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Farm Pets

One of the first piglets born in Cle Elum on our new farm was immediately recognized as a “short timer” in the hours following his birth. I don’t recall what his malady was, but Mom and Dad knew he wasn’t long for the world.

So of course I adopted him and took him to my bedroom to “love to death”.

He was a tiny little thing—pink, oinky, and cute as a button. I named him Christopher Columbus. (Perhaps he was a Columbus Day baby?)  I fed him milk replacer from a doll bottle at first, and then a baby bottle when he got a little bit older. Which is all the older he got.

I don’t remember a lot about Christopher except that he was very smart and his snout, button eyes and precious “grin” endeared him to me. I do remember loving him a lot. He was my first up-close-and-personal interaction with pigs. Later, when the TV show Green Acres came on and I saw Arnold the Pig, I knew that’s what Christopher would have looked and acted like had he lived, so I got to vicariously see him “all grown up” in that way.

We had another farm pet that my sister named Taffy. Taffy was a heifer calf with a missing rear foot. I don’t remember if she was born that way or if her hoof was frostbitten and had to be amputated. But we knew she wouldn’t make it all the way to adulthood with a missing foot in her caboose. So we spoiled her rotten. At some point I guess Dad sold her for veal (not the cruelly-raised, caged kind—she had full run of a hundred acre pasture) when her ability to function on three legs ended.

We also had a pet lamb that we raised alongside our farm dogs. We kept her in the house at first (in diapers) while she was little. She hung with us and our indoor dog until she got older and bigger.

When the dogs barked at an arriving car and danced around it, she would baaaaa at it as excitedly as she could muster, too, with a similarly-wagging tail. When the dogs accompanied our slow-moving hay trucks into the field, she would run with them until she got winded and then lie down in the road ahead of us to catch her breath before allowing the driver to continue on.

Although I’m sure Dad got her at an auction with the intention of eating her—the way he’d bought rabbits years before in Spanaway with the same intention, since his sister had been raising rabbits and suggested it as a good way to put meat on the table—he once again realized that you can’t just mindlessly murder and eat what amounts to hand-raised pets, no matter the species!

One summer a red tail hawk built a nest in one of our hay fields. Dad ran over it with this baler before seeing it and managed to kill all but one of the young chicks. He brought the fuzzy infant home to me. I named him Lucky.  (I don’t know if Lucky was a girl or a boy, so calling him a male may be artistic license. I cannot bear to call Lucky an it!)

Frankly, I didn’t know what to do with a red tail hawk. I called Fish and Game. They strongly suggested that I just destroy Lucky because, as far as they knew, no one had ever managed to keep one as young as mine was alive for more than a day or two.

Nope. Not happening! Lucky had been lucky enough to survive one disaster: I wasn’t going to be the direct cause of his demise if I could help it.

I pulled out my bird books and found out what red tail hawks ate. Fish, fowl, mice, rats. All righty, then.

I went to the stream in back of our house and caught a trout, mashed it up, added water, and put it into a syringe. Lucky slurped it down.

Awright! Catch, mash, repeat.

As chicks, red tail hawks aren’t small. In fact, they grow to be bigger and fatter than their parents before they learn to fly, which is when they flap away the additional bulk. So when Lucky slept on me, my entire torso, from chin to abdomen, was his bed. And when he stretched out one leg or the other, he became even longer…

By the time Lucky evolved past the gangly stage and grew the fabulous feathers of an adult red tail, he was a total pet. His diet of fish, mice and other farm fresh delicacies worked the miracle that Fish and Game had told me was very likely impossible. He grew into a fabulous feathered pet…which presented yet another challenge:

Lucky had talons.

Lucky liked to swoop in and land on unprotected arms.

Lucky became a flying menace.

So I had to dissuade him from landing on strangers, and on me, whenever I stepped out the door.

Over time, Lucky learned new boundaries. I would jump, jerk, gyrate and yell to keep him aloft every time he came near me from the air, telling him, “Lucky! No! No! No! Land on the ground, Lucky! On the ground, Lucky!”—while pointing to, and kneeling on, the ground.

He figured out the new rules pretty fast because I always rewarded him when he did the right thing. I would tie a freshly-caught trout to the garden hose and let him have at it as a reward for staying off people.

Eventually Lucky heard the call of the wild and started his (her?) own family. But for a couple of years, I could still whistle and call Lucky to me.

We moved from Cle Elum not long afterward. I always think of Lucky and hope his/her offspring are still flying high over the property we owned…

 

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