Also goats and cows

If you follow Rarasaur (and you really should) you will find that sometimes she takes hold of your brain and turns it upside down like a pocket in a washing machine, and extraordinary things fall out. This is what fell out of my brain this evening.

I have never milked a cow. A friend, then a neighbor, tried to teach me to milk a goat, and she gave me goats milk that was delicious to drink and made wonderful soft cheese. The Hubbit and I were just just a few years into farming. All things seemed possible. So I decided I needed goats of my own.

Then one day the Hubbit saw two nannies on Craigslist who had been pets for a few years and were being given away for free. They had never been bred, or milked, and we found out after we brought them home that they weren’t really that accustomed to being pets either. I liked them, though, and I named the Saanen-cross Mary, and the La Mancha became Dulcinea.

This is a working farm, and everything is supposed to earn its keep. That is The Rule, as laid down by the Hubbit. (It doesn’t apply to my old horse or any of the dogs, all of whom are more cuddly than useful, but he is adamant that the exceptions stop there. More-or-less. Sometimes The Rule doesn’t really apply to me either … but I’m also always up for a cuddle.) My point is, there is no room for virgin goats on a working farm. Our next door neighbors had a billy goat, so we invited him over for a visit.

Billy goats have a bad reputation for reeking and raunchiness, and it’s entirely justified. This billy, and apparently he wasn’t unusual, would make himself irresistible by sticking his head between his front legs and peeing on his face. I think he peed pure acid, because his face was covered with raw bald patches. If we went out into the pasture he would rush up and try to rub it on us – behavior we appreciated about as much as the ladies did. In the end, however, he did what he was there to do and went home, and in the fullness of time Dulcinea and Mary produced kids.

Dulcinea & Kids (1)
Dulcinea and three brand new babies

There is nothing in the world as enchanting as a baby kid … except a whole lot of baby kids . I wish I had photographs, but this was before I had a phone with a camera on it, and anyway I’ve always been more interested in just looking than in recording. With baby kids in the pasture it’s about impossible to get anything done, they’re just so much fun. I set them up with logs and tires and random other odds and ends, and they spent their days leaping on, off and over. It’s the best part of having a farmlet!

Then, when they’re six months old, if you live on a working farm, your husband puts treats in a bucket and leads them around the side of the barn while you sit in a stall on a hay bale with your hands over your ears, and their mamas cry and cry, and you cry with them, and for days afterwards they glare at you with their yellow slotted eyes. Young goat is delicious, but it’s hard to eat; you feel like a cannibal.

This post started out being about milking, so, to get back to my point… The reason the nannies had to have kids was to bring in their milk. These were specifically milking breeds. You have to milk them and it’s better not to let them feed their babies; their udders get huge, and when kids nurse they slam their hard little heads into those udders and cause damage. But my two ladies would have nothing to do with my rude, clumsy fingers, and in the end they developed lumps of scar tissue from the relentless head-butting, which made it milking them properly impossible.

We tried keeping milk goats for two years, during which my neighbor continued to supply me with milk for cheese (so delicious! Such a frustrating reminder of my farmwife failings!) The first year my first Malinois, Destra, killed one of the babies, which was hugely traumatic. The second year she murdered two of them and I’d had enough. Kill day was just a couple weeks away and I couldn’t face inflicting more pain on my girls. (The cows really don’t care. They’ll stand and watch the kill guy do his work, and then mosey off with their latest calves to find another patch of sweet grass to munch on, and by the next day they’re not even calling the missing members of their herd. But goats are different. They know.)

I feel a bit weird writing about this, having sort of dedicated this post to Ra, who I think is vegetarian. But … well, this is what fell out of the pocket in my head, so I’ll just run with it, I guess.

Anyway, I found a goat rescue and we loaded up Mary, Dulcinea and their three remaining kids (the rescue later named them Wynken, Blynken and Nod and found them a job together as lawnmowers) and we drove in the truck for seven hours, across the Cascades and then up the I-5 almost as far as the Canadian border, and then five-and-a-half hours back home again. (We didn’t get lost on the way home.) The Hubbit has never quite forgiven me for this, and I will likely never get to have goats again, but that’s probably just as well. I have arthritis in my thumbs now, so milking is no longer possible.

Our cows don’t need to be milked. Their udders get large, but their calves can drink all the milk they produce and the head-butting doesn’t seem to bother them.

Rugen - Granny and Grandpa farm's house
Rugen, my grandparents’ farmhouse in the Northern Transvaal. I look at this picture and I can smell the Cobra wax polish that made her floors and furniture gleam. I can taste the pawpaws, blessed with the last coolness of the early morning. My grandmother kept peacocks and I loved to collect their tail feathers, but she would never have them in her house; she said they were unlucky.

When  I was a child my grandparents had a cattle farm in the Northern Transvaal in South Africa. They raised mainly beef cattle, but they had a few cows for milk. When we visited I went every morning to the milking shed, and then I followed the buckets of milk to the room with the cream separator. I had my little tin mug and I was allowed to hold it under the spout where the warm milk foamed out, and whenever no one was looking I’d stick it under the spout to steal the thick yellow cream.

Then my grandfather would take me out into the orchard and we’d pick a few pawpaws for breakfast. My grandmother would slice them and clean out the shiny black wet bitter-tasting seeds, and after we’d eaten our pawpaw she’d dish up big bowls of hot oatmeal or mieliemeal porridge and sprinkle on a thick crust of sugar, and I was allowed to pour on as much cream as I wanted.

Let’s talk. Have you ever milked anything? Or drunk fresh cream? What would fall out of the pockets in your head if I turned you upside down?

The pooping peacock

I haven’t had a lot of sleep just lately, because I’ve been stressing over my cows. We have three, and until recently they were all pregnant. We now have two cows, two babies … and one cow who still hasn’t bloody popped … so sleep continues to elude.

You have no idea how many things can go wrong during cow childbirth. And the longer I have to wait, the more I google, and the more I google, the more convinced I am that, sooner or later, I’m going to be up to my armpit in a cow’s vagina, wondering what the hell to do next. And then – I know this will happen because I have been present at a few calvings by now – the cow will poop on my head.

When this happens I will tell you all about it, assuming I survive, but for now I want to share something that gave me my first belly laugh of spring: a WhatsApp message from my niece, the intrepid Princess Swan, who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

And so the adventure goes: I am sitting in reception and I get a call from one of our boardrooms. Grace, one of our cleaners, screams, “SWAN! COME HERE!”  I run up the stairs and see, in the passage, a magnificent beast. 

A peacock.

And that peacock had shat everywhere.

How did it get inside? you may ask. It came from the roof, is our only guess. Swaggered down the stairs and into our lives.

Courtney's peacock.jpg
Peacock, looking a little ruffled

I call Free Me, an organization that rescues birds. (I have called them in the past with dying baby birds and they always come get them and make sure they survive.) But a peacock is not an indigenous bird, therefore they can’t help. They tell me to call the bird vet in Bryanston.

The vet is more than willing to take him in until the owner comes looking. Good – problem solved … almost! “How do you catch it?” I ask.

“Oh, simple. You merely put a towel over its head and it will sit down and calm down.”

Oh, if it were only that simple. Reuben, our IT guy, turns out to be not very good at this. He doesn’t want to get too close, and the towel keeps missing the peacock, which starts to get flustered. There is poop. And feathers. Eventually I, being an animal whisperer, intervene. I take the towel from Reuben and gently drop it over the peacock’s head. The peacock promptly panics.

But only for a minute. I guess the vet people know their stuff, because he does calm down, and I pick him up and cradle him like a baby. “Now what?” I ask Dalize, my center manager.

“We take him home,” she responds. But … where is home? We call around and learn he lives at the British International College just down the road. Dalize and I hop into her car. I am still holding the bird. For some reason no one else seems to want to have anything to do with it.

When we arrive, Dalize steps out of the car and walks to the security guards’ booth near the gate. “We have your bird,” she says.

Puzzled look. “You have our bird?”

“Yes, we have your bird.”

“Where is our bird?”

“Your bird is in the car.”

I get out of the car, still cradling this peacock wrapped in a towel like a newborn, and place him on the grass. Immediately about fifty kids run up, screaming, “Gerald! They rescued Gerald!!” Apparently Gerald has been missing for weeks.

Back at the office I run straight for the bathroom, because I have poop aaaallll over me.

So that is what happened to me this morning. What’s new with you?

After reading about Princess Swan’s adventure with the pooping peacock, my tribulations with the popping (and non-popping) cows pale into insignificance. I am left with two questions – and these may be among the Great Questions Of Life:

  1. Why do all true animal stories essentially revolve around poop?
  2. Who the heck names a peacock “Gerald”?

So what do you think? And what’s new with you?

Swamped

So there I sat, in the middle of a sweet green meadow separating the off-ramp I wasn’t supposed to take from the road I wanted to be on, hubcap deep in swamp.

I did get out of my car and squish around a bit and take pictures with my cell phone, but this one from Fotolia looks more dramatic.
I did get out of my car and squish around a bit and take pictures with my cell phone, but this one from Fotolia looks more interesting. In the interests of accuracy, I should mention that I don’t drive a 4×4. Also, I had the good common sense not to get the mud quite this churned up.

If this had happened in my hometown, within minutes pickups would have clustered like flies, disgorging big-bellied guys with beards and NRA caps (or, possibly, their equally capable wimmin), and they’d have guffawed a bit and called me ma’am and hooked up chains and popped me out of there in no time. Of course, in my hometown on the dry east side of Washington State, we don’t have swamps lying around sneakily concealed under a layer of green. Here, if you need to pop across a highway median, you glance quickly around to check for inconvenient Highway Patrol officers and then you bebop across with a quick swing of the steering wheel, no problem.

I was not in my hometown. I was in Seattle. Well, Bellevue, if you can tell the difference. There are no pickups there, and nobody belongs to the NRA, and they don’t interrupt their commute to engage with beswamped and baffled strangers. I know this with no shadow of doubt because I sat in that field for nearly an hour, surrounded on all sides by rush hour traffic, so I had ample opportunity to ponder the differences between there and here.

Someone must eventually have called 911 – which it hadn’t occurred to me to do, because I was busy calling my few west-side friends in hopes of finding just one with a truck and/or manly man readily at hand, or at least a useful suggestion as regards a towing company. (These calls took a while because of all the laughing.) At any rate, a state patrol car pulled up and a sweet boy wearing a strangely flat, broad-brimmed hat ambled squishily across the swamp to ask me if I was okay. He seemed to be under the impression that I had collided with something and sailed violently off the road. (Folk in Seattle don’t have enough to occupy their imaginations during rush hour, apparently.) I had to explain that no, I had merely been attempting unobtrusively to sidestep an inconvenient traffic rule having to do with staying on the road.

“So you’re not hurt?” he said.

“Only my dignity,” I replied glumly. He thanked me for my honesty, took my license and registration, and squished back to his car.

I wondered whether telling the cop I was on an errand of mercy would make him more sympathetic. (There was a hound puppy in my back seat. The puppy had a broken leg. His owners had opted to have him euthanized rather than pay for surgery. The vet, who objects to killing healthy young dogs, had called me to ask if I knew who might help her find an alternative, and I’d found a rescue willing and able to save both the puppy and his leg … on the liberal, moneyed side of the state. Of course, it followed naturally that I got to drive the puppy to safety…)

The pathetic yodeler, whose relentless wailing was a big reason why I absolutely could not consider going back and around and in any way prolonging the trip.
The pathetic yodeler who was the cause of all the trouble.

I wondered whether it would be more effective to engage the patrolman’s sympathies for me, a woman old enough to be his beloved mother, lost and bewildered in foreign climes. (At the end of a long drive, heading straight into the setting sun, I’d had to go through all four loops of a cloverleaf interchange. Over and over again, my GPS told me to “take the right ramp”, and I obeyed until dizzy right up to the point that she told me to keep straight and I didn’t and I found myself headed back toward Spokane, and I just couldn’t stand the thought of driving back to the next interchange and turning round and returning along the packed highway and through the loops of the interchange and probably missing my turnoff all over again.)

The puppy, who had been singing his hound dog lament on and off since about the time we crossed the Cascades, started another aria. I wondered what the cop would do if I leaped from the car, tore off all my clothes, and ripped off the puppy’s head with my teeth, before plunging into the swamp and disappearing in a swirl of greasy bubbles. While I was still considering this option, he returned.

“I’ve called a tow truck,” he informed me.

“Are you going to fine me?” I asked, with a demeaningly pathetic quaver in my little-old-lady-puppy-saver voice. (Heck, yeah, I’ll demean myself to avoid another black mark on my car insurance!)

He chuckled kindly. “I think the cost of the tow will be penalty enough,” he said.

He was right.

I did think about a few other things while I was sitting there, in the blazing late afternoon sun, breathing swamp gas and traffic fumes and waiting for a tow truck while a hurting hound puppy made music behind my head. For example, I wondered what it said about my claims to feminism that the first thought to come to mind, after my car oozed to a stop, was, “Oh bugger … Himself is too far to call. Who’s going to rescue me now?”

And later, after sun and swamp gas had softened my brain a bit, I got to wondering how different my situation might be if, say, I’d been a buff young black man, instead of a fat useta-be-middle-aged white woman. If I’d been a muscular young man engaged in hauling that car out of the swamp by sheer brute force and testosterone at the time the state patrolman pulled up, I might have reacted a little differently to questioning by a slightly-built youth in a cute hat. And if, in addition to being muscular, young and male, I’d also been black, would that sweet boy in his hat have felt sufficiently threatened to shoot me?

Mostly, though, I thought about how completely screwed I will be in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Really, I’ll be meat in no time at all.

Probably not me.
Probably not me.

Is it just me, or do you also ponder strange and random things when sitting in the middle of a swamp? Have you ever been embarrassed by a sloppy failure to break the law?

The Day of the Chicken

Yesterday ended with a chicken. I told you about her. To wrap up that story: she didn’t make it. I’m sad, of course – and became sadder when I saw my beautiful Mr. Roo calling and searching for her this morning. He knows one of his girls is missing, poor guy.

Mr Roo and his harem
Mr Roo and his harem

On the other hand, I did eat an omelet for breakfast this morning. How emotional can I get over the death of a creature whose unborn young I eat almost daily? Not very, to be honest! I love Mr. Roo, and I enjoy the kippies – watching them scratching in the dirt and crooning to each other is immeasurably soothing. I’m really happy that we are, at last, putting a dog-proof six-foot fence around our huge veggie garden (which contains the chicken run), because that will give them access to a much larger area for crooning, scratching and nibbling. But when it comes to deciding whom I’d rather cuddle – a chicken or a chicken-killing dog – I’m going to pick the dog every time.

So last night, after posting yesterday’s blog, I forgave Miss CeCe and let her crawl into her usual spot under the duvet. Snuggled up with her it dawned on me that yesterday began as well as ending with a chicken and a rescue dog, and I sleepily wondered whether there was some mystical connection between these two separate events.

The morning’s story started about a year ago, with a call from a vet who was poised to load up a big syringe of blue juice and inject it into a gorgeous German Shepherd pup. His name was Rip, and his owner had brought him in because he had killed a chicken. In our county that crime carries a death sentence.

A bit of history: Rip had been dumped out in the country on a cold day a few months previously. The people who picked him up didn’t actually need a puppy (contrary to popular belief, not every farm-dweller is in want of a dog) and they weren’t up for the hard work of training him – but he was a sweet, affectionate fluffball, and he needed a home, and they had room. So they kept him, and it was all happy-ever-after until the weather warmed up and their neighbor let his chickens out to roam.

None of these people had fences.

Fast forward through the inevitable, and there Rip was, happily washing the tears off Doctor A’s face while she tried to steady her hands enough to load the syringe. She couldn’t do it – it was just too wrong – so she called me.

I was in no shape to take in a wild child with a chicken habit. I had retired mere weeks before from running the dog rescue Himself and I established in 2008, and I was fully occupied in burning out like a Roman candle. On the other hand, saying no wasn’t an option, so we agreed to care for him for the few days the rescue needed to find a foster home. Problem solved – right?

Wrong. Some weeks later, a couple of sheriff’s deputies pulled up outside our house. They’d heard that we had a designated dangerous dog on our property. That’s right – the chicken-owner was making a case out of the issue, Rip’s previous owner was facing a fat fine for not having him euthanized – because, in terms of the county statutes, a dog that kills a chicken is automatically deemed dangerous.

Semi-random picture of the dangerous dog I keep on my desk.
Semi-random picture of the dangerous dog I keep on my desk.

Well, we told them he’d moved on and was in the care of a rescue that would rehabilitate him and keep him well away from chickens, and off they went. Until … a month or two later, when they returned and we did the same dance again. (Need I point out that their gas alone cost more than a replacement chicken?) And then a month or so later I received a summons to appear in court.

By that time, Rip was being fostered in a different state, and was on the point of being adopted to a home hundreds of miles away. I also had a file full of affidavits from the vet, a trainer, several fosters and my own self, attesting to the fundamental goodness of the dog, as well as my complete absence of personal responsibility for him in any capacity whatsoever. None of this made the smallest difference. A chicken was dead and, by golly, no matter what the cost (which I haven’t figured out, but this was one expensive chicken), they were determined to prosecute to the full extent of the law.

They just needed to figure out whom to prosecute … because everyone involved had complied with their demands. The chicken’s owner had been compensated, Rip’s original owner had been exonerated, and the rescue had removed the canine culprit from this jurisdiction. I was the sole itchy spot on the smooth skin of their butt cheeks. Because they were unable to articulate what they wanted me to do, I couldn’t comply. So they kept coming back, and the more I told them I didn’t own the dog, had never owned the dog, didn’t wish to own the dog, and didn’t even know where the damn dog was, the more determined they were to give the ghost of that chicken its day in court.

Eventually the new head of the rescue group and I met with the Assistant DA, who agreed to give Rip 12 month’s probation, subject to a bucket-load of terms and conditions. The probationary period ended yesterday, which is why I was seated in an otherwise empty courtroom shortly after the sun fumbled its way into the sky. Suddenly the doors slammed open. The judge marched in, her robes flapping like a crow’s wings, with the ADA scampering and chattering in her wake. “All riiiise,” intoned the person responsible for intoning. I was the only one there, apart from the legal folks, but I stuck my finger in my book and rose dutifully.

“Oh my goodness – I didn’t recognize you. You’ve changed your hair!” squeaked the ADA.

“Yes,” I agreed. “It’s been a while.”

The judge stared at me, stared at the ADA, and shook her head. “Case dismissed,” she said, flapped her wings, and left the courtroom.

The ADA assured me it was all over, but gave me no stamped or signed paperwork to that effect, so who knows. We’re short on criminals around here, apparently, and one must do something with those pesky Halls of Justice or the taxpayers get tetchy.

Or … do you think there might be more to this than over-heated bureaucracy? Could we, perhaps, all have been dancing to the inaudible piping of the chicken’s outraged ghost? Could the ghost have taken possession of a naughty mongrel (herself not much bigger than a chicken) in a final effort to have revenge? Could this, in fact, be more than a coincidence?

Nah, I don’t think so either – but, just in case, Argos and I have a date to take Miss Kippy up into the hills this afternoon and lay her in her final resting place. We’ll put her somewhere out of the way (but with a nice view of the river), where coyotes and crows can absorb her into their bodies and so end this unearthly cycle of events forever.

Something like that, anyway.

Well, yeah, we'll take a ball. We'll have some happies. Because life goes on, right?
Well, yeah, we’ll take a ball. We’ll have some happies. Because life goes on, right?

Modern magic

I love living at a time, and in a place, where I just have to point my finger and KAZAM! – magic happens. Take this evening, for example. In fact, take just the last 15 minutes.

First, by way of context, a word picture. I am sitting at the dinner table, refusing to make eye contact with a deeply apologetic (if you’ll believe one wag of it, which I frankly don’t) small shithead mongrel. In the mudroom is a punctured hen, trembling and panting in a crate. I have cleaned her up and wrapped her in a warm towel, and she’s resting on a cushion of fresh hay. I think she will probably be dead by morning, and I’m very much inclined to insist that Himself put her out of her misery. Himself is very much inclined to “see if she makes it”. I lack the moral or intestinal fortitude to haul out an ax and Do The Deed myself. As the designated Mother Earth figure around here (you learn to make do with what you have, and I’m the only member of the household with both opposing thumbs and mammaries), it falls to me to ensure that any “making it” is achieved as effectively and with as little suffering as possible. “Fuck it,” I say in motherly tones, directing another unloving glare at the mongrel.

0224152004a[1]
CeCe the shithead mongrel chicken-chomper thinks that if she doesn’t look at me I can’t see her, and therefore I won’t be mad. She’s our current foster dog, and I’m thinking her forever family better not have chickens…
At that moment my glance falls upon my magic wand phone, and suddenly I know what I need to do. I point my finger and KAZAM! – there’s Google.

Right, yes, I know, most people would have thought of Google immediately – but I grew up in a different era, okay? I remember the day my parents bought a brand new, hot-off-the-press, late 60s edition set of Encyclopedia Britannica, from an actual human salesman who came to our home. They and he and 11-year-old I sat around the dinner table my great-uncle made (the very table that I now sit at, clear on the other side of the planet), and the salesman covered the table with brightly colored glossy brochures. They were full of snippets of information and they had an amazing shiny-glossy-paper smell, and I was only vaguely aware of the salesman periodically inviting my parents to notice how much their brilliant firstborn was enjoying the opportunity to LEARN. Then he went outside to his car, and came back in with a big box and a free bookcase. And inside that box, good friends, was all the knowledge in the world.

I loved those encyclopedias and spent hours browsing through them during the ensuing years, and I can tell you with no shadow of doubt that nowhere in the lengthy, comprehensive, very-small-print index was there a category for “how to treat an injured chicken”.

I started out to tell you about a 15 minute snippet of my day, and I seem somehow to have wandered more than 40 years off course. Let me get back to the point.

Via my phone, Google told me I could give the hen aspirin – five regular aspirins in a gallon of water. It told me how many milligrams of aspirin were in a regular aspirin (325). It told me how many ounces of water were in a gallon (128). My phone helped me calculate how much water I needed for one baby aspirin (about a cup). Then Google told me I could give the chicken sugar for shock, and how much (3 Tbsp per gallon of water), and also that I should flush out the wounds with hydrogen peroxide and cover them with Neosporin, and that I should continue to do this for several days, and that there was every chance she would survive. Google even provided numerous anecdotes from people whose chickens had survived an astonishing array of injuries, and it comforted me greatly to know that there are real live people out there who will put a splint on a chicken with a broken leg instead of … well, say for example, eating it.

I did everything Google and my phone told me to do, and tucked the hen back into bed, using the same phone to record the occasion. KAZAM! (Seriously, guys – pictures. Taken with a phone that fits inside my pocket. And the pictures – which are in full color – are already available to be shared … with you … wherever you live, anywhere in the world. Do you know how amazing this is? Or is the amazement limited to people whose first camera was a Box Brownie?)

Hurt hen
You can’t see it here, but she’s been well-basted with antibiotic ointment, as well as generously dosed with aspirin in sugar water.
Hurt hen
Tucked up for the night. I still don’t really expect her still to be with us tomorrow … but we’ll see. I’ve done the best I can. (Feel free to chip in here with advice, Mother Hen…)
0224151943a
Argos would SO love to get inside the mudroom… and finish what CeCe started…

So is it just me, or are you also sometimes sideswiped with amazement at this brave new world we live in?