Sophie’s choice

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Sophie meets Jamie Napolski, Assistant Curator of Education & Special Events for Sauder Village.

Yeah, yeah, yeah…I did go there with the title of this post.

But it’s true; Sophie the pot-bellied pig had her first road trip as an educational ambassador for The Quarry Farm, and this happened as a result of a choice she made on Friday.

As testified by the previous post, “Sticky toes and hiking sticks”, an entire third grade class joined us onsite for a Friday filed trip alongside Road 7L. The students and their teachers and chaperones rotated through stations, including a visit to the farm animal sanctuary. As we always tell visitors, once inside the gate, humans will have the opportunity to meet the sanctuary residents, but only those residents who choose to walk down the path for a face-to-face encounter. While it’s almost a guarantee that the bronze turkeys will show up, as well as at least one of the donkeys and a goat, the pigs are a little more unpredictable.

For instance, if the sun is shining and the temperature moderate, Carlton may mosey on down the hill for a belly flop and scratch. Queen Beatrice may sashay through the floodplain. If she could do the royal wristwave, I have no doubt she would, stopping only long enough for a brief pat before moving on for a nap in a warm pool of light.

As for the others, their early years were so harsh at the hands of neglectful humanity that visitors only get a distant glimpse. In Sophie’s case, beatings, poor diet and exposure left scars that have left her much older than what we think are her actual years. So it was a wonderful surprise when she chose to join the second group of students to rotate through. She even stayed close, allowing the third rotation to pet her softly on the forehead.

Because of Sophie’s decision to trust in the kindness of strangers, we took her on an hour-long car ride north for a program at Sauder Village in Archbold. While 19th-century reenactors read “If You Give a Pig a Pancake”, Sophie charmed young visitors and their families outside a log cabin in the Little Pioneer Village. Marshmallow the Nigerian Dwarf goat went along for the ride, too, but he’s an old hand at programs and conducted himself in his usual sweetly-mellow manner.

By the way, don’t give a pig a pancake.

Corvid appeal

There were once crows in this place. They would caw across the hollow, scolding at outdoor cats and other predators. Their young would burr in the tallest, most remote hardwoods, then become silent if anyone or anything other than their parent came close.

A decade or so ago, so many raptors disappeared, victims of West Nile virus. The corvids–jays and crows in these parts–died, too. We saw only one dead during that time. It wasn’t inspected by anyone, but we assumed the bird’s death was due to the mosquito-spread plague.

Not much was said then in mainstream media about the effect of West Nile on anyone but humans. While the disease caused harm to people–I’m not denying that–the kestrels, and red-tail hawks that had previously perched from telephone pole to fence post were missing for years. We are only just beginning to see them again.

But the crows never did come back. Last spring, we heard two calling in Coburn’s Bottom, the area of the floodplain north of the old quarry. We were so excited, calling everyone we knew and fairly shouting, “The crows are back!” whether the listener was interested or not. Unfortunately, the pair didn’t stay.

We began to suspect that there is more to the absence of crows hereabouts than West Nile taking its toll. As I said, the bluejays are back, as are the hawks and even bald eagles. But research and observation of crows has determined that crows tell each other stories. Before a flock of crows enter a new area, they send a sentinel in to scope things out. If the report is favorable, the rest will move forward. If something disasterous happens while they are there–for instance, if one or more are poisoned or shot–the crows leave at the first opportunity. And they don’t forget.

That said, there’s strong suspiscion that it was inhumane human behavior that left a big red mark along the Riley and Cranberry Run for crows. Sad, as these birds are thought to be one of the most intelligent creatures that share this planet with people. Crows aren’t a bellwether species, but they are brilliant, secretive, organized and to be allowed to share space with them is an honor.

We’ve had the pleasure of spending time with two crows. Blackie and Jo, however, are here only because they have physical and developmental issues that mean neither can be free to make that choice for themselves.

Crows backlitStained glass artist Martha Erchenbrecher created the gorgeous work of art pictured above. The piece is stained glass mosaic or glass-on-glass mosaic. After trying for a few months, we were able to take a decent photo of it today with the winter afternoon sun shining through. We’ve hung it here for farm animal sanctuary visitors to see. One day, we hope to display it in a nature center here.

Maybe a scouting crow will see it and tell the others that they are welcome, anytime.

So like ours

I had another post in mind today; two, actually. Today had other plans.

With the press bill planted on my head, I followed the scanner to a semi overturn on Ohio State Route 12. The word was one slight injury, no heavy rescue required.

This was the scene on approach from the west.

 

Truck

 

The driver seated in the ambulance to the left was shaken, with a bloodied forearm, but his fingers were mobile. His boss in Defiance was on speed dial. Pig truck

This was the view from the east, but the screaming gave them away before I rounded the corner.Pigs 7

 

 

 

 

There were 179 gilts (a female who hasn’t born a litter) on the truck. They were less than five months old.

Pigs 4While I don’t have an exact count, I believe that there were fewer than 15 killed outright (I saw seven outside the trailer and know that there were more in the nose that had yet to be removed). Four severely injured animals were dragged from the truck with chains and a fifth, with a dangling right front hoof, was goaded and prodded and slapped out and into a waiting trailer before instructions were given to cease that kind of activity. The two remaining “downed” pigs were left in the shade of the truck and kept cool Pigs 8with water before they were euthanized on the scene. Respondents from the Columbus Grove Volunteer Fire Department climbed on top of the truck and helped to keep them all cool by spraying them with water. This same horror happened earlier this week in Xenia.

I don’t have to explain the pink-paint markings, really.

Pigs 10In fact, I’ll not say anything more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and then there were four…

A little less than a month ago, we made a relatively short drive north to pick up a potbellied pig that, lost or abandoned (though most likely abandoned), had wandered into our friend June’s yard. Not knowing about us at the time, June called Laura Zitzelberger at Nature’s Nursery, who, in turn, called us.

in the carThe hour-long ride back was interesting; interesting in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Given to reckless behavior, I had decided to pick him up sans crate, so the little pig — and he is indeed little, weighing in at just a smidge over 30 pounds — was loose in the car. He spent nearly as much time on my shoulders doing his best to climb up on top of my head as he did on the seat. Eventually, though, he did settle in and down, sprawling in the back and resting his head in the palm of my right hand.

getting to know youOn arriving home, his behavior in the house was little different from his initial behavior in the car, that is to say, “hell bent.” He chomped and rooted, prodded and postured, picking fights with any and all comers, even with those more inclined to run away, myself included.

I grumbled. I growled. I cursed.

Anne smiled.

“He’ll be fine,” she said. “Don’t you remember Bob?”

Bob is a dear friend of ours, one of four pigs rescued last winter and one of two of the four who now live on The Quarry full time, along with Beatrice, aka Little Pig. At first, his behavior left something to be desired. Now, however, he’s nearly the perfect gentlepig. Despite Anne’s assurances, I had my doubts. And so did Lolly, who maintained a discreet distance.

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As he was still intact, the first order of business was arranging for a quick snip. Though she’d never performed this operation on a pig, our veterinarian, Dr. Jackie Santoro, did the requisite research and the procedure came off — pun intended — without a hitch.

On returning him to The Quarry, there wasn’t any significant change in behavior. He had this truly annoying habit of, when he wanted something, anything, of furiously rooting at any available ankle. With 30 pounds of pig behind it, that nearly vulcanized snout left bruises.

I threatened. I snarled. I swore.

Anne smiled.

CarltonHe hadn’t been back much more than a day, certainly no more than two, when, coming in from outside or up from the basement I heard Anne chirp, “Yes!”

She was standing in the kitchen with the little pig at her feet. In her hands was some manner of treat: grapes or carrots or banana or some such. She would hold out a morsel and watch the pig. When he took a step back, she’d bend at the waist, deliver the treat and exclaim the encouraging, “Yes!” In a single 15-minute session, she permanently broke his annoying, destructive rooting behavior.

Even Lolly was impressed.

Lolly and Carlton

annerNow, he spends his time making his way around the house. I’m not saying that there aren’t still problems. He has a habit of poking his nose into places it doesn’t belong and he and Bob will likely never be fast friends, but we all have our faults, our own clashes of personality. The bottom line is this: he’s a smart, gentle, comforting being and it shows in any number of ways.

So, he’s here to stay. This is home.

We call him Carlton.

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Beatrice gets a hoof trim

There are two pot-bellied pigs that live with us here on The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve and Conservation Farm. Neither began their lives here, but this is where they will stay. Soon Beatrice and Gertie will be joined by Alphonse, Bob Barker, Grits and Greta, four pot-bellies that found themselves without a home after a cruelty and neglect seizure by a nearby humane organization.

While this video may make you laugh a little, we hope it also makes you think long and hard about the care that smart, inquisitive, stubborn and vocal pot-bellied pigs require in order to live in harmony. Indeed, keep that in mind whenever you adopt. Anything.

On the other hand, piggies are a joy when you are prepared to welcome them into your life.

A Long Overdue (but brief) Introduction

If you have ever had an affinity for writing, someone at sometime has said to you, “Write what you know.” It’s good advice. But what they don’t tell you is that sometimes what you know is what you love and, on occasion, you are so close to what you love that writing about it becomes more than simply difficult. Your love becomes a chasm that words can’t bridge. I’m going to type a word now that, to me, embodies this whole concept.

Crows.

It’s a little word and they are a common bird, but even so, I have been enamoured and fascinated by crows for decades. By those who study animal intelligence, they are widely considered the most intelligent of birds. They aren’t simply tool users, but meta-tool users, designing tools by which they can get a tool to accomplish a task. They raise their young in multigenerational family groups, teach specific lessons to their young who, in turn, teach their own offspring these self-same lessons, communally avoid areas of known danger and may even use the same insecticide (formic acid deliberately obtained from the crushed bodies of ants) they use to rid themselves of lice and other pests to attain a state of inebriation.

That’s right. Crows may get loopy on ant juice.

And here’s the rub: I live with two of them. Literally live with them. In my house. And have done so for over a year. Their names are Blackie and Jo. Both came to us through Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education. Blackie first and then Jo. Over that time, a day hasn’t passed that one or the other of the two hasn’t done something noteworthy, engaged in behavior that wasn’t worthy of mention. Even so, getting the concept of them down, the enormity of their impact on my life, has proven overwhelmingly difficult. So, although I’ve tried, and there are literally dozens of drafts on this site that support my claim, I haven’t passed along a single anecdote.

Until now.

To get to the meat of it, though, I have to seemingly stray away from the subject. Be patient.

Recently, we took in an additional fourteen hens. We acquired them locally from a pair of farmers who found themselves swimming in chickens. As I understand it, they were told by their supplier that their order of 150 chickens couldn’t be mailed, that they would have to drive to the hatchery and pick them up. Which they did, only to receive, a few days later, a shipment by mail of another 150. They were completely unprepared for so many birds, didn’t have the facility to house them all, although it appeared that they had tried. When we picked up our fourteen, the most the farmers were willing to part with, there were easily 200 hens and several roosters housed in a building no more than ten foot by fourteen. The birds had pecked each other raw, stripping the feathers from one another until many were half-plucked. To make a long story short, two of the chickens we took in have died, the (hopefully) last of them either late last night or early this morning. And now we get back to the crows.

Jo in WindowOf the two crows that live with us, Jo is my girl. We bonded immediately. She greets me each morning, and I, her. It’s a complex thing involving specific crooning vocalizations. We visit with each other and preen one another. And when I’m outside where she can see me, she caws loudly and sits on the windowsill, watching me as I go about whatever task is at hand. Today, the one she watched me perform was the disposal of the body of the chicken that had died sometime during the night. As I was coming back up to the house, in the window of the room where the crows stay, I saw a small blob of brown bobbing in the window. It was obvious that Jo was in the window waving something around, but it took me a moment to figure out what it was.

As I mentioned earlier, crows are highly intelligent and they need a variety of stimulations to keep themselves occupied. We give them puzzles to solve and simple objects that they find interesting. One of Jo’s favorite toys is one of those tiny little plastic ducks, and by little I mean just a couple of inches long and maybe an inch and a half high, that you find all over the place. I’m sure you’ve seen them: little plastic ducks dressed like firemen or doctors or executives or sports figures. At the very least, you get the picture.

Jo's ChickenIn this case, the little plastic duck looks like a little, brown, lifeless chicken.

And she was waving it in the window after watching me walk down the path behind our house with my own little, brown, lifeless chicken.

Think of it what you will. Maybe Jo was just showing off one of her favorite toys, trying to entice me back into the room for a little play time (which, by the way, she succeeded in doing). Maybe it was simply coincidence. It’s possible.

But I don’t think so.