by Ruth, a.k.a. Momma Frizzle
Leiper’s Fork, TN – May 2010 — My parents own two cats, 10 hens and three goats, which represent their beginning efforts at animal husbandry. My mother has three rules for all her farm animals.
Rule #2: They must be able to be handled.
Rule # 3: They must serve a purpose.
For the most part, the animals are complying with Mom’s rules.
The cats, Regina and Fat Louie, are such good mousers that they keep my parent’s trailer completely free of pests and require only occasional cat food to supplement their high-protein diet. They demonstrate their success by their wide girth. Although largely aloof to the hubbub of my six children, the cats are amiable enough to being petted when they stroll by. And Regina just rubbed up against my leg unbidden.
The bevy of hens holds the most promise for actual production. The chickens are evenly divided into five black and five buff Orpingtons. The breed is good for both eggs and meat, leaving the hens’ “purpose” open-ended. They are all non-committally named “Helen.”
A chicken run needs to be constructed, and the teenage hens must mature a bit before they are required to meet Rule #3. Meanwhile, Mom is training them to come when called and allow themselves to be held when picked up. The hens are calm enough that even my five-year-old twins, Tim and Abby, can pet them.
While the cats have proven their worth and the chickens hold the most potential, it is the goats that have captured our hearts. With a stated purpose of “keeping the grass trimmed,” Mom and Dad bought three female goats – Oreo, Fancy Pants and Molly – this spring. The goats, bottle-fed from birth, crave human companionship. They follow my parents everywhere, bleating loudly if kept penned while Mom or Dad is outside. The nannies are cute, friendly and playful – everything a goat should be. My children love them.
First thing each morning, the children run outside to take care of the goats. My oldest daughter selects a large stick and leads all three around like a shepherdess. The five-year-old twins (T2s) brush their fur and laugh at their antics, like Molly pushing Fancy Pants off a raised platform. Another daughter feeds them sweet purple clover and rakes mown grass into their pens.
While her sister decides Fancy Pants needs “alone time,” away from the rebuffs of Molly and Oreo, so she carries the other two goats into their pen and allows Fancy Pants to enjoy the yard by herself.
The 10-year-old thinks the goat yard needs a gate, so she helps Grandaddy build one out of scrap lumber and chicken wire.
The children wear the goats out. The nannies no longer bleat for attention. They take advantage of momentary lapses in their constant care to lay down under the front porch and rest.
But the goats are getting spoiled too. They are starting to prefer being carried around by little six-year-old girls with brown curls. They are misbehaving and taking advantage.
After escaping from the goat yard today, Molly hopped up on the porch bench and chomped her feed right off the dining table. All the while ignoring our reprimands, until Daddy grabbed the bowl from under her greedy mouth. A Rule #1 infraction to be sure. Later, another escape attempt was thwarted by the singe of the electric fence.
I worry that the goats’ need for human interaction is being raised to an unrealistic level. Two weeks of unrelenting love from six children is bound to ruin them. Daddy and Mom will have to hold “Goat Reform School” after we leave. Of course, I probably will with my kids too!
I’ve thought about Mom’s farm animal rules and have decided they’re good instructions for kids as well.
Rule #1: They must have good manners. Goats and children should eat politely. Learn from their mistakes. Be content with what they’re given.
Rule #2: They must be able to be handled. Farm animals and children should not bite, peck or scratch when patted or picked up. They should come when called.
Rule #3: They must serve a purpose. Goats and children should assist in daily chores. Share their talents and abilities with others.
After two weeks in the Tennessee hills, I’m learning that animal husbandry and child rearing have a lot in common.Epilogue — Much has changed in a year! We are visiting my parents right now, and Mom has revised her rules quite a bit. So stay tuned for “Goats and Kids Redux”!