Archive for February, 2011

Of Mice and Farm Cats

Lucy was a city cat, raised in an apartment. Just your typical little black shorthair of unknown parentage who ended up at a rescue and taken in as a pet by our friend Ambika. Lucy spent her days as an only cat, doing what most apartment cats do- lounging in the sun in front of a window, sleeping on any smooth, flat surface she could find, and chewing up the cords to the computer mouse. She was brought her food every day, and was implored by her owner not to use her claws on the furniture. Unfortunately for both pet and owner, Ambika soon had to move to a different city, and to a place where she could not keep Lucy as a pet anymore.
Christy had met Lucy as a tiny kitten and she let Ambika know that if she could not find a placement for Lucy, that we could try to take Lucy to the farm and see what would happen. No one was sure at the time of how Lucy would react to going from being a house cat to being exposed to all of the animals and livestock on the farm. Lucy was about 10 months old at the time, was small, slight and had only ever been indoors. To be honest, between the coyotes, the owl and the hawks I was not even sure how long a little cat would last up here.
Lucy adjusted to Christy’s house right away, and developed a love/hate relationship with Christy’s dachshund Mandy. Mandy loves cats, but Lucy, true to her feline nature, loves to, at times, terrorize K-9s. As much as they get along even now, Lucy will always take any opportunity she can to pounce on Mandy, or bip her in the head for no reason. Mandy seems to be a very good sport about the whole thing though, and does not retaliate other than barking. Lucy is not really one who wants to be petted or sit in someone’s lap. You can tickle her under her chin, but only for just so long, and then without warning you will receive a smart bite to the hand and she will dance away out of reach
I will stop here and say, that yes, there are cat people and there are dog people. I have had dogs my whole life; I have had up to 7 dogs at one time, and in fact bred and showed them at one point. I have only ever had 2 cats in my entire life;. one that found me and one that the kids dragged home. I was, for the most part, indifferent to both. I don’t like the scratching thing,  I don’t like the hair that gets everywhere, and I am not a fan of litter boxes or their contents. Hairballs or the sounds that have to be made to produce them, are something I don’t even want to have to think about.
So as a devoted “notacatperson” I admittedly found much humor in it when I would sometimes walk by Christy’s house and hear a scream, followed a few seconds later by the door opening and a still wiggling lizard’s tail or legless grasshopper or potato bug go flying out past the screen as Lucy began to find her “inner hunter.” The more Lucy started to grow and put on weight and size, the more she also started to expand her dominion bit by bit, and began to venture from Christy’s yard and garden across the driveway and into the feed shed. Here was her training ground, and she started to spend many long hours learning to hunt among the feed sacks and barrels. I actually was very proud (after a few seconds of being grossed out) of her the first time I was coming to the shed one morning, and she had lined up her morning’s catch for me to see right there in the doorway; three little headless mice. I hailed her a mighty hunter and was glad she had found a job and a new purpose in life here.
It was months later that I witnessed one of the strangest things I have ever seen a cat do. I was out working in the raised beds one day and Lucy walked past me carrying  a fairly good sized mouse in her mouth. It was not dead, she had just stunned it like cats will do sometimes. The next thing I knew she had taken the mouse to the goat yard fence and dropped the stunned mouse down. She waited for Nikki, our livestock guard dog, to come over to where she was, and then proceeded to bat the mouse through the fence to her. She then sat there with what seemed like great delight, and watched the dog kill and consume the mouse. I was fascinated by this bizarre behavior and my mind reeled with stories. Could it be like the story of the lion and the mouse and that the dog had once caught the cat and the cat had had to make a pact to bring her food, or maybe the cat felt a deep need to bring sacrifices to the great Anatolian keeper of the goat yard for some reason unknown to us? Anyway, it is one of the strangest things I have ever witnessed animals doing.
These days, Lucy is doing a very good job of keeping the rodent population down in the feed shed and she has expanded to the garage and raised boxes as well. She is now a full fledged “big game” hunter, adding birds, small rats, and gophers to her list of kills. As time has passed by, I can now say that I am even somewhat fond of Lucy. Now that we have adjusted to having to say words of praise over the line-up of body parts and entrails in the driveway, or the CSI “presents” she leaves for me to find (where she knows I will see them) on the shelves in the feed shed, and the occational “live dinner show” she will bring into Christy’s house (I think Lucy still likes to hear her scream from time to time) I feel that Lucy has found her place here on the farm and she does her job well as farm cat.  She now does what her feline instincts tell her to do and we have to adjust ourselves and be accepting of her “catness”, even when it sometimes takes us by surprise (or grosses us out.)

All Hail Lucy O mighty hunter!

February, the calm before the spring

Although it is still pretty chilly in the mornings, the outdoor chores have begun in earnest the first week in February. Since Mr.Groundhog has announced that spring would come early this year, I have been up in the wee morning hours to grab a nice hot cup of coffee and venture out to examine the gardens. I am always glad to welcome the longer hours of sunlight on my morning rounds, as the dark winter months slowly give way little by little. I have stopped by the trellises, and unused water containers that were emptied, and most of the outdoor furniture to check for damage. I also have begun the task of removing old branches and pruning back fruit trees, rose bushes and berry canes. Two mornings in a row I felt brave, and tackled the huge Joseph’s Coat rose that has climbed all the way up the rebar archway in the lavender field, and has begun to pull it over. I have not cut this rose back in years, and it was quite the battle to get him back under control again. In the end, he got a severe lopping back, and I am covered from the elbows down in pokes and deep scratches. The hazards of owning rose bushes I guess. I will get to the vineyard soon (I hope). I put my used feed sacks to good use, filling them with the pruned branches, canes, and garden debris and hauling them off by the bag load. Leaves and things that can be put through the chipper will go into the compost piles and worm bins. Every once in a while I peek under the covered raised beds to see how the weed eradication is progressing. All of this starts to rekindle my interest in the garden’s design, and my head starts to reel with visions of the spring planting just around the corner.

I also use these fallow days to clean the chicken coops down to the dirt – when they are dry enough in between storms. Sometimes it is all I can do just to keep ahead of the mud this time of the year, and just when I get everything somewhat cleaned up and dried out, it rains again. It seems like I am forever changing the straw in the nest boxes and scrubbing muddy water buckets. The goats are still sporting their heavy winter coats and long beards. We had two days of much protesting as they were all tricked into a pen with a bucket full of sweet grain, and then systematically captured, removed one by one and secured on the milking stand strategically placed in front of the pen. Here they are each checked over and given their vaccinations, wormed, checked for lice and have their hooves trimmed. You would think they would be wise to this tactic by now, but they seem to fall for it every time. 14 goats times 4 hoofs each, makes for a lot of work and a few blisters later. We are all glad when this winter chore is done. So are the goats.

Not much new life here now, only a handful of eggs have been collected and put in the incubator lately. Just a few chicks and game birds have hatched in the past few months – we’ve watched them closely to make sure they are warm enough to make it in this off-season. It looks like most of the molting has stopped in the breeding cages and a few of the pens are even producing a couple of eggs a day now. This time of year the flocks are at their bare minimums, so as not to have to feed as many birds through this non-productive time. I even put the geese out to earn their keep by weeding the back field.

The new calendar page of set and hatch dates was taped to the clear door of the Sportsman incubator to remind me to note the days until Easter. I would remind my hens of these dates as well, but I doubt they would listen.

There is a bit of lettuce growing in one of the raised beds but everything else is still too cold and weary under winter’s firm hold. We will be gearing up for spring soon, but for now we can enjoy some lazier days, pruning back with not much to water, fewer animals to feed and tend, and a bit of time before spring hits us full force. In the meantime I will enjoy having a fire in the fireplace, time for a good book, and the house smelling of something baking in the oven. I will enjoy this time of calmness February brings.