Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Farm (or, 4-H Gone Wild)

So, I’ve referred to my somewhat rural upbringing in the past.  My siblings and I were homeschooled until high school, raised/running free just outside a small, Midwestern town.  We had a small (very small) farm, with a variety of animals at different times, some (many?) of which started out as 4-H projects at some time or another.  I figured I’d take a moment to introduce you to the farm animals I’ve helped take care of/run away from in fear over the years.

We had a variety of geese when I was growing up… most were kind of anonymous.  There was one old male we called Poppy and we also had an Emden (it’s a breed) pair who had individual names.  For some unknown reason, I was allowed to name one when I was really little, and she was saddled with the unfortunate name of Miss Hissy.  The male was kind of aggressive and mean and my parents named him Muammar Gaddafi.  Sometimes I forget that most people of my generation did not grow up knowing that name because of an excessively mean goose who would grab your pants leg in his beak and yank you off your bike as you rode past him.   Miss Hissy had several nests of eggs over the years.  Only one egg survived, and grew up to be Gentleman Johnny.  Woe to anyone who stumbled across a nesting goose in the deep grass across from the pond.  Seriously – geese are truly vicious animals.

Every fall, those damn geese would try to walk south for the winter, and the four of us kids would have to set off across the fields to herd them back home.  It’s super awesome to try to explain to a school bus driver that honking at the goose standing in the middle of the road just makes it think you’re talking to it. 

We had a plethora of ducks.  Most didn’t have names, but I remember a few.  There was Jim Bob and these two little ducks named George and Gracie.  The ducks mostly minded their own business until it was time to eat.

I maintain that turkeys are some of the dumbest animals ever to live.  We didn’t name those guys, because we ate them (ps: they were delicious).  There was one big old, ugly-ass white one though… we called him the Phantom of the Opera.  Man, that sucker was hideous.

The turkeys used to fly over the 4 foot high chain link fence around the barnyard, but they had no idea how to get back in.  So every afternoon, we’d have to round them up and herd them through the gates so they could be locked in the barn at night.  They also had a habit of getting up on the roofs of cars and sliding down the windshield.  I have a very distinct memory of having company and looking out the window and seeing turkeys on their car… the company had to be distracted while we snuck outside and chased those morons back into the barnyard.

We ate some of the chickens too, and a lot of them looked the same, so many of them did not have names.  I remember one tiny little thing whose name was Conan.  She was a tough little bird.  Turk was thus named because her coloring resembled a turkey.  I’m sure there are other names I am forgetting… but I seem to mostly remember anonymous chickens who were mostly for laying.

And then there was Socrates, a rooster named by my older brother who was really into philosophy.  Socrates followed me around the barnyard while I did my chores and would chase away the meaner roosters when they tried to peck me.  He was such a gentle rooster who eventually died of natural causes.  Three times.

The first time Socrates died, my brother found him on his back in the barnyard, legs up in the air, stiff as a board.  Being the loving big brother he was, he offered to bury him for me out back behind the pond.  About ten minutes later, we heard horrific screaming coming from the direction of the burial, when Socrates decided he had enough of being dead and hopped up and ran away.

The second time Socrates died, it was too cold to dig a hole, so we had to put my beloved bird in the trash.  Where he stayed for a while, until we heard scratching and pecking on the inside of the metal can.  Again, Socrates still had a little livin’ left to do.

The third, and final, time Socrates died, we left that poor bird in the yard for at least a day before we were sure he was dead.  Our hearts just couldn’t take the shock of a resurrecting rooster anymore.

We had four pigs.  Well, my older brother had four pigs, as they started as his 4-H project – one male and 3 females.  They were giant and scary and their names were Spot and the BUS’s (Big Ugly Sisters).  We would sit on the fence in the back and watch my sister feed them (she was the only one completely unafraid of them) and I swear those suckers would see us sitting on the high wooden fence, and intentionally ram into it to try to knock us down.

Pigs are obstinate.  They walked right through an electric fence one summer to come join us at our 4th of July picnic.  They got away at a fair one time, and broke my mom’s arm when she tried to stop them.

We ate them too.  Best sausage I’ve ever had.

One year, for reasons unknown, we purchased a pair of pygmy goats at auction:  Annie and Pepé Le Pew (those were their names when we got them).  Pepé was likely given that name because he REEKED…. probably due to his unfortunate habit of peeing on his own head (yeah, figure that one out).  Annie was pregnant when we got her, and gave birth to two sets of kids over the years:  one set around Valentine’s Day that we named Cupid and Valentine, and one set around Christmas that we named Gabriel and Jesús.

The goats were grown when we got them, which meant their bad habits and particularities were well-formed.  For example, they did not like our rain ponchos, so we would have to leave those on the barnyard gate and walk through the rain to the barn, to avoid having them charge us.  Annie hated the color of my mom’s winter coat.  Pepé only liked my older sister (coincidently, she was also the only one strong enough to grab hold of his horns and hold him at bay).  We became quite adept at doing our barn chores in what my brothers and I referred to as “The Ninja Way”.  Essentially, it meant we went through the rafters and over walls, so as to avoid being speared by goat horns. 

The goats were mean enough that they only lasted a few years before we sold them.  The babies sure were cute though.  Especially when they’d ride around the barnyard on the woolly backs of the sheep. 🙂

Some people think it’s weird that I got a couple live sheep as a First Communion present.  I think it’s totally normal.  I named them Io and Persephone (What?  Those are totally normal sheep names.  I was really into Greek mythology at the time…).  I was also the only one who could tell them apart (duh, Io had a longer, cow-like face.  Why else would she have that name?).  My family insists that the sheep were the dumbest of all our animals, but they obviously don’t know what they’re talking about (it was the turkeys, remember?). 

The sheep were definitely exciting, and lead into a whole post all of their own.  Let’s just say you haven’t lived until you’ve spent a hot spring day chasing runaway sheep across highways and fields.  Also, I only ever accidentally left the gate open one time.