Monday, August 23, 2010

Tater the Terrible

Tater has ramped up his trouble-making. I used to compare him to a teenager. I would like to revise this to a two-year-old. You know, the two-year-old that likes to open every kitchen cabinet he can find and pull all the pots out. How about the cabinets that have the cleaning supplies?

Today he figured out how to open a door into the barn that uses an old style latch with a weight. How did he figure this out? At first, per usual, I thought I must have left the door unlatched after feeding. The donkey is quite adept at taking advantage of this particular door. It must have been the donkey. I latched the door purposefully the next evening. And, the animals were in the barn again in the morning.

Our guests find this behavior particularly funny and endearing. Tater will usually be back in the loafing shed when we turn up for morning rounds. Moralecia will be looking for a way out and the donkey will be skittering along the wood floors of the barn attempting to push past me to the door.

I'm a little smarter with the horses these days when it comes to reducing opportunities for chaos. I only drop a bale of hay at a time, so the most the animals can redistribute is this and maybe some loose straw. The trash can is always up-ended and horse blankets, stools, and brush buckets strewn about, but the biggest clean-up is the horse poop. Gives everyone a reason to try their hand at the push broom. For now I have rigged a chain through the door so the horse can't get in. Of course, we can't get out either.

Tater the Terrible was not to be outdone. He took on the feed stall next, a door that had never been tested as Tater-proof, but why? It was locked with a wire twist. We were lucky at first because the grain was low in the bins. I would retwist the wire. The horse would hoist himself up a three foot step, knocking over stored jump rails and standards, and plop (and I do mean plop) himself in the middle to the grain bins. By the time I finally came up with a solution to this behavior, he had flattened several metal trash can lids and eaten every ounce of food not run off by the rats and the mice.

Because my brain is only slightly larger than his, it took me several attempts to find a hook big enough and inflexible enough that Tater finally gave up his drive to drive me nuts. It's hard to be mad at a horse with such intent and big, brown eyes. I'm just glad neither he nor the other equines ate so much they colicked. There was that one morning when they all bee-lined for the water because they ate their fill of salt. I can't even conceive what will be next; however, my two year old grandson might have an idea.

Photo: Tater not looking so terrible here. Bored, maybe. "Get that lady to let go of me!"

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones

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Friday, August 06, 2010

Chicken Prison

They say chickens have a brain the size of a pea. So then why do they look so guilty when I catch them on the outside of the chicken yard. Could it be because they have dug up the new cucumber plants for the third time which means we won't be growing any cucumbers this summer?

I like free-range chickens, really I do. They eat slugs and all sorts of bugs. They fertilize as they move through the bushes and flower beds. It's just that small, new growth doesn't have a chance with the scratch, scratch, scratch of those busy feet. It's amazing what devastation one to two loose chickens can cause in a short amount of time.

Mound saw dust around the base of the blueberry bushes and a loose chicken can spread it across the grass before you even know the bird is out of the coop. Pile up leaves as mulch for the Cascade berries to keep down the grass and weeds and it ends up pushed around in clumps with bare spots of earth showing through.

Leave the door to the greenhouse open so the temperatures won't climb to 120 degrees and this is an open invitation for the birds to scratch in any disturbed area for worms. We plant our tomatoes, chiles, cucumbers, dill, basil, and eggplant straight into the ground, providing plenty of disturbed dirt for a good scratch, scratch, scratch.

What made farmer Jones the maddest this summer, however, was the ruthless pursuit of his baby potted veggies on top of the planting table. Nurtured from seed, it's a hard thing to see dirt dug from the middle of carefully tended six-packs and wilted plants dying on the table, roots bare and dry. So, he thought he would try to hide his plant starts in the garden, with its 8 foot fence and lush growth from cool weather plants like lettuce, peas, and broccoli.

Too bad the garden actually shares 100 feet of fence with the chicken yard because somehow Boston, our hand-raised white chicken, and two smaller Red Caps figured out how to squeeze through the woven wire despite my attempts to cover more and more of the fencing with a double layer of chicken wire.

In the end, the questions is this. Why did it take until the last cucumber shoots were scratched out, along with many of the new flowers, to consider chicken jail for the worst offenders? While we offer our chickens a Hilton Resort in terms of their yard space, we also have smaller containment areas usually reserved for introducing chicks and new animals to the flock. It wasn't that hard a leap to make, but it took threats ranging from shooting to eating to provide the ultimate incentive.

The morning after, there was peace in the yard, peace in the garden, and three chickens staring at the door every time it opened for water and food. Do I feel badly? Absolutely not. Well, for the chickens anyway. As for the farmers, they just need to be smarter than a neural tube and not nearly so soft hearted when it comes to their feathered friends.

Photos: (top) Peeps, (middle) Boston scratching in a window box, (bottom) free-range chickens in early spring before they can do a lot of damage to the flower beds

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2010 Scottie Jones

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