Animals

Rent-A Redneck?

Many years ago, when Martin and I had just bought our farm, we woke early to marvel at our new property.

“Just look at the view,” Martin said, pulling me to the window. “Isn’t that a great sight?”
The sun was already high in a brilliant blue sky and birds twittered along the carriage house.
“Hey, look at the groundhog,” I said pointing at a fat, sandy-colored, beaver-creature ambling around the boxwoods. “Isn’t it cute?”
Just then Pongo, the neighbor’s dalmatian, darted in view and sunk his jaws into the groundhog’s midsection. He thrashed the dickens out of it.
The groundhog put up a fight; it screeched a near-human scream and slashed the air with its claws. But the oversized rodent was no match for Pongo. After an interminable five minutes, the dalmatian dragged away the limp quarry, leaving a pool of blood on the drive.
“Well,” said Martin, “welcome to the country.”
That was 11 years ago. During our naive-newbie days. When groundhogs were cute and Pongo was a miserable cur with a murderous streak.
Now I’d give anything for Pongo and his blood-thirsty vigor.
Since that dog’s passing, groundhogs have been a growing problem. They unearth ankle-breaking holes in our horse pasture. Historically, the burrows have been nestled near the trees — in an area avoided by galloping horses.
But last weekend Martin was mowing the back field when he lost a tire down a huge groundhog burrow. He freed the mower and moments later, Hadley ran across the field and encountered the same crater.
It nearly swallowed her whole.
I did not photograph Hadley’s mishap, but asked if she’d serve as a measuring stick:
“You want me to do what?”
Water and nurture them as seedlings and your kids will sprout in the springtime…
Going, going, almost gone….
It would be devastating if a horse stepped into one of these holes so we’ve moved the herd to the front field while we plot the groundhogs’ “departure.”
There are all sorts of homemade eradication methods — stuffing the burrow with moth balls, ammonia rags, Pine-sol, gasoline, exhaust fumes, sulfur gas cartridges, or cat urine. There are also Havahart traps. But among the dozen I’ve queried, one solution floats to the top: find a good marksman.
Unfortunately, I’m only certified to shoot a water gun. We need to borrow a hunter or rent a redneck. Someone who knows what they’re doing — unlike the pigeon hunters who predated us; they shot up the hayloft, turning the barn roof into a colander.
Sorry, groundhogs. You and and your bone-breaking burrows have got to go!

Peeping Tom

The hallway bathroomis officially open for business — and I’m already looking ahead to the next project — though admittedly, there are some unresolved details.

In the new bathroom, the toilet paper roll sits on the floor. We haven’t bought a shower rod or a curtain, and we haven’t decided what to do with the window.
Ah…the window… to cover or not cover it…that is the question.
In theory, any adult who showers will be entirely exposed and visible through the window. Especially at night. On the other hand, who’s there to watch? The pigeons in the hayloft? The owl atop the barn?
This isn’t exactly high-density housing.
But you never know who lurks outside. And tonight at bathtime, the kids learned that somebody’s always watching…

“Hey! Did you see that?” I said.

Hadley: “See what?”

“I don’t see anything…”

I told her to crouch down and wait…

…until the peeping tom appeared again.

It was Olive, our resident break-in artist. She’s always looking to breach our security measures.
Tonight she loitered by the window for a while. Through the bath and teeth brushing and even book time.
You might think that she was being social.
I think that climbing up on the roof was a lot easier than climbing down…

Power to the Sheeple

Historically, the first weekend in May is laden with events. The Kentucky Derby falls on the first Saturday. So does Gold Cup — a popular Virginia steeplechase punctuated by partying and alcohol. This year, we stuffed Cinco de Mayo in there as well.
So if you didn’t have anything to do this weekend… what can I say? You’re a loser.
I’m kidding.
Martin and I didn’t attend any Derby parties and ever since these damn kids followed us home, we’ve tempered our boozy Gold Cup jaunts.
Besides, we had a better event penciled on the calendar: The largest and longest running showcase of domestic sheep and wool. In the entire USA.
The Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.

Seriously, folks, it’s a big deal.

This year the parking lot was chock-a-block full of cars and we parked in the hinterland of the fairgrounds… passing gaggles of tailgaters who claimed swaths of grass with their folding chairs. These party animals weren’t stoking sausages on a hibachi or passing beers from a cooler.

They were knitting.

The festival celebrates all things sheep-related, from the animals themselves to the products woven and spun from their wool, to lamp chops with jelly. In between there’s plenty of home-grown crafts and music — fiddlers sawing away while carpenters whittle wood…beside broom makers and women spinning wool… next to pens of angora bunnies and a booth peddling sweaters and socks.

We skipped the Border Collie demos and all of the competitions (the “Lamb Carcass & Performance Contest” was tempting). Instead we shopped the crafts show and browsed the barns, ogling the different sheep.

The breed variation is truly amazing — from traditional, tightly-shorn Suffolk sheep to small, primitive brown-shaded Soay sheep, to burly, heavily-fleeced Lincoln sheep from Lincolnshire. The barns smelled nice — like forage with a faint whiff of livestock — and hummed under industrial fans and the buzz of electric shears. Every so often vociferous bleating rang out from one pen or another.

 A fistful of Suffolks, ready for judging
Fuzzy, wrinkly newborn twins

It’s hard to imagine that more than 50,000 people trek to the Howard County Fairgrounds every year to celebrate a relatively dense, sedentary animal — void of personality — that displays absolutely no athletic prowess.

But there is something about this event that is pure and wholesome and entirely fascinating. There are no games, no rides. The entertainment is in the animals, the people and their crafts. And you can’t help but appreciate the hard work that goes into prepping these shaggy beasts or hand-weaving a rug.

Even the kids were entertained, gazing at and petting the stock, wandering the pens and stuffing their faces with carnival food.

Only Cayden and Hadley expressed mild disappointment the following day; they wondered what happened to the wolves. Yea, where were the wolves? Hadley piped up.

“What are you guys talking about?” I asked.

“You know,” said Cayden, “at the Sheep and Wolf Festival…”

Social sheep
Lamb gyros, lamb stew, lamb sausage, lamb fajitas, lamb pitas…
The kids opted for ice cream and products of the corndog variety.