As I walked through the barnyard, the crunching beneath my boots sounded as if I were stepping on Frosted Flakes. A hard frost had settled in while I was snoring.
And then a few days later, rain dripped off my nose because I had forgotten to grab my cap. But as I splashed through mud puddles in the dark, I was glad my Georgia Tech neighbor had installed solar lights in the animal barn. Thanks to John, I didn’t need a flashlight when sundown beats me to my evening chores.
People ask, “Why do you have all those animals?” The answer is simple: I enjoy farm life. Besides, what’s a farm without animals?
About 25 years ago, our neighbor Pete—who helped on the Lake Hartwell farm—asked, “Do you know that you have more than 100 critters, with names, that expect to be fed every day?”
That was then.
Seventy-five goats, a small herd of Belted Galloway cattle, the bantam chickens, the royal palm turkeys, a Morgan-Arabian-cross horse, five Great Pyrenees dogs and the original two draft mules—Ruby and Rose—are gone.
This is now.
There will always be a mule in the pasture. Maggie, 20, is the queen. The big red mule with long legs and black stockings is a beauty. I love hearing her nicker before she eats out of my hand.
I bought Maggie as a filly from our farrier. And every time Eddy tends to her hooves, he says, “I can’t believe I ever sold her.” And I can’t imagine our menagerie without her.
Maggie’s inseparable sidekick is Spanky, a spotted miniature donkey. In the summertime, as Maggie grazes, Spanky stands under her for shade. Who says donkeys are dumb?
In the beginning, I might have been the dumb one. My son Alan and I went to check out two llamas that were being advertised for sale. The fella had a herd of donkeys, too. Alan asked whether we could buy a particular spotted donkey.
He wouldn’t sell just one. We came home with 13 miniature donkeys and two llamas.
Years and several generations later, we have five llamas and five miniature donkeys. But what we really want is a miniature mule. Enter Kickapoo, a spotted miniature horse, courtesy of my friend Larry. Kickapoo’s courtship with Otis, our donkey daddy, hasn’t worked out. But as Yogi said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”
The biggest surprise was our addition of cats. I have never announced, “Today, I’m going to get a cat.” But one morning, an iddy-biddy gray ball of fur was crying behind a shovel in the tool room. Abandoned, we thought.
Two more fussy kittens were in the hayride wagon. The last to appear was a black mother cat, sporting four white feet.
As soon as possible, all four were fixed. We didn’t need more cats, but the four felines have been a blessing. Mamma keeps the storage barn rat-free. And over at the animal barn, Bubba, Sista and Rascal have made mice vanish, too. But I wish the cats had come a year earlier. That’s when long-tailed rodents had chewed through the tractor’s $800 wiring harness.
So, twice a day—in rain, sleet, heat or snow—I trek to the barns to feed and check on our critters. As I drive up the lane to the animal barn, I beep the truck’s horn. Baby Llama Bean lopes inside the fence, leading the charge toward the stalls. And when three cats spill out to greet me, I can’t help but laugh.
I don’t mind crunching on “Frosted Flakes” or water dripping off my nose now and then. That’s a small inconvenience for something you enjoy.
And that gets me to thinking.
I really miss our goats.