North Pasture Reverie

A recent prompt by Delancey Place forced me to reconsider the chickens, ducks, guineas, and hordes of wilderness cardinals, jays, crows, and turkey vultures who occasionally visit our tiny farm. Sy Montgomery contends these feathery creatures are in actuality dinosaurs of the visually polaroid and color spectrum seeing variety. In other words, the ones that eat you. We all saw that movie.

I wonder.

By way of example, she offers the cassowary bird, an Australian native. This creature is horned, sometimes vicious with major claws, and stands close to six foot weighing in at 150 pounds. They’re native to Australia, so of course, they’re dangerous or deadly or venomous. Or, they’re just plain strange, an Australian trait known and loved by me and shared by most other Americans. We love Australia!

The cassowary doesn’t need to be nice, so they can be dinosaurs if they want to be. But, I find it difficult to accept the guys hanging around my barn are dino descendents. Next time Sy’s in town, I’ll invite her down home and we can sit in two of the comfortable Adirondacks and watch the goings-on. She can see our birds are just simple little creatures, unoffending and sometimes even entertaining.

This morning, I trekked outside and was greeted by the latest brood of ducklings. They are not Bahariasauruses, Sy. And, there’s a trio of twenty pound Red hens long past their ages of viability. They’re sweet old girls and hardly a pack of Tyrannosaurus Rexes looking to bite my head off.

Let me explain.

The hens stopped laying a couple years ago, although, every once in a while, one of the old girls surprises us. They still perform the farm-vital rituals of insect removal and fertilization. We don’t use chemicals ’round here. Chickens taught us that. An Allosaurus never taught mankind a thing except to run like hell. (That’d be man’s ancestor. Even I can read a timeline.)

Chickens teach ducklings barnyard manners. I haven’t seen anything about dino species teaching other species anything. I think manner, especially around the farm are nice, except the ducklings don’t listen. At six weeks old, they’ve become pre-teenagers who question everything and leave a mess. Sound familiar?

I watch the guineas watch me, but they just look on and say nothing I can understand.

At one time, our chickens shared the coop with twenty two of their sisters. We got more eggs than you can imagine, and supplied the Rescue Mission, Food Bank, and a woman’s shelter. Over the years, the group fell prey to neighborhood dogs, hawks and maybe an owl, and unfortunately a farmer unaware of their innate and trusting curiosity. Life can be capricious on the farm. It’s important for all the animals, including the farmers not to become too attached.

We provided a special corner of the north pasture as a final resting spot, because we don’t kill, and we don’t eat our workers. (Winn Dixie has a presence in our town and since Mr. Obama prohibited nasty stuff in most feed, we feel more confident in the grocery store. If anyone were to ask me, our food is the past-Prez’s prime legacy. End Mad Chicken disease now!) The bug population was happy to see the chickens diminish of course, although the ducks, and especially the ducklings seem capable enough to give them a run for their lives.

The guineas look on and sigh. I wonder what they’re not telling saying.

Let me tell you about Mississippi mallards, the unofficial duck marauder of the swamps. They’re not native and have displaced many local varieties of waterfowl. They mimic the locals and their habits, and well… Can I just say these ducks are friskier than a box full of rabbits and they’re not too choosy about their Objet d’amour? Mud brown or brilliant jade, scarlet, and pearl, they get rid of the native varieties by loving them out of existence.

Relatives gave us two clipped mallards a couple years ago. Both are fellas, big and fat. We assumed they’re brothers. They certainly fight like them. And they’re ornery. Twice a year, the guys become even more, aggressive pistols. Being a guy myself and an old married one at that, I sort of understood and for a time, forgave their antics. But they just wouldn’t slow down. The farmer, a lady of the human variety, and of whom I’m especially fond, wearied at being bitten, charged, and altogether bummed-out by our two big drakes. She had an idea. Possibly a female duck, a hen or two might do the trick.

The guineas looked on and laughed.

Much to our chagrin, the drakes weren’t having any part of the girl’s curiosity. In fact, immediate animus in the barnyard separated our new, and now antagonistic clientele. Boy-girl wars ensued. Okay, we thought. Maybe at least this diversion would be enough to redirect the drakes and their crazy acts of farm lady amour.

Soon enough however, the lady ducks found their stride, in the acre we used to call Chicken World before its population reduction. The duck hens discovered places to hide, sleep, and say-it-ain’t- so, nest. Suddenly, we had a dozen eggs, and one sensitive and angry lady duck serendipitously discovered during barn maintenance. What could be the harm? They’re just little ducks, right?

The guineas looked on and said they’d told us so. Eight new arrivals.

At first, even that was fun. We built the mama her own birthing cage (20′ x 10′ protective wire) with pools, drains, feeding stations, etc. The drakes didn’t like it, and still didn’t like the girls. The two lady ducks found themselves pecked and hounded whenever they were give an opportunity for a walkabout. The Drakes, now dubbed Raptors (Okay Sy, maybe all the dinosaur votes aren’t in yet) finally earned enough ugly words from the farmer and we gave them their own special area. A100′ x 50′ protected pen, formerly the domain of two lady goats. Goat World. (The nannies, moved to the north pasture, and were given stalls inside the barn.) That should solve the problems. Everyone’s got their own dedicated place. Mutual non-coexistance on an agricultural scale.

Would everyone just get a life, please? The guineas looked on and just shook their heads. Humans can be such dopes.

By now you’re asking how all progeneration happened if one plus none somehow equaled eight without the begetting part. While the drakes claimed no responsibility, me thinks hanky panky at the feed store before we picked up the new girls.

Back to the original issue. I thought separation of girl powers would work, but that was a no-go. The drakes just got meaner. I didn’t understand, but what the heck do I know. There were no farm animals on the military bases where I grew up.

The guineas strut about thinking whatever guineas think, and visiting whatever world tickles their fancy. Now, they have plenty to chose from.

What about those guineas? They’re noisy, screeching birds who shriek like repetitive car alarms at the weirdest times. There is no logic when they alert to phantom bad guys, real hawks or snakes. They scream at will. Loud. And they try my patience. If I walk into the backyard to perform some needed bird support, provide food or water or change out a plant, the guineas scream and carry on as if I were the devil himself.

I don’t get it.

Wild rabbits often come to rob the garden. Dastardly villains armed with sharp teeth and taking food from our table. Do the guineas alert the lady farmer her garden is under attack? No. The guineas and rabbits happily much side-by-side late into the evening, one eating our lettuce, the other eating lettuce bugs. My heart chuckles but does not warm when I’m forced into the car for a trip to Winn Dixie.

You’ve already concluded what the rabbits know all too well. Not only am I not a threat, I’m not farmer. All I know is that no matter what’s going on out in the farm yard, the guineas will just be looking on and shaking their homely little heads.

And, Sy Montgomery (http://www.delanceyplace.com/delanceyplace-archives.php) will be laughing at my naiveté. Of course, my birds are dinosaurs, she’d say. Just go and take a little nap out there in that fancy chair of yours. Then, we’ll see what happens.