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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Erik the Evil

We had just returned from town and found a gorgeous Rhode Island Red rooster in a cage under a tree. We weren't expecting a chicken delivery that spring day, but a phone call from Butch explained. He'd gotten the rooster in a trade and knew we wanted one. None of us had any idea that Erik was EVIL.

Erik was crafty. He appeared cooperative, and as appreciative as a chicken gets when fed and watered. Tall and regal, he possessed classic coloring. An excellent specimin for breeding, I thought. He'd be great at living history events, and school programs. Erik managed to hang onto his good boy persona for nearly a week. Secure in his new home, he let Mr. Hyde out of the dark recesses of his feathery heart.

He was a murderer. We put him in a pen with six hens, but only one survived, an old Buff Orpington. Tough and experienced, she faced down Erik,who became devoted to her. She was the only creature safe around him.

He interfered with egg collecting. He'd pretend to be doing some fascinating chicken business, until Art got the cover off the pen and reached inside. POW! he'd errupt into feathered fury. Beak flashing, spurs slashing, he'd jump for Art's face. Art got really good at slamming the top down just in time to avoid injury. The best time to collect "Evil's" eggs was when he was in a sleep stupor. Actually, that was the safest time to do anything with Erik.

He hated the public. Our friend Hangman still tells a story of Erik's first event at Jones park. A young woman came up and asked to pet a chicken. She noticed Erik, placed off to one side away from the other examples of heritage chickens. Erik spotted her.

"Why does that chicken hate me?" she asked." Look at how he's looking at me!"

"Ma'am," Hangman said, "It's not just you, he doesn't like anybody."

That afternoon, some Civil War re-enactors came by "commandeering" livestock to feed the troops. Art offered them Erik; they took one look at him throwing himself against the wire, spurs extended, and left empty handed.

Erik hated us. A human free zone around his pen became imperative, which complicated feedings. He'd wait until someone showed a lack of attention while pouring feed through a crack in the top of the pen. He'd hit the side of the wire like a charging bull, bury a spur in a workboot, or leave a hole the size of a .22 in an unprotected shin or knee.

He spiraled deeper into sociopathic behavior when his hen died of old age. He was alone, and the world would pay. To my horror, he learned to escape his pen. Not as quick as I used to be, I had reason to be wary of that bird. If he got out I stayed in. Art would have to capture him. Erik had topped out at two and a half feet, and every inch was vindictive.

He understood capture nets were to be avoided. He knew folks that brandished nets were up to no good and sped away squawking through the brush. Fast and agile, he bcame impossible to catch. He had to be stopped, and was -- with one shot.

You might disagree with that solution. Someone made Erik evil and passed him off in a trade. Unwittingly given to us, things didn't work out. Some critters just can't be rehabbed; kindness didn't work. A lot of you have Erik stories from your past visits, and know we did the best thing for him and us.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

HomePlace : Who's in Charge?

This place has gone to the cats! I woke up this morning with Varmint draped over the top of my head on my pillow. She woke up and wallowed on her back with paws flopping. If she hadn't moved I would have thought she was dead. Not a pretty sight all blurred up without my glasses.

Drawn by my movement, Ock stomped up the bed to touch noses with me. He'd had a lovely, cool drink of water first. He applied his cold, wet nose to mine and through the power of "Cat-lep-a-thy"began his morning mantra:" You awake yet (nose touch)? You awake yet (nose touch)?"Repeat until Mom reponds, "Arggh!" and leaves the bed.

Oh, look! There's a cat in the bathroom. "You have no time to brush your teeth, Mom. I, Princess Bon-Bon, am weak from hunger. Go forth to the kitchen and pour cat crunchers until they overflow our beggardly bowl." It comes out as "Yow-yow-yowl," but I get it. It's the same routine every morning.

I'll admit evil in my heart. The cold water tap was so inviting. Bon-Bon was saved by the pitiful wails of the kittens from their cage in the kitchen. Three cats in my wake, off we went. When the babies saw me, the pitiful wailing took on a demanding shriek. "We've never been fed! Feed us before we perish!" Check earlier posts for my rebuttal.

Pour the big cats' food, check their water; open the cage, pour kitten chow, replace escaped kittens. Dumb babies would try to take food from the older cats. They see themselves as invincible. The other cats see them as food supplements.

Everyone fed, coffee in hand, I shlep to my chair, and find Varmint having her early morning, post feeding nap. Amazing how fast a cat can move out of the way. She stomped off to the shower, one of her favorite nap spots.

Cats, big and little, sleep sated in their favorite spots. Soon as my coffee is finished I'll go feed Wally, the porch cat. I can hear him hollering, "Hurry up, woman! The cat's starvin'!" The chickens will hear the door crash shut, and the Clucking Cacophany Chorus will begin. The rabbits slam their feeders around as accompaniment.

Go back to bed? You must be joking! Another day at HomePlace. Humans only think they're in charge.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Worst Person in the World

According to kittens, I am the worst person in the world. I am the bath lady.

A rat-like, soggy kitten has no sense of humor. Laughing at one doesn't help my popularity, but how can you not laugh? Horror dawns on the little face as its toes touch the warm water in the porch sink. Then baby shampoo is applied and massaged into the fur, with even more water. Scrambling and crying, the baby twists and stuggles. Water flies everywhere. On to the rinse basin, where more water is poured over the tiny body with one hand, while the other firmly holds the victim.
I do try to keep water out of the ears, nose, and eyes, but struggling cats make it a challenge. When I finish the last one, I'm as wet as they are.

Art dries each with a soft towel, and makes much of his/her ghastly experience with the bath lady. They cling to him with relief and shoot "how could you" looks at me.

Think the bath lady is bad, babies? Tomorrow the claw trimming lady has planned a visit.
She comes while you're sleeping.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

How Hot Was It?

It was so hot, the apple-pears ripened a month early! What are they? I'm going to send a picture to A&M to see if they can figure out what variety they really are.
They make good pear sauce, though. I'm making another batch today as I write.

The chickens and goat looked at the first bucket of peelings with delight. Now Art brings the
peels and the critters seem to say, "You again? We're sick of this stuff!" I'm finding the eternal peeling and cutting a bit tedious; there's still half of a five gallon bucket to process. At least I'm inside, cool, while I work. Then tomorrow there'll be more to pick, out in the sun. I remind myself how the tree put out only two pears last year and how I missed having pear sauce last winter.

With afternoon temps over 104, we banned cooking inside. My pot of pear sauce plops and plups on the stove hunkered on the porch. The AC is struggles enough in the afternoons without cooking inside. I put together whatever we're having for dinner in the cool interior of the house, then I send it off to the oven courtesy of Art, who loves the heat. Lately, though this heat has even bothered him.

By 9:00 each morning, the chickens hold their wings away from their bodies, beaks gaping, as they pant. The rabbits stretch out across their cage bottoms, silently gasping. All the critters have shade, but each afternoon Art brings the rabbits frozen two liter bottles of water. They sigh with relief as they drape themselves over (or next to) the delightful cool.

Today I have pondered going to the freezer to get an ice bottle for myself.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Callie - in Memorium

Fortune smiled upon us in the form of a free Spanish goat! Nearby college kids kept stealing her from the living history museum to guest at fraternity parties. The last time she was mildly hurt, so the museum folks decided she needed a safer home. Callie was spoiled beyond belief, and posessed bad habits we would discover within a week of her arrival.

Callie loved beer with single-minded fervor. Our animal guru, Butch had a bottle of beer on the ground next to his chair. He reached down for another sip, but the bottle wasn't there! Several feet away, Callie was nudging and licking that brown bottle. He shouted, she pinned back her ears, but kept after the remains of the "barley pop"!

Callie came to know Butch's voice. The sound of his truck as it pulled into our driveway spurred her to run to the house to meet her good friend. She already could identify a six pack or a beer bottle at a distance. She preferred Bud Light or one of the major brands: don't offer her a cheap beer! She had her standards, you know.

Art brought her a bottle of water once. After one sip, she looked at him in horror and curled her lip in a goat sneer. She did NOT think he was as funny as he did.

The next vice? Cigarettes! She wasn't a smoker, but she loved to eat them. In small amounts, tobacco is a natural wormer. Sadly, she leaned toward excessive consumption. Too much nicotine gives a goat the shakes. Callie lost the free run of the property when she picked up and ate most of an untended pack of smokes. Confined (more or less) to the goat pasture, she was allowed out on a cable or a leash.

Confinement was an insult! Her days were spent testing the fence for weaknesses. She found every single hole, and wormed herself under the fence when the holes were repaired. Revenge was sweet. She ate the strawberry bed, all the broccoli, and the brussels sprouts. Hooked to a cable, she learned to pop the clip to her halter and would gallop away, laughing demented goat laughter.

Fortunately, she was a sucker for treats. Cellophane crinkling, chip bags opening, she knew all the sounds. Children with candy found it delicately pulled from their hands. Then she ran. They couldn't catch her, and even if they did, the candy was defiled with goat slobber. Our white feed bucket had special allure. When shaken, the corn chops inside rattled enticingly, and the foolish goat would thrust her head inside. The hand not holding the bucket quickly grabbed her halter. Head still inside the bucket, Callie was pulled back to captivity. Temporarily.

We knew her to be sweet and gentle, but she could surprise guests unused to such a large goat. Maggie wore a beloved old sweater on one of her visits; Callie loved both of them at first sight. Somehow during the petting, Callie rubbed her head against Maggie and got her horns tangled in the sweater. Callie panicked and pulled. Alarmed, Maggie pulled back. We untangled the two before anyone was hurt, but the sweater had a sizeable hole. One of the things I love about our friend is her sense humor. She went home laughing, and in later conversations often asked about "her" goat.

The fireman's wife was terrified when Callie "treed" her in our bulldozer. Her husband was busy putting out a grass fire on our farm and never saw her clinging to the roll cage as Callie stretched toward her. When I found them, I explained that the goat was looking for a treat. "Check your pockets!" I shouted. She pulled out a granola bar. "Unwrap it and throw it,"I called. The granola arced through the air, hit the ground, and the goat pounced on it. The fireman's wife scrambled down from the dozer, ran to her car, and locked herself in. Not such a good sense of humor, I thought, as I dragged Callie and her granola bar back to goat jail.

We kept Callie more than six years, alternately aggravated at her and delighted with her. I think she enjoyed her life with us, or perhaps her time outsmarting us. One spring morning Art went out to check on her, and she didn't get up. We decided on a funeral pyre so the coyotes wouldn't get at her body. I wanted my memories of her life unscorched, so asked Art and our son, Matthew, send her to goat Valhalla. I'm sure she's there, planning her escape .


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Kittens on the Move

We've brought in a large cage to keep the kittens
safe from themselves. These babies have the courage of lions and the common sense of a loaf of white bread.

They peer through the wire at the three big cats who register as toys in the kitten brain. Bad plan. Once released from their cage, kittens rush to their new playmates. Ock, the senior cat, loses air in a mighty hiss whenever he sees them. He escapes after slapping whoever is in his way.

The teen cats alternate between tentative play and streaking over the barrier closing off the living room. If either of the teens is cornered by a baby, she explodes into a hissing ball of fur. Hissing means little to these kittens.
They stand on their toes, puff up, and skitter around, crashing into big cats, each other, and furniture.

Everything is amazing to a kitten. Things tower above babies barely six inches tall. Mysterious things call . There's always a pair of hands snatching a kitten down from the top of something.The hands lock them into the boring cage to recharge for the next outing.

The bottle is retired and cat crunchers are almost the best thing invented. One of them will hustle to the food dish, throw an arm over it and start gobbling. The other two come up and get batted with the protective arm, while the busy jaws don't miss a single chomp. Bring in a dish of goat's milk, the supreme food of the universe, and the process repeats. Milk is harder to protect than crunchers; it can't be scraped up into a pile and laid upon. Kittens can growl while drinking, but yowling comes out bubbly. Whacking and slashing still works, but milk flies everywhere.

Once the kittens are out of the cage full time, the goat's milk will be discontinued. We're not feeding six cats on milk that's more expensive than the milk Art and I drink. There are limits to my generosity as the Mother of All Animals. Limits exist even for animals that get cuter every day.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Three Little Salesmen

Have you recieved information in the mail offering prizes if you'll attend a presentation? Ever wonder if those prizes listed really are free, and they are indeed awarded? Curiosity won out last week. We went to visit a time-share condominium at a resort several hours drive away from our beloved farm. Sometimes you just have to get away for awhile.

We went, planning NOT to buy the property. We went, knowing we would face the dreaded high pressure salesman. We went for the gift card --$40 to cover our gasoline! We went for the other prizes. We might win a car!

I had a strategy prepared to avoid purchasing the condo, so we set out well armoured. My mutual funds were inaccessable, and we wouldn't take on any time payments. A challenge to stir the blood awaited!

Our first salesman, Puppy-Eyes Waggy Tail, was a master at his trade. He worked carefully to set us up for his final triumph. An engaging, attentive salesman, he painted glowing word pictures of family fun in the waterpark, gameroom, and theater. He showed us the paddleboats and party barges... and the condos. They were lovely, fully stocked, and ready for the grandbabies to stay with us and enjoy the other amenties.

Tour over after two hours, he moved to seal the deal. The pro's of buying now were recorded on his worksheet. His careful financial analysis was logical and impressive. The con's were noted. He explained if we chose to wait we could lose many of the priveleges on the pro side. Pleasant, yet firm, I presented our strategy and held to it as downpayments and financing were presented. He went to get someone to "help us".

Weasel N. Pinstripes joined us at the table. Art backed his chair out of the way, encouraging me to re-engage in the battle. Solutions were offered and rejected. Determined to make the sale, he changed his approach. He slashed through items on the worksheet, items we would lose forever. His tension increased; so did mine. "I've been a teacher for over 20 years, " I growled, "And when I decide something, that's the way it's going to be! You're making me really angry!" Shocked, he mumbled about getting someone who would ask a few, final questions to ensure our visit was a good one.

What a flanking manouver! Baby-Face Knuckle-Duster plowed toward us through tables, chairs, and other customers. He was three times the mass of Pinstripes. He had the best offer yet, one no sane person could refuse. Assume a previous lease. with its equity, and save half of the final price! Just make a small downpayment and assume the time payments! AAAAAARGH! I thought of the prizes waiting at the next building. We'd spent three and-a-half hours seeing the sights and refusing to catch the pitch. I rolled out my last defense. I asked about the prizes, the free ones promised, and Duster pointed the way. He looked thunderous as he handed me his card.

We were nearly finished. Hand in the paperwork (full of slashes), fillout a survey, and get the loot. For some reason they didn't want me going into the prize room itself; they chose Art. He went in to play the scratch off card we'd been awarded. Did we win the car? No. Did we win the shopping spree? No. How about the $500 gift card? Again no.

We, along with a projected 50,000+ others, won a vacation. Yes, they do seem to award the prizes they advertise. We're going to Las Vegas! We also got a voucher for $40 in certificates for entertainment, an unexpected bonus. The gift card for $40 was placed in Art's hand. Perhaps in a fit of pique, someone removed the coupon for the free bonus vacation from our packet. I didn't think it wise to complain. Grab the goodies and flee was a better strategy. Four hours had passed since our arrival for the 90 minute presentation. We had to get back to the farm. Hungry kittens were waiting.