The Glamorous Life of an Urban Farm Wife (and the realities of death)

I tucked my Christmas pajama bottoms into my bright purple galoshes and tightened the belt of my fuzzy bathrobe that covered my nightgown.  I sighed, mouth askew in a grimace, and pulled my work gloves on while balancing the shovel.  Poised over the dead creature I tried to hold my breath while finagling the blade underneath the hardening body of a skunk who did not see it coming.

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I love ignorance.  It’s the best.  Kind of wish I could get back to it.  Ah, the mystique of becoming a farmer.  The love of the land, the fresh air, the bright dawn, the sound of a baby goat, the feel of a newborn chick, the taste of fresh eggs with gorgeous orange yolks.  The urban farm with the front yard completely gardened.  Beds filled with corn and pumpkins, rows and rows of chilies and tomatoes, and dozens of other herbs and beans and cucumbers and other delights fill the space where a lawn ought to be.  A rooster crows from the backyard.

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I guess what I never prepared for, and what no one could really express to me, is that death and cycles of life were going to become quite apparent to me.  The emotions that one might feel day to day in the suburbs would morph into much more intense versions of joy and grief.  That becoming a farmer means becoming privy to the real natural world.

See, in a high rise apartment or other such place, one might see a fallen bird from a nest or a cat that has been hit by a car.  We sniff and pout our lip and then move on with the day.  Styrofoam cartons and air sealed packages line shelves neatly labeled.  Beef tip.  Short ribs.  Chicken breast.  (Where did the rest of the chicken go?)  Away from a farm is an easy place for Utopian ideas to thrive.

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Last night the skunk was apparently on his way to have appetizers and cocktails in the chicken coop with the ladies when he was swiftly taken out by a monstrous being, that at first sight might not be taken for a swift sort of creature at all.  But the massive bite to the spine without being sprayed proved that Gandalf was on duty and was not allowing frolicking with the chickens past curfew.  The chemical, nauseating smell permeates everything but the dog.

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Now, if the pup was not there, the skunk would have made quick work of the chickens without a smidgen of remorse.

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The Cornish chickens can barely stay alive as it is.  Since my post three days ago, another chicken’s legs are breaking and one of the hens that seemed fine died of a heart attack.  They are scheduled to meet their maker in two weeks (because it is the humane thing to do) but we will see if they even make it until then.  My own Utopian ideas of compassion and living in a world without death backfired with meat chickens that were never meant to live this long and are suffering.

Over the years I have held a screaming goat as she died.  My cat, two chickens, a robin, a sparrow, and my dear friend’s ashes are buried in my yard.  A dead skunk is in a plastic bag in the alley until I can think of something to do with it.  Death is real and it is not necessarily not compassionate.  Not necessarily unfortunate.  It just is.

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But where there is death, there is new life.  New baby chicks, and wobbling ducklings.  Baby goats taking a bottle, and finches learning to fly.  A farm- whether in the city or in the country- teaches us what working in a temperature controlled office after driving in a temperature controlled car, after picking up a quick breakfast could never teach.  That life in its whole is a natural process of birth, delight, strength, illness, sustenance, death, grief, reality.  And in every cycle, it is beautiful and sacred and real.

 

Before You Get a Great Pyrenees (or any dog)

He just settled back down to sleep.  7:20, the school bus comes.  He jumps up, the futon shaking, and barks loudly at the small, hooded figures with backpacks, their parents shadily waiting in their cars, probably planning on breaking into our house.  They all disburse, the bus drives away, and Gandalf sleepily settles back down on his bright pink futon and begins to snore.

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We did our research on the Great Pyrenees.  I like to thoroughly read everything possible.  They can be pretty vicious.  Like, you may want to put signs up warning people.  If they aren’t socialized, they can be impossible to have around people and animals.  We laughed as we watched a video before getting Gandalf about how this gentle giant breed will guard you against predators, strangers, lawn chairs, birds, the wind….yea, we didn’t really get it.  They bark.  “Good!” I said, I want a guard dog.  They shed.  “Ha!  I have had nine cats at one point, he can’t shed more than them!”  Ha ha…yea, he can.  We will train him!  You don’t train this breed.  They do what they want.  Dogs are how you raise them, right?  But there are definite breed traits that one must know before committing to the lifetime of a dog.  You cannot train hundreds of thousands of years out of any particular breed.

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There are growing populations of Great Pyrenees in shelters.  These adorable fluff balls of polar bear proportions are just about too much cuteness not to fall in love with.  They grow quickly.  Comparing Gandalf to dogs at the dog park, he is probably over 180 pounds.  He’s still growing.  We have socialized him.  I have a lot of clients, students, and friends over and he has been fawned over and given treats for over a year now.  But he is very sensitive and even a benign person with too much energy makes him very wary and, let’s be honest, scary.  I keep him in the back yard if people are coming over.  At the dog park, he is fine.  Off duty, he plays and has a great time, turning into a puppy again.  At home, he is on guard.

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When people say they bark, it is not like a heeler or lab.  His bark is deep and bellowing and can be heard blocks away.  Intended to keep predators from flocks of sheep, the bark of a Great Pyrenees is meant to frighten away any dangers before confrontation.  In the city that means that anyone walking a quarter a mile away gets barked at.  He barks nearly all the time.  Loudly.  All.  The.  Time.  Now, that may sound great if you are concerned about security, but your neighbors may not think that is a great way to wake up Sunday morning.  His bark doesn’t change much.  Could be a burglar, could be a neighborhood cat.

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He sheds.  No, no…he sheds!  The interior of my car was black when I bought it.  I will bring dog hair with me on my clothes, find it in my coffee at the coffee shop, the couch is plastered in it, the floors have tumbleweeds of dog fur flying about every time the furnace kicks in.

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He did snap at a child that he didn’t know who took food from him.  That is any dog.  With Maryjane, he is the gentlest, sweetest, most attentive companion and I do not worry about her playing outside by herself with him by her side.  Even at the dog park, children will hang off of him.  He does live up to his Gentle Giant status.

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When we take walks, he pulls Doug.  If we are walking with someone who has their dog off leash, he pulls.  I was nervous the other day to take him by myself around the lake.  He has a different mindset with just me.  If Doug is not there, he feels his entire job is to watch after me.  The leash stayed slack, he kept looking up to me.  My beautiful, great leader.  He has a beautiful spirit.  He is playful, and adorable, and a great companion.  I love my loud, shedding polar bear.

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He loves the ladies at the bank!

He matches his breed.  There are so many huskies, heelers, and other beautiful dogs in shelters because they are amazingly cute puppies but someone didn’t take the time to understand their innate breed traits.  Gandalf is a lot to handle, but I don’t regret adopting him.  He is part of our family.  He spends most of his day outdoors by choice, but right now he is happily snoring on the couch.

Help Wanted- Farm Dog

THE UNLIKELY APPLICANTS:

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Name– Bumble Bear

Age– 8 years old

Previous Job– Racer.  Spent 23 hours a day for nearly 3 years in a kennel, raced in the meantime. Won 5 races, didn’t finish the rest.  How he won, I’ll never know.  I don’t think he knew he was chasing anything.  He was just running with everyone else.  He runs into the occasional wall, not great coordination, really cute.  Rescued, has lived on this couch ever since.  A bit doofy, but awfully sweet.  A great family dog.

Farm dog– He does like to sit on his lawn chair outside and watch the chickens.  He chases off any intruders; squirrels, cats, coyotes, deer, foxes, raccoons.  If they don’t run, he can’t do much else.  When the terrible tragedy of the evil four year old and his dog occurred (they were in the chicken coop killing chickens), he could not find a vicious bone in his body to frighten them off and proceeded to pout on the couch for 12 hours, too afraid to go back outside.  Since he does want to chase everything away, and all said intruders come by at night, we are up every night to let him out to chase.  He does not have enough fur to stay outside and would be very upset without his couch.  (We cannot have a dog door as we have nine indoor cats.  If you only want cats for two weeks around here, let them out.  Coyotes, foxes, and semis will make quick work of them….no dog door.)

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Name– Windsor Wizzer (never had a great bladder)

Age– Old as dirt (17)

Previous Job– Children’s toy, doll clothes model, companion on long walks.  Retired.  Sleeps on big cushion most of the day.

Farm Dog– Blind and deaf, thinks he is a cat.  Enough said?

So, now you understand my help wanted sign.  Bumble can hold down the fort here because it is a small enough area and I guess I don’t need to sleep through the night.  But on the next homestead, I plan to have more land as well as alpacas, goats, and sheep.  I know that donkeys and llamas make great guard animals, but a farm dog is very nearly a necessity if for nothing else but they complete the quintessential farm view and we like dogs.  I need a dog that can be a family dog and a guard dog and not eat small children.  A furry kid that can sleep in the mud room with a dog door so that they can scare off fuzzy intruders without getting me up.  Assuming we stay in Colorado that means he/she has to have enough fur and warmth to withstand single digit temperatures as well as high 90’s in the summer.  They should not under any circumstances eat the chickens and they should not be a runner (Huskies are out).  They should be a herding dog so to help me with moving animals.  But not so bored that they nip at my heels all day.  With those requirements in mind, does anyone have any ideas about what breeds we should look at?  I would rather rescue and feel like we need to get a puppy in order to get them used to all the animals already here.  Your input is most welcome….