Category Archives: behavior

And in this corner…

Soon after I arrived on Monday, I saw the pheasant chase a tractor. I was not fast enough with the camera to catch the hilarious sight, but picture if you will a giant green tractor ambling along with a small bird in hot pursuit. I also noticed that his tail feathers were about half their usual length and was told that a child had tried to pick him up and stepped on them in the process. I can see why he might be angry.

I also can see why the term “attack bird” applies to him…So, I was helping out with Waterford’s feeding. The hose that’s used for him threads from his pen into the barn where it’s attached to the pump. I turned it on and rounded the corner to find that the boy who was feeding him was retreating with a large stick in his hands. “What’s with the stick?” “The pheasant is attacking me!” Well, maybe he just doesn’t like him. This would never happen to me!

I caught up with the pheasant and he walked along with me, buddies as usual. (See?) It wasn’t until I stepped up on a log for better access to Waterford’s buckets that I saw a flash in my peripheral vision, a flurry of wings. The pheasant had switched his attitude from peaceful helper to “I HATE YOU SO MUCH” in one fell swoop. All of the sudden, he was launching his little body off the ground and biting me wherever his pointy little beak could make contact. My foot and ankle were bombarded with angry birdie kisses.  I moved my foot around to shoo him away, obviously not wanting to kick him in the face, but this just fueled his frenzied attack. With the hose still in my hand, I made a quick decision and turned it on him, sloshing the water over him. This helped a bit but he was pretty determined. So I turned the spout into a spray nozzle with my finger and sprayed the living daylights out of him. He kept trying to rush me and then would stop in a giant bird puddle, start again, stop again. Defeated, he gave up trying to maim me and spent the next couple of minutes crouching comically and then shaking his feathers maniacally and THEN wiping his face off in the dirt (by far, my favorite part).

Later when I was working in the barn, he stood outside the door threatening to come in, peering in the door at me. Hopping back and forth. He reminded me of a little boxer, sparring his way in and out of the door. Hopefully next week, his tail feathers will have started to grow back in and he’ll be less cranky. Although, I have to thank him for giving me the opportunity to give him a good long spray. He certainly took it like a champ.

In other bird news, because Monday was a state holiday, there were a lot of visitors at the farm. Claudius the swan was out and about and ended up in the section where there are swing sets and climbers. As I’ve mentioned, Claudius prefers the company of animals and children are definitely not the next down on the list. I was in the barn working and I noticed that he’d parked himself at one of the gates and was gently banging his head against it over and over again. “Please let me out. Please let me out. Please let me out. Please let…”. I left my post to free him and realized the exit was roped off. Now I had to get him over the other exit at the same time that a number of people were leaving. He hemmed and hawed and oh, five minutes later, he finally walked through the gate.

It was nice though because visitors asked me questions and I knew the answers to them. I felt like I’d passed into a new level of volunteering. And maybe Claudius will go on walks with me now.

I’d be angry if someone broke off my tail feathers, too.

Meet Sturbridge. When finished at the barn for the night, I close the two doors securing the animals and then the gate between the sheep and the corral is opened or shut according to Deb’s instructions for the alpacas. One of the kids came to the barn to get something and left the gate open and Sturbridge, Apricot (a mini goat) and another sheep came to investigate. Apricot climbed into Athena’s hay bucket and pushed her out of the way (he does this with the sheep he lives with as well. Half their size but he sure knows how to shove). I managed to put the food dish away before the three of them could eat her dinner but getting them back out of the barn was a bigger task. Two kids managed to wrangle Apricot and the other sheep away but Sturbridge was holding out hope. I got him out of the barn and closed the big doors and reentered through the back corral. I figured that we were done and finished up in the barn. And then I heard it. “Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh”. I opened the doors a crack and this is Sturbridge shoving his face in. I told him that I was sure there was still food where he eats, but he insisted that there wasn’t. Later when I was at the bird house, I found both Sturbridge and Apricot stuffing their faces with hay. Liars! At least they’re adorable ones.

THIS is the back of a peacock!

This is the albino peacock who is just as magnificent as the brightly colored ones.

This quick snapshot was taken to show the varied birds. Obviously there are the peacocks and my turkey love but look in the space between the gate posts in the middle and you’ll see the emu. Look in the rafters and you’ll catch the yellow head of the other pheasant who is reminiscent of a parrot. Winslow is a great place to learn about different birds because there are many different kinds and one can walk right up to them. Speaking of learning more about them, I was only a few feet away from the peacocks this time around. Every once in a while, they move their tail feathers in a way that makes their feathers shake from base to tip. All the colors blur together and the sound is incredible.


Filed under behavior, peacocks, pheasant, photography, sheep, winslow farm

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

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.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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!


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

Lunar’s Day

I had my first scare at the farm today. A few minutes into meal time, Lunar started coughing. Big chokey coughs. I’ve seen my share of cats and dogs eat too quickly and bring it back up (unfortunately, I’ve also seen many of them eat it back up as well), so I waited her out. I figured that since she’s a big animal, the process might take longer. After about five minutes, I went to tell Deb. She told me that it’s called “choke” and although scary to watch, there’s nothing to be done about it. [“Choke” is typically caused by horses eating too quickly which causes partially chewed food to clump together and stick to the esophagus. And then the horse coughs excessively to try and dislodge it.]

I went back and (this is going to get gross for some for a bit here, apologies), she’d started vomiting out her nose. I let this go on for a bit longer and went in search of Deb again, who said that it’s part of it and it’ll pass. So I went back to poor Lunar who was standing stock still with her head close to the ground gagging; liquid dripping from her nose.

Nobody likes to throw up. And usually, it happens and it’s done and the sweat starts to recede and the chills fade. But here she was doing it every minute or so. I felt awful for her. I tried to get her to drink a bit of water but she’d just stand there. And then a bit later she’d either nose-vomit or gag through a hacking cough again. Her head, usually held up high and proud, remained level with her body in a defeated stance.

I know that when I don’t feel well, a soothing hand on my back helps. Since her back was covered by a coat, I started long strokes down her neck. She responded by moving to face me and head-butting me for more. I focused on her neck and her forehead, the spot right under the tuft of hair in the front. I’d pet and scratch away. And she’d let me know that she wanted me to continue by pushing her head into me. I grabbed some tissues and cleaned her nose periodically. I stood by her as she worked through the spells, petting her as much as I could. And it was arctic out today, like way closer to zero than 32-two pairs of pants and five layers-frigid. The tips of my fingers were frozen and as I stood there, I had a moment of “I have to get inside” and then I looked at Lunar, all sad and yucky feeling, and I stopped feeling the cold. We stood together for at least a half hour, alternating between her fits and my caresses. And while I know feeling good was a far off place for her at the moment, I am confident that I got her that much closer to better by offering a loving hand and soothing words.

I learned a few things tonight.

One) Horses shed a lot. My black coat is white.

Two) Horses can’t vomit so when something needs to come back up, it exits through the nose, which, really, is just the worst way possible for something to make its way out again.

Three) Big giant animals appreciate comforting just as much as we do when they’re sick.

“Choke” is a serious condition and can end a horse’s life. One at Winslow had to be put down after she got a potato lodged in her throat. Deb believes that the reason Lunar was given to her was because of the condition, which the owners clearly did not inform her of when they brought her. It gives me comfort that she’s somewhere where it will be handled with care when it happens and not looked at as a defect or a hassle or a reason to give up on her. She’s safe from that now.

Highlights From Today:

Walking behind Gulliver, whose jacket had come undone, and watching him awkwardly try to kick the strap loose or back up his leg while it stayed firm. Thinking that it would be an easy fix and then watching Deb chase him around his pen trying to put it back on. Hilarious.

Pandy and Wizard were waiting with bubbling anticipation for Mom (Deb) to come back but both still gave me super excited greetings when I climbed over the fence instead. Looking back at Wizard’s black pug silhouette on the white snow as he sat watching her was also noteworthy.

Watching a black duck take a ferocious bath in a huge (FREEZING!) water bucket.

Spirit decided that instead of going into his pen, even though Lunar had just gone into hers, he would stand right behind me and bury his head in my hat.

Putting a bunch of hay on Delilah to cover her completely. I wasn’t sure that she was actually still under there when I took the picture, as it was a good amount of time later, until I opened a can of cat food and she rushed out, looking part scarecrow.

Watching the alpacas play the most delightful game of tag. Here are some grainy pics to show off just how lovely and interesting looking they are.

And of course, I wish that Lunar did not have to have the day she did or that she ever has to suffer through it again, but I am glad that I was there to comfort her and that she wanted me to. Here is her beautiful sad face.


Filed under behavior, cats, dogs, ducks, goats, horses, lunar, photography, sheep, winslow farm

Yep, I’m still behind you!

I am spending a few days at my parents’ house in Connecticut and while putting away the dishes, I noticed a dog in their back yard. After throwing on my boots and my sweater-shawl (? Read: no sleeves), I ventured outside. Expecting the dog to make its way to me pretty quickly, I didn’t think twice about my wardrobe choice. I should have.

The adorable Weimaraner did not at all respond to me as I expected him to. Instead, he barked fearfully and high-tailed it (low-tailed, actually) down the driveway. When an animal doesn’t immediately come to me, I get frustrated. And confused. Can’t they see how awesome I am? Not easily deterred, I followed him. He parked himself in my neighbor’s driveway and continued barking at me. I used every bit of a cajoling voice I had but he wouldn’t stop, nor would he allow me to get close. He went out into the road and at this point, I had to stop a Jeep from hitting him. (Side bar: Throughout this entire ordeal, I had multiple drivers give me that look that said, “Control your dog, you worthless pet owner. I cannot even begin to believe you aren’t using a leash.” And I wanted to have a sign that read: “He’s NOT MINE! I’m trying to find out where he lives!” Life does not always hand us easy outs like this, though.)

He went up one of the side streets and in between sniffing and eating snow, he’d look back fearfully at me. Whenever I tried to get close, he’d start to bark. He seemed familiar with another neighbor’s house. My hopes were up until I noticed a worker sticking his head out the window, watching the two of us, who said “Nope, but I found him in the walk-in dumpster earlier” when asked if he lived there. The dog moved onto another house and followed a canine trail around to the back. Since he did it so nonchalantly, I thought we might have hit the house jackpot this time. I followed him around back to make sure he’d stopped there and went back to ring the doorbell. One of my parent’s friends answered and I asked if they had a Weimaraner. No dice. Now I had the added pleasure of getting him out of their backyard. This proved pretty easy when I went climbed into the knee deep snow after him and he ran away.

Our next stop was another side street, via another neighbor’s driveway (fingers crossed! sigh). He walked into every driveway like it was his own. Every. Driveway. This was exhausting. By this point, he was becoming resigned to the fact that I was not going away. If I got too close, he’d still bark on the top of his lungs, but if I kept my distance, he’d continue making false leads. But the amount of ground between us was shrinking. Unfortunately around this time, someone’s recycling bin filled with bottles clattered to the ground. It scared him so much his tail was tucked between his legs as he barked. I switched from coaxing him to comforting him and I think that he actually started responding to me at this point. I felt really bad though that he was so fearful and started wondering about his family.

Since I knew he wasn’t going to let me touch his collar, I actually got down on my hands and knees, trying for glimpses of his tag. He moved just enough that it was almost impossible to read. I finally made out a street name and some numbers. Having just a street name was good enough for me.

At this point, I took charge and was happily surprised at how easily he started following me. I also figured out that instead of giving him my hand to smell, which he simply would not do, if I stopped and faced away from him, he would come sniff me. Baby steps but successful ones! As I walked ahead of him and called to him (I still didn’t know his name, but “Dog” and “Doggie” both worked well), he followed. On our way, we walked by two dogs who were standing behind an electric fence. I had no idea how he’d react but as he started to walk over to them, I corrected him lightly and he stopped walking. Nice!

I thought the number on his collar was in the 500’s so we went left down his road when we reached the t-intersection. My parent’s do not live in a busy area (at all) but that doesn’t mean it’s free of cars passing through. With the combined snow and no leash, we had to walk in the road. And because I still couldn’t touch him to grab his collar, he was running from side to side, at will. But he was beginning to spend more time at my side and now if a car or van was approaching, I could successfully use my voice to keep him close. (This is where those looks really popped up since I was the idiot who was letting my dog walk in the road.)

We got to the 400’s and were about to go up a giant hill when I made an attempt at actually touching his collar just to make sure we actually had to hike up it. Wouldn’t you know it? He let me! His name was Monty and his house was in the 900’s which were, of course, all the way back in the other direction! We traipsed through the intersection, and once again it had cars passing through it. Only this time, what’s this? Did he just jump on me? Does somebody finally trust me?? And when a car came by, I was even able to hold onto his collar while he looked up at me in adoration. Yes!

Almost an hour after I found him, we finally got to his driveway, which of course he went into like it was his own. He did make noises of excitement when we waited at the door, so that was promising. His owner answered and was nice, but I couldn’t help but note that she was typical of so many pet owners who, I have no doubt, love their pets but don’t respect them. The two things she said that stuck out the most were, “I let him out this morning and he just kept running” and “We drove around for a while and gave up”. Huh.

You just “let him out”? Regardless of the fact that this is a safe neighborhood, CARS. ARE. NOT. SAFE!!!!!!!!! And cars do NOT expect to see a lone dog running on the road. I witnessed Monty’s instincts and they were full of notions to walk in front of them. I mentioned that I prevented him from being hit and she sort of “ohh”‘d her way through it. If you don’t have a fence of some sort, then use a leash, do not just release your dog to the world. A dog’s idea of freedom to roam is a lot different from a person’s. In addition, I’m not sure that Monty actually knew where his house was so that he could return on his own!

And they gave up looking for him??? So, had I not looked out my window when I did and been concerned about the welfare of THEIR BELOVED pet, he’d have just continued wandering around? I had to work really, really hard to get him to trust me and I know I am not the norm. I bet five other people saw him out their window and thought “Hey, there’s a dog. What was I doing?” And if they did pull themselves outside (without a jacket, mind you!!!), they’d give up perhaps 20 minutes after he continuously barked at and avoided them and call Animal Control. And while they sat in their cozy houses, Monty would still be wandering around until AC showed up and who knows what could have happened!

I wish this was the first time that I’ve found a neighborhood dog wandering around. I wish this was the first person who responded as ignorantly as this woman did.

Care about your pets like you would care for yourself (I think this is really the only analogy that gets through to these people). If you can’t, then don’t have any.

I’m climbing down off my soap box now that the feeling is finally coming back to my arms.

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Filed under behavior, dogs

A million miles away

This week, Lunar and Spirit were down by the other barn, so I was given another mini teacher. I was instructed carefully on how to put on Lunar’s halter, how to hold the lead and what to do when she starts pulling. (I discovered on my own what do when she gets near the barn and decides that she’s not ready to go in quite yet and veers off the path).

As we walked by the corral, I noticed that one horse in particular was following our departure closely. She’d stood next to the fence while we prepared the two horses but hadn’t made a sound. When we started walking away, she moved so that she could see us still and whinnied. As we moved farther away, she came along as far as the fences allowed her. And as we gained distance, her whinnies became more insistent and lasted longer. I kept acknowledging her as we walked along, trying to comfort her. I doubt she heard me through her sadness, though.

A while later, I went in search of Gulliver. He often spends all day at the other barn and while on most days, he’s standing at the gate waiting for dinner, he’s not always there. Part of my job is to find him and convince him to come home.

This time, while unsuccessfully locating him in the lower barn, I couldn’t help but notice that the horse (Stormy, I was told) was in her pen, crying like crazy. It turns out that she and Spirit are best friends and being separated at night is really upsetting her. It’s hard watching animals in this state of anguish. I wish I could stroke her forehead, whisper that she’ll see him tomorrow, and that she’d understand. If only…


Filed under behavior, goats, horses, winslow farm

New Friends!

A horse named Spirit now lives in the barn as Lunar’s new companion. I met Spirit on my first day in the big barn and learned that he’s food aggressive when he ripped some hay out of my hands. When I found out that he’d be our new barn companion, I admit I was a bit nervous. With Moonie, all I really did was guide his head to his food and give him pats and tell him how much I loved him. With Spirit, I now have to get him into the barn from the outer outer ring and be careful when feeding him. Did I mention he’s stubborn, too?

Deb spent the first day with me and I was proud that after she got him into the back and then he walked back out (we forgot to close the gate – actually, I probably forgot to close it but didn’t think of it when he first went in and Deb was nice enough not to call me an idiot), so when I was able to get him back in by talking to him, I was pretty psyched. Deb told me that unlike the other animals, I was to talk to him in a firm voice and let him know who’s boss. After I demonstrated my “boss” voice, she laughed for a good long time. Hmm. Since my first attempt was too soft and sing-songy (I swear I was being firm), I’ve been working hard at toughening it up. Definitely a challenge.

While Spirit comes easily to the front of the barn and stands in Athena’s area when he’s ready to eat, getting him around to the back is anything but that. And I learned that apparently, it’s also a challenge with Lunar. I’d never had to coral her before and all of the sudden there are two horses standing there saying, “No, thanks. We’re all set.” I spent a good fifteen minutes calling to them from a foot away, from halfway around the barn, and even while standing in the back of the barn staring at them. Nothing. I’d hook an arm under Lunar’s neck and say, “Hey! Yay! Let’s go!” And she’d move her head away and continue standing right where she was. And this is a horse who seeks me out for hugs! I finally cheated and grabbed a teeny bit of food and gave Lunar a whiff. She launched into high gear and practically ran to her pen. (And yes, I made sure that Spirit had NO idea what I was doing. I’m not a complete dummy.) When Spirit noticed that she was gone, he high-tailed around back, too. Sweet! I closed the gate behind him. (Who’s learning now?!) He went into his pen easily and I went about feeding all of them, only, what, a half hour late? Baby steps.

When Deb was helping me last week, she spent a long time in with Spirit while he ate, standing right next to him, speaking softly. I asked her if it was something that I should do when I was by myself and she said, “Yes. Let him get used to you and your voice while he eats. But don’t touch him.” So, while Spirit munched away, I stood a couple of feet away, blathering on in as commanding (yet affectionate!) a voice as possible. He glanced at me now and then. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was thinking, “Wow. This one’s a weirdo.” It took a whole lot of resistance not to dole out hugs.

Spirit and Lunar are learning to be friends and I think this photo captures that pretty well.

New water bucket!

This is Niko. She’s a super cute and affectionate cat who lives in the barn. She has something wrong, I think, with her eyes. She rarely looks at people or animals straight on and when she does, her face is always squinty.

This is Niko climbing up my jacket and onto my shoulder where she stayed almost the entire time I picked up after the horses with a rake. I am an acrobat.

Delilah is another cat that lives in the barn. When I first started at the farm, she wouldn’t come near me and avoided me like her life depended on it. She would press herself against the wall and shoot past. I think there was some hissing mixed in. Sometimes I’d even catch her glaring from afar. Over the last week or so, the tides have turned and apparently she’s taken a liking to me. It began with meows. Then she started standing right next to me. Now, she even follows me around!

Right after I found her having a delightful time with the hay (that I was in the middle of distributing), she came running over to say hi. Sure, she latched onto my arm a second later, but she immediately rubbed up against my leg when she was done. Buddies!

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Filed under behavior, cats, horses, humor, lunar, niko, photography, spirit, winslow farm

Extra day, extra work?

I went to the farm an extra day this week and worked in a different part. The twelve year old that trained me and a different fourteen year old were running the big barn where Deb had asked me to help out. Whereas the barn I do on Mondays only has four animals directly associated with it and a couple indirectly associated, this is the barn where all the ponies, the other horses, the mules, the llamas, the emus and a zillion goats live. These two girls had their routine down pat and every time I asked if I could help, I got a sing-song “Nah, I’ve got it” back.

Well, that’s not completely true; I did get to sweep off some mats. For those uninitiated in this task, there are rubber mats in the stalls that are usually underneath the food trough or close by. Horses are messy eaters and and they’ll eat the leftovers off the ground, so it’s necessary to sweep the mats to prevent them from eating sawdust and straw. At least, I think that’s the purpose of the mats. I’ve never actually asked. Another thing about sweeping the mats? It’s a total ocd nightmare! Little pieces of riffraff creep back on them no matter matter how much time you spend sweeping them off. Lacking the ability to just walk away, I can be found going over them with growing intensity until I finally stalk off, forcing myself not to look back and see a determined piece of straw triumphantly take back its spot. Because Lunar knows how much I love this task, she likes to follow me into her pen when she see the broom. While I sweep her mat, she kicks the sawdust right back where I’ve just swept it off. Big giant piles of it! I sweep it off. She kicks it on. I sweep it off. She kicks i-Arrrggghh!

I also offered to take the pee blankets out to hang on the fence. When I asked if I could help, I think that the girl bringing them out of the barn was worried that I might complain about getting dirty. Perhaps my coat is deceiving. I’ve certainly been spotted as an intruder on more than one occasion (many times by the same volunteer) and I’m pretty sure it’s because of how I’m dressed. My coat is a black, hooded, squall jacket that goes down past my knees and keeps me super warm and still looks new though I’ve had it for a while. All the other volunteers wear sweatshirts or ratty clothes. What they don’t realize about my coat is that it’s my “pet sitting jacket”. This means that it’s been a home to all sorts of animal fluids. Too much? Needless to say, handling a bunch of filthy blankets was no problem for me.

While I stood around the rest of the time, being useless, I took the opportunity to take some photos and videos. And away we go!

Out back, I watched for a while as the ponies horsed around (ha!). The whole lot of them kept running back and forth. Some were whinnying and kicking and the rest were running just to stay out of the way. Whenever I’ve passed through the area, they’re just stand there chomping on things, so this was an interesting deviation.

The lineage of ponies is as follows: there is a male, the little tan one, who has a daughter and a grandson in the barn. And then there’s another mare who little tan guy mated with that produced a daughter and they’re also in the barn. I’m not sure which of his relatives made him so angry though because they all look alike. At one point, I watched him back the biggest one into a corner and kick like crazy. Though it may have looked like his young successor had the upper-hand in the video, don’t be fooled. Grandpa can hold his own!

Here are the llamas. Watching them. In the exact same spot. With the exact same dazed look. The entire time. I love it!!

Look at the mug on this guy! Ooh, his ears are pinned back at me! I’m pretty sure we’ll be friends someday. Hopefully.


Emus are strange, strange creatures.

Just a smidge of info on this photo: to the left of the emu is a door made up of plastic sheets that are big and awkward and sort of need to be shoved through. These flaps hit him every time a goat or person goes in or out.

Grooming time! Goats lick their feet like cats do. This fact makes me happy.


As dinnertime draws near, many of the animals start wandering in. Due to the fact that there are about a million goats, they’re the most prevalent random shots of fur in this photo, but look closely and you can also see an emu and a pony. Maybe next time, I’ll get a photo that better represents the chaos, but I’ll have to stop spending all my time petting everyone first.


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Filed under behavior, emus, goats, horses, humor, llamas, photography, 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, 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):
The swan shaking his tail feathers.

Hanging out!

I wish I had these prints in my back yard!

Lunar on the left and Moonie on the right

Beautiful, beautiful Athena

Squee! Napoleon!!

The Cat House (notice the goat?!)

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


Gulliver, in possibly the greatest photo ever!

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!).

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

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

Maybe He’ll Start Barking

Quinny’s arrival into our house a year ago was not unlike a bat being released from hell. The residents were in turmoil as he persistently ran up to the door flailing around in front of the windows where everyone could see him. At first, there was a sheet up to block the view, but he quickly learned how to get around it. His next feat was tearing down the barrier and I gave up after he got it down a couple of times, telling Tabitha, in particular to “get over it”. She did just that by shaking her hind-quarters, hissing at him, rushing the door, and punching the window with all her might. Quinny was not perplexed by her prowess at all. He was raring to get through the glass at this cat who had obviously escaped from his birthplace at one point herself.

Quinny’s energy level has remained at an 11 since he got here. Plus, he’s got a black belt in instigating. He gets sprayed with the squirt bottle so often that just shaking it at him can usually get him to stop. “Get off of Tabitha!” “That’s not your plate!” “Stop running around like a maniac!” Get off of the counter!” “Leave that bug alone!” Matt taught him how to jump really really high with a laser pointer. This has backfired on us when it comes to bugs.

Quinny is not unlike a dog, actually. For one thing, he fetches like a champ and wants to stop long after we do. He’s smart enough to know that if you pretend to throw it that it’s still in your hand, but dumb enough to run headlong into a wall. Repeatedly. Piper learned to play after watching him, using bottle caps (his favorite toy) but he only does it rarely and usually never brings it back a second time.

Second, he’s toy possessive and growls or hisses at the cats if he has to walk by them. The cats sit there with this look that says, “I don’t want that nasty thing,” but Quinny knows deep down inside that they are just jealous. (They’re not.) We work on this behavior by taking the toy from him and handing it to the other cat while Quinny looks on, his eyes giant saucers of jealousy. Quinny can also be food aggressive at times and hisses when he’s really hungry and thinks his food is about to be eaten. This results in Tabitha not eating and losing weight so we ask him to stop and then set up a bowl for her away from it. When he first moved into the house, he’d eat his wet food as fast as he possibly could, which was shockingly fast, and then he’d run over to Milo or Tabitha’s plate and shove them out of the way. This took solid months of work to fix and weight that came off of Milo, as well. Months of carrying him out of the room. Holding him to let him know it’s not his food. Closing the bedroom door. He’s much better now.

More canine features? Quinny could find his way out of a paper bag by drooling a hole through it. Big giant balls of drool splash on my arm as he contently kneads at a blanket or a leg. Oh, did I mention that he humps things? Yep! That’s our little dog!

While he has wreaked the most havoc of all the furballs, he is also the most affectionate, creating an interesting dichotomy. Milo wants to be on laps at all times, especially if it’s nine hundred degrees outside, but he usually gets kicked off at some point for excessive licking or for getting mad if our faces get too close or we move wrong. Then he hisses and runs or swats and runs or bites and runs or all three. Quinny can be sitting randomly and all the sudden pop up, mewl and mewl and bump legs and then hop up and make a lap home. Milo looks on with envy as he doesn’t get kicked off. While Piper continues his standoffish trend, only seeking out affection when he wants it, usually at two in the morning during a bathroom run. Sometimes, he’ll even let me hold him and purr during this witching hour. Tabitha has watched him though and seen what affection can get her. She’s started jumping up to see what’s going on more. And allowing me hold her for brief periods of time. While purring! After watching Quinny, she’s decided that if she comes up to me and meows that I will pet her and hold her just long enough so that she doesn’t get antsy.

So the rest of them continue on their way, picking up little things from him here and there, being jumped on by him, being chased around the apartment, chasing back, running out of the way when the spray bottle is aimed at him, finding the spray bottle on them as well when they’re in cahoots and I get to sit back and watch the ebb and flow. And every morning, I look forward to the moment I open the bedroom door and Quinny darts onto the bed and does barrel rolls over and over and over and over while mewling his way through belly rubs and kisses.


Here’s a video of Quinny from a while back. The blur is him. The stuff he goes through is a plastic sheet we have up in between the dining room area and the kitty porch.

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Filed under behavior, cats, humor