Do you remember watching that show Wild Kingdom when you were a kid? Where I lived, it came on Sunday evenings right before The Muppet Show. I can still hear the intro… “Marlin Perkins’ Wild Kingdom (brought to you by Mutual of Omaha)…”.
As a young child I loved animals, but I wasn’t allowed to have any indoor pets. We had an outdoor dog but my father kept him chained to a stake in the backyard. Butch, our German Shepherd, wore a 40’ circle of ground bare in the backyard as he drug his heavy chain round and round the buried stake.
As a young girl, I’d sit with Butch for what seemed like hours digging marrow out of a bone with some tiny stick, every now and again presenting him with a chunk of smelly, white goo. I liked the calm of being with him, just sitting together. I think he liked it, too.
I had a lot of heavy stuff going on in my life back then and Butch was, what we call today, “my safe space”.
I realize now how drab his universe must have been. It’s no wonder he ran away so many times until, eventually, I came home from school and he was just gone. My father told me he had taken him to live on a farm but, looking back, I know that wasn’t true.
He was just gone.
When I see other homesteaders surrounded by their menagerie of critters, I sometimes feel a twinge of jealousy. Those lambs are so darn cute! I imagine gazing out my kitchen window at our pastures teeming with horses, sheep, maybe a milk cow or two - but I realize, now is not the time.
After three years, we’re still settling into our life here and the many responsibilities, repairs, and weather that come with this life. Not to mention the unexpected surprises.
We had to make an emergency trip into town to take Henry to the veterinarian last week. One moment he was jumping 6 feet in the air catching a frisbee and, later that day, he was limping. We’re not sure how or when he did it - and he’s not talking - but after three x-rays, the doc discovered that Henry had broken his toe.
As a result, Henry is grounded for at least a week. There’s nothing to do except rest. He’s on painkillers and anti-inflammatories for at least 7 days with strict orders not to run or jump, which is very hard on a German Shepherd puppy who’s used to running six miles alongside a snowmobile every other day.
All day long now, he’s restricted to hanging out with me in the kitchen or out in the shop with John watching him work on his 1957 Jeep Willys… but he’s not having much fun. He’s not allowed to have fun.
Don’t fret for him, though. We’re keeping him busy with fresh bones from the butcher and lots of peanut-butter filled Kongs!
I’ve been thinking a lot about our animals and what it means to be a good steward lately. I’ve been thinking of my childhood Shepherd, Butch, and how the hopes my father might have had when he adopted him compared with the realities of owning a dog with “issues”. Mistakes were made, clearly, and we all suffered.
I think a big part of being responsible is knowing our limitations. When it comes to animal husbandry, I have a lot of limitations. The longest interaction I’ve ever had with a sheep was at a petting zoo.
As for goats, when I was in my 20’s, I lived in a trailer in the country on someone else’s farmland. I remember heading out to work only to find a devil-eyed goat standing on the hood of my car. He did this a lot. He enjoyed taunting me. More than a little freaked out, I’d cautiously stab at him with my broom, pleading that I was going to be late for work. Explain that to your boss… “Sorry I’m late, but there was a goat on my car.”
I don’t think you can use that excuse more than once.
Fast forward to today. Six months of the year, we’re surrounded by cattle because we lease part of our land to a local rancher for grazing. Last spring we spent months repairing and installing additional fencing so the cattle wouldn’t be so close to our home and outbuildings. They really know how to destroy things. Plus, they bring stable flies and, well, there were cow pies everywhere.
This was the view outside our den a couple years ago. When I said I dream of being surrounded by animals, this isn’t what I had in mind.
Several years ago, we adopted a Shar Pei. When we brought Brisket home, he was about five years old with a history of abuse and abandonment. He was a loner and major grumpus. He hated everyone, didn’t like walks or dog parks and definitely did NOT play, especially with toys.
After a year or so of routine, stability and affection, he started to come around and develop some attachment, if not love, for us. His dry comical style began to shine through as we learned about his love for coffee, sunbathing and clothes. Yes, this tough-guy loves to wear clothes!
He even started to play - although rarely - but never with toys. And he still hated other dogs.
So, when we moved here, Brisket was still an only dog. The summer of 2021, when we brought Henry home, was quite a transition. At first, Brisket was curious about Henry, then he merely tolerated him as Henry attempted to play, scratching and further scarring Brisket’s tissue-paper-like-skin with his sharp puppy claws and razor teeth.
Maybe because Henry was just so cute and non-threatening, Brisket patiently endured his company and pestering month upon month. Meanwhile, Henry grew.
And grew. And grew some more.
Henry, being extremely gentle and good-natured, has slowly edged his way into Brisket’s heart and, at last, convinced Brisket that it’s okay to play. It’s been a slow moving miracle, but Brisket finally plays - with toys and other dogs!
Well, one other dog - his buddy, Henry.
Successes like this take time and attention but I believe this is what being a good steward looks like. Small steps. Slowing down to the pace of nature. We’ll keep adding animals gradually as time, resources and knowledge allow. It’s important to me that we do it right and no one suffers from an impulsive decision.
As you know, we added ten chicks last spring and they’re all well. They’ve started to forage a bit in areas where the snow has melted.
The coop we built has withstood -20F so far without incident and there’s been no sign of intruders.
Our hens are providing 3-5 eggs per day, even now. We’ve started writing the date on them so we can eat them in order to assure that none go bad.
Other than our dogs and chicks, we haven’t seen any wildlife around us for months. It feels a bit lonely. The coyotes are still out there and I’m sure there are bears in the hills, but all the deer have migrated to lower elevations. We put some food out for them in November just before the big snow storm but we haven’t seen them here since. We spot them sometimes on our way to town, though, their darker coats blending into the rocky hillsides.
For now, there’s just no food to be found way up here at 3500ft.
Unless you’re a carnivore. We think this coyote may have caught a neighbor’s chicken.
Here he goes with a rabbit.
Whatever he’s eating, he’s looking good. This guy must be the alpha hunter around here. He certainly knows how to pose!
As does this Tom.
We haven’t seen this buck in a couple years. Hopefully, he’s just camera-shy and not in someone’s freezer.
I’ll share a few shots we caught last spring and fall with our trail-cameras. During these lonely days of winter, we really miss these gorgeous critters.
If you look very closely, you’ll see two fawns closely following their mom. Looks like they were just born.
And a few months later… it’s Bambi.
Is this her brother? You can see his little antlers forming.
This place looks like paradise in spring but we all have to watch out for the natural predators who also live here.
In addition to bears, there’s bobcats and cougars, too.
Our trailcams are our favorite source of entertainment out here. What are the odds of catching a bee mid-flight?!
I hope you enjoyed this little tour of our personal Wild Kingdom. Let us know, what kind of wildlife are you seeing on your land?
Awe my heart, you have so much wildlife!
I know that I have cougars, coyotes, bears and lynx but only ever see bears and deer.
I have a picture of a squirrel just before he decided to bite the motion sensor on my security camera!
Lovely heart swelly post - it makes me excited for spring.
I love everything about this post, right down to the Mutual of Omaha. Same generation! I recall the show well. We have 10 animals at this point. Always room for more. What a shame about your childhood dog. That's criminal. As for Henry, well, Farley - same thing. But almost two months off her foot. Good news is she's fine now and - knock wood - has been ever since. Keep on writing.