Sunday, January 01, 2006

Mucking about with Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis

Another day at the sanctuary the other day (Thursday). A wet day. Rain on and off. Mostly on.

Once again "Mio" (not sure of the spelling) did his best "Hound from Hell" impersonation when I first knocked at the door. Also, once again he smelled my hand while I did my best impression of a stalagmite. He seems to quickly settle down though once he has a scent to go with the knocking sound and I have again lived to tell the tale/tail.

Once inside, I talked with Jen and Sheila for a little bit, was introduced to Lisa who was working around the kitchen, mushed Moby's head, grabbed a cookie that Jen offered, and headed out to join Morgan for a happy day of happy cowshit.

--Cut to cow field.--

Just outside Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis' (the three resident Steer) house is an area approximately 15' x 15' where their hay is served and they do most of their eating. (At least now that it's Winter.) As such, the ground in that area gets most of the action in terms of accumulated dead straw and, umm, fully digested straw. So, it all has to occasionally be picked up and taken away by tractor to the compost heap two fields away. This is how Morgan and I with help from Sheila spent much of the afternoon. With the rain coming down, we're talking several tons of stuff!

Time for a quick tangent here about "cats" so bear with me. It'll all come together in the end.

For those of you who have ever owned a cat, you probably know what happens when you try to read a book. It's not long before the cat HAS to join you. And invariably, it's preferred way of joining you is by sitting on your book. As cat owners, we know this is their job.

Okay, back to our story.

Arriving at our 15' x 15' hay-eating site, I by foot and Morgan by tractor, we proceeded to dig in with our pitchforks for a good muck-out.

And here comes Ralphie.

Followed by Andy.

And of course, Elvis.

Now, Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis seem to have about 8 acres (again, I'm bad with acreage) to roam around on and a house where they could stay dry on this rainy day. But they weren't going to have any of that. They needed to investigate and they started with the tractor. Nibbling the seat, licking the tires, nuzzling the engine hoses, everything was given a good going over. (If you've seen the film "A Shark Tale", think "Whale Wash"!)

But it was all pretext. A clever and diabolical ruse, if you will, to slowly and slyly advance to where they wanted to go the most.

Ralphie's the boss so he takes the lead with all ventures. As he worked his way down the tractor, he eventually arrived at the front bucket into which Morgan and I were pitching the hay. Having head-rubbed the bucket for a few seconds, Ralphie chose his next stop. And of course, that chosen stop HAD to be squarely between Morgan and I on top of the hay we were pitching! I don't think he wanted anything in particular. With 8 acres worth of standing area available he just knew that that was the spot that he wanted to stand on at that moment. And that was that. One does not argue with Ralphie.

Again, Ralphie is the lead-taker with these things which also means that Andy and Elvis need to do their parts and follow Ralphie. And so, they did. There wasn't any more room between Morgan and I. Ralphie saw to that. But there was some available "standing land" just to the right and left of us, so Andy and Elvis filled-in the remaining space.

So here's the scene: Morgan and Bob are standing in front of a tractor bucket pitching hay when they are joined, shoulder to shoulder, by 6,000 lbs. of horned, well-muscled, Steer who are all doing their impressions of book-squatting cats. Except these "cats" are alternately licking my jacket and my ear and nosing me in the sides. Oh yeah, and Elvis keeps trying to lift my wallet! They are all moving slightly. A few short shuffles at a time and each in a slightly different direction so that at any given moment you are never exactly sure of any steer's exact location.

Basically, both Morgan and I, attempting to pitch some hay, are literally caught in a vortex of swirling steer determined to occupy the same physical space as we were.

Now, you have to be aware of some of the things that were told to me about Steer. Don't touch their horns, they don't like it. Don't stand behind them, if they get spooked you might get launched into the next field. And don't jab one in the ribs with the backstroke while pitchforking because you might startle it causing a mass panic and be turned into human coffee grounds. No one told me that one. It came to me on it's own.

So how did it turn out you ask?

Well, Sheila eventually joined us and we managed to fill the tractor bucket with hay. Morgan started the tractor and he and I headed to the gate on the other side of field on our way to the compost heap.

And who might you guess thought it'd be fun to tag along?

Once again, here comes Ralphie.

And Andy.

And Elvis.

The process with the gate is that one person has to open the gate while the other drives the tractor through the opening. The person who opens the gate is also charged with keeping Ralphie and company inside the fence. The gate is the access point between their field and the pig field. It's not that steer would intentionally hurt the pigs or vice-versa, but no one wishes to have to deal with the noisy confusion that would surely ensue should the steer encroach on pig land.

So having reached the gate, we all reached another standstill. How to open the gate for the tractor while keeping the Three Muske(s)teers inside the field.

Oh, and to make things a bit more interesting, here come two Hummer-sized pigs from the other side schnuffling towards the gate as well.

Sheila, who remained at the feeding area, called Ralphie and he eventually ran to her with Andy and Elvis in tow. I opened the gate for Morgan and rattled the chain that locks the gate which kept the pigs away. Morgan made it through the gate and I closed it behind him.

All concerned eventually forgot about Morgan and I making our numerous trips through the gate to dump the hay and Sheila kept the Gang of Three busy on the other side of their house so we could finish pitching the rest of the hay.

Cats have nothing on Ralphie, Andy, and Elvis. I'd hate to open a book around them.

As for the rest of the day:

Olivia and Dylan were in their pens inside in the barn for the time that I was there. I'm sure they were "battened down" due to the rain. Got to play with them a little bit while throwing down straw for the pigs in the adjacent pen. Dylan's still young enough that he can't quite figure out that despite the similarities, a hand is not an utter!

Got to feed the pigs again. Just pellets this time. Feeding pellets to pigs is not as uneventful as it might sound! With all the jostling, grunting, head-butting, and foot-working for position to get first crack at the bowl, it's quite a scene! There are about six bowls that get spread around so eventually everybody gets to fill up.

Stormy must have been riding-out the weather somewhere dry, or maybe the hat I was wearing threw him off a bit. I didn't see him this time.

Towards the end of the day, I spent about 20 minutes sitting with Sheila getting more acquainted with the chickens. Sheila seems to have a special feeling for the chickens (each one gets a kiss after meds!). In my mind I divided the 37 chickens into four groups. There were one or two that came closer to me and kind of "nestled-in". There were several that kept more towards Sheila. There was a group that just milled about in the center of the room possibily waiting for us to leave so they could throw on a movie. And the rest were content to just huddle under the heat lamp or hunker-down to sleep on the other side of the building.

I also got to scoop up three chickens myself for meds! Sheila said that the three were of the more docile ones so they would make good practice. All went well (Sheila said I was "a natural"!) and I'm sure I'll be moving up to the more resistant of the lot soon.

I seem to still smell like a barn.

Another good day.


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