Sunday, June 28, 2009

Maa-Maat and The Red Thing

This is the Red Thing. It is the most indispensable item on the farm. Two people fit very comfortably in the seat, three if you squeeze together. Three bales of hay fit perfectly in the back. It never gets stuck. It never breaks—OK one time it did and believe me, it was a nightmare. Without the Red Thing, horses would go without hay and grain. Fences would never get repaired. Eggs would never be collected. We would have to walk up and down the hill to the barn. Life would be miserable. I ride in The Red Thing.

This is Checkers. She helps bring the horses in and helps put them out. She supervises feeding, stall mucking and general chores. As you can see, she rides in The Red Thing.

This is Maa-Maat. She can do tricks. She plays her little piano and her little drum. She rings her cowbell and jumps through her hoop. She can even do a sheep version of moon walking.


One afternoon a while back, I was down at the barn getting feed and hay ready to take to the horses in the back pastures. The lambs were out of their stall, and three of them were off grazing up on the hill. Not Maa-Maat, though. She was hanging around the barn to keep an eye out should I forget to latch the door to the feed stall.

It only takes her an instant to dash in and throw herself headfirst into the nearest open feed bag. She doesn’t care if it’s lamb feed or horse feed or poultry feed or chicken scratch. It’s all the same to her—edible. And once she gets her head in a bag, it is not easy to get her out. She stiffens up her neck and somehow manages to concentrate her weight it’s all you can do to push and pull and tug and shove her back out into the aisle.

By the time I got the grain buckets filled and sorted, she wasn’t at the front of the barn, so I figured she had given up and gone out to graze with the others. I loaded the buckets into the back of The Red Thing and tied them down. I called to Checkers, and she got in The Red Thing. I got into The Red Thing.

I started it up, put it in gear, and we were ready to go when—

Maa-Maat clambered into The Red Thing. The first thing she did was the first thing she always does. She grabbed the nearest thing, the key, and started trying to eat it.

The first thing Checkers did was jump in my lap and start barking to alert me there was a problem.

At this point, I was trying to pry open Maa-Maat’s mouth to get the key so I could turn the engine off. Since the Red Thing was in gear and running, I was also trying to hold onto Checkers so she wouldn’t slip down and hit the accelerator.

Finally, I got the key away from Maa-Maat and turned off the engine. As you can see, the floorboard isn’t very wide and Maa-Maat isn’t very narrow so there was no way she could turn around. She was going to have to walk all the way through and out the other side.

I got out.

Checkers got out.

After checking if the gear shift was edible—it wasn’t—and checking if the steering wheel was edible—it wasn’t, Maa-Maat finally got out.

Good! Disaster averted. Just to be on the safe side, I grabbed a little bit of grain and teased Maa-Maat into the barn with it. While she was busy gobbling it up, I ran to the Red Thing and got in. Checkers ran to the Red Thing and got in.

But before we could get away, Maa-Maat ran to the Red Thing and got in.

This time it went faster: I got out of the Red Thing. Checkers got out of the Red Thing. Maa-Maat got out of the Red Thing. I ran into the barn and scattered a bit more grain down the aisle then raced back to the Red Thing.

This time we made it—almost.

I came around the other end of the barn, and there she was in the middle of the road waiting for us.

I made a quick U-turn and circled around to the other end of the barn. Maa-Maat raced down the aisle, and there she was again, blocking the road.

Another U-turn. Another Maa-Maat block.

And again.

Sometimes it’s difficult to out-smart a sheep, but it’s not impossible. The next time, instead of making a U-turn and going around the barn, I made a complete 360 degree turn. As Checkers and I drove past, I could see Maa-Maat at the far end of the barn, waiting for us.

Maybe one day I'll find a way for Maa-Maat to take a ride in the Red Thing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Third Time's a Charm

The other day I got a bit of a surprise when I went down to the hen house to gather the afternoon eggs. Curled up all nice and cozy in the corner next to the nesting boxes was a large Black Rat Snake. Since I didn’t have much with me other than an egg bucket, I shut the door and called up to the house for my husband to get his gloves and come down.

When he pulled the snake out, it was obvious from the bulge in his belly—the snake’s belly, not my husband’s—that he had already eaten at least one egg. More disturbing was that from the length, a loose five feet, the hen house intruder looked very much like Barn Black Snake.

Barn Black Snake has made his home in, around, and under the hay stored in the side-shed of the barn for the past six years. The agreement we have is that we don’t move him, chase him, attempt to catch him, or disturb him in any way. In return for a safe place to stay and plenty to eat, it’s his job to discourage less desirable snakes, such as Timber Rattlesnakes or Copperheads, from moving in.

Nowhere in this agreement is there now, nor has there ever been, any mention of eggs. Mice, yes. Voles, yes. Chipmunks, squirrels, and other small furry creatures, yes, yes, and yes. Eggs, no. Eggs never.

In light of his history and past success—we’ve never had a rattlesnake or copperhead at the barn—he was forgiven this one egg. However, since he found his way to the chicken house once, the odds are he will be able to again. In light of this, he was banished to the back pasture.

The End

I gathered the eggs—minus the one the slithery black thief swiped, cleaned them up and took them over to the neighbor’s house to swap for some of her home-rendered lard. Yes. Bartering eggs for lard. It used to be the mall, the boutiques, and lunch with the ladies. Now it’s the Co-Op, Tractor Supply, and lard-bartering—and won’t hear any complaints from me.

On my way home, some questions came to mind. First of all, how did the snake get into the hen house? Since the house is a PVC storage shed, there are no boards to come loose, no cracks to open up, no roofing to shift. I check it several times a week, and it’s sealed tight. Except for the back door which is opened only briefly when we’re gathering eggs, the only way in is through the chicken door that opens onto the run. That means the snake had to come across the run in broad daylight. Where was Idiot the Rooster? Why didn’t he or one of the hens make a fuss? And even more intriguing: Could the snake have had something to do with the hen I found last week. She was fat and healthy. Perfectly normal in every respect—except that she was dead. Did he scare her to death? Or, since he’s a constrictor, did he choke her?

Before going to the house, I decided to stop at the chicken run to look for some answers. There was nothing unusual going on in the run. Just a normal afternoon of scratching, pecking, and strutting. When I opened the door to the hen house, I did find one answer, though.

Unfortunately this particular answer: less than thirty minutes goes with the question: How long does it take for a black rat snake to travel from the back pasture to the hen house?

Yet again I called my husband down from the house. This time we took him almost a half a mile down our road to a little creek and let him go. That is we let him go after my husband finally got him unwound from his leg, then from the roll bar on the Polaris, and then again from his leg.

The End (Again)

A new day. First thing I did was check the hen house and there was absolutely no sign of a snake anywhere. The chickens are living the snake-free life!

Until around 10:00 am.

Yes, he came back.

Luckily, this time we caught him before he made it up the hill to the hen house. By now, catching him had become old hat for my husband, and he was unceremoniously dumped into a plastic storage box—the snake, not my husband. He stayed there all morning. That afternoon the neighbor’s children came over to see him and have some pictures taken with him. Later some other neighbors came to see him. (As you can tell, there aren’t a lot of entertainment options available in our hollow.)

After everyone who wanted to see him saw him, and everyone who wanted to touch him touched him, and all those who wanted to pose with him posed with him for a quick picture, he was ready for relocation. He and his container were loaded into the pickup and taken not to the back pasture, not to the creek, but a good five miles down the road to a little roadside area where he was released.

It’s been a week now, and so far he hasn’t returned.

Even though the chickens are safe and the eggs are safe, somehow the hay shed seems a little empty.

The End?

My Husband with the Black Rat Snake