Category Archives: swan

Hoping for the Best

It seems that I may have been fabricating a friendship between Lunar and Spirit when in actuality Spirit is pretty mean to Lunar. Since I hadn’t witnessed it firsthand, I was naively attributing kinship when I’d watch them walking around the corral together. But because of his food aggression issues, he lashes out at her.

I finally witnessed his attitude on Monday after Deb put him inside the back corral to separate the two horses. She wanted them apart earlier than usual to avoid conflict. Apparently, he’s getting worse. At this point, they were separated by the thick wood that divides the front area where Athena stays at night and the back of the barn. There is a door in the low wall that allows people and animals to pass through. Unfortunately though, horses have long necks that can reach far over this wall. As I went about my preparations, Spirit became more anxious about getting food. Whenever Lunar got too close, he’d lunge at her and bite her, sometime successful, sometimes not. My experience with correcting animals comes from doing it to dogs, using the guttural growl to dominate them. I’m not sure what the proper correction is for a horse, but this strategy worked on him.

I put him in his pen with no problem and fed him first. Then I made a mistake. Instead of bringing Lunar around the barn, I just opened the door in the low wall to let her through. From that entrance, I can access each of the pens through side doors. Putting Lunar in her pen is an easy task unless an angry horse thinks his food – that’s behind a thick barrier – needs protecting. Spirit started kicking at her through his walls and tried to bite her, neighing loudly. Lunar panicked and began to fling herself around. The space, though bigger than either of their pens, is still awkwardly small when an animal as large is in a frenzy. She was facing away from me, i.e. easier to kick me with if so inclined. Getting past my nerves, I calmly turned her around while Spirit continued to act out and successfully got Lunar into her pen.

I feel terrible that someone in Spirit’s past turned him like this, and that even though his new(ish) surroundings are idyllic, he can’t let this angst go. Someone used food as a way to control him or punish him (possibly withholding it in response to behavior or simply not feeding him with regularity or some other messed up reason) and his brain is forever connected to that insecurity. As long as there is food in his life, which obviously is going to be forever, he’s going to respond with difficulty. And I also feel sorry for Lunar. After being with a moody but calm blind horse, I can only imagine the feelings of confusion that Spirit stirs in her.

Here are some cheery pics from the day.

May I introduce the Welcome Wagon from the big barn that often greets me?

Claudius AND a rabbit buddy! I get really excited when I see a rabbit. This one’s even got a carrot!

In the Cat House…

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Filed under behavior, bunnies, cats, horses, lunar, photography, spirit, swan, winslow farm

Spring is in the air, just ask the peacock!

During my first, brief, visit to Winslow, I noticed a number of large birds scattered among the varied farm animals. Seeing an emu next to a pony was a delight and I’ve devoted some words to these unique characters. I also met the swan, Claudius (a new name added to the register!) that day. It was the first time I’d been so close to one.

Missing from my description was the peacock I saw off in the distance. I had come to think that I might have made him up when I never saw him again. Then on Monday, there he was strutting around, his beautiful plume billowing out behind him. It turns out that he lives by the donkeys who are out past the bigger barn and I’ve yet to have even made it to their house. Because the weather was perking up, the peacock was out for a stroll and he pecked around my corral for a while.

My only experience with peacocks was when an angry mob of them chased me at a chateau in France when I was twelve. I don’t know what I did to them, but boy did I piss them off! My french was still in its first months of learning and I was at the point where I’d walk into a store and ask for something timidly, only to receive a snotty reply in English back. So I must have been saying something to the peacocks like “I hate you! Don’t be my friend! Please bite me!” And they did their damnedest trying. So, I’ve had kind of a bias against them ever since. I was quite surprised, and excited, when Deb told me how sociable this guy is (and that most are, for that matter). Maybe I’ve got peacock petting in my future!

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Filed under peacocks, photography, swan, winslow farm

It keeps getting better!

Being away from the farm for a week was treacherous, so my excitement had doubled – impossible, I know! – by the time I got there on Monday. I visited some bunnies and the swan and made my way to the corral. Waterford was hanging out so I waited around for Deb and watched as he chowed down on a tree stump. He was excited to see me and between bites we had a great chat with lots of snorts and head scratches.

Niko spotted me from the barn and made her way across the snow. Eager for hugs, she hopped onto my shoulder perch and purred like a crazy person. Pandy appeared out of nowhere, running and wagging her tail. We played a great game of pine cone. One of the roosters even walked right up to me and hung out!

But after my time spent caring for a sick Lunar two weeks ago, I’d have to say that the most exciting part was when she spotted me from the barn and came over and planted her head over the fence. She nuzzled against me and stayed close by. I took the opportunity to hug her as often as possible. We’ve definitely bonded and it feels pretty amazing.

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Here are the best shots from the afternoon. One of these days, I’m going to get there early with the Nikon, which will spare us all from the slightly fuzzy shots that my Cybershot produces when I don’t use a flash.  Animals + Flash = Not so much. Also if you’d like to see a picture enlarged, just click on it (and then click back, it doesn’t open a new window).

And we’re back…

Niko’s face! See how she squints? She’s undergone multiple eye surgeries and continues to be a super, super friendly cat. She’s the cutest!!

By the time I pulled out my camera, Lunar had scared off Waterford. Which struck me as odd since he is super crazy – in the way I like best, of course, but still, I figured he’d nod at her and keep going. Nope. So instead, I took a shot of the poor tree stump that he went to town on. The trail of red pulp goes far and wide outside the borders of this picture and he certainly was the happiest piggy ever while annihilating the wood.

This is the now-friendly rooster with whom every encounter thus far has consisted of me waving and saying hello and him completely ignoring me. Unless I walked by him on a path. In those cases, he’d jet the other way.

The friendship grows. They’re still learning about each other and that always has its ups and downs, but they seem fond of each other; a great start.

Look at her beautiful smile!!! Still no progress with petting Lovely Athena, but I’ll never give up.

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I’ve mentioned my fascination with the alpacas before and it continues to grow. While getting the barn prepared for dinner, I looked out the door and all three beauties were silently standing there, peering around. Just as quietly, they walked off. They are such gentle hushed animals. Aside from hearing their hooves while leaping about, I’ve heard very little from them. And when they do softly utter a call, it is a surreal alien cry. My mouth actually gaped open when I overheard one of them talking to a sibling. They’re like cartoon characters! Fluffy bodies with HUGE eyes, great, great ears, and spectacular sound effects.  I cannot get enough of them!!!

I left everyone in the barn contentedly munching away and headed over to visit the sweet herd in their corral. This was the first time I’d entered the gate. A brand new barn was built in honor of their arrival and it’s really nice inside: sawdust on the floor, mangers to the side and it smells awesome! Fresh wood scent is always a treat. They have room to play inside the fence and their house looks out on the pond behind the farm. It’s beyond idyllic.

They were huddled outside, eying me, but not in a panicked way and I did not attempt to pet them. Like many of the residents at Winslow, these three had a traumatic past and I want them to be comfortable with me before I try to make contact. It’s something I do with every animal I meet and time lines on this vary.  After spending some time with them, I don’t doubt that they like me as their body language was friendly. Not fleeing was also a good sign, and they had the room to do so. I attempted a few steps closer and they moved a few steps away. So they’re not ready. It’s this same instinct – not to rush up, not to speak loudly, not to reach out, not to repeat attempts in the same visit – that guides me with Athena. If she didn’t trust me at all, she’d never enter the barn or sniff my hand with her nose touching me. But she also senses when I’m reaching out to pet her and moves away from my hand. I will gently continue trying each week and wait for her to respond. The same goes for any timid animal. In their own time, perhaps the alpacas will come around like Delilah did. Or perhaps I will just love them from afar. Either way works for me.

I hope you enjoy their precious faces as much as I do.

Look at those eyes! And those EARS! Even the sawdust look is complementary.

I absolutely think alpacas are one of the coolest breeds of anything I’ve ever seen, including all the amazing species found on nature shows and up close during my personal adventures.

Group shot! Smiling for the camera!

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Filed under alpacas, athena, behavior, cats, dogs, horses, lunar, niko, photography, piggies, roosters, sheep, spirit, swan, waterford, winslow farm

What birds? All I see are pine cones! PINE CONES!

Deb asked me to give Pandy a bit of exercise on Monday as she’d been cooped up in the house all day. Pandy is the one who’s smart enough to use pine cones as throw toys. I’m still impressed that she’s able to find the same one over and over again with all the others scattered about but I know, I know, dogs have an incredible sense of smell. Semantics.

It continues to amaze me that different species coexist so well at the farm. My cats, who have been domesticated since their start, get into fights every once in a while and I’ve seen what happens to mice when they make the mistake of entering our house. There are cats all over the farm, many of whom are feral, and yet I watch them saunter by a group of geese with barely a glance, let alone a hungry one. While Pandy and I played fetch, no less than three different kinds of birds (a lone goose, possibly a duck now that I think about it, the cranky swan and numerous roosters and hens) were all nearby. Plus, one of the many cats was hanging about demanding pets from me. No hackles were raised between the beautiful orange tabby and Pandy. And even though Pandy barreled past the birds a bunch of times in pursuit of the pine cone, never did any of the birds fly or run off. Pandy was completely oblivious to them. If anything, they were just in her way. And when she went clipping by, all they did was give her looks and continue about their business. Entertainment on all sorts of levels!

Here is lovely Pandy waiting for the pinecone:
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Little Miss Gentle retrieving the pine cone:
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It was hard to take pictures and throw the pine cone at the same time so this is the best shot I got showing the bird/dog perspective. But Pandy was much closer to all of the birds at different points.
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This picture was my favorite shot of the day. So ominous! And yet, no threat here. I love it!
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And just because this was so weird and funny, here’s a brief video of the swan walking back to his house. (And that’s happy little Cubbie coming to check out the scene. He’s super cute!)

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Filed under cats, dogs, ducks, pandy, photography, swan, videos, winslow farm

Nonsensically, With Purpose

Last week, I went to the farm amidst a snowy sort of wonderland. Every time I get out of my car there, a calm washes over me. There are so many different species of creatures who live there and each animal has a different personality. I think that some would argue that the 5 white sheep who look exactly the same are basically that but I see their little idiosyncrasies. There are cranky ones like the loudly honking geese who rush at you until you (I) say something like “HI GEESE!!!” and then they veer off in the other direction honking “just kidding!” the whole way back. I love those geese. There are animals who can’t wait to greet me like Lunar and Napoleon; ones who are a bit apprehensive (I’m thinking mostly of the beautiful swan that you’ll see a picture of a bit later. He likes to shake his tail feathers if I get to close but I get closer each time!) and others that nod from afar (many of the sheep are like this until you have food in your hand. And then, watch out!). When I walk around greeting the happy folks at the farm, my excitement builds until it’s spilling over. It’s an interesting (and very real) challenge for me to contain my enthusiasm when I’m around the more apprehensive, standoffish or shy ones. My frenzied energy bubbles out of my mouth, my pitch climbs higher up the scale (an almost impossible feat), my volume gets louder and I start to flail around a bit. It’s hard to stop myself when all I want to do is give them giant hugs and squeal on the top of my lungs. Learning to control this is an important lesson that I am currently mastering.

The subject of how one talks to animals reminds me of a lesson I learned many years ago. Back in another life, I became certified as a preschool teacher. Because my bachelor’s degree was not in early education, I needed to take a few classes directly relating to the subject and although I don’t remember much of those hours, one concept has stood out over time. The word “motherese”, according to dictionary.com, means “the simplified and repetitive type of speech, with exaggerated intonation and rhythm, often used by adults when speaking to babies”. Essentially, it’s when you see an infant, your pitch goes up and you talk like a baby. According to the psychology behind it, it’s an instinctual reaction that mothers have to their babies. Among other benefits, it actually helps the baby learn language because the baby pays attention to the tone and therefore starts picking up words. It should be no stretch of the imagination then that animals respond to this voice. In fact, many animals nurture their young in a similar way. Cats are a one example of animals who use motherese n their young. And just to throw something weird out there to mull over, one of my cats, Tabitha, has become more vocal over the years and it’s in response to the way that I talk to her. When she “talks” back to me, she often matches my pitch and intensity like she’s mimicking my words. This was not something that she did as a kitten or a young cat.

So, while many people might come out with this voice sporadically, it’s probably pretty obvious that I have a tough time speaking in a normal voice when I see any animal, be it a mouse or an elephant. I can often be found loudly sing-songing to a random dog on the street while its owner looks on in disbelief. Don’t worry, it never stops me. And I say all sorts of weird things to animals that often make no sense. What fascinates me is how they gravitate toward my voice. If it’s a boisterous animal who has few inhibitions, this is no surprise. What excites me is when someone like Athena, the beautiful sheep I’ve been talking about, goes from a ready-to-bolt position to cocking her head and staying close by. In the past couple of weeks, she’s gone from skirting away from me to allowing me to put a food bowl down without running away to sniffing my hand multiple times. And the entire time I’m around her, I’m essentially chirping words of encouragement and letting whatever comes out flow free. like to think I’m comforting her and her behavior toward me seems to prove it. She stays close by and eats her food without looking scared. If I walk around to do my chores and cross her path, she’ll spook but as I continue to talk to her, she returns quickly to her activity. My hope is that our relationship will progress to the point that she will allow me to pet her but if that goal is never reached, I still know that we’re friends and I am happy with that.

Here are some photos that I love (I wasn’t using a flash so there are a couple of fuzzy spots):
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The swan shaking his tail feathers.

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Hanging out!

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I wish I had these prints in my back yard!

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Lunar on the left and Moonie on the right

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Beautiful, beautiful Athena

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Squee! Napoleon!!

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The Cat House (notice the goat?!)

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This is Lunar stealing hay that she discovered. Later she snuck into the pen when I left the door open. :)

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WATERFORD!!!

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Gulliver, in possibly the greatest photo ever!

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Moonie, all bundled up, eating from his special bucket. I lead his face to it and resist overwhelming him with hugs (especially at dinner time!).

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What the barn looks like at night without flash. So wonderful.

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Not sure it gets happier than this!

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Filed under behavior, dogs, ducks, geese, goats, horses, photography, piggies, sheep, swan, winslow farm