could have imagined (see Keep Calm and Be Patient). It has been a long road to here, but under the considered care of a doctor who really took the time to understand my issues and some small changes to my diet and lifestyle we have done it! I didn’t believe it at first, but it’s starting to feel more real and this past weekend was certainly a big eye opener. Bring it on, I say, but first I think I need some more sleep!

Hello world!

Hello world!