Victoria and Hannah
To make watering and feeding the animals easier in the winter we have moved them all close to and into the barn. This helps on those freezing days when water buckets turn to ice and snow piles up. My son, Michael, built a manger with a roof for the hay as a feeding station for the sheep and goats.
The goats are happily sporting new goat coats Michael created out of some wool blankets. They are living in the greenhouse this winter. Fingers crossed three of our does are pregnant and due in March. The chill of winter is too much for them.
The chicken coop is nestled against the greenhouse as a wind block and the sheep shed is under a tree next to the stone wall. All of the animals share a paddock.
Recently, we have observed one of our chickens, a black hen, wandering about. She walks directly away from the coop into the wind, perches on the stone wall in snow, ends up far afield from the flock and seems uninterested in returning to the coop at dusk with the other chickens. Each night one of us treks around locates her and carries her to the coop. The black hen is approaching 5 year of age we assume her time at the farm is coming to an end.
To cull or not to cull that is the question. Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind or not…we at Liberty Farm are unable to perform this farmer’s task. To cull – to send (an inferior or surplus animal on a farm) to be slaughtered. We have had injured animals in the past and have worked hard to nurse them back to health; some successfully and some not but we tried none the less.
The sheep have taken an interest in the chickens, watching them and follow them around. One ewe, Victoria, is especially taken with the old black hen. She is very attentive to the hen and stands near her all the time. This morning while sipping my tea and watching the animals out the window I noticed Victoria having a stare down contest with the rooster. Victoria won and the rooster walked away. Then Victoria turned revealing the black hen on the stone wall. She walked over to the hen and started nuzzling her. The black hen stayed still as Victoria nuzzled under her wing and around her beak. It was so sweet. I decided that even if the black hen was on her way out she needed a name and so she became Hannah.
Sometime around 4:30 pm we close up the animals for the night. I found Hannah under the manger in the discarded hay. I picked her up and carried her into the green house. Bill thought she would be more comfortable there sharing the warmth with the goats.
I put her in a wooden box with some straw, food and water. She began pecking for the food but missed it more often then she found it. I am not an animal behaviorist. I have learned what I know about our farm animals from books and observation. Hannah was having trouble locating the food in the little dish which I had placed directly in front of her. I noticed she didn’t flinch when I returned with a watering dish. I put it near the food but she didn’t drink. When I moved it under her head as she was lowering it for more food she started to drink. She turned her head to one side seemingly looking for the food and peaked at the side of the box. It was then that I had my “ah ha” moment. Hannah is visually impaired.
I called Michael and Bill down to the greenhouse and showed them. Poor girl was eating and drinking greedily. We tried moving our hands near her eyes to see if she would react. No reaction she just continued eating and drinking, when she could locate the food and water. Granted this was not as scientific as Jane Goodall or Dian Fossey would demonstrate but it was enough for us novices.
Hannah is bedded down in her wooden box, with food and water in the greenhouse. She seems contented at last having her needs met. I wonder if Victoria will look for her tomorrow. We will leave the green house door open during the day so they can visit. I am hopeful their friendship with continue.
Based in science or not I believe in animal friendships. If you are feeling cabin fever or just need a smile to warm your heart I recommend this book.
Friends, True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships, by Catherine Thimmesh