Each spring in this space I attempt to give a barnyard update, in which I describe the progress, or lack thereof, that our feathered and furry family members have made over the previous year.
Abigail, the Nubian goat, celebrated her 10th birthday last month, still living only a few feet from her birth site. She has evolved into a special pet and I am seen as the one who has spoiled her, at least that is the view of the Elder B.E., who does not prefer to hand feed her as I do.
Quite simply, she likes having the food placed in her mouth, or eating corn from the cup of my hand. Who am I to deny this delightful animal one of the significant pleasures she enjoys by pouring her food into a coarse bowl? I must admit that in rainy or snowy weather I make ameliorations to my usual practice, but on a clear day I find great satisfaction in serving her.
Our bantam silky rooster continues to be a bit overwhelmed by the experience of living with what to him must seem to be 10 behemoth hens, most of whom are not particularly nice to him, nor to his daughter, a truly delightful chicken in every respect. When we arrive at mealtime, the motto is “Every fowl for him or herself,” as these people do not know the meaning of the word “share.” They clearly are not graduates of any finishing schools and never have heard of Emily Post, not to mention not having read her.
Gladys and Lou are another matter. Last year I discussed foregoing my Good Wife’s superb goose egg frittata, in the hope of goslings. Well, we wound up with no frittata and no goslings. This year my fowl mentor, Michelle Simmons, most kindly offered her incubator to compensate for Gladys’s never having had a talk on the birds and the bees and thus not knowing the meaning of the word “nest.” The day I was to install it, Gladys seemed to be interested in setting and to encourage her, I placed six eggs in a location central to where she had been laying them, operating when she was not looking.
Gladys and the chickens, but not Lou and the rooster are thrilled every time we have shrimp for dinner. I take them the shells and they scarf them down in a flash, always preferring the shell to any food concurrently being served. I am happy because I know that the shells will be coming back to us in a transmogrified form; in other words they will be repurposed into eggshells, which in turn will go back to the hens, thereby perpetuating the cycle of shell life.
Over the course of my life I have found that chickens and goats are quite compatible with each other. Perhaps “compatible” is not the ideal word to use, for rather the situation is that they do not pay much attention to each other. The goat has no interest in shrimp shells and the chickens do not understand the goat’s obsession with her favorite food, the banana peel. The result is a Mexican standoff at mealtime.
The goat is a grazer, but the chickens want to sate themselves as soon as I pour out the corn. They do not have access to each other’s plates, except for the chickens reaching through the fence to grab at the goat’s grain when I serve it in her dish.
The only competition Abigail ever experienced was from her crass aunt, the late Cuddles, who dominated her until she died unexpectedly one day. Cuddles’ sister, Floppy, also now deceased, was Abigail’s mother, a truly magnificent character of a goat if ever one existed.
Our enclosed garden abuts the chicken coop and goat pen and is fortunately inaccessible to both species. Maggie, our younger Welsh Corgi, has spent much of her life looking longingly through the fence at Abigail, wishing that she could have access to the barnyard to be able to boss the goat the way she bosses everyone else.
Indeed, having domestic animals requires an understanding of psychology, for knowing how to placate them and keep things running smoothly, is an art in itself, precisely as it is in dealing with humans.