In an effort to make the most of the dry fall weather, I’ve taken to letting all the critters have a supervised prison break when it’s not raining. They all forage happily for a few hours, eating grass and leaves and blackberries, until one of them remembers there’s delicious chicken feed to be had in the coop. I always remember to shut the big door and open the little sliding one, but the miniature pygmy goats can slither through the smallest of openings. Even fat Ursula has the ability to collapse her skeleton, just like a mouse, if there’s the promise of forbidden treats on the other side. I’m beginning to think she’s a vampire goat – if I ever find her perusing the contents of our kitchen cupboards, I’ll know she can turn into mist and seep under the door.
All it takes is one goat to enter the coop, then every one gets sent back into the pasture. Of course, I have to lure them there with scoops of grain, but still. They respect my authority. I usually let Dimsworth and Hawthorne stay outside, though, since they mostly hang out on the deck anyway. Except for today. I came home from running errands and went outside to check on the zoo, which of course means I had to throw scratch to the frenzied horde of chickens gathered around my feet. If they don’t get their scratch, they will literally follow me around, wherever I go, in a great teeming horde that makes it nearly impossible to walk. Dimsworth and Hawthorne usually waddle over to get their share, knocking chickens out of the way since they’re not big on sharing. Today was the first time I didn’t see them fighting for the choicest bits. After looking around, I realized I didn’t see them at all, which just about stopped my heart. I’ve really gotten attached to those crazy turkeys, although just this morning Dimsworth stepped on my bare foot and ripped a piece of toast out of my hand. (We have a habit of throwing old toast out the sliding door, sending it sailing over the deck and down to the waiting beaks below. But this morning my aim sucked and it ended up in a flower pot, so I had to go get it). At any rate, after looking around for about 15 minutes, I finally found the two turkeys on the far side of the back fence, deep in the woods. Not being the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, they were milling around the fence line, chittering angrily because they couldn’t figure out how to get where they wanted to be. I had to literally herd the two of them back through the woods, around the fence, and back into familiar territory, which took about twenty minutes. I finally realized you can use their tails sort of like rudders – if you poke the left feathers, they veer to the right, and vice versa. They also refuse to cross over stray branches or tall grasses, so I had clear the way for them. Wild turkeys can’t possibly be that stupid, or they wouldn’t survive, so I’m not sure if I have exceptionally dim ones, or if they think they’re the Kings of England and should be treated accordingly. I’m guessing it’s the latter.
Thank god the quails don’t have that same sense of entitlement, because I really don’t think I can deal with more avian divas. They are getting bigger, but not any louder. You have to almost hold your breath to hear the soft peeping they make. When they stand up, they look like perfectly round, feathered tennis balls. So far the Quail Sanctuary is still in the planning stages, mostly because Gene and I can’t agree on the scope of the project. He apparently thinks a covered tunnel leading down to a secure grassy play area isn’t a necessity, even though it most certainly is. But there’s no hurry to build it, they’re perfectly happy in their half of the brooding facility in the garage. The other half is occupied by Frizzle Mama, who finally hatched three of the eggs she’s been diligently sitting on. She’s the most dedicated broody hen I’ve ever had – I took away her eggs every day for a month, and she stayed broody. She was so determined I finally made her a nest in the garage and gave her a clutch to hatch. I haven’t even gotten a good look at the chicks yet, since they spend most of their time nestled underneath her. I can hear them cheeping though, and they sound content. If I stand where she can’t see me, I can listen to Frizzle Mama cheeping softly back at them, and it’s the sweetest sound ever. Even though it’s an immense amount of work, and I’m chained to the farm in that I have to be up at dawn and back by dusk every single night (not to mention the 11:00 and the 3:00 chore list), it’s moments like that – hearing a contented mama talk to her newly hatched chicks – that make me realize I could never go back to not being a farmer.