Reading Nancy Novak’s Guest Editor column (see page 9) about her two-month stay in Kenwood reminded us of what it was like to be newcomers in the country.
We arrived here in 1994, two 30-somethings with three children ages six, four and two. Our property was fenced and had a barn, and thus we embarked on a series of misadventures with farm animals. First we were given a calf, by friends who shall remain nameless. It was a freemartin, which is a sterile heifer, usually born as a twin to a bull. Obviously the thing to do is turn that baby into steak because it’s never going to give you milk or progeny. But we thought, “How cute!” and proceeded to bottle-feed it. We named her Bonnie, and ignored our friends’ advice to halter train her so we could lead her around. Well, Bonnie loved us, and thought she was one of the dogs. When we went into the field she would come charging over and try to nuzzle us. As she became full-grown, this became really dangerous, and so we put an ad in the paper: “Free cow. Not a pet. Come get her, she’s yours.” We didn’t ask too many questions of the man who took us up on that offer.
Another time we were given a mallard duck that couldn’t be released back into the wild. Why? Because he had imprinted on people! He was beautiful, but he had a foot fetish and whenever the kids got near him, he attacked their shoes and ankles. But this time we’d learned what to do. We called the wildlife rehabilitator and she came out the next day and took the kinky duck away.
We were then given some turkeys by the then-owner of Swede’s Feeds – notice a pattern here? The turkeys didn’t attack anyone, but they sure were friendly. At Thanksgiving that first year, they stood outside the French doors looking into the dining room as we ate our turkey and mashed potatoes. It was a little… awkward? Later we learned to clip their wings so they stayed in the barnyard.
Then there was the morning when our daughter said, “Hey, there’s a horse in the yard!” Someone’s horse had wandered up the driveway and jumped the fence. Fortunately, a neighbor was able to straighten it all out and reunite horse and owner.
Over the years we had Muscovy ducks, chickens, and sheep. We are definitely not farmers, but wildlife seem to like hanging out with us. One winter a Canada goose landed, made friends with the ducks and the chickens, and stayed for about two months. He even went into the coop with the birds at night. A pair of mallard ducks has visited our winter pond every year. We assume it’s either the same pair, or their descendants. How long do ducks live, anyway? Skunks definitely like us, and there has been more than one close encounter with the dogs, who don’t seem to learn from the experience.
So the lesson is that you actually should look a gift horse in the mouth, and we’ve learned to say no thank you to offers of free livestock. Now we’re down to some chickens, a rooster, two dogs and two cats, and that’s more than enough for a couple of people who are still more comfortable with ink on their hands than manure!
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