Mama Cow

In February of this year, we saw a frantic Mama Cow, with her baby lying on the ground.  She kept running back and forth, clearly distraught (with the placenta still yet to be delivered).  Sandor wanted to document the moment, and caught these images of shared angst.  They responded to the Mama’s running to and fro, by encircling the calf, in a demonstration of protection and concern.

The baby was not standing up, which had all the cows gathered around to aid the Mama (center, brown).  Sorry to say I don’t know what happened to it, but never saw it in the herd after the farmer took it to see what could be done.

I wanted to share these again, having come across this article on a bovine Sophie’s Choice, from Veterinarian Holly Cheever, who wrote, “It’s no wonder that Shakespeare called the cow the mother of mankind.”What happens to this gentle animal and its babies in the dairy industry is unspeakable.  That’s why I support Farm Sanctuary, who are courageously (with heart) winning hearts and minds over — that these are creatures who value their lives and have inherent rights.  You can donate to them through my Sleep in for Animals page, or visit their site directly.  Thanks for stopping by!

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Meet Fifi Pumpkin

“Fifi Pumpkin Schmitt Rice” fell off a slaughter truck on a busy highway in Nashville earlier this week.  Luckily, Fifi had an angel that day in Kelley Schmitt, who shared with our Savannah Backyard Chickens group this tale of survival and compassion.

From Kelley Schmitt:

I KNEW IT: I knew the day would come when I would be driving home and a chicken would be on the interstate, having fallen off a truck, probably heading to slaughter. Luckily it wasn’t a pig or cow.

Her friend had died by hitting her head I believe on the concrete and the one that was still alive was bleeding, just sitting there as hundreds of cars zoomed home at rush hour traffic. Her tail was ripped out, I believe in the fall from the truck and her legs had road rash.

Scooped up to safety, I tossed her in my car and went back to get the body of her friend, who we buried at the house. Driving home the rest of the way, I thought, I now have a chicken in my car. And smiled in a non believing way.
She is doing great and walks around the back yard and sits by my dog Riley in the sun.

Folks, it’s the final week for the Sleep in for Animals for Farm Sanctuary!  This is an organization working hard to improve the quality of life for birds like Fifi.  And to bring home that they’re living beings, with the right to live naturally and with dignity.  If you’re inspired, please visit my donation page.  All goes to Farm Sanctuary, who has had major successes lately, in elevating standards for the bird that gives so much.  And bless you Kelley Schmitt for having a big heart AND for sharing your story!

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Ambling On, as an Ovo-Pescaterian

A representative of Farm Sanctuary has asked me, in the most eloquent and gracious way possible, not to use their materials for the upcoming “Hen Happening” on Food Day in Savannah (Oct 22nd).  They’re all about being vegan, and don’t want to encourage hen keeping, which definitely has a dark side.  Like the dairy industry, it has to do with unwanted baby males.  The Farm Sanctuary rep, Sophia, a name that means wisdom, gave me a visual I won’t soon forget of what happens to these downy chick babies at big hatcheries.

It’s led me to look at my relationship to the web of life.  We got all our hens as adults, except for the first five which did come from a mail-order chick company (not ordered by us, but the previous owner).  The plan is to keep them in their dotage, though we haven’t crossed that bridge yet.  They live a free and safe life on an organic farm, with acres to hunt for bugs, sun awkwardly on their sides and as the day darkens, find their roost in a spacious hen house with a tin roof. It’s been jokingly called the Chicken spa and resort.

But I see where Farm Sanctuary is coming from, in needing to look at the big picture of the industry overall.  So many times, there’s an urgent call out to find a home for a rooster in our backyard chickens group.  And it’s not clear where many of the hens come from, or what their fate is, after their productive years are over.  These are issues worth looking at, as more are becoming interested in keeping hens.

As a sensitive person, it was stinging to get such a response, and reminded me of that time as a horse carriage tour driver.  Beyond the sting is reflection on assumptions, and the way we engage with our relations — as working animals or food producing ones.  A draw of keeping hens is self-sufficiency in an uncertain time.  But as a person of integrity, I want to reflect on that relationship — am I doing right by these birds that give so much?  For now, the answer is yes.

It’s good to get clear that I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan.  To be precise with the labels, I’m an ovo-pescaterian (someone who eats eggs and fish), who is sometimes a semi-vegetarian at the holidays.  I’ve had a bit of a blind spot, with my enthusiasm for Farm Sanctuary and their mission to promote veganism, along with confronting factory farming.  I understand that it’s confusing to mix the messages, since I’m a hen keeper.

So while I will continue to support Farm Sanctuary as a member, this blog will either end or change tack, to catch the wind I’m riding on.  If you’re inspired to give to the amble for animals (and Farm Sanctuary), my donation page is still active.  It’s got a picture of Big Shirley and Sarah in the broody box.

I am excited by these times of definitive endings and beginnings — sometimes happening at the same time!  I want to continue to make decisions with animals in mind, and Sophia’s email has enlightened me and helped me clarify my own relation — to the web of life.

Image:  Taken on my foggy morning walk September 28th, one of hundreds of webs in the fields, fences, trees and weeds.

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Last Ambles of Summer

These last days of summer and I’m still here.  Walking the same rural road with the same donkeys, horses and cows to look at.  Not ambling through medieval Spanish villages and staying in monastery-like refugios with my friend Sarah on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

My friend is on an adventure high, I can tell, and I’m so happy for her.  She’s long crossed the Pyreness and is now in a village with a name “something like vilafranco de rioja.”  Even as she walks, she’s planning her next Camino.  So I’m keeping optimistic that I’ll join her on The Way at some point.

In the meantime, I’m using my imagination to find the adventure in the same ole.  I’ve been identifying wild herbs and even using them medicinally.  And we ate a wild mushroom.  Also, Sandor has a new camera, which can capture an image of the Sun (seen here) directly.

We have a new hen, a strange bird called Henriella.  She’s a Japanese Saipan, a breed brought over by servicemen after WWII from the island with that name.  She really makes a racket in the morning —  Canadian goose meets angry seagull — and ruffled some feathers in her old neighborhood.  I’m glad we can give her a home out here.

I’m also excited to be taking part in Food Day Savannah on October 22nd, as planner for our Hen table and to promote the Coop Tour on October 29th in Savannah.  It’s a SUGA (Savannah Urban Gardener’s Association) sponsored table, with Savannah Backyard Chickens.  We’re going to bring Big Shirley (the friendliest of our flock) and Sandor will give advice on coop construction.  It feels good to be part of the local scene, potentially meet new people, and promote the cause of real food and humane treatment of farm animals.

At the moment, with so much going on, I’m not wishing I were a pilgrim in Spain.  In truth, there’s a part of me that loves to stay put.  I’m with Bilbo Baggins, who famously declares in The Hobbit, “We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”

And speaking of, we’ve been laying in Fall crops here at Greenbridge, and soon the salad days will be here again — arugula, beets, cabbage, mixed greens, fava beans and more.  As it gets cooler, I anticipate many cozy nights in the red shiny.  I’m happy at home, but ready for adventures in learning, friendship, creativity, collaboration — and when the time is right, being the traveling Fool.

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A Visit to Connemara Farms, Flat Rock, NC

I visited an exotic goat resort up in Flatrock, NC called Connemara Farms.  It’s the home of the literary great Carl Sandburg, whose wife Paula was a pioneer of the American dairy goat industry.  Here’s one of her Toggenburg goats.  She also bred the glamorous Nubian, whose milk she prized for its high butterfat content, and Saanen, a Swiss breed.

Mrs. Sandburg’s breeding line lives on in style, with about a half dozen attendants, including two park service volunteers tending to their every need.  I didn’t see a droplet of the brown stuff anywhere.  I don’t know if there’s a dark side to this story — as with other dairy operations — but it was a highlight so far on my amble for farm animals.

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The Shirleys

Here’s the hen whisperer with Big Shirley and Little Shirley.  They’re best friends and often sit side-by-side on the perch at night.  Before I had hens, I had no idea they all have different personalities.  Little Shirley is feisty and pecks your hand if you touch her.  Big Shirley loves affection and doesn’t mind if you touch her comb or give her a hug.

Big rain today, so I ambled for farm animals in the forest looking for mushrooms.  But my eyes were fixed on the ground, watching for snakes.  They’re everywhere!  I came home to this sweet scene in the hen yard and had to share.

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Spontaneous Farm Tour on Day One

Big synchronicity on Day One of  my Walk for Farm Animals.  After a year of seeing this Mother & Son donkey duo on my walks, they eeyored at me and ran to the fence!  Then I met Emily their kind caretaker, who told me their names are Alice and Eeyore.

“Why do people keep donkeys?” I asked her, always wanting to know.  Just as a pet, a friend, she said.  The shy goat that hides in his stall is Ike (or Mike) and is 12- years old.   They hand raised Ike, but he’s an introvert by nature, and as Emily said, “it has to be on his terms.”

Emily showed me her hen yard, with a nice big tree for shade and clover delivered daily.  A farm with well-loved animals is a sweet thing to experience.  It was super hot today and I felt drunk from the humidity when I hit the dirt road back home.  A surprise encounter with  a neighbor who actually wanted to show off her animals, and a great first day out.  Thanks for your support with the walk!

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