This is me on an almost 90 degree day, after shearing nine of my llamas over the course of about two hours.
This is me sweaty and exhausted. Covered in tiny bits of wool. Thoroughly uncomfortable
And thrilled that my animals were cool again.
For those of you who don’t know, llamas are wool-bearing animals and must be shorn yearly. Without shearing, they’re particularly susceptible to heat stress, which can kill them…pretty quickly. This is especially true in places where it gets HOT. And in Illinois? It gets HOT.
Seventeen years ago, when I started working on this ranch as an almost-fifteen year old, I was immediately thrown into the work of shearing prep. Back then, there were sixty llamas instead of eighteen, and they were on a work rotation of grooming and washing that left them fluffy, clean, and ready to be shorn. Shearing was our goal for months.
A shearer was hired in from out of state, and our shearing weekend was orchestrated like an professional event. People were assigned roles. (Halterer, holder, wool gatherer, etc. There was a clipboard and everything.) We were a well-oiled, shearing machine that started at precisely 8 am and made it through sixty animals in two days. Plus, my bosses kept me well stocked in Gatorade and Red Bull (ugh, yes, I used to drink Red Bull), and they bought all of us lunch.
A few years ago when my ex and I took over the farm, he took over shearing. Friends helped when they had time–gathering wool or grabbing the next animal in line while I held and he sheared–and we bought them lunch. We were down to about thirty animals then.
Over the next few years, the animals became fewer. (Some of you have read about how we lost several of them.) Shearing became less of an event. My ex would just disappear for a bit, and then come back and tell me that he sheared a few animals.
He sheared for me last year, after our divorce, and told me that he always would if I wanted him to. Instead, I had him teach me how to do it myself, sensing even then that he would move onto something else very quickly, and that we wouldn’t stay friends forever.
I was right.
And this year, I did all of it.
I sent my shears off to be maintained. I ordered new blades. I ignored the newly cleaned and sharpened shears for a week, afraid to tackle my next hard thing.
When the weather turned stupid hot, I stood in my feed room in a mild panic when I couldn’t immediately remember how to install the blades on the shears.
Then, I googled how to install the blades correctly.
Eighteen llamas and alpacas.
I haltered. I prepped. I sheared. I was the shearing team, and no one bought me lunch. Most stood tied without a holder. For one particularly smart llama–who figured out how to unplug the shears because he didn’t like them–I had to call my dad into hold, so he couldn’t reach the cord, but mostly I did it myself.
It took me three days and a lot of Gatorade, but the whole herd is shorn and de-wormed. (I figured I would do bi-yearly shots while I was at it.) And, honestly? I’m pretty proud of myself. I’m also pretty proud of my llamas and alpacas who mostly behaved really well.
Also, while I was trying to collage photos of newly shorn llamas, I created a “push-me, pull-you.” (You’re welcome.)
Turns out, shearing is another thing I can do; it’s amazing what you can figure out if you have to.
I was watching the llamas today as they grazed, cool and comfortable with their wool shorn off and bagged up in the barn. The breeze was soft. Crickets and frogs were chirping, and I was struck, yet again, by the fact that there is no where else on the planet I would rather be. This place has stretched me again and again. It is the hard thing that I have to tackle every day. And it’s the right thing.
I just found hay in my hair, a memento from the time I spent in the horse field this afternoon lying on my back in what remained of a round bale. It’s sixty degrees. Just a few days ago, there was snow on the ground. Spring is like that here.
(Not unlike my hair now that I think about it.)
But back to the hay bale. I buy hay in 1200 lb bales to feed my horses. The bales are tall and round. I cover them with impossibly large nets that hold the bale together as horses slowly eat it down. The bales are made for eating, but sometimes I sit in them instead. Today, home early after having been haunted by the ghost of a migraine, I wandered out in the warm air and and made myself comfortable in the hay.
I am like a barometer, at least according to my chiropractor who has to adjust away the headaches I wake up with every time the barometric pressure swings wildly. A migraine crept in during the first part of this swing two days ago; I could barely walk without the urge to be sick. For the past two days, it’s lingered, just at the edge of my awareness, just enough there to make me fearful that it will crash back down on me the moment I feel comfortable. I wore sunglasses at the office today, and left as soon as I had the opportunity, anxious to be away from the buzz of the fluorescent lights and the glare of my computer screen. I drove myself home, walked up the lane to the horse field, and laid down in the hay.
I closed my eyes, listening to the breeze and the birds, enveloped in the smell of sweet grass hay, a smell that always seems to bring me back to my childhood. A few of the horses came up, and I kept a wary eye on them in case they set their mind upon mischief, but instead, they nuzzled and blew their warm breath onto my forehead, checking to see if I had shrunk I suppose, or reassuring themselves that it was me even when I laid down.
There is something about the change of the seasons here on the ranch that always seems to bring me back to myself, reawaken pieces of me that sleep for a time. In the winter, we rest. The farm. The animals. Me. Our numbers are fewer from the autumn migrations that call our wild, summer residents away. I buckle down, bundle up, and steel my mind to keeping all of us alive through the cold. Water unfrozen. Animals bundled in blankets or locked into barns as necessary. Everyone well-fed…maybe even overfed. And, at the same time, I also relax, putting projects on hold, contenting myself to spend cold nights cuddled up under blankets next to the fire.
When the Spring comes, I watch as all of us wake up. I’m called to the outside. I sit and listen to the birds with my morning coffee. (Sometimes I think that I should learn to identify them by song, a “get to know your neighbors” kind of thing.) I watch our bluebirds come home, and I wait anxiously for the first butterfly. There is a gentleness to it, but the to-do list seems to grow daily. Shearing, hoof trimming, vaccines–not to mention pasture clean-up, barn cleaning, and mowing–are about to be upon me.
From my spot in the hay, I couldn’t help but notice that the horses need a thorough grooming; they are blowing their winter coat, leaving the season behind them. They remind me that transitions can be messy, but that there’s a loveliness in the mess, if you’re willing to see it. The mess with always be there somehow; there’s always going to be a new thing to take of, another item on the never ending list. But sometimes, in the moments between the winter and spring, all you need do is close you eyes, listen, and breathe in the sweet smell that come along as things change.
I was lying on my bed in the middle of the afternoon-a weekend in early May of 2016-feeling extraordinarily lazy, and watching my ceiling fan spin circles above me. I held my phone to my ear and listened as Jeremiah began to explain the plight of a unfortunate four-year-old desert bred Arabian gelding who had been injured in a pasture accident. The injury was deemed “career ending” for the young gelding, once an exceptionally promising and talented performance prospect, and the decision was made to put him down. He was three-legged lame, currently residing in a stall awaiting his appointment for euthanasia after x-rays revealed that he had torn much of the connective tissue in his lower right front leg. He only had a few days before the vet would be back out.
Through an unlikely chain of events (involving the horse’s previous owner, an unexpected shoeing appointment, and a brief conversation with the consulting vet), the gelding, named Phoenix, had made his way onto Jeremiah’s radar. Jeremiah had known Phoenix’s mother and was the farrier for Phoenix’s previous owner. He was just connected enough to the horse to be interested, and he started making phone calls to get to the bottom of the situation.
His conversation with the vet led to his conversation with me. He explained that Phoenix had an excellent shot to recover to pasture sound (pain free but unridable), a decent chance of recovering to trail sound (noncompetitively ridable), and a very, very slim chance of recovering to performance sound, but that, in any case, he would require a lot of time and a lot of money. His owners weren’t willing to make that sort of investment in an almost definitely noncompetitive horse with such an uncertain future.
“What do you think?” Jeremiah asked. “Should we bring him home?”
If you’ve been following this blog for any time at all, you will know quite well that sad creatures are my kryptonite. I have barely bought myself a new pair of jeans in the past four years, but my creatures are well-stocked with their own comforts. However, the fact is, as much as I would like to try, I cannot save them all. My resources are finite, and every animal requires hay and time and space. All of those things have their limits, even out here on 100 acres. I try to be very aware of those limits because at my core, the space in my heart drastically outdistances the space in my pastures or leeway in my pocketbook. That could get me in trouble really quickly. Not to mention, as you might guess given my last post on my divorce, Jeremiah and I weren’t on terribly solid footing ourselves just then…
I paused before responding. “It’s probably a terrible idea…and we might just be bringing the poor thing up here to euthanize in a few months if things don’t heal…”
“I know.” Jeremiah sounded resigned, another horse, especially an injured one, would be a huge responsibility to add to already chaotic and complicated lives.
“It’s good that we’re in agreement on that…” I inhaled deeply. “But I think we should do it anyway.”
Jeremiah spent the next week getting Phoenix set to travel while I got the barn ready to accommodate a seriously injured horse. Jeremiah shod his uninjured front hoof in a fancy set of composite shoes for extra support. We had a vet in Southern Illinois cast his injured leg, and we had radiographs and records sent to our vet up here. By the time he loaded onto our trailer to travel three hours North, he had already required a significant investment in vet bills and hoof work.
I had been sent a few photos of him, but when I agreed to take him in, it was sight unseen, so when he stepped off the trailer, I was surprised by a few things. First, Phoenix was stunningly beautiful, and TALL, much taller than I had expected given his Arabian Heritage. Second, with his lower limb in a cast, he was fairly ambulatory, not nearly as lame as I expected. (I had been under the impression that we were bringing home a half-dead horse with a slim chance of survival, but he was in far better shape than I had imagined.) Third, he was taking his trailer ride and new surroundings mostly in stride. He seemed nervous, but obliging. All of that was encouraging.
I got him settled in to an empty stall on the far edge of the barn and began a routine that we hoped would make him better. The vet came out regularly to administer Ozone Therapy. We found someone locally who could administer pulsed magnetic wave therapy. We tried to limit his movement, control his pain, and give him any sort of edge we could find to give him. He was underweight when he came, so in addition to hay, he was also fed grain twice daily.
I was basically already running the farm by myself at that point, with Jeremiah away for weeks at a time, so Phoenix and I spent a lot of time together, especially early on. I cleaned his stall; I fed him; I held him for his treatments; I kept him clean, and fed, and as happy as possible. I planned to remain somewhat distant with him, not wanting to get overly attached if we were to have to put him down, but he had one of those difficult to resist personalities. My sister-in-law took to calling him a “puppy horse” due to his tendency to follow us, demand attention, and cuddle. It wasn’t long before he wiggled his giant self right into my heart.
For several months, things went very well. Better than expected, in fact. The combination of treatments seemed to be working splendidly. Phoenix moved into his second cast without a hiccup, continuing his treatments each step of the way.
Getting a Magnawave treatment and eating hay; this became a favorite routine.
Sedated to remove his first cast and set the second
I started planning for his future with us.
Despite offers from a few of Jeremiah’s clients to take him once he was sound, I decided he would stay. As far as I was concerned, he would always be something of a time bomb for the wrong owner: High spirited and athletic but with potential for a re-injury. He was built like a jumper, and I was afraid that would be his undoing in the wrong hands. Also, if I’m being terribly honest, it bugged me a little that plenty of people wanted him sound, but no one else was willing to take the chance on him or spend the required money on him when his fate was uncertain.
And somewhere along the line, between my initial resolution to keep emotional distance from him and the day Jeremiah came home to remove his second cast twelve weeks later, I had unconsciously decided that he would get better. He had gone from being a anonymous horse we were going to try to save, but would likely have to euthanize, to a member of my herd with a future, his own personality, and a place in my heart.
He stood patiently as Jeremiah removed his cast. The leg underneath was atrophied from under-use, but we expected that. Jeremiah asked me to lead him away, and Phoenix followed me obligingly…completely unable to bear weight on his injured leg. I had so thoroughly convinced myself that Phoenix would be sound out of the cast that those first few steps shocked me to my core.
Jeremiah watched him walk and shook his head, lips pursed, brow furrowed. I had seen that look so many times, usually as he tried to decide how to tell a client that things didn’t look so good for their horse.
“Did we expect this?” I asked, hoping he knew something I didn’t.
“No,” he said simply. “But, maybe it will take him a few days to get used to it.”
I put Phoenix back in his stall. He settled in, refusing to put weight on his hoof but otherwise paying it no mind. I fed him, just as I had done every day since Jeremiah brought him home, and Jeremiah and I walked back down to the house.
Both of us were despondent, but I think I felt more defeated. The uncertainty, defeat, fear of loss–those emotions, that vulnerability–are the true cost of what I do out here. The sacrifice of time or of money is easy by comparison.
The next few days showed little improvement. Phoenix seemed happy enough, but seldom put any weight at all on his injured leg, hobbling around pathetically on three legs instead.
The vet needed to come out again; this time to x-ray the affected leg and determine where Phoenix was at. Had the leg been reinjured? Had the tears healed? Was he developing rapid early arthritis (a concern from the beginning)? I needed to know whether or not he was getting better and whether or not I could offer him a good quality of life.
I needed to know whether my baby boy–you know, the one I wouldn’t let myself get attached to–would make it.
The vet wasn’t able to come out for two more weeks. Jeremiah went off on another month long trip and I stayed, feeding Phoenix twice a day (along with everyone else), cleaning his stall, and studying his every movement, looking for improvement…hope…
When our vet’s farm truck rolled up two weeks later, my stomach was in knots. It had already been decided that we would only keep going with treatment if it was fair to the horse, and his state at that moment, still not walking on the injured leg with three months of rehab behind him, made me desperately afraid that I would have to schedule his euthanasia before Doc drove away that afternoon.
I brought Phoenix out of his stall, and he stood calmly as the vet went about his business. He was used to being poked and prodded by then.
The vet was able to pull the x-rays up on his laptop within minutes. He viewed them side-by-side with the x-rays of the initial injury.
“Oh, ok. These look good. See here? This is much better.”
That knot in my stomach melted, and tried to pay attention as Doc explained all the intricacies of the x-rays we were looking at, but all I could focus on was that Phoenix was better. Things would be ok. I could hardly believe that things would be ok.
I watched him drive away with a sense of relief. He wouldn’t be coming back to help me give a unrecoverable horse a kind end. Instead, Doc told me that the muscles had atrophied in the cast, that Phoenix needed time and space. Those things, I could give him.
I opened up his stall to a small run that day. I moved him into his own small pasture within about a month. Then, this Spring, I walked him down the lane and introduced him to the other horses, moving him into the big field where he could run and play to his heart’s content.
Phoenix with his chickens.
Phoenix with his kitty.
I watched the horses munching their hay tonight as the sun set behind us. Phoenix stood in the field with everyone else, sound and a true-blue member of the herd, and I breathed a sigh of relief, remembering again just how miraculous that was.
Let me be crystal clear: I didn’t NEED any more chickens. Cluckingham Palace is currently home to 11 laying chickens, 1 lavender turkey hen, and, of course, Arthur of Camelot. I currently collect more eggs than I can personally use, and I’ve been pretty open about the fact that eggs cost more to raise than to buy.
I know all of these things, but I have a mild case of chicken math disorder…which is basically a psychological disorder, and every Spring I seem to manage to fill up a brooder. There are some very reasonable arguments for doing so. (Chickens lay fewer eggs as they age. If you free-range, it is understood that you will lose an occasional hen to predators, etc.) But, when you get right down to it, I know that the real reason I keep buying chickens is that I like having chickens hanging around and that itty-bitty chicks are basically the cutest things ever in the history of all time; all of the other reasons are ancillary.
I had debated ordering chicks from mypetchicken again this year–I’ve been wanting a few rare breeds for several years that I know I can get through a hatchery order–but all of that went out the window when I walked into my feed store and realized that they had ordered in more than a dozen different types of chick this year.
You see, as it turns out, I have no real self-control. Though I admirably resisted all of the cute, little fluffy-butts the first time I saw them, it couldn’t last. A couple of weeks later, I made the mistake of going in to pick up feed while I was having a bad day; I left the store with two chick crates (10 chicks).
Chicks require special care for about a month and a half. It usually takes about six weeks for chicks to lose the fluff and grow their adult feathers. Until then, they have to live away from the other chickens and be kept warm and safe. For my chicks, that means living in my basement for at least that first six weeks. I settled my new chick-kids into their brooder that afternoon with lots of food, clean water, bedding, and appropriate heat lamps.
I don’t worry much about my adult chickens. Though I have an occasional issue–and I’m lucky enough to have a vet who will treat poultry–chickens tend to be pretty hardy. Chicks are another matter entirely. They are sensitive to heat, cold, changes in food, and stress. Issues can arise pretty quickly, and they can be hard to successfully treat. So, when I found one of my chicks acting lethargic about a day and a half later, I didn’t waste time.
It was already late when I found little one, but, despite the hour, I picked her up out of the brooder and took her upstairs with me. She had “pasty butt” which can be a symptom of a bigger issue or the issue itself, so I cleaned her up, offered her some water, and tucked her into my shirt so I could keep her warm and keep an eye on her at the same time. I didn’t want put her back in the brooder for fear that the other chicks would pick on her (it’s common for them to pick on sick birds), so I held her next to me, occasionally dipping her beak in water so she could drink and hoping she would take a turn for the better.
tucked into my shirt while I watched Netflix
The two of us watched Netflix until I almost couldn’t keep my eyes open, and at three am, I put her back in her brooder, a small towel around her to give her some space from the other chicks.
The next morning, I awoke groggy and later than usual, but I went downstairs to check on my little one first thing. She was still hanging on, but had pasted over again. I picked her up, brought her upstairs, and cleaned her up again. Then she and I settled into my couch for the morning.
I would read between offering her water or food.
She would occasionally perk up. The cats would act incredulous that I had a chick on their couch.
I called off work to stay with her, and I spent the morning with her, letting her bask in the sunlight. I took a quick break from my reading and her basking to attend to my barn, but beyond that, I held her for most of the day.
That evening, I asked my sister to come over to “chick sit” so I could do my second round of barn chores. God bless her, she came and sat on my bed holding a baby chicken for about an hour while I took care of things outside. By then I wasn’t optimistic about the little one’s chances, but I didn’t want her to be alone.
Little one passed that evening. She was warm and safe. She hadn’t been picked on by the other chicks. She hadn’t died of dehydration. She had known what it was like to bask in the sunshine.
You get used to losing animals when you do what I do. Or, rather, maybe you don’t entirely get used to it, but you learn to accept it. With little one, I had honestly resigned myself to losing her fairly early on–I knew pretty well what was coming–but I had made the decision to keep holding her and to keep trying anyway, because it was the right thing to do, and I believe that matters.
In my mind, kindness matters. It matters no matter how loud or how quiet it is. Kindness matters every time it’s given, whether to a person or a stray dog or a dying chick. And it matters even when it doesn’t make a “real” difference in how things turn out.
The fact that little one knew what it was like to bask in the sunshine matters. I really believe that. I think that every good thing makes the world a better place. Every act of kindness, no matter how very, very small, no matter how insignificant it may seem, makes the world a little kinder.
In a world where you can be anything, please be kind.
Kahn was someone’s house cat once. I’m almost sure of it. Feral cats don’t come to humans to ask for help, which is just what he was doing when he and I first met. It was the coldest, darkest part of winter, more than a year before we took over at the ranch. I was helping to keep an eye on things while the owners were away, doing evening chores and hanging out with a friend, Katie, who had come along to keep me company.
The night was quiet, so we heard the his cries from outside the shut barn door. Katie slid it open to find a battered-looking, black cat standing just out of reach. It was snowy, and he was cold. His inky fur was rough and made him stand in stark contrast to the snow. He held one foot above the cold ground, obviously wounded and infected. His right eye was swollen nearly shut, and despite his size–Kahn is a big cat–he was desperately underweight and looked very small. He continued to cry as we looked on, but skirted us. Nervous and scared but pleading for help. Continue reading “The Adventures of Kahn”→
I know. I know. That phrase usually belongs to Christmas, and I love Christmas, but whoever first coined that phrase and applied it to Christmastime obviously didn’t know the joys of springtime on a ranch.
Out here in the Midwest, March is when the Earth starts to wake from her long, restless, winter sleep, but, like me before my first cup of coffee, she moves slowly, and yawning, meanders through the month in a bit of a cloud covered haze. March comes with sprinklings of hope and signs of warmth. But it also comes with snows and drops from 70 degrees one day to 25 degrees the next. March is the messenger that Spring is coming, but March is not Spring.
But April? In April, things come alive again. For about two weeks, I have been soaking in blue skies and green grass. Reveling in the new flowers, chirping birds, buzzing bees. I find that there is something deeply intoxicating about the color green, and I’ve spent hours and hours aimlessly wandering our fields to soak in the spirits of the season.
Spring is when the ranch wakes up again.
My first trip to the ranch was in the Spring, over 15 years ago now. I recently stumbled across that story, one originally written for a Master’s level class in creative nonfiction. If you’ve ever wondered how on earth I ended up on this ranch, this is it. That day was when my love affair with the ranch started; thus far, with ten years on my marriage to Jeremiah, it’s been the most enduring love of my life.
Let’s be honest. You don’t need to follow this blog very long to realize that, on this sixty (plus or minus) animal, 100 acre ranch, the chickens basically rule the roost.
They steal grain from the llamas and horses. They hijack hay feeders to use as nesting boxes.
Daisy chicken hijacking the hay feeder.
Each one has her own little personality and habits.
These chickens spend their days meandering around the pastures. They dust bathe. They eat kitchen scraps in addition to their feed and their homemade scratch. In short, they spend their day (and their lives) being chickens and doing chickeny things.
I’ve found when most people think of chickens, they think of chickens like mine, scratching and pecking and chickening to their hearts content in green fields and deeply bedded, comfy coops.
But most chickens, whether raised for egg-laying or meat production, will never see a comfy coop or a green field.
The average cost of a dozen eggs at the supermarket is $1.41, so I understand why some people have sticker shock when their local farmers charge between $4 and $6 a dozen. But, as they say, you get what you pay for.
The reason those store bought eggs are so cheap? Confinement. Most egg laying chickens, even today with a grass-roots push towards “cage free” eggs, live their lives in battery cages with almost no space: 67 square inches according to The Humane Society. (That’s less than the space covered by a piece of letter-sized paper.) Each cage holds five to ten birds and lends to a high rate of injury for the animals. They can’t even flap their wings, let alone walk around. Even “cage free” doesn’t really mean they have adequate space or outdoor access, but we’ll get into labels later.
These hens have short lives and are never allowed to be chickens. On their hatch day, they are sexed. The males, an estimated 6 billion of them annually who are useless to the egg industry, are deposed of, usually gassed or put through a grinder (yes, alive). The females are beaked (meaning part of their beaks are cut or burned off without anesthetic to disallow pecking of other nearby hens or pulling out feathers), a painful procedure that causes great distress. After being beaked, the hens will spend the rest of their lives struggling to properly eat. Then, they are confined. They cannot perch, dust bathe, or exercise. Ever. (For comparison, sit down cross-legged; now imagine that you have to stay there, like that, for the rest of your life.) When they are at the end of their egg laying cycles, they are starved for 7-14 days and go through a forced molt that will cause them to lay again for just a little while longer before they are killed. (The forced molt is linked to higher instance of salmonella due to the hen’s compromised physical state, so it is in neither the consumers best interest nor the hens’…just the best interest of the company.)
A chicken can naturally live 7-10 years. Egg industry chickens survive maybe 3 egg laying cycles.
Why am I telling all of you this? Honestly, it’s because I love animals, including chickens, and, for the most part I know that the people who read this blog love animals too.
Also, I like to eat eggs, and that’s ok. Consuming eggs is not inherently tied to these immoral practices. There are steps you can take to ensure that your eggs come from happier, healthier hens.
Know your egg carton labels.
If you must buy grocery store eggs, strive for cartons labeled “Animal Welfare Approved.” Usually these are organic eggs, and to get the label, the farmers must provide outdoor access (for specific amounts of time and with specific conditions) and enough room to perch, nest, and spread their wings. Beaking is prohibited, as is forced molting.
Other labels related to animal welfare (from best to worst though all of these are better than not) are “pasture raised,” “USDA Organic, “free-range” or “free-roaming,” and “cage free.”
Your local farmers’ market, farm stand, or chicken-obsessed neighbor are your very best egg sources. Our pastured hens are happier and healthier. The eggs are higher quality and so much more fresh! (Did you know that the eggs on the shelf at the grocery are usually a month old before they get to the store? Gross!!!) Many farmers’ market farmers bring photos of their hens living conditions and are happy to discuss animal welfare. Ask and you shall see! I promise if you make the switch to eggs from small production farms, you won’t regret it.
Raise your own happy, healthy hens!
Don’t get me wrong, chickens are a lot of responsibility and keeping them should be entered into with your eyes wide open, but they are such fun, and it is wonderful to know EXACTLY how the hens who lay your eggs are treated, what they eat, and how they live. If you have questions about what that takes, shoot me an email or follow Almost Farmgirl on Facebook and connect (there’s an easy-peasy link at the bottom of your page).
There are so many happy healthy hens around whose owners would be thrilled to sell you eggs. Of course, eggs from our hens costs more, because we give our hens the food and space and conditions that allow them to thrive. Some of us even allow our layers to live into their natural old age, long past their egg laying usefulness. (I will gladly pay to feed my chickens into their useless years!)
The lives of most of these animals is short and miserable. But it doesn’t have to be. We can do better. We can be better. And it can start with you.
Want to learn more? Check out these resources/references:
My bipedal servants seem to think that I owe you an apology.
I think they’re wrong…but they do refill the hay nets on demand, and I believe that they have access to grain, even though they don’t give me any of it, so I do what I can to stay in their good graces when it isn’t too inconvenient.
I, of course, am Slash. High King of the Hill, Guardian of Camelot, and First Pony of the Alpacalypse.
I assume you’ve heard of me? (Of course you have. It was silly of me to even ask, but I do try to stay humble.)
And you, I believe, are referred to by the bipeds a “Neigh Bores.” (They worry about us making noise, but you have “Neigh” right there in your name.) I gather that you are other bipeds who are not indentured to any equines, camelids, or chooks. That’s sad for you, but I won’t rub it in, as I imagine it is a source of despair and humiliation in your little hooman lives. (Seriously, what do you even do with your time? If a hooman wakes up in the morning without a horse to feed, does it even exist?)
Oh, right, apology…
(How does one even do this?)
I’m sorry that you were unprepared to behold all of my majesty, standing, as it were, in your front yard. It must have been quite a shock. (Next time, avoid looking at me directly, or perhaps wear sunglasses. I hear that helps when beholding glory.)
Also, that I pooped on your lawn; apparently that was “inappropriate” and “gross.”
In my defense, it was a lovely yard, and someone left corn there.
(*Editors note: regardless of how hard I try to convince him otherwise, Slash still thinks you left the corn there for him, as he believe that feeding the local deer is a waste of perfectly good horse food.)
My servants have informed me that it was naughty of me to climb under the gate and spend the day “running amok” while they were at work.
I think it’s naughty of them to put up gates and fences. We all have opinions.
The bipeds wish for me to conclude this little literary experiment with a promise to “never be such a little ass again,” but there, they ask too much. (Also, I’m really not sure how they can mistake me for a donkey, but the one is pretty nearsighted.)
I will grace you with my presence as soon as I can once again escape these foul fence lines. Leave more corn next time, and try to shoo the deer off as they were in my way.
(Ha. Not really)
(*Editors note: The neighbors were actually super nice about the fact that our tiny horse took up temporary residence in their front lawn.)
(You know, because llamas are camelids, and he lives with them…Aren’t we clever?)
He is a year old, nearly fifty pound, broad-breasted Tom.
Being a broad breasted turkey, Arthur is basically a mutant, but he’s our mutant, so we love him. He spends his days wandering around, looking pretty, gobbling about how impressive he is, and also following Jeremiah and I around while we do chores, requesting clover flowers and chest scratches.
After he lost both his friends, I sort of panicked that he would be lonely, so I searched online for a couple of pet turkeys. (I’m realizing that that sentence says more about who I am than almost anything I’ve ever written on here…)
I found these two. In keeping with our Camelot theme, I named them Guinevere and Morgana.
speckled sussex hen and blue slate turkey
Juvenille blue slate turkey hen
Unlike Arthur, they are a heritage breed (Blue Slate), so I don’t have to worry about them outgrowing their own skeletal system, which, frankly, is a relief.
Of course, Arthur never really bonded with them and, instead, thinks he’s an alpaca who happens to gobble a lot.
And the Blue Slates never really bonded with him either. In fact, they don’t seem to know they aren’t chickens.
Guinevere and Morgana, helping themselves to llama grain. (They may or may not have chased the llamas out of the stall.)
So, I guess my mission to find friends for Arthur kind of failed.
I ended up with three completely useless, but kinda cute, birds that I never really planned on. I nicknamed them “the three most useless creatures on the farm,” and just accepted their gobble-y little selves for what they were…
But, it turns out, I had it all wrong. They aren’t so useless at all.
A few weeks ago, Jeremiah and I were standing in front of the llama barn talking while the poultry free-ranged. They were scattered about the pastures when I glanced up and noticed a sandhill crane flying over the farm. It wasn’t a hawk or an eagle, both of which will gladly prey upon my flock, but Arthur didn’t know that.
I watched him look up and start gobbling (apparently a different than normal gobble). As soon as his warning went out, all of my hens and the two other turkeys ducked and ran as fast as their little feathery legs could carry them out of the open pasture and into the barn!
That was when we realized that our ridiculous, fifty pound, pet turkey had appointed himself as guardian of our flock (like any good turkey who thinks he’s an alpaca would), doing a better job of watching out for the girls than any rooster we’ve ever had. (Guys, it was maybe the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. I swear, he practically counted them once they were in to make sure everyone made it.)
Of course, that’s just one with a purpose out of three…
Until about two weeks ago.
See that fancy pants, speckled egg on top? That was our first ever turkey egg!
The turkey hens just started laying. So far, they’ve almost kept pace with the chickens, laying these big speckled eggs in the same nesting boxes.
The turkey eggs have higher fat and cholesterol than the chicken eggs, which makes them less ideal as a stand alone food, but perfect for baking! (I started using them last week, making a dish of brownies for my mom, and then another for my brother-in-law’s birthday.)
Guys, you have not lived until you have eaten brownies made with turkey eggs! They are so rich that it’s almost like fudge. I’m excited to experiment with cakes and breads!
Turns out, my turkeys had purpose all along. I just didn’t know it yet.
First Class, who for all of his issues, is still basically adorable.
It’s almost like there’s a script, a list of exact lines shared with the rest of the world, but not with me.
Every. Single. Time. I say I have llamas.
“Oh…Aren’t they mean?”
Yes. Yes. They are horrible attack monsters unrivaled by all but cthulha and the kraken. I cower before them as I walk through the barns and the pastures, willing them not to see me as I pass. In fact, they have imprisoned me on this ridgeline against my will; I am bound in eternal servitude to their highness(es).
But, honestly, the question does come up nearly every time someone learns that we have llamas. Let’s just set the record straight, shall we?
The friendliness of a llama is dependent on its handling and its genetics. (Like, you know, all other animals…and, frankly, people.)
My llamas are not mean. Not all of them are exceptionally friendly; our rescues especially have a tendency to be standoffish. (But seriously, why on earth would I keep twenty violent, angry animals around as pets???)
Some llamas are mean, just like some dogs, cats, horses, and chickens are mean.
The llamas you met at the petting zoo (farm park, the pasture that sat caty-corner to the elementary school, etc), the ones you always tell me about, they probably were mean. Llamas really aren’t built for the petting zoo environment. They will get super stressed and will NOT be friendly.
Llamas and alpacas do spit. It’s their defense response.
Yes, I have been spit on.
Yes. It’s really freaking gross.
No, my llama probably isn’t going to spit on you unless you do something to really deserve it. A well-socialized llama isn’t likely to spit at a person. (Full disclosure – I did once have a llama spit at my sister-in-law for no good reason AT ALL. That is really odd behavior, but it seemed the llama just really hated her.)
I sort of get it I guess: Llamas are rare enough that most people have limited experience with them, and everyone has a cousin whose friend got spit on that one time (or whatever).
But honestly, these creatures are pretty misunderstood. The llamas at my farm have played host to kids birthday parties, allowing five year olds to lead them through an obstacle course or on a walking trail. They have been showed all over the Midwest.
Costume Class – Not my llama but how cool?
They have visited nursing homes and schools and daycare centers.
And, even now, they take center stage when visitors, large or small, visit the farm.
Now, does that look like a mean creature to you???