A few years ago we traded in the city life for rural living. Unlike Lisa on “Green Acres,” I don’t adore a penthouse view (I've only ever enjoyed one, on a week's stay in smoggy Shanghai, China), but I do know I was ready to leave the nightly police helicopter tours over our block, the drug-dealers’ conventions at the local convenience store and the no-name, no-talk attitude of some of our city neighbors.
We looked at several areas before we chose a rural location that shall remain nameless but lies between Oregon and Mexico. With starry-eyed optimism, we bought a "fixer-upper" (translation: some of the outlets weren’t wired to ANYTHING but air) farmhouse with a couple of acres. The outgoing owners even left us several chickens and geese, one duck and a herd of 20 or so cats. They also left a stunning crop of summer squash, each the size of a didgeridoo.
To celebrate the move, we threw a big “Down on the Farm” party. Bales of hay served as seating; we gathered cornstalks into shocks; and I piled the squash into decorative cords on the front porch. We bobbed for apples and ran feedsack races. Overalls and straw hats were optional. When they heard our renovation plans, friends told us we certainly had a lot of vision to buy a (ahem) fixer-upper. As guests departed, we tried to give each one a cat and a squash as door prizes. No takers.
One of our first moves as farmette-owners was to get a big German Shepherd puppy. I drove to the owners’ house with a cardboard box in the backseat to use as a carrying cage; when I saw that the dog was big enough (at seven months) to eat the box, I stuck it in the trunk and let the dog have the backseat. After spending her first day under the porch, she proved herself to be a champion watch dog. She also taught us to never assume that all dogs can run free with the livestock, like that nice dog on "Babe." In other words, she developed a nasty habit of eating very fresh chickens. After we had to dispatch a couple of unfortunate ones, we clipped the others’ wings and kept them in the fenced barnyard.
The next animal acquisition was a pygmy goat. After she and my husband played an ongoing game of, “You add another strand of barbed wire to the fence, and I’ll show you how I can clear it,” we decided a leash was in order for a few days. Following her initial reticence, she quickly became a friendly pet.
Next, of course, was a pygmy billy goat (aka a buck). While the one we bought was about half the size of our nanny, he didn’t lack for libido. A few months later, they presented us with twins . . . twin whats, we wondered? Boys or girls? Our more experienced neighbor set us straight on that score and offered to castrate the little fellows for us.
I will only say that rubber bands took on a whole different light for me thereafter.
Later, when we sold one of the kids to the same neighbor, the nanny grabbed a $20 bill out of his hand and gobbled it down while my husband chased her around the pen. This was an expensive animal! The chickens, on the other hand, seemed a better investment. In return for scratch and water, they gave us fresh eggs. So economical. After doing the math on the feed and water bills, we learned we were paying about $14 per dozen eggs. But they were fresh!
Some of our farmette disappeared before our very eyes that first winter. Several fruit trees perished; apparently they’d been planted too deep and had drowned. My husband planted willow saplings by the goose pond, thinking with satisfaction of how the geese would enjoy their shade come summer. They enjoyed them all right . . . mostly the next day, when they ate every leaf and tender twig. Sadly, the trees didn’t survive. Not so sadly, most of the geese migrated south to our next-door neighbor’s horse pasture, where one mama goose trooped her brood through the mud on daily excursions.
We did manage to help hatch one gosling; having set eyes on me first after exiting the shell, he imprinted on me and became a friend closer than a brother. His nickname was the “Garden Goose,” for he followed me around the garden, helpfully eating broccoli seedlings, peas and most of my flower buds.
After a year of painting, repairing, updating, planting and spending, spending, spending, we felt gratified at what the hard work had yielded. We were also a bit wiser in the ways of the farm. Helpful neighbors were handy with useful advice and extra produce; my parents’ old pick-up truck proved invaluable (you do NOT want to take a smelly billy goat to the animal swap in your car); and we were adept at catching chickens for wing-clipping. I’m sure we provided some good laughs for our country neighbors, too.
We’re thinking of raising exotic animals next . . . say, rhinos.