RSS Feed

Category Archives: Ginny’s Ark

Lost llamas and bad bears

The pasture has exploded with daisies and my llamas like to nestle down in the middle of them in the early evening. I thought this was striking, so I took a picture.
Then, another “bear event” (which I’ll explain later) happened and for the next two days my llamas didn’t come out of the trees which run along the border of the pasture. When it is hot or raining, the llamas stay tucked away in the shade and it’s been hitting 90 this week, so I didn’t think much of their absence. Until  they didn’t come out to eat in the morning for two days straight. That was uncommon.

I started to get concerned because Pulani is due to have her baby in one month. I wondered if it was possible she gave birth early and the llamas were in the woods with a newborn. Sometimes, llamas need help with the birthing process, and Pulani turned away her last baby, so I am on standby to do what I can to make this season’s birth go on sucessfully. I also couldn’t help but notice the llamas had been missing since “the bear event”. Hummm……… gave me a nagging sense of unease.

So, in the early morning, I decided to take a walk in the pasture to hunt them out. Pulani was lying in the trees, nonchalant. Still pregnant. But Dali was no where around. They usually stick close to each other, so I considered this odd. I walked the entire circumference of the pasture. No Dali. I figured I must have missed him, so I walked along the fence again, checking to see if any portion of it was knocked down to allow escape. The fence was intact, but there was no Dali. I took a third spin around the huge pasture, now looking for signs of a dead llama, not that I expected to find such a thing, but since I was unable to explain his absence I had to check. Nothing.

I’ve left this pasture dormant so the grass will grow and repair itself. So far, I’m growing daisies, not the coveted grass I seeded. Ah well.  Llama’s tread lightly and eat little, so they’ve had the run of the place to themselves while the horses are maintained in the front, beat to hell, all dirt and weeds, pasture. This means the gate to the lush pasture has not been opened for weeks. Llamas don’t jump fences and they don’t try to escape. If they do get out, they hang around because they are territorial, especially when their mate is nearby – herd creatures stick together. Llamas are mellow and standoffish, like cats, but they do attach to home and I have some very content llamas, which curbs wanderlust.

So, how is it my male llama has simply disappeared? I can’t figure it out.

I’ve been baffled and bothered, which soon escalated to “worried.” Yesterday, I put a “lost llama” add in the paper and made flyers to put up at the feed store and post office. I’m slapping them on signs and putting them in neighbor’s mailboxes. A few people have suggested that my llama might have been stolen, but who would venture all the way into our land, unnoticed, to steal a llama, which is damn hard to catch, by the way? And yet, if he was attacked by something, and I can’t imagine anything around here that could kill a llama, other than a cockeyed hunter, I’d certainly see llama remains. Not like even a bear can haul a 600 pound animal over a fence.  If Dali got out of the pasture on his own, he wouldn’t have wandered far. It’s as if he just sunk into the daisies and vanished forevermore.

I’m devastated; waiting by the phone hoping someone will call and say he wandered into their yard and I should come get him. Because deep down, I can’t stop thinking it might be connected in some way to the bear incident.

Early one morning this week, I heard my dogs going crazy outside. They often bark at daybreak, chasing raccoons or possums and/or greeting the new day with a boisterous racket. But this day, their barking was furious and wild – coming from the barn. I wondered if they were wrestling with coyotes or stray dogs so I hopped into my mule to go check. When I got there, the dogs had run off, chasing something. There was one dead chicken on the ground. Considering I now have 70 chickens (too many) I was not exactly devastated. Dead chickens happen. I checked on my duck, who’s still sitting on eggs in the barn (which have long passed their due date, so they aren’t going to hatch, but I don’t have the heart to take them away from her. She’s been such a diligent mother – but alas, if you don’t nookie with the boys, your eggs will never be more than just eggs.) She was fine – though she hissed at me to leave her alone. The ingrate.

I decided to feed the rabbits as long as I was down at the barn and that’s when I noticed that the cage erected high on the wall of the chicken house holding my young bunnies had been tampered with again. This time, the stiff wire side had been pried away from the top, breaking all the metal fasteners and a strong metal support had been bent at a  90 degree angle. Heck, it’s such a thick piece of metal that I couldn’t even bend it back into place. This clearly has to be a bear – nothing else can reach that high or do that kind of damage. My bunnies were huddled in their nesting box, sitting in their own urine – obviously traumatized, but safe at least.

I was pissed. Damn bear. Poor bunnies.

So, I decided to drive back to the house to get my car and go to Home Depot to get what I needed to repair the damage and further secure my cages. But as I turned the corner, I see the back end of a black bear wandering into the woods. The roar of the mule made him run off. He was larger than my dogs (which are big) and his butt was two feet wide. Big bear. I stopped the mule, wishing I had a gun. I’m a gentle, animal lover, but I was seeing red and well – at least a be-be gun or a powerful paint gun would have been nice. A glue gun, perhaps?

I get off the mule and head into the woods to follow the bear. I wanted to see him up close. Don’t’ ask me what I would have done if I found him – tell him off or something. (When I told this to my mother later, she told ME off for tracking a bear. I had to hear all about every bear attack that ever happened in North Georgia. Sigh.)  But somehow, that sneaky bear just disappeared the moment he entered the woods. At least I had my proof now about who’s been messing with my rabbits. Damn bear.

I called Mark at the office and said, “Honey, something was messing with my angoras again, and it IS a bear because I just saw him running through the woods towards your workshop.”
Mark said (I kid you not), “Don’t worry Babe; a bear won’t hurt any of my tools.”

Like I was worried about his tools. Did he think I imagined the bear would crank up the chain saw and come after the rabbits with a weapon, like Rambo-bear? I was like, ‘Um… there’s no food in your workshop, I know he won’t bother anything there. I just wanted you to know he’s in the area and there’s no longer a question of what’s doing the damage at the barn.” 

“I can’t come home now to shoot a bear for you,” he said. “I’m on call.”

Clearly, the man wasn’t getting my drift. I didn’t expect him to do anything about the bear – I just wanted to vent. The bear was already gone –and even if Mark did drive the 35 minutes home with a rifle on his shoulder like the cavalry, the bear would even goner. 

Last night, the big wooden plank I keep on top of my rabbit cage for extra security was thrown eight feet again and another tarp was demolished. Something is gonna have to be done about the bear. It’s against the law to kill a bear, but a friend of ours says he wouldn’t mind relieving me of the burden, and he’d even give me a nice bear rug for Christmas. Um… no thanks. I’m alergic to dead things that leave me racked with guilt.

Mark explained that his gun won’t penetrate a big bear’s hide so if he shot at it, he’d only hurt the beast at best, which might just make the animal mad as hell and it would attack. He found out we can call the Park commission and they will set a bear trap and cart it away to the state park. That is probably what we’ll do.

Meanwhile, I’m now worried about my bees. In two minutes flat, Bears will destroy a hive that took a full year to build up.  I’m pretty convinced my rabbits are secure, but that doesn’t mean they are comfortable with a hungry bear working on the cage every night like it was rubics cube he’s trying to solve– and hey, he still might get lucky one night if he keeps at it.

And where the hell is my llama? Sort of spooky, the fact that he disappeared the same day the bear visited. Now, if the bear would just go eat those rotten duck eggs and save me from having to be the one to disappoint my dear little duck, I wouldn’t be half as mad at him.

These are the kind of troubles I deal with now a days in my “Little House on the Prairie” stage of life. I figure if these are my complaints about life, I should have no complaints – for even in Eden there’s bound to be a few bad apples. This month, these just happen to be mine.



Bee Basics

“Take me to your leader,” I  want to say when I step out in my bee suit.
I feel compelled to move in slow motion, like Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.

But for all that it looks dramatic, a bee suit is really nothing more than a stiff jumpsuit made of canvas. The gloves and headpiece are all you truly need to work with bees, and even then, you end up taking the gloves off because the thick leather fingers make it hard to get a hold of the closely spaced honey files in the hive.

I’ve been working with my bees for a year now and I’ve yet to be stung. They get plenty mad, mostly because I am clumsy and slow when working in the hive, due to my lack of experience. The bees swarm around me and make a racket, but they haven’t successfully stung me. A few have tried, but I’m a weenie who suits up before doing anything serious with the bees, so they can’t get to me. Occasionally, I sneak a peek or walk over to feed them wearing shorts, but I don’t open the hive without being prepared for attack. I suppose, the more familiar you get with your bees, the less likely you are to bother with the suit – then you are bound to get the occasional sting.

I received the 6 pounds of bees I ordered in January this week. There happened to be another double order at the post office awaiting pickup . I thought it remarkable that someone else had placed the exact same order from the exact same company. There are hundreds of bee supply companies to choose from and people usually order one swarm, not two. Apparently I have a neighbor who is toying with bees at the same speed I am. Wish I would run into them one day.

When I drove to the Post office to pick the package up, the post master, Vicki, said, “I thought you’d come in a truck. Few people pick up bees in the car.”

“Oh?” Of course, I didn’t know that. This is my first bee package after all. I sort of shrugged like I was brave and cool and loaded the box in the back of my van wondering if I would regret it.

Driving home, several loose bees swooped around my head. I wasn’t bothered by them. Ever since I began working with the insects, I’ve felt calm around them. I trust nature and feel very in tune with my animals, no matter how small. Mark says they are my surrogate students, and I think he’s right. I lay in bed worrying about their health and happiness in the same way I used to loose sleep pondering my student’s successes and failures. I get frustrated with my animals but because I care, it passes quickly. Yes – I see the similarities.

Anyway, I got the bee package home and set up my two new hives. I had planned to set the new bees in a different area, but as I was situating the concrete blocks to hold the hives, I noticed my guineas hanging about. Guineas will eat bees and they can clean out an entire hive in two days. Obviously I had to rethink my plan, so I ended up putting the new bees with my established hive out near my blue berry bush . I’ll move them all in the fall (which is a big ordeal, because you have to move the hives 5 miles away and keep them away for a month before returning to your land even if all you want to do is move them a foot from their original position. If you don’t, you’ll have a bucket of dead bees on the ground where your hive once stood.)

Mark would prefer my bees not be situated at the entrance of our land, because no one will mow around the hives and we have this nice cared for lawn area except in the corner where the hives are nestled in overgrowth. It looks as if the forest is trying to swallow the boxes whole. If he would teach me to use a weedwacker, I’d go take care of the area myself. Gee wiz, bees are only quarter inch insects with feet sweetened by honey. Why is everyone so worried about them? They are far too busy gathering pollen to want to mess with humans.

I was slightly frustrated getting my bee package into the hive, because I couldn’t figure out how to open it.

I first had to jam on it with a hammer to separate the two packages. Then, I pried open the top of one and there was a can wedged in the opening. I wasn’t expecting that. I pulled on a tag thinking that was going to lift the can, but it simply pulled away and I heard a thunk in the cage. Oops. Turns out this was connected to the queen’s cage and now she was laying at the bottom of 40K bees. I had to lift her out without squishing her soldiers, which I couldn’t do with my clumbsy gloves – so I ended up taking off my gloves and picking up the cage with my bare hand. This had about a hundred bees crawling on my skin in a second. A gentle blow and a shake the bees fell back to the hive, but dozens were flying about my head. Now, I had no way to secure my queen’s cage in the hive. Dammit. Meanwhile, the buzzing of thousands of bees growing ever more agitated grew deafening. I wedged the queen cage between two frames and hoped it wouldn’t fall to the floor again.

When I got the can wedged out of the opening, which turned out to be bee food. Of course, I had no can opener to actually take advantage of this. I shook 3 pounds of bees on top of the hive. I had sprayed them with sugar water, so they wouldn’t just fly away. They fell from their cage like rice pouring from a package and huddled on top, then crawled in after their queen.

I’m afraid I squished quite a few as I put the lid on – again, lack of experience. For all that learning new things is gratifying, it always comes with some degree of frustration, because being a novice makes you feel like a bumbling idiot. I feel that a lot in my life now.

The second package went smoother. I knew what to expect now. I didn’t pull on the tab, so this queen’s cage came out intact and could be hung center as it should be. I shook the bees up good to make them dizzy and plopped them onto the hive. I waited longer for them to crawl inside so I wouldn’t squish them unnecessarily. By now, I was feeling very comfortable working with the hive and I swear they could sense my calm. They were not nearly as buzzing mad as the first group.

The next day, I went to check to be sure my bees were inside the hives. Occasionally, a new swarm will simply fly away. But when the queen is secured in a cage, the bees will stay to care for her through the cage’s screen. The bees are supposed to eat the candy plug that holds her inside and free her within a day. When I checked, both my queens were still captive. So, I took a screwdriver and popped the cork so she could crawl out into the hive. In one night, the bees had made a good start of building honeycomb, so I’m convinced they plan to stay. Neva stood a few feet away to watch. I held several frames up to show her the new comb and how it was swarming with bees . She was fascinated. I’m guessing she’ll be needing a bee suit soon. I know that look in her eye – curiosity will override her fear before you know it – especially the more she sees me working with the bees without incident.

I paid an extra dollar to have my queens marked. They are painted with a little red dot. This allows me to locate my leaders easily whenever I open the hive. A queen is a bigger insect and not too hard to spot, but when you have 80K bees crawling around and eyes as old as mine, it is nice to have a cheat sheet dot. I carried the cage over to Neva so she could see the queen before releasing her. She reached out as if she wanted to touch it,  then drew back. Yes, it is only a matter of time before my curious little nature lover joins me.  

It will be a year before these new hives will be established enough to provide honey to harvest. The bees will work hard, but their efforts this season will be towards building new comb and storing food for the winter. In the fall, I’ll make my first awkward attempt at taking the honey from my established hive. I should harvest about 10 pounds – more than enough for this family. This will be my practice year – next season, when the three hives are all in full swing, hopefully I’ll be better at honey harvesting – for I’ll be seasoned as well.
Here is my little bee apairy – not so impressive, but it’s exciting to me. Each hive will grow taller as the season progresses and I add supers (the boxes that hold the frames) for the hive to expand.

Keeping bees doesn’t take much time and it’s a really unique experience. When I discover things like this (like making wine) I always wonder why I didn’t do it in Florida. I could have made the time and it may would have given me the diversion from dance I so desperately craved. Of course, it never occurred to me to diversify my life then. Would have been good for me, though. Might have stalled my cracking up.

I guess, everything has its time. You have to trust in that. . . or else go crazy. 



Show and tell

Yesterday, I made the family steak and eggs for dinner. I served them with hash browns, warm biscuits and homemade jam. I know this sounds like breakfast food, but I thought it would be nice for a change and I wanted to use some of the all natural ham steaks we had in the freezer (which are nothing like the smoked ham steaks you get in the supermarket).I also have to get rid of some of my jam, because it will soon be the season to make more.

It seems, when school is in session, we are never all together for breakfast anyway and I miss serving the big home-style breakfast (my favorite meal of the day) so I thought, “Why not?” Besides which, I had an alternate agenda.

As. everyone was digging in, I asked, “How do you like the eggs?”

“Great!” Mark said, shoveling in forkfuls.

“Glad you think so. You’re eating peacock eggs, by the way.”

Kent and Neva thought this was cool. Mark’s face screwed up into a pinched ball and he said, “I just lost my appetite.” He put his fork down, and don’t ya know he wouldn’t take another bite.

I was, as always, respectful of his sensitivity about what food he is served by his experimental wife, so I said, “You nincompoop! Don’t be such a big baby. It isn’t any different from chicken eggs. Only bigger. I mixed it with guinea eggs anyway (which are very small) so that evens out the proportions in a way. Take another bite or I’ll tell everyone you’re a big sissy.”

He pointed out that I gave him too much, and he was finished anyway.
The way I see it, this makes me duty bound to mention it on the blog. The world should know I married a man who’s a big peacock egg weenie.

I’ll admit, it was hard for me to eat the egg, but not because I feared it. I just had a lump in my throat because it felt like such a waste to eat something that, had circumstances been different, would have been rushed to my incubator with excitement.

I was serving this egg because my beautiful boy, Prism, ran off (damn peacock), so I know for a fact the egg isn’t fertilized. I was buying peacock eggs for about twelve dollars a pop only a year ago. I’m not about to just throw them away. I found another peacock egg today. For all I know, they’ll start coming fast and furious so I’m gonna have to work on my husband’s egg-sensitivity so he’ll be more receptive.
Not like I’m feeding him emu eggs . . . yet.

I thought I might do a bit of spring-time show and tell today.

My bunnies are five weeks old and ready to go. I gave two babies to my neighbor’s good friend who came by to have a look-see. She is an older woman living alone who happens to be a spinner. She was raising an old sheep, but it had died that afternoon and she was feeling low about it. She was thinking she might try angora now but she wasn’t making any decision. I got the impression she lives frugally, so I told her I’d make her a deal she couldn’t refuse. Her eyes perked up. “What would that be/’

I gave her two of the bunnies in the name of spinner sisterhood and neighborly good-will. She was thrilled.

I gave one another to Kathy, who had mentioned her son would adore a new bunny. I figure, since I see her every week, I’ll be around to answer questions. Angoras need more care than a regular bunny.  This rabbit came with a water bottle, a bag of feed and I even through in one of my fiber brushes so they can keep it groomed.  Our reading lesson was pitifully unproductive today, but we had fun playing with the bunny as it changed hands.

I’m keeping the white baby.
Sad to say, a dog or coyote happened to tear open my white male’s cage open on two ends last week. The cage was dragged several feet. I imagine my poor bunny was terrorized. There is no sign of his being killed, but I don’t hold up much hope for his having escaped. I’ve always known that cage was unsafe and I had intentions to build something new. Just goes to show you should never put off until tomorrow what you should have done today to be responsible. Anyway, I’ll keep the white baby as a replacement rabbit in respect to its father. I’ve also promised Neva she could keep one, and she picked a half tan/half gray that she named Nero. 

I’m going to put the three extras (all fawn colored) in the paper and hope someone comes forward wanting angora fiber. A part of me is ready to let them all go – I’m really feeling the need to downsize the animals I’m responsible for, but now that the weather is beautiful, I’m not feeling very disciplined. Remind me of this next winter when I’m cussing under my breath over all the time I must spend out in the sleet and stinging cold changing out frozen water bottles and such.     

My chickens have been out and about, roaming the barn area. My peacock likes to follow me around like a puppy. She is cute. Sometimes, I pause just to stare at my birds. They will perch on a fence or nestle in the flowers and you could swear they are posing just to make my like feel like a hallmark card. It is inspirational (in a simple way).


 Those of you who have been reading this blog for some time may remember I hatched seven ducks in an incubator last spring. During their adolescent phase, they started getting picked off by coyotes. I ended up with two surviving ducks, one solid white and the other an Appellate, which looks like a mallard. Love my ducks! 
Realizing that a duck’s survival skills increase dramatically when they are full fledged adults, I bought two grown Muscovy’s from the flea market. Within a week, one had been eaten. The other joined my duck duo and they became a threesome.

I bought two more Muscovy at the Flea Market. Don’t ya know, one member of this mating pair was eaten too. Then, for some unexplainable reason, my duck threesome just didn’t like the survivor and they kept running it off. I assumed it was a case of one male not wanting to share his babes. Clicks can be so mean.

My lonely duck kept to himself. We called him Romer because he often went exploring by himself. One day, Romer disappeared. I didn’t see any signs of duck carnage about the lake, so I figured he might have just decided to move on to someplace with friendlier duck residents. But two days later, I saw him at the barn.

This delighted me because one of my biggest disappointments about selling this house is the fact that the pond goes with it. I worry that the new owners won’t feed my ducks, or worse, they will want them removed because occasionally, they poop on the dock. Mark insists that whoever wants this house will love nature, so the ducks will be a selling point, not a detriment. They will be fine.

Anyway, the idea that Romer might occasionally visit me at the barn made me very happy. I would see him swimming in the creek at the base of the chicken coop and sleeping in the hay shelter by my young chick cage and I figured he was looking for some new bird friends. He made good friends with my peacock (also the odd woman out), and they often sleep in the sun a few feet away from each other.

Meanwhile, my duck click started wondering what Romer was up too and they started flying down occasionally to swim in the creek and watch me go about my chores too. Spring has my animals doing all kinds of unusual things. I’ll be coming home from the store and see the ducks walking out in the middle of the pasture as if they were a cow, or just walking down the road far from the pond where they formerly never left. I almost expect them to stick out a thumb as I drive by to bum a ride home.

Then,  about ten days ago I was leading my horse into her stall and I heard a hiss. I thought there might be a possum in the corner, but when I looked, it was Romer. He (excuse me – SHE) had made a nest in the shavings and she had no intention of letting me and a 1000 pound horse anywhere near it. I lead the horse back outside and explained to her that she had lost her stall for about 29 days. Then, I returned and made Romer move so I could see what was under her. She is sitting on about 15 eggs nestled in a pile of down. I guess all her hanging out at the barn was her way of checking out a good place for her brood. And she must have been laying eggs all along because it takes time for a bird to get ready to sit. The weather has been so nice, I just haven’t been using the barn stalls, so they must have seemed like a nice, vacant duck hotel to her.   


I know nature will take care of things without me, but once I discovered her, I couldn’t resist sticking my curious nose into her business. So, I began taking Romer food and filling a water bowl for her everyday. She hisses and gets all bent out of shape every time I come near– the ingrate. Doesn’t stop me. I lean over the stall wall and say good morning and talk to her everyday. She eyes me like I’m a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

I can’t help but wonder if any of her eggs will hatch. After all, she has been ostracized by the other ducks, so how can these eggs be fertilized? Then again, I’m no duck babysitter, and who knows what goes on when I’m not looking. I’m going to hope for the best. I do know that if Romer has ducklings, they will be a mixed heritage, and any babies created between a Muscovy and domestic duck will be sterile (like a mule – you can only get one by mating a donkey and a horse, but they can never procreate themselves). I guess that will control the duck population in the long term. (Are you as impressed as I am that I know these kinds of barnyard animal facts? Amazing, all I’ve learned in the last few years.) 

My other Muscovy, a pretty cocoa brown duck, has now disappeared as well. I am pretty certain she is sitting out in the woods somewhere. I’m so curious I can’t stand it, so today I’m planning to hike around and see if I can find her.  Just yesterday, while walking the pasture to seek out a missing halter I saw seven guinea eggs. No one sitting on them yet – drat. My hands are itching to pick them up and thrust them in the incubator – haven’t done the guinea egg thing yet.

I sure hope that next month I’ll be seeing some cute baby ducklings out on our pond. Of course, then I’ll worry about them being picked off by hawks or being the main course at a coyote’s duck fest – but this is the first year our ducks have had an actual pond for safety (before they lived in the creek) so I’m counting on that helping matters.

Let’s see – does that complete my show and tell? Almost. I guess I should mention that my chickens are all doing nicely. I have about 60 baby chicks running in two pens. I finally couldn’t stand the mess and the work of changing the litter in the small cages, so I moved them to the big pen. But they were still so small, they could just squeeze out thought he wire sides. Little pint sized chickens were running everywhere. Neva and I propped boards and a tarp and anything we could find along the edges of the pen trying to contain them. I unrolled a bunch of smaller chicken wire along one side, but when it ran out, that was that. I didn’t want to put too much energy or investment into the problem, because I know the chickens will grow to be too big to escape within two weeks. I spent the entire afternoon devising brooders in the pen – I erected a dog house and our dog crate inside, ran a long extension chord from the barn and set up lights inside for warmth. I was cussing and complaining the entire time because it was awkward and I couldn’t get the temperature right. I just wasn’t in the mood for all that work for a bunch of chickens. 

I rue the day I went crazy and ordered so many on the internet, but what ya gonna do? I was in the shopping zone and mesmerized by the wealth of unusual choices. We have some pretty strange looking chicks.

I am going to start giving chickens away next week. I don’t have room for all of them in my chicken house, and I’ll be darned if I want to build a new one. I also can’t see my using 75 eggs a day – especially without the coffee shop. Ah well – you learn by your mistakes.  Kathy said she’d love a few spring chickens. Our friend Ronnie will take some – and he knows all sorts of country folk who would appreciate some freebie chickens. I will let Neva pick out the chickens she feels we don’t need to get our poultry situation manageable – but it won’t be easy. I want to keep the thirteen leghorns, because they are the best layers but all the others are rare breeds and it’s fascinating to see them change as they turn into striking adults. Sometimes our curosity overrides our good judgement when it comes to animal adventures.   

My bee hive is getting taller as my bees multiply and become established. I’m going to attempt to extract honey this season. Yikes. That will be novel. I am expecting a shipment of two three pound bee packages (with queens) this week. I am going to set up two additional hives. If I’m going to do the work, might as well have enough bees to make it worth the time and trouble.

The horse training is going well – but that deserves a blog of its own. I’n not nearly as bad at it as I expected.

There is a lot going on in our world. Real stuff. Mark has a new job – the kids are into all kinds of things – my writing is humming along – we are building a new house…. but honesly, I haven’t been in the mood to write about anything “real” lately, so I opted for the animal show and tell.  Consider it a placemark just to remind everyone I’m still here. It’s spring – a few months ago I was ready to get rid of every animal I owned. I was sick of the work and trouble of this farm existence. Now, it’s spring . . . Nature can be seductive when it has a mind to.

Training the trainer

My two horses are very dear to me. Both need work.

Peppy is a light gray quarter horse (looks white with a hint of shadow on his butt. His tail is supposed to be white, but it’s become permanently stained from the red Georgia clay). He came to me well trained and wonderfully mannered. He is now pushy and lazy. My fault. I seem to have a problem remembering a 1000 pound horse is NOT a 60 pound dog. You could say I treat the horses like the chickens – I enjoy watching them and puttering with them, but I settle for minimum maintenance, always thinking I’ll do fill in the blank tomorrow.  I tend to love on ‘em and give ‘em treats even when undeserved (sort of like my husband) feeling as if they demand a good chunk of time even without the extra effort. I feed them day in and day out, have them shoed and wormed like clockwork, and groom them  when I’m inspired to do so or they become so dirty I’m embarrassed to call them mine. They go months without being ridden or worked and when I do take them out, I let them have their way too often. They are overfed and underworked, as horses go. So, their attitude is not unlike that slight edge of nastiness and spoiled sense of entitlement that teenagers get when they are being raised by over indulgent parents. Doesn’t mean they are bad kids, only that they have forgotten who the boss is.

Joy is my drop dead beautiful saddle bred pinto. Her striking coloring, muscular body and brilliant blue eyes make people stop in their tracks just to admire her equestrian splendor. I discovered her in a herd on a breeding farm. She’d been there for six years, mingling with other forgotten horses, getting lazy and fat. I happened to be there to look at another horse, but when I saw her I became immediately smitten. No other horse would do. Since Joy’s been with me, she’s lost weight, gained muscle, and turned into the beauty I knew was hidden underneath all that slack muscle lumped on top of an over-grazed figure. I feel she is far happier living here where daily action keeps her alert and a pair of warm hands are quick to rub her nose, than she ever could have been abandoned in a field  – even if the grass was greener and more a-plenty there.   

Her lack of training is due to the simple fact that no one has bothered to teach her manners. She happens to be very people-oriented and sweet beyond measure. She wants to be with humans all the time and has a sincere curiosity about the world. She stands at the fence watching Mark on the tractor digging out the creek, or me planting bulbs or feeding the rabbits, fascinated and friendly. She’s extremely smart, can open the gate herself and has a willingness to please. As such, when she does get a small dose of training, she responds very well. This is the sign of a potentially great horse.

I was promised some intense training when I bought her, but it didn’t materialize (lots of excuses). I was quoted a price that included 60 days of daily training, begining on the ground in the ring, as most good training does. Joy would be neck reigned, would stand still, would be bomb proof, side-step at the gate . . . etc… etc…. What I got was a horse that was simply saddle broke and “ridable”, accomplished in a few sessions of power play with a grumbling cowboy wrestling with her from the saddle wearing spurs.  As such, I paid way too much for her, because training is imperative to establishing a horse’s worth. Untrained horses, even pretty ones, are considered useless, except to a meat factory, and sadly, that is where many of them end up.

I didn’t do enough research to really understand the breed. I did do some reading, but somehow I missed that all saddlebreds are high strung and best suited for advanced riders and/or people seeking energetic show horses. I was looking for a calm, bomb proof trail horse that I could put Neva or other beginning riders on. One of the factors that keep me from riding daily is that I must go alone. I’ve been able to handle whatever horses we’ve owned, but when I spend the entire time worrying about whoever is riding with me losing control from my ill mannered, underworked horses, riding becomes more a stress than carefree joy. As such, most of the riding I’ve done has been day long affairs with friends who have their own horses – that’s fun, but not the ideal I had when I set out to keep two horses.

No matter how much training Joy gets, she’ll never be a calm, easygoing horse. Again – my fault. I knew darn well what I needed, but bought what I wanted instead- I succumbed to an instinctual connection I felt for the animal. Then, I trusted someone I barely knew to train the horse to be something other than what she obviously was. I wanted to believe they would and could turn her into the horse of my dreams. Everyone knows that when it comes to horses, what you see is what you get – and even so, you take your chances, praying the seller hasn’t found a way to camouflage more serious flaws. It was a very foolish and delusional hope to think that this wild beauty was going to magically turn into a well behaved, highly trained horse in a few months. What ya gonna do? I chalk it up to another one of those Hendry learning experiences of which we’ve had so many since moving to the country. Learning to “live simply” has actually been very complex. This transition has been a minefield of hard lessons and expensive mistakes while we struggle to carve a life of self sufficiency and harmony with nature.  The rat race was something we longed to escape, but it was at least chartered territory.

Even if Joy isn’t the perfect horse for anyone and everyone, she is certainly loved. She makes an impressive and challenging mount for me, and she is my horse, after all, so there is no reason tshe has to be user friendly for the masses. I have Peppy for whomever might want to be my riding companion.

Meanwhile, people say, “Put that Pinto in some shows and she’ll blow the competition out of the water – then she’ll be worth 20 times what you paid.” That is all well and good, but it’s sort of like saying, “Take that little child with no dance training yet good flexibility and throw her on Broadway and she’ll be a star…” The point is, the long hard road between here and there is not only grueling and takes time, energy and investment – it also requires teachers who know what they’re doing. In dance, I do. In horses, I don’t.

I can pay someone to train her, but honestly, it becomes so cost prohibitive that it takes the fun out of owning a horse for me. Horses are not my life passion. They’re simply a recreational joy and once the sacrifices demanded of a hobby outweigh the pleasure you get in return, the pleasure ceases to be pleasurable. I can’t stand situations where you find yourself doing a cost analysis to determine if the investment of your recreational dollars is measuring up. I just want to relax and enjoy those things in life that you can’t put a price on – leisure time being one.

I adore my horses. I love how they neigh and come running whenever they see my car. I love how they rub their noses against my jacket and act jealous of each other when I give either one a bit of attention. I especially love watching them come charging across the pasture when I call. Joy looks like a refined racehorse with her head held high, her chiseled body most striking when in motion. With her long legs and powerful build, she is always a good 50 paces in front of the others. Peppy follows behind, determined to catch up because he’s established his authority as leader in this herd even if he is of common stock. He’s my main man, and he knows it. Dumpy donkey trots in the rear as if to say, “Hey guys, wait for me. . .” (He’s wins the prize for cuteness.)

The weather has turned lovely as spring peeks around the corner. Flowers are in bloom, the sun is high, and a cool breeze makes being outside uplifting. I have a terrific barn now, a 50 foot ring for training, and two well bred horses that sincerely want to please me, despite their innocently adapted ill manners. It’s time to dig in and do something with these resources or sell the farm – literally.

Life has taught me that if you want a job done right, you have to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself. So, pondering my dilemma, I got it into my head to train the horses on my own. Only one small flaw in this plan. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I’m an average rider with minimum training, no real horse experience to speak of, and  limited time to invest. Humm…. The odds are stacked against my success. All I have going for me is the fact that I don’t fear animals bigger than me. Of course, this doesn’t deter me in any way. I figure whatever doesn’t kill me is good for building character – and while I might be a big fat failure at the project, I’ll at least learn something in the process. And there’s always the chance I’ll succeed.  Then, I could breed Joy, train her offspring and sell her to some thrilled person like me who lusts for a horse that is both beautiful AND well trained. It would pay for the upkeep of my own horses for a year. I could then enjoy a high end hobby with a balanced budget. How cool would that be?

So, I started purchasing Clinton Anderson horse training DVD’s on e-bay. This man  happens to be a brilliant young cowboy from the outback with a lovely accent and an even lovelier way with horses. He is firm but kind, has a logic to his system and has become world famous due to his well organized training system and the positive results people get when implementing his advice (and he’s famous thanks to some great marketing too, I’m guessing). These tapes aren’t cheap, but they’re much less of an investment than hiring a trainer or enrolling in horse clinics. Best of all, they give me the foundation required for ongoing success. Just as Peppy began a well trained horse and lost it, an understanding of ongoing training practices is important. If the owner doesn’t follow through and reinforce what is learned, horses soon slip back into bad habits – like kids (or husbands). Consistency is key. Logic dictates it’s just as important (maybe MORE important) to train me as it is to train the horse.

I walk on my treadmill about an hour a day, so I’ve taken to watching my new training tapes during this time. I plod along, huffing and puffing, staring at the TV and thinking it all looks rather easy. Of course, I’m sure in real life it won’t be nearly as smooth going. Clinton only needs to stare into a horse’s eyes and they’re ready to roll over for him. Joy and Peppy will no doubt paw the ground, whinny and give me the evil eye once I attempt the same. But at the same time, horse training looks like something I’d be a natural at. Training horses is sort of like a dance. You stand in the center of the ring doing a series of arm gestures and clicking your tongue, flailing a whip at the horse’s hindquarters to make them run a certain direction. Meanwhile, you circle the pen at the horse’s flank putting in some miles yourself – good workout, and since I’ve become a failure at running in Georgia (and I’m now a treadmill sissy) this may be a nice substitute. Every once in a while, at just the right moment, you must trot backward to cut the horse off at the shoulder without breaking eye contact. This forces the animal to turn into you rather than into the fence and change direction – turning their hindquarters to you is an unacceptable sign of disrespect. There is a grace required and a level of coordination on the part of the trainer. I watched a student lesson and the girl looked very clumsy and uncomfortable, getting tangled in her own whip and tiring out quickly. I may have problems, but that won’t be one. When it comes to spatial awareness and moving on my feet, I’m well versed. I even choreographed a dance with a whip once. I happen to have experience lashing and moving with rhythm and style.  How many adults can claim that?

I’ve watched the series on training on the ground twice already and feel confident I’m ready to do the exercises. I then moved on to Riding with Confidence level 1 ( a four DVD set) and feel this is all within my range as well. It is a simple set of riding exercises anyone who is familiar with a horse can do. I have level 2 and 3 of the riding series to study later, after I successfully get the horses through the paces of level one. I have ordered a DVD series for dressage (which is the exercises and training skills needed for showing horses –something Joy was born to do so I might as well see if it’s possible for the two of us), and a few short subject DVD’s – like training horses with lunging techniques, teaching them to tie calmly, etc. Amazing, the resources available to people now a days thanks to computers and DVD’s etc…

I’m sure I’ll be average at best at training horses, but it will be fun to see what I’m capable of. I might even get my son to video me in the ring bossing those horses around to post on the blog one of these days. Showing off might be a good incentive for me to keep at it. Wouldn’t want to lose face as a cow-girl in training with friends who still insist I lost my mind and went of the deep end when I left dance and moved to the hills.

So, today, I plan to begin the horse training process. I’m committing an hour a day to working with them – five days a week. I assume weather and life will get in the way of anything more. It would be better to give each horse an hour each, but who am I kidding? Failure begins when you set up a plan you’re unlikely to follow.  Better to keep a new project within a time frame you can handle, in my opinion. You can always add more time or effort when you’re on a roll, but first set a minimum you positively can handle so you don’t shrug your shoulders and give up too soon because the follow through is “too much”. At least, that’s the theory I’m leaning on. And honestly, finding an extra 5 hours in my week is going to be tough as is.
I have a few hours to myself today before I get swallowed by family and work commitments. The weather is beautiful. I plan to begin by visiting my bees and checking out how they fared the winter. I must set up two more hives so all is ready when my shipment of 6 pounds of bees and two queens arrives at the end of the month. Then, I will spend an hour in the ring cutting away the roots and sticks that are sticking up out of the dirt in my ring. I already did this a few months ago, but the freshly leveled area settled over the winter and it needs a bit more maintenance to make ready for the work to come. I’ll return to the house in about two hours, tired and wanting a nap, but I’ll put in my treadmill time regardless and watch another tape for inspiration. Tomorrow is my birthday, but the next day I’ll begin the actual training with Peppy and hope this whole thing is as simple as it looks.

Ya never know what you are capable of until you try – and having a few well trained horses is only one of the benefits I’ll get from hanging on, one more time, to the belief that anything’s possible

Angoras galore!

Today, my fancy English Angora rabbit, Latte, had a litter. She made a nest in her box out of hay and pulled handfuls of soft angora fur from her body to make ready, so I knew her time was near. In the mornings when I go out to the barn to feed the rabbits, chickens, peacocks, etc… etc… I peer into the box, hoping to see something special. Today I thought I saw the wind rustling the soft angora fuzz a bit, so I stared and stared. Sure enough I saw the straw move, then the fur shifted. There had to be babies in that mass! Ye-haw!

I was certain there weren’t any babies there last night, so these kittens must be only hours old. I figured I better not bother the nest because it was a bit cool so early in the morning and newborn bunnies are fragile. But it was KILLING me not to know how many babies Latte had. I tended the animals, pausing to stare at her nest over and over again. I was rather proud of my restraint until I found my hand reaching into that cage. Shoot me. I couldn’t stand it.

“Forgive me,” I said to Latte as I moved a big clump of angora fur aside to make a head count. Five baby rabbits! Three look as if they’ll be snow white like the father and two may end up a mixture of white and pale tan like Mom. With their eyes sealed shut and no ears as yet, they look like little moles. (Same size too.)

I bred Latte the same night I bred my other female angora, Mocha. That rabbit happens to be a dusty brown with a dark brown mask and extremely striking. I bred her with my grey male hoping this would produce a line of dark colored rabbits. Mocha has also pushed hay into her nesting box but she only pulled a pinch or two of hair from her body. She is either behind schedule biologically, or a nest-making-slacker. There were no babies in that cage. Darn. I went to check her later in the afternoon. Nothing. She was lying there as calm as can be, staring at me as if to say, “What do you want? Go away.” Perhaps she is younger than Latte and so the pregnancy didn’t take. The gestation period for rabbits is pretty reliable. Then again, she may just need a day or two to finish the cycle.  It’s a bit like waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I happened to have watched her get ravished over and over, so I’d be shocked if she wasn’t pregnant. Besides which, she did sort of make a nest so she must be hormonal. I will watch for the next few days to see if another litter surfaces. If not, I could breed her again, but I doubt I will. I really don’t need so many angora bunnies (although pedigreed rabbits such as these sell for 50-75 dollars, so I could sell extras if I ended with more rabbits than I wanted to deal with – after I hired a detective to check out the potential buyers to assure they would provide a Ginny-approved home, of course.) I simply wanted to breed both females as an experiment. I wanted to see what my color combination matchmaking would produce. And I planned to keep the prettiest bunnies for myself and give the others to some friends who have expressed an interest in angoras. I’m selfish when it comes to coveting the prettiest pets.

I adore baby bunnies. In a few weeks they’ll venture out of the nest and hop around the cage like playful, shy kittens. I can’t wait for Neva to get home to let her know we have a fistful of new rabbits for her to name. Christening the new animals is a job she takes very seriously.

Doing the animal thing is fun, but most importantly, it keeps us very connected. It’s always nice to have another excuse to walk down to the barn hand in hand, enthusiastic and happy, to marvel at nature’s most innocent gifts. Some women shop at the mall with their daughters. Neva and I spend our bonding time mucking stalls, grooming animals and discussing the remarkable things we learn together about the animal world. We marvel as we watch the peacock spread his tail, look curiously at the different eggs we collect, debate whether or not the pregnant llama is actually showing, give our opinion about what the donkey is trying to say when he brays at us as we walk down the path, and I say “let’s look at the bees” and she shakes her head and says, “No way.” I guess her love for nature has limits.

Reading this blog, you’d think my life was all about animals, but truthfully, they’re a small part of my world, though I must admit, livestock does become newsworthy this time of year. Tomorrow I’ll be opening my beehive after a long winter. – gotta prove interesting.  I could write about other areas of my life. With three active kids, a husband going in a dozen directions, a fledgling writing career, daily activities like working out, cooking, reading, etc…  a new business in the works, dance refusing to let us go (I don’t talk much the opportunities that continue to present themselves in our old careers) and a load of life passage issues tugging at our hearts and minds, elements of my life are juggled like too many balls circling over a clown’s head. I certainly could find other subjects to reflect upon, but really, baby bunnies seem the most pertinent in the moment. 

Life can be a shady place, but it feels lighter when you focus on the soft, sweet things that touch your days. I am just grateful that despite the drudgery and the stressful elements we grapple with daily, I’m a gal with rabbits forcing me to pause for a moment and smile.

Addendum to this blog: Neva and I just took a walk to the barn and she crawled into the cage to have a look-see. She insists there are at least 6 babies, and possibly 7. One is definitely tan and another is actually black. I saw them too. Just goes to show, you can’t trust first impressions.  

Chick remorse

Internet shopping is dangerous. Especially when your eleven year old daughter is sitting by you, expressing little gasps of delight every time you add a different baby chick to your spring hatchery order. Neva has been pining for a few silkies, so I had to order some of those when I sat down to order the twelve leghorns I wanted as replacement egg layers for those picked off by the dogs. She’s always wanted some frizzles too, so I thought I might as well get a few of those, and don’t ya know, she would be in heaven if we could get some fancy cochins. Oh yea, and I don’t have any green egg layers anymore so I should probably throw in a few araucanas. And what are those cool things? Sultans? Gotta get a few of those… well, you can see how it happens.

Well, before you knew it, I had ordered 68 baby chickens. And I had buyer’s remorse.
68 chicks fit neatly in one reasonably sized box. Chicks are about the size of a power puff, after all, so when they arrive, it doesn’t look like all that big a deal. But unfortunately, they grow. And they grow fast. You can’t put young chickens in with older chickens or the older chickens will bully them to death. I wasn’t thinking about where I would house 68 chickens in training at the time. I was simply thinking that dogs be damned, I’d get enough chickens to assure I’d not run out of eggs again.

5 chicks were crushed during the mailing cycle, as is often the case. They huddle together for warmth and weaker birds often end up underneath the pile. Once you remove the perky, chirping chicks, you find a baby chick pancake on the floor of the box. Sad. Three more of the smaller chicks (silkies) were crushed after they reached me. Again, this isn’t abnormal. I didn’t step on them or drop a dictionary on their head or anything. It’s just that a few tend to meet an untimely end because they are very fragile and they have a habit of piling up for warmth – even when you have them in a cage with an inferred light set to the correct temperature so they don’t need eachother for warmth . The birds crush each other in their fight to sleep as a collective bunch. This sort of thing happens in nature too, even when they are living under their mom, the big red hen.

So, I now have 60 baby chicks peeping away in my office in two cages by my desk. In a week, they’ll be hearty enough to move into the garage. Two weeks later, they will move to the barn. Then, lord knows, I have no clue what I’m going to do with them. I have lots of cages and runs, but until these young’ins are two months old and/or the cold weather is totally over, I can’t put them outside without a heat lamp and I don’t have electricity anywhere near my chicken runs. I wouldn’t even consider asking Mark to whip up a few huge cages, considering his overworked schedule. Besides which, I may need to save that favor for when my baby bunnies arrive.

I’ve been mulling this dilemma over. Now that I’ve used all my winter hay, I’m thinking I can stretch and staple some chicken wire around the polls of my barn under hang where I normally store hay and put a big doghouse or two out there with heat lamps in it – the barn does have electricity. This could serve as a big makeshift pen until these birds are big enough to join the others in another month or two. Then, it will be time to order more hay, I can remove the chicken wire and the area will be free for it’s true purpose yet again. Creative solutions to animal dilemmas are part of the country bumpkin world I’ve so embraced. I happy to say, I’m a natural. It’s a plan, man.

My office is hot, thanks to the two cages set to 95 degrees right beside me. I keep the door closed because my cat keeps looking at the chicks like they are M&M’s and I promised Mark I wouldn’t keep animals in the house if he built me a barn. I’m pushing my luck by breaking the deal – even if it is only for a short, temporary situation.

The way these birds peep incessantly is really cute for about an hour. Then it about as appealing as kids whining “are we there yet” when on a road trip. I’m not about to keep Mark up at night due to chick disturbance. So I’m going to have to suffer a bit to do any writing this week typing with fingers slippery from sweat. Gasp. Gasp. And I must watch my peacock egg carefuly. The warmer room cranked up the temperature in my incubator. Uh oh.

The tulips we planted out front have come up. Every time we’ve gone outside, Kent and I have looked at each other and exchanged a sheepish smile. We’ve been waiting to see if we’re going to get in trouble. Mark is very particular about gardening design, and on the day we planted bulbs, Kent and I were in charge of categorizing the tulips into color piles and putting the correct bulbs in the holes as Mark dug them. But we started fooling around and making jokes and Kent pushed the piles around like the ball under the cup game, and before you knew it, we really were confused and arguing about what color was in what pile. So we guessed.

Sure as shoot, all the tulips that came up on the left side of the porch are pink and red tones, and all the tulips on the right are yellow and white. It’s very out of balance as gardening goes. Dang-it. We got reprimanded or course, and told we are gardening slacker losers to have interfeared with the masterful tulip extravaganza. I suppose we’ll have to dig them up and shift them around after they stop blooming to correct the problem. Nothing we don’t deserve.   I say we should just buy more bulbs and thrust the opposite color into the ground along with what’s there now. Then we’ll just have more tulips of both colors on both sides. It may not be as striking as the color bock system but it’s another plan, man.

I have used up my new self-imposed blog time allottment. New rule. Must go. But I’ll leave you with a thought for the day.

Even the smallerst ideas can take root and change your world – it’s a wonderful time of year to begin new projects and to follow aspirations. The smallest ideas are sometimes the dearest. Nurture them.


Small joys

Yesterday, I found my first home grown peacock egg. I was delighted!

It was one of those days when you swear your entire existence is orchestrated to serve others. I’d spent the first half of the day tending to my mother-in-law and taking her to see the new assisted-living facility that will soon be her home. The afternoon was designated to parenting duties – school pick-up, soccer practice, grocery shopping, cooking dinner. And in between I had this little sliver of time where I had to squish in all my own personal chores. Of course, that meant feeding the animals, because they have needs which are up to me to fulfill too.

After feeding the horses, donkey and llamas, giving the rabbits water and feeding the new chicks holed up in my barn, I checked the nesting boxes for eggs. After a pack of wild dogs spent a week ravaged my flock and killing over a dozen chickens, I decided I had to leave them penned in over the winter to preserve the few fowl I had left. I now have an odd collection of six chickens and five guineas (and two peacocks, of course.) This makes egg collecting a fun game of connecting eggs to their founders. I get small brown, pointy eggs with sandpaper shells from the guineas, one big, fat white jumbo egg from my scrawny, never-miss-a-day leghorn (gee, I miss the others), an oblong white egg that I’m pretty sure comes from Curella, my mop-topped chicken who served as a buddy to the late Early (my first peacock), a big, dark brown egg from my Rhode Island Red, a large, light brown egg from my only surviving cochin and some lovely little brown eggs that have finally started coming from my ugly, obnoxious game chickens (don’t ask me why I bought them – an impulse purchase at the flea market one day. And don’t ya know the dogs can’t catch ’em – they only target the chickens I adore.)

Anyway, yesterday, I collected six mismatched eggs. Reaching into the last nesting box, I wrapped my hand around a fist-sized egg that had extra weight. I smiled, knowing immediately what it was. We are all the sum of our experiences, and while a year ago, I wouldn’t have had a clue of what this egg was (I might guess, but I’d still have doubts, because for the life of me, I have no clue of how that big bird fit into a tiny chicken sized nesting box) I now know without a doubt this is a peacock egg. Right size. Right color. Right weight. Right, right, right! Which goes to show that even when we fail at our goals, we gain something in the process, and someday, somehow, that collective knowledge will serve you. Thanks to my failed attempts to hatch peacock eggs (two batches, mind you), I’m very familiar with them now. I also know just how delicate the peafowl chicks are and how they can’t stand cold until they are over 6 months old and …. well, I’ve had many painful lessons on my way to becoming peacock proficient. But I feel rather peacock savvy now.

The egg is most likely fertilized because my male has his tail opened about 90 percent of the day showcasing his amorous nature, and he is on top of Palate (my girl) about once an hour. That is quite a sight, for your information. A peacock male “does it” with his tail still open. And when he is in the throws of ecstasy, he starts vibrating, and that tail makes this loud swishing sound as it shimmy and shakes. It’s as if an earthquake is beneath him (when really, it is just his smiling girlfriend). I know its impolite to watch a couple in their private moment, but I can’t help but gawk every time I see the two of them going at it without a care of who or what is watching. Their lack of inhibition is admirable and when Prism opens that huge tale, he is a glorious sight . I’m expecting my chickens to start throwing rocks at my rooster any day now.

I figure, since my home grown eggs don’t have to sit around waiting for an e-bay auction to conclude, then be packed up and shipped off, traveling hundreds of miles, braving the x-ray machines and all that jostling, nor are they laid in a pen full of peacock females that may or may not have been visited by the local male, they will have a far better chance at hatching. So I’m going to set up my incubator and put this puppy inside and do the “turn it four times a day” thing. Hopefully, I’ll find a few more peacock eggs this week to increase my chances of success and avoid lonely baby peacock syndrome if they do indeed hatch. If the eggs don’t hatch, nothing is lost and I don’t have to see that look my husband gives me when I throw out the eggs – it’s a look that screams “how much did you say you spent on e-bay for those dead eggs?”. If the hatch is successful, I can nurture another baby peacock or two and gloat about how practical I was by purchasing two peacocks instead of one that fateful day at the flea market. Considering I am forever trying to justify my interests and brainstorming ways to not use family resources to support my fun, this egg is significant.

I’m stuck in my sister-in-laws house for ten hours today, caring for my mother-in-law. I don’t mind being here – but I confess, all the things I’m not getting done are swirling in my head, making me antsy. But knowing I have a peacock egg at home, and perhaps another will be nestled in that hen house when I go feed my flock at dusk, offers a glimmer of the joy life can offer if you consider the tiny gifts hidden throughout even a tedious day. Happiness is often a matter of focus. Little things count. Celebrate them.

Peacock Pick me Up

  “Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern
resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.”
— Leonardo da Vinci

 When some girls feel blue and need a pick me up, they buy themselves a new pair of shoes.  Me?  I’m not the shoe type.
I did, however, find something to buy today to lift my spirits.

    Mark and I went to the flea market with Ronnie and Louise; a couple we’ve become good friends with, who also happen to be true flea market aficionados. Denver’s never been too see the massive flea market hidden some 1 ½ hour from where we live, so we dragged her out of bed at 7am to join us. Neva always tags along so she can do her monthly begging for a miniature goat (and yes, I’m weakening as the memory of our first goat and all the trouble he caused fades). Kent – well, Kent is sixteen, so he won’t get out of bed for anything on a Saturday, ESPECIALLY something as mundane as a flea market.
    It was overcast and cold, so there weren’t many vendors. Even the produce aisles seemed lacking. I didn’t find a single interesting bottle for the three new liquors I have ready to rack (cranberry, kiwi, and lemon – all in anticipation of having some light flavors to spike summer tea with in a few months). There were no interesting books to buy or huge boxes of produce to drag home for wine making, or odd little knick knacks that can be used to make something interesting. It was just one of those off days when you figure it was a wasted trip.

    But it wouldn’t be a day at the flea market without me checking out the livestock area. This, as you can imagine, is the great attraction for Neva and I, and today, perhaps because spring is around the corner, the market was loaded with fowl. There were cages and cages of chickens, fighting roosters (hate that), geese, ducks, and rabbits. All of these are usually bought for eating, I’ll have you know, so Neva and I shop in this area with the same intensity of a person visiting the pound determined to bring home a puppy to save him from death row.
    While I was admiring a bunch of huge, exotic turkeys, Denver nudged me and said, “Um… mom….. check out the bundle hanging on the truck.”

   At first I thought the seller was displaying just a bunch of feathers, but on second glance I realized it was a peacock. His body was trussed up and hanging by a cord, like a broken arm in a sling, except his tail was hanging free and unencumbered. They often transport peacocks this way because, when put a cage, the birds move around nervously,  and that will destroy their tail as it brushes against the bars of the confinement. Peafowl also happen to have huge talons that can hurt you if you try to handle them when they are feeling frantic. so keeping them immobile makes transportation easy. 

    I asked how much she wanted for the trussed up bird, then said, “I’ll take it.”
I told the woman about my misadventures with trying to raise peacocks.
She said, “It’s always hard to get them through the first year, but if you can make it ‘till they’re one, your good to go.”
I told her how heartbroken I was when my four month old peacock, hatched by hand in my incubator, passed on.
She listened politely, and then said, “I have something special in the back of my truck. I was saving them for a fellow who came by here a few hours ago, but he hasn’t come back yet. Now, I’m thinking you seem like the person meant to take home these special birds . . .  that is,  if you want to take a look.”

Well, no harm in looking.

   She showed me two more trussed up peacocks. They were both three years old, which meant they had just reached full maturity – peacocks don’t even start getting their tails until they are two years old and they don’t lay until they’re three. These two happened to be a mating pair, and man, were they beautiful.  The male had a full, iridescent tail filled with gold and the deepest cobalt blue head. The female’s neck feathers were lime – the rest of her, like all female peacocks, is pretty much gray. They were healthy, strikingly beautiful and she was selling them (to the right person) for half what an adult peafowl usually costs.

     I fell in love instantly and fumbled in my handbag for the “emergency cash” I have hidden deep in a secret compartment – you know that 100 dollar bill you tuck away for that day when your car breaks down in a bad section of town and your charge card is declined and it’s a dark and stormy night, but you will be prepared thanks to that bill you tucked away and forgot for just such a purpose.

I scraped together all the cash I had and it was just enough….

Denver and I carried the birds to the car, making up probable excuses for why I had to purchase these peacocks. We figured it was likely Mark would kill me, but hey, some things are worth the risk.

    When we met up with Mark and Ronnie a few minutes later, Mark said, “I thought I’d find you at the livestock area. I was sure you’d be buying birds.”
    “I did,” I mumbled.
     “Uh Oh. What did you buy? Not those awful geese – I told you I hate geese. They’re mean.”
      “Now, would I buy birds knowing you don’t want them around our home?” I said, blinking innocently.
      “Crap, don’t tell me you bought one of those dumb turkeys.”
     “Of course not. I was fascinated by them, mind you, but I know you’d make me eat them eventually, so I just admired them from afar.”
     “Well, you have 60 baby chickens on order, so I know you aren’t purchasing chickens. What did you buy?”
      I confessed. Not like he wasn’t going to find out soon enough.
      Mark rolled his eyes, groaned and said, “This is the LAST TIME. If this doesn’t work, you have to give it up. Raising peacocks is just too expensive because they don’t make it.”
      I explained that because these peacocks are mature adults, they would be hearty and we could count on them surviving (other than if they get eaten by a bear or something). Furthermore, I got a great deal on them. But I promised that if they didn’t survive, I would forget the entire peacock ordeal. Heck, I don’t want to live with the guilt and disappointment of running a peacock graveyard.
     “As long as we’re agreed,” he said, mumbling about how he was going to buy himself a load of wood if we were just going to indulge ourselves without spousal permission nowadays.
   I guess it is only fair that if this peacock adventure doesn’t work, I give up on the idea of gracing my barnyard with delicate, exotic birds. But honestly, I can’t imagine my ever giving up now that I’ve got my mind set on peafowl, and I’m sure Mark is thinking the same thing. I happen to be someone who rarely throws in the towel. Each time you fail, you learn something from the experience, and that brings you closer to accomplishing your heart’s content. Makes quitting anything rather impossible, because in your heart and head you can’t help but think, “If I can just get one more chance, I’ll get it right.”
    We drove home with the peacocks sitting in Neva and Denver’s laps – it was a great ordeal to position them to keep the tail intact. Denver said, “Life is so interesting now. This is the closest I’ve ever been to a peacock. I mean, you see them at Bush Gardens and places like that, but how often do you have one sitting on your lap so you can stroke the feathers and look into their eyes. It’s weird, but cool.”
     I was delighted not only that my kids are exposed to novel experiences, but that they notice and appreciate the opportunities that come from trying new things.

     For those of you who don’t know… peacocks stink. I don’t mean they have that sour, odd smell of chickens cooped in a cage for a bit, or a litter box or something. I mean Peafowl smell so badly that when you’re in the car with them, everyone starts gagging and coughing and their eyes tear up. Obviously, the fact that they were confined inside tight packages with their waste for hours on end didn’t help. Of course, it didn’t bother me because I have no sense of smell. I just sat there smiling at the little fellows, marveling at their beauty and their gentle, graceful mannerisms and planning what I’ll do with the tail feathers as they shed.
    All the way home, I listened to the family members with working noses complaining about the hardships of peacock transport. Mark drove with a hat pulled over his brow and his shirt pulled up over his nose. All the windows had to remain open, despite the freezing cold. Nothing like a little dramatic interpretation to gain sympathy for all the hardships loved ones endure when humoring you.
    Meanwhile, we tossed names out for discussion, considering everything from the names of the characters in my books, to re-issuing past peacock names to honor those  that didn’t survive. We ended up giving these two original names. We are calling the male Prism, partially because of his colors, but also because it was the name of a dance Mark once choreographed that we have very fond memories of, and the female will be called Jewel. 

Can’t wait for my first peacock eggs. Shall I eat them, hatch them, or sell them on e-bay for some crazy schmuck like me who can’t resist a challenge? Heck, if this mating pair lays well, I can do all of the above.

At home, we released the new members of the Hendry flock into my big chicken run. They will have to stay confined for two months until they learn this is home, and then they will have the run of my barn and pastures. They seemed grateful to finally escape their straight jackets, and they just mosied around the perimitor of the run curious to figure out where they were. The chickens and guineas, while a bit leery, didn’t seem all that bothered to share their digs with two oversized birds.

Knowing peacocks like to perch high, I dragged some big, fallen tree limbs into the run and wired them to the posts in the ceiling. The peacocks ignored these new roosts, but my guineas were delighted. (Just two days ago, I spent an hour with leather cleaner working on the coat I wear around the barn. Don’t ya know, it is now covered with mud again. Why do I bother?) As the sun went down, I visited the barn to feed the horses and to check on my new birds. All the other fowl was tucked in bed in the chicken house. The peacocks were still roaming. I guess they won’t be visiting the chicken house for awhile even though they will fit thorugh the door. I’m sure curious about where they’ll sleep this first night. I’ll sneak out there at sunrise to spy.  
    The way I look at it, if at first you don’t succeed, approach your goals from a new angle. I tried hatching peacock eggs. Tried raising peacock babies. Now, I’ve been lucky enough to stumble upon the opportunity to bring home less fragile, mature birds. With all I’ve learned and all I’ve experienced, I think I’ve finally figured out how to have coveted peacock buddies to keep me company and to inspire reflection.      

    Wish me luck.   

Peacocks again!

One of the fellows working on our land to remove pine trees gave me newspaper published by the Georgia Extension Service. He said, “You like to read all the time and you are so enthusiastic about your barn and garden, I thought you’d enjoy this . . . then again, you probably already subscribe.” 

Actually, it was a resource I’d yet to stumble upon, so I appreciated his passing it on. Sure enough, I was enthralled. The paper (The Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin) features a few short articles about Georgia farm interests, but mostly it is full of classified ads for farm equipment, seed and feed, livestock and animal auctions. It tells you what the market rate is for beef, honey and other farm products.  There is a category for each of your basic farm animals, poultry, cows, horses and goats. Then, there is a section called “alternative livestock.” Now that sounds interesting.

This section contains ads for llamas and alpacas. It also features some really fun ads.

I said, “Hey Honey, someone is selling an Ostrich. What do you suppose your basic country ostrich goes for?”

“No.” Mark said.    

“I didn’t say I wanted one, only wondered if you could guess what they cost. It’s only $450.00! That’s a bargain, don’t ya think? ”


“No, you don’t think it’s a bargain?”

“No. You can’t have one. You couldn’t PAY ME $450 for an Ostrich. They are mean. ”

“I didn’t ask if I could get one, did I? Hey! Someone in here is selling a pair of emus. Isn’t that interesting? (I knew better than to push for an Ostrich, but it couldn’t hurt to test the waters for an emu. I don’t even know what an emu is exactly, but I think I would love to have one. It’s sort of like an Ostrich, right?)

“No emus.”

Clearly, I married a man who doesn’t share the same adventurous poultry spirit as I. Harrumph. I read on. “Hey, someone is selling baby peacocks . . . and the address of this farm is right by us.”

Now, Mark looks up. He knows when his wife talks peacocks, she isn’t hinting around or making a joke. “I thought we were waiting until spring to do the peacock thing again.”

“We are. Still . . . I wonder what color these are and how old a “baby” peacock is, by this seller’s estimation. Probably the same age as Early would be, don’t ya think?”

“Uh oh.”

Sure enough, I call. Turns out the seller lives only a short drive from our house and he is selling peacocks that are three and six months old. His current batch consists of traditional blue peacocks. Too bad. I still miss the late Early, and I’d love a white peacock to name in his honor. But blue peacocks are pretty too.  Before I know what I’m doing, I schedule an appointment for a look-see. I ask Mark if he wants to join me and of course he says yes. He thinks his presence is going to curb any impulse buying.

We drive up to a beautiful rolling meadow surrounded by forest and talk about how our land will someday look like this – it takes time to groom the wild frontier and our homestead is a work in progress. Right now, patches of our land look like a tornado ripped through. We have lots of clean up to do from the recent pine tree removal. Sigh.

We head to the barn where we spy the bright blue feathers of a peacock peeping through the slats of a fence. When we get out of the car, Mark pauses. There is a tiny peacock feather at his feet. He stoops to pick it up. “I can use feathers like this in my baskets,” he says, delighted with his newfound, free treasure.

It occurs to me stray feathers are a good selling point, so I stock that one away for later use. I begin wondering what an emu feather looks like. I bet they would be great in a basket.

Our approach startles the birds in the barn, and suddenly about three dozen adult peacocks come fluttering outside. They mosey off into the woods, natural and easy. They are a colorful flock, vibrant blue, white and cameo. The sheer number of them and the way they walk about freely, is striking. In the fenced area we see the six month old birds and a cage full of babies. I am immediately reminded of Early, which makes me partial to the young ones. Gee, I miss that bird.

A smiling older woman greets us. We ask how she got involved in peacocks and she tells us that her son got them started. If it was up to here, she’d sell them all because she is tired of maintaining them. She especially hates having to attend to the birds in the winter when their water freezes and such. Apparently, her son’s hobby just grew and grew and she got stuck with the daily care. Stinks, if you ask me. The least I could do is relieve her of some bird maintainence, don’t ya think?

We inspect the bird’s nesting area, which is pretty simple, just a few boxes on stilts with an overhang to keep them dry. She tells us the peacocks all leave the barn to roost in the trees at night. They pretty much take care of themselves. She only contains the females during nesting periods because if she doesn’t, they lay eggs all over the field. Other than when brooding, the birds roam free.

I end up purchasing three baby blue peacocks and tell the woman I’ll be back in the spring for a white bird or two, if she has any. She assures us she will. I really only want two adult peacocks, a breeding pair, but I’ve experienced the lonely peacock syndrome and think it is wise to have a spare in case something happens to one. It also increases my chances of getting at least one male and/or one female.

On our way out, we stop to admire some very colorful, ring-neck pheasants. “Do you sell those as well?” I ask, thinking they sure are pretty.

“I just want to get rid of them. I’ll let the four go (two males and two females) for 50.00 for the lot. We have too many birds, as you can see.”

“We’ll take ‘em” Mark says, before I open my mouth.

Ha, and he was supposed to be here to curb female impulse buying. I told the woman we’d pick up the pheasants in a day or two. I suppose we will let them hang out for a few months in hopes that they will breed in the spring. Then, we will set them free in hopes that they will populate our 50 acres with fun flying creatures to spy on.   

In the meantime, I am once again a proud peacock owner. My new babies are silent, tentative in their new digs nestled in the hay in a cage in the barn. Because they are young, they will imprint on us and consider this place home. I am planning to take special care of them so that by spring, I’ll have beautiful, mature peacocks roaming free.  

Right now, they look like ugly ducklings. They are brown with only a hint of green on the tiny tip of one bird’s neck. I understand some things take patience. It is always a pleasure to watch the colors slowly emerge as a bird comes into his or her own. We won’t know for another four months if they are boys or girls, but that is always a nice surprise too, and knowing there is a peacock breeder a short drive from here means that if I end up with three like sexed birds, I can make up for whatever I’m missing later.

Now, it is time to name them. I’ve decided to name this batch of birds after authors I admire. So, I’m naming them Emerson (I’ve been reading a great deal of Emerson lately – his essay on nature is brilliant) Quinn, (for Daniel Quinn of My Ishmael – favorite all time book)  and Mich (short for James Michener). Future peacocks will be names after Alice Munro and Tobias Wolff and … well, it isn’t like I’ll ever run out of names in this category. There will never be enough birds to exhaust my list of favorite authors.

When I get a particularly annoying bird that I must struggle to understand, I’ll name him Faulkner. In fact, if I ever get an Ostrich, that will be his name.

Anyway, here they are: Quinn, Em, and Mich. Ya gotta admit, they’re cute. An ostrich would have been cute too, but some things are best left as distant curiosities. At least for now. Still, it is fun to imagine. . . and there is always the possibility of an emu someday – IF the feathers look good in a basket. 

My Joys

I thought I’d give you one more peek at the progress of my barn and my new heart throb horse.

It is a really good barn. The boys make fun of me because I am decorating it with horse paraphernalia. They say,” What’cha doing? Trying to make this a “girly barn?”  
I’m a girl. Do the math. 

I think they just don’t know what to make of someone who hangs a flowering plant on a horse hook on a building that they consider designed to be primarily functional. But on the sly, Ronnie confessed that he thought it was a fantastic barn and if it was his, he’d spend all his time down there. “It’s real nice,” he said in his southern drawl. I agree. If you want to know where to find me . . .

It will be interesting to see what they think next week when my 6 foot black cutouts of rearing stallions come. I ordered them from a fellow who makes them at the flea market, and I plan to attach them up on the sides of the front near the peak. Yea, this is gonna be a designer barn when I’m through! I even bought little 9″ wooden cutouts of horses that I am spray painting, then I’ll paint the names of my horses on them as name-plates for the stalls.

As I ordered the cutouts, Mark grinned and says, “You are corny, but hey, it’s your barn. Have a ball.”

What can I say, this is the “recital” of barns. Might as well make a show of it.

For now,  have a nice little iron bench on the porch, at least until Mark makes me something rustic and more suiting (and comfortable). I bought a horseshoe welcome sign made of rusty iron at the flea market, and in the tack and feed room I have little signs Neva gave me for Christmas that feature horse quotes. I even bought a stop sign that says “Whoa” instead of “stop” for the area where you ride the horses in. I’ll hang it this afternoon. Ha. I am having fun.

The door still isn’t hung, but it will be done when the second rail comes it (somehow it didn’t come with the order) I have hay rolls in the hay storage already. Yippee! There is even a wheel at the peek of the roof that we will thread a rope through to hoist things up to the upstairs for those occations when I don’t’ want to walk up the stairs with stuff. Very traditional. They are putting in the electric in a week or so, and then we will add light fixtures and a water pump – and a fridge! Upstairs, I’ve put all my beekeeping supplies, bird cages and even a table and chairs for what have you.  If any of you ever rob a bank and need a hideout, this will have all the creature comforts of home. Just wipe your feet first….

Details, details….. I am hoping to train the animals to come running when they hear the dinner bell. Easier than me calling. If Pavlov can do it, it can’t be that hard, right?
Everyone is happier now with this barn. Not just me, but he animals too. 
This, by the way, is why you should never buy a white horse. Ahem…… I should have named him pigpen, he spends more time upside down than rightside up…. He was rolling with pleasure after a nice dinner in his new stall.  

She is so pretty, I can’t help but show her off…. She may be pregnant, but so far, she still has a fine figure.

Yes, EVERYONE loves my new barn…

Tomorrow and I am going to Sarasota to teach dance for Cory. I am actually dragging myself away from my barn to prepare today. I will write about that that division of life later .
Sometimes it feels like I am many different people all rolled into one. Time to wear a different hat for a while – hope it still fits.