Category Archives: sheep

New Friends!

I just started a job at a nursery where they have a handful of ponies that were rescued. I know, perfect job, right? Don’t worry, I’ll still be going to Winslow every week. As I adjust from waking up whenever I feel like it to being at work AT 7:30am, I’ve been passed out drooling by 9pm for a little over a week. As I adjust, I’ll be able to write these on time. Until then, double posts it is!

Taking it a step farther, I’m going to rely on my pictures to catch you up:

I love that birds can sleep standing up. I love even more that these geese all hunkered down for a nap together.

I also enjoyed that this emu went back to sleep while I fussed around him getting camera angles. And it never ceases to fascinate me how these giant birds fold into themselves like this. It’s just so bizarre!

Look at this beautiful girl! I took this while Little Miss Peahen was on a date with the albino peacock. They walked around their yard in circles while cooing at each other. Adorable.

My, what great hooves you have, Gully!

Athena keeps topping herself in the great photo department. “Don’t you just LOVE my manicure??”

Aside from the fact that having tons of cats around is awesome to begin with, I love that I meet new ones all the time. This is Me Lord (I know, right? Great name!). He seeks me out every week now and accompanies me on all sorts of visits. Ultimate affectionate spewing from this cat here!

And THIS is Bailey. She lives in the barn and was pretty shy at the beginning. Once she gave me her seal of approval, she revealed how cuddly she is. And what awesome markings! It’s a bit hard to tell from the picture, but her face is split right down the middle of her nose. One side is calico and the other half is solid black, minus the stark white whiskers that spring out of her face.

Oh, how I love this girl.

Speaking of the felines, I discovered this hut for the cats this week. It is located right in the middle of everything! (Insert snarky comment about my awesome powers of observation.)

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And now a couple of introductions:

Here is a gaggle of the geese at the nursery. They are usually in a giant penned in area that I can’t see from inside – disappointing! – but that morning, they were out and about among the flowers. “HONK!”

I’d like for you to meet Bear.

He is one of the ponies at the nursery and we took to each other immediately. On my first visit, all of the ponies came forward to say hello (and “I’d like some food, please.”) which was a wonderful start. For animals who clearly had a rough time before they ended up at the nursery, as evidenced immediately by their lack of body fat and brittle mane hair, it felt great that they all sniffed my hand. Three let me pet their heads, one allowed me to scratch his rear, and one wouldn’t let me make contact at all.

Over the next few posts, I will introduce them fully, but now, a bit more about Bear. This incredibly soft guy (most of the ponies have amazingly soft almost angora-ish hair – I’d go as far as to say fur) stood apart from all of them. Not only did he like being pet, but he allowed me to put my forehead on his. He allowed neck hugs. He even stared into my eyes. Our connection was immediate and every time I’ve visited him since, he’s just as affectionate. Lunar does not stare into my eyes even though I know how much she loves me, so having Bear just gaze and gaze at me is a whole new level of connecting. Instant love.

What had the most impact on me, though, was when I mistakenly moved my arm abruptly, a few visits in, and he literally jumped backwards. I had no idea that he had a history of abuse. While devastated about his past, I was overjoyed that he’d trusted me from the start. With a bit of coaxing, he came back to the fence for more hugs and I have been careful since that moment about keeping my animation in check.

Every day, I spend half of my lunch break with the ponies (and Jeffrey the goat!). I discovered on my second or third visit that they LOVE dandelions, so on most days, I pick a bunch on my way to see them. I think they are all fantastic munchkins and am enjoying learning about each of them, but Bear certainly made a beeline into my heart.

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Filed under athena, cats, emus, geese, goats, gulliver, horses, niko, peacocks, sheep, winslow farm

Beautiful Day!

Compared to the ruckus last week, this visit was pretty low key. The pheasant was scarce, although I did notice two teenagers running after him and asked if they knew the bird they were chasing. “Yes, it’s the one from the bird house.” He is the one that I’ve mentioned who looks like a brightly colored parrot with a long pheasant tail. “Um, no. This is the one who lives over on this side in the cage with “attack bird” on it. Stop chasing him.” Suprisingly, I didn’t see him again for the day. Not going to lie in saying that I didn’t mind at all.

This was the first time Athena sat down in my presence. Either she was tired or she’s trusting me more. I choose Door Number Two.

It also gave me a chance to see her pretty eyes from the side.

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A mountain goat!!! (Bah dah bum.)

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While looking for Waterford to see if he wanted some of the hay I’d brought him, I took my first peek at the inside of his little house. Obviously, a photo can’t encompass how cute he is while he snores, so I’ll let your imagination do the work. Picture, if you will, his giant ears happily flapping about, a surprisingly agile snout that’s up and down and side to side and up and down, all the while erupting with snorty goodness. I seriously contemplated lying down for a nap with him, but his chompy tendencies stopped me. Maybe next time…

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Every week, at least one of the alpacas takes a giant dirt bath and I LOVE it!

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Filed under alpacas, athena, goats, humor, pheasant, photography, piggies, sheep, waterford, winslow farm

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.

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

Oh, the plumage!

After I was done at the barn on Monday, I stopped in to see the turkey. He apparently has lice or another invasive bug and a volunteer had caught it. But I could always see the little buggies crawling all over his head during our visits, so I’m assuming that someone went in for kisses. He had been sprayed down so his colors looked duller than usual. He looked a little sadder too, which made resisting my urge to pick him up and hug him even tougher. But I still pet him and purelled right afterwards like usual. While I sat with him, I could see one of the peacocks from the donkey barn standing outside the little house staring at the birds inside. I think it was a mixture of strutting his stuff to show up the two peacocks and a little “hey, there” to the peahen. I left the birds and wandered outside to the geese.

Ah, the geese. They are, by far, the loudest animals on the farm. They stand around squawking at absolutely everything. Giant arguments full of big bodies and little heads waddling around in fury. Their conversation style is right up my alley so after being shouted at I yell, “HI!” back. They’ll run up to me, expecting me to flee and when I don’t, they veer away really quickly. I decided it was high time we became friends. So, I squatted down and probably because of the new height difference, I was approached and contemplated face to face. Geese have VERY intense stares. One hand motion and a bitey reaction back though and I made the decision to be great friends without petting.

I moved to sit on a short barrel – as squatting is not a long distance activity – and as the goose sat in front of me staring and staring and staring at me, I noticed that off in the distance the peacock had decided it was high time to show off his beauty. I don’t remember ever having seen a peacock with plumage flared in person. I was far away and it still looked big. But what I thought was even better was when he’d turn his body and show his hind-feathers. They’re tan and black and the backside of each looming feather was plain and ordinary. What an exquisite dichotomy!

In every photo of a peacock I’ve ever seen, it shows the larger than life plumage swarming with radiant colors. And all of the sudden, I get a glimpse of the other side and I’m left just as astounded. The idea that this bird swells with pride showing off all this crazy color and instead of giving a 360 view of these punch-you-in-the-face blues and shimmery greens, turn him around and all of the sudden he becomes his ugly duckling ancestor. I’m so fascinated by this! Is the rooster snickering behind his back thinking, “who does this jerk think he is?” Does the peahen go, “He is SO HOT!” only to change her tune when he turns around by mistake? And his backside is large and fluffy! Flip him around and you see a skinny little neck! Of course I know there are biological reasons behind all of this that I haven’t delved into yet, but wow! What a cool discovery!

These pics of the peacock were taken from my far away perch with the goose, but I just had to get some images of it. He’s definitely going to be an interesting subject in the upcoming months.

It’s hard to see that the back of each long feather isn’t colored because of the blues seeping through, but try to imagine it all dark brown from the tan feathers up. He showed his feathers by turning back and forth for about ten minutes and then he folded them in one fell swoop and it was back to business as usual.

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This one was taken from the barrel so he was right at my knees. While squatting, he was even closer to my face. I was tempted so many times to pet him, but the foreboding chomp fest held me back.

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This is a common site at the farm, as of late: flaming piles o’ doody.

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I’m sure that all of these photos of Athena look exactly alike, but this is my favorite yet!

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It’s hard to see his troubled side when looking at his sweet, sweet face.

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Somebody found a snack! And look at those awesome nostrils, flared with the exciting smell of a found treasure.

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Roof Kitty! Surveying the scene. Ready to Pounce. Merowr.

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Filed under athena, cats, geese, horses, humor, lunar, peacocks, photography, sheep, spirit, turkey, winslow farm

It’s the little things

Just before I was about to leave on Monday, Deb asked me if I wanted to brush Lunar. Um, Yes? So I spent an extra half hour following the contours of her sinewy body. My favorite part (twice!) was when she propped her head and all its weight on top of mine while I brushed her neck. I found out after that the brush I was using was  intended for manes and tails but I can officially report that she loved it as an overall massage.

I knew not to groom Spirit since Deb didn’t mention him, but I did get in some quality petting time with him. Since I don’t do it very often, I forget that he is really soft. Much softer than Lunar. But Lunar got jealous that I was paying attention to Spirit and so she set him off in a barrage of teeth baring and frustration. Since I knew biting was next, I went into cease and desist mode. Oh well. It was nice while it lasted.

When I’d arrived at the farm, I saw that the pheasant was inside his cage. “Uh-oh”, I thought. I asked him if he’d attacked someone. He responded by pacing back and forth while making cooing sounds and louder insistent ones simultaneously (a distractingly cool combination). He was not happy to be back in the cage. It turned out though that he was just put in it for the day due to a giant easter egg hunt that had happened earlier. Not only that, but his cage door was unlatched. “He’ll figure it out,” was Deb’s quote. But when I passed him on my way to the car, he was still fretting away. I even showed him that the door was open but he was too busy stressing out. Seriously, on a scale from one to get-me-out-of-here, he was at least on “I-said-RIGHT-NOW!” Here’s to hoping that he freed himself.

A still of the little guy fervently wishing he’d be released from his prison. (Note how the latch is open…)

Speaking of grooming, Lunar appears to have done a bit on her own.

While working in the barn, I noticed that the alpaca ladies had come out of their corral to sit and stare at us, only to evacuate when I left. Sigh.

And I just can’t get over how adorable Athena is. She’s such a squish munchkin!

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Filed under alpacas, athena, horses, lunar, pheasant, sheep, spirit, winslow farm

First day of spring calls for snow?

Well, it didn’t dampen my spirits at the farm. I went about my duties in the barn and as I was about to leave, I saw that Gulliver was sitting in his pen. While I usually find him lounging in the big barn, I’ve never seen him lie down after a meal. And even though I’d already given him extra hugs time when I picked him up earlier, I decided it was in my best interest to sit down on the dirty floor. Sure, there were Gulliver pellets and dirty hay scattered about but I’m almost positive that I didn’t sit on any… And then I gave him the most giant hugs ever! Full body smooshes! He showed his appreciation by burping the whole time. I’m not sure I can possibly explain how happy this made me. When my legs were sufficiently asleep, I finally dragged myself off the ground. He stayed seated until Niko coughed and he hopped up looking worried. Cute AND caring. What a guy!

On my way to visit the turkey, I stopped off at the water pump to rinse my hands of Gulliver dirt. While rinsing, a pheasant popped up in front of me. This beautifully feathered guy had been restricted to a very large cage because he’d attacked a few people with his sharp talons and pointy beak. He’s been out on good behavior for about a month but I’ve never come into contact with him. It turns out that he likes me. A lot. He’s super friendly and he didn’t once try to maim me with either set of weapons.

And then I was off to the bird house. While the turkey courted me, clucked at me, and received pets, I watched a bored duck wander around the room. Around and around he went until he walked up to a black rooster and bit him on the butt. The rooster reacted by shrieking in surprise. I’m sure my raucous laughter ruffled a few feathers but I couldn’t help it. Hilarious!

This sheep was checking out the scene in the cat house while I was in it.

Followed this guy in slow circles for three minutes to get a picture of his sad wings.

This is Cotton. He says, “hi!!”

This is the friendly pheasant. Look at that plumage!

Love, love, love.

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Filed under cats, geese, goats, gulliver, humor, pheasant, photography, sheep, turkey, 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

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.

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

Farm Adventures

My volunteering slot at the farm is on Monday afternoons and I’ve been asked to take on the responsibilities in one of the barns. I spent last Monday and Tuesday afternoon being trained by a twelve year old one day and a fourteen year old the next. The farm is mostly populated by these dedicated kids who spend an average of three afternoons a week at the sanctuary. I envy the life experience these kids are building surrounded by so many different animals and the responsibilities in caring for them helmed by a truly dedicated and passionate person, Debra White, who owns and operates Winslow Farm Animal Sanctuary. I wish I had something like this when I was a kid, who knows where it would have led my passion for animals by this point.

In this particular barn, there are four main animals and a handful of barn cats. The two horses are named Moonie and Lunar; there’s a sheep named Athena and a large goat named Gulliver. Moonie is an elderly male horse who’s blind and Lunar is his sweet companion. I was told by Deb, that he’s a kicker when he’s being moody. Armed with this bit of info, I was a bit nervous when I first met him. Talking in gentle tones with him, I offered him my hand and moved slowly around him. Any time I passed by him, I made sure to vocalize and make gentle contact. He never flinched at my touch, so I was excited. Lunar is an energetic senior horse. At dinnertime, she’s food driven and very sweet even while she nibbles on your hands looking for food. She’s also one of the loudest eaters I’ve ever seen and bangs around her food bucket with gusto. Gulliver is pretty low key and likes his pen which makes him very easy.

And then there’s beautiful Athena with her dark grey body and head that almost looks likes she’s had her hair and makeup done. Athena was found living alone on an interstate median where she’d been for a long time. Attempts were made to catch her which she thwarted. She was finally caught and taken to the MSPCA where she met Gulliver and they were brought to the sanctuary. Athena does not trust humans. This is always hard for me as I’d like to be best friends with every animal. So, while Athena dodged any attempts at getting close, I continued to pursue her with soft speech.

Yesterday was my first solo run. Nervous and excited, I walked into the Barn all set to go and lo and behold, there was 400 pound Waterford the awesome giant pig relaxing in the stall.

(A brief explanation on how the pens are set up since it’s a bit confusing. The horse pen is a large circle. The barn is in the middle of the circle and if you’re looking at it from inside, it has six sections: Gulliver’s stall, a section where the doors to the barn open (this is Athena’s makeshift stall), a section where all the food is kept, behind Gulliver’s stall is the hay pen, then Moonie’s stall which exits out to the back (no doors, just strips of plastic to keep the heat in so that he’s able to go in and out safely), and then Lunar’s stall. Go through Moonie’s area out the back and there’s a special pen for Moonie and Lunar. It’s set up with a rope around it so that Moonie can feel his way. Pretty cool! Waterford’s pen and teeny house is adjacent to the whole area and has a gate so that he can be let into the bigger pen during the day and has access to this part of the barn.)

So, was I surprised to find Waterford in “Athena’s” section of the barn as he’s usually back in his pen when I’ve arrived. I have to say that there certainly is a difference between petting a giant pig over a fence and having him right next to me. Especially when he started bumping into me and chomping on my backside! I went off to find Deb for assistance on getting him in. I walked slowly with him across the pen keeping an eye on him when he got behind me. Deb had also mentioned at some point something to the effect of “he can break all my bones in one fell swoop but he’s a wonderful animal” so I was being careful of the bone-breakage while shooting the breeze. He’s very chatty! After I located her, she needed to free herself up, so I went back to sit with him. I hung out on the top of the fence and he chewed on my foot. He’s super cute and wow is he a big animal with giant teeth!

After he was back in his pen, I worked my way through my chores in the barn. I was still getting the hang of things and since Moonie came in to eat with zero prodding (!!!), I fed him first. I probably should have fed Lunar first since she started galloping around inside the stall right next to Moonie (uh, NOT big enough!) but I managed to get her food to her and Moonie didn’t seem to notice so I’ve learned something for next time. I was still riding on the high that Moonie was completely comfortable with my voice! But even more exciting was Athena. When I went to put her food down, she was comfortable enough to bring her face to the bowl while my hand was still attached. No bob and weave out of the barn. No waiting for me to move. So exciting! Now, maybe if someday I can just pet her…

Since I can’t bring my big camera on my cleaning shift, I used my phone to capture a few images. One of these days, I’ll go in the middle of the day to photograph my lovely friends.

In my last blog post, I mentioned that an emu looks like it’s swallowing a cat while it’s sleeping. Ta da:

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These roosters hang out all over the place. I tried to get closer and he kept scooting further away. Mission!

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I went into the other barn for a bit yesterday where most of the goats live. Wow, do I love the goats. This one was a bit apprehensive of me. I went to pet her and she moved. I finally got a hand on her and started to give her a massage and then stopped. She sidled closer. I continued the massage and stopped again. Sidled closer. And now we’re friends!

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THIS is Waterford!!! Isn’t he spectacular???

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And THIS is Napoleon. In love! I was so excited to meet him and I happened upon him in a pathway. I figured I’d maybe get a pet or two but what happened instead was that right as I went to pet him, he immediately flopped over and demanded belly rubs and made super awesome grunting noises of joy while I did it. I love him!!!

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Filed under cats, emus, goats, horses, photography, piggies, roosters, sheep, winslow farm