The royalty of Addie Acres are King Dillon and Queen Sierra. They rule with an iron hoof. They know when the food is coming and make sure they gobble their share before allowing the large animals, despite the fact that the larger animals outweigh them by 200 pounds.They will push, grunt and butt with their heads, willing the others to let them eat first. More like the Robbing Hoods of the farm, they often resemble bandits than beneficent royalty.
When in the pastures, they walk side by side commanding the chickens to remain in their place or the royal couple will head butt them back over the fence. Once the peasant chickens are in line, King Dillon and Queen Sierra turn their attention to the nobility, lady-in-waiting Laci, and our mini-horse and knight of the round table Sir Dunkay. They chase the brave knight away from anything that might resemble food or shaded soft green grass that hasn't turned brown in summer’s heat. With Laci, they keep her “in-waiting” as they dare her to cross the invisible line that protects the 'goats only' side of the pasture realm.
Neighboring kingdoms are not safe. I have seen them raid the peaceful duck lands with typically serene ponds disturbed as one goat gobbles and the other stands guard for enemies who may want to share in the plundered treasure. Even reinforcement protectors-of-the-realm dogs are turned away with head butts, and beggar kitties, who mistakenly sit on their bale of hay, are shown no mercy.
The four mystic llamas and lone monk-like alpaca are the only inhabitants of Addie Acres seldom encountered. The llamas’ ability to keep out foreign invaders such as coyotes and neighboring looting dogs are usually left to accomplish their tasks in peace. Only occasionally, have I witnessed nose to nose encounters as goats bleated and llamas lowered heads with spit ready to fly. Suspicion and plotting are ever present with the royal two.
The king and queen live in a castle with a tower containing special sleeping quarters up and away from the larger animals. They rule from on high and enjoy beds overlooking their subjects. With smug furry faces, they know that they rule while the others drool (no really, they drool). I'm sure that before they fall into slumber, they get nose close, planning out revenge on all who dare to impede the royal will. Yes, King Dillon and Queen Sierra, goats who came to us as paupers from the petting zoo, have ascended and conquered the subjects of Addie Acres.
I've often wondered why the goat keeper at the zoo was so willing to hand them over and “for free.” Why she steered me to the only two goats out of a hundred that were standing alone next to the climbing rocks with others seemingly keeping their distance. However, they were free after all and how can you pass up a free animal or two?
The blues of winter affect not only us two-legged creatures, but also the furry four-footed critters we share our lives with. For me, winter produces a confining sense of tiredness, irritation and grumpiness. I force myself out of the house each morning as I repeat, “I love these animals, and they are worth the effort.” Like our valiant postal folks mantra, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” I trudge forward. After the needed rounds and back safe in the warmth of the house, I spend a few minutes peeling off my pink nightmare Carhart snowsuit. The splatter of ice crystals and horse poop pieces on my wood floor only adds to my disdain for the season. Now I'm even grumpier as I have to clean up after the barn animals inside the house too!
One encouragement that helps break up the dreary winter days comes in the form of our warm blooded 80-pound pit-lab mix Biscuit. He seems to be oblivious to the penetrating cold or malaise of winter as he will joyfully run through snow drifts, poop-filled pastures, through doors whether open or not, and up over the gate so he can run, run, run! Usually, the goats will run alongside him, not out of playfulness, but out of annoyance trying to butt him away.
My large animals comprised of llamas, a donkey, mini-horse and alpaca spend 90 percent of their day inside the barn. They act like bratty siblings with each other. Though plenty of tasty grain or hay is available, their table manners are atrocious with a little push here, a shove there, a nip, a grunt and kick or two to get first dibs on the meal at hand. They refuse to go outside because of the snow or blowing wind, which leaves huddling and picking on each other as the entertainment.
Most days, I have to settle a dispute between Dunkay the donkey and alpaca Lincoln, who rarely lives up to his namesake for being wise or benevolent. I lecture them on the benefits of being respectful to each other and the consequences of being naughty, like no grain for the day or threatened time out in the frozen back pasture where the snow is the deepest. They are so grumpy in the winter that I've thought about renting them out until spring to an optimist who needs a challenge. I reason, there must be better things to do than settling barnyard disputes and pushing apart nipping animals that outweigh me by hundreds of pounds.
I need everybody to chill and be on their best behavior until the robins come back. I desire the peace, joy and warmth most usually associated with the harmony of farm life and contented critters. Are there any interested optimists or critter whisperers out there looking for a bit of fun this winter?
Winters in Indiana can be bitter cold, harsh and downright scary if you run a farm. We have an interesting variety of animals occupying the Addie Acres landscape. A few llamas, an alpaca, one ultra-curious donkey, and a mini-horse nicknamed “The Tank” due to girth whose curiosity doesn’t extend beyond a feed bucket and mocks the title "mini." We also entertain a couple of goats, literally entertain, as Dillon cozies for repeated hugs and Sierra, our would-be mountain goat, is an apparent stalker. How can she can spend up to 90 percent of her day staring at the house as if to say “Come feed me, NOW!”?
In the summer, the herd has plenty of luscious, thick green pastures to graze on. They have plenty of room to stretch, run and chase each other away from preferred patches that they saw first. I so enjoy the unfolding unique renderings of spring, summer and fall. I pet, scratch, brush out and gaze upon the furry critters from my rope swing, and sip coffee as I yell at the dogs to “STOP” whatever mischief they are currently engaged in.
Winter time, in my mind, is not a season for any reason when it comes to farm critters. Winter was created for a warm house, roaring fireplace and roasting chestnuts. It is for snuggling in a warm blanket and finishing that book that has been waiting for you all year. Winters are for lovers’ mid-February embrace! Farms in the winter are anything but cozy, warm and relaxed. This is the time of year when everything standing on four legs becomes grumpy and smelly. They demand the only warm spot in the barn! They demand the extra cup of grain! They demand that I get ‘him’ away from ‘her.’ They demand that they be fed first!
When it comes to my attempts to lighten the mid-winter menagerie mood by sneaking in people food or tasty sweet grains, they become downright piggy and lose the gentility most often associated with our Addie Acres crew. Green llama phlegm spit indiscriminately at others jockeying for position only takes a second to reach the huddled horde around the feed bin the moment I lift the lid. It may actually be safer in Pamplona with the rushing of the bulls at times!
And then there is the delicate balance of maintaining my ice ballet and mud wrestling skills depending on the thin red line of the thermometer. When the line plunges, I have to become a ballerina skimming lightly along the ice. I’ve learned to twirl without falling while kicking a leg up behind me as I glide down the hill holding plates of rolls, potato skins and stale cereal. My not-so-perfected double axel over, around and above snow drifts, a loose hen and a staring goat would certainly go viral on YouTube. At times, I have ice skated with Dunkay while holding onto his mane like an awkward Olympic partner.
When the thin red line creeps upward, the mud muck grabs at my boots and seeks to permanently plant them in the pasture. Sierra, the stalking goat, even pauses from her willed demand for food to enjoy the occasional bootless plight. Those inevitable days of combined plunging temperatures with slick and mud and winter accumulated animal droppings heighten the suspense and dread for the winter disdain I feel.
Needless to say, I don’t like winter. I dislike hauling water to fill bins, the three-minute race to numb fingers and toes and the half-frozen poop I don’t find until I walk into the house and need to peel it from the bottom of my pink boot. Nope, I don’t like winter.
Ever since November 1, I have been praying for spring to come early. Until the ground thaws and the songbirds fly back to their empty nests, I ice skate my way to the barn dressed in my Pink Nightmare snowsuit, carrying plates of tasty treats for my sure-to-be-having-temper-tantrums animals, hoping that I make it there alive and back inside my cozy home in one piece. Why can’t Super Farmer simply take up residence in the barn like a hibernating bear, take care of the critters amid slumber and emerge with the sight of the first robin in the spring?!
Have I mentioned lately how much fun the farm is? You know, raking out manure, carrying 50-pound sacks of tasty goat grain or chicken scratch, or fighting off large animals who circle you like hungry sharks every time you open the grain bin can be invigorating, right?! Then, there is the truly fun things experienced everyday with my goofy animals.
For starters, there is mountain goat Sierra who starts and finishes every single day by staring at the house. No matter what time I get up in the morning, she is out by the gate, glaring straight up at my bedroom window. She doesn't move a muscle. She focuses, willing me to come out to feed her and only her, NOW! She ends her day with her catatonic stare for about 30 minutes before bed time. I don't think she even blinks when she gets into the zone!
Then there's Dillon, my other adorable little pygmy goat. He loves his people! He usually runs out to greet me demanding a pat, or better yet, a hug. He will follow me into the barn, sometimes making me trip over him. How can I get mad at a goat who adores me? It's easy not to, especially when I'm picking myself off the ground as he sticks his face into mine!
And Mr. Favorite, Dunkay, the donkey who thinks he's a dog. He “hee-haws” at the sight of a human he thinks may be on the way to feed him. He will almost always back his butt up to me, not moving until I give him a good scratch. He loves to play with balls, boxes, empty plastic tubs, the 4-foot-tall Santa or Frosty the Snowman Christmas decorations, the bird bath, our grandson’s toys or the chickens. He pushes the chickens with his nose, grabs ahold of those items and throws them high up into the air. He will follow me or Super Farmer around in the pastures. Dunkay will stick his nose into every job we do whether it’s finding eggs, pounding in fence post or cleaning out the garage. He has mastered almost every gate. We are now tying our gates closed with rope, I'm sure he is studying the knots so he can untie them!
Our mini horse, Laci the mini-tank, is named so as she's a bit plump and stubby. She loves to chew on plastic bags while nudging me with her nose. She can squeeze that round little body between gates and posts, under the fence or holes she has worked on to make big enough for an escape. Like an NFL fullback she pushes and shoves until she makes a green grass gain.
Laci making a funny face.
My boy llama Sammie is laid back. He allows Super Farmer to scratch his behind and stroke his long neck. He pretty much stays out of trouble. His side kick, Lincoln the Alpaca, is in a world that only he can visit at times. He does his warning cry toward anything that moves such as birds, a floating leaf, cats, cars, lawn mowers, people, dogs walking by, a swaying branch. If it moves, he llama screams at it!
Our two girl llamas, Sweetie and Violet, stick together like two peas in a pod. They eat and sleep together, stroll through the pasture, peek inside our windows and fight like sisters inevitably will on occasion. Typical women displaying a love-hate relationship!
Two months ago, an unexpected baby llama joined our family farm. We named him Promise because he is a promise from our Father in heaven that things are going to get better. He is our delight! Promise jumps and runs around like a normal child. He is curious about everything he lays his little brown eyes on. He is friendly and has learned to trust us. He makes us smile and is a true blessing.
My animals make me laugh whether it is putting on a hay wig as Sammie did this week, making funny faces, kissing me, or just putting on a 'here they go again show.' I can’t count how many times I have felt like giving up on life, but once I get inside the barn and feel annoyed, I get happy, letting the peace of God settle over me as I watch His gifts fight, play and nudge me with their soft, velvet muzzles.
Winter fun on the Addie Acres farm often makes me feel older as the animals regress to varying degrees of childish behavior. For instance, this week I trudged through 4-foot snow drifts in 25 below zero gusting winds with arms filled with goodies just to make their feeding seem a little warmer. By the time I entered the barn, I was tired and yet the natives surrounded me with hungry eyes, growling tummies and grunts of "feed me ... feed me ... feed me"... NOW!
I forced my body to call up renewed energy and pushed my way to the blue wooden plank trunk concealing the tasty goat grain. I climbed up on top of the old wood box, put my hands into the air to calm the riot of fur. Instinctively, I made individual eye contact to make sure each critter was going to stay calm as I passed out rolls, stale bread, strawberries and cookies. I contemplated which of the little darlings with the big appetites would be on the short end of the nibble that morning.
After the treats had been gobbled down and I had checked to confirm I had all my fingers intact, I pushed my way through the now satisfied crowd of hooves to visit the chickens who have been loudly squawking, flapping and testing the flimsy chicken wire that barely keeps cranky birds cooped up inside their slice of Addie Acre paradise inside the barn. Once in the pen, I dug deep inside my pink Carhartt snowsuit pockets to pull out the crackers I had concealed from barn border patrol agent Dunkay. I then proceeded to throw handfuls of crumbs to keep the hens busy as I participated in the daily egg hunt. It was a mixed blessing as many of the hens are still producing despite the cold and, yet, some of the eggs have frozen into oval shaped baseballs bursting at the seams.
I then turned my attention to mama llama Sweetie and baby Promise who have been waiting patiently for their grain. I gave them extra as I appreciated that they always wait for me without all the drama the animals in the front part of the barn put on everyday when I walk in. About the only llama drama was when Sweetie was not so willing to share grain with pen companion Auntie Violet, requiring me to put some in a bucket and some across the pen on the feeder hay. Baby Promise also got in on the action and alternated between mama's milk and grain that made its way to the pen floor.
After the morning feeding, watering, and treats, it was pill time for Laci the mini tank and Dunkay, who a few days ago gorged themselves dangerously full on the llama grain after knocking down the main barn gate.
By that time my fingers felt like frozen sausages and my feet like ice blocks, which made it hard to maneuver around the crowd parked in front of the grain storage bin. They somehow knew that a small bit of sweet feed was needed from the magic trunk to accompany the pills to be distributed. As soon as I lifted the creaky lid, they dove, pushed, spit, kicked, grunted and made noises that you only hear in horror movies!
With frozen fingers and awkwardly cold feet, I had to separate a horse and donkey from the llama, alpaca and two aggressive goats all vying for what they acted like was a government entitlement. With one hip on Lincoln the alpaca and an elbow on goat Dylan, I quickly gave the medicine, shoved my way through the barn gathering and, again, plodded my way back to the house through the newly formed snowdrifts.
Tomorrow will bring another winter fun day as my aging body renews itself. In the meantime, I will allow fresh hot coffee to work its way from lips to the extremities of my thawing fingers and toes.
2014 is on its way out as 2015 steps closer to becoming a new time at Addie Acres. I saw despair this past year, the kind that brings you to your knees and swallows you in tears. Death came to the farm and whisked away beloved pets, leaving a void that could never be filled. I lost my constant companion, my puppy dog Tribble, to a horrific accident. My knees ached from the tiny pebbles embedded in them from kneeling next to his fresh grave for days as I sobbed inconsolably. I thought my broken heart would never mend.
A few short weeks after I lost my dog, my full-of-spunk white horse Sparky went to sleep inside the barn, rolled over and trotted into heaven. My heart shattered again and I did not understand. I have enjoyed the fulfillment of seeing the secret desires of my heart come to pass on my small slice of heaven and to suffer losses one after another didn’t make sense.
However, the worst pain suffered, and lingers in my broken heart, was the sudden news that my bestie friend and big brother, Tommy, suffered a massive heart attack. I raced from Indiana to Florida in an effort to beat back Death and stave off that cold grip somehow. I arrived only to find he was put on life support so that what was left of his body could give back the lives to others through transplant.
I, along with Addie Acres in 2014, suffered, cried, mourned and shook fists at the heavens and those of earth asking, “WHY”?! Yet in the midst of unbearable pain, new life came with an unexpected birth of a baby llama. Right in the middle of my crying out, baby Promise brought a swell of joy, rare smiles and renewed hope. I expect that 2015 will be filled with just that…promise. I choose to replace flowing tears with unstoppable smiles. By faith, I will pray that the wails will turn into praise to the One who holds this little farm, my family, my animals safely in His hands.
We have suffered much this past year and, yet, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I am confident that my Father will take all the hard lessons and turn it around for His Glory. I will choose to get up every new morning, go to the barn, be greeted by my mischievous animals, turn my grateful face to the heavens, raise my hands towards the sky and thank Him for the pain. 2015, by God’s grace, will be Addie Acres' year to emerge from the darkness and the valley of the shadow and to move to the top of a more blessed mountain.
I think I'm going to start placing bets on Dunkay and the goats. Daily, I let the barnyard clan out in the main yard to graze and, hopefully, eat every last leftover maple leaf rotting on the ground. Unfortunately, the donkey and goats also know where the duck pen is with yummy quacker food inside. As soon as I open the gate, the three of them RACE to the corner of the yard known as Duckieland. It is almost shameful at times as manners are set aside and they push each other out of the way to get there first!
Once in awhile, I literally slap my hand to my forehead remembering that I forgot to tie the gate so they can't get in to Duckieland. Yes, that's right, tie it with rope. They are smarter than the average bear and know how to open every gate and latch that man has created! Which means, I have to run behind them trying to get to the pen before they do! A donkey, two goats and a crazy farmer lady running neck and neck towards the back yard is a sight to see and probably worthy of an automatic yard cam at some point.
I can just hear the announcer giving odds and commencing the race with "Ladies and gentlemen, at 2 to 1 is Dunkay, Crazy Lady at 5 to 2, Mountain Goat at 20 to 1 and distant long shot Pudge Boy at 70 to 1 ..."
"Racers have come through the farm gate and they're off! Here comes Crazy Lady on the gravel stretch with Mountain Goat a nose behind, Dunk the donk is coming up fast as Pudge Boy goat is bringing up the rear!"
"At the maple bend, it's Dunk the donk passing Crazy Lady, Mountain Goat and Pudge Boy collide and ... Mountain Goat is off the track in a swirl of dust and Pudge Boy is falling three tail lengths behind!"
"Here they come down the final turn to the finish pine."
"Dunk and Crazy are nose to nose, Dunk pushes Crazy causing a near fall."
"WAIT! Mountain is mounting a charge aaaannnd, yes, takes the lead after an amazing come back!!!"
"Hold all bets! What's this? Somehow, folks, Pudge Boy is already inside the Victory pen and eating the duck food prize. Unbelievable, ladies and gentlemen!! Pudge Boy comes out of nowhere against all odds for the win!"
Dunk, Crazy and Mountain stand there in disbelief as Pudge accepts his prize and the white quaker duck prominently stands close like the end of race pretty lady presenter. To the victor go the spoils! What a race!