By Ardi C. Whalen
One of my earliest memories of baby chicks involves my two-year-old sister. It was a beautiful summer day and my sister sat outside on the bottom step of the entrance to our house, snacking on some graham crackers.
We had free range chickens that did just that, ranging freely, and one mother hen decided to investigate the cute, curly haired blond girl sitting on the bottom step. She wanted to show off her family of ten baby chicks, and maybe enjoy some cracker crumbs.
The week-old chicks were so fluffy and cute. When they swarmed around my sister for the cracker crumbs, she put out a chubby hand and grabbed one. The cracker was forgotten as she clutched the fluffy chick with her two hands. She giggled at the peeps coming out of the chick, and its squirming only made her clutch it more tightly. The chick quieted completely.
That was no fun, so she dropped it and picked up another. That was fun for a while, but then it, too, stopped peeping and moving. She dropped it, and reached for yet another chick. Thank goodness, Mom finally decided that things were too quiet, and went out to investigate. Seeing the two little corpses at my sister’s feet, she snatched her up and into the house they went. Mother Hen walked off with her eight remaining chicks.
When I see the color pink, I think of Pinky. It was about 1940 and the farm was beginning to do well after the Great Depression, but money was still tight, so when the old sow refused to raise the runt of the litter, we decided to raise it.
My sister and I were kept busy fixing bottles of milk for the little pig, probably a Chester White, who we named “Pinky,” because her coarse, white hair could not hide her pink skin; she looked pink.
She would follow my sister and me around the farm. We tied a rope to her hind leg so we could stop her from going into the garden. She kept growing, and one day we turned her into a riding pig, and she didn’t mind! We had a good time that summer, playing with Pinky. Come fall, she mysteriously disappeared, but the fond memory lingers on.
Dad loved animals, and they loved him, but sometimes love can be too much of a good thing. It all started with a near-yearling bull calf, getting himself all tangled up in a barbed wire fence. The more he struggled, the more entangled and cut, and frantic, the calf became.
Dad walked out to the pasture, wire cutters in hand, leather gloves on his hands, and carefully, speaking in a low, soothing voice, cut the calf free. He had made a friend for life. The rest of the summer, the calf followed him everywhere he went in the fenced-in barnyard and pasture. It was flattering, until Dad began to think that this calf before long would be a full grown bull! He could be really dangerous. Before summer arrived again, the bull was in some other farmer’s pasture.
When I was ten, we had a wonderful Black Beauty of a horse. She had a white triangle between her eyes. She was no work horse. Dad had often ridden when growing up, so he must have bought her for a riding horse. We hadn’t had her for very long, maybe a couple of years, when a bite from a mosquito killed her. Evidently she had never been vaccinated against equine encephalitis (sleeping sickness). This was in 1944, and maybe farmers didn’t vaccinate back then.
My dad thought that if he could prevent her from lying down, maybe she could recover. We had a pulley contraption on the barn’s upper eave. It was used to haul up hay into the hayloft. Dad used canvas to fashion a sling to go under Topsy’s belly, and then he and a couple of hired men hoisted her to her feet, but it was hopeless. Most cases of equine encephalitis end in death of the horse, and Topsy, young and strong as she was, proved to be no exception.
Our work horses were Belgian’s given to Dad by his dad. They were getting old. It was time to find replacements before they got too old to pull their own weight. Dad went to an auction and brought home Nancy and Jesse, two-year-old bays with black manes and tails.
I watched out the window as he tried team-training them. I couldn’t help laughing (it’s a good thing I was inside), as Nancy would head off east, Jesse would go west, and they’d tangle up the harness reins. My dad didn’t swear, but I bet he was close to it. This went on for a few days, and then the horses disappeared, and Dad came home with a new F20 Farmall tractor.
With the coming of the tractor, our farm began to shrink. First the horses—they weren’t needed with the powerful tractor; then the pigs and most of the chickens, and finally, the dairy cows, except for one or two for the family’s needs.
I remember Peggy, oh how I remember Peggy. She was a rust-colored shorthorn cow with unusually long legs. She wasn’t hard to milk, but you had to constantly be on your guard. She could sense when that milk pail was two-thirds full, and suddenly she’d lift her long right leg up and splash! Into the pail it would go, ruining a pail of milk. We soon learned that the left upper arm and elbow had to be pressed against her right leg so we could sense her tensing, ready for the splash down. I bet she thought she was pretty funny.
You’ve met the animals with which I grew up; now I’d like to meet yours. If any of you living in Civano or Sierra Morado would like to have your beloved and fascinating pet become part of this column, please call me at 520-867-6212 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be happy to come over with my tape recorder and camera to interview your pet(s), with you as interpreter, of course.