Monday, June 6, 2011

Pets, Livestock, and Farm Animals?

I was talking to my very good friend the other night, and she was mentioning to me that she couldn't believe how many animals we have. I should probably mention that my friend lives on Long Island, in a very suburban neighborhood. The kind where people own dogs that they walk around the neighborhood or occasionally take to the dog park. Where they dress their dogs up in little outfits (my friend does not do this), and take them to the groomers and so on. Suburbia. We used to live in the same suburbia, and I grew up in it, so I am very familiar with it.

My friend owns a dog and a couple of cats. The cats go in and out, and the dog is a suburban dog. He is a sweet, fat (forgive me T) Puggle, smart as a whip and friendly as all get out. He gets walked and taken to the dog park like a suburban dog should. He has toys and gets treats and is spoiled and is a family member more than an animal.  He is a pet.  I know this feeling well.  In suburbia, you have pets or you don't.  And if you do, then they're just another member of the family, like one of your children, only they're not allowed to sit at the table to eat, and they're probably not toilet trained.

In my house, we have 3 cats as pets.  They are fat and spoiled and allowed to sleep wherever they want (except the dining room table), and are generally considered members of the family.  If they are sick, they go to the doctor.  We take into consideration what foods they will/will not eat.  We give them treats (which is why they are fat), and we play with them.  A lot of consideration went  into finding our boys (they are all boys).  We looked at 4 or 5 animal shelters over a period of a few weekends each, trying to find exactly the right personalities to blend into our four-person family.  We petted and talked to and checked over all potential candidates.  And once we chose?  We made sure they were washed up, they got new food bowls and litter boxes, toys, and we took them to the doctor to ensure they were healthy.  We were adopting a family member, after all.  We wanted only the best.

Our boys were added to our family when we, too, lived in a typical suburban development-type neighborhood.  Because of that, our boys never go outside--too dangerous.  They are House Cats in the extreme.  Supreme High Rulers of all soft or high off the ground.  We love them and they us.  They are family members.

Fast forward to today.  Now we live on a bit of land that is mostly wild woods.  Bordered by wild woods on two sides, with neighbors on the same road, but not right in our faces.  I couldn't call it rural by my definition (no neighbors in sight), but it's not a suburban development by any standard.  This is where we decided to live, and this is where I decided to start that farm I've always wanted.  And so here it is.  But of course to farm, you need animals, which was a huge bonus to me, and chickens were the gateway to the livestock world.  Then, when I had that down, I wanted to try geese and Ferdinand and Ginger joined the flock.

The chickens were never pets.  They are livestock, through and through.  I enjoy them very much, but they're not cuddly.  You don't sit with one in your lap (or, I don't sit with one in my lap) and pet it.  Though my children will hijack one or two occasionally to play "Chicken Roller Coaster" (more humane than it sounds--it's mostly sitting on a swing with a chicken in your lap and then walking around with it under your arm), they do their own thing, I do mine, and we meet up at the feed trough.  With the geese, the line got a little fuzzy.  They have SUCH personalities and there were only two of them.  I raised them from teeny-tiny babies and loved them at first sight, and was so enamored that if one got hurt (as Ginger did), I was very, very upset--the fact that she was livestock was understandable to me, but emotionally, I just couldn't break the connection.  She was sort of a pet/livestock.  Odd combo.  Confusing to understand.

As time has gone on, and we have acquired many more animals (many), the lines of who's a pet and who's not has changed yet again.  Chickens are still livestock.  When we lost one last year, I was sorry for the chicken, but I felt the loss in terms of the eggs she will no longer produce for us.  I still check on the little chicks running around freely and worry if they're safe, but if I can't find one at mealtime, I don't think about having lost a pet, I think about having lost a potential egg producer and possibly a member of a rare breed.   And yes, I am always glad when they eventually turn up.  But no, I do not weep for joy. 

The geese have now become livestock.  Loud livestock.  Possibly it's the addition of so many others that makes me see them this way?  I can see myself sort of stepping away from the fussing I would have done over them.  The Pilgrims, who I did raise by hand, have been adopted by Ferdie as his own, and there's nothing I can do about it.  Luckily they are very tame.  But the little Africans, Audrey and Delilah, were almost completely raised by Arthur.  He took them under his wing, and because he is a docile, good boy, I allowed it.  And I still love Ginger, but she's a goose, as are the rest of them.  If one of them were to be lost, I would be sad, but I would also see it as a loss of a rarer breed (that's what we keep here) more than the loss of a friend.  However, I would still miss their personality as well.  

Ducks? Livestock.  Easy to call.  Funny livestock, but livestock.

Rabbits?  Same.  Cute and furry and nice to pet, but livestock nonetheless. 

So it leaves me to ponder our newest additions, these two:

They are not really pets, or are they?

They are barn cats (or garage cats until the barn is built). 

They are definitely not livestock.

Dave's sister, Eleanor
What are they, then?  Farm hands?  Co-workers?  Employees?   Not much thought went into their adoption--we didn't go 700 places looking for them.  We have them because I went to Agway to buy straw.  Isn't that how it always is?

Weeks ago, I told my understanding and wonderful husband that I really needed a barn cat.  The chipmunks and mice have been getting into the animal feed, and I can't have that.  The stuff's expensive and very needed, and I can't have mice eating it and chipmunks stealing it.  He agreed, on the condition that the cat doesn't come in, so he wouldn't have to add a litter box, or have the cat meet our boys (messy), and so on and so on.  Fair enough, and I agreed.  Well, I went to Agway for said straw and saw Dave and his sign that said $15.  Not bad, I thought.  I played with him a little to see how ferociously he attacked fingers and how docile he was with people and decided he was a good combination of both.  In the cage with him was his sister, Eleanor.  She was quieter, so I really just wanted Dave.  Up to the counter I went, with my daughter in tow, practically floating in the air with excitement, and asked for Dave.  I was then asked if I would take both.  I don't need both, though, I just need the one, I said, but they didn't want to split them.  The decision maker?  They offered me the both of them for $15.  Not $15 apiece, but $15 in total.  Deal.  Two little mouse hunters for the price of one?  Absolutely. 

So there we have it.  Our numbers have increased (AGAIN),but this time we took on co-workers.  I guarantee they will be loved (they already are) and played with (a LOT) and treated really well, but they have a job that our other boys do not (unless you call sleeping a job), and they don't sleep on our beds at night.  Again, the line gets fuzzy.

But happily fuzzy, I would say.  Happily fuzzy.

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  1. I just thoroughly enjoyed reading your whole entire post!

  2. I can over from the Barn Hop. I am from the same sort of background - suburbs to rural (no houses seen when the trees have leaves). The house we bought had 6 "barn" cats that were treated like pets. A mouse could run by them and they wouldn't lift a paw. So I weaned them off SIX bowls of food a day and made them earn their keep. Good luck with your new mousers!

  3. When you have kids, it's even harder to distinguish between pets and livestock. They see them all as pets! We have one cat that we've had for 11 years long before we moved to the farm. We brought another one when we moved to the farm for the sole purpose of becoming the "barn cat" but his personality outshone our old cat. We inherited two strays who became our mouse catchers but feed them also to keep them around. One of those strays had babies so our mouse catchers have now increased, so our first beloved mouse catcher will be "retiring", getting fixed and becoming a pet. Lesson? Don't fall in love with your working animals. Respect and appreciate what they do for you, but don't fall in love. For kids tho, that's really hard to do.

  4. Our "animal count" is always changing too. Some come, some go (literally, they just leave us without us knowing why!), and some pass away. What are they? They are all loved...even if it's in their own different ways. I loved our pot bellied pig like a child. Even nearly 4 months after his death, I cry over pictures I see of him and memories we've created. When our cat decided to roam away and find another home, it didnt hurt nearly as bad. They are all just different. They all have a place in my heart, but in different compartments. :-)

    Great post.
    I'm looking forward to following your blog!


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