Hiking with goats and lemonade

Saturday was a full Family Day. For a sunlit August 5, it was cool enough to hike from cabin to chickens without breaking a heavy sweat. Even the mosquitoes hatched from recent heavy rains were relatively scarce.

Thanks to all who joined us for the 2017 Family Day on The Quarry Farm. Much bush honeysuckle was repurposed for walking and hiking sticks, birdhouse gourds were polished, shirts were imprinted with unique leaf patterns, Red Fox Cabin was toured and the farm animals were enriched with gentle human interaction (except for Nemo who refused to break her afternoon nap routine.) As was expected, this gentle giant was up at 5 p.m., grazing on the grass so recently imprinted by visiting feet.

Next up: The 4th Annual Quarry Farm Jam

Changing of the color guard

Four beautiful bronze turkeys were part of the flock here on the farm. Fezzik, Inigo Montoya, and Humperdink are now part of everything, having lived out their lives on the ridge above Cranberry Run. All three rode down I-75, from various points in Lucas County by way of Nature’s Nursery, in a hatchback.

The fourth, Miracle Max, arrived in similar fashion, and he still walks the grounds. Two weeks ago, Max was greeter as schoolchildren and scouts entered the south gate. Since Humperdink died earlier this spring, Max has been blue. Quite literally, as his skin was a pale blue: the blue of loneliness and the fear and discomfort associated with losing his band of tom-turkeys.

(About that: Turkeys’ heads change color to express their emotions. The blood vessels lying directly under the skin of the wattle (that strange unicorn appendage between their eyes) are surrounded by long bands of collagen. When the turkey gets upset, the blood vessels contract, exposing more of the collagen bands. University of California, Berkeley scientists have actually developed a synthetic toxin sensor based on the turkey’s color-changing technique.)

When the April visitors walked onto his acreage, Max flushed a deep red, puffed his feathers, and thrummed the balloon of his chest. Instead of two-stepping away from anyone who came within arm’s length, as is his habit, he allowed a few of the kids to touch him briefly. And when his guests closed the gate behind them at the west gate, Max glided beside them from the other side of the fence, becoming paler as the kids moved further away. One little scout insisted on going back to console him.

On Saturday, three lovely ladies took up residence here. A family in Michigan raised three Brown Orlopp hens with the intention of serving them on a platter. “But the girls loved them,” the dad said. Indeed, his three young daughters helped load them in our carrier. The eldest skipped and told us about naming them all ‘Waddles.’ Her younger sisters weren’t quite sure of our intentions, I think, judging by their tears as we drove away toward the Ohio line.

So this one is for you three girls to the north, for entrusting the Three Waddles to us further south. It’s also for a very happy, very rosy, Max.

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Listen and you shall hear

20170125_172422Water overflows in lower levels of the floodplain. Cranberry Run bubbles through the preserve, still held within its banks on its way to the Riley. There is a smattering of rain today but strong winds wipe away most of the drops before they make landfall.

That wind is gusting and swirling so that it’s difficult to say whether it’s blowing east of west, but the temperature is predicted to fall from the unusual balminess that’s been hereabouts this January. A hike is more of a slog right now and muddy boots and shoes are piled beside the front door. I saw a woman running last weekend, wearing just a sports bra and shorts as she clipped along, a site for July, not midwinter in Northwest Ohio.

The goats went all month without their coats. S’more shucked his after a week, but Mister Bill likes his fluorescent orange vest and kept it on until three days above freezing saw his tossed to the mud, too.

When the weather turns, they are quiet in their disgruntlement. Donkeys Buddy and Lucy are more vocal, hinnying plaintively. If that pitiful sound falls on deaf ears, they bawl and snort until apples are proffered. With mouths full and juice dripping from their chins, they snicker and quiet.

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Queen B holds court

Not so for the pigs. Rather, there is no common vocalization for all of the pigs that live here. Although the conversation usually has something to do with food, we know exactly who is sounding off.

Beatrice is the queen. She is usually very quiet since she doesn’t need to speak in order to be obeyed. She prefers to voice her opinion physically by pushing her way through or smacking on the front door. If that doesn’t get the required response, she bellows an alto “wahhhhhhhhhhhr-huh” until a) the door opens and she gets to come in or b) she is told to go to an outbuilding and she says something that I can’t repeat, even in porcine.

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Bob and Alphonse

Bob Barker barks, or he used to. Since his arrival a few years ago, the toothy boar has mellowed. These days, he humphs softly while being stoked across the bridge of his nose. When irritated, he mutters “MEEeuuurf” with a head shake.

Alphonse arrived at the same time as Bob, from the same horrific circumstance. He shrieked then and he shrieks now, just not as frequently. We believe that the trauma of early abuse left him emotionally unbalanced.

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Carlton

Carlton is a whiner. When he was younger and smaller, he could hop up on any bed in the house. Now his pot-belly is much rounder and closer to the ground. A repetitive “eeeee-rrr hmf hmf hmf” translates “It’s too cold/my feet are wet/she’s/he’s/it’s looking at/touching me.”

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Nemo and her friend Larry

Nemo is big; still a baby, but big. Her gestures are large and much of her communications are physical. For instance, I wear a jacket with an elastic drawstring. She draws back that drawstring with her teeth and releasese it to snap me in the thigh. At first, I thought this was an accident, until it happened every morning that I wore the coat.

Nemo’s voice is big, too. Her gutteral “whaaa” builds to a full-on roar when she’s hungry, which is most of the time. It takes a lot of food to maintain all that beauty. She and Carlton are friends. When Nemo eats, Carlton is usually close by, quietly snuffling up the leftovers. This is one reason why he can no longer jump.

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Sophie

Nemo may be the largest pig, but she is intimidated by the smallest. Sophie is currently petite, but was 40 pounds overweight when she came here. Walking was difficult for her and no veterinarian would spay her until she lost at least 40 pounds. We put her on a diet, one that did not include the daily bag of cookies to which she was accustomed. She never forgot that she once had cookies, though, and whistles a high-pitched soprano that builds to a kind of “hu-EE hu-EEEEE” until her breakfast is served.

Sometimes, everyone gets a cookie, even if they don’t all say “please” in the same way. We are enriched by their teachings. That’s thanks enough.

 

anthroponothing

noun: anthropomorphism
the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object

On Thursday, we buried a friend of ours: Marshmallow, a Nigerian dwarf goat whose gentle disposition touched a lot of lives. I’ve already related this, clumsily fumbled my way through a post that was part eulogy, part obituary and completely inadequate in relating the true nature of this incredible being, how important he was to all of us here on The Quarry Farm and to those who had the good fortune to interact with him, however briefly. Something happened, though, while we were burying him, the relating of which I hope will make up for my failure.

Yesterday, I dug a hole. If you follow these posts, then you already know this. I dug the hole, then I drove the seventy-some miles to Marysville to pick up the husk that was Marsh. Marsh’s brother, S’More, was lounging near the gate, watching as I left, and he was still there roughly three hours later when I returned.

I pulled in, closed the gate, then maneuvered my car over to the site we’d chosen to return our dear friend’s biomass to the Earth.

It took me a few moments to jockey the body from the backseat, ease it into the hole and manipulate it into position, muttering apologies the whole time. That Marsh wasn’t there to hear me was apparent. I was simply pouring sound into absence.

As I took up the shovel, scooped the first blade of dirt, I saw S’more come up on my left  between me and the now not entirely empty hole. He was agitated, his tail flicking furiously as he paced the circumference of the pit. Every few steps, he’d stop and lean down toward the shell of his brother. His nostrils would pulse and he’d falter a bit, one foot pawing tentatively at the open air between them.

I waited until he was on the far side of the hole before I threw the first shovelful of dirt, then three more in rapid succession. As I was reaching for the fourth, S’More rounded the corner, stepped up to me and leaned the crown of his head against the handle of the shovel, holding it in place. I rubbed his neck for a moment, easing him away, then threw a fifth, and then a sixth shovelful. Turning for another, I found myself surrounded by all five goats who live here: Willow, Elora and Madmartigan, the three pygmies; Mister Bill, the giant Boer-mix; and S’More.

While the pygmies paced the pit, nostrils flaring, Bill gently hooked me with one horn. This isn’t unusual behavior. Bill loves to rub the side of his face up and down whomever will stand and tolerate it. In the process, his curled horn will lock a body in place, glide up and down a hip or leg or side as he rubs. This time, though, he  simply applied a gradual pressure that pushed me away from the dirt, away from the hole and, by necessity, the body in it.

For a few minutes, I soothed them all: rubbing the spot between Bill’s horns that he most dearly loves rubbed; stroking S’More’s neck and gently scratching his rump; talking quietly to Willow, Elora and Martigan, none of whom are overly fond of physical contact.

When I resumed my task of shifting dirt from mound to cavity, the herd wandered off together and took up observance from the top of a small hill of dirt-filled tractor tires, a form of enrichment that Rowan constructed during her last visit home, some sixty feet away. They stayed there, all five of them, until I’d finished. Then, once I’d climbed the steps to the deck on the west side of our home, they left their perch and moved to surround the grave, staying there for several minutes before moving off to graze on the opposite side of the property.

It’s been suggested that we can’t truly understand the motivations of animals, that in trying to do so we attribute to them emotional responses that they simply don’t have. But it’s not they who are lacking. It’s not they who fail to understand.

In the end, I know what I know.

I know that they are grieving.

I know that they are sharing that grief.

 

holes

It took seventy-four minutes to dig a hole this morning; just over an hour, with shovel and pick, to create a nothing four feet by three feet by four feet deep. I had thought it would take longer, prove harder, given the heat and the dry. But, no. Just seventy-four minutes. Time enough to come to terms with the harsh reality of the past thirty-six hours.

In early July of 2010, Marshmallow and S’more, two Nigerian dwarf goats, wethers both and brothers by all accounts (though the two couldn’t be any more different), were delivered to The Quarry Farm by Anne and Rowan, who brought them north from Cincinnati in Anne’s little Scion xA. Their arrival fortified a growing vision of The Quarry Farm as a safe haven, a home and sanctuary for the unwanted and the unloved, the abused and the forgotten.

Which is not to say that all of the animals now living here were unwanted or abused. Buddy and Lucy and Bill and Beatrice all came from loving families who, through circumstances undesired, were simply unable to keep them any longer or believed them better served on The Quarry Farm. And so, too, it was with the brothers (if not by blood, then certainly in spirit). The family that raised them to that point loved them, and dearly. Sadly, the two large dogs that also lived with the family loved them as well, though in an entirely different and specifically threatening way. Thus the trip north.

Marsh and S’more (The Boys as we came to affectionately call them), when they arrived, joined the Priscillas, sixteen Hubbard Golden Comet hens, and Johnny and Stella, two non-releasable Canada geese; the sum and total of The Quarry Farm’s inhabitants (not including the three dogs and eleven cats). S’more, was, and still is, slim and athletic, given to spontaneous bursts of energy that found him bounding sideways and pronging through the yard. It was clear from the beginning, though, that Marsh had issues. While he’d chase after his brother, bash heads and sport about to the best of his ability, he was prone to a constant mild bloating that, despite our best efforts, made it difficult to keep up. On more than one occasion, a visitor would ask if “she” was pregnant. What he lacked in athleticism, though, he more than made up in personality. Frequently the first to greet guests, Marsh was sweet and gentle, curious and approachable and children thronged to him. He’d greet them, and us, with his head tilted up, encouraging any and everyone to stand nose-to-nose with him.

But while willing and even desirous of the attentions of others, particularly when they offered bits of fruit or carrots or peanuts, Marsh was clearly bound to S’More.

Inseparable from the first, the brothers would play together, eat together sleep together and wander the property together, often pressed up hard against one another, shoulder to shoulder, moving about in a coordinated tandem. Now, I ache for the one without the other.

A little less than three years ago, we found Marsh standing in the yard, straining to urinate, but unable to do so. We called Dr. Ron Baldridge, a local veterinarian, who, over the phone, diagnosed bladder stones. Unlike kidney stones in humans, bladder stones in goats, due to their unique and convoluted physiology, will, untreated, prove fatal. Explaining that goats were outside his purview, Ron recommended contacting Ohio State University’s Veterinary Hospital. There, they surgically removed the stones and, after a week, Marsh returned home. Here, we worked to acidify his diet, providing ammonium chloride in periodic drenches and pouring gallons of apple cider vinegar into water troughs. Even so, ten months later, they reoccurred, necessitating another trip to Columbus and a second surgery. And again eight months later.

Wednesday evening, we found him once more, his belly distended. On Thursday, we drove him to the OSU veterinary facility in Marysville. That evening they called with disastrous news. Early Friday, I brought what was left of him home.

It took seventy-four minutes to dig a hole this morning, and even less time to fill it in. But there are holes and there are holes, absences that no amount of effort can ever fill.

So, then, because there is nothing else to do or say, goodbye, Marshmallow. Goodnight and sweet dreams.

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Blowing bubbles, No One style

This isn’t a fine example of camera work. The ‘film’ is still a treat: seven-month-old Nemo blowing bubbles in her wading pool.

She started doing this two days ago when we filled the pool for the first time. I kept trying to catch her in video, but she was too interested in what I was doing. This morning, I found that if I stick my hand in the water and swish it around, she joins in by ducking her snout under the surface and bubbling.

I’m melting, and it’s not because of the heat.

 

Sweet heat relief

Two weeks ago, cold wind and rain sent us shivering for hot chocolate.IMG_1244

Today, temperatures hit the upper 80s. Since Nemo is too long for the little pink wading pool that kept Beatrice and Carlton cool last summer, we purchased the next size up yesterday, one with little sharks on the sides (but no slide; that wouldn’t be pretty.)

There’s plenty of room for two, although the molded plastic walls are too high for Sophie. Cold wet, mud will have to do.

Couldn’t catch on the moments when Nemo blew bubbles through her nose in the water. Since it’ll be plenty warm for the rest of the Memorial Day weekend, there may be other opportunities.