Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Cute is Overrated.

Posted on | May 15, 2010 | 12 Comments

I canceled the spring farm tour.  Not because I wanted to cancel it.  I know opening the farm for tours is a great way to make friends out of the neighbors and win new customers.  But the animals won’t cooperate.  Everyone wants to see cute cuddly chicks and cute fluffy ducklings and cute playful goat kids.  But the animals on my farm don’t do cute.  They laugh at cute.  They spit in cute’s eye.  They eat cute for breakfast.  They meet cute in the corral at high noon and say “Go ahead, cute.  Make my day.”

Let’s consider the first chicks to hatch this year as an example.  Despite frigid temperatures, one of our ducks, Grey Girl, managed to hatch 2 chicks in early spring.  (Yes, a duck hatching chicks.  Don’t even get me started on that….) They were cute.  And cuddly.  But by the time 4 chicks were hatched, the biggest chick started to eat the others.  I know.  Not cute.

I never actually saw it happen.  And although there is an avian pathology unit in the state capital, there is no poultry CSI.  So, a farmer has to go with her gut.  Here were the facts I had to work with:

1.  In the morning there would be some freshly hatched chicks peeping excitedly.

2.  In the evening there would be only one chick remaining.  One fat, glossy, bright-eyed chick.

3.  There were no bodies.  None.

4.  Repeat facts 1 and 2 for 4 days in a row.

5.  Grey Girl seemed tired but restless. Like if she didn’t find her chick as cute as much as she found it, say, alarming.  Like if she slept with one eye open every night.

I pondered the cause of death with Pretty, my 8 year old specialist in livestock feed rations, animal husbandry, and pulling ducklings out of the small spaces in the barn where they wander, get stuck, and I can’t fit in to pull them out.  (You’d be surprised at how few people have that last skill.  It’s not exactly something you can advertise for on craigslist when trying to find a farm assistant.  Posting “Requirement: small enough to fit in nooks and crannies” will probably get you flagged.)

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”  I asked her.

She nodded.

“Yeah.  Probably fratricide,” she said.

I nodded also.  Then we went in the house and I sneaked off to google “fratricide.”  Needless to say, I was relieved that “fratricide” indicated that she and I both suspected the chick was eating the other hatchlings.  A common enough practice among birds.  Then I became incredibly concerned that she knew the proper term that is defined as “the killing of one’s brother.”  Since she has 3 brothers.  And they don’t always get along.  I’m sure she learned about fratricide in her unit on raptors at school.  I’m sure.  Sure enough that I can sleep almost every night without worrying about it.  Like every 3 out of 5 nights.  That’s sure enough, right?

But it isn’t just the cannibal chick. The ducks have failed to produce their own cute, fluffy offspring.  Which is a surprise considering the new drake is quite an active male.  By active I mean he spends all his daylight hours pursuing the females, pinning them in a corner and then having his way with them while pulling out their neck feathers.  Also, scratching them with his claws.  And  holding their heads under the dirt and leaf debris in the duck pasture.  And pecking their shoulders and pulling at their wing tips.  It is less like mating and more like a disturbing case of domestic violence.  So visitors won’t see ducklings in the duck pen.  But they might just have to answer questions from their children like “Why is that big duck trying to kill all the other ones?”  Which doesn’t reassure the neighbors or keep customers coming back for more.

The rooster makes me nervous, too.  Whenever he sidles up to a youngster on a playdate at the farm, puffs his chest, and flaps his wings, it makes my Spidey senses tingle.  He could emit a masculine crow, earning appreciative oohs and aahs from the guest.  Or he could unleash a sudden attack with flashing spurs.  He’s never attacked before, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t waiting to do it front of 50 horrified civilian spectators.  “Isn’t he cute?” I say as I position myself between him and any potential victims.  “We just love him to DEATH,”  I say pointedly, giving him a stern glance and hoping he gets the hint.  Never bite the hand that feeds you or spur the hand that wields the butcher knife.  Got it, mister?

Even those animals without a potential for violence don’t handle tour pressure very well.  Carmen, one of our Nigerian Dwarf goats, hasn’t had a cute, playful kid yet.  But she does have a lot of discharge with her pregnancy.  (Oh, wait you weren’t eating anything were you?  Sorry, explicit farm info without a warning.)  Since she’s a first time freshener we don’t know if this is typical or if she’s having a problem with kidding.  I’ve adopted a wait and see attitude.  Because any other attitude requires me to pay a minimum of $150 to the vet.  Meanwhile, everyone who sees her says, “Hey, what’s that hanging out of her butt?”  How cute is that, huh?  Thanks for bringing me down, Carmen.

The pony isn’t even pretending to participate in farm tour preparation.  He wanders around ignoring us because he has fresh grass to nibble on and is no longer subject to begging for grain.  If he honors us with his presence, it is only a brusque nod while rubbing his hind end vigorously on the picnic table.  Oh, did I mention he’s shedding in big ugly chunks?  So that he appears to be a miniature yak instead of a pony.  Not cute.  I’d talk to him about providing rides for toddlers but I’d have to climb all the way down to the backside of the pond dam (where the greenest greens grow) and beg for his attention.  Besides, I already know what his answer will be.

Ray-Ray, our blind sheep, looks cute for brief interludes.  He will stand obligingly as crowds bury their hands in his fluff and endure an educational discussion about lanolin and hair sheep versus fiber sheep.  Until he eventually (and I do mean e….v…..e….n….t….u….a….l….l….y.  He’s not the sharpest tool in the sheep shed) realizes he is surrounded by strangers and sinks, trembling, to his knees while emitting a frightened stream of urine.

On a good day, the people don’t notice and simply gather their children around saying, “Quick, get a picture with him while he’s laying down.”  While I try to nonchalantly kick leaves and straw over the puddle of pee.  On a bad day, when he hits the ground he will start flailing around hysterically, creating a fountain of urine, and causing the crowd to also start flailing around hysterically.  On a nightmare day, someone asks if there’s such a thing as mad sheep disease, which makes me start babbling about the origins of scrapie, Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis, and Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease and how there’s no way we have it on my farm.  Which empties out the farm parking area in about 2.3 seconds.  So much for making friends out of the neighbors and winning new customers.

To top off all these non-cute farm conditions, a neighboring farm just had to put their donkey down for rabies.  A week after they held a farm tour.  The odds of your donkey getting rabies is one in a billion.  The odds of finding out your donkey has rabies after you had a bunch of civilians over to pet the farm animals is one in a Are-you-freaking-kidding-me?-Was-I-a-serial-killer-in-a-previous-life-to-deserve-this-kind-of-punishment?-illion.  So I’m taking it as a sign.  No farm tour this year.  Check back for cute next year.

Comments

12 Responses to “Cute is Overrated.”

  1. Tanya
    May 16th, 2010 @ 6:23 am

    I laughed so hard about the sheep peeing like a fountain that I almost peed myself. Thanks for the morning laugh. I didn’t even know that a donkey could get rabies!!!!!!!!

  2. Annabelle
    May 16th, 2010 @ 11:26 am

    As always, right in line with our/ my experience here in Ca. We just had my son’s preschool visit last week, I knew as ” civians” they would be freaked out by the lice on the cute friendly chickens and the mites on the baby goats so I kept my mouth shut and let them cuddle. We haven’t caught any skin critters yet so no harm no foul, right? Nothing a little sulfur dust couldn’t help, they didn’t even ask why everything smelled like “rotten eggs”

  3. forensicfarmgirl
    May 16th, 2010 @ 6:05 pm

    Oh MERCY! I loved this post! I especially like Carmen’s butt. I have a goat like that too. I have also adopted the “wait and see” attitude for the same reason!

    sheri

  4. va_grown
    May 17th, 2010 @ 5:53 am

    This post made Monday morning so much lighter! We love doing farm tours too, but we also constantly worry for a week before and it takes a week to relax afterward because you just don’t know what’s going to come up. And I’m with you on the mating–I’m terrified that someone might be there with kids and I’ll have to explain why chicken “love” is more like “rape and pillage.” I can’t even count how many people think that the hen lays the eggs and then the rooster comes and sits on them and does…something…to magically fertilize them.

  5. Tamsen
    May 17th, 2010 @ 7:42 am

    OMG. That’s great!

    My neighbours were treated early Thursday morning to me chasing the jackass all over the neighborhood on horseback screaming “You Jackass” as I tried to head him off in the direction of home. He kept ducking around me, but when he started for the third house down, I wheeled around yelling “I don’t NEED a F**ing JACKASS in my life!” and headed home.

    Thereon, he brayed like he was being slaughtered by dogs, tore off after me and beat me home.

    That is why I have a rule about never chasing animals. They enjoy it too much.

  6. Kim watson
    May 17th, 2010 @ 8:04 am

    our civilians are family members who insist on “seeing” all the animals at family gatherings. we forgo the “safety” talks prior to animal exposur as they don’t listen anyway and normally only desire animal contact long enough to get that cute picture with the kid perilously close to being stomped. we’ve decided to think of it as survival of the fittest. Gods way of taking the stupid people out of the gene pool. Great post!

  7. Jean Hartford-Todd
    May 17th, 2010 @ 9:15 am

    I hate to say it Stevie but regarding the “missing” chicks – I suspect Grey Girl, in the barn/coop, with her beak. Kind of like a game of Clue…..

  8. Lauren
    May 17th, 2010 @ 9:39 am

    OMG!!! you are a hoot!!! I was laughing so much my husband looked over at me and asked what the heck are you laughing at? LOL Thank you for the laugh!!! :)

  9. Crystal
    May 19th, 2010 @ 11:28 am

    Stevie, thanks for the posting, laughs and for sharing the “scary” side of the farm. LOL!

  10. Lisa
    May 20th, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

    Thanks a million for the great post! I laughed out loud over and over! :-) It’s been a long week here, and the laugh was a welcome change.

  11. Michelle
    June 4th, 2010 @ 5:16 am

    Funny and scary all at the same time! ;) Thanks for sharing all sides of farm life. Good to know I don’t have it too magical in my head.

  12. Tiffany
    October 2nd, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

    Im not sure what is funnier.. the story about “CUTE”, OR the responses. I espically like the “I dont need a F**ing JACKASS in my life” comment.
    Totally get the NOT Cute thing. Right now our best not cute is the VERY VERY pregnant cow, with slobbery goobers hanging. Birth is soon (within 2 weeks) but still EWWWW. Its espically “CUTE” when the flags as a fly on her side and those goobers fling around and hit ya. YEP.. I got CUTE!

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