I know, I know, the song is Who But a Fool (Thief into Paradise), not (Sheep into Paradise). But now that I have heard it that way, it will forever be a song about Charlie and Hamish. The joke is, this is hardly paradise right now. The downstairs flooded, but worse than that, the back yard is a quagmire and the front yard is sporting a variety of mud that is trying hard to become quicksand. It sucks your boots under to the ankle and tries to yank them off if you try to take a step.
Princess Blur is a pretty good sport about living indoors, but even a hen with a heart condition gets bored. So I turn her out with the big hens for an hour or two every afternoon. Paradise has been cold, wet, and cruel lately. But if I go out, Princess goes out. One day it was raining so hard that I brought Princess out to the greenhouse with me. It’s dry overhead, but humid, and often a degree or two warmer than the yard. She was not impressed.
Meanwhile, the sheep are destroying paradise. They are more like goats: ignoring the grass, but stripping the shrubs of their leaves, trees of their bark. In the photo below, the water table is so high there is standing water everywhere. That brownish area is ankle deep mud with a few tiny grasses gasping for breath as they slowly drown. Charlie is standing on an area where The Bartender dumped a couple bags of crushed rock. It has compacted nicely. The sheep are springy and leap from rock to hummock while I follow behind. My boots make a crude sucking noise with each step. I can’t carry anything for the lurching and arm waving that keeps me balanced.
(You’ve seen that scene in the movie where the little girl takes a step and her boot comes off. She loses her balance and plunges her stocking foot into six inches of mud, nearly bursts into tears. She looks around frantically but it’s deep mud every direction, nobody in sight except the hogs, who are now looking her direction and turning toward her. Without taking her eyes off the hogs, she absently pulls her foot out of the sticky mud and sticks it back into the boot. She looks down at her boot, in horror, her muddy pants leg slopped over the instep, now. She looks back up in time to see the hogs moving quickly in her direction, and runs for the gate, the muddy foot only halfway into the boot so that it squish-flops around as she runs.)
While we’re fantasizing, let’s go back to 2012 and check out the back yard. Same time of year, same mud. My personal observation is that those webbed toes are more for walking in muck than for swimming. This time of year there is no grass, so I brought a bucket of bamboo around for him. He sure did love those hens.
The ducks are hell-bent on destroying any winter grass that might remain. They poke their bills into the mud and dabble and dig like shallow rototillers, destroying the tilth of the saturated soil, sucking down worms and grubs. The geese yank at the tiny doomed blades of green.
The same groundwater that filled my basement last month bubbled up in the barn. The spring water is beautiful and clear until it hits that filthy mud puddle a nanosecond after it gurgles up. Most years, I have to dig this seasonal swale to drain the water, but this winter is the craziest I have ever seen. I have to walk through that big puddle about ten times a day, stepping carefully on the submerged pavers I finally dropped in there. If I miss-step between the migrating pavers, I sink into ankle deep muck that has even better suction than the mud in the front yard. At least, in the barn, there is lots to hold onto. I won’t bore you with a video, but there’s actually flow (about 1-2 gpm, by my professional reckoning) gushing from the lower right post to that gate beyond the ladder.
A moment of silence for dear Coffee Bean, my oldest hen. She was “eight to ten years old” when she arrived a year-and-a-half ago. The sweetest old gal there ever was, so big I had to remember to bend my knees when I picked her up. She had had a rough day, so I set her up with a cozy basket and heat lamp for the night. When I went out later that night to give Kitty Hawk his insulin, Windy was standing vigil over her. Coffee Bean left us by morning, and now the yard is silent. Some hens talk, some don’t, but Coffee Bean was a genuine conversationalist. Oddly, she talked to me, not really to the other hens. I always knew when I was walking near her because I would hear her announcement. She never laid a single egg while she was here, but she never had to.
I do like the eggs, and so do the neighbors. With a geriatric flock, it’s more of a bonus than a given. This winter has been bleak, and though they always slow down in response to the reduced daylight hours, they gave up laying by late fall. Windy is starting to lay again, and for a seven year old hen, three eggs a week is a very respectable offering.
Kitty Hawk is weathering his storms. He is in the infirmary most of the time, so I don’t have to chase him down at night in the dark to give him his insulin. He’s eating about six very expensive cans of cat food a day. He has breakfast in the infirmary after his insulin, then I let him out until the afternoon, when they all get fed. Chubby Larry has talked me into giving her breakfast, too. In return, she has become more friendly and no longer startles when I reach past her.
Half-Stache is my personal escort. He follows me everywhere as I work in the aviary. It’s a good thing he’s cute, because I’m pretty sure it’s Larry who catches all the rats, seven so far. Look at his front paws– does he have thumbs?
So, we’re back to the sheep, and their paradise. They have a nice dry covered pen and lots of hay. The occasional saltine cracker. They are happy guys, running around like maniacs, working hard to make me laugh. I put clean straw on their bed, they haul it off, redecorate their pen with it. We are waiting hard for summer to come. Only three more months!