When living in the country raising young'uns, farm animals and pets sort of go hand-in-hand.
First, came a puppy here and there as a pet and then two kittens, inherited when my daddy told the boys he was going to have to get rid of them because the mother cat wouldn't nurse them and he didn't have time for their care. So the distraught boys coaxed me into feeding them milk with a dropper and named them Felix and Love, who both survived and lived long and purring lives.
As the boys grew older, the farm animals started accumulating, beginning, thanks to the Easter Bunny, with a few soft downy ducklings and fuzzy feathered dyed pink "biddies," aka young chickens. But, guess what? One starting out as a cuddly pink biddy grew into a bad white rooster that would drop one wing down while sidling up to a person, drumming his feathers, daring a move before he attacked with sharp spurs on his feet. Needless to say he met his demise one fateful day when my daddy, a carpenter, walked in the yard, hammer in hand, ready to do some carpentry and Mr. Rooster with his "bad-self" sidled up to the wrong victim who lowered the hammer on his head.
We then decided to get some "pullets," aka "teenage chickens" or young hens less than a year old. Since it would be awhile before they were old enough to be productive by laying eggs, my proactive mother-in-law -- everyone called her Mammy -- and I visited our neighbors' barnyards and bartered a few good laying hens to keep the young pullets in hand while they took care of the egg producing business.
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This addition meant building an enclosed and roofed wooden chicken house complete with roosting poles for them to retire on at night. The outside of the house was lined with a row of individual nesting boxes, fluffed with hay and ramped steps leading up to them. These chickens never had it so good, and it paid off when gathering eggs in an apron late in the evening.
Of course, surrounding the chicken house was a wire enclosed outdoor pen for them to scratch in the dirt in search of that last grain of corn scattered out that morning, but for some reason, with all the warmer fair-weather days to be had, my husband chose the coldest day in winter, like 32 degrees, to get into the notion to build. Br-r-r!
Happy chickens go around pecking and singing with their clucking noises all day and that's fine, but a rooster that doesn't crow at 6 a.m. isn't worth the corn in his craw. If we ever heard the chickens raise a ruckus during the night we knew something was amiss and no matter how good a pen is built, raccoons are bound to play havoc after a chicken because for them, everyday is Thanksgiving when there's fowl for the taking.
The boys rigged up a trap to catch the raccoons consisting of a 50 gallon drum with a board leading up to the top and extending over the open area that was baited. On this bait was a string attached leading from there to a bedroom window with a cow-bell tied on the end. Surely, they thought, when a raccoon came calling after the bait, the bell would ring -- alerting them -- and they'd go fetch the varmint from the bottom of the drum, right?
It worked all right but the only person who heard it was me, mama, having to shake sleeping boys awake to finish their mission.
Other than chickens, there were ducks and a "bad-natured" goose named Charlie that would chase you right out of his territory "honking' all the way, while only befriending my husband. I never figured that out because I was the one who fed him. The ungrateful critter never knew how many time he came close to becoming a goose-down feathered pillow. He finally found a new home in a relative's barnyard, being swapped out for a "runt" baby piglet: its mama hog had more little piggy than she did teats.
Guess who had to get up every three hours during the night to quell its squeals with a bottle of warm milk? You guessed it. If you need a clue, it wasn't the man of the house.
That little pig we named Josh thrived and grew into an 80 pound white hog with a pink snout running around in the fenced in field, where, at any given time of the day if we peeked out the window we'd catch the boys hitching a ride on his back.
Seeing they were old enough to ride a hog we purchased a Shetland pony, named Rebel, up for sale, from a neighbor and believe you me, he was a true rebel. He'd race around the field with a rider on his back then all of a sudden stop, dead in his track, sending the rider flying over his head landing in the dirt on his back-side. He reveled in his trickery and the next time a rider hopped on he gave a repeat performance.
Since we had acquired a true "Old McDonalds Farm," my younger brother, a South Carolina wildlife officer, found a wobbly legged baby nanny goat on the side of the road near starvation, so, of course, where did he bring it? Right again, Tanners animal farm, the more the merrier and always with a baby bottle handy.
We named her "Twiggy" because of her long skinny legs and she loved to play with the boys, rearing up on her hind legs with her head bowed like she was "gonna" really butt their heads off, then only came down with a gentle tap to their forehead.
Even though animals, a lot like children, come with responsibility with their raising, they are a pleasure to have around, loved by all and have a way of teaching young'uns compassion, allowing them to help with the duty of the daily caring of them, all the while learning a lesson of responsibilities themselves.
Contributor Jean Tanner is a lifetime rural resident of the Bluffton area and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.