A Story from Merciful Hearts Farm
Deb Potter, 24 May 2008
This week has really flown. We did manage to catch up all of the lambs & kids to vaccinate them. We caught many of the lambs by luring their mothers' into a smaller pasture. It is easy to get sheep to follow us – we simply carry a bucket of grain. If we are not near grain, an empty bucket with a few pine cones in to make a rattling noise will do just as well. If no bucket is handy one of us just starts running & calling for the sheep. As soon as one sheep sees someone running it begins to run & all the rest follow right along. They don't seem to know where they are running to but it doesn't matter as long as they are doing what everyone else is doing.
Once the sheep were penned, the boys grabbed the lambs one at a time & hoisted them over the fence to Mr. Potter & I who took turns carrying them into a stall in the stable. Some of the lambs are a good 35 pounds which wouldn't be a lot to carry except for the kicking & wiggling part. One lamb caught a hoof in the collar of my shirt & tore the back right out of it. But the fellow ended up in the stall so I guess I won in the end.
The vaccinations go very quickly as each lamb only needs a single tetanus shot. They seem much more disturbed at being away from their mothers than actually in pain from the shot. After their shot, each runs out the stable door, flies up under their mother, bangs their head into her udder to let down milk & begins to nurse to reassure itself that all is well. None of the mothers seemed particularly upset over their brief break from the lambs.
I managed to get some dyeing done this week. Notice I spell “dyeing” with the “e” because I was coloring yarns. Although the family always understands when I say I am going out to the stable to dye, I feel I need to clarify that to other folks.
I have a stall in the stable set up with my dyeing equipment. I have to keep everything in big plastic bins with lids as I share this entire stable with just a single animal but she is a stinker. You see, Paige, our fox, has lived in the stable now for the last two years. I might as well tell you about Paige as she is much more interesting than dyeing.
Several years ago Eric, our middle child, came home & mentioned that he met a man with fox kits that needed to get rid of them. It was a sketchy story about the man planning on raising them as pets but that he'd changed his mind. They were still quite small but had been bottle fed & were no longer afraid of people so that they could not just be released again to the wild. Eric was convinced that he had to have one. We had done a fair share of wildlife rehabilitation but always with the intention of returning each animal to the wild. We did not need a “wild” pet but for some reason agreed that Eric could bring a fox home. I do remember somewhere in the story something about the fox would just be killed if Eric couldn't take it.....
Paige was just a tiny little fuzz ball with a scrawny tail when she came to us. She was friendly & inquisitive but far from attractive. She had a narrow pointed nose & shiny beady eyes. She was beyond needing a bottle, preferring to eat canned cat food. And she was beginning to use a litter box. After a brief time in a small kennel, she was turned loose in the house. She fell in love with Bianca, a huge black cat with a bushy tail. Paige would purr & call to Bianca who would look at her in terror as Paige trailed her down the hallway.
The dogs initially treed Paige on a bookcase but once they were properly introduced to her they accepted her as part of the family. Paige & the cats would romp up & down the hallway. She would also curl up with us when we sat down. As she grew, she developed a lovely coat & tail. She also developed a taste for people food. One of her favorite things to do was to sit on the back of the couch with me each morning as I watched the news with my coffee & dry cereal. She would sit on my shoulder & gradually sneak her nose into my bowl to grab a bit.
It didn't really bother us to have a fox in the house but guests were not always as comfortable with her. The children had a friend spending the night. The next morning he told us how he'd awakened in the night because he felt a pressure on his head. When he opened his eyes he saw a little nose & two eyes. Paige was standing on his head staring into his face.
We tried to keep Paige amused with lots of games & toys. She loved to hide cat toys. We would search for them, pile them up in the middle of the living room & then give her the day to hide them all again. She often hid things that we needed like socks or keys. We could live with that but then she developed a really annoying little game that finally got her evicted from the house.
Paige thought it was just her duty to climb to the top of every bookcase & then clean the top shelf by heaving everything onto the floor below. I put everything breakable into cabinets. I tried to have a sense of humor about the thing but I have volumes & volumes of books that I got tired of picking up. We finally decided that something had to be done. After considering a few possibilities & not wanting to have to cage her, we decided that we would put screening in one of the stalls in the stable which would make a huge home for her. We spent lots of time wiring up the screening & building her a lovely habitat that included cut branches to climb & a den to hide in. We moved her to the stable. She remained in the stall for barely a day. She slipped right out between in screening & the wall, climbed the rafters & took over the entire stable. She's remained happily there ever since.
Paige visits us as we come & go. During sheep shearing she hides in one of the tunnels she has dug into the soft dirt of a stall. She loves to hunt rats & leaves the night's catch at the front door so that we find it first thing each morning. We give her treats of chicken eggs as we pass the stable in the evening. And if we are working on a long project, we often feel her staring at us. She loves to perch in the beams above us to watch what we are doing. So as silly as it sounds, we have now dedicated an entire barn to her! And just the other day I read that foxes well cared for in captivity can live up to 15 years. So I guess it is a good thing that we have another barn & a few extra buildings around the property.
But Paige does let me share her space to do my dyeing. She also doesn't seem to mind when I milk a goat in her stable. She will creep up & quietly watch as the goat just stares back. Unfortunately, a chicken or two has slipped in when we've moved sheep or goats in & out of the stable. All of Paige's fox instincts must kick right in as we don't find much chicken left the next day.
So that is Paige's story for now. And we had one little duckling hatch on Tuesday. His mother has sat on a nest of eggs for a month now but he seems to be the only hatchling. Katy found him laying on the ground near the nest. He was cold & a chicken had pecked his little head. She put him on a heating pad & nursed him. He seems to be doing fine now & his mother doesn't miss him. He thinks Katy is his mother so I guess it all works out in the end.