Monday, April 5, 2010

A Story from May 31, 2008

This is a current picture of Bart - now three years old!

A Story from Merciful Hearts Farm
Deb Potter, 31 May 2008

It is hard to believe that it has been over a year since Bart, a little Tunis lamb, almost died of grass tetany. We nursed & nursed him for weeks. He first became ill when his mother slipped with him through a hole in the fence & they dined on lots of new lush grass. That caused a magnesium imbalance in his system & he became paralyzed. He couldn't even close his eyes so we would put special eye drops in them & try to close them for him. He had to be fed with a metal tube & syringe. He was so paralyzed that we had to pry his teeth open to insert the tube then squeeze gatorade & lots of medications into him. It was a long process & involved a few months of steady care. Now we understand when we were told that less than two in a hundred sheep survive this. We even had to leave him with a precious friend who is a nurse when we had to travel one weekend. She, her husband & their dog fed, medicated & bathed him constantly.

Well, Bart is still with us. He walks with a very peculiar gait but at least he can walk. He usually needs to be helped to stand up as his back legs don't bend well to help him to standing. Each morning Mr. Potter or I seek him out in his three or four favorite nighttime spots. If we call his name he will “maaaa' back to us which makes him easy to find. We reach down, lift his head & steady his front legs so that he can push himself up. He shakes off, waits to be scratched on the head & then stiffly walks away to start his morning. Bart does not stay in the big pastures with the other sheep but does visit them in the barnyard. Mostly he spends his days at the front of the house with a few goat friends & a few dogs. He also likes to go into the orchard where a handful of sheep like to hang out during the day. Bart runs along with them when they run but he has a funny bouncy gait. His back legs both move the same direction at the same time which really makes him look odd. He looks odd to us but apparently the other sheep don't mind. They play with him just like everyone else. And Bart loves to play by butting heads with the others. You would think that as unsteady as he looks on his feet it wouldn't be wise to be shoving other sheep around but he can hold his own.

Last year when Bart was still in the house being fussed over, we had Australian sheep friends visit. At that time we had a special sling rigged up in the living room so that Bart could practice standing. Those same friends visited just a few weeks ago & one fellow spotted Bart immediately as “that sheep you had in the HOUSE”. I don't think sheep in the house are very common among real Australian sheepmen.....

Now I don't know what Bart is really good for but we didn't have the heart NOT to care for him when he became ill. He seems very happy & has his own little daily routine. He has a sandy spot he's hollowed out in the back yard where he loves to rest each afternoon. He follows us around & talks to me when I work outside. I guess his is content with his life – he certainly doesn't seem to look like he is worried about being different from everyone else.

Now for the duck update. We are up to three ducklings in a box in the bathroom. The latest two to hatch are fluffy yellow ones. There are two hen ducks setting on the nest but when a baby hatches they don't seem to care much. They seem to prefer just to protect the eggs, hissing at us & poking their necks out every time we pass by them. I am thinking by now that the last eight eggs they are setting on probably won't hatch but I will give them a few more days before I clean out the nest.

The thirty ducklings that were hatched from the eggs I gave the school are just really growing. Almost overnight they have gone from being covered with duck fluff to having most of their big-boy feathers! In a few weeks we should be able to tell which are male & which are female. We are considering eating the males simply because we have plenty of ducks & if they are not going to lay eggs we don't need to feed them all. In the meantime, they have broken up into about 3 gangs. Those gangs like to do everything together. When a few squat down in the grass to rest, they all squat down. When one stands, they all stand & move on. They are quite a lot of fun to watch.

Speaking of fun to watch, I let Pete, our old, old goose, have a good bath the other day. He likes to dabble in the water we have out for the birds but I took a large tub, filled it with fresh water & just watched. He started by stretching his long neck out & over the edge of the tub. Ducks & geese love to wash their eyeballs so he did that with open eyes for a while. Then he turned his head so that he could use the side of his face & bill to splash water back over his shoulder. He did this to his left side & then to his right side over & over again. He held his neck up straight so that the water on his face ran down his neck & onto his back, gently lifting his wings as the water ran down his sides.

Once he was done dabbling in the water, he circled the tub a few times until he found a higher spot of ground that he could use to climb into the tub. He hopped in, unfurled his wings & really splashed. He snaked his neck in & out of the water over & over while using his feet to kick the water up all around him. I leaned on the chicken house door & watched him for at least 20 minutes. Some of the ducks gathered around & watched his show but they didn't try to climb in with him. They wisely waited until he climbed out of the tub before they tried to climb in.

By the time Pete was done with his bath he'd splashed most of the water over the sides of the tub. The ducks seemed disappointed so I waited until Pete walked around the corner & then refilled the tub for the ducks. The first duck hopped in & immediately started to swim under water. She is a long, sleek black & white duck who shot around that tub like a fish. Once the others climbed in she had no more swimming space so splashed & carried on with the rest of them. They were thoroughly amused & so was I. Before they'd finished I realized I had to get on with my farm chores. I gathered the rest of the eggs, put some straw in a few nest boxes, unwrapped a piece of baling twine from a goat's horn & just did my usual fiddling around outside. The next time I passed the tub it was almost empty. There was a bit of sandy water at the bottom with a little duck fluff floating on it. It had been a good afternoon.

Monday will also be an exciting bird day here. We are expecting the post office to call early that morning to tell us our 75 newest chickens have arrived. I am going to be artist-in-residence at a school that day so it is Katy's job to go to the post office, knock on the side door, retrieve our noisy little cartons of chicks & set them up in their new house at home. They will need heat lamps, feed & water as soon as they come out of their boxes. They will have had an airline trip all the way from Iowa & will be only 2 days old. This time I have 3 different varieties of chickens coming so they should be a pretty little batch. These birds are to add to our layers but won't be ready to produce eggs for about 6 months. In the meantime we'll keep them safe & healthy so that they can one day contribute to the tasty eggs we bring to Market. As the other hens get older, they lay fewer & fewer eggs. We just let those old girls retire & live here until they die of old age. But we need to always plan ahead to keep up with our demand for eggs! I love selling all my eggs each week but it also makes me sad when I run out & people were hoping to get them.

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