Monday, December 30, 2013

Is intelligence a good thing in an animal?

We were at a party the other night and a guy told a story of a man who was bragging to his vet about how smart his puppy was.  The vet shook his head and laughed.  He said, "you want a dumb dog, not a smart one".   Most of us who have owned dogs (any animal, really) understand why this might make sense.  We may not want a dumb dog but we probably don't want a dog that's so smart it gets bored easily and wreaks havoc on our home or can outsmart us. 

But how smart is too smart or smart enough?  Here's a smart little guy of mine.
He seems content to stay in his cage most of the time, chattering away.  When I let him out he eventually heads back to his cage.  I don't think he's bored in there.  I think he feels safe and happy.  He knows hundreds of words and sounds but usually they're random  and not always appropriate for what's going on.  He may ask me where I am when I'm standing in front of him.  He will also ask this 20 times in a row.  But then, how smart am I when I answer him every time?  He knows if he asks me questions he'll get a response from me, which seems to make him happy.  Smart?  Maybe.

People say pigs are smart.  I'm not sold on that.  My pigs test the electric fence over and over again.  I've seen a few touch it with their nose and squeal in pain more than a few times in one day.   I think a lot of what pigs do or how they react is more instinct and food motivated than anything else.  They recognize my car as a deli on wheels.   They know I'm their waitress.  If they learn to do tricks it's because they receive a treat as a reward. They open gates, build nests and wallows and do all kinds of things I'm fascinated by but I'm not sure if it's because they're smart, strong, or trying to make themselves more comfortable.  Here's a blog posting by someone else about how dumb/smart his pigs are  He says it better than I.  He's raised hundreds and hundreds of pigs.  Those of you raising pigs will enjoy his blog.

When I told a friend I was getting a cow he said, "cows are dumb".  Well, I certainly don't think Raisa is dumb but I haven't figured out yet if she's smart either.  She acts very much like most of my other animals.  That is to say, she's affectionate, comes to me for treats and learned our routine quickly.  I'd say she's as smart as I'd like her to be.  Today she head-butted me.  She'd never done that before.  I know why she did it though.  She thought I came to feed her and when I didn't she let me know how she felt about it.  I was sure not to give her any treats after that.  Raisa does have a lot of personality but whether that means she's smart or not, I don't know.  The farrier thought she seemed way more playful and bouncy than a 7 year old cow usually is.  She raises cattle.

I can definitely see how some of my goats are smarter than others.  Luti, the herd queen, is probably the smartest.  I just went back over old blog posts and saw I've blogged about my animals' intelligence more than once so apparently I'm one of those people who brag about how smart her animals are.  Here's one of when I blogged about how smart Luti is because she can open stall latches.  Luti follows Keri very closely, knowing what Keri's job is.  The other goats follow Luti. 

Turkeys?  Not smart.  Funny though.

I'm told donkeys are smart and I'm pretty sure this is true.  Willo is one of those animals who, because she's smart, is also feisty, bossy and knows how to push my buttons.  She's also the boss of other animals.  I'm finding that the smartest in a bunch seems to be the leader.   Luti and Willo are examples of this.  In the pigs' case, Roxie is the boss but that mostly has to do with size, I think.

Of all my animals Keri gets the opportunity to show me how smart she is the most.  If you're a guest here and only have a short time to get to know her you'll think she's just a bouncy, lunatic of a dog.  But if you have the chance to spend more time with her you'll see there's more inside that fluffy head than you may have first thought. 

Today the farrier was here and Keri danced around her insanely as usual then disappeared to find her charges.  She laid in the grass and watched them graze.  Soon Mattox and Black Olive (two black piglets) showed up and Keri began pawing and chasing them.  I yelled at her to leave them alone until I realized what she was doing.  She got on the far side of them and herded them back to the fence where the other pigs were.  After they ducked under their fence Keri turned, looked at me and wagged her tail.  I've seen her herd chickens where she thinks they belong too.  I didn't know this was instinctive in a Great Pyrenees.  I thought they just guarded.  I told the farrier about Keri and the raccoon and we decided that maybe Keri knew the animal was sick and she knew better than to bite it and that's why she kept putting herself between it, and the goats and me.  I believe Keri is much happier in the field than up here in the smaller fence.  There's more for her to do over there.  I wonder how she'll feel about moving back here in March when it's time for the goats to kid.  She's one of those dogs that might be trouble inside a house. 

I've been raising livestock for 6 years now and I love how they keep entertaining, surprising and teaching me things.  I guess I'm one of those creatures that isn't so smart that I get bored easily.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas - a time for Scrabble

Last week when someone learned James played piano he asked, "what's your go-to song?"  James didn't really have an answer to this except to say, "something classical, I guess".  When I took classical guitar lessons many years ago my teacher said I needed to have one song I could play when someone asked me to play them something.  I never did have a song (a go-to song) I could just rip off.
Adam and Melissa were here to spend Christmas with us. 

It was great having them here.  Melissa has picked up her guitar again and she said the only song she said she can really play is Wagon Wheel.  Now that she and I sang a few lines of it I've had the song stuck in my head all day.  Would you like to join me in singing?

What does this have to do with Scrabble?  Nothing really except that I'd have to say for my whole life Scrabble has been my go-to game.  It's my Wagon Wheel.  I've loved playing it ever since I was young.  My mom and I used to play it a lot.  Every now and then when I go back to PA we play.  When we have house guests?  Yup, you guessed it - Scrabble.  After a nice day yesterday we ended our Christmas with a game of it.  James' first move was ZA (used in 2 directions for more than 40 points).  Adam went on to tell us how he hates playing us because we use all these "Scrabble words" - you know - words only Scrabble players know.  We also bog down the board real tight so it's hard to find places to make words.  I spoke to my mom today and she informed me that one of my sisters also hates playing Scrabble with me and James.  Is there anyone else out there who hates playing with us that we don't know about?

Words With Friends is an online Scrabble game that James and I are hooked on.  We always have a game going between the two of us - him upstairs and me downstairs.  As I type this I recognize that that sounds very weird.  My other sister, who hasn't yet verbalized that she hates playing with me, also always has an ongoing game with me.

I don't think I'm addicted but I understand it IS an addiction for other people. 

Can we interest any of our friends in a game? 


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Too much togetherness

This is what greeted me at the gate this morning.
The tall grass to the right is where the pigs belong.  My solar battery must not be electrifying their single ribbon fence and this made for some chaotic feeding, a little snarling and a lot of shoving.  The goats were smart and stayed away.  I think they're afraid of Roxie.  Even I was a little unnerved by her this morning.  She followed me everywhere and was a little more mouthy than usual.  I'm afraid I spoke too soon in my last blog post.  I'm pretty sure Roxie is in heat and my AI was a failure.  I did some reading and discovered the reason she came back into heat so late in the month.  Her body waited a few days to terminate the pregnancy, I guess.  I'll now probably wait for Wendell to grow and take over the job of inseminating.

So, the reason she was following me so closely was because she's in heat and she's a little amorous this time of the month, mostly with me.  I even carried a broken shovel handle to pop her in the nose if she became too rough with me.  At one point I was bent down checking out the solar battery and Roxie put her giant nose against my leg and held it there for a while.  I don't know what she was doing but it was cute.   I kept waiting for her to bite me though. 

Keri is not at all thrilled with Roxie being on the move.  The young pigs don't bother her but I think she's concerned Roxie will hurt her goats.  Any time they're near each other Keri gives her a vicious bark.  Sometimes Roxie pushes back but most of the time she walks away.  I don't know if Keri realizes Roxie has a 500 lb advantage and could do some serious damage.  Sometimes I thought Roxie was hanging around just to piss her off.  Keri once barked at her and she laid down not more than 10 feet from Keri, looking not at all concerned.

I did some repair to another solar charger today so I will replace the one that doesn't seem to be working.  One of my best discoveries this year is liquid tape.  It's probably been around forever but it's new to me.  It's way better than using electric tape for repairing the damaged wired from where animals chew on them. 

We relocated the chicken coop because the chickens also decided to leave their fence.  They kept walking in the road and cars would have to stop for them.  I was afraid folks were soon going to complain so we moved them.  It took them 2 days to figure out where they were supposed to go to bed.  I think they've got it now and so far I haven't seen them in the road again. 

Even though it's cute seeing the animals hang out together (sometimes), it makes feeding much harder and I really need to get pigs back where they belong.  I saw the pigs had been doing some rooting in the house the goats sleep in and I hope they haven't kicked them out.
Big pig, medium pigs and little pigs sharing food with chickens. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

All things pig

Last week we moved Roxie, Wendell and Mickey out of the garden to a new location with more grass to eat and root up.  They did a good job tilling the garden.  We were expecting some bad weather and I didn't want them to have to walk around in mud so it was time to move. 
Before bed Roxie quickly picked a bunch of grass and made an even bigger nest in their trailer.  They seem pretty happy with their new accommodations.

Yesterday James and I drove 1 1/2 hours to pick up two more piglets, a barrow (neutered male) and a gilt (young female).  The male is being raised for the wedding of some friends of ours.  We'll probably breed the female with our Gloucestershire Old Spot boar when they're both old enough.  These two are Large Black Hogs.  That's the name of the breed.  They're known for being good grazers like our GOS pigs.  They're pretty darn cute.  Note their long floppy ears like my other pigs.  Theirs will be way longer than Roxie's.
We haven't come up with a name for the girl yet.  The little boy is Mattox.  They came from the town of Appomattox so I suppose we could call her Appy or Abbie but since she will live here a long time I want to think some more on her name. 

They're very busy little pigs.  I had a piece of pasture ribboned off just for them, separate from the other pigs, with their own house.  They do sleep in their house but they don't stay in their own yard.  Today they covered lots of ground.  They visit with the other pigs and then move on to other pastures.  They're already moving a lot of earth.  I've seen the girl test the electric ribbon several time and even though she's been zapped she continues to do it.  Wendell used to do this too.  Now he respects it.  Keri has always liked pigs so I'm sure she's been following them around.  They're not very tame and I can't pet them but I hope to change that. 

I'm kind of afraid to write this next paragraph in case I'm jumping the gun and jinxing myself.  It has been 3 weeks and 3 days since I artificially inseminated Roxie and it doesn't appear she has come back into heat.  She's usually very consistent in her 21 day cycle.  Every day I lift her tail and look for swelling and pink.  Today she looks slightly swollen but not like when she was in heat last month.  I hope it's because she's pregnant.  I can't wait for 3 more weeks to pass so I can be sure.  Better yet, 3 months, then I'll really know for sure. 

Wendell and Mickey have been practicing making babies too but I don't think they've perfected it yet.  It should be another moth or two till they're mature enough, I hope.  One litter of pigs at a time would be nice.  The guy we got the Large Blacks from had about 18 little piglets running around.  The 2 sows farrowed 2 1/2 weeks apart.

I wonder how many pigs will be roaming our field in another 5 years. 


Monday, December 9, 2013

A raccoon, Keri and a 2x4

Keri had a hard day today.  When I went out to feed her and the goats this morning Keri started barking at something under their trailer.  A raccoon had been hiding under it and the 2 of them were playing chase around and about the trailer.  The goats, chickens and I all watched and waited for Keri to kill it.  The raccoon wouldn't back down.  I've never seen the goats shiver like they were.  I'm convinced the raccoon was rabid.  Keri is up to date on her rabies shot but my goats haven't been vaccinated. 

I checked Keri's neck to be sure the raccoon hadn't broken her skin.  He hadn't.  It's good she has such thick fur.  It definitely gave her a scare though.   The raccoon went back under the trailer and Keri decided to leave it alone for a while.  I had to feed pigs and milk Raisa so I left too.  I assumed the raccoon would leave after being harrassed by a huge dog.  I went back 3 or 4 hours later and it was still there.  When I entered the field Keri decided to protect us again and coaxed him out from under the trailer.  She charged and retreated but wouldn't bite it.  Once bitten, twice shy, I'm sure. 

I called my neighbor and asked if he'd come over and shoot it but before he had a chance to come over the raccoon began going after the goats, which sent Keri over the top and me too.  I grabbed a nearby 2x4 and like a crazy woman went after it.  Unfortunately Keri charged it at the same time and got hit in the head by my 2x4.  This is why I probably shouldn't own a gun.  She ran off and I had a clear shot at the raccoon.  I missed and it came after me but I didn't miss the second time.  I hit it at least 10 times before it died.  I went to Keri to apologize and check her out.  She was fine but ducked her head when I went to pet her.  I spent at least another hour petting Keri and the goats until my blood pressure returned to normal. 


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Different strokes

Unlike the annoying song, There's A Hole In The Bucket, that was stuck in my head for days, I've had another, much more pleasant children's song tap dancing in and out of my cerebellum for days -  maybe weeks.  Did you know the word cerebellum is Latin for "little brain"?  I sang this song in my elementary school chorus and I've probably sung it thousands of times since.  It has stayed with me most of my life.  I doubt you'll be surprised at the song. 

If we could talk to the animals, just imagine it
Chatting to a chimp in chimpanzee
Imagine talking to a tiger, chatting to a cheetah
What a neat achievement that would be.

If we could talk to the animals, learn their languages
Maybe take an animal degree.
We'd study elephant and eagle, buffalo and beagle,
Alligator, guinea pig, and flea.

We would converse in polar bear and python,
And we could curse in fluent kangaroo.
If people asked us, can you speak in rhinoceros,
We'd say, "Of courserous, can't you?"

If we could talk to the animals, learn their languages
Think of all the things we could discuss
If we could walk with the animals, talk with the animals,
Grunt and squeak and squawk with the animals,
And they could squeak and squawk and speak and talk to us.

I spend much of my day talking to my animals and I doubt they really know what I'm saying any more than I know what they're thinking, but I know there's some connection - some comfort we find in each other's company - some understanding of noises.  Most days (not all) I find milking my goats or cow meditative.  Milking, petting or watching my animals is probably one of the most relaxing things I do in my day. 

I've learned though, this isn't something that everyone would find relaxing.  I know some people who don't like being massaged.  I can't even fathom how someone could not like a massage but I have friends who hate it so it must be a personal preference, like foods..... like wanting to talk to animals.

James loves his vegetable gardens and green house.  I think he finds working in them meditative.  He probably talks to his plants.  Maybe he has a gardening song tap dancing in his much larger brain.  I don't know the Latin word for "big brain".  I can assure you I've never had a gardening song stuck in my head.  Maybe because gardening is not something I find enjoyable.  I actually find it to be a four letter word, W-O-R-K.  

I told a friend today that I'd love for James to milk Raisa and see how relaxing it is.  The more I think about it, the more I realize that he might find milking to be a four letter word if he had to do it every day.  This brings to mind another song.



Friday, December 6, 2013

A new house for the goats?

Since we moved the goats over to the field they've been sleeping in a cramped, less than 8' x 8' shelter, even though there are other shelters in the field.  Goats don't like to be separated.  The herd must always be together even if they're uncomfortable!   

We're expecting temperatures to drop and some winter weather is approaching which always makes me worry about the animals.  Goats don't like to get wet.  Ever.  Last time we got heavy rains I moved them back to the yard so they'd have their bigger barn.  I'm not doing that this time.  There's way more to eat in the field.  Last week we bought another old horse trailer to use for a moveable shelter so animals can be rotated.  I thought this would be perfect for the goats.  It's bigger than the shelter they've been sleeping in and will let in less rain and snow.  Today I drove it over there and put it very close to the tiny shack.  I didn't see any animals about so I walked to the front of their house and there were all 8 goats and Keri packed in like sardines.
They all came out to see me and I showed them the trailer filled with nice warm bedding.  They inspected in and seemed to like it.  Hooray, I don't need to worry about them this winter.  They'll be just fine in there.

They finally seem content to be in the field and tonight as I left the field none of them followed me to the gate or cried.  Were they settled all nice and cozy in their trailer?

Of course not. 

We've been having warm weather for the past several days but today was the last of the warm temperatures for a while.  I've been craving something chocolate and mint so I made some mint chocolate chip ice cream from Raisa's cream and milk.  It's delicious.  I may not want ice cream once it gets cold so we should probably eat it all tonight :)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cream separators

 I got some new toys.  The folks we got Raisa from had 2 antique De Laval cream separators and, like Raisa, they've found a home here.  One is electric.
And the other is a hand crank table top model. 

At first I felt very intimidated by them.  They came with no instructions or lists of included parts.  I watched many Youtube videos and looked for online manuals, which were helpful, but the only way to really figure them out was to take them apart, clean them and put them back together.  It was actually kind of fun and I was able to reassemble them with no extra parts remaining.   Every time you use them you have to wash 33 parts from the electric one and something like 26 parts for the hand crank one.

James bought some oil for them but I think I need to try something different.  I can't get the electric one to work properly yet but I was able to use the manual one.  First I had to warm the milk to at least 90 degrees, as if it had recently come out of the animal instead of the refrigerator.

I was thrilled it worked.  I can't see any reason why I'd want to use the electric one when the manual separator was so simple.  I still want to get it up and running though.

We now have more butter. I had to chill the cream before making butter.  I'm learning a lot.   Last night James whipped some cream for our pumpkin pie.  Yum.  It sure is exciting having our own cream.  I can't wait to try separating the cream from the goats' milk this spring and see how it compares.