Over my years on the farm I’ve seen a lot of cross species mergers. There was my second Jersey cow Cissy, who was certain she wanted to be a dog and live on the porch. I will say that no one, especially the dogs, thought this was a good idea. My ancient old turkey Tom was the next farm critter to seek out the dogs as flockmates. Not only did he patrol the farm with Moosie and Bear, he roosted on the porch right above where they slept. He did this for about a year while I raised a new flock for him to shepherd. Tom did his best to convince me that he should also be allowed in the house, just like the dogs, but I wasn’t willing to go that far. How do you housebreak a turkey? He didn’t give up easily. He could spend hours tapping on the sliding glass door when his canine buddies were out of reach.
Of course there was Peanut, the orphaned ram lamb, who did get to live inside the house. For a while he considered being a cat, but they just weren’t interested in flocking with him. The dogs suited him better, as they tended to stay together and both Moosie and Bear liked him. Then, maybe because Peanut was species-uncertain, after he had migrated to spending days outside with his siblings, he bonded with Miss Piggy’s piglets. I’ll never forget the day I found him in the orchard with his eyes closed and his forelegs tucked under him. There was a piglet at either side and each little pig was gently running one of Peanut’s ears through its mouth. It was clear that all three of them thought they were getting the best of that encounter.
After Peanut came Lonely Girl. That was the final little–or not so little as she weighed out at 350 when all was said and done—gilt from my last herd of pigs, the Old Blacks. (I’ll never do that breed of pigs again. I think having their ears over their eyes made them far too skittish.) There is nothing hogs– related or not– like less than to be the only one left from their herd. More importantly, they know exactly what it means when they hear the shot that makes them a true orphan. Their grief is so extreme that I’ve promised myself to never again leave only one alive, even if it means twice the work. (If you’re interested, you can find Lonely Girl’s story in these three posts: Lonely Girl, 6 Sheep and Tiny’s Shadow.)
Now I’ve had another cross-species farm merger. A few weeks back I caught my flock of Blue Slate turkeys standing with the sheep. Every time the sheep moved as they grazed, the turkeys followed. That didn’t really surprise me. After all, both turkeys and sheep enjoy grass. I figured one flock was following the other, looking to see if this grass was better. What did surprise me was how comfortable they looked together. The next week I caught the turkeys trying to follow the sheep out of the gate that leads to the creekside pasture. I nixed that right away. While the sheep won’t go sloshing through the creek to visit whatever’s on the other side, turkeys will. For the record turkeys do a pretty good duck impression when necessary. I chased the birds back inside the gate and thought that was the end of it.
A week or so ago I again caught the turkeys with the sheep as the sheep were making their way toward the creek. Only this time two of the toms were riding on the backs of my bigger ewes. The hens were right up next to the lambs, picking things out of their wool. And the sheep were loving it! Tiny, who did lose all her wool this year and has the sleek, short-haired coat a Dorper is supposed to wear, had her eyes closed as the tom on her back used his beak to sift through her hair.
I groaned. Once again a priceless moment that ought to be recorded for posterity and I had no camera on me. Certain I’d never again have the opportunity to record this unbelievable moment, I chased the turkeys back into their pasture and sent the sheep down below.
Then a miracle happened. A few days back I heard the turkeys chatting with each other, and they sounded close. Because turkeys aren’t hesitant about walking into an open doorway just to explore a new space, I went out onto the porch to see where they were. Earlier that morning I’d brought the sheep into the orchard for the day. That’s always a risky proposition. Although there’s plenty of good grass for them to eat, they’d much prefer to clean up my garden for me. The last time I’d tried it, Rosie showed me and her flockmates every spot where she could breach the fence and I’d lost a few greens and a lot of broccoli.
I could see all the sheep from the porch. They were quietly grazing, including the sheep on whose back one of the hens was perched. The bird’s head moved up and down quickly as she worked her way through the thick wool, pulling out every tasty morsel of whatever it is that’s in there. Although I couldn’t believe it possible, the sheepie girl acted as if this was completely normal.
No excuses this time! I ran in the house and came back on the porch to catch this photo.
Today, the turkeys were at it again, mingling with the sheep, cleaning up their wool with the sheep jockeying a little as if they were all waiting for their turn. Honestly, I didn’t need this sort of pressure. Will the sheep ever forgive me for Thanksgiving?