When Phoenix Came to Stay

 

“So…There’s this horse…”

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.”

I cannot save them all, but, as I’ve said before, sometimes you have to choose between logic and compassion. When pressed, choose compassion.  Also, I believe in fate, and it seemed like this particular sad creature was supposed to cross our path.  I steeled myself for a potential loss–I already knew there was a good chance we wouldn’t be able to save him–and started clearing a space in my barn for another sad animal.

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.

Phoenix early on
If you look closely, you can see his cast peeking up on his front right leg.
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.

 

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.

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Phoenix waiting in his stall.
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.


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.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little bit of kindness and a tiny chicken

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).

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Chicks Riding Shotgun

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

 

The Adventures of Kahn

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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”

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

DSC_2496NI 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.

It doesn’t hurt that it all started one beautiful Spring day… Continue reading “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

Farm Fresh or Not: The Chickens Behind the Eggs

 

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 free-range.

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They steal grain from the llamas and horses. They hijack hay feeders to use as nesting boxes.

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.”
  • Buy Local!!!
    • 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.

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  • 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:

And, from the archives:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Hoomans of the Hill

My bipedal servants seem to think that I owe you an apology.

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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.

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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.

Ever yours,

(Ha.  Not really)

King Slash

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(*Editors note: The neighbors were actually super nice about the fact that our tiny horse took up temporary residence in their front lawn.)

The Trouble with Turkeys

Do you guys remember my three little turkey peeps from last year?  The ones we rescued from the feed store when it became clear that they were quickly destined to be dinner?

We lost one little peep (my favorite) to his birth defect.  We lost another to a predator.

But one of the little peeps survived.

And he isn’t so little anymore.

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Arthur

Meet Arthur of Camelot.

(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.

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.

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Arthur in the stall with his old men llamas.

And the Blue Slates never really bonded with him either.  In fact, they don’t seem to know they aren’t chickens.

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.

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Farm fresh eggs – with a blue slate turkey egg on top!

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.

 

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Jeremiah and Guinevere…or maybe Morgana (even I can’t tell them apart most of the time)

But aren’t llamas mean???

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).

*Sigh*

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.

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???

Season of Gray

 

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The woods are lovely dark and deep

December 27th, and it’s gray.  The Midwest has a way of graying out during the month of November and staying gray until February.  Days like today, it looks mostly the same outside at 8:00 am that it does at 4:00 in the afternoon.

I’ve been feeling as gray as today’s sky.  I think we all have times like this, times when each day is just a push from morning to night, an effort to get from the start of your day to the finish in one piece.   If I’m being completely honest, 2015 has been one of the most difficult years on record for me.  I’ve felt in chaos more than I’ve felt safe, and more days have proved a struggle than I care to admit.   It’s easy to get lost in that, forget that everything with a beginning eventually has an end.

But, right now, I’m just in the middle of my chaos, and I’m feeling a little lost. Continue reading “Season of Gray”

Tough Decisions and Heartbreak (A post I’ve been trying to not write…)

A few weeks ago, I spent most of a Saturday building a turkey playpen in the yard.  You guys remember our little turkey peeps, don’t you?  The three little misfits my husband brought home around the middle of April?

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I’ve been amazed by these little guys.  They are remarkable social birds, both amongst themselves and with us.  They decided early on that we were pretty awesome (probably because of our apparent never-ending supply of mealworms), and they call and coo for us when they see us nearby.

Well, a few weeks back, I decided that they were big enough to spend some of their time outdoors, especially while I cleaned their brooder, so I set this up in the front yard.

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Nothing fancy.  Just four panels with chicken wire and garden netting, held in place by zip ties.  I would haul the turkeys out of the basement in a cat carrier and leave them in their playpen for the afternoon while we did work around the farm.  But honestly? They liked it best when I sat with them.  They would prance around, but coming running back to me peeping when frightened, such as when the barn cat seemed to think they’d be tasty.

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I really grew to like the turkeys, but one of them, named Igor, became an easy favorite.  He came running when he saw us.  He liked being picked up.  When he was frightened, he not only came running back peeping, but he tried to jump into my lap as I sat, legs folded, in the grass.

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I named him Igor because of a slight limp.

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At first, the limp seemed quirky.  I had a chicken with a similar issue, and she did just fine.  She sort of waddled like a duck when she ran, which was actually kind of endearing and cute.

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But, unlike my hen, a heritage breed chicken, Igor started growing really fast.  And the limp got worse.

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I remember sitting in the playpen with the turkeys and noticing that when Igor ran, he tripped, occasionally falling.  I thought maybe it was an issue with the un-level ground.  We called the vet to ask if there was anything that could be done.  Maybe the leg could be splinted?    Perhaps there was something lacking in their diet?

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Jeremiah and our vet had a lengthy conversation about turkeys.  (Our vet is good for lengthy conversations.)  Among other things, we were informed that our peeps were not, in fact, the native turkey species of our area.  Rather, they were a genetically modified variant bred to look like the native species.  Our guys were created to be fast growing, quick to move from brooder to supper table.

Therein lay the problem.  My poor Igor, never destined for the supper table, was growing more size more quickly  than his bone structure could support.  His leg was splaying out from the hip.  And the vet said there was nothing at all that we could do to help him.  The leg couldn’t be fixed.

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We held off doing anything for a couple of days.  Then one day Jeremiah noticed that Igor couldn’t stand up in his brooder or on the cement basement floor.   And it sucked so hard, but we knew when he couldn’t stand that the kindest thing was to put him down.

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I walked in to check on our chicks before bed, and I realized that there were only two turkey peeps in their brooder.  Moment later, Jeremiah walked in, gun in hand.  He didn’t say anything, but I knew straight away what had been done.

He didn’t tell me first, but I can’t blame him for that.  It took everything in him to end things for Igor, even if it was the only kind thing to do.  And, I helped make the call. The responsibility rested on both of us, but he was the one who had to pull the trigger, and I don’t envy him that.

I was sad about it for days.  Both of us were.

Our two remaining turkeys moved into the chicken coop a few days ago.  They have mostly adjusted, even though our rooster was a bit of an ass about it, and they are generally doing well.  They still run to greet us, and they happily eat from our hands and allow us to pet them.

I like them.  And they may be Jeremiah’s current favorite creatures.  But I haven’t named either of them.  I’m not sure why.

And here’s what I’ve been thinking ever since: A few weeks ago, we had to shoot our pet because his body couldn’t quite withstand the way people had genetically modified his species.

And it made me think about the way we tinker with nature.  Halter horses bred for such a dished face that they can’t breathe properly.  Bulldogs that can’t give birth without a C-section. Turkeys and chickens that grow too big, too fast and can’t walk for the meat weight they carry.

And I’m left wondering, what on earth makes us think we have the right?

Author’s note: I know a lot of people have very strong feelings on this sort of thing.  Feel free to express your opinion…politely.