The Dog is Smiling

I purchased our small hobby farm 30 years ago to raise chickens, ducks, geese and yes (eventually added Reindeer). We have a small Honey Bee apiary, numerous apple trees for making and canning apple sauce, a pond in our front yard and a large veggie garden. My wife Karen cans many of the veggies and in fact recently canned our large beets. Tomatoes are next on the list for canning and some, along with peppers, onions, and other vegetables will be made into Salsa. We have a wood burning furnace (which is now outlawed in our community) to supplement the gas furnace heating for our home. We have 150 white and red grape vines for making wine and vinegar. Our grapes are harvested with the grandchildren each fall, pressed by tiny feet into juice, then fermented. If not for the gas and electrical service, our motor vehicles and my lack of a horse and buggy, blue farm clothing and straw hat you might think we were Amish. I do get the Lehman’s Amish catalog and own several gas lanterns along with a house propane gas generator for the yearly seasonal power failures. Our place is my 3 acres of heaven on earth, especially when the entire family is home.

The various chicken breeds and Carpenter ducks lay eggs daily and there is nothing like a morning breakfast with recently laid eggs for the omelet mixed with fresh vegetables from the garden. Our geese, are more than 3 years old now and adding more to the flock each year. They are well trained and if I am late feeding the flock the geese will come up on our back-patio deck and will peck at the door to let me know they are hungry. The geese also act as watch geese and will honk when a vehicle comes down our long driveway alerting us to the arriving visitor.

I keep the geese in the pen during the winter after the pond freezes into solid ice. I let the geese out again after those early yellow Spring lawn flowers feed our bees and turn into a ball of white seeds. When the dandelions finish the geese are free to roam the farm eating the leaves and after a week or so my lawn is free of those plants city folks and suburban dwellers pay some chemical spray company to remove. I chose a different path and I call the geese my weed and feed machines. A visitor would be hard pressed to find a dandelion in the grass on our farm a week or so after the geese are out in the yard.

A goat is planned in my future. In New Zealand, farmers will place a goat on a lease attached to a clothes line strung from one side of the property along the road. The lease is long enough to allow the goat to eat weeds and grass to the road edge but not long enough to allow the goat in the road. The goat eats the tall weeds, bushes and grass that may otherwise cause visual impairments for drivers on the road. If you visit New Zealand farm country you might note it is a popular practice. I’ll use our goat for eating the tall weeds in our small wooded areas and along the property lines.   Places that are difficult to cut with the zero turn mower.  The grandkids might enjoy a pet goat when they visit too.

We once had a problem losing our various feathered food producing friends to the numerous critters in the neighborhood. When asked if I raised chickens I would joke, “No, we raise free range raccoons and fed them live penned chickens!” It was a major problem until we adopted Bella, our Australian Shepard, now two years old. Since Bella arrived and after some minor training we have not lost a single chicken or duck to an interloper. Once she brought us a few half-eaten chickens and I was concerned she was on her way out until she barked incessantly from the barn late one evening. I walked out to the barn to see what all that racket was about and noticed she was barking at a raccoon she cornered in the barn rafters. My .22 pistol quickly dispatched the critter. “Good Dog!” I said smiling.   As if she read my mind when she brought home those dead chickens she acted as if to say, “See master, it wasn’t me that killed those chickens! It was that masked raider scallywag!” I learned what a dog smile looked like that evening. Then again, perhaps after seeing how I dispatch chicken eating varmints she realized there wasn’t a future in killing and eating my chickens. No, after getting to know her better, she is a protector of the farm and loyal friend. I will explain.

Bella stays near the back-kitchen door each night and will bark to alert us something is up outside. If we bring her into the family room she stays a few minutes and goes back to her bed in the kitchen. She is never far from our kitchen door when inside. She seems to have learned the difference between normal geese honking and chicken quacking and the distress sounds they make and wants to stay near that door to listen for those unique sounds. When she hears those distress sounds, she will bark until we let her out. Once the back door is opened, like a bullet from a rifle, Bella shoots straight to the roosting area barking the entire way, as if, like a police siren, help is on the way! It scares the heck out of any of those chicken murdering and robbing varmints. Afterwards she comes strutting back boldly to the house, enters the kitchen and lays down on her bed until called to duty again.  She is a good little soldier.

During the day Bella sits on the deck or under it and watches over the flock roaming the yard.  When released from the pen area the chickens and geese pay her no mind when she is snoozing under the shade of a tree and will flock around her when she prances through the grass back to the pen to check things out as if to tell her “thanks Bella for protecting us last night!” Bella seems to know when hawks are flying overhead too. The chickens run under the trees and Bella looks up and struts out into the middle of the yard to warn the flying predators she is on duty watching them and they dare not bother our flock.

Bella is not a roaming dog and knows the limits of our farm. We have no underground invisible dog fence, nor a standard above ground fence keeping her on our farm. When I plow the snow in our driveway and private road with our tractor she chases me through the snow and drifts in the neighbor’s fields and yards. The mail boxes for us and our neighbors is located on our private road one hundred feet from the main street and Bella never strays past those mail boxes stopping there until I push the snow across the main road to the opposite side. She knows those speeding cars on our dirt main road are dangerous. She picks up the tractor chasing again when I get to the mailboxes heading home. Other than in my truck or Karen’s car it is the only time she leaves the boundary of the farm. We can go away for several hours and know she will be waiting patiently on our back deck guarding the flock waiting for our eventual return.

When Karen comes home after work Bella is in ecstasy. Bella’s cropped tail moves vigorously back and forth as she lets out a low howl of joy walking up to Karen. Bella knows Karen will spend quality time brushing the cockleburs and other sticky weed seeds from her coat hair after a day hunting chipmunks and mice who raid our animal food storage room out in the barn   She sits patiently as Karen brushes out the seeds and talks to her asking about her day. She lays on her back at the right time to allow Karen to get those seeds stuck to her belly. It is a wonderful relationship to watch. You can tell Bella is happy when her mouth is partly open and that long tongue is hanging to one side with her eyes round and bright. I laugh as I see our dog is smiling again.


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