Thursday, February 15, 2018

And then this happened...

When you have farm animals, you have animal feed. And when you have animal feed, you sometimes have rodent visitors.  I've been contemplating getting a "barn cat," for a few years.  We don't really have a barn, but we have a nice garage where a cat could live comfortably.  So, when I recently found out about two little kittens which were not being cared for properly and needed a home, I thought I'd give my idea a whirl.  First I went and met the kittens.

They are little things, 3-4 months old I'd guess. Very friendly boys. Next we stopped and bought things kittens need. A litter pan, kitty litter, toys. Lots of toys. A soft bed and a nice tote to tuck the bed into so they could have a cozy retreat.  Then we brought them home.

And because we are who we are, we popped them right into the bath tub. They were a little grubby.

We cuddled them in towels, and then fluffed them dry. And they were very good about all it.  


And then they were all clean and cuddly and sweet smelling.  



They are settling in nicely, being playful and purring up a storm.  Now they need names.  I hope they will be a positive addition to FairWinds, and eat lots of mice. 


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Mother hen...

In late fall, when the days get shorter, many chickens cease to lay eggs.  They require a certain number of hours of light to keep their reproductive tract firing along. Many people put a light bulb on a timer in their coops to fake the birds out and keep some eggs shooting through the pipeline. We did that our first year or two of having chickens, but then I decided to let them rest as nature obviously intended.

Though we are still firmly in winters grip, the days are growing longer, and my hens have begun to lay a few eggs.  Two a day last week, then 3, and yesterday there were four brown eggs in the nest box.  It was good timing, too, because Chris, as he heaved 50 lbs. of chicken food into the back of the truck, was commenting on how expensive our home raised eggs are.  He had to hush when he realized the egg carton on the second shelf of the 'fridge was overflowing.

All of this gets me to thinking about mother hens.  In English, the term is used to describe someone who is mothering, especially in a fussy or overprotective way.  Growing up, my siblings and I often described our mother and maternal grandmother as being "mother hen's." Oh! They were worriers.

Having had the lovely opportunity to see actual chickens mothering their brood has been a delight.  Of course, some hens are better at raising chicks than others.  One especially devoted hen suddenly completely and utterly abandoned her 4 chicks when they were barely as big as my hand, and really too young and silly to be out and about without supervision.  But others seem to keep a special bond with their chicks well into adulthood.


A good mother hen will "set" on her eggs until all or most have hatched, then take her wee fluffy chicks to find food and water. She stays near the source of nourishment, letting the chicks eat, then fluffing her feathers and huddling over them to keep them warm.  After a few days, when they are stronger and have learned to stay near mama and listen to her voice, she will venture further afield. There is more activity, less resting.  I can't think of anything much cuter than seeing little chicks poking their heads out from under their mamas warm skirts. The hen keeps up an almost constant commentary when she has babies.  Sometimes the clucks are almost conversational, "Stay near me, little's, come along, scratch your feet in this nice dirt..." I imagine she is saying. Then there is an excited tone she makes that has the chicks running, "Here's a fat worm, a bug, some seeds!" There is also an emergency tone that has them running for cover, "HAWK! DOG! Unknown human! Come NOW!" The peeps dive for her underfloof, and vanish as she settles over them, muttering.  During the day, the babies converse back to her, as well, in shrill little peeps.  If one gets separated the volume turns up to an astounding level from such a small creature, and keeps going like a smoke detector until mama comes to rescue it. Even at night, when they are snuggled up and resting, one can hear sweet, soft, "peep, peep's" coming up from under the hens warm feathers, and she will answer with  soft, sleepy, reassuring clucks. "I'm here. All is well. Sleep now...."

When I see a biddy with her babies, so fragile and small, I understand why "mother hens" fuss and worry as they do. It's an awesome responsibility to raise a clutch of scrambling little peeps to adulthood. Every predator on the farm wants to eat chicken!  I feel a little sorry for teasing my own mother for her fussy ways, and realize I can't imagine what it was like to raise 5 kids and see them scatter as they grew beyond her careful control.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Ducks...

There are several different sayings that involve ducks.

"Sitting duck," refers to a person or thing with no protection against danger.  Having lived with ducks, I have experienced first hand their behavior when they are nesting.  They "set," on their nest, only leaving it once or twice a day to eat, drink and defecate. They go into a trance like state, just being a source of warmth for their unhatched ducklings.  It is touching, yet rather stupid, too, because

if they nest outside of their safe coop, they are at the mercy of any bird of prey, fox, coyote, or any other critter than likes to eat duck. And most predators very much like to eat duck. 

And this brings us to another saying.  "Like shit through a goose."  I know we are talking about ducks here, but trust me, geese and ducks have very similar poop issues.  They have a water based diet, so their poop is very wet. And they poop a lot. Like, every 5 minutes or so.  And if the duck in question has been on her nest and holding poop for hours and hours, when she gets off the nest and lets fly, it is an impressive thing.  Huge, wet, odoriferous explosions.  It isn't pretty.

Then there is the saying, "Ducks in a row." Though this expression probably refers to the sort of shooting target where one lines up silhouettes of  ducks for shooting practice, real ducks do very often travel about in a row.
This is particularly true if it is a mama duck with her adorable ducklings. The wee ones toddle along behind their mother, and that is about the cutest thing you can imagine.  They do this all on their own, but if you were to try to get your ducks in a row?  Well, good luck to that.  Ducks are not terribly cooperative in this way.  Having tried to move the ducks that live here at FairWinds from point A to point B has taught me that "getting your ducks in a row," is far easier said than done.

And then there is the idiom, "Like a duck to water." This refers to someone learning a skill easily. Ducklings have no trouble learning how to swim, it's as natural as breathing. And it's important to ducks to have access to water. A few years back I bought two ducks from an auction. They were filthy dirty, and clearly had not had access to water to splash in for a long time. It made me sad, because ducks need water. They cannot eat properly unless they can dip their bill, all the way up to their nostrils, in water. And psychologically?  They need to get into water to splash and play and clean their feathers.  Those two auction ducks were so excited when they had fresh water to get into.  It makes me think about how when a person takes to a skill like a duck does to water, that they should pursue that skill, because it is probably important to their very being. Like water is to ducks.



Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Kicking the bucket...

We've all heard the term, "kick the bucket," before. A little research shows that it is believed the term, which most agree means to die, has a variety of possible beginnings. One theory is that it has its roots in vernacular related to death by hanging.  Another theory is that in the Catholic religion, a bucket of holy water would be placed at the deceased persons feet. Visitors would dip their fingers in the bucket and sprinkle the body with holy water.  The buckets position at the feet would lend itself to the idea that a "kicked" bucket signified death.


Another theory, and the one that I embrace after experiencing it here on my little farmlette, refers back to the Latin proverb Capra Scyria. Here it is said that a goat kicks the pail after being milked, turning a good start into a bad ending.   Andrea Alciato, in a poem from 1524 writes, "Because you have spoilt your fine beginnings with a shameful end and turned your service into harm, you have done what the she-goat does when she kicks the bucket that holds her milk and with her hoof squanders her own riches." (Wikipedia)

Normally my goats (except Ella, who is a terror!) stand nicely while I milk them.  They get a big pan of grain, which they find delicious, and the relief of a congested udder, as well.  But once in a while, even a good goat will give the bucket a kick. The feeling of one or more quarts of 102 degree milk cascading over ones lap, and down their legs, is quite indescribable.  A wave of white rushes over the milk stand, and over the floor, and everywhere at once. It soaks stickily into clothes.  Invariably it fills the shoes of the person milking, so that the rest of the days chores are spent squishing and squashing about.  It is utterly unpleasant.  

Monday, January 22, 2018

Farm Idioms...

A while back friend Marion suggested I write a blog about expressions that are commonly used in the English language, that take on a new, and MUCH more clear meaning when one lives with animals/livestock.

It was a good idea, but I promptly forgot about it. Until today, when she reminded me, and I decided I'd tackle the project.  It's a bit too long to do in one go, so, dear readers, please expect an uptick in blog posts while I work through some of these ideas with you. 



Let's start with the expression, "smells like a goat."  This is a term I have heard and used all my life. It was easy to assume that goats must smell really BAAAD!  Then I got a goat. A lovely mama goat, with her three day old kid.  I assumed they would smell unpleasant, and was happily surprised when they did not. Mama goat smelled like clean, sweet, farm animal.  Her breath, if she burped, was enough to peel paint, but overall she smelled kind of nice.  And her kid smelled like hay and shavings and green grass and sweetness.  I was confused why people used the term, "smells like a goat." 

Then we bought a buck.  It was a cold October day when we went to pick him up. We didn't have a trailer, so we popped him in the back seat of our pick up truck.  I had been around him in the barn, and did  not detect an unpleasant aroma, though I had learned that bucks smelled awful.  We got him into the truck, and I hopped into the passengers seat. I inhaled.  All was well. I looked at my husband and said, "That's not so bad." He turned to me, his eyes watering, face red.  "I feel like I've been maced."  It took a second, and then the smell hit me.  It was blinding.  We drove home with the heat blasting and the windows down.  I had a headache for hours after, all because the buck smelled so incredibly bad.

Male goats go through what is called, "rut."  Normally this is from fall till late winter, and it means the goat is ready to breed.  The surge of hormones makes them do funny things.  They urinate on their legs, beard and face.  Their urine is loaded with "fragrant" sex hormones, designed to entice female goats to feel romantic. Trust me when I tell you, this is not the scent of Old Spice. The above photo is Yasker.  An adorable little Saanen buck that visited us last fall. That discolored hair on his face?  Soaked in urine. The scent is indescribable. It's enough to make you understand, on a visceral level, what, "smells like a goat," really means.

Dread...

This post started to form in my head under the title of, "Kissing Mortality," but that isn't quite right. I'm OK with being mortal, and though I am not in a hurry, I don't have a particular fear of death.  So I had to think about my subject line a bit more.

What brought this all on was the fact that I had two doctors appointments today.  The first to see an orthopedic person because I'm having pain and weakness in my left thumb joint, and the upper joint on my little "pinky" finger became alarmingly bent a few months ago after being very painful for a few days. I use my hands, hard, and need them to work properly. The doctor looked at the x'rays of the finger and quipped, "Well, that joint is toast."  A very correct medical term, that.  As for the thumb, if it gets worse I can try cortisone shots, surgery is a possibility, too, but she didn't seem too enthusiastic about it.

 Upon entering and leaving the physicians building for this appointment, I saw old people in wheel chairs, being shuttled to appointments by family or hired help.  Old men sat in the waiting room, hunched over their bulky winter coats, looking hopeless.  I felt myself stand straighter, stride with more confidence.  I don't want to be those people.  The kind of people who go from one medical appointment to the next, gray and weary, looking for solutions to problems that, ultimately, cannot be solved.

The second appointment of the day was to have a routine mammogram.  As the technician tugged and patted and arranged my breast on the cold glass tray she asked, "Do you still work?"  I felt myself bristle.  Of course I still work!  Don't I look like a person who works?  And there I had it... despite my self image of someone who is still vital and strong and active, I am circling the drain of aging.

And I don't like it one tiny bit.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Waiting...

Sometimes it seems that winter is a time of waiting.

The birds wait to find food.


The garden waits for warmth and light.



The stock wait for hay delivery, (and hope it's the good stuff!)


Please note the ice on Abraham's lashes.  I tried to get it off, but he shied away.  Maybe it makes his view shimmery? 


 Bravo waits for me to take him for a walk or throw his toy.

It is snowing today. All but one of my customers called to cancel. The one that didn't cancel was 10 minutes late.  "I'm sorry to be late, " he said. "We went off the road and had to wait for someone to come along and pull us out of the ditch."  Mainers are intrepid that way.  He had a cup of coffee and a brownie while I groomed his dog, then slid out of my driveway and headed home.

I am biding my time for the storm to pass so I can shovel the walk ways and stairs.  The day unexpectedly empty before me, I should tackle my endless to do list, but instead I tarry with my camera in hand, or try to capture the mood with words.  It's quiet and cozy indoors, the light low and soft behind the lace curtains.
I wait for inspiration to tackle jobs to strike. I fear I may be waiting a long time.