After a few months of being farmers and getting the llama experience we, or shall I say I, decided it was time to add to our family of animals. You know us women, we all want a horse. It is every little girl’s dream to have a horse, white and powerful who eats carrots out of your hand and tramples deadly snakes to save your life! My dream horse was named Snowfire after a 1960s era TV show. So, of course, I wanted a similarly white and majestic horse!
I got on the Internet one night after causally mentioning to Chad about "horses, farm, more fun, how about it, etc.” Before he could answer, I already had four sheets printed out of who had horses and where within 500 miles! I narrowed it down to 10 miles and found a cute little place in the country called, Knapp Mini Horses. We visited Lisa and her prize horses. She had every size, shape and color. I saw my white horse off in the distance and beelined to her. She wasn’t a ‘real’ horse as her head came just past my waist and had a little gray mixed in. Also, her name was Sparky and, we would later find out, there was good reason for that. I nuzzled her nose and made up my mind that Sparky was going to be mine!
Now we needed another horse because, according to the always-truthful Internet, they do better in pairs. We found Laci off by herself eating, which we later discovered she does best, non-stop, like a lawnmower on perpetual autopilot. She was brown with a golden mane and, best of all, she was with foal. Two horses for the price of one, we (or I) reasoned! Laci reminded me of a Walmart greeter so I thought she would be great with little kids when they petted her in undeterred munch. We went into dickering mode with the seller and agreed on a price. I was a few hundred dollars short. Lisa offered to let us put them on ‘lay-a-way’. So, for two months, I paid on my horsey-lay-away and got our barn ready for the new family members.
I had a talk with the llamas assuring them that the new horses were not as important as they were and that Mommy would still love them the most! They heard me without listening, blinking as they stared into space while my ‘Charlie brown teacher voice’ went over and around them. Soon, the day came when my little girl dream became a reality! Lisa dropped off my horses and gave us a small booklet on, yes that’s right, the ‘do’s and don’ts for mini horses’. Like before with the “llama manual’, I scanned it, under lined the important stuff and handed it to Chad. He responded much the same as before and had set the book aside as soon as I lifted my pointing finger from the page.
We introduced the animals and the llamas ran out of the barn into the pasture as the horses bee-lined it to the fresh hay. Yep, it was going to work out nice. We had two llamas and two mini horses with a foal on the way! The four were easy to take care of and gave us hours of entertainment and enjoyment. Well, easy and entertaining for me anyway. Super Farmer Chad now had barn duties that he didn’t count on, like mucking the barn, feeding animals in 20-below blizzards, and chasing horses back into their side of the field or off the road after knocking down the fence. What could be better? Maybe a goat or two? Or, three dozen chickens? Why not add a few … dozen bunnies? A ferret? And, of course one has to have a barn kitty or three to keep out riff raff.
I was sitting on the back porch at dusk the other evening. It is a beautiful Spring night, the trees are just beginning to bud, white and yellow daffodils are in full bloom and my animals are fighting each other for the tiny sprouts of green grass trying to come up for life and sunshine.
As I'm watching the horses and Dunkay shove each other away from the struggling blades of green, my mind floated back to 5 years ago when Chad (Super Farmer) and I thought it would be fun to start a little farm with no experience and deceiving thoughts of "I'm sure it will be easy, how hard can it be??!!"
We found a cute, already established farm and started off with two Llamas given as housewarming gifts by the previous "Llama Farm" occupants. These llamas, Sweetie and Violet, surely were like llamas we had seen before and even got close to once. Therefore, we had enough experience to begin with two huge animals that don't like to be touched, are shy around humans, and keep a good distance between you and them unless there's grain.
Sweetie and Violet were 'mini llamas' so, instead of being 6 feet tall, they were only 5 1/2 feet. We thought, "Piece of cake!" Our two full grown Llamas came with 'royalty' papers and a guide book that was close to an inch thick, filled with the do's and don'ts of raising your own llamas for fun or profit. I read the book in 20 minutes and absorbed nothing! I wasn't familiar with farm language yet and didn't know anything about shearing every summer and clipping feet every 5 to 6 months so I underlined all that important farm stuff and handed it over to my soon to be named, Super Farmer, husband. He frowned at me as he flipped though all my underlining and pink high lights. I acted like I didn't notice his indifference while I pointed to all the important stuff like 'They Must be Sheared' and 'No Dogs Should Ever Be Allowed Near Them.' I didn't let on that the dog part worried me since we have a small pack of hounds and I REALLY wanted llamas.
Chad and I learned quickly what llamas liked and what they didn't, which is almost everything. We gained the trust of Sweetie who now gives kisses and have come to be experts on our girls. We and the regular flow of inquisitive visitors enjoy Sweetie and Violet. This summer, our first llama babies will be born. I'm glad we started this adventure together with Llamas! We have learned much about farming and a new kind of commitment to animals (and each other) as we do 'rock-paper-scissors' to see who is going out in the middle of a blizzard to feed, water and chase! Being a farmer is fun and satisfying, especially when I can relax on my antique wicker rocking chair with a frosty glass of raspberry tea, shouting to Super Farmer who is out in the pasture doing the work with more animals than he can count on his fingers and toes. There is a special joy to see Sparky chasing the goat again and to be able to call out, "GO SAVE HER!" And, he does.
We should name our big fat horse Laci ... Houdini! I went out to the barn about an hour ago to do my 'feed the animals without being trampled' dance. I gave Sparky her pill, then turned to give Laci her medicine and noticed she wasn't in the barn doing her usual pigging out jockeying for hay. Hmmm, was she really wanting to eat the still brown grass? No! Somehow, she had forced her rotund horsey body through a newly created gap in the fence and stood munching emerging green grass next to our 6-foot-tall concrete hand. Unfortunately, Lacy's hooves tend to founder in the fresh spring grass and the road only a few feet beyond the hand threatened a more fatal encounter with passing cars.
With passersby driving slowly to take in the spectacle of a funny plump horse next to an oversized hand, I reflexively grabbed her leash and calmly walked out the gate pretending I wasn't in the least interested in catching her. As I approached our naughty girl, I gave her the original pill mixed with goat grain and slipped the lead around her fury mane. As I let out a sigh of relief, Laci gave a loud "whiiinnnniiiiee" as she realized the crafty human had gained control again. Woo-hoo ... crisis averted and another win for the mama, which, with animals who tend to be smarter than the average bear, is not always the case.
And now, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story. With Laci back in the barn penned up with the oft co-conspirator Sparky, I ventured to figure out the secret of the escape without the assistance of Superfarmer. I walked the fence line until I found where she had worked it until it came loose. I was shocked! This overweight so-called "mini" horse not only worked a spot loose, but it required her getting down on her belly and wriggling through the bottom of the fence like soldiers under barbed wire during live fire drills in basic training. My remedy? A concrete block and binder twine interlacing the fence with it to prevent the next attempted foray. Proudies to me, I did this on my own. Of course, when Superfarmer Chad arrives from his sure-to-be-long-day at work, he will be sent out alone in the dark to inspect ALL of the fence and to fix any remaining horsey-shaped imprints still misshaping the fence.
It is amazing how the bellowing of hungry animals can be heard despite no perceptible sound. It is as if I can feel their collective staring eyes boring holes through the walls of the house until I respond with demanded food. Tonight was no different. I go to the barn to feed my supposedly starving animals and look over my 5-foot-high kitty condo tree where I feed my kitties. I usually put their food up there so the chickens don’t beat them to it. Of course, it doesn’t always work as our chickens sense cat kibbles, the goat grain and all llama munchies. If there’s food anywhere within 10 miles, those chickens will find it!
As I approach the cat dish to see if it needed filling up, I notice an unfamiliar and odd furry cat with its back to me, head buried deep in the yummy kitty nibbles. My first thought is, “what is wrong with that cat’s fur, it’s shiny and gray? I don’t remember any of the barn kitties being so odd.” I go over to see the “kitty,” and he turns around to glare at me with beady little eyes and a not-so-cute hiss complete with a gaping toothy grimace! It’s a possum!! I internally scream, “WHAT??!!” My boy kitty is sitting up there with him like they are buddies or something!
It is a young possum, and I relent as I see he is kind of cute, with squinted eyes and a big-boy bravado! He just sat there, with my cat curiously watching, daring me to chase him away. I loudly say to Boy Kitty, “Come on! This is why I hired you! To keep the riff raff away! Now do your job!!” He yawned! He really did, he actually yawned. The friendly possum then let his body go limp, hanging his head over the side as the kitty sat next to him. He was 'playing possum' with me! After about a minute, he realized that I wasn't going to hit him over the head and straightened up, going back to munching away with Boy Kitty! I roll my eyes and turn, thinking this is one for Superfarmer to handle. As I leave, I look over my shoulder to see my boy kitty and his new bud sitting on top of the cat condo sharing a nice dinner. Oh brother. Such is life on Addie Acres. True story!!!
Knock, Knock, KNOCK! I hear as I’m sitting in my cozy office working on Ebay at my computer. With a start, I move down the stairs thinking someone must have run out of the organic brown eggs we sell. I open the door with a wide smile of welcome only to come face to face with a LaPorte County sheriff's deputy who is not smiling back (never a good sign!). My mind reflexively fills in the gaps, now what did No. 1 son do, Superfarmer Chad forget or (only as an afterthought) was there an accident and is everyone OK?
As we continue this dance, the first thing he asks is, "Do you own a donkey?" I think, “Oh no … Dunkay broke loose? And if he is loose, then where is Sparky and the Tank and the goats and the chickens…?!?” I quickly scan the field and start a head count … one, two, three … where’s Sparky? Heart drops.Sparky is the one animal not to have free due to a WHOO-HOO bye-bye stubbornness! The deputy continues with “There is a donkey running down the road, all gray,” and in relief I sigh “Whew ,,. mine is spotted.”
However, I still don’t see Sparky, and I ask the deputy whether he is sure it’s a donkey and not a mini-horse? With narrowing and increasingly fixed glare, he assures me it’s a donkey and he can tell the difference between the two. Another look in the field, and Sparky comes into sight … double whew! I don’t see Lincoln so I ask him another simple question, “Are you sure it’s not an Alpaca … he’s all brown and stands this tall (my hand motions up to the top of my head) and he’s…”
CUT OFF by the rolling of his eyes, teeth beginning to clench, he states firmly without a word spoken that he can tell the difference between a donkey and an Alpaca. In this moment, I look to make sure his hand isn’t on the gun with this crazy lady asking him if he knows the difference between donkeys, horses and Llamas and unwittingly bent on obstructing a police investigation! At this point, I realize, that somebody else for a change is chasing a large animal down the road and it is NOT one of ours! HALLELUJAH!
Like an angelic visitation, as quickly as he had come, the deputy vanished. Shaken, I decide to walk the fence just to make sure they don’t get any bright ideas if they had seen the transgressing donkey cousin running past our house. We later found out a neighbor down the road had reported a stray donkey and with certainty figured it came from Addie Acres.
Oh what a wonderful morning! The first thing I usually do is open my curtains to spy on the animals to see if they are being naughty or nice! This morning they have decided to be naughty!
I see Sweetie, our black Llama, in the front field, where she is NOT suppose to be! NOT A GOOD SIGN! I quickly get dressed and run out the non-stop swinging door, which I seem to be doing a lot lately. I can now see Sparky, the Tank and Dunkay in the Llama field, a very bad sign. I don’t see our boy Llamas Stormy and Sammie, or Lincoln, my Alpaca, an ‘Oh NO’ sign!
I sprint to the barn where I hear two Llamas fighting and Lincoln is now running to the back field screaming … I didn’t know Alpacas can scream! It’s an eerie sound, nothing like their warning call. In the barn are two full-grown male Llamas that out weigh me by 150 pounds each, fighting, making sounds that would make a grown man stop and back away praying that they don’t see him!
I have to form a plan, quickly. Do I let them fight their way out of the barn, or do I yell like a crazy lady waving my arms outside where people can see me? I yell. They both stop, look at me, look back at each other, then back at me. I swear they both had a look of amusement on their faces. After sharing a laugh between themselves, they decided to go back doing what boy Llamas do best … fight.
I gave up. I trudged my way through the thick mud to the back field and chased two horses and a donkey back into their own pasture. Meantime Lincoln is in the corner of the fence panicking, wailing out his distress sounds. Both goats are in the barn hiding under the food bin and the kitties are going about cat business, they want to be fed … now!
Stormy decided that he had had enough of Sammy and searches for Lincoln, which got him out of the barn. He galloped over to where Lincoln was trembling, then chased him along the fence. A grunting Llama with his head close to the behind of a screaming Alpaca! Oh, where was my camera! While those two were running back and forth, it gave me a chance to herd both girl Llamas into the side yard with the promise of tasty grain.
Lincoln runs back to the barn with an angry Llama snipping and spitting close behind! By the grace of God, I got Sammy and Lincoln into a pen (where the goats were hiding) and shut the gate to keep Stormy from biting them!
Now I have two girl Llamas in one field, two horses and a donkey in another with an unhappy boy llama running from barn to pasture where his girls are. Now all I have to do is trick three Lamas into their own territory! HA! With a cup full of desirable grain, a slide of the hand on the gate, along with a few herding tricks that involves out stretched arms mixed with my own animal noises, they are back where they belong! I shut everybody into their rightful places and inspect for damage inside the barn. Not too bad, they didn’t consume all the grain, two hay bales were toppled, the chicken and cat food I left out last night had been eaten, and only two piles of horse poop in the main area.
I gave the horses their pills and fed chickens along with kitties, I scolded everybody for being bad boys and girls, which doesn’t do me any good, they only stare back with blank expressions. I will keep a close eye on the herd today. If they worked the inside gate open once, they will surely do it again.
This is Stormy trying to jump the fence to get at Sammie.
It is spring! How do I know? Because I had my first bowl of cereal on my log swing with Chick Chick and, count them, 1 … 2 … 3 … 4 cats! Yep, it was a unique form of relaxation as I fought off a chicken and four supposedly starving kitties from my bran and fruit. With one eye on my food, those cats managed in turn to swipe at the hen, who in turn pecked back at furry faces. The gang then pushed each other away from me along with a few loud meeeeoooowwwws and a blood curdling SQUAWK!
I ate as fast as I could, throwing some Special K flakes in the middle of the squabble, simply so they would leave me alone. It didn’t work. They transformed from friendly farm animals to chum-inspired sharks circling milky morsels and pounced upon it in a pile of fur and feathers. After the attack, they all looked up at me, silent, with narrowing eyes demanding MORE. With the piercing looks, it was clear a few flakes offered in peace would not suffice, they demanded whole bowl!
I retreated as fast as I could back to the house with my breakfast held high above my head as the pack of cats pursued. One kitty ran in front trying to get me to stop as the other three sprinted to the back door where they stood like soldiers guarding as if to say “nobody in, nobody out!” Chick Chick waited by the swing hoping the cats would succeed and turn me back to the swing where I would reward her for being good. The cats won.
I gave up my cereal and placed it on the porch. It was completely gone within 4.5 seconds. I grudgingly went back to my swing and sat with Chick Chick who was not interested in me anymore now that the food was gone. She jumped down and strutted away looking for early bugs. The kitties relished in their victory and cuddled in the warm sun, paws and tails wrapped around each other in an indistinguishable bundle, glancing at me with a satisfied look of "yep, we rule, you drool." Who knew cereal killers could be so terrifying and cute all at the same time?!
Photo: iStockphoto.com/Melissa Anne Galleries