Animals down on the Farm

My social media reminders reminded me that apparently it has been one whole year since Haus Meister brought home the box of chicks from the hardware store. I thought for a moment that it couldn’t be, but yes, it was ten days from our move-in day… we still didn’t have our furniture then… the movers would place things, with a chuckle, around the makeshift brooder we set up in the basement. So, on that note, how about a look at the animals on the farm?

And may I add a laugh on me? When the last of the corgyn fellowship passed away in Sept. 2017, having slipped a disc in his back after jumping out of the bathtub and never recovering, I was DONE with pets. I said we would not have another pet until Bright Eyes was in kindergarten. Of course, I had seen Fredregar killed in a hit-and-run just in front of our mailbox in 2011; the black labrador rescue gone sour the same year; my favorite corgi Meriadoc died in front of me after a cruciatus tear to his knee exacerbated an abdominal condition in 2015; and then Pippin… well, it was quits for me and the animal kingdom.

Until December, when we visited a farm owned by some friends, and Sunshine picked up a cat. Fortunately, she alighted upon the most placid cat in existence who didn’t mind a bit that this strange girl was carrying it around everywhere while she visited. Sunshine decided from that afternoon that we, also, needed a cat. She repeated this often. She went on walks in the neighborhood looking for a stray to rehome. We didn’t think cat + move = good idea, so we tried promising a cat AFTER the move. The second time she went in search of a stray, we decided it was time to just adopt a cat.

Guarding his domain? Or sleeping in the late afternoon?

Here comes the laugh on me. March 3, 2018, enter Bilbo. He was a sweet, quiet kitten for about five days but ended up being an agile, hilarious critter. He likes warm hearths, warm blankets, or warm windowsills bathed in sunshine. He also likes to attack when least expected, or when we are showing the slightest attention to the outdoor cat. When seated, he resembles some Egyptian statue and wants us to recall that his ancestors were worshipped as gods. He thinks he’s fierce, but he also has only brought home one rodent and a pile of crickets. He also hogs the dryer top in the wintertime.

I said we only needed one cat. That much is true. However, last August, after a few weeks of rain and storms, my parents were in for a visit and reported that they had seen a gray cat outside their bedroom window. Two nights after they had left, I saw the cat myself, meowing and rubbing against the screen of the sliding door in our kitchen. I had seen an orange stray meandering before then, but he always ran at the sight of anyone. This one stayed put, so I feared she was lost and needed some food (I am a sap, I admit). I went out to give her a bit of cat food, and she was skittish as I grew close. She even now will rarely let me pet her, but she comes by every night and she has proven a good pest controller–better even, than Bilbo– so I keep feeding her. It’s not like the cat food provokes raccoons or opossums any more than the fact that we have garbage cans on the property, anyway.

So here she is: “Tabitha Twitchett”

The “barn” is actually a large shed/workshop built at the same time as our house. It was full of junk and leaning when we moved in but Haus Meister cleared the place, straightened it, replaced the rotting floor, and made it habitable for chickens…and rabbits, but not in the exact same spots. We repurposed a lot of wood in the barn for nest boxes and perches. These feathered idiots only truly like the top three middle nest boxes. Why did we bother adding more?!

And now, the chickens! When Haus Meister went to the hardware store last year and inquired as to the availability of chicks, he was proffered the deal of “buy 4 get 1 free” if we chose week old chicks instead of the day-old ones. So he came home with 4 Buff Orpingtons, 2 Rhode Island Reds, 5 Barred Rocks, and the last Ameraucana the store had in stock.

The Buff Orpingtons: Banana (deceased January 2019, thanks to a hawk); Pillow; Sunflower; and Polka Dot Sunshine Sleeping Beauty Princess (named by Posey. Note: there isn’t a single polka dot on this yellow hen).

The Rhode Island Reds: Galatea (named for the cow in Farmer Giles of Ham), and Speckles Worm-Bane.

The Barred Rocks: Pecksy, Eugenia Lincoln, Baby Lincoln, Polka Dot (the original), and Turkey Neck.

Ameraucana: Queen Spotta.

All of the chickens have been great with the kids. They may not always be kind to one another (“Pecksy” and “Turkey Neck” received their official names from a feather-plucking habit developed over the last four months). We’ve learned a lot about chicken keeping in the past year. The reason “Banana” is in a towel held by Rascal in the second picture in due to the fact that she suffered a vent prolapse after her first laid egg. “I just gave a chicken an epsom salt bath” was probably among the most surreal texts I sent in 2018. Poor Banana! She was the runt of the bunch and became my favorite.

It’s a fact that we have not needed to buy eggs at the supermarket since last August. We’ve given eggs away to friends, neighbors, and even electricians. All our current hens lay brown eggs except Queen Spotta, who lays a blue green egg. One day I opened our refrigerator to see that Sunshine had decided to have a bit of fun with an old nest we found in the woods, and one of Spotta’s eggs.

Another amusing story from our first year here came from the same weekend that we acquired the outdoor stray cat, Tabitha, mentioned above. My parents were due to arrive late in the afternoon of one particular Friday last August after a time which, as I said, we had a lot of rain and storms. A lost hen decided to visit our barn that same afternoon, and moved in that night. Luckily for us, she wasn’t carrying any diseases or ailments, and began to lay full size eggs in the nest boxes as if she had always known this place. Rascal said she was his chicken since she arrived out of the blue on a weekend we were celebrating his birthday. He named her “Candy.” I’m hazarding a guess she’s either a “Red Star” or “ISA Brown” hen. It really doesn’t matter, as we don’t plan on showing her at a fair anytime soon. What we find amusing, though, is that we acquired a stray chicken. That doesn’t come up in many stories! And yes, I did look around for a few weeks in case anyone was missing a chicken, and as no one seemed to be at a loss, Candy fits in well.

By this time, I had utterly forgotten anything I had ever said about when to get a pet, and was not surprised when, after unearthing and restoring a rabbit hutch from the woods behind the barn, that Rascal would save his money from pet-sitting for our neighbors and buy some rabbits! He has two American Blue does named after characters in the Redwall series of books. “Dottie” is the smaller of the two, more personable, and very sweet. “Mumzy” is more aloof, larger, and as I call her, “The Adventure Rabbit.” Haus Meister and Rascal plan to build a larger, more secure hutch for the rabbits next weekend after Mumzy the Adventure Rabbit decided this weekend to find a way out from under an old loose feeder and see the Great Outdoors. Fortunately, she only explored to a woodpile about ten feet from the barn door, whereupon she was returned to her hutch to nurse her offended dignity.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the glimpse of our ongoing “nature study” here on the Farm. The joke on me will continue as April should bring us some brand new chicks (from Murray McMurray Hatchery this time) as well as a nuc or two of honeybees. Stay tuned!

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