Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

I was about five when Dad gave me my first pup, Shep. He was a McNab shepherd and born to work. Without any herding to do in the new suburbia of the 1950s, Shep became bored and destructive. Eventually, Dad found him a more suitable home on a sheep ranch. I was heartbroken, yet somehow understood it was best for Shep that way. Photo by Edgar Herring.

Today is the fifth anniversary of my father’s passing. He’s the one who started me on this animal-loving journey.  My first pup, a gift from him, was a McNab shepherd named Shep after my uncle’s childhood dog. I’m certain Dad also was the key to my lifelong fascination with horses.

The California farm where he and my uncle grew up during the Depression was small and diverse. My grandfather’s team of horses was key in working the ground and hauling crops of potatoes and apples to the packing sheds at the rail stop up the hill. Dad much preferred driving the hitch to milking the family cow or cleaning chicken houses. Earning the right to drive the team was a sort of rite of passage. It meant you were in charge. The horses and cargo were the driver’s responsibility.

One summer, Dad was instructed to with make a delivery to the packing house. His city cousin Jack, on his annual trip to see country kin, was along for the ride. Shep — the original one — trotted alongside.

Apparently Jack insisted on having a turn at driving and tried to grab the reins from Dad. I’ve never driven even a single-horse hitch, but I can see why interfering with control of the horse(s) would not be wise. Dad told Jack as much, but Jack would not be deterred. So Dad made his point with an elbow and a shove.

Dad didn’t intend for Jack to fall off the wagon. I picture Shep licking Jack’s wounds as Dad pulled up the team and climbed down to help. At dinner that night, Jack told my grandparents he wanted to cut his stay short and return home. He left by train the next day. That was Jack’s last summer at the ranch. Dad and Jack stayed close through the years: The wagon incident was never discussed.

I’ve always wondered what words passed between the two teen-agers standing on the dirt road after the fall. Shep must have dutifully stood by, wagging his tail low and slow as dogs do when they’re unsure. Whose side was he on? I like to think Shep sat between the cousins, like a mediator, since each had been wronged by the other.

Hoss was a pistol. A small Jack Russell terrier with a personality the size of a bison, he died April 15. Hoss was a pivotal piece

Hoss, a Jack Russell terrier, was a tether-ball playing, gopher-digging, cattle-herding dynamo. Photo by Mary Corning, Four Winds Resources.

in the lives of my horse trainer friends, Carmen and Norm.

For one thing, he was the self-appointed sheriff. He’d bark an alarm if the slightest thing looked amiss in their driveway or front pastures. He did not pretend to like giving up his usual armchair just because you wanted to take a seat there. He’d let you sit, then jump back up and burrow in beside you. If you happened to have a treat in your pocket, he knew. There was no resisting his earnest brown eyes.

Less begging and sudden weight loss were the first clues something was wrong. Turned out he was anemic, because his immune system was destroying red blood cells. Medication helped, and Hoss began eating home-cooked meals three or four times a day, begging shamelessly for more. He rallied and strutted his little-dog stuff for three more weeks. Hoss died at home, in the middle of the night, in the arms of those who adored him for nearly 14 years.

When I met him, Hoss was pretty much retired and a house dog. But he’d had his hey-day. Here are a few of Carmen’s  memories from back then. “In his younger days, Hoss was totally obsessed with tether balls and would have to be stopped before he dropped!  He would also roll balls (of all shapes and sizes) with his nose, at high speed all over the house, barns, or parking lot, until we could catch him and stop the action!  Other obsessions were chasing us through the house, or vice versa, playing tug of war, chasing cats/squirrels, and digging for gophers! He loved to help get the cows out of the arena, and they were actually afraid of him … thinking he must be an over-sized rat!”

Rest in peace Hoss and may you be nudging balls through the halls of Heaven 24/7.


Barn cat Lillie has a kitten litter — all girls and mostly black with hints of white on some toes and a tail tip. The email I received with the happy news indicated she’d had two kittens. By the time I got to the barn to ride later that day and peeked at them – there were three!

Later I noticed a note on the whiteboard we use to communicate news in and around the barn. It read, “Please keep the dogs out of the tack room. Lillie is in there with her babies, 2 (+1). Thanks.” I feel honored that she’s made a nursery out of the old fleece horse blanket I folded up for her behind my tack box.


The Buckeye hens I wrote about in my last post have done their part to keep their endangered breed alive and well. My friend Stacy reports two chicks peeking out from beneath the protective feathers of the three “moms” sharing nest duty in recent weeks. Here's one of them taking a tentative glance around the barn. Photo by Russell Shellington.


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It being Easter, let me introduce my blue-egg-laying Ameraucana chickens, Teddy,
Georgie, Frankie and Alex. My sister nicknamed the four-hen flock Sisters in honor of a 1990s television series

Ozzie, the rooster and two of the hen Sisters, Teddie in the middle, and Frankie, the white one, on the right. These Ameraucana hens are not as inclined to set on their eggs as much as some breeds. In spite of Ozzie's persistent pestering, my Ameraucanas have no offspring. Photo by Adam Sherman.

we used to watch together on Saturday nights. The show, “Sisters,” was about four sisters born to a father who wanted boys; hence their names.

I collect a few things: cobalt blue glass, decorative pumpkins, Santas and home-made Easter eggs. I enjoy inventing tasteful ways to combine them. In this photo, taken by my son, the contrast of the blue bowl and the pastel eggs is heightened by the angle of the late-morning sun. And by the way, these aren’t decorative eggs, they’re the real deal; all two dozen plus, courtesy of our four hens. Photo by Adam Sherman.

Hens that lay blue and blue-green eggs are actually called Easter Eggers in poultry circles. The secular part of our family’s Easter holiday includes decorating a few of the Sisters’ eggs to add to our collection. But we’re spared the dip-and-dye step, because they’re already so pretty in blue.

The Sisters’ have been blessing us with all manner of eggs of late. We thank them for each and every gem. Hens Alex, Teddy and Georgie are a mix of intricately designed sorrel, gray and brown feathers. Frankie’s different: She’s a wheaten color — but stands out mostly because of her antics.

She was the first to start laying when they were young; the first to escape the day the coop gate blew open; the first to inspect the new hen house; and our rooster’s favorite. Frankie’s one smart chick: She’s figured out if she roosts early enough in the evening, she can avoid the attentions of the always-ready-at-sunset rooster. I’m convinced Frankie’s the one that lays the torpedo-shaped eggs as well.

Ameraucanas are not as inclined to set on their eggs as much as some breeds. In spite of our rooster, Ozzie’s, efforts, the Sisters have no offspring.

Buckeye hens share nesting and hatching duties on a clutch that includes eggs from each. Buckeyes are a historic poultry breed in danger of extinction. The roosters are said to possess a range of sounds, including one that sounds like a dinosaur’s roar. Perhaps that's what hampers their popularity! Photo by Janet Herring-Sherman.

My friend Stacy has hens more than happy to set. Hers are a heritage breed known as Buckeyes. She currently has three Buckeye hens that insist on setting on the same nest at the same time. They appear not to care whose eggs are whose.

These personable hens share the maternal duty of gently rolling and repositioning the eggs to make sure they incubate nicely. Looks like they engage in chit-chat, too. I wonder if the chicks will imprint and bond with one or all of their moms?

Since Buckeyes are reputed to be as good as or better than cats at mousing, it would seem they’d be a popular choice for country and suburban dwellers. Not so.

Buckeyes are a threatened species on the conservation list compiled by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Since 1977, this organization has been working to keep 180 historic breeds of livestock and poultry from extinction.

Perhaps that’s why these Buckeye hens are so very earnest in their mission to hatch out chicks with burnished red plumage and comical personalities like their own. Even if it takes a village.

A handsome duck dropped in this week. Literally. Right onto the railing of the deck that backs our house. We had the good fortune to be sitting nearby when it arrived. If I hadn’t seen this drake myself, I’d swear this was a photo of a perfectly painted decoy, or a watercolor. Photo by Adam Sherman.

Living in the mountains near a forest, we’re treated to animal sightings pretty frequently. This one was unusual because it occurred just a few feet away from us.

My husband, Jim , and I were watching TV just before sunset when he suddenly became very still and told me not to move. He didn’t want any motion to startle the duck that had just landed on the railing of the deck right outside our tall windows.

At that point, I couldn’t see the duck and thought perhaps Jim was playing a belated April Fools’ trick.

Then, the partially metallic-green head of a male duck came into view. Its webbed feet walked purposefully along the railing.  About 18 inches behind him, along came a female, wearing feathers in more muted tones.

She followed his every move. A few times the drake stopped, turned to face her and kind of pecked at the air around her head. I worried she’d loose her balance and fall. Jim reminded me she could fly.

A new variety of bird seed mix filled the feeder on the deck’s corner, and we think that’s where the pair was headed. We never found out, because a hawk buzzed by and the ducks scattered. I’m guessing the drake was in the courting stage, because once his mate starts to incubate her dozen or so eggs, he’ll leave her to it and join an all-male flock.

I’m puzzled as to the type of duck this is: When compared to images of Mallards and Wood Ducks, it doesn’t quite match. Wonder if ducks lay colored eggs?

Have a very  blessed  Easter.

And did you know that the Bible contains 138 mentions of animals, according to http://www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/animals.html?

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